Volume 46 Number 02

Editor’s notes



I feel like was just getting over the 40th anniversary party, and now here comes 45. Guardian anniversaries are like birthday parties; they keep creeping up on you. Except that, in this case, getting older isn’t something to worry about. It’s a sign of strength that a weekly paper founded with a little money scraped together by two Midwesterners in 1966 has survived, grown, and become a standard-bearer for the alternative press in America.

I missed 15, but I was here for 16, and 20, and 25, and 30, and 40, and I’ve watched the Guardian — and San Francisco — emerge and change. And I can say, after almost 30 years as a reporter and editor here, that the demise of the old Brown Machine and the advent of district elections in 2000 were the most important advances in modern local political history.

District elections diffused power at City Hall. You didn’t need a huge downtown-funded campaign war chest to get elected supervisor. You didn’t need the support of the power brokers. And all parts of the city were represented.

By the time Willie Brown left office in 2004 — mostly in political disgrace — a long era of corrupt machine politics was ending. He had lost control of the Board of Supervisors. Almost none of the candidates he endorsed got elected. His approach to running the city was utterly repudiated by the voters. It was like the city drew a collective breath of very fresh air.

Yeah, we had to fight with Gavin Newsom. Yeah, we lost some critical battles. Yeah, the city’s till building housing just for millionaires. But at least with Brown gone and district supervisors calling the shots, I always thought we had a chance.

And maybe we will with Mayor Ed Lee, too, if, as projected, he wins in November. Maybe he can show some independence. Maybe the Ed Lee who started as a tenant lawyer will arise again in Room 200.

But Brown doesn’t think so. Neither do the billionaires and lobbyists and a cast of dozens from the old Brown Machine. They think they’re coming back into power.

And these folks are savvy, experienced and clever. They don’t put this sort of money and personal clout into candidates unless they’re pretty damn sure they’ll get a return on their investment. That’s how it works in Willie’s World.

The right track


DANCE Have you noticed that San Francisco is changing for the better? No, I’m not talking poor and homeless people being given services they need (I wish that were the case) — I’m talking public art.

The concept used to refer to murals, airport exhibits, sculptures in downtown plazas, and those arrows that would periodically pop up on mostly ugly buildings. But dance — unless you count parades and demonstrations as a form of dance — certainly wasn’t part of beautifying the spaces we all live in. But today, dancers are taking to the street and other public arenas, and they look good.

Perhaps it all began in 1995 when Joanna Haigood and her Zaccho Dance Theatre troupers bounced off the Ferry Building’s massive clock, daring it to stop working. Last year they ceremoniously danced down Market Street, memorializing the exodus of middle-class African American residents from San Francisco. Jo Kreiter’s Flyaway Productions has taken to alleys, danced on cranes, and dangled off the mural-covered Women’s Building.

Lovely about this trend is that all these performances were free, and audiences could come upon them almost accidentally. Though still modest in scope, dance is becoming part of our urban environment. “Jewels in the Square” is a weekly dance series in Union Square that runs April through October; the Rotunda Series (first Friday of the month) brings dance into a glorious public space, City Hall. The Mark Foehringer Dance Project curates “Dancing in the Park,” a Golden Gate Park festival during National Dance Week in April, and Mint Plaza seems to have become the latest open-air dance stage for the late-summer Central Market Arts Festival.

But credit for the longest running commitment to taking dance to the people belongs to Kim Epifano’s Epiphany Productions, whose Trolley Dances mark an annual celebration of public transit and public dance. For the eighth year, and for the price of a Muni fare, people can board a streetcar — or “trolley,” as they are called in San Diego, where the event originated — and take a ride to be entertained by some of San Francisco’s finest.

Epifano is an artist with flying hair, unbounded enthusiasm, and a firm belief that if something needs to be done, she can do it. This includes bringing out the creative spark in refugees in Oakland, or developmentally challenged adults in San Francisco, or, for that matter, young dancers whom she set loose in a Mexicali bar. So moving the San Francisco bureaucracy to grant her the various permits needed for this festival is, apparently, child’s play.

The minute Epifano encountered Trolley Dances in Southern California, she knew she wanted to bring it to San Francisco. (“It was fun and it was free,” she remembers.) Over the years, in addition to robust audiences, Trolley Dances has attracted a veritable who’s who of local choreographers — Janice Garrett, Deborah Slater, Joe Goode, Sue-Li Jue, Yannis Adoniou, and Sara Shelton Mann among them.

This weekend, catch a glimpse of Jody Lomask on a seven-foot cube, and Salsamania on the sixth floor of the San Francisco Public Library. KT Nelson will preview a section of Transit: A Vertical Life, in which she celebrates what she calls “urban humanity.” A bike that turns into a bench will be included.

In addition to seeing a panoply of artists — a total of seven this time around — Trolley Dances opens opportunities to visit less-familiar pockets of San Francisco. I had never traveled all the way down the Embarcadero to the Caltrain station until Trolley Dances took me there. This year, Epifano had her own eye-opener. “After all these years of living here, I didn’t even know about West Portal,” she admits — which is where this year’s journey ends.



Sat/15-Sun/16, every 45 minutes from 11 a.m.-2:45 p.m., free with Muni fare ($2)

Tours depart San Francisco Public Library

100 Larkin, SF

(415) 226-1139


It’s good to be bad


TRASH It seems hard enough to be a successful child actor without losing your head eventually, let alone one so identified with a particular role that no one is ever inclined to let you forget it. Yet The Bad Seed‘s Patty McCormack has survived intact the formative experience of playing arguably the most notorious child role ever — hundreds of times on stage and once in a 1956 film version that refuses to go away.

At least it was the most notorious until The Exorcist (1973) — but remember, demon-possessed Regan was a victim, not a perp. Seed‘s pigtailed Rhonda Penmark was a stone-cold sociopath, manipulating everyone around her and arranging the “accidental” deaths of those who couldn’t be manipulated.

In 1954, when William March’s novel was published to acclaim, this was a pretty shocking conceit; its theatrical adaptation the next year only fanned the flames. In a move very rare for Hollywood, all the principal Broadway players were retained for the film, a prestige project directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Most of them wound up Oscar-nominated, even if a Production Code rule requiring no crime be left unpunished forced the original ending to be softened (if you can call it that).

When she began playing Rhoda, McCormack was just nine, but already had prior Broadway, TV, and big-screen credits on her resume. She was, it seems, a stone-cold pro, though not an off-camera brat. However, she had enough of an edge not to fit into the uber-perky Sandra Dee mode of the era’s teenage ingénues; instead, she spent those years doing TV dramas, then “graduated” to a run of exploitation movies with ace titles, like 1968’s The Mini-Skirt Mob (“Hog straddling female animals on the prowl!”) and The Young Runaways (“They experiment with drugs … with sex … with each other!”).

Afterward she continued to work on television (including extended roles on both The Ropers and The Sopranos), on stage, and in occasional movies — notably being devoured by mutant cockroaches in 1975 cult horror Bug and recently playing First Lady Pat in 2008’s Frost/Nixon.

When McCormack appears this weekend at the Castro as the guest of honor for impresario Marc Huestis’ latest tribute extravaganza (not for the first time — that was in 1999), you can ask her about all these career highlights and more. But of course primary curiosity will be directed toward The Bad Seed, particularly since the film will be screened, and preceded by a drag “Miss Bad Seed” contest.

The actress has always been a good sport about this lingering fame from over half a century ago, but has reportedly refused any offers to reprise her signature role (or take the mother’s) in any Bad Seed sequel or remake. Yet she relaxed that rule, sorta kinda, to portray the person Rhoda might have grown into in a couple of direct-to-video cheapies released during the mid-1990s.

Mommy (1995) cast the veteran thespian as Mrs. Sterling, widowed by more than one wealthy husband (heh heh), now raising perfect little daughter Jessica Ann (Rachel Limieux) just the way she likes it, alone. When anyone attempts to interfere in that Mini-Me molding process — like a teacher who inconceivably gives a medal of academic merit to another student — Mommy gets very, very angry. Nonetheless, her sharklike smile always returns in time to greet the police interrogating her over the latest violent death she insists having nothing to do with.

Written and directed by Max Allan Collins, the Iowa-shot film is so bad it’s just … bad, amateurish and witless despite the fun McCormack is clearly having. Not to mention the weird appeal of her supporting cast: playwright and lead Exorcist priest Jason Miller looking pretty ill as a cop, velvet-voiced scream queen Brinke Stevens as Mommy’s suspicious sister, “First Lady of Star Trek” Majel Barrett as that unfortunate teacher, pulp maestro and definite non-actor Mickey Spillane as an attorney.

It made enough of a splash, however, to warrant Mommy 2: Mommy’s Day two years later. This sequel has marginally improved production values, better kills, and the line “I know, dear, you’re innocent. Like O.J.” Now a famous murder, Mommy has been released from prison with an experimental anti-psychotic implant in her brain — not that it stops her. Meanwhile Jessica Ann has taken up figure skating. There are no bonus points for guessing what kind of blade her pissy coach’s throat gets slit with.

These movies are for Bad Seed and Patty McCormack completists; drinking games can only help. However, the interview extras that have the star talking about various phases of her career are so entertaining you might hope for Mommy 3 so they can continue. 



Sat/15, noon (brief Q&A), 7:30 p.m. (gala tribute), 9 p.m. (film only), $10-$25

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 863-0611


Lesson plan



THEATER An elegant young woman in white gloves with a soothing voice (Meg Hurtado) breathes into a microphone some pre-flight instructions before beginning a narration of a journey “you” are taking. It’s accompanied by video footage (by Derek Phillips) of some European-looking city: a train station, a big electric clock, a rushing locomotive, the flow of strangers in a not-too-foreign land. No one cares you’re there, but you’re still uncomfortable, trying to stay calm and fit in. As she speaks, the small studio stage at the Exit Theatre flickers with a rush of bodies moving in near darkness.

Finally, from this mysterious disorientation, emerges a family of four: egomaniacal Major von Berg (a nicely volcanic Ryan Hayes), sly Mrs. Von Berg (a serenely confident Hurtado), morose teenage daughter Gussie (a withering but vulnerable Margery Fairchild in severe pigtails), and half-feral little Lippel (a wan puppet). They have a decidedly European mien about them, but from where or what century they hail exactly is hard to say. What is certain: you have arrived at your destination.

