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MANIFESTO: Encampments, a blight on our city

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One of the compelling reasons we launched the Coalition for a Better Oakland is because we believe something must be done about the proliferation of homeless encampments in the town we love.

We recognize and acknowledge that the causes of homelessness and many and complex. We sympathize with our unhoused sisters and brothers, and would like to work with the city to find solutions to the current catastrophe. But our common-sense point of view, which we believe is widely shared by Oaklanders, is not being heard in the councils of government. In fact, it is being repressed.

Mayor Libby Schaaf seriously dropped the ball when she was first elected, back in 2015. Already at that time, camps were proliferating. Many people asked Mayor Schaaf and the City Council to begin managing the camps, instead of allowing them to spread in an uncontrolled manner.

What did Mayor Schaaf do?

In glowing rhetoric, she talked about “a bold new plan” to reduce homelessness, but it was always in the vaguest terms, with no practical solutions.

She assured homeless people that if they moved to Oakland, they would find housing, medical treatment, and other services.

She told homeless people Oakland would “treat them with compassion.”

When San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose began efforts to manage the spread of camps, Schaaf assured the Bay Area’s homeless population Oakland would “shelter all residents.”

She even suggested that Oaklanders “open their houses to homeless people,” although she herself, she explained, had no room for any in her house.

With rhetoric like that, no wonder homeless people flocked to Oakland. They heard that they would be taken care of. They heard that they would be received with open arms. They heard they might even be able to live with the mayor! And they believed these things. But they were not told the truth. There was no plan, no money, no conceivable way to give them what they needed. Libby Schaaf was just making it all up.

Thus, by October, 2020, when the camp situation became so unbearable that even the most liberal Oaklanders were begging government to do something about it, the City Council, under enormous pressure, finally acted. With Schaaf’s strong support, they passed, unanimously, a resolution limiting tents to certain restricted areas, and prohibiting them everywhere else, including parks.

Schaaf promised that the new regulations would begin to be enforced in January, 2021. But guess what? Nothing happened. The City Council wouldn’t even abide by its own rules. Our parks remain overrun. Underpasses, rights-of-way along BART lines, intersections and miles of streets are lined with encampments and the piles of junk associated with them. (Take a look at Frontage Road, in West Oakland.) And, as the public has tragically seen, fires at encampments are burning down cultural centers, museums and businesses. With fire season just around the corner, that is a serious concern.

Why did Schaaf make unrealistic and unachievable promises to homeless people? It was cruel to invite them to Oakland. Everyone knew, or should have known, the city was in no shape to care for them. Maybe Schaaf was speaking out of truly idealistic motives. Maybe she was pandering to, or intimidated by, the screaming demands of the small but vocal minority of radical pro-homeless activists. Maybe she just wasn’t thinking clearly.

WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?

To answer this, we have to backtrack a few years and consider what Schaaf could and should have done when she took office. She should have announced that the city intended to manage the camps in a way that was both compassionate to the homeless and reasonable to the people of Oakland.

But she didn’t.

She should have made it clear that public parks, like Mosswood and Lakeside, were off limits for tents.

But she didn’t.

She should have created sanctioned places where homeless people could legally put up their tents.

But she didn’t.

She should have told the truth to homeless people: Don’t come to Oakland! We can’t take care of you; we don’t have the money.

But she didn’t.

She should have taken on the pro-homeless crowd and told them that they had no idea how to govern and that their demands for free housing, food, medical care and job training for 4,500 homeless people, possibly for life, were insane and would bankrupt Oakland.

But she didn’t.

SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER?

We here at the Coalition for a Better Oakland know this: A city that loses control of its streets is in trouble. We strongly support the City Council’s Oct. 2020 policy that restricted encampments to “low sensitivity” areas. That decision was—as Schaaf herself said—“a compassionate response to an unacceptable condition.” If camps were located in manageable areas, like parts of the Port, the former Oakland Army Base and other conglomerate areas to be identified, services could be provided more efficiently to homeless constituents. Campers themselves would be relieved of the constant threat of street sweeps, knowing that they could safely remain in approved areas. Their legitimate security concerns could more easily be addressed. Such a policy would be a win-win for everyone.

