Sunday, December 7, 2008

Oakland's Low Homicide Clearance Rate: A Tactic?

My foray today into the cloudy Oakland afternoon was punctuated by two articles regarding the future of Oakland. So, when I arrived home -- after a brief stint tickling the ivories on my Steinway B -- I sat down to write this entry.

The first article was a column by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor in the Berkeley Daily Planet which spent a significant amount of time dissecting my views on local politics. The second was the cover story regarding Oakland's low homicide clearance rate published in my favorite local publication, East Bay Express.

I couldn't help noticing a striking similarity between the two articles' appraisals of the current situation in Oakland, and it got me wondering whether there is some purpose at work here.

Allen-Taylor's column seemed irritated by my decision in the past two months to highlight the effectiveness of Oakland's regressive parcel taxation and increased police presence in encouraging the poor to leave the city. While he disagreed with my contention that this is a good thing for Oakland, he appears to agree with me that this process of gentrification is well underway.

Before moving on to the crux of the matter here, I want to take a look at two specific points made by Allen-Taylor in discussing my views.  Actually, before doing that, I want to again thank Allen-Taylor for mentioning this blog in his column. While he clearly disagrees with my political perspective, he is doing the community a service by further popularizing this blog and its message. A diversity of viewpoints is important, and the East Bay clearly lacks a sufficient dose of non-Leftism.

Allen-Taylor's first point involves my decision to remain anonymous in writing this blog. Frankly, I'm surprised that he takes issue with this decision. We live in a part of the country that is not particularly friendly to those with views like mine. So, I am simply adopting a tactic frequently employed by the oppressed throughout history.

Allen-Taylor also seems confused by what I mean when I opine that Oakland has more than its reasonable share of the poor. To this, I encourage him to think about the relative function of wealth and poverty in an economy. Obviously, wealth is preferable to poverty. This fact encourages people to enrich themselves -- thereby innovating, working hard and improving society as a whole. Poverty should always be available as a choice in a free society, but it should not be much fun. Wealth should be a choice as well, but it should require work and a bit of luck.

The problem with Oakland is we have inverted this relationship. Through government policies such as rent control and welfare we have permitted what should be prime real estate to remain impoverished. Why should a family earning $100k a year live in Walnut Creek and commute 45 minutes to San Francisco while people languish on food stamps in neighborhoods a mere 10 minutes from those same jobs? It doesn't make sense; it's a misallocation of resources. Oakland should attract those wealthier residents.

Above all, Allen-Taylor agrees with me that Oakland pursues policies which drive out the poor. The odd thing to me is that he seems to think this is a bad idea, but I didn't see him take apart Mayor Dullums' support of Measure NN or any of the other regressive parcel taxes we've seen in the past decade. Perhaps he's like most Leftists in that he wants to get money into government hands, even if the net result is terrible for the poor.

The East Bay Express article discussed the correlation between the percentage of homicides solved in Oakland and the homicide rate itself. The article makes the reasonable argument that failure to solve crime encourages more crime.

But what really caught my eye was the article's implication that this is a direct consequence of deliberate policies by Oakland's police department and city government in general. The Express seems to agree with Allen-Taylor that, rather than solving homicides, the police are content to harry the city's poor residents by chasing around after so-called "hot spots."

Reading this article also reminded me of what I see when the Tribune publishes the pictures of all those murdered in Oakland during the year. By and large, those murdered are non-white, and they live in areas of the city which correlate with lower incomes and home values.

So, we appear to have a city which enacts regressive parcel taxes, fails to stop crime in its impoverished areas and instead tasks the police with making the lives of the poor as difficult as possible. Our policies are therefore perfectly aligned with the goal of gentrification -- something I support strongly.

But how is this possible? Oakland is a bastion of Leftism, voting for such leaders as Barbara Lee and Ron Dullums. Is it possible that this is a deliberate policy? Or is it just a consequence of incompetence and the inherent flaws of Leftism.

While I would like to think that this set of policies is deliberate, I think the latter explanation is by far the more likely one. I have long noticed that government action seems to create more unintended than intended consequences.

I find it hard to imagine that our mayor and police chief set out to increase the homicide rate -- just as I doubt that Leftists in Congress hope to foster government dependency when they implement social programs. For the most part, these people have their hearts in the right place. It's just that the actions they choose tend to have consequences opposite from those they intend.

I believe this in turn is a consequence of government's tendency to view policy from a very static perspective. They do not expect people to react to the programs they implement. So, it never occurs to them that, if they offer money to bail people out of foreclosure, some people will purposely stop paying their mortgages to get government money.

Similarly, Oakland consistently votes to raise taxes on the poor to pay for programs to help the poor. Never mind that all this does is introduce a layer of bureaucracy into the system.

And, Oakland's police department chases "hot spots" around the city, thinking that the homicide rate is the consequence of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Never mind that if you are not involved in drug dealing or other gangster-type activities, Oakland is as safe as any other city in the country.

Luckily, we conservatives reap the benefits of this wrongheaded thinking. It's no coincidence that San Francisco -- America's most liberal big city -- has already ejected most of its poor residents. Oakland is close on its heels, and not a moment too soon.

Gentrification is here to stay, and I couldn't be happier.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Oakland Tribune's Poor Reporting / Scare Statistics

I picked up the Tribune this morning at the Bart station -- something I rarely do since I canceled my subscription some five years ago. I canceled because of their failure to deliver papers to my house in any sort of reasonable fashion. I'd say I received the paper three or four days out of the week.

Now I know that the Tribune has been largely decimated by the ongoing difficulties in the newspaper industry. But I opened today's issue to find a statistic that seemed hardly believable. And sure enough, when I did a minimal amount of research I determined that the writer or editors had redacted key words from the story, causing its content to be false in important ways.

The particular story was on the front page of the Metro section, dealing with a program to help prevent AIDS. Here is the specific quote which caught my eye:
African-Americans make up 16 percent of the U.S. population, but black teens accounted for 69 percent of new AIDS cases in 2005, according to statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This statistic shocked me for obvious reasons. The implication is that fully two-thirds of all new AIDS cases occur not just among blacks but among black teens.

I don't want to belittle the magnitude of this problem one bit. There is a great deal of data out there suggesting that AIDS now has a disproportionate impact among the black community. There are various theories and explanations for this fact, but for now I'd like to comment instead on the Tribune's reporting.

Here is the correct information, courtesy of the Black AIDS Institute webpage:
Although African Americans represent only 16 percent of U.S. teens, they represented 69 percent of all new AIDS cases reported among teens in 2005.

Notice the difference? The statistic is still a serious problem, but what the Tribune reported was just preposterous. I've encountered several other examples of this sort of issue in local reporting, and I would echo the sentiment of other bloggers that part of the reason Oakland suffers under such tyrannical government is a lack of serious journalism.

But, I guess that's what we bloggers are here for.

In any event, I do hope the Tribune prints a correction.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

¡Pueblo Loco! Cellphone Taxes In The Land Of Leftism

Today, my family faced the not-so-unusual dilemma of how to check in for our flight tomorrow on Southwest exactly 24 hours before the flight. Since we were planning to be eating at Phil's, a great barbecue restaurant in San Diego, at that exact moment, we concluded we would need to use our cellphones.

I was concerned that we didn't have data access on our Verizon plans, so I went to their website and pulled up a copy of our bill to check things out. It turned out that we did have enough of a data plan to check in using -- very convenient.

But along the way, I happened to page down to the taxes and fees for our cellphone plan, and I noticed something strange:

CA State 911 Fee .44
CA State High Cost Fund (B) .21
CA Teleconnect Fund Surchg .06
CA State High Cost Fund (A) .11
Lifeline Surcharge - CA .98
CA Advanced Svrcs Fund (CASF) .21
CA Relay Srvc/Comm Device Fund .17
Oakland City Uut 6.34

Apparently I've been paying $8.52 a month in semi-hidden taxes for the privilege of having a cellphone while living in Oakland. The Oakland portion of the tax bill is clearly insane, but the California part seemed reasonable to me.

That is, until I started researching the matter. According to Forbes, California residents enjoy one of the highest rates of cellphone taxation in the country.

On the one hand, this strikes me as just more of the same. Liberal regimes always find new and creative ways to tax people -- preferably using mechanisms that are very difficult to detect. The goal is not to be up front about government costs and expenditures but to hide the costs.

Alternately, a cellphone tax clearly is regressive, since lower income people are just as likely to have phones as those in the higher income brackets. So, much like Oakland's much-loved parcel taxes, I view this tax as another item pushing the poor out of our city -- undeniably a good thing.

I kept reading, and I found another article about a man who simply changed his cellphone billing address to Idaho to save money.

I noted that he discussed in the article that Nevada has the lowest cellphone taxes of all.

Eureka! As most of my readers know, I maintain a Nevada Headquarters for just this sort of contingency. I called Verizon forthwith and changed my billing address to the Nevada HQ. That's $8.52 a month I won't be paying any more.

