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Four years in prison — for driving without a license?

The Triumph Scramble motorcycle has a hidden ignition switch.

If you want to get a sense of what’s wrong with the criminal justice system in San Francisco, take a look at the case of Charles Mabrey.

He’s facing four years in jail for driving a few blocks on a motorcycle without a license.

The Triumph Scramble motorcycle has a hidden ignition switch.

The case is a microcosm of so many systemic failures.

Mabrey will be in court next week to face sentencing before Judge Ross Moody. The judge could release him — since he’s already served more time awaiting trial than he would ever get for the minor misdemeanor crime.

But the San Francisco District Attorney Office wants to send him to state prison.

Mabrey was initially charged with two felonies for possession of stolen property. He was, indeed, riding a stolen motorcycle.

But at his trial, which concluded Nov. 12, Deputy Public Defender Crystal Carpino was able to prove that Mabrey has no idea the bike was stolen.

Mabrey, the evidence showed, was looking to buy a motorcycle, and a friend told him he had a cousin looking to sell one. The cousin showed up riding a Triumph Scrambler, and told Mabrey to take it for a test ride.

This is common when people buy motorcycles.

Mabrey got on the bike, and stalled out after a few blocks. He had trouble starting it again – because, it turned out, the “cousin” – or whoever had offered the bike – had either stolen it or got it from someone who stole it, hotwired it, and mangled the ignition.

Somebody on the street noticed that Mabrey wasn’t wearing a helmet, and called 911 to say an African American man was stalled on a motorcycle and suggested it might be stolen. Cops showed up quickly, guns drawn, and arrested him.

Carpino told the jury that Mabrey didn’t know the bike was stolen, had every reason to believe the owner had offered to let him test drive it, and had no idea the ignition switch had been tampered with.

It’s hard to find the ignition switch on this bike; in fact, according to the Public Defender’s Office, even the cop who first arrived on the scene (who was very familiar with motorcycles) couldn’t find it.

He was acquitted of both felony charges.

Oh, but he did admit to driving without a license. And since he is on probation for unrelated drug charges, the DA’s Office is asking the judge to send him back to prison for four years. (The charges involved no violence, just possession with intent to sell. Which shouldn’t be a crime anyway.)

“Trying to put someone in prison for four years on such a minor probation violation is inhumane and unnecessary,” said Carpino.

It’s crazy that he was even charged with a misdemeanor for driving without a license. that’s usually just an infraction — a traffic ticket.

“If Mr. Mabrey had been facing nothing more than in infraction, it’s highly unlikely we would even be in this situation,” Carpino told me. The fact that the DA’s Office pressed two felony charges (which were hard to prove and turned out to be bogus) and insisted on charging the traffic ticket as a misdemeanor has suddenly turned tiny infraction into a possible four-year prison sentence.

Mabrey, who has struggled with homelessness, was a teenager when his sister’s violent boyfriend murdered his entire family.

So now, if the DA’s Office has its way, he will go back to prison, at great cost to the state, and further damage to his life.

If Mabrey were white and rich, none of this would ever have happened. If the DA’s Office had any sense of what’s wrong with the criminal justice system, this wouldn’t be happening now.

It’s just one case out of thousands that pass through the criminal courts every year. It the PD’s Office hadn’t brought it to my attention, nobody would have noticed.

But as the era of old-school prosecution is winding down in San Francisco, and a new district attorney is about to take office, it’s time we all pay attention.

 

 

Brittany Howard’s fearless ‘Jaime’ exorcizes racism’s specter

Brittany Howard. Photo by John Salangsang

With “Jaime”, a fearless debut solo album from Brittany Howard (appearing Fri/22 at the Fillmore, SF), the incendiary lead singer of Alabama Shakes, there is such an extreme energy convergence taking place: from the funk blues, discussing her relationship with GOD, pushed through hot mics via powerhouse pipes.

Apocalyptic rants of togetherness over space jazz beep fusion landscapes, with Robert Glasper raising those frequencies on keys, clapping back at the “right in your face” racism, still going strong in 2019. The search for connectedness via queer-leaning love songs, emotionally available to everybody who yearns to love or be loved, dipped in that Curtis Mayfield gospel sweet delivery system.

People. Howard almost called the record Black Björk.

Striking out on her own to write and produce a record that comes from the perspective of a queer, mixed-race woman, born to a black father and white mother in the same city as the founder of neo-Nazi message board Stormfront and a former Grand Wizard in the Klan, was the only choice. Jaime, named in memoriam after Howard’s sister, who died at 13 after being diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer, is a soul record built for and by our turbulent times, seeking humanity.

Boisterous, noisy, and unpleasant in stretches, this is not designed for your boondoggle of a Spotify playlist made for sipping 7am green juice. We need the colonic, a soundtrack for the soul of nation falling apart or coming together. These sound palettes, from Prince-informed sheen, Sharon Jones’ gravitational pull, and DʻAngelo mood funk, reach past the retro-soul niceness of Alabama Shakes 2012 Boys & Girls and stretches further out than 2015ʻs Grammy-winning Sound & Color.

Packing the fuck-you presence of her rock group Thunderbitch and the alt-moves of her country adjacent band Bermuda Triangle, Jaime is Howardʻs most realized musical patchwork to be housed on one project. Folks not experienced with living life in the margins may have difficulty. Before recording in Topanga CA, she took several trips across the country. While passing through Wyoming and Oregon, she caught the racism vapors all around her, triggered by how casually the open carry gun laws were practiced.

On the opener “History Repeats” a kick drum boom squares us off, with a snare building up over it running directly into a picking guitar minimal funkscapade where Howard slides into Prince vocal ease with: “I just don’t want to be back in this place again, I mean, I done cried a little, Tried a little, failed a little, I don’t wanna do it again.”

Those vapors get frenetic emergency broadcast system vibes, theremin frequencies, and full square free jazz fusion thwack bumpification on the call to arms of “13 Century Metal”. Proclaimed from some type of loudspeaker squawk box, delivered with the tone of a Black elder stateswoman: “We are brothers and sisters, each and every one, I promise to love my enemy, and never become that which is not God, I dedicate my spirit in the service, Of what is good and fair and righteous, Every day I am alive, I am given opportunities to become that which I admire most of others, I am nonviolent, I am a master student and my spirit, Will never be stomped out.” All underfoot of some type of Weather Report breakbeat expanse, riding hard.

Fearless in every way, Jaime is that valiant soul record mirroring America.

Breed refuses to sign housing bill

The Mayor's Office is against charging developers for the housing impacts of their projects.

Mayor London Breed has refused to sign legislation raising the fee office developers have to pay for affordable housing.

Although the bill, which passed unanimously, will take effect anyway without her signature, her refusal to sign on – and her letter to the board explaining her decision – put her on the opposite side from not only the entire board but the Planning Commission and the Labor Council.

The Mayor’s Office is against charging developers for the housing impacts of their projects.

And her message signals that she is willing to promote more office development even if the clear factual evidence shows that it’s bad for San Francisco.

In fact, her letter cites as evidence an almost farcical analysis by the city’s economist that the supervisors have made clear is pointless and irrelevant.

And it suggests that she will be siding with the developers in opposing a profoundly important ballot measure linking office growth to housing.

The issue here is simple: All the data shows, very clearly, that new office development creates a need for affordable housing. If new office projects are built without adequate non-market housing, the crisis in the city gets worse.

By the numbers, a city-sponsored study shows that San Francisco ought to be charging office developers about $193 a square foot for their impacts on affordable housing. Haney’s bill raises the fee to about a third of that.

But it’s still too much for the mayor – who argues that if the fee is too high, some office projects won’t get built.

So, she wrote in a Nov. 15 letter to the board, “if projects become infeasible to build, the result is less funding for affordable housing.”

This is, to be polite, completely nuts.

The whole idea of the fee is that developers who build more offices without paying for affordable housing are making the housing crisis worse – driving more residents out through displacement and almost certainly adding to homelessness.

The fee isn’t about bringing in extra money – it’s about making developers pay the actual costs of their impacts. If a developer decides an office building doesn’t “pencil out” and that project isn’t built, then the demand for more affordable housing isn’t created in the first place.

She also cites a report by the city economist saying that the measure could “lead to an approximate loss of 520 to 585 office jobs annually.” This is insanity – first of all, no existing jobs would be impacted. The only possible “loss” is the creation of fewer new jobs (for which we have no housing) – but even so, the number is just silly. I can’t think of a better word.

As we reported when this came before the Land Use and Transportation Committee:

There are about 750,000 jobs in San Francisco. That’s 200,000 more than a decade ago. The city gains and loses 500 jobs every month, maybe every week, just in the normal course of business. If [City economist Ted] Egan is right, and if the city’s job growth continues at its past pace, the employment impact of Haney’s fee would be in the area of 0.025 percent.

That’s too small to measure.

And if there is an impact, Peskin noted, it might be for the best: Since the jobs-housing ratio is radically out of synch, if the city stops adding new jobs it might help the housing crisis.

There weren’t even that many developers opposing this bill.

So the mayor is far to the right on this one, and it’s alarming if this is going to be the tone of her administration over the next four years.

Haney issued a statement today expressing concern over the mayor’s position:

I am disappointed that the mayor refused to sign our Housing for SF Workers legislation. The legislation was passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors, supported unanimously by the Planning Commission, and endorsed by the SF Labor Council and dozens of community organizations.

San Francisco has the worst jobs-housing ratio in the Bay Area, the highest cost of housing nationally, and an out-of-control homeless crisis. There is tremendous urgency for the city to act.

It is disappointing that the mayor is so strongly opposed to a policy that has such wide support from labor and the community.

Does Breed really want to spend the next four years supporting a handful of real-estate developers against pretty much everyone else at City Hall? That’s what she seems to be saying.

Screen Grabs: Now that’s Italian!

'The Traitor'

Most weeks of the year in the Bay Area there’s some film festival or other—sometimes several at once. Amidst such plenty, it’s easy to forget that some local festivals have actually left the building, like Women in Film or Fearless Tales. A more recent casualty was NICE (New Italian Cinema Events), though that annual showcase has more or less morphed under different auspices into the new form of Cinema Italian Style, whose official first edition takes place this weekend at the Vogue.

While dedicated to new Italian feature filmmaking, its opening selection nods to the past with the latest film from 80-year-old Marco Bellocchio, whose first feature Fists in the Pocket made an international splash way back in 1965. No one else of his generation and stature is remains alive and active, let alone still operating at the top of their game: The Traitor is even Italy’s chosen contender for the foreign-language Oscar this year. Indeed, it’s a major work, a fact-based 2 1/2 hour mafioso saga that’s arguably at least as good as Scorcese’s The Irishman, achieving the same narrative scale on a fraction the budget and in about 65 minutes’ less time.

It’s the story of Sicilian Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino), a longtime Cosa Nostra associate who was extradited from Brazil (not for the first time) in 1984. Having grown disillusioned with amidst murderous power struggles over the heroin trade, he decided to turn state’s witness, informing on numerous enraged fellow “men of honor” in lengthy, heavily guarded trials whose circus-like atmosphere is colorfully captured here. It’s a big, ambitious, impressive slice of recent Italian history from a filmmaker who’s had a significant place in that nation’s culture for over a half-century.

When Bellocchio was just starting out, Italy was still a major exporter of non-arthouse, highly commercial features worldwide, often grinding out en masse films in a particular exploitation flavor. Before the “spaghetti western,” the favored genre was peplum, or “sword and sandal,” those cheesy pseudo-epics of mythological antiquity that often starred American bodybuilders in togas. The form arguably reached its apex with future great spaghetti western director Sergio Corbucci’s 1961 Duel of the Titans, in which onetime Mr. Universe Steve Reeves and former screen Tarzan Gordon Scott played Romulus and Remus, the shepherding twins whom legend has it founded the city of Rome.

Matteo Rovere’s The First King: Birth of an Empire retells that tale, with Alessandro Borghi and Alessio Lapice now playing the Iron Age brothers. This isn’t an old-style peplum, but a fantasy-tinged action adventure in the mode of such recent, quasi-historical spectacles like 300, Gods of Egypt, and the Clash of the Titans remake. It’s a big, brutal, handsome popcorn epic, even if it does stumble pacing-wise after the midway point. Sorry, there’s no classic “muscle men” on display here. But if you want to see toned (if skinny, and very dirty) men in loincloths—including quite possibly the best-looking shepherds in movie history—this is the movie for you.

Other films in the three-day festival include Stefano Mordini’s murder mystery The Invisible Witness, Francesca Archibugi’s drama Vivere, Gabriele Salvatores’ musical road-trip tale Volare, Edoardo De Angelis’ human-trafficking expose The Vice of Hope, and Daniele Luchetti’s official closer Ordinary Happiness, a fantasy comedy about short-term reincarnation. There will also be some cuisine-related events tied to the festival. Fri/22-Sun/24, Vogue Theatre. More info here

For a large number of children (and princess aficionados of any age), there will be no film event worth thinking about this week—or probably for a few weeks to come—but Frozen 2, the animated-musical sequel that’s gotten some disappointed early reviews. However, critical consensus doesn’t mean a lot to its target demographic. Adults wanting to revisit a bit of their childhood might be heading instead to A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, in which Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers aka Mr. Rogers, and Matthew Rhys the cynical journalist who becomes less so while getting to know him for an Esquire profile. That may sound treacly, but this latest by director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Diary of a Teenage Girl) has been very well-received on the festival circuit.

Other films opening Friday that we weren’t able to screen in advance are Brian Kirk’s thriller 21 Bridges, with NYPD cop Chadwick Boseman hunting down two cop killers; Depeche Mode: Spirits in the Forest (at Embarcadero), a concert film for the veteran Brit synth band; and (at the Roxie) Minhal Baig’s directorial debut Hala, a drama about a 17-year-old Chicago teenager pulled between secular society and her family’s traditional Muslim values.

Also opening on Fri/22:

Gay Chorus Deep South
A couple of years ago in response to the “vitriolic” tenor of the last Presidential election, as well as the resurgence of legalized homophobia as alleged “religious freedom,” the San Francisco Gay Chorus decided to tour the mostly deep-red Deep South. The idea was to bring comfort to embattled communities, and hopefully change some minds along the way. People like the Chorus’ own artistic director Tim Seelig had southern roots themselves, which had in some cases been the source of sexual repression, still-damaged family relationships, and so forth.

This documentary by David Charles Rodrigues charts that trip, which turned out to be educational on both sides—not just for audiences and others on the tour, but for chorus members who often found open minds where they anticipated closed hearts. Still, not all divisions can be bridged, particularly when it comes to matters of religious belief. Though Gay Chorus Deep South may hit its “inspirational uplift” note a bit more shrilly than some viewers can stomach, it too seeks to find common ground between groups constantly pitted against each other in our current culture wars. Roxie Theater. More info here

Waves
One of the films stirring the most excitement on this fall’s film festival circuit was this third feature by Trey Edward Shults. This drama returns to the charged, almost manically tense domestic drama of his striking 2015 Krisha, although with a more ambitious narrative sprawl. The family here are an upper-middle class African-American quartet in South Florida, outwardly living “the good life,” but very much consumed by the discipline and achievement it took to get there in the first place.

Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) is a successful businessman who maintains the body of a pro athlete, and there’s nothing very playful about the arm-wrestling contests he has with teenage son Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). The latter has plenty of partying friends and a devoted girlfriend (Alexa Demie), but is under so much pressure to excel that the slightest hurdle can send him into a near-panic. The only upside to dad’s high expectations of Tyler is that younger sis Emily (Taylor Russell) gets left comparatively alone. Both kids are wary about accepting the emotional support they desperately need from stepmom Catherine (Renee Elise Goldsberry)—she’d love to provide it, but there is unresolved baggage in the way from their late biological mother.

Cinematically inventive, energetic, even nervous, Waves stacks causes for concern atop its central characters until inevitably it all crashes down on them in truly catastrophic fashion. Then the film in a sense begins anew, from a different character’s perspective than its long first section. Shults is a stylistically bold director, but not in a flashy, empty way. His dynamic presentation always serves psychological truth, even if sometimes it may feel like too much of a good thing.

That could also be said of Waves in general—it’s almost too rich in themes and conflicts for one narrative to bear. Still, it’s pretty rare these days you get to complain about an American movie having more serious ideas than it can fully handle. This is an imperfect film, but one well worth seeing, and even its flaws are ones of laudable overreaching. Embarcadero, California Theatre (Berkeley). More info here.

Light from Light
Waves’ opposite number is this independent feature, which is also a family drama of sorts but contrastingly quiet, meditative, ultimately balming in tenor. Sheila (Marin Ireland) is an ordinary Knoxville, TN single mom with a well-adjusted teenage son (Josh Wiggins) and a banal dayjob at an airport car rental desk.

But there is something extraordinary in her life, even if she’s rather ambivalent about it: For years she’s had sporadic paranormal experiences, and sometimes works with a volunteer group to offer her “gift” to others. As a result, she winds up visiting Richard (Jim Gaffigan), a fish-hatchery worker who’s experienced some poltergeist-y phenomena in the farmhouse his late wife’s family has lived in for generations. Is he being haunted, and if so, by spirits benevolent or malevolent?

This may sound like a setup for a horror film, but Paul Harill’s film doesn’t go in that direction at all. Instead, it’s a non-religious affirmation of things (spirits if you like) beyond our full understanding that is lovely, nuanced, and finally quite moving. Neither frightening or mawkish, Light From Light is an unusual drama of the supernatural that is very small in scale yet leaves an indelible impression. Opera Plaza, Shattuck Cinemas. More info here

Should a developer lawyer be on the Planning Commission?

The number of vacant storefronts is going up despite the economic boom, the city reports

For the first time in at least my 37 years of covering city politics – and possibly much longer – a lawyer who has spent a career representing real-estate developers has been nominated to serve on the Planning Commission.

If Sue Diamond is approved by the supes this week, she will be in a position to help choose the next planning director.

Diamond’s resume states that she has spent the past 28 years

managing the permitting process for some of the largest and most complex real estate projects in San Francisco and the Bay Area(e.g. high-tech and biotech campuses, alternative energy, downtown office buildings, industrial projects, gas wells, assisted living, mixed use) and advising large companies expanding nationally on site acquisition and permitting strategies.

(Gas wells? In the Bay Area? I didn’t know there were any.)

She has a master’s in urban planning from MIT and a law degree from Harvard. She clearly has experience – promoting development.

“We have never, never, had a development attorney on the Planning Commission,” Sue Hestor, who has represented community groups before that panel for more than four decades, told me.

The choice of the next planning director will be huge. Under the outgoing director, John Rahaim, the department was all about facilitating growth and development, no matter what the consequences to vulnerable communities. Activists are calling for a new director who has an understanding of economic equity– but the final decision will be up the commission and Mayor London Breed.

“We are concerned that this candidate doesn’t represent the equity framework,” Jon Jacobo, vice-president of Calle 24, the Latino Historic District, told me. “She has not reached out to any of the communities of concern.”

Diamond’s nomination goes before the Rules Committee Monday/18 at 10am, and will come to the full Board Tuesday/19.

Some activists are pushing the supes to reject the nomination – in part because that would keep Diamond from participating in the hiring decision. But there’s always the danger that if the board won’t accept this nominee, the mayor will come up with someone even worse.

The full board will also consider putting on the March 3 ballot a measure that would impose a new tax on vacant commercial storefronts. It’s an attempt to address a growing problem in some neighborhoods, including North Beach, the Castro and the Mission: Property owners are evicting tenants or refusing to renew leases at any reasonable rent and then leaving the place empty.

Some may be waiting for rents to go up even higher, and some may be hoping that they can get the rules changed to allow more chain stores that will pay higher rent.

The city economist says that it’s partly because of the decline of brick-and-mortar retail – but I am hearing constant stories about small businesses that are getting force out with huge rent hikes that would be thrilled to have a place to go. So I don’t think it’s a lack of demand.

The number of vacant storefronts is going up despite the economic boom, the city reports

“Some landlords have unreasonable expectations of the value of their property and the rent they should get,” Sup. Aaron Peskin, who is sponsoring the bill, told me.

He mentioned Caffe Sapore, which has served North Beach for 23 years, and just lost its lease. The owner, he said, looked into the numerous empty storefronts in the area, “and he can’t afford any of them,” Peskin said.

The bill, cosponsored by Sup. Hillary Ronen, would tax the owner of any storefront that is empty more than 182 days a year. The tax would start at $250 a linear foot of street frontage and after three years go up to $1,000. (Since a typical commercial storefront is about 25 feet, the annual tax on long-term vacancies could reach $25,000 a year – enough to encourage landlords to sign reasonable leases.

“This,” Peskin said, “is long-overdue commonsense policy.”

The Budget and Finance Committee considers Wed/20 legislation that would create an Office of Emerging Technology to consider regulations for the next generation of Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, robots on the sidewalks and whatever other tech concepts that have the potential to make the city worse off for everyone except the investors.

It’s something the city has been missing for years. Airbnb caught San Francisco by surprise. The city let Uber and Lyft operate illegally for years. Suddenly we have scooters all over the sidewalks, and robot delivery vehicles on their way, and who knows what else Big Tech will foist on us in the next few years.

So the idea of this office is to get ahead of the regulatory game and set rules in advance – to make the new ventures seek permission, not forgiveness. If the office is competent and aggressive – that is, if it is on top of the new trends and makes sure nothing happens in the city that will impact the residents and businesses without getting vetted – it could make a huge difference.

A progressive neighborhood group called D4ward, formed in the Sunset in the wake of Sup. Gordon Mar’s victory last year, is holding a forum Wednesday/20 on housing – and specifically, on SB 50, Sen. Scott Wiener’s deregulation bill. Speakers include Dyan Ruiz and Joseph Smooke of People.Power.Media, Ozzie Rohm of the SF Land Use Coalition, and Mar. 6:30pm, Lycee Francais, 1201 Ortega.

Kumail’s ‘Yasmin’ tunes into a celestial radio show

Kumail

Art is based on the inability to predict how it will be received. Sometimes as a DJ you get tired of breaking fools’ ankles. Kumail Hamid did. So after spending his early years delving into textural lo-fi electronic and ambient music, sharing the stage along the likes of Shigeto, Four Tet, DJ Koze, and Teebs—including a guest slot at the 2018 Dimensions Festival in Croatia—it was time for the musician, producer, and DJ from Mumbai, India, to hit reset.

Exchanging ambient for illbient, Yasmin his half-hour beat tape of sorts, with weary R&B feels, is a nine-song mood-board of lush voicing and explorations beyond just beat-making. It sees tempoʻs regulated to hook-driven slow jam speed. With music, at times, that sets you up for some type of silk-shirt, rub-you-down sitch. The lyrics, the ones you can decipher, question what’s real and imaginary. Fully dopamine paced on some glowed-up psych-groove type expanse, with many tasteful production salutes to DʻAngelo, Kumail gets the humidity correct.

Kumail

This is a celestial radio show, captured on cassette, where the host has gone rogue, filling his air time with instrumental slow darts that get stuck in your ear. Instead of sleep appearing, itʻs the woozy bump supplying comfort. Comprising random 80ʻs r&b ideas matched up against modern neo-soul and experimental hip-hop, Kumail uses his real-life struggles with insomnia and trepidation to find the pace. Transforming those countless nights of being isolated in a room in Bombay, India, while recording this project, those yips get fed into the patchwork.

A chance record digging trek in Istanbul inspired much of the project. Discovering 1980ʻs Japanese funk, vivid gospel, bright disco, and twisted bass music from the LA underground set a unique path. New ideas bring contradictory feels and rules, so in honor of the project, Kumail dedicated two years studying music, sharpening his piano chops, lending his ear to new arrangements and employing different production techniques.

With the first track, “It Ain’t In My Head”, a packed two minutes of dribbling bass and looped vocals, sets us up. ‘Cause next track “Kkwy,” takes us directly to Questlove snare hits circa 2000, caramel chords, and horn lines. “For youuu” makes the quiet storm, connect the dots parade, oh-so-self-aware. Those wind currents blow imaginary music video white curtains, helping Kumail find the right place to spread his voice over the tastefully inserted vinyl crackles.

“Same Shit,” featuring  Los Angeles singer and rapper Pink Siifu, marks a bounce moment, a major change in Kumail’s trajectory as a producer. But it’s “All U Know” where we get the closest to something that bumps along. It’s a head nod directive for sure, with silvery hummed lyrics, vibrating over the bass drum like Yoda over the Force, we get that needed energy push.

You can find out more about Kumail’s Yasmin here

Foreign Correspondent: A New Arab Spring in Lebanon and Iraq

Protests in Baghdad in October.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Lebanese have been demonstrating in the streets against corruption and for democratic rights. The protestors come from all economic classes and religious and ethnic groups.

Like the Arab Spring uprisings that began in 2010, these protests are spontaneous and without traditional leaders. And they are sending corrupt political parties and foreign powers scrambling to manipulate the protests for their own nefarious ends.

Protests in Baghdad in October.

The current protests raise many of the same issues as the Arab Spring, says David Dunford, a former US ambassador to several Middle East countries and author of From Sadat to Saddam: The Decline of American Diplomacy in the Middle East.

“People in both countries are sick and tired of sectarian jockeying and foreign influence,” he tells me in a phone interview.

In my opinion, the uprisings expose the false logic of the vacuum theory, which posits that US military withdrawal automatically benefits the villain du jour, whether Russia, Iran, or China. Instead, the protests show that the people of the Middle East don’t want domination by Washington, DC., or any outside power.

Lebanon crisis

On a trip to Lebanon earlier this year, I spoke with businessmen who warned of a coming economic crisis. The Lebanese currency was dropping against the dollar, and the businessmen saw an economic meltdown coming.

