Thursday, January 31, 2008

Campaign tidbits:
MoveOn primary

So now, in addition to the California primary on Tuesday, I get to cast my vote in the MoveOn primary in the next 24 hours. If one of the two candidates left standing gets two thirds in the MoveOn vote, the organization will try to use its mobilization apparatus to help the winner, beginning Saturday.

Oddly enough, I find it harder to decide what to do in the latter vote than in the former. In the primary, now that Edwards is out, I'll be voting for Obama because he seems a hair's breadth more likely to get the U.S. out of Iraq sooner. But it is much harder for me to vote for him in the MoveOn primary -- I've still got a few hours to decide whether I can stomach it.

Here are the problems:

Barack Obama should, by rights, not get a chance to vie for MoveOn's support. The guy stuck it to MoveOn when he didn't have to. Last fall, when Republicans demanded that Congress scold MoveOn for its ad referring to Bush's Iraq commander-stooge as "General Betray-us," Clinton voted no. Obama skipped the vote. This from the guy who asks us to believe in our ability to bring real change to Washington, who claims to be "powered by hope and people like you." Guess that works unless we, the people, raise the temperature of conflict a little too high for his taste.

But more importantly, I'm not sure I like the idea of MoveOn, as an organization, throwing its weight into the primaries. MoveOn is a huge and useful part of an emerging infrastructure of technologically sophisticated grassroots pressure groups that have responded to the decay of democratic (small "d") organs of civic participation. That is, a lot of us are pissed about being shut out of our own country's decision making by a combination of straight up Republican authoritarian rule combined with Democratic cowardice. We've built some alternative megaphones on the internet and increasingly among community groups on the ground.

It is not good for these groups to become simply constituent groups entirely inside the Democratic Party. Labor has done that in some periods with early endorsements and hasn't been able to pass any progressive labor law for decades. They get taken for granted.

We don't want to be taken for granted. After November, even if a Democrat wins the White House and Democrats pick up a good number of seats in Congress, a lot of us are still going to have to be lobbing pies at officeholders from the outside if we want meaningful change.

It would be smart if MoveOn could help its members remember that oppositional role, as well as the inside role we all hope to play electing whatever Democrat emerges from the primaries. It's tough during the primaries remembering that real change is going to require both roles. The MoveOn primary only obscures that awareness.

I'll give the experienced progressive warrior who writes as Meteor Blades the last word on the conundrum that confronts progressives every four years. I think he says it succinctly.

The Abolitionists, the feminists and suffragists, the trade union organizers, the Grangers, the Jim Crow foes, the environment champions, the opponents of unjustified wars, the fighters for gay rights, the human rights advocates -– every reform movement -– began and continued its struggle outside party politics. Only after years, often decades, did the fruit of those struggles become confirmed by legislation passed by elected officials. Struggles into which people gave up their money, their energy and time, their liberty and, sometimes, their lives before politicians did more than give lip service to the causes they espoused. Without the movements, reforms never would find a place on the national agenda; without sympathetic politicians, they would never be implemented. It’s a difficult, but essential pairing.

I'm not at all sure throwing MoveOn's energies into the primaries serves the cause of keeping both parts of the pairing on track.

UPDATE, Friday am: So 70 percent of MoveOn members voted to endorse Obama. Though this wasn't what I hoped for, I do hope this increases MoveOn's influence which is ultimately a good thing.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Campaign tidbit:
Habeas lawyers endorse Obama

The Administrative Review Board room is seen with eye bolts for securing detainees at Camp Delta at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba January 18, 2006. REUTERS/JOE SKIPPER

This is an endorsement that makes me sit up and take notice.

... All of us are lawyers who have worked on the Guantanamo habeas corpus litigation for many years, some of us since early 2002, and we were all deeply involved in opposing the Administration’s attempt to overturn the Supreme Court's Rasul decision by stripping the courts of jurisdiction to hear the Guantanamo cases. ...

Some politicians are all talk and no action. But we know from first-hand experience that Senator Obama has demonstrated extraordinary leadership on this critical and controversial issue. When others stood back, Senator Obama helped lead the fight in the Senate against the Administration's efforts in the Fall of 2006 to strip the courts of jurisdiction, and when we were walking the halls of the Capitol trying to win over enough Senators to beat back the Administration's bill, Senator Obama made his key staffers and even his offices available to help us. Senator Obama worked with us to count the votes, and he personally lobbied colleagues who worried about the political ramifications of voting to preserve habeas corpus for the men held at Guantanamo. ...

...We need a President who will restore the rule of law, demonstrate our commitment to human rights, and repair our reputation in the world community. Based on our work with him, we are convinced that Senator Obama can do this because he truly feels these issues "in his bones."

Full text.

It is hard for me to trust Clinton to have more than a cosmetic interest in restoring the rule of law -- you know, it gives the USA such a bad image when we torture and render... These people want me to believe that Obama has more of an interest. They are in a position to have a meaningful opinion.

H/t dday.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A new electoral coalition?

This morning Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne commented on the shape of the vote in the Democratic primary in South Carolina.

In truth, Clinton and Obama both face electoral obstacles that would naturally confront any candidate seeking to break barriers of race or gender. The South Carolina exit polls showed each running well behind John Edwards among white men. While Obama won overwhelmingly among whites under 30, he secured only 11 percent of the ballots from whites 65 and older. He won 32 percent among white college graduates but only 16 percent among whites who did not have college degrees.

Note: it is possible to win a Democratic primary without any significant support from white men.

Historian Bruce J. Schulman of Boston University took a stab at describing Barack Obama's coalition:

... like RFK, Obama has assembled an insurgent's campaign, strong among educated, affluent Democrats, energizing young voters, and simultaneously, exerting powerful appeal among African-American Democrats. That’s a formidable coalition, and one that no previous insurgent Democrat could manage. From McCarthy to Dean, minority voters have found earlier reformers cold. ...