Anyone want to rent a mailbox in Nevada?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sucker Purchase: Solar Panels On The Roof

In case you hadn't heard, Berkeley took only 9 minutes to fill up the slots for its "innovative" program to pay for rooftop solar installations over time using property taxes.

Proponents lauded this measure, which passed handily, for allowing the average homeowner to pay the hefty $28,000 pricetag for a typical system by tacking on only $182 a month to his property tax bill.

On the surface, this seems like a good deal, and some have even suggested that it could be a model nationwide. Sadly, not only is it a bad deal, it's an environmental disaster.

Now I know you're probably expecting me to attack solar panels from the typical conservative non-environmental perspective. After all, rooftop solar panel installations are a key element of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving the planet, right?

Not so fast. I realize that the typical liberal narrative is that the only reason solar panels are not ubiquitous is that greedy capitalists are unwilling to foot the bill to purchase them. Instead, they'd rather pay 10 cents a kilowatt-hour or so for dirty coal power. If only they were willing to cut back a little up front, they'd get 30 years or so of emission and cost-free solar power from each panel they purchased!

Here's the problem. No one ever asks why solar panels cost so much more to produce per lifetime kilowatt-hour than do coal-fired power plants.

Well, let's think about it. First, someone has to locate and purify a certain type of silicon. Then, an industrial process must be used to produce a large crystal structure from that silicon material. Finally, since many of the panels produced don't measure up to quality standards, relatively few make it through the process.

What's the common denominator at each step of this process? Energy. It turns out that solar panels require a vast amount of energy to produce -- starting with the bulldozer digging up the silicon, through the energy required to purify it, the energy to produce the crystal and then the wasted energy when panels fail to operate.

So, when you pay $28,000 for a solar panel, most of that money is going to purchase fossil fuels which are burned to produce the energy for making that panel.

When you think about it, this is true for pretty much all alternative energy schemes (with a few exceptions, such as hydroelectric and geothermal). Any time you're relying on a complicated and expensive device to generate your power, it's a good bet that the cost of that device is largely energy-related. So, if the device costs more than the cost of the energy it "saves" you, you're probably wasting energy.

In other words, unless you get $28,000 of energy out of your solar panel, you've probably hurt the environment. Unfortunately, that takes at least 10 or 15 years to do, even with optimistic assumptions about energy production. And, this all assumes your panels don't break.


What rooftop solar panels really amount to is a bet against future technological progress. What you're saying is, "I'd rather burn up $28,000 worth of fossil fuels right now than burn them slowly over time in the hope that things get more efficient into the future."

Also, you're saying you don't think technological progress is likely to produce solar panels more efficiently in the future.

Doesn't make a lot of sense, does it?

The real solution to our energy dilemma is to search for cost effective alternative sources of energy. Cost effectiveness is absolutely critical, because if something makes financial sense it's a good bet that you're getting more energy out of it than you put in. And this should be the gold standard for environmentalists.

Environmentalists need to start thinking like capitalists. A capitalist looks at an investment and asks, "What return on investment can I expect here?" An environmentalist should look at a new energy technology and ask, "What return on energy does this technology give me?" So, if the device costs 1 million kilowatt-hours to build, it better generate far more than 1 million kilowatt-hours over its lifetime.

In my opinion, if you want to save the planet using solar power, you should encourage the government to fund basic research, or throw some money into one of the many nanotechnology-based solar startups throughout the Bay Area. Both of these avenues make sense, because they can potentially find ways to produce solar panels for a fraction of the cost (and therefore energy) required to produce today's panels.

But the worst thing you can do is purchase today's inefficient environmentally unfriendly solar panels.

Let's hope Berkeley's program doesn't become a model for the nation. If it does, we're in for a world of hurt.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nirvana Realized: Oakland At 837 Cops

By now most readers have heard the news that the Oakland Police Department graduated a new class of cops, bringing the total staffing above the magic 800 number for the first time in recent history. At the same time, there's a fair bit of bellyaching that this accomplishment will not make a significant difference to the city.

There also is some discussion of how this feat serves as some sort of vindication for Mayor Dullums. Let me counter that assertion first and then move on to the question of what this will mean for Oakland residents.

Ron Dullums is the political equivalent of a fair-weather fan. The issue with him is not that he didn't manage to survive long enough to witness the promised increase in policing. It's that he did very little to support it -- and indeed opposed it -- until it became clear that it was the only alternative left.

But just as the president frequently gets credit for "running the economy," though he does nothing of the kind, Dullums has received some totally undeserved accolades here. Fair enough. Hopefully it makes him sleep better at night.

But on to the issue of the 837 cops. I'll admit that the first thing I noticed when reading the announcement was these cops' starting salary: $70,000 per year. I'm sure that number ignores the cost of benefits and retirement, which typically adds about 50 percent to a civil servant's cost. So, these cops are cosing us about $100k per year each.

That's quite a price to pay for rookie cops, especially when you consider that New York pays its rookie cops just $36,000 a year.

Sit back and think about that for a moment. Our leaders are chortling that they managed to hire police by offering to pay them double what they would earn in NYC (which, incidentally, has a higher cost of living than the Bay Area).

And, what do you want to bet that Oakland is not rationally reserving money for these officers' retirement pay? Given what we've seen throughout California in recent months and years, I'd be pretty surprised to see anything reasonable on that front.

Still, I'm glad to see the number of police increase, and I continue to support any well-written proposition to increase them further -- provided it uses regressive taxation as did Measure Y.

Doing so is a true win-win for Oakland residents. First, spending money on police will decrease crime.

Now I know that Dullums likes to say things like, "We can't arrest our way out of this problem." I disagree. I think we can and should arrest people like crazy to get this problem under control.

If I were an anti-social element looking for a city to loot, I'd absolutely factor my chances of getting caught into my decisionmaking. As criminals learn that Oakland is serious about rounding up criminals, they will go elsewhere. It's simple self-preservation.

But that's just the start of it. By diverting tax money from liberal social programs to the police -- no matter how inefficiently it is done -- the city is sending out a clear message to the poor: Get Out.

The same goes for regressive parcel taxes which hit hardest those who can least afford them.

This is exactly what Oakland needs to do. Tax the poor and stop spending money to support them. Our city lies at the gateway to San Francisco. We have Bart stations which will whisk a business commuter to Market Street in under 15 minutes. What we need is an environment more conducive to getting those people to live here. That means keeping prices cheaper than San Francisco (we've got that covered, courtesy of the housing crash), and it means making the streets livable.

So, I applaud whatever forces have brought this about, and I hope to see more of the same. May our better-policed city flourish!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting Is A Waste Of Your Time

Rather than submitting a list of endorsements or suggestions for your review this election day, I'd like to suggest that you reconsider the value of even participating in the process at all.

There's been a lot of discussion of various platitudes this election season, as there is every four years. I see people on the television telling me that they expect some resurrection of "hope" or "change" if one candidate or another wins the election. The same thing goes, to a lesser degree, for local elections.

As with most vague statements, these slogans bear little connection to reality. In fact, I've found that most Bay Area people I've spoken with can't even articulate any specifics when I ask how their candidate will affect their life.

If you think about it for a moment, you'll realize that this isn't too surprising. What a preposterous concept for someone to think that some action by the government can give them "hope."

Now, don't get me wrong. I do believe that people are affected by whom they select to lead them. It's just that I believe people make systematic errors by selecting leaders who tell them what they want to hear instead of those who might do something that would improve conditions.

This is exacerbated by the fact that nearly everything government does or can do causes harm. So, when a politician promises to "do something," this nearly always translates to "hurt people." When the government does manage to do something which improves conditions, more often than not it is an accident.

There is an old saw that every urban community and every urban school district is dominated by Democrats. So why then do those in urban areas seem to blame Republicans for the ills they suffer? The same goes for suburban Republican voters.

The bottom line is that voters follow predictable patterns, repeating the same simple mistakes time and again. In this way, politics is just like capitalism. Just as people guide the economy through their largely random purchases, so too do they guide the government through largely random voting patterns.

So, there is largely no point to voting. Doing so wastes your time. Elections almost never come down to a single vote. And, even if "your" candidate wins, you have no concrete or meaningful way to translate that election win into predictable positive consequences for you.

As one friend put it, democracy is the American religion. In church, people pray to a higher power, hoping their conditions will change -- yet nothing predictable ever comes of it. In America, we cast ballots thinking it will make some difference. Yet the vote of any individual is irrelevant.

So why even bother spending time writing about political issues? I have a couple answers to that. First, I believe local politics has a better chance of being relevant to an individual than do state or national politics. Also, just as a matter of statistics, a local blogger might shift enough views to cause one or another proposition to pass. That is why this blog largely focuses on the local.

More importantly, I view politics as an excellent source of good humor. I enjoy watching politicians repeatedly lie to constituents about their plans to "solve" various problems. It is great fun to watch debacles like the Mandela Foods Cooperative.

