For the latest on Hotel Frank, now Hotel G, see:
Hotel Frank(enstein) becomes Hotel G(oofy)
September 8, 2015
YOSEMITE By Any Name is Still the PEOPLE'S PARK
A critical appreciation, and a review of former Yosemite Superintendent Robert Binnewies' new book, Your Yosemite: A Threatened Public Treasure
BOOM: A Journal of California
June 16, 2016
They may change the names, but they can’t take Yosemite from us.
Or can they?
BRIDGE of SPIES:
Will the Real James B. Donovan Please Stand Up?
CounterPunch (January 13, 2016)
Countercurrents (January 20, 2016)
Tom Hanks is today’s Everyman good guy movie star – an honest, trustworthy and stand-up white man just like Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck and, yes, even John Wayne. In the recent film Bridge of Spies, one of those “inspired by true events” obfuscations, Hanks plays a certain James B. Donovan. In the movie, Donovan is an insurance lawyer lured into defending Soviet spy Rudolf Abel back in the good old days of the Cold War in order to prove that this is the land of justice and due process. Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg, appears to be headed into Oscar territory.
Sometimes it pays to read the book on which an “inspired by true events” movie is based. If a discerning filmgoer were to read Strangers on a Bridge, Donovan’s account of the events portrayed in the movie, one would discover that Donovan was no mere insurance lawyer, but was involved in the spy business up to his ears long before Abel was arrested in 1957. Donovan was in fact the General Counsel of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. The OSS was set up during the war as the chief intelligence agency for the United States to coordinate espionage and counterespionage, including black propaganda and the proverbial special operations. That must have been some interesting lawyering.
48 Hills (October 21, 2015)
CounterPunch (October 23, 2015)
Last week, on Thursday, October 15, we were driving east towards Curry Village in Yosemite Valley on Southside Drive just after dark when we saw a one-word roadside sign that said “INCIDENT.”
Within seconds we found ourselves driving by a raging fire on the south side of the road. There were hundreds of hot spots burning in the eerie darkness, and numerous tall trees burning brightly 20 feet, 30 feet, maybe 50 feet up their trunks. Danger cones were set up to keep us out of the right-hand lane on this one-way, two-lane road, leaving us only the left lane.
A scattering of firefighters and their vehicles were around, but nowhere near enough to keep the panic from growing about our safety. Cinders were swirling about in the wind, on both sides of the road. The smoke grew thicker and thicker, slowing us down to a mere crawl, until we could see nothing at all except the dim red taillights of the vehicle six feet in front of us. We had to hope that the car in front of us was still on the road, because the road had become invisible. At times even the rear lights of the car in front of us disappeared from view...
The BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD of the REVOLUTION
CounterPunch (October 9, 2015)
SF Bay View (October 16, 2015)
The title of Stanley Nelson's new documentary film, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, says it clearly. The Black Panther Party was, in its day, the leading organizational expression of the revolutionary forces in the United States. When Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Party in 1966, they were riding a wave of rebellion that had engulfed Black America – from boycotts, sit-ins and Freedom Rides in the South, to mass riots and near-insurrections in the North.
Nelson's film documents what those who lived through it already know – that the Panthers quickly became a mass movement throughout the country. Their message of unqualified resistance to racism, armed self-defense and anti-capitalist revolutionary politics galvanized the creation of chapters of the Party in nearly every city and state of the US...
Long-time UNITE HERE Local 2
President Mike Casey Stepping Down
What’s ahead (and behind) for San Francisco’s iconic hotel workers union,
and an interview with Casey’s successor, Anand Singh
SF Bay View
May 11, 2015
Mike Casey, who has led San Francisco’s UNITE HERE Local 2 for over twenty years, is stepping down. Casey was first elected President of Local 2 in 1994, after a tumultuous period in the 1970s and 1980s that resulted in large membership losses. He has presided over a period of stabilization, consolidation and growth. Local 2, once known as the Culinary Union for its many restaurant contracts that have long since disappeared, is now better known as the Hotel Union.
