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We need to detain crazy people who wander our streets


I don’t usually agree with Trump but I did when he suggested that the federal government might demolish “rat and rodent-infested” homeless camps and commit obviously crazy people, even against their will, into forced incarceration and treatment.

I am an unabashed liberal. I make no apologies for my lifelong support of Democrats. I’m proud of my family’s Democratic heritage, from FDR and JFK to Carter, Clinton and Obama. And I hope trump is impeached or, failing that, defeated next year.

But it’s clear that something has gone seriously amiss here in California. I live in one of the epicenters of homelessness: downtown Oakland, where the homeless rate has grown by 47% in the last two years.

I’ve been here for 32 years; the situation has never been this bad, and it’s getting worse by the day. And what I’m now in favor of—even though it does involve a certain curtailment of the civil liberties of some people—is detaining these mental cases, so that they can’t wander the streets, annoying and endangering us, the law-abiding citizens.

It seems to me that we have to distinguish between different groupings among the homeless. There’s the majority of homeless people who, through no fault of their own, have lost the ability to put a roof over their heads. We have to do whatever we can to help them; Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley and other Bay Area cities are striving mightily to build shelters, navigation centers and affordable housing, but the problem, of course, is that there’s never enough money to pay for it, and our cities and counties can’t raise taxes much higher than they already are.

Then there’s the sub-population of people I’m most concerned with: the ones we can call, for the sake of convenience, the ranters. You’ve seen them: they’re obviously deranged, walking in erratic patterns, often talking or yelling to themselves, collapsed in the gutter; and these people seem capable of violence and criminality. It’s terribly unpopular, in the politically-correct Bay Area, to say you’re afraid of people simply on the basis of how they publicly behave (especially if they’re people of color), but the fact is, we all recognize bizarre behavior when we see it—it’s part of our evolutionary heritage–and it seems obvious that some or most of these people commit some of the crimes that plague those of us who live in the inner cities: car break-ins, burglaries, and muggings, not to mention the daily nuisances of upturned trash cans, filth and litter, the smell of urine that pervades our downtown neighborhoods, and the unpleasantness of being accosted by them.

These people need treatment whether they want it or not, and regardless of what the American Civil Liberties Union claims. It’s just not right to allow a mentally ill population to trash our cities and jeopardize the safety of millions of people, simply to worship at the intellectual shrine of “civil liberties.” There is nothing “civil” about permitting crazy people to run rampant. There is no “liberty” that mandates unlimited freedom for people to break our laws and degrade our common standards and morés. This is not how or why our country was founded; it is not how America can survive.

Look: no nation can long endure when it permits an utter breakdown of civil order, especially in its cities. I believe, based on my experiences here in Oakland and the Bay Area, that the majority of homeless people are not the kinds of crazies I’m describing here. They constitute perhaps 5% of that population. But they are the ones that give all homeless people a bad reputation. And that’s why I favor rounding them up. They can be put into abandoned schools or prisons or public buildings that have been repurposed, and they can be offered whatever medical and psychological treatment is deemed necessary. All this will cost money—and the expenditure of these funds must be rigorously overseen to make sure that waste, fraud and abuse doesn’t occur.

Trump understands quite well that the vast majority of Americans are sick and tired of violence and degradation on our city streets. He is clearly trolling for a few votes with his suggestion. Democrats ought not to sit idly by and let Trump steal this legitimate issue for himself. We need to step up and admit the obvious: there are people out there who shouldn’t be out there, and if Democrats foolishly defend their “right” to be crazy in public, then Democrats don’t deserve to govern.

By the way, detaining mentally ill people isn’t merely a Republican or conservative position. San Francisco—arguably the most liberal city in America—recently approved the mandatory detention of crazy people, even against their will, through so-called “5150” conservatorships. San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, is certainly no right winger, but she’s feeling the heat, and approved the measure. So let’s move beyond this left-right charade. Public order and safety has nothing to do with politics; it has to do with what’s right and proper for civil society.

Should gig workers be considered employees?


There’s been a lot of news here in California about the “gig economy” and whether or not the people who work for companies like Uber and Lyft should be independent contractors or actual employees.

The difference is huge, to the bottom lines of the companies involved. If the workers are “just” independent contractors, they make only as much money as they earn when they work, and they get no benefits: healthcare, vacation or sick time, or contributions to retirement funds. If the workers are deemed to be actual employees, the companies are going to have to cover those costs.

Obviously, there are billions of dollars at stake, which is why the gig companies are trying to kill pending bills, and get initiatives passed, that limit their financial exposure by ensuring that their workers remain “contractors.” Opposed to them are labor unions, who believe that if you’re working for a gig company, you deserve the same benefits as if you’re working for a “traditional” company, like (say) Apple, Chevron or the local school district.

As a former, longtime independent contractor, I’d like to offer my views.

I worked for wine magazines for decades: Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. I was a gig employee before the term was invented. I never had any benefits. This became more of an issue when I worked for Wine Enthusiast because my public visibility increased and so did my work load and importance to my employer. I never made a big deal about it to my boss, but on those occasions when talk of benefits did arise, he would claim that I didn’t really need benefits because I had so many perks as a wine critic.

He had a point: the restaurants, hotels, wine…it was enjoyable. I enjoyed my status as an independent contractor. I got to choose my own hours of work. I could take days off without permission. As long as I turned in my work assignments with professionalism—and I did–I was golden.

Of course, I would have loved to have health insurance, a 401K retirement contribution from my employer, and the rest of the benefits that “real” employees enjoy. But it was not in my nature to make such demands, which my boss would have denied anyway, with the threat that there were plenty of people ready to take my place if I was unhappy. I understood that, from the point of view of my employer, I was a good deal: he was getting the milk, but he didn’t have to buy the cow.

So I understand the argument on the part of the gig employers that they’re trying to protect their workers’ flexibility. On the other hand I also see the flaws in this argument. I did indeed have lots of benefits in my job. But if you’re an Uber or Lyft driver, you get no such benefits. I suppose there are plenty of gig company workers who prefer independence to benefits. There are probably an equal number who would like to have the benefits; indeed, I’ve seen news reports of both groups expressing their preference.

What should the law mandate under such circumstances?

This is not an easy decision. One the one hand, lawmakers don’t want to stifle entrepreneurialism by being overly-restrictive on companies. On the other, they need to protect the rights of workers against being exploited. America has a long history of rich employers sucking the lifeblood out of workers, from the forced child labor of yesteryear to the coal mines of today that expose workers to black lung disease to the gig companies themselves. But where is the line between excessive mommy-state intrusion, and mandating a more equal sharing of wealth?

As a moderate Democrat, I wrestle with this question. As usual, I try to find the middle ground. Is there a way to protect Uber’s and Lyft’s interests so they remain viable employers for the many people who obviously want to work for them? At the same time, is there a way to offer their workers the benefits which a majority of Americans have come to expect? And is there a way to protect drivers who do not wish to be fulltime employees—who value their freedom to work only when they want and choose not to have the benefits?

I don’t know. But if anyone can figure this stuff out, it’s us Californians, led by our brilliant, innovative and problem-solving Governor, Gavin Newsom. California leads the way in just about everything progressive. We’re Blue, baby, and we’re gonna lead the #BlueWave2020!

What I told my friend about Hillary


Had lunch the other day with a friend, Roy (not his real name), who’s in his late twenties. The topic turned, naturally enough, to politics. One thing led to another, and my friend mentioned that he had negative feelings about the Clintons, especially Hillary.


He couldn’t articulate anything precisely, but stammered something about untrustworthiness, and sleaziness, and suspicions of criminal activity. Hadn’t he heard something about Hillary Clinton buying off the Democratic National Committee? He couldn’t remember the details, but…

Then, yesterday, I read an op-ed piece in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle about how our country isn’t doing nearly enough to combat Russian interference with our upcoming elections—just as they did in 2016. The article quoted a Stanford professor to the effect that “When a person sees a message repeated over and over, even a false one, you tend to believe it more.”

That brought me to consider why so many friends of mine have hated Hillary Clinton. I thought of Ed (not his real name), with whom I had heated arguments in the days leading up to the 2016 primaries and election. He was a Bernie advocate, but threatened that if his candidate didn’t get the nomination but lost it to Hillary, he would either vote for Trump, or not vote at all.


“Because Hillary Clinton is evil. She’s a crook, a murderer. She’s done horrible things.”

“Like what?”

Again, Ed couldn’t come up with anything in particular, and the more I pressed him, the angrier he became. He simply couldn’t stand her, he said, and that was that.What was it with Roy and Ed? Why did they loathe Hillary Clinton, even though they couldn’t say why, except to impugn her character? Three years ago, I offered this explanation to Ed (and again, yesterday, to Roy):

“For thirty years Hillary has been the recipient of right wing lies, smears and inuendoes. She was accused of murdering Vincent Foster, of making millions in a crooked land deal in Arkansas, of trashing the White House on their last day in office, of standing by Bill during the Lewinsky scandal, of covering up a pedophile ring, of being linked to the Oklahoma City bombing, of helping to protect the drug kingpin El Chapo, of running around in blackface when she lived in Arkansas, of unspeakable negligence for the Benghazi incident, of retaliating against critics of the Clinton Foundation by blowing up their home, of being close to child sex traffickers, of assaulting a young girl with her aide, Huma Abedin, of leaving the country right before the Mueller Report was released for fear of being indicted, of helping Iran obtain enriched uranium…

Every one of these lies was repeated endlessly, and exaggerated, in right wing media, especially Fox “News” and on neo-fascist social media platforms. Hillary Clinton became the most investigated American in history—and not a single allegation was ever proven, not a single crime ever discovered.

