Same Sex Marriage

Appealing to San Francisco values

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EDITORIAL When lawyers become politicians, and when those politicians assume offices where they can exercise discretion about when to appeal judicial rulings, the decision to do nothing can be as big and impactful as the decision to file a lawsuit.

Luckily for California, it is progressive-minded attorneys from the Bay Area who have found themselves in the position of advancing public policy through wise decisions about when to let rulings stand and when to challenge them. And it is our hope that Attorney General Kamala Harris remembers her Bay Area roots when making a couple of important pending decisions on appealing some high-profile recent rulings.

Harris was already weighing whether to appeal a judge’s ruling striking down teacher tenure laws (see “Pride and prejudice,” June 24) when another judge ruled that California’s death penalty is unconstitutional (see “Death sentence for executions?” Page 16).

Her opponent in fall runoff election, Republican Ron Gold, has called for Harris not to appeal the teacher tenure ruling — and he would almost certainly make great political hay of a decision by Harris not to challenge the death penalty ruling. But Harris should easily defeat this also-ran challenger in November and she should maintain the courage of her convictions in making these decisions.

We urge Harris to aggressively appeal the teacher tenure ruling and not be swayed by the judge’s fallacious argument that teacher tenure hurts urban schoolchildren. And on the death penalty, which Harris has long opposed, we urge her to help end the barbaric, expensive, and ineffective executions (which could mean appealing the recent ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and then not appealing a favorable ruling there, which would serve to end capital punishment in California).

That kind of selective use of the Attorney General’s Office discretion on appeals would follow in the tradition of Gov. Jerry Brown, when he was attorney general, choosing not to appeal the ruling striking down Prop. 8 and instead helping to legalize same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, we’re happy that City Attorney Dennis Herrera decided to “aggressively defend” Prop. B, which requires voter approval for projects that exceed current height restrictions on the San Francisco waterfront, against a lawsuit by the State Lands Commission.

Likely prompted by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, one of three members of that commission and someone who has long been friendly to big investors and developers, this lawsuit should have never been filed — and Herrera was right to say so and pledge a vigorous defense of the measure.

The people of San Francisco and California are lucky to have Harris and Herrera in the position to make these important decisions.

San Franciscans could make death penalty ruling stick

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In the wake of yesterday’s [Wed/16] judicial ruling that California’s death penalty system is unconstitutional — with federal District Judge Cormac Carney calling it arbitrary and so subject to endless delay that it “serves no penological purpose” — San Franciscans could play a key role in converting the ruling into an abolition of capital punishment.

Right now, the ruling applies only to the execution of Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced to death in 1995 for a rape and murder, and not all 748 inmates now on Death Row in California. But yesterday’s ruling would end the death penalty in California if appealed to and upheld by the SF-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The decision about whether to file that appeal and possibly a subsequent appeal to the US Supreme Court falls to Attorney General Kamala Harris, who has maintained her opposition to capital punishment since her days as San Francisco’s district attorney, where she bravely endured lots of political heat for refusing to file capital murder charges in the death of San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza.  

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi today issued a public statement praising yesterday’s ruling and calling for Harris not to appeal it: “Today’s ruling, which found California’s death penalty unconstitutional, is a monumental victory for justice. I commend U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney for his courage and wisdom. Not only is the death penalty arbitrarily imposed, as the judge noted, its history is fraught with racial bias and haunted by the hundreds of death row inmates who were later exonerated. I am hopeful that California Attorney General Kamala Harris will choose not to appeal this decision.” 

Harris spokesperson David Beltran told the Guardian that she hasn’t yet made a decision whether to appeal the case: “We are reviewing the ruling.”

Yet former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who worked with SF-based Death Penalty Focus on the 2012 initiative campaign to repeal the death penalty (losing by less than 4 percentage points), told the Guardian that Harris has a tough choice to make.

“It’s an interesting decision. If the Attorney General doesn’t appeal it, then it applies just to this case, period,” Garcetti told us.

Although appeals in other cases could cite the logic of yesterday’s ruling, it has no precedent value unless affirmed by the Ninth Circuit. And Garcetti called Carney’s ruling “a pretty persuasive decision” that could be easily be affirmed, depending on which judges are assigned to the case. If so, that ruling would end the death penalty in California, just as 17 other states have already done.   

“The more interesting question is whether she would then appeal that ruling [to the US Supreme Court],” Garcetti said.

California voters have affirmed their support for the death penalty three times at the ballot, but those results and public opinion polling show that support for executions has been steadily eroding, in much the same way that generational change has led to overturning bans on same-sex marriage across the country.

Garcetti said he regularly speaks publicly about capital punishment, often to very conservative groups, and he said that the arguments against it have become so strong — including its high cost, racial and class bias, and lack of deterrent effect — that “over 95 percent of [death penalty supporters] change their opinions by the end of my talks.”

As for why the 2012 initiative fell about 250,000 votes short of success, Garcetti said, “We simply ran out of money to get the facts out. Once people hear the facts, it wins them over.”

Carney’s ruling reinforced many of the arguments that opponents have been made against the death penalty, noting that federal guarantees of due process create such long delays that a death sentence has become something “no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.”

Aside from this ruling, California is also currently under a federal moratorium on executing prisoners until it can reform its lethal injection procedures, which a federal judge has said now amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

“Justice requires that we end this charade once and for all,” Death Penalty Focus Executive Director Matt Cherry said in a prepared statement. “It’s time to replace California’s broken death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. That’s the best way to ensure that convicted killers remain behind bars until they die, without wasting tens of millions of tax dollars every year on needless appeals. That’s justice that works, for everyone.”

#TBT: That time we called for California’s break-up

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So another scheme — in a long and rich history of such schemes — is attempting to break California into more digestible parts, and gaining national attention. Venture capitalist Tim Draper’s Six Californias is all but on the ballot, attempting to rechristen the Bay Area as Silicon Valley. Good luck with that! (Although we have to say, it might create the first openly weed-driven state economy — Northern California — which would be fun to see.)

In 2009, we, too, put forth a proposal to split California up — building on an idea from conservative Central California, and echoed in Daily Kos. It was a doozy, but a logical one, with some actual Six Californias affinity.

Our May 27 cover story, written by Rebecca Bowe and Tim Redmond, proposed to split Cali up for better management, representation, and economic/social justice, creating the playfully named states of Greenland, Sierrastan, Pinkostan, Coastland, Palm Sprawl, North Mexico, and Disney. (The accompanying cover, designed by Ben Hopfer and shown above, aped the New Yorker’s famous “New Yorkistan” cover.)  

The cover story itself grew from a Politics Blog post Tim Redmond had written in March of 2009, asking “Should California be split up?” — read the post below. As for creating states, we’ll be dreaming of Puerto Rico …

SHOULD CALIFORNIA BE SPLIT UP?

By Tim Redmond

It’s an interesting question. Nothing new, really — folks up in the northern part of the state have been talking about secession since the 1940s.

But these days, the talk has shifted from North-South to Central Valley-Coast.

There’s plenty of discussion going on — the New York Times
reports on a move by farmers in Visalia, who say those of us in the more liberal western regions don’t understand what it’s like in the center of the state:

Frustrated by what they call uninformed urban voters dictating faulty farm policy, Mr. Rogers and the other members of the movement have proposed splitting off 13 counties on the state’s coast, leaving the remaining 45, mostly inland, counties as the “real” California.

The reason, they say, is that people in those coastal counties, which include San Francisco and Los Angeles, simply do not understand what life is like in areas where the sea breezes do not reach.
“They think fish are more important than people, that pigs are treated mean and chickens should run loose,” said Mr. Rogers, who said he hitched a ride in 1940 to Visalia from Oklahoma to escape the Dust Bowl, with his wife and baby son in tow. “City people just don’t know what it takes to get food on their table.”

A former Assembly member is pushing a vertical split, too :

“Citizens of our once Golden State are frustrated and desperately concerned about the imposition of burdensome regulations, taxation, fees, fees and more fees, and bureaucratic intrusion into our daily lives and businesses,” declares downsizeca.org, the movement’s website.

And all of this comes as reformers form both the left and the right are talking about a new Constitutional Convention.

Athough some of the proponents are clearly nutty, the idea isn’t. As the noted political economist Gar Alperovitz wrote two years ago

The United States is almost certainly too big to be a meaningful democracy. What does “participatory democracy” mean in a continent? Sooner or later, a profound, probably regional, decentralization of the federal system may be all but inevitable.

He was talking about California becoming its own nation, but I’d argue that the same problem applies here. The budget crisis, the gridlock in Sacramento … all of it suggests that maybe California itself is too big to govern. There’s also clear evidence of dramatic regional differences. If you take the Central Valley from about Redding on down, and wrap in Orange County, you have a red state within a blue state where most of the residents say they want lower taxes and smaller government. Along the coast from about Sonoma County down to the southern part of Los Angeles County, you have people who generally would like to see taxes pay for public services. If the coast were a state, we could repeal Prop. 13 and build world-class schools. We’d have same-sex marriage and single-payer health insurance. And we’d still be one of the biggest states in America.

Now, I’m not sure the people in the central valley quite realize the problem with their plans, which is illustrated in this wonderful chart that comes from the office of Assemblywoman Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa (PDF).

The chart shows that the people who dislike and distrust government and don’t want to pay taxes are in fact the beneficiaries of the tax dollars that the rest of us pay. In California, tax money from the coast winds up paying for services in the central valley.

But that’s okay — if they don’t want our money any more, maybe we should tell them we’re fine with that. Maybe we should split the state not just in two but into three: Let the northern counties become the state of Jefferson, where pot will be legal and the residents will be so wealthy from taxes and exports of that cash crop that they’ll make oil-richAlaskans seem like paupers. Pot will be legal in the coastal communities, too, and will generate tax revenue.

We’ll have a Democratic governor, and overwhelmingly Democratic legislature, fewer prisons, better schools, cleaner air, no Ellis Act, rent controls on vacant apartments, more money for transit, strict gun control, support for immigrant rights … and no more of these ugly battles over budgets held hostage by right-wing Republicans.

And in the central valley, they can have their low taxes and conservative values, and watch their roads, schools, and public services go to hell. Maybe eventually they’ll figure it out.

Of course, we’d have to figure out the water rights. The folks in Jefferson would have control over much of the water that now goes South, and there would have to be some long-term water contracts between the states, but that shouldn’t be an insurmountable roadblock.

And the solution would create its own problems; The GOP would control the central state, and would move to abolish the Agricultural Labor Relations Act and make life even more miserable for farmworkers. But then, maybe Jefferson would turn off the water and big agribusiness would be SOL anyway.

As part of the break-up, all parties would have to agree to create a special relocation fund to help lonely, sad liberals from Modesto come west and to help lonely, sad Republicans in San Francisco to move east. I wonder which way the net migration would go.

Meanwhile, Evans has introduced my favorite tax bill of the year, AB 1342, and it’s related to this entire discussion. She wants to allow counties to levy their own income taxes and vehicle license fees. “We went through this difficult process of trying to arrive at a budget,” her spokesperson, Anthony Matthews, told me. “For those communities that have a different view of government [than the Republicans], this bill would let them raise their own taxes to fund their priorities.”

 

Pride and prejudice

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joe@sfbg.com

As Pride celebrations across the country unfurl their rainbow flags this month, teacher tenure in California suffered a stunning blow from a Los Angeles Superior Court, undermining protections that have shielded the LGBT community from discrimination.

Although the decision will likely be appealed, Judge Rolf M. Treu’s ruling galvanized teachers unions and evoked memories of conservative attacks on gay teachers in the 1970s, including the unsuccessful Briggs Initiative that was a rallying point for then-Sup. Harvey Milk and a new generation of LGBT political leaders.

“To jeopardize any of the protections we have now, it’s a thinly veiled attempt to demoralize teachers, and it’s an attack on public education,” Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, the San Francisco Democrat who began his political career as an openly gay teacher campaigning against the Briggs Initiative, told the Guardian.

LGBT rights and teacher tenure may seem to have little in common, but a peek at the movers and shakers in the LGBT and teachers’ rights movements show an interconnected relationship of protections and the players who fight for them. Loss of tenure can threaten the protection of minority groups, academic freedom, and unpopular political speech, despite employment rights gained in recent years.

“We’ve beaten back that thinking,” Ammiano said, “but it’s still lurking.”

In California, K-12 teachers are shielded by legal protections often referred to commonly as tenure. Permanent status is the backbone of these protections, offering an arbitration process for teachers who administrators intend to fire. Also struck down by the judge was the First In, First Out law, which protects veteran teachers from layoffs by letting go of recent hires first.

In his ruling, Treu said these policies created an environment where students were burdened by ineffective teachers who were difficult to fire, disproportionately detracting from minority students’ education quality in the most troubled schools.

“The evidence is compelling,” the judge wrote in his ruling, “indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

Many education advocates vehemently disagreed with that ruling, and the veracity of the evidence will be further weighed in upcoming appeals. But along the way to pursuing equality for students, the equality of teachers may find itself eroded by an unlikely new hero of the LGBT movement: A conservative attorney who fought against marriage discrimination, but also litigated against the legacy of an LGBT legend.

 

HERO OF MARRIAGE EQUALITY

The morning last year when the US Supreme Court ruled to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, San Franciscans gathered inside City Hall by the grand staircase. Men held men, women held women, and families held the their children tight.

When the court’s decision finally hit the news, the outcry of happiness and surprise at City Hall was deafening. The expressions on the faces of those there was that of joy with many understandably streaked by tears. Attorney Theodore Olson helped litigate against Prop. 8 and won, and as he fought for gay rights, his face was often streaked with tears as well, LGBT rights activist Cleve Jones told us.

“There was a part of that trial when the plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier described their love for each other,” Jones said. “I was sitting with their family in [US District Court Judge] Vaughn Walker’s court. When we broke, Ted Olson went to embrace them and there were tears on his face.”

But Olson is not a poster child for most politics considered the realm of liberals and Democrats. Olson and fellow Prop. 8 litigator Attorney David Boies were on opposing sides of the Bush v. Gore case that Olson won, handing George W. Bush the presidency in 2000. Olson was then appointed solicitor general of the United States, often leading conservative causes.

 

Olson and Boies will talk about their new book Redeeming the Dream: The Case for Marriage Equality at the LGBT center on June 25 (joined by Supervisor Scott Wiener), but Olson gave us a glimmer of those motivations.

Olson, a Los Altos native who attended UC Berkeley School of Law, told the Guardian in a phone interview that his stand on gay rights was based on conservative principles: “I think of conservatives as including people who are libertarians and respect individual liberty.”

 

A trailer for “The Case Against 8,” which features Ted Olson heavily.

He said the right to marry the person of one’s choosing should be an individual right that government has no business banning. That belief in individual liberty is at the core of his political principles. “It affects me in absolutely the deepest personal way,” he told us.

Whatever his ideological motivations, Olson became a hero in the LGBT community. But this year, he was one of the attorneys who convinced Judge Treu of the evils of teacher tenure. In the trial, Olson claimed one Oakland teacher was harming elementary students’ educational outcomes: “The principal couldn’t remove that teacher. These stories are so awful, sometimes you feel people are exaggerating.”

Yet the problems afflicting Oakland schools and its children, the unions argued, are not due to teacher tenure. In a city with high violence rates, students’ broken homes, low teacher pay, and difficult working conditions, critics say Olson oversimplified and misrepresented a complex problem.

“We all know there are problems in our schools,” Jones, who works with unions, told us. “But there’s never of course discussion about poverty, or students growing up in single families, or class sizes.”

These were all arguments the union made against Olson, unsuccessfully. The decision to remove protections for teachers may send ripples into other states and spur increased attacks on teacher protections.

And unlike California, which has strong anti-discrimination protections, that campaign may allow teachers of other states to be fired or dismissed for coming out of the closet, an issue that helped elevate Harvey Milk into such an iconic leader.

 

ECHOES OF BRIGGS

Jones and Ammiano fought alongside Milk against Proposition 6 in 1978, known as the Briggs Initiative, which would have made it illegal for openly gay people to teach. Then-Sen. John Briggs and his allies associated gay teachers with child molesters and frequently said they may influence children to become gay.

“I was born of heterosexual parents, taught by heterosexual teachers in a fiercely heterosexual society,” Milk said in a speech at the time. “Then why am I homosexual if I’m affected by role models? I should’ve been a heterosexual. And no offense meant, but if teachers are going to affect you as role models, there’d be a lot of nuns running around the streets today.”

This fight may be history, but Ammiano said such biases are still with us today, such as with how some see the transgender community. “We’re holding people at bay around LGB issues, but the T part now is the crossroads for the right wing [activists] who are rolling back protections,” he said.

Only 30 US states offer employment protections for sexual orientation, and some of those only cover government employees, according to a study by Center for American Progress. Only 23 states protect against firing for gender identity.

