Saturday, June 29, 2019

Cheap shots on Spanish

My guess is that almost all of the media voices belittling the Democratic candidates for speaking Spanish at the debates do not speak Spanish themselves.

Of real note are the particularly snarky comments about “Beto”.

For those of us who do speak Spanish, Beto told us something that almost all of the English language media missed. He speaks it well. Very well. Beto grew up in a part of our country where Spanish is a common language and he has obviously spoken it most of his life.

So, the college student on NBC’s coverage giving him advice on how a white person should approach speaking Spanish and the snide panelist on NPR have one thing in common:

They both were equating language with race.

But speaking a language is something we learn, we do, we participate in. Even our native language is a learned thing. There are many people who grew up in another nation and speak the languages of where they were raised because they are from that place and not the land of their passport or skin color.

Beto grew up along the Mexican border.

He is no different than the Anglos in Montreal who speak the language of the French majority (me), or the Mexicans on the other side of that border who speak English better than your average student because English is part of their day to day life.

Booker did OK and my first reaction hearing him was admiration. He had the guts to learn and more guts to risk his skill level to public exposure. He also told us that his idea of ethnic minorities included respect for Spanish speaking Americans. Mayor Pete was competent, as usual, and as a former soldier he might well know a lot of those Spanish speaking Americans who carry guns for our country.

My overall impression hearing those putting their Spanish out there was “not bad” and they all showed a good, honest and intelligent effort. I would not vote for any of them in the primary because my views are further to the left, but they have my respect for making the effort.

And the message of all this Spanish speaking to the Spanish speaking public was loud and clear:

The Hispanic minority is important in this election.

That is not a bad message. It did not deserve the denigration it brought on from pundits taking cheap shots. The “Taco Bell” comments or talking about Beto “trying to speak Spanish” are both mean spirited and uninformed, telling us much about what the commentators think of the politician they are running down while saying a lot about how people in this country feels about Spanish.

In the United States, Spanish is a repressed, undervalued language that is often associated with a patronizing and racist view of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and other brown skinned people. In the popular culture speaking French, German, Russian, Chinese and other languages is high class.

Speaking Spanish is treated as low class.

I find it revealing that people who do not speak another language themselves, make fun of other people for not speaking another language well.

Spanish is considered a crutch for those who do not speak English well enough in our schools, public services and politics. In many schools, Spanish is discouraged instead of being taken up to the next level of literacy. Spanish is what we use to talk (down) to those people, who are treated as second class Americans. Third class if they do not have work papers.

Spanish has been the language used to manage the hired help.

So Beto gets run down not because his Spanish is substandard, because it is not. He may have been the most skilled Spanish speaker on stage, including Secretary Castro. No, Beto gets run down because he is speaking Spanish and is white. The assumption that he does so poorly might have more to do with the miserable success level of American college students in achieving fluency.


Keep in mind that almost 100% of our media folk come from the less than one third of us who go to college.

My guess is that there is a higher percentage of bilingual English speakers working in construction and hospitably than there are holding commentator jobs at NBC. 

I have a lot of trouble with English speakers deciding that speaking Spanish in a national debate is pandering. Somehow all the other talk of minority rights, LGBTQ rights and so on is taking positions, but somehow, speaking Spanish is suspect. Were they afraid that Beto was talking about them behind their backs? With that NBC crew, they all could have. There was one Spanish speaking commentator and I was pleased to see him start off in Spanish with a couple of the candidates.

Just note something.
Why wasn’t there a voice over or subtitles to interpret as Spanish was used?
That is what would happen in a real bilingual nation.

But for NBC, Spanish was not important enough for them to be ready for it. Their only provision was to translate the debate from English to Spanish on Telemundo.

Secretary Castro closed speaking well, with a native accent. He let us know that he really speaks it. A lot of people with dark skin and the last name Castro speak no Spanish at all. They are from the United States and don’t speak Spanish any more than I speak Gaelic or my half-brother speaks the German that defines his mother’s accent.

Castro did well and I would have to hear more to know if he speaks household Spanish, the same way I once only spoke household English, or has the depth of day to day language use that comes from education, using it at work, using it for politics and having a deep contact with the culture, economy and daily life of active Spanish speakers. I am not sure how far that goes for Beto either. All the same, I admire Castro for speaking up and being positive about speaking his family’s language with the whole world watching. 

