Monday, June 26, 2006

Friday, June 23, 2006

Another Phony Terror Plot to Keep Americans Scared

This week Alberto Gonzales (an embarrassment to Latinos the world over) announced the arrests of 7 men who were alleged to be plotting and training for huge attacks to rival 9/11 - including blowing up the Sears Tower in Chicago. They were caught, in part, because of a government informant who told them he was connected to Al Qaida and even had the men swear an oath to Al Qaida through him. Time magazine sums up the threat as follows:

*No connection to Al Qaida.
*They didn't behave like terrorists - often very publicly "behaving more like a Hollywood B-movie version of terrorists than the real thing."
*The indictment only refers to a desire by the groups leader to target the Sears tower (I think the homeless guy down the street has the same desire.)
*According to the indictment these men wanted to wage a "full ground war" to "kill all the devils we can." Of course this "quote" was even in headlines the day the story broke, but it remains hearsay, and for all we know was never said or said by someone under the influence.
*They asked the informant for supplies to wage a ground war in the U.S. Understanding how a small group of men was going to launch such a war requires a great deal of fantasy and imagination, but the Justice Department under Bush eats that stuff up.
*They didn't have the money or materials to carry out either the bombing of a Sears lawn mower or the Sears Tower, yet tax payers supplied the dollars for the undercover informant, the investigation, FBI staff, FBI equipment, Gonzales' press conference, etc. etc.

Meanwhile, we have terrorists (not people of color so perhaps not as high a priority for the feds) who have the means and are dead serious about killing human beings who are exposed not by the FBI, but by their families. Why isn't the FBI infiltrating groups who aspire to blow up abortion clinics or attack gay bars? Perhaps because they'd rather not investigate their own family members.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Democrats: The Lesser Evil Is Still Better Than The Greater Evil. Right?

So I like to bash Democrats (see last two posts), in part because I don't think the left does it enough, and in part because it is way too easy to bash Republicans. But, does the fact that Democrats tried to raise the minimum wage and most Republicans killed the proposal highlight the difference between the two parties? If so, is it maybe a good idea to go with the lesser evil sometimes? Do they deserve a little (tiny little) bit of praise now and again?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Feinstein Uses False Right Wing Propaganda to Make Bad Bill Worse

Robert Rector of the right-wing Heritage Foundation reported to Republicans at a Republican luncheon that the Senate version of the big immigration bill would add 100,000,000 (One Hundred Million) new people to the U.S. population in the next 20 years (see the SF Chronicle story). But it was a Democrat, California's Dianne Feinstein, who acted on this information, citing the number in floor debate and forcing an amendment through that would drastically limit the number of immigrants allowed through a guest worker program. Feinstein actually used Rector's high end estimate of 193 million.

Worst of all, the numbers were completely bogus. One hundred million is nearly the entire population of Mexico, and his high end number of 193 million would empty Central America in addition to Mexico. Demographers and actual experts scoffed when they heard, but Feinstein took the number and ran before Republicans could even fax talking points to Fox News. It's like that old saying: "The coldest Republican I ever met was a Democrat in San Francisco."

Monday, June 19, 2006

Obama: Nothing New and Another Trap for Progressives

Today AlterNet featured part of a speech by Barack Obama delivered to the Take Back America conference. It seemed to offer hope to progressives - here is a lefty website that features hundreds of articles against the war in Iraq, for workers' rights, environmentalism, reproductive rights and even many critical of the Democratic Party - such as an article today by Norman Solomon critical of Hillary Clinton. So why is Obama's speech, described as "impassioned" and offering hope, the main story on their page? Isn't he more of a Democratic Party insider than even Howard Dean? The content of his speech, besides some jabs at Bush and some stated concern for the lower class, didn't really match the ideology of alternet, so what made it relevant to their readers, other than the fact that it provided false hope?

