Monday, December 28, 2009

For Berkeley Liberals, Political Correctness Trumps Competitiveness

I literally nearly spilled my steaming cup of tea all over my hand and arm when I read this week's East Bay Express article about eliminating science labs in the Berkeley schools to free up money for "struggling" students.

How do they define a "struggling" student? It won't surprise you to find out that this word is a synonym for "black and Latino" students.

Apparently, the School Governance Council -- a community body which I hope has absolutely no say in the matter -- voted nearly unanimously to support this reallocation of resources.

I have a few opinions about this, but my most important observation concerns global competitiveness.

Does it never occur to those Leftists out there that our country is in competition with others around the world?

This may shock liberals, but the primary reason why the United States enjoys such a high standard of living is not because Martin Luther King gave such nice speeches, not because Roosevelt packed the court and not because labor unions fought for higher wages for menial work.

Just look around you at all the technological marvels which make your life so easy. Cars, computers and cellphones are all the product of basic research -- a significant part of which was funded by the government.

Basic research is one of the few areas where the government actually contributes toward an increase in relative GDP between one country and another. And, improved comparative GDP is the only reason why our country is considered part of the "first world" while much of the rest of the world lies in poverty.

The government's contribution is critical -- both in educating people and in funding research in promising new areas which are not yet clearly profitable investments.

This issue goes hand in hand with my general frustration about way education "battles" are cast these days in our country. People view education only as a way to raise up people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. While it can serve this purpose, it is vital to think of education instead as a way to raise the ladder as a whole.

So, I oppose cutting UC Berkeley's budget just as much as the students who protested there last month. Sadly, though, the signs those students held aloft said things like "Save Our Janitors' Jobs."

These students don't get it. The measure of our country's competitiveness does not lie with the wages we pay our least-educated people. It lies with the value we place on promoting our best and brightest.

So, we should not fight to fund community colleges. We should fight to fund programs for the smartest kids at the top universities.

Our secondary schools should not worry so much about troublemakers or the "special needs" kids. They should instead fight for magnet and Advanced Placement programs to ensure the most able among us can gain the skills they need to pull us along.

This news from Berkeley reminds me of a scene from a Douglas Adams novel, where it turned out the Earth was populated by middle-managers and "telephone sanitizers." There's nothing wrong with having such people in a society, but they do nothing to make that society great.

Don't these people understand that by closing science labs -- even in the spirit of promoting equality -- they are consigning everybody to a lower standard of living? It sounds to me like someone needs to re-read Atlas Shrugged.

These Leftists spend so much time working on solving the "racial achievement" gap, but I'd prefer just to call it what it is: racism.

After all, no one seems to mind when schools at every level throw untold millions of dollars at the best and the brightest athletes. For some reason, in the athletic sphere we seem to get it -- some people have the skills to get things done, and others can't make it.

Of course, in athletics, the racial mix is far different. I'll let you do the math on that one.

Academics should be no different. And, thank goodness, for the most part it remains a meritocracy.

While most universities have been forced to accept unqualified candidates through quota systems, such efforts are pretty pro forma. To see this for yourself, just compare the makeup of UC Berkeley as a whole to that of an upper-division math or physics lecture hall.

Still, this news from Berkeley is disturbing. If this is the direction we're heading I can't see how we'll continue to compete with other countries such as China, which are much more interested in cultivating their brightest minds than self-flagellating over past inequalities.

Friday, December 4, 2009

When Will the Rotting Corpse of the Global Warming Hoax Finally Begin to Stink?

As this is written, about a week has passed since the initial revelation of hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU). At first, the authenticity of such purloined correspondence was in serious doubt… that was until the University itself blurted out that they were, in fact, genuine.

Conservative media lunged into the fray. Meanwhile, the “lame” stream propaganda outlets have remained mostly mum… perhaps because they have been so heavily invested in the perpetuation of such a shabby and dangerous hoax.

A brief history: Back in the 1970s an unmanned space probe entered the atmosphere of Venus. Zounds! Venus was a lot hotter than expected. How could this be? Other than its proximity to the Sun… its atmosphere is really dense. It must be the atmosphere. Could this be a portent of impending disaster for us Earthlings?

Reasoned speculations of climate future have always fluctuated between warming and cooling. Climate is never constant… it has to always be trending towards either warming or cooling. Precipitation also trends up and down… but more locally than globally.

When the Democrats took back both houses of Congress in 2006, the hysterical assault on global economic vitality was fast-tracked in the American political arena. Absurd and obnoxious schemes to micro manage individual behavior and completely subvert macroeconomic processes were given new credence and support.

Through geology and paleontology we have learned of pre-historic ice ages. Not currently being in an ice age means that we are in an interstitial warm period. Within this warm period there have been both cooling and warming trends. Why? There are inconstancies in the primary influences in climate. The Sun warms and cools. The Earth’s orbit goes through a 180,000 year cycle. Volcanoes create temporary disruptions in “normal” circumstances. Global climate and weather are the result of incredibly complex interactions that are still barely understood… if at all.

What about the heat trapping effects of “greenhouse” gasses?
The atmosphere is a “soup” of different substances. Most are gasses, primarily nitrogen. Then oxygen and argon. Carbon dioxide is currently at 357 parts per million… that’s a whopping 0.04% of the atmosphere. The mechanics of heat trapping center around the “selective transparency” of different substances. Ultra violet radiation from the Sun passes through the atmosphere, hits the ground, heats the ground… which then re-radiates back up as infra red… which is trapped.

According to the hoaxers, this trapping effect is enhanced by the toxic byproducts of capitalism: CO2 and methane. Actually water vapor and clouds do the vast majority of trapping. Hoaxers contend that the Earth is in such delicate balance that the slightest alteration from the “natural” state can still be catastrophic.

Prosaic demonstrations of the impending doom associated with prosperity, typically by computer models (notorious for wide ranges of outcome resulting from miniscule changes in data input), tend to skip any detailed explanation of the actual physical and chemical goings on in the atmosphere. Hmmmmmm.

We are actually in the infancy of understanding climate trends in real time. We have some pretty neat toys such as satellites and computers. But we are dealing with the interaction of sunlight, wind, precipitation, ocean currents, dust, smoke, and (now wait for it) politics.

Such is extremely fertile ground for hoaxes.

Centuries ago an Italian proto-scientist named Bruno was put to death for deviating from established orthodoxy concerning the mechanics of what we now call the solar system. His colleague, Galileo, recanted and joined the orthodoxy… allowing him to enjoy his life for many more years. My presumption is that he knew what truth is. Unlike falsehoods, truth is immutable. It can be lost but is always rediscovered in exactly the same form.

As Copernicus, the first to develop the modern model of our solar system, lay dying, his sister burned his manuscripts in order to save his soul from eternal damnation. Yet, because of truth’s inherent durability, we still know that the Sun is the center of our world.

Monday, November 23, 2009

At Berkeley, Leftists And Unions Unwittingly Face Off

When I read in the paper that Friday that students had occupied a building down at UC Berkeley, I just had to have a look for myself.

I drove down to campus that evening, with the sound of media helicopters roaring in the air. It took a few minutes to walk from my parking spot to the epicenter of the protests, but when I got there I could tell the trip had not been in vain.

There, I saw a phalanx of riot police surrounding Wheeler Hall and the main library. Across a small barrier from the cops stood maybe 200 protesters shouting various slogans -- things like "Whose university? Our university!"

I walked all the way around the buildings to see that cops were positioned at every entrance to block the protesters. At one point, I saw an army of about 100 cops double-time it down the street to the east of the surrounded buildings. Their march looked every bit like a military maneuver.

As I followed behind this phalanx of cops, I started counting, and I telephoned a friend to get a bit of information. You see, I was much more interested in how much this police presence cost than in the protest itself. I knew -- as everyone did -- that the protest was a complete waste of time.

My friend informed me that, including benefits, an overtime police officer typically receives about $150 per hour of service. My quick count of the cop column totaled 100 officers. That means this little army cost the government about $15,000 per hour.

My first thought was that I would be very happy to join their little army for that kind of compensation. Who wouldn't? There was no meaningful probability that the protest would become violent.

From what I could discern, the protesters don't like the fact that the regents voted to increase student fees. They also seemed very upset that several unionized workers might lose their jobs -- I saw specific signs in support of janitors and "those making under $40k."

I wonder if the protesters ever considered that the very reason for the state's reduction in contributions to the school is unionized employees like those the protesters support. And, to make matters worse, the worst offenders are the men and women who were standing across the barriers from them -- the police officers.

As a matter of fact, every dollar of overtime these protesters caused to be expended on the police came -- in one way or another -- directly from the same pot of money which would have gone to fund the university.

I tend to agree with part of the protesters' platform. Higher education -- and by "higher" I mean places like Berkeley, not Cal State Dominguez Hills -- is an extremely important priority, as it helps produce the technological advances which improve our lives.

However, the combination of this reasonable position with Leftist aims like "protecting union employees" leaves the protesters' position hopelessly befuddled.

You can't have it both ways. California has spent and spent and spent on ridiculous pension plans for its government/union employees. The state has bankrupted itself paying for cops and firemen, for the incarcerated, the poor and for education for the bottom rung of society.

And for what?

Here, at UC Berkeley, the absurdity of such spending comes home to roost. We as a society are investing heavily in our most useless citizens while underfunding institutions which are the keys to moving the human race forward.

So, as usual, I was left thinking to myself that both sides of the protest had it all wrong. The protesters don't really understand the nature of the situation -- or they just don't care. And the cops absolutely don't care. They're just glad to be getting that overtime check.

