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The threat of Proposition 98


OPINION Just as the California Supreme Court finally recognizes queers as full and equal citizens by ruling in favor of gay marriage, a June 3 ballot measure threatens to kill anti-discrimination protections for queers. But that’s not the half of it: Proposition 98 is in fact a savage attack on protections of all kinds for all Californians.

A fraud wrapped within a fraud, Prop. 98 masquerades as eminent domain reform while only semi-covertly legisutf8g the death of rent control. But just as rent control is about far more than price alone, Prop. 98 is about far more than only ending rent control.

All Californians, not only the 14 million who rent, will be trampled under the iron hooves of this Trojan horse. In a detailed analysis, the Western Center on Law and Poverty concludes: "There is nothing in the text that prevents Prop. 98 from being used to prohibit or limit land use decisions, zoning, work place laws, or environmental protections."

Prop. 98 not only bans all state and local residential and mobile-home rent control laws, now and forever, it kills inclusionary housing requirements and ends tenant protections in the Ellis Act. But wait, there’s more! As assessed by the Western Center, other "likely" applications of Prop 98 include the end of just-cause protections for eviction, and the end of most regulation of residential rental property.

The center also rates it "possible" that Prop. 98 will invalidate all anti-discrimination protections below the federal level — including California’s LGBT fair-housing protections.

Given the potential outcome, the nearly $2 million that more than 100 apartment building and mobile home park owners spent to put Prop. 98 on the ballot, and the subsequent $291,000 that the Apartment Owners Association political action committee gave the Yes on 98 campaign represent a shrewd investment.

It would be a bargain for them at twice the price. Being able to charge unlimited amounts for renter screening and credit checks, for instance, and no longer having to provide deadbolt locks, a usable telephone jack, and working wiring means a nice chunk of change for landlords and speculators. But that’s nothing compared to the larger gains to be exploited: a landlord would be free to have you sign a lease without being obligated to disclose that he or she already applied for a demolition permit on the property. Serious defects in the unit? Too bad, the prohibition on landlords collecting rent while substandard conditions exist would fly out the (broken) window.

Unlike the tenant-backed Prop. 99, which truly prevents eminent domain abuse on behalf of renters and owners alike, Prop. 98 only guarantees the domain of the wealthiest over the rest of us. If we let this Trojan horse in, whether actively — by voting for it — or passively — by not voting — June 3 (and that’s a real danger since too many San Francisco voters assume the measure will fail anyway), all Californians will pay the price. *

Mara Math is a writer and tenant organizer.

JROTC must go now


OPINION In November 2006, San Francisco made history when the school board made this the first big city in the nation to ban JROTC [Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps]. The board’s resolution, which called for phasing out JROTC from high schools this June, stated that “JROTC is a program wholly created and administrated by the United States Department of Defense, whose documents and memoranda clearly identify JROTC as an important recruiting arm.”

A poison pill was added to the resolution at the last minute: it called for a task force to be set up to find an “alternative” program to JROTC. The school district administration, in a particularly despicable move, set up the task force with more than 10 members supporting JROTC, and only one member opposed.

Surprise! After sitting for almost a year, the task force failed to come up with an alternative, so the school board rolled over and, except for two courageous members — Mark Sanchez and Eric Mar — voted last December to extend JROTC for another year.

In 2005, San Franciscans passed Proposition I by almost 60 percent, declaring it “city policy to oppose military recruiting in public schools.” That same year, by the Army’s own report, 42 percent of JROTC graduates across the nation signed up for the military. As this country enters its sixth year of the illegal occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s time for the school board to go back to its original decision to kick the military out of our schools.

The school board must end JROTC — now. JROTC is currently scheduled to be “phased out,” but not until June 2009. By then both Sanchez and Mar will be off the school board, and there will be little to prevent the military from orchestrating a vote to extend JROTC indefinitely. If, on the other hand, the school board votes to end JROTC this June as their original resolution required, JROTC would be gone.

Two progressives on the board must be convinced to send the military packing: Kim-Shree Maufas and Green Party member Jane Kim.

Both received endorsements from progressives. To convince them that they risk such endorsements in the future, the JROTC Must Go! Coalition is circuutf8g the following statement: “We will look very closely at the next school board vote on JROTC and will consider the votes carefully when making any endorsements for future candidates.”

Within a week, the Tenants Union, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, and the San Francisco Bay View newspaper signed the statement. If Maufas and Kim join Sanchez and Mar, we’ll make history again.

Riva Enteen is the former program director for the National Lawyers Guild and the mother of two San Francisco school district graduates. Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a southern Italian queer atheist writer and activist. For more information contact the JROTC Must Go! Coalition: (415) 575-5543 or JROTCmustgo@gmail.com.


We stand with Carole Migden


OPINION As longtime fans of the Guardian and as allies in almost every fight, including the struggles for public power, affordable housing, people-focused land use policy, and clean and open government, we do not like finding ourselves on the opposite side of an issue as important as this year’s state Senate race. Respectfully, we must say that we believe the Guardian‘s failure to endorse Carole Migden in that race was a colossal mistake — not unlike the decision to endorse Angela Alioto over Tom Ammiano and Matt Gonzalez for mayor in 2003.

Both Leno and Migden are good votes in Sacramento. But the simple reality is that Carole Migden has been there for the local left in ways that make her the only choice for progressives willing to take on the establishment. Certainly Migden has made herself vulnerable to political attacks. Her failure to retain a professional treasurer for her campaign finance filings was clearly an error of judgment. But for us, none of this outweighs her incredible record of achievement in Sacramento or her far more reliable support of progressive candidates and causes in San Francisco.

Guardian readers should by now be familiar with Migden’s long record in Sacramento: the California Clean Water Act, saving the Headwaters Forest, community choice aggregation (CCA), a series of domestic partnership laws that have established a viable alternative to marriage in California while setting the stage for extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, a remarkable package of foster care reforms, and cosmetics safety legislation.

But it is Migden’s role locally that makes her so important to San Francisco progressives. Migden is the only candidate in the race who has been there for progressives in difficult political battles. As candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee, we are grateful that the Guardian endorsed our entire slate. But we wonder if the Guardian considered the fact that the vast majority (indeed, almost unanimous) of Hope Slate candidates are Migden supporters, because they are the leading progressive candidates to retain a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors in November. It is not coincidental.

Few politicians who have risen as high in the establishment food chain as Carole Migden have done so retaining a willingness to fight for the underdog. Guardian readers should be familiar with the litany: she supported Aaron Peskin and Jake McGoldrick in 2000; reached out to Chris Daly soon thereafter and stood strongly with him against subsequent challenges; never, ever supported Gavin Newsom; attended the Progressive Convention; and financed progressive campaigns from the Affordable Housing Bond to Muni reform.

Migden is a scrappy street fighter who helps other scrappy street fighters. As one of the very first queers and one of the first women to take political power at these levels, she had to be. Someday progressive politics may not need scrappy street fighters (and someday maybe women will be better represented in public office) — but not yet.

We are proud to stand with Carole Migden, as she has stood with us. She is the candidate in this race who we can count on to fight when it really counts.

Bill Barnes, Chris Daly, Michael Goldstein, Robert Haaland, Joe Julian, Eric Mar, Rafael Mandelman, Eric Quezada, and Debra Walker

The writers are Hope Slate candidates for the DCCC.

No peace, no work


OPINION Organized labor is set to mark May Day — International Workers’ Day — with what could be the loudest and most forceful demand yet for rapid withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) will lead the way by refusing to work their eight-hour morning shifts at ports in California, Oregon, and Washington. For them, it will be a "no peace, no work" holiday — in effect, a strike against the war.