I am not sure I would trust my own English under such a spotlight.

And I am pleased that candidates for president of this nation had the courage to make talking directly to so many Americans with respect for them and their language a priority.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Blueprint for what exactly? (Oakland schools)

Last night’s Oakland Unified School District school board meeting was on two subjects.  One was a report on how we are doing with our Blueprint for Quality Schools from the ad-hoc committee. The other was on the budget, which was presented as an inch-thick pamphlet in a format that is hard to read. (Do not expect an organizational chart)
My guess is that hardly more than a few hundred people in Oakland know about our school district’s “Blueprint for Quality Schools” outside of those who work there.  Yet this is a plan that the board and district staff have been working on for years.  There have been committees formed, advisory groups consulted and all kinds of surveys and meetings that supposedly consulted our communities.  When you voted in 2016 and 2018, you voted for supporters of the “blueprint” process, which was already in gear. In earlier versions it was called a “search for excellence” and other such trial branding. 
The stated goal for this plan is an outreach and public consultation to make our schools better.
The Oakland School Blueprint for Quality Schools is really a cutback and layoff plan.
The only “better” that they found was the only one that they looked for.  I took the survey for parents.  The only questions were about what schools to close, how to do consolidation, etc.
There was always a reason to be dubious about this Blueprint for Quality Schools process that our school administrators have been pushing for some years.
Doubt number one is this idea that somehow, we need to rediscover how to run quality schools.
Seems to me that what our political class needs to rediscover is the need to fund education adequately.  One could talk about all kinds of things and most of them start with the word "restore".  That is as in we need to RESTORE art, music, sports, shop, civics, Spanish, sports and and and....
But that is not what the Blueprint is really about.
It is about cutbacks.  Add to cutbacks, consolidations, closures, and downsizing.
It is also about real estate.  The school closures prepare the way for even more transfer of our publicly owned real estate to these so-called charter schools. 
Those private schools using public money use our public school buildings.
And California State law makes it our obligation to give the charters a home.  Maybe there is another version of charter schools out there somewhere, but I am talking about the actual "charters" that California law gives us in practice and the access they have to our school sites under prop 39 guidelines. Every time I talk about this with a pro “charter” activist they want to talk about what charters should be, and not what they really are here in Oakland. Here they are a bird that lays its eggs in another bird’s nest.
The "Blueprint for Quality Schools" view of efficiency is the same as a bank merger.
We are now at the phase where we consolidate, close branches and lay off staff.
If I heard him right, the principal working on the merger plan that will give us Elmhurst United School explained how we will now have 3 coaches for the united school when we had 4 otherwise. I hope that I heard him wrong.
As if our schools are anything close to sufficiently staffed before these mergers and downsizing?
Schools are not a business and the business model is not healthy for a public service. If they want a Blueprint for Quality Schools in our schools, they could start by cutting back administrative staff and put more support staff on the school sites.  The real plan gives some small concessions to electives that are not available for all students.  Their idea of an elective that it is acceptable to underfund includes Spanish.  Music and art, maybe.  Shop, civics and practical skills? Don’t even ask. 
We have been doing these short-sighted cutbacks for years.  At each round of cutback we offer fewer options to students leaving many parents with little choice other than to “vote with their feet” as one of the illustrious leaders on the dais put it last night. 
We have been sold a hand to mouth version of budget scarcity and the cutbacks that really don't add up to much, but do make more real-estate available for this so called charter movement.
And if we did every cutback, merger and downsize in the Blueprint for Quality Schools, we still would not have the budget stability that the OUSD board claims. 
Sometimes when I listen to OUSD administrators talk about their fine plans, I feel like I am listening to a landscaping beautification plan in the path of a forest fire.
The real needs are for better management with fewer administrators pulling down six figure salaries, better funding altogether, better financial oversight and certainly, more choices at every school instead of being forced to choose between schools.
And we need an audit.                              
But the only versions of these kinds of ideas one heard at last night’s meeting came from dissent from the floor.  A group of students spoke against closures.  Later parents and teachers spoke against the closures. Members of the communities from the schools getting downsized spoke against this plan as parents and teachers. Many who spoke are both parents of OUSD students and have been working for the district in one way or another for many years. 
Finally, Megan Bumpus, a union member and dissenting member of the ad-hoc committee spoke very succinctly against closures in her minority report, making a clear and well supported case that the closures cost more than they save. Parent and teacher activists handed out flyers opposing the closures making similar points. 
If ever there was a day that shows that 5 of the 7 members on that board are elected with the support of Great Oakland Public Schools Advocates and other deceptively named pro “charter school” organizations, yesterday was that day. 
The students and public of Oakland do not get better schools from this “blueprint” but the people who back our school board have more square feet in the pipeline. 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Report back from the California Progressive Alliance