Of course, the only reason why I can view the terrible actions of our local politicians with such good humor is that none of them really affect me -- aside from taxation, that is. And, as readers of this blog know, I view local taxation as somewhat positive as much of it is regressive, which drives out the poor and improves the community.

If I lived in inner-city Oakland and had to send my kids to the crazy liberals' school-shaped laboratories, I would probably feel different. I'd probably be angry, and I'd probably buy into messages of "hope" coming from above.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Oakland: Where Property Taxes Soar And The City Burns

My advice to the prospective Bay Area homeowners: Don't move to Oakland.

Or, if you can't tear yourself away from the prospect of horrible schools, murder as a way of life and a mayor who looks and sounds like Ronald McDonald in grayscale, at least make sure you read the fine print.

As October ends, we unlucky Oakland homeowners receive our annual property tax assessments. They read like a comedy routine -- as if the government designed them to cause the gap between amount paid and services received to be as wide as possible.

Actually, now that I think about it, that is exactly the objective of liberal government, and Oakland does it well.

Let's take a look at some aggregate numbers and then dive into the specifics of Oakland's annual property extortion. This information is all available at the Alameda County property tax site. The numbers provided are for a typical house, and they do vary from house to house.
Ad Valorem tax rates:
Berkeley - 1.26%
Oakland - 1.33%
Piedmont - 1.17%
Fremont - 1.11%
Hayward - 1.10%

Parcel taxes:
Berkeley - $1,183
Oakland - $740
Piedmont - $3,407
Fremont - $355
Hayward - $205

These tables are pretty self explanatory. Most other East Bay cities have numbers that look similar to Fremont and Hayward. By choosing to live in Berkeley or Oakland, a homeowner is paying an outrageous and indefensible amount of tax.

There is no reasonable explanation for why these cities need to tax citizens so much more than other cities -- no explanation other than pure shameless liberalism, that is. The only tax with some explanation is the high parcel tax rate in Piedmont, which pays for one of the country's best public school systems and is well worth paying for.

How do Berkeley and Oakland get away with this? Simple. Because many higher-income residents choose to live here to be close to their jobs in San Francisco or on the peninsula, those cities can charge a higher tax without providing them any return on investment. Think of it as a toll or an entry fee.

The situation becomes even more absurd when looking at the specifics of Oakland's parcel taxes:

  • $80 annually goes to pay for one of the Bay Area's worst library systems -- one which still doesn't even have free wi-fi.

  • $110 goes to the "LLAD" which is a well-known fraud and slush-fund for local politicians to grease their supporters.

  • $200 goes to schools through Measure E. Residents would do just as well to light two hundred dollar bills on fire. Oakland schools are garbage.

  • $88 goes to the Violence Prevention tax. As far as I can tell, they should rename this the "Violence Promotion Tax." Evidently, the more we pay, the more they rob and murder us.

  • If you live in the hills area, $65 goes to pay for your own private fire department, because the city government refuses to pay for those pesky middle-class people's fire protection.

The 1.33% ad valorem tax is one of the highest in the state (if not the highest -- I haven't had time to check). Along with the real estate transfer tax, it helps ensure that Oakland real estate remains depressed. That tax is so high because city agencies -- schools included -- have managed to max out their credit cards on bonded projects which, as usual, haven't managed to help any of the city's obvious problems.

Meanwhile, Mayor Dumbledore and his buddies continue to lobby for even higher property taxes. It's an ugly situation, and one which should discourage anyone from buying a house in Oakland.

One piece of advice for homeowners just receiving their tax extortion notice. Each parcel tax has a phone number next to it. I strongly suggest you call each one to verify that you should in fact be paying that tax. I own a vacant lot in the city which Oakland repeatedly attempts to tax for items which specifically exempted vacant lots.

I have reason to believe this practice is widespread. And why not? It makes the city plenty of money.

So, call those numbers and demand a refund if the taxes have been levied in error. If the taxes are accurate, at least you've wasted the time of someone in city government.

A minor victory indeed, but at least it means you'll have received some sort of service from the city. Just don't get used to it. Pay your taxes and shut up. This is Oakland.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Want Free Bart Rides? Just Take The Elevator

I know election season is in full swing, with other local bloggers offering endorsements of the various propositions. I may do so before the election next Tuesday, but in the meantime I want to discuss something that has a more direct impact on my everyday life.

From time to time, I need to ride the Bart elevator to get from street level to the platform. In certain stations -- generally those without a mezzanine section -- this requires first entering into the paid zone and then getting on the elevator. Not so in stations such as those along Market Street in San Francisco.

In those stations, probably to save money, the elevator runs from the street level, to the mezzanine and straight through to the Bart platform. This means that someone who rather not pay to ride Bart can simply take the elevator.

I'm sure my readers know what's coming next. I sometimes encounter honest users of these elevators -- those who take the time to stop on the mezzanine level and run the Bart ticket through the reader before proceeding to the train. However, more often I get on the elevator to find someone riding straight to the platform level, obviously not intending to pay.

I'd say this happens more than 50 percent of the time I use the elevator on Bart. I've noticed a similar experience with Muni in San Francisco. Needless to say, a casual inspection of these criminals reveals common threads. Most are young males, and none of them appear either to notice or care that they're doing something wrong.

I've asked a few friends why they think these people are so oblivious to the clear criminality of their actions. The response I found most compelling was simply that they have nothing to fear from society.

What if they find a police officer waiting for them on the platform? Well, so what. They'll probably get a ticket which they'll then refuse to pay.

What if they then are arrested? Well, so what again. Maybe they'll spend a few days or weeks in jail.

To me, this behavior is an excellent indication of the Bay Area's need for stricter enforcement of day-to-day "quality of life" crimes. Not only do these criminals deprive Bart of revenue; they send an exteremely negative message to everyone else about what we are willing to tolerate.

Essentially what toleration of this behavior says to the average citizen is the typical liberal message: Everyone must abide by the rules except for certain classes of the "downtrodden," defined by economic circumstance or ethnic background. This then demoralizes those who follow the rules, and it attracts children who might be attracted to the anti-social lifestyle.

By the way, I've noticed a very strong Bart Police presence throughout the system. This is probably an overreaction to supposed terrorist considerations. But what a shame it is that no one can be bothered to make sure everyone plays by the most basic of rules -- paying your fare.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why All Our Cities Are Bankrupt

Article after article has hit the wire in the past couple months about cities in distress forced to cut budgets. Pundits frame the issue in a variety of ways, but by and large people are of the view that after this period of belt-tightening, things should return to business as usual.

I am pleased to see localities finally forced to live within their means, and I am doubly happy to see them not immediately look for new sources of tax revenue. But I do not agree with the standard assessment of the problems' roots. I believe government has reached the outer limits of largess and will be forced to trim back time and again to avoid Vallejo's fate.

Actually, I think many cities will fail. There will be more than a few bankruptcies.

The standard line is that we have a revenue shortfall due to a decrease in consumer spending, falling house values and less real estate turnover. There is no question that this state of affairs has brought governments' problems to our attention, but it is not the core of the problem.

As things stand today, most cities are effectively bankrupt, as is the state of California. Consider this: The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the California retirement system (CalPERS) lost 20 percent of its money in the recent stock market turmoil. That means the pension plan is only 68 percent funded.

But it gets worse. That 68 percent figure is based on assumptions about future performance of the assets in the retirement system. According to Pensions & Investments magazine, the retirement system expected to generate a going-forward rate of return of just over 9 percent per year the last time it revised its asset allocations in December of 2007.

Will they accomplish this objective? Possibly not, if the current recession drags out as long as many think it could. As one economist describes the situation, "CalPERS must pay out hundred-cent dollars to meet its obligations, and as things stand they just don't have the money."

This situation is not unlike what has destroyed the American auto industry. Everyone criticizes General Motors for selling big SUVs -- and rightly so. What people ignore is the fact that GM must do this because those are the only vehicles which generate sufficient profit to pay its massive retirement-system obligations. One amazing thing about GM that most people don't know is that they have nearly 10,000 employees they pay not to work. It's called the "Jobs Bank," and it should sound very familiar to anyone who has witnessed the explosion of social programs in recent decades.

GM's coming bankruptcy is a consequence of insane union contracts -- the exact same type of contract which is only now beginning to lay low cities like Oakland and states like California.

The city of Oakland has employees who, upon serving the city for 30 years, will receive 100 percent of their retirement-level pay for the rest of their life. So, someone who becomes a fireman at age 25, works until age 55 and lives until age 85 will spend as much time being paid not to work as he did working.

So, while it's nice to see the Oakland City Council cutting its own salary by 5 percent, they really are just rearranging chairs on the Titanic, as usual. As I've mentioned previously, I expect to see a slew of large tax increases sometime soon.

I also think it's possible citizens will refuse to go along. Perhaps if the media spent some time educating about the preposterous deals unions have negotiated at the state and municipal level, they will make the right decision.

So what happens then? Sadly, I think the best course of action is bankruptcy. That's the only situation in which these terrible bargains can be renegotiated. I think it's very telling that the unions were the major opponents of Vallejo's bankruptcy. They knew that allowing the city to go bankrupt would be perhaps the only situation that could threaten their sweetheart packages.

Unions have a long history in our country of bleeding companies and municipalities as dry as possible. They very frequently refuse to negotiate even with companies on the brink of bankruptcy -- witness the frequency of bankruptcies in the airline industry. Ironically, they accuse their employers of greed as they take the greediest position one can possibly take: "I would rather kill you than receive every penny I can get from you."

So it is with our cities and states. The years to come will not be pretty, but we can hope the coming rash of insolvencies will spell the end of the evil government employee union.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oakland Schools and their 'Bill For Nothing'

I've returned to the blog world from days spent lamenting the coming taxation apocalypse. Luckily, the turmoil in financial markets is providing much-needed opportunities to purchase stocks that one can hold for the long term, thus escaping Mr. Obama's taxation tsunami.

In my absence, the East Bay looks none the better, except for the nascent victory glow coming from Liberals who mistakenly believe the coming years will be brighter as a consequence of the coming election.

Amid this situation, I couldn't help but chuckle at the Oakland Tribune's "expose" on the profligate ways of the local school district. My favorite part of the piece was not the total of $840k which allegedly has been misspent.

No, it was the reference to the school system's purchase of documents from an attorney that were, according to the article, "virtually identical to forms ...  received from the city of Piedmont."

This might be the first time I've ever seen anyone doing anything with the Oakland school system mention the existence of Piedmont. That city's mere existence appears to be a pox on Oakland -- demonstrating that a school system with similar pay, similar weather and a similar location can do quite well, so long as it is blessed with better prepared students. And, by better prepared I mean those with families who prioritize their education.

I've railed several times about Oakland's unwillingness to bring together the best prepared students in the city into some sort of magnet program. To my knowledge, the school district still refuses to even consider the idea, sticking instead to outdated notions such as busing and "diversity."

Well, one careful reader brought to my attention that there is one school in the district making a stab at such a thing. I wanted to give it credit where credit is due, and I wanted to encourage the district to broaden its scope.

The program I'm referring to is the Paideia program at Oakland Tech. Several things stand out about this program. If you take a look at the program's website, you'll see that they actually publish their former students' colleges. That's very helpful information, as it demonstrates that the program has done an excellent job placing several of its students.

On the downside, the program appears only to have around 40 graduating kids per year. I'm certain a city like Oakland has 10 or 100 times as many students who could fit into such a program. Why doesn't the district set aside a school for this purpose? Everything I've read suggests they have plenty of extra facilities, considering the rate with which they've lost students.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Response To J Douglas Allen-Taylor

On the one hand, I think it's a step forward that the Berkeley Daily Planet's esteemed columnist spent more than 10 column-inches discussing this blog in his most recent column.

On the other, it's a shame that Allen-Taylor decided to label this blog one of the "worst" blogs in the East Bay. Before I spend some time on his specific charges, I'd like to respond to this broad characterization.

There is no doubt that I have taken issue with Allen-Taylor on more than one front since I started this blog nearly a year ago. I would not, however, choose to label him one of the East Bay's "worst" columnists.

Far from it, in fact. I enjoy reading his column, and I do so on a fairly regular basis. For all I know, he reads this blog as well.

The key point here is that one can disagree with another's writing without labeling it "bad." I would hate to think that Allen-Taylor truly believes every blogger who disagrees with him is a "bad" blogger, as that would be pretty closed-minded of him.

On to the specifics:

Allen-Taylor's first criticism is in regards to my contention that Oakland Mayor Oswald Bates avoided dealing with Oakland's crime problem as long as he possibly could. Quoting from Allen-Taylor:
The realities of 2008, as I see it, are that many of the mayor’s critics found a new issue to criticize him on—ethics—which they picked up in substitute for the previous issue they were criticizing him on—public safety....

This is not exactly the argument I made about Mayor Dullums. I see the public safety and the ethics issues as separate and equally damning. The ethics issues I view as significantly less concerning, as they don't result in burglary, rape and murder. So, no, I haven't moved on from public safety. I still see that as a major issue for Dullums. And, given his recently released laughable public-safety plan, I see no reason to stop criticizing him on this issue.

Next, Allen-Taylor refers to my concern about the Nation of Islam patrolling a free music concert in Arroyo Viejo park:
Why should that worry East Bay Conservative? Because they are Muslim? Because they are African American and Muslim? Or is this one of those wink-wink, hint-hint backhanded slurs that some people easily get, but pass over other folks’ heads?

Well, no. I simply read the wikipedia page for the Nation of Islam. I'm no expert on this group, but that page contains plenty of information that should give any reasonable person pause about using them as a private security patrol. I'm also aware of the Chauncy Bailey affair, which again should give anyone pause.

I would also like to call out Allen-Taylor on his obvious race-baiting. I realize that among leftists one can accuse others of racism against minorities without any evidence, but I would like to see some consequences here and potentially an apology.

Speaking of race, Allen-Taylor makes one more comment:
East Bay Conservative concludes his/her Aug. 18 blog entry by asking “what’s the deal with Allen-Taylor spilling so much ink about Brooks and Dellums—Oakland’s top black politicians? Is this some sort of racism at work?” Now I’m thoroughly puzzled. Is East Bay Conservative saying that an African American columnist shouldn’t be writing about African American officeholders “so much?” Or is East Bay Conservative saying that “racism” (that is, Black Folks talking good about Black Folks only because they’re Black) is the only reason an African American columnist could have a couple of good things to say about a couple of African American officeholders? I’m curious.

Well, now we get to the crux of the matter. I hope my reasonable readers can see what's going on here, because this is exactly the kind of response one frequently receives when challenging liberal gospel.

Allen-Taylor is well known as one of the very few writers in the East Bay who still writes positive pieces about Mayor Dullums. So, what I wrote was clearly not in response to a "couple of good things" written about this or that person. I feel very confident in saying that his writing shows a strong pattern of bias in favor of Dullums, just as mine shows a clear bias against the man.

I do not know Allen-Taylor, and I do not know his heart. But, I think it's troubling if a person supports a politican simply because of that politician's skin color. If it is the case that this is the reason Allen-Taylor shows such strong support for Dullums, then yes I think that is racism.

Incidentally, I believe a dynamic like this is currently at work nationally with the candidacy of Barack Obama. I believe it is dangerous in that arena as well. If our goal is a colorblind society (and I believe it should be), it does not further that goal when certain people champion candidates largely because of the color of their skin.

So, I stand behind the question I posed to Allen-Taylor. If his support for Dullums is partially racially motivated, I urge him to try to put that aside and look at the issues in an unbiased fashion. If not, then I apologize for the insinuation.

And one last thing. Brooks is actually my favorite councilmember. I have found her to be reasonable and pragmatic. So, maybe we have one thing in common.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Why I Support Oakland Measure NN

I blogged about this measure previously, so I'll keep today's missive short and sweet.

I saw today's Chronicle article from Chip Johnson opposing Measure NN. I obviously agree with nearly everything he said in terms of the city using the money well, but I do support NN for two reasons:

First, I think it's useful for the city to have money earmarked for public safety. I realize that it will be misspent terribly, but I do believe at least some of it will get to the desired destination. And, I believe public-safety spending has the potential to snowball by creating a virtuous circle of gentrification.

Which brings me to the far more important point.

I view gentrification as Oakland's only hope for improvement. In thinking about taxation, I believe that parcel taxes aid the cause of gentrification. This is because parcel taxes are regressive, so they punish the poorest in the community and encourage them to leave.

Oakland has too much poverty, and much of its crime stems from this. So, Measure NN is a good antidote to this in two ways. It may directly push out some crime through policing, and it will certainly encourage some people to move, as they will be unable to afford the parcel tax.

Dullums Crime Plan: Rearranging Deck Chairs On The Titanic

Imagine you are mayor of a city suffering an epidemic of violence. Also, imagine your IQ is no higher than 75, and you sleep 16 hours a day.

Now, quick, what's your plan for addressing the crime wave?

Oakland's mayor has conducted just this experiment -- albeit with the intelligence and sleepiness issues as involuntary elements.

Dullums' public safety plan really is a tragic comedy. It's comedic in the sense that its treachery will only befall those whom it aims to help; it will have no impact, positive or negative, on people like me.

It's tragic in the sense that forming, modifying and reforming citizen committees has about as much chance of stopping Oakland's violence as me standing in front of the West Oakland Bart station trying to convince passers-by to "be nice to one another."

I feel the same way about the recently launched "Stop The Violence" billboard campaign. What these liberals don't realize is that the people perpetrating the crime don't care what others think about them or their lifestyle. That's the very definition of an anti-social element.

Thinking about Dullums' plan last night, I realized it reminded me of a scene from the hilarious Monty Python movie, Life of Bryan. Upon being informed of the Brian's impending crucifixion, the People's Front of Judea stops to hold a full committee meeting, with motions and votes, before taking action.

So the city government is going to institute a new organizational structure, and that's going to solve our problem. Well, let's take a look at the new structure. Here's the graphic from Dullums' own PDF file. Just to avoid confusion, I want to make sure all readers are very clear that all arrows in the diagram go in both directions. This is a very important piece of the puzzle, as it ensures that no one is in charge:

Public Safety Plan Diagram

So, as far as I can tell, problems emanate from individuals or groups, enter "Service" or "Empowerment" groups who either return the problems or can't resolve them. Unresolved problems get the mysterious label "SDS," are sent to coordinating councils, citywide councils, and then the process reverses itself, with the problem returned, unsolved, to the individual or group.

One look at this graphic tells you all you need to know about why public safety in Oakland is a complete joke. These liberals are so caught up in the trap of political correctness and "service constituencies," that they are unwilling or unable to see the simple fact that citizens need a clear set of rules, clear enforcement and one clear organization to call when a rule is broken.

I took my own stab at an organizational structure for violence prevention in Oakland. Let me know what you think. Notice the distinct lack of civil rights review boards, people bellyaching about police brutality, etc. Also, notice that the arrows only go one direction, meaning that there are no loops in the graph.

This, of course, also means something might actually get done. This runs counter to the core liberal plan of discussing poverty at cafes before hopping in the limo and heading back to the mansion. So, in short, my plan is untenable in a place like Oakland.

Public Safety Plan 2.0

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bart: We Need To Charge More To Reduce Ridership

In an astonishing display of simplemindedness, the folks who run Bart have floated a trial balloon suggesting they might charge higher prices during commute hours.

The purported goal is to "spread out" rush-hour traffic by encouraging commuters to shift their trips outside those congested hours.

My opinion is this is just code for decreasing demand for Bart because they can't figure out how to run the system efficiently enough to handle the influx of passengers as gas prices have skyrocketed.

When you think about it, it's pretty amazing that a public agency in the Bay Area would suggest such a thing. Increasing tolls on area bridges during commute hours makes good public-policy sense by discouraging folks from driving. But why would we want to discourage usage of public transit, particularly as it becomes more cost-effective due to fuel prices?

Anyone who rides Bart daily knows that the system suffers from some issues. It's not uncommon for trains to run slowly or stop running altogther for a period of time. Still, the system works decently, and I think a few minor modifications would enable it to accomodate far more passengers during rush hour, obviating the need for this idiotic price increase.

First, during rush hour, all trains should be 10 cars long -- the maximum the system can handle. It always surprises me to see lines of eight- and nine-car trains during rush hour. These shortened trains create a nuisance for passengers and slow boarding as people must rush over from the edges of the platform where there are no cars.

Second, Bart should change the cars' ridiculous seat placement, at least for the cars used during rush hour. Removing the seats and placing benches along the walls, as they do in New York City, would probably allow 50 percent more people per car.

Third, Bart should actually enforce rules prohibiting bicycles on the trains during rush hour. And, while I'm at it, Bart should also enforce rules making it illegal to use the system without paying. I see dozens of people each week either jump the fare gate or use the elevators to avoid paying.

Finally, I'm sure there are technological solutions which would enable Bart to space trains more closely. I'm no train engineer, but it would seem Bay Area environmentalists and liberals would be willing to figure this element out to avoid steering people away from public transit.

I don't support Bart being free either, by the way. I used to cringe every time they declared a "spare the air" day, as that pretty much meant you'd face throngs of teenagers running up and down the cars as you tried to commute.

I think it makes sense to charge a reasonable price for using Bart. But if anything, the price should be reduced. If congestion pricing is to be implemented anywhere, it should occur on area bridges, with the profits diverted toward mass transit.

I can't believe Bart's plan is even under consideration. What happened to the area's liberals?

A Great Editorial On City Spending

I wanted to encourage readers to take a look at this article by Berkeley resident Barbara Gilbert.

I was surprised to see the strongly liberal Berkeley Daily Planet publish such a strong article in its entirety. Gilbert does an excellent job at describing the sorts of public-employee giveaways which bankrupted Vallejo and are doing the same thing to other East Bay cities.

My biggest confusion with this article is Gilbert's insistence that she supports Obama for president in spite of her seemingly strong understanding of the dangers of out-of-control liberal spending. Perhaps she is just fed up with Republicans in Washington, which is fair enough given the country's state.

Gilbert's editorial reminded me of another article I read in the Contra Costa paper this weekend regarding Democrats who have moved from California to traditionally red states such as Colorado and Nevada. These transplants, according to the article, moved there because of the high cost of living here in Calfornia.

The irony -- yes, I checked with my wife and "irony" is the right term for it -- is that these folks plan to vote for Democrats in their new homes. So, presumably within 10 or 20 years, they'll be fleeing again from a high-tax, high-cost locality to yet another spot. Perhaps they should consider the fact that it is at least partially their voting behavior which causes their high cost of living.

I guess some people never learn.

Oakland Homicide Total Exceeds 100

It seems like just a short while ago that press reports were discussing the fact that Oakland's death toll had dropped below 100 per year for the first time in years. Now, it appears the city is trying to hit a record of the opposite sort.

Well, it's only September 15, and Oakland now has hit 101 homicides.

The three killings that caused us to reach this regrettable benchmark took place over this past weekend. You can click the link above for more details, but few are to be had.

Oakland saw 118 homicides in all of 2007. The important point here is that it appears we continue on the upswing, in spite of our leaders' assurances that they are trying to do something about the problem.

I renew my dismay at our community's seeming reluctance to vigorously protest this dreadful situation. It's hard to imagine, but perhaps people just don't care any more.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Restaurant Takeover Suspects Caught

A recent commenter slammed me for daring to suggest that social programs do little to combat crime when career criminals are left to roam the streets unimpeded.

As if to prove my point, the Oakland police department nabbed two of the alleged culprits. And guess what? According to the police, they are career criminals.

Allow me to quote a bit from The Montclarion's article, linked above.

The two key suspects are on parole. One of them will be charged as a "third-striker." And here's what police spokesman Jeff Thomason had to say about them:
"These aren't guys who lost their jobs and got desperate.... These are people who had access to guns and get off on the thrill of robbing people."

First of all, I want to point out that the Oakland police did an admirable job tracking down these suspects. If they are convicted, we owe the cops a debt of gratitude for making the city safer for the average restaurant-goer. Provided the takeover robberies end for a month or two, I might even return to a few Oakland eateries.

This situation also bolsters the point I've made for some time now. I realize that liberals love to point out that poor economic conditions drive people to lives of crime. But just because this is likely true, that doesn't mean the solution is a bunch of welfare or social programs aimed at eradicating poverty (which is impossible anyway, since poverty is defined as below a certain percentile).

I'm not against providing reasonable public services to people of all walks of life. Inner cities need quality teachers just as much as wealthy neighborhoods.

But the reality is that social programs are in vain when crime runs rampant.

There are several reasons for this. Children look around them to see what opportunities are available in their community. When criminals seem to be living carefree lives, they are naturally drawn into that "line of work." Violence also creates chaos, which makes it impossible for non-criminals to have a quiet moment to work on getting their lives together.

Before one cent is spent on social programs, we need to round up the criminals and put them away. I commend the police for their work, but Oakland needs much, much more. The city should fully implement the broken-windows theory, punishing all sorts of criminal behavior.

And, yes, liberal activists should stop worrying about trees in Berkeley, suspend their concern about economic justice, and band together to fight crime first and foremost. Anything else is hypocrisy and doomed to fail.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Some Positives For Oaklanders

I'm not sure why I receive Oakland Magazine every month -- the label on the magazine says I should subscribe, but I don't and it keeps coming.

Anyway, I was pleased to see the magazine this month highlighting a number of up-and-coming projects throughout the city. Since this blog is usually filled with gloom and doom, I wanted to remind people that Oakland is still broadly on an upward trend.

The magazine highlighted such projects as the Oak-To-Ninth development, the Fox Theater, Uptown and the Army Base. In most cases, private enterprise is pushing into Oakland, making as much change as possible in spite of an idiotic city government.

While Oakland Magazine has a decidedly liberal bent, discussing these projects can't help but point out the positive trend associated with the city's gentrification. Oakland is slowly becoming a city of the affluent, and the transition can't happen quickly enough for me.

I even view the so-called "affordable" units in the city's new developments as a possible positive. Obviously, acceding to demands for these units permits the developers to move forward with their projects, and hopefully they are spread out enough to avoid turning into a ghetto.

It's amazing to see that private capital still flows into such a corrupt and dysfunctional city. Such is the power of capitalism. Oakland lies at the gateway to San Francisco, and even some of the worst crime problems in the nation have failed to stop the city's long-term betterment.

So, take a look at the Oakland Magazine article. I hope you too will marvel at the projects still underway, and hope as I do that the city doesn't figure out how to kill them.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Woman And Baby Murdered: Where's The Outrage?

Oakland's activists have their priorities hopelessly backward.

I remember vividly the street protests throughout the city when the US invaded Iraq in 2003. Several teachers faced disciplinary action for letting their students out of class to attend the protests.

What a shame that no one seems to care much as innocents die in Oakland every day.

On Friday, an 18 year old girl and her unborn daughter died from gunshot wounds just outside her apartment on MacArthur Boulevard. Yesterday evening, some folks in East Oakland decided to have a shootout, killing one and wounding four.

Mayor Dullums' current approach to arresting Oakland's violence? According to the Tribune:
Recently, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums tapped Arnold Perkins, former director of the Alameda County Public Health Department, to complete a public safety program that has been in the works for months.

In essence, our city government is throwing up its hands and telling us it has no idea what to do about this problem. "It's unsolvable," they say.

Kind of like the Bush administration telling us there's nothing we can do about global warming, or pushing the country into a war on what turned out to be false information.

However, unlike these national issues, our local killing fields aren't generating a meaningful response from our local protesters. They're too busy fooling around with the trees over at the Berkeley stadium to think about hundreds murdered right under our noses.

Why no marches and protests?

Do people think there's nothing our government can do about this problem? If so, that's complete nonsense. Public safety is one of the few functions which governments have historically performed pretty well.

The City of Oakland has an enormous budget. It possesses police powers and lawmaking authority which permit all manner of actions to stop violence. Just take a look at what the mayor of New Orleans told his citizens prior to Hurricane Gustav: Loot and you go directly to the state penitentiary.

Oakland's epidemic of violence is one of the few situations where activists can make a legitimate difference in a community. Let's face it -- activism didn't stop the invasion of Iraq. It hasn't halted global warming. But in this time and place the grass roots has an opportunity to do something.

Want action out of Mayor Oswald Bates and his crook squad? Take to the streets! Hold a general strike! Jam the Bart stations so nothing can move until we get action! Don't just place measures on the next ballot; demand emergency budget reprioritizing toward police and public safety!

So, why no marches and protests?

I really don't know. I guess protests are reserved for things that liberals don't perceive as partly their fault. Maybe protesting Dullums' inaction would require a self-examination and a reality check as to whether our culture is too permissive toward inner city ne'er-do-wells.

It's even possible that the liberals view violence in places like Oakland as a linchpin to keeping support alive for their policies. After all, people tend to become more conservative as they move up the economic spectrum. Keep the inner cities poor, and democrats are sure to be elected time and again.

Whatever the reason, the inaction of Oakland activists is a testament to the hypocrisy of Leftism.

Sure, they'll take to the streets. But only when there's a television camera nearby to make them a star. Real, solvable, social problems? They'll leave those to someone else.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The TransLink Travesty

For a conservative, I do some fairly left-leaning things from time to time. Mass transit is a particular interest of mine, and so I was pretty excited a year and a half ago when I applied for a TransLink card.

The card is supposed to be a universal fare-card for all the Bay Area's transit agencies. When I got it, the promise was that I'd be able to use it on Bart and Muni in "a couple of months." As with all things governmental, the truth has been far, far worse.

In case you're not familiar with TransLink, here's a link to the relevant Wikipedia page. And here's a nice quote to give you a primer on the system and its problems:
Translink has become something of a boondoggle of governance. The project as initially undertaken in 1993 had a projected capital cost of just $4 million and even in its current conception was expected to cost just $30 million. Since then, however, costs have ballooned tenfold -- current total capital costs are estimated at $338 million. In addition, schedule delays have added up to more than a decade. In 1998, Translink was to be available on all transit agencies by 2001, but today (2008) is operational on just two, and not expected to be available regionwide until 2010.

I guess I should feel lucky that the system even works on AC Transit (one of the two agencies that supports it). Unfortunately, as one of the thousands of people who commute into San Francisco for work, what would really help me would be something that worked on both sides of the bay.

Shockingly, Bart decided to introduce its own competing system, called EZ-Rider, a couple years ago. Apparently the second system is the result of a "bureaucratic turf dispute." Great.

One of my favorite elements of this governmental fraud is the fact that, so far as I can tell, every single bus in San Francisco has either one or two TransLink terminals installed. Unfortunately, every single one of them in non-operational.

The only place the card works is in the Muni subway system, and down there I've had station agents repeatedly try to refuse me entrance and refuse to give me bus transfers. "You don't need a transfer," one said. Good thing I made him give me one, as there was a cop at the other end of my journey checking tickets. Bet he's never even heard of TransLink.

I've tried to use TransLink repeatedly when getting on buses. It's a fun joke with the bus drivers. I ask things like, "To your knowledge, has this card ever worked on your bus?"

The driver usually gives me a perplexed or angry look: "No. They're still testing it."

Perhaps a brief aside into business theory is in order. Everyone knows that the goal of business is to turn a profit. What many don't know is how a business determines whether a given profit is "enough" to justify entering a new line of business.

The novice businessman might think that any profit is enough to justify a business expansion. But this isn't right, because in private industry there is a cost associated with buying the stuff required to enter that business. This is the business' "cost of capital," and it depends on market factors such as interest rates and the value of the business' equity capital.

Typically, a business will not invest money in a new operation unless it expects that operation to return a pretty high annual increment on that investment. Twenty percent is a common number.

So, you can see why it's a complete disaster -- from a business standpoint -- to install a bunch of hardware in buses and then completely fail to use it for years on end. Whatever return Muni might have generated from my fares from using the TransLink card is lost each day they keep the machines turned off. Muni has already paid for the machines, so they're losing money every day on this debacle.

In the business world, management would push to get those machines generating revenue as quickly as possible. Not so in the world of government. Because the government doesn't even know how to measure its cost of capital, it is fundamentally unresponsive when faced with a situation like this. And why should they? They can just set the fare to $1.37 or whatever and tell me it's my fault when I don't have enough pennies with me.

This whole situation is pretty humorous when you think about it. I'm being lectured on television to keep my tires inflated to save gas -- and rightly so. But if the leftists in charge of every Bay Area transit agency care so much about CO2 emissions and oil imports, why did they purposely construct a situation where they'd trick me into getting this card then make sure it only works on two of the region's numerous systems?

In other words, shouldn't these "leaders" want to set up a system that makes it as easy as possible for me to use mass transit? I guess the answer lies somewhere in between Al Gore's Gulfstream jet and his Tennessee mansion.

Leftists have their hearts in the right place, but they are incompetent human beings. It's commonly said that those who can't do, teach. Well, I'm not sure how much of a failure one must be to get involved in governance, but it must be pretty monumental.

Incidentally, here is the list of transit agencies that supposedly will support TransLink someday. I won't hold my breath:

Alameda/Oakland Ferry, American Canyon Transit, Benicia Breeze, Cloverdale Transit, County Connection, Dixon Transit, Fairfield-Suisun Transit, Healdsburg In-City Transit, Petaluma Transit, Rio Vista Delta Breeze, SamTrans, Santa Clara VTA, Santa Rosa CityBus, Sonoma County Transit, Tri Delta Transit, Union City Transit, Vacaville City Coach, Vallejo Transit, VINE (Napa County), WestCAT, WHEELS and Yountville Shuttle.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dullums Says "Step Up"; I Say "Step Off"

My favorite Oakland conman is a gentleman who plies his trade in the afternoons by the West Oakland Bart station.

Nattily dressed in a suit and loafers, he approaches commuters as they hurry to their cars. To those who will listen, he weaves a tale of woe, ending with an explanation as to why he needs a few dollars to get his car back home from work.

I miss this man, and not only because of our most recent encounter which ended with a knowing grin and the words, "Wait a minute! I've done you before, haven't I?"

Recently I've made the choice to abandon West Oakland in favor of a safer Bart station closer to my home. Sadly, this has reduced my exposure to petty tricksters and my ability to report on the Mandela Foods debacle.

A man must make such sacrifices to ensure his safety. Certain parts of Oakland have become downright deadly of late, and I'd rather not end up part of Mayor Oswald Bates' next set of talking points.

So it has also become with Oakland eateries. It's very nice that Dullums thinks we should "step up" and help put a stop to those committing takeover robberies on a daily basis throughout the city.

The problem is, I'd rather avoid being pistol whipped while enjoying my dinner. So, while Dullums and his ilk try to encourage bravery -- or perhaps I should call it foolhardiness -- among the citizenry, I plan to take my dollars elsewhere.

Though, I have to admit, Whole Foods' decision to staff its Lake Merritt store with armed guards does intrigue me.

