Thursday, November 19, 2015

When do we get to say we told you so?

When do we get to say we told you so?  
What did we say?  
We said that people like the Mujahedeen, the Contras, and UNITA were bad news, and would continue to be bad news long after the short term politics were forgotten.  Supporting groups like that was akin to keeping a violent vicious guard dog that might kill someone.  Sort of like the right wing that denies evolution and climate change or the police that shoot to kill as a policy.  That dog can only be trusted the length the leash it will sooner or later get free of.  
Who did we say it to?  
Mostly we were talking to the people who were not making these decisions.  We were telling the common public that it was time to oppose and object.  It was on a long list of things we have been saying should be opposed and objected to.  If we had a message to the less than one percent who really make the choices that govern our lives, that message was: stop! You are going too far, even for you who seem to not know the limits of decency or even the limits of the possible. 
Who was 'we' to say it?  
It was the left in all its forms.  I was part of it, ridiculed in my youth for warning that Jimmy Carter was getting us into generational trouble and that the situation in Afghanistan was a nightmare that would continue long after the Soviet Union woke up and went home.  It was only one of many warnings, about wealth, religious fanaticism, the environment, civil rights and many other international affairs.  
I just wrote a blog saying that despite his great speech before congress, President Holland leads a government that is part of the problem.  We had no peace, it gave people no justice and now we plan to fix that with more war and injustice?  
And we have a world media that chokes on the word "imperialism".  
Continuing a lifetime of working for some kind of alternative (and at times getting some of it) I find myself reading emails the break the heart.  
One old leftist teacher writes me that she is overjoyed to see her native France join the US effort in Syria with airstrikes against ISIS.  In her dry French way, I think she has told me that my blog ended our friendship of twenty years.  Yet she was one of the people who once joined me putting out the warning that events like this were going to happen as a direct result of what the US and France was doing in North Africa and the Mid-East.  If such a person can now get swept up in the logic of violence, I ask myself how well we learned the lessons we once gave and how well we understand what we should know full well by now.  When are we going to face the realities of what our governments are doing?
Another email written in French, with a Moroccan accent, does not endorse the vicious circle, but instead tells of the death of a friend's son, a child he saw born and helped raise in one of the attacks last Friday in Paris.  That young man was lost to a war that his parents and friends had committed themselves to keep from happening.  
Other emails from kindred spirits range from talking about how France was ALREADY part of the (legal?) air strikes inside Syria against ISIS, about how it is not so great to be a Muslim in Europe and caring people who don't know that part of the world asking WTF?  We tell each other we knew.  Not exactly this, no, but we knew something like this would happen, yes.  We tell each other that we told them so.  There is no satisfaction in having been right. 
I have one friend in Paris who is the child of Holocaust survivors. He and I met working in Nicaragua and have been in solidarity ever since.  He writes me about anti-racism actions in France, supporting the people of Palestine and members of the Israeli Army who refuse to oppress.   I write him about running for office as a Green, trying to get some control over the Oakland Police and my fight against a media that chokes on the word 'imperialism’.  
In that time we have raised young men, little different from Amine, son of Taoufiq, lifelong friend of our buddy of my friend Youssef, who just died in a night club caught in the cross fire between two monsters.  
We knew, we know and we told them so.  
And we need to keep saying it.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

The president just spoke before congress.

