President Barack Obama

High time


DRUGS With polls showing that California voters are probably poised to approve Proposition 19 in November and finally fully legalize marijuana, this should be a historic moment for jubilant celebration among those who have long argued for an end to the government’s costly war on the state’s biggest cash crop. But instead, many longtime cannabis advocates — particularly those in the medical marijuana business — are voicing only cautious optimism mixed with fear of an uncertain future.

Part of the problem is that things have been going really well for the medical marijuana movement in the Bay Area, particularly since President Barack Obama took office and had the Justice Department stop raiding growing operations in states that legalized cannabis for medical uses, as California did through Proposition 215 in 1996.

In San Francisco, for example, more than two dozen clubs form a well-run, regulated, taxed, and legitimate sector of the business community that has been thriving even through the recession (see “Marijuana goes mainstream,” Jan. 27). The latest addition to that community, San Francisco Patient and Resource Center (SPARC), opened for business on Mission Street on Aug. 13, an architecturally beautiful center that sets a new standard for quality control and customer service.

“This is the culmination of a 10-year dream. We’re going to have a real community center for patients with a great variety of services,” longtime cannabis advocate Michael Aldrich, who cofounded SPARC along with Erich Pearson, told us at the club, which includes certified laboratory testing of all its cannabis and free services through Quan Yin Healing Arts Center and other providers.

Yet cash-strapped government agencies have been hastily seeking more taxes and permitting fees from the booming industry, particularly since the ballot qualification of Prop. 19, an initiative that was written and initially financed by Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee that would let counties legalize and regulate even recreational uses of marijuana.

Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, and other California cities have placed measures on the November ballot to tax marijuana sales, and the Oakland City Council last month approved a controversial plan to permit large-scale cannabis-growing operations on industrial land (see “Growing pains,” July 20).

In an increasingly competitive industry, many small growers fear they’ll be put out of business and patient rights will suffer once Prop. 19 passes and counties are free to set varying regulatory and tax systems, concerns that have been aired publicly by advocates ranging from Prop. 15 author Dennis Peron to Kevin Reed, founder of the Green Cross medical marijuana delivery service.

“It’s tearing the medical marijuana movement apart,” Reed told the Guardian. “It’s a little scary that we’re going to go down an uncertain road that may well scare the hell out of mainstream America.” Indeed, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder — who ended the raids on medical marijuana growers — has said the feds may reengage with California if voters legalize recreational weed.

Yet Lee said people shouldn’t get distracted from the measure’s core goal: “The most important thing is to stop the insanity of prohibition.” He expects the same jurisdictions that set up workable systems to deal with medical marijuana to also take the lead in setting rules for other uses of marijuana.

“It will be just like medical marijuana was after [Prop.] 215, when a few cities were doing it, like San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley,” Lee told us. “And for cities just coming to grips with medical marijuana, it will be clean-up language that clarifies how they can regulate and tax it.”

Indeed, the tax revenue — estimated to be around $2 billion for the state annually, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office — has been the main selling point for the Yes on 19 campaign (whose website is and Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, who authored bills to legalize marijuana and has current legislation to set up a state regulatory framework if Prop. 19 passes.

“It makes it more seductive,” Ammiano said of revenue potential from legalized marijuana. “I’ve been working with Betty Yee [who chairs the California Board of Equalization, the state’s main taxing authority] on a template and structure for taxing it.”

Reed and others say they fear taxes at the state and local levels will drive up the price of marijuana, as governments have done with tobacco and alcohol, and hinder access by low-income patients. But Ammiano scoffed at that concern: “Even with the tax structure on booze, there was no diminishing of access to booze.”

Pearson said he believes Prop. 19 will actually help the medical marijuana industry. “Anything that takes the next step toward legalizing recreational use only helps medical cannabis,” he said. Pearson moved to California to grow medical marijuana more than 10 years ago, at a time when the federal government was aggressively trying to crush the nascent industry.

“When you’re packing up and running from the DEA all the time, you’re not thinking about the quality of the medicine. You’re trying to stay out of jail,” Pearson said. “Now, we can be transparent, which is huge.”

Like most dispensaries, SPARC is run as a nonprofit cooperative where most of the growing is done by member-patients. Speaking from his office, with its clear glass walls in SPARC’s back room, Pearson said the Obama election ushered in a new openness in the industry.

“Everything is on the books now, whereas before nothing was on the books because it would be evidence if we got busted … We are allowed to have banks accounts; we’re allowed to use accountants; I can write checks; we can talk to government officials,” Pearson said. “It helps with the public and governments, where they see the transparency, to normalize things.”

He also said Prop. 19 will only further that normalizing of the industry, which ultimately helps patients and growers of medical marijuana. SPARC, for example, gives free marijuana to 40 low-income patients and offers cheap specials for others (opening day, it was an eighth of Big Buddha Cheese for $28) because others are willing to pay $55 for a stinky eighth of OG Kush.

“Our objective here is to bring the cost of cannabis down. We can subsidize the medicine for people who can’t afford it with sales to people who can,” Pearson said, noting that dynamic will get extended further if the legal marketplace is expanded by Prop. 19.

While Pearson strongly supports the measure, he does have some minor concerns about it. “The biggest concern is if local governments muddy the line between medical and nonmedical,” Pearson said, noting that he plans to remain exclusively in medical marijuana and develop better strains, including those with greater CBD content, which doesn’t get users high but helps with neuromuscular diseases and other disorders.

Reed also said he’s concerned that patients who now grow their own and sell their excess to the clubs to support themselves will be hurt if big commercial interests enter the industry. Yet for all his concerns, Reed said he plans to reluctantly vote for Prop. 19 (which he doesn’t believe will pass).

“They’ll get my vote because not having enough yes votes will send the wrong message to law enforcement and politicians [that Californians don’t support legalizing marijuana],” Reed said, noting that would rather see marijuana uniformly legalized nationwide, or at least statewide.

Attorney David Owen, who works with SPARC, said the momentum is now there for the federal government to revisit its approach to marijuana. But in the meantime, he said Prop. 19 has come along at a good time, given the need for more revenue and more legal clarity following the federal stand-down.

And even if the measure isn’t perfect, he said those who have devoted their lives to legalizing marijuana will still vote for it: “A lot of these folks, intellectually and emotionally, will have a hard time voting against Prop. 19.”

The Crisis Down Under


Joseph E. Stiglitz is University Professor at Columbia University and a Nobel laureate in Economics.

CANBERRA – The Great Recession of 2008 reached the farthest corners of the earth. Here in Australia, they refer to it as the GFC – the global financial crisis.

Kevin Rudd, who was prime minister when the crisis struck, put in place one of the best-designed Keynesian stimulus packages of any country in the world. He realized that it was important to act early, with money that would be spent quickly, but that there was a risk that the crisis would not be over soon. So the first part of the stimulus was cash grants, followed by investments, which would take longer to put into place.

Rudd’s stimulus worked: Australia had the shortest and shallowest of recessions of the advanced industrial countries. But, ironically, attention has focused on the fact that some of the investment money was not spent as well as it might have been, and on the fiscal deficit that the downturn and the government’s response created.

Of course, we should strive to ensure that money is spent as productively as possible, but humans, and human institutions, are fallible, and there are costs to ensuring that money is well spent. To put it in economics jargon, efficiency requires equating the marginal cost associated with allocation (both in acquiring information about the relative benefits of different projects and in monitoring investments) with the marginal benefits. In a nutshell: it is wasteful to spend too much money preventing waste. 

While the focus for the moment is on public-sector waste, that waste pales in comparison to the waste of resources resulting from a malfunctioning private financial sector, which in America already amounts to trillions of dollars. Likewise, the waste from not fully utilizing society’s resources – the inevitable consequence of not having had such a quick and strong stimulus – exceeds that of the public sector by an order of magnitude.

For an American, there is a certain amusement in Australian worries about the deficit and debt: their deficit as a percentage of GDP is less than half that of the US; their gross national debt is less than a third.

Deficit fetishism never makes sense – the national debt is only one side of a country’s balance sheet. Cutting back on high-return investments (like education, infrastructure, and technology) just to reduce the deficit is truly foolish, but especially so in the case of a country like Australia, whose debt is so low. Indeed, if one is concerned with a country’s long-run debt, as one should be, such deficit fetishism is particularly silly, since the higher growth resulting from these public investments will generate more tax revenues.

There is another irony: some of the same Australians who have criticized the deficits have also criticized proposals to increase taxes on mines. Australia is lucky to have a rich endowment of natural resources, including iron ore. These resources are part of the country’s patrimony. They belong to all the people. Yet in all countries, mining companies try to get these resources for free – or for as little as possible.

Of course, mining companies need to get a fair return on their investments. But the iron-ore companies have gotten a windfall gain as iron-ore prices have soared (nearly doubling since 2007). The increased profits are not a result of their mining prowess, but of China’s huge demand for steel.

There is no reason that mining companies should reap this reward for themselves. They should share the bonanza of higher prices with Australia’s citizens, and an appropriately designed mining tax is one way of ensuring that outcome.

This money should be set aside in a special fund, to be used for investment. The country will inevitably become poorer as it depletes its natural resources, unless the value of its human and physical capital increases.

Another issue playing out down under is global warming. If not a climate-change denier, the previous Australian government led by John Howard joined President George W. Bush in being a climate-change free rider: others would have to take responsibility for ensuring the planet’s survival.

This was especially strange, given that Australia has been one of the big beneficiaries of the Montreal convention, which banned ozone-destroying gases. Holes in the ozone layer exposed Australians to cancer-causing radiation. The international community banded together, banned the substances, and the holes are now closing. Nevertheless, the Howard government, like the Bush administration, was willing to expose the entire planet to the risks of global warming, which threaten the very existence of many island states.

Rudd campaigned on a promise to reverse that stance, but the failure of the climate-change talks in Copenhagen last December, when President Barack Obama refused to make the kind of commitment on behalf of the United States that was required, left Rudd’s government in an awkward position. The failure of US leadership has global consequences.

Citizens should consider the legacy they leave to their children, part of which is the financial debts they will pass down. But another part of our legacy is environmental. It is two-faced to claim to care about the future and then fail to ensure that the country is adequately compensated for the depletion of its resources, or ignore the degradation of the environment. It is even worse to leave our children without adequate infrastructure and the other public investments needed to be competitive in the twenty-first century.

Every country faces these issues. Sometimes, one can see them with greater clarity by observing how others are confronting them. How Australians vote in their coming election may be a harbinger of things to come. Let’s hope – for their sake and for the world’s – that they see through the rhetorical flourishes and personal foibles to the larger issues at stake.

Joseph E. Stiglitz is University Professor at Columbia University and a Nobel laureate in Economics. His latest book, Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy, is now available in French, German, Japanese, and Spanish.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.

Growing pains


The medical marijuana movement was born and raised in the Bay Area, and now the city of Oakland is poised to take the next big step forward by being the first city to explicitly allow and permit several massive cannabis cultivation facilities on industrial land, making millions of dollars in taxes in the process.

It’s the latest move in a growing trend toward Bay Area cities figuring out how to regulate and tax a booming industry that could really explode if California voters approve Proposition 19 in November, which would legalize even recreational uses of marijuana and give local jurisdictions more authority to control it.

Pot growing has long been the murkiest realm within an increasingly legitimate and professional medical marijuana industry (see “Marijuana goes mainstream,” 1/27/10). While Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco all have well-defined and regulated systems governing the 30 licensed cannabis dispensaries in those three cities, most of their growers are underground operations with no official oversight.

Public officials on both sides of the bay — who almost universally voice their support for the medical marijuana industry — say there can be problems associated with unregulated grows. Jerry-rigged wiring can pose a fire danger, and valuable crops can be targeted by criminals. Growers can be raided by police even when they have valid paperwork. And cash-strapped city governments aren’t able to tax or regulate an industry that has kept on booming throughout the Great Recession.

“There is no system to regulate production,” Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan, who has authored cultivation regulations, along with co-sponsor Council member Larry Reid. Although the city may lack resources to enforce new requirements on growers, Kaplan believes growers will sign up voluntarily: “Every time we’ve created a permitting system, people have sought to use it. They want to be above board.”

The measure would permit growing facilities of more than 100,000 square feet, charging them each a $5,000 permit fee and $211,000 “regulatory fee,” as well as a gross receipts tax to be determined. The Oakland City Council approved the measure July 20 after Kaplan agreed to have staff also create a permit system for smaller growers, with both regulatory systems slated to take effect Jan. 1, 2011.  Kaplan has also proposed a November ballot measure to increase the current gross receipts tax on cannabis-related businesses from 1.8 percent now to up to as high as 11.2 percent, which the council is set to consider July 22.

Kaplan’s cultivation proposal initially generated a backlash from some small growers and Harborside Health Center, Oakland’s largest dispensary, because of its focus on creating mega-facilities that could monopolize the market and hurt the small growers who have been at the heart of the medical marijuana movement.

“All we’re asking for is a level playing field and a fair opportunity to compete with these factories,” attorney James Anthony, who represents Harborside and its network of growers, told the Guardian. “As medical cannabis comes into the light, it’s still capitalism out here in the world.”

Oakland developer and business person Jeff Wilcox, who is new to the marijuana industry, has been aggressively pushing to create a massive cannabis growing and manufacturing facility on his 7.4-acre warehouse complex near the Oakland Coliseum, covering 172,000 square feet over four buildings.

