Saturday, May 20, 2017

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.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Disparaging Jill Stein

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:
This was in reference to to the vote to confirm Betsy DeVos, in which 2 Republicans joined the Democrats creating the tie in the Senate, eventually broken by Vice President Pence. The usual crew of Democratic apologists piled on. Doesn't she know that every Democrat in the Senate voted against DeVos!!!! She was either "stupid" or deceiving her "stupid" base.

The tweet is still up despite all the negative attention it got. For that reason, and because the tweet linked to a Washington Post article that made the unanimous Democratic opposition clear, it seems unlikely that Stein made a mistake. Perhaps her communications team could clarify, but maybe she meant that the Democrats lost the Senate, during Obama's tenure, and didn't win it back in the elections last year, because people who would otherwise vote for them didn't get very excited about politicians who "serve corporate interests." But why give her the benefit of the doubt when she can be demonized and ridiculed, and anyone who would ever dream of voting 3rd party can have all that shame and doubt beaten into their subconscious?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: Thoughts on a Year Full of Change

I have really neglected this blog; in large part because of all the change going on, though you'd think that would just give me plenty to write about. No. Sometimes change saps the creative energy out of you. And sometimes it just makes finding the time to write (or paint or build a dog house) nearly impossible. Plus, rapid change can make the casual writer's political scribbling become irrelevant before she or he is able to click on "Publish." Well, I have a couple of 3-day weekends this month, so here's a summary of 2016.

The National Lawyers Guild was flexible enough to let me study for the California bar exam this year. And I did. I spent hours reviewing contracts, property, criminal procedure, civil procedure, and man it brought back memories. More on that later.

Bellas Artes Very Art Deco Interior
JC and I went to Mexico City for a few days in May. Unlike the last time I went, I got to go to Palacio Bellas Artes, the Templo Mayor, and the Museo del Carmen. I was able to revisit Teotihuacan, where I could be the guide this time. More adventurous friends had shown me how to avoid the tours and get to Teotihuacan via the metro and regional buses. It takes a bit longer, but the bus depot had a Subway sandwich shop, which kept us going.

As I recall, the Templo Mayor was closed on my last trip. This time we were able to tour the ruins uncovered beneath and alongside the Metropolitan Cathedral and the main Zocalo. In one spot you could view modern Mexican business towers, colonial Spanish buildings from hundreds of years ago, and the templo itself – layer upon layer of newer structures built over other structures. We also saw mummies at the Museo del Carmen, which I had missed last time – again, closed. I managed to purchase some t-shirts at a store with a complicated shopping process: once I decided what I wanted (in this case needed), workers lowered the shirts with a rope from the storage area above; then I paid for them at a counter, but had to pick them up at a different counter upon showing my receipt; the gentleman at this last counter reviewed and stamped my documents. The shirts were too tight.

We also found decent vegetarian food.

Casa de los Azulejos
I'm generally a happy traveler in urban centers full of history. Add in my ancestral roots, and you've got me hooked. Staying right on the Zocalo was pretty touristy, but it pleased me nonetheless. One afternoon we were in our un-airconditioned hotel room, watching some storms roll in and trying to get the breeze blowing through the french door windows. I got a call from someone I only knew through email and a couple of previous phone calls. He let me know that I was likely to be offered a job that I had applied to many, many months ago.

Speaking of Mexico, this kid, Francisco, came into my life in March through the Big Brothers program.  He and his family are from Mexico. Kids need mentors, and I needed an excuse to go to the park more often. It's a pretty good match.

I first met him in an office building. His mom brought him into a small room and we were instructed to talk about the activities we enjoyed. I had to sign a form saying I wouldn't take him on motorcycle rides, and an additional form about firearms since we had a pellet gun in the house (we've yet to purchase pellets). After about 20 minutes, the kid asked, "do I go with him now?" And, ever since, we pretty much have a standing date on Saturdays. Did anyone see the 2016 movie "Nine Lives"? No? Well I did! Francisco and I (and increasingly JC) have also been on frequent trips to the beach, a rock-climbing gym, a carnival, kid-friendly museum/discovery/science places, and plenty of parks.

