January 29, 2007

Eroding localism in Half Moon Bay

Battle brewing (lame pun intended--lifted from the HMBReview) over plans to replace a thriving coastside chai institution with a Peet's Coffee shop; story hits Chronicle pages.

This fight, like many of its kind being waged in towns across the country, is fundamentally about preserving localism rather than allowing corporate sprawl to stamp out economically immeasurable goods (like community and quality) in the name of higher profit margins.

Raman made projections back in 2005:

"[Chai] will hit the roof," Bechar predicts. "The manufactured kind will continue to grow because Starbucks has already set the standard. But I don't think the homemade kind will grow as fast. We don't have the patience."
"My understanding is that Bechar has an old business model he likes to run, and we need to make upgrades,'' landlord Maher Shami said.
Janfreya Didur, who works at kindred coffee shop MCoffee (my high school afternoon hang-out), says it best--

"I don't consider it progress to have more chains come in here - and Raman makes the best chai - the truth is in the taste."
Shami underhandedly gave his application to bring in Peet's to the city council before talking to his leaser. Raman only found out when the mayor asked if he'd decided to close.

The shopping center where Raman's is located is quieter than it's been, after Albertson's closed months ago to make way for Santa Cruz based New Leaf Community Market--definitely an upgrade, from the locally-owned standpoint. Peet's, on the other hand, would be betraying its founding Berkeleyan principles if it crushes a shop with such history and a loyal local following. I suppose a chain is a chain, and they'd be positioning themselves to compete with the Starbucks across Highway 1, which rumor has it boasts the highest per capita income of any Starbucks in the state. Yes, another chain is just what the town needs.

January 24, 2007

SF Sketchfest '07

So I'm becoming somewhat of a stand-up junkie.

The SF Sketchfest line-up last Monday at Cobb's was David Cross, Maria Bamford, Paul F. Tompkins, Doug Benson, Todd Glass, Hard ‘n Phirm & Jimmy Pardo of UCB Theater's Comedy Death Ray.

Hard 'n Phirm

Too bad this version left out the part about "mezoheroic petrol s'mores." But who knew the former host of "Singled Out" had such talent? So like MTV to stifle all signs of originality.

Some classic David Cross--this is probably my favorite bit of his. Again, on false patriotism:

He spent most of his routine at Cobb's talking about Mitt Romney, the lone Mormon presidential candidate, and why it's so absurd that polls show the American people are more opposed to him for accepting gay marriage (in the past)--AKA promoting equality--than for his religious ideology. It sounded a lot like the "All About Mormons" epidsode of South Park. I prefer David's earlier stuff. He gave insightful commentary on the frighteningly complicit state of the union post 9/11 before it became popular.

Todd Glass was out of control. Here's a sample--not his funniest stuff (thanks, cable TV).

Upcoming show in March--Stephen Lynch.

January 19, 2007

Grist snowed by Gov's executive order on carbon emissions

Flexing His OPECs
Schwarzenegger, E.U. unveil new carbon-cutting schemes

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) may be hobbled by a broken leg, but his mind is still strong. (File that under Sentences We Never Thought We'd Write.) In his State of the State address last week, the green-leaning Governator announced a plan to cut carbon in transportation fuel 10 percent by 2020. "Our cars have been running on dirty fuel too long. Our country has been dependent on foreign oil for too long. I ask you to set in motion the means to free ourselves from oil and from OPEC," he said. " California has the muscle to bring about such change. I say use it." The effort, hailed as an "innovative and exciting" world first, will likely mean ramping up ethanol and other renewables, and could cause a transitional increase in gasoline prices. Across the pond, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso unveiled a plan that would require member states to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. Oh, E.U., that is so 2006. Arnie's been there, capped that.

Funny, Schwarzenegger's campaigns have been dependent on dirty oil money too long as well. With a history of industry appointments, vetoes of environmental bills, and let's not forget the Hummers (put your money where your mouth is, gov), the Sierra Club has called his record a "shade of green"--not true blue.

The man's remade himself more than Madonna--a bodybuilder, an actor, a politician, a centrist, an environmentalist--none of which he can honestly identify as now. This executive order doesn't erase his record and grant him green cred. Same goes for AB 32--Schwarzenegger had little choice in an election year but to jump on the bandwagon with the democrats in the state legislature. They're the ones who deserve recognition for consistent work on greening California.

UPDATE: TIME falls into the same trap, piling on undue praise for Bush's rhetorical green shift.

