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shoplifters unite!

Updated: 2018-03-09T07:49:02.557-08:00


Russiagate! Nope.


Vladimir Putin is the reason Hillary Clinton lost, and the truth of this is about to bring down the Trump presidency and restore civility and honor to the Republic. Maybe something along those lines, but I can't get as excited about the whole thing as many liberals/centrists and corporate pundits seem to be. In large part because:
  • I wish I lived in a world where killing innocent people in other countries would be the real scandal; 
  • I wish I lived in a world where we were more shocked about the influence of money in politics than the influence of Russian Twitter bots; 
  • I wish I lived in a world where we found it just as immoral when the U.S. interferes in democratic processes around the globe as whatever (so far hazy) acts committed by the Russian government against our own democratic process; and 
  • I wish I lived in a world where countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia could be as easily demonized by American media and politicians as Russia or Venezuela.
Among other things.

Russiagate, for lack of a better word, seems to be more a type of therapy for those who prefer establishment moderates run American empire than a scandal that will actually bring about as much positive change as the blustery hope surrounding it might suggest. It is reassuring in so many ways for these individuals: Clinton did not really lose (and well she didn't - she won the popular vote - and that twist seems to be something we should be genuinely outraged about) - Russia manipulated social media to fool a bunch of unsuspecting voters in key states. Trump does not really represent many of the bad aspects of America - he is more a product of Siberian oligarchs and backward Muscovites. And for those more evil than ignorant - we can ratchet up people's fears around not just North Korea and Iran, but also Russia! It's win, win, win!

For those in positions of power, however, it is more than therapy. Russiagate also serves as a bludgeon, for use against anyone who wants to challenge these conventional ideas promoted by the powerful center. It reeks of American exceptionalism and sucks up all the energy that might go towards the fight against money in politics and for ballot access. It takes up so much political space, and does so conveniently at the expense of the politics of change - universal healthcare, anti-imperialism, free higher education, and the urgency of ending fossil fuel use; ideas that neither political party embraces, but that have grown in popularity among the masses. These are the concepts that most politicians would rather not talk about, and most corporate newsrooms know won't help their bottom line.

It's hard to sympathize with Trump and his supporters though. And if the ends justify the means, why not have this imperfect process with all of its problematic players and ideas, take out the man at the top. Maybe it is worth it to get rid of President Trump, or even just to horribly taint his brand of politics, which as incoherent as it often seems, has nonetheless emboldened a motley crew of Nazis and white supremacists. Maybe. But Washington has shown it can get rid of presidents far more easily than it can actually change for the better. Nixon was impeached and resigned, remember, but roughly six years later, Ronald Reagan was elected.

Sebastian, a.k.a. Sea Bass, a.k.a. Bass, RIP


Not long after the Twin Towers collapsed, while I was still living in Austin and we were all kind of scared and sad, my roommate, Liz, and I decided to adopt a dog. We went to the Town Lake Animal Shelter, and I saw the perfect, most adorable dog for adoption. But, there were already four people on the waiting list for that one, so we adopted Sebastian instead. But, before we even got him home, while sitting with him in the back of Liz's old Mercedes, rambling down the road, we slammed into another car - Welcome to Your New Family, Sebastian! We were all fine. Sebastian was nervous in cars for a couple of years after that though. He was a lanky dog, who leaped about. He probably needed a few acres to really be happy, but a small back yard worked pretty well. Especially with overhanging branches, and plenty of squirrels. For years Sebastian's favorite pastime was barking and jumping into the air at squirrels that were taunting him by flicking their tails; as if he could ever reach the 15 foot high branches. He could get up to 6 feet, so maybe he was working up to it.  Years later he went through a phase of barking at airplanes and airplane trails, though he didn't bother to jump at them. Sebastian was a good dog; Even though he bit my friends, and bit me once pretty hard too; and even though he sometimes attacked other dogs while on leash and wouldn't let go of them as they whimpered and their owners got mad at me; and even though he killed our beloved chicken "Laverne I"; he was a good dog. He was with me through a few challenging times. He wasn't much of a lap dog and the most he ever did to comfort me was to lick my hand a couple of times as if to say, "there there," but he was present and I needed him. He was a great road trip dog, once he got over his fear of crashing. Sebastian was my sole companion on a few trips to West Texas, a few trips home to Corpus Christi, the four day drive that brought me out to San Francisco, and a few days along Highway 1 I remember fondly.When we got him, they told us he was about 1 year old, which would make him nearly 17-years-old at his death. He was old, so this wasn't entirely unexpected, but it is particularly hard because he has been a constant presence in my life for nearly 16 years: From single law student in Texas to married, non-practicing, police oversight, middle-manager, in California; through six rented apartments and one mortgaged house. He was always pretty spry. People thought he was a puppy even just a couple of years ago. Besides our chicken, he killed a number of non-pets: a rat, a mouse, and several baby possums that we know of. He was pretty healthy too; he never really had any problems; until recently, that is.He nearly faded out a couple of times over the last year - he would stop eating and get lethargic. A change in diet generally fixed that. Just in the last six to nine months he began having problems standing up - we found him with his four legs splayed out on the concrete, unable to move, a few times. He would go on walks occasionally, but couldn't go far. More recently he started having nose bleeds. But that's all over now. I assume heaven for him is whatever hell is for squirrels. Sebastian can climb trees and jump 50 feet high! Good boy! Go get those squirrels![...]

Adobo, a.k.a. Dobes RIP


Dobes napping.
When Adobo first marched into our home, peeing here and there, smelling the ground with his lips flapping about, we noted several unique things about him: he had a particularly long tail, an unusually long tongue, and he was prone to sneezing when his nose was tapped. He also had an eye that looked like a big, dark brown, flesh marble. What was wrong with his eye? We knew we couldn't get too attached because we needed to figure that out first. So we shelled out the money to have it removed, as recommended. The vets said it was benign and he'd be a healthy one-eyed dog. He could have no eyes and we'd have been ok with that, as long as he was healthy.

Adobo, or "dobes" for short, was loyal, but he also had issues. He got into a few fights with Sebastian - the 16-year-old dog we didn't expect to outlive Adobo, but he's like one of those 100-year-old marathon runners. If dobes was sitting with his dads or near any food or treats, he was in growling/protect mode against any threats, especially Sebastian. He usually did not like kisses and would growl, and occasionally snap, at anyone who gave him one (though he did have his moods when he was cool with a peck on the head). He also ate poop. And we loved him.

We heard he had spent a lot of time in a crate and without a backyard before getting to us, so for the short two years we had him, we let him take advantage of the huge park across the street, and eventually made some changes to the house to give him access to the yard at all hours (he ruined a few IKEA rugs before that).

We adopted him as a senior, and knew we wouldn't necessarily have him for multiple years. But he stayed with us just long enough for us to get really really attached. He went out on a high note: uncomfortable, but still able to walk, wag his tail, and (with pain pills) eat a decent breakfast. He'll be missed, but I think his time with us was pretty much dog joy from beginning to end.