The election for the new leadership was on Friday, May 8, but there was no drama there. Anand Singh, Casey’s handpicked successor, was running without any real opposition. Singh, of Indian descent, will be the first non-white President of Local 2, a union overwhelmingly made up of workers of color. But there is no reason to believe that this leadership change signals any difference in the Union’s policies or strategic perspective. Singh has been a loyal lieutenant to Casey for many years...
Local 2 today is solid in what has become its core membership – workers in large, luxury Class A hotels in San Francisco. But this is an island of stability in the midst of a stormy sea. While Local 2 faces no immediate crises, there are underlying problems that are festering just below the surface that may well challenge Singh...
Another Delaware North Outrage in the Making:
TURNING YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK into a CASH COW
April 1, 2015
Delaware North – the management company that runs the lodging, food and retail concessions at Yosemite National Park – has been in the news lately, claiming that it owns the rights to place names in the park such as Camp Curry, Yosemite Lodge,
the Ahwahnee Hotel, the Wawona Hotel, Badger Pass and more. Check out the December 24, 2014 article in the East Bay Express. [UPDATE: See "Who Owns Yosemite?" in SFGate, September 24, 2015.]
On a trip to Yosemite last January I learned that 80 affordable cabins in the heart of
Camp Curry – cabins that had served visitors well for decades – have been removed, along with over 100 tent-cabins. This follows years of rumored behind-the-scenes agitation by the private management companies that run Yosemite to remove less expensive lodging in favor of building more higher-priced hotel-style projects.
There is an under-the-radar plan in place to build upscale “cabin/hotel” rooms in Camp Curry, and likely more to come in Yosemite Valley.
'71, A FILM ABOUT THE TROUBLES IN IRELAND
48 Hills (March 17, 2015)
CounterPunch (March 20, 2015)
I have learned over the years that when Mick LaSalle, the San Francisco Chronicle movie critic, trashes a political movie, it is as likely as not for its politics, rather than for its cinematic quality. Such is the case with his review of '71.
CHEVRON and BIG AG are IRRIGATING CROPS with OIL WASTEWATER
Part Two: “A water company that skims oil.”
Who’s watching to make sure that Chevron’s oil-field wastewater
is safe to use for irrigating crops?
February 13, 2015
CHEVRON and BIG AG are IRRIGATING CROPS with OIL WASTEWATER
Oil company says the ‘recycled’ waste is perfectly safe.
When have we heard that before?
February 3, 2015
KARL MARX, the KAWEAH COLONY,
and the FOUNDING of YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
How Southern Pacific Railroad killed a socialist colony in the Sierras
August 27, 2014
There has been considerable hoopla this summer around the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln putting his signature on the Yosemite Grant Act of 1864. Lincoln set aside Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias for public use and preservation. Yosemite subsequently became a national park in 1890.
Missing from this commemoration are the machinations of corporate power brokers, specifically the Southern Pacific Railroad, in the founding of Yosemite National Park. The very same legislative act that created the park in 1890 also destroyed a socialist experiment in collective living and enterprise – the Kaweah Colony – that had been organized by socialists and labor activists based in San Francisco.
BASTILLE DAY: No Politics as Usual
July 15, 2014
Yesterday, July 14, was Bastille Day. That was the day in 1789 when the people of France stormed the Bastille, the fortress-prison that had held many political prisoners and at the time was an armory well-stocked with guns and ammunition. The storming of the Bastille was one of the seminal events of the great French Revolution, which emblazoned the goals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity into the consciousness of humankind...
That was over two hundred years ago. One of the most radical of the leaders of the French Revolution, Jean Paul Marat, while exhorting the people of France to overthrow the French aristocracy, and to seize power themselves, looked into the future and asked this question:
“What will we have gained by destroying the aristocracy of nobility, if it is simply replaced with an aristocracy of wealth?”
