Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why I've stayed in for the recent protests

(besides just being lazy or the weather.)

I've been thinking a lot about the #blacklivesmatter protests and #oaklandprotests and #berkeleyprotests and why it just hasn't FELT right to be out there. I used to feel inspired to put my feet wherever my heart was by marching or protesting, etc. But something has changed, at least in this instance.

The big marches each night seem younger and angrier than I am or feel. They also seem whiter than seems appropriate. While I am white, and constantly work on an anti-racist place, I'm not sure that these #oaklandprotests have gotten there, or that any kind of protest in the dark in Oakland can, at least not right now, with FTP and Occupy still so much on all parties' minds. (Last weekend, a FTP march was convened after a peaceful, black-led march that explicitly asked for this not to happen. Of course the "diversity of tactics" march made the news.) Black lives matter- I want to support that message, desperately. But somehow marches that end up night after night with stand offs with the police, vandalism and arrests feel like they're coming from a place of privilege: how many black people can afford to knowingly put themselves at the mercy of a broken police department and the criminal justice system?

Then there have been AMAZING protests and acts of civil disobedience organized by black groups. Most of them I didn't hear about till after the events- they were organized and executed just perfectly. One, #blackbrunch, involved going into restaurants in upscale neighborhoods on the weekend and reading off names of black people killed by cops. In another, the West Oakland BART station was shut down totally peacefully- amazing civil disobedience. I applaud these efforts and feel no need to co-opt or make them mine.

And then there have been sweet grey-hairs near my house most evenings- 10 to 20 of them- holding #blacklivesmatter and #Icantbreathe signs at a busy intersection. There is something sweet about these old white people caring. It is also strange to see them out there and feel that something is wrong. I can't put my finger on WHAT is wrong, but it's just not quite right. It's like holding a sign isn't enough. But what I'm doing- nothing- isn't any better, it's worse.

I haven't figured out how to be a good ally in this case yet. Work in progress.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sheri Fink: Five Days at Memorial

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In 2009, Sheri fink published an amazing article with ProPublica that I believe I read in the New York Times magazine. If you haven't read it, it's worth the read. Either that, or pick up "Five Days at Memorial," the book length story. Hefty, it is a fast read, and a thought-provoker.

You've heard the premise, or at least some of it. In August, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the results are now well known. Memorial is a hospital (now operating under a different name) that had been in New Orleans for almost 100 years. A well-established community hospital, residents had been taking shelter there for as long as the building had been around. And, in a familiar story, the hospital was completely unprepared for the storm. Even though a disaster preparedness workshop had taken place a week before, no changes had been made. For example, backup generators were underground- sure to be flooded in a hurricane of any size. How triage decisions would be made had not been made ahead of time. Incident commanders and personnel structure had not been established. A contract company, LifeCare, leased the 7th floor and cared for patients who needed 24/hour care. They had not been included in any disaster preparedness conversations. Although these things are all terrible, it's important to point out that they were not unique to Memorial, or to hospitals: almost EVERYTHING failed during Katrina, from the local level to the federal level. Five Days at Memorial is the story of this particular hospital, however.

Basically, when Katrina hit there were lots of people at the hospital. There were doctors and nurses, some friends and family of these doctors and nurses who were sheltering there with them, hospital patients of varying levels of illness, some friends and family who stayed with their loved ones, LifeCare staff, doctors and nurses, and the LifeCare patients and some friends and family of these patients. The hospital ceased normal function pretty quickly, and the lack of protocol was apparently pretty quickly. The power went out and the generator kicked in, then the generator and backup generators went out. If you stop for a second and think about your life, and even more, the daily operations at a hospital, pretty much everything relies on electricity. And in a time of crisis, you need to be able to communicate with outside- even in (way back!) in 2005, Memorial and LifeCare were trying to communicate via cellphones and email and were quickly thwarted. Even the basic needs of the healthy people in the hospital couldn't be met adequately: it is fucking hot in NoLa in August, and the air conditioning and even air circulation couldn't work without the power, so the hospital was hot and steamy and full of disease-ridden flood water, and the air had nowhere to go. People started smashing through thick windows, but it didn't help circulation. The lights stopped working, obviously. So the huge building was dark. It's hard to practice medicine in the dark. The elevators stopped working, so doctors and nurses had to walk up and down flights of stairs (don't forget that LifeCare was on the 7th floor, and operated independently) to get to patients. And the stairwells were now pitch black, and hot as hell since the power was out. They were also sometimes full of human waste, since the toilets weren't working anymore and people slipped into them to get privacy and go to the bathroom.

