Litquake Begins

Litquake--the West Coast's pre-eminent literary arts festival--kicked off Friday night at San Francisco's Herbst Theater with readings from and by Bay Area writers.

The night marked the 50th anniversary of Allen Ginsberg's reading of the poem "Howl" at the Six Gallery--a legendary event in what subsequently became known as the San Francisco Renaissance

At last night's event, I shared the stage with writers Michael McClure, Armistead Maupin, Amy Tan and actor Peter Coyote for readings that focused on local writers. Naturally, I read an excerpt from one of Jack London's works. He not only lived in Oakland but ran for mayor twice.

In 1902, a 25-year-old Jack London went to England to investigate poverty in London's notorious East End. Clad in thrift store clothes (with a gold piece sewn into his jacket for emergency purposes), London roved the streets and took notes on what he saw.

After returning to Oakland, he finished "People of the Abyss," a moving work of social criticism that exposed the horrible poverty existing in the heart of the world's richest and most powerful empires. One hundred years later, despite wars, revolutions and endless good intentions, the gulf between rich and poor continues--in new places and in new forms but unabated.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has reminded us of the sharp contrast between the haves and have nots.

According to Jack London, the one beautiful sight in the East End was the sight of children playing. They were too young to realize the predicament of poverty, and it had not yet crushed their spirit.

"The children of the Ghetto possess all the qualities which make for noble manhood and womanhood; but the Ghetto itself, like an infuriated tigress turning on its young, turns upon and destroys all these qualities, blots out the light and laughter, and moulds those it does not kill into sodden and forlorn creatures, uncouth, degraded and wretched below the beasts of the field ... In such conditions, the outlook for children is hopeless. They die like flies and those that survive, survive because they possess excessive vitality and a capacity of adaptation to the degradation with which they are surrounded."

October 8, 2005 in Books | Permalink | Comments (73)

Are We Ready for the Big One?

In the wake of the awesome damage Hurricane Katrina unleashed on the Gulf Coast this month, the City of Oakland has joined many other communities across the nation in offering emergency personnel, food and supplies to the victims of this disaster.

Oakland rescue workers are already on the ground in the affected areas and have been active in rescue operations. Allen Temple Baptist Church and Acts Full Gospel Church are leading local churches in a sustained effort to aid those left homeless. Bay Area health care professionals have also answered the call for help and are streaming into the Gulf region as needed.

Even as the waters recede in New Orleans, the political blame game has begun. Some blame the President, some blame the Governor, some blame the Mayor and some blame the victims.  It’s easy to point the finger, but in a disaster of this scope it’s obvious that the system broke down on many levels. The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency has resigned in the wake of this scandal and the President has taken full responsibility for the ineffective response.

The failures illuminated by this disaster must inspire leaders and emergency officials across the country to re-examine their emergency preparedness plans. We will definitely take a harder look at our emergency response capabilities in Oakland.  After all, we live atop several fault lines and scientists say devastation is inevitable.

According to the US Geological Survey, there’s a 62 percent chance of a big quake occurring in the Bay Area in the next 30 years. Experts say up to 360,000 people could be left homeless.  We can’t prevent the Big One, but we must work to prevent the kind of social disorder and interagency confusion that gripped New Orleans.

We must also invest in preparedness. The California Legislature recently passed up the opportunity to survey the century-old levee system in the Sacramento Delta, which supplies water to 22 million Californians and many farm Central Valley farm operations. A 1995 law requiring California hospitals to retrofit their facilities by 2008 is now being pushed back by 12 years.  More than 70 percent of school buildings in the state are expected to fail in an earthquake.

Hopefully, our tectonic plates are shifting at a slower pace than our bureaucracy. Emergency preparedness plans must be constantly reviewed and improved by those in charge. Citizens must also expect to be responsible for their own food and water for their first 72 hours following a major seismic event.

The lessons of New Orleans should not be lost on us. Disaster will strike here and we must be prepared. After Hurricane Katrina, none has any excuses.

A final note: our vulnerability here at home is obvious. Under the rubric of “Superpower,” America’s people and treasure have been spread all over the world.

Before it is too late, let’s secure the American homeland.

Weakened levees…

Shockingly inadequate resources for schools…

Growing immiseration…

All this calls out for investment in matters domestic. Where is Roosevelt when we need him?

Wake up America!

