Don’t kill the peakers — yet



The supervisors are meeting a day late this week, thanks to the San Francisco Examiner’s screw-up, which means that a key vote on the city-owned combustion turbines, or peakers, will probably come Wednesday, July 16. The mayor, with some environmental backing, wants the board to kill the city peakers and leave Mirant Corp, a private power company, with the responsibility of generating extra electricity in San Francisco during peak use periods. That’s the worst possible scenario.

We recognize the contradictions inherent in any city plan to construct new fossil-fuel generation plants. San Francisco ought to be moving away from any energy solution that increases carbon emissions, and if the city wants to simply ban any facilities that burn anything to generate electricity, we would by sympathetic.
But that’s not the choice here. The mayor (and Pacific Gas and Electric Company) want to continue using natural-gas-fired turbines to generate electricity in southeast San Francisco. They just want a private company, not a public agency, running the plants.

And we’ve seen no legally binding, written guarantee that Mirant will close its big, polluting Unit 3 under the deal.
There’s some dispute about whether Mirant will operate cleaner peakers than the city, but there’s no dispute about the fact that a private company will be far less accountable than a city department that will soon by run by commissioners who must be approved by the supervisors. And if the city kills the peakers, it will have no leverage at all over what Mirant might be required to do.

The supervisors need to leave their options open here and hold off on killing the public-power peaker plan until the public can see, review, and participate in hearings on binding agreements for the future of Mirant’s plant. As Potrero Hill activist Tony Kelly, who has been working on this issue for years, put it in an email to us:
“I have to emphasize that a vote in favor of the CTs tomorrow doesn’t have to lock the city into the CTs; there’s already an amendment to the ordinances giving the city an out in case another program (Mirant retrofit, or transmission only) turns out to be better. However, if tomorrow’s ordinances fail, or are tabled, then the CTs go away as an option. That’s the problem.

Because it really looks like the PUC will formally rescind the public CTs next Tuesday, in their last act of defiance and corruption; and that will kill the public CTs, and then Mirant holds all the cards to do whatever it wants to do from then on.”

Again: We’re open to a solution that involves neither the city-run peakers nor Mirant. But we’ve been around long enough to know that when the mayor, PG&E and a private power-plant owner are mucking around with energy policy, you have to be very, very careful before you trust what comes out of the discussion. We don’t trust Mirant for a second, and the supervisors shouldn’t give up the city’s leverage too early.

Support SF’s Clean Energy Act


EDITORIAL The long-awaited charter amendment that would transform San Francisco’s energy policy will come before the Board of Supervisors within the next few weeks. The measure, known as the Clean Energy Act, deserves strong support.

The proposal is fairly simple, but far-reaching. It includes ambitious targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and a mandate that the city shift to entirely renewable electricity by 2040. That would turn Mayor Gavin Newsom’s green city rhetoric into enforceable reality and put the city where it ought to be — in the forefront of global efforts to end reliance on fossil fuels.

And the sponsors of the charter amendment, Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and Aaron Peskin, realize that the only way the city will ever get serious about sustainable energy programs is to get rid of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s monopoly and shift to a publicly-run local utility.

The measure would, for the first time, create a detailed municipal energy policy and put control of the city’s energy future in the hands of city officials, not those of a private corporation. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission would have a mandate to ensure that by 2017, 51 percent of the electricity used in the city came from renewable sources. By 2030 that number would rise to 75 percent, and by 2040 the city would be seeking a 100 percent renewable portfolio. (Energy from the city’s existing Hetch Hetchy hydroelectric project would count as renewable power, and since Hetch Hetchy already covers a significant percent of the municipal load, the targets are entirely reasonable.)

The PUC would have to prepare a report every two years advising the supervisors on how it is moving to meet the targets.