"12 YEARS a SLAVE" -
What Happened to SLAVE REBELLION?
SF Bay View
March 14, 2014
12 Years a Slave, the story of a free Black man kidnapped by slave traders, has won an Oscar for Best Picture of the Year and a slew of other awards – including Best Writing for a screenplay adapted from another source, in this case the autobiography of Solomon Northup.
But in one important respect, the movie comes up short. Missing from the film is the slave rebellion and revolt that Solomon Northup portrayed so vividly in his book.
It is unfortunate that slave resistance is missing from a movie destined to become a classic portrayal of slavery. 12 Years a Slave plays into that political current which sees oppressed and exploited people only as victims, as mere objects of uncontrollable historical forces, rather than people making history by fighting back.
Trouble in Paradise:
Bitter CARMEL HOTEL LABOR BATTLE has roots in San Francisco
January 6, 2014
Carmel, celebrated as an artist colony nestled above a picturesque white-sand beach, is not where you would expect to find a picket line. But there I was, with maybe 40 others, on a Friday evening the week before Christmas, in front of the La Playa Hotel, shaking noisemakers made from plastic bottles, chanting, “WHAT DO WE WANT? OUR JOBS!”
Happy holidays, indeed.
Two years ago, in November 2011, a new owner took over the La Playa Hotel, closed it down, and put a hundred workers on the street. When the hotel reopened after a $3.5 million remodel, it was with a whole new staff. The new owner “tossed us out with the old carpets” reads a workers’ leaflet. Workers like Noe Hinojosa, who had been at the hotel 33 years, like Suong Edwards, who had worked there 31 years, like Sherrie Watkins, who had served guests for 28 years.
Carmel is so hoity-toity that it’s illegal to wear high-heeled shoes more than two inches in height or with a base of less than one square inch, unless the wearer has a permit. It used to be illegal to eat ice cream on the street, until Clint Eastwood, who served as mayor in 1986-88, got that law overturned.
But it is still perfectly legal in Carmel to throw workers out on the street after decades on the job.
Woolworth's SIT-DOWN STRIKE in 1937 Detroit:
Lessons for Today’s Low-Wage Workers
December 11, 2013
In 1937, Woolworth’s was the Walmart of its day. The company had transformed the retail marketplace by creating a national chain of stores staffed by low-wage workers, mostly young women. The lunch counters in these stores, serving inexpensive food, were in some ways a precursor to today’s fast food mega-corporations.
So the story of a successful sit-down strike at a Woolworth’s in Detroit gives us some useful parallels for low-wage workers today. In the wake of the Walmart and fast food strikes on Black Friday and December 5, it is worth asking where the movement is going. What are its goals? How can they be achieved? Are workers getting organized for the long haul? Are we on a path to victory?
JACKIE ROBINSON: "I Never Had It Made"
Z Magazine (September 2013)
Beyond Chron (November 2013)
Brian Helgeland, the writer and director of 42, the most recent film to tell the story of Jackie Robinson, cuts the movie at the end of Robinson’s first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1947.
But The Jackie Robinson Story, released in 1950, the first feature film about Robinson — and having the advantage of starring Robinson playing himself — ends with Robinson testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in Washington DC.
“I know that life in these United States can be mighty tough for people who are a little different from the majority,” Robinson says, in a recap of his actual appearance before HUAC in 1949. “I’m not fooled because I’ve had a chance open to very few Negro Americans. But I do know that democracy works for those who are willing to fight for it, and I’m sure it’s worth defending. I can’t speak for any 15 million people, no one person can, but I’m certain that I, and other Americans of many races and faiths, have too much invested in our country’s welfare to throw it away, or to let it be taken from us.”
To today’s audience, this testimony sounds like standard patriotic rhetoric, not much different than the ritual singing of the "Star Spangled Banner" before a ball game.