Dark Porch Theatre co–artistic director Martin Schwartz pens and directs this curious, half-elevated yet earthy, gently absurdist foray into the woods of East Prussia, a Twilight Zone of indeterminate time and place where a nervously deferential young man named Läuffer (Brandon Wiley) gains employment as a tutor for a deeply divided family headed by a hot-under-the-military-collar patriarch. Divided into a dozen discrete episodes over 90-minutes, Tutor: Enter the Exclave is fitfully inspired but at its best offers some excellent opportunities for the eight-year-old experimental theater company, now in residence at the Exit, which specializes in evoking the unsettling dream with humor, unusual staging, and a taste for the macabre.

Läuffer finds his two charges unimpressed and abusive. The puppet is particularly surly, slapping his tutor for fun and never saying anything more than “doo, doo, doo,” which has something fecal about it to be sure, but also harkens back to the German formal form of “you” (with maybe a little echo there of Sylvia Plath’s “Ach, du” in her papa-as-fascist poem, Daddy). Moreover, given the competing demands and threats thrust his way by the warring parents, his position in the household is hardly tenable. Still, he clings on for lack of anywhere else to go, until an unhealthy interest in 15-year-old Gussie culminates in general ruin and some grisly particulars.

Schwartz latches onto an intriguing aspect of this grim goodtime story — which he adapts from his own translation of Sturm und Drang–school writer J.M.R. Lenz’s 1774 play, Der Hofmeister — namely the theme flagged by the “exclave” in the title, which refers to an isolated region detached from the mainland but nevertheless a part of the same country. Attached yet apart proves an apt description of each character’s condition as well as of the family unit itself, which is seemingly lost in time. (The video mash-ups include modern-day footage of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, formerly East Prussia, the setting for the Lenz play.) Even the narrative is kept at arm’s length: Gussie, for instance, has a penchant for narrating out loud everything happening inside her head and around her as if it were a story. Moreover, at random intervals a light shift signals a break in the action, wherein the actors drop character and execute a short improvisational exercise. The quiet harmony on display in such Brechtian moments acts as a counterpoint to the hierarchical but inherently fractured world of the story.

The generational and authoritarian tension between the parents and the children, and the forbidden love it both produces and dooms, is a classic theme recalling Lenz’s contemporary Schiller’s Intrigue and Love or, a century later, Wedekind’s Spring Awakening. Gussie highlights it at the outset when she announces petulantly, “In all of our stories, discipline is the hero. In all of our stories discipline is broken and has its revenge.”

Damn if she isn’t right, too. Tutor‘s exploration of the exclave limns a mental landscape as much as anything else: an alienated chunk of real estate ruled by an authoritarian regime known variously as the Superego, or Daddy, or “doo.”


Tutor: Enter the Enclave

Through Oct. 22, $15-$25

Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.

Exit Studio

156 Eddy, SF

(415) 673-3847


Mystic wanderings



MUSIC Hermann Hesse’s 1930 novel Narcissus and Goldmund is, more or less, the story of man who wanders Medieval Germany after leaving the monastery in search of the meaning of life. He finds organic pleasures like art and the empowering touch of beautiful women. Eventually given the choice of joining an artists guild, he bows out, instead favoring the freedom of the road less traveled.

“[The book] talks about his travails, breaking away from conformity and living life like a gypsy,” says Shane McKillop, bassist of Santa Barbara, Calif. band Gardens &Villa, as the van curves through the New Jersey Turnpike midway through a U.S. tour.

The book — which was passed to McKillop by Gardens & Villa’s enigmatic guitarist/flute-dabbling lead singer Chris Lynch (the flute can be heard on tracks such as “Orange Blossoms”) — inspired the band’s song “Spacetime” off its self-titled debut LP (Secretly Canadian, 2011). The song, which stretches Lynch’s distinctive yet malleable vocals high and wide, brings to mind flickering psychedelic images of star-filled skies, inkblot tests, bearded wizards, ghostly creatures, turbaned swamis — but that might just be due to the track’s mind-blowing video.

“There’s a line in the song ‘You found a reason to abandon the monastic life /I found a lover who would always elevate my mind’ — it’s living the life of art and experiencing women who are really powerful,” says McKillop. “When you have those moments in life that give you that awakening that there’s something more than you thought there was.”

With mystic musings and springy synths, the song is at once organic and synthetic, like Gardens & Villa itself. The band’s name plays on the street name (Villa) where McKillop, Lynch, drummer Levi Hayden, and keyboardist Adam Rasmussen once shared a rambling 1920s Westside Santa Barbara house and studio, paired with the crop-share the musicians inspired with their own lush garden (Gardens) — where they grew “sunflowers and corn and peppers and kale.” Sounds real hippie-like.

Yet despite the idyllic, breezy So Cal. tableau, there’s a tripped out, wide-eyed darkness lurking in the band’s sound on tracks such as “Black Hills”; this is perhaps due in part to the tweaked synthesizers Rasmussen employs, or the wobbly tape-delay tricks by newest member, Dusty Ineman, who was brought in to supplement the “bells and whistles” the album’s producer, Richard Swift, added

The band recorded with Swift (The Mynabirds, Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier) last summer after driving up to his home in the small town of Cottage Grove, Oregon. They spent two weeks living in tents in Swift’s backyard “amongst chickens, but no showers,” McKillop laughs, adding “It was June, the perfect time to be in Oregon.”

While the album was lauded by the taste-makers that be, and Gardens & Villa is in the midst of a rather momentous season — currently on yet another U.S. tour, about to kick off its first ever tour through Europe — it still seems a band in transition, not yet ready to simply settle with the sound it’s cultivated. In the van they’ve been listening to the audiobook of Keith Richards autobiography, Life, which has been drawing McKillop to the roots of rock and roll, and blues, but they also have been watching the pavement fly by listening to Little Dragon’s latest, Ritual Union.

“I’m a huge Little Dragon fan, their new record has more organic synthesizers — organic meaning real transistors. Real old school equipment in a modern setting sounds so much more warm, there’s a lot of equipment nowadays that’s very flat, not really three-dimensional,” says McKillop.

He and the rest of the band were awestruck by the vintage equipment they got to mess with during their Daytrotter Session — vintage Fender Rhodes keyboards and the like. Explains McKillop, “Just more ’60s, ’70s tones mixed in with newer technology is what we’re hoping for once get a little more money to buy these things.”

And so the van keeps on rolling.


With Young Man and Waterstrider

Thurs/13, 9 p.m., $10

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St, SF

(415) 621-4455



Classic style



MUSIC “We were listening to these old [Jamaican]records that were just incredibly psychedelic and very alive — breathing and pumping with groovy consciousness,” says Alex deLanda, bassist of San Franciscan outfit, Extra Classic. “But they were recorded on four-tracks.”

As deLanda gushes about this style of music, vocalist-keyboardist  Adrianne “Dri” Verhoeven (formerly of emo-pop’s the Anniversary) nods in agreement, stroking the couple’s tangerine-colored cat, Carol. Their other cat, King Jonezers, circles as they sit in the living room of their Richmond District apartment.

To simulate the sonic texture on old recordings of Jamaican music, Verhoeven and deLanda made a conscious decision to record Extra Classic’s full-length, Your Light Like White Lightning, Your Light Like a Laser Beam (Manimal Vinyl), all-analog on eight-track tape with equipment from the ’60s and ’70s. To celebrate the album’s vinyl release, Extra Classic will play the Make-Out Room with King Tuff and Audacity on Oct. 26; but first, a gig opening for Moonface at the Independent this Tuesday, Oct. 18.

Working on old cars and working on vintage recording equipment is basically the same thing, deLanda says recalling memories of working on his father’s Chevys from the ’40s and ’50s. “I’m underneath [the recording equipment], cussing, and trying to solder some wires together — trying to make it work,” deLanda laughs. “It just made sense [to record all-analog].” Vanhoeven joins in the laughter, her pants now blanketed in cat fur.

The technological limitations of analog exaggerated the interconnectedness of Extra Classic’s songwriting process and recording method, rendering it challenging at times. “[We had] to think inside of eight tracks,” Verhoeven says. DeLanda (formerly of Casiotone For The Painfully Alone and the Papercuts) adds, “If we weren’t able to express ourselves with eight tracks, then we needed to go back to the drawing board.”

The absence of ProTools notwithstanding, Extra Classic masterfully braids elements of Jamaican music, which include dub, reggae, Caribbean music, and American R&B/soul/pop — among others — into its own brand of multidimensional grooves. Despite technical constraints, they were able to create a kaleidoscopic album that impeccably honors the style of music that they love dearly.

Borrowing its moniker from the eponymous album by reggae legend, Gregory Issacs, Extra Classic was also inspired by Jamaican music thematically. “I drew inspiration, as a singer, from the amount of feeling and soul in [this] whole genre of music,” Verhoeven says. “Times are tough. You got a lot of shit stacked up against you, but [you find] some sort of way out and hope.”

This is strikingly evident in “You Can’t Bring Me Down,” an anthem of strength, resilience, and empowerment. Upon a cursory listen, it’d be understandable if someone was to categorize Extra Classic as a reggae band. But in songs such as “Angel Eyes,” Verhoeven’s vocals gently hover above an airy arrangement, recalling ’50s American pop, à la Patti Page. In the closer, “Give Me Your Love,” her richly nuanced and soulful voice emanates more of an R&B vibe.

Verhoeven attests to the band’s inherently eclectic sound, “I’d say we’re influenced by reggae music. But, I wouldn’t say that’s the kind of band we are. I would say we’re psychedelic dub rock.”

Petting King Jonezers, deLanda interjects, “It’s like the rock and roll’ers think we’re reggae. And the reggae guys think we’re rock and roll.” 


With Moonface Tues/18, 8 p.m., $15

The Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421



With King Tuff and Audacity

Oct. 26, 10 p.m., $10

Make-Out Room

3225 22nd St., SF

(415) 647-2886


Strive to fail



LIT As I watched Occupy Wall Street grow and spread to other cities in recent weeks, I’ve been alternating between reading two books by familiar figures — a pair of fearless entities that have helped pry open public spaces using the simple weapon of creative expression — and I’m struck by the lessons they offer at this strangely hopeful moment in our history.

