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Why insurers love the new health plan


OPINION If you’re one of the 6.5 million Californians without health coverage, get ready to find a lot of hands in your pocket.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s much-trumpeted health plan is the most ambitious overhaul of the state’s health care system since … well, since SB 840, the far simpler, more universal, more comprehensive, single-payer health plan sponsored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, which the governor vetoed last September.

Unlike a single-payer system, with one entity that pays for everything using existing private hospitals and doctors and offers one standard of quality care for all, the Schwarzenegger plan is a mishmash likely to saddle more Californians with unaffordable, inferior coverage while opening a new gilded age for insurers and banks.

Once the legislature prunes away the proposed new tax on employers, hospitals, and doctors (which is likely) and eliminates the laudable pledge to assure coverage for the undocumented, the governor’s plan is apt to end up stripped down to its worst elements — a mandate that all individuals have to buy health insurance and the dubious promotion of a Bush administration scheme, health savings accounts.

Individual mandates turn the whole purpose of health care on its head — they criminalize people, rather than helping them. If you don’t sign up for a plan, you could become ineligible to get a job and enroll your child in school or face tax penalties.

With no controls on skyrocketing premiums, comprehensive plans will be out of reach for millions of Californians. Most could end up with junk insurance, with up to $10,000 in out-of-pocket payments for any medical care, meaning the average person will likely pay for all his or her medical expenses on top of the premiums. And many may forgo any medical care, risking worse health problems and greater health costs down the road.

Even lower-income people who qualify for the state subsidy could end up paying out 6 percent of their income. Presumably, they’ll just cut back on food or rent — at the same time that the governor has announced plans for welfare cuts.

Then there’s the $2 billion now used for indigent care at mostly public hospitals that will be siphoned off into the pool for buying insurance, ravaging our public health social safety net.

But the insurance companies will suddenly get millions of new customers, who will be buying insurance at gunpoint. No wonder Blue Shield CEO Bruce Bodaken says of the plan, "There’s a lot to like."

If nothing else, the Schwarzenegger plan — and the lite versions proposed by the Democratic leaders of the Senate and Assembly — should be a call to action for the rest of us to press harder than ever for the enactment of the soon-to-be-reintroduced single-payer Kuehl bill. *

Zenei Cortez

Zenei Cortez, RN, is the vice president of the California Nurses Association.

Tears and Happyness


OPINION I’m not sure why the new movie The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden Smith, based on the life of previously homeless Chris Gardner’s rise to millionaire, is so hard to write about. I am rarely at a loss for words, especially about poverty, homelessness, and racism. Perhaps it’s because this movie made me so sad that even as I try for the 40th time to write this, my eyes well up with broken tears. Not tears for the amazing Horatio Alger, old-school, pre–New Deal, up-by-the-bootstraps, 1930s-esque, blind-to-flagrant-racism-and-classism story.

No, instead my tears are deep and blood-filled for myself and my mama, homeless in a broken-down car for years upon years on the bitter cold streets of Oakland; for fellow poverty scholars and formerly homeless welfare queens and Poor Magazine staff members; for Jewnbug and her mama, Vivien and Jasmine Hain, Laurie McElroy and her son, and all the other unseen children, adults, and elders who subsist homeless in America, barely holding on through countless overnight stays in the sidewalk hotel. Tears for the fact that homelessness can happen with the regularity that it does, that every year Sister Bernie Galvin from Witness for Homeless People mourns the loss of hundreds more people who have died on the streets of San Francisco, one of the richest cities in the world.

Or perhaps they are only tears for Gardner, a poor man of African descent who was so driven to "make it" in this capitalist reality that he didn’t see the tragic paradox of his own situation — his continual denial of the rampant racism in his Dean Witter internship. Tears for a man who came so close to not making it in that palace of oppression, as he and his son slept on the floor of a bus station bathroom.

Or maybe they’re just tears for the myth of the bootstraps and how there is no place for that lie in the 21st century as more and more people locally and globally hover on the dangerous precipice of homelessness, wrongly believing it’s just about working hard enough and anyone can achieve what they want.

Or maybe they’re tears of admiration — for an amazing and dedicated father who no matter what was there for his son, like so many of us poor mamas and papas.

Or maybe the tears are because Gardner, when asked on a radio show if he believed that there was an essential problem with him and his son being homeless in one of the richest cities in the world, replied with a resounding no: it was just about working harder, and anyone can achieve anything they set out to do.

Or maybe they are in fact tears for my son, who watched his mama cry from depression and the reality that no matter how hard you pull up your threadbare bootstraps and pound the pavement and pinch pennies and beg your landlord and stand in food lines and look for jobs and affordable child care, you still won’t make it. *


Tiny, also known as Lisa Gray-Garcia, is the author of the new book Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America, published by City Lights Foundation, and the founder of Poor Magazine.

The P-U-litzer prizes


Competition has been fierce for the fifteenth annual P.U.-litzer Prizes. Many can plausibly lay claim to stinky media performances, but only a few can win a P.U.-litzer. As the judges for this un-coveted award, Jeff Cohen and I have deliberated with due care. (Jeff is the founder of the media watch group FAIR and author of the superb new book “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.”)

And now, the winners of the P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2006:

“FACT-FREE TRADE” AWARD — New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman

In a press corps prone to cheer on corporate-drafted trade agreements as the key to peace and plenty in the world, no cheerleader is more fervent than Tom Friedman. During a CNBC interview with Tim Russert in July, Friedman confessed: “I was speaking out in Minnesota — my hometown, in fact — and a guy stood up in the audience, said, ‘Mr. Friedman, is there any free trade agreement you’d oppose?’ I said, ‘No, absolutely not.’ I said, ‘You know what, sir? I wrote a column supporting the CAFTA,
the Caribbean Free Trade initiative. I didn’t even know what was in it. I just knew two words: free trade.’”

(Friedman may not have read even the pact’s title; CAFTA actually stands for the Central America Free Trade Agreement.)


Soon after being hired as a CNN pundit, Bennett went on his radio talk show and offered his views on freedom of the press — and on reporters who broke stories about warrantless wiretapping and secret CIA detention sites “against the wishes of the president, against the request of the president and others.” Bennett fumed: “Are they embarrassed, are they arrested? No, they win Pulitzer Prizes. I don’t think what they did was worthy of an award — I think what they did was worthy of jail, and I think this investigation needs to go forward.”


As the movie “Brokeback Mountain” (about a relationship between two cowboys) was gaining attention and audience in January, Chris Matthews appeared on the Imus show to hail “the wonderful Michael Savage” and the talk-show host’s nickname for the movie: “Bareback Mounting.” Matthews and Savage had been MSNBC colleagues until “the wonderful” Savage was fired — after referring to an apparently gay caller as a “sodomite” and telling him to “get AIDS and die.” Now that’s hardball.


Echoing an Iraq war talking-point heard regularly on Fox News, owner Murdoch said on the eve of the November election: “The death toll, certainly of Americans there, by the terms of any previous war are quite minute.” As FAIR noted, U.S. deaths in Iraq exceed those in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War, not to mention the combined U.S. deaths of all this country’s other military actions since Vietnam — including Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the first Gulf War, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

FRONT-PAGE PUNDIT AWARD — Reporter Michael Gordon and The New York Times

With many voters telling pollsters that they want U.S. troops to leave Iraq, the Times front-paged a post-election analysis by Michael Gordon — headlined “Get Out of Iraq Now? Not So Fast, Experts Say” — quoting three hand-picked “experts” who decried the possibility of troop withdrawal. Gordon didn’t tell readers that one of his “experts,” former CIA analyst Ken Pollack, had relentlessly promoted an Iraq invasion based on wildly false claims about an Iraqi threat. Gordon took off his reporter’s hat that night on CNN to become an unabashed advocate for his view that withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq would lead to “civil war” (as though civil war weren’t already underway).


In November, Beck — an Islamophobic host on CNN Headline News — launched into his interview with Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, a Muslim American, this way: “I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, ‘Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.’” Beck then added: “And I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.” Is it possible that primetime bigots like CNN’s Beck have something to do with the prejudices “that a lot of Americans feel”?


