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THE BUSINESS OF FAMILY LEAVE-Kirsten Calkins was about five months pregnant with her first child, working as an executive coordinator at a small nonprofit in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Like many working parents in the U.S., she worried about how she’d manage having less money coming in while she cared for a new infant.

Her employer, the International Association of Privacy Professionals, offered four weeks fully paid leave, then five weeks at 60 percent pay and then, if you could swing it, an additional three weeks unpaid.

But Calkins was lucky to become pregnant in 2015: the year companies, particularly in tech, woke up and realized that you can’t strand workers facing huge personal challenges.

In January, IAPP -- which counts many tech companies as members -- started giving all its workers 12 weeks fully paid leave after the arrival of a new child.

“The level of excitement is hard to put into words,” Calkins told The Huffington Post. “Not having to juggle a life altering experience like having a baby with budgeting for a new expense with less income. It was like a weight was lifted.”

The U.S. is one of a handful of countries that offers mothers no paid maternity leave. It is the only developed country without a paid leave policy. The lack of support causes a significant percentage of working parents to fall into poverty. It puts the health of parents and infants at risk.

Finally, in 2015, policymakers and companies started to pay attention -- we may someday look back and see this past year as a tipping point in the movement toward paid leave for all. 

A significant number of businesses -- from Adobe to Netflix to Microsoft to Goldman Sachs -- announced they would expand paid benefits for their employees. Twenty-one percent of companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management were offering paid maternity leave in 2015, up from 16 percent in 2011.

And, for the first time a U.S. President got serious about paid parental leave and sick leave. “Today, we are the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers,” Obama said in January’s State of the Union address. “And that forces too many parents to make [a] gut-wrenching choice.” 

The Department of Labor started offering grants to states looking to study how paid family leave would work. Three states currently have paid family leave policies in place: California, Rhode Island and New Jersey -- where the policy is so popular that Republican governor Chris Christie never followed through on his promise to get rid of it when he was voted into office. Eighteen other states are considering paid leave initiatives.

Political candidates, on both sides of the aisle, now find they can no longer ignore the issue. Hillary Clinton called for paid leave in her first major economic speech as a presidential candidate this year. She’d never pushed for it as a senator. One Republican candidate, Marco Rubio, is calling for a company tax credit for offering paid leave.

Candidates who support paid leave, were eight percent more likely to win, according to projections from The National Partnership for Women & Families, cited in a New Republic piece earlier this year. In Connecticut, Dan Malloy is believed to have won the race for governor on the back of his support for paid sick leave.

“It’s kind of a new thing. We’ve always pushed to increase quality of life for our members, but the spotlight has fallen on leave,” Robert Daraio, a local representative of the News Guild of New York, told HuffPost. Daraio helped negotiate four months' paid parental leave for employees at the liberal magazine The Nation in December. “We’re pushing for this in all contracts going forward,” he said.

It seems almost daily a company issues a press release announcing more time for parents and caretakers.

“It was a good year,” said Ellen Bravo, the director of Family Values @ Work, a nonprofit coalition of groups pushing for paid parental and sick leave in the U.S.

Perhaps one of the most outspoken proponents of paid leave, Bravo said that family leave came to prominence thanks to a spiral of factors -- most notably the Obama administration, as well as the many states and municipalities taking action on this. She credits “millennials,” -- young adults -- who are demanding employers give them paid time off to care for children and family members.

Some companies have always had this benefit, Bravo said. “The interest in making announcements public is what’s new. Part of that comes from their desire to say to millennials come here, we’re paying attention to this.”

In the business sector, tech companies fell over themselves in 2015 offering more generous benefits. When Netflix this summer announced it would offer 12 months of leave to new parents, regardless of gender, the news was widely picked up and a flurry of other companies raced to improve their offerings -- including Microsoft and Amazon.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is right now taking a highly publicized paternity leave that Bravo said set a great example for fathers, who are seen as a crucial part of the paid leave movement.

Banks got in on the trend, too. Private equity shop KKR and Credit Suisse both beefed up their offerings for parents this year.

“We knew it started in tech, but then we started seeing businesses in financial services and banking, which are typically conservative, saying we need to do this, too,” said Melinda Figely, who consults on human resource issues as a vice-president at NFP, an insurance brokerage with clients in banking. "As employers adopt it what they see is people actually come back to work in higher numbers and they're happier and less stressed."

