Friday, February 25, 2011

As a Nation, We Remain Asleep at the Wheel

I'm afraid circumstances beyond our control are going to force lifestyle changes on Americans whether they like it or not. Yeah, sure, GM's profits are soaring. ("The $4.7 billion it earned for all of last year was its biggest profit in more than a decade.") Or they were, kinda, last year, but now with all that stuff going on that's beyond our control, the price of GM stock is trading at below what it was when it went back on the market in November.

And what is all that stuff beyond our control? Oh, a little acting out here and there in North Africa and the Middle East, people rising up regionally and challenging the thugs who have run their nations -- often with the tacit if not explicit support of the United States -- for decades. And these uprisings do not appear to be religious in nature -- they are economic and political, started by people with access to the Internet and who know that better lives are to be had.

These rebellions are happening in places like Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, and Egypt, countries that are not so important for the oil that they contribute to American driving habits. Stability in the region, however, is highly desired for access to countries nearby that have more oil -- like Saudi Arabia and the oil that it gives to tankers that pass through the Suez Canal, controlled by Egypt. As unhappy people rise up and throw of the brutal dictators that have ruled their countries for decades, the price of oil globally is going up. A coincidence? A response to concerns about stability in the region? Or speculators taking advantage of the concerns about stability to drive up prices?

Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone has done an excellent job (at least for me) of explaining the financial crisis that hit in 2008 and which still lingers (I am unemployed) in his book Griftopia. In this book he explains the mortgage crisis and how a few individuals and several large institutions (mainly Goldman Sachs) gamed the financial system to create the crisis. He also explains how gasoline prices were driven up by gaming the system. Could be that the same thing is happening now -- that we are all being gamed.

But I don't know. I do know that I support high gasoline prices, VERY high -- but I think they should be made high gradually and methodically and through TAXES that are reinvested in building out our public transportation and creating communities where people can walk, ride bicycles, or take buses to work and school and to run errands. And I think they should be percentage based, per dollar of gasoline sold. They would work like this: in the first year, the tax might be 5 percent per dollar of gasoline sold (not per gallon), but by the end of ten years, the percentage per dollar of gasoline would be 35 percent per dollar sold. Or something like that. (The reason we should not impose taxes per gallon sold is because cars are being manufactured to be more fuel efficient -- which is good, but fuel efficiency does not address all the other problems that come with car-based lifestyles such as habitat destruction and obesity.)

President Barack Obama, however, has sent out the word: no increase in the current federal gasoline tax, set since 1993 at 18.4 cents per gallon. Meantime, he's working hard on leaving a legacy of high speed rail. Republican governors are making a show of rejecting federal funds for HSR projects in their states, sometimes arguing they are doing so because the funding is contingent upon that states filling some of the funding gaps.

Obama could be leaving another legacy as well, however, one that I find alarming: a continuation of the policies of the administration of George W. Bush to open up more of the nation to mining and drilling for natural gas. While running for president in 2008, he campaigned in part on a platform of 'clean coal' -- if there is such a thing. And on November 4, 2010 -- the day after he got what he called a 'shellacking' from the electorate when they returned the House of Representatives to the Republicans, he gave a speech in which he said, "We've got terrific natural gas resources in this country. Are we doing everything we can to develop those?" And "There's a lot of agreement around the need to make sure that electric cars are developed here in the United States, that we don't fall behind other countries." (The U.S. Energy Information Agency has determined that in 2009 Americans consumed 22,839,158 cubic feet of natural gas, with 29,150 for vehicle fuel and 6,872.049 to generate electric power.)

Indeed, the natural gas of which he speaks – and which could be used to fire up the power plants that will generate the electricity for those electric cars – is locked in rock and released from that rock in a controversial drilling process called ‘fracking.’ According to the March 30, 2010 Scientific American, there is an estimated proved reserve of 6.7 trillion cubic feet meters of natural gas in the United States. But the same article discusses leaks and water poisonings associated with the process.

Obama and other elected officials are merely caught between the unrealistic desires of the American people (wanting a good quality of life without wanting to pay the price in taxes that that quality demands) and reality: limited natural resources in places that are generally hostile to the United States and environmental degradation because people want those resources. Personally, I think some form of democratic socialism is the only answer in a world of limited resources and too many people. At the very least, a few things should be socialized (or communally owned and operated, for those of you who object to the word socialism): water, transportation, parks, health care, electricity, education. I'm not saying that private enterprise in this sectors should be eliminated (well, re. water and parks it should be), just that private enterprise should not be the only option.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Minding Mass Transit Across the Nation

June 29, 2010: A student of art at the California College of Art riding the 27 Bryant from the Flower Mart, loaded down with flowers that she will arrange at the restaurant where she works. You do not need a car ...

Perhaps 100 people rallied in support of mass transit agencies all over the country -- and, in particular, two bills now in Congress to support mass transit -- the Public Transportation Preservation Act of 2010 (S. 3412 and H.R. 5418) and H.R. 2746/S. 3189 -- on Tuesday, June 29, 2010 in San Francisco. This rally continued a number of rallies in support of public transportation that started in Atlanta and that will end in Miami. At the end of the rallies organizers say they will put up a Jumbotron in front of the Capital Building in Washington, DC, that flashes a constant message: Save Our Ride. The point? To stop the degradation of the nation's transit systems as a result of the economic downturn ...

The Public Transportation Preservation Act proposes to allocate $2 billion in emergency aid to the nation's 7,700 public transportation systems. It's sponsor is Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd. The other measure, H.R. 2746/S. 3189, seeks to amend current law to permit federal money to be used to support transit agency operations and not just capital projects.

How meaningful would $2 billion distributed among the 7,700 agencies throughout the United States be? By itself, not very. But in combination with the other bill, it could be significant.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages car traffic, bus and light rail transportation, taxis, bicycles, and pedestrian safety, has in the last three years suffered budget shortfalls totaling over $200 million. On May 8, in response to the most recent shortfall, the agency cut service by 10 percent. In particular, the agency reduced late night bus service and stopped running service on community bus lines -- many of which serve hard-to-reach neighborhoods at the top of San Francisco's steep hills -- at 9:30 pm instead of 11:30 pm or later.

The largest piece of the SFMTA budget pie goes to employee wages and benefits (if you don't count the $1.2 billion Central Subway project, which is in line to get over $900 million in federal funds if the SFMTA can prove that this massive capital project will not have a negative impact on the day-to-day operations of the agency's buses and light rail).

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, his ally on the Board of Supervisors Sean Elsbernd, and a number of others have been making the bus and light rail operators out to be the bogeymen in this amputation of service. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd is now collecting signatures for a ballot measure that will eliminate the current driver wage floor and replace it with collective bargaining in the hopes that passage of the measure will compel the drivers to agree to money-saving work rule changes. Among the work rule changes that many people talk about are adding part-time drivers to work the morning and evening rush hours, replacing the full-time drivers who have less work during the middle of the day.

Irwin Lum, president of the Transport Workers United-Local 250.

But a recently released Budget Analyst's audit of the agency found that a move to hire part-time drivers (all drivers now are full-time) would save only about $3 million annually -- compared to the $100 million in additional deficits that the agency is now facing.