One role of journalism should be to help the public learn from past government policy disasters in hopes of preventing future ones. But in a New York Times column on Oct. 2, former ABC News star Koppel wrote that Washington should tell Iran it is free to develop an atomic bomb — with a Mafia-like warning: “If a dirty bomb explodes in Milwaukee, or some other nuclear device detonates in Baltimore or Wichita, if Israel or Egypt or Saudi Arabia should fall victim to a nuclear ‘accident,’ Iran should understand that the United States government will not search around for the perpetrator. The return address will be predetermined, and it will be somewhere in Iran.” In other words, no matter what the evidence, Koppel urged our government to attack a predetermined foe, Iran. Didn’t that happen in 2003 with Iraq?

Hold your nose and prepare yourself for 2007.

Norman Solomon’s book “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” is out in paperback. For more information, go to: www.normansolomon.com

City College’s latest abomination


OPINION Battles to preserve the unique character of San Francisco’s neighborhoods are nothing new. Indeed, most of the current crop of supervisors were elected in large part as a reaction to east-side development battles that raged during the first dot-com boom a half dozen years ago.
In the northeast corner of San Francisco, I have long been part of the struggle to preserve the character of some of the city’s oldest, most historic neighborhoods against the onslaught of incompatible development.
Decades ago, as downtown was expanding northward, gobbling up thriving, diverse communities and destroying dozens of historic buildings, community activists won a monumental zoning battle by drawing a bright line down Washington Street. On one side is the massive Downtown Business District, where the Transamerica Pyramid sits. On the other side are the human-scale neighborhoods of Chinatown, North Beach, and Jackson Square, San Francisco’s first historic district.
We have fought hard to maintain this barrier against the Manhattanization of our neighborhoods. In the late 1990s I joined with neighbors to successfully prevent the destruction of the landmark Colombo Building at the gateway from downtown into these historic neighborhoods. So when more than 200 neighbors showed up at a recent public meeting to protest the threat of yet another high-rise encroachment, I certainly took notice. Who was it this time? Not a private developer but our very own City College is now proposing a 17-story, 238-foot glass monstrosity at the corner of Kearny and Washington streets. And the college is arguing that, as a state agency, it can ignore San Francisco planning and zoning codes.
As the city’s Chinatown Area Plan states, the proposed site, which is located diagonally opposite Portsmouth Square, one of the city’s most heavily used parks, is not an appropriate setting for tall buildings. Seventy-five percent of the structures in Chinatown are three stories or less in height. The permitted height of buildings at this site is 65 feet. In addition, the proposed building would overshadow Portsmouth Square and likely condemn it to significant shading.
While I support a new campus for the Chinatown–<\d>North Beach area, City College administrators have failed to reach out to the community — and now they appear to be jamming through their latest proposal, ignoring objections from their neighbors and simultaneously committing millions of dollars of taxpayer funds to the project well before the completion of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Plans for the site were hurriedly submitted for environmental review in September without prior community input or consideration of alternatives such as a combination of smaller buildings or a location of adjunct campuses in underserved areas of the city — the Richmond, the Sunset, or Visitacion Valley. Moreover, the college’s construction bureaucracy apparently tried to stifle public comment by providing little notice and scheduling the only environmental scoping hearing immediately after Thanksgiving.
Unfortunately, just a week after that meeting the college’s Board of Trustees approved a $122 million budget for the project, which can only be interpreted as a clear sign that they have already made their decision regardless of what impacts are identified in the EIR. And perhaps, most ominously, administrators may be pushing to make the project a fait accompli before newly elected Sierra Club leader John Rizzo is inaugurated.
It’s time for City College to listen to its neighbors and go back to the drawing board.

Aaron Peskin is president of the Board of Supervisors.

Impeachment is now the only option


EDITORIAL We can all stop hoping and pretending now: the facts are in. No matter what anyone right, left, or center says, no matter what the truth is on the ground, no matter how clear and powerful public opinion has become, President George W. Bush isn’t going to change anything about the war in Iraq.
That’s what we saw from the president’s press conference with British prime minister Tony Blair on Dec. 7 and from his statements since. He’s not going to start withdrawing troops, and he’s not going to negotiate with other regional powers.
The Iraq Study Group report has its flaws. It talks about diplomatic discussions with Iran and Syria, but it stops short of describing the real reason the United States is bogged down in the Middle East (the lack of a coherent energy policy that doesn’t rely on foreign oil). It suggests that the United States should leave the job of rebuilding Iraq to Iraqis but fails to state that the country responsible for all the problems should play a role in paying for its solutions. And it would leave thousands of US soldiers in Iraq as advisers for the long term, putting them in serious jeopardy.
Still, it’s at least a dose of badly needed reality. The report acknowledges that the Bush administration’s current policies have made an awful mess of Iraq, that the situation is deteriorating, and that continuing the current path isn’t an acceptable option. And it recommends that all combat forces leave Iraq by 2008.
That such a broad-based, bipartisan panel would reach that conclusion unanimously isn’t really that much of a surprise. Everyone with any sense in Washington and around the world these days agrees that the United States needs to set a timetable for withdrawal. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist who initially supported the war and has long argued that some good could still come out of it, wrote Dec. 8 that the group’s recommendations “will only have a chance of being effective if we go one notch further and set a fixed date — now — for Americans to leave Iraq.” Even conservative syndicated columnist George Will noted the same day that “the deterioration is beyond much remediation.”
As long as the United States retains combat troops in Iraq, they will be the target of sectarian violence and the focus of that war. When they leave, the Iraqis will have no obvious villain, and there might be an actual hope for a long-term resolution.
The notion of an all-out Kurd versus Shiite versus Sunni civil war isn’t going to make anyone in Damascus or Tehran happy, since those two governments will be caught in the middle. And a clear statement from the United States that American troops will be leaving on a specific date not too far in the future is, the majority of experts agree, the only way to bring all the parties to the table for a serious and meaningful discussion.
And yet Bush and Dick Cheney remain alone, aloof, refusing to acknowledge that military victory in Iraq is utterly impossible and that the old mission of establishing a US client state in the Middle East will never be accomplished.
The death toll for US troops is approaching 3,000. The cost is running at $250 million a day. This simply can’t be allowed to continue. If Bush and Cheney refuse to begin a withdrawal program, then Congress needs to act decisively on two fronts.
The first is to inform the president that under the Constitution, Congress has the sole power to declare war and this Congress will no longer pay for Bush’s military adventure in Iraq.
But there’s a larger problem here. Bush and Cheney have lied to the American people, taken us into war on the basis of fraudulent information, and violated their oaths of office. Back in January we called on Congress to begin debating articles of impeachment; the GOP-controlled House wasn’t about to do that. But things are different now. The voters have made it very clear that they don’t like the president’s war, and the Democrats have a clear mandate for change.
Impeachment is serious business, but Bush has left us no alternative. We can’t simply allow the war to continue as it has been, year after bloody year, until Bush’s term expires.
The only thing holding up impeachment hearings is the word of the incoming speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who said during the campaign that option was “not on the table.” Well, it ought to be on the table now. Pelosi should publicly inform Democratic leaders in the House who support impeachment that she won’t block an impeachment effort. And her constituents in San Francisco need to keep the pressure on her to allow Congress to move forward on its most important responsibility in decades.
This isn’t going to be easy. Even the San Francisco Chronicle now acknowledges that Pelosi is governing like a moderate. It will take a reenergized peace movement and a huge new national mobilization to put pressure on her and every member of Congress. But the stakes are too high to wait. It’s time to start, today. SFBG

Be nice to pigeons!