Basically, it was a disaster, and many people were trapped in the hospital. Communications with the company that ran Memorial were a mess, and they weren't working that quickly to get people out. They hadn't really planned for this- and it was too late to book helicopter-ambulances. The water quickly rose too fast to get people out by anything but boat or helicopter. Rescue efforts were ad hoc- some people who knew some people got many people out. Sometimes people on the helipad- itself dangerously old, small and unstable- made decisions to send helicopters away. People were queued up, on stretchers in dark hot hallways, waiting to be evacuated, for hours. Eventually, after 5 days, with almost no communication or organization, everyone living got out.

The thing is, not all of the people in the hospital died naturally. This background information is only a taste of how awful things there were, and how chaotic, but they're not meant as an excuse. Fink does an amazing job of telling the story, from all sides of the picture- I'm just attempting to sum it up in not-too-many-words (Fink has written quite a long book). One of the things that happened during the 5 days at memorial is that some of the doctors decided on a triage system- they decided who would be evacuated first. Initially, the system had the sickest patients leaving first. Ultimately, they ended with a system from 1 to 3: 1s for the healthiest patients who could move themselves and the 3s were both very ill and had DNR orders. As Fink rights, "Concepts of triage and medical rationing are a barometer of how those in power in a society value human life." Very little research has been done on triage in the United States- even though there are nine standard triage systems- Fink speculates "perhaps because of the potential for political embarrassment or due to a lack of financial incentives." There are risks and justifications with any system, but in this case "[Dr.] Pou and her colleagues had little if any training in triage systems and were not guided by any particular protocol. Pou viewed the sorting system they developed as heart-wrenching. To her, changing the evacuation order from sickest first to sickest last resulted from a sense among the doctors that they would not be able to save everyone."

Finkel tells the amazing story of what happened next in Memorial- how Dr Pou and others (the book focuses mainly on Pou because the subsequent investigation focused only on Pou and two nurses, which I never quite understood), ended up euthanizing several patients- the majority of whom were on the 7th floor- the LifeCare floor. Many of these patients were indeed very very ill, and almost all of them had DNRs. The majority of them- except for an obese paraplegic man who otherwise was awake and coherent, were in and out of consciousness. They needed critical supplies and medicine and electric-powered machines to keep them alive. They were lowest on the doctor-decided triage list for evacuation. And evacuation was coming very very slowly. The thing was, evacuation HAPPENED the day that Dr Pou and two nurses euthanized the final patients (a couple were euthanized earlier). The mercy killings happened without consent of the patients themselves or without the consent of family members- some of whom had been present in the hospital hours before.

Subsequently, the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit investigated the deaths at Memorial and other hospitals. They ended up looking primarily at Memorial. They amassed a huge case against Pou and the two nurses who euthanized the patients with her. Ultimately, however, the case needed to be tried locally, in New Orleans, which has a terrible homicide clearance rate. Coupled with the politics of inter agency cooperation, the local DA wasn't in the mood to make this as big of a deal as the feds, who spent a year focusing on the case. Meanwhile, the medical community had rallied behind the doctors and nurses. Professional associations came out in support of Dr Pou. A well-respected ear-nose-throat doctor, she laid low for awhile then continued to perform intense surgeries. The nurses had a harder time, but found support as well. No one in New Orleans really wanted to open Katrina-related wounds again. It ultimately came down to whether the coroner ruled the deaths homicides or not. So he got something like 5 outside experts to look at the evidence: They all said they felt the deaths were homicides. When the coroner testified in front of the grand jury, however, he said that he couldn't say for sure that the deaths were homicides. The grand jury failed to indict. The case was closed.

