Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

DropBox employees drop money for Mission soccer field, kick out neighborhood kids

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Mission neighborhood tension has never been higher. The tech fueled boom has predominantly white and Asian newcomers butting heads with Latino neighbors who are long-time residents. 

The newest scuffle is over a small patch of green: Mission Playground’s soccer field, located on Valencia between 19th and 20th streets.

A video now making the rounds captures an argument between Dropbox employees and Mission neighborhood kids. The Dropbox employees, including designer Josh Pluckett, argue they’ve already paid for and reserved the field.

The Mission youth counter that the field historically has always been pick-up-and-play (first-come, first-serve), no reservations required. 

The video has many startling moments, highlighting the divide between the two groups. Can we all just acknowledge the oddness of a Latino man asking a white tech dude to “show me your papers,” as he asks for his soccer field use permit? Later in the video, things really heat up.

Just because you’ve got the money to book the field doesn’t mean you could book it for an hour,” one taller youth tells the Dropbox employees. When the dudes-in-Dropbox-shirts explain they paid $27 to rent the field, the kid replies “It doesn’t matter, this field has never been booked. How long have you been in the neighborhood bro?”

The Dropbox employee responds “over a year.”

Another one off camera says “Who gives a shit? Who cares about the neighborhood?”

“I’ve been born and raised here for my 20 years, and my whole life you could just play here,” the youth responds. 

On the surface this is a gentrification argument: the kids may not be able to afford regular use of the field, wheras those with big dollars can pay up for use. But the incident also highlights the problem with privatization of our public spaces. 

As Mission Local pointed out, the field used to be concrete pavement, but neighborhood folks still played soccer. And damn, they played soccer, injuring themselves frequently on the asphalt. That was then. Now, you’ve got to pay to play. 

Suffice to say, less neighborhood folks play there now. 

Renting out the field for only one night costs $27 per hour, but to rent the field regularly (like neighborhood kids playing weekly would have to) costs $5 to $10 per player per week. What kid has that kind of money on a weekly basis?

The Guardian has long covered the privatization of neighborhood parks, a charge led largely by Recreation and Parks Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg. 

Connie Chan, a spokesperson for RPD, responded with this statement:

“Last year Mission Playfield was available for free, drop-in play 96% of the time. Like all parks and recreation facilities, Mission Playfield is open for both drop-in and permitted use.  Users of Mission Playfield are guaranteed a minimum of 16 hours per week of free, drop-in play and last year were able to access 4021 hours of free, drop-in play. In 2013 the field was permitted for 734 hours of free youth permitted play, and 185 hours of paid adult permitted play.  The Department has long recognized that our City has limited open space for recreation, and we definitely lack playfields for both adults and youth to play; we encourage all our park users to respect one another and share our parks.”

She also shared this image of Mission Playground signage:

paytoplay

It’s a matter of history that much of Golden Gate Park, including the arboretum, used to be free (or rather, paid by our tax dollars). In a movement that started over five years ago, San Franciscans now pay a premium to enjoy many park amenities throughout San Francisco. 

“What a lot of us think the Recreation and Parks Department is actually doing is relinquishing the maintenance of park facilities to private entities,” Denis Mosgofian told the Guardian in 2011, when the park privatization battle heated up. Mosgofian founded Take Back Our Parks following his battles with the RPD over the closures and leases of rec centers. “They’re actually dismantling much of what the public has created.”

For the past six years, RPD has sought to build more astroturf soccer fields at the end of Golden Gate Park near the Beach Chalet. This November, Proposition H is poised to take down the project, if the measure passes. The Guardian endorsed No on Proposition H, because we felt that particular soccer field in Golden Gate Park often went unused as is. But Proposition I is shady ballot box politicking.

Proposition I would ease city rules and public democratic processes around park construction to allow the rapid creation of many more astroturf fields. If it passes this November, you can look forward to seeing many more arguments like the YouTube video above. 

ACCJC dismissal rebuffed, City College goes to trial for its life in 18 days

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The courtroom saga between City College of San Francisco and its accreditors reached a new milestone yesterday, as Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow rejected the accreditors’ motion to dimiss the City Attorney’s Office’s case against the decision to close the college, yet again. 

Like Charlie Brown’s decades-long effort to kick the football from Lucy’s hands, the accreditors keep trying to get the case dismissed and they keep failing.

“This is the fourth time they’ve tried to say they’re immune (from a lawsuit),” Sara Eisenberg, lead prosecutor from the City Attorney’s Office told us. “It’s a running theme.”

The City Attorney’s Office is representing the People of the State of California (not the college directly), suing the ACCJC for what they say was an unfair accreditation evaluation. Accreditation is vital for degrees from colleges to be worth the paper they’re printed on, a process many schools go through. When the ACCJC evaluated City College and decided to rescind its accreditation, the City Attorney’s Office alleges, the ACCJC was “embroiled in a political dispute with the college,” and the team that evaluated the school were “individuals affiliated with districts and organizations” that shared the ACCJC’s political leanings.

In plain English, the accreditors stacked the deck with evaluators inclined to disagree with many of the funding choices, teaching choices, and other decisions City College administrators and trustees had made. There are other complaints related to the way the ACCJC conducted its evaluation, but suffice to say the case is multi-layered. 

In seeking to have the case dismissed, the ACCJC’s attorneys alleged communicating with the government was “petitioning activity,” that the only court legally able to discuss the case was at the federal level, and that the true liability for their decision to close the college lay with the state. Those were some mixed messages, and Judge Karnow rejected all of those motions yesterday.

We walked side-by-side with Dr. Barbara Beno, the head of the ACCJC, as she left the hearing. All she had for us was a terse, “no comment.” 

The ACCJC may not have had much luck in court on Tuesday, but Karnow issued a warning to the City Attorney’s Office as well. The City Attorney’s Office must prove there was true harm against City College of San Francisco, Karnow told Eisenberg, and the court.

“In this case,” he said, sternly, “you’re going to have to prove some harm. It cannot just be a technical violation.”

Eisenberg and her team at the City Attorney’s Office have a challenge. They must not only prove that the ACCJC violated its own rules and federal law, but that the People of the State of California suffered a specific and identifiable harm through the process of an unfair evaluation.

We asked Eisenberg how she would prove this. “I’m a little loathe to get into our strategy in advance of the trial,” she told the Guardian. “But when you don’t get a fair review of an institution, particularly a public community college, that in itself is a harm. These flaws in the process led to a potentially different outcome than they would have received (otherwise).”

“We don’t know for sure what the outcome would be if a fair process was followed,” she said. “We have a right to know that.”

Come Oct. 27, we’ll see exactly what her strategy is. And, in another treat, the once private documents governing the ACCJC’s secret processes and secret decisions around City College will be revealed as the City Attorney’s office demands discovery. 

We can’t wait.

Strange bedfellows: Moderate Mark Farrell endorses progressive David Campos for Assembly

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Political moderate Supervisor Mark Farrell announced his endorsement of Supervisor David Campos for Assembly today. It’s a real shocker, here’s why. 

A bastion of Marina district politics and part of the city’s neoliberal to fiscal conservative faction, Farrell is about as ideologically opposed to Campos’ brand of progressive politics as you can get in this city. If Campos is a firebrand with a picket sign, Farrell is a tie-wearing venture capitalist with his nose in a budget book. But still, Farrell has found an ally in Campos, and vice versa. 

“From working to close loopholes in San Francisco’s universal healthcare law to enhancing public safety and reducing homelessness by helping to implement Laura’s Law, David has proven his commitment to finding solutions through cooperation and compromise,” Farrell said in a press statement. “I trust his dedication to the public interest and know that he will find ways to bridge his progressive ideals with the pragmatic realities facing our state. I firmly believe he will be an effective leader for San Francisco in the State Assembly.”

The two worked together to find compromise solutions on a number of measures, including a deal to save St. Luke’s Hospital. But few deals were more controversial than Laura’s Law, which worried advocates for the homeless community, and Campos. The problem? The community felt that if homeless people would be forced into mental health treatment, their care and mental well-being would be threatened. On Farrell’s side, he was concerned for public safety, and felt those with mental health problems weren’t getting the treatment they needed.

There was an ideological split on how to help those with mental health problems. 

But Campos and Farrell eventually forged an agreement, allowing for interventions offering voluntary care from family and peer advocates, before involuntary treatment was invoked. Wrap around services would also be available to help alleviate the real life stressors that contribute to mental health issues, another win.

Farrell got Laura’s Law, and Campos and homeless advocates won vital protections. That’s the kind of compromise Board President David Chiu, Campos’ opponent in the Assembly race, has said time and time again that Campos is not capable of due to his staunch progressive values.

Clearly, Farrell disagrees, hence his endorsement.  

“I’m honored to have earned Mark’s endorsement,” Campos said, in a press statement. “We have worked together on a number of significant projects and pieces of legislation, from the CPMC rebuild project to small business tax legislation, and through community-minded negotiations, we have been able to find common ground on a number of issue critical to the residents of San Francisco.”

Although Chiu has passed much legislation, and brands himself as the “compromise candidate,” many political insiders noted that’s an easy political position when you maneuver yourself into becoming a key swing vote. When the board is split and you are the lone vote that could make or break legislation, people have to compromise with you. There’s a hammer over their heads. 

But Campos and Farrell are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, as far to either political pole on the Board of Supervisors as you can get. So the two talk, compromise, and make deals that help all their constituents win. 

No matter which Assembly candidate eventually goes to Sacramento, neither Chiu nor Campos will walk in wielding a hammer. The new Assemblyperson will be a freshman lawmaker, the back of the pack, as it were.

When we brought up that point with Farrell, he echoed the sentiment. 

“As a new legislator you don’t come up there with a ton of authority,” Farrell told us. “It’s about forging relationships and working for compromise. David Campos did that with me on the Board of Supervisors, and I believe he could do that in the Assembly.”

UPDATE 12:31 PM: David Chiu’s campaign consultant, Nicole Derse, got back to the Guardian with some observations from Chiu’s camp. 

“I don’t know why Farrell decided to endorse Campos, but when you look at endorsements that affect the district, Kamala Harris or Dianne Feinstein, those are what really affect the state,” Derse said. “This is one random supervisor. The deep support [for David Chiu] from statewide and elected officials is really strong.” 