OPINION Until two years ago I didn’t give a rat’s ass about pigeons. But then I began researching my book, and I was stunned by what I didn’t know. I quickly grew to admire the birds — and this coming from a guy who still prefers playing fetch with a dog to running about with a pair of binoculars chasing pretty tail.
San Francisco, it seems, is of two minds about pigeons. The city was ahead of the curve (as usual) when it banned avicides, which are used to target pigeons but indiscriminately punish all birds. That’s a great thing. Not only are the avicides cruel and difficult to control — they don’t work. Sure, you’ll see a lot of dead pigeons around. You might even see them fall out of the sky and convulse on the ground. But as they say, nature abhors a vacuum, and even more pigeons will fill the void.
San Francisco has also banned the feeding of pigeons (although songbirds still get a free lunch). The ban feels a touch cruel, but the city is on to something: too much food leads to too much breeding, which leads to too many pigeons, which leads to collections of unsightly droppings. It’s not the pigeons that are the problem, it’s that there are simply too many of them, which is why their droppings appear to pile up. Overfeeding exacerbates the problem.
But rather than banning feeding altogether, the city should consider reguutf8g the feeding. People like feeding pigeons, and there’s no law short of capital punishment that will stop them from this enjoyable pastime.
Many European cities have had success with a humane pigeon control policy that drops a pigeon population by half in a handful of years. It works like this: the city places modern-day dovecotes around town and encourages citizens to feed the pigeons there and only there. Pigeons like dovecotes and choose to lay their eggs there. At the end of each week, a park’s employee can cull the eggs.
Wildlife can be inconvenient. But does that mean we need to brutalize it? The pigeon has athletic abilities and an unparalleled history nothing short of astounding. Pigeons are the world’s oldest domesticated bird — Noah’s dove was a pigeon. They have been utilized by every major historical superpower from ancient Egypt to the United States. It was a pigeon that delivered the results of the first Olympics in 776 BCE and a pigeon that first brought news of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo some 2,500 years later. Nearly a million pigeons served in both world wars and are credited with saving thousands of soldiers’ lives. They have served us loyally for aeons — and look upon us as their guardians.
Pigeons don’t carry any more diseases than we do, and they are only as filthy as our own cities. The queen of England doesn’t consider the birds dirty. Rather, she owns racing pigeons. Many of us forget that pigeons are really just doves (rock doves), which we view as a sign of purity. Picasso’s doves? He was painting pigeons. In fact, he named his daughter Paloma, Spanish for pigeon.
It’d be great if America’s most progressive city were to develop a humane pigeon control program that the rest of the nation could then copy. Not only would it be great publicity for a great city, it’s the right thing to do. SFBG
Andrew D. Blechman
Andrew D. Blechman is the author of Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird (Grove Press).

A sex offender’s story


OPINION I am a registered sex offender. I have lived in San Francisco since 1997. I moved here from the state of Minnesota. I am also an openly gay male.
At the time I committed my crime, I was 19, he was 13. I was attending college in Duluth, Minn. I was running a personal ad, he sent me a letter, and I arranged to meet with him. We engaged in intercourse.
It was one of many mistakes I’ve made over the years. I’m also HIV-positive, have a history of substance abuse, and have mental illness. I’ve sought and received treatment. I have access to the help that I need.
I go to a wonderful health clinic in the Mission District of San Francisco. I have friends here. I’m politically active. This is my home.
I’ve been in a variety of living arrangements. I’ve held a number of jobs. I have clerical skills. I’m integrated into the community and getting help and support.
I’m on Supplemental Security Income right now. The plan was for me to go back to school, then go back to work. Those plans are on hold. My hopes and dreams hang in the balance.
Proposition 83, a law that passed in November, bars registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park. That means it bars us from living in San Francisco. It affects my life and the lives of thousands of others. Some are guilty only of having been entrapped. Many are transient.
Most of us have received various degrees of help. Some of us are more functional than others. We can be, and have been, rehabilitated. We hold down jobs, rent apartments, buy homes, get married, go to church, have friends, have families.
I have lived here for more than nine years, all that time in San Francisco, all that time within 2,000 feet of a school or a playground. I have not reoffended. Most sex offenders who receive treatment do not reoffend.
Most sex crimes take place in the home. Most of the offenders know the victim. Prop. 83 will not work. It’s draconian, and it’s unconstitutional.
The courts are now considering whether the law can apply retroactively to people who have already served their sentence and paid for their crime. If that ruling goes the wrong way, many of us could be forced out of our communities, away from the help we need.
I have no trust in the legislature or the governor. I hope and pray the courts will rule wisely.
I could lose everything. So could 93,000 other human beings.<\!s>SFBG
XYZ is the pseudonym of a San Francisco community activist.

No pass for Newsom


EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom may tell the media that he’s not sure he wants his job anymore, but the reality is that he’s been running for reelection for months. His campaign team is in place, the fundraising is about to kick into high gear, and when 2007 dawns Newsom will start to line up endorsements, put money in the bank, and do everything possible to clear the field. That’s not just a campaign consultant’s fantasy: right now there’s no clear, obvious opponent for a mayor whose poll ratings are almost unimaginably high.
But Newsom can’t be allowed to run without any credible opponent. Somebody has to challenge Newsom — and it’s not as impossible as it might seem.
As Steven T. Jones reports (“Blood in the Water,” page 12), Newsom’s popularity is broad but not terribly deep. He’s got a lot of feel-good political capital that dates back to the same-sex marriage days, but there are a lot of really serious problems facing the city — and when you get right down to it, Newsom hasn’t done a hell of a lot to address any of them. For the past year San Francisco politics and public policy have been driven by the Board of Supervisors, with the mayor reacting. Other than cutting welfare payments for homeless people, it’s hard to think of a single major local initiative that the mayor has taken on. He certainly hasn’t ended homelessness. He hasn’t brought down the violent crime level. He hasn’t improved Muni. He hasn’t done much to create jobs and clearly hasn’t made the city a better place for small locally owned independent businesses.
He’s letting developers call the shots at the Planning Department, letting landlords drive housing policy, following the lead of some very bad actors downtown on education, and letting the city’s structural budget problems fester.
In 2003, Newsom was a strong front-runner from day one and beat back a dramatic challenge from Matt Gonzalez, in part because he had so much money. This time around, money may not be the deciding factor: with public financing in place, a candidate who can raise a respectable sum (a few hundred thousand, not a few million) will be able to mount a competitive effort. And with ranked-choice voting (RCV), several candidates challenging Newsom from different perspectives might leave the mayor unable to pull together a clear majority. (If RCV had been in place in 2003, it’s entirely possible, if not likely, that Gonzalez would have been elected mayor.)
The list of people who have either talked about running or are being pushed by one interest group or another is long, and some of the strongest potential challengers seem to be biding their time. It’s true that the filing deadline isn’t until August, and in both 1999 and 2003 late entrants in the progressive camp made the best showings.
Still, if Newsom has the field to himself all spring and summer and nobody challenges his statements, questions his record, or offers people an alternative, the incumbent will try to anoint himself as the inevitable winner.
So at the very least, progressives need to make sure the mayor isn’t allowed to coast this spring. The supervisors need to keep pushing issues like police reform. They need to make sure the budget hearings point up the mayor’s real priorities. And elected officials and civic activists should hold off on endorsing Newsom by default, unless and until he presents some evidence that he’s going to do a lot better in the next four years than he’s done in this term.

Newsom should comply with Prop. I


OPINION Much has been said about Mayor Gavin Newsom’s stunning defeat at the ballot Nov. 7. Newsom’s slate of endorsements went down in flames — from supervisorial candidates Rob Black and Doug Chan to the contenders he hoped would take control of the school board to a host of progressive ballot propositions, including worker sick leave and relocation assistance for evicted tenants. Every incumbent supervisor was also reelected, indicating an overall approval level of the Board of Supervisor’s performance. And the voters took a further unprecedented step with the passage of Proposition I, which asked the mayor to appear before the board in person once a month to discuss city policy. The voters sent a clear message that they want the mayor to work with the supervisors rather than against them.
Will Newsom respect the mandate and comply with Prop. I? It’s anyone’s guess right now. The measure is not legally binding, and he vehemently opposed it. Here are five reasons why Newsom should comply with Prop. I:
1. The voters asked him to. Newsom claims to care about the will of the voters. He cited the “will of the voters” as his basis for vetoing a six-month trial of car-free space in Golden Gate Park — even though a trial has never been voted on. Will he respect the voters this time?
2. The status quo is not working. The homicide rate, traffic deaths, and Muni service have gotten worse every year under the Newsom administration. Commissioners aren’t being appointed on time, police reform is off track, promised low-income housing is delayed, all bicycle improvements are on hold, and our roads are falling apart. Popular public events such as the North Beach Jazz Fest are under attack by a city government that can’t keep Halloween revelers safe. Meanwhile, the mayor focuses on political damage control related to his apparent loss of the 49ers in 2012 and the Olympics in 2016.
3. Newsom consistently opposes ideas coming from the Board of Supervisors but doesn’t seem to have any of his own. The homicide rate is at an all-time high and keeps getting worse. But Newsom has opposed every significant measure proposed by the supervisors, including funding for homicide prevention and assistance for victims’ families via Proposition A, as well as police foot patrols. Fare hikes and service cuts haven’t solved Muni’s problems, but Newsom sided with the local Republican Party in opposing Proposition E, which would have provided much-needed funding for Muni through an incremental increase in the car parking tax.
4. Newsom has been missing in action too long. The mayor spent almost the full first three years of his four-year term fundraising around the country to pay off his 2003 campaign debts. This busy fundraising schedule, combined with the demands of his relentless PR machine, has sent the mayor chasing photo ops in China; Italy; Washington, DC; Los Angeles; Chicago; New York; and a host of other places. The majority of the voters are now siding with progressives, the Guardian, and even the San Francisco Chronicle in asking “Where is the mayor?”
5. The voters asked him to. Really, that should be enough. No? SFBG
Ted Strawser
Ted Strawser is the founder of the SF Party Party.