The measure also directs the PUC to come up with a plan to put San Francisco into the business of retail electric power. That’s something activists have been pushing for since the 1920s. The federal law that gave the city the unique right to build a dam in a national park additionally mandated that San Francisco use the electricity from the dam to establish a public power system. The city has been in violation of the Raker Act for some 90 years now. As we’ve reported in numerous stories going back to 1969, the city built the dam in Yosemite and managed to construct a world-class municipal water system — but PG&E, through bribery, corruption, and political influence, hijacked the dam’s electric power. Although San Francisco is the only city in the nation with a federal public-power mandate and one of the few that owns and operates a major public hydroelectric project, residents and businesses are still stuck with PG&E’s soaring rates and lousy service.

And PG&E — which uses fossil fuels for much of its power and operates a nuclear plant — won’t make even the state’s mild mandate of 20 percent renewable energy by 2010.

Public power cities all over California have lower rates and better service. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, one of the largest public power systems in the state, is a national leader on renewable energy and conservation efforts. And public power makes tremendous economic sense: a municipal utility would bring tens, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars per year into the city’s coffers. That money could be invested in solar, wind, and tidal energy, and some could go to reduce the structural budget deficit that haunts City Hall every year.

PG&E is already nervous about the prospect of a renewable energy and public power measure passing this fall, and has cranked up a campaign of lies and misinformation. The news media are already starting to pick up the pro-PG&E stance — the San Francisco Business Times is running a "poll" on public power that leads off with the tired old claim that "San Francisco can’t make the buses run on time. But it can find power to keep the lights on?" (A bit of reality here: urban bus systems are tough to run because they lose money. Public power systems make money. The lights stay on in Sacramento, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Alameda, Santa Clara, and a lot of other cities — and the people who live there pay less, get more reliable service, and are more likely to see reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.)

Six votes are needed to put the Clean Energy Act on the ballot. Any supervisor who doesn’t support it will forever be known as someone who puts the interests of PG&E ahead of the needs of San Francisco, the nation, and the planet.

Blood in, blood out


› a&

In John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, when Parma’s bright and talented Giovanni (Michael Hayden) confesses to Friar Bonaventura (Steven Anthony Jones) his passion for his equally exceptional sister, Annabella (René Augesen), the friar is quick to understand the stakes, declaring, "We have need to pray." He advises Giovanni to turn from so unnatural a desire to repentance and sorrow. "Acknowledge what thou art," he tells him, "a wretch, a worm, a nothing." But this strikes us as something of a denial of nature too, especially given our protagonist’s rare qualities. And it’s soon clear that religion will give him no solace or cure anyway. This is unsurprising, since the church — headed by a slimy cardinal (Jack Willis) — is a thoroughly dishonest institution deeply implicated in the pervasive corruption of the age. So where should Giovanni’s faith and ultimate allegiance lie in such a world? And where, in turn, should our sympathies lie?

Such questions go to the heart of what remains provocative and compelling in John Ford’s Jacobean tragedy four centuries on. It makes a kind of irrefutable sense within the context of the play that Giovanni and Annabella (clearly intended as a darker version of Romeo and Juliet) would pursue a mutual affinity and blood bond to the extremes of physical and emotional passion — with tragic consequences of course. But the surprise is that while tragic, the consequences are also, morally speaking, far from straightforward. Forging a bond that denies and defies a fallen world and its judgment, their relationship finally succumbs to the order of the day — which is to say, the disorder of violence — by self-destructing in an orgy of blood vengeance.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Ford’s best-known work — whose central incest plot comes wrapped in intervening subplots driven by jealousy, power, and revenge — plumbs moral confusion and the individual conscience in a hypocritical and vicious age. No wonder it feels thematically and dramatically vital in our own spiraling time. Ford depicts a world — the tumultuous mid–17th century — where the Elizabethan certainties of Shakespeare’s day have dissolved and authority has blurred. Meanwhile, material and carnal appetites have bloomed like overripe fruit in a dilapidated garden that looks more like a jungle. The cruelty and gore here barely merit a raised eyebrow by today’s brassy standards, whether in the realm of entertainment, art, or politics. But in Ford’s time and ours, taboos don’t so much disappear as they become tantalizingly flimsy, porous and seductive, Guantánamo being one byword for this.