But to a 1950 audience, in the early days of what came to be known as the McCarthy era, this was an unmistakable bow to the war-mongering, anti-communist and anti-Soviet hysteria of the time. It was also a thinly veiled attack on Paul Robeson, then the most famous Negro American in the world, renowned as a singer, actor and athlete — and an untiring fighter for social and economic justice for African Americans, including the integration of baseball.
Robeson had famously declared, at the Paris Peace Conference in 1949, “We shall not make war on anyone. We shall not make war on the Soviet Union…. We shall support peace and friendship among all nations…” This is what had earned Robeson the ire of HUAC and caused them to summon Robinson to testify before the committee.
Years later, Muhammad Ali expressed much the same sentiment as Robeson, though somewhat more pithily, when he proclaimed, “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.”
Less than a month after the release of The Jackie Robinson Story, troops of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea launched an attack on the U.S.-backed puppet government in the south, civil war was raging in Korea, and the question of the willingness of African Americans, indeed of all Americans, to fight in defense of “democracy” was of paramount importance.
Robinson would come to regret his testimony before HUAC.
WALMART = INTERNATIONAL TERRORIST
The original version of this article was published in Labor Notes on April 29, 2013.
See also Talking Union and CounterCurrents.
When terrorist bombers killed three people in Boston on April 15, the FBI moved heaven and earth to find and apprehend those responsible. When Walmart's suppliers in Bangladesh killed over 380 people, at last count, in one of their garment factory death traps on April 24, the FBI sat on their hands, despite the fact that those responsible – Walmart’s Board of Directors – are well known and could be easily apprehended.
Walmart ranges the globe searching for cheap labor for its goods, leaving death and destruction in its wake. What is the difference between Walmart's actions and terrorists planting bombs? Both sets of criminals know that they will create carnage among the innocent. Is the murderous search for profit at any cost less criminal than placing a bomb?
PROP 30 is SWEET REVENGE
November 13, 2012
The passage of Proposition 30 is sweet revenge for those who fought for a
not-dissimilar state initiative way back
in 1996 – Proposition 217.
Prop 217 was a “tax the rich” initiative back in the days when such rhetoric was not thrown around so freely as today. Prop 217 was modest compared to Prop 30. It aimed only to stop a tax cut for the wealthiest 1% of California taxpayers, amounting to $800 million per year. The battle cry for the campaign was “Stop the Tax Cut for the Rich.”
Prop 217, unfortunately, went down to defeat by less than 150,000 votes (50.8% to 49.2%)...
HOTEL FRANK BOSSES BLOW TOWN and SHUT DOWN
October 15, 2012
Hotel Frank workers and
UNITE HERE Local 2 have driven
the wannabe union-busting owners and operators of the hotel -
AEW Capital Management and Provenance Hotels - out of
San Francisco. The Hotel Frank bosses have tucked their tails between their legs, thrown a big wad of money at the workers, sold the hotel, and fled town.
For the last two years, workers
at this small, boutique hotel,
just a block off Union Square at Geary and Mason, maintained rambunctious, loud and near-daily picket lines, heard and witnessed
by many thousands of tourists and residents. Local 2 staged several rallies and mass demonstrations.
On September 12, just two days before the hotel shut down, Hotel Frank workers ratified a settlement agreement with AEW and Provenance. The bosses are coughing up close to a million bucks for medical and pension payments they had failed to pay. The hotel also made sizeable severance payments to the workers, including six months of medical coverage going forward, and reinstated three workers who had been unfairly fired, including myself. While we are still far from victory, our solidarity and tenacity paid off.
One of the hotel's initial demands was that I personally sign a "nondisparagement" agreement prohibiting me from making "any statements, verbally or in writing, about the Employer their officers, directors, employees or agents, in any manner that is intended to, or does, call into question their morality [sic], conduct, business activity, or business judgment."
The hotel also wanted me to sign a "confidentiality" agreement, promising to keep quiet about the settlement agreement, including the "nondisparagement" agreement.
When pigs fly.
If I had agreed to such demands, you obviously wouldn't be reading this. Please read on...
