Monday, March 31, 2008

Outdoor candy -- opinions vary

When I go on the road, I feed myself candy. My preferred confection consists of glossy, pseudo-macho travel magazines like National Geographic Adventure and Outside. I'm not going to be visiting any of the $600 a night eco-lodges featured in this genre, but for pure escapism while crammed on economy flights culpably belching carbon, they are a great pleasure.

In March, Outside published a "green issue." Along with the eco-lodges, a pleasant puff piece on the Udall cousins running for the Senate in Colorado and New Mexico as Western environmentalists, and some obligatory RFK Jr yarns, they ran the results of a reader poll. Here's one of many findings: Outside's respondents report the issue that will most determine their votes:
  • the environment -- 31 percent
  • foreign policy -- 27 percent
  • the economy -- seventeen percent.
Just for the heck of it, I thought I'd look at what broader surveys say about how voters rank national problems. Since various researchers ask slightly different questions, it is hard to be sure they are really eliciting comparable responses. Anyone interested can find a large sampling of reported data at the Problems and Priorities page at If I'm to believe the NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll conducted March 7-10, 2008, most U.S. residents rank their concerns very differently than Outside readers. Asked "which one of these items do you think should be the top priority for the federal government," they came up with this ranking:
  • Job creation and economic growth -- 26 percent
  • War in Iraq -- 19 percent
  • Health care -- 12 percent
  • Energy and the cost of gas -- 10 percent
  • Terrorism -- 9 percent
  • Illegal immigration -- 9 percent
  • The environment and global warming -- 4 percent
That is, the percentage of people who prioritize what matters most to Outside readers is vanishingly small.

This is both understandable and scary. Global climate change is going to hammer everyone -- and the kind of folks who are worrying about whether they'll have a job and how to pay for gas are going to be less able to cope with its effects than the more affluent. But for now, it is the more affluent, the globe trotting adventurers, who seem able to grasp the necessity of changing human behavior to mitigate the instability we are causing the planet. That's not the constituency that can make change happen in a democracy. We're in trouble.

View from my window:
Outside Burlingon, Vermont

I flew in last night, just in time to catch this glimpse of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack mountains.

In the morning, this was the view.

My host flies prayer flags amid the swirling snow.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Morning Retch:
Trouble for equivocating pols


Dennis B. Ross, a Middle East peace negotiator in the administrations of the first President Bush and President Bill Clinton, said the violence posed risks for candidates in both parties.

“Senator McCain is more vulnerable than the Democrats, because this is a reminder of how messy the situation remains in Iraq,” Mr. Ross said. “This is an interesting reminder of how much remains to be done. With the main focus having been on the military side, the surge has not created enough of a self-sustaining political fabric.”

New York Times,
March 30, 2008

I suppose the danger to the Democratic candidates is that if people start noticing again that Iraq is FUBAR, enraged voters will force whichever one emerges from the scrum get U.S. troops the hell out of the middle of the Iraqi civil war.


Ramzi Hashisho photo

What to do if local students are acting out? Threaten to put them on the national terrorist watch list.

That's just what's happening in Oglethorpe County, Ohio. Students have been making phony bomb threats. After Virginia Tech, Colombine and the efforts of the National Rifle Association to ensure wide availability of lethal weapons, authorities have to do something.

So they held an assembly at a middle school to warn the kids:

"Even though you're a juvenile, your name goes on the terrorist list for the United States of America for the rest of your life," sheriff's Investigator Steve Jones told an assembly of middle school students on Wednesday. "That's how serious this is."

Eight students between 10 and 15 years old were charged with terroristic threats and acts for leaving threatening notes in school hallways.

Athens Banner-Herald
March 30, 2008

The FBI isn't sure it wants the work of tracking the pranksters.

"If someone gets nominated (for the list) and they see it's a 10-year-old kid, common sense would hopefully prevail," said Special Agent Richard Kolko, the FBI's chief spokesman in Washington.

But the ACLU isn't quite so confident about the government's good judgment.

But an ACLU representative said she wouldn't be surprised to see a 10-year-old branded a potential terrorist because criteria for getting on the terror watch list - which now includes nearly 1 million names - is so secretive.

"It is not exactly clear how an individual is placed on a watch list," said Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigration Rights Project director for the ACLU Foundation of Georgia.

"Placement appears to be a highly subjective process subject to the discretion of invisible and unaccountable security officials," she said.

Big brother is watching you, kids.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

View out my window:
Liberty, Missouri

Not only is this what I see out the window of the Hampton Inn here where I am staying for work, but this afternoon on a four mile run out the door, I can't say I saw anything that looked significantly different. The tiny bit of this town I'm seeing seems to consist entirely of parking lots, chain eateries, and big box franchise stores.

