The Politics of Parenting

(This article was first published in the January 2019 edition of Community Alliance,

By Kevin Hall

Parents worldwide are faced with far greater fears and challenges today than at any time in history. They have the enormous responsibility for children’s lives, people they have chosen to bring into a world with a rapidly destabilizing climate. It’s a shared responsibility, of course, because at this point anyone under the age of 50 cannot count on having a stable climate in their old age.


Nearly 20 million people were climate refugees in 2018, according to U.N. estimates. Internally dislocated people, from hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to the firestorm victims in Paradise and Magalia, are already straining governmental relief systems in the U.S. Externally dislocated climate refugees, who must seek safety outside their own countries, are dying at the hands of uncaring brutes everywhere from the California-Mexico border to the Mediterranean. Continue reading The Politics of Parenting


A Quick Note to Mike Karbassi

By Kevin Hall

Mike Karbassi was recently elected to the Fresno City Council to represent District 2 in Northwest Fresno. His Twitter praise for an inferior editorial by District 5 councilor Luis Chavez, home to most of Fresno’s heavy industry, led me to be tweet back at him, and he kindly replied (below). My longer response wouldn’t fit easily into tweets, so this:

August 19, 2019

Dear Mike,

Responses to your Fresno Bee interview question “What is the City Council’s responsibility to help Fresno face climate change and reduce pollution?”

“Most of the pollution in the city of Fresno comes from mobile sources on Highway 99, the Bay Area and China.” – FALSE (Who’s your source? Buddy Mendes?)

On-road mobile sources are important, particularly diesel trucks and buses. Off-road mobile is, too, meaning farm and construction equipment, dairies (see Shehadey’s Bar 20, which now means 20,000 cows), and biomass (see Calwa).

Bay Area drift contributes maybe 10-12% of our ozone precursors and none — zero — of our particulate pollution.

And China is perhaps the Valley Air Board’s most meaningless talking point ever, just never say it again, please. (They’ll do it for you.)

Karbassi“We are limited by what we can do about this at the local level.” WRONG, SO WRONG

Local progress is limited only by the imagination and intelligence of our elected officials. So far, that’s been very limited in Fresno. Chavez’s attitude regarding the industrial-zoned parcels EIR that it’s just about mitigation at this point is dangerous to the lives of all Fresno residents. (Did he delete that tweet? It seemed to leave the city legally exposed. Again.)

Arias and Esparza have the advantage on you here; they hired people who know more than they do (easy enough), one of whom even has direct access to the combined knowledge of every environmental justice and nonprofit organization at work on air pollution in the valley (see CVAQ). At the very least, before answering such a question, use the Google. This took 30 seconds to find:

“One solution is to improve bicycle and walking routes. This is an important part of providing safe routes to schools.” TRUE

…and south Fresno needs them badly. Developer impact fees have to be raised.

Karbassi Bee answer“We can adopt smart planning strategies to relieve traffic congestion. This would go a long way to reduce pollution.” NO, NOT A LONG WAY AT ALL

…and the 1980s wants their answer back. It’s important to keep carbon monoxide levels dropping, but I suspect you mean more lane on freeways and big roads, particularly in the sprawl. Presumably you’ll be carrying Assemi’s agenda for west of 99 and the Veterans Boulevard bridge.

Vehicle Miles Traveled is the real issue, and sprawl is the cause. We need Smart Growth (Google it).

“We can also increase the quality of life for residents by completing the Eaton Trail, which can be enjoyed by families and active seniors in northwest Fresno.”UNRELATED

Karbassi Bee answer

But a clear call for more public dollars to Fresno’s wealthiest neighborhoods. We don’t have a tale of two cities; we have a city with two tails: 180 and 168 headed east. Oh, wait, and 41 north (but not south), 180 west, 99 north and south. Six tails? Plus, your major financial backers and political endorsers worked hard to block Measure P and its park financing for Eaton Trail, so there’s that.


Kevin Hall

p.s., You didn’t mention climate change in your response. Not a good sign, friend. Here’s a good place to start: the U.N. rapporteur’s report last month on Climate Change and Poverty.


Jim Costa’s Primary Concern

July 3, 2019

By Kevin Hall

FRESNO-Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old political wunderkind who introduced the Green New Deal congressional resolution earlier this year, made a telling candidate endorsement in late May.