Together, they’re like a one-two punch to the status quo and to the notion that we’re all essentially prisoners of the existing political and economic systems. They encourage their readers to strive for impossible goals, to be guided by something bigger than our tiny selves, and to embrace failure rather than fearing it. These are the same ideas embodied by protesters occupying the streets of San Francisco and other major U.S. cities, this sense that they have nothing to lose by making a stand now but everything to lose by continuing to be obedient to the powerful forces that seek to dampen their spirits and rob them of their futures.

The Reverend Billy Project: From Rehearsal Hall to Super Mall with the Church of Life After Shopping is by Savitri D and Billy Talen, the couple behind the performance art church that critiques hyper-capitalism by doing exorcisms and other telling rituals in banks, chain stores, and other examples of what they call the “devil monoculture.”

So the Occupy Wall Street movement that began Sept. 17 in their adopted hometown of New York City is right in their sweet spot. They’ve been down there almost every day delivering sermons, songs, and support — Savitri D as the group’s stage manager and creative director and Talen as his alter ego, Rev. Billy, the evangelical pastor of a large flock of creative activists they’re organized into a choir.

“It feels like the culture is breaking open,” Talen told me by phone as he surveyed the scene at Occupy Wall Street. “These kids are really going for it.”

I’ve long been an admirer of their work and I included Billy as a character in my own book, The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture, along with longtime burner and San Francisco-based showman Chicken John Rinaldi, the author of the other book I’m discussing.

The Book of the IS: Fail…TO WIN! Essays in engineered disperfection was launched by Chicken and the eclectic group of culture-shakers in his orbit during a spectacular free party on Sept. 30. The 111 Minna Gallery contained 50 unique, custom-designed covers to his already well-designed book, selling for a whopping $250 each — and they sold out! Outside, the closed-off alley was filled with variety acts, strange artsy spaces to explore, a buzzing Tesla-coil tree, and hundreds of people.

Both Chicken and Billy have run for mayor in their respective cities, Chicken in 2007 and Billy in 2009, both injecting art and unconventional creativity into their campaigns. Ironically, it is Chicken who discusses his campaign at some length in his book, despite his basic disdain for politics, while Billy and Savitri — whose art is performed in service of political principles they hold dear — don’t include the campaign in their book.

“We believe that the five freedoms of the First Amendment — religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition — that you need to have these freedoms flourish in public spaces, and that has been shut down in New York City since 9/11,” Billy told me from Occupy Wall Street. “We’ve suffered a loss of our public spaces in New York, and to have all these young people open that back up is very exciting.”

But it wasn’t the politics of their books that struck me as much as their sense of possibility and the way they agitate for a new kind of world. Chicken didn’t run for mayor to win or even to make a political statement. He ran because he sees San Francisco as a “city of art and innovation,” and because then-Mayor Gavin Newsom was more focused on keeping the real estate market booming than keeping the city a fun and interesting place.

“No one was stepping up to challenge him, because no one could beat him. It was in the bag. But Gavin didn’t represent San Francisco very well in a few key departments, and I wished that someone would provide a referendum on the values of the city. Or something. Whatever else it was, running for Mayor was an opportunity to bring my shtick to a bigger stage,” Chicken wrote.

And Chicken’s shtick was the show, his raison d’etre, the need to create culture that drove the various pursuits that he chronicles in his book, from his adventures with the Cacophony Society to his touring with Circus Redickuless and the hardcore punk Murder Junkies to piloting a fleet of boats built from garbage to hosting strange spectacles at his Odeon Bar.

“I mean it’s all a show, of course. And all shows are just stories. And in the end, it’s all the same story,” Chicken wrote. And that story is about what it means to be human, to strive for something authentic and important in this mediocre, manufactured culture that corporations create for us, to reach so far for that truth that we fail — in the process touching the divine, or achieving what Chicken calls Severe Comedy — and then to start that process all over again.

“You can never really say you gave your all unless you fail,” Chicken tells me, recognizing that same spirit in the Occupy Wall Street movement. “I think we’re literally witnessing history in the making. This is the dawn of new ideas.”

That same spirit has animated the work of Billy and Savitri, and their book tells stories from their many demonstrations and events from around the world, ping-ponging between their two perspectives on what happened. Some actions are well-planned and meticulously rehearsed, other more impromptu, like leading a group from a talk they gave in Barcelona to a nearby Starbucks to lick all the surfaces and take it into their bodies.

“Now! Now! Let your body tell you. Do you accept or reject this devil chain store? Will you allow the alien corporation Starbucks to come into your body, into your neighborhood, into your town? Do you accept the devil chain store?” Billy preached.

In reading their books, I got the sense that they didn’t always know what they were doing, that they were just acting, trying to stay in motion, to just do something and figure out what it really means later. Chicken even confirmed the observation when we spoke: “I never have any clue what the fuck I’m doing.”

But that’s okay. Maybe a lot the kids on Wall Street and in front of Federal Reserve building in San Francisco don’t know what the fuck they’re doing either. But, in the face of the greed and corruption that plague our economic and political systems, at least they’re doing something. And even if they fail — maybe especially if they fail big — we’re a better and more interesting country because of their efforts.

Uncomfortable truths



HAIRY EYEBALL Sometimes it seems like Americans would rather undergo a root canal than honestly talk about race in this country. Witness the rounds of recrimination and defensive posturing on all sides that followed the Washington Post’s recent front page story that the hunting camp Texas governor Rick Perry has long frequented was formerly known as “Niggerhead.”

Perry acknowledged that the camp’s original name was “offensive,” and in a move akin to the white paint that Perry’s own father brushed onto the rock on which it is carved, tellingly declared, “[it] has no place in the modern world.” This is a story a lot of people, not just Republican Texans, like to tell themselves about racism — it’s all in the past, or, if racism manifests itself presently, it is a crime committed by only the most egregious and malicious perpetrators. It’s this kind of magical thinking that makes a narrative like The Help, with its privileged-but-sympathetic heroine giving her cartoonishly racist sisters their comeuppance, a guaranteed best-seller and a box-office draw.

How refreshing then is SHIFT, a series of solo projects by Bay Area artists David Huffman, Elizabeth Axtman, and Travis Somerville newly commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission. Employing different mediums and narrative strategies—crowd-sourced community intervention (Axtman), historical reconstruction (Somerville), science fiction-tinged Afro Futurism (Huffman) — each artist works through the messy business of how race is lived in America today in ways that are deeply personal, and at times, politically oblique.

Huffman’s contribution, “Out of Bounds,” which takes over most of the SFAC’s Van Ness gallery space (401 Van Ness, SF), packs the most visual impact of SHIFT’s three propositions and also leaves the most dots to connect. At its center is a towering pyramid of 650 basketballs, held in place solely by gravity and a simple wood frame at the pile’s base. The smell of rubber hits your nostrils before you have a chance to take in the piece visually.

Huffman, whose background is in painting, has materialized this formation before in a 2006 series of mixed media canvases which depict similar heaps of balls next to barren trees, as if they were piles of raked autumn leaves. Its current sculptural incarnation is far more monumental, like some arrangement of mythological fruit. But unlike Jeff Koons’ 1985 hermetically-sealed, readymade “Three Ball 50/50 Tank (Two Dr. J. Silver Series, One Wilson Supershot),” Huffman’s pyramid is in fact temporary: the balls will be donated to local charities after the piece is deconstructed.

Spheres and pyramids abound throughout “Out of Bounds,” as Huffman — who is African American — uses basketball as a kind of metaphoric lingua franca across his videos (his first pieces in the medium) and abstract paintings of astronomic clusters of balls to convey other forms of travel, whether across racial or temporal lines. Not everything translates, but maybe that’s the point. The sight of a spacesuit-clad Huffman comically embracing his way through a grove of redwoods in the video “Traumanaut Tree Hugger” is both silly and discomfiting, a humorous send-up of the supposed color-blindness of progressive politics and an unintended portrait of total isolation from other humans.

Less ambiguous but certainly more ambitious is Axtman’s ongoing video project “The Love Renegade #308: I Love You Keith Bardwell (Phase 1),” on view at the Van Ness gallery and which the artist is also showing in a series of community screenings. “The Love Renegade” responds to a 2009 incident in which Bardwell, a former Louisiana Justice of the Peace, refused to marry a mixed race couple fearing the rejection they would face by society. In response, Axtman interviewed mixed race couples and the children of mixed race couples who talk about their lives and assure Bardwell that it’s gotten better for them, ending their testimonials with a pledge of unconditional love to Bardwell.

Somerville’s moveable mural “Places I Have Never Been,” on display at SFAC’s Grove Street (155 Grove, SF) window space, is perhaps SHIFT’s most conventional component in terms of its chosen medium. Focusing on six pivotal moments in Bay Area history that affected various minority populations, Somerville has rendered iconic imagery from each event onto the six sides of large cubes that stack on top of one another to create a 10×14 foot wall that when placed together forms a large-scale painting across all its faces. Some of the events, such as the internment of Japanese citizens during WWII or the White Night riots, are more familiar than others (the 1966 Hunters Point uprising that saw residents facing off against 1200 National Guard troops).

Even though I started out this review discussing current events, I’d feel like I was underselling SHIFT if I simply called it timely. The point is that Huffman, Axtman and Somerville have taken the time in the first place to think through one of the most fraught, at times ugly, and always ever-present categories that we must continue to live with. The pieces in SHIFT are discussion prompts not diagnoses. And although they’re articulated with varying degrees of direction and clarity, at least they’re encouraging the conversation about race America never seems to be having to be broached in a way that’s not about blame or personal wrongdoing but accountability to each other.


Through December 10, free

San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery

Various locations, SF

(415) 554-6080



Under my umbrella



GO THERE Nothing fouls an SF afternoon like a sudden shower. We are not given much to bike fenders, Gore-Tex, or waterproof shoes (current Doc Marten resurgence notwithstanding), so when the skies open you are as like as not to find that your dayplanner has closed. But worry not. Should your loved or soon-to-be-loved-whether-they-know-it-or-not one get cold feet on the rainy day of your date, offer them this fuzzy bunny slipper of a list: our collection of bars and restaurants around the Bay that are perfect for when skies are moist. 



This Clement Street Vietnamese spot does not play. A billboard out front advertises its particular draw: a pho eating challenge employing the use of a bowl large enough to hold a baby, as said billboard helpfully illustrates. A $22 bowl of serviceable beef pho containing two pounds of noodles and two pounds of — at times frighteningly stringy and translucent — meat awaits competitors, who have one hour to scarf it down. You may never want to eat pho again after plunging into its depths but hey, it’s rainy out and you just found a bowl of soup on which you can rest your elbows (and chin when the hour inevitably takes its toll). Winners get the pho for free and take home the mega-bowl. Losers get a “Got Pho Challenge?” T-shirt, so everyone waddles home happy. (Caitlin Donohue)

2109 Clement, SF. (415) 379-8677, www.phogardensf.com



A 118-year-old bar surely has a few ghosts (or at least three sheets to the wind). But nothing could send a chill up your spine while you’re seated in front of the fireplace at this Irish Inner Sunset favorite, enjoying a sprightly game of backgammon and nursing a fortifying draft. The uber-Victorian décor and Great Quake-oriented memorabilia lining the walls might just whisk(ey) you back to 1929, when then-owner Tony Herzo Jr. “always had a big kettle of Spanish beans at the window by the front door,” according to the bar’s lore. We’ll gladly settle for the Shamrock’s belly-warming Bloody Mary meal plan. (Marke B.)

807 Lincoln, SF. (415) 661-0060



When it’s chilly outside, nothing warms your insides like hot chocolate with sweet brandy in a fancy glass. Tosca, with red vinyl booths and exquisite-imposing carved wood bar, will be your beacon in a dreary North Beach storm. The bar keeps the sizzling hot chocolate lined up, awaiting request. And if you need to steady the alcohol running through your delicate system, they bring out these lovely homemade cheesy nibbles and other assorted snacks. The atmosphere is doubly cozy thanks to nostalgic cuts off actual records in the vintage jukebox; the Rat Pack dominates the mix. (Emily Savage)

242 Columbus, SF. (415) 986-9651, www.toscasf.com



Everybody in the Sunset knows that this bar specializes in providing cozy climes for those who have been carving gnarly waves (or just stuck on a packed L-Taraval car). The local paraphernalia-bedecked brick fireplace makes for a great place to curl up and wait out the rainstorms — and you’re unlikely to be alone when you do so. The Riptide houses a mini-scene in the outer neighborhoods: open mics, live bands, karaoke, all set to a food menu that rotates daily. Shepard’s pie Mondays? DIY grilled cheese Thursdays? It’s just enough to reconcile a person to the caprices of Mother Nature for the day. (Donohue)

3639 Taraval, SF. (415) 681-8433, www.riptidesf.com



From handcrafted beers to delicious specialty pizzas named after planets, moons, and astronomers (try the Odysseus, which tops out with wild mushrooms and Danish fontina cheese), Berkeley’s Jupiter is a great place for a casual date when it’s pouring out. An outdoor seating area with a fireplace and heaters can keep the two of you pleasantly warm. Gothic accents decorate the two-story venue, which is housed in an old livery stable from the 1980s — a European atmosphere in the heart of downtown Berkeley. Every pizza is cooked in a traditional wood-fired brick oven and can be complimented with a cold beer — now that’ll make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. (Paige A. Ricks)

2181 Shattuck, Berk. (510) THE-TAPS, www.jupiterbeer.com



Melt-prone San Franciscans deal with the rain in a variety of ways: drinking and eating heavy foods are prime among these. Indulge in both at a bar-restaurant inside which you’ll never even notice if the sun comes out. The Rite Spot’s windows are few and far between, but never you mind; live music from the jangling piano, white tablecloths, walls painted a vivacious red, and a menu that harkens back to your (non-Italian) grandparents’ fave Italian joint will keep you begging drinks off the affable, struggling artist staff until long after the rainbow’s gone. (Donohue)

2099 Folsom, SF. (415) 552-6066, www.ritespotcafe.net



There’s nothing like a rainy night to inspire the sudden need for cozy interpersonal contact — preferably over a steaming dish of cheese and sauce. Pizzetta 211, a four-table restaurant in the Outer Richmond, offers just that. It’s likely you will share your window ledge-turned-seat with a stranger. It is equally likely that whichever one of you gets your pizza first will forget about the utter lack of elbow space, and possibly about the swampy fog outside. Pizzetta’s standbys alone make it worth a trip — a rosemary and pine nut pie, particularly — and if you manage to hit the tiny, fragrant spot when there’s a farm egg pizza on the menu, endure the wait. (Lucy Schiller)

211 23rd Ave., SF. (415)379-9880, www.pizzetta211.com


‘Tis better to dip



CHEAP One of the first things I did when I got back was I got on the football field.

“Welcome back,” said the referee.

“Welcome back,” said the other team’s captain. And she called “red” and it was red so we’d lost the toss.

“Good luck,” their captain said to me.

“Good luck,” I said.

The ref said good luck to both of us and just like that — after three months in cars, planes, small dark hotel rooms and foreign countries, but mostly cars — I was back where I belong: on defense.

I love defense because it’s got more dirty work than glory. You have to do things like “dig in,” “cover,” and “bend-don’t-break” while the offense is basically sticking it to you.

And, as if that weren’t sexy sounding enough, on my particular San Francisco Women’s Flag Football League team, the defense scores more often than the offense. This season, for example, to date, our defense has outscored our offense 2-0. That’s after four games, mind you. We have scored a grand total, in four games, of exactly one safety!

My first game back ended in a 0-0 tie.

“Good game,” we all said to the other team, and they said to us, and you know what? It was! Except from a fan’s perspective, probably, it was a great game. I love 0-0 ties.

Out of habit, I went to Benders. Coach couldn’t make it because she was helping people, so it was just me and Hedgehog and Earl Butter. The big idea being to drink the beer, eat tater tots, and just generally watch baseball; but Benders was only cooperating on one of those fronts. Something goofy was on TV. The kitchen wasn’t open.

We started walking toward the Phoenix, and at roughly Mission Street I remembered about Giordano Brothers taking over Ti Couz’s spot on 16th and Valencia. Remember? I even told you about it from the road and promised to check it out for myself as soon as I was back.

Which I forgot. Then remembered. So, OK … so, Giordano’s. Yeah yeah yeah, the all-in-one sandwiches with French fries and cole slaw in them, a la Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh. But mostly we were interested in the pierogi. Because there aren’t a lot of places in San Francisco, let alone the Mission, to get a plate of pierogi.

We got a large combo: two regular old potato ones, two sweet potato ones, and two with serrano peppers and cheese — and potatoes. And those two were of course the best. But we had to advocate for them because at first there were only potato and sweet potato ones.

Hedgehog was already all a-bristle over they didn’t have Yuengling beer. Although, technically, the problem was that they did have a neon sign saying Yuengling, but didn’t have the beer. The sign was just for atmosphere.

So when she realized there were only two kinds of pierogi in our three-kind-of-pierogi combo plate, she had a little talk with the waiterguyperson, who had a little talk with the kitchen, who had a little talk with the butter and onions, then brought us two more pierogi. With serrano peppers and cheese, and they were delicious.

Earl Butter was beside himself with comfort and joy. He kept talking about how happy he was just to be out of his apartment. And I’ve been in his apartment. The TVs are not as big.

We had Sunday night football in one eyeball, and baseball playoffs in the other. I’m not so sure about the sandwiches though. I had promised Hedgehog, based on a visit to North Beach five years ago, that Giordano’s was better than its inspiration, Primanti’s, on a strictly sandwich-y level. My argument was that their French fries were better and the cole slaw was fresher, and while those facts may be true, in themselves, the problem is that putting French fries and cole slaw inside a sandwich with the meat and the cheese is just a flawed idea to begin with. Beyond the good ol’ goofy sportiness of it, I mean, you are left with a mouth full of pretty much starch.

The kielbasa was good, but lost in the rest of it all. And I like to dip my fries into things.

Ketchup. Hot sauce.


Mon.-Tue.: 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Wed.-Thu.: 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m.; Sun. depends on football schedule

3108 16th St., SF

(415) 437-2767


Beer & wine


Korean wave



APPETITE Growing up partly on the East Coast (New Jersey) with close Korean friends exposed me to the pleasures of kimchi and burning hot ssamjang (a Korean hot sauce) early in life. In Flushing, Queens, I savored endless incredible Korean restaurants, often filled only with Korean customers. I was first hooked on those crispy, comforting Korean pancakes, pajeon, and my fondness for the cuisine grew from there.

Although more than 30 percent of our city’s population is of Asian descent, our Korean community is not as large as that of LA or NYC, which could be why we’re less the Korean food Mecca those two cities are (despite our abundance of Korean BBQ joints, that is). But there’s been a recent wave of Korean openings I can only hope will signal a robust Korean dining catalog in our future. The more bulgogi and bibimbap in this town, the better. While I usually find less to love at places mixing cuisines, like the Tenderloin’s new Ahn Sushi & Soju serving both Japanese and Korean food, here are three recent openings that show promise… and none are Korean BBQ.



Aato, a new “Korean fusion” restaurant in the Marina, is an unexpected oasis on busy Lombard Street. Owner Jennie Kim grows herbs in potted plants by a little front patio strewn with white lights. Despite a pricier menu than one typically sees in Korean eateries ($12–$15 for starters, $13.50–$25 for entrees), Aato does things differently, apparent from chandeliers in the surprisingly elegant dining room to the use of locally grown, organic ingredients (though common-as-day in SF, unusual for local Korean spots). Initial highlights include ssam, which literally means “wrapped” in Korean. There are three versions served with rice, kimchi, veggies and rice paper wraps. My gut pushed me straight to eel ssam, but Kim talked me into hangbang (Herbal) bo ssam. I wasn’t sorry. The tender, steamed pork is aromatic and nuanced with herbs. Man-du Korean dumplings are delicately pan-fried, plump with kimchi and shrimp, an exemplary appetizer. Jab-chae is traditional sweet potato noodles stir-fried with beef and seasonal veggies. Weekend brunch intrigues with the likes of eggs with “Korean-style” hash browns,, man-du dumpling soup, and a fritatta with tobiko, salmon, avocado, and cheese.

