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

Portrait by John W. Pearson

At The Turn Of The Second Year

A Serious Analysis Of The Dellums Administration Can Begin
December 18, 2008

The Politics Of Vindictiveness And Vendetta

What Might Have Been Or Might Again Be If Mr. Dellums Were Not Oakland Mayor
December 11, 2008

Two Years Later, The Brown Doctrine Continues In Oakland

An Unofficial Policy Of "Community Cleansing" Appears To Still Be In Effect At Some Levels Of Oakland Government, Despite A Change In Administration
December 4, 2008

Speculating On 2010

Local Reporters Projecting The Candidates In The Next Oakland Mayor's Race Are Unaccountably Leaving Out That Tall, White-Hair Guy Currently Occupying The Position
November 26, 2008

The Importance Of BRT

A Look At The Future Of Public Transportation In The East Bay
November 20, 2008


Thoughts Of People Missed In The Course Of The Obama Election
November 13, 2008

Going After Palin

While The Alaska Governor Is A Tempting Target Post-Election, Progressives Have Other Important Things On Our Agenda
November 6, 2008

The Cousins McCain

In Which We Learn That Not Only Did John McCain's Ancestors Live As Slavemasters, The Arizona Senator Has African-American Relatives—But That's Not The Point
October 23, 2008

A Moment Missed

A Woman Accuses Barack Obama Of Being An "Arab," And Mr. McCain Flubs The Answer
October 16, 2008

Critical Consistency

Why I Don't Follow The Crowd Of Ron Dellums Critics
October 9, 2008

AC Transit Troubles

A Once-Proud Public Transit Agencies Suffers From Public Neglect
October 2, 2008

Mr. Tagami And Gateway

Why Oakland Should Choose Another Developer For The Massive Oakland Army Base Restoration
September 25, 2008

The Worst Blog Entry Or Column Item In The East Bay

With Apologies To Keith Olbermann And MSNBC
September 18, 2008

Burning America's Bridges

And So, On Cue, With Sarah Palin Comes Another Round Of Republican Divisiveness
September 11, 2008

A City Under Siege

To Slow Down Oakland's Violence, Oakland Police Clamp Down On An Entire Neighborhood
September 4, 2008

Oakland's Public Safety "Crisis"

Concerns Over The Restaurant Takeover Robberies Masks Deeper Issues And A Need For A More Comprehensive Response
August 28, 2008

Mr. Dellums Gets Defensive On Crime, But Why?

The Oakland Mayor Should Be Basking In Praise From Hard Work On Police Reforms
August 21, 2008

The Chronicle Misses A Councilmember And Its Columnist Misses Consistency

Desley Brooks Absent From Chronicle Account Of Arroyo Viejo Event, And Logic Absent From Chip Johnson Columns
August 14, 2008

Race And The Presidential Race

Did Obama Bait McCain Into The Race Issue, Rather Than The Other Way Around?
August 7, 2008

Presidential Considerations

Why Is Barack Obama Not Further Ahead Of John McCain In The Summer Polls?
July 31, 2008

Law And Mayoral Politics In Oakland

What To Look For If The Marquee Matchup Between Dellums And Perata Doesn't Happen In The 2010 Mayoral Election
July 24, 2008

The Preacher And The Politician (Again)

Having Exhausted The Controversy Of Rev. Jeremiah Wright And Barack Obama, America Moves To The Controversy Of Rev. Jesse Jackson And Barack Obama
July 17, 2008

Oakland's Witch Hunt

Oakland Ought To Consider Itself Deeply Embarassed Over Our Actions And Reactions In The Two Weeks Preceding The Edgerly Firing
July 10, 2008

The Measure Of Leadership

The Edgerly Controversy Gives Us A Good Test To See Who In Oakland City Government Has It
July 3, 2008

The Mayor, The Mob, And Ms. Edgerly's Exit

Thoughts On Oakland's Latest Simmering Controversy
June 26, 2008

The Loss Of Local Reporting

The Lack Of Regular Coverage Of Oakland City Council, The Oakland School Board, Etc., Etc., Leads To The Spread Of Misinformation
June 19, 2008

Obama's First Negotiations Test

Winning Over The Clinton Hard-Core
June 12, 2008

Mr. Perata's Little Puzzler

Did The Outgoing State Senator Endorse Wilma Chan As His Successor, Or Didn't He?
June 5, 2008

More On More Police

Dellums' Chief Of Staff David Chai Makes An Odd Statement To The Chronicle's Matier & Ross That Makes It Appear He's Not Been Keeping Up With The Dellums Administration's Record On Public Safety
May 29, 2008