Vulnerable teachers lacking protections granted by tenure or equal employment laws are still being fired in California and across the country. In April, a transgender Texas substitute teacher was fired for making children “uncomfortable,” according to news reports. In Glendora, California, a teacher was fired from a religious private school after a photo of he and his husband kissing on their wedding day made the local newspaper.

This month, President Barack Obama announced an Executive Order mandating federal contractors enact policies protecting workers from dismissal due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Many speculate this was announced to press Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect private employees from discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.

briggs

“This is only round one,” stated Senator John Briggs to the press about the defeat of Proposition 6, Nov. 7, 1978, at a Costa Mesa hotel. Proposition 6, called the Briggs Initiative, prohibits gay teachers from working in California public schools. AP file photo by Doug Pizac

But ENDA has stalled for years, despite the best efforts of advocacy groups nationwide. And as the country awaits equality, many teachers’ last hope against unlawful dismissal is tenure. In fact, tenure laws were first drafted after the Red Scare and Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt for communists, California Federation of Teachers spokesperson Fred Glass told us.

Yet Olson recoils at linking LGBT rights to teacher protections. “I support wholly protections for people for who they are, for heaven’s sakes,” he told us, mentioning that Milk “was very much an inspiration and very important to us.”

And Jones still thinks of Olson as a hero, saying that life and politics are complex.

“Irony abounds,” Jones said. “I don’t square it. You can’t square it. It’s there. But my respect for Ted Olson is based on his very genuine support for our community on the issue of marriage. For LGBT people to win equalit,y it’s important there’s a national consensus, it can’t just be from the left. Ted Olson was incredibly important with that effort and will be remembered generations for now. You don’t have to like everything about Ted Olson or President Obama to acknowledge they had a profound effect.”

Guardian endorsements

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OUR CLEAN SLATE VOTERS GUIDE TO TAKE TO THE POLLS IS HERE.

 

Editor’s Note: Election endorsements have been a long and proud part of the Guardian’s 48-year history of covering politics in San Francisco, the greater Bay Area, and at the state level. In low-turnout elections like the one we’re expecting in June, your vote counts more than usual, and we hope our endorsements and explanations help you make the best decisions.

 

GOVERNOR: JERRY BROWN

There is much for progressives to criticize in Jerry Brown’s latest stint as governor of California. He has stubbornly resisted complying with federal court orders to substantially reduce the state’s prison population, as well as shielding the system from needed journalistic scrutiny and reforms of solitary confinement policies that amount to torture. Brown has also refused to ban or limit fracking in California, despite the danger it poses to groundwater and climate change, irritating environmentalists and fellow Democrats. Even Brown’s great accomplishment of winning passage for the Prop. 30 tax package, which eased the state back from financial collapse, sunsets too early and shouldn’t have included a regressive sales tax increase. Much more needs to be done to address growing wealth disparities and restore economic and educational opportunity for all Californians.

For these reasons and others, it’s tempting to endorse one of Brown’s progressive challenges: Green Party candidate Luis Rodriguez or Peace and Freedom Party candidate Cindy Sheehan (see “Left out,” April 23). We were particularly impressed by Rodriguez, an inspiring leader who is seeking to bring more Latinos and other marginalized constituencies into the progressive fold, a goal we share and want to support however we can.

But on balance, we decided to give Brown our endorsement in recognition of his role in quickly turning around this troubled state after the disastrous administration of Arnold Schwarzenegger — and in the hope that his strong leadership will lead to even greater improvement over his next term. While we don’t agree with all of his stands, we admire the courage, independence, and vision that Brown brings to this important office. Whether he is supporting the California High-Speed Rail Project against various attacks, calling for state residents to live in greater harmony with the natural world during the current drought, or refusing to shrink from the challenges posed by global warming, Jerry Brown is the leader that California needs at this critical time.

 

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: GAVIN NEWSOM

Gavin Newsom was mayor of San Francisco before he ascended to the position of Lieutenant Governor, and we at the Bay Guardian had a strained relationship with his administration, to put it mildly. We disagreed with his fiscally conservative policies and tendency to align himself with corporate power brokers over neighborhood coalitions. As lieutenant governor, Newsom is tasked with little — besides stepping into the role of governor, should he be called upon to do so — but has nevertheless made some worthwhile contributions.

Consider his stance on drug policy reform: “Once and for all, it’s time we realize that the war on drugs is nothing more than a war on communities of color and on the poor,” he recently told a crowd at the Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles. “It is fundamentally time for drug policies that recognize and respect the full dignity of human beings. We can’t wait.” In his capacity as a member of the UC Board of Regents, Newsom recently voted against a higher executive compensation package for a top-level administrator, breaking from the pack to align with financially pinched university students. In Sacramento, Newsom seems to come off as more “San Francisco” than in his mayoral days, and we’re endorsing him against a weak field of challengers.

 

SECRETARY OF STATE: DEREK CRESSMAN

Although the latest Field Poll shows that he has only single-digit support and is unlikely to make the November runoff, we’re endorsing Derek Cressman for Secretary of State. As a longtime advocate for removing the corrupting influence of money from politics through his work with Common Cause, Cressman has identified campaign finance reform as the important first step toward making the political system more responsive to people’s needs. As Secretary of State, Cressman would be in a position to ensure greater transparency in our political system.

We also like Alex Padilla, a liberal Democrat who has been an effective member of the California Senate. We’ll be happy to endorse Padilla in November if he ends up in a runoff with Republican Pete Peterson, as the current polling seems to indicate is likely. But for now, we’re endorsing Cressman — and the idea that campaign finance reform needs to be a top issue in a state and country that are letting wealthy individuals and corporations have disproportionate influence over what is supposed to be a democracy.

 

CONTROLLER: BETTY YEE

The pay-to-play politics of Leland Yee and two other California Democrats has smeared the Assembly. Amid the growls of impropriety, a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting has painted Speaker of the Assembly John Perez, a leading candidate for Controller, with a similar brush. CIR revealed Perez raised money from special interest groups to charities his lover favored, a lover later sued for racketeering and fraud.

Betty Yee represents an opportunity for a fresh start. On the state’s Board of Equalization she turned down campaign donations from tobacco interests, a possible conflict of interest. She also fought for tax equity between same-sex couples. The Controller is tasked with keeping watch on and disbursing state funds, a position we trust much more to Yee’s careful approach than Perez’s questionable history. Vote for Yee.

 

TREASURER: JOHN CHIANG

While serving as California’s elected Controller, John Chiang displayed his courage and independence by refusing to sign off on budgetary tricks used by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and some legislative leaders, insisting on a level of honesty that protected current and future Californians. During those difficult years — as California teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, paralyzed by partisan brinksmanship each budget season, written off as a failed state by the national media — Chiang and retiring Treasurer Bill Lockyer were somehow able to keep the state functioning and paying its bills.

While many politicians claim they’ll help balance the budget by identifying waste and corruption, Chiang actually did so, identifying $6 billion by his estimate that was made available for more productive purposes. Now, Chiang wants to continue bringing fiscal stability to this volatile state and he has our support.

 

ATTORNEY GENERAL: KAMALA HARRIS

Kamala Harris has kept the promise she made four years ago to bring San Francisco values into the Attorney General’s Office, focusing on the interests of everyday Californians over powerful vested interests. That includes strengthening consumer and privacy protections, pushing social programs to reduce criminal recidivism rather than the tough-on-crime approach that has ballooned our prison population, reaching an $18 billion settlement with the big banks and mortgage lenders to help keep people in their homes, and helping to implement the Affordable Care Act and the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state.

Harris has maintained her opposition to the death penalty even though that has hurt her in the statewide race, and she brings to the office an important perspective as the first woman and first African American ever to serve as the state’s top law enforcement officer. While there is much more work to be done in countering the power of wealthy individuals and corporations and giving the average Californian a stronger voice in our legal system, Harris has our support.

 

INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: DAVE JONES

We’ve been following Dave Jones’s legislative career since his days on the Sacramento City Council and through his terms in the California Legislature, and we’ve always appreciated his autonomy and progressive values. He launched into his role as Insurance Commissioner four years ago with an emergency regulation requiring health insurance companies to use no more than 20 percent of premiums on profits and administrative costs, and he has continued to do what he can to hold down health insurance rates, including implementing the various components of the Affordable Care Act.

More recently, Jones held hearings looking at whether Uber, Lyft, and other transportation network companies are adequately insured to protect both their drivers and the general public, concluding that these companies need to self-insure or otherwise expand the coverage over their business. It was a bold and important move to regulate a wealthy and prosperous new industry. Jones deserves credit for taking on the issue and he has earned our endorsement.

 

SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS: TOM TORLAKSON

This race is a critical one, as incumbent Tom Torlakson faces a strong challenge from the charter school cheerleader Marshall Tuck. An investment banker and Harvard alum, Tuck is backed by well-heeled business and technology interests pushing for the privatization of our schools. Tech and entertainment companies are pushing charter schools heavily as they wait in the wings for lucrative education supply contracts, for which charter schools may open the doors. And don’t let Waiting for Superman fool you, charter schools’ successful test score numbers are often achieved by pushing out underperforming special needs and economically disadvantaged students.

As national education advocate Diane Ravitch wrote in her blog, “If Tuck wins, the privatization movement will gain a major stronghold.” California ranks 48th in the nation in education spending, a situation we can thank Prop. 13 for. We’d like to see Torlakson advocate for more K-12 school dollars, but for now, he’s the best choice.

 

BOARD OF EQUALIZATION: FIONA MA

Fiona Ma was never our favorite member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and in the California Legislature, she has seemed more interested in party politics and leadership than moving legislation that is important to San Francisco. There are a few exceptions, such as her attempts last year to require more employers to offer paid sick days and to limit prescription drug co-payments. But she also notoriously tried to ban raves at public venues in 2010, a reactionary bill that was rejected as overly broad.

But the California Board of Equalization might just be a better fit for Ma than the Legislature. She’s a certified public accountant and would bring that financial expertise to the state’s main taxing body, and we hope she continues in the tradition of her BOE predecessor Betty Yee in ensuring the state remains fair but tough in how it collects taxes.

 

ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 17: DAVID CAMPOS

The race to replace progressive hero Tom Ammiano in the California Assembly is helping to define this important political moment in San Francisco. It’s a contest between the pragmatic neoliberal politics of Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and the populist progressive politics of Sup. David Campos, whom Ammiano endorsed to succeed him.

It’s a fight for the soul of San Francisco, a struggle to define the values we want to project into the world, and, for us at the Bay Guardian, the choice is clear. David Campos is the candidate that we trust to uphold San Francisco’s progressive values in a state that desperately needs that principled influence.

Chiu emphasizes how the two candidates have agreed on about 98 percent of their votes, and he argues that his effectiveness at moving big legislation and forging compromises makes him the most qualified to represent us in Sacramento. Indeed, Chiu is a skilled legislator with a sharp mind, and if “getting things done” — the prime directive espoused by both Chiu and Mayor Ed Lee — was our main criterion, he would probably get our endorsement.

But when you look at the agenda that Chiu and his allies at City Hall have pursued since he came to power — elected as a progressive before pivoting to become a pro-business moderate — we wish that he had been a little less effective. The landlords, tech titans, Realtors, and Chamber of Commerce have been calling the shots in this city, overheating the local economy in a way that has caused rapid displacement and gentrification.

“Effective for whom? That’s what’s important,” Campos told us during his endorsement interview, noting that, “Most people in San Francisco have been left behind and out of that prosperity.”

Campos has been a clear and consistent supporter of tenants, workers, immigrants, small businesses, environmentalists — the vast majority of San Franciscans, despite their lack of power in City Hall. Chiu will sometimes do right by these groups, but usually only after being pushed to do so by grassroots organizing and lobbying efforts.

Campos correctly points out that such lobbying is more difficult in Sacramento, with its higher stakes and wider range of competing interests, than it is on the local level. Chiu’s focus on always trying to find a compromise often plays into the hands of wealthy interests, who sometimes just need to be fought and stopped.

We have faith in Campos and his progressive values, and we believe he will skillfully carry on the work of Ammiano — who is both an uncompromising progressive and an effective legislator — in representing San Francisco’s values in Sacramento.

 

ASSEMBLY, DISTRICT 19: PHIL TING

Incumbent Phil Ting doesn’t have any challengers in this election, but he probably would have won our support anyway. After proving himself as San Francisco’s Assessor, taking a strong stance against corporate landowners and even the Catholic Church on property assessments, Ting won a tough race against conservative businessman Michael Breyer to win his Assembly seat.

Since then, he’s been a reliable vote for legislation supported by most San Franciscans, and he’s sponsoring some good bills that break new ground, including his current AB 1193, which would make it easier to build cycletracks, or bike lanes physically separated from cars, all over the state. He also called a much-needed Assembly committee hearing in November calling out BART for its lax safety culture, and we hope he continues to push for reforms at that agency.

 

PROPOSITION 41: YES

Over a decade ago, Californians voted to use hundreds of millions of our dollars to create the CalVet Home and Farm Loan Program to help veterans purchase housing. But a reduction in federal home loan dollars, the housing crisis, and a plummeting economy hurt the program.

Prop. 41 would repurpose $600 million of those bond funds and raise new money to create affordable housing rental units for some of California’s 15,000 homeless veterans. This would cost Californians $50 million a year, which, as proponents remind us, is one-tenth of 1 percent of the state budget. Why let hundreds of millions of dollars languish unused? We need to reprioritize this money to make good on our unfulfilled promises to homeless veterans.

 

PROPOSITION 42: YES

This one’s important. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown sought to gut the California Public Records Act by making it optional for government agencies to comply with many of the requirements built into this important transparency law. The CPRA and the Ralph M. Brown Act require government agencies to make records of their activities available for public scrutiny, and to provide for adequate notice of public meetings. Had the bill weakening these laws not been defeated, it would have removed an important defense against shadowy government dealings, leaving ordinary citizens and journalists in the dark.

Prop. 42 is a bid to eliminate any future threats against California’s important government transparency laws, by expressly requiring local government agencies — including cities, counties, and school districts — to comply with all aspects of the CPRA and the Brown Act. It also seeks to prevent local agencies from denying public records requests based on cost, by eliminating the state’s responsibility to reimburse local agencies for cost compliance (the state has repeatedly failed to do so, and local bureaucracies have used this as an excuse not to comply).

 

SF’S PROPOSITION A: YES

Prop. A is a $400 million general obligation bond measure that would cover seismic retrofits and improvements to the city’s emergency infrastructure, including upgrades to the city’s Emergency Firefighting Water System, neighborhood police and fire stations, a new facility for the Medical Examiner, and seismically secure new structures to house the police crime lab and motorcycle unit.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place Prop. A on the ballot, and a two-thirds majority vote is needed for it to pass. Given that San Franciscans can expect to be hit by a major earthquake in the years to come, upgrading emergency infrastructure, especially the high-pressure water system that will aid the Fire Department in the event of a major blaze, is a high priority.

 

SF’S PROPOSITION B: YES

As we report in this issue (see “Two views of the waterfront”), San Francisco’s waterfront is a valuable place targeted by some ambitious development schemes. That’s a good thing, particularly given the need that the Port of San Francisco has for money to renovate or remove crumbling piers, but it needs to be carefully regulated to maximize public benefits and minimize private profit-taking.

Unfortunately, the Mayor’s Office and its appointees at the Port of San Francisco have proven themselves unwilling to be tough negotiators on behalf of the people. That has caused deep-pocketed, politically connected developers to ignore the Waterfront Land Use Plan and propose projects that are out-of-scale for the waterfront, property that San Francisco is entrusted to manage for the benefit of all Californians.

All Prop. B does is require voter approval when projects exceed existing height limits. It doesn’t kill those projects, it just forces developers to justify new towers on the waterfront by providing ample public benefits, restoring a balance that has been lost. San Francisco’s waterfront is prime real estate, and there are only a few big parcels left that can be leveraged to meet the needs of the Port and the city. Requiring the biggest ones to be approved by voters is the best way to ensure the city — all its residents, not just the politicians and power brokers — is getting the best deals possible.

 

SF SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: DANIEL FLORES

Daniel Flores has an impressive list of endorsers, including the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties of San Francisco — a rare trifecta of political party support. But don’t hold the GOP nod against Flores, who was raised in the Excelsior by parents who immigrated from El Salvador and who interned with La Raza Centro Legal while going to McGeorge School of Law. And he did serve in the Marines for six years, which could explain the broad range of support for him.

Flores is a courtroom litigator with experience in big firms and his own practice, representing clients ranging from business people to tenants fighting against their landlords. Flores told us that he wants to ensure those without much money are treated fairly in court, an important goal we support. We also liked Kimberly Williams and hope she ends up on the bench someday, but in this race, Flores is the clear choice.

 

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 12: NANCY PELOSI

This was a hard decision for us this year. Everyone knows that Pelosi will win this race handily, but in past races we’ve endorsed third party challengers or even refused to endorse anyone more often than we’ve given Pelosi our support. While Pelosi gets vilified by conservatives as the quintessential San Francisco liberal, she’s actually way too moderate for our tastes.

