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A tipping point in Oakland’s struggle with tent camps in parks

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Some years ago, the first tents began appearing in Oakland’s Lake Shore Park, which is down the block from me. Soon, the tents spread across the street, to the little park around the Oakland Senior Center and Veteran’s Administration building. In 2016, I began imploring my city councilwoman, Lynette Gibson-McElhaney, to do something about it. How inappropriate it was for homeless tents to be in a park where old people and veterans are at risk—not to mention where little children from St. Paul’s Episcopal School play on the lawn.

Many of my neighbors joined me in my protests, to no avail. Over the past year, the encampment at the Senior/VA Center spread, until it became a huge, unsightly and unhealthy sprawl, with piles of rotting clothes, broken shopping carts, discarded junk food containers, rats, and, yes, human excrement. This is at the entrance to the part of Oakland known as Uptown, the city’s most vibrant district, a symbol of Oakland’s rebirth. The dirty tent city became a symbol of Uptown, of my city: no wonder tech companies are reluctant to relocate here! At the same time, other city parks had it even worse. Several, such as Mosswood, were completely overrun with tents: parents complained that they dare not bring their children there anymore. City government didn’t care. The situation became egregious.

My councilmember, Gibson-McElhaney, claimed to be concerned, but professed to be powerless. So-called homeless advocates, she and others said, were just too pushy. Any elected official who tried to remove camps from public parks was harassed. These “advocates” would show up at City Council meetings and disrupt them. They never were in the majority, but they were experts at screaming and shouting—and the local press, of course, quickly discovered their newsworthiness and gave them added publicity.

And then something happened. Last month, Oakland officials announced they’re placing a new parcel tax on the March, 2020 ballot. It would assess every homeowner $148 a year to pay for “maintenance of the parks.”

Now, this was against the backdrop of a previous parcel tax, Measure AA, that Oakland put on the ballot last year. It failed to garner the two-thirds majority for a tax hike that is required by state law. But that didn’t stop Oakland’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, and pro-homeless City Council members from trying to impose it. They said they didn’t care whether or not the measure legally passed—they were approving the parcel tax anyway!

That was so outrageous that several groups sued the city. You can’t just ignore the law! But Schaaf & Co. refused to obey the Superior Court’s ruling. They argued that election results don’t matter and neither do court decisions. (Sound familiar? Trump makes the same ridiculous points.)

Meanwhile, yesterday the local papers reported that, in a dramatic shift, Oakland city officials have changed their minds and now favor eliminating all camps from public parks! The city’s homeless czar, Joe DeVries, declared that parks should off-limits for tents. Unnamed city staff were quoted as saying that the parks are unusable by ordinary citizens due to the sprawling encampments.

It makes me wonder why, after years of inaction, DeVries, Schaaf and other Oakland officials suddenly recognize that camps in parks are strongly opposed by a majority of Oaklanders. Could it because of the fiasco of Measure AA? Oakland’s decision to disregard the will of the voters made it a laughingstock, and worse: it discredited the city, destroying the trust people have in their government. If the peoples’ votes are meaningless, then why bother to have elections?

It’s clear that DeVries and his colleagues finally understand that Measure AA is dead, and they might as well give up and stop trying to sneak it through. They also understand that there is zero chance that their March 2020 parcel tax will pass. Why on earth would Oaklanders vote to tax themselves for “park maintenance” when their parks are unusable? Why would they believe a cynical city government that has allowed, if not actively encouraged, homeless people to set up tent cities in public parks?

Well, DeVries and his colleagues apparently saw the light on their road to Damascus. We all feel sorry for homeless people. We all wish they could find housing. But there have to be limits. An orderly, civilized society cannot allow dangerous, dirty tent encampments to pop up willy-nilly—especially in public parks, which are entirely paid for by the taxpayers, who have a right to expect their parks to be clean, safe and pleasant.

When and if Oakland moves to expel the camps from the parks, they’ll encounter fierce opposition from homeless advocates and their lawyers, who will do what they do best: sue. But the law is quite clear: No camping in public parks. Period. The city has a legal obligation to keep the parks clean; it does not have a legal obligation to allow homeless people to live there.

