President Barack Obama

Obama to decide Healthy San Francisco’s fate?


By Steven T. Jones

The US Supreme Court has delayed a decision on the Golden Gate Restaurant Association’s legal challenge to the Healthy San Francisco program, instead asking for the Obama Administration’s opinion on whether the required employer contributions that fund the universal health care plan violate federal law.

The GGRA suit contends the employer mandate violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), a view that was supported by the Bush Administration but opposed by the city and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose ruling against GGRA the Supreme Court is deciding whether to hear, a decision that had been expected today. President Barack Obama has publicly cited Healthy San Francisco as a model for health care reform and City Attorney Dennis Herrera has personally lobbied the administration to reverse the previous administration’s position, and now the court wants a formal opinion from Obama’s Solicitor General Elena Kagan.

“The Bush Labor Department’s position was not simply wrong as a matter of law, it was wrong for fundamentally ignoring the urgent need for health care reform,” Herrera said in a public statement. “I am hopeful that the new administration will not take such a knee-jerk position, but will instead thoroughly review the legal and policy implications of the case.”



Peter Phillips, director of Project Censored for 13 years, says he’s finished with reform. It’s impossible, he said in a recent interview, to try to get major news media outlets to deliver relevant news stories that serve to strengthen democracy.

"I really think we’re beyond reforming corporate media," said Phillips, a professor of sociology at Sonoma State University and director of Project Censored. "We’re not going to break up these huge conglomerates. We’re just going to make them irrelevant."

Every year since 1976, Project Censored has spotlighted the 25 most significant news stories that were largely ignored or misrepresented by the mainstream press. Now the group is expanding its mission — to promote alternative news sources. But it continues to report the biggest national and international stories that the major media ignored.

The term "censored" doesn’t mean some government agent stood over newsrooms with a rubber stamp and forbid the publication of the news, or even that the information was completely out of the public eye. The stories Project Censored highlights may have run in one or two news outlets, but didn’t get the type of attention they deserved.

The project staff begins by sifting through hundreds of stories nominated by individuals at Sonoma State, where the project is based, as well as 30 affiliated universities all over the country.

Articles are verified, fact-checked, and selected by a team of students, faculty, and evaluators from the wider community, then sent to a panel of national judges to be ranked. The end product is a book, co-edited this year by Phillips and associate director Mickey Huff, that summarizes the top stories, provides in-depth media analysis, and includes resources for readers who are hungry for more substantive reporting.

Project Censored doesn’t just expose gaping holes in the news brought to you by the likes of Fox, CNN, or USA Today — it also shines a light on less prominent but more incisive alternative-media sources serving up in-depth investigations and watchdog reports.

Phillips is stepping down this year as director of Project Censored and turning his attention to a new endeavor called Media Freedom International. The organization will tap academic affiliates from around the world to verify the content put out by independent news outlets as a way to facilitate trust in these lesser-known sources. "The biggest question I got asked for 13 years was, who do you trust?" he explained. "So we’ve really made an effort in the last three years to try to address that question, in a very open way, in a very honest way, and say, these are [the sources] who we can trust."

Benjamin Frymer, a sociology professor at Sonoma State who is stepping into the role of Project Censored director, says he believes the time is ripe for this kind of push. "The actual amount of time people spend reading online is increasing," Frymer pointed out. "It’s not as if people are just cynically rejecting media — they’re reaching out for alternative sources. Project Censored wants to get involved in making those sources visible."

The Project Censored book this year uses the term "truth emergency."

"We call it an emergency because it’s a democratic emergency," Huff asserted. In this media climate, "we’re awash in a sea of information," he said. "But we have a paucity of understanding about what the truth is."

The top 25 Project Censored stories of 2008-09 highlight the same theme that Phillips and Huff say has triggered the downslide of mainstream media: the overwhelming influence of powerful, profit-driven interests. The No. 1 story details the financial sector’s hefty campaign contributions to key members of Congress leading up to the financial crisis, which coincided with a weakening of federal banking regulations. Another story points out that in even in the financial tumult following the economic downturn, special interests spent more money on Washington lobbyists than ever before.

Here’s this year’s list.


The total tab for the Wall Street bailout, including money spent and promised by the U.S. government, works out to an estimated $42,000 for every man, woman, and child, according to American Casino, a documentary about sub prime lending and the financial meltdown. The predatory lending free-for-all, the emergency pumping of taxpayer dollars to prop up mega banks, and the lavish bonuses handed out to Wall Street executives in the aftermath are all issues that have dominated news headlines.

But another twist in the story received scant attention from the mainstream news media: the unsettling combination of lax oversight from national politicians with high-dollar campaign contributions from financial players.

"The worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d’état," Matt Taibbi wrote in "The Big Takeover," a March 2009 Rolling Stone article. "They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders who used money to control elections, buy influence, and systematically weaken financial regulations."

In the 10-year period beginning in 1998, the financial sector spent $1.7 billion on federal campaign contributions, and another $3.4 billion on lobbyists. Since 2001, eight of the most troubled firms have donated $64.2 million to congressional candidates, presidential candidates, and the Republican and Democratic parties.

Wall Street’s spending spree on political contributions coincided with a weakening of federal banking regulations, which in turn created a recipe for the astronomical financial disaster that sent the global economy reeling.

Sources: "Lax Oversight? Maybe $64 Million to DC Pols Explains It," Greg Gordon, and McClatchey Newspapers, October 2, 2008; "Congressmen Hear from TARP Recipients Who Funded Their Campaigns," Lindsay Renick Mayer, Capitol Eye, February 10, 2009; "The Big Takeover," Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, March 2009.


Latinos and African Americans attend more segregated public schools today than they have for four decades, Professor Gary Orfield notes in "Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge," a study conducted by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. Orfield’s report used federal data to highlight deepening segregation in public education by race and poverty.

About 44 percent of students in the nation’s public school system are people of color, and this group will soon make up the majority of the population in the U.S. Yet this racial diversity often isn’t reflected from school to school. Instead, two out of every five African American and Latino youths attend schools Orfield characterizes as "intensely segregated," composed of 90 percent to 100 percent people of color.

For Latinos, the trend reflects growing residential segregation. For African Americans, the study attributes a significant part of the reversal to ending desegregation plans in public schools nationwide. Schools segregated by race and poverty tend to have much higher dropout rates, more teacher turnover, and greater exposure to crime and gangs, placing students at a major disadvantage in society. The most severe segregation is in Western states, including California.

Fifty-five years after the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, Orfield wrote, "Segregation is fast spreading into large sectors of suburbia, and there is little or no assistance for communities wishing to resist the pressures of resegregation and ghetto creation in order to build successfully integrated schools and neighborhoods."

Source: "Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge," Gary Orfield, The Civil Rights Project, UCLA, January 2009


Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa were like gold for mainstream news outlets this past year. Stories describing surprise attacks on shipping vessels, daring rescues, and cadres of ragtag bandits extracting multimillion dollar ransoms were all over the airwaves and front pages.

But even as the pirates’ exploits around the Gulf of Aden captured the world’s attention, little ink was devoted to factors that made the Somalis desperate enough to resort to piracy in the first place: the dumping of nuclear waste and rampant over-fishing their coastal waters.

In the early 1990s, when Somalia’s government collapsed, foreign interests began swooping into unguarded coastal waters to trawl for food — and venturing into unprotected Somali territories to cheaply dispose of nuclear waste. Those activities continued with impunity for years. The ramifications of toxic dumping hit full force with the 2005 tsunami, when leaking barrels were washed ashore, sickening hundreds and causing birth defects in newborn infants. Meanwhile, the uncontrolled fishing harvests damaged the economic livelihoods of Somali fishermen and eroded the country’s supply of a primary food source. That’s when the piracy began.

"Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome?" asked journalist Johann Hari in a Huffington Post article. "We didn’t act on those crimes — but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, we begin to shriek about ‘evil.’"

Sources: "Toxic waste behind Somali piracy," Najad Abdullahi, Al Jazeera English, Oct. 11, 2008; "You are being lied to about pirates," Johann Hari, The Huffington Post, Jan. 4, 2009; "The Two Piracies in Somalia: Why the World Ignores the Other," Mohamed Abshir Waldo, WardheerNews, Jan. 8, 2009


The Shearon Harris nuclear plant in North Carolina’s Wake County isn’t just a power-generating station. The Progress Energy plant, located in a backwoods area, bears the distinction of housing the largest radioactive-waste storage pools in the country. Spent fuel rods from two other nuclear plants are transported there by rail, then stored beneath circuutf8g cold water to prevent the radioactive waste from heating.

The hidden danger, according to investigative reporter Jeffery St. Clair, is the looming threat of a pool fire. Citing a study by Brookhaven National Laboratory, St. Clair highlighted in Counterpunch the catastrophe that could ensue if a pool were to ignite. A possible 140,000 people could wind up with cancer. Contamination could stretch for thousands of square miles. And damages could reach an estimated $500 billion.

"Spent fuel recently discharged from a reactor could heat up relatively rapidly and catch fire," Robert Alvarez, a former Department of Energy advisor and Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies noted in a study about safety issues surrounding nuclear waste pools. "The fire could well spread to older fuel. The long-term contamination consequences of such an event could be significantly worse than Chernobyl."

Shearon Harris’ track record is pocked with problems requiring temporary shutdowns of the plant and malfunctions of the facility’s emergency-warning system.

When a study was sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission highlighting the safety risks and recommending technological fixes to address the problem, St. Clair noted, a pro-nuclear commissioner successfully persuaded the agency to dismiss the concerns.

Source: "Pools of Fire," Jeffrey St. Clair, CounterPunch, Aug. 9, 2008


Two years ago, the European Union enacted a bold new environmental policy requiring close scrutiny and restriction of toxic chemicals used in everyday products. Invisible perils such as lead in lipstick, endocrine disruptors in baby toys, and mercury in electronics can threaten human health. The European legislation aimed to gradually phase out these toxic materials and replace them with safer alternatives.

The story that has gone unreported by mainstream American news media is how this game-changing legislation might affect the U.S., where chemical corporations use lobbying muscle to ensure comparatively lax oversight of toxic substances. As global markets shift to favor safer consumer products, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is lagging in its own scrutiny of insidious chemicals.

As investigative journalist Mark Schapiro pointed out in Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power, the EPA’s tendency to behave as if it were beholden to big business could backfire in this case, placing U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage because products manufactured here will be regarded with increasing distrust.

Economics aside, the implications of loose restrictions on toxic products are chilling: just one-third of the 267 chemicals on the EU’s watch list have ever been tested by the EPA, and only two are regulated under federal law. Meanwhile, researchers at UC Berkeley estimate that 42 billion pounds of chemicals enter American commerce daily, and only a fraction have undergone risk assessments. When it comes to meeting the safer, more stringent EU standard, the stakes are high — with consequences including economic impacts as well as public health.

Sources: "European Chemical Clampdown Reaches Across Atlantic," David Biello, Scientific American, Sept. 30, 2008; "How Europe’s New Chemical Rules Affect U.S.," Environmental Defense Fund, Sept. 30, 2008; "U.S. Lags Behind Europe in Reguutf8g Toxicity of Everyday Products," Mark Schapiro, Democracy Now! Feb. 24, 2009


In 2008, as the economy tumbled and unemployment soared, Washington lobbyists working for special interests were paid $3.2 billion — more than any other year on record. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, special interests spent a collective $32,523 per legislator, per day, for every day Congress was in session.

One event that triggered the lobbying boom, according to CRP director Sheila Krumholz, was the federal bailout — with the federal government ensuring that the lobbyists got a piece of the pie. Ironically, some of the first in line were the same players who helped precipitate the nation’s sharp economic downturn by engaging in high-risk, speculative lending practices.

"Even though some financial, insurance and real estate interests pulled back last year, they still managed to spend more than $450 million as a sector to lobby policymakers," Krumholz noted. "That can buy a lot of influence, and it’s a fraction of what the financial sector is reaping in return through the government’s bailout program."