1449 Lombard, SF. (415) 292-2368



Japantown’s Nan works for two reasons: it’s a minimalist, airy space, with an extensive menu that tends slightly toward creativity. Skewers of pork belly and BBQ beef abound, alongside rice bowls, bibimbap and rice cakes. Seafood pajeon is not the perfection it is at Manna (see below), but bulgogi beef mixed with wheat noodles utterly satisfies, particularly with Asian beers on tap.

1560 Fillmore, SF. (415) 441-9294



Manna offers a clean, friendly dining room in the heart of the Inner Sunset. It serves a number of Korean classics with varying iterations among their 44 dinner menu items. There are diverse versions of bibimbap, short ribs, and stews. Manna also fries up a buttery seafood pajeon (Korean pancake), loaded with leeks, scallions, mini-shrimp, and squid — one of the best I’ve ever had.

845 Irving Street at 10th Ave., SF. (415) 665-5969



I adore Toyose (3814 Noriega, SF. (415) 731-0232), a humble hangout in a garage with Korean bar style food like spicy chicken wings, washed down with sojus and Korean beers. First Korean Market (4625 Geary, SF. (415) 221-2565) is a tiny Korean market with kimbap, sushi/maki-style rolls. Head to To Hyang (3815 Geary, SF. (415) 668-8186) for raw beef salad — a hefty beef tartare-style beef dish topped with an egg — and other homestyle treats from Mom, whose daughters run the front of the house. Korean tacos are playful and cheap at John’s Snack and Deli (40 Battery, SF. (415) 434-4634) in the Financial District, and the Seoul on Wheels truck (www.seoulonwheels.com) which can be found at Off the Grid (www.offthegridsf.com).

Wonderfully worn HRD Coffee Shop (521 3rd Street, SF. (415) 543-2355) a humble Korean-run sandwich shop in SoMa, serves a hefty spicy pork kimchi burrito. Arang (1506 Fillmore, SF. (415) 775-9095) on Lower Fillmore serves a heartwarming seafood bibimbap with octopus and shrimp. A “fusion” place that really does work, and that is one of the Richmond’s best restaurants overall, is Namu (439 Balboa, SF. (415) 386-8332), offers Korean fried chicken and ever-popular Korean beef short rib “tacos” on nori (seaweed), which is also sold at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot (www.theperfectspotsf.com)


A decade of DocFest



>>Read even more Docfest reviews here!

FILM The San Francisco Documentary Film Festival (Oct. 14-27), now in its 10th year, is probably my most-anticipated local film event. One of my favorite docs of all time, Cropsey, first crossed my path at the 2009 fest. This year, I didn’t even try to come up with a coherent theme or find one film to focus on — I just started grabbing titles and watching as many of them as possible. It’s been a gluttonous feast of true stories, friends. Short takes follow, with more online at Guardian blog Pixel Vision.

Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters (Adam Cornelius, U.S., 2011) I can’t think of anything more boring than watching someone else play a video game. Especially Tetris. The goofy, good-natured Ecstasy of Order skirts that basic dilemma by focusing on its subjects, all contenders at the 2010 Classic Tetris World Championship. Most everyone involved was a full-on teenage geek back in gaming’s early days; now, with years of experience under their belts, they’re far more skilled and (for the most part) way less dorky. Trouble is, there’s no villain — unlike 2007’s mighty The King of Kong (an obvious inspiration here), a film elevated by its epic good-vs.-blowdried-evil central conflict. By contrast, Ecstasy‘s crew is comprised of friendly misfits who seem to genuinely enjoy playing against each other; without much drama, the stakes don’t seem as high. Oct. 23, 12:30 p.m., and Oct. 25-26, 9:30 p.m., Roxie.

The Furious Force of Rhymes (Joshua Atesh Litle, France/Germany/U.S., 2010) San Francisco native Joshua Atesh Litle’s vivid, cross-cultural study of contemporary hip-hop offers ample examples of how and why, as one German rapper says, music has become “an international language for those without voices.” After a brief recap of hip-hop’s Bronx, NY origins, the film jets to Paris and Berlin, the West Bank and Israel, and Dakar, Senegal, highlighting performers who rhyme about social injustice, political unrest, racism, immigrant struggles, and other issues affecting their daily lives. Kinda makes you sorry that mainstream American hip-hop has become so superficial and swag-obsessed. Fri/14 and Oct. 20, 9:30 p.m., Roxie; Mon/17, 9:30 p.m., Shattuck.

Holy Rollers (Brian Storkel, U.S., 2010) For a time, one of the most successful card-counting outfits in America was “the Churchteam,” a group of 20-somethings who mapped out a businesslike way of relieving casinos of millions of dollars. Two managers trained a pack of players, who would then travel to Las Vegas and other places, armed with stacks of bills (contributed by investors) and the cojones to cheat until they were “backed off” from the blackjack table. (As 2009’s The Hangover, excerpted here, points out, counting cards isn’t illegal — it’s merely “frowned upon.”) Neat story, but the real hook here is that the Churchteam was comprised almost entirely of practicing Christians; their shared faith insured that nobody would steal from the team’s profits. (Of course, when the team started losing, and theft was suspected, all eyes fastened upon the single non-Christian in the pack.) The fast-paced Holy Rollers tends toward the highly enjoyable, but the Churchteam members are so self-satisfied that they prove difficult to root for at times. Holy smugness, bro! Sun/16 and Oct. 20, 7:15 p.m., Roxie; Tues/18, 9:30 p.m., Shattuck.

Scenes of a Crime (Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh, U.S., 2011) Scenes of a Crime proves that “good cop/bad cop” interrogation techniques are used in the real world, not just crime films. It also affirms, distressingly, that the American justice system often travels through murky waters. When a baby dies under mysterious circumstances, his father is taken into custody; after an epic interrogation, he confesses to causing his child’s death, complete with a harrowing demonstration. At his trial, experts argue over the medical evidence, but the police-station videotape remains the case’s most pivotal factor. Was the father guilty, or did he deliver a false confession, egged on by the cops’ manipulative questions? The verdict says one thing; after watching Crime, you may believe another. Oct. 22, 12:30 p.m., and Oct. 24, 9:30 p.m., Roxie; Fri/14, 2:45 p.m., Shattuck.

With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story (Will Hess and Nikki Frakes, U.S., 2011) DocFest’s closing-night film defines “hagiography,” but if you don’t love Marvel Comics maestro Stan Lee, you might not have a pulse. Basically everyone ever associated with a Lee-based project (movie stars, directors, artists) pops up to fawn over the 88-year-old dynamo, but most delightful is the man himself, a hilarious, heartfelt character who has clearly spent his entire adult life working at a job he loves, influencing and entertaining millions along the way. With Great Power doesn’t quite come out and say it, but I will: he’s a real-life superhero. Oct. 23, 9:30 p.m., and Oct. 27, 7:15 p.m., Roxie; Oct. 20, 9:30 p.m., Shattuck.

The Woodmans (Scott Willis, U.S., 2010) Francesca Woodman jumped off a building in 1981 when she was 22, despondent over the fact that her photographs hadn’t found a niche in New York’s competitive art world. She was no stranger to competition — she’d grown up with a parents who placed art-making above all other obligations. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and Francesca remains the most-acclaimed Woodman; her haunting black-and-white photos, often featuring the artist’s nude figure, have proven hugely influential in the realms of both fine art and fashion. She was, as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art website says (an exhibit of her work opens Nov. 5), “ahead of her time.” Scott Willis’ documentary features extensive interviews with her parents, George and Betty, and to a lesser extent Francesca’s brother, Charles (also an artist); the film is both Woodman bio and incisive exploration of the family’s complex dynamics. Most fascinating is Charles, who remarks of his daughter’s posthumous success, “It’s frustrating when tragedy overshadows work.” But after her death, he took up photography, making images that resemble those Francesca left behind. Sat/15, 7:15 p.m., and Oct. 22, 12:30 p.m., Roxie; Sun/16, 12:30 p.m., Shattuck.


Oct 14-27, $11

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St, SF

Shattuck Theatre

2230 Shattuck, Berk



Crackdown came from the top



The decision to raid the OccupySF protest camp in the middle of the night Oct. 5 was approved by Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr — and involved a more aggressive approach to limiting protest activities than authorities in any other major city have undertaken.

Both Lee and Suhr insist that they support the protesters right to free speech. But the raid was more than a modest effort to get a propane stove turned off or to bring food preparation up to health codes.

The move only served to galvanize the movement and increase its numbers. And both police and protesters say they expect this occupation to continue for a long time.

Suhr told the Guardian that the decision to move into the encampment and seize its supplies was made after consultation with the Fire Department, Department of Public Health, and the Mayor’s Office. While DPH expressed concerns about food preparation on the site, Suhr said health officials never asked the police to shut the kitchen down. The Fire Department was another story.

“There was open flame, propane, and tons of fuel, near plywood. The Fire Department told us there as a fire danger,” Suhr told us. “Deputy Chief Cashman made the call that we would go move the people away from the fuel.”

Suhr said Mayor Ed Lee gave the okay to remove public safety hazards, but said the protest itself shouldn’t be interfered with. “In San Francisco, protesters are acting within their First Amendment right to free speech and freedom to assemble. While allowing for peaceful protests, we also must ensure that our streets and sidewalks remain safe and accessible for everyone,” Lee said in a public statement, although his office has not responded to a list of questions about the decision and its implications.

After all, the tents and other shelters were hardly a hazard to anyone; leaving the activists out in the rain with no tents was, strictly speaking, more of a health issue.

A movement that calls for the indefinite occupation of public spaces to protest corporate greed is bound to continue to cause conflicts with local ordinances and property interests, something that Suhr acknowledged. “We will surgically and as best as possible and with as much restraint as possible try to deal with the hazards while protecting people’s First Amendment rights, Suhr said.

He objected to the notion that there was a police crackdown on the protest. “They’re occupying it now, and they’re probably going to be there was a long time,” Suhr said. “We haven’t arrested one demonstrator. The only person arrested punched a cop and then threatened to kill him afterward.”

But Sup. John Avalos, the one major mayoral candidate to show up during the raid and try to mediate the conflict, said he’s disappointed with the city’s stance. “This is not the San Francisco that I know. This is not the San Francisco I love. This City has served as a sanctuary for free speech and assembly for generations, and we must protect that legacy,” Avalos said in prepared statement that he closed with, “This should be a city for the rest of us — for the 99 percent. I stand with Occupy SF.”

Even Suhr said that the SFPD has no intention of removing the protesters from their perch in front of the Federal Reserve, and will continue safeguarding regular OccupySF marches, telling us, “We will continue to facilitate this.”

“They got everything out of there so we could start over,” Suhr said the encampment’s kitchen and other hazards. “This demonstration isn’t going away. I think people are justifiably upset by this issue nationally.”

SF’s foreclosure crisis


OPINION Foreclosures are still ravaging San Francisco neighborhoods.

As steward of the city’s property roll and head of the department that appraises every home in San Francisco, I see every day the toll the mortgage crisis is having on real estate values and the city budget.

Thousands of Notices of Default have been filed with my office in the last few years, and every Monday there’s a vivid reminder San Francisco is far from out of the woods on foreclosures as homes are auctioned off on the steps of City Hall.

Two Mondays ago, lifelong Bayview-Hunter’s Point resident Curtis Warren’s home — which my office assessed to be worth $165,000 — was scheduled to be auctioned because he had fallen behind on a $15,000 debt.

Imagine having your home foreclosed upon over a loan less than 10 percent of the value of the property. Imagine a family in your neighborhood being put on the street and a home in your community sitting vacant under such circumstances.

Fortunately, the foreclosure sale of Curtis’s home was canceled. Curtis is a member of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) — a grassroots organization working to help victims of the mortgage meltdown.

Unfortunately, cases like Curtis’s are all too common. That is why I am fighting foreclosure as your Assessor-Recorder and working to get Sacramento to act, too.

ACCE recently published startling findings in their “The Wall Street Wrecking Ball” report.

San Francisco homeowners are estimated to lose $6.9 billion in property values as a result of foreclosures.

Foreclosure costs San Francisco government an estimated $42 million in lost revenue.

Local government spends an additional $19,229 on increased safety inspections, police and fire calls, and trash removal and maintenance for every foreclosure. This costs San Francisco $73 million.

San Francisco LITERALLY cannot afford this foreclosure crisis, which is why I have joined with Supervisors John Avalos, Malia Cohen and Ross Mirkarimi in support of the following plan of action:

A foreclosure fee to ensure banks pay their fair share: The city should charge a $10,000 to $20,000 fee per foreclosure to defray loss of home values and costs to taxpayers. This fee would raise roughly $2 billion to $4 billion over the next year to partially reimburse local governments.

A strong AG settlement. Any agreement between banks and the 50 attorneys general must include 1) a monetary settlement commensurate with the harm caused by banks; 2) limited release of bank liability; 3) principal reductions fairly distributed to communities hardest hit by predatory lending and foreclosure; and 4) homeowner restitution for irresponsible and illegal foreclosure practices.

Stop preventable foreclosures: The city should require court-based mediation programs to help homeowners modify loans and end the “dual track” process, whereby banks continue foreclosure proceedings while simultaneously negotiating loan modifications.

Wall Street must pay for foreclosure-related blight: Banks must maintain and pay for the cleanup of blighted, vacant homes in neighborhoods.

As long as our economy and housing market is being hampered by foreclosures caused by banks and Wall Street, we must continue to fight for common-sense solutions that protect our neighborhoods and the city.

Phil Ting is assessor-recorder of San Francisco.

On Guard!




If wealth trickled down from Oracle’s OpenWorld conference in San Francisco last week, very little of it reached a small group of low-wage laborers hired from out of state to set up for a concert hosted as an event highlight on Treasure Island.

Oracle is a prominent Bay Area tech company helmed by Larry Ellison, the billionaire CEO who worked closely with top city officials to bring the America’s Cup sailing regatta to San Francisco.

The Oct. 5 Oracle OpenWorld concert on Treasure Island featured Sting and Tom Petty as headliners. Registration packages for the weeklong tech conference, which drew some 45,000 attendees to San Francisco, ranged from $1,395 to $2,595.

A member of the carpenters union contacted the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards & Enforcement (OLSE) Sept. 16 to formally complain that a construction crew assembling a large seating structure for the event was being paid less than the city-mandated minimum wage of $9.92 per hour, city documents show.

Josh Pastreich, an OLSE official, went to the worksite to interview crew members. Their names were redacted from public records, but Pastreich described them as monolingual Spanish speakers who travel from city to city building seating arrangements for major events.

“Everyone is being paid $8 an hour (except for the supervisors),” he reported in a city document. “Workers generally started at 6:30 am but there was a little confusion about quitting times.” At least one work day lasted 11 and a half hours, according to a timesheet. The workers were hired by subcontractors brought in by Hartmann Studios, an events management outfit working directly for Oracle.

“We made a phone call, and sent them some emails,” OLSE director Donna Levitt explained. “Nobody said, ‘we intended to pay them the [legal] rate,'” but the subcontractors increased workers’ hourly wages to comply with San Francisco minimum wage ordinance requirements, Levitt said. Since the company adjusted the rate immediately, no fines were issued. There were fewer than 20 workers on the project.

OLSE did not correspond with Oracle directly, but spoke to the subcontractors. One was T & B Equipment, a Virginia-based company. “We were not aware of the minimum wage there, but we fixed it before the payroll was done,” a T & B representative identified only as Mr. Waller told the Guardian. Lewmar, a Florida-based subcontractor, assisted with staffing for the job. Oracle, Hartmann Studios, and Lewmar did not respond to Guardian requests for comment.

Since the enforcement agency intervened, the laborers earned $9.92 per hour instead of $8 — still well below the average Bay Area payscale for similar work. Building bleachers is comparable to raising scaffolding for major construction projects, and the prevailing wage for unionized scaffolding erectors in California is $37.65 per hour, or $62.63 when benefits are factored in.

None of the workers were from San Francisco, which likely spurred the carpenters union complaint — Carpenters Local 22 has faced significant losses in membership since the economic downturn due to high levels of unemployment disproportionately impacting the construction sector. Represenatives from Local 22 did not return calls seeking comment.

Boosters of the America’s Cup have hailed the upcoming sailing event as an engine for local job creation, but Oracle’s use of low-wage, out-of-state laborers at its pricey, high-profile OpenWorld event raises questions. While the tech company is a separate outfit from the America’s Cup organizing team, Ellison holds leadership positions at both.

Ellison was named the world’s sixth wealthiest individual in a Forbes profile in 2010, with a net worth of $28 billion. His total compensation last year was listed as $70,143,075. That’s 3,399 times the amount a person earning $9.92 an hour would make in a year working 40 hours every week — before taxes, of course. (Rebecca Bowe)



The Board of Supervisors approved legislation to close a gaping loophole in the city’s landmark Health Security Ordinance on Oct. 4, in the process forcing Mayor Ed Lee to promise his first veto and reveal his allegiance to business interests over labor and consumer groups.

Sup. David Campos sponsored legislation that would prevent SF businesses from pocketing money they are required to set aside for employee health care, seizures that totaled about $50 million last year. These health savings accounts are often used by restaurants who charge their customers a 3-5 percent surcharge, ostensibly for employee health care, instead simply keeping most of the money.

Despite aggressive lobbying against the measure by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce — which went so far as to threaten to withdraw support for Prop. C, the pension reform measure it helped craft with Lee and labor unions — the Board of Supervisors approved the measure on a 6-5 vote on first reading (final approval was expected Oct. 11 after press time).

But then Lee announced that he would veto the measure, claiming it was about “protecting jobs,” a stand that was criticized in an Oct. 5 rally on the steps of City Hall featuring labor unions, consumer advocates, and mayoral candidates John Avalos, Leland Yee, Dennis Herrera, and Phil Ting.

Lee and Board President David Chiu — who voted against the Campos legislation, along with Sups. Sean Elsbernd, Mark Farrell, Carmen Chu, and Scott Wiener — have each offered alternative legislation that lets businesses keep the money but make some minor reforms, such as requiring businesses to notify employees that these funds exist.

Both Lee and Chiu talk about seeking “compromise” and “consensus” on the issue, but Campos and his allies say it’s simply wrong for businesses to take money that belongs to the employees, to gain a competitive advantage over rivals who actually offer health insurance or pay into the city’s Healthy San Francisco program, and to essentially commit fraud against restaurant customers.

“This money belongs to the workers and it’s something that consumers are paying for,” Campos said. “We have a fundamental disagreement.” (Steven T. Jones)



In a press release on Oct. 6, mayoral candidate David Chiu stated his concerns over Mayor Ed Lee’s potentially illegal campaign contributions from employees of the GO Lorrie airport shuttle service. That company benefited from a decision by airport officials in September and then offered to reimburse employees for making $500 contributions to Lee, according to a Bay Citizen report.

“These revelations raise deeply troubling questions that merit a full investigation by state authorities. City Hall cannot be for sale. Pay-to-play politics has no place in San Francisco, and will have no place in a Chiu administration — you can count on that,” he said in the release.

But has Chiu — one of the top fundraisers in the mayoral field — been engaging in a little pay-to-play of his own? That was the question we had after we saw that he had received lots of donations from restaurant owners, whose side he took last week in opposing Sup. David Campos’ legislation to keep them from raiding their employee health care funds.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) waged unsuccessful legal battles against the Health Care Security Ordinance and lobbied against Campos’ recent reforms of its loophole. And in the latest donation cycle, the GGRA donated the maximum $500 to the Chiu campaign. Other Bay Area food services contributed up to $5,950.

So the question remains, despite Chiu’s posturing against “pay-to play politics”— are these food service companies contributing to Chiu’s campaign because he’s doing their bidding in opposing the Campos measure and sponsoring an alternative that lets them keep most of the money?

