My 2018 Primary Recommendations & a Look Foward to November

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Vote Dan Kalb AD 15, Pamela Price DA, & Write-in N.O. Confidence for Sheriff

You got your ballot in the mail and your handbook before that and wow, this is another fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. With an open seat in Berkeley/Oakland/Richmond for state assembly and our current governor being termed out from his last incarnation, we have lots of folks to study and TV ads to avoid.

So let’s tackle the governor’s race first. Like most Californians, or most voters, I don’t know any of these guys and gals too well. At least the current governator was once our mayor and though I didn’t much like him, I had some idea what he’d do. Scratch that, with Jerry you’re never sure of anything.

The once flamboyant Governor Moonbeam has turned into Gov Scrooge and it’s well known by all our legislators that if we want more money for programs for kids and housing for the bottom, say, 75% of us, we’ll have to wait for the next boss in Sacramento.

Governor-Delaine Eastin

Gavin Newsom had sucked all the air out of the room until two billionaire charter school proponents, Eli Broad and Reed Hastings, started pumping billions into the race for Antonio Villaraigosa. Having met him once and found him to be a bit sleezy and a lot opportunistic, I would take Gavin over him if those were the only choices.

However, despite Newsom’s image as the brave guy who promoted marriage equality, I remember when San Francisco was on the brink of total gentrification from a wonderful pastiche of cultures and revolutionary instincts to the stultifying center of finance and tech bros it seems to be today, and Newsom presided over that change, encouraging it all the way. Oakland is there now and woe to us if we don’t heed the warning signs.

So my choice was between State Treasurer John Chiang and former Schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin.  Delaine has all the right instincts and when I saw her at Oakland’s rally to repeal Costa Hawkins law which prohibits many municipalities from passing renter protections,  I gave her my vote. You should too.

Lieutenant Governor-Gayle McLaughlin

I am not excited about this race but most voters never are. The only obvious reason to run is to be the next in line for governor. I had thought to endorse Ed Hernandez and then looked at his list of supporters-I was very impressed that he has all the union support but then noticed that that included all the police unions and that worries me. It’s already very difficult to get police reform bills passed, and I doubt he would oppose anything police unions support.

Gayle McLaughlin has operated in the tiny crucible that is Richmond politics where Chevron is the obvious villain to be opposed and most who do, come out looking like heroes. I find her naive and not as grounded as I would like but I will vote for her in lieu of the establishment candidates. BTW, if you notice the inundation of your airwaves with Kounalakis ads, look her up. She is a developer who is the daughter of a developer who has spent her life being appointed to high profile commissions. Don’t let the Obama imprimatur cloud your weepy eyes.

US Senator-Kevin De Leon

State Senator De Leon is responsible for most of the progressive legislation which got through the legislature this year as he was the Senator Pro Tem who pushed and organized the resistance including defining us as a sanctuary state. Now that Senator Feinstein has managed to portray herself as a staunch supporter of the Resistance and, given her millions in campaign cash, Kevin may have little chance but we should look for him to lead our state in some other capacity soon.

Congress-Barbara Lee Speaks for Me-as always

CA Secretary of State-?

I’m sure there are folks who can tell you why or why not to continue to support the incumbent, Alex Padilla, but I could find little or no information on that race. It looks like Padilla is guaranteed a return to that office.

Also, the Wellstone Voting Rights Task Force, for complicated reasons, is voting no endorsement in this race.

Betty Yee for Controller and Malia Cohen for State Board of Equalization.

Attorney General-Xavier Becerra

Ok, so I changed horses in mid-season. My club, the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, had heartily endorsed Dave Jones for Insurance Commissioner and feted him with a celebratory dinner. I got many calls from him and finally decided to endorse him before the California Democratic Convention back in February.

But then I got more info from someone who worked as an attorney in that department under both Garamendi and Jones. Describing Jones as insurance commissioner,”Jones could have pursued a pro-consumer agenda, like John Garamendi. But instead he was as passive as he could possibly be. He didn’t even bother to replace people who were in positions subject to his appointment. He just left the Republican holdovers to keep doing whatever they were doing (he didn’t seem to know or care).”

And more specifically as a reference to Jones’ environmental platform, “But where he has real power to help consumers–by making insurance companies treat policyholders fairly–he’s pathetically timid.
Here’s an example I {former employee} know about:  the insurance commissioner has the authority to disapprove all health insurance contracts (policies). There are department lawyers who review every word to make sure it complies with the law.
There was a huge backlog of these policies (the insurers could use them until and unless they were disapproved).  While literally thousands of these policies were sitting without review the laws changed and included more consumer protections. I tried to get those policies disapproved, since they clearly no longer were valid.
But the policies were being used by insurance companies and Dave Jones didn’t want to upset them. So he ordered that they all be approved, even though they all violated the law.”
I’ve heard that Jones was weak on money bail reform while Becerra was not. So I am now endorsing AG Becerra. Maybe Jerry managed to do something right.
Tony Thurmond for Superintendent of Schools-very important!
Now to the fun down ballot stuff. It often seems like throwing darts at your handbook would work just fine which leads me to believe that some of these positions should be appointed rather than elected as they are based on professional credentials that few have and even fewer may desire. But here we go:
Assessor-James Johnson
I can’t say I know a lot about this office though I suspect it’s one that shouldn’t be based on political expertise. I have a recommendation from a progressive friend who has worked with him that Johnson does indeed know the work of this office and is highly competent to carry it on. She is concerned about that the next assessor see the job as important and not just as a political stepping stone so I’m going with that.
Auditor-Controller-Irella Blackwood
Ok, I’ll admit to knowing little about what this office does too but it seems very important. One of the reasons I chose Irella was that during a forum she mentioned why she would present more transparent reports than her opponent Melissa Wilk, who already works in the county auditor’s office, is currently doing. Of course, promises are cheap and we’ll have to see but it is a concept her opponent did not push.
They both have great endorsements but Blackwood’s includes Ann-Marie Hogan while Wilk’s includes Sheriff Ahern who is being targeted by civil rights groups demanding his department be audited for why spending is going up for county jails while prisoner numbers are falling.
I’m sure they would both be fine auditor’s but I want to see this office removed from the sheriff’s influence.
County Board of Supervisors- Wilma Chan-this incumbent has quietly led the fight against the worst of the Trump crimes here in Alameda County.
District Attorney-Pamela Price
I’m happy to note that since I endorsed her, George Soros has followed my lead, LOL and pumped some money into mailers to elect her and other progressives into the office most responsible for mass incarceration of Black and Brown youth.
I’ve written more extensively about this endorsement here – https://draketalkoakland.com/tag/pamela-price/

And I will just add that while Nancy O’Malley has accomplished good things in the past, she is a traditional DA and the times call for innovation and a focus on dismantling mass incarceration. Whatever happens we should be grateful to Candidate Price for taking this on.

Sheriff-Write-In–N.O. Confidence

As I detailed in the blog above, there was a search for someone to run against this sheriff with the necessary law enforcement background but no one took that on despite our coalition’s effort. Since then, some of us have been beating the bushes to find a write-in candidate who would not be required to have the law enforcement certification but would be the antithesis of what most California sheriffs have become,  gung-ho supporters of the Trump anti-immigration policies and purveyors of the abuses of the mass incarceration state. Because they are elected independently, they act with impunity and little can be done to restrain their most negative impulses.

We still have until May 22nd to find a write-in candidate who embodies what real public safety would look like, a California where everyone is encouraged to watch out for each other without imposing their biases on them and where all feel free to come forward and ask for help in times of need. That person must be a registered voter in the county and be willing to obtain 20 signatures to prove it. That’s it, sign up!

But if as likely, no one steps forward-ideally a POC who works in the re-entry, anti-violence or public health field-then we will promote a campaign for everyone to write in the well known anti-sheriff candidate (gluten free of course) N.O. Confidence, who uses the pronoun “they.

State Assembly AD 18-Rob Bonta

Assembly Member Bonta is running unopposed probably because he is one of the hardest working folks in that body and is one of our reps who ushered in the resistance against the regime in DC while also fighting for affordable housing, renter protections, and money bail reform. That’s just a sliver of the issues he is taking on. Show him your support.