September 26, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (53)

Let the Sun Shine on Politics of Global Warming

This week I threw a switch that activated California’s largest corporate solar power installation, a system that will provide 80 percent of the energy supply for the FedEx hub at Oakland International Airport.  FedEx’s system, designed by the PowerLight Corporation, will reduce the load on our power grid and is an important step in the struggle for energy independence and greenhouse gas reduction.

In Washington, of course, there is little urgency about either energy efficiency or global warming. Today’s automobile fuel efficiency has not improved in decades, nor has America lessened its dependency on foreign oil. Do the politicians in charge even care that California drivers are now paying 71 cents more per gallon than they were a year ago?

Despite the obvious dangers of foreign oil dependency, the possibility of irreversible climate disruption is even more ominous. Oil dependency can cripple our economy and plunge us into resource wars. Global warming can radically alter weather patterns with catastrophic consequences.

So what does Washington do? Launch a witch hunt, targeting scientists whose work demonstrates the factual basis of global warming.

House Energy Committee Chief Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, is leaving no stone unturned in his attempt to discredit three scientists who concluded in a 1998 paper that the Earth is warming dramatically. Barton has fired off official letters demanding the raw research data and financial information from the three distinguished scientists. He made similar requests to the National Science Foundation and a United Nations climate panel.

  His inquiry was inspired by two Canadians with no background in climatology who questioned the integrity of the scientists’ research. That’s all it took for Barton – a true nonbeliever in Global Warming – to spring into action.  Yet, his inquisition has now drawn the ire of even fellow Republican Rep. Sherman Boehlert, who wrote that Barton’s “purpose seems to be to intimidate scientists rather than learn from them.” Boehlert serves as chair of the House Science Committee.

Barton’s critics call him “Smoky Joe” due to his attempts to relax regulations on major polluters who contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns. It’s no surprise that he should end up at the forefront of this latest attack on science.

A recent investigation by Mother Jones magazine revealed that ExxonMobil has spent $8 million to fund a mercenary “think tank” army of anti-Global Warming ideologues whose purpose is to attack climate science. Their talking points dictate that “Victory will be achieved when…recognition of uncertainty becomes part of the “conventional wisdom.’” That’s a line from an American Petroleum Institute (API) document that was leaked to the New York Times in 1998.

“We’ve always wanted to get the science on trial,” says Myron Ebell, spokesman for an anti-Global Warming think tank known as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).

Rep. Barton’s scheme is part of a larger plan. He wants to undermine the credibility of serious climatologists while ignoring unsavory truths--like the fact that CEI has received over $1.3 million from ExxonMobil.  Sow doubt, reap profits–-and to hell with science.

We need more corporations to follow FedEx’s lead and do their part to reduce pollution and stave off dramatic climate change.

August 11, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (64)

LA Inaugural

On Friday I attended the inauguration for Antonio Villaraigosa, the new Mayor of Los Angeles. It was a beautiful day. In addition to such luminaries as Jesse Jackson, David Hasselhoff, Warren Christopher and Cardinal Roger Mahoney, thousands of ordinary Angelenos filled out the south lawn of city hall and cheered their new mayor. I had the honor of swearing in the City Controller, Laura Chick.

Mayor Villaraigosa was interrupted several times by applause as he hammered away on his four main themes: crime, schools, traffic and environment.

Undoubtedly, Mayor Villaraigosa will soon hire more cops and persuade the leadership of L.A’s schools to make improvements in the learning environment that now leaves so many behind. Nevertheless, dramatic improvements on both fronts will be held hostage to our national policy of neglect at home in favor of over-extension abroad.

As the Bush presidency winds down, mayors in every major city will have a unique opportunity to increase their presence on the national stage. They directly witness the deteriorating quality of life in urban America and can help re-energize a domestic agenda, emphasizing investments in those places left behind in the grand march of globalization.

With respect to transportation and the environment, much of the solution lies at the state and national levels. Here is where the funds are to support public transit, clean fuels and road improvements we desperately need. Certainly cities can do much on the environmental front. Yet, with China and India building hundreds of new coal plants and Bush denying Global Warming, big changes will have to occur in Washington before we make lasting progress.

So all the best to the new mayor of Los Angeles. May he act locally with great success and join other mayors from throughout the country in a renewed push to recapture at the national level the dreams he articulated so well on the steps of the Los Angeles city hall.   

July 4, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (77)


Jerryanne_5 Fourth day of marriage -- Bliss endures. On June 18th in Oakland's Rotunda Building on City Hall plaza, Anne Gust and I were married in front of 600 friends and well-wishers. Senator Dianne Feinstein officiated.

June 22, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (28)

Everybody to College...Don't Count On it

Recently I paid a visit to the Oakland headquarters of College Track, a nonprofit organization just a block from City Hall that helps high school students prepare for college. The walls of College Track's offices were adorned with colorful college pennants. One hundred and thirty Oakland high school students receive mentoring at this unique and innovative institution. They put in long hours after school, sharpening their academic skills.

I sat down with a group of the students and discussed a wide range of subjects, including standardized tests, the state of Oakland schools, street crime and the merits of the Oakland Military Institute (OMI), a charter school that I started four years ago.
Since its inception, the Oakland Military Institute has been depicted by critics as a tool by which Oakland kids are funneled into the army.  Nothing could be further from the truth. The mission of OMI is to provide a disciplined and inspiring framework so that students master college prep courses. The school aims to foster good character and leadership. Success is measured by how many students qualify for four year colleges. In this respect, OMI has a lot in common with College Track. Both institutions aim for 100% college attendance.

The question is: how real is that goal for every California high school student? In Los Angeles, the Board of Education is about to vote on a proposal to require all students to take the courses necessary to attend either U.C. or C.S.U.C. Many Los Angeles teachers object because they believe the proposal is unrealistic and unfair.

The truth is that many students--more than half in certain low income areas--don’t graduate today. Adding stringent new requirements may just ensure that many more fail to get their high school diplomas.

The proponents say that schools have to create high expectations. True enough. Yet that kind of rhetoric and the decisions that have come in its wake have done nothing to stop hundreds of schools from actually generating high school dropouts. The fact that these schools do so under the legal banner of a “free and appropriate education for every child” only compounds the irony--and the horror.

Standardized test scores track wealth and poverty with frightening precision. Even the call for “equal” education spending misses the point.

If this society wants to fulfill its stated ideals, it must provide disproportionate talent and spending in the earliest years for those students whose family environment does not foster college preparation. Mere equality—which we are far from—is simply not enough.

Mortimer Adler held that every citizen required a liberal arts education and firm grounding in the basic ideas and traditions of our civilization. This is a lofty objective but tragically too many schools neither equip citizens for critical thinking, nor provide future workers with the practical skills they need.

The current situation is profoundly unacceptable. It will only change when politicians stop using illusory measures to deal with the gross disparities that currently characterize our public school system.

May 31, 2005 in Education | Permalink | Comments (68)

Local Environmentalism Lives -- In Oakland

Recently, several well publicized books have made the claim that environmentalism is dead. Not so. The laws of nature don’t change to accommodate right wing politicians or “junk scientists.”

Scientists--at best--craft partial understandings or clever manipulations. That is why good science and all tradition advise humility when attempting to alter God’s creation.

St. Paul counseled “fear and trembling,” while Dr. Pangloss prescribed endless optimism in this “best of all possible worlds.” Despite his fundamentalism, it seems President Bush prefers Voltaire to the Apostle.

Here in Oakland, environmental action is alive. The city has just received the honor of being named one of the top ten green cities in the country. So judges the Green Guide, “the nation’s premier news and information source for green living.”

According to the citation:

“More affordable than its Bay Area neighbor, Oakland benefits from San Francisco’s transport system and bike friendly status, with 23 percent of residents commuting by bike or public transport. The city devotes 11 percent of city land to parks, and shares in Bay Area initiatives for renewable energy. Oakland has its own initiative allowing solar production facilities to waive design review requirements for installation, which has sped up solar energy generation use by the city.”

Oakland will have five megawatts of solar energy going online this year, and the long term plan calls for 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. A green building ordinance –- which will assure environmentally healthy and energy efficient edifices of the future –- goes before the City Council soon. Fifteen percent of the cars in the City’s fleet are alternative fuel vehicles (AFV) and that number is slated to increase.

As an industrial port city, we have our share of problems –- like diesel trucks spewing pollutants as they idle, driving up asthma rates –- and it will take creative solutions to address them. The East Bay recently received low marks for air quality, partly because prevailing winds blow San Francisco’s smog into our faces. 

The president and the president’s men have stuck their heads in the sand when it comes to the environment -- with their federal tax breaks for carbon emitting industries and persistent neglect of renewable energy and end-use efficiencies, such as energy-saving appliances, cars and buildings.

It’s up to local government leaders to carry the vision of a sustainable economy.

April 30, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (109)

All Eyes on the Mayor

Bob Kerrey has ended speculation that he might run for Mayor of New York City. He won’t enter the race, but he seriously considered it. Imagine that - a former Senator and Presidential candidate fighting crime, answering pot hole questions and shepherding developers through Byzantine corridors in the planning department.

Kerrey is smart and, as a former Navy Seal, no stranger to combat. Yet, he would have found mayoring quite different from the protective groves of academe and the stately manners of the Senate. Mayors are at ground zero in the political process.

Those who would never think of traveling to Washington, D.C. or the state capitol think nothing of coming to city hall and voicing their complaints. People who are contented don't show up. So the mood swirling around a mayor gets contentious -- many a mayor never makes it to the second term.

From the vantage point of high office, issues such as crime and jobs tend to be abstract statistics. Mayors deal with the concrete and the specific. You face a specific dead body on a well traveled street or the vacant lot that will soon become a condo tower or the school down the street where half the kids don't graduate. No theory here. Not much comfort from partisan rhetoric. Just hands-on reality with names and faces. Management at the human scale vs. pontification from on high.

In Oakland this week, we broke ground for a Whole Foods store in downtown, near auto row. It will be Whole Foods' largest store west of Texas and the first new major grocery store in this part of Oakland in decades.

For those who debate war and peace and the privatization of social security, this may seem like small potatoes. But it is a big deal. It is what we deal with in the city. And it is here that democracy, "people power," still flourishes.

Neighbors count and they make their voices heard. Higher up on the political food chain, neighbors get submerged into the demographics of market research and mass propaganda.

Kerrey's not taking the plunge, but there is always Bill Clinton. He would have a ball as mayor.

April 20, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (58)

California Democratic Convention: Day Two

Day Two of the convention, and it's a real bash – on the Governor. Arnold has managed to unite the far-flung tribes of the California Democratic Party.

Howard Dean fired up the troops tonight. He spoke about moral values and talking in a language that ordinary Americans could understand. The audience went wild.

There is something strange, though, in this rush to “morals.”

Morals represent tradition and custom. In this brave new century, tradition and custom are replaced by fashion and hype. The past is for reactionaries, we are told. Science, technology and the ever-expanding GDP will solve our problems. Yet, no society can hang together without a proper balance between stability, respect for the old ways and openness to the new. In our time—2005—we are way out of balance. Question: who gets it?  

April 16, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (122)

At the California State Democratic Convention

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere, but for a good cause. I got engaged and will be married on the steps of City Hall in June. I also went to Mexico—just south of the border—for R&R.

Much has happened since I last posted. Terri Schiavo died and Tom Delay is calling for retribution against the judges who didn’t stop it. Even his own Republicans are wincing and he has started to backtrack. Arash Sigarchi – the Iranian blogger sentenced to fourteen years in prison for criticizing his country’s leaders – has been freed on bail. The Dow Jones has fallen in the tank while gas prices are soaring.

Technorati reports one billion links, though that figure may be suspect due to the amount of dead links in cyberspace. I promise you that my blog won’t be one of them.

I am writing this from the press office in the Los Angeles Convention Center, where California Democrats have gathered for their annual convention. The Party faithful smell blood as our Republican governor runs into the buzz saw of teachers, nurses, prison guards and leaders of the AFL-CIO.

I am here seeking support for my candidacy for state attorney general. Next to the governor, this is the top executive job in the state. As governor, I signed--as every governor does--10,000 new laws. If elected, I will be in a position to interpret and enforce these laws.

Now more than ever, what is needed is balance and life experience in the face of government running amok, making minute and invasive laws about everything. Isn’t it curious that the same solutions continue to chase the same problems?

More tomorrow from the convention.

April 15, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (32)

Florida v. Texas

The death of Sun Hudson - a 6-month-old with a fatal genetic disorder who was taken off life support against his mother's wishes in a Texas hospital last week - adds some depth to the emotional debate over the fate of Terri Schiavo. The MSM are hanging on every twist and turn in the Schiavo case, and protesters have descended on Florida to denounce what they call "murder."

Wanda Hudson, Sun's mother, also considers her son to be a victim of murder. Just as Terri Schiavo's parents believe she could emerge from her vegetative state one day, Ms. Hudson thinks Sun could have defeated the odds with more time on a respirator. President Bush, who signed a bill to allow Schiavo's parents to fight for her life, is in an awkward position on this one.

From an editorial in the Concord Monitor:

On the same day President Bush interrupted his vacation to rush to Washington to sign the Schiavo bill, a Texas hospital removed the breathing tube keeping 6-month-old Sun Hudson alive. According to the Houston Chronicle, the hospital's action, the first of its kind, was made possible by a 1999 bill signed into law by Bush, then Texas's governor.

That law allows hospitals to discontinue life-sustaining care even when doing so runs counter to the wishes of the patient's guardians. Before ending the patient's life under the law Bush signed, however, two conditions must be met. Doctors must deem that there is no chance for recovery and the patient must be unable to pay the hospital bill for continuing care.

It is almost impossible to watch the news and not see Terri Schiavo's face or hear her name. But virtually no one knew of Sun Hudson, who, thanks to another law signed by George Bush, died yesterday. A Texas bioethicist defended the hospital's decision by saying that it was not killing but "stopping pointless treatment."

Many blogs are hosting discussions on this topic - most notably Daily Kos, Sue Bob's Diary and Lean Left. The very different treatment of Terri Schiavo in Florida from that of Sun Hudson in Texas raises questions about what principles are actually driving these actions:

1) A juridical right to life

2) Marital and family values requiring deference to the appropriate family member charged with end-of-life decisions

3) State authority versus federal, congressional or judicial decision making

4) Political exploitation of fundamentalist convictions

What do you think?

The President said: "This is a complex case with serious issues, but in extraordinary circumstances like this it is wise to always err on the side of life."

I think Wanda Hudson would agree.

March 23, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (58)

Here and There: The Death of a Cliché

When speaking of Oakland, it's long been fashionable for unlettered critics to apply Gertrude Stein's famous quip, "There is no there there." According to legend, Ms. Stein wished to put the town down by casting it as a non-place unworthy of San Francisco's chilly shadow.

News flash: Stein wasn't talking about the City of Oakland when she penned those words in Everybody's Autobiography. She was talking about the house at 25th Street and 13th Avenue where she lived as a child, a place she revisited in the 1930s only to find that everything had changed. The house, the garden, the rose hedge and even the eucalyptus tree she remembered so well had disappeared. The specific "there" where she had lived was no longer "there."

Literary nitpicking aside, SF Chronicle writer Dan Levy's latest story about the condo boom in downtown Oakland is great news for those interested in this town's revitalization. Formerly abandoned lots are being transformed into housing as part of the "10K Initiative."

According to Levy: Six years after Brown made his bold pronouncement, Oakland is close to fulfilling what has become known as the mayor's 10K Initiative.

With two years to go, "10K" is 85 percent complete. The chips are starting to fall in place for the Fox Theater renovation as well. The efforts of Oakland native Phil Tagami, who has taken on the task of restoring this magnificent 1920s movie palace to its former grandeur, were recently profiled in the Chronicle.

Born and raised in Oakland, Phil rose through the ranks of a construction crew to become one of the city's major developers and philanthropists. He specializes in preserving historic landmarks.

If only Gertrude Stein were here to see it all.

March 21, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (23)

In Pursuit of Excellence

A commenter on this blog recently complained about my role in public education. He claimed that I wasn't doing anything for students in Oakland. Not true.

From today's Oakland Tribune: The arts high school opened by Mayor Jerry Brown in downtown Oakland 2.5 years ago is now officially one of the best schools in California, at least according to the latest rankings assigned to all public schools by the state.

The Oakland School for the Arts (OSA), a public charter school I founded in 2002, scored a 9 out of 10 possible points on the Academic Performance Index (API). When compared to other schools with similar demographics across the state, OSA scored a "similar schools" rank of 10. The nearest score attained by any other Oakland high school was a 4.

Yesterday I attended an assembly at OSA to congratulate students on their remarkable achievement and encourage them to work even harder. They're a testament to the fact that Oakland kids can achieve excellence when that's the operating principle of their school.

Excellence is a fugitive in many schools, hounded by the shameless votaries of mediocrity. Some would like to see OSA fail because even the mere existence of a public charter school offends them.

At OSA, art provides the foundation for a rigorous, well-rounded academic program. A sister school, the Oakland Military Institute (OMI), uses ceremony, military courtesy and discipline to create a focused academic environment. Across the country, charter schools base their curriculum on everything from social justice to aerospace technology. What is needed today - for all schools - is money and innovation ... and freedom.

