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?