In 2008, more than 40 states will hold primaries, awarding the overwhelming majority of the delegates. At the same time, blue-collar whites no longer form the dominant faction they long represented in Democratic Party politics.

The stirrings the Obama coalition points to have been at work in California for a couple of decades. It's worth looking at some of the history.

The California precedent

I first noticed the outline of a potential new progressive (Democratic) coalition in 1994, pouring over exit poll information [pdf] about votes cast in California against the specter of immigrants overwhelming the state (Prop. 187) on the one hand, and for Senator Dianne Feinstein on the other.

The outcome on Prop. 187 was lopsided: 59 percent for, 41 percent against. Fully 78 percent of the electorate was white (not Latino). The tiny 9 percent sliver of the electorate that was Latino voted overwhelmingly against Prop. 187 (73 percent) while Asian- and African-Americans split their votes about evenly, and most California whites supported the anti-immigrant measure.

Meanwhile, 1994 was the last election in which Diane Feinstein faced a real challenge. Hard as it is to believe now, the conventional stereotype of her was as "a San Francisco liberal" and, of course, what was still a novelty, a woman breaking a barrier for her sex. Her opponent, the conservative Republican millionaire and closet case Michael Huffington (Arianna was married to him then) darn near beat her in a race that ended up 47 to 45 percent.
Huffington won among white men by a 58-35 percent margin. But although whites were the overwhelming majority of the electorate, Feinstein overcame that margin by running up huge advantages among people of color and a smaller margin among white women.

That Feinstein coalition -- huge margins in the communities of color coupled with a solid showing among white women -- has been the shape of the statewide Democratic majorities ever since. Ten years later, in 2004, people of color were a much larger fraction of the electorate -- up to 34 percent from 22 percent in 1994. And all groups of people of color were voting Democratic. Moreover, white women were also giving a large margin to Democrats. (Source: CNN exit polls.) The result: California was and is a solidly Blue state.

This has not happened because the electorate mirrors the state's demographics. It doesn't. In 2006, the Public Policy Institute of California reported how very different the racial, ethnic, age and economic situation of the population as a whole was from the slice that is the electorate:

California's electorate does not reflect the size, the growth, or the diversity of California’s population. Today, eight in 10 adults are eligible to vote but just 56 percent are registered, less than half (43 percent) belong to one of the major parties, and only 35 percent of adults can be expected to vote in the November election. Voter registration has grown at a slower rate than the population. As a result, 12 million of the state’s 27.7 million adults are not registered to vote.

Moreover, although the state has become increasingly diverse, the adults who frequently vote are predominantly white, age 45 and older, and relatively affluent. In contrast, nonvoters (those who are not registered to vote) are mostly nonwhite, younger, and less affluent than frequent (or "likely") voters.

Demographers tell us that the shape of the California electorate will change only very slowly to be more representative of its population. By 2040, people from Asian and Latin American backgrounds will constitute 63 percent of the people. Yet if these groups continue their present patterns of becoming citizens and turning out to vote, they will have a combined share of the state's voters of only 38 percent in the same year. (Source: Citrin and Highton.)

Somehow California voters, though not yet nearly representative of the state's future, have already adopted the direction that demographic change suggests they would be moving toward, even if sometimes by narrow margins. Though white men no longer hold sway in the California electorate, enough of them vote with the growing segment of the electorate that is not white to set a Democratic trend. White women vote heavily with the Democrats. A large segment of older white Californians recognize and honor the more diverse and also more economically insecure world their children experience. They consistently join with the folks who will be the new California majority to bring that majority into being before it really exists.


It looks to me as though the Obama candidacy is trying to birth a national coalition which, like the Democratic one in California, doesn't quite have a secure demographic base though such a base seems visible on the horizon. This coalition must, at present, attract enough support outside its obvious members to win an election. Naturally, its leading edge is young voters, folks who live closer to that diverse and difficult demographic future older folks can envision but do not so nearly inhabit.

As Schulman notes, Obama is not the first to try this. In addition to RFK, it's only fair to mention Jesse Jackson in 1988 -- at the end of 2008, will Obama have exceeded Jackson's total of wins in 11 states? That seems no sure thing at the moment.

A long-term national progressive coalition must somehow hold together most African Americans, most Latinos, probably the majority of various Asian-origin voters, and enough whites, probably predominantly female, to make a majority. Either Obama or Clinton has a very good shot at doing that in the general election. In the primaries, the lines where fissures open in that coalition -- who feels spoken to, who turns out, and who is energized -- will determine who gets to chase the big prize.

"Trust us."

Here's a 30 second lesson on why folks are pitching a fit about the FISA bill currently being pushed through Congress by Bush and his Democratic collaborators. Senator Russ Feingold explains it all to you.

I'm not that trusting. Senator Feinstein apparently is.

Monday, January 28, 2008

On running across the country

Yippee, I finally made it out of Virginia and crossed into Kentucky. I'm "running" across the country on a Transamerica route made available at the National Health Survey out of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

We have designed a transcontinental virtual trip across the United States. Each time you enter your mileage, we add it to your total and show you exactly what you would see if you had been traveling from Yorktown, Virginia to Florence, Oregon.

I began counting my mileage on this trip last August. So far I've gone 562 miles.

It is going to be a long trek. The total distance across the country is 4063 miles -- probably about 4 years of plugging along for me. Gotta keep trekking, one foot in front of the other.