The endorsement of Campos by Farrell is unique for its aisle-reaching quality. It’s as if the late, well-known Republican Warren Hellman endorsed the progressive anti-speculation tax. To that point, Derse said Chiu had an aisle-crossing endorsement as well. 

“Debra Walker is a pretty good comparison, she ran for the Harvey Milk LGBT Democractic Club and she came out really early for Chiu right out the gate,” Derse said.

Walker was appointed to the Building Inspection Commission by Chiu near the time she endorsed him. Even then, she told the Bay Area Reporter she was considering a dual endorsement.

Big soda explodes on SF, gives $7.7 million to fight beverage tax

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If the soda tax proponents brought a supersoaker to the November ballot showdown, the soda industry brought a tsunami. New campaign finance reports filed today [Mon/6] show the soda industry gave $7.7 million dollars to shoot down the sugary beverage tax in San Francisco, and no, this does not count money spent in Berkeley against our sister city’s beverage tax. 

That number is completely off the charts. In San Francisco local politics, journalists have written screeds against local tech angel investor Ron Conway for throwing $50,000 at an Assembly race, for a point of reference. It may not be record setting though. In 2008, PG&E spent nearly $10 million to take down a clean energy initiative, Proposition H. Still, $7.7 million is simply an absurd amount of money in terms of San Francisco politics, and rarely seen.

And the American Beverage Association still has the entire month of October to outspend PG&E.

“It makes your eyeballs pop,” said Sup. Scott Wiener, a co-author of San Francisco’s sugary beverage tax, along with Sup. Eric Mar. “The rule of thumb is, if you can raise $1 million in San Francisco, you’re in good shape. I don’t even know what you’d do with $7 million.”

The money spent also bests the record set in nearby Richmond. The failed beverage tax was defeated handily with $2.6 million spent against it. It’s that frightening amount that spurred Wiener and Mar to start a grassroots campaign for the sugary beverage tax a year early. The San Francisco measure, on this November’s ballot, would levy a 2-cents-per ounce tax on sugary drinks sold in containers. The money would go directly into health and wellness programs in schools and city recreation centers. 

But the sugary beverage tax proponents have only raised about $225,000 so far, which is nowhere near the ballpark of the $7.7 million mark. San Francisco is awash in carbonated dollars.

Even more staggering is who the money is from. Most campaign finance forms show a long list of donors. Maybe a few firefighters kick in $500 here, maybe a retiree kicks in $100 there. This form has one, single campaign donor: the American Beverage Association, which is primarily funded by Pepsi Co. and Coca Cola. 

What does all that money buy? Well, for starters, a whole lot of political ads. The expenditures listed against Proposition E, the soda tax, list over $3,750,000 spent with GCW Media Services, who make slick campaign ads like the one below.

It also goes toward paying those oh-so-pleasant mailed ads, you know, the ones trying to link the soda tax with the rising cost of living, and evictions? The US Postal Service alone netted $3,500 to send those off.

The Young Democrats, who endorsed No on the Sugary Beverage Tax, got a whopping $20,000 for their troubles. And notably, Chile Lindo, whose owner repeatedly came out to testify against the sugary beverage tax, was paid $812. 

And let us not forget our friends at BMWL and Partners, paid over $161,000 by the American Beverage Association so far. No wonder Chuck Finnie, a flack at BMWL, got so testy with us when we questioned claims by the ABA.

“I was a journalist for 20 years, and this is bullshit,” the ex-San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporter told us. “The gloves are off.”

They certainly are. Big soda isn’t sparing a solitary dime when it comes to flooding our TV stations, our radio airwaves, our streets, and our billboards with a straightforward message: to vote against the sugary beverage tax. 

But the real message behind that effort is much easier to see, now that we know how much money they’ve spent.

They’re scared. 

Sugary beverages contribute much to obesity and diabetes rates in San Francisco and beyond, studies have shown, and the showdown with the soda industry in San Francisco and Berkeley could ripple across the country. Big soda’s big lobbyists are running astroturf campaigns we’ve exposed in previous coverage, and this $7.7 million show just how seriously the big soda companies consider these new taxes a threat to their livelihoods.

The only question is, will their big money succeed in hoodwinking San Francisco?

We’ve embedded the campaign filing below, which you can read for yourself or download.



Project Censored 2014

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joe@sfbg.com

Our oceans are acidifying — even if the nightly news hasn’t told you yet.

As humanity continues to fill the atmosphere with harmful gases, the planet is becoming less hospitable to life as we know it. The vast oceans absorb much of the carbon dioxide we have produced, from the industrial revolution through the rise of global capitalism. Earth’s self-sacrifice spared the atmosphere nearly 25 percent of humanity’s CO2 emissions, slowing the onslaught of many severe weather consequences.

Although the news media have increasingly covered the climate weirding of global warming — hurricane superstorms, fierce tornado clusters, overwhelming snowstorms, and record-setting global high temperatures — our ocean’s peril has largely stayed submerged below the biggest news stories.

The rising carbon dioxide in our oceans burns up and deforms the smallest, most abundant food at the bottom of the deep blue food chain. One vulnerable population is the tiny shelled swimmers known as the sea butterfly. In only a few short decades, the death and deformation of this fragile and translucent species could endanger predators all along the oceanic food web, scientists warn.

This “butterfly effect,” once unleashed, potentially threatens fisheries that feed over 1 billion people worldwide.

Since ancient times, humans fished the oceans for food. Now, we’re frying ocean life before we even catch it, starving future generations in the process. Largely left out of national news coverage, this dire report was brought to light by a handful of independent-minded journalists: Craig Welch from the Seattle Times, Julia Whitty of Mother Jones, and Eli Kintisch of ScienceNOW.

It is also the top story of Project Censored, an annual book and reporting project that features the year’s most underreported news stories, striving to unmask censorship, self-censorship, and propaganda in corporate-controlled media outlets. The book is set for release in late October.

“Information is the currency of democracy,” Ralph Nader, the prominent consumer advocate and many-time presidential candidate, wrote in his foreword to this year’s Project Censored 2015. But with most mass media owned by narrow corporate interests, “the general public remains uninformed.”

Whereas the mainstream media poke and peck at noteworthy events at single points in time, often devoid of historical context or analysis, Project Censored seeks to clarify understanding of real world issues and focus on what’s important. Context is key, and many of its “top censored” stories highlight deeply entrenched policy issues that require more explanation than a simple sound bite can provide.

Campus and faculty from over two dozen colleges and universities join in this ongoing effort, headquartered at Sonoma State University. Some 260 students and 49 faculty vet thousands of news stories on select criteria: importance, timeliness, quality of sources, and the level of corporate news coverage.

The top 25 finalists are sent to Project Censored’s panel of judges, who then rank the entries, with ocean acidification topping this year’s list.

“There are outlets, regular daily papers, who are independent and they’re out there,” Andy Lee Roth, associate director of Project Censored, told us. Too many news outlets are beholden to corporate interests, but Welch of the Seattle Times bucked the trend, Roth said, by writing some of the deepest coverage yet on ocean acidification.

“There are reporters doing the highest quality of work, as evidenced by being included in our list,” Roth said. “But the challenge is reaching as big an audience as [the story] should.”

Indeed, though Welch’s story was reported in the Seattle Times, a mid-sized daily newspaper, this warning is relevant to the entire world. To understand the impact of ocean acidification, Welch asks readers to “imagine every person on earth tossing a hunk of CO2 as heavy as a bowling ball into the sea. That’s what we do to the oceans every day.”

Computer modeler Isaac Kaplan, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Seattle, told Welch that his early work predicts significant declines in sharks, skates and rays, some types of flounder and sole, and Pacific whiting, the most frequently caught commercial fish off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and California.

Acidification may also harm fisheries in the farthest corners of the earth: A study by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme outlines acidification’s threat to the arctic food chain.

“Decreases in seawater pH of about 0.02 per decade have been observed since the late 1960s in the Iceland and Barents Seas,” the study’s authors wrote in the executive summary. And destroying fisheries means wiping out the livelihoods of the native peoples of the Antarctic.

Acidification can even rewire the brains of fish, Welch’s story demonstrated. Studies found rising CO2 levels cause clown fish to gain athleticism, but have their sense of smell redirected. This transforms them into “dumb jocks,” scientists said, swimming faster and more vigorously straight into the mouths of their predators.

These Frankenstein fish were found to be five times more likely to die in the natural world. What a fitting metaphor for humanity, as our outsized consumption propels us towards an equally dangerous fate.

“It’s not as dramatic as say, an asteroid is hitting us from outer space,” Roth said of this slowly unfolding disaster, which is likely why such a looming threat to our food chain escapes much mainstream news coverage.

Journalism tends to be more “action focused,” Roth said, looking to define conflict in everything it sees. A recently top-featured story on CNN focused on President Barack Obama’s “awkward coffee cup salute” to a Marine, which ranks only slightly below around-the-clock coverage of the president’s ugly tan suit as a low point in mainstream media’s focus on the trivial.

As Nader noted, “‘important stories’ are often viewed as dull by reporters and therefore unworthy of coverage.” But mainstream media do cover some serious topics with weight, as it did in the wake of the police officer shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. So what’s the deciding factor?

As Roth tells it, corporate news focuses on “drama, and the most dramatic action is of course violence.”

But the changes caused by ocean acidification are gradual. Sea butterflies are among the most abundant creatures in our oceans, and are increasingly born with shells that look like cauliflower or sandpaper, making this and similar species more susceptible to infection and predators.

“Ocean acidification is changing the chemistry of the world’s water faster than ever before, and faster than the world’s leading scientists predicted,” Welch said, but it’s not getting the attention is deserves. “Combined nationwide spending on acidification research for eight federal agencies, including grants to university scientists by the National Science Foundation, totals about $30 million a year — less than the annual budget for the coastal Washington city of Hoquiam, population 10,000.”

Our oceans may slowly cook our food chain into new forms with potentially catastrophic consequences. Certainly 20 years from now, when communities around the world lose their main source of sustenance, the news will catch on. But will the problem make the front page tomorrow, while there’s still time to act?

Probably not, and that’s why we have Project Censored and its annual list:

 

2. TOP 10 US AID RECIPIENTS PRACTICE TORTURE

Sexual abuse, children kept in cages, extra-judicial murder. While these sound like horrors the United States would stand against, the reverse is true: This country is funding these practices.