The list of highest-ranking spenders on Washington lobbying reads like a roster of some of the most powerful interests nationwide. Topping the list was the health sector, which spent $478.5 million lobbying Congress last year. A close runner-up was the finance, insurance, and real-estate sector, spending $453.5 million. Pharmaceutical companies plunked down $230 million; electric utilities spent $156.7 million; and oil and gas companies paid lobbyists $133.2 million.

Source: "Washington Lobbying Grew to $3.2 Billion Last Year, Despite Economy," Center for Responsive Politics, Open


President Barack Obama’s appointments to the Department of Defense have raised serious questions among critics who’ve studied their track records. Although the news media haven’t paid much attention, the defense appointees bring to the administration controversial histories and conflicts of interest due to close ties to defense contractors.

Obama’s decision to retain Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush, marks the first time in history that a president has opted to keep a defense secretary of an outgoing opposing party in power.

Gates, a former CIA director, has faced criticism for allegedly spinning intelligence reports for political means. In Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, author and former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman described him as "the chief action officer for the Reagan administration’s drive to tailor intelligence reporting to White House political desires." Gates also came under scrutiny for questions surrounding whether he misled Congress during the Iran-contra scandal in the mid-1980s, and was accused of withholding information from intelligence committees when the U.S. provided military aid to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.

Critics are also uneasy about the appointment of Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, who formerly served as a senior vice president at defense giant Raytheon Company and was a registered lobbyist for Raytheon until July 2008. Lynn, who previously served as Pentagon comptroller under the Clinton administration, came under fire during his confirmation hearing for "questionable accounting practices." The Defense Department failed multiple audits under Lynn’s leadership because it was unable to properly account for $3.4 trillion in financial transactions made over the course of several years.

Sources: "The Danger of Keeping Robert Gates," Robert Parry,, Nov. 13, 2008; "Obama’s Defense Department Appointees- The $3.4 Trillion Question," Andrew Hughes, Global Research, Feb. 13, 2009; "Obama Nominee Admiral Dennis Blair Aided perpetrators of 1999 church Killings in East Timor," Allan Nairn, Democracy Now! Jan. 7, 2009; "Ties to Chevron, Boeing Raise Concern on Possible NSA Pick," Roxana Tiron, The Hill, Nov. 24, 2008


The Cayman Islands and Bermuda are magnets for Bank of America, Citigroup, American International Group, and 11 other financial giants that were the beneficiaries of the federal government’s 2008 Wall Street bailout. It’s not the balmy weather that inspires some of America’s wealthiest companies to open operations in the Caribbean archipelago: the offshore oases provide safe harbors to stash cash out of the reach of Uncle Sam.

According to a 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office, which was largely ignored by the news media, 83 of the top publicly-held U.S. companies, including some receiving substantial portions of federal bailout dollars, have operations in tax havens that allow them to avoid paying their fair share to the Internal Revenue Service. The report also spotlighted the activities of Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), which has helped wealthy Americans to use tax schemes to cheat the IRS out of billions.

In December 2008, banking giant Goldman Sachs reported its first quarterly loss, and promptly followed up with a statement that its tax rate would drop from 34.1 percent to 1 percent, citing "changes in geographic earnings mix" as the reason. The difference: instead of paying $6 billion in total worldwide taxes as it did in 2007, Goldman Sachs would pay a total of $14 million in 2008. In the same year, it received $10 billion and debt guarantees from the U.S. government.

"The problem is larger than Goldman Sachs," U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat who serves on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, told Bloomberg News. "With the right hand out begging for bailout money, the left is hiding it offshore."

Sources: "Goldman Sachs’s Tax Rate Drops to 1 percent or $14 Million," Christine Harper, Bloomberg News, Dec. 16, 2008; "Gimme Shelter: Tax Evasion and the Obama Administration," Thomas B. Edsall, The Huffington Post, Feb. 23, 2009


In mid-January, as part of a military campaign, the Israeli Defense Forces fired several shells that hit the headquarters of a United Nations relief agency in Gaza City, destroying provisions for basic aid like food and medicine.

The shells contained white phosphorous (referred to as "Willy Pete" in military slang), a smoke-producing, spontaneously flammable agent designed to obscure battle territory that also can ignite buildings or cause grotesque burns if it touches the skin.

The attack on the relief-agency headquarters is just one example of a civilian structure that researchers discovered had been hit during the January air strikes. In the aftermath of the attacks, Human Rights Watch volunteers found spent white phosphorous shells on city streets, apartment roofs, residential courtyards, and at a U.N. school in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch says the IDF’s use of white phosphorous violated international law, which prohibits deliberate, indiscriminate, or disproportionate attacks that result in civilian casualties. After gathering evidence such as spent shells, the organization issued a report condemning the repeated firing of white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza as a war crime. Amnesty International, another human rights organization, followed suit by calling upon the United States to suspend military aid to Israel — but to no avail.

The U.S. was a primary source of funding and weaponry for Israel’s military campaign. Washington provided F-16 fighter planes, Apache helicopters, tactical missiles, and a wide array of munitions, including white phosphorus.

Sources: "White Phosphorus Use Evidence of War Crimes Report: Rain of Fire: Israel’s Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza," Fred Abrahams, Human Rights Watch, March 25, 2009; "Suspend Military Aid to Israel, Amnesty Urges Obama after Detailing U.S. Weapons Used in Gaza," Rory McCarthy, Guardian/U.K., Feb. 23, 2009; "U.S. Weaponry Facilitates Killings in Gaza," Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service, Jan. 8, 2009; "U.S. military resupplying Israel with ammunition through Greece," Saed Bannoura, International Middle East Media Center News, Jan. 8, 2009.


When President Rafael Correa announced that Ecuador would default on its foreign debt last December, he didn’t say it was because the Latin American country was unable to pay. Rather, he framed it as a moral stand: "As president, I couldn’t allow us to keep paying a debt that was obviously immoral and illegitimate," Correa told an international news agency. The news was mainly reported in financial publications, and the stories tended to quote harsh critics who characterized Correa as an extreme leftist with ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

But there’s much more to the story. The announcement came in the wake of an exhaustive audit of Ecuador’s debt, conducted under Correa’s direction by a newly created debt audit commission. The unprecedented audit documented hundreds of allegations of irregularity and illegality in the decades of debt collection from international lenders. Although Ecuador had made payments exceeding the value of the principal since the time it initially took out loans in the 1970s, its foreign debt had nonetheless swelled to levels three times as high due to extraordinarily high interest rates. With a huge percentage of the country’s financial resources devoted to paying the debt, little was left over to combat poverty in Ecuador.

Correa’s move to stand up against foreign lenders did not go unnoticed by other impoverished, debt-ridden nations, and the decision could set a precedent for developing countries struggling to get out from under massive debt obligation to first-world lenders.

Ecuador eventually agreed to a restructuring of its debt at about 35 cents on the dollar. Nonetheless, the move served to expose deficiencies in the World Bank system, which provides little recourse for countries to resolve disputes over potentially illegitimate debt.

Sources: "As Crisis Mounts, Ecuador Declares Foreign Debt Illegitimate and Illegal," Daniel Denvir, Alternet, November 26, 2008; "Invalid Loans to Ecuador: Who Owes Who," Committee for the Integral Audit of Public Credit, Utube, Fall 2008; "Ecuador’s Debt Default," Neil Watkins and Sarah Anders, Foreign Policy in Focus, Dec. 15, 2008



11. Private Corporations Profit from the Occupation of Palestine

12. Mysterious Death of Mike Connell—Karl Rove’s Election Thief

13. Katrina’s Hidden Race War

14. Congress Invested in Defense Contracts

15. World Bank’s Carbon Trade Fiasco

16. US Repression of Haiti Continues

17. The ICC Facilitates US Covert War in Sudan

18. Ecuador’s Constitutional Rights of Nature

19. Bank Bailout Recipients Spent to Defeat Labor

20. Secret Control of the Presidential Debates

21. Recession Causes States to Cut Welfare

22. Obama’s Trilateral Commission Team

23. Activists Slam World Water Forum as a Corporate-Driven Fraud

24. Dollar Glut Finances US Military Expansion

25. Fast Track Oil Exploitation in Western Amazon

Read them all at

Census report shows more Americans lack health care coverage


By Rebecca Bowe

Med symbol.jpg

Some commentators were greatly reassured by President Barack Obama’s speech on health care reform yesterday, while others thought he spent too much energy answering to Republican critics. (In case you missed it, you can find the full text and video here.) As the debate rages on in D.C., health-care reform advocates across the country are weighing in to push for meaningful reform.

A statement from the National Coalition on Health Care highlights a U.S. Census Bureau report that was released earlier today. It offers a glimpse of how the severe recession has eroded health-care coverage, and made it more difficult for people to afford health insurance.

A few of the key findings:

· The total number of people without health insurance coverage jumped from 45.7 million in 2007 to 46.3 million in 2008.

· There were 39.8 million people in poverty in 2008, up from 37.3 million in 2007. The 2008 poverty rate was the highest since 1997.

· The real median household income in the United States fell 3.6 percent between 2007 and 2008, from $52,163 to $50,303.

The report doesn’t even begin to address the impacts of job losses and economic instability that have continued through 2009.

“We need, without delay, to pass comprehensive health care reform legislation this year,” NCHC stated, “before our uninsured crisis deepens further.”

Assembly supports sale of Candlestick Point Park


Text and photos by Sarah Phelan


On Wednesday night, as folks were getting ready to watch President Barack Obama’s speech about health care, the State Assembly voted 69-1 in support of an amended version of Sen. Mark Leno’s SB 792.

Leno’s bill, which is now back in the Senate, gives the State the authority to sell 23 acres of Candlestick Point State Recreation Area for $50 million.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano was the lone dissenter on Leno’s bill with seven others abstaining or not voting.

Those voting “aye” included Assemblymembers Fiona Ma and Nancy Skinner. Florida-based developer Lennar, which has entered into a public-private partnership with the City of San Francisco to redevelop 770-acres at Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point, is arguing that it needs these additional 23 acres of prime waterfront property to build luxury condos, if the rest of its massive redevelopment plan is to pencil out.


Initially, SB 792 would have allowed the State to sell 43 acres of Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, the Bayview’s only major park, for condos. As such, it faced stiff opposition from the Sierra Club, Arc Ecology and Friends of Candlestick Point Park.

In its amended form, SB 792 authorizes the exchange of 23 acres, thus preserving 20 acres of existing parkland—a compromise, Leno says, that secured the neutrality of these three key environmental groups.

“I am especially pleased that after months of negotiations, amendments to SB 792 resulted in the neutrality of the Sierra Club, Arc Ecology and Friends of Candlestick Point,” Leno said.

So, what does SB 792’s passage mean for the park’s ecological integrity? And won’t the impact of removing 23 acres from the Bayview’s only major park be magnified, once condos and high rises have been built?

Garamendi for Congress


EDITORIAL The Sept. 1 special election to replace Ellen Tauscher (who has taken a post with the Obama administration) in the East Bay’s Congressional District 10 includes a large field with several great candidates. In fact, any of the top half-dozen or so Democratic Party candidates would be an improvement on Tauscher, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition who supported the Iraq War.

All these top candidates are good on the issues, including requiring a strong public option in health care reform (most go even further and support single-payer), ending the military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, withdrawing troops from Iraq and developing an exit strategy for Afghanistan, achieving marriage equality, limiting federal drug and immigration raids, reforming Wall Street, and developing a sustainable energy policy that addresses climate change.

But it’s a tougher decision to choose between the experienced politicians in the race and a couple of attractive newcomers, who argue that fresh faces and new ideas are what’s most needed now in Congress, where the Democratic Party’s huge new majorities have so far produced disappointing results.

The most impressive of these new candidates is Anthony Woods, a smart, charismatic young person of color who has a remarkable personal story. From growing up poor in Fairfield with a single mom and without health insurance, Woods got into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and then went to Harvard, where he earned a master’s degree in public policy from the prestigious Kennedy School of Government.

Then, after doing two tours of duty in the Iraq War and earning the Bronze Star, Woods informed his commanding officer that he is gay. He was honorably discharged from the military and forced to repay the federal government for his college tuition, in the process becoming a cause célèbre in the LGBT community, which has strongly backed his candidacy.