I also took him to a community outreach event I did for my new job – there was music, and games, and he got a free backpack out of it. The new job is probably the biggest change for me this year. I was at the NLG for nearly 12 years. I was increasingly open to change, but also didn't really like any of the jobs I saw posted. And I was seeing the good jobs – the ones people would send me to post to NLG lists so awesome people would apply. Some of the best options required a law license, and that, in part, is why I was studying for the California bar exam. Other really good options required one to be bilingual. Duolingo now says I'm at 46%! But that guy who called me in Mexico had emailed me one over a year ago that caught my attention.  It was an investigator position at the Office of Citizen Complaints - a San Francisco public agency that investigates public complaints against police officers. The idea of being a public servant maybe sounds boring, but is appealing to me, especially serving a function that (while insufficient on its own) is so necessary. The idea of focusing on one type of work was also appealing: instead of being the director, human resources person, researcher, public speaker, event planner, fundraiser, communications director, tech person and a hundred other jobs required to keep the NLG functioning with only two staff people. So, on a whim, I applied and, eventually, got an offer. And that's what I'm doing now. I put the bar exam on hold, pero todavía estoy practicando Español cada dia.

Wake up
Taken early one morning on my way to work. Early for me anyway.
The focus at the new gig has been good, but there is still a great deal of variety. Everyone comes in with different issues – not just the particular misconduct of which they are complaining, but sometimes unique legal issues, personal issues, cultural issues, and so on. They may have violated the law themselves, or may think the police should have arrested someone else. Their primary form of income may be, technically, illegal. They may not realize that their complaint is completely unfounded, or they may not know that the police did several other things during their encounter that amount to misconduct. I do work in the field, and interview witnesses as well as, naturally, the police officers accused of misconduct. So, it isn't like I'm making the same widgets every day from 9 to 5. Actually I usually start at 8:15 AM! Adjusting to that has been one of the biggest challenges. Well, that, and I don't get to be learning about, strategizing about, and debating political change all day. Just at lunch, during my morning and evening commutes, and during my two fifteen minute breaks; also at night and on weekends and holidays.

OK, I'm mostly just on twitter. I need to do more, because there is plenty to do.

The Sanders campaign had been the political surprise of the year until November, right? The media wouldn't portray it as such, but a grey-haired, socialist from Vermont giving the Democratic Party establishment a run for its money was pretty unexpected. And that's really who he was running against. Clinton as a person has her own flaws and epitomizes that establishment, but it was a broad swath of the Democratic Party establishment that was really up for election this year, and it failed to beat a World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame inductee who pals around with neo-Nazis. Although I'd bet more money on Sanders' elect-ability, I still thought Clinton would pull it off in the end. I shared the shock of my liberal-moderate brothers and sisters on that count.

IMG_4545Now the question is what do we do, and it feels a bit like being out in the wilderness at night in complete darkness, because you don't know exactly what to expect, but you know you need to prepare yourself. I actually think that may be one of the things that makes Trump more frightening than Clinton – the unexpected. After all, I have no doubt that a Clinton administration would have unleashed a great deal of pain on the planet, unlike Trump, she and her compatriots would have dressed it up in humanitarianism, incrementalism, and wonkishness. But she is a standard politician entrenched in the same Democratic Party that coalesced around her husband's presidency 20 years ago.

Trump is an unknown. He doesn't seem to have a well thought out political ideology and he may be part of the ruling class, but is certainly not part of the Republican establishment.

So there is the unexpected, but even if Trump is prepared to do about the same amount of harm as a standard Republican or Democrat, the other scary aspect of his campaign and future presidency is the proto-fascists, crass bigots, and shameless corporatists he has empowered. Unfortunately, many  Democrats are saying they are willing to work with Trump, and even liberal journalists and pundits seem perfectly willing to normalize the worst aspects of what we've seen and what may be to come.