On May 21, Wilcox and his company, AgraMed, released a report showing how the facility could produce about 21,100 pounds of high-grade marijuana per year, generating about $60 million in gross sales and more than $2 million a year in taxes for Oakland, assuming a 3 percent tax rate (or about $3.5 million if the rate is set at 5 percent). The report was based partly on information gathered from independent local growers.

“By closing the loop and regulating the entire industry, we can ensure the healthy production and use of cannabis, and ensure its legitimate standing in our society. We’re working with public health and public safety agencies to make sure we do this right,” Wilcox, who did not return Guardian calls for comment, said in his press release.

Anthony said he was wary of Oakland politicians handing so much market power to one person: “It’s not for the government to pick the winners and losers through a regulatory scheme.” But he does agree that growers are overdue for regulation. “It’s time for cultivation to come into the light.”

State law requires growers to be part of the collective that uses or distributes the product, and the facility proposed by Wilcox would contract with many collectives, a model that hasn’t been tested in the courts yet. In fact, Council member Nancy Nadel has expressed concern that what she called “a structurally flawed proposal” could be on shaky legal ground (City Attorney John Russo, who has endorsed Prop. 19, did not return our calls with questions about the Oakland measure’s legality. His office also has not issued an opinion because it conflicts with federal law).

“Though state law allows for the operation of medical marijuana cooperatives by primary caregivers and patients, it does not legitimize large-scale growing operations. Just in the past few months, the DEA has raided two medical cannabis testing labs in Colorado. We need to retain a level of good sense and discretion,” Nadel wrote in a July 13 memo to her council colleagues, urging them to hold off on approving the measure until after voters decide Prop. 19 in November.

Yet Kaplan told us that even though the council moved the legislation forward, staff would continue to work through its myriad regulatory details and no permits will be issued until January. She also agreed that “it’s really important for Prop. 19 to pass,” giving Oakland more explicit authority to regulate the industry.

Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee, who bankrolled the campaign to place Prop. 19 on the ballot, supports Kaplan’s regulations (although he told us he would like to see a greater focus on small cultivators) and called regulation of growers “a historic next step” that further legitimizes the industry.

“I think this will help Prop. 19 pass and help Oakland be ready when it does,” Lee said, voicing support for Wilcox and other business people who seek to join this movement. “We need everyone we can get on our side.”

Most polls show that Californians are split fairly evenly on Prop. 19. Even so, several California cities are already making preparations to use the new taxation and regulation authority that the measure would bestow.

Lee said Sacramento, Oakland, Stockton, Long Beach, San Jose, and Berkeley all have been working on cannabis regulatory schemes for voters to approve. For example, on July 13, the Berkeley City Council placed a measure on the November ballot proposing a gross receipts tax of 2.5 percent on medical marijuana and a 10 percent tax on recreational pot, as well as a system for permitting up to 10 medical marijuana growing operations.

“State law is really a mess at the moment and there are a number of things happening now that violate state law,” Lee told us. “That’s why Prop. 19 is going to be a cleanup law to deal with a lot of the stuff that’s going on now.”

Kaplan, who has been working on her ordinance for almost a year and got help from students in UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, agreed that the current legal requirements for growing medical marijuana are unclear: “There isn’t a right way [to permit cultivation facilities] under state law. The law isn’t clear.”

Attorney David Owen, who has researched medical marijuana laws for the new SPARC dispensary in San Francisco and for local growers, echoed the point. “The short answer is that we know so little about the boundaries of state law.”

Prop. 215, the 1996 measure that legalized medical marijuana, was broadly written and then codified largely by Senate Bill 420, portions of which were later struck down by the courts. But enforcement of marijuana laws has primarily been done by the federal government, which backed off after President Barack Obama took office, leaving state and local officials to regulate a fast-growing industry using standards that the courts have yet to clarify.

“We don’t have appellate court decisions to interpret a lot of key terms in state law,” Owen said. “We don’t really know what state law says.”

For example, Owen said the widely used term “dispensary” doesn’t even appear in state law. Local jurisdictions often define how much pot a patient can grow. For example, Oakland allows groups of three patients to grow up to 72 plants in 96 square feet. But most of those standards haven’t been held up by the courts. And even though state law says growers must be part of the same collective as their patients, Owen said, “In theory, you could have a collective with 37 million members.”

Although Owen said a large scale doesn’t necessarily make a marijuana operation illegal, he said permitting a 170,000 square foot facility is bound to draw attention from the feds: “I guarantee the DEA will be at their doorstep the day they open.”

Council member Nadel said Oakland could be liable then as well, noting that it would be permitting a facility that would meet about 60 percent of the entire Bay Area’s demand for 35,000 pounds of pot per year. “Thus, to prevent diversion to illegal markets and collective members outside of the cultivation collective (which would violate state law), the city must act responsibly and set a limit on the total size of cultivation allowed in Oakland. While the memo from the Council members discusses the alternative method [permitting a smaller capacity], it does not recognize the problems with projecting sales to dispensaries outside the Bay Area,” Nadel wrote.

Kaplan said the ordinance is a starting point that can be further refined by staff. But she emphasized the need to regulate the industry, warning of risks to Oakland residents. Her measure’s staff report attributes at least seven house fires, eight robberies, seven burglaries, and two homicides to unregulated growing operations in 2008 and 2009. Kaplan also said she worries about the possibility of “another Oakland Hills fire.”

Yet Kaplan, who is running for mayor, also told us the taxes are important in a city that was recently forced to fire 80 police officers. “Given Oakland’s budget crisis,” she said, “the revenue for the city is no small thing.”

Anti-war groups disappointed with Obama’s speech


By Kristen Peters

Bay Area-based anti-war organizations were disappointed that President Barack Obama reaffirmed his support for war in Afghanistan while ousting the commanding general there, saying the doomed and dangerous military intervention is a bigger problem than the generals involved in executing it.

General Stanley McChrystal was today relieved from his post by the president for exhibiting an openly contemptuous view of the Obama administration and other civilian leaders in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, replacing him with General David Petraeus, pending approval from Congress.

“There is a change in personnel, but not a change in policy,” President Obama said during his announcement in the Rose Garden.

That was precisely what the anti-war crowd didn’t want to hear.

“Although there is a personnel change, there is no change in the occupation of Afghanistan,” Nancy Mancias of Code Pink told the Guardian. “The troops are still present. Local groups need to remain focused on bringing our troops home, halt funding and stop the continued occupation overflowing into Pakistan.”

Instead of finding red flags in McChrystal’s insubordinate comments or the RS article’s quotes from disgruntled soldiers and dubious diplomats, Obama simply used the occasion to mix up the staff hierarchy running a war that few think is going well.

“It has proven an incredible waste of resources,” Richard Becker, regional director of the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition, told the Guardian. “No one can pretend that anything resembling progress has been made. In fact, it’s just the opposite.”

More deaths have occurred over the last 10 months than have taken place in the last five years of combat. In addition to the staggering number of casualties accompanying the war, it also boasts a hefty price tag. According to organizational leaders, expenditure on the war has just exceeded the $1 trillion mark with no end in sight.

“The war — which will soon enter its tenth year – has meant a complete disaster for the people of our nation, a continuation of disasters for U.S. policy, and has inflicted disaster on the people of Afghanistan,” Becker said.

Lefty protesters greet Obama in SF


President Barack Obama arrives in San Francisco this afternoon (5/25) for a fundraiser at the Fairmont Hotel, where he’ll be greeted by protesters from at least two realms of the progressive movement: immigrant rights activists unhappy with his administration’s reluctance to take on immigration reform, and anti-war activists angry that Obama has continued President George W. Bush’s pro-war and anti-civil liberties policies.

Both groups have been increasingly unhappy with a president whose candidacy they supported for the most part. In particular, the coalition of immigrant rights groups that will gather on the steps of Grace Cathedral starting at 3:30 pm say Obama hasn’t done enough to counter rising nativist extremism or Arizona’s SB1070, and that his administration has essentially nullified sanctuary city ordinances by extending the federal government’s Secure Communities, which allows immigration officials direct access to information on arrestees in jails throughout the country (see our story in this week’s Guardian for more).

“We are gathering to lament the intolerance and extremism that are setting back the national discussion on immigration. We need real solutions that uphold our values of fairness and compassion, and we pray for the President to take leadership to stop this heart-breaking separation of families,” Rev. Debbie Lee of Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights said in a press release.

Meanwhile, Code Pink, World Can’t Wait, and other groups will also gather near the hotel starting at 3:30 to protest what it calls ongoing war crimes by the administration, including the escalation of war in Afghanistan, predator drone assassinations in Pakistan, Obama’s continued use of extraconstitutional war powers claimed by Bush, opposition to efforts to expose and redress imperial excesses by the Bush Administration, and denial of due process rights to those labeled enemy combatants.

World Can’t Wait has even made a point of calling on Obama supporters to hold him accountable with the slogan, “Crimes are crimes not matter who does them.”

Attendees to Obama’s Fairmont fundraiser are shelling out $17,500 each to Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, while an even higher roller affair will be held later that night at the home of Ann and Gordon Getty.

Will Arizona trigger even worse federal immigration laws?


During interviews with civil and immigrant rights advocates about the complicated dynamics around immigration, several expressed concern that Arizona won’t be the ultimate game changer. Instead, they worried that it could result in the creation of an even worse federal immigration system.  And President Barack Obama, who has been accused of not doing enough to push ahead with federal immigration reform since he came into office, came under renewed fire last week, when he told reporters that “may not be an appetite” in Congress to deal with immigration, after a tough legislative year.

At the time, Obama had already denounced the Arizona bill as “misguided” and outlined a series of steps that he believes needs to happen to bring millions of undocumented residents out of the shadows.

“We are a nation of immigrants,” Obama said. “But we are also a nation of laws. The truth is that 11 or 12 million folks, we’re gonna have to make them take responsibility for what they did. And the way to do that is to make them register, make them pay a fine, make them learn English, make them take responsibility for the fact that they broke the law.”

But when the president praised as “an important first step” an April 29 framework for reform that Sen. Charles Schumer and a handful of other Democratic senators put together within a week of SB 1070’s passage, civil rights advocates voiced concerns.

The Democratic senators proposal includes efforts to enhance border security and create fraud-resistant social security cards. But some immigrant advocates fear such steps will lead to a less democratic society, without addressing the underpinning causes of undocumented immigration such as international trade agreements and the appetite of U.S. employers for cheap, but legally unprotected and easily disposable, migrant workers.

Latino advocate Robert Lovato, who co-founded and led the successful “Basta Dobbs!” campaign, isn’t convinced that SB 1070 will be the ultimate game changer.

“SB 1070 gives a national platform to the kind of sinister policies that extremist hate groups like FAIR and the Minute Men have been pushing for some time in Arizona,” he warned. “Those policies that have been in effect at the border are now going statewide and perhaps nationally.”

“The Obama administration has expressed brief and tepid concerns but has not done anything to demolish the legal foundation on which these racist policies are built,” Lovato continued.

Lovato points to the Bush administration’s flawed Section 287(g) program, which authorizes local and state law enforcement officials to be enforcers of federal immigration law, and has led to serious civil rights abuses and public safety concerns.

‘Now Obama and the Democrats are going to try and pin the tail of failure for federal immigration reform on the Republicans, ” Lovato claimed, criticizing, amongst other things, the Democrats’ national I.D. card program proposal.

Lovato believes the immigrant rights community and Latinos will rise to the occasion and face “unprecedented sinister hate.”
But he is less confident in spineless Democratic officials.
‘Immigration is a thorny issue, especially for spineless Democrats,” Lovato said. “That Mayor Gavin Newsom would waffle and water down boycott attempts is no surprise.”

Lovato recalled how national Latino organizations begged and pleaded with Newsom not to require local probation officers to refer youth to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) before they had their day in court, a policy Newsom ordered in July 2008, when he was running for governor.
Lovato said Newsom’s subsequent failure to respond to the community and their concerns “reflects an utter lack of leadership.”

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union is urging senators to press Department of Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano to terminate the 287(g) programs, and to make sure that lawmakers don’t acquiesce on civil liberties and privacy concerns in their rush to respond to demands for comprehensive immigration reform.

ACLU legislative counsel Joanne Lin told the Guardian that while Northern California does not have any official 287(g) agreements in place, Newsom’s flawed juvenile immigrant policy is part of a bigger and equally worrisome trend.

“The city’s sanctuary ordinance collapses criminal justice and the law enforcement system into one process,” Lin said. “And if we look at the federal Secure Communities Initiative that is now in over 100 jails, primarily those in southwest border districts, everyone is fingerprinted and run through a DHS and FBI database. It’s basically a way for DHS to i.d. everyone who is booked, whether they are here lawfully or their charges as are subsequently dropped or dismissed, and to fast track deportation.”

Welcome to Elm Street: Part Five


In honor(?) of the new A Nightmare on Elm Street, we’re recapping all of the Elms so far. Find more on the Pixel Vision blog.

Here’s some friendly advice — don’t be friends with Alice. She’s a nice girl and all, but she’s kind of a getting-stabbed-to-death magnet. It’s like Greta says in Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989): “The bottom line, Alice, if anyone’s trying to hurt you, supernatural or not, they’re going to have to go through us first.” Yeah, that’s not really a problem for Freddy Krueger, who’s all too happy about dispatching Alice’s friends and lovers. Souls make him strong! Hey, remember when he was just trying to get revenge? In the words of President Barack Obama, “This shit’s getting way too complicated for me.”