The best thing about this virtual trip is that every time I add a few miles, I get a new picture of my location. My current location, outside Elkhorn, KY, is posted in the side bar. From now on, every few weeks I'll change the picture to show my current location. But don't expect fast progress -- I've got another 500 miles to go in Kentucky, so that will be another six months. It is a big country.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

World eyes U.S. election

Is the whole world really watching our electoral theater? Certainly many are -- and many have more urgent things to do. A few stances I've run across:

Dire horror: Popular economic writers frequently trot out the dictum "when the U.S. sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold." Well maybe -- in some respects the health of the U.S. economy is so important to the world economy that this saying captures a truth. The journalist Helena Cobban reports a conversation with a Lebanese blogger which applies this perspective to U.S. elections.

He said that he felt US influence over the whole world is so great that people everywhere are strongly affected by the US political process. True enough. So he said he felt, actually, like a completely unenfranchized citizen of the US. (Correct me if I phrased that poorly, Rami.)

I told him about the theory I've expounded here a number of times in recent years, to the effect that the relationship between the US citizenry and the world's 6-billion-plus non-Americans is analogous to the apartheid-era relationship between the South African "Whites" and the country's completely unenfranchized majority...

Just World News

Certainly in many places, the amount of misery U.S. meddling and intrusion causes would justifies folks feeling they ought to get a crack at deciding who occupies the seat of power in Washington.

Frustration. Tonight I attended a meeting of peace activists during which we chewed over, again, the gap between the strong desire of a majority of the U.S. people to end the Iraq adventure and the minuscule effect of that wish on our elected representatives. A South Asian woman finally exclaimed something like "I don't get it. People in the smallest villages in India understand it is about oil and empire -- what's wrong with these people?" When it's "your empire," it is harder to see.

The dean of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy offers a variant of this:

Unfortunately, even as the world is becoming more predictable, America is becoming less so. It has one of the least informed populations on the planet, and the quality of the presidential debates on global issues has been appalling. Bhutto's death provided the candidates an opportunity to demonstrate their statesmanship toward a pivotal country. But they all failed this test, resorting to grandstanding instead. Hillary Clinton, for example, declared her longstanding friendship with Benazir but failed to mention Bhutto's many flaws. Bill Richardson excoriated President Pervez Musharraf and called for the elimination of U.S. aid to Pakistan, but failed to mention that Pakistan's long military rule was a direct result of U.S. support.

Such statements betrayed an apparent failure to grasp the complexity of the world. By and large, the candidates have wasted the opportunity to provide new intellectual and political leadership to America and the world. This is probably the greatest tragedy of the race. There has never been a greater need for new U.S. leadership, yet the candidates offer little hope that this will come any time soon.


Mystification. Listening to the BBC coverage of the U.S. primary season is often downright humorous. Brits interviewing Iowa farmers and South Carolina African Americans are often culturally out of their depths. Their slightly off-base coverage is a great reminder of just how large and diverse this country is.

And after all, the primary process is irrational. Why does Nevada use caucuses and not a primary vote? Because the state government would have to pay for an election process, while the state political parties pick up the tab for caucuses. Nevada's legislature chooses not pay for the expensive brand. Try explaining that to an audience outside the U.S.

And then there is the truly wacky. Some enterprising geeks put up a site called Who would the world elect? Voters name their country and are allowed one vote per computer. Unfortunately the Ron Paul nuts, unable to do anything to elect their hero, did send an awful lot of traffic to this one, producing such oddities as 441 votes for Paul from Poland. A U.S. election -- even the nuts get to play.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Will Clinton use this? Will Obama? Will Edwards?

If any Democratic Presidential hopeful is willing to publicize a clip of whoever becomes the Republican nominee from this exchange, s/he will win in November.

Can the peace movement make it worth the while of a Democrat to run against the war? If that's what the nominee thinks it will take to win, any of them will do it. And if that's what they run on, it will be easier to make the winner get out in 2009. That's our project.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

St. Luke's hospital -- what way forward?

On a gray dank afternoon, community activists, union members and local pols queued up on San Francisco's City Hall steps to denounce California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC)/Sutter Health's plans to close St. Luke's Hospital in the Mission District. They've been in this fight a long time: see this and this from 2005, as well as this and this from 2007.

The event was the second press conference about St. Luke's in two days. The earlier one was not a populist event. On Wednesday, CPMC sought to preempt growing opposition to its plans by announcing a "blue ribbon panel" to determine the future of the hospital, which is the only source of safety-net care other than the county hospital for residents of the south side of the city. That press event earned only a few vague paragraphs buried on page B3 of the San Francisco Chronicle. The Sacramento Business Journal offered a fuller account, though not one that clarified the corporation's intentions.

... San Francisco Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier released a statement announcing she and San Francisco Department of Public Health head Mitch Katz had reached an agreement with CPMC on a process to "maintain" St. Luke's.

CPMC's statement used similar language, but indicated the new process would "determine the future of this fragile but vital health care institution," referring to St. Luke's. ...

Officials at California Pacific indicated the panel will review data about what services at St. Luke's are needed and what services are not, adding that it should complement and support CPMC's current institutional master plan.

"This is an important step in making sure that all voices in the community are heard," Alioto-Pier said in her Jan. 23 statement. "Maintaining and rebuilding St. Luke's and developing it into a first-class hospital for the Mission District and the Southeast section of San Francisco is my primary objective." Katz voiced support for a solution that meets the needs of the city, the community and CPMC.

Neither Alioto-Pier nor Katz gave any indication of what such a solution might be ...

The group gathered at City Hall this afternoon were a lot more definitive. They want medical care that is available to the largely non-white and low-income people who live in the Mission, Excelsior and BayView neighborhoods and they don't trust Sutter.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano whose district includes St. Luke's said it simply: "I have never known Sutter to tell the truth. They don't know what truth is. They just know that profit is."