Both sides do have one thing in common -- they'd love to see higher taxes to pay for everything they want without cutting anything. Unfortunately, that seems to be the current plan across the land.

Higher taxes seem like a great idea until you realize several truths:

  1. The need of those at the bottom of the income spectrum is limitless, and no amount of taxes will ever be enough.

  2. Higher taxation drives out those with skills and high IQs, a process which is already well underway in California.

  3. Raising taxes just delays the inevitable discussion of what investments society should and should not be making.

In my opinion, it's simple. Cut funding for the poor and the stupid, and increase funding for places like UC Berkeley. A rising tide lifts all boats.

A sinking tide brings -- well, you get the picture -- Obamanomics.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Next Reichstag Fire

By Mark Ross, Contributing Writer

It was a risky political stunt that allowed the Nazi Party to consolidate its grip on the German nation.

The sad truth is that Hitler was elected democratically. The Nazis took advantage of a weakness in the Weimar constitution that allowed proportionate representation.

After an election, the seats in the Reichstag were distributed among candidates of most if not all of the various parties based on the percentages of the votes tallied. Fringe, screwball political movements got their feet in the door this way. Ironically, this is how Israel works.

The Nazis had incrementally worked their way up to having  plurality after the election of 1932. But that wasn’t good enough. In the campaign Hitler had promised, “An end to politics.” They were compelled to eliminate all opposition in order for their agenda of German reconstruction to take place.

Hence the Reichstag fire. On February 27, 1933, a mysterious arson gutted the German parliament. The loudest voices blamed Communists and their ilk (non-Nazis). Hitler swiftly moved to arrest and imprison all political opponents, and thus the way was clear for complete domination and the promised end to politics.

The American Left (a.k.a. Democrats) has taken over the national government. As a consequence they are being righteously creamed in the court of public opinion. Nothing would help them more in their quest to consolidate power than for the next two national elections to be canceled.

Even during the Civil War we held national elections, but then there was less of a political imperative for the party in power to stifle metastasizing dissent. What the Democrats could use is some kind of “event” that would allow them to declare an extraordinary national emergency -- the modern equivalent of the Reichstag Fire.

What kind of event? That’s a toughie. The domestic terror attack on the Oklahoma City Federal Building comes to mind. It would be easy to blame right wingers in the absence of tangible evidence. I’m sure Mr. Holder, the Attorney General, would be happy to help.

Plausibility for such a scheme rests on the fact that so many among us have already been stampeded by a fanciful hoax concerning vague trends in the weather.

Recently, while chatting with a friend about domestic politics he concluded that we are in a new civil war, though without guns.

Wars, however, go well beyond yelling, screaming, marching with placards and making evocative speeches. Should this be true -- and trends continue -- then some day the gloves will really start to come off.

What then? A precursor to our last Civil War was John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. Just a thought.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

New Parking Meter Failed? Good Luck Getting A Refund

If one of Oakland's new parking meters steals your cash, you'd better be prepared to litigate to get your money back.

A couple weeks back, I dutifully put my money into the meter and pressed the button to receive a receipt. The meter made some clicking sounds, but nothing came out.

I pushed the cancel button in an effort to get my money back, but it was too late. The meter wrongly believed it had dispensed a ticket.

My immediate solution was to go down the street and use another meter. That one worked, but I had now spent eight dollars for my two hours of parking.

I returned to the first meter. There's a phone number printed on them in case there are problems. I called the number from my cellphone and left my information on the voice mail system that responded.

A week later, I had heard nothing, so I called again, and again. In total I left four messages. I then tried calling the main switchboard to try and get through to whomever is responsible for broken meters. I made some progress, but Oakland's bureaucracy quickly used up the time I was willing to spend on such a minor amount of money.

Four dollars may not sound like much, but this situation is reminiscent of the property-tax issue I blogged about several weeks back. Essentially, the city insists year after year on illegally charging me for Measure Y on a vacant lot.

On Measure Y, at least the city responds to phone calls, but they make it as difficult as they can to get a refund -- requiring taxpayers to mail a signed form every year. They then require you to be available for the city to inspect the lot to make sure it's vacant. Don't they keep records of these kinds of things?

I know I shouldn't be surprised. Oakland's government is clearly set up as a mechanism to extract as much money as possible from taxpayers and funnel it to the politically connected. No one seriously argues that Oakland's government is not corrupt.

As with most of Oakland's civic services, this kind of behavior simply discourages people from having anything to do with the city. It's just like the schools, the roads, the parks and everything else a reasonable family could care about. The best strategy is to avoid Oakland altogether: use private schools, bike in Piedmont and visit parks east of the tunnel.

I also think these new meters are an idiotic "innovation." I have no problem with paying for parking. In fact, I support meters as they prevent all the spots from being taken -- ignoring for the moment the fact that Oakland's thousands of disabled-placard fraudsters ruin even this objective.

As an Oakland resident, I'd be much more interested in some sort of device like the one I use when I cross the Bay Bridge. I could simply attach it to my windshield and push a button on it each time I want to consume 15 minutes of parking. Then it would count down just like an ordinary meter.

I could charge it up online, and meter readers could use some sort of electronic device to sync it up whenever they come by my car. This would also ensure that the device hasn't been hacked.

For that matter, such a device could be used region-wide. It could replace the rolls of quarters I still use in parts of the East Bay and the tag I have hanging from my rear-view mirror for Bart.

Of course, we all know the sad history of such types of systems. TransLink serves as a warning to anyone considering something similar.

And, opponents would counter, how would those visiting from out of town park? This is exactly the same argument that has kept toll-takers standing at most of the lanes on the area's bridges, making traffic conditions worse and decreasing area drivers' incentive to get FasTrak.

In truth, if one implemented a region-wide system, such a concern would be minimized, and all a driver would need to do is purchase some sort of pre-paid card prior to parking in the Bay Area. Such a card could even be printed off the Internet, exactly like a Southwest boarding pass.

There are actually two issues standing in the way of this kind of innovation. The first is corruption/stupidity -- the city government only wants to buy products which require zero creativity and that provide as much as a kickback as possible.

The other issue is one common to government at all levels: fear. The politician's primary goal is to continue to be reelected. As such, it makes no sense to support an innovative solution that could prove game-changing. It's far better to focus on the incremental and the safe.

And that's what we get in Oakland -- the safest possible solution.

Except when it comes to public safety, of course. Be realistic!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Like Most Liberals, Dullums Cheats On His Taxes

What do you call it when someone makes a career out of lambasting others for not paying "their fair share," then turns around and refuses to pay his own taxes when he becomes wealthy?

The word "hypocrite" comes to mind, but somehow it seems too weak to describe the sort of malevolence we're talking about here. No, I think this level of cognitive dissonance rises to the level of sociopathy, mixed with a morsel of mental retardation -- we are talking about Ron Dullums after all.

So it goes in Oakland, where we have been treated this week to the delicious irony of a "leader" who demonstrates that fiscal incompetence is both a personal as well as a professional trait.

Yes, Dullums and his wife apparently owe $239k in back taxes, and they have refused to pay for so long that the IRS has placed liens against their property.

While there have been a few muted calls for Dullums to resign, I've been surprised by the lack of vigor in the condemnation of this state of affairs. I expect such things from the likes of J Douglas Allen-Taylor -- who at this moment is probably working on an opinion piece for the Daily Planet explaining how Dullums is actually a hero for purposefully not paying his taxes to teach us a lesson about the risks of disobeying the government.

But I was surprised to see the following gem in a column by Chip Johnson, with whom I often agree: "Anyone can make a mistake, and if that's all this is, then no harm, no foul."

Underpaying by $239k a mistake? Sure, I could imagine such a thing for the likes of Bill Gates. But Dullums is not Bill Gates, a fact which is amply demonstrated by his inability to pay the money once the IRS notified him that he owed it.

Judging from Dullums' nouveau-riche demeanor, I'd guess he's spent every penny he's made for some time -- a trait he shares, not surprisingly, with the city he "runs."

Still, such a high tax bill indicates that Dullums earned more than a million dollars during some recent span of his "career." The notion that someone earning so much lacked the common sense or common decency to either buy a copy of TurboTax or hire a competent accountant is just embarrassing. What a pathetic, selfish little fool we have for a mayor.

That's not even mentioning other items from Johnson's piece which, though probably common knowledge, were news to me.

Apparently Dullums received a $60k salary boost from that of our previous mayor. For what? If you ask me, Dullums should return 100% of his salary and beat himself about the face every night for a week on Channel 10 as penance for his treatment of Oakland. Certainly the notion that we pay Dullums more than we paid Jerry Brown is an obvious farce.

Dullums required a driver as well? This one makes more sense, I guess, for a man who obviously would have difficulty reading traffic signs.

Some have suggested that Dullums resign, but such a move would be a mistake. I don't know who would fill his slot, but I have a bad feeling it would be Jane Brunner, which wouldn't be any better. Certainly, a Dullums resignation might provide someone equally bad with the advantage of incumbency.

So I say just let the man finish his term and fade away. Soon enough the 2010 campaign will begin in earnest, and Dullums will no longer be relevant.

I'd like to hear the Leftist defense of the repeated cases of liberal tax dodging that have been in the press in the past year. The most reasonable argument would probably be to say that everyone does it.

In my experience, this seems to be the case. I've found that a person's propensity to avoid taxes has little to do with his location on the political spectrum.

It's not surprising to me that all people would have an equal desire to safeguard their assets against the government. But from the perspective of a liberal, this position is more difficult to defend. Time and again liberals have told me that they support increased taxation because one group or another "needs" the "resources" that they can obtain no other way.