One thing critical about the new momentum on leave: It's not just for birth mothers, but for adoptive parents, for fathers, and for those who need time off to take care of loved ones. Paid parental leave -- not "maternity" leave -- is the hot new thing for companies, Figely said.

The change stems from the country's opening up to gay couples in recent years and people of various gender identities, Figely said. "The barriers are coming down and people aren't so narrow in their thinking that there's one kind of family or only one way to do maternity leave."

Yet for all the positive momentum on leave, the data still looks bleak. An overwhelming majority of employers don’t offer paid leave. Most states don’t offer paid leave. The U.S. unpaid leave law -- the Family and Medical Leave Act  -- only covers 60 percent of workers.

About nine percent of workers who take time off to care for a family member end up on public assistance, according to Labor Department data cited by The New Republic. The Family Act, a bill sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D – Conn.) that would pay for federally mandated leave by taking a few cents out of employee paychecks, is stalled out.

“We haven’t yet reached a polio moment or a moonshot moment where the country comes together and says we can’t let this go on anymore,” Bravo said. “The good news is we don’t need a vaccine. We know the solution. It’s a social insurance fund that can make this possible.”

Bravo hopes that by 2020, the U.S. will make this happen. “We need to do it.”

(Emily Peck is Executive Business & Technology Editor of The Huffington Post where this piece was originally posted.)  CSA Images via Getty Images.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

MUSING WITH MIRISCH--It must be something in the water.

Propagandistic special interest groups such as Restore the Delta are on a single-minded mission to stop the twin-tunnel plan that would ensure a steady supply of water to Southern California.

Notwithstanding the guise of false environmentalism, it is self-interest, opportunism and something else entirely that are at play here.

What is being portrayed as an environmental battle is really something very different, indeed.

Time to tell it like it is, and, even though the discussion finally gives us a chance to use such neglected adjectives as "riparian," it's pretty darn simple. This is about North vs. South. This is about Northern California not wanting Southern California to "steal" what they consider to be "their" water, as characterized on the group's website as "the fight against the L.A. invasion on our water" (by a commenter who in a homophobic aside describes former California Assembly Speaker Angeleno John Perez as "a fat lesbian in drag as a man.")  

In Southern California, we are not brought up to hate San Francisco and Northern California. Sure, some of us Dodgers faithful aren't big fans of Halloween because of the black and orange, but we respect the rivalry and generally have a positive attitude when we think of Northern California - if we think of Northern California.

Not so, it seems with some Northerners in this state. While we Southerners tend to be laid back about nonbaseball intrastate rivalries, Northerners seem to have been bred to hate all things Southern Californian, including the Dodgers and especially the fact that some of our water comes from Northern California. This inborn resentment of Southern California is a bit befuddling to us down here.

Restore the Delta, by the way, has a disingenuous if not downright misleading name. Most of the board members are Northern California farmers and it is the farming over the past hundred-plus years that is largely responsible for such ecological problems as massive subsidence, along with the environmental unsustainability it creates. The farming has caused delta islands to sink to 30 feet or more below sea level. If the members of Restore the Delta were really looking to restore the delta, then they would try to create the ecosystem that existed before farming caused the natural landscape to lose its kilter.

Northern opposition to allowing the conveyance of water in a reliable fashion to Southern California is nothing new. In fact, Restore the Delta board members pride themselves on having successfully opposed the proposed Peripheral Canal in the '70s - all so that the "old ways" of delta farming could continue unabated while the farmland's sea level plays catch up with Death Valley. Ironically, the tunnels would actually do a better job of restoring the delta area than the current levee patch-and-fixes approach.

For all this dumping on Southern California, it is interesting to note that not one member or executive of Restore the Delta seems to have a problem when state resources flow from the South northwards. As protective as they seem to be about "their" water, they don't have any problem taking, for example, our Southern California tax dollars and spending them on delta levee maintenance. Southern Californian ratepayers would finance the tunnels, while the maintenance of private levees is paid for by the state's taxpayers. This is an absurd and unfair situation and the the state's legislators should take immediate action to stop the public financing of private levee maintenance.

Some common-sense proposals for water conservation embraced by the anti-tunnel groups should be (and in many cases already are being) adopted on a statewide basis; but this is a tactical distraction. Water conservation and other efficiencies do not mean that the need for upgraded infrastructure should be dismissed and that Southern California should not be allowed through reliable conveyance to access water to which it has a right.