Two times in recent months, the 2,200 or so drivers have been asked to vote up or down on work rules changes related to part-time drivers and other matters that would supposedly save the agency money. Both times, the drivers have voted against the changes.


I can't get my head around this -- and I suspect most other members of the public can't either.

"Part-time is not reasonable," Lum told me after the rally. When the agency had part-time drivers a few years ago, "People worked a couple hours in the morning and a couple hours in the afternoon and evening. They had other jobs during the day. This is a health and safety issue."

He added that in 2005, when the agency last had part-time drivers, in response to another agency budget crisis, "We offered early retirement and offered the part-time employees full-time employment [in order to save money]."

He said something about furlough days as well -- as if there has been some negotiations going about these. But he did not elaborate on the details of the controversy.

A revote "is not going to happen as long as we have a gun to our heads with [Elsbernd's] charter amendment," he added. "We're trying to educate voters that Sean's thing is not really reform."

(And as to Public Defender Jeff Adachi's pension reform measure for which he is collecting signatures, "There's no room for him to run from the left for mayor, so he's trying to run to the right of Sean Elsbernd.")

Note: on June 29 the SF Gate announced that Newsom and SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford had agreed to restore half of the service that had been cut on September 4. The SF Appeal announced the specifics of the restoration of service on June 30. I guess Newsom and Ford are saying that they will agree to restore half of the service on September 4 if the San Francisco County Transportation Authority commissioners (the 11 members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors with their other hats on) agrees to allocate $7 million from the sales tax dedicated to the SFCTA. But, hey, that's what the Board of Supes was saying all along: you agree to restore the service, and we'll allocate the money.


The Rhetoric ...

Tim Paulson, head of the San Francisco Labor Council, MCs a pro-mass transit rally in front of San Francisco's old federal building on June 29, 2010.

From Paulson:

"The Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union of America are in the house ..."

From Lum, again:

"We've had service cuts, fare increases, and constant scapegoating of the drivers. We need a mass movement for the reallocation of federal dollars to operations across the country."


"It's important that we further increase public transportation, not cut it ... Students, poor people, working people are the ones most hurt when transit is cut ... We need a green economy ... How can we get people out of their cars and onto mass transit? It needs to be affordable and dependable."

ATU Local 192 President Claudia Hudson, the only woman on the line up of speakers
From Hudson:

"We are in crisis today. I have a connection to the people that we carry. The people who utilize our service don't realize it's going to be gone until it is gone. Losing service is going to dampen the lives of seniors. Children are not going to be able to get to school. This is a major crisis. We need funding now."

Among others who spoke were TWU International Executive Vice President Harry Lombardo, ATU International President Ron Heintzman, ATU International Secretary-Treasurer Oscar Owens, and California Federation of Labor Executive Secretary Treasurer Art Pulaski.

From Lombardo:

"The fight for quality public transit isn't just about transit workers. It's about all of us. Public transportation connects us. It makes it possible for working people to get to work and for businesses to stay in business. ... [Public transportation jobs] are indeed green jobs. Public transportation has been a green job forever. Because of public transportation there is less traffic, less pollution, better air quality, and fewer kids sick with asthma. That's the road we want to be on. That's the road that paves the way to a green economy. But that's not the road we are on. Why? Because of outdated national mass transportation policies. It's time to wake up Congress. We're headed in the wrong direction. We know what to do. When drivers are headed in the wrong direction, we turn it around and head it in the right direction."

Lombardo then directed attendees to get out their cell phones and send a text message to this number: 69866. And in the message field he told everyone to type in "Our ride" and then hit send.

From Heintzman:

"We need to tell members of Congress to get off their asses and pass this bill. It allows them to spend the money to keep transit running ... The money has already been appropriated. ... I've been told here in SF the mayor clearly has his head up his ass. Stop trying to balance the budget on backs of riders. Stop using the economy to get concessions. We need to tell him loud and clear: we ain't giving up shit."

From Owens:

"From the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, our voices must be heard. From the prairies of Kansas, our voices must be heard. From Lookout Mountain in Tennessee ... from Iron Mountain in Alabama ... From Stone Mountain in Georgia ... "

From Pulaski:

"Public transportation keeps our economy moving. One hundred and twenty-five years ago today the Chicago streetcar workers decided to strike for seven days. They fought hard and won. They led the way towards improvements in mass transit. Thank them."

Pulaski led the crowd in chants:

"Fix our transit, and fix it now" and "Fund our transit, and fund it now."

The Reverend Norman Fong (apparently a replacement for the Reverend Jesse Jackson who was a no-show), executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center

From Fong:

"This is a faith-based and community issue. For all of you environmentalists out there, the greenest community [in the nation] is Chinatown. Ninety percent of our community can't afford cars, and there's no parking anyway."

District 9 Supervisor David Campos

From Campos:

"Public transportation is a social justice issue. Right now there is a climate in [San Francisco] City Hall that is pointing the finger and blaming the drivers. We have to say no. The future of the riders and drivers is linked. There is going to be a ballot measure in November that is going to try to divide. We can't ignore the problem that we have a system that is getting money that is not being used well. Blaming labor is not the answer. Labor is part of the solution."

Note to readers: Campos himself is a one of four sponsors of a measure to reform the SFMTA that is headed for the November ballot. It, too, includes language that will reform the way driver salaries are arrived at, eliminating the current formula in which the driver wage floor is the average of the drivers of the two highest paid systems in the nation and replacing it with collective bargaining. However, this measure is much more comprehensive and is not set in stone -- it has about a two-week window for changes. I was a part of some meetings in City Hall to craft a Muni reform ballot measure, but was not able to make the last set of meetings -- the measure as it now stands is not much like anything that we talked about in the meetings that I participated in. On the whole, I like it quite a bit.

San Francisco Transit Riders Union Project Director Dave Snyder

From Snyder:

"San Franciscans have a love affair with Muni. Five out six take transit at least once a week. The threats to drivers should be seen in the bigger context of teachers without enough supplies and home healthcare workers being squeezed. Wall Street and global capitalism are putting the squeeze on America. The question is: how do we respond as a people? Like Tea Party people who say no to everything or by organizing and working together? SF TRU wants to be a voice so that more people take transit. It takes money. The controller's audit showed $3 million in savings if some drivers go to part-time. But SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford has said recently that Muni needs $100 million. Why are we attacking the drivers when you're looking at $3 million versus $100 million? ...

"Everybody take public transit and thank your drivers."

Snyder himself reportedly took either BART or the 14 Mission from his home in the Mission District to the rally.

I'm sorry to say I did not catch the names and titles of all the speakers as I was taking notes.

Bob Planthold of Senior Action Network, speaking on behalf of disabled riders and their families.

From Planthold:

"We need to make sure the state never again raids transit money."

He was referring to Governor Schwarzenegger's reallocation of State Transit Assistance gas tax money to the general fund over the past few years.

Another person whose name I did not catch.

Forrest Schmidt, of International Answer, at the vanguard of this revolution (and every other one).

