Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween from San Francisco

These photos are by-products from my photoblog project: 596 Precincts -- Walking San Francisco. If intrigued, take a look and sign up for sporadic email updates.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: "Climate leaders don't frack!"

It seems a simple message, doesn't it? A small group organized by the Californians against Fracking Coalition (includes such stalwarts as Credo and Move-On) greeted Gov. Jerry Brown when he dropped into San Francisco on Monday to sign an environmental pact with Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

The California legislature, completely dominated by Democrats, has just passed and the Governor has signed a law (SB 4) that seems to allow oil extraction by fracking to go on in our state without much hindrance. In addition to communities' many concerns about watershed poisoning and water depletion, how is a huge increase in oil production compatible with California's commitment to do its part against CO2 emissions?

Credo activists say fracking is not compatible with the struggle to limit climate change. They urge a moratorium on developing California's oil resources until there is better assurance that we're not making a bigger problem.

The demonstration seemed significant to me because it highlights something that progressive activists need to understand as we work to save the country from the knuckle-draggers in the Republican party. Republicans are marginalizing themselves nationally by choosing to play to the resentment of a dwindling group of confused, aging white folks. This is a route to oblivion -- even these folks' children mostly don't live inside their nightmares.

But where Republicans fade away -- as in most of California -- politics doesn't stop. Instead, the interests play out their battles within the residual Democratic party. This is not evidence, solely, that money talks. It happens because, in a democracy, people with different perspectives and interests will find a way to try to get their preferences adopted by state structures.

So for those of us living where Republicans have been squashed, our fight for some years will be inside the Democrats. We need to get used to this and try to conduct the struggle with both vigor and some subtlety as we continue to marginalize the hard right.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On how the very, very rich people view our world

For starters, many of them seem to deny this is "our" world. They assume they make it possible for the rest of us to survive in this world and consequently they ought to run it. What did we ever do except work for them if we were lucky?

But there are nuances:

A few days ago I was looking through the Board of Directors list at Freedom Works [a right wing political fund] and happened across the bio of board member Mary E. Albaugh. ...

"When our daughters were born, my husband and I envisioned an ever-expanding world of opportunity and continued prosperity. But the government grew faster than our children, shrinking their future prospects and each person's ability to flourish through his own efforts."
Now, these bios are often boilerplate. And Albaugh is just as likely to be a delightful human being as the next person I know little or nothing about. But what a mindset and worldview ... The government grew faster than her daughters and now they're faced with diminished life prospects and ability to flourish.

Joshua Marshall at TPM

Marshall figured out that Albaugh is Betsy Fisher, the owner of a DC clothing store.

This item reminded me of something I heard from a friend the other day. She is employed as an anonymous clerk in a business that helps some very, very rich people keep track of their money. Here's my paraphrase of what she passed on, in wonderment, about the mindset of the clients:

Do you know how billionaires think about taxes? The way they understand how much they are paying works like this: they look at the raw total of the sum that comes in to them annually and mentally deduct everything it costs them to live, including all their residences, entertainments, and purchases. The residue -- what they didn't spend -- is what they think of as their income. Then they calculate what percentage of that unconsumed surplus they pay in taxes and that is what they complain about.

Most of us think of taxes as yet another unavoidable living expense, like the electric bill or the rent. But for rich people, taxes are what the government appropriates out of what they showed the self-restraint not to spend.

No wonder very rich people who pay less than 15 percent of their income -- often way less -- think they are overtaxed. In their way of thinking, the expenses of their lifestyle are simply their right, not something they pay out of their income.

The very rich really are different from most of us.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Republican-held Congressional district that might prefer a Democrat

Very interesting -- a California Republican Congressman wants it broadly known that he's becoming

... the lone GOP member with 185 Democrats to co-sponsor a plan that would give millions of unauthorized immigrants the chance to attain citizenship.

A handful of House Republicans have expressed support for citizenship legislation similar to the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate over the summer. But [Congressman Jeff] Denham is taking the additional — and politically provocative — step of locking arms with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democrats trying to neutralize opposition from House conservatives and shake up a polarized immigration debate.

“I’m the first Republican,” he said in an interview. “I expect more to come on board.”

[Quote is from a Washington Post article behind a paywall.] It's not hard to understand why Denham is eager to separate himself from Republican intransigence on immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the the undocumented.

An October Latino Decisions poll found that if there is no vote in the House on immigration policy, Latinos will overwhelming blame the Republican Party.

The survey identified Denham's Central Valley district (CA-10 which centers on towns extending south from Tracy through Manteca, Modesto and Turlock) as leading the first tier of Republican seats where an angry Latino reaction to Republican obstruction might improve a strong Democratic candidate's chances in 2014. The district is 40 percent Latino demographically; in the voter eligible pool (people who are citizens of voting age) 34 percent are Latino. Latino's are about 25 percent of registered voters. The area voted for Barack Obama in 2012 by a 3.6 percent margin.

Denham's Wikipedia page includes the information that he has voted with his Republican colleagues 95 percent of the time, so he's got a lot of work to do if he wants to distance himself from the poisonous Republican brand.

At least one Democratic challenger has surfaced, Turlock farmer Michael Eggman. Eggman is already blasting Denham about the government shutdown -- he's not likely to let Denham run away from his Republican affiliation.

That Latino Decisions poll highlights what the Anglo community too easily fails to understand in the immigration debate: those 11 million undocumented people who live here, work here and are at risk for deportation are not hidden away out of sight of most Latinos -- they are neighbors and even family. Republican resistance to making sense of our broken immigration system seems -- and literally is -- as an attack on many Latino citizens' friends, uncles, sisters, even parents. The immoral cruelty of a system that values these people's labor but denies their humanity is all too real.

The resulting outrage is a political force. Download the Latino Decisions report to explore how Governor Pete Wilson's choice in 1994 to inflame anti-immigrant fears for his political gain has made California an overwhelmingly Democratic state as the Latino age cohort who felt attacked came of age and engaged with politics. National Republicans are following a similar path to oblivion.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"You don't have no freedom ..."