If that is the case, then how can a liberal square tax avoidance with his political beliefs?

In my opinion, the answer is simply that, like most people, liberals place a higher importance on their own well-being than that of society at large. In other words, they are just as "selfish" as the conservatives they assail.

The difference is that liberals take the intellectually dishonest position that they want "everyone else" to pay for the programs that they support. In contrast, conservatives admit to their own selfishness but then strive to treat everyone equally by reducing the burden on all.

And so it is that when you read about Dullums refusing to pay his taxes, what really should come to mind is the old liberal maxim: "When it comes to money, do as I say and not as I do."

Or the old Dullums maxim: "If you're going to use the public resources, you need the public benefit."

Yes you do, Ron. Yes you do. Driver and all.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Health Care Talking Points

By Mark Ross, Contributing Writer

Sixteen years ago I was asked what I thought of Mrs. Clinton’s machinations on the health care front. I told the questioner that every member of Congress who backed the reinvention of American health care, as Mrs. Clinton was proposing, was booking a stateroom on the Titanic. What Americans want, I added, was for the price to go down and for there to be fewer other patients in the waiting room. Including the heretofore uninsured into the system and reducing the career appeal of the practice of medicine does exactly the opposite on both fronts.

In spite of sixteen years of further study and technologic advancement, nothing has changed. The American political establishment is proving once again that it is profoundly ill equipped to deal directly with such a complex and important subject. It is not just a lack of expertise on the technicalities of medical practice… but a disconcerting tendency to completely misrepresent the current situation. I just recently visited an old, old friend who is now the medical director of a regional HMO. I had some limited success in picking his brain on this matter. The following thumbnail statements may be useful in undoing some of the erroneous notions that pollute the debate:

1) The ranks of the “uninsured” do not represent anything like a crisis… and especially do not justify screwing around with the existing system. The Right has appropriately debunked the inflated numbers used by the Left. The burdens placed on hospital emergency rooms by uninsured drop-ins could be easily managed except for bureaucratic inertia and unrealistic state and local statutes. (More later)

2) The most profound problem facing American health care is completely ignored in the political arena today. Many doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other technicians… just like the rest of the population… are baby boomers who are approaching retirement. They are poised to go from being providers of health care to being consumers of such. To suppress price inflation and maintain a semblance of quality of care it is necessary to allow the supply of health care professionals to keep up with increasing demand. Fostering turmoil scares away the needed recruits. A simple improvement would be to make it easier to pay for medical school, etc. Grants, cheap loans and such are the normal fare of rational political involvement.

3) The Right errs in sounding the alarm on rationing and pulling the plug on grandma… but politics ain’t beanbag. Rationing is a fact of life in health care… as is the quandary of end of life decision making. The Left wants to make things worse in this regard… by creating a national monolith that would replace various medical ethics committees, hospital and HMO corporate policies and state laws. It’s a human dilemma… we have developed capabilities such as organ transplanting without also developing the concomitant wisdom to consistently make flawless decisions about how to best use these capabilities.

4) The several states have heretofore been the sole authority over medical practice. The inventors of America included a marvelous political safety valve called the federalist system in their grand design. Not only is it technically illegal for Congress and the Administration to essentially take over health care… it’s also not a good idea on practical grounds. Diversity of approach allows for beneficial innovation and limits the damage from well intentioned mistakes. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc. can only practice with state licenses. Let the states remain in control, I say.

5) Health care can be broken down into three competing aspects: Financial… how to pay for everything. Technologic… the continually evolving influence of science on the capabilities of the system. And, ethical… the decision-making process by which finite resources are juggled. Within the medical community the financial aspect is considered to be the most problematic. Our ability to treat sick people is outstripping our willingness to relinquish ever more of our individual fortunes for that purpose.

6) In acknowledgment of political reality I suggest the establishment of a minimum standard of care. To divert uninsured drop-ins away from hospitals, portable triage clinics can be set up in parking lots. No doctors… except on line. Staffing by trainees (paramedic, nurse, med student, etc.) and a few nurse practitioners. Palliate the non critical. Isolate the infectious. Stabilize the critical. This does allow the camel’s nose of the Left into the tent. But it also dampens the zeal for which this agenda continues to be foist upon us.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Oakland's Teachers Union Wants Bad Schools

I've made no secret in the past of my utter contempt for Oakland's school system.

I can't imagine sending my kid to an Oakland public school -- even one of the few good elementary schools sprinkled throughout the hills area. While economically, sending a child there would seem like a bargain, I simply am unwilling to put any faith or trust in these unionized teachers.

With few exceptions, every action I've seen the union take is designed to push up teacher pay, benefits and perks at the expense of students.

Put this in the context of an ultra-Leftist school board whose entire goal is to avoid any appearance of discrimination, and the school district has zero chance for success without some kind of wholesale change.

I have repeatedly asked a simple rhetorical question, one which has received deafening silence in response: Why does Oakland not have a single magnet school?

Surely, in a city as large and "diverse" as Oakland, the school district could find a set of 100 students per grade level who can handle work at an advanced level.

Such a school would benefit those at all income levels and would increase the allure of the city to prospective homeowners. Sadly, though, because a magnet school would disproportionately benefit those whose parents have more means and education, no one can have it.

Such class warfare seems pretty clever when it first passes the Leftist's lips, but after a moment of reflection it's obviously futile. All the wealthy parents do is enroll their kids at Head-Royce or Bentley or wherever. They don't really mind spending the money, and it's a good riff-raff filter.

For the Leftist who believes liberalism is about "helping people," I'm sorry to point out that by making money the key to unlocking eduction, this system guarantees that the smart poor kid has no chance whatsoever.

I've viewed the city's charter schools as at least a source of potential opportunity for the kids trapped like this by the well-meaning but evil Leftists.

Charter schools are not ideal mind you. As far as I can tell, they aren't allowed to select students based on actual potential or achievement. Still, they do tend to get kids whose parents care more than the average parent, which is very important.

Still, the union is waging an all-out war on the non-unionized charter schools. That's because the union isn't your standard Leftist entity. Sure, they all vote Demoncat and support bigger government. But, when it comes to equality of opportunity, they'll fight for their pay packets.

The bottom line is that the teachers union doesn't really care about the substance of what their members do every day. As far as the union is concerned, they might as well be representing garbage workers.  Who cares if the garbage learns to read or function in a civilized society? The garbage can't learn anyway. But, the garbageman can make more money, and that's real important.

The most recent salvo in the war between the union and charter schools came with their refusal to support a parcel tax for schools if it might benefit charter schools.

Now, I don't generally support taxes, but avid readers of this blog know that I do support parcel taxes because they disproportionately tax those at the lower end of the income spectrum. And, as a homeowner/investor in Oakland, I want to replace those people with the more well-to-do.

So, a parcel tax for schools sounds like a reasonable idea to me. Doubly so if it would go to support schools whose teachers actually want to improve educational standards.

Above all, I'd like to encourage readers who have smart kids to make sure and take them out of Oakland public schools. Don't give these people a chance to hurt your kids.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Oakland Ad Valorem Tax Rate Now 1.41% - Are You Kidding Me?

The headline more-or-less says it all. I've blogged on this topic before, but it's never been nearly this bad.

Last year, Oakland's Ad Valorem rate was 1.33% of the tax value of the property. This year, somehow it magically has risen to 1.41%. If anyone understands how this came to be, I'd be very interested in knowing. I was unaware the electorate had passed a bunch of large new taxes.

Just to revisit the topic for a moment, even in the liberal Bay Area, Oakland is all on its own in charging ridiculous property taxes. In Leftist Berkeley, the Ad Valorem rate is 1.26%.

That means that if you buy a house in Oakland, you're stuck paying an extra $150 per year for every $100,000 in home value per year in property taxes.

Things get even worse if you just look a little to the east. In Orinda, which has basically the best school system in the state, the Ad Valorem rate is 1.08%. That is not a misprint.

So, by living in Oakland, you get to pay an extra $330 per year per $100,000 of house value, and you get to switch from having the best schools in the state to having schools so terrible that you pretty much are forced to send your kid to private school.

In case you're going to jump all over me and point that the tax bill includes parcel taxes in addition to the Ad Valorem portion, that is true, and in Orinda you pay about $400 more in parcel taxes per year. So, if your house cost more than $120,000 or so, you're losing in Oakland.

For most home buyers, the difference is far more stark. A typical $750,000 house makes the difference a totally prohibitive $2,500 a year. Who can afford that, and for what? The privilege of living in a city which spends no money on the kind of services a reasonable homeowner would actually want?

And no, the Oakland Housing Authority doesn't count. Most homeowners I know wish they'd shut that thing down and kick everyone out.

The actual upshot of this policy is that Oakland presents a closed door to potential new homeowners. It's fine for renters and those who have owned their houses for years -- those people don't pay much anyway because of the structure of Prop 13.

My assumption is this is also the reason people are willing to vote for whatever they support that causes this rate to go up -- though, I have to say that most of the initiatives I've seen are parcel taxes, not Ad Valorem increases. As mentioned above, I'm not actually sure how that rate got so high in the first place.

This state of affairs should actually worry existing homeowners who aren't paying much. It lowers the value of real estate in the city, since prospective homeowners must adjust their bids to account for the extra thousands per year they'll be paying to the city.

Given Oakland's absurdly high rates, I wouldn't be surprised if this difference cost the average house $50,000 to $100,000 in value -- and that's before the well-documented $200,000 haircut that houses in nicer areas of the city suffer because the school district refuses to redraw boundary lines or set up a magnet school.