The battle to evict the campers will be nasty, but a majority of Oaklanders will support it, including me. There are vast areas of public land where the tent camps can safely and legally be relocated, such as the 1,560-acre former Oakland Army Base. Having all the camps in one location would make providing services much easier, effective and less costly. I hope this is the approach that Schaaf and the City Council adopt, because it’s the one the people of Oakland expect and demand.


Live from the House Judiciary Committee!

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What would Republican members have said if they’d been defending previous monsters in history?

James Sensenbrenner: “Members of the Tribunal, no evidence whatsoever has been provided by these Democrats to prove that my client, Adolf Hitler, did or said anything to provoke the murder of 6,000,000 Jews.”

Jim Jordan: “It is a patent hoax that my client, Pol Pot, murdered millions of his own people in Cambodia. That lie was spread by Hillary Clinton and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez!”

Matt Gaetz: “I am here representing an innocent man, Attila the Hun, against outrageous lies from liberals that he impaled people, raped women and wiped out entire villages!”

Louie Gohmert: “We shall provide evidence that Mr. Idi Amin, far from being the murderous monster Democrats portray him as, actually is a kindly philanthropist, who tried to stop Hillary Clinton from destroying the planet!”

Doug Collins: “Saddam Hussein is a good, decent man. His record with respect to his people is perfect. Why are Democrats, who routinely kill innocent civilians, trying to frame him?”

Steve Chabot: “The lies being spread by Demon-crats about Kenneth Dahmer are outrageous. There is no evidence that he killed anyone, much less ate them.”

Martha Roby: “How dare these Democrats accuse Mr. Ted Bundy of doing anything wrong? Why, as a woman and a Republican, I can tell you, Nobody that handsome and Christian could be a murderer!”

Debbie Lesko: “This hearing is a total sham. My client, the Asteroid, did smash into the Earth—but she did NOT kill off the dinosaurs! Democrats haven’t offered a shred of proof to the contrary!”

* * *

Well, readers, that was a bit of fantasy. It was brought on by listening to opening statements yesterday from Republicans at the Judiciary Committee’s first hearings—statements that are in total defiance of the facts, and simply prove that these Republicans will support any crime by Trump, as long as they get their tax cuts, money from their big religious and corporate donors, golf outings with their leader, and assurances that they will not get primaried.

I need not point out my outrage at their conduct—you’re as outraged as I. I need not point out how severely History will treat them. You already know that. All I want to do, by writing these words, is to be with you—commiserate with you—empathize and sympathize with you. We are appalled, but it’s better to be appalled with your friends than alone.

Yet we are not alone. A majority of the American people wants to impeach and remove this president, this stain on our nation. He will be impeached. He will not be convicted by his tools in the Senate. He will then scream “EXONERATION!” at the top of his boorish lungs, and the fools, traitors and vulgarians who support him will erupt in cheers. When the Senate acquits, it will be a hard time for Democrats—a time of testing. There will be voices (some on our side) crying out against Schiff, or Pelosi, or Democratic strategy in general. Let us not be distracted by those voices. They are wrong, We are right. This president has committed High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the House Democrats had no choice—no choice at all—but to uphold their Constitutional duty by conducting these hearings and voting to impeach. What Trump is accused of really is awful. His crimes weren’t petty; they are blatant and monumental and ongoing. He is the most corrupt president in our history, and his Republican Party is the worst, the most treasonous and despicable, since the nation’s founding.

So let the chips fall where they may. We have to protect America, our freedoms and our basic democracy. We will not yield! As Speaker Pelosi said at her press conference this morning, “Don’t Mess With Me!”


What will be Trump’s legacy?

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Whether or not he wins a second term, Donald Trump will have a presidential legacy.

Every president does, whether it’s a do-nothing legacy (Warren Harding, James Buchanan) or a legacy so massive it defines politics for decades if not centuries (FDR, Washington, Lincoln, JFK). So what will Trump’s legacy be?