The president just spoke before congress.  
Not our president, not our congress.  
He said a lot of the things we should all have expected from him.  
France will stand firm.  We have seen worse than this.  Life will go on, the elections will go on, the climate summit will go on and we will look to the future.  Everything one would expect from a president wrapped in the red white and blue.  
Unlike another president, he was articulate.  
He said some things I should have expected, but after so many years living in the United Stares, I no longer had those expectations.  
He gave a quick account of what happened.  
He gave a detailed account of what he has done so far.  
He said which part of international law they would base themselves on. 
He made it clear that he will be calling in the military alliances France is member of.
And call a meeting of the security council of the UN asking for a resolution. 
He told us that he will be talking with Obama and Putin about a coalition against ISIS.  
And he said what expenditures will be and is asking congress for the money.  
All that makes a lot of sense, but it is not what we have gotten used to when our own red, white and blue is being used as a wrapping.  This speech was a mix between good political skills, good administrative thinking and knowing how to make an effective public address.  
Salient points for my American ears was the commitment to legal rights and procedures.  We are not asking to waive the law, we are asking for funds to enforce it.  
One part of his request for constitutional changes was to have a different version of the state of emergency.  The current law allows the president and the military to take over civilian authorities which Holland declared simply not relevant to terrorism.  The current law was written to deal with either an armed uprising or a foreign invasion, both of which France knows about more than we do. 
He did not call it that, but he asked for the French law to have lesser version of a state of emergency to deal with this new kind of problem.  To show some national unity, he asked to have the commission of the last government serve as a departure point for the discussions leading to the legal changes that he is asking for. 
I thought when he said that this was not a clash of civilizations, but a fight between civilization and terrorism he was making a good point, well spoken, had it been true.  He made it clear that some of the perpetrators are French and that part of the problem was internal.  The president acknowledged that France is in middle of a confusing situation with many social factors in France and overseas,  yet nothing stopped ISIS from being a group that now had to be defeated.  
It was hard to criticize anything he just put out there except for the idea that French duel citizens born in France should be stripped of their citizenship if found to be convicted of terrorism or other acts of war against their country.  I like the "convicted" requirement that our government has replaced with at "determination" and a murderous air strike, but anyone on our side of the Atlantic should shudder at the idea of anyone not being a citizen in the nation where they were born.  Our history with that included chattel slavery and genocide against natives and the best it ever gave us was Japanese internment and Mexican expulsions. 
It is not hard to criticize France, including this man's government.  Have we forgotten Libya?  The first planes to hit the Gheddafi government were French.   That nation still does not have a government and a lot off it is under extremist control.  France had to step in with boots on the ground so that Mali did not go the same way.  France has been an ally of the US with this anti Syrian government policy which has led to the same thing in two countries.  
When I say under extremist control, I mean OTHER extremists than the extreme imperialist policies running around Europe and the world in which France is a partner.  One could go back to Vietnam, Algeria and the cold war, but just in more recent post Soviet times France was a big piece in shutting down the elections in Algeria, supporting a military putsch run by the same people who fought France for their independence in the 60's.  You could call this one of the first anti Islamist civil wars in the current period.  
France was a big help to the extremists of  Kosovo, taking their independence unilaterally from Serbia (and some un happy Serbs with it) after France and the other Security Council members resolved in the UN that Serbia's territorial integrity would be respected.  What did they mean by respected?  This president of France seems to have no problem with reversing such politics when it came to Serbs in Bosnia or when it comes to Russian speakers in the Eastern Ukraine.  It seems to have no problem with bombing the people of Afghanistan or Yemen and never did.  The whole support to extremists in Afghanistan against the Soviets and again after the Russians left town never happened despite French objections.  Only slightly less silent is French mention of anything critical of Israel whose treatment of the Palestinians is part  and parcel of  what might cause a young French national to go help ISIS. 
The racist idea that we westerners are civilization and that the radicals in the desert are some kind of animal sounds good when ISIS does something this radical, bloody, and outrageous.  132 dead, 300 wounded?  That is any slow day in the mid east.  That is probably a peaceful day in Syria or Yemen.  There are any number of nations where France is a partner in brutal killings from the air against people who dare to want a government that the western powers have not "determined" have a right to live.  Those people don't have a right to live either and even if we do not see it daily on our screens, they see it on their streets and in today's world, we can all see it on line, if we dare to face this truth about our times.  France joins the US saying that the Syrian dictatorship is intolerable and must go, yet any Arab knows that Saudi Arabia and Egypt are both just as bad to their people, dictatorial and intolerant as any government in Damascus or Kabul ever was. 
At the end of the 19th Century there was an inside group of major political powers who would gang up together to impose their will on nations where they did profitable business.  At the time of the Opium wars, France was a full partner, and France is a full partner today.  Today we call it the G7.  We have civil rights and some kind of democracy at home, and citizens of the dominated world have the right to do as they are told, or have our governments impose their will with violence.  
The twentieth century gave us the transition from gunboat diplomacy to drone strike diplomacy.  
This allows this modern French speaker to stream the president's speech from Congress Hall, Versailles live, in-direct telling me the most effective old lies.  The lies of omission.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On the day after election night...

 There are a few things that I would like to share about the Canadian elections.  

First off is that they took place, not that we would have known it.  
We sure did not hear anything about it on our KPFA, nor on Democracy Now.  A search of Amy Goodman's website for the words Canada and Elections gets us Naomi Klein selling another book.  This is the same Amy Goodman who can not say anything about Canada without sounding patronizing and sardonic and who got herself thrown out of British Coloumbia because the Canadian authorities gave her more credit than she deserved around the issues of Native peoples and the Olympic Games.  She had never heard about it, and because Democracy Now never covers such little silly things, neither have we.  

Which might be better than the NPR - BBC version of things which consisted of one interview with a well known satirist about his election predictions.  Yes, they both only interviewed a satirist and they both talked to the same satirist.  So much of the English speaking world got a view of the Canadian elections that was shallow, based on media perceptions and did not speak French. 

Operating under the assumption that Canada is a real country, not a joke, and that its peoples are real peoples, not pet hamsters, and have real issues and a real elections worth talking about, I will have to stand in and try to talk about what just happened to one North American in 11, to one of the economies of the G8, the second largest territory in the world, and a main military partner of the US in NATO, NORAD and whatever the hell we call the coalition of the willing these days in our endless wars in the mid east.  