First some of his speech: He goes on about a 105 year old woman who he met once and how she inspired him, even though he only met her briefly, once. But he waxed eloquently about all she has seen in her life - the progress and the peril - and how she still believed in the political process (she met him to tell him she voted for him). That meeting gave him hope and shook him out of his frustration with politics where he sometimes feels that
every two years or fours years maybe we do our bit and we knock on doors or pass our literature, or we go into the polling place and hold our noses and vote for the lesser of two evils, but we don't feel in our gut sometimes that politics and government is going to improve our lives. At most, we hope it does us no harm.
This was a nice story, but it just seemed to emphasize the electoral process - connecting it to an elderly woman is a worn and hackneyed political ploy, like when George Bush points to some woman from Georgia in the crowd at his State of the Union address who he met and who told him she's proud of her son who died in Iraq. He alludes to "marching" and the civil rights movement, but for him it all comes down to having hope in electoral politics and ultimately the two party system, because sometimes he even gets down and hates picking between the lesser of two evils. But then he finds hope ... in himself.
No more can we count on employers to provide health care and pensions and job training when their bottom lines know no borders. We can't expect oceans that surround America to keep us safe from attacks from our own soil.
O.K. so he lets a bit of the truth out even at a supposedly "progressive" conference. He supports the War on Terror, it's just not being handled correctly. And, maybe he is a bit of a protectionist. He goes on ...
That if you say "plan for victory" often enough and have it pasted -- the words behind you when you make a speech, that nobody's going to notice the bombings in Baghdad or the 2,500 flag-draped coffins that have arrived at Dover Air force Base.
Right, so he doesn't want a withdrawal of troops, just a better plan for victory. He makes it official later when he says:
We understand, as progressives, that we need a tough foreign policy, but we know the other side has a monopoly on the tough-and-dumb strategy; we're looking for the tough-and-smart strategy - one that battles the forces of terrorism and fundamentalism but understands that it's not just a matter of military might alone, that we've got to match it with the power of our diplomacy and the strength of our alliances and the power of our ideals, and that when we do go to war, we should be honest with the American people about why we're there and how we expect to win.
Wow, he could write speeches for Condaleeza Rice if he doesn't get the presidential nod - he did vote to confirm her after all. That's about how much his rhetoric and ideas seem to contrast with Mr. Bush's - only as much as a more nuanced member of his cabinet.

He gives us a peek at his revolutionary plan to solve the very serious health care crisis in this country. With millions uninsured and millions more underinsured, with hospitals admitting that they wouldn't be able to deal with something like a bird flu epidemic, and while hospital companies, pharmaceutical companies, and health insurance companies make record profits he proclaims:
We know we're the party - we know that as progressives we believe in affordable health care for all Americans - and that we're going to make sure that Americans don't have to choose between a health care plan that bankrupts the government and one that bankrupts families, the party that won't just throw a few tax breaks at families who can't afford their insurance, but will modernize our health care system and give every family a chance to buy insurance at a price they can afford.
Exactly what health care plan would bankrupt the government? That's the insurance company's rhetoric. Notice he mentions "the party."

I can't tear apart his speech any more or be frustrated with the actual progressives who read or heard this speech and felt inspired or hopeful. It's more of the same - and there is a decent analysis in The Nation about this, including Obama's support of the Hamilton Project - "an organization formed by Citigroup chair Robert Rubin and other Wall Street Democrats to fight back against growing populist outrage within the party."

In the end, even if he has more lefty or progressive rhetoric than some of the other Democrats, he will excite a few people and then when the primaries are over, he'll tell them to vote for Hillary Clinton or which ever conservative, pro-war candidate makes it that far along. And we'll all be forced to vote for the lesser of two evils as always. (Unless an independent, genuinely progressive 3rd party emerges which can survive attacks from liberals and conservatives of course.)
The Left and the Blathersphere from Alexander Cockburn

Find the full story here:

"In political terms the blogosphere is like white noise, insistent and meaningless, like the wash of Pacific surf I can hear most days. But MoveOn.Org and Daily Kos have been hailed as the emergent form of modern politics, the target of excited articles in the New York Review of Books.

Beyond raising money swiftly handed over to the gratified veterans of the election industry both MoveOn and Daily Kos have had zero political effect, except as a demobilizing force.

The effect on writers is horrifying. Talented people feel they have produce 400 words of commentary every day and you can see the lethal consequences on their minds and style, both of which turn rapidly to slush. They glance at the New York Times and rush to their laptops to rewrite what they just read. Hawsers to reality soon fray and they float off , drifting zeppelins of inanity."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

For Immediate Release June 14, 2006
National Lawyers Guild Condemns Attack on News Gathering
Local Prosecutors Circumvent State Journalist Protections With Federal Grand Jury

A federal grand jury continues to target a San Francisco independent journalist in an attempt to force him to turn over materials that would normally be protected by the California’s Reporter Shield Law. A second subpoena was issued to Josh Wolf by an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigations this Monday after a Federal court denied his request to quash a previous, similar subpoena. He has been ordered to testify before the Federal grand jury this Thursday at 1:15 p.m. and to produce unpublished portions of a videotape documenting a protest that occurred in San Francisco’s Mission District last year.

The National Lawyers Guild will host a press conference at noon on Thursday, June 15th in front of the Federal Building – where the grand jury will convene – 450 Golden Gate in San Francisco.

California’s shield law, according to a recent court decision on the matter, “is intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news.” In that decision, the California Court of Appeals in San Jose confirmed that the law protected internet bloggers just as it protected corporate news reporters. Despite the fact that local state prosecutors and police are already investigating criminal activity related to the Mission protest, and that there is cooperation between state and federal entities, the federal government has successfully argued that the state law should not apply. Federal protections are not as strong.

Attorney Jose Luis Fuentes, of the Oakland based Siegel & Yee firm, is representing Wolf. “My client has filmed a lot of political activity and free speech activity in the Bay Area as a journalist and this subpoena with its associated threat of jail time for noncompliance has an incredible chilling effect on his and other journalist’s freedom to gather and disseminate information to the public,” said Fuentes. Wolf, his attorneys and the Bay Area National Lawyers Guild (NLG) are alarmed and warn that this situation could lead to increased suspicion of the media by political activists or a resistance to public demonstrations for fear of unfair federal witch hunts.

Wolf also feels, “The ramifications of this case could have a deleterious effect on all journalists, both independent and those associated with the established media, as the government’s actions seek to eviscerate the state protections afforded to news gatherers under the various states’ shield laws.”

The NLG is also greatly concerned with the level of cooperation seen between San Francisco police and prosecutors and the federal government. “Particularly under the Bush Administration, with Ashcroft and now Alberto Gonzalez, we are seeing much more cooperation between the federal government and local governments,” said Carlos Villarreal, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area. “This grand jury investigation shows that greater civil liberty protections by states can easily become irrelevant when the federal government gets involved and local officials show no respect for those civil liberties.”

Monday, June 12, 2006

America's Smartest Cities

I've lived in two of them for significant portions of my life - SF and Austin. I'm actually surprised at how few people have advanced or even bachelor's degrees. Even in the highest rated big city - Seattle - only 30% of adults have bachelor's degrees, in San Francisco it's less. It's hard to believe that more than 2/3rds of the adult population in San Francisco can afford to live here without a bachelor's degree.

Friday, June 09, 2006

El Farolito Plummets 9 Points

Farolito 2A popular taqueria that inexplicably had a 100 rating from the health department for many months has suddenly been downgraded to 91. El Farolito, which is especially a favorite late at night when the few other food options at 24th Street and Mission in San Francisco are closed, is a tiny, shabby taqueria with basic burritos, tacos, quesadillas and nachos. Service is fast and the space is as clean as can be expected, but customers were still suspicious of the 100 rating.

"I've never seen a hair in my food or a roach anywhere on the premises," said Carlos Villarreal, a weekly customer and Mission resident. "I just don't think it's possible for a restaurant that small, with that much business, to get a 100 rating. So I just always assumed the health inspector got free burritos for life or something."

With a nearby McDonalds closing by 10 or 11 and a combination Chinese Food/Donut place across the street closing even earlier, El Farolito is one of the few options for the mix of hipsters, yuppies and recent immigrants from Latin America searching for a filling snack or some sustinence to help them avoid a bad hangover after leaving nearby bars late in the evening. Despite its small size and rough around the edges ambience, the food is relatively well-liked. The nachos are a bargain with a hell of a lot of deep-fried tortilla chips, meat, cheese, sour cream, avocados and jalapenos for little money; while the burritos are filling though definitely not the most sought after in the Mission.

"Sometimes the burritos have too much rice," said Villarreal.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

As Gangs and Terrorists Battle it Out, Words of Wisdom from a Devastated Father

The Minutemen, besides being mostly racist and completely xenophobic, are now embracing the role of "gang of thugs" as they challenge a Central American gang known as MS-13 to fisticuffs. Meanwhile the immigrants crossing for work or to be with families and the activists monitoring the Minutemen have a new fear, becoming an innocent victim of crossfire when these two gangs go at each other.

Then there is the war between rival terrorist groups in Iraq. I'm not talking about Sunnis versus Shiites, I'm talking about Al Qaeda versus the U.S.A. Military. Today gang U.S.A. won a major victory by taking out the rival gang's leader. As with all gang violence, it was a hollow victory for the rest of us who must live on this planet or in our neighborhoods and try to survive in the midst of all this violence, fronting and senseless killing. The U.S.A. of course is milking this one, making all sorts of claims about how we got the information and how our precision bombing took him out. The media loves it, but of course who can fact check the claims of the pentagon. They can make up the perfect 24 Episode after the fact when they have a dead terrorist on their hands, even if the war overall seems to be going very badly.