Like many other unions and labor organizations nationwide, the ILWU has long opposed the war in Iraq as an imperialist action in which the lives of young working-class Americans and Iraqi citizens are being needlessly wasted.

The ILWU hopes the dramatic act of shutting down West Coast ports will inspire Americans everywhere to oppose the war.

The coalition behind this movement, US Labor Against the War (USLAW), has been growing steadily since the invasion of Iraq. It’s now the largest organized antiwar group of any kind and is drawing important support, not only from unions but from a wide variety of socially-conscious activist groups outside the labor movement.

USLAW’s members, which represent millions of workers, significantly include the AFL-CIO and most of the federation’s 56 affiliated unions. No one can doubt USLAW’s ability to organize a massive protest like the one ILWU is hoping to lead: it was USLAW that put together the antiwar demonstration that drew half a million marchers to Washington, DC last year.

USLAW is demanding primarily that "our elected leaders stop funding the war, bring our troops home, and start meeting human needs here at home," notes Fred Mason, an AFL-CIO official in Maryland.

In the meantime, says Gerald McEntee, a key public employee union leader, "We are spreading violence in Iraq, not democracy." The Bush administration’s policies, says Musicians Union leader Tom Lee, "make us less secure, increase the threat of terrorism, and have put Iraq on a path of civil war."

ILWU President Robert McEllrath has urged unions and allied groups outside the United States to also mount protests "to honor labor history and express support for the troops by bringing them home safely."

The AFL-CIO’s role is particularly notable. It marks the first time the federation has ever opposed a war, whether the president was a pro-labor Democrat or, as now, an antilabor Republican.

The longshoremen’s union, which was not affiliated with the AFL-CIO at the time, was firmly opposed to the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars. The ILWU also was a major opponent of dictatorial regimes in South and Central America and the apartheid regime in South Africa, its members often refusing to handle cargo coming from or going to those countries. Just recently, ILWU members in Tacoma, Wash., refused for conscientious reasons to load cargo headed for the Iraq war zone.

We can only hope — and hope fervently — that the union’s May Day show of strong opposition to the war in Iraq will help prompt millions of others to conclude that they, too, cannot in good conscience support that seemingly endless war.

Dick Meister

Dick Meister is a San Francisco–based writer who has covered labor and political issues for a half-century as a reporter, editor, and commentator. Contact him through his Web site: www.dickmeister.com

Newsom’s missing trees


OPINION During his 2003 mayoral campaign, Gavin Newsom circulated a beautifully presented eight-page "policy brief" for "A Green and Clean San Francisco." The first four pages were devoted to a pledge to "grow our urban canopy" — a subject near and dear to my heart.

Newsom announced: "As mayor of San Francisco, I will lead the city government and community organizations to make San Francisco a city we can take pride in — a city with green [emphasis mine], clean, and livable neighborhoods." As his first action, he said, "I will grow our urban canopy by placing a priority on tree planting and care."

For good measure, he tantalized us with some goodies: "Visualize 19th Avenue as a welcoming beautiful gateway to the city, lined with trees and planters." He promised to improve the lack of coordination among city agencies and departments involved in street tree planting, care, and planning by using new technologies such as CitiStat. And, most important, he committed himself to addressing the massive underfunding of the expansion and maintenance of the urban canopy.

These promises were made in the context of the long-standing critical state of the city’s urban forest. The candidate put it this way: San Francisco lags behind other communities in providing a vital, vibrant, and ecologically sustainable urban canopy, as well as open space, in the city. San Francisco has an estimated 90,000 street trees. By comparison, San Jose boasts 231,000 street trees. Our urban canopy is full of holes: Friends of the Urban Forest estimates we have only 75 street trees per mile, compared to the national average of 120 trees per mile. That means San Francisco has a little more than half the street trees of similarly sized cities.

Today, after more four years in office, the mayor’s promises are still just that. Nothing close to what he committed to do has been accomplished or implemented. Instead the mayor has relied on press releases, disinformation, and a newly staffed position with a yet-to-be-defined role to publicize his claimed achievements.

As I speak, the mayor has seven full–time press officers polishing his image, which, coincidentally, is the same number — seven — of filled managerial/administrative positions in the Department of Public Works Bureau of Urban Forestry, the division responsible for managing all the street trees in the city. The Department of the Environment has only two-thirds of one position (out of some 65 full-time positions) devoted to urban trees.

The Office of Greening, established in 2005, has had three directors, with no announced action from the latest one since she took over in February. The Greening Vision Council, chaired by the greening director, has been dormant for more than two years. The April 2006 Urban Forest Plan died in the Planning Department. And no one in the Controller’s Office has any direct knowledge of that new technology, CitiStat.

The mayor’s spinning was at its most inventive when he used creative accounting to claim on Arbor Day last year that more than 15,000 trees were added to the city in the years 2004 to 2006, when actual total was closer to 4,800 trees.

So much for "green and clean."

Allen Grossman

Allen Grossman is executive director of the SF Urban Forest Coalition.

What union democracy means


OPINION The troubles in the Service Employees International Union, and within SEIU Local 1021 in San Francisco, share a similar theme. How much do individual locals direct their work in the face of the international’s set agenda? And more important, how do union members themselves direct the vision, use of resources, and work of both their local and international union? What is union democracy and how is it made real?

Active members in Local 1021 learned a painful lesson recently when we discovered that senior 1021 staff ran a clandestine campaign during a member election to choose delegates to SEIU’s quadrennial convention this June. These same senior staff demanded that their junior staff remain completely neutral and uninvolved in the election.

A key tenet of union democracy is recognition by all parties that the union staffers work for the members, whose dues pay for their salaries and benefits, their offices, and the programs run by the union.

Local 1021’s governing bodies were appointed by Andy Stern, president of the international, at the time of the merger of 10 locals into one. Next year, Local 1021 holds its first officer and executive board elections. It is essential that we lay out bylaws and an election process guaranteeing that the direction of our local union will be led by its members.

We are at a vital juncture. Do we allow the programs and process to be driven by the international, Stern, and his loyalist staff — or do we assert ourselves as members, examine the issues for ourselves, and choose how we prioritize the work to be done?

At stake is not just the true empowerment of our union, but its credibility. We demand a sense of fair play from the employers we bargain with and consistently take a hard line against managerial favoritism.

In practically every contract campaign, there is a battle over the definition of our union and our very identity. We put forth photographs of our members, use their quotes in the press, and otherwise say to the public, the press, and elected officials that “these people are the union — the nurses, transit workers, librarians, road crews and others who serve our community.”

Meanwhile, management — as well as anti-union lobbies, officials, and think tanks — speak in more pejorative terms of “union bosses” and “big labor,” conjuring images of bureaucrats who cut deals, make the real decisions, and are disconnected from their rank-and-file membership.

It is critical that we don’t prove our opponents right. If the boss-like behavior of our leaders and the manner in which they govern this union promotes double standards, favoritism, and a lack of local autonomy, we only make it easier for anti-union forces to drive a wedge between our members and their union.

Nobody has more at stake in SEIU than the members who pay the bills and whose wages, benefits, and working conditions are being negotiated. Without the international showing respect for local autonomy or democratic empowerment at the local and worksite levels, we cannot hope for existing members to feel like stakeholders in their union, or to inspire prospective members to join us in the future.

Mary C. Magee and Roxanne Sanchez

Mary C. Magee, RN, works at San Francisco General Hospital. Roxanne Sanchez works for Bay Area Rapid Transit. They are members of SEIU Local 1021.


Play, don’t spray


OPINION On Aug. 1, 2008, the California Department of Food and Agriculture plans to spray the San Francisco Bay Area from the air with a time-released pesticide in an effort to wipe out the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM). There will be continuous spraying every 30 to 90 days for the next two to 10 years. We can’t leave town for the weekend and come back when it’s clear; there will be no "all-clear" to come home to. The CDFA claims that the spray "should be" safe, despite that it has never been independently tested and no environmental studies have been done.

