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Remembering Sept. 11


It was early on that Tuesday morning of Sept. 11, 2001, around 6:15 a.m. California time. I was making coffee when the phone rang. It was Marilyn. “Are you watching T.V.?”

No, I wasn’t. I switched on the T.V., as Marilyn described what she knew: a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I don’t think I turned the T.V. off until I went to bed that night. Like everybody else, I was glued to the tube.

And I was pissed. I’m not embarrassed today to admit that, from the very first hours when it looked like Al Qaeda and bin Laden had done it, I was eager for revenge. I kept what turned out to be a Sept. 11 Diary, and some of its first entries were BOMB AFGHANISTAN! This was my generation’s Pearl Harbor, and America needed to defend herself and take out the criminals.

Not too many days later, the U.S. House of Representatives took a vote on the AUMF, Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, which gave the government permission to wage war in Afghanistan. It passed almost unanimously, with but a single vote against: that of Rep. Barbara Lee, who represented my Oakland district (and still does). I was outraged by what I perceived to be her stunningly bad judgment and cowardice, and I told her so, in an email. My language was intemperate, but then, most of my fellow Americans felt the same way I did.

Today, with the end of the Afghanistan War, and with many Americans now thinking it had been unnecessary, Barbara Lee has become a sort of heroine. Hindsight is always 20/20, of course. Historians will long debate the Afghan War (and the Iraq War, too). My own personal view is that we had to do something after Sept. 11. But President Biden was right when he observed that we should have declared victory and gone home after we took out bin Laden, in May, 2011. Instead, we stayed, and tried to nation-build, when it should have been obvious, post-Vietnam, that nation-building is not something America does very well, and perhaps shouldn’t even try. (I still think Rep. Lee was wrong, by the way.)

I’ve been back to New York City, my hometown, many times in the last twenty years, but I never went down to Ground Zero. Didn’t want to see it, didn’t want to feel like I was sightseeing where something so awful had happened, and where so many people suffered and died. I felt the same way after the Oakland Hills Firestorm, in October, 1991. Marilyn and I drove up to see the carnage a few days after the fire was put out, but we spent only a few moments looking at the scene—street after street of homes reduced to foundations and chimneys—before we felt unclean, and got the hell out.

There will be another Sept. 11. In one form or another, haters of America will attack us again. As far as I’m concerned, this attack could just as easily be from domestic terrorists as from foreign jihadis. We already saw forebodings on Jan. 6. Those Republican trumpers are still out there, violent, judgmental and homicidal. We know who their targets are: liberals, homosexuals, abortion doctors, reporters, Black activists, judges, Jews, Democrats, immigrants, Muslims. If I worry about terrorist attacks, it’s not from ISIS or Al Qaeda or Al-Shabab. It’s from the unvaccinated morons like the Proud Boys and all the other militia groups who want to burn the Constitution and establish a clerical-fascist dictatorship in America.

Oakland sued for failure to enforce its own policies

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(Readers: this is a copy of my post this morning on the website of my political lobbying group, the Coalition for a Better Oakland. While it concerns the city in which I live, it’s relevant to cities around the country that are dealing with the scourge of encampments.)

It’s with great pleasure I share with you the news that our friend Seneca Scott, executive director of Neighbors Together Oakland (NTO), yesterday announced that NTO is suing the City of Oakland for failure to implement Oakland’s Encampment Management Policy (EMP).

The EMP, you’ll recall, was unanimously approved by the Oakland City Council last October, with the full support of Mayor Schaaf. It carefully defined “no-go” areas where tents would be prohibited, including parks, and was set to begin on Jan. 1, 2021. It was a sane, wise policy, but never implemented. The City Council, says Scott, “ignored the EMP out of fear of political blowback.” The lawsuit demands “that the courts intervene and hold the City accountable for enforcing the law in order to restore balance to city streets and neighborhoods…”.

While the Coalition for a Better Oakland is not party to the lawsuit, we fully support it, and will do whatever we can to be helpful.

NTO’s lawsuit, which was filed in Alameda County Superior Court, is similar to one filed in Los Angeles by the LA Alliance for Human Rights, which is suing Los Angeles over its failure to resolve the encampment problem. That followed a rash of other cities being sued for the same reason: their epic failure to clean up encampments by providing shelter for the unhoused.

There are several interesting things about these lawsuits. First, they denote very clearly that cities have to be compelled to take action on encampments; left to their own devices, they remain inert, paralyzed by fear of pro-encampment activists. Secondly, the lawsuits require cities to not only clean up encampments, but to offer their residents some kind of “four walls and a roof” in which to relocate. This is not just for reasons of compassion, but for legal necessity: the landmark Martin v. Boise legal decision, which was left intact by the U.S. Supreme Court, requires “that homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives.” Cities have interpreted Martin v. Boise, probably correctly, as meaning they dare not roust homeless people unless they can give them someplace else to live.

It’s great that cities finally are being compelled to deal with encampments, after so many years of official denial and ineptitude. NTO has done a brave and good thing. Without their lawsuit, Oakland government, and especially its renegade City Council, will continue to drift in inaction and lassitude, pretending to be progressive but ultimately caring about nothing but campaign contributions.

Left unanswered by the lawsuit, meanwhile, are three huge questions: (1) What kind of shelter must cities provide to homeless people? (2) how do cities pay for it? and (3) What do we do with homeless people who refuse to leave their tents, even after being offered shelter?

Vote NO on the recall!


I still think Gov. Newsom is going to beat this Republican recall. But the polls are a lot closer than they were a few months ago, when I predicted he’d win by double digits.

Now, I suspect his margin will be in the single digits. Still a win, but not a very big one.

It’s obvious to me what’s happening. Newsom inherited a series of gruesome issues. The wildfires are clearly not his fault, although Republicans are blaming him for not clearing the forests.

The housing situation is clearly not his fault, although Republicans are making it sound like Newsom is refusing to build badly-needed housing.

COVID-19 is clearly not his fault. He has tackled the pandemic with as much grace and intelligence as anyone could expect. But Republicans are suggesting he personally imported the virus from that Wuhan lab and spread it around California.

It’s only fair, I suppose, to blame The Guy at the Top when things go badly. But it’s not fair. He’s done the best he could, under the toughest circumstances imaginable. His critics, especially those Trump Republicans, love to play Monday morning quarterback. But what would they have done, had they been in power? They would have ended mask mandates and school shutdowns, thus putting hundreds of thousands more Californians at risk of serious disease or death. They would have cut taxes on billionaires, and ended Newsom’s efforts to combat global warming. They would have done whatever they can to make California unfriendly to LGBTQ people. They would have brought the evangelical churches into the halls of government, with all the attendant horrors. Above all, even if a Republican were to replace Newsom (which I do not for a moment believe), that new Governor would be dead on arrival, politically speaking: facing a Democratic legislature, he would get nothing done, except to give nasty speeches that would tear Californians apart, pitting inland rural districts against the more populous coastal cities and suburbs. The last thing California needs is more division.

The Governor is handling the stress well. He’s out there every day, doing his job, whether it’s at a hospital or in a forest or school. Looking poised and confident, he’s leading our complicated State as effectively as any modern Governor I’ve seen, including Jerry Brown. I’m sure that, inwardly, this cannot be a happy time for Gavin; we all want to be loved, politicians more than anyone, and it must hurt him to realize that a good chunk of Californians want to kick him out.

But the Governor ought to take comfort in these two facts: 1) most of the recall proponents are Trump Republicans who do not have the interests of California, or America, at heart, and 2) even those Democrats and Independents who may be thinking of kicking him out are going to change their minds at the last minute. As they look over the Republican field of candidates, including Caitlyn Jenner, they see a clown car—although that’s not fair to actual clowns, who as a rule are not dangerous lunatics. I strongly believe even those inclined to fire the Governor will reconsider, when they consider the alternative.

Afghanistan: the lesson

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Those Trump-publicans are trying to pin the blame for Afghanistan on Biden, but it won’t work, because Americans know the truth: Trump started the “get out of Afghanistan” parade and Biden inherited it and got out.

I didn’t blame Trump at the time. Even a broken clock is right twice a day! America had been in Afghanistan nearly twenty years; Trump understood how stupid it was to remain there a day longer. He began the negotiations with the Taliban to ensure an orderly transition. If the situation today is out of control, why not blame Trump?

However, I won’t do that. I shared his frustrations, along with a majority of Americans. What the hell were we doing in a land war, a civil war, in a godforsaken Asian country, and a fundamentalist Islamic one at that? Yes, Al Qaeda and the Taliban deserved what they got after Sept. 11. We beat the crap out of them. But the warning signs were all over the place. After we overthrew the Taliban, we should have gotten out, and left Afghanis to stew in their own juices, with a warning: If you harbor terrorists again, we will destroy you.

But we didn’t deploy our full strength, and that was our strategic mistake. As an old karate guy, I can tell you that withholding your most powerful blows is not the way to win a fight. You have to give it everything you’ve got, because your opponent will certainly give it everything he’s got. In other words, there’s no time for the Marquis of Queensbury rules.

Does “everything we’ve got” mean nuclear weapons? Yes. Tactical ones. I know this isn’t a popular thing to say. It horrifies people. But if we’re not prepared to win wars using “everything we’ve got,” then we shouldn’t fight wars in the first place. Did we learn nothing from Vietnam?

The truth about Oakland and the Oakland A’s


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.

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