The Democratic Socialist from Queens, who a year ago successfully primaried long-time incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, announced she is backing a fellow progressive Latina. Like Ocasio-Cortez, she comes from humble beginnings, has a plan for bold, transformative change and must overcome a Democratic Party machine bent on preserving the status quo.

The candidate is Tiffany Cabán. She’s queer, a public defender, and she’s running for district attorney in Queens, N.Y. Far from Fresno, she nevertheless can be safely looked upon as a role model for other candidates seeking Ocasio-Cortez’s backing or that of the progressive organizations that were key to her success.

“Rep. Ocasio-Cortez won her election not just because she campaigned without corporate money, but because she explained the reason why corporations and lobbyists poison our society as a whole.” Emily Cameron, Democratic Socialists of America-Fresno

Should Cabán win, for example, her local equivalent would be Fresno County D.A. Lisa Smittcamp, but their agendas couldn’t be further apart.

“Public defenders on the front lines have always known that our system is racist. It is classist. It is one that creates two systems of justice, one for the wealthy, and one for the poor.” Clearly not Smittcamp speaking, that was Cabán talking to Jeremy Scahill in a recent interview on The Intercept podcast. She continues, “[I]nstead of punishing for the sake of punishing…we are going to strive to make sure that we are stabilizing communities. We’re de-carcerating.”

A Democratic Socialist like Ocasio-Cortez, Cabán’s description of her candidacy captures the political nature of the wave of reform coming from the Democratic Party’s most progressive quarter. The movement is fueled by a realistic assessment of climate change and a clear-minded grasp of the urgency and scale of the response required.

“What I represent is really centering the experiences of our community members, the folks that have been most directly impacted by our justice system. This is about building a movement where we are empowering communities,” Cabán explains. “And it’s not just the folks that have typically been in office, in power, making decisions that have continued to harm the same communities that continue to be oppressed and marginalized.”

Cabán has pledged to not prosecute homelessness, sex work, or recreational drug use, and when prosecution is warranted, she’ll ensure people convicted of crimes also receive treatment.

Hers is a progressive agenda.

Memorable Memorial Day

Cabán, of course, goes into much greater detail and her backstory is inspirational. Like Ocasio-Cortez, though, she enters electoral politics for the first time, with no big money backers, just an awesome ground game of volunteers willing to knock on doors and talk to voters. She also hopes to repeat AOC’s success in one other way: raising millions from small money donors from around the nation.

This is how progressives are successfully breaking through entrenched power systems controlled by large campaign contributors, big name endorsements, and the Democratic party’s candidate hierarchy. As depicted in the recent Netflix documentary Knock Down The House, a pair of offshoots from the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign, Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, pioneered the effort. They began with a very careful candidate nomination and screening process. AOC was nominated by her brother.

The groups’ backing in the form of campaign consulting and online fundraising successfully united with AOC’s relentless campaigning, skills she developed as a volunteer with the Sanders presidential campaign in 2016, for her 2018 upset victory of the 20-year incumbent Crowley.

Hope for challenger Esmeralda Soria? After years of support, in 2018 the California Labor Federation took a position of “no endorsement” in Costa’s reelection campaign. His most recent Labor Rating from the AFL-CIO was 71%, well below the House Democratic average of 94%. (Screenshot from

So, many local Democrats were pleased to read about a meeting this June in Washington, D.C., between Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and Fresno city council members Esmeralda Soria and Miguel Arias. They presented the congresswoman with a Grizzlies baseball jersey and an apology for the Memorial Day video incident at the city-owned stadium in which AOC was slandered as an “enemy of freedom.”


Rumors were already afloat from Republicans online and between delegates at the Democratic state party convention in May that Soria was talking about an AOC-like primary run against fellow Democrat Jim Costa for his congressional seat in the 16th district. So it was awkward smiles all-round as Costa and Rep. T.J. Cox joined Soria, Arias, and Ocasio-Cortez for the ritual photo op. It featured a presentation of the jersey and the council pair’s politically tone deaf yet classic Fresno apology, which did not come with a vote of the entire council.

For the political pairing of Soria and Arias, their hastily scheduled city, taxpayer-funded jaunt to D.C. was to lobby on water issues, they explained, but it appeared to be centered on meeting Ocasio-Cortez. It came across as a clumsy attempt to build, if not a political alliance with the congresswoman, then at least a news cycle’s worth of pictures and articles for future campaign materials and fundraising. As for an endorsement or D.C.-powered progressive backing, even from 3,000 miles away it’s hard to imagine Soria being viewed as a progressive of Cabán’s caliber.