The last weekend in March I attended the California Progressive Alliance foundation conference. 
By paying $5 a month dues, I have been a member from the beginning.  109 members were present to vote at this conference held in San Luis Obispo with about 300 people in attendance over the weekend.  There were a number of Our Revolution Berniecrats, DSA and “progressive” Democrats along with a significant number of Greens from across the state among those present.    We had guest speakers, proposals, by laws and all that kind of good stuff on the agenda.
I am suggesting that Greens join the progressive alliance as individual members, who are the only members with a vote, and that the State Greens and local County Green chapters sign on as supporting organizations, which for the moment, don’t have much of a roll.
There are some aspects of this alliance that give me pause and there are some serious drawbacks to what we have so far, but despite that I suggest we engage the process for four reasons:
1, There is a strong potential to advance inside state government some of the agenda and values that we as Greens hold and have been working on for decades.
2, This could help us form local alliances to do the same in our city and county governments contesting local elections with a platform and a slate of candidates as the Richmond Progressive Alliance initiated.  
3, There is a politically inclusive, welcoming atmosphere and none of the people involved are dissolving their organization affiliations or asking others to do so. 
4, We Greens have a lot to offer in making this alliance successful.  I will go into this more in depth in my conclusion. 
The upsides: 
·        The fact that this has been happening AT ALL is a sea change in California politics.  Here we are seeing the short term after effects of Occupy and the Bernie Sanders phenomena and the long-term examples of the Richmond Progressive Alliance and other local efforts turning into some kind of systematic action.
·        The atmosphere is welcoming, inclusive and pluralistic.  (I said that, it is worth repeating)
·        This alliance has attracted to it many individuals with practical personal experiences.  We have former candidates, former office holders and current office holders along with many others who have participated in movements that have obtained changes in regulations and laws. 
One of the people who spoke was Matt Gonzales.  He had some very important practical proposals including the need for some kind of think tank to develop progressive draft legislation and ordnances that would give progressive elected officials an advance start on implementing our ideas.  This is the kind of practical proposals that many participants offered.
·        The positions taken set us out on a good course.  Especially important was the no-corporate-money commitment and the opposition to the corporate takeover of government.  There were other great positions taken on health care, war, economic development, protecting our public schools and other items that really matter.  The political direction of this alliance is clear, and for those who remain Democrats, they have a family problem, but the progressive left would have no problem with the endorsed platform.  For those of us akin to myself, who are socialists, this is a reform agenda, and not explicitly a socialist agenda, but these are the simple reforms that our reactionary affluent class resists and that the people really need in their day to day lives.
The downsides: 
·        This was an event heavily over representative of elder white men, including myself. (at 61, I qualify).  A group of people of color held a meeting to discuss this and the related boorishness of a lot of the speakers along with some inappropriate sexual behavior. I personally, as a working-class person who is quite outspoken, felt that this event was heavily weighted towards the highly college educated, many of whom, men and women, white and of color, were not listening, but just ready to pontificate about their pet projects and personal ideas.  When I listened to the concerns of the people of color, I felt that they were totally justified and in keeping with what I had seen myself.  I also wonder how the younger people there felt.  There certainly were a few people well under 25 and I was glad to see and listen to them.  I hope that they felt listened to and welcomed to lead as well as join in.  
We should not under emphasize this problem, it cuts across most left political movements in our nation and certainly the Greens have much of the same problems internally.  A woman of color put forward a code of conduct that was adopted, but she personally decided not to continue because of a man present who was the cause of her “me too” experience. 
If we are going to build a state-wide alliance to advance a people’s agenda of environmental sanity, economic equity and well being and social justice, we need to learn and get past various forms of elitism, racism and sexism inside our movement to make everyone welcome as leaders and valued contributors. 
·        And if we are going to do it in California, we have to speak Spanish. 
This convention did not in any way, shape or form.
·        There were also some serious process errors that reflect our individual based, self-appointed politics.  We in the US do not do organizations well, especially membership organizations that are transparent and accountable to the members. Between the Democrats and the non-profits, where would we learn that? Some of our unions are good, others have staff that shepherds the members. This group needs to improve our process. 
·        The next time a California Progressive Alliance meeting is held, I would like to see us voting members consulted ahead of time as to WHAT is on the agenda before putting out draft proposals.  Those draft proposals need to be provided long enough in advance to allow for research, amendments and counter proposals. 
