Monday, April 30, 2012

A Much Anticipated May Day

It's another one of those weeks when the world looks very different depending on the company you keep.

Listening to progressive public radio, it's clear that tomorrow, May 1 -- May Day, International Worker's Day, Immigrant Workers' Day -- is going to be the biggest protest the country has ever seen, and likely bring capitalism to its knees.
"For the first time in national history, the United States will know what it feels like to spend a day without the 99%. " writes .

Talking to friends of mine who have been organizing bits and pieces of this big day for months now, the prognosis is a little less joyous.  One friend has been struggling through the difficult -- but apparently tenuously resolved -- process of coalition building between Occupy Oakland and Decolonize Oakland/May Day March for Dignity and Resistance.  Another was one of the rank-and-file union members behind the nobly-intended Occupy the Bridge, source of some major media hysteria that has not died down despite clear statements that activists do not plan to block the Golden Gate Bridge.

For coworkers at my straight job, tomorrow is a work day like any other.  They might have been completely unaware that Armageddon is approaching, if it were not for an email distributed by our building's owners cautioning:

"Please note that the Occupy protest movement has scheduled activities in San Francisco tomorrow that may impact commutes.

According to the website below, plans are no longer intended to shut down the Golden Gate Bridge. There have been reports that Golden Gate ferry workers will be striking tomorrow morning, however.
Other gatherings in the Financial District and surrounding areas could potentially block transportation arteries. Please plan your commute accordingly.
For more information, check local news outlets and go to:"

The exhaustive list of actions planned around the country and around the globe is -- well, exhausting.  And impressive.

Sadly, I have no vacation or personal time to take, so I will have to choose between the noon street festival at Montgomery & Market -- an easy five-minute walk from my office, or the more exciting and better timed but geographically inconvenient 2 pm march to the New SF Commune.  I'll be rushing across the Bay after work to catch the 6 pm convergence at Oscar Grant Plaza, where doubtless the Oakland Police Department will be testing out some new weaponry.  Hope to see many of you there.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Five Reasons to Give Money to Panhandlers

courtesy of
 Every few years this trope comes around again: We need to discourage “aggressive panhandlers.” Last week, the newspapers were reporting that San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was trying to resuscitate a long-cherished plan to run billboards promoting the idea that giving poor people cash hurts more than it helps.

Where have I heard that line before recently? Someone whose name begins with M and ends with Y and isn’t a mouse? The guy who thinks his wife’s choice to stay home with her children is beautiful but a poor woman with two kids needs to feel “the dignity of work”?

Fortunately, Lee’s plan was given the kibosh by newly appointed HOPE director (he made them change his title from Homeless Czar – good move) Bevan Dufty. Thank heavens and Mr. Dufty, the gay former supervisor who I have to say seems to have found his calling in getting business leaders to cough up some actual services for the poor they don’t want fundraising on their doorsteps. But I’m sure it will not be that long before this pernicious “Care Not Cash” (that was the slogan and program introduced by the last mayor, now Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsom) rears its ugly head again.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for long-term services (which we are very short on) and short-term waystations for homeless people who want them. But I’m also a big believer in giving money on the street. Here are a few reasons why:

1. These people work hard for their money.

Anyone who thinks panhandlers just don’t want to work must be drunk. The men who panhandle outside my job are generally there long before I get there in the morning and are still there when I leave at night. They are out there through rain, cold and heat (okay, we don’t get that much of that last). I doubt they take an hour for lunch and they don’t have a cappuccino machine (the newest addition in my office) or health insurance. They have to be incredibly thick-skinned – trust me, I’ve done a lot of leafleting and it’s hard to take that much rejection. And we expect them to be friendly, funny and courteous.

2. One size never fits all

Food banks are great. I give to them. But food banks mostly give out food that has to be cooked, or at least heated, or at least in order to taste very good. Someone who lives out of a shopping cart or in a hotel room where even a hot plate is not allowed can’t do that much with a cauliflower or a box of Hamburger Helper.

Soup kitchens are also great. Friends of mine run them. I used to volunteer at one. But soup kitchens are only open at certain times. What if someone doesn’t want to eat at that time? Unless you happen to be staying right by them, you’re going to spend $4 on the bus to go and come. If you had $4, you could eat at Taco Bell and have a little left for a cup of coffee at 7-11.