Adriel Hampton, a former San Francisco Examiner political reporter who now works for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, also brings to the race a fresh perspective and intriguing ideas about using technology to engage more citizens with their government. We’re glad they’re running, but they could each use some more political experience before assuming such an important office at this critical point in history.

Fortunately, there are three Democratic Party office-holders in the race. Joan Buchanan is a member of the California Assembly who is running a strong race, while State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier has a more extensive political background, a long list of endorsers (including Tauscher and Sen. Mark Leno), and a strong voice calling for fundamental reforms of the political system, including being an early proponent for calling a constitutional convention in California.

DeSaulnier was the clear frontrunner and would have made an excellent member of Congress — but then Lt. Gov. John Garamendi dropped his plans to run for governor again and got into the race. It was a game changer. Garamendi has been in public service since he was elected to the Legislature in 1974; he later served as deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior under President Bill Clinton and as California’s first and best insurance commissioner, where he learned to play hardball with health insurance companies.

Garamendi has a forceful presence, progressive values, long relationships with key power brokers and knowledgeable advocates, and an unmatched history of intensive work on the most pernicious problems that Congress is now wrestling with, including health care reform and resource issues. From day one, he would be a leader who would help President Barack Obama move his agenda.

"I have the experience and knowledge we need right now in Congress," Garamendi told the Guardian‘s editorial board. He’s right, and he has earned our endorsement. *

Obama plugs single-payer…sort of


By Steven T. Jones

Only a single-payer system eliminates health insurance companies, which are portrayed as predatory pirates in this cartoon by Consumer Watchdog, with music by the Austin Lounge Lizards.

As President Barack Obama held a prime time news conference yesterday to boost his health care reform efforts, he tried to recast the imperative as saving the system for the average American rather than focusing on the 45 million Americans without insurance. But in the process of defending his plan, he also subtly reinforced the need for the single-payer system, as discussed in our cover story this week.

When asked about the approximately 2 percent of Americans that will be left uncovered by the Democrats’ plan, Obama said, “I want to cover everybody. Now, the truth is unless you have what’s called a single-payer system in which everyone’s automatically covered, you’re probably not going to reach every single individual.”

As Peter Baker wrote in the New York Times online story yesterday, Obama didn’t explain why he doesn’t then support single-payer, but Baker wrote, “In the past, he has said such a system might be preferable if the country were inventing a new health care structure from scratch but he does not want to completely upend the current system, which does work for many or most Americans.”

Unfortunately, that final statement is bullshit. Polls show most Americans don’t like the current system (56 percent want “major health care reform” this year, 62 percent want more government control over health care, etc.), although right-wing and insurance industry propaganda have made them scared of the change that is needed to realize the president’s goals of holding down costs, emphasizing preventive care, and ensuring universal access to quality and affordable care.

Upending the current system is precisely what needs to happen.

Bitter medicine


The Democratic Party has been promising a major overhaul of the health care system for a generation or more. Now, with President Barack Obama and his party’s congressional leaders in a strong position to finally reach that elusive goal by next month, this should be a momentous time for the reform movement.

So why are so many health reform advocacy groups unhappy?

The answer involves policy and process. Rather than pushing for the single-payer system that many progressive groups demand and say is needed, Democratic leaders immediately opted for a compromise plan they hoped would be acceptable to economic conservatives and the insurance industry.

But Republicans are still calling them socialists for doing it, while the insurance industry — which loves the portion of the legislation that requires everyone to buy coverage — is still spending $1.4 million a day to either kill the complicated bills or turn them to its advantage.

When congressional Democrats unveiled America’s Affordable Health Choices Act (HR 3200) on July 14, many reformists thought a long-awaited, dramatic overhaul to a broken system was close at hand. The insurance companies would finally be made to adhere to ethical practices, and the Democrats would defend their plan to establish a government-run health insurance option that could compete with private insurers and keep them in check.

“American families cannot afford for Washington to say no once again to comprehensive health care reform,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), who chairs the crucial House Education and Labor Committee.

The Democrats’ bill does address some critical flaws in the health care system. It would greatly expand Medicare to ensure coverage for low-income individuals, and would subsidize coverage for those earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, defined as $43,320 for an individual and $88,200 for a family of four. The bill would forbid insurance companies from denying coverage to patients based on a preexisting condition, age, race, or gender. It would eliminate co-pays for preventative care and establish a cap on annual out-of-pocket expenses. To pay for it, the proposal would create a graduated tax on households earning more than $350,000 a year, with the top bracket being a 5.4 percent levy on incomes of more than $1 million.

Progressive members of Congress threw their support behind the bill because — and only because — it included the public option. “The public option is central to our support of health care reform,” read a statement from the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), who chairs the CPC, was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, “We have already compromised. More than 90 percent of the progressive caucus would vote today for a single-payer system. And so for us to compromise and get behind a really good strong public plan, I mean that’s as far as we’re going.”

While that statement indicates the precarious nature of the current legislation — which will likely be weakened further as it works its way through the process and merges with legislation from the more conservative U.S. Senate — many progressive groups aren’t even willing to go that far.



Many single-payer supporters say some reform is better than none, and that the passage of HR 3200 would represent a major win. “We can advance many of the principles that we support with the House bill,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California and an organizer for the national reform advocacy group Health Care for America Now. The nation, he believes, needs to endorse principles such as universally covering Americans and making sure patients aren’t left alone “at the mercy of the private insurance industry.”

Yet other groups fear this cure would be worse than the disease, sending millions of new customers into a private insurance system that simply doesn’t work, and compounding existing problems.

“We’re still pushing for a national single-payer bill,” Dr. James Floyd, a health reform researcher with the nonprofit group Public Citizen, told the Guardian. “While we’re open to other options, we haven’t seen anything [in proposals by Democratic congressional leaders] yet that is acceptable.”

That position has plenty of support among the general public and reform-minded organizations, for whom single-payer continues to be the holy grail.

The current proposal “doesn’t change the system one bit,” said Leonard Rodberg, a member of Physicians for a National Health Program, who works in health policy. “These bills are requiring that people buy insurance, but there are no numbers about how much the insurance would cost. And if the cost of the insurance is still too high, you can remain uninsured.”

And as negotiations center on the government-run insurance option, the concept of scratching the status quo and offering free Medicare-like health care to every American instead has fallen to the wayside.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) got 84 co-sponsors for his single-payer bill, HR 676, and hearings were held in June to explore the option. But congressional leaders then took it off the table. The reasons why seem to be as much about political will as they are about campaign contributions from the insurance industry. As one high-level congressional staffer told us, many lawmakers won’t back a single-payer system in part because they “don’t want to have to respond to being accused of being a socialist by the right wing.”

Then there’s the insurance lobby. “They spend hundreds of millions,” the staffer said. “They lobby Congress, and they provide millions to campaigns. They have Fox News. But the single-payer movement is growing leaps and bounds.”

Rodberg said the insurance industry would love to see a mandate to buy insurance approved at a time when insurers are losing customers because the economy is shedding thousands of jobs each month. “This is a bailout for the insurance companies,” Rodberg told us. “But there’s absolutely nothing in this legislation that will control costs, because it just leaves it to the insurance companies and the market.”

Dr. Jim G. Kahn, president of the California Physicians’ Alliance and a professor at UCSF with expertise in health policy, told us he believes the proposed bill falls short of the goal of comprehensive, universal coverage. “‘Universal’ was recently redefined by [Montana Sen. Max] Baucus as 95 percent — i.e., 15 million uninsured,” Kahn told us via e-mail. “Reaching even that level will be hard, due to the complexity of enforcing an ‘individual mandate’ on families with only modest income (and hence no subsidies). And in eagerness to reach that level, more and more people will become underinsured, with inadequate coverage and a further boost in already high medical bankruptcy.”

Medical debt contributed to nearly two-thirds of all bankruptcies in 2007, according to a study in the American Journal of Medicine. The majority of those afflicted were solidly middle-class homeowners at the start of their illness, and most had private health insurance.

Health Care Now, a hub for single-payer grassroots groups, is planning a large rally in Washington, D.C., for July 30, the anniversary of the founding of Medicare, on which many single-payer plans would be based. “Single-payer is the only plan that would truly be universal and contain costs,” said Katie Robbins of Health Care Now, arguing that the current plan pushed by congressional leaders “doesn’t protect us from the ills of the insurance-based system as we know it.”

Other progressive groups are withholding judgment for now, hoping the good aspects will ultimately outweigh the bad. “We’re digging through them now. We support a bill that has a true public option, and the House bill has that,” said Consumer Watchdog’s Jerry Flanagan. “But we really dislike the individual mandate [to purchase health insurance]. The insurance companies really don’t want the public option, but they really want the mandate.”



Even if single-payer isn’t going to be the national model yet, advocates say it’s crucial that states such as California be allowed to experiment with the option anyway. Single-payer advocates in Congress have insisted the health care legislation be amended to explicitly allow states to do single-payer (otherwise, federal preemption laws and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act might prevent states from doing so).

On July 17, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) successfully inserted such an amendment into the bill that cleared the House Committee on Education and Labor with a 25-19 vote, which included significant Republican support. The amendment was opposed by Miller, indicating Democratic Party leaders oppose the change and may ultimately succeed in stripping it from the bill.

“George Miller is a longtime supporter of a national single-payer plan and health care reform. The truth is, however, there are not enough votes in the House or the Senate to pass a final bill that contains single-payer language. That is unfortunate but it is also the truth,” Miller spokesperson Rachel Racusen told the Guardian.

California is a hotbed of single-payer activism. Even a leading candidate for state insurance commissioner, Assemblymember Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) — who appeared on the steps of San Francisco City Hall on July 15 to receive the endorsements of a long list of local elected officials — has made single-payer advocacy a central plank in his campaign.

The movement is so strong in California that it actually had legislators vying for who would get to carry its banner. San Francisco’s own state senator Mark Leno, a longtime single-payer supporter, was selected this year to take over the landmark single-payer legislation previously sponsored by termed-out legislator Sheila Kuehl, which has passed twice, only to be vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“The more I dive into this issue, the more convinced I am that the answer has to be single-payer,” Leno told us. “The only reform that truly contains costs is single-payer.”

Leno doesn’t fault Obama for taking a more cautious stance — but he does believe the federal government shouldn’t block states like California from creating single-payer systems. “States should be incubators of trying different proposals. We have a great history with that,” Leno said.

But even with a Democratic governor, there’s no guarantee that single-payer would be approved. Mayor Gavin Newsom is running for governor, featuring health care reform in his platform. He chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors National Health Care Reform Task Force, which is pushing for approval of the Obama plan. But even Newsom won’t promise to back the Leno plan.

“He doesn’t think single-payer is the best option now,” Newsom’s campaign manager Eric Jaye told us when asked whether Newsom would sign the legislation as governor. “He hopes and believes that as governor he will be supporting a national public option.”

But in the end, the governor may not matter. Leno said the political reality in California is that voters, rather than legislators, will need to approve the single-payer system. The funding mechanism for any ambitious health care plan would require a two-thirds vote in the legislature, a political impossibility.

“The difference in California is the voters will have the final say. And I’m excited about that. The voters of California will be able to say to the insurance companies, ‘We’ve had enough, now go away,'” Leno told us. He said he expects a ballot campaign in 2012.

Of course, it won’t be that simple. Leno knows that the insurance industry will spend untold millions of dollars to defend itself and a “status quo that is only working for them, not for anyone else. This is an enormously powerful industry and they control the debates.”

“Our effort here in California is an educational one. We have from now until the election in 2012 to make the arguments,” Leno said.



Testifying at a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee in June, Geri Jenkins, a registered nurse and the co-president of the California Nurses Association, related the story of Nataline Sarkisyan. The 17-year-old girl needed a life-saving liver transplant, Jenkins explained to Congress members. “But CIGNA would not approve it,” she told them, “until I, and hundreds of others, protested. During one of the protests, I was with Hilda, Nataline’s mother, when she got the call of approval.”

Hilda’s relief didn’t last long. By the time the hurdle had been cleared, Jenkins testified, “it was too late. Nataline died an hour later.”

