Friday, April 30, 2010

Arizona boycott gets underway

Boycotts don't just happen because people of good will decide to stop dealing with entities they think have done something wrong. A boycott of Arizona to protest and overturn the state's new racist "Papers Please" law is going to take organization, targeting and some solid thinking. Here's a round up of some early information:

On RaceWire, Daisy Hernandez suggests three corporate targets with headquarters in Arizona that many individuals might otherwise patronize:

For those of you who want to make it happen: Don’t book a flight on U.S. Airways, get a domain name through Go Daddy or rent a U-Haul truck.

Another obvious target that reliably gets the attention of state Chambers of Commerce would be any upcoming conventions or professional meetings to be held in Arizona. The Denver school system is already banning work related travel to Arizona.

Religious denominations provide an obvious target to begin assembling this part of the boycott movement. Many are already mobilizing against the law and in defense of the strangers in our midst. Retired South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu has posted a powerful letter of protest about the Arizona law:

I am saddened today at the prospect of a young Hispanic immigrant in Arizona going to the grocery store and forgetting to bring her passport and immigration documents with her. I cannot be dispassionate about the fact that the very act of her being in the grocery store will soon be a crime in the state she lives in. Or that should a policeman hear her accent and form a "reasonable suspicion" that she is an illegal immigrant, she can -- and will -- be taken into custody until someone sorts it out, while her children are at home waiting for their dinner. ...

I am not speaking from an ivory tower. I lived in the South Africa that has now thankfully faded into history, where a black man or woman could be grabbed off the street and thrown in jail for not having his or her documents on their person.

How far can this go? We lived it -- police waking a man up in the middle of the night and hauling him off to jail for not having his documents on his person while he slept. The fact that they were in his nightstand near the bed was not good enough. ...

... when you strip a man or a woman of their basic human rights, you strip them of their dignity in the eyes of their family and their community, and even in their own eyes. An immigrant who is charged with the crime of trespassing for simply being in a community without his papers on him is being told he is committing a crime by simply being. He or she feels degraded and feels they are of less worth than others of a different color skin. These are the seeds of resentment, hostilities and in extreme cases, conflict. Such "solutions" solve nothing.

Go read it all; it is wise and compassionate.

Many politicians (those with many Latino constituents most obviously) need to be brought on board for the boycott to gain traction. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is looking into city options. In San Francisco, city pols are already trying to one up each other in their enthusiasm for a city boycott.

Having had the privilege of working in South Africa as the apartheid regime was crumbling under international sanctions, I learned that for most ordinary South African whites, the most distressing of the sanctions was the sports boycott. Arizona is extremely vulnerable to pressure through its professional teams. Already today, the baseball Diamondbacks were met with protest in Chicago when playing the Cubs. Major League Baseball is a particularly vulnerable target for the Arizona boycott. At least one quarter of the players are foreign-origin Latinos; the 2011 All-Star Game is scheduled for Phoenix. Could it be moved with enough pressure? There is precedent. The NFL took the 1990 Super Bowl away from Arizona when the state refused to honor the Martin Luther King holiday.

In addition to the regular season, many teams conduct their spring training in the Cactus League in Arizona. All of them (Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, "Los Angeles" Angels of Anaheim, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers) provide additional targets for pro-immigrant activists in their own cities. Washington State blogger Goldy has written a tight analysis of why the Cubs in particular might prove to be the opening wedge of a baseball spring training boycott.

All this is going to take organization. (A website is already up; I don't know whether something with more evident institutional backing may appear.) There are, after all, lots of our fellow citizens who think the Arizona law is a good idea.

We need to applaud, support, and, if appropriate, reward Arizona individuals and institutions that work within the state to overturn the "papers please" law.

A boycott needs a clear communication strategy -- those of us who are appalled by what the Grand Canyon State has done need to be able to explain to our neighbors why "papers please" is not an answer to anxiety about immigrants, about violence, and about an economy that generates a growing gap between rich and poor. In addition to calling out anti-Latino racism, we need to project a vision of society that works better for everyone.

Alert for San Francisco wi-fi coffee house junkies

Sometimes you don't get what you think is promised. One of the most common providers of wi-fi service in local coffee houses is a company called ZRNet. They apparently got in the broadband business early and seem to have signed up a lot of local places.

The ZRNet logo is probably familiar to most local internet junkies.

But if you also see this in the window, don't be so confident that you can get online without paying for broadband access. You may buy your coffee as I did the other day, set up your laptop, and then find something like this on your screen:


ZRNet wants us to scared that public networks may be insecure. Or course they are. Most networks, even ones with passwords, are insecure if someone really wants in. But using a little caution, there's no reason to pay ZRNet to use their open network in a cafe. The "Surf Free" option is fine, if you can hold off on using your credit card or other sensitive transactions. Mostly, they are just trying to con the gullible and anxious into selecting "Surf Secure" and paying an unnecessary fee.

However some cafes are compounding the insult. They've apparently turned off the "Surf Free" option on ZRNet. If so, you get this screen:


I ran into this one at Royal Grounds at 3101 Geary Boulevard. They can forget my coming back there. I should have known when I looked in the window and there was no one else in the coffee shop at midday.

Hint: you can always go to the nearest branch of the SF Public Library if you need a connection.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Arizonans themselves can strike back against racism

This guy has one idea.