We represent concerned families with children, pets, and loved ones with respiratory ailments. The more we research this proposal, the more upset and opposed we’re becoming. Thus far we’ve learned that the pheromone pesticide, Checkmate OLF-R, is untested, contains known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and is delivered in time-released microcapsules that can be inhaled and lodged in the lungs, causing respiratory harm.

Here are some of the warnings on the Checkmate label:

KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN…. Harmful if absorbed through the skin. Harmful if inhaled…. IF ON SKIN OR CLOTHING: Take off contaminated clothing. Rinse skin immediately with plenty of water for 15-20 minutes. Call poison control …

The US Department of Agriculture announced emergency funding to combat the LBAM infestation in California, bypassing the normal safety and environmental studies, and asks us to take on faith that aerial spraying is necessary and safe. How many times have we been told something was safe only to hear a big "oops" a few years or decades later? Thalidomide, DDT, Agent Orange…. The most vulnerable populations include fetuses, pregnant women, and children.

Biologists and etymologists agree that aerial spraying will not accomplish the CDFA goal of eradicating the moth. Instead, they encourage focus on containment. Less invasive, integrated pest management solutions for the LBAM exist and are working for other countries such as New Zealand, whose climate and flora are comparable to California’s. Aerial spraying is expensive, outdated, unsustainable, and — ultimately — likely to be unsuccessful.

What is even more alarming is that the LBAM has not proven to be a devastating pest elsewhere. It has not caused crop damage in Hawaii over the past 100 years. Europe has no restrictions against it. According to a report published by horticulturalists Daniel Harder and Jeff Rosendale, the moth rarely penetrates fruit, does not defoliate plants, and at worst causes only cosmetic damage.

We don’t want to be the guinea pigs for this wasteful, thoughtless, and high-risk approach. Do not sit quietly.

Get educated, spread the word, and contact our elected officials to say that we will not stand by and let this happen. Email your supervisor here. Write to Assembly and Senate members here.

We are planning a peaceful "play-in" with children present on Monday, April 28 at 10 a.m. in front of City Hall to show our strength against this immoral and illegal plan. Play, not spray.

Check out these sites to learn more: www.LBAMspray.com and www.stopthespray.com

Nina Gold, Amy Lodato, Lynn Murphy, Patricia Ardziejewski

Nina Gold, Amy Lodato, Lynn Murphy, and Patricia Ardziejewski are members of Play Not Spray, a group opposed to the LBAM spraying.

Chop from the top


OPINION San Francisco officials released two very different documents last week. The first was a list of the 596 city employees making $150,000 a year or more in base salary. The second was a letter to the 334 patients of the Chronic Care Public Health Nursing program informing them that as of April 15 they will no longer have a public-health nurse helping them manage their illnesses.

You might expect that when the mayor proposes an "across the board" budget cut from city departments because of a looming budget deficit, almost any position in city government would be on the table. You might expect that maintaining services to the most vulnerable city residents would be a priority. But according to these two documents, you’re safe if your salary is $150,000 or more, and you are abandoned if you are poor, frail, and chronically ill.

Last week, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin suggested that instead of just cutting from the bottom, the city also consider cuts at the top. "So let me understand," the Chronicle quotes District Attorney Kamala Harris (No. 55 on the top-earners list), "Aaron Peskin is basically saying we should eliminate all the doctors and lawyers who work for the city."

But Harris didn’t understand. Peskin isn’t proposing to cut all of those 596 positions. He is proposing that in a fiscal crisis, the agenda should include some cutting from the top, not just the bottom.

As a public health nurse in the program slated for closure, I’ve been working to treat and make plans for my patients during the day, while working at night to keep the program open. I’m not worried about my job: nurses are in high demand and there’s comparable pay in many private hospitals. But private health care rarely serves the people I’ve come to know doing this job for the past year: frail, uninsured elderly folks with no families; patients who face language and literacy barriers who can’t navigate the system and use emergency rooms when they feel sick; long-time residents of Laguna Honda Hospital coming back to the community not knowing how to use a cell phone, let alone monitor their diabetes.

As the number of chronically ill people skyrockets, along with the costs of caring for them, it would seem a no-brainer to fund a group of nurses who are experts in keeping those folks out of the hospital. But our health care system still operates on an acute-care model. While Medi-Cal will pay the city much of the expense of sending a nurse to do brief wound care for a diabetic, it pays much less for a nurse to keep that same person healthy enough to avoid the next wound. Calcuutf8g future savings from chronic care health services is hard. So on paper at least, it’s a money-saver, if not the moral choice, to close the program.

When I was in nursing school, my public health professors told me, "in Public Health, you have to be an advocate, because your patients can’t be." But I bet those 596 top earners can defend themselves — and Peskin is right, some of them should be given the opportunity.

Stefan Lynch

Stefan Lynch, RN, is a public health nurse at the San Francisco Department of Public Health and a member of Service Employees International Union 1021.

My grandson looks like Barack Obama


OPINION He really does. I was sitting and reading (that’s what I do most of the time) and I came across a picture supplied by Obama’s half-sister (who is half-Indonesian) of their mom and Barack at around two years of age. I was struck by the similarities between young Barack (taken some 44 years ago) and my grandson, Wesley, who is two and multi-racial — the new zeitgeist.

Kamala Harris is multiracial. Elaine Santore is multiracial. So is my granddaughter, Tandiwe. And Tiger Woods. And Derek Jeter. It shouldn’t be a big deal anymore.

But it is.

I want my multiracial grandkids to spend the next eight years of their development thinking that having a black President of the United States is the most natural thing in the world. I want my white grandson to think the same thing. I want America to think it too.

Obama’s mom reminds me so much of my own daughter. Barack’s mom joined United Nations efforts. My daughter joined the Peace Corps. Neither ever worked anything but a life of service to America and the needy people of the world (my daughter went from Peace Corps to America Corps and then back to Peace Corps.

I thought these things as I hung out on my balcony (OK, it’s a Tenderloin fire escape) and watched the St. Patrick’s Day parade go under my perch. The first ranks had the cops and an Asian woman at the head. The black cops walking with her seemed normal now, because my grandkids are black and Irish. I read a book once that said that 25 percent of American black folks have American Indian blood in them.

In other words, we’re a multiracial society and should stop listening to the reactionary voices like Hillary Clinton and her supporters who think that any person of color who has a top job or candidacy is there due to some racial quota.

"I’ve been to the jungles and the lowlands beneath / where tigers question jaguars about their teeth. / Never forget the moral that I trace. / This world is a dangerous place."

Bertolt Brecht

One thing that most of the people of the third world agree upon is that you can’t trust white men. That can be something of a hindrance when you’re trying to negotiate something. That’s why Colin Powell and Kofi Annan get much better receptions in the world’s capitals. Imagine going from sending the likes of Dick Cheney to talk to the Iraqis to having Barack Obama represent you.

I’m not trying to be trite here, but let’s face it — most of the world is a lot more likely to have someone in their family who looks like Barack Obama than are most Americans. That counts for a lot.

So let’s be sensible and elect a president who looks like my grandson. It works for me.

h. Brown

h. Brown is a 62 year-old keeper of sfbulldog.com, an eclectic site featuring a half-dozen City Hall denizens. h is a former sailor, firefighter, teacher, nightclub owner, and a hard-living satirical muckraker. He also writes the Court Jester column for fogcityjournal.com, where an earlier version of this column appeared.

A deadly Clinton legacy


OPINION In her autobiography Living History (Simon and Schuster, 2003), Sen. Hillary Clinton portrays herself as an advocate for children, a defender of women and human rights. In fact, the Clintons have a long history of sacrificing the rights — and even the lives — of children for political expediency. It is time to set the record straight.

On Sept. 6, 2006, a Senate bill — a simple amendment to ban the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas — presented Sen. Clinton with a timely opportunity to protect the lives of children throughout the world.

The cluster bomb is one of the most hated and heinous weapons of modern warfare, and its primary victims are children.

Sen. Barack Obama voted for the amendment to ban cluster bombs. Clinton, however, voted with the Republicans to kill the humanitarian bill.

It’s hard to believe that Clinton was unaware of the humanitarian crisis when she voted to continue the use of cluster bombs in cities and populated areas. A United Nations weapons commission called cluster bombs "weapons of indiscriminate effect." For years the international press reported the horrific consequences of cluster bombs on civilians. On April 10, 2003, for example, Asia Times described the carnage in Baghdad hospitals: "The absolute majority of patients are women and children, victims of shrapnel, and most of all, fragments of cluster bombs."

Even after wars subside, after treaties are signed, and after belligerents return home, cluster bombs wreak havoc on civilian life. Up to 20 percent of the bomblets fail to detonate on impact, only to become landmines that later detonate on playgrounds and farmlands.

Children are drawn to cluster bomb canisters, the deadly duds that look like beer cans or toys before they explode.

Because Clinton is now taking credit for accomplishments during the White House years, when she was a partner in power, we should also look closely at Bill Clinton administration’s policy regarding landmines. The United States is the leading manufacturer of landmines. For families across the rest of the globe, landmines are buried terror. More than 100 million mines are deployed in more than 60 countries worldwide — 9 million in Angola, 10 million in Cambodia. About 20,000 M14 antipersonnel mines are buried in the mountain areas of Yong-do, South Korea. According to UN estimates, 26,000 people, mostly civilians in developing countries, are killed or mutilated by landmines every year.

The worldwide movement to ban landmines burgeoned during the Clinton years. In Dec. 1997, 137 nations more than two-thirds of the world’s countries — signed the Ottawa treaty, an agreement to ban the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel landmines. How did President Clinton respond?

Clinton flat-out refused to become party to the Ottawa convention. As he put it, "I could not sign in good conscience the treaty banning landmines."

In "good conscience"?!

Landmines are not good for children, Hillary.

Paul Rockwell

Paul Rockwell (rockyspad@hotmail.com) is a national columnist living in the Bay Area.

Love and hate and the black cripple


OPINION Editors note: I don’t usually run poetry here, but we cosponsored the Valentine’s Day "Battle of (All) the Sexes" poetry fundraiser for POOR Magazine, one of my favorite institutions — and tiny, who runs POOR, convinced me to publish the winning poems. You can get more info at www.poormagazine.org. (Tim Redmond)

First place:


By Queennandi

I’m about to commentate

Hate is comin’ to tha ring, weighing in at an unknown amount of pounds

Ready to bring on destruction and pain

Puttin’ the little kids out of their homes

Creating victims out of the elderly, addicted to bein’ insane

Oooh, and hate starts frivolous wars

Our childrens’ blood is shedded

While hate’s kids become pampered and spoiled

The hate record looks undefeated, but lovez comin’ to tha ring

Look, now hate done ran and retreated

Love got hate on tha ropes- Bam! Bow! Bam! Bing!

Love IS comin’ wit body blows, and hate can’t block a thing

Now love comes wit an uppercut- Bam!

Put the families back in their homes

Boom! Enough criticizing and criminalizing the poor

Bow! Return tha souljahs and end the war

Now! It’s justice for all- Bam! Boom! Pow!

Cuz hate just got knocked out!

Second place


By Leroy F. Moore


Look at me, look at me

Hear this, hear this

I’ve learned from Heyward’s Porgy

Play on your pity

Just to get that money


You’ll do me like you did bang, bang Margarett L. Mitchell

I’m an open swore in the BLACK community

Cup in hand

Leaning against the wall

Passersby don’t want to understand


Gave my body to the US Army

Got shot by the LAPD

But you can’t get red of me

Mainstream think I’m too angry

My own people don’t even notice me


My spoken word, you can’t handle

You think I’m too radical

Black sisters don’t know what they are missing

My BLACK CRIPPLE body is always erect

Mind masturbation but she can’t deal with the situation

Educated and motivated

Now people are intimidated

I’m the incarcerated BLACK CRIPPLE

Lock down

Lock out

Walking on death row

The State has lost my file


In my pocket is Uncle Sam’s dirty hands


Rocking your cradle

Yeah, I know what I want but you’re too goddam fickle

Hell yeah, I’m the BLACK CRIPPLE

No, no, no


No, no, no


No, no, no


No, no, no


Yeah! Yeah! Hell Yeah!

Queennandi is the author of Life, Struggle and Reflection (POOR Press, 2006). Leroy Moore (www.leroymoore.com) is the producer of Krip-Hop Mixtape Vols. 1 and 2 — collections of hip-hop artists with disabilities — and a member of the Po Poets Project of POOR Magazine.

Health care paradoxes


OPINION What does homicide in the Western Addition have to do with the closure of the worker’s compensation clinic at San Francisco General Hospital? How does a mobile methadone-treatment van affect the broader public health of San Francisco?

These are just two of the questions that University of San Francisco nursing students are asking while San Francisco residents face a public health and safety crisis.

Public health and safety are both affected by economic conditions. Nonetheless, we must all question a need-blind cutback in services to public health.

It’s the task of San Francisco nursing professors to address the following confounding paradoxes:

Homelessness Nursing students, Department of Public Health staff, and a host of individuals and organizations work together at the commendable, but intermittent, Project Homeless Connect, while midyear budget cuts will shutter Buster’s Place, the only 24-hour drop-in center that serves homeless persons every day of the year.

Mental health Last semester USF students learned that increasingly scarce hospital beds for mentally ill and impoverished San Francisco residents were going to be cut back even further. Now budget cuts are planned that will decrease services for individuals on an outpatient basis.

Violence Nursing students learn about the effectiveness of education and physical exercise in ameliorating the deplorable conditions of the city’s housing projects and streets. The Western Addition has recently suffered from a spate of shootings; it seems an odd time to close a healthy and safe alternative to the violent streets such as tennis courts.

Occupational health The Occupational Health Clinic at SF General will soon be closed. USF students want to know why they should choose to work for a public health system that puts them at high risk for hepatitis B, HIV, back injury, and exposure to violent patients.

Substance use Methadone treatment for opiate addiction is an imperfect clinical intervention, but it’s certainly better than users overdosing on the street or spreading HIV and antibiotic-resistant skin infections by sharing needles. However, methadone treatment is expensive, and an innovative program to bring it to addicts will be delayed for budget reasons.

Access to care While the city’s health plan, Healthy San Francisco, is a laudable attempt to provide optional health care coverage to more residents, the budgets of public health clinics and hospitals that provide the care are being cut back.

Public health nursing San Francisco has pioneered effective programs tackling the disproportionate infant-mortality, asthma, diabetes, and hypertension rates among African American and Latino San Francisco residents. Now the cadre of public health nurses who do this work will be reduced, and Laguna Honda Hospital is being rebuilt with fewer patient beds. Who will monitor and support the disabled and seniors in the community if not the public health nurses?

As public health nurses, we implore our elected officials to protect the most vulnerable while making difficult decisions.

Sasha J. Cuttler

Sasha Cuttler is an assistant professor at the University of San Francisco School of Nursing

Prince Harry and the Bush twins


The breaking news about 23-year-old Prince Harry secretly being deployed in Afghanistan as a battlefield air controller created a public sensation in Britain. It also resulted in the quick return home of the prince – third in line to the British throne – for security reasons.

The episode pointed to the British tradition of expecting the sons of British kings and queens to enter military service when their country is at war.

The same was true in the United States during World War II, when four of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sons entered the armed forces, as did General Dwight Eisenhower’s son, John Eisenhower.

Since the expansion of the number of women in the military, what about George W. Bush’s daughters – Barbara and Jenna? Their father repeatedly describes the war in Iraq as crucially important to protect the United States and to spread democracy in the Middle East.

President Bush also repeatedly asserted that the losses of life and the costs of the Iraq war are “worth the sacrifice.” Whose sacrifice?

Certainly not that of the family in the White House. There have been no indications in this town of 24/7 gossip of either the parents urging or the daughters considering joining the armed forces.

Recently, a Midwestern mother, who lost her son in Iraq, declared, half weeping, “Why am I planning for a funeral when George W. Bush is planning for a wedding?”

Is this mother being unfair? Or is she reflecting a feeling that there is a double standard operating here?

There is a certain moral authority to governing — setting an example, sharing in the sacrifice initiated by the White House — that escapes both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Both were early draft dodgers who were gung-ho for the Vietnam war so long as someone else in their age group was doing the fighting. They both have children who have declined to serve during the Iraq war-occupation.

It would be a different question if the Bush and Cheney offspring had come out publicly against the war or were conscientious objectors. No signs of these positions thus far.

There is a simple safeguard regarding the decision to make war while leaving the younger adult sons and daughters of Congress and the White House enjoying civilian life as the casualties and illnesses of the “other Americans” keep mounting. Ask your member of Congress to introduce a one page bill that says the following: Whenever Congress and the White House take our country to war, all able-bodied military-age children of every member of Congress, the President and the Vice-President will be conscripted automatically into the armed forces.

When politicians’ children are required to go off to war, it tends to concentrate their minds toward waging peace.

Newsom’s woman problem


OPINION Be nice, wait your turn, pay your dues, your time will come.

This is the “guidance” given to women in politics, and many of us have bided our time and paid our share of dues. But what happens when our time comes, and we speak out for what we believe in? We are called pushy, mean, controlling, or cold. And worse — we are stripped of our positions.

In the last month, four of the most respected women in city government have been removed from their posts:

Susan Leal is considered one of city government’s best managers and was leading the city toward a future of sustainable energy usage. According to the Chronicle, she was fired from her position as director of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission because the Mayor did not consider her to be a “team player,” and because it appeared that Leal was readying herself for another run for Mayor in 2011.

Leah Shahum is a fearless bike advocate and Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. She was removed from the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency for being an outspoken critic of the city’s inaction on promoting alternative forms of transportation.

Roma Guy is a fierce advocate for women’s health, a former lecturer in San Francisco State University’s health education department and a longtime progressive activist. She was removed from the city’s Health Commission without explanation.

Debra Walker is the only woman on the city’s powerful Building Inspection Commission, a longtime affordable housing activist, and a fighter for reform and transparency in the Department of Building Inspection (a male-dominated department in a male-dominated field). Walker lost her leadership position on the commission after she was targeted by the mayor’s office for openly disagreeing with his positions.

We can’t allow these affronts to go unnoticed and we can’t afford to lose more good women in poweror let the few that remain be silenced into inaction. It is time for women to stand behind our sisters who work hard every day to represent us in government, many on a volunteer basis, while also pursuing full time careers and caring for their families.

The National Women’s Political Caucus and the San Francisco Women’s Political Committee are working to increase the number of women in positions of influence in city government. In September of last year, 47 elected officials and other community leaders from the San Francisco women’s community came together for a Women’s Policy Summit where the participants agreed that our top priority is to promote more women to positions of influence in government.

Even though women comprise 51 percent of the voting population, we hold only 16 percent of the seats in Congress, 23 percent of state legislative seats nationwide, and 27 percent of the seats on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Only one elected executive office in San Francisco — district attorney — is held by a woman.

San Francisco must do more to promote women to leadership positions. We must also call on the mayor to appoint women to positions of influence in city government and demand an explanation when he removes qualified women from their posts without good cause. The time for patience and waiting our turn has passed. *

Alix Rosenthal, Amy Moy and Micha Liberty

Alix Rosenthal is the founder of the San Francisco Women’s Policy Summit. Amy Moy is president of the San Francisco Women’s Political Committee. Micha Liberty is president of the National Women’s Political Caucus (SF chapter).




OPINION It seems that everyone, from current politicians to former friends and lovers of Harvey Milk, is scrambling to serve as a spokesperson for the new Hollywood movie about the life of Milk, the first openly gay elected official in a major United States city.

Milk joined the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, only to be assassinated (along with then-mayor George Moscone) one year later by Dan White, another member of the board.

Cleve Jones, who worked as a student intern in Milk’s City Hall office (and later started the AIDS Memorial Quilt), is now serving as a consultant for the Gus Van Sant film. At the Castro Theatre on Feb. 4 he encouraged a crowd of extras gathered to re-create the candlelight march that took place after Milk’s murder by saying, "We made history on these streets, and we’re gonna do it again tonight."

But remaking historical moments from the pain and glory days of the past is hardly the same thing as making history in the present. In the 1970s queers fled abusive and stifling families and places of origin to move to San Francisco by the thousands and join dissident subcultures of splendor and defiance. Of course, queers still flee similar conditions; it’s just that the hypergentrified San Francisco of 2008 barely offers the space to breathe, let alone dream.

The excitement around reenactment obscures the reality that some of the same smiling gay men who came to San Francisco in the 1970s have consistently fought misogynist, racist, classist, ageist battles — from carding policies to policing practices to zoning and real estate wars — to ensure that their neighborhood (Milk’s Castro) remains a home only for the rich, white, and male (or at least those who assimilate to white middle-class norms).

Check out a quote from Dan Jinks, one of the producers of the movie, in the Dec. 27, 2007, Bay Area Reporter: "Our great hope is this will revitalize this district and make it a major tourist destination."

Revitalize the Castro, where you’re lucky if you can rent a flat for less than $4,000 or buy property for less than $1 million? Everyone who’s ever set foot in the Castro knows it’s filled with tourists from around the world!

Oh, I know what Jinks means: straight tourists. Some gay people are so anxious to participate in their own cultural erasure.

After White’s 1979 trial, at which he was convicted of manslaughter instead of murder and given a lenient sentence, rioting queers torched police cars and smashed the windows and doors of City Hall. Later that night vengeful cops went to the Castro and destroyed the windows of the Elephant Walk (now Harvey’s), entered the bar to beat up patrons and trash the place, and swung their batons into anyone they encountered.

I’m wondering if the new Van Sant film will end at the candlelight march, thus avoiding talk about such market-unfriendly issues as systemic police violence and property destruction as a political act.

Unfortunately, San Francisco is now more of a playground for the wealthy than a space for the delirious potential of dissidence. But there are still plenty of reasons to protest. Got housing? Got health care? Got citizenship? Nope, we’re just getting milked.

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (www.mattildabernsteinsycamore.com) is the editor, most recently, of Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity (Seal Press, 2006) and an expanded second edition of That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation (out in June from Soft Skull Press).

Cleaning up FERC’s mess


OPINION In the late 1980s, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Charles Trabant warned that "the only thing that we have to fear is FERC itself." He was speaking about his agency’s aggressive policy of preempting state regulatory powers — and undermining the rights of consumers — to encourage utility competition. This spring the Supreme Court will decide whether or not Trabant was right.

FERC’s response to the California energy crisis was too little too late.

At the height of the crisis FERC urged the state and many utilities — desperate to reduce the immediate cost impact of the crisis — to purchase long-term power supply contracts. Energy traders call this type of transaction "blend and extend" because the contract is a mix of short- and long-term prices. During this period, California and many utilities followed FERC’s advice and took advantage of this form of contract with the objective of extending the contracts long enough to keep short-term prices down. One utility, for example, tried to limit prices to a 35 percent rate increase. While the immediate effect was to reduce prices, sellers ended up gaining crisis-related scarcity profits over the longer term of the contract.

After the crisis abated FERC found that short-term prices — including those that had been used in many utilities’ blended contracts — were unjust and unreasonable and ordered sellers to refund revenues that exceeded an administratively determined just price. However, FERC denied the pleas of the state of California and others for adjustments to long-term contract prices. Ironically, it did so based on a "public interest standard," a financial test that considers the welfare of sellers but not that of customers. The public interest standard evolved to enable sellers to unilaterally raise a contract price that is below cost in order to avoid financial harm. Clearly, these were not the circumstances facing those who purchased power to temper customer costs. FERC just reckoned that the price would be passed on to customers.

The federal courts overturned the FERC decision. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that FERC’s oversight was "fatally flawed" and "offers no protection to purchasers victimized by the abuses of sellers or dysfunctional market conditions that FERC itself only notices in hindsight."

Electricity sellers, supported by FERC, have persuaded the Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit’s ruling. Amicus briefs before the Supreme Court paint a dark picture of unwilling investors not providing the capital necessary to maintain reliable electric systems.

The merchant energy sector experienced a severe credit and liquidity crisis in 2002. According to Moody’s Investors Service, the crisis was not caused by regulators’ protecting customers but was due to energy trading having a flawed business model that lacked investment-grade characteristics. The market was taught an expensive lesson with the bankruptcies of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Enron, Mirant Corp., Calpine, and NRG. During this process, however, bankrupt power generators such as Mirant, the owner of the Potrero Hill power plant in San Francisco, used bankruptcy protection to modify contracts to generate value for their creditors.

Creditors have protection in the new competitive markets. Now it is time for the Supreme Court to protect customers too, by enforcing the Federal Power Act as it was written by Congress.

Carl Pechman

Carl Pechman is an economist and the founder of the energy consulting firm Power Economics in Santa Cruz.

The governor’s spending addiction


OPINION Just five months after boasting that California’s "budget deficit is zero," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently came back to tell us the state is facing a staggering $14.5 billion shortfall over the next 18 months.

To deal with this amazing turn of events he is now proposing that we slash funding for our court system; virtually close down our state parks system; cut more than $4.5 billion from K–12 education; decimate our AIDS Drug Assistance Program; further reduce reimbursement rates for health care providers; put the children of mothers on state assistance at risk of homelessness; deny the blind, the elderly, and the disabled even a minimal cost-of-living adjustment; and continue to underfund our higher education systems.

Voters should rightfully be bewildered and seriously concerned. How and when did this crisis happen? How could the state go from a budget deficit of zero to one of $14.5 billion in just five months?

The governor’s earlier boast about our nonexistent budget deficit was a great line from a great showman. But it failed to tell the real story.

The fact remains that Schwarzenegger created the beginnings of this budget catastrophe on his very first day in office, when he followed through on a campaign pledge he made during the 2003 recall election. His promise was to rescind the restoration of the vehicle license fee.

The VLF was created in 1935 as a 1.5 percent tax on the purchase price of every automobile sold in California. Iconic Republican governor Earl Warren raised it to 2 percent in 1948. VLF revenue does not go to the state’s General Fund. Rather, it goes to local governments to pay for fire and police protection, keep libraries and parks open, and keep our streets clean.

In 1998, at the height of the dot-com boom, when California had surplus tax revenue, the Stage Legislature offered car owners a temporary relaxation on the VLF. The average 2 percent VLF was then $300. The "good times" tax break lowered the amount car owners paid to just $100. The state picked up the remaining $200 so local governments would continue to receive the entire $300. At the time this cost the GF around $5 billion annually. The deal was to continue as long as there were "sufficient general funds" to make up the difference.

In 2003, after the boom went bust, we faced a $38 billion state budget deficit. Then-governor Gray Davis’s finance director correctly determined that there were no longer sufficient general funds to continue the good times tax break. The VLF was restored to where it had been for 50 years.

Candidate Schwarzenegger seized on the issue, and the rest is history. Unfortunately, the $6.15 billion that Schwarzenegger is now spending annually on the VLF tax break is money we don’t have. Neither are the billions he’s spending to cover that debt, which stands at more than $20 billion over the past four years. Combined, the cost of the VLF tax break and the debt to service it account for almost 90 percent of our current budget deficit.

Without the governor’s reckless and profligate spending habit, our state would have no budget crisis and there would be no need to dismantle essential governmental services.

We need to finally have an honest conversation with the voters of California. One can debate whether or not the VLF spending program is a good idea. What is not debatable is that the ongoing GF cost of the VLF spending program is the main cause of our budget woes.

An immediate intervention is necessary. We must break the governor’s spending addiction to correct the course of our state.

Mark Leno

Mark Leno represents Assembly District 13 in Sacramento.

The way to honor Matthew Shepard


OPINION Nearly 10 years ago Matthew Shepard was crucified on a fence in Wyoming because he was gay. Recently a bill bearing his name failed to pass the United States Senate.

S 1105, the Matthew Shepard Act, would "provide Federal assistance to States, local jurisdictions, and Indian tribes to prosecute hate crimes." Its supporters are still pushing for its passage, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wants to see it approved early this year. Here is why Congress should not bother:

Nearly 1,500 hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation were reported in the United States in 2006. To reduce that number we do not need a bill that would give the local sheriff a cash grant after some kid decides to crucify another kid because he likes to kiss boys. We need education.

Our school system is structured with the implication of heterosexuality. Any information that be construed as other than strictly heterosexual is rarely taught. James Baldwin is widely read in schools for his writings on the difficulties of living in a racist world. His writings on the difficulties of living in a homophobic world, however, are largely ignored. "The Fire Next Time," an essay on how to "end the racial nightmare" that blacks endure, is more widely read than Giovanni’s Room, which begins with the gay lover of the main male character about to be guillotined.

Most students know Alexander the Great as one of the most important generals of history, conquering most of the known world by the time of his death at 33. Some know of his three wives. Few know of Hephaistion, his lifelong companion, with whom it is widely acknowledged he had a sexual relationship. Through such selective edits of history, students learn (falsely) that heterosexuality is the norm and has been throughout time.

With this background, is it any wonder that hate crimes based on sexual orientation accounted for more than 15 percent of all hate crimes reported in the US in 2006?

These statistics will not be affected by reactionary laws. The Matthew Shepard Act will not change them. It will not allow him to celebrate another birthday. Nor will it help to ensure that no more children are robbed of their birthdays. The best it can hope for is to make sure their persecutors spend their birthdays in jail.

We expect schools to teach our children about history, math, and English and, by extension, about society. When they learn about Alexander but not Hephaistion, about "The Fire Next Time" but not Giovanni’s Room, about the Seneca Falls Convention but not Stonewall, they come to understand that heterosexuality is expected, that it is normal. And few children wish to be abnormal.

What we need in our schools is a curriculum that acknowledges the different sexualities and perceptions of sexuality that have existed in history. Tell the students about Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and Alexander the Great’s Hephaistion. From there, why don’t we let the students decide for themselves what is "normal"?

Matthew Shepherd’s attackers are serving consecutive life sentences in prison. S 1105 might send more people to prison with them. But it cannot prevent them from committing the crimes. Education might. And wouldn’t that be a better legacy to leave Shepard?

Christina Luu

Christina Luu is a student in the Economics Department at Stanford University. She is also a fellow of the Roosevelt Institution’s Center on Education, the nation’s first student-run think tank. She plans to graduate in spring 2010.