2016: Thoughts on a Year Full of Change


Alternate Title: Democratic Hacks Ask, "Is it ok to punch a hippie?" and answer "YES!"I'm not really a huge fan of Jill Stein, but she has been a favorite punching bag for Democratic partisans and liberals who ridicule her as "stupid" and irrelevant, but also blame her for Trump's victory and the coming apocalypse. I feel the need to defend her and the Greens because I feel her liberal critics are often misinformed or disingenuous (no she is not an anti-vaxxer who believes wi-fi causes brain cancer). The bitter, scornful critiques of Stein from the middle and near-left spring forth from a political perspective that, honestly, has a lot more to do with the mess we're in now, than anything she or the Green Party have ever done. If you aren't a right-wing Republican and you care about human rights and the future of our planet, you will of course be outraged at what Republicans are doing now, and you should be doing whatever you can to resist their agenda. But this is also a critical moment to shine a light on how the Democratic Party has failed us. Don't demonize or ridicule Stein and the Greens; focus your derision on the far more powerful and far more corrupt Democratic Party.To illustrate this, here is a list of things Jill Stein did not do: Vote for a war in Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people and left a chaotic situation in the region;Vote in favor of Trump's nominee for Secretary of Defense - General James Mattis, AND his nominee for U.N. Ambassador - Nikki Haley (some people who did both - Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Al Franken, Kamala Harris, Tim Kaine, Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren);Deport over 2 million people (as Obama did);Vote in favor of Trump's nominee for CIA Director, Mike Pompeo (some people who did - Tim Kaine, Chuck Schumer);Vote against a bill that would have lowered prescription drug prices for Americans (as Cory Booker did); Vote in favor of Ben Carson for HUD Secretary (some people who did - Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren);Support free trade agreements that prioritized corporate interests over workers' rights or the environment;Give a speech backing charter schools to an organization chaired by Betsy DeVos, like Cory Booker did;Write an article about how she would affirm an unbreakable bond with Israel and Benjamin Netenyahu (as Hillary Clinton did);and so on ... if we go back to the 90's there is a lot more material. Stein has mishandled some things and she is certainly not a polished, Washington insider.For example, there was that Russia Today event she attended where at one point she was seated at a table with both Vladimir Putin and Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn. They weren't making out or anything, and it is likely that she didn't get to choose where she sat, but still. It should be noted, however, that she never called Putin a friend to her family (as Hillary Clinton did regarding Hosni Mubarak) and she doesn't spend her winters with Putin at Oscar de la Renta's beachfront villa (as Hillary Clinton frequently has with Henry Kissinger). And at that notorious event where Stein was at a table with Putin she spoke on a panel and said: Imagine how much better off the world would be if our two nations could lead the way for the major powers to reduce the size of our military establishments. We could invest the money saved in something truly beneficial - such as job creation to expand renewable energy and stop climate change. Ending our multinational fossil fuel addiction will make disastrous wars for oil obsolete in the first place.What a monster! Then there is the most recent example, which motivates my posting on this today. On February 7, Stein tweeted: Why would we have a tie on such an egregious nominee? Because Democrats serve corporate interests.— Dr. Jill Stein (@DrJillStein) February 7, 2017[...]

Running the Excelsior


I haven't written about running in some time, in part because I'm doing it less. But I still do it, and will likely keep doing it until my knees or hips snap or otherwise become permanently damaged. It is easy (no equipment necessary - though I always have my preferred sneakers, a digital watch, my iphone, and bluetooth earphones on me), you get to see a lot (when you're running outside and not on a treadmill), and it generally feels good/is good for you/etc. My San Francisco neighborhood of the last few years is the Excelsior – a residential, somewhat foggy, enclave that some SF residents think is Daly City when driving south on Mission Street. It slopes down toward Cayuga Creek (or Islais Creek or Rodeo Viejo Valley) – a creek long covered by Cayuga Avenue; up hill to the west is Balboa Park; up hill to the East is McLaren Park. There are no major hills by San Francisco standards, but still a lot of incline and decline. I happen to be adjacent to McLaren Park, so it is challenging to find a sufficiently lengthy route in my neighborhood that is flat, without running back and forth several times.So I start one of my frequent neighborhood runs going downhill towards busy Mission Street. My legs are still cold, so I have to avoid pounding down on the concrete while I continuously check for inattentive drivers - of which there are many. Mission Street has the added bonus of large buses, taxis and Uber/Lyft cars making illegal U-turns; plus many more pedestrians.model of Corpus Christi churchI attempt to make the most of the flat roadways in the neighborhood by maximizing my route along Alemany Boulevard and San Jose Avenue - both traveling parallel to the old creek, like roads on the edge of a broad canyon, they are fairly level. Alemany has a bike lane in each direction, as you would expect for a relatively flat road. Follow the bike paths in San Francisco and you'll usually be on the more manageable routes. As I run my first section of Alemany I pass Corpus Christi church – notable because it shares a name with my birth city, but also because the vicinity is full of human obstacles on Sundays (since I'm off on Sunday and don't go to church, it is a common running day for me). I cross right there and continue down a ways before turning and continuing my descent.Little City GardensJust as my legs are loose enough I begin one of the steeper inclines of the run up to San Jose Avenue. At this point I pass by Little City Gardens. You'd probably miss it if you drove by, but it extends back several yards between private homes, full of rows of flowers and vegetables. It is a working farm; among other things, it provides food to local restaurants. It's future is uncertain, however, and along the way you can see little yellow signs in some of the front windows of homes that say "Save the Farm."Onto San Jose Avenue - a minor commercial corridor with two corner store/sandwich shops, a bar, tattoo parlor (parlour?), a Samoan church, a Korean church, laundromat and a Chinese restaurant, among other assorted places. It is dominated on the West by Balboa Park - a park that has many forms of leisure and exercise, and also happens to be a public transportation hub. There is an enclosed pool, various playing courts, baseball fields, and a skate park. The J Muni light-rail line runs along San Jose and ends at Balboa Park station – the busiest BART station in the Bay Area outside of downtown San Francisco.Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse back in the dayGeneva Car Barn and Powerhouse marks my turn back downhill. This stretch of Geneva is busy, but mostly residential. There is supposed to be a public garden here (Geneva Community Garden), but that plot is mostly dirt and weeds at the moment. It is a somewhat steep downhill and back up, getting back onto Alemany for a last stretch of flat concrete. This is a good spot to crank up the pace – one last push to avoid ending up with a horrible average speed.As I continue back uphill in[...]