While I still have your attention on property taxes, let me bring another matter to your attention. I own a vacant lot in addition to my house in Oakland. Every year, the city illegally charges me the parcel tax for Measure Y on the vacant lot.

And, every year, I call and get a form sent to me which I fill out and mail to the city. The city then sends me a refund of about $90.

The city probably spends $100 every year dealing with my complaint and validating that the parcel is indeed vacant. Believe it or not, twice out of the past four years someone has actually come to verify that it's vacant. I guess they forgot?

So, last year, I asked the gentleman at City Hall if maybe they could put a notation in their computer to simply stop charging me the tax on that parcel.

"No," he said. "We don't use computers for that."

Need I say more?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Al Davis Mausoleum

Well, how ‘bout them Raiders?

If there was ever a testimonial to the folly of major league sports being an economic catalyst for a corrupt, mismanaged urban venue… the Raiders are it.

I’ve been a Raiders fan since before I moved to Oakland in 1973. Then they moved back to where I came from. They kept their corporate offices in Oakland, however.

At that time I knew someone who worked for Davis. He told me that Al’s biggest defect is his lack of having a plan B. He sets his mind and never deviates. He also told me that he advised Davis NOT to move to LA. The LA Coliseum is in a crappy part of town (I used to work across the street), has little “official” parking (locals rent their front lawns to game-goers), and that LA is too Blasé for the Raiders to sell a sufficiency of tickets.

No matter… they moved there anyhow. Then they came back… after the city of Oakland opened up its treasury (when they had one) to Al. Then they built “Mount Davis” on top of the Coliseum (you know, a tower of bleachers on the east side… making even more empty seats at game time)… ruining the stadium for baseball. This was all done with the slobbering consent of the city fathers long after it was an established fact that multi-purpose stadiums were obsolete. We spent millions on pre-existing obsolescence.

Davis is the man so many love to hate. For decades Raider fans have loved to bad mouth Davis, even when they were winning. My reply has always been that the team wouldn’t be the Raiders without Davis. No other major league franchise can be so identified with a single individual.

In my fevered mind, NFL football is more than just a game. It is a microcosm of American life. It is a naked demonstration of corporate struggle. Recruitment, trade secrets, cults of executive personalities… you name it. Nuances of legalisms… rule changes to deal with loopholes… finding loopholes to deal with rule changes. And, most important, focus on the bottom line… the butts in the seats.

Back in the day… when the Raiders were always a team to be reckoned with… their prowess was demonstrated on a particular Monday night. It was, I think, mid third quarter. They had a small lead, say, a touchdown or so. And then they started pouring it on. Aggressive passing, brutal running… more and more points on the board. I think it was Dan Deardorf who then said: “This is the classic Raider formula. Once they get you on the ropes… they put you away.”

The Raiders and Al Davis typified a particular style of business management strategy. The Dallas Cowboys were the diametric opposite. Back then, the Cowboys had only one player who had ever been with another NFL team. Everyone else was taken in the college draft and “developed” within the corporate culture.

Meanwhile, the Raiders are the bad boys of the NFL. Al likes to “raid” other teams for potentially talented players burdened with serious problems… who he purchases at a serious discount. The execution of the strategy is summarized in what the boss tells the worker: “You’re here to do a job. We all know you’ve got problems… we’re here to work together so you can get your job done in spite of your problems.” By implication: We’re NOT here to solve your problems… we can work around them. Ask Kenny “The Snake” Stabler.

So, what about the mausoleum? I like to call the Chabot Science Center the Dick Spees Mausoleum… but Dick ain’t dead, yet. Nor is Al… but… he at least looks the part. Since the tax payers paid millions for Chabot and nobody goes there either… it might as well house the mortal remains of someone else who really screwed Oakland to the wall. It’s entirely likely that visitorship would increase should the Davis sarcophagus be displayed on the main floor.

After some collaboration with Disney/Pixar an international destination could be the result. Imagine, if you will, a lifelike robot of Al Davis… climbing out of his box, talking football, combing his hair, chewing gum, suing Oakland. Did I say “lifelike”? My bad.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Notes from the Re-education Camp... Abbott & Costello meet Franz Kafka

By Mark Ross, Contributing Writer

Well, it happened. I was sitting down at my computer cranking out some right-wing screed, when I heard a knock on the door. It was three guys in matching jump suits. A fourth was down below in the driver’s seat of a waiting van. They insisted that I come with them. I began to think things over when a firm hand clenched my arm.

In the van there were three other “passengers” who, like me, were securely fastened to their seats. We drove for what seemed like hours. The heavily tinted windows obscured any view that might have given us a clue as to where we were going. We finally turned off the road up some kind of drive that was not nearly as smooth as the road. After some rattling and swaying we were there: “New Perspectives Adult Education Spa.”

We were marched into a reception area where we had transponders attached to our ankles. After the drive I was really thirsty and there was a table with an Igloo cooler and a bunch of paper cups. I walked over and filled a cup. I drank it down quickly and then noticed some empty Kool Aid packets in the waste basket.

When I came to I was lying on a cot in what looked like a barracks. The first thing I noticed was a severe burning sensation on my right ear lobe. I touched it and there was some kind of plastic tag fastened with a metal rivet or something. The next thing I noticed was the groaning of others as they awoke from their unexpected naps with new ear tags. Then I noticed the sound track -- Pete Seeger singing “This Land is Your Land” was playing endlessly over loud speakers.

After a while the music stopped and the door opened. In stepped a middle aged looking man. He had a receding hairline that was tied back in a ponytail. He wore jeans and sandals, and a hand knitted pull over. “Good afternoon, gentlemen. I’m your group counselor, Sierra Kaminski-Brown.”

We all sat up on our cots as he continued to address us: “Is there anybody here who doesn’t know why you’re here?”

Being an inveterate trouble maker (some might say invertebrate) I raised my hand. “Mr. Ross, how could YOU of all people not know why you’re here? Don’t you remember writing that letter to the Chronicle?” I rolled my eyes, which one? I thought. “You know, the one second-guessing the CalTrans decision to completely replace the eastern span of the Bay Bridge because it would be cheaper than retrofitting the old span? Do you realize how many prevailing wage jobs could‘ve been lost had your suggestion been taken seriously?”

After that the room went quiet. He went to a “white” board at the front of the room. “We have a public policy crisis.” He wrote “Crisis” in big letters on the board. “Every attempt at straightening things out is met with dissent and controversy.” Then he wrote the word “Progress.” An inaudible cringe went through the room. “We can’t just stay where we are. We need to move forward. For that to happen we need to form ranks and… get with the program.”

Another cringe went through the room. “The purpose of this meeting is to emphasize the importance of the spirit of cooperation. You should all realize that your personal tendencies to dissent are being noticed.”

Out of the blue, someone in the back shot out “How do you expect to make us cooperate?”

“You’re here, aren’t you? This is your wakeup call. We don’t really want to incarcerate you, but you need to be aware of how much control we have… over what you do, how you do it. And, most importantly, what kind of influence you have on others.”

“This is fascism!” yelled another inductee.

“Now we’re getting down to important issues. We have nothing to do with fascism. That’s the style of right wing knuckle draggers such as yourselves. We’re just trying to fix what’s wrong. You’re not stupid. if you were, we wouldn’t be bothering with trying to help you through this transition.” He wrote the word “Perspective” on the board. “You’re not bad people. I bet most if not all of you are really good neighbors. You take in your neighbors’ mail and feed their cats and dogs when they’re on vacation. You all like helping people. The problem that we have now is that -- well -- you’re not helping.” Another cringe.

“Your problem is that you don’t visualize the big picture. Those corny notions of individualism and personal freedom are getting in the way of fixing the flaws in how society works. We have crime, poverty, bad nutrition, STDs. Personal freedom can’t fix these. We need new perspectives. Oh! Look at the time. We all have to go to the dining commons for the evening meal. We’re having tofu enchiladas, my personal favorite. Let’s all go and wash our hands.”

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Socialist Marketplace

While reading Khrushchev Remembers (translated by Strobe Talbott, Little, Brown, 1970) I came across a very illustrative anecdote. Khrushchev was in Yugoslavia, meeting with Tito to smooth over Soviet-Yugo relations, probably in 1963. He had a brief conversation with the Yugoslav dictator expressing Soviet envy of the comparatively lucrative Yugoslav tourist industry.
One issue that Khrushchev found pertinent was avoiding the national embarrassment that occurs when foreign tourists are swarmed by local youth wanting to buy the tourists’ clothes. Tito told Khrushchev that whenever the party-state apparatus noticed an emerging fashion trend they set up a factory to make the desired items themselves. Khrushchev thought the concept very interesting. Tito qualified his remark by noting that fashion trends can change capriciously… and that some thought is required to try to stay current with the likes and dislikes of the consumers.
How anal can you get? Somehow the government has to be in charge of satisfying the public’s sumptuary desires. Dictators, planners… well, they’re all dictators.
In California we had a fairly recent experience with a governor who had serious socialist tendencies. Remember Gray Davis? Aptly named, he presided over the electrical crisis of 2000. Because of abjectly moronic public policy we had a shortage of electricity at the retail level. Rather than let market pricing sort out the consumers’ priorities, or stimulate increased supply… he imposed price controls and then ran an ad blitz imploring the public to conserve, conserve, conserve.
The state subsidized the price controls and went broke. Davis was recalled… and the state is still broke. Why are these people so freakin’ scared of markets? Head shrinkers call it agoraphobia: fear of public places… but agora is Latin for marketplace.
My theory is that these pinko dictator-planner types can’t abide the fluid chaos that continuously settles discrepancies between buyers and sellers. Where’s the opportunity for a self-important autocrat to take control?
About fifteen years ago a friend dragged me off to Berkeley to see Cornell West and Michael Lerner (the Bay Area’s best known phony rabbi) explain to the true believers how Jews and Blacks can find common ground in the new utopia. The answer was simple: they are both caught in the struggle against oppressive capitalism.
Lerner went on to say that stores (you know, where you go to buy stuff) should not have cash registers or posted prices. Such practices were oppressive. Customers should just pay the proprietor what they felt fair and take their stuff and leave. Years later, somewhere back East, some trust fund baby squandered her inheritance trying to find the virtue in such a dumb-ass idea.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Will Oakland Actually Take On The Disabled Placard Fraudsters?