Yes, I did go far enough to glimpse some "townhouse"-like housing developments newly occupied or under construction. But these, too, look pretty much all the same. I realized looking at them is that houses painted different colors are a mark of older neighborhoods in which people have had time to put their stamps on buildings that may once all have looked pretty similar. The "little boxes on the hillside" in Malvina Reynolds' song about Daly City, California have aged into quirky individuality after fifty or so years. Will this mid-American sprawl ever do the same?

It would be hard to find nicer, more down to earth, folks than the locals I've been working with for the last couple of days. In one of our "icebreaker" exercises, a few unhesitatingly identified as "socialists," whatever that means out here in the 'burbs.

A brief visit to sprawl-ville is broadening for a city girl like me.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The subjects are getting cheeky

Detritus of empire; detail from a mural in Mexico City.

It would be hard to imagine a more striking vignette of waning U.S. imperial power under the Bush regime than this encounter described in today's New York Times. In the 1980s, John Negroponte was the U.S. proconsul in dirty wars against the uppity peoples of Central America, overseeing repression, torture and murder in El Salvador and Nicaragua from a base as ambassador to Honduras. Hondurans suffered directly from their military's devotion to preserving U.S. power. Today Negroponte is Deputy Secretary of State, on tour for the U.S. in Pakistan. And with its newly elected government, Pakistanis are getting restless, more interested in restoring their own freedoms by curbing the empire-compliant General Musharraf, than in pursing Washington's war on their borders against the Taliban. So this:

Perhaps the most startling encounter for the 68-year-old career diplomat was the deliberately pointed question by Farrukh Saleem, executive director of the Center for Research and Security Studies, at the reception Wednesday evening.

"How is Pakistan different to Honduras?" Mr. Saleem asked, a query clearly intended to tweak Mr. Negroponte about his time as ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, when he was in charge of the American effort to train and arm a guerrilla force aimed at overthrowing the leftist government in Nicaragua. ...

The diplomat demurred, according to Mr. Saleem, saying, "You have put me on the spot."

In this country we may have to luxury of forgetting past imperial crimes, but the rest of the world watches and remembers.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A legal and health "Catch 22"

Some months ago, I reported on this blog that I'd taken on an organizing job with Claiming the Blessing, a coalition anchored by Integrity, that works for full inclusion and equality for LGBT people in the Episcopal Church.

This new project has a number of related byproducts. For the next few weeks I'll be on the road for the project, so posts may be sporadic -- or full of pictures of the "view out my window" interspersed with thoughts from airport lounges.

A far more interesting consequence of this work is that I have a crop of new friends and acquaintances. And one those is having a nasty experience that illustrates all too clearly what's wrong both with how gay relationships are treated legally in this country and how health care is doled out by a broken insurance non-system.

Robert Ryan was working at the insurance licensing division at Morgan Stanley on the 74th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He was very fortunate to make it out alive and didn't know for days what had happened to his co-workers. The trauma left him depressed, unable to concentrate, and even thinking of suicide. Eventually he went on disability.

In 2004, Robert formed a partnership with Ralph Martinelli who worked as a sales manager at Konica Minolta Business Solutions (KMBS), a global office equipment company. Since they were residents of New Jersey, they were able to register as domestic partners and Ralph could put Robert on his health insurance. But Robert wanted to get away from constant reminders of 9/11 -- he "wanted to see mountains," as he told a group of us when we met him at a workshop. So the couple moved to Idaho, and that's where the ambiguous legal status of gay partnerships plunged them into crisis.

Ralph was able to transfer to a similar position at KMBS in Idaho, but he could no longer cover Robert on his health insurance. KMBS requires gay partners to register with the state of their residence as "domestic partners" in order to qualify for coverage. But Idaho doesn't recognize any domestic partnerships --they'd run into a "Catch 22" -- no legal status existed recognizing the couple and so no health coverage existed for Robert.

KMBS could opt to cover Robert as person who had been recognized previously as a partner -- but it chose not to and it didn't have to. Many companies do have more flexible policies. Robert was able to pay to stay on Ralph's insurance for 18 months under the federal COBRA law, but this is very expensive and will run out in 2009.

This is a crazy making situation. Because gay people can't be legally married, companies can adopt inconsistent, arbitrary policies that penalize some, but not others, of their employees for their sexual orientation. The ACLU is trying to persuade KMBS to extend coverage to Robert.

And this situation is also the byproduct of our society's mad notion that eligibility for health care should be attached to whether individuals can form a durable bond with someone who works for a relatively generous corporation.

Robert and Ralph should be allowed to get married if they wish -- but also, every one of us should be entitled to medical care as a human right, simply by living in the community of this rich country. We all have a lot of organizing to do.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Aftermath of the Mission district blaze

Yesterday I took a walk down Poplar alley where a fire destroyed several buildings a week ago.

This is the same window from which flames shot out that terrible night.

Several buildings look completely gutted, burned out.

Even the lower stories where the damage is less look completely trashed.

Kevin Fagan wrote a very sensitive story in the San Francisco Chronicle about the plight of some fire survivors.