So we – those of us who are not politicians and not "millionaires and billionaires" (said in a Bernie Sanders voice) – have to fight and protest. There lies our hope. The people freezing in North Dakota to stop an oil pipeline have shown us the way forward. So have the movements for Black Lives and the one to Occupy Wall Street, which both came while an ostensibly progressive, black president sat in office. A Sanders presidency would also have needed protest, though I think a Sanders administration would have been more responsive. At any rate, we live on a planet dominated by an economic system that is killing us, and in a country that is more or less running it, so who our political leaders are is important, and yet, even the right people would be relatively incapable of saving us, if we aren't willing to take risks and save ourselves.

That should be our New Years Resolution actually.


Wednesday, September 07, 2016

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 church
I 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 Gardens
Just 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 day
Geneva 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 into my neighborhood I pass the Persia Triangle – really a colorful laundromat/car repair parking lot/makeshift church. There are future plans to make it a friendlier triangle, which will be nice, but it is central and busy anyway. The large windows at the Dragon House sometimes draw one's attention to kick boxing, Kung Fu, Jiu Jitsu and the like. Again, this is Mission Street so watch out for scofflaws, Ubers and impatient drivers in SUV's with loud mufflers. (I once saw the intersection blocked off by police, a truck on the sidewalk a few yards beyond, and groceries scattered about the road.)
Heading up the long, steady incline of tree-lined Persia is sometimes made more difficult by smoking pedestrians or exhaust fumes. The wind is typically at your back, however. Passing the towering murals of Cleveland Elementary (home of the Peacemakers!) is an encouraging reminder that I'm nearly home and I switch my iphone to a a more victorious song, if appropriate.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

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 candidates' history and character – differences that should inform voters about who they should trust more. Sanders, in my opinion, is far and away the better candidate in all these regards; and the more voters learn about the differences, the more momentum his campaign gains. This is what Krugman and other Clinton supporters seek to stop when they trot out their math and their candidate's inevitable and likely victory.

The constant drumbeat from the corporate media, even from liberals in the New York Times and at MSNBC, about Hillary's inevitability has been Sanders' biggest obstacle (something the Clinton campaign has used as much as possible to her advantage). That perception of inevitability has been self-fulfilling – contributing to how well she has done so far, and thus adding to the sense that she is the likely nominee. Journalists and pundits amplifying that perception is a really undemocratic way of talking about elections. It is the opposite of how much of the establishment punditry have talked about the Republican nomination process, where there is constant hand-wringing about how candidates with far fewer delegates, but who are not Donald Trump, could still find a way to be the nominee (also a pretty undemocratic discussion but in favor of insurgent campaigns and quirks of party rules that could favor someone, anyone, but the frontrunner). In this sense Krugman, and much of those in the corporate media, play a role in disempowering voters and discouraging the substantive, democratic discussions that ought to be happening during this long primary season.

Of course, for Krugman, that is just fine as long as he is disempowering Sanders voters and quieting any issues that benefit his campaign at the expense of the Clinton campaign. Krugman's candidate is the inevitable winner (as far as he is concerned), so challenging her from the left is off limits. Sorry California and New York – maybe start organizing around the general election or something.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

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 not as lacking in privilege as most of the people I encounter on Muni, especially in the Excelsior. But, I experience the crowds, the bad service, even the physical challenges of riding transit in San Francisco on a daily basis. Even with the minor improvements, which do mean that you are more likely to find a seat and more likely to be in one of those new buses, it still is horribly inadequate for an extremely wealthy city. But police do not face cuts. The police force here, one of the best paid in the country, is coddled and expanded as politicians and newspaper columnists whine about an increase in thefts and homeless encampments. And the wealthy, who never have to take a city bus, set the priorities. There, on that corner, was a microcosm of all of this. An obviously poor person – a person of color – was being harassed by a dozen cops for some reason. Maybe he had harmed someone, maybe not; maybe the cops had good intentions, maybe not. But several city employees making six-figure salaries were harassing this poor person of color, while several other working-class San Franciscans waited for a bus that couldn't get to their stop. It was symbolic of what is wrong with the political priorities of both political parties and the corporate media cheering them on – even in the "socialist paradise" of San Francisco. There is always money for police, prisons and prosecutors but not for transit, not for welfare, and not for healthcare.

"You're blocking the bus," I said at a moderate volume, loud enough for the cops to hear, but not too loud to cause a scene. Two of the officers turned their heads slightly. "Do you really need all these cops for one guy?" I asked.

One of them turned to look at me. "Yes," he said.

"I doubt it," I responded. I was in a bad mood.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

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 agents as 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 city policy has been in place in San Francisco since the 1980's. The focus back then was on people fleeing Central America, largely because of wars that the US had its hands in. Yet over the past few decades, there is no evidence that the policy has led to more crime or the shielding of violent people. The more recent Trust Act limits ICE holds in jails throughout California; it went into effect January 1, 2014. It too has failed to result in more violent crime or chaos. "Homicides, robberies and overall violent crimes fell statewide in 2014 to levels not seen in decades ..."

For some, the primary purpose of the sanctuary city policies is to ensure that people feel comfortable communicating with local law enforcement without fear of deportation. I have mixed feelings about that argument, but it certainly makes sense. If you know a child is being abused, for example, but you've overstayed your visa, you may think twice before calling law enforcement (or any other local officials). It's difficult to measure the positive effect San Francisco's sanctuary policy has had on public safety and declining community violence, but the logic definitely seems well-founded.

For me, though, the more important reason to support sanctuary city policies and the Trust Act is because they keep families together, communities cohesive, and, essentially, decriminalize the entirely harmless act of residing somewhere without the proper paperwork. Enforcing immigration policy is the job of the federal government, and its policies are increasingly punitive. The Feds shouldn't be able to forcibly enlist local or state officials in carrying out its bad acts. (Where are all the states rights libertarians on this?)

Federal immigration policies have led to record numbers of deportations during the Obama administration – over 2 million people – and also record high numbers of people in detention centers. As Detention Watch documents:
In 2001, the U.S. detained approximately 95,000 individuals. By 2010, the number of individuals detained annually in the U.S. had grown to approximately 390,000. The average daily population of detained immigrants has grown from approximately 5,000 in 1994, to 19,000 in 2001, and to over 33,000 by the end of 2010. ICE’s stated goal is to deport 400,000 non-citizens each year.
Sanchez had spent half of his adult life in prison, mostly, it would seem, for entirely harmless violations of the law: possession of drugs, and re-entering the country after being deported. He had been deported multiple times, and it generally seemed that he had a shitty life in and out of the hands of law enforcement. It is unlikely he had access to mental health care or adequate treatment for substance abuse problems in or out of the various prisons and jails in which he spent so much of his life. Yet the fact that we choose to spend billions of tax dollars on border militarization and immigrant detention, not to mention the criminalization of harmless drug crimes, rather than on health care for the poor and homeless (Sanchez was apparently living on the streets when Steinle was killed), does not seem to be part of the policy discussion.

There are good policies that we ought to support that probably would prevent violent acts like these, are more connected to the root cause of violence like this, and don't needlessly force suffering on others. And they don't compromise the principles we ought to embrace, such as universal human rights, human dignity, and liberty. Yes, liberty, because holding someone without a warrant likely violates the 4th Amendment and proposals, like building a giant wall along the border, are an affront to basic liberty – the freedom to travel, to associate, to easily find employment, and so on.

Most of the outspoken critics using Steinle's death to attack sanctuary policies begin with the proposition that some people belong here and others do not; that those people over there deserve less liberty and fewer rights. They seek to use this tragedy to scapegoat, disparage and, ultimately, cause more harm to people they see as unworthy of compassion. For those of us who genuinely care about preventing suffering and even violence like the killing of Kathryn Steinle, we should defend sanctuary policies without apology, and focus attention on the widespread misery caused by sprawling and expensive immigration and criminal systems focused on punishing people for simply being here. If we don't see immigrants as less worthy, then we can do much better.