How to Pick a City Attorney, Oakland-style

The garden island on Lakeshore in the late spring.

This morning I finally made it down to Cana, our wonderful new café and restaurant on Lake Park Avenue near Lakeshore, for a café con leche. Unfortunately, they had just run out of that sweet mild drink (sorta like me, eh?), but I still enjoyed what I had at an outside table on our second dry and summery day. Is it possible that the rainy season is really over??

This place has already become popular and a good spot for people watching, which also means people judging for me. While I was waiting for my coffee, a woman tied her dog on the other side of the little wrought iron fence and started to come in. The dog barked loudly and a nearby toddler covered his ears in reaction. The woman looked embarrassed and went back to discipline the dog.

About 10 minutes later after I had gotten my breakfast treats and was relaxing outdoors, I saw the woman still trying to “discipline” this poor dog. I couldn’t help but notice her yanking his leash sharply numerous times. Even from where I was sitting at the other end of the fenced in area, I could feel her anger rising. I’m sure the poor dog could too, as she yanked him harder and harder. A few times she attempted to walk away but then she’d stop and start back, apparently trying to coaxe him not to react. Finally, she gave up and yanked him off down the street.

I had tried to shoot her a look of disapproval but she might as easily have taken it as disapproval of the dog (this was a late realization). It’s hard to know what to do to that might lessen rather than increase an angry reaction when you see someone abusing a creature that is smaller than them or otherwise dependent on them. Should you make a suggestion, chastise, or what?

I don’t know-but anyone who has ever had kids knows that walking tentatively out of the bedroom while rushing back at the first sound of crying, will encourage, actually teach, a child to cry to get out of the bedroom and back in the family circle. It can turn bedtime into a battle ground instead of a respite for both.  I imagine this dog also got the message and the other message about the angry, out-of-control owner. Most of us need help learning to be responsible for other creatures and some of us just shouldn’t try it at all.

Another cafe on Lakeshore.

In Oakland another little struggle is taking shape. It seems the battle to trim the budget without devastating already limited resources should be the number one concern for all of us. But, now that our police chief seems to be settling in (OPOA is not. All signs point to a campaign to embarrass him and the rest of city government in order to forestall a pension giveback), City Attorney John Russo has decided to change his profession while maintaining his high level of pay and remove  his charms to the taxpayers and city employees of Alameda.

I’m not being sarcastic about Mr. Russo’s charms. He was my council member and a good one. He is smart, funny, and acerbic.  But, and the but has grown, he was not so charming for the other folks who were elected to run our city and he made enemies of them or they of him. It doesn’t much matter which way it happened, (don’t kid yourself that this is just on account of Dan Siegel’s relationship to the mayor. This is longstanding) but it did and Oakland’s legal affairs became more and more difficult to manage as a result.

John has now consolidated his friends and his enemies into opposing forces-maybe that’s just a byproduct of being ambitious and determined sprinkled with a good dose of the arrogance that accompanies both. I wish him luck wherever he goes while  hoping that our next city attorney will be a little more hesitant to leap into the fray.

That leads us to the next point. Our new mayor, Jean Quan, who is smart and thoughtful, and a died-in-the-wool policy wonk, is leaning toward pushing for a change in the way we pick our city attorneys, that is, back to the days of appointing them.

I’m not sold on that. In fact I think I rather oppose a return to the days when the city attorney-and I was there and watched it happen- glanced around the room, particularly at the mayor, before making her legal pronouncements. It won’t do for the citizens of Oakland to get their legal advice on critical issues from someone who is beholding to the mayor whoever she may be.

It’s really about the type of person who runs. Everyone who knew John Russo, including those of us who supported him, wondered why he would run for a job that would reduce his policy making prerogatives. We thought, turns out we were right, that he might be tempted to keep a hand in that.

Many folks have suggested that Jane Brunner shouldn’t be appointed for that exact reason, but I’m not so sure. I think Jane has had her chance to do that (policy making), has missed her chances to move up, and maybe wants to be an attorney full-time now.

