First Lady Michelle Obama has invited San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to sit in her box during the State of the Union Speech tonight, but she didn't specify why. All we know is that she's continuing a longstanding tradition of inviting "extraordinary Americans who exemplify the themes and ideals laid out in the State of the Union Address," as the White House puts it.
A former city bureaucrat who was first appointed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to replace Mayor Gavin Newsom before winning re-election, Lee is considered popular and competent but not particularly extraordinary—except for the fact that he's the...oh, wait, he's only the second Asian-American mayor of a major US city. (The first was San Jose's Norm Mineta, who later became Transportation Secretary under George W. Bush.) So why was Lee invited? Was it because he proposed a $15 minimum wage for a city whose $10.55 minimum is already the nation's highest? Or perhaps because he rallied Silicon Valley around immigration reform?
The President feels guilty for that time when the Giants won the World Series but Lee couldn't get into the White House party because his name wasn't on the list.
Lee is the last Californian the Secret Service would suspect of being a marijuana courier.
If you live in DC but crash on your San Francisco friend's couch when you're in town for business, it's probably a good idea to return the favor once or twice. The same logic applies to political fundraising. See you in Presidio Heights, Ed.
Google street view detail from the Counterforce flier. (Image cropped and house number redacted by Mother Jones.)
So, the Bay Area's tech backlash has come to this: At 7 a.m. yesterday, activists showed up on the doorstep of Google engineer Anthony Levandowski to protest, well, pretty much everything. They're holding the guy behind the self-driving car responsible for gentrification, destructive gold mining, Chinese sweatshops, government surveillance, and, more generally "the unspeakable horror" of helping "this disastrous economic system continue a bit longer."
A flyer distributed by the activists, who call themselves "The Counterforce," left little doubt that their fight is personal. "Preparing for this action, we watched Levandowski step out his front door," it reads. "He had Google Glasses over his eyes, carried his baby in his arm, and held a tablet with his free hand. As he descended the stairs with the baby, his eyes were on the tablet through the prism of his Google Glasses, not on the life against his chest. He appeared in this moment like the robot that he admits that he is."
Frustrated with the limited scope of the reforms to the National Security Agency detailed by President Obama on Friday, and the slow pace of Congress in addressing the issue, civil liberties advocates are increasingly taking the privacy fight to state capitols. This month, lawmakers in six states introduced versions of model legislation designed to deny the NSA state resources or cooperation from state officials. The bills cover everything from banning evidence collected by the NSA from being introduced in state courts to shutting off the supply of water and electricity to the agency's in-state data centers.
"I think there is a value in the message that it sends to DC, which is, 'We're not gonna put up with it.'"
"If the feds aren't going to address the issue, then it's up to the states to do it," says David Taylor, a GOP member of the Washington state House of Representatives whose Yakima Valley district hosts an NSA listening post. Taylor's bipartisan bill, introduced last week, would cut off "material support, participation or assistance" from the state and its contractors to any federal agency that collects data or metadata on people without a warrant. Practically speaking, it would mean severing ties between the NSA and state law enforcement, blocking state universities from serving as NSA research facilities and recruiting grounds, and cutting off the water and power to the agency's Yakima facility.
Similar bills, some of them less broad, have been floated in California, Oklahoma, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas. Others are expected in coming months in Michigan, Arizona, and Utah. Unlike the symbolic resolutions that oppose the NSA's warrantless spying, which have passed the Pennsylvania House and the California Senate, few, if any, of the more consequential anti-NSA bills are likely to become law. But their existence underscores the depth of grassroots opposition to the agency's dragnet surveillance programs, and the willingness of lawmakers from both parties to take a stand.
In July 2012, an elderly nun breached the Y-12 facility carrying baby bottles filled with a comrade's blood.
Later this month, Megan Rice, an 83-year-old Catholic nun, could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison for breaking into Tennessee's Y-12 Nuclear Security Complex and splattering the walls of a weapons-grade uranium warehouse with human blood. That may sound pretty far out—the blood, but also the stiff potential sentence and the notion of an octogenarian breaching a high-level nuclear facility guarded by machine guns and tanks. In any case, the symbolic spilling of blood isn't all that unusual, especially for Rice's fellow Christian peace activists in the Plowshares Movement.
"The blood could be seen as a surrogate for the blood of Christ...and its pouring could be interpreted as a symbolic act of Christian purification."
"We use real human blood frequently in these kinds of actions," says Paul Magno, who spent nearly two years in federal prison in the mid-1980s for breaking into a Pershing missile factory in Orlando, Florida, where he spread blood on missile-launcher parts. "It means terror and bloodshed if these things are ever used, and even if they are not, because we are taking so much of humanity's future to just sustain an arsenal."
According to a paper by Barnard College religion professor Elizabeth Castelli, the first documented use of human blood in an anti-war protest was on October 27, 1967, when four men entered the Baltimore Customs House and poured a mix of their own blood and animal blood on Vietnam War draft files.
One of them, Tom Lewis, became a lifelong peace activist. He died in his sleep in 2008 and and was cremated, but not before his comrades extracted and froze some of his blood for use in one final action. In July 2012, it was thawed and placed into eight baby bottles, which Rice emptied onto the walls of the Y-12 uranium unit.
The radical Catholic priest Philip Berrigan, who also took part in the Baltimore draft protest, initially rejected the blood idea as too "bourgeois" and "tepid," according to his biographers. But he eventually came around, and began to elaborate a theological interpretation: "The blood could be seen as a surrogate for the blood of Christ, he envisioned, and its pouring could be interpreted as a symbolic act of Christian purification—a kind of echo of the sacrifice of the Mass."
Update (2/18/2014): This afternoon, a federal judge in Knoxville, Tennessee, sentenced Sister Mary Rice to 35 months in prison. Her accomplices, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, each received 62 months. "For now, their bodies remain in prison," said Rice's friend Ralph Hutchison, "but their voices are free, reminding us that…as long as the government continues to produce thermonuclear weapons of mass destruction in Oak Ridge or anywhere, people are required to resist."
Nestled behind a forested ridgeline on the outskirts of Knoxville, Tennessee, is the sprawling Y-12 National Security Complex, America's "Fort Knox" of weapons-grade uranium. The complex's security cameras and machine gun nests are designed to repel an attack by the world's most feared terrorist organizations, but they were no match for Sister Megan Rice, an 83-year-old Catholic nun armed with nothing more than a hammer and bolt cutters.
In the dark morning hours of July 28, 2012, Rice and two fellow anti-war activists bushwhacked up to the edge of Y-12, cut through three separate security fences, and sprayed peace slogans and human blood on the wall of a building that is said to hold enough weapons-grade uranium to obliterate human civilization several times over. (Click here to get the backstory on the blood.) They remained inside Y-12 for more than an hour before they were detected.
"The security breach," as the Department of Energy's Inspector General later described it, exposed "troubling displays of ineptitude" at what is supposed to be "one of the most secure facilities in the United States." At a February hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, multiple members of Congress thanked Rice for exposing the site's gaping vulnerabilities. Eleven launch officers were targeted in a separate investigation of illegal drug use. But that didn't deter federal prosecutors from throwing the book at Rice and her accomplices: Greg Boertje-Obed, a 57-year-old carpenter, and Michael Walli, a 63-year-old Vietnam veteran. They now sit in Georgia's Irwin County Detention Center, awaiting a January 28 sentencing hearing where a federal judge could put them in prison for up to 30 years. (See update above.)