Regular readers of this blog know that I've pointed out several times the ridiculous number of cars parked all day long on city streets with disabled placards.

This wouldn't be a big deal if it weren't for the fact that they apparently are allowed to park there all day, and naturally they are not required to pay a dime.

To add insult to injury, my experience has been that when I do see someone retrieving or parking a car with the placard, 75 percent of the time the person has no apparent disability.

Several years back, Oakland attempted a crackdown on these rogue parkers. Obviously they didn't do enough, because it remains a serious problem.

Not only do these folks take spots that law-abiding citizens could use, they also increase the costs to everyone else by not paying for their own meters.

I had the privilege of witnessing a particularly ridiculous example of this abuse just a couple months ago.

One of the few reasons I ever go downtown in Oakland is to visit my dentist. Her office is on Franklin, and I usually park on Webster, since there are often empty spaces there on the block parallel to my dentist's office.

This particular time, I had difficulty finding a spot, and I noticed that it seemed like a lot of the cars parked there had disabled placards. So, once I found a spot I walked up and down both sides of not only that block but each adjacent block as well -- both sides of three blocks in total.

I kept count. There were 34 cars parked on the stretch of road. Of these, 31 had disabled placards. On the block parallel to my dentist, every single car had a disabled placard.

Now, one could point out that this situation really doesn't matter that much, since downtown Oakland isn't exactly the spot most people want to go to park and shop. As I already admitted, I pretty much avoid this area.

But if Oakland wants to improve and gentrify -- a goal we should all want for our city -- we need reasonable access to parking downtown. Just yesterday, the Oakland Tribune reported on two developers planning to invest $10 million in the downtown region.

Such investments cannot make economic sense if the city is unwilling to provide reasonable access to drivers.

The city's absurd new policy of ticketing parking spots until 8pm just serves to reinforce the notion that downtown is closed for business.

Just last week, I attended a meeting at 7pm near Lake Merritt. I knew enough to put money in the meter, but as I walked down the block I noticed that no other cars had done the same.

Now, admittedly, several had disabled placards and so didn't need to pay. But those without placards might receive a rude awakening once the police starts to seriously enforce that stupid law.

I was happy to see that some are now suggesting not only that the 8pm time limit be rolled back, but also that police should target those with disabled placards.

As I've suggested on this blog before, cracking down on the disabled placards is pretty straightforward.

All the police need to do is select some set of placards on the street each day and monitor them until the owner returns. Obviously, the ticket would have to be large enough to justify the staffing required.

Better yet, the city could enact an ordinance allowing the police to simply issue cars a provisional ticket, which could be cleared by simply calling a phone number and having the cop come by to void it. Since the cop would be in the area, this would take no more than a couple minutes.

Or, the law could simply be changed to require those with disabled permits to pay for parking. The amount could be lower than that charged to the able-bodied, but just getting these people into the system would make things much easier to control.

The bottom line is we obviously have an enormous number of people who take cars belonging to disabled parents or relatives, drive them to work downtown and leave them parked all day.

It's a situation the city has ignored too long. And in light of this idiotic 8pm meter limit, it's high time the city took steps to solve the problem.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Old Radical

By Mark Ross, Contributing Writer

I used to have a friend who was very politically involved, as an Anarchist.

He was a Wobbly -- a dues paying member of the International Workers of the World, the IWW. History books call them an anarcho-syndicalist labor organization. He was radicalized in the Army during the Korean War, as an enlisted Army Intelligence operative. When the war ended he joined the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA).

When I knew him he was a typesetter and I was a printer. He lived in a modest abode with wife and daughter in North Oakland, just below the Berkeley line. He and his wife were New Yorkers who had moved west.

When they married, Paul Krasner (of Realist fame) conducted the ceremony. He got into graphic arts in the CPUSA to help spread the word. He quit the CPUSA because of Stalin’s ruthlessness, and more fundamentally because of his resistance to authoritarian structures and joined the Wobblies, a membership he continued for the rest of his life.

During much of the time I knew him I was vice chairman of the Alameda County Libertarian Party. I used to stop by to visit, and we would talk politics.

He called Libertarians “White Anarchists” as compared to Black Anarchists, such as himself.

Black Anarchists are populists, antagonistic to corporate institutions. White Anarchist Libertarians are free enterprisers who trust individual sovereignty regardless of structure.

There was once an Anarchist gathering in San Francisco. It was really some kind of adolescent anti-globalist mob that demanded more government intervention in peoples’ problems. He couldn’t stop laughing.

Severe times stimulate political radicalism. We are at the beginning of the latest wave, and conservatives are at the leading edge. It is my opinion that the tipping point has already been reached, and the plethora of tax increases and Orwellian attempts at micromanaging our lives is antagonizing the public against a government establishment that is putting itself first before the people for whose benefit it ostensibly exists.

What next? Unless elections are suspended due to the “national emergency,” a referendum on the public’s relationship to the government will be held next year.

I typically expect ambiguous results. Vut there’s plenty of time to build a watershed. My calculation is that changing people’s minds (beyond what actual circumstances are doing) involves the slaughtering of sacred cows.

A clichéd defense too often used by big government types (a.k.a. “state-ists”) is that people want the services that government offers, but they’re reluctant to pay for them. The truth is that most services were invented for marginalized constituencies so they could be politically manipulated come election time, but there’s seldom much of any necessity or broad support for these sacred cows.

The recent slashing of the California budget has left many in politics scared to death: what if the sharp decrease in government spending goes largely unnoticed among the electorate?

The activist media will, of course, trot out carefully selected “victims” of fiscal responsibility, but we’re already tired of such obvious stunts.

The most sacred of all cows is government-run education. Immunity from competitive forces has led to declining performance in basic requirements. In plain English (for those of you who went to government schools), they’re doing a crappy job of teaching children.

There’s no magic pill that government schools can swallow that will change this. The only reason we still let the government run the schools is that they alone have the power to tax and thus dislocate the money stream from the client-provider interface.

We are currently watching the government attempt to complete the same dislocation in health care. It's a classic example of reach exceeding grasp.

School vouchers represent a workable compromise between education reform and the government’s power to provide the money stream. It merely adds competition, both for faculty and students.

Critics wonder where poor people will go to have their children educated -- only because the critics have no imagination (and habitually think poor people must be stupid). Everybody gets the same voucher. Many private schools do better work with less money than government schools.

The critics also contend that not all private schools are good. That is both in the eyes of the beholders and subject to the influences of competition. And it implies that consumers can’t be trusted to consume properly and require the assistance of a preponderance of bureaucrats to steer them straight.

Competition works for colleges. Public and private institutions compete directly with each other for students and faculty.

The final liberal whine about vouchers is that government schools are mandated to perform services to the community that private schools don’t do.

But most of these mandates are inhibitors to the educational process, such as mainstreaming “special needs” students at tremendous expense while never relieving them of their special needs. Some special needs students can be mainstreamed -- others cannot.

They’re individuals just like the rest of us. With vouchers, ambitious entrepreneurs can target under-served types of students and benefit both their own bottom line and the students and their families.

One time, when I was visiting my Black Anarchist friend he gave me some really big news: He had just been elected president of the Wobblies. He didn’t even know he was a candidate.

Also, he had just been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Now you see why I’ve referred to him in the past tense. But I know that he would agree with vouchers as stated in this essay because he was an old radical.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Run Ron Run

By Mark Ross, Contribuing Writer

Is it me… or does anyone else think that it’s sort of curious that mayoral candidates are lining up in Oakland… as if the incumbent has announced his retirement… which he hasn’t? Talk about foregone conclusions.

Another question: Is Don Perata the man to save Oakland?

Or, is he going to do for Oakland what he has already done for California… get termed out just as the enterprise goes off a financial cliff. Oh, that’s right… Oakland is already off the cliff.

Here’s a rephrase: Does Don Perata have any financial talent whatsoever? He’s a prodigious fund raiser. So prodigious in fact that the FBI found him extremely interesting… that is until Democrats took over the Department of Justice. In practice, however, prodigious fund raising tends to be connected with profligate spending. Not a good sign.

Back to Ronald V. Dellums. Why would I or anybody suggest that he continue his breathtakingly inept tenure as Oakland’s chief executive? I really don’t want him in the job… I never have. I want to stir the pot.

Oakland and environs are the sole political property of the left-wing Democrat establishment. Period. They are at war with common sense.

To improve the competitive advantage of common sense it is best to divide the enemy into as many disparate factions as is possible. Dellums has a loyal constituency -- who knows why -- that represents votes that would be torn away from Perata, Quan, DeLaFuente, Hans Reiser, whoever.
A good reason for the lack of success of conservative political agendas is that conservatives just aren’t as ruthless as the neo-Marxists. Maybe that should change.

Just to further befuddle the point… I tend to subscribe to the Groucho (not Karl) Marx philosophy. He said “I’d never join a club that would have me as a member.”

I paraphrase: I’m reluctant to vote for a candidate who would actually want to win an election. William F. Buckley once ran for mayor of New York City. A reporter asked him what would be the first thing he would do if elected. “Demand a recount” was his answer.

A partial explanation for the expanding chaos of public sector institutions is the selection process that empowers the decision makers. The presidency is the most obvious example. We have invested way too much power in a single mortal being. Only the most driven, megalomaniacal control freak would seek such a punishing situation.

Ronald V. Dellums and Oakland are microcosmic analogs of this problem. Dellums’ perceived failure as mayor has been enhanced by his complete lack of executive experience.

The voters assumed that success as a member of congress (who never drafted any significant legislation) would easily translate into mayoral success. Lions of the Left have some kind of mysterious talent for making things work -- so they think.

(Matier & Ross just wrote that Dizzy Debbie Edgerly, in her suit against Oakland, claimed that Dellums’ wife, Cynthia, wanted Debbie to use city funds to pay the Dellums’ PG&E bill for May of 2008. The bill was $1,600. Now that’s a carbon footprint that would make even Sasquatch blush.)

Chip Johnson, a few years ago, wrote in the Chronicle that a significant impediment to running Oakland is the whole menagerie of agenda pushers. You have your tenants’ rights pimps, public employee unions, tree huggers, illegal alien huggers, vagrant huggers, public safety advocates, paroled felon huggers, medicinal pot merchants, developers and open space huggers. I’m sure I left many out, but brevity is the soul of something.

Why Dellums ever wanted to be mayor remains a mystery. He could have made a lot more money arranging government grants for the likes of the Black Muslim Bakery. But the lure of conspicuous public eminence was too strong to resist.

Should it come to pass that the various “progressive” cliques that monopolize our local political processes start warring with each other, in a way more severe and littered with casualties than in the past, then a focused campaign for common sense would have a better shot at coming in ahead of the pack.

Divide and conquer. Annnnnnnnd, a Dellums candidacy for re-election would be a major plus in this direction.

Run Ron Run! It’s got a ring to it. So, let’s start an ad hoc “Re-elect Ron Dellums Committee.” Nothing official… just a reason for the old man’s political hormones to start flowing again. Who needs comedians when our alleged “leaders” are even bigger buffoons.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rational Vs. Irrational Discrimination

This week's edition of the Berkeley Daily Planet really was chock full of commentaries on racism (all from the predictable point of view), so I thought I'd continue with the same theme today.

The Daily Planet published an opinion piece by Cecil Brown entitled "Racial Profiling and Swimming While Black." I encourage you to read it, but the gist of it is that Brown, a Black UC Berkeley professor, was hassled by the police at the UC swimming pool apparently because some other Black guy had earlier caused trouble at the pool.

Someone called the cops mistakenly thinking Prof. Brown was the troublemaker. This was obviously very embarrassing and troubling for the Prof. Brown.

Prof. Brown then decided the police were racists who hated Black people, so he wrote a rap song about the experience.

Now I'd like to tell you a story from my own past. I'm white.

When I was about 20 years old, I was in my home town, back from college for spring break or some such, and I decided to drive with two friends down to the bowling alley. I was your typical college kid -- ratty looking hair, ratty looking car, ratty looking clothes.

On the way, I was driving a little too fast and a police officer pulled me over. This was on a major street in a small town, so there were lots of onlookers.

The cop came to the window and asked for my license, registration and insurance. I reached over to the glove box to get the latter two items.

When I opened the glove box, I realized there was a problem. You see, this car wasn't so hot, and I found myself needing often to adjust the idle screw, which was located in a sort of well in the engine. The only way you could turn it was with a thin metal object, like a long screwdriver.

But being the stupid college kid I was, I used to use a long, sharp knife to do the job. Don't ask me why -- I just did. And, I kept that knife in the glove compartment.

The officer saw the knife. He then drew his gun, ordered me out of the car and forced me and my passengers (both white men) to lie face down on the pavement for about 15 minutes. A small crowd gathered and watched as that officer and one other searched our car.

Though they found nothing, the officers hassled us for another 15 minutes, more or less telling us to watch our backs. They confiscated the knife, wrote me a ticket and drove off. The entire ordeal was humiliating, and there's no doubt that many of the onlookers wrongly concluded that we were criminals or miscreants of some sort.

Now, I am 100 percent certain that a big part of how those officers reacted was because the car was full of young males who looked ratty. If you think about it, this is very common. Young men frequently receive more "attention" from the police than anyone else.

Had I instead been a 60-year-old Asian woman, I'm sure the reaction would have been quite different. The cop might have been surprised to see the knife, and he might have told me not to touch it. But he would not have put me on the ground and searched my car like that.

Following Prof. Brown's logic, I guess I should have conclude that police are anti-youth sexists. For some reason, they just hate young men and have it in for them.

But you see, that's not what's really going on there. What's really going on is the police officer knows that young men commit disproportionately more crimes than middle-aged women. So, he stereotyped me based on his experience and acted accordingly.

Should I be mad at the police officer for doing this?

Of course not. I should be mad at all the other young men running around committing crimes and attacking police officers. If they stopped doing that, I would not have been treated as I was.

The same thing applies in Prof. Brown's case. First off, he obviously matched the description of the person who was causing problems at the swimming pool. This is regrettable, frustrating and humiliating, but it is not racism.

And, I feel pretty confident that when the cops entered that area, they were not particularly excited about having to hassle Prof. Brown, specifically because they knew going in that they would be accused of racism, whether the man they hassled was the suspect or not.

Beyond the specific matter of Prof. Brown matching a description, there is this question of racial profiling.

Just as my police officer knew I posed more of a threat to him than a middle-aged woman, police know that Blacks are more likely to hurt them than whites. If you consider this unjustifiable bias, then you also must consider it sexist for a cop to be more careful around men than women. And it's "ageist" to worry more about the young than the old.

In truth, when someone in Prof. Brown's situation faces a cop who seems to be taking unnecessary precautions, he should not blame the cop. He should blame the other people who look like him who have forced the cop to behave like that.

There are obviously limits to how far one can and should advance this argument. All are entitled to due process of law, and the police should not stray from police procedure.

But, like all things in human affairs, police procedure prescribes a range of actions the cop can take in a given situation, and it is not unreasonable for the cop to move toward the "safer" end of that range when dealing with a person who -- by appearances alone -- the cop knows is more likely to pose a threat.

I have one other thing to say on this matter. I think people who make arguments like the one advanced by Prof. Brown are part of the problem, not the solution. The more people demand the police ignore bad behavior, the less social pressure is put on those who perpetrate the bad behavior.

If people like Prof. Brown instead stood up and directed their ire toward those whose bad behavior pushes the police to behave as they do, perhaps that bad behavior would become increasingly taboo. Shunning and shame can work wonders in a culture.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Race, Race, Race 24 x 7

I guess this might come as a surprise to Black people, but in my experience white men spend essentially zero time thinking about race and race relations. It's just a total non-issue.

A reasonable response to this fact might be something like, "It's easy to say you don't think about something when it isn't a big problem in your life."

Such a response makes a lot of sense. For example, few people spend a lot of time thinking about getting a particular illness until it directly affects them. But, to a person with cancer, illness literally becomes an immediate life-and-death issue.

On the other hand, living in a place like Oakland forces every one of us to subconsciously deal with race every day.

Like many cities, Oakland is virtually color-coded. It's a largely segregated city, with Black regions in the West and East of the city,  Hispanic areas on down International Blvd, etc.

Anyone who looks at the statistics knows the risk of being victimized by crime is also a color-coded situation. I remember reading somewhere that, if a Black and non-Black man pass each other on the street, the Black man has 1/500 the probability of being assaulted by the non-Black as vice-versa.

Knowing facts like these, it would be irrational for a white man to ignore race when walking around Oakland.

Still, there is a big difference between a cognizance of race in potentially dangerous situations and having a worldview that says your race is the key defining characteristic in your life. The former is an ongoing background process akin to avoiding being burned by a stove. The latter seems much more omnipresent in people's minds.

And, it''s this latter view, combined with extreme racial sensitivity among guilt-ridden non-minorities, which makes the East Bay such a strange place to live.

In the 10 years that I've lived in Oakland, I actually think this state of affairs has served only to move my gut instincts in a more racist, not less racist direction.

So many people here are so quick to find the racial explanation for everything they see that I no longer have any patience for such arguments. And, being constantly confronted by this "us-versus-them" mentality makes it hard not to view yourself as part of your own racial "team" -- an attitude that pushes one inexorably away from viewing people as fundamentally equal.

The thing that brought this topic to mind today was J Douglas Allen-Taylor's latest article in the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Incidentally, Allen-Taylor's article appeared above a house advertisement for how the Daily Planet embraces free speech and all different viewpoints. This is very funny to me, since it's so obviously that they censor conservative viewpoints. The East Bay does have conservatives. Maybe the Daily Planet would do better if they asked a couple of us to write for their paper.

But I digress. Allen-Taylor's article discusses the "African-American/progressive coalition" which drafted Ron Dellums into running for mayor of Oakland. He talks about Councilmember Jean Quan as having an "Asian American" base of financial contributors.

Just for fun, I started using Google to do image searches for the list of people Allen-Taylor discussed in his article. Pretty much every single person he said clearly good things about is Black -- Ron Dellums, Barbara Lee, Sandré Swanson, Keith Carson and new police chief Anthony Batts. Allen-Taylor seems more skeptical of Quan, and he doesn't seem to like Phil Tagami (who doesn't look Black to me), Gilda Gonzales and Ignacio De La Fuente.