The still-burning fire in Ford’s tragedy is inconsistently sustained, however, in American Conservatory Theater’s new production, requiring a wade through a fairly static and fitfully persuasive first act to get to the juicier scenes and forceful momentum of the second. Artistic director Carey Perloff puts wonderful care into the production values and her casting is generally shrewd (in addition to leads Augesen and Hayden, who really heat up by the end, Anthony Fusco, Susan Gibney, and Gregory Wallace turn in particularly noteworthy performances). The baroque world of Ford’s play and our time is architecturally bridged, meanwhile, in Walt Spangler’s multileveled scenic design — an abstracted cathedral in its jewel-like beaded curtains, scattered candles in soft-colored glass, steep metallic stairways, and a treelike cluster of massive dangling organ pipes enshrouding composer-musician Bonfire Madigan Shive and her cello on a recessed tier. The "avant-baroque" cello score and Shive’s occasional anguished vocal lines add a somewhat thinner aural texture to character and scene than seems intended. But the set is stunningly integrated with Robert Wierzel’s sensual lighting design, evoking baroque canvases while draping the action in a sense of carnal luxury and exquisite decadence.

It’s a bumpy ride, but the end is well played and gripping, casting a memorable image of Giovanni drenched in the blood of his sister and lover, having utterly retreated into himself — literally into the womb of his flesh and blood, where sibling, wife, and child have all become horribly blurred. In the play’s crowning and irresolvable tension, incest is both a fundamental violation of natural order as well as an assertion of blood as the only terra firma in a world of quicksand. *


Tues.–Sat., 8 p.m. (also Wed. and Sat., 2 p.m.); Sun., 2 p.m., $14–$82

American Conservatory Theater

415 Geary, SF

(415) 749-2228,

SFIFF: Fierce perm


SFIFF Robert Towne has accomplished something rare: in an industry that paradoxically singles out the director of a movie as if he or she were the sole creator of what is actually a collaborative effort, he has tasted fame, received recognition, and secured his place in the history of cinema for writing scripts.

Having started his career penning B-movies like Last Woman on Earth (1960) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), and working as a script doctor for impressive projects such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Drive, He Said (1971), and The Godfather (1972), Towne truly rose to stardom with Chinatown (1974). This dark, pessimistic tale about power struggles and government corruption in Los Angeles, which garnered Towne an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, not only stands up to such noir classics as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946), but also redefines the whole genre. In J.J. Gittes — as embodied by Jack Nicholson — Towne introduces his own version of a Phillip Marlowe character, tough but hopeless, into a world where crime is hard to detect and impossible to punish, even when committed in broad daylight.

Shampoo (1975) features a Towne screenplay that’s as complex and intriguing as the one he wrote for Chinatown. Yet it takes a secondary role on Towne’s résumé, despite the fact that it yielded an Academy Award nomination. Perhaps this is because Warren Beatty shares Shampoo‘s writing credit with Towne, whereas Chinatown was presented as solely Towne’s creation. (Of course, it’s an open secret today that Towne wrote a different, happy, ending for Chinatown, which director Roman Polanski replaced — fortunately — with a devastating one.) In any case, it’s a pleasant and unexpected surprise that the San Francisco Film Society has chosen to showcase Shampoo while presenting Towne with this year’s Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting.

As the critic and teacher Elaine Lennon points out in a 2005 piece for Senses of Cinema, the true complexity of Shampoo‘s script stems from the same element the film has been derided for — its superficially silly comic spirit. Lennon suggests that the many influences detectable in Shampoo include ancient Greek tragedy, the restoration comedies of 17th- and early 18th-century England, and the plays of Molière. All of the above construct poignant social critiques while providing comic relief.

Indeed, Shampoo uses the sexuality that permeates its turbulent and intricately woven Beverly Hills microcosm to farcically comment on the United States of the late 1960s. George (Beatty), the restless hairdresser with a soft spot for his customers, his girlfriend Jill (Goldie Hawn), his ex-girlfriend and lover Jackie (Julie Christie), his other lover Felicia (Lee Grant), and Felicia’s husband and Jackie’s sugar daddy Lester (Jack Warden) not only share the same lovers, they share the same anxiety — a feeling produced by an ever-changing, unstable society. To put it differently, their sexual misbehavior is a manifestation of the fluidity and uncertainty of their lives.