OSA is currently recruiting 9th and 10th grade students from all over the Bay Area. Auditions start this weekend. If you know any talented young artists - singers, dancers, painters, writers - please call (510) 836-DARE for more information.

March 17, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (28)

Culture Crash

Louis Sahagun of the Los Angeles Times has written a fascinating piece on Oakland's sideshows. A sideshow, for the uninitiated, is a homegrown version of a demolition derby, except it takes place illegally on city streets - often under the influence of drugs and violence.

On any given Saturday night, the streets of East Oakland are clogged with automobiles blaring loud music and performing dangerous stunts while spectators party on the sidelines. People come from all over Northern California to take part.

Having witnessed these antics below my own bedroom window, I know the annoyance and danger firsthand, but the spectacle has its share of apologists. They believe government has failed to provide "youth" with suitable evening amusement - thus the need for late night hijinks.

The Oakland Police Department - in coordination with the California Highway Patrol - has worked hard to stop this urban insurgency. Controlling convoys of cars in "hyphee" mode is not easy, however, and costs money the city could put to much better use.

Thanks to some recent legislation, the city is taking cars whose drivers are arrested for reckless driving and impounding them for thirty days. But even the temporary loss of a vehicle and a sizeable fine has not slowed the sideshows.

The next step may be to declare the cars a public nuisance and sell them at public auction. In egregious cases, the drivers and their front seat partners might also be charged with conspiracy to commit reckless driving, a felony. There are also some new technologies that might have a role to play in curtailing the sideshows.

The whole sideshow business is a commentary on one aspect of urban life that's often overlooked. Life for working people in low income neighborhoods is tough enough without this aggravation.

March 11, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (38)

Quote of the Week

"Extremism is so easy. You've got your position, and that's it. It doesn't take much thought. And when you go far enough to the right, you meet the same idiots coming around from the left."

-- Oakland native Clint Eastwood, in the Feb. 28 issue of Time

March 4, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (56)

Critical Assistance

All of Us or None and Critical Resistance marched on City Hall this morning to demand jobs for parolees and probationers. They were greeted at the front door by signs advertising the "Oakland Mayor's Job Fair" in Room 121.

The sixteen individuals who ventured inside seeking support found a continental breakfast, hot coffee and job counselors armed with a variety of listings and services. Our intent was to showcase the various kinds of critical assistance we provide to formerly incarcerated individuals who want to start new lives.

Outside, the organizers of the march were clearly upset by the City's willingness to meet their demands with job assistance. After much screeching through bullhorns, they stormed the building and promptly put an end to our peaceful job fair. They shouted down our job counselors - some of whom are rehabilitated felons - and completely disrupted the proceedings.

They picked the wrong fight.

Ron Owens - Oakland's parolee intervention coordinator, who transformed his life after many years in state prison - went head to head with the protest leaders. The debate was heated but the truth was clear: felons who want to change their lives have many opportunities in the City of Oakland.

These two protest groups pretty much discredited themselves today. They managed to demand jobs and sabotage a job fair within one hour. They wanted publicity, not progress.

But they do raise an interesting question: For how long should society punish individuals with criminal backgrounds? If an ex-con gets on the right path and proves his or her worth to society, should they still be identified as felons?

In the case of sex offenders or murderers, the answer is clear. But should a nonviolent crime committed in one's youth continue to haunt a person?

What do you think?

March 2, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (53)

Curfew Update

Carlos Venson, 31, was shot to death on the streets of West Oakland early Sunday morning, just ten blocks from where I live. Mr. Venson, a convicted cocaine dealer, was on felony probation and a stay-away order. An earlier newspaper report that Mr. Venson was on curfew is apparently incorrect and the Tribune will set the record straight tomorrow.

Had he been home with his family, under a curfew, he might be alive today.

Yesterday, National Public Radio ran an excellent piece by Richard Gonzalez on the subject of the curfew. I encourage you to hear it.

All of Us or None and Critical Resistance, two local anti-prison groups, have announced plans to protest against the curfew on the steps of City Hall this Wednesday at 11 a.m.

February 28, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (47)

Free Sigarchi

The blog has logged 20,000 hits in six days… You folks connect. Thanks Instapundit, Little Green Footballs, Marc Cooper and, et al.

Ted Shelton: thanks for leading the way.

The MSM over in Fog Town are having a chuckle because the comments get acerbic, even insulting. Truth comes in many forms. We need more of it in the MSM.

Vitriol can irritate, but it is often the price of freewheeling discussion and the discovery of important stuff.

It is curious how people perceive platitudes and extremism on my part when I perceive the same thing in them. Schopenhauer said that extracting truth from oneself required putting one’s mind on a rack and subjecting it to relentless interrogation—so prone are we to delusion and denial. Of course, the ideologues know nothing of such anguish because they rarely leave the refuge of their own tightly held identities.

Bloggers are a force. The established order of politics (EOP) and the MSM face a big challenge from this fearless army.  Tragically, in some countries, the challenge is met by enforced silence.

Arash Sigarchi, a 28-year-old journalist in Iran, has been sentenced to fourteen years in prison for criticizing the regime in his blog. Yesterday, the Committee to Protect Bloggers declared a day of action to support imprisoned bloggers everywhere.

I join in. We really need a powerful effort to make sure everyone knows and no one forgets Arash Sigarchi.

Regardless of political difference, we know that officials love to silence critics—even kill or imprison them. Journalists, bloggers, whoever raises the questions, must be defended. Everywhere.

February 23, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (242)

R.I.P. Hunter S. Thompson, Outlaw Journalist

            Hunter S. Thompson took muckraking to an outer edge in the early 1970s, when he was among the first to detect the rancid odor of White House corruption. His screeds against the sitting president were overwrought and tinged with paranoia, but Nixon’s resignation would vindicate his torrid animadversions. As California’s secretary of state, I had to yank the notary public commission of Nixon’s personal lawyer. It seems that he notarized a backdated deed of Nixon’s papers so that the president could qualify for a charitable deduction—illegally. These were unusual times.

Thompson’s personal life was not as grounded as his work, but as Dr. Gonzo often observed, via Dr. Johnson: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”  In the end, it seems, the pain caught up with him out on Owl Farm. Like a Chekhov story, the firearms he favored during a turbulent life figured in the manner of his untimely exit.

            In recent years, Thompson had penned a column on politics and sports for ESPN’s website.  The current political scene horrified him – as did the Oakland Raiders – and he pined for the company of his late fellow football addict, Richard Nixon. “Big darkness soon come,” he predicted in a column last year.

Thompson’s gone and so is much of the 60’s. He had the roughest of edges but such raw journalism—in some unimagined form—might be just the antidote to mendacious media interface.

Ad astra per aspera, or as Hunter would end his pieces: Res ipsa loquitur.

February 21, 2005 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (58)

Oakland On the Rise

My first post also appeared as a letter in the San Francisco Chronicle. One point that should be emphasized is that the curfew is imposed only on those who are convicted of a serious night-time crime in Oakland and who are released from jail under set conditions of probation.

This curfew has drawn the ire of some prison activists, but I think it has saved lives. By this time last year, 17 people had been murdered in Oakland. This year that number is down to four. That’s a 76 percent reduction.

I’m glad to see all the lively responses to my entry into the blogosphere. I welcome the robust debate. And, I will say that Oakland’s doing great. Crime is down, new housing is springing up all over town, the bar scene is coming alive and the arts are thriving. The new Oakland School for the Arts has taken up residence right behind the old Fox Theatre in downtown.

February 17, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (69)

In Defense of Oakland's Probationer Curfew

The murder rate in Oakland has fallen dramatically -- with no help from the folks at Critical Resistance. These zealots can’t accept the fact that strategic police work is saving lives in our city.

Oakland has adopted dynamic measures to stem violence and save lives. The curfew, which targets hardcore criminals who operate at night, is one of many programs to combat crime in the city’s hotspots.

The most glaring non-fact in Critical Resistance’s screed is the statement that probationers in are “sent back to prison for being out after 10 p.m.” In truth, curfew violators will receive an “intermediate sanction” of jail time. A week in jail is not comparable to a year in prison, and one more felon on a curfew is one less person behind bars. Critical Resistance wants to abolish prisons, so this alternative to incarceration should be applauded.

The assertion that 80 percent of parolees are homeless is as baseless as the claim that Oakland does nothing for probationers. In fact, Oakland is home to some of the most progressive probationer/parolee rehabilitation programs in the nation. Unique among cities, Oakland sends staff into state prison to help inmates train and prepare for life on the outside.

I invite Critical Resistance to step back from the ideological edge and assist us in turning lives around. Men and women leaving prison need lots of help, and activist energy could be creatively engaged.

February 15, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (165)