Paul Krugman Wields Math to Demand Sanders Stop Competing with Clinton


Paul Krugman – a Hillary Clinton supporter, who should really start columns like the one in question with that caveat in bold text – wrote the not-so-cleverly-titled "Feel the Math" because he wants Bernie Sanders to stop competing in any serious way with Clinton, upcoming races in populous states like California and New York be damned! The whole thing is just a professorial stump-lecture for Hillary Clinton that is both arrogant and disempowering.He starts off by acknowledging how surprisingly well the Sanders Campaign is doing, but then swiftly deflates the enthusiasm by pointing out that he doesn't really have a chance to win – maybe 10% chance – and so "it’s time [for professor Krugman] to lay out some guidelines for good and bad behavior" kids.The rules he sets basically come down to: (1) You don't have to drop out, but you need to stop actually competing with Clinton, and (2) You need to throw some cash to the Democratic Party and other Democratic races.I have less of an opinion about the 2nd point, but as someone who doesn't identify with the Democratic Party and who finds much of the Democratic establishment to be an impediment to real change, I'm not too concerned about Sanders keeping his fundraising close to his own campaign and not wanting to spend too much time or money on the Democratic party generally. I think a lot of people donating to his campaign feel the same way about their contributions.The first rule is the one that I find most troubling, and really underlies a lot of the liberal elite's attitude about Sanders at the moment. It isn't just Krugman demanding that Sanders stop genuinely competing if he refuses to drop out, a top Clinton aide has said that Sanders needs to change his tone if he wants to get another debate with Clinton – a demand that amounts to the same thing. Even though Clinton has said that Sanders "stood with [the anti-Immigrant] Minutemen vigilantes" (a calculated lie), and she has falsely and angrily accused the Sanders campaign of lying about her contributions, and she has accused Sanders – who is arguably more pro-choice than Clinton – of not taking abortion rights seriously, among other distortions and accusations, it is time for Sanders to stop challenging Clinton in any way that may do damage to her campaign.That's what it amounts to; and they are comfortable doing this because, from day one, the Sanders campaign has been a side show to them, and now it is getting to be a real annoyance. As Krugman writes, "we've now reached the point where what’s fun for the campaign isn’t at all the same as what’s good for America." To him the Sanders campaign has been fun, maybe cute, but it is time to move aside (not drop out, of course, because let's go through the motions or whatever), but stop competing and bringing up facts about Clinton that Republicans could take advantage of when she becomes (I mean if she becomes) the Democratic nominee.His central point is that Sanders is unlikely to win (because of the math) and so now he needs to play nice, even if Clinton doesn't. She, after all, has to prepare for the general election; so she has a different set of rules to play by.But the fact is the race is far from over. A ten percent chance is still a decent chance – and probably one of the best chances a genuinely progressive/left candidate has had in a long time. (I would put his chances higher, though I recognize the steep, uphill battle his campaign has.) In states like mine, California, and other large, populous states like New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey, election day is still in the future. We are still having the debates, trying to convince our neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, about who they should vote for. There are enormous difference between Sanders and Clinton on foreign policy, money in politics, the environment, workers' rights, healthcare etc. There is also a clear distinction between the ca[...]

On Cops and Conveyances


Today (after transferring from another bus in the Excelsior neighborhood of San Francisco) I boarded the 29 bus to get home, even though it is only about a 15 minute walk from Mission Street to my house. That walk is a gradual uphill, and it was the end of the day and I didn't feel like walking uphill for 15 minutes. But there was a small crowd of people at the bus stop, and that time of day the bus was bound to be crowded. I decided to upstream it, and catch the bus at the stop just before this one. It is a less busy stop and maybe I could find a corner of the crowded bus to stake out my territory before more people tried to pack in. NextBus – a smartphone app that tracks Muni – showed the bus was 4 minutes away, enough time to accomplish this. And it was urgent because the bus after wasn't for 18 minutes later, and was bound to be as crowded or more so.I hustled up the street as clouds swirled above and a chilly wind blew – the first I had felt in several months, indicating that the earth was tilting and summer would soon be over. A handful of older men sat in front of an old-school bar, smoking, but not talking. Teenagers with sagging pants and baseball caps waved across the street to friends. Women with "granny carts" full of aluminum cans shuffled about. My neighborhood is one of the few in San Francisco that is not gentrified, or at least is not rapidly gentrifying. It can't avoid the upward pressure on property value in the Bay Area (which I have mixed feelings about as a home-owner), but despite single family homes selling for prices modest by San Francisco standards but insane by everyone elses standards, the Excelsior neighborhood has few condominiums and no trendy shops or restaurants to speak of. Anyway, I get to the other stop and the bus rolls up – one of the new ones that the transit agency has been adding to the fleet. They feel brighter, bigger and better than the old ones, but as I suspected, this one was packed. I almost couldn't get on, but a few people by the open door shifted around and I, and one other, found a way. A handful of people weren't so lucky, but many more were waiting up ahead.We departed and as we approached the more crowded, busier stop, the driver stopped before turning the corner and advised those who wanted to disboard to do it there. I knew what was up. I'd seen it before, but only when another bus was close behind. This driver was not going to stop at all. He knew it would be a disaster. People would get desperate and get themselves on the bus however they could. The doors wouldn't be able to close and he would get even further behind schedule. Future stops would be more difficult as people would struggle to get out. Hell it might even be dangerous and perhaps in violation of some policy or bus rule.He stopped and started through the tight turn as he avoided hitting anything, but as he straightened up he moved right past the 30 or 40 people, mostly trying to get home. Some of them raised their hands in disgust. Some may have shouted, but headphone music was blocking the cries of "hey!" and "what the fuck!?"Just a few days earlier I had caught the 29 at that same crowded, busy stop. NextBus showed a bunch of buses coming, so it wasn't so bad. A guy who I had seen many times standing there, was there as usual, with a portable stereo playing music and his bag on top of a trashcan. He never boarded the bus, but sometimes he chatted with friends or associates. On that day, half a dozen police cars and one nondescript (undercover) car suddenly pulled up to the busy, narrow area in front of the bus stop. A woman, an officer in plain clothes, walked up to him and started asking him questions about what was in his bag, among other things. Uniformed officers surrounded the two. He explained himself calmly as the 29 appeared around the corner.  It couldn't make the turn, the cop cars were in the way.It upset me. I am[...]

Don't Blame Sanctuary City Policies for a Tragic Death


The fact that Kathryn Steinle was killed is horrible, and the way that Kathryn Steinle was killed was horrible. Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, who was in the country without legal authorization, was likely the person who killed her. Some have seized on this and used Steinle's death to push their anti-immigrant agenda or to boost their own political fortunes or both. These critics have singled out sanctuary ordinances – policies that bar local officials from working with federal immigration officials – and policies like California's Trust Act – which limits detention of people in local jails when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests it. The battle over these laws is ultimately about policy decisions, the pain they cause or alleviate, and the values they reinforce or undermine.Under our laws, since Sanchez did not have a record of violent felonies, and once the district attorney opted not to charge him for an old drug crime, there was no longer any justification for keeping him in jail awaiting a pick up from ICE.  If he had been a citizen, it wouldn't even be a question – a citizen would be released at that point, even if he or she did have past convictions for violent acts. The only difference in the debate is immigration status – and for some people, that is good enough. At its base, then, the argument in favor of a stricter policy in the wake of the Steinle killing has little to do with concern for victims of violent crime and everything to do with the notion that certain people don't belong here. The crude logic relied on by critics is that "but for the sanctuary city policy, Kathryn Steinle would still be alive."  If ICE had been alerted by local officials, and Sanchez had been held for them, they would have taken him into custody and imprisoned or deported him, or both. Then this horrible act would never have happened. Maybe, but that doesn't indicate either causation or the wisdom of the policy.Any number of policies, official practices or laws acted upon Sanchez in the days, months and years leading up to this senseless act; that does not mean those policies or practices are implicated or that changing them would actually make acts like this less likely. The District Attorney decided not to charge Sanchez with a decades old marijuana possession case. Yet few pundits have pointed to that decision as bearing responsibility for Steinle's tragic death. Some sanctuary defenders have pointed to the proliferation of guns and the large number of guns lost by or stolen from federal agentsas having culpability (the alleged weapon in Steinle's killing was reported stolen from a federal agent's car a few weeks before). Still others have pointed the finger at ICE and the fact that it did not seek a warrant to hold Sanchez. Those arguments don't seem to have much traction with most politicians, however, who are now reviewing and focusing their attention largely on local immigration policies such as sanctuary city ordinances.If one starts with the idea that certain people don't belong here, then it is natural to focus on sanctuary policies as the problem. To those who feel this way, residency in this country, for those born outside the United States (and apparently sometimes those born inside), is a gift. Maybe you can win asylum if you show that you will likely be killed if deported, maybe you can be granted a visa for a limited time, maybe you can wait long enough and jump through enough hoops to be allowed to stay, but probably not. The default is you don't belong here. So the fact that there was no indication that Sanchez would do anything violent is beside the point; and the wisdom or fairness of any policies are largely beside the point as well.But the sanctuary city ordinance and the Trust Act are good policies worthy of strong support. Despite the recent fear-mongering, a sanctuary[...]

Einstein von Eisenbark a.k.a General Sweet-heart-o


(image) What I loved most about this beagle is how much he loved me. When I got home from work, and he realized who I was, he shot a loud, long bark right at my face. Then another. Then another. It might go on for some time, actually. He was happy to see me. When we went on walks, even though his original dad had control of his leash, he would look around to see where I was every few minutes. I was told he would whine a lot when I was gone. In the morning, when his original dad was gone to work, I hopped in the shower. As soon as I opened the bathroom door, he was laying down in front of it, waiting for me to come out. He wanted to sit next to me, and sometimes right on my lap.

I met his original dad back in very late 2006. And I remember when JC drove up to my place one day with Einstein in the passenger seat. He was excited to see me; even though he didn't really know me yet. Over eight years later, JC and I are married and own a home together. We brought our own dogs to our relationship, but I quickly felt a connection with Einstein I didn't quite have with my own dog. Sure I love my dog (Sebastian), but I think he just likes me back. Einstein returned every bit of love and then some. He was special.

I've lived with dogs all my life; and I hope I'll always have them in my life. I've never had a dog like Einstein; and I wish he could have lived forever, 'scream barking' at me every time I got home from work.



Blue MosqueI decided to go to Istanbul because I turned 40 this year and had done little international travel.  I chose Istanbul because I love history and am interested in the culture of a largely Muslim, yet relatively liberal, country.  JC and I went in April – an ideal time to see tulips and enjoy mild weather.The 12 to 13 hour flight on Turkish Airlines was one of the first direct flights from SFO.  The airline had started flying direct a few days before.  For such a long flight in economy, it was more comfortable than I thought it would be.  The free booze helped.The airport in Istanbul was easier to navigate upon arrival than upon departure.  Once we had our luggage we exited to meet a large crowd holding multiple signs with people's names and, in some cases, the names of hotels.  I found the guy with my name – he had about a dozen names – he handed me off to someone else, who walked us to the curb and, eventually, handed us off to our driver.After battling through traffic and navigating narrow, cobble-stone roads, at times going the wrong but tolerated way, we arrived at our destination: the Hanedan Hotel. It was clean, with friendly staff, and close to the major attractions, but otherwise nothing special.  It was evening so we cleaned up and quickly began discussing dinner: "Shit!" I said, "I left my backpack in the van."  It was a nice backpack, but more importantly, it had my camera, my lenses, my ipad, my guidebook, and my prescriptions in it.  The gentleman at the front desk made some calls and finally assured us – the driver had found my bag and would have it back to us by 9:30 p.m.Hagia SophiaCrisis averted, we set out to eat.  The area of Sultanahmet we were in had tons of restaurants, though most are not considered very good.  It also had multiple small hotels and hostels, and unfortunately, many rowdy 20-something, Europeans. Navigating through that drunken revelry, we finally decided on a place based on the guy outside trying to convince us to eat there. He was less annoying than the others. The Turkish wine was good, as was the mezze plate.So we wandered out to see the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, snapped a few iphone pictures, returned to our hotel, had my bag returned, and crashed.The next day we took to the streets with a plan to check out the Blue Mosque.  When we arrived, the line stretched out the gate and up the hippodrome, and worse, it was starting to rain.  A handsome young man spotted our distress and helped us out: "The line is hours long to get in. It's because there are two cruise ships in town. Better to come back tomorrow after 4."Then he started asking us questions: "Where are you from? Are you married? Can I take you to my shop?"Basilica Cistern"Uh sure." I was concerned, but we followed him. So our first full day in Istanbul began with a friendly sales pitch over complimentary tea. At least it got us out of the rain.  We didn't buy a rug, though it was on our list as a possibility. But it was too soon. We thanked the shopkeep and headed back out. Still stormy, we decided to escape underground. The Basilica Cistern was built during the Byzantine Empire to store water for various palaces. It has hundreds of columns holding up the ceiling, most salvaged. The most interesting ones stand on medusa heads. There's still some water and fish swimming around. Not the first postcard you would buy, but still pretty amazing.Next stop out of the weather was the Archaeology Museums, where there are an overwhelming amount of artifacts from the region, some casually scattered about the courtyard.  We could have spent several more hours there, but we were getting light-headed.  So we set out to find a recommended place for pide.After the miss from that morning, we th[...]

Why I'm Not Ready for Hillary



Leftists, Empire, and Military Intervention


There are some on the left calling for U.S. military action – not bombs necessarily, but at least weapons – in support of the Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State radicals in Syria.  There is a moral calculus involved, so I don't want to doubt their leftist credentials, but I, nonetheless, don't agree with them.  We generally should not be supporting American empire in this realm – the realm of foreign policy, military power, and the military-industrial complex.  Our top priority, by far, ought to be to oppose and hinder U.S. military adventures.  Sure, there are competing objectives, and they should be weighed against each other, hence the moral calculus.  But considering the power of the American military and the corporations that benefit from its dominance, as well as the decades of carnage committed by the U.S., I fall on the side of opposing American military intervention here.I don't approach this from a pacifist point of view, and I don't believe that there could never be a reason for us on the left to push the United States to take some action related to foreign policy or even military action.  I just think that anyone who understands the nature of American empire right now, and particularly in this region, should consider calling for U.S. intervention, even limited intervention, a bad idea 99.9% of the time.ISIS is worthy of condemnation.  That requires little explanation. The Kurds defending Kobani seem worthy of support from the left.  That is certainly true, and appears to be motivating some of the people calling for American military action.  We are told that we should be listening to the Kurds, since they are the ones on the ground who best know what they need.  That is also, of course, very true.  But that ought not be the end of the analysis when the solution presented is to empower American imperialism.  And empowering American imperialism is exactly what pushing for weapons or limited strikes would be doing.  The left would be trying to push a multi-trillion dollar military-industrial complex – one that would be happy to supply arms to just about anyone as long as long-term profits are not threatened – to do just what we want and no more.  We would be trying to lobby slimy politicians like Dianne Feinstein, who delights at putting a humanitarian facade on imperial adventures and would undoubtedly co-opt any successes the pro-intervention left has at influencing the debate.But the pro folks have argued that historical examples demonstrate that success is possible or that opposing intervention would repeat the failures of the past.David Graeber analogized helping the Kurdish fighters with defending the Spanish Republic in 1937.If there is a parallel today to Franco’s superficially devout, murderous Falangists, who would it be but Isis? If there is a parallel to the Mujeres Libres of Spain, who could it be but the courageous women defending the barricades in Kobane? Is the world – and this time most scandalously of all, the international left – really going to be complicit in letting history repeat itself?But the important question for me would be, "what would have been the parallel to the United States of today back in 1937?" There was none. If the call is for leftists to go and fight against ISIS alongside the Kurds and independent of the American nation-state, as many did with Spain nearly 80 years ago, then he has a powerful argument.  I would not be opposed to such a movement.Kamran Matin used other analogies to bolster his argument:Moreover, a cursory review of historical evidence shows that taking tactical advantage of specific geopolitical circumstances has been a common feature of most progressiv[...]