Now, to be fair, Allen-Taylor is largely reporting the views of others in this piece, so this tendency probably has less to do with him and more to do with the "African-American/progressive coalition" he's describing.

But, I've called him on this question of race bias in the past, and he has more or less admitted it when it comes to his support of Dellums. My recollection is that he argued that there's nothing wrong with one Black guy supporting another. Of course, I'm sure Allen-Taylor would write a pretty unflattering column about me if I said my plan in 2010 was to vote for "the white guy."

Some people might make an argument of the sort that says, "when you're a hammer, everything you see looks like a nail." So, if you're Al Sharpton, you're going to frame everything in racial terms, because that's what you do every day.

I guess that makes sense, but then it makes me wonder why people feel like it's beneficial to them to view life through this lens. It's not like nuclear physicists feel the need to analogize all their social interactions to neutron collisions or some such silliness.

No, I think it's more likely that people frame their thinking this way because they get something out of it. For leaders, I think it gives them access to a set of unwavering, bordering on unthinking, supporters. Such was the case last November when Blacks voted 95%+ for Obama. In Political Science, a 55%-45% victory is considered a landslide. To my knowledge, they don't have a word for a 95%-5% victory. Such results are usually only seen in banana republics.

The rank and file must get something out of it too. Perhaps it's some sense of belonging, or maybe the concept of racial identification is seductive because of its simplicity.

But, in truth, when a set of people spends so much time talking about race, they themselves are the ones who lose out. There are more compelling and interesting things in life to be dealt with. Skin color is not one of them. It just isn't.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

School Scores Out; Response Predictable

The state released results today from the annual student achievement tests. As has been the case for the past few years, the gap between Hispanic/Black students and everyone else failed to narrow significantly.

And, as in prior years, the educational establishment decries the situation as "unacceptable" and racist, but then all the solutions that it offers will accomplish nothing.

I won't recount the test scores for our area; interested readers can look these up for themselves.

I still think it's pretty interesting that the state segregates the test results by race at all -- such data doesn't seem particularly actionable.

Oh wait. Did I say "segregated?" I meant "separated," of course. But now that I think of it, looking at the data also suggests a de facto segregation. For example, Piedmont High, smack in the middle of the East Bay, has about 2 or 3 Black students per grade. That compares with hundreds of Black students per grade in most schools all around Piedmont.

I constantly find this state of affairs bizarre. I realize the legal reasons for it, but it remains pretty strange that civil rights advocates who vigorously oppose any kind of magnet school or voucher program in Oakland are just fine with allowing wealthy whites and Asians to move to Piedmont to escape the bad Oakland schools.

In any event, California education bureaucrat Jack O'Connell claims that the educational gap is because of lack of funding (surprise) and the fact that minorities are less likely to attend preschool. That latter claim has been completely debunked elsewhere -- the benefits of preschool are a consequence of having parents who care, not a consequence of anything the preschool does for students.

The funding claim is also bogus -- it's a well-worn teachers' union claim that I'm not going to spend time debunking here. Suffice it to say it has been demonstrated that increases in teacher salary and decreases in class size do not correlate with higher student achievement.

What does appear to help minority yout is applying different educational methodologies. The Wall Street Journal has reported several times on schools in New York and Washington, DC which have achieved stunning levels of success.

The school day lasts considerably longer at these schools, and they use the extra time focus on the student's entire life -- teaching them how to behave properly in civilized society, how to study, etc. In essence, they take the place of the students' missing or disfunctional family environments.

Accomplishing all this with limited funding generally requires independence from the government apparatus, and it requires getting more done with the same amount of money.

Unfortunately, both of these methodologies run afoul of the teachers' union. The union's sole goal is to get as much money for its members for as little work as possible. And they do that job well.

So, in spite of these schools' proven success, the unions are constantly trying to shut them down.

This, then, puts the lie to the government's announcements about the school test scores. All they really want to do is prime the voters for raising teacher salaries. And, what better way than for O'Connell to announce that the current situation is racist and requires massive new preschool expenditures as a solution.

Don't be fooled by this. While there are certainly many individual teachers in the public system who care deeply about their students, in the bureaucracy and in the union, no one cares about student achievement. In fact, they'd rather it remain tepid to justify continued pointless increases in spending.

If not, then why won't they copy the successful methods from the East Coast?

And, by the way, why do we even have a teachers' union? Are there teachers somewhere being abused by the government? And, how is it that so many people fall for televised ads implying that that the union wants what's best for kids? Shouldn't anyone with an IQ over 70 be able to see that the union's best interests are exactly opposite those of the students?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Thank God They're Mexicans

By Mark Ross, Contributing Writer

I’ve never been a serious hawk on the immigration issue. However, I side with the right on two important aspects: We need to control our borders in order to maintain our national identity. And, the immigrants who come here through proper channels need to become Americans… not remain as foreigners in enclaves.

My mother told the story of her mother who had no English. Her sister, Aunt Sadie, told her to go into the store and point at what she wanted. When she was finished she was to say “Dod’l do.” I knew grandma as someone who spoke English… but with an accent. All of my grandparents were immigrants. Thomas Sowell, in Ethnic America, said that silent movies were ideal for the America of the 1890s to 1920s. The audiences often had limited English and were better entertained by the histrionic gesticulation typical of the genre. The Warner Brothers got their start running a nickelodeon and their Mamma played the piano for the sound track.

A major fallacy is that America was built on the backs of cheap labor. Our economic juggernaut was built, instead, on capital. Machines are continually being developed to reduce the cost and improve the quality of productive tasks. The United Farm Workers once staged a major protest at UC Davis because they were developing technologies to reduce the human drudgery involved in farming. I’m not big on drudgery. The less of it the better. Migrant workers come to our agricultural areas because they work so cheaply that technology is not a suitable replacement. In some cases it’s borderline. Should some cockamamie union try to push up the labor cost… the steam hammer will replace John Henry.

What Americans don’t appreciate about the infiltration of our nation by people from the South… is that Europe has an even bigger problem with Arabs and Turks. Personally, I’d much rather have Mexicans.

The Arabs and Turks swarming over Europe are the products of an economic diaspora, just like the Mexicans and Central Americans coming into the United States. The difference between the two situations is that Mexicans are much, much more like the rest of Americans than are the Moslems who are radically changing the demographics of Europe.

A critique I could lodge against the political aspect of Mexican migration into the U.S. concerns the irredentist scheme to reclaim California and perhaps other border states as being rightly Mexican property. This is typified by the La Raza organization to which our latest Supreme Court nominee is alleged to belong. Most Mexicans don’t give a rat’s patootie for this notion… just the leftist, college indoctrinated “community activists.” But, perhaps a thumbnail historical recital can help put the contemporary situation into perspective:

Mexico was the administrative center for all of Spanish America. California was very difficult for the Spanish to administer because of its remoteness. To reach California by sea… from Spain or Vera Cruz was extremely difficult. By land… well, the same. It was easier to reach China. As a result, there were never more than a few Spanish/Mexican inhabitants of California (Harper‘s Monthly in 1876, put the number at about 3,000).
Meanwhile, Spanish strategists were alarmed at the possibility of Russian encroachment heading south from Alaska. A Spanish general named Galvez (for whom Galveston, Texas is named) enlisted an ambitious Franciscan named Junipero Serra to build a string of missions along the Pacific coast to serve as outposts of Spanish empire… and to block any Russian expansion into Spanish territory. The Ruskies got as far down the coast as Fort Ross in Sonoma County. Beyond which was “mission country.”

In more modern times, immigration from Mexico into the U.S. started anew during the Mexican Civil War, ca. 1910. Along with chips and salsa they brought marijuana… without which there may never have been a “Jazz Age.”

That was sort of towards the tail end of the great immigration period in American history. At various times Tsarist Russia and Australia were competing with us for fugitive Europeans. After a while we were no longer “under populated.” Immigration quotas were put in place… but all along, with a nod and a wink, we’ve kept Mexico from boiling over by absorbing their wealth creation shortfall. They’re better at creating people than they are at creating wealth. It doesn’t have to be. Mexico is oil rich and it’s bicoastal… like us. These are terrific commercial and strategic qualities.

But Mexico is deteriorating. It’s always been corrupt… but now chiefs of police are being assassinated routinely. Off-duty police are doing kidnappings for ransom. Revolutionaries from old movies are seizing towns like Chiapas. The middle class is hunkering down into guarded enclaves. I’d leave.

America has always had a vested interest in a stable Mexico. But sacrificing our national identity is too high a price to pay. Allowing unfettered “off the books” immigration is not a long term solution… it reinforces the corruption and chaos that is pushing the people across the border.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bart Should Fire Them All And Start Over

Word came out today that the union which represents the Bart's station agents and train operators plans to strike starting at midnight on Sunday.

This comes after the union's negotiators concluded an agreement with Bart management, which the union's membership proceeded to vote down by a three-to-one margin.

All the reporting I've seen suggests this strike could last some time, since it's unclear who management should even contact to advance negotiations. Union menbers obviously don't have any faith in their own negotiating team, so I guess they'll have to select new negotiators.

A long Bart shutdown does no one any good, including the workers who are striking. As we saw after the strike 10 years ago, some riders are likely to abandon Bart, because they will find better ways to commute. Other riders will choose other options just out of spite.