And then there was the National Enquirer. Owned by Trump’s stooge, David Pecker (who may end up in jail pretty soon), the scandal sheet, as everyone knows, is right next to the register aisles in nearly every supermarket and convenience store in the country. For years, you couldn’t go to a market and not find yourself next to a “shocking” Enquirer cover story about Hillary Clinton: always there was a hideous photograph showing wrinkles, angry, insane eyes, a pursed mouth, under headlines that portrayed Hillary as running a Lesbian coven, or plotting someone’s assassination, or divorcing Bill, or dying from AIDS, or being abducted by aliens, or…

This was subliminal influencing of people’s perceptions of Hillary, and it worked. Even if you never listened to the news or read newspapers, exposure to the National Enquirer was enough to poison people’s perception and feelings about Hillary Clinton. And Pecker did it at his friend, Trump’s, behest.

Thirty years of this! Of lies, insinuations, smears, awful pictures, incendiary headlines, of assaults on our senses. Thirty years! As I told Roy yesterday, “For your entire life, you’ve absorbed this crap—unconsciously, innocently, but nonetheless, it’s been hacked into your brain. And how here you are, in the summer of 2019, saying there’s something about Hillary Clinton you don’t like. Well, this is why. You’ve been infected with a virus that was designed and disseminated by the Republican attack machine—and you didn’t even know it, which is why it worked: A hack only works if you don’t know you’ve been hacked.”

It’s too late to salvage Ed’s, or Roy’s, conclusions about Hillary Clinton, one of the finest public servants in American history. But you can count on Republican operatives and their friends in the Russian government to be working on new lies with which to undermine Americans’ confidence in the Democratic Party, its candidates and in American democracy itself. At this very moment, they’re hatching ever more diabolical plans to get Trump re-elected. When Roy, now becoming alarmed and influenced by my passion, asked me, near the end of our conversation, wasn’t there anyone who could do something about all this, I pointed my finger at him.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“You. You can’t wait for ‘someone’ to do something to stop it. It’s up to you.”

I think—I hope—I pray he heard.

trump disgraces America abroad–again


Well, he’s done it again: embarrassed America abroad. His performance at the G7 was, in a word, horrible. It’s obvious the European leaders loathe him and all he stands for. The reports have suggested that the leaders didn’t want to directly bash him (even though personally they want to), so they put discretion before valor and were basically nice to him.

This is bullshit. Why can’t they come right out and say what they believe, and what we all know? “This man is a complete fool. How long will it take for America to return to her senses and give us another Obama, or at least another George W. Bush?”

Not long, Europe, not long.

I suppose the reason they’re so reticent ro voice their contempt is that trump does wield great power over Europe (and Japan, too). We have, ever since we won World War I for Europe. We helped win World War II for them (Russia did more than we did, if you measure these things by the number of Russians who died and the number of Germans they killed), but America’s post-war Marshall Plan really restored Europe to its feet. We’re still the world’s biggest economy, so the Europeans and Japan are understandably leery of insulting a man who has the power of the Tariff.

But wouldn’t it be nice if these leaders could speak freely. I’d love to hear them come out and tell the world how horrified they are by what’s happened in the U.S. since January, 2017. The New York Times had a great story about the G7; their headline tells it all: Don’t Get You-Know-Who Mad.

Well, of course Merkel, Macron et al. don’t want to be on the receiving end of trump’s tariffs, or his taunts, or whatever thuggish things he might do to them if they dared to come out and publicly criticize him. But they might review Europe’s history vis-à-vis Hitler to learn why their cowardice is so dangerous. Too many European leaders in the 1930s failed to stand up to the Nazi menace. Hitler’s Germany had the money and the troops to hurt them if they showed any spine. Hence, most of them didn’t, Great Britain’s Churchill being the sole exception. All the others—the leaders of France, Italy, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia, Norway, Sweden, Bulgaria, Greece—fell in line. Their silence doomed Europe to the death and destruction Hitler wrought.

Why do Macron, Merkel and the rest think that History will turn out differently this time? By their silence they enable a psychopath capable of unleashing untold horrors upon the world.

We’ve all been watching/reading coverage of the G7 but not all of us reach the same conclusions. I daresay trump’s shrinking base thinks he did just fine: “He really stuck it to those European communists.” Of course, they’re getting their information from fake “news” sources, like Fox, Limbaugh and Info Wars. They don’t like foreigners, except when they’re fascist/capitalist authoritarians like Duterte or Bolsonaro. These red state trailer park dwellers love Hitler; they probably love Mussolini although they’re be hard-pressed to tell you anything about him. They would have loved Franco, too, but they’ve probably never heard of him.

Isn’t it sad that the “base” that got trump elected, and continues to support him, is so deplorable? Yes, I use Hillary’s term deliberately. These people are uneducated, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, religious fanatics, bitter at their failure in life, resentful of the success of others. They hate with unreasoned ferocity, and are the kind of people who have spread instability and war across the world for all of human history. They are the worst electorate in America since the South prior to the Civil War. These are not people we want interfering in the governance of our country. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with them for the foreseeable future. We can and will defeat them in 2020, in a Blue Wave, but they’re not going anywhere. They can’t be educated; their minds are closed. They can only be controlled.

Gays and Jews: trump tries to stir up trouble


I saw a spokesman from the Log Cabin Republicans on T.V. yesterday explaining why his group of gay Republicans continues to support trump’s re-election.

His words (I paraphrase) were, “Well, the president promised us he would tone down the rhetoric on the right against the LGBTQ community, and he’s done that, so we support him.”

Think about that statement. It’s like saying, “Well, the Republican-evangelical party is still punching and kicking us, but at least they’re not shoving pins under our fingernails anymore, so progress is being made.”

Hey you Log Cabin self-haters, how about moving over to a party that doesn’t insult and oppress you—the Democratic Party, where you’d be welcome with dignity and respect?

How any self-respecting gay person can be a Republican is beyond my comprehension. It’s like a Jew belonging to the nazi party, or a Black person joining the KKK. How does that work? The nazis wish to obliterate Jews from the face of the earth; the KKK wants to crush Blacks out of existence. And the Republican Party has been trying for decades to ostracize, marginalize and badger gay people back into the closet.

And while we’re on the subject of the culture wars Republicans are always trying to incite, here’s my reply to trump’s insane suggestion that Jews who vote for Democrats are “disloyal.” I’m Jewish, born, raised and bar mitzvah’ed. I’m 73 years old, and have experienced a lot of history. And I can proudly inform trump that Jews always have been Democrats and will remain so. That is because Jews are idealistic, hopeful, and inclusive people who root for the underdog. Jews have been maligned for millennia. We know what it’s like to be despised by majority populations, hounded from our homes, hunted down like animals and murdered. This is why Jews have traditionally been so humanitarian and welcoming. The Democratic Party, too, embraces humanism. There’s a natural “fit” between Jews and Democrats, and nothing this evil, pompous and vulgar man, trump, says will break that bond.

All that trump is trying to do, obviously, is stir up trouble and divisiveness. It’s what he does every day. But his act is getting thin; even people who supported him are seeing through his hypocrisy and rank self-promotion. If he thinks he’s going to pry Jews apart, he’s crazy. Jews understood all too well where trump is coming from: his pals on the far right are the “proud boys,” the American nazi party, the KKK, the anti-semites in the alt.right, the David Dukes of this country. trump pals around with them, thereby implicitly defending their anti-semitism, and then he postures as some great friend of the Jews. Well, we didn’t let Hitler fool us, and trump can’t fool us either.

Some people say, “How can trump be anti-semitic when his own son-in-law and daughter are Jewish?” Easy. Jared Kushner is a Chasidic Jew and so is his wife, Ivanka. These are not real Jews; they’re a bizarre cult of Jews who broke away from mainstream Judaism centuries ago to form their own close-minded, fundamentalist movement—a movement that has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of Jews. Jared Kushner’s brand of Judaism is like the Taliban’s brand of Islam: ignorant, violent and highly bigoted. Frankly, I’d trust the future of Israel and the Jews to Rep. Tlaib before I’d let Chasidic Jews run it. Sadly, these same Chasidic Jews have an outsized power in Israel because the arch-reactionary, Netanyahu, formed the same kind of unholy alliance with ignorant Russian immigrants as the Republican Party formed with far-right evangelicals in this country. Criticizing Israel for its racist policies towards the Palestinians isn’t “disloyal” to Judaism. In fact, it’s in keeping with the highest moral principles of my religion.

So, trump, once again you’re just lying and provoking. It hasn’t been working for you lately, and it won’t work for you now. #Impeachment!

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