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The truth about Oakland and the Oakland A’s

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Oakland, California—my town—has a lot of burning issues. Homelessness is obviously #1, along with defunding the police. But lately a new brouhaha has erupted: Should Oakland approve a new Bay-side baseball stadium for the Oakland A’s?

If you haven’t been following this news, here’s a brief backgrounder. The A’s have played at the Oakland Coliseum since they moved here in 1968. The Coliseum has advantages: it’s easy to get to, right on the BART (rapid transit) line and next to the I-880 freeway. On the other hand, the structure itself is ugly and crumbling, and the surrounding neighborhood is sketchy, to put it mildly.

The owners of the A’s have stated firmly, over and over, that they must have a new stadium, at another site. They’ve looked at the San Francisco Giants’ stadium, a tremendous success, and want the same thing here. They’ve selected a parcel that’s right on the Bay, in an industrial part of Oakland that’s largely used by the Port of Oakland, one of the most important shipping hubs on the West Coast. The A’s have offered a complicated plan that includes a $1 billion stadium, with retail malls, parks and homes.

Now, Oakland is not particularly fond of its sports teams, at least among the political classes. In the last 5 years, the city (which is to say, Mayor Libby Schaaf) has lost the Golden State Warriors basketball team (to San Francisco) and the Raiders football team (to Las Vegas). While both teams had their fanatical fans in town, they never really had the support of city government, particularly on the City Council, which tends to be comprised of neighborhood activists more interested in “social justice” causes than in professional sports, or in job development for that matter.

This came City Council has signaled its extreme displeasure with the A’s stadium plan (known as the Howard Terminal plan). From my reading of the news, the Council is demanding more and more in the way of low-cost housing, and a multi-decade commitment from the A’s to stay in town. The A’s, for their part, say that they’ve compromised as much as they’re able to: the discussions have been going on for years, and they’re getting impatient. There are reports several times a week that A’s management has been scouting different locations in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, a few days ago, the A’s said that they’ve reached their limit: either the City Council approves Howard Terminal, or they’re gone. A vote is scheduled for July 20, this Tuesday.

The Council, for its part, responds that they think the A’s are bluffing. But as a fairly knowledgeable consumer of the news, I’m positive they’re not. They’re tired of dealing with Council’s incessant demands. What’s really weird is that some people on the Council are saying that the A’s should just build a new stadium at the Coliseum site, since it’s so ideally located. At the same time, other Council members are calling for the Women’s National Basketball Association to bring a team to Oakland and play in the Coliseum! But then, this wouldn’t be the first time the Oakland City Council has contradicted itself.

It’s a big deal when a U.S. city loses a major sports team. People opposed to the A’s have come up with the most ridiculous arguments. Someone on a local social network wrote that he doesn’t know anyone who’s ever been to an A’s game, which “proves” to him that no one in Oakland cares about the A’s! This is the kind of mentality we’re dealing with: people who use anecdotes, not facts, to justify their prejudices. The fact is (as even the City Council concedes), the Howard Terminal project would bring thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues into Oakland, and would moreover revitalize a section of the waterfront that’s been dreary and run-down for decades.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet that in the next week or two, the A’s will announce they’re leaving Oakland. If and when you hear the news, please understand the truth: They did not “choose” to leave town, they were driven out.


The ugly truth about evangelicals

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The Kaiser Family Foundation took a poll of Americans about getting the COVID shot. The lowest percentage of those who said they would never, ever get vaccinated was Democrats (less than 2%) and Americans over 65 (8%). The highest percentage? Rural residents (24%), Republicans (23%) and white evangelical Christians (22%). Never in a thousand years, they insisted, would they get inoculated…and these three categories are, of course, actually a single category: white evangelicals who live in rural areas and consistently vote Republican.

They tend to believe what their preachers say more than what science and the news say (unless the “news” is from Fox), which is why President Biden has been leaning so heavily on “local ministers and preachers” to convince “MAGA folks…to get that vaccine.” Sadly, that well-meaning tactic isn’t working. “If I put forth effort to push [the vaccine], I’d be wasting my breath,” Nathan White, a pastor at the late Jerry Falwell’s church, Liberty Baptist, told Politico.

