Category Archives: Stephen Golub

Stephen Golub: Flim-Flannery (Is a Techno-cult Coming to Solano County?)

Jack Ohman’s editorial cartoon from the May 26 SF Chron.

By Stephen Golub, May 28, 2024

“Is this the Golub household?”

The pleasant young woman who rang my doorbell on Friday was soliciting support for the East Solano Plan, otherwise known as California Forever, otherwise known as Flannery Associates, the shadowy company launched by ultra-rich Silicon Valley investors. The firm has bought $900 million of Solano County land in recent years in order to supposedly build a model city, despite widespread traffic congestion, water shortage, environmental and credibility concerns to the contrary.

After I calmly but firmly expressed my doubts about the project and its backers, she went on her way.

I’d previously suspected that the Flannery flim-flam was simply a get-even-richer-quick scheme for the billionaires: Start by buying the land. Then have its mainly farmland zoning changed to allow residential use, via passage of the firm’s “East Solano Homes, Jobs, and Clean Energy Initiative” referendum this November. Finally, flip the land to developers at inflated prices.

But there could be more to this scheme than meets the eye.

In a fascinating blog post and  New Republic article, journalist and communications strategist Gil Duran dives into what possibly drives CF: “California Forever aligns with the Network State cult, a movement which seeks to build new sovereign territories ruled by tech plutocrats. The idea behind the Network State is to build new cities that can eventually gain sovereignty and essentially secede from the United States.”

Though he has an impressive background working for leading California news outlets and officials, don’t just take Duran’s word about Network State ideology. Here’s the leader of the Network State movement, tech entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan, on the topic: “[A] network state is a highly aligned online community with a capacity for collective action that crowdfunds territory around the world and eventually gains diplomatic recognition from pre-existing states”. [Emphasis added.]

As suggested by Duran’s New Republic piece, that vision may be dark rather than hopeful, offering ways to evade a dystopian future rather than shape a utopian one, more Terminator than Star Trek. Also bear in mind that Srinivasan’s politics are such that in January 2017 Donald Trump reportedly interviewed him to head the Food and Drug Administration.

Duran suggests links between California Forever and the Network State in terms of Srinivasan repeatedly alluding to the former in discussing the latter, as well as Srinivasan’s shared orientations and connections with several CF funders. Where there’s smoke, there could well be fire.

Now, let’s take a few steps back…

First, in fairness to Flannery or California Forever or the East Solano Plan – or whatever surveys or focus groups might tell the initiative’s leaders they should call it these days – the project denies any ties to the Network State movement. I’d add that thus far Duran is making an intriguing case for the connection, rather than conclusively proving it.

Still, as he asserts, “Given the company’s history of evasiveness, its denials mean little.”

That’s a powerful point, in view of how the initiative keeps rebranding itself; how some of its backers’ outlooks overlap with Network State ideology; how its recent mass mailing misleadingly maintains that the project will “Keep Travis Air Force Base Secure and Thriving,” when in fact the project’s original plans put the Base’s security in question; and, most notably, how it’s offering glowing “guarantees” of massive benefits it’s actually not obliged to honor

Second, are we really seeing the potential birth of an Independent Republic of East Solano? I don’t see how. But if the California Forever initiative passes in November, or if its backers otherwise exert enough political sway, we could witness the rise of an undemocratic and unaccountable entity that echoes the Network State orientation.

Third, wouldn’t Solano County benefit from something of a shakeup, in terms of additional housing, resources, environmental enhancements and a host of other would-be benefits? Sure. But there are better ways of doing that, consistent with the County’s General Plan adopted by the Board of Supervisors and approved by voters in 2008, by working with our existing cities rather than converting farmland. Plus we get back to whether we can even trust the project. I’m afraid we can’t.

How will Duran’s allegations play out over time? Who knows? The fact that California Forever is misleading on many other matters does not automatically mean it’s being dishonest in denying this Network State connection. But neither has it earned the benefit of the doubt.

It’s certainly worth subscribing to Duran’s blog to learn more. It’s also worth being beware, should an East Solano Plan solicitor come knocking at your door the way one did at mine.

