Columns written for the Berkeley Daily Planet newspaper, Berkeley, CA
Berkeley Daily Planet

Portrait by John W. Pearson


A Tradition To American Torture

When People Say That Toture Is Against American Tradition, They Are Ignoring Its Long History In This Country
December 14, 2007

A "Shhhh" Moment

The Discovery That Mayor Dellums Has Been Working On Crime And Violence Problems Temporarily Silences His Critics
December 7, 2007

Revitalizing Oakland's Uptown-Downtown Area On An Affordable Budget

Promoting The Attractions Oakland Already Has
November 30, 2007

Breaking The Oakland Police Stalemate

Why Adopting The 12-Hour Day For Oakland Police Is Not So Important As Deciding Who Will Make That Decision
November 23, 2007

Looking Beyond Downtown

Why Oakland's Next Commercial Development Surge Should Begin In The Existing Neighborhood Commercial Centers
November 16, 2007

The Hue And Cry Over Measure Y And More Police In Oakland

Critics Are Short On Details On How The Numbers Of Police Are Under The Authorized Limit, Or How They Would Hire Or Pay For More
November 9, 2007

Holding Their Feet To The Fire

Chip Johnson's Record On Mayor Dellums, Mayor Brown, Oakland Violence, And More Police
November 2, 2007

Clearing Out The Savages

Recent Blog And Media Attacks Are Aimed AT Policy Of Driving Some Oaklanders Out Of Town
October 26, 2007

Getting Caught In The Backwash

Discrimination Against The Victims Of Past Discrimination
October 19, 2007

Getting Out Of Their Lane

Oakland Police, Who We Only Recently Praised For Their Circumspection On The Chauncey Bailey Case, Are Getting Out Of Hand Again
October 12, 2007

With AB45, To Sign Or Not To Sign Is A Political Question

The Considerations Facing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger In Assemblymember Swanson's Oakland Public School Local Control Bill
October 5, 2007

The Tribune Gets It Wrong

Editorial Urging Veto Of The Oakland School Return-To-Local-Control Bill Is Woefully Misinformed On The Facts
September 28, 2007

Public Safety

Taking The East Bay Express To Task For Innuendo About Mr. Dellums' New Public Safety Director
September 21, 2007

What Mr. Dellums Is Doing, What Mr. Dellums Should Do

At The End Of A Disquieting Summer In Oakland, Suggestions For The Mayor To Open Up A Bit
September 14, 2007

Why The Sideshow Bill Matters

The Constitutional Issues At Stake In Senator Perata's SB67 Sideshow Vehicle Tow Bill
September 7, 2007

Sad And Tawdry Aspects Of The Larry Craig Affair

How The Uproar Over The Idaho Senator's Arrest May Tell Us More About Our Own Priorities Than We Think
August 31, 2007

Continuing Questions Concerning The Chauncey Bailey Murder

Where The Investigation Stands Two Weeks After The Murder Of The Oakland Post Editor
August 24, 2007

Patrolling Oakland

Why Mayor Dellums' New Program Having California Highay Patrol Officers Doing Traffic Patrol On Oakland Streets Is A Bad Idea
August 17, 2007

Oakland's Test

The Murder Of Chauncey Bailey, Puts City Institutions Under A National Microscope
August 10, 2007

The Murder Of Chauncey Bailey

The Shooting Death Of The Oakland Post Editor On A Downtown Oakland Street
August 3, 2007

The Mayor And Mediation

Answering Criticisms From "The Herd" That Mr. Dellums Is "Doing Nothing" About The Waste Management Lockout
July 27, 2007

The Water Running Out Of The Iraq War Tub

The Time Has Come (Again) For Progressives To Talk About What They Want To Do Afterwards
July 20, 2007

Racial Gaps Getting Buried Under The Trash

The Chronicle Gets It On The Economic Aspects Of Trash Pickups During The Waste Management Lockout, But Misses The Racial Impact
July 13, 2007

Some Thoughts On Unions, Mr. Valladon, And The Oakland-Police Union Impasse

Recognizing That The President Of The Police Union's Job Is To Get The Best Contract For His Membership, Not To Get The Best Law Enforcement For The City
July 6, 2007

The Wall Street Journal Drops In, And Gets A Couple Of Things Wrong

The Nation's Leading Business Newspaper Puts A Pro-Business Spin On The Oakland Unified School District
June 29, 2007

The Spanish Lesson

Why Mr. Schwarzenegger May Be Wrong In Asking Our Spanish-Speaking Neighbors To Turn Off Their Spanish Language Television Stations
June 22, 2007

Is Mr. Dellums Oakland's Major Problem?

Judging From The Various Attacks In The Press, One Would Think So
June 15, 2007

The Significance Of Mr. Dellums

Is The New Mayor Leaning Towards Corporate Control, Or Away From It? Is He Absent, Or Is He Present? How Should We Judge?
June 8, 2007

What Congress Now Faces In Iraq

The Bad Things That The Bush Administration Is Willing To Do If Congress Orders A Military Pullout
June 1, 2007

Catalyzing The Crowd

With Congress Facing An Intransigent George Bush In The Showdown Over Iraq, What Should Progressives Do?
May 18, 2007

Criticizing Mr. Dellums

With So Many Folks Dumping On The Mayor So Soon, How Should Progressives Handle Their Own Concerns
May 11, 2007

The Mayor And The Media

In Which We Show That Mr. Dellums Is Adept At Using The Media, And The Media Needs To Catch Up
May 4, 2007

My Media Colleagues Take The Task Forces To Task

The Shouting Over The "Secret" Gatherings By 800 People In Oakland
April 27, 2007

Mr. Dellums' First Hundred Days

In Which We Learn That Starting Out Loudly And Swiftly Does Not Necessarily Lead To A Productive End
April 20, 2007

Confiscating The Constitution In Oakland And California, At High Speed

Mr. Perata's Confiscate The Sideshow Cars Bill On A Police Officer's Word, Only, Is Motoring Its Way Through The State Legislature
April 13, 2007

Ahab At The Helm

Some Advice To Anti-War Members In Congress As To How To Proceed In The Showdown Over Iraq
April 6, 2007

We Discover More Mess From The Mad Hatter's Moving On

Two More Things For Oakland To Clean Up From The Jerry Brown Years
March 30, 2007

The Roundabout Road To Race And Mr. Obama

March 23, 2007

Mr. Perata's Term-Grab Scheme

In Which The Powerful Oakland State Senator Continues His Convoluted Meneuvers To Get Himself More Time In The State Legislature Than The Law Allows
March 16, 2007

Some Thoughts On The History Of Race In America Now That Black History Month Is Over

March 9, 2007

The Facts On The Ground About The OUSD Land Sale

The Editor Of The East Bay Express Gets It Wrong
March 2, 2007

Our Decision To Make

Barack Obama And Why African-Americans Are The Ones To Determine What Is African-American
February 23, 2007

Who Said What? (Part Three) (Oakland's Paramount City Inaugural And Its Racial And Media Implications)

What Actually Happened, And How The Media Distorted It
February 16, 2007

Who Said What? (Part Two) (Oakland's Paramount City Inaugural And Its Aftermath)

Continuing Our Investigation Into How Reports Of Anti-Latino Slurs Came To Dominate Discussion Of That Event
February 9, 2007

Molly's Last Words

A Tribute To The Late, Great Political Columnist, Molly Ivins
February 2, 2007

Who Said What? (Tracking Down What Actually Happened At The Paramount)

How Did Anti-Latino Comments At This Month's City-School Inaugration Become The Major Story Of That Event, And Why Did Some News Outlets Not Report On Them At All? A Preliminary Investigation
January 26, 2007

Getting Out Of Iraq

Thoughts On The Dilemma Surrounding An Orderly Retreat
January 19, 2007

Intensified Density

The Consequences Of Packing People In To A Finite Space
January 12, 2007

Mr. Dellums Begins

And The Era Of Mayor Jerry Brown In Oakland Comes To A Close
January 5, 2007

UnderCurrents Archives

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December 14 , 2007

Nothing seems quite so odd as the contention made by advocates on both sides of the “waterboarding” issue that the use of torture is against American tradition.

Which American tradition, one wonders.

We could review the tradition of torture inherent in the American system of plantation slavery, for example, or the later Deep South lynchings of African-Americans who were forced to confess to various crimes—rape and murder—by the application of lighted torches to various parts of their bodies, or the use of such instruments as the “jack” in American prisons in the 1920s as described, from first-hand observation, in the 1932 book I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang! by journalist and former prisoner Robert E. Burns: “The ‘jack’ is a relic of the ancient Spanish Inquisition—a medieval instrument of human torture. The three convicts sat on bench … [and] placed both hands and feet through holes specially arranged to receive them. … The Warden worked a long lever which locked the convicts’ hands and feet in the holes by means of the boards coming together on their ankles and wrists… The bench on which the convicts were sitting was pulled from under them. This left [them] hanging in midair by their ankles and wrists … Soon their bodies became taut and strained to the point of excruciating torture. There they hung in agony for one solid hour.” [Go to Complete Column]



December 7 , 2007

For some months there has been intense, local speculation concerning “what is Dellums doing?” which is a good thing, all things considered. We ought to be attentive of the people we place in public office, keeping their activities under a constant monitor. It’s how the gears and inner workings of democracy are greased.

Those who have been paying the closest attention will have noticed—despite all the constant hallooing about that Mr. Dellums has been doing nothing in response to Oakland’s crime and violence problems (one local blogger has nicknamed him “Mayor McNothing”)—he has in fact, been doing something, the outlines of which are just beginning to become manifest.

Mr. Dellums has been saying that he believes adopting a “community policing” makeover is the major step needed to attack crime and violence in Oakland. It is understandable why this position should attract little excitement in Oakland these days. “Community policing” has been Oakland police policy since City Council approved its adoption in 1996 (Resolution No. 72727, you can look it up), a time when Natalie Bayton, John Russo, Nate Miley, and Dezzie Woods-Jones were still on Council, and Elihu Harris was still mayor. Both Jerry Brown—when he was mayor of Oakland—and Robert Bobb—when he was City Manager—both were described as community policing advocates. Yet during those times, what was officially described as “community policing” went through radical swings in Oakland in purpose and approach, while crime and violence remained virtually consistent. [Go to Complete Column]



November 30, 2007

Last summer, I happened to be walking with an out-of-town couple who had come, early, to a Paramount Theater concert and, with some time to kill, wanted to know if I knew of any good places in the downtown area to get something to eat. I did, actually. Several places. But Jack London Square seemed too far for them to walk and, with little city signage to help them along the way, I thought they might be mistrustful of any directions a strange local might give them that took them off Broadway to Old Oakland or Chinatown. They got a hot dog from one of the vendors who works outside the Paramount events, I think, and an opportunity was lost.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that the Dellums Administration should concentrate its retail development plans away from downtown and into the existing community commercial districts. By that suggestion, however, I did not mean to imply that downtown should be abandoned. The Jerry Brown 10K plan was designed to attract new residents into the downtown area so that retail would follow. I would suggest that while we are waiting for the retail, the Dellums Administration ought to adopt a different strategy: make the existing downtown attractive for both residents and visitors, to the point that there is a sufficient critical mass of shoppers and eaters and foot traffic to get the attention of the retail businesses that are so important to our tax needs.

And the key point is that such a plan will require far fewer city dollars than was used, say, to subsidize Forest City or the Fox renovation. What is needed to revitalize Oakland’s downtown is not so much money, after all, but rather a change of thought process, purpose and direction. [Go To Full Column]




November 23, 2007

Once, it is said, a basketball fan came up to Oakland native and Boston Celtic star Bill Russell and asked him what it was like to guard Wilt Chamberlain. Russell, so the story goes, gave the fan one of his famous quizzical looks, thought about it for a moment, and then asked back, “What’s your frame of reference?”

In many ways, during the recently-concluded debate over police 12 hour shifts in Oakland, I felt the same way. Like a spectator, without any frame of reference to judge the various arguments.

For those who haven’t followed, an arbitrator—they are always identified in the press as “impartial arbitrators” to differentiate them from the other kind, I suppose—ruled last week that the City of Oakland can institute 12 hour shifts. Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker wanted to institute the change to the 12 hour shifts, our powerful friends at the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA) police union opposed it, and when they couldn’t settle it during negotiations, they sent it to the impartial arbitrator, Charles Askin. [Go To Complete Column]



November 16, 2007

Development battle opponents are often depicted as pro-development on one side, anti-development on the other, but that’s almost always a mischaracterization. Just as it would be virtually impossible for someone to be in favor of all development, regardless of what that development happens to be, you never run into someone who is against any and all development. The questions for both sides always is: what type of development are we talking about? Where will it be located? And, probably most importantly, what portions of the community will it benefit?

When Jerry Brown was mayor of Oakland, bless his heart, he was wonderfully successful in casting all of the battles over his various development proposals as pro-development/anti-development, charging that anyone who stood in opposition to what he had put on the table was interested in a stagnating, moribund Oakland that would eventually sink back into the Lake Merritt tidepool and estuary marshlands from which it had been wrought. And so, rather successfully, Mr. Brown managed to avoid most public scrutiny over what exactly his proposals would do, and who they would do it to.

With the benefit of hindsight, now that the former mayor has left the building, we have begun to get a clearer picture. [Go To Complete Column]



November 9, 2007

Somebody’s going to have to help me out here, because I’m having a little difficulty understanding the current hue and cry in Oakland demanding more police. It’s not that I can’t see why some people might want more police. It’s just that I don’t understand who the people doing the most hueing and crying think is keeping the city from getting more police, and, therefore, I’m not sure exactly who the demand is being made to.

As often happens a history lesson, first, is in order.

Oakland has had three elections in recent years on the increase-the-police issue.

In November of 2002, then-Mayor Jerry Brown sponsored an advisory bond measure (FF) to, among other things, hire 100 more police officers, as well as three companion measures (GG, HH, and II) to pay for it. Oakland voters approved the 100 police increase 52.9 percent to 47.1 percent, but defeated the three tax measures by 12, 13, and 33 percentage points. But because of the confusing way the measures were written and the campaign for them was conducted, it is impossible to say now if Oakland voters fully understood they were defeating the hiring of the police by defeating the companion tax measures, and that they might have approved the entire package if it had been properly explained to them. [Go To Complete Column]



November 2 , 2007

A couple of weeks ago, the Metropolitan Greater Oakland (MGO) Democratic Club held a journalists’ forum on the first 200 days of the administration of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums.

During the discussion, one of the audience members asked Chronicle East Bay columnist Chip Johnson to give his opinion on whether the local media as a whole was treating Mr. Dellums somewhat more harshly than we had his predecessor, Jerry Brown.

Mr. Johnson, of course, has been the local journalist most consistently critical of Mr. Dellums. Most recently, the Chronicle columnist has taken off after the mayor on the crime and violence issue, most particularly over the number of police needed—or wanted—to curb Oakland’s crime problem. [Go To Complete Column]

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