·        Part of the problem of not having time to work on proposals is that the hand-to-mouth quick solution is to support the official Democrats at whatever they are doing.  Some attendees seemed to assume that everyone was a Democrat and that the internal Democrat agenda was THE agenda.  When discussed in the Green New Deal group, that was not what people there decided. 
·        The danger of this Alliance becoming manipulated is large.  The mainstream Democrats are good a lip service, empty token symbolism and making themselves look like they support what the do not.  When the Alliance gets popular, the opportunistic careerists will want photo ops.
·        And frankly, overloading the agenda and then cutting short discussion because we do not have the time is a mistake.  If we don’t have time to discuss things, then we should not vote on them.  Time would have been better spent working on our new platform, by-laws and the election of the steering committee.  Some of the support items could have been referred to that steering committee for more in-depth consideration and deliberation and I think that they would have done a better job than we did as a convention.  It would have been better to delegate that to our leadership and trust them to decide.
A few people spoke to this de facto lack of democratic process and I would ask the leadership to show more attention to those concerns.  “Asking the proposer if they accept an amendment” is not empowering. Real democracy is about having a choice, not a managed choice. 
One item on the long list of 17 documents that shows the shortcomings of last-minute proposals that we don’t have time to discuss, was support for a pollical party’s reelection in Barcelona.  I follow the news closely and am probably one of the few people in that room that had even heard of them before. I also speak Spanish and have a friend in Barcelona.  I like them but I have serious concerns about taking sides in anyone’s internal affairs.  That was not talked about.  And things like keeping our own government from taking action to overthrow the government of Venezuela was not on the list.
A proposal was made to do some kind of racial sensitivity training as part of our meetings and to have some kind of resources for those who feel cut out or mistreated.  I feel that this is a good idea. I would like to see that idea expanded to include young people, Spanish speakers and working-class folk. 
These problems of inclusiveness, language use and process can all be overcome, but it will not just happen by itself.  The proposals made need to be put into action to expand this movement.
There are other challenges.
The ideas need to be more flushed out. 
Personally, I put myself out there for the education plank and the “Green New Deal”.  Neither of which had much of a description.  There is good news on both counts.  As a writer, I volunteered to write some drafts to begin discussions.  A Green New Deal action committee formed and had a long and productive talk and we will be meeting by phone conference call once a month.  There is a good mix of backgrounds and ages in that group.  An education group did not meet, I think for lack of time and resources given that the people of color and other discussions were taking place at the same time.  But a couple of us did talk, and there too we are going to start up a more in-depth proposal. 
Hopefully by next convention the different groups will all have something to contribute with time enough for the members to review and time enough for discussion at the meeting before voting. 
Another challenge is: “Who is going to do all this work?”
Obviously, this cannot remain an all-volunteer organization if it is going to be effective.  Gayle may not want to be paid to chair the steering committee, and I hope she has the time and resources to work on this for free.  I suggest that the position include funding for the individual holding it. Sooner or later we need some other staff for fundraising, on-line presence, scheduling and organizing, travel, regional meetings, the next convention and so on. The group needs to raise funds, not a lot, but some. We Greens also suffer from the lack of a paid, full time, state organizer and fund raiser. 
Finally, there is a question about us participating as Greens. 
We certainly have seen many a liberal Democrat drift away over the years.  One of the things we Greens have to offer is a lot of experience.  With that experience we can ask for practice, policies and funding that are based on policy and do not depend on an elected official to be some kind of hero. 
We Greens have also worked on the issues a lot.  In the school districts, the city governments, the unions and out in the economy, there are active Greens skilled in all kinds of governmental policies. 
As usual, there were a number of Greens present, probably as many as many other groups, and as usual one would not know it.  Mike Feinstein said he counted Greens from Mendocino, Marin, Napa, Solano, Alameda, San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
The good side of that is that we are not hucksters always flogging our brand, the bad side of that is one could walk away thinking that the Greens were not there.  I think we Greens should coordinate a bit more, be a bit more visible, but keep on our good practice of being honest contributors who roll up our sleeves and help make things work. 
As a political party, we Greens also have the advantage of a lot of experience of taking progressive ideas to the street through our grass roots election campaigns.  I would like to see more of our former candidates involved in the California Progressive Alliance to help keep it grounded and focused on public outreach.
And we are the GREEN party.  There is no small number of environmental biologists, farmers, firefighters, builders and other skilled people in our party to help develop the environmental alternative practices that are so needed in these critical times. 
So, I am suggesting that we go in and try to make this potentially effective project work and at the same time keep our eyes open to the pitfalls and possible problems that we would work to avoid. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