Opponents of Arizona's Latino profiling law may be a minority these days, but there is still something they can do to help prevent their state from serving as a symbol of contemporary bigotry. According to the AP at

On Wednesday, a group filed papers to launch a referendum drive that could put the law on hold until 2012 if organizers wait until the last minute to turn in petition signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot.

Opponents of the law have until late July or early August to file the more than 76,000 signatures , the same time the law is set to go into effect. If they get enough signatures, the law would be delayed until a vote.

But the deadline to put a question on the November ballot is July 1, and a referendum filing later than that could delay a vote on the law until 2012, officials with the Secretary of State's Office said.

"That would be a pretty big advantage" to the law's opponents, said Andrew Chavez, head of a Phoenix-based petition-circulating firm and chairman of the One Arizona referendum campaign.

Way to go. Gum up the works and let the wingnut law fester in limbo for awhile, during which time people in the rest of the country build up an understanding of the enormity of the direction Arizona wants to go.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Boycott Arizona!

Arizona's new "Profile and Deport the Wetbacks" law provides an occasion for understanding more than that Republicans have decided to commit political suicide to maintain white supremacy.

The passions it lays bare ought to make people take a step back and think about what immigration politics really show about this nation and its democracy. When the white majority feels threatened by darker people, we repeatedly enact policies that are both cruel and stupid. And we fail to see our noses in front of our faces. Saskia Sassen of Columbia University and the London School of Economics makes some insightful observations on migration policy:

...the decision to make it a crime under state law to be in the United States illegally and to oblige state police to question individuals over their immigration status on grounds of "reasonable suspicion" is part of a larger landscape that enables governments and police forces to engage in actions that used to be thought of as extreme and unacceptable.

In many ways, border control has not worked. No matter how big these states' guns and border-control budgets, they have lost credibility -- both with their citizens and with traffickers (who have, if anything, vastly increased their operations). .. .In this process, powerful states have made visible the limits of their power, no matter how weaponised their borders. ...

All these resources are being spent in order to control extremely powerless and vulnerable people who mostly only want a chance to work.... Even with this enormous mismatch, the economic and ethical costs of this approach for "liberal democracies" are in the long run very high. In the United States, for instance, 320,000 immigrants were in the 2007-08 fiscal year incarcerated without trial only because officialdom considered it likely that they were illegal residents. In other words, it is more than probable that some among these 320,000 were in reality citizens.

When a state extends arbitrary powers to governors and police forces, sooner or later the latter will reach - and target - citizens. It might take that to happen in order for those in charge to shift from the drive to control to the art of governing these [migrant] flows.

For nearly thirty years, political economic orthodoxy has touted so-called "free trade" as the route to national wealth. "Free" trade lets capital, money, move around the globe finding the most profitable places to invest. Meanwhile labor remains unfree, unable to chase the best wages and conditions, fettered by national borders. So unauthorized migrant flows become more and more unstoppable. A sort of "free" movement of people, naturally follows "free" trade. The measures invented to try to halt the migrant flows undermine democracy for everyone -- as the Arizona law shows by calling into question the citizenship of ever Latino.

In the New York Times Opinionator blog, veteran Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse has pointed out that we can't necessarily trust the current Supreme Court to protect the nation from the reactionary thrust of Arizona's pre-emption of federal authority over immigration enforcement policy.

Indeed, federal pre-emption would appear to be the most promising route for attacking the Arizona law. Supreme Court precedents make clear that immigration is a federal matter and that the Constitution does not authorize the states to conduct their own foreign policies.

My confidence about the law's fate in the court's hands is not boundless, however. In 1982, hours after the court decided the Texas case, a young assistant to Attorney General William French Smith analyzed the decision and complained in a memo: "This is a case in which our supposed litigation program to encourage judicial restraint did not get off the ground, and should have." That memo's author was John G. Roberts Jr.

The current Chief Justice has demonstrated that he is quite willing to tear up past precedent, in the Citizen's United case by allowing corporations to spend without limit on elections. The guy is apparently results oriented. There's no reason to think he'd be less willing to affirm a new state right to engage in racial profiling in the name of immigration controls. Arizona's miserable prejudices could have consequences throughout the country.

This is a time for citizen pressure. I'll try to report every practical suggestion here.


Banking accountability, people-style

Lunch time in downtown San Francisco was more than usually congested yesterday. Unions, community and tenant organizations rallied on California Street outside the Wells Fargo Bank shareholders meeting. Both the Alameda and San Francisco Labor Councils were there. Purple t-shirts and jackets from SEIU mixed with nurses from the California Nurses Association in red ponchos and their "Queen Meg" blond wigs mocking the Republican candidate for governor. Grassroots agitators from Just Causa/Causa Justa and POWER also were out in force.

There came a moment when the San Francisco Police Department felt it had to get a Wells Fargo stage coach off the street.

People do make demands. They know something very wrong has happened to the circumstances in which they (try to) work. They know some people somewhere just seem to get richer, while people they know are scared at best, out of jobs and homes at worst. This is serious stuff; not something to be put out of mind. They want something done about it. Someone ought to pay for doing this to them and their communities ...

Yes, this is a little unfocused. Organizers try to give those feelings meaning, turn them into a force, by holding events like these. Wells Fargo makes a good target: it played big in the subprime mortgage ponzi scheme that brought down the financial system -- and it still runs a payday lending business through its ATM network that can hit needy borrowers with interest up to 240 percent per year! Wells Fargo's business may be legal, but, like other big investment banks, it acts without any accountability for the health of the society that enables it to operate.

