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The defund-the-police crowd should take this vow (read on)

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I was walking downtown yesterday—a perfect Spring afternoon, 82 degrees with a gentle wind off the Bay. Passed a shop with a sign in the window that said “We don’t need cops” and I had to laugh. I know the owner. He’s a white guy, very conservative, very law-and-order, probably voted for Trump. He doesn’t believe “we don’t need cops” any more than I do, but his store, you see, is at Ground Zero of downtown Oakland’s riot zone. It’s never been wrecked, not even when all the stores around it were during Occupy and BLM uprisings. His sign was, essentially, his get-out-of-jail free card–the lamb’s blood smeared on the doorpost.

Pass it on: We need cops. Society has always needed some form of control over deviant populations; otherwise, people’s asocial instincts would run amok. There has never been a society that didn’t have some form of external coercion to force everybody to behave. Think of the movies you’ve seen about anarchist dystopias—Lord of the Flies, Mad Max, Escape from New York—and the one thing they have in common is an absence of societal control. The results are entirely predictable.

The Millennium might come someday, but not anytime soon, and until every human being is a certified angel, with wings and halos, we’re going to need cops. When I was a little boy, I was taught to respect cops, and I did. I’ve had my run-ins with the law—hell, I have a felony conviction for drug possession dating to 1968—but it never resulted in me being anti-cop.

Now, I know what the anti-cop people will say. “Sure, you were a nice little white Jewish kid in a nice white middle class neighborhood. You didn’t have to fear the cops, because they didn’t come roaming through your neighborhood looking to kick your ass.” That’s true. I was a nice little white Jewish kid, and I’m glad I was raised right. I’m not insensitive to stories (and there are too many not to be true) about rogue cops, sadistic cops, vengeful cops, racist cops, sick cops. They’re out there. But from what I can tell, there are far fewer than when I was a little boy and cops had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. Most police departments have got the message loud and clear: you better clean up your frigging act, or there’s going to be trouble. I believe that the Oakland Police Department is the most regulated, overseen and well-trained police department in the country, and I’m proud of that. And yet we still have people, like my white friend who put the sign up in his window, who say we don’t need cops and we need to defund the police.

I don’t think the vast majority of Americans agrees with that assessment. I think they like and respect cops, and they resent it when people say that all cops are bastards and things like that. Yes, there are certain “reforms” that can be useful. Recruits should be better trained in the use of force and in de-escalating violence, among other things. But we’re reaching the point, post-George Floyd, where cops are increasingly hesitant to do anything to enforce the law, for fear of being caught up in some incident that will send them to prison, or being hounded down in civil court by some “civil rights attorney” getting rich off suing police departments.

So, sure, let’s train our recruits better. Let’s weed out the bad guys, and if a cop blatantly does something horrible, the way Derrick Chauvin did, let’s throw the book at him. But, please, let’s bring some common sense into the conversation. We need cops. If you’re one of the people who says we don’t, you should take the following vow: “I promise never, ever to call the police, not if I’m being mugged or raped, not if someone breaks into my house, not if my car is stolen or my child is kidnaped.” That would only be fair, wouldn’t it? You shouldn’t call the cops for protection and service if you don’t think we need them in the first place.


With fire season here, it’s time to move the tents away from the inner city

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This morning’s San Francisco Chronicle has yet another front-page story on the fire danger posed by homeless encampments in Oakland.

The number of fires in RVs and tents is soaring, even as the Oakland Fire Department says it is “extremely concerned” by the “fire risks for the unhoused…the surrounding area, and the firefighters.” Indeed, with fire season already here, all Oaklanders should worry about an out-of-control fire that could take out an entire neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Oakland officials and pro-homeless nonprofits continue to dither. The Mayor and the City Council have no solutions. They continue to kick the can down the road, as they have for the last six years as the homelessness crisis has ravaged Oakland. Tiny cabins, solar panels, RV camps, social workers, tinkering with the police department’s budget—the rhetoric coming from the pro-homeless community is endless. But these are not solutions. They are meant merely to distract us. “We’re doing our best,” says City Council members Rebecca Kaplan. “But we have to do better.”