Already, I've taken some extra time to sample the foodstuffs in San Francisco and North Berkeley, and I expect that to continue. I'll avoid eating out in Oakland until the situation improves -- if it ever does.

When I moved to Oakland nearly 10 years ago, I had reasonably high hopes for the city. Given its proximity to San Francisco and its gentrifying population base, it seemed like a sure bet to become a compelling urban area.

While I continue to believe demographic trends will eventually make the difference for Oakland, I am surprised and disappointed by how tightly the city holds on to its ghettoized past and present.

It's tempting to say that this situation is the product of a "few bad apples" who terrorize the rest of us and decrease economic activity by scaring dollars away from the downtown area. Though it is true that these criminals represent a small percentage of the population, their success is a direct result of policy choices made by the city's liberal regime.

The only solution to Oakland's near-term malaise is a significant police crackdown on crime at all levels. But I do not see this happening anytime soon. Too many forces stand in the way: consent decrees related to the Riders scandal, our leaders' opposition to strong policing and the constant siphoning of money toward bloated pay packages and welfare schemes.

No, I think the reality is we all have to sit around and wait for time, gas prices, house prices and whatever other economic forces are out there to move the gentrification process to the next level.

In the meantime, the only thing to do is to keep ourselves safe. If this means avoiding Oakland for eating and shopping, so be it. I realize this may contribute to the problem's worsening in the short term, but we are faced with little choice.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Housing Bubble Humor

I've been meaning to post this video on the site for those of you who haven't seen it. The folks over at and post it frequently.

For those of us thorougly enjoying watching the housing bubble implode, this video is a real hoot.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Disabled Placards Mean Free Parking For Some

Why is there such a strong correlation between living in a liberal city and being a con-man?

I mean, sure, I perpetrate minor cons from time to time – driving a little too fast on the freeway or calling in sick to stay home and watch television – but there's no overarching objective to it all.

I've been aware for some time of the handicapped-license-plate scheme that seems to be all the rage in Bay Area cities. In case you weren't aware of this one, here are the parameters:

  • Somehow, perfectly healthy people get these plates from doctors, or they use a car owned by a disabled relative. Either way, I can't remember the last time I saw someone who actually looked disabled get out of a car with the blue tag.

  • Not only do they park in the few handicapped spots in parking lots, they also get free, unlimited parking at all parking meters in Oakland and San Francisco.

So, little surprise that people somehow scam their way to get these things. Why pay $40 a day to park at Embarcadero Center when you can get free street parking courtesy of our “compassionate” government?

I was shocked this morning to read in Matier & Ross' column that the situation has reached the point where “50,000 placards are held by San Francisco drivers.”

Just as an FYI, San Francisco only has around 750,000 residents. Some percentage of them are under the driving age, and some percentage don't even have cars. This must mean that between 10 and 15 percent of the people in San Francisco are disabled. Is that even possible?

Of course it's not. It's just one more example of the everyday cons we've come to expect from our fellow citizens. And, heaven forbid the government do anything about this. That might risk offending the small but important voting constituency of disabled people.

I can't be the only one who has a problem with this whole situation. Every time I go to downtown Oakland to take care of one matter or another (I avoid it whenever possible), I have a terrible time finding parking. And, inevitably as I walk down the streets toward my destination, I see lines of cars parked at expired meters with blue tags hanging from their rear-view mirrors.

So what then is the solution? Let's pretend for a moment that we don't live in a Marxist state and something might actually be done about this:

  1. Any time someone is caught using someone else's disabled permit, the penalties should be severe. Not the $100 mentioned in the Chronicle. Violators should be prosecuted in a meaningful way.

  2. Placards should not entitle holders to free parking at meters. There's just no rational explanation for this policy.

  3. Probably, the disabled person should lose his or her placard upon more than one infraction. I realize there is some possibility that the disabled person is being terrorized into allowing the placard's use, but my guess is in general they allow it because they see no downside.

  4. Standards for giving out disabled placards should be much, much more restrictive. A city the size of San Francisco should have maybe 5,000 of them issued, not 50,000.

I realize this problem has less import than the violence plaguing the East Bay, but it's these sorts of quality of life issues that make a place less livable and set up the preconditions for anti-social behavior. It's a simple fix, and it should be implemented.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Strange World Of The Berkeley Daily Planet

Let me warn readers in advance -- this post promises to be pretty dry. But I read a commentary piece in the Berkeley Daily Planet today that I felt I had to spend some time refuting.

I'm not sure who selects these pieces, but I want to renew my call that this paper seek some kind of balance. These pieces make all sorts of unrebutted assertions -- many of which range from the nonfactual to the downright uneducated.

The article in question is a piece titled "The Legacy of President George W. Bush," by Marvin Chachere of San Pablo. It appeared in the August 14-20 issue of the Daily Planet. Here is a link to the article. I will quote from it here, but I encourage readers to check it out in its entirety.

Chachere's basic contention is that Bush is a terrible president. This is not something that many would debate these days, and I don't have the inclination to do so at this point. However, I will say that I predict Bush will be viewed as a fairly ordinary president -- 50 years from now, that is.

I'd like to spend some time on Chachere's arguments. I'll use a point-counterpoint format.
Congressional representatives, for example, are not representative; "close to half" are millionaires.... The links 'of,' 'by' and 'for' between government and people have been permanently severed.

I doubt Chachere knows or cares, but George Washington was the wealthiest man in the country when he became president. No one -- not one person at the constitutional convention -- expected Congress to be truly "representative" of the nation's people. Quite the contrary. They anticipated a pair of patrician bodies mirroring those in Great Britain. They feared the "tyranny of the majority," and created numerous constructs to limit direct democratic rule. Examples include senators who were elected by state legislatures and an indirect election process for the president. While our founding documents contain grandiose language about the common welfare, it was understood that this was best protected by a high-IQ, high-income class of elites.
The [nation] has a fourth branch [of government], de facto unchecked and unbalanced, a cartel of corporate entities that has attained sui generis powers broad and strong enough to have its way with the other three.

What a bizarre contention. Since the mid-1930s, the broad trend of governance in our country has been toward more regulation and more state control over day-to-day activities. In spite of this trend, corporations have continued to prosper and offer jobs to our citizens. And, by the way, this oft-repeated argument presupposes that corporations are beings in and of themselves. That claim is false. Most Americans own stock in a wide variety of US corporations. Most Americans work for US corporations. So, when our author attacks corporations, he is attacking a broad swath of our country's citizenry.

And, I'll ignore the fact that the author's use of the term sui generis makes no sense whatsoever. But it sounds good!
The Supreme Court assumed a legislative role at the end of 2000 in voting for the 43rd president and again in reducing the amount of fine imposed for the Exxon Valdez oil spill (1989) to 10 cents on the dollar.

First, the Court's decision in Bush v. Gore was not legislative in the slightest. The court did what courts do -- deciding between two disputing parties. Same thing for the Valdez situation. Reducing a penalty is not a legislative act. It's a judicial one.
Congress gives tax breaks to the rich, fails to control corporate excesses ... and generally privatizes matters of public interest.

I'm not sure what country Chachere is living in. In America, the rich pay more than 75 percent of income taxes every year. Corporate excesses do exist, but what would he prefer? A command economy in which he would more than likely live in a slave-labor camp? And, as pointed out earlier, the trend in America has decidedly favored socialism and making private matters public, not the other way round.
The [country] is, nevertheless, infected with a stultifying two-party system that Washington dimly foresaw....

Well, now Chachere shows his true colors. Obviously he'd prefer a single-party state like that on such public display these days in China. I, for one, am grateful for the freedoms that flow from the dynamic tension created by a two-party system.

And, again Chachere has no idea wha he's talking about. Washington's comment was made in light of the presumption that the government would be run by a narrow set of elites. In essence, he was warning future Americans against allowing "the rabble" to participate too much in the process.


I realize the foregoing was pedantic. There were far more points I could have refuted in Chachere's article, but I just wanted to make a point. The Planet needs more balance. More intellectuals, fewer nutjob neo-Marxists.

What say you, Planet? You have my address.

Memo To Allen-Taylor: Dellums' Police Plan Insufficient

I had a good laugh this weekend as I relaxed at House of Curries in Elmwood and read the latest "UnderCurrents" column in the Berkely Daily Planet. Apparently author Allen-Taylor can't figure out why people don't find Mayor Oswald Bates' actions on policing to be sufficient.

I'll explain this conundrum in a minute, but first I'd like to challenge the Daily Planet to include some semblance of balance in its coverage. And, I'd like to formally offer my services as a columnist to balance out Mr. Allen-Taylor. I do live in the area, and I'm willing, ready and able to write if the Daily Planet is interested. I even have journalism experience!

But back to the matter at hand. Allen-Taylor is mystified as to why Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson seemingly switched sides and opposed Dellums' call for a new parcel tax to pay for 100 new police officers.

Allow me to clear this one up.