The US is a signatory of the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but the top 10 international recipients of US foreign assistance in 2014 all practice torture, according to human rights groups, as reported by Daniel Wickham of online outlet Left Foot Forward.

Israel received over $3 billion in US aid for fiscal year 2013-14, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Israel was criticized by the country’s own Public Defender’s Office for torturing children suspected of minor crimes.

“During our visit, held during a fierce storm that hit the state, attorneys met detainees who described to them a shocking picture: in the middle of the night dozens of detainees were transferred to the external iron cages built outside the IPS transition facility in Ramla,” the PDO wrote, according to The Independent.

The next top recipients of US foreign aid were Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Iraq, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. All countries were accused of torture by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Kenyan police in Nairobi tortured, raped, or otherwise abused more than 1,000 refugees from 2012 to 2013, Human Rights Watch found. The Kenyan government received $564 million from the United States in 2013-14.

When the US funds a highway or other project that it’s proud of, it plants a huge sign proclaiming “your tax dollars at work.” When the US funds torturers, the corporate media bury the story, or worse, don’t report it at all.

 

3. TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP, A SECRET DEAL TO HELP CORPORATIONS

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is like the Stop Online Piracy Act on steroids, yet few have heard of it, let alone enough people to start an Internet campaign to topple it. Despite details revealed by Wikileaks, the nascent agreement has been largely ignored by the corporate media.

Even the world’s elite are out of the loop: Only three officials in each of the 12 signatory countries have access to this developing trade agreement that potentially impacts over 800 million people.

The agreement touches on intellectual property rights and the regulation of private enterprise between nations, and is open to negotiation and viewing by 600 “corporate advisors” from big oil, pharmaceutical, to entertainment companies.

Meanwhile, more than 150 House Democrats signed a letter urging President Obama to halt his efforts to fast-track negotiations, and to allow Congress the ability to weigh in now on an agreement only the White House has seen.

Many criticized the secrecy surrounding the TPP, arguing the real world consequences may be grave. Doctors Without Borders wrote, “If harmful provisions in the US proposals for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement are not removed before it is finalized, this trade deal will have a real cost in human lives.”

 

4. CORPORATE INTERNET PROVIDERS THREATEN NET NEUTRALITY

This entry demonstrates the nuance in Project Censored’s media critique. Verizon v. FCC may weaken Internet regulation, which Electronic Frontier Foundation and other digital freedom advocates allege would create a two-tiered Internet system. Under the FCC’s proposed new rules, corporate behemoths such as Comcast or Verizon could charge entities to use faster bandwidth, which advocates say would create financial barriers to free speech and encourage censorship.

Project Censored alleges corporate outlets such as The New York Times and Forbes “tend to highlight the business aspects of the case, skimming over vital particulars affecting the public and the Internet’s future.”

Yet this is a case where corporate media were circumvented by power of the viral web. John Oliver, comedian and host of Last Week Tonight on HBO, recently gave a stirring 13-minute treatise on the importance of stopping the FCC’s new rules, resulting in a flood of comments to the FCC defending a more open Internet. The particulars of net neutrality have since been thoroughly reported in the corporate media.

But, as Project Censored notes, mass media coverage only came after the FCC’s rule change was proposed, giving activists little time to right any wrongs. It’s a subtle but important distinction.

 

5. BANKERS REMAIN ON WALL STREET DESPITE MAJOR CRIMES

Bankers responsible for rigging municipal bonds and bilking billions of dollars from American cities have largely escaped criminal charges. Every day in the US, low-level drug dealers get more prison time than these scheming bankers who, while working for GE Capital, allegedly skimmed money from public schools, hospitals, libraries, and nursing homes, according to Rolling Stone.

Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg, and Peter Grimm were dubbed a part of the “modern American mafia,” by the magazine’s Matt Taibbi, one of the few journalists to consistently cover their trial. Meanwhile, disturbingly uninformed cable media “journalists” defended the bankers, saying they shouldn’t be prosecuted for “failure,” as if cheating vulnerable Americans were a bad business deal.

“Had the US authorities decided to press criminal charges,” Assistant US Attorney General Lanny Breuer told Taibbi. “HSBC (a British bank) would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the US, the future of the institution would have been under threat, and the entire banking system would have been destabilized.”

Over the course of decades, the nation’s bankers transformed into the modern mafioso. Unfortunately, our modern media changed as well, and are no longer equipped to tackle systemic, complex stories.

 

6. THE “DEEP STATE” OF PLUTOCRATIC CONTROL

What’s frightening about the puppeteers who pull the strings of our national government is not how hidden they are, but how hidden they are not.

From defense contractors to multinational corporations, a wealthy elite using an estimated $32 trillion in tax-exempt offshore havens are the masters of our publicly elected officials. In an essay written for Moyer and Company by Mike Lofgren, a congressional staffer of 28 years focused on national security, this cabal of wealthy interests comprise our nation’s “Deep State.”

As Lofgren writes for Moyers, “The Deep State is the big story of our time. It is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, the financialization and deindustrialization of the American economy, the rise of a plutocratic social structure and political dysfunction.”

This is a story that truly challenges the mass media, which do report on the power of wealth, in bits and pieces. But although the cabal’s disparate threads are occasionally pulled, the spider’s web of corruption largely escapes corporate media’s larger narrative.

The myopic view censors the full story as surely as outright silence would. The problem deepens every year.

“There are now 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances — a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government,” Lofgren wrote, of a group that together would “occupy the floor space of almost three Pentagons — about 17 million square feet.”

 

7. FBI DISMISSES PLOT AGAINST OCCUPY AS NSA CRACKS DOWN ON DISSENT

Nationally, law enforcement worked in the background to monitor and suppress the Occupy Wall Street movement, a story the mainstream press has shown little interest in covering.

A document obtained in FOIA request by David Lindorff of Who, What WHY from the FBI office in Houston,, Texas revealed an alleged assassination plot targeting a Occupy group, which the FBI allegedly did not warn the movement about.

From the redacted document: “An identified [DELETED] as of October planned to engage in sniper attacks against protestors (sic) in Houston, Texas if deemed necessary. An identified [DELETED] had received intelligence that indicated the protesters in New York and Seattle planned similar protests in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin, Texas. [DELETED] planned to gather intelligence against the leaders of the protest groups and obtain photographs, then formulate a plan to kill the leadership via suppressed sniper rifles.”

Lindorff confirmed the document’s veracity with the FBI. When contacted by Lindorff, Houston Police were uninterested, and seemingly (according to Lindorff), uninformed.

In Arizona, law enforcement exchanged information of possible Occupy efforts with JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, according to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy titled Dissent on Terror. The CEO meant to evade possible protests, and local law enforcement was happy to help.

Law enforcement’s all-seeing eyes broadened through the national rise of “fusion centers” over the past decade, hubs through which state agencies exchange tracking data on groups exercising free speech. And as we share, “like,” and “check-in” online with ever-more frequency, that data becomes more robust by the day.

 

8. IGNORING EXTREME WEATHER CONNECTION TO GLOBAL WARMING

In what can only be responded to with a resounding “duh,” news analyses have found mainstream media frequently report on severe weather changes without referring to global warming as the context or cause, even as a question.

As Project Censored notes, a study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found extreme weather events in 2013 spurred 450 broadcast news segments, only 16 of which even mentioned climate change. National news outlets have fallen on the job as well, as The New York Times recently shuttered its environmental desk and its Green blog, reducing the number of reporters exclusively chasing down climate change stories.

Unlike many journalists, ordinary people often recognize the threat of our warming planet. Just as this story on Project Censored went to press, over 400,000 protested in the People’s Climate March in New York City alone, while simultaneous protests erupted across the globe, calling for government, corporate, and media leaders to address the problem.

“There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today,” Graca Machel, the widow of former South African President Nelson Mandela, told the United Nations conference on climate change. “The scale is much more than we have achieved.”

 

9. US MEDIA HYPOCRISY IN COVERING UKRAINE CRISIS

The US battle with Russia over Ukraine’s independence is actually an energy pipeline squabble, a narrative lost by mainstream media coverage, Project Censored alleges.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has drawn fire from the media as a tyrant, without complex analyses of his country’s socio-economic interests, according to Project Censored. As the media often do, they have turned the conflict into a cult of personality, talking up Putin’s shirtless horseback riding and his hard-line style with deftness missing from their political analysis.

As The Guardian UK’s Nafeez Ahmed reported, a recent US State Department-sponsored report noted “Ukraine’s strategic location between the main energy producers (Russia and the Caspian Sea area) and consumers in the Eurasian region, its large transit network, and its available underground gas storage capacities,” highlighting its economic importance to the US and its allies.

 

10. WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION SUPPRESSES REPORT ON IRAQ IMPACTS

The United States’ legacy in Iraq possibly goes beyond death to a living nightmare of cancer and birth defects, due to the military’s use of depleted uranium weapons, a World Health Organization study found. Iraq is poisoned. Much of the report’s contents were leaked to the BBC during its creation. But the release of the report, completed in 2012 by WHO, has stalled. Critics allege the US is deliberately blocking its release, masking a damning Middle East legacy rivaling the horrors of Agent Orange in Vietnam. But Iraq will never forget the US intervention, as mothers cradle babies bearing scars obtained in the womb, the continuing gifts of our invasion.

New protections for abortion seekers proposed, but may face rival efforts

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After a years-long saga of trying to regulate the loudest and rudest protesters outside clinics that offer abortions, a new law may finally protect patients and employees of Planned Parenthood in San Francisco from harassment. Sup. David Campos introduced a resolution yesterday [Tues/23] that would refine his previous legislation creating a buffer zone outside reproductive healthcare centers, the latest in legal maneuverings to protect free speech while sparing medical care-seekers from harm.

Although San Francisco houses only one of Planned Parenthood’s 22 health centers in Northern California, the opposition to its Valencia Street location stands out. “In San Francisco, there are particularly harassing protesters, a small but vocal group,” Adrienne Bousian, the vice president of public affairs of Planned Parenthood Northern California, told us. “They film women and men walking down the street, shout insults, and follow women. They try to block access with their arms and get in front of the door.”