3. Everybody wants freedom

I like to be able to decide whether to eat Mexican or pizza. Why should someone have to eat whatever we decide they get when we decide they can get it in the quantity we decide they deserve or we can afford, just because they are poor? Maybe someone is going to spend the money I give them on cigarettes or rotgut wine. Maybe they’re going to spend it on drugs or candy. Why is that my business? People do not become drug addicts or alcoholics because someone gives them $2 and they do not get clean or sober because someone doesn’t. If they need a fix and can’t buy it, they’re more likely to steal for it, or get beaten up over it, or sell their body for it.

And here’s another thought: Maybe they’re going to buy tampons or diapers. Maybe my dollar or two is the last bit they need to get a room for the night. Maybe they are going to buy the lottery ticket that’s going to win them the million dollars and make them rich. (Okay, maybe not.)

There’s just such a thing as discretionary income. I want it. I have it. I think everyone should have it. One of the things I choose to do with my discretionary income is give it to others who want it. Not all the time, of course. When I want to.

4. We all have poverty.*

Last week I went to an excellent talk by a Bolivian indigenous woman. She was explaining the difference between “creative feminism” and “communitarian feminism” (apparently the communitarian feminists split off from the creative feminists I cannot tell you how jealous that makes me). Communitarian feminists, she said, don’t spend their energy trying to get men to stop being sexist. That doesn’t mean they accept sexism. It means they diagnose it as a problem of the “whole body.” She gave this example: If your left hand drops a glass, the right hand doesn’t yell at it or and the head doesn’t call the police. We understand that the whole body made a mistake. I found this simple analogy incredibly profound. Poor people don’t have poverty. We all do. If I make someone’s life a tiny bit better with my few dollars, I make my own life that much better.

* Some of you will remember “We are all living with AIDS”.

5. It’s the least I can do.

I can’t fix homelessness. I can’t fix the economy. I can’t give someone a job or get them one. I can’t get them a house or even an apartment. I can’t get them social services. I can’t get them love (hell, I can't even get it for myself). I can’t get them the Change We Need. But I can give them enough change for a Pepsi or a hot dog.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Occupy the Tea Party?

A few days ago, columnist Dave Weigel was on The Rachel Maddow Show talking about the Tea Party. Rachel suggested that the Tea Party has pretty much fallen off the political map, since their stunning electoral victory in 2010, and asked Weigel if he agreed. He said he still considers them a factor in national politics, as compared to the Occupy movement, which he said “fell off” much faster than the Tea Party did. To bolster his claim, he mentioned that Tea Party still has 600 chapters, down from a high of 1000.

He mentioned that he has gotten a lot of heat for that comment, as well he should.

First of all, Occupy did not “fall off.” It was violently shoved off. The arrest counter on Occupy Wall Street’s direct action page stands at 6,893 after six months. I’m not sure how many Tea Partiers have been arrested since they showed up with their guns at presidential rallies in 2009, but I doubt the total has cracked 100. They’ve tended to be arrested singly for things like stockpiling guns and drugs, soliciting prostitutes and child sexual assault (honest, you Google "Tea Party arrest" and see what you get).

The highest single-day total I found was an action in November 2009, when ten people were arrested protesting the health care bill outside Nancy Pelosi’s office on Capitol Hill. So the Tea Party has clearly not had the help that Occupy has gotten in “falling off.”

Despite nearly 7000 arrests -- many of them accomplished via chemical weapons and resulting in injuries and days or even weeks in jail, as well as the media's efforts to give it a hasty burial, Occupy is far from dead or dormant. I don’t know exactly how many chapters there are now, and perhaps no one ever did, but I would be surprised if it doesn’t top the Tea Party 600. In the Bay Area alone, Occupy Oakland, Occupy Half Moon Bay, Occupy Point Reyes, Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Santa Rosa, Occupy Santa Cruz, Occupy UC Berkeley, Occupy Walnut Creek, Occupy Housing, Occupy Bernal Heights, Occupy Marin, Wild Old Women, Decolonize Oakland, and Occupella have been engaged in continuous activism. Knit-In at the Sit-in, which began at Occupy Berkeley, has continued knitting away and sending warm garments and blankets to occupations all over the world (maybe they can switch to netting and help out Occupy Little Rock -- see below).

Here are just a few of the thousands of Occupy activities over the last few months turned up by a cursory search:

1. Feb. 5, 2012—As Occupy Maine marked 126 days of encampment, they were preparing for eviction by taking “artifacts, resources and tents” to a safe place. “The OM Dome was dug out of the snow … and loaded on to a sedan for transport.” [my emphasis]  Despite the lack of a camp, OM’s page lists activities every day next week, with chapters all over the state.