“Progressivism is not a hat one can wear when it’s in style,” points out Emily Cameron, Treasurer of the Democratic Socialists of America Fresno Chapter. “If Soria wants progressives to support her, she needs to explain why she’s taken so much from corporations, lobbyists, and rich politicians, and promise not to accept these types of contributions anymore. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez won her election not just because she campaigned without corporate money, but because she explained the reason why corporations and lobbyists poison our society as a whole.”

Green Wave

There is another wave of Democratic victories coming in the 2020 election. This time it’s green, as in a Green New Deal. There will never be a better opportunity to dislodge climate action-delaying, business-centric, deregulation Democrats like Costa. People across the country will be looking to fund insurgent Democrats, particularly those with a strong progressive agenda. But Soria, a second-term city councilwoman, would have to run on her record as a moderate, a space fully occupied by the incumbent Costa.

The open space is climate change. Climate crisis voters are the fastest growing, youngest, most activated block of single-issue voters in the electorate. Their influence within the Democratic Party is expected to quickly surpass that of anti-abortion forces within the Republican Party. Ironically, the climate voters are trying to save all life on Earth.

There is one further parallel with the Ocasio-Cortez v. Crowley race. In both cases the incumbent is a comfortable, old white guy descended from an earlier wave of immigrants. For Crowley it was the Irish in New York and for Costa the Azorean Portuguese in the San Joaquin Valley. Their parents and grandparents no doubt knew hardship and sacrifice, but those lessons have apparently been forgotten by their now politically powerful progeny.

Meanwhile, their constituency has changed; voter registration in Costa’s district, for example, is now 45% Latino. The class differences in Queens described by Cabán have their equivalent here in the large farmers and farmworker towns. Like Crowley, Costa might find it difficult to convince these marginalized voters that he represents them well. Would they turn out to vote for an AOC-level progressive?

A new generation of political leaders who know firsthand our society’s hardships is needed now, but change for the sake of change isn’t good enough. Much more is needed, according to Ocasio-Cortez, speaking in May to a D.C. audience about the climate crisis and Green New Deal:

“I will be damned if the same politicians who refused to act then are going to try to come back today and say we need to find a middle-of-the-road approach to save our lives.”

In other words, moderates need not apply.



Climate Politics radio broadcast 4.26.19

(Climate Politics is broadcast on the second and fourth Fridays of each month on KFCF 88.1FM in Fresno. ) LISTEN HERE ON SOUNDCLOUD to the April 26, 2019 show.

INTRODUCTION: Good afternoon and welcome to a special edition Climate Politics. This show is dedicated to the premise that if we hope to avoid climate change’s worst impacts, then we need to fix our political climate, from Fresno to D.C. and everyplace in between.

Rev. B.T. Lewis, Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church, Fresno

And it’s impossible in this country, and certainly this town and valley, to discuss our politics without grounding them in the context of the systemic racism that has shaped every institution, policy, and practice in both the public and private sector.

But, to paraphrase the advice of former First Lady Michelle Obama, let’s focus on what we CAN control — in this case our local politics and politicians and how we hold them accountable.

Too many of our elected officials or their staff or appointees to boards and commissions are taking their cue from the unabashed racist occupying the White House.

So today we’re going to listen to some short recordings of them in action in the public sphere: City of Fresno economic developer Larry Westerlund, Fresno Unified School Board Trustee Terry Slatic, Fresno County Housing Authority Commissioner Terra Brusseau, and Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau.

Yes, we could add a few more, such as city councilman Barry Bredefeld or supervisor Buddy Mendes. All white, all Republican, all trouble.

Most seem unaware of their own prejudices, others appear to revel in them. But we must all push back against this ugly tide as it surges in these dark times.

Fortunately, we have a light — a very bright light — in this local struggle with us here today and to take your calls and comments, Rev. B.T. Lewis of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in West Fresno.

–Kevin Hall, host

Oil Slick on the Blue Wave

NEW! Check out the discussion on the Climate Politics radio show here (soundcloud).

May 4, 2019

By Kevin Hall

The headline reads, “API Plans Major Disinformation Campaign: Industry opponents of a treaty to fight global warming have drafted an ambitious proposal to spend millions of dollars to convince the public that the environmental accord is based on shaky science.”

It’s from a New York Times article. Dated April 26, 1998. API is the American Petroleum Institute.