Does getting aggrieved people out in the streets do any good?

Little demonstrations like this -- probably 300, peaceful, well-behaved people shouting slogans and listening to short exhortations -- don't get press coverage these days. Teabaggers are novel, newsworthy, "talking dogs"; union members and poor people are an old, tired story. They'd probably have to throw a pie in a banker's face to attract media.

But attracting media is not the only reason organizers put on these events. For one thing, it is important for each constituency within this kind of group to see that there are others with the same concerns and frustrations. And it is good for each groups' leaders to work with the other members of the coalition.

There's a social aspect to these things. I saw people from several of the many local communities I relate to -- and so did most everyone else. That's not a small thing, in a society where many of us easily come to feel socially isolated.

And though this was all amiably choreographed today, it never hurts to remind our local representatives off in Washington that their folks do expect action on financial reform. Barbara (Boxer), Diane (Feinstein), and even lofty Nancy (Pelosi) will have a happier time with this crowd on their side. Reminding them what we expect of them doesn't hurt and just might help.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Immigration politics

Yesterday the political pundits were speculating that Democrats will move Congressional consideration of immigration reform to the front of the queue of pressing national business because they understand that a fair reform is in their political interest. Ezra Klein spelled this out.

Democrats obviously have an election to win. Harry Reid, in particular, has an election to win in a state with a very large Hispanic population. And reformers were certainly given a great gift when Arizona decided to write xenophobia into its lawbooks and create a sense of emergency around state-level action on this issue. Put it all together and some Democratic strategists see the chance to bury the GOP's relationship with Hispanics for a generation.

I'm stunned. Democrats understanding their interests lie with sticking up for constituents of color? Realizing that taking a combative, pro-migrant position is a winning stance for them?

For a person who watched California Democrats hide under rocks rather than defend immigrants from Gov. Pete Wilson's odious Prop. 187 in the 90s, their momentary clear-sighted comprehension of a moment when doing good will also be doing well is mind boggling.

It's always nice when that hopey-changy thing actually seems to be working as I think it ought to.

Education for citizenship

This is obviously a puff piece for a school program defending its funding -- but hey, it's still inspiring. Give it a look. [4:50] I hope government and schools stick with 'em. Many years ago I worked in the California Central Valley town of Arvin, featured here, when it was pretty much a war zone during a United Farm Workers Union organizing campaign. Maybe there is hope for U.S. democracy yet. (H/t The Thicket.)

Here's an example of another kind of citizenship education. [2:57]

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers figured they could dramatize for us what really happens when workers try to exercise their rights in the workplace: 78 percent are forced to attend closed door meetings with management; 75 percent of employers bring in professional union-busters.

Yes, workers needs to be free to form unions if they wish to without having to withstand this kind of intimidation.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Brian McLaren says "Everything Must Change"

Warning: this is a commentary on a religious book. If you hate religions, this is probably not addressed to your condition as my Quaker friends might say. Take what you can use and leave the rest.

I wanted very much to like Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. McLaren is a prolific writer on contemporary Christianity; I've heard him preach and read some of his articles. He almost manages to communicate some substance to that amorphous, but perhaps real, notion, "The Emerging Church."

What follows is a mix of appreciation that slides over into an unhappy critique of this very ambitious little book.

Let's start with what I liked about McLaren: He asks the big questions that comfortable religious people often avoid.

  • What are the biggest problems in the world?
  • What does Jesus have to say about these global problems?
  • Why hasn't the Christian religion made a difference commensurate with its message, size and resources?
Having asked the hard stuff, he then proposes a set of interlocking systems that constitute the unhappy current "everything" that must change:
  • The prosperity system: an unsustainable global economy that is running up to and over the planet's environmental limits, while making about one third of humans comfortably rich; (some of us would call this unfettered "capitalism" but not McLaren);
  • The equity system: the gap between rich and poor ensures that social structures that ought to ensure fairness (like democracy) and a measure of compassion toward our neighbors (welfare systems) are breaking;
  • The security system: the dysfunction of the other two systems ensures that instead creating mechanisms for peaceful resolution of disputes, we end up trying to dispel fear through ever more all-encompassing prisons and ever more cataclysmic wars.
The whole mess, in McLaren's terms, amounts to a "suicide machine."

Not bad analysis from the point of view of this leftist Christian. And how could I dislike someone who writes that our religion

"can become a benign and passive chaplaincy to a failing and dysfunctional culture, the religious public relations department for an inadequate and destructive ideology."

But I kept having the gnawing feeling that something important was missing from McLaren's world picture. When was he going to get to two massively dysfunctional aspects of the our suicidal society that I see playing out every day? I kept reading and waiting ...

McLaren understands very well that what we see often is shaped by the position from which we look at it. For example, he says this about fundamentalist readings of scripture:

"They underestimate how the original words and teachings were situated -- how deeply their sacred texts were rooted in gritty contemporary problems and human social contexts; instead, they see their sacred texts as timeless, placeless utterances coming from an arid, Platonic plane of universal abstraction. And these fundamentalist movements also underestimate how equally situated their own interpretations and applications are."

But I gradually realized that my sense of something missing in McLaren's "everything" probably derives from where he stands: he's an entitled white guy. There are two unmentioned systems of oppression that are so obvious to me that he misses completed that I would call:
  • The Otherness system: our human use of race, ethnicity, and/or cultural differences to create hierarchies;
  • The patriarchal system: all the accumulated weight of tradition and custom that subjugates women to men.
These two realities of our condition are invisible in this book.