Nataline’s story sparked national outrage, and it has since become a flagship tale highlighting all that is wrong with this country’s health care system. But as the debate about health care reform continues inside House and Senate committee chambers, discussion about “universal health care” — a phrase with a simple ring to it — has grown murkier.

“We have a universal health care system now,” Flanagan said, referring to how all Americans with serious medical conditions have a right to treatment — even if that treatment comes with great expense in an overcrowded public hospital emergency room. “It’s just the most inefficient system imaginable.”

With the August congressional recess coming up fast and Obama leaning on Capitol Hill to shift into high gear on an issue that was a hallmark of his campaign, the pressure is on to vote on the historic health care reform legislation within weeks.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee passed a health care reform bill July 16 that is similar to the House bill, with the vote split along party lines. Now, national attention has turned to the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Baucus, which continued its efforts last week to achieve a bipartisan bill.

Many of progressive reform advocates simply don’t trust the players in Washington, D.C., to get this right, particularly Baucus. “He’s the voice of the insurance companies in the Senate,” Flanagan said.

A recent article in the Washington Post estimated that the insurance industry is spending an estimated $1.4 million per day to influence the outcome of the health care legislation, and pointed out that many of the lobbyists were Washington insiders who had previously worked for key legislators, such as Baucus.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit research group that tracks money in U.S. politics and operates the Web site, launched an intensive study of health care sector lobbyist spending, including cataloguing industry contributions to individual candidates from 1989 to the present. Baucus received more industry campaign contributions in that time than any other Democrat, the CRP study reveals, with a total of $3.8 million. Henry Waxman (D-<\d>Los Angeles), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, received a total of $1.4 million in that same time, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) received $1.2 million.

Starting in the 2008 election cycle, the health sector gave more to Democrats than to Republicans, according to the CRP’s analysis.

To overcome that kind of money and influence, advocates say it was crucial to wield a credible single-payer option — a sort of death penalty for the insurance industry — for as long as possible.

“Having single-payer discussions on the table really informs the debate over the public option,” Flanagan said. “But by removing single-payer, it made the public option the left flank.”

Flanagan, like many, is worried about how a 900-page bill will turn out. “There are a thousands ways to get it wrong,” he said. “An easy way to get it right would be to just do a single-payer system.” ————


Uninsured Americans: 47 million

Uninsured Californians: More than 6.7 million (about one in six)

African Americans without health insurance in California: 19 percent

Latinos without health insurance in California: 31 percent

Whites without health insurance in California: 12 percent

San Franciscans without health insurance: 15.3 percent

Rise in health-insurance premiums from 2000 to 2007 in California: 96 percent

Projected rise in health care costs per family without reform: $1,800 per year

Percentage of bankruptcies attributed to an individual’s inability to pay medical bills: 62 percent

Percentage of Americans who skip doctor visits because of the cost: 25 percent

U.S. rank of 19 industrialized nations on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions: 19

Jobs that would be created by extending Medicare to all Americans: 2.6 million

Annual U.S. spending on billing and insurance-related administrative costs for health care: $400 billion

Sources: Health Care for America Now, American Journal of Medicine, Physicians for a National Health Program

Dystopian enterprise


Best-selling author Richard North Patterson stays out of the local limelight, but he’s a San Francisco resident — and we caught up with him May 21st to talk about his new book, Eclipse, and the role that U.S. oil companies play in Nigeria.

Before Nigerian environmental activist (and Goldman Environmental Prize winner) Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged in 1995, PEN, the international writers’ group, wrote letters and organized protests against the execution. "I was very impressed by Saro-Wiwa," says Patterson, who was on the board of PEN at the time. He notes that Saro-Wiwa was a nonviolence advocate who succeeded in building a grassroots movement among the Ogoni in the Nigerian delta — all in the face of a ruthless dictator, and at great risk to his wife.

As Patterson recalls, despite the protests, several Western governments voicing their concerns, and then-President Bill Clinton’s hour-long conversation with Nigeria’s military dictator Gen. Sani Abacha, "They unceremoniously hung Saro-Wiwa. It was a lesson in a number of things, beginning with the degree to which oil makes autocrats feel impervious."

Post- 9/11, oil "security" became a bigger concern. Patterson began to realize that amid the U.S. failures in the Middle East, the disaster in Iraq, and the growing fear of al Qaeda, everyone was looking at Nigeria as an even more important source of oil.

"Meanwhile Nigeria’s environment was that much more ruined, its political leadership hopelessly corrupt, a semi-official militia that claimed to be acting in Saro-Wiwa’s name was killing each other and stealing oil, and everyone had a fee," says Patterson. "It was a classic example of how a natural resource makes its extractors and the rulers rich, but only serves as a source of misery for people standing on the ground. I already felt that Saro-Wiwa was a remarkable man who should be remembered. But now he was becoming even more relevant."

Patterson began researching Saro-Wiwa’s life, a quest that involved one trip to Nigeria and many conversations with lots of related experts. "Nigeria is not a place to go back and forth to — you’d think I was trying to break into Las Vegas," he says, noting that he hired security during his trip. "I’m not unknown, so there was a concern I’d be a high-value target. But I loved the Nigerians I met. They were a bright enterprising bunch in a dystopian setting, and to the extent I couldn’t go places, I did all I could by talking to people, reading articles, and watching films."

The name of Eclipse‘s protagonist is Bobby Okari. Was Patterson making reference to President Barack Obama? "If I was, it was subliminal," he says.

So what can Americans do to improve the plight of everyday Nigerians? "Increasing our independence from oil and increasing our foreign aid to Nigeria would be helpful," Patterson says. "The real problem is the extent to which human rights are trumped by self-interest. When we fill up our tanks, half of us don’t know that there’s oil in Nigeria. So first we need to become aware of the impact of the commodities we need. But I’m not sanguine about how easy this is. Saro-Wiwa was hung and 14 years later, where are we? The same place, and that’s a disgrace."

While Patterson does not excuse what he calls "the callousness of the U.S. oil companies," he believes that first we must address the Nigerian government.

"The history of the oil industry in Nigeria is pretty ignoble, but [without the industry] they can’t maintain the schools, roads, hospitals, and clinics," he says. "If the government doesn’t give a damn, it’s hard to make a quasi-government out of an oil company. When we get angry at the oil companies, it begs the question, What is the government doing? If it isn’t encouraging economic development and environmental protection, how can the oil companies? Shell and Chevron didn’t invent corruption. This is in no way to defend them. [But] there is a disconnect between Nigeria’s miserable government and its citizens. One of my central aspirations is to tell an entertaining story — and also to convey an awareness of a real problem."

FAIR: Tell ABC to Include Single-Payer in Healthcare Debate



Tell ABC: Include Single-Payer in Healthcare Debate

Network says June 24 special will cover ‘all sides’


ABC News is preparing for a day of in-depth of coverage on President Barack Obama’s healthcare proposal on June 24, broadcasting from the White House and including an interview with Obama on Good Morning America and an hour-long Primetime “town hall” discussion featuring Obama and questions from audience members. Concerns have been raised about whether ABC’s special programming will convey a full spectrum of opinion on the healthcare reform debate–but the views perhaps most likely to be left out have so far gotten little attention.

Complaints from the right about ABC’s plans have gotten widespread play. The Republican National Committee, which attempted to buy ad time during the specials and was rejected, condemned “ABC’s astonishing decision to exclude opposing voices on this critical issue” (Real Clear Politics, 6/17/09).

Sachs: Peace Through Development


Here is an installment from Jeffrey D. Sachs’ monthly commentary: Economics and Justice available exclusively on the Project Syndicate news series. Jeffrey D. Sachs is Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also a Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

Peace Through Development

By Jeffrey D. Sachs

New York – American foreign policy has failed in recent years mainly because the United States relied on military force to address problems that demand development assistance and diplomacy. Young men become fighters in places like Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan because they lack gainful employment. Extreme ideologies influence people when they can’t feed their families, and when lack of access to family planning leads to an unwanted population explosion. President Barack Obama has raised hopes for a new strategy, but so far the forces of continuity in US policy are dominating the forces of change.

Crash landings


As the U.S. military wrestles with President Barack Obama’s plan to expand the war in Afghanistan while reducing its presence in Iraq, there’s a mounting cost on the home front for the 1.9 million soldiers who have been deployed to those conflicts and are now beginning the often difficult transition back to civilian life.

Inadequate stateside mental health and other veterans’ services has been serious problem for years (see "Soldier’s heart, 12/22/04). A report in January 2008 by the RAND Corp. titled "Invisible Wounds of War" found that nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans report symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression, and that an additional 19 percent experienced a possible traumatic brain injury while deployed. But only slightly more than half of these returning veterans seek treatment that RAND called "minimally adequate."

The report estimated that PTSD and depression will cost the nation $6.2 billion in the two years following deployment, but also estimated that investing in more high-quality treatment — and thus lowering the rates of suicide and lost productivity among veterans — could reduce those costs by $2 billion within two years. Modern life-saving and protective technologies and repeated deployments appear to be making the problem worse now than in previous wars.

"Early evidence suggests the psychological toll of the deployments may be disproportionately high compared with physical injuries," the report stated, concluding that a national effort is needed to expand and improve the capacity of the health care system and to encourage veterans to seek this care.

That national picture is reflected in San Francisco. Judi Cheary of San Francisco’s Department of Veteran Affairs medical clinic said that 25 percent of the service members they see returning from Afghanistan and Iraq receive a mental health diagnosis.

Keith Armstrong, the clinic’s PTSD counselor and a professor of psychiatry at University of California-San Francisco, noted that veterans often have a diagnosis that includes depression and PTSD, or substance abuse and PTSD. "So they may be struggling with many problems," said Armstrong, who wrote Courage After Fire: Coping Strategies for Troops Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and Their Families (Ulysses Press, 2005). "Others simply have adjustment challenges from being in combat."

For instance, traffic can be difficult for returning service members who drove in combat conditions, where explosives were a constant concern. "They are scanning the environment because that’s what kept them safe in combat, or pushing the steering wheel when a friend is driving, trying to move from one lane to another," he explained.

According to V.A. data, California has the third-highest number of veterans in the nation. In Northern California, most live in the Central Valley, leaving some San Francisco vets feeling isolated. "There’s a lot of talk about supporting the troops, which is nice, but it’s intellectual," Armstrong said. "Here people may not disclose that a family member is in war, not because they’re afraid people will spit on him, but because they are afraid that people will say dumb things."

His clinic has seen an increase in these veterans in the past year. Armstrong typically sees three clusters of PTSD symptoms: intrusive symptoms (vets can’t get particular images and experiences out of their head); avoidance symptoms (vets believe they don’t have a great future ahead; they feel numb, it’s hard to get close to them); and arousal symptoms (vets are often irritable and angry).

Anger often causes the most problems. "We see more self-destructive and reckless behavior in younger folks," he added. "They have anger, revenge-based fantasies. They know what it’s like to blow someone’s head off or to see it being blown off, so when they get angry, that crosses their mind." But he said that couples and families often talk more about "the numbing" and "the inability to connect."

Armstrong also pointed out that many vets worry about the effect on their career of getting help, and how it looks to others if they do. "That’s due to both their training and age group," he said, noting that 50 percent of soldiers are 17-to-24-year-olds, and 89 percent are male.

"So it’s not just about war, but about the developmental stage of the troops," he said. "It’s an appropriate age to be independent and not get any help. But that, combined with the stigma of asking for help — and if they have PTSD avoidance symptoms — can keep them from going in."

As a result of recent studies showing that PTSD can develop up to five years after discharge, the V.A. extended what was previously a two-year limit in which veterans could get help to a five-year window. They also now have a suicide prevention hotline number for vets: 1-800-273-8255.

"The V.A. overall has made some mistakes, but it has really taken suicide prevention seriously," Armstrong said.

There are nonprofit options as well. Founded in 1974, Swords to Plowshares provides counseling and case management, employment, training, housing, and legal assistance to homeless and low-income veterans.

