Saturday, April 30, 2016

Saturday scenes and scenery: the Panhandle

If I were not Walking San Francisco, I would have never known that the "panhandle" extension of Golden Gate Park was an electoral precinct. I guess it makes a kind of sense. People without houses can register to vote in this city; they are required to furnish a location so the authorities can decide which ballot they qualify for. (They can list a mail drop to receive the ballot.) At times there have been lots of unhoused people who might call the Panhandle home; apparently they have registered here.

It is certainly a pretty place.

And much used by groups of friends at play ...

solitary reading ...

guitar practice ...

and creativity.

I'm not quite sure what the project is ...

but this set seem to be having fun in the sun.

On the one hand, I see remnants of the old "hippie" Haight-Ashbury of which the Panhandle was an extension. On the other, folks here seem more monochromatically white than I remember from those old days.

Friday, April 29, 2016

When is one thing like another?

The Pentagon has disciplined 16 service members for mistakes that led to the deadly airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in northern Afghanistan last fall, but no one will face criminal charges, The [Los Angeles] Times has learned.

December 15, 2015: The San Francisco police officers who exchanged racist and homophobic text messages in 2012 will be allowed to keep their jobs and avoid discipline, a Superior Court judge ruled Monday.

Police officials blew past the one-year statute of limitations set by the state’s Peace Officer Bill of Rights for any personnel investigation, Judge Ernest Goldsmith said, and waited too long to take action on the misconduct allegations that raised issues of bias in the department and forced the district attorney’s office to re-evaluate thousands of cases handled by those officers.

Somehow there is always lots of due process for the guys with the most guns. Not so much for the dead.

Book news

Busy days around here at book promotion central.

American Nuremberg has been released in an audio edition, read by the author.

And Erudite Partner has developed one of the themes from the book in The CIA Waterboarded the Wrong Man 83 Times in 1 Month published at The Nation.

She'll be speaking at the KPFA event on the left on June 15 in Berkeley.

Friday cat blogging

Sometimes it's just time for a nap on a warm surface.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Primary fever is moving this way ...

As we come closer to California's June 7 primary, it's time for this unique voter registration video (featuring many friends). It is not to be missed. If you've moved, or changed your name, or aren't sure you are registered, you can do it all online at this link. Don't wait for the last day.

In fact, according to Capitol Weekly, voter registration in California has been soaring for awhile. That's normal in a presidential year, but this expansion has interesting features.

Overall, registration has skyrocketed in the first months of 2016. There have been over 850,000 registrations in the months between January 1 and March 31. This is twice as much as was registered during the same period in 2012. It even exceeds the total new registrations in the months leading up to the 2008 Primary ...

Each time there has been a big primary somewhere else, thousands have flocked to sign up, predominantly Democrats and Latinos. New registrants always skew young, since so many are just coming of voting age in any year. But look at the pattern.
Registration Growth Jan 1 – Mar 31, 2016 Compared to 2012

There are other changes.

... we see an amazing change in the way that voters can be reached by campaigns or pollsters – only one-in-five of the new registrants have a land-line phone number on the file. Yet, more than 50% have an email address – more than double the rate of voters with emails on the current file

Maybe someday campaigns will stop with the phone calls? I'm not holding my breath.

For all the strides California has made in making it easier for residents to register, I still think the requirement itself is ridiculous in this time of big data. Eleven states allow any resident to walk in to a polling place, show some kind of identification, and be checked online by poll workers, and vote on the spot. Not surprisingly, turnout is higher in these states. California has enacted same day registration, but not yet put it into effect. Maybe next election? More likely next year when this round is over ...

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

SFPD is a disgrace

They are also heavily armed.

More appalling racist and homophobic text messages from a former officer have come to light. The guy is a former officer because he ended up under investigation for rape and somewhere along the line the sort of things he said to his friends, including friends on the force, came to the surface.

"F--- that nig."

"They're like a pack (of) wild animals on the loose."

"Indian ppl are disgusting."

These are actually some of the less inflammatory ones.

Former police chief and present District Attorney George Gascon had a surprisingly perceptive and cogent diagnosis of the department:

"No. 1: There's a substantial number of people within the organization that are racist," Gascon said.

"And No. 2: There's a culture that has allowed those people to thrive and survive and even promote within that environment."

...Gascon likened the leadership of the department's union to police in Alabama and Mississippi in the 1950s. "They would probably feel right at home," he said. "It's a good old boys network that does everything they can to protect the status quo."

Over the last two years, the SFPD has shot and killed four men of color, three Latinos and one African American, in circumstances in which any claim officers were threatened by the dead men is simply preposterous. So far Gascon has not used his authority to charge any of the shooters for the killings.

San Franciscans continue to ask when Gascon is going to bring the force of the law to bear on our outlaw gang in blue.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ease up, sister ... look before you shriek!