From Schmidt:

"Corporate America makes a profit from mass transit. For working class people, it's a necessity."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Minding Muni, Part III

Passengers wait to board the 38 Limited bus on Geary at Divisadero. On February 26, 2010, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors voted 4 to 3 to cut service by 10 percent in order to close a budget gap.

This is a the third in a series about the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's financial woes. The first two are posted on Fog City Journal, which has been hacked. We'll get all parts of the series together when FCJ is back up and running, but for the time being, I will be posting Muni updates here.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) – the agency that manages San Francisco’s parking, traffic, and public transportation – has a problem. Simply put, it doesn’t have enough money. In order to balance its budget, it is cutting service, raising fees, fines, and fares, and begging …

The SFMTA – an agency that required $800 million plus annually up until last year – has been suffering budget deficits on and off since 2005. Last year’s deficit reached an initial $128.9 million in February and March. The amount grew by an additional $45 million last fall, but the agency has been able to whittle that second deficit down to $12.1 million, in part because the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) denied the Oakland Airport Connector project $70 million. Seventeen million of federal money that had been allocated to the construction of a connection between BART and the Oakland Airport is now dedicated to non-operational projects at the SFMTA.

The agency also got some good news on late Monday, March 22. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, having recently lost a case in which he was sued for raiding the State Transit Assistance (STA) funds three years in a row, signed the gas tax swap. This deal eliminates the gasoline tax – which had been the source of the STA – but raises the excise tax on diesel. His signature on the two measures creating the swap – ABX8 6 and ABX8 9 – will bring in some $400 million to cash-strapped state coffers and some $36 million to the SFMTA on June 22.

However, deficits still loom. As of a few weeks ago, the FY 2011 deficit had been pegged at $56.4 million and the FY 2012 deficit at $45.3 million. Additional sources of money depend on the political willingness of city leaders to put revenue-raising measures on the ballot and on the voters to vote for them. Stemming the bleeding may also involve a reexamination of existing SFMTA capital projects.

But will the money saved from the OAC and the money gained from the gas tax swap stave off 10 percent service cuts that the seven-member Board of Directors voted to adopt on February 26? Unsure – the 10 percent service cuts are to go into effect on May 1 – before the agency gets the money from the gas tax swap – and the savings from those service cuts are to carry over into the next year for an annual total of $28.5 million. Preventing the service cuts will require political will, voter willingness, and some daring …

Upcoming meetings and hearings

The general public should have the following dates on their agendas. I’m putting them in chronological order, but some of the meetings may have more import than others:

Tuesday, March 30, SFMTA Board of Directors Meeting in Room 400 of City Hall, 9 a.m.

This meeting will be in part a public hearing in which staff will propose possible “increases to various fares, fees, fines, rates and charges, transit service modifications and expenditure reductions” (Item 11 on the agenda) in order to close the FY 2011-2012 budget gap.

The Board of Directors – all appointed by the mayor – will also vote on whether or not to declare a fiscal emergency for FY 2011, as they did in April 2009 for FY 2010. If they vote to declare a fiscal emergency (last year’s vote was 4 to 3 in favor) – and Bill Wycko at the San Francisco Planning Department issues a “Certificate of Determination” that exempts the agency from a conducting California Environmental Quality Act environmental impact report on proposed fee, fine, and fare increases, and service cuts and changes – the agency may be able to implement even more service cuts in the upcoming year. This is Item 12 on their agenda.

Here, Director James McCray, Chair Tom Nolan, and Directors Shirley Breyer-Black and Bruce Oka, consider presentations and testimony on the FY 2010 budget during a mid-February meeting.

Item 14 relates to the creation of a Taxi Advisory Council. For a long time, various political leaders have been trying to turn medallions – which are issued virtually free of charge to cab drivers who put their names on waiting lists and then wait for years – into cash cows. A pilot program with a small number of medallions is under way. To oversee the industry the SFMTA is considering the creation of a Taxi Advisory Council (the Taxicab Commission was abolished by the passage of Proposition A in 2007.)

Tuesday, March 30, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority meeting in Rm 250 of City Hall, 11 a.m.

This group of 11 people is the supervisors with different hats on. As Transportation Authority commissioners, they oversee the SFCTA and the 2003 Proposition K half-cent sales tax revenue. According to the legal text of Proposition K, the revenue it generates is supposed to go to maintenance of local streets, transportation for the elderly and disabled, construction of the Central Subway, capital upgrades to the bus system, the Caltrain extension to the new Transbay Terminal, projects to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, support for regional transportation systems, and the replacement of Doyle Drive.

On Tuesday, the commissioners will consider allocating $100,000 of Proposition K funds to conduct a management performance audit of Muni to be conducted by the Budget Analyst’s Office.

“There hasn’t been a management audit for 14 years,” notes District 9 Supervisor David Campos. “According to board policy, it’s supposed to be done every eight years.” Campos chairs the Plans and Programs Committee of the Transportation Authority.

The commissioners will also be considering the adoption a baseline budget of about $9 million, a schedule, and a funding plan for the Central Subway Project. This project, the $1.6 billion Phase II of the $2.2 billion project that includes the T-Third Street Light Rail, is hugely controversial. Over $942 million of the funds to build the Central Subway will come from the federal government. The rest will come from state and local sources – but at least $164.1 million of the funds necessary to build the project have not been identified.

Federal Transit Administration Region IX Director Leslie Rodgers wrote a letter to SFMTA Executive Director Nat Ford on January 7 giving the agency the go-ahead to enter the final design stage of the project. But Rodgers made it clear that the SFMTA does not have a green light to break ground on a tunnel for the subway. His letter ends:

In summary, SFMTA must take steps to demonstrate adequate financial capacity to construct the project as well as maintain current system operations; a state of good repair of existing vehicles and infrastructure; and the project management ability and technical capacity to successfully design and construct the Central Subway project before FTA will consider the project for [a Full Funding Grant Agreement].

The reaction?

“Local officials are gambling with taxpayer dollars to finance the Central Subway construction project while Muni teeters on a multiyear death spiral of budget deficits,” wrote Howard Wong of in a March 22 letter to members of the Municipal Transportation Agency Citizens Advisory Council.

“I … think that the [FTA] letter raises a lot of red flags,” said Campos, sitting as a commissioner, at a March 23 meeting of the Plans and Programs Committee. “Can the SFCTA demonstrate the Central Subway will not deplete [SFMTA funds]?”

But: “There’s no reason to believe that the MTA won’t be able to meet the challenges [set forth in the Rodgers’ letter],” responded TA Executive Director Jose Luis Moscovich.

There isn’t?

Tuesday, March 30, the SF Board of Supervisors meeting in Rm 250 of City Hall, 2 p.m.

Item 39 is a motion, sponsored by Supervisors David Chiu, David Campos, Bevan Dufty, and Ross Mirkarimi to reject the SFTMA’s creation of $70 premium express and cable car passes, passes that were to go into effect on May 1 and bring in an additional $900,000 over the course of three months.

“Tiers are likely to cause confusion with riders,” said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi when he introduced the motion at the regularly scheduled Board of Supervisors meeting on March 23. “With Governor Schwarzenegger signing [ABX8 6 and ABX8 9] Muni is likely to receive additional funding. It’s time to consider whether the fares are just and proportionate.”

“A number of us had been thinking about introducing a reject motion … on raising fares on Muni riders that we need to keep as part of our system,” added Board of Supervisors President David Chiu. (At the March 23 Board of Supervisors meeting, Chiu also introduced a motion for the SFMTA to come before the Board of Supervisors and explain how it plans to use the $36 million in funds from the state.)

Tuesday, April 6, the Transportation Authority Plans and Programs Committee, Rm 250 of City Hall, 9 a.m.

At this meeting, the supervisors – acting in their capacity as commissioners of the TA – will consider the SFMTA’s request for $7 million from Proposition K funds to help bale out the agency.

But is that legal?

Former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin calls the SFMTA Board of Directors request for $7 million from the TA “a tactical move on the part of the mayor that breaks faith with the voters. [It’s] a tactical move to make the Board of Supervisors own the disaster that is Muni.”

Campos, in his capacity as commissioner, has requested a legal opinion from TA Executive Director Moscovich on the question of legality – can the commissioners allocate $7 million in funds from the sales tax to the SFMTA?

If it turns out that the agency can shift money to the SFMTA, activists are encouraging the commissioners to make demands on how that money is spent. Executive Director of Livable City Tom Radulovich (and a BART Board Director) has suggested – if indeed it is found that the TA can allocate $7 million to the SFMTA – that the TA offer that money in the form of matching funds: the TA agrees to allocate the money to the SFMTA if it can come up with a matching amount through savings or, for example, through the expansion of the hours of parking meter operation.

Tuesday, April 6, the SFMTA Board of Directors, Rm 400 of City Hall, tentatively planned to start at 2 p.m.

The agenda has not yet been set for this meeting, but we know that the Board of Directors will again be considering the FY 2011-2012 budget.

Tuesday, April 13, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Room 250 of City Hall, 2 p.m.

A local resident and frequent Muni rider has filed an appeal of the 10 percent service cuts based on the fact that they were not under consideration in April 2009 when the Board of Directors voted to declare a fiscal emergency and seek a waiver of CEQA. The Board of Supervisors will consider that appeal on April 13 at its regularly scheduled board meeting. Members of the public can get a copy of the appeal at the office of the clerk of the Board of Supervisors.

Tuesday, April 20, the SFMTA Board of Directors, Rm 400 of City Hall, 2 p.m.

This is a regularly scheduled meeting of the SFMTA Board of Directors. The board is required to adopt a budget by May 1 and then send that budget onto the Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors can reject the budget by a vote of seven out of 11. The Board of Directors may or may not adopt a budget on April 20 – if it doesn’t, it will have to schedule another meeting prior to May 1 in order to pass a budget.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Michael Ruppert, a Torture Case, and Green Economies

Two weeks ago I went to see Michael Ruppert, author of a popular 9-11 conspiracy theory/peak oil book called “Crossing the Rubicon”, at a showing of a recently released documentary about him called Collapse. And then on Tuesday morning, I sat in on an extraordinary rendition/torture case being heard in a federal courtroom in San Francisco.

These two items are, of course, related. As a nation, we have never really probed the reasons for those attacks on September 11, 2001 (“They hate our freedom” is far too simplistic). However, it’s pretty clear to me that the ideologues who attacked us on September 11 were out to destroy the sisterhood between our military and the financial engine that keeps that military humming on an imperial scale. That doesn’t mean they were good guys or that they were working for good guys – they weren’t, and Al Qaeda and their Taliban allies are, at the very least, no fun, and at worst, extremely dangerous.

On the surface, the attacks did not succeed, as in response the United States has ramped up its militarism and its presence in the oil- and natural gas-rich parts of the world that the 19 ideologues who commandeered the planes intended for us to leave. But the point of Ruppert’s recent documentary is to inform people about peak oil and the downsizing of western civilization that is sure to result. That downsizing will surely include the end of the American military empire …

A Protection Racket?

And yet our government continues to operate like protection in defense of the rackets that keep propping up that empire.

On the morning of Tuesday, December 15, 2009, I went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to sit in on the most recent round of Mohamed v. Jeppesen. In this case, five terror suspects who were kidnapped and subjected to illegal extraordinary rendition and torture, starting in 2001, are suing Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc. – a subsidiary of Boeing – for “[participating knowingly] in the forcible disappearance and torture of the men by providing critical flight planning and logistical support services to the aircraft and crews used by the [Central Intelligence Agency] to carry out their extraordinary rendition.”

This case was first brought in May 2007 when it was heard in the federal courtroom of Judge James Ware who ruled that the case could not be litigated on the basis of a statement issued by then CIA Director Michael Hayden. Hayden had announced that state secrets vital to national security would be put in jeopardy if the case were litigated. Plaintiffs in the civil suit appealed to the Ninth Circuit where a three-judge panel heard their case on February 9. Their lawyers hoped that under the new administration of President Barack Obama Justice Department lawyers would relent and allow their case to go forward. To the great disappointment of many, Justice Department lawyers continued to assert state secrets, though the three-judge panel did rule in favor of the plaintiffs on April 28, punting the case back to court of Judge Ware. But then the government appealed to have the case heard en banc, and that’s what happened on Tuesday – the case was again heard in the Ninth Circuit, but this time in front of 11 judges, including Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.

Again the government, represented by attorney Douglas Letter, is continuing to argue that the case cannot be heard due to state secrets, but lead ACLU attorney Ben Wizner argued that the court itself could decide whether or not the information deemed necessary to prosecute the case was a state secret, and if it found that it was, it could hear the case in camera – meaning in closed session.

One of Wizner’s plaintiffs, Ahmed Agiza was first abducted in December 2001. “In the ensuing eight years,” said Wizner, “There has been an extraordinary public debate. But one voice has been entirely absent – the voice of the judiciary.” For the courts in this case to side with the government, he said, “Would mean that the role of the court is entirely ministerial.”

“We have asserted a case of reckless disregard,” said Wizner. Noting that a former Jeppesen employee has come forward to confirm the plaintiffs’ allegations, he added, “Jeppesen engaged in these activities.”

Letter countered that much of Jeppesen’s role was a state secret that he could explain in closed session.

Gray Mailing?

On Wednesday, December 16, 2009 I was listening to Fresh Air host Terry Gross interview Jeremy Scahill, the investigative journalist who has written an expose of Erik Prince’s mercenary company, Blackwater. Few people had ever heard of Blackwater before Scahill began writing about the company, though the number of mercenary soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan is about equal to the number of US military personnel. Prince, according to Scahill, recently agreed to participate in a January 2010 Vanity Fair story. In that story, Scahill says that Prince is practicing ‘gray mailing’ – leaking a certain amount of information that reflects poorly on the US government so as to fend off any future war crimes indictments of him or his company due to incidents in Iraq.

And I have to wonder if Jeppesen is also engaging in gray mailing.

(January 1, 2009 update: A federal judge has dismissed charges against five Blackwater guards who had been accused of the manslaughter of 17 Iraqi civilians on September 16, 2007. But the judge dismissed the charges on a technicality, and prosecutors may appeal.)