January 18, 2007

Walking in Memphis

foto by Tizzie P

I spent last weekend at the National Conference on Media Reform in Tennessee. My friend Tanya and I submerged ourselves in media culture, ate pork for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and we even experienced some honest southern hospitality (unlike the disingenous debutante kind I'd recalled) from Alcenia's on Main. Having not set foot in the south for years, everything felt as it had, like it'd been in stasis--complete with top 40 radio hits circa 1998. Natalie Imbruglia can’t still be getting royalties for that gem (though yea, I’ll admit, my middle school self couldn’t get enough). Homogeneity, pop music be thy name. Perfect case in point for why media consolidation is such a threat to freedom of expression.

The most memorable part of the conference for me wasn't so much the panel discussions themselves. I was familiar with much of what was said, as a media junkie and having been fortunate enough to see Bill Moyers, Bob McChesney, Helen Thomas, and Amy Goodman in the past. I took it as a good sign of streamlined messaging. But what I took away from Memphis had to do more with the more practical application of the strategies for dealing with issues the panels addressed. I'll remember us engaging a perfect stranger about how progressives fare in Texas, asking the Holiday Inn operator who listened to Christian radio on why she didn't trust the media, and debating with other activists on the most effective means of forwarding the goals of the media and democracy movement--especially after realizing how absurd it was to be locked in an academic echo chamber that would do nothing to help us talk to the table next to us. I'll also think of the Sunday headline in the local paper--"With surge, Memphis families feel helpless--though proud, patriotic." That qualification-- that obedient flag-waving expression of steely resolve, lest anyone doubt their stripes--was the perfect example of the fear that's paralyzed the media, proof of why they are such an important check on power. That anecdotal evidence of the urgent need for media reform manifested at the local level-- that's what will stick with me.

That being said, I did want to note a few observations I made on the conference itself, for what they're worth.

With the recent FCC ruling on AT&T's purchase of BellSouth still in headlines, net neutrality was a major focus throughout the conference, touted at times in a fairly self-congratulatory tone. With so few big victories in the fight against media consolidation, it's understandable that activists would want to take this opportunity to pat ourselves on the back. But some have cautioned against declaring this a win for media reform. Dan Gillmore of the Center for Citizen Media called the ruling into question, one of the only speakers I saw to point out that even though they vowed not to obstruct equal access to the internet, AT&T pulled a fast one on us, consolidating their ownership power and agreeing to abide by a provision they would've been forced to adhere to anyway.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, predicted that attendees would come away from the conference "feeling that fighting for [net neutrality] should be the progressive media movement's top priority." Chester thinks otherwise:

Our most urgent task is to proactively intervene to shape -- on behalf of progressive values -- the emerging commercial digital communications system. This will require a strategic intervention to create sustainable "new media" services that help harness the power of digital media to better promote social justice. Our digital media system will have the capability to help "define" political and social "reality" for the majority of Americans. Unless progressives can seriously "program" the new media -- in every community and across the nation -- we will face even greater obstacles promoting our agendas.
Don Hazen, executive editor of AlterNet, concurs with Chester and Gillmore:

It is becoming increasingly clear that we need to focus more attention on the content and tools of the powerful new interactive digital landscape…and less attention on the delivery pipes. Here, huge media companies like Yahoo and Google are fighting that battle with us.

While net neutrality has an important goal of trying to protect us from future damage, it lacks the capability of fixing the myriad problems that already exist. And the company buyout that was approved in partial trade for net neutrality is an abomination, allowing AT&T, one of only three remaining regional phone companies from the original break up of AT&T back in 1984, to dominate 22 states, 67.5 million phone lines, 11.5 million broadband users.
I was happy to hear Bill Moyers reference this fact in his plenary address.

A number of presenters challenged the notion of objectivity as an incontrovertible journalistic standard. Columnist Laura Washington of the Chicago Sun-Time and In These Times declared there's "no such thing" as objectivity in reporting while speaking on the panel "Inside Corporate Media: Can It Tell the Truth?" with Jeff Cohen, founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, TV host Phil Donahue, and Flavia Colgan of MSNBC. During the "Quality Journalists=Quality Journalism" discussion, a panelist described so-called objective journalism as the type of he-said/she-said reporting in which "both guys spin their lies, and no one can call them on it." She declared that balance does not equal truth. Tanya was reminded of a quote—“objectivity turns journalists into stenographers.” Demanding this warped version of objectivity silences critical voices, and has a chilling effect on dissenting opinions, allowing establishment points of view to get the last word.