It happened to me again yesterday. While running the trails in Golden Gate Park, I stopped in at the public restroom at the Beach Chalet. Whew! -- no line out the door. On weekend afternoons sometimes these facilities are overwhelmed by restaurant and brew pub customers. But not this time ...

I step inside and a small blonde woman pipes up: "You're in the wrong restroom."

"No, I am not!" Fortunately a stall opened up just then and that's the end of it.

Often I'm a little more communicative when I encounter this gender anxiety. But hey, I was running. I was wearing nondescript, non-gendered running clothes. I look like a tall, old lesbian who doesn't give a damn what the world thinks about her appearance when she is trotting about outside. I look that way, because that's who I am, which I think is quite good enough, thank you very much.

All this to say, these stupid, vicious bathroom bills like the one in North Carolina are not only an attack on transpeople, although they are certainly a direct attack on the humanity of transpeople.

These measures are an attempt to shore up crumbling rules about gender presentation which seek to constrain many of us. But human beings are almost infinitely variable. If we were free to notice, most of us would not exactly fit conventional social definitions or what is a "man" or what is a "woman." Gender is a spectrum -- and some people aren't even on it, experiencing themselves as "non-binary." We can get over enforcing gender rules on other people ... or on ourselves.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Spain: carnage, confusion and courage

It is a truism that the victors get to write the history. In The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, Antony Beevor points out that the story of Republican Spain upends this pattern, presumably because General Franco's victorious Nationalists were functionally a branch of the Nazi/Fascist axis utterly destroyed in the European phase of World War II. The Generalisimo held on to power until 1975, but his dictatorship was a tainted relic of ugly memories.

Beevor's history is largely an account of military campaigns whose details are not gripping to most foreign readers; the larger history seems worth recounting, if only because, for those who didn't live through it, it might seem tangled beyond comprehension. The contemporary analogy is probably Syria's terrible civil war with its mix of domestic and international belligerents and deathly incompatible ideologies.

Franco's revolt against the democratically elected Spanish Republic was based in the imperial army in the African colonies, re-enforced by a collection of traditional monarchists, a feudal and obscurantist Roman Catholic church, Spain's own quasi-populist fascist movement, and industrialists and landowners determined to resume unchecked power. Though this was not a simple coalition to manage, the Generalisimo rapidly emerged as the unchallengeable leader commanding a coherent and ruthless military force in service of national dictatorship.

The Republic was a political mess, composed of ineffectual bourgeois democratic liberals, anarchist trade unions and cooperatives, and communists more loyal to Stalin's Russia than to Spanish liberty, all pulling and hauling for advantage. Not surprisingly, Republican forces were never effectively organized or properly led against the Nationalists and were crushed with enormous loss of life both in battle and through decades of reprisals. Modern estimates calculate that the Fascists were responsible for 3 to 5 times the number of political massacres committed by the left, with 150,000 to 200,000 victims.

That brief summary elides that this struggle was as much a proxy war among European states as a civil war. Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy armed and equipped Franco's forces, tested their most modern aircraft and tanks in Spain, and sent "advisors" and even units of regular troops. The Soviet Union armed the Republicans much less generously, managed to extract Spain's gold reserves in return, and meddled in favor of the communists within the Republic's domestic political fracas. Britain and France dithered, unsure whether they feared fascism or communism more. The United States Congress passed a law forbidding supplying both belligerents, but our capitalists found ways to assist their kind. The internationalist left, mostly communists, raised brigades of foreign fighters to support the Republican cause. (I've bought Adam Hochschild's Spain in Our Hearts about the US contingent and will write it up soon.)

Beevor tells this story deeply, I think fairly, with empathy and sometimes disgust. If you want to know about Spain, this is a good book. Apparently it was a best seller in Spain on its release in 2006.
Reading Beevor, I learned about an episode of courageous integrity at the outset of Franco's brutal regime which I am sure is legendary among those who know it, but of which I had been ignorant. It seems worth sharing here. For simplicity's sake, I am taking this from a Wikipedia article which tracks other accounts.

In 1936, Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo was an author, poet, philosopher, one of Spain's most celebrated intellectuals, and rector of the University of Salamanca.
On 12 October 1936 the celebration of Columbus Day had brought together a politically diverse crowd at the University of Salamanca, including Enrique Pla y Deniel, the Archbishop of Salamanca, and Carmen Polo Martínez-Valdés, the wife of Franco, Falangist General José Millán Astray and Unamuno himself. According to the British historian Hugh Thomas in his magnum opus The Spanish Civil War (1961), the evening began with an impassioned speech by the Falangist writer José María Pemán. After this, Professor Francisco Maldonado decried Catalonia and the Basque Country as "cancers on the body of the nation," adding that "Fascism, the healer of Spain, will know how to exterminate them, cutting into the live flesh, like a determined surgeon free from false sentimentalism."