2. March 15-18: Occupy the Midwest.

“Nearly 300 members of 20 different Occupy related movements, including Occupy Chicago, headed to St. Louis last weekend for the first regional meeting of representatives from Occupy movements around the Midwest. Representatives from across the country met to both organize and network on a larger level and engage in protest actions against Monsanto and Wells Fargo. …The conference was marred by violence on Thursday, when a group of demonstrators attempted to create an encampment in a park. Protest organizers were given a scant 30 minutes to evacuate Compton Hill Reservoir Park by the city’s director of public safety. Before they could lead everyone away, organizers say, police moved in, beating some with batons, using pepper spray, and arresting at least 14 people, according to the Huffington Post.”
The conference was partly planning for a huge protest convergence at the NATO Summit, which begins very soon in Chicago.

3. Occupy Little Rock: Possibly the longest-running encampment in the nation, OLR’s website announces this week:

Protest Site Needs for Summer Heat Preparation
On Sunday April 22, 2012, between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., OLR will host at the protest site at 4th and Ferry in downtown Little Rock, a project get-together for all supporters of OLR to accomplish the task of making of the shading for the protest site for the summer months. This shading will consist of cammo-style netting (Occu-net)...
The group plans a bar-b-que for people who show up to help with the shade construction.
4. The Boston Occupier just published 10,000 copies of its seventh monthly edition, carrying stories about Occupy MBTA’s Camp Charlie (Charlie on the MTA) and the April 4 Day of Action for Public Transit called by Occupy together with transit worker unions. 

5. Occupy Boise: The camp on the lawn in front of Old Ada County Courthouse, which went up November 11, was spared the fate of the other Occupy camps because a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order after the legislature hurriedly passed a law against camping in February. The challenge by Occupy Boise is scheduled to be heard by Judge Winmill (great name) on June 7, but meanwhile, the city is negotiating with OB over moving off the grass so they can reseed it. I'd be watching out for a special poisonous Occucide cooked up by Monsanto (see #2).

The April 4 roundup on OccupyTogether lists dozens of other Adventures from the Grave over the last few weeks.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How to Protect Students from Sexual Violence: Pepper Spray Them

Last week, the UC Davis “Pepper Spray Incident Task Force,” dubbed the “Reynoso Task Force” for its chair, Law School Professor Emeritus and former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, released its report. The conclusion was that the pepper spraying of students seated in the Quad on November 18, 2011 “should and could have been prevented.” Well it’s a relief that the task force’s three-and-a-half-month investigation proved what pretty much all of us who watched the red spray come out of that hose over and over again on our television screens surmised.

The task force was specifically not charged with recommending discipline against any individuals, though it does find that Chancellor Linda Katehi and police chief police Annette Spicuzza showed “lack of leadership” (no doubt some right-wing pundits will use this as evidence that women should not be chancellors or police chiefs – I might agree but for different reasons). The task force criticized Lt. John Pike for using the spray at closer range than recommended by the manufacturer, though in fact, the report also notes that campus police are not authorized to carry that high-powered spray device at all.

Most disturbing to me was the section called “Background,” which explained that the context for the administration’s decision to break up the encampment on campus violently nearly as soon as it began was based on reports – false, as it turned out – that there were “non-affiliates” from Occupy Oakland participating.

Such “outside agitator” claims have been leveled at campus movements since – well probably since Harvard, the first college in the thirteen British colonies on American soil, opened its doors in 1636. Writes Jo Freeman, in “What Happened at Berkeley: How the Cold War Culture of Anti-Communism Shaped Protest in the Sixties”:

“The pivotal event in California was the San Francisco general strike of 1934, which badly scared the Regents of the University of California. To appease the Regents and reassure the legislature that the University was in safe hands, President Robert Gordon Sproul issued some new regulations. These regulations limited on-campus speakers to persons approved by the administration, and prohibited "exploitation" of the University’s prestige by unqualified persons.”
In the early sixties, the presence of non-student activists from the Congress On Racial Equality at a literature table touched off U.C. Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement. When I was at Oberlin in the late seventies, a forum on divestment from South Africa was nearly cancelled by the administration because of the threat that one actual Black South African, who was not a student, might try to speak.

In fact, the fears expressed by the UC Davis administration hearken back to those halcyon days.