Part five of the Nightmare on Elm Street series isn’t all that well-regarded, but I actually like it far more than part four. Lisa Wilcox’s Alice breaks Carol Clover’s “Final Girl” model: she has sex, she gets naked, and she survives — twice! In The Dream Child, she’s transformed from the meek and mousy victim in Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) to a kick-ass mama bear. That’s right, she’s with child. The plot is really silly, though it doesn’t matter. As Cheryl pointed out, by this point in the series we’re mostly watching for the nightmares. And the ones here are great.

Let me break it down, nightmare-by-nightmare.

“Hey, Danny, better not dream and drive!” Even though he’s all charged up and knows better, Dan (Danny Hassel), a holdover from part four, falls asleep on his way to meet Alice. He hears his mom call him an “ungrateful, unmanageable dickweed” on the radio. Don’t worry, she also calls Alice a “bimbo-slut-whore.” The car turns into Freddy, Dan loses all control, and he flies through the windshield. But wait, there’s more! Dan only thinks he’s survived — a stolen motorcycle also takes on some frightening Freddy features. Dan gets a hot fuel injection (less sexy than it sounds) and finally crashes in a fiery heap outside of the diner where Alice works. Tragic.

“Bon appétit, bitch.” Greta (Erika Anderson) may not get a death sequence as extended as Dan’s, but holy crap is it gross. In the real world, her mom is forcing her to attend a dinner party where lecherous older men ogle Greta’s model figure. You know, a day after her friend dies in a terrible accident. When Greta dozes off, she encounters Chef Freddy, who traps her in her chair and shovels unfathomable amounts of food into her mouth. Soon she’s got the chipmunk cheeks from hell — the most disturbing visual since Freddy’s sleepwalking puppet in Dream Warriors. And then Alice sees Greta in her fridge, which is bound to kill her appetite for at least a few days. Long story short: Greta chokes to death and no one even tries to intervene.

“You’re not crazy.” Well, duh, Yvonne (Kelly Jo Minter). Is everyone in these movies willfully dense? Yes, they’re slasher flicks. I’m just saying it would be nice if for once, the Final Girl’s friends believed her right away. But I digress. Diving boards are scary enough as it is, but Yvonne almost gets destroyed by one when she falls asleep in the pool. Of course, she doesn’t actually die. Instead, Yvonne gets pulled into Alice’s dream, which turns out to be a stroke of good luck. Wading in a nasty tank for a while is a whole lot better than what the rest of Alice’s friends face. Though I’m guessing Yvonne feels pretty awkward about the whole “not trusting her bestie” thing.

“Faster than a bastard maniac, more powerful than a loco-madman, it’s Super Freddy!” Not gonna lie, I totally have a crush on dweeby comic artist Mark (Joe Seely). He also has The Dream Child’s best nightmare, because it’s by far the most absurd — and because I’m pretty sure it was inspired by A-Ha’s “Take On Me” video. Mark is pulled into his comic, and at first, he’s sort of OK with it. In the comic, Mark can become the Phantom Prowler, a dark and deadly vigilante who says things like, “Time to die, you scar-faced, limp-dick!” But movie monsters are just as resilient as superheroes. Even after getting shot repeatedly, Freddy is still able to overtake Mark, slashing the crap out of him. Well, a two-dimensional paper version of Mark. And not a single papercut joke. Color me impressed.

There’s other great stuff here. I love all the unnerving flashbacks to Freddy’s conception: something about the combination of an innocent nun and 100 horny maniacs freaks me out more than Krueger himself. We also get Alice’s creepy offspring Jacob (Whitby Hertford) — no offense to the actor, but he’s just … weird-looking. Oh, and Alice travels inside her own womb, where Freddy is hanging out on her uterine wall. As one does. Part five may not be as good as parts one through three, but it’s way more tolerable than Freddy’s Dead (1991), which Cheryl will be slogging through next.

Roundup of depressing environmental news

At the Guardian, we’re busy putting together our annual Green Issue to commemorate Earth Day. It’s great that recycling and general concern for the planet have been on the rise over the past 40 years, but I can’t help but notice a few Prozac-worthy reports on the environmental front recently.

First there was the bomb President Barack Obama dropped on environmentalists last week with plans to open up vast areas off the coast of the eastern seaboard and Alaska for offshore oil drilling.

Then there was the news that a host of Texas oil companies, in league with the Tea Party (Teabaggers?) and a group named for the guy who dreamed up Prop 13, are bankrolling an effort to suspend California’s landmark global warming legislation, AB 32, with a ballot initiative. (A few brave souls have launched a Boycott Valero campaign against Valero Oil Co., a major source of funding for the initiative to suspend AB 32.)

And finally, another tragic reminder that extracting and burning coal is a perilous way to keep the lights on: An explosion at a West Virginia coal mine owned by Massey Energy has killed six mine workers and trapped 21. This is why some communities in the coal-mining regions of Southern Appalachia think of themselves as residents of a national “sacrifice zone” for U.S. energy demand.

Let’s all hope the upcoming Green Festival in San Francisco this weekend is more inspiring than these headlines.

The Green Party’s nadir


This should be a great time for the Green Party. Its namesake color is being cited by every corporation and politician who wants to get in good with the environmentally-minded public; voters in San Francisco are more independent than ever; and progressives have been increasingly losing the hope they placed on President Barack Obama.
But the Green Party of San Francisco — which once had an influence on city politics that was disproportionate to its membership numbers — has hit a nadir. The number of Greens has steadily dwindled since its peak in 2003; the party closed its San Francisco office in November; and it has now lost almost all its marquee members.
Former mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez, school board member Jane Kim, community college board member John Rizzo, and Planning Commissioner Christina Olague have all left the party in the last year or so. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi — a founding member of the Green Party of California and its last elected official in San Francisco — has also been openly struggling with whether to remain with an organization that doesn’t have much to offer him anymore, particularly as he contemplates a bid for higher office.
While a growing progressive movement within the Democratic Party has encouraged some Greens to defect, particularly among those with political ambitions, that doesn’t seem to be the biggest factor. After all, the fastest growing political affiliation is “Decline to State” and San Francisco now has a higher percentage of these independent voters than any other California county: 29.3 percent, according to state figures.
Democratic Party registration in San Francisco stood at 56.7 percent in November, the second-highest percentage in the state after Alameda County, making this essentially a one-party town (at last count, there were 256,233 Democrats, 42,097 Republicans, and 8,776 Greens in SF). Although Republicans in San Francisco have always outnumbered Greens by about 4-1, the only elected San Francisco Republican in more than a decade was BART board member James Fang.
But Republicans could never have made a real bid for power in San Francisco, as Gonzalez did in his electrifying 2003 mayoral run, coming within 5 percentage points of beating Gavin Newsom, who outspent the insurgent campaign 6-1 and had almost the entire Democratic Party establishment behind him.
That race, and the failure of Democrats in Congress to avert the ill-fated invasion of Iraq, caused Green Party membership to swell, reaching its peak in San Francisco and statewide in November 2003. But it’s been a steady downward slide since then, locally and statewide.
So now, as the Green Party of California prepares to mark its 20th anniversary next month in Berkeley, it’s worth exploring what happened to the party and what it means for progressive people’s movements at a time when they seem to be needed more than ever. Mirkarimi was one of about 20 core progressive activists who founded the Green Party of California in 1990, laying the groundwork in the late 1980s when he spent almost two years studying the Green Party in Germany, which was an effective member of a coalition government there and something he thought the United States desperately needed.
“It was in direct response to the right-wing shift of the Democrats during the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations. It was so obvious that there had been an evacuation of the left-of-center values and policies that needed attention. So the era was just crying out woefully for a third party,” Mirkarimi said of the Green Party of California and its feminist, antiwar, ecological, and social justice belief system.
But he and the other founding Greens have discovered how strongly the American legal, political, and economic structures maintain the two-party system (or what Mirkarimi called “one party with two conservative wings”), locking out rival parties through restrictive electoral laws, control of political debates, and campaign financing mechanisms.
“I’m still very impassioned about the idea of having a Green Party here in the United States and here in California and San Francisco, vibrantly so. But I’m concerned that the Green Party will follow a trend like all third parties, which have proven that this country is absolutely uninviting — and in fact unwelcoming — of third parties and multiparty democracy,” Mirkarimi said.
Unlike some Greens, Mirkarimi has always sought to build coalitions and make common cause with Democrats when there were opportunities to advance the progressive agenda, a lesson he learned in Germany.
When he worked on Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign — a race that solidified the view of Greens as “spoilers” in the minds of many Democrats — Mirkarimi was involved in high-level negotiations with Democratic nominee Al Gore’s campaign, trying to broker some kind of leftist partnership that would elect Gore while advancing the progressive movement.
“There was great effort to try to make that happen, but unfortunately, everyone defaulted to their own anxieties and insecurities,” Mirkarimi said. “It was uncharted territory. It had never happened before. Everyone who held responsibility had the prospect of promise, and frankly, everybody felt deflated that the conversation did not become actualized into something real between Democrats and Greens. It could have.”
Instead, George W. Bush was narrowly elected president and many Democrats blamed Nader and the Greens, unfairly or not. And Mirkarimi said the Greens never did the post-election soul-searching and retooling that they should have. Instead, they got caught up in local contests, such as the Gonzalez run for mayor — “that beautiful distraction” — a campaign Mirkarimi helped run before succeeding Gonzalez on the board a year later.
Today, as he considers running for mayor himself, Mirkarimi is weighing whether to leave the party he founded. “I’m in a purgatory. I believe in multiparty democracy,” Mirkarimi said. “Yet tactically speaking, I feel like if I’m earnest in my intent to run for higher office, as I’ve shared with Greens, I’m not so sure I can do so as a Green.”
That’s a remarkable statement — in effect, an acknowledgement that despite some success on the local level, the Green Party still can’t compete for bigger prizes, leaving its leaders with nowhere to go. Mirkarimi said he plans to announce his decision — about his party and political plans — soon.
Gonzalez left the Green Party in 2008, changing his registration to DTS when he decided to be the running mate of Nader in an independent presidential campaign. That move was partly necessitated by ballot access rules in some states. But Gonzalez also thought Nader needed to make an independent run and let the Green Party choose its own candidate, which ended up being former Congress member Cynthia McKinney.
“I expressly said to Nader that I would not run with him if he sought the Green Party nomination,” Gonzalez told us. “The question after the campaign was: is there a reason to go back to the Green Party?”
Gonzalez concluded that there wasn’t, that the Greens had ceased to be a viable political party and that it “lacks a certain discipline and maturity.” Among the reasons he cited for the party’s slide were infighting, inadequate party-building work, and the party’s failure to effectively counter criticisms of Nader’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns.
“We were losing the public relations campaign of explaining what the hell happened,” he said.
Gonzalez was also critical of the decision by Mirkarimi and other Greens to endorse the Democratic Party presidential nominees in 2004 and 2008, saying it compromised the Greens’ critique of the two-party system. “It sort of brings that effort to an end.”
But Gonzalez credits the Green Party with invigorating San Francisco politics at an important time. “It was an articulation of an independence from the Democratic Party machine,” Gonzalez said of his decision to go from D to G in 2000, the year he was elected to the Board of Supervisors.
Anger at that machine and its unresponsiveness to progressive issues was running high at the time, and Gonzalez said the Green Party became one of the “four corners of the San Francisco left,” along with the San Francisco Tenants Union, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which helped set a progressive agenda for the city.
“Those groups helped articulate what issues were important,” Gonzalez said, citing economic, environmental, electoral reform, and social justice issues as examples. “So you saw the rise of candidates who began to articulate our platform.” But the success of the progressive movement in San Francisco also sowed the seeds for the Green Party’s downfall, particularly after progressive Democrats Chris Daly, Tom Ammiano, and Aaron Peskin waged ideological battles with Mayor Gavin Newsom and other so-called “moderate Democrats” last year taking control of the San Francisco Democratic Party County Central Committee.
“Historically, the San Francisco Democratic Party has been a political weapon for whoever was in power. But now, it’s actually a democratic party. And it’s gotten progressive as well,” Peskin, the party chair, told us. “And for a lot of Greens, that’s attractive.”
The opportunity to take part in that intra-party fight was a draw for Rizzo and Kim, both elected office-holders with further political ambitions who recently switched from Green to Democrat.
“I am really concerned about the Democratic Party,” Rizzo, a Green since 1992, told us. “I’ve been working in politics to try to influence things from the outside. Now I’m going to try to influence it from the inside.”
Rizzo said he’s frustrated by the inability of Obama and Congressional Democrats to capitalize on their 2008 electoral gains and he’s worried about the long-term implications of that failure. “What’s going on in Washington is really counterproductive for the Democrats. These people [young, progressive voters] aren’t going to want to vote again.”
Rizzo and Kim both endorsed Obama and both say there needs to be more progressive movement-building to get him back on track with the hopes he offered during his campaign.
“I think it’s important for progressives in San Francisco to try to move the Democratic Party back to the left,” Kim, who is considering running for the District 6 seat on the Board of Supervisors, told us. “I’ve actually been leaning toward doing this for a while.”
Kim was a Democrat who changed her registration to Green in 2004, encouraged to do so by Gonzalez. “For me, joining the Green Party was important because I really believed in third-party politics and I hope we can get beyond the two-party system,” Kim said, noting the dim hopes for that change was also a factor in her decision to switch back.
Another Green protégé of Gonzalez was Olague, whom he appointed to the Planning Commission. Olague said she was frustrated by Green Party infighting and the party’s inability to present any real political alternative.
“We had some strong things happening locally, but I didn’t see any action on the state or national level,” Olague said. “They have integrity and they work hard, but is that enough to stay in a party that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere?”
But many loyal Greens dispute the assertion that their party is on the rocks. “I think the party is going pretty well. It’s always an uphill battle building an alternative party,” said Erika McDonald, spokesperson for the Green Party of San Francisco, noting that the party plans to put the money it saved on its former Howard Street headquarters space into more organizing and outreach. “The biggest problem is money.”
Green Party activist Eric Brooks agrees. “We held onto that office for year and year and didn’t spend the money on party building, like we should have done a long time ago,” he said. “That’s the plan now, to do some crucial party organizing.”
Mirkarimi recalls the early party-building days when he and other “Ironing Board Cowboys” would canvas the city on Muni with voter registration forms and ironing boards to recruit new members, activities that fell away as the party achieved electoral successes and got involved with policy work.
“It distracted us from the basics,” Mirkarimi said. Now the Green Party has to again show that it’s capable of that kind of field work in support of a broad array of campaigns and candidates: “If I want to grow, there has to be a companion strategy that will lift all boats. All of those who have left the Green Party say they still support its values and wish it future success. And the feeling is mostly mutual, although some Greens grumble about how their party is now being hurt by the departure of its biggest names.
“I don’t begrudge an ambitious politician leaving the Green Party,” said Dave Snyder, a member of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District Board of Directors, and one of the few remaining Greens in local government.
But Snyder said he won’t abandon the Green Party, which he said best represents his political values. “To join a party means you subscribe to its ideals. But you can’t separate its ideals from its actions. Based on its actions, there’s no way I could be a member of the Democratic Party,” Snyder said.
Current Greens say many of President Obama’s actions — particularly his support for Wall Street, a health reform effort that leaves insurance companies in control, and the escalation of the war in Afghanistan — vindicate their position and illustrate why the Green Party is still relevant.
“The disillusionment with Obama is a very good opportunity for us,” McDonald said, voicing hope they Green can begin to capture more DTS voters and perhaps even a few Democrats. And Brooks said, “The Obama wake-up call should tell Greens that they should stick with the party.”
Snyder also said now is the time for Greens to more assertively make the case for progressive organizing: “The Democrats can’t live up to the hopes that people put on them.”
Even Peskin agrees that Obama’s candidacy was one of several factors that hurt the Green Party. “The liberal to progressive support for the Obama presidency deflated the Greens locally and beyond. In terms of organizing, they didn’t have the organizational support and a handful of folks alienated newcomers.”
In fact, when Mirkarmi and the other Green pioneers were trying to get the party qualified as a legal political party in California — no small task — Democratic Party leaders acted as if the Greens were the end of the world, or at least the end of Democratic control of the state Legislature and the California Congressional delegation. They went to great lengths to block the young party’s efforts.
It turns out that the Greens haven’t harmed the Democrats much at all; Democrats have even larger majorities at every legislative level today.
What has happened is that the Obama campaign, and the progressive inroads into the local party, have made the Greens less relevant. In a sense, it’s a reflection of exactly what Green leaders said years ago: if the Democrats were more progressive, there would be less need for a third party.
But Mirkarimi and other Greens who endorsed Obama see this moment differently, and they don’t share the hope that people disappointed with Obama are going to naturally gravitate toward the Greens. Rizzo and Kim fear these voters, deprived of the hope they once had, will instead just check out of politics. “They need to reorganize for a new time and new reality,” Rizzo said of the Greens.
Part of that new reality involves working with candidates like Obama and trying to pull them to the left through grassroots organizing. Mirkarimi stands by his decision to endorse Obama, for which the Green Party disinvited him to speak at its annual national convention, even though he was one of his party’s founders and top elected officials.
“After a while, we have to take responsibility to try to green the Democrats instead of just throwing barbs at them,” Mirkarimi said. “Our critique of Obama now would be much more effective if we had supported him.”
Yet that’s a claim of some dispute within the Green Party, a party that has often torn itself apart with differences over strategy and ideology, as it did in 2006 when many party activists vocally opposed the gubernatorial campaign of former Socialist Peter Camejo. And old comrades Mirkarimi and Gonzalez still don’t agree on the best Obama strategy, even in retrospect.
But they and other former Greens remain hopeful that the country can expand its political dialogue, and they say they are committed to continuing to work toward that goal. “I think there will be some new third party effort that emerges,” Gonzalez said. “It can’t be enough to not be President Bush. People want to see the implementation of a larger vision.”

Family’s deportation illustrates why Campos’ amendment is needed


The case of MUNI bus driver Charles Washington, whose wife Tracey and her 13-year old son face deportation on Friday after the boy tried to take 46 cents from another kid, helps illustrate why Sup. David Campos spent over a year working with local immigration experts to figure out a way to amend the city’s sanctuary policy. Under the Campos amendment, which Mayor Gavin Newsom has refused to implement, kids like Charles Washington’s 13-year-old stepson would only be referred to US immigration and Customs Enforcement after a juvenile justice determined that they were actually guilty of a felony.

Unfortunately, the city’s juvenile probation department, under Mayor Gavin Newsom’s orders, and running scared of rightwing nuts who have unsuccesfully tried to sue the city, has refused to implement Campos amendment. Campos, who spent over a year working with immigration experts to develop a measured and legally defensible amendment, has called a hearing to determine why juvenile probation is refusing to implement his amendment, which a super majority of the Board supported last year,thereby overriding Newsom’s mayoral veto.

And now, with the face of the Washingtons all over the local media, city officials are either rushing to clarify their positions, or avoiding reporters altogether, as the Washingtons fight to keep their family intact–and in San Francisco.

Sgt Tomioka of the San Francisco police Department left me a message this morning to clarify that the SFPD doesn’t refer immigrant youth to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“That is not a function of the SFPD,” Tomioka said in a voice message.
And she’s right. That job is left to the city’s probation officers. But the city’s probation officers are required, under Newsom’s policy, to refer kids to ICE if the arresting SFPD officer charges them with a felony. So, in that sense the SFPD is involved in the ICE referral process, albeit indirectly.

As the SFPD’s Sgt. Wilfred Williams explained, SFPD officers make the arrests, write up the charges and transport suspected juvenile felons to the Juvenile Justice Center.

And it’s at the Juvenile Justice Center that members of the city’s Juvenile Probation Department are required, under Newsom’s orders, to pick up the phone and refer kids to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when kids they suspect of being undocumented are booked with felony charges.

In the case of Charles Washington’s skinny 13-year-old stepson, the kid was arrested by the SFPD on Jan. 25 and charged with felony assault, extortion and robbery. I haven’t seen a police report of the incident, yet. But Washington said it was based on what the other kid’s family told the police, and that there were no witnesses to the incident. And felony charges are all that’s needed, under Newsom’s current policy to require a probation officer to refer a kid to ICE.

And once juveniles are in the hands of ICE, a nightmarish Catch 22 kicks in, in which local protections no longer apply, and ICE’s deportation orders can trump any legal immigration application, including green card applications.

In the case of the Washingtons, the family was applying for green cards–applications that cost thousands of dollars. And US Citizenship and Immigration Services had agreed to review their case. But then came their son’s arrest by the SFPD who charged him with three felonies and transported him to Juvenile Probation, whose officers were required to refer him to ICE. And ICE, according to Washington, then used his son “as bait” to get his wife to show up at their office, where they slapped an electronic monitoring device on her ankle and gave her and her son their deportation marching orders.

Angela Chan, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, and the lawyer helping the Washingtons’ negogiate their way through this immigration nightmare, clarified that USCIS isn’t refusing to consider their case, because of the stepson’s referral.
Instead, the problem is that USCIS  won’t be able to finish that process before Friday, when the Washingtons are due to be deported.

“Unfortunately, the mother and her child will be deported by ICE well before their greencard application can be processed by USCIS, which can take months,” Chan said.

Further compounding the Washingtons’ legal problems is the fact that their 13-year-old is supposed to appear before a juvenile justice on Monday (March 8) to review the charges against him.Chan said it’s likely that a juvenile justice would review the boy’s case and reduce the charges, probably requiring him to do six months informal probation. In other words, the felony charges that led to his referral to ICE likely wouldn’t be upheld in court.

Now, under the amendment that Sup. Campos authored and the Board approved last fall, but Newsom is refusing to implement, the boy’s probation oficer would not be required to refer him to ICE if the felony charges aren’t upheld. In which case, the boy would go free, his parents could continue applying for green cards, and the family could remain intact

But since ICE want to deport Washington’s stepson before his March 8 hearing, the boy won’t have his day in court. Even worse, he will likely be slapped with a bench warrant by the juvenile justice department–the kind of Catch 22 detail that will play havoc with future attempts to apply for green cards from outside the US.

I asked Lori Haley of US ICE what’s the big hurry to deport the Washingtons by Friday.
“They overstayed their visas,” was all Haley would say, along with the comment that “We don’t confirm when someone is going to be deported.”

Asked who was responsible for telling the Washingtons that they needn’t rush to apply for green cards, which is what Charles Washington said happened, Haley referred me to UC CIS, whose spokesperson Sharon Rummery said it was impossible to ascertain if a contractor with the US government misinformed the family.

‘I can’t say that it’s true or not, because it was a private conversation between one of the operators who works on our customer service line,” Rummery said. “Our operators are highly trained and are backed up by our trained officers,” Rummery continued, confirming that the operators are contractors, not US CIS staff.

Rummery offered that folks who are deported to their native country can file for a waiver of deportation and also a waiver of a ban on reentering the country.

“They have to demonstrate that an immediate relative, who has legal status, in this case the husband, will suffer severe hardship,” Rummery said. “When they are sent away, then they can apply for a waiver and return with a green card.”

But Rummery said she could not provide a reliable time estimate as to how long all this would take, nor did she know how the stepson’s felony charges and possible bench warrant would impact the family’s chances of getting a green card through this process.

So, I called Sens. Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and President Barack Obama’s press office to see if any of them are aware of this case and whether they would consider a private bill. As the Asian Law Caucus’ Chan explained to me, earlier today, “A private bill is when a bill is passed to grant immigration relief for an individual.  It doesn’t change SF’s policy or the way the feds are bullying us, but it may help this family.
No one in Boxer, Feinstein, Pelosi or Obama’s press offices was aware of this case when I called, but they all said they’d look into it,and the folks in Feinstein’s office sounded horrified that a kid could be deported thanks to a schoolyard fight over 46 cents. So, maybe there is hope after all.

To date, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s new media spokesperson Tony Winnicker hasn’t returned my calls.

But I did read that Winnicker had told the Chronicle that it was “‘an unfortunate situation for the family, and we’re sympathetic to it.”

“But [Winnicker] said the mayor is actually protecting ‘hard-working, law-abiding residents of this city, including undocumented residents’ by reporting youths after felony arrests,” the Chronicle continued.

Somehow, I don’t think that Charles Washington, a hard-working law-abiding resident of San Francisco, would agree that anybody is protecting him by deporting his wife and her two kids. Especially since the 13-year old hasn’t even had his day in court to determine if he is even guilty as charged.

And while the Chron wrote that Washington “hopes to visit them in Australia,” the Chron’s reporter must have left the press conference by the time Washington explained  how often he is likely to get to visit Australia. As Washington noted,  if you are deported, you typically have to wait 3-10 years to visit the US again.
“So, if it’s a 10-year ban, I’ll get to visit them 3 times, and if it’s a 3-year ban, I’ll get to visit them once,” Washington, who drives a MUNI bus, said.

“I refer to them as my sons, because I’m still going to be their dad,” continued Washington, who is praying for a miracle.

In the meantime, Sup. David Campos is holding a March 4 hearing before the Board’s rules committee to explore why the City’s Juvenile Probation Department has refused to implement Campos’ amendment to Newsom’s sanctuary policy. Up unitl now, Newsom’s office has claimed that taking this extra precaution would violate the US Constitution. I wonder how many families like the Washingtons are going to have to be destroyed before someone in the Mayor’s Office decides that it’s time to revaluate their position and prevent local families from get ripped apart, simply because their kids, green cards or not, insist on acting like kids.



SF leaders condemn SEIU tactics


San Franciscans seem to be turning against Service Employee International Union and its national President Andy Stern this week, first with the vote by SEIU Local 1021 members to oust Stern’s leadership team, and now with a letter signed by a broad array of top political officials condemning SEIU tactics against the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

As the Guardian reported last year, NUHW President Sal Rosselli and his management team broke away from SEIU’s United Healthcare Workers after a protracted conflict that culminated in a hostile SEIU takeover of the local, placing it under a Stern-controlled trusteeship. NUHW had criticized Stern’s autocratic leadership style and undemocratic methods while SEIU accused Rosselli of using union funds to undermine Stern’s decisions.

Since then, a majority of SEIU-UHW workers statewide has filed petitions asking to decertify with SEIU-UHW and affiliate with NUHW, which has won seven of the nine elections that have been held so far. So SEIU filed various complaints with the National Labor Relations Board to try to block those elections, while NUHW has complained of worker harassment and ballot meddling by SEIU.