It’s the same old song, as pro-life protesters tout the sins of abortion to anyone who will listen. Sometimes, the people they harass are customers seeking STD checks or other health care. Sometimes the people they harass are simply neighbors. Large photographs of fetuses and bloody remains greet passers-by. When former Guardian staff writer Caitlin Donohue visited last year, she cataloged clinic-protester Erika Hathaway’s gem arguments.

“Don’t kill your baby! If it could talk it would say ‘Mommy, don’t judge me,'” she shouted. Hathaway is one of the protester mainstays. Another favored tactic of Hathaway’s: playing Christmas music on full blast, to remind those inside the Planned Parenthood that “Christ was a baby once.”

As Bousian told us, sometimes women facing the life-changing choice of abortion have to face down the “gauntlet” of these protesters, and their frightening photos. One can only imagine how scarring that could be, while already facing a decision that could color the rest of one’s life.

abortion protesters

Outside the Planned Parenthood, last year. GUARDIAN PHOTO BY CAITLIN DONOHUE.

Campos’ “buffer zone” resolution last year was intended to end “the gauntlet” of harassment, establishing a 25-foot space in front of reproductive healthcare clinics protesters were barred from crossing. But after the US Supreme Court knocked down a similar buffer zone law in Massachusetts, the city got skittish over enforcing the law, and the protesters came back in earnest.

Now, it’s time for another crack at removing the emboldened protesters. The new resolution calls for a 25-foot zone around a reproductive health care facility that protesters cannot follow or harass people within, a tweak that may make all the difference. It will also bar anyone from impeding entry into a reproductive health care facility, and bar use of amplified sound or shouting within 50 feet (with reasonable exceptions, like car horns).

Perhaps this new resolution was what tipped Planned Parenthood into endorsing Campos’ candidacy for the 17th California Assembly District. Notably, it wasn’t the nonprofit itself that endorsed him, but rather their political arm, the Planned Parenthood Northern California Action Fund. Bousian, putting on her political hat, said the action fund felt Campos distinguished himself in defending women’s rights, including with this resolution.

“We want California to lead the way as a state expanding access,” she said. “That’s our goal.”

Still, an open question lingers: What will become of Mayor Ed Lee and Sup. Malia Cohen’s planned resolution to protect healthcare providers from harassment? Normally, a resolution like this would be a slam-dunk at the Board of Supervisors. But Lee and Cohen’s resolution mirrors Campos’, and was announced earlier this month. Some political insiders indicated to us that the mayor may be open to merging his efforts with Campos, but Campos’ office said it received no word from the mayor yet. And with Cohen’s District 10 supervisorial race and Campos’ Assembly race giving both cause to want to take ownership on this issue, there’s a chance for political strife and gamesmanship along the way.

Hopefully, political squabbles and posturing won’t postpone needed efforts to protect women and other healthcare seekers.

“San Francisco should be leading the way,” Bousian told us.

Yes, it should.

Go west

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joe@sfbg.com

FEAST: WESTERN NEIGHBORHOODS Vacations are expensive. But if you’re a Bay Area cat hankering for new eats to explore, check out a magical, far-off foggy place many call the Outerlands: San Francisco’s oft-ignored Inner and Outer Richmond and Sunset neighborhoods. (And yes, there’s even a restaurant called Outerlands at 4001 Judah, serving local, organic food.)

For our staycation food tour, stretch and saunter sleepily down Clement Street. The sun is rising and the fog is low, but Toy Boat Dessert Café (401 Clement) is open early. Your creamy cup of coffee is accompanied by a cavalcade of toys, from Pee-wee Herman’s Chairy to Buzz Lightyear. The joint is a people-watching feast, as elderly couples canoodle and tiny tykes buck on the café’s mechanical horse.

Perhaps you’re a bang-flipping Missionite. For the trendy at heart, coast your fixie to the Outer Sunset’s Andytown Coffee Roasters. (3655 Lawton) The wood panel-meets-Apple Store look appeals to laptop-workers, but delish plum mint scones crumble tastily and the signature Snowy Plover (coffee soda mix) will furiously spin anyone’s bike legs ’round.

Duly caffeinated, jitter on to breakfast. The fancy route leads to Eats (50 Clement). Chomp the fluffiest waffles in the Richmond, or order any skillet-bound breakfast and chew slowly, savoring every spicy sensation.

Should your stomach growl for bigger portions, the Irving Street Café (716 Irving) serves up mighty omelets and keeps the coffee pouring. It’s tastier than most greasy-spoon diners, and one’s hunger is easily conquered for under ten greenbacks. The old-school atmosphere (and signed Chris Isaak poster) encourages one to hum rock ‘n’ roll.

As the morning fog burns off and that lunch bell clangs, head to Uncle Boy’s (245 Balboa). Any ’80s-’90s hip-hoppers will bop right at home here, as the chefs flip their heads with a well-met “yo.” Check out the cool Niners schwag as your Pool Boy burger juicily bursts under the slatherings of chipotle sauce. The garden patties handily convert die-hard meat lovers.

Not feelin’ burgers? Drown your tortilla desires in the Taco Shop at Underdogs (1824 Irving), where the fish tacos — imported from Nick’s on Polk — perfectly complement all the beer you’re about to chug.

Snacky lunch alternatives await at Wing Lee Bakery (503 Clement) and Good Luck Dim Sum (736 Clement), which offer perfect contrasting su bao options. Wing Lee’s savory pork bun sports some BBQ tang, whereas Good Luck’s buns are fluffy and sweet.

As evening hits, Karl the Fog slowly caresses the ‘hood again. Hop the 31 Balboa to 19th Avenue, where the unassuming Han Il Kwan (1802 Balboa) awaits. Mind your drool as the waitress slices succulent beef from its bone for your stew. Hankering for Russian fare? Head to Cinderella Bakery & Café, though the delicious stuffed Chicken Cutlet a la Kiev isn’t the star (the side of freshly baked rye bread steals the show).

The chill late night begs for warm dessert. Follow the intoxicating sweet scent to Genki Ramen (3944 Clement) for crepes, or nurse an after dinner drink at Tee Off Bar (3129 Clement) and play Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. With a wee bit o’luck, perhaps you’ll find an Irish band furiously fiddling at Plough & Stars (116 Clement), where Kilkenny cream ale offers a lighter alternative to heavy stouts.

This tour is only a sampling, and many local favorites await (we didn’t even get to any sushi!). But for non-Richmond or Sunset dwellers, sailing into the misty sea-soaked western neighborhoods can be like landing in an entirely different city where hundreds of new tasty eateries await. Just remember to wear your hoodie. *

 

Golden Gate unions to strike this week, stall commutes

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The Golden Gate Bridge Labor coalition announced it will strike this week, impacting commutes via bridge or ferries, and perhaps both.

Thirteen unions in the Golden Gate Highway and Transportation District are members of the coalition, whose talks with the district stalled today, representatives told us.

It is still unclear which unions in the coalition will strike, but commutes will definitely be affected, Alex Tonisson, co-chair of the Golden Gate Bridge Labor Coalition said.

“There’ll be an announcement in a day or two,” he told us. As to which unions specifically would strike, “I can’t say exactly who it will be right now, to be honest.”

“None of us wants to be on strike,” said Michelle Shalagin, currently a member of LiUNA!, Local 261 (Laborers) working on landscaping, in a press statement. “But what choice do we have? The District has not moved, and the raises they are offering are completely wiped out by the high cost of the healthcare premiums they are proposing.”

The district and the coalition are deadlocked over healthcare proposals. As we reported last week, the unions maintain that the cost of living in the Bay Area has skyrocketed. Housing prices are up, gas prices are up, everything is up. Though the district’s offer includes a 3 percent wage increase next year, and further increases in subsequent years, the new health care plan would cost 2 percent of workers’ wages, largely nullifying any increases.

The district posted a full response to arguments against their healthcare offer at its blog. The district argues the workers are paid higher than their counterparts in other districts. The unions say the other districts don’t have to contend with local cost of living burdens, warnings which representatives said are largely falling on deaf ears. 

“The last strike was purposefully giving [the district] a warning another strike would happen,” Tonisson said. He was referring to last week’s iron workers strike, which garnered a bit of media attention, but for the most part did not move the needle on their contract negotiations. The two parties are still stalled on healthcare talks, despite the first “warning shot” picket line.

“This was their reaction,” Tonisson said. “The sense I had is they want us to strike.”

The impact of a strike depends on which of the 13 unions participate. Toll taking is now automated on the Golden Gate, but the unions still have options to affect commuters and garner attention. Workers changing the lanes on the bridge could snarl traffic during commutes, Golden Gate Transit drivers could strand bus-goers, and ferry workers could strand folks by the water.

“Imagine the backup on Lombard or Van Ness,” Tonisson said, referring to lane changers on strike. “It wouldn’t shut the bridge down entirely but it would make a mess of things.”

The real mess, though, is the state of the workers’ health care. But who’s willing to bet the public cares more about the snarled traffic than a thriving a middle class?

Below we’ve embedded a flyer from the union coalition, demonstrating its argument about cost of living and health care.



Deadly gamble

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joe@sfbg.com

As BART management and unions were locked in dysfunctional contract negotiations that would result in two strikes and two deaths last year, the district and the media scoffed at workers safety concerns and waged a media campaign demonizing the unions. Now, a new report commissioned by the district calls that strategy a horrible mistake.

The report from independent investigators Agreement Dynamics Inc., “Bay Area Rapid Transit Collective Bargaining Report and Recommendations,” reveals BART management perceived the Bay Area as anti-union. This guided its decision to hire Tom Hock as a contract negotiator and adopt a union-bashing public relations strategy that was then amplified by most local mainstream media outlets.

“In interviews, Tom Hock said he believed the strike would be very short and the unions would have to come back and reach an agreement,” the report, which was based on more than 200 hours of interviews of 60 BART employees, managers, and contractors, found. “He said media reports also heavily favored the management perspective.”

The San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News attacked BART’s workers in their news and editorial pages, stoking the flames of anger. “As to union claims that this is all about safety — how stupid do they think the public is?” the Merc opined in a July 2013 editorial. The Chronicle struck a similar tone in its Oct. 18 editorial, blaming workers and writing “the walkout is the height of irresponsibility.”