The city attorney job should be attractive to a long-term council member-it comes with more than twice the salary and fewer hours.  Anyway, I can’t help salivating at the prospect of North Oaklanders shuffling through the choices of an open-seat election. Of course, the talk is that changes are also coming soon in District 5-fun all around.

In any case, there are many competent attorneys in the department now who would be able to step into John’s shoes while, perhaps, restricting them to a narrower path. Returning to the days of appointed attorneys would require a charter change and cannot happen immediately so we have time to contemplate the possibilities.

The proposed city budget will be out any day now and it will probably have a dampening effect on political diversions. Meanwhile we await the bloodletting in our city, our state, and our nation’s capital, sigh. Come out on April 4th, “Join us for a National Day of Action to make your voice heard. It’s the least you can do, really, the least.

Notes from the Dog Park Meeting or How I Spent a Rainy Night in Oakland

Hundreds came to Barnett Hall to talk about the dog park.

A couple of hundred people gathered on a chilly, windy night in central Oakland at the Lakeshore Baptist Church to discuss the most pressing problem of the day-should we or should we not have a dog play area in the field on the other side of the freeway from the Grand Lake district and at the far end of the Lake Merritt expanse?

I still have not been able to glean the underlying angst of this issue but I will guess that it has something to do with people not feeling heard in general on the things which affect their lives from the White House’s wars to City Hall’s parking policies.

Although this play area/park has been in the works for years, many people have not been informed about it until now. Quite a few of these folks are new to the area and feel that their needs should be considered although it seems that many of them also support the park.

Dogs playing at Hardy Park under the freeway on a soggy day.

The pro-dog park people were offering “Time to Share” signs to pin on your shirt, but only about a third of the attenders wore them. That turned out to be misleading. When asked how many were there supporting the park, about two thirds of the crowd raised their hands.

Pat Kernighan opened the meeting with a plea for reasoned comments and stipulated she would prefer no name calling, booing or even clapping. She also asked folks to state what neighborhood they lived in while letting the audience know that she would give more weight to the speakers who live in her district.

That’s how district representation works, but it was a stark reminder of one of its downsides. One speaker took her to task for making it clear that they weren’t going to be heard in the same way. “Why do you think only people in this neighborhood care about Lake Merritt?” he asked.

It was announced that there were 42 speaker sign-ups to which Pat replied, “only 42?” David Flack, chair of the Grand Lake Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council, kept the speakers’ time quite nimbly. Whenever a speaker faltered he would say, “that’s a good place to stop,” and mostly, they would.

Nancy Nadel made a statement that this project has been going through a long approval process and that the City Council would be making the final decision as “making the tough decisions is our job.”

Nancy pointed out that development in the city will become “intentionally” denser around hubs for shopping and transportation; and that lots of residents use the parks for various types of recreation and that those uses are valid “even for people who don’t use it.” That is, there are soccer players, frisbee, and baseball players, and bocce ballplayers. “Do you play bocce ball?” she asked “but we have it for those who do.”

Council Member Nadel, who represents Adams Point and most of the neighborhoods bordering the lake, ran through the names of the many neighborhood groups that had already weighed in on the plan (later a member of the Lakeshore Homeowners Association with 1,000 members complained that they hadn’t been consulted.) She told us that this park was designed as a volunteer-driven project to include most of the funds, building and maintenance of this park.

Two speakers were chosen as the reps of their groups. Betsy Block, recently wed and having lived in Oakland for 5 years, told us that she has a masters in Public Policy (lots of credentials and degrees were flaunted last night) and was a park inspector in San Francisco. She asked us “to consider this a low cost amenity and a trustee of the land” to maintain it well.

She told the audience something many of us did not know about the parks in San Francisco-dogs are allowed (on leash, I presume). It became apparent from the information I picked up last night that Oakland is one of the least dog-friendly cities in the Bay.

Mary Saltello of Jean Street put on a power point show taken directly from the Save Astro Park group’s facebook page. She promoted their tag line from Mozart-“it’s the silence between the notes.” I’m not sure I know the significance of that but I do like the sound of it. She also noted that she is part of the “Friends of Morcom Rose Garden” and then said, “it would effectively kill development in that area.” She seemed to mean the project near the old gas station but she wasn’t clear how it would do that. I could see it both ways.