… the Chancellor explained her concerns about the involvement of “non-affiliates” with the UC Davis Occupy movement and encampment. Chancellor Katehi stated, “We were worried at the time about that [nonaffiliates] because the issues from Oakland were in the news and the use of drugs andsex and other things, and you know here we have very young students . . . we were worried especially about having very young girls and other students with older people who come from the outside without any knowledge of their record….”

Vice Chancellor Meyer expressed similar concerns in an interview conducted on Dec. 7. He explained, “our context at the time was seeing what’s happening in the City of Oakland, seeing what’s happening in other municipalities across the country, and not being able to see a scenario where [a UC Davis Occupation] ends well . . . Do we lose control and have non-affiliates become part of an encampment? So my fear is a longterm occupation with a number of tents where we have an undergraduate student and a non-affiliate and there’s an incident. And then I’m reporting to a parent that a nonaffiliated has done this unthinkable act with your daughter, and how could we let that happen?”
It’s good to know that university administrators are so concerned about protecting women on their campuses from rapists. One assumes that we are going to see police wielding pepper spray canisters at the doors to every fraternity party at Davis from now on.

The website of UC Davis’s Men Acting Against Rape provides these statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice-Violence Against Women Office.

  • In a survey of college women, 38% reported sexual victimization which met the legal definition of a rape or attempted rape, yet only 1 out of every 25 reported their assault to the police.
  • In a study of college students, 35% of men indicated some likelihood that they would commit a violent rape of a woman who had fended off an advance if they were assured of getting away with it.
  • 1 in 12 male students surveyed had committed acts that met the legal definition of rape. Furthermore, 84% of the men who had committed such acts said what they had done was definitely not rape.
So how does the University of California deal with “affiliates” who actually victimize their women students, as opposed to theoretical nonaffiliates who might?

According to a 2000 report, “Reports of rapes and sexual assaults at University of California campuses are seldom included in the campus security report.” Speaking specifically about the Davis campus, the Sacramento Bee charged that “Students and parents have not been provided with adequate safety information.”

At UC Irvine last year, the student regent was found guilty of “unwanted touching” – i.e., sexual assault – by a college disciplinary board and placed on academic probation, but not removed from his position representing the student body on the powerful Board of Regents. By contrast, 30 students who participated in civil disobedience actions at the college were criminally prosecuted for misdemeanors, and given suspensions and community service by the college disciplinary committee.
Besides being racist fear-mongering, the claim that the encampment at Davis was full of “nonaffiliates” from Occupy Oakland also turned out to be completely fictitious. According to the Task Force report:
“One UC Davis police officer who spent the night at a Mrak Hall protest on Nov. 15 wrote that “the majority (of protesters) were NOT affiliated with the University [but were] part of the ‘Occupy’ movement.” UC Davis Police Chief Spicuzza informed the Leadership Team that her officers suggested that 80% of the protesters participating in the encampment on the Quad were not students….

Assistant Vice Chancellor Castro informed the Leadership Team that based on her observations of the Occupy encampment on the quad on Nov. 17, “the only non-affiliates I saw were people from the interfaith communities providing food … and they were not spending the night.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

99% Spring vs Occupy: Coopting, Colonizing or Complementing?

Two weeks ago, three different people sent me invitations to the 99% Spring Training.

When I looked at the announcements, my first thought was, “Why would people think I need this?” The Spring Training seems intended to bring in people who have not done direct action before, teach them what it is and how to do it, motivate and organize them into groups. I would only clog it up with my overwrought, jaded energy, if I could find the time to go.

I was also surprised that MoveOn is organizing direct action trainings. I associate them with electoral politics, and if I have been understanding my MSNBC and Comedy Central talk show hosts correctly, there’s an election brewing, right? Why isn’t MoveOn organizing people to go out and register voters?

My third thought was, “Wow, this is coming from three really different places.” One was from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, home of Books Not Bars and Green for All and various other social justice movements in Oakland. One had come from a friend in India, and I think she had gotten it via someone involved in immigrant women’s organizing. The third was from, and the email was focused on climate justice activism but mentioned that the training would not be solely around that issue.

Whatever else you can say about the 99% Spring Training, it’s broad-based.

