subscribe: Posts | Comments      Facebook      Email Steve

Take me out to the ball game

0 comments

Jose and I went to see the Giants play the Dodgers yesterday at Oracle Park. This continued a tradition stretching over many years of us going to a game or two each season, although last year, for obvious reasons, that tradition was interrupted.

Going to see the Giants is a always a highpoint of my summers. Ever since I was six or seven years old, living three blocks from Yankee Stadium in the 1950s, I’ve loved going to ballgames. My father, who was an ardent Giants fan until they moved to San Francisco, used to take me to see them at the old Polo Grounds; we’d walk over the bridge crossing the Harlem River into Manhattan. Whenever the Giants played their greatest enemies, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the tension was palpable.

So yesterday’s Giants-Dodgers game was the place to be. Both teams are doing well in the National League West, the Giants in first place, the Dodgers in second. The Giants have a lot of young players; even Jose, who keeps up with these things, didn’t recognize some of them. The weather was baseball-perfect: mild, about 70 degrees, with fleecy white clouds scudding in front of a hot sun. The boats were gathered in McCovey Cove, hoping to scoop up a home run ball.

We had good seats, on the ground level, about seven rows up from the first-base line.

Jose had brought two of his grandsons, ages six and nine. This was their first-ever professional baseball game, and it had also been their first time on a ferry boat: they’d come over from Larkspur. I told the younger boy, Max, that something very special was going to happen in the seventh inning.

“Will they squirt water?” he asked. He thought the giant scoreboard had some kind of contraption.

“You’ll just have to wait and see.”

At the seventh inning everyone rose, and 35,000 people lustily sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” I’ve been singing that song at ballgames for 65 years and I still love it.

Many people weren’t masked. I had thought that, with the delta variant, they would be, but no. I was, and so were Jose and the kids.

But people were just so happy to be outside, at Oracle Park, on a beautiful day. Probably most of them had been vaccinated, and they felt that, having done their part, they didn’t have to mask. That’s the conversation going on now in America.

It’s hard to describe the happiness of being at a baseball game. People may have worries and cares, but they’re set aside for those magical hours. Everybody cheers for the same things and groans when things go south. The organist plays his silly little tunes and we all clap along. Somebody starts to chant: LET’S GO GIANTS and suddenly thousands of others join in. But “we don’t do the wave,” as one woman seated behind me explained to her friend. The camera catches up with someone in the stands—a kid wearing a Posey shirt, a young woman dancing—and their face goes up on the scoreboard, 40-feet high. People laugh, cheer, eat hot dogs and garlic fries and ice cream. (Max insisted on letting his melt to soup, and then he drank it through a straw.)

Oracle Park has completely transformed this part of eastern San Francisco, in a good way in my opinion. It made me think of our current struggle in Oakland to have a new A’s stadium built on the waterfront. A lot of people in Oakland would say that Oracle Park has destroyed the old neighborhood. Where before there was lots of cheap housing and auto body shops, now it’s multi-million dollar condos and expensive restaurants. Is that “gentrification,” or is it a healthy upgrade?

Anyhow, the Giants beat the Dodgers 5-0, and everybody was happy (except for a few Dodgers fans).


An Urban Morality Tale

0 comments

I was second in line for the register at the CVS, waiting to pay for a bottle of vitamins and a can of Ajax. The lady ahead of me clearly needed extra help. The cashier had come out from her place behind the counter to help the lady consolidate her shopping cart of stuff—mainly junk food and toilet paper—into three large bags. The lady was very short and obese, middle-aged, probably Latina. She was practically naked below the waist, her heavy thighs jiggling, but her calves were wrapped in Ace bandages. She wore a heavy, long black hoodie. Her dark hair, streaked with gray, was neatly pulled into a pony tail.

When she was finished, I stepped up to the register; my transaction was short. As I approached the store’s door, the lady was struggling: as soon as she exited the store, her shopping cart’s wheels had frozen up. She didn’t seem to realize the cart was going nowhere. I went back and told the cashier that the lady’s wheels had locked up. “I told her they would,” she replied, shaking her head. There was nothing she could do.