Equally important, it’s staffed by veterans like Walter Williams, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and has combat-related PTSD, and Tia Christopher, a survivor of military sexual trauma. "The experience of being in a war zone as well, or being sexually assaulted by some one in your own unit, that’s profound," Armstrong said.

As Christopher explained, she and Williams have similar symptoms and attend weekly V.A. appointments to deal with their own mental health issues, between providing services to other veterans at the group’s Howard Street office.

"Pretty much everyone coming back has combat stress and everyone I know has been buying rifles," Christopher said, noting that cleaning guns can be a meditative therapeutic activity for veterans. "Combat stress becomes clinical PTSD when those symptoms don’t go away."

Christopher said women who were in combat and survived military sexual trauma face "a double whammy." Out of the military for more than seven years, Christopher observed that "things get better, but the memories don’t go away."

In 2007 there were more than 2,000 reported military sexual assaults, but only 181 were court-martialed, she said. "So basically survivors are dealing with injustice of nothing happening.

"I used to wish that PTSD gave you purple spots," she added. "That way people would know you had it. Instead, you are left dealing with getting panic attacks all of a sudden and being on edge."

"I call it a flare-up," Williams said. "It’s different each time. Sometimes, when I have to focus and get my mind around something, I’m blank. I feel like I want to cry, but I can’t."

Unlike past generations who openly identified as vets, "this new wave of vets is "more intent on blending in," Williams said. "They’re trying to suppress their symptoms. They don’t want to be seen as weirdos."

Deployed to Iraq and then Afghanistan as a communications specialist in 2004, Williams recalled having to give up his weapon twice and being put on suicide watch. "For a week, they watched me, then they gave me my weapon back."

He’s convinced that the best solutions to the challenges facing this latest wave of PTSD-afflicted vets lie in "listening to stories from the mouths of people with it," he said.

Bobbi Rosenthal, regional coordinator for V.A.’s homeless program, said that an estimated 20 percent of the 6,514 people recorded in San Francisco’s 2009 homeless count are veterans.

Anita Yoskowitz, administrative site manager for the V.A.’s homeless services center on Third Street, said 90 percent of the vets who use the clinic’ showers, laundry facilities, and computer lab have PTSD.

And while many of the center’s clients are still from the Vietnam and Desert Storm era, the average age is starting to come down, she said, as veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan begin to trickle in.

Veterans can come to the clinic every day, but those who are not clean and sober are limited to three times a week. When folks come for medical care, Yoskowitz said, "the clinic is on the look out for mental health problems."

Jacob Hoff, who volunteers at the center’s computer lab, said that from conversations he overhears, it’s clear that coming back is hard. "There’s a lot of survivor’s guilt. I can really tell the young kids who are coming in and learning how to be homeless. The older guys tell them where to go for food."

Donald Fontenot, who enlisted in 1980, was on the computer looking for housing when he shared his story. He enlisted when he was 18 and then messed up his knees jumping out of a C-141 jet, so he understands the stress of no longer being able to perform.

"You are young and strong and then all of a sudden, you can’t do these things," said Fontenot, who was living in his car behind the clinic until it got towed by the police. "So I wound up more homeless."

Currently staying with a friend, Fontenot recalled meeting a Vietnam vet who likes to walk around Golden Gate Park at night with a pistol. "It gives him the feeling of walking around in the jungle," said Fontenot, who is searching for suitable Section 8 housing — another unique challenge for PTSD-afflicted veterans in San Francisco.

For some, the road to recovery leads them from the streets of San Francisco back into the arms of their family. One such local family shared their story with the Guardian and we decided to shield their identities for privacy. Mike recalled the dramatic change he saw in his brother, Joe, who joined the Marines directly after 9/11, after he tore up his shoulder in Iraq.

"His whole mentality, even if he didn’t support the war in Iraq, was of a to-die-for-it Marine," said Mike, recalling the hurt and disappointment in Joe’s voice after he had two surgeries, and couldn’t return with his unit to combat.

Mike said his brother’s state of mind worsen after he had been out of active duty for three years, and that the first signs that his brother might have PTSD were night sweats and an inability to pay attention.

"But how can you expect soldiers to pay attention to isolated thoughts, words, and action, when they are or have been immersed in culture that teaches you to ‘walk, talk, shoot, shit’?" Mike asked.

Joe was homeless in San Francisco for stints in 2007, but never longer than a week. Mike recalled how things came to a head when the two brothers got into a fight one night after Mike closed the bar where he worked.

"Here we are, I’m 30 and he is 28, in a fist fight, and I told [Joe], ‘I think you’re losing your mind.’ And he said, ‘then save me,’ lying on my kitchen floor at four in the morning. But then that was it, no more conversation."

Joe soon checked himself into a couple of private facilities where he berated psychiatrists for not knowing about military combat zones and could always check himself out. "Then he went over to the East Bay, went into a 24-hour Fitness Center to use the shower, got into it with a security guard for trespassing and disorderly conduct, got arrested, and was brought to the V.A.’s PTSD center in Palo Alto," Mike said.

It was at this state-of-the art facility that Joe began to get help, and this year he returned to Chicago, where he is living with family until he returns to school to pursue his master’s degree. Joe’s mother, Betty, said dealing with all this has been minor compared to the prospect of losing her middle son permanently. But she resisted labeling behavior she believes was connected to his imploding marriage and financial problems when he moved to California, as well as to fallout from his injuries in Iraq.

She recalls getting an e-mail from their now former daughter-in law saying, "Joe has been living in the park, camping." Betty said the first year after Joe came back was pretty tough. "We knew the marriage was over. And a couple of times I called two of his real close friends who are Marines, to tough-talk to him. For a period of time, he was acting out, a different person. You could tell something wasn’t right, and yeah, some blamed it on the service."

Asked what she thought of giving vets with PTSD a Purple Heart, an idea the military floated earlier this year, Betty said, "I don’t know. They all have to go through it in some respects. My feelings about why he ended up totally collapsing is that he was trying to do too much on too little. They are over there, building cities and lives for people. Then they get back and find they can’t support their families or themselves. But at least it’s not like when folks came back from Vietnam and were labeled as bums."

Guardian staff writer Sarah Phelan’s son deployed to Iraq in 2007 and returned in April 2008.

State of the movement


As local antiwar activists continue to oppose the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, they are struggling to mobilize popular support under a presidential administration that is less overtly bellicose than the Bush regime.

Antonia Juhasz, author of The Bush Agenda (William Morrow, 2006) and last year’s The Tyranny of Oil (William Morrow), has worked with a number of Bay Area antiwar groups. Over coffee in the Mission District, she said much has changed since President Barack Obama took office.

"It’s an amazing victory for the antiwar movement that we pushed people to elect a president who pledged to end the Iraq war. Now our job is to make that pledge a reality," she said, visibly tired from long work on a report about Chevron Corp.’s profiteering in Iraq and even at home in Richmond, where it’s sued the city to block a voter-approved tax increase.

Juhasz argues that all U.S. troops and contractors should leave Iraq immediately and that all bases be closed. But Obama’s plan includes a slower withdrawal timeline and for some U.S. forces to be left there indefinitely.

Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CodePink and Global Exchange, told the Guardian that Obama supporters need to realize that it’s fine to disagree with our first African American president on some policies. She described, the prominent liberal organization that was a key player in Obama’s campaign, as "very top down," and focused on pro-Obama talking points. "It’s very hard because a lot of groups have become appendages to the administration."

Juhasz feels the antiwar movement needs to better communicate that "the organizing isn’t over when the campaign is over. Even if the leader agrees with you, they still need activists to push them."

But she acknowledges the difficulty of the task. "We want to keep from telling people they’re wrong. They won, which is great. But we need to say ‘You have the responsibility to keep organizing for the issues, not just the individual.’ It’s critically important to see beyond the leader, so it doesn’t become a cult of personality," she said, recalling that "under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, if there wasn’t a mass movement for revolutionary change, there wouldn’t have been a New Deal."

That kind of pressure is clearly not being exerted on Obama. Tom Gallagher, a San Francisco resident active with the Bernal Heights Democratic Club, told us during a March 21 San Francisco demonstration commemorating the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war, "If McCain had been elected there would be many more people here protesting. Obama is using the schedule Bush agreed to on pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq."

Gallagher grew more irked as he said, "Obama has sent 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. He’s getting a pass on it, and McCain wouldn’t."

ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) has continued to agitate against war and for social justice. Richard Becker, ANSWER’s Western Regional Coordinator, told us the relatively low turnout on March 21 was not surprising.

Becker said he sees Obama’s popularity as "elation" over Bush’s exit. But no matter how bad the past or good the intentions of a candidate, once the candidate is elected U.S. president, he said, "the job description is CEO of the Empire." Becker cautioned that it will take time for postelection euphoria to wear off and for people to realize that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are dragging on under Obama.

Local activist David Solnit, a mainstay of Direct Action to Stop the War, works with Courage to Resist, which supports military war resisters. The group also helps recruits fight "stop-loss," which sends soldiers back to Iraq for additional tours of duty without their consent. "Obama said he’s going to change it eventually, but we’re worried about right now," he said.

Courage to Resist organizer Sarah Lazare agrees with Solnit that peace activists should oppose U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. Lazare says it’s important to communicate that "Afghanistan is not a good war" and that "terrorism is a tactic" that cannot be destroyed militarily.

"Measuring the number of people at a demonstration is not the only way to measure what’s going on," she said. Among her examples of ongoing, dynamic organizing is the work of Courage to Resist and Iraq Vets Against the War.

IVAW is directly organizing active-duty members of the military to engage in dissent. SF Bay Area chapter member Peter Schlange told us that their ranks are growing as the Iraq war continues.

IVAW is also challenging the Afghanistan buildup. In a recently passed resolution, the antiwar veterans group "calls for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces in Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people, and supports all troops and veterans working towards those ends."

Paul Kawika Martin, organizing and policy director for Peace Action, says his group wants all troops out of Iraq by 2010, with no "residual forces" or contractors left behind. Martin also says it’s important for activists to march and to lobby Congress. He stressed that both Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi lobbied for reform, and U.S. peace activists also need to do so.

Martin feels the peace movement will have an important impact on the new administration. "I don’t think he fears being too liberal," Marin told me. "But he wants to get things done, and like any politician he will be more pragmatic than we want him to be."

Martin said the troop escalation in Afghanistan was a concern for Peace Action. Martin is working with a group of 70 activists, think tanks, and aid workers who make up the Afghanistan Policy Working Group. He points to Reps. Raul Grijalva (now the co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus), Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee, and Maxine Waters as key allies of antiwar activists in Congress. "We need to support them," he told me.

The antiwar movement itself also needs support, given that many of its top activists have been arrested repeatedly in the last six years.

Organizer Stephanie Tang with the World Can’t Wait dismisses hope for Democrats as a trap. She pointed to Nancy Pelosi’s early knowledge of torture and Obama’s recent announcement that the administration would block release of torture photos in the courts. In March 2008, Tang was arrested for allegedly obstructing police at a Berkeley demonstration opposing a military recruiting center.

Walter Riley, Tang’s lawyer, told the Guardian: "It’s my contention they identified Stephanie as a leader and are vioutf8g her constitutional rights to protest an illegal war."

Berkeley police referred inquiries to the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, which had not returned our call at press time. Riley said a Berkeley policeman "blind-sided her," and, holding his club horizontally, slammed Tang off her feet.

Police later attempted to get a statement from Tang while she was receiving medical treatment for injuries sustained during the incident. Berkeley police only later charged her with obstructing police at the march. Tang faces one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Saving the southeast


This map of all foreclosures in San Francisco shows a heavy concentration in the southern part of the city, home to many low-income communities of color.

When Mayor Gavin Newsom and Sup. Sophie Maxwell convened a task force in July 2007 to figure out why African Americans are leaving San Francisco and how to reverse this trend, the subprime loan market crisis was about to send a shock wave of home foreclosures sweeping through southeast San Francisco.

Hope SF, the promised rebuild of the city’s public housing projects, is underway at a cost of $95 million. The city’s certificates of preference program, giving housing priority to black residents displaced by redevelopment, has been expanded and extended. But little has been done to address the immediate problem.