State Assembly AD 15-Dan Kalb

This is an open seat in a wide-open race. We have a well-heeled candidate, Buffy Wicks, whom almost no one knows and who has’t lived here for long but due to the Obama nostalgia and piles of cash, has a good chance of getting in the top 2 of our weird primary system.

Wicks is also not a supporter of the repeal of Costa Hawkins which would allow municipalities to enact renter protections on some of the units not now affected by any protections, and she is quite willing to take contributions from the charter school industry. Outside of those pivotal issues, she might be a fine rep but I have nothing to base that on. She worked in the Obama administration but I have no way to know what her real contribution was.

My candidate, Dan Kalb, is widely acknowledged to be the most likely to write successful legislative initiatives in the legislature. His expertise ranges from environmental experience to fighting for affordable housing through knowledge of and a willingness to enact police reform. He is a principled politician who will not make promises he can’t keep.

So now I have to add that I like Jovanka Beckles and Cheryl Sudduth. I keep scratching my head wondering why CNA, the nurses’s union, declined to support Beckles in favor of a political neophyte when they might have put Jovanka over the top. Maybe it’ll still happen, we’ll see. In terms of Cheryl, I am really impressed by the number of issues she is involved in, particularly the layers of sanctuary she reps, and the passion with which she addresses them.

Judge Superior Court-Karen Katz

When Tara Flanagan ran she made a big splash and was a very visible and able politician. But since then she has disappointed those who closely watch trials as more law and order, especially for Black defendants, than was hoped for when elected.

Karen Katz has spent her life as a public defender and is running because she says, “we are all safer when justice is administered fairly.” I have no idea if she has a chance to beat a sitting judge, actually that is probably unlikely, but given some of what I have heard about Judge Flanagan’s court, it’s worth a try.

Propositions-County & Regional

RM3-NO

This measure raises the tolls on the Bay Bridge over the next few years to fund a hodgepodge of projects which claim to be public transit oriented but list to the side of ferry boats while stalling out on your daily AC Transit route leaving you stranded as you bike, albeit in better lanes, to the BART where your wait might be a couple of minutes shorter or not, depending on where you live. As one wag said, these are projects inspired by a transit agency that recently moved to the west bay at great expense but wants East Bay drivers to fund far flung transit and highway improvements to traffic nightmares wrought by Silicon Valley. Why must we continue to pay for all their sins?

The worst part about this mishegoss of a measure is that once these tolls are implemented, there will be no place left to go for funding by transit agencies which are still cleaning up the crumbs left by this mess.

As Jack Kurzweil, one of the founders of the Wellstone Club says, “The projects are not presented as part of a grand plan to address the future transportation needs of the Bay Area.  That’s because there is no such grand plan.  Consequently, there is little basis upon which to evaluate the choice of projects.  They are parts without a whole.  The Bay Area needs a transportation vision that makes sense.”

County Measure A-Childcare-Yes

Although it’s a small increase to the sales tax, the type of tax I rarely favor, we can handle this to fund something as desperately needed as good childcare. I recently bought shoes in Santa Monica and their sales tax is higher-yet I saw lots of shoppers there so go ahead and vote for this.

City of Oakland Measure D-Libraries-Yes

This is a relatively small increase in property tax, $75, but it will have a big impact especially for children for whom their local library branch is a sanctuary and the 30% whose school libraries have been shuttered. With this tax, library hours can be increased as well as the services they supply.

By the way, as some of you may know, adult education was wiped out in Oakland over the last decade and the library is one of the remaining spaces which provides adult literacy classes. And if, like me, you’re a kindle user, the library is a great place to get your ebooks too and the librarians are quite helpful in getting you signed up.

Prop 68-Yes-Park bonds

Prop 69-Yes-funds for Transportation to be spent on Transportation-Duh

Prop 70-NO, no,no-Don’t hobble the Legislature waiting on Republican votes for these projects

A Word about the Upcoming Mayoral & Council Contests

As many of Oaklanders look forward to the fall 2018 elections to remove some of the Trump stain, we also have to take stock of our city. We see the cranes all over the downtown and the crowds at the Lake. We have a plethora of renowned restaurants to choose from when we go out–and all this is good.

But  we may be becoming inured to the ever growing empire of tents, the daily displacement of families & couch surfing youth; at the same time as many of our 1920’s cottages turn into million dollar homes, more and more of us live in unspeakable and highly visible squalor on our streets. And others band together in older homes and apartments hoping that when they go out to work, they don’t get attacked and deported by agents of a xenophobic and lawless regime in Washington.

Our neighbor San Francisco now has the lowest percentages of families of any city in the country. Are we on the verge of becoming the same kind of city as that, cleansed of  its Black leaders, its Latino entrepreneurs, its artists and writers, its Bohemian youth, those who struggle and yearn for justice and new ways of living?

We are in the last moments when the way out of that reductionist and ultimately bleak future is clear–reelecting the folks who have tinkered with small solutions and toyed with our fears while so many go quietly away from us, is not the answer. Just as we’re doing on the national scene, we must allow our creative and compassionate ideas to flow and design the Oakland we have always dreamed of. That means we must stop looking for someone to blame and start proposing bold even outlandish solutions, then join with others to make them happen. Si se puede.

PS. Don’t be fooled by those who denounce the regime in Washington while doing little for the least of these in our hometown. Watch what they do, not what they say.

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Trump was Right or They go Low but We Make Jokes?

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Not another commentary on the White House Correspondents Dinner, yeah, just a short one. Cause I do have a couple things to add to the mishegoss.

I know  you all heard about Michelle Wolf disparaging Press Secretary Sarah Sanders looks. Well, actually she didn’t and that’s enough of that [but wait, are we as women warriors so fragile? The woman’s face displays all the anger, rage and contempt that her boss has for us.]

You may have missed some of Wolf’s other points and many of them were significant. The current state of comedy is in fact all I have to hold onto. It’s where I learn to find perspective on the true state of our country.

She picked on the one part of Trump’s identity that is subject to shame and that is his supposed wealth. We can guess that their are two good reasons that the fake president does not want his taxes released. The most important of which is that they will show what a poor businessman he is, what a loser who started out with millions, looks like when he has to go to money launderer’s and vile dictators for loans. She said, “Trump is so broke he had to borrow money from the Russians and is now susceptible to blackmail and possibly responsible for collapse of the republic, yay.” Not the funniest joke but the best thumbnail analysis of the mess we’re in.

“But it turns out that Trump is the one pussy you’re not allowed to grab….he said it first, remember?” So while I hate the use of the term pussy to describe something that is weak since that so obviously isn’t true, in this case the use of it is brilliant, it’s a triple entendre, I think.

“Trump is racist though, he loves white nationalists which is a weird term for a Nazi. Calling a Nazi a white nationalist is like calling a pedophile a kid friend.” Great line to illustrate how we have softened the ways we describe the most vile people on the planet.

Her comments about Wall Street were perfect and described succinctly how our government colluded with financial criminals, thieves who have never been punished.

“Although I haven’t been sexually harassed [referring to her time working at Bear Stearns in 2008,] I’ve definitely been fucked. That whole company went down on me without my consent…and no men got in trouble for that one either.” Bada boom! Sexually explicit, not really but wow, pretty descriptive. With Michelle, the last throwaway line is always the kicker.

“Chappaquidick in theaters now” for instance reminds us of the ironies of our changing values. It refers of course to the ouster of Senator Al Franken in a moment of self-righteous panic. Think about how the discussions that are going on in the Senate now [if there any] would’ve looked if Franken were still there and try to hold that in your brain while you ponder what health care would’ve looked like without Ted Kennedy. But don’t think about it too long, you’ll get vertigo and end up “under a tree” hehe.

Did you miss this one, “You guys are going through cabinet members quicker than Starbucks throws out Black people, but don’t worry they’re having an afternoon, that’ll solve it.”

There were some jokes that while I couldn’t help but laugh, also worried my sense of political correctness like those about Mitch McConnell’s neck or Paul Ryan’s missing balls, probably cause I tend to think of having balls as having no sense but charging ahead anyway. That line was good for this crowd though since it gratified some while enraging others or maybe not-last throwaway line on him-“Yeah, bye Paul.” Does anyone even care anymore what that prick does? Oops.

