Sunday, January 27, 2013

Be Quiet.

While at the library today doing research for the Oaklandwiki, my new obsession, I came across this article from the Oakland Tribune. In full, from February 27th, 1934 (no byline):

City Council Votes Against Applause Ban: Resolution for Police to Eject Persons Who Violate Rules is Rejected.

The City Council yesterday voted down a resolution which would have given the police department the duty of ejecting persons who violate the rules against applause and demonstrations at city council sessions.

The resolution was introduced by Mayor W. J. McCracken and received the votes of Councilman Walter Jacobsen and Herbert L. Beach but all the others voted against it except James A. DePaoli, who was excused.

Councilman George Fitzgerald said that "the matter of decorum is covered by Rule 16, which says that the President of the Council shall preserve order and has the power to eject summarily any persons who are disorderly."

Councilman Alex Arlett said: "The Mayor has made many speeches outside and didn't stop the applause, but now he wants to stop public taxpayers in a public building. Handicaps are all right here. If they get boisterous, shut them off."

Councilman John F Slavich declared that "Demonstrations at public meetings are often spontaneous and this Council should not adopt any hard and fast rule."

DePaoli said: "This is a public building and we are transacting the business of the City of Oakland and should not be subject to interruptions."

Mayor McCracken explained his resolution by saying: "We are here not to be humiliated or intimidated by any noisy delegations. Noise and applause do not give outsiders the impression of dignity. As for Rule 16 giving me ample power no presiding officer should have always on his mind the matter of ejecting someone or stopping demonstrations. I think some courtesy should be given to the presiding officer in this matter."

"It looks like we are trying to overrule the rights of the people," said Councilman James Quinn. "There seems to be a fear that someone may offend us. I'm not afraid of it. We bring up the most ridiculous things in this council, anyway."

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sane Oaklanders?

On January 15th, the Public Safety Committee met to discuss what became known as "the Bratton contract." Technically, the contract was actually a contract extension with "Strategic Policy Partnership," a law enforcement consulting group headed by Robert Wasserman who would bring in William Bratton as an additional consultant. The contract began in fall of last year (after, we learned at last week's full City Council meeting, being approved by the City Administrator while Council was on recess), and the Public Safety Committee was being asked to approve the extension of the contract in time and scope (pdf of agenda item). This scope included the addition of Bratton.

Lots of people came out to that Public Safety meeting. It was packed. One of the things that Occupy Oakland did that lasted long term was increase the public participation and interest in City Council meetings and goings-on. Every meeting, the #oakmtg hashtag created by two tweeters- the ones that I know about, at least- @dto510 and @RebeccaForBART, is packed. Clearly there are people watching every detail of the meetings, at least every exciting detail. I'm pretty sure that most people have given up on the dog part debate. So there was no way that Bratton was coming to Oakland without a fight. Bratton is the brains behind "stop and frisk" and "broken windows" policing in LA and New York. (Coincidentally (?) Oakland's new vandalism ordinance was on the agenda at the full City Council meeting this week, but because of the uproar over Bratton, was passed with very little ado. Community Rejuvenation Project has more details.)

It's starting to seem to me that Oakland has a little bit of a dual personality, maybe embodied by Mayor Jean Quan herself. In the mid- to late- '60s, Quan was an activist in Berkeley, fighting for Ethnic Studies programs, and helped to found Asian American Studies at Cal. She has history with union organizing. And then she swung to the middle. Only in Oakland could she seem to the right of many of her constituents with a background like that, but it's true: during Occupy it seemed like she was almost paralyzed by ethical dilemmas that actually meant something to her. Safety? Activism? Free speech? Dan Siegel, a long time friend, resigned as Quan's adviser over Occupy and has become a vocal occupy supporter. Maybe I'm stretching the analogy here, but it seems that just as Quan is torn between her liberal roots and her more mainstream life as a school board then city council member, and now mayor, Oakland is torn between being the proud but ornery, intellectual but homegrown and street smart liberal city by the bay and an upstanding community that could.

