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.

Monday, June 08, 2015

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

UntitledWhat 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.

Sunday, May 03, 2015


Blue Mosque
I 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 Sophia
Crisis 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 thought we'd give the Blue Mosque another try.  The line was considerably shorter by the late afternoon, though it was still about half an hour to get in. Very popular with tourists, but also a working mosque, tourists are shuffled in and kept in a limited area in the back. It's a big beautiful interior, but it's the exterior that really impresses. The courtyard provides some good views.

Despite our jet lag, we checked out two more old religious edifices that day.  The Hagia Irene would have been more impressive if it didn't have a large net, helpfully catching pigeon droppings but unhelpfully blocking the view of the ceiling, draped through its interior. The Little Hagia Sophia was pretty, and in a quiet corner of the otherwise tourist-packed neighborhood.  It was a nice way to end the day.  Plus, there were rabbits, cats, ducks and dogs on the grounds.

There seemed to be a lot of animals all over the city, mostly cats and dogs. People would put out water and food for them, but they lived on the streets. They were surprisingly clean for stray animals. We noticed that some dogs had tags in their ears, but never asked anyone about it. An English woman would tell us days later that the tagged dogs had been vaccinated for rabies.

The next morning the plan was to take a tram to Eminönü and catch a ferry out to the Western Neighborhoods.  At the ferry dock we asked a gentleman at the information desk about how to do that, and he encouraged us to take a bus instead. In retrospect it was good advice. It meant we spent the day walking down hill from sight to sight, rather than uphill.

Fresco at the Chora Church
The bus dropped us off a couple of blocks away from the Kariye Museum (or Chora Church) – our first stop for the day. Unfortunately a major part of the church was closed for renovations, but what remained to see was still beautiful.

We walked through a regular, non-touristy, neighborhood to get to the Fethiye Museum, (formerly Pammakaristos Church, then a mosque, now a museum – a common historic sequence in the former Ottoman Empire).  The grounds were lovely and there were just two other people there, Russian tourists I think.

Continuing through the non-touristy neighborhood, which I found to be almost as interesting as many of the attractions within it, we then found the Church of St. Mary of the Mongols – atypical as it was never converted to a mosque and is not now a museum. It wasn't Sunday, so it was closed.

Finally at our last stop in this neighborhood: the Church of St. George. According to Wikipedia:
Since about 1600, it has been the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the senior patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church and [recognized] as the spiritual leader of the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians.
We may have seen said spiritual leader as a man in vestments with lots of security entered the courtyard just after us, and another visitor, seemingly in awe, walked up to him and kissed his ring.

The inside of the church was very ornate; an entire wall seemed to be covered in gold.

We made our way to the ferry station where we encountered a phenomenon I had read about in my guide book. As we walked along a park adjoining the Golden Horn, I noticed an older man with a shoeshine kit cross a busy road into our vicinity. He started walking in front of us and one of his brushes fell out of his kit. I instinctively picked it up to hand it to him, and as I was lifting it from the concrete, I remembered that my guidebook warned of this. It is supposedly a common trick to try and get tourists to pay for a shoeshine. He quickly tried to spark up a conversation and I sternly replied, while walking quickly away, "sorry, no thank you; we have to make our ferry."

JC thought I was being incredibly rude. But I explained it to him later. "See, I'm not a bad person."

Finally on that ferry we meant to take that morning; now going back towards where we started. We passed Eminönü to disembark at the Karakoy stop (not to be confused with Kadikoy). We rode the Tünel up to the Beyoglu neighborhood and the crowded Itsikal Caddesi or Itsikal Avenue; we then transferred to the Metro to get to Taksim Square. It happened to be the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide – or the day when it is commemorated – and there were some people with Armenian flags in the square, though my understanding was a ceremony was to take place later that night. Perhaps the authorities were worried about whether more of a protest was planned, since they had two large police tanks with water cannons driving about the area.

We walked down Itsikal and took a break on a side street for some Turkish coffee. We declined the shisha because we could smell the smoke all around us anyway; it smelled good, don't get me wrong, but I'm not big on filling my lungs with smoke regardless of the sweet, sweet flavor.

We continued. Checked out a Catholic church, and later made it to a church that interested JC – the Crimea Memorial Church. He's (historically anyway) Episcopalian, and this was an old Church of England church, so that's why. More animals – some ducks, which we followed, and then a turtle came out to greet us.

We checked out Galata Tower, a bit further down the hill. We were essentially going down the hill the Tünel had taken us up a couple of hours earlier. Finally at the bottom, we got on a crowded tram back to our home base.

The most famous, and probably most visited, landmark in Istanbul (I'm pretty sure) is the Hagia Sophia (the big one). It was built in 537, has a huge dome, and has been a church and an imperial mosque. It is now a museum attracting swarms of tourists. We were aware of this, as we'd passed it multiple times. Our plan was to get there before it opened.

It worked! We were among the first handful of people to enter the museum the morning of our 3rd full day in Istanbul. We spent 2 or 3 hours walking around and marveling at the enormous structure, the uncovered mosaics, the huge stone columns, and many intricate details. It's one of the few places with crowds of tourists I would return to upon a second trip to the city.

I can't say the same for the Topkapi Palace. You have to go, of course; and the grounds were beautiful, the harem stunning; but there were tons of people there – mostly part of tours (please, please, do not go anywhere in a big tour group, ever). People were from all over too; and there are very different standards of waiting in line in different parts of the world, it seems. Like, why take your place at the end of the line, when you can walk right up to the front? Also, my legs were sore and I was dehydrated; so I wasn't in a good place to begin with.