But Schaaf knuckled under to the activists. The City Council drifted further into radical, unrealistic politics after the November elections. And every day, the situation grows more dire.

Look: this issue is neither Democratic nor Republican, neither rightwing nor leftwing, but common sense. The Coalition for a Better Oakland is nonpartisan. We Oaklanders are hard-working, tax-paying, compassionate, and politically savvy. We deserve parks where kids can play—parks that have not been desecrated. We deserve a city where cultural centers and museums and small businesses are not burned down. We deserve streets where we can walk in safety and not dodge human excrement, rotting garbage, passed-out bodies, and hypodermic needles. We want to see our leaders do the job they were elected to do and manage these camps. It can be done—it should be done—it is legal—and it is morally right.


McConnell would be funny if he wasn’t so awful

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Few politicians in America get me madder than Mitch McConnell.

I’ve never liked his shifty, chinless face, or his mirthless smirk, or his small, mean mouth, or his dead eyes, or his undertaker’s gloom. I’ve never understood how people like him get elected and then re-elected. Somebody must be putting something into the water down in Kentucky, a state I’ve never visited and have no desire to see.

When McConnell virtually assassinated Merrick Garland, I threw my hands up. “That’s it,” I told myself. “This hack just went from bad to pure evil.” It’s pointless to complain about the hypocrisy, because hypocrisy as become the trademark of the Republican Party just as much as transphobia, fascism, tyranny and trump-mania are. When McConnell announced that Biden’s American Jobs Plan would not receive a single Republican vote in the Senate—before any Republican had even seen so much as a jot of the actual plan—his Darth Vader credentials were further solidified, albeit without Darth’s considerable charm. But now that McConnell has seen fit to lecture American corporations about their reaction to Georgia’s rightwing authoritarian attack on voting rights, I’m just stunned.

Is there no low to which McConnell will not sink?

Maybe part of his strategy is to deliberately say crazy things in order to piss off opposition Democrats; Hitler loved to taunt his enemies, too. For instance, McConnell yesterday accused big businesses that have condemned Georgia of “taking cues from the Outrage-Industrial Complex.” That bit of clever historical referencing (a play on Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex”) is really too much to take in without a giggle. For any Republican to accuse anyone of wallowing in “outrage” is truly epic. Outrage, thy name is Trump, the man who remains “outraged” by the “rigged election,” who is “outraged” that he didn’t get all 140 million votes in the 2020 contest, whose entire life and political career were built on white grievance.

One useful tool in ridiculing one’s opponents (which I myself have utilized) is to use the opponent’s own terminology and turn it against itself. Where the Left developed the term “woke” to identify a political philosophy with which it agrees (generally liberal and inclined toward social justice movements), McConnell seizes the same adjective to ridicule the anti-Georgia corporations (and Democrats in general). The “private sector,” he railed (Delta, Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola and others) is “behaving like a woke parallel government.” Never mind that McConnell doesn’t know what “woke” indicates; all he knows is that from a conservative Republican point of view, it’s an insult. But the part about a “parallel government” behaving in an out-of-control way is really funny. That is precisely the definition of Fox “News” (and I always enclose the word in quotes, because whatever else Fox broadcasts, it’s certainly not “news” in any true sense of the word). Fox “News” clearly became a “parallel government” with the ascension of its hero, Donald Trump—a shadow government that instructed the actual government what to say, and what to do, and how to craft strategy, if not how to create actual laws, or stop new ones from being made.