To the Dems referring to the midterms, “You’re somehow gonna lose by 12 points to a guy named Jeff-Pedophile-Nazi-Doctor…oh, he’s a doctor?”

On Ivanka, since no one has freaked out yet on her picking on the First Daughter, I’ll remind you, “she’s done nothing to satisfy women-I guess like father like daughter….pause while they gasped…”oh you don’t think he’s good in bed, com’on.”

On the Handmaids’ Tale, “Mike pence if you haven’t seen it you would love it,” ok that’s VP Pence in a very small nutshell [do I feel a pun coming on, nah, I’ll leave that to Colbert. He loves dick jokes.]  download (6)

She had excellent put downs of every cable news station and one beloved network show that takes itself way too seriously. You could figure out what is happening on This Is Us without any dialogue if all you did was listen to its lugubrious soundtrack. And then she got to our beloved Rachel, “watching Rachel Maddow is like going to Target. You went in for milk but you left with shampoo, candles and the entire history of the Byzantine Empire.” Is it possible to write a better critique of what went wrong with the Maddow show?

“And of course, Megyn Kelly. What would I do without Megyn Kelly…ah probably be more proud of women.” Boom.

You probably heard the comments she made on how the media gave us Trump and why they don’t cover anything but him, best lines, “You guys are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? Because you pretend that you hate him but I think you love him.” Nailed it.

images (2) Ending with, “Goodnight. Flint still doesn’t have clean water!”

After which Trump tweeted that the the WHC dinner “is dead as we know it.” In the interests of keeping the press alive, I have to agree. The need for access and “civility” that only flows one way, the obscene comradery between celebrity reporters, CEOs and the Trump crime family all swishing out in their designer finery has absolutely nothing in common with reporters who eke out stories in our local papers or even TV reporters who have to carry their own cameras much less those of us who follow and investigate the news for nothing after Wall Street emptied the press rooms around the towns, cities-and  the foreign offices where people die trying to get their story. download (7)

Speaking of that, Dana Milbank excoriated Ms. Wolf the day after, saying that instead there should just be a ceremony eulogizing the journalists who died in the line of duty. Yeah, lots of folks will watch that, Dana [are you sad cause your mom named you that?] Yeah, and those of us out here who know we are under attack from this regime, experienced a cathartic moment hearing the truth told by this squeeky-voiced lady and we deserve at least that.

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 Medics carry an injured woman to the ambulance at a hospital after a suicide attack in Kabul Photograph: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

But if you desire civility with Nazis and in any way see yourselves on the same side as them, we don’t. It’s not an existential threat. That’s way too pretty and removed from what we’re experiencing-the list is too long to enumerate-it’s a very real threat. We don’t want to work alongside those who would destroy our environment, our rights, our families, and our hope.

Lest we get lulled into a stupor by the horror of it all, we need a regular dose of affirmations like this, succinct clear representations of what we are up against and why we need to continue resisting it all. You can say Michelle was mean but I felt the love. It radiated over the tops of the heads of the bourgeoisie all the way to the children of Flint. Those of you “clutching your pearls,” can grow a real pussy.

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The Death of SB 827 (increased density around transit) applaud or mourn?

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A Sacramento reporter called me the other day to ask me how I thought the Bay area was feeling about SB 827, the Wiener-Skinner bill that would wrest some level of local control from communities that use zoning and other more imaginative strategies to prevent dense development, that is, high-rise and even low-rise housing in transit zones. download (3)

But before the article even came out, my prediction that the bill would die, came suddenly true. And it died an ignominious death-it didn’t even get out of its first committee hearing at the capital-but this is not before it had animated heated discussions in every hamlet and city disguised as a suburb across the expanse of the golden state.

Those who feared SB 827 may not want to dance on its grave just yet as the original author, Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco claims he’s not giving up. “I will continue to work with anyone who shares the critical goals of creating more housing for people in California, and I look forward to working in the coming months to develop a strong proposal for next year.”  http://sd11.senate.ca.gov/news/20180417-senator-wiener%E2%80%99s-bill-allow-more-housing-near-public-transportation-stalls-senate

Wiener also said (in the above statement) that he was “heartened by the conversation it has started, both with those who support the bill and with critics of the bill.” And there I agree with him. We need to have this conversation and we need to have it among friends since we all live in a state that has almost no really affordable housing AND no  comprehensive transit systems that compare with those in cities like New York, Boston, DC, Chicago, Philly, you know, real cities.  NoLita

I grew up on the outskirts of a small town near a big East Coast city that was rapidly transforming into a suburb-this was the 50’s and early 60’s-so I regularly find Californians’ ideas on a number of things to be odd and somewhat removed from reality (my definition of that, of course.) For instance, you will often hear Californians say, we can’t have a festival, a picnic or whatever in March or April, because it might rain! But it rains whenever it feels like it in most of the country and people still plan festivals, barbecues, etc despite the likelihood of actual weather, you know, more than foggy-in-the-morning-clearing-with-sun-in-the-afternoon.

images (1) And so it is with our understanding of transit. Californians think that driving to a parking lot and getting on a sort of subway that takes us to one or two parts of town is transit. No wonder our cars clog the streets of our  downtowns. In fact, how many real downtowns where jobs, entertainment and retail all coexist within walkable blocks can you find in the entire state, one, two, maybe three?

Political Perception makes Ornery Bedfellows

The Wellstone Democratic Club tried to debate the bill at a recent meeting and lots of folks I have never seen before showed up. Some said they were there to support affordable housing and anti-gentrification measures, still others feared their quaint neighborhoods would be transformed into concrete canyons.

Rarely does the Right join with the Left or if you don’t like those characterizations, the wealthy homeowners join with the anti-gentrification folks something which by definition happens outside of their high-priced enclaves, like they did in opposing SB 827. It would have been amusing if not so worrisome, because in this case, there interests do not overlap.

So at the Wellstone meeting most spoke about the problems with the bill, all the things it left out (I for instance felt sad that I didn’t get promised a pony-something I’ve always wanted) all the things it might change inalterably and all the folks who might be driven out by luxury, that is, market rate housing.

I know that the authors  went to great lengths to tweak it, alter it and promise more goodies if only you clapped your hands 3 times. The bill’s bland scale was a mind boggling readjustment or an overreach, depending on your point of view, of our state’s zoning rules and even the vision we have of the California dream….

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Burned out 1000 sq ft house selling for $800k in San Jose

But one younger person, not a white-haired liberal like the rest of us, wanted to know why we opposed folks his age being able to live somewhere much less own a home. Good question and it encapsulated the growing generation gap between those of us who’ve obtained a corner of the American/California dream and those who are lugging along student debt while hoping that at some point in their lives, they won’t have to scan craigslist for Housing-Share any longer.

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Private room in Berkeley, $1175

But according to Katy Murphy’s story in the Mercury News, ” Anya Lawlor of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, argued that it was too simplistic of a solution, ignoring decades of research and advocacy on the preservation of affordable housing and development near transportation hubs….that legislation of this scope can take years to become law.”  https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/04/18/why-did-californias-major-housing-bill-fail-so-quickly/

Maybe that’s why, skimming my local pages on Nextdoor, many of my neighbors reacted to this proposal as they would a terrorist threat. Yes there were some who suggested we were in a housing crisis but they were quickly driven away by the fear mongering. In fact when I suggested on social media that the bill could be amended to consider these concerns and to add affordability requirements, some of my closest allies questioned my judgement and maybe my morals too.

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Apartment building next to single family home near Piedmont Ave

While the bill was in hospice, Senator Wiener tried intubation by adding an inclusionary zoning clause (requiring affordable housing be included which matters a lot in Oakland since that policy is NOT in place here) and lowering the height demands of the bill, but it barely took another breath before it keeled over from the weight of confusion, consternation and out-right hate from all of its anxious would-be relations. The will has yet to be read on this blockbuster (get it?) bill before we are all fighting over the remains or rather attempting to put a stake through its heart.