A Mayoral Mixup Over More Police

Damned If I Can Figure Out If Mayor Dellums Is Working On A Tax Increase Ballot Initiative To Hire 50 More Police Officers
May 22, 2008

Police Stories

Life On The Streets Of The Deep East Oakland Flats, And Columnist Chip Johnson Has A Revelation
May 15, 2008

The Nation Turns Its Eyes To Race, Again, But Only On Condition

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright-Barack Obama Controversy Excites Our Attention, But Not The Realities Of Race
May 8, 2008

Forget A Knockout Blow

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama Needs To Play Out His Hand
May 1, 2008

A Sleazy Political Tactic Surfaces In Oakland

An Anonymous Website Slamming District 5 Candidate Mario Juarez Takes Us To A New Low—It Ought To Be Denounced
April 25, 2008

A Look At Local Candidate Debates

The Current Format Does Not Allow Us Enough Time To Look At The Differences In The Candidates
April 18, 2008

Cultural Differences And The Oakland Police

Why Having OfficersWho Understand African-American Culture Is As Important As Having Officers Who Understand Asian and Asian-American Culture
April 11, 2008

Fairness In Covering Oakland

The San Francisco Chronicle's Slant On Coverage Of The East Bay City
April 4, 2008

Brace Yourself, Oakland

Commentators Believe The Oakland Mayoral Seat Would Be A "Good Fit" For Termed-Out State Senator Don Perata
March 28, 2008

Save Us, Brother

The African-American Presidential Candidate Is Asked To Absolve The Nation's Racial Sins
March 21, 2008

Race And The Presidential Race

The Clinton Campaign's Recent Tactics Leave A Stench In The Air
March 14, 2008

Judging Mr. Dellums

Recent Policy Victories By The Oakland Mayor Demonstrate That Charges That Mr. Dellums Was "Doing Nothing" Were Premature
March 7, 2008

Don't Run—We Are Your Friends

The Oakland Police Department's Mixed Messages To Our Darker Youth
February 29, 2008

What Divides Oakland's Current Debates

Who Should Stay And Who Should Go In A Renaissance Oakland?
February 22, 2008

Closing Oakland's Blue Gap

Mayor Dellums Proposes The Oakland Police Up To Its Authorized Strength, And Supporters Of More Police—Strangely—Don't Immediately Come Out In Support
February 15, 2008

A Feast Of Riches

Progressives, Women, And African-American Left With An Unusual Bounty On Their Plates—Two Good Choices For The Democratic Presidential Primary (And Other Thoughts)
February 8, 2008

Untangling The Van Hool-AC Transit-Bus Rapid Transit Connection

Bob Gammon's East Bay ExpressArticles And Resulting Reader Comments Renew A Dialogue On One Of The East Bay's Most Controversial Proposed Public Works Projects
February 1, 2008

The Debate Over Dellums' Public Safety Policy

Some Of It Reasoned and Thoughtful, Some Of It Just Plain Silly
January 25, 2008

The Ghost Of America's Racial Past Resurfaces In South Carolina

And Almost Takes Down Two Leading Democratic Presidential Candidates Back Down With It
January 18, 2008

While Waiting For The Oakland Police Reforms To Kick In

Why The Calls Continue To Come In For More Police, And Some Suggestions For Future Dellums Administration Action
January 11, 2008

A Religious And Spiritual Test For Presidential Candidates

Why And How We Ought To Judge Our National Leaders On Issues Of Faith
January 4, 2008

UnderCurrents Archives

Current UnderCurrents Columns

UnderCurrents 2007 Columns

UnderCurrents 2006 Columns

UnderCurrents 2005 Columns

UnderCurrents 2004 Columns

UnderCurrents 2003 Columns






December 18, 2008

I have long believed that in the first term of a two-term, four-year administration, the second year is the one to watch if you’re trying to figure out where the administration is going. The first year can be spent getting oriented, hiring staff, learning the situation, and beginning the first policy initiatives. Unless the mistakes are spectacularly bad, there is plenty of time left in the term to make up for first-year mistakes. The fourth year is an election year, and the administrator—president, governor, or mayor—is either deeply involved in running for re-election or have decided that they are going to settle for one term. The record upon which a four-year administration is running for re-election, therefore, must be firmly established by the third year. Because most government policies take a long time to actually bear fruit, things which an administration wants to make manifest in the third year must have already been planted at least a year in advance. Thus, it’s at the end of the second year that you can start making judgments of possible success or failure.

Because the administration of first-term Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums is moving towards the end of its second year in office, we’ve now reached the proper time to start making those long-term judgments.

Let me suggest a beginning framework for analysis by posing three questions regarding, so far, the success or failure of the Dellums Administration. Has the Dellums Administration fulfilled the enormous hope and promise generated by the Dellums candidacy? Has the mayor carried out his core responsibility of running the city? And, finally, how has the mayor’s record and actions, so far, affected his chances for possible re-election?