California at the water’s edge

For Californians, being at the water’s edge is akin to standing at the edge of a cliff.  One needs to back away slowly, making sure you are holding your child’s hand and avoid standing where the cliff is crumbling away. 
About twice a year I write a rant that has to do with water use and land management. 
Once when it burns. 
The other time when it floods. 
So, while Oakland teachers were on strike, Trump officials were before the committee or a sentencing judge and suspect aircraft were on the ground, Guerneville and the surrounding area was once again underwater. 
This is nothing new there or in many places around California. Floods hit regularly in places as urban as San Anselmo and as wild as the South Fork of the Eel River where residents love to place signs way up on polls to show the 1964 high water mark. 
The floods and fires are both natural.
The severity of both is a product of bad land management. 
And bad water management.
Forestry experts, environmental biologists and experts in related fields have been telling us for over two generations that we should learn from the practices of the older, native cultures here and preserve creek beds and set small managerial fires at specific times. 
Keeping brush and forest coverage around the water ways, big and small, is the key to having a healthy watershed.  This keeps top soil from washing away, provides natural fire breaks, allows more water to seep back down to the aquifer and softens the blow from heavy rains. 
A healthy stream is clear water and we all know it.  A healthy watershed gives us healthy streams that flow long after the rain stops. 
Watersheds composed mostly of fields, pastures and parking lots are the exact opposite of that.  The fires burn right past where cows have been allowed to graze to the muddy edge of the ruined creek beds and across our structures and the rain runs off them as if it were a tin roof.  Not only was the water high on the Russian River, it was brown with washed away soil. 
And it is no laughing matter.  Homes and lives were lost in Guerneville, Paradise, Santa Rosa, Ventura and places I don’t know, all in recent times.  I keep having a reason to write the same things. 
There is no way that we can go back to the system of land management that the Yurok and Ohlone peoples had because there are too many of us and too much has changed.  But we can go back to the wisdom behind those ways of life and blend it with what we know as a society that practices industrial engineering and claims to follow the evidence before our own eyes.  Once called science. 
We need to start a sophisticated reforesting effort and we need to start yesterday.
And when we think of reforesting, we need to see beyond trees and think about the whole web of life that thrives in our environment.  Reforesting is a community of plants and animals that survive the burns and absorb the rains.  When we reforest, we need to think of exactly where we reforest and how that relates to fire and flood. 
We also need to make our planning contemplate the extremes.  There never was a California normal, just an average between wide swings.  Nature was already full of big highs and lows out here down wind of the NiƱo and jet stream effects.  We will always see times of drought and high water and need to make that the measure of our “normal”.  With climate change, we know that we need to expect those swings to become wider and the results more unpredictable than they are already. 
We need to carefully back away from the water’s edge and get out of the way of fire.
And we need to back away from the environmental cliff edge that we built for ourselves with over a century of playing God with water channels and fighting fires we should have let burn.  Those high-water marks on the Eel river reached that high because of aggressive and indiscriminate lumbar cutting. There are parts of California where the fires burned so hot that little survived because we fought fires and did not replant a full spectrum of fire ecology trees and scrub and did not do controlled burns. 
There are places in our state that look like the surface of the moon they were scorched so bad.  The Eel river never recovered from its messed-up watershed and in most places a person can walk across it, most of the time. 
In other words, leaving it alone and letting nature come back is not a realistic option unless you want to allow enough time for us humans to die out. 
We need to be part of a healing process for our environment. 
No part of an aggressive reforestation program will keep us from having fires because we live in a set of natural fire ecology biomes. No part of reforestation will provide more water, at best it would provide fire breaks and clean up the water ways while moderating the flows. 
If we are going to fully bring back our rivers to the point that we can have the salmon run again, some of the water we divert from one river to another needs to be left where it was. 
But there is another source of water that we mostly ignore.
We are flushing it down the toilet. 
Yep, our sewage is a resource we can reclaim.  How?  Two parts, first is to stop the use of cleaners and chemicals that turn it into poison, and second, it to pump it back uphill and treat it there with natural methods.  Most people do not know this, but California has pioneered the use of artificial wetlands and sewage treatment.  Arcata has a working model. 
Obviously to make such ideas real, we need to spend a lot of public money and think of environmental restoration and stability as an infrastructure project, as essential to a modern society as freeways. 
And we need to act fast.  The situation is already a series of disasters.  Real improvement over a short decade or two requires an aggressive plan.  To put all the parts together, I offer this proposal: 

The California Integrated Land and Water Management Plan.
This plan would be a combination of pubic works and state land management codes.
Reforest the watersheds.
·        Set aside a zone of at least five times the waterway width at the ten-year high-water mark to be reforestation reserve, independent of ownership.  Ownership need not change.  Inside that zone, we need to conserve the natural tree and brush, or replant it if the land has been cleared. 
·        The reforestation of the watershed would apply to all identifiable stream beds, even the seasonal ones, up to the top of the watershed.  The set aside land would never be smaller than 10 meters either side of the waterway. 
·        If the adjacent land is in agricultural or pastoral use, a supplemental margin of land equal to the natural set aside, will be zoned for orchards, lumbar or other soil stabilizing agriculture. 
·        If the adjacent land outside of the land zoned for orchards is for grazing, there must be a solid fenced barrier to keep livestock out. 
·        Land that is suffering exposed soil erosion needs to be fenced off and have a soil stabilizing cover planted, commercial or nature reserve, or both. 
·        In lands that were private and are becoming natural reserve, develop a system of recreational use for the owners to use for themselves or to let out as tourism properties.  Homes already built inside such areas would have public support to upgrade and modify to have less or no negative impact on the watershed or reforestation.
·        New buildings inside private watershed reserve areas would have to be built to an environmentally friendly code.  The state would help build environmentally friendly access, bike paths, raised walk ways etc. to make these areas accessible for recreational use. 
Forest and Agricultural Land Management.
·        The state would have a schedule of small, local, controlled burns in areas that are ready. 
·        State law would prohibit wide pastures or fields of dried grass or other monoculture fire hazards.  There would be an obligation to cut and mulch. 
·        Areas that are not prepared for controlled burns need to be restored.  This could take the form or removing, or mulching on site, the dead trees from disease and drought and undoing the biodiversity damage that a century of fire fighting and monoculture tree planting has caused. 
·        The restoration of forestry lands will prioritize biological diversity and stability, fire and watershed management and the retention of bio-mass. 
·        Tree farming practices will be introduced and land dedicated to planting lumber farms where it can be the most sustainable and productive.  We will intentionally have farms dedicated to growing lumber in a way that does not allow for a major fire. 
Develop a sustainable water use cycle
·        Limit water extraction to what allows for healthy rivers and fish stocks and do not take water out of the aquifer faster than it can be returned. 
·        Set aside absorption areas to replenish the watersheds and aquifers. 
·        Regulate the chemicals that go into the residential and agricultural waters.
·        Physically separate “grey” water from sewage and agricultural run-off.
·        Pump all residential waste water, including drains, to reclaim facilities strategically located uphill in the various watersheds of the state.  Process grey water and sewage separately.
·        Start a multi-step reclamation process using this waste water to grow fiber for paper, lumbar (the tree farms) and other agricultural products that are no part of the food chain. 
·        In a second step, runoff from the first sewage treatment would then go into the environment in reserve forests or controlled wetlands in a way that it would be naturally cleaned before joining back to the watershed or aquifer. 
·        Treat agricultural run off with artificial wetlands and reserve land allowing the treated water to go back to the watershed and aquifers. 
Fire Management
·        State code would regulate fire resilient building codes that local law could not override. 
These codes would include:
o   Ceramic roofing
o   Nonflammable siding
o   Fire break landscaping around residential areas
·        Environmental buffer zones between urban and rural areas
·        A retrofit program to bring existing structures to a higher fire resilient status.
·        A system of emergency water sprinklers around all housing in fire danger areas
·        A full-time fire force that works on land management between dry seasons and manages the controlled burns during dry seasons. 
·        A strict enforcement of the fire control measures indicated in the state land management plan. 