In the meantime, it's important to remember that the workers who turned down the contract offer are those with the worst ratio of pay to skills. Bart's station agents and drivers are the highest paid in the country.

And, what they do requires virtually no training. The trains are virtually automated -- and have a history of crashes when drivers switch them into manual mode. The station agents are largely there just to say "no" to customers, and in any case their customer service role is not hard to teach.

When I call these folks overpaid, I'm not making an idle point. These Bart employees make high double-digit salaries, when benefits are included. Some make over $100k, milking their seniority and

Beyond the pay issues, there are the ridiculous work rules detailed at Bart management's website -- One example is a rule preventing Bart from asking station agents to work at stations more than a certain distance apart during any given week. Such rules cost the system money and are completely absurd considering the agents can literally ride the train they're supposed to be helping manage to get to their assignments.

I can understand paying a premium for the people who service and repair the trains. Bart uses a lot of non-standard equipment, so there's an important element of institutional memory to protect there.

But the station agents and train drivers just don't add that much value. Faced with a strike caused by these folks, it's time for Bart management to consider firing all of them and starting over with non-union workers.

Admittedly, such an approach will take some time for training, but I doubt the training time would exceed by much the time it will take to renegotiate with the union. More importantly, eliminating the union provides management a clean slate to reduce pay and benefits to reasonable levels.

I'm sure there are people out there with skills similar to those required to perform these two jobs. In the short term, Bart can find a couple dozen of these folks, train them quickly and get a few of the core stations up and running -- West Oakland and Embarcadero at a minimum. That way, we can avoid the scenario where people can't make it into the city for their jobs.

Unfortunately, I expect Bart's management and directors to view this strike as mostly a political problem. As such, they are unlikely to fire the union workers, since our area is full of Leftist wackos who will support a union even as it chokes the lifeblood out of our transit infrastructure -- an ironic situation when you consider that most Leftists are all for commuter trains.

This strike is going to create a difficult situation for people who work in the private sector. It's also going to discourage people about the future of public transit in the area, which can only be bad for the East Bay, which relies on Bart to take commuters into the city.

What's worse, it's not going to buy the union members anything. The reality is their contracts are completely unsustainable. The best they can hope for is some sort of temporary bone funded by a fare or tax increase.

But the public is losing patience with public-employee unions. Eventually that is going to translate into much tougher negotiating stances. Perhaps this strike will be the beginning of the end for these folks, but I'm not counting on it.

The right solution for Bart is the simplest one. Take a page out of the Reagan playbook and fire every one of these workers.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Great Water Conservation Hoax

By Mark Ross, Contributing Writer

OK class, put down your pencils and pick up your latest East Bay MUD bill. You may need a calculator… especially if you’re not all that good at gauging proportions. You should notice a subcategory under “Water Charges” called “Drought Surcharge.” This surcharge is assessed in “units” or 738 gallon increments. Should you be so profligate in your consumption as to “over consume” almost 1,500 gallons of water you will be dinged a whopping $4.00 on your bimonthly statement.

Further down the page you’ll see two other categories: “Wastewater Charges - EBMUD“, and “City of Oakland Sewer Service.” These two should combine to over $70.00. The City of Oakland charge is a flat fee, irrespective of water consumption. The EBMUD charge is based on your water consumption. If you flushed your toilet once a day… but had a large lawn to keep green… you’ll be paying a lot for wastewater treatment… even though you really won’t be producing much in the way of wastewater. But who said life was fair?

The big overview here is that, when you pay your “water” bill… you’re mostly paying for sewage treatment. Increases in the cost of water due to periodic droughts are insignificant as a percentage of the bill. The dirty little secret is that when there is a “water emergency” Bay Area residents conserve to such a great degree that the local sewage districts have to flush their systems with fresh water… both to move some of the heavier solids and to dilute the effluent so it can be properly processed. But, there’s an even dirtier and not so little secret about water conservation. It’s meaningless. [Oh, those right wingers… they’re so full of crap.] There’s a man named William Kahrl… and he’s no right winger… but he is a skeptic when it comes to domestic water conservation. Who is he? He’s as close as anyone has come to being a guru to California hydrology. First, he edited The California Water Atlas for the State Department of Water Resources. Then, he wrote Water and Power (mostly about the LADWP) in 1982... Which was selected by the New York Times as one of the best books of that year.

Well, about 16 years ago Mr. Kahrl had an article in California Journal about the folly of domestic water conservation. In this article he laid out the simple math: In California, agriculture uses 85% of all water that is consumed by people. Of the remaining 15%, households consume 4% of the aggregate whole. The remaining 11% is used commercially and in landscape irrigation. By being compelled to use “low-flush” toilets, “low-flow” shower heads… and who knows what else… both compulsory and voluntary… should households reduce their water consumption by 25%, then… [now the calculation]… 25% of 4% equals [tada!] one percent. A measly one percent of the total water demand is saved by all of these extreme measures combined. This could be considered to be less than the margin of error. Now, the 85-15 ratio has shifted over the years. I’m not quite sure what it is today… but urban/domestic use has increased and agricultural use has decreased. It’s probably about 80/20 now. Household water conservation is still meaningless.I asked an expert on water rights at UC Davis about Kahrl’s discounting of household water conservation. “Well,” he said, “conservation at least gets people thinking in the right way.” EXACTLY! It’s all about perpetrating frauds and hoaxes on gullible masses so the ethos will change. The environmental credo can be summed up on a simple bumper sticker:

We May Not be Able to Save the Planet

But We Can at Least Lower the Quality of Life

About the same time as Kahrl’s article appeared in California Journal, I had the opportunity to discuss with a well known climatologist the future of drought patterns in Northern California. He, Orman Granger of UCB, told me that the overlying trend was for our region to receive more rain and less snow. The implication being that snow pack would be less and less sufficient to meet our water needs and that we needed more reservoirs closer to the coast to catch local runoff. Snow pack is the ideal means of water storage… hardly any construction is needed and, as the demand for water increases with warmer weather, the snow melts faster and the creeks rise.Some Bay Area communities rely almost entirely on local runoff… such as Marin and parts of the Peninsula. The problems are more political than technical when it comes to tying all of these areas into “the grid.” But, during periods of drought they’re the first to sound the alarm… due to lack of depth in their systems.

Karl A. Wittfogel, in the mid twentieth century, coined the term “hydraulic civilization.” His theory was that early governments were invented in order to build water projects… without that requirement such a high level of social organization was not all that necessary.

[you can go to:,W …for a map of drought regions in California]

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Oakland To Lay Off 200 Cops? Go Ahead, I Say

It sounds as if Oakland's plan to play brinkmanship with the Obama administration over laying off cops may be falling on deaf ears.

From the sound of things, the federal government's willingness to pay for local cops may top out at 50 officers, far short of the 140 Oakland would like to receive. Worse yet, receiving funding for 50 officers will not meet the minimum staffing requirement to collect Measure Y, so the city may well wind up short more like 200 officers.

Meanwhile, the Oakland police officers' union has not yet indicated a willingness to accept a renegotiation of the union's contract, which still has a year of life remaining. If the union decides to try and enforce the existing contract rather than negotiating, that could put the city even further in the hole.

The whole point of threatening to lay off 140 officers, of course, was to provide the city with as strong a case as possible for receiving stimulus funds to pay for more cops.

Too bad the federal government has received more than $8 billion in requests for about $1 billion in stimulus funding.

In my opinion, the reasonable initial respose to hearing this news is concern for the city. With such a dramatic decrease in police protection, we are bound to experience an upsurge in crime of all sorts.

Worse yet, if the city can no longer collect the money from Measure Y, we'll be losing one of our regressive parcel taxes, which I view as an important component in pushing the city toward gentrification.

But when I think about this state of affairs in more depth, it occurs to me that the coming crime-and-taxation wave may yield benefits to those of us who want to see Oakland become a more livable city.

I think it's pretty obvious how a decrease in police presence would harm law-abiding citizens living in the city's lower-income neighborhoods. But, I don't find such an impact too concerning, because they can simply pick up and move to an adjacent city with a lower crime rate -- that's certainly what I would do if faced with that situation.

The areas north and east of I-580 would not be affected at all. These areas, which I like to call the "gentrification zone," already have sufficiently low rates of crime that I doubt changes in policing would make much of a difference.

Part of my reasoning here is data which suggests that, for whatever reason, criminals tend to victimize those living very close to the criminals -- even if those living further away are far wealthier. This phenomenon helps explain Piedmont's low crime rate, for example.

The criminals themselves would obviously have a field day with reduced policing. But, I expect that field day would be short-lived. As they victimize more and more inner-city residents, those residents will leave, taking their income with them, and draining the criminals of their much-needed loot.

Several cities on the east coast have experienced just this situation -- inner cities becoming so "burned out" that even the criminals eventually leave. Depending on the geographical attractiveness of the area, redevelopment can then take place unburdened by the former residents.

In a place like Detroit, this is a disaster, since the decline of the auto industry leaves no fundamental reason for people to locate there. But in places like Brooklyn and Oakland, a nearby bustling metropolis presents a great opportunity for future gentrifiers.

So, I suspect a decrease in policing in Oakland would lead to a temporary bloodbath, followed by an upsurge in gentrification that we all hope to see improve our city's livability.

My only hope would be that, somehow, the city could continue to collect the Measure Y funds, even though the police staffing requirement could not be met. In doing so, the city would accomplish the trifecta of gentrification -- regressive taxation, rising crime and poised gentrifiers.

Thankfully, I feel confident that our crooked politicans are hard at work this very minute figuring out how to keep collecting that tax. They certainly won't give up that money without a fight.