Instead political leaders have focused on a plan to subsidize Lennar Corp.’s construction of thousands of new condos in the southeast section of the city — the heart of the San Francisco’s remaining African American community — and have done nothing to promote a plan that could convert hundreds of foreclosed homes into affordable for-sale or rental units there, right here, right now.

African American Out Migration Task Force (AAOMTF) members recall warning that the crisis would likely hit San Francisco’s already dwindling black population extra hard. And Sup. John Avalos, who was running for election in District 11, remembers seeing impacts in the Excelsior District as early as 2007.

"I was telling people in early 2007 that this was a problem in District 11, and even real estate people didn’t believe me," recalled Avalos, who is exploring legislation to hold banks accountable and spoke at an ACORN protest in support of Excelsior homeowner Genaro Paed, a Filipino native who just staved off eviction orders pending the outcome of his lawsuit against Washington Mutual concerning what Paed describes as "a predatory loan" secured in 2006.

Avalos also planned to introduce legislation on May 12 that would expand protection of renters, including those in foreclosed homes who are now being evicted by banks.

This isn’t the first time city leaders have studied the African American exodus or ways to prevent low-income and minority households from being preyed upon or displaced. Indeed, this task force’s initial findings, (released last summer after Lennar spent millions to persuade voters to support building 10,000 condos in the city’s southeast) suggests San Francisco’s entire black community is at risk unless proactive and immediate steps are taken.

According to U.S. Census data, the city’s African American population shrank to 6.6 percent of the city’s total population by 2005 (a 40 percent decline since 1990) and will likely slip to 4.6 percent by 2050, according to the California Department of Finance. And these findings were made before the foreclosure crisis heated up.

In 2008 Maxwell and other elected officials convened a Fair Lending Working Group (FLWG) to figure out how to respond to the wave of foreclosures. By year’s end, there were 667 home foreclosures in San Francisco, almost all in the city’s southeast sector.

These numbers sound small compared to Contra Costa County or Oakland, where thousands of foreclosures occurred. And they aren’t big enough to qualify for the first round of President Barack Obama’s National Stabilization Program grants, which were released earlier this year. Based on a census-driven formula, the grants sent $8 million to Oakland and no money to San Francisco.

But with half the city’s foreclosures in the Bayview, home to most of the city’s remaining African Americans, the fact that little has been done to save these homes — or to follow early recommendations to do so — is a gentrification crisis in the making.

Ed Donaldson, housing counseling director at the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation in the Bayview District, served on the FLWG and remembers suggesting a two-tier track. First, take steps to protect renters in places that have been foreclosed and second, buy as many foreclosed properties as possible with the aim of reselling or leasing them as affordable units. While the FLWG liked the renter protection angle, it did not support the foreclosure acquisition program.

"The idea fell on deaf ears," recalls Donaldson, who was disappointed his foreclosure purchase plan didn’t make it onto FLWG’s recent recommendation list. FLWG members include financial institutions such as Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual, and Patelco Credit Union; community-based organizations such as Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, SFHDC, Mission Economic Development Agency; and city agencies. The agency also has received staff support from Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, the Mayor’s Office of Housing, Treasurer Jose Cisneros and the Office of the Legislative Analyst.

"We’d already seen the spike in foreclosure numbers, so how did these recommendations get pushed out? We need something with teeth," Donaldson said.

SFHDC executive director Regina Davis says she suggested a foreclosure purchase and resale plan as an AAOMTF member and was concerned when she noticed that her recommendation was not included on the list discussed at the April 23 meeting. Billed as a closing-out session, that meeting took place at the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and was attended by Davis, chair Aileen Hernandez, Redevelopment director Fred Blackwell, the Rev. Amos Brown, Barbara Cohen of the African American Action Network, Tinisch Hollins of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, and former supervisor and assessor Doris Ward, among others. The AAOMTF is finishing up its work this week.

"I got involved because I believed that in exchange for participation, we would see things done and/or funded. Part of what we want to see are real action items that keep African Americans in San Francisco or bring them back. So we really want this issue to move forward with substance," Davis told the Guardian.

Recognizing that San Francisco is facing massive budget constraints, SFHDC is proposing to borrow $1.5 million from Clearinghouse CDFI, a Los Angeles community development financial agency, to acquire and rehabilitate these foreclosed properties.

Davis’ group would then turn it around and offer residents several options: buy (if the prospective buyer qualifies for the city’s $150,000 downpayment assistance and a $50,000 loan from the California Housing Financing Agency); lease (in which SFHDC sells the home to the buyer but leases the land, making the price affordable), lease-to-own. Or, Davis adds, people could rent the units at affordable rates.

But to make the plan work, SFHDC need the banks to sell the properties AT below market rates. Noting that foreclosed properties are still selling in the Bayview for $400,000, Davis says her nonprofit intends to purchase 100 to 200 homes during a 24-month period at less than $200,000 mark.

Yet Davis remains optimistic about the plan’s chances as SFHDC negotiates with major banks for a 50 percent discount, noting that there is a monthly average of 50 foreclosures in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point, and SFHDC has access to 100 qualified buyers.

Blackwell said the Redevelopment Agency hasn’t developed an initiative or a funding pool to respond to the foreclosures in the city’s southeast sector. But, he said, the agency is looking at ways to apply for National Stabilization Program funds even though "federal guidelines mostly don’t apply well in expensive markets like San Francisco.

"We are engaged in advocacy so San Francisco can take advantage of any federal stabilization funds, but we don’t have an agency-specific proposal," he continued.

"Frankly, I think community-based organizations are the best to do programs like that, especially since there is so much anxiety about the Redevelopment Agency and property acquisition in the southeast," Blackwell added.

He believes that given the city’s current budgetary constraints, the AAOMTF "will likely look for leadership from the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors in cases where members have made recommendations and there is an opportunity to bring in public money."

Blackwell feels the city is still getting its mind around its foreclosure problem. "We’ve been spared the wholesale neighborhood-by-neighborhood devastation that places like Antioch faced," Blackwell said. "So, there wasn’t the same sense of urgency. And there’s a need to look more closely at the data. A lot of the information is based on anecdotes."

Yet the feds seem willing to help if city officials take the initiative. Larry Bush, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s regional office, says San Francisco and Oakland could file a joint foreclosure plan application.

"If they can identify 100 homes, they’d be eligible for $5 million," Bush said, noting one snag that could unravel the plan locally. "Foreclosed properties must be vacant for at least six months. And as you know, in San Francisco, foreclosed homes still sell."

Maxwell says the city could do more to confront predatory lenders and enforce tenant rights, as well as developing a plan to buy foreclosed properties. "But in San Francisco it’s an issue because of relatively high prices," she told us.

Yet the city’s high prices are the very problem pushing out low-income residents. African American home ownership actually increased after 1990, even as out-migration among black renters increased. But now, if the foreclosures stand, that exodus will likely accelerate.

Asked if she supports SFHDC’s current foreclosure plan, Maxwell said, "It makes sense to me. If that could be done, it would be optimal."

Myrna Melgar of the Mayor’s Office of Housing says she’s not sure that a foreclosure resale plan would work in San Francisco for folks who bought a couple of years ago, when house prices hit $700,000, only to see house prices fall to around $400,000.

"San Francisco is a very different universe from Detroit," Melgar said. "Properties don’t sit around empty and vacant. They are bought by speculators who are betting that in two or three years, their values will go up. So if we had money to buy these properties, which we don’t, we’d be in competition with the speculators, who have lots of money with no strings attached, and who drive the prices up."

Another difference, Melgar said, is that San Francisco banks are holding onto 50 percent of their foreclosed properties, whereas Antioch banks are only holding onto 22 percent. "We’d like to keep folks in the homes," Melgar said. "But it’s a policy issue related to the reality that we have such limited funds."

Dick Meister: Labor’s White House friend


President Barack Obama brings new hope to America’s working families, says AFL-CIO president John Sweeney

By Dick Meister

(Dick Meister, a San Francisco-based journalist, has been covering labor and politics for more than half a century.)

Barack Obama the presidential candidate declared that the nation needed “a
president who doesn’t choke on the word ‘union.'” But now that Obama has
assumed the presidency – and good riddance to his virulently anti-union
predecessor — is he delivering on his promise to lead a pro-union

Absolutely, says the AFL-CIO, which played a major role in Obama’s victory.
The federation spent more than $450 million and put more than a
quarter-million volunteers to work in its campaigns for Obama and pro-labor
congressional candidates, and turned out millions of union voters.

“The political pendulum is swinging back toward sanity,” says AFL-CIO
President John Sweeney. “Barack Obama brings new hope to America’s working

It is clear, in any case, that Obama’s strong support for unions is genuine.
He really meant it when he said — not while campaigning for labor votes,
but after his election – that “I want to strengthen the union movement in
this country and put an end to the barriers and roadblocks that are in the
way of workers legitimately coming together in order to form a union and
bargain collectively.”

Imagine George Bush making such a statement. He would indeed have been very
likely to choke.

Obama already has done a lot to back up his words. For starters, he quickly
rescinded some of the most damaging of the anti-worker executive orders that
Bush had issued. One had allowed White House staffers to overturn, in behalf
of Bush’s employer allies, job safety regulations that the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration had promulgated. Obama ordered that those
regulations and some new ones go into effect immediately.

He also voided a Bush regulation that had allowed federal contractors to be
reimbursed for the costs of blocking unionizing drives. And Obama overturned
a regulation that had banned so-called Project Labor Agreements, which in
effect call for collective bargaining on federal and federally funded

Unions are especially pleased — and should be — with Obama’s appointment
of Congresswoman Hilda Solis to head the Labor Department. Bolstered by what
promises to be a substantial increase in funds and personnel for labor law
enforcement, Secretary of Labor Solis is certain to move forcefully to
protect and enhance workers’ rights. Under Bush, workers had little
protection from employer exploitation.

Workers didn’t get much help, either, from the Bush appointees who
controlled the National Labor Relations Board, which is supposed to protect
workers’ union rights. Bush’s NLRB did the opposite in many cases, siding
with employers to block workers from unionizing, particularly by failing to
act against such illegal employer tactics as firing or otherwise penalizing
pro-union workers.

Obama will soon be able to appoint a majority of board members who are
certain to protect workers’ rights. His appointee as NLRB chair, longtime
board member Wilma Liebman, is expected to put a high priority on reversing
board rulings that stripped union rights from thousands of workers.

Other important pro-labor steps taken by the new administration include:

*Creating a cabinet-level “task force” headed by Vice President Joe Biden to
give working people a direct voice in developing and coordinating policies
to improve the status of poor and middle class Americans.

*Obama’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which Bush had threatened to
veto. It overturns a Supreme Court decision that made it virtually
impossible for women to sue for wage discrimination.

*The signing of a bill, vetoed twice by Bush, that reauthorizes a health
insurance program for more than 10 million children of low-income workers.

Additionally, Obama’s budget and stimulus programs call for major
infrastructure projects that would provide as many as 3.5 million
well-paying construction jobs. The programs also would give tax relief to
working people, create job training programs to help low-wage workers and
ex-offenders learn marketable skills and, among other changes, update the
unemployment insurance system to provide more help to the jobless.

Several other promised reforms await White House action, including
strengthening the union rights and job security of federal employees. What
organized labor wants most is passage of the highly controversial Employee
Free Choice Act that would remove the legal obstacles that have limited
union expansion. Obama supports the act, but he’s been giving signals that
he would back a compromise version because of heavy pressure from opponents
that threatens to block congressional approval.

Although some unionists are demanding that Obama take a stronger stand on
the proposed act and otherwise show even more support for labor, most
unionists seem to be highly pleased with his actions so far. The AFL-CIO
praises him for taking “big, concrete steps” to lay the foundation for
important change.

The federation’s organizing director, Stewart Acuff, says Obama is “doing
extremely well in very difficult circumstances. He continues to have our
unwavering support and appreciation …. There is much to be done and we
intend to do all we can to help him succeed.”