It's the CLASS WAR, Stupid
January 18, 2011
“It’s a war,” proclaimed Blackstone Group Chairman, CEO and co-founder Stephen Schwarzman. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” For those a little fuzzy on their history, that’s what finally got England and France into World War II.
Blackstone is the owner of Hilton Hotels, currently at war with UNITE HERE Local 2.
Andrew Ross, the business writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, regurgitated Schwarzman’s now-infamous quote in his column last Tuesday.
But neither Schwarzman nor Ross was thinking about Blackstone’s war on hotel workers. Ross was writing about Schwarzman’s war with President Barack Obama...
HOTEL WORKERS and GUESTS only a "Pawn in their Game" –
BANKERS and REAL ESTATE SPECULATORS Rule the Industry
May 24, 2010
The war between the giant hotel corporations and hotel workers is heating up again. The recent three-day strike
at the San Francisco Hilton Union Square by
UNITE HERE Local 2
workers was just one battle in this fight.
But the story in the corporate media is not about economic justice for low-income and hard working room cleaners, housemen, bellmen, cooks, servers and dishwashers. Instead, the corporate media focuses on hotel room rates and occupancy levels, beating the drum for the allegedly suffering hotel companies.
The corporate media, as usual, ignores the real story: the hotel industry today is much more about bankers, hedge funds, real estate speculators and financial profiteering than it is about selling rooms. The buying and selling of hotels, often huge properties in prime downtown locations, creates immense profits for the business barons who finance the industry -- and continues to do so even in the midst of the current financial crisis.
In this sense, hotel workers and hotel guests alike are mere pawns in a much larger game. Behind brand-name hotels like the Hilton stand the bankers and speculators, including the infamous Goldman Sachs, whose connection to the hotel industry will likely surprise many. Other players – such as the Blackstone Group, Millennium Partners or HEI – are not household names, but are nevertheless the real powers behind the throne...
KILLERS: McNAMARA and ANDERSON
July 8, 2009
The obituary page in last Tuesday's
San Francisco Chronicle had me looking
for the vomitorium.
The five-column headline at the top read "Killer, now blamed in girl's death,
Curtis Dean Anderson confessed to kidnapping and killing one 7-year old girl, stands accused by the police of kidnapping and killing yet another 7-year old, and bragged about kidnapping and molesting many other children. "Everyone, it seems, hated Curtis Dean Anderson. Except his mother. And even she had doubts."
Right below this obit is a three-column headline:
"Robert McNamara -- led escalation of Vietnam War."
Do I really have to point out the irony here? The unemotional eulogy to McNamara, who "directed the escalation" of the war that killed three million Vietnamese -- including countless children -- never once uses the word "killer." But a killer is exactly what McNamara was...
ARNE and GAVIN and HYDRA
May 22, 2009
Many eyes will be on Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan when he speaks today at the
San Francisco School Alliance Luncheon at the historic Palace Hotel, as well as at the California Mayor's Education Roundtable, hosted by Mayor Gavin Newsom. Newsom's Education Advisor,
Hydra Mendoza, who doubles as a school board member, has her fingerprints all over this event, aiding the Gav to get a generous helping of publicity in his twittering campaign for Governor of the collapsing State of California...
Duncan and Mendoza will not just be sharing lunch at the Palace today. They also share a deep and abiding commitment to the militarization of education and of our youth. As CEO of Chicago's schools, one of the largest school districts in the nation, Duncan oversaw a district with the largest concentration of military academies in the nation...
JROTC: THE UNTOLD STORY
The original version of this article
was published in Beyond Chron
on October 28, 2008.
"Without JROTC, I would not be where I am today -- a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army." So writes Jason, a former JROTC cadet, in his post on the Keep JROTC Alive in San Francisco Facebook site...