Then do it. There is an obvious solution to the tent camps: Relocate them all to areas where they pose no threat to the surrounding community. There are vast swaths of public lands available that, far from neighborhoods, would provide safe and clean harbor for every tent dweller in Oakland. The 400-acre Oakland Army Base has been decommissioned for more than two decades. Why not establish a vast tent community there, with all the amenities the homeless need (water, plumbing, electricity, garbage collection, social services)?

The Coalition for a Better Oakland believes that all campers should be offered the opportunity to be relocated to such tent cities, where finally they could establish real communities and work side-by-side with nonprofits and the city for permanent solutions. It would be a win-win-win situation: for homeless people, for beleaguered city officials, and for the harassed people of Oakland. If the city is not prepared to take such an obviously logical step, then let Mayor Schaaf, Ms. Kaplan and the other ditherers tell us why not.


Repubs continue their war of People of Color

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These Republican efforts to crush minority voting are so obvious that I had to ask myself how they dare to do it in the glare of daylight. Usually when rogues do dastardly things, they wait for cover of night—like cockroaches raiding the kitchen pantry.

But these Republicans seem to have no fear or shame. Instead, they boast of their crimes. Where do they get their effrontery?

From Trump, of course. They have learned from him (and he learned it from Goebbels) that the Big Lie works. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it,” the Nazi Minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment remarked, “people will eventually come to believe it.” Hence the 30,573 lies Trump told during the course of his blighted presidency.

These Republicans knew that Trump lied almost every time he opened his mouth. At first, they were appalled—privately, of course. They’d heard his prevarications about Obama’s birthplace, and, later, about the size of his inaugural crowd and the fakeness of the COVID-19 pandemic, and so they knew he was a pathological liar. But they saw, also, that he got away with it—not with Democrats or the legitimate news media, but with Republicans, who loved Trump’s boastful chutzpah. Popularity is the mother’s milk of politicians, and so they decided to back up Trump’s lies. Later, they decided to lie themselves, and this is where the Republican Party is today: hoisted on the petard of its own unnatural tendencies. Like a serial killer who knows that time is running out, but who lusts for additional spoilage, these Republicans double down every day on lies. The depravity of the Arizona “recount,” with its bamboo-laced ballots, is the most recent example. It would be completely insane, were there not so many others.

How long can Republicans maintain these lies? Goebbels had the answer. “The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie.” Trump’s lies do have severe consequences for the American people, the most important of which are the undermining of our democracy and the resulting erosion of civil liberties. But there are economic consequences too: working class Americans can’t get ahead because Republican tax policy is heavily stacked against them, and because their wages are limited due to Republican favoritism of corporations. If Republican voters, especially the working class, understood how negatively Trumpism is impacting them, they might become Democrats, or at least Independents. Hence (Goebbels again), “It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

This is where Fox “News” and other conservative media outlets come in. Their role is not to disseminate news, and it is not to tell the truth. It is to repress facts that are “the enemy of the State”—the Republican state. It is to repress voting. People of color are not stupid, as Republicans insist they are. People of color know exactly what’s going on. They see how Republicans keep trying to marginalize them. They know they lost ground economically under Trump. They know that Trump tried to kill them by gleefully letting the pandemic spread unchecked through their communities. They understand that Republicans don’t want them to vote, and they know why: because people of color tend to vote Democratic. They heard Trump when he said, on his favorite T.V. program, Fox & Friends, that if every American voted who was eligible to, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” There it was, a dastardly thing said in broad daylight. Republicans said they liked Trump because he told it like it was and always spoke his mind, and it was true. He spoke the “truth” of segregation, of Jim Crow, of voter suppression laws, of white supremacy. He did it openly, and saw his popularity among Republicans soar higher and higher. No wonder Republican politicians sold their souls and jumped on to the Trump train.

Well, here we are, already thinking about the 2022 elections. McCarthy is widely said to be favored to become the next Speaker. Anything is possible, but I have to believe that the American people are finally realizing what a horrible disaster Trump was, and are grateful to be done with him. But I’ve been wrong before about Trump. In 2011, I predicted he was done. What did I know, in my blue bubble? What do I know now?


Why are the super-rich so opposed to taxes?

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How much money does anyone need, anyhow? I used to work for a very wealthy family. They spent money like it was water. Their wealth was unfathomable, yet they still resented what few dollars they paid. During the 2016 Republican primary season they were inclined to support Ted Cruz—yes, that Ted Cruz, the most disreputable man in Washington now that Trump has left town. Cruz, they figured, would lower their taxes so that they could buy more mansions, planes, baubles.