Issues raised, my take-

1) Subsidized housing

Housing is not or should not be a privilege though it obviously is here in Oakland where tent cities expand daily. Housing should be seen as a necessity, a public utility and subsidized to the tune of whatever is necessary to house our workforce, our families, our future and that includes the poor to the middle class like they do in many other countries where owning a home is not perceived as synonymous with being grown or successful and lifelong renting is a comfortable solution not a prediction of PTSD. 20180422_200927

Some of the affordable housing folks object to this bill because market rate developers could not be pressured into offering community benefits like subsidized units and local retail on the ground floor. That’s likely true but it’s a hell of way to get affordable housing built and not a sustainable approach over the long term. We also want prevailing (union) wages, of course, cause we don’t want out-of-town workers sleeping in their cars much less homegrown workers who have to live in tents while constructing luxury housing for newcomers.

Sounds like we all still want a pony —but but–we live in a wealthy state and if we can’t afford to subsidize housing for our folks, we shouldn’t expect to have a growing economy. Fix Prop 13, pass oil depletion allowances, tax professional services, but get something built since the Feds apparently won’t anytime soon.

2) Comprehensive mass transit

But that’s not all, who are we kidding with transportation hubs, we live in a state that has little to no dependable public transit capable of serving the majority of our everyday needs. And no, RM3 will not fix that. It won’t shorten the headways between BART trains or provide many more AC Transit buses on busy routes, much less expand those routes. Folks love to fuss about Uber, etc (me included) but it’s there because we simply cannot get around on our local transit and we can’t all ride bikes, not that there’s anything wrong with bikes-yeah, more bikes, more scoooters, whatever, please.

I can walk out of my house in the morning on time but that doesn’t mean the bus will arrive and mine is not the only street where this happens. You can’t reconstruct California around transit hubs if they aren’t there. We need transit choices like you find in other, less expensive, less wealthy cities. I’d even give up my pony for that! So Scott and Nancy and Governor Whoever, can you get on that too??

3) Dense cities & active downtowns

So here’s the last point I want to make which, damn, may be the most important one. Look around you please Californians. This whole state is one giant suburb. Is that what you really want? Do you want to be wedded to your cars and crabgrass, especially knowing that your children will be moving away or living their lives like Russians in old movies, multiple families to an apartment? 20180423_205440

I have the benefit of having some young people in my life, but not so young that they shouldn’t be able to have an apartment or house or condo without checking the housing wanted, apartment-to-share listings, who allow me to see things in a different way. Also I like to travel and I appreciate cities. Some of them are full of low-rise apartments like Paris whose average buildings are 5 or 6 stories high although that’s about to change. https://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-product-design/newly-freed-from-height-limits-paris-skyline-ready-to-rise.html

20180423_205722Some cities like New York and Chicago and now Atlanta have apartment and condo buildings with many more stories but, of course, some of their chicest, most expensive neighborhoods are similar to Paris. Even the Piedmont Avenue area is more like Paris and less like Rockridge, Crocker Highlands, or North Berkeley. I’m not even bringing Piedmont of Orinda into this discussion. They’re different animals.

But areas like Rockridge and North Berekeley near BART were once surrounded by working class cottages whose owners are now house-millionaires while their offspring move away or yeah, wait for them to die before they can hope to live in their pristine California craftsman cottages (with additions, of course, for those 6 burner stoves, ginormous fridges and farmhouse sinks, but don’t get me started.)

20180422_200843 City living can be convenient and attractive, public transit doesn’t have to try so hard to reach it, eating out, which is now a national pastime for the young, is closer and a bit cheaper. Yes, I am betting that young families wouldn’t mind living in a fourplex with a shared backyard or nearby park if it meant not moving to Sacramento or Omaha.

For those families living in old lead-filled homes or crowded into small apartments, many might prefer newer family sized buildings that could be built with subsidies, rather than subsidizing their children’s learning problems later on. Pay now, pay later but pay anyway.

What is so wrong with building up a bit and not insisting that the California dream is a picket fence with grass we can’t afford to water (and why should we? It’s not sustainable.) Rockridge wouldn’t have to be a canyon but a well-designed low-rise urban landscape with occasional high-rises in their midst. Crocker Highlands could easily sustain duplexes and triplexes along Lakeshore and even higher. The problem on my narrow little street isn’t too many dwellings but too many cars. Only reliable transit can fix that. I can imagine a triplex on our little lots with an occasional empty lot transformed into a mini park.

20180422_201215 Most of us when we travel prefer these kinds of cities where gleaming downtowns alternate with five to eight story side streets and cafes and street vendors encourage us to entertain and shop in public, where civic life is not limited to fighting on twitter but watching people’s children frolic while sipping a glass of locally made wine. These activities do not have to be limited to the gentrification class if we subsidize housing, transit, and promote local business. And if we do not, it won’t be long before our booming economy (not to mention confounding climate change, already here) will sputter and die.

Let’s rethink California! Si se puede….

 

 

 

Sheriffs to Receive Summons to Appear at Peoples’ Tribunals

California Sanctuary Campaign Media Advisory

Notice to Appear – Peoples’ Tribunal May 5th

Oakland, CA: On Tuesday, April 10th, 10 am, 1401 Lakeside Drive, Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern’s offices, an alliance of coalitions including ACILEP, Detention Watch Network, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC) and many more organizations representing immigrants, those seeking asylum and groups opposed to mass incarceration will deliver a Notice To Appear [Orden del Pueblo] at the May 5th Peoples’ Tribunal [Tribunal Popular] at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, CA.

Reverend Dr. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa of the Starr King Unitarian Universalist Church in Hayward will deliver the summons, saying, “We demand that all elected officials, especially local law enforcement officials, adhere to the letter and spirit of the law by affording everyone due process. We further demand an end to the collusion between ICE and the Alameda County Sheriff’s office and call on Sheriff Ahern to appear before the people and answer to these and other charges.”

At the same time as the Notice To Appear is being delivered to Sheriff Ahern, these demands will also be conveyed to Sheriff Livingston in Contra Costa County and David Jennings, ICE Field Director in San Francisco. Coalition members will  serve Attorney General Jefferson Sessions and ICE Director Thomas Homan in Washington, D.C. tomorrow.

Tribunals are taking place nationwide during April and May to bring attention to the purposeful cruelty being afflicted on these communities by ICE and other law enforcement agencies who promote family separation, exile from community, and mass incarceration. The Tribunals call on agency directors and elected officials to listen to testimony on the harm being done to them and accept the judgement of the people who have suffered directly under these conditions.

Contact: Pamela Drake-510-593-3721, pamelaadrake@gmail.com or Judith Stacey-510-559-0703, judith.stacey@nyu.edu

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Call to Action: Governor Brown & Attorney General Becerra Must Affirm SB54–No Troops, No Loopholes for County Sheriffs

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Governor Brown: Don’t Send Our National Guard to Assist Border     Patrol!

President Trump and his Homeland Security Department are preparing to request US governors deploy National Guard Troops to the border with Mexico to “assist the Border Patrol.” https://www.politico.com/story/2018/04/04/trump-national-guard-border-kirstjen-nielsen-502117

The California Values Act, otherwise known as SB54, which took effect on January 1, 2018, prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from using money or personnel to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes, and proscribes other activities or conduct in connection with immigration enforcement by law enforcement agencies. Passage of SB54 demonstrates the resolve of the people of California to refuse to cooperate with Trump’s racist attacks on people of color, including and especially, refugees seeking asylum.

We call on Governor Jerry Brown to act in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the California Values Act and refuse any request for such deployment of the California National Guard. Contact the Governor with this link by twitter @jerrybrowngov or use this link: https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov39mail/

 

Attorney General Becerra: Tell California Sheriffs to Stop Assisting ICE and Stop Posting County Jail Prisoner Release Dates!

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The Sheriffs of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties recently instituted a policy of making the release dates of county jail inmates public on its “inmate locator” website. This coincides with similar steps taken by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to publish inmate release dates as a means of circumventing the state sanctuary law, SB 54.  These notifications benefit ICE in its effort to detain people as they emerge from the jail who may not have committed a crime or who have already paid their debt to the public.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/activists-speak-out-after-calif-county-posts-inmate-release-dates/vp-AAvrytU  

https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2018/03/29/experts-concerned-contra-costa-sheriff-tipping-off-ice-by-posting-release-dates-of-detained-immigrants/

This assistance to ICE is in letter and spirit a violation of California Law. We call on Attorney General Becerra to demand that Sheriffs throughout the state halt this practice and obey current California law. Tweet directly @agbecerra  or contact the Attorney General with this link: https://oag.ca.gov/contact

The California Sanctuary Campaign is a coalition of leaders of the interfaith community, union and other community leaders, as well as community and political organizations.

Please contact Sharon Rose-sharonroseesl@gmail.com or Pamela Drake-                pamelaadrake@gmail.com to join this call.

Call to Action: Stop Urban Shield at the Alameda Board of Supes Tomorrow

Tomorrow at the Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting, starting at 11 am, Sheriff Ahern, our local representative to President 45, will bring his motion to fund Urban Shield, the Law Enforcement Festival of Militarized Mayhem, which  has included organizations like ICE and the Oath Keepers-a right-wing paramilitary organization-to the Board for approval of Ahern’s next exhibition of guns and tanks on a pretense of teaching disaster preparedness.

Many organizations in the Stop Urban Shield Coalition http://stopurbanshield.org/ will be in attendance asking the Board to fund real preparedness, the kind that makes residents feel safer in their communities and empowers them to help each other, rather than a paramilitary expo which further divides our communities.

Here’s the info:

Rally and Press Conference: 

Where: Alameda County Admin Building, 1221 Oak Street, 5th floor, Oakland 94612

When: Tuesday, March 27th, 10 am rally & press conference, 11 am Board of Supes meeting.

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Photo from the Ella Baker Center by Brooke Anderson

The California Sanctuary Campaign is issuing a call to join the groups and coalitions tomorrow to stop funding this raw display of right wing force masquerading as preparedness training. Our communities have needs that this activity makes a mockery of, and now is the time for the Board to radically rethink the entire sheriff’s budget. You can find info on that from the Ella Baker Center at http://ellabakercenter.org/get-involved/save-money-save-lives–audit-sheriff-ahern

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Read this letter from Oakland’s Latino Task Force 

“We are writing to you today because we have learned that the Board of Supervisors will be voting on the distribution of Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative funds on Tuesday, March 27. We are asking that you introduce a motion to exclude funding for Urban Shield for 2018 when deciding on UASI funds.

As the Latino Task Force of Oakland we oppose Urban Shield. You likely have heard the many arguments as to why a militarized approach to emergency response is problematic. We are sure that you have listened to how programs like Urban Shield creates more fear, confusion, anxiety and actual safety concerns in our community. In particular our immigrant community who already is apprehensive in reporting crime, seeking medical attention, and reporting unsafe living conditions will be less likely to participate in neighborhood emergency preparedness. That is why California adopted the Values Act promoting sanctuary and protection for all its residents early this year. By excluding Urban Shield from UASI funds, you will begin to restore confidence and participation within all of our communities.

You and other supervisors play an important role in determining the nature, form, and
implementation of the region’s emergency preparedness. Shifting disaster preparedness
priorities back toward community strength and resilience makes our work more effective.Moving away from war games and militarization makes our communities less vulnerable. It makes them more likely to engage in smarter and stronger preparedness. We have a chance to be a model for the state and the rest of the country.

We ask that you make a motion and vote to defund Urban Shield for 2018 on Tuesday the
27th. We stand with you in recommitting to community-based safety and emergency
preparedness.”

See you tomorrow morning on a beautiful day to Stop Urban Shield and rebuild our beloved community!

 

Oakland City Council Tonight-Housing, Sanctuary, Police Commission and so much more

 

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Sorry this is so late and since it will be quick and dirty, please excuse typos. If you  are concerned about almost any issue, it’s on the Oakland City Council Agenda for discussion tonight. Well, maybe not net neutrality and the fate of former FBI Director Andrew McCabe’s pension.

So here we go-

A number of issues will be resolved and some will be discussed, resolution still to come. If you don’t want to stay for a couple hours and listen to the discussions on other proposals, sign up now for open forum (or submit and ecomment) and try and race through your points in the 1 minute allotted or sign up for all the items and ask for another minute, sometimes this works. However, you must be there for the 5:30 opening in order to speak at the Open Forum part of the meeting.51y2efayiLL

Famous local woman, Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest park ranger at the Rosie the Riveter exhibit at the National Historical Park in Richmond, and author of Sign My Name to Freedom and so much more will be honored. That alone is worth the price of admission- if there were one.

Open Forum OnlySign up to speak–Tenants rights folks will be  announcing the launch of their petition campaign to “Close the Loopholes” in Oakland’s rent laws for an ordinance on the November ballot to permanently remove “Substantial Rehabilitation” from the Rent Law (SR was removed from Just Cause but not the rent law by Meas JJ in 2016), and to remove the current exemption for “Owner-Occupied 2 & 3 Unit Buildings” from both Just Cause and the rent law.

Substantial rehabilitation means that landlords who have long term tenants, have found that they can evict folks in order to update their flats with fancy new kitchens and baths and then charge whatever the market will bear. Remodeling may sound good but it has become an effective tool of displacement where the existing units were habitable but not updated.

Item 7.9-Tenant Move Out Agreement Ordinance– Long discussions with all concerned groups seem to have resulted in an ordinance that requires certain payments to certain tenants when tenants are legally evicted for no cause, as we stated earlier, there are lots of reasons that can still happen. This is expected to pass under consent but worth watching.

Item 7.10_Support of  Temporary Protected StatusSign up to speak–This is only a resolution but it’s symbolism is very important in a sanctuary city. TPS was granted to groups of immigrants due to dangerous situations in their home countries including acts of nature but also civil wars and in many of these countries, the political and domestic situation remains almost as perilous as the original event that led to their seeking refuge. And many of them have settled and raised families here by now.  https://immigrationforum.org/blog/fact-sheet-temporary-protected-status/

In Oakland many Salvadorans, Haitians and Yemenis would face an uncertain future if the federal government were allowed to follow through with their edict to begin removing protections. This should be a slam dunk for our council but it’s important that we show up and speak in favor so that the issue stays at the forefront of voters’ minds and they understand the terrifying ramifications of this type of change.

S7.27 and S7.28-Cannabis Record ExpungementWatch and learn–one is in support of Assembly Member Rob Bonta’s bill AB 1793 which is a follow-up measure to Prop 64, to legalize pot use and to ask the DA to remove or dismiss such sentences (she has to be asked?) don’t foresee any trouble passing these but thought you oughta know. And S7.3 supports the change to the commercial loophole in Prop 13 which also exempts small businesses and will provide much needed funding to our schools and other local community needs-

https://www.evolve-ca.org/press-release/

http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-updates-california-lawmaker-proposes-easier-1515529046-htmlstory.html

S7.31-Support of a State Bank for cannabis businesses-Speak or watch— There are lots of reasons to set up a state bank, a bank that would hold California’s best interests at heart by funding affordable housing, non predatory home loans, small local businesses, and generally use our tremendous financial resources to invest in our state rather than wealthy shareholders and bonuses for ridiculously rich CEOs. But this bill looks to focus on making it safe to run a cannabis industry which is a necessary function since federally chartered banks are prohibited from doing that.  http://sd18.senate.ca.gov/news/1252018-hertzberg-introduces-legislation-establish-framework-cannabis-banking

Item 11 is a biggie-The Enabiling Ordinance for the Oakland Police CommissionSign up and speak--This new commission was supported by 83% of the voters. They long for an independent body which can make policy and impose discipline when necessary on the officers of our very troubled police department. Despite this, the city administration has made it as difficult a process as possible for the commission to get up and running-the charter change was passed over a year ago but this ordinance is still aborning, sigh.  yesonll_gray

And, the city has allowed the police union, OPOA, to take months to try and negotiate away, under an overly broad understanding of what “meet and confer” means, to weaken the new law which amended the city charter’s oversight of the department. This is a longer discussion for another time. The point of passing this measure was to remove the question of oversight as much as possible from city politics and give it to the citizens affected by this department’s failure to resolve issues in the NSA, etc.

Unfortunately, the new ordinance under which the commission would be guided to operate “misunderstands” the core of the measure and tries to return  some of the rights and responsibilities of the Commission and the agency, which conducts the investigations, to city administrators.

For instance, the original ordinance-not the measure but the ordinance which outlines additional details on how it is implemented, so call it the “implementation ordinance”-changes some terms such as “directs the chief to notify” or “provide” the commission and the agency with up-to-date information to “requests” that the information be provided. If you’re a parent, you will probably notice the huge difference between the power of those words. I have also heard that city officials are being advised that the ordinance has to comply with the city charter. Of course it does, but remember that this measure changed the city charter in this area.

Item 13-Moratorium Extension On Substantial Rehabilitation Exemption– Back to the previous argument against the exemption for substantial rehabilitation as a tool for gentrification and displacement. The city has been studying the issue and we want to support the continued study for another 180 days in hopes of some actual legislation. During this period, this exemption to tenant protections on certain units is suspended and those affected renters are safe while the city considers what needs to be done.

That’s all folks, something for everyone—please sign up to speak or register an e-comment on any of the above based on your interest, comprehension and tolerance for BS in our progressive city by the Oakland Estuary.

https://solar.oaklandnet.com/Speaker/form

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My Primary Endorsements-Price, Kalb & a Surprise Write-In

The California Primary is still months away but for local activists, it’s been super heated since last fall. Many Democratic clubs and other activist organizations held their endorsement meetings weeks ago. But for most voters the difficulty of choosing from ten candidates for the state legislature’s 15th Assembly District-North Oakland, and the hills down through Joaquin Miller Park up to Berkeley and Richmond including Hercules- is expected to be a bit overwhelming.  21271272_2033593886872018_3753374795767531301_n

Two things make this primary on the local level exciting. One is that current Assembly Member Tony Thurmond has decided to run for State Superintendent of Schools (go Tony, yes, that is an endorsement) so it’s an open seat which always stirs the pot of local electeds and wannabes alike.

The DA’s Race-Pamela Price   Pamela_attorney-e1485730265186

No one can remember the last time the District Attorney of Alameda County, any district attorney, was in a contested race. Tom Orloff ran the DA’s office unopposed from 1994 to 2009 and Nancy O’Malley was appointed to fill out his term after which she has run unopposed until now.

Civil Rights attorney Pamela Price has stepped forward and is running a serious campaign. She has significant activist support but O’Malley has most of the establishment endorsements.

As the first woman DA in our county, Nancy O’Malley still gets high marks for being  proactive on domestic violence and human trafficking, but in every other way she has followed the traditional prosecutorial path.

O’Malley opposed the passage of Prop 47, an initiative that keeps petty criminals out of jail where they often become hardened criminals. Price favors looking at the effect the DA’s office has on those who are most often shuttled into the prison pipeline and kept there and how that can be changed.

Price also believes that police should be held accountable when they violate the law rather than honor the traditional prosecutor’s cosy relationship with law enforcement. This is especially important in Alameda County given the many layers of corruption which the Celeste Guap case (or law-enforcement-sexploitation syndrome) unearthed across Bay area police departments.

Price also opposes the DA’s traditional overcharging of defendants in order to wring a plea bargain out of those who have few resources and little understanding of the criminal justice system. As a result 95% of cases are settled this way and guilt or innocence had little to do with it. Here’s a description of that system from Price’s own blog including a look at how parts of the Guap case were handled. It’s a good read,  https://pamelaspage.com/tag/police-corruption/

If that weren’t enough to convince you that it’s time to elect a district attorney and one who will see the job in a new way, let me tell you about some of the answers the current DA gave at the Wellstone Club endorsement meeting. She said 1) she didn’t believe in charging youth as adults, and 2) she doesn’t charge demonstrators who engage in civil disobedience as criminals. Neither of those have been true although it’s possible she has rethought her past decisions.

Please check out this comprehensive article, particularly the last third.  You will probably remember something of this disturbing story. It taught me all I needed to know about this DA’s understanding of the other Oakland, the one where folks don’t get the choice of private schools, good jobs, and artisanal cooking oil.

 

 

And I’m sure you remember the Black Lives Matter demonstrators who stopped BART riders heading to SF for a couple of hours one Black Friday, to make a point about the “inconvenience” of dealing with a justice system that locks Black youth away as a matter of course or refuses to hold police accountable for any level of brutality. Ms. O’Malley wanted to charge these folks (who might’ve been called pranksters under different-colored circumstances) with serious crimes but was talked out of it by powerful community pressure.

So while we often focus on our Republican sheriff for his Trumpian policies, the DA’s office has more to do with implementing mass incarceration than the sheriff. If you want to staunch the flow of poor Black and Brown people into the prison pipeline, we need a DA who really stands behind that goal.

15th Assembly District-Dan Kalb  

The open seat vacated by Tony Thurmond has produced a plethora of progressive candidates, some with long track records of legislative achievement and some who’ve just begun their electoral climb but are hoping to jump ahead a few steps.

Rather than discuss them all, cause who has that kind of time, I’ll share my reasoning for endorsing District 1 Oakland City Council Member Dan Kalb.

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In 2016 Oaklanders overwhelmingly voted for Measure LL which is a charter change (something city administrators and some council members still haven’t wrapped their heads around, but that’s a subject for another time) that gives us an independent police commission with the power to implement discipline over officers.

That charter change would have never made it to the ballot without the courage and hours of hard work and analysis that Dan Kalb put into it. There were other CMs who stuck their necks out, notably Noel Gallo and also Rebecca Kaplan but without Dan’s shepherding it through a complex process, it would not have gotten there.

Dan also put all the resources of his office behind the fact finding that led the City  to  29oakland-master768 (1)reject trainload after trainload of coal chugging through Oakland. He has taken the right positions on renter protections and affordable housing and many other progressive issues although he doesn’t get the credit he deserves because he does sweat the small stuff and can appear as a bit of a know-it-all at times (yeah, I know that’s an understatement.)

I appreciate the progressive positions that Jovanka Beckles has taken as part of the Richmond Progressive Alliance and think she’s a very attractive candidate. But Dan has had to design strong positions on a council amid perpetually shifting alliances and no clear enemy. He has created a path through thoughtful if sometimes studious verging on prissy analysis, still when he gets there he sticks to it-he’s more of a legislator than he is a politician.When Dan says he supports a position he’s taken, it’s principled one and that character trait should garner the respect of many of the diverse voters of the 15th AD.

Dan will fight for our environment, constitutional policing, and housing for all-among some of the things he has learned to champion in Oakland-and I trust his ability to develop well-thought-out positions on the other problems that confront our troubled state.

Sheriff, Write-in N.O. Confidence 

Last fall a number of folks in various progressive organizations came together to find a candidate who could could run a serious campaign against long time Republican Sheriff Gregory Ahern, someone who embodies the Trump White House in deep blue Alameda County.  https://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2017/11/22/activists-call-for-audit-of-sheriff-ahern

We called it the New Sheriff in Town Coalition but we ran into problems finding a candidate who would run against a sheriff with a huge war chest and lots of name recognition; it’s the kind of campaign that would likely prove career ending to many a law enforcement professional.  https://www.facebook.com/NewSheriffAC/

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As of now Sheriff Ahern who invented the Urban Shield Law Enforcement Festival and Extravaganza that would put any military parade to shame and turned emergency preparedness into a celebration of militarized policing against domestic dissent, has no opponent.

Recently against a back drop of lawsuits by prisoner rights organizations and community forums led by the Interfaith Council of Alameda County in support of sanctuary for immigrants and refugees, I attended a hearing with Prisoners United. I heard too many harrowing stories of regular folks ensnared by an inhumane system that this sheriff gladly administers in as repressive a way as he can get away with. The final straw was hearing that persons awaiting trial may get their hour for their phone calls (to family or attorneys) granted in the middle of the night and that they are allowed a clean jumpsuit only once a week while 11% are regularly left in administrative segregation or solitary confinement for seemingly arbitrary reasons.

https://oaklandnorth.net/2018/02/09/activists-bring-concerns-about-jail-conditions-to-alameda-county-supervisors/

So some of us have come together to find a write-in candidate and found the perfect sort-of-person, the gender non-conforming negation of everything this Jefferson-Beauregard-Sessions-loving lawman stands for and to top it off, our candidate has recently immigrated to this county from another astral dimension, an actual alien if you will. Let me introduce Mx N.O. Confidence who is eminently qualified to be a write-in candidate.

They, Mx. NO Confidence, believe that ICE should not be able to hunt those who act on the supposed American creed, to offer refuge and opportunity for all who seek it, nor to deny basic human rights to people awaiting fair hearings in our jails while being forced to wear dirty underwear and languish in isolation for long periods. We are awaiting a word from the county registrar on how likely it will be that our friend from another dimension’s write-in vote will be counted but, whatever, it’s still a better choice than the alternative. download (1)

 

2017 at the Movies, the Oscars and the Others

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All the critics agree, it was a great year for film, but I’m not sure I buy that. Nor can I buy that it was a good year for women and minorities unless the Academy Awards nominating one movie by a Black writer/director and one by a woman are significant improvements, sigh. And, there’s no nail biter for best picture for me as I didn’t see many films that stayed with me for long. Realistically, a best picture award should be given for an extraordinary film and that would not happen every year. Nominate away but the flick selected should be exceptional.

That said, I’m still fascinated by the event and even more so by what the movies say about us and our moment in time so let’s talk about some of the nominees–and some that weren’t nominated but worked for me.

Since many movies ostensibly released in December are not available for viewing until January, February or March of the next awards year-and there are some you’ll never see on your local marquee unless you live next door to an arthouse-I’m going by the films I had an opportunity to view this year.

One of my favorite little movies of this year which actually opened in 2016 was Kedi. It’s Turkish for Cats and is a travelogue-documentary movie about the felines who live in every nook and ancient cranny of Istanbul, seemingly feral but lovingly attended to by the shopkeepers, waiters, and apartment dwellers of that cat friendly and vibrant metropolis. If you like people, cats or views of ancient architecture set along the MV5BOGQzNWM0NmQtZTQ3My00MGMzLTk4NDItNjQ1MGY5MjNhZjhmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTkwNzI3NDY@._V1_UY100_CR39,0,100,100_AL_Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Aegean, this film is a little R & R. BTW, better to visit but for now, since the Turkish government recently reacted to the American government’s visitation restrictions by refusing visas to US residents, you’ll have to wait.

I couldn’t wait to see Get Out and caught it the first weekend. I wasn’t surprised that Jordan Peele made a horror movie because on his show Key and Peele with partner Keegan-Michael Key, the duo produced many skits in the horror genre. Here’s just one of their zombie sketches.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xyhVO-SWfM

It’s an iconic film,  I believe, mostly because it’s one of the few films ever to openly poke fun at American racism from a Black auteur. The catch phrase, the sunken place, and the title itself , something audiences like to shout at the screen when the monster is about to burst through the door, are now part of our film (and social) lexicon. The_Sunken_Place

But there are some small disappointments in this genre busting movie–is it horror, is it comedy, is it satire or all of the above? For instance, the fright scenes were frequently less scary than the build up to them, much of the movie was tongue-firmly-in-cheek, but at other times the tongue was more loosely-in-cheek and the payoffs were sometimes more academic than immediate. It is almost as if Peele wanted to tell us about our racism and confront us with our stereotypes without offending us too much. But it’s thought provoking and entertaining and ultimately one of the movies of this year that will stay with us, or at least until Peele’s next eagerly awaited project.

The Zookeeper’s Wife came out in March and made an impression on me at the time but the reviews were decidedly mixed–many were offended by Jessica Chastain’s Polish accent. Maybe that’s why she was nominated for an Oscar in Molly’s Game rather than this otherwise wonderful performance.

Here are 3 things I know about the problems with the Zookeeper’s Wife 1) it’s a little too glossy for a film set in war torn Warsaw, could’ve been a bit grittier given the subject, 2) the hero of the movie is a soft spoken seemingly naive woman, not the type of hero we want these days, see Frances McDormand, 3) most people including the critics couldn’t stomach the early long scene where the zoo’s tame animals are being slaughtered one by one by the soldiers. But it’s a true story of a couple that were honored by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations, and it’s inspiring without being smug. See it if you can.

Here are three more movies I also liked but only one of them got any Oscar nominations. They were: The Big Sick, made in indy style with an awkwardly slow beginning but its touching true story wins you over soon after–Holly Hunter’s acerbic mother has much to do with that and even though The Indy Spirit Awards and others nominated her for best supporting actor, Oscar ignored her. However, the clever husband/wife screenplay was nominated.

The Glass Castle which passed by unnoticed, a young woman’s memoir of a childhood spent with her extremely dysfunctional but fascinating parents. The critics apparently dispute that the main character was able to cull some good memories from her childhood and seemingly panned it for that reason. I was moved by its complex portrayal of family life or maybe it just made me feel better about my own.

And Marshall, which actually lost money, perhaps because so few people can recognize the last name of one of our most important Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall, more’s the pity. It’s a very interesting slice of his early life as an attorney traveling the country defending Black suspects and alternately commanding and alienating allies to the cause. It stars the very charismatic Chadwick Boseman whose next film has been sold out in theaters for weeks, the Black Panther. Maybe his star power can resurrect this movie so more people can see itdownload (3).jpg

There was Beatriz at Dinner starring Salma Hayek in a satire which hammered you with its message including an ugly peek at the lives of the rich and powerful entertaining each other in the decadent canyons of southern California. It might also be titled, “Everyone was Sad Today,” dunno, left me as cold as it was designed to do.

Should we talk about Wonder Woman, nah, let’s not. How about Wind River, yeah, beautifully filmed, touchingly acted, a modern-day cowboy flick [centered around the brutalization of young attractive women, what else is new and guaranteed money making?] also deeply sad, hmmm, is that a theme? I left the theater and then I realized, oh shit, once again, I was led down the garden path where the white people were the saviors and the Indians were the noble victims or the hapless criminals, substitute any other despised ethnicity and voila, the same old same old but with a touch of cultural sensitivity thrown in. images

Locally, those of us who’ve been fighting for years to reform OPD, went to see The Force because the film’s producer also made the award winning The Waiting Room but instead we got the local version of  mainstream media embedded with the troops in some foreign place. Here’s my longer review, https://draketalkoakland.com/2017/10/01/the-force-the-oakland-police-accountability-coalition-a-story-untold/.

And what about the phenomenon of 3 films revolving around the same WWII episode, Dunkirk, the story of the almost unbelievable rescue of 300,000 British and French troops from the coast of France right as the German army overran continental Europe and was poised to invade Britain.

In The Darkest Hour--it was so dark in those conference rooms and tunnels, I could barely see Gary Oldman’s Churchill giving the famous “we will fight them on the beaches” speech–would not have made much sense without having first seen Nolan’s Dunkirk, unless you’re a WWII  history buff. Then finally there was the British tragicomedy Their Finest which I found as entertaining and moving as the other two.

Does this confluence mean that Winston Churchill, the conservative leader of the British Parliament who hated socialized medicine among other proletarian benefits, is the leader we long for? Perhaps, but I doubt it. To me it means we know we have just entered one of the scariest periods in modern history and we’re not sure how or if we will survive it. F. Y. C. Knox

In Dunkirk, the flick which shows the terror in real time as the powerful Luftwaffe bombs and strafes the retreating soldiers, we also see close up the human face of courage and compassion. In the Darkest Hour we get the one-person-stands-alone-in-the-face-of-confusion-and-cowardice [in truth much of the British aristocracy sympathized with the Nazis before they opposed them.]

In Their Finest, a film within a film which depicts the making of a British propaganda piece about the Allied troop rescue, we find the beating heart of humanity under the seemingly cynical manipulations of the media. The story within a story also illustrates the struggle of women’s changing roles during times when the men were sent to die by the hundreds of thousands, women were reluctantly allowed to take over some of their roles, including screenwriting (and we still struggle with women’s roles in that industry.)

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The lesson for our time lies in how this heroic rescue took place-it worked because average British fishermen and their families took it upon themselves to become a navy of brave individuals with little coordination or top down command, and saved most of their army for the fight to come. Whichever angle you prefer to view that period from, people are drawn to these movies and they are all worth seeing.

I admit I didn’t see all the films nominated for best picture but I did see a few more that are worthy of your weekly latte money. Let’s talk about Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri which was filmed in and around Asheville, North Carolina. It was an obvious Oscar nominee. The writing was sharp to the point of painful, the characters were all played by outsized actors and the theme of (white) female rage hit hard and on target.

I admit I was in disbelief that the character Sam Rockwell played so well seemed to morph too easily into a human being from an idiotic and vicious racist cop. Of course, Frances McDormand’s badass grief-stricken mom was not so much believable as symbolic. McDormand served as the anti-hero that women have been craving, that is if you feel like tossing Molotov cocktails at buildings or people–and maybe you do.

The controversy-and there really could be many–is this your vision of feminism, who deserves redemption-centers around the ultimate acceptance of a cop who is known to have tortured Black suspects as a character who is capable of earning the sympathy of the viewer, depending on whether he in fact did earn it? Did indeed anyone and was anyone really redeemed? The movie doesn’t make that clear. Anyway, here is one critique if you wanna know more, Alison Wilmore in 171113_r30902.jpgBuzzfeed,  https://www.buzzfeed.com/alisonwillmore/three-billboards-outside-ebbing-missouri?utm_term=.wsZLVOyoDM#.mhaJv4gqX” “He [filmmaker Martin McDonough who is Irish] has a solid grasp of how a woman can be dismissed as crazy, as a bitch. But when it comes to American racism, he’s playing tourist.”

As to working class white women who can’t seem to fit the mold, there’s I, Tonya which takes the anti-hero and then flips it sideways. Its perfect sardonic tone takes aim at the audience because the film knows that we were as easily manipulated as Tonya, an abused girl who came close to achieving the American dream but became the punchline to a bad joke instead. It doesn’t answer any of the ultimate moral questions or explain away all the ugliness plus Margot Robbie is way too pretty to be the pinched face protagonist, much less playing her as a young teen. But the movie works, it’s entertaining and thought provoking, what more could you ask? download (5)

The Post came out in December and I saw it with a group of friends that first weekend. Sitting with a crowd at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, CA, watching a movie about what the press can do to an out-of-control-president is heartening enough to make it worth the price of the ticket. That the movie had an outstanding cast and an important message was even better.  MV5BYmQ1MGM4ZjAtODlkOC00MThmLTg5MWYtMGVlNjgxYmQwYmNlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ4MDUzNzI@._V1_UY100_CR23,0,100,100_AL_

There’s lots more to the story of Ben Bradlee’s cozy relationship with presidents and CEOs https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/the-newspaperman-the-life-and-times-of-ben-bradlee and to Katharine Graham’s ultimate betrayal of many of the workers who made her paper great that was barely hinted at by the film, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/wash-post-busted-pressmens-union-in-1975-strike-why_us_599eed71e4b0cb7715bfd3b2.

The only real fault I had with the set-up was Spielberg himself. Sometimes he just had to tell us how to feel by pumping up the John Williams score when silence would have sufficed. And what was that bit with the bewigged hippie spouting Mario Savio’s words in  DC at a 1970 demo, “There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!”

Sorry, that was a different time and place, 1964, Sproul Hall, Berkeley at the height of the Free Speech Movement. For many in the media these days, the movement of the 60’s and 70’s from the Civil Rights era and the anti-HUAC struggles to Anti-Vietnam War movement and the Counterculture was one decade long period of foment but it was more complicated than that and those complications have consequences that still mean something today.

And now to the great Shape of Water divide. It leads the race with 13 Oscar nominations. I nominate it for silliest-and-darkest-version-of a-Fred Astaire-minus-Ginger-musical-fairy-tale, replete with stereotypes you haven’t seen since Stepin Fetchit, slack jawed dramatics, wince-inducing-preciousness-over-the-top–hit-you-on-the-head message movie of the year.

For instance, while Sally Hawkins was able to fill her bathroom with water almost to the ceiling by stuffing towels under the door (for you know, a romantic midnight swim) in her dreary apartment lit only by nostalgic movie theater marquees all the while with the same dumbimages (2)founded expression on her kisser, Octavia Spencer’s sidekick existed as a stereotype of a Black woman who chatters endlessly about her no-good husband and Michael Shannon reprises his trademark role as the vicious Trumpian villain. Ah well, gotta love the nostalgia and simplistic symbolism.

The headache inducing winner of the eye-roll contest was the Last of the Jedi, here’s hoping it’s the last of the Star Wars resurrections. Let’s remember the originals with fondness like you do old friends before they revealed they liked The Shape of Whatever That Was.

Here’s to not nominating any more beautiful films like Call Me By Your Name except of course for the cinematography, each frame a picture to behold, that is until you begin to worry this movie might never end and you have to use the restroom sometime. It was sort of s backlash to last year’s winner, no, not LaLa Land but Moonlight, that beautiful coming-of-age film set in Florida about a young man who had nothing and was loved download (4)by almost no one but which was able to maintain that quality of wonder that Call Me sought to depict.

Even as a middle class, reasonably well-traveled white woman, I could identify with very little about this wealthy, multi-lingual family vacationing at their summer villa in Italy while their young son develops a hot romance with a beautiful older man. I got the scenes of sweltering summer sexuality-when the search for romance and sex were all that counted. I just couldn’t relate to long scenes of cigarettes being inhaled while gently ordering the housekeeper to prepare dinner a little earlier this evening, thank you. a422c8840d719bae599ef170f27a6c4dd6491b1091fc20e9ae7c7e22b093ff99-195x195.jpg

Since filmmakers so often replay the same stories, why not suggest some that haven’t been told. Here’s one of mine: The Warmth of Other Suns, the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, tells three in depth and true tales out of the millions of Black people who found their way north and west during the period between the two World Wars and beyond. The stories are as heartbreaking as they are inspiring and  worth telling. Just one would make an epic film about the struggle for the American Dream. It would be hard not to make it entertaining and thought provoking and what else could a movie goer want?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join the Friday Vigil at the Federal Building-We Refuse to Tolerate Ethnic Cleansing

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Press Advisory

Federal Building Vigil this Friday–We Refuse to Tolerate Ethnic Cleansing

Oakland, CA: On Friday, January 19th at noon the California Sanctuary Campaign, the Alameda County Immigration Legal & Education Partnership, Mujeres Activas Y Unidas, the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, CAIR-SF Bay Area, Haiti Action Committee, the Qal’bu Maryam Women’s Mosque, Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, the Oakland Justice Coalition, Latino Task Force, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, the East Bay Young Dems, and the Coalition for Police Accountability will come together in front of the Oakland Federal Building to stand vigil against current White House policies which directly threaten the lives of people of color in this country and abroad.

According to Rev J Alfred Smith Jr of Allen Temple Baptist Church, “the president’s stated policies and actions will promote the ethnic cleansing of whole swaths of Black and Brown people whether native born, immigrant or refugee, seeking opportunity and the ability to raise their families in dignity. The president repeatedly makes racist and misogynistic statements which result in directives from his DOJ and the Congress while families are separated by federal authorities, children are left without healthcare, jails fill with our youth, and refugees are refused asylum.  We must take a moral stand against the president and his party before these destructive attitudes and actions do any more damage.”

The vigil is being held the day prior to the historic Women’s March which will take place in cities and towns across the country to assert that women’s rights are human rights. The vigil calls attention to the special jeopardy that women of color face as a result of current policies which threaten not only their economic well-being but their safety in the streets, at their workplaces, and in their homes.

We call on other cities to protest outside local federal buildings at noon on Friday, January 19th. If we cannot look to our president or the Congress to uphold the moral authority of our country’s stated values, then we must do it ourselves.

Contact: Pamela Drake, pamelaadrake@gmail.com, 510-593-3721

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