The story is a *lot more complicated than this. Fink does an amazing job of telling it, and getting readers to think about all sides of the story. She doesn't moralize about the "right" answer, because ultimately, there isn't really one. Even if the sickest patients had been evacuated the first day, what the doctors didn't know is that they would have been unceremoniously dumped on the interstate, or at the airport, or even in the Superdome. Hospitals were turning away patients. They may have gone to somewhere with even less medical attention. On the other hand, other hospitals in the area had worse conditions and no deaths, let alone euthanasias. At the end of the book, Fink talks about the state of disaster preparedness in other situations, and what could be done. It isn't pretty. Ultimately, the best case scenarios come down to well-laid and executed plans, good communication and keeping doctors and practitioners out of the decision making. Well worth the read.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Steve Almond: Against Football

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Some of these "manifesto" books are really annoying- like, 5 pages in, you're like, "we GET it already!" But Steve Almond (who, it turns out, is Barbara Almond's son) has written a "reluctant manifesto" for a football fan. Football is in the news: concussions, sexual assault, etc. Almond deals with all of these things without (watch it) beating readers over the head with it.

Football a huge sport in the United States: according to Almond, the NFL will get "$5 billion from TV rights alone," which is 3 times more than MLB (who knew?). He argues that this makes us not just fans but consumers: "Our money and attention are what subsidize the game." So even if we are sitting on our couches watching the game, we're not innocent: this TV money is almost half of the league's revenue. We're bystanders, but we're also the consumers that the League is trying to please. Football is a TV game: if consumers want to see violent hits and slow motion replays of the hits, that's what football is going to be. Why change?

Almond is good on a lot of fronts, including masculinity: "We worship players for bravery and excoriate them for vulnerability because we wish to see masculine ideals on display. But I think here also of Cicero, who speculated that the loathing for timid gladiators wasn't a function of their diminished entertainment value but the fact that they forced spectators to confront the profound heartlessness of the game." He's good on money: apparently the salary of a quarterback could pay 474 elementary school teachers, 440 paramedics or 661 police officers in Minnesota. That's a new twist on the stadium conversation, huh? He's good on class: who are these people who end up playing football, and what do we do with them when we're "done" with them (read: when they're no longer good on the field)? He points out that this is just another way that football is similar to war: think of young poor soldiers getting shipped out to fight and then tossed away when they return (or don't) from war. He's even good on my favorite thing: sports and religion!

Basically, I really like this book. It's a fast read, and you don't even have to know football to enjoy it. It doesn't hurt that Almond beats himself up repeatedly for being a Raiders fan. I mean, a RAIDERS fan! Try it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Dorothy Roberts: Fatal Invention

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If you've been to liberal arts school, you've read Dorothy Roberts' Killing the Black Body. The story of reproductive rights is often told as the story of abortion rights as they relate to white women, and Roberts changed the picture in 1997, for those who would listen. Fatal Invention is a complicated book with a complex argument, and I'm not going to do it justice, but I'll try.

 Essentially, we know that race is socially constructed. There is no such thing as a "black" person or a "brown" person or a "white person"- there are only people and distinctions fall where society tells us they fall. The definitions of "blackness" and "whiteness" have changed over time, and for various political reasons- the famous 1 drop rule is an obvious example. Who is white has changed in America (and obviously, in other places)- Jews and Irish immigrants were not always white, though now they're considered religious or ethnic minorities, not distinct races. One would think that advances in genetic science would help put this discussion to bed for all time: people are people, genetically indistinguishable- it wouldn't even make sense to attempt to distinguish people by race when talking about genetics since we've already established why race is socially constructed. Further, it wouldn't make sense to try to prove racial difference on a genetic/scientific level. However, Roberts shows that the opposite is happening: as our understanding of science improves, the level of effort going into thought about race on a scientific level is increasing, not decreasing, and is further entrenching the thoughts of racial difference as truth, rather than construction.

At first glance, it's easy for us leftists to think, oh, I would never do that! Those must be conservatives trying to pull that kind of shenanigans. But one of the most awesome things about Roberts is that she's not about to let anyone off the hook. Just like Killing the Black Body took the reproductive rights movement to task, Fatal Invention reminds us that liberals are in on this, whether we like it or not. This is not (again, this is a complicated book with a lot of paradoxical arguments) an easy subject. For example, some of the racial divisions in scientific studies come from well-meaning places. Historically, the vast majority of scientific studies used white men as the clinical subjects. In the 1980s, critics asked for a shift to be more inclusive. This sounds good, right? We don't want all science-y stuff to only take into account the perceived majority. Beginning in 1986, racial categories were institutionalized for reporting purposes- in order to receive federal funding, trials had to include minorities as subjects and had to analyze findings by race. In theory, this could have been awesome. It could have been a way to analyze systemic issues facing minorities, women or children. Instead, the generalized response has been to look at biological/intrinsic reasons that different racial groups respond in the studies. "The legislation's emphasis on potential racial differences fosters the racism that its creators want to abrogate by establishing government sponsored research on the basis of belief that there are significant biological differences among the races," says Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society. Biological definitions of race are thus reinforced in studies by these practices designed to eliminate racial disparity- this can only be done by looking at social inequality. Whoops. In fact, racial categories are now so entrenched in scientific research that they're used as a reason (read: excuse) for the research itself. Only, a 2006 study found that the race-based independent variable is specious: "The research team found that 72 percent of the studies failed to explain their methods for assigning race to research subjects. Despite this glaring flaw, 67 percent of the same studies drew conclusions associating genetics, health outcomes, and race."

It isn't just science that is helping to re-entrench the ideal of biological races. Science is a particularly tricky one, because, well, it's science, but also because liberals pride themselves on turning to science where more conservative factions might turn to history or feelings or religion. When science leads us astray, we're in big trouble (not that science hasn't made mistakes in the past...) But big business also has a lot invested in this new (old) racial science. Roberts tells the story of BiDil, a prescription drug for African Americans with heart disease. BiDil was developed as a drug for everyone, but didn't meet the FDA muster, so the developers went back and saw that the drug seemed to do well with African Americans due to those mandated racial reporting numbers listed above. They repitched the same drug and got it to the market as a drug specifically for black people. There is, of course, no such thing as a drug that works specifically for black people. Heart disease is heart disease. What's driving this is a move towards "personalized medicine": the idea that once we know our genes (think the breast cancer gene), we can know what medical decisions we might want to make, even before we have a particular health problem. The makers of BiDil pushed hard with all kinds of black physicians and medical groups and worked hard to make this the first success of personalized (racial) medicine. It didn't work, for a variety of reasons- it wasn't available in the generic so medicare wouldn't cover it, it required more pills per day than the standard treatment, etc. The main reason, Roberts finds, that it didn't get a lot of support was that the very people who were supposed to jump all over a pill just for them were totally suspicious (and, it turns out, rightly so.) Black people remember what "black medicine" meant and still means: subpar care with subpar facilities, shady and illegal studies like the Tuskegee trials and other nepharious examples. Why would they want a special black pill? "I'm fine with whatever the white people are taking" is a recurring theme among people offered BiDil. And it turns out, their gut was right: BiDil was being sold at a higher dose for African Americans than the FDA recommended for anyone else, because of those racial reporting requirements and because of the rush to put it on the market. The amounts being sold weren't necessarily the safest for "white" people or "Asian" people, but were the safest for "black" people.

 The recent interest in getting personalized genetic information also has racial implications. I have only heard of 23andMe, but apparently there are dozens of these things, including ones specifically being marketed toward black people. With these "spit kits," you pay some money, spit in a tube, and learn about your genes. You also learn about your race, or, in the more sneaky versions, your ancestral location: which of the four or five main areas did your ancestors come from- Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Native North America or Europe? Essentially, what race are you? It's important to remember here that race is socially constructed. What we call a "race" is GENERALLY aligned with these areas but does not have any stability over these lines- what people in the US might call one race differs from what one in Mexico or China might call another race, further proving the social construct of race. It's also important to remember that the boundaries of racial demarcations are constantly shifting over time. The idea of a spit kit telling you you're from Europe is a euphemism for saying that you are white- that somewhere, at sometime, there was a pure European- or a pure "white" person. For you to be 10% European means that someone was 100% European. It also means that someone else is 100% anything-else: people can be differentiated biologically by race.