When Liane Quan, co-owner of SF’s Lee’s Deli, was asked if the health care legislation was a reason she donated, she said, “Yes, that’s one reason.” She then hesitated to elaborate why. Members of the Quan family associated with Lee’s Deli contributed a total of $1,000 to the campaign.

Maurizio Florese, an Italian-speaking co-owner of Mona Lisa’s Restaurant who contributed $100, didn’t want to talk about his contribution or employee health care. Neither did his wife and co-owner, Filomena Florese, who is also President of Mona Lisa Inc., which manufactures chocolate and pastry products.

In fact, despite leaving messages at seven local restaurants who donated to Chiu, none wanted to talk. But we did finally get ahold of Chiu campaign manager Nicole Derse, who said Chiu has a broad array of supporters and his donations from restaurants had nothing to do with his stance on the Campos legislation.

“There definitely is no correlation at all,” she told us. “Any suggestion to the contrary is ludicrous.” (Christine Deakers)

Inside the occupation


Follow the Guardian’s complete Occupy SF coverage here.

Thursday morning, in gray seven o’clock fog, about 100 people asleep in front of the Federal Reserve building began to blink their eyes open. The bustling camp that had been there the day before — a small village of tents, tarps and easy-ups, shelves brimming with books, art supplies, and a display of hundreds of signs — was gone. The kitchen and all their food were missing, too.

“Wake up, everyone’s gotta wake up. Remember, sit/lie kicks in at seven,” urged a few protesters gently, winding their way through the maze of sleeping bags and blankets. No one was in the mood for legal trouble. All the people there, and a few hundred more who had gone home at two and three in the morning, had been a part of OccupySF’s first clash with the police. Someone pushed a cart full of fruit and granola bars. Breakfast. It was the camp’s first food donation since the incident, which had ended only four hours before. In the calm morning air, it was clear: the police could confiscate gear, but they could not stop the protest. It was only the beginning.

To say that OccupySF has grown in the past three weeks does not begin to describe it.

On Wednesday, Oct. 5, the camp was busy, clean, and what organizer Amy O proudly described as “jubilant.” Hundreds exchanged ideas, played music, and made signs and art. Two abundant snack tables providing free food to any and all were only the tip of the iceberg; the kitchen was piled so high that organizers had begun turning away food donations.

This scene contrasted starkly to the demonstration’s first night. Occupy SF started on Sept. 17, the same day as Occupy Wall Street, as one of the solidarity actions now reportedly numbering over 1,000. About 150 people gathered for the protest that first day and only a handful stayed the night. A week later, there was a devoted group of 10 campers. By Oct. 1, a good 40 people were camping and the kitchen and communications sections were set up. When the police showed up late Wednesday night, camp was 200 strong.



Spending time at the camp is addictive. Since my first night, I feel something constantly pulling me back. That night, Oct. 1, the camp was lively and half a block long. A big, hot pot of soup sat on the kitchen stove. Next door, the communications area was populated with organizers busily typing on laptops. The medical tent was next, kept pristine but as of yet untouched—its necessity, nonetheless, was evident after that week’s incident in New York when police pepper sprayed a group of young women.

At that point, the San Francisco Police Department had been courteous with OccupySF. They provided escorts on marches and didn’t bother the camp. Soon after arriving, Russell, a friendly 23-year-old from San Diego who has been camping since the first day, greeted me. He told me that there was a Gardening Committee meeting in a few minutes, and I planned to check it out. Next I saw Lesley Moore, 48, an Oakland resident with unrelenting energy and a knack for mediating misunderstandings at meetings.

She carried a clipboard and was compiling a massive list of food, supplies, and every imaginable resource the group might want. I learned that a flood of supporters, eager to donate, had requested info about what the camp needed. She planned to post the list on occupysf.com later that night.

Fifteen people climbed into a tent for the Gardening Committee meeting, keen to begin growing food for the camp. The donations were rolling in, and if there was a project we wanted to do, well, we probably could. We discussed what could grow in the winter and planting more in the spring. The mood was giddy with possibility but a bit uneasy— could we imagine we’d still be here then?

Many participants are determined to stay put. Jreds, a protester who had come from Chico, looked me in the eye and promised, “I’m staying as long as it takes.”

When asked his occupation, Jreds replied, “This is our occupation.”

After years of foreclosures and unemployment, no wonder so many people are motivated and available to work and sleep at a place like this. Wall Street’s unmitigated power has failed to trickle down into economic opportunities for the rest of us, and in this economy, “why don’t you just get a job” is starting to sound like “let them eat cake.”

As John Reimann, 65, a retired carpenter from Oakland, put it, “I’ve been waiting 10 years for something like this.” He helped start Occupy Oakland last week.

Protester Chris L, who says the community at the camp is the best part about it, also plans to stay indefinitely. Billy Gene Hobbs, a promoter from LA who can often be seen jumping and shouting to keep protest crowds pumped, came to visit San Francisco two weeks ago, found the camp, and hasn’t left. Since the police came through, almost 100 more people have joined.

The camp’s population is a source of ongoing discussion. Complaints of “too many hippies” usually die quickly when someone actually comes to camp, where the people they’re referring to are not the only ones and, moreover, are active and responsible organizers.

Others object that the protest is populated mostly with young people, especially white and male. There is active discussion on how to accommodate people with children as well as people with disabilities.

It seems everyone — including the many people of color, folks of all ages, and disabled people who have been organizers and participants in the movement — shares the view that oppressive institutions work hand in hand with the corporate corruption and power that the movement strives to end.



Camp life is dotted with calls for the People’s Mic, a tool developed at Occupy Wall Street, where using bullhorn or speakers is illegal. When someone yells “Mic check!” the crowd echoes in response. The person speaks his piece, sentence by sentence, as the crowd repeats. If a few people nearby can hear him, everyone can. For better or for worse, it tends not to amplify ideas people don’t have much taste for; at a recent meeting, when someone insisted that people who had been foreclosed on were greedy and foolish, the People’s Mic’s volume faded fast.

The People’s Mic requires no electricity, discourages rambling, a brilliant improvisation. But the central feature of Occupations throughout the country is the General Assembly. OccupySF has been holding General Assemblies every day at camp at 6 p.m. and on Saturdays at noon in Union Square. In the past week they have consistently boasted a couple hundred participants daily, but continue to practice consensus-based decision-making and participatory democracy. They’re long and often frustrating, but for many, as a standard rallying cry insists, “This is what democracy looks like!”

Many have stepped up at meetings to say that too many men, too many white people, or simply too many of the same voices are being heard. Solidarity efforts like Occupy the Hood, which declares the vital need that people of color make decisions and organize in and along with the occupations, have surfaced nationally.

On Oct. 5, after about 700 people marched on the Financial District with OccupySF, the General Assembly was particularly well attended. It was peppered with invitations and expressions of solidarity, conveyed by representatives of groups from throughout the Bay Area.

The week’s schedule slowly filled: Thursday’s anti-war march, the next day’s teach-in with activist Miguel Robles, a 7 am “Wake Up Action” with Unite-HERE Local 2 on Oct. 10, and plans to coordinate with the LGBT rights group Get Equal for a National Coming Out Day action the next day.

Carolyn DeRoo, a brightly charismatic BART station agent, reveled in the whoops and cheers when she announced that Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, the union that represents BART workers, had just voted to endorse Occupy SF. “I got an hour off work today so I could be in the march,” said DeRoo.

She expressed concern over the lack of coherent messaging, hoping it wouldn’t hurt the movement. “I was about to get on a plane to New York because of how badly I wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “I’m so glad it has started in SF.”



But on that fateful night, Oct. 5, meeting ideals were strained. High-tension and often angry debate filled the hours between being warned of police action and its onset, making consensus difficult. Some wanted to take down the camp, unable to risk arrest. There were campers from all walks of life present, including some homeless folks and travelers who would risk losing all or most of their possessions if the police confiscated them. Others didn’t want to see the camp’s growth stunted due to police intimidation.

Dierdre Anglin, 40, an Oakland resident who works in the nonprofit sector, was particularly calm amongst the chaos. “I think the energy got a little high,” she said, as protesters ran around taking down tents and preparing for the imminent police confrontation. “But we have decided to take the stance and to stay here.”

She added, “I personally feel that they are not going to do anything because it would make the police look quite bad. There’s a lot of support for us.” Anglin’s prediction about the cops’ actions, if not their public relations consequences, was mistaken. Police marched in around 1 am, and Department of Public Works employees began to fill their trucks with camp materials.

Billy Gene, ever energetic, raced to lie down on the street in front of trucks and was dragged away, yelling “Don’t be mean!” at police. Many sat and stood in front of trucks. Others could be seen shaking their heads at colleagues’ verbal attacks and murmuring, “that isn’t nonviolent.”

There was no property damage or physical violence on the part of the protesters, although one man was arrested for allegedly punching an officer in the face, which both sides cast as an aberration that didn’t reflect the tenor of the standoff.

At 3 am, protesters surveyed the damage. An organizer addressed the group: “We’re still here, and it’s time to rebuild.” The camp received a donation of blankets and sleeping bags at four o’clock that morning. At five, a small jam session and dance party broke out.

Police have since provided information on how to retrieve confiscated materials, and Police Chief Greg Suhr told us they’ve been actively trying to facilitate getting people their stuff back and allowing the occupation to continue (see accompanying article for more from Suhr).

In the days since, the mood has again turned jubilant. On Thursday afternoon, Oct. 6, about 120 people were gathered at the camp. Signs ranged from “student loan debt is slavery” to “grannies against war.” The next night, the mass of people had increased, and with it the group’s creativity. Protesters could be seen pedaling a stationary bike connected to a battery, powering laptops.

As the sun set Friday, 300 people at camp looked west. They erupted in cheers as a 500-person anti-war demonstration marched onto the site. Market between Main and Embarcadero was shut down as protesters rallied and then held General Assembly. A dozen police lined up near the sidewalk; one told me they were separating OccupySF from the march. The next second, the “march” erupted in chants of “We are the 99 percent,” the Occupy movement’s signature rallying cry. Attempts to divide were futile.

That the movement has no “one message” has in many ways worked to their advantage. It seems hundreds of thousands of people with varying issues and concerns can all agree that an elite class, embodied by Wall Street, has far too much power and money, and that the people must unite against the sorry state of this system. As I looked in the officers’ eyes, I wondered how long even their disconnect from the protesters will last. Most are, after all, the 99 percent too.

After the General Assembly held the street for an hour, police requested that they please move to the sidewalk. A consensus vote decided to oblige. An assembly member proclaimed, words booming with the roar of the People’s Mic, “Let us remember that we took this street, and we could have held it if we wanted to.”

This is the kind of power many haven’t felt in a long time. And I get the feeling that no one intends to relinquish it any time soon.

Feds crack down



HERBWISE Reversing its previous pledge to abide people’s rights to legally obtain medical marijuana in California and the 14 other states that have legalized it, the Obama Administration has launched a crackdown on the industry using several different federal agencies.

During an Oct. 7 press conference in Sacramento, California’s four U.S. attorneys announced their intention to go after the industry with raids on large-scale growing operations and big dispensaries and civil lawsuits targeting the assets of people involved in the cannabis business.

“We want to put to rest the notion that large marijuana businesses can shelter themselves under state law,” Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for Northern California, based here in San Francisco, said at the press conference.

That pronouncement is just the latest in a series of federal actions against those involved with the production and distribution of California’s top cash crop, an industry that the California Board of Equalization estimates to be worth about $1.3 billion in tax revenue annually. Sources in the medical marijuana business say the crackdown began quietly this summer.

Hundreds of dispensaries and other medical marijuana operations had their bank accounts shut down after the Treasury Department contacted their banks and warned them of sanctions for doing business with an industry that remains illegal under federal law. The Internal Revenue Service last month also notified many large dispensaries — including Harborside Health Center in Oakland, the largest in Northern California — that they cannot write off normal business expenses and must pay a 35 percent levy on those claims going back for three years.

Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo told us that would put Harborside — or any company with high overhead costs — out of business. “This is not an effort to tax us, it’s an effort to tax us out of existence,” he said, noting that Harborside paid the city of Oakland $1.1 million in taxes this year. In addition, the Department of Justice recently began sending 45-day cease-and-desist letters to hundreds of dispensaries around the state, including at least two in San Francisco, warning the clubs and their landlords that the operations violate federal law and could be subject to federal laws on the seizure of assets from the drug trade.

“It’s a multi-agency federal attack on patients’ access to this medication,” DeAngelo said. “It’s going to drive sick and dying patients back out onto the street to get their medicine.”

Haag claimed the state’s medical marijuana laws, which California voters approved back in 1996, have been “hijacked by profiteers.” Yet both local officials and people in the industry say that characterization is ridiculous, and that the federal government’s new stance will destroy an important industry — one that is very professional and well-regulated in San Francisco — and send legitimate patients back into the black market.

“I think it’s a step in the wrong direction and counter-intuitive to the Obama Administration’s contention that he would respect state’s rights,” said Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who authored groundbreaking legislation regulating San Francisco’s two dozen dispensaries, a system that he said “is working well…But now the federal government is pulling the rug out from under us.”

Shortly after taking office in 2009, the Obama Administration released the “Ogden memo,” written by Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, stating the federal government would respect the rights of states to legalize and regulate medical marijuana. It was seen by cannabis activists as a sign that Obama was de-escalating the war on drugs, at least as it applied to marijuana.

But in June of this year, the DOJ release the “Cole memo,” by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, which it said “clarifies” the Ogden memo. In fact, it reversed the position, stating unequivocally that federal marijuana prohibition prevails and “state laws or local ordinances are not a defense to civil or criminal enforcement of federal law with respect to such conduct.”

“They’re bringing the hammer down,” said David Goldman, who works for Americans for Safe Access and sits on San Francisco’s medical marijuana task force. “This is not U.S. attorneys doing this on their own, this is coming from the top levels of the DOJ.”

Actually, Goldman and others suspect it goes even higher than that, right to Obama and his political team, who appear to be making a calculation that cracking down on medical marijuana is a good move before an uncertain reelection campaign.

“It’s political. It’s all about Obama appealing to the middle to win reelection,” Goldman said.

“I don’t think there’s any rational basis for what’s going on. It was clearly a political calculation,” DeAngelo said. “Why do they think it’s better for patients to buy their medicine from the black market?”

He said the crackdown will bolster the Mexican drug cartels, destroy a thriving industry that provides jobs and pays taxes, hinder efforts at better quality control and growing conditions (see “Green buds,” Aug. 16), and waste law enforcement resources to seize and destroy a valuable commodity.

“It’s a policy with all downsides and no upsides,” DeAngelo said.

Mirkarimi said that this crackdown could finally force cannabis activists to take on the federal prohibition of marijuana directly: “Bottom line, marijuana is the United States needs to be reformed so it’s not a Schedule 1 drug,” referring the federal government’s conclusion that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no medical applications.

But for now, DeAngelo said the industry will fight back: “We will fight it in the legal system, we will fight it in the court of public opinion, and we will appeal to Congress.”

The Occupy Wall Street platform


EDITORIAL In New York City, the protesters who started the Occupy Wall Street movement remain camped out in Zuccotti Park. In Washington, DC, President Obama said at an Oct. 6 press conference that he understands the sentiment driving the activists. Yet in San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee has approved a police crackdown and the confiscation of camping supplies in an effort to debilitate the occupation in front of the Federal Reserve Bank.

The move comes at a time when Lee is doing nothing to crack down on foreclosures that cost the city money, nothing to force the big banks that have the city’s deposits to lend more in the community, and nothing to promote local taxes on the wealthy.

While Lee says he supports the First Amendment rights of the protesters, he sent the cops in at 10:30 at night to confiscate their belongings — using, in part, the sit-lie law (which is only in effect until 11 p.m.)

His approach is just wrong. This city ought to be embracing and supporting the demonstrations. San Francisco makes room for all kinds of public events; this one should be no different. The people at City Hall should be working with the people in the streets to make San Francisco a central part of this growing national movement.

Make no mistake about it: What started as a small-scale, leaderless, somewhat ragtag group in lower Manhattan now has the potential to become a potent political force in this country. Occupy Wall Street has tapped into a deep feeling of frustration that’s shared by people in blue states and red states, in cities and towns and rural communities. The feeble economy impacts almost everyone — and this movement has managed to point the finger at the people who caused the problem, who are preventing solutions and who are making big money off the suffering of others.

We realize that at this point, there’s no specific focus for Occupy Wall Street. The civil rights movement and the anti-war movements of the 1960s and the antinuclear movement of the 1970s, the demonstrations against free trade agreements in the 1990s and the marches against the Iraq War in the past decade included people with hundreds of ideological agendas, but they had a pretty clear message — and, generally speaking, specific actions that government officials could take to address the issues.

Occupy Wall Street hasn’t called for any bills, regulations or policies. It’s still a group that is simply calling attention to a basic truth — the very wealthy in general, and the financial sector in particular, are enjoying economic gains at the expense of the rest of us. But that alone is a profound and potent message — if the demonstrators don’t have all the solutions, at least they’ve identified the problem. And that’s more than Obama, Congress, or the mainstream news media have done.

There’s been plenty of talk of a formal platform — one Occupy Wall Street activist posted a proposed list of 13 demands on the group’s website. It’s not a bad list (a guaranteed living wage, single-payer health care, free college education, debt forgiveness, a racial and gender equal rights amendment) with a few somewhat random elements (outlaw all credit agencies). Fox News has picked up the list, although the organization, such as it is, has made it clear that there is no consensus on any platform and agenda. And the labor unions that are joining the protests — with the proper respect for the folks who started things — have legislation in mind (a financial transaction tax, for example).

There’s a danger that the message becomes so diffuse, and imbued with every possible issue that anyone on the left cares about, that it loses the potential to have an impact on the 2012 elections. Occupy Wall Street could go a long way to providing a populist progressive message to counter the Tea Party (which is funded by and largely organized by billionaires but tries to claim grassroots legitimacy).

And there’s no need for a laundry list of agenda items. The focus is right where it ought to be: The richest Americans — and the big financial institutions — have been sucking all the money and energy out of the economy. The remaining 99 percent are suffering. Tax the top 1 percent and create a robust jobs program to put the rest of the country back to work; that’s a winning platform for 2012

Editor’s notes



It’s nice to see that the days when you could get away with calling protesters commies are back. CNBC says that the Occupy Wall Street activists are “anarchists” who are “aligned with Lenin.” Actually, none of the anarchists I know are remotely Leninist. The communists of old were all for the creation of a powerful state. Lenin read Bakunin in his early years, but later declared that anarchists were “bourgeois revolutionaries.”

But I wouldn’t expect Larry Kudlow, Jim Cramer and Joe Kernan to be up on their radical history. They clearly haven’t spent much time with the people of the Occupy Wall Street movement, either. If they did, they’d realize that — like most of the left-wing movements that have sprung up with young people at the forefront in the United States over the past half century — the essential politics of Occupy Wall Street aren’t derived from Lenin, Marx, Castro, the Sandinistas, or Hugo Chavez. It’s about self-reliance, about community control and free expression, and in its purest form, it’s a rejection of the old role of leaders and authority. It would have driven Lenin mad.

I grew up on that side of politics. In college, the anti-apartheid and antinuclear movements were all about consensus process, all about the rejection of any sort of power relationships. We had no elected presidents or chairpeople. We didn’t vote on anything — voting disempowers the losing side. We took no action until we could reach consensus; everyone had to agree with everything.

What ultimately happened was that the people who could stick around for very long meetings, typically very late at night, where everybody had a lot to say and nobody got to tell anyone to cut it short, made the decisions. I never lasted.

When you’re all at an encampment with nowhere to go, it’s a thrilling exercise in real, direct democracy. When you’re trying to do organizing involving people who have jobs, kids, and lives that can’t fit three-hour (at best) meetings into the schedule, you leave a lot of your potential allies out.

The most interesting thing, though, is that the organizing principle of the protests, by its nature, involves distrusting government. That’s been part of the young left for a long time — and for those of us who believe in a strong public sector, it’s a bit, as they say, challenging.