Earlier today, SEIU-UHW sent out a press release touting an NLRB ruling that clears the way for elections at 51 facilities around the state covering 6,845 voters, blaming NUHW for “violating members’ democratic rights” in opposing those elections.

But NUHW leaders say SEIU-UHW has been “cherry-picking” selected sites where they think their chances of winning are good and keeping their NLRB complaints in place to block other sites, often dividing up bargaining units in the process to raise fears in workers that they might lose bargaining clout if they switch unions. NUHW is a relatively small organization compared to the massive SEIU.

NUHW leaders say they want a fair, up-or-down vote among all of the SEIU-UHW members statewide who have asked for elections, and they’ve asked SEIU to sign a Fair Election Agreement to prevent harassment and intimidation, something that SEIU often asks employers to sign.

Supporting that request is an open letter signed by 116 San Francisco political leaders from across the spectrum, including every member of the Board of Supervisors except Sup. Carmen Chu, Assembly members Tom Ammiano and Fiona Ma, Sen. Mark Leno, Democrat Party chair Aaron Peskin and nine other members of the DCCC, all four major candidates for the Dist. 8 Board of Supervisors seat, United Educators of San Francisco President Dennis Kelly, and representatives from a board array of unions and grassroots organizations, including UNITE-HERE, POWER, Young Workers United, Chinese Progressive Association, Coleman Advocates, and many others.

Interestingly, in addition to his critics on the left within the labor movement, Stern is also being criticized by conservatives right now after President Barack Obama appointed him to his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

The Guardian has forwarded the letter and allegations to SEIU-UHW officials and is awaiting a response, which I’ll post in the comments section when I hear back.


The letter reads:

WE, THE UNDERSIGNED community leaders of San Francisco, are deeply troubled by allegations that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) committed multiple, serious violations of state labor law during the union representation election between SEIU United Healthcare Workers – West (SEIU-UHW) and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) for 10,000 Fresno County homecare workers this June.

These allegations, made in sworn testimony before the California Public Employment Relations Board, include that SEIU officials directed staff to open, mark, and alter workers’ ballots; threaten the deportation of immigrants; and tell workers they would suffer the loss of wages, benefits and hours to scare them into voting for SEIU. The complaint alleges further that SEIU organizers physically removed ballots from workers’ mailboxes and homes.

Caregivers in San Francisco have complained of similar intimidation and harassment at the hands of SEIU officials trying to block union representation elections requested by them and tens of thousands of other California healthcare workers who have petitioned to join NUHW.

Over the next year, as thousands of San Francisco homecare workers, private sector nursing home workers, and private sector hospital workers make their choice for union representation between SEIUUHW and NUHW, we are committed to see that these workers can make their decision democratically, without intimidation, harassment, threats or coercion of any kind, from any party.

NUHW officials have communicated to us their willingness to enter into Fair Election Agreements, which are common in California’s healthcare industry, and which SEIU officials have long championed throughout the nation, to govern their campaign conduct and protect caregivers’ freedom of choice in their upcoming union representation elections.

Therefore, we are asking that you and San Francisco’s healthcare employers join NUHW in negotiating Fair Election Agreements to establish ground rules for these elections and guarantee that workers can choose their representatives for themselves. Please know that regardless of your decision, we will stand united to ensure that San Francisco’s healthcare workers have the fair elections they deserve.

Robert Skidelsky: The big bank fix


If reformers are to win, they must be prepared to fight the world/s most powerful vested interest

By Robert Skidelsky 

Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords, is Professor emeritus of political economy at Warwick University, author of a prize-winning biography of the economist John Maynard Keynes, and a board member of the Moscow School of Political Studies.

LONDON – Two alternative approaches dominate current discussions about banking reform: break-up and regulation. The debate goes back to the early days of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” which pitted “trust-busters” against regulators. 

In banking, the trust-busters won the day with the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which divorced commercial banking from investment banking and guaranteed bank deposits. With the gradual dismantling of Glass-Steagall, and its final repeal in 1999, bankers triumphed over both the busters and the regulators, while maintaining deposit insurance for the commercial banks. It was this largely unregulated system that came crashing down in 2008, with global repercussions.

At the core of preventing another banking crash is solving the problem of moral hazard – the likelihood that a risk-taker who is insured against loss will take more risks. In most countries, if a bank in which I place my money goes bust, the government, not the bank, compensates me. Additionally, the central bank acts as “lender of last resort” to commercial banks considered “too big to fail.” As a result, banks enjoying deposit insurance and access to central bank funds are free to gamble with their depositors’ money; they are “banks with casinos attached to them” in the words of John Kay.

The danger unleashed by sweeping away the Glass-Steagall barrier to moral hazard became clear after Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail in September 2008. Bail-out facilities were then extended ad hoc to investment banks, mortgage providers, and big insurers like AIG, protecting managers, creditors, and stock-holders against loss. (Goldman Sachs became eligible for subsidized Fed loans by turning itself into a holding company). The main part of the banking system was able to take risks without having to foot the bill for failure. Public anger apart, such a system is untenable.

Premature rejection of bank nationalization has left us with the same two alternatives as in 1933: break-up or regulation. Taking his cue from Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, President Barack Obama has proposed a modern form of Glass-Steagall.

Under the Obama-Volcker proposals, commercial banks would be forbidden to engage in proprietary trading – trading on their own account – and from owning hedge funds and private-equity firms. Moreover, they would be limited in their holding of derivative instruments, and Obama has suggested that no commercial bank should hold more than 10% of national deposits. The main idea is to reduce the risks that can be taken by any financial institution that is backed by the federal government.

The alternative regulatory approach, promoted by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman and the chairman of Britain’s Financial Service Authority, Adair Turner, seeks to use regulation to limit risk-taking without changing the structure of the banking system. A new portfolio of regulations would increase banks’ capital requirements, limit the debt that they could take on, and establish a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to protect naïve borrowers against predatory lending.

This is not an either-or matter. In testimony to the Senate Banking Committee in early February, MIT’s Simon Johnson endorsed the Volcker approach, but also favored strengthening commercial banks’ capital ratios “dramatically” – from about 7% to 25% – and improving bankruptcy procedures through a “living will,” which would freeze some assets, but not others.

Many details of the Obama package are unlikely to survive (if, indeed, the plan itself does). But there are powerful arguments against the principles of his approach. Critics point out that “plain old bad lending” by the commercial banks accounted for 90% of banks’ losses. The classic case is Britain’s Royal Bank of Scotland, which is not an investment bank.

The commercial banks’ main losses were incurred in the residential and commercial housing market. The remedy here is not to break up the banks, but to limit bank loans to this sector – say, by forcing them to hold a certain proportion of mortgages on their books, and by increasing the capital that needs to be held against loans for commercial real estate.

Moreover, many countries with integrated banking systems did not have to bail out any of their financial institutions. Canada’s banks were not too big to fail – just too boring to fail. There is nothing in Canada to rival the power of Wall Street or the City of London.  This enabled the government to swim against the tide of financial innovation and de-regulation. It is countries like the US and Britain, with politically dominant financial sectors competing to take over financial leadership of the world, that suffered the heaviest losses.

This is the point that the well-intentioned regulators miss. At root, the battle between the two approaches is a question of power, not of technical financial economics. As Johnson pointed out in his Congressional testimony, “solutions that depend on smarter, better regulatory supervision and corrective action ignore the political constraint on regulation and the political power of big banks.”

Such proposed solutions assume that regulators will be able to identify excess risks, prevent banks from manipulating the regulations, resist political pressure to leave the banks alone, and impose controversial corrective measures “that will be too complicated to defend in public.” They also assume that governments will have to the courage to back them as their opponents accuse them of socialism and crimes against freedom, innovation, dynamism, and so on. In fact, this chorus of abuse has already started, led by Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd Blankfein.

There is another interesting parallel with the New Deal. Roosevelt got the Glass-Steagall Act through Congress within a hundred days of his inauguration. Obama has waited over a year to suggest his bank reform, and it is unlikely to pass. This is not just because the banking crisis in 1933 was greater than today’s crisis; it is because much more powerful financial lobbies now stand between pen and policy. If reformers are to win, they must be prepared to fight the world’s most powerful vested interest.

Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords, is Professor emeritus of political economy at Warwick University, author of a prize-winning biography of the economist John Maynard Keynes, and a board member of the Moscow School of Political Studies.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.

The “jobs” shell game


Written with Nima Maghame

While many San Francisco city officials have been trying to figure out how to close a projected budget deficit of more than $520 million, Mayor Gavin Newsom has spent the last month trying to make that spending gap even larger by aggressively pushing a variety of business tax cuts that economists say will do little to improve the local economy and could actually make it worse.

Newsom first proposed his so-called “local economic stimulus package” a year ago during his ill-fated run for governor, just as President Barack Obama was pushing his own economic stimulus plan. But unlike the federal government’s $787 billion plan, about a third of which involved tax cuts demanded by conservatives, Newsom proposed to cut local business taxes while also deeply slashing local government spending and laying off hundreds of city workers.

Most economists say that’s a terrible idea. In fact, a report issued at the time by Moody’s Investor Services made it clear that every dollar of direct government spending adds about $1.60 into the economy (or $1.73 if it’s on food stamps, the most stimulative spending government can make), whereas business tax cuts add only about $1 to the economy for every dollar spent.

We clashed with the Mayor’s Office at the time on our Politics blog (see “Mayor Newsom doesn’t understand economics,” 2/13/09), with Newsom’s spokesperson telling us the mayor was relying on the input of City Economist Ted Egan. But when we interviewed Egan about the issue, he agreed that it’s a bad idea to slash government spending to pay for tax cuts.

“We were in no way saying you should cut taxes to stimulate the economy, particularly if it means reducing government spending,” Egan told us then. And when we asked directly whether it’s better for San Francisco’s economy for the city to directly spend a dollar on payroll or to give that dollar away in a private sector tax break, he told us, “The consensus among economists is that most of the time government spending stimulates the economy more.”

The Board of Supervisors basically ignored Newsom’s proposal. But he revived it last month, expanding the proposals with even more private sector subsidies and making them the centerpiece of his Jan. 13 State of the City speech, publicly pushing it since then with a series of public events at businesses located in the city.

And this time — with the local economy still slow, projected city budget deficits bigger than ever, and little serious talk about how the city can bring in more money — it appears the proposals will be the subject of a series of hearings before Board of Supervisors’ committees in the coming weeks.

Newsom’s tax cut proposals include a proposal to waive the 1.5 percent payroll tax (the city’s main business tax) for all new hires; extend and expand the payroll tax exemption for biotech companies (see “Biotech’s bonanza,” p. 12); give small businesses tax credits for their spending on health plans; and allow developers to pass one-third of their affordable housing in-lieu fees onto future homeowners.

Newsom and his Press Secretary Tony Winnicker have spoken euphorically about the proposals, saying they’re desperately needed to spur the local economy. “We believe that enacting these tax incentives, particularly the payroll tax credit for new hires, is one of the single biggest things we can do for economic growth,” Winnicker said.

Despite repeated questions about the economists’ concerns over financing tax cuts with government spending cuts, we couldn’t get them to address the tradeoff directly. “The mayor will support critical public services,” was all Winnicker would say about the deep cuts that Newsom is expected to announce in his June 1 budget.

Sup. John Avalos, who chairs the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, expressed more skepticism about the mayor’s proposals. “Do tax breaks have the intended effect of stimulating the economy? As we underfund government services, are we getting a net gain or are we getting something taken away? For the very small businesses in my district, it’s going to be trickle-down economics. It’s very unrelated and unmeasurable in benefit,” he told us.

David Noyola, board aide to President David Chiu, said his boss is supporting the biotech tax credit but reserving judgment on the rest. “It’s going to be a cost-benefit analysis,” Noyola said. “When we’re talking about jobs, we’re talking about public and private sector jobs, always.”

While Egan’s economic analysis predicts tax cuts will encourage some economic growth, even he is circumspect about the good it will do, particularly without finding a way to avoid deep cuts in city spending. “The truth of the matter is that our stimulus efforts are small because the city has relatively small power to affect the local economy,” Egan told us.

That’s the consensus economic opinion. Huge federal spending can help a national economy a little bit, but local economies are just different animals that local governments are largely powerless to really alter, particularly through tax cuts.

“I agree with Egan: city government has little power over the local economy,” Mike Potepan, an urban development economist at San Francisco State University, told the Guardian.

Both economists agree that tying tax cuts to job creation or development stimulus is better than general tax cuts, but that neither is good if it means laying off more city workers.

“Research shows that by cutting taxes you have more business activity where studies show it is likely to effect employment,” Potepan said. “On the other side, you have to think about revenue. Cities are going to have to balance their budgets, which could mean a cut in services.”

Author Greg LeRoy expresses a more critical perspective in his book The Great American Jobs Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation (1995, Berrett-Koehler), amassing evidence from economic studies and CEO surveys that corporate tax breaks, even those tied to new job creation, have almost no effect on private companies’ decisions about where to locate and whether to hire.

“How can companies get away with this? Because the system is rigged. Corporations have it down to a science. They have learned how to chant ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ to win huge corporate tax breaks — and still do whatever they wanted all along,” LeRoy writes. “That’s the Great American Jobs Scam: an intentionally constructed system that enables corporations to exact huge taxpayer subsidies by promising quality jobs — and lets them fail to deliver. The other benefit often promised — higher tax revenues — often proves false as well.”