Bill de Blasio, the prohibitive favorite to be elected mayor of New York City next week, has promised to end this sort of thing. A court has ruled this kind of policing is unconstitutional. Let's hope that means there's a change coming.

In addition, de Blasio has promised New York Muslims that widespread, dragnet infiltration of their business and places of worship by the NYPD will stop when he is in office. He's pretty explicit:

“The efforts of surveillance have to be based on specifically specific information, and obviously you need to go through a careful vetting process,” de Blasio said during a rally at Columbus Park in Downtown Brooklyn.

Based on internal NYPD reports and interviews with officials involved in the programs, the NYPD has conducted wholesale surveillance of entire Muslim neighborhoods, chronicling daily life including where people eat, pray and get their hair cut, according to a series of reports by The Associated Press. Police also reportedly infiltrated dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups.

In addition, the NYPD secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorism organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing, according to the AP.

A de Blasio administration in New York will be something of a test whether a smart, civil liberties-oriented, executive can rein in one facet of our country's pervasive spook and surveillance infrastructure.

Many of us hoped Barack Obama could perform this feat at the national level, but the growth of the NSA/secret ops arena on his watch is a disappointment. Let's see what de Blasio does in our largest city.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday scenes and scenery: along the tracks

The warnings are emphatic.

This is not a place to walk.

Light rail vehicles ply the tracks in this quiet neighborhood. Well, the area is as quiet as the often noisy Muni Metro braking allows.

Locals pay no attention to the warning signs.

The tracks make a convenient bypass for pedestrians.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hillary Clinton in 2016: a sickening prospect

Oh shit! Guess I better get this on record right now. Just saw this item:

Liberal billionaire investor George Soros backed Ready for Hillary on Thursday, the super PAC organizing support for a possible 2016 presidential run by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


The people with the grease are spreading it for Hillary in 2016.

And Hillary has a message:

"We are careening from crisis to crisis instead of having a plan, bringing people to that plan," Clinton said, urging lawmakers to come together on a way forward following a raucus government shutdown fight.

I think I might vomit. As if Hillary running for President in 2016 will bring cooperation to the warring parties in Washington. No way! And I don't blame her for that; she would face frenzied Republican opposition. But I could do without her pretending otherwise!

Clinton as the Democratic standard bearer is an awful prospect in so many ways. I'll stick to one for the moment: I don't trust Ms.Clinton on issues of war and peace. Obama has not been nearly as good at reining in the empire as I'd like. He has seemed cowed by the "security" establishment and the military (interesting discussion here) and more than a little inclined to posturing. But he has walked us out of Iraq and seems bent on the same from Afghanistan. And you get the sense that, at root, he thinks war is a dumb idea and the country better served by focusing on domestic problems.

I do not trust Hillary to shrink from using military force. She strikes me as hawkish by instinct and all the rumors that emerged from her tenure at the State Department put her on the side of wider U.S. interventions. She felt a need to speak out for bombing Syria in the narrowly averted response to Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons.

The first woman president will be under even more scrutiny than the average Democratic party male, constantly the subject of the question: "is she tough enough to use force?" I don't trust her to resist the attractions of being able to blow away some enemies (look how that instinct has turned out lately!) Some woman is going to have to do the job, but this one gives me no confidence.

But -- and this is the crux of the matter -- if this country is going to get over the demographic hump, become a nation in which no race has a majority, and have a chance at preserving or even advancing some measure of egalitarian democracy, the next President has to be a Democrat. So if Clinton is the nominee, I'll take part in campaigns that help put her in office. Electing some Democrat, any Democrat, is about living to fight another day for people of color, young people, queer people, poor people -- so this is what we have to do.

Not very inspiring, but a fact.

The persistence of empires

British historian John Darwin writes about the "modern" era in global history as if he were perched on a satellite in earth orbit and gifted with magic glasses that render accumulations and diminutions of power in a succession of imperial states as a sequence of colorful bubbles: filling, expanding, receding, falling limp and sometimes reinflating. After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires, 1400-2000 is thought provoking and, for me, great fun. Like Tamim Ansary's Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes, this is history that overturns the "western" habit of making the European experience central to modern history. But it is in no way anti-European; rather it is Olympian, looking down from an imaginary height, discerning patterns for which Darwin claims some universality.

Here's a sample that introduces the gist of his argument:

The history of the world, it is tempting to say, is an imperial history, a history of empires. It would be easy to think from much historical writing that empires are abnormal: unwelcome intrusions in a non imperial world. Their rise is credited to exceptional circumstances, or the manic energy of a unique personality. Their fall is predictable, because the exceptional circumstances that permitted their rise have a limited life. This view is appealing, but has little else to commend it. A glance at world history suggests on the contrary that, for most of the time, the default position so far as politics went was imperial power. Empires were systems of influence or rule in which ethnic, cultural or ecological boundaries were overlapped or ignored. Their ubiquitous presence arose from the fact that, on a regional scale, as well as a global, the endowments needed to build strong states were very unequally distributed. This was a question not just of cultivable plains or navigable rivers, but of social and cultural solidarity and the relative ease with which both manpower and goods could be mobilized by the state. It was this kind of 'modernity' that allowed the creation of a huge Chinese empire by 200 BC. Against the cultural attraction, or physical force, of an imperial state, resistance was hard, unless reinforced by geographical remoteness or unusual cohesion.

