Must See Movies of 2015

straight-outta-compton-album-cover-r (600x600)

I just came back from seeing the best or most important movie of the year, maybe the decade, The Big Short, go see it now. To borrow a line from the overrated flick, Network, when you walk out of the theatre, “You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!'”

If you want to know why so many people support Bernie Sanders and even Donald Trump, this movie helps explain where the anger and discontent, the distrust of all our institutions, comes from. It pulls back the top layers of our corruption, our avarice, our indifference to each other’s pain and our naivete.

Yes, Americans, we who inspired and trained ISIS through our wars in the Middle East, who developed the CDOs, Collateralized Debt Obligations, which destroyed the economies of whole communities, heck whole countries; and us, the folks who pay for and support  police murder while we eschew politics-we still pretend that we are exceptional, that we are  models to the world.

So, go see the Big Short. It is your obligation as a citizen of a country with this kind of power-to face up to what is really going on. If you want to “make American great again” that means you have to fight to bring back opportunity and some hope for equal justice under the law-to be that Tom Hanks character in The Bridge of Spies, an entertaining and true story which can remind us of our best selves.

I am a former history teacher. I taught American History to 8th graders, then Government to young adults. During the economic meltdown, I taught Economics for the first time including Credit Default Swaps and subprime mortgages. I learned along with my students as together we watched our economy rupture-parents lost their jobs and families lost their homes.

BTW, that institution, Adult Education, which had survived the Great Depression and world wars, did not survive the subprime meltdown so I no longer teach nor learn these things  along with my students. Our Republican Governor from Austria with help from the Democrats ended the funding for an institution which provided second chances to those who needed them the most.

Let me add the other best, most influential movie of the year, Straight Outta Compton. It’s a powerful film which is so relevant, it’s almost supernatural, coming out in the year of #Blacklivesmatter. The scene where NWA performs Fuck Tha Police at a huge concert in Detroit is the most powerful scene in a film I’ve seen this year. You gotta go see it. This is a film which demonstrates the best and the worst of the so-called American Dream.

It was a truly interesting year at the movies (I was tempted to write “in film” but that sounds pretentious, they’re just movies.)  I saw Trumbo and Spotlight, the Black Panthers:Vanguard of the Revolution, and Brooklyn and loved them all.

I found Amy affecting and Trainwreck had some very perceptive moments. Love & Mercy was weird but there wasn’t enough of the Beach Boys and too much of the crazy to make anybody want to live through Brian Wilson’s life if they didn’t have to.

On the flip side, I thought Ex Machina and the Clouds of Sils Maria were a waste of screen time. Star Wars:the Force Awakens ranged from cute and funny to boring and silly. Some of it parodied itself on purpose and some of it was clearly meant in earnest which rendered it all the flimsier a franchise. Adam Driver’s character as the bad son or the evil Jedi twin was more the lost hipster looking for that perfect flat by the Lake or Williamsburg, if you will. “What no hardwood floors-I will destroy the world!”

The movies I saw this year reminded me that we have been through dangerous times before; and if this year has taught us anything, we must acknowledge that we are entering them again. Spoiler Alert-I don’t actually know the ending of this tale. I can’t predict if we are heading towards facism or a period of righteous struggle. The only thing I know for sure is that we all have a part to play.

