Hometown hero Gavin Newsom officially announced his candidacy for Governor of California on April 21st, flaunting his technical savvy by simultaneously championing his cause on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. Not being as cybernetic as most of my peers I was forced to enjoy the video spectacle and was once again struck by how embarrassing it is when our supposed leaders pander to the people by utilizing shitty resolution for the sake of networking. Show a little class and stream your own videos.

There’s nothing particularly striking about his pep talk, aside from my being struck with uncontrollable laughter as soon as his well manicured mug appears. San Francisco is hailed as the nation’s leader in universal health care, ecological innovation and retaining teachers amidst grievous budget cuts. He repeatedly uses the term “we” instead of the political assertion of “I”, which has become something of a hallmark in all of his communiques. He is not running for governor so much as we are all being invited to run for governor. I guess this means I’ve been traveling the state with an SFPD escort all this time. The message is that San Francisco is doing better than California and the allusion is that it’s because we’ve had Gavin Newsom at the helm, single-handedly steering us into calmer waters as the rest of the world drowns in a fiscal tempest. The “green economy” is our guiding light, as evidenced by happy laborers installing solar paneling. Voters and the Board of Supervisors, advocates and PACs are not invited to share in the glory of our solar panels.

The elections won’t take place for another year but this never prevents pollsters from harassing the recluses and bored housewives who generate public opinion. If Jerry Brown and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who are both assumed to be entering the race, run then Newsom places third. If Senator Dianne Feinstein throws her hat into the ring he drops to fourth, but he has commented that if she does he will bow out– as long as she announces her candidacy early enough. In an effort to court less slick Democrats Newsom has been spotted meeting with under-enlightened prospective voters in traditional hicktowns San Diego and Stockton where he plans to replace their images of gay marriage with his successful chain of yuppie eateries and wine bars.

So will the San Francisco model work the length and breadth of a state as large and diverse as California, and more importantly can Newsom convince skeptics he can handle the responsibilities given his track record? Are solar panels the key to economic solvency and can his experience managing lifestyle businesses trump the fact that China owns our collective asses? Perhaps we should examine a little bit of recent history wherein out intrepid leader laid down and allowed a foreign government full reign of policing the streets of San Francisco. (more…)

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La Antigua Guatemala is a small city which enjoys a robust tourism industry and hosts innumerable Spanish language schools for foreigners. Buried in the colonial architecture (which earned the city status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) lies all the trappings of modern civilization. The relative wealth of La Antigua amidst the poverty and violence of Guatemala has afforded the city opportunities to modernize, and the government seems open to all ideas which may propel La Antigua into the 21st century as assuredly as any western nation.

Towards the end of last year the municipality introduced a free wireless zone in its central park, earning it status as the first digital city of Latin America. The novel concept of free wi-fi for all has been championed by consumer advocates the world over but in San Francisco the process has been bogged down by negotiations with competing providers and to this day there is no such service, but in La Antigua they just decided to roll up their sleeves and make it happen. When one thinks of Guatemala they probably don’t imagine internet cafes and people using their laptops in the park, but access is available to all who would wish to make use of it.

As encouraging as that development is the people of La Antigua are preparing to lay the ground-work for another first, and possibly becoming the first city of its kind in the entire world. According to Rudy Giron’s excellent La Antigua Daily Photo, a group of dedicated people are busy laying the framework for an alternative fuel project for the city. Biopersa organizers went from restaurant to restaurant collecting spent cooking oil with the intention of reprocessing it into biodiesel for municipal vehicles and the local hospital. If the initial steps are successful and the idea takes hold La Antigua Guatemala could be the first city which operates its city vehicles entirely on reprocessed biodiesel.(See bottom for an update.) (more…)

On March 5th the California Supreme Court met to hear arguments concerning the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a hateful ballot measure which was passed by a narrow majority of voters banning same-sex marriage. Opponents of the measure held a march and candlelight vigil the night before and I’m proud to say that I know the one person arrested during the speeches. The official version of the story has the detention as a drunk and disorderly but just because “we don’t march before cocktails”, doesn’t mean that storming the stage and screaming “bullshit” in a fit of rage is a drunken or disorderly act.

Many things have happened five years after San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom galvanized the bigots and last week’s court hearing is in many ways the rambling result of his unique sense of political activism. On February 12th, 2004, gay couples descended upon City Hall to take part in the National Freedom to Marry protest and were shocked to find city officials handing out legal certificates. The gears had been set in motion several days prior when Newsom announced he wanted the city to explore ways of allowing gay couples to be wed, possibly in response to Massachusetts overturning a state ban on gay marriage. Word spread that homophobic organizations were planning on appealing to the courts to block any attempts by the city to marry gays. The county clerk’s office prepared gender-neutral applications under the watchful gaze of attorneys while phone calls were made to a select few gay and lesbian rights groups. Just past eleven in the morning the city’s assessor-recorder Mabel Teng performed the first ceremony between Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon who had been together for fifty years.