Some kits are being marketed specifically toward black people, who often have no solid way of tracing their ancestry further back than slave ships. Using markers, the kits might tell someone their ancestors are from a tribe in Sierra Leone. This has been greeted with great fanfare among some in the African American community. But Roberts reminds us that this ancestral marking is only ONE ancestor among, at that level of background, at least 32 ancestors- it is not evidence that the individual is uniquely from said tribe in Sierra Leone anymore than the fact that my grandmother was born in St Louis is evidence that I am originally from St Louis. Further, she reminds us that tribal demarcations and borders of countries as we know them now are ahistorical and products of colonialism: to be proud of heritage from Sierra Leone is nice, if it gives you something, but it is also based on a false version of history.

I know this is a lot to take in, and if you're like me, you're probably wondering, well, wait- we ARE from somewhere, right? Or, maybe in the back of your mind, you're saying, well, aren't certain kinds of people more prone to certain diseases than others? What about Jews and Tay Sachs? (That's the one I kept thinking of- I don't know anything about genes, but I'm Jewish, and have been told as long as I can remember that Jews have to be screened for Tay Sachs because it's something we carry. Sounds like biological race, right?) For one thing, Tay Sachs is located on one gene- it's been located and identified, unlike most diseases which are not easily identified, partly because they're spread across multiple. For another, it is rare: it is very highly concentrated in an ethnic group (though it is not exclusive to Jews). Roberts writes, "genetic mutations are not grouped by race. Race-based testing reinforces the myth that races are genetically distinct from one another and that our genetic risks are determined by our race." The BRCA1/2 mutation (breast cancer) is commonly thought to have a higher incidence among women with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. But there is a gap in who gets the genetic testing: the test costs $3000, and white women are almost 5 times as likely to undergo counseling. As Roberts explains, "it is just as useful clinically for black at-risk women to be tested as white at-risk women." Until that happens, our common perception that the BRCA1/2 mutation is exclusive to Jews is dangerous, as is the reverse of the tautology: that the incidence of BRCA1/2 in Jews proves the biological construction of race.

This stuff is all troublesome. But the outcomes are more troublesome. When we start looking for genetic answers to racial disparities, we let ourselves off the hook for the real causes the differences: systemic issues. Roberts uses the example of the hugely genetically different group of African Americans (Africa is a giant continent, remember?). It would be pretty strange for such a genetically diverse group to inherit "so many bad things." More likely, "given the persistence of unequal health outcomes along the social matrix of race, is that they are caused by social factors."We live in a troubling time that is hard to make sense of- genetic differences help us cope with some terrible statistics Robert throws at us. For example, "There are more blacks under correctional control today than there were slaves in 1860." It's easier to find some gene, like the "warrior gene" to explain this than to look at the money involved in the prison system or the lack of money involved in the school system. It's easier to think in the back of our minds that "'they' were born that way" than to think that we need to take a hard look at the environmental, social and judicial injustices we practice that keep socially constructed racial groups in such low places. We are all people, we are all the same. We have to make that a reality.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Introducing Catfish

Rollie loves dogs. He adores them- starts prancing around and making all this noise and picking up toys and throwing them and you get it. He is happiest when another dog is around. I've never wanted two dogs- I was fine with Mac not liking other dogs; a perfect reason to only have one dog. I've had Rollie for over two years now, and it's been clear that he wants another dog. I've fostered a couple and he's so happy when they're here. The only thing is that he doesn't like the change that happens- the baby gates I put up and xpens- I usually have puppies that can't have free rein of the house. Rollie's vision is poor and it seems like he can't quite see the gates- they're like invisible walls.

So, I've been idly thinking about getting another dog- an older, mellower dog. I met a lovely dog, allegedly 10- possibly younger, last weekend, and thought, well, I could do this. Then I went to the shelter Sunday afternoon to go meet another dog, allegedly 10. The picture on the website was terrible- just a black blob. Well, the dog didn't look 10. The boyfriend and I actually laughed when we saw her. She was decrepit- looks closer to 14, no teeth, arthritic, has spondlyosis, curved over, spine fused, very little control of her back end. It just seemed very silly to have her in the shelter. She met Rollie and tolerated him, which is saying something, because he's rude. He plays like a puppy, and loudly.