The oil industry dodged a bullet yesterday.  To switch from a "majority" Conservative government with about a third of the popular vote to a "majority" Liberal government with about two fifths of the popular vote mostly means that the New Democratic Party will not have to be accommodated and will continue to be shut out of government.  Pipelines will continue.  A lot of things will continue including military things, political things.  

We have done the Canadian version of the Republican / Democrat teeter toter.  

The basic international policies of Canada will not change much, but we will make a better show of it at the climate talks with empty words and there will be less messing around with such issues as women swearing their oath of Canadian citizenship wearing a burka.  

Many Canadians stand up for some very good ideas, as many of us do, but where in the US we have a winner-take-all advertising horse race paid for by the stable owners, in Canada we keep democracy down with a system called first-past-the-post. 

A Canadian parliamentary seat is decided by who gets the most votes in that riding without run offs.  It is not hard to find a political system that is less democratic than the US, one only has to look to Canada, the UK, Australia and about anywhere our British colony starters set up shop.   If Canada or the UK have ever had a government with the majority of the seats in Parliament representing a majority of votes of the people, I have not heard of it.  Certainly not the Harper government that got "voted" out yesterday, nor the Trudeau one that got "voted in". Nor the one in the UK today with about a third of the vote.

Real results? Liberals 39%, Conservatives 32%, Socialists 20 %, Quebec Separatist 6% and Greens 3.5%. Real seats, a majority to the Liberals who now form a government without any need for other party support, about a fair share to the Conservatives, who form the Opposition, which in Canada has a legal standing, way too few to the NDP social democrats who will fight to be heard even when they represent one Canadian in five, ten seats go the Bloc Quebecois and one to the Greens, making them the most under represented party in the house. Given that there is not a US style check and balance system this gives the Liberals and their financial supporters the freedom to run things as they wish until they decide to call the next election. (yep, no fixed term)

Canada will have more of the trappings of pluralism without any of the bothersome mess of dealing with any legislative oversight.  Instead of having a president and cabinet secretaries who need to be confirmed, the Liberals will choose among themselves who will do all those jobs and then vote themselves in.  Trudeau as Prime Minister will have more relative power than Barak Obama.  

Given that, it might have been an election that our media might have covered a little bit?  

Of course, the people who own and support our public and private media have little interest in giving a stage to people arguing over what kind of national health care to have, if they should be part of the US military actions around the world or if we should still pump oil.  The US media serves a US system that does not respect the national sovereignty of any nation other than those fighting against our enemy of the day, so why talk about a people in North America who want Independence?  It does not fit in the mold.  Maybe the Canadian election was "not news" here because there was nobody willing to pay for it being news.  That and our endless superiority complex that others call chauvinism but we call "exceptionalism".  

With everything I just said bad about the Canadian election and its electoral system, it still have five parties instead of 2 and they all get seats in Parliament and the coverage was more about issues, the burka BS notwithstanding, than any of the clown act by Donald Trump or the shallow symbolism of Hillary Clinton.  

Not that Justin Trudeau is not a lot like Hillary Clinton.   
And in case our media, including the media that claims to be progressive and inclusive, decides to pay any attention to those charming little people up north, the coverage could be about the environment, oil and other exploitations going on in the great north, native rights as we discover more and more of the wrong people living on top of the desired assets, and social reforms wanted by working people, natives peoples and French speaking peoples.  

The next round of provincial and local elections will be important as was the recent election of a "majority" social democratic provincial government in tar sands producer Alberta with 41% of the vote where the Conservatives thought they had their oil interest backers well protected.  

41% of the people of Alberta may have done more to stop those pipelines than anyone else in North America. Maybe we should listen?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

We should manage our East Bay wild lands with controlled burns.

The Oakland Hills are in a 'fire ecology' biome. 
The brush and trees that grow here are adapted to fires that come on a mostly 3-7 year interval. 
Natural fires are mild enough not to kill our trees and plants, as they burn away the small buildup of dead underwood and then go out. Many of our native plants require such fire to open their seed pods. Fire season is normally followed by mild rains that germinate those seeds and soak the ash into the soil. 

 That is the natural ecology of a lot of California coastal hills, including ours. 

  I cannot imagine a harder thing to sell politically to the people of the Oakland Hills than to intentionally set a wild fire. But that is exactly how to keep us from having another big fire and how to manage what grows in these parks. 

  Right now Oakland is caught up debating between two really bad ideas. 

  This East Bay Express article will get one quickly to the source materials and to the different views folk have been expressing.

The official plan from FEMA, which is to cut out the eucalyptus and spray their stumps with herbicides is to continue the same kind of forestry practices that have caused so many disasters in recent decades, including the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. We will either end up with barren hills or a delayed disaster, or both after soil erosion, flash flooding and becoming too dry too quickly after rainy seasons. If followed and successful. the FEMA plan would give us an even more unhealthy watershed. That is the exact opposite of what we will need to handle climate change. We want more biomass and more water retention, not less. 