So indoctrinated have White’s rural parishioners become by decades of evangelical propaganda that they no longer have the capacity to think straight. These are the people who believe the Rapture is at hand. In many cases, Rev. White’s churchgoers are the same ones who sat in the same pews when Falwell told them, “Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions.”

This is the same Falwell who told them Sept. 11 was caused by “the abortionists, feminists and gays.” The credulous evangelicals who listened to him believed every word of it, not because they didn’t possess God-given brains, but because they chose not to use those brains. They chose to be good Christians and “ask no questions.”

A few evangelical leaders have had the courage to stand up to their colleagues and urge churchgoers to get inoculated. Two of them, Curtis Chang and Kris Carter, recently published an op-ed in the New York Times in which they blamed “conspiracy movements such as QAnon and antivaccine campaigns” for stirring up “outright fear and hostility” toward science. Chang and Carter referred to the widespread evangelical belief that “the vaccines contain a microchip or that they are ‘the mark of the beast.” They begged “local churches and individual Christians [to] take the lead in convincing fellow evangelicals to get vaccinated.”

But their words are falling on deaf ears.

There’s one word that hasn’t yet arisen in this conversation: Trump. The same white, rural evangelical Republicans who won’t get a COVID shot because it’s the mark of the beast are the ones who voted for Trump. They continue to love and support him, even though his entire life stands in violent contradiction to the Christian values and morals they profess to cherish. Frankly, it’s no use preaching facts or science to them. It’s pointless to argue with them. They’re a lost cause. Certainly, many of them are about to succumb to COVID and its variants, but even when they’re sick and in hospital, on ventilators, they will clutch their Bibles and look forward to seeing Jesus in Heaven, and bless Him for killing them; and they will never accept that their deaths are, in reality, suicides.


It’s a hideous lie to say Republicans are more gay-friendly because of Trump

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I don’t particularly like the San Francisco Chronicle’s political columnist, Joe Garofoli, because he’s always taking cheap shots at Gov. Newsom, whom I admire. I suspect he’s secretly a crypto-trumper.

Especially obnoxious was his headline yesterday: “GOP gets gay-friendlier—thanks to, yes, Trump.”

You read that right: Donald Trump, protector of LGBTQ people, is making the homophobic Republican-Evangelical Party gay-friendly!

Now, I have to say Garofoli may not have written the headline; his editor might have been the culprit. And Garofoli wasn’t actually responsible for the subject of his column, whom he quoted: Charles Moran, managing director of the Log Cabin Republicans.

The LCRs are a rather queer (in the old sense) group of gay rightwingers. For all their 40-plus years of existence, they’ve puzzled and infuriated the vast majority of gays, who wonder why anyone gay would support an outfit that wants to obliterate LGBTQ people.

The weirdo headline was based on Garofoli’s interview with Moran. It stemmed from his statement that “One of the best things about [Trump] is that he helped get the Republican Party beyond the hang-up around LGBT equality issues.”

Now you, Dear Reader, might be scratching your head in wonderment about how Trump moved his party beyond their gay hang-up. Well, Moran’s thesis is that Trump wasn’t as horrible toward LGBTQ people as most Republicans might have been. And so, in Moran’s fever dream, because he wasn’t as Hitleresque as other Republicans, he actually helped the Republican Party toward gay acceptance.

There’s so much wrong and dishonest about this that it’s hard to know where to begin, starting with Trump’s alleged gay-friendliness. To set the record straight, the Trump regime “gutted LGBTQ+ rights,” says the decidedly conservative-leaning USA Today newspaper. The article details some of the more homophobic things the Trump regime did, including

  • Removing all mention of LGBTQ people and issues from the White House website
  • Barring transgendered people from the military
  • Pushed for exemptions that would allow health care providers to refuse care to transgender people and those with HIV/AIDS
  • Banned U.S. embassies from flying the rainbow flag to mark global Pride Month
  • Outlawed the words “transgender” and “diversity” in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports
  • Stopped data collection for LGBTQ+ kids in foster care
  • And, of course, appointed some of the most rightwing, homophobic fanatics to the Supreme Court—justices whose anti-gay rulings will turn back the clock on LGBTQ rights for decades to come.

Do you remember that scene from The Caine Mutiny when the Jose Ferrer character tosses a glass of water into the face of the Fred MacMurray character? That’s what I’ll do if I ever have the non-pleasure of meeting Charles Moran. The guy is a tool, a liar, and a self-professed apologist for the infamies of the homophobic Trump Party, which are legion. Mr. Moran may say to himself that he’s not a single-issue voter, and that the mere fact that he’s gay doesn’t prevent him from voting Republican. I can accept that, although it rubs me the wrong way.

But for Moran to claim that Trump pushed the Republican Party in a gay-friendly way is appallingly dishonest spin. It’s the kind of propaganda we’ve come to expect from Republican extremists, and it’s sad that San Francisco’s paper of record, the Chronicle, has chosen to plaster those rightwing lies on its own pages.


Guest editorial: Bill Bratton on “defund the police”

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(Bill Bratton served as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, chief of the New York City Transit Police, and commissioner of the Boston Police Department and the New York City Police Department. This piece has been adapted from “THE PROFESSION: A Memoir of Community, Race, and the Arc of Policing in America” by Bill Bratton and Peter Knobler. Published by arrangement with Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by William Bratton.)

You can’t defund an institution to punish it and think that this action is going to make it better!

Like Black Lives Matter, Defund the Police is a political hashtag that means different things to different people. Some want to abolish the police altogether; others want to take money out of police budgets and give it to social‐service agencies to be used for community needs and activities, particularly focused on minorities. Still others want to, as they put it, redesign or reimagine policing. 

All are centered around the idea of taking from law enforcement organizations of the responsibilities and associated funding that have become flash points—dealing with the mentally ill, the homeless, the addicted—and putting them in other hands.

But there’s a reason those responsibilities have fallen to the police over the years: society in general, and the state in particular, decided it did not have the willpower or the funds to run programs that would handle them successfully. Mental institutions closed; shelters became unwelcoming and unsafe; addiction services became underprioritized and overwhelmed. 

So who ended up as the dumping ground for the homeless in the 1970s? The police. The drug addicts of the ’70s and ’80s? The police. 

Who is having to deal with the issues of today? The police. 

Police departments around the country would be pleased to pass along many of these responsibilities and focus on more traditional policing concerns, but they cannot do that until some other fully capable entity is prepared to step into the breach.

Replacing the police as government caregivers is a great concept; its advocates just have it backward. We saw how small‐government representatives sucked funding out of most social programs since the Kennedy administration. Neutered them, starved them, and then tried to eliminate them. And we saw that the only one standing at the bottom of all society’s safety nets, when people fall through the holes because they are frayed and worn down or purposely ripped open, is the cop. And the country got very comfortable with that.

Shall we invest money in developing more care for emotionally disturbed people? Shall we increase hospital beds and institutions for the mentally ill? Shall we adjust the insurance laws so their needs actually get covered? Or should we just say, “Ahh, screw it. The cops will handle it”? 

Society had made that choice already, now they were rethinking it. Should we deal with the homeless with treatment and housing? Or should we tell the cops to tell them, “Keep moving it along”?

Again, we’ve done that before; that’s how the cops became the enemy of the homeless. Should we deal with drug addiction and rehab and programs on a national basis, or should we just say to the cops, “Try to arrest your way through this and make it better”?

You can’t defund the police before you make those investments. You can’t withdraw police services until you have sustained and secured those services in other ways. You can’t take the money from the cops and throw it to failed agencies that don’t know what they’re doing. 

You have to make those investments, and then over time, as these specifically trained organizations get into gear and respond successfully to the responsibilities being given, the police can relinquish their role and defund themselves. The NYPD goes on an emotionally disturbed person call every 4 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If it was not the department’s responsibility, think of all the time that would be available to reduce disorder and prevent crime.

The money must be reinvested first, and then one day police departments across America should be able to wake up and say,

“Wow, we don’t need that many cops. We don’t have that many calls, we don’t have as big a drug problem, we don’t have a serious homeless problem, we are not affected as seriously by mentally ill people who are neither being cared for in a hospital nor supported on the outside.” At that point the departments themselves can say, “You know, we’ve got lots of cops who don’t have that much to do. You can have a few thousand of them back.”

You can’t defund an institution to punish it and think that this action is going to make it better.

But we are not there; we’re nowhere near. And we can’t possibly get there by taking a billion dollars out of the police budget, as has been proposed for the NYPD, including 60% of overtime funding, which is the department’s go‐to tool during a crime wave.

It seems to me that a formidable portion of the effort to defund the police, abolish the police, f*ck the police is just punitive. People are angry and hateful and spiteful. It doesn’t make sense, it’s not well thought out. 

You can’t defund an institution to punish it and think that this action is going to make it better. Under normal circumstances, you have to pour more money into an institution with needs, not less. 

So “Defund the Police” has never made sense to me. “Defund the police and send the money elsewhere” is at least rational, but that money isn’t being sent anywhere else, and the government and/or private agencies in line for those funds didn’t become any smarter or more efficient in the meantime. Those agencies must be rebuilt. Meanwhile, we are going to see exactly what we’re seeing, which is the police doing the job that every other agency has failed to do.

If you defund the police and tell them to stop doing those jobs—to disengage from the homeless, to walk by the mentally ill—the streets will not be pretty. 

As funds are being withdrawn and no replacements are being put in place, nothing is working. In June 2020, the 60% cut in overtime pay resulted in thousands of New York City cops being taken off the streets. The crime rate, particularly shootings, went through the roof. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea equates it to turning off the hoses while a fire in a building is raging. He asks, “What did you expect would happen?” 

#DefundThePolice was a catchy hashtag driving policy. However, policy needs to be based on facts, figures and an understanding of the issues. Defund, redesign, reimagine, abolish the police all had their moments.

The worst idea is that somehow America should simply abolish the police, yet you can hear that call emanating from any number of protest podiums. There is an active opposition to the entire concept of policing that is using this upheaval as a shovel at a grave, saying, “We can abolish this!” What could they be thinking?!

Anytime police are absent, society degenerates. When the powerful but sociopathic decide they are going to take what’s not theirs, who is best trained and able to prevent bad actors from preying upon the community? Cops. With no cops in the streets, lawlessness prevails. Robbery, rape, casual violence, horrendous murder rates. 

Who’s going to stop them? Social workers? Self‐appointed citizen vigilantes? Who are those people and who sets their agenda? It’s not pretty, armed anarchy. 

So, please, that is not going to happen. Forget about abolishing the police.


How bad is the California drought? Very bad

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We all know California’s in another historic drought, but until I checked the actual rainfall data, I had no idea how severe it really is.

From the desert southeast to the Pacific coast, on up to the Oregon border and out to the Sierra Foothills, the rainfall amounts are staggeringly low. And keep in mind, it’s June now: there’s not going to be another drop of water falling in California until next October or November, except, possibly, for a wandering summer monsoon that drops a quarter-inch in some rare place. And even that’s unlikely.

Check out these numbers:

Bakersfield: Season to date: 2.77” Normal to date: 6.33”

Los Angeles: Season to date: 5.80” Normal to date: 14.55”

San Diego: Season to date: 4.50” Normal to date: 10.07”

San Francisco: Season to date: 8.91” Normal to date: 23.22”

Oakland: Season to date: 7.61” Normal to date: 20.35”

San Jose: Season to date: 5.32” Normal to date: 15.50”

Eureka: Season to date: 27.25” Normal to date: 46.15”

You can see that rainfall this 2020-2021 season ranges from one-half to one-third of normal. That’s not just low, it’s insanely low. Already, wildfires have been erupting, not big ones—yet—but for them to happen in Northern California in May is shocking. We’ve been lucky because May was unusually chilly, and June is starting out that way too. But the heat waves are coming.

You can also get a sense of the drought’s severity from these flow charts for some California rivers.

The bar graphs compare this year’s flow with those of 2014 and 2015, when California was in the grips of “the two driest years of our driest drought,” according to the California Department of Water Resources. In other words, in 2021, we’re as starved for water as we were seven years ago, at the peak of the last severe drought.

Of course, California may be spared from great conflagrations this year. We may not have those big lightning events that can spark dozens of fires in a matter of hours. We may not have idiots who drop cigarettes in dry tinder. We may not have sociopathic arsonists who get their jollies by setting fires. But in all probability, it’s going to be a bad year. This is why our Governor, Gavin Newsom, announced he’s budgeting two billion dollars for fire prevention this year, doubling the previous amount. Cynics immediately said that Newsom is doing that because he’s facing a recall, but that’s a scurrilous charge. He’s going to win the recall handily—everyone knows it. He’s throwing money at fire prevention because it’s his job to save lives, property and wildlands.


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