So I went home and thought about it. And then I realized I was still thinking about it. I decided to bring the dog (formerly Gracie) home, and give her whatever time she had left at my house. Somehow I forgot how pathetic she really was. I gave her a bath and she looks better now, but she looks... really bad. The dogs are having fun- attempting to play and then falling over, then napping on the bed and then switching beds, etc. She's tiny- supposed to be maybe 40 pounds, but is so underweight that she's 32lbs now. She makes Rollie, at 42lbs, look HUGE. And young and spry.

 She jumped right in the car (or tried before I could stop her- her back end isn't strong enough to get in by herself). She has tried about 5 times to sneak on the couch, and she's fast enough to do it when my back is turned. She runs right into the crate- even put herself there after I gave her a bath. Poor dog was stinky and dirty and has another one in her near future.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Roxanne Gay: Bad Feminist

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What I'm about to say is going to come out totally wrong, and I apologize in advance for any potential meanness that it may sound like I'm projecting- that's not what I'm going for. A little jealousy, maybe, a little bewilderment, sure, but in the not-judgemental sense of the word.

Bad Feminist is a collection of insightful, often right-on "damn, I was thinking that but I sure wish I had written that" blog posts. The cover says "essays" but the whole time I was reading it, I was thinking, man, I want to get well-respected enough and famous enough to have enough time to think out and expand my blog posts and have an editor help me clean up my blog posts and then put them together in a nicely designed book and call them essays! Again, this is not a bad thing. I am not being a bad feminist (I think Roxanne Gay would understand this, at least I hope she would- and I suspect she might be the type of person who occasionally googles her name to see who's writing about her- much of her writing is very timely, which I love, and talks about the effect and importance of the internet and social media on our culture). I am not taking a slam at Gay by saying she shouldn't be able to publish a book full of insightful, sometimes funny, critical, important blog posts, I'm just startled and a little jealous.

The fact that Bad Feminist reads like a bunch of blog posts strung together makes it a not-great-read. Ten years ago, before the possibility of it being published blogs, I would have said it was made to be a text book- lots of great fodder for college readers. I'm not sure I would have been any less critical- still hard slogging through a book that really should be a reader. That said, many of the essays are great, timely and kind of like if a smarter, more educated version of me had been writing what I was thinking. You know, when I try to explain to people why The Help and Django really aren't the most wonderful, sensitive, be all end all pieces on race? No one gets it. My boyfriend says I'm taking it to far. Gay says it. She says it well, emphatically, and I would like to see the looks on unbelievers' faces when they have to pick their jaws back up off the floor. OH, you mean, I didn't really need to fetishize slavery by watching ANOTHER movie about it? I already knew it was bad? OH! The Help made black women help out a young white woman again? Or rather, the young white woman helped the adult black women "find" themselves? Gee, we haven't heard that before? Gay writes insightfully about trigger warnings (blugh), men ruling women's lives because women's rights aren't actually inalienable (true story), being likable (or not), and what feminism is or isn't. Strangely, even though this is a book I don't love, it's a book I wish I own (not borrow from the library) so I can pull out certain essays and look at them again or xeorox them and slip them under unsuspecting and needing-education friend's/neighbor's/relatives doors.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I've been Branded.

After admitting a current crisis of faith to my family, they united together and decided that I should be branded: possibly with a capital "R" for Republican or maybe worse, a small "c" for Conservative. I've mockingly called myself a conservative before and I have written about how we get more stodgy (read: conservative) as we age, like it or not, but this is the first time I have felt like my politics are shifting because of my circumstances. (It may just be the first time I can remember- I have a bad short term memory and you know we block out things about ourselves that we want to forget!)

I love to brag about my love of paying taxes. It's like a party trick- sure, I voted for that tax increase! Yes, I love paying taxes- how else will we get x, y, z? I always fill my parking meter, as those fees go to vital services. I rail against the money from our federal taxes that is allocated toward war and defense and other pukey, conservative causes, but I pay up anyway. Basically, I'm a liberal. I willy-nilly check boxes to raise local taxes, knowing that Oakland is woefully lacking in quality basic public services like infrastructure, public safety and schools.