In comparing Shampoo to Chinatown, Pauline Kael perceptively wrote, "Towne’s heroes are like the heroes of hard-boiled fiction: they don’t ask much of life, but they are also romantic damn fools who just ask for what they can’t get." As Kael implies, George is the only character in the film who acts out of a desire for sheer pleasure and lives for the moment. All the others amorally float wherever the wind blows, compromising their true desires in a quest for the seemingly safe environment — the peaceful period of supposed law and order — that President Nixon has promised them.

Shampoo also presents some unconventional, multifaceted perspectives concerning gender issues. George is the poor innocent guy stunning rich women exploit for thrills and then promptly dump. Jill, Jackie, and Felicia are visibly weighing their options and waiting for the best offer, while Lester, although adulterous and money-grubbing, is somewhat sympathetic and humane.

Juxtaposed with the questionable career choices Towne has made over the last couple of decades, Shampoo shines like a bright gem. After 1996’s Mission: Impossible, and 2000’s Mission: Impossible II, one can’t help but wonder whether his rewrite of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935) — which he also will be directing — marks a return to more intimate projects such as 1973’s The Last Detail, or furthers his spiralling descent into Hollywood blockbuster hell.
AN AFTERNOON WITH ROBERT TOWNE (includes a screening of Shampoo), Sat/3, 4 p.m., Sundance Kabuki

>SFBG goes to SFIFF 51: our deluxe guide

Green dreams


As we celebrate Earth Day in this era of all things green, it’s worth contemplating whether our enviro-guilt has gotten the better of our skepticism and critical thinking. Is “Green=Good” our sole metric these days, making us susceptible to self-serving spin from our politicians and corporations? After all, our Governator seems to have gone from bad to good simply by donning verdant armor and signing a landmark global warming measure that he long fought and watered down.
Closer to home, PG&E’s has been trying to greenwash away our knowledge of their penchant for polluting technologies and political corruption, a quest that our lazy but ambitious and ever image conscious Mayor Gavin Newsom has sporadically tried to piggyback on (ie tidal power, sponsored conferences, and solar everything). When Newsom tried to beef up the city solar commitment by robbing a seismic upgrade fund for renters and then the city’s own bank for building municipal solar panels, it was understandable that the Board of Supervisors balked.
But in today’s Chron, SPUR policy wonk Egon Terplan and righteous activist Van Jones whack the move and decry city plans for more fossil fuel generation. It’s not a bad point, although it is an oversimplistic one, like too many of our either-or green political debates these days. Indeed, we seem to lose the ability to see shades of gray when we talk green, and we too often forget that money is the other form of green in the equation.
As we’ve reported, San Francisco’s solar problems are complicated, just like our power generation problems (see our story in tomorrow’s paper for a more nuanced look at the peaker plant issue). To solve the problems, we need honest leaders speaking candidly to us and each other, rather than all the spin, self-interest, and political gamesmanship that has sullied San Francisco’s political dialogue in recent years.
Green can be good, or it can be the equivalent of snake oil or the IPO for a overhyped tech company that will never make any money. As an excellent recent cover story in Harper’s Magazine noted, the green economy could be the next great bubble after the housing and dot-com crashes, something that desperate capitalists and their political partners are eagerly trying to make so.
Maybe that will be a good thing, but let’s learn our lessons from the last couple bubbles and don’t simply assume that the green label is some kind of stamp of public interest approval.

Mexico’s comeback kid


MEXICO CITY — As Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the leftist firebrand whom millions of Mexicans consider their legitimate president, made his way to the podium in the packed Zocalo plaza here March 18th, the 70th anniversary of the expropriation and nationalization of an oil industry now threatened with re-privatization, hundreds of senior citizens, AMLO’s firmest followers, rose as one from their seats of honor at the side of the stage, raised their frail fists in salute, and chanted that, despite the cobwebs of old age, they do not forget. “Tenemos Memoria!” We Have Memory!