Dick Meister, a San Francisco-based journalist, has covered labor and
political issues for a half-century. Contact him through his website,

Beyond May Day


Text and photos by Joe Sciarrillo
Thousands marched in Bay Area cities on May 1 to honor International Workers’ Day, or May Day, offering a preview of the big struggles to come on the national political front.

Mission District activists chanted on Dolores Street, “¡Qué viva las familias! ¡Qué viva el barrio! Viva!” energizing participants to join together to support their families and neighborhoods. Yet the daily struggles of immigrants and laborers, families living hand-to-mouth, and loved ones separated by borders has eluded most media outlets and commentators.

The nationwide marches focused on calls for comprehensive immigration reform and improving workers’ conditions, including passing the Employee Free Choice Act. This was just days after the first question at President Barack Obama’s April 29 news conference asked if he would close the U.S./Mexico border due to the swine flu outbreak. He, of course, responded by declaring that he would not do so.

Shades of green


When President Barack Obama signed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act in mid-February, folks across the country were hopeful that the $787 billion stimulus package would help preserve and create decent jobs in their communities.

And in mid-March, when the Obama administration announced that Bay Area social justice activist Van Jones was joining the White House Council on Environmental Quality, advocates for green jobs took it as a sign that Obama shares Jones’ belief that we can fix our nation’s two biggest problems — excessive greenhouse gas production and not enough good jobs for the working class — by creating a green-collar economy.

Jones cofounded Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which opposes police abuse and promotes alternatives to incarceration, and founded Oakland’s Green for All, which aims to create green-collar jobs in low-income communities. He defines a green-collar job as "a family-supporting, career-track job that directly contributes to preserving or enhancing environmental quality."

"Think of them as the 2.0 version of old-fashioned blue-collar jobs, upgraded to respect the Earth and meet the environmental challenges of today," Jones wrote in his New York Times bestseller The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems (HarperOne, 2008).

But is Jones’ definition codified into Obama’s Recovery Act? And in San Francisco, where Mayor Gavin Newsom speaks incessantly about green jobs and regularly praises Jones, will the jobs we create be for the people who need them most? And how will that play out in a city where blacks, Latinos and Asians experience higher unemployment, poverty, and incarceration rates than whites, and building construction has stalled, pitting skilled union workers against training program graduates?

Last month, an alliance of community and worker organizations from San Francisco’s working class neighborhoods sent a letter to Newsom outlining concerns about the Recovery Act’s equity, job quality, and transparency requirements.

Antonio Diaz of PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights), Alex Tom of the Chinese Progressive Association, Steve Williams of POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights), and Terry Valen of the Filipino Community Center asked Newsom to ensure that ARRA funds would be used to create "green jobs and opportunities primarily for low-income people and people of color" and "high quality jobs with family-supporting wages and benefits, safe and healthy working conditions, and career ladders."

"We ask for your commitment to greater transparency and community input in shaping and monitoring the infusion of ARRA funds for San Francisco’s developing green collar economy," they wrote.

Two weeks later Newsom announced the launching of, a Web site that seeks to track stimpack funds coming to San Francisco. Although the Web site shows that $150 million of the first quarter-billion of formula funding is headed toward infrastructure projects, it does not include estimates of the numbers of green jobs created.

Wade Crowfoot of the Mayor’s Office told the Guardian that the city is focused on ensuring that green jobs are created with these funds and that the City Attorney’s Office is figuring out what is "allowable" under Recovery Act’s guidelines.

On April 3, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget issued a 172-page memo outlining the Recovery Act’s policy goals. The goals included ensuring compliance with equal opportunity laws and principles, promoting local hiring, providing maximum practicable opportunities for small business and equal opportunities for disadvantaged business, encouraging sound labor practices, and engaging with community-based organizations.

"But will all cities include achievable, measurable requirements?" Crowfoot said. "I don’t think so, without federal guidelines."

This lack of specifics, Crowfoot says, has the City Attorney figuring out if San Francisco can include "first source" hiring requirements, in which hiring halls agree to interview graduates from local training programs first. If so, Crowfoot says, the city will seek to leverage existing funding for energy efficiency programs and conduct hire-locally campaigns in low-income communities.

But as Crowfoot notes, although we know that $1.5 million in ARRA funding is coming to San Francisco for weatherizing homes — helping to decrease the energy costs of low-income residents, reduce the city’s energy demands, and increase the number of people hired from the local community to do energy audits and retrofits — we still don’t know how many jobs will be created per project, which is the basic goal of economic stimulation.

"If we spend the dollars, say, on boiler replacement, that’s more equipment and less labor," Crowfoot said. "But the more you hire locally, the more those folks get experience, the more they’ll be well positioned to get jobs in the non-subsidized sector once the stimulus funds are gone."

Acknowledging the tension between laid-off union workers and graduates of apprentice training programs, Crowfoot said, "We are trying to figure out a balance, whereby the community is not shut out, but the unions’ needs are addressed. We want to be careful about how many jobs we say are going to be created. We don’t want to build hope in populations who already have a lot of mistrust in the government."

Michael Theriault, secretary and treasurer of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council, told us that 25 percent of the region’s 16,000 building trades workers are out of work, compared to nearly full employment last year.

In the past, the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council provided CityBuild with instructors and took the lion’s share of the program graduates, Theriault explains. But under present conditions, the Council isn’t keen on another CityBuild cycle.

"I think they should work to sponsor another cycle, but the ball is also in the city’s court," Theriault said, noting that the ARRA-funded weatherization program could soon be offering prevailing union wages ($20 an hour for roofers, $40 to $50 for plumbers and electricians) that could help ease the tension. And then there’s the inconvenient truth that some union members view non-unionized solar panel installers as "scabs," creating another barrier to using green jobs to lift the underemployed.

Mayor Newsom has until June to secure and implement stimpack funding as part of upcoming local budget proposals, a timetable that has Green for All issuing a call for action to ensure that Recovery Act implementation creates green-collar jobs, ensures transparency and accountability, and supports pathways out of poverty.

"This may be the most important opportunity you’ll ever have to bring green-collar jobs to your community," Green For All wrote in a public statement. "But the planning process will be over in the blink of an eye, and your community could miss out. That’s why we’re calling on you to take action now."

Green for All field organizer Julian Mocine-McQueen is scheduled to sit down with Crowfoot this week in an effort to get Newsom to sign his group’s pledge. He said there’s been an expansion of the city’s lighting and refrigeration cooling retrofitting program, starting with small business owners who speak English as a second language. "It’s good," McQueen said. "But it’s not enough."

He believes green job success will depend, in part, on including hiring parameters. "A job in the city’s southeast sector may not pay $70,000 a year, but it would be a huge step toward creating a family-sustaining job," McQueen said, noting that the Obama administration has "to a certain extent" adopted Jones’ definition of green-collar jobs. "I’m not sure that they have codified it," McQueen said. "They have recommendations."

Asked to define green jobs during a recent media roundtable on projected budget deficits, Newsom talked about weatherization and sustainability and plans to expand the city’s training academies before handing the floor to the Office of Economic and Workforce Development’s Kyri McClellan, whom he described as his "green czarina."

McClellan, who describes herself as "the lead cat-herder" of Recovery Act funds, told reporters that San Francisco is expected to receive a quarter of a billion dollars in formula funds in the coming fiscal year, 95 percent of which have been allocated to "shovel-ready" projects that were already queued up under the city’s 10-year capital plan.

During a subsequent board committee hearing, McClellan shared job estimates — 30 jobs from the $11 million Department of Public Works street paving allocation and 250 jobs from the $18 million Housing Authority retrofitting allocation — that raised eyebrows.

McClellan said that OEWD is "moving as quickly as possible to take the dollars we’ve been allocated, get approval from the Board of Supervisors, and get programs up and running."

Observing that the city also has parallel funding for training programs such as CityBuild and a Green Academy, McClellan added that "no one is working harder than Rhonda Simmons." Reached by phone, OEWD’s Simmons said she has been working with San Francisco State University professor Raquel Pinderhughes to identify five job sectors that have "the capacity to grow the greatest number of green jobs."

These include solar installation, energy efficiency, landscaping/public greening, recycling, and green building. "In an economy like this, you have to be competitive," Simmons said. "And almost all the programs that come out of my shop are geared toward low-income to moderate-income folks."

Observing that OEWD is using a $238,000 federal earmark to seed a Green Academy and that will expand the GoSolarSF workforce incentive, compete for a $500,000 EPA brownfield cleanup training grant, and coordinate with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to develop "workforce incentive language" for biodiesel reuse program and energy efficiency projects, Simmons notes that it was the unions that helped create CityBuild in the first place, and the city is working to ease current concerns.

"It is our intent as OEWD designs the academy that any training programs must demonstrate that they train individuals for occupations with opportunity for upward mobility," Simmons said, after emerging from a meeting cochaired by Crowfoot and Pinderhughes to help community-based organizations understand green jobs and figure out how to link with the Green Jobs Corps that Pinderhughes set up in Oakland.

Eric Smith runs the Bayview-based Green Depot, a nonprofit that promotes biodiesel use in neighborhoods facing environmental justice issues and ran a $9,000-per intern pilot program with Global Exchange. He worries that administrative costs will chew up much of the stimulus money, citing SFPUC figures that the cost ratio for trainers to interns is about 3:1.

"There is a lot of concern in the Bayview that the money will end up going to consultants and administrators when we have people who are hungry and desperate to work," Smith said.

After two green jobs hearings, Sup. Eric Mar says that he and Sups. Sophie Maxwell and David Chiu have concluded "that unless the board takes action and gives clear guidelines and expectations, green collar job creation will be miniscule."
Noting that Oakland’s Green Job Corps and Richmond’s solar program seem years ahead of San Francisco’s efforts, Mar said his next step will be to talk with labor, environmental groups, businesses, and nonprofits to get a sense of an appropriate structure to prioritize the low-income communities as the main beneficiaries of green-collar job creation. "It’s pretty clear that the [Newsom] administration’s commitment to the numbers of jobs created is pretty small," Mar said. "The community is going to have to push for more."

What’s in the Republicans’ tea?


By Steven T. Jones
As overhyped and ridiculous as tomorrow’s Republican Tea Party events are, I find them a fascinating manifestation of the perplexing posture of victimhood that the US ruling class and its right-wing shills seem to revel in. So I might just have to pop down to Civic Center Plaza from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. tomorrow to see San Francisco’s festivities.

The US has one of the lowest rates of taxation in the industrialized world. Fiscal conservatives have been calling the political shots in this country since 1980, resulting in an extraordinary consolidation of wealth, a threadbare social safety net, and an economic system collapsing because we refused to regulate greed and corruption.

“Yet on this Tax Day, all taxpaying Americans should be concerned that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats’ runaway tax hikes will be the death of America’s economy as they extend the ‘Pelosi Recession,’” warned National Republican Congressional Committee director Guy Harrison in an alarming mass e-mail. “This week, thousands of patriotic Americans will gather to protest oppressive government taxation, and stand as one for fiscal sanity at tea parties across the nation.”

Really? We should all be alarmed that Congress and President Barack Obama are considering increasing the upper income tax bracket by a couple of percentage points? Frankly, I’m pissed that they’re being too timid in getting our money back from the rich motherfuckers who stole it. And I certainly feel that our corporate-sponsored political system is essentially taxation without representation from those of us who can’t afford a campaign contribution.

So maybe we’re all a little indignant.

Shielding Goni


Top Democratic Party pollster Stanley Greenberg rolled into San Francisco last month to promote his latest book, Dispatches from the War Room — In the trenches with five extraordinary leaders (2009, St. Martin’s Press). The slight, bespectacled man spoke at the Commonwealth Club, sharing what he hoped were "honest and frank" accounts of working with leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton.

While he happily pontificated on the lessons these experiences held for President Barack Obama, he was a bit more defensive on why he had proudly featured in the book Gonzalo "Goni" Sánchez de Lozada, former president of Bolivia who is currently wanted for his role in a massacre of 67 people in October 2003.

Greenberg was drafted in 2002 to help Goni, a wealthy University of Chicago-educated businessman, get elected president during a time of social upheaval created largely by U.S.-backed neoliberal economic policies. Branding Goni as the only man who could "resolve the crisis," Greenberg and other U.S. political consultants helped their client scrape an electoral victory with just 23 percent of the popular vote.