From somewhere in the auditorium, someone cried out the motto "¡Viva la Muerte!" (Long live death!). As was his habit, Millán Astray responded with "¡España!" (Spain!); the crowd replied with "¡Una!" (One!). He repeated "¡España!"; the crowd then replied "¡Grande!" (Great!). A third time, Millán Astray shouted "¡España!"; the crowd responded "Libre!" (Free!) This -- Spain, one, great and free -- was a common Falangist cheer and would become a Francoist motto thereafter. Later, a group of uniformed Falangists entered, saluting the portrait of Franco that hung on the wall.

Unamuno, who was presiding over the meeting, rose up slowly and addressed the crowd: "You are waiting for my words. You know me well, and know I cannot remain silent for long. Sometimes, to remain silent is to lie, since silence can be interpreted as assent. I want to comment on the so-called speech of Professor Maldonado, who is with us here. I will ignore the personal offence to the Basques and Catalonians. I myself, as you know, was born in Bilbao. The Bishop," Unamuno gestured to the Archbishop of Salamanca, "whether you like it or not, is Catalan, born in Barcelona."

"But now I have heard this insensible and necrophilous oath, "¡Viva la Muerte!", and I, having spent my life writing paradoxes that have provoked the ire of those who do not understand what I have written, and being an expert in this matter, find this ridiculous paradox repellent. General Millán Astray is a cripple. There is no need for us to say this with whispered tones. He is war cripple. So was Cervantes. But unfortunately, Spain today has too many cripples. And, if God does not help us, soon it will have very many more. It torments me to think that General Millán Astray could dictate the norms of the psychology of the masses. A cripple, who lacks the spiritual greatness of Cervantes, hopes to find relief by adding to the number of cripples around him."

Millán Astray responded: "¡Muera la inteligencia! ¡Viva la Muerte!" ("Death to intelligence! Long live death!"), provoking applause from the Falangists. Pemán, in an effort to calm the crowd, exclaimed "¡No! ¡Viva la inteligencia! ¡Mueran los malos intelectuales!" ("No! Long live intelligence! Death to the bad intellectuals!")

Unamuno continued: "This is the temple of intelligence, and I am its high priest. [Éste es el templo del intelecto, y yo soy su gran sacerdote.] You are profaning its sacred domain. You will win [venceréis], because you have enough brute force. But you will not convince [pero no convenceréis]. In order to convince it is necessary to persuade, and to persuade you will need something that you lack: reason and right in the struggle. I see it is useless to ask you to think of Spain. I have spoken."

... Unamuno was removed from his position of rector of the University of Salamanca by Franco and placed under house arrest. He died of natural causes before the year ended.
We all like to think we'd be courageous if confronted by political atrocity. But would we? The old man was.
Unamuno was escorted from the hall surrounded by howling, saluting fascists. Photo source.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Earth Day conundrum

This Earth Day, I might as well share a dirty secret: I've loved living in Northern California during the dreadful drought of the last few years. We've had a little rain this winter (enough to make for this green panorama overlooking the city), but for an urban resident who takes to the hills to run trails, this winter has been dry enough to create no impediment. Mostly we've had day after day of lovely weather. I can't imagine a more pleasant climate for my personal taste than we've enjoyed.

Apparently I am not alone in this. Patrick J. Egan and Megan Mullin share their version of my observation and point out that our comfort with the weather is blocking urgency about rising temperatures.

For a vast majority of Americans, the weather is simply becoming more pleasant.

Our findings are striking: 80 percent of Americans now find themselves living in counties where the weather is more pleasant than it was four decades ago. Although warming during this period has been considerable, it has not been evenly distributed across seasons. Virtually all Americans have experienced a rise in January maximum daily temperatures — an increase of 1.04 degrees Fahrenheit per decade on average — while changes in daily maximum temperatures in July have been much more variable across counties, rising by an average of just 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit per decade over all. Moreover, summer humidity has declined during this period.

In order to more effectively raise awareness and increase public concern about climate change, our research suggests that we need to stop talking so much about rising temperatures. A focus on extreme weather events — which are easily understood by the public and have potentially much greater impact on human health and the economy — may be a better strategy.

And when we do discuss temperatures, we should acknowledge the temporarily pleasant side effects of global warming. But then we should stress that these agreeable conditions will one day vanish — like ice on a warm winter day. ...

Well maybe. Or maybe individual humans are pretty much incapable of generalizing from the minuscule evidence provided by our own experience to something so big, so without precedent in human terms, as the warming of our island home. We either believe the scientists -- who after all have delivered life spans exceeding 80 healthy years, the green revolution, and air conditioning -- or we don't.

Or, as David Roberts points out, we adopt a middle ground. The climate is warming and human beings' carbon pollution is the cause, but the change is not serious ... yet.
We know there is worse to come -- but it sure is a lovely season, isn't it?

We need leaders who take the long view and who listen to the scientists. Fortunately, they seem available if we insist we want them.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Saturday scenes and scenery: Howard/Langton Community Garden

As I wandered about South of Market with my camera while Walking San Francisco, a friendly local invited me to explore inside the fence.