Until now. I purchased my house almost a year ago (I had lived here 2 years before that). When I was busy voting for increased taxes, I wasn't busy PAYING the taxes. Life as a renter had its problems, for sure, but paying property taxes wasn't one of them. Feeding parking meters is great, but it doesn't come close to the money that Oakland home owners- not all of us wealthy- pay in property taxes. (Note: I'm still feeding meters!)

This year in Oakland, we're voting for a couple of fairly substantial property taxes. The first is Measure Z, an extension of Measure Y. Measure Y is a parcel tax (and a parking surcharge tax) used to fund public safety stuff like fire and police, notably community policing and measures like ceasefire. It is sunsetting this year and Measure Z is the proposed renewal, for another ten years. $88/year, at $99.77/year, to do the same thing. Mostly everyone is for it, except for those who think that the City didn't do what they said they would do with Measure Y funds and, well, those who don't like to pay more taxes.

Then there's Measure N. EVERYONE is for Measure N. In the ballot where you look to see the opposition arguments, it says "there is no formal opposition to Measure N." All of the newspapers and people that matter (or at least have loud voices like the newspapers) support N. A coalition of politicians who don't even like each other very much phone banked together for Measure N. Measure N, "College and Career Readiness for All,"is too big to fail. Only, it is $120/year for 10 years, and honestly, I can't find any reason TO vote for it. (Senior citizens and those who qualify for "very low income" are exempt, but it's my understanding that this is on an opt-out basis, as in, you have to know that you don't have to pay, and then you have to be brave enough in this very liberal town to stand up against people like me who and this Measure with huge public support and say hey, I am opting out!) And this is where my crisis of faith started.

Oakland has a lot of problems and schools are one of them. I'm not going to go into the details- if you don't know them, they're easy to find. The thing is, we're already paying a lot of taxes, and the problems don't seem to be getting much better. (I put all the property taxes here.) As noted above, I don't mind paying taxes. But the more attention I pay to Oakland politics, the more I wonder where this money is going to. And we're already paying $195/year in a parcel tax to OUSD- this tax does not sunset- it's indefinite. You can read Measure G, passed in 2008, here. Basically, it adds to the normal taxes that we pay to do things like recruit teachers, shrink class size, buy books, etc. Like, normal things.

So what does Measure N do? If I read it right, it changes the education strategy to "Linked Learning." And I can't figure out why we need more taxes for that, since we're already paying a lot of taxes for a broken system. Here are my questions, which I have yet to find answers to anywhere. If this makes me a Republican, I am worried about my future. Jeb, you running??

  • Is Linked Learning the future of OUSD? 
    • If so, would it be possible to reorganize the existing org structure, mission statement, strategy and budget to do this? 
    • Why is new money needed- does a strategy shift require outside resources? 
    • What happens after the 10 years? 
  • Does Linked Learning have proven success? Outside OUSD? More importantly, inside OUSD?
    • Has a pilot study at OUSD been done? Longitudinal study?
    • What does "success" look like? Is data being used to measure success? 
  • Are stakeholders already involved in this project?
    • Linked Learning relies heavily on "work place learning" and career training. Have job sites already been identified and/or have local companies committed to placing hundreds or thousands of OUSD students? (It is my experience with the local charter "internship" school that this is done last minute with minimal supervision. Local nonprofits and small businesses are called on and then expected to find work out of goodwill.) 
    • Certain "career pathways" are more likely to be actually successful than others- ie: there are job sectors that are predicted to grow and jobs sectors (like library science!) that aren't. Has OUSD established which these are? Has OUSD figured out how to both encourage students to pursue their dreams (go librarians!) and be realistic in a career-readiness track? (ie: is this a realistic job preparation program where there are pathways to service jobs, healthcare jobs and law enforcement type jobs?)
  • How will OUSD avoid the career portion of Linked Learning becoming the worst form of internships on a mass scale? (No secret that I have some issues with internships.)
    • How will OUSD insure that students are provided with a meaningful learning experience in their workplace experiences?
    • How will OUSD insure that workers are not displaced with the unpaid labor provided by yearly students on career pathways?