The unions warned management not to run the trains during the second strike, but those safety warnings went unheeded. A contract deal was reached only after two men working on the tracks during the strike, Laurence Daniels and Christopher Sheppard, were accidentally run down during what was later revealed as a replacement driver training exercise — warnings be damned.

“Some in management believed they had a good media strategy that put the public on their side,” the report found. Therefore, “the public was angry with the unions for demanding too much in their contracts.”

BART approved a contract from big-time public relations firm Singer Associates in April last year. Sam Singer and his firm are well-known for pulling the strings of local journalists and using scorched-earth tactics. As a result, articles highlighted riders woes and selected employee salaries while discounting safety and other concerns raised by workers.

But BART management and its board had longstanding CAL-OSHA violations, some of which were the subject of labor negotiations leading up to the strike. Notably, BART’s now-defunct “simple approval” policy, by which workers verbally notified management they would be working on the tracks, was one that both workers and state regulators long urged the district to change. The two deaths were linked to that controversial practice, which BART has since ended (see “Tragedy follows strike,” 10/23/13).

State regulators have fined BART for that fatal misjudgment and a final report from the National Transportation Safety Board is expected in the coming months. Only The Nation, East Bay Express, and Bay Guardian covered BART safety concerns with any depth or gravity before the two workers’ deaths. It’s hard to tell who led the dance — did the mainstream media embolden management, or did management lead on the media? Either way, safety was not a priority for BART managers during negotiations.

“Key points made about safety in bargaining sessions, as reported to us, fell on deaf ears,” the report’s authors noted. “Management thought the unions were just posturing, and the unions thought management was refusing to engage.”

The unions, the report found, “voiced frustration that they have raised these issues repeatedly, and management was not responsive…The ‘simple approval’ policy was seen as indicative of management’s unwillingness to deal with safety concerns until two workers were killed during the second strike in 2013.”

BART’s next contract negotiation is set for 2017. The transit agency has much work to do to repair its lingering culture of distrust, but so-called unbiased media need to cop to their anti-union slants. It took two deaths to show how relevant safety concerns really were.

Supervisor Mar calls for more bike access on Muni

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With racks that can hold only two bikes on the front of most Muni buses, and no bike access on Muni’s light rail fleet, Sup. Eric Mar is calling on Muni to look at improving its bike-access. At today’s Board of Supervisors meeting, he called for a hearing to explore what can be done to address the problem.

We’re looking at expanding the capacity of Muni for those that ride their bikes,” Mar told the board.

Currently Muni vehicles can carry two bikes at the front of each vehicle on its racks, which Mar called inadequate. Notably, only folding bikes are allowed on any Muni vehicle, which means light-rail riding bicyclists are left in the dust, bike grips in hand. 

A hearing on increased bus-bike capacity is especially timely, as Gov. Jerry Brown just signed AB 2707 into law last Tuesday, allowing transit agencies to increase the bike rack capacity on some buses to three bikes, instead of two. Also, San Francisco is anticipating a new fleet of buses, Mar noted, which may be a ripe opportunity to increase bike access. 

We contacted the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency for comment on the cost and feasibility of any such bike improvements, and spokesperson Paul Rose said the agency is in the process of gathering that data.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum said this was a good step for the city to take, but one that’s taken years to come to fruition.

“We’re really thrilled to see Supervisor Mar on the forefront of bike access, but this is also not a new idea,” Shahum said. “This was laid out in our bike plan years ago. We’ve seen advances in this regionally with BART lifting its ban on bikes.” 

Caltrain has also grown its bike access in recent years. “It’s exciting to see San Francisco able to do the same,” Shahum said.

The bike plan really highlights the opportunity for bikes on light rail vehicles, she added. But she wants to encourage the SFMTA to consider less busy times, like weekends or off-peak hours to bend those rules.

“Consider a family going to the Beach Chalet or someone who wants to enjoy Sunday Streets on the weekend,” she said. “Weekends could be an ideal time, (for bikes on light rail), especially for families.”

We need to start with what San Francisco State University Professor and Bay Guardian columnist Jason Henderson calls automobility, the feeling where everyone feels they need to drive in the city,” Mar said. “We need to encourage people to walk bike or take transit.”

Mar’s office told the Guardian they’re anticipating the hearing would take place in November, after the frenzy of the upcoming election. 

Golden Gate Bridge strikes won’t effect commuters…yet

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Golden Gate Bridge iron workers are on strike today [Tues/16], protesting retiree healthcare issues their union says were not addressed in 2012. Commuters will not be affected during the strike, however. Machinists Local 1414 made that choice consciously, its representative told us. 

The machinists purposefully made a decision to not impact services,” said Alex Tonisson, co-chair of the Golden Gate Bridge Labor Coalition. The coalition is comprised of the 13 various unions that work on the Golden Gate Bridge, all of whom negotiate with the district together. “We want the public to understand how serious things have gotten.” 

The strike started early this morning and is scheduled to end at 3:30pm. Though the strike is not directly related to current labor negotiations for health care with the district, at this point those negotiations could best be described as… rocky.

The sticking points are health care and living wages. The Golden Gate Bridge District, with a board with nine San Francisco representatives and members spanning the Bay Area, said the increases in health care costs are still competitive in the Bay Area.

The District has sought modest increases to the amount that Coalition employees have been contributing to their health benefits,” the Golden Gate Bridge District said, in a press statement. “District employees enjoy world class health benefits.”

But the unions noted that the cost of living in the Bay Area has skyrocketed. Housing prices are up, gas prices are up, everything is up. Though the district’s offer includes a 3 percent wage increase next year, and further increases in subsequent years, the new health care plan would cost 2 percent of workers’ wages, largely nullifying any increases. And the workers gave up much ground during the worst of the Great Recession.

We bargained significant concessions and changes,” in previous years, Tonisson told us. 

Strikes from the Golden Gate Bridge’s ferry workers could potentially impact thousands of Bay Area commuters. The labor coalition seemingly took lessons to heart from last year’s BART strike, when the public’s support of strikers waned in the face of nearly impossible commutes.

Tonisson didn’t directly comment on the BART strikes, but said “we’re definitely aware how any strike that shuts down the bridge or ferries impacts the lives of residents.”

To keep the commuting public aware of an impending strike, the coalition took out radio and newspaper ads, and passed out leaflets on ferry commutes. 

We’re hoping we don’t have to take further action,” Tonisson said. “We want them to understand it’s a possibility. The public should take that seriously.” 

Bombshell BART report slams hiring of union-busting negotiator Tom Hock

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Independent investigators analyzing BART’s recent turmultuous, rollercoaster-ride labor negotiations issued their report yesterday, concluding that last year’s pair of damaging strikes could and should been avoided. The opinions that the analysts collected from the unions, management, and BART’s Board of Directors covered a wide spectrum, but there were a couple of common themes. 

First, the strikes and the death of two BART workers who were killed on the tracks when BART management ran scab-run trains while the workers were on strike, were devastating to the district and its personnel.

“We just walked out of a war,” one anonymous BART employee (or manager) told the report authors. Other anonymous quotes follow a similar theme: “It was like Vietnam… Labor massacare… The bloodiest strike ever… He was our hired gun… They threw bombs.” 

The second thing everyone agreed on, from management to the unions, was that hiring union-buster labor consultant Tom Hock as a negotiator was a bad idea

I think a lot of the stakeholders involved and unions have identified that Tom Hock was the problem,” Tom Radulovich, a BART board director, told the Guardian. “This (report) validates my concerns. They talked to everybody.”

Agreement Dynamics Inc., who conducted the investigation on behalf of the BART board, did in-depth interviews with a multitude of BART union representatives, employees, managers, and labor negotiators. Through the report, Agreement Dynamics found a culture of distrust between labor and management that they described as entrenched and multi-generational. On top of that already potent powder-keg, Hock was hired as a negotiator. Seven board directors cast “aye” votes to hire Hock, including Radulovich. Directors Fang and Murray were absent from the room at the time of the vote.

According to the report, Hock came in with guns blazing. Mixing that attitude with what the report describes as BART General Manager Grace Crunican’s lack of experience in labor negotiations, and there was a perfect recipe for conflict. 

“When Tom Hock took over as chief negotiator, Grace had become hard line,” one source told Agreement Dynamics. “There wasn’t enough trust built… Tom Hock thought a strike was inevitable. I don’t know how we thought we could win. We did not even have the whole board supporting this.”

But despite the lack of groundswell support, Hock perpetuated a strategy to push the unions to strike, according to the source. 

“Tom pushed it to strike because Grace would not budge financially,” the source said. “So Tom said to Grace, ‘You will have to strike with your position.’ Management thought we could win the PR battle and the unions would cave. But the unions had politicians. The press can turn on a dime. They did and our strategy backfired.”

Two managers told Agreement Dynamics that lack of planning exacerbated this problem.

“We did not have a Plan B to prevent a strike,” one manager told the investigators. Another told them, “This strike was not productive. We never did a course correction and then there was another strike. Two people got killed. We spent millions to end up getting creamed, and engendering hate.”

In interviews with the investigators, Hock told them he believed the strike would be very short and the unions would “have to come back and reach an agreement” before management would have to give in. He based this on the Bay Area’s sentiment against the unions, the report wrote. He told investigators that media reports also heavily favored management’s perspective. (The report also outlines how management believed their ‘good strategy’ helped sway big media, like the San Francisco Chronicle, to take their side. Good job, guys.)

The negotiators were told by Hock that a number of factors led to the strike, as he tried to deflect blame. But the report’s analysis said “the conditions cited by Tom Hock (elected board, politically strong unions, ineperience in labor negotiations) have existed in prior negotiations when no strike resulted.” 

So Hock pushed the unions to strike, the same strike that led to two workers’ deaths, the report seemingly implies. But that was not his only misstep, according to the report. He also didn’t read the contract he signed off on.

After labor negotiations concluded, BART management brought celebrations to a screeching halt. For those that remember, a provision on family medical leave, section 4.8 of the labor contract, was disputed by BART management. They said they never signed that provision, which could cost BART upwards of $40 million in sick leave, if approved. 

BART management said it signed the provision due to a “clerical error,” which BART board director Zachary Mallet confirmed to the San Jose Mercury News. “The cause of this incident has been confirmed as a miscommunication-based clerical error during the write-up of a tentative agreement,” Mallet told the Merc. 