Yesterday, another email was going around like wildfire. This one is called “The ‘99% Spring’ Brings Co-optation into Full Bloom: Counter-Insurgency as Insurgency.” Written by an Occupy Oakland militant who is also a Ph.D. candidate at UC Santa Cruz, the piece accuses the 99% Spring campaign of being a ruse to “contain and defang” the Occupy movement by “sucking a large cross-section of Occupy into Obama’s reelection campaign, watering down it’s [sic] radical politics, and using these mass trainings as a groundwork to put forward 100,000 ‘good protesters’ to overshadow the ‘bad protesters’ (who actual take [sic] personal risks and/or have radical politics), to ease the State’s ongoing campaign to pick us off one by one….This is not a riding of the coattails of a hip social movement; this will be a form of counter-insurgency. This will be used to disrupt, discredit and destroy the Occupy movement.”

Okay, as I said, I was (and remain) suspicious too, but those are some strong accusations!

The writer has some legitimate points. It’s very true that the “good protester/bad protester” trope has been worn to death in the press about Occupy. To allege, however, that “Those in power would like to see nothing more than for 100,000 people to be trained to chain themselves to local bank branches for 6-9 months, hooting about their ‘greedy side,’ get disillusioned at how fruitless that is, and go back to playing video games and downloading pirated music after Obama’s election,” is, to say the least, hyperbole.

There’s no evidence that those in power – whether you are talking about the Obama administration or the mayors and police departments of Oakland, San Francisco or New York, are anxious to see hundreds of thousands – or even hundreds – chain themselves to local banks. Remember NYPD pepper spraying people marching around closed Wall Street institutions on a Saturday? At least two people I know had their arms broken by police for occupying Bank of America at a student-led (nonviolent) action (of far less than 100,000) in San Francisco last year.

Author Mike King suggests that “Every single Occupation that doesn’t want to turn into nothing more than an ample pool of chumps registering people to vote for the same Obama administration that has declared an all-out war against us, should bring forward a resolution at their General Assembly to condemn this clear attempt to destroy our movement.”

I have a better idea. How about some old-fashioned noncooperation? Don’t go to the trainings. Don’t participate in their actions. Do nothing to help them, and don’t waste your energy fighting them. Concentrate on the great organizing you’re doing, and make your exciting street actions the irresistable next step for the people who cut their teeth on choreographed blockades.  People who go to a training because they want to blockade banks are not going to accidentally start registering voters for Obama, and the arguments about property damage and confrontations with the cops were going on in the Occupies long before the 99% Spring came on the scene.

What’s the truth about the 99% Spring?

An Occupier from New York who attended the training for trainers, with some skepticism, writes:

“I’m just back from two days of training for trainers, and this is my verdict: the Training for Trainers was fantastic. Hundreds of people in attended the same training as me in New York, and thousands more took part across the country.

“The folks attending the training represented a cross section of our country’s progressive, 99% movement. I met community organizers, peace activists, union members, occupiers, and many more. The group was inter-generational, racially diverse, gender balanced, and included folks from all NYC boroughs, Long Island, CT, NJ, and upstate. My impression is that most are experienced organizers, but from many different traditions and organizational homes.

“There was zero, none, nada discussion of the Obama campaign, electoral politics, the Democratic Party, or MoveOn. To sum up then, the critiques against the 99% Spring are false. Those who lobbed uninformed critiques are now in a position of having to apologize and take back their words or lose credibility. They ‘proved’ that MoveOn provided support for an amazing, collaborative effort resting on teachings used widely inside the Occupy movement…. the 99% Spring is an example of a large powerful organization placing resources in the service of a fairly radical agenda and allowing others to take the lead.”
Now that’s obviously one person’s opinion, and what will happen remains to be seen. But it seems ridiculous and self-destructive for any of the Occupy movements to wage a big campaign against another grassroots movement.

The 99% Spring is not going to draw people away from Occupy. What’s more likely to do that, if anything – and I’m rooting against this – is the factionalism and ideological purity that is already threatening many of the groups. Parts of Occupy Oakland, as I write, are fighting with Decolonize Oakland over getting a permit for a May Day rally. The Decolonize folks, who are primarily queer people of color, have built a big coalition including many immigrant rights organizations and want to make sure that undocumented people can participate without fear of being arrested and held for deportation.

In Bahrain I attended both permitted and unpermitted marches. The permitted marches were organized by a coalition of opposition parties, and stayed on approved routes determined not to be disruptive to business or traffic (though in fact, all the cars arriving for the marches caused some pretty serious traffic jams).

At first, I was unenthusiastic about the permitted marches. We were there to witness human rights violations and we assumed the permitted marches wouldn’t have any. And here at home, I always prefer militant street actions to permitted marches; we used to call the annual spring mobilizations “activist church.” But as an outsider, I had a very different reaction to the big marches in Bahrain. When I saw the thousands and thousands of people streaming in from every direction, I was deeply impressed.