After all of that, we grabbed some dinner and I did some solid stretches back at our hotel.

Speaking of that hotel, we had free breakfast every morning – rolls, cheese, fruit, yogurt, olives, and such. And it was served on the rooftop, which had sweeping views of the Bosphorus and Hagia Sophia. We started day 4 with that breakfast and more stretches. Then headed to the Bazaar District.

We started at what I thought was the Süleymaniye Mosque. It had to be it, I thought, because it was huge, it had the tombs, the adjoining structures. It had, in my opinion, the most beautiful interior of the mosques we had visited. But then we walked out the other side and saw a Roman aqueduct. "Oh, I know where we are! This isn't the Süleymaniye Mosque. It's this other one."

Guidebook out and flipping through some pages: we were at the Sehzade Mosque – another big, imperial mosque, but not as famous or visited as the Süleymaniye. I still thought it was amazing and would not recommend skipping it.

We walked on to the real Süleymaniye Mosque. It was huge – it's the biggest in Istanbul – but, in my opinion, its interior was not as beautiful as Sehzade and its exterior not as beautiful as the Blue. The grounds were of more interest, however, and we ate lunch at a restaurant that used to be the Mosque's soup kitchen. Some older English ladies arrived and asked for wine. When they were told that there was no alcohol, because it was part of the mosque, they complained.  Annoying.

Oh, and Johnny got a lesson in Islam from an imam. Apparently giving food and money to people who have neither is a requirement in Islam. So, we ended up giving a fair amount of Turkish Lira to people who approached us on the street. Many were refugees from Syria.

Continuing our day, we walked past the University and made our way to the Grand Bazaar. Maybe we'd find the carpet we wanted to buy. We also wanted a lamp, maybe some Turkish Delight. It was Sunday, but everyone was out and about and it seemed everything was open. The Grand Bazaar, however, was closed. The guidebook didn't mention this. Seems pretty important. Fine, we spent our money at lesser bazaars.

Day 5 was our last. What was left? We had checked off all the major attractions. We didn't get to see the Grand Bazaar, but shopping was not our main interest anyway. We could take a cruise up the Bosphorus, but we didn't want to miss going to the Asian side of the city. I had never been to Asia. So we hopped on a ferry for Kadikoy (not to be confused with Karakoy).

That neighborhood is more of a neighborhood to experience, rather than a collection of sites to visit. We didn't have much time, so I can't say too much about it. We wandered about, ate some lunch, and were back on the ferry by early afternoon.

Back at Eminönü, where many ferries stop, we wanted to transfer to a ferry to get to Eyüp. We decided we would spend the last part of our last day there. When we got to the ferry, it had just left and the next would not come for an hour. Not wanting to wait, we hopped on a cab.

I'm pretty sure we beat the ferry. And, Eyüp was very cool. There were some tourists, but most seemed to be non-Westerners, perhaps because of how important the mosque and tomb there are to Muslims. Locals were enjoying a beautiful day, kids were running around, men were debating something or other. We discovered that there was a cable car up to the Pierre Loti Cafe. My guidebook mentioned walking up, through a cemetery, to the cafe; but nothing about a cable car. We were tired and it was warm, so we took advantage of the cable car.

At the cafe it was Turkish coffee for me and tea for JC. That was followed by a stroll downhill through the cemetery and many cats. Using transport to get to the top of hills and walking down was a technique that serves us well. And more stray animals – it was a continuation on a theme.

Back in the neighborhood adjoining the mosque, locals were out eating and shopping. We bought some scarves and caught the ferry back to Eminönü. We were lucky to get a tram that was turning around at our stop during rush hour, so it was empty when we got on.

That was it. The next day we were back on a 13 hour plane ride to SFO; our adventures in Istanbul were a memory.

Me at at the Blue Mosque

Monday, April 20, 2015

Why I'm Not Ready for Hillary

First of all because it’s April 2015 and the fucking primaries aren’t until next year.  We had like a 5 month break following the mid-terms before MSNBC started spending half their time talking about Hillary eating a burrito or whatever.

More importantly, I'm Not Ready for Hillary because I'm not ready to accept a candidate who may very well continue immigration policies that have meant record numbers of deportations under Obama and increasing reliance on detention in privately-run facilities.  Hillary said of Central American children crossing into the country that they should be sent back, in contrast to a more compassionate stance by President Obama.  

I'm not ready to simply cheer-lead for a candidate who is backed by Wall Street, and who's billionaire donors aren't concerned about her populist rhetoric because it's "just politics."

I'm not ready for a candidate who may be opposed to the recent Iran nuclear deal and for whom, "everything that she thinks and everything she has done and will do will always be for the good of Israel." This wouldn't be that surprising since she voted for military action against Iran when she was a Senator, oh and of course she voted for the war with Iraq.

She was also supportive of her husband's gutting of welfare and opposed gay marriage until 2013! And she's taken a bunch of other horrible positions that would make liberals start alarmist petitions if done by Republicans.

So as a leftist, I'm just not ready for her.  There is so much more important politics to engage in, especially this far ahead of any election.  Our energy should be going into police accountability and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement.  The Fight for 15 is galvanizing low-wage workers and we should be organizing ourselves, if we are low-wage workers, and otherwise supporting this move towards a living wage.  If Greece truly rejects austerity politics it will be huge, and we need to mobilize to support that turn to the left.  California is still letting corporate water-hogs off the hook, and we need to push back ... and so on.  I'm ready for all of that.