While proposing to forgo collecting millions of dollars in payroll taxes (the Controller’s Office is still working on a projected total for the tax cut package), the Mayor’s Office also wants to spur development of new housing with a proposal that would delay collection of needed affordable housing money by more than a decade.

After hearing mostly from a large crowd of desperate developers and construction workers during a Jan. 21 hearing on the proposal, the Planning Commission approved the package on a 4-3 vote, with the mayor’s appointees in agreement and the board’s appointees in dissent. It will be considered by the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee sometime after Feb. 12.

The most controversial part of the fee reform package involves reducing the fee developers pay to support affordable housing by 33 percent, then charging a 1 percent transfer tax to subsequent buyers of those homes. Egan estimates developers would save almost $20,000 per housing unit, and that it would take an average of 16 years for the city to recover that money. But for high-rise luxury condos, the city would eventually recover about $27,000 per unit.

“It’s a classic make-an-investment-now-to-get-more-later strategy,” Michael Yarne, who crafted the policy for the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development at Newsom’s direction, told the Guardian.

“If it makes it feasible for projects to be started, then it is worth passing,” Tim Colen, a representative of San Francisco Housing Action, said at the Planning Commission hearing, expressing hope that it will help create desperately needed construction jobs and new market rate housing.

But affordable housing advocates and some progressives criticize the policy as completely backward, saying that affordable housing development is desperately needed now, during these tough economic times, rather than a policy that encourages more market rate housing and bails out bad investments made at the height of the real estate bubble.

“What the city needs to do is directly build affordable housing, for which there is a demand,” affordable housing activist Calvin Welch told us. “The problem is that the banks don’t want to lend these guys money because they know nobody can afford to buy houses at the prices that these guys are demanding.”

Debra Walker, who is running for supervisor from District 6 and voted against the proposal when it came before the Building Inspection Commission (the sole vote on a commission dominated by mayoral appointees), agrees.

“The whole argument is that it stimulates development, but it doesn’t,” Walker said, arguing that the incremental gains (about 25 housing units per year, Egan estimates) will be offset by delayed affordable housing construction. “There would be more economic stimulus by using the fee to build more affordable housing.”

Instead, it simply shifts resources to favored entities: from home owners to developers, in the case of the affordable housing fees, or in the case of the tax credits, from the public to the private sector. But Newsom’s office just doesn’t see it that way.

“The Guardian believes in protecting public sector employees over private sector employees,” was how Winnicker formulated our understanding of what the economists are saying. “Most people don’t work for the city, and if we can support private sector jobs, that adds to sales tax revenues and benefits the economy. Despite a short-term impact of the tax credit, that’s a benefit.”

Adam Lesser contributed to this report


Joseph Stiglitz: Muddling Out of Freefall


Here is our monthly installment of Joseph E. Stiglitz’s Unconventional Economic Wisdom column from the Project Syndicate news series. Stiglitz is University Professor at Columbia University and the winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics. His new book is Freefall.

NEW YORK – Defeat in the Massachusetts senatorial election has deprived America’s Democrats of the 60 votes needed to pass health-care reform and other legislation, and it has changed American politics – at least for the moment. But what does that vote say about American voters and the economy?

It does not herald a shift to the right, as some pundits suggest. Rather, the message it sends is the same as that sent by voters to President Bill Clinton 17 years ago: “It’s the economy, stupid!” and “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” Indeed, on the other side of the United States from Massachusetts, voters in Oregon passed a referendum supporting a tax increase.

The US economy is in a mess – even if growth has resumed, and bankers are once again receiving huge bonuses. More than one out of six Americans who would like a full-time job cannot get one; and 40% of the unemployed have been out of a job for more than six months.

As Europe learned long ago, hardship increases with the length of unemployment, as job skills and prospects deteriorate and savings gets wiped out. The 2.5-3.5 million foreclosures expected this year will exceed those of 2009, and the year began with what is expected to be the first of many large commercial real-estate bankruptcies. Even the Congressional Budget Office is predicting that it will be the middle of the decade before unemployment returns to more normal levels, as America experiences its own version of “Japanese malaise.” 

As I wrote in my new book Freefall, President Barack Obama took a big gamble at the start of his administration. Instead of the marked change that his campaign had promised, he kept many of the same officials and maintained the same “trickle down” strategy to confront the financial crisis. Providing enough money to the banks was, his team seemed to say, the best way to help ordinary homeowners and workers.

When America reformed its welfare programs for the poor under Clinton, it put conditions on recipients: they had to look for a job or enroll in training programs. But when the banks received welfare benefits, no conditions were imposed on them. Had Obama’s attempt at muddling through worked, it would have avoided some big philosophical battles. But it didn’t work, and it has been a long time since popular antipathy to banks has been so great.

Obama wanted to bridge the divides among Americans that George W. Bush had opened. But now those divides are wider. His attempts to please everyone, so evident in the last few weeks, are likely to mollify no one.

Deficit hawks – especially among the bankers who laid low during the government bailout of their institutions, but who have now come back with a vengeance – use worries about the growing deficit to justify cutbacks in spending. But these views on how to run the economy are no better than the bankers’ approach to running their own institutions.

Cutting spending now will weaken the economy. So long as spending goes to investments yielding a modest return of 6%, the long-term debt will be reduced, even as the short-term deficit increases, owing to the higher tax revenues generated by the larger output in the short run and the more rapid growth in the long run.

Trying to “square the circle” between the need to stimulate the economy and please the deficit hawks, Obama has proposed deficit reductions that, while alienating liberal democrats, were too small to please the hawks. Other gestures to help struggling middle-class Americans may show where his heart is, but are too small to make a meaningful difference.

Three things can make a difference: a second stimulus, stemming the tide of housing foreclosures by addressing the roughly 25% of mortgages that are worth more than the value the house, and reshaping our financial system to rein in the banks.

There was a moment a year ago when Obama, with his enormous political capital, might have been able to achieve this ambitious agenda, and, building on these successes, go on to deal with America’s other problems. But anger about the bailout, confusion between the bailout (which didn’t restart lending, as it was supposed to do) and the stimulus (which did what it was supposed to do, but was too small), and disappointment about mounting job losses, has vastly circumscribed his room for maneuver.

Indeed, there is even skepticism about whether Obama will be able to push through his welcome and long overdue efforts to curtail the too-big-to-fail banks and their reckless risk-taking. And, without that, more likely than not, the economy will face another crisis in the not-too-distant future.

Most Americans, however, are focused on today’s downturn, not tomorrow’s. Growth over the next two years is expected to be so anemic that it will barely be able to create enough jobs for new entrants to the labor force, let alone to return unemployment to an acceptable level.

Unfettered markets may have caused this calamity, and markets by themselves won’t get us out, at least any time soon. Government action is needed, and that will require effective and forceful political leadership.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics, served as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers from 1995 to 1997. He is the author of the recently published bestseller, Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.
For a podcast of this commentary in English, please use this link:


Obama to base: “Continue to fight”


Tosca in North Beach was packed last night for the State of the Union watch party that was thrown by Organizing for America, President Barack Obama’s grassroots organizing operation, and the crowd was predictably supportive of the president despite his political difficulties and declining popularity.

Karen Buchanan — who volunteered on Obama’s presidential campaign and has continued to do so since then, including phone banking to support his health care reform effort – responded positively to the speech’s call for renewed activism, even though she was less than thrilled with some of Obama’s policy prescriptions.

“I don’t agree with him 100 percent, but I’m not going to join the circular firing squad. I continue to support him,” Buchanan said. “He had a nice tone of optimism and we needed that.”

That may be true. Obama’s poignant call for the country’s political, corporate, and media institutions to make strong, good faith efforts to regain the public’s trust was the emotional high point of this speech. But unfortunately, Obama’s muddled and often contradictory policy priorities are frustrating to progressives who have been turning away from this president.

Saving ocean ecosystems


GREEN CITY In the spring and summer months, pacific leatherback sea turtles arrive just outside the Golden Gate to feast on jellyfish. The turtles, which can weigh up to 1,200 pounds and live as long as a century, are some of the oldest reptiles in existence.

In a single year, a leatherback may swim 6,200 miles as it encircles the Pacific Ocean, migrating from nesting grounds as far away as Indonesia to feed off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. The leatherback was listed as a federally endangered species in 1970, and scientists now worry that the turtles could go extinct in as little as 10 years.

The ancient reptile may be rare, but its vanishing act is becoming common for marine creatures. Jackie Dragon, a campaign organizer with Pacific Environment, told us large fish populations, including bluefin tuna, Atlantic cod, marlin, and certain sharks, have declined by 90 percent since the advent of industrialized fishing in the 1950s. Meanwhile, ocean acidification due to rising carbon dioxide levels has imperiled key species, threatening to alter the food web with potentially drastic implications.

Recently, San Francisco’s ocean conservationists have displayed rare optimism, however, as historic new protections for ocean ecosystems and the leatherback seem within reach.

A coalition of local environmental organizations staged a Jan. 13 event at City Hall to rally for the creation of a new, comprehensive ocean-protection policy at the federal level. Dubbed Wear Blue for Oceans Day, the event drew a crowd of around 75 who donned blue in support of the federal policy, put forth by President Barack Obama last June.

Under the current regulatory system, there are 140 different laws relating to ocean management, and more than 20 disparate agencies, according to Dragon. “They have varying purposes and often conflicting mandates,” she explained. “Right now, it’s inconsistent with a healthy future for the ocean to have a piecemeal approach. And it’s absolutely necessary to appreciate that ecosystems in the ocean depend on a kind of management that takes into consideration the fact that these habitats … need to be looked at from a broader perspective.”

According to an interim report drafted by a 23-member task force convened by Obama to make suggestions for crafting a federal policy, the new approach would place ecosystem protection at the heart of regulatory decisions. Environmentalists hope it will improve the overall health of oceans.

The task force is scheduled to submit its final recommendations to Obama in early February, and the president is expected to announce the creation of the new policy shortly afterward. “The importance of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems cannot be overstated,” the report notes. “Simply put, we need them to survive.” Climate change and ocean acidification are named as top priorities.

A second regulatory victory seems imminent for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, a San Francisco-based environmental organization that joined Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Turtle Island Restoration Network in pressing for expanded critical habitat designation for the pacific leatherback turtles in 2007.

The groups sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for failing to take action for two years. Following a settlement, the agency finally submitted its proposal Jan. 5 for a new protection zone. The critical habitat area would span some 70,000 square miles of open waters along the West Coast.

Chris Pincetich, a campaign organizer with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, called the designation “a long overdue action by federal agencies.” However, the proposal doesn’t limit commercial fishing, which Pincetich notes is one of the greatest threats to the leatherbacks, because they can become ensnared in gillnets. Nor does it cover habitat areas in Southern California, where turtles have been known to migrate, Pincetich said. NMFS will accept public comments on the proposal until March 8.

Although it’s a major step forward, changes won’t be implemented until January 2011 at the earliest.

For the leatherback, with about a decade to fight for survival, time is of the essence.

State of the immigration crisis rally


Text by Sarah Phelan


As President Barack Obama prepares to make his annual State of the Union address, local immigrant advocates are calling on Obama to mention the need for national immigration reform in his address and to uphold campaign promises to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Describing themselves in a press release as “a diverse group of African, Asian, European, and Latino immigrants” the organizers of today’s protest rally, (from 4-6 p.m at the Federal Building at 7th and Mission Street, thunder and lightning notwithstanding) promised to urge Obama, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Feinstein and Boxer to make immigration reform a priority because of local crises in the immigrant communities.

“The time for reform is now,” Eric Quezada, Executive Director of Dolores Street Community Services, said in a press release. ” The President promised immigration reform on the campaign trail and we are here today to make sure that he keeps his word,”

Quezada noted that Obama pledged on his 2008 campaign campaign trail to pass humane changes to US immigration laws if he were elected President, including a legalization program for undocumented immigrants.
“Immigrants are part of the fabric of our communities, and we need to fix our immigration system so everyone who lives here can contribute as full members of society,” said Biniam Fantay with the African Advocacy Network.

Today’s demonstration is part of “100 days of action” campaign for immigration reform that began in December and is led locally by the SF Immigrant Legal and Education Network and the San Francisco Organizing Project.

Losing hope


In the back room of Tommy’s Joynt, more than a dozen members of the antiwar group Code Pink gathered Dec. 1 to watch television coverage of President Barack Obama’s speech announcing that 30,000 more U.S. troops would be sent to fight in Afghanistan, his second major escalation of that war this year.

“This is not the hope you voted for!” read a flyer distributed at the event.

Yet even among Code Pink’s militant members, reactions ranged from feeling disappointed and betrayed to feeling validated in never believing Obama was the agent of change that he pretended to be.

Jennifer Teguia seemed an example of former, while Cecile Pineda embodied the latter. “Right down the line, it’s been the corporate line,” Pineda told us, citing as examples Obama’s support for Wall Street bailouts and insiders and his abandonment of single-payer health reform in favor of an insurance-based system. “For serious politicos, hope is a fantasy.”

Throughout the speech, Pineda let out audible groans at Obama lines such as “We did not ask for this fight” and “A place that had known decades of fear now has reason to hope.” When the president promised a quick exit date, Pineda labeled it “the old in and out.” And when Obama made one too many references to 9/11, she blurted out, “Ha! 9/11!” and “He sounds just like Bush!”

But Teguia just looked saddened by the speech, and maybe a little weary that after nearly eight years of fruitlessly fighting Bush’s wars, the movement will now need to reignite to resist Obama’s escalation, which will put more U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than Bush ever deployed.

“People are feeling tired and overwhelmed. We’ve been doing this year after year, and it’s endless. People are feeling dispirited,” Teguia told me just before the speech began.

She and other Obama supporters were willing to be patient and hopeful that Obama would eventually make good on his progressive campaign rhetoric. “But people are starting to feel like this window is closing,” Teguia said. “Now it’s at the tipping point.”

Obama has always tried to walk a fine line between his progressive ideals and his more pragmatic, centrist governing style. But in a conservative and often jingoistic country, Obama’s “center” isn’t where the antiwar movement thinks it ought to be.

“Obama is trying to unite the establishment instead of uniting the people against the establishment,” Teguia said.

That grim perspective was voiced by everyone in the room.

“Not only is he not clearing up the mess in Iraq, he’s escautf8g in Afghanistan,” said Rae Abileah, a Code Pink staff member who coordinates local campaigns. “I think people are outraged and frustrated and they’ve had enough.”

Perhaps, but the antiwar movement just isn’t what it was in 2003, when it shut down San Francisco on the first full day of war in Iraq. And the fact that Obama is a Democrat who opposed the Iraq War presents a real challenge for those who don’t support his Afghanistan policy and fear that it will be a disaster.

Democratic dilemma

Obama’s announcement — more then anything Bush ever said or did — is dividing the Democratic Party establishment, and the epicenter of that division is in San Francisco.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House, second in command of the Democratic Party, essentially the person most responsible for the success or failure of a Democratic president’s agenda in Congress. She also represents a city where antiwar sentiment is among the strongest in the nation — and many of her Bay Area Democratic colleagues have already spoken out strongly against the Afghanistan troop surge.

Lynn Woolsey, the Marin Democrat who chairs the Progressive Caucus, issued a statement immediately following Obama’s speech in which she minced no words: “I remain opposed to sending more combat troops because I just don’t see that there is a military solution to the situation in Afghanistan,” she said, adding that “This is no surprise to me at all. I knew [Obama] was a moderate politician. I’ve known it all along.”

Woolsey told the Contra Costa Times that she thinks a majority of Democrats will oppose funding the troop increase — and that it will pass the House only because Republicans will vote for it.

Barbara Lee, (D-Oakland), the only member of Congress to vote against sending troops to Afghanistan eight years ago, has already introduced a bill, HR 3699, that would cut off funding for any expanded military presence there.

George Miller, (D-Martinez), has been harsh in his criticism. “We need an honest national government in Afghanistan,” Miller said in a statement. “We don’t have one. We need substantial help from our allies in the region, like Russia, China, India, and Iran. We are not getting it. We need Pakistan to be a credible ally in our efforts. It is not. We need a substantial commitment of resources and troops from NATO and our allies. While NATO is expected to add a small number of new troops, other troops have announced they are leaving. We need a large Afghan police force and army that is trained and ready to defend their country. We don’t have it.”

So where’s Pelosi? Hard to tell. At this point, she’s refused to say whether she supports the president’s plan. We called her office and were referred to her only formal statement on the issue, which says: “Tonight, the president articulated a way out of this war with the mission of defeating Al Qaeda and preventing terrorists from using Afghanistan and Pakistan as safe havens to again launch attacks against the United States and our allies. The president has offered President Karzai a chance to prove that he is a reliable partner. The American people and the Congress will now have an opportunity to fully examine this strategy.”

That sounds a lot like the position of someone who is prepared to support Obama. And that might not play well in her hometown.

The San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee has been vocal about criticizing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on July 22, 2009, the committee passed a resolution demanding an Afghanistan exit strategy. There’s a good chance someone on the committee will submit a resolution urging Pelosi to join Woolsey, Lee, and Miller in opposition to the Obama surge. “I’ve been thinking about it,” committee member Michael Goldstein, who authored the July resolution, told us.

That sort of thing tends to infuriate Pelosi, who doesn’t like getting pushed from the left. And since there are already the beginnings of an organized effort by centrist Democrats and downtown forces to run a slate that would challenge progressive control of the local Democratic Party, offending Pelosi (and encouraging her to put money into the downtown slate) would be risky.

Still, Goldstein said, “she’ll probably do that anyway.”

And it would leave the more moderate Democrats on the Central Committee — who typically support Pelosi — in a bind. Will they vote against a measure calling for a withdrawal from Afghanistan? Could that be an issue in the DCCC campaign in June 2010 — and potentially, in the supervisors’ races in the fall?

In at least one key supervisorial district — eight — the role of the DCCC and the record of its members will be relevant, since three of the leading candidates in that district — Rafael Mandleman, Scott Wiener, and Laura Spanjian — are all committee members.

Tom Gallagher, president of the Bernal Heights Democratic Club and author of past antiwar resolutions at the DCCC, acknowledged what an uphill battle antiwar Democrats face.

“The antiwar movement today is a bunch of beleaguered people, half of whom have very bad judgment,” he said. “I’m afraid a lot of people have just given up.”

On the streets

The day after Obama’s speech, Code Pink, the ANSWER Coalition, and four other antiwar groups sponsored a San Francisco rally opposing the Afghanistan decision — the first indication of whether Bay Area residents were motivated to march against Obama.

ANSWER’s regional director Richard Becker told us the day before, “I think we’re going to get a big turnout. The tension has really been building. We may see a revival.”

But on the streets, there wasn’t much sign of an antiwar revival, at least not yet. Only about 100 people were gathered at the intersection of Market and Powell streets when the rally begun, and that built up to maybe a few hundred by the time they marched.

“I’m wondering about the despair people are feeling,” Barry Hermanson, who has run for Congress and other offices as a member of the Green Party, told us at the event. He considered Obama’s decision “a betrayal,” adding that “it’s not going to stop me from working for peace. There is no other alternative.”

As Becker led the crowd in a half-hearted chant, “Occupation is a crime, Afghanistan to Palestine,” Frank Scafani carried a sign that read, “Democrats and Republicans. Same shit, different assholes.”

He called Obama a “smooth-talking flim-flam man” not worthy of progressive hopes, but acknowledged that it will be difficult to get people back into the streets, even though polls show most Americans oppose the Afghanistan escalation.

“I just think people are burned out after nine years of this. Nobody in Washington listens,” Scafani said. “Why walk around in circles on a Saturday or Sunday? It doesn’t do anything.”

Yet he and others were still out there.

“I think people are a little apathetic now. Their focus in on the economy,” said Frank Briones, an unemployed former property manager. He voted for Obama and still supports him in many areas, “but this war is a bad idea,” he said.

Yet he said people are demoralized after opposing the preventable war in Iraq and having their bleak predictions about its prospects proven true. “Our frustration was that government ignored us,” he said. “And they’ll probably do the same thing now.”

But antiwar activists say they just need to keep fighting and hope the movement comes alive again.

“We don’t really know what it is ahead of time that motivates large numbers of people to change their lives and become politically active,” Becker told us after the march, citing as examples the massive mobilizations against the Iraq War in 2003, in favor of immigrants rights in 2006, and against Prop. 8 in 2008. “So we’re not discouraged. We don’t have control over all the factors here, and neither do those in power.”

Antiwar groups will be holding an organizing meeting Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. at Centro del Pueblo, 474 Valencia, SF. Among the topics is planning a large rally for March 20, the anniversary of the Iraq War. All are welcome.

Resist the Afghanistan escalation


By Steven T. Jones

President Barack Obama has reportedly made the decision to send at least 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, a move he will explain to the American people in a speech tomorrow evening. I’ll be curious to hear how he justifies an escalation that many experts say will only make things worse, as well as what his exit strategy and financing mechanism will be, which the White House says he’ll announce during the speech.

The escalation is being opposed by everyone from progressive political leaders to soldiers, as well as Afghanistan experts such as Rory Stewart, who was a guest on Bill Moyers Journal in September. You can read or listen to that fascinating broadcast here. Stewart said the escalation will be terrible for both the US and Afghanistan, and that we need to be more realistic and smart about our goals.

“My message is: focus on what we can do. We don’t have a moral obligation to do what we can’t,” Stewart said. But he also correctly predicted that Obama would ignore his advice and escalate anyway: “I’d say President Obama has no choice. If he’s not going to send the troops, he should have stopped the General from sending in the report. He’s now completely boxed in.”

The problem is how Obama framed the decision as a presidential candidate, and one he has compounded as president by not fully repudiating the former regime’s imperial designs. So now is the time for progressives and other opponents of war to redefine this country’s role in the world and put the brakes on a policy that is likely to prove disastrous – to, in essence, save Obama from himself.

The 448’s war


The Green Room of the San Francisco Veterans Building has been taken over for the night by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a charity organization that mashes Catholic imagery and drag, perhaps San Francisco’s most iconic gay group. But among the drag queens and leather daddies are military veterans in garrison caps and vests decorated with medals.

This is the Sister’s bingo night, an event to raise money for the various nonprofit organizations the order supports. Above the stage hangs the banner of the Sisters’ partner in the event: American Legion Post 448, also known as the Alexander Hamilton post.

It may seem like a strange partnership — drag nuns joining forces with the American Legion, the country’s largest veterans’ organization with 14,000 posts worldwide. The goals of the Legion are traditionally conservative: uphold the constitution, make national security the top priority, demand loyalty to the union, and "foster and perpetuate a 100 percent Americanism," according to its preamble. It even maintains a pseudo-military rank structure among its members.

But the partnership isn’t so strange. The 448 is the only Legion post in the nation for gays and lesbians who once served in the military. Its relationship with the Sisters is a "good partnership," as Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms Morningstar Vancil puts it, and a "win-win situation." The post runs the outside bar since city bingo rules don’t allow liquor during the game and the Sisters get the room at the vets’ reduced rental rate.

The bingo proceeds go to the Sisters’ charities while the proceeds from the bar go to Post’s causes, particularly its ongoing push to repeal the military’s long-standing ban preventing homosexuals from serving openly. Today, that cause seems more hopeful than ever considering that the current presidential administration has promised to bring the ban to an end.

"We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country. We should be celebrating their willingness to show such courage and selflessness on behalf of their fellow citizens, especially when we’re fighting two wars," President Barack Obama said in his speech to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission on Oct. 10.

However, some of the post members are only cautiously optimistic about Obama’s promise after the long, tough climb just to establish a gay post in San Francisco.


Noted gay rights activist and veteran Dr. Paul D. Hardman formed the post in 1984, naming it after Alexander Hamilton, who wrote affectionate letters to Continental Army Capt. John Laurens. A quote from one letter appears on the post’s Web site: "I wish, my dear Laurens, that it might be in my power, by action, rather than words, to convince you that I love you." Hardman and some historians have speculated on a homosexual relationship between the two.

Hardman needed at least 15 gay veterans to form the post and he got 18, including the late Marcus Hernandez, former leather columnist for the LGBT newspaper Bay Area Reporter. But acceptance was hard to get in the early days.

According to Arch Wilson, World War II vet and the oldest living founding member at 85, the post had a difficult time getting approved. During the approval process, the Legion stalled, losing applications and paperwork, which Wilson attributes to old-guard homophobia.

"They absolutely had no tolerance for homosexuals in their midst," Wilson said

At first, the 448 wasn’t even allowed in the Veterans Building. But they had a powerful weapon: the city’s nondiscrimination ordinances. Since the building was city property, the American Legion had to abide by the ordinances. The threat of a lawsuit was leverage enough to allow the Alexander Hamilton Post an office and its charter, but not a seat on the War Memorial Commission that ran the building. The 448 got a seat on the commission after taking the Legion to court in 1987.

According to Commander John Forrett, one of his predecessors had once been asked at a national Legion convention, "Oh, you’re from San Francisco. You’ve got that queer post, don’t cha?" And when a gay slur was uttered at a delegate meeting, the post again took the Legion to court. "Following that they haven’t dared mouth off any kind of venom about queers," Wilson said.

And while acceptance is more readily found today, there is still some resentment. "It shows through sometimes," Wilson said. "If you were a black man, you’d know when you were getting a subtle brush-off by a white who didn’t like you and wouldn’t dare say so."

Forrett agrees. "The clash still exists but it’s the old guard — the older veterans as well as older active duty members."

When called for comment, the national American Legion office said it didn’t even know a gay post existed. However, the American Legion’s Department of California — the state headquarters, which is located in San Francisco — told us that the 448’s sexual orientation just isn’t even an issue nowadays.


When Congress approved 10 United States Code, Section 654, commonly known as "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (DADT) — the Alexander Hamilton Post had a new fight. Signed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, DADT is the policy that allows homosexuals to serve as long as they stay in the closet. Since its inception, the 448 has fought aggressively to get it overturned.

The history of DADT is "kind of the history of the post," according to Forrett, who was a reserve Army officer living in the closet during the first Gulf War. Fortunately, his sexuality never came into question, but he eventually resigned his commission because of the unfortunate changes he saw in the military as a result of DADT.

"DADT, with the best of intentions, didn’t go far enough to protect and left a huge window of opportunity for predators and harassers," Forrett said.

Forrett has met two of the most prominent casualties of DADT: Lt. Dan Choi, who has since become a post member, and former sailor Joseph Rocha, who wrote an Oct. 11 Washington Post op-ed piece outlining the brutal harassment he received because of his sexuality. He wrote that his chief forced him to simulate oral sex with another sailor, and was once tied up in a dog kennel.