(03-18) 18:56 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- On Monday morning, 59-year-old Griselda Paleo had a tidy studio in San Francisco with controlled rent that she could afford on her disability income. Friendly neighbors helped her when she got sick, and many spoke her native Spanish. It was "a nice, happy life," Paleo said.

Flames destroyed all that by nightfall.

Now she is homeless. Her community is gone. It will be virtually impossible for her to find another place in the city that rents for the $698 she has paid for 18 years, and she sees her independence dribbling through her fingertips. ...

For ... more fortunate fire victims, the main issues were how quickly they could retrieve their belongings and find new apartments. ... It was [the] dozen poor, elderly or disabled residents - like Paleo - who face the most daunting challenges. ...

Paleo isn't holding out much hope. She lives on an $850 monthly federal disability income for a debilitating, lifelong intestinal condition and epilepsy, and she knows there is little housing that her check can cover. She has been divorced for decades and lives alone.

"I have a sister and other family in Ceres (Stanislaus County), but I like the big city so much," said Paleo, who emigrated from Mexico with her family when she was 15. "I don't want to leave. I am afraid of starting a new life somewhere else."

I am reminded how precious and how fragile our urban communities are.

What are they thinking?

Want to know more about these attractive, thoughtful gentlemen? Go read my current Gay and Gray column at Time Goes By.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Supporting the St. Luke's strikers

A small band of Pride at Work (LGBT union folks) brought their coffee to the picket line early this morning in support of California Nurses Association (CNA) members on a 10 day strike against Sutter Health hospitals. The strike at St. Luke's in the San Francisco Mission District has strong neighborhood support because Sutter (in its guise as California Pacific Medical Center) is trying to dump the money-losing indigent care the historic hospital provides. The health conglomerate wants to use the facility for profit making services only and push patients to its hospitals far on the other side of the city.

CNA charges that Sutter's plans amount to "medical redlining." Closing St. Luke's would leave the poorer, blacker and browner south side of San Francisco with no hospital but the overcrowded county general facility. More here.

With the Pride at Work folks out front, St. Luke's nurses picketed outside the emergency entrance where staff come in.

As part of my ongoing study of what various activist undertakings choose to feed their volunteers, I noticed that, being a union event, there were indeed donuts -- but also cold Safeway croissants.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter in Iraq
4000 U.S. troops dead

US soldiers sing as they celebrate Easter with a sunrise service at Camp Victory, in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, March 23, 2008. (AP photo/Dusan Vranic)

A roadside bomb killed four U.S. soldiers in Baghdad on Sunday, the military said, pushing the overall American death toll in the five-year war to at least 4,000.


The cautious language of the report reflects the writer's awareness that the U.S. military does what it can to minimize the U.S. death toll. For example, dead contractors don't count.

Nor, of course, do most of the Iraqi victims. The Washington Post reports widespread carnage on Sunday.

In the northern city of Mosul, a suicide attacker detonated an explosives-laden truck after driving through the main gate of an Iraqi army headquarters. The blast killed 15 Iraqi soldiers and wounded 42.

In Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in the western neighborhood of Sholeh at about 2:30 p.m., killing five Iraqi civilians and wounding seven. Gunmen in the southern part of the capital opened fire in a market, killing six civilians and injuring 17 others. Also in southern Baghdad, U.S. forces in helicopters killed 15 gunmen and injured 17, according to Interior Ministry sources.

In central Baghdad, mortar rounds demolished houses, killing two civilians, including a child. At least two people also were killed when mortar shells, apparently aimed at the Green Zone, landed on their houses in the Kamaliya district in the eastern part of the city.

On Baghdad's west side, in the Mansour area, one person was killed in a roadside bombing, Interior Ministry sources said.

In Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, gunmen in Balad Ruz attacked the convoy of an emergency battalion commander, killing him and three of his bodyguards. Four Iraqi soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in the city. Near Baqubah, also northeast of Baghdad, a battalion commander was fatally shot outside his house. In downtown Baqubah, a gunman killed a policeman and injured two others.

Apparently this ghastly catalogue is only important enough to the Washington Post to be warehoused on page A9.

U.S. Army soldiers scramble out of a bunker after getting the "all clear" signal after a car bomb disrupted a sunrise worship service to celebrate Easter Sunday at Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq on Sunday, March 23, 2008. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)


After last week's political hubbub, it seems right to share this image of the Risen Christ from Lodwar Cathedral in Kenya. No, Jesus doesn't have to be pictured as a long haired blonde.

"Why do you look for the living among the dead?" According to the Christian Biblical account attributed to Luke, that's what two marvelous beings (angels?) asked the women who came to look for Jesus' body after he died by torture and humiliation on the Romans' cross.

Today on Easter, Christians commemorate the story that Jesus, though undoubtedly executed, yet lived and encouraged his disheartened followers to carry on his mission.