Wellstone Club To Host Panel on the TPP Dec 15th

The Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club has scheduled an emergency meeting this Tuesday, December 157:00 to 9:00pm-doors open at 6:45pm at Humanist Hall, 390 27th Street, Oakland. The panel includes  Xiomara Castro of Citizens Trade Campaign[www.citizenstrade.org] and Suzanne York of the Sierra Club.  There will be time for questions and a discussion of effective responses. Refreshments  will be provided, but there will be no potluck at this meeting. You do not have to be a member or a Democrat to attend.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the latest “free trade” deal that has just been finalized between the U.S. and 11 other countries that border the Pacific.  It has been termed “NAFTA on steroids” because it is so much worse than NAFTA in the effects it will have on the ordinary U.S. citizen.
“The TPP, along with the WTO [World Trade Organization] and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], is the most brazen corporate power grab in American history,” according to Ralph Nader; “It allows corporations to bypass our three branches of government to impose enforceable sanctions by secret tribunals. These tribunals can declare our labor, consumer and environmental protections [to be] unlawful, non-tariff barriers subject to fines for noncompliance.”
The text of the TPP was released a few weeks ago.  This means that the clock is ticking for Congressional action to vote it up or down, and the Wellstone Club is committed to working to defeat the TPP.
We urge our members and all those who value environmental, labor, and consumer laws to communicate with the Greater Bay Area Congressional delegation-giving support to those who have opposed the TPP in the past and urging those who have supported the TPP to consider the final document in hopes they will change their votes.
An introduction to the Wellstone Club’s recently adopted Economic Justice program will aslo be on the agenda. See wellstoneclub.org or contact Pamela Drake-510-593-3721, pamelaadrake@gmail.com for more info.

 

Tis the Season or Was It?

I would like to propose a new holiday for this wintertime solstice period we are about to enter. It would involve cheery singing, wonderful gatherings full of fattening food, charitable giving, small but thoughtful gifts for those of us with already bulging closets, and time off to share with far flung family and friends.

Some of us are very tired, broke, and a little gassy after this current holiday they call Christmas is over on or about December 12th. What, you say, Christmas is on December 25th? The evidence is all around you that that old holiday was long ago abandoned.

No, I’m not talking about the commercialism. After all as the director of a retail district, many of our shops, little and large make their livings and hirings, staying open cause we all shop for the months leading up to this early December holiday.

But if you have noticed, and I know you have, that the ads on TV show an SUV or other shiny new car-depending on the cost of gas-driving through the snow to Grandma’s house starting in October or arriving at your grandiose circular driveway with a bow on the top by All Saints Day . Not sure what that bow signifies on the day after Halloween but there you have it…..As the commercials jam the airwaves with lists of expensive stuff that no one needs, so do the paper ads line our sidewalks full of tales of super discounts that can’t be beat.

So now, people who still buy semi-live trees, which as you know, are cut down in September, drive home with them the day after Thanksgiving and put them up in November. Those same trees will litter the sidewalks by December 26th or maybe sooner since they are are already a pathetic and parched gray green by the second week in December.

If you, like me, love to watch the “holiday” films even the real cheesy ones in which, say the perky blonde with cheating-husband-karma finds true love in the elevator of the building where she just lost her job as she clutches her divorce papers in one pale hand and the list of gifts she can’t buy for her asthmatic kid in the other, and he turns out to have a wealthy family who thinks she’s great, so down-to-earth-you-know. Phew, sorry for that run-on paragraph.

Anyway, those films-including the ones which are well made like the original Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life-are all over by the 12th and replaced with low grade horror films by mid December.

[As an aside, check out the two classics I mentioned if you haven’t seen them since you were 21, they are not just sentimental romps, but contain layers of darkness and important social commentary within them-themes like how the mentally ill are treated, bouts of cynical political maneuvering, the predations of our banking system, and great character actors. The stylized acting, which was typical of the era, is what gives them the stain of melodrama, but still very moving.]

All the “holiday” parties are going on now and will be over by next weekend. Even my own district, Lakeshore, will hold its celebrations on the 11th and 12th this year. By Monday the 14th it’s all over, but the thing is, most of our family members won’t get here till the 22nd or the 24 or even gasp, the 25th.

So let’s just call it Solstice Gathering Time since Christmas is already taken.

Time for Declaration of Housing State of Emergency

The letter below which was written by the Block by Block Organizing Network’s housing committee was sent to all the council members and the mayor of Oakland in hopes of pushing them to take bold action during this housing emergency. While we await a response from our various leaders, we are considering our next steps if they do not respond with urgency. We urge you to join us!

BBBON

Block By Block Organizing Network

Volunteers Working Together for One Oakland

2624 Fruitvale Ave. Oakland CA 94601 (510) 479-1237

 

The Council Has Passed the “Housing Roadmap” – Now What?