Ms. Saltello noted that since this project was conceived a decade ago, it has now become “an antiquated idea.” My sense is that more dog-owning young couples, who may or may not have children, have moved into the area since then. Of course, that does not mean that they want a dog play area.

Hardy Park dogs play with toys

Oops, I forgot to say that Leal Charonnat, noted 5th Avenue architect, who has been volunteering his time on the project, made a quirky presentation of how the spot would be constructed.

So here are some of the interesting comments I was able to grab onto long enough to record them:

Peter Prows – “I’ve never lived in a place with so much unprogrammed space that doesn’t allow a dog.”

A pro- dog park person- She volunteers to clean up Dimond Park and said “I clean up messes from people not from dogs.”

A local nurse- She opposes it due to the number of horrendous dog bite cases she sees regularly.

James Vann- He commented that he would not take a position based on all the work done by neighbors but still thinks that “the wood chips are unfortunate” and that it’s not the best place for it. James is one of the designers of the Measure DD projects so his concerns piqued my interest.

Eric Hughes who heads up the Grand Lake Beautification Committee which cleans graffiti and trash in our area (volunteers!) asserted that “this is a technical solution to a strategic problem,” in that no dogs are allowed anywhere near the Lake even on leash. He hoped that he would not have to ask the dog folks to clean up their act but did think that our local laws needed to be changed.

Numerous anti-dog park speakers remarked on the “sacrificing of green space” or “unprogrammed” space. Since this term was used a lot, maybe we need to deconstruct it. I know that Fairyland is programmed space and so is the bird sanctuary as are also the gardens, bocce ball lawn and the swing and tot play areas. The remaining lawns and fields and tree lined patches seem to fit the unprogrammed designation. Are the “programmed” spaces bad things? Are the “unprogrammed” spaces better?

And is “unprogrammed” one of these words like “special interests” or “entitlements” which has now been transformed into something with a much deeper meaning or just a word with little meaning that has been imbued with the power of a sound bite that is used to persuade people without explaining it at all? I leave it to you all, but please do consider the meanings and uses of influential words when they arise.

Along the lines of persuasion, when many speakers noted the good or bad qualities of the existing dog parks in Oakland, two of which are in flatland areas. One pro-dog park speaker responded, “Whoever said that a dog park has to be in a low-income, high crime area?” That got a round of applause.

After all was said or as much as could be said in a two-hour time limit, Nancy Nadel proposed that a small group of representatives from each side be gathered to hammer out an agreement. I wrote down that Pat had commented “If this dog park goes forward…” Whereas Nancy seemed to believe it would with adjustments. These are just my impressions and may not mean anything in terms of their positions on this hot debate.

As we left Barnett Hall, David Flack of the Grand Lake NCPC, shared his hope with me that as many people would come out for the city budget discussions. We commiserated for a moment on the upcoming decisions about what to cut, “It’s gonna be ugly,” he said, referring to the realities of our ballooning deficit. “Yeah,” I had to agree, “it will.”

Breaking News: Man Bites Dog in Oakland?

Ok, so we don’t yet know what will happen in the ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan, and we don’t know if we’ll get to vote in a special election in June so we can keep our schools open. Oh, and all the potassium iodine pills are gone and they’re telling us not to take them anyway.

Hmm, what else is going on? Well, there’s still local news to cover and issues to debate. Using  the well-worn definition–it’s not news if dog bites man. But, if man bites dog–that’s news, and that’s sort of the story here in the neighborhoods around the north end of Lake Merritt.

A group of people have been working to build a dog play area near Astro Park for years. I hadn’t thought much about it as I’m not a dog owner. It turned out that it was finally going to happen after all but that it might require more hearings.

Then like a sudden summer storm, a furious debate busted out on our Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council listserves about how this was a travesty against open space, children, and people looking for parking spaces. Some of those folks said they were dog owners but that this wasn’t the place or time or, whatever.