But Hock and district negotiators Paul Oversier and Rudy Medina all told Agreement Dynamics that they signed it without reading it. “If Tom Hock had read it before he signed it, 4.8 would not have happened,” one BART staff member told the investigators. 

But as much as Hock comes under fire in this report, the report also found that he came at a time of deep division between labor and management. The report shows a way out for that: leadership from the BART Board of Directors. Radulovich told the Guardian he agrees. The board must take the reins in righting the historic bad blood between all sides at BART. 

A lot of it is the culture of your organization,” he said. “When I was a baby BART director, [employees and management] were complaining about things that happened back in 1979. You do feel like you’re walking in on a fight going on long before you got there, and going on long after you leave.”

“That antagonism has been there from the beginning,” he told us. “The question I ask myself is: how can I change that?”

Tomorrow morning at a press conference at 9am, some of the BART board will present the report and talk about its findings. Maybe we’ll find those answers then. 

Deal reached in Transbay Tower tax district showdown

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The deal almost sounds too good to be true. After threats of lawsuits, frantic backdoor dealmaking and a very harried week for the Board of Supervisors, a deal was finally reached yesterday on a dispute over taxes in the area around the new Transbay Terminal and the Salesforce Tower. 

The initial dispute started over the amount of taxes devlelopers around the new Transbay Terminal were required to pay for the project. A special tax district established in the area would require the developers to pay up to $1.4 billion for public infrastructure in the area, including San Francisco’s high-speed rail connection, in exchange for upzonings that allow them to exceed city building height limits.

This was a critical deal. That $1.4 billion sticker-shock is based on recent property values, which as any San Franciscan not living under a rock knows, have shot up with our housing boom. But the developers balked at the numbers, saying the higher taxes were not part of the original deal. The city, the supervisors, and the mayor disagreed, saying the original agreement was clear. At yesterday’s hearing, Sup. Jane Kim repeatedly hinted at a deal they had reached, saying “I’m excited for what we’ll be able to announce after the closed session.”

The stakes were high. If the developers managed to stall the deal, they may have managed to not pay any of these taxes at all.

“When I woke up this morning, I said there’s no way I’d let this stall,” Sup. Scott Wiener, who has taken the lead on trying to hold the developers to the original deal, told us.

But the deal actually turned out to be pretty rosy for the city, he said, at least at first blush.

The developers will still end up paying up to $1.4 billion (officials say the actual figure will be closer to $1 billion) in the special tax district, but now will pay over 37 years instead of 30, allowing them to make smaller payments. The developers would also be bound to a later vote, further cementing the tax deal. The developers may also forefit their right to sue the city over the negotiations. 

Pressure on the supervisors was strong. At yesterday’s hearing on the tax deal, advocates and developers alike showed up in force. Patrick Valentino, a staunch advocate of market-rate housing development in the city, reminded the supervisors that the initial agreement wasn’t exactly mystifying.

“It was made very clear in (the initial contract) that the fees could go up and down based on the market,” he said. “We certainly aren’t spending millions of dollars for just a bus station.”

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, threw some barbs the supervisors’ way as well. There’s no time for waffling,” he told them, in public comment. He then made an argument for the high developer fees. “Why don’t people make 1,000-foot skyscrapers in the Nevada desert? There’s no society there, no infrastructure, no water. The value for the land is created by the infrastructure from the Bay Area’s pockets, which added billions of dollars to downtown land. We need more capacity.”

But supervisors didn’t waffle, and a deal was reached.  But to be clear, it is still preliminary, with the devil in the myriad details.

The Board of Supervisors issued a continuance on the final vote for the deal for two weeks, in order to give Mayor Ed Lee and the developers time to cement all the details. 

So far, the deal looks great, Wiener said. “It’s not even a compromise,” he told us. “The phrase I used was, ‘this is too good to be true.'”

But, he said, “We’ll learn new details in two weeks.”

Ranks of opposition to 16th and Mission development grow as Plaza 16 pushes forward

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In the sea of nonprofit leaders, career organizers, and rabblerousers, one old man put the Mission’s struggle into context, last night [Thu/28]. It was a majority Latino district even as recently as the ’90s, he told the crowd gathered in St. John’s Episcopal Church last night. But now: “Here in the Mission, I can count the Latinos on my hands.”

The stakes are high as the Plaza 16 coalition raised its concerns about a proposed housing project that would tower over the BART plaza at 16th and Mission last night, with representatives from nonprofits and other organizations around the city gathering to seek more community support for the struggle. 

The 10-story residential behemoth proposed by Maximus Real Estate Partners is hotly contested. Organizers of Plaza 16  (so named for the plaza across from the development at 16th and Mission), say the development has only 42 proposed affordable housing units which would be built on site, and those aren’t even a sure thing. The rent for the rest of the building’s units range between $3,500 to $5,000 a month. Gabriel Medina, policy manager of the Mission Economic Development Agency, stated the obvious: That’s a price most current Mission residents can’t afford. 

“Does that sound like units for the Mission community?” Medina asked the crowd. “No!” they shouted in reply. 

Of course, the development isn’t meant for Mission residents, but for the incoming wave of upper middle class workers who can afford $42,000 a year in rent. But that sticker shock is only part of the problem.

Many supply-side housing development advocates argue San Francisco needs to build, build, build in order to offer enough housing supply to bring rental prices down (a theory many progressives disagree with). But last night, the focus was on exactly what type of construction the city is encouraging, and how that will hurt the Mission in the short term. 

I was born and raised here on 16th and Mission,” Elsa Ramos, 23, told the crowd, microphone in hand. “There’s no way for us to have another space. We’re a family of nine now, I just saw the birth of my first niece.”

Ramos is worried the Maximus development would drive up the price of her family’s unit, or lead to their eviction. When speaking with the Guardian, Ramos said her father has diabetes, and depends on city services for his healthcare. Her siblings all depend on city aid as well. Ramos’ fears were echoed by representatives of the nonprofits present, but scaled to the entire neighborhood. 

If everyone is evicted, we’re going to lose our client base,” Maria Zamudio, an organizer from Causa Justa/Just Cause, told the crowd. “We will not have clients to provide safety nets for. There will be no communities of color.”

Some of the nonprofit representatives present expressed concern with Plaza 16’s plan. “You can’t just show them you’re opposed,” one man said. “You have to show them your vision.”

Plaza 16 representatives said they want to see the Maximus project abandoned entirely. Some executives from Maximus were involved with predatory lending schemes, they allege. They also allege Maximus executives were partly responsible for the Parkmerced debacle, where many rent-controlled units were seemingly lost, the subject of a controversial court case. Maximus representatives didn’t return a Guardian call for comment. 

Though there was some dissent, ultimately the nonprofits gathered expressed unified support. The spectre of forcing longtime local residents into suburban ghettos lingered over the discussion.

Ferguson is [an example of] suburbanized poverty and segregation,” Medina told the Guardian. It’s one thing living in a low-income community in a city, he said, where nonprofits can lend aid like tutoring, shelters, free food or legal services. But like Ferguson, the suburban ghettos of the Bay Area often lack those safety nets, he said.

It seems the nonprofits present got the point, as over 15 new organizations joined the Plaza 16 coalition last night.

Midway through the meeting, Zamudio handed out cards to each of the nonprofit representatives present. A red card meant the organization would now support the fight against Maximus, an orange card would signify a need to stay neutral, a green card meant Maximus support, and a yellow card would signal an undecided vote.

When asked who was in support of the coalition, a sea of hands with red cards raised up high.

They say it’s a gold rush. This isn’t a gold rush,” Carlos Gutierrez from HOMEY told the crowd. “This is where people live, these are people’s homes.”

BART launches internal affairs investigation into tackling arrest of black man

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The Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Department has launched an internal affairs investigation after an officer tackled and subsequently arrested a suspect, the Bay Guardian has learned. The nature of the complaint leading into the investigation is not yet known, but statements from the suspect’s attorney indicate it may be racially motivated. 

The man, his attorney alleged previously, was potentially racially profiled. Last week, the San Francisco Examiner reported a man was tackled and arrested by BART police in Powell Station. This man did not match the description of the suspect police sought, his attorney said, except for one characteristic: he was black.

When the Guardian asked BART Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey Jennings if we could look at the police report, we were denied due to an internal affairs investigation into the case. The man in question asked the Examiner for anonymity due to fear of retaliation. 

“Understandably, he’s scared to take BART now,” Rachel Lederman, his attorney and the president of the Bay Area chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild, told the Examiner.

Police were searching for a man dressed in black who accosted a woman in Powell Station earlier. But the man they tackled wore blue jeans and a grey jacket. After he was tackled to the ground, the man was charged only with resisting arrest, indicating officers concluded he was not the suspect they were looking for.

“The gentleman was charged with [Penal Code] 148, resisting/obstructing an officer while in the performance of their duty,” Jennings told the Guardian. “My detective unit filed the case with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and they chose not to prosecute him for this charge.”

But their reasons for suspecting the man they eventually tackled weren’t based on any part of his description, except his race, based on the information available. 

From Kate Conger’s SF Examiner story:

About 6:55 p.m. Sunday, BART police received a report that a female patron had been grabbed and hit by a male panhandler when she refused to give him money, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said. The victim reportedly described the suspect as a black male who was wearing all-black clothing.

However, when officers arrived on the platform, they approached another black male who was wearing a light-gray jacket and jeans. BART police said the man tried to walk away when they approached him.

Officers subsequently hit the man, knocking him backward, then tackled him and took him into custody.

The victim, according to Trost, could not positively identify the man BART police detained, but he was arrested anyway.

We asked Jennings directly if the man was actually the person they were looking for, to which he replied, “There appeared to be enough information to talk to the person and that person turned the conversation into a lawful detention, and eventually he was arrested based on his actions.”

A brief Instagram video from a bystander of the arrest show the police tackling the man, who is wearing fitted blue jeans and a light grey jacket. “What the fuck is your problem man?” he shouts as he’s grappled and brought to the ground by an officer and a bystander. “I didn’t do shit! I didn’t do anything!” he continued, as another officer joins the fray to restrain him.

When the Guardian asked Lederman if the man would pursue a case against BART police, she did not get a definitive answer either way.

“I can’t comment on that now,” she wrote in an email, but “will have a comment on it in a couple months.”