That doesn’t mean every march should be permitted. The smaller groups of people marching in Manama being doused with tear gas, Abdulhadi Al Khawaja starving himself to death in prison, even the young men throwing Molotov cocktails – all are also moving in their own way. But there is an impact to having masses and masses of people involved.

Occupy has brought in a ton of people. Occupy Oakland has had a series of barbeques in different neighborhoods in the last month which have had great participation from diverse communities. 99% Spring is likely to appeal to a very different group of people, who share Occupy’s goals but are uncomfortable with some of its rhetoric, tactics or culture. It’s a liberal movement, yes. But a liberal movement is not a bad thing for a radical movement to have. I’ve spent most of my life doing radical activism in a political climate where liberals are in short supply. I haven’t gotten very far. I’ll be glad for a chance to be a radical pushing on liberals who are pushing on moderates.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Just the Facts, Ma'am … Wait, What's a Fact?

A couple weeks ago, in my piece about Mike Daisey and the Apple Factory, I questioned why both This American Life host Ira Glass and Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz appeared to take the word of Daisey’s translator about facts that contradicted Daisey’s version of events. A friend objected to my “throwing barbs suggesting that the translator is lying.” I didn’t intend to do that. I have no reason to believe the translator is lying; I know nothing about her. My point was that Glass and Schmitz don’t know anything about her either. Of course, Daisey admitted to many of the inaccuracies the translator revealed, and that would lead us to believe that where there’s a contradiction between their memories, hers is likely to be more accurate. But is that true?

Daisey’s credibility is shot because we know he lied. Fair enough. But we also know he told the truth, and that’s the piece that’s easy to forget. (In what could be an accident of good timing, last Friday the Fair Labor Association released a report which substantiates many of the stories in Daisey's show.)

The other night, Rachel Maddow, whom I adore, led off her show with a critique of Rick Santorum’s campaign speeches. She played a clip of Santorum reporting that according to something he read, “At eight of the ten University of California campuses you can’t take a class in American history.” She played the clip a few times, she asserted that it’s absurd, and then to contradict it, she read from the course catalog of one U.C. campus, UC Davis, showing that it offered numerous classes on U.S. history.

Then she moved on to debunk a previous claim by Santorum – this one alleging that old people in the Netherlands wear “Do Not Euthanize Me” bracelets and leave the country rather than go to Dutch hospitals because they fear involuntary euthanasia. Santorum claimed that 10% of the country’s deaths are from euthanasia, and half of those are involuntary. Rachel then said, “It’s not hard to fact check this assertion. All you have to do is ask a Dutch person.” She then played a clip of herself sitting down with a Dutch journalist, Erik Mouthaan, who assured her that this is “totally not true.”

Actually, asking a Dutch person does not qualify as “fact-checking.” If a Dutch politician said that half of Americans are poor, I’m sure you could find lots of U.S. citizens, sadly even journalists, to confidently assert that that was rubbish. They’d be wrong, however.  I recently told a friend I was pretty sure both she and I have incomes in the top 30% of U.S. households. This friend, who is quite well-informed, emphatically disagreed. She is wrong. A single person who earns $65,000 or more is in the top third, and without knowing her exact salary, I know she is well above that. Of course, being in the top third of households in a country where half the people are poor is no great feat.
I waited for Rachel to give the real statistics on euthanasia in the Netherlands, but they never came. Those statistics are not difficult to come by. The Washington Post blog Fact Checker reports:

In 2001, The Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia, setting forth a complex process. The law, which went into effect a year later, codified a practice that has been unofficially tolerated for many years.

Under the Dutch law, a doctor must diagnose the illness as incurable and the patient must have full control of his or her mental faculties. The patient must voluntarily and repeatedly request the procedure, and another doctor must provide a written opinion agreeing with the diagnosis. After the death, a commission made up of a doctor, a jurist and an ethical expert also are required to verify that the requirements for euthanasia have been met.

… In 2010, the number of euthanasia cases reported to one of five special commissions was 3,136, according to their annual report. This was a 19 percent increase over 2009, but “this amounts to 2.3 percent of all 136,058 deaths in the Netherlands in 2010,” said Carla Bundy, spokeswoman for the Dutch embassy in Washington.
Rachel’s guest was right, but she did not prove it, any more than Santorum proved his "Don’t euthanize me" bracelets claim. Going back to the University of California and American history, Santorum said that eight out of the ten campuses don’t offer such classes. In order to prove him wrong, she would need to show that at least three do, but she stopped with the one.