New White Trash

So many people have hopes that cases such as Mohamed v. Jeppesen and any cases that might be brought against Blackwater would lead to the holy grail of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, but Michael Ruppert advises that we not hold our breaths.

“It’s too late to do anything about 9-11,” he said after the screening of his film. “No court in the world will do anything.” Instead, he predicts that another huge oil shock (presumably much more massive than the one in 2008) is coming and that there will be a “monstrous collapse” of the global economy within the next six months.

“Another round of bailouts will threaten democracy around the world,” he warned, and getting ready for “the collapse of industrial civilization … is more important than hanging Dick Cheney.”

And in any case, Michael Ruppert himself is moving on, focusing on his band – New White Trash, named for all the people hit hard first by the recession and now by the jobless recovery – and encouraging people to invest time and energy locally in such a way that their own communities are prepared as oil becomes more scarce and prices rise.

Going Green?

I want to do that, and today I even participated in a ‘Green Jobs Webinar’, led by the co-founder of Global Exchange, Kevin Danaher. It was an upbeat event, and yet this is the piece of information that is resonating with me most profoundly: in recent years, growth in the ‘green business’ sector of the American economy has surpassed growth in all other sectors of the economy. Well, all other sectors except for two, and you get to guess which two:

1) toothpaste
2) polenta
3) weapons
4) oil

Friday, December 4, 2009

Muni Rider Appeals Service Cutbacks

Notice of service changes -- including the elimination of route segments (the Number 2 Clement) and the elimination of entire lines (the Number 4 Sutter)

At my right on my desk is a copy of 14-page appeal of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s decision to cut service on Muni buses and light rail starting on Saturday, December 5, due to a fiscal emergency, which the agency declared last spring. I knew that this appeal was in the works, and so starting writing up a story, but the appeal did not get handed to me until last night when I was in a meeting. Also, I'd been trying for weeks and weeks to extract from the SFMTA the exact approximate amount that the agency expected to save based on the changes. On November 3, it was reproted to the SFMTA Board of Directors that the amount would be $13.4 million. But on Tuesday, a staffer told me that the figure was $3.2 million. "That's nothing," I said. Here’s my write up so far …

A Muni rider has appealed the changes to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors based on his belief that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s waiver of the California Environmental Quality Review Act (CEQA) in the spring was illegal. He hopes that significant Muni service changes planned for December 5 – including the elimination of some bus lines, reductions in service on others, and enhanced service on the 38L and the 14L – could be postponed indefinitely at the very least and halted at best.

Responding to a fiscal shortfall of $128.9 million for fiscal year 2009-2010, the seven members of the SFTMA Board of Directors voted four to three on April 21 to declare a fiscal emergency in order to waive CEQA reviews and launch immediately into service reductions, service changes, fare increases, and increases in the costs to park at meters.

However, Muni rider David Pilpel is arguing that the Board of Directors of the SFMTA is not legally permitted to waive CEQA and implement changes without doing an environmental review, at least not according to Public Resources Code 21080.32. This section of the state code permits publicly owned transit agencies to waive environmental reviews of service changes when faced with budget shortfalls if the agency determines that the planned service changes are unavoidable.

“The MTA is not a publicly-owned transit agency within the meaning of the law. It’s a city department, a multi-modal transportation agency with a broader array of policy choices to address a revenue shortfall than just a single-purpose transit agency, particularly one with no taxing power,” says Pilpel.

"If all you can do is raise fares and cut service, then it makes sense to have an exemption. CEQA should be narrowly construed for that kind of emergency," Pilpel says. He suggests that there are other things that SFMTA could be doing to balance the agency budget – it could be looking at labor costs and renegotiating bargaining agreements, cutting staff, changing the way work gets done, and prioritizing work.

And considering the fact that the service reductions and changes that were to go into effect on December 5 amounted to a savings of, according to a staff presentation at the November 3 Board of Directors meeting, $13.4 million (this figure has since been revised downward to $3.2 million), many transit advocates think that the Board of Directors should have agreed to expand the hours of parking meter operation, a proposal that staff said would bring in an additional $9 million annually. Staff first proposed expanding the hours in the spring, but some members of the Board of Supervisors and the mayor opposed the plans, which were sure to be politically unpopular. At a special meeting of the SFMTA Board of Directors on April 30, called to amend the two-year budget that had been adopted the previous spring, Director Tom Nolan introduced an amendment to staff’s proposed budget,which had included expanded metering hours. Nolan’s amendment to excise the expanded metering hours proposal was adopted six to one as a part of the entire amended budget.

When it came time for the Board of Supervisors to approve that amended budget – with fare increases and service reductions and changes – there were only five votes to reject the budget (seven are necessary according to the City Charter): District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar, District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, District 6 supervisor Chris Daly, District 9 Supervisor David Campos, and District 11 Supervisor John Avalos. Board President David Chiu was able to negotiate givebacks that included enhancement of service on some lines and a promise to renegotiate MOUs with the police department, totaling about $10.5 million. The SFMTA also agreed to conduct a 90-day study on metered parking enforcement.

Following the Board of Directors and Board of San Francisco votes, on July first, one-time bus and light rail fares were raised from $1.50 to $2.00, adult monthly passes went up from $45 to $55, and passes for seniors, youth and disabled riders went up to $15. The fares for passes will rise again in January to $60 – or $70 for riders who want to use their passes for travel on BART within the city.

Staff also set about creating plans to reduce service. Those plans – including the elimination of the 26 Valencia, the 7 Haight, and 4 Sutter, reductions in service on the 31 Balboa and other lines, and eliminations on segments such as the part of the N-Judah that goes to the ballpark (this will only be eliminated on weekends), the 38 Ocean Beach beyond 33rd Avenue, and the 2 Clement beyond Park Presidio. In recent weeks layoff notices have also been sent to 58 SFMTA employees, including 21 parking control officers (PCOs) and some of their supervisors.

“PCOs generate $200,000 more than they cost to employ,” says Robert Haaland of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 which represents the PCOs. “Under [SFMTA Executive Director] Nat Ford there’s been an exponential management growth. … The current round of layoffs is almost exclusively 1021. There’s a systematic breakdown in City government because people who do the actual work are either getting laid off or bumped.”

Note: Haaland’s assertion is disputed by staff at the SFMTA. SFMTA staff note that about 50 additional PCOs have been hired in recent years, but that due to the recession and reduction in street cleaning, these PCOs are not paying for themselves.

In recent weeks SFMTA staff have also released the results of the 90-day parking study and recommended that the Board of Directors adopt its findings and implement metering hours in particular neighborhoods – such as along Geary Boulevard, Clement Street, the Inner Sunset, Mission and Valencia streets, and in large swaths of Polk Gulch, the Tenderloin, and South of Market. The study predicts that if metering hours are expanded parking availability will increase, and congestion and double parking will decrease. Annual revenues are expected to be $8.83 million, with one-time implementation costs of $2.5 million.

It is not clear what impact Pilpel’s appeal will have on the agency’s plans to role out service changes starting on Saturday, December 5, as members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will not have time to consider the matter until its next regularly scheduled board meeting on Tuesday, December 10.

Pilpel rests his legal right to appeal on Section 21151c of the state Public Resources Code.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Green Festival?