Two "Progressive" Legal Organizations and Their Two Very Different National Conferences


After the latest Law for the People Convention (the name for the National Lawyers Guild's annual, national conference), I'm feeling pretty glad that the Guild is not the American Constitution Society. Don't get me wrong, I like those kids and there are a few joint members in both organizations, but there are some key differences between the two organizations. Let's look at the two groups' 2014 conventions. ACS says this on their website: "The ACS National Convention is the premier legal event of the year, attracting more than 1,000 of the nation’s leading progressive judges, lawyers and policymakers." Leaving aside the fact that "premier legal event of the year" is just their opinion, I have to admit, they do get some big names. This year they had Sonia Sotomayor, who, as Supreme Court Justices go, is a pretty cool jurist, and obviously a pretty important person. The NLG's conference sometimes gets a lefty Congressperson to attend, like John Conyers, but usually, big name politicians and federal judges keep as much distance as possible. ACS had Conyers as part of its "honorary host committee," but it also had Harry Reid, Patrick Leahy, and Nancy Pelosi on board. Despite our lack of big-name Democratic politicians, we still had over 700 people attend our conference. Not too shabby considering a big part of our plenary was a debate about whether to call ourselves an "anti-capitalist organization." The opponents won the day, but most, nonetheless, felt the need to declare that they, personally, were anti-capitalist. In contrast, ACS honored Roderick A. Palmore, executive vice president, general counsel and chief compliance and risk management officer, and secretary of General Mills. How he fits all that on his business cards, I'm not sure, but he has been a strong proponent of diversity in the legal profession, so it isn't as if his award was completely out of place. But the NLG would never honor him. We wouldn't. If his General Mills credentials didn't disqualify him, the fact that he is also a director of the Chicago Board Options Exchange and the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company would certainly seal the deal.The NLG conference was a pretty unique event – a legal bar association gathering of lawyers, legal workers, law students, and activists. We listened to a keynote address from Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union leader and Rahm Emanuel adversary, who spoke passionately about supporting public schools and defending the rights of teachers in the workplace. We honored an immigration advocate who told a story about representing a mother and daughter who were tortured for hours at an immigration facility in an attempt to get them to admit that they were undocumented.We did actually have one Supreme Court Justice now that I think of it – Fernando Vegas Torrealba spoke at a few sessions and was there for the full conference hanging out with Guild members he considers friends. He is the President of the Electoral Chamber of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, and has defended the reforms of the Maduro government, and the Chavez government before it. There was quite an international presence actually: activists and legal activists from Palestine, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Mexico, Iraq, Japan and elsewhere – most of whom discussed their work opposing U.S. foreign policy or fighting back against policies of their own governments, but policies directly, or indirectly, supported by the U.S.The ACS conference didn't have any obvious international issues on its agenda. They did seem to have a lot of good panels that would have fit in at a Guild convention, at least by looking at the titles: The Privatization of America, Protecting Women's Reproductive Health Care in a Hostile Era, See[...]

ISIL is Scary, but the U.S. is Way Scarier


How does one adequately comprehend and confront the chilling and horrific killings of human beings like the beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff?  It is the stuff of nightmares and horror movies.  It hits right at our deepest, darkest fears about death. It is difficult for us to fathom what was going on in their heads as they faced their last moments or what would be going on in ours. As troubling as their killings were, we should not use these tragedies to create more, and we should remember that gruesome killings are not the exclusive realm of a particular people or a particular religion.  In fact, the U.S. and our allies are directly responsible for millions of James Foleys (in the sense that millions of victims of our foreign policies were innocent and had loved ones, hopes for the future, etc.); and we (the U.S.) are indirectly responsible for Foley's killing as well.But millions of corpses can pile up and their deaths don't necessarily resonate as much (with many Americans anyway).  There are a number of reasons why these killings may resonate more: They were unusual (beheadings), but also publicly posted in vivid detail on the kind of social media we're used to seeing celebrities or friends on – twitter and youtube (for Foley anyway, until they were removed).  The men were also Americans, so for most Americans, they was familiar – "dudes" we could have gone to school with or who might have worked for the local newspaper a few years back.  That all makes sense, but it isn't an excuse to care more about their deaths than others, or worse, to use their deaths to call for policies that would result in the killing of many, many more innocent people.A beheading seems like one of the worst ways to die at the hand of another human being – and these were uniquely gruesome – done by a person covered in black fabric with a knife in hand as opposed to a guillotine or some other contraption that provides some separation between killer and victim.  (Our ally, Saudi Arabia, beheads people as well, but their victims aren't white Americans, so let's not bring that up.)  I didn't watch the video, and I won't, but I've seen some of the still images; images which are pretty chilling.  The man in black could easily be the next horror movie villain. The killings, vividly captured on video, were also distributed online. Foley's killing was posted to YouTube with crisp images and someone with an English accent (as I understand) speaking in the video.  The perpetrator even had a twitter account which he used to post the video.  These weren't grainy videos smuggled out of the mountains of Pakistan.So they were creepy and palpable, but they have not made me support intervention in Iraq by the U.S. anymore than I did before – I'm opposed, particularly to military intervention.  They also do not incline me to believe that the man in the video or the movement of which he is a part represents all Muslims, or that something about Islam makes these kinds of acts more likely among its followers than say Christianity does.  If anything, this all makes me want to fight back against these tendencies even more – to oppose U.S. military action in the Middle East and to oppose Islamaphobia – because I know the same acts motivate others to do the opposite – to take advantage of these acts to do the opposite.As the richest, most powerful nation on earth, there is probably a lot we could theoretically do to counter ISIS in a way that preserved life, promoted justice and secured religious freedom.  But that ideal simply does not reflect the history of American foreign policy, particularly over the last few decades in[...]

Open the Borders


President Obama - a Democrat who the throngs of right-wing bigots defending freeloading ranchers in Nevada consider a socialist - has deported more human beings than any other previous president.  Yet those same right-wing bigots, and the masses of mildly more moderate conservatives and Republicans, still believe (or want their constituents or television viewers to believe) that Obama coddles undocumented immigrants and would like to grant amnesty to millions.  So, it doesn't appease the right and it is unpopular with a big part of the Democratic base, yet Obama continues to implement harsh immigration policies – policies that have a brutal impact on hundreds of thousands of people every year.  Sadly, it is very possible that Republican leadership would try to outdo this administration, because why let a Democrat beat them on this issue.  It is mind boggling.  We ought to be moving in the opposite direction.In recent months, thousands more kids have been showing up at our southern border than in previous years, many fleeing Central America.  Obama has announced more detention facilities as a response, even though there are (at least) 250 facilities holding immigrants and the U.S. government detains hundreds of thousands of them in those facilities each year.  In the meantime, children are being held in crowded, unsanitary conditions in Texas, while in other parts of the country they are putting them in makeshift facilities at military bases.  Overwhelmed in Texas, where most of these kids are showing up, they are flying hundreds of mostly "families with young children" to other parts of the country "for processing."The administration will also speed up legal processes so that these children can be sent away more quickly; this in a system already defined by coercive practices and a lack of due process.  Not everyone is "lucky" enough to get caught up in this horrible system.  Many perish as they attempt to bypass the Border Patrol, walking miles in extreme heat or cold with little available food or water; or traveling in a cargo container or in a rail car, dealing again with extreme temperatures, but also with a lack of oxygen.  We're now learning how many of these people, when their bodies are found, are dealt with in the United States:  Their bodies may end up in trash bags buried in a mass grave.We're the richest, most powerful nation on the planet (and in the history of humankind).  This is the 21st century.  And for some reason we are building walls, installing fences, using drones, and further militarizing our borders, with calls for even more.  We are locking up thousands of people for the crime of not being born here.  We are flying people out of this country to destinations all around the world, forcing them to live somewhere else, even when those people have lived here for most of their lives, and even when those people have children, or parents, or partners here.  And refugees are dying along our Southern border because of these backward policies.The media often describes all of this as our immigration system being "overwhelmed," which suggests that there is either no solution or that the solution lies in bolstering or modifying the current practices – more walls, more fences, more enforcement, less due process, more border patrol officers, etc.  But there is a solution worth trying.  One that is morally just and may not lead to the dire consequences imagined by the fear mongering anti-immigrant crowd.  We can move towards more open borders.  Why be overwhelmed?  It's liberating to think it and, not coincidentally, it happe[...]