As it happens, UC Berkeley offers at least four, including:

100.007: The Great Exhaling
1948 was the year that America-after the Great Depression, after the Second World War, after sixteen years of the all but revolutionary experiment in national government of the New Deal and even in the face of a Red Scare that in many ways would dominate the next decade-let out its breath. Finally, that great exhaling said, we can go back to real life- but what was ";real life";? Centering on 1948, but moving a few years back and a few years forward, this class will explore the sometimes instantly celebrated, sometimes all but subterranean experiments in American culture that tried to raise and answer that question. The artists who emerged to tell the national story were male and female, black and white, from the west, the east, the south, and everywhere in between. They included Tennessee Williams of Mississippi and Marlon Brando of Nebraska with A Streetcar Named Desire; Jackson Pollock of Wyoming with abstract paintings so big they seemed like visionary maps of the country itself, a country where anything could happen; Miles Davis of St. Louis, with the spare, quiet walk down noir streets of the music that would come to be known as "The Birth of the Cool"; the cross-country explorations of Jack Kerouac of Massachusetts, Neal Cassady of Colorado, and Allen Ginsberg of Newark, New Jersey, following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, certain that the real American remained to be discovered; the grind-house, B-movie spread of noir, with the faces of Barbara Stanwyck of Brooklyn and Gloria Grahame of Los Angeles spreading the suspicion that in America nothing was as it seemed and rules and morals were for fools...
UCLA’s History Department website has a “United States” link you can click on and it tells you that:
“With more than twenty-five distinguished faculty members in the field of U.S. history, the UCLA Department of History offers one of the country’s broadest, most diverse, and successful graduate programs in the subject. Faculty expertise ranges from the pre-colonial history of the Americas to the present.”
How many facts does it take to screw up a monologue?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Marches, Men and Maniacal Managers

Those who remember Herb Caen will recognize this as “three-dot journalism”.

I wanted to write something about the Global March to Jerusalem

This extraordinary series of (mostly) nonviolent direct actions, which took place on Friday, was an ambitious multinational organizing drive that began at least eight months ago, an effort to give voice to the millions of Palestinian refugees –inside Israel and the Occupied Territories, in refugee camps in the Arab world and in exile around the world – who are in danger of being forgotten and finally robbed of their inalienable right to return home. The date, March 30, is known in Palestine as Land Day. It commemorates the 1976 killing of six Palestinian Israelis by Israeli police, and is dedicated to the national unity of all Palestinians everywhere.

I’ve known about the march from the beginning, and I also knew that it was fraught with controversy and conflict. Having had enough of that kind of bickering in my activist life. I decided to wish everyone the best and continue with the work I’m already doing – primarily on boycott, divestment & sanctions (BDS).

By some accounts the Land Day marches were a huge success, by others a dismal failure. One young man was killed in Gaza, an eight-year-old shot in the eye in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, and the New York Times reports that “Security troops in riot gear were out in large numbers, using rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons filled with putrid green liquid and high-pitched noise machines.”

The best thing I found articulating the goals and aspirations of the march was by author Ghada Karmi, in AlterNet:

Global March to Jerusalem: An Act of Homage to a City in Danger

On March 30th a ground-breaking event will take place. I had not expected it would ever happen when I first heard about it. While teaching at the Summer University of Palestine last July in Beirut, I met a group of Indian Muslims taking the course. They told me they were organising a people’s march to Jerusalem to bring to the world’s attention to Israel’s assault on the city’s history and culture, and its impending loss as a centre for Islam and Christianity. They explained how they and their friends would set out from India, drawing in others to join them as they passed through the various countries on their way overland to Israel’s borders.

They seemed fired up and determined, and I could not but admire their zeal and dedication to try and rescue this orphan city which has been abandoned by all who should have defended her. But I thought their ambitions would be thwarted by the harsh reality of trying to implement their dreams. It would never succeed, I thought, but I was quite wrong. The movement they and their fellow activists spearheaded, called the Global March to Jerusalem (GMJ), is now in its final stages. A distinguished group of 400 advisers, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nobel Laureate, Mairead Maguire, are promoting the GMJ. The marchers will head for Jerusalem or the nearest point possible on March 30th.  Read the rest

As I was reading the Karmi piece, my eye drifted inexorably to an ad on the right-hand side of my screen. Below the photo shown here, the headline read:

The 4 Dangers Destroying Men Today

The ad did it’s job. I had to click on that link. Here’s what I learned:

I have some bad news for you today...