According to a timely Earth Day article at Hoodline:

It’s hard to believe this space used to be a parking lot. The property was purchased by the city in 1970 and turned into a playground. But over time it came to be known as “Needle Park”—a site where unsavory activities took place. In the late 1980s, Langton Street residents arranged for Friends of the Urban Forest to plant trees in memory of a neighbor who had died of AIDS. Today, the mature flowering fruit trees line the street along the garden. This was the first step towards neighborhood greening.

The area is divided into garden plots, but, as I often am, I was attracted by the garden's idiosyncratic artifacts.

The Buddha is peaceful, but this Guardian less so.

Not all the victims of the SFPD are human.

Someone has hung a hat.

And someone has hung a bat.

In a corner, the inevitable ceramic frog.

You can see for yourself off Howard St. between 7th and 8th.

Friday, April 22, 2016

People the city doesn't want are refusing to be silenced

On April 7, officers of the San Francisco Police Department shot and killed Luis Gongora-Pat, a resident of a tent encampment where people were living on the street in the Mission. Mayor Ed Lee responded to this outrage by calling for "sweeps" -- forcible destruction of the tents and belongings of homeless people all over the city. In the days after the Gongora's death, police harassed and dispersed witnesses and his neighbors from the encampment.

On Thursday, people with experience living on the streets spoke out in Clarion Alley on the city's ongoing effort to push them out of sight and mind.

Bilal Ali, Human Rights organizer for the SF Coalition on Homelessness explained:

Homeless and street-based San Franciscans have been surviving these ongoing sweeps for months and in some cases years. ... the city is continuing this failed police of displacement rather than listening to us homeless people as we state the logical solution to the growing crisis which is housing. Luis Gongora would still be alive had he been inside. Bottom-line.

Mike Lee brought news of sweeps in Berkeley where he lives on the street and is running for Mayor. He's an impressive orator.

Here seen laughing with a friend, Elaine (l), has been enduring street sweeps since 2010. She reminded listeners:

... we have forgotten what America is supposed to be about ... we're supposed to be about loving each other. ... give us a home and we'll show what love is about.

According to the Coalition on Homelessness, the city has only 1300 shelter beds, less than one bed for every five homeless people. And a shelter is not a home ...

Across Valencia Street, activist hunger strikers demanding that Chief Greg Suhr be fired set up camp in front of the Mission Police Station.

Friday cat blogging

The Howard Langton Community Garden has a resident panther strolling about its domain.

The beast accepted a friendly scratch ...

but then settled happily to enjoy the afternoon.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Happy birthday to the Queen

If, as is true in this household, you get your news from the BBC, you can hardly have missed that today is the 90th birthday of the English monarch.

Flickering black and white live images of her coronation are my first memories of television; my mother was an Anglophile in whose mind the Royals were associated with winning the war against Hitler. They got a lot of passes for that one.

The image is from the recent Annie Leibowitz show at the Presidio. Oddly, this was the only projected photo which remained onscreen throughout -- and definitely one of the most interesting.

Tech progress rant

I enjoy the 538 Significant Digit email (kind of a link list of data-ish items), but Wednesday's iteration was just a little too twerpish for my taste. Too often Five-Thirty-Eight veers toward unnecessary cuteness, while nonetheless providing solid content most of the time. In this campaign season, I skim its politics category daily.

Here's the offending item, in toto:
18 seconds
I got one of those new chip credit cards, and it’s a total nightmare. It takes credit card machines forever to read the card, and society hasn’t yet developed the conversational mores for chitchat with the cashier during the half-minute the busted-up card reader is judging me. But there is hope on the horizon: Visa is launching software that can cut up to 18 seconds off the transaction time. I really wish I could go back to the swipe card because I don’t really need the extra security — that’s a problem for people with enough money where having a credit card stolen would be a cause for concern rather than a way for a thief to quickly overdraft at a Taco Bell.
The accompanying link was to the Wall Street Journal, but I don't link to their pay-walled content. Here's a Denver Post version of the story.

All I can say is: dude, have you ever been outside the old U.S. of A? The credit card chip technology is the international standard most everywhere. I even encountered it in rural Montenegro and was glad my card had been upgraded. They don't know from swiping.

We're on the wrong end of the chronic contemporary experience of being stuck with legacy technology. Small businesses hate the chip development, because, understandably, they don't want to have to replace their machines. Even some larger national outfits (thinking of you, Costco) seem stuck in old technology. But they'll all come along eventually.

Here's a geek explanation of the credit card chips:
Credit cards with chips use the EMV standard, which stands for “Europay, Mastercard, and Visa.” EMV is a global standard allowing chip cards to interoperate at point-of-sale systems and automated banking machines. (Despite the name, American Express and Discover are also participating.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

In New York, voting "sucks": a story from a worse time

Josh Marshall at TPM has been using the occasion of the first meaningful presidential primary in New York State in decades to point out the Empire State's voting process is antiquated and burdensome to voters. The state is heavily Democratic already. And the political parties are mostly content to split the spoils rather than compete. This works fine for current office holders; they won, after all. Why rock the boat through measures to increase turnout like early voting, easy vote-by-mail, easy registration, etc.? In consequence, by the standards of contemporary "best practices" for democratic (small "d") balloting, as Josh says New York sucks!