Guilty of independent journalism


OPINION The pogrom against independent journalists who refuse to conform to corporate media definitions of what a reporter should be continues full throttle. The murder of Indymedia correspondent Brad Will on Oct. 27 on the barricades in Oaxaca by gunmen in the employ of that southern Mexican state’s bloodthirsty governor segues into the denial of the courts to release 24-year-old Josh Wolf from prison during the life of a federal grand jury.
Wolf is charged with refusing to turn over video clips of an anarchist anticapitalist march on Mission Street during which San Francisco’s finest beat the living shit out of protesters (and at which one cop claims to have been maimed).
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is now insisting that it will entertain no further motions in the case, which insures Wolf will earn a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-serving imprisoned reporter in US history.
The callous and cynical response of corporate media (with some notable exceptions) to these outrages has been as grievous as the crackdown by the courts and the death squads on independent journalists. The New York Times and its accomplices — including the New Times version of the Village Voice — insinuate that Will was less than a journalist. Will, the corporados cluck, was a tree sitter and a squatter, a troublemaker rather than a young man who reported on trouble.
Similarly, Josh Wolf is often treated as a postadolescent blogger — as if blogging were not reportage — and an anarcho-symp unworthy of the concern of serious journalists who graduated from famous J-schools.
Compare how the plights of these two brave young journalists are being spun with that of the notorious Judith Miller. Miller, whose 11 mendacious front-page New York Times stories on Saddam Hussein’s fictitious weapons of mass destruction helped justify the Bush invasion that has now taken 650,000 Iraqi lives, was jailed for refusing to give up the name of a friendly neocon who outed a CIA operative the White House did not cotton to. I submit that Miller is as much an activist as Will and Wolf — she’s just on the wrong side of the barricades.
When I was a younger fool just getting started in the word trade, I was sent off to federal prison, much like Wolf. I was the first US citizen to be jailed for refusing induction in the Vietnam War military. I wrote my first articles while imprisoned at Terminal Island Federal Penitentiary in San Pedro and helped formulate a convicts committee against US intervention (everywhere), for which I was regularly tossed in the hole, the prison within a prison. Jail was fertile turf in which to learn how to write.
When, finally, I was kicked out of the joint, the parole officer who had made my life hell for a year walked me out to the big iron gate at TI and snarled, “Ross, you never learned how to be a prisoner.”
Brad Will never learned how to be a prisoner either, and neither will, I trust, Josh Wolf. All of us, both inside this business and out, owe these two valiant reporters a great debt for their sacrifices in defense of freedom of the press.
Live, act — and report back — like them! SFBG
John Ross
John Ross, whose latest volume, ZAPATISTAS! Making Another World Possible — Chronicles of Resistance 2000–2006, has just been published by Nation Books, teaches a seminar on rebel journalism at San Francisco’s New College.

No more surveillance cameras


OPINION In July last year, San Francisco began installing video surveillance cameras to monitor the public streets. What quietly started as a pilot program with two cameras in the Western Addition has quickly expanded, with more than 30 cameras throughout the city. The Mayor’s Office is seeking to install 22 more cameras at a number of locations, including heavily trafficked areas such as the 16th Street and Mission and 24th Street and Mission intersections.
On Nov. 15 the Police Commission will decide whether to approve the installation of additional cameras. It should reject the mayor’s proposal and send a strong message that scarce public safety dollars should be spent on less intrusive and more effective programs such as increased foot patrols, improved lighting, and community policing.
While surveillance cameras may seem like an intuitive solution to the serious problem of violent crime, in reality cameras pose significant threats to civil liberties while providing few public safety benefits. Study after study demonstrates that video surveillance does not reduce violent crime in cities.
In Britain, for example, where there is one camera for every 13 people and the average person is photographed more than 300 times a day, a recent comprehensive review of 13 jurisdictions showed that cameras do not reduce crime or fear of crime. A University of Cincinnati study found that cameras in its city merely shifted crime beyond the cameras’ view. As Cincinnati police captain Kimberly Frey mentioned in one recent news report, “We’ve never really gotten anything useful from them…. We’ve never had a successful prosecution…. We’re trying to use … money for other things.”
With limited public safety dollars, cameras deprive more effective programs of funds that would significantly reduce crime. Studies show that improved lighting can reduce crime 20 percent, and increased foot patrols have also been shown to significantly impact crime, including violent offenses.
Moreover, the ever-increasing expansion of surveillance cameras poses a significant threat to our privacy. The prospect of 24-hour surveillance of innocent San Franciscans — with video accessible to city officials and the public under state open-records laws — is chilling in and of itself. If the trend continues, cameras installed today may be paired with other new developments, such as facial recognition and Radio Frequency Identification technology, giving law enforcement the ability to develop dossiers about our personal lives.
While San Francisco has some regulations governing camera use, those regulations have already changed and may change again, due to an overreaching political response to crime concerns. To see San Francisco’s future, one need only look to the inspiration for the program — Chicago. There, Mayor Richard M. Daley recently announced a plan that by 2016 would put a camera on almost every street corner in the city.
In light of the significant privacy and free speech implications and limited public safety benefit, the Police Commission should decisively reject further camera placement and strongly urge the mayor and Board of Supervisors to pursue effective programs. San Franciscans deserve more than symbolic measures like video surveillance cameras in response to very real crime problems. Scarce public resources should not be spent on ineffective Big Brother surveillance programs. SFBG
Mark Schlosberg and Nicole A. Ozer
Mark Schlosberg is police practices policy director, and Nicole A. Ozer is technology and civil liberties policy director, respectively, for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

Keep police discipline public


OPINION Three years after San Francisco voters passed Proposition H, the landmark police reform initiative, the San Francisco Police Commission finds itself at a crossroad. At the heart of the matter is how the commission deals with one of the worst decisions to come out of the California Supreme Court in recent memory, Copley Press v. Superior Court. In that decision the court held that records reutf8g to police officer disciplinary proceedings are confidential and not subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act.
Citing the Peace Officers Bill of Rights, the court even held that an officer’s identity in disciplinary proceedings is confidential. How the Police Commission deals with this ruling will determine the level of openness with which the commission — and consequently, the Police Department — will conduct its business.
In turn, this may well determine the extent to which the promise of Proposition H — transparency and accountability for the police — will become a reality.
In an effort to protect transparency and accountability, the three undersigned police commissioners, as individuals, proposed what we believe is a commonsense approach to Copley: let’s comply with Copley’s requirement of confidentiality, but let’s only be as confidential as the decision requires us to be. Stated differently, let’s follow the law — but let’s be as open as the law allows.
This is why we proposed a rather simple and measured idea — since Copley only requires the confidentiality of records in police disciplinary proceedings and since the state legislature never gave police officers the right to confidential settlements, why not continue to handle such settlements out in the open, the way they’ve been handled for 14 years without ever facing a legal challenge? To be sure that our idea would pass legal muster, we asked the City Attorney’s Office to draft a resolution that would be legally viable and could survive legal challenge. That resolution was submitted for the public and the Police Commission’s consideration last week.
One would think a resolution reflecting a tried-and-true process that was never challenged in more than a decade, a process carefully vetted with the city attorney, would satisfy even the strictest of legal constructionists. And yet, not surprisingly, the San Francisco Police Officers Association has come out against our proposal to openly handle settlements in police disciplinary cases. Without citing any legal authority, the POA argues that police officers have the right to settle disciplinary cases through backroom deals without ever revealing their identity or the terms of the deal to the public.
The POA’s position seems to be shared by a number of other commissioners, and a counterresolution essentially changing how settlements are handled was recently introduced. Both our original resolution and the counterresolution are scheduled to be heard Nov. 15. Even though it’s unclear which resolution will pass, we remain hopeful that the Police Commission will not grant police officers a right the legislature never bestowed on them — the right to cloak settlements in secrecy. This is especially true since several commissioners come from communities adversely impacted by police actions and have a long legacy in support of civil rights and public access.
Openness in the handling of settlements in police disciplinary hearings has been the norm in San Francisco for more than a decade. There is no reason to change course today. SFBG
David Campos, Petra de Jesus, and Theresa Sparks
David Campos, Petra de Jesus, and Theresa Sparks are members of the San Francisco Police Commission.

