Volume 40 Number 36

June 7 – June 13, 2006

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Big Brother, where art thou?



One question seemed to stand out at the San Francisco Police Commission’s May 24 meeting, where it was considering the issue of security cameras being placed in high-crime neighborhoods across the city.

"Is there a plan to phase these out at any time?" commissioner Joe Veronese asked Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who was presenting his recently proposed legislation to regulate the cameras. "Or is the idea that we just have more and more of these going up?"

Mirkarimi admitted that the idea of at some point phasing out the cameras has so far not been considered by the Board of Supervisors. He told the commission that it’s still too early to even determine how much the cameras would help in mitigating crime. But he added that some of his constituents who support the cameras "are very insistent that this not be layered with red tape."

Worried about privacy rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California wants the board to do away with the cameras completely and consider alternatives such as community policing. Even Mirkarimi compared the cameras to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which is getting closer to nonfiction. But he insisted to the commission that the cameras "are not a substitute to policing, whatsoever."

Mirkarimi would seem an unlikely proponent of the cameras. He’s one of the most progressive supervisors on the board; yet he represents a Western Addition neighborhood with growing crime problems. Mirkarimi’s aide Boris Delepine told the Guardian that the cameras were inevitable strongly pushed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and the supervisor was simply hoping to get some civil liberties protections in place before the program stretched across the city.

"We feel that the cameras are going up regardless," Delepine said, "and we’d like for there to be a public process when they do."

London has perhaps the largest number of citywide security cameras, with around 200,000; other industrialized cities are just beginning to debate and install them. The cameras raise real civil liberties questions, but supporters want their help with evidence gathering when witnesses are too afraid to step forward.

Since installation of the cameras began in San Francisco as a pilot program last July, the ACLU has pointed to a batch of studies it claims dispute any suggestion that the cameras elsewhere have either reduced crime or provided valuable evidence for criminal prosecutions, including in London.

"The ACLU is opposed to video surveillance cameras because they intrude on people’s privacy and they have no proven law-enforcement benefit," Elizabeth Zitrin, a board member of the ACLU’s San Francisco chapter, told the commission May 24.

Critics have acknowledged some of the protective measures that Newsom included in the original pilot program: Footage is erased after 72 hours unless it is believed to contain evidence of a crime, and where possible, cameras are not trained on individual homes. But ACLU Police Practices Policy director Mark Schlosberg told us he fears proliferation of the cameras will be impossible to stop.

"Privacy is sensitive," he said. "Once you lose it, it’s very difficult to get it back."

Indeed, commissioner Veronese’s question seemed to answer itself for the most part. Would there ever come a time in San Francisco when crime rates were so low that the city would remove the cameras in deference to civil liberties? Presumably not.

Two board committees have reviewed Mirkarimi’s legislation since it was introduced in January, but the full board recently delayed its vote until after the proposal could be considered by the Police Commission, which voiced its unanimous support May 24. The board was scheduled to vote on a first reading June 6 after Guardian press time.

Mirkarimi’s measure would require that the Police Commission hear public comment from affected residents before new groups of cameras are installed in individual neighborhoods. In addition, signs would be posted nearby to inform residents that the cameras were operating, and police inspectors would have to file a written request with the Emergency Communications Department before footage could be obtained and used as evidence of a crime.

The Office of Emergency Communications currently oversees two of the cameras, but did not know how often the Police Department has used any of the surveillance footage. The department’s Investigations Bureau could not respond to our inquiries by deadline.

Last July’s pilot program began with 2 cameras in the Western Addition. Since then, 33 more cameras have appeared at 14 locations in the Mission, Bayview, and Excelsior districts, and Newsom recently proposed the installation of around 20 more.

Mayoral spokesperson Peter Ragone said Newsom reviewed similar security camera programs in several other cities, including LA, Chicago, and New York, and insisted that case law confirms surveillance footage can be used as effective criminal evidence. He wasn’t aware of cases in San Francisco in which such evidence had been used, however.

"We asked the ACLU to sit down and help us develop guidelines for the placement and use of [the cameras],” he said. "They said no, so we went around the country and looked to other best practices for guidelines and procedures." SFBG

The health insurance system: a crash course


OPINION I am a family practice physician who recently opened a solo office in San Francisco. Since deciding to make a go of it on my own, I have, by necessity, undergone a crash course in the politics of medicine.

Change in our current system will only come about as the result of an educated public insisting on it. So, in terms as simple as I can manage, here is how it works:

You sign up for health insurance. You and/or your employer pay a monthly premium, and your insurer promises to cover some (but not all) of the health care costs you incur.

In exchange for the insurance company listing him or her as a network provider, your doctor agrees to accept the company’s payment rates and abide by its complex policies. These include rules to verify your insurance, document the visit, and submit the bills.