Since the mid-1990s, the 448 has sought to build support for repealing DADT. Hardman and others testified in Congress in 1996 on the damaging impact of the policy. He also pushed for the belated release of what he called the "long-suppressed" 1993 Rand Corporation study on gays in the military. The study’s conclusion was that sexual orientation wasn’t germane when deciding who can and cannot effectively serve in the military

The report spearheaded the post’s partnership with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a nonprofit organization helping those harassed under DADT. "The Alexander Hamilton Legion has been a longtime committed partner," Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN Executive Director wrote in an e-mail to the Guardian.

Post members attend SLDN’s Lobby Day, where supporters gather on Capitol Hill asking politicians to take action. And they continue to work with SLDN on getting the Military Readiness Enhancement Act — a bill that would repeal DADT — pushed through Congress.

But other post members are getting impatient. "Get on with it," Service Officer Robert C. Potter told us. "As my mother would say, ‘Either shit or get off the pot.’"

"Before Obama gets out of office, I want this changed," Sergeant-at-Arms Jimmy McConnell said. "And it’s not just for me. I want it for every person who feels that they are gay, bi, transgender, whatever."

However, Forrett is confident the president will make good on his promise. He feels that the president is going about it the right way by waiting for the next Congress. "Come on, man, 2010 isn’t that far," he said. "We’ve been suffering this long."


When DADT is repealed, the post will work toward building a LGBT veterans’ memorial honoring those brave gay soldiers who gave their lives protecting their country. "For those who were before us, for those who are with us, and those who will come," Forrett said. "That’s kind of the concept. We want it to be an ongoing tribute."

In the meantime, the post continues to fight for veterans’ rights as well as LGBT rights, even bringing care packages to the wounded soldiers at the Fort Miley V.A. Hospital. "When we go to the V.A. hospital we don’t focus on LGBT, we focus on veterans," Forrett said.

And they’ll continue working with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and marching in the Pride Parade because Forrett believes that everything the post does comes back to DADT. "It keeps us out in front of everybody and that’s what’s important."

Listen to the community


The HIV/AIDS support community celebrated when President Barack Obama recently lifted the 22-year long U.S. travel ban against people infected with HIV. But officials say the federal government is still deaf to local needs and not making the best use of scarce resources.

The U.S. Conference on AIDS, held Oct. 29-31 at the Hilton San Francisco Hotel, attracted more than 3,000 AIDS treatment and prevention professionals and emphasized the unmet needs of the most at-risk communities.

"By extending the Ryan White Care Program and by lifting the ban, Obama has made a lot of people very happy," said Ravinia Hayes-Cozier, director of government relations and public policy for the National Minority AIDS Council, which sponsored the conference. "But we have to continue to do things differently here, to do things better, and to let the rest of the country know about the epidemic that is in all of our communities."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 56,000 Americans become infected with HIV each year — one every nine-and-a-half minutes — and more than 1 million people living with HIV in the U.S.

Despite these figures, community workers said little movement has been seen on the domestic side in the last eight years and that federal funding often fails to fund the full range of services people need.

"The CDC wants to see deliverable results in the fight against AIDS, which is understandable," said Alfred Forbes, a holistic consultant who led a workshop at the conference on how support and quality of life services have been neglected. "But I believe it has come to the point where we have missed our missions. A lot of organizations are more in touch with the federal funding in their pockets than their own communities."

While Obama’s 2010 budget request includes an estimated $25.8 billion for HIV/AIDS activities, only 4 percent of that is allocated toward domestic HIV prevention, thanks to the emphasis on more traditional care services.

"In the early days of epidemic, most of the work was done by the community, and we would try everything," said Karl Knapper, a program manager at the SF-based nonprofit Shanti. "But while it’s easy to look at results for providing care for people with HIV and AIDS, preventing it is very hard to prove — it’s like trying to prove a negative."

An organization that understands this problem well is the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, an agency that offers one of the oldest syringe exchange services in the country, a program banned from receiving federal funds.

"There is proof this program is saving lives. Before these services were available, 16 to 19 percent of new HIV-infections were caused by sharing syringes. But now in San Francisco, less than 1 percent of new infections are caused this way," said interim vice president of programs and services Keith Hocking.

Of the 28,114 cumulative AIDS cases in San Francisco at the end of 2008, 94 percent were male, 4 percent were female, and 1 percent were transgender persons. Seventy percent of male AIDS cases were among men who have sex with men.

Yet when a San Francisco group working to prevent HIV transmission among all gay and bisexual men created what it thought was a powerful publicity campaign five years ago, it got vilified in Congress and lost its federal funding. "We produced materials that we thought were appropriate for our constituents, and it was a disaster," said Kyriell Noon, executive director of the STOP AIDS Project. "They called it pornography and indecent. But to be perfectly honest, community norms when talking about sex are different in gay and bisexual communities.

"We have to meet the community if we are going to have any effect on the epidemic," Noon continued. "But there is a real disconnect between what we know is effective and what the government wants to fund."

The federally funded Ryan White Program, which covers underinsured individuals living with HIV/AIDS, got $2.3 billion this fiscal year, a $54 million increase over last year. While the CDC has increased funds for HIV prevention by the same amount, many community-based organizations must rely on the San Francisco Department of Public Health to fund less traditional services.

In July of this year, SFDPH allocated $11.5 million for HIV prevention, with $5 million coming from city and state funds. Dr. Grant Colfax, director of HIV Prevention and Research at SFPDH, said community partnership is crucial when tackling the disease.

"We work closely with the community planning council and base our priorities on what communities want and need," he said. "But I really do think it’s progressive to be able to hold ourselves accountable for the preventive methods we use. We do have to show it works."

"There are lots of different opportunities for funding, but we can’t afford to fund everyone," said CDC spokesperson Nikki Kay. "Community-based organizations must apply competitively."

Poor turnout


The Guinness World Record for the largest mobilization of human beings was recently broken when 173 million people demanded that their governments eradicate extreme poverty around the world. But U.S. media barely noted the call and San Francisco’s event had low attendance, suggesting an uphill struggle for the cause in the world’s richest nation.

Millions gathered at more than 3,000 Stand Up, Take Action events in 120 countries Oct. 16-18 in an attempt to put pressure on governments to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, but less than 30 people gathered on the steps of San Francisco City Hall to support the movement.

Sup. John Avalos was one of the speakers at the event, organized by a coalition of local activist groups and student volunteers. Admitting that he was "expecting it to be a little bigger," Avalos said the event was just the start of what needed to be a much larger movement by the American people.

"There is a strange phenomenon occurring at the moment. It’s as if people are a little bit asleep about the need to be active," Avalos told the Guardian. "Because we have an administration they view as being more supportive of human rights and economic and social justice, people are being lulled into thinking things will just get better."

Standing just a short walk away from the birth place of the United Nations, Avalos bought attention in his speech to the rich history San Francisco has in mobilizing social change. "We do the best to live up to it, but we have a long way to go. Around the world this is the time to uproot poverty — we try to provide a safety net, but it could be stronger."

The Stand Up, Take Action, End Poverty Now! campaign is in its fourth year and is organized by the UN Millennium Campaign in an attempt to raise awareness of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a series of benchmarks designed to eradicate global poverty.

At the United Nations Millennium Development Summit in 2000, 189 world leaders promised to "end poverty by 2015." The eight goals include eliminating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) has authored or coauthored every major piece of legislation dealing with global HIV/AIDS issues since she was elected to Congress. She told the Guardian that MDGs must be placed in context with poverty in America. "Sometimes people argue that we must look after our own first, but my position is that if you look at the eight Millennium goals, they all apply to our own country too," Lee said. "Look at the plight of people who are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS in our country — especially in African American and Latino communities.

"With the economic downturn, poverty rates in America are soaring, putting more people into circumstances the MDGs focus on outside of America," she continued. "I think it really is important to make those connections."

Lee compared the foreclosure crisis and lack of regulation in the financial markets over the last eight to 10 years to the "wild West" and calls America’s 47 million uninsured a "moral disgrace."

"It is about priorities and political will, and this will be determined by the voices of people saying it must be done," she said. "People have to push for these changes and remember that it didn’t just stop with the election. We have to raise awareness while at the same time working on changing policy. Otherwise we can get stuck debating issues and not doing the work that has to be done to change these very deplorable conditions."

Sup. David Campos was the only other supervisor to speak at the Civic Center event. He said he is committed to the fight against global poverty and wants to see the government represent the values San Francisco was founded on.

"We need to shed light and bring attention to one of the largest issues facing the world today — severe poverty," Campos said. "I really believe that as a city, as a state, and as a country, we not only need to make sure we push the U.S. to follow the lead of other countries, but actually become a leader in making these Millennium goals a reality."

After the event, Campos told the Guardian: "It doesn’t surprise me that more people didn’t show up to the event. But part of the task is to spread the word. San Francisco has been a leader in a number of these issues in the past, and I think we should play a key role in this one."

Campos said that one solution might be to put forward a resolution before the Board of Supervisors to support MDGs and have the city take a formal position on it.

"It is definitely something we are talking about to demonstrate San Francisco’s commitment to the issue," he said. "A lot of people don’t know about the goals, or the fact that the U.S. hasn’t really made them a priority. We need to spread the word and let people know this kind of a movement is only going to be a success if people take it upon themselves to play a leadership role."

Brian Webster, a volunteer who organized the SF event, drew attention to the large number of supporters for the MDGs in California. More than 250,000 people have signed up for the One Campaign, a global NGO that partnered with the U.N. Millennium Campaign in the events.

"For campaigners, it is now a matter of trying to join together and identify vast strategies to communicate what needs to be done," Webster said. "We will continue to educate communities, politicians, and civic leaders in what can be done this month, in the next six months, and ultimately, in the next six years."

While the Bush administration rarely mentioned MDGs while in office, many activists believe President Barack Obama’s public recognition of the goals at a recent U.N. summit demonstrates a change in American policy.

"In other countries, there has been more education and awareness about the goals. But here in America, it is almost like we are starting eight years late," said Anita Sharma, the North American director for the U.N. Millennium Campaign. "President Obama has said that the MDGs are American goals and has even talked about his plans for achieving them."

Also, despite the low numbers at the San Francisco event, Sharma says more than 190,000 people from North America participated in last weekend’s campaign, an increase of more than 70,000 from last year’s attempt.

"It’s not like Americans don’t care about global poverty — in fact we give more in charitable contributions than any other country in the world," she said. "It just takes quite a lot to get Americans into the streets and mobilized. There needs to be more education out there, that’s all."

Ananya Roy, a UC Berkeley professor of city and regional planning and education director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, says she doesn’t think MDGs can be achieved worldwide by 2015. Even so, she stressed the important role they played in the framework of development.

Speaking at UC Berkeley’s Stand Up and Take Action Event, she said: "The goals are important because they are seen as a new global social contract that makes issues of poverty and inequality quite urgent. They also come with measurements and targets, which is meant to create accountability."

Roy placed particular emphasis on the eighth goal: building a global partnership for development. She noted that that increased awareness can change the ways the U.S. and European governments operate in terms of aid and trade.

"This multilateral contract requires more than simply the action and leadership of the U.S. and Western Europe," she said. "We need to think about poverty and inequality that is immediately around us, understand how we are involved in the production of depravity, and then we must act in solidarity.

"We need to be thinking about poverty as it exits here in the U.S. and not just as an abstract problem that belongs to someplace else," she added. "It is also our problem."

According to a 2009 U.N. report, progress toward achieving the MDGs has been slow in some cases and certain achievements have been reversed by the economic downturn. The report estimates that there will be 55 million to 90 million more people living in extreme poverty than anticipated before the crisis.

For Chandler Smith, media coordinator for the One Campaign — which campaigns for better development policies and more effective aid and trade reform — the Guinness certification marks progress toward achieving the MDGs. "That this year is breaking another world record speaks to the power of people to organize around the world, shows that we are a global community, and that there is a sustainability in the movement," he said.

"As for the North American aspect, we are always trying to educate people more about these issues. Our results show that a lot of our work has been done — but that we also have more work to do."

Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize


By Steven T. Jones

Whether or not President Barack Obama deserved the Nobel Peace Prize – which is a subject of great debate today by the commenting class – it’s important to note how a simple change in tone by the US is being so enthusiastically welcomed and greeted with such hope by the Nobel Committee and people around the world.

Obama has long advocated talking with our enemies instead of simply threatening them or issuing ultimatums, a stand that has been criticized as naïve by Establishment voices. But it is the politically dominant American view that is naïve, this sense that we are somehow morally superior and can dictate our values to others, equating belligerence and violence with toughness, and diplomacy – listening, talking, trying to pick the best solution from a field of bad options – with weakness.

But the toughest stand Obama has taken is his insistence on talking to Iran’s leaders, as well as those from other despotic regimes. We gain nothing from isolating our enemies. Economic sanctions didn’t topple Saddam Hussein and they won’t hurt the mullahs in Iran or Pakistan. In a similar vein, Obama has advocated the creation of international efforts to tackle such difficult problems as climate change and nuclear proliferation, lending important and long overdue American leadership to those important causes.

The path to peace begins with pursuing it honestly, diligently, and with mutual respect for our myriad partners, and I think that’s the message behind this honor.