Naturally, there are people who are trying to do something about this. Apparently in Tuesday's polling, New York City's elections bureaucracy committed enough procedural "irregularities" that there will be audits. (This is about the mechanics of voting, not the outcome.) And VOCAL-NY is working hard to open voting to people with felony convictions, thus returning the franchise to 100,000 mostly Black and brown men.

It really used to be worse. Here's a tale from more primitive times: I allowed myself to be recruited as a poll watcher for a neighborhood candidate for some sort of Rent Board. I think the year was 1972, probably in a local election. The place was the Lower East Side -- not then the hipster playpen it is now, but a gritty Puerto Rican neighborhood where we stepped over addicts and drunks on the sidewalks. Esther Rand was already a legendary tenant organizer, a warrior against "urban renewal" as displacement of poor people was called then -- and a proud member of the Communist Party. She was loved by tenants, known as a fighter who would drive the City government nuts before allowing landlords to mistreat tenants. That she might win this minor job was not impossible, if still unlikely.

So I dutifully reported to a dark, dingy basement on Christie Street. The Democratic election functionaries who ran the place greeted me as if I might have two heads. But I'd been briefed to insist on my right to observe, so they decided I could sit in a corner as long as I shut up. I settled in.

In those days, New Yorkers voted on heavy metal "voting machines" about the size of a refrigerator. There were four of them, each in a separate "booth" enclosure. The voter had to pull a curtain across the opening behind herself in order to prime the machine to accept a vote. The machine wouldn't work if the curtain wasn't properly closed. The ancient machines didn't work very well, so the curtain closing sometimes took several attempts.

Once the curtain was closed, the voter confronted barely legible names inside small metal windows. Next to these were sort of switches that you could move to indicate your choice. Or you could do your voting the easy way: Democrats and Republicans each had a "party" lever that would automatically vote the party list. But your vote wouldn't count unless you then pulled a large level that recorded what levers or switches you had moved. This released the curtain and made a satisfying "clang" sound.

As anyone can imagine, there was a lot here that could go wrong -- and much did. The most frequent problem was closing the curtain to begin the voting. The elections functionaries did try to help with this. Sometimes voters would get angry once inside at malfunctioning switches and kick the machine. What effect this had I didn't find out. The functionaries were always asking, "did you pull the lever?" to ensure that a vote had been counted.

We didn't have a lot of traffic. Usually the voters presented themselves to the officials, then used the nearest booth. Only when we got busy did anyone use the machine at the end of the row. But when they did, things got really interesting. Whenever anyone would use that machine, they'd see their choices be switched to the Democratic slate list when they pulled the final lever, regardless of what they had chosen. Or the machine would jam completely and not let them finished the process. Imagine angry New Yorkers who were pretty sure their votes were being stolen from them. Despite much yelling, the election workers couldn't seem to get that one working properly -- unless this was "properly."

I don't think any higher authority ever took any notice.

Esther Rand lost. I don't really think it had to do with the machines, but there was certainly no way to find out.

Graphic via Met Council on Housing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lest we forget: driven from Afghanistan

This Times article appeared fleetingly at the margin of the electronic paper:

Afghanistan Had Record Civilian Casualties in 2015, U.N. Says
KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban suicide attacks and a fierce battle for the northern city of Kunduz made 2015 the worst year for Afghan civilian casualties since the United Nations began tracking the data, officials said on Sunday, in a sobering reminder of the cost of the conflict at a time when the prospect of peace seems as distant as ever.

The United Nations documented 3,545 civilians killed and 7,457 injured last year, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the United Nations Human Rights Office said in a report presented at a news conference in Kabul, the Afghan capital. The total casualty figure, 11,002, was 4 percent above the 2014 level. The number of civilian injuries rose 9 percent, though there were 4 percent fewer deaths.

Having, fruitlessly, turned over that apple cart, the U.S. has left unfortunate Afghans to stew. Further down the link list there's this:

Civilian Casualties in Afghan War Are Unabated in 2016
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan documented 600 civilian deaths and 1,343 wounded in the first three months of 2016, which by most accounts is expected to be a bloody year as the Taliban rejected the latest efforts to bring them to peace talks. While the death toll fell 13 percent from the same period last year, the number of wounded increased 11 percent, the report said, with a high rise among children. ...

“In the first quarter of 2016, almost one-third of civilian casualties were children,” said Danielle Bell, the United Nations human rights director in Afghanistan. “If the fighting persists near schools, playgrounds, homes and clinics, and parties continue to use explosive weapons in those areas — particularly mortars and I.E.D. tactics — these appalling numbers of children killed and maimed will continue.”

The report blamed the insurgents for 60 percent of the casualties, and forces on the government side for 19 percent.

Though the Taliban were still at fault more often, the report noted that deaths caused by pro-government forces were up sharply from last year — roughly 70 percent higher over the same period. ...

It sure was a lovely little war of revenge, wasn't it?

Not surprisingly, many Afghan have hightailed it toward Europe as this map shows. In the public imagination, escapees from the Syrian war have eclipsed these Afghans, but they keep on coming across the vast expanse of Central Asia. Afghans are the second largest group reaching Europe, after Syrians. Most (some 5 million) stop, to work and to survive, in Pakistan and Iran, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Some number close to 500,000 have made it to Europe.

Though Afghanistan is the source of the second largest refugee flow toward Europe, its nationals are not the second largest group to win a place on that continent.

Meanwhile, the United States which kicked the hornet's nest is notably stingy about accepting the human casualties of our war policies.

American veterans have taken up the cause of thousands of interpreters and guides seeking visas to escape reprisal at home. Between October 2006 and November 2015, the United States issued only 17,619 visas earmarked for this special category, though many more of these applicants remain in limbo. During this same period, only 5,375 Afghans received visas through conventional channels. Washington remains deeply suspicious of Afghan visa applicants from all walks of life.

Remind me, what is war good for?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Help needed from the community

How about some help for the family of Luis Gongora-Pat, shot by the San Francisco Police Department last week? Justice4AlexNieto has set up a fundraising site.

They explain the need:

We have family authorization to carry out this fundraising effort. There are only two online donation efforts authorized: this one and a gofundme campaign by Asociación Mayab. We will continue to work closely with the family in San Francisco on preferred ways for support.

Funds will go towards:
- Financial support for the widow and children of Luis Demetrio Góngora-Pat
- An Oree Original Justice 4 Our Lives image $300
- One or two banners with artwork and flyers $100-200
- An initial t-shirt order $100
- Cost of setting up wordpress website for Justice4LuisGóngora $100

Mr. Gongoro's family has arrived from Mexico with the assistance of the Mexican government. That government has already sent a letter to the SFPD asking for a thorough investigation and for police to adopt alternatives to using lethal force. Today Luis' cousin sat in on a meeting with a sympathetic Supervisor and staff at City Hall, while other family members were working with the Mexican consulate.

The SFPD has to stop shooting first and stonewalling afterward.

Of justice and mercy

Most people I know who have gone to law school come out hating the profession of law. Some practice for awhile, just long enough to pay off their loans. Many never practice. A very few stick it out and get lucky enough to do well for themselves, though perhaps not much for anyone else. Sadly, though a viable social order requires a reliable rule of law, most people who immerse themselves in the system become some combination of bored, jaundiced, embittered, or cynical.

Bryan Stevenson smelled the danger as early as second year in law school. But when he began an internship with Steve Bright at the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee, he realized he was in the company of someone who "showed none of the disconnect between what he did and what he believed that I'd seen in so many of my law professors." Through the SPDC, he found himself meeting poor black death row prisoners who taught him that everyone possesses unique humanity, deserving of respect and legal justice. He learned what Sister Helen Prejean has said

“people are more than the worst thing they have ever done in their lives”

And so Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative. Based in Montgomery, Alabama, the EJI defends death row prisoners, works to end the jailing of children, and struggles against mass incarceration of poor and black people. From its beginnings as an underfunded non-profit startup, EJI has become an authentic people's law firm with nearly 50 staff working for justice throughout the South and beyond.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is the story of Stevenson's personal odyssey within a hostile legal system, the poor people whose cry for justice became his animating inspiration and bulwark, and what has been accomplished through smart lawyering and grit. He summarizes what experience has taught him:

We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. ... it's necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and perhaps -- we all need some measure of unmerited grace.

Justice and mercy are often understood as warring opposites. Stevenson tries to show by way of true stories that nothing is that simple, that we are all human together whether we like it or not.

Don't take my word for it. Here's a book blurb from one of the greatest leaders of justice struggles alive among us, the Rev. Desmond Tutu:

Bryan Stevenson is America’s young Nelson Mandela, a brilliant lawyer fighting with courage and conviction to guarantee justice for all. Just Mercy should be read by people of conscience in every civilized country in the world to discover what happens when revenge and retribution replace justice and mercy.

I read this book by ear; Stevenson was his own reader and I highly recommend the audio version.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Citizenship education in this nasty political season

Every day last week, enthusiastic chants called us to our front window to see teachers and children from the combined elementary and middle school across the street practicing citizenship, San Francisco-style. They seemed a happy bunch.
Meanwhile in less favored parts of the country -- where the presidential campaign has arrived in full flower -- many school children are experiencing something much less happy.

A survey of 2000 K-12 teachers, reported in Education Week, suggests that this season is being an educational nightmare in some classrooms.