It wasn’t hard to see why. Walking along Beirut’s cornice, or seaside road, I passed by dozens of vacant, multi-million-dollar condos owned as vacation homes or investments by Saudi sheiks and Emirati businessmen.

Meanwhile, working class Lebanese can’t get basic services: electricity, garbage collection, and protection from raging forest fires. The poverty rate is around 30 percent, according to the World Bank.

On October 17, spontaneous demonstrations began when the government imposed a new tax on the What’s App program, widely used on cell phones to make free calls. But demonstrators quickly added corruption and lack of democracy to their list of demands. They called for the entire government to resign and an end to Lebanon’s system by which certain government positions are guaranteed to each ethnic and religious group and hence to the corrupt political parties.

People sat down on major thoroughfares and set up roadblocks. Universities shut, and when they reopened, students refused to attend. Banks closed because depositors feared they couldn’t access their money.

For the first time, Lebanese from different economic classes and religions joined together demanding an end to the country’s sectarian political system. They opposed the old, corrupt parties, whether backed by the US, Saudi Arabia, or Iran.

People were particularly angry with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who gave $16 million to his bikini-model mistress. Hariri and his cabinet resigned October 29. All the parties in the ruling coalition, which was led by Hezbollah, scrambled to respond.

Amal and Hezbollah, the two parties with largely Shia Muslim support, initially supported the demonstrations. But so did Samir Geagea, the ultra-right-wing Maronite Christian leader and sworn enemy of Hezbollah.Hezbollah and Amal later withdrew support, having been accused of beating peaceful demonstrators.

Groundhog Day all over again

The Trump Administration, in what has become a Groundhog Day experience, didn’t know how to respond to yet another world crisis, according to a former US diplomat who recently met with White House and State Department officials. Washington views Lebanon through the prism of Iran and Syria, he says. “They have no understanding of what’s going on in Lebanon,” the diplomat tells me, on condition of anonymity.

So far, the Trump Administration does not plan a military intervention but seeks to weaken Hezbollah, which it alleges is an Iranian proxy. But factions within the administration differ on tactics.

The White House’s National Security staff believes Hezbollah controls the Lebanese government and has significant influence in the Lebanese Army. They want to pressure the Army and opposition parties to break with Hezbollah.

So on October 31, in a surprise move, the US stopped all aid to the Lebanese Army, including $105 million which had been already approved in September.

The State Department and Pentagon opposed the aid cut, arguing that the Army constitutes a stabilizing and pro-western force. Cutting US military aid, they argue, just provides more openings for Iran and Russia to exert influence.

All sides believe that the mass protests have weakened Hezbollah. But Hezbollah not only has a well-armed, battle-hardened militia, it can mobilize tens of thousands of civilian supporters in a matter of hours. It consistently wins seats in the Lebanese parliament and has proven adept at forming electoral alliances, even with former enemies.

Iraqis oppose US and Iran

Given Lebanon’s unsuccessful system guaranteeing government positions to ethnic groups, you’d think the US would have tried something different in Iraq. Instead, Washington has created an equally flawed system and imposed it on a poorer, war-ravaged country.

In Iraq, the political parties break down by religious and ethnic groups, resulting in a Shia Muslim prime minister and Kurdish president. Each party places its supporters in government jobs and issues government contracts to corrupt partners. As a result, the government functions as an ATM for the parties and the wealthy elite.

Meanwhile, ordinary Iraqis don’t have safe drinking water and government-supplied electricity. Many complain that government services are worse today than under Saddam Hussein.

Protests against corruption and the party system broke out October 1. Demonstrators condemned corruption in the pro-US and pro-Iran parties in Iraq, and within the parties of the Kurdish region.

The government launched a brutal crackdown. To date, more than 300 protesters have been killed, mostly by uniformed security forces and government-affiliated snipers.

Protesters threw gasoline bombs at the Iranian consulate in Karbala and chanted anti-Iran slogans. Persons unknown launched 17  rockets into a US air base.

Iraqis have long opposed US occupation of their country. But over the past few years, they’ve also grown angry at Iran’s influence over certain political parties and Iranian-controlled militias affiliated with the Iraqi Army.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s leading Muslim cleric, has supported the demonstrations and opposed Iranian meddling. Moktada al-Sadr, whose political party won a plurality in the last parliamentary elections, has called for an end to all foreign interference, whether from Washington or Tehran.

The uprisings in Lebanon and Iraq show once again that people in the Middle East want democratic reforms, and an end to corruption and foreign domination. Nowhere is it written that countries must either support the US or Iran. It may be difficult, but people can determine their own future.

Defying genre, Pursuit Grooves flies high with ‘Bess’

While researching Mae Jemison, the first Black female astronaut, Pursuit Grooves, aka Vanese Smith, read about her bringing Bessie Colemanʻs photograph along for the journey into space. A sign of solidarity and respect. Coleman, the first Black American female pilot, who left for France to get her international pilot’s license in 1921, studied with master pilots in Europe and returned to the US as a spectacular performer and air trickster. Appearing at schools and theaters, presenting her skills on film footage. Brazenly infusing flying as a metaphor, she celebrated her achievement by encouraging others. In spite of extreme racial and gender bias, she fulfilled her dreams.