Perhaps most hypocritical of all, while these groups continue spouting off about "water theft," "death tunnels" and the "vampire plan," we haven't heard a peep out of any of them about the single biggest instance of statewide water-related theft of all. Of course, that would be the damming and damning of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy valley a hundred years ago, which deprived all Americans of an integral part of our greatest national park forever. All so that San Francisco could be assured of ... a steady supply of water.

Let's continue going about our business, keeping the faith that our Dodgers will finally bring us a long-awaited world championship and working towards the Bay Delta Conservation Plan's infrastructure upgrades. Let's ignore the bogus arguments, false eco-concern, provincial selfishness and regional resentment that are the true causes of Northern Californian opposition toward the tunnels.

What else can you do? Haters gonna hate. ...

(John Mirisch is the Vice Mayor of Beverly Hills and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. This piece was posted earlier at Los Angeles Business Journal and Huffington Post)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

POT PROGRESS--In 2015, state legislators considered bills to legalize marijuana in 21 states, decriminalize marijuana possession in 17 states, and legalize medical marijuana in 19 states.

Most of the action in 2015 was aimed at achieving substantial victories in 2016, which is slated to be the most successful year in the history of the movement to end marijuana prohibition.

With this in mind, the Marijuana Policy Project is hereby releasing its top 10 list for 2015. I'm excluding international and scientific developments, instead focusing on policy developments in the United States.

10. Local Decriminalization Measures: In Florida, seven local governments (including Miami-Dade County) opted to allow officers to cite, rather than arrest, adults found in possession of marijuana. And in Michigan, an average of 55% of voters in East Lansing, Portage, and Keego Harbor decriminalized marijuana possession.

9. Everything In Texas: The Texas Legislature and governor's office -- all controlled by Republicans -- enacted a bill to allow specially licensed businesses to sell low-THC marijuana to patients with intractable epilepsy, thereby setting the stage for a broader medical marijuana bill to pass in 2017, which is now more possible since a principal opponent of medical marijuana in the state House announced her retirement. Just as significantly, the key House committee passed a pair of bills to remove criminal penalties for marijuana possession and to legalize marijuana like jalapeños; there were enough votes to pass the former bill on the House floor, but the legislature ran out of time.

8. Medical Marijuana Expansion In Four States, D.C., and Puerto Rico: Numerous states expanded their existing medical marijuana laws to cover a larger list of medical conditions. Delaware added certain types of autism; Arizona added post-traumatic stress disorder; Minnesota added intractable pain; and the District of Columbia now allows physicians to recommend cannabis for any condition. In Hawaii, the list of medical conditions remained static, but the legislature and Gov. David Ige (D) enacted legislation to expand the existing grow-your-own law to allow for the sale of medical marijuana by 16 dispensaries. And in Puerto Rico, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla (D) signed an executive order legalizing medical marijuana.

7. Medical Marijuana In Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Utah: The Pennsylvania Senate passed a medical marijuana bill, Republicans in the state House recently removed the obstacles that were preventing the bill's passage, and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is ready to sign it as soon as the legislature passes a final bill. In Nebraska, the only unicameral legislature in the country passed a medical marijuana bill, which the legislature will need to do two more times before the bill can be sent to the governor. And in Utah, the state Senate defeated a medical marijuana bill by only one vote.

6. Marijuana Decriminalization in Illinois: The Illinois Legislature passed a bill to remove the threat of arrest and jail for marijuana possession, but Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) issued an amendatory veto requesting relatively minor changes, so a compromise bill has been introduced and will almost surely pass in the fifth-most-populous state in early 2016. Also, the state House in New Hampshire and Senate in New Mexico passed similar decriminalization measures, but the two states' other legislative bodies didn't take action.

5. Decriminalization in Delaware: In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell (D) signed into law a measure that removed the threat of arrest and jail for marijuana possession, making Delaware the 20th state to decriminalize or legalize marijuana possession. (And while Louisiana didn't decriminalize marijuana, the state government significantly reduced the penalties for marijuana possession.)

4. Legalization Ballot Initiatives in Five States: Many people were worried that competing legalization initiatives might appear on a few states' ballots in November 2016, but this won't be the case. In Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, it's highly likely that there will be only one legalization initiative on each statewide ballot, which means four or five of these states will legalize marijuana on the same day in less than 11 months.