  The anti-plan most proposed does not include the herbicides and conserves bio mass, but it does not get us back to a managed forest that will survive a controlled burn, or a naturally occurring fire, without turning into an inferno. 

  Cutting out the eucalyptus is something we probably have to do eventually, at least in part. Eucalyptus is adapted to having different kinds of plants populate its biome back home in Australia where they have different weather and kinds of fires. Our natural plant cover is made of things like redwood, oak, madrone, manzanita, etc, that does not grow well together with eucalyptus. There is also an issue with what eucalyptus does to soils and how that affects the other needed ground cover. But it is not the most urgent issue. 

  The most urgent issue is the buildup of fuel that turns a light fire into a raging fire that will kill the trees, destroy the bushes and their seed and leave a dead zone. We have many square miles of California that look like the moon because by the time it burned, it burned hot enough to kill everything, even the worms.

The second most urgent problem is the lack of that native, fire ecology, underbrush so critical in controlling soil erosion and balancing soil nutrients. Our hills have suffered high temperature fires but before that they suffered cattle grazing. Both caused a lot of damage and much of the normal fire ecology bushes don’t grow here anymore in healthy numbers. For the seed pods to open and give us re seeding, the plants have to be growing there in the first place. Now they need to be restored to the area.

A realistic scenario would be to transplant in native, fire zone species, remove the fuel buildup, remove some of the eucalyptus more likely to burn or damage soils and then, when ready, do small controlled burns in segments. For it to work, it has to be done in fire season, and that requires serious preparation. 

  It would be costly and take years to do, but we would replace the failed forest management practices of our period with the fire management methods that the original native Californians used for centuries.

Eventually we would have a green belt that we could manage with controlled burns and no drama. Plants and trees not able to handle our natural fire cycles would get selected against and that would decide the fate of the eucalyptus and other immigrants on the long term. 

   We could cut out a lot of the drama with better building codes too. Why are we permitting homes to be built out of firewood in a fire zone with kindling for roofing materials? When this was Mexico, they built with adobe and had tile roofs. Ever hear of them burning down from blowing sparks? In the San Diego area a preponderance of homes have done a more modern version of those tile roofs. There is no reason to have the most affluent residents of our area live adjacent to a fire zone in homes made of two by four’s and plywood. A MAJOR opportunity was missed during the rebuild following the fire but a slow transition to fireproof materials is still very feasible. Some building code changes have already taken place and some rules about keeping the area around homes clear have made some progress. There is no reason not to have fireproof buildings next to the fire danger areas. 

  So I am saying that the Plan is OK as long as we get it through our heads that for our open spaces to be healthy and safe, we got to burn them down from time to time. 

  And the herbicides just have to go. They are plant poison and plant poison has no place in forestry management. It is intentionally polluting our soils and damaging the local ecosystem causing long term damage for short term gain. Established habits are hard to break especially when they cost less. But just as the fire fighting has caused these mega fires due to the buildup of fuel, herbicides cause problems that will haunt us and come back to bite us.

In forestry management we deal with communities of plants, fungus, and all kinds of bugs, birds, mammals, worms and more, living in a web, providing habitat and nutrients to one another. There are so many of them, we usually have no idea what they all are. Often restoration involves just moving whole squares of plants with their soil in the hope that we get a wide range of species to repopulate the gaps we do not even know exist. 

  Problem one with the plant poisons, is that we have no idea how much the kill, what they kill, how much they damage or what the changes are to the community of plants, fungus and animals after they are sprayed. All we are sure about is that things never come back the same. Herbicide today usually means soil erosion and poor growth later, never being sure of what you might be missing.

“The Plan” calls for small amounts of herbicide directly onto the trunks of the cut eucalyptus to make sure that they will not grow back. That sounds reasonable until you calculate in the contamination of the decomposition process. 

 If we have the regular controlled burns, the fire will scale back what is not adapted for this area. That may well mean that the eucalyptus would not grow back, especially if we have planted more appropriate trees and shrubs to hold that ecological niche. 

  Problem two, is when you spray with plant poison, the plants that can resist the poisons grow in number and size. You may also invite in genetically modified organisms. What? GMO's here? Yep. Take for example the Roundup Ready gene from Monsanto. It makes corn resistant to Roundup as you spray this poison onto the weeds in the fields. Since the Roundup Ready corn hit the market we have discovered that plants, such as those weeds, can aquire genetic material from another species, such as Roundup Ready corn. So now we have Roundup Ready weeds. It is a form or living genetic pollution and it is spreading around. We are all just hoping that this gene will not cause more problems as it becomes a part of the general environment. Where would the GMO's and other herbicide resistant plants come from? Our yards and gardens. Urban landscaping is some of the most polluted land in the world when you add up the fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, invasive species and GMO's. We already find a lot of our open "natural" spaces covered in ivy and other yard plants. Increase the use of herbicides and more herbicide resistant species will migrate in. Herbicide creates an ecological void.  Do we want the plants that will fill it?