It’s been a long two decades of lies, deceit, corruption, and killing, but oil and gas industry executives — members of the most powerful interest group on Earth — continue their heartless methods of exploitation here and abroad. As evidenced by the violence in Nigeria, Yemen, Iraq, Venezuela, South Sudan, and more, oil executive know few moral bounds.

Mayor Jose Gurrola of Arvin signed the Environmental Caucus “no oil money” pledge at the 2017 California Democratic Party convention. More local politicians can do the same later this month when Dems gather again in San Francisco.

And they walk among us.

In California these individuals have successfully delayed or diluted every major piece of climate legislation enacted by state lawmakers, relying on Republicans and moderate Democrats to do their dirty work and rewarding them richly either through campaign contributions to stay in power or employment connections after leaving office. Sometimes both.

Take former state senator Michael Rubio and former assemblymember Henry T. Perea, the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon of valley Democratic politics. The oil slick spreading from the travesty of their political careers is now coating the feathers of local politicians.

These two men are the poster boys for all that is wrong with the blue party’s politics as practiced in the San Joaquin Valley. Both were career politicians with little or no private or nonprofit sector experience. Both reneged on their oaths of office to leave elected office a year early to join the ranks of Big Oil & Gas and Big Pharma in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Perea readily slipped on an oil suit a year later when he joined Western States Petroleum Association.

But a sharp-edged pendulum of environmental justice appears to be swinging back hard and fast. As the Times reported a generation later on April 18, 2019, 84 percent of likely Democratic voters now rank action on climate change and the move to clean energy as essential or very important; voter support is even higher among Latinos and higher still among Spanish speakers.

Driving the call for direct action is the climate science-fueled movement growing rapidly under the inspirational leadership domestically of 29-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.,  and in Europe of 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg where tens of thousands of students now go on a climate strike from school every Friday.

Lagging behind are local and state Democrats, many of whom claim to be concerned about environmental justice issues but who often vote against the interests of the frontline communities who want pollution eliminated at its source. Nor do they grasp the level of general public growing panic and emerging bloc of single-issue — climate change — voters.

In short, now would be a good time for Paul Caprioglio, Luis Chavez, Nelson Esparza, and Esmeralda Soria to get out their campaign account checkbooks and return some tainted contributions. Nearly $100,000 in Big Oil money made its way into Fresno politics last year, and these Democrats on the Fresno city council have received direct and indirect contributions from Chevron and the California Independent Petroleum Association.

And there’s plenty more where that came from. As of November 2017, the California Democratic Party no longer accepts money from oil and gas PACs or their representatives in Sacramento, so now it’s gushing directly into political action committees and independent expenditure committees which circumvent campaign contribution limits by running their own campaigns in support of candidates.

‘Essentially, it’s legalized corruption. It’s legal. Companies can spend as much as they want to elect people who are going to do what they want.’                                                 –Mayor Jose Gurrola, Arvin

According to CalMatters, during the 2017-18 election cycle, Big Oil & Gas pumped $19.2 million into state politics, including $14 million into independent committees with one spending $343,000 to re-elect Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield. Another $2 million went straight into the coffers of the Republican Party.

Soria’s contributions came directly from the Irvine-based petroleum association in the form of a pair of $2,500 contributions on Feb. 24 and June 4, according to City of Fresno Electronic Filing System reports. She has a direct connection to the organization through Willie Rivera; they both worked for Rubio when he was in the senate. After Rubio quit, Soria went to work for Perea. Until he quit.

It only gets oilier from here.  

Soria $5000
Council member Esmeralda Soria received $5,000 in direct contributions from the California Independent Petroleum Association in 2018. Chevron donated $90,000 to the Chamber of Commerce PAC which gave $5,400 each to Luis Chavez and Nelson Esparza.

As it turns out, Rivera is a Democrat who holds elected office, too. He’s a Bakersfield city council member, but his day job is as regulatory affairs director for the California Independent Petroleum Association, whose political action committee contributed $3,000 in 2018 to Rivera’s campaign account in addition to Soria’s $5,000.

Rivera is apparently so serious about his job as an oil industry junkyard dog fighting off government regulation, he works after hours for them, too. In 2018 the association PAC launched a $20,000 campaign against Democrats in Arvin where a group of young, progressive Latinx officeholders led by Mayor Jose Gurrola had dared to update the highly polluted city’s oil and gas code from 1965. The move was prompted by a gas line leak in 2014 that forced the evacuation of eight homes. Rivera’s employer wanted the ordinance overturned. Gurrola’s majority held after a lot of door-to-door grassroots campaigning.

In light of some Democrats’ newfound sensibilities regarding climate change, air pollution, environmental racism, and human survival, you know, the basics, Soria, who entered this year with $107,485.81 in her campaign account, should now make a clean break with her tainted former colleagues and return the $5,000. Because any organization or individual seeking to reverse progress in Arvin is attacking a frontline community that has taken a stand against the most destructive industry in human history.

Similarly, Caprioglio, Chavez, and Esparza need to break out the checkbooks, too. Chavez and Esparza each received $5,400 and Caprioglio, who ran unopposed, took in $500. While they are probably unaware of it, oil money seeped into their campaign accounts last year via the Fresno Chamber of Commerce PAC. The business group received a $90,000 contribution from Rubio and Chevron in May 2018. The money covered all of the PAC’s campaign contribution costs for the year.  Rubio’s paymaster also moved more than $350,000 through Rivera’s petro-bosses’ PAC in the 2017-18 cycle, which accounted for half of the group’s spending.

Chevron, BP and ExxonMobil have spent hundreds of millions over decades to delay action on climate change, leading the world to the brink of catastrophe. As the people living in frontline communities courageously advocate for a just transition off fossil fuels, including a 50 percent reduction by 2030 to avoid runaway climate chaos, now is the time for local leaders to lead by example.

When the next oil executive offers a contribution to a candidate, committee or PAC, they should be sent packing. And when valley Democrats attend their party’s statewide convention later this month, they should sign the environmental caucus’s pledge to refuse all fossil fuel contributions.

Consider what Mayor Gurrola told KGET News in Bakersfield: “Essentially, it’s legalized corruption. It’s legal. Companies can spend as much as they want to elect people who are going to do what they want.”

He signed the pledge.


Developer Dollars, Democratic Duplicity

(This article first appeared in the April 2019 issue of Community Alliance magazine.)

By Kevin Hall

Few were downtown at Fresno city hall on a cold morning in late January to witness the new council fail its first real test of character. The one that matters most in city politics, it’s a single-question exam: Do developers still run this town?

They do.

The new five-member, veto-proof Democratic majority on the council has raised the hopes of many locals. At long last, some say, our humble burg of half a million souls will be governed by a body with a greater interest in the needs of poor and working families, one willing to take on the special interests running roughshod over lives and futures.

Assemi Kashian $ Totals
When dread developer Darius Assemi looks up at the dais in Fresno City Hall, he is looking at more than $200,000 invested by his family members and their businesses in the political careers of the current council and mayor. The city’s election cycle limits are easily ignored and candidates often receive four or five times the limit from Assemi interests. Commercial developer Ed Kashian is the second most prolific backer in local politics.

Continue reading Developer Dollars, Democratic Duplicity

Oil Money Seeps into Fresno Politics

March 31, 2019

By Kevin Hall

Today would be a good day for Paul Caprioglio, Luis Chavez, Nelson Esparza, and Esmeralda Soria to get out their checkbooks and return some dirty campaign contributions. Nearly $100,000 in Big Oil money made its way into Fresno politics in 2018, and the Fresno city council members have received direct and indirect contributions from Chevron and the California Independent Petroleum Association.

Soria Oil $
Council member Esmeralda Soria received $5,000 in direct contributions from the California Independent Petroleum Association in 2018. Chevron donated $90,000 to the Chamber of Commerce PAC which gave $5,400 each to Luis Chavez and Nelson Esparza.

Soria’s contributions came directly from the Irvine-based petroleum association in the form of a pair of $2,500 contributions on Feb. 24 and June 4, according to City of Fresno Electronic Filing System reports. She has a direct connection to the organization through Willie Rivera, a former coworker. Himself an elected city council member in Bakersfield, Rivera is the regulatory affairs director for the oil organization.

Rivera is apparently serious about his job as the local oil industry’s junkyard dog fighting off government regulation. In 2018 his association PAC launched campaigns in Arvin, Kern County, against young, progressive Latinx officeholders there who supported Mayor Jose Gurrola’s ordinance limiting oil operations within the beleaguered city limits. Soria and Rivera worked together in the offices of state senator Michael Rubio, the disgraced official from Bakersfield who left office a year early to join Chevron in their war on the planet as director of government relations. Continue reading Oil Money Seeps into Fresno Politics

Dodging the bullet train for a uniquely Valley future

Continue reading Dodging the bullet train for a uniquely Valley future