At some point, like conversations over email often do, these have gotten personal. One anti-dog park person suggested that dog owners who couldn’t afford a big yard should get outta town where they could let their dogs run without bothering their little children who were not used to/terrified of/ offended by the proximity of dogs, etc. And finally, of course, everybody has put up their own facebook pages.

With the hyperbole reaching a crescendo, a meeting has been set up at the Lakeshore Baptist Church for March 23rd by Council Members Kernighan and Nadel. One expects that the fur will fly before every dog can have his day (hehe, sorry).

I remember once before when the neighborhood went ballistic. In that case, we were all pretty much in solidarity against the same thing- a new McDonald’s. Each group that opposed the proposal to replace the old KwikWay with a McDonald’s did so for a slightly different reason-some opposed the type and quality of the food, some were concerned that traffic crossing the sidewalk would reduce neighborhood walkability, while some just hated the corporate mentality and look of the place.

I had talked to Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson at the time, and he told me that we couldn’t expect to pit “50 people in a room” against one of the world’s most successful corporations and win. But we had 500 hundred people crowding into the church to address McDonald’s reps that night and even Chip changed his mind.

We stopped the McDonald’s and almost succeeded in designing and planning a project that would have incorporated new shops with mid-priced condos. The owners later scuttled that plan and a new restaurant is finally preparing to open in that spot.

During that struggle, Ignacio de la Fuente, who had joined us on the picket line in front of the proposed McDonald’s told me, “If you don’t watch out, you’ll turn into North Oakland over here.”

Well, we have had other bruising fights in the neighborhood like the one that brought us the Splash Pad Park, the Farmers’ Market and eventually the Trader Joes.  Usually we settle them and are happy with the result but the hard feelings tend to linger.

Here we go again. I really am trying to understand the intensity bordering on hysteria over dogs having a corner of a little used space next to two busy streets. I know the folks who play soccer, Frisbee, and football enjoy their games, and they will still have enough room to do what they have always done. The tot lot is nearby and would seem to be a good accompaniment to families with pets.

Since I have become addicted to watching the Dog Whisperer, I have learned how important it is  to socialize dogs, for them and the people around them. I have been hearing that little kids and dogs don’t mix, but the dog whisperer even demonstrates how easily children learn to handle dogs without mishap. It seems to come more naturally to them than to their anxious parents. I raised two children of my own and trained them to be responsible for the creatures around them. It’s a lesson we could use even more today.

I like dogs a lot and have considered getting one myself more than once. When I see folks walking with their dogs on a warm summer evening, I think, “now wouldn’t that be nice?” Then, I occasionally catch a glimpse of them very early on a cold, rainy morning and think, “thank God my cat can walk himself.” I used to be a pet sitter because I enjoy visiting with other people’s pets and walking their dogs.

I admit that I don’t like to see dogs tied up outside stores and restaurants because they don’t seem to enjoy being left alone-makes me wonder-why bring the dog along? But, I don’t feel any more irritated by dogs cluttering the walkway than I do when I see those humvee strollers that block the entire sidewalk.

When I was a small child, the strollers and carriages our moms pushed were large and unwieldy so my friends and I were thrilled when umbrella strollers were invented. We could fold them up with one hand while holding our baby in the other arm and pop the little stroller into the car or jump on the bus with it. Slowly those little umbrella strollers morphed into giant double-wides in which the parents store a garageful of clothing and gear in addition to a kid or two.

Let’s admit it-our sidewalks, especially in the Grand Lake neighborhood, are getting awfully crowded. Old people, parents, kids, dogs, and youth are hanging out on our Avenues. It’s truly glorious. Really, I know it can be annoying but we’re there because we like the urban ambience we have built around our successful commercial districts.

It’s my mantra that our little neighborhood retail districts are the hubs of our neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods don’t have a good retail climate, so they visit their friends and families in other districts. Much as I wish we would put more energy into assuring all our neighborhoods have successful retail areas, I’m awfully glad they come to Lakeshore. Which brings up another issue that has elicited breakouts of grumpiness on our listserve.

