Saturday, May 29, 2010

Local Activists Denounce Arizona Immigration Law

International Socialists, May 1 Coalition Host Meeting


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTO, left to right: Lei-Chala Wilson, Estela de los Rios, Mar Cardenas

“It’s about racism, not immigration,” Estela de los Rios of the Center for Social Advocacy in El Cajon said at a May 27 meeting in City Heights discussing — and denouncing — SB 1070, Arizona’s recent law requiring law enforcement officers to demand proof of legal U.S. residency when they encounter people based on “reasonable suspicion” that they are here without documents. The meeting was held as a kickoff to a caravan of about 110 people who were scheduled to leave from San Diego on May 28 to go to Arizona and spend the three-day weekend joining in public protests against the law. All six featured speakers — de los Rios; Lei-Chala Wilson, president of the San Diego chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Mar Cardenas, director of South Bay ministries for the Unitarian-Universalist Church; Myrna Cruz and Gelina Sandoval of the May 1 Coalition; and Tony Perez of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) — proudly announced their intention to go to Arizona and continue the struggle against SB 1070.

“It’s about hate,” de los Rios said, attributing the passage of SB 1070 not to a grass-roots movement among Arizonians but the anti-immigration organization FAIR (Foundation for American Immigration Reform) and anti-immigration Congressmembers like Brian Bilbray and Duncan Hunter, Sr. and Jr. of San Diego County and James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. She recalled her history of activism on immigrant rights, including opposition to the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli bill (which ironically is currently damned by anti-immigration activists on the Right, who say it gave “amnesty” to the estimated 3 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. then and allegedly encouraged more to come) as well as participation in the “marcha,” the huge immigrant-rights demonstration in Washington, D.C. on May Day, 2006. This year, de los Rios said, she joined the May Day march in Los Angeles and “we couldn’t see the end” of the march line from the middle of it.

De los Rios said the violence directed against her and her organization began with an interview she gave local newscaster Michael Chen on April 26, right after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law. “I said this is racial profiling, neo-Nazi and Gestapo tactics; it’s hate, and it’s targeting only Latinos,” de los Rios recalled. “That aired around 6, and at 6:40 one of my compañeras was working at the office when this guy with blue eyes and a bald head put his face to the window and said, ‘I know who you are and I’m going to kill you, bitch.’ She called 911 and they said, ‘Lock your door and wait for us.’ She said he looked like the poster boy for the Aryan Brotherhood” — which, de los Rios explained, brought back bad memories because years before, her staff member “had been shot at and grazed by an Aryan Brotherhood member in Chicago.”

Three days later, de los Rios said, the harassment against her and her group intensified. “I got graffiti’d, and it said ‘Bitch’ in big letters,” she recalled. “We called the police and they said it was probably gang-related.” She said the police refused to see a connection between the graffiti and the earlier harassment even though the use of the word “bitch” in both convinced her they were tied together. Three days after that, de los Rios said, she got a call from one of her employees that someone had broken the windows of their office and taken her computer and all her personal information. De los Rios was convinced that the police were deliberately stalling and putting her off because she had already angered local officials, including the mayor of Santee, for holding a “hate-crimes summit” in East County, and that her race was also a factor. “If I’d been white,” she said, “the police investigation would already have started.”

“We believe the immigrant rights struggle is a civil rights struggle,” Lei-Chala Wilson said, tying the cause of immigrants into the NAACP’s historic mission to secure equality for African-Americans. “SB 1070 is a modern Jim Crow law. Years ago, my people had to carry papers to prove that we were free, not slaves.” Wilson argued against SB 1070 not only because immigration enforcement should be the task of the federal government, not individual states, but also because it “will be one of the most racially targeted laws in modern times. … This law will lead to racial profiling.”

The question of whether SB 1070 can be enforced in a race-neutral way or will be used to target Latinos is one of the most explosive issues raised by the new law. The Arizona legislature passed a last-minute amendment, section 5D, which says, “A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not consider race, color or national origin in the enforcement of this [law] except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution.”

But those last words — “to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution” — constitute a huge loophole, according to University of Arizona law professor Gabriel “Jack” Chin. Chin’s analysis — available online, along with the full text of SB 1070, at — notes that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1975, in a case called United States v. Brignoni-Ponce (422 U.S. 873, 886-887), that “the likelihood that any given person of Mexican ancestry is an alien [immigrant] is high enough to make Mexican appearance a relevant factor” in immigration law enforcement. Likewise, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in 1982, in State v. Graciano (653 P.2d 683, 687 n.7), that “enforcement of immigration laws often involves a relevant consideration of ethnic factors.”

Chin’s analysis contains some caveats. He points out that most of the cases allowing racial profiling to be used to form “reasonable suspicion” — the standard in SB 1070 — that someone is an undocumented immigrant have involved U.S. Border Patrol agents, not local police or other law enforcement officers who have other tasks besides apprehending suspected undocumented immigrants. What’s more, in Southern California, the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals — sitting en banc, which means that all the justices on the court participated in the decision instead of just a three-judge panel — held in a 2000 case called United States v. Montero-Camargo that there are so many people of Mexican ancestry in the Southwest — U.S.-born citizens, naturalized citizens, documented immigrants and tourists — that mere racial appearance can no longer be used to suspect someone of being an undocumented immigrant. Nonetheless, unless and until the U.S. Supreme Court adopts the Montero-Camargo case as the law of the land, Arizona police and sheriff’s deputies can use SB 1070 to stop Latinos and claim they’re within the law because the Brignoni-Ponce case specifically holds that such racial profiling is constitutional.

Wilson’s presentation also pointed to HB 2281, a law passed by the Arizona legislature immediately after SB 1070, which banned the teaching of ethnic studies in Arizona’s schools. She offered this as proof that the Arizona state government is not targeting undocumented immigrants, but Latinos in general. “All this hate of late is happening for three reasons,” Wilson explained. “Some want to divide and conquer, and so they find wedge issues: race, religion and sexual orientation. Also, any time you have a bad economy, they need to have someone to blame. If it weren’t Latinos, it would be Blacks. The third issue is we have the first Black President, and a lot of people don’t want that. My President was duly elected and didn’t cheat.” She finished her presentation by announcing that the NAACP has joined the nationwide boycott of Arizona, will not host any events there and is urging Major League Baseball to move the 2011 All-Star Game, scheduled for Phoenix.

“I have lived in Santee since I got back from serving in Desert Storm [in 1991],” Mar Cardenas said. She got hit with anti-Latino prejudice in an unusual way; she met her German-American husband in the service and wasn’t bothered as long as she used his last name — “My neighbors didn’t realize I was Mexican,” she explained — but after meeting Enrique Morones, long-time immigrant-rights activist and founder of the Border Angels, which provides food, water and blankets to people crossing the desert from Mexico to the U.S., she decided to get active. That included using her birth name and essentially “coming out” as Latina — and when she did that, she recalled, “my property was vandalized by my neighbors, and when we confronted them, they said, ‘We just don’t want Santee to start looking like Tijuana.’”

After the fence around her home kept getting pulled down in the middle of the night, Cardenas went to the police — and found the same lack of interest de los Rios complained about more recently when her office was first vandalized and then burglarized. She tried to report the fence incidents as hate crimes and, Cardenas recalled, “they said I hadn’t been shot, my house hadn’t been burned down, so it wasn’t a hate crime.” Cardenas and her husband eventually sued in court and won, but never recovered their legal fees.

“I decided to work to change things,” Cardenas recalled. “Enrique and I went on the marcha together. The Unitarian-Universalist Church in Hillcrest found out and asked me to come on board for their social justice program, and I was delighted because it’s been my life’s work to speak for the voiceless. I’ve been working for equality all my life. My daughter just came out of the closet as a Lesbian, though I was supportive of that community even before that.”

Cardenas recalled that she herself came to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant and stayed in a marriage to an abusive husband — “he was very violent, and a drug addict” — for a year and a half because, as a “new arrival” who “didn’t speak English well enough to go to the police,” she felt helpless. When she finally divorced him, she recalled, “I didn’t want to go back to Mexico,” at least partly because she had a baby son there whom she didn’t want to bring to the U.S. until she could get him in legally. “So I went in the Navy, and that’s where I met my second husband,” she recalled.

Myrna Cruz of the Colectivo Zapata and the May 1 Coalition — which sponsored a May Day demonstration this year in San Diego that drew about 4,000 people — said SB 1070 is “a racist bill, and if it could happen there, it can happen anywhere. Why should the bill allow police officers to target people of color just because of the color of their skin? Why should we let the police criminalize employers who offer jobs to undocumented workers?” (A little-known provision of SB 1070 makes it illegal either to solicit work as a day laborer or to hire one if they do so in a car that “blocks or impedes the normal movement of traffic.”)

“We work for the people,” said her colleague, Gelina Sandoval. “We want to work with the pueblo and the raza. We stand against the law and also work with the people collectively to fight it. Undocumented people fear the migra [the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE], fear the police. They don’t do anything because they are afraid they will be expelled and lose their families. We want to educate people on what they can do to fight this law within families and communities.” Sandoval said she’s part of a family of four, “and I’m the only one with proper documents. My family was denied documents and we have to wait until next year [to apply again]. My younger sister is 17 and might have to go to Mexico to finish high school.”

Tony Perez, the final speaker, represented the International Socialist Organization (ISO), the principal sponsor of the meeting (the May 1 Coalition was a co-sponsor, but it was held at the ISO’s usual venue on their usual day). “Arizona police were already targeting and deporting people before SB 1070,” he said. “This just makes it legal. Now they’ve banned ethnic studies, and Obama is sending 1,200 National Guard troops to the border. But there is also resistance.” According to Perez, the immigrant rights movement went off on the wrong track backing 2006, when it turned out millions of people in the streets nationwide but didn’t take a strong position for immediate legalization of all undocumented immigrants.

“The slogan in 2006-2007 was, ‘Today we march, tomorrow we vote,’” Perez recalled. “We found out voting didn’t work. We need to demand the overturning of SB 1070 and legalization without conditions.” Instead, he explained, the movement split between total legalization and so-called “comprehensive immigration reform,” which as it’s evolved in Congress has meant stricter enforcement on the border against new immigrants, a guest-worker program similar to the bracero program from 1942 to 1964, and a punitive “path to citizenship” for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants currently here that gets more onerous with each revision of the proposal. Perez quoted Latino activist Nativo Lopez as saying we should “fight for the perfect,” arguing that if immigrant rights activists accept “comprehensive immigration reform” instead of demanding legalization without preconditions, that in itself “pulls the debate to the Right.”

At least two audience members questioned the panelists about how to deal with the public perception of undocumented immigrants as “illegals” whose very presence on U.S. soil makes them criminals and therefore appropriate targets for law enforcement. “Just because something is the law doesn’t mean it is just,” Wilson said. “It was once against the law in this country for slaves to learn to read [or for people to teach them to read], and even after the slaves were freed it was against the law for people of different races to marry.” (Actually virtually all the laws against interracial marriage prohibited it only if one of the parties was white — a fact cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 as establishing the racist intent of those laws when they found them unconstitutional.)

“How do you define ‘illegal’? No human being is illegal,” de los Rios said. “There’s a lot of discussion about status. It’s about human rights rather than laws. Just because they want the right to discriminate, Latinos are the new slaves. We’re the new scapegoats for everything, including foreclosures. What do we do about the borders? It’s not Left or Right, it’s a human issue. People are sacrificing their lives to come here.”

Cardenas pointed out that the U.S. had no restrictions on immigration at all until they were enacted in 1924. “Recent immigrants are breaking an existing law by doing the same things people that came here generations before did,” she said. “The only difference is back then there wasn’t a law.”

Surprisingly for a meeting co-sponsored by a socialist organization, none of the panel members brought up the economic basis of immigration from Mexico to the U.S. and specifically the effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). That was left to audience members in the post-panel discussion. Author and ISO activist Justin Akers said that in the last 30 years the U.S. government has concentrated on adding “security” to the border while the system for allowing people to enter as documented immigrants hasn’t changed at all. “The only thing they have done is more enforcement,” Akers said.

Akers argued that the U.S. government knew that NAFTA was going to destroy Mexico’s agricultural economy by allowing U.S. agribusiness corporations to “dump” U.S.-grown corn on the Mexican market and sell it for less than it cost Mexican farmers to produce it. That’s why in 1994, the year NAFTA took effect, a Democratic President and Congress launched “Operation Gatekeeper” and other similar high-tech enforcement programs at the major urban border crossings to deter undocumented immigration, Akers argued. But, he added, the enforcement programs didn’t stop immigrants from making the journey; what they did is force them to take more dangerous routes through the desert and risk their lives. “It’s not in the discussion that 7,000 people have died trying to cross the border” since 1994, Akers said. (Other immigrant-rights activists, including Enrique Morones, say the number of immigrants who have died since 1994 is 10,000.)

Like his ISO comrades, Avery Dennison criticized more moderate immigrant-rights activists for trusting the political system in general, and the Democratic party in particular, to come up with a just solution. “The protests in 2006 stopped the Sensenbrenner law, and the Latino vote did help the Democrats regain control of Congress, but that has not added up to any progress whatsoever,” he said. “Recently, three undocumented workers occupied John McCain’s Senate office. This is a reflection of the level of frustration. This is happening in the middle of a recession, so whatever side presents itself as a solution to the recession wins.”

In their closing statements, de los Rios called for a united movement of African-Americans, Latinos and Queers to work together in solidarity, and Cardenas pointed out that not all law enforcement officers support SB 1070. “The law assumes that all police officers want to do racial profiling,” Cardenas said. “The truth is that they’re being mandated to do it whether they want to or not. Not everyone in law enforcement thinks this is the right way to deal with the issue.” Nor does every local government in Arizona agree with the law; the city councils in Flagstaff and Nogales have both passed resolutions opposing SB 1070, which has split the immigrant-rights movement over whether to call for a boycott of the entire state of Arizona or steer tourists to cities like those that have come out against the law.

The meeting ended with a discussion of the logistics behind the caravan, which are even more complicated than usual because of the decision of the organizers not to spend any money whatsoever in Arizona. As a result, all food, water and other supplies had to be brought from California — so the organizers were asking not only for money but direct contributions of food and water so they could provision themselves for the trip without having to buy anything in Arizona.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

June 8 Election Endorsements


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

It’s been a long-standing Zenger’s tradition to make a full — or nearly full — slate of endorsements for every local election. Here are ours for the June 8 primary and a rationale for each one.


It’s really pathetic that the California Democratic Party can’t do any better for a gubernatorial candidate than this 1970’s retread, but his fundraising advantages and connections with organized labor gave him the clout to drive the truly interesting and innovative candidates, John Garamendi and Gavin Newsom, out of the race. Even though his first gubernatorial tenure (1975-1983) was a lot more conservative, especially on fiscal issues, than it’s remembered, he’d still make a better governor than either of the major Republicans, Meg Whitman or Steve Poizner, whose tit-for-tat attacks on each other on their self-financed TV commercials are the sort of thing that would lead any self-respecting kindergarten teacher to call a time-out on both of them.

Lieutenant Governor: GAVIN NEWSOM

We’ve always been a little wary of Newsom because he cut his political teeth in San Francisco by bashing homeless people, but he’s at least partially atoned for that with his leadership role on marriage equality for same-sex couples. The only other major Democrat in the race is lackluster Los Angeles City Councilmember Janice Hahn, and Newsom — an aggressive politician with executive experience — is clearly preferable.

Secretary of State: DEBRA BOWEN

An incumbent with a proven record of leadership, especially in resisting the pressure to rush untested, dubious electronic voting systems into use. She deserves another term.

Controller: JOHN CHIANG

In person he’s a non-toxic alternative to Sominex, but he’s proven he knows his way around a balance sheet and he courageously stood up to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger during the most recent state budget crisis. Keep him.


Another proven Democrat with a good track record in office, even though I’ve wondered for decades why California needs both a treasurer and a controller.

Attorney General: KAMALA HARRIS

The Democratic primary in this race has seven major candidates, an embarrassment of riches that so flummoxed the San Diego Democratic Club they couldn’t agree on a single candidate and ran out of a quorum before they could even consider an endorsement. At least two candidates are to be avoided at all costs: Rocky Delgadillo, whose dubious term as Los Angeles city attorney doesn’t deserve to be rewarded with a promotion; and the slimy Chris Kelly, who’s put out so-called “push-poll” calls (they pretend to be taking a survey but they’re really dishing the opposition) with Republican-style arguments against Harris in particular. (Kelly is also the former head of the privacy department at Facebook, which sounds to me like being the chief of virginity at a strip club.) As city attorney of San Francisco, Harris has been an aggressive defender of same-sex marriage equality; she personally lobbied the San Diego City Council to join the lawsuit against Proposition 8, and her office provided by far the best presentation to the state supreme court in the case.

Insurance Commissioner: DAVE JONES

Another race where there are several progressive Democrats running, but Jones is an especially eloquent champion of the individual against corporate corruption and greed — and that’s what being insurance commissioner is all about.

Superintendent of Public Instruction: TOM TORKLASON

Another embarrassment of riches for progressive Democrats, but Torklason, an Assemblymember and former classroom teacher, showed enough of a grasp of the basic issues involving education to win the endorsement of the San Diego Democratic Club, and we’re going with them on this one.

State Board of Equalization, Third District: MARY LOU FINLEY

A long-time local activist with the Peace and Freedom Party, especially committed to anti-war and economic justice issues. With no serious Democrat in the race, this is an appropriate race for a conscience vote.


They try, and try, and try, but the Republicans can’t come up with a candidate that can stand anywhere near the physically diminutive but intellectually giant California junior senator. Her opponents this year include Tom Campbell, iconoclastic Republican who authored Governor Schwarzenegger’s budget strategy; Carly Fiorina, who ran the Hewlett-Packard company into the ground until the founding family fired her; and Chuck DeVore, darling of the tea-party crowd until it turned out he exaggerated his record in the U.S. military and (like Democrat Bob Blumenthal in Connecticut) claimed combat experience he never had.

House of Representatives, 49th District: HOWARD KATZ
House of Representatives, 52nd District: RAY LUTZ

Two Democrats running in dead-goat districts — the kind where a dead goat would win as long as it had an “R” on the end of its name — who deserve support as much for the sheer courage it takes to run against the Republican incumbents (Darrell Issa and Duncan D. Hunter — whose father handed him the seat as if it were an inheritance) as their issue positions.

House of Representatives, 50th District: TRACY EMBLEM

With all due respect to Francine Busby, who took on Randy “Duke” Cunningham before he crashed and burned from his own corruption, her Democratic primary rival, Tracy Emblem, is a stronger candidate and, more importantly, would make a better Congressmember.

House of Representatives, 51st District: BOB FILNER

A thoroughgoing progressive ever since he risked life and limb on the Freedom Rides against racial discrimination in the South in the early 1960’s, Filner has been a stalwart champion of progressive causes in Congress and has even won the respect of veterans, who may not like his anti-war politics but have to admit he goes to bat for them when their benefits are threatened.

House of Representatives, 53rd District: SUSAN DAVIS

A reluctant endorsement: Davis is a moderate Democrat representing a progressive district, but there isn’t any meaningful challenge to her either within the Democratic party or outside from the Green or Peace and Freedom parties. She’s screwed the progressive community on trade issues and had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the fight against “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but she’s done enough things right — including her initial vote against the Iraq war — to deserve to stay in office.

State Senate, 40th District: MARY SALAS

A battle between true progressive Salas and Republican-in-Democrat-clothing Juan Vargas for the nomination in a solidly Democratic district. An easy call.

State Assembly, 76th District: TONI ATKINS

She hasn’t always been as progressive as we’d like, either, but for the most part she’s been there, not only on Queer issues but on medical marijuana (on which she really stuck her neck out while on the San Diego City Council) and affordable housing (ditto) — and her past as director of the Womancare feminist health clinic indicates solid pro-choice credentials.

State Assembly, 78th District: MARTY BLOCK

Even when we’ve disagreed with him — like his refusal to join the court challenge to Proposition 8 — he’s at least had rational reasons for his positions. A solid progressive at a time when we need them in the state legislature.

State Assembly, 79th District: PEARL QUIÑONES

Like the Salas/Vargas race, this is a battle between a progressive outsider and a machine politician, Ben Hueso, for the soul of the local Democratic party. She’s got our vote.

San Diego County Board of Supervisors, District 4: STEPHEN WHITBURN

While we bemoan the lack of a marquee-name Democrat in this race — Lori Saldaña announced for it and then backed out, Toni Atkins decided to run for Assembly instead, and Donna Frye dithered and finally decided not to run — we’ve seen Stephen Whitburn “up close and personal” at the San Diego Democratic Club. He’d make an excellent replacement for the disappointing Ron Roberts, who instead of being a voice of moderation among his fellow Republicans on the current board has generally gone along with their anti-labor, anti-environment, anti-social service schemes.

San Diego County Assessor/Recorder/Clerk: DAVE BUTLER

A rarity in San Diego county government — a Democratic incumbent — and a 34-year veteran staff member in the assessor/recorder/clerk’s office who deserves election.

San Diego County Sheriff: BILL GORE

We were reluctant to make an endorsement in this race — especially an endorsement of former sheriff Bill Kolender’s hand-picked and pre-appointed replacement — but radical-Right candidate Jay LaSuer’s denunciations of him and the third man in the race, Jim Duffy, for daring to regard Queer people as people, and the more recent attacks on Gore by the racist-nativist-xenophobic anti-immigration crowd as “soft” on “illegals” make him our choice.

San Diego City Council, District 2: PATRICK FINUCANE

This should really be a Democratic seat, but a corrupt, abusive prosecution drove Democrat Michael Zucchet out of the race and installed the man he’d beaten, Republican Kevin Faulconer. Once again we lament that the Democrats (or anyone to their Left) aren’t mounting a stronger candidate against Faulconer, but Finucane has our support.

San Diego City Council, District 4: TONY YOUNG

While he hasn’t always been as progressive as he should be — especially on sticking up for the prerogatives of the City Council against the Mayor — he’s as sympathetic to Queer issues as we can expect from an African-American officeholder and his record on other issues has been solid if unspectacular.

San Diego City Council, District 6: STEVE HADLEY

While we have a great respect for his principal Democratic rival, Howard Wayne — and we’re frightened by the Republicans’ front-runner, Lorie Zapf — our choice is the chief of staff of termed-out incumbent Donna Frye. A quiet, thoughtful man, Hadley may not share Frye’s gutsy, extroverted style but he shares her principles and commitment to progressive ideals, and that’s the key to our endorsement.

San Diego City Council, District 8: DAVID ALVAREZ

Unlike the Mary Salas-Juan Vargas and Pearl Quiñones races, this isn’t a grass-roots progressive running against a machine candidate — this is a grass-roots progressive running against two machine candidates, Felipe Hueso (incumbent Ben Hueso’s older brother) and Nick Inzunza (brother of former District 8 Councilmember Ralph Inzunza, driven out of office in the same scandal that snared Michael Zucchet — only he deserved to be). Strike a blow against nepotism and elect someone new in this district.

San Diego Unified School Board, District B: KEVIN BEISER

The city’s math teacher of the year and a personable candidate and an aggressive campaigner, he’s the right choice to get rid of lackluster incumbent Katherine Nakamura.

Mayor of Chula Vista: STEVE CASTAÑEDA

A strong progressive Democrat and a candidate with a good chance of unseating current Mayor Cheryl Cox — wife of County Supervisor Bill Cox. Strike another blow against nepotism.

Superior Court Judge, Office 14: LANTZ LEWIS
Superior Court Judge, Office 21: ROBERT LONGSTRETH
Superior Court Judge, Office 27: DE ANN SALCIDO
Superior Court Judge, Office 34: JOEL R. WOHLFIEL

These four judges are being targeted by a Right-wing cabal organized around a Web site called “Better Courts Now” — by which they really mean “More corporate-friendly, anti-labor, anti-environment and anti-Queer courts now.” The people behind “Better Courts Now” have made no secret that this is a pilot project and if it succeeds, they’re going to bankroll more challenges until they’ve got rid of all fairness and justice in the court system and aligned it as totally with the business community and the radical Right as the courts in Texas have become through similar campaigns. I’ve long believed that no judge should ever have to stand for election in any way, shape or form — the framers of the U.S. Constitution got it right when they guaranteed federal judges life tenure except for misconduct gross enough to justify impeachment — but as long as we’re stuck with the whole obscene idea of the judiciary as an elective office, the least we can do is support objective judges against this loathsome partisan challenge.

Democratic Central Committee, 75th Assembly District: DEREK CASADY, PHYLLIS McGRATH, GERRY SENDA
Democratic Central Committee, 78th Assembly District: MAGGIE ALLINGTON, JERI DILNO, PAT WASHINGTON
Democratic Central Committee, 79th Assembly District: KELLY KING, MICHELLE KRUG

You can vote for up to six candidates in each of these races. All the above are long-time progressive activists in San Diego and most are members of the San Diego Democratic Club. They deserve your support.

State Propositions:

13 (Limits on Property Tax Reassessments for Seismic Retrofitting of Existing Buildings): YES

We’re subjected to at least one of these in virtually every state election. The original Proposition 13 capped property taxes at 1 percent of assessed valuation and triggered an automatic reassessment every time a property is sold. This is the latest in a series of fix-its that is needed to make sure people who improve the earthquake safety of their buildings — and thereby make them worth more — aren’t penalized for it with a dramatically higher tax bill.

14 (Nonpartisan Primary Elections): YES

This ballot measure would eliminate partisan primaries and allow every voter to vote for every candidate in every election. The top two vote-getters would then compete with each other in the general election. It’s a long-overdue reform which will allow voters in districts heavily skewed towards one major party or the other — which is most of them in California, thanks to decades of relentless gerrymandering by legislators determined to give California voters as little choice as possible — recourse against the highly partisan candidates that now dominate California legislative elections. It’s being opposed not only by the Republican and Democratic party establishments but by alternative parties as well — which is a major mistake, because the only California elections in which members of the Peace and Freedom, Green, Libertarian or American Independent parties are now able to compete and actually have a chance of electing people are the already nonpartisan elections for local office. This is a long-overdue reform that, along with the drawing of state legislative districts by an independent commission rather than the legislators themselves, gives us the chance of having a legislature that truly represents US, not party bosses or special interests.

15 (Public Financing Option for Secretary of State Election): YES

This is a baby step towards another desperately needed electoral reform — creating a so-called “clean elections” option of public financing so candidates who can’t raise mega-bucks from corporations or other special interests can still compete. In Maine, Arizona and other states that already have this, here’s how it works: you collect enough petition signatures and $5 contributions from ordinary voters to qualify, and then the rest of your campaign is paid for by all of us through our tax dollars as long as you agree to take no more money from private sources. This initiative applies to only one office — the California secretary of state (whose main job is to oversee the election process itself) — but it’s a baby step towards a system that has worked in other states and deserves to be applied here.

16 (2/3 Voter Requirement for Public Power): HELL NO!

This is one of the most vile, cynical initiatives ever put on the ballot by a major corporation — in this case Pacific Gas & Electric, who are using the initiative process to insulate themselves forever from competition by cheaper, more reliable public power services. It’s hard to exaggerate the evil of this measure — all its so-called “independent” supporters have been recruited and financed with PG&E’s money — but to make just one point, PG&E’s ads for it have implied that local taxpayers stand to lose millions of dollars if their cities take over their electric utilities. The truth is exactly the opposite: the publicly-owned Los Angeles Department of Water of Power is making so much money the city government is depending on it to bail them out.

17 (Auto Insurance Rates): NO

Another cynical initiative in which a corporation — this time, Mercury Insurance — is trying to buy at the ballot box a result they couldn’t achieve in the legislature. Reject it.

County and City Propositions:

A (East Otay Mesa Landfill): NO

We agree with the San Diego CityBeat’s opposition to this proposition: “This thing would grease the skids for an expanded solid-waste landfill and recycling center in eastern Otay Mesa. The county hasn’t assessed its waste-capacity needs since 2005, and this measure would allow the developer to skirt certain regulatory processes. We might need more landfill space, but this is the wrong way of going about getting it.”

B (Board of Supervisors Term Limits): NO

Term limits for elected officials are a lousy idea. Under term limits, the California state legislature has gone from one of the most competent, most respected in the nation to one of the least. When people in the private sector hire for a job, experience is usually considered a good thing. We can understand the motives of the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) and other backers of this proposition — the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has been a solid phalanx of anti-labor Republicans since 1994 — but it was wrong for Republicans to use the ballot box to impose term limits on the Democratic-dominated state legislature in 1990 and it’s wrong now for Democrats and their union backers to use the ballot box to impose term limits on the all-Republican Board of Supervisors now. Besides, the term limits won’t apply to the current incumbents but they will apply to any Democrats who might win election in the future. Scott Brown’s tenure in the U.S. Senate is the result of a similarly short-sighted trick pulled by the Democrats in the Massachusetts legislature in 2004 — they wanted to deprive Republican Mitt Romney of appointing John Kerry’s replacement if he had defeated George W. Bush in that year’s presidential election. Let’s not make the same stupid, short-sighted mistake the Massachusetts Democrats did.

C (Veterans’ Preference for City Employment): YES

San Diego has one of America’s largest military establishment — and one of its largest percentages of residents who are returning veterans. So does the city government go out of its way to give preferences to veterans who are seeking city jobs? Only if they served so long ago that they were drafted. When City Councilmember Todd Gloria showed up at the San Diego Democratic Club and explained why he was sponsoring this proposition and why it was necessary, I sat in stunned disbelief that such a no-brainer was even needed. But it is.

D (Making Strong-Mayor Permanent and Adding Ninth San Diego Councilmember): NO

The theory behind San Diego’s switch from a city-manager to a strong-mayor form of government in 2004 was that city government would be more accountable if it were being run directly by an elected official than an appointed manager. The truth has been the other way around; under the strong-mayor system, the City Council has been reduced to virtual rubber-stamps for the mayor, with little or no access to information other than what the mayor chooses to give them. According to City Councilmember Donna Frye, who’s served under both forms, it’s gotten harder for her to get the data she needs to make responsible decisions under the strong-mayor system, and several times she’s had either to sue the city or threaten to just to get information out of the mayor and his staff. San Diego’s city charter could use some basic rethinking, but the current mayor successfully hijacked the charter review process and now they’re pushing this measure — which would make the mayor’s office even stronger and add a ninth City Council seat, at a cost of $1-1.5 million in an already strapped city budget — to solidify their control and turn San Diego into even more of a mayoral dictatorship than it is now. Reject this.

G (Banning City-Required Project Labor Agreements in Chula Vista): NO

The question posed by Proposition G is simple: do you believe that city governments have an obligation to make sure that local developments hire local workers at living wages and thereby make sure the money they’re paid returns to the local economy as they buy goods and services from local businesses; or do you think cities should be forced to outsource contracts to out-of-town firms that hire on the cheap and take their swollen profits somewhere else? If you believe that a decent community protects its own workers and businesses, vote no on G.

Monday, May 24, 2010



Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

In April 1994 I realized a long-standing dream of mine and published the first issue of my very own newsmagazine. After a long apprenticeship in community journalism I thought I was ready to create a publication that would not only tell the stories, both within and outside the Queer community, I felt weren’t being told and should be, but that I would be able to make it pay for itself and even earn a living from it. That part of the dream never materialized — Zenger’s was always a money-loser, kept in business by the generous love and support of private sponsors and subscribers and out of my own pocket — but for the past 16 years I have lived a dream of being able to say whatever I wanted, write about whomever I pleased, and give space to other writers of a similarly independent bent, subject only to the rules of libel and journalistic ethics generally.

Zenger’s has been a wild ride for 16 years. In a way I see myself as a pioneer of a new kind of journalism that’s become all the rage now with the rise of the Internet (something I’d never even heard of when the first issue of Zenger’s was published), which allows people to put their information and opinions before the world without the heavy expense of printing a paper publication. In the later years of Zenger’s I sometimes described it as “a blog in print,” and in 2006 I bowed to the inevitable and launched the Zenger’s blog,, thereby being able to put before the public important stories I didn’t have room for in the print edition as well as longer versions of the stories that did make it to paper.

It’s been a pretty wild ride. I’ll remember the deadlines that sometimes kept me up until 3, 4 or 5 in the morning, anxiously getting the publication ready and in final form for the printer. Sometimes I could get pretty nasty to those around me — notably my long-suffering husband, Charles Nelson, who has put up with Zenger’s and its competing demands on my time and money since 1995, almost as long as Zenger’s itself has existed. I can remember on more than one occasion issuing a shame-faced apology, telling whoever I’d been less than kind, cordial or even basically polite to, “Wait until my deadline is over. Then I can be a human being again.”

So it is with a heavy heart that I am hereby announcing the indefinite suspension of the print edition of Zenger’s Newsmagazine. I intend to keep contributing to the Zenger’s blog and to invite others to do so. I will also continue to publish a special newsletter edition of Zenger’s on paper to fulfill currently outstanding subscriptions and sponsorships. I will not be accepting new sponsorships or subscriptions.

Why am I bowing out? A recent health crisis led me to this decision, though it wasn’t the only reason. I recently had the third hernia operation of my life, following ones in 1977 and 1997. In surgery, re-dos are always more complicated than original operations, and this one forced me to stop working my basic job as a home care aide for six weeks. I twice had to delay the operation — which was originally scheduled for late January, then early February, and finally took place in early April — and though I got out what turned out to be the final print version of Zenger’s during that time, the delays nonetheless unsettled me and forced me to re-evaluate whether continuing what increasingly seemed like a vanity project was worth the time, energy and money I’d been putting into it for 16 years.

Also, Zenger’s has become increasingly difficult to sustain at the level of quality and commitment I wanted to maintain. Subscriptions and sponsorships had fallen off. The expenses of publication have continued to increase while the income has steadily declined. At least partly due to the economic crisis, it’s become harder and harder even to find places both willing and able to allow Zenger’s to be distributed — and the harder it is to find a copy of a paper, the harder it will be to read it. And, as the saying goes, I’m not getting any younger: anxieties about my own employment future and my likely need for more health care, in a society that doggedly continues to regard health care as a luxury item rather than a basic human right, means I have to husband my money a lot better than I’ve been doing and that’s not consistent with continuing my dream of putting my name and thoughts before the public in print form.

People often asked me if I did Zenger’s all by myself — as if I could possibly have sustained it this long without help. I have a lot of people to acknowledge as having assisted me over the years, without whom either there would never have been a Zenger’s or it would have been a considerably inferior product. Foremost on my honor roll is Charles Nelson, my husband and partner of 15 years, who has always been there for me and I am sure will continue to be in my future endeavors. Whether it’s been driving to a printer at 3 a.m. with the layout boards of an issue, putting up with my deadline moods or just being there with moral support, Charles has been invaluable not only to maintaining Zenger’s but keeping me on whatever fragile hold of sanity I still have.

Next I would like to thank Leo E. Laurence, who for most of Zenger’s existence has been my associate editor and who has written more of Zenger’s than anyone except myself. Leo is a living legend, present at the creation of the Queer liberation movement in San Francisco in March 1969 — over three months before the Stonewall Inn riots in New York City where it supposedly all began — and he is now what he was then: fiercely independent, energetic and totally committed to alternative journalism and the rights of a community he — in one of the few disagreements we’ve had on an ongoing basis — still feels uncomfortable calling “Queer.” I regard Leo as a close friend and admire his commitment, dedication and drive. I’ve strived to make Zenger’s worthy of his association with it.

Also I would like to thank John Timothy Gallagher, whom I was dating at the time Zenger’s launched and whose knowledge and interest in graphic design was instrumental in starting the paper off with a bang. I would like to thank all my long-term sponsors and subscribers for their ongoing support in maintaining the publication — I couldn’t have done it this long without you — and also all the local business owners who have allowed Zenger’s to be distributed in their locations.

I’m proud of what I accomplished. I feel I created a publication that had its roots in two communities of great importance to me — the Queer community (a word I made the standard reference in Zenger’s largely because I can’t stand the acronym “LGBT” and I wanted a term that conveyed both inclusiveness and boldness) and the progressive political community — but that transcended both and brought insights about one to the other. I’ll be proud of the wide variety of people I featured in interviews and cover stories, many of whom I genuinely consider to be heroes. I’m particularly proud of having offered alternative information challenging the conventional wisdom about HIV and AIDS and giving space to scientists who argue that AIDS is a long-term breakdown of the immune system from various toxins and other causes, not an infectious disease caused by a single agent.

Zenger’s Newsmagazine has lasted longer than all but two other Queer publications in San Diego’s history, the late, lamented Update and the current Gay & Lesbian Times. It’s been a great run, and for those who are worried about the loss of the print version I assure you I will continue to publish my stories to the Zenger’s blog and look for other media outlets with which to share what I’ve learned and discovered to be important. I remember a 1976 political rally and concert in San Francisco at which I heard a singer named Betty Kaplowitz, who when she broke her string in the middle of a song just started an a cappella chant with only one line of lyric — “Nothing is lost but it changes” — and got the audience to sing it without her to give her time to re-string her guitar.

That’s how I feel about the Zenger’s transition: nothing is lost, but it changes. I’m proud of having taken this journey and I want to thank all of you for taking it with me.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

“Innocents Abroad” Trek from San Diego to Gaza

Break the Blockade, Bring In Supplies Despite Egyptian Opposition


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTO, L to R: Larry Hampshire, Faith Attaguile, Hany El-Saldany

They called themselves “innocents abroad” when Larry Hampshire, Faith Attaguile and Hany El-Saldany of the Free Palestine Movement ( spoke at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in Hillcrest Thursday, May 6. When they joined an international caravan of over 100 people almost literally on the spur of the moment — “Faith said, ‘I’m going to Gaza, would you like to come?’” Hampshire recalled — and set out last December on their trip, they really didn’t know what they were getting into. They’d see enormous public support not only in the Arab countries they went to but throughout Europe as well — British Member of Parliament George Galloway was the prime mover in organizing the caravan — and they’d also see horrific opposition, mostly coming from the government of Egypt.

That’s right: Egypt. In case you’re wondering why the Arab world’s most populous country — and the only nation on earth besides Israel that has a land border with Gaza — would be doing the bidding of Israel in helping blockade Gaza and starve it into submission, Hampshire, Attaguile and El-Saldany would reply with the classic words of the Watergate informant “Deep Throat”: “Follow the money.” It’s well known that Israel is the largest single recipient of American foreign aid; it’s less well known that the second largest recipient is Egypt. But that aid comes with a price, Hampshire said; Egypt gets it only “as they’re nice to Israel.” Not only has Egypt fully cooperated with Israel in blockading Gaza, they’re extending the long-standing wall on the Egypt-Gaza border 20 feet down to stop the Gazans from digging tunnels with which to smuggle badly needed goods.

“We had many roadblocks, mostly from the Egyptian government, including a police riot,” Attaguile recalled. Noting the broad-based support of the effort, she said, “There were a lot of different religions represented, including Muslims, Jews — including three Orthodox rabbis — and humanists. Many of the vehicles from the U.K. were paid for by donations from communities like Manchester, Bristol and Cambridge. I drove an ambulance from London to Istanbul, Turkey, where most of the Americans joined. In 10 days we went through 11 European countries, then traveled across Greece to Turkey. According to Attaguile, the support they’d received in Europe was nothing compared to the reception that greeted them at the Turkish border. “Two hundred people were waiting with flags and hugs,” she said.

Hampshire explained that their convoy was the third in a series of efforts to get vehicles and supplies to Gaza. The first was a convoy George Galloway organized right after Israel’s massive attack on Gaza. The second took place in July 2009 and the third, the one they went on, started in December and — mostly because of delays caused by the Egyptian government — didn’t get to Gaza until January. Hampshire said “the convoy in July tried to get 55 trucks in. The Egyptian government said O.K. — and then confiscated them. A Turkish group was allowed to ship the trucks out of Egypt, but the Egyptian government lied and the trucks never did come.”

“As we were moving along, we were received as heroes,” El-Saldany said. “People did receptions in the streets, bands were doing music for us and there was a lot of food. In Turkey we were joined by seven vehicles and 200 volunteers, including members of the Turkish parliament.” They reported they also got a more tangible source of support from the Turkish government: they were given access to a sports arena and allowed to sleep there, in sleeping bags, on the floor — a much better accommodation than the leaky tents they’d had to use at rest stops during much of the European leg of the trip.

Thanks to the Egyptian government’s opposition — or, rather, their bizarre and unpredictable alternation between grudging tolerance and outright opposition — the caravan had to take a circuitous route from Turkey through Syria to Jordan, then back to Syria, then on a plane to Egypt and only then into Gaza — and even then their actual crossing had to wait a week and they were only allowed to remain in Gaza for a day and a half. “In Syria and Jordan we stayed in hotels some nights,” El-Saldany recalled. “In Syria we had lots of press coverage. Faith was interviewed with the governor of Hamman [a Syrian province].”

Things were harder for the group in Jordan. “When we arrived in Amman, the police started a roadblock and tried to change our route,” El-Saldany said. “So we blocked the freeway for three hours. We kept going until we reached Aqaba, Jordan, where we were supposed to cross the Red Sea into Sinai. But the Egyptian government stopped us for five days and insisted we ask for Israeli permission to enter Gaza” — which they knew the Israelis would never give. The Egyptians imposed two other conditions on the group: that they turn over all their vehicles and supplies to the United Nations instead of giving them directly to Gazans (which they didn’t want to do because Israel confiscates most aid given to the U.N. on behalf of Gaza) and that they backtrack 120 miles back to Syria and then fly into Al-Ansh, Egypt on the Egypt-Gaza border.

“By now we were adept at demonstrating and protesting,” Attaguile recalled. “We had a protest in Aqaba and the people were so supportive the police had to block the intersection. We had a fantastic experience at the Shveiki Hotel.”

“We had the support of the governments of Syria and Jordan, but most of all we had the support of the people,” Hampshire recalled. “When we left Istanbul and got into a town at 3 a.m. people were standing in the rain, waiting to greet us.”

Hampshire also mentioned the fantastic experience at the Shveiki Hotel. Tired of the al fresco accommodations — when they first went to Aqaba they were put up in a mosque — “I said to Faith, ‘Let’s get a hotel.’ The visitors’ center said there was a whole street of hotels and gave us directions. We went to the first one and said, ‘We need a room for three or four days.’ The desk clerk said, ‘Are you with the convoy?,’ and gave us five rooms that could each hold four people — at no cost. Then other people wanted to come in and we agreed we’d all chip in for extra rooms, and the hotel manager said, ‘You’ve got more people. Go and look at the rooms.’ The manager said he’d talked to the owner, and the owner, who looked like Boris Karloff in a robe, said, ‘We’ll take as many people as you have, for as long as you need, for free.’”

According to Hampshire, the hotel owner apologized to the group for having to put them up on such short notice he couldn’t give them a proper meal that night, but he said, “Tomorrow I shall have a feast for you prepared by the fingers of my very own wife” — an Arab proverb meaning a meal made with extra-special loving care. “People were always coming up to us expressing their support for what we were doing,” Hampshire said. “It was really amazing and moving. … People would come up very often and say, ‘You’re very brave to do this.’ I’d say, ‘The really brave ones are the ones in Gaza. We’d have 7 to 10 kids talking to each other and they came up and gave us two pieces of hard candy covered with nice, tasty lint. They gave 100 percent of what they had.”

“We stayed in the refugee camps [for Palestinian families whose ancestors were displaced from their lands by the formation of Israel in 1948] with 7,000 people, and they were so forthcoming they would give us coffee for free, shake our hands and wish us well.”

El-Saldany said that the convoy had started on December 6 but didn’t get to leave Aqaba until December 29 — largely due to roadblocks from the Egyptian government. “They said they would let us in if we went back through Syria,” he explained.

“In Latakia [the Syrian city from which they were to fly to Egypt], we met up with the 47 vehicles the Egyptian government had impounded from the previous caravan in July, and they released them and they were loaded by the Turkish charity IHH,” said Attaguile. “The plane was chartered by the Syrian government. If they hadn’t, a lot of us wouldn’t have been able to make it because some of us were running out of money. We got into Al-Ansh and the Egyptian government threw up a blockade and confiscated our passports. So we demonstrated for eight hours until they got sick of us and gave them back.”

Attaguile explained that Al-Ansh is “a beautiful port” but it can be turned into a virtual prison at a moment’s notice; it’s surrounded on three sides by walls and there’s an iron gate the authorities can close any time to lock people inside. While the convoy members were being held there, she said, “the Egyptian government decided they wouldn’t let us bring in 59 vehicles unless we went through Israel. At 2 p.m. the Egyptian negotiators walked out, and we were stuck there with no food and water. Larry and I and 10 other people got authentication to go into town and eat. The negotiations had broken down, and 200 riot police and 200 plainclothes police with sticks came in with a water cannon. Three trucks came in loaded with large rocks and dumped them in piles behind everything. They brought in seven holding vans. People were very upset and started peacefully demonstrating on the other side of the gate. The police attacked.”

“We went to dinner and then sat at a sidewalk restaurant while there was a riot going on,” Hampshire recalled. “We got two cabs and hit the back end of this big commotion. We couldn’t see the rocks and we were immediately surrounded by plainclothes police with blackjacks and clubs. Faith, a 16-year-old, a 20-year-old woman and I locked arms, so when they grabbed me we pulled back.” Hampshire said the police attacked with rocks — some of which members of their group threw back at them — as well as the water cannon and a “dust machine” the cops were also using. “They pushed us in 100 yards,” Hampshire recalled. “We were in an alcove and the rocks stopped, and George Galloway and three people from our side came out. Four people from their side came out and the four of us slipped out.”

“About 40 people were injured by the rocks, and they weren’t prepared to be attacked,” Attaguile said. “The next day, negotiations began again. The Turkish prime minister and some members of the Turkish parliament were involved, and they still didn’t allow the 47 trucks from July to go into Gaza — but they said we could donate them to refugee camps in Syria. Seven of our people were arrested. We still had 150 vehicles, and the Egyptian authorities insisted on checking out each one for five minutes” — which meant the process took well over an hour. Ironically, Attaguile said, “we felt like we were leaving prison in Egypt and being free in Gaza.”

Hampshire stressed how crowded and small Gaza is; its 1.5 million people are crammed into a land mass one-twenty-ninth the size of San Diego County. “When we got to Gaza, the streets were lined with people,” Attaguile recalled. “They had flowers and were cheering us. The joy washed over us and the people hadn’t had their spirits broken in the least” — despite incessant bombing raids from Israel, which were going on while the group was there. “We had won,” Attaguile boasted. “We had broken the siege of Gaza and done what we set out to do. But we found a lot of devastation.”

The devastation, the group members explained, came not only from the Israeli’s continual bombing raids on the civilian population of Gaza but also from their blockade, which keeps the Gazans from getting wood, cement, rebar or anything else that would allow them to rebuild the homes and other buildings the Israeli bombs destroy. “The U.N. has seven large building projects in Gaza and they can’t get supplies in,” Hampshire said. “They can’t clear the wreckage because there’s nothing with which to rebuild.” Hampshire said that while they were there the Israelis targeted a graduation ceremony for the Gaza Police Academy, killing 98 people and showing the Gazans “that they live at the Israelis’ pleasure.” Ironically, one reason Israel gives for continuing the bombing and blockade of Gaza is that they’re allegedly unable to maintain security.

“When we were getting the vehicles ready, we heard three big explosions,” Attaguile said. “Two people were killed in the 36 hours we were in Gaza. We had to leave early because the Egyptian government was making trouble. One young man said that on January 15, 2009 he had awakened to the sounds of explosions. The Israeli F-16’s [an American plane, supplied to Israel as part of U.S. foreign aid — our tax dollars at work] were bombing again and had completely destroyed a house, killing 11 people, including his six-month-old baby sister. One boy died at his computer, and another was helping his mother in the kitchen. He said, ‘We will continue to challenge the occupation. They will not steal our joy or our freedom.’”

“I never had so much fun or laughed so much,” Hampshire said. “The people were just so great — the people on the convoy and the people we met — and we did break the siege. When we left, seven of our people were arrested at the Egyptian border, and we demonstrated against the Egyptians and Israelis until they were released.” Hampshire said that the IHH, the Turkish charity who helped the convoy, is sponsoring a fleet of large boats to get supplies into Gaza by its one border besides Israel and Egypt: the Mediterranean Sea. A previous attempt to do that with one boat from Greece in the summer of 2009 ended when the Israelis rammed the boat and confiscated it — but the IHH is hoping that they can do with an entire fleet what the Greeks weren’t able to do with one boat, and land steel, cement and other building materials to give the Gazans a fighting chance to rebuild what the Israelis have destroyed.

The audience questions and comments after the presentation ranged widely, from people asking why the event organizers hadn’t invited pro-Israel speakers as well to debate on both sides of whether a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel is either politically or economically feasible. Hampshire said that Hamas, the political party which won the 2006 elections in Gaza — a victory which sparked the current crisis after the U.S. and Israel refused to accept their win because they have a military arm which the U.S. and Israel consider a terrorist organization — would, contrary to popular belief in this country, agree to accept Israel’s existence. He cited a remarkable article by the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khalid Mish’al, published January 31 in the British newspaper The Guardian ( and also in the Los Angeles Times (a rare crack in the usually solid pro-Israel, pro-Zionist line of the U.S. corporate media).

Mish’al’s piece suggested that Hamas would never recognize the “right” of Israel to exist — since that would mean accepting the “justice” of Israel driving the Palestinians off their land in the 1947-48 conflict — but might accept the fact of Israel’s existence and negotiate on that basis. “We shall never recognize the right of any power to rob us of our land and deny us our national rights,” Mish’al wrote. “We shall never recognize the legitimacy of a Zionist state created on our soil in order to atone for somebody else’s sins or solve somebody else’s problem. But if you are willing to accept the principle of a long-term truce, we are prepared to negotiate the terms. Hamas is extending a hand of peace to those who are truly interested in a peace based on justice.”

Local activist Nasser al-Barghouti said he and his group, Al-Awda — which promotes the right of the Palestinians to return to their homelands, even if they lie within the United Nations-recognized pre-1967 borders of Israel — made it clear that under no circumstances will he support the creation of a separate Palestinian state alongside a Zionist Israel which still defines itself as a “Jewish state.” “People who support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish nation are saying they support an ethno-religious state,” al-Barghouti said. “In this country, we support equal rights for everybody regardless of race or religion. Why do we accept that Israeli Jews, because of the tragedy of the Holocaust, should be separated from the Palestinians?”

Al-Barghouti argued that Palestine is one country, not two, and should be treated as such. “If you look at the land, it is impossible to build a Palestinian state,” he explained. “There are 450,000 Israeli settlers on the West Bank, and they’re armed. Trying to get rid of them would start a civil war in Israel. There are also the five million Palestinian refugees who were driven out of Israel. Ethnic cleansing was involved in the creation of Israel. Hany came from Jaffa and I come from Ramallah, and we’re being told to forget our common heritage. Wouldn’t it be better to have a multi-ethnic, multi-racial state in Palestine like we have in the U.S. or Canada? Is what happened to the former Yugoslavia a good example for Palestine? Don’t get stuck with what the politicians are thinking.”

“We lived as Palestinians, not Christians or Jews or Muslims, until 1948,” said Nasser — a different one, who identified himself as from Nablus. “My father had a friend who was a rabbi. The idea that ‘these people have been fighting over this land for thousands of years’ is a myth.”

Other questions centered around the recent report by Judge Richard Goldstone, a South African Jew and Zionist who was commissioned by the U.N. to study Israel’s 2009 attack on Gaza and determine if either side committed war crimes. Goldstone’s report, issued on September 15, 2009, said they both did, but he devoted far more space to Israel’s — and for that Israel’s advocates attacked not only the report but Goldstone personally. “From what I saw and read, the Goldstone report was right-on,” Attaguile said. “The U.S. Congress voted not to accept the Goldstone report and President Obama called it ‘flawed,’ but no one has ever picked out what’s supposedly wrong with it.” Attaguile said the U.S. is partly to blame for Israel’s abuses because “as long as we give money and aid to Israel, they’re going to use it to take people’s land.”

“Gaza is a prison,” said al-Barghouti. “The people have nowhere else to go, so they have no way to flee when the Israelis attack. Goldstone said the Israeli army intentionally punished civilians to bring down the Hamas government and destroy infrastructure, including a school built by Americans. The former Israeli foreign minister wouldn’t allow her plane to land in Britain because she feared arrest for war crimes by the British government. Here’s a Zionist Jewish judge charging Israel with war crimes. That’s why it’s so crucial that the report. The U.S. government is killing it — with the complicity of the Palestinian Authority,” which is dominated by Hamas’s arch-rival, the U.S.- and Israel-favored Fatah party.

One of the last remarks at the meeting came from Jim Brown of the San Diego chapter of Veterans for Peace. “I know Faith has been interested in issues all her life, but going to Gaza?” Brown said. “This is better than any book you could read or TV show you could watch. War is usually forced upon us. Today I bear witness for it.” Brown recalled that in the war he actually fought, the Viet Nam war, “we unleashed overwhelming force against a country that didn’t have an army, and they got rid of us and straightened their country out. Overwhelming force creates an imbalance in an area. Israel was also a country formed as a result of a war, and it’s been festering ever since. I think it’s going to end horribly, but people like Larry, Faith and Hany bear witness and give us both sides of what’s going on. Far more people are dying of the aftermath than of the bombs.”

Hampshire, ironic to the end, noted what he called “two really bright spots in this.” The first one was that the U.S.’s staunch support of Israel has left us diplomatically isolated in the world community. He noted that every time there’s a United Nations vote on Israel and Palestine, the General Assembly overwhelmingly votes for the Palestinians and only the U.S., and maybe one or more of the South Pacific Islander countries that are nominally independent but really under U.S. control, votes with Israel. The second bright spot, he said, is that “the U.S. is going broke. We’re fighting wars we’re not taxing to pay for, and we’re going to go the way of all empires.”

Tanja Winter, organizer of the Peace and Democracy Action Group that presented the program on the convoy — and has been doing presentations on peace and justice issues since it was formed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001 — added a stark personal note at the end of the meeting. “I’m Jewish, and my father died in the Holocaust,” she said. “But I don’t think this issue is about Jews or Arabs. It’s about justice.”

In the Streets for Human Rights: A People Without Borders


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger's Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Two of the most inspiring of the many political demonstrations I’ve taken part in have centered around the issue of immigration and human rights for undocumented (so-called “illegal”) immigrants in the U.S. One took place in April 2006 and was part of an unprecedented mobilization of Latino Americans and their supporters of all colors in response to a bigoted bill in the House of Representatives sponsored by Republican Congressmember James Sensenbrenner (“Senselessbrenner” might have been a better name for him). The other was on May 1, 2010 and consisted of a rally in Chicano Park and a quite long march to the Federal Building downtown in opposition to an equally obnoxious bill — one that actually became law in the state of Arizona — called SB 1070.

Immigration is one of those issues where the debate has become so polarized it’s hard to remember that many Americans have positions that fall somewhere between the two extremes. No doubt much of the hysterical rhetoric denouncing “illegal aliens” and calling for their mass deportation is covertly racist — sometimes overtly racist, as when anti-immigrant author Peter Brimelow published his National Review articles and his book Alien Nation, in which he openly called for severe restrictions on documented as well as undocumented immigration in an effort to preserve the U.S.’s “ethnic mix” — in other words, to keep this a white-majority country. At the same time, I think many Americans are good-hearted and sympathetic to the desires of Mexicans and other Latin Americans to come to this country, work hard and claim a piece of the American dream — but are also concerned about the possibility that an influx of impoverished people willing to work cheaper than U.S. citizens or documented residents will drive down opportunities for employment in an already recession-crippled jobs market.

There are darker fantasies, too — fears carefully cultivated by the relentless anti-immigrant, anti-Latino propaganda of talk radio, Fox News and the other outlets of the radical-Right wing of the corporate media. Many of those fears were openly cited by Arizona legislators as reasons they voted for SB 1070 — including the idea that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than citizens or documented residents (statistics from unbiased sources indicated they’re actually less likely to commit crimes; as immigration through Arizona has increased, the state’s crime rate has actually gone down); that allowing immigrants will bring the violence associated with the Mexican drug cartels to the U.S.; and that, whatever their reasons for coming here, the mere presence of undocumented immigrants on U.S. soil constitutes a “crime” for which they should be punished by prison, detention or deportation. A sign carried by counter-protesters at the Federal Building made clear the hateful mind-set of these people: “Illegal Aliens Aren’t Immigrants: They’re Criminals.”

The U.S. and Mexico have a long and sordid history in which the two countries’ governments and business elites have cooperated in the exploitation of the people of both countries. In 1846-1848 the U.S. invaded Mexico and conquered and annexed half its territory — including the current states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming — in a war which Abraham Lincoln, then a Congressmember from Illinois, quite rightly denounced as an imperialistic adventure pushed by the Southern slaveocracy to expand the slave-holding territory (Mexico had already banned slavery) and fulfill what America’s imperialists called our “Manifest Destiny” to rule the North American continent outright. Between 1876 and 1910 U.S. corporations took advantage of a sympathetic Mexican dictator, Porfirio Diaz, to take over most of the Mexican economy – and between them. American and Mexican capitalists did such a good job of impoverishing the Mexican people that they fought a bloody revolution from 1910 to 1917 (with the U.S. openly intervening on the side of the counter-revolution) to get rid of us and regain control of their own economy.

But U.S. designs on Mexican resources and labor continued. In 1942, desperate for farm labor with so many American men either serving in World War II or working in defense plants, the U.S. government contracted with Mexico to import farm laborers, called braceros. The bracero program lasted 22 years — far longer than the U.S. involvement in World War II — and did such a good job keeping farm labor wages low that César Chávez didn’t even try to organize his United Farm Workers union until it finally ended in 1964. One of the biggest shocks I have ever experienced in my life was when I met elderly Mexicans at the 2006 immigrant-rights demonstrations who introduced themselves as former braceros who were still owed money they’d earned but hadn’t been paid — for work they’d done over 42 years earlier.

Mexico’s exploitation by the United States got even worse in the early 1990’s, when corporate elites in both countries and in Canada as well pushed through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA required the Mexican government to remove the carefully constructed system of subsidies to their own farmers that had been put in place as a result of the 1910-1917 revolution. U.S. agribusiness companies flooded the Mexican market with cheap corn, selling it at prices below the cost of producing it in Mexico. As a result, millions of Mexicans were forced off their land — and many of them headed north to look for jobs as farm laborers here. The same year as NAFTA went into effect, 1994, the U.S. government also instituted “Operation Gatekeeper” in California and similarly named “operations” in other border states to make border crossings harder — which paradoxically forced undocumented immigrants to stay within the U.S. rather than live here when work was available and return home in the off-season. It also drove immigrants from established crossings like San Diego’s to high-risk routes through the desert — leading to the deaths of up to 10,000 undocumented immigrants — and it created a booming business in so-called coyotes, smugglers who help undocumented immigrants cross for a high price, often transport them under unsafe conditions that kill them, and blackmail them by threatening to turn them in to U.S. authorities for deportation if they can’t pay.

The United States may have a legal right under international law to enforce its borders, but it has long since forfeited the moral right to do so given how relentlessly we have exploited the Mexican economy. The undocumented immigration problem would virtually disappear if we didn’t keep it going. Instead, we continue vicious “free trade” policies like NAFTA which make it impossible for Mexico to protect its citizens against the exploitative practices of U.S. corporations. We also do little more than token enforcement of the laws against employers hiring undocumented immigrants; Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents occasionally stage raids in workplaces and do mass deportations of the undocumented immigrants who work there, but have you ever seen the officials of the corporations that employ them doing a perp walk? Didn’t think so! Even the existence and violence of the drug cartels in Mexico is largely the responsibility of the United States; it’s our people who fund them by buying their drugs, and it’s our lack of effective gun control that allows them to arm themselves to the teeth with lethal weapons they cannot buy in their home country.

The simple fact is there is no moral authority undergirding the U.S. immigration laws, especially as applied to immigrants from Mexico and Latin America in general. And since there is no moral authority behind these laws, they are unjust laws and people who have been impoverished by U.S. policies have every moral right to break them. As the most popular chant during the May 1, 2010 demonstration put it, we are “un pueblo sin fronteras” — “a people without borders.” If we’re sincerely worried about a flood tide of undocumented immigrants from a poor neighboring country crossing a border that is already more militarized than any on earth between two countries that aren’t actually at war with each other, we need to think outside the box and look for solutions that empower the working people of both the U.S. and Mexico, including renegotiating NAFTA to make it a true instrument of free trade instead of an economic weapon of U.S. corporate bullies against the Mexican economy.

The speakers in Chicano Park on the morning of May 1 said some fine and noble things. It was particularly impressive, after all the propaganda about how people of color were supposedly more likely to vote for the anti-marriage equality Proposition 8 than whites, to hear Bruno Remiano of the May 1 Coalition, co-organizers of the action, boast that his group had “a very broad participation of people from all these different movements: immigrant rights groups, community organizers, students, teachers, anti-war activists, feminists, LGBT groups, homeless, based on humanitarian groups.” It was even more inspiring when Remiano, a native of Brazil, read the Coalition’s five demands and they included — along with legalization of all undocumented immigrants “without conditions,” jobs and housing for all, funding for education and social services instead of war, repeal of SB 1070 and a boycott of Arizona until the bill is history — was one for “immigration and full rights for LGBT partners. As a Gay man legally married to my partner of over 15 years, I felt included in this demonstration in a way I haven’t always felt in other progressive actions.

At the same time there was, as in so many other progressive organizations and demonstrations, a palpable sense of disgust at the Obama administration. “There were more raids, more deportations and more families broken up in the first year of Obama than in the last year of Bush,” said the rally’s MC. (He said it in Spanish but it wasn’t hard to figure out.) He’s absolutely right; on immigration enforcement — as on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantánamo and torture in general, the rule of law in dealing with suspected terrorists, the military’s bigoted “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of excluding openly Queer people and the “drill, baby, drill” energy agenda of more offshore oil drilling and more development of earth-destroying coal and nuclear energy — Obama’s term has been a continuation of Bush’s policies.

During Obama’s first year in office, the U.S. deported 380,000 people — not only undocumented immigrants but, in some cases, their U.S. citizen children — more than in any previous year in our history. According to an internal ICE memo published in the Washington Post, ICE officials lamented that even that number had fallen short of their “quota” of 400,000 deportations for the year. The law passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996 gave ICE the authority to deport instantly any undocumented immigrant convicted of a crime, no matter how minor — and according to a 2009 Department of Homeland Security, ICE has been using that authority to deport people who haven’t been convicted of any crime at all. In 2009, nearly 60 percent of the people deported under the so-called “Criminal Alien Program” had no criminal convictions — and in the first quarter of fiscal year 2010 ICE deported 56,853 people with criminal convictions … and 60,397 without them.

One can’t understand the persistence of so-called “illegal” immigration as an issue without realizing how many purposes it serves the American ruling class. By allowing undocumented immigrants in and building up the mythology that they “take the jobs Americans won’t work” (they actually take jobs Americans won’t work at the piss-poor wages offered — or in some cases, like much farm labor, they take jobs Americans can’t work because the skills involved have largely disappeared from our citizen population), the ruling elites in this country get an ultra-low-paid work force that they can use to undercut prevailing wages — and whom they can get deported if they try to organize into unions or do anything else to stand up for their rights. At the same time, the ruling elites also get an all-purpose scapegoat that — especially in times of general economic hardship, like now — they can use to blame America’s economic problems on and keep America’s working class focused on imaginary “enemies” below them in the class structure instead of their real enemies above.

And certainly the rhetoric of the anti-immigration crowd is incessantly ugly. Just listen to Roger Hedgecock or any other anti-immigrant talk-radio host rant against “illegals” and do a thought experiment. Every time they say “illegals,” substitute the word “Jews.” All of a sudden they’ll sound like Hitler and Goebbels — which doesn’t necessarily make them Nazis or fascists, but it does illustrate how unvarying the rhetoric of racists really is. There’s a proven recipe for demonizing people by portraying them as a somehow dangerous “other” that Hitler used in Nazi Germany; that Lenin, Stalin and Mao used to sustain Communist governments; that Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia and Franco Tudjman in Croatia used to get people who’d been living peacefully with each other for centuries to hate and kill each other; that the government of Israel and its apologists, especially in the U.S., have used to demonize the Palestinians (as the 19th century German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine said, “Those to whom evil has been done do evil in return”); and as the American Right has been doing to a whole series of all-purpose scapegoats (“illegal” immigrants, people of color, Queers and counter-culturalists of all sorts) since the late 1960’s to boost their popularity, support and votes.

A solution to the issues raised by so-called “illegal” immigration will require a massive campaign on all fronts. It will mean boycotts not only against Arizona and any other states that pass repressive, hateful, fascistic “let me see your PAPERS!” laws like SB 1070 but also against the merchants of hate on talk radio and TV news and the corporations that sustain those shows by advertising on them. It will take unprecedented mobilization by labor advocates both within and outside the existing structure of the union movement. Ultimately it will take building a realization that wealth and poverty cannot exist side by side — not between countries like the U.S. and Mexico, and not within a single country either — without destroying the souls of the haves as well as the have-nots. Gross extremes of wealth and poverty, along with the disappearance of virtually anything in between, produce a desperate underclass that will do literally ANYTHING to survive and a clueless overclass that will run their country into the ground with the insane extravagance and foreign adventurism of pre-1789 France.

That parallel came to my mind some years ago when I attended a long San Diego City Council hearing to discuss a proposed living-wage ordinance. The arguments of the opponents were so desperate — particularly the one who said we shouldn’t apply living-wage standards to jobs at fast-food restaurants because these were “fun jobs” worked by students seeking a little extra income — I couldn’t help but think of the similarly transparent euphemisms used by the defenders of clueless royalty in the 18th and 19th centuries. I even coined a phrase afterwards, the “Marie Antoinettization of America,” to describe how clueless our ruling class has become, to the point where they can no longer even do capitalism right — how they’ve poured the money they’ve got from outright subsidies and favorable tax treatment not into investments that actually produce jobs and useful goods and services, but on the ever-more abstruse financial speculations — credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, synthetic collateralized debt obligations and all the other ill-understood “derivatives” which recently came close to crashing our economy totally — that make them richer and decimate the productive economy.

Finding a solution to immigration — like finding a solution to financial regulation, health care and the other domestic issues that bedevil us today — is easy compared to finding the political will to implement it and the backbone to take on the corporate octopus that is strangling the American economy and politics. Through a system of legalized bribery euphemistically referred to as “campaign contributions,” American corporations go to legislatures, governors and presidents and order self-serving policies with the same certainty as a McDonald’s customer orders lunch. As long as millions of Americans fall for the lies and propaganda tales of the corporate media — that private companies are always more “efficient” than government or public agencies; that the interests of giant corporations are the public interests and all others are “special interests”; that their economic and social status is being destroyed by those below them (so-called “illegal” immigrants and people of color) rather than those above them (the giant corporations that are systematically and effectively destroying the American middle class in pursuit of short-term profits; and that there’s no such thing as global warming and there are huge remaining supplies of fossil fuels we can keep drilling, baby, drilling, without fear of running out or trashing the environment in the process — we will remain vulnerable to propaganda setting up an unending succession of scapegoats and we will keep electing politicians who enthusiastically support the policies that are destroying us.
The End of “HIV/AIDS”?

Government Backs Off from Treating AIDS as Communicable


Our government just ruled on November 2, 2009, effective Jan. 4, 2010, to exclude HIV/AIDS from the list of communicable diseases and not require HIV testing in applying for a U.S. Visa. Further to this, and in another publication, Senator John Kerry called for lifting of the ban against Gays donating blood in his Op-Ed this last month.

What is going on? How did we advance to this point? There must have been something, we all missed. Looks like a meltdown of untold magnitude in the HIV/AIDS paradigm.

Apparently the mandatory release of documents under the Freedom of Information Act made all the difference. The documents marked “Top Secret” and sealed 25 years ago were Robert Gallo's evidence in which he claimed proved the hypothesis; HIV was the virus that caused AIDS. The fact is, these documents did not prove anything. There was nothing in them that stood up to scrutiny — no paper, no studies, no lab research or equations; Only his notes, which were overwritten with added handwritten notes to make them appear to address the question. In the opinion of our Greek constituents who obtained them sealed and exposed them to the public, there was nothing in them but utter garbage and bombast (my words).

So what happens now? It looks like everyone is still sleeping.

We must free the prisoners, the enslaved and the repressed. Stop the tests and eliminate the anti-retroviral drugs. Expose all the thieves and liars — especially those that profited and knew the truth.

I'm not saying that people should go to jail. But they must, at least, admit their error before they go on to further mislead. Fines and penalties might be imposed if these culprits want to be difficult and remain in opposition. Monetary amounts received could go to compensate all those who suffered and also may have died from the drug treatments or stigma of the syndrome. Even those who refused treatment and were dissidents, should receive token amounts. The overall range of awards could be from $1000 to $10,000 per plaintiff. This would amount to “pocket change” for the pharmaceuticals. (Their last bill in 2007 to the government was $350,000,000. The total over the last twenty-six years amounted to hundreds of billions.) This does not begin to calculate the loss of human spirit and life.

In the mean time, we must gather all pertinent testimony of the CDC and/or government agencies that brought about the “Final Rule.”

How do we proceed? Do we get lawyers on a contingency or pro bono? Who among us will take the initiative? Who will lead? Do we mount a class action suit?

By the way and maybe a little understated here, I want to share the good news: we won!!!

Disclaimer: The above is my opinion and does not include any other individual's or group's view. I'm sure that a properly researched paper is required and must be pursued. Hopefully, my e-mail will get the ball rolling faster on this auspicious day in the 27th year of the HIV/AIDS lie.