Over the years I have made this proposal in different forms.  Sometimes with more details and sometimes with less.  I am sure that people who actually work in the related fields would do a much better job than I am doing.  Some of what I am proposing is probably wrong.  Something else important is probably left out. 
I write this because I want to provoke the discussion. 
We need such a law and we need such a plan.  If not this one, then a better one. 
And I dedicate this version of my bi-annual rant to my good friend who lost his home, his daughters home and a lifetime of their possessions in Paradise.  They were grateful to get out with their lives and we all are respectful of those who did not. 
And I think of my friend in Ventura watching the landscaping burn around the oil wells near her home or my friend who tells me that his old Guerneville neighborhood was an island for a few days and the whole thing just feels personal.
Another friend tells me that the only reason he had a hospital to work at after the Santa Rosa fire, was because heroic staff went to the roof to stamp out the blowing cinders and keep them from lighting the roof on fire.  Yep, a hospital with a flammable roof in a state that is mostly fire zone.
And a couple times every year I visit the South Fork of the Eel river, long after anyone remembers that I once lived there, and I see those high-water marks way up over my head in the middle of a small town.  And I walk the rocky ruins of the depleted river, and feel that we all must do something. 
It is already late. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

We fight, we win! Win what?

Now that the seven-day Oakland teachers’ strike is over my son has gone back to his high school and the local parent-teacher’s association list serve it telling us what we can do with the wooden sticks that had been used for picket signs. 
The union leadership has been on the air and on line claiming a victory. 
The district management tells a story where everything is back to normal, nothing to see here. 
And on line, there is grumbling.  Only about 60% ratified the contract in a vote that had lower turn out and a lower margin than the strike vote. 
Why the grumbling? 
Let’s start with the money.  What the teachers were asking for was not that much to being with.  They wanted 12% over the next 3 years, and about 4% back over the year and a half that they had worked without a contract.  Given the local cost of living inflation, driven by ever higher rents, the union proposal was just barely above breaking even, maybe. 
What they got was a 3% ratification raise and 11% over 4 years.
Not bad for collective bargaining, not great for paying rent if you teach. 
But that is only some of the dissatisfaction.  There were more issues on the table of importance to the teachers and the public in general. 
They were:
·        the loss of funding and real estate to a charter movement running roughshod over our public schools,
·        distrust in the district's financial reporting,
·        school closures and
·        the high cost of upper school management. 
The group of school officials who stood in front of the press to give us their version of the settlement probably cost the public over a million a year, and back in their offices are many more like them. 
So, let’s step back and take a look at the bigger picture. 
This settlement is a big win GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES. 
Circumstance number one is that the majority of the school board members are friends of Great Oakland Public Schools (called GO and GO Advocates for the PAC).  Despite the name, they are really advocates of a school choice and charter version of our school district making our education system Balkanized at best.  In practice, many privileged people in Oakland send their kids to either a preferred school or a charter and some of our schools are being allowed to fail based on some sociopathic Social Darwinism ideas and practices.  And of course, working class students, especially working class students of color, are getting the short end of the charter movement stick. 
This fact, Circumstance One, casts a shadow and influences every other aspect of our local problems. 
Closing schools?  That publicly owned real-estate suddenly becomes available.  The charters and the developers are first in line for the ugly land grab, and in the Bay Area, anything to do with real estate development, acquisition or use has become very ugly.
High priced staff?  An amazing percentage of our high price staff and superintendents of recent years comes from that same GO charter movement.  Every voter in Oakland should know the name of Eli Broad and know about his academy where he trains administrators to “reform” school districts according to this privet business model.  All kinds of people kicking around GO and the OUSD have this kind of “training”.  If we just fired them, we could have our libraries staffed. 
And one could go on and on about GO and its deceptive antics in our local schools, and I often do talk about these corporate raiders, but let’s step back and look at a bigger issue still.