Then McConnell says, apropos of the threats by corporations to punish Georgia for its blatant voter suppression, “Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box.” This simple statement contains so much junk, I hardly know where to begin, Even as McConnell spoke those words, the hysterical neo-nazis on Fox “News” threatened the anti-Georgia corporations (including Major League Baseball) with boycotts. So much for internal consistency! Then, there’s that little word “disinformation.” For a senior Republican to warn the American people about disinformation is truly sublime, coming as it does after a pathological president told tens of thousands of lies, including (and up to this very moment) the Biggest Lie of all, that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged.” As for “citizens rejecting” something “at the ballot box,” one would think—by a simple analysis of that phrase—that McConnell actually believes that “the ballot box” (i.e. voting rights) is an essential feature of American democracy. But McConnell is in favor of restricting voting (at least, by people of color), and so his appeal to the sanctity of “the ballot box” cannot be taken seriously.

We’re going to have to wait and see just what the big corporations do to hold Georgia (and Texas and Arizona and other states where Republicans are cracking down on voting rights) accountable. It’s not clear to me what they can do; and it’s likely they’re just biding their time, hoping to placate critics on the Left, while minimizing the damage they do to themselves on the Right, all the while hoping this whole damned business blows over as fast as possible.

But the funniest of McConnell’s phrases yesterday was this one: “It’s jaw-dropping to see powerful American institutions not just permit themselves to be bullied, but join in the bullying themselves.” Bullying! Does that word bring anyone to mind? Yes, the Biggest Bully of them all, the thug who lost the presidency in a near-landslide (7 million votes), whose primary rhetorical talent is the insult, who stiffs his vendors and exacts revenge on people who lack the means to defend themselves against his lies in court. Well, that’s enough about McConnell for today. I need a shower to cleanse myself of him.


Joe Frigging Biden!

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Biden is blowing my mind. His leftward turn was unpredictable, but it sure is welcome. I’m not sure what I expected. Even though he’d been around forever, he didn’t stand for much, beyond a vague centrist-liberalism. His reputation as a nice guy was refreshing, but on the other hand, he lacked charisma. I voted for him, not only because he was a Democrat, but because the other guy was so hideous.

I suppose Biden could have been content to offer up little things on becoming president. He could have spread balm over the party’s internal cracks, and been a calming presence to voters after four years of pain and instability. That would have been enough to let him glide through his first term, and when he announced his retirement in 2022, at the age of 82, he would have been saluted as a Great Peacemaker, sort of like Gerald Ford was after the Nixon debacle.

But surprise! Biden’s inner FDR busted out, and look at the result:

Transgender rights

COVID vaccine

$1.9 trillion relief

$2.3 trillion infrastructure

Cabinet that looks like America

Rejoining Paris accords

Renewed fight against climate change

Raising taxes on the rich and giant corporations

Changing the filibuster

Politeness and dignity, instead of insults and lies

Well, that’s quite a list! All things that the most liberal of Democrats can get behind—not to mention a majority of the American people. Of course, there are things Biden has so far not acted upon: gun control, for instance. But that is encompassed within “changing the filibuster.” I would prefer to see the damned filibuster ended altogether, but with Sinema and Manchin, that’s not possible. At least by making it an old-fashioned, Jimmy Stewart “stand and talk” filibuster, it might be harder for do-nothing Republicans to haul it out every time Democrats want to actually do something good for the people. A few Republicans, notably Auntie Lindsay Graham, have said (I paraphrase) they’ll talk until hell freezes over, a prospect that must be giving CSPAN lovers heart attacks. Well, let him. He’s made a fool of himself before.

But back to Biden. Who knew the old man had it in him? To roll out this bold set of plans, to so publicly undo the damage his predecessor caused, to be so visionary… My fondest hope now is that Biden’s health holds up. His polls are very good, the best any president has enjoyed in years, and while there’s widespread sentiment Republicans will do well in the 2022 off-year elections, my own barometer suggests that’s not necessarily so. As COVID fades away, as the unemployment rate drops precipitously as it has been doing, as Americans start seeing, or at least hearing about, their bridges, reservoirs, roads and transit systems being upgraded to 21st century standards, even voters in red states might say, “You know what? That Biden’s not so bad. And it sure would be nice to have that overpass on I-20 rebuilt.” If a truly awful Republican starts to emerge as a contender for the 2024 presidential—Donald Trump, Jr., say, or the even more reprehensible Cruz–that could further cast Biden (and Democrats) in stark relief as the party that actually gets things done, rather than merely screaming and dividing.

Biden recently said he’ll run again in 2024, but I think that has to be taken with a grain of salt. That means all eyes are casting about for his Democratic successor. Kamala Harris is, I suppose, the heir-in-waiting, but she’s not a done deal. Don’t dismiss Gavin Newsom. Yes, he’s undergoing his own ordeal right now with the Republican recall in California, but I guarantee you—write this down—he’ll win that by double digits, thereby emerging stronger than ever. And a strong, telegenic Governor of California, who just handed Republicans their asses, must always be a contender for any open presidential race.

Anyway, politics never fades away, it just gets more complicated and interesting. The focus now, I think, is the Infrastructure bill. If Biden can get one out of the Senate (even if it’s not the full $2.3 trillion), he’ll go down in history as one of the most consequential presidents in modern history. This could be the start of a Democratic era in which we finally see the Republican Party revert to its old moderate-centrist wing (a la Rockefeller and Ford), leaving the evangelical-social warfare-hardcore white supremacists swinging in the wind, where they belong.


The American people are canceling cancel culture. Dems had better listen

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People are really fed up with cancel culture. The evidence is everywhere.

We were watching Bill Maher the other night. Maher is hardly a conservative—he’s been a screaming liberal his entire career. But he was royally pissed off about cancel culture, and so were his guests, and I thought, If Bill Maher is this upset, the Democratic Party is in trouble.

Then, today’s Sunday San Francisco Chronicle had a big cover story about the recall of Governor Gavin Newsom. Much of the reporting was predictable—coastal counties like San Francisco and Los Angeles are heavily pro-Newsom while the Sierra Foothills and northeast California are heavily against him. But the news was that the pro-recall people are finding more support in coastal counties than you would think. This is evidence that Democrats are getting disillusioned with their party’s implicit or explicit support for cancel culture: Even Obama gave a powerful speech in which he severely criticized cancel culture, warning that it threatens the foundations of our democracy.

Talking about all this on Saturday night over seder dinner with my family, it was clear that they, too—lifetime liberals–have experienced a level of exasperation with cancel culture. There have been several notable incidents out here in the Bay Area that are making even Bay Area Democrats—the bluest of the blue–roll their eyes. The S.F. School District’s decision to rename schools named after Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson because they were “racists” and “white supremacists” – the school board vice president’s tweet accusing Asians of using “white supremacist thinking to get ahead” – things like that resonate personally and powerfully among people who see them for what they are: extremist, crazy overreactions from simple-minded people who think they know what’s best for the 99% of the population that’s too entrenched in systematic racism to be able to arrive at sensible conclusions about these matters.

That’s “the nanny state” run amok, and it ties into why so many people are angry at Newsom. From my point of view, the governor did what he had to do to control the pandemic. But Trump downplayed the pandemic and convinced a lot of people that it was nothing more than a seasonal flu, and if you were already getting fed up with the nanny state and political correctness, it was easy to drift into anti-shutdown hysteria. A lot of pro-recall people interviewed in the Chronicle article—like the gun store owner up in the rural Foothills–said how angry they were that a bunch of “San Franciscans” were trying to “dictate” to them how to run their lives.

This is the essence of the complaint, not only against Newsom but the Democratic Party and especially its “woke” fringe, that is driving more and more people into voting Republican. I am convinced it’s why Democrats lost so many House seats last November. People voted for Biden, not necessarily because they were enamored of him, but because they’d had it up to here with Trump’s depravity. But if Republicans can come up with a Trump-like candidate next time who’s actually likeable, he or she could easily be elected, while Democrats see control of Congress slip from their grip, perhaps for years.

This is my fear. I, too, am pissed off about cancel culture. I think it is a cancer on the Democratic Party, and if it’s not excised quickly—very quickly—it will continue to eat away at the party’s vitals. I don’t think it’s too late—but, from my perch in Oakland, I see the social justice warriors licking their chops. They’ve had some victories out here in the Bay Area, they’re charging full steam ahead, and they appear to have no idea how dangerous and damaging their rhetoric is to the very ideals they espouse.

The question for them is, would you rather be 100% virtuous but lose election after election, or can you compromise on some of your ideals and actually win elections? The cancel culturalists have decided to take the former path. I, for one, intend to fight them with all my strength. I’m not going to turn into a Republican. Instead, I’m going to do my part to heal the party of my parents and grandparents, the Democratic Party, and restore it to what it once was and will again be: the party of compassion and common sense.


Bad Thinkers, AKA the Republican Party

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I’ve always been fascinated by crazy thinkers—people who believe in stuff that’s plainly fake. Whether it’s evangelicals with their Rapture nonsense, anti-Clintonites who said Hillary murdered Vince Foster, Sept. 11 conspiratorialists or, nowadays, Republicans who claim the election was rigged, my reaction always has been: Who the fuck are these people?

It’s clear that the crap they peddle is insane. But a more complicated question is, Why? Why do people believe in lies? From my rational perspective, no one could seriously subscribe to such patent horseshit. Therefore, they must be deliberately spreading misinformation, for nefarious reasons. Sadly, we can’t ever fully know why these people advance such phony theories, because we can’t get inside their heads (nor would I want to).

But some scientists have devised ingenious theories to explain why people are “bad thinkers.” That’s the title of this analysis that examines a guy named “Oliver.” He believes the Twin Towers were brought down on 9/11 not by Al Qaeda, but by “government agents [who] planted explosives in advance.”

The paper’s author, a British philosophy professor, begins by acknowledging something all sane people can agree upon: Oliver is profoundly, stupendously wrong. The evidence that it was Al Qaeda is overwhelming; there is even a videotape of Bin Laden bragging, in his cave, that he did it, although he did not expect the Towers to collapse. Why, then, would Oliver believe such idiocy? The author puts it bluntly: “Because there is something wrong with how he thinks.”

What’s wrong with the way Oliver thinks? Plenty. He suffers from “conspiracy mentality,” which is comprised of “gullibility, carelessness, closed-mindedness” and other “intellectual vices” including “negligence, idleness, rigidity, obtuseness, prejudice, lack of thoroughness, and insensitivity to detail.”

These “intellectual vices” also are the subject of a 1996 study, “Virtues of the Mind,” published by Cambridge University. It takes a close look at “intellectual vices” and contrasts them to “intellectual virtues.” The difference is that intellectual virtue enables people “to arrive at truths in a particular field.” On the other side of the coin, the qualities that characterize Oliver’s thinking–“intellectual vices” including “negligence, idleness, rigidity, obtuseness, prejudice, lack of thoroughness, and insensitivity to detail”—lead precisely to those falsehoods that make such thinking, not virtuous, but a vice.

Talking about “virtue” and “vice” introduces an element of morality into the discussion. People who deliberately spread false information—even if they firmly believe it to be true—are immoral, in the truest sense of the word. They have wandered far from Aristotle’s qualities of intellectual virtue, namely “theoretical wisdom, practical wisdom, and understanding or insight.”  We can rightly condemn them as bad citizens, because they undermine the rational foundations of the world, even if they do not consciously intend to do so.

In the first article I cited, Bad Thinkers, the author asks a salient question: “There remains the problem of what to do about such people as him (Oliver)” Because he is so closed-minded, Oliver will never acknowledge his intellectual vice. In order to heal oneself of closed-mindedness, one needs to be motivated. Unfortunately, bad thinkers like Oliver are unlikely to be so motivated. It is here that the author throws up his hands and admits that little can be done about the Olivers of this world. The best he can come up with is to educate children to think more critically. Where does that leave Oliver? Free to peddle his lies.

Multiply Oliver by, say, 70 million, and you get the Trump voters in America. Each and every one of them is a bad thinker, suffering from the immorality of intellectual vice. Unfortunately, I too must throw up my hands as to what we can do about them. It’s the biggest problem our country faces, and the scary truth is, we don’t have the slightest idea what to do about it.


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