What did they remember? Tiburcio Quintanilla, 83, remembers how when President Lazaro Cardenas called upon his countrymen and women to donate to a fund to pay indemnities to the gringo oil companies, he went with his father to the Palace of Bellas Artes and stood on line for hours with their chickens, their contribution to taking back “our chapopote (petroleum).” I was born in the same week that Lazaro Cardenas nationalized Mexico’s oil, I tell Don Tiburcio. I’m only a kid.

Up on the same stage from which he directed the historic seven-week siege of the capital after the Great Fraud of 2006 that awarded the presidency to his right-wing rival Felipe Calderon, AMLO looked more grizzled, weather-beaten, a little hoarse after two years on the road relentlessly roaming the Mexican outback bringing his message to “los de abajo” (those down below) and signing up nearly 2,000,000 new constituents for his National Democratic Convention (CND), which is increasingly embroiled in a bitter battle for control of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD.)

Now Lopez Obrador has thrust himself into the leadership of the movement to defend the nation’s oil industry (PEMEX) from privatization in the guise of Calderon’s energy-reform legislation.

Calderon and his cohorts seek to persuade Mexicans that PEMEX is broken, the reserves running out, and the nation’s only hope lies in deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Drilling for what the Calderonistas describe as “The Treasure of Mexico” in a widely distributed, lavishly produced infomercial, will require an “association” with Big Oil. But as many experts, such as Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, son of the president who expropriated the oil in the first place, point out, it is not at all certain that these purported deep sea reserves are actually in Mexican waters.

AMLO’s March 18th “informative assembly” of the National Democratic Convention was certainly the most emotional since he convoked the CND on Independence Day in September 2006, after the courts had designated Calderon as president. Poised under a monumental tri-color flag that furled and unfurled dramatically in the spring zephyrs, and addressing tens of thousands of loyalists in the heart of the Mexican body politic, Lopez Obrador told the story of Mexico’s oil.

Oil is a patriotic lubricant here, and AMLO is imbued in what historians once called revolutionary nationalism, the apogee of which was Lazaro Cardenas’s March 18th 1938 order expropriating the holdings of 17 Anglo-American oil companies who were about to secede from the union and declare themselves “The Republic of the Gulf of Mexico.” AMLO recalled how the companies had defied a Supreme Court order to pay $26 million USD to the nation’s oil workers leaving General Cardenas (he had been a revolutionary general) no option but to take back Mexico’s oil. How patriotic Mexicans like Don Tiburcio and his father lined up to pay off the debt with their chickens and family jewels. Cardenas’s subsequent creation of a national oil corporation, “Petrolios Mexicanos” or PEMEX, was seen as the guarantee of a great future for Mexico.

But things have worked out differently.

“Privatization is corruption!” AMLO harangues, “The oil is ours! La Patria No Se Vende!”

“La Patria No Se Vende, La Patria Se Defiende!” the crowd roars back, “The country is not for sale, The country is to defend!” “Pais Petrolero, Pueblo Sin Dinero” – “Country With Oil, People Without Money!”

Lopez Obrador, or “El Peje,” as his followers affectionately nickname him, warms to the task, outlining plans for a new “civil insurrection” that will be led by “women commandos” who will encircle congress on the day energy reform legislation is introduced, shut down banks, the Stock Exchange, the airports, and block highways. If all that doesn’t work, AMLO calls for a national strike. All of this projected and highly illegal activism would unfold “peacefully, without violence” – El Peje is a disciple of Gandhi and often cites Dr. King in his calls to action.