We applaud the City Council’s passage of the “Housing Equity Roadmap” on September 30, and urge rapid implementation of its strategies and more, in response to the housing crisis that is displacing many long-time Oaklanders right now.

Oakland is made up of over sixty percent renters, and in order for the Housing Cabinet to come to solutions that will benefit all of Oakland, we challenge our elected officials to create a Cabinet that is representative of the population of this diverse city. It should consist of members who are proportional to the population of Oakland, that is, over 60% renters and a majority of people of color. At least one seat should be reserved for a representative from the Oakland Tenants Union.

We call on the Oakland City Council to act now to implement the Housing Equity Roadmap strategies the 2017-2019 Budget:

Declare Housing State of Emergency and Immediate Moratorium on Approval of New Projects
To meet the crisis that is upon us and to stabilize the housing market in this moment, we call on city government to declare a Housing State of Emergency and a moratorium on approval of new projects until significant developer impact fees are implemented, along with a timeline to implement the Housing Equity Roadmap, including an inclusionary zoning ordinance.

Developer Impact Fees
Complete the study which will allow the City to impose impact fees on developers that will go toward affordable and low income housing (and other impacts, like better roads). Impose the highest amount suggested by the study and dedicate the majority of it to affordable housing. Do not approve new projects until the impact fees are in place.

Inclusionary Zoning
We call on our elected officials to demand that Governor Jerry Brown sign an amendment to Costa Hawkins to allow for inclusionary zoning in all California cities, and to pass immediate substantial Developer Impact fees that can produce the equivalent of at least 30% affordable housing in new developments. To ensure that the cultural and economic diversity we all love about Oakland can stay here, we advocate that at least 15% of new units are accessible to 40% and below AMI, and that at least 15% of new units are accessible to 40%-80% AMI.

Use 50% of Boomerang Funds for Affordable Housing
The City should increase the percent of proceeds received from former redevelopment funds from 25% to 50% to increase the number of affordable units that can be built.

Mandate At Least 50% New Development Around Transit Be Affordable
As studies have shown, low-income residents use public transit more and market-rate developments around transit increase car usage. Therefore, at least 50% of new development around BART and AC Transit hubs should be held for affordable housing at 80% AMI or below. Oakland’s Fruitvale Village is a national model for equitable transit-oriented development without displacement, and Oakland should continue leading this important work.

Public Land for Public Good
Allocate un-used lands and properties currently supported by public tax dollars to affordable housing or mixed-usage for public good. This includes working with the Oakland Housing Authority to ensure that the 2530 9th Avenue property currently for sale and all properties purchased with public tax dollars remain affordable housing units.

Fund the Down Payment Assistance and First Time Homebuyer Programs
Ensure that down payment assistance programs targeted to long-time Oakland residents to be able to purchase their homes are funded at levels that actually enable low-income and middle-income residents to buy homes in the Oakland market.

Protect Tenants Rights
We call on city government to implement a comprehensive rent control ordinance. Oakland’s Rent Adjustment law was written by landlords to preference landlords in the majority of cases. We call for a revisiting of the Rent Adjustment process to ensure that tenants rights are protected, including more than two seats of the Rent Board held for tenants (as homeowners often side with landlords) and the burden of proof put on the landlord rather than the tenant.

We also call for the implementation of the Tenant Protection Ordinance to be funded through public attorney assistance for tenants, because the majority of tenants cannot afford lawyers to file cases in Superior Court. All landlords should be required to provide a copy of Tenant Rights laws with all tenants, or be charged fines that go to funding the Tenant Protection Ordinance.

Pass an Anti-Speculation Tax
To prevent further displacement of residents resulting from the flipping of houses and properties for profit, the City should implement a higher tax on for-profit corporations that buy foreclosed properties or buyout current residents to make a profit. This should include any companies using services like AirBnB to take large numbers of rental units permanently off the market.

Revise Accessory Dwelling Unit Policy
Cities across the nation are revising policies to allow for more smart density as the country re-urbanizes. The City Council should pass an ordinance that allows homeowners to add accessory units on their open land, including allowing tiny homes and easing parking restrictions with the understanding that more and more residents are biking and taking public transit.
November, 2015