All across our nation, schools are not getting the resources that they need.  Not the K-12, not the trade schools, not the Junior Colleges and not the state university systems. 
Because rich people have decided to stop paying taxes.
In California we have our property tax “reform” called Prop 13, which is something of a scam, and the state Democrats do not have the backbone to either straighten it out, or simply stop taxing real estate just for value and find some other, more equitable way to raise money.  In any case, they have not raised taxes where money is being made and they have not provided an alternative way to fund schools, libraries, parks, health centers, the arts, youth activities or much of anything that serves the greater public. 
The long and short of it is lower taxes on the rich translates to austerity in public services. 
Some people think that this is too big a problem to fix.  Somehow, we should do some more minor, practical thing first, and…. well I have good reasons not to be a Democrat.  Let’s just note that currently the Dems hold both houses of the state legislature and the governorship and have appointed most of our state court justices, yet somehow, they are not able to submit some kind of comprehensive tax and equalization system to the voters? 
The Republicans had no such self-limiting hesitations when they pushed their anti-social shift of taxes from the rich to the middle and lower classes.  They still talk BS about Prop 13 as if it saved us somehow and the Trump tax cut as if it was the engine of our economy. 
So, thinking about how we live in a time when public spending is always leaving our basic needs begging and the politics does not really support the “public” in public schools, what the Oakland Education Association got as a settlement is not bad indeed. 
They got more money than was offered.
The got some movement on class size and made it a bargaining item. 
And they got the school board to hold off on school closure decisions and commit to hold a vote on a charter moratorium.  (a vote of the board, not the people of Oakland) District staff tried to say that those items were not subject to collective bargaining, but they were and the union got a small step. 
State wide, this strike and the one in Los Angeles just before it has made a shift in the public discourse.  The state Dems might want to pass the buck on school spending back to the property tax deprived counties and cities, but the public wants state action and some has come forward.  It is not enough money and some of the motives have nothing to do with teachers’ strikes, but there is motion after a long period of neglect and throwing up their hands at the dreaded Prop 13. 
And locally something great happened. The public came out in support of their teachers. 
Here in Oakland we had solid student and parent presence on picket lines and among the general public there is a consensus that they need higher pay, much higher than 11% over 4 years. 
And after many years of not getting the attention from the public and press that it deserved, this walking scandal of a trojan horse school board is getting some scrutiny. 
On the fist day after the strike, the school board met to vote even more questionable budget cuts and try to qualify for a dubious state assistance under law 1840.  Hundreds of parents were there to complain, as were hundreds of students who skipped their freshly re-opened schools to be at the meeting and demand to be heard. 
The board did not listen, but the greater involvement of the public can only be a step towards a better group of decision makers getting elected next year. Then maybe we get the long overdue independent forensic audit we need BEFOR deciding what needs to be cut or closed. 
I would call all of those things a partial win, all things considered.
The state Dems have already come up with a deflective half measure that they are calling a “start”.  If we had a dollar for every one of their first steps never followed by a second step, we could fully fund the schools.  This time it is some kind of lame law to make the charters “more transparent”
What we really need is real district control over district charters. What we have now is private or nonprofit schools operating with public money on public real estate.

A real public-school charter:
·        can be denied
·        is subject to oversight
·        accepts registered public-school students assigned to it.
·        participates in district programs.
·        has public dispute resolution.
·        Hires union member staff.

There is lots of room for experimentation and different types of school. That is what a real charter could be. What we have is not that. What we have is people opting out and taking public resources with them. A lot of them are not professionals. They run these "charters" like startups, and akin to a small business, many fail. Then the students come back to the normal schools who have the obligation to take all students who register.

These fake charters need to either come back and become public schools, or just go off and be private schools that pay their own way as other private school already do.
And all the schools need more funding, probably about double what they get now.
And to do that, the rich need to go back to paying taxes.