The problem is that Johnson called for this kind of action nearly a year ago. The mayor did literally everything he could to ignore the issue and even blame it on the law-abiding citizens of Oakland for having such a big problem with criminals.

In fact, even after finally admitting we have an issue, Dellums still describes it in the wrong terms -- characterizing criminals as economic "victims" instead of the anti-social element they truly represent.

Dellums seems to have made a career out of being late to the party. He didn't even consider running for mayor until standing in front of a crowd of people chanting his name. He completely ignored the obvious mismanagement under Deborah Edgerly until the last possible moment and he's late on this police initiative as well.

In other words, the man doesn't lead anything. He follows. That's a serious problem when you're -- well -- supposed to be the leader of the city.

Johnson also took issue with the specifics of Dellums' proposal. Now, as you all know, I actually favor the initiative because of its regressive tax structure. But, I can respect the opinion of Johnson, City Council President De La Fuente and others that the city can't bear another tax.

So, here we have another issue where Dellums is pretty much guaranteed to be late to the party: wasteful city spending which steals money away from vital services such as police.

V Smoothe published an excellent blog post recently about this very issue. Apparently Oakland pays its city employees around 120 percent of the regional average. That's particularly interesting considering our crime rate and the dearth of the kinds of services most cities expect out of their governments.

All this is to say that Johnson is probably right that the city should be looking for ways to devote more money to police without raising taxes. Dellums' plan, while nice in that it shows he's finally acknowledged the issues we had in 2007, completely fails to account for the realities of 2008.

Of course, maybe sometime in mid-2009 he will catch up with Johnson's logic and propose some budget cuts. Given his liberal credentials, it seems pretty unlikely.


As an aside, if my readers did click the link to Allen-Taylor's article at the top of this post, I suggest you read carefully his discussion of Councilmember Desley Brooks' summertime entertainment events. Does it make anyone else a little worried that the Nation of Islam is policing these events?

And, while I'm at it, what's the deal with Allen-Taylor spilling so much ink about Brooks and Dellums -- Oakland's top black politicians? Is this some sort of racism at work?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Dellums: Poor Criminals Just Need A Better Economy

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums appears intent on digging the hole he's standing in as deep as possible.

Today, this man claimed that the recent rash of restaurant-takeover robberies should be blamed on people desperate due to economic circumstances, not on the real culprit: anti-social men with no sense of normal human decency (sound familiar?).

I have a few things to say about this matter. First, I strongly suggest my readers click the first link above and actually listen to the mayor's statement. The man sounds like Oswald Bates. Don't know who that is? Well, here's a video for you courtesy of YouTube:

Mayor Dellums, is that you back in 1991? No, it's actually Damon Wayans. Ironically, it was the Wayans family who recently grabbed Dellums' ear to try and earmark part of the old Oakland Army Base for their loony movie studio project about a year ago. A coincidence?

Second, I take issue with Dellums using language like "daring" to describe these felons.

For one thing, it's not like these are clever criminals. Now some sort of cybercriminal who hacks into databases might be someone worthy of intellectual admiration. These guys are just low-class thugs and should be treated as such.

But regardless, our mayor should not be making statements which even remotely glorify those who terrorize our community.

I've had enough of this. It's time for people to stop trying to polish this turd of a mayor. It's time to flush the toilet.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mr. Dellums, Have You Left No Sense Of Decency?

Readers have come to expect me to poke fun at Oakland's city government, but even I base my commentary on the assumption that they are at least trying to do what's best for those who elected them.

Now I'm starting to question that very basic assumption.

Take a look at the latest article from the East Bay Express about the LLAD tax increase.

For those of you who don't know the back-story on this, the tax increase passed by a disputed mail-in vote of property owners. To their credit, the City Council rescinded the increase a couple weeks ago, citing a recent court ruling.

The entire core of the dispute over the LLAD increase related to the fact that the city allowed government-owned properties to vote on the tax. The problem there is that, since taxes are paid to the government, it doesn't really mean anything when the government-owned properties must pay a tax.

This trick was used, in part, to pass the 2004 Wildfire Prevention District. So, I didn't find it that surprising to see it return this time around.

What I do find surprising, however, is the Express' well-researched allegation that Dellums lobbied the Peralta school district to vote yes on the LLAD measure by essentially promising that they would not have to pay the tax.

This move goes beyond mere campaigning or even trickery to out-and-out deception. Dellums appears to want to sidestep the entire democratic process to achieve his objectives.

At this point I wonder whom Mr. Dellums even claims to represent.

He obviously does not hope to represent the citizens of Oakland, or its property owners. He's shown that by actively working to subvert the popular will, apparently going so far as to try and steal money from us via a sham election. And what for? He doesn't even have any concrete plans for spending the money. I don't even think he lives here.

He doesn't appear to represent himself. These past two years he's made a complete fool of himself. Not one single action he has taken as mayor has brought credit on himself. Whatever legacy he might have had from his days in Congress is now destroyed.

He doesn't even appear to represent the status quo and the bureaucracy. Otherwise, he would have found some way to collude with Deborah Edgerly and avoid firing her.

Not to say that he didn't try. The man did try to do the wrong thing. Unfortunately, he failed at that too.

In fact, I doubt I've ever seen another political leader who was such an utter and total failure. This man reminds me of the Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons, repeatedly scheming against his citizens and constantly too stupid to actually carry out his plans.

His only redeeming value lies in watching him jump off the cliff, slam to the desert floor, then have a conveniently placed boulder fall on top of him.

Well, here he goes again.

If the man had a shred of decency or pride, he would resign. But he will not. Like most charlatans, he'll play his part until the final scene of the final act, then bow out.

Perhaps Oakland doesn't deserve any better than this sad, sad, pathetically sad little man.

Still, those of us who remain here can wish for something more.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Crystal Ball Says: Higher Taxes For Oakland

Ok, I admit it. My "crystal ball" consists of an old Coke can wrapped in a piece of paper that says "taxes will rise."

I agree with V Smoothe that this summer has been a pretty bleak time for Oakland, but I'm going to go ahead and address our taxation future.

I do this as a public service to help my readers discern their financial future, even as Oakland resolutely refuses to plan rationally for its own.

We all know that Mayor Dellums intimated that the city's budget deficit will likely exceed the May suggestion of $15M. I don't put a whole lot of stock in this figure, or any numbers that come out of the city. I think it's fair to say that the deficit will be "a lot," and that the city will be completely unwilling to cut any of its silly pet projects to pay for necessary services.

A government's only real source of income is taxation. Cities can't run deficits, ours won't cut its budget, so the only thing left is our checking accounts.

True to form, the city council hastily called an emergency meeting for last Wednesday to discuss taxing us more.

They definitely want to place a parcel tax on the ballot for more cops, a measure which I don't really oppose since parcel taxes are regressive.

The other item on the agenda was the "Kids First" initiative. I was going to go look up what that is, but then I got kind of bummed out and decided not to.

The thing that bummed me out was this article in the Oakland Tribune about another $120 parcel tax headed for the ballot. This one is for teacher pay. Interestingly, the Oakland teachers' union opposes it, which suggests to me that they have some cleverer trick up their sleeve to bilk us out of still more money later.

Let me remind readers that the only time in my memory a parcel tax actually failed was the one to convert the Kaiser convention center to a main library. Everything else passes. Always.

So, get ready for some nice juicy property tax hikes. I am glad that all the proposals seem to be regressive, so in some senses I might come out on top here. But, it would be still nicer to see our government look for places to cut.

Governor Proposes Higher Sales Taxes

I was disappointed, though not terribly surprised, to read today that the governor has proposed raising sales taxes by a penny to deal with the state's budget deficit. He's characterized the increase as temporary, but anyone who has paid any attention to politics in the past couple decades knows that's a complete joke.

California already has one of the highest sales tax rates in the country, and Alameda County is one of the worst in the state. With this increase, we'd be looking at a nearly 10 percent sales tax rate. It's seriously hard to imagine how we can possibly attract new businesses and non-welfare-recipient residents in such a situation.

I'm really not sure how this budget deficit will play out. It's obvious to me, and most right-thinkers, that the simple solution is to change the state's practices as regards civil servants and indigent medical care. In other words, we need to follow Nevada's lead and actually cut the budget.

But that won't happen -- not on any meaningful scale anyway.

The thing I think will be interesting is to see how the state handles this situation. My guess is we'll follow the lead of places like Canada, where they simply continually pile on new taxes without any regard for driving off residents and jobs.

At the same time, I'd assume California will attempt to turn its balance of payments with the federal government from negative to positive, consuming more spending per dollar of federal taxes paid.

But all these things won't work if we keep increasing spending on core budget items such as salaries (plus benefits) and health care at rates dramatically higher than inflation plus population growth. The miracle of compound interest is working against us, and I see no near-term solution.

So, I guess we should all get ready to enjoy the highest sales tax rates in the country.