… Most histories of 'empire' after the mid eighteenth century share a common assumption: the only empires that matter are the colonial empires of the Europeans -- until Japan starts to borrow the colonial idea at the turn of the twentieth century. The drama of the African scramble has led to a distorted image of a rampant imperialism that nothing could stop. But if we look closer at Asia we get a different impression. For all their nibbling at its maritime fringes and their halting inland advance at the end of the century, with the grand exception of India, the Europeans' domination of Asia was very partial at best. The case could be made that the real story in Asia in the long nineteenth century was one of Asian persistence and not of Asian defeat. … A similar pattern can be seen in parts of Middle Eurasia. Exposed as they were to Europe's commercial and physical power, the main Muslim states in West Asia did not succumb to colonialism. Shorn though it was of its European provinces by 1913, and then forced to surrender its Arab dominions after 1918, the Anatolian core of the Ottoman Empire escaped the partition that the peacemakers intended, to become a new 'Turkish' state. The territorial extent of the Iranian Empire had waxed and waned under Safavids and Qajars. But the area now ruled by the Islamic Republic comprises most of 'historic' Iran, …. even those parts of Middle Eurasia (like Egypt or India) whose political shape was drastically altered by Europe's intervention retained or constructed a distinctive identity that transcended the limits of a colonized culture.

What made this possible? Part of the answer, as we saw in an earlier chapter, was that Europeans lacked the resources and sometimes the motive to make global empire complete. Their imperial diplomacy baulked at the task of partitioning China, Iran or the Ottoman Empire before 1914. After 1918, their divisions were greater and the task even harder. But this is only one side of a complex equation. Just as important were the tenacious traditions of political and cultural autonomy in the great Asian states, which hemmed in outsiders like an invisible wall.

… The states that the Europeans faced were ancient regimes in need of renewal, not broken-backed states that had fallen to pieces. [This is closer to how Darwin characterizes the Aztecs and Incas.] Those who had served them were often aware of their weakness and the need for 'reform' . But that meant the grafting of new political methods on to the original stock, not imposing an alien blueprint to which no one was loyal. … Persistence was cultural as well as political. The role of religion, language and literature in creating national identities in Europe is a familiar story. There were several reasons why the nation-state idea developed more intensely in Europe than in other parts of Eurasia before 1914, not least the effects of the revolutions and wars that raged across much of the continent between 1789 and 1815.

Across most of Eurasia (and including much of Eastern Europe), the link between culture and state had not followed the model that appeared in Western Europe. Absolute loyalty to a territorial state and its ruler conflicted with notions of an Islamic community of believers -- the umma -- and the autonomous authority of those who interpreted the Koran and the sharia. In the vast subcontinental empire of China, with its periphery of smaller, weaker or dependent states, the cockpit mentality of dynastic conflict and state-building that shaped European nationalism was conspicuously lacking. In Japan, two centuries of seclusion reinforced an intense suspicion of outsiders. But little need had arisen to identify Japaneseness with a strong central state.

Yet, if the European obsession with the nation state as a union of culture and politics had little meaning elsewhere, the effort to bind society together with common values and practices (from diet and dress through to history and cosmology) was taken just as seriously. Across the rest of Eurasia, just as in Europe, traditions of learning were maintained and transmitted by teachers and texts. Around them were gathered the educated elites who enjoyed social prestige and exerted cultural authority. In Iran and China, this class was closely identified with the idea of the state. From Safavid times onward, the ulama asserted the claim that the Iranian state's first duty was to protect Shia Islam from the assaults of its enemies. The minority status of Shia in the Islamic world made this all the more urgent. In China, the scholar-gentry formed the administrative cadre as well as the cultural elite of the imperial system -- a role, it seems likely, that they continued to fill in the 'nationalist' era that followed. Even in India, where British rule was gradually imposed from the mid eighteenth century, pre-colonial traditions survived, because they were already deeply embedded in vigorous vernacular cultures. …

This is history as big picture, detached and challenging. We moderns instinctively assume that everything about our circumstances is novel. Darwin repeatedly reminds us how a global view can emphasize continuity as well as change.
I particularly appreciated Darwin's observations on the place of what became the United States among all these empires.

In conventional (and American) versions of the American past, it is America's isolation and detachment from Europe that are stressed: the forging of a separate political tradition; the making of an American 'exceptionalism'. Europeans were trapped in their history, condemned to work out the consequences of dynastic, class and ethnic struggles to their bitter and turbulent end. But Americans were free to create their own future, to pursue freedom without the shackles of Old World inequalities and antagonisms. In large part this story is merely a grandiose version of settler myth: versions of it can be found in most settler societies in the nineteenth century, and in most of their 'nationalist' historiographies in the twentieth. The American reality was more prosaic. America was the western extension of Greater Europe.

Yet because North America was from its white settler beginnings integrated into world commerce and industry, its cross-continental expansion launched the world's greatest economic power long before we got into the empire business ourself.

Conventionally, America has been left out of the narrative of European imperialism in the nineteenth century, entering the stage only in 1898 with the Spanish-American War. In fact America's peculiar growth path was extremely influential. For all the scale of its farming frontier, America's industrial and financial capacity made it a part of the Atlantic 'core' which drove the expansion and integration of Europe. Its trade helped enrich its Atlantic partners, but without consuming too much of their available capital. Its innovations in agricultural, mining, hydraulic and railway technology were readily diffused to other frontiers of European expansion.

What Darwin believes requires more explanation that it usually gets is why the United States didn't get into the world empire business sooner, not really until after 1945.

... the breakneck expansion of American power was somewhat surprising. Accepting obligations outside the North American continent or Central America had always been contentious in American opinion. Fear of foreign entanglements ran very deep. American freedom was widely thought to derive from a deliberate rejection of the atavistic mentality and warlike spirit of a decadent Old World, and to be gravely threatened by too much contact with it. The American political system seemed poorly equipped for the formulation and conduct of foreign policy, the continuity of which was easily wrecked on the shoals of domestic controversy. …

Two factors transformed the American outlook. The first was the extraordinary gap that had opened up between America's material strength and that of any other state. In 1950, five years after the war, the American economy produced twice as much as the economies of Britain, France and Germany combined (compared with a rough equality in I9I3). This economic advantage was dramatically reinforced by the possession of nuclear technology and the unique capacity to deploy atomic weapons. By themselves, perhaps, these new sources of power might have promoted an even more isolationist mood than in the inter-war years. But they were coupled with awareness that the defensive perimeter of America's safety had been hugely extended by advances in air transport and the need to manage the international economy to avoid a post-war depression. 'Fortress America' was no longer invulnerable. Instead, American leaders now enjoyed the margin of power to make alliances on terms that secured American primacy.