“I'm not sure if there's a conspiracy behind it but these dangerous trends have been robbing you of the vitality, zest and success that you truly deserve...”
Okay, this ad wasn’t directed at me. Still, I found it pretty interesting. At least one of the dangers was not feminism. The point was that various environmental forces are lowering men’s testosterone, and that in turn lowers their chances of conquering the girl in the picture. The author promised men “today I'm going to show you why and deliver and ton of free information on how to take charge of your life and get to the top…while feeling healthier, stronger and much more confident…” It’s kind of the Tom Cruise character in Magnolia brought to the micro screen.

Part of the advice:  "Let's get started by going back in time to our Neanderthal days..."

What I'd like to know is, by what algorithms did that end up as a companion to my perusal of AlterNet?

Despite years of gentrification, AIDS and assimilation, the Castro remains the center of Gay San Francisco. A couple months ago, a member of QUIT! (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism) reported that Cliff’s Variety, one of the fixtures of Castro Street, has a big display of SodaStream, the home seltzer maker manufactured in the illegal Israeli settlement of Mishor Edomim (the industrial zone attached to Maale Adumim, in East Jerusalem). We approached the housewares buyer and explained about the international boycott of SodaStream and asked Cliff’s to drop the product. The buyer, after reading the material we sent and doing some research of his own, informed our representative that Israel “seemed to be operating within legitimate occupation” and anyway, the product is very popular and they are not political.

So yesterday, we set up a table outside Cliff’s, armed with information from the website “Who Profits” run by the Coalition of Women for Peace. We passed out fliers and asked those who expressed interest to give the cashier a coupon letting them know that they would like them to drop SodaStream. Many people were determinedly apathetic, as we’ve come to expect, but quite a number stopped to chat. All was very amiable for about fifteen minutes, and then the manager came out. She told the person handing out leaflets that she couldn’t stand by the door, because that’s their property, but had to move farther away. This we expected and Deni obligingly moved out to where we had set our table, even with the parking meters and bike racks.

Then the manager said that we could not have a table unless we had a “street use” permit. This I was 98% sure was not true, and I said so. She insisted that it was. Lisa explained that the permitting process only applies to people who are selling on the street, not free speech activities. When she didn’t go away, we suggested she call the police. She was clearly surprised by that –no doubt the threat of calling the police was going to be her trump card. She said, “Well, if that’s how you want me to handle it, I will.” Five minutes later, an unassuming policewoman showed up. She didn’t speak to us right away, but went into the store. When she emerged, she explained that the owners wanted us off of their property, which extends to the curb, that they are responsible for maintaining the safety of their sidewalk, and we were interfering with their business. I said we were not hurting their business, but even if we were, I was pretty sure the law allows us to do that. She said she would call her sergeant and find out.

A few minutes later another policewoman arrived in a car, and a little later, the male sergeant got there. The sergeant went into the store and the other woman stayed outside keeping an eye on us. They were there for quite a while, while we continued to talk to customers and anyone else who were willing to talk to us. A surprising number of the people who came by said they were visiting from Canada.

About five minutes before we were planning to pack up, the cops came out. The first woman who talked to us said we should listen carefully, because she was going to tell us that she was wrong, and that’s not something you hear cops admit very often. She said in fact, we had the right to have our table there, we just couldn’t block the door or the sidewalk. We said that was fine, we hadn’t and we wouldn’t. The other woman, who was for some reason much more hostile, yelled at Deni that she had seen her having conversations with people on the sidewalk, forcing people to go around them. I pointed out that people stop and talk on sidewalks all the time. She said that was true, but if we did anything Cliff’s didn’t like, they were going to call the police back. The police finally left. We stayed for another fifteen minutes, and Deni used her “teacher voice” to call out to Cliff’s shoppers, “We’re asking Cliff’s not to carry SodaStream.” Hard to believe that’s less disruptive to their business than letting us stand quietly in front of the door leafleting, but there you have it.

Of course, all that hooplah made us feel much more effective than we would have if we were just standing there for an hour with most people ignoring us. When we were done leafleting we went for a beautiful walk in an area called Corona Heights. A lot of work has been done to reclaim the land and make walking trails – surely a much better use of public money than having three cops protecting Cliff’s from three middle-aged women leafleting for half an hour.