Public safety is where the dualities show the most. I'm pretty sure that everyone in Oakland can agree that there is a public safety issue in Oakland. The fracture comes when you ask people what to do about it. The police department is understaffed unless the police are the problem. The police are the problem, either because policing in general are the problem, or because the Oakland Police Department is a problem. The police department can be fixed through measures like the consent decree and bringing in consulting group, or it's a lost cause and Chief Jordan needs to be fired and the feds should just take over. (Feel like you're diagramming sentences?) Back to the original split: the police department is understaffed. The police department needs more money or it doesn't because the police budget is already 50% of Oakland's budget. More of the city's budget needs to be spent on social services. And on and on. In dog training, we say that the only thing two dog trainers agree on is that the third dog trainer is wrong. In Oakland, I'm pretty sure the only thing that two Oaklander's agree on is that the third Oaklander is crazy, or that their idea is way better. 

Every one of these view points was represented at the Public Safety At the Committee meeting all decorum was lost. The committee is made up of Libby Schaaf (D4, to my shame), and the three rookie council members: Dan Kalb, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, and the new chair of the committee, Noel Gallo. The Strategic Policy Partnership contract was Schaaf's proposal (along with Larry Reid, who is not on the committee), and she tuned out the second the meeting started. Which left the three rookies alone. Gallo is his predecessor in D5, Ignacio de La Fuente's clone in all ways except that he doesn't sound like he's chewing on marbles all of the time. The meeting room and balcony were packed, and Gallo lost control of the room almost immediately. Bay of Rage, an Occupy Oakland spin-off, had held a protest outside of City Hall before the meeting and came in just as the meeting started, packing the place with at least one hundred wound-up people. The majority of the people in the room were already predisposed to be doubtful of spending money the Bratton contract and are always wary of OPD after decades of mistakes, but the room was electric when these guys came in, some carrying signs that made me feel like I was at an A's game.

What ensued was a shouting match bordering on a melee. The Bay of Ragers often wouldn't let the city officials speak, which isn't that far out of the norm since Occupy became involved in City Council. They were loud and disruptive and many others in the crowd were annoyed- I could hear them hmph and tsk. I was annoyed. But the protesters also wouldn't let the citizens who had signed up to speak say their piece. They shouted people down- regulars who had come to speak on various topics, and people from groups like Make Oakland Better Now- a well informed activist group- who spoke in favor of the contract. The hecklers were mean and personal. They called people names and hurled insults of misogyny and racism, and compared speakers to genitalia. At various points people in the crowd would stand up and ask them to be respectful, to choruses of "yes"es. At one point one of these people used race-baiting, and a shouting match ensued. Gallo kept telling the police officers present (maybe close to ten) to escort people out and arrest them. They didn't. He told Chief Jordan to have his officers arrest them. Standoffs between the noisy boys and girls and officers ensued. (Penal Code 403 prohibits the disruption of a public meeting.) Throughout, rookie Councilwoman McElhaney emerged as a voice that people listened to: she was reasonable, asked reasonable questions, and the crowd often quieted for a time when she asked them to be respectful.

One of the last speakers was a woman from Pueblo. She asked the key question and got the key answer: no one on the dias had read the proposed contract. Not a single one of the council members knew what exactly they were being asked to move to the full council, or what the crowd was so upset about. On the flipside, not one person in the crowd knew exactly what they were upset about, besides the specter of Bratton in Oakland. Libby Schaaf made noises about having requested it. The committee members should not have had to request the contract: they should have had the contract and should have read the contract. The public should have had access to the contract being proposed. (I never read this stuff before meetings. I watch and learn.)

