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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The problem with Jerry Brown's prison plan

The state spends way, way too much money on prisons, and now the governor wants to spend more -- and send people to (bad) private prisons and out of state to do it.

Brown insists that "only the most dangerous convicts remain in prison" after earlier court-ordered releases, but many of the remaining convicts are over 50, and some much older, and even if they did something awful once, they've served a lot of time and are unlikely to reoffend. And while we've made a lot of progress, there are still 12,500 people in prison for drug-related crimes.

So now, instead of doing what the courts have ordered and releasing people who aren't a serious threat to the community (or turning prison sentences for drug possession into treatment programs that are much cheaper), Brown wants to spend $315 million keeping everyone he can locked up.

(Imagine what just a fraction of that money could do for the crime rate in Oakland if Brown would give it to that city to hire more cops.)

If you agree that this is insane, the ACLU has a petition here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A little bit of San Francisco's soul, evicted

This city lost another little piece of its soul today (Aug. 27) when sheriff's deputies arrived to carry out an eviction at 17th and Capp.

Tenants of what used to be called the "17 Reasons" building after the strange but prominent sign that once graced its roof were given exactly sixty seconds to grab what they could of their belongings before the deputies secured the place for owner Rick Holman, who bought the place in April.

The residents were part of what used to be the heart of the mission, a group of activists and radicals who lived in converted commercial space and used their home as a meeting place for community organizers. Food Not Bombs cooked and stored food there.

Holman claims the place was an illegal sublet, that people who weren't on the lease had been living there. But the previous landlord never cared, and let the artist-collective types pretty much alone. And once an owner has established a practice, it's not surprising that the tenants would continue with it.

They always paid the rent on time. There is no indication that they damaged the property.

And for many, many years, scrappy young tenants, many of them artists, poets, writers, have inhabited marginal living spaces in the Mission and SOMA, creating communities and contributing to the fabric of the city.

But now, frankly, land in the Mission is too valuable for poor people and artists and malcontents to live on it. So today, more than a dozen members of the San Francisco Sheriff's Department showed up a little after 3pm. A locksmith was on site to open the doors. Homan was watching, along with an aide who did his best to shoo away two reporters by insisting that even the back parking lot was "private property" and nobody could stand there and watch the eviction.

Chema Hernandez Gil, who had been living in the building, met us out front and took us inside. We could see the deputies searching the living space, making sure nobody was still hiding out. When Hernandez asked if he could go in and reclaim the property still left behind, the deputy in charge said the landlord had refused. But under pressure from the sheriffs, Homan agreed to give Hernandez and Alicia Pelton, another resident, sixty seconds to grab what they could.

To get the rest, they will have to contact a landlord who they say has been hostile to them from day one, and get his permission to return and reclaim their possessions.

Pelton has found a new place to live -- in the East Bay. That's the tragedy of all these evictions, all this displacement -- San Franciscans can't stay in their own town anymore. And for all the comments I hear about how that's just life, how people from Manhattan have been forced to move to Brooklyn, it's not the same. Brooklyn is part of New York. Oakland is not part of San Francisco.

The speculators and landlords are cleaning up the Mission. They are driving out the life. They are emptying a city of it's madness and color and fun. It's worse than it's ever been, and it's been bad before.

It's like this, to quote my old friend, the late great poet John Ross:

Coming out of the underground
On the BART escalator,
The Mission sky
Is washed by autumn,
The old men and their garbage bags
Are clustered in the battered plaza
We once named for Cesar Augusto Sandino.
Behind me down below
In the throat of the earth
A rough bracero sings
Of his comings and goings
In a voice as ronco y dulce
As the mountains of Michoacan and Jalisco
For the white zombies
Careening downtown
To the dot coms.
They are trying to kick us
Out of here
They are trying to drain
This neighborhood of color
Of color
This time we are not moving on.
We are going to stick to this barrio
Like the posters so fiercely pasted
To the walls of La Mision
With iron glue
That they will have to take them down
Brick by brick
To make us go away
And even then our ghosts
Will come home
And turn those bricks
Into weapons
And take back our streets
Brick by brick
And song by song
Ronco y dulce
As Jalisco and Michaocan
Managua, Manila, Ramallah Pine Ridge, Vietnam, and Africa.
As my compa QR say
We here now motherfuckers
Tell the Klan and the Nazis
And the Real Estate vampires
To catch the next BART out of here
For Hell.

Lee, Ammiano, and HealthySF

I am told that Mayor Ed Lee is not happy about a Chronicle oped piece by Tom Ammiano, who is now in the state Assembly but who as a San Francisco supervisor created HealthySF. In fact, Lee's chief of staff, Steve Kawa, called Ammiano's office to complain -- but Ammiano's not backing off.

Here's the deal: The Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which hates paying money for worker health care, is trying to derail HSF, arguing that the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, renders the local program superfluous. And Lee is in the middle, listening to the GGRA and thus far sending no signals that he's willing to defend the local law.

Also silent: Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who has long claimed credit for the law (which he only supported after Ammiano pushed it). Newsom isn't saying a word about the attacks on HSF.

By the way: How, exactly, is Ed Lee "effectively defending" City College when he hasn't done a damn thing except to effectively side with the accreditors? Randy Shaw says that

  Mayor Ed Lee has no formal role in the CCSF accreditation crisis. Nor does Lee have any legal authority to impact the ACCJC. The public statement he was asked to deliver would have made it appear that San Francisco’s mayor was wrongly injecting himself in the crisis.
But what Lee, and all the other city leaders who are standing by quietly (or who are just urging City College to do what the accreditors want) are actually doing is accepting the ACCJC narrative that this is the fault of the school. Herrera has demonstrated nicely that it's a much larger issue that involves the privatization of public education. One would think the mayor of San Francisco could say something about that.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Changing the narrative around City College

Over at at the Unitarian Church last night, Rafael Mandelman, Chris Jackson and I were talking to the Progressive Democrats of America about how to save City College. Two things became clear:

1. It's time to stop rolling over for the ACCJC and start fighting back, and

2. We have to change the narrative about what's happening to the school.

Mandelman made the first point pretty clearly. In his first six months on the board, he said, his goal was to keep the school accredited, and he and his colleagues did pretty much everything that the ACCJC and a special trustee wanted done. "We acquiesced for six months," he said. And it didn't do any good at all.

Some board members are nervous about pissing off the ACCJC, but at this point, there's really no choice. The accreditation panel isn't going to allow City College to continue as anything beyond a shadow of its former self. This is political; it's a big fight, and if we try to compromise and be accommodating, we're going to lose.

The second point is even more significant.

It's easy to say (and it's not wrong to say) that there has been financial mismanagement at the school. But that's not only something that can be fixed (and that process is happening); it's entirely beyond the point. The ACCJC isn't really concerned about fiscal issues or governance; the panel and its leadership want to fundamentally change how community colleges operate in this country.

The San Francisco's Chronicle's editorial today is a perfect case study in how (some of) the news media and (some of) the city's political leadership is getting this entirely wrong:

After years of neglect and mismanagement, this institution - so critical to opportunity and economic development in the city - needs to overhaul financial controls and governance policies to maintain its accreditation. These failures were underlined by an outside review panel that has become the subject of union ire and now Herrera's legal focus.

The city's leaders should be calling for tough love, not coddling dysfunction. Fortunately, Mayor Ed Lee has done just that - but, regrettably, the city attorney is going in the opposite direction.
 Actually, nobody's coddling anyone or anything. At the direction of a special trustee that the ACCJC wanted appointed, City College has made dramatic changes to governance and financial accountability, some of them bitterly opposed by labor and the students, and many of them unnecessary and wrong. The elected trustees went along to mollify the ACCJC -- and it didn't work.

That's because, as Herrera points out in his lawsuit, this isn't really about whether department chairs or deans or senior administrators get to set course lists and hire faculty. It's about a profound change in the mission of City College and other similar institutions. It's about an attempt by right-wing corporatists, private for-profit schools, and private companies that make money off student loans to undermine public education. There's a huge amount of money in loans and for-profit schools, and the growth in that field depends on eliminating the cheap, more effective, public competition.

Herrera's team did the research that reporters (including me) should have been doing long ago, and his case sets what has to be the new narrative. Ed Lee can talk tough love all he wants, but does he really want to be on the side of the Lumina Foundation, ALEC, the student loan sharks, and the privatizers? Is this the crew we want running education in this country?

Does Nancy Pelosi really want to allow the educational equivalent of the Koch brothers to be calling the shots in the district she was elected to represent?

That's the real story here. It's time to tell it. Loudly.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

City Attorney's lawsuit exposes right-wing corporate agenda behind attacks on City College

When I showed up at the big Save City College rally outside the Department of Education offices, I kept asking people: Why are we here? Why aren't we at Nancy Pelosi's office?After all, if Pelosi wanted to make a fuss about this issue, she could make a phone call to the secretary of education and get some action right away (more things like this would happen.)

But in the end, I've had the feeling for a while now that the only way to stop this disaster from happening so fast, and City College essentially shutting down next spring, is for someone to get this case out of the hands of the ACCJC and in front of a judge.

And that's what City Attorney Dennis Herrera just did. In a complaint filed today (Aug. 22), Herrera alleges that the ACCJC's decision to yank the accreditation of City College was marred by conflicts of interest and that that commission went beyond the scope of its authority.

At the very least, I suspect this will slow things down. "The first question a judge is going to ask is 'what's the rush,' " Matt Dorsey, Herrera's spokesperson, told me. "What is the immediate danger here? Are things just so horribly bad for students at City College that they would be better off with nothing at all? Why do we have to do such lasting damage to the students and the city in such a short time frame?"

And if the case ever gets to trial, the ACCJC will have to explain why it treated City College differently than other institutions, why it is trying to shut the school down rather than allow time for improvements -- and why does the revocation of accreditation have nothing at all to do with the quality of education that the students are getting?

But the lawsuit actually goes beyond the narrow issues and raises critical questions about the direction of higher education policy and funding in this country. Among other things, the compliant discusses the role of the Lumina Foundation -- created with some $700 million in money from the sale of a private student-loan administration outfit -- in pushing for the privatization of community-college, vocational, and traditional college education.

Much of the complaint -- you can get a pdf here -- reads like an investigative news report, showing how Lumina and the leaders of big for-profit schools are scamming millions of students, taking their money, loading them down with debt, and never providing a decent education.

And, Herrera alleges, that same agenda is driving the move to shut down City College. When lower-income students and people seeking language or vocational skills lose access to public education, the private companies (and the student loan outfits) make increased profits. "Put simple, contracting community colleges pushes students into for-profit colleges and forces them to incur significant debt -- to the benefit of for-profit colleges and private lending institutions," the complaint notes.

Lumina also provides money to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a notorious right-wing group that is pushing the privatization of education.

In 2011, Lumina gave $1.5 million to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC's parent) and $600,000 to something called the "Campaign for College Opportunity." ACCJC President Barbara Beno sits on the COC Advisory Board. Lumina also gave $200,000 to a state Student Success Task Force that came up with proposals that directly undermined the mission of broad-based schools like City College and pushed for all students to be in degree programs, most of them aimed at transferring to a four-year college.

The ACCJC strongly endorsed the Task Force findings. City College, and its faculty, board, and students, strongly opposed them. As the state Legislature debated a bill in 2012 giving the recommendations the power of law, City College and its board, faculty and students fought back, and succeeded in watering it down significantly. ACCJC was just as strongly pushing for the other side.

While that battle was going on, the ACCJC decided to start moving against City College by threatening its accreditation.

The loss of accreditation was based in significant part on ACCJC's demand that City College narrow its scope and mission "to become the kind of limited service college that ACCJC and its funders prefer," the complaint notes.

It's explosive stuff.

The lawsuit was filed under the state's Unfair Practices Act, which gives Herrera the standing, on behalf of the people of California, to go after a private outfit that is engaging in illegal business practices. It's a powerful too, and if he's successful, he might save City College -- and deal a huge blow to the corporate privatization forces that are attacking public education.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

You can donate to my new venture with PayPal!

The nonprofit San Francisco Progressive Media Center is now up and running, and soon will be publishing my new online project. This is exciting news: I am soon going to start a new publication, with real daily reporting on San Francisco, plus arts and culture and fun. All as a nonprofit. Not just blogs and content aggregation but a serious newspaper on the web that will tell you all the secrets of San Francisco. You can donate here (and I'll soon have cool swag for people who help out):

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Oh, by the way, I'm back

Got a couple of posts up today, breaking news, and haven't had a chance to say: I'm back in town after a rather unfortunate situation that reminds me of how awful the American health insurance system really is.

My 90-year-old mother, who lives by herself and fiercely guards her independence, fell and broke her leg, right next to where she had a hip replacement. Serious business. But she was on vacation in upstate New York at the time, and thus not near her home of Philadelphia, and thus "out of network" -- and I have had to fight bitterly to get her the treatment she needs and deserves.