The risk of honest planning


OPINION At the Nov. 1 meeting of the land use committee of the Board of Supervisors, a seemingly straightforward statement of policy will be heard. It simply requires that the city apply its own General Plan guidelines to future development in the eastern neighborhoods.
But the legislation, proposed by Supervisors Sophie Maxwell, Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin, and Tom Ammiano, is creating quite a furor. A senior planning official has testified that if it’s adopted, the entire development boom in the eastern neighborhoods may be halted. The mayor has threatened a veto.
The policy in question calls for city planners to show how they intend to ensure that 64 percent of all new housing development is affordable to moderate-, low-, and very low-income San Franciscans. That’s what the housing element of the master plan says is needed.
Land use development policy lies at the very heart of San Francisco politics. It’s dangerous work for supervisors to attempt to determine that policy, especially if it calls for protection of existing neighborhoods and their residents.
Just ask Supervisor Chris Daly.
Don’t for a minute believe that he is in the fight of his political life because he’s rude, because he doesn’t care about law and order, or because he prefers dirty streets upon which to raise his son. These petty and silly charges mask a far more serious objection: the way his opponents see it, Daly has been too slow in adopting the massive wave of market-rate housing slated for his district and is far too protective of lower-income residents in District 6.
Never mind that since Daly took office some 3,000 units of housing have been built in the South of Market portion of his district alone or that an equal amount wait in the pipeline at the Planning Department. Mayor Gavin Newsom and his market-rate developer allies are simply not satisfied with Daly’s pro–housing development approach — because Daly has sought some balance in that development.
Likewise, the Maxwell resolution calls for plans that will be balanced, contain sustainable development policies, and guarantee a voice for residents against the headlong drive of the current administration to convert the eastern neighborhoods (South of Market, Potrero Hill, the Mission District) into vertical gated communities for Silicon Valley commuters. It states that it shall be the policy of the city that future plans explain not only how they will meet the affordability goals of the housing element but also how they will meet policies of preserving the arts and other productive activities; providing for public transit, pedestrian, and bike rider needs; protecting employment opportunities for current and future residents; and keeping families with children in the city.
There’s a working majority of the Board of Supervisors willing to fight for current neighborhoods and residents and a future that includes them. The battle in District 6 shows that the fight is not without risk. Do the rest of us realize it? SFBG
Calvin Welch
Calvin Welch is a community organizer in San Francisco.

Allison inspires youth


OPINION I first saw Aimee Allison, District 2 candidate for the Oakland City Council, when she addressed a large, enthusiastic crowd of high school students, mostly students of color, from Oakland Tech, McClymonds, and Skyline. She spoke about the ruin and costs of war, the need for decent jobs, and practical ways and means for overcoming poverty in Oakland.
What impressed me about the young, vivacious candidate from the Grand Lake–Chinatown district was not just her Ron Dellums–like vision of Oakland, where “a better world begins.” It was her special ability to break through youthful feelings of despondency, the Generation X cynicism that continues to impede social progress. Allison has a special asset that her adversary, incumbent Pat Kernighan, lacks: an ability to inspire hope and activism among youth, including the struggling students in the least affluent sections of our city.
On Sept. 17, Constitution Day at Laney College, students hosted a debate between Kernighan and Allison. After the debate I talked with Reginald James, a 24-year-old Laney College student. He told me other students agreed that Kernighan was unprepared. “She was unable to relate to youth, to find common ground.”
James said Kernighan tended to blame the federal government for Oakland’s problems, deflecting responsibility from the City Council on which she serves. In contrast, Allison said incumbents should accept accountability for their failures, and she challenged the students to become active in their own cause.
During the debate Kernighan was almost fatalistic. “When there are not enough resources, we have to make hard decisions,” she argued. After the debate, Oakland teacher Jonah Zern summarized Kernighan’s presentation: “Pat continuously stated that she was powerless to change the problems of Oakland, that it was the state and federal government that need to make changes. It made me wonder. Why was she running for City Council?”
It was not her political positions as such or even her record that irked the youthful audience. One student asked Kernighan why the streets in the flatlands are not as clean as those above the freeway. She replied, “They don’t sweep the streets up there because the people do not tend to throw their trash out in the street.” The insinuation that people in the hills are superior to less-fortunate folk upset some students. Allison’s remarks, in contrast, were well received. Allison said, “In rich neighborhoods, parents can raise money for their kids’ sports teams. In others, schools don’t have teams. In rich neighborhoods, they can send their kids to music lessons, while in poor neighborhoods, music and art programs are being cut. Every child deserves an opportunity.”
Kernighan works hard. She knows the ins and outs of city government. But she has no vision, no plan to address the structural defects of Oakland’s social life. As a successful businessperson, Allison responds well to the needs and feelings of the middle class. But unlike most politicians, she maintains close relations and ties with the young and poor of Oakland. She has a valuable talent for enlisting youth in the fight against crime, for uniting our diverse cultures.
Understanding the needs and longings of young Oaklanders, tapping their potential to become agents of change, is a precondition of effective leadership on the City Council. If the Laney debate is an example, Kernighan is out of touch. SFBG
Paul Rockwell
Paul Rockwell is a writer living in Oakland.

A real war on crime


OPINION Once again, with their backs against the wall, Republicans are attempting to stave off political defeat in November by playing to Americans’ fears about safety and security. Central to the conservative playbook for years has been the lie that progressives cannot keep our communities safe.
The reality is that the current, shortsighted approach to public safety, which touts punishment without rehabilitation, has been a failure. One of the starkest examples is the crisis in California’s prison and parole system — and every day that crisis comes home to San Francisco. Thousands of people are being released from behind bars with no plans and few skills or opportunities. More than 1,500 parolees are living in San Francisco at any given time, and thousands more are being released from county jail every year. Of the estimated 125,000 California prisoners who will be released this year, three out of four will end up back in prison by 2009. California has the highest recidivism rate in the country.
Behind every rearrest is a new crime, often with a new victim. Taxpayers also foot the bill — to the tune of more than $34,000 a year for each person who ends up back in prison.
It’s time for a change. We can no longer accept the fact that three out of four former prisoners will be back behind bars within three years. In this progressive city, we are committed to working together to break that cycle of recidivism by channeling former prisoners into productive lives. These programs must target the crucial process of what’s called “reentry,” the release of individuals from state prison or county jails back into their families and neighborhoods.
Two weeks ago, more than 200 reentry experts and service providers, along with government and criminal justice agencies, gathered for the city’s first-ever Reentry Summit. This past year, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi sponsored a $1.2 million budget allocation to support new reentry programs. We’ve also spearheaded the San Francisco Reentry Coordinating Council, bringing together members from the business sector, labor, key city agencies, the clergy, and community organizations.
Members of the council have pioneered concrete reentry programs that are delivering results. District Attorney Kamala Harris has created a new accountability and workforce reentry initiative for drug offenders called Back on Track. Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s Clean Slate program provides community-education services and programs to clear criminal records to nearly 2,500 people a year. Sheriff Mike Hennessey is poised to open the Women’s Reentry Center, which will provide direct practical support services to women coming out of jail and prison.
While the city is more than doing its part at a local level to address this issue, we cannot do it alone. It is time for the state to own up to its responsibility for rehabilitating parolees and probationers and ensuring their successful return home. With a detailed, sustained, statewide reentry effort, we can guide former prisoners away from crime, reduce corrections costs, and keep our neighborhoods safe. SFBG
Kamala D. Harris, Jeff Adachi, Ross Mirkarimi, and Michael Hennessey
The writers are, respectively, the district attorney, public defender, District 5 supervisor, and sheriff of San Francisco.