The committee talked among themselves for a bit. It was never in question what Gallo and Schaaf were going to say. Gallo had come out even before the Bratton issue in favor of "search and frisk" and had campaigned on law and order. Schaaf and Reid were behind the contract. But Kalb and McElhaney were torn. They clearly felt chastened by the fact that they hadn't read the contract, and are taking their new jobs seriously. Watchers of meetings often complain on twitter after the fact that Council doesn't listen to their comments if they vote the other way. This is a simplification: often council asks questions to staffers or delays their votes or makes caveats when they speak based on comments. It's clear to me that though the council members often sit up there looking bored and checked out (and they probably are), they do pay attention. Kalb and McElhaney did not want to vote on the contract- move it to the full council. But they also didn't want to stall it. McElhaney asked Wasserman questions about Bratton, and asked if he could come up with other consultants, ones that wouldn't cause as much rancor with the citizens he was supposed to be helping. Wasserman said he could. Procedural discussion ensued, and the committee moved the contract to full council with the instructions to Wasserman to come forward with alternate names. The twitterverse complained that no one listened.

Much was made in the news about the crazy meeting. And then new City Council President Pat Kernighan stepped in. She sent an email out to members of her district asking them to pack the seats of the City Council meeting, to help her "turn the tables" on disruptive forces. Thinking she could pack the house with her supporters, instead she waved the red sheet at the bull- the protesters came back for more, and in bulk. It's not clear exactly why she thought she needed people to represent her, when, as an elected official, she represents her constituents, but speaker after speaker (over 260 people signed up to speak to the Bratton contract) told Kernighan exactly how they felt about being invited: insulted. Please see this amazing response to Kernighan's email, by @tdlove5. Kernighan was begging "sane Oaklanders" to "reclaim" their government.

Rather than being pleased at the increased participation in city government, Kernighan expressed what city dwellers suspected: that they were unwanted, and that the council members were indeed not listening to them. The council, this email indicated, wanted to get on with doing their business in a nice quiet room, sit through some pro forma comments, and then move it along. Kernighan's behavior during the marathon meeting did nothing to dispel this. At one point she said a frequent speaker: "Oh, you're going to talk forever, aren't you?" with a noticeable eye roll. At other times, she appeared to have manipulated the order of the speakers to allow for preferential treatment to certain groupings of speakers, and rearranged agenda items over the objections of council members to make things run more smoothly. This meant that three very important agenda items were heard after 2 am.

The meeting was held with relative decorum until a large contingent of people left after one item concluded and the Bay of Ragers reentered chambers (they had been in overflow rooms). Although quieter, there was plenty of disruption. Councilwoman McElhaney was often able to regain control of the room, but Kernighan would have none of the usurpation of power from the rookie. Most strangely to me was that it seemed as though the discussion from the previous week had been completely forgotten. The proposed contract was introduced by Chief Jordan: he gave a powerpoint presentation about the project and what it would do, describing strategies of policing that sounded just like others he had given before. Wasserman was not present. On twitter, people pointed out that the contract was not available for public viewing on the city website, as these things usually are. (Again, I never look, so it was news to me that the contract wasn't there.) Everything, once again, seemed totally untransparent in a city with a Sunshine Ordinance. When it came time for discussion, no one mentioned Bratton or the fact that the Public Safety Committee had asked Wasserman to come back with other names. It was as if this had never happened. Only Councilwoman Brooks, who often plays this role, had serious procedural questions for Chief Jordan, staff, and other Council Members. She called out that none of them had had the contract presented to them in full (still?), and had to ask for it, which was not standard procedure. She had to ask the City Adminstrator about how the contract had been approved in the first place. She briefly mentioned that no one had come back with new names. She was the only Council Member to vote "no" on approving the extension. The contract was approved with some language saying that the strategies would be adapted to Oakland and only constitutional policing would be approved. (Stop and frisk has been ruled unconstitutional.)