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi denounced the "blue ribbon panel" as "simply a warm, fuzzy way to close St. Luke's."

Union members were out in force. In addition to the nurses, United Healthcare Workers passed out a statement from its leader Sal Rosselli responding to CPMC's announced committee.

"For years, doctors, nurses, caregivers, elected officials, patients and community leaders have asked Sutter officials to commit to save St. Luke's, and they've hedged and dodged the entire time, changing their position over and over again. Now, they've been dragged to the table kicking and screaming, but they still can't say plainly that they're committing to keep St. Luke's open as a full service, acute care hospital.

"Sutter could save St. Luke's today by signing a legally binding memorandum of agreement to keep the hospital open and fully functioning. The Sutter Corporation reported $587 million in profits last year alone. They have more than enough funds to maintain and improve the hospital. The question is whether or not they have the will to protect the health of San Franciscans by keeping St. Luke's open.

"Fundamentally, we believe San Francisco would be better served by an open and accountable public process to determine the city's healthcare needs and ensure that all of Sutter's reorganization plans meet them in order to win city approval."

The organizations represented at City Hall today speak for a lot of people and they don't give up easily. When I got back from the press event, I found an email invitation which opens with this:

[We] had a conversion about Save St Luke's Hospital and what more Senior Action Network can do regarding this issue. So we decided that SAN's next Senior University would focus on St Luke's Hospital and Healthy San Francisco. Senior University is a 4-day training program for seniors and persons with disabilities on community organizing. ...

Sutter better watch out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

World's largest prison
World's largest jailbreak

Palestinians cross the border into Egypt after militants exploded the wall between Gaza Strip and Egypt, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008. Masked Palestinian gunmen blew holes into the Gaza-Egypt border wall Wednesday, and thousands of Gazans trapped in their territory by a tight blockade poured into Egypt to buy food, fuel and other supplies that have become scarce. Egyptian border guards and Hamas police took no action as Palestinians hurried over the border and began returning with bags of food, boxes of cigarettes and plastic bottles of fuel.(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Laila El-Haddad reports and reflects on the break out.

Last night I received a text message from Fida-"its coming down-its coming down!" she declared ecstatically. "Laila! the Palestinians destroyed Rafah wall, all of it. All of it no part of it! Your sister Fida."

More texts followed, as I received an periodical updates on the situation in Rafah, where it was 3 am.

"Two hours ago people were praising God everywhere. The metal wall was cut and destroyed. So was the cement one. It is great Laila, it is great" she declared. ...

And so once again, this monstrosity that is a source of so much agony in our lives, that cripples our movement and severs our ties to each other and to our world, to our families and our homes, our universities and places of work, hospitals and airports, has fallen through the will of the people; and sadly, once again, it will go up. Of course, [Egypt's] Mubarak has tried to take credit for this, blabbering something about how they let them open it because Gazans were starving, while arresting 500 demonstrators in Cairo for speaking their mind against the siege.

The border opening also will not provide Gazans with an opportunity to travel abroad, b/c their passports will not have been stamped leaving Gaza, but it will at the very least give them some temporary respite from the siege. ...

People often ask me why such things -- meaning people powered civil protests that can overcome even the strongest occupation -- don't happen sooner, or more often, or at all for that matter. We underestimate the power of occupation to destroy a people's will to live, let alone resist and and attempt to change the situation. This is the worst thing about occupation, whether a military occupation like Israel's, or a political one like Hosni Mubarak's in his own country.

And it is only when you can overcome the psychological occupation, the occupation of the mind, that the military occupation in all its manifestations can be defeated.

Tangled webs of misogyny

This is creepy. Or perhaps just hypocritical.

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke said this morning that St. Louis University basketball coach Rick Majerus should be disciplined over his public comments supporting abortion rights and stem cell research.

Majerus made his comments at a campaign appearance for Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday...

"It's not possible to be a Catholic and hold those positions," Burke said. "When you take a position in a Catholic university, you don't have to embrace everything the Catholic church teaches. But you can't make statements which call into question the identity and mission of the Catholic church."

St. Louis Post Dispatch

Pretty weak identity there if a basketball coach, even a guy whose teams won 325 games at the last school he worked at (Utah), can threaten it.

But the story gets more ugly. Turns out that St. Louis U. plays its basketball games in a new arena, a building whose construction the city of St. Louis assisted by granting $8 million in tax increment financing. This help to St. Louis U. only became possible after a Missouri Supreme Court decision that such a contribution did not violate the separation of church and state,

because SLU is not an organ of the Catholic Church. Opponents of the plan had sued, arguing that the subsidy violates a church-state clause in the state constitution, but the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that SLU "is not controlled by a religious creed."

King Kaufman

For what it is worth, Majerus is a Catholic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Bags go missing

Installment the first [janinsanfran narrating]

It all began with two intrepid voyagers seeking to fly from Boston to San Francisco in the afternoon in winter. Not a good idea. No timely one-way non-stop flight was available; we could only achieve this plan, without spending a fortune, by changing planes somewhere on the way.

As I said, it was winter. We arrived at Logan Airport by ferry and bus in good time and checked our luggage with U.S. Airways. We passed through security and proceeded to our boarding area. We sat. And then, we heard that our plane would be delayed at least one hour on the ground and perhaps another on the tarmac.

Naturally we joined the scrum at the agent's desk. This change, caused by snow in Philadelphia, meant that we'd miss our flight to the West Coast. Could we be re-routed? Why yes, said the agent, we could fly to San Francisco via Las Vegas and get home no later than 2 am the next day. What would happen to our checked luggage? After all, though our first flight was on U.S. Airways, our original second flight was to have been on United. Nobody knew, but all personnel were reassuring.