3. U.S. House of Representatives: An amendment by Congressmen Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) came within nine votes of temporarily ending marijuana prohibition on the federal level; specifically, their amendment would have prevented the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) from interfering with the legalization laws in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, as well as the medical marijuana laws in 23 states. The U.S. House also inched closer to fixing the banking and tax laws that are plaguing the canna-business industry.

2. U.S. Senate: Bernie Sanders (D-VT) grabbed some headlines when he introduced the first-ever bill to legalize marijuana in the U.S. Senate. Just as significantly, Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced in the Senate the first-ever, comprehensive medical marijuana bill, which now has 16 co-sponsors. In the meantime, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to prohibit DOJ from spending taxpayer money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, as well as a second amendment to allow physicians in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to vets.

1. Presidential Candidates: All three of the major Democratic candidates for president said they support allowing states to regulate marijuana as they see fit. This was impressive, but it was even more impressive when nine of the 17 Republican candidates said the same thing, and even six of the remaining eight "bad" Republicans said something good about medical marijuana or decriminalization.

In 2015, the table was set in other ways that will lead to a healthy serving of marijuana policy reform in 2016. For example, Alaska and Colorado appear poised to allow some form of on-site consumption of marijuana in private establishments (similar to alcohol bars), which would give these two jurisdictions the two best marijuana laws in the world.

(Rob Kampia is the Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project. This piece was posted earlier at Huffington Post.) 

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

SEXISM AND THE SYSTEM-As a lot of the world now knows, last Saturday night, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was late returning to the stage at the Democratic Debate after a five-minute break. Almost immediately media reported that she was delayed because of a line at the women's bathroom. As the break came to a close, with Clinton nowhere in sight, the moderators of the debate started without her. Within minutes, Clinton walked back onto the stage, smiling, and said, "Sorry," to knowing laughter. Women, the laughter acknowledged, live in the interstitial spaces of a world shaped by and for men. 

Clinton's wry smile and later explanation, "You know, it does take me a little longer. That's all I can say," sent tetchy sexist commentators, and more egalitarian commentators, aflutter.

Rand Paul wrote a popular tweet, going straight for the tried and true conservative "women cat fighting" narrative, that read, "@CarlyFiorina has ZERO trouble making it back from commercial breaks @HillaryClinton." Because everyone knows women pee competitively.

Mike Huckabee opined that Clinton's "best moment in the entire night was when she was in the restroom."

Donald Trump, it goes without saying, made the biggest splash. He took the opportunity, once again, to put his bottomless reservoir of shame and misogyny on public display. "I know where she went, it's disgusting, I don't want to talk about it," Trump said, talking about it. "No, it's too disgusting. Don't say it, it's disgusting, let's not talk." Bodily fluids freak Trump out, but women's in particular. This summer, Trump told a lawyer who needed a breast pump that she was disgusting and after Megyn Kelly challenged him on his sexist record during the first GOP presidential debate, he jumped to, "you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever."

Bernie Sanders joined the fray, saying that Trump "must have a very unusual relationship with women," if he doesn't realize they pee. "I guess I'm a man, men are allowed to go to the bathroom."  Bless him for pointing out the double standard.

Today, writing in the New York Times, Frank Bruni began his column simply, "Everybody pees."

One of the only women commenting on the debate situation was Jennifer Weiner who included the episode in a recap simply titled, "The Year of the Toilet," following up on a November piece by Emily Bazelon on the broader need to make public spaces more welcoming and egalitarian to diverse populations. Weiner was in a small minority however.

When Clinton said, "That's all I can say," she knows what she's talking about. Pointing out subtle, implicit and structural sexism doesn't make you any friends. After Megyn Kelly asked Trump about his history of derogatory and demeaning comments towards women, references to her as a "cunt," "whore," "bitch," and "slut," skyrocketed in social media.

I write and talk about controversial subjects all the time - violence, rape, race - but I have never received as vitriolic a response as last summer, when I wrote about the disparity in public facilities for men and women, The Everyday Sexism of Women Waiting in Bathroom Lines; it was a piece about norms and knowledge.  Angry people, mostly men, by the hundreds, wrote to tell me I was vulgar, stupid, and ignorant and should learn to stand in order to pee, because it's superior. It continued for weeks, until I wrote a follow-up piece on the ten most sexist responses.

People may think that women no longer face sexism in media or politics when they speak, but that ignores the very obvious fact that even before women say anything they have already, in split seconds, jumped through hundreds of "what if I said something about sexism" hoops. Can you imagine the backlash and media frenzy if Clinton had actually, in some detail, pointed out that the women's room was farther away or that there is often, especially at large public events like this debate, a line that women patiently wait in while men flit in and out and make jokes about women's vanity? That the micro aggressive hostility evident, structurally, in so many of our legacy public spaces is relevant to women every day. "Bathroom codes enforce archaic and institutionalized gender norms," wrote Princeton students Monica Shi & Amanda Shi about their school's systemic sexism this year.

Fiorina, the only other woman candidate, hasn't uttered a word about the subject of Clinton's delay. She's fighting her own battle against people in her own camp. Steve Deace, a radio host and Ted Cruz supporter, tweeted during the GOP debate that Fiorina had gone "full vagina" when she made an allusion to sexism, saying she'd been "called every b-word in the book." Fiorina, apparently failing to understand that her own choice of expression buttresses the very problem she faces, shot back with, "I've now been called the V-word as well by the Cruz campaign, yes V, and I won't say that word either." It's too bad, really, we could have had a more meaningful #Vaginagate redux.

Many people, like Trump, believe it would be so much better if we just kept pretending women were simply a messier version of men who should continue to deal, in quiet, small and private spaces, with their needs, discomfort and difference. That they should speak when spoken to, look pretty. Always.  And not curse. Many men can go through their entire lives having no idea what women's needs are.  No one, particularly, it routinely seems, conservative men, really wants to know about what makes women women or human. Women, too, as subject to the culture's misogyny often likewise cringe when faced with words like "vagina," "rape," "menstruation."

But, it goes further than just not knowing or wanting to know.

Trump specifically used the word "disgust," which, politically expedient, has a particular resonance in conservative circles. Disgust is having a moment. Studies show that the word is a particularly powerful one for conservatives who tend, far more than liberals, to respond viscerally to descriptions that illicit shame, fear and horror.

Second, Trump was talking not just to Clinton, but about women. Disgust, and the stereotypes it both relies on and perpetuates, distances women from men, the dominant societal and political group that he is so proudly part of. Disgust is step one of othering people, step one of justifying injustice. While it can be applied to distance oneself from virtually any other group, "the locus classicus of group-directed projective," wrote Philosopher Martha Nussbaum in her book, Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law, "is misogynistic disgust."

A profoundly conservative disgust and ignorance about women is why women like Purvi Patel are jailed for decades. It's why a woman in Tennessee just used a coat hanger for an abortion and is being charged with murder. It's why thousands of women in Texas have had to figure out how to give themselves abortions. It's why millions of already impoverished women face even more dire economic circumstances if their access to safe and affordable medical care specific to women's complicated, repugnant and disgusting bodies. It's why maternal mortality in the country has risen by 136% in the past 25 years, while the rest of the world's has declined, with black women experiencing four times the risk. It's why three UN investigators recently reported that they found the degraded status of women's rights in the United States "shocking" and "myth-shattering."

Disgust about women's bodies, hardly limited to Trump, is inseparable from a cultivated and politically useful ignorance. The GOP's party platform is shaped around the idea that women are not competent adults, capable of moral reasoning and autonomous decision making, but, rather, are stuck somewhere between children and men, in need of eternal male intervention. It is filled with men passing oppressive anti-women laws who admit to never having thought about women's lives or bodies. The party's paternalism, its fundamental reliance on notions of complementary and binary gender roles, relies on maintaining ignorance, sometimes referred to as "mystery," about the "opposite sex."

Keeping people ignorant of women's bodies and bodily habits is the polite thing to do. But, we aren't talking about people. Women already know. We're talking about keeping men ignorant. Men run the world, and, for women, it's an unsafe and uncomfortable one. But, insisting that the way men do things is inadequate for meeting our human needs is so whiny, a word mainly associated with the high-pitched plaintiff keening of dogs.

In some countries a lack of facilities for girls and women means girls can't go to school, women can't move freely and safety in their own neighborhoods, their ability to get food, water and work all compromised by the dangers of seeking out safe sanitation. In militarized zones and refugee camps, a trip to the bathroom for a child or woman carries with it the almost certain risk of sexual assault and possibly death. Girls and women, in an effort to stop having to use toilets, stop drinking, making themselves sick with dehydration and other ailments. In wealthy nations, the effects on women aren't nearly so blunt or harsh, but they are meaningful none-the-less.

The argument, "it's biology, get over it" is a silly one. Biology, as one reader put it, "doesn't design restrooms." Biology also doesn't write laws. That, too, is relevant.