Smith, a Maryland-born Toronto-based, veteran electronic music producer, makes ambient, experimental, and funky arrangements that morph into sneaky great hangs or moody ambient tones. Going between genres and sounds she maximizes the opportunities to use and twist up all the good bits into unknown regions. “How someone else describes my music really depends on their palette and knowledge of various styles.”

“When I was a teenager just starting to make music, I was most influenced by hip hop and R&B. But of course New Jack era days, there were soulful jams just as much as uptempo dance tunes. I also enjoyed New Wave before that time. The 80s & 90s R&B on the radio in Washington DC, you’d hear Newcleus, next to Culture Club, Duran Duran, Colonel Abrams, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis productions, not just Janet Jackson, but Human League as well. So I think I really took hold of the synthesizer sound crossing different tempos and moods” said Smith.

Bess, Pursuit Grooves’ predominantly instrumental tribute to Coleman the maverick, emotes a sense of physical and spiritual elevation over 15 tracks. With its interludes and song names inspired by Bessie Coleman’s brief yet audacious life, a sense of passage—via bass music structures, twisted soul, different sounding R&B and inspiring house music—speaks dual stories.

“I am often in spaces where I am the only or one of few black women in the room so I thought it was extremely important to highlight a true hero who had no role models to show her what was possible” commented Grooves. “I had never heard of Bessie so I dove in. I was amazed by her story, which was truly inspirational for the 1920s, she set her mind on it and made it happen. I love documentaries. And I believe there’s music for every mood and occasion. So when I learned of Bessie’s story I immediately saw the cover in my head. Anything I can do to inspire the next generation of creators and dreamers, I’m all for it.”

Bess is an about-face turn from Smith’s 2018 Felt Armour. That record, with cross-pollinating trip-hop aesthetics and mid-tempo arrangements fused with bass-heavy textures, put forth an industrial soul vibe. “Cloud Pusher,” from Bess, comes close to those machine-like clicking tracks. Synths, get wrapped up in the mechanical narrative, giving sight to the sky before us, and all the sacrifice it takes to get there. The beautiful struggle captured in song. In contrast, “The French Connect,” an upright house music structure, filled with stuttering snares, kick-drum boom, dub-wise bass lines, and air-raid type melody, allows us to see how weightless Bess felt, upon reaching Europe.

Pursuit Grooves

“There are different aspects of experimental electronic music. There is a part of it that is very academic. Very white man history driven. Lots of John Cage (just realized we share the same birthday!) and a bit of Delia Derbyshire. There aren’t many black women in that conversation. Pamela Z is an innovator, in terms of technology and performance. But wouldnʻt it be awesome to see more diversity in certain facets of that world, areas beyond urban and dance floor, for sure! Moor Mother seems to be in that space in the present.”

But Smith has trademark swag too. Industrial drums collide with recorded words, shaped and clipped into shouts, permeate Smithʻs compositions with machine-like movement. Cold snares and grimy kick drums, stay at the center of a Pursuit Grooves track, wanting all the smoke. Sheʻs covered environmental and technological topics in the past and has a decade’s worth of full-lengths and EP’s that teeter back and forth, in and out of distinction.

“Vanese like many greats solidly follows her own voice. That, I have always admired her for” chimed in Aybee, the Oakland born, Berlin-based label head for the vanguard electronic label Deepblak. Pursuit Grooves’ 91 Fellows project from 2012 was released on the imprint. “She is super creative in a multitude of directions, but with her music, it is always honest. Authentic… and in these times, authenticity is the most precious of human endeavors.”

You can purchase Bess on Bandcamp here

OPINION: Is SF General Hospital ready for a disaster? I fear not.

SF General Hospital is not adequately staffed for a major emergency.

As a trauma nurse at San Francisco General Hospital, I fear that in the inevitable case of disaster San Francisco wouldn’t be able to serve everyone.

Taken directly from San Francisco Department of Public Health webpage, “SFGH is the city’s busiest emergency room and the only Level One trauma center providing life-saving care to the 1.5 million adults and children of San Francisco and northern San Mateo County.”

SF General Hospital is not adequately staffed for a major emergency.

When I was hired, I was given a “disaster worker badge” that gives me access to a disaster zone as an emergency responder to help those in need during a catastrophe. I learned that in a citywide emergency, there are two lists the city can call from. The first list is frontline workers who live in SF, and the second list is all staff that live outside the city.

A large percentage of first responders can’t afford to live in the city and resort to living in the East Bay or even farther away. I imagine it would be almost impossible for the majority of staff to cross the bridge or ride BART and help out in a crisis situation — particularly something like an earthquake that created widespread power outages.  This is bad news for our patients.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the world watched emergency response teams committing their lives and time away from their families to save lives and search for thousands of people. Knowing that SF is one of the largest cities in the US, it would be naïve for our leaders to assume something similar couldn’t happen here.

A nurse colleague of mine recalls the Asiana plane crash at SFO in 2013 where 307 people were on board – and 187 passengers were injured and 49 seriously injured. She was in the emergency department that day and recalls a paramedic from SF fire department say something happened at SFO airport. A quick web search confirmed what was happening.

She immediately notified our leaders, helped direct a “multi casualty incident” activation and searched for Korean-speaking staff members. Minutes later, the calls started piling up. It was, indeed, a multi-casualty incident, which had the paramedics and SFGH staff working long hours to save every patient that came through the ambulance bay.

Thankfully, all the patients who arrived in our ambulance bay that day received the care they needed. I have unending respect for our frontline emergency response team and know they’d be as dedicated as those brave workers on 9/11 and the Asiana flight. But it scares me that today our leaders don’t seem as dedicated to staffing for unpredictable and even predictable events, as they know disasters do and can happen any day in a large city like SF.

Our city leadership has allowed first responders to work over the last years in less-than minimum standards for emergency preparedness. The true number of vacant positions for frontline emergency staff is debatable due to the lack of transparency by city officials. What I experience first-hand is staffing that reflects up to 11 nurse vacancies in the emergency department at any given time.

SFGH advertises that the emergency department has 58 beds. Recent data shows that between 15 and 25 of those are beds closed every day due to lack of staffing. On multiple occasions, another 10-20 of those beds are taken up by patients who should be cared for in non-emergency wards upstairs – but there are not enough nurses upstairs.

So, in reality we often only have about 13 of those 58 beds actively open to serve true emergencies.

One SFFD paramedic told me he was concerned because on any given shift, there are fewer than 20 ambulances to serve the entire city. During my shifts, I usually see the same ten or 15 paramedics. On a KTVU News Investigates article dated October 8, 2019, Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson voiced her concern about the need for additional paramedic staffing, “We run at level zero on a daily basis and level zero is when there are no ambulances available to respond to an incident. That speaks volumes to me.” It speaks volumes to me as well. Every time a call is put on hold because an ambulance is not staffed, the more likely our patients will have delayed and possibly detrimental outcomes.

In addition, during contract bargaining in May 2019, our nurses’ union, SEIU 1021, made claims that last year our administration allowed for about 40 percent of our SFGH nursing hours to be replaced with per-diem workers. A local news platform, Mission Local, tracked down the financials in an article dated May 28th, 2019 and were able to confirm on the SFGH financial reportsrevealing “a years-long pattern of busting budgets when it comes to per-diem nurses” and “through seven months of fiscal year 2018-19, it had already spent $34.3 million, despite budgeting only $17.8 million.”

Mission Local goes on to say that, “These budget overruns dwarf the costs associated with increased staffing currently dividing the union and management — leading to charges from the unionized workforce that, in its refusal to add full-time employees, the Department of Public Health is being pennywise and pound-foolish.”

I was able to research our emergency department schedule for October/November 2019. Simply by counting, it shows that 31 percent of our scheduled nurses are temporary and as needed nurses and 28 percent  of permanent staff are part time, ultimately showing that our leadership has allowed a situation where 50 percent of our currently scheduled staff are either temporary, per-diem, or part time.

This is a serious problem: The majority of temporary workers and some as-needed staff have no access to, and are not trained on, the city’s disaster plan, and many are not specialized trauma nurses. That leaves our community in a very vulnerable state — many temporary workers are not invested in the whole picture of well-being for our city the way permanent workers are, and they have not been trained accordingly to our specific city procedures.

City officials aren’t taking disaster and emergency preparedness seriously. The SFGH emergency department is constantly overcrowded. Many of the patients we see on a regular basis are forced to misuse our emergency services. On a typical shift, our emergency department is filled with homeless patients looking for a safe place to stay, drug addicts seeking detox assistance, and patients who struggle to schedule appointments with their primary care doctors earlier than three or four months in advance.

It’s not their fault. The city isn’t putting up the resources, and our patients are begging for help.

SFGH is the only level-one trauma center in San Francisco — which means if you experience a traumatic event, you come to us despite what insurance policy you have. We are also the main hospital to receive the incarcerated, unfunded, and under-served population.

I have had the pleasure of attending multiple Health Commission and joint conference meetings where supposedly highly qualified leaders present the concept of “The SFGH way.” But the mission statement does not include a staffing plan or how our poor staffing will truly affect patient care.

It didn’t used to be like this. I think the crisis is caused by multiple losses in oversight that have built up over time to create a systemic failure in the city.

It seems as if SFGH administration never actually addresses the concern for the fact that we constantly face overcrowding and chronic low staffing in every aspect of our SF community health system. Consistently, frontline staff has expressed their concerns that disaster preparedness programs will never work and our patients will suffer, if we are not properly staffed and trained.

We, the frontline first responders are here. We are ready for what might happen and we want to help every person who needs us. But our leaders are still busy making power-point presentations to distract our city from the impending doom they are failing to address. When will they wake up?

Christa Duran, RN, is a trauma nurse at SF General Hospital.

Sup. Brown concedes in D5 election

It's official: Dean Preston will take office in December.

Five days after the results made clear that Dean Preston has been elected supervisor, incumbent Sup. Vallie Brown has conceded.

Brown called Preston this morning and told him she was not going to ask for a recount or contest the close election.

It’s official: Dean Preston will take office in December.

“She congratulated me on my victory and I thanked her for her years of service to the city,” Preston said. “With the campaign now officially over we are moving full-steam ahead with the transition.”

The Department of Elections still has to certify the results, which could take a couple of weeks. That means Preston will likely be sworn in and take his seat in early-to-mid December.

In the meantime, he will need to hire staff, prepare for the job – and get ready for the next campaign. Since Preston is technically filling the term that London Breed was elected to in 2016, he will be back on the ballot in November 2020.