How to save the Housing Authority


OPINION After repeated media attention to the myriad problems at the San Francisco Housing Authority, Mayor Gavin Newsom asked the agency’s director, Gregg Fortner, to resign. An interim director, Mirian Saez, was appointed to fill his shoes until a national search is conducted to find a permanent replacement. The mayor has announced replacements for two of the seven commissioners; one of the new appointees, Dwayne Jones, is a senior Newsom staffer.

As an affordable-housing advocate who works with residents of public housing, I am overjoyed at the prospect of change at the agency. No matter who is chosen to be the new director, a few key changes should be seriously considered for the city’s largest low-income-housing provider. Here are some suggestions:

1. Appoint commissioners who get it and care. The mayor could have made sweeping changes after he asked the SFHA commissioners to submit letters of resignation. Instead, he used the opportunity to appoint someone who is on his payroll. As long as political connections continue to trump experience, understanding, and compassion, tenants will suffer. What about having a public process in which residents and the community can nominate candidates? How about sharing the power to appoint housing commissioners with the Board of Supervisors, as is done with some other city commissions?

2. Listen to the residents, damn it! While it is refreshing to see the mayor look for solutions to the rampant problems at the SFHA, a panel of national experts is hardly necessary. The best experts are right here. They are residents, and they are clamoring to have their voices heard. Conduct a local survey, have regular open meetings, encourage the formation of resident councils, work with service providers and community groups that reach out to residents, and allow for resident participation as much as possible.

3. Talk among yourselves. The same lessons we learned after Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina apply to this disaster as well. City agencies that serve public housing residents are often unaware of the major issues at public housing developments. The Departments of Building Inspections and Public Health, for instance, should be monitoring conditions and reporting to the mayor and the supervisors. The Mayor’s Office of Housing should be working closely with the Redevelopment Agency, the Office of Community Development, and the Human Service Agency as they plan for the demolition and rebuilding of distressed projects. City officials and agencies shouldn’t have to pull teeth to get basic information from the SFHA.

4. Tell Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues to fight like hell. Whoever leads the Housing Authority in the future will always have a defense against charges of not addressing poor conditions because Congress keeps hacking away at the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget. We have powerful congressional representation in San Francisco; let’s push harder.

5. Step up to the plate to provide local resources to improve public housing. As hard as we fight to leverage more federal funds, it is nearly certain that the SFHA will still be severely underfunded. We can no longer rely solely on federal funds to house our lowest-income residents. A commitment to creative and innovative local funding solutions must continue or we will see an increase in the exodus of African American families, which the mayor claims to be committed to curbing.

Sara Shortt

Sara Shortt is executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.

Imagine San Francisco without rent control


OPINION If you think the mortgage foreclosure crisis is big, imagine what would happen to San Francisco if rent control were repealed.

With 180,000 rent-controlled apartments currently housing more than 350,000 San Franciscans, the end of rent control would be disastrous. Literally hundreds of thousands would be forced from their homes and forced to leave the city.

The pain and suffering people would face as they lost their homes would be immense, making the foreclosure problem seem insignificant by comparison. Maybe even worse, repealing rent control would destroy forever the soul of San Francisco, eliminating altogether the city’s character and diversity and leaving it nothing more than a wealthy enclave affordable only to the very rich.

Envisioning the loss of rent control and the effect that would have is not fantasy. A statewide ballot measure this June would abolish rent control in San Francisco and all across California. The measure would also abolish requirements that developers include affordable housing in their projects. That means we could wake up on June 4 this year with all affordable housing in San Francisco gone — unless we all work as hard as we can to save our rent control and our affordable housing.

In 1979, rent control was adopted in San Francisco, and it was accomplished only because thousands of San Francisco tenants made it happen. People collected signatures, made phone calls, walked precincts, packed City Hall hearings, and demonstrated and marched. Through collective grassroots activism, rent control became a reality. Now many of us think of rent control as something we’ve always had and a law that will always be there.

But we need to face reality: in five months, all limits on rent hikes could be gone. It won’t be easy to save rent control, and we need to begin our work now. The fate of rent control will largely be up to voters in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where most California renters live. Los Angeles tenants are organizing and mounting a strong campaign there. We need to do the same in San Francisco.

The San Francisco campaign to save rent control will kick off Jan. 19 with a citywide mobilization of tenants and allied organizations to plan and begin our work. If we’re going to save rent control, we need the same level of grassroots activism we had when we fought to get rent control in 1979, and we need tenants to come to the Save Rent Control Convention and begin the hard work to keep our homes.

This will be a working convention: following an overview about the measure, we will map out strategies and plans for fundraising, voter registration and education, media strategies, Web site development, rally organization, and all of the other components that make for a successful grassroots campaign. The tasks are many, and there’s not much time.

If we lose rent control, we’ll lose not just our homes but also our city. Saving rent control is not a fight people can sit out and hope someone else will do something about.

Ted Gullicksen

Ted Gullicksen runs the San Francisco Tenants Union.

The Save Rent Control Convention will be Jan. 19, 1–4 p.m., at Centro del Pueblo, 474 Valencia (at 16th St.), SF. For more information on the rent control repeal measure, see www.saverentcontrol.net or www.sftu.org. For more information, call (415) 282-5525.

Shut down the zoo


OPINION In San Francisco’s June 1997 special election, the swells convinced the voters to float $48 million in bonds to build a "world-class" zoo, which would entail largely privatizing a public institution, leaving the city on the hook for liabilities while giving a private nonprofit the benefits.

The initiative passed — you can’t get warmer or fuzzier than a tiger or a koala — and the San Francisco Zoo, relinquished to the tutelage of corporate fixer Jim Lazarus, was largely gifted as another privatized party space for the rich.

The case might be made that zoos can serve as genetic incubators in the face of widespread habitat destruction. But the city’s precautionary principle, like the Hippocratic oath, should prevail on us to do no harm in seeking to prevent extinction.

The record of the privatized Zoo has hardly been a story of precaution:

In 2000, two already sick koalas were kidnapped from the Zoo and not returned for two days.

A 12-year-old Siberian tiger, Emily, died in October 2004. Tatiana was just murdered at age four. Siberian tigers generally live to be 24 years old in captivity.

Two elands, majestic African antelope, were introduced improperly into close quarters with an already resident eland at the Zoo, which led to a spate of deadly eland-on-eland violence and the deaths of the two newcomers.

Apparently, shoddy attention to detail hastened the demise of Puddles the hippopotamus in May 2007. Hippos, like African elephants, thrive in nature preserves located in their native tropical habitat.

If zoos are to be a successful component of protecting endangered species, it’s paramount that their conditions not kill the specimens. Perhaps an affiliation with a major research institution is required to ensure that professionalism is the order of the day to ward against what appears to be amateur hour at the zoo.

It’s one thing for the swells to occupy public spaces such as the de Young Museum, City Hall, and the San Francisco Public Library as edifications to their egos — only fellow humans are inconvenienced. But for the rich to wrap themselves in the distinction of being movers and shakers in the San Francisco Zoological Society and wring glee from the glow of imprisoning animals in inhospitable conditions is truly pathological.

The Zoo should be closed, its animals sent to facilities capable of caring for them, and the land used for affordable housing. The city should replace the Zoo with an academic partnership with legitimate wildlife sanctuaries around the world to subsidize conservation, produce video footage of animals in their natural habitats, and arrange trips to see wild animals in the wild for San Francisco youths who otherwise could not afford it.

That would be a true 21st-century, world-class approach to bringing the wonder of exotic animals to San Franciscans.

Marc Salomon

Marc Salomon is a member of the SF Green Party County Council.