Indeed, Lopez Obrador takes pains to warn the petroleum defenders about government provocateurs and those who would foment violence, perhaps a message to the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), which has thrice bombed PEMEX pipelines in the past year.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is at his incendiary best as a leader of social upheaval. During the post-electoral struggle, he put 2,000,000 souls on the streets of Mexico City July 30th 2006, the largest political demonstration in the history of this contentious republic. Back in 1996, this reporter shadowed Lopez Obrador as he led Chontal Indian farmers in blocking 60 PEMEX oil platforms that had been contaminating their cornfields in his native Tabasco, a movement that catapulted AMLO into the presidency of the PRD, later to become the wildly popular mayor of Mexico City and the de facto winner of the 2006 presidential election.

Although Lopez Obrador once seemed assured of his party’s nomination in 2012, he is now challenged by his successor as the capital’s mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, who stood stolidly at his side during the March 18th convocation.

While Lopez Obrador held forth in the center of the republic, its titular president Felipe Calderon campaigned in El Peje’s home turf of Tabasco, the site of Mexico’s largest land-based deposits, touting the “association of capitals” as the key to the “Treasure of Mexico” and swearing up and down that he had no intention of privatizing PEMEX. The idea instead was to make the laws governing oil revenues more “flexible” (“flexabilizar”) and build a “strategic alliance” with the global oil titans.

To mark the 70th anniversary of General Cardenas’s brave act of revolutionary nationalism, Calderon shared a stage with Carlos Romero Deschamps, the boss of the corruption-ridden oil workers union, and Francisco Labastida, the once-ruling PRI party’s losing 2000 presidential candidate and now chairman of the Senate Energy Commission where the energy reform legislation will most probably be introduced.

In 2000, PEMEX illegally funneled $110,000,000 USD through Romero’s union into Labastida’s campaign coffers, a scandal known here as PEMEXgate, which has since been swept into the sea.

While Calderon embraced these scoundrels in the port of Paradise Tabasco, a thousand AMLO supporters were kept at bay a mile from the ceremony by a phalanx of federal police.

The most glaring absentee at the Tabasco séance was Calderon’s dashing young Secretary of the Interior, Juan Camilo Mourino, his former chief of staff who the president appointed to the second most powerful position in Mexico’s political hierarchy this past January to oversee negotiations between the parties on energy reform legislation. But Mourino’s creds were seriously damaged this past February 24th when Lopez Obrador released documents revealing that the then-future interior secretary’s family business had been awarded four choice PEMEX transportation contracts while he presided over the Chamber of Deputies Energy Commission.

The GES Corporation also won four other PEMEX contracts when Mourino was Calderon’s right-hand man during the much-questioned president’s stint as the nation’s energy secretary in the previous administration. AMLO accuses Mourino, who was born in Spain and may still be a Spanish citizen, of cutting a pre-privatization deal with the Spanish energy giant Repsol.

There were notable absences at AMLO’s big revival in the Zocalo too, among them Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the scion of the general and founder of the PRD whose moral authority has been greatly eroded in recent years. Estranged from his protégé Lopez Obrador, whose cause he did not leap to after the 2006 election was stolen, Cardenas chose to “defend the petrolio” in his home state of Michoacan, to which he has semi-retired and where his son Lazaro, grandson of the “Tata,” is the outgoing governor.

Although young Lazaro has endorsed “the association of private capital” in PEMEX, his father has hedged on Calderon’s privatization plans, reserving judgment until legislation is actually presented. Cuauhtemoc has, however, urged that Mexico and the U.S. first settle the ownership of deep-water tracts in the Gulf before any legislation is ratified.

Deep-water exploration requires an 11-year construction and drilling cycle before wells come on line. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Mexico has only ten years of proven reserves left.

Calderon’s legislative package is liable to steer away from constitutional amendment required for privatization and focus on secondary laws, a legaloid move that could take the wind out of Lopez Obrador’s sails. Manlio Fabio Beltrones, the PRI senate leader whose support Calderon needs to pass energy reform (not all PRIistas are expected to back it) once warned that a strong measure would “hand the presidency” to AMLO.

The other prominent no-show in Lopez Obrador’s revival tent in the Zocalo was Jesus Ortega, the front-runner for the PRD presidency in March 16th party elections. Ortega heads up the rival New Left faction, a group that is prone to negotiate with Calderon’s representatives despite AMLO’s insistence that the PRD continue to refuse to recognize what he labels the “spurious” president. Lopez Obrador backed former Mexico City interim mayor, the roly-poly ex-commie Alejandro Encinas in the race for the party presidency.

Ortega, a PRD senator, refused to attend the Zocalo rally because he said he feared for his personal safety after other leaders of the New Left faction (AKA “Los Chuchos” because so many top New Leftites are named Jesus – “chucho” is also an endearing name for a dog) had been roughed up by Lopez Obrador supporters during an anti-privatization demonstration at the PEMEX office towers some weeks earlier.

The head-to-head between Ortega and Encinas turned toxic overnight with mutual accusations of vote stealing, vote stuffing, vote buying, vote burning, voters “razored” from the voting lists, fake ballots and phony counts flying as if the March 16th debacle was a funny mirror reflection of July 2nd 2006, when Lopez Obrador was stripped of the presidency by Calderon’s chicanery. The PRD implosion has stoked the party’s enemies like Televisa, the TV tyrant, which devotes half its primetime news hour to the shenanigans. The television giant blacked out all news of similar fraud in the 2006 presidential election.

It is long-standing tradition that PRD internal elections will inevitably turn into a “desmadre” (disgrace.) Similar desmadres occurred in 1996, 1999, and again in 2002, the year Ortega first tried to take control after Rosario Robles, Cardenas’s successor as Mexico City mayor, bought the party presidency – her campaign was bankrolled by a crooked construction contractor who filmed videos of her go-fors pocketing boodles of bills with which he later tried to blackmail the PRD in general and Lopez Obrador in particular. “The horror is interminable,” laments Miguel Angel Velazquez who pens the “Lost City” column for the left daily La Jornada, a PRD paper.

The legitimacy of the March 16th results can be measured by the mechanism with which they will be determined. At the helm of the PRD’s internal electoral commission is one Arturo “The Penguin” Nunez, once the tainted president of the Federal Electoral Institute during his life as a PRIista, and the architect of countless PRI frauds, including one against Lopez Obrador in their native Tabasco.

In truth, Lopez Obrador has been running away from the “horror” of the PRD since the formation of the CND, a crusade to weld those who voted for AMLO in 2006 into a force for social and political change, and his base is now thought to be wider than that of the party. Should Encinas prevail in the brawl for the PRD presidency, Lopez Obrador’s hold on the party would still be tenuous – the Chuchos appear to have wrested many state elections – and he will look to the CND as he battles the privatizers. Indeed. The announced encirclement of congress by “woman commandos” will put pressure on the FAP – the Broad Political Front of left legislators led by the PRD – to pay attention and hold the line against privatization.

The Party of the Democratic Revolution was the Phoenix bird born in fire after the PRI stole the 1988 “presidenciales” from Cardenas. Its 16 original “currents” (now called “tribes”) included ex-PRIistas like Cardenas and Lopez Obrador, ex-communists (like Encinas), urban activists, peasants’ organizations, social democrats, and other left opportunists (like Ortega.)

In its early years, the party sought to define what it would be: a confluence of grassroots movements that ran candidates for public office as one means of achieving social change? Or an exclusively electoral formation intent on obtaining its quotient of power in which the party became an end in itself? Although the PRD has devolved into the latter, Lopez Obrador’s 2006 campaign reinvigorated the activist side of the equation.

Now, leading the defense of Mexican oil against the privatizers, AMLO has leveraged himself back into the political spotlight, and once again, is leading a reinvigorated challenge to the faltering Calderon who desperately needs to make good on his pledge to his Washington masters to privatize PEMEX.

John Ross is back in Mexico City purportedly working on a book about Mexico City. Write him at if you have further information.

Newsom to small business: Drop dead!


By Bruce B. Brugmann

And so Mayor Newsom, who wants to run for governor when he still hasn’t learned to manage the city as mayor,
has bestowed the ultimate insult to small business in the City and County of San Francisco.

He has named a City Hall lobbyist for PG@E to the Small Business Commission.