  The idea of adapting to the natural fire cycles and nurturing a full range plant and tree forest community is not new and is well founded in science. 

 The national forest services and most state forest agencies have run tests and are changing their practices. 

  The East Bay should join the fire forestry management movement.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Understanding the fight at KPFA?

Like many, I am having trouble making heads or tails from a lot of what I heard from and about KPFA and Radio Pacifica.
As it is our local community owned radio station, it seems pretty important to us all.
Obviously there is a fight for control going on, but what I see from the two sides newsletters is not so concise.

This week I corresponded with a journalist from New York, who knows this story well, albeit from that angle.
This article spells some things out and says them clearly in a way much of what I have heard here did not.
The comments below the article say a lot too, as do some of his earlier articles that you can find from this page.

I have asked him for an update for us all.

As to KPFA here, I would suggest that all members, such as myself, follow this closer and VOTE in the next elections.
And if you are not a member, I'd remind you that KPFA is our only member owned and funded station.
KQED is owned by a board and takes  corporate money and KALW is owned by the SFUSD and also takes corporate money.
That makes KPFA precious and unique.
It deserves our support, but not uncritical support.
I think it time to pay attention to what the factions are doing and realize that they are not mirrors of each other.
There certainly has been an ethics breakdown and one side is not "fighting fair". 

And it is time for those of us outside of the faction fights to say a word or two.

Monday, December 15, 2014

OK, can we NOW have some unity for an Oakland Police Commission?

If we want to do something about Ferguson, we should finish our business in Oakland. 

The protestors, self-included, gather in front of City Hall and we call that Oscar Grant Plaza. 
In Oakland we know the problems of having the police be out of control. 
According to Judge Henderson, who oversees the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, we are over a decade late dealing with just the tip of the iceberg represented by the Riders case.   According to many of the liberal Democrats that run our city, we have not made good on the promise of our Civilian Oversight since the days of Mayor Lionel Wilson back in the 1970’s.  According to me, when it comes to how Oakland Police treat blacks, other people of color and the working public in general, there are no good old days.  It was always bad.  The further back you go….. 
It is bad and the problems extend past the mistreatment of the “minorities” who make up Oakland’s majority of residents.  We just spent 10 long and expensive Measure Y years watching this force drag their feet and hide behind union rules and the “Police Officers Bill of Rights” to fight every form or participation in community policing and even the most mild civilian oversight. 
Community policing example:  The program we are supposed to have is that each Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council is to have a Problem Solving Officer.  The reality is that this is the most unstable job in the Oakland Police Force.  It is always the first thing to be cut, put on the back burner and when staffed, the officer assigned is constantly changing.  In my local NCPC’s we never had anyone on the job long enough to really get to know their group, let alone their community.  By the time you get to ask them to sit for coffee, your PSO has been replace by someone who is too busy to talk with you because they are just getting started.   
Accountability example:  For a couple of budgets now, there has been a small reform in the offering.  Right now, if you have a complaint against an Oakland police officer, you must file that complaint to an Oakland police officer in the Internal Affairs Department or someone who works directly for them.  Oakland activists, self-included, have been pushing to move civilian complaints from Internal Affairs to the Civilian Police Review Board.  The council agreed and put the funds into the budget.  The City Administrator simply did not do it.  No authorization, little explanation, no public review.  Then after some pressure, much of it led by the organization PUEBLO, it was put into the budget again.  Next thing we know, there is a job description asking civilians to apply to do intake for civilian complaints IN INTERNAL AFFAIRS.  Still no authorization from Council to change the plan laid out in the budget, still no public account given.  It turns out that the City Administrator had been consulting with the police officers’ union under a farfetched contrivance where they really had no standing, and the police officer’s union was able to get the court appointed monitor to go along with blocking this reform “to have better relations”.  (That monitor has been relieved of duty shortly thereafter, but the decision stuck.) 
By the way, included in the job description for a civilian complaint intake officer, was an encouragement for former police to apply and requiring knowledge of the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights, but civil rights training, being from Oakland, having any background in advocating for the public, none of that was even asked about. 
Anyone active in Oakland over the last fifty years could now say:  “Yeah and let me tell you about…..   
Fill the blank in here with all kinds of issues big and small that stem from a police department that does not have a clear system of accountability or any checks and balances. 
Therefore there is no surprise that this police force is costing the City of Oakland big dollar payouts to compensate victims of Oakland Police Abuse.  How much more?  More than the cities of San Jose and San Francisco COMBINED. 
Done right, and done well, a Police Commission could make a difference.  A police Commission was what people were asking for back in the 70’s.  What we got instead was a sham.  That failed and then history repeated itself the second time as farce giving us today’s powerless Civilian Police Review Board. 
Other cities have police commissions, we can look at their legislation, look at their successes and failures and catch up quick. 
PUEBLO still has such a proposal that they have been working on, they call it a “Public Safety Commission”.  If they had the support of the street demonstrations, they could advance an even stronger proposal and they have all the lawyers necessary to write up a charter amendment.  I don’t care what they call it, as long as it has the power to conduct outside, independent investigations and it has the power to dismiss police officers who we do not want.  Notice I said “want” and not those convicted of some kind of a crime.  Police officers who want to kick but, want to bust heads and treat our people like the enemy have the wrong attitude for working here.  They should go and the ones who are on the community service wavelength should stay and be rewarded for it.   
We should also look into our souls and think about what it is WE want out of this here in Oakland. 
We are one of the US’ urban cores dealing with problems of generational discrimination, poverty, crime, violence and lack of education.  With Measure Y and Measure Z we see that the overwhelming majority of us, self-included, have decided to make our focus the causes of crime as well as the crime itself. 
We cannot do that with a police force that is not held accountable.  One of our biggest problems right now is the extremely poor relationships the police have with most of the communities of this city.   
So let’s do it.  The groups organizing the protests, can you also organize a ballot petition?  This kind of change is going to need a change of the City Charter and we are going to need the support of the voting majority to make it work.  Contact the PUEBLO office and join into this effort.  This will probably move the protests from the freeways to the neighborhoods getting folk to sign petitions and for many, sign up to vote.  Do this and the protests win. 
PUEBLO is willing to take the risk of leading, do we have the good sense to FOLLOW?   The group that is meeting following the Dan Siegel mayoral campaign, you are partly involved already.  This is something we can do now and deserves a coalition now.  Jessie Douglas Alan Taylor, Wilson Riles, speak out, you know a lot more than me and it is time to share it. My local Greens, we are already part of this coalition on paper, can we make this the first thing we do in 2015?  There are many other groups, I think too many other groups, Phat Beets, the ISO, Peace and Freedom.  Hey Commemorators, didn’t you start this the first time?  Would Block by Block support a strong police commission?  If so, many of you know your way to the PUEBLO office, and I mean YOU Pamela, among others. 
Can we just agree on this essential power shift right now and get this one reform done? 
It has waited too many years and our streets and freeways are feeling the need to finally do it. 
Don’t do it, and we will feel our own unfinished business in the pain of others.  Oakland will be an example either way.  Right now we are an example of the problem, we can join Richmond and be an example of the solution if we can work together enough for this. 
Given the right police commission we can quickly work towards a day when any law enforcement employee who commits a crime or abuse will be dealt with and the public can trust that justice will be served, especially if the injustice was committed by someone wearing a gun and a badge.  
If we do it right, Oakland Police would wear a badge that everyone honored. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