Divorcing Columbus


OPINION This year may go down in history as the one new immigrants reignited a civil rights mobilization in the United States. Their efforts, like those of the black liberation movement of the ’60s, will certainly become a catalyst for progressive action from many communities. As southern Italian Americans, this Columbus Day we have to ask our community the age-old question — which side are we on? Unfortunately, many of us have chosen exactly which side we are on: supporting racist immigrant bashers, whether they are legislators in the halls of Congress or vigilante Minutemen. As progressive Italian Americans, we support new immigrants because of the simple fact that our folks were once in the same situation that newcomers find themselves in: overworked, exploited, and demonized for quick political gain. It’s time for the Italian American community to finally reclaim our social justice tradition, divorcing the dazed and confused explorer who discovered a country that was already inhabited. Instead of Columbus, we honor the Italians, Cubans, and Spaniards of Ybor City, Fla., who worked in the cigar industry and were able to create a Latin culture based on values such as working-class solidarity and internationalism (see “Lost and Found: The Italian American Radical Experience,” Monthly Review, vol. 57, no. 8). We also remember the Italian American radicals who were a part of labor actions in the early 1900s, including the Lawrence textile, Paterson silk, Mesabi Iron Range, and New York City Harbor strikes. This year, instead of conquest, we acknowledge those who stood up for justice. Everyone knows about Al Capone, but what about Mario Savio, a founder of the free speech movement in Berkeley in the ’60s? Most people can recite the names of Italian American singers such as Madonna and Frank Sinatra, but they don’t know Cammella Teoli, the 13-year-old southern Italian girl who appeared before Congress in 1912 to testify in her broken English about the horrible working conditions in America’s sweatshops. It’s not surprising that Italian Americans forgot those things. We faced a lot of discrimination when we arrived: two unionists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were falsely accused of murder and executed. Italian Americans in the south were lynched by white supremacists. During World War II, thousands were relocated or jailed on suspicion of being enemy aliens. After the war, the anticommunist witch hunts began with the arrest and deportation of Italian American radical Carl Marzani. Today, Italian Americans don’t have to face these threats, yet those who immigrate from Central and South America, Asia, and the Middle East do. It is unlikely that Congress will pass any form of legislation reform this year, and many cities have instituted local statutes designed to run immigrants out of town. Minutemen and similar groups are harassing day laborers in the Bay Area and beyond. As Italian Americans, we call upon our paesani and paesane to remember our roots. Emboldened racists can be stopped — when those of us they claim to represent support the work of grassroots organizations of color bravely confronting these throwbacks. By divorcing Columbus, we start to break down the logic of conquest, which invariably leads to wars abroad and repression at home. SFBG Tommi Avicolli Mecca and James Tracy Tommi Avicolli Mecca and James Tracy are Italian American radicals who organize the annual “Dumping Columbus” reading. This year it’s Oct. 9, 7 p.m., City Lights, 261 Columbus, SF, featuring the legendary Diane DiPrima.

The people’s program


OPINION San Francisco progressives have spent years getting on the political power map. We have achieved amazing victories, such as the 2000 sweep that defeated the Brown machine and ushered in an independent Board of Supervisors. At times we’ve gotten mired in sectarian clashes that have prevented unity around a common vision. However, such obstacles and stumbles have taught us valuable lessons that can be the building blocks for a vibrant people’s movement. To be successful, we progressives need to have a clear vision and to keep asking ourselves questions. What does it mean to be progressive and for progressives to have power? Assuming we all agree that progressive unity is a necessary foundation for social change, what should unity look like today? And if we’re successful at maintaining power, what do we want to look like five and 10 years from now? In the first year following its founding convention and with these questions in mind, the San Francisco Peoples’ Organization (SFPO) has chosen to focus on three issues central to the lives of all San Franciscans — health care, affordable housing, and violence prevention. Over the past year, this fledgling organization has logged a long list of achievements and participated in many exciting causes. The SFPO has: •worked with the Alliance for a Better California to defeat Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special election measures in November 2005; •assisted in the development and passage of Supervisor Tom Ammiano’s Worker Health Care Security Ordinance, creating universal health care for local residents; •advocated for Supervisor Chris Daly’s recently passed legislation to increase mandatory levels of affordable housing in new housing developments; •took a leadership role in uniting communities of color and progressives to fight for Proposition A’s homicide and violence prevention efforts, including a host of new budget initiatives addressing some of the root causes of violence; •launched an e-mail dispatch that reaches over 5,000 constituents and highlights local progressive issues, campaigns, and events; •played an active role in the UNITE-HERE Local 2 contract campaign, attending pickets, planning meetings, and participating in civil disobedience. Part of our effort involves critically analyzing the policy agendas of our elected lawmakers and making recommendations. Mayor Gavin Newsom, through his highly visible work to legalize same-sex marriage, rightfully gained the respect and admiration of progressive San Franciscans. However, same-sex marriage is only one issue; Mayor Newsom should not be given carte blanche among progressives for this single act. The SFPO’s second annual convention will take place Sept. 30 at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Please join us. We cannot wait to work together. The future of our city — who we want to live here, who we want to work here, who we want educated here — is being determined now. SFBG Jane Kim and John Avalos The writers are president and vice president, respectively, of the San Francisco Peoples’ Organization. For more information about the SFPO and the Sept. 30 convention, go to www.sfpeople.org.

The terror of Prop. 90


OPINION San Francisco could see an end to rent control — and minimum-wage requirements and a lot of zoning regulation and environmental protection laws and much more — if Proposition 90 passes this November. We could see an end to limits on condo conversions and an end to requirements that developers build affordable housing units and even an end to limits on the height and density of new developments. That’s because Prop. 90 is a clever trap that purports to restrict the use of eminent domain but in reality eliminates all government regulation of land use.
Prop. 90 really says little about eminent domain; it just uses the notion of restricting the ability of government to seize private land as the bait. Most of the initiative is aimed at ending all government regulation of property. Its concept is simple: if any government regulation reduces the actual or potential value of property — even by a dollar — then the government would have to reimburse the property owner the difference.
For example, if a landlord would be able to get $3,000 a month on the open market for an apartment but rent control limits what a long-term tenant has to pay to $1,500, then the landlord would be able under Prop. 90 to sue San Francisco for the difference. Think about that: about 200,000 rental units in the city are under rent control. Say the average difference between the market rent and the rent-controlled amount is $500 per month. That would mean landlords could collectively sue San Francisco for $200 million each month, or $2.4 billion each year. Since San Francisco obviously can’t afford to put half its annual budget into compensating landlords, there would be no choice but to repeal rent control.
Landlords would also be able to sue for the difference between what their buildings are worth as rental properties and what they are worth as condominiums. Any property owner denied the ability to convert to condominiums could then sue for that difference in value. Since a property subdivided into condos is worth about 50 percent more, this bill would be huge.
The list of disasters goes on and on. If a developer is required to make 15 percent of the units in a housing project affordable, then the developer could sue to make San Francisco pay for the lost income. If zoning laws limit heights in a neighborhood to three stories but a developer wants to build a 10-story condo tower, the developer could sue the city for the lost value of those seven stories of condos.
And it’s not just land-use and tenant protection. The city and the state both have minimum-wage laws; potentially, every business owner could sue to demand compensation for the loss of income that came from mandating higher wages than the market might have allowed. That would be the end of minimum-wage laws. Environmental protection and mitigation could face the same fate.
Prop. 90 is by far the worst measure on this year’s ballot; in fact, it’s the worst measure to come along in quite some time. It’s a plot by right-wingers to gut the ability of government at any level to force businesses and property owners to accept even basic standards of behavior in the name of the public good. The measure hasn’t gotten a whole lot of media attention, but defeating it should be a top priority for every decent Californian. SFBG
Ted Gullicksen
Ted Gullicksen is director of the San Francisco Tenants Union.