When I got back out to the sidewalk the lady was muttering to herself, trying to push the shopping cart. It was completely jammed, but the lady didn’t seem to realize it; she pathetically tried to push it along. Well, part of me just wanted to get on with my day, but the other part—my conscience, I suppose—wouldn’t let me.

“Can I help?” I asked. She was very sweet, with a beautiful smile. “Oh, yes,” she said. “Your cart is broken,” I explained. “Where are you going? Can I help you carry your packages?”

“Albuquerque,” she responded. Obviously I couldn’t leave her alone. She needed help. I took the heaviest bag as she started walking down Broadway, east toward the hills. I tried to make conversation. “Albuquerque is a long way from here,” I said. “Are you sure that’s where you’re going?”

“The Post Office,” she said.

“There is no Post Office this way,” I said,

“Oh yes there is,” she insisted. “On 41st Street.” Then I remembered, she was right. But we were on 30th Street. “That’s a long way from here,” I said. “And you can’t carry all your bags. Let me see if I can get someone to help.”

I asked her to put the bags on the sidewalk and wait while I turned away and dialed 9-1-1. I was on hold for maybe a minute and then the dispatcher answered. I told her the situation and described what the lady looked like. She said we were assigned a high priority and someone would be coming to help us.

We were now across the street from Sprouts. It was a beautiful, sunny day. “Let’s just wait here for a while,” I told my new friend, whose name was JoAnne. “Someone will be coming to help you.” She was exceedingly friendly, and while she didn’t have much to say, she answered all my questions; I tried to engage her. Yes, Albuquerque was a nice place. It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter and there were cacti. Yes, she had a son, 44, and a daughter, 22.

“You can’t have a 44-year old son,” I said. “You don’t look 44 yourself!” She smiled. She was leaning on her cane and didn’t look very steady. Just then a man showed up. “Would you like a chair?” He was a developer who was building the new condo building we were in front of. He went inside and got a folding chair and JoAnne sat on it. Then the man went away and said that we could just leave the chair there when we were finished with it.

If you’ve ever waited for a 9-1-1 call to show up, you’ll know what I was feeling. JoAnne kept trying to pick up her bags and walk down Broadway, but since she couldn’t carry all of them, and was unsteady on her feet, and was disoriented, how could I let her go? Why was she out on her own in the first place?

“Where do you live, JoAnne,” I asked.

“On 20th Street.” That was downtown, in the opposite direction from where she was trying to walk.

“Twentieth Street is back there.”

“Albuquerque,” she repeated. I smiled. She smiled. It was almost like a game.

The minutes ticked by. Every so often JoAnne would pick up one or two of her bags and set off up Broadway again. I realized that she was a free, sovereign being, entitled to go where she wanted; but still, was it right to let her go? And what about her third bag, the one she couldn’t carry? Why was the 9-1-1 taking so long? What was the right thing to do?

I convinced JoAnne to sit down again but she seemed fidgety. I made small talk. What was her favorite T.V. show? “Good Morning America.” What was her favorite food? “Burritos,” she smiled, with a wide grin. “And tacos.” “There’s a great taco truck just down the block,” I said. She smiled and nodded. Then I could think of no more questions and we lapsed into silence.

“Do you like music?” I asked. “Oh, yes.” “Would you like to listen to a song?” I took my iPhone from my pocket and went to my iTunes library and believe it or not the first song to play was “She Loves You.” JoAnne immediately recognized it and sang along, and she did a little dance and so did I and we must have made quite a sight on Broadway.

Just then a bus pulled up; we happened to be at a bus stop. JoAnne got very excited and tried to pick up her bags to board the bus while I asked her if that was what she really wanted to do, and wouldn’t she rather stay with me because someone was coming to help her. She didn’t answer and made for the bus but she’d taken so long that the bus driver pulled away and disappeared down Broadway. “Oh, darn it,” JoAnne said.

Maybe ten minutes went by and I was getting antsy. Was I doing the right thing or the wrong thing? Was I wrongly detaining this perfectly nice lady from going where she wanted? Was I, in fact, breaking some kind of law? But all I wanted was to help her. She wasn’t capable of being on her own, or so I thought. And where was the damned police car anyway? It had been at least 30 minutes since the dispatcher said we were high priority.

Then another bus approached. I told JoAnne. Excitedly, she picked up her two bags and hobbled over to the curb on her cane. I took her third bag. The bus pulled up and the door opened and JoAnne began to try to get up the stairs with the bags. The driver, behind his plastic shield, was not amused. The look on his face said, “Great. Another one.” As JoAnne struggled up the steps I said to the driver, “She’s a little disoriented.” He clearly didn’t want any part of it, and I couldn’t blame him. It wasn’t his problem. JoAnne trudged to the middle of the bus, found a seat and put her two bags on the floor, while I followed her with the third bag, telling the driver not to pull away because I wasn’t taking the bus, I was just helping this lady with her package. The poor driver…

“JoAnne, here’s your other bag. Keep an eye on it, okay?” “Okay,” she said. I left the bus, troubled.

Forty-five minutes later my phone rang. It was the Oakland Police. Two cops had arrived at 30th and Broadway, across from Sprouts, but there was no one there. Did I still need help? I tried to explain what had happened—I couldn’t stop JoAnne from boarding the bus. But the dispatcher plainly didn’t want to hear a story. She just wanted to know if I still needed help.

“No,” I said.

I don’t know what happened to JoAnne. I’m not blaming the cops. OPD is severely understaffed because the city won’t adequately fund them. There’s a lot of talk, in this “Reimagining Policing” era, of replacing cops with social workers in responding to situations like JoAnne’s. But nothing has been done and I don’t know what can be done; I mean, would a social worker show up faster than the cops? Is JoAnne the new normal, a nice, sweet, peaceful lady with mental impairment who thinks she’s going to Albuquerque, or maybe it’s the Post Office? Is there no one to help her? Or was I, perhaps, out of line? Maybe she was perfectly capable of getting to where she thought she was going; maybe I was a meddling old fool. Maybe she’s still out there on the streets, wandering around with her bags, naked from the waist down. What would you have done?


Welcome to the Coalition for a Better Oakland!

6 comments

The Coalition for a Better Oakland is the name of a political action group I have co-founded with a few colleagues. Our goals are twofold: to end the blight of homeless encampments that are polluting our parks, underpasses and sidewalks, and to support the Oakland Police Department, which is embattled on all sides, fighting a record surge of crime and at the same time having to deal with the insanity of the “defund the police” crowd.

For the last several years I’ve felt increasingly isolated in my city. Could I be the only one worried about these twin issues of cops and camps, which after all are interrelated? During the pandemic, I turned to social media, especially nextdoor.com, to share my thoughts. I discovered that I was not alone. Many others felt the same way I did. I then found myself being censored and blocked from nextdoor.com. My political views, apparently, were at odds with those of the anonymous censors who can throw someone off the platform with no warning, no explanation, and no right of appeal. I began to see the connections between the censors at nextdoor.com and the various radical groups who seemed to have such an outsized influence at City Hall. Both were not interested in anyone’s views except their own. Both indulged in what we now call “cancel culture.” It was all very discouraging.