Actually, it's worse than that. In a discussion of abortion, McLaren offers an ignorant, deeply misogynist description of what he thinks leads to unwanted pregnancies:

Putting rape-induced pregnancy aside, abortion is considered necessary because some people [buddy -- can't you manage to say "women"?] contract a pregnancy they don't want in the process of seeking pleasure, intimacy, or other consequences of intercourse they do want. [Do you have any idea of the multiple reasons women may feel they have to fuck, whether they want to much or not? Evidently not.]

There's more, but I'll spare you. When are men going to get it that they should simply shut up about abortion until the only people who can get pregnant, women, have enjoyed equality and the freedom to interrogate the meaning and morality of pregnancy for a millennium or so? Contemporary men -- and also women emerging from centuries of patriarchy -- simply are not placed to lay down the law about what women must do with our bodies.

Okay, so McLaren pissed me off -- a lot. But I cannot fault the ambition and the goodwill intended in this book. That appreciation almost makes my sad reaction to it stronger since it seems likely to reinforce among people who stand where McLaren does -- comfortable white men -- an obliviousness to race and gender that directly injures the planet's majority.

Listen up, Arizona!

"The pizzas you eat come from Italy, your numerical system from the Arabs, your script from the Romans, your toys from Hong Kong, your electronic equipment from Japan, your clothes from Taiwan, your wealth from trade with the rest of the world. And then you shout 'Foreigners out!'?" - A church sign in Offenbach, Germany

H/t Ekklesia

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Torture goes on in New York City

Next week, a U.S. citizen named Syed Fahad Hashmi will go on trialin a federal court in New York City, accused of assisting al-Qaeda by allowing rain gear meant for shipment to Afghanistan to be stored in his Queens apartment and also of generally supporting violent Muslim extremists. He has not yet been convicted of anything (guilt or innocence has not been determined)-- yet our government has been torturing him for three years in a Manhattan cell.

According to Bill Quigley, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, writing in the Huffington Post:

For the last almost three years, Syed Fahad Hashmi has been kept in total pre-trial isolation inside in a small cell under 24 hour video and audio surveillance. He is forced to use the bathroom and shower in full view of the video. He has not seen the sun in years. He takes his meals alone in his cell. He cannot see any other detainees and he is not allowed to communicate in any way with any prisoners. He cannot write letters to friends and he cannot make calls to anyone but his lawyer. He is prohibited from participating in group prayer. He gets newspapers that are 30 days old with sections cut out by the government. One hour a day he is taken into another confined room where he is also kept in total isolation.

This complete isolation is torture.

John McCain said so, after the North Vietnamese kept him in isolation for 2 years. Reporter Terry Anderson, who survived seven years as a hostage of held by anti-U.S. fighters in Lebanon in the 1980s also says isolation was the worst aspect of his ordeal, a kind of torture. U.S. prisons routinely consign inmates to prolonged, punitive solitary isolation, despite the reality that many correctional professionals believe this does little to reduce uncontrolled violence, according to a recent New Yorker article by Dr. Atul Gawande.

But at least those prisoners have been convicted of some crime. Hashmi is still "presumed innocent" under the Constitution, but, like the unfortunate inmates of Guantanamo, most of them there though bad luck and mistake, the government has been doing what it wished with him. Not surprisingly, his U.S. friends and relatives believe he is suffering this treatment because he is a foreign-born Muslim. They have set up a website with much more at Free Farhad. The trial next week will test the question whether a person subjected to this kind of pretrial treatment can get a hearing in court.

Dr. Gawande (in the article cited above) reached a chilling conclusion about our country's propensity to torture its own prisoners by keeping them in solitary.

This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. With little concern or demurral, we have consigned tens of thousands of our own citizens to conditions that horrified our highest court a century ago. Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America’s moral stature in the world. In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture.

Once these practices are normalized, they are hard to stop ... or even limit.

(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN )

Saturday, April 24, 2010

How gays win full rights

Marc Ambinder, the Atlantic magazine's "politics editor," has posted a current blog post titled Gay Activists v. The White House: The Inside Story. He could better have called it something like "In which Marc Ambinder shows he doesn't understand how outcasts pry their way into the system ..."

Confidently predicting that next December, after the midterm elections, the Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) law will be repealed by the rump Congress, Ambinder pretty much tells gay people: "Trust Daddy Obama; he'll take care of your pretty little heads."

Ambinder says everything would be hunky-dory if gay activists would just trust their legitimate leadership (that's the Human Rights Campaign Fund) and the nice political operatives in the White House like Jim Messina and Rahm Emmanuel. These Democratic power brokers certainly know that repeal of DADT is a popular idea (94 percent approval in one poll). They'll take care of us in an orderly way.

Well hooey. That's not how change works.

This week Lt. Dan Choi, the personable West Point grad and Army linguist (pictured above), chained himself to the White House fence to protest being discharged for being gay. And the President got heckled by Get Equal at a fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer in Los Angeles.

In adopting an adversarial stance even toward our "fierce advocates," these LGBT rabble-rousers are just doing what we've learned in the last thirty years during which we've made huge gains for our outsider community. No other disempowered group has made such progress since Reagan's election in 1980; in fact, successive Republican administrations have rolled back civil rights and worker protections; both parties have conspired to hide the poor and enrich financial barons; and religious nutters have chipped away at women's control of our bodies. But gays have been winning -- we can get married in five states for crying out loud and even conservatives usually say we should be able to live relatively unmolested.

How did we get there? Not by shutting up and counting on our straight allies. We've yelled and demanded -- and also litigated, and voted, and come out to families and co-workers. We haven't been afraid to make a stink. Even the most mild mannered of us -- and actually most of us are more mild mannered than flamboyant -- has demanded our equality from an unwilling society. And we've made nearly unthinkable progress.

Sorry Ambinder. The Prez promised DADT repeal. He hasn't yet delivered. So he's an appropriate target of the most noisy, imaginative agitation we can pull off until he does what he says he'll do. That's how the liberation game is played.

This anti-militarist wishes we weren't having to pick this fight for a right I wish no one felt moved to use, but that's another struggle. Full rights first.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Saturday scenes:
There's a new bird in the 'hood


Returning home Thursday evening, I noticed some folks pasting signs on empty walls. That's not unusual around the Mission. Unlike the people I think of as the "sign fascists" who come along scraping notices off poles, I don't much mind so long as the signs aren't commercial and are not all over someone's property. I'd be annoyed about that. But these weren't.

Rufous is kind of cute.

And something big and mean is out to get him.

Learn more at Clean Up, Not Cover Up. The Lennar Corporation is the big national developer that has got itself a piece of the old San Francisco Hunters Point shipyard area with the support of the Mayor and building trades unions -- but without the agreement of the neighborhood. Most recently they sent an undercover security guard with a gun to a community meeting.

Apparently this hummingbird feels threatened.

Friday cat blogging: cats in windows

The glass between us ensures she needn't take any notice of the photographer admiring her while she sunbathes.

This one, in Puerto Natales, Chile, tried to wish the observer away.

Then there is the stare-down technique for warning off intruding humans.

The sphinx in the bookstore has shifting shadows to disguise her.

And this young thing had eyes only for the mocking pigeon safely perched above.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A soldier's view of the Afghanistan war as it really is

U.S. generals in Afghanistan are sure that the only way to "win" that campaign is to stop killing so many Afghan civilians.

(What does "win" mean again? -- somehow our political leaders never answer that.) (At least the media usually has largely dropped the modifier "innocent" that used to invariably accompany "civilian" in accounts of these "mistakes." Maybe we can't imagine what "innocent" means among a population so utterly incomprehensible to us?)

Recently the Christian Science Monitor ran a story by a reporter who had embedded with soldiers from the 82nd Airborne’s B Company as they carried out night raids on compounds where they suspected Taliban fighters were making bombs. The soldiers are frustrated by the restrictions the brass has handed down to try to reduce civilian killings.

"They make it really hard to fight because they're very restrictive," says Sgt. Christopher Gerhart of the 82nd Airborne, referring to the new rules.

Jake Diliberto served with the Marines in both Afghanistan and Iraq and since returning has earned an MDiv. degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. Though he is always sympathetic to the guys who have to go fight, he thought this Christian Science Monitor article missed a lot of points.

1.) SOCOM [Special Operations Command] training indoctrinates these guys far more than a general's orders. A simple order cannot reshape the way prisoners are handled, or the way Special Forces operators conduct direct action operations.

2.) This is symptomatic of the disconnect between senior military officers and the actual operations on the ground. Most of us performing raids are so jacked up on adrenaline we can not simply "play nice" when we kick in a door and face locals.

3.) It does not matter what we do, Afghans respond to what they feel. If we raid at night to go and find bad guys, we make them scared just because we raided their homes. This should be lesson 101 from Iraq. They only way to make Afghans feel safe is to have Afghans policing Afghans.

4.) Assumptions being made about Special Forces guys being disciplined and following orders are a fantasy. History has shown, Special Forces guys will abuse power no different than the folks at Abu Ghraib. That is the nature of warfare, it is unpredictable, evil, and corrupt.

The most disturbing thing about this story, is General McChyrstal seems to be making more of the same mistakes from Iraq.That is, he refuses to acknowledge the "war" is not something he has the means or wisdom to figure out. Simply stated, behavior of troops, behavior of Afghans, and the insurgency, are not predictable or controllable.

5.) How long are we going to ignore the Taliban Peace Commission? They have said repeatedly that in six months we can bring peace if the US does not perform night raids, and kill innocent civilians. My own sense indicates, imperial hubris is the largest cause of massive levels of ineptitude, or just plain ignorance.

6.) The COIN [current military counter-insurgency strategy] manual is utter bullshit! Page after page is full of unpredictable outcomes. It sounds smart, but in reality, it's mindless.

Essentially, the US soldier is the glue holding together a five million pound falling giant, until the giant only collapses a little bit.

My emphasis. Let's get U.S. troops out of this crazy, purposeless war.

Earth Day in Oakland: Boycott Valero

A coalition of community advocates were out in force this morning calling for a boycott of Valero Energy. The Texas oil and gas company with the familiar light blue signs has contributed nearly $1 million to a deceptive initiative campaign to over turn California's greenhouse-gas emissions law (AB32).

Along with the usual suspects -- I encountered folks from Credo Action (formerly Working Assets phone company) and NRDC -- many participants seemed to have been organized by Oakland's own Ella Baker Center.

Organizers point out that

Every dollar spent at a Valero or Tesoro gas stations is another dollar Texas oil barons can use to buy this election.

They urge voters not to sign any confusing initiative that claims to be about energy. The thing hasn't qualified yet so has no official title or number. If all that money fails to buy enough confused signatures, environmental advocates won't have to spend their limited money and energy fighting it next fall.

This morning the New York Times trumpets the headline: At 40, Earth Day Is Now Big Business. Well, maybe not, in Oakland.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Free speech for me and not for thee

A guy who did voice overs for those cute GEICO lizard ads got pissed off at the antics of the TeaBaggers spitting on Congress people -- and he left a protest on the answering machine at the Republican media outfit that hypes them.

So they got him fired. Read all about it at his blog. (Loads very slowly.)

He gets his own back with this video:

Iran: let's get realistic for a minute

Stephen M. Walt is a professor of international relations at Harvard University and "Mr. Realist" when it comes to prescribing for U.S. foreign policy. In this context, a "realist" is someone who thinks the U.S. should act in its own interests -- none of this mushy "democratic promotion" or "human rights" stuff should enter into it, unless these benefit us.

It is worth listening when Walt calls the ongoing noise from Democrats as well as Republicans that treats Iran as a terrible threat as nothing but "hype." Here's why:

One of the more remarkable features about the endless drumbeat of alarm about Iran is that it pays virtually no attention to Iran's actual capabilities, and rests on all sorts of worst case assumptions about Iranian behavior. Consider the following facts, most of them courtesy of the 2010 edition of The Military Balance, published annually by the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies in London:

United States -- 13.8 trillion

Iran --$ 359 billion (U.S. GDP is roughly 38 times greater than Iran's)

Defense spending (2008):

U.S. -- $692 billion 

Iran -- $9.6 billion (U.S. defense budget is over 70 times larger than Iran)

Military personnel:
U.S.--1,580,255 active; 864,547 reserves (very well trained)

Iran-- 525,000 active; 350,000 reserves (poorly trained)

Combat aircraft:

U.S. -- 4,090 (includes USAF, USN, USMC and reserves)

Iran -- 312 (serviceability questionable)

Main battle tanks:
U.S. -- 6,251 (Army + Marine Corps)

Iran -- 1,613 (serviceability questionable)

U.S. -- 11 aircraft carriers, 99 principal surface combatants, 71 submarines, 160 patrol boats, plus large auxiliary fleet

Iran -- 6 principal surface combatants, 10 submarines, 146 patrol boats

Nuclear weapons:

U.S. -- 2,702 deployed, >6,000 in reserve

Iran -- Zero
Compared to the U.S. military, Iran has peashooters. That's just the facts. What are we supposed to be so scared about?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


THE PAGE_Adaptive Delivery Device from Scott Liao on Vimeo.

Much better than the iPad! This I would spend money for. It's not quite real yet, but we can hope. It won't recreate the newspapers' former monopoly on local advertising that made their old business model possible, but it sure would be a great way to get the news.


Justice is sick

The Supreme Court has ruled a federal law designed to stop the sale and marketing of videos showing dog fights and other acts of animal cruelty is an unconstitutional violation of free speech.

The 8-1 decision was a defeat for animal rights groups and sponsors of the unusual congressional legislation.

The specific case before the court dealt with tapes showing pit bulldogs attacking other animals and one another in staged confrontations.


Let's see: corporations are persons, with a right to as much democracy as their money can buy them.

Animals however are property, existing to serve the commercial free speech rights of people who own them.

No, I don't blame the dogs; I blame the people.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Torture continues at U.S. base at Bagram

Or so Hilary Andersson from BBC News reported last week from Afghanistan. I can't read her report any other way. Some excerpts:

"They call it the Black Hole," said Sher Agha who spent six days in the facility last autumn.

"When they released us they told us we should not tell our stories to outsiders because that will harm us."

Sher Agha and others we interviewed complained their cells were very cold.

"When I wanted to sleep and started shivering with cold I started reciting the holy Koran," he said.

But sleep, according to the prisoners interviewed, is deliberately prevented in this detention site.

"I could not sleep, nobody could sleep because there was a machine that was making noise," said Mirwais, who said he was held in the secret jail for 24 days.

"There was a small camera in my cell, and if you were sleeping they'd come in and disturb you," he added.

The prisoners, who were interviewed separately, all told very similar stories.

Most of them said they had been beaten by American soldiers at the point of arrest before being taken to the prison.

Mirwais had half a row of teeth missing, which he said was from being struck with the butt of a gun by an American soldier.

No-one said they were visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross during their detention at the site, and they all said that their families did not know where they were.

In the small concrete cells, the prisoners said, a light was on all the time. They said they could not tell if it was night or day and described this as very disturbing.

Mirwais said he was made to dance to music by American soldiers every time he wanted to use the toilet.

The BBC also got access to the new prison that is supposed replace the Bagram facility.

In the new jail, prisoners were being moved around in wheelchairs with goggles and headphones on. The goggles were blacked out, and the purpose of the headphones was to block out all sound. Each prisoner was handcuffed and had their legs shackled.

Prisoners are kept in 56 cells, which the prisoners refer to as "cages". The front of the cells are made of mesh, the ceiling is clear, and the other three walls are solid.

Guards can see down into the cells above.

This story has not broken in the mainstream U.S. media as far as I can tell. Maybe the big news outfits are working on their own copycat stories? Or maybe they want to cover up for the U.S. military and government? Let us hope it is the former.