  • More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students -- mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims -- have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
  • More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse
  • More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.
  • More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.
  • "Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail."

Yes, the Donald and his Republican understudies are polluting the classrooms.

Molly Knefel, an afterschool drama teacher of kids from 7 to 12, reports how her students are reacting.

Children are, of course, political beings. They are humans who live in the world, and politics affect them. They observe, they watch, they listen, they pick up on more than we think they do, and they echo. ... But I’ve never before had the experience of watching kids between the ages of five and fourteen engage so deeply not only with a politician, but with his proposed policies. It’s not that they know about him -- they knew Romney was running against Obama in 2012, but that was basically where the conversation started and stopped -- but that they know exactly what he’s saying.

They know what he’s saying because Donald Trump doesn’t speak in policy proposals. He speaks in threats that a seven-year-old can understand. Trump has the twelve-year-olds in my classroom joking about immigration policy. And while my students’ jokes come from a shared perspective, Trump’s hateful language can also be levied against kids from the same marginalized groups Trump is targeting. ...

Molly Knefel's classroom mostly is home to kids of color, as is usually the case in public schools in urban areas. That's shouldn't be a surprise to anyone paying attention: since 2014, the majority of babies born in this country are no longer "white."

This drama teacher's students have figured out their own response to the nasty bigotry of the campaign.

At the middle school, the kids are writing a play together that they’ll perform for their parents at the end of the year. It’s about what they would do if there was a zombie apocalypse, and the first scene takes place at Starbucks, because one boy said that you need caffeine to fight zombies. I asked them to decide who else is in line at Starbucks, and they suggested Donald Trump (these same kids have a running joke that Starbucks is where white people go).

As a theater teacher, I’ve seen kids make plays about police violence, robbery, homelessness, overworked parents, subway dancers, pop stars, superheroes, vampires, and zombies. They act out their realities and their fantasies, their anxieties and their aspirations.

This year, they’re making a play where they sacrifice Donald Trump to the zombie apocalypse. In the final line of that scene, all the kids scream, “Bye, Trump!”

It's a tough time, but it is nice to see kids getting their citizenship education.

Like most everyone else who isn't a millionaire, teachers are finding it nearly impossible to afford living in San Francisco.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Blame Intuit

... for why we can't have this.
Happy Tax Day!

Murder in black L.A.

A cinematic book that mostly shares the police view of Black-on-Black murder in Los Angeles might seen an odd choice for a reader struggling to respond to an epidemic of police shootings of Black and Latino men in my own city. But Jill Leovy's Ghettoside: a true story of murder in America is gritty reporting, worth reading even if from within a skeptical frame.

The title is what homicide cops call the Watts or South Central sections of the city. For ambitious officers, it is a career sink, a swamp of futility from which to escape as fast as possible. The homicide squad is even worse for ambitious cops; most murders are never solved, witnesses won't cooperate, and there aren't even proper desks and computers for the overburdened officers. Journalist Jill Leovy embedded with these officers for a decade and reports what she saw. Her book has the makings of a conventional TV cop show, following heroic detectives who overcome obstacles to get their man (or sometimes tragically not.)

And yet, Leovy is a diligent and thoughtful reporter of ghastly realities. She recounts the bottomless grief of mothers of the murdered; the precarious existence of scared young men on hard streets where being in a gang might seem a life preserver, till it isn't; and the gross stupidity and indifference of downtown law enforcement leaders, politicians, and the media that simply ignore ninety percent of killings of Black men. Her detective exemplars call most of the rest of their department "40 percenters" -- time servers willing to accept that only that fraction of murders lead to an arrest. They react in disgust when an outbreak of gang violence causes the brass briefly to flood their neighborhood with uniformed patrol cars, and to conduct hundreds of stop and searches and parole and probation checks -- but to make no arrests nor stop the murders. The emergency even forced detectives into their unaccustomed "ill-fitting blue uniforms."

Detectives disliked looking like patrol officers, since people were then less likely to talk to them. The uniforms added to the sense that the neighborhood was under siege, but did nothing to insert justice into it. The spectacle of Rick Gordon, one of the city's most effective investigators, compelled to play the role of blue scarecrow at the very moment when his craft mattered most was a microcosm of how police had long functioned in the United States: preoccupied with control and prevention, obsessed with nuisance crime, and lax when it came to answering for black lives.

I couldn't help but recall this description when standing amid a room full of blue-clad officers in the SFPD meeting on Wednesday where our cops tried to impose their story on their killing of Luis Gongora.

Leovy offers an historical explanation for how South L.A. became a killing ground where so many young Black men shoot each other. When Black people flocked to southern California in the Great Migration, the white convention of treating their communities as outside the rule of law came along with them.

Criminal law in the United States has always displayed a tendency to go through the motions. ... But where things got really bad was in the South. In that region's long, painful history of caste domination and counterrevolution lurks every factor that counters the formation of a state monopoly on violence. ... After the Civil War and Reconstruction, ex-Confederates murdered their way to control again ...