New Yosemite Adventures


Looking down Yosemite Falls.The floor of Yosemite Valley is about 4000 feet above sea level.  At the top of Yosemite Falls, the elevation is about 6500 feet above sea level.  It's a tough trail to the top, and a knee-jarring slippery descent, but JC and I made the round trip hike in about 5 hours.  Solid hiking shoes and a walking stick helped; but the desire of accomplishment and the views' effect on the adrenal gland pulled us through.So, there were actually plenty of people on the trail – not nearly as crowded as the Valley floor or the Mist Trail – but enough people to make the accomplishment seem less than extraordinary.  A man of about 28 with an infant strapped to him was slower than us, but mostly because he stopped frequently to calm down his child.  A teen girl with her younger brother marched past us down the trail wearing everyday sneakers.  The boy slipped and the girl casually grabbed the hood of his sweatshirt and pulled him up; neither paused their forward progress.  Still, it is not an easy trail (marked "strenuous" by the 2 sources on trails we had available), and several people we saw near the bottom abandoned the hike early on; others only went halfway up to see the stunning views of the Falls from a midpoint without continuing the trudgery of the remaining switchbacks to the very top.A rainbow in the mist of Yosemite Falls.Somehow this trail was built: there were stone steps in areas, evidence of blasted rock in others; and at the very top, clinging to the side of the cliff, overhanging the rush of frigid water and facing the sometimes fierce winds racing through Yosemite Valley, there is an observation area with a metal railing that appears to be little more than half inch pipe.  It seemed solid, but I was not about to test it.Climbing up to the top of Yosemite Falls was largely how we spent our 3rd day in the Park, besides stopping at the base of El Capitan for a beer and some soup for dinner.  The prior day we traveled down the Wawona Road to Mosquito Creek and an unmarked trailhead.  The goal was to find Alder Creek Falls – a waterfall not nearly as spectacular as those entering Yosemite Valley, but one that would easily be a feature in the region had glaciers not carved out Yosemite Valley over the last 3 million years.  The highlights of this hike were seclusion and history.  We encountered not a soul on our hike, unless you believe deer, birds, lizards and the like have souls.  Plus, the last 3rd of the walk to the falls is along an abandoned, and largely disassembled, logging railroad.  Various relics litter the area.El Capitan was also our destination that early evening with a stroll to the base, looking up at rock climbers. Looking up at El Capitan.The day before that, we arrived at our cabin in the National Forest just outside Yosemite, which was beautiful despite being surrounded by the remains of a large, devastating fire that burned the previous year.  Half the day gone to car travel, and being in the vicinity of San Francisco's water supply – Hetch Hetchy – we decided on a short hike downstream of the O'Shaughnessy Dam.  The Poopenaut Valley Trail is short but very vertical.  Walking down the trail often involves sliding down the trail; and the further you go, the more the hike back up becomes a concern.  But on the valley floor along the Tuolomne River, you can relax for a moment in a peaceful meadow that few visitors to the National Park ever enter.  Like the trail to Alder Creek Falls, we passed no other hikers. Taft PointFast forward to day four – the day after our hike up Y[...]

Jeffrey Toobin Went to Harvard!


I see Jeffrey Toobin on T.V. sometimes, but I don't think I've ever read his stuff in print.  He looks smart, but I'm starting to think he isn't really all that smart.  He's been doubling down on the confusing notion that whistleblowers, like Edward Snowden, do more harm than good and should go to prison even if they spark debates that are good, important or whatever.  His attempts to justify his position are kind of embarrassing.In this column here, he leads with, LEADS WITH, this gem:The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy led directly to the passage of a historic law, the Gun Control Act of 1968. Does that change your view of the assassinations? Should we be grateful for the deaths of these two men? Of course not. That’s lunatic logic. But the same reasoning is now being applied to the actions of Edward Snowden. Yes, the thinking goes, Snowden may have violated the law, but the outcome has been so worthwhile.THAT'S lunatic logic.   It was the act of murdering MLK and RFK that upset people and led to new laws.  Snowden revealed information about wrongdoing, and it was the wrongdoing he revealed that has upset so many people, not the act of revealing the information.  If the CIA had poisoned MLK, Snowden would be the equivalent of the insider who revealed the plot, not the poisoner.  Snowden did a service by revealing information and, now that we are aware of what he uncovered, we are demanding change.It's not surprising that Toobin gets this wrong, though.  If you believe what Snowden did is so very wrong, you might connect it to other very wrong acts, like, say, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  Toobin seems to acknowledge that there is some benefit to having this debate about surveillance, but it is greatly outweighed, he thinks, by the bad stuff.Like what?What if Snowden’s wrong? What if there is no pervasive illegality in the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs?I don't think that illegality is Snowden's main reason for doing what he's doing.  The point is that what the U.S. is doing is wrong and even shocking.  That's why people are upset - even people in Congress.  If we're appalled about the powers the NSA has and how much data they've been collecting, but it is all technically legal, then maybe the law should be changed and reforms are in order.  Yeah, sometimes that happens.  It was the basis of Toobin's problematic analogy at the beginning of his article - something bad happens or is revealed and we demand changes to the law.  I think there are plenty of people who argue that there has been illegality, even pervasive illegality, revealed by Snowden, including one of the architects of the Patriot Act; but even if not technically illegal, that would not negate the significant importance of Snowden's revelations.What are the actual dollar costs of Snowden’s disclosures?You see, now the government is going to have to spend billions of dollars to rework its surveillance programs, maybe coming up with even more shocking and invasive programs that we'll never know about unless someone like Snowden comes along.  But anyway, that's a hell of a lot of money. Well why shouldn't we know that the government is reading our emails, or at least has the power to?  If knowing that kind of information causes the government to spend billions to change things up, then that's the government's problem.  As taxpayers, we should demand that they act transparently - that would be a hell of a lot cheaper.  Surveillance may be necessary but[...]