No on Z! Yes on crime prevention programs!

Measure Z is the renewal of Measure Y, our Police, Fire and crime prevention programs special property parcel tax and parking tax that is up for renewal after ten years.    Over ten years most of the money raised went to Police ($159 million) and Fire ($95 million), and the smallest spending item was sent to the Department of Human Services for the crime and violence prevention programs ($38 million).  They were also able to get some grant monies for the DHS programs.

The crime prevention program is called Oakland Unite and its website tells us that the strategies are Youth Services, Family Violence, Reentry Services and Crisis Intervention. Look around the website, and you will find lots of support for getting funding.  An actual list of who HAS funding is found here: Oakland Unite functions more or less like any other Foundation handing out grants. 

If Measure Y were a grant recipient asking for a renewal after 10 years, an independent review of the past work, supervised by those giving the money (in this case us the voters) would inspect the program. 

The questions asked would be:  Was the program effective in dealing with the problem it was trying to address?   Was it cost effective?  Were funds spent wisely and properly?    Who benefited how?  How many benefited for how long?  What happens to the target community when they leave the program? 

Those questions have not been asked of Measure Y and that kind of review has not been done. 

So let’s go back to the top.  In 2004 we voted 20 million dollars a year for stable police and fire and to start down the path of violence and crime prevention, intelligently turning our backs on the “tough-on-crime” failures of the twentieth century.  Probably one of the smartest things we could have done given our prison system without rehabilitation and our parole system’s total failure.  I was in total support of Measure Y and totally support the concept inspiring that small part of the funds headed toward Social Services. 

Rough estimates are that Oakland incarcerates, and releases about 5 to 9 people on any given work day.  From what Probation and Parole employees have told me, about 13 to 17 thousand of our people in some form of incarceration or provisional release at any one time.  A lot of those going to jail are going back to jail and a lot of those coming out will not be out too long. 

There is no agency giving us a report on the whole situation and there is much massaging of numbers, but even given the lowest estimates of the size of this vicious circle of our criminal justice system, we are talking about thousands of people directly involved and serious stress and crisis for tens of thousands of Oakland families.  If you take families, friends and neighbors into account, it puts about one resident in eight into direct contact with some kind of Oakland crime and violence problem.  More if you count the victims of crimes.  It would be very hard to find anyone in town who has not been robbed, or has had a family member or friend who has been harmed in some way.   

We in Oakland know crime, and given that, we made a very informed choice to take the path of prevention.  Now I ask you to think about what you know about this city, the size of this problem and ask yourself if you think the numbers measure up for what we have experienced over the last 10 years. Looking over the Oakland Unite website you will see dozens of youth and family served in that time, probably hundreds, maybe even a couple thousand, but looking over the city you will see thousands, probably tens of thousands left to the way things worked before the ten year, forty million dollar, Measure Y experiment.   The whole project cost us $200 million when you add police and fire. 

I feel that we are letting the big ticket items fall too far down the list to be effective.  Given the limited resources, even with Measure Y/Z money, I feel we should focus on the areas of highest need and highest yield. 

Top of that list of high yield programs that should be a priority is Restorative Justice.  We need to stop sending so many people to jail and Restorative Justice Group-Family meetings provide a well-tested alternative.  Instead of a trial, sentence, and parole path, the offenders are brought to their community through the meeting in lieu of a trial and given a restitution and reform path to follow instead of a sentence.  Families and communities having difficulties, creating the conditions for the crime and violence should be able to receive targeted assistance.  This system has been worked on and the beginners’ mistakes have been made in other places.  Two things are known.  1) It costs a lot less than regular law enforcement. 2) Restorative Justice Systems have never performed worse than prison when it comes to repeat crimes. 

Some people think that prevention programs are the long term solution when in this case it is how we stop feeding the whirlwind RIGHT NOW.  How many crimes would we have prevented if we had had a serious Restorative Justice program in Oakland during the 10 years of measure Y?  We have been fixing flat tires as the potholes get worse. 

What do we have in the way of Restorative Justice after ten years of Measure Y? 
Maybe one or two cases resolved this way a week and some low number, amorphous support from the county without a clear plan or agreement.  We have lots of “great first steps” when we should have made it a lot further down the road.   

After our fifty to a hundred cases a year resolved with restorative justice practices, the 5 to 9 other criminal cases a day are taken to Court where the District Attorney’s office practices the same old policies of getting as many convictions as they can, getting as many years of sentencing as they can and trying as many youth as adults as they can.  You can go watch, it is in the main courthouse, ask the desk which departments are seeing criminal cases.  Since Measure Y went into effect a whole new generation of Oakland youth have been through lock up, almost none of whom were considered for an alternative resolution.  Many lives of crime have been started and made worse since 2004. 

For an example of Restorative Justice going well take a look at our own Oakland Schools.  And yes some of the push came from Measure Y.

School discipline has the same problems as the criminal justice system.  Restorative Justice has given a way to have better behavior, better participation and fewer suspensions and expulsions overall and less disproportionate damage to school careers of black and brown students.  This city/school collaboration is one of the few bright lights of the last ten years.

How about the other end?  What do we do for those who are about to be released?  Do they have a place to go?  An integration plan?  Have we met with their friends, family, and church before they get out?  Has the State offered them any rehabilitation, job training, basic education while they were in?    A bank account?  One of those Oakland ID cards?  So are we spending measure Y money to teach people how not to act like they just got out of jail and to tell them how to apply for the insufficient services? 

The re-entry programs on the Oakland Unite website seem very cool, but are they really targeted on the extreme situation a person finds themselves when the bus lands them down at MLK and San Pablo?  Do they measure up to the real needs out there?  Have we put a dent into parole violations and new convictions?  The State of California does not think so.  Google Little Hoover Commission and Parole. 

So, I think that the programs of Oakland Unite miss the main action.   The police feel that the main four social factors that need addressing are 1) substance abuse, 2) homelessness, 3) truancy and 4) recidivism. At least one of the four is present at most murder scenes. Only one of those is in the Measure Z priorities list.  Nothing is in there to set up a triage office of the Oakland Police to review every arrest BEFORE we hand it to the county for incarceration and the DA’s office for prosecution.  There is nothing in there to provide a serious number of half way houses and serious support to those getting out from behind bars. 

Well, isn’t something better than nothing?  Are we not doing something good, albeit not perfect?

Good arguments both at times.  In the case of Measure Z we are being asked to spend 20 million a year for the next ten years, pretty much along the lines of the last ten years.  If we pass measure Z, and we probably will despite me and my little blog, that will be the only money we will get.  The money it will raise is already spent.  There is no other money on the horizon and the whole process is focused on subcontracting, so there is little training or setup inside our city agencies and most of the work is done by non-union outside vendors. 

Isn’t Measure Z a case of “something-better-than-nothing”? I see it more as something ineffective standing in the way of doing what is most needed for crime prevention. 

Without Measure Z would we not be “letting-the-perfect-keep-us-from-doing-the-good”?  In my view Measure Z allows a lot of problems with what we are doing go un-fixed.  Council and the public will both think we are on the right track, when all we have done is really nowhere near enough or on target.  With Measure Z we will continue to have day to day operations at police and fire unstably funded by this temporary tax and there is nothing in the measure to demand police accountability or make sure we get the long promised community policing. 

Measure Z is a status quo measure that will give us status quo results. 

This is spending what little cash we have on some nonprofits while missing the boat. 

There is a whole other side to this discussion following the lion’s share of the funds.  The Police Department and City Council were sure able to spend those funds, and two thirds of our discretionary budget at the same time.  After ten years we still don’t have the promised Community Policing, and for that matter, we don’t have much police accountability at all.  We are STILL under court control for the Rider’s police abuse case.  Our police abuse cases compensation payouts add up to more than San Francisco and San Jose COMBINED.  About 10 million a year!  If we got that down, we could pay for everything Measure Y now funds without spending a dime of the special tax and we could spend the special tax on giving people a life after jail or helping them avoid that life of crime altogether. 

The last amendment to Measure Y was to fix the cutoff point for police funding.  That was after Quan crashed the program in a dispute with our police officers over pension contributions.  Almost all of the new police from the academies are offsetting the loss of 80 of our newest officers at that time.  Current council members scream at the thought of losing the Measure Y funding because they have already spent it on day to day operations that should come out of the general fund.  They still have not gotten a handle on our exaggerated police costs and pouring special tax funds into our police department is akin to pouring water into a bucket with holes in it.  Little makes it from the well to the kitchen.  Why would this improve under Measure Z when it did not improve after ten years of Measure Y? 

There are examples of Community Policing working just fine.  One is in Richmond CA.  In that town the civilians run the police and they hired a police chief who would implement their policies.  No special tax, just an active government and lots and lots of grass roots community work.  In Oakland, the man who wrote our Community Policing policy is running for mayor promising to finally make it happen. 

But crime is down?  There sure are a lot of politicians running around claiming credit for our nationwide drop in crime.  The numbers do not really credit any one thing.  Crime is down across the country; Oakland has followed the trend, not led it.  Right wingers claim that it is because of such things as Three Strikes and everyone trying to get reelected is saying that low crime rates prove them right on policies as diverse as Ceasefire and Stop and Frisk. 

At first after Measure Y crime went up.  It went up again when Quan became Mayor.  Way up.  We had some of the highest murder rates in years.  Now we have some of the lowest.  It would be bad sociology to conclude much yet.  It is good politics for some to blame Jean Quan and Measure Y for the high crime of 2010 and for Jean Quan and the Measure Z backers to claim the credit for the low crime of 2014.  How could both be true? 

Before we start running around saying this or that “works” we should ask ourselves “works to do what?”  I want something that works to prevent our youth from becoming criminals. 

If we do not vote in Measure Z, we can still continue with Ceasefire, Community Policing and Restorative Justice.  We should do as Richmond has done and tell the Police Department that this is what the residents have chosen to do and it is the police department’s job to do it well. 

We are not dealing well with convictions, releases and direct aid to families and 20 million a year on the Measure Z will not change that one bit. 

But Measure Z, like Measure Y before it, sucks all the money out of the budget while missing the mark. 

Our budget is not a short term disaster right now.  The sky will not fall on our non-profits’ heads if we vote it down.  We have the money we could use to pay directly for the programs that really deliver services to those it helps.  Remember that the Human Services part of Measure Z is the SMALLEST item on the menu.   We should review those projects, one by one, and fund them as they are found deserving.  We should have the whole program professionally, independently, reviewed and audited before setting up any more special taxes.   Our council fell down on the job by not doing this before putting the renewal on the ballot. 

A budget that works after Measure Z is over would be nice.  My choice would be to spend special tax moneys on special things, setup of new programs for example, and get operational funds from the operational budgets of City and County.  Use a ballot tax to set them up, use normal taxes to keep them running and we have something of a sustainable plan. 

The Measure Y had no such plan other than to come back to the public telling us we have to do it again. 

We also need to work out some details and have agreements with both the county and the state.  If we do things, such as restorative justice, or housing parolees, then we are doing things that are normally the county’s and state’s job.  If we keep people out of the criminal justice system, we are saving the state and county a lot of money.  We should negotiate getting some of those funds.  It is also our money.  The DA’s office, County social services, the Department of Corrections and so on, should either provide the services we all pay for, or help us pay for doing it here in Oakland ourselves. 

We should also have clear who does what in Oakland.  Everything related to social services, law and justice, crime and punishment overlaps with Alameda County and the State of California.  There is some coordination and cooperation now and such things as Ceasefire depend on it, but there is a lot more that needs to be done, especially when one of ours is let out of jail.  Some advanced planning and written agreements with state and county are in order. 

I am not saying that the whole thing is a total failure, far from it, just too expensive and ineffective to be worth renewing without reform.  Let’s take the time to fix it and bring back in better health.