Over her 21 years in Congress, she has presided over economic policies that have consolidated wealth in ever fewer hands and dismantled the social safety net, environmental policies that have ignored global warming and fed our over-reliance on the private automobile, and military policies that expanded the war machine and overreaching surveillance state, despite her insider’s role on the House Intelligence Committee.

Three of her opponents — Democrat David Peterson, Green Barry Hermanson, and fiery local progressive activist Frank Lara of the Peace and Freedom Party — are all much better on the issues that we care about, and we urge our readers to consider voting for one of them if they just can’t stomach casting a ballot for Pelosi. In particular, Hermanson has raised important criticisms of just how out of whack our federal budget priorities are. We also respect the work Lara has done on antiwar and transit justice issues in San Francisco, and we think he could have a bright political future.

But we’ve decided to endorse Pelosi in this election for one main reason: We want the Democrats to retake the House of Representatives this year and for Pelosi to once again become Speaker of the House. The Republican Party in this country, particularly the Tea Party loyalists in the House, is practicing a dangerous and disgusting brand of political extremism that needs to be stopped and repudiated. They would rather shut the government down or keep it hopelessly hobbled by low tax rates than help it become an effective tool for helping us address the urgent problems that our country faces. Pelosi and the Democrats aren’t perfect, but at least they’re reasonable grown-ups and we’d love to see what they’d do if they were returned to power. So Nancy Pelosi has our support in 2014.

 

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 13: BARBARA LEE

Barbara Lee has been one of our heroes since 2001, when she was the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, braving the flag-waving nationalism that followed the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to warn that such an overly broad declaration of war was dangerous to our national interests. She endured death threats and harsh condemnation for that principled stand, but she was both courageous and correct, with our military overreach still causing problems for this country, both practical and moral.

Lee has been a clear and consistent voice for progressive values in the Congress for 16 years, chairing both the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus, taking stands against capital punishment and the Iraq War, supporting access to abortions and tougher regulation of Wall Street, and generally representing Oakland and the greater Bay Area well in Washington DC. She has our enthusiastic support.

 

CONGRESS, DISTRICT 14: JACKIE SPEIER

Jackie Speier has given her life to public service — almost literally in 1978 when she was an aide to then-Rep. Leo Ryan and survived the airstrip shootings that triggered the massacre at Jonestown — and she has earned our ongoing support. Speier has continued the consumer protection work she started in the California Legislature, sponsoring bills in Congress aimed at protecting online privacy. She has also been a strong advocate for increasing federal funding to public transit in the Bay Area, particularly to Muni and for the electricification of Caltrain, an important prelude to the California High-Speed Rail Project. In the wake of the deadly natural gas explosion in San Bruno, Speier has pushed for tough penalties on Pacific Gas & Electric and expanded pipeline safety programs. She has been a strong advocate of women’s issues, including highlighting the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and in the military, seeking greater protections, institutional accountability, and recourse for victims. More recently, Speier has become a key ally in the fight to save City College of San Francisco, taking on the federal accreditation process and seeking reforms. Speier is a courageous public servant who deserves your vote.

Film Listings: April 9 – 15, 2014

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Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.

OPENING

Cuban Fury Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, and Chris O’Dowd star in this comedy about competitive salsa dancing. (1:37)

Dom Hemingway We first meet English safecracker Dom (Jude Law) as he delivers an extremely verbose and flowery ode to his penis, addressing no one in particular, while he’s getting blown in prison. Whether you find this opening a knockout or painfully faux will determine how you react to the rest of Richard Shepard’s new film, because it’s all in that same overwritten, pseudo-shocking, showoff vein, Sprung after 12 years, Dom is reunited with his former henchman Dickie (Richard E. Grant), and the two go to the South of France to collect the reward owed for not ratting out crime kingpin Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). This detour into the high life goes awry, however, sending the duo back to London, where Dom — who admits having “anger issues,” which is putting it mildly — tries to woo a new employer (Jumayn Hunter) and, offsetting his general loutishness with mawkish interludes, to re-ingratiate himself with his long-estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke). Moving into Guy Ritchie terrain with none of the deftness the same writer-director had brought to debunking James Bond territory in 2006’s similarly black-comedic crime tale The Matador, Dom Hemingway might bludgeon some viewers into sharing its air of waggish, self conscious merriment. But like Law’s performance, it labors so effortfully hard after that affect that you’re just as likely to find the whole enterprise overbearing. (1:33) Elmwood. (Harvey)

Draft Day Kevin Costner stars in this comedy-drama set behind the scenes of the NFL. (2:00) Presidio.

Finding Vivian Maier Much like In the Realms of the Unreal, the 2004 doc about Henry Darger, Finding Vivian Maier explores the lonely life of a gifted artist whose talents were discovered posthumously. In this case, however, the filmmaker — John Maloof, who co-directs with Charlie Siskel — is responsible for Maier’s rise to fame. A practiced flea-market hunter, he picked up a carton of negatives at a 2007 auction; they turned out to be striking examples of early street photography. He was so taken with the work (snapped by a woman so obscure she was un-Google-able) that he began posting images online. Unexpectedly, they became a viral sensation, and Maloof became determined to learn more about the camerawoman. Turns out Vivian Maier was a career nanny in the Chicago area, with plenty of former employers to share their memories. She was an intensely private person who some remembered as delightfully adventurous and others remembered as eccentric, mentally unstable, or even cruel; she was a hoarder who was distrustful of men, and she spoke with a maybe-fake French accent. And she was obsessed with taking photographs that she never showed to anyone; the hundreds of thousands now in Maloof’s collection (along with 8mm and 16mm films) offer the only insight into her creative mind. “She had a great eye, a sense of humor, and a sense of tragedy,” remarks acclaimed photographer Mary Ellen Mark. “But there’s a piece of the puzzle missing.” The film’s central question — why was Maier so secretive about her hobby? — may never be answered. But as the film also suggests, that mystery adds another layer of fascination to her keenly observed photos. (1:23) Clay, Shattuck. (Eddy)

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden Extensive archival footage and home movies (plus one short, narrative film) enhance this absorbing doc from San Francisco-based Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (2005’s Ballets Russes). It tells the tale of a double murder that occurred in the early 1930s on Floreana — the most remote of the already scarcely-populated Galapagos Islands. A top-notch cast (Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen, Josh Radnour) gives voice to the letters and diary entries of the players in this stranger-than-fiction story, which involved an array of Europeans who’d moved away from civilization in search of utopian simplicity — most intriguingly, a maybe-fake Baroness and her two young lovers — and realized too late that paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Goldfine and Geller add further detail to the historic drama by visiting the present-day Galapagos, speaking with residents about the lingering mystery and offering a glimpse of what life on the isolated islands is like today. (2:00) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Eddy)

Interior. Leather Bar. James Franco and Travis Mathews’ “docufilm” imagines and recreates footage cut from the 1980 film Cruising. (1:00) Roxie.

Joe “I know what keeps me alive is restraint,” says Nicolas Cage’s titular character, a hard-drinking, taciturn but honorable semi-loner who supervises a crew of laborers clearing undesirable trees in the Mississippi countryside. That aside, his business is mostly drinking, occasionally getting laid, and staying out of trouble — we glean he’s had more than enough of the latter in his past. Thus it’s against his better judgment that he helps out newly arrived transient teen Gary (the excellent Tye Sheridan, of 2012’s Mud and 2011’s The Tree of Life), who’s struggling to support his bedraggled mother and mute sister. Actually he takes a shine to the kid, and vice versa; the reason for caution is Gary’s father, whom he himself calls a “selfish old drunk.” And that’s a kind description of this vicious, violent, lazy, conscienceless boozehound, who has gotten his pitiful family thrown out of town many times before and no doubt will manage it once again in this new burg, where they’ve found an empty condemned house to squat in. David Gordon Green’s latest is based on a novel by the late Larry Brown, and like that writer’s prose, its considerable skill of execution manages to render serious and grimly palatable a steaming plate load of high white trash melodrama that might otherwise be undigestible. (Strip away the fine performances, staging and atmosphere, and there’s not much difference between Joe and the retro Southern grind house likes of 1969’s Shanty Tramp, 1974’s ‘Gator Bait or 1963’s Scum of the Earth.) Like Mud and 2011’s Killer Joe, this is a rural Gothic neither truly realistic or caricatured to the point of parody, but hanging between those two poles — to an effect that’s impressive and potent, though some may not enjoy wallowing in this particular depressing mire of grotesque nastiness en route to redemption. (1:57) (Harvey)

The New Black The Human Rights Watch Film Festival (April 10-27 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts) kicks off with Yoruba Richen’s look at uneasy tensions between African American Christians and marriage-equality activists. Though Richen is careful to give voice to both sides, The New Black‘s most charismatic figure is Sharon Lettman-Hicks of the National Black Justice Coalition, who’s straight and a churchgoer, but is tirelessly dedicated to LGBT rights both professionally and personally — as in a scene in which a backyard barbecue at her home turns into a friendly but assertive education session for her less open-minded relatives. Elsewhere, we meet an African American church leader who’s against same-sex marriage but isn’t portrayed as a one-note villain; a group of young LGBT political volunteers, many of whom are estranged from intolerant parents; an adorable two-mom family hoping to make their partnership legal; and the gospel singer formerly known as Tonéx, whose decision to come out greatly affected his burgeoning Christian music career. Maryland’s same-sex marriage referendum, decided during the 2012 election, is the film’s focal point, but it also boldly digs into deeper issues, exploring why a community that fought so hard for its own civil rights a generation ago has such trouble supporting the LGBT cause. (1:22) Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Eddy)

Oculus Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan) are grown siblings with a horrible shared past: When they were children, their parents (Rory Cochrane, Katee Sankhoff) moved them all into a nice suburban house, decorating it with, among other things, a 300-year-old mirror. But that antique seemed to have an increasingly disturbing effect on dad, then mom too, to ultimately homicidal, offspring-orphaning effect. Over a decade later, Tim is released from a juvenile mental lockup, ready to live a normal life after years of therapy have cleaned him of the supernatural delusions he think landed him there in the first place. Imagine his dismay when Kaylie announces she has spent the meantime researching aforementioned “evil mirror” — which turns out to have had a very gruesome history of mysteriously connected deaths — and painstakingly re-acquiring it. She means to destroy it so it can never wreak havoc, and has set up an elaborate room of camcorders and other equipment in which to “prove” its malevolence first, with Tim her very reluctant helper. Needless to say, this experiment (which he initially goes along with only in order to debunk the whole thing for good) turns out to be a very, very bad idea. The mirror is clever — demonically clever. It can warp time and perspective so our protagonists don’t know whether what they’re experiencing is real or not. Expanding on his 2006 short film (which was made before his excellent, little-seen 2011 horror feature Absentia), Mike Flanagan’s tense, atmospheric movie isn’t quite as scary as you might wish, partly because the villain (the spirit behind the mirror) isn’t particularly well-imagined in generic look or murky motivation. But it is the rare new horror flick that is genuinely intricate and surprising plot-wise — no small thing in the current landscape of endless remakes and rehashes. (1:44) (Harvey)

Rio 2 More 3D tropical adventures with animated birds Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their menagerie of pals, with additional voices by Andy Garcia, Leslie Mann, Bruno Mars, Jamie Foxx, and more. (1:41) Four Star, Presidio.

Under the Skin See “The Hunger.” (1:47)

ONGOING

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq Writer-director Nancy Buirski’s documentary follows the short, brilliant career of a young dancer named Tanaquil Le Clercq, who came up in the New York City ballet world of the 1940s and ’50s. Le Clercq was discovered by George Balanchine, married him (as three other dancers had done before her), sparked a paradigm shift in the ballet world regarding what was considered the quintessential dancer’s body, had numerous ballets set on her by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and then, at the peak of her career, at age 27, was stricken by polio and left paralyzed in both legs. The film takes its time moving toward this catastrophe, recounting Le Clercq’s early adult life through interviews with her contemporaries and tracking her professional progress through gorgeous archival footage of her performances. Equally moving archival material are the letters from a longtime correspondence between Le Clercq and Robbins that documented two very different periods of her life: the first, when Robbins was choreographing ballets for her, including Afternoon of a Faun, and professing his love; the second, after her paralysis, when she wrote him a series of poignant communications describing her impressions of her illness and her new, circumscribed world. The film has some trouble holding on to its center — as in life, Balanchine proves a magnetic force, and Afternoon of a Faun feels inexorably drawn to his professional and personal details. We don’t get enough of Le Clercq, which you could say is the tragedy of her story — nobody did. But the letters do provide a sense of someone resourceful and responsive to life’s richness and joys, someone who would get past this crisis and find a way to reshape her life. (1:31) Opera Plaza. (Rapoport)

Bad Words Settling a grudge score whose precise origin remains unclear until late in the game, world-class misanthrope Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is celebrating his 40th birthday by competing in a national spelling bee. Yes, spelling bees are generally for children, and so is this one. But Guy has found a legal loophole permitting his participation, and the general hate wending his way from contest staff (Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall) — let alone the tiger-mom-and-dad parents ready to form a lynch mob — is just icing on the cake where he’s concerned. What’s more, as some sort of majorly underachieving near-genius, he’s in fact well equipped to whup the bejesus out of overachieving eight-year-olds when it comes to saying the right letters out loud. The only people on his side, sorta, are the online journalist (Kathryn Hahn) reporting on his perverse quest, and the insidiously cute Indian American competitor (Rohan Chand) who wants to be besties, or perhaps just to psych him out. (Note: The tyke’s admitted favorite word is “subjugate.”) Written by Andrew Dodge, this comedy in the tradition (a little too obviously) of 2003’s Bad Santa and such provides the always enjoyable Bateman with not only a tailor-made lead role, but a directorial debut as well. He does just fine by both. Yet as nicely crafted and frequently-pretty-funny Bad Words is, at core it’s a rather petty movie — small, derivative, and cynically mean-spirited without the courage of genuine biliousness. It’s at once not-half-bad, and not half as badass as it pretends to be. (1:29) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Breathe In In Drake Doremus’s lyrical tale of a man in midlife crisis, Guy Pearce plays Keith Reynolds, a high school music teacher living in upstate New York with his wife, Megan (Amy Ryan), and teenage daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie David). Quietly harboring his discontent, Keith spends solitary moments wistfully sifting through glory-days photographs of his former band and memories of the undomesticated life he and Megan led two decades ago in New York City, which the two revisit in a low-toned call-and-response that doesn’t need to erupt into a blistering argument to clarify their incompatible positions. The melancholy calm is disrupted by the arrival of a British exchange student named Sophie (Felicity Jones, who also starred in Doremus’s 2011 film, Like Crazy). Evading a scene of loss and heartbreak at home, 18-year-old Sophie has come to spend a semester at Lauren’s high school, a juxtaposition that presents us with two wildly distinct species of teenager. Lauren is a brittle, popular party girl whom we watch making poor choices with a predatory classmate; Sophie is a soulful, reserved young woman whose prodigious talent at the piano first jars Keith out of his malaise into an uncomfortable awareness. A scene before Sophie’s arrival in which the family plays Jenga and Keith pulls out the wrong piece, toppling the tower, perhaps presses its ominous visual message too hard. Meanwhile, similarities to 2012’s Nobody Walks underscore the argument that this subject matter is an old, tired tale. But for the most part, the intimacy that develops between Keith and Sophie is constructed with delicate restraint, and Doremus and writing partner Ben York Jones have crafted a textured portrait of a man trying to repossess the past. (1:37) Metreon. (Rapoport)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Marvel’s most wholesome hero returns in this latest film in the Avengers series, and while it doesn’t deviate from the expected formula (it’s not a spoiler to say that yes, the world is saved yet again), it manages to incorporate a surprisingly timely plot about the dangers of government surveillance. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), hunkiest 95-year-old ever, is still figuring out his place in the 21st century after his post-World War II deep freeze. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has him running random rescue missions with the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), but SHIELD is working on a top-secret project that will allow it to predict crimes before they occur. It isn’t long before Cap’s distrust of the weapon — he may be old-fashioned, but he ain’t stupid — uncovers a sinister plot led by a familiar enemy, with Steve’s former BFF Bucky doing its bidding as the science-experiment-turned-assassin Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, and series regular Cobie Smulders are fine in supporting roles, and Johansson finally gets more to do than punch and pose, but the likable Evans ably carries the movie — he may not have the charisma of Robert Downey Jr., but he brings wit and depth to a role that would otherwise be defined mainly by biceps and CG-heavy fights. Oh, and you know the drill by now: superfans will want to stick around for two additional scenes tucked into the end credits. (2:16) Balboa, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Cesar Chavez “You always have a choice,” Cesar Chavez (Michael Peña) tells his bullied son when advising him to turn the other cheek. Likewise, actor-turned-director Diego Luna had a choice when it came to tackling his first English-language film; he could have selected a less complicated, sprawling story. So he gets props for that simple act — especially at a time when workers’ rights and union power have been so dramatically eroded — and for his attempts to impact some complicated nuance to Chavez’s fully evident heroism. Painting his moving pictures in dusty earth tones and burnt sunlight with the help of cinematographer Enrique Chediak, Luna vaults straight into Chavez’s work with the grape pickers that would come to join the United Farm Workers — with just a brief voiceover about Chavez’s roots as the native-born son of a farm owner turned worker, post-Depression. Uprooting wife Helen (America Ferrera) and his family and moving to Delano as a sign of activist commitment, Chavez is seemingly quickly drawn into the 1965 strike by the Mexican workers’ sometime rivals: Filipino pickers (see the recent CAAMFest short documentary Delano Manongs for some of their side of the story). From there, the focus hones in on Chavez, speaking out against violence and “chicken shit macho ideals,” hunger striking, and activating unions overseas, though Luna does give voice to cohorts like Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson), growers like Bogdanovitch (John Malkovich), and the many nameless strikers — some of whom lost their lives during the astonishingly lengthy, taxing five-year strike. Luna’s win would be a blue-collar epic on par with 1979’s Norma Rae, and on some levels, he succeeds; scanning the faces of the weathered, hopeful extras in crowd scenes, you can’t help but feel the solidarity. The people have the power, as a poet once put it, and tellingly, his choice of Peña, stolidly opaque when charismatic warmth is called for, might be the key weakness here. One suspects the director or his frequent costar Gael García Bernal would make a more riveting Chavez. (1:38) Elmwood, Metreon. (Chun)

Divergent Based on the blockbuster dystopian-future YA novel by Veronica Roth (the first in a trilogy), Divergent is set in a future city-state version of Chicago in which society is divided into five character-based, color-coded factions: Erudite, Amity, Candor, Abnegation, and Dauntless. Like her peers, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), the film’s Abnegation-born teenage heroine, must choose a permanent faction — with the help of a standardized aptitude test that forgoes penciling in bubbles in favor of virtual reality psychic manipulation. When the test fails to triangulate her sole innate personality trait, she learns that she belongs to a secret, endangered sixth category: Divergent, an astonishing set of people who are not only capable of, say, acts of selflessness but can also produce intelligent thought, or manifest bravery in the face of danger. Forced to hide her aberrant nature in a society whose leaders (Kate Winslet) are prone to statements like “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” and seemingly bored among Abnegation’s hive of gray cardigan-wearing worker bees, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, a dashing gang of black-clad, alterna-rock music video extras who jump on and off moving trains and live in a warehouse-chic compound whose dining hall recalls the patio at Zeitgeist. Fittingly, a surly, tattooed young man named Four (Theo James) leads Beatrice, now Tris, and her fellow initiates through a harsh proving regimen that, if they fail, will cast them into an impoverished underclass. Director Neil Burger (2006’s The Illusionist, 2011’s Limitless) and the behemoth marketing force behind Divergent are clearly hoping to stir up the kind of madness stoked by the Twilight and Hunger Games series, but while there are bones a-plenty to pick with those franchises, Divergent may have them beat for pure daffiness of premise and diameter of plot holes — and that’s after screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor’s major suturing of the source material’s lacunae. The daffiness doesn’t translate into imaginative world-building, and while a couple of scenes convey the visceral thrills of life in Dauntless, the tension between Tris and Four is awkwardly ratcheted up, and the film’s shift into a mode of crisis is equally jolting without generating much heat. (2:20) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)

Ernest & Celestine Belgian animators Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier are best known for the stop-motion shorts series (and priceless 2009 subsequent feature) A Town Called Panic, an anarchic, absurdist, and hilarious creation suitable for all ages. Their latest (co-directed with Benjamin Renner) is … not like that at all. Instead, it’s a sweet, generally guileless children’s cartoon that takes its gentle, watercolor-type visual style from late writer-illustrator Gabrielle Vincent’s same-named books. Celestine (voiced by Pauline Brunner) is an orphaned girl mouse that befriends gruff bear Ernest (the excellent Lambert Wilson), though their improbable kinship invites social disapproval and scrapes with the law. There are some clever satirical touches, but mostly this is a softhearted charmer that will primarily appeal to younger kids. Adults will find it pleasant enough — but don’t expect any Panic-style craziness. (1:20) Elmwood, Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

Non-Stop You don’t want to get between Liam Neeson and his human shield duties. The Taken franchise has restyled the once-gentle acting giant into the type of weather-beaten, all-business action hero that Harrison Ford once had a lock on. Throw in a bit of the flying-while-addled antihero high jinks last seen in Flight (2012) and that pressured, packed-sardine anxiety that we all suffer during long-distance air travel, and we have a somewhat ludicrous but nonetheless entertaining hybrid that may have you believing that those salty snacks and the seat-kicking kids are the least of your troubles. Neeson’s Bill Marks signals the level of his freestyle alcoholism by giving his booze a stir with a toothbrush shortly before putting on his big-boy air marshal pants and boarding his fateful flight. Marks is soon contacted by a psycho who promises, via text, to kill one person at a time on the flight unless $150 million is deposited into a bank account that — surprise — is under the bad-good air marshal’s name. The twists and turns — and questions of who to trust, whether it’s Marks’ vaguely likeable seatmate (Julianne Moore) or his business class flight attendant (Michelle Dockery) — keep the audience on edge and busily guessing, though director Jaume Collet-Serra doesn’t quite dispel all the questions that arise as the diabolical scheme plays out and ultimately taxes believability. The fun is all in the getting there, even if the denouement on the tarmac deflates. (1:50) Four Star. (Chun)

The Grand Budapest Hotel Is this the first Wes Anderson movie to feature a shootout? It’s definitely the first Anderson flick to include a severed head. That’s not to say The Grand Budapest Hotel, “inspired by” the works of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, represents too much of a shift for the director — his intricate approach to art direction is still very much in place, as are the deadpan line deliveries and a cast stuffed with Anderson regulars. But there’s a slightly more serious vibe here, a welcome change from 2012’s tooth-achingly twee Moonrise Kingdom. Thank Ralph Fiennes’ performance as liberally perfumed concierge extraordinaire M. Gustave, which mixes a shot of melancholy into the whimsy, and newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero, his loyal lobby boy, who provides gravitas despite only being a teenager. (Being played by F. Murray Abraham as an older adult probably helps in that department.) Hotel‘s early 20th century Europe setting proves an ideal canvas for Anderson’s love of detail — the titular creation rivals Stanley Kubrick’s rendering of the Overlook Hotel — and his supporting cast, as always, looks to be enjoying the hell out of being a part of Anderson’s universe, with Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Adrien Brody having particularly oversized fun. Is this the best Wes Anderson movie since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums? Yes. (1:40) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Eddy)

Gravity “Life in space is impossible,” begins Gravity, the latest from Alfonso Cuarón (2006’s Children of Men). Egghead Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is well aware of her precarious situation after a mangled satellite slams into her ship, then proceeds to demolition-derby everything (including the International Space Station) in its path. It’s not long before she’s utterly, terrifyingly alone, and forced to unearth near-superhuman reserves of physical and mental strength to survive. Bullock’s performance would be enough to recommend Gravity, but there’s more to praise, like the film’s tense pacing, spare-yet-layered script (Cuarón co-wrote with his son, Jonás), and spectacular 3D photography — not to mention George Clooney’s warm supporting turn as a career astronaut who loves country music almost as much as he loves telling stories about his misadventures. (1:31) Metreon. (Eddy)

The Great Beauty The latest from Paolo Sorrentino (2008’s Il Divo) arrives as a high-profile contender for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, already annointed a masterpiece in some quarters, and duly announcing itself as such in nearly every grandiose, aesthetically engorged moment. Yes, it seems to say, you are in the presence of this auteur’s masterpiece. But it’s somebody else’s, too. The problem isn’t just that Fellini got there first, but that there’s room for doubt whether Sorrentino’s homage actually builds on or simply imitates its model. La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 1/2 (1963) are themselves swaying, jerry-built monuments, exhileratingly messy and debatably profound. But nothing quite like them had been seen before, and they did define a time of cultural upheaval — when traditional ways of life were being plowed under by a loud, moneyed, heedless modernity that for a while chose Rome as its global capital. Sorrentino announces his intention to out-Fellini Fellini in an opening sequence so strenuously flamboyant it’s like a never-ending pirouette performed by a prima dancer with a hernia. There’s statuary, a women’s choral ensemble, an on-screen audience applauding the director’s baffled muse Toni Servillo, standing in for Marcello Mastroianni — all this and more in manic tracking shots and frantic intercutting, as if sheer speed alone could supply contemporary relevancy. Eventually The Great Beauty calms down a bit, but still its reason for being remains vague behind the heavy curtain of “style.” (2:22) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

It Felt Like Love Set on the outer edges of Brooklyn and Queens, writer-director Eliza Hittman’s debut feature tracks the summertime wanderings and missteps of 14-year-old Lila (Gina Piersanti), whose days mainly consist of trailing in the wake of her more sexually experienced and perpetually coupled-off best friend, Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni). The camera repeatedly finds Lila in voyeur mode, as Chiara and her boyfriend, Patrick (Jesse Cordasco), negotiate their physical relationship and redefine the limits of PDA, unfazed by Lila’s silent, watchful presence. It’s clear she wants some part of this, though her motivations are a murky compound of envy, loneliness, and longing for a sense of place among her peers. A brief encounter with an older boy, Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), whom Chiara knows — more of a sighting, really — provides the tiniest of openings, and Lila forces her way through it with an awkward insistence that is uncomfortable and sometimes painful to witness. Lila lacks Chiara’s fluid verbal and physical vernacular, and her attempts at mimicry in the cause of attracting Sammy’s attention only underline how unready and out of her depth she is. As Lila pushes into his seedy, sleazy world — a typical night is spent getting wasted and watching porn with his friends — their encounters don’t look like they feel like love, though Piersanti poignantly signals her character’s physical desire in the face of Sammy’s bemused ambivalence. Hittman unflinchingly leads her hapless protagonist through scenes that hover uneasily between dark comedy and menace without ever quite landing, and this uncertainty generates an emotional force that isn’t dispelled by the drifting, episodic plot. (1:22) Roxie. (Rapoport)

Jinn (1:37) Metreon.

Jodorowsky’s Dune A Chilean émigré to Paris, Alejandro Jodorowsky had avant-garde interests that led him from theater and comic book art to film, making his feature debut with 1968’s Fando y Lis. Undaunted by its poor reception, he created El Topo (1970), a blood-soaked mix of spaghetti western, mysticism, and Buñuellian parabolic grotesquerie that became the very first “midnight movie.” After that success, he was given nearly a million dollars to “do what he wanted” with 1973’s similarly out-there The Holy Mountain, which became a big hit in Europe. French producer Michel Seydoux asked Jodorowsky what he’d like to do next. Dune, he said. In many ways it seemed a perfect match of director and material. Yet Dune would be an enormous undertaking in terms of scale, expense, and technical challenges. What moneymen in their right mind would entrust this flamboyant genius/nut job with it? They wouldn’t, as it turned out. So doc Jodorowsky’s Dune is the story of “the greatest film never made,” one that’s brain-exploding enough in description alone. But there’s more than description to go on here, since in 1975 the director and his collaborators created a beautifully detailed volume of storyboards and other preproduction minutiae they hoped would lure Hollywood studios aboard this space phantasmagoria. From this goldmine of material, as well as input from the surviving participants, Pavich is able to reconstruct not just the film’s making and unmaking, but to an extent the film itself — there are animated storyboard sequences here that offer just a partial yet still breathtaking glimpse of what might have been. (1:30) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

The Lego Movie (1:41) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

The Lunchbox Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a self-possessed housewife and a great cook, whose husband confuses her for another piece of furniture. She tries to arouse his affections with elaborate lunches she makes and sends through the city’s lunchbox delivery service. Like marriage in India, lunchbox delivery has a failure rate of zero, which is what makes aberrations seem like magical occurrences. So when widow Saajan (Irrfan Khan) receives her adoring food, he humbly receives the magical lunches like a revival of the senses. Once Ila realizes her lunchbox is feeding the wrong man she writes a note and Saajan replies — tersely, like a man who hasn’t held a conversation in a decade — and the impossible circumstances lend their exchanges a romance that challenges her emotional fidelity and his retreat from society. She confides her husband is cheating. He confides his sympathy for men of lower castes. It’s a May/December affair if it’s an affair at all — but the chemistry we expect the actors to have in the same room is what fuels our urge to see it; that’s a rare and haunting dynamic. Newcomer Kaur is perfect as Ila, a beauty unmarked by her rigorous distaff; her soft features and exhausted expression lend a richness to the troubles she can’t share with her similarly stoic mother (Lillete Dubey). Everyone is sacrificing something and poverty seeps into every crack, every life, without exception — their inner lives are their richness. (1:44) Embarcadero. (Vizcarrondo)

Mistaken for Strangers Tom Berninger, brother to the National vocalist Matt Berninger, is the maker of this doc — ostensibly about the band but a really about brotherly love, competition, and creation. It spins off a somewhat genius conceit of brother vs. brother, since the combo is composed of two sets of siblings: twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitars and Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums respectively. The obvious question — what of singer Matt and his missing broheim? Turns out little bro Tom is one of those rock fans — of metal and not, it seems, the National — more interested in living the life and drinking the brewskis than making the music. So when Matt reaches out to Tom, adrift in their hometown of Cincinnati, to work as a roadie for the outfit, it’s a handout, sure, but also a way for the two to spend time together and bond. A not-quite-realized moviemaker who’s tried to make his own Z-budget scary flicks but never seems to finish much, Tom decides to document, and in the process gently poke fun at, the band (aka his authority-figures-slash-employers), which turns out to be much more interesting than gathering their deli platters and Toblerone. The National’s aesthetic isn’t quite his cup of tea: they prefer to wrap themselves in slinky black suits like Nick Cave’s pickup band, and the soft-spoken Matt tends to perpetually stroll about with a glass of white wine or bubbly in hand when he isn’t bursting into fourth-wall-busting high jinks on stage. Proud of his sib yet also intimidated by the National’s fame and not a little envious of the photo shoots, the Obama meetings, and the like, Tom is all about having fun. But it’s not a case of us vs. them, Tom vs. Matt, he discovers; it’s a matter of connecting with family and oneself. In a Michael Moore-ian sense, the sweet-tempered Mistaken for Strangers is as much, if not more so, about the filmmaker and the journey to make the movie than the supposed subject. (1:15) Roxie. (Chun)

The Monuments Men The phrase “never judge a book by its cover” goes both ways. On paper, The Monuments Men — inspired by the men who recovered art stolen by the Nazis during World War II, and directed by George Clooney, who co-wrote and stars alongside a sparkling ensemble cast (Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh “Earl of Grantham” Bonneville, and Bill Fucking Murray) — rules. Onscreen, not so much. After they’re recruited to join the cause, the characters fan out across France and Germany following various leads, a structural choice that results in the film’s number one problem: it can’t settle on a tone. Men can’t decide if it wants to be a sentimental war movie (as in an overlong sequence in which Murray’s character weeps at the sound of his daughter’s recorded voice singing “White Christmas”); a tragic war movie (some of those marquee names die, y’all); a suspenseful war movie (as the men sneak into dangerous territory with Michelangelo on their minds); or a slapstick war comedy (look out for that land mine!) The only consistent element is that the villains are all one-note — and didn’t Inglourious Basterds (2009) teach us that nothing elevates a 21st century-made World War II flick like an eccentric bad guy? There’s one perfectly executed scene, when reluctant partners Balaban and Murray discover a trove of priceless paintings hidden in plain sight. One scene, out of a two-hour movie, that really works. The rest is a stitched-together pile of earnest intentions that suggests a complete lack of coherent vision. Still love you, Clooney, but you can do better — and this incredible true story deserved way better. (1:58) Four Star. (Eddy)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman Mr. P. (voiced by Ty Burrell) is a Nobel Prize-winning genius dog, Sherman (Max Charles) his adopted human son. When the latter attends his first day of school, his extremely precocious knowledge of history attracts jealous interest from bratty classmate Penny (Ariel Winter), with the eventual result that all three end up being transported in Peabody’s WABAC time machine to various fabled moments — involving Marie Antoinette, King Tut, the Trojan Horse, etc. — where Penny invariably gets them in deep trouble. Rob Minkoff’s first all-animation feature since The Lion King 20 years ago is spun off from the same-named segments in Jay Ward’s TV Rocky and Bullwinkle Show some decades earlier. It’s a very busy (sometimes to the brink of clutter), often witty, imaginatively constructed, visually impressive, and for the most part highly enjoyable comic adventure. The only minuses are some perfunctory “It’s about family”-type sentimentality — and scenarist Craig Wright’s determination to draw from history the “lesson” that nearly all women are pains in the ass who create problems they must then be rescued from. (1:30) 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)

Muppets Most Wanted Building on the success of The Muppets, Jim Henson’s beloved creations return to capitalize on their revitalized (and Disney-owned) fame. This follow-up from Muppets director James Tobin — technically, it’s the seventh sequel to the original 1979 Muppet Movie, as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew points out in one of the film’s many meta moments — improves upon the 2011 film, which had its charms but suffered by concentrating too much on the Jason Segal-Amy Adams romance, not to mention annoying new kid Walter. Here, human co-stars Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and others (there are more cameos than you can count) are relegated to supporting roles, with the central conflict revolving around the Muppets’ inability to notice that Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog,” has infiltrated their group, sending Kermit to Siberian prison in his place. Constantine and his accomplice (Gervais, whose character’s last name is “Badguy”) use the Muppets’ world tour as a front for their jewel-heist operation; meanwhile, his infatuated warden (Fey) forces Kermit to direct the annual gulag musical. Not helping matters are a bumbling Interpol agent (Ty Burrell) and his CIA counterpart (Sam the American Eagle, natch). Really, all that’s needed is a simple plot, catchy songs, and plenty of room to let the Muppets do their thing — Miss Piggy and Animal are particularly enjoyable here; Walter’s still around, but he’s way more tolerable now that he’s gotten past his “man or muppet” angst — and the film delivers. All the knowing winks to the grown-up fans in the audience are just an appreciated bonus. (1:46) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy)

Need for Speed Speed kills, in quite a different way than it might in Breaking Bad, in Aaron Paul’s big-screen Need for Speed. “Big” nonetheless signals “B” here, in this stunt-filled challenge to the Fast and the Furious franchise, though there’s no shame in that — the drive-in is paved with standouts and stinkers alike. Tobey (Paul) is an ace driver who’s in danger of losing his auto shop, also the hangout for his pals (Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez) and young sidekick Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), when archrival Dino (Dominic Cooper) arrives with a historic Mustang in need of restoration. Tragedy strikes, and Tobey must hook up with that fateful auto once more to win a mysterious winner-takes-all race, staged by eccentric, rich racing-fiend Monarch (Michael Keaton). Along for the ride are the (big) eyes and ears for the Mustang’s new owner — gearhead Julia (Imogen Poots). All beside the point, since the racing stunts, including a showy helicopter canyon save, are the real stars of Speed, while the touchstone for stuntman-turned-director Scott Waugh — considering the car and the final SF and Northern California race settings — is, of course, Bullitt (1968), which is given an overt nod in the opening drive-in scene. The overall larky effect, however, tends toward Smokey and the Bandit (1977), especially with Keaton’s camp efforts at Wolfman Jack verbiage-slanging roaring in the background. And despite the efforts of the multicultural gallery of wisecracking side guys, this script-challenged popcorn-er tends to blur what little chemistry these characters have with each other, skip the residual car culture insights of the more specific, more urban Fast series, and leave character development, in particular Tobey’s, in the dust in its haste to get from point A to B. (2:10) Metreon. (Chun)

Noah Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic begins with a brief recap of prior Genesis events — creation is detailed a bit more in clever fashion later on — leading up to mankind’s messing up such that God wants to wipe the slate clean and start over. That means getting Noah (Russell Crowe), wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and their three sons and one adopted daughter (Emma Watson) to build an ark that can save them and two of every animal species from the imminent slate-wiping Great Flood. (The rest of humanity, having sinned too much, can just feed the fishes.) They get some help from fallen angels turned into Ray Harryhausen-type giant rock creatures voiced by Nick Nolte and others. There’s an admirable brute force and some startling imagery to this uneven, somber, Iceland-shot tale “inspired” by the Good Book (which, needless to say, has endured more than its share of revisions over the centuries). Purists may quibble over some choices, including the device of turning minor Biblical figure Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) into a royal-stowaway villain, and political conservatives have already squawked a bit over Aronofsky’s not-so-subtle message of eco-consciousness, with Noah being bade to “replenish the Earth” that man has hitherto rendered barren. But for the most part this is a respectable, forceful interpretation that should stir useful discussion amongst believers and non believers alike. Its biggest problem is that after the impressively harrowing flood itself, we’re trapped on the ark dealing with the lesser crises of a pregnancy, a discontented middle son (Logan Lerman), and that stowaway’s plotting — ponderous intrigues that might have been leavened if the director had allowed us to hang out with the animals a little, rather than sedating the whole menagerie for the entire voyage. (2:07) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Nymphomaniac: Volume I Found battered and unconscious in a back alley, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is taken in by good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgaard), to whom she explains “It’s all my fault — I’m just a bad human being.” But he doesn’t believe there are such things. She seeks to enlighten him by narrating the story of her life so far, from carnally curious childhood to sexually voracious adulthood. Stacy Martin plays her younger self through a guided tour of excesses variously involving Christian Slater and Connie Nielsen as her parents; a buncha guys fucked on a train, on a teenage dare; Uma Thurman as one histrionically scorned woman; and Shai LaBeouf as a first love who’s a cipher either because he’s written that way, or because this particular actor can’t make sense out of him. For all its intended provocation, including some graphic but unsurprisingly (coming from this director) unerotic XXX action, von Trier’s latest is actually less offensive than much of his prior output: He’s regained his sense of humor here, and annoying as its “Look at me, I’m an unpredictable artist” crap can be (notably all the stuff about fly-fishing, cake forks, numerology, etc. that seems randomly drawn from some Great Big Book of Useless Trivia), the film’s episodic progress is divertingly colorful enough. But is Joe going to turn out to be more than a two-dimensional authorial device from a director who’s never exactly sussed women (or liked people in general)? Will Nymphomaniac arrive at some pointed whole greater than the sum of its naughty bits? The answer to both is probably “Nah.” But we won’t know for sure until the two-hour second half arrives (see review below) of a movie that, in fairness, was never really intended to be split up like this. (1:50) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

Nymphomaniac, Volume II The second half of Lars von Trier’s anecdotal epic begins with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recalling the quasi-religious experience of her spontaneous first orgasm at age 12. Then she continues to tell bookish good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) — who reveals he’s an asexual 60-something virgin — the story of her sexually compulsive life to date. Despite finding domestic stability at last with Jerome (Shia LeBeouf), she proves to have no talent for motherhood, and hits a tormenting period of frigidity eventually relieved only by the brutal ministrations of sadist K (Jamie Bell, burying Billy Elliott for good). She finds a suitable professional outlet for her peculiarly antisocial personality, working as a sometimes ruthless debt collector under the tutelage of L (Willem Dafoe), and he in turn encourages her to develop her own protégé in the form of needy teenager P (Mia Goth). If Vol. I raised the question “Will all this have a point?,” Vol. II provides the answer, and it’s (as expected) “Not really.” Still, there’s no room for boredom in the filmmaker’s most playfully arbitrary, entertaining, and least misanthropic (very relatively speaking) effort since his last four-hour-plus project 20 years ago, TV miniseries The Kingdom. Never mind that von Trier (in one of many moments when he uses Joe or Seligman as his mouthpiece) protests against the tyranny of political correctitude that renders a word like “Negro” unsayable — you’re still free to feel offended when his camera spends more time ogling two African men’s variably erect dicks in one brief scene that it does all the white actors’ cocks combined. But then there’s considerably more graphic content all around in this windup, which ends on a predictable note of cheap, melodramatic irony. But that’s part of the charm of the whole enterprise: Reeling heedlessly from the pedantic to the shocking to the trivial, like a spoiled child it manages to be kinda cute even when it’s deliberately pissing you off. (2:10) Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

On My Way Not for nothing too does the title On My Way evoke Going Places (1974): director Emmanuelle Bercot is less interested in exploring Catherine Deneuve’s at-times-chilled hauteur than roughing up, grounding, and blowing fresh country air through that still intimidatingly gorgeous image. Deneuve’s Bettie lost her way long ago — the former beauty queen, who never rose beyond her Miss Brittany status, is in a state of stagnation, working at her seafood restaurant, having affairs with married men, living with her mother, and still sleeping in her girlhood room. One workday mid-lunch hour, she gets in her car and drives, ignoring all her ordinary responsibilities and disappearing down the wormhole of dive bars and back roads. She seems destined to drift until her enraged, equally lost daughter Muriel (Camille) calls in a favor: give her son Charly (Nemo Schiffman) a ride to his paternal grandfather’s. It’s chance to reconnect and correct course, even after Bettie’s money is spent, her restaurant appears doomed, and the adorable, infuriating Charly acts out. The way is clear, however: what could have been a musty, predictable affair, in the style of so many boomer tales in the movie houses these days, is given a crucial infusion of humanity and life, as Bercot keeps an affectionate eye trained on the unglamorous everyday attractions of a French backwater and Deneuve works that ineffable charm that draws all eyes to her onscreen. Her Bettie may have kicked her cigarette habit long ago, but she’s still smokin’ — in every way. (1:53) Embarcadero. (Chun)

Particle Fever “We are hearing nature talk to us,” a physicist remarks in awe near the end of Particle Fever, Mark Levinson’s intriguing doc about the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson particle. Earlier, another scientist says, “I’ve never heard of a moment like this in [science] history, where an entire field is hinging on a single event.” The event, of course, is the launch of the Large Hardon Collider, the enormous machine that enabled the discovery. Though some interest in physics is probably necessary to enjoy Particle Fever, extensive knowledge of quarks and such is not, since the film uses elegant animation to refresh the basics for anyone whose eyes glazed over during high-school science. But though he offers plenty of context, Levinson wisely focuses his film on a handful of genial eggheads who are involved in the project, either hands-on at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), or watching from afar as the mighty LHC comes to life. Their excitement brings a welcome warmth to the proceedings — and their “fever” becomes contagious. (1:39) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)

The Raid 2 One need not have seen 2011’s The Raid: Redemption to appreciate this latest collaboration between Welsh director Gareth Evans and Indonesian actor, martial artist, and fight choreographer Iko Uwais — it’s recommended, of course, but the sequel stands alone on its own merits. Overstuffed with gloriously brutal, cleverly choreographed fight scenes, The Raid 2 — sometimes written with the subtitle “Berendal,” which means “thugs” — picks up immediately after the events of the first film. Quick recap of part one: a special-forces team invades an apartment tower controlled by gangsters. Among the cops is idealistic Rama (Uwais). Seemingly bulletproof and fleet of fists and feet, Rama battles his way floor-by-floor, encountering machete-toting heavies and wild-eyed maniacs; he also soon realizes he’s working for a police department that’s as corrupt as the gangster crew. The Raid‘s gritty, unadorned approach resonated with thrillseeking audiences weary of CG overload. A second Raid film was inevitable, especially since Evans — who became interested in Indonesian martial arts, or pencak silat, while working on 2007 doc The Mystic Art of Indonesia — already had its story in mind: Rama goes undercover within a criminal organization, a ploy that necessitates he do a prison stint to gain the trust of a local kingpin. Naturally, not much goes according to plan, and much blood is shed along the way, as multiple power-crazed villains set their sinister plans into motion. With expanded locations and ever-more daring (yet bone-breakingly realistic) fight scenes aplenty — including a brawl inside a moving vehicle, and a muddy, bloody prison-yard riot — The Raid 2 more than delivers. Easily the action film of the year so far, with no contenders likely to topple it in the coming months. (2:19) Metreon. (Eddy)

Rob the Mob Based on a stranger-than-fiction actual case, this rambunctious crime comedy stars Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda as Tommy and Rosie, a coupla crazy kids in early 1990s Queens — crazy in love, both before and after their strung-out robbery antics win them both a stint in the pen. When Tommy gets out 18 months later, he finds Rosie has managed to stay clean, even getting a legit job as a debt collector for positive-thinking nut and regular employer of strays Dave (a delightful Griffin Dunne). She wants Tommy to do likewise, but the high visibility trial of mob kingpin John Gotti gives him an idea: With the mafia trying to keep an especially low profile at present, why not go around sticking up the neighborhood “social clubs” where wise guys hang out, laden with gold chains and greenbacks but (it’s a rule) unarmed? Whatta they gonna do, call the police? This plan is so reckless it just might work, and indeed it does, for a while. But these endearingly stupid lovebirds can’t be counted on to stay under the radar, magnetizing attention from the press (Ray Romano as a newspaper columnist), the FBI, and of course the “organization” — particularly one “family” led by Big Al (Andy Garcia). Written by Jonathan Fernandez, this first narrative feature from director Raymond DeFitta since his terrific 2009 sleeper hit City Island is less like that screwball fare and more like a scaled down, economically downscaled American Hustle (2013), another brashly comedic period piece inspired by tabloid-worthy fact. Inspiration doesn’t fully hold up to the end, but the film has verve and style to spare, and the performances (also including notable turns from Cathy Moriarty, Frank Whaley, Burt Young, Michael Rispoli, Yul Vazquez and others) are sterling. (1:42) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

Sabotage Puzzle over the bad Photoshop job on the Sabotage poster. The hard-to-make-out Arnold Schwarzenegger in the foreground could be just about any weathered, sinewy body — telling, in gory action effort that wears its grit like a big black sleeve tattoo on its bicep and reads like an attempt at governator reinvention. Yet this blood-drenched twister, front-loaded with acting talent and directed by David Ayer (2012’s End of Watch), can’t quite make up its mind where it stands. Is it a truth-to-life cop drama about a particularly thuggy DEA team, an old-fashioned murder mystery-meets-heist-exercise, or just another crowd-pleasing Pumping Arnie flick? Schwarzenegger is Breacher, the leader of a team of undercover DEA agents who like to caper on the far reaches of bad lieutenant behavior: wild-eyed coke snorting (a scene-chomping Mireille Enos); sorry facial hair (Sam Worthington, as out of his element as the bead at the end of his goatee); unfortunate cornrows (Joe Manganiello); trash-talking (Josh Holloway); and acting like a suspiciously colorless man of color (Terrence Howard). We know these are bad apples from the start — the question is just how bad they are. Also, how fast can the vanilla homicide cops (Olivia Williams, Harold Perrineau) lock them down, as team members are handily, eh, dismembered and begin to turn on each other and Schwarzenegger gets in at least one semi-zinger concerning an opponent with 48 percent body fat? Still, the sutured-on archetypal-Arnie climax comes as a bit of a shock in its broad-stroke comic-book violence, as the superstar pulls rank, sabotages any residual pretense to realism, and dons a cowboy hat to tell his legions of shooting victims, “I’m different!” Get to the choppers, indeed. (1:49) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

300: Rise of An Empire We pick up the 300 franchise right where director Zack Snyder left off in 2006, with this prequel-sequel, which spins off an as-yet-unreleased Frank Miller graphic novel. In the hands of director Noam Murro, with Snyder still in the house as writer, 300: Rise of an Empire contorts itself, flipping back and forth in time, in an attempt to explain the making of Persian evil prince stereotype Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) —all purring androgyny, fashionable piercings, and Iran-baiting, Bush-era malevolence — before following through on avenging 300‘s romantically outnumbered, chesty Spartans. As told by the angry, mourning Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey of Game of Thrones), the whole mess apparently began during the Battle of Marathon, when Athenian General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) killed Xerxes’s royal father with a well-aimed miracle arrow. That act ushers in Xerxes’s transformation into a “God King” bent on vengeance, aided and encouraged by his equally vengeful, elegantly mega-goth naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green), a Greek-hating Greek who likes to up the perversity quotient by making out with decapitated heads. In case you didn’t get it: know that vengeance is a prime mover for almost all the parties (except perhaps high-minded hottie Themistokles). Very loosely tethered to history and supplied with plenty of shirtless Greeks, taut thighs, wildly splintering ships, and even proto-suicide bombers, Rise skews toward a more naturalistic, less digitally waxy look than 300, as dust motes and fire sparks perpetually telegraph depth of field, shrieking, “See your 3D dollars hard at work!” Also working hard and making all that wrath look diabolically effortless is Green, who as the pitch-black counterpart to Gorga, turns out to be the real hero of the franchise, saving it from being yet another by-the-book sword-and-sandal war-game exercise populated by wholesome-looking, buff, blond jock-soldiers. Green’s feline line readings and languid camp attitude have a way of cutting through the sausage fest of the Greek pec-ing order, even during the Battle of, seriously, Salamis. (1:43) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

The Unknown Known After winning an Oscar for 2003’s The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamera, Errol Morris revisits the extended-interview documentary format with another Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. The film delves into Rumsfeld’s lengthy political career — from Congress to the Nixon, Ford, and George W. Bush administrations — drawing insights from the man himself and his extensive archive of memos (“there have to be millions”) on Vietnam, 9/11, Osama bin Laden, the “chain of command,” torture, the Iraq War, etc., as well as archival footage that suggests the glib Rumsfeld’s preferred spin on certain events is not always factually accurate (see: Saddam Hussein and WMDs). Morris participates from behind the camera, lobbing questions that we can hear and therefore gauge Rumsfeld’s immediate reaction to them. (The man is 100 percent unafraid of prolonging an awkward pause.) A gorgeous Danny Elfman score soothes some of the anger you’ll feel digesting Rumsfeld’s rhetoric, but you still may find yourself wanting to shriek at the screen. In other words, another Morris success. (1:42) Elmwood, Presidio. (Eddy)

Le Week-End Director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi first collaborated two decades ago on The Buddha of Suburbia, when the latter was still in the business of being Britain’s brashest multiculti hipster voice. But in the last 10 years they’ve made a habit of slowing down to sketching portraits of older lives — and providing great roles for the nation’s bottomless well of remarkable veteran actors. Here Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent play a pair of English academics trying to re-create their long-ago honeymoon’s magic on an anniversary weekend in Paris. They love each other, but their relationship is thorny and complicated in ways that time has done nothing to smooth over. This beautifully observed duet goes way beyond the usual adorable-old-coot terrain of such stories on screen; it has charm and humor, but these are unpredictable, fully rounded characters, not comforting caricatures. Briefly turning this into a seriocomedy three-way is Most Valuable Berserker Jeff Goldblum as an old friend encountered by chance. It’s not his story, but damned if he doesn’t just about steal the movie anyway. (1:33) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

The Wind Rises Hayao Miyazaki announced that Oscar nominee The Wind Rises would be his final film before retiring — though he later amended that declaration, as he’s fond of doing, so who knows. At any rate, it’d be a shame if this was the Japanese animation master’s final film before retirement; not only does it lack the whimsy of his signature efforts (2001’s Spirited Away, 1997’s Princess Mononoke), it’s been overshadowed by controversy — not entirely surprising, since it’s about the life of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed war planes (built by slave labor) in World War II-era Japan. Surprisingly, a pacifist message is established early on; as a young boy, his mother tells him, “Fighting is never justified,” and in a dream, Italian engineer Giovanni Caproni assures him “Airplanes are not tools for war.” But that statement doesn’t last long; Caproni visits Jiro in his dreams as his career takes him from Japan to Germany, where he warns the owlish young designer that “aircraft are destined to become tools for slaughter and destruction.” You don’t say. A melodramatic romantic subplot injects itself into all the plane-talk on occasion, but — despite all that political hullabaloo — The Wind Rises is more tedious than anything else. (2:06) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy) *

 

Yee had a reputation for political corruption even before the federal indictment

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Long before Sen. Leland Yee’s surprise arrest and arraignment on federal corruption charges today, Yee already had a reputation for, at best, political pandering and influence peddling; or at worst, corruption, a label for Yee long used in private conversations among figures in the local political establishment.

It was usually assumed to be the kind of low-level, quasi-legal corruption that is endemic to the political system: voting against one’s values and constituent interests in order to curry favor and financial contributions from wealthy special interests. In Yee’s case, his recent voting record seems to indicate that he was cultivating support from landlords and the pharmaceutical, banking, oil, and chemical industries for his current campaign for the Secretary of State’s Office.

But today’s indictment — which is expected to be released at any minute, and which we’ll detail in a separate post — seems to go much further, the culmination of a four-year FBI investigation tying Yee to notorious Chinatown gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, who was also arrested today. They and 24 others arrested in the case today are now being arraigned in federal court.  

The Bay Guardian has covered Yee throughout his 26-year political career, and we wrote a comprehensive profile of this controversial figure when he ran for mayor in 2011. More recently, in September, we wrote about some of his suspicious votes and refusal to offer credible explanations for them to activists he’s worked with before.

After that article, confidential sources contacted us urging us to investigate a series of strange votes Yee had cast in the last year, and we’ve been holding off on publishing that until Yee would sit down to talk to us about them. But each time we scheduled an interview with him, starting in November, he would cancel them at the last minute.

Maybe he was aware of the federal criminal investigation, or perhaps he had just decided that he not longer needed to cooperate with the Guardian as he sought statewide office, but he became increasingly hostile to our inquiries. Last month, when Yee saw San Francisco Media Co. (which owns the Guardian) CEO Todd Vogt having dinner with Board of Supervisors President David Chiu in a local restaurant, Vogt said Yee angrily accused the Guardian of being motivated by an anti-Asian bias in our inquiries and criticism, an incident that Vogt described to us as bizarre.

Guardian calls to staffers in Yee’s office, today and in recent weeks, haven’t been returned.

Yee has been a champion of sunshine (last week, the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal gave him a James Madison Freedom of Information Award for defending the California Public Records Act) and gun control, last year getting three such bills signed into law. SB 755 expands the list of crimes that would disqualify and individual from owning a gun, SB 374 prohibited semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines, and SB 53 made background checks a requisite step in purchasing ammunition.

But he’s disappointed liberal and progressive constituencies — renters, environmentalists, seniors, students, the LGBT community — in San Francisco and beyond with most of his other votes, some of which ended up killing important legislation.

Yee voted against SB 405, which would have extended San Francisco’s plastic bag ban statewide. He also said no to regulating gasoline price manipulation by voting against SB 441, siding with the Big Oil over his constituents. And then he sided with Big Pharma in voting against SB 809, which would have taxed prescription drugs to help fund a state program designed to reduce their abuse, partially by creating a database to track prescriptions.

In addition to the Pharma-loving, ocean-shunning, oil-chugging votes Yee has cast, he has also turned a cold shoulder towards the elderly (by voting against SB 205, a bill that would make prescription font larger or, as the elderly would like to say, “readable”), the LGBTQ community (by voting against SB 761, which protects employees that use Paid Family Leave), students (by abstaining from a vote on AB 233, which would allow debt collectors to garnish the wages of college students with outstanding student loans), and tenants (by voting against the SB 510, the Mobile Home Park Conversion bill, and SB 603, which protects tenants from greedy landlords).

This year, as San Francisco’s other legislative representatives — Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano and Phil Ting — announced efforts to reform the Ellis Act to address the escalating eviction epidemic in San Francisco, Yee has pointedly refused to support or even take a position on the effort.

In 2013, Yee sided with the Republican Party nine times on key votes, earning the scorn of many of his Democratic Party colleagues. Yee even voted for SCR 59, which would have created highway signs honored former Sen. Pete Knight, the late conservative Republican who authored Prop. 22 in 2000, strengthening California’s stand against same-sex marriage at the time.

Since we ran our “The real Leland Yee” article on Aug. 30, 2011, Yee has voted on 88 “key” pieces of legislation, according to the non-partisan, non-profit educational organization Project Vote Smart, and his final recorded vote has been “Yea” 80 times. He has abstained from voting six times, and has voted “Nay” just twice.

One of those votes came in response to a bill that was deemed “unnecessary” by Gov. Jerry Brown, but the other bill, SB 376, would have prohibited the harvesting and sale of shark fins in California.

In 2013, his voting record more closely aligns with Sen. Mark Wyland, a Republican from Carlsbad, than it does with any other Democrat on the Senate, finishing just ahead of Sen. Ron Calderon, the Southern California Democrat who was also indicted by the federal government on corruption charges last month after allegedly accepting bribes from an undercover FBI agent.

Throughout his legislative career, Yee has regularly supported Pacific Gas & Electric’s stranglehold on San Francisco’s energy market and benefitted from the company’s corrupting largesse. None of this may have crossed the line into actual criminal conduct — but for those familiar with Yee and his transactional approach to politics and governance, today’s indictment isn’t a huge surprise. 

Is Newsom on the wrong side of high-speed rail history?

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As California struggles to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and meet the long-term transportation needs of a growing population, officials from Gov. Jerry Brown to Mayor Ed Lee have steadfastly supported the embattled California High-Speed Rail Project, which Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently withdrew his support from. California now has until July 1 to find funds to match the federal grants.

It’s not exactly surprised that this calculating and politically ambitious centrist would cave in to conservatives like this, particularly as Newsom tries to set himself up to succeed Brown in four years. But it’s a sharp contrast to more principled politicians like Brown, and to those trying to create the transportation system future generations will need, as President Barack Obama took a step toward doing today by announcing new federal transportation funding.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox is also taking part in the three-day High Speed Rail Summit, sponsored by the United State High-Speed Rail Association, that began yesterday in Washington DC. Its theme is Full Speed Ahead.

“Secretary Foxx’s experience at the local level as mayor of Charlotte is extremely valuable for shaping national transportation policy. We look forward to working with the Secretary to advance high speed rail in America across party lines,” USHSRA President and CEO Andy Kunz said in a press release. 

While Newsom’s new tact may play well with myopic, penny-pinching, car-dependent moderate and conservative voters, many of his allies and constituents were furious with his about-face on a project that promises to get riders from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles in less than three hours. 

Among those unhappy is San Francisco resident Peter Nasatir, who forwarded the Guardian a well-written letter that he has sent to Newsom’s office:

Dear Lt. Gov. Newsom,

I am a long time San Francisco resident, and although I have criticized many of your policies, I’ve always respected your commitment to be at the forefront of controversial issues.  Even if the issue could have wrecked your political career, you still had the guts to take the lumps for a righteous cause.

That is why I’m so shocked you would publically decry the High-Speed Rail project.  Yes there are cost overruns.  Yes the public is sour to it today, but what would you propose as an alternative:  more freeways, more runways?  Every expert in the field has already signed off that runways and freeways have expanded as far as they can.  Are you not a leading voice in demanding technical innovation in all levels of government? 

In your book, Citizenville, did you not put forth the clarion call for citizens to embrace technological change?  Did you not say that San Francisco was behind the likes of Estonia and South Korea in terms of digital governance?  Is it not fair to say that California is behind Europe and Asia when it comes to high speed rail?

Could you have said something along the lines that the trajectory the project is going is troubling, but Californians for generations to come will benefit from it.  This project must be saved, because to do otherwise will send California back 60 years.

You are a political maverick who had put his career on the line many times with such controversial positions as same-sex marriage, and walking the picket line with hotel workers on Union Square.  High-speed rail is coming.  The economy demands it, the environment demands it, and Central Valley population growth demands it.  You may get some votes from moderates in the short run, but in the long run, you have positioned yourself as the most prominent person in the state to be on the wrong side of history.

 

Peter Nasatir

 

 

 

Doin’ it in the dark

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SUPER EGO “If people want to accuse me of being a heteronormative queer assimilationist, they can come to my traveling amateur porn film festival and say it to my face!”

That’s Dan Savage — spunky sex columnist, “It Gets Better” maestro, and editor of Seattle’s the Stranger — calling me on the way to the airport. He’s flying the friendly skies for the nationwide Hump Tour (coming Fri/28 and Sat/1 to the Roxie Theater in SF, humptour.strangertickets.com), which is giving the Stranger’s notorious — and notoriously successful — annual homemade skin flick competition more, er, exposure.

In fact, the Hump Tour reminds me a little of the hilarious Sodomy Bus from Michael Moore’s 1990s TV show, filling the hills and crevices of America with resounding squeals and joyful bangs. Of course, the Sodomy Bus deliberately targeted anti-gay areas to make a political point — back when sodomy was still illegal, remember then? Whereas the Hump Tour projects handcrafted erotica with titles like Rumpy Pumpy (“an animated starter with funny, floppy dicks”), D&D Orgy (“roll for experience as the dungeon master’s fantasy game gets extremely real”) and Go Fuck Yourself (“one man time travels to save the world and fuck himself. Then things get complicated”) onto big screens in major cities with a side of popcorn. You can’t get more cuddly-quaint than that, no?

“I’m actually kind of worried about coming to San Francisco, though,” Savage said with an emphatic laugh. “Here I am, with my monogamish husband, editing this severely liberal paper and writing a sex column, my schedule full of porn, and I always feel like I’m going to be attacked for not being radical enough for SF, because I spoke out for same-sex marriage and other things.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him how much things have changed here — our overheated scandal du jour is over a queer club in Oakland politely asking straight people not to come because it’s too crowded, sigh.

So, what are the benefits of touring the country with a suitcase full of funny, irreverent, poignant, crude, and sweet stag films? “I’m at the point now where I’ve been writing about sex for so long that people mob me after each screening to say how they grew up reading me, how they would sneak my column into their bedroom, how I convinced them to try some things. And now I’ve enticed them to come see some porn with their friends and family. That’s kind of funny.”

Meanwhile, his stacked hubby has become a fixture on Seattle’s underground queer dance scene — does Dan ever hit the dance floor with him? “I usually hide in my room and write. It would never work if we were into the same things. You need some difference for that spark that makes you want to screw each other rather than just be each other.”

We’ll forgive you, Dan. Just keep the smut coming.

 

AUDION

Techno heartthrob Matthew Dear’s dirtier, funkier alter ego Audion steps back into the limelight with what’s said to be an insane visual experience for this tour. (The team behind Amon Tobin’s mindblowing ISAM tour designed it.)

Wed/26, doors at 7pm, show at 8pm, $20, all ages. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.mighty119.com

 

DIGITAL MYSTIKZ

Dark south London dubstep visionaries Mala and Coki drop in for Noisepop to school the kids on beautiful angst and swooping boom. With Chicago juke kingpin DJ Rashad.

Thu/27, 10pm, $17.50–$20. 1015 Folsom, SF. www.1015.com

 

DANNY TENAGLIA

Danny’s been spinning for 30 years and has become the elder statesperson when it comes to dance music in America. But the mixes! Oh, the mixes. He’s a master of creating a roiling, huge-room groove, bending the sound of each track toward a glimmering whole. Most DJs give you crap about how they “take you on a journey” — Danny actually delivers. A four-hour set with Nikita and John Kaberna supporting.

Fri/28, 9pm-4am, $25–$30. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

DJ SPUN

Wickedly good NYC house player headlines a Rong label showcase with local heads Corey Black of 40 Thieves, Jeffrey Sfire of Ghostly International, and — woot! — DJ Ken Vulsion, finally out of retirement and ready to enchant.

Fri/28, 9pm-3am, $10. F8, 1192 Folsom, SF. www.feightsf.com

 

RIOT GRR

This is a monthly Riot Grrrl tribute night at the bear bar. So perfect. February’s installment celebrates Carrie Brownstein, right after the new “Portlandia” season debuts, and we think how happy we are for her success, but please get on that Sleater-Kinney reunion already. With DJs Crowderism and Jimmy Swear.

Fri/28, 8pm, free. Lone Star Saloon, 1354 Harrison, SF. www.lonestarsf.com

 

JOHN TEJADA

The magic techno man from LA is a smooth, smart beast on decks, laying on the pulsing rhythms and subterranean energy. He’s at the Night Moves party with Shiny Objects and Brother in Arms, the nifty new “slo-mo deep house” collab from hometown heroes Deejay Theory and J-Boogie.

Fri/28, 9pm-4am, $20. Monarch, 101 Sixth St, SF. www.monarchsf.com

 

RESONATE

Killer broken bass sounds at this regular party, bringing Low End Theory’s DJ Nobody and IZWID Records’ Esgar to the tables, along with the heady Slayers Club crew supporting. It’s a release party for one of my favorite local basshead Joe Mousepad’s new EP, too.

Fri/28, 9pm-3am, $5–$10. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

AFRIKA BAMBAATAA

You could do way worse than to jam out to “World Destruction,” this hip-hop god’s legendary 1984 collaboration with the Sex Pistols’ John Lydon, while you’re applying your mascara in the evening. Or do the dip to “Planet Rock” when you take it off the next morning. Zulu Nation has you covered round the clock.

Sat/1, 10:30pm, $26, 18+. Yoshi’s SF,1330 Fillmore, SF. www.yoshis.com

 

Can we rediscover radical action on this marriage equality anniversary?

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San Francisco’s political establishment will rightly celebrate itself this afternoon [Wed/12] at 5pm with a ceremony in City Hall marking the 10th anniversary of the unilateral decision to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, kicking off what became known as the Winter of Love.

It was the greatest thing that then-Mayor Gavin Newsom did during his seven-year tenure in Room 200, a bold and principled stand for civil rights that started California down the long and arduous road toward marriage equality.

“It was a proud moment for San Francisco, and some of my most meaningful moments in public service,” Mayor Ed Lee wrote in a guest editorial in today’s Examiner, referring to the minor role that he played as a city administrator at the time.

But that kind of political leadership and willingness to take radical action in the face of injustice — or even the recognition during this kumbaya moment that what Newsom did far exceeded his actual legal authority — seems to be absent in today’s City Hall, which overvalues civility and compromise.

Real estate speculators and greedy capitalists are rapidly changing the face of San Francisco, killing its diversity and some would say its very soul, and the Mayor’s Office hasn’t done anything of any real substance to address the problem. While Mayor Lee gives lip service to protecting the city “for the 100 percent,” it is his supporters from the 1 percent that are acting with impunity to evict our workers, artists, and valued cultural institutions.

So as San Francisco officials pat themselves on the back this afternoon at City Hall, celebrating what was indeed an important and historic effort, our hope is that they will remember the radical spirit of that fateful moment and apply it to the pressing problems that have ignited such populist outrage today.   

Endorsements 2013

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We’re heading into a lackluster election on Nov. 5. The four incumbents on the ballot have no serious challengers and voter turnout could hit an all-time low. That’s all the more reason to read up on the issues, show up at the polls, and exert an outsized influence on important questions concerning development standards and the fate of the city’s waterfront, the cost of prescription drugs, and the long-term fiscal health of the city.