If you’re newer to our town, you probably don’t know that once upon a time, you could rarely find an outdoor table or bench to drink your coffee or enjoy a meal out. Oakland, with one of the most moderate climates in the world, seemed to frown on the café lifestyle that people travel to other countries to enjoy. I could go to Montreal in the chilly springtime and find tables outside filled to capacity (albeit with sidewalk heaters), but I couldn’t sip a drink on the sunny sidewalks of Oakland.

Somehow Oakland’s sidewalks along with Oakland’s nightlife, gallery life, and restaurant scene has flowered. People are out and about, spilling out of their favorite cafes, yogurt shops, and pizza places where they can connect with their friends passing by.

Of course, it can sometimes cause inconvenience and we have to be vigilant so that every-bodied person can get down the sidewalk safely. When my mother was still alive and would visit, the most difficult aspect of her arthritic disability was not posed by strollers or dogs but our very tall sidewalks (due to flooding). With the added lower step, she would have been able to navigate the sidewalks quite well and would have enjoyed the ambience even more.

Even though I am not a dog owner, I decided to take a position because I was saddened by some of the responses which bordered on mean-spiritedness over this pooch-oriented park. It seems that all the dog people are trying to do is add an amenity that everyone could enjoy. Well-behaved dogs are an asset to a neighborhood. Well-used parks validate our priorities and demonstrate a good use of tax monies.

Happy people congregating in my neighborhood-it’s good for me-I’m hoping it’ll be good for you, too.

Finally, I Have been lucky enough to get to know and work with Emily Rosenberg during Jean Quan’s run for mayor. Lake Merritt neighborhood folk had asked her to help them get a play area for their doggies. Emily had experience in getting a park established near the Woodminster Ampitheater where patrons of the shows were concerned that it would smell.

But she says, “The good news is that there is no smell from dog parks anymore because of a new kind of garbage can and folks parking for Woodminster walk right past the dog park garbage cans in the middle of summer with no complaints about smell. All the dog parks in Oakland use them.”

For parents she says, “Please note that the community built a brand new tot lot just nine feet away from the dog park entrance at Hardy Park……the children are much closer to the dog park fence than at Lakeview. But in general, kids love dogs and the parents bring their toddlers to the dog park fence to watch the doggies play.”

Emily took the pictures of the kids playing with dogs in this piece.

Time for the Leaders to Follow

This is for my folkers who got bills overdue
this is for my folkers, umm check 1-2
this is for my folkers never lived like a hog
me and you toe-to-toe, I got love for the underdog——-they’d tear this muthaf – up if they really loved you” “Underdogs”,  Boots Riley

March 4th was First Friday and the big gang injunction rally at City Hall. I started with one and then moved onto the other on that balmy evening filled with the contrasts that Oakland has to offer.

I’ve got to admit, I was impressed by the youth groups who marched into Frank O’Gawa Plaza chanting and playing music, but I was saddened to see that they had to direct their energies to defend what should already be theirs-a decent education and the ability to walk the streets safely.

Whenever Oakland’s youth get passionate about something, they get organized. When they get organized, they also make music and poetry that fill the city with the sound of their anguish and their joy. You can’t help being moved by that and wondering why we don’t seem to honor their concerns.

I’ve got a new tiny video camera which I’m learning how to use, I think. The quality is not very good and my abilities are limited by my technological ineptitude, but I’m trying.  There is so much going on in this town that needs to be documented and I don’t want to miss anything. I got bits of Boots Riley ‘s song, “Underdogs,” which Raymond “Boots” Riley wrote in 1998. If you listen to the lyrics, you wonder if anything has really changed around here.

Of course, I mean Oakland, and the USofA. Lots has changed, you say? This rap was written after the Dot Com Crash and before the Whole Earth Crash, could we call it, or the Wall Street Meltdown, whatever.

After that giant rip-off/bailout, folks in Oakland, like lots of American cities, towns, and rural areas included, have lost stable incomes and many never had them. It’s been documented over and over that this slide of the US working class’ share of the wealth has been going on since at least the 70’s.

Even so, when my kids were little in the early 80’s and I was raising them with no help from their father and little from anyone else, there was almost nothing in the way of healthcare for my chronically ill children without a good job. Even then, since my kids had serious health issues which affected their schooling, there was next to nothing to assist my family.