We decided getting home in this protracted fashion was a better bet than chasing after our luggage and getting snowed in at Philadelphia, so accepted the new itinerary. Eleven hours later we stumbled off a plane in San Francisco and -- not to our surprise -- discovered our luggage was not among the pieces that tumbled off the conveyor belt.

And so, we lurched over to the "Office of Property Irregularities," described our Bags and were assured by a confident agent that they would be sent along the next day. A quick cab ride home and eight hours sleep later, we telephoned U.S. Airways. Well, no, our Bags had not arrived -- but surely they'd come in sometime that day.

They didn't. By evening, still no Bags.

The next morning, still no Bags. We patiently explained to the agent at "Property Irregularities" that most likely our Bags had disappeared somewhere in the clutches of United Air since we had been originally ticketed to fly their route from Philly to San Francisco. Finally, in late morning, we were assured that the luggage was in possession of the Courier. Perhaps the saga was coming to an end ...

Installment the second [rebeccag narrating]

You may recall that when last we left our intrepid two-wheeled heroines, they had fallen into the clutches of The Courier. Or so we had been informed by the mysterious minions of U.S. Airways employed by the department they call "Property Irregularities." This Courier, these minions (perhaps we should refer to them as the Irregulars) assured us, was a force for good, and would shortly appear on our doorstep, The Bags in tow.

Secure in the knowledge that we would soon be reunited with our beloved Bags and the books, underwear and knitting paraphernalia they contained, we set our minds to other matters. Hours passed in useful activity, uninterrupted however by the appearance of anything resembling a Courier. Growing concerned - and aware that we had an engagement for dinner some hours hence - we attempted further contact with the minions of US Airways. We did not wish The Bags to arrive only to find the house darkened and silent, save for the occasional piercing howls of Fester the Cat.

Reader, we phoned again. Alas, the minions of the Department of Property Irregularities had disappeared, leaving behind only their infernal Message Machine, whose mechanical voice cheerfully assured us that their concern for our missing Bags was nearly as deep as our own. Skeptical, but undaunted, we considered a change in tactics. Our original flight plan involved a switch in Philadelphia to United Airlines. Although we had never actually traveled to Philadelphia due to untoward inclemency there, you may recall from an earlier episode that The Bags had indeed made that journey. Perhaps the good people of United Airlines would know something of their fate?

A call to United Airlines (answered, we suspect, in Lahore) revealed that indeed The Bags were in their possession. They were, in fact, repining at the San Francisco Airport at that very moment. Could we ourselves retrieve them? Indeed we could.

In high good humor we set out for the airport. We improvised a ditty:
Do not fly on US Air.
Do not fly on US Air.
They take your luggage
And throw it in the air
The Homeland Security Alert Level being set at "Orange" we elected to leave one of us in the car, while the other parlayed with the good people of United. This task fell to janinsanfran. Just as a helpful policeman was urging me in the nicest possible way to remove my potential car bomb from the curb, janinsanfran emerged from the baggage claim area. One look at her crestfallen face - and her Bag-less hands) was sufficient to communicate the Awful Truth. The Bags were no longer in the possession of United Airlines. Indeed, we had missed them by a mere 15 minutes. You may well imagine our consternation upon hearing that they had been seized by the sinister personnel of US Airways.

But the trail was a mere quarter hour old. Surely with a bit of courage and ingenuity we could close the gap. We circled back to the now-familiar Department of Property Irregularities at the U.S. Airways terminal. I hovered while janinsanfran went in. There she encountered the kindly Clifford, who offered to fortify her with a cup of Coffee while he related to her his part of the Tale. Declining the coffee on grounds of concern for her hovering partner, janinsanfran urged Clifford to make haste and tell her what he knew.

Clifford, it appeared, did not work alone in the Department of Property Irregularities. Indeed, he was much plagued by a co-worker, known only as The Girl, who drove him near distraction. In order to attain for himself a moment's peace, he had lately dispatched her to United Airlines, to retrieve our Bags. It was indeed odd, he mused, that he had not seen her since. We could be sure, however, that she had conveyed The Bags into the hands of The Couriers, who would shortly deliver them to our doorstep.

At once disappointed to have been within a quarter hour of success, and elated at the prospect of a grand reunion, we rushed home to prepare a proper welcome for The Bags.

Some hours later, no Courier having appeared, and the hour of our engagement growing dangerously near, we hazarded another call to the Irregulars at US Airways. The kindly Clifford had finished for the day, but his successor, a lovely woman, assured us that The Bags had been transferred to the Couriers. She provided a telephone number.

Reader, I called that number. "Did we call you?" asked the voice at the other end of the telephone.

"No," I replied, a bit startled, "I called you."

"Well, you can't call us until we call you. You have to call the airline."

"But they told me to call you. They said you have our Bags."

A deep sigh greeted this news. "Well, what address are they supposed to go to?"

I told her our address. After a bit of searching, she informed us that the Bags were indeed in her possession. "They should be there by 7:00 tonight."

Alarmed, because our Engagement was to begin at 6:30, and we did not relish the thought of The Bags languishing unprotected on the porch of our house, I asked whether we might instead retrieve the bags ourselves.

Our informant was dubious, but at length agreed that we might do so. A complex set of driving directions followed. which in the event would prove inaccurate and lead us on a merry adventure among the warrens of warehouses of Trans-Freeway South San Francisco.

We knew better, after so many near misses to set our hopes too high, but we set out in good spirits. Once it dawned upon us that our informant's directions were in cypher, and must be interpreted inside out and backwards, we at length arrived at a warehouse set at the back of a dark and empty parking lot. We discerned in the distance the welcome glow of an open door.