Yes, you read correctly, Mayor Gavin Newsom has appointed Darlene Chiu, a PG@E lobbyst in City Hall, to the SBC.

How in the world does a company that has been screwing small business for decades inside and outside City Hall, stealing our cheap Hetch Hetchy public power for decades and forcing small business and residents to buy its expensive private power, yanking upwards of $650 million a year out of the city’s economy with its high rates, corrupting City Hall for decades with its lobbying muscle, qualify as a member of the Small Business Commission?

We put the issue in a diplomatic question and emailed it to the mayor. His press secretary, Nathan Ballard,
issued this statement this afternoon on Chiu’s glowing qualifications:

“Darlene Chiu was appointed to replace Florence Alberts after her term expired. Darlene has first hand knowledge of the challenges facing small businesses in San Francisco. She grew up working in her family’s these retail businesses in Chinatown, managing nine to l5 employees. She will also bring her knowledge of City government and communications to the Commission, which will be important to the successful operations and promotion of the assistance center.” (As one small business leader told me, “I don’t recall in the requirements of being on the commission that growing up as a child of small business owners quite meets the criteria.”)

No, no, no: PG@E is placing Chiu, via Newsom, on the SBC to help PG@E continue to facilitate the “successful operations and promotion” of further PG@E corruption in City Hall to protect its illegal private power utility in San Francisco. The supervisors can and should move quickly to reject the PG@E appointment.

More: Newsom to the Civil Service Commission: Drop dead. He appointed Mary Jung, a PG@E customer services manager, to the Civil Service Commission.

Meanwhile, as he further cemented PG@E power inside City Hall, he whacked three well qualified and conscientious commissioners: Debra Walker, an artist and activist, from heading the Building Iinspection Commission, Theresa Sparks, a transgender woman and community leader, from running the Police Commission, and Robert Haaland, a labor activist and one of the city’s most visible transgender leaders, from serving as vice president of the Board of Appeals.

Newsom is running for higher office and, as our editorial in tomorrow’s Guardian puts it, “almost everythihg he does at City Hall seems to be aimed not at improving San Francisco but at increasing his odds of moving up in the political world…Why would Newsom be doing this–if he didn’t need the support of PG@E and its allies for his next political step.

“Why would he be directing his appointees to keep out of leadership posts anyone with strong progressive credentials if he wasn’t trying to build new bridges to the developers, the big employers, the police unions and the more conservative interest groups he’ll need for a statewide campaign?” B3

Laid off reporters won’t find Cali’s Spitzer


Ghost Word has a smart take on what newspaper layoffs mean for Bay Area readers:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Good Old-Fashioned Reporting led to the Eliot Spitzer Story; Too Bad There Won’t Be Enough Bay Area Reporters to Do the Same

The New York Times deconstructs how it uncovered the Eliot Spitzer prostitution ring story. The Times reporters got the information through good old-fashioned beat reporting. The Attorney General’s office had sent out a press release announcing the break-up of a prostitution ring. There was nothing unusual about that. But reporters noticed that the lead prosecutor in court on March 6 was very high up in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office. That got people thinking.

“No one had talked of the escort ring’s inner workings, and certainly no one mentioned the governor’s name,” according to a story in the Times. “Just one fact piqued interest for some in the room: The lead prosecutor on the case was Boyd M. Johnson III, the chief of the public corruption unit of the Manhattan United States attorney’s office.”

“Later that day, reporters at The New York Times learned of the unusual presence of three lawyers from the corruption unit, including the boss of that division and an F.B.I. agent from one of the bureau’s public corruption squads. The public corruption units often look at the conduct of elected officials.”

“Within hours, the reporters were convinced that a significant public figure was involved as a client of the prostitution ring.”

That’s how reporters get stories. By being around and working sources. That’s the kind of gumshoe reporting that will now be missing all around the Bay Area as virtually every paper has slashed its staff to the bone.

Posted by Frances at 5:53 PM
Labels: Bay Area Newspaper Layoffs, Eliot Spitzer, New York Times