Two non-profits, Global Exchange and Green America (formerly Co-op America), hosted the eighth annual Green Festival in San Francisco on the weekend of November 13-15, 2009, at San Francisco's Concourse Exhibition Center. But just how 'green' was this event? Perhaps that depends on how you define 'green'.


For example, are plug-in cars really 'green'? Or do they just make us feel 'green'?

Woody Hastings, Seeker ...

Woody Hastings, the husband of one of the people who has been integrally involved in Global Exchange for years, stopped to talk to me about the event when we ran into each other.

"We're seekers," he said. "This is where the envelope is pushed on sustainability and where the conversation is happening. It's not happening at the United States Chamber of Commerce," an organization which is widely perceived to be obstructing legislative action on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The event had started in 2003 with the intent of bringing together like-minded people who were and are concerned about the planet, knowing that we can't go on, business as usual.

"It's ground zero of sustainability and social justice," he said, adding that the products that are marketed at the event are reusable and made from sustainably-harvested natural resources.

So, I set out to explore ...

How many bicycles can fit into one car parking space?
How many bicycles can fit into 10 car parking spaces?
Do what extent does valet bicycle parking draw people to events versus how many car parking spaces draw people (and their wallets) to events?

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, as it always does, had free valet bicycle parking. Considering the rate of bicycle theft and vandalism in this city (at a recent event in Golden Gate Park in which there was no bicycle parking, someone stole my water bottle ...), secure bicycle parking is a really important amenity if you want to encourage people to ride their bicycles more often.

And inside, three sets of bins for waste could be found throughout the event, black for garbage, green for compost, and blue for recycling. People staffed most bins helping people sort their waste correctly.

An obsession with recycling and compost is almost genetic in my family -- one of my sisters is the recycling coordinator in her Massachusetts town, and when she and her family visited last year, she took photographs of bins out on the sidewalks and did everything she could to convince her daughters and husband to go with her to the SF Dept. of the Environment (to no avail).

Here, an exhibitor demonstrates proper disposal of paper cups for me -- they go into the composting bin.

I told these two volunteers that I wanted to volunteer at the bins next year, and they immediately -- and in unison -- said, "No, you don't ... ." Still, they had lovely smiles. But why were they so convinced it was a bad job? Perhaps because ...

... despite all the help, visitors still couldn't get it right. If you look closely, you can see small clear cups inside this black bin. The clear cups were not made from plastic. They were made from something compostable and should have been in the green compost bin.

And the papers cups and plastic cups in this bin should also have been in the green bin, and packaging that was clearly garbage had been thrown into the black bin, and ...

.. outside, people hauled bags out of the bins non-stop. Still, I looked at this operation out back and was impressed and energized. I think I'll sign up for this next year.

I once stumbled upon this surprisingly empty passageway, and wondered why there were so few people mingling in front of the booths. And then I looked at the banners in the booths: capitalism ... Aren't we done with that system yet?

Obviously not -- one of the Democracy Now! headlines from November 18, 2009 read that Wall Street is headed for record profits in 2009, which just boggles the mind considering the unemployment rate and the ongoing fallout from the last three Reaganesque decades of deregulation. Still, people were not flocking to these booths. I think that's because this event is really a rejection of the system that brought us to the edge of the financial abyss that we now teeter on. And I think the speakers underscored that.

In previous years, a space had been cleared in the long main hall for speakers, a tent had been erected outside next to the Concourse, or the event organizers had rented the pavillion across the street. This year, one end of the interior of the building was cleared out for speakers -- a space that seemed smaller than in years past. I don't know if it really was, but everything about the event seemed less bustling than in past years -- perhaps a reflection of the economy.

Here, Ocean Robbins, introduces his father, John Robbins, heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice-cream fortune who turned his back on the family business in order to seek a life of greater meaning -- and a better diet.

Bryant Terry also introduced John Robbins. Terry got turned onto veganism in the early 1990s when he first read Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe. He said that at that time he became a hell-on-wheels self-righteous proselytizer for veganism. He has since come out with his own book, Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen.

John Robbins, author of The Food Revolution, Reclaiming Our Health, Diet for a New America, and The Awakened Heart among other writings.

Alisa Gravitz, founder of Co-op America/Green America, presents Robbins with an award made out of recycled glass and sustainably-farmed wood. On it is this quote: "It is the love in our hearts that underlies and makes possible our greatest healing."

"It is imperative that we enlarge our sense of what's possible ... and [work] to transform what has been an insane cultural disease," he said. I guess he was referring to western consumption patterns at the expense of global ecological balance and personal physical and mental well-being.

And, "The purpose of life ... infinite gratitude to all things past, infinite service to the present, and infinite responsibility to the future ..." You can fill in the dots with words that will express the intent of this partial quote.

I was taking notes furiously, as I always do, but did not catch everything. No matter, I caught his drift.

"Pain ... we're here to feel those things so that it can awaken within us ... [thoughts] about career choices [and shifts in] consciousness ... [so that we can] transform the way we relate to money."

Ok, I'll admit, I'm not sure I have conveyed the exact meaning of what he was saying, but I sure can tell you this: I have conveyed the vague sense of what I am experiencing and feeling as I head into one more year of underemployment and the belief that this current recession -- and the looming resource shortages and ecological crises that confront us -- is going to change the world and the way people live on it forever. And the belief that we have to adapt to these changes -- and do so enthusiastically and with the joy of discovering knew challenges -- or we are doomed.

Amy Goodman

The featured speaker, as it is every year, was Amy Goodman, co-anchor with Juan Gonzalez of the show, Democracy Now!, a public radio alternative to All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Her newest book is Breaking the Sound Barrier, and that was the theme of her talk this year.

Trickle Up Everything

As she had in years past, she extolled the independent media and exhorted audience members to go out and produce public access television shows (a difficulty this year in San Francisco because the public access station has been largely defunded), noting that by chance, the first television broadcast of Democracy Now! happened at a public access station in New York City -- on September 11, 2001. Pacifica Radio, the national station that is linked to KPFA and a number of other independent local radio stations that broadcast Democracy Now!, she noted, is the oldest public radio station in the country and serves as an alternative to National Public Radio for people who wish to avoid stations that receive financial support from corporations that profit from war.

She also talked about the hot button issues of the moment such as congressional efforts to reform the American health care system such that comprehensive, quality health care is available to more people at affordable prices. Of course, the most logical way to do that would be to transition to a single-payer public option system, perhaps through the expansion of Medicare. In fact, she had a sound byte at the ready for this concept: "Drop the age of medicare eligibility to zero. Drop the age of Medicare eligibility to when you're born ... ." But it does not appear that that is what will happen. Based on her observations of the health care struggle so far, she said, "Congresspeople will be rewarded by the insurance industry next year," just in time for mid-term congressional elections.

"It's trickle up everything, " she said. "Those who can least afford it are bailing out those who can most afford it."

Continuing the theme of our broken health care system -- 45,000 people died last year from lack of adequate insurance -- she brought up the Fox television show "24" and its star Jack Bauer. Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, is a member of a counter-terrorism unit who resorts to extra-legal torture and murder in order to protect the country. The show apparently served as a fount of ideas for the folks at Guantanamo Bay in the early 2000s when they were trying to figure out ways to extort information from detainees.

But the legality of torture -- and whether or not it is actually useful at extracting important information -- was not the point of Goodman's reference. She brought him up to suggest that perhaps Jack Bauer -- or some real life character -- could swoop in and save Americans through the creation of a more just health care system. Because Jack Bauer -- no, strike that -- Kiefer Sutherland himself has deep connections to health care reform in Canada.

Sutherland's grandfather was Tommy Douglas, a Canadian politician who "led the first socialist government in North America and introduced universal public health care to Canada," according to Goodman and Wikipedia. He died in 1986, but in 2004, he was named the greatest Canadian by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

On Global Warming to Global Warring ...

Goodman had some of her own heroes closer to home that she wanted to mention, such as:

-- Bidder 70
-- The Yes Men
-- A Tweeter
-- And the sad parents of Chance Keesling

In December 2008, Bidder 70 -- aka Tim DeChristopher -- a student at the University of Utah, found out about Bureau of Land Management plans to auction off public land and went to the auction, registered as a bidder, and, with the highest bid, bought 22,000 acres worth $1.7 million in money he did not have ...

The Bush administration did not charge DeChristopher, but -- and here's the ironic twist -- the Obama administration IS prosecuting him -- though Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has agreed not to sell the land. DeChristopher's attorney is a former director of the BLM, Patrick Shea, who thinks that the sale of public lands that DeChristopher was opposing was immoral and illegitimate.

The Yes Men -- those merry pranksters who set up websites that imitate the websites of major bad-deed-doing corporations, and then get mistakenly invited to corporate shindigs -- are now being sued by that venerable institution, the United States Chamber of Commerce. Oops!!! I meant venal!

The Chamber is suing the Yes Men for trademark infringement, unfair competition and false advertising. What did the Yes Men -- Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno -- do? Posing as Chamber representatives Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos, they held a fake news conference to announce that the Chamber was reversing its opposition to climate change legislation, a position that had actually caused many corporations -- including Apple and PG&E -- to leave the Chamber. "Without a stable climate, there will be no climate," was the theme of the conference, said Goodman.

Goodman added that according to James Hogan, author of Climate Cover-Up, "The PR stunt was not pulled off by the Yes Men but by the Chamber of Commerce."

And Copenhagen? When Goodman was speaking, President Barack Obama had no plans to attend the global summit on climate change that is to take place in December. But Goodman noted that he planned to be nearby in Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize right about the same time and thought that his presence in Copenhagen would "elevate the conference" -- but it would be up to us to pressure him into going.

Unfortunately, when I got home that night and checked the news, I saw that global leaders had agreed to postpone trying to come to an agreement in Copenhagen ...

No doubt, there will be many NGOs at Copenhagen. And no doubt there will be many protesters in the streets demanding action. I don't know what the laws are like in Copenhagen -- if they have anything equivalent to our First Amendment that affords us the right to protest -- nay, that demands of us that we exercise the right to protest. Or what their laws are on communicating with other people are or what ...

You all know who Elliot Madison is, right? He was the social worker/anarchist/tweeter at the G-20 protests in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania recently whose Manhattan home was raided by the Joint Terrorism Task Force because he had been tweeting the location and activities of the police to people at the protests in Pittsburgh. Many people are arrested for this 'crime', Goodman noted -- in Iran, that is.

"People need to be free to dissent, " she said. "That is what makes this country strong." And yet, Madison's legal battles are just beginning ...

Goodman moved on to the topic of American military culture and the very high suicide rate within the ranks of enlisted men and women. Unfortunately, the families of enlistees who commit suicide induced by post-traumatic stress disorder do not receive condolence letters from the Defense Department -- and certainly not from the president. But the policy not to send letters of condolence is not the primary problem -- it is the very high rate of suicide within the ranks of the military. When the parents of one such suicide victim, Chance Keesling, went to Dover Air Force base to retrieve the body of their son, the master sergeant who greeted them told them to speak out, that he was receiving suicide bodies almost daily. They have, but the solution to the epidemic of suicides, Goodman knows, is to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The immediate withdrawal from the wars that Obama inherited is the only way to stop the bleeding," she said.


Later in the day, I walked in as spiritual teacher Starhawk was delivering the tail end of her talk:

-- No to coal
-- No to oil
-- No to nuclear ("It's not a solution," she explained. "It's a way for some people to get rich.")
-- No to 'gimmicks' (I'll admit, I did not catch the exact word she said, but again, I think I caught the drift. 'Gimmicks' -- like cap 'n trade?)

-- Yes to renewables
-- Yes to conservation (in other words, not using energy. And I happen to think that at a minimum, 95 percent of our future energy sources are going to come from this -- not using it in the first place!)
-- Yes to energy efficiency
(She did not mention the energy dividend -- the sense that people feel like they have extra energy to expend elsewhere when the save other energy through efficiency. That is NOT what people should do with their dividends -- and it's why we need to tax all energy use.)

-- Take the coal and oil executives and retrain them to do useful jobs
-- Localize production
-- Build soil (CO2 comes from the destruction of soil, she said.)
-- Listen to the voices of indigenous people
-- Save water
-- Educate and train

And most of all:

-- Build community ...

(She most have read The Transition Handbook, by Rob Hopkins.)

Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers

In my own mind, I mostly think of Dohrn and Ayers as two members of the radical, 1960s organization, the Weather Underground, whose goal was the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. Ayers now admits coming a long way from the dogma of the Weather Underground. He is currently a professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, but he remains a constant student of the daily political scene, noting that President Barack Obama is a "pragmatic, middle of the road, compromising politician."

"That means he'll respond to us if we're serious about ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, creating a just health care system, and addressing climate change ... ," Ayers said.

Ayers also observed that Obama started out as a community organizer. "Our task," he continued, "Is to build a very large, powerful social movement" -- just as Obama did in order to get elected in the first place -- that can demand American demilitarization, true health care reform, and meaningful steps to address climate change.

His wife, Dohrn, noted that the Uribe administration of Colombia had just signed a new military accord with the Obama administration, giving US troops access to seven air force bases in Colombia for the next ten years. I guess if you are a part of the American military culture -- and you've just been kicked out of the country next door (Ecuador) -- you are of course going to be on the make for new hunting grounds. And if you're a new American president and you do not want to rock the boat, you say fine, let's sign ...

But the expense of maintaining foreign military bases -- recent headlines have been announcing that it costs $1 million annually for every US soldier on the ground in Afghanistan (68,000, with a potential increase of 40 to 50,000 in the works), and that does not include the costs of them coming home with injuries or PTSD -- is invisible to many Americans, according to Dohrn.

"Our job as activists is to make that military budget visible." She suggested that a constant ticker tape should be going across the top or bottom of newscasts to get the word out.

"Our challenge for the whole century," she added, "is to figure out how we in the U.S. can learn to live in harmony with the rest of the planet. The U.S. is not going to economically dominate the rest if the world throughout the century. That's a fact."

After a stint in the Peace Corps in the 1960s, John Perkins started a career with corporations whose goal was to create economic empires in which wealth and power would be concentrated in the hands of a few multi-national corporations and their accomplices within governments.

He became, in his words, an 'economic hit man.' As an economic hit man, he represented corporations that sought entry into developing countries with resources they coveted. He would convince the rulers of those nations to sign on to loans to build infrastructure provided by the corporations he represented. The infrastructure -- bridges, highways, or privatized water systems -- would benefit a few of the wealthy people in those nations and the foreign corporations, but not the vast majority of the citizens. In fact, the citizens would be strapped with debt to pay off the costs of financing the projects. In order to pay off the debt, the governments would be coerced into selling their coveted natural resources cheaply to the corporations.

And when that coercion didn't work?? Why then the jackals would be sent in to assassinate the leaders, and when the jackals failed, then the military would be sent in. Which is exactly why the U.S. is in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said.

These tools of power -- first the hit man, then the jackals, and lastly the military -- are being used to create a global empire, said Perkins, one that is run by unelected rulers who are not accountable -- except in the market -- to those over whom they rule (citizens of client countries and customers who purchase their products).

He is now on a campaign to break down what he calls this "mutant, predatory form of capitalism."

"This world has been stolen by a few very powerful and rich people. And we need to take it back," he said.

Perkins has abandoned his career as a hit man and become involved with the Pachamama Alliance, and organization that seeks to combine economic sustainability with indigenous know-how.

Rod Laughridge, producer and host of the San Francisco public access television show, "The Voice." Or he was until public access got defunded ...

Earth Justice, a law firm that fights for biological diversity and habitat protection and all that other good stuff -- because the Earth needs a good lawyer, they say.

Better World Club, An Alternative to the AAA

Don't tell anyone, but even I get in cars once-in-a-while. Sometimes I even drive them, but you really can't tell anyone that. I even owned a car once, and I think I belonged to AAA. All that is long in my past, but for those of you who insist that at the very least your heart will stop beating and at the worst, you will no longer be sexually appealing to the opposite sex (or the same sex, as the case may be) if you do not have four wheels to your name (and I do not mean two bicycles), then you might want to consider joining the Better World Club instead of AAA. BW is a 24/7 roadside assistance service for people with broken down cars -- or smashed up bicycles!!! Imagine that! Roadside assistance for your bicycle flat or worse!

Working for a Better World ...

Better World disparages the environmental record of AAA -- in particular its refusal to support the Pavley bill in 2002, the first-in-the-nation law cutting tailpipe exhausts linked to global warming (it got caught up in battles at the federal level over the right of the EPA to regulate CO2 and the Bush administration's lingering refusal to acknowledge the science out there and admit that global warming was -- and is -- linked to human activity). BW also allocates one percent of its revenue to environmental cleanup and advocacy.

... and fresh vegetables ...

One of my favorite parts of the festival. For $5, you can get three tokens that can be used in exchange for samples of the wine ...

The Merchandise, Global Exchange booth

Green Dentristy?
These women are associated with the Green Dentistry practice on Post Street in San Francisco. According to a brochure, the walls in their practice are made from "recycled sheetrock and acoustic insulation that was made from recycled denim jeans." Instead of x-rays, they use digital imaging technology to capture images of teeth, and they use bio-compatible fillings for cavities.

I had no idea ...

Kijiji Grows, Urban Garden Systems



Our Mission ...

"Kijiji grows is a collaboration of farmers, artists, engineers, builders and educators who advocate for aquaponic gardening. Our mission is to bring aquaponics to the San Francisco Bay area and change lives through urban sustainable growing systems in schools, homes and businesses."

Joni Eisen, at it again ...

Joni volunteers for Clean Money Campaign, and at the moment, this group is concentrating on getting the California Fair Elections Act passed next year. It will be on the June 8, 2010 ballot. This is a public financing measure for candidates who agree to abide by some requirements on reporting and on who can contribute to their campaigns (like, no lobbyists, their clients, or anybody else. Yup, anybody else -- no private contributions at all).

Park Merced?

How did these folks get in here? Park Merced is strangely suburban development in San Francisco's southwest sector. I've never found it to be particularly compelling, but preservationists are apparently up in arms over plans that the owners and managers have for "major redevelopment, which would involve demolishing the garden apartments in favor of higher density replacements, and reconfiguring the streets."

And its opposed by ordinary renters like myself because, right now, Park Merced rents are regulated according to our local rent control ordinances, and rent control provides our only abundant source of affordable housing in San Francisco. But when you demolish a rent-controlled unit or 50, by law whatever is built to replace that unit (or 50) will not be rent-controlled. The powers that be in San Francisco have been trying to drive out middle and low-income people for decades and decades. In response, members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed rent control in 1979. Since then, the powers that be have done everything that they can to chip away at rent control -- and force people to move into the less expensive but habitat-destroying suburbs of the Central Valley and elsewhere.

So what's green about these exhibitors?

Well, according to their advertising the renovated complex (without rent control or with less of it) is going to be a green utopia!

Hippie dudes with a sustainable printing operation.

The human figures in this photograph are converging on a photograph of the art that was exhibited behind the speakers podium.

Miniature sculptures made from waste paper.

Artist Ari Derfel saved his trash for an entire year and then turned it into this mural.

Up close, you can identify the bottle caps, scraps of paper, buttons, and so on. From a distance its a human figure emerging from a froth of garbage.

The Plastic Bag Monster, of course ...

Vegan delicacies ...

Dan Porras, founder of Planetwize; Music, Media and Products That Create Change ...

Porras has been a musician all his life, but he got a masters degree in Ecological Economics at the London School of Economics. He is now working at what he calls "the intersection of sustainability, technology, and music." He works with musicians -- including Balkan Beat Box, Thievery Corporation, and Brazilian Girls -- to align their music with causes that they care about. A certain percentage of the profits from the sales of the CD that he was hawking at the festival, for example, will go to Solar Aid, a British organization dedicated to bringing clean, renewable energy to the poorest people on the planet. In the past, Planetwize has also partnered with Farm Aid, Global Exchange, Oxfam America, Next Aid, and Rainforest Action Network, among other organizations.

I didn't buy much, but I did stop here to get some organic cotton napkins for family members.

And I bought a notebook from Kevin Davis, pictured here, because he said he remembered me from last year. And because he said he would plant a tree in collaboration with the Arbor Day Foundation for every notebook that he sold. Here, he's holding up a box of colored pencils. I bought boxes of these for my nieces and nephews last year. The pencils are not made from wood -- they are made from tightly rolled newspaper. His company is called O'Bon, and if I remember correctly, the business is a family enterprise.

The Final Word???

Individuals and groups that did not have booths inside hung around outside. Among them were Stephen Wilson and a group of 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Wilson told me that he is a commercial real estate consultant with three science degrees -- to lend his belief that 9/11 was an inside job some credibility.

"How can we create a green world and stop global warming if the people aren't even in control of their own government and are being lied to by their own government?" he asked.

"First you need the truth. Then you can identify effective solutions to the problem."

I personally don't think we have the whole truth about September 11, 2001. But I'm not waiting for the entire truth to be revealed to me before I start changing my own lifestyle to reduce my carbon footprint.