On approaching, we were greeted by a number of singing Couriers, young men of the Tribe of Hip-Hop. They were a bit surprised to find two aging women in their midst, but once having understood the nature of our errand, they proved most helpful. Indeed, of all the people we had come across throughout our quest, these were the most helpful of all, for once learning that our Bags were bound for San Francisco, they led us to a small corral.

And there, dear Reader, amidst a sad assortment of suitcases and knapsacks, looking forlorn, but none the worse for wear, we saw them!

With great jubilation on all sides, we effected our reunion. As we were leaving, I offered the assembled Couriers a bit of advice:

"Never fly US Airways."

This suggestion was greeted with great hilarity. "Look around you," said leader of the Couriers, gesturing at the room full of bags. "Do you really think any other airline would be any better?"

Monday, January 21, 2008

Collective punishments

The Israelis have said they will allow power plant fuel and medicines into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, easing a blockade imposed after rocket attacks.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak agreed to ease the curbs for one day hours after the territory's sole power plant shut down, plunging Gaza City into darkness. ...

EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner spoke out against "this collective punishment of the people of Gaza" and called for an end to the blockade

BBC News

While folks in the U.S. are properly distracted by Presidential follies, the Israelis have been beating up on the 1.5 million Palestinians locked down in the prison that is the Gaza Strip. They are "answering" home-made rocket attacks on Israel launched from Gaza. Let's see: Israeli policy seems to be to use vastly disproportionate force to punish all the unfortunate, trapped inhabitants of Gaza. It can, so it does.

None of the U.S. politicians currently chasing our votes is likely to do anything to oppose this behavior.

When collective punishments were meted out to resisting citizens of German-occupied Europe during WWII, occupiers' behavior was considered monstrously barbarous, clear evidence of the uncivilized character of the Nazi regime. When the U.S. Army leveled most of the Iraqi city of Falluja in late 2004 for the crime of serving as a center of resistance to U.S. occupation, the attack was simply a military operation.

At root, we either think other people are people -- or not. Nazis knew that untermenschen, especially Jews, were subhuman. Israeli authorities know that Palestinians, especially those associated with Hamas, are just cockroaches obstructing the Zionist project. U.S. commanders in Iraq know they confront only hajis, whose lives and country require no respect. When the enemy is not human, any atrocity goes. Not a pretty picture ...

Campaign tidbit:
It may surprise you to learn they are human

Presidential candidate John Edwards doing the work. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter a hoot what I think about the Democratic Presidential primaries. Oh, I'll vote and all -- but if I wanted to have real influence, I'd work on local issues and candidates as wells as organize to increase civic participation and competence among those who aren't currently able to get in the game. And I do, for my work.

But the long running Presidential sweepstakes is great theatre, so over the next few days, I'm going to share a series of tidbits and perhaps insights as they fly by.

One of the most insightful bits of journalist punditry I've seen about the campaign was this from James Fallows:

If you have not worked or traveled on a political campaign, you really cannot imagine the importance of sheer mind-destroying, bone-sapping, emotion-straining, personality-fraying exhaustion as a factor in performances by candidates. Especially the moments that seem angry, thin-skinned, dazed-sounding, ill-advised, or clumsily-worded. Where there is a "gaffe," there is usually an over-tired candidate backed up by over-tired staff. ...

Their day involves endless stress, movement, and performance, starting at 4:25am when they get up for the next bus or plane or morning show, through maybe 1:15am that night when they collapse after the last staff meeting or poll discussion or evening show or fund-raising call. ...

Rule of thumb: each hour of super-fatigue takes maybe 5 points off your IQ and 10 per cent out of your emotional balance, especially in the equanimity, patience, and "taking things with a grain of salt" departments.

All very true -- the mentor who got me into working campaigns warned me: "when it is over, it will take you months to recover -- the world will seem gray and empty." She was right.

But of course these people, candidate and handlers, choose this lunatic activity. On the lower levels, quite often a "candidate" gets into a race and then learns s/he doesn't actually choose to run at the actual pace required -- and nearly always loses.

So just because they are human, do we have to forgive them for dumb stuff said and destructive tactics adopted? No. Just as I have little patience with the plaint often emerging from dysfunctional progressive non-profit organizations -- "but the staff work so hard" -- I don’t give a pass to candidates and their staffers who screw up during the marathon. That's the game. Live with it and master it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Obama's contagious optimism

A long time friend, a feminist, an African-American, a mature woman who has seen much trouble and much joy, sent me this letter about the Democratic Presidential hopefuls. I've been hard on Obama at times and continue to lean to Edwards, but I thought readers might find her letter thoughtful.

Given that all along I saw Obama, Clinton & Edwards as being fairly similar on the issues (not nearly as good as Kucinich, but way better than the Republicans), my choice of Obama had/has to do with 2 things.

One: I think it would be a major (positive) paradigm shift for an African-American to be elected president in this country. Of course it would be a major (positive) paradigm shift to elect a woman as well. But I disagree with those who believe that a woman has less chance than an African-American man. I think those who say that seriously underestimate the level of racism in this country. I think that both the racism and the sexism are so extreme and so ingrained that it is inaccurate, silly and counter-productive to argue over who is less likely to be elected (and who you therefore should vote for). The old (stupid) game of "whose is most oppressed and therefore most deserving?" Let's not keep this competition going.

Two: (and this is what edged Barack over Hillary for me), Barack comes across more as a real human being rather than the usual politician, which Hillary acts more like. He is incredibly honest for a politician. If you want to know what he really thinks, read his book, "The Audacity of Hope." If you want to know what his life has been all about (prior to being senator) read his autobiography "Dreams from my Father." He tells all (which we all knew would eventually be used against him in this race, as it now is beginning to be.) He doesn't pretend that he "didn't inhale." ...