The deaths took place less than a year later when Goni announced deeply unpopular plans to privatize the country’s natural gas reserves and give foreign corporations more control over Bolivia’s resources. Road blockades erected by protesters in the poorest outlying neighborhoods of the high altitude city of La Paz effectively cut off supplies. Goni signed a decree that instructed the army to clear the roads and promised "indemnification for any damage to property and persons which might occur." That effective carte blanche resulted in the army shooting live ammunition indiscriminately at men, women, and children.

Military repression brought to a head one of the country’s bloodiest years, in which more than 150 people died in social protests. Rising popular anger led Goni to flee the country to exile in the United States. He has since lived comfortably in Chevy Chase, Md., protected by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Greenberg admits in the book that the violence caused him "to take stock," yet he ends up saying he is now "more certain of my course and his [Goni’s]." He concludes: "I am proud of what we did to help Goni become President." From the podium at the Commonwealth Club, he blamed the atrocities on the supposed "parallel violence" by the protestors.

It seems a surprising conclusion for a man who is supposedly in touch with the electorate. Goni is universally reviled in Bolivia as a corrupt and arrogant politician who devalued Bolivian lives. Even Goni’s Vice President Carlos Mesa denounced him and swore that he would never use violence to enforce policies. Two-thirds of Bolivia’s Congress — including many who had formed part of Goni’s coalition — approved a trial seeking responsibility for the massacres. Disgust at Goni’s "free market" (or neoliberal) economic and social policies, which increased poverty and inequality, was partly behind the landslide 2005 electoral victory of one of the leaders of the protest movements, Evo Morales.

Yet sadly, Greenberg’s positive spin of Goni seems to be a view that is widely shared with the Democratic Party. At a Washington launch event for Greenberg’s book, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also appeared to hold Goni in high esteem, warmly welcoming him to the event and calling him a "very special man." Goni’s former defense lawyer, Gregory Craig, is now Obama’s White House counsel. The Democrats’ historic loyalty to one of their favored pro-American friends seems to outweigh their commitment to human rights and fair legal process.

Rogelio Mayta, the resolute lawyer representing the families whose loved ones were killed in October 2003, tries to give Pelosi the benefit of the doubt. "We want to believe in the good faith of … Pelosi and believe that these praises are due to misinformation rather than a concrete line of action and thinking by the U.S. government," he said.

Yet the anger of Eloy Rojas, who lost his eight-year-old daughter when troops entered his village and started shooting indiscriminately, is harder to hide. "Every effort that allies of Sánchez de Lozada make to present the ex-president as a victim and an honest man is for us an offense. It is an offense against the pain and suffering that his terrible actions had for our lives. His determination to defend his and other people’s economic interests meant that he stopped valuing peoples’ lives … That is why we continue to seek justice."

In March, Bolivian families who lost loved ones marked a significant milestone in their struggle to end the legacy of impunity for political elites like Goni. After five years of navigating political games and legal loopholes, a date was set for the trial of responsibility for Goni and seven of his ministers. Yet the main defendant, Goni, will be missing because the U.S. government has ignored requests for extradition for several years.

Many in the U.S. and worldwide continue to hope that Obama’s inauguration will mark a new chapter in relations worldwide, especially in Latin America, where there has been a new wave of resistance against U.S. attempts to impose its economic interests. Obama has made some important first steps in ordering closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and reinvigorating the use of diplomacy in regions such as the Middle East. But if he really wants to start a new chapter of international relations rooted in human rights, he doesn’t need to travel abroad. He just needs to respond to Bolivia’s lawful request for extradition and send home the man who lives just seven miles from the White House. 2

Nick Buxton is a British journalist who was based in Bolivia for many years before moving to San Francisco last year. His blog, Open Veins, is at

Green-collar heat



GREEN CITY Local residents, workers, and businesses are anxious to learn who and what will be stimulated by the billions of dollars that President Barack Obama authorized for release when he signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Since January 2008, unemployment in the Bay Area has risen from 4.9 percent to 8.4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, and house prices and consumer spending are down.

Despite all the anxiety, representatives from local low-income community groups hope to turn Obama’s stimulus package into an opportunity to make local government accountable for creating decent green-collar jobs. And Sups. Eric Mar, John Avalos, Sophie Maxwell, and Board President David Chiu seem happy to help further the community in this environmentally friendly cause.

Mar scheduled a March 23 hearing of the board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee "to obtain community input on the creation of jobs, particularly green-collar jobs, in San Francisco as the city positions itself for federal investment dollars."

"The hearing was the first step toward building a grassroots coalition to hold government accountable," continued Mar, who worries that the Mayor’s Office is not sharing enough information related to the stimulus package. "Labor and community groups, not just department heads and City Hall, should be at the table."

At the hearing, representatives from the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development said that a substantial part of the first wave of stimulus package dollars has already been allocated, mostly to shovel-ready projects such as the Doyle Drive rebuild and massive development projects at Treasure Island and the Hunter’s Point Shipyard.

OEWD representatives also indicated that more waves of formula funding are expected, for which San Francisco must compete with other cities, and that the city’s Department of Technology is constructing a Web site to track all local money from Obama’s $787 billion package.

OEWD deputy director Jennifer Entine Matz says community-based organizations, unions, and community colleges need to work together to ensure that people are successfully brought through any work program. "In many cases, green collar jobs are existing jobs," Matz said. "If we are successful in training people with green power technology, they will be more marketable here and beyond. We can also train and modify people in existing programs."

But representatives from the Chinese Progressive Association, PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights), and POWER (People Organizing to Win Employment Rights) expressed their belief that stimulus package funds should go to help low-income communities, not rich corporations.

"Let’s make sure we stimulate quality to make sure we stimulate the economy," said PODER’s Oscar Grande, who warned against using the funds on low-paid jobs with few advancement opportunities. He and others suggested tracking what communities receive funding. "We want to go past the green hype, the green-washing, and the green lifestyle marketing," Grande said.

Raquel Pinderhughes, an urban studies professor at San Francisco State University who helped Berkeley’s Green Business Council and Oakland’s Green Jobs Corp program, defined green-collar jobs as "blue collar jobs in green businesses.

"Green collar jobs can function to get more people out of poverty," Pinderhughes said. "They can provide living wages. They have low barriers to entry. They provide an opportunity for occupational mobility. They are inherently dignified, and they have a shortage of entry-level workers, so there is room for people."

But Pinderhughes warned that cities must link improving environmental quality to social justice to avoid creating temporary jobs and preserve industrially zoned lands for green-collar jobs. She also said that cities must fund case management services "so folks don’t quickly drop out."

The Land Use Committee has scheduled an April 6 continuation to address a plethora of outstanding issues like how much money is going to specific corporations and departments, the division of funds between public transportation and freeway projects, and how much Lennar Corp. is getting for its Hunters Point Shipyard/Candlestick Point redevelopment project.

Newsom officials dodge budget questions


By Melody Parker and Steven T. Jones

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee yesterday held a hearing on deep budget cuts proposed for city health and welfare programs and tried unsuccessfully to get straight answers to why the Newsom Administration isn’t planning to use federal stimulus money to offset those cuts.
Congress and President Barack Obama specifically offered economic stimulus money to prevent cuts in things like housing, homeless, and social services that are most needed during hard economic times. San Francisco’s share is more than $50 milllion. As Obama said, “This plan will also help ensure that you don’t need to make cuts to essential services Americans rely on now more than ever.”
But Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and David Campos expressed frustration that the Mayor’s Office has said it doesn’t want to use these one-time funding to cover ongoing expenses and that they’ve refused to engage in a dialogue about that stand. At a press conference before the hearing, Mirkarimi said dealing with the administration has been like pulling teeth: “The Board had received zero word from Mayor Newsom.”
So they pressed Newsom’s Public Health Director Mitch Katz at the hearing, but still made little progress on getting a straight answer. As a lawyer, Campos said he was “familiar with nuanced language” and told Katz that he didn’t feel the administration is being responsive.

DCCC supports sanctuary & due process for all


The Democratic County Central Committee voted last night by an overwhelming majority (20 ayes, 5 abstains, I no) to support Debra Walker’s strong resolution, recommitting “support of the Constitution and our city’s Sanctuary Ordinance for all,” and rejecting Scott Wiener’s watered-down version (19 noes, 3 abstained, 5 ayes).

Walker, who plans to run for District 6 supervisor, when incumbent Chris Daly is termed out next year, says DCCC’s vote made her, “ feel good about the party.”

“It’s been way too long that this has been happening and we have done nothing substantive, on the part of the party,” said Walker, noting that a companion resolution asking President Barack Obama to stop the ICE raids will be introduced next month.

Last night’s vote came after several dozen immigrant residents attended the DCCC hearing and testified about the impact of San Francisco’s new policies toward immigrants.

As Angela Chan, staff attorney for the Asian Law Caucus told the Guardian, “One teenage girl bravely stood before the DCCC and said that as a result of the change in climate in San Francisco toward immigrants, she lived in fear each day that she would come home to find that her parents had been taken away by ICE. Another immigrant resident said that if the DCCC takes a stand to support immigrants, he would raise his children to become proud Democrats. Another immigrant resident, who was a mother and a child care provider for many families in SF, said it is difficult to know that the image of criminality is being projected onto her and her community, when most members of the community are hardworking, law-abiding, and family-oriented people.”

Chan says she appreciated the supportive comments she heard from Sups. David Campos, Daly, Robert Haaland, Michael Bornstein, and resolution co-sponsors Walker and Peskin.

“They demonstrated a strong commitment to upholding immigrant rights and a deep understanding of the contributions of immigrant residents to San Francisco,” Chan said. “I hope Mayor Newsom will take the cue from his own party (and his own residents), and swiftly move to rescind his undocumented youth policy and work with the immigrant community to develop a more thought-out and balanced policy that respects the due process rights of youth and the goals to the juvenile justice system.”

That vote confirms that Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to do an about face last summer on San Francisco’s long standing sanctuary city ordinance is coming back to haunt him, as the gubernatorial race heats up.

Asked if the policy direction that Newsom ordered in 2008 guarantees due process for all, Newsom’s communications director Nathan Ballard did a classic obfuscation, telling the Guardian, “Yes. It was thoroughly vetted by the city attorney.”

But according to the City Attorney’s office, the original ordinance never did assure due process, “ if an individual was arrested for felony crimes.”

As for the revised policy direction, it directs police officers to report any juvenile “suspected of being present in the United States in violation of immigration laws,” and “booked” for commission of a felony” to federal immigration authorities,

The language, which is contained in the juvenile probation department’s policies and procedures section, directs officers to take into consideration, amongst other things, prior criminal history and “presence of undocumented persons in the same area where arrested or involved in illegal activity.”

To Walker’s mind, such direction amounts to a, “slippery slope.”

“It puts a lot of discretion in the hands of the police on the streets, and can end up with juveniles being referred to ICE and taken back to their country of origin, without any representation,” Walker said.

Holder’s FOIA memo a hit in Sunshine Week



Just in time for sunshine week, Attorney General Eric Holder declares that government records should henceforth be presumed public.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s much anticipated memo on new Freedom of Information Act general guidelines is a hit with sunshine advocates.

That’s because it rescinds the Bush administration’s information withholding standard, which was set by former Attorney General John Ashcroft on October 12, 2001, just one month after the September 11 attacks, and five days after the US invaded Afghanistan.

By contrast, Holder’s memo orders that government agency records should be presumed public.

In so doing, Holder follows through on statements that President Barack Obama made on his second day in office and sets the tone for how executive agencies interpret and administer FOIA.

FOIA remains one of the most important tools available to the public and the press, in terms of finding out what the federal government is, and has been, up to.

“The Holder memo is a refreshing change from the disastrous standard set by former Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2001,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “We hope it empowers federal employers who manage these public records to improve their services to the taxpayers who request them.”

Of course, the proof will be in the pudding, and I’m waiting to see how the feds respond to recent FOIA requests, but in the meantime, you can read the full text of Holder’s memo here.