The Government Needs a Really, Really Good Reason for Keeping Secrets


Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo thinks I'm a "doofus" and "really dumb." He also doesn't think leaks are always wrong, but, he says, regarding the military's need for "a substantial amount of secrecy," "when someone on the inside breaks those rules, I need to see a really, really good reason."  My problem with his position is that I would hope that journalists (a term he uses to describe himself) would view their relationship to government secrecy in the opposite way: the government ought to have a really, really good reason for keeping secrets.He spends much of his article debating a straw man – someone who believes there should be no secrets and every leak is a good leak.  In this way he can position himself as nuanced and thoughtful compared to his reckless, imaginary opponents. This ignores the fact that the major players in the Snowden affair - including Snowden himself - have made clear that they understand the problems with certain kinds of leaks that could, for example, put human life in danger.  Manning, too, has said that his actions were about shedding light on bad acts, not doing harm or trying to "blow the whole thing up," as Marshall writes.Putting that fallacy aside, the problem with his position is that he, like the journalists that broke the Snowden story, believes there is a need to balance before releasing or publishing leaks, but he would give way too much weight to government secrecy.  Even in the abstract that is an odd position for a journalist, but facts and context make his position pretty shameful.  Neither of the recent whistleblowers are doing anything anywhere near as harmful as the acts they've uncovered, yet reading Marshall you might wonder if you missed the news about Manning revealing tomorrow's troop movements in Afghanistan or Snowden providng North Korea with a map of nuclear facilities.  Marshall doesn't specify what great harm they've caused that would outweigh what he admits is the important benefit of some leaks - that they reveal "government wrongdoing and/or excessive secrecy."  So both leaks clearly reveal a lot of both, there is voluminous evidence for that, where is the evidence of the harm Marshall is grappling with and feels the need to call others to task for?He doesn't need much evidence because, to Marshall, government secrecy ought to be sacrosanct.  He must not think the government (at least this government) engages in much wrongdoing; and it may surround much of its actions in secrecy, but he clearly doesn't find it all that "excessive." He goes out of his way to discuss his allegiance to the government, which in this context must mean the elements of the government who are in charge of the massive spying operation uncovered by Snowden and the war crimes and conspiring with dictators uncovered by Manning.  Sure, he gives lip service to balancing, but in the end he reveals that his "balancing" really means that the people who reveal the worst crimes of our government will probably go to prison and probably deserve to and if they did any sort of public service it was greatly outweighed by the harm they did to the state with which he is aligned.Some leaks are good, he explains, but government needs secrets, especially a government he identifies with, and besides, why should Snowden decides what gets released?Who gets to decide? The totality of the officeholders who’ve been elected democratically - for better or worse - to make these decisions? Or Edward Snowden, some young guy I’ve never heard of before who espouses a political philosophy I d[...]

The Nationalist-Internationalist Gay Divide and Bradley Manning


The reaction to Bradley Manning being selected and then deselected as grand marshal of this year's San Francisco Pride Parade exposed a divide in the community of gays and our allies: a divide between those who generally support U.S. foreign policy and those who generally oppose it; between nationalists who may disagree with this or that decision by a particular president but generally believe in the good of American power around the globe, and internationalists who recognize the U.S. as an imperial power led by individuals and institutions who's goals are not in the best interests of most people – even most Americans – and who recognize the destructive nature of American militarism to people across the globe, gay and straight.If you believe that U.S. foreign policy is largely guided by the goals of liberation and human rights, then Manning is right to be shunned since his action impeded that.  If you believe that, human rights or not, U.S. foreign policy prioritizes keeping Americans safe, again, honoring Manning would be problematic.  Even if you only think those things when your political party is in the White House, you still recognize the threat his action posed to your leader's agenda.On the other hand, if you understand that U.S. foreign policy is neither about keeping Americans safe nor about human rights but about global dominance at the expense of human rights (and often making the world more dangerous for the average American), then you can and should rally around Manning.He has brought to light much of the backroom deals and outright criminality of many of our political, civil and military leaders, not to mention those of oligarchs in other countries, removing a veil of secrecy that hid war crimes and shielded dictators.  He is a whistleblower whose actions have contributed to the fall of repressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and helped spur on uprisings elsewhere.  The facts he leaked have been used in countless news articles in many of the same outlets that also condemn him or ignore his plight.  The benefits of his actions are really too numerous to mention here; and while I wouldn't call him a hero, I absolutely find his actions courageous and incredibly important.Despite the fact that Manning is gay and possibly transgender, and despite the human rights perspective that his act was courageous, some in the gay community responded negatively when they discovered he was named SF Gay Pride's grand marshal.   A handful of gay militarists launched a campaign against the selection, calling Manning a "traitor" and his actions "treacherous" and "a disgrace." Within hours the honor was rescinded and SF Pride board president announced as follows:His nomination was a mistake and should never have been allowed to happen ......even the hint of support for actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform -- and countless others, military and civilian alike -- will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride.Bradley Manning protest at SF Pride board meeting.That brought the divide between gay nationalists and gay internationalists to the fore.  It also revealed a factual disagreement that mostly boils down to the same ideological divide.  The factual assertion, as reflected in the statement from the SF Pride board president, is that Manning's leaking of information caused harm.  Usually this idea has taken the form of: "his leak put soldiers at risk;" but I've also heard: "his leak made diplomacy more difficult making the alternative of militar[...]

Hate Against Muslims? San Francisco Gays Shouldn't Stand For It


One of the original ads.The American Freedom Defense Initiative Hate Group (AFDI) has decided that riling up anti-Muslim rhetoric on buses and subway stops is an ideal way to stay relevant and maybe recruit some ignorant fools to their cause.  In San Francisco, they are even trying to convince gays and our allies to hate Muslims.  There is no reason why they should succeed with such a blatantly hateful message, but it doesn’t take much to incite hate crimes and justify much worse.  Gays and our allies have to take action against the presence of these disgusting ads on our buses.  If Muni won’t take down the ads, then other actions, such as the culture jamming that is already taking place, are in order.The AFDI, apparently, feels it is critical to educate Americans about the dangers from extremists who identify as Muslim, like Osama bin Laden.  Because, you know, Americans are just too accepting of bin Laden’s views.  That’s silly and there is obviously no such need. AFDI’s objective is to rile up hatred of all Muslims and defame an entire religion.  Indeed, the ads they are mocking were fairly innocuous ads run by the #MyJihad initiative that showed average Muslims and their admirable self-improvement goals.One of AFDI's reactionary hate ads.After AFDI's initial run of disgusting response ads, and a lot of pushback in San Francisco, they decided that their newest ads should include some quotes about homosexuality by some people who call themselves Muslim and/or claim to speak in the name of Islam.  There is no other purpose for such ads, but to attempt to demonize all Muslims in the eyes of San Francisco gays and our allies.No one would debate that people can and do use religion as a twisted justification for hate and violence – whether against gays or others.  This is true of all religions though. Yet you don’t see the AFDI Hate Group running ads quoting the Westboro Baptist Church and warning of the dangers of Christianity or Christian extremists.  No.  They’re bigots and prefer to target a religious minority already targeted by hate crimes, and overzealous law enforcement.The AFDI’s hate ads certainly encourage hate crimes.  They also help justify and support killing, war, occupation and apartheid.  That is the larger context beyond the mosque fires and assaults in our communities, as horrible as they are.  Demonizing Muslims reinforces policies supported by some of our political leaders in Washington – war in predominantly Muslim countries, incarceration without trial at Guantanamo Bay, assassination by drone, support for friendly despots in predominantly Muslim countries, and tremendous support, including billions in tax dollars, to Israel with no accountability for crimes against Palestinians.Earlier AFDI Hate Ads dealt with properly.I think Muni should pull the ads because I don’t believe these particular ads could be described as “political speech,” and the substance of their message is only one demeaning an entire religion and everyone in that religious group. Of course I understand the risks involved in removing the ads.  Our Muni system is already underfunded and the last thing they need is a major lawsuit. Though it is hard for me to believe they would allow ads from other hate groups, such as the aforementioned Westboro Baptist Church or the Ku Klux Klan, without a fight.  Regardless, it would be an uphill battle in the courts.  I’m also very[...]