Media critics span the political spectrum, though as Eric Boehlert from Media Matters for America pointed out, the nature of the critique differs depending on whether it's coming from the left or right. He argued that liberals believe it's important not to slander the press, but instead to create a factual, responsible critique of media misrepresentations and underreported stories. Conservatives, on the other hand, criticize press because their goal is to dismantle it,
Boehlert says. He quoted former Wall Street Journal columnist Ron Suskind—

"For them, essentially the way to handle the press is the same as how to handle the federal government; you starve the beast. When it's in a weakened and undernourished condition, then you're able to effect a variety of subtle partisan and political attacks."

Tanya had her reporter hat on for the conference, and recorded an interview McJoan from DailyKos. Her excellent summary of how the conference addressed issues surrounding citizen journalism, media access, and net neutrality is posted here on New Assignment. I submitted my observations as well, but since they dealt more with media reform as a progressive political priority, they weren't posted for the most part. I found it a little ironic that a site promoting citizen journalism--one that is testing grounds for an open source project--would wield such editorial privilege, though I understand it's a work in progress, and have respect for the editor--a friend of a friend. I do feel that divorcing the conference from the political discussion surrounding it robs it of much of its significance. But I suppose there are those sites that are just not the place for advocacy journalism. If the situation were any different--say a mainstream outlet--the rejection of progressive commentary would've done more to demonstrate the fear reporters have of the liberal label than anything the observations themselves could’ve said.

I want to wrap up with the poem by Marge Piercy that Bill Moyers read at the end of his address. When he spoke at UCSB a few years ago, he read another.

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t blame them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fundraising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

January 11, 2007

"Iran nuke work seems slow, puzzling West"

Iran's uranium enrichment program appears stalled despite tough talk from the Tehran leadership, leaving intelligence services guessing about why it has not made good on plans to press ahead with activities that the West fears could be used to make nuclear arms, diplomats said Thursday.

Of course there's tough talk--Bush's speech last night deliberately excluded diplomatic language, likely provoking Iran to go on the offensive, rather than seek deterence as defense against preemptive strikes from Isreal and the U.S. I'm always reminded of the catch-22 posed by the original premise for invading Iraq--if WMD had really existed in the first place, a U.S. attack would have never happened, for fear of nuclear retaliation.

Fmr. weapons inspector Scott Ritter describes how Israeli leadership have ignored the facts and jumped to conclusions just as the Bush White House did in 2003:

All of this intelligence that’s being done has uncovered a nuclear enrichment program, not a nuclear weapons program. But the Israelis have already concluded, thanks to Amos Gilad and his konseptsia, that a nuclear weapons program exists. Therefore, if you’re not finding evidence of it, it means you’re not looking in the right places. So then you begin to speculate. How many people here remember underground facilities in Iraq, Saddam’s tunnels, everything buried? Well, there weren’t, were there?

More from the AP article:

IAEA inspectors arrived at Natanz on Wednesday for a routine round of monitoring. But one of the diplomats said they were unlikely to find anything but the status quo — two small pilot plants assembled in 164-centrifuge "cascades" but working only sporadically to produce small quantities of non-weapons grade enriched uranium and other individual centrifuges undergoing mechanical testing. That has essentially been the situation at Natanz since late November, he said.
Add that to a 2005 U.S. intelligence report that put Iran 10 years away from the bomb, and the manufactured hype becomes more obvious.

Howard Zinn described how far off Iran is from fully enriched uranium:

The International Atomic Energy group of the UN flatly contradicts a congressional report which talks about the danger of Iran’s nuclear weapons, and the international group, which has conducted many, many inspections in Iran, says, well, you know, you need to -- and they give the American people a kind of half-education. That is, they say, they use the phrase, “They’re enriching uranium.” Well, that scares me. You know, they’re enriching uranium. I don’t really know what it means, you see, but it’s scary. And then you read the report of the International Atomic Energy group, and you see, well, yes, they are. They’ve enriched uranium to the point of 3.5%. In order to have one nuclear weapon, they have to enrich it to 90%. They’re very, very far from even developing one nuclear weapon, but the phrase “enriched uranium” is repeated again and again.

If everyone were aware of how hollow the threat of Iran's uranium enrichment is, there'd be no basis for Bush's increasingly aggressive rhetoric justifying escalation already in motion.

January 08, 2007

What post-partisanship?