Your doctor has to hire someone to collect all your insurance information and verify the accuracy with your insurer before each visit. A second person is hired to review the charges and make sure they comply with the endless rules the insurance company has put in place.

In order to pay for the two new layers of bureaucracy, your doctor shortens the amount of time he or she spends with you. This allows him or her to see more patients per day.

The insurance company then comes up with all sorts of excuses for why it won’t pay for services you received, or won’t pay the amount it originally promised.

Your doctor now has to hire someone to fight the insurance companies for payment. Your doctor shortens appointment times further to pay for this additional level of bureaucracy.

Your doctor no longer has enough time to explore and discuss lifestyle factors that may be causing your symptoms. Instead, he or she takes the more time-efficient route of ordering a slew of lab tests and expensive studies when you come in with a complaint.

You never see the bills associated with your visits to the doctor and the testing performed, which creates the illusion that you are getting all this medical care for free.

The unnecessary testing drives up the cost to insurers.

The insurance companies see their profits decline and take steps to correct this, such as denying insurance to those with "preexisting conditions" (often something as simple as a brief period of depression).

Now your doctor has to hire someone else to deal with all the paperwork this additional bureaucratic level creates.

Again, appointment times are shortened. Not only do you have an endless wait to be seen, but you have to come back multiple times to get your questions answered.

The cost to insurers goes up further.

The insurance companies see their profits start to decline once again, so they pass the cost on to you or your employer by increasing your premium.

The patients are dissatisfied.

The doctors are dissatisfied.

And the insurance companies? Well, their shareholders are quite pleased. SFBG

Samantha Malm, MD, is one of a growing number of physicians who have decided not to contract with private insurance companies.

{Empty title}


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I sat in the second row at McKinley Elementary School’s “junior Olympics” last week, right behind Superintendent Gwen Chan, who is doing a pretty good job so far, and district spokesperson Lorna Ho, who remains the most annoying public relations person I’ve ever had to deal with, and as I watched the kids do this amazing opening ceremony on the playground, I realized how much I love San Francisco public schools.

I don’t always love the school board, and I don’t always love the flacks at headquarters, and I really, really didn’t love the last superintendent, but on some level, that doesn’t really matter. On the ground in the places where teaching actually happens, in the classrooms, in the auditorium, on the playground my public school is amazing.

There’s nowhere near enough money. It’s not an easy, upper-middle-class student population. But the principal, Bonnie Coffey-Smith, is fantastic, the teachers are all full of energy, and the students all of the students are learning.

I could have spent tens of thousands of dollars a year on a private school, and I don’t think my son, Michael, could possibly have gotten a better educational experience than the one he’s getting now.

Onward: It’s been 25 years, exactly, since the first AIDS cases were documented, and 10 years, more or less, since Paul O’Connell died.

Paulo was my best friend. We met in college, smoked a lot of pot, and dreamed about world revolution. After we both (narrowly) emerged with our diplomas, we drove out west, escaping a nasty law enforcement problem in upstate New York, losing all of our worldly possessions to burglars in Chicago, scrounging some blankets from an old motel so we wouldn’t freeze when we slept on the ground in the Rockies, and finally running out of gas and money in San Francisco. We stayed for a while, then hit the road again and wound up in an apartment in East Hartford, Conn.; in a commune (of sorts) in the New England woods; in a house in Croton, NY; and on a buffalo ranch in Oklahoma before we eventually came home, to a slum on Hayes Street with no shower and no doors.

And always, everywhere, Paulo loved life.

We lived together for three years or so, all told, until I moved in with my girlfriend and Paulo went to work for Ralph Nader in DC. I saw him a few times a year, usually when the Grateful Dead were in town. It was about 1987 when he told me he was gay, which was a big whatever except that Paulo was never good about safety, and that was a dangerous time. He loved to party, hated condoms because they never seemed to fit right, and figured if he got an AIDS test every couple of months, he’d be OK.

Then one of the tests came back positive.

Paulo fought bravely: He never once complained, never slowed down, and refused to give up the pursuit of happiness. But that was before the drug cocktails, when there wasn’t any truly effective treatment. In the end, the plague was stronger than Paulo. I still miss him, every damn day.

And here’s the thing: There are 80,000 stories like that one, just in San Francisco alone.

As long as the rest of us live, that’s something we should never forget. SFBG

A simple, fair tenant bill




A simple, fair tenant bill




Legislation that would ban landlords from arbitrarily eliminating services or restricting access to common space in residential units is likely to get seven votes at the Board of Supervisors June 6th. It’s also likely to get a mayoral veto. So tenant advocates ought to be putting the pressure on Sup. Bevan Dufty, who is one of the mayor’s allies – but is also in a district where a majority of the voters are renters.


The bill, by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, would end what some tenants say is a growing practice: Landlords suddenly take away parking spaces, access to laundry facilities, or the use of storage space, in the hope that it will drive out tenants who are protected by rent control. The current law forbids evictions without “just cause” – but that provision apparently doesn’t apply to anything other than the actual place where a tenant lives.


There are all sorts of opportunities for abuse here: A landlord could evict a tenant from his or her parking or storage space, then offer to rent it back at a high price. Or those sorts of amenities could be doled out to tenants who never complain about living conditions, and withheld from tenants who try to exercise their rights. Or – most likely – a landlord desperate to get rid of a tenants who is paying below-market rent could take away every possible amenity until that tenant gives up and moves away, allowing the landlord to raise the rent for the next tenant.


The fix is simple, and won’t cost landlords any extra money. Mirarimi’s bill is just basic fairness: If you offer a garage as part of the original rental deal, you can’t suddenly take it back without a valid reason. If you include on-site laundry facilities as part of the lease, you can’t arbitrarily lock the door to the laundry room and give only certain favored tenants a key.


Dufty is up for re-election this fall, and is almost certain to face some serious opposition from the left. With three of the mayor’s four allies – Sean Ellsernd, Michela Alioto-Pier and Finoa Ma – pretty much immovable, Dufty’s been in a position to make or break legislation by being the eighth vote to make a bill veto-proof. And since Newsom has vetoed every significant piece of tenant legislation to come before him, Dufty needs to feel the heat: Is he on the side of tenants – when it matters?


This one is a great test case: The legislation is so simple and fair, it’s hard to imagine how a reasonable landlord could oppose it. Let’s see if Dufty’s willing to stand with the tenants on one that ought to be a no-brainer. Give him a call, at 554-6968.


‘International Press Institute (IPI)’ and ‘International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX)’


PRESS RELEASE  http://www.freemedia.at

Vienna, 11 May 2006

IPI Calls on the European Union to raise the issue of press freedom in Latin America and the Caribbean during the EU-LAC Summit in Vienna, Austria

On the occasion of the European Union Latin America and Caribbean (EU-LAC) Summit in Vienna, Austria, the International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, calls on the European Union (EU) to raise the issue of press freedom and freedom of expression.

In the Americas, at least 11 journalists were killed because of their work in 2005. Three journalists were murdered in Haiti, and two each in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. Journalists were also killed in Ecuador and Nicaragua.

Throughout the year, investigative journalists in Latin America continued to receive death threats, or were physically attacked by corrupt officials, drug traffickers and other criminals intent on preventing the media from exposing their activities. Several journalists were forced to flee into exile. In addition, journalists had to contend with a barrage of litigation, including criminal defamation lawsuits and excessive punitive damage awards in civil suits.

Media outlets criticised government restrictions on access to public information, often the result of anti-terrorism legislation introduced in response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The use of official advertising to punish or reward publications and broadcasters was also condemned as a threat to press freedom. In some countries, the excessive use of force against journalists by the police and army was a cause for concern.

With 23 journalists imprisoned at the end of 2005, Fidel Castro’s Cuba was the world’s second biggest jailer of journalists after China. Those independent journalists not already arrested in the March 2003 government crackdown on political dissidents were systematically monitored, harassed or detained by the state security forces.

Mexico saw an increase in the number of violent attacks against reporters, especially those investigating drug trafficking and official corruption in the northern states bordering the U.S.

The administration of President Hugo Ch?�vez tightened its grip on the press in Venezuela, as the Social Responsibility Law for Radio and Television and amendments to the penal code, expanding the categories of government officials protected by insult provisions, came into effect in 2005.

In the Caribbean, the introduction of restrictive new media legislation, the continued use of civil and criminal defamation laws, and instances of government interference in state-owned media, all encouraged the tendency to self-censor.

Speaking on the press freedom situation in the region, Michael Kudlak, IPI’s press freedom advisor for the Americas and the Caribbean, said, “Increasingly, authorities are attempting to use defamation laws, broadcasting regulations, and other legal measures to stifle critical coverage, posing a serious threat to freedom of opinion and expression in the Caribbean.”

IPI Director Johann Fritz added, “IPI calls on the Austrian Presidency of the European Union and heads of EU member states to address freedom of expression and media freedom in Latin America and the Caribbean during the EU-LAC summit. At a time when journalists suffer harassment and must resort to self-censorship, there is a real need for the EU’s dialogue with many Latin American countries to be informed by greater discussion about press freedom and freedom of expression.”

“IPI urges the governments of the region to uphold everyone’s right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the right ‘to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,’ as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Fritz said.

IPI, the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, is dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, the promotion of the free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.


International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX)