Thursday, September 30, 2010
Yesterday the city of San Francisco in its wisdom sent paving contractors to replace the asphalt on our Mission district block. I hadn't noticed any grave cracks or sink holes, but, hey, it's nice to see some upkeep and maybe a little stimulus.
This morning things didn't look so good.
Yesterday's work is already peeling and blotching. Wonder how long it will be before most of the coating comes off?
UPDATE: With today's mail, 24 hours after the work was completed, I received a notice from the Department of Public Works informing me that project of laying down the "slurry seal surface treatment" would be happening shortly. A little late, that one.
A power triangle for a better future? -- U.S., Turkey and Iran
Kinzer has been reporting for major media outlets like the New York Times and Boston Globe throughout a long career, mostly from the U.S. empire's hot spots. In the 1980s, he wrote about Central America (Bitter Fruit: The Story of an American Coup in Guatemala). This wasn't a bad background for his subsequent books, on Iran (All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror) and U.S. empire more broadly (Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq.)
Kinzer hasn't given up on what I suspect people in the Middle World will think is excessive U.S. influence in the region, but he is able to envision a new shape to the relationship. To prepare people in North America who typically have little awareness of other people's histories to imagine a different relationship, he spends the bulk of Reset describing the history of Turkish and Iranian struggles toward creating popular democracy over the last century. It's fascinating stuff -- and a surprising number of U.S. adventurers and diplomats played supportive roles back before World War II when the U.S. was not yet reigning world empire.
He believes this history implies that a new "power triangle" consisting of the U.S., Turkey and Iran should emerge, though all three countries would have to undergo significant changes before such a development could flower. The glue that would bind the three powers would be an attachment to democracy. Here's a sample of his thinking:
Romantic? Utopian? Maybe, but learning the history and applying imagination sure beats the current stagnation.
A century has passed since Iran and Turkey turned toward democracy. It has been a century of unsteady progress. The Iranians and the Turks have won epochal victories but also suffered bloody defeats. From their long struggles, both peoples have developed an understanding of democracy, and a longing for it, that makes them good soul mates for Americans.
The stories of modern Turkey and Iran suggest that democracy can take root anywhere, but only over the span of generations. It cannot be called to life simply by proclaiming a constitution or holding an election. Democracy is not an event but a way of facing the world, an all encompassing approach to life. Only long years of experience can make it real. In the Muslim Middle East, just two countries have this experience: Turkey and Iran.
Recent initiatives from Turkey, such as joining with Brazil to lessen the Iranian nuclear reprocessing impasse or supporting humanitarian aid deliveries to Israeli-controlled Gaza, demonstrate that Turkey is very much on the path that Kinzer expects.
Democracy's future in Turkey and Iran will depend on those peoples themselves. So will the future of democracy -- not by any means a certainty -- in the United States depend on our citizens. Kinzer may be right that we have more in common than we realize.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Advances for women
This map from Census data shows which states are coming closer to parity between men and women's wages. Or so it seems until you notice the size of the gaps that determine the color scheme. Is the difference between 78 percent and 79 percent really that great? Isn't the real scandal that we still have an economy that routinely pays men 20-25 percent more than women most everywhere? H/t Kevin Drum.
On the other hand, I do find this remarkable:
Who would have thought we'd see a United Nations Secretary General promoting a practical campaign to protect women, a campaign clearly directed at developed countries? H/t Peter Daou.
Protest against Minneapolis and Chicago FBI raids on peace activists
A small crowd assembled outside San Francisco's gleaming Federal Building Tuesday afternoon.
News of the early morning police incursions has led to calls for protests in 32 cities.
The chilling raids on peace activists have led to denunciations from groups as disparate as the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the San Francisco Labor Council.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Don't feed the hate!
This nearly 3:00 minute video makes a strong case for adding "the i-word" to the list of ways of talking that caring people need to drop from their own usage and protest when others use them. We don't say "k_ke" or "n_gg_r" -- we shouldn't say the i-word either.
Full disclosure: I worked for many years for the originators of this campaign.
What "looking forward, not looking back" may do for you ...
That was in response to the Bush administration's policies of torturing prisoners and snooping on communications of citizens without court approval -- fundamental violations of both domestic and international law. Such a deep disdain for the moral and legal underpinnings of our democracy is not without precedent in U.S. history. (And yes, I'm still voting for Dems in November! The other idiots really are worse for too many people to sit out.)
...I have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.
Then they fought, less violently, but just as vigorously, for nearly 100 years about what the war meant. Slavery was gone, but would white property owners be able to enforce other forms of involuntary servitude to retain the cheap labor of their former property? (Largely, yes.) Concurrently, would the bloody war be thought of, as Lincoln proclaimed at Gettysburg, as initiating a new phase of human freedom in which equality would coexist with government by all the people? Or would the whole thing be reduced to a mistake, a "War between the States," a mad family feud whose combatants on both sides should be revered for their suffering and heroism? And would African-Americans, some 10 percent of the population, have any say over what the war meant?
This is the subject of David W. Blight's Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001). As I read through it, I keep being overtaken by echoes of current controversies. Some of these undoubtedly reflect that election of a Black president blows oxygen at hidden embers from the country's ongoing struggles to achieve racial justice. Other echoes simply attend how most of us assimilate and try to forget the horror of war. And some seem to point out the evil consequences to a society and political system that prefers "looking forward, not backward."
After the Civil War, everyone on all sides wanted to claim to be a victim. Blight points out:
This would be very convenient to Confederates seeking re-integration into the political systems of their states. After the defeat and until they were restored to full citizenship, they were enemy "rebels." Radical Republicans (yes, at that time Republicans were the modernizing progressives while Democrats were the racist Southerners) wanted to keep it that way; moderates pushed for reconciliation with former enemies. The essential compromise of the Reconstruction and aftermath (1865-1945) was to give African-Americans the vote (men only at first) , but do nothing to prevent white political leaders from disenfranchising and terrorizing the freed ten percent of the population.
History carries no responsibilities when everyone can carry the mantle of a victim of false forces.
It is interesting to read the terms in which the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis complained to a media figure of the day about his postwar imprisonment.
I guess Dick Cheney, David Addington, John Yoo and Co. didn't have to learn their torture methods from the Nazis or Chinese Communists.
Mrs. Davis described her husband's "deprivations" in some detail. According to his wife, Davis had been "chained, starved, kept awake systematically, almost blinded by light and tortured by the ingenuity of a cruel jailor." ... in prolonged confinement, the prisoner had never "been tried."
The strongest voices speaking out for a new democratic beginning that repudiated the slavery past and looked to a more democratic future were, not surprisingly, Black Abolitionists.
[In 1870] Frederick Douglass tried build an ideological fire wall against the new magnanimity.
[Blight quotes Douglass:]
"We are sometimes asked in the name of patriotism to ... remember with equal admiration those who struck at the nation's life, and those who struck to save it -- those who fought for slavery and those who fought for liberty and justice. I am no minister of malice..., 1 would not repel the repentant, but ... may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I forget the difference between the parties to that ...bloody conflict.... I may say if this war is to be forgotten, I ask in the name of all things sacred what shall men remember?"
The war for a Lincoln's "new birth of freedom" that Douglass invokes was gradually expelled from national memory.
The year 1874 saw economic depression -- and any willingness to contest the growing (white) reconciliationist impulse was swept aside as Democrats (the party of racial exclusion in those days, remember) were swept into power.
If this sort of electoral turnabout is what fractious politics and economic collapse portends, we are in for hard times indeed.
Democrats pulled off one of the biggest political upsets in American history. "The Republican Party Struck by Lightning," shouted a headline in one of that party's own papers in Buffalo ...the Democrats not only captured the House of Representatives for the first time I since before the war, but they did so by turning overnight a Republican majority of 198-88 into Democratic control by 169-109. Democrats won nineteen of twenty-five governors' races, and in state after state overturned the Civil War era's political landscape. Even in Massachusetts, the governorship was lost to a Democrat for the first time since 1858.
After the erasure of the justice agenda implicit in the Civil War from our national memory, African Americans suffered nearly 100 years of intimidation and lynching before they regained any significant ability to participate in U.S. political democracy. For far too large a fraction of that community, an opportunity enjoy a fair share of the nation's wealth still is not even over the horizon.
If the multiple forces (abetted by too much of "our side") succeed in driving the abuses and follies of the 2000s from our memory, this time around we face a lawless, military-minded autocracy of the wealthy supplanting national dreams of freedom for most of us.
What to do? Keep practicing citizenship and screaming bloody murder!
Monday, September 27, 2010
Minneapolis peace activists speak about FBI raids
Longish -- 24 minutes -- very ordinary peace activists talking about what it feels like to have the FBI turn up at 7:00 in the morning with subpoenas and search warrants to take away their computers and papers. Some are a little rhetorical; some carefully legalistic; none noticeably unnerving.
When my partner and I found ourselves embroiled with the no fly list, we were grateful for the institutions and individuals who stood in solidarity with us. That experience was a nuisance. What's happening to peace movement individuals in several cities today is different -- very threatening, very serious.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
FBI raids peace activists' homes and Anti-War Committee office
This is important. When the government conducts raids in order to seize personal information from anti-war activists, all of us need to take notice. Under our system, everyone enjoys a Constitutional right to express their opinions. United States courts have long agreed that pretty much any speech that doesn't lead to violence is protected under the law. Raids like these attack free expression by groups who may be unpopular at a particular time -- the peace organization with which I work issued this statement this afternoon.
by Lynn Koh for War Times/Tiempo de Guerras
By now, most War Times/Tiempo de Guerras readers have heard of the September 24th FBI raids on peace activists' homes in Minneapolis and Chicago and at the Minneapolis office of the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee. We add our voices to the rest of the progressive movement, and all those who value democracy, in denouncing these raids. We believe that the peace movement must support the folks who have been targeted for their antiwar work.
Plans for solidarity demonstrations are developing quickly. The Anti-War Committee has called for a demonstration at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, September 27, 2010 at the Minneapolis offices of the FBI, 111 Washington Street, South. Click here for more information.
We encourage War Times readers to call U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at 202-353-1555 and to send emails to the Department of Justice at AskDOJ@usdoj.gov. Ask Attorney General Holder to put an end to the FBI’s attacks on peace activists.
What do we know about these raids? On Friday, September 24th the FBI raided at least six homes in Chicago and Minneapolis, with the explanation that peace activists were providing “material support to foreign terrorist organizations,” namely the FARC in Colombia, the Peoples Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Hezbollah. The FBI also raided the office of the Anti-War Committee in Minneapolis, which had organized a demonstration during the 2008 Republican National Convention. Some of the peace activists whose houses were raided are members of the Anti-War Committee. The New York Times quotes an FBI spokesperson who said the raids were part of “an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation.”
While no arrests have been made so far, the activists have been served with grand jury subpoenas.
The raids appear to be 'fishing expeditions' -- attempts to gather as much personal information as possible from the activists’ homes in the hopes of bringing some charges against them. The search warrant which we have seen authorizes the federal agents to seize all documents and records related to any activities in the US or overseas, especially those related to the FARC, PFLP, and Hezbollah, as well as emails, phone records, and internet usage; it also asks for information pertaining to the activists' work in a left group called Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
While many of the communities we work with live with state violence on a daily basis, we believe these events to be of signal importance to the antiwar movement. In the post-9/11 political landscape, War Times/Tiempo de Guerras has striven to bring an internationalist perspective to the antiwar movement, a perspective which focuses not only on the domestic costs and victims of war, but also on the suffering war and occupation bring to peoples around the world. We believe this perspective is essential to achieving a U.S. foreign policy based on justice and solidarity rather than on either domination or isolationism.
The FBI raids occur months after a 6-3 Supreme Court decision upholding a broad interpretation of 'material support to foreign terrorist organizations', whereby offering advice, training, and service to a designated terrorist organization constitutes material support for terrorism -- even if the service in question has nothing to do with any 'terrorist' act. In this context, Friday’s FBI raids contribute to the criminalization of any communication with any group the U.S. State Department has designated a terrorist organization. Even advocating negotiating with one of these named groups may become a crime, not to mention deeper attempts to build solidarity with groups struggling against war and occupation. (It should be noted, for example, that Hezbollah forms part of the democratically elected government of Lebanon.) These raids, and the policy that underlies them, strike directly at the internationalist perspective that grounds all of War Times/Tiempo de Guerras’ work.
War Times has been a multigenerational project from its inception in 2001, and several of our members lived through periods of heightened government repression. These new FBI raids bring those experiences to mind, not least because of the deliberate and comprehensive targeting of Freedom Road Socialist Organization. The warrant authorizing the search of one peace activists’ home instructs government agents to look for any materials related to the recruitment and political education activities -- referred to somewhat quaintly as 'indoctrination' -- of Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to see a resurgence of FBI raids and grand jury subpoenas focused on today’s peace activists. This kind of red-baiting and demonization of the Left have a long history in the United States. These tactics have served U.S. government efforts to undermine many social movements, from workers' rights to civil rights. The best known examples include the machinations of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover against Bayard Rustin, Stanley Levison, and the entire leadership of the southern civil rights movement. Such methods are also familiar to people who worked in solidarity with Central American peoples fighting dictatorship and U.S. intervention during the 1980’s, and in the anti-apartheid movement in the 1990’s.
So these tactics of intimidation are familiar. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore them. Unless we challenge the legitimacy of the FBI's raids now -- loudly, visibly, and in as many ways as possible -- the anti-war movement may be facing a more dangerous and difficult road than we had imagined.
What you can do:
• Call the Attorney General’s office and demand an end to political intimidation
• Call or write the “newspapers of record” such as the New York Times and Washington Post, asking them to give full and prominent coverage to this story.
• Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, explaining why this kind of intimidation is a danger to democracy.
• Call your local members of Congress to demand that the FBI stop harassing peace activists.
• Participate in any local actions to protest these raids.
What Democrats are up against in November election
All the political media scream "enthusiasm gap!" As Evan McMorris-Santoro cogently explained
What's going on here? Every commentator around is offering their take -- I will not resist the temptation to add mine.
... polls show Republican voters are super-extra-with-sugar-on-top excited to cast their protest votes against President Obama and his socialist cronies this November while Democrats are -- to put it mildly -- a lot less jazzed about casting a vote for the team currently in charge.
- We must all start with the obvious -- somehow "the recession has ended" and as many as nearly 20 percent of the people who want to be working aren't working. That's a hell of a headwind for the party in power.
- Now maybe, if the Democrats were percieved to be fighting for the people the economy is hurting, they'd have folks at their backs. But instead this descriptive snark seems all too apt. We see
... earnest, articulate, intelligent but not terribly effective or inspiring Democrats vs. bumbling, idea-less, Republicans offering up the very best ideas of the Goldwater for President campaign to solve the problems of 21st century America.
- And that's a downer. Most people don't follow politics or policy closely. In fact I think it is fair to say that most people engage with politics to try to prevent awful outcomes that would upset what they regard as their real lives. As Nate Silver reminds us "voting is principally an emotional act..." This makes "throw the bums out" an easy political message.
- Another fraction of electorate only does politics when it is inspired or at least promised what I urge campaigns to make themselves: "the best party in town." (A party in Iceland knows this: they named themselves Best Party and won elections in Reykjavik. I love it!) The new and infrequent voters who were there for Barack Obama in 2008 included a lot of this kind of people. As the person who writes as "slinkerwink" recently pointed out:
The implicit message was that in voting for him (instead of doing the usual voting against a Republican candidate as Democratic voters are told to do so these days), the voter would experience change that could be felt immediately and directly in their lives. The difference was that voters were excited, enthused, and ready to vote FOR Senator Barack Obama, rather than holding their noses to vote AGAINST Senator McCain.
- Polling suggests that some large portion of people who might lean to Democrats are still breathing the welcome sigh of relief that came with the end of George W. Bush's ugly tenure in 2009. It is still sinking in that the loony right might be on the way back. Here's Josh Marshall:
... as PPP notes, Dems seems really out to lunch on what seems to be brewing on election day. But it also suggests that a lot of the lack of enthusiasm is tied to not thinking anything particularly bad is going to happen for their party. So if the stakes and the foreboding climate become more clear, that could get Democratic base voters more jazzed up to turn out to vote.
- More recent polling points to another fascinating reality:
Democrats staying home aren't necessarily disappointed with how things have gone so far. The Democrats not voting are more pleased with how Obama's done than the Democrats who are voting. And when you're happy you simply don't have the sense of urgency about going out and voting to make something change.
I'll be working to keep and put as many Dems in office as possible because I believe the country is better off with Dems in power, even though what we've gotten so far from the Obama administration is very disappointing. But that's not a rousing affirmation for anyone to run on.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Saturday scenes and scenery:
Orange Alley murals, part two
Last week I highlighted the murals between 25th and 26th Streets. But there's more if you wander on down toward 24th Street -- it's just in a different vein.
Bethel Christian Church, a non-denominational megachurch incongruously plopped in the heart of the Mission, apparently let its youth group loose on its rear walls. Though I'm sure many of those who worship there are perfectly pleasant people, I have trouble warming to a church whose website lists professional homophobe James Dobson and his Family Resource Council as resources.
I'm afraid I just don't share this aesthetic.
I assume this is a rendering of the Biblical account of the "Transfiguration" -- a revelatory moment when some of Jesus' followers saw his face shine with the glory of God and figures of older prophets appeared alongside of him.
Though long celebrated in Eastern Christianity,Western (Roman Catholic) Christianity took up annual observances of this story on August 6 only about 500 years ago.
Some historical themes recur. The catalyst for the adoption of the western Transfiguration feast was apparently the victory of Catholic Hungary over Muslim Ottomans in 1456. Fear of Muslim invaders is part of the DNA of much of Europe. It's a new development, and an unhappy one, in this country.
Friday, September 24, 2010
What was it we claim to be doing in Afghanistan?
Local Nationals watch as U.S. Army Soldiers patrol the area in the village of Akeemabad, Afghanistan, Sept. 16, 2010. (US Army Photo in ISAFmedia photostream by Spc. David A. Jackson/Released)
The Afghanistan war is has failed, except at killing people. Time to bring the troops home.
Widespread Fraud Seen in Latest Afghan Elections
KABUL, Afghanistan — Evidence is mounting that fraud in last weekend’s parliamentary election was so widespread that it could affect the results in a third of provinces, calling into question the credibility of a vote that was an important test of the American and Afghan effort to build a stable and legitimate government. ...
In some places, election officials themselves are alleged to have carried out the fraud; in others, government employees did, witnesses said. One video showed election officials and a candidate’s representatives haggling over the price of votes. ...
American and international diplomats kept their distance from the tide of candidate complaints this week, and NATO and American Embassy officials said little other than that the election was an Afghan process and that it was the Afghans who were responsible for its outcome. But a less than credible parliamentary election, following last year’s tarnished presidential vote, would place international forces in the increasingly awkward position of defending a government of waning legitimacy, and diplomats acknowledged that it could undermine efforts to persuade countries to maintain their financing and troop levels.
Friday cat blogging: she doesn't want to see anyone
This is the posture Frisker assumes after we apply her flea medicine.
After about 12 hours, regular complaining resumes.
Busy today. Regular blogging will resume ... when I get to it.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
A friend emailed: "Carroll Richardson has passed away." Today we attended this 75 year old gentleman's crowded memorial service.
We knew him from his days working for community empowerment through Californians for Justice. He was a faithful, sturdy participant in CFJ's campaigns right from the organization's beginning during the losing 1996 electoral campaign to preserve affirmative action in the state. As the organization turned to fighting for racial equity in the schools, he was an old-timer who stuck with a program that became focussed on developing youth leaders. When he said he'd attend activities he showed up, every time, and he always seemed to lend graceful cheer to whatever he undertook.
As so often happens at memorial services, today I learned that Carroll's life was an even richer gift to his many communities than I had known. During and after a career as a county probation officer, he threw himself into civic activities, serving on numerous community boards and even an Alameda County Civil Grand Jury.
It became apparent that one of his anchors was the Phillips Temple C.M.E. Church where Adult Sunday School (Bible study, I think) was his passion and calling. The woman who runs that program today offered a description of Carroll's contribution that rang completely true to my experience of this gentle man: he had the "gift of encouragement." That's a special and under-recognized contribution some people bring to the lives of those they meet. (Note the photo with Bill Clinton above and think on who is encouraging who.)
In today's homecoming celebration, Carroll's church community enjoyed envisioning him settling in for endless days of Adult Sunday School beyond the pearly gates. I like that.
A politician doing his job -- No on Prop. B
State Senator Leland Yee stands with a "wolf in sheep's clothing" amid a crowd of firefighters while stating his opposition to San Francisco Prop. B. We like to see our pols out and about and the smart ones perform on cue.
What's Prop. B? Ah, now there's the real question.
Proponents of the November ballot measure -- an odd marriage of Public Defender Jeff Adachi, libertarian flimflam man Matt Gonzalez (Ralph Nader's running mate in 2008), and billionaire venture capitalist Michael Moritz -- say it is about making San Francisco more fiscally secure by making city employees pay more into their pension plans. There are some vague words about funding worthy non-profits with proceeds, but no guarantees. And proponents barely mention that
Proponents think this will be an easy sell. Everyone is hurting. Why shouldn't city workers pay more for their benefits?
80 percent of its cost savings comes from steep increases in health care costs for city employees with dependents. The Adachi/Moritz plan raises pension costs for a typical employee with one dependent $1750.32 per year, while their health premiums would rise an additional $3,605.60 (a total annual "tax" of over $5300).
City workers get benefits that lots of other workers probably envy. They have good benefits because they have strong unions that win strong contracts. And they have strong unions because it is a lot harder for city government to outsource answering questions to a call center where wages would be cheaper than it is for multi-national corporations. We want to be able to go in and get service from our bureaucrats or at least yell at them face to face. We want to be able to trust that our street lights work and our firefighters are on the job; our politicians understand that we'd have their heads if city services were contracted out to some company that didn't have to care. So they have to deal with employee unions. Besides, we're a liberal town and most of us think everyone should have unions if they want them.
The unions do what unions are supposed to do: bargain vigorously to win good wages and working conditions for their members. Back in the 1990s when lots of people thought the stock market could only go up, pensions were set on that assumption. The editorial page editor of the Chronicle --a paper I expect to embrace Prop. B -- explains:
Ooops. Now, with the Great Recession and Republican obstruction in Washington and Sacramento, cities are in trouble and San Francisco is no exception.
It looked like easy money in the headiness of 1999. It would have worked out as painlessly as advertised if the Dow Jones industrial average was at 25,000 today, instead of hovering around 10,000. When investments fall short, governments must dig into their general funds.
But that's no reason to try to drop the bill on city workers, even though they seem an attractive target. We got into a fiscal mess together and we are going to have to get out of that mess together. We certainly don't want to do it by denying health care to workers' children -- that is what will happen if this thing goes through because a lower paid city worker will probably just drop dependent coverage. She will have to.
Prop. B is a classic piece of scapegoating, throwing blame at people who unpopular while protecting the interests of the powerful.
On this blog I have a simple refrain when governments need money to do their jobs: get it from the people who have it. This applies as much to my city as to Washington. There are rich people in this town; their multi-million dollar houses have barely lost value while suburban developments have crashed. And the ones who don't live here profit from the downtown corporate headquarters. Tax them.
Meanwhile, no on Prop. B!
H/t to San Francisco Citizen for alerting me to the Inner Sunset rally pictured above.
Now it starts ...
Perhaps the most important point here is that this ungainly reform is of a piece -- you can't kill off the parts you hate and expect to keep the parts you like. In order to stop insurance companies from dumping sick people and refusing them coverage, you have to have a near universal mandate for people to buy health insurance, for example.
Or so "experts" insist. There probably was a more direct solution that "experts" couldn't see, such as driving the insurance companies out of business, taxing rich people, and offering single payer heath coverage as a form of "Medicare for all." But we couldn't have that because the rich and comfortable own too many of our politicians.
So we get this. This is better than what we have had. How much better will depend on how well enforced its provisions are, since we can count on medical and insurance profiteers to try to squeeze every dime out of sick people. If we want it to work, we need a government that wants to enforce the regulations, so we better defend even marginally defensible Democrats ... how tiresome.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
President shows realism
I knew he was too smart not to know Afghanistan was hopeless.
The quote is from the latest "insider" book by Washington chronicler and sometime hagiographer for the powerful, Bob Woodward.
Mr. Obama’s struggle with the decision comes through in a conversation with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who asked if his deadline to begin withdrawal in July 2011 was firm. “I have to say that,” Mr. Obama replied. “I can’t let this be a war without end, and I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”
Kudos to the peace movement, the people who stubbornly remind rank and file Democrats that their country is nine years into a losing war with no plausible justification or identifiable end point.
Now Mr. President, shut this folly down.
Photo by U.S. Army SFC Matthew Chlosta, ISAF PAO on ISAFmedia at Flickr
How we decide: our brains and our elections
Why am I sure that this exercise in revelatory political detective work is unlikely to change any votes? Because this sort of thing is inaudible to Buck partisans, much as it fires up Democratic supporters. Except in very limited circumstances that I'll get back to later, we don't care when politicians contradict themselves.
Ken "not an extremist" Buck, who was courting the teabaggers before he called them "dumbasses" and who agreed with Tom Tancredo that "the greatest threat to the country that was put together by the founding fathers, is the guy that's in the White House today" until he decided he didn't, and who wanted to repeal the 17th amendment until he decided he didn't, has been caught in another complete lie.
Via Colorado Pols here's the latest. In an interview with NY Times' John Harwood, Ken Buck says quite clearly, "Well, I am not a FAIR tax proponent." And last December, he told teabaggers (the "dumbasses" he was trying to court) "I don't think the income tax is a good idea. I think a national sales tax, a consumption tax, a FAIR tax is a better idea."
Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide is a readable, easy to understand explanation, of what is known about how the neurons and chemistry of the brain push us in various directions as we are constantly buffeted by instincts, emotional storms, and rational brakes. It's a wonderful story. It's also a practical guide to how to get the most out of our brain's processes.
Lehrer is out to reinvigorate respect for the intelligence of instinct and emotion that modern civilization has usually ignored. He starts with examples: how does the great Patriots quarterback Tom Brady make all the instantaneous decisions required of him for football success? Brady applies his bodily athletic gifts to allowing the chemical squabbles between emotion and reason that rage in all our brains to flow through to almost instantaneous conclusions and trusts himself to apply those insights. All of us do this in most of life, though we don't recognize that is what we are doing. The brain is a constant wrangle with itself that turns out to be pretty smart about life's necessities.
So what does this mean for our political preferences? Mostly it means we make our political choices based on very simple cues and then use our intellectual faculties to make up rational explanations for our instinctive conclusions. To some extent, we really do all pick our own facts. More from Lehrer:
"...conclusions are actually reached only after series of sharp internal disagreements. While the cortex struggles to make a decision, rival bits of tissue are contradicting one another. Different brain areas think different things for different reasons. Sometimes this fierce argument is largely emotional, and the distinct parts of the limbic system debate one another. Although people can't always rationally justify their feelings, ...these feelings still manage to powerfully affect behavior. Other arguments unfold largely between the emotional and rational systems of the brain as the prefrontal cortex tries to resist the impulses coming from below. ...Even the most mundane choices emerge from a vigorous cortical debate."
This accords with a famous study from the early 1990s which found that the more TV coverage people had watched of Papa Bush's Gulf War, the more certain they were they understood its value and the less they knew about underlying issues in the region.
Voters with strong partisan affiliations are a case study in how not to form opinions: their brains are stubborn and impermeable, since they already know what they believe. No amount of persuasion or new information is going to change the outcome of their mental debates...
... During the first term of Clinton's presidency, the budget deficit declined by more than 90 percent. However, when Republican voters were asked in 1996 what happened to the deficit under Clinton, more than 55 percent said that it had increased. What's interesting about this data is that so-called high-information voters -- these are the Republicans who read the newspaper, watch cable news, and can identify their representatives in Congress -- weren't better informed than low-information voters. ...the reason knowing more about politics doesn't erase partisan bias is that voters tend to assimilate only those facts that confirm what they already believe. ...Once you identify with a political party, the world is edited to fit with your ideology.
At such moments, rationality actually becomes a liability, since it allows us to justify practically any belief. The prefrontal cortex is turned into an information filter, a way to block out, disagreeable points of view.
I believe we are all subject to the blinkering lens of our politics, though being a partisan progressive, I know for a fact that Republicans are worse offenders when it comes to choosing "facts" to fit their prejudices. /snark off.
So under what circumstances can a campaign use evidence of a candidates's contradictions as ammunition to turn votes toward an opponent? There seem to be two prerequisites for making hay out of the often abundant material.
- The campaign telling the tale of the contradictions needs to have enough money to repeat the charge over and over again, preferably with enough grace not to turn the attack back on the candidate making it. This takes a little finesse, though not over much.
- The charge of being self-contradictory needs to reinforce a deeper emotional narrative about its subject's faults. For example, Karl Rove could succeed in labeling John Kerry a "flip-flopper" in 2004 because the shape of the charge accorded with the deeper narrative that the New England patrician war hero was actually an effete wimp. That worked, just well enough for Rove's cowboy creation.
Really -- our brains work that way.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Skills training for the newly employed
The Heritage Foundation sent me a fund appeal today. No, I'm not about to contribute to that fount of destructive right wing policies. But their envelope did remind me of one of my all time favorite books, Sabotage in the American Workplace.
Among hundreds of others, Reggie, a Heritage Foundation mailroom clerk in the 80s, told his story.
Here's to learning initiative on the job!
It's a group of attorneys, columnists, whatever, who crank out - daily or weekly or whatever - information. It's printed downstairs, in the xerox room, and distributed to senators, congressmen, and other influential people. ...My basic duties were to collect mail in the mornings from the post office, sort it, distribute it, and so on. ... I got the job right after high school. I had never heard of the organization, and just found the job through the newspaper. When I was working there, I would occasionally glance at what they were putting out; the more I read, the more I thought about it and realized they were doing fucked-up things ...
They have a big fundraising deal, and when they sent out fundraising requests, people would mail in checks. Sometimes they'd be huge amounts, and sometimes they were piddling. Checks came in from individuals as well as companies. So I'd randomly take an envelope, open it, see how much it was for, and throw it in the shredder. I started doing it more and more. I could tell if it was a check by holding it to the light. If so, I'd toss it, dump it or shred it.
Murders in Afghanistan; clueless reporting
This is what endless, purposeless, losing wars do to soldiers and civilians.
How were the Iraqis supposed to respond to the rape and murder? By cheering? Plueeze, don't reporters think what they are writing?
SEATTLE — The brutal, premeditated killings of three Afghan civilians — allegedly at the hands of American soldiers — are expected to be detailed in military court near here this fall, potentially undermining efforts by the United States as it tries to win support among Afghans in fighting the Taliban. ...
The charges echo several high-profile criminal episodes at the peak of the fighting in Iraq, when American Marines and other servicemen were accused of killing Iraqi civilians in unprovoked attacks.
In one case that outraged Iraqis, American soldiers were convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl and killing her and her family. In Afghanistan, air strikes and botched American commando raids that killed civilians have already caused political problems.
(AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool) U.S. soldiers patrol near the site of an explosion on the outskirts of Kabul in March 2009.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Another solution to providing campaign food
And the food that campaigns provide makes for an interesting anthropological data set about our culture. I laid out my thesis about this in detail here.
The community organizing outfits that compose San Francisco Rising offered an interesting variation on Saturday. When people signed in, they got this:
If the campaign is run by labor and the volunteers are working class people, there will be donuts. If the campaign is run by community advocates and recruits the employees of non-profit organizations, there will be bagels.
The mobilization gathered in the far Outer Mission, the San Francisco that tourists seldom see where poor and working class people live. Organizers had made an arrangement with a new cafe next to the Filipino Community Center to feed the hungry. They signed in and got a sticker and a food ticket. Nice touch.
No enthusiasm gap here ...
Members of a new alliance of community groups, San Francisco Rising, rallied in the Outer Mission fog on Saturday before taking to the streets to talk with voters about several November ballot propositions.
They support two measures that would raise revenue for the cash strapped city. As is true of all levels of government, the recession has lowered tax receipts. Many services, especially those vital to low income residents, have been badly hurt by budget cuts -- these folks think the appropriate response to civic poverty is to raise more money from people who have it.
Prop. J would add 2 percent to the city's hotel tax and close a quirky loophole that currently lowers the tax for people who book on the internet. It is countered by Prop. K, a poison pill measure that would tinker with the internet calculation of the hotel tax, but prevent the increase. Naturally the Chamber of Commerce likes that one; the Central Labor Council and the hotel workers; union Local 2 support Prop. J as an alternative to prevent more service cuts.
Prop. N is another revenue raising measure that would increase the real estate transfer tax on properties that sell for over $5 million. It's sponsor, Supervisor John Avalos (left above), turned out for the rally.
The community groups working together in San Francisco Rising include Coleman Advocates for Children, PODER, Causa Justa, Filipino Community Center, Day Laborers, SOMCAN, POWER, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, and the Chinese Progressive Association.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
A cop who will take on bullying banks
Watch this -- then you decide whether this person would take the job if she didn't think she would have the authority to get the job done. The video is a little long [10:38], but well worth our time.
Elizabeth Warren on Consumer Protection (MMBM) from Roosevelt Institute on Vimeo.
This one seems a fighter.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Saturday scenes and scenery:
Orange Alley murals, part 1
The celebrated Balmy Alley murals are not the San Francisco Mission's only block with an interesting collecton of embellishments. Darker and grittier, Orange Alley between 25th and 26th also has some interesting art on garage doors and back fences.
There are a multiplicity of genres, some more arresting than others.
It does not appear that these neighbors have negotiated any unity of theme.
Or perhaps contemporary themes are simply more diverse than the liberation themes initiated on Balmy in 1972.
My favorite among the various efforts is the vaguely Japanese-influenced "Shitty Kitty" tryptich:
No -- I don't know what it means either.
At the Alley's end, there's a Madonna and plea.
Below her gaze, the plea went unheeded.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Sensible thoughts about food
So says Martijn B Katan, Ph.D., a professor in health sciences at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in Consumer Reports on Health. This newsletter is rigorously matter of fact and sane. It's one of the few print periodicals that still seems worth the subscription price.
Food technologists have made a science of making food attractive, right down to the sound that food makes when you crunch it between your teeth. It's convenience, it's price, it's prestige, it's how it looks and smells. All this has combined in modern society to make us fat, because that's what our genes are dreaming of.
Our genes are saying: 'See that gazelle carcass? Eat as much of it as you can.' Except here we are sitting in a mall with no gazelles but plenty of hamburgers. Given the right environment, three-quarters of the population will become overweight. Some people will just get there sooner. It is not a problem you can solve by yourself.
Recently Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein -- who is a classic yuppie foodie -- offered an opinion that is the broad scale corollary to Mr. Katan's assertion about individual behavior.
The problems caused by what we eat will have to be solved by society-wide changes in market incentives. We're not going to make ourselves healthy or thin by individual effort. This means, if we eat junk, it is not our fault and kicking ourselves is not going to help. But that we can work to let the corporations that supply our food know that we want and will pay for healthier products. And we can use government action to create incentives for production of healthier food.
I can't think of a major industry that went from small, decentralized production methods to large, scaled industrial production -- and then back again. Are there any examples I'm missing? Maybe so. But for now, I think of the preference for farmers markets and small producers as being mainly important in sending certain signals about production methods and branding preferences to Big Ag than in actually creating some sort of viable alternative.
Where's the gas main?
Here's the map for San Francisco:
The blue lines show the pipes. Looks like the same people who get the freeway fumes also are most at risk if more of PG&E's old pipes are getting frayed.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
U.N. running from Afghanistan; war means higher U.S taxes or program cuts
It's getting hot in Afghanistan. Afghans are about to hold an election. Remember the last one? International monitors agreed the current President, Hamid Karzai, had stolen it fraudulently, but it was treated as legitimate anyway. This time, international monitors figure they better run for their lives.
Meanwhile the commander of British troops over there isn't exactly a model of optimism.
The UN has evacuated about a third of its permanent international workforce from Afghanistan amid fears that this weekend's parliamentary elections will be marred by violence and fraud. ...The decision highlights the risks to international organisations involved in the election ...
Too bad our General Petraeus can't give us that sort of straight talk. But no, he has to spin fables of progress or even more than the present 54 percent of us would think the U.S. should just get out.
"I am not, and never have been from my time in Afghanistan, optimistic. The reality is that the insurgency will have a go on election day. I just hope they don't do as well as they did last year". ... Carter compared Kandahar to Moscow in the 1990s, with "mobs, mafia and protection rackets" as well as the Taliban. The police were loyal to powerful individuals rather than to the Afghan state, he said. Afghan security forces had to "wrestle with the influence of power brokers".
And Yglesias, though thoughtfully critical, has not yet even called for ending the Afghanistan war -- this dire summation is how crazy our bloated military spending looks to someone who as recently as last June was still opining about how Afghanistan could be won!
The United States built up a globe-spanning military capacity in the 1940s to fight simultaneous wars against Germany and Japan. We kept such a capacity in place to face down the Soviet Union. Today we're doing … what, exactly?
Not nothing. But considering that Afghanistan's entire gross domestic product is only $14 billion per year, it's hard to believe that spending $5.7 billion each month on the war is a cost-effective way of doing business. If our allies' problem in Afghanistan is really the Taliban's awe-inspiring operating budget, it should be possible to level the playing field for a fraction of total current spending.
The out-of-whack costs of the war have implications not just for Afghanistan but for the entire American military posture around the world. Spending hundreds of billions a year to maintain a worldwide military presence whose main job is now posited as fighting ill-financed insurgent groups in sundry backwaters simply doesn't seem very sensible. ... More money for defense means higher taxes or less for other programs. Ignoring that point has been key to the politics of national security for the past 15 years, but it's nonetheless true. ...
Photo shows an Afghan response to Pastor Terry Jone's planned Qu'ran buring. AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq
Poor women get the shaft while Senate flails
A friend laid it out for us last weekend: "There used to be programs where you could send them. But now -- nothing." She works with the down and out in San Francisco's Tenderloin, the sort of dense, relatively cheap, dope-infested and dangerous downtown slum that barely exists in newer and smaller cities. Think grit among apartment buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Many of the people in those buildings are families -- women on their own with children, new immigrants with little English, African-Americans, the unlucky of all races.
Back when Bill Clinton was trying to make nice with a recalcitrant Republican Congress led by Newt Gingrich, both parties combined to "end welfare as we've known it." That is, they agreed they'd stop offering cash benefits to women with kids who couldn't work, setting a 5 year limit on how long women could get any help -- and giving the states the funds as block grants that they were supposed to use to help poor women get into the labor force. Women on welfare and their friends howled, but the plan -- called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) -- sailed through in 1996. (Full disclosure -- I was employed in those years on campaigns to expose what Congress was doing to poor people.)
The horrors we anticipated didn't completely show up because, just as the cuts were taking effect, the economy got much stronger, some women were able to find jobs, and the rolls got smaller. "Success!" both parties crowed.
But those block grants to the states haven't grown; they are still set based on 1994 welfare costs to states and have lost 27 percent of their value. Moreover states are allowed to divert the federal grants to other uses, such as balancing their budgets. Stephanie Mencimer reports in Mother Jones that even before the Great Recession hit
When welfare was a guaranteed federal program, the case rolls would have automatically increased in a recession like the present one, helping tide people over until the job market improved. But with the current rules and system of federal payments to the states, that isn't happening. In fact, according to a report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research, census data shows that TANF is horribly broken.
the state of Georgia dropped nearly 90 percent of the women off its TANF rolls between 2004 and the end of 2007, even as unemployment soared by 30 percent, and then diverted millions of dollars in federal anti-poverty money to other parts of the state budget. Thanks to this, only 18 percent of all children in Georgia living below 50 percent of the poverty line -- that is, on less than $733 a month for a family of three -- were receiving TANF in 2008.
The federal stimulus package passed in 2009 did help some people.
... despite the nearly 10 percent unemployment rate, almost 90 percent of poor women with children are struggling through the recession without any financial assistance. The numbers range from 60 percent of poor women not receiving aid in DC to fully 96 percent in Louisiana who aren't getting a dime.
But this program ends on September 30 unless Congress reauthorizes it. That's why Jobs with Justice, a coalition including labor unions and community organizing groups that work among and are the poor, rallied outside Senator Diane Feinstein's office this afternoon, urging reauthorization. As has been true of so many bills this Congress, the House has passed an extension but the Senate is stymied by Republicans' (and perhaps the usual Dems') refusal to allow a vote.
The TANF Emergency Fund (TEF) ... has given states over $1 billion to operate subsidized jobs programs that have proved successful on multiple fronts. The fund has been a “win-win-win,” helping unemployed families find work, businesses expand capacity in a difficult economic environment, and local economies cope with the recession. Without the fund, some 120,000 young people would not have had summer jobs and some 130,000 parents would not have had jobs to provide for their families’ basic needs; they would also have lost a valuable opportunity to build skills for the future.
Meanwhile, as my friend the Tenderloin caseworker explained, "there's nothing left." Medical won't enroll the sick at least until the health reform kicks in; training programs are closing; non-profits are being shuttered. Lfe is going to even tougher if the TANF emergency program is allowed to expire. Annie Lowrey in the Washington Independent reports today that
Dumping on poor people is so much easier than taxing Wall Street to pay for civilization ...
.. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) held a hearing to urge the TEF’s reauthorization. ... Casey is looking for a vehicle for the funding, but the chances seem dim.
The "welfareQUEENS" from Poor Magazine raised spirits at today's rally.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Seen in Reno this morning
I sure wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of this garbage. [:25] I doubt you would either.
Yet another anniversary of upheaval
Among all the books I've read describing the mistakes, misdeeds and malarkey that got us into the current Great Recession, Stiglitz' Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy is the most ambitious and comprehensive. The 2001 Nobel economics prize recipient, former World Bank economist and professor at Columbia takes an very expansive look at what's wrong and what might be done about it. This book is too big for a quick summary (and I'm underqualified to write such a thing) but I can share what I found so appealing about it, in addition to the fact that it is written to be read by general readers.
- Stiglitz starts with a thorough description of the subprime mortgage bubble, highlighting fraud and predation on poor people by bankers and financial whiz kids. He writes as if it matters that ordinary people ended up fleeced of their savings and without a home so Wall Street could inflate profits. He wonders repeatedly why the U.S. government didn't act more creatively to keep people in their homes after the bubble burst.
- He writes descriptively about what it means that we've had nearly 10 percent official unemployment for well over one year. In particular, he digs into one of the long lasting consequences of the lack of jobs that I had not seen explained elsewhere: unemployed people who might have held on in the working economy despite major disabilities have been forced to struggle their way into the permanent disability category of Social Security. Officials estimate that by the end of 2011, one million will have applied for disability and 500000 will get it, for the rest of their lives.
- Stiglitz asks questions that are so obvious to "little people" tossed around in these hard times, but are largely invisible to folks who are still prospering. Questions like: what's an economy for? -- he think it might include stability and leisure as well as vast wealth for a few. Or why do we need a financial sector? He suggests finance's reason for being is to move capital around to where it will serve the larger economy, not to act as a handy casino for the filthy rich.
- He is caustic on the limits of unregulated and under-regulated markets.
- He is critical not only of the Bush administration, but also of Obama's response to the crisis, despite having been an Obama booster in 2008. He uses the language "muddled through" and "moving the deck chairs on the Titanic" of the current adminstration.
While the Obama administration had avoided the conservatorship route, what it did was far worse than nationalization: it is ersatz capitalism, the privatizing of gains and the socializing of losses. The perception, and reality, that the rescue packages were "unfair" -- unfairly generous to the bankers, unfairly costly to ordinary citizens -- has made dealing with the crisis all the more difficult. It has become commonplace to say that underlying the crisis is the loss of confidence in the financial system. But the failure of government to undertake a fair rescue contributed to a loss of confidence in government.
- We might expect from a former World Bank economist, he puts his entire discussion in the context of the world economy at large. The Great Recession proceeds in the context of technological shifts, climate change, and emerging new economies; the U.S.A. is not the unchallenged top gun anymore. We cannot restore the illusory economic and political bubble that existed in 2000. We have to accomodate to a new reality.
Every game has rules and referees, and so does the economic game. One of the key roles of the government is to write the rules and provide the referees. The rules are the laws that govern the market economy. The referees include the regulators and the judges who help. enforce and interpret the laws. The old rules, whether they worked well in the past, are not the right rules for the twenty-first century. Society has to have confidence that the rules are set fairly and that the referees are fair. In America, too many of the rules were set by and or those from finance, and the referees were one-sided. That the outcomes have been one-sided should not come as a surprise.
... In the end, the only check on these abuses is through democratic processes.
... Dealing with this crisis -- and preventing future crises -- is as much a matter of politics as it is economics. If we as a country don't make these reforms, we risk political paralysis, given the inconsistent demands of special interests and the country at large.
...we have no choice: if we are to restore sustained prosperity, we need a new set of social contracts based on trust between all the elements of our society, between citizens and government, between this generation and the future.