Now we have President Biden, who is promising “to reward work, not just wealth,” by raising the tax on capital gains and on giant corporations.

Imagine that, rewarding work, not wealth!

Republicans, predictably, are bitterly opposed. Most Republican congressmen are not rich, but they hope to be, which is why they carry water for their billionaire corporate paymasters, who they assume will someday reward them when, having been tossed out of office in a Democratic wave, they can then land a cushy job in P.R. or on some do-nothing Board. Perhaps that is the vision of Rep. Kevin Brady, the Republican from Texas’s 8th Congressional District. “Another economic blunder by the Biden administration,” Brady thundered about the President’s tax plans. “It punishes investment in local businesses,” he added.

Brady knows something about “local businesses.” One of the nation’s largest oil companies, Anadarko Petroleum (acquired by Occidental Petroleum in 2019) is headquartered in Brady’s District, and—surprise!—Anadarko has been one of Brady’s top campaign contributors.

Well, it would be fun to spend a couple weeks tracing the nefarious connections between rightwing Republicans and the secret money they feed on. I’ll leave that to Jane Mayer. Meanwhile, all of this begs the question of why Republican voters—the little guys, the working stiffs—are so opposed to raising taxes on the rich.

I mean, it’s not like poor Republicans have any love of billionaires. I think we all resent the .01 percent, maybe not personally, but in terms of the way they consistently rake off the national wealth for themselves, and then buy Republican politicians to help them keep the scam going. I imagine some Appalachian dirt farmer in Kentucky, who can barely afford to repair his car or put food on the table for his family—the kind of person showcased in the book and movie, Hillbilly Elegy.

This man is dignified, unashamed of his calloused hands, proud of his roots, and damned if he’ll beg for help from anyone, especially “the gummint.” He’s a devout Christian (even if he doesn’t always live his life in a Christian way), and he thinks most city dwellers are more or less perverted, if they’re not actual Communists and terrorist sympathizers. He has little more than a grade school education, but he doesn’t trust elite college graduates anyway; what do they know of his life? His granddaddy may have voted Democrat back in the day, but he, himself, is a solid Republican, a Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell guy. And because they tell him that taxing billionaires will make him even poorer than he already is, he’s against taxing billionaires. Does our poor Kentucky dirt farmer ever sit down and think things through, like why raising Charles Koch’s taxes would hurt him? Koch is worth $63 billion-with-a-“b,” and his dark money may be the single most potent force in the American anti-tax movement. The answer is, it’s most unlikely our farming friend ever puts his mind through such mental contortions. He’s not inclined to critical thinking, and besides, he trusts good ole Mitch and good ole Rand, and that’s all there is to it. Doesn’t the Greatest Christian of modern times, Trump, say the same thing? “I hope they don’t raise your taxes, but if they do I told you so,” he warned his fans in his so-called “farewell address” on Jan. 20, just two weeks after fomenting insurrection. Of course, by “they” he meant Biden’s Democrats, and when he predicted “they” would raise “your” taxes he did not explain that Biden has no intent of raising taxes on “them,” the little people, but only on the superrich. However, this truth was concealed from Republican voters (who, watching Fox “News,” didn’t even know what Biden was proposing), and our farming friend in Kentucky was given more reason than ever to remain a Republican. “I’m a poor man,” he said to his friends at the local honky-tonk, where a few nights a week he can escape his crushing existence. “I can’t afford to pay no more taxes.” Fist bumps and clanging beer mugs around the bar! Toasts to “President Trump, who won the election.” Somebody says “Hang Pence” The band swings into Dixie. A man drapes himself in a Confederate flag and, brandishing a Glock 19, screams, “From my cold dead hands!” A woman, drunk and reeling, begins singing “God bless President Trump.” Our poor dirt farmer, among his people, is happy.


The dark side of police reform

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So self-absorbed and out-of-touch is Oakland’s “Reimagining Public Safety” task force that they are able to publish blatant nonsense under the guise of fact and get away with it.

Well, no more.

They say the reason for “Reimagining” (which, let’s be honest, is merely the new politically correct word for “defunding”) is because “Many residents feel less safe in the presence of OPD.”

Now, this is a grammatically correct statement. It has a noun-subject (“Many residents”) and a verb (“feel”), so that it appears to represent reality. But does it? Who are these “many residents”? Has a census been taken?  No one asked me. I could say, with equal certitude, “Many residents feel safer in the presence of OPD.” I know I do, and so do most people I know. So just because a statement makes technical sense doesn’t make it true.

And who feels “less safe in the presence of OPD”? I’m sure that the rioters who throw rocks and bottles at cops feel “less safe,” as well they should: if you attack a police officer, you should feel unsafe. I suppose, also, that the defund-the-police people who commandeer City Council and Police Commission meetings don’t feel safe in the presence of cops (at least, they say they don’t), but you know and I know that, if they were mugged or their homes invaded, their first phone call wouldn’t be to John Burris but to 9-1-1.

But these downtown rioters are not normal Oaklanders. In many cases they’re white, privileged druggies who espouse vaguely radical extremist politics they think are fashionable and make them appear “progressive.” They also in many cases are anarchists who believe in no government at all. How else can you explain their fondness for smashing store windows, setting garbage cans on fire, wrecking bus stops and looting Targets and 7-Elevens? Does any of that help People of Color?

Here’s another whopper from the Reimagineers. “After 17 years under the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, OPD still has 7 of 51 tasks that are in complete [sic].” Let’s get to the bottom of this famous “negotiated settlement.” In 2003, following allegations of police misconduct, OPD and the City of Oakland hired a so-called “Independent Monitor” to oversee “reforms.” That monitor was Robert Warshaw. In 2014, according to OaklandWiki, Warshaw was paid $502,000. A year ago, the Oakland-based civil rights attorney, Pamela Price, reported that since 2009, Oakland has “paid [Warshaw’s] two companies more than $8 million.”

It’s very difficult to obtain transparent information about Warshaw but two things are safe to say: He’s cleaning up financially as “Mr. Monitor” and he appears to have a lifetime sinecure; as long as he can allege that there remain “tasks” for OPD to complete, he’ll continue to make his money. So here, again, the Reimagineers resort to rhetorical trickery. They seem hell-bent on crushing OPD, and Warshaw is helping them do it. The Reimagining-Warshaw-Defund Complex fiddles while Oakland burns.

Here’s another spurious claim by the Reimagineers: “Significant investment is being made into less effective Punitive Enforcement versus more effective Community Empowerment & Crime Prevention.” Can someone tell me why locking up bad guys is “less effective”? Less effective than what–“Community Empowerment” and “Crime Prevention” programs? Nobody knows what those things are. They sound good…Who could be against “Crime Prevention”? I admit that my view of such programs is informed by reporting I did when I was a working journalist. I was investigating “violence prevention” programs in Oakland and stumbled upon a horrifying system of mutual back-scratching, secret financing and virtually non-existent accountability to see if the programs were actually preventing violence. The fact that, despite all of Oakland’s crime- and violence-prevention programs over the decades, crime and violence are at or near all-time highs is a terrible indictment of such programs. Yet we have a City Council that–having thrown up their hands because they don’t have the slightest idea how to actually combat crime–throws money at dubious social justice warriors who simply perpetuate the failed approaches of the past. I could make the same indictment of “Community Empowerment” programs. What “communities”? How do you “empower” a community? Fruitvale, Adams Point, Temescal—these are communities with lots of different people. The way to empower a community is for its people to live lives of decency and ethical consideration of others. There is no other way, especially not in Oakland, where grifters are always on the hunt for the main chance: free money from the city or its charitable partners to do things that sound and feel good, but in the end are monstrous wastes of time.

All this, by the way, is not to say that I don’t believe certain aspects of police reform are called for. Oakland’s MACRO program has some good points. And there’s room for improvement in the way we recruit and train cops, and how we deal with issues concerning the use of force and misconduct. But the Reimagineers take things way too far. They’ve been pretty successful up until now because no one has been organized or articulate enough to expose them and speak for the People, and because Oakland is a super-liberal city susceptible to the kind of rhetoric the Reimagineers indulge in. But I keep my finger to the wind, and I feel a change in the weather. In this battle (for that’s what it is) between moderates and radicals, we moderates are gaining the upper hand.


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