Since then there has been some level of enlightenment and programs have arisen to help families like mine. We mostly did without them until my kids were teens, but what we got went a long way. For instance, as a result of his epilepsy, for a short time, my son was able to get some help with purchasing his college books under the federal Occupational Health program. That relieved some of the pressure on us.

I never used the WIC program but I know plenty of moms who did. Most of us have taken it for granted that Head Start is an important program and the new child health care program is a wonder that I wish had been available when my kids were little.

And ,now, as I gaze out my window to my view, a sliver of bridges and cranes-I can also see Oakland’s downtown and, farther in the distance, a few of San Francisco’s skyscrapers poking into the clouds-I wonder what I’ll be able to see after the Big One hits.

Hey, given how old my house is, I’ll probably ride to the bottom of the hill and where I won’t  be able to see anything. I remember the 89 quake and the 91 fire. In spite of not being prepared, we had FEMA to rebuild some of our broken downtown and we fought the Feds to get our share to restore West Oakland. I remember the brave fire fighters, police, and lots of regular West and North Oaklanders, particularly West Oaklanders, who climbed onto the collapsed bridge to save whoever they could.

What I’m getting at is that as bad as things have remained for many of us, there had been  some signs that our society knew what it took be civilized and was moving in that direction.

We even elected a president with a funny name who was biracial, Black and White, in a country that is as polarized as any in the world along that racial divide.

But here we are on a national precipice. The Wall Street Gang came and robbed us like it did every other city and state around this country, but of course, it doesn’t help that our state has a governing structure that makes us unable to respond to reduced revenues or the increased gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Now, between the Republican radicals in the Congress and the Republican Radicals in Sacramento, we are facing a disastrous future that we are barely able to contemplate.

We have already given up the 160-year-old promise of free basic adult education in California and we are moving towards abolishing higher education for anyone but the wealthy. But are we also moving towards limiting public education to only those who have absolutely no other choices while those that do find themselves going into debt in order to send their elementary kids to school?

Folks in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio are fighting back. Just because we have a Democratic Governor who is not trying to abolish our local governments or our unions (I won’t get into who wiped out our school board and put us deeper into debt), doesn’t mean we aren’t in for a bumpy ride.

We have a new mayor who may not have all the answers, how could she? But she is trying harder than any mayor in my memory so we’ve got to challenge our state leaders to do what needs to be done. Rather than complain about the fiscal crisis and how the city leaders caused it, let’s make sure Sacramento doesn’t make it worse.

Beyond the tax extensions, the Dems and the Guv have to go after the real money in this rich state. Trust me, they know where it is-these guys are their friends and contributors.

Remember that Wisconsin has reminded us that “when the people lead, the leaders must follow.”

Interactive exhibit at Art Murmur

How do you define a Conservative?

Future Public Worker

Once upon a time in America, young people, workers, and fighters for social justice coined a phrase, “speak truth to power”.  Most of us have settled for the media’s insistence that we now “speak only power to truth” or no truth at all.

From the so-called energy crisis which was a Dick Cheney-Enron-induced catastrophe from which California has yet to recover, to the so-called mortgage meltdown, we have accepted lies and bullshit in place of research and another 60’s throwback, telling it like it is.

Right wing think tanks figured out at least 30 years ago that it was worth lots of their considerable largess to learn how to frame the debate in their terms, and we’ve been working with their definitions since then. No wonder we often seem to lose the debate as Fox News describes it.

We don’t need our own think tanks to unspin that skewed reality; we just need to define our experience on our own terms while learning to use social media to promote our worldview. Please feel free to suggest, object, add to, or refine my suggestions.

Old Spin to New Definitions:

Economic downturn, meltdown, recession, mortgage meltdown, housing market crash=Wall Street Gamblathon, Wall Street-induced downturn, Usury, Phony recession, Massive-fraud crash, Sub-Prime Mortgage Theft, Corporate Welfare Kings (sorry, few corporate welfare queens), Wall Street Crash, Speculation meltdown, Investment fraud meltdown, Bank bailout crash, Wall Street Whackos, Wall Street Fraudster. Please suggest some more. Remember, America loves sound bites.

Conservative=Right wing extremists, Reactionary, Big government intrusionists, (new suggestion) Regressives, Anti-women’s rights activists, Billionaire-lovers, CEOs, Corporatists, White supremacists, Carry-a-big-stick-and–use-it activists, Pro-gun lobbyists, Pro-shooting lobbyists, Shoot’emup-2nd-Amendment rights advocates, Anti-4th-amendment activists, Pro-death-to-mom lobbyist, Tree-cutters, Anti-public education advocates, Baby-lovers&children-haters, Roads-in-forest-but-not-in-my-town lovers, My-family-not-yours activists, or Just me-but-not-you advocates.

Entitlements=Those rights and funds you spent your life earning. Sometimes including Medicaid=the medical care that you need but may not be able to pay for by yourself since you got sick but have a right to in a civilized society.

Real Conservative=Loves civil liberties and fights to defend them (highly individualistic), wants the government out of your bedroom and doctor’s office, fights to preserve the natural environment, assists mom-and-pop businesses not corporations, entrepreneurial, anti-overseas adventures, pro-self-determination advocates, (I grew up in one of these kinds of Republican households.)

Progressive=Equal rights advocates, Civil liberties advocates, Trade unionists, Workers’ rights advocate, Family needs advocate, Education-for-all advocate, Women’s-rights-as-mothers-workers-and-sexual-beings advocates, Healthcare-for-all advocate, Self-determination advocates, Social justice fighters, Science lovers. They advocate tolerance of other points of view and embrace diversity and new ideas.

Liberals=believe in all of the above except when inconvenient.

Department of Defense (formerly known as the Department of War)-Should be merged with the Department of Commerce since selling weapons around the world is our only significant remaining American export and includes regular invasions of defenseless countries. (Well, why would you invade countries that can successfully defend themselves?)

Citizen=Anyone who contributes to a society by working and building a life including raising a family to be responsible (may not include some of the very wealthy), paying sales tax, property tax, social security tax (which benefits they may never receive), tickets, fines, rent, mortgage, business license fees and assessments, attending school, attending community meetings, marching, rallying, flyering, precinct walking and phone banking- at the least, voting if possible (if you can and you don’t, are you really a citizen?), complaining and writing letters to the editor, and yes, having “anchor babies” w/o which our economy would slow even more-just compare our labor force and entrepreneurial spirit to countries that restrict immigration more successfully than ours. You can visit any “Chinatown” or Latino commercial district in your town or city to see the place where small and family-owned businesses are burgeoning and social life is vibrant.

Immigrant= Most of us. According to the latest US census, 1% of us are Native or Alaskan Native.

Minorities=White- Anglo-Saxon-Protestants, WASPs (at least in California.)

Deficit=Money donated to the rich before being extorted from the poor and soon-to-be-poor who donated it in the first place (see Citizen or Gangbanger or Wall Street  Fraudster for more information on how that happened.)

Gangbangers=Wall Street executives, that is, gamblers, (Ad)venture capitalists, hedge fund managers, and some politicians. Can we get an injunction to keep them out of our cities, towns, and states or restrict their movements?

Pensions=Money regular folk (averaging $19,000 a year), who don’t have trust funds, worked for- which was given to the stock market which then gambled it away.

Teachers=Women and some men who work many hours without pay to educate, counsel, feed, mentor, clean up after, purchase supplies, and advocate  at school boards and state capitols for (sometimes marching, rallying or see citizen above for the rest) the kids in our cities, towns, suburbs, and rural areas.

For the other hours that teachers do this, they receive modest pay (not including paying for credentials and on-going classes incorporating the latest gimmick, that is, “reform”, into their classroom days) from which their own retirement is deducted-see above for what happens then to it.

Public Sector Workers=In addition to the above teachers and the oft mentioned fire fighters and police: secretaries who take your messages, and in most cases, do the work of the managers you have called, clerks who put up with your bad attitude or lack of awareness and file your paperwork, answer your calls, try to interpret the bureaucratic wording some lawyer wrote up while wearing stockings, uncomfortable shoes and over-priced dresses or suits.

