Bruce Blog

The Fourth of July: Remembering the good old days in Rock Rapids, Iowa

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By Bruce B. Brugmann

(Note: In July of 1972, when the Bay Guardian was short a Fourth of July story, I sat down and cranked out this one for the front page on my trusty Royal Typewriter. I now reprint it each year by popular demand on the Bruce blog, with some San Francisco updates and postscripts.)

Back where I come from, a small town beneath a tall standpipe in northwestern Iowa, the Fourth of July was the best day of a long, hot summer.

The Fourth came after YMCA camp and Scout camp and church camp, but before the older boys had to worry about getting into shape for football. It was welcome relief from the scalding, 100-degree heat in a town without a swimming pool and whose swimming holes at Scout Island were usually dried up by early July. But best of all, it had the kind of excitement that began building weeks in advance.

The calm of the summer dawn and the cooing of the mourning doves on the telephone wires would be broken early on July Fourth: The Creglow boys would be up by 7 a.m. and out on the lawn shooting off their arsenal of firecrackers. They were older and had somehow sent their agents by car across the state line and into South Dakota where, not far above the highway curves of Larchwood, you could legally buy fireworks at roadside stands. Read more »

Extra! Extra! Sunshine advocates beat the Anti-Sunshine Gang in City Hall

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 By Bruce B. Brugmann

And so the  Anti-Sunshine Gang in City Hall, which for two years has been conducting a nasty vendetta against the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force,  capitulated quietly at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting without a fight or even a whimper.

The capitulation came in a two line phrase  buried in item 28 in the middle of the board’s agenda.  It was a report from the rules committee recommending  the Board of Supervisors approve a motion for  unnamed nominees to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force. “Question:  Shall this Motion be approved.”

Board Chair David Chiu asked for approval in his usual board meeting monotone. And the approval came unanimously, with no dissent and no roll call vote and not a word spoken by anybody.  He banged the gavel and that was that. And only a few veteran board watchers knew that this was the astonishing  end to a crucial battle that pitted the powerfuf Anti-Sunshine Gangs against the sunshine forces and the citizens of San Francisco. It was a battle that would decide whether the task force would remain an independent people’s court that would hear and rule on public access complaints.  Sunshine won.

Read more »

Norman Solomon: Obama escalates his war on journalism

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By Norman Solomon

 (Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.)

In a memoir published this year, the CIA’s former top legal officer John Rizzo says that on the last day of 2005 a panicky White House tried to figure out how to prevent the distribution of a book by New York Times reporter James Risen. Officials were upset because Risen’s book, State of War, exposed what -- in his words -- “may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.”

The book told of a bungled CIA attempt to set back Iran’s nuclear program in 2000 by supplying the Iranian government with flawed blueprints for nuclear-bomb design. The CIA’s tactic might have actually aided Iranian nuclear development. Read more »

Citizen Agnos comes on strong for Proposition B in support of his Athenian oath

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By Bruce B. Brugmann  (with the complete  text of Art Agnos speech  to the  May 21 dinner of San Francisco Tomorrow)

When Art Agnos was sworn in as mayor in 1988, he used the Athenian Oath that was taken by young men reaching the age of majority in Athens 2000 years ago.  He shortened the oath (as many did) to say: “I promise…upon my honor…to leave my city better than I found it.”

For Agnos, a Greek steeped in Greek traditions, the oath was a serious matter. “At the heart of our vision,” Agnos said in his inaugural address, “ is a refusal to let San Francisco become an expensive enclave  that locks out the middle class, working families and the poor. At the center of our strategy is a belief in the basic right of people to decent jobs and housing.”  

Twenty-six years later, Citizen Agnos was working hard  in private life to leave his city better than he had found it. He led a citizens’ movement that stopped the monstrous 8 Washington project, knocked the Warriors off the piers, forced the Giants to lower their  highrise expectations,  and promoted Proposition  B that would stop  the Wall on the Waterfront and require a public vote on any increases  to current height limits on port property.

 And Agnos is having the time of his life doing all this, as he made clear in his remarks to San Francisco Tomorrow, the one organization in town that has been manning the barricades in every major Manhattanization battle all these years  on the waterfront and everywhere else.  He enjoys taking on Mayor Lee and “the high tech billionaire political network that wants to control city hall and fulfill their vision of who can live here and where.” And he must relish  the Chronicle’s C.W.Nevius and the paper’s editors and their self-immolating bouts of hysteria.   Read more »

The anti-sunshine gang intensifies its attacks on the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force in City Hall

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By Bruce B. Brugmann   (with special sunshine vendetta chronology by Richard Knee) 

The Guardian story in the current issue demonstrates in 96 point tempo bold how important the glare of sunshine and publicity is in City Hall in keeping the public’s business public. Yet, the anti-sunshine gang in City Hall is intensifying  its savage attack on the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.

The Sunshine Ordinance established the Sunshine Task Force to serve as the people’s court for hearing citizen complaints on public access, thus giving  citizens a way to get secret records, open secret meetings, and hold government officials accountable. It empowers citizens to be watchdogs on issues they care about.  It is the first and best ordinance of its kind in the country, if not in the world, and its effectiveness is shown by the fact that the anti-sunshine gang regularly tries  to bounce strong members and gut the task force.

Terry Francke, then the executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition and author of the ordinance, and I as a founder anticipated this problem in trhe early 1990s and put a mandate  into the original ordinance for the task force to have representatives from the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (a journalist and media attorney) and the San Francisco League of Women Voters, two organizations with experience and tradition with open government issues. Later, the mandate included a representative from New America Media, to insure a member of color for the task force.