Alleged Christians were sickened to see genuinely loving couples who had been long treated as second-class citizens exchanging vows but their crusading efforts to file an immediate injunction were blocked as the state courts were closed in observance of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Eventually lawsuits were filed against San Francisco to halt proceedings and Lambda Legal, The National Center for Lesbian Rights and the ACLU stepped in to represent the couples who had been, or simply wanted to be, married; meanwhile two couples in Los Angeles sued the city demanding their basic human rights be recognized. By August of that same year the courts invalidated nearly four thousand marriages stating that Newson, acting as mayor, had overstepped the boundaries of authority as marriage was governed by the state. (more…)

Charity - Water

Years ago, facing another Christmas season of obligatory gift-giving with my loving family, I conceived a novel tact. This was early in the degrading of my character which has eventually seen my abandoning the consumption of meat, complaining about plastic bags and fantasizing about producing my own yogurt; my idea was to eliminate the purchasing of gifts and instead donate to charity in my family’s names. I researched various organizations I thought would cater to the particular tastes of my parents and sister, printed out informational pamphlets about the prospects and compiled dossiers backed by a charity ranking grade to ensure that a good portion of the donation would trickle through administrative costs and reach the people served. On Christmas morning no one seemed unhappy about receiving my little packets of reading material, although I can’t recall my sister ever getting back to me about where to send money. My dad wanted a hundred bucks to go to the San Francisco Food Bank and my mom selected some organization which irritated me because of their religious affiliation but, well, it was her present. Both foundations which I donated to sent me mail repeatedly hoping that I would fund them again. This was the first and last time I tried this method of Christmas guilt-deflection.

In his recent column Paul Carr slags the charity gift and proposes an alternative, UncharityGifts.com, to get revenge on those thoughtless hippies who assigned your name to starving children instead of a nice bottle of wine:

For just £20, we’ll send a poacher to an African village to steal a cow in your friend’s name! Or, if you’re feeling generous, for just £50 we’ll pay local workers to fill in a much-needed well with concrete or raze an entire school to the ground. Of course, as with normal charity gifts, you’ll receive no actual proof that we’ve done any of the above, rather than, say, pocketing the money to cover admin costs, but who cares? The important thing is that your friend will receive a handsome certificate of authenticity to make them think long and hard about what they’ve done.

Remember: if you steal a man’s fish, you’ll make him hungry for a day, but steal his nets and you’ll keep him hungry for a lifetime.

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After two years of effort by activists and the National Park Service to delay it a land auction was recently held in Salt Lake City by the Bureau of Land Management; the date of the sale was publicly announced on election day and received as much press coverage as could be expected. Protesters waved signs and marched outside while, shuttered away from the angry and desperate chants, were a collection of oil and gas representatives hoping to purchase parcels totaling almost 150,000 acres of Federal Land which they could dynamite, mine and drill.

Among their stuffed shirts and tailored suits was 27-year-old environmentalist Tim DeChristopher who signed the paper work to register as a bidder. Through the auctions he held paddle 70 high, driving up prices on some parcels and eventually finding himself indebted to the Federal Government for $1.8 Million, the going rate for 22,000 acres in the southeastern corner of Utah.

DeChristopher’s intentions to disrupt the proceedings are not subject for debate, but possible consequences are a matter of discussion. Although an immediate internet fundraising drive went into high gear to collect $45,000 as a down payment jilted gasmen are quick to accuse him of too little too late– bidders are required to be able to pay a minimum of $81,238.50 the day of the auction and complete the purchase no later than January 6th. The activist’s hope is that the sum he has collected will be enough to delay the parcels being resold until the incoming Obama administration takes over with new officials leading the BLM which has been criticized by environmental groups for their massive land sales to oil and gas prospectors.

The registration forms to take part in the auction have a passage which states it’s a Federal crime to “knowingly and willfully make any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements“; the industry shills are hoping that this includes bidding with no intention to pay and praying that DeChristopher receives the maximum five year prison sentence for disrupting their orgy. Not so forthcoming is the fact that, according to Pat Shea, a lawyer representing DeChristopher as well as the former head of the BLM under the Clinton Administration, oil companies are routinely offered lines of credit to pay off their auction debts. In other words the oil and gas companies can pay any way they damn will please and now that some young punk who wants to save land from their drills has sat down at their table they want the book thrown at him. (more…)