Janitors who clean up after all of the above in the middle of the night while they’re children are sleeping and still get them to school in the morning etc, public works guys and a few women who dig out the street or the sidewalk in summer heat (or fog), winter rain, and yes, some pleasant weather while your kid skate boards across their new work, sigh.

Some of them are meter maids or meter guys or meter readers-whatever-who write big tickets and take big abuse to cover the cost of the Wall Street Whackos who gambled away your public monies. See above.

Taxpayers= People who work for a wage or salary or any paycheck out of which taxes are taken, small business people, and anyone of us left over from the 1% who own 90% of the wealth in this country, people who funded the bank and Wall Street bailouts.

Union Members=Taxpayers with some control over their working conditions.

Here’s the other thing about Public Sector Workers that I haven’t seen mentioned. Most of the work in the public sector (including the military) is based on civil service or true meritocracy rules.

Therefore, many people of color have found stable employment there, have been able to rise in pay and stature, and have supported whole communities (businesses, homes, families, schools) on the basis of their reasonably remunerated labor.

This may be one of the reasons that public sector employment is under attack. Many Black women who had been forced into domestic labor (not even included in the Social Security system) in the past, and now, other women of color, have risen to prominence; or at least been able to sustain their communities as a result of working where race, class, or gender were not barriers to earning a stable living.

Without the availability of this type of employment and the deconstruction of affirmative action, the old rules of hiring apply. Those rules mean hiring someone who either looks like the boss, is related to the boss, or does favors for the boss. Those restrictions are devastating to many men but have often proven dangerous for women.

We must create a new vocabulary to create a new world (and stop using the old right wing spinology). We can’t let the Right Wing define democracy, freedom, human rights, and our socio-economic life in ways that reduce the actuality of achieving those pretty words.

Two Degrees of Separation in Oakland

Oscar Grant Memorial

Welcome to my view of Oakland with a little bit of the rest of the world thrown in. I’m just one of the many bloggers, activists, or artists, and entrepreneurs that you’ll find in our little city. Like other cities, we also have our share of criminals, corporatists, chronically underemployed, and generally cranky people.

I don’t mind cranky, in fact, I frequently am; but I do try to find Oakland-centric solutions to our problems and do not expect perfection in a place where over 400,000 disparate folks try to live together.

I think it’s one of the saddest things about Oakland is that we spend so much time focusing on our deficiencies. Is it the old inferiority complex that results from being in the shadow of the former, Baghdad by the Bay-before that became a bad thing- or something more complex?

Lots of folks came to the Bay Area from other parts of the world because they had a utopian fantasy about life in the “perfect” climate where, according to the movies, there will always be a bridge- Golden or Bay- view in their windows.

After a sojourn in San Francisco, they realized they rarely saw either bridge and had to work multiple jobs to keep up that studio rental with the perpetual smell of urine by the front door, or there was no room for their growing families. So, they moved to the warm side of the Bay amid the wailings and warnings of friends and family that Oakland was a place where it’s always-according to the TV news-a dark and stormy night.

Spring in February, Oakland

In Oakland they have found wonderfully unique neighborhoods with quirky hole in the wall coffee shops and eateries and, of course, that smell of urine by the front door but cheaper, sunnier, and more family-oriented.

Having reached the end of the continent and tried the city at the tip of it, they have settled in for the long term. Now the complaining really begins so lots of what bloggers write about is really who’s complaining about what and whose complaints should count.

So here I am. I’ve got my own complaints but I always believe that there is a solution that we can work out together-I don’t like to see us divided. Anyway, when we are divided we should understand on what grounds we disagree and how we still might find some of it to be common.

And, there’s lots of work to be done. I went to high school in a small town/suburb on the East coast. Even though my high school was small, it still functioned well because most of us were in more than one club, sport, or other school activity.

Like my high school, Oaklanders are often engaged in multiple ways with their schools, neighborhoods, shops, or political groups. You’ve heard about 6 degrees of separation but in Oakland there are only two. Between those two, interesting things are always happening in our city. Read on-