The quick answer to the first question—has the Dellums Administration fulfilled the enormous hope and promise generated by the Dellums candidacy—is easy. No. But that answer, of course, demands some clarification. [More...]



December 11, 2008

The two-year long season of criticism of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums—some of it thoughtful and reasoned, some of it thoughtless and unreasonable—has tended to set an arbitrary standard and then judged the mayor against it. Is crime and violence in the city at a “reasonable” level, for example, or are there “enough” new retail outlets or employee-generating businesses being built in Oakland, is there enough “transparency” at City Hall, or is the mayor is putting the time and energy into his job that should be expected?

Those seem fair and reasonable questions to ask. Most Oakland residents want crime and violence to come down and revenue and jobs to come up, most want to know more about what’s happening in our government so that we can judge its effectiveness and how our tax money is being spent, and most want our city officials to refrain from slacking off.

The problem, of course, is in setting standards by which such judgments can be made. We don’t have to all agree on the standards—in fact, it is certain that we will not. But in the absence of some standard, even a self-identified one, criticism is reduced to mere carping.

Mr. Dellums won the 2006 mayoral election in large part because of the enormous reputation he gained in Congress fighting (and many times leading) in such epic battles as the struggle to end the war in Vietnam or to destroy apartheid in South Africa. In many ways, the undertow of bewilderment and disappointment in some city circles over Mr. Dellums’ two-year mayoral administration stems from the mayor’s failure to repeat those successes on Oakland streets. How could the man who took on the Afrikaaners or the American military-industrial complex not be able to solve Oakland’s problems? That bewilderment and disappointment is what fuels the Dellums criticism, and gives it life. [More...]



December 4 , 2008

Oakland, in the Jerry Brown years, practiced an unofficial policy of what might be called “community cleansing.” This is not to be confused with “ethnic cleansing,” the horrific activity in parts of, say, Eastern Europe or Central Africa where whole ethnic populations are violently and bloodily removed, either through exile or actual genocide. No, Mr. Brown’s “community cleansing” policies were far more genteel, involving little violence (though some—that’s what the whole Oakland Riders police scandal was about) and targeting not whole ethnic groups, but rather portions of the population that were considered as being “undesirables.” Part of this involved harassment, part of it deliberate neglect of certain population segments and entire neighborhoods. In their place, Mr. Brown sought to attract more “desirable” (in his opinion) Oakland residents.

Thus, while whole neighborhoods wasted away in the Brown Administration, havens for crime and violence and poverty, Mr. Brown put millions of dollars of city funds into shiny new neighborhoods (the famous “10K plan”) that sought to attract people to live in Oakland who had previously looked down upon the city.

Such a doctrine is generally called “gentrification,” although in Mr. Brown’s case, it was given the name “Jerryfication.”

I wrote about the Jerry Brown Community Relocation Doctrine in countless columns during the time Mr. Brown was mayor of Oakland—both for the Daily Planet and an earlier version for the now-defunct Oakland UrbanView—and I will point out examples, if you’re interested. Someday I suppose I ought to collect them all in a book and publish and distribute them so that Californians will be able to see what a mess Mr. Brown made of Oakland, and what’s in store if we grant him another set of keys to the California governor’s mansion. But that’s for another day. [More...]



November 26 , 2008

One of the perks of being a newspaper columnist—as well as a newspaper reporter—is that from time to time, you get the chance to write your own fantasies. For political columnists and reporters, this often takes the place of handicapping—sometimes years in advance—political races. Like all good fantasies, political race advance handicapping needs to adhere to certain rules, such as the columnist or reporter clearly stating in advance what rules are to be used for including or excluding certain potential candidates. Without that, such political fantasy-writing provides no useful insight, except into the wishful thinking of the person doing the writing. But we’ll get to that, shortly.

In the past couple of weeks, our friends in the east bay bureau at the San Francisco Chronicle have begun to take a particular interest in the future of State Senate President Don Perata. Mr. Perata is facing two large changes in his life, one of them his terming out of the California State Senate as of the end of this year, the other the resolution—either dismissal or to trial—of the longstanding federal criminal investigation into his Senate dealings.

Our Chronicle friends are more interested in Mr. Perata’s political future, however, particularly in the State Senator’s longstanding desire to become mayor of the City of Oakland.

Some months after he said that Mr. Perata would be a “good fit” as Oakland mayor ("Oakland's Mayor Politicks As People Are Killed", February 15, 2008), Chronicle East Bay columnist Chip Johnson expounded on the subject two weeks ago, writing in a November 11 column (“Only Job Perata Ever Wanted—Oakland Mayor”) that “Oakland's top post had been a goal for much of his political career.” [More...]



November 20 , 2008

One of the most important single development decisions that inner East Bay residents can make in the next several years surrounds AC Transit agency’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT). Unfortunately, to date only a handful of officials and residents have been paying close attention to the project. That’s got to change.

AC Transit is proposing running a high-speed bus line from downtown San Leandro through downtown Oakland to downtown Berkeley using the E. 14th Street/International Boulevard/Telegraph Avenue route currently operating the 1 and 1R lines. The best-known—and most controversial—aspect of the BRT proposal is to dedicate bus-only lanes in the center of the streets along the route, but other portions of the proposal include modified coordination with traffic lights to eliminate as many red light stops as possible for the BRT buses, as well as the setting up of awning-style partially-covered bus stops where tickets can be purchased, allowing “proof of payment” boarding on the front and back of the buses to speed up service by eliminating front-door delays while passengers pay at the fare box,

In many ways, BRT is set up to function as a sort of light-rail-lite, with buses substituting for trains and dedicated, bus-only center lanes functioning light light-rail lines without the major expense of putting in rails.

I fell in love with light-rail some years ago during the time I was working in San Jose and used it frequently to get from the downtown area to the city’s northside civic center, and several times expressed the hope in writing that such a system could be imported to the inner East Bay as a component of our public transportation system. However, I confess that I was initially skeptical when I first saw AC Transit’s BRT proposal.

There were several reasons for this skepticism. [More...]



November 13 , 2008

Of many things, I wish my parents had lived long enough to see Barack Obama elected as the 44th President of the United States. I think they would have appreciated it far more than I ever could.

My parents were Depression-era kids, African-Americans raised in that East Bay racial netherworld that actively practiced anti-Black racism, but then unashamedly spent the following years wrapping itself in the mantle of progressivism and pretending that it never did. My mother’s father, Thomas Reid, was a skilled carpenter from Georgia who could never get a job as a skilled carpenter in the Bay Area, and so he ended his life supporting his family by mopping floors at Berkeley’s Wonder Bread bakery. My father’s father, Ellis Allen, a Louisiana man of many talents, could only find work in Oakland as a waiter on the Pullman trains, a subservient position barely a step up from the old Black man-servants of slaverytimes, where the “yessir” and tip of the cap were mandatory job skills. Grandmothers on both my mother’s and father’s sides were still alive late in my parents’ childhood, women who had been born into and lived their earliest years in plantation slavery in Virginia and Louisiana, respectively.

In the East Bay world in which my parents grew up, the swimming pools and beaches were segregated, and African-Americans had to picket and boycott local stores and other businesses in order to get jobs at places where they shopped. Most of the East Bay hills was off limits for African-American residents, as were large stretches of the East Oakland flatlands. Black workers were only allowed to work in the World War II Richmond shipyards under the covenant that Henry Kaiser—the industrialist who brought them up from the South by the trainload—agreed to demolish the houses and neighborhoods he had built for them as soon as the war was over. [More...]



November 6 , 2008

If one wanted to put a human face on the historical reason African-Americans sometimes seem so, well, ambiguous about our American experience, Nathan Bedford Forrest would be as good a place to start, as any. The Tennessean Forrest was probably the most brilliant and feared cavalry commander in the Confederate Army, a slash-and-burn fighter dubbed the “Wizard of the Saddle” by his contemporaries.
Forrest’s hatred of the “damned Yankees” seems to have been surpassed only by his hatred of African-Americans.

Like many of his Confederate Army contemporaries, Forrest appeared to believe it an abomination and a sin against God that former captive Africans would raise their hands against those who thought to be their masters, and felt that captured African-American Union soldiers should not be afforded the rights of other soldiers. In 1864, Forrest’s command of 6,000 cavalry soldiers overran Fort Pillow, a federal garrison of 600 soldiers on the Tennessee side of the Mississippi River. Forrest’s men later claimed approximately 330 Union soldiers killed or wounded, a 50 percent casualty rate that was fairly high for soldiers in so brief a fight on well-protected ground. Witnesses later said that Forrest’s men continued to fire on Union soldiers after they had dropped down their weapons and attempted to surrender. 226 of Fort Pillow’s Union soldiers survived to be captured. Only 75 of those captured were African-American, even though the garrison had been evenly divided, black and white.

"The slaughter was awful,” a soldier with the 20th Tennessee calvalry (Confederate) later wrote. “Words cannot describe the scene. The poor, deluded, negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees, and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. I, with several others, tried to stop the butchery, and at one time had partially succeeded, but General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased." [More...]

Safero Home | Wrting Pages