BART internal affairs has 67 open investigations, which is 23 cases more than the same time last year, according to BART’s Office of the Independent Police Auditor. 

Pixilated joy

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SUPER SMASH BROS.

Platforms: 3DS/WiiU

Nintendo is ready to pull on our retro-gaming heartstrings yet again with the newest Super Smash Bros. The fan-service fighter pits four characters against each other in a battle royale, and the now-familiar Nintendo roster of Mario, Link, Starfox, Donkey Kong, and gang will be joined by new third party characters: the blue bomber, Megaman, and everyone’s favorite pellet muncher, Pac-Man. Online play and the ability to create your own fighters using the Wii and 3DS Mii system are enough to get any Nintendo geek doing a barrel roll for joy.

Release: 3DS, Oct. 3; WiiU, Holiday 2014

www.smashbros.com

 

CONFLICKS: REVOLUTIONARY SPACE BATTLES

Platforms: Windows/Mac OS/Linux

Leonardo Da Vinci has discovered a way to transmute egg yolk into a super-powerful golden substance that jump-starts human intelligence and allows the manipulation of space-time (like you do). This strange, wonderfully chicken-laden concept launches the French Revolution into space, as Renaissance-era kingdoms wage war in a Real Time Strategy-style game. It’s like Age of Empires meets Starcraft meets chickens. This is the game no one knew we wanted until we saw it enslave fowl, and launch to the stars. Bawk bawk bawk la revolucion!

Release: Fall 2014

http://artificestudio.com

 

WORLD OF DIVING

Platforms: PC/Mac OS

World of Diving is like a fish tank you can dive into, and just relax. It’s not a game in the traditional sense, rife with goals, action, or perilous adventure (though you must avoid the occasional shark). The game outfits the player in diving gear for a leisurely paddle through ocean reefs, sunken ships, and other underwater settings. Your mission? To look at the pretty fish, snap photos of them, and chill out. There are occasional checklists (how many lionfish can you find?), and the randomly generated maps are sure to keep things fresh, but this is definitely a placid affair. Bonus: The game is Oculus Rift compatible, if you want a dose of virtual reality swimming.

Release: Fall 2014 (demo available now)

www.divegame.net

 

THEATERRHYTHM FINAL FANTASY CURTAIN CALL: COLLECTOR’S EDITION

Platform: 3DS

The Final Fantasy series is known for its stellar orchestral compositions, so it’s surprising so few games in the series have centered around music. But now that historic injustice has ended! TheaterRhythm is a rhythm game (like Guitar Hero), centered entirely around chibi-versions of well-known Final Fantasy characters. Okay, it is a little strange to avenge the death of Aerith while battling Sephiroth using hip-swinging dance moves, but still … Chocobos, dancing! The quest mode spans most of Final Fantasy‘s 13-plus games, giving every FF fan music to jam to.

Release: Sept. 16

www.theatrhythm.com

 

CATLATERAL DAMAGE

Platforms: Linux, Mac OS, OUYA, Windows

The life of a cat seems easy, but this game will convince you otherwise. Cats have goals, dammit, and in Catlateral Damage you must knock over as many of your owner’s possessions as you can within the time allotted. Look, a perfectly whole coffee mug! It’s an obvious invitation for a swat of your paws. The satisfying crash signals gaming success. The demo, out now, features cel-shaded cartoon graphics à la Zelda: The Wind Waker, and your kitty avatar seems to be able to jump with super-feline prowess. But don’t hiss over the small stuff, because you’ll have too much fun swatting the big stuff, like that TV on the dresser.

Release: Fall/Winter 2014 (demo available now)

www.catlateraldamage.com *

 

Gearing up for war

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joe@sfbg.com

A tear gas canister explodes as citizens flee from the gun-toting warriors, safely guarded behind their armored vehicles. Dressed in patterned camo and body armor, they form a skirmish line as they fire projectiles into the crowd. Flash bang explosions echo down the city’s streets.

Such clashes between police and protesters have been common in Ferguson, Mo., in the past few weeks since the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed by a police officer. But it’s also a scene familiar to anyone from Occupy Oakland, where Iraq veteran Scott Olsen suffered permanent brain damage after police shot a less-than-lethal weapon into his head, or similar standoffs in other cities.

police embed 1As the country watched Ferguson police mobilize against its citizens while donning military fatigues and body armor and driving in armored vehicles, many began drawing comparisons to soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan — indeed, viral photos featuring side-by-side comparisons made it difficult to distinguish peace officers from wartime soldiers.

So how did law enforcement officers in police departments across the country come to resemble the military? And what impact is that escalation of armaments having on otherwise peaceful demonstrations? Some experts say the militarization of police actually encourages violence.

Since the ’90s, the federal Department of Defense has served as a gun-running Santa Claus for the country’s local police departments. Military surplus left over from wars in the Middle East are now hand-me-downs for local police across the country, including here in the Bay Area.

A grenade launcher, armored command vehicles, camera-mounted SWAT robots, mounted helicopter weapons, and military grade body armor — these are just some of the weapons and equipment obtained by San Francisco law enforcement agencies since the ’90s. They come from two main sources: the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, also known as the 1033 loan program, and a multitude of federal grants used to purchase military equipment and vehicles.

A recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union, “The War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” slammed the practice of arming local police with military gear. ACLU spokesperson Will Matthews told us the problem is stark in the Bay Area.

“There was no more profound example of this than [the response to] Occupy,” he told the Guardian. He said that military gear “serves usually only to escalate tensions, where the real goal of police is to de-escalate tension.”

The ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, and others are calling for less provocative weaponry in response to peaceful demonstrations, as well as more data to track the activities of SWAT teams that regularly use weaponry from the military.

The call for change comes as a growing body of research shows the cycle of police violence often begins not with a raised baton, but with the military-style armor and vehicles that police confront their communities with.

 

PREPARING FOR BATTLE

What motivation does the federal government have to arm local police? Ex-Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Stephen Downing told the Guardian, “I put this at the feet of the drug war.”

The initial round of funding in the ’90s was spurred by the federal government’s so-called War on Drugs, he said, and the argument that police needed weaponry to match well-armed gangs trafficking in narcotics. That justification was referenced in the ACLU’s report.

After 9/11, the desire to protect against unknown terrorist threats also spurred the militarization of police, providing a rationale for the change, whether or not it was ever justified. But a problem arises when local police start to use the tactics and gear the military uses, Downing told us.

When the LAPD officials first formed military-like SWAT teams, he said, “they always kept uppermost in their mind the police mission versus the military mission. The military has an enemy. A police officer, who is a peace officer, has no enemies.”

“The military aims to kill,” he said, “and the police officer aims to preserve life.”

And when police departments have lots of cool new toys, there is a tendency to want to use them.

When we contacted the SFPD for this story, spokesperson Albie Esparza told us, “Chief [Greg Suhr] will be the only one to speak in regards to this. He is not available for the next week or two. You may try afterwards.”

 

“CRAIGSLIST OF MILITARY EQUIPMENT”

Local law enforcement agencies looking to gear up have two ways to do it: One is free and the other is low-cost. The first of those methods has been heavily covered by national news outlets following the Ferguson protests: the Department of Defense’s 1033 loan program.

The program permanently loans gear from the federal government, with strings attached. For instance, local police can’t resell any weapons they’re given.

To get the gear, first an agency must apply for it through the national Defense Logistics Agency in Fort Belvoir, Va. In California, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services is the go-between when local police file grant applications to the DLA.

The bar to apply is low. A New Hampshire law enforcement agency applied for an armored vehicle by citing that community’s Pumpkin Festival as a possible terrorism target, according to the ACLU’s report. But the report shows such gear is more likely to be used against protestors or drug dealers than festival-targeting terrorists.

“It’s like the Craigslist of military equipment, only the people getting this stuff are law enforcement agencies,” Kelly Huston, a spokesperson of OEMS, told the Guardian. “They don’t have to pay for this equipment, they just have to come get it.”

Troublingly, where and why the gear goes to local law enforcement is not tracked in a database at the state level. The Guardian made a public records requests of the SFPD and the OEMS, which have yet to be fulfilled. Huston told us the OEMS is slammed with records requests for this information.

“The majority of the documents we have are paper in boxes,” Huston told us, describing the agency’s problem with a rapid response. “This is not an automated system.”

The Guardian obtained federal grant data through 2011 from the OEMS, but with a caveat: Some of the grants only describe San Francisco County, and not the specific agency that requested equipment.

Some data of police gear requested under the 1033 loan program up to 2011 is available thanks to records requests from California Watch. The New York Times obtained more recent 1033 loan requests for the entire country, but it does not delineate specific agencies, only states.

Available data shows equipment requested by local law enforcement, which gravitates from the benign to the frightening.

 

TOYS FOR COPS

An Armament Subsystem is one of the first weapons listed in the 1033 data, ordered by the SFPD in 1996. This can describe mounted machine guns for helicopters (though the SFPD informed us it has since disbanded its aero-unit). From 1995 to 1997, the SFPD ordered over 100 sets of fragmentation body armor valued at $45,000, all obtained for free. In 1996, the SFPD also ordered one grenade launcher, valued at $2,007.

Why would the SFPD need a grenade launcher in an urban setting? Chief Suhr wouldn’t answer that question, but Downing told us it was troubling.

“It’s a pretty serious piece of military hardware,” he said. “I’ll tell you a tiny, quick story. One of the first big deployments of SWAT (in Los Angeles) was the Black Panthers in the ’60s. They were holed up in a building, well armed and we knew they had a lot of weapons in there,” he said. “They barricaded the place with sandbags. Several people were wounded in the shooting, as I recall. The officers with military experience said the only way we’ll breach those sandbags and doors is with a grenade launcher.”

In those days, they didn’t have a grenade launcher at the ready, and had to go through a maze of official channels to get one.

“They had to go through the Governor’s Office to the Pentagon, and then to Camp Pendleton to get the grenade launcher,” Downing told us. “[The acting LAPD chief] said at the time, ‘Let’s go ahead and ask for it.’ It was a tough decision, because it was using military equipment against our citizens.”

But the chief never had to use the grenade launcher, Downing said. “They resolved the situation before needing it, and we said ‘thank god.'”

The grenade launcher was the most extreme of the equipment procured by local law enforcement, but there were also helicopter parts, gun sights, and multitudes of armored vehicles, like those seen in Ferguson.

By contrast, the grants programs are harder to track specifically to the SFPD, but instead encompass funds given to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Sheriff’s Department, and even some schools. That’s because the grants cover not only allow the purchase of military surplus vehicles and riot gear, but also chemical protective suits and disaster-related supplies.

But much of the requested gear and training has more to do with active police work than emergency response.

San Francisco County agencies used federal loans to purchase $113,000 “command vehicles” (which are often armored). In 2010, the SFPD purchased a $5,000 SWAT robot (which often comes equipped with cameras and a remote control), as well as $15,000 in Battle Dress Uniforms, and $48,000 for a Mobile Communications Command Vehicle.

In 2008, the SFPD ordered a Bearcat Military Counterattack Vehicle for $306,000.

The Lenco website, which manufactures Bearcats, says it “may also be equipped with our optional Mechanical Rotating Turret with Cupola (Tub) and Weapon Ready Mounting System, suitable for the M60, 240B and Mark 19 weapons system.”

Its essentially an armored Humvee that can be mounted with rotating gun turrets.

police embed 2

Department of Homeland Security grants were used to purchase Type 2 Mobile Field Training, which Department of Homeland Security documentation describes as involving eight grenadiers, two counter-snipers, two prisoner transportation vans, and 14 patrol vehicles.

All told, the Bay Area’s many agencies were awarded more than $386 million in federal grants between 2008 and 2011, with San Francisco netting $48 million of those rewards. Through the 1033 loan program, San Francisco obtained over $1.4 million in federal surplus gear from 1995 to 2011.

But much of that was received under the radar, and with little oversight.

“Anytime they’re going to file for this equipment, we think the police should hold a public hearing,” Matthews, the ACLU spokesperson, told us.

In San Francisco, there is a public hearing for the procurement of military weapons, at the Police Commission. But a Guardian analysis of agenda documents from the commission shows these hearings are often held after the equipment has already been ordered.

Squeezed between a “status report” and “routine administrative business,” a March 2010 agenda from the commission shows a request to “retroactively accept and expend a grant in the amount of $1,000,000.00 from the U.S. Department of Justice.”

This is not a new trend. In 2007, the Police Commission retroactively approved three separate grants totaling over $2 million in funding from the federal government through the OEMS, which was then called the Emergency Management Agency.

Police Commission President Anthony Mazzucco did not respond to the Guardian’s emails requesting an interview before our press time, but one thing is clear: The SFPD requests federal grants for military surplus, then sometimes asks the Police Commission to approve the funding after the fact.

Many are already critiquing this call to arms, saying violent gear begets violent behavior.

 

PROVOCATIVE GEAR

A UC Berkeley sociologist, with his small but driven team and an army of automatic computer programs, are now combing more than 8,000 news articles on the Occupy movement in search of a pattern: What causes police violence against protesters, and protester violence against police?

Nicholas Adams and his team, Deciding Force, already have a number of findings.

“The police have an incredible ability to set the tone for reactions,” Adams told us. “Showing up in riot gear drastically increases the chances of violence from protesters. The use of skirmish lines also increases chances of violence.”

Adams’s research uses what he calls a “buffet of information” provided by the Occupy movement, allowing him to study over 200 cities’ police responses to protesters. Often, as in Ferguson, protesters were met by police donned in equipment and gear resembling wartime soldiers.

Rachel Lederman is a warrior in her own right. An attorney in San Francisco litigating against police for over 20 years, and now the president of the National Lawyers Guild Bay Area chapter, she’s long waged legal war against police violence.

Lederman is quick to note that the SFPD in recent years has been much less aggressive than the Oakland Police Department, which injured her client, Scott Olsen, in an Occupy protest three years ago.

“If you compare OPD with the San Francisco Police on the other side of the bay,” she told us, “the SFPD do have some impact munitions they bring at demonstrations, but they’ve never used them.”

Much of this is due to the SFPD’s vast experience in ensuring free speech, an SFPD spokesperson told us. San Francisco is a town that knows protests, so the SFPD understands how to peacefully negotiate with different parties beforehand to ensure a minimum of hassle, hence the more peaceful reaction to Occupy San Francisco.

Conversely, in Oakland, the Occupy movement was met by a hellfire of tear gas and flash bang grenades. Protesters vomited into the sidewalk from the fumes as others bled from rubber bullet wounds.

But some protesters the Guardian talked to noted that the night SFPD officers marched on Occupy San Francisco, members of the city’s Board of Supervisors and other prominent allies stood between Occupiers and police, calling for peace. We may never know what tactics the SFPD would have used to oust the protesters without that intervention.

As Lederman pointed out, the SFPD has used reactive tactics in other protests since.

“We’ve had some problems with SFPD recently, so I’m reluctant to totally praise them,” she said, recalling a recent incident where SFPD and City College police pepper-sprayed one student protester, and allegedly broke the wrists and concussed another. Photos of this student, Otto Pippenger, show a black eye and many bruises.

In San Francisco, a city where protesting is as common as the pigeons, that is especially distressing.

“It’s an essential part of democracy for people to be able to demonstrate in the street,” Lederman said. “If police have access to tanks, and tear gas and dogs, it threatens the essential fabric of democracy.”

Did Big Soda swing a key endorsement by a progressive democratic club?

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Did the soda industry buy a prominent progressive political endorsement? Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle raised the question in a story by Heather Knight, who goes on to air a number of rumors propagated by the soda tax supporters against the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.

First things first: the sugary beverage tax already has a lot of progressive support. Unions, health groups, and loads of other San Franciscans have backed the two cents per ounce tax on sugary beverages, Proposition E, which is slated to appear on this November’s ballot. The endorsement of “No on E” by the Milk Club is certainly a bit out of left field, and rightfully raised eyebrows in political circles.

That’s the argument Knight uses in her Sunday article, using a few quotes from the soda tax’s paid public relations’ people to take a big swing at Sup. David Campos, alleging this is a big ole scheme he’s orchestrated in order to get Coca Cola’s money to fund the Milk Club’s slate card, which would also feature Campos, giving him a boost in his Assembly race against Sup. David Chiu.

It’s a seemingly convincing scenario, and we’re not soothsayers. Maybe it’s true. But there are a number of reasons to not believe the hype.

First, we at the Guardian heard those same rumors and whispers too, but that wasn’t all we heard. One politico told us the beverage industry might be funding the Milk Club with $300,000 in campaign funds for their November ballot fliers. Our reaction was “um, what?!”

That’s more money than techie-billionaire Ron Conway spent backing Mayor Ed Lee’s major pet projects on the June ballot. Hell, it’s more money than some candidates raise in their entire races. That should’ve been the first red flag for the “soda milking the Milk Club” theory, but it wasn’t the last.

Second, though the club did accept money from the American Beverage Association, it wasn’t anywhere within spitting distance of $300,000. Tom Temprano, co-president of the Milk Club, told us they accepted $5,000 from the beverage industry to put on their annual gala. For context, SEIU Local 1021 donated $4,000 to the dinner. This is all data that would come out publicly in a few months through ethics filings anyhow, but long after the rumor of big beverage industry money would’ve caused its damage.

“All you get for sponsoring our dinner is a mention in the program and a plug on the stage,” Temprano told us. “If the [beverage industry] paid us anywhere near what the rumors are, I would’ve flown out Elton John to serenade [Assemblymember] Tom Ammiano in person.”

Though the $5,000 is not chump change to the Milk Club, its leadership doesn’t make endorsement decisions, which are enacted by a vote of the club’s members. In a heated exchange last week, Milk Club political wonks batted soda tax points back and forth like a beach ball. There was hardly a consensus on the matter.

“They didn’t vote the way I wanted but the process was very democratic,” Sup. Eric Mar told us. Mar was one of the authors of the soda tax, and even he doesn’t believe the Milk Club’s palms were greased by big soda’s big money.

“I feel that there are rumors being spread to undercut the integrity of the Harvey Milk Club, the strongest progressive voice and political leadership in the city right now,” he said. “I stand behind them even though they voted no on [the soda tax].”

Laura Thomas, co-president of the Milk Club, told us she is actually in favor of the soda tax. It’s easy to see why. As Deputy State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, she has day-to-day experience with public health, and she sees the far reaching affect of soda’s loads of sugar on San Francisco’s kids.

“I do support [the tax], and I’ve spoken passionately for it in our meetings,” Thomas told the Guardian. “I’d say it’s something we’re passionate on all sides about.”

The last stickler in the money-influence theory is a bit trickier. Many we talked to traced some of these rumors back to Chiu’s campaign spokesperson, Nicole Derse. When we spoke to her, she pounced on the subject like a hyena on carrion.

“The Harvey Milk Club has sold out to the soda industry,” she told us. “What would Harvey Milk think of this gross display of hypocrisy? David Campos needs to answer some serious questions on his position on the soda tax and his campaign.”

Notice how she shifted the Milk Club assertion, which we asked her about, straight into a Campos critique. She’s affable, she’s smart, but in that moment, Derse also sounded gleeful.

We then asked Derse if the rumor about the Milk Club and Campos came from her.

“I am not the person that started this rumor. But do you really think it’s a coincidence David Campos is broke and needs a vehicle to fund his campaign? I think it speaks for itself, if it happens,” she said. “If the Milk Club does not take hundreds of thousands of dollars from the American Beverage Association, I will happily be wrong.”

Actually, when it comes to spreading rumors through news outlets, being right or wrong doesn’t really matter. All you need to do is raise the question of impropriety, proof or no. It’s grandma’s classic recipe for a good political smear, as old as the hills, and very, very easy to do.

Update [8/26]: This story stirred up quite a bit of controversy, and folks called, emailed, Facebooked and Tweeted at us with one point: sure the Milk Club didn’t take all that much money from the American Beverage Association for the gala, but what about the future? Would they take a large sum from the ABA? Tom Temprano answered: “I find that completely unlikely. I’m going to say that’s not a situation we’re going to be in. But I haven’t had a conversation with anyone with anybody about money yet. Our entire board and PAC chair make decisions on fundraising.”

So there you are. If a donation in the tens of thousands of dollars should land on the Milk Club’s doorstep, Temprano is now on the record.