Mayor Quan spoke in support of the contract. Mayor Quan rarely shows up at council meetings, and rarely speaks. Her reasoning for supporting the contract? It wasn't very much money. The police department eats half of Oakland's budget, she said, and the $250,000 is only 0.1% of that budget. It was worth it, she said to try something. Councilwoman McElhaney, after speaking about how torn she was said she "hoped we aren't throwing good money after bad." Councilwoman Brooks pointed out that Bratton will only be in Oakland 3 times in 6 months for the contract, and only 2 of those will be with/about policing. She couldn't get any answers on how much of the money will go to Bratton. Chief Jordan spent a lot of time in the media distancing himself from "stop and frisk" and reiterating that Bratton could give great advice, but ultimately the Chief would remain in charge.

So which is it? Oakland brass loves Bratton and he's a great mind in policing, so we'll pay him to give great advice? Or we're not into his policing, and we're not paying him very much, and he won't be here very much? We value democracy, so we want everyone to come and participate by sitting quietly in their seats or we value democracy so we want everyone to come and participate by speaking? Oakland has a public safety problem so we should listen to our constituents or Oakland has a public safety problem so we should listen to our City Council members?


Oakland is broken. There are a lot of great people trying to make things better, with a variety of tactics, some with louder voices than others. Community groups and individuals are brimming with knowledge and experience that, with the right facilitation, could make this community function. The answers are right here, I believe, as evidenced by the passion at these meetings. One speaker told the council Bratton's book is available on Amazon for $18.95, and suggested buying it and reading it in lieu of the contract. I'd suggest they all buy it at an Oakland bookstore, maybe pay a dollar more, or, even better, buy it for each cop at a local bookstore, and let Bratton and Wasserman stay wherever he is (Wasserman lives on Martha's Vineyard). The police department has had a plethora of consultants in the last decade. They've had federal monitors, and they're about to have a compliance director. They could afford to send a couple of captains to get PhD's for the $250,000 that they're going to spend on Bratton and Wasserman or whatever is in the secret contract, and apparently Quan thinks it's worth spending that money. Blaming the loud people at City Council meetings is not the answer. There were a lot of people from all kinds of viewpoints at both meetings speaking against Bratton, and Council disregarded them (though I do think that they listened). The silver lining is that hiring Bratton won't do anything. He'll be in Oakland three times, and then he'll leave. Chief Jordan can do what Bratton suggests or not. Which means he should just buy the book, and start listening to his constituents.



Friday, January 18, 2013

James Mann: Rise of the Vulcans

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In case you've forgotten, the George Bush (the second) era was pretty egregious. In "Rise of the Vulcans" James Mann gives us the men (and woman) behind the man and the decisions. Even Bush knew he wasn't the guy for foreign policy, so he carefully selected people who he could trust to carry out his ideals. Mann starts from the premise that while most histories divide the world into pre- and post- Cold War, it's more accurate to think of the Bush years as a continuum from the Nixon years when the majority of these powerful "Vulcans" got to know each other. The war cabineteers that we came to think of as Bushmen- Condoleeza Rice, Richard Armitage, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and Colin Powell- who did things like wage unilateral wars and falsify evidence had been developing their foreign policy views for decades. Some of them (Armitage and Powell) actually fought in Vietnam, but all of them were directly influenced by that war. Powell, for example, developed what came to be known as the "Powell Doctrine:" American military power should be used only "sparingly and with caution." Powell argued that wars should have narrow goals, public support, and be waged with overwhelming force. Clearly this fell out of favor and the other Vulcans (named after a statue in Birmingham, Alabama) more hawk-ish views became more prevalent.

One of the things the Vulcans did early on was dispose of Henry Kissinger. Kissinger didn't think fondly of dividing the world into good and evil and the Vulcans, starting in the discussion over detente with the Soviet Union ensured that this, rather than balance of power, was at the center of discussions over US military strength. The unpopular Vietnam war and Kissinger's policies left open room for debate about where to go with US foreign policies: "American officials might have elected to strengthen the United Nations," Mann writes, "or to establish new multilateral organizations." The point is, they didn't. Instead, the Vulcans "went on to fashion a foreign policy that would maximize America's global strength. They were gradually trying to move toward a world in which the United States had no military rival."

In 1989, Bush the First sent troops into Panama "for the purpose of restoring democracy and overthrowing a leader whose behavior was abhorrent"- a clear precursor for the wars in Iraq. As Mann points out, the successful nature of the intervention showed the country that the US was strong, and the military had moved past Vietnam. When launching the Gulf War (the First), Bush could call on this strength to back his "new world order." This outlook on foreign policy meant that the US saw itself as "the world's preeminent leader," willing to go places that it had never gone before due to cold war concerns. The US would also work with allies "with force if necessary, to prevent aggression and to preserve the existing balance of power." This new world order lasted, but changed under Bush the Second: no longer were allies necessary. The balance of power stayed in American hands (balance is a relative term), and allies were an afterthought.

Mann's book is thorough, thought provoking, and enlightening. Bush didn't arise in a vacuum which is both scary and reassuring. It would be nice if he did- maybe then he could just disappear. On the other hand, he had a history, and he leaves one behind. Perhaps he was avoidable if we had paid closer attention. Strangely, as he was discussing Bush's ideological antitheseses, I found myself coming back to Paul Berman and his liberals with impulses to intervene in morally bankrupt regimes.  If the Vulcans were dedicated to getting and maintaining power for America and intervening where they felt was necessary to do so, this sometimes meant overthrowing regimes in the name of good/evil. Berman's subjects grappled with the question of good/evil as well: can you let people suffer out of respect for self-determination and hatred of imperialism? When is military force necessary? When is a regime evil? Is it possible that if Bush was honest or righteous about going into Iraq, that it would have been the right thing to do?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Next Big Thing in Blogging: Schoolwork!

Readers of themacinator, do not be alarmed! The following post while written by yours truly, will appear to be ghostwritten by someone with opposable thumbs who has taken over her keyboard and brain. It is true that starting in approximately the first week of my first year of undergrad I swore that I would never go back to school. It is also true that I am now back in school. All I can say is that if you are reading this because you're a fan of the blog, don't read further- I'll have something for you later. If you're reading this because you're interested in Teamwork, or at least an Assignment about Teamwork, now you know me, and the assignment starts here.

 Everyone who has every applied for a job dreads the question about working in teams. Sometimes it's disguised in the "tell me about a stressful situation" question, and sometimes it's just out there: "do you like working better in teams or alone?" This is the moment when your brain runs 18 miles an hour (fast for a brain) trying to figure out how the position you're applying for fits into the company you're applying for fits into the interviewer's attitude, and come up with the right soundbite that isn't totally dishonest. Because the answer is really no, no one really likes working in teams. What a giant relief to read in Ken Haycock's lecture that a) this is normal- everyone dreads team works and b) there are solutions! (Looking back at my notes, I don't see anywhere where Haycock explains how to answer these interview questions, unfortunately.) Haycock lays out four stages of team development: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing, and since the fourth is optional, an entire two thirds of the stages involve the perfectly normal fear/distrust/stress/dissatisfaction with teamwork. In the "forming" stage, when groups are assembled, there's excitement and anxiety and in the second, "storming," stage, teams get grumpy about pretty much everything involved. (Note: I'm using "team" and "group" interchangeably here, though it's not quite accurate according to Haycock's definitions.) Not until the "norming" stage does Haycock's model allow for workers to realize the team is all right, and that sounds about right to me: it takes a lot of time and work for the team to feel like it's functioning well enough to out-perform a highly competent individual. And many groups don't even get to "performing": the meta stage of "norming" where not only is the group function well, but it enjoys functioning and understanding what's working.

 Once I got past the relief from reading Haycock and later Enid Irwin that I was not alone in my stress about groups, I fell back into skepticism and stress. Maybe I passed the interview and got the job, convincing the HR dude that I am an awesome team worker, but once I got there, I found out that the team was a hockey team and I have only been ice skating once. Or something like that. Haycock gives some very specific steps for successful teams as well as team leaders, and it does appear that if a group sticks to these steps the team will be productive and successful. My hesitancy comes with the the steps themselves. They're very procedural, and require that team members act with maturity and thoroughness from the outset. For example, in his model, teams select an effective leader, lay out ground rules, stick to ground rules, and have consequences for noncompliance. In theory, these all sound wonderful. Reading them gives me anxiety, even with fairly thorough instructions for getting there. How easy is it to set ground rules? To stick to them?

I feel much more prepared for online classes when looking through the tips on that subject. Even though I swore off of advanced degrees, I'm a fairly competent student and good at time management. The key will be to use the tools from Haycock and Irwin, rather than to fear them.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Elaine Brown: A Taste of Power

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In my search for a) knowing more about the Black Panthers and b) learning more about my town, I came on Elaine Brown's autobiography, "A Taste of Power." I've learned that part of the problem with histories of the Black Panther movement is that it was lived fast and furious, with many government-sponsored plots as well as the Huey Newton cult of personality, and early deaths of many important figures and it's hard to know exactly what to believe. Each person who tells the story tells it from their own hard-lived life, and while that doesn't mean they're not credible, it means that piecing it all together is difficult from the outside. For example, years ago I read "Soul on Ice" and was smitten by the powerful calls for equality. In Brown's and Haskins's books, on the other hand, Eldridge comes off as a divisive, misogynist, possibly sociopathic figure who often placed his own interests above that of the party, working hard at times to destroy the Black Panther party in order to take over. I can't say whether Brown's book is The Truth or not, but I enjoyed it so much, and felt her voice was so authentic, and so honest when it didn't serve her at all to be so, that this look at the party was a true glimpse.

I admit that I had never heard of Elaine Brown until the day that she spoke at an Oakland City Council meeting. The council was debating a measure that would give police an extraordinary amount of power on the city streets and in the Port during the height of the Occupy Oakland movement. Elaine Brown let them have it.

She also called them out on the fact that not one of them would be on the council if it hadn't been for her work in Oakland's electoral politics. As the camera pans on each of the bored council member's faces, watchers in the know realize that there was not one white man or republican on last year's council. In the 1970s, Huey Newton decided that just as China joining the United Nations was a "tactic of socialist revolution," Panthers running for office could also be a revolutionary move. As Brown writes, "casting a vote for a Black Panther candidate would be the first concrete expression of... consciousness" raised initially by the Survival Programs that had brought Oakland residents food, fair housing, etc. Newton decided Bobby Seale would run for mayor of Oakland and Brown would run for city council. They pair did not win in 1973, though they won approximately 40 percent of the electorate and registered large numbers of black voters in Oakland. Brown ran again in 1975 and lost, this time winning 44% of the vote. Along with the Black Panthers and their massive voter registration efforts, Brown's campaign was responsible for an enormous shift in electoral politics: if she had won in 1975, Brown would "have been the first non-Republican to be elected in Oakland since World War II, and the first black woman ever elected." Last years' City Council, entirely Democrat, can roll their eyes at Brown all they want, but they should thank her for paving their way. (Barbara Parker became the first black woman elected to city-wide office in Oakland this year.

Brown's book covers so much ground that it would be impossible to do justice to even a little of it. Brown grew up in Northern Philadelphia, a poor black neighborhood, but attended a fancy private school with rich white kids: her mother, a very powerful figure in her life, made sure that Brown had every possible opportunity. As she writes, at school, "she became white. At least until 2:17 PM," and then each summer "had to be on York Street every day, poor and black all day, every day." This split left Brown empty and identity-less- something she struggled not until she found the Panthers in Los Angeles, but until years later when she met Huey Newton and realized that he, too, felt the same thing. In the meantime, she was frequently beset by fear: "dissociation, the separation from everything, the feeling of being disembodied," and brings the reader into her life as a black woman who has no tools to understand that identity. "A Taste of Power" is the story of Elaine Brown: black woman learning to be black, learning to be a woman, learning to be a black woman, learning about empowerment, just as it is a story of the Black Panthers. A must read.