As scholar Judith Plaskow wrote in a paper on sanitation, toilets and social justice, "Not only does the absence of women's bathrooms signify the exclusion of women from certain professions and halls of power, but it also has functioned as an explicit argument against hiring women or admitting them into previously all-male organizations."

On Saturday, Clinton and other women also had to travel farther than their male peers, whose restroom was conveniently located much closer to the stage. Her career as a senator came to an end in 2009, two years before the 76 women who were then serving in the House finally got a bathroom even remotely close to the Speaker's Lobby. As Representative Donna M. Christensen, a Democrat from the Virgin Islands, tweeted two days after, "The first woman came to Congress in 1917. We are finally getting a ladies restroom near the floor of the House."

Male members, if you'll forgive the expression, could take for granted the fact that if and when they needed a bathroom it was close and would not impede their ability to listen to or participate in debates or vote on legislation. The men's room was not only near but, had a fireplace, a shoeshine stand, and televised floor proceedings. There was also an attendant who warned men if session breaks were coming to an end.

The male-centeredness of our opinion making and public space continues to reflect the male-centeredness of our understanding of the world.

(Soraya Chemaly writes about gender, sexual violence, free speech and the role that gender plays in media, politics, religion and education. Her work appears in TIME, The Guardian, Salon and Role Reboot among other media. She is the Director of the Women's Media Center Speech Project. This piece first appeared in the Huffington Post.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA-On a Saturday night after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, a plastic replica hand grenade was left in the driveway of Baitus Salaam Mosque in Hawthorne, a municipality near the Los Angeles airport. Someone also spray-painted “Jesus” on the mosque’s front gate and crosses on the windows.

It would have been understandable if the Ahmadiyya mosque community had responded by erecting new walls or adding security. Instead, its members decided that the vandalism was an opportunity to connect with neighbors. So the mosque held an open house. “Extremism,” the community president Jalaluddin Ahmad said in an invitation to the event, “will not scare us into locking our mosques. Rather we will open the doors wider to educate all.”

If only the rest of California were responding to this moment in the same spirit as that mosque.

So far, we Californians—from everyday citizens to our top leaders—have demonstrated an abundance of ignorance and cowardice. But if we reversed course and thought of San Bernardino as an opportunity to reach out to others, we could emerge from these terrorist attacks as a better, safer, and even richer place.

Since the attack, California has seen a surge in vandalism and threats against mosques. And we’ve seen public authorities spread fear by overreacting to threats. Last week, the Los Angeles Unified School District committed the cardinal sin of responding to terror with terror by closing all of its 900-plus schools, serving 640,000 students, because of an implausible threat that other cities were quick to dismiss. Even more shamefully, local officials, instead of acknowledging their obvious error, are still defending the closing, which is sure to undermine public confidence in official statements during real emergencies.

We’re also seeing political opportunists of both parties use the attacks to advance law enforcement agendas. Take U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s attempts to capitalize on the attacks on two fronts. First, she and others in Congress seek to force Silicon Valley to weaken the encryption that protects all of us from hacking so that law enforcement might more easily track terrorists, criminals, and missing persons. Second, she is demanding onerous new fingerprinting and visa requirements for visitors to California that will discourage foreign tourists—and hurt the millions of Californians who make their living in tourism-related businesses. In both cases, Feinstein, who has aged into a tool of the security state, effectively argues that millions of innocent people should be punished for the sins of a few terrorists.

Feinstein’s response is also a symptom of what might be diagnosed as the double fear complex: Politicians fear they might lose politically if they don’t cater to the wildest public fears of Muslims and terrorism. So we see some California Congressional Democrats joining Republicans in linking the attacks to concerns about Muslim refugees—an especially cruel and thoughtless response during the largest worldwide refugee crisis in decades.

Our state needs a hard and immediate U-turn, which starts with recognizing how the attacks connect California to the rest of the world.

Watching all of this is to observe Californians, in just a few short weeks, put the lie to all the values that used to define us as a state—our embrace of diversity, our welcoming stance towards outsiders of all kinds, our pride in our global connectedness, and our faith in decisions made on data and science instead of superstition and prejudice.