What can we do about the billionaires’ dubious development? For months, “a group of concerned residents, leaders, and organizations” called Solano Together has been working to “provide the public, voters, and decision-makers with accurate information on the impacts of California Forever and unite around a shared [alternative] vision for the future.”  Thanks to the invaluable Benicia Independent, I very recently learned of a new group, whimsically called California ForNever, where folks can also gather further information and register opposition to the project. Both organizations seem well worth checking out.

Back to Duran: Regardless of whether he turns out to be completely correct regarding the Network State connection, kudos for his raising crucial questions that add fuel to the flim-Flannery fire.

[Hat tip: MK, JK, Benicia Independent and Gil Duran.]

Stephen Golub: Great Stuff at Arts Benicia

By Stephen Golub, originally published in the Benicia Herald on April 21, 2024. The images in this post were added by BenIndy. 

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land.

One of the many things that makes Benicia so special is its community of artists, many of whom settled here due to our town’s relative affordability and beautiful setting. One leading aspect of that community is Arts Benicia, a nonprofit whose excellent website (https://artsbenicia.org/)  sums up its mission nicely: “…to stimulate, educate, and nurture cultural life in Benicia primarily through the visual arts. This community based non-profit organization provides exhibitions, educational programs, and classes that support artists and engage the broader community.”

Before going further, I’ll say that I’ve never been particularly art-oriented. (I’ll also say that I’m not proud to say that.) With the exception of especially outlandish or idiosyncratic displays such as Van Gogh or holographic exhibitions, I always dismissed art museums as just featuring “stuff on walls.” I’d generally prefer to go for a hike, go for a drink, watch the Warriors, whatever.

But Arts Benicia has changed my mind. Lots of that stuff on its walls is striking and thought-provoking. Even more importantly, it’s about far more than what’s on walls. The organization offers classes, opportunities and activities to Benicia’s kids, adults and visitors. Conservation, nature, gender, justice and other themes run through much of what it shows and does.

Clicking this image will redirect you to the Arts Benicia website.

Arts Benicia is not just an organization. We can also think of it as a community that embraces not just artists from Benicia and beyond, but many of us to the extent that we engage in its activities or benefit from the visitors it helps bring to our lovely town.

Still, the heart and physical hub of the group is the stately, historic, 6,000-foot Commanding Officer’s Quarters, located at 1 Commandant’s Lane, which hosts the organization’s gallery, classes and project space. There’s usually a free exhibition on display there, from 1-5 pm on Thursdays through Sundays.

My recent favorite exhibitions have been those featuring diverse depictions of water-oriented themes and the works of our amazingly talented Benicia artists. There will be more such shows along those specific  lines, along with numerous other kinds of exhibitions, in the months and years to come. Each show is a highly competitive affair, with artists from all over the Bay Area and the country submitting applications for inclusion.

The Commanding Officer’s Quarters is the home of Arts Benicia, but the fun doesn’t stop there. | ArtsBenicia.org

The Commanding Officer’s Quarters displays are just the tip of the contributions that Arts Benicia and Benicia’s artists make to the community. For example, from 10 am-5 pm on the weekend of May 4 and 5, it will join Benicia’s downtown galleries and about 50 Bay Area artists opening their studio doors for the Benicia Art Weekend. In addition to the art itself, the event offers a chance to discuss the artists’ work with them.

Arts Benicia regularly holds hands-on educational programs (some for fees, some free) for children, teenagers, young adults and adults of all ages For instance, this June it’s offering two five-day EcoArt Camps for kids entering third through sixth grades “who like to build, sculpt, paint, draw, and collage” to help them gain “awareness of environmental sustainability, natural resources, and the potential of re-use.”

There is no shortage of other educational and training opportunities. The organization partners with the Benicia Unified School District to bring visiting artists to the District’s four elementary schools for classes ranging from drawing to tinkering. It recently completed an “Intro to Cartooning” course for kids. There’s a Young Printmakers Program for persons 18-25 with an interest in skills that can pertain to such fields as graphic design. And there are a plethora of other classes and activities.