Unimaginable and unimagined resurrection is a perennial theme in human existence whether we call it that or not. On one level, it is simply seasonal. Consider the lyrics of a hymn we sang today:

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

#204, Hymnal 1982

But some hope for continued active life from those who are gone informs even the least theistic among us. Several weeks ago "bigjac" informed his blogging community that his wife had died:

...keep in mind that I am an atheist. So, I will not agree with you if you write that she is in a better place, dancing with the angels, now that she is no longer in a wheelchair. She is dead, and she is buried in Hays, Kansas. The only thing that lives on is the ideas and habits that she taught me over the 35 years I knew her. And that is a lot.

We seem to be creatures who hang on to a faint hope in our very beings that there is some enduring meaning, even in death. It's one of our nicer qualities. And the hope that our past -- however dismal and painful -- can be transformed into a more just and more peaceful future inspires much of whatever good we do in our collective social movements.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Watching the watch listers

It certainly is heartening to read that attorney Thomas Burke, who assisted the ACLU on our no fly list lawsuit, is still bedeviling government spooks and cataloguers of suspected "terrorists."

Acting along with the San Francisco Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, Burke pressed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case against the U.S. Treasury, seeking information about why various individuals couldn't get credit or open bank accounts and what the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) was doing with complaints.

Turns out the Treasury list is a lot like the no fly list: if you find yourself on it, you can't find out why you were listed and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get off it. Moreover it is full of names of people who had done nothing to justify suspicion.

One man went into a Glen Burnie, Md., Toyota dealership to buy a car, only to be told that a name check revealed he was on a U.S. Treasury Department watchlist of suspected terrorists and drug dealers. He had to be "checked for tattoos," he said, to make sure he wasn't the suspect.

An 18-year-old found he could not open an account to accept credit card payments for his fledgling technology consulting business because his name was similar to that of a Libyan official on the watchlist.

A former U.S. Navy officer who served in the Persian Gulf and whose father was killed in the Korean War when he was a child, found himself locked out of his PayPal account because his name was similar to one on the watchlist. ...

Washington Post,
March 19, 2008

Worse than being impeded in the first place, many of these people can't get their names off the list.

The approximately 100 documents that the lawyers' committee received this week "suggest that little if anything is being done by the government to help individuals who are wrongly linked by the government with illegal activity," said Thomas Burke, a San Francisco lawyer who took part in the suit.

Even when the department confirms that a business has mistakenly identified a customer as a terrorist, he said, "they don't do anything."

San Francisco Chronicle,
March 20, 2008

As with so many developments of our encroaching surveillance society, we'll only rein in the list makers if we're willing to keep after them. Way to go Tom.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Shame on CNN for this...

Who's that they put on their website next to Obama? Some dangerous, disheveled sheik?

No, it is New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson who today endorsed Senator Obama. That just might be the worse bit of worse bit of racial photo-editing since Time Magazine doctored a photo of OJ Simpson.

Not surprisingly, Richardson's choice of candidate does have something to do with who is more able to address racism.

As a Hispanic, I was particularly touched by his words. I have been troubled by the demonization of immigrants--specifically Hispanics-- by too many in this country...

Senator Obama has started a discussion in this country long overdue and rejects the politics of pitting race against race. He understands clearly that only by bringing people together, only by bridging our differences can we all succeed together as Americans.


When it comes down to it, people in this country who suffer from racial marginalization recognize each other and hang together -- at least that is the California experience. We may not see the potential combining of this group with progressive whites come to power this year, but that coalition is our country's future. For the moment, that future belongs to Senator Obama.

Good Friday 2008:
The cross the US has brought to Iraqis

After seeing Saddam statue collapsed at Firdoos square in central Baghdad on April9th, we forgot all that suffering with great expectations to witness a new era of freedom and prosperity having no Saddam and his followers.

Five years had passed since the multi national invasion head by the USA, but we had witnessed few positives factors including the space of freedom in society and raising the standard of livings for some governmental employees. [B]ut the negative factors are so many that made some Iraqis who welcomed the occupied forces wish to have Saddam’s regime back better than the recent days.

Nowadays, we lack of power supply, water, fuel, reconstruction and other services .We suffer from corruption in all fields. We suffer from the unemployment. We lack the ration food stuff and its bad quality. The major thing we suffer from is the powerful parties and their mismanagement, abuse of power, discredit, maltreatment and bad faith. ...

Shortly, in the last five years, Iraqi people get suffering more than the 24 years of those during Saddam’s regime.

In the past, we have the mass graves hidden while nowadays we can see them in open streets. In the past we had Saddam and his security forces who caused that catastrophe while now we have the Qaeda, the gunmen, the guards of the foreign security companies and Iraqi officials, criminals and the USA troops who can cause death to anyone and anywhere in Iraq with or without reasons...

Inside Iraq

I have added some punctuation and paragraph breaks to Hussein's essay.