Stop the madness, California. Our state needs a hard and immediate U-turn, which starts with recognizing how the attacks connect California to the rest of the world. While we have always been connected by who we are—27 percent of us are foreign-born, twice the national percentage—and by our globally oriented economy, San Bernardino now connects us to people around the world as fellow victims of terrorism. We all saw the fear and horror and disruption of just one attack in one building in one small city of a state of 39 million. Imagine such scenes repeated far more often in places like Syria. How can we not respond by seeking to help our fellow victims—especially the refugees fleeing the same terror we’ve experienced?

California, more than any other place in this country, has been defined by its readiness to integrate people fleeing wars and other horrors. Most tellingly, California communities have often welcomed refugees even in the face of opposition from our leaders. Back in the 1970s, Gov. Jerry Brown was as wrong to oppose the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees here as President Reagan was a decade later to oppose the taking-in of refugees from Central American wars. Both Vietnamese and Central American arrivals have enriched California immensely. In more recent times, our state and its communities have responded to callous inaction in Washington, D.C., by giving what public services and legal status they can to undocumented immigrants and to child refugees coming over our border.

So why do we allow ourselves to be limited by the United States’ decision to accept indefensibly low numbers of refugees from Syria (just 10,000) and other theaters of American warfare? California, as a global power in its own right, would do well to set the goal of leading the world in accepting refugees.

Sweden, with fewer than 10 million citizens, has accepted 200,000 refugees in the current crisis. Germany, with 80 million citizens, has taken in approximately 800,000 this year. California leaders and citizens, as a start, should express our willingness to accommodate a number that would put us in that class—say 500,000 refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. And our demand for more refugees should also include the request that the laborious and bureaucratic process of screening refugees—it lasts two years—be expedited. We need to save as many lives as we can, as fast as we can.

Of course, Washington, not the state, makes refugee policy, as a federal matter. But a push by California to fulfill its historical role as America’s America would change the conversation nationally. And if we were to get such a number of refugees, there would be huge challenges—but also huge payoffs. Our welcoming stance would distinguish us internationally—and offer a competitive advantage over the lily-livered cowboys in Texas and 29 other states who are so consumed by fear that they’re seeking to block the arrival of even tiny numbers of refugees. It’d be much easier for California, as a generous and welcoming place, to make connections of trade and commerce to the many Muslim countries that are, despite tremendous challenges, on the path to greater wealth and democracy.

We’d also win at home, since refugees would be assets in a state that needs more people. Immigration is flat here, the birth rate is down, and our increasingly homegrown population is aging, with fewer children to support it. Refugees would provide a shot in the arm to our culture and our economy—and the human capital to make up big deficits the state faces in its number of skilled workers.

The fact that such a movement in California sounds unrealistic—I can already hear the fear-mongers accusing me of wanting to give California its own Islamic state—shows just how far down the road of unreasoning fear we’ve already gone. Let’s turn around, and send the vital and very Californian message that, in this great place, the doors are always open—and that we don’t punish the many for the heinous crimes of the few.

(Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.) *Photo courtesy of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, via AP.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

-cw

 

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

TIME TO COME HOME?-Okinawa officials on Friday filed a lawsuit against the central Japanese government in a new bid to block the slated construction of a U.S. military base in the prefecture's Henoko region.

"We will do whatever it takes to stop the new Henoko base," Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said during a press conference Friday. "Okinawa's argument is legitimate, and I believe that it will be certainly understood."

Residents and officials charge that the Japanese government's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism illegally intervened in Onaga's order earlier this year that halted preliminary work on the base. The prefecture said that the ministry acted unlawfully when it suspended Onaga's permit cancellation for work needed to move the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Futenma to its slated spot in Henoko.

The legal challenge is the latest effort to block the continued militarization of the southern Japanese island, which has long served as home base for more than half of the 50,000 American military service members in Japan, as well as over two-thirds of U.S. bases in the country. In late October, hundreds of Okinawa residents, largely elders, linked arms and physically blocked vehicles transporting building materials to the base.

"Don't the people of Okinawa have sovereignty?" one protester, 70-year-old Katsuhiro Yoshida, told Japanese paper  The Asahi Shimbun at the time. "This reminds me of the scenes of rioting against the U.S. military before Okinawa was returned to Japan (in 1972). Now we are facing off against our own government. It is so contemptible."

Residents have long expressed anger and frustration over the crime and pollution they say comes along with the presence of foreign troops.

"Democracy and local self-determination in Japan are in severe condition," Onaga, who was elected on an anti-base platform, said Friday. "We want the rest of the world to know how the Japan-U.S. security treaty is affecting us."

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams where this report was posted earlier.) Photo: AFP Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

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