I'll write the whole story up soon. At this point she's okay, in a rehab facility near home (my family has had to eat the $1000 cost of medical transport to get her there, another sick story of the horrors of private health insurance), and we hope she will walk again and be able to remain independent.

But it set back my blogging and my efforts to launch my new publication by a couple of weeks.

I have, however, incorporated the San Francisco Progressive Media Center as a nonprofit, and I'm raising money for my new online daily publication, and in the next couple of days I'll have a paypal account. Also planning fundraisers. I will keep you all posted.

SF PUC caves to PG&E on Clean Power

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and its union, IBEW Local 1245, have launched a classic misleading campaign against Clean Power SF, and for good reason: PG&E knows that once the city gets into the power business, it's a first step toward a world where the private utility is no longer needed. It's gone so far that Randy Shaw at BeyondChron even bought into it, arguing that since Shell Oil is evil, we should scrap the entire effort. (Shell is evil. So is PG&E. See: Erin Brockovitch. See: Gas explosions. But that's not the point -- Shell is a short-term fix to get us to the point where we as a city can generate our own green power. You can't sell bonds to build power facilities without a revenue stream. You can't get a revenue stream without a business and customers.)

And now the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has signed on with PG&E and its allies.

In a startling vote, the panel refused today (Aug. 13) to take the housekeeping step of approving a rate package -- essentially sending Clean Power SF back to the drawing board. It's not clear if the action was even consistent with the City Charter -- Jeremy Pollock, an aide to Sup. John Avalos, pointed out at the hearing that the supervisors approved the plan on a veto-prof 8-3 vote, and it's not the job of the PUC to change that policy. He also pointed out the obvious politics: "The Board of Supervisors and all the environmental groups support this. The mayor, PG&E, and its union oppose it."

Everyone agrees that this program isn't perfect. It's an imperfect world for renewable energy right now, and PG&E and its allies have made things very difficult for anyone trying to get into the public-power business. But as Commissioner (and former PUC General Manager) Anson Moran pointed out, "not all of the things we want to do [right now] are possible. Is this good enough? Yes."

And yet, Chair Art Torres (a Gavin Newsom appointee and former chair of the state Democratic Party who is no stranger to backroom politics) and members Anne Moeller Caen (who has been both dumb and oppositional on public power for her entire tenure), and Vince Courtney, who ought to know better, all voted not to approve the rate structure that's needed for this to move forward.

"It's very disappointing," Sup. David Campos, a leader in the Clean Power SF fight, told me. "This is just one step in a longterm process. I don't know what they want."

It wasn't clear from watching the hearing what the PUC members want, either. The staff explained that all of the other elements of Clean Power, including the buildout of city renewables, have to wait until the rates are approved. Courtney said that the "labor issues aren't resolved," although he also acknowledged that the only labor union opposed to Clean Power SF is IBEW 1245. Torres said the project wasn't as good as it should be and that there are other options --but that fight, on a policy level, is over: The Board of Supervisors has decided the city is going to establish a Clean Power system.

It's going to take a while to figure out what happens next, but it's clear that PG&E's efforts won this round.

Feds slam City College critic

In a delicious turnabout, the federal Department of Education has threatened to yank the accreditation of the ACCJC, the agency that is trying to shut down City College.

The move came in response to complaints by the California Federation of Teachers that the ACCJC is out of control and has failed to follow federal guidelines for site visits, conflicts of interests and other areas.

In an Aug. 13 letter,  Kay W. Gilcher, who heads the accreditation group at the DOE, states that the ACCJC "does not meet the requirements" of several parts of the federal code, particularly involving site-visit teams and conflicts. In essence, the department is upholding the CFT complaint.

In fact, the DOE has issued its own "show cause" order, giving the ACCJC 12 months to correct its problems and threatening to shut down or replace the agency if major changes aren't made.

"Unfortunately, this doesn't say anything specifically about City College," trustee Rafael Mandelman told me. "But it does say that the ACCJC doesn't behave right."

It's a rare and stinging rebuke for an agency that has been secretive, unaccountable, and seems hell-bent on transforming the mission of community colleges. And now that the shoe is on the other foot, perhaps the ACCJC will be a bit more willing to give City College another chance.

UPDATE: You can read the entire letter here.