Along with Obama's remarkable honesty (for a politician), is his great knack for inspiring hope in people. Honestly, I think Ms. Clinton may have gotten further in her own race as a result of the hope that Obama inspired in so many people that it may actually be possible in the here-&-now for this country to elect either an African American or a woman.

This is something so many of us could not conceive of happening in this backwards country in our lifetimes.

But Obama's contagious optimism helped a lot of people believe and throw their support behind him in great numbers, which led others to believe also that we could finally vote for someone we really support and they might actually have a chance to win, and so Clinton supporters also gained hope and courage and supported Clinton in great numbers and support for both of them began to snowball in a way that is unprecedented for either a female or an African American candidate for president of the U.S.

Anyway, I am supporting and voting for Obama, even tho I have serious qualms about the stance of all 3 democrats on Iran/Iraq/Pakistan &/or US militarism. Still, either Hillary or Barack would be a super big step in the right direction for this country.

Not how I read the campaign, but I certainly share that yearning for optimism. And I have to like a campaign that moves my friends to write serious letters about what they think of the candidates.

Friday Cat Blogging:
Barn cats

These beauties are workers. They keep down the rodents at this farm stand, located in the corner of the barn. And they sure appreciate a bit of human affection.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Campaign tidbit:
Field demonstrates its value

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter a hoot what I think about the Democratic Presidential primaries. Oh, I'll vote and all -- but if I wanted to have real influence, I'd work on local issues and candidates as wells as organize to increase civic participation and competence among those who aren't currently able to get in the game. And I do, for my work.

But the long running Presidential sweepstakes is great theatre, so over the next few days, I'm going to share a series of tidbits and perhaps insights as they fly by.

Many observers have been struck by how very high the turnout of Democrats was in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The fact that almost 4 times as many people attended [an Iowa] Dem caucus in 2008 versus 2000 is the real story of the night for me. It makes the Rep attendance gains seem paltry....

Beyond who won on each side, there's a very big partisan message out of tonight. Just under 220,000 Democrats caucused tonight. About 115,000 Republicans did. That is a very big vote in itself. Talking Points Memo

After New Hampshire, many observers pointed out that Clinton seemed to have an exceptionally effective Get-Out-The-Vote operation.

Raising turnout, and especially turning out the voters who have said they will vote for a particular candidate, is what "field" operations do in campaigns. If nobody loves the candidate, field can't fix things, but well run field operations can raise a candidate's vote total by 3-5 percent.

Field is unpopular with media oriented consultants; it is not profitable for them, it's messy, costly in labor, difficult to control because it employs volunteers -- and it can be a difference maker.
Field requires commitment of campaign cash. In this year's Presidential extravaganza, candidates have had enough money to invest heavily in field in the early states.

Historically, field operations have often foundered on difficulties with "the lists." Because local and state election authorities seldom maintained very reliable records of voters (the raw voter file), field ops often tried to contact "voters" from records that were as much as 30 percent wrong. It can get very frustrating when a third of your phone calls reach disconnected numbers or you knock at the fifth house of the day where the person who answers the door says "Who? She doesn't live here."

The combination of contemporary databases, list improvement using commercial data, and better state registration practices means that "the lists" have become more efficient tools for making voter contacts. And more computing power has made all that information cheaper to manage. So campaigns have been doing more field work and getting more out of it. Matt Stoller of Open Left has tracked how field drove turnout in Iowa. Campaigns had access to

...far superior field tools deployed over the last five years, including the Voter Activation Network (VAN) and Catalist, as well networks of field staffers who know how to use them and a commitment to invest in field from all the major campaigns. This was a field battle, for once, and finally, the tools were great. That means that more voters were touched earlier and more often than ever before with sophisticated chunks of information. And they turned out. Voting is kind of hard, and the campaigns made it easier.

The sentenced I've emphasized is the essence of what field brings to campaigns.

Unlike any campaign's tightly controlled media messaging, field is where democracy happens. That's some of the good news in this year's cycle.

Depressingly honest

The Toronto Globe and Mail notes:

Canada puts Guantanamo on torture watch list
[The ministry of] Foreign Affairs has put Guantanamo Bay on a watch list for torture, despite Ottawa's assertions that it will not intervene with claims that Omar Khadr has been abused while in detention, CTV News reported last night.

Mr. Khadr, 21, has been held at Guantanamo Bay for more than five years as he awaits trial for the alleged killing of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.

His U.S. military lawyer, William Kuebler, says Ottawa's move to name the detention camp on the watch list - outlined in documents released as evidence in a court case - contradicts Prime Minister Stephen Harper's assurances of fair treatment for the Canadian man.

Two lawless governments -- one brutal, the other cowardly -- play out their roles.

UPDATE: January 19 -- Well, Canada didn't stick to its principles very long. Reuters reports:

Canada's foreign ministry, responding to pressure from close allies, said on Saturday it would remove the United States and Israel from a watch list of countries where prisoners risk being tortured.

Both nations expressed unhappiness after it emerged they had been listed in a document that formed part of a training course manual on torture awareness given to Canadian diplomats.

Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said he regretted the embarrassment caused by the public disclosure of the manual, which also classified some U.S. interrogation techniques as torture.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why you want a jury of "your peers"

This week the federal government won one of its "terrorism" prosecutions. That's news, since despite a lot of noise, many much heralded trials have not led to much result, for example, that of Holy Land Foundation. But last week the government won one.

... three men [of Middle Eastern origin] were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States and of a scheme to conceal the true origins of the nonprofit charity, Massachusetts Care International Inc., which operated from 1993 to 2003 and collected $1.7 million in donations. ...

"This prosecution serves notice that we will not tolerate the use of charities as a means of promoting terrorism," said Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant US attorney general for national security, in a statement released after the convictions.

He called the verdict a milestone in the government's efforts "against those who conceal their support for extremist causes behind the veil of humanitarianism."

Boston Globe

Sounds important. And probably the convicted men are at least sympathizers with aggressive Islamists.

But if you delve into the Globe's story, it comes out that the case was not so straight-forward.

In a telephone interview last night, Jean Ngarambe, of Salem, the juror who wrote [a question to the judge,] said he didn't have any bias as a result of Sept. 11, 2001, but was trying to determine whether he could consider the emotional impact on Muntasser, who was born in Libya and is a Muslim. He said he believed Muntasser's contention that he lied to the FBI in 2003 about his earlier travel to Afghanistan because in the post-9/11 world, he feared that he might be sent to the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

"He had a good reason to lie," said Ngarambe, who added that he would have acquitted Muntasser of lying if the judge had allowed them to consider his motivation and emotional state.

"I am satisfied about the verdict, but for Muntasser I am sorry about that," said Ngarambe. He said Muntasser had withdrawn from the conspiracy in 1996 when he quit his job at Care International and wouldn't have been convicted at all, if not for lying to the FBI in 2003. "But on the other hand the crime is there. They defrauded the IRS."

The Globe does not tell us Mr. Ngarambe's ethnic background. But clearly this juror knows something of contemporary U.S. reality that scared-silly white jurors might miss.

If only he'd been allowed to bring his experiential knowledge to bear on the case ...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hard realities

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps with Iraqi Minister of Defense Abdul Qadir Mohammed Jasim. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Curt Cashour

Today the New York Times tells us:

The Iraqi defense minister said Monday that his nation would not be able to take full responsibility for its internal security until 2012, nor be able on its own to defend Iraq’s borders from external threat until at least 2018. ...

Given Mr. Qadir’s assessment of Iraq’s military capabilities on Monday, such a withdrawal appeared to be quite distant, and further away than any American officials have previously stated in public.

This has set off hand wringing in some quarters.

Now we've got a lot to worry about, but a member of the current Iraqi government asking for "enduring" bases shouldn't be a major cause of concern. Why?
  • The Iraqi "government" is a largely a fiction, a squabbling mess of sectarian politicians grabbing for spoils. Doubt this? Read Inside Iraq for several well-placed Iraqis' on-going reports.
  • There is no reason to believe that whatever temporary diminution of violence "the surge" has achieved will continue. U.S. troop levels will be drawn down in 2008 both because the Pentagon has no more bodies to throw into the maul and because domestic U.S. politics will require it.
  • Meanwhile, there is no reason to believe the "insurgents" have really been wiped out and aren't just waiting for the heat to subside. After all, Iraq is their country. From the get-go, the invaders have assumed the Iraqis would let the U.S. decide their fate. We forgot we were crashing into one of the "cradles of civilization." They've seen a lot of invaders come -- and go.
  • And then there's that other little military entanglement -- the war the U.S. is rapidly losing in Afghanistan.
The peace movement has a lot of work ahead. This year, so far as possible, we have to show our politicians that killing our troops for empire will cost them their jobs. Over time we have to turn the country away from oil and world domination. But we should remember, in all this, reality is overwhelmingly on our side.

Mitt Romney defends himself against allegations of tolerance

Since we run the risk of losing him today, we might as well enjoy Mitt while we've got him.

Mitt Romney Defends Himself Against Allegations Of Tolerance

Courtesy of The Onion.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Stereotypes on the campaign trail

As the Clinton campaign, in its anxiety to fend off Obama fever, lurches dangerously toward the country's historic racist sink hole, maybe we could all use a dose of Professor C.H. Dalton:

Stop it, all of you.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The aliens are coming

What's this on the trail to the beach?

They just keep on coming. ... Evil crabs and shellfish are invading the Massachusetts coast.

The Chinese Mitten crabs, which arrive as stowaways in ballast water, can do a lot of damage.

Mitten crabs are ravenous omnivores and the zoologists fear they could both eat and out-compete vulnerable freshwater species. "It's quite a big crab and capable of disturbing the environment for other organisms," said Rainbow. ... Studies show the crabs can also cause serious damage by burrowing into banks and earthworks along rivers.

[If only we'd adopt Chinese food preferences...] "The Chinese love them, especially when they're full of gonads during the breeding season. The carapace of a large one measures eight centimeters (about three inches) across—that's a decent-sized meal."

The Rapa Whelks meanwhile are eating up their competitors. Apparently these Asian origin shellfish grow too large for the local turtles to consume -- and then chow down on the local clams, oysters and mussels.

As for the third alien, I couldn't find much except this description this description from a Texas source.

The town boards that encourage the shell fish industry and the Martha's Vineyard Conservation Society are offering a reward to people who apprehend one of the invaders. Since I've already got a copy of the trail guide (it's great), I think I might pass any I found to some child who would receive a more desirable prize.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Just a foreseeable consequence

Hell of a way to mark six years of the U.S. gulag at Guantanamo. From the Center for Constitutional Rights:

the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today dismissed an action brought by four former British detainees against Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officers for ordering torture and religious abuse. The British detainees – Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal Al-Harith -- spent more than two years in Guantanamo and were repatriated to the U.K. in 2004.

In a 43-page opinion, Circuit Judge Karen Lecraft Henderson found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute that applies by its terms to all "persons" did not apply to detainees at Guantanamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law. The Court also dismissed the detainees' claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Geneva Conventions, finding defendants immune on the basis that "torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military's detention of suspected enemy combatants."

Apparently if something is foreseeable, it ceases to be culpable. Besides, these prisoners are not "persons." All hail the torture regime.