 

PROP. A — RETIREE HEALTH CARE TRUST FUND

YES

Note: This article has been corrected from an earlier version, which incorrectly stated that Prop A increases employee contributions to health benefits.

Throughout the United States, the long-term employee pension and health care obligations of government agencies have been used as wedge issues for anti-government activists to attack public employee unions, even in San Francisco. The fiscal concerns are real, but they’re often exaggerated or manipulated for political reasons.

That’s one reason why the consensus-based approach to the issue that San Francisco has undertaken in recent years has been so important, and why we endorse Prop. A, which safeguards the city’s Retiree Health Care Trust Fund and helps solve this vexing problem.

Following up on the consensus pension reform measure Prop. B, which increased how much new city employees paid for lifetime health benefits, this year’s Prop. A puts the fund into a lock-box to ensure it is there to fund the city’s long-term retiree health care obligations, which are projected at $4.4 billion over the next 30 years.

“The core of it says you can’t touch the assets until it’s fully funded,” Sup. Mark Farrell, who has taken a lead role on addressing the issue, told us. “The notion of playing political football with employee health care will be gone.”

The measure has the support of the entire Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Labor Council. Progressive Sup. David Campos strongly supports the measure and he told us, “I think it makes sense and is something that goes beyond political divides.”

There are provisions that would allow the city to tap the fund in emergencies, but only after it is fully funded or if the mayor, controller, the Trust Board, and two-thirds of the Board of Supervisors signs off, a very high bar. So vote yes and let’s put this distracting issue behind us.

 

PROP. B — 8 WASHINGTON SPECIAL USE DISTRICT

NO, NO, NO!

Well-meaning people can arrive at different conclusions on the 8 Washington project, the waterfront luxury condo development that was approved by the Board of Supervisors last year and challenged with a referendum that became Prop. C. But Prop. B is simply the developer writing his own rules and exempting them from normal city review.

We oppose the 8 Washington project, as we explain in our next endorsement, but we can understand how even some progressive-minded people might think the developers’ $11 million affordable housing and $4.8 million transit impact payments to the city are worth letting this project slide through.

But Prop. B is a different story, and it’s something that those who believe in honesty, accountability, and good planning should oppose on principle, even if they support the underlying project. Contrary to the well-funded deceptions its backers are circulating, claiming this measure is about parks, Prop. B is nothing more than a developer and his attorneys preventing meaningful review and enforcement by the city of their vague and deceptive promises.

It’s hard to know where to begin to refute the wall of mendacity its backers have erected to fool voters into supporting this measure, but we can start with their claim that it will “open the way for new public parks, increased access to the Embarcadero Waterfront, hundreds of construction jobs, new sustainable residential housing and funding for new affordable housing.”

There’s nothing the public will get from Prop. B that it won’t get from Prop. C or the already approved 8 Washington project. Nothing. Same parks, same jobs, same housing, same funding formulas. But the developer would get an unprecedented free pass, with the measure barring discretionary review by the Planning Department — which involves planners using their professional judgment to decide if the developer is really delivering what he’s promising — forcing them to rubber-stamp the myriad details still being developed rather than acting as advocates for the general public.

“This measure would also create a new ‘administrative clearance’ process that would limit the Planning Director’s time and discretion to review a proposed plan for the Site,” is how the official ballot summary describes that provision to voters.

Proponents of the measure also claim “it empowers voters with the decision on how to best utilize our waterfront,” which is another deception. Will you be able to tweak details of the project to make it better, as the Board of Supervisors was able to do, making a long list of changes to the deal’s terms? No. You’re simply being given the opportunity to approve a 34-page initiative, written by crafty attorneys for a developer who stands to make millions of dollars in profits, the fine details of which most people will never read nor fully understand.

Ballot box budgeting is bad, but ballot box regulation of complex development deals is even worse. And if it works here, we can all expect to see more ballot measures by developers who want to write their own “special use district” rules to tie the hands of planning professionals.

When we ask proponents of this measure why they needed Prop. B, they claimed that Prop. C limited them to just talking about the project’s building height increases, a ridiculous claim for a well-funded campaign now filling mailers and broadcast ads with all kinds of misleading propaganda.

With more than $1 million and counting being funneled into this measure by the developer and his allies, this measure amounts to an outrageous, shameless lie being told to voters, which Mayors Ed Lee and Gavin Newsom have shamefully chosen to align themselves with over the city they were elected to serve.

As we said, people can differ on how they see certain development deals. But we should all agree that it’s recipe for disaster when developers can write every last detail of their own deals and limit the ability of professional planners to act in the public interest. Don’t just vote no, vote hell no, or NO, No, no!

 

PROPOSITION C — 8 WASHINGTON REFERENDUM

NO

San Francisco’s northeastern waterfront is a special place, particularly since the old Embarcadero Freeway was removed, opening up views and public access to the Ferry Building and other recently renovated buildings, piers, and walkways along the Embarcadero.

The postcard-perfect stretch is a major draw for visiting tourists, and the waterfront is protected by state law as a public trust and overseen by multiple government agencies, all of whom have prevented development of residential or hotel high-rises along the Embarcadero.

Then along came developer Simon Snellgrove, who took advantage of the Port of San Francisco’s desperate financial situation, offered to buy its Seawall Lot 351 and adjacent property from the Bay Club at 8 Washington St., and won approval to build 134 luxury condos up to 12 stories high, exceeding the city’s height limit at the site by 62 percent.

So opponents challenged the project with a referendum, a rarely used but important tool for standing up to deep-pocketed developers who can exert an outsized influence on politicians. San Franciscans now have the chance to demand a project more in scale with its surroundings.

The waterfront is supposed to be for everyone, not just those who can afford the most expensive condominiums in the city, costing an average of $5 million each. The high-end project also violates city standards by creating a parking space for every unit and an additional 200 spots for the Port, on a property with the best public transit access and options in the city.

This would set a terrible precedent, encouraging other developers of properties on or near the waterfront to also seek taller high-rises and parking for more cars, changes that defy decades of good planning work done for the sensitive, high-stakes waterfront.

The developers would have you believe this is a battle between rival groups of rich people (noting that many opponents come from the million-dollar condos adjacent to the site), or that it’s a choice between parks and the surface parking lot and ugly green fence that now surrounds the Bay Club (the owner of which, who will profit from this project, has resisted petitions to open up the site).

But there’s a reason why the 8 Washington project has stirred more emotion and widespread opposition that any development project in recent years, which former City Attorney Louise Renne summed up when she told us, “I personally feel rich people shouldn’t monopolize the waterfront.”

A poll commissioned by project opponents recently found that 63 percent of respondents think the city is building too much luxury housing, which it certainly is. But it’s even more outrageous when that luxury housing uses valuable public land along our precious waterfront, and it can’t even play by the rules in doing so.

Vote no and send the 8 Washington project back to the drawing board.

 

PROP. D — PRESCRIPTION DRUG PURCHASING

YES

San Francisco is looking to rectify a problem consumers face every day in their local pharmacy: How can we save money on our prescription drugs?

Prop. D doesn’t solve that problem outright, but it mandates our politicians start the conversation on reducing the $23 million a year the city spends on pharmaceuticals, and to urge state and federal governments to negotiate for better drug prices as well.

San Francisco spends $3.5 million annually on HIV treatment alone, so it makes sense that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is the main proponent of Prop. D, and funder of the Committee on Fair Drug Pricing. Being diagnosed as HIV positive can be life changing, not only for the health effects, but for the $2,000-5,000 monthly drug cost.

Drug prices have gotten so out-of-control that many consumers take the less than legal route of buying their drugs from Canada, because our neighbors up north put limits on what pharmaceutical companies can charge, resulting in prices at least half those of the United States.

The high price of pharmaceuticals affects our most vulnerable, the elderly and the infirm. Proponents of Prop. D are hopeful that a push from San Francisco could be the beginning of a social justice movement in cities to hold pharmaceutical companies to task, a place where the federal government has abundantly failed.

Even though Obamacare would aid some consumers, notably paying 100 percent of prescription drug purchases for some Medicare patients, the cost to government is still astronomically high. Turning that around could start here in San Francisco. Vote yes on D.

 

ASSESSOR-RECORDER

CARMEN CHU

With residential and commercial property in San Francisco assessed at around $177 billion, property taxes bring in enough revenue to make up roughly 40 percent of the city’s General Fund. That money can be allocated for anything from after-school programs and homeless services to maintaining vital civic infrastructure.

Former District 4 Sup. Carmen Chu was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee to serve as Assessor-Recorder when her predecessor, Phil Ting, was elected to the California Assembly. Six months later, she’s running an office responsible for property valuation and the recording of official documents like property deeds and marriage licenses (about 55 percent of marriage licenses since the Supreme Court decision on Prop. 8 have been issued to same-sex couples).

San Francisco property values rose nearly 5 percent in the past year, reflecting a $7.8 billion increase. Meanwhile, appeals have tripled from taxpayers disputing their assessments, challenging Chu’s staff and her resolve. As a district supervisor, Chu was a staunch fiscal conservative whose votes aligned with downtown and the mayor, so our endorsement isn’t without some serious reservations.

That said, she struck a few notes that resonated with the Guardian during our endorsement interview. She wants to create a system to automatically notify homeowners when banks begin the foreclosure process, to warn them and connect them with helpful resources before it’s too late. Why hasn’t this happened before?

She’s also interested in improving system to capture lost revenue in cases where property transfers are never officially recorded, continuing work that Ting began. We support the idea of giving this office the tools it needs to go out there and haul in the millions of potentially lost revenue that property owners may owe the city, and Chu has our support for that effort.

 

CITY ATTORNEY

DENNIS HERRERA

Dennis Herrera doesn’t claim to be a progressive, describing himself as a good liberal Democrat, but he’s been doing some of the most progressive deeds in City Hall these days: Challenging landlords, bad employers, rogue restaurants, PG&E, the healthcare industry, opponents of City College of San Francisco, and those who fought to keep same-sex marriage illegal.

The legal realm can be more decisive than the political, and it’s especially effective when they work together. Herrera has recently used his office to compel restaurants to meet their health care obligations to employees, enforcing an earlier legislative gain. And his long court battle to defend marriage equality in California validated an act by the executive branch.

But Herrera has also shown a willingness and skill to blaze new ground and carry on important regulation of corporate players that the political world seemed powerless to touch, from his near-constant legal battles with PG&E over various issues to defending tenants from illegal harassment and evictions to his recent lawsuit challenging the Accreditation Commission of Community and Junior Colleges over its threats to CCSF.

We have issues with some of the tactics his office used in its aggressive and unsuccessful effort to remove Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office. But we understand that is was his obligation to act on behalf of Mayor Ed Lee, and we admire Herrera’s professionalism, which he also exhibited by opposing the Central Subway as a mayoral candidate yet defending it as city attorney.

“How do you use the power of the law to make a difference in people’s lives every single day?” was the question that Herrera posed to us during his endorsement interview, one that he says is always on his mind.

We at the Guardian have been happy to watch how he’s answered that question for nearly 11 years, and we offer him our strong endorsement.

 

TREASURER/TAX COLLECTOR

JOSE CISNEROS

It’s hard not to like Treasurer/Tax Collector Jose Cisneros. He’s charming, smart, compassionate, and has run this important office well for nine years, just the person that we need there to implement the complicated, voter-approved transition to a new form of business tax, a truly gargantuan undertaking.

Even our recent conflicts with Cisneros — stemming from frustrations that he won’t assure the public that he’s doing something about hotel tax scofflaw Airbnb (see “Into thin air,” Aug. 6) — are dwarfed by our understanding of taxpayer privacy laws and admiration that Cisneros ruled against Airbnb and its ilk in the first place, defying political pressure to drop the rare tax interpretation.

So Cisneros has the Guardian’s enthusiastic endorsement. He also has our sympathies for having to create a new system for taxing local businesses based on their gross receipts rather than their payroll costs, more than doubling the number of affected businesses, placing them into one of eight different categories, and applying complex formulas assessing how much of their revenues comes from in the city.

“This is going to be the biggest change to taxes in a generation,” Cisneros told us of the system that he will start to implement next year, calling the new regime “a million times more complicated than the payroll tax.”

Yet Cisneros has still found time to delve into the controversial realm of short-term apartment sublets. Although he’s barred from saying precisely what he’s doing to make Airbnb pay the $1.8 million in Transient Occupancy Taxes that we have shown the company is dodging, he told us, “We are here to enforce the law and collect the taxes.”

And Cisneros has continued to expand his department’s financial empowerment programs such as Bank on San Francisco, which help low-income city residents establish bank accounts and avoid being gouged by the high interest rates of check cashing outlets. That and similar programs are now spreading to other cities, and we’re encouraged to see Cisneros enthusiastically exporting San Francisco values, which will be helped by his recent election as president of the League of California Cities.

 

SUPERVISOR, DIST. 4

KATY TANG

With just six months on the job after being appointed by Mayor Ed Lee, Sup. Katy Tang faces only token opposition in this race. She’s got a single opponent, accountant Ivan Seredni, who’s lived in San Francisco for three years and decided to run for office because his wife told him to “stop complaining and do something,” according to his ballot statement.

Tang worked in City Hall as a legislative aide to her predecessor, Carmen Chu, for six years. She told us she works well with Sups. Mark Farrell and Scott Wiener, who help make up the board’s conservative flank. In a predominantly Chinese district, where voters tend to be more conservative, Tang is a consistently moderate vote who grew up in the district and speaks Mandarin.

Representing the Sunset District, Tang, who is not yet 30 years old, faces some new challenges. Illegal “in-law” units are sprouting up in basements and backyards throughout the area. This presents the thorny dilemma of whether to crack down on unpermitted construction — thus hindering a source of housing stock that is at least within reach for lower-income residents — look the other way, or “legalize” the units in an effort to mitigate potential fire hazards or health risks. Tang told us one of the greatest concerns named by Sunset residents is the increasing cost of living in San Francisco; she’s even open to accepting a little more housing density in her district to deal with the issue.

Needless to say, the Guardian hasn’t exactly seen eye-to-eye with the board’s fiscally conservative supervisors, including Tang and her predecessor, Chu. We’re granting Tang an endorsement nevertheless, because she strikes us as dedicated to serving the Sunset over the long haul, and in touch with the concerns of young people who are finding it increasingly difficult to gain a foothold in San Francisco.

Alerts: October 2 – 8, 2013

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THURSDAY 3

Storytelling tools for change The Eric Quezeda Center for Culture and Politics, 518 Valencia, SF. www.518valencia.org. 7-8:30pm, free. Come join Immigrant Nation for a workshop and community event focusing on the power of storytelling within the immigrant community, and the ways in which those stories are shared. There will be an open discussion forum, with refreshments served. Featuring two short films: The Caretaker, a seven minute film on the life of an undocumented immigrant from Fiji providing home support for a 95-year old woman who has lost the ability to speak; and The Mayor, a 10-minute film on Paul Bridges, bilingual mayor of Uvalda, Georgia.

 

FRIDAY 4

March for Elephants 733 Kearny, SF. www.marchforelephants.org. 11am-2pm, free. There will be a march from Portsmouth Square at 733 Kearny to Union Square to peacefully protest the poaching of elephants and the illegal ivory trade. This will be one of several marches held globally in conjunction with World Animal Day. Participants are asked to arrive at 10am, and can register in advance on the website. Questions should be directed to march4elephants@gmail.com.

 

SATURDAY 5

San Francisco Veterans Film Festival 2013 Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission St., SF. at eduardo.ramirez@att.net. tinyurl.com/sfvetsfilm. Noon-6pm screenings, 6-9 p.m. fundraiser, donations requested. Join the MCCLA for the 2nd Annual San Francisco Veterans Film Festival and Fundraiser and experience more than just great filmmaking. The SFVFF is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the issues facing our returning vets, especially here in San Francisco. Films and discussion will touch on the “Salute to Women,” women in combat, same sex marriage in the military and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

A Night for the Last Wild Buffalo Ecology Center, 2350 San Pablo, Berk. tinyurl.com/buffalonight. 7-10pm, $5-25 on sliding scale; no one will be denied entry for lack of funds. Come for a night of storytelling, poetry, music and videos in honor of wild buffalo. This event is meant to raise awareness about the relationship between the buffalo and native peoples, threats buffalo face and how people can do their part for this cause. The night’s special guest will be John Trudell, a Santee Sioux poet, actor and activist. Goodshield Aguilar and Mignon Geli, Native American musicians/activists, will perform. This event is one stop of a West Coast tour by the Buffalo Field Campaign.

Why democracy matters

21

EDITORIAL There’s a troubling anti-democratic trend taking place in this country, one that’s been recently reflected everywhere from the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down key provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act to City College of San Francisco losing its accreditation and being placed under state control.