And the religious context implied by the headline is mine, not his. Today we mourn and try to find hope.

Friday Cat Blogging

If I didn't know better, I'd think she was shy and retiring.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Thursday


In Christian churches that use a liturgical calendar, today is Holy Thursday, the annual commemoration of Jesus' "Last Supper" (perhaps a Seder meal) with his followers.

The ritual meal aspect of this event is repeated in the Eucharist, the sharing of the blessed bread and wine. But the particular feature of the Holy (or Maundy) Thursday liturgy is the washing of each other's feet in reenactment of Jesus' washing the feet of the people coming along with him on his way. Think hardened, dusty, tired feet on people who knew no transportation but walking. There was nothing pretty about those followers' feet -- the ritual reminds us that it is the human condition to work and trudge on, sometimes painfully. And we are assured that apparently God cares for our walking along the path.

Last spring I had the privilege of attending a community forum at a church in San Mateo County at which religious leaders performed the foot washing ritual for low-wage, mostly immigrant, cafeteria workers. This seemed about right. It's the labor of people like these that keep our society going. How often do those of us who live more easily serve them?


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A somber vigil

On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, protesters snaked through downtown San Francisco, rallied in Civic Center, and were arrested in some quantity while nonviolently blocking doors and intersections. Here's a pretty good SF Chronicle story, with lots of pictures.

A different, older perhaps, but no less determined, crowd of several hundred enacted their remembrance on the steps of Grace Cathedral at an evening interfaith vigil.

Hundreds of pairs of shoes served as reminders of the thousands killed in Iraq.

Bishop Marc Andrus set the tone backed by religious leaders from several faiths.

While the assembled mourners prayed and chanted, leaders read the names of some of the dead.

How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?

Democrats are war weasels too

This singing and dancing trio greeted antiwar protestors in downtown San Francisco on the first day of the sixth year of the Iraq war.

Wouldn't it be great if we could be confident that our Democratic Presidential aspirants would end Cheney-McCain-Bush's occupation of Iraq? If we knew they would not bomb Iran? Too bad such any such confidence would be misplaced. Our Democrats are war weasels.

This may be a libel against an innocent animal, but somehow the little furry critter has become synonymous with "devious."


"Senator Clinton is very knowledgeable about national security and is probably going to be strong on defense," he said. "I have no doubts whatsoever that if she were president in January '09 she would not act irresponsibly and issue orders to conduct an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, regardless of the consequences, and squander the gains that have been made." [Retired General and Clinton advisor Jack] Keane added that he could not imagine any president in the White House making that kind of decision.

NY Sun


"He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator," [recently dismissed Obama foreign affairs advisor Samantha Power] said at one point in the [BBC] interview.


Clinton and Obama share the two premises of empire with the Republican administration:
  • The United States is entitled to impose its conception of reality on the world. They may be smarter, more inclined to consult widely, but at root they agree that what Washington says goes.
  • When the United States exercises its right to impose itself on the world, it will succeed.
Neither premise is true. If Iraq proves anything, it is that the era of unlimited U.S. freedom to dominate the world is over. After five years in Iraq, this country is economically and morally bankrupt, perhaps beyond recovery. Our historic institutions that promise civil liberties within the country are in tatters. It sure was a fast slide.

Yesterday Barack Obama delivered what I agree with my friend Ronni Bennett was "one of the most sophisticated speeches politics has seen in years. Also one of the most personal and most decent - one that asks all of us to become our better selves. ..." But we'd be fooling ourselves if we didn't notice that he chose to embed in it one of the conventional falsehoods that underlie U.S. imperial pretensions. Speaking of Pastor Wright's views, Obama said they expressed

a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

Obama is rejecting Wright for the conventional wisdom of empire, valuing the European over the Arab, the Christian over the Muslim, occupiers over indigenous peoples, autocracies over popular aspirations -- the language of war and futility in the era of multi-polar globalization.

Our Democratic war weasels will only be what we, the people, make them be -- just like our current rulers.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mission District fire burns four buildings

This was something you hope you never see in your neighborhood. Alerted by the sound of choppers overhead, we ran out from dinner to check out what was happening.

The center of the fire seemed to be on Poplar Alley, close to the corner of Valencia and 26th Street. The core Mission area is crisscrossed by these small alleys, only one car wide. Blocks of three and four story flats line the narrow streets. Some of San Francisco's cheaper rentals hide within.

On the east, the Valencia, side of the fire, a tall cloud of black smoke rose from an invisible source.

I could barely catch sight of a firefighter on the roof.

When we got to the scene, gawkers (ourselves included) crowded the area. The fire chief conferred with a cop about setting up a perimeter.

Meanwhile reinforcements waited to go in.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, one firefighter was sent to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. I would not be surprised if the fire made dozens homeless. The same article describes one 24-unit building as "ravaged."