Obama, the Popular Vote, and the Left


It's hard to not be delighted that so many bigots and right-wingers were horribly disappointed this week when Barack Obama won a second term, but it's still difficult for me to be all that enthusiastic about the Democratic President.I know what you're thinking: "1. Don't be so cynical."  "2. Do you have anything positive to say?" "3. Get with the winning team!"1. I'm not cynical.  I have a tremendous amount of hope; just not with the Democratic Party or Obama.2. I think there were plenty of positive things to say about yesterday's election, from gay marriage, to marijuana legalization, to Puerto Ricans voting for statehood.  Even in the defeat of Romney-Ryan and re-election of Obama I see some positive, but not what you might think.3. No.So as a critic of Obama and the Democrats from the left, my positive view about the presidential election comes from the fact that Obama 2012 won with less of the popular vote than Obama 2008.For those saying he has a mandate, I don't see it.  He certainly has less of a mandate than he had in 2008 when he won with more of the popular vote and his party had control of both houses of Congress.  The only mandate that exists is the same that any president has who wins a second term - the other party knows they have to live with what will likely be a full 8 years outside of the executive branch and that might lead to more compromise, more shaking up of their own internal affairs.For the left – those of us not aligned with the Democratic Party – this is positive not because our great socialist leader was re-elected, but because he actually didn't do all that great.   In 2008 Obama ran on a far more progressive platform than reflected by either his governance since then or his 2012 platform.  Obama 2008 was a sharp contrast to McCain/Palin and to the 8 years of Bush before.  Obama 2012 mostly ran on killing Osama Bin Laden and a couple of other things mostly important to partisans. He did run on Obamacare, but that program, still unproven, is a far cry from what he ran on in 2008.  Back then he supported a public option and was opposed to an individual mandate – kind of the opposite of what happened.  Plus, in reality, Obamacare was a Republican idea.  Forcing people to buy health insurance was Romney's idea before it was Obama's.He also ran on the auto bailout.  It probably helped him in a couple of the swing states, turning enough states blue to make it look like a decent victory if all that matters is an electoral college victory.  Still, it is a relatively minor point in the grand scheme of U.S. policy, and while Romney opposed the bailout, his running mate, Paul Ryan, voted for it.  So it might have been good for a few Obama television ads in the Midwest, it was not exactly a great progressive victory distinguishing him from the other side.Obama 2008 and his healthier groundswell of support in that election contrasted with Obama 2012 demonstrate that progressive, populist policies – the ones he ran on back then – can win elections.  That's an interesting observation, but may not translate into anything useful if it isn't widely recognized and/or we don't keep that in mind as Obama seeks to reach a "grand compromise" with Republicans by cutting or limiting Social Security and Medicare, as his administration continues to murder people with drones and punish the people of Iran with sanctions (if not war), as his Justice Department ratchets up deportations and prosecutions [...]

Turn Off the DNC


I don't watch the Democratic National Convention for the same reason I fast forward through commercials - facts matter much more than scripted entertainment designed to sell something - and at the end of the day, even if you know the product is rotten and people are exploited making it, that little voice in your head will still be hammering away: "why not just buy it? everyone else is. those cancer causing, artificial flavors are really tasty and probably won't affect your health any time soon."  In fact, I think it is a real problem that so many of my progressive colleagues watch at all; Because it is difficult to not be inspired by some of the rhetoric, caught up in the occasional sincerity (which may or may not be genuine), and wrapped up in the importance of a major pep rally for the leader of the most powerful nation on earth.

Ultimately it is a show for one of two political parties holding major positions of power in our American empire - an expensive show for a political party raising hundreds of millions of dollars just for this one election and this one political office.  To be clear, if someone put a gun to my head and said "which do you prefer, the Republican or the Democrat," the easy and obvious answer would be the Democrat, but I have no interest in cheering on either establishment political party. Yet that's what these shows are designed for: cheering.  They are not unlike the political parades and party rallies in despotic countries, though with more polish to be sure.

Should I vote for Obama?  Should I at least reluctantly vote for him?  At least against Romney?  Maybe.  That is not what this post is about.  It is about this Democratic National Convention that has suddenly excited some in the Democratic base who, just a few months ago, were soberly assessing the pitiful record of Hope and Change.  Well-written speeches, no doubt.  People at the table who would not be at the table at the RNC - yes, of course.  Does that matter?  Yes.  What matters more?  One million people deported.   The 13 civilians killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen this weekend, and all the other innocent men, women and children killed by our reckless foreign policy.  Employment rights for queer people.  Civil liberties.  Global Warming.  Really big issues that affect millions of people – issues the Democratic Party is unwilling to or unable to deal with in any serious way.  I don't expect perfect, but these are not minor points, and the Democrats have no incentive to do anything differently if everyone from the center on to the far left are going to cheer them on and give them a pass.

Check out the debates perhaps.  Read some non-corporate, non-partisan, analysis of the political pep rally perhaps.  But I wouldn't watch.  It's too dangerous - even for me.

No Heroes


This guy on cable news expressed skepticism about calling all American soldiers heroes and conservatives wanted to hang him for treason.  But he was absolutely correct.  I don't think we should call anyone a "hero" even if many people act heroically from time to time.  So you object and ask, "fine, but will you admit that all American soldiers are heroic?""No," I would reply.  Brave more likely than heroic.  You have to be brave to risk going into a war zone, don't you think?  But heroic?  You need to do a bit more.  Save someone's life, or leak classified information, something like that.There's also a lot of hypocrisy involved in honoring the troops and calling them heroes.  I don't think we should call them heroes, but I do think that veterans deserve excellent, free health care; the government that they purportedly served should not let them become homeless or put more resources into incarcerating them than ensuring they have what they need to stay healthy and support their families.  But a lot of the chest beaters who believe the cable news host did not adequately venerate the warriors who protect freedom and the American way by signing up for the military and thus agreeing to land on a grenade to protect an American flag if need be, likely don't think much about these mundane issues like healthcare, mental healthcare or substance abuse treatment for veterans.  Those crazy people who end up in prison aren't heroes after all, even if they developed mental illness murdering people for American imperialism.Which reminds me of why I don't like calling anyone a "hero."  I have as much trouble with that as calling someone a "demon" or "villain."  It doesn't acknowledge the humanity in all of us.  We are all capable of heroic feats (well maybe not Donald Trump) and we can just as easily succumb to bad behavior.  We can become ill or fall on serious bad luck, but we can also rise to the occasion or find ourselves in a position of great privilege.  Our circumstances play a big role in all of that, of course.  Furthermore, we can do something heroic one day and something selfish the next.  If the brave guys who killed Osama Bin Laden end up using food stamps in 20 years, are they still heroes (not that I think the guys who killed Osama Bin Laden are heroes necessarily - it is really an example for those folks who believe they are); what if they shoplifted some baseball cards from a Mom and Pop store in America's heartland when they returned to the U.S.?So I agree with the guy on cable news – ChrisHayes – even though I think MSNBC hires too many white guys who hold uninteresting opinions.  Enough with the hero talk.  You joined the military, maybe with good intentions, maybe with bad intentions, maybe because some recruiter told you when you were 17-years-old that they'd pay for college, you'd get to see the world, and you'd never see combat if you just sign on the dotted line; good for you, but that doesn't make you a hero.Also this: allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' FRAMEBORDER='0' />[...]