Maybe you’ve only been passively following the City College story, either because it doesn’t seem to directly affect you or simply because of mid-summer distractions, but here’s why you should care: power has been unilaterally stripped from the Board of Trustees, the people we elect to carry out our will, spend our money (including the parcel tax for CCSF that local voters overwhelmingly approved just last year), and strike the right balance between training students for jobs and universities and offering more community-based programming.

That can be a difficult balance to strike in San Francisco, with its multitude of interests and needs, and we can legitimately criticize how decisions are made or not made by this often dysfunctional board (as we’ve repeatedly done in these pages over the years). Democracy isn’t always the cleanest or most effective way to govern, but we as a country long ago decided that it’s an important experiment worth trying, and that it beats more autocratic alternatives.

But Mayor Ed Lee has been all too eager to give up on that experiment when it comes to City College, as he’s made clear in repeated public statements since the decision. Asked about the issue during the July 9 Board of Supervisors meeting, including the loss of local control over vital public assets and meeting halls, Lee once again praised the move “to save City College through a state intervention.”

Maybe that’s not a surprising position coming from a career bureaucrat who was appointed mayor with the support of powerful economic interests, but it should trouble those of us who haven’t yet given up on democracy, which is the stuff that happens between elections even more than casting ballots every couple years.

It’s about process and protests, coalitions and consensus-building, trial and error. As strange as it may seem to some, the Egyptian military’s recent removal of President Mohamed Morsi, whose unilateral dismantling of democratic mechanisms prompted widespread protests, was essentially a democratic act (albeit an imperfect choice between untenable options). That’s because that unilateral action was driven by popular will and accompanied by strong assurances to rapidly restore democratic institutions and leadership — something that has not yet happened in relation to City College.

Detroit has long been one of the most troubled big cities in the US, thanks to this country’s evaporating industrial sector and other factors. But when Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder implemented a state takeover of the city in March, fully half of the state’s African-American population was denied democratic representation. And since then, Snyder and other Republican leaders have magically found the funds that could and should have been offered in the first place to bail this city out. Instead, they’ve begun packaging up Detroit for the capitalist speculators.

If we aren’t vigilant, financially troubled California cities such as Vallejo and Stockton could be next on the urban auction block, and that list could grow from there given the ability of coordinated capitalists to withdraw investments and cripple any jurisdiction that opposes their interests (as writer Naomi Klein compellingly showed in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism).

Are we being a little alarmist about the state takeover of one, small democratic institution? Maybe, but there is good reason to draw bright, clear lines in defense of our experiment in democracy. The conservative-dominated US Supreme Court has already signaled its willingness to grease this slippery slope, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, who clearly is playing the long game and will likely be quarterbacking this effort for decades to come.

As the New York Times and other legal analysts noted after the court’s latest session ended, Roberts has been carefully laying the groundwork for an undermining of democracy, even when issuing rulings that ostensibly side with the liberals, as he did in helping strike down Prop. 8.

While we in San Francisco cheered the resulting legalization of same-sex marriage, what the ruling actually did was limit the power of the people to defend decisions made through the initiative process. And earlier that week, Roberts also wrote the ruling that the racial discrimination guarded against in the Voting Rights Act no longer existed, despite aggressive current efforts by Republicans to disenfranchise African American, Hispanic, and poor voters through disingenuous voter fraud laws, scrubbing voter rolls, and other mechanisms.

It was Thomas Jefferson, the greatest advocate for democracy among our founding fathers, who said, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” In other words, we lose our liberty a chunk at a time if we don’t resist those who would trade democracy for efficiency (or in the parlance of Mayor Lee, “getting things done.”).

So the loss of local control over City College is something that should not stand, and we should all put be putting pressure on Lee and other locally elected representatives to demand a clear plan for when and how this important institution will be returned to local democratic control. If the Egyptian military can do it, clearly state education officials can as well.

In the moment: At City Hall for the Supreme Court’s same-sex wedding decisions

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Still beaming from the Supreme Court’s DOMA and Prop 8 decisions? If you’ve come down with the Monday blues, here are some great photos from Amanda Rhoades of that historic moment in City Hall on June 26.

So now what?

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EDITORIAL The scene at City Hall on Friday, June 28 could have been a video rewind of 2004’s Winter of Love: a surprise announcement granting same-sex marriage licenses; a breathless rush of couples to the civic altar, led by two brave, symbolic women (lesbian groundbreakers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in 2004 and anti-Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier in 2013), a city erupting with good will and cheer, dazed by the speed of luck and history. Earlier, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, teeth and hair and all, was making grand pronouncements, strutting about like he was mayor of the place again.

Back in 2004, the city was scarred and drained from the first great Internet bust, and still reeling from the losses of AIDS. San Francisco was a mess, but it was starting to recover. People who had been forced to move out by the city’s skyrocketing rents and evictions in the early 2000s were beginning to trickle back in, and many of those beached by the boom’s collapse were turning into the very freaks, artists, and innovators they had helped displace. When Newsom launched SF’s same-sex marriage rebellion, it was an act of great civic uplift, burnishing SF’s progressive image in the eyes of the world, while boosting the city’s self-confidence. (Not to mention its economy, which benefited greatly from the wedding explosion.)

The act also burnished Newsom’s own reputation. Previously reviled for his “Care Not Cash” policies that demonized the poor and homeless, a significant percentage of LGBTQ people among them, he was suddenly a posterboy for civil rights. Now of course, San Francisco is supposedly on the arc of an economic boom, skyrocketing evictions included, and not in the dregs of a bust. So it was with a regretful shudder that we noticed some more ominous similarities between 2004 and 2013.

A week before this year’s Pride, and right before the wave of marriage elation overtook the festivities, the city’s homeless census was released. Out of the total count of 6,436 homeless people, a figure emerged that stunned many: 29 percent of 1000 people specifically asked identified themselves as LGBTQ, and it’s assumed that the actual percentage of queer homeless people is in fact higher, due to factors like closeting and mental health. A large portion of LGBTQ homeless are youth, still drawn here by San Francisco’s promise of inclusion and shelter from abusive and rejective backgrounds.

While the city celebrates the achievement of grand ideals of equality, we are failing the very people for whom those ideals may be most valuable. Currently, Dolores Street Services, along with help from Sup. David Campos and the city’s “homeless czar” Bevan Dufty, is working towards the building of a 24-bed shelter specific aimed to service LGBTQ homeless people. But that’s just a drop in the bucket. We need much more.

Now that DOMA has been overturned and Prop. 8 kicked to the curb, there’s a lot of discussion about what the powerful, energized “gay lobby” should take on next. Righting the horrible Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act and achieving marriage equality in 37 more states are valiant, necessary goals. But turning toward the actual problems in our own backyard is another imperative.

As the Pride celebration in the Civic Center was winding down on the evening of Sunday, June 30, a group of young women emerged seemingly out of nowhere among the trash-strewn streets and beeping trucks being loaded with the party’s massive detritus. The women quietly dispersed among the leftover crowd, hauling sacks of bread on their shoulders. They made their way toward those lying on the street or huddled in doorways, distributing loaves in a matter-of-fact manner to people in need. It was a perfect reminder of the real spirit of Pride — an inclusivity that benefits all, empowered by actions on a one-to-one, human scale.

Wedding bells and Pride protests

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rebecca@sfbg.com ; steve@sfbg.com

The city of San Francisco was a complete whirlwind from June 26 to June 30. First came the historic Supreme Court ruling that ended the ban on same-sex marriage in California and struck down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. The historic decision, handed down just before the city’s Pride festivities got underway and as a rare heat wave gripped the city, unleashed widespread celebration June 26, culminating with a rally and dance party in the streets of the Castro.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriage, “is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.” According to the majority opinion, “DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.”

Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Prop 8 case, was dismissed on standing due to the fact that the State of California refused to defend it in court. That meant the previous ruling invalidating Prop 8, by Judge Vaughan Walker and upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court, was upheld.

City Hall was totally packed at 7am when the Court convened, with hordes of journalists, gay and lesbian couples, and sign-wielding activists in the crowd. Cheers erupted when the decision was announced striking down DOMA. When the Prop 8 statement came down, the room went nuts.

“It feels good to have love triumph over ignorance,” said Mayor Ed Lee, who joined Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in escorting a fragile Phyllis Lyon down the stairway. When Lyon married the late Del Martin, they became the first same-sex couple to get legally married in California in 2004.

“San Francisco is not a city of dreamers, but a city of doers,” Newsom said. “Here we don’t just tolerate diversity, we celebrate our diversity.” He thanked City Attorney Dennis Herrera and others who’d contributed to the fight to for marriage equality. “It’s people with a true commitment to equality that brought us here.”

When Herrera took the podium, he turned to Newsom, and said, “Now you can say, ‘Whether you like it or not!'” — a joking reference to Newsom’s same-sex marriage rallying cry, which some blamed for boosting the anti-same-sex marriage cause. “We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Gavin Newsom’s leadership,” Herrera continued. “I remember in 2004 when people were saying it was too fast, too soon, too much.” Herrera also pledged to continue the fight that began here in City Hall more than nine years ago: “We will not rest until we have marriage equality throughout this country.”

Later that afternoon, clergy from a variety of faiths including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and the Church of Latter Day Saints gathered on the steps of Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill for a buoyant press conference to celebrate the court’s rulings.

“For 20 years I’ve been marrying gay and lesbian couples, because in the eyes of God, that love and commitment was real, even when it wasn’t in the eyes of the state,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner of the Beyt Tikkun Synagogue. “We as religious people have to apologize to the gay community,” he added, for religious texts that gave opponents of gay marriage ammunition to advance an agenda of discrimination.

He added that the take-home message of the long fight for marriage equality is, “don’t be ‘realistic.’ Thank God the gay community vigorously fought for the right to be married — because they were not ‘realistic,’ the reality changed. Do not limit your vision to what the politicians and the media tell you is possible.”

Mitch Mayne introduced himself as “an openly gay, active Mormon,” which is significant since the Mormon Church was a major funder of Prop 8. He called it “one of the most un-Christlike things we have ever done as a religion,” but noted that the sordid affair had brought on “a mighty change in heart from inside the Mormon community, with greater tolerance than ever before,” with many Mormons going out and marching in solidary with gay and lesbian couples, he said.

Then on June 28, earlier than expected, the County Clerk started issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, plaintiffs in the case against Prop. 8, became the first of dozens of happy couples to be married at City Hall that evening, and the marriages continued in the days that followed.

And as if that weren’t enough excitement, it all happened before the weekend, when Pride festivities got underway. This year featured not only the official Pride parade and myriad performances, but also an “Alternative to Pride Parade,” signifying that a radical Pride-questioning movement has been reawakened in San Francisco.

“Have you had enough with the poor political choices of some community leaders that claim to represent you? Are you over the over-corporatizing of SF Pride? Or just tired of the same old events that don’t reflect who you are, and how you want to celebrate your queer pride?” organizers wrote in a statement announcing the event.

The parade itself, meanwhile, also featured some dissenters. The third annual Bradley Manning Support Network contingent swelled in ranks this year, due to the political maelstrom touched off when the Pride Board rescinded Manning’s appointment as Grand Marshal.

The Bradley Manning Support Network contingent attracted more than 2,000 supporters who marched to show solidarity with the openly gay whistleblower, comprising the largest non-corporate contingent in the Parade. Former military strategist Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked secret government documents known as the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, donned a pink boa and rode alongside his wife, Patricia, in a pick-up truck labeled “Bradley Manning Grand Marshal.” Patricia told the Bay Guardian, “There is something about the energy and triumph of this beautiful event … Just as the gays have made a tremendous difference with marriage, we have to do the same with wars and aggression” in U.S. foreign policy.

Pride’s legal counsel, Brooke Oliver — who resigned over the Pride Board’s handling of the Manning debacle — marched along with the Bradley Manning contingent. Bevan Dufty, former SF Supervisor and now the mayor’s point person on homelessness, stepped down as a Grand Marshal, also because of the Pride Board’s actions, but didn’t march with the contingent.

Nor were the Bradley Manning supporters the only protest contingent to take part in the parade. A group seized the opportunity to make a political statement by marching with a faux Google bus, an action meant to call attention to gentrification and evictions in San Francisco. They rented a white coach and covered it with signs printed up in a similar font to Google’s corporate logo, proclaiming: “Gentrification & Eviction Technologies (GET) OUT: Integrated Displacement and Cultural Erasure.”

Some trailed the faux Google bus with an 8-foot banner depicting a blown-up version of an Ellis Act evictions map. Others donned red droplets stamped with “evicted” to signify Google map markers, while a few toted suitcases to represent tenants who’d been sent packing. However, their ranks were thin in comparison with the parade contingents surrounding them, which included crowds of workers representing eBay, DropBox, and, of course, Google — the largest corporate contingent in the parade.

“The organizers of this anti-gentrification and displacement contingent are not ‘proud’ that folks are being kicked out of this city that was once their refuge,” organizers of the faux Google bus contingent wrote in a press statement. “The 2013 SF Homeless Count and Survey shows that 29 percent of the city’s homeless population is ‘LGB and other.’ The Castro is experiencing the highest number of evictions in the city. Meanwhile, the SF Pride Parade is becoming as gentrified as SF. This group is calling on Pride to remember its roots.”

 

Images from a big gay victory celebration

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It was an amazing day of celebration in San Francisco yesterday, from the early morning crowd that gathered in City Hall to hear the ruling legalizing same-sex marriages in California to the evening celebration in the Castro. Here are some of the faces of that celebration by photographer Tim Daw (except the Newsom image, which was taken by Steven T. Jones)

From around the Internet: San Franciscans celebrate marriage equality

All around San Francisco yesterday, gay couples, city leaders, and street revelers celebrated the Supreme Court’s rulings striking down Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. Here’s a glimpse of the how the city reacted to the news on June 26, as told by San Franciscans who uploaded videos to YouTube (video after the jump):

Our video mashup features (in order of appearance) Jay and Bryan Leffew with their two kids, Daniel and Selena; a crowd reacting with cheers as they attended an early-morning gathering at San Francisco City Hall (video uploaded by Will Kivinski); San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and District 9 Supervisor David Campos (all featured in a video of the press conference produced by the city); Cindy Sunshine and friends (uploaded by Prana Fitte); and scenes of a street-party celebration in the Castro uploaded by HiWorld798 and Elena Olzark.

Religious leaders celebrate Supreme Court decision upholding marriage equality

Photos by Rebecca Bowe

While proponents of the now-unenforceable Proposition 8 might have pointed to scripture to justify opposition to same-sex marriage, a group of religious leaders from throughout the Bay Area came together this afternoon to celebrate an historic Supreme Court ruling upholding marriage equality.

Clergy from a variety of faiths including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and the Church of Latter Day Saints gathered on the steps of Grace Cathedral on San Francisco’s Nob Hill on June 26 for a buoyant press conference held in celebration of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Prop. 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

“The lies of separate but equal have no place on this holy hill,” said the Rev. Marc Handley Andrus of Episcopal Bishop of California. “Gay marriage is marriage, gay parents are parents, and all people are people.”

“For 20 years I’ve been marrying gay and lesbian couples, because in the eyes of God, that love and commitment was real, even when it wasn’t in the eyes of the state,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner of the Beyt Tikkun Synagogue. “We as religious people have to apologize to the gay community,” he added, for religious texts that gave opponents of gay marriage ammunition to advance an agenda of discrimination.

He added that the take-home message of the long fight for marriage equality is, “don’t be ‘realistic.’ Thank God the gay community vigorously fought for the right to be married – because they were not ‘realistic,’ the reality changed. Do not limit your vision to what the politicians and the media tell you is possible.” Their message caught on, he said, because “The theme of love touched people who had stony hearts in other respects.”

Mitch Mayne’s presence was especially significant.“I am an openly gay, active Mormon,” he explained to the crowd. “I am an optimist. I think you have to be, to be a gay Mormon,” he added, eliciting some chuckling from the crowd. “As a gay man, and as a Mormon, I believe Prop. 8 was one of the most un-Christlike things we have ever done as a religion,” Mayne stated. But he said he’d witnessed an unexpected outcome as a result. “Out of this troubling time has come a mighty change in heart from inside the Mormon community, with greater tolerance than ever before,” he said, adding that many Mormons had marched in solidary with gay and lesbian couples.

Rev. Kamal Hassan, pastor of Sojourner Truth Presbyterian in Richmond, said, “I am glad that DOMA was struck down, because it did not defend marriage – it exclusivized it, and defended heterosexual privilege.” But Hassan, like many other clergy members who spoke, seized on the Supreme Court’s decision striking down part of the Voting Rights Act the day before its ruling on same-sex marriage as yet another civil rights cause that needed to be fought.

“The work is not finished – it continues until the rights of all people are protected and defended,” he said. Referencing the famous quote by Dr. Martin Luther King that the arc of history is long but bends toward justice, Hassan said, “We’ve got to be some arc drivers. We should not be as patient as we’ve been so far. We have to push in order for these things to move forward.”