 I served for 10 years on the task force and then Mayor Willie Brown made the point about City Hall interference by targeting me for extinction.  He tried several times  to kick me off the task force.  I refused to budge, on the principle that neither the mayor nor any other city official should be able to arbitrarily kick off a member of the task force for doing his/her job. When Willie left office, I left the task force when my term was up  and the principle was intact.

Today, as Richard Knee writes in his timeline and chronology below, the principle is once again under city hall attack. Knee replaced me as the journalist representative  of SPJ and has served under fire  for a record 12 years. He writes that the latest attack is retaliation for a unanimous finding by the task force in September 2011 when Board President David Chiu and Supervisors Scott Wiener, Malia Cohen, and Eric Mar violated  local and state open meeting laws by ramming through the monstrous Park Merced redevelopment contract with 14 pages of amendments that Chiu slipped in “literally minutes” before the committee vote.

This was a historic task force vote in the public interest, and a historic vote for open government and for all the good causes. But instead it prompted a smear- dilute-and- ouster campaign by the Board of Supervisors, with timely assists from the city attorney's office.  The ugly play by play follows. The good news is  that the sunshine forces inside and outside city hall are fighting back, hard and fast, and with a keen eye on all upcoming elections.   Stay tuned. On guard. :

Read more »

Memorial Day: Remembering the good old days in Rock Rapids, Iowa, circa 1940s to 1950s

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 Bruce B. Brugmann

(Reprinted and updated by popular demand)

When I was growing up in my hometown of Rock Rapids, Iowa, a farming community of 2,800 in the northwest corner of the state, Memorial Day was the official start of summer.

We headed off to YMCA camp at Camp Foster on West Okiboji Lake and Boy Scout camp at Lake Shetek in southwestern Minnesota. The less fortunate were trundled off to Bible School at the Methodist Church.

Read more »

Dick Meister: The real May Day

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By Dick Meister

May Day. A day to herald the coming of Spring with song and dance, a day for
children with flowers in their hair to skip around beribboned maypoles, a
time to crown May Day queens.

But it also is a day for demonstrations heralding the causes of working
people and their unions such as are being held on Sunday that were crucial
in winning important rights for working people. The first May Day
demonstrations, in 1886,  won the  most important of the rights ever won by
working people ­ the right demanded above all others by the labor activists
of a century ago:

"Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will!"

Winning the eight-hour workday took years of hard struggle, beginning in the
mid-1800s. By 1867, the federal government, six states and several cities
had passed laws limiting their employees' hours to eight per day. The laws
were not effectively enforced and in some cases were overturned by courts,
but they set an important precedent that finally led to a powerful popular
movement. Read more »

Norman Solomon: The problem with Obama denouncing a breach of international law in Ukraine

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International law is suddenly very popular in Washington. President Obama responded to Russian military intervention in the Crimea by accusing Russia of a “breach of international law.” Secretary of State John Kerry followed up by declaring that Russia is “in direct, overt violation of international law.”

Unfortunately, during the last five years, no world leader has done more to undermine international law than Barack Obama. He treats it with rhetorical adulation and behavioral contempt, helping to further normalize a might-makes-right approach to global affairs that is the antithesis of international law.

Fifty years ago, another former law professor, Senator Wayne Morse, condemned such arrogance of power. “I don’t know why we think, just because we’re mighty, that we have the right to try to substitute might for right,” Morse said on national TV in 1964. “And that’s the American policy in Southeast Asia -- just as unsound when we do it as when Russia does it.” Read more »

"Monologos de la Vagina" An artistic and cultural triumph at the Brava theater in the Mission

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I had just settled into my seat Friday night at the  Brava Theater in the Mission to see  the opening night  production of “Monologos de la Vagina" and the San Francisco debut of Eliana Lopez as a performer and producer.

This would be an interesting evening, I mused, because the play is being performed in Spanish and I speak only a word or two of Spanish.  The play, known in English as the “Tne Vagina Monologs,” was written by Eve Ensler. It opened in 1994 for a five year run off Broadway and has been produced internationally in many variations. It became, as the New York Times put it, "probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade." .

 Art Agnos, the ex-mayor who is leading  the battle to stop the Manhattanization of the waterfront, was attending the performance  with his wife Sherry. He tapped me on the shoulder and said quietly, Bruce, they filed a lawsuit this afternoon to block our waterfront initiative. They, he explained,  were the developers, the Building Trades and Construction Union, and the San Francisco Giants.  We chatted for a few moments about the impact of the suit and what  must be done quickly to stop  it in court.

This was, I thought, a quintessential San Francisco moment. Read more »

Sue Hestor's 70th birthday party: "We Shall Overcome."

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By Bruce B. Brugmann

Plus: Tim Redmond reports on Sue Hestor and her environmental legacy on his new local  website 48 Hills.org.  

How do you say happy birthday to a San Francisco icon like Sue Hestor?

Some 200 of her friends, allies, pro bono legal clients, political heavies, and fellow warriors against big developers and their pals in City Hall gathered Saturday at Delancey Street for a surprise party to celebrate Sue's 70th birthday.

When she arrived, she was obviously surprised to find a band playing "We shall overcome" and her friends standing, clapping, cheering, and singing  in admiration for a woman who has spent more than four decades as a citizen activist and attorney fighting for one good cause after another, usually at bad odds against the big guys, often for clients without pay. It was truly a historic moment in the history of San Francisco politics. 

I first knew Sue when she popped up as a feisty volunteer in the Alvin Duskin anti-high rise campaign of the the early 1970s. The Bay Guardian was doing an investigative book, "The Ultimate HIghrise," on the impact of highrises on the city. She pitched in on the project and was in the book's  staff photo, jauntily wearing her trademark straw hat, standing next to the hole in the ground for the Yerba Buena Center development. Read more »