I also find no denials from U.S. authorities. That seems understandable. After the record of the last nine years, who would believe them?
H/t to Steve Hynd at Newshoggers for this story. Photo of Bagram base via BBC.

British election: what about the Afghanistan war?

British soldiers in the poppy fields.

In February, 63 percent of Britons hoped that the new government to be elected this year would commit to removing U.K. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2010. Now that the election season is underway (the vote is May 6), fully 77 percent of Britons want out, according to a poll released over the weekend by the Telegraph newspaper.

Trouble is, getting out of Afghanistan isn't the ground on which the parties want to play the political game.

But the three main parties are all fighting the general election on programmes which include backing for the Nato mission against the Taliban.

Between them, the parties’ general election manifestos [platforms] run to around 80,000 words – but Afghanistan is mentioned only 19 times between them. Labour’s manifesto included the most mentions, 11, followed by the Conservatives' on five and three for the Liberal Democrats'.

The Telegraph isn't being quite fair here; the Lib Dems are identified in the public mind with opposition to the wars of Labor's Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown. The Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, voiced the truth the peace movement understands about Afghanistan last fall:

"Gordon Brown has failed to explain to the British people why we are in Afghanistan, and how we are going to succeed," said the Liberal Democrat Leader.

Still the Afghanistan war per se doesn't look to be a major issue in the British elections. The parties are confining their back and forth attacks to the subsidiary question of whether Gordon Brown's government has provided British troops with adequate equipment. Nobody wants to weigh in on whether those troops should be in Afghanistan at all.

Both Brits and war opponents in the States are running up against the current strategy of the militarist forces in our affluent, semi-democratic societies. The war makers have learned they have to keep the domestic profile of their wars below some level, because, unless they can articulate a real reason for war (and these are implausible for the current examples), above a certain level of awareness the population just says "no."

I assume there are military think tanks somewhere calculating the exact number of combat deaths that push our kind of societies over that brink. For the U.S., Iraq seemed to prove the number was around 1000 killed a year. Canada has suffered some 125 war deaths in Afghanistan -- and they are leaving! And the Brits? -- the total is 281 as of April 7, 2010, almost all since 2006 -- say a rate of 70 a year. If that goes up, will civil society in Britain force withdrawal?

The election won't answer that, though the effective exclusion of the issue is telling. On the one hand, it is somewhat encouraging to know that our less generally explicable little imperial wars have to be downplayed if they are to be continued at all without arousing destabilizing conflicts on the homefront. On the other hand, that won't help the people whose countries get invaded and who are on the receiving end of all that imperial firepower. They die too and their casualties don't count in these delicate calculations.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Still no safety from sexual assault

There's a perfectly horrifying article from the Washington City Paper making the rounds of the feminist blogosphere titled: "Test Case: You're Not a Rape Victim Unless Police Say So." The subtitle is as bad: "This is the story of the night Hannah was not officially raped."

Amanda Hess' account of what happened to a Washington DC college student is just as awful as the name suggests. The young woman went to a party, something she can't remember took place, her female friends couldn't find her, and when she did turn up she was vomiting and in pain in her nether regions. City hospitals and the D.C. police refused to properly collect any physical evidence that she might have been drugged and raped. The article draws on depositions in a civil suit she subsequently filed against city authorities. If you believed that years of women agitating and "No means No" campaigns had done much to get authorities to treat sexual assault as a serious crime, this account will disabuse your confidence. We've got a ways to go before rape victims get the support they need.

But something additional struck me reading this article: the woman victim, and her college women friends, seem to have had a practice of taking sensible precautions against sexual assault before and during the party.
  • "They pre-gamed in Hannah’s friend Sade’s room..."
  • "They all obeyed the Howard boys’ house rule: Nobody goes upstairs. ..."
  • "...the housemates had erected a furniture barricade at the foot of stairs—a few chairs stacked together to prevent partygoers from sneaking up to the second floor."
  • "As the party wound down, Kerston, Sade, and Amanda briefly left the room to retrieve the crew's coats. When they returned to the living room, the girls testified that Hannah and Bilal were gone. They called her cell phone. She didn't pick up."
  • "They looked for her around the first floor of the house, on the stoop, in the back alley. She wasn't there. They asked other students at the party if they had seen her. They hadn't. They start calling her name. No response."
  • "'So I go to the steps,' Sade testified in a deposition. 'I move [the barricade],' she said. 'I'm walking up the steps, and Tito like just comes behind me. He grabs my arm…and he literally like brings me back down the steps.…And I’m like get off me, what are you talking about?' The three girls gathered around Tito and told them they were just looking for their friend; Tito explained that he'd been hired to keep people from reaching the second floor. At first, the girls had suspected that Hannah had just gone upstairs to use the restroom, but after a few minutes of arguing with Tito, they grew more concerned. 'So at this point like I’m mad,' Sade testified. 'At this point we’re yelling. I don't know what I’m saying exactly, but I’m yelling.' The girls began screaming Hannah's name up the stairs, hoping she'd hear them and come down. She didn't."
  • "Then, Brandon came running down the stairs swearing at them to leave his house. 'He came past Tito and he was like in our, like close to our faces, yelling at us,' Kerston testified. 'He was telling us to get out of his house, and we were like, 'No, we’re not leaving without our friend,' so we didn't leave.' In a deposition taken two years later, Brandon testified that he couldn't recall the specifics of the interaction."
What stands out in this account is that these young women knew what they needed to do to protect each other from sexual assault and they did it. They were brave and persistent and didn't leave until they got their (sick and apparently drugged) friend out of there. Apparently these were necessary and even ordinary survival skills in their college community.