… The result was the creation of an American 'system' imperial in all but name.

Darwin's big picture, published in 2007, certainly adds dimension to our view of contemporary empires, especially our own. All those recalcitrant parts of the world that challenge the US imperium turn out to have their own history of enduring empire. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, but I imagine that ancient Romans had a hard time realizing that Parthians and Iberians had their own histories also. The view from the top of the heap can be distorting. This is a useful corrective.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

TSA admits its own irrelevance

According to Frequent Business Traveler, the leaders of the TSA knows perfectly well they are just carrying out a massive charade in order to keep the public properly cowed.

While air travelers continue to be told that they must remove their shoes and go through a body scanner to combat the threat of terrorism in the skies, it turns out that the Transportation Safety Administration has gone on record stating that the threat and risk of terrorist attacks on aviation is very small.

In an accidentally leaked, unredacted court document that was published online October 7, the TSA said that “terrorist threat groups present in the Homeland are not known to be actively plotting against civil aviation targets or airports.”

... In the brief, the government also concedes that, since September 11, 2001 there have been “no attempted domestic hijackings of any kind.”

As "The Pilot," Patrick Smith explains, there is good reason to hope that a repeat of the 9/11 hijackings could not happen -- and this has little to do with the activities of the Heimat Security bureaucracy. Cockpit doors have been hardened, probably the most significant safety improvement that could be made. The rest is invasive, humiliating, mandatory participatory security theater.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What if they gave an election and hardly anyone came?

No on B and C

Contrary to all good sense and conventional expectations, San Francisco is having an election on November 5. Although we've managed to get elections to the Board of Supervisors -- the local legislative body -- synced with national elections, we still vote on many city wide officials in obscure off-year contests. This year we get to vote on the Assessor-Recorder, the City Attorney, and the Treasurer.

Not that it matters. All three incumbents are running unopposed.

The four ballot measures riding along with on this election include two heavily contested ones.

Measures B and C would enable some big developers to raise the height limit along the waterfront so they can construct and sell $5 million Donald Trump-style condos to our local plutocrats. The details are complicated but the story is pretty simple: the San Francisco waterfront is an attractive place no longer marred by the smells and noise of a working port, so very rich people want to live there. The rest of us have won some limits on what can be thrown up on our waterfront and we want to keep it that way.

Developers are throwing almost infinite money at their sales campaign for Measures B and C. There are lying ads during 49ers broadcasts for goodness sake!

Everybody in city politics that I trust at all -- Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, Supervisor David Campos, former Mayor Art Agnos, tenant organizations, the Sierra Club -- is saying "No Wall on the Waterfront."

In this election in which hardly anyone will vote, I have already voted by mail: No on B and C.

Warming Wednesdays: power from the roads

Suspend your (appropriate) suspicion of the sponsor (of General Electric) and take a look at this. These people have an idea.

The problem is not that we can't imagine what we need to do; the problem is that our economic and political systems fail us when it comes to doing it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Tocqueville effect: the legitimizing force of public opinion

Monday it became possible for my lesbian cousin in New Jersey to get married to her long time partner. They've been campaigning for the right and they have two kids, so I imagine they'll get legally hitched soon. Nine million more U.S. citizens live in a state where gay marriage is legal as of today -- the advancing tide of marriage equality sweeps onward.

The recent on-rushing advance of gay marriage equality feels a bit of a mystery to me. The arc of the universe may bend toward justice, but this development seems more like an avalanche of good news than the sort of painful steady progress that has marked other struggles. It took literally hundreds of years for European societies to repudiate human slavery and we're still struggling with the institution's progeny: discrimination, extreme inequality and unequal access to law and justice. Struggles over gay rights aren't over these days, but the direction of things seems unmistakable; it is the hold-outs who will be on the defensive for the next few years, not the LGBT people. How very strange and wonderful this feels!

Not surprisingly Andrew Sullivan pointed to a fascinating observation on the subject from one of his conservative friends, Jonathan Rauch. Consider what Rauch calls the Tocqueville effect:

Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman whose observations of America in the 1830s remain shrewdly relevant, famously remarked on Americans’ deference to majority opinion: “As long as the majority is still undecided, discussion is carried on; but as soon as its decision is irrevocably pronounced, everyone is silent, and the friends as well as the opponents of the measure unite in assenting to its propriety.” Although he exaggerates, the broad point remains true: the legitimising effect of public opinion is such that, other things being equal, majority support tends to amplify itself. Even if I have doubts about gay marriage, the fact that most of my countrymen are on the other side weakens my resolve and impels me to acknowledge the legitimacy of their view. The difference between support at, say, 55 per cent versus 45 per cent — that is, the different between majority and minority standing — is one of kind, not merely of degree. That is not to say that opposition evaporates or crawls under a rock when it loses majority standing. But its power and relevance are greatly reduced.

… Not all Americans, of course, have come to see homosexuality as mundane or benign. But not all needed to. What mattered is the “swing vote”, the moderates who were never deeply attached to an anti-gay agenda on ideological or religious grounds, but who had not in the past been comfortable with the idea of homosexuality. Their crossing over has been the engine of rapid recent change; and it has been the personal, more than the political, which has led them across.

This rings true to me -- Rauch's "Tocqueville effect" seems a useful descriptor of what we're living through in regard to LGBT marriage.

It is then interesting to look at other matters of contention and see whether a Tocqueville effect, the accumulating force of majority public opinion that delegitimizes continued opposition, has been or could be operative.

In regard to U.S. racism, it is not hard to say "yes" … or "no." It is no longer publicly acceptable in most of the country to express the most stereotypical personal racial prejudices -- to use the "N word" for example. Public opinion against verbal bigotry has jelled. But the Trayvon Martin and Jonathan Farrell killings indicate that African American males can be shot based on radicalized suspicions with relative impunity for the shooters.

Perhaps even more problematically, 83 percent of non-Hispanic whites believe that the reason African Americans have worse jobs, incomes and housing than whites is "something else" rather than discrimination. So I might conclude that in the case of persistent systemic racism, the Tocqueville effect has changed what public opinion allows most people to believe, but fails to confront the reality of extreme economic divergence between blacks and whites.

Let's look at full equality for women. The changes in public opinion about the roles and rights of women in my lifetime have been extraordinary. Young women strive for education and expect to work in jobs no worse than those of men. Majority public opinion affirms these realities and even has led to some infrastructure that supports these expectations. We recognize that women sometimes need protection from the men in their lives; hence women's shelters and stringent reporting requirements for police departments (sometimes even complied with.) We have considerable anti-discrimination law, though we never won an Equal Rights Amendment.

Yet women still routinely make less money than equivalently qualified males, do most child rearing and house work, and run into ceilings on our advancement. Majority public opinion has never quite affirmed a strong right of all women to control our own sexuality and reproductive capacity, hence abortion decisions, sex education, and even access to contraception remain contested.

Clearly in the arenas of race and gender equality, there has been something like a Tocqueville effect. At the same time, what can be won through changed public opinion can only carry a group that has been excluded so far. Gay people are definitely on a roll toward legal recognition of gay marriage. But where will we run into the limits of the changes that can be institutionalized through widespread changes in public opinion?

Will gay advances hit a limit when we seek to be included in employment discrimination law? Maybe. Or will our limit come over gender presentation, the fact that we are "queer" and some of us simply can't fit ourselves into conventional gender boxes? California may have a test of the latter limit in 2014 -- the anti-gay marriage forces have turned their attention to our new law, the School Success and Opportunity Act , which protects the rights of transgender students. They are currently shopping a ballot initiative to repeal these protections.

Will we ever achieve a Tocqueville effect for the idea that voting on the rights of minorities is not acceptable democratic conduct? Now that would be a breakthrough ...

Monday, October 21, 2013

What comes after searching for an ass to kick

Remember that country where a U.S. invasion in 2003 and subsequent occupation touched off a vicious civil war -- and from which we departed tails between legs in 2011? Oh yes, Iraq.

Marc Lynch, who used to write useful journalism about Middle Eastern media as Abu Aardvark, points out that Iraq is currently boiling.

Iraq is facing a rising death toll, with more than 5,000 recorded deaths from a horrific wave of car bombs, and attacks by a reinvigorated insurgency driven by Syria's war and by [Prime Minister] Maliki's obstinately sectarian and autocratic politics.

Lynch thinks Maliki can be persuaded to reduce Shiite domination of his government and to bring disaffected Sunnis back into some power within his state. It's hard to see why he thinks this can be accomplished. Maliki's incentive to maintain Shiite rule not likely to go away -- it is the source of his own authoritarian regime

Or so reading Nir Rosen's mammoth Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World would lead me to believe. Rosen, alone among U.S. journalists that I've read, was able to pass unnoticed through the dangerous streets and towns of Iraq for most of the last decade, to meet and befriend (male) Iraqis from all camps including some close to al-Qaeda, and tell their stories. His book is long and intricate and absolutely worth the effort to learn what it was we did in that unhappy country.

And it certainly reveals the absurdity of thinking that Maliki's upcoming visit to Washington is going to change much of anything.
Will Bunch at Attytood reminds us of the "real reason" the U.S. chose to invade Iraq, set off events that killed at least 500000 people, and destabilize an already unstable region:

A senior official from former President George W. Bush's administration is quoted in “Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House” [by journalist Peter Baker] saying American troops went into Iraq because the U.S. was looking for a fight.

"The only reason we went into Iraq, I tell people now, is we were looking for somebody’s ass to kick. Afghanistan was too easy," the anonymous official said, according to Politico.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Whoopee! Oakland is hosting a gun show and war games

Facing Urban Shield Day of Action
Friday, October 25, 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Oakland Marriott City Center, 1001 Broadway, Oakland, CA

Press conference at 11am
Rally at 5pm

Local organizers explain:

On the anniversary of the disastrous police response to Occupy Oakland, Urban Shield - a trade show and training exercise for SWAT teams will convene on October 25th, 2013. It will be marketing military-style weapons, equipment and training to local public safety agencies. Urban Shield will be held at the Marriott Hotel, downtown Oakland, bringing together more than 150 local, state, federal, international, and private sector partners and military contractors.

To add insult to injury, the contractor in charge of planing and producing Urban Shield, SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation) has a history of fraudulent practices and has been successful indicted by N.Y. City for $500 million, and by New Mexico for over $11 million for their criminal activity!

Is this what we want in our community? Are these the people we want leading our cities and counties? Will this kind of activity help protect us?

None of the Urban Shield methods have served as an effective deterrent to crime in Oakland or anywhere else. Some of these methods are directly imported techniques used by special forces in Israel in occupied Palestine against civilian populations.

Shockingly, when confronted with protests by community members, city and county officials were unaware that this event was taking place in their own community.

The East Bay Express noted “the whole show ­ it's as much theater as it is practical exercise" ­ and is sponsored by major weapons manufacturing companies like ATK, which makes everything from small caliber bullets to depleted uranium ammunition.”

Urban Shield militarizes our police with combat style weapons and a military mentality that views community members as potential adversaries and threats to public security. This has translated into increased harm to African-American, Latino, Arab-American and Muslim communities, as well as people exercising their right to public protest.

Homeland Security is funding this ‘War on Terror’ circus to the tune of $7.5 million through the County Sheriff’s office, with the requirement that exercises focus on 'anti-terrorism' scenarios, including how to surveil the Muslim community and how to confront Occupy protestors or others exercising their right of dissent.

We demand accountability and transparency in the use of public monies for activities that, in the name of fighting terrorism, actually make us less secure and more vulnerable to racial profiling, false arrest, police harassment, criminalization of our youth, and violations of our constitutional rights.

Public funds are sorely needed to create healthy neighborhoods and community-building alternatives to heavy policing. We need violence prevention and mental health programs directed toward stopping domestic violence, sexual abuse and dealing with addiction. We need properly funded public schools and living wage jobs. These are the real ‘shields’ that will reduce the level of violence, create greater social responsibility and community accountability, and as a consequence, will make us all safer and more secure.

In a city that has a 'no gun show' policy, Urban Shield sends the wrong message.

Or perhaps it delivers the true message of a domestic police apparatus run amok: we're arming to squash all of you.

Sponsoring organizations represent a wide swath of the community: Allen Temple Baptist Church, Oscar Grant Foundation, Malcolm x Grassroots Movement, Cop Watch-Berkeley, International Socialist Organization, Bay Area Catalyst Project, Bay Area Intifada, Tristan Anderson Campaign, Palestine Youth Movement, Metta Center for NonViolence, Liberate/Occupy Oakland, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Islamic Labor Caucus, Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence, Beyt Tikkun, Facing Tear Gas Campaign of the War Resisters League, American Friends Service Committee, Global Exchange, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, National Lawyer’s Guild (SF), Coalition for Safe Berkeley, East Bay Alliance for a Safe Economy (EBASE) Queer Insurrection

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday critter blogging

This little fellow observed the Mission march against evictions from the safe perch in his person's back pack.

WTF? Now what?

I don't know about anyone else, but the Republican climb down from trashing our democratic polity leaves me simply wrung out.

The good news seems to be that rather than falling apart this time, the center held -- barely.

The bad news is what the Prez said today:

"You don't like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election."

He's right. And that means that if we don't want these assholes doing it again, we have to beat them, drive them out of office. And it means working on elections not only where we're comfortable, but on their turf as well. I have friends who are working on North Carolina. I have friends working on Texas. There are a couple of plausible Republican House targets in California (Gary Miller, CA-31; Jeff Denham, CA-10) who should be replaced with someone who'll vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker.

If we don't want to go through this crap over and over again, we've got work to do. This kind of work, mostly finding people who've been pushed out of the process and bringing them in, is long and hard, but we have to do it.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan says something similar, far more eloquently:

What the Tea Party represents, in stark contrast to conservatism, is a radical attack on the very framework of our governing system. It is not right or left within our democratic system. It is a form of secession from it and a de facto abandonment of the notion of one country under one rule of law. It is about sabotage rather than opposition. It is bad enough when one party will seek to sabotage the law of the land – by attempting to rally the public to spurn the new healthcare law, in the hopes of causing it to collapse. But when the dominant faction of one party is bent on sabotaging our democracy, it must not simply be tolerated or appeased the way John Boehner shamefully did. It must be defeated. Anything less is a form of appeasement of forces and ideas that are truly antithetical to the democratic way of life and to constitutional governance.

Yes, in my view, the situation is that grim. If the Republican right’s fanaticism still blinds them to the error of their ways after they nearly destroyed the global economy (and brutally damaged the American one), it becomes clear that only a total collapse of the American government and economy could truly teach them the futility of their deluded aspirations. The rest of us cannot and must not tolerate that. We must draw a line. That line, for those who still believe in the regular order of our democracy, is November 2014.

It may take a little longer than that, but that's where we start.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Football is also beautiful

Last night I gave over nearly two hours to watching the POV/Frontline documentary League of Denial: the NFL's concussion crisis. The film is based on the research for Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada's book of the same name, just published. The show is slow, excruciatingly documented, and convincing in its core assertion that the NFL has consistently valued maintaining its brand and profits at the risk of the lives of football players, amateur and professional. This is not a pretty picture of the sport I delight to watch. (I never played, though I have an ex who played rugby and sometimes came home concussed.)

Critics of the Frontline documentary have pointed out that it ignores the complicity of the NFLPA, the player's union, in organized football's long campaign of silence about the dangers of the sport.

Accompanying the main film are additional filmed interviews with some of the talking heads in the film. San Franciscans -- and anyone who cares about the sport -- will appreciate the comments of retired 49er quarterback and current commentator Steve Young. Here's a sample of this intelligent man's appreciation of his sport.

You described the game as violent. I know that there are really tough hits, but the game itself, there are rules about it that really -- and I think the NFL is trying more and more to try to hone those down -- but I have always looked at it as a gentleman's game.

I know that people outside would say: "Oh, that Young, you're crazy. You don't know what you're talking about." But the guys that played it really well and played it for a long time, we were connected. Reggie White, Bruce Smith, some of my biggest adversaries or my best friends would knock me down and [say], "Steve, how you doing?" And I'd say: "Well, I'm not doing so good right now. Could you avoid this again?" I mean, we would have back-and-forth. ...

I'm not going to say it was just another day at the office, because it takes all of you. The demands of excellent NFL quarterbacking I always said took every piece of me, emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually. It was like it just took it all, and I think that was what was so energizing about it and unreplicable. ...

My life is more sublime now. It's wonderful. It's better in many ways, but you can't say, "Oh, I'm going to find that somewhere else." You just can't.

I believe Young here. The reporters who made League of Denial again and again assert that fans watch the game to enjoy the brutality of it all. That feels completely false to my sort of fan appreciation. Sure, seeing guys beat each other up is integral to football, but anyone who has watched with me knows that I'm likely to exclaim "did you see that??!!" when an onrushing defender manages to pull up in full stride and avoid smashing into an opponent who is already down. Some of the greatest athleticism of the game happens in those intentionally avoided hits.

This year with the current officiating emphasis on requiring players not to hit with their heads, I'm seeing men do amazing contortions with their bodies that are foreign to everything they learned in ten years of amateur football in pre-concussion awareness times. The skill is in contorting their bodies at full speed to tackle in the manner prescribed by the rules and still stopping the ball carrier. This sort of magnificent athletic accomplishment is what I watch football for.

Current rule changes are not the first time the sport has been reinvented to try to make it less lethal. The forward pass was legalized in 1906 because the tight scrum for running the ball was killing men. If the league takes the dangers seriously, perhaps they can accomplish another successful modification. I hope we don't as a society decide this sport is simply too inherently damaging. It is also beautiful.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: climate change puts humanity on the move

People have always been on the move to some extent. The fossil record tells us our species spread out from a small troupe of ancestors in the Rift Valley in Africa to cover the globe. Presumably people have always moved about for the same reasons we do today: better opportunity (more to eat, more water), to escape competing or hostile humans, or following some spirit of exploration.

Scientists predict the effects of climate change will put millions more on the move. Alex Randall of the UK Climate and Migration Coalition argues that we should avoid adopting simplistic pictures of "climate refugees."

...People facing the prospect of moving hope that they will have some choice in the timing and circumstances of their movement and that when they arrive they will find work and become active members of their new communities. Their hope is that they will move with dignity.

... Apart from people's own rejection of the "climate refugee" term there are also several other problems. It's clear that there are connections between climate change and the movement of people, but the connections are not as clear as the "climate refugee" narrative suggests. The phrase conjures images of large numbers of people moving en masse over long distances and crossing international borders and possibly continents. It seems unlikely that climate change will produce this kind of human movement.

What seems more likely is that climate change might reinforce existing trends in short-term, short distance migration. For example, as subsistence farmers find it increasingly difficult to make a living in rural areas they may move to nearby cities to find work. Whole towns or villages will not move together: in fact, families may not even move together. Far more likely is that one or two household members will move, find work elsewhere and send money home to their community.

That sounds more like the European movement that populated the Americas with white people than what we've seen of displacement in the contemporary wars of the Middle East -- or in the wholesale transfer of people in the European wars of the 20th century.

Many countries including Australia treat the advancing movement of people as a security threat. Latin Americans take a more nuanced view.

The Environmental Justice Foundation, a UK non-profit working internationally and the makers of the video that heads this post, think the world needs a United Nations special rapporteur on climate change and human rights -- somebody whose business it is look out for how nations are treating climate migrants.

International negotiations on climate change have so far failed to adequately address the humanitarian and human rights impacts of climate change.

It is now time for the Human Rights Council to take positive action to safeguard these rights under threat and support the governments of the first and worst affected countries.

“Climate change is related not only to environmental factors but also to poverty, discrimination and inequalities – this is why climate change is a human rights issue.” Kyung-wha Kang, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights ...

The [special raporteur's] mandate should [be to] take stock of impacts of climate change, mitigation, adaptation on human rights and provide inputs to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process.

It could include identification and awareness raising awareness of best practices and make recommendations to governments and the international community about how we can best safeguard human rights in our changing world.

It seems a weak response, but until problems are named and described, they will not be acted on. Sign EJF's petition here.

This is an international Blog Action Day post, raising up issues of human rights for all.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Offline today, abruptly

Morty failed to protect my laptop from a sneak thief who apparently slipped in an unlocked door while we slept and grabbed the one obvious thing of value.

This post is evidence that I'm very well backed up, but the experience of night intrusion is scary and disconcerting. It may take a few days to resume normal communication.

Monday, October 14, 2013

"Everyone knew there weren't any chemical weapons ..."

Kudos to the New York Times and reporter Marlise Simons for using the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons as an occasion to revisit a particularly noxious aspect of the Bush/Chaney regime's invasion of Iraq under cover of lies.

The Brazilian diplomat José Bustani was the founding director general of the U.N. chemical weapons monitoring agency. In late 2001, Washington saw the agency as an impediment to their plan for invading Iraq -- what if Saddam Hussein agreed to international inspections and showed, as proved to be true, that he had no chemical weapons?

So they had to remove the organization's leadership.

… John R. Bolton marched into the office of [the organization's] boss to inform him that he would be fired.

“He told me I had 24 hours to resign,” said José Bustani, who was director general of the agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. “And if I didn’t I would have to face the consequences.”

… As Mr. Bustani tells the story, the campaign against him began in late 2001, after Iraq and Libya had indicated that they wanted to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, the international treaty that the watchdog agency oversees. To join, countries have to provide a list of stockpiles and agree to the inspection and destruction of weapons, as Syria did last month after applying. Inspectors from the agency were making plans to visit Iraq in late January 2002, he said.

“We had a lot of discussions because we knew it would be difficult,” Mr. Bustani, who is now Brazil’s ambassador to France, said Friday in his embassy office in Paris. The plans, which he had conveyed to a number of countries, “caused an uproar in Washington,” he said. Soon, he was receiving warnings from American and other diplomats.

… “By the end of December 2001, it became evident that the Americans were serious about getting rid of me,” he said. “People were telling me, ‘They want your head.’ ”

… Mr. Bustani and some senior officials, both in Brazil and the United States, say Washington acted because it believed that the organization under Mr. Bustani threatened to become an obstacle to the administration’s plans to invade Iraq. As justification, Washington was claiming that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, possessed chemical weapons, but Mr. Bustani said his own experts had told him that those weapons were destroyed in the 1990s, after the Persian Gulf war.

“Everybody knew there weren’t any,” he said. “An inspection would make it obvious there were no weapons to destroy. This would completely nullify the decision to invade.”

Mr. Bustani points out that Syria has been allowed to do what Iraq was not: join the convention against chemical weapons, make disclosure, and avoid bombing or invasion. Guess that is how international agencies are supposed to work, when rampaging empires let them do their job.

Graphic via Wikipedia.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

No more evictions! No mas desalojos!

The people of eastern (lower) 24th Street in San Francisco were out Saturday, marching and dancing in our latest protest against Mission gentrification.

The current tech boom is wreaking its creative destruction here. Google, Facebook, etc. are using San Francisco, and particularly the Mission's relativity low rents and cultural excitement, as a bedroom community for its squadrons of young workers. Every morning, the Google buses, private buses to Silicon Vally, haul these new residents south.

Compared with the the people who've been the core of the place since World War II -- Latino families, white lefties, artists -- this wave of newcomers can pay the moon for housing and entertainment. Naturally there are speculators who want to cash in on them. These speculators are evicting people and small businesses as fast as they can, making a quick buck while trashing the cultural stew that is the Mission's attraction.

The Mission still gives a good parade. Some of the people most vulnerable to the current wave of displacements are our most honored artists like Rene Yanez and Yolanda Lopez whose creative work, including building the annual Dia de Los Muertos celebration, helped make the Mission the attraction it is.

The Mission has been more resistant to successive waves of gentrification than many areas of San Francisco. The late '90s tech boom crashed before swamping the local scene. Latino families have tended to hang on to the houses their grandparents bought from the Irish in the middle of the last century, providing a distinctive anchor amidst what outsiders saw as an urban dumping ground.

Its hard not to fear this wave of prosperous newcomers will swamp the present culture. This billboard hangs outside La Galeria de la Raza

... while another wave of neighborhood organizers mobilize for self-preservation.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Saturday scenes and scenery: hints of autumn

The trees on Martha's Vineyard are more likely to turn yellow or brown than red as the days grow shorter, but there are exceptions.

Nice winter coat is coming here. Maybe someone will knit a sweater from it next year?

Ivy (poison?) thrives among the beach plum.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday cat blogging

Morty has welcomed me home to San Francisco. This morning he sat on the printer and helped me write.

There is a solution to homelessness

That solution is homes!

Norman is part of our parish community -- nearly every time we talk, he tells me how happy he is to have his apartment.

The solutions to some problems are too simple for bureaucracies and experts!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Scene from the government shutdown

Jim DeMint of the Heritage Foundation -- an alpha specimen of a Washington DC "wacko bird," -- describes the partial shutdown his Republican House pals have inflicted on the country as merely a "temporary slowdown in government operations."

Don't try to tell that to the old gentleman we met yesterday outside the local Social Security Administration office. He was gaping at this sign taped to the glass door.
He spoke only halting English. Since Spanish translation didn't seem to aid communication, I suspected he was of Filipino origin.

"They are supposed to be open." He kept trying to see some activity behind the glass.

The suggestion that a computer might answer his question might as well have been words in Chinese or Russian.

We all eventually wandered off.

A naive slog through MSNBC's evening line-up

I simply don't watch television -- except for football. I often feel out of touch with my culture, but the medium doesn't grab me. But I sometimes feel I ought to have a better idea what others are seeing. So yesterday, on a cross-country flight -- trapped in a middle seat over which the overhead light had burned out, without wifi and with a computer out of juice -- I pacified myself by watching the entire MSNBC evening line-up for the first time, ever.

MSNBC is touted/despised as the liberal answer to Fox News. I don't see Fox either, so I can't judge the accuracy of that comparison. I have friends who I respect, as well as bloggers I like to read, who seem to get a lot out MSNBC's night time shows. Can't say I'm going to join them anytime soon.

Here are some barely informed impressions:
  • The Ed Show: Ed Schultz is fun, a fine, bombastic, populist newsertainer. If you like this kind of shtick, you'll probably like Ed. I did, though I can't imagine watching in any other circumstances.
  • Politics Nation with Al Sharpton: I've enjoyed Sharpton since he injected himself in Democratic presidential debates in 2004, speaking then-unspeakable truths for many of us. I know -- as well as being a legitimate fighter for human rights, he's also been a bit of a huckster, doing well by Al while doing good. But at least he's never been boring -- until this TV show. Maybe I just caught an off episode, but Tuesday night, in the middle of what I think is a U.S. Constitutional crisis, Politics Nation was a yawner.
  • Hardball with Chris Matthews: What a weird dude Matthews is! Obviously he has been around DC forever, knows everyone, has (very loosely) liberal sympathies, and sometimes substitutes emotions for where brains ought to be. This last can lead to insights -- and bathos. I read him for years when he wrote politics for the now defunct San Francisco Examiner. The TV persona seems an amped up version of what he seemed to me then: a political wannabe who couldn't quite make it to the big time.
  • All In with Chris Hayes: I respect Hayes' book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, though I have questioned some of his prescriptions for a way forward. That volume introduced me to a tough thinker. And I'd heard that his TV shows provide a venue for new, younger, more diverse and more imaginative thinkers to intrude on the usual punditry. The one episode I just saw was nothing like that. It was a pastiche of extremely brief episodes that hit obvious liberal themes -- no imagination and no meat. Maybe TV is not this guy's best venue? I know others differ on this.
  • The Rachel Maddow Show: In my world, Rachel is an icon; she's family, a lesbian who gets to pontificate with the most prominent personalities around. Seeing one of your own doing a big boy's job is not something to be taken lightly. I've never watched a whole show, but I've seen clips on which she was brilliant. But Tuesday night's show was nothing special. She tried hard, but that blow-hard old white guy, Ed Shultz, seemed to me to do a better job at coming to terms with the debt limit crisis. TV must be a hard medium to ace. I had hoped for more than this episode offered.
  • The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell: I don't remember hearing of O'Donnell before seeing this show. I found I liked it the best of the MSNBC lot. It was pure hard-hitting, aggressive, liberal punditry, naming names and calling out bullshit -- in this case on Republican House Speaker John Boehner. The segments moved along briskly, but unlike those on Chris Hayes' show, they had crisp content. If you are going to do political hit pieces, this strikes me as how to do it -- ultimately more honest than any attempt at nuance. If this show were on at a reasonable hour -- it is not -- I might look in on O'Donnell when not trapped at 30,000 feet in an over-heated plastic box.
So do I have any conclusions? Not really. Doing gripping TV with substantive content is clearly difficult. Some very smart people who I might often agree with are struggling on MSNBC. Television may be a declining medium, but engaging visual presentation of information and opinion is something our culture needs.

I'm not going to do this again. When will the airlines put in electric outlets and wifi? Please save me soon!

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

A good gesture

It's nice to be in San Francisco. My friend who took this picture reports that someone had painted swastikas on fixtures in a park. Someone else had painted them over -- and apparently wanted to be sure that no one came away smudged ...