The spokesperson for the rest of us? I nominate Michael Berg, father of Nicholas Berg who was beheaded, probably by Al Zarqawi himself, in 2004. Michael, who is also a Green Party candidate for Congress in Delaware, had this to say in response to the killing of the terrorist Al Zarqawi by the terrorists Bush, Rumsfeld, et. al.:
Well, my reaction is I'm sorry whenever any human being dies. Zarqawi is a human being. He has a family who are reacting just as my family reacted when Nick was killed, and I feel bad for that. I feel doubly bad, though, because Zarqawi is also a political figure, and his death will re-ignite yet another wave of revenge, and revenge is something that I do not follow, that I do want ask for, that I do not wish for against anybody. And it can't end the cycle. As long as people use violence to combat violence, we will always have violence ... Well, you know, I'm not saying Saddam Hussein was a good man, but he's no worse than George Bush. Saddam Hussein didn't pull the trigger, didn't commit the rapes. Neither did George Bush. But both men are responsible for them under their reigns of terror.

I don't buy that. Iraq did not have al Qaeda in it. Al Qaeda supposedly killed my son.

Under Saddam Hussein, no al Qaeda. Under George Bush, al Qaeda.

Under Saddam Hussein, relative stability. Under George Bush, instability.

Under Saddam Hussein, about 30,000 deaths a year. Under George Bush, about 60,000 deaths a year. I don't get it. Why is it better to have George Bush the king of Iraq rather than Saddam Hussein?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Which Multimillionaire Will Run Against the Terminator?

Election primaries today in California. Now that I'm registered Green, I didn't have the tough decision of deciding who was the lesser evil between the Democrats running for Governor. The two multimillionaires are Phil Angelides - a geeky-looking Democratic Party favorite with endorsements from both Senators, including Princess Feinstein - and Steve Westly - the richer of the two who made his fortune off an online auction site. Would either be better than Arnold? Probably, but unless one of them says he is going to end the death penalty, decriminalize drugs, or make the entire state a "sanctuary state" for immigrants, then I just don't think my efforts are worth supporting a political party that is killing mass movements and barely taking on the right-wing, even joining them sometimes.

Building the Green Party as an alternative is definitely worth my time. I just checked the returns and Todd Chretien is ahead in the Green Party primaries to run against Feinstein for Senator. He's up against a sense of hopelessness among progressives, a massive corporate media that ignores 3rd parties or treats them as a sideshow, and of course a party that will crush any attempt to break their lesser-evil lock on the frightened liberal vote. He's also up against the "safe state" Greens who may find Todd too radical. At the very least a victory for him could push the Greens in California toward a more independent outlook.

Finally, this poster reminded me of the more reactionary in the anti-immigrant camp who describe immigration as an "invasion" and an "occupation." If they want to experience a real invasion and occupation - as those words are commonly used - they should spend a year in the shoes of the average Iraqi, if they can survive that long.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The "Opposition" Party that Must Be Stopped

The Democrats. Despite the fact they could have courted the majority of Americans who are against the war in Iraq, continue to push a pro-war line. So while anti-war liberals grit their teeth and dismiss the Green Party, Iraqis and Americans continue to die.

Then there is a woman's right to choose that is hanging by a string, already having little meaning for millions of poor women, it is about to become a distant memory despite the fact that a majority of Americans supports the right to choose. Again the liberal pro-choice groups still throw millions of dollars at Democratic candidates and kiss ass, I mean lobby politicians while playing down the need for grassroots activism and civil disobedience. So now a Democrat and a woman agrees to sign legislation that would ban abortions even in cases of rape or incest. Well, let's cross our fingers and hope a lot more Democrats win this fall.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Pentagon Clears Soldiers Who Killed Civilians

The story on CNN.

Whew. I'm glad that's settled then. Now the media can move on to the Haditha massacre and continue to call it an isolated incident. I have a question for the media though, in a top down organization like the U.S. military, why do we allow the Pentagon to investigate its own war crimes? I mean, what if officials in the Pentagon ordered the attack in question or established rules of engagement that led to it? Go liberal media!

(Two posts within minutes of each other? When it rains it pours.)
Our Crazy Empire

When a hurricane strikes a large city on our coastline, hundreds parish and thousands lose their homes in the wealthiest most powerful country in the history of the world. The National Guard can barely get water to thirsty residents. Meanwhile many of those same Guard troops are dying in a needless and senseless occupation on the other side of the planet. The few remaining troops from this force are being sent to the border with Mexico as immigrants moving to our country to work and be with family is the real threat, not the billions we are wasting on war and tax cuts for millionaires. Oh yes and conservatives want to pass a national anti-gay marriage amendment because adults who love and care about each other ought to be treated as second class citizens if they aren't of the opposite sex.

I can't help but think we are being watched by aliens a trillion miles away, not because they are planning a War of the Worlds-like invasion, but because they really like sitcoms.