In spite of all the press fanfare last week over Schwarzenegger's proposal to insure all children in CA, I was skeptical that it signalled a move towards real healthcare reform, or that it could possibly be anything more than a political gesture. After all--

"It's the low-hanging fruit of the health-care reform debate," said Dr. Bob Ross, president of the California Endowment, a private foundation in Los Angeles that was created to push for expanded access to health care.
Now on the day before his address to the state, Schwarzenegger reveals his true colors:

Gov. to seek cuts in aid to families on welfare
"It's ironic that the governor is proposing healthcare for poor kids while taking away their breakfasts," state Senate leader Don Perata (D-Oakland) said of the cuts, which would affect more than 40,000 families. "Even Republican Gov. [Pete] Wilson, at the time he negotiated welfare reform, agreed that children should not suffer for the behavior of their parents."

Calitics highlights this absurd contradiction:
So they can go to the doctor for a check-up, but they can't eat and they can't have a roof over their heads? I really don't get this. If this is "post-partisan cooperation", then I'm not particularly impressed.

Schwarzenegger's alienating people across the spectrum. Even though his welfare proposal proves his policies remain decidedly right-leaning, we're told the governor's loudest critics are Republican hardliners who feel betrayed by the governor's centrist self-styling. Their protest would seem to enable the governor to swing right and appease his base the moment they accuse him of "surrender" or "weakness" for supposed compromise. Meanwhile, the media pay far less attention to critics of the governor's disingenuous calls for cooperation on the left.

Centrism is worthless when the balance is tipped so radically in one direction.

UPDATE: CNA critiques the gov's overall healthcare plan. Here's the bottom line--
A market-based system always puts increased revenues and profits over the health and well-being of those patients it is supposed to serve. As was the clear intent of a number of the free-market architects of the plan, it reinforces and expands the role of the market in health care, the very source of the present crisis. If the governor's goal is truly universal health coverage, improved quality and effective cost controls, the state should embark on the same tried-and-true course taken by every other industrialized nation, either a national health system, or a single-payer approach as embodied in the single-payer bill, SB840 authored by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl. Kuehl's bill was vetoed by the governor last year. It will be reintroduced this year.

January 05, 2007

Mercatus coast to coast

Speaker Nunez' office cordially invites you to the Hotel Del Coronado for a weekend of wining, dining, and deregulation:
The program, “Capital Campus California,” is sponsored by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. (The Berkeley Center for Law, Business and the Economy as named as a co-sponsor, but the program isn’t mentioned on the UC website). Mercatus, which runs similar anti-regulatory sessions for Washington DC chiefs of staff, promises the weekend will provide “an academic perspective on today's pressing policy issues.”

Oil and gas giant Koch Industries gave Mercatus approximately $7 million between 1998 and 2004, according to the Wall Street Journal. ExxonMobil is also a Mercatus donor ($80,000 in 2003 and 2004), and other corporations with an interest in limiting regulatory protections, including General Motors, Pfizer, and even Enron, pre-collapse, are reported supporters.

I got a taste of Mercatus through The Capital Semester Program--they've hired at least 4 Mercatus scholars over the years to inculcate students with their own radical corporatist ideologies. I never did figure out how the Fund was able to convince Georgetown to give university credit for their courses. Perhaps their money had something to do with it.

Media take notice of opposition to CPUC Commissioner Chong

Not that it will make much difference in whether she's confirmed, but it's encouraging to see challenges to anti-regulatory ideology gaining traction in the political discourse.

Battle Brewing Over PUC Nominee

Groups urge nominee defeat
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - Consumer groups urged a Senate committee Wednesday to reject Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's appointment of a former telecommunications industry attorney to the California Public Utilities Commission.

The Consumer Federation of California, The Utility Reform Network and other groups said Commissioner Rachelle Chong's views were too close to those of the companies she is supposed to regulate.

''Her track record in the past year shows she will not be with consumers,'' Ignacio Hernandez, legislative director for the Consumer Federation of California, told the Senate Rules Committee. ''She's for free markets, less regulation, less consumer protection.''

Chong said she cares ''very much for consumers, particularly ones that are the most helpless.'' But she added that she has philosophical differences with consumer groups about how to deal with competitive markets.

She said her approach was ''trust, but verify. You hope that the market works, but if it doesn't, the PUC steps in.''

"We have decided to not take a more regulatory approach that was better suited to monopoly days and instead to trust the carriers to do the right thing given the market will demand it." --Chong, 3/30/06

"I believe that decision makers everywhere should step back from old style 'command and control' regulation and instead think 'regulatory light' where markets are competitive." --Chong, 10/26/06
''If the marketplace was practicing as you're arguing (it is), there would not be a need for a... bill of rights,'' Senator Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles) said. ''These problems would not be happening. The fact is, they are.''