The age of 9/11


OPINION We all remember where we were on Sept. 11, 2001. The event rocked the world as the last remaining superpower was attacked in full view of its citizens. The images entered our collective consciousness, and we began a new era of global unrest. The gloves came off, diplomacy was mocked, and the United States blasted onto the world stage, weapons drawn.
Let’s not relive the events of Sept. 11. We have been reminded of that morning over and over as it has become the sole source of George W. Bush’s foreign policy. The international war on terror has taken center stage as Bush and others have used it as a pretext to undermine the pillars of democracy — the rule of law and transparent government. We now take racial profiling for granted. We watch as people are kidnapped from their countries and imprisoned indefinitely. Illegal torture is commonplace, as is the hideous killing of civilians, and now we hear accusations that our soldiers in Iraq seek revenge through rape and murder. We are forced to accept the USA PATRIOT Act and illegal National Security Agency surveillance, supposedly for our own good.
As Bush used Sept. 11 to justify a renewed campaign of imperialist aggression, he also eviscerated social programs at home. He gutted the Federal Emergency Management Agency and placed it under the control of the Department of Homeland Security, leaving us unable to respond adequately to natural disasters. He deployed our National Guard overseas and depleted our treasury to pay for war. He failed to address global warming, in deference to industry supporters. Finally, we have had to let go of the assumption that our government would protect its own people, as we ask: when did the Bush team know about Sept. 11? Will this question take as long to answer as “Who killed JFK?”
Nothing about the Bush regime is working for the average citizen, and yet all of the above have been completely normalized and barely contested by Congress, with hardly a whimper, a press conference, or a filibuster. Five years later, Bush still attempts to build his legacy on the twin towers of fear and aggression, working with the pathological paranoia that has become the hallmark of our 21st-century society.
But five years later, public opinion is reversing. Impeachment, which once seemed as far-fetched as due process for Guantánamo prisoners, has become a rallying cry for the next election. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently passed a resolution in support of Bush’s impeachment, and Sup. Chris Daly has sponsored another one, which will appear on the November ballot. They are an important response from the people to a criminal administration and an anemic Congress. If Bill Clinton can be impeached for a sexual indiscretion to the tune of $60 million in tax dollars and Bush gets off scot-free, what are we telling our children? That a blow job is worse than blowing up a country, and that illegal lying and spying play second fiddle to a marital blunder? The Christian fundamentalists who run our country would have us think so.
Vote for Chris Daly’s impeachment resolution. Yes on J! SFBG
Krissy Keefer
Krissy Keefer is the Green Party candidate for the 8th Congressional District.

Saving women from themselves


OPINION In the name of protecting sex workers, a few San Francisco activists have adopted the rhetoric of antiprostitution advocates and taken their case to the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women (COSW). The commission, following this lead, has adopted a controversial strategy — opposed by the vast majority of dancers, activists, and sex educators — to close down VIP rooms, private booths, and private areas in adult clubs and repeal “encounter studio” permits, claiming that privacy in commercial sexual contexts must be stopped because it causes prostitution, sexual assault, and AIDS.
For starters, the AIDS claim is wrongheaded: starting 30 years ago, activists around the world have explained that the way to address sexual health is not to drive people further underground through this exact sort of repression.
Beyond that, the legislation put forward by the COSW echoes contemporary moral panic. This law uses terms that have historically been used to curtail our freedom under the guise of protecting women. For example, the proposed bill claims that prostitution is “coerced” — but that depends on how you define coercion.
Forced labor and coercion are serious crimes in the legal framework. But economic coercion is the motivation for many types of work, and the fact that women are coerced or forced into this work is being used to justify prohibitions that affect all sex workers. The term “sexual exploitation,” which also comes up in the legislation, has been used to describe (and curtail) the voluntary commercial activity of sex workers.
The commission claims it based the proposal on testimony from dancers but omits the fact that the vast majority of dancers rejected the approach, showing up in droves at hearings. Of course, dancer and sex worker rights activists support some strategy to address complaints about unfair labor practices, exorbitant commissions, safety concerns, and harassment — but no effort was made by the COSW to find a consensus.
The campaign developed by the COSW places dancers in closer alliance with management as both dancer options and management options are being threatened. This phenomenon is part of Sex Worker History 101. The current dancers are further alienated and discouraged by this dynamic from organizing to improve working conditions. Unraveling this dynamic is necessary to further labor advocacy in this industry. The issue of private booths distracts from the problems of illegal stage fees, contractor versus employee labor issues, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.
Other parts of the plan include allowing COSW representatives to inspect the workplace and to “notify the Commission on the Status of Women when they make any change to the compensation schedule.” Now there’s a great idea: put the classy female elders of San Francisco in charge of working-class women in the sex industry.
This legislation sets some very troubling precedents. Solutions to problematic working conditions in clubs should be developed by the workers, with assistance from labor experts. Given the level of polarization this proposal has created, that could take some time. SFBG
Carol Leigh
Carol Leigh, author of Unrepentant Whore: The Collected Works of Scarlot Harlot (Last Gasp), is dean of academic studies at Whore College.
To read the legislation, go to www.whorecollege.org/badlegislation.

The attack on public housing


OPINION If the Bush administration has its way, conditions for San Francisco’s public housing residents are about to get much worse.
The San Francisco Housing Authority, which operates 6,000 units of public housing, is facing a $7 million shortfall this year due to Republican-led cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget. Congress has already cut the public housing budget by $1 billion since 2001 and has now created a $300 million shortfall in operating funds for already cash-strapped public housing agencies. As a result, agencies will receive 85.5 percent of what they need. But that’s not all. The president’s proposed budget for 2007 guarantees that funding will drop again to (at most) 80 percent of the need.
San Francisco will be one of the hardest-hit housing authorities. That’s because HUD uses a nonsensical funding formula that unfairly cuts funds to some agencies while providing increased funding for others.
The impact of these budget cuts is alarming, as agencies try to do more with less. Housing authorities across the nation are being forced to cut back vital tenant services such as security and maintenance.
The impact on San Francisco’s public housing residents will be nothing short of disastrous. The housing authority will now have to operate with only $342 per unit (down from $454).
Since Bush took office, per unit funding has declined sharply, from $585 in 1999; combine that with rising housing costs and other expenditures and you’ll see that San Francisco’s poorest have been hit hard. Residents are plagued with deferred maintenance and growing repair needs. Units sit empty because there are no funds for rehab. Shootings continue on many public housing sites while cutbacks in security are made. There’s a backlog of $245 million in immediate capital improvements needs and no plans for new development, despite the 30,000 families who have been languishing for years on the waiting list.
A loss of $7 million will mean dire consequences: longer turnaround on repairs, less secure buildings, and a further halt to modernization and new construction — this at a time when the agency has already failed its tenants and when housing costs continue to climb out of reach of San Francisco’s homeless and low-income families. Congress must take a stand now and stop the Bush administration and its unconscionable attempts to dismantle low-income housing programs. Democrats in Congress should take the lead and demand that a $300 million budget supplemental for public housing be passed to stop the losses for this year. It will also take strong leadership to ensure that public housing is fully funded for 2007. If the Republicans succeed once again in ridding cities of housing for the poor, it would be, as Erni Young of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote, nothing short of “an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by our own government.” SFBG
Sara Shortt
Sara Shortt is an organizer with the Housing Rights Committee.
To send a letter to your congressional representative, visit www.localimpact.org.

A sister fears Halloween in the Castro


OPINION Any attempt to organize an official Halloween in the Castro is a terrible idea, maybe even a deadly one. But before I rant, let me give a little history. In the wake of the Oct. 17, 1989, Loma Prieta earthquake, a BBC story reported that “a massive rescue effort is now underway in what experts believe is the second biggest earthquake ever to hit the United States.”
More than 3,500 people were injured and 100,000 buildings damaged. For this reason, a few members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence made a spontaneous decision to stand in the Castro among the drag queens and costumed folk that Halloween to put on street theater and collect donations for the mayor’s relief fund for the victims of the earthquake. A brilliant move. We collected thousands.
This put a bee in our bonnets … er … wimples to use Halloween as a fun fundraiser the next year. A tremendous success. Each year the caliber of entertainment drew more people and brought in more donations, enabling us to entertain the otherwise unruly crowds while collecting donations for AIDS charities. The events were a hit, until we saw attendees getting hit — with bottles, bats, and other deadly weapons — by drunken gay-bashers out to get their kicks. The next year we saw that police checking for weapons had collected garbage cans full of baseball bats, hammers, knives, axes (none of these were the rubber kind), and many blunt instruments that could harm people. I saw someone with a mask running a gas-powered chain saw. But when police told us that among other weapons they had confiscated an AK-47 assault rifle, that was the year the Sisters were through with Halloween in the Castro, frightened that an event we had sponsored might bring about death.
So we tried something different. Luring people away from the Castro and into a private club, we turned the Pleasuredome in SoMa into a Halloween-themed party space with ornate All Hallows Eve–oriented backdrops and props. We had stellar entertainment, and the door charge went to AIDS and cancer charities. There was only one rule: you had to be in costume. The event was called HallowQueen, with the slogan “Evolve with the Sisters as Halloween moves to the next level.” It was successful in getting people out of the Castro and into a safe space, but we couldn’t afford to do it again on our meager budget.
The attempt to move the party to the Civic Center did not work because of poor planning and insufficient advance public relations. And since the Castro was still gated off, the queer-bashers thought that was the better locale in which to be violent. There were several stabbings that year.
There should be no official gathering in the Castro. No gates set up to make it look like an event. Police should infiltrate the area to keep peace but not harass the costumed folk. And something must be scheduled by the city outside the Castro and managed well to draw the crowd away to safety. Then perhaps the Sisters will get involved again. Then maybe the Sisters will MC and run a stage. But as it is now, the cordoned-off section of the “official” Halloween will end at Market and Castro. That is potentially deadly — inviting bashers and spoilers to assemble right at the very entrance of the Castro. Boo! SFBG
Sister Dana Van Iquity
Sister Dana Van Iquity is a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

It’s criminal what Congress has done to the working poor


OPINION Congress’s Republican leaders belong in prison. They have openly violated one of our most basic laws, the 68-year-old Fair Labor Standards Act. It requires Congress to set the minimum wage high enough to guarantee a standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being.
The current rate of $5.15 an hour comes nowhere near to doing that. Even those who manage to work full-time make only $10,700 a year – $206 a week or about $900 a month, minus taxes and other deductions. They and the 15 million other Americans who are paid at or near the minimum – more than one-third of them provide the main or sole support for their families – are by any reckoning poverty-stricken and barely surviving.
The law allows states and local governments to adopt minimum-wage rates higher than the federal rate. Although California and 20 other states, San Francisco and 139 other cities and counties, and the District of Columbia have done so, the higher minimums cover only about half of the country’s workers.
Democrats have argued long and hard in the current session of Congress for a higher federal minimum, as they have in every other session since the $5.15 rate was set in 1997. But the Republicans who’ve been running Congress have higher priorities – raising their own pay and cutting the taxes that are such a burden to their wealthy supporters.
Oh yes, the GOP leaders did introduce a bill that would have raised the minimum. But the measure made that contingent on cutting the estate taxes of the very wealthy – a linkage, opposed by even some Republicans, that guaranteed the bill’s defeat.
They’ve raised congressional pay in every session since 1997, while doing nothing for the working poor. That’s added more than $31,000 to the minimum wage of congressional members, currently $165,200, with a $3,300 raise scheduled for Jan. 1. Unlike minimum-wage workers, who rarely have fringe benefits, members of Congress also get free health care, pensions, and other expensive extras.
The minimum wage for ordinary people would have risen to $7.25 an hour over the next two years under the latest Democratic proposal blocked by the GOP’s congressional leaders. Its main proponent, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, promised that the fight to raise the wage “will continue all across America.”
It is certain, in any case, that Democratic candidates will make it an issue in this fall’s election campaigns. They are well aware, certainly, of polls showing that an overwhelming majority of Americans favor a minimum-wage increase.
So why in the world are Republican leaders so adamantly against it?
Because their big-money backers in the restaurant business, who employ about 60 percent of all minimum-wage workers, are against it, as are many other business and corporate interests. The opponents have even formed a group, Coalition for Job Opportunities, to spread the fiction, much favored by the GOP, that a higher minimum would force employers to eliminate jobs.
Actually, the number of jobs has grown after each of the 19 times the minimum has been raised since it was initially set at 25 cents an hour in 1938.
The job growth has been spurred primarily by the increased spending of those whose pay has increased. Like all low-wage workers, they must spend virtually every cent they earn, thus raising the overall demand for goods and services and creating the need for new employees.
Think of the general benefits to society if the minimum-wage workers who now must depend on government assistance could earn enough to make it on their own.
Think of the benefits to employers. As several studies have shown, raising workers’ pay raises workers’ morale and, with it, their productivity, while decreasing absenteeism and recruiting and training costs.
Think of the benefits to small retailers. Opponents of a raise say they’d be hurt the most by a higher minimum wage, but it’s far more likely that they’d be among the greatest beneficiaries. For minimum-wage workers have no choice but to spend most of their meager earnings in neighborhood stores for food and other necessities. SFBG
Dick Meister
Dick Meister is a San Francisco-based writer who has covered labor and political issues for four decades as a reporter, editor, and commentator. Contact him through his Web site, www.dickmeister.com.

The case against the JROTC


OPINION Make no bones about it: the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) is a program of the US Department of Defense. Its purpose is clear: to recruit high school students into the military. Two years ago, 59 percent of San Franciscans demonstrated their disapproval of that sort of recruiting by supporting Proposition I. It’s time for the Board of Education to follow the wishes of those voters and phase out the JROTC in favor of a nonmilitary program.
On Aug. 22, it’s very likely that the San Francisco school board will do just that. Before the board is a proposal to not only ease out the JROTC but also form a blue-ribbon panel to find an alternative.
It’s not a new idea. In the mid-1990s, a similar board proposal failed by a 4–3 vote. This time the vote will probably be reversed. Phasing out the JROTC in San Francisco should be a breeze. Two years ago, a measure to put the city on record as wanting to bring the troops home from Iraq passed by 64 percent. Since Sept. 11, hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans have protested the wars in the Middle East. There’s no other city in this country with so much antiwar activity. So what’s the problem?
It’s the kids. The JROTC has successfully organized scores of young people (mostly white and Asian) to attend school board meetings to testify about the benefits of the program. A few LGBT kids have said that the local chapter of the JROTC does not discriminate, which JROTC officials confirm. What they don’t talk about is the fact that a queer kid can’t be out (or found out) in the armed forces. Since 1994, when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was first implemented, more than 11,182 queers have received the boot. There are also beatings and harassment to contend with in the military if you’re suspected of being queer. It’s not a pretty picture.
The JROTC doesn’t tell kids that a lot of what the recruiters promise is a lie — the kids might not get the educational benefits and job training promised in all the promotional materials. As Z Magazine reported (August 2005), 57 percent of military personnel receive absolutely no educational benefits. What’s more, only 12 percent of men and 6 percent of women who have served in the military ever use job skills obtained from their service. As Lucinda Marshall noted in an Aug. 24, 2005, article on ZNet, “According to the Veterans Administration, veterans earn less, make up 1/3 of homeless men and 20% of the nation’s prison population.” Be all that you can be?
Education was never the point of the military, of course. As former secretary of defense Dick Cheney once said, “The reason to have a military is to be prepared to fight and win wars…. It’s not a social welfare agency, it’s not a jobs program.”
Let’s not sell our youth short. Or make them fodder for oil wars. Or subject them to antiqueer discrimination and hate crimes. Let’s give them all the skills they need to make their lives the best they can be. We can do that without the military. SFBG
Tom Ammiano, Mark Sanchez, and Tommi Avicolli Mecca
Tom Ammiano is a queer former school board president and current supervisor of District 9. Mark Sanchez, the only queer member of the current San Francisco Board of Education, authored the current anti-JROTC resolution. Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a queer antiwar activist who was recently honored by the American Friends Service Committee.