White conservatives favored legal systems that looked the part, but still achieved their racist intent -- a "winking" system that, by design, just went through the motions. Southern legal institutions appeared to observe constitutional due process, but real power was held outside the law. Getting away with murder was key to the white-supremacy project. Impunity is a stencil of law; it outlines a shadow system....

For blacks, this system meant being killable. Blacks were "shot down for nothing" by whites. But that was not all. They murdered each other too -- in fields, labor camps, and at Saturday night gatherings where there was "just so much killing going on." Their rates of death by homicide were similar to -- and at times higher than -- what they would be decades later in northern inner cities. ...

White people "had the law," to quote a curious phrase that crops up in historic sources. Black people didn't. Formal law impinged on them only for purposes of control, not protection. Small crimes were crushed, big ones indulged -- so long as the victims were black. ...

It might not seem self-evident that impunity for white violence against blacks would engender black-on-black murder. But when people are stripped of legal protection and placed in desperate straits, they are more, not less, likely to turn on each other. Lawless settings are terrifying; if people can do whatever they like to each other, there are always enough bullies to make it ugly. ... Beyond this, white people saw to it that solidarity among black people was kept at a minimum. ... For people of all colors, the South was stew of factors that produce homicide ... A flood of black migrants, schooled by the lawless South, swept into cities such as Los Angeles. They brought with them their high homicide rates and their tendency for legal self-help. The police they met were not unlike those back home. LAPD officers shot and killed many people and were free with their fists ...

But L.A. cops were different in important ways: there were more of them and they were a lot more intrusive. ... Southern black migrants were used to police who ignored them. But these cops were ever-present, hounding them with aggravating "preventive" tactics. [In the 1980s and beyond] the pendulum swung. ... Get tough policies became political winners. ...Since it is not the harshness of punishment but its swiftness and certainty that deters crime, black people still had good reason to feel unprotected. Murderers still went free, while the new crime suppression tactics bore more than a passing resemblance to the old Southern wink. ... Segregation, economic isolation, and the flawed workings of American criminal justice created the same conditions anew. ...

Having explicated this, Leovy sums it up as the thoughts of one of her cops: "the system looks busy, but it didn't do its job."

Ghettoside is a deep dive into the Los Angeles Leovy describes in this historical frame. For its immediacy and compassion for victims and shooters alike, it's worth reading. But I did wonder -- might maintaining a violent cage within which blacks will kill each other be the real job? The question seems obvious but unasked here.

Friday cat blogging

When I approached, this beauty was enjoying a nap.

A human observer warranted a baleful glance.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Still waiting for George Gascon

Wednesday evening a few supporters of Justice4AmilcarPerezLopez stood watch outside the Mission Police Station, to remind the District Attorney that we are still waiting for him to charge the two police officers who put six bullets in the young Guatemalan's back. We'll be back every Wednesday from 6-7pm until we hear from the D.A.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Many words, no news, or apology for police shooting

At midday on Wednesday, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr posed with his departmental racial window dressing while answering most questions about the police killing of Luis Gongoro with a mumbled "I don't know..." The 45-dear old dead man was represented by his picture.

Community members were not appeased. In view of the short notice and difficult hour of the meeting, it is surprising that much of anyone turned up. Local District Supervisor (councilmember equivalent) David Campos pointed out that the cops had not even bothered to notify his office of the event.

Adriana Camarena from the Justice4AlexNieto coalition asked a series of pointed questions, most of which Suhr had no answer for.

Fr. Richard Smith of the Justice4AmilcarPerezLopez coalition repeated the implausible stories the police have told about that killing, most disproved by the autopsy showing the young Guatemalan died from six shots in the back. "How can we believe you on this case?"

John Crew, long affiliated with the ACLU's Police Practices Project, pointed out that policies supposed to curb unjustified use of force by officers had long since been adopted -- but somehow these shootings keep happening.

How many more will have to die before San Franciscans throw out these police thugs and the politicians who command and enable them?

Somebody, somewhere, stop them before they kill again

What to do when calling the police risks summoning a gang that shoots first and investigates, badly, later? That's the situation of San Franciscans these days. The SFPD has shot four men -- 3 Latino, 1 Black -- in the last two years. If any of these men had any weapon at all, and that's disputed by witnesses, they were no match and no danger to cops with rifles and pistols. But they are dead by police bullets.

This morning at City Hall, Public Defender Jeff Adachi called on California Attorney General Kamala Harris to take enough time off from campaigning for the US Senate to carry out a full civil rights investigation of the SFPD, in light of racist text messages among officers and a "pattern and practice" of disparate treatment of black and Latino residents.

Adachi insisted: "the system is working just as it is designed" to clear out poor residents of color for the new tech gentry. The gent in the gray suit watching from behind Adachi is District Attorney George Gascon who has, to date, failed to find any cause of legal action against any of the officers involved in the four killings.