Cindy Sheehan’s SF values


OPINION A major difference between Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s values and my values surfaced last month.

On Friday, Dec. 14, I learned that since 2002, Pelosi has been a silent partner in the George W. Bush regime’s torture policy. As a Bay Area resident for the past 15 years, I can say with confidence that the use of torture is not a San Francisco value.

According to a Dec. 9 Washington Post article, Pelosi was one of four members of Congress to witness a "virtual tour" of secret CIA detention sites. Officials have described the briefings as "detailed and graphic." The article, by Joby Warrick and Jan Eggen, revealed that the House Intelligence Committee received 30 briefings on the CIA’s torture chambers and the "harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk."

In 2003, Congressperson Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who was also present during the briefings, filed a letter of protest over the interrogation program. After the Democrats won control of the House in 2006, Pelosi passed over Harman, who was in line for chair of the Intelligence Committee, instead naming Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) to the position. Harman, who publicly voiced her discontent at her demotion, was punished for speaking out when Pelosi would not.

Pelosi and I both know that the use of torture is outlawed under both the US Army Field Manual and the Geneva Conventions. I have chosen to speak out against the Bush administration’s use of torture. Pelosi has chosen to remain silent.

Through her complicity and her actions, Pelosi continues to support an illegal policy that harms our soldiers in the field and is counterproductive to winning the hearts and minds of the Arab and Muslim world. Even committed warmonger Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) realizes that the use of torture as a tool to garner information is a flawed and inhumane strategy.

Pelosi has used her position as Speaker of the House to protect the criminal Bush regime, and although she has pledged to hold the president accountable for the Iraq war, she continues to give him the money, and therefore the means, to wage it.

San Franciscan values are good values. We want every person to be guaranteed the very same basic human rights that Pelosi and her wealthy cronies enjoy: peace, shelter, nutritious and plentiful food, health care, education, and the right to live free from torture. I would add the right to marry whomever one loves regardless of gender or orientation.

The neocon hatemongers have tried to make the word liberal an obscenity. Fox News jester Bill O’Reilly has publicly stated that al Qaeda can "go ahead" and "blow up" San Francisco. We cannot allow our values to be marginalized and ridiculed any longer. Our values must spread across this nation because we care about people and we care about true freedom and real representative democracy.

Pelosi abdicated her role as defender of our values and needs years ago, but especially so when she countenanced torture and refused to impeach the Bush regime when San Franciscans voted overwhelmingly in a referendum for impeachment.

The choice is simple and clear in California’s District 8. If you want San Francisco values represented in Congress, vote for me in November. If you support torture and war crimes, then vote for Pelosi. *

Cindy Sheehan

Antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan is running for Congress as an independent.

A lousy casino deal


OPINION After spending millions in campaign contributions, four of the state’s wealthiest and most powerful tribes — Pechanga, Morongo, Agua Caliente, and Sycuan — have cut themselves sweetheart deals for one of the largest expansions of casino gambling in United States history.

As a California Indian and vice-chairman of the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization, an organization working to protect the civil rights of Native Americans, I am deeply concerned that the deals on the February ballot — Propositions 94, 95, 96, and 97 — benefit four tribes at the expense of other tribes, the workers at these tribes’ casinos, and California taxpayers.

The big four tribes bring in huge profits from their existing casinos and spend heavily to influence state laws. Yet they are eager to deny California voters their right to decide this issue and have fought to keep these deals off the ballot and prevent the voters from having their say. Could it be that the big four tribes know their sweetheart deals may not hold up to voter scrutiny?

Here are a few reasons to vote no on Props. 94, 95, 96, and 97.

Labor unions oppose the measures because the deals would shower four wealthy tribes with billions in profits but fail to ensure the most basic rights for casino workers, including affordable health insurance. A study conducted by David Farris, a University of California at Riverside professor of economics, found that Agua Caliente’s health coverage is so expensive that 56 percent of the dependent children of casino workers are forced into taxpayer-funded health care programs.

In addition, the expansion of tribal gaming in California has seen an increase in the number of human and civil rights violations, especially within tribes that have gaming operations. These abuses have resulted in thousands of disenfranchised Indians being cut off from or denied health care benefits, elder benefits, education assistance, and other social services provided by their tribal governments.

Other tribes also oppose the deals. Just four of California’s 108 tribes would get control over one-third of the state’s Indian gaming pie. The deals would create dominant casinos that could economically devastate smaller tribes and local businesses. Moreover, the big four deals fail to adhere to the purpose and intent of previous gaming initiatives, which led California voters to believe there would be modest casino expansion and that Indian gaming would benefit all California Indians and taxpayers.

The big four deals would give these tribes an additional 17,000 slot machines. That’s more than all of the slots at a dozen big Las Vegas casinos. As a result, California would become home to some of the largest casinos in the world.

While the big four would make billions of dollars from these new deals, promises to taxpayers would fall short. The claims about the amount of money the state would get under these deals are wildly exaggerated, and the state’s independent, nonpartisan legislative analyst called the tribes’ figures unrealistic. In fact, under these deals the big four tribes themselves would determine how much revenue they would pay to the state.

Join labor unions, educators, public safety officials, tribes, taxpayers, senior groups, and civil rights and environmental organizations and vote no on 94, 95, 96, and 97. *

John Gomez Sr.

John Gomez Sr. is vice-chairman of the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization.

The case for Kucinich


OPINION At a recent Potrero Hill Democratic Club presidential forum, when the representatives of Hilary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama spoke more about how the candidates made them feel than about their positions on the issues, it first struck me as strange. Eventually, though, their approach made sense — I realized these people weren’t necessarily all that hot about their candidates’ actual policies.

In defending their health care programs, for instance, the Clinton and Obama reps tacitly acknowledged that a single-payer plan was superior to their candidates’ offerings, while the Edwards spokesperson cautioned the audience against seeking a candidate who believed everything they believed.

Maybe it’s the lack of distinct seasons in San Francisco or something, but these people seemed confused about the difference between voting in a primary and in a final election. November is the month when you vote for what you have to vote for; in February you can vote for what you believe in. In November the halfhearted health plan of one of these candidates, which would continue siphoning scarce public funds away from health services and into the coffers of the private health insurance industry, will likely be superior to whatever scheme the Republican nominee offers up. But in the February primary you can actually vote for Dennis Kucinich’s single-payer plan.

Logically, we might ask why any of these front-running candidates who won’t pledge to have all American troops out of Iraq by the end of their first term should expect much support in San Francisco, arguably the nation’s most antiwar city. Why would anyone who opposes this war not back a candidate like Kucinich, who calls for complete troop withdrawal within three months? Or why, for that matter, would voters who support gay marriage not also back Kucinich, a gay-marriage supporter himself?

Well, when I appear as a Kucinich representative at election forums, people answer those questions for me all the time in postmeeting conversations. They and their friends believe in what Kucinich says, they often tell me, but "he can’t win," so they’ll vote for someone who they think can.

Now let’s be honest here and admit that those of us who get worked up about peace and justice issues are prone to complain a lot. We are ever bemoaning the influence of money in politics and the poor job the news media do in covering the real issues. But when we get to the point where a candidate is raising the important issues and we know we agree with him and we still won’t vote for him, then the next time we start complaining, it may just be time to look in the mirror.

Casting a vote against the war in Iraq is a lot easier than marching against it or even writing a letter. But if antiwar voters won’t vote for antiwar candidates, you have to ask why those candidates should go to the trouble of running and why the big-money candidates should pay any attention to the supposed antiwar vote.

Whatever else happens in this election, one thing is certain: if you don’t vote in February for what you believe in, you won’t get to vote for it in November. And then there will be no one else to blame. *

Tom Gallagher, a former Massachusetts state representative, is a San Francisco activist.