I have now abandoned nextdoor.com and will not return. (Their latest salvo into cancel culture was to inform users that the term “Black Lives Matter” is acceptable, but that “White Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” will be cause for expulsion.) But before I abandoned that dreadful platform I met (in the digital sense) a group of like-minded men and women and it is with them that I have started the Coalition for a Better Oakland. The exciting news is that, after months of delay, we will launch our website this Monday; and I will certainly share it here with you. We hope to become a political force in the city. We want to endorse candidates in future elections, and we want to influence the debate in the City Council, the Police Commission and in the City Manager’s office. For too long the radicals on the extreme left have been the ones to dominate meetings, hold demonstrations and intimidate politicians, including our Mayor, Libby Schaaf, into positions they clearly are uncomfortable with, but feel compelled to accept. We believe that we—the Coalition—represent the thinking of a majority of Oaklanders, most of whom are too busy getting on with their lives to be able to spend time on the computer researching issues or showing up at City Council meetings. We want to inspire that majority, rally them to our side, and tell the current crop of Oakland leaders that their day is done.

One of the things I, in particular, have had to do is protect our young Coalition from being a Trojan horse for rightwing extremists. When you’re supportive of the cops, and when you’re saying that homeless people do not have the right to set up tents wherever they want, you tend to open yourself to the charge of being a white supremacist trumper. I am a lifelong Democrat—everyone who knows my blog knows that since September 2016, I did everything in my power to take Trump and his Republican Party down. I fail to see why a moderately-progressive liberal like me cannot at the same time be a strong cop supporter. How did Democrats allow Republicans to own the issue of crime and policing? I don’t know, but it’s time we reseized the initiative.

And by the way, I’m convinced that the reason Democrats lost so many seats in the Congress during the last election, despite Biden’s victory, is precisely because of the stupid “defund the police” movement. The American people hate it, they’re afraid of it, and they find the people arguing in favor of it distasteful and irrational. My own feeling is that the reaction against the “defund” movement has already set in. Fewer and fewer politicians are using the phrase. As a political slogan, it’s easily the dumbest I’ve heard in my life. Yet here in Oakland, ambitious politicians still insist on 50% cuts to OPD’s budget—even though the local media is telling us that the neighborhoods most impacted by crime want more cops on the beat, not fewer. It strikes me that the people who are most insistent on “defunding” are (a) politicians who don’t give a damn about anything except power and (b) well-off white suburbanites who are appeasing their own guilt.

Well, I wanted to share this news of the Coalition for a Better Oakland with you. On Monday (barring some unexpected glitch) I’ll be able to give you the link, including sign-up information.

Have a great weekend!


Can we talk about cops?

0 comments

A small group of us had a long meeting yesterday with an Oakland Police Department (OPD) senior cop. This was part of our imminent launch of a new political action group we’re organizing, the Coalition for a Better Oakland, to address some of the catastrophes in Oakland created by years of government mismanagement, political corruption and misguided extremist political ideologies.

It was the first opportunity any of us had ever had to sit down informally with a top cop of long experience and leadership, and have a frank conversation. We agreed at the outset that nothing was off the table. No tape recordings were made; I took a few notes, but that was it. We could ask him whatever we wanted.

I asked the cop why he had agreed to meet with us, and he was earnest and passionate as he explained that OPD will meet with anyone who’s trying to help them. Cop-hating in Oakland is an old game. There was a story in the newspaper the other day about a LatinX cop who went to a coffee shop in Oakland and was refused service. Cops get spat at, they’re routinely given the finger, and in general they have to be on their guard all the time when they’re in uniform. Anti-cop rhetoric in Oakland is strong and pervasive. Everywhere you go, there’s graffiti: FTP (fuck the police) and ACAB (all cops are bastards) are the most common, but there are also calls for murdering cops. It must get very tedious for a uniformed officer just trying to do her job!