EcoArt Camp 2024 is open for applications, click the image to be redirected to the Arts Benicia page to learn more. | Image from ArtsBenicia.org.

Check out its website for more on any of this and on so much more.

A key way to take advantage of all that Arts Benicia has to offer is to become a member, with reduced rates for students and families. Membership brings discounts on various classes and other activities, as well as free admission to certain events: for example, the organization’s lecture series and receptions marking the openings of exhibitions. (I attended a great lecture last year, by two very knowledgeable Benicia-based experts, on the growing interaction between artificial intelligence and art.)

Its other forms of fund-raising also provide chances for loads of fun. In October, for instance, there will be a champagne-and-chocolate event; in December, one featuring a few kinds of fine, easily sip-able spirits. Held at the Commanding Officer’s Quarters, both proved very popular and sold out well in advance last year.

So check out Arts Benicia if you can. It offers lots of great stuff, both on walls and otherwise.

[Full disclosure: My wife sits on Arts Benicia’s Board. She did not suggest or lobby for this column at all.]

Refineries, Cancer and Other Health Problems: An ISO Can Help Us Breathe Easier

By Stephen Golub, originally published in the Benicia Herald on April 14, 2024

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land.

In the weeks and months to come, you may hear and read an increasing amount about Benicia adopting an Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO) that will help protect us against healthy and safety threats posed by the Valero Refinery, its associated asphalt plant and possibly other large industrial facilities.

There are many reasons for Benicia to have such an ordinance, so that we’re no longer the only Bay Area locale that hosts a refinery but is not protected by an ISO. Today, at the risk of getting a bit wonky, I’ll address one key reason: Living close to refineries can increase our risk of contracting cancer and other experiencing other medical problems; an ISO could help reduce such risks.

The point of this column isn’t to prompt panic, but to instead suggest action that will help safeguard our health. Through the better air monitoring, audits, inspections, reporting and above all preventive measures that the ordinance can bring, the City will be better able to reduce safety and health risks to our kids, seniors, small businesses and all Benicians.

The City Council has already taken the crucial first step in this direction. By a unanimous vote in December, the Council acted on a proposal by Vice Mayor Terry Scott and Councilwoman Kari Birdseye: It established a subcommittee comprising those two, aided by Fire Chief Josh Chadwick, to prepare an ISO.

While the ISO is being drafted, hopefully for adoption this summer, there are at least two things we can do to participate in the process:

First, please consider following and supporting the efforts of the Benicia Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance (BISHO) initiative (of which I’m a member), which can be found  at https://www.bisho.org/. (“Safety” and not just “health” is included in the name because one priority is to protect Benicians and Refinery workers against fires and explosions, and not just toxic emissions.)

BISHO’s evolving site provides reams of relevant information. It also includes how to join the almost 200 fellow citizens who are supporting an ISO (and who, given that some folks may back a measure even if they don’t sign on to it, may well represent many thousands of Benicians).

Second, check out and post your thoughts at the “Engage Benicia” site the City has established to exchange information and opinions about the planned ISO: https://engagebenicia.com/en/. It provides “Opportunities for Input,” where you can weigh in on a number of weighty questions regarding our safety, health and an ISO.

Clicking this image will take you to EngageBenicia.com

The site isn’t ideal. (Then again, what is?) For instance, it solicits our thoughts on a current “Community Advisory Panel” (CAP) without noting that to a great extent it is controlled and serves at the discretion of Valero. Still, the site represents a laudable effort to seek community input as Birdseye, Scott, Chadwick and other City personnel work hard to take Benicians’ perspectives into account. It’s well worth visiting, to register reactions and questions.

Now, on to the less pleasant news: A variety of research findings from across the country and the world indicate that cancer rates and other health problems are higher near refineries and related facilities than elsewhere. (There’s also relevant health data from Benicia, but I’ll save that for another day.) Again, my point is that an ISO can reduce our risks, not least by regulating Valero’s operations and reporting in ways that perhaps are not being done adequately elsewhere, such as in oil industry-friendly Texas (where, by the way, Valero is headquartered).

So please take this list as grounds for hope and urgency, not despair, about what Benicia can do. (The place listed is where the refinery is located; the date is when the research was published.)