Heterosexuality must be a mighty powerful attraction if it normalizes living like this. This old lesbian wouldn't put up with having to negotiate such a threatening social environment. At the age of these young women, I found out there was -- for me anyway -- a safer possibility.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Saturday scenes and scenery:
Going to the dogs at Fort Funston

I have the good fortune to be a friend of a beagle. Well, perhaps not a friend -- I don't walk about with a pocket full of dog treats -- but at least an accepted acquaintance. And lately, the beagle and her person have been good enough to take me along to the dog run at Fort Funston. This stretch of dunes at the southwest corner of San Francisco is pretty much heaven for off-leash canines and their owners.

All kinds of critters wander by.

It's hard to believe these are the same species.

Or sometimes that they exist at all.

Everyone needs a drink sometimes.

A lot of playing goes on.

There's as much variation among the people as the dogs.

For some folks, walking the dogs is serious business.

For others it looks more like training.

People and pooches get tuckered out.

But mostly, it is doggy social time on the dunes.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Arizona up to its usual racist tricks

Arizona has passed a law that essentially criminalizes being Latino -- or having a cop think you are. According to the Los Angeles Times the measure directs local police to determine whether people are in the country legally.

Currently, officers can inquire about someone's immigration status only if the person is a suspect in another crime. The bill allows officers to avoid the immigration issue if it would be impractical or hinder another investigation.

Citizens can sue to compel police agencies to comply with the law, and no city or agency can formulate a policy directing its workers to ignore the law -- a provision that advocates say prevents so-called sanctuary orders that police not inquire about people's immigration status.

The Arizona legislature evidently wants to give police a license to harass people based on whatever biases police happen to come with. Interestingly, police chiefs lobbied against this, knowing it would mean that Spanish speaking communities, documented and undocumented, would no longer dare have recourse to law enforcement.

This is not the first time Arizona has made itself synonymous with outrageous racism. I remember driving across the state in 1973 in a car with a "Boycott Grapes" bumper sticker just after the state had tried to outlaw agitating on behalf farm workers trying to organize. A small protest, that. (Interestingly, Cesar Chavez's birthday is now an optional holiday in Arizona.)

In 1990, seven years after Ronald Reagan signed the Martin Luther King holiday into law when it passed Congress with a veto proof majority (Reagan had opposed the commemoration), Arizona voters still voted not to honor the day. The National Football League moved Super Bowl XXVII out of Phoenix in response.

Maybe Arizona needs once again to be pushed by the non-bigoted.

H/t to Steven whose note about this reminded me of that slightly anxious crossing of Arizona in 1973.

Where's the Black community anyway?

The other day I listened to an interesting panel discussion on "the Obama Administration: Perspectives from the African-American Left." The speakers, pictured above were (l to r) Carl Bloice, from the Black Commentator; Linda Burnham, former ED of the Women of Color Resource Center; Steven Pitts, from the UC Berkeley Labor Center; and Malkia Amala Cyril from the Center for Media Justice with Alicia Garza of POWER moderating.

Panelists covered lots of topics, but the most interesting moments came during the Q&A when someone asked "where is the Black community anyway? I feel like people are just moving away, some to the South, some to cheaper areas of the Bay, but it is like community is just drifting away ..."

Linda Burnham shot back, yes .. the community might feel as if it is dispersing, but we have to remember that African-Americans have been and remain "the core of the progressive movement." Black politics has been and will remain progressive because the Black experience of living in this country pushes African-Americans in a progressive direction.

White people don't instinctively get this, so I thought I'd assemble here just a few statistics and facts that bear this out. Lest we forget ...
  • Fully 95 percent of African-American men and 96 percent of African American women voted for President Obama (MSNBC) That's not radical leftism, but it certainly is a community moving in the same direction.
  • For the last 60 years, Blacks have become more and more identified as Democrats. Again, not radical leftism, but a sign of progressive community.
  • In this recession, African-American unemployment is now stuck around 16.5 percent (higher for Black men), while white unemployment is 8.8 percent for whites (only 7 percent for white women). It's no surprise that Blacks demand the government they elect to help fix the economy.
  • There's still a big wage gap between black and white workers. A recent Illinois study found that whites make about $3 an hour more than Blacks. It's not hard to conclude that something needs fixing there.
  • Whenever some pollster asks whether there is still racism in the country, Blacks (except President Obama) guffaw and say "of course"; whites think not.
  • African-Americans believe it is government's job to help level the playing field for everyone. Whites disagree.
  • Progressive attitudes among African-Americans aren't limited to matters that seem immediately self interested. Interestingly, African-Americans in attitudinal surveys express willingness to spend more for electricity if that would help stop global warming.
Yes -- the African-American community is different and other progressives should be darn glad for that!

There are progressive concerns that are not at the forefront of the African-American community's agenda. On the panel, Malkia Cyril pointed out that national advocacy institutions that represent communities of color in Washington have been co-opted by the telecommunications industry to undermine net neutrality; they've bought into a false dichotomy between increasing access to do away with the digital divide and giving corporations a property right that would undermine the open internet. Color of Change is leading the charge against this development.

Friday cat blogging

What are you doing on my street? Yes, I'm pretty.

Alright, you're an odd human. No, I am not a dust mop. I'm beautiful; I deserve your homage.