A geographical expression, nothing more

John McCain and Dick Cheney "visited" this place yesterday. That is, they dropped in secretively, jumped around in helicopters under heavy guard meeting their dazed clients, and jumped out quick before catching a stray mortar. They say things are getting better.

An Iraqi employee of the New York Times, Khalid al-Ansary, thinks otherwise. He is stretched to his emotional limit, with no end in sight.

Iraqi security forces all over the country and specifically in Baghdad have done their best to crack down on violence. However, what they are doing is like a tug of war. They tighten their grip some of the time against the militias and Qaeda, but let it go or unleash it most of the time. ...

...The battle is much harder than Mr. Bush expected. His own army, the strongest in the world, could not cope with the situation. The Iraqi government doesn’t tell the real numbers of the dead.

In Baghdad, no one knows when he will die. It is like a line we are standing in. One day a friend dies, another day a relative, and so on.

I have started to ask myself, is this country cursed? ... God, are we all bad people here? If so, why do you not use your superior power to terminate this country. Or if not, why don’t you help people to stay alive, next to their beloved.

A veteran United Kingdom journalist sums up five years of invasion and occupation.

Five years of occupation have destroyed Iraq as a country. Baghdad is today a collection of hostile Sunni and Shia ghettoes divided by high concrete walls. Different districts even have different national flags. Sunni areas use the old Iraqi flag with the three stars of the Baath party, and the Shia wave a newer version, adopted by the Shia-Kurdish government. The Kurds have their own flag. ...

The Sunni defeat in the battle for Baghdad in 2006 and early 2007 was the motive for many guerrillas, previously anti-American, suddenly allying themselves with American forces. They concluded they could not fight the US, al-Qa'ida, the Iraqi army and police and the Mehdi Army at the same time.

There is now an 80,000 strong Sunni militia, paid for and allied to the US but hostile to the Iraqi government. Five years after the American and British armies crossed into Iraq, the country has become a geographical expression.

Patrick Cockburn,
The Independent

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"We care, so that you don't have to ..."

Marine Sergeant Adam Kokesh was a civil affairs officer in Falluja, Iraq from February to December 2004. He testified at the Winter Soldier hearings held in Washington, DC March 13-16.

What the preacher said ...

If you've been following the latest Democratic tempest in a tea pot, you know that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright said some things that Barack Obama felt he must "condemn." Wright has been Obama's pastor and friend for many years. The Chicago UCC minister has now resigned from Obama's African American Religious Leadership Committee.

But do you know what Wright said that has the right so upset? Here are some of his unacceptable opinions.
  • "The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people," he said in a 2003 sermon. "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."
  • "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.
  • "We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost," he told his congregation. ...
I'd call these statements many adjectives: perhaps "gutsy," perhaps slightly "ill-considered" -- but most importantly, self-evidently true.

After 9/11, angry, frightened vengeful citizens, much abetted by right wing politicians and the Bush administration, demanded censorship and self-censorship from us all. Mostly we complied, stunned by the vehemence of the grief and anger we felt ourselves and in most around us. My friend Bob Wing wrote a prescient letter on September 14, 2001 that warned explicitly against one of Pastor Wright's phrases (those roosting-returning chickens...).

But shutting up about home truths didn't do anyone any good after 9/11. The Bush administration played on our emotions to justify their imperial wet dreams. And now the country is tied in for the long term to a war that is bankrupting us.

Shutting up about how the racially-defined underclass of African Americans and new immigrants are forced to live doesn't make injustice go away either.

And a lot of people know this. In breaking the story of Wright's words, ABC concluded with this comment which seems about right.

"I wouldn't call it radical. I call it being black in America," said one congregation member outside the church last Sunday.


One more thought about the Rev. Wright: I think what upsets white folks most about his sermons is perhaps even more the style of his delivery than the words. We aren't accustomed to seeing speakers vigorously declaiming, raising their voices, pounding the air for emphasis. He must be an angry black guy -- now there's a category we know and fear. And I guess that Obama guy must also be an angry black guy, even though he hides it so well ... Yes, the attempt of our white supremacist cultural arbiters to racialize Obama's image is working.

Friday, March 14, 2008

People on the move -- a constant of history

Our picture of the meaning of "immigration" is simply too small. We are choosing to lock ourselves in a tiny box bounded by anxieties about who is taking whose job, who has legal documents, who presents a security threat. Meanwhile, there's a lot we overlook from relatively small shifts with local effects to vast global migrations,

Two examples:

The number of people crossing into the United States at San Ysidro has fallen 21.4 percent from a peak three years ago, a precipitous drop that economists and others attribute to frustrating border waits, dwindling tourism and a struggling U.S. economy. ...

"There is nobody spending any money," said Tom Shultz, the owner of a Subway franchise near the San Ysidro port of entry. Shultz said the overwhelming majority of his customers are from Tijuana, and most are daily commuters. "I see a drop in traffic, and I see more cautiousness in spending."

Neighboring businesses, a mix of mom-and-pop retail and quick-service shops, are having similar problems: reduced traffic, lower sales, reductions in employee hours.

"Between the border wait time and security issues, it is killing us," said Jason Wells, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce in San Ysidro...

San Diego Union-Tribune,
March 11, 2008

Yes, the national obsession with guarding the U.S. border is killing small business and pissing off the Chamber of Commerce in this Republican bastion. A more open border made a healthy economy; cutting off movement is choking the border communities, on both sides.

Meanwhile, across the globe, the European Union is trying to look ahead and perceives a profound new challenge:

In its half-century history, the EU has absorbed wave upon wave of immigrants. There were the millions of political migrants fleeing Russian-imposed communism to western Europe throughout the cold war, the post-colonial and "guest worker" migrants who poured into western Europe in the boom years of the 1950s and 60s, the hundreds of thousands who escaped the Balkan wars of the 90s and the millions of economic migrants of the past decade seeking a better life.

Now, according to the EU's two senior foreign policy officials, Europe needs to brace itself for a new wave of migration with a very different cause - global warming. The ravages already being inflicted on parts of the developing world by climate change are engendering a new type of refugee, the "environmental migrant".

...the immediate and devastating effects of global warming will be felt far away from Europe, with the poor suffering disproportionately in south Asia, the Middle East, central Asia, Africa and Latin America, but that Europe will ultimately bear the consequences.

... "The core challenge is that climate change threatens to overburden states and regions which are already fragile and conflict-prone. The risks include political and security risks that directly affect European interests."

The Guardian,
March 10, 2008

Actually, the U.S. faces the same environmental migration pressures-- and has the historical experience to weather it. Our history includes an analogous episode, the massive wave of immigration pushed by the 19th century Irish potato famine that filled our cities with hungry laborers, much to the consternation of the good Anglo-Saxon Americans who had got here previously.

No force is going to stop human migrations -- the task is to manage their consequences as fairly to both long time residents and newcomers as can be achieved. Pretending we can lock these human tides into our little boxes is literally crazy.

Friday Cat Blogging

Somtimes I think I know how she feels.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pelosi skewers Bush

I've said some pretty nasty things about Nancy Pelosi on occasion. (For example, here.) But today she was right on point

Way to go Congresswoman!

No happy ending

The other day, I caught a snatch of this on my car radio in that disjointed way one does while doing errands.

But I think there's really no happy ending here. If the Americans stay, then they're only postponing the inevitable, which is fulfillment of the civil war.

But the Mahdi army is growing impatient with the cease-fire. Mahdi army men are losing control, losing their power and influence. They're still being arrested by the Americans, so they're growing resentful.

The Sunni militiamen feel like they're not getting anything from the Iraqi government, so why are they in this bargain? The Americans forced the Iraqi government to promise to integrate 20 percent of the Sunni militiamen into the Iraqi security forces. That's not really happening.

There's no reconciliation. In fact, the Iraqi government just acquitted two famous death squad leaders from the Ministry of Health. I mean, they're basically an insult to the entire Sunni community.

Unthinkable -- realism on NPR about conditions under U.S. occupation in Iraq? Well if you follow the link, not really, as a Neocon policy hack was "debating" the undebatable, that this U.S. war is completely hopeless, in fact a stinking quagmire.

The speaker of realism was the reporter Nir Rosen. He was recently on the ground -- unembeded, speaking Arabic -- in Baghdad. Read his account of real life in Iraq here. There's no peace ahead for suffering Iraqis and this remains the invaders' (our) fault.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A contest for who includes the most people?

Fascinating -- we're seeing a development just like what happened with the Democratic Presidential hopefuls and the Iraq war. Certainly Hillary Clinton and most likely the rest of the early field didn't voluntarily leap out to run on an "end the war" promise. But Bush made the Iraq war the center of his Presidency. The people have wanted the U.S. out for a couple of years now. In order to be heard, to draw a contrast, all the Dems began to compete on promise to get out of Iraq, someday. Barack Obama used his early opposition to the war as his own point of contrast to the rest of the lot.

Now John McCain has chosen to tie himself to "winning the war". We can expect whoever emerges from the Democratic wrestling match to continue to campaign on some kind of promise of withdrawal, not that we can trust either of them to follow through without an energetic peace movement. But we know what they'll promote in response to McCain and that will give peace people leverage if they don't deliver.

McCain also seems to be running on his close connection to a series of Christian-rightwing nuts. First there was Pastor John Hagee, a classic ignorant Protestant hater of Roman Catholics who thinks the U.S. was assigned by God to fight the Palestinians so as to prop up Israel and bring on end times. McCain begged for his endorsement, got it, and won't repudiate the ugly bigotry he gets with it.

Apparently McCain has also picked up a genuine Crusader, the Reverend Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church of Columbus, Ohio. Mother Jones reports:

Senator John McCain hailed as a spiritual adviser an Ohio megachurch pastor who has called upon Christians to wage a "war" against the "false religion" of Islam with the aim of destroying it.

Will the Democrats respond to these slurs as they did to the Republicans' embrace of the war? Will we start hearing endorsements of religious pluralism, of the separation of church and state?

Will Dems speak out against Islamophobia? Obama clearly has, and probably has to, since he is getting the he-is-Black-so-he-must-be-Muslim treatment. But perhaps respect for Muslim Americans might become a theme of the Democratic campaign?

This is probably too much to hope for, but the logic of events is showing the Dems the way. Let them compete for which party is most inclusive of the great variety of religious and non-religious people who make up this country. That could be good politics. Most voters like to feel spoken to, included.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Going... going... "blinking out"

This little critter, a pika, watched us warily through a thick fog. We were stumbling along a high ridge on a Colorado mountain aptly named Quandary. Quandary is a 14er -- over 14,000 feet high -- cold, wet, inhospitable to hikers, but home to its proper inhabitants.

Pikas are about 6 to 8 inches long, rodents, grass eaters, who scarf up in the summer and hibernate under snow in the winter.

They are also proving to be "canaries in the coal mine," animals dying off because global warming is inexorably destroying the conditions on which they depend. They have lived in the U.S. west at elevations between 8,000 and 13,000 feet, but their numbers are shrinking.

Pushed by warmer weather to ever-higher elevations, the tiny pika is losing real estate at an alarming rate, according to scientists, and is disappearing rapidly from much of its historic territory in the West....

"Pikas in general are now found at such high elevations that there's not a lot of places left for them," [Donald] Grayson, [a University of Washington paleontologist] said.

Denver Post

Pikas are not going to go extinct in truly high places, like Quandary. But where mountain peaks top out at lower elevations, local populations of pikas are experiencing what the scientists call "blinking out." They are just gone.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The guy had potential; blew it for what?

Just want to say, as I often have about Bill Clinton, if these dick heads can't manage to keep it in their pants, they shouldn't be in public office. Those of us who depend on these men deserve better than some pathetic overage adolescent who is made a fool by his gonads.

And that holds true, even if Republican federal prosecutors were setting up some kind of trap for this up and coming Democrat. Dude walked into it. I am not sympathetic -- I am pissed off.

U.S. shows no respect
for the opinions of [hu]mankind

Most days, one of the news sources I read is a "terrorism" email from openDemocracy, a U.K.-based, internationalist web forum that conveys a moderate European perspective on the world's doings. This is today's lead story.

Bush condones torture

A torture technique once used in the Spanish Inquisition has been condoned by the US president. George Bush vetoed a Congressional bill outlawing water boarding and other forms of torture. Bush's latest exercise of executive power will allow the CIA to continue practicing waterboarding. Bush claims the bill would have made it more difficult for CIA operatives to obtain key information from terrorists, despite compelling evidence and advice that suggests otherwise. US General David H. Petraeus says the use of waterboarding will increase the risks of torture for future American prisoners of war. Democrats may attempt to override the veto but require a two-third majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to do so.

The toD [terrorism.openDemocracy] verdict: Waterboarding simulates drowning and is illegal under the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, even under US law the technique is considered a war crime. ...

Nikolaj Nielsen

Not a verdict I could argue against. My headline -- the appeal to the"decent respect to the opinions of [hu]mankind" -- was the standard the U.S. signers of the Declaration of Independence proposed to hold the English monarchy to in their famous insurgency.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

It was ever thus ...

An unschooled 19-year-old hoping for an education was scolded for dreaming and sent to work in a factory.

... An ailing, jobless father of three, facing immigration laws that called for deportation of those who sought public aid, told his caseworker, as her notes put it, that "he was more concerned and more disturbed now than he had ever been..."

In another case, a young family was cut off from agency assistance two months after their arrival, for failing to disclose a "secret bank account" containing $138 in loans from friends. ...

The father ... was later chided for not reporting the few dollars that his young son earned fixing bicycles after school. And when his daughter graduated from high school with honors, she had to give up on college to help support the family.

Were these people some of nearly 38 million foreign born people currently in the United States? Were they undocumented migrants, the fellow digging that trench at the construction site, the maid cleaning your hotel room?

No. These were "DPs," -- displaced persons -- Jewish survivors of Nazi persecution, of Auschwitz, of the Warsaw Ghetto, seeking a new life away from the death and destruction of post-World War II Europe. Five hundred thousand were belatedly allowed to enter the United States in 1951. In the McCarthyite atmosphere of the time, they were looked upon as potential freeloaders and security risks. The record of that migration from the resettlement agency, the New York Association for New Americans, has just been opened and written up in the New York Times by Nina Bernstein. Go read it all.

One more echo of today's migrants:

"We were all smuggled across borders. ...We had to go someplace. America seemed good. ...