Cancer rates, Texas, 2020: “[A University of Texas] team studied the Texas Cancer Registry and US Census Data from 2001 – 2014 to compare rates of cancer (bladder, breast, colon, lung, lymphoma, and prostate) of people within 30 miles of active Texas oil refineries. The team observed that proximity to an oil refinery was associated with a significantly increased risk of cancer diagnosis across all cancer types. People living within 10 miles of an active refinery were more likely to have advanced disease or metastatic disease.” https://www.utmb.edu/news/article/utmb-news/2021/07/06/new-study-links-increased-risk-of-cancer-to-proximity-to-oil-refineries.

Children’s liver and bone-related disorders, Texas, 2016: “This study examined the health effects of benzene exposure among children from a flaring incident at the British Petroleum (BP) refinery in Texas City, Texas…These findings suggest that children exposed to benzene are at a higher risk of developing both hepatic [liver-related] and bone marrow-related disorders. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26269465/

Post-incident health problems, Richmond, California, 2019: “After the 2012 incident [release chemicals into the air], two Emergency Departments took the brunt of the surge [of patients]. Censuses [i.e., the number of patients under care] increased from less than 600 a week each to respectively 5719 and 3072 the first week…It took 4 weeks for censuses to return to normal. The most common diagnosis groups that spiked were nervous/sensory, respiratory, circulatory, and injury.”

Leukaemia, various locations, 2020: “The systematic review identified 16 unique studies, which collectively record the incidence of haematological [blood-related] malignancies across 187,585 residents living close to a petrochemical operation. Residents from fenceline communities, less than 5 km from a petrochemical facility (refinery or manufacturer of commercial chemicals), had a 30% higher risk of developing Leukaemia than residents from communities with no petrochemical activity.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32430062/

Children’s asthma, South Africa, 2009: “The results support the hypothesis of an increased prevalence of asthma symptoms among children in the area as a result of refinery emissions and provide a substantive basis for community concern.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19781087/

Female lung cancer, Taiwan, 2000: “The study results show that mortality from female lung cancer rose gradually about 30 to 37 years after the operation of a petroleum refinery plant began.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10845779/

There’s more, but I’ll leave it at that.

An ISO won’t be a cure-all by any means. But it will enable us to build on the work of state and federal agencies that, however well-intentioned, may not prioritize Benicia in view of the many areas they serve. It could well help to diminish our cancer risks and exposure to other health challenges.

And that should make us all breathe easier.

 

Stephen Golub: Seeing the Light and Springsteen

[Note from BenIndy: Trying this again after we encountered a bug. This post was first published on Stephen Golub’s blog, A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. There, Steve blogs about domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that the United States can learn from other nations. If interested, you may sign up for future posts by subscribing to the blog.]

Bruce Springsteen performs in Italy in July 2023. | Sergione Infuse / Corbis via Getty.

Pushing 75, His Concerts Still Deliver Solace, Hope and Dreams…and Inspiration for 2024

By Stephen Golub, originally published on A Promised Land, April 7, 2024

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land.

He had me at “Light of Day.”

It’s one of my five favorite Bruce Springsteen songs. He opened his March 31 San Francisco concert with it. I was lucky enough to be there.

The high-octane tune is about a trucker driving hard after a week on the road, determined to get down to good times in Galveston by Saturday night. But it’s more generally about pushing ahead with hope after getting “a little lost along the way” and about turning the corner to find the light of day.

Similarly, Bruce’s entire performance was about far more than just putting on a show, as I learned from both him and a fellow audience member over the course of the evening. More on that in a minute.

The Church of Bruce

With age and recent illness looming over our hero, my stepson/fellow fan Trevor and I knew that this might be our last chance to take in Bruce and his E Street Band in concert. It was our fifth time seeing him together, stretching back well over a decade. It was my thirtieth such Springsteen experience since watching him open for Chicago at Madison Square Garden in 1973.

As Springsteen told the throng early in the evening, the show is not just about what he and the band do. It also hinges on how we respond – acting in concert with him, if you will. The supposedly laid-back California crowd loudly lived up to our part of the bargain.

For those unfamiliar with what I’d call the Church of Bruce, his appeal partly flows from the degree to which his adherents identify with his music: One fellow fan calls it “the story of my life.”

To watch this YouTube video, click the image and a new tab will open.

The fans’ intense devotion also stems from his concerts’ joyful energy and audience engagement. At its peak, the interplay is akin to a religious revival, though with salvation subservient to fun. This “Light of Day” video from a 2000 New York City show exemplifies that, albeit in an extreme way:

Neither Trev nor I are the most demonstrative people in the world. But both of us danced, shouted, sang along and let it rip throughout the evening.

That someone pushing 75 could still push out three hours of non-stop singing, twisting, shouting and guitar/harmonica playing was astounding. As he playfully bellowed to the roaring crowd near the end of the show, “You’ve just seen the heart-stoppin’, pants-droppin’, earth-quakin’, booty-shakin’, love-makin’, Viagra-takin’, history-makin’ E Street Band!”

He proved it all night.

Spirits in the Night

Springsteen’s music has always featured anger, angst, passion, pride, love, longing, hope and dreams. It’s ultimately about life.

As life has taken its toll, with friends and fellow band members passing on, he’s blended newer messages into the mix: treasure loved ones, here and gone; cherish their memories; relish each day.

The point hit home in an unexpectedly poignant way due to the pleasant 60-something woman – whom I’ll call Mary – seated beside us during the concert. Getting there early, Trev and I had lots of time to chat with her before the band came on. She’s a James Taylor fan, but attended the show (alone) because her late husband was a Springsteen devotee.

We didn’t pry into that very personal matter. But I couldn’t help but reflect a bit on why Mary was there: Maybe to feel the spirit of her beloved partner there with her?

That possibility reemerged in the middle of the concert, as the band eased into the somber “My City of Ruins.” I at first wondered why they were playing it at all during a resoundingly upbeat night. Bruce originally composed it a quarter-century ago to lament urban and economic rot in Asbury Park, New Jersey, near where he grew up. He recorded and reinterpreted the tune in his post-9/11 album, The Rising, as a tribute to devastated New York City.

In one inescapable sense it’s a dirge, marked by these lines:

Now there’s tears on the pillow, darling, where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss my soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again

But “My City of Ruins” is about more than sorrow. It’s also about beginning again in the face of unfathomable adversity, as its refrain repeatedly urges listeners to find strength and “rise up.”

And that’s what Bruce asked the assemblage to do as he introduced the song and yet again reinterpreted the tune in the process. His remarks made it not about a ruined city but about our resilient selves. He urged us to realize that our lost loved ones remain with us in crucial ways. I couldn’t help but sneak a glance at Mary, only guessing at what she might be feeling.

But I knew what I was feeling, as I recalled my own dearly departed with gratitude for what I’d shared with them, learned from them and still carried with me, and with hope that I could honor their deaths by cherishing life.

Speaking of resilience…

In this election year, our society faces a kind of severe adversity we would have found unfathomable just a decade ago. Our future may seem to  rest on the seemingly frail shoulders of a leader pushing 82.

But if an aging rocker, not much younger, can still deliver powerful performances at a uniquely demanding job night after night, it’s not too much to trust that his elder can do it day after day, as he’s done for the past three years. It’s not too much to believe that the same man can triumph in November and beyond.

And just as Bruce reminded the crowd that the success of his concert involved our efforts, the success of the campaign depends on us as well.=

Speaking of hope…

The elation of a Springsteen experience can give way to  reflection. I think that I’ve been thinking about the 2024 campaign in the wrong way. It’s not just about beating back those who’d drag us into a dark age for democracy, for women, for America’s role in the world, for so much more.

It’s also about seeing this as a chance to move forward on those fronts and so many more.

It’s not just about fear and anger. It’s about hope and dreams.

Despite the darkness, and with enough drive and dedication, we could be just around the corner from the light of day.

Once more, Steve blogs about domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that the United States can learn from other nations, at A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. We recommend you sign up for future posts by subscribing to the blog.


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