For my part, I felt a responsibility to let the cop know that I, and the two others from my group at the meeting, were not psychos or freaks of some kind. We’re not “badge chasers” or anything like that, but citizens of Oakland who hate what’s happening to our city, and who no longer feel safe just going about our daily (and nightly) routines. For thirty years I never felt uneasy walking at night downtown. Over the last year or two, I do. Murder is soaring: we’re on track to set a record this year. Street attacks, robberies, muggings, carjackings—every day there are stories in the paper, and then, of course, the anti-Asian assaults have made national headlines. With all this going on, you’d think the City Council would be considering increasing OPD’s budget; the department is currently staffed only at 50% of the needed levels. But no. The City Council’s so-called “Reimagining Public Safety” task force continues to call for more defunding of the department and re-routing the money into such things as “immediate housing,” “restorative justice,” “decriminalizing homelessness” (which by the way is based on a lie, since “homelessness” has never been against the law), removing the forensics crime lab out of OPD and into a “non-police” organization (since, according to the Reimagining people, the forensics lab—staffed by technicians—is somehow a hotbed of “police misconduct”), launching a proposed “basic income” program (Oakland’s just-announced program this past week was threatened with a lawsuit after Oakland said it would send money only to people of color, excluding poor white people), eliminating funding for OPD’s helicopter (!!!), radical changes to recruiting and hiring, in which intellectual standards are eliminated in order to make the process decrease “bigotry and bias,” and scores of other proposals—some good, some downright stupid.

No doubt, these proposed changes are well-meant, but they do represent an ideological bias of their own: that police are inherently evil, and that crime is largely the fault of systematic racism. The bottom line is that career cops in Oakland are frustrated, feel disrespected and insecure, are leaving the department for greener pastures, and the people of Oakland are increasingly left to their own devices.

There are so many issues to unpack. One thing we talked about at our meeting was the theory, often advanced by “defund the police” people, that goes something like this: Change is hard. Whenever change threatens an existing institution, its rearguard will resist it ferociously. Therefore, the rearguard has got to go, since change is inevitable and good.

That theory sounds plausible. Many of us were taught about the “paradigm shifts” that occurred in the 20th century in science. We learned that the rearguard resisted the new approaches of quantum mechanics and relativity. The Nazis in particular called these “the Jewish sciences.” They also resisted the new forms of painting, such as Abstraction and Expressionism, in favor of “social realist paintings” that, today, are considered sheer rubbish. So, yes, there is a valid school of thought that says change is good and resistance to it is bad.

But when it comes to quantum mechanics or Expressionist paintings, human life and welfare are not threatened! What threatens public safety here in Oakland is an out-of-control criminal culture which seems to be encouraged by the guardians who are supposed to be protecting us. This is particularly true concerning Oakland’s Community Police Review Agency, whose primary role seems to be encouraging citizen complaints of misconduct against officers. The Agency’s chair came under widespread criticism for forcing the firing of the former police chief (because, it was alleged, she was white), and a city-mandated review of the Agency’s performance accused it of widespread abuse of power.

Race is at the heart of almost everything that happens in Oakland, and it’s sad that common sense seems to have been removed from every conversation. In Oakland, you’re either “woke” or you’re engaged in systematic racism. There’s no middle ground. If you’re against sideshows, according to this extreme view, you’re discriminating against the cultural practice of a particular group. Never mind that sideshows are a huge menace in the Oakland flatlands, where legal traffic is blocked, pedestrians are threatened, and people actually die. This is the kind of impasse that has brought Oakland to its knees, and is why we created the Coalition for a Better Oakland. We believe our common sense approach to issues of crime and homeless encampments represents a majority of Oaklanders, as opposed to the handful of anti-cop activists who disrupt every City Council meeting, a good proportion of whom demand the complete elimination of the police department, with the funding going to shadowy programs they and their friends run.

I have insisted from the get-go that our Coalition is nonpartisan. I refuse to concede that anyone who supports cops is a white supremacist. Anyone who reads my blog knows I’m a Democrat who is unalterably opposed to the far right. This past week, I took steps (along with some of my colleagues) to prevent a self-professed “militiaman” from being part of our group. We have to be very careful to prevent rightwing, insurrectionist radicals from getting anywhere close to us. If that happens—and I am monitoring it—I’ll leave the group. It’s the extremes on both sides—the Jan. 6 proud boy/QAnon freaks and the BLM rioters who tear cities apart—that are the enemies of the people, not the cops.


MANIFESTO: Encampments, a blight on our city

3 comments

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.


« Previous Entries

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives