Domestic Violence

The Tao of Thao



Coping with the backhanded compliments are just one pre-occupational hazard for musicians as they take stumbling baby steps toward the mighty kingdom of mad skills — and Thao Nguyen, she of Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, is no exception.

"I used to sing even more off-key, if you can believe it," says the 24-year-old matter-of-factly. She’s hunkered down behind a cup of green tea, knuckle-length sweater sleeves shielding her fingers from the chill wafting in the door of a Haight District café. When Nguyen first slung on a guitar and began to find her voice as a Lilith Fair–inspired teen, one of her uncles would respond to her performances by offering her a plate of food. "Which is terrible to do to a kid," Nguyen recalls with amusement. "He’d say, ‘Here, you’re moaning as if you’re very hungry. I brought you food so you would stop.’ Which is funny but also terribly demoralizing when you’re 15!"

"So all that to illustrate that I’ve never considered myself a vocalist," Nguyen continues, not feeling sorry for herself in the slightest. "I started singing because I started writing." The sensuous, alto rasp of Lucinda Williams and Nina Simone are her vocal models today. "But yeah, I’d never call myself a singer. A taxpayer, tax evader, maybe," she jokes, "but…"

Taxes are at the forefront of the songwriter’s noggin: she’s just back from Portland, Ore., where she and the Get Down Stay Down–ers Willis Thompson and Adam Thompson recorded the unvarnished beginnings of her followup to her 2008 Kill Rock Stars debut, We Brave Bee Stings and All, with that recording’s producer Tucker Martine (the Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens). Now she’s content to settle briefly into a Haight sublet, though amusing yarns about her tour adventures, sprinkled with charmingly self-effacing, witty asides, spill from the songwriter. With her hair spraying in spikes from a rough bun atop her head and a slender build beneath thin layers of knits, Nguyen is the poetic pal you’d happily rope into a larky day trip, an impromptu art project, or simply a mug of tea: smart (she successfully graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in Sociology and Women’s Studies in 2006, despite following her performing muse throughout with fellow student Willis), slightly distracted, and surprisingly grounded (women’s advocacy work is a passion; she’s worked at domestic violence shelters and yearns to volunteer at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls; and then there’s those taxes).

Bee Stings reflects its maker in its sprawling, multi-hued, shambling assemblage of tunes. Loose, lovable, and surprisingly hook-laden, this album sets Nguyen and her hungry-ghost wail in an inviting landscape resplendent with frisky banjo and jittery rhythms, rubbery moments of spare twang, slouching blues guitar, and a lazy horn section plucked from the swampy South. She describes her little-distributed first album, Like Linen (Trust Me Incorporation, 2005), as folkier — with Bee Stings one can imagine an attempt to capture the mercury glimmers of Nguyen’s very essence.

"I’ve always had a very low attention span, and playing music is the only thing that has ever … adhered," says the vocalist, who grew up helping out at her mother’s Laundromat in Falls Church, Va. When she returns, she still helps fold other people’s clothes. "The one gratifying thing about tour is that it serves short-term memory. As far as anything you experience — whether you like it or not — it’s done in an hour, and you can either aim for that experience again or avoid it. So it’s an interesting way to spend your time, like a fruit fly."

And fly she has, by playing music and penning eloquent, intelligent lines like "You are mine / So I never would mind / I work my arms so hard / Just to give you an airplane ride" from "Feet Asleep," a song written from the perspective of Nguyen’s hard-working, self-sacrificing mother. That tune, as well as the feisty, thrumming "Swimming Pools" and the CD’s very title, Bee Stings, testifies to the strong women who raised Nguyen, in addition to her own quirky travels and travails.

Bee Stings has literal and figurative roots: stemming from an incident in which Nguyen jostled a bee hive, felt a bee crawl up her shorts, ran into a house, pulled down her pants, and was, as she puts it, "stung in the ass" for her trouble. Likewise, she adds, her mother, grandmother, and aunts have taken the stings and pricks of life on a daily basis. "I’ve seen them absorb so much," the songwriter says. "They’re all incredibly resilient women, and it’s a tribute to them and to just being a woman in the world, which is sometimes incredibly difficult and very specific and idiosyncratic." Nguyen sounds like just the woman to encapsulate that.


With David Dondero, Sean Smith, and Colossal Yes

Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m., $14

Swedish American Hall

2174 Market, SF

Valentine’s Day events


Click here to see all Valentine’s Day listings on one page


Black Valentine Masquerade Club Mighty, 119 Utah; Feb. 13, 10pm-3am, $15. Sunset Promotions and Blasthaus present this all-out party extravaganza, featuring UNKLE’s leading man James Lavelle, Evil Nine, and revelers dressed in dastardly dark costumes.

Bootie — A Special Valentine’s Party DNA Lounge, 375 11th St.; Feb. 14, 10pm, $12. Celebrate the holiday mash-up style with DJ Freddy, King of Pants, twisted love songs by house band Smash-Up Derby, and a midnight mashup show by Valentine.

CockBlock Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell; 861-2011, Feb. 14, 10pm, $7 . Get your Valentine’s groove on at this queer dance party for lezzies, queers, lovers, and friends, featuring DJ Nuxx.

Date and Dash Noc Noc, 557 Haight; Feb. 14, 8pm, $35 (free to first 20 people). Speed-dating with a Lower Haight twist. RSVP for red drinks, trendy beats, and a faux auction.

I Heart the Utah Hotel Utah Saloon, 500 Fourth St.; 546-6300, Feb. 14, 9pm, $8. Celebrate the kind of love that lasts — that between a bar and 100 years’ worth of patrons — with oyster shooters, champagne, a costume contest, and live music by El Capitan and Let’s Make Something.

Love on Wheels Dating Game Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell; 861-2011, Feb. 13, 6-9pm, free for SFBC members. Join this dating game exclusively for two-wheelers, where bike bachelors and bachelorettes quiz a panel of three cyclists to select their date — and then roll to hip local spots.

Milonga de Amor Ferry Building; 990-8135. Feb. 13, 5:30-8pm, free. Celebrate V-Day, sensuous tango, and slow food.

Sexy Tour of SF Strip Clubs for Singles or Couples (510) 291-9779, Feb. 13, 6-10pm, $99/person or $190/couple, includes entry to all clubs, two drinks, and full-course dinner. Peek into a world of fantasy, glamour, and intrigue with the safety of a fun group and a guide whose expertise is leading women and couples.

Shindig 69 Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell; 861-2011, Thurs/12, 8:30pm, $10. Start your weekend off with a tribute to the sexy ’60s, featuring The Devil-Ettes, Kitten on the Keys, and DJs from Bardot a Go Go and Teenage Dance Craze — all to benefit the Keep a Breast Foundation.

Supperclub Suicide Girls Afterparty Supperclub, 657 Harrison; 348-0900, Feb. 14, 7:30pm, $100 for dinner and party. Have someone you’re trying to get in bed? Invite them to share a four course menu, bottle of champagne, and special afterparty with Suicide Girls.

Thousand Faces Misera-Ball OmniCircus, 550 Natoma; 701-0686, Feb. 14, 8pm, $10. Celebrate the lovelorn with a multifaceted performance and afterparty. Special discounts for the lonely.

Valentine Art and Wine Tasting Party for Singles The Artists Alley, 863 Mission; Feb. 13, 7:30pm, $20–$30. Sample appetizers and a fabulous selection of wines from California and around the world at one of SF’s premier art galleries, co-sponsored by the Society of Single Professionals.

Valentine’s Day BikeAbout San Francisco Zoo, Sloat at 47th St.; 753-7236, Feb. 14, 8:30-11am, $25–$30. Woo at the Zoo too rich for your blood? Bring your bike and your sweetie for a leisurely, guided pedal around the zoo followed by a continental breakfast. Discount for tandem cyclists!

Valentine’s Day Poetry Luchadores Sub-mission, 2183 Mission; 863-6303, Feb. 14, 7pm, $20 to fight, $10 to watch. Your favorite revolutionary poets, poverty scholars, mediamakers, and cultural workers at POOR Magazine mash up poetry, gender, and wrestling for their second annual Battle of ALL of the sexes.

Valentine’s Eve for Singles Orson, 508 Fourth St.; 777-1508, Feb. 13, 5:45pm-closing, price varies. Choose your own adventure (and price range) at Orson by attending either the Cupid’s Arrow Dinner Party four-course meal or Aphrodisiac Dessert After Party, with dancing for all starting at 10pm.

Woo at the Zoo San Francisco Zoo, Sloat at 47th St.; 753-7236, Sat/7, 6pm; Sun/8, 12pm; Feb. 14, 12pm & 6pm; $75. Enjoy the 20th annual zoo sex tour with Jane Tollini, featuring new animals, new positions, and new kinky information — plus brunch or dinner.


Charles Chocolates Tasting J Vineyards and Winery, 11447 Old Redwood Hwy, Healdsburg; (707) 431-3646, Sat/7, 12:30-3pm, $20. Join the premium artisan chocolatier for a special Valentine’s Day-themed chocolate and wine tasting at J Vineyards.

Family Valentine’s Play Party River of Light Massage & Healing Arts, 256 Shoreline, Mill Valley; (415) 846-8181, Feb. 14, 10am-12pm, $10–<\d>$20. Enjoy heartfelt family fun, sensory games, movement, laughter, and drama with your extended family.

Progressive Dinner for Single Women and Men Ristorante Don Giovanni, 235 Castro, Mt. View; (510) 233-9700, Sat/7, 7pm, free for newcomers. Find your Valentine among the 20 other singles enjoying a three-course meal.

Sweetheart of the Year Dinner Point San Pablo Yacht Club, 700 W. Cutting, Richmond; (510) 232-1102, Feb. 12, 6:30pm, $35. Honor Pat Dornan at the First United Methodist Church of Richmond’s fun-filled evening of memories and laughter.

Valentine’s Dance 707 W. Hornet, Pier 3, Alameda; (510) 521-8448, Feb. 14, 8pm, $40–$75. Don your best ’40s or ’50s attire and dance to jazz and big-band classics aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.


Dating, Marriage, Dating Farley’s, 1315 18th St.; Feb. 14, 7:30pm, donations welcome. Get hopped up on coffee while previewing Liz Grant’s new love-and-romance themed stand-up comedy show.

Love Bites Pop Rocks: LGCSF Sings Top-40 Hits of Bitterness and Betrayal Women’s Building, 3543 18th St.; 1-800-838-3006, Fri/6, Sat/7, adults-only show Feb. 13, 8pm, $15–$30. Cupid takes a well-deserved beating when the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco presents its sixth annual Valentine’s Day cabaret and musical extravaganza.

Mortified: Doomed Valentine’s Show Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St.;, Feb. 12, Feb. 13, 8pm, $12–$15. Share the pain, awkwardness, and bad poetry associated with love as performers read from their teen-angst artifacts.

Origins of Love with John Cameron Mitchell Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St.; 863-0611, Fri/13-Sun/15, times vary, $25. Shortbus and Hedwig and the Angry Inch creator John Cameron presents a romantic potpourri of song, prose, poetry, and film, including a rare chance to hear Mitchell sing selections from Hedwig.

Sexy Valentine’s Erotica Reading Good Vibrations Polk Street Gallery, 1620 Polk; 345-0400, Fri/6, 6:30pm, free. Enjoy a glass of wine while talented group of local writers read their sexy short stories, frisky flash fiction, passionate poems, and hot haikus.

Spookshow A Go-Go Kimo’s, 1351 Polk; 885-1535, It’s a Valentine’s Day massacre with performances by Dottie Lux, Alotta Boutte, Kitten on the Keys, Lady Satan, Ruby White, and DJ Miz Margo, and films by Val Killmore and Shadow Circus.

Sweet Cookbook Reading and Eating Red Hill Books, 401 Cortland; www.dogearedbooks/redhill. Feb. 13, 7pm, free. Red Hill welcomes chef Mani Niall to read from his new book Sweet!: From Agave Nectar to Turbinado, as well as share some of his treats.


Hearts Gathering King Middle School Auditorium, 1781 Rose, Berk.; Feb. 14, 8pm, $15–$20. Enjoy an evening of poetry and music with Diane di Prima, Michael McClure, California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes, U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, and former Poet Laureate Al Young performing with bassist Dan Robbins.


I Love You Because … Design Guild Gallery, 427 Bryant; Feb. 14, 8pm, $10. Celebrate V-Day at the closing party for photographer and TransportedSF visionary Alexander Warnow’s collaborative photo project exploring why people love who they do. (You can also view the photos at the gallery Wed.-Sat., 12-6pm, starting Feb. 5.)

Love Sick II Muse Studios, 224 Sixth St.; Feb. 14, 7pm, $15–$20. Find flirty fashions and lascivious lingerie at this trunk-and-runway show featuring Hide & Seek Lingerie, Ape’ritif Lingerie, Miss Velvet Cream, and more. A portion of proceeds from tickets and kissing booth benefit The Riley Center, a local domestic violence shelter.


Cooking Crush for Singles Crushpad Winery, 2573 Third St.; 1-888-907-2665, Feb. 12, 6:30-9pm, $95. Singles in their 30s and 40s are invited to mix and mingle as they tour the winery, share a nibble and a glass of wine, and pair up for cooking lessons.

The Origins of Love and Love’s Expression Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon; 561-0360, Feb. 14, 2pm, with museum admission. Dr. Thomas Lewis offers a Darwinian twist on modern romance, exploring the psychobiology behind human intimacy.

Valentine’s Aphrodisiac Chef Joe’s Culinary Salon, 16 a/b Sanchez; 626-4379, Feb. 14, 11am-1:30pm, $75. Join expert (and hilarious) Chef Joe for a course in cooking food that’ll get you in the mood, including oyster’s mignonette, asparagus in puff pastry, and chocolate fondue.


Sound Healing for Relationships and Interpersonal Communication Tian Gong International Foundation, 830 Bancroft, Lotus Room 114, Berk.; (510) 883-1920, Feb. 13, 7-8:30pm, $5–$10. Get ready for reutf8g at this qigong practice dedicated to energetically healing relationships, including Celestial Song and Love Activations for soul-to-soul communication.

Revolutionary Love Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, UC Berkeley campus, Berk.; Explore the foundations of self-love with workshops, music, dancing, discussion, and a keynote address by Cherrie Moraga during the 24th Empowering Women of Color Conference.

Valentine’s Day at Habitot Children’s Museum 2065 Kittredge, Berk.; (510) 647-1111, Mon/9-Feb. 14, regular admission. Young children can create heart-themed art for loved ones. Visitors who bring craft supplies get free adult admission.

Wholeness Thru Relationship Center for Transformative Change, 2584 Martin Luther King Jr., Berk.; (510) 549-3733, Feb. 14, 7am-4pm, $35–$50. Invite a friend, ally, or someone with whom you’re having a hard time to this daylong workshop about developing relationships with yourself, your loved ones, and your community.

Check out more Valentine’s Day events listings on our SEX SF blog.

>>More G-Spot: The Guardian Guide to love and lust

Immigrant activists seek Newsom meeting



As cops pushed their way through City Hall’s crowded hallways the day after the presidential inauguration, telling immigrant-rights demonstrators to make a clear pathway, a woman pulled her friend closer to the wall.

"Be careful," she said in Spanish. "You don’t want to be detained."

The mostly Latino protesters placed a candle and an invitation to an immigrant rights meeting in front of each supervisor’s door. The event was meant to bid good riddance to George W. Bush and demand policy change from both President Barack Obama and Mayor Gavin Newsom in light of the escautf8g nationwide crackdowns on undocumented immigrants.

Angered by what they see as a lack of local political leadership in the face of federal assaults on San Francisco’s sanctuary city ordinance, the protesters, numbering in the hundreds, sang social justice songs and chanted "Si se puede" before stopping in front of the Mayor’s Office to shout, "Let us in!"

Organized by the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee, a coalition of 30 organizations that has been working on an immigrants’ rights platform since last July, the action was intended to place additional pressure on Newsom to meet directly with activists.

Newsom has refused to hold a public meeting with immigrant-rights groups since announcing last summer that the city would contact federal authorities whenever youth suspected of being undocumented are arrested on felony charges. That means even innocent kids, arrested by mistake, could be deported.

Newsom’s abrupt policy shift came on the heels of a series of racially charged San Francisco Chronicle articles that hit newsstands just as he was announcing his intention to run for California governor.

Since then, SFIRDC has organized protests and met individually with nine supervisors to persuade them to uphold the city’s sanctuary ordinance and municipal ID program, and to work to stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, police checkpoints, and budget cuts to immigrant community programs.

To date, the four newly elected supervisors — John Avalos, David Campos, David Chiu, and Eric Mar, all direct descendants of immigrant families — along with two returning board members, Sups. Chris Daly and Bevan Dufty, have signed SFIRDC’s pledge.

But while Sup. Sophie Maxwell is said to be open to the idea and Ross Mirkarimi is likely to sign it, Sups. Michela Alioto-Pier, Sean Elsbernd, and Carmen Chu, Newsom’s closest allies on the board, have not.

SFIRDC co-organizer and Asian Law Caucus staff attorney Angela Chan said the coalition hopes Newsom will be receptive to the idea of a Feb. 25 town hall meeting, and that Obama will heed calls to stop raids and suspend detentions and deportations — moves that have increased in frequency locally since Joseph Russoniello was appointed U.S. Attorney for Northern California in December 2007.

"Russoniello’s priorities don’t seem to be in line with the Obama administration," Chan told the Guardian, further noting that the success of SFIRDC’s February 25th meeting, which will be held at the office of St. Peter’s Housing Committee, hinges on the presence of the mayor: If he doesn’t show, the discussion cannot move forward.

San Francisco’s 1989 Sanctuary Ordinance prohibits the use of city funds to enforce federal immigration law, but a 1993 amendment requires the city to report immigrants suspected of felonies to the federal government.

But San Francisco law-enforcement officials chose not to apply that rule to young people — until last summer’s policy shift. Since then, the Juvenile Probation Department has referred an estimated 100 San Francisco youth (who were arrested on suspicion of a crime, but not yet convicted) to ICE. The feds can detain undocumented youth in county jails with adult criminals or transfer them to other facilities, often in other states, without notifying an attorney or a family member.

"We want to narrow the 1993 felony exception to be applied only if a youth has gotten due process and been found to have committed a felony," Chan said.

The city’s crackdown is part of a larger national picture. The amped-up federal campaign against undocumented immigrants, a product of post-9/11 programs, began when ICE was created to replace the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 2003.

"There are victims of domestic violence who will not call the police because they are afraid of their families getting deported," Guillermina Castellano, a domestic worker and activist with Mujeres Unidas and La Raza Central, said at the protest."The main difference between now and before is the scale," said Francisco Ugarte, a lawyer with the Immigrant Legal Education Network. "It’s hard to describe the kind of fear that exists now."

The Hard Times Handbook


We all have high hopes for the new administration. We’d all like to believe that the recession will end soon, that jobs will be plentiful, health care available to all, and affordable housing built in abundance.

But the grim reality is that hard times are probably around for a while longer, and it may get worse before it gets better.

Don’t despair: the city is full of fun things to do on the cheap. There are ways to save money and enjoy life at the same time. If you’re in trouble — out of work, out of food, facing eviction — there are resources around to help you. What follows is a collection of tips, techniques, and ideas for surviving the ongoing depression that’s the last bitter legacy of George W. Bush.

BELOW YOU’LL FIND OUR TIPS ON SCORING FREE, CHEAP, AND LOW-COST WONDERS. (Click here for the full page version with jumps, if you can’t see it.)

















For a little extra routine effort, I’ve managed to make San Francisco’s library system my Netflix/GreenCine, rotating CD turntable, and bookstore, all rolled into one. And it’s all free.

If you’re a books-music-film whore like me, you find your home maxed out with piles of the stuff … and not enough extra cash to feed your habits. So I’ve decided to only buy my favorites and to borrow the rest. We San Franciscans have quite a library system at our fingertips. You just have to learn how to use it.

Almost everyone thinks of a library as a place for books. And that’s not wrong: you can read the latest fiction and nonfiction bestsellers, and I’ve checked out a slew of great mixology/cocktail recipe books when I want to try new drinks at home. I’ve hit up bios on my favorite musicians, or brought home stacks of travel books before a trip (they usually have the current year’s edition of at least one travel series for a given place, whether it be Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, or Frommer’s).

But there’s much more. For DVDs, I regularly check Rotten Tomatoes’ New Releases page ( for new DVD releases. Anything I want to see, I keep on a list and search for those titles every week. About 90 percent of my list eventually comes to the library, and most within a few weeks of the release date.

And such a range! I recently checked out the Oscar-nominated animated foreign film, Persepolis, the entire first season of Mad Men, tons of documentaries, classics (like a Cyd Charisse musical or Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s catalog), even Baby Mama (sure, it sucked, but I can’t resist Tina Fey).

A music fanatic can find virtually every style, and even dig into the history of a genre. I’ve found CDs of jazz and blues greats, including Jelly Roll Morton, John Lee Hooker, Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, kitschy lounge like Martin Denny and singer Julie London, and have satiated rap cravings with the latest Talib Kwali, Lyrics Born, Missy Elliott, T.I. or Kanye (I won’t tell if you won’t).

Warning: there can be a long "holds" list for popular new releases (e.g., Iron Man just came out and has about 175). When this happens, Just get in the queue — you can request as many as 15 items simultaneously online (you do have a library card, right?) You’ll get an e-mail when your item comes in and you can check the status of your list any time you log in. Keep DVDs a full seven days (three weeks for books and CDs) and return ’em to any branch you like.

I’ve deepened my music knowledge, read a broader range of books, and canceled GreenCine. Instead, I enjoy a steady flow of free shit coming my way each week. And if I get bored or the novelty of Baby Mama wears off, I return it and free up space in my mind (and on my shelf) for more. (Virginia Miller)



Shhh. The first rule about thrifting, to paraphrase mobsters and hardcore thrift-store shoppers, is don’t talk about thrifting — and that means the sites of your finest thrift scores. Diehard thrifters guard their favorite shops with jealous zeal: they know exactly what it’s like to wade through scores of stained T-shirts, dress-for-success suits, and plastic purses and come up with zilcherooni. They also know what it’s like to ascend to thrifter nirvana, an increasingly rarified plane where vintage Chanel party shoes and cool dead-stock Western wear are sold for a song.

Friendships have been trashed and shopping carts upended in the revelation of these much-cherished thrift stores, where the quest for that ’50s lamb’s fur jacket or ’80s acid-washed zipper jeans — whatever floats your low-budg boat — has come to a rapturous conclusion. It’s a war zone, shopping on the cheap, out there — and though word has it that the thrifting is excellent in Vallejo and Fresno, our battle begins at home. When the sample sales, designer runoff outlets, resale dives, and consignment boutiques dry up, here’s where you’ll find just what you weren’t looking for — but love, love, love all the same.

Community Thrift, 623 Valencia, SF. (415) 861-4910, Come for the writer’s own giveaways (you can bequeath the funds raised to any number of local nonprofits), and leave with the rattan couches, deco bureaus, records, books and magazines, and an eccentric assortment of clothing and housewares. I’m still amazed at the array of intriguing junk that zips through this spot, but act fast or you’ll miss snagging that Victorian armoire.

Goodwill As-Is Store, 86 11th St., SF. (415) 575-2197, This is the archetype and endgamer of grab-and-tumble thrifting. We’re talking bins, people — bins of dirt cheap and often downright dirty garb that the massive Goodwill around the corner has designated unsuitable, for whatever reason. Dive into said bins, rolled out by your, ahem, gracious Goodwill hosts throughout the day, along with your competition: professional pickers for vintage shops, grabby vintage people, and ironclad bargain hunters. They may not sell items by the pound anymore — now its $2.25 for a piece of adult clothing, 50 cents to $1 for babies’ and children’s garb, $4 for leather jackets, etc. — but the sense of triumph you’ll feel when you discover a tattered 1930s Atonement-style poison-ivy green gown, or a Dr. Pimp-enstein rabbit-fur patchwork coat, or cheery 1950s tablecloths with negligible stainage, is indescribable.

Goodwill Industries, 3801 Third St., SF. (415) 641-4470, Alas, not all Goodwills are created equal: some eke out nothing but stale mom jeans and stretched-out polo shirts. But others, like this Hunter’s Point Goodwill, abound with on-trend goodies. At least until all of you thrift-hungry hordes grab my junk first. Tucked into the corner of a little strip mall, this Goodwill has all those extremely fashionable hipster goods that have been leached from more populated thrift pastures or plucked by your favorite street-savvy designer to "repurpose" as their latest collection: buffalo check shirts, wolf-embellished T-shirts, Gunne Sax fairy-princess gowns, basketball jerseys, and ’80s-era, multicolored zany-print tops that Paper Rad would give their beards for.

Salvation Army, 1500 Valencia, SF. (415) 643-8040, The OG of Mission District thrifting, this Salv has been the site of many an awesome discovery. Find out when the Army puts out the new goods. The Salvation soldiers may have cordoned off the "vintage" — read: higher priced — items in the store within the store, but there are still plenty of old books, men’s clothing, and at times hep housewares and Formica kitchen tables to be had: I adore the rainbow Mork and Mindy parka vest I scored in the boys’ department, as well as my mid-century-mod mustard-colored rocker.

Savers, 875 Main, Redwood City. (650) 364-5545, When the ladies of Hillsborough, Burlingame, and the surrounding ‘burbs shed their oldest, most elegant offerings, the pickings can’t be beat at this Savers. You’ll find everything from I. Magnin cashmere toppers, vintage Gucci tweed, and high-camp ’80s feather-and-leather sweaters to collectible dishware, antique ribbons, and kitsch-cute Holly Hobbie plaques. Strangest, oddly covetable missed-score: a psychiatrist’s couch.

Thrift Town, 2101 Mission, SF. (415) 861-1132, When all else fails, fall back on this department store-sized megalith. Back in the day, thrift-oldsters tell me, they’d dig out collectible paintings and ’50s-era bikes. Now you’ll have to grind deeply to land those finds, though they’re here: cute, mismatched, mid-century chairs; the occasional designer handbag; and ’60s knit suits. Hint: venture into less picked-over departments like bedding. (Kimberly Chun)



San Francisco will not let you starve. Even if you’re completely out of money, there are plenty of places and ways to fill your belly. Many soup kitchens operate out of churches and community centers, and lists can be downloaded and printed from and (which is also a great clearinghouse of information on social services in San Francisco.)Here’s a list of some of our favorites.

Free hot meals

Curry without Worry Healthy, soul pleasing Nepalese food to hungry people in San Francisco. Every Tues. 5:45–7 p.m. on the square at Hyde and Market streets.

Glide, 330 Ellis. Breakfast 8-9 a.m., lunch noon-1:30 p.m. everyday. Dinner 4-5:30 p.m., M-F.

St. Anthony Dining Room, 45 Jones, Lunch everyday 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.

St Martin de Porres Hospitality House, 225 Potrero Ave. Best bowl of oatmeal in the city. Tues.-Sat. breakfast from 6:30-7:30 a.m., lunch from noon-2 pm.. Sun. brunch 9-10:30 a.m. Often vegetarian options.


Food not Bombs Vegetarian soup and bread, but bring your own bowl. At the UN Plaza, Mon., 6 p.m.; Wed., 5:30 p.m. Also at 16th and Mission streets. Thurs. at 7:30 p.m.

Mother’s Kitchen, 7 Octavia, Fri., 2:30-3:30. Vegan options.

Iglesia Latina Americana de Las Adventistas Seventh Dia, 3024 24th St. Breakfast 9:30-11 a.m., third Sun. of the month.

Grab and go sandwiches

Glide, bag meals to go after breakfast ends at 9 a.m.

St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 666 Filbert. 4-5 p.m. every day.


Curry Senior Center, 333 Turk. For the 60+ set. Breakfast 8-9 a.m., lunch 11:30 to noon every day.

Kimochi, 1840 Sutter St. Japanese-style hot lunch served 11:45 am (M-F). $1.50 donation per meal is requested. 60+ only with no one to assist with meals. Home deliveries available. 415-931-2287

St. Anthony Dining Room, 10:30-11:30 a.m., 59+, families, and people who can’t carry a tray.

Free groceries

San Francisco Food Bank A wealth of resources, from pantries with emergency food boxes to supplemental food programs. 415-282-1900.

211 Dial this magic number and United Way will connect you with free food resources in your neighborhood — 24/7.

Low-cost groceries

Maybe you don’t qualify for food assistance programs or you just want to be a little thriftier — in which case the old adage that the early bird gets the metaphorical worm is apropos. When it comes to good food deals, timing can be everything. Here are a couple of handy tips for those of us who like to eat local, organic, and cheap. Go to Rainbow Grocery early and hit the farmers markets late. Rainbow has cheap and half-price bins in the bread and produce sections — but you wouldn’t know it if you’re a late-riser. Get there shortly after doors open at 9 a.m. for the best deals.

By the end of the day, many vendors at farmers markets are looking to unload produce rather than pack it up, so it’s possible to score great deals if you’re wandering around during the last half hour of the market. CAFF has a comprehensive list of Bay Area markets that you can download:

Then there’s the Grocery Outlet (2001 Fourth St., Berkeley and 2900 Broadway, Oakland,, which puts Wal-Mart to shame. This is truly the home of low-cost living. Grocery Outlet began in 1946 in San Francisco when Jim Read purchased surplus government goods and started selling them. Now Grocery Outlets are the West Coast’s version of those dented-can stores that sell discounted food that wasn’t ready for prime-time, or perhaps spent a little too long in the limelight.

Be prepared to eat what you find — options range from name brands with trashed labels to foodstuffs you’ve never seen before — but there are often good deals on local breads and cheeses, and their wine section will deeply expand you Two-Buck Chuck cellar. Don’t be afraid of an occasional corked bottle that you can turn into salad dressing, and be sure to check the dates on anything perishable. The Grocery Outlet Web site (which has the pimpest intro music ever) lists locations and ways to sign up for coupons and download a brochure on how to feed your family for $3 a day. (Amanda Witherell)



Music should be free. Everyone who has downloaded music they haven’t been given or paid for obviously believes this, though we haven’t quite made it to that ideal world where all professional musicians are subsidized — and given health care — by the government or other entities. But live, Clive? Where do can you catch fresh, live sounds during a hard-hitting, heavy-hanging economic downturn? Intrepid, impecunious sonic seekers know that with a sharp eye and zero dough, great sounds can be found in the oddest crannies of the city. You just need to know where to look, then lend an ear. Here are a few reliables — occasional BART station busks and impromptu Ocean Beach shows aside.

Some of the best deals — read: free — on world-class performers happen seasonally: in addition to freebie fests like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass every October and the street fairs that accompanying in fair weather, there’s each summer’s Stern Grove Festival. Beat back the Sunset fog with a picnic of bread, cheese, and cheap vino, though you gotta move fast to claim primo viewing turf to eyeball acts like Bettye Lavette, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, and Allen Toussaint. Look for the 2009 schedule to be posted at May 1.

Another great spot to catch particularly local luminaries is the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, which runs from May to October. Rupa and the April Fishes, Brass Menazeri, Marcus Shelby Trio, Bayonics, and Omar Sosa’s Afreecanos Quintet all took their turn in the sun during the Thursday lunchtime concerts. Find out who’s slated for ’09 in early spring at

All year around, shopkeeps support sounds further off the beaten path — music fans already know about the free, albeit usually shorter, shows, DJ sets, and acoustic performances at aural emporiums like Amoeba Music ( and Aquarius Records ( Many a mind has been blown by a free blast of new sonics from MIA or Boris amid the stacks at Amoeba, the big daddy in this field, while Aquarius in-stores define coziness: witness last year’s intimate acoustic hootenanny by Deerhoof’s Satomi and Tenniscoats’ Saya as Oneone. Less regular but still an excellent time if you happen upon one: Adobe Books Backroom Gallery art openings (, where you can get a nice, low-key dose of the Mission District’s art and music scenes converging. Recent exhibition unveilings have been topped off by performances by the Oh Sees, Boner Ha-chachacha, and the Quails.

Still further afield, check into the free-for-all, quality curatorial efforts at the Rite Spot (, where most shows at this dimly lit, atmospheric slice of old-school cabaret bohemia are as free as the breeze and as fun as the collection of napkin art in back: Axton Kincaid, Brandy Shearer, Kitten on the Keys, Toshio Hirano, and Yard Sale have popped up in the past. Also worth a looky-loo are Thee Parkside‘s ( free Twang Sunday and Happy Hour Shows: a rad time to check out bands you’ve never heard of but nonetheless pique your curiosity: Hukaholix, hell’s yeah! And don’t forget: every cover effort sounds better with a pint — all the better to check into the cover bands at Johnny Foley’s (, groove artists at Beckett’s Irish Pub in Berkeley (, and piano man Rod Dibble and his rousing sing-alongs at the Alley in Oakland (510-444-8505). All free of charge. Charge! (Kimberly Chun}



Our complex world often defies simple solutions. But there is one easy way to save money, get healthy, become more self-sufficient, free up public resources, and reduce your contribution to air pollution and global warming: get around town on a bicycle.

It’s no coincidence that the number of cyclists on San Francisco streets has increased dramatically over the last few years, a period of volatile gasoline prices, heightened awareness of climate change, poor Muni performance, and economic stagnation.

On Bike to Work Day last year, traffic counts during the morning commute tallied more bicycles than cars on Market Street for the first time. Surveys commissioned by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition show that the number of regular bike commuters has more than doubled in recent years. And that increase came even as a court injunction barred new bike projects in the city (see "Stationary biking," 5/16/07), a ban that likely will be lifted later this year, triggering key improvements in the city’s bicycle network that will greatly improve safety.

Still not convinced? Then do the math.

Drive a car and you’ll probably spend a few hundred dollars every month on insurance, gas, tolls, parking, and fines, and that’s even if you already own your car outright. If you ride the bus, you’ll pay $45 per month for a Fast Pass while government will pay millions more to subsidize the difference. Riding a bike is basically free.

Free? Surely there are costs associated with bicycling, right? Yeah, sure, occasionally. But in a bike-friendly city like San Francisco, there are all kinds of opportunities to keep those costs very low, certainly lower than any other transportation alternative except walking (which is also a fine option for short trips).

There are lots of inexpensive used bicycles out there. I bought three of my four bicycles at the Bike Hut at Pier 40 ( for an average of $100 each and they’ve worked great for several years (my fourth bike, a suspension mountain bike, I also bought used for a few hundred bucks).

Local shops that sell used bikes include Fresh Air Bicycles, (1943 Divisidero, Refried Cycles (3804 17th St., www.refriedcycles,com/bicycles.htm), Karim Cycle (2800 Telegraph., Berkeley, and Re-Cycles Bicycles (3120 Sacramento, Berkeley, Blazing Saddles (1095 Columbus, sells used rental bikes for reasonable prices. Craigslist always has listings for dozens of used bikes of all styles and prices. And these days, you can even buy a new bike for a few hundred bucks. Sure, they’re often made in China with cheap parts, but they’ll work just fine.

Bikes are simple yet effective machines with a limited number of moving parts, so it’s easy to learn to fix them yourself and cut out even the minimal maintenance costs associated with cycling. I spent $100 for two four-hour classes at Freewheel Bike Shop (1920 Hayes and 914 Valencia, that taught me everything I need to know about bike maintenance and includes a six-month membership that lets me use its facilities, tools, and the expertise of its mechanics. My bikes are all running smoother than ever on new ball bearings that cost me two bucks per wheel, but they were plenty functional even before.

There are also ways to get bike skills for free. Sports Basement ( offers free bicycle maintenance classes at both its San Francisco locations the first Tuesday of every month from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Or you can turn to the Internet, where YouTube has a variety of bike repair videos and Web sites such as can lead you through repairs.

The nonprofit The Bike Kitchen (1256 Mission, on Mission Street offers great deals to people who spend $40 per year for a membership. Volunteer your time through the Earn-a-Bike program and they’ll give you the frame, parts, and skills to build your own bike for free.

But even in these hard economic times, there is one purchase I wouldn’t skimp on: spend the $30 — $45 for a good U-lock, preferably with a cable for securing the wheels. Then you’re all set, ready to sell your car, ditch the bus, and learn how easy, cheap, fast, efficient, and fun it is to bicycle in this 49-square-mile city. (Steven T. Jones)



When money’s tight, healthcare tends to be one of the first costs we cut. But that can be a bad idea, because skimping on preventive care and treatment for minor issues can lead to much more expensive and serious (and painful) health issues later. Here is our guide to Bay Area institutions, programs, and clinics that serve the under- and uninsured.

One of our favorite places is the Women’s Community Clinic (2166 Hayes, 415-379-7800,, a women-operated provider open to anyone female, female-identified, or female-bodied transgender. This awesome 10-year-old clinic offers sexual and reproductive health services — from Pap smears and PMS treatment to menopause and infertility support — to any SF, San Mateo, Alameda, or Marin County resident, and all on a generous sliding scale based on income and insurance (or lack thereof). Call for an appointment, or drop in on Friday mornings (but show up at 9:30 a.m. because spots fill up fast).

A broader option (in terms of both gender and service) is Mission Neighborhood Center (main clinic at 240 Shotwell. 415-552-3870,, see Web site for specialty clinics). This one-stop health shop provides primary, HIV/AIDS, preventive, podiatry, women’s, children’s, and homeless care to all, though its primary focus is on the Latino/Hispanic Spanish-speaking community. Insurance and patient payment is accepted, including a sliding scale for the uninsured (no one is denied based on inability to pay). This clinic is also a designated Medical Home (or primary care facility) for those involved in the Healthy San Francisco program.

Contrary to popular belief, Healthy San Francisco ( is not insurance. Rather, it’s a network of hospitals and clinics that provide free or nearly free healthcare to uninsured SF residents who earn at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level (which, at about $2,600 per month, includes many of us). Participants choose a Medical Home, which serves as a first point-of-contact. The good news? HSF is blind to immigration status, employment status, and preexisting medical conditions. The catch? The program’s so new and there are so many eligible residents that the application process is backlogged — you may have a long wait before you reap the rewards. Plus, HSF only applies within San Francisco.

Some might consider mental health less important than that of the corporeal body, but anyone who’s suffered from depression, addiction, or PTSD knows otherwise. Problem is, psychotherapy tends to be expensive — and therefore considered superfluous. Not so at Golden Gate Integral Counseling Center (507 Polk. 415-561-0230,, where individuals, couples, families, and groups can get long- and short-term counseling for issues from stress and relationships to gender identity, all billed on a sliding scale.

Other good options

American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (450 Connecticut, 415-282-9603, This well-regarded school provides a range of treatments, including acupuncture, cupping, tui ma/shiatsu massage, and herbal therapy, at its on-site clinics — all priced according to a sliding scale and with discounts for students and seniors. The college also sends interns to specialty clinics around the Bay, including the Women’s Community Clinic, Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic, and St. James Infirmary.

St. James Infirmary (1372 Mission. 415-554-8494, Created for sex-workers and their partners, this Mission District clinic offers a range of services from primary care to massage and self-defense classes, for free. Bad ass.

Free Print Shop ( This fantabulous Webs site has charts showing access to free healthcare across the city, as well as free food, shelter, and help with neighborhood problems. If we haven’t listed ’em, Free Print Shop has. Tell a friend.

Native American Health Center (160 Capp, 415-621-8051, Though geared towards Native Americans, this multifaceted clinic (dental! an Oakland locale, and an Alameda satellite!) turns no one away. Services are offered to the under-insured on a sliding scale as well as to those with insurance.

SF Free Clinic (4900 California, 415-750-9894, Those without any health insurance can get vaccinations, diabetes care, family planning assistance, STD diagnosis and treatment, well child care, and monitoring of acute and chronic medical problems.

Haight Ashbury Free Clinics (558 Clayton. 415-746-1950, Though available to all, these clinics are geared towards the uninsured, underinsured "working poor," the homeless, youth, and those with substance abuse and/or mental health issues. We love this organization not only for its day-to-day service, but for its low-income residential substance abuse recovery programs and its creation of RockMed, which provides free medical care at concerts and events. (Molly Freedenberg)



There’s no reason to be ashamed to stay in the city’s homeless shelters — but proceed with awareness. Although most shelters take safety precautions and men and women sleep in separate areas, they’re high-traffic places that house a true cross-section of the city’s population.

The city shelters won’t take you if you just show up — you have to make a reservation. In any case, a reservation center should be your first stop anyway because they’ll likely have other services available for you. If you’re a first-timer, they’ll want to enter you into the system and take your photograph. (You can turn down the photo-op.) Reservations can be made for up to seven days, after which you’ll need to connect with a case manager to reserve a more permanent 30- or 60-day bed.

The best time to show up is first thing in the morning when beds are opening up, or late at night when beds have opened up because of no-show reservations. First thing in the morning means break of dawn — people often start lining up between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. for the few open beds. Many people are turned away throughout the day, although your chances are better if you’re a woman.

You can reserve a bed at one of several reservation stations: 150 Otis, Mission Neighborhood Resource Center (165 Capp St.), Tenderloin Resource Center (187 Golden Gate), Glide (330 Ellis), United Council (2111 Jennings), and the shelters at MSC South (525 Fifth St.) and Hospitality House (146 Leavenworth). If it’s late at night, they may have a van available to give you a ride to the shelter. Otherwise, bus tokens are sometimes available if you ask for one — especially if you’re staying at Providence shelter in the Bayview-Hunters Point District.

They’ll ask if you have a shelter preference — they’re all a little different and come with good and bad recommendations depending on whom you talk to. By all accounts, Hospitality House is one of the best — it’s small, clean, and well run. But it’s for men only, as are the Dolores Street Community Services shelters (1050 S. Van Ness and 1200 Florida), which primarily cater to Spanish-speaking clients.

Women can try Oshun (211 13th St.) and A Woman’s Place (1049 Howard) if they want a men-free space. If kids are in tow, Compass Family Services will set you up with shelter and put you on a waiting list for housing. (A recent crush of families means a waiting list for shelters also exists.) People between 18 and 24 can go to Lark Inn (869 Ellis). The Asian Woman’s Shelter specializes in services for Asian-speaking women and domestic violence victims (call the crisis line 877-751-0880). (Amanda Witherell)



Nothing fancy about these places — but the food is good, and the price is right, and they’re perfect for depression dining.

Betty’s Cafeteria Probably the easiest place in town to eat for under five bucks, breakfast or lunch, American or Chinese. 167 11th St., SF. (415) 431-2525

Susie’s Café You can get four pancakes or a bacon burger for under $5 at this truly grungy and divine dive, right next to Ed’s Auto — and you get the sense the grease intermingles. , 603 Seventh St., SF (415) 431-2177

Lawrence Bakery Café Burger and fries, $3.75, and a slice of pie for a buck. 2290 Mission., SF. (415) 864-3119

Wo’s Restaurant Plenty of under-$5 Cantonese and Vietnamese dishes, and, though the place itself is cold and unatmospheric, the food is actually great. 4005 Judah, SF. (415) 681-2433

Glenn’s Hot Dogs A cozy, friendly, cheap, delicious hole-in-the-wall and probably my favorite counter to sit at in the whole Bay Area. 3506 MacArthur Blvd., Oakl. (510) 530-5175 (L.E. Leone)



When it comes to free drinks I’m a liar, a whore, and a cheat, duh.

I’m a liar because of course I find your designer replica stink-cloud irresistible and your popped collar oh so intriguing — and no, you sexy lug, I’ve never tried one of those delicious-looking orange-juice-and-vodka concoctions you’re holding. Perhaps you could order me one so I could try it out while we spend some time?

I’m a whore because I’ll still do you anyway — after the fifth round, natch. That’s why they call me the liquor quicker picker-upper.

And I’m a cheat because here I am supposed to give you the scoop on where to score some highball on the lowdown, when in fact there’s a couple of awesome Web sites just aching to help you slurp down the freebies. Research gives me wrinkles, darling. So before I get into some of my fave inexpensive inebriation stations, take a designated-driver test drive of and

FuncheapSF’s run by the loquacious Johnny Funcheap, and has the dirty deets on a fab array of free and cheap city events — with gallery openings, wine and spirits tastings, and excellent shindigs for the nightlife-inclined included. is a national operation that’s geared toward the hard stuff, and its local branch offers way too much clarity about happy hours, concerts, drink specials, and service nights. Both have led me into inglorious perdition, with dignity, when my chips were down.

Beyond all that, and if you have a couple bucks in your shucks, here’s a few get-happies of note:

Godzuki Sushi Happy Hour at the Knockout. Super-yummy affordable fish rolls and $2 Kirin on tap in a rockin’ atmosphere. Wednesdays, 6–9:30 p.m. 3223 Mission, SF. (415) 550-6994,

All-Night Happy Hour at The Attic. Drown your recession tears — and the start of your work week — in $3 cosmos and martinis at this hipster hideaway. Sundays and Mondays, 5 p.m.–2 a.m. 3336 24th St., (415) 722-7986

The Stork Club. Enough live punk to bleed your earworm out and $2 Pabsts every night to boot? Fly me there toute suite. 2330 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 444-6174,

House of Shields. Dive into $2 PBR on tap and great music every night except Sundays at the beautiful winner of our 2008 Best of the Bay "Best Monumental Urinal" award. (We meant in the men’s room, not the place as a whole!) 39 New Montgomery, SF. (415) 975-8651,

The Bitter End. $3 drafts Monday through Friday are just the beginning at this Richmond pub: the Thursday night Jager shot plus Pabst for five bucks (plus an ’80s dance party) is worth a look-see. 441 Clement, SF. (415) 221-9538

Thee Parkside Fast becoming the edge-seekers bar of choice, this Potrero Hill joint has some awesome live nights with cheap brews going for it, but the those in the know misplace their Saturday afternoons with $3 well drinks from 3 to 8 p.m.1600 17th St., SF. (415) 252-1330,

Infatuation. One of the best free club nights in the city brings in stellar electro-oriented talent and also offers two-for-one well drinks, so what the hey. Wednesdays, 9 p.m.–2 a.m. Vessel, 85 Campton Place, SF. (415) 433-8585,

Honey Sundays. Another free club night, this one on the gay tip, that offers more great local and international DJ names and some truly fetching specials at Paradise Lounge’s swank upstairs bar. Sundays, 8 p.m.–2 a.m. Paradise Lounge, 1501 Folsom, SF. (415) 252-5018, (Marke B.)



You’ve got a date this weekend, which you’re feeling pretty good about, but only $50 to spend, which feels … not so good. Where should you go?

You’ll appear in-the-know at the underrated Sheba Piano Lounge (1419 Fillmore, on lower Fillmore Street, right in the middle of the burgeoning jazz revival district. Sheba was around long before Yoshi’s, offering live jazz (usually piano, sometimes a vocalist) and some of the best Ethiopian food in the city in a refined, relaxed lounge setting. Sure, they’ve got Americanized dishes, but skip those for the traditional Ethiopian menu. Sample multiple items by ordering the vegetarian platter ($13) or ask for a mixed meat platter, which is not on the menu ($16 last time I ordered it). One platter is more than enough for two, and you can still afford a couple of cocktails, glasses of wine or beer, or even some Ethiopian honey wine (all well under $10). Like any authentic Ethiopian place I’ve eaten in, the staff operates on Africa time, so be prepared to linger and relax.

It’s a little hipster-ish with slick light fixtures, a narrow dining room/bar, and the increasingly common "communal table" up front, but the Mission District’s Bar Bambino (2931 16th St., offers an Italian enoteca experience that says "I’ve got some sophistication, but I like to keep it casual." Reserve ahead for tables because there aren’t many, or come early and sit at the bar or in the enclosed back patio and enjoy an impressive selection of Italian wines by the glass ($8–$12.50). For added savings with a touch of glam, don’t forget their free sparkling water on tap. It’s another small plates/antipasti-style menu, so share a pasta ($10.50–$15.50), panini ($11.50–$12.50), and some of their great house-cured salumi or artisan cheese. Bar Bambino was just named one of the best wine bars in the country by Bon Apetit, but don’t let that deter you from one of the city’s real gems.

Nothing says romance (of the first date kind) like a classic French bistro, especially one with a charming (heated) back patio. Bistro Aix (3340 Steiner, is one of those rare places in the Marina District where you can skip the pretension and go for old school French comfort food (think duck confit, top sirloin steak and frites, and a goat cheese salad — although the menu does stray a little outside the French zone with some pasta and "cracker crust pizza." Bistro Aix has been around for years, offering one of the cheapest (and latest — most end by 6 or 7 p.m.) French prix fixe menus in town (Sunday through Thursday, 6–8 p.m.) at $18 for two courses. This pushes it to $40 for two, but still makes it possible to add a glass of wine, which is reasonably priced on the lower end of their Euro-focused wine list ($6.25–$15 a glass).

Who knew seduction could be so surprisingly affordable? (Virginia Miller)



You may be broke, but you can still stay limber. San Francisco is home to scores of studios and karmically-blessed souls looking to do a good turn by making yoga affordable for everyone.

One of the more prolific teachers and donation-based yoga enthusiasts is Tony Eason, who trained in the Iyengar tradition. His classes, as well as links to other donation-based teachers, can be found at Another great teacher in the Anusara tradition is Skeeter Barker, who teaches classes for all levels Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:45 to 9:15 p.m. at Yoga Kula, 3030a 16th St. (recommended $8–$10 donation).

Sports Basement also hosts free classes every Sunday at three stores: Bryant Street from 1 to 2 p.m., the Presidio from 11a.m. to noon, and Walnut Creek 11 a.m. to noon. Bring your own mat.

But remember: even yoga teachers need to make a living — so be fair and give what you can. (Amanda Witherell)



So the building you live in was foreclosed. Or you missed a few rent payments. Suddenly there’s a three-day eviction notice in your mailbox. What now?

Don’t panic. That’s the advice from Ted Gullicksen, executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union. Tenants have rights, and evictions can take a long time. And while you may have to deal with some complications and legal issues, you don’t need to pack your bags yet.

Instead, pick up the phone and call the Tenants Union (282-6622, or get some professional advice from a lawyer.

The three-day notice doesn’t mean you have to be out in three days. "But it does mean you will have to respond to and communicate with the landlord/lady within that time," Gullicksen told us.

It’s also important to keep paying your rent, Gullicksen warned, unless you can’t pay the full amount and have little hope of doing so any time soon.

"Nonpayment of rent is the easiest way for a landlord to evict a tenant," Gullicksen explained. "Don’t make life easier for the landlady who was perhaps trying to use the fact that your relatives have been staying with you for a month as grounds to evict you so she can convert your apartment into a pricey condominium."

There are, however, caveats to Gullicksen’s "always pay the rent" rule: if you don’t have the money or you don’t have all the money.

"Say you owe $1,000 but only have $750 when you get the eviction notice," Gullicksen explained. "In that case, you may want to not pay your landlord $750, in case he sits on it but still continues on with the eviction. Instead, you might want to put the money to finding another place or hiring an attorney."

A good lawyer can often delay an eviction — even if it’s over nonpayment or rent — and give you time to work out a deal. Many landlords, when faced with the prospect of a long legal fight, will come to the table. Gullicksen noted that the vast majority of eviction cases end in a settlement. "We encourage all tenants to fight evictions," he said. The Tenants Union can refer you to qualified tenant lawyers.

These days some tenants who live in buildings that have been foreclosed on are getting eviction notices. But in San Francisco, city officials are quick to point out, foreclosure is not a legal ground for eviction.

Another useful tip: if your landlord is cutting back on the services you get — whether it’s a loss of laundry facilities, parking, or storage space, or the owner has failed to do repairs or is preventing you from preventing you from "the quiet enjoyment of your apartment" — you may be able to get a rent reduction. With the passage of Proposition M in November 2008 tenants who have been subjected to harassment by their landlords are also eligible for rent reductions. That involves a petition to the San Francisco Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board (

Gullicksen also recommends that people who have lost their jobs check out the Eviction Defense Collaborative (

"They are mostly limited to helping people who have temporary shortfalls," Gullicksen cautioned. But if you’ve lost your job and are about to start a new one and are a month short, they can help. (Sarah Phelan)



How do you get your unemployment check?

"Just apply for it."

That’s the advice of California’s Employment Development Department spokesperson Patrick Joyce.

You may think you aren’t eligible because you may have been fired or were only working part-time, but it’s still worth a try. "Sometimes people are ineligible, but sometimes they’re not," Joyce said, explaining that a lot of factors come into play, including your work history and how much you were making during the year before you became unemployed.

"So, simply apply for it — if you don’t qualify we’ll tell you," he said. "And if you think you are eligible and we don’t, you can appeal to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board."

Don’t wait, either. "No one gets unemployment benefits insurance payments for the first week they are unemployed," Joyce explained, referring to the one-week waiting period the EDD imposes before qualified applicants can start collecting. "So you should apply immediately."

Folks can apply by filling out the unemployment insurance benefits form online or over the phone. But the phone number is frequently busy, so online is the best bet.

Even if you apply by phone, visit beforehand to view the EDD’s extensive unemployment insurance instructions and explanations. To file an online claim, visit For a phone number for your local office, visit

(Sarah Phelan)

We’ll be doing regular updates and running tips for hard times in future issues. Send your ideas to

My call with Rose Aguilar


By Amanda Witherell


Local KALW “Your Call” radio show host Rose Aguilar has written a fascinating account of her six-month road trip through four “red” states interviewing people about their lives and asking them why they vote the way they do. The book, Red Highways, details her interviews and interactions she meets and reveals Aguilar as the kind of reporter who is drawn to apparent contradictions and keeps her microphone on way past the sound byte responses. She and her boyfriend, Ryan, attend a progressive church in Dallas and dine with a pro-war vegan; interview a Republican turned Democrat because of domestic violence in Mississippi; have a close encounter at a gun show in Oklahoma City; and talk with gay, Republican environmentalists in Montana.

The book was published just before the election and I gave her a call today to get her thoughts on Barack Obama’s win, hear some stories that were left out of the book, and talk about how the media could and should be reporting from the real American perspective.

We’ll be publishing a review of Red Highways in Wednesday’s paper, but in the meantime, Aguilar is reading tonight, November 11, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, 2345 Channing Way. You can find other author events here.


Here are some excerpts of my interview with her:

A safe sanctuary city



OPINION Amid a sea of reporters, I sat in a community meeting in the Mission District last week as city officials struggled to address the rash of homicides that have occurred in the past two weeks. As we listened to the endless chatter, I was greatly dismayed because we were avoiding the elephant in the room — the complete lack of trust between the police department and our communities of color.

I fear that that the relationship between communities of color and the police department has deteriorated beyond repair — in part because of the San Francisco Chronicle‘s xenophobic and inflammatory headlines.

It has been two months since the Chronicle began its skewed campaign of blame, pointing the finger at SF’s Sanctuary City laws as responsible for the rise in crime in San Francisco. The paper limited its coverage to the most extreme cases, such as undocumented homeless youth forced to traffic in narcotics. The stories failed to mention that immigrants are statistically less likely to become involved in crime — and when victimized, are less likely to report the crime.

Now we have gutted our sanctuary-city status with a new policy — one requiring police and probation officers to report detained youth to immigration officials if they even suspect that the detainees are undocumented. There are already reports that the police are arbitrarily stopping and ticketing young Latino males for trivial infractions such as "rosaries obstructing car views" as part of their Violence Prevention Traffic Unit work.

This new policy mandates that we refer immigrant youth charged with felonies to deportation proceedings prior to determining their innocence. What happened to due process?

As a community organizer, I have seen firsthand the tragedy inflicted on families when city officials send students in San Francisco public schools to deportation before determining their innocence or guilt. This regressive policy avoids any input from those most qualified to give it — the district attorney and the public defender.

Here’s the irony of it all — further attacks on the Sanctuary City policy will not produce a safer San Francisco. Indeed, wives and girlfriends in our immigrant communities will be less likely to report incidents of domestic violence for fear their loved ones (or themselves!) will be summarily deported. Conscientious neighborhood residents will be less likely to report vandalism or other youth mischief for fear that children in their community will be spirited away overnight by immigration authorities. And what about homicide? Undocumented people witnessed the murder of a youth and a father in the last two months, but have refused to come forward out of fear that the police will report them to immigration authorities.

Immigrants already live in the shadows of this great nation. They are the economic backbone of California — washing our dishes, picking our produce, and generally subsidizing all of our lifestyles. Police collaboration with immigration officials will force an already exploited population further underground, and engender even greater distrust of those institutions purporting to serve and protect them. *

Barbara "Bobbi" Lopez is a community organizer with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and a candidate for Board of Education.

Budget Battle bumps up against Gay Marriage


Bridal Money bags are sexy, budget documents ain’t.

As LGBT couples were praising Mayor Gavin Newsom for making legally wedded bliss a reality in their lifetimes, a parallel community inside City Hall was criticizing the Mayor for making potentially fatal cuts to public health programs, many of which have served San Francisco’s LGBT community for decades.

Unfortunately, between all the gay marriage hoopla going on in the marble corridors of City Hall, and the burn out that non-profits are already feeling having suffered crippling mid-year cuts, there was an unprecedented feeling of doom and gloom during this year’s Beilensen Hearing inside the Board of Supervisors’s chambers.

The Beilensen Hearings, which the state requires when cuts are proposed to public health programs and services, have become an annual dance, which goes like this: first the Mayor proposes massive cuts, then the Board tries to restore funds, next competing rallies are held, and finally most of the programs are restored,

Only this year, there is little to no money to be found.

During his June 2 budget annoucement, Mayor Gavin Newsom pointed out that while the City is facing a record $338 million deficit, it is also is seeing healthy increases in tax revenues.

So, why such a massive imbalance this year? Newsom claims we are spending more than we are taking in, but that answer sidesteps the political reality of just why that is happening on such a greater scale, this year.

The answer to that question lies in two directions: Newsom’s approval, and the Board’s largely unflinching support (Sup. Chris Daly was the lone dissenting voice) for union contracts last summer, when the Mayor was up for reelection; and Newsom and the Board’s failure to introduce legislation last year to create new revenue streams to make up for the increasing slice of funds that those same union contracts, predictably, are swallowing up.

To their credit, Board President Aaron Peskin (who celebrated his birthday June 17, just as gay marriage mania was hitting City Hall big time) and Sup. Jake McGoldrick, who chairs the Board’s powerful Budget and Finance Committee, have now bitten the bullet and introduced legislation that seeks to increase property transfer taxes and close the pay roll tax partnership loophole.

But even if these measures are approved, (and that’s a big if, they won’t ease this year’s budget pains.

What could help, on a more immediate level, is the identification of significant savings within the Mayor’s proposed 2008-09 budget. And to that end Budget Committee chair McGoldrick has dug his claws deep into Newsom’s proposed budget document and drawn blood.

This blood letting began ast week, when McGoldrick led the charge against funding the Mayor’s proposed $3 million Community Justice Center. (The proposal got sent back to committee where it will likely fester, and the Mayor has responded by placing a measure on the November ballot that would allocate $1.8 Million in city funds and earmark an additional $984,000 in federal grant money to create the proposed center.)

And at yesterday’s Board meeting, McGoldrick told me that he has identified potential savings of $8-10 million from the San Francisco Police Department, including eliminating over staffing as well as defunding two out of the Mayor’s three proposed police academies.

“Any claims that they are understaffed are not true,” said McGoldrick, who says he came to this conclusion by factoring in 129 civilianized positions into SFPD staffing totals.

“And I’ve already told the Mayor and the Chief of Police that they are not going to get three police academies, and that the Mayor’s 311 Center is not getting 26 new positions,” McGoldrick continued. “We are going to have to figure out a more efficient way to run it. This is all about priorities. My priorities are the sick, the shut-ins, the elderly, children, the mentally ill and the victims of domestic violence.”

Meanwhile, Sup. Chris Daly extracted hollow laughs when he announced that he would not make the exact same speech as he did at last year’s Beilenson Hearing.

Daly was referring to his now infamous speech in which he referred to “allegations of cocaine use,”—allegations that were whispered around town, after it was revealed that Newsom had had an adulterous affair with the wife of his then campaign manager Alex Tourk, but that were never proven and thus would have been better left unmentioned in a public hearing that was seeking to illuminate Newsom’s wacky budget priorities..

But because Daly mentioned them, the media, which doesn’t like covering budget hearings, since there’s nothing sexy about covering hours of testimony in which people describe , over and over, the devastation that proposed cuts will have on their programs, happily refocused its lens on the alleged inappropriateness of Daly’s speech, thereby helping the Mayor get off the hook for proposing cuts to substance abuse treatment programs, in the same year he claimed to be undergoing alcohol abuse therapy.

Or maybe it was because that in this LGBT-friendly town, Newsom will always be remembered as the patron saint of gay marriage, and because of his sainthood voters will largely absolve him of all his other sins, including making decimating financial cuts to public health programs that have helped the LGBT community for decades.

Either way, this time around, Daly, (while complaining that the Beilenson hearing should happen in front of the Mayor), didn’t bother to imply that Newsom had somehow lost his moral compass.

Which was probably a wise l move, given that at that very moment the Mayor was being elevated to international renown for having pushed the gay rights envelope all the way to the wedding altar, at a time when the rest of the Democratic Party, fearing another four years of President Bush in 2004, was whimpering “too much, too soon, too fast.”

Instead, Daly commented that his district will likely look like “the Night of the Living Dead” once Newsom’s proposed budget cuts go into effect,

Daly also introduced the “Treatment on Demand Act,” which “requires that the City and County of San Francisco “maintain an adequate level of free and low cost medical substance abuse services and residential treatment slots commensurate with demand.”

Daly’s act measures demand, “by the total number of filled medical substance abuse slots plus the total number of individuals seeking such slots as well as the total number of filled residential treatment slots plus the number of individuals seeking such slots.”

But for now, it’s budget hearing season, and advocates like Bill Hirsch of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel are telling the Board how they believe the Mayor’s proposed cuts amount to “a dismantling of a system of care that has taken over 25 years to put together.”

“We’re terribly disappointed with the mayor’s Budget,” Hirsch said, against a soundtrack of whoops of joy as gay couples celebrated their weddings outside the Board’s chambers.
“Hopefully, the Board can help prevent the worst of this.”

Others, like Connie Ford of Office Employees Local 3, which represents 800 non-profit workers, called the 22 percent cuts that the Department of Public Health is facing, “the most chaotic, unstrategic and ill-advised cuts” she’d ever seen.
“We’ll hurt people and the cuts will actually cost us more money” Ford said. “There is no rhyme or reason to these cuts.”

FelicianHouston, program director of a Woman’s Place, said that the proposed cuts are a “reflection of the dismantling of the continuum of care.”
“Just don’t do it.” Houston said.

And the list of speakers went on and on, including representatives for suicide prevention, crystal meth intervention, and mobile assistance patrol programs.

“Studies show that for every one dollar spent on substance abuse treatment seven dollars are saved at the law enforcement level” said several speakers. It’s a comment that brings us full circle to the insanity of proposing to start new programs, like the Community Justice Center, while proposing to slash the programs that would serve that center.

Stay tuned for move coverage of this and other budget insanities, between now and the end of July, when the annual budgetary approval cycle is scheduled to be resolved.

And so it begins



Mayor Gavin Newsom chose a telling site for the June 2 release of his budget: the San Francisco Police Department’s Special Tactical Operations Center at Hunters Point Shipyard. And if its relationship to Proposition G, the mayor’s plan to let Lennar Corporation develop the southeast part of the city, wasn’t clear enough, Newsom made it explicit.

"You’ll have the opportunity to support Proposition G and reject Proposition F, the one that is getting in the way," Newsom told department heads and the press as police, who warned budget protesters that it is illegal to campaign on city property, looked on in silence. It is also illegal for the mayor to campaign for ballot measures on city property.

In his speech, Newsom labeled as the "heroes" of this year’s budget the unions that have agreed to unpaid days off, including the Laborer’s Union, the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Firefighters Local 798, and the Municipal Executives Association. Conversely, he vowed to remember that the police, nurses, and lawyers unions wouldn’t amend the contracts Newsom negotiated last summer.

Sounding more like a gubernatorial candidate intent on winning over Orange County voters than the leader of the most progressive city in the nation, Newsom said, "We are living within our means and being fiscally prudent, without out-of-control borrowing and without tax increases. But we still have a $338 million shortfall."

But there has been widespread criticism of the mayor’s plan as details emerge of its massive cuts to health and human services, while increasing the city’s budget for street repaving, pothole repair, and police academies.

"It’s the least democratic, least transparent budget process in many years, in terms of lack of information from the Mayor’s Office to the city departments and the community-based organizations that are affected," said Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth organizer Chelsea Boilard. "In the past, programs were given a heads-up. This year it continues to be a frantic scramble."

According to Boilard, city departments were still finding out the extent of the cuts even after Newsom made his presentation, including the news that the budget addbacks approved by the Board of Supervisors last year are not being continued in the 2008-09 budget.

"A nightmare," was how Debbi Lerman of the San Francisco Human Services Network described the budget.

"If we listen to mayor’s presentation, everything is rosy, revenue-wise. It’s just a spending problem. But from the community’s perspective, it’s shocking," Lerman said, citing $15.5 million in cuts to the Department of Public Health, $3.5 million in cuts to the Human Services Agency, and a 20 percent cut to domestic violence programs.

"And [the cuts] have been a constantly moving target," Lerman added. "We’re mere weeks away from the implementation of this budget, but no one knows which clients, programs, or services will be lost, though we are sure that there will be a lot of layoffs in our sector. The mayor should not balance his budget on the backs of the poor."

She believes the city needs to look at some non-essential services during a bad budget year and see what can be deferred to the future — and find ways to increase its revenue.

"The mayor is not a stone. He does get it to some degree. But it’s unfortunate that he’s not chosen to put forth revenue measures at this point," Lerman said.

Robert Haaland of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 agrees that the city has a revenue problem. He also believes that it’s not OK to ask the city’s lowest-paid workers to make concessions, again and again: "[SEIU 1021] has repeatedly stepped up to the table, we’d like to see some others do it."

Jonathan Vernick, executive director of Baker’s Place, which is facing the prospect of having to close one floor of its medical detox program, argues that many of the mayor’s proposed cuts are in conflict with Newsom’s stated goal of getting the homeless and inebriated off the street. "Ironically, this budget seems to fail to meet a simple criteria — that the proposed cut actually saves money," Vernick said. "All I can see is cuts that by end of fiscal year will have dismantled a system that’s been working for 35 years."

John Eckstrom of the Haight Ashbury Clinics believes the budget cuts will decimate the model of integrated services. "These are very deep cuts," said Eckstrom, who expects to lay off 40 to 50 of his 170 employees.

"It’s a testament to the willpower of the nonprofits that we are able to stay alive," Eckstrom said. "But what are the mayor’s priorities? There’s his rhetoric that says it’s not a revenue problem, and then there’s the reality."

With the Board of Supervisors set to conduct public budget hearings throughout June, Board President Aaron Peskin sees Newsom’s proposal as a "law and order budget."

"Domestic violence programs have lost $750,000 in funds, substance abuse programs have been taken to the woodshed, and mental health programs are being cut by 25 percent," said Peskin, criticizing the mayor for "introducing and extolling new programs while failing to protect the safety net of human and health services that San Francisco has put together over many years."

"Last time we had a budget like this, Mayor Willie Brown was much more forthright and honest about its disastrous impact on the poor," Peskin added. "This administration has cloaked this disaster in a press blitz. But any way you dress it, it’s a pig."

As chair of the Board’s Budget and Finance Committee, Sup. Jake McGoldrick was equally blunt in his criticisms as he set about deciphering the details of Newsom’s proposal

McGoldrick refuted as "a deception" Newsom’s claim of having cut 1,085 jobs. "The real number is 99.08 positions," McGoldrick said, factoring in preexisting vacancies, Newsom’s three proposed police academy classes, and the 26 staff positions for Newsom’s 311 program, not to mention other new proposed programs and initiatives.

Upset that Newsom has budgeted $500,000 for a Community Justice Court that will divert people to the kinds of programs that Newsom’s budget is undermining, McGoldrick told the Guardian that he "aims to identify at least $30 million to $40 million in deceptions and redirect these funds to top priority human needs and services that are already woefully underfunded."

"The mayor is trying to pump all the problems over to the Board of Supervisors," McGoldrick said. "It’s going to be a labor of love to figure out how to direct money to folks who are hurting now."

Peskin said he expects the supervisors to discuss three new revenue proposals in the next month in order to avoid another slash-and-burn budget next year. These proposals include a property transfer tax, closing a payroll tax loophole on partnerships, and preserving the city’s 911 fee, which is under legal attack.

As of press time, the Mayor’s Office had not returned calls about revenue creation. Maybe Newsom’s handlers were busy figuring out how to deal with a budget protest slated for 6 p.m. June 11 outside the his residence in the Bellaire Tower building, 1101 Green St.

Organized by Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, the protest aims to draw attention to what Friedenbach calls "Mayor Newsomator’s plans to terminate the poor."

These plans include closing the Ella Hill Hutch Homeless Shelter as well as the Tenderloin Health Homeless Drop-in, and the almost total elimination of the SRO Families United Program. The Board has until July 31 to adopt a revised budget.

Kills thrill



SONIC REDUCER "So … what kind of drugs inspired the record?"

"What kind of drugs?" Allison Mosshart of the Kills has to puzzle only briefly over that question. "Mmm … none. No, we didn’t take any drugs when we were writing the record. None. No, ate a lot of kale, drank a lot of coffee, made cocktails if we were getting bored, but no … "

Mosshart thinks I’m totally high. But I’m not: I’m just going ever so slightly deaf — thanks to all those Marshall stacks I’ve cozied up to over the years and those songs I can’t stop cranking to 13. And it doesn’t help that I’m feeling a wee bit hungover, and that the SF-UK phone connection this way-too-early Sunday morning is somewhat linty. So instead of hearing Mosshart sincerely explain that for the Kills’ latest album, Midnight Boom (Domino), she and bandmate Jamie Hince "didn’t listen to music, so we did things like read books, and watch documentaries, and cut out pictures from magazines, and type on typewriters, and take photographs, and do drawings," I semi-consciously absorb all of the above — as well as a tantalizing " … and do drugs." This is your brain on too many sidecars and Sazeracs.

That’s not Mosshart, though. "You know how when you’re trapped in a building and you don’t ever go outside for a long time?" she says of the CD’s recording. "It’s quite important that you don’t eat like shit so you don’t go mad."

Yet that inspired madness, the classic creative negativity of rock ‘n’ roll romanticism — the kind one might find in the nicotine rasps of Jennifer Herrema, hooked on the Stones as filtered through a jillion crappy boomboxes, or in the tattered valentines of Berlin-era Lou Reed, gloomed-out on jet-set trash — is just what the Kills seem to mainline. I witnessed as much at the sweaty, sizable hotbox of a Domino showcase at this year’s South by Southwest fest, where the pair entered silently and quickly, noisily conjured the outta-hand spirits that most definitely don’t virtuously devour kale or read good books. Hanging on to her mic stand like a lifeline in roiling waters, swaggering with a familiar rock pirate insouciance, and sporting big-cat spots like a lady who wanted less to drink from Keith Richards’ "Loving Cup" than to be the Glitter Twin himself, Mosshart sang, swayed, and spat. Her eyes were hidden behind midnight bangs, as if daring you to gaze at anything else.

So the vocalist-guitarist’s bare-faced honesty and earnest willingness to analyze the Kills’ work comes as a refreshing surprise. For instance, of the press literature that accompanied Midnight Boom, which pointed to Pizza Pizza Daddio, a 1967 documentary about inner-city kids and their playground songs, she complains good-naturedly: "I wish I could rip that press release up because every time I do an interview, every 15 minutes someone brings up that same thing." Mosshart and Hince merely identified with the "simplicity" of the subject matter, saw its similarity to what they were doing, and liked the juxtaposition of "these seven-year-old girls singing with these huge smiles on their faces, and the songs are really dark. They’re about murder and domestic violence and alcoholism."

More than anything, she says, they wanted a third album — which includes beats and additional production by Spank Rock producer Alex Epton — that "sounds like now. The other two records [2002’s Keep on Your Mean Side and 2005’s No Wow (both Domino)] are quite retro, y’know. The first one sounds a bit like a Velvet Underground record, and the second one sounds like a Suicide–Cabaret Voltaire kind of record."

So the Kills hunkered down at the Keyclub studio in Benton Harbor, Mich., far from the distractions of London where the twosome is based. After more than half a year and a getaway to Mexico, they came up with a clutch of songs they were satisfied with.

The scathing "Cheap and Cheerful" revolves around "just being honest with yourself and honest with other people despite hurting other people’s feelings and sometimes making a real big mess of things," Mosshart offers. "But not quite burying your emotions for the good of everybody all the time. Otherwise you’ll completely explode."

Most of the tunes were the pure product of collaboration. UK native Hince, whom the American-born Mosshart met in 2000, is "my best friend," she says. "He’s kind of like the most perfect creative partner I’ve ever had. There are no rules in this band. It’s not even a band — it’s this thing, whatever we do."

It’s something even tabloid attention — now that Hince has been linked to Kate Moss — can’t tear apart. "It’s a different world, isn’t it?" Mosshart says, sounding subdued. "It’s not my world, and it isn’t really Jamie’s world so … it’s nothing I, like, care too much about. I care about him being happy. That’s about it."

Supermodels or no, the Kills will continue to stoke the flames of that chemistry. How do they work themselves into that state? "We just get nervous, y’know," Mosshart says modestly. "There are so many ideas and so few of us. When I’m onstage, I’m, in a way, daydreaming and trying not to think about anything that’s really happening around me. Other than Jamie and not falling over."


Sat/17, 9 p.m., $16


333 11th St., SF



OMG, the OG of dirty way before ODB. Anyone with the chutzpah to turn "What a Diff’rence a Day Makes" into "What a Difference a Lay Makes" can come play by me. Sat/17, 10 p.m., $12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF.


Marin County garage-rock legend/lurker Sky (a.k.a. Sunlight, a.k.a. Dog) Saxon at the legendary punk palais? Don’t push too hard. With Powell St. John and the Aliens, Kreamy ‘Lectric Santa, and Saything. Sun/18, 5 p.m., $8. 924 Gilman Project, 924 Gilman, Berk.


Surgical scrubs on wry. The sly Liverpool quartet continue to keep "funk, celebration, and soft metal" alive with Do It! (Domino) — unbeknownst to Nike. Mon/19, 9 p.m., $17. Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF.



>>Project Censored’s 15 missed-story runners up

>>Big local stories that never made mainstream headlines

>>The story behind a censored story that was killed by The Nation

There are a handful of freedoms that have almost always been a part of American democracy. Even when they didn’t exactly apply to everyone or weren’t always protected by the people in charge, a few simple but significant rights have been patently clear in the Constitution: You can’t be nabbed by the cops and tossed behind bars without a reason. If you are imprisoned, you can’t be incarcerated indefinitely; you have the right to a speedy trial with a judge and jury. When that court date rolls around, you’ll be able to see the evidence against you.

The president can’t suspend elections, spy without warrants, or dispatch federal troops to trump local cops or quell protests. Nor can the commander in chief commence a witch hunt, deem individuals "enemy combatants," or shunt them into special tribunals outside the purview of our 218-year-old judicial system.

Until now. This year’s Project Censored presents a chilling portrait of a newly empowered executive branch signing away civil liberties for the sake of an endless and amorphous war on terror. And for the most part, the major news media weren’t paying attention.

"This year it seemed like civil rights just rose to the top," said Peter Phillips, the director of Project Censored, the annual media survey conducted by Sonoma State University researchers and students who spend the year patrolling obscure publications, national and international Web sites, and mainstream news outlets to compile the 25 most significant stories that were inadequately reported or essentially ignored.

While the project usually turns up a range of underreported issues, this year’s stories all fall somewhat neatly into two categories — the increase of privatization and the decrease of human rights. Some of the stories qualify as both.

"I think they indicate a very real concern about where our democracy is heading," writer and veteran judge Michael Parenti said.

For 31 years Project Censored has been compiling a list of the major stories that the nation’s news media have ignored, misreported, or poorly covered.

The Oxford American Dictionary defines censorship as "the practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts," which Phillips said is also a fine description of what happens under a dictatorship. When it comes to democracy, the black marker is a bit more nuanced. "We need to broaden our understanding of censorship," he said. After 11 years at the helm of Project Censored, Phillips thinks the most bowdlerizing force is the fourth estate itself: "The corporate media is complicit. There’s no excuse for the major media giants to be missing major news stories like this."

As the stories cited in this year’s Project Censored selections point out, the federal government continues to provide major news networks with stock footage, which is dutifully broadcast as news. The George W. Bush administration has spent more federal money than any other presidency on public relations. Without a doubt, Parenti said, the government invests in shaping our beliefs. "Every day they’re checking out what we think," he said. "The erosion of civil liberties is not happening in one fell swoop but in increments. Very consciously, this administration has been heading toward a general autocracy."

Carl Jensen, who founded Project Censored in 1976 after witnessing the landslide reelection of Richard Nixon in 1972 in spite of mounting evidence of the Watergate scandal, agreed that this year’s censored stories amount to an accumulated threat to democracy. "I’m waiting for one of our great liberal writers to put together the big picture of what’s going on here," he said.


The Military Commissions Act, passed in September 2006 as a last gasp of the Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by Bush that Oct. 17, made significant changes to the nation’s judicial system.

The law allows the president to designate any person an "alien unlawful enemy combatant," shunting that individual into an alternative court system in which the writ of habeas corpus no longer applies, the right to a speedy trial is gone, and justice is meted out by a military tribunal that can admit evidence obtained through coercion and presented without the accused in the courtroom, all under the guise of preserving national security.

Habeas corpus, a constitutional right cribbed from the Magna Carta, protects against arbitrary imprisonment. Alexander Hamilton, writing in the Federalist Papers, called it the greatest defense against "the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny."

The Military Commissions Act has been seen mostly as a method for dealing with Guantánamo Bay detainees, and most journalists have reported that it doesn’t have any impact on Americans. On Oct. 19, 2006, editors at the New York Times wrote, in quite definitive language, "this law does not apply to American citizens."

Investigative journalist Robert Parry disagrees. The right of habeas corpus no longer exists for any of us, he wrote in the online journal Consortium. Deep down in the lower sections of the act, the language shifts from the very specific "alien unlawful enemy combatant" to the vague "any person subject to this chapter."

"Why does it contain language referring to ‘any person’ and then adding in an adjacent context a reference to people acting ‘in breach of allegiance or duty to the United States’?" Parry wrote. "Who has ‘an allegiance or duty to the United States’ if not an American citizen?"

Reached by phone, Parry told the Guardian that "this loose phraseology could be interpreted very narrowly or very broadly." He said he’s consulted with lawyers who are experienced in drafting federal security legislation, and they agreed that the "any person" terminology is troubling. "It could be fixed very simply, but the Bush administration put through this very vaguely worded law, and now there are a lot of differences of opinion on how it could be interpreted," Parry said.

Though US Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) moved quickly to remedy the situation with the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act, that legislation has yet to pass Congress, which some suspect is because too many Democrats don’t want to seem soft on terrorism. Until tested by time, exactly how much the language of the Military Commissions Act may be manipulated will remain to be seen.

Sources: "Repeal the Military Commissions Act and Restore the Most American Human Right," Thom Hartmann, Common Dreams Web site,, Feb. 12, 2007; "Still No Habeas Rights for You," Robert Parry, Consortium (online journal of investigative reporting),, Feb. 3, 2007; "Who Is ‘Any Person’ in Tribunal Law?" Robert Parry, Consortium,, Oct. 19, 2006


The Military Commissions Act was part of a one-two punch to civil liberties. While the first blow to habeas corpus received some attention, there was almost no media coverage of a private Oval Office ceremony held the same day the military act was signed at which Bush signed the John Warner Defense Authorization Act, a $532 billion catchall bill for defense spending.

Tucked away in the deeper recesses of that act, section 1076 allows the president to declare a public emergency and dispatch federal troops to take over National Guard units and local police if he determines them unfit for maintaining order. This is essentially a revival of the Insurrection Act, which was repealed by Congress in 1878, when it passed the Posse Comitatus Act in response to Northern troops overstaying their welcome in the reconstructed South. That act wiped out a potentially tyrannical amount of power by reinforcing the idea that the federal government should patrol the nation’s borders and let the states take care of their own territories.

The Warner act defines a public emergency as a "natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any state or possession of the United States" and extends its provisions to any place where "the president determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the state or possession are incapable of maintaining public order." On top of that, federal troops can be dispatched to "suppress, in a state, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy."

So everything from a West Nile virus outbreak to a political protest could fall into the president’s personal definition of mayhem. That’s right — put your picket signs away.

The Warner act passed with 90 percent of the votes in the House and cleared the Senate unanimously. Months after its passage, Leahy was the only elected official to have publicly expressed concern about section 1076, warning his peers Sept. 19, 2006, that "we certainly do not need to make it easier for presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection Act and using the military for law enforcement activities goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy. One can easily envision governors and mayors in charge of an emergency having to constantly look over their shoulders while someone who has never visited their communities gives the orders." In February, Leahy introduced Senate Bill 513 to repeal section 1076. It’s currently in the Armed Services Committee.

Sources: "Two Acts of Tyranny on the Same Day!" Daneen G. Peterson, Stop the North America Union Web site,, Jan. 20, 2007; "Bush Moves toward Martial Law," Frank Morales, (Web site that publishes "information from occupied Iraq"),, Oct. 26, 2006


President Jimmy Carter was the first to draw a clear line between America’s foreign policy and its concurrent "vital interest" in oil. During his 1980 State of the Union address, he said, "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."

Under what became the Carter Doctrine, an outpost of the Pentagon, called the United States Central Command, or CENTCOM, was established to ensure the uninterrupted flow of that slick "vital interest."

The United States is now constructing a similar permanent base in Africa, an area traditionally patrolled by more remote commands in Europe and the Pacific. No details have been released about exactly what AFRICOM’s operations and responsibilities will be or where troops will be located, though government spokespeople have vaguely stated that the mission is to establish order and keep peace for volatile governments — that just happen to be in oil-rich areas.

Though the official objective may be peace, some say the real desire is crude. "A new cold war is under way in Africa, and AFRICOM will be at the dark heart of it," Bryan Hunt wrote on the Moon of Alabama blog, which covers politics, economics, and philosophy. Most US oil imports come from African countries — in particular, Nigeria. According to the 2007 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, "disruption of supply from Nigeria would represent a major blow to US oil-security strategy."

Though details of the AFRICOM strategy remain secret, Hunt has surveyed past governmental statements and reports by other independent journalists to draw parallels between AFRICOM and CENTCOM, making the case that the United States sees Africa as another "vital interest."

Source: "Understanding AFRICOM," parts 1–3, b real, Moon of Alabama,, Feb. 21, 2007


As disappointing as the World Trade Organization has been, it has provided something of an open forum in which smaller countries can work together to demand concessions from larger, developed nations when brokering multilateral agreements.

At least in theory. The 2006 negotiations crumbled when the United States, the European Union, and Australia refused to heed India’s and Brazil’s demands for fair farm tariffs.

In the wake of that disaster, bilateral agreements have become the tactic of choice. These one-on-one negotiations, designed by the US and the EU, are cut like backroom deals, with the larger country bullying the smaller into agreements that couldn’t be reached through the WTO.

Bush administration officials, always quick with a charming moniker, are calling these free-trade agreements "competitive liberalization," and the EU considers them essential to negotiating future multilateral agreements.

But critics see them as fast tracks to increased foreign control of local resources in poor communities. "The overall effect of these changes in the rules is to progressively undermine economic governance, transferring power from governments to largely unaccountable multinational firms, robbing developing countries of the tools they need to develop their economies and gain a favorable foothold in global markets," states a report by Oxfam International, the antipoverty activist group.

Sources: "Free Trade Enslaving Poor Countries" Sanjay Suri, Inter Press Service (global news service),, March 20, 2007; "Signing Away the Future" Emily Jones, Oxfam Web site,, March 2007


Part of the permanent infrastructure the United States is erecting in Iraq includes the world’s largest embassy, built on Green Zone acreage equal to that of Vatican City. The $592 million job was awarded in 2005 to First Kuwaiti Trading and Contracting. Though much of the project’s management is staffed by Americans, most of the workers are from small or developing countries like the Philippines, India, and Pakistan and, according to David Phinney of CorpWatch — a Bay Area organization that investigates and exposes corporate environmental crimes, fraud, corruption, and violations of human rights — are recruited under false pretenses. At the airport, their boarding passes read Dubai. Their passports are stamped Dubai. But when they get off the plane, they’re in Baghdad.

Once on site, they’re often beaten and paid as little as $10 to $30 a day, CorpWatch concludes. Injured workers are dosed with heavy-duty painkillers and sent back on the job. Lodging is crowded, and food is substandard. One ex-foreman, who’s worked on five other US embassies around the world, said, "I’ve never seen a project more fucked up. Every US labor law was broken."

These workers have often been banned by their home countries from working in Baghdad because of unsafe conditions and flagging support for the war, but once they’re on Iraqi soil, protections are few. First, Kuwaiti managers take their passports, which is a violation of US labor laws. "If you don’t have a passport or an embassy to go to, what do you do to get out of a bad situation?" asked Rory Mayberry, a former medic for one of First Kuwaiti’s subcontractors, who blew the whistle on the squalid living conditions, medical malpractice, and general abuse he witnessed at the site.

The Pentagon has been investigating the slavelike conditions but has not released the names of any vioutf8g contractors or announced penalties. In the meantime, billions of dollars in contracts continue to be awarded to First Kuwaiti and other companies at which little accountability exists. As Phinney reported, "No journalist has ever been allowed access to the sprawling 104-acre site."

Source: "A U.S. Fortress Rises in Baghdad: Asian Workers Trafficked to Build World’s Largest Embassy," David Phinney, CorpWatch Web site,, Oct. 17, 2006


Operation FALCON, or Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally, is, in many ways, the manifestation of martial law forewarned by Frank Morales (see story 2). In an unprecedented partnership, more than 960 federal, state, and local police agencies teamed up in 2005 and 2006 to conduct the largest dragnet raids in US history. Armed with fistfuls of arrest warrants, they ran three separate raids around the country that netted 30,110 criminal arrests.

The Justice Department claimed the agents were targeting the "worst of the worst" criminals, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, "Operation FALCON is an excellent example of President Bush’s direction and the Justice Department’s dedication to deal both with the terrorist threat and traditional violent crime."

However, as writer Mike Whitney points out on, none of the suspects has been charged with anything related to terrorism. Additionally, while 30,110 individuals were arrested, only 586 firearms were found. That doesn’t sound very violent either.

Though the US Marshals Service has been quick to tally the offenses, Whitney says the numbers just don’t add up. For example, FALCON in 2006 captured 462 violent sex-crime suspects, 1,094 registered sex offenders, and 9,037 fugitives.

What about the other 7,481 people? "Who are they, and have they been charged with a crime?" Whitney asked.

The Marshals Service remains silent about these arrests. Whitney suggests those detainees may have been illegal immigrants and may be bound for border prisons currently being constructed by Halliburton (see last year’s Project Censored).

As an added bonus of complicity, the Justice Department supplied local news outlets with stock footage of the raids, which some TV stations ran accompanied by stories sourced from the Department of Justice’s news releases without any critical coverage of who exactly was swept up in the dragnets and where they are now.

Sources: "Operation Falcon and the Looming Police State," Mike Whitney,,, Feb. 26, 2007; "Operation Falcon," SourceWatch (project of the Center for Media and Democracy),, Nov. 18, 2006


The outsourcing of war has served two purposes for the Bush administration, which has given powerful corporations and private companies lucrative contracts supplying goods and services to American military operations overseas and quietly achieved an escalation of troops beyond what the public has been told or understands. Without actually deploying more military forces, the federal government instead contracts with private security firms like Blackwater to provide heavily armed details for US diplomats in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries where the nation is currently engaged in conflicts.

Blackwater is one of the more successful and well connected of the private companies profiting from the business of war. Started in 1996 by an ex–Navy Seal named Erik Prince, the North Carolina company employs 20,000 hired guns, training them on the world’s largest private military base.

"It’s become nothing short of the Praetorian Guard for the Bush administration’s so-called global war on terror," author Jeremy Scahill said on the Jan. 26 broadcast of the TV and radio news program Democracy Now! Scahill’s Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army was published this year by Nation Books.

Source: "Our Mercenaries in Iraq," Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now!,, Jan. 26, 2007


A March 2006 pact under which the United States agreed to supply nuclear fuel to India for the production of electric power also included a less-publicized corollary — the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture. While it’s purportedly a deal to assist Indian farmers and liberalize trade (see story 4), critics say the initiative is destroying India’s local agrarian economy by encouraging the use of genetically modified seeds, which in turn is creating a new market for pesticides and driving up the overall cost of producing crops.

The deal provides a captive customer base for genetically modified seed maker Monsanto and a market for cheap goods to supply Wal-Mart, whose plans for 500 stores in the country could wipe out the livelihoods of 14 million small vendors.

Monsanto’s hybrid Bt cotton has already edged out local strains, and India is currently suffering an infestation of mealy bugs, which have proven immune to the pesticides the chemical companies have made available. Additionally, the sowing of crops has shifted from the traditional to the trade friendly. Farmers accustomed to cultivating mustard, a sacred local crop, are now producing soy, a plant foreign to India.

Though many farmers are seeing the folly of these deals, it’s often too late. Suicide has become a popular final act of opposition to what’s occurring in their country.

Vandana Shiva, who for 10 years has been studying the effects of bad trade deals on India, has published a report titled Seeds of Suicide, which recounts the deaths of more than 28,000 farmers who killed themselves in despair over the debts brought on them by binding agreements ultimately favoring corporations.

Hope comes in the form of a growing cadre of farmers hip to the flawed deals. They’ve organized into local sanghams, 72 of which now exist as small community networks that save and share seeds, skills, and assistance during the good times of harvest and the hard times of crop failure.

Sources: "Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Wal-Mart in India," Democracy Now!,, Dec. 13, 2006; "Genetically Modified Seeds: Women in India take on Monsanto," Arun Shrivastava, Global Research (Web site of Montreal’s Center for Global Research),, Oct. 9, 2006


In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ushered through legislation for the greatest public works project in human history — the interstate highway system, 41,000 miles of roads funded almost entirely by the federal government.

Fifty years later many of those roads are in need of repair or replacement, but the federal government has not exactly risen to the challenge. Instead, more than 20 states have set up financial deals leasing the roads to private companies in exchange for repairs. These public-private partnerships are being lauded by politicians as the only credible financial solution to providing the public with improved services.

But opponents of all political stripes are criticizing the deals as theft of public property. They point out that the bulk of benefits is actually going to the private side of the equation — in many cases, to foreign companies with considerable experience building private roads in developing countries. In the United States these companies are entering into long-term leases of infrastructure like roads and bridges, for a low amount. They work out tax breaks to finance the repairs, raise tolls to cover the costs, and start realizing profits for their shareholders in as little as 10 years.

As Daniel Schulman and James Ridgeway reported in Mother Jones, "the Federal Highway Administration estimates that it will cost $50 billion a year above current levels of federal, state, and local highway funding to rehab existing bridges and roads over the next 16 years. Where to get that money, without raising taxes? Privatization promises a quick fix — and a way to outsource difficult decisions, like raising tolls, to entities that don’t have to worry about getting reelected."

The Indiana Toll Road, the Chicago Skyway, Virginia’s Pocahontas Parkway, and many other stretches of the nation’s public pavement have succumbed to these private deals.

Cheerleaders for privatization are deeply embedded in the Bush administration (see story 7), where they’ve been secretly fostering plans for a North American Free Trade Agreement superhighway, a 10-lane route set to run through the heart of the country and connect the Mexican and Canadian borders. It’s specifically designed to plug into the Mexican port of Lázaro Cárdenas, taking advantage of cheap labor by avoiding the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, whose members are traditionally tasked with unloading cargo, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, whose members transport that cargo that around the country.

Sources: "The Highwaymen" Daniel Schulman with James Ridgeway, Mother Jones,, Feb. 2007; "Bush Administration Quietly Plans NAFTA Super Highway," Jerome R. Corsi, Human Events,, June 12, 2006


Named for a bird that picks offal from a carcass, this financial scheme couldn’t be more aptly described. Well-endowed companies swoop in and purchase the debt owed by a third world country, then turn around and sue the country for the full amount — plus interest. In most courts, they win. Recently, Donegal International spent $3 million for $40 million worth of debt Zambia owed Romania, then sued for $55 million. In February an English court ruled that Zambia had to pay $15 million.

Often these countries are on the brink of having their debt relieved by the lenders in exchange for putting the owed money toward necessary goods and services for their citizens. But the vultures effectively initiate another round of deprivation for the impoverished countries by demanding full payment, and a loophole makes it legal.

Investigative reporter Greg Palast broke the story for the BBC’s Newsnight, saying that "the vultures have already sucked up about $1 billion in aid meant for the poorest nations, according to the World Bank in Washington."

With the exception of the BBC and Democracy Now!, no major news source has touched the story, though it’s incensed several members of Britain’s Parliament as well as the new prime minister, Gordon Brown. US Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Donald Payne (D-N.J.) lobbied Bush to take action as well, but political will may be elsewhere. Debt Advisory International, an investment consulting firm that’s been involved in several vulture funds that have generated millions in profits, is run by Paul Singer — the largest fundraiser for the Republican Party in the state of New York. He’s donated $1.7 million to Bush’s campaigns.

Source: "Vulture Fund Threat to Third World," Newsnight,, Feb. 14, 2007

>>More: The story of U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein’s conflict of interest

For Christ’s sake


The cultural divide between a supposed gay agenda and faith-based biases is well represented in several features within Frameline’s expansive 2007 program. Its representations run a wide gamut — just as the terms gay and Christian have come to encompass wildly disparate US communities.

On Frameline’s nonfiction side, Markie Hancock’s Born Again deftly mixes home movies, archival news footage, and more to chart the director’s long, often agonized journey away from being the perfect overachieving and overbelieving product of her Pennsylvanian parents’ staunch evangelical faith. At a Christian college and then in wide-open Berlin, Hancock began to question the conservative beliefs that had — along with her family’s approval — constituted her formative-years identity.

The devout Hancock clan members are models of tolerance compared to the subject of K. Ryan Jones’s Fall from Grace. That individual is none other than Rev. Fred Phelps, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., a man long notorious for his congregation–cum–extended family’s outrageous displays of public homophobia. Most recently, Phelps and his followers found infamy by picketing the funerals of US soldiers killed in Iraq, a phenomenon they approve of — the notion being that these American military deaths are somehow God’s vengeance for the pipe bomb that student pranksters planted at Westboro Baptist a decade ago.

Yup, these people are cray-ay-ay-azy! Also scary. Two among Phelps’s several estranged children say he used the Bible to justify domestic violence. Unlike most hatemongers, Phelps’s small but fervent clan actually embrace the word hate. Their notion of Christianity is all hellfire and zero forgiveness or compassion. They are pseudo-Christian Antichrists.

A gentler treatment of Bible-based intolerance can be found in Rock Haven, the first directorial feature of San Francisco’s David Lewis. Its titular fictive Northern California burg (played by Bodega Bay) is where Bible college–bound Brady (Sean Hoagland) moves from Kansas with his widowed mother (Laura Jane Coles), who’s opening a Christian school. The moment Brady spies slightly older Clifford (Owen Alabado) striking Grecian postures on the beach, however, unclean thoughts — then nekkid actions — put him on a collision course with his mom’s values.

Deeper yet less serious in tone, writer-director-star Pete Jones’s delightful Outing Riley is a comedy in the Judd Apatow vein, often raucously funny without sacrificing warmth or character dimension. Jones plays Bobby, a 30-ish Chicagoan who loves his Cubs and his beer. And also his male lover — but that is a secret kept well hidden from his three Irish Catholic brothers (including one priest), with whom he’s still best buds. Their sister, Maggie (Julie Pearl), is one among several folks urging him to come the hell out, for Christ’s sake. But doing so doesn’t go down too well at first, not even with the designated bad-boy bro (the wonderful Nathan Fillion, of Waitress and Firefly). Ultimately, things turn around in an agreeable fashion that doesn’t cut corners for cheap uplift.

The result is one of those rare gay movies that should or could be shown to all the straight dudes in America who claim they "can’t really deal with that gay shit." Incredibly, Outing Riley doesn’t have a theatrical distributor yet. Catch it at Frameline, or may the Lord help ya. (Dennis Harvey)

BORN AGAIN (Markie Hancock, US, 2007). June 21, 7 p.m., Victoria

FALL FROM GRACE (K. Ryan Jones, US, 2007). Mon/18, 7 p.m., Roxie; June 20, noon, Castro

OUTING RILEY (Pete Jones, US, 2004). Fri/15, 9:30 p.m., Castro

ROCK HAVEN (David Lewis, US, 2007). June 21, 9:30 p.m., Castro

Superlist No. 829: Safe houses



In 1971 community activist Bea Robinson improvised a battered-women’s shelter in the garage of her San Jose home. Thanks to demands for shelter legislation by women’s rights groups of the same era, an ample network of Bay Area safe houses is now available to women from all walks of life — from abused mothers and trafficked teens to marginalized immigrants and disempowered queers.

Each of the listed shelters is communal, confidentially located, child friendly, and multilingual. They also offer or can help secure longer-term housing, counseling, and legal aid. Other services include food, clothing, transportation, employment assistance, and play areas. Calling one of these confidential 24-hour crisis lines starts the shelter intake process and connects battered women to the Bea Robinsons of the Bay Area.

In an effort to keep families united, Oakland’s A Safe Place (510-536-SAFE, accepts male children up to age 17. During the maximum eight-week stay, residents receive counseling while younger children participate in play therapy.

Substance-free women and their children may reside indefinitely in one of the 16 beds at Marin Abused Women’s Services (MAWS) (English: 415-924-6616; Spanish: 415-924-3456; men’s line: 415-924-1070; MAWS works globally to educate communities about the sociopolitical roots of domestic violence. In 1980, MAWS initiated ManKind, a male-led program that reeducates imprisoned abuse offenders and confronts community beliefs that support male violence.

San Francisco’s Asian Women’s Shelter (AWS) (1-877-751-0880, renders services in 31 Asian languages. The AWS serves all women but is especially outfitted for Asian immigrants who speak little to no English. An average stay at its 18-bed shelter lasts 12 to 16 weeks, though extensions are often granted. The Queer Asian Women Services program supports lesbian, bisexual, and transgender survivors of relationship violence. The AWS also confronts forced labor and sexual exploitation via the Asian Anti-Trafficking Collaborative. Its affiliate, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, offers pro bono legal services.

Building Futures with Women and Children (1-866-A-WAY-OUT,, a 20-bed safe house in San Leandro, doesn’t exclude women with substance abuse or mental health issues, as do some shelters. A typical stay at this former overnight winter relief refuge also known as Sister Me Home can last up to 21 weeks. Programs include child tutoring, parent support groups, and family night — one night per week of guided mother-child bonding.

The Emergency Shelter Program (ESP) (1-888-339-SAFE, in Hayward can accommodate 40 women and their children, including teen boys, for 12 weeks. The ESP also accepts single teen mothers and functions as a homeless shelter for those who have been evicted, are out of work, or are experiencing familial hardship.

As San Francisco’s largest domestic violence shelter, La Casa de las Madres (adults: 1-877-503-1850; teens: 1-877-923-0700; can house up to 35 women and children for eight weeks at a time. Thanks to a 24-hour intake, women can be admitted to the shelter whenever necessary. Art therapy and animal-assisted counseling give residents a chance to learn, relax, and have fun. The teen program offers a 24-hour emergency crisis line and youth-tailored services for battered or at-risk girls.

Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence (408-501-7550,, whose crisis line hasn’t changed for the past 34 years, is Robinson’s brainchild. The shelter can accommodate up to 19 women and children for as long as four weeks. Elderly battered women older than 50 can benefit from the unique MAVEN (Mature Alternatives to Violent Environments Now) program, which offers home visits and recreational activities. On-site legal services include court accompaniment and support for undocumented immigrants.

The Riley Center (415-255-0165,, a program of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco, gives priority to women and children in immediate danger. Its 25-bed shelter, known as the Rosalie House, provides a 12-week refuge. Families receive private rooms, though women without children may have to share accommodations. Residents perform basic chores in shared living spaces. Prospective residents should call the crisis line for a confidential interview with a trained counselor.

Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments (SAVE) (510-794-6055, is in Fremont but serves the world over. It offers a 30-bed shelter — the only battered shelter in Fremont, Newark, and Union City — where women and their children can reside for 12 weeks. Counseling with a licensed clinical therapist is available for a sliding-scale fee. SAVE also holds free drop-in support groups facilitated by certified domestic violence counselors on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Concord’s STAND! Against Domestic Violence (1-888-215-5555, manages additional offices in Richmond, Antioch, and Pittsburg to better serve its Contra Costa County hub. The Rollie Mullen Center, a six-building complex containing its 24-bed shelter, can accommodate families and individuals for up to six weeks. On-site services and amenities include long-term transitional housing, a computer lab, and a playroom. *

Bad cops walk into the shadows


In late June, two San Francisco police officers were accused of giving beer and vodka to three teenage girls and making sexual advances toward them. One of the young women was just 16 years old, and the two others were 17. The alleged conduct of the officers occurred both in and out of uniform, and they even reportedly offered the girls confiscated fireworks from the trunk of their patrol car.
In February, an off-duty San Francisco Police Department officer was arrested for threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend and their 5-year-old daughter during a domestic quarrel. The officer was awaiting disciplinary hearings before the San Francisco Police Commission, according to the most recent public records of the matter.
In March 2005, an SFPD domestic violence inspector was arrested for driving drunk through Marin County and smashing into another car. Fairfax cops found the inspector had a blood alcohol level of 0.27 percent, more than three times the legal limit. She was eventually suspended by the SFPD for 45 days.
These are just a few cases of alleged misconduct that have recently appeared before the Police Commission. And they’re among the last cases, which until now were available through state open-record laws, that most people will ever know details about. Due to a state Supreme Court ruling issued at the end of August, citizens and the press will be unable to access most public information about why individual officers are charged with vioutf8g department rules or even possibly breaking the law.
“It’s devastating,” said Rick McKee, a longtime open-government activist and president of the Sacramento-based group Californians Aware. “It creates a two-tiered system of public access: one for general government employees and another for police officers…. There was no considerable thought given to what this does to the public’s right to know.”
Records of misconduct charges have largely been open in San Francisco until now. The public could access summaries of misconduct charges, filed either by the San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) or the police chief’s office, and attend hearings at the Hall of Justice that included testimony from the officers. No longer.
An attempt by the Guardian last week to obtain misconduct records from the Police Commission was blocked by administrative staff, and two disciplinary hearings scheduled for Sept. 6 and 7, ordinarily open to the public, were cancelled due to uncertainty surrounding the decision in Copley Press v. San Diego County.
Historically, the names of officers investigated by the OCC and charged with misconduct by the chief were not revealed publicly until their cases had made it to the commission, which is where the Guardian has obtained them in the past. In other words, frivolous charges of police brutality, for instance, weren’t immediately disclosed to the public. Personnel files maintained by the department could remain secret, but cities and counties individually decided what independent review commissions could make available.
The Aug. 31 Supreme Court ruling greatly broadens the scope of privacy laws that exclusively protect cops from the disclosure of disciplinary records maintained by police departments. The decision now shields disciplinary records previously available either through records requests or citizen review panels, such as the OCC.
Guylin Cummins, an attorney who represented a Southern California newspaper in the public records challenge that led to last week’s ruling, said Sacramento legislators never intended to completely curtail access to disciplinary files.
“Nowhere in the legislative history does it say, ‘We’re going to trump the [California Public Records Act],’” Cummins said.
But an attorney for the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of San Diego County, Everett Bobbitt, told the Guardian that public defenders and litigants were compiling the records in databases to use arbitrarily against cops in court.
“You’d go to one county and they’d restrict [the records], and you’d go to another county and they wouldn’t,” he said. “I thought that wasn’t fair. There was a lot of personal material in those files.”
Steve Johnson, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said the group has always believed that the California Penal Code extended such privacy rights to officers, but that the Police Commission had regularly declined to honor them. When we contacted him, he had yet to read the Copley decision.
“We have always been of the opinion that the city should comply with the penal code…. Our attorneys have made motions in the past, but they were denied,” Johnson said.
The case that led to last week’s decision began in 2003 when a San Diego deputy sheriff was fired for failing to arrest a suspect in a 2002 domestic violence dispute involving a clearly injured female victim. The deputy then didn’t report the incident and manipulated his patrol log to depict the call as less serious than what was actually probable cause for an arrest. He appealed the termination but requested that the hearing be kept confidential.
As a result, the San Diego Union-Tribune was barred from attending the hearing, and a public records request for details of the disciplinary proceedings was denied. The paper’s parent company, Copley Press, sued to retrieve the deputy’s name, among other things, but a trial court in San Diego denied relief. Further records requests by the paper following the decision prompted the San Diego Civil Service Commission to reveal some additional details, but only in redacted form. The deputy’s name was still withheld.
Following a closed-door commission meeting, the deputy’s firing was changed to a resignation and the charge that he falsified his patrol log was removed from the record. The Union-Tribune went to an appeals court judge asking for the deputy’s name and any additional evidence of the agreement, including documents and audiotapes, from the case. The lower-court decision was overturned there. But along with the Supreme Court, where the case eventually arrived, the appeals court never technically ruled on public access to disciplinary hearings. It only addressed disciplinary records.
“[The decision] is not saying that civil service commission hearings are closed,” said Susan Seager, a First Amendment lawyer in Los Angeles who submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Union-Tribune. “I think that’s the debate here.” But because so much material presented at the hearings comes from personnel files, Bobbitt responded, they’ll likely have to be closed in order to comply with the decision.
Journalists at the Union-Tribune, for their part, obviously dislike the ruling.
“Certainly officers have an understandable motive for being fiercely protective of their privacy,” the paper wrote in a Sept. 2 editorial. “Yet decades of scandals across the nation show that police cover-ups of internal misconduct are disturbingly common. The idea that police often operate under a ‘code of silence’ isn’t just a figment of a pulp novelist’s imagination.”
It’s not easy being a cop in this city. San Francisco for the most part ideologically opposes rigid, law-and-order conservatism. Pressure on the SFPD to do something about the city’s alarming rate of gun violence continues to swell. And few people even want to be a cop anymore, leaving the department chronically understaffed and forcing the city to pay out millions of dollars for overtime expenses.
But bad cops are a fact of life.
More than 70 cases of alleged police misconduct were sustained by the OCC and sent to Police Chief Heather Fong for action last year. Literally hundreds of misconduct cases involving still-incomplete investigations were pending by the end of 2005. The department’s own internal affairs arm, which handles additional misconduct probes, sustained 63 cases of misconduct in the second quarter of 2006.
In exchange for receiving a considerable amount of power, cops have always been responsible for maintaining a higher standard of conduct, a fact enshrined in the Police Department’s own General Orders.
“Police officers are empowered to deprive other citizens of their freedom when they violate the law,” the orders state. “Because they have this power, the public expects, and rightly so, that police officers live up to the highest standards of conduct they enforce among the public generally.”
In the 6–1 Copley ruling, Justice Kathryn Werdegar stood alone in her dissent, arguing that “the majority overvalues the deputy’s interest in privacy, undervalues the public’s interest in disclosure, and ultimately fails to implement the legislature’s careful balance of the competing concerns in this area.”
The majority opinion, written by Justice Ming Chin, stuck mostly to technical details and argued that the appeals court erred in not defining the San Diego Civil Service Commission as an “employing agency” of the deputy, a key legal distinction.
Ultimately, the convoluted decision seems to beg for clarity from the legislature, but taking on privacy rights for cops could be tantamount to political suicide in Sacramento. One of the state’s most powerful lobbying groups, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, would be affected by changes in the law. Bobbitt warned that any attempt by the legislature to toy with the decision would be met with fierce resistance.
“Law enforcement associations will lobby very hard against any changes that would impact this decision,” he said.
The view is a little different in San Francisco. Police Commission president Louise Renne — who is hardly known as a bleeding heart liberal — told the Guardian, “I don’t think the state Supreme Court made the right decision from a public policy point of view.”
For now, at least, six state Supreme Court justices have moved one of local government’s most powerful entities deeper into the shadows. SFBG

Passion plays



Campo Santo is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, a significant milestone for any small theater company. But this one really does have something to celebrate. The past decade has been an intense, vibrant, unconventionally structured experiment in multicultural communal theater that’s not your typical "community theater," but an ambitious undertaking that takes seriously both its own immediate community and the various communities making up society at large. Along the way, it’s consistently produced by far some of the most exciting and risk-taking productions around. And with more than 30 world premieres to its credit as the resident company at Intersection for the Arts (San Francisco’s premier multidisciplinary alternative arts organization), it’s fair to say Campo Santo’s output has been nothing short of awesome.

But Campo Santo + Intersection is more than the sum of its production history, as anyone who goes to a performance knows. Not just situated in the Mission District but very much a part of it it’s a place, a space, an environment, a neighborhood, and to many, precisely the hallowed ground the company’s name implies. With a loose and flexible network of individuals and groups capable of supporting and elaborating on each other’s artistic and social work as well as an atypically astute and diverse audience Campo Santo and Intersection’s personnel, setting, and semipublic work process all contribute to making it a conspicuously unique site on the theatrical landscape.

There’s probably no more ready proof of that, or the success of its formula, than the willingness of so many nationally prominent playwrights to repeatedly collaborate with Campo Santo on new work a list that includes Naomi Iizuka, John Steppling, Greg Sarris, Jessica Hagedorn, Erin Cressida Wilson, Philip Kan Gotanda, and Octavio Sol??s. It’s even famously coaxed the first stage works out of well-established writers and poets like Jimmy Santiago Baca, Dave Eggers, and Denis Johnson.

The series of events marking Campo Santo’s 10th anniversary from workshops, open discussions, and staged rereadings of past productions with the playwrights to a major blowout planned for June 3 comes as a rare opportunity for company and audience to reflect on a decade of feverish, often brilliant work that has always looked restlessly ahead, as if to the next fix.

The retrospective has been something of a revelation to the company’s members and associates, judging by the rapt discussion that followed a rehearsal last week for the Denis Johnson program.

Words like simple, basic, naked these recur repeatedly in any discussion of the theater with company member and Intersection program director Sean San Jose, who founded Campo Santo in 1996 with fellow actors Margo Hall, Luis Saguar, and Michael Torres. The occasion was a production of Octavio Sol??s’s Santos y Santos, a major dramatic success when Thick Description premiered it at Theater Artaud in 1993. San Jose, with Saguar and Torres (who had both been in the original production), staged a new version. Sol??s, who has since worked repeatedly with the company most recently on 2005’s world premiere of The Ballad of Pancho and Lucy, a modern folkloric joyride set in the bars of the Mission District remembers that first production as a portent of things to come.

"I found the production totally different but equally exciting to the one Tony Kelly had directed at Theater Artaud," he told me. "It was such a pressure cooker situation I didn’t think it would ever work in a small space like New Langton Arts. But it was stirring. I knew this company had a future. I saw it as very hungry and focused intense, brooding, and always on. Never a second wasted."

The decision to stage Santos at New Langton came out of another experience with bare bones performance. "These guys read the play in a youth correctional facility," explains Deborah Cullinan, who at the time had just been hired as Intersection’s new executive director financial straits having temporarily shuttered the arts organization and was tasked with reviving it. (The rise of Campo Santo and the resurgence of Intersection are intimately tied together, as it turns out.) "They were just reading it for these youth and the water pipe broke in the auditorium, so they got stuck in one of the living quarters, this tiny space. But Luis, Sean, and Michael will all tell you that’s when they understood that the words could drive something forward, because the boys were riveted."

The full production impressed Cullinan, and after their next one an equally successful staging of a very different play, Erin Cressida Wilson’s Hurricane she was convinced this was the sort of broad-ranging company Intersection wanted on board. In turn, Intersection gave Campo Santo crucial support, not least the Valencia Street space, to continue doing the kind of theater it had been groping toward.

The key to the company, Sol??s explains, is that "each actor is a dramaturge. They know what the play needs. They start to intuit it. It’s just part of their aesthetic now."

"It’s very much a playwright’s theater," notes Philip Kan Gotanda, whose A Fist of Roses was a thorough surprise last year, an exploration of male domestic violence whose highly original and unusually collaborative nature did as much credit to the veteran playwright as to the small company. "You just don’t find it that often especially if you’re interested, as I’m interested, in writing pieces that are a little off the beaten path, both in form and content."

"They’re a writer’s theater in that they do exclusively new work, and find the playwrights that appeal to them," Sol??s agrees. At the same time, however, he believes Campo Santo is a strong actor’s theater. "There’s a reason why they’re drawn to Erin Cressida Wilson or Naomi Iizuka. There’s a real reason why they’re drawn to Denis [Johnson]. And Denis now, as I do and I’m sure the other writers are doing we’re writing to suit the company. They have a great core of talent. They really know how to stretch and take chances. They do very dangerous acting."

Remarkably, 10 years along, Campo Santo continues to convey that sense of immediacy, a sense of raw intensity, risk, and daring, while always matching it with exceptional skill and a youthful, street-smart confidence.

Sol??s puts the formula succinctly: "They like passion. They like works about passion. And passion also in that religious sense." SFBG

Campo Santo 10th anniversary

Gala, Sat/3, 7 p.m.

Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St, SF. $25

Real Women, Rock ’n’ Roll, and Karaoke:

The Work of Campo Santo and Jessica Hagedorn, June 9, 7:30 p.m.

Finale: Finding the Future, June 10, 7:30 p.m.

Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia, SF. $9–$20

(415) 626-3311

Invisible minority


A new community-based research report on Pacific Islanders Tongans, Samoans, Hawaiians, Fijians, and other Polynesians reveals disproportionately high dropout, arrest, and depression rates among the population in Oakland.

In the 2000 to 2001 school year, for example, 47 Pacific Islander ninth graders were enrolled in the Oakland Unified School District. By the 2003 to 2004 school year, when those students would have been seniors, only 14 Pacific Islanders were enrolled in the 12th grade.

Pacific Islander youths also have the second-highest arrest rate in Alameda County and the highest arrest rate about 9 in 100 Pacific Islanders each year in San Francisco County, according to the Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Violence Prevention Center.

Often grouped under the larger Asian and Pacific Islander category, Pacific Islanders’ experiences are overshadowed by larger groups like Chinese and Japanese Americans.

"We’re invisible," Penina Ava Taesali, a researcher of the report, told the Guardian. "All we have is anecdotal data on issues. In every segment of the government city, county, state, and federal there’s no data."

Taesali, who is the artistic director of Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership, said that when she first began working for AYPAL eight years ago, she expected to see a program for Pacific Islander youths and was surprised to see none. She helped create the youth program Pacific Islander Kie Association (PIKA) in 2001.

She is among those now trying to figure out why this relatively small cultural group is having such disproportionate problems and how they might be solved.

Culture Clash

The first wave of immigration from the Pacific Islands came after World War II. During the war many Pacific Islands, including Hawaii, Tonga, and Samoa, were occupied by US troops. Previous to that, many Pacific Islands were colonized by Europeans.

After the United States loosened its immigration policies in 1965, more and more Pacific Islanders moved to the US, as well as to New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. First men, then women, moved abroad for better jobs to send remittance back to the islands. Between 1980 and 1990, the US population of Tongans rose 58 percent.

When the 2000 US census was released, many were also surprised to learn that there are more Pacific Islanders living in California than in Hawaii: 116,961 compared with 113,539. The Bay Area including Oakland, San Francisco, and San Mateo is home to 36,317 Pacific Islanders.

Now a new generation of Pacific Islander Americans is growing up and learning to navigate family, school, and church but many are feeling alienated from all three social structures.

"A lot of times, within Pacific Islander families, the children are very much seen but not heard," Venus Mesui, a community liaison at Life Academy and Media Academy high schools in Oakland, said. "They’re not really able to express themselves at school or at home. Depression comes along with that, because they don’t have the know-how to express themselves in a positive manner. They don’t have a space, or they don’t feel safe, to voice their opinions."

The report also revealed that several youths who were interviewed said domestic violence and corporal punishment occurred within their families.

Pelenatita "Tita" Olosoni, 18, told us she wished more parents would visit the schools to see what’s really going on.

"Parents think school out here is easier than back on the islands," Olosoni said. "It would be helpful if they took time off from work to see what kids are going through every day."

According to Mesui, parents need to be trained in how to support their children, particularly if they attend underperforming schools.

"I know all of the parents want their kids to succeed, but unfortunately, older siblings are asked to take care of the younger ones, and this doesn’t prepare them with good habits that will make them successful in school," Mesui, who is Hawaiian, said.

Olosoni said she and other Pacific Islander students have had to stay home and miss weeks of school to take care of their younger siblings and cousins.

Christopher Pulu, a 15-year-old freshman at Oakland High whose father is a landscaper, said, "That’s what the majority of our fathers do." Most Pacific Islanders in the US are laborers, and 32 percent live below the national poverty level, according to 2000 US census data.

"They always need an extra hand," Olosoni told us. "So the boys will drop school and see it as an easy way to make money and work with their dads."

"Big-boned and heavy-handed"

Like many minority groups, Pacific Islanders suffer from stereotypes. The prevalent minority myth that all Asians (though most Pacific Islanders do not consider themselves Asian) do well in school actually hurts groups like Pacific Islanders, Cambodians, and Hmong, according to Andrew Barlow, a sociology professor at UC Berkeley and Diablo Valley College.

"Most people say we’re big-boned and heavy-handed," Olosoni said. "When Tongans get in trouble, the whole Tongan crew gets in trouble."

Olosoni remembers the day she, her sister, and three friends were called into the principal’s office after a lunchtime fight at Castlemont High School in East Oakland. The security guard called another guard on his walkie-talkie and said, "Gather all the Tongans in the office," Olosoni recalls.

"I was like, ‘No, they didn’t go there,’" she told us. "It was just the five of us involved in the fight, but they called in all the Tongans." After the fight, the five Polynesian girls were given a one-week suspension.

Because Pacific Islander youths only make up 1.2 percent of a district’s population, they are usually a small but visible group within each school. While security guards may not be able to call "all Latinos" to the office, for example, they can do so with a smaller population like Tongans, Barlow said. He said that being so easily targeted increases solidarity within the community but may also lead to insularity and even more stereotyping.

"When people are denied opportunities and when they’re treated unequally, the way they’re going to deal with that is increasing reliance on their community and increasing ethnic solidarity," he said.

Barlow, who teaches courses on race and ethnicity, told us stereotypes are just a part of the problem. Larger systemic issues such as the economy, access to jobs, and educational role models are just as crucial.

"Tongans are already coming into American society with a lot of problems caused by colonialism," Barlow says. "If you don’t have access to a very wealthy school district, if you don’t know people who have access to good jobs, if you don’t have a high degree of education, then you’re in trouble."

A New Generation

Pulu said he hopes to be the first in his family to attend and graduate from college. He has received at least a 3.5 grade point average every semester and attends church regularly.

At the beginning of the school year, his multicultural education teacher asked him to go to the front of the class and point out Tonga on a world map.

"It doesn’t stand out," Pulu said. He is energetic and enthusiastic and doesn’t mind educating others about his culture. "Most people think it’s a part of Hawaii."

Mesui said Pacific Islanders have come a long way. Though the report focuses on a lot of struggles, Mesui said that she has personally seen increasing numbers of Pacific Islanders graduate from high school and go on to college, including her three children.

She believes schools should address the issue of youths who don’t have support at home.

"When they’re not in school, they’re doing something else," Mesui said. "The majority of the arrests are due to them not going to school and getting in trouble on the streets. And I think it falls on the school we’re not doing something to keep them here."

Olosoni said she knows of 3 Tongan youths in the last school year who were kicked out of Castlemont out of about 15 Pacific Islander students in the school for cutting class.

"It comes from the lack of them getting help from people of their own kind to help them understand things better," Olosoni said. She is now attending adult school and working on her GED.

Over the years Taesali has pushed for more programming in the community. PIKA now has about 40 youths who meet every Tuesday afternoon at an Oakland high school.

"If we got more Pacific Islander staff and teachers, there would be immediate results," Taesali said. "I have no doubt about it."

Taesali sees Pacific Islander students engaged when they learn about their own culture.

"Every time we’ve done workshops on Pacific Islander history and culture, [the students] just don’t want to leave," she said. "They are so happy to be learning about their culture." SFBG

Marry, marry quite contrary


In the coming year the federal government will unfurl a $500 million grant program with the sole purpose of encouraging low-income people to get hitched. The idea is that advertising, counseling, and mentoring by real, live married couples will increase the marriage rate in "at-risk" communities — leading to increased prosperity.

Conservatives have long argued that pushing marriage is just smart social policy. After all, studies have shown that married people tend to have more stable, financially secure lives that are more conducive to child rearing. Though the jury is still out on exactly how this correlation works (it’s possible that financially secure people are simply that much more likely to wed, rather than the other way around), President George W. Bush has been championing marriage since at least 2001.

His plan to promote the institution among the poor immediately generated opposition from feminists, domestic violence activists, libertarians, and advocates for the poor. And Congress proved unwilling to find the money — until this month.

Buried in the federal budget reconciliation bill approved Feb. 1 was language that directs up to $150 million a year through 2010 to programs meant to encourage marriage and "responsible fatherhood." Each year up to $50 million will go to "father-oriented" grants; the rest will go to promoting wedlock.

Though the funding got almost no press coverage, skepticism remains high among advocates for women and the poor. And it’s fed by a seemingly inconsistent provision in the bill, one that will make it so that two-parent families on welfare are less likely to get cash assistance — just because they’re married.

The first and probably most obvious complaint about marriage promotion is that the state should not be involved in people’s personal decisions about if, when, and whom to marry. For some, the emphasis on traditional, heterosexual unions also smacks of religious and moral fundamentalism.

There’s also the fact that a marriage — no matter how loving, satisfying, or good for the kids — doesn’t directly help someone’s economic standing. Some advocates for the poor would prefer to see money invested directly in services, job training, or cash grants.

Plus, some marriages just aren’t loving or satisfying or good for the kids. Studies have shown that roughly 65 percent of women who are receiving welfare have been battered during the past three years. Pushing victims of domestic violence into unions could have tragic consequences, activists say.

But the most basic criticism of this approach — and one that’s particularly common among women who are familiar with the welfare system — is that having a man around doesn’t necessarily improve a woman’s economic status, no matter how much more men tend to be paid.

Albany resident Renita Pitts, who has five kids and was married for close to 20 years, told us that having a husband can often feel like "having another child — another grown child. At least the little ones mind."

Pitts says that, except for a few years when she was working, she and her ex-husband spent most of their marriage on welfare and using drugs. On occasion, he also beat her.

"The minute my husband left, I was able to get off drugs," she said. "My whole life just opened up. I started going to school full time; I became a citizen in my community. It seemed like my life improved financially, emotionally, and physically."

Pitts is now getting a Bachelor of Arts from UC Berkeley, where she also hopes to complete a PhD in African American Studies. In her free time she works with the Women of Color Resource Center because she wants to show other women that even when it doesn’t seem like it, they have options.

Pitts is worried about marriage-promotion policies, which she described as "another way or form to control low-income women’s bodies." If the government wanted to help women find stability, she said, they would focus on education, health care, and job training. Saying the bill is "contradictory in so many ways," Pitts pointed out the inherent discrimination against gays and lesbians and the incongruence with welfare laws that privilege single-parent families.

As the director of Welfare Policy for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank in Washington, DC, Sharon Parrott was one of the first people to note that particular inconsistency. In a Jan. 31 policy paper, she pointed out that during legislative negotiations Republicans had backed off of earlier plans to eliminate rules that penalize married couples. This resulted in a strange contradiction in the bill: It earmarks unprecedented funding for marriage promotion, but also requires states to enforce newer, tighter work requirements for two-parent families on welfare. Those requirements are so strict that analysts like Parrott believe states that offer assistance to two-parent families will be penalized automatically — and might stop giving couples the same kind of help that’s currently available to single adults.

Parrott told us that the contradiction seems to be the result of complicated legislative rules dictating what can or cannot be included in a budget bill — rather than some intentional and nefarious plot to reduce welfare rolls. But she said that the contradiction shows that, "for all the lip service they’ve played to marriage, when it comes to helping poor two-parent families, they are not so committed."

She also pointed out that the fiscal 2007 budget proposal Bush sent to Congress Feb. 6 suggests upping the annual investment in marriage and fatherhood promotion to $250 million per year. *