ACLU Slams JROTC as Violation of International Law
Beyond Chron (May 20, 2008)
San Francisco Bay View (May 21, 2008)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a major report last week stating that the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) violates a protocol of the United Nations-sponsored Convention on the Rights of the Child, by targeting students as young as 14 for recruitment to the military.
"The United States military's procedures for recruiting students plainly violate internationally accepted standards and fail to protect youth from abusive and aggressive recruitment tactics," according to Jennifer Turner of the ACLU Human Rights Project...
FREE SAN FRANCISCO!
Beyond Chron (February 1, 2008)
San Francisco Bay View (February 6, 2008)
Matier and Ross, San Francisco's premier political gossips, say that Mayor Gavin Newsom plunked down $55,000 for a report telling him that making Muni free would get a lot of people to use public transit.
Hey, Gavin, anybody on the street could have told you that
for zip. But what really takes the cake is that the well-paid consultants who wrote this report concluded that getting
more people to use Muni would be a BAD thing...
and THE LAW OF THE JUNGLE
January 22, 2008
Tigers kill, as we saw at the San Francisco Zoo
on Christmas day.
But for all its ferocity, the tiger is not the King of Beasts. That title belongs to the lion. Let loose an equal number of tigers and lions, and the lions will
kill off the tigers. Why? Because the tiger, ever the rugged individualist, fights alone. Lions fight together as a pack.
I didn't learn this fact from some nature book. I learned it from reading a book called
Caviar and Cabbage, a collection of newspaper columns by Melvin B. Tolson.
Tolson was the professor, poet and writer portrayed by Denzel Washington in
The Great Debaters, which is based on a true story from 1935 America...
PERPETRATOR of JANE KIM DEATH THREAT IDENTIFIED
The original version of this article
was published in Beyond Chron
on November 29, 2007.
Beyond Chron has learned the identity of the person who sent out a Facebook message last year which said "Jane Kim needs to die." Kim is an elected member of the San Francisco School Board, and an ally of school board members who voted last November to phase out the JROTC program from San Francisco schools.
Kim has identified the person who made the death threat as Daniel Chin, a JROTC cadet who graduated from Lowell High School in 2006. Significantly, Chin has emerged as a leader of the pro-JROTC forces trying to overturn the School Board's decision to phase out JROTC. According to the board's mandate, there should be no more JROTC classes after the end of the current 2007-2008 school year...
Mel Gibson's APOCALYPTO and its CRITICS
January 10, 2007
Mel Gibson's Apocalypto has been ravaged by many critics --
by those out to get Gibson for his recent anti-Semitic tirade at an unlucky Los Angeles cop, and by a few
nay-saying archaeologists and historians, most of whom need a good lesson in distinguishing the forest from the trees. Nevertheless, Apocalypto has been a major commercial success, and has brought Mayan civilization to the attention of the public to an extent that the pundits and armchair academics never could have and never would have...
All I See Are DEAD PEOPLE
October 20, 2006
It was Bruce Willis who famously said:
"All I see are dead people..."
...a report from a prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, [says] that more than 650,000 Iraqis have died in the wake of the U.S. invasion...
As horrific as the war in Iraq is, Iraqis aren't the only ones on the planet who are dying. According to the United Nation's World Food Program, every five seconds a child dies because that child is hungry...
PAUL ROBESON, Son of a Slave
Graduate of Columbia Law School,
Class of 1923
House Un-American Activities Committee:
Why do you not stay in Russia?
ROBESON: Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay here and have a part of it just like you. And no Fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear?
THE SUPREME COURT and "ENEMY COMBATANTS"
Covert Action Quarterly
Spring 2005, Number 78
“If my thought dreams could be seen,
they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.”
-Bob Dylan, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
Both the corporate media and the pundits of the left claim to see a "major victory" for the “rule of law” in the June 28, 2004 Supreme Court rulings on Guantánamo and “enemy combatants.”
But the fundamental aspect of these decisions is that they have enshrined the concept of enemy combatants into our legal system...
A few more victories like this, and we will all be eating prison gruel...