We have first to look at what he has actually accomplished. There was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which essentially lowered taxes on the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans, and provided little relief to anyone else, except for corporations like Amazon, which now pays nothing in taxes. That is a legacy, of sorts, and Republicans make much of it. But it’s not particularly innovative and in fact is a bit stale. Tax cuts are what every Republican president does. Trump joins Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush in that regard. Trump is merely the latest tax cutter, at a time when our deficits and debt are exploding and Republicans don’t give a damn.

Anything else? Trump brags about the economy, but the fact is (and I’ve pointed this out many times), the recovery after the George W. Bush Great Recession actually began in the Fall of 2009, shortly after Obama took office. At that time, the stock market began a steady climb (and continues to do so today), while unemployment began a steady fall (resulting in the historically low jobless figures we see today). No Republican will ever credit Obama for presiding over the Recovery. Hell, Republicans won’t even acknowledge that recoveries happen by themselves; given time, any recession or even depression will self-correct. In this case, according to Republicans, the Great Recession was caused by Obama–or Hillary–or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez–who knows? And we’d still be in it if Donald Trump hadn’t been elected.

What else has Trump accomplished in a positive sense? We have to give him credit for packing the courts with conservatives. However, it’s too early to say how this will play out. Predictions about how courts will rule are notoriously imprecise; all those Republican judges and Justices may well turn out to be not as bad as we thought, now that they have lifetime appointments and don’t have to answer to, say, the Koch Brothers. At the level of the Supreme Court, SCOTUS has always been unpredictable: Eisenhower’s “conservatives” turned out to be pretty liberal, and the ultra-conservative John Roberts approved ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and also enabled same-sex marriage.

The Border Wall? As the French say, c’est a rire: a joke. Hasn’t been built, won’t be built, despite Trump’s repeated claims otherwise. Relations with our allies? Wrecked by Trump’s foolishness. Is the world safer because of Trump? Not by a long shot. Wars and threats everywhere; allies who no longer trust us. Climate change? Trump obviously is missing in action. Domestic tranquility? Shattered by the most partisan, hated president in modern history.

This latter catastrophe—the shredding of bipartisanship, the mortal wounding of our collective will, the destruction of our common amity—is going to be Trump’s legacy: Trump the Destroyer. Under this president, historians will record, the U.S. came the closest to civil war since 1860—and we don’t yet know if he actually will inspire or provoke a real one. Under this president, the traditional norms of American society, which have held us together in war and peace, good economic times and bad, have shattered. The trust of Americans—in the media, in their leaders, in education, in science, in truth, in each other—has been eroded, possibly beyond repair anytime soon; and the proximate cause has been Donald J. Trump. With his litany of lies, his catering to the most ignorant elements of the culture, his absolute refusal to cooperate with Democrats, Trump has systematically dismantled the foundations of America, the bedrock principles upon which our country has existed and thrived. History will record that Donald J. Trump came along and demolished America. The only question historians will long debate is: Why?

We can’t really know Trump’s motives. I think no one believes he has a political philosophy, beyond Republican talking points like cutting taxes and building up the military. These aren’t his own, developed views: they’re the bullet points of the Republican National Committee and the Heritage Foundation. Does Trump have pecuniary motives? For example, does he have real estate deals pending in Turkey? In Russia? (We know he longs to build a Moscow Trump Tower.) In Ukraine? We might uncover these things in years to come but it won’t be easy because Trump will do, say and spend anything in order to conceal them. Or does Trump perhaps have psycho-pathological motives that would explain his recklessness?

Most likely his motives are combinations of all the above. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter why he does the things he does. What matters is that he does them. And that will be his legacy. Trump destroyed the America of history, the Founders’ America, JFK’s New Frontier, LBJ’s Great Society, Reagan’s shining city on a hill–the country most of our ancestors came to in order to live free.

Trump may not live long enough to witness this rendering of his legacy, or to feel shamed by it. But his descendants will. One day, Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka, Eric and various other spawn and in-laws will be in the same position as the children of Nazi chieftains after the war and the Nuremberg trials. Many of them had to change their names and go into hiding, afraid or embarrassed to admit they were the child of Hermann Goering, or Josef Goebbels, or Heinrich Himmler. Let it be the same for Trump’s seed.


This Utah teacher gives all Christians a bad name

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We don’t know the name of the teacher who was fired for giving her fifth-grade students a Christian lecture that “homosexuality is wrong.”

She’d asked her students what they’re grateful for this Thanksgiving, and one of them, an 11-year old boy identified only as D.M., replied that he was grateful for his two Dads. The teacher proceeded to harangue the class for ten minutes on the evils of homosexuality; she actually told D.M., “That’s nothing to be thankful for.”

We might never have known about this horrible incident were it not for three girls in the class. The girls “asked [the teacher] to stop multiple times,” but when the teacher continued her homophobic diatribe, “they walked out of the room to get the principal.”

The teacher was immediately escorted from the school and fired.

Thank goodness for the decency of the principal, and for those three little girls. Their parents must be very proud of them.

It won’t surprise me if the unidentified teacher finds some Christian law firm to sue the school district. There are all sorts of private organizations representing Christian lawyers, who defend their clients against legitimate charges of bigotry, discrimination, slander and civil rights violations, such as those bakers in Colorado who refused to serve a cake to a gay couple who were getting married (a decision upheld by the Christian-dominated U.S. Supreme Court). The fired teacher probably didn’t intend to get herself in trouble, but once she found herself there, she may be thinking she can make some serious money from her experience and at the same time defend her religious beliefs. And, given the makeup of our increasingly conservative-Christian courts, she may be right.

Because, you see, it doesn’t matter that that teacher is a hopelessly bigoted, vile woman. It’s one thing to hold a private belief about homosexuality, but it’s quite another to haul that prejudice into a public school classroom and then unleash it on a group of eleven-year olds. What trauma the child of the two Dads must have experienced! “It’s absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did,” one of the Dads told a newspaper reporter who interviewed him. He added, “This situation really hurt him. This person really hurt us.”

The rightwing, religious faction of the Republican Party is repugnant for many, many reasons (including continuing to support an amoral, greedy adulterer and liar who is the opposite of Christian decency), but surely one of their most egregious sins is their ongoing campaign against same sex love and marriage. Despite the fact that the United States Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, these homophobes continue to mobilize, hoping that a future Court (one dominated by Christian radical conservatives like Gorsuch and Kavanaugh) will overturn Obergefell v. Hodges.

That seems unlikely, given the Court’s traditional respect for precedence, or stare decisis.

But the thing to realize is that we’re now dealing with a group of revolutionaries—radically Christianized rightwing conservatives—who wish to overturn many of the fundamental tenets of American society, and the Court’s historic embrace of precedence may not matter anymore to the Christian extremists on the Court. They may feel that they have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do away with same sex marriage and if they don’t act soon, they’ll be stuck with it forever. We can’t know how this will turn out, and there doesn’t seem to be a case out there in the lower courts that will float up to SCOTUS and give the Christians the opportunity to strike a blow (no pun intended) against homosexuality. The point is that the Christian haters, like that Utah schoolteacher, aren’t going away. They’re thoroughly radicalized; they’re attempting to radicalize others (including children), and even death won’t stop them, because new haters are being manufactured every day, on the assembly line of the Christian Gay-Hating Factory.

Still, remember those three little girls, who saw injustice and decided to oppose it. And remember the school that fired the damned teacher, and vowed that she would never, ever be allowed to teach there again. If only everybody in America were that noble.


Trump, trailer trash and the Chinese: connecting the dots

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Nancy Isenberg has a telling chapter in her 2016 book, “White Trash,” on “trailers” and “trailer parks” as symbols of, and metaphors for, this distinct underclass of American society.

White trash, trailer trash, call them what you will, have been identified as bulwarks of the Republican Party since before the rise of Trump; but Trump’s election cast them in a brand new light and gave them immeasurably more importance. Liberals, capitalizing on the reputation of poor white people, especially in the south, for being unhealthy, uneducated and shiftless, quickly identified trailer dwellers are bastions of Trump’s base—and thereby undesirable. Keith Olbermann, in 2017, slammed Trump for hosting “the trailer park trash trio” of Sarah Palin, Kid Rick and Ted Nugent in the White House.

A Mother Jones Magazine reporter, visiting a trailer park just prior to the 2016 election, witnessed “trailers with doors flung open [and] tall grass pockmarked with holes where mailboxes once stood”;  he analyzed Trump’s appeal to the residents this way: “[They] see him as very strong. A blue-collar billionaire. Honest and refreshing, not having to be politically correct. They want someone that’s macho, that can chew tobacco and shoot the guns—that type of manly man.”

Notwithstanding that this view hardly accords with the reality of Trump’s fastidious, non-gun Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster lifestyle, “The white American underclass,” writes the National Review (conservative, but no fan of Trump’s), “is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.” Bill Clinton’s former political adviser, the Ragin’ Cajun James Carville, famously referred to the sordid reputation of trailer parks when he said, concerning Paula Jones (who had accused Clinton of molesting her), “If you drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find,” the implication being that trailer dwellers are unscrupulous, venal, addled liars. Years later, Sen. Lindsay Graham, defending his new idol, Trump, against Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations of sexual molestation during the Kavanaugh hearings, resurrected the Carville quip, but this time against Blasey Ford: “This what you get when you go through a trailer park with a $100 bill,” he said, bizarrely, since Blasey Ford—a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine—patently never lived in a trailer park.

In “White Trash,” Isenberg traces the rube reputation of trailer parks back to the 1930s, when The Depression forced Americans by the millions into mobile home parks, “rickety boxes…eyesores” associated with “deviant, dystopian wastelands set on the fringes of the metropolis.” Isenberg tells the story of Agnes Meyer (mother of the Washington Post’s Katharine Graham), who, in 1943, set out on a cross-country tour for the Post to report on the war’s “home front.”. Encountering trailer parks throughout the south, Meyer found the residents pitiful, ragged, illiterate and undernourished; astonished, she asked herself, “Is this America?” A new brand of pulp fiction arose, portraying trailer dwellers as promiscuous, amoral trash. Dime-store novels like “Trailer Tramp” and “The Trailer Park Girls,” Isenberg writes, “told stories of casual sexual encounters and voyeurism…Tramps and trailer nomadism, like drugs and gambling, identified social disorder on the edge of town.”

By the 1980s, these poor white trailer dwellers had turned into Republicans (to the extent they bothered to vote). Two factors fed into this phenomenon: the trailer dwellers’ feeling that educated, coastal “elites” were putting them down, and their embrace of a new form of politicized evangelical Christianity, which encouraged them to vote—and vote conservative Republican.

With the surprise election of Trump—not only to Americans, but the world—trailer trash became the object of intense study by political operatives, who suddenly felt it imperative to understand what made these poor white Americans tick. An Australian newspaper last year reported the startling news that “China’s top think tank has turned to a New York Times best seller to understand what drives US President Donald Trump.”

That best seller was, no surprise, Isenberg’s “White Trash.” The think tank put Isenberg’s book at “the top of the reading list” to understand Trump; the editor of a Chinese scholarly publication told the Australian reporter, “Trump represents that political class [i.e., trailer park residents], and I don’t know how China should respond.”

The Chinese still don’t how to respond to the Trump phenomenon, any more than many of us Americans do. It’s far from clear what, if anything, Chinese intellectuals have learned about Trump from Isenberg’s book, but probably, whatever decisions the Chinese government has been making about tariffs are influenced, in part, by their impression of how tariffs impact the lives of poor white Americans. China may be betting that making cars, flat-screen TVs and War-Mart gadgets more expensive will turn trailer trash against Trump, which seems unlikely, given the “Fifth Avenue shooting” prophylaxis he’s already Teflon’ed himself with.

All of  which makes Isenberg’s concluding words in “White Trash” poignant:

White trash is a central, if disturbing, thread in our national narrative. The very existence of such people…is proof that American society obsesses over the mutable labels we give to the neighbors we wish not to notice. ‘They are not who we are’ [we tell ourselves]. But they are who we are and have been a fundamental part of our history, whether we like it or not.


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