Monday, November 23, 2009

Two Anniversaries


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

As just about all the world knows, November 2009 was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union and its “bloc” of countries, mostly in Eastern Europe. But it was also the tenth anniversary of another, far less well remembered event that took place in the streets, not of Berlin, Prague or Bucharest, but Seattle: the demonstrations at the 1999 ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that united union leaders, environmentalists, young anarchists, older progressives and a lot of other unlikely bedfellows in an unexpected challenge to international capitalism. Though only about 20 people attended, Activist San Diego commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Seattle demonstrations at an event November 16 that featured showings of films from the protests and polite but wide-ranging discussions of what we should be doing next.

The events of 1989 and 1999 are strongly linked historically, for it was the triumphalism of the worldwide corporate elite and its political and intellectual apologists that set the stage for the creation of the WTO in the first place and the implementation of its agenda to destroy virtually all popular and social control of the worldwide economy in the name of “free trade.” One grim irony of 1989 was that for decades, democratic socialists had lamented the damage done to their ideal by the dictatorial rule of Communist parties led by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, their successors and those who saw them as role models. We long wished that the Soviet and Chinese systems would simply collapse under their own weight of bureaucratic deadwood and the socialist ideals would emerge newly purified, freed from their association with dictatorship and repression and ready to be seized by a new generation of activists and organizers looking for ways to create a democratically run and controlled economy.

Instead, 1989 became the epicenter of a matter-antimatter reaction in which the “bad” socialism indeed blew up — but it took the “good” socialism down with it. Thanks partly to the brutality many so-called “really existing socialist” regimes had inflicted on their populations (which dashed Mikhail Gorbachev’s dream of reforming the Soviet Union while keeping it socialist) and partly due to the extraordinary myth-making and history-shaping powers of the worldwide corporate media, the lesson most people came away with from 1989 was that all socialism had failed. The legend of the fall of Communism became the basis for a belief that any attempt to regulate an economy, any interference with the dictates of The Market, would inevitably lead to a dictatorship of intellectual and political elitists sapping the energy of a society and keeping themselves in power at the expense of their people’s well-being.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put it with her usual bluntness when she coined the acronym “TINA” — “There Is No Alternative.” Earlier Thatcher had summed up the modern-day version of the ideology of lassiez-faire capitalism when she famously said, “There is no such thing as ‘society.’ There are only individuals.” For years socialists had been insisting that humanity’s alternatives were “socialism or barbarism.” Now the capitalist media and political structures worldwide were loudly proclaiming that the history of socialism’s “failure” proved that the only alternatives were lassiez-faire or barbarism.

The project of deregulating the world’s major capitalist economies — especially in the U.S. and Great Britain — had actually begun in the early 1970’s, when high rates of inflation and the so-called “energy crisis” led the corporate elites and their well-trained politicians towards a strategy of driving down workers’ real wages and redistributing wealth and income from poor to rich. In order to pull this off in countries that were at least nominally democratic, they had to convince working people to vote for politicians who would implement deregulation and other upwardly redistributionist strategies — which they did by encouraging nationalist, racial and cultural prejudices that would get most workers (especially white workers) convinced that the real threats to their well-being came not from those above them, but from those below: people of color, undocumented (“illegal”) immigrants and people living alternative lifestyles.

So many Leftists in the 1990’s felt trapped in a nasty historical bind, as the collapse of Soviet-style “socialism” led to a renewed offensive by capitalist elites to drive down wages and workers’ incomes even further. One of the principal strategies to achieve this came to be called “globalization.” It rested on the idea that with modern technology being able to move products around the world faster and more efficiently than before — and the nascent technology of the Internet being able to move information around even faster — capitalists were no longer restricted to exploiting the workforce of a particular country. Instead they could travel around the world, rapaciously playing country off against country to push wages, benefits and working conditions as low as possible.

To facilitate that, they took an international working group called the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and, at a meeting in Uruguay in 1994, transformed it into the World Trade Organization. The WTO had a mission to control the terms of business throughout the world, always in favor of corporations and against labor, the environment, democracy and any other factor that might interfere with the relentless pursuit of profits über alles. Its primary tactic was called “investor-to-state dispute resolution,” meaning that a corporation could actually sue a country in a private WTO “court” and challenge a law protecting workers’ health and safety or preserving the environment as an impermissible “restraint of trade.” The WTO didn’t have the power to order a government to repeal a law a WTO court said it couldn’t have, but it had a weapon almost as good: the power to impose highly costly trade sanctions on any nation that defied it.

For many Americans, the first inkling of what sort of a future the corporate lords of the universe had in store for them was the debate over the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the early 1990’s. NAFTA wiped out the tariff protections the Mexican government had previously been able to use to protect its agricultural sector from competition from giant U.S. agribusiness companies — and as a result, Mexico’s farm economy was decimated and millions of Mexicans crossed the border in search of work in the U.S. (That, not the “amnesty” bill passed in 1986, is the reason there were three million undocumented immigrants from Mexico in the U.S. in 1986 and over 12 million today.) What’s more, NAFTA contained an “investor-to-state dispute resolution” clause by which both the U.S. and Canada were forbidden from preventing oil companies’ use of highly toxic pollutants in their gasoline.

The 1999 demonstrations in Seattle were the result of quite a lot of behind-the-scenes planning that brought together various elements of a coalition dedicating to turning TINA on its ear and proclaiming, “Another world is possible.” Like most opposition movements, it was a lot better at saying another world was possible than defining what that world would look like — but for Leftists all over the world, the sight of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the streets of Seattle, demanding an end to the “free trade” regime that was literally putting corporations and their profits above the law, was galvanic. The so-called “Teamsters and turtles” marches, putting labor leaders next to environmentalists they’d generally regarded as enemies before, seemed to offer exciting new possibilities for the Left. So did the presence of massive numbers of young people in the streets, for the first time since the 1960’s, energetically challenging capitalism — even if most of them identified as anarchists, not socialists, because they too had bought into decades of propaganda equating socialism with dictatorship.

The anti-globalization movement set out to challenge the World Trade Organization and its corporate-controlled brethren — the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and G-8 (now G-20), an association of the richest countries in the world — by holding massive protests whenever and wherever those groups met. It also set up its own global entity, the World Social Forum — an alternative and a challenge to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the ruling elites of nations and corporations meet annually — and through that sought to set up discussions of what that future “other world” might actually look like.

What happened? There are still anti-globalization activists, trooping around the world to confront and challenge the international meetings of global capitalism — and facing an increasingly brutal degree of repression from the corporate elites and their political stooges. But their movement doesn’t have the same mojo it used to, and it’s never been able to grow beyond opposition. The potential of anti-globalization as a movement to revitalize and energize the world Left — especially the American Left — largely went up in smoke and flames along with New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, which overnight made any challenge to the corporate orthodoxy seem disloyal and unpatriotic and inspired such a bellicose attitude in the U.S. government and its people that what was left of the Left pretty much abandoned anti-capitalist activism in favor of anti-war activism.

In 1989 the world’s most energetic protests came from the people of the Soviet bloc in eastern Europe, throwing off their sclerotic regimes and the tired old men who ran them and tearing down walls to proclaim that another world was possible. In 1999 the energy came from progressives in the U.S. and throughout the world turning out into the streets and challenging the so-called “Washington consensus” that the triumph of globalization and lassiez-faire capitalism was irreversible. Today, at least in the U.S., the most energetic and powerful protests are coming from the Right: the “teabag” actions, vigilante campaigns against “illegal” immigration, disruptions of Congressmembers leading town-hall meetings and other expressions of revulsion and disgust against a government that has found literally trillions of dollars to bail out failing banks and auto companies and push a corporate-welfare version of health-care “reform” whose big beneficiaries will be health insurers and pharmaceutical companies, while working-class people continue to lose their jobs and homes.

The doors that seemed to open in 1999 have been slammed shut, and U.S. politics seems torn between two political parties that are both more relentlessly pro-corporate than they ever have been before. The choice is between a Democratic party that bails out the corporations directly and a Republican party that says let them die, no matter how many more people lose their jobs in the process — so they can be replaced by new, more aggressive, more “entrepreneurial” capitalists playing the same old game of driving the working class to subsistence and starvation. Meanwhile, in Europe voters are rejecting the traditional Leftist parties and voting instead for traditional conservatives, far-Right parties or Leftist remnants which haven’t yet developed viable political or economic platforms. Indeed, Europe’s voter turnouts are plunging towards American levels as increasing numbers of Europeans see the political system as irrelevant to their lives.

All this is taking place at a time when the world economy is in a tailspin, thanks to something Karl Marx predicted and called the “crisis of overproduction.” Capitalists can push down the wages and incomes of their workers all they want, but if they do too good a job of that they end up with almost nobody able to buy the products they produce. Real wages in the U.S. declined every year but two (1999 and 2000) from 1973 to the present — and American workers generally kept up their living standards by going deeper and deeper into debt. Then the 2008 collapse of the financial system brought a screeching halt to their ability to borrow, which sent the entire economy into a tailspin. The Left, here and throughout the world, is at a crossroads. We have to work out a response to the economic crisis that makes sense, serves people and can be sold to them in the face of a relentless onslaught of Right-wing propaganda from the corporate media. That’s probably even harder than it sounds, but the events of both 1989 and 1999 prove that it’s by no means impossible.

Jamail Celebrates U.S. Military’s “Will to Resist” in Iraq, Afghanistan


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Resistance within the U.S. military to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan hasn’t reached anywhere near the level it did during Viet Nam, largely because there isn’t a civilian peace movement of comparable size and power either. But individual servicemembers in both U.S. occupations are refusing orders, requesting discharges, filing for conscientious objector status and taking whatever other actions are available to them to stop participating in a war they’ve come to reject. That’s the message independent journalist Dahr Jamail came to tell the Peace and Democracy Action Group at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church November 13.

The Will to Resist

In his talk, and in his book The Will to Resist, Jamail chronicles the slow breakdown of morale in the U.S. military in both occupations, the pointlessness of most of what the servicemembers are ordered to do and the simmering anti-war activism within the military. “First,” Jamail said, “the occupations are abject failures, and when soldiers see what they’re being used for — and the corruption — they turn against them.” Jamail began his talk by reading a long passage from his book dealing with U.S. Army medic Eli Wright, who on the first day of his Iraq deployment was sent to a detention facility in Ramadi and told by his battalion surgeon, “Anything that you see in there, inside those walls, stays in there. You don’t talk about any of it after you leave that place.”

Wright’s account of what he did see and experience in there was so intense Jamail devoted over two pages of the book to what Wright told him. “It was the scent of blood that hit me immediately,” Wright said. “It was a sort of old, stale scent of blood that had just permeated that place for a long time. And they walked us inside and there was one prisoner in there, completely naked except for a small little cloth tied around his waist, and he was standing up on top of a cinderblock that was placed on end. … He was being interrogated by several men who were just grilling him. They said he had been up for three days in this interrogation process. He had not slept. He had been standing on this cinderblock for most of the time. They had this bucket of water, which they would splash on him whenever he dozed off.”

According to Wright, “Our task was more or less to see if the guy was stable, to ascertain if he was in any condition to continue his interrogation.” The servicemembers running the detention camp took the prisoner off the cinderblock and stood him against a wall so Wright and his team of medics could check him out. “I didn’t even know where to begin,” Wright told Jamail. “He was covered in bruises, his face was all busted up and bleeding. … He was complaining of pain on the side of his chest, on his back. He had a lot of bruising on his ribs, so the medic started feeling his ribs, and he pressed on a couple of his ribs and the guy just screamed in pain and sort of buckled. They picked him up and slammed him back against the wall.” After Wright had examined the prisoner’s chest and found he had some broken ribs, the other medic felt around the ribs for more fractures and “then suddenly he cocked his fist back and punched him right in the broken ribs. And the guy just dropped and screamed.”

Wright told Jamail he turned against the occupation right when his fellow medic’s fist connected with the detainee’s broken ribs. “Seeing a medic, a fellow care provider, violate our code of ethics, which is first and foremost to do no harm … I think it just kind of destroyed my perception of us doing anything good there for these people.” Wright said. “That’s when I realized that we weren’t there to help anybody. Nothing that we could do would be good.”

“This is what soldiers are experiencing in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Jamail said after he finished reading Wright’s account. “Morale in the military is low. It’s seeing destroyed infrastructure, suffering people and fellow soldiers suffering as well. “ And the soldiers’ suffering doesn’t stop when their deployments end and they come home, either. According to Jamail, a returning servicemember seeking help from the Veterans’ Administration has to wait an average of 179 days. He cited an April 2008 report by the RAND Corporation — a military-affiliated think tank and hardly an antiwar source — stating that 300,000 servicemembers who have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan — almost 20 percent of the total involved in both wars — have reported symptoms of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), though only slightly more than half have sought treatment.

Military Suicides Up

Indeed, Jamail said the occupation is taking such a psychological toll on its participants that more U.S. servicemembers are killing themselves than are dying in combat. He cited the annual Army Suicide Event Reports (ASER’s), which documented 102 Army suicides in 2006 (more than one-fourth of whom were on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan when they killed themselves), 115 in 2007 and 128 in 2008. The authors of the 2008 ASER estimated that 20.2 of every 100,000 soldiers killed themselves — higher than the comparable civilian suicide rate for the first time since Viet Nam. The rate for suicides in the Marine Corps in 2008 was 16.2 per 100,000, the highest since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. What’s more, a reported 24 servicemembers killed themselves in January 2009 alone, “the highest monthly total since the Army began tracking suicides in 1980,” Jamail explained. “If all these are concerned, this suicide count would exceed the number of soldiers killed in both Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period.”

Jamail also said that the VA “has undertaken extraordinary efforts to hide the magnitude of the crisis.” He praises the staff members who actually work with servicemembers, but said the VA’s leadership, “weighed down by the lack of adequate funding and support from the government, appears to be more interested in obfuscating the truth.” It’s gone so far that, according to Jamail, psychologists at VA hospitals have been ordered to reduce the number of PTSD diagnoses “because too many vets were pursuing government disability payments for the condition.” Other independent journalists have charged the VA with attempting to diagnose veterans as having suffered, not from PTSD, but from mental illnesses they supposedly had before they served — which would let the VA and the government in general off the hook for their medical expenses.

“When you’re not sleeping, having flashbacks and self-medicating, you’ll wait six months for a VA appointment and 4 1/2 years if you file for disability, they deny it and you appeal,” Jamail explained. “If you get a valid discharge, you’re supposed to be entitled to VA benefits for life. In 2008, 1,867 veterans died before the VA heard their claims. More than 300,000 veterans have filed. In Viet Nam, 58,000 American soldiers died in combat — and 70,000-plus Viet Nam vets have committed suicide since. We’re seeing the same thing happening now in Iraq and Afghanistan. They fight wars and then, when they come home, they have to fight the VA.”

Inevitably, Jamail mentioned the recent shootings at Fort Hood, Texas — in which an Army psychiatrist is alleged to have shot 13 people on base and wounded many others — as an example of how the U.S. military is increasingly broken and unable to take care of its own. Jamail suggested the shooter may have suffered from “secondary PTSD” — caused by his hearing the horror stories of the servicemembers he was taking care of. (Jamail was himself diagnosed with PTSD from having worked in Iraq as an independent journalist in 2003-2005.) Jamail interviewed a military psychiatrist who told him that he and his colleagues “are hearing so many horror stories, they are going to need counseling.” He also pointed out that there is only one military therapist per 1,250 soldiers, not enough to deal with the low morale among servicemembers who return from Afghanistan or Iraq.

“Covert Dissent”

Jamail readily admitted that the current resistance among servicemembers in Iraq doesn’t compare to what was going on in Viet Nam, “where up to 10 percent of soldiers wouldn’t follow orders.” What we have now in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, is “covert dissent that’s spreading,” ranging from so-called “search-and-avold” missions (units go out, ostensibly on patrol, but actually park in a safe place and spend the day out of harm’s way, sometimes sending back falsified GPS data to make it look like they’re moving) to simply walking away. The rate of absences without leave (AWOL) is up to 4,000 per year, Jamail said.

“I accidentally happened on this topic two years ago,” Jamail said. On a tour to promote his previous book, Beyond the Green Zone — an account of his two years covering the U.S. occupation of Iraq as an unembedded journalist for his own blog — he met Phil Aliff, who had served in Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division, supposedly training Iraqis to take over their own security. Aliff told Jamail that the Iraqis they were supposedly “training” almost never showed up. Instead, Aliff said, they just got sent out on endless patrols — 300 between August 2005 and July 2006 — and about all they did was drive around the city and hope they could avoid being blown up by the improvised explosive devices (IED’s) used by the Iraqi insurgents. “He said morale is low because they don’t have a clearly defined mission,” Jamail recalled. “They don’t know when they’re going to leave or what ‘victory’ looks like.”

Jamail’s book details various forms of resistance antiwar servicemembers are practicing, both within the military and once they get out. One group called the Combat Paper Project — depicted in a half-hour film called Iraq, Paper, Scissors shown as part of the program with Jamail’s speech — encourages servicemembers to make art as a way of exorcising the traumas of serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. In the film, veterans are shown cutting up their uniforms and cloth patches indicating rank, pulping them and turning them into handmade paper — “combat paper” — on which they create artworks. Others, particularly women veterans, are challenging the military’s relentless sexism, including rape: VA statistics indicate that one out of every three U.S. servicewomen are raped or sexually assaulted while in the military. Still others are actively doing counter-recruitment, seeking out opportunities to talk to high school students about the down side of enlisting.

Active Resistance

Then there are the active resisters, the ones who put themselves on the line and face prosecution, ostracism, scorn and even threats to their lives by refusing orders to deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq. Jamail talked about Lieutenant Ehren Watada, the highest-ranking member of the military who refused service in Iraq. “The judge blew the trial, and they let him sit at a desk for two years and then discharged him,” Jamail explained. “Another famous individual is Camilo Mejía, the first conscientious objector to the Iraq war. When people stand up, they’re labeled as ‘cowards,’ ‘unpatriotic,’ etc., by all the pro-war groups, including all the corporate media. But according to the United Nations Charter, there are only two reasons a country can wage a just war: a Security Council resolution or self-defense. That clearly doesn’t apply to Iraq — and it doesn’t apply to Afghanistan either because it was neither the nation nor the people of Afghanistan who attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001.”

Jamail cited a less well known “refusenik” than Watada or Mejía: Agustin Aguayo, who came forward on May 1 this year and refused an order to deploy to Afghanistan after having already served three years and nine months in the Army, including 13 months in Iraq. “He was tired of the corruption and the contribution to human cruelty,” Jamail said. “He had six weeks to go on his enlistment, after serving four years, when he was hit by ‘stop-loss,’ like about 6 percent of soldiers in both occupations — more than 200,000 troops since 9/11.” “Stop-loss” is a provision in the military contract that allows the service to extend it unilaterally if there’s a war in progress or basically for any reason whatsoever.

When the military used “stop-loss” to extend Aguayo’s enlistment, Jamail explained, “he was ordered to a ‘soldiers’ readiness facility’ to deploy to Afghanistan. He said no. He was given a counseling statement — a preliminary step the Army uses to start the case for prosecution — to sign that he disobeyed an order. He signed it, and added a note that read, “There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect.”

“Ten days later,” Jamail said, “they ordered him again, he said no again, and this time he said, ‘I will not obey any orders I believe are immoral or illegal.’ People who do this know that they’re going to be put in jail and get a discharge without benefits. I asked if he was sure, and he said yes. He told me, ‘The wars are not going to be ended by the people at the top. The only way to take responsibility is if the soldiers don’t fight.’ The next week Travis Bishop, after a 15-month deployment in Iraq, filed for conscientious objector status and the military court-martialed him. He’s serving one year in a brig.”

Jamail told another story of resistance: Alexis Hutchinson, a specialist with the Army’s Third Infantry Division, Third Combat Aviation Brigade and a single mother with an 11-month old son. She wasn’t even a principled opponent of the war when she turned down a recent order to deploy to Afghanistan. All she wanted was to make sure there’d be someone to look after her son while she was gone. She thought she had someone — her own mother — but mom backed out at the last minute because she was already taking care of several children in the family, some of them with ongoing health problems and other special needs.

“So Alexis’s mother brought the girl back to her, and Alexis went to the military and asked for an extension,” Jamail said. “They said O.K. at first — and then yesterday [November 12] they told her, ‘We’re revoking your extension. You’re going this Sunday. We think you’re trying to get out of this deployment.’ So they threw her in jail, and put her kid in county custody, and they’re going to ship her to Afghanistan and court-martial her there.” A November 17 dispatch from the Associated Press said that she was being confined to base at Savannah, Georgia and that commanders were “investigating” why she was being deployed when ordinarily a single mother without a child-care arrangement would not be sent overseas. This story also said that her son only spent a day in county custody before Hutchinson’s mother took him back.

Asked about how civilian anti-war activists can connect with people in the military, Jamail said, “The corporate media have sanitized the wars and dehumanized not only the people in Iraq and Afghanistan but the U.S. military as well. So many veterans and active-duty servicemembers say people are afraid to talk to them when they come home. When you come back from a war zone, you feel unsure, and people literally won’t talk to you. The first thing soldiers need to do is talk. One thing people can do is talk to them. ‘Supporting the troops’ is not getting a yellow Chinese-made magnet for the back of your SUV. I talked to a man in Ventura who was working on getting veterans referrals to Alcoholics Anonymous and driving them to VA appointments. That man isn’t getting any media coverage.”

Queer Democrats Endorse Saldaña for Supervisor

Take No Position on Term Limits for County Board Members


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Lori Saldaña, Humberto Peraza, Jill Galvez

The predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club usually doesn’t meet in November, but it did this year in an attempt to cope with the sheer multitude of elections for which the club’s members want to discuss and consider endorsements. In a two-hour meeting November 19 at an unusual location — a third-floor walk-up room in the stagehouse of the North Park Theatre on 29th and University — the club endorsed Assemblymember Lori Saldaña for the Fourth District seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. The club came four votes short of endorsing a controversial initiative to impose term limits on the Board of Supervisors — 29 members favored it to 25 opposed, but that didn’t meet the club’s 60 percent vote requirement for endorsements — and endorsed Humberto Peraza over Jill Galvez for an open seat on the Chula Vista City Council.

The club voted to endorse Saldaña despite the fact that at least one other major San Diego Democrat, school board member Shelia Jackson, has also declared for the seat, and termed-out City Councilmember Donna Frye is also considering a run. But the club’s political action vice-president, Alex Sachs — who schedules the candidates’ appearances and chairs the meetings when endorsements are being discussed — said that neither Jackson nor Frye had returned his phone calls inviting them to the meeting. The club’s rules say that in order to be considered for endorsement, candidates must speak to a club meeting and fill out the club’s issues questionnaire — and Saldaña was the only Democrat to do both.

Saldaña’s speech and the club’s discussion of her endorsement and the term-limits initiative centered around the fact that since 1994 the Board of Supervisors has consisted of five Republicans and no Democrats. Ironically, the club actually endorsed Republican incumbent Ron Roberts when he first ran for the seat in 1994 — before the San Diego County Central Committee, which charters the club, changed its rules to forbid Democratic clubs from endorsing Republicans even in nominally non-partisan elections like City Council and Board of Supervisors races. At the time, Roberts was presenting himself as a moderate and someone who, as a Republican, would have a better chance of talking to his more Right-wing Republican colleagues than a Democrat — and Saldaña admitted that in challenging Roberts she’s going to have to challenge and overcome Roberts’ moderate reputation.

“People ask me what Roberts has done that’s so awful,” Saldaña said. “I say, what has he done at all?” Saldaña pointed to issues like medical marijuana, support for in-home caregivers and marriage equality as ones on which San Diego has fallen behind other counties in the states. “This county refuses to pay basic increases in caregivers’ salaries, even when the money is available,” Saldaña said. “Instead of passing a medical marijuana policy, they fought against it for 13 years, taking their lawsuit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. There are a lot of things this county is not doing, and no Supervisor is raising questions about the county’s failures.”

Asked what her top three priorities would be for her first year as a Supervisor, Saldaña said, “Number one is poverty. Why are we not taking care of the needs of people who’ve lost jobs and health care? Why are they not getting the services they need? Number two is green economy and green jobs. We could be the solar-power center of the world. We could have power generated locally and not need new transmission lines. The third is quality of life. The county cut their budget for water quality testing and reassigned the whistle-blower who made that public. We need to put our priorities on quality of life and not make people put their jobs on the line for it.”

Another question was what Saldaña would do with the $2 million discretionary budget each Supervisor gets to spend as he or she sees fit. Her preference, she replied, was that it be abolished completely and put the $10 million total back into the county’s general fund for programs that benefit the whole county. If she couldn’t get two other Supervisors to join her in getting rid of the discretionary funds, Saldaña said, “I would open it up for people who have some ideas. For health care, some programs — including prenatal care and HIV/AIDS — save $9 to $10 for every $1 invested.” The discretionary funds, she said, “create a very unfair practice because they can’t document its return on the investment.” She said that she didn’t anticipate any difficulty working with Republicans on the board because as a state legislator, “I’ve had a lot of bills signed by a Republican governor and I’ve learned to reach across the aisle.”

Though she hailed the “remarkable change” San Diego County has been through politically — Barack Obama was the first Democratic Presidential candidate to carry the county in 70 years — she warned that 2010 will be a very different election from 2008. “This will be a very low-turnout one with an unhappy electorate,” she said. “We need to be positive advocates for what needs to happen in San Diego County.” She also said part of her campaign message will be to educate people on why county government is important to them — especially if they live in incorporated cities and therefore don’t deal with it directly.

The debate around Saldaña’s endorsement centered less around her (though at least one member questioned her endorsement of former Assemblymember Juan Vargas over the club’s choice, Assemblymember Mary Salas, for the 40th State Senate primary) than the club’s increasing practice of picking its candidates early, well before the March 17 filing deadline to run in next June’s election. Member Tedd Bunce made a motion to delay endorsing in the race until the March meeting to see if any other strong Democrat entered the race. Bunce made it clear that he was hoping Councilmember Frye, whom he called “our greatest friend” in local politics, would declare for the seat.

Jess Durfee, former club president and current chair of the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee, strongly opposed delaying the endorsement. “Donna might be Mayor of San Diego today if she hadn’t postponed her decision to run,” Durfee said. “We have a window of opportunity we lost four years ago, and if we wait for Donna to decide we will miss that opportunity.”

Former City Councilmember Toni Atkins also urged an immediate endorsement. “We have to be raising money now and we need to have a plan in place to win this seat,” she said. “Ron Roberts is already raising money.” Eventually the motion to postpone the endorsement lost by 45 to nine, and Saldaña won the endorsement with 47 votes to 10 for no endorsement and one write-in vote each for Frye and Shelia Jackson.

Term Limits: Strategy or Hypocrisy?

The proposal to impose term limits on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors first came before the club in August. It was sponsored by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), largely as a result of their ongoing frustration at getting the county to approve pay raises for the employees they represent. The Board hasn’t had a non-Republican member since Leon Williams retired in 1994 and Ron Roberts was elected to replace him, and none of its members have changed since 1996. The club’s debate on the issue in August centered mainly on whether term limits were the best way to break the Republican stranglehold on the Board of Supervisors or whether the club and its labor allies should pursue an initiative to take away the board’s power to draw its own districts — or mount more of an effort to contest the seats and get Democrats elected in the two or three districts they could conceivably carry.

The club delayed the issue again in September, partly at SEIU’s request and partly to debate strategies for reversing Proposition 8 and restoring marriage equality to California. This time, the debate was framed over the basic concept of term limits themselves and the fact that term limits have usually been a strategy used by the Republican party to target Democratic legislative majorities. Opponents raised the concern that endorsing term limits for the County Board of Supervisors would make it more difficult for the club and its members to argue for removing or easing the term limits on the California state legislature. Supporters said basically that San Diego County is facing an economic emergency and progressive voters can’t afford to wait any longer — even though the current Supervisors won’t be subject to the term limits until they’ve served two terms on top of the time they’ve been in office already.

Five former club presidents spoke to the issue — and they split, with Jeri Dilno, Doug Case and Andrea Villa opposing the term limits initiative and Jess Durfee and Stephen Whitburn supporting it. “You’d like to believe that voters can pay attention to these races, but the power of incumbency is enormous,” Whitburn said. “There are reasons for and against term limits. What I can’t live with is term limits imposed on Democratic majorities but not Republican ones. We have term limits in the state legislature and the San Diego City Council, but not on the County Board of Supervisors.”

“It would be impractical for us to endorse term limits,” said Case. “When Lori Saldaña gets elected I want to be able to vote for her more than twice.”

“I work for a company that almost went out of business because of the Board of Supervisors, but term limits are not the answer,” said Dilno. “The demographics of the county are changing. We will be able to elect some Democrats, and I will want to be able to keep them in office.”

Durfee said he saw a difference between term limits for the California legislature — where a newly elected Assemblymember has to learn to work with 79 other members and a State Senator with 39 — and a county board, where the new member only has to work with four colleagues. “A new Supervisor knows who they’re working with — and against,” Durfee said. “We should embrace this opportunity to get the deadwood out of there.”

“This isn’t about learning curves; it’s about a philosophical position we’ve always taken,” said Villa. “We are losing excellent legislators because of term limits. We have an opportunity to be a party of principles, not personalities.” Eventually the motion to support term limits for the County Board of Supervisors won a majority — 29 in favor to 25 against — but fell four votes short of the 60 percent supermajority the club’s rules require for endorsements.

Showdown in Chula Vista

The club also debated a Chula Vista City Council race and heard from two Democratic contenders for an open seat, Humberto Peraza and Jill Galvez. The differences between them were more about strategy than principle. Both addressed the need for Chula Vista to diversify its economy instead of remaining a bedroom community that’s been hit particularly hard by the collapse in housing prices. Both also opposed the plan by the Dynegy energy company to replace its current “peaker plant,” designed to produce electricity during shortages, with a more advanced model that could be run at 100 percent of capacity — and which community members oppose because it would be built in a residential area very close to an elementary school.

Where they differed most sharply was on taxes. The voters of Chula Vista recently overwhelmingly turned down an initiative to add one cent to the sales tax within the city — a ballot measure Peraza supported and Galvez opposed. Asked how to educate the voters so it would pass next time, Peraza ducked the question and instead talked about how to raise Chula Vista’s income without tax hikes. “We have to work from the ground up and diversify our community,” Peraza said. “We need leadership. We have amazing opportunities, including a bayfront that hasn’t been developed in 30 years. I did support the tax initiative, but now we need to start building a foundation for our own economy.”

“I was unequivocally opposed to the 1 percent sales tax increase,” Galvez said. “The City Council put out false statements in support of it. The city manager had already started cutting the budget even before the vote. We’ve made a series of very bad financial calls, including subsidizing a toll road and making a non-compete agreement with its owners so we can’t expand the freeways. We spent over $70 million building a police station with a first-class jail that has no prisoners in it — and it’s right across from the public library. We don’t capture taxes from I’m in business. I create jobs. I’m actively recruiting companies to come to Chula Vista. We’re all tightening our belts; the city should, too.”

The endorsement vote was never really in doubt. Peraza had the clear advantage, not only a string of political celebrities supporting him but a background as a staff member to Congressmember Bob Filner. One person questioned the endorsements Galvez has received from some major developers in the city. The only people who spoke sympathetically towards her were Assemblymember Saldaña and former county Democratic chair Maureen Steiner — and that had more to do with their wanting to see more women in office than any support for Galvez personally. Peraza won the endorsement easily, with 46 votes to 10 for Galvez and five for no endorsement.

The club was originally supposed to consider yet another race — the 79th Assembly District primary between San Diego City Councilmember Ben Hueso and challenger Pearl Quiñones. Quiñones was there but Hueso was not; instead he sent a staff member and wrote the club a letter stating that he was coordinating funeral arrangements for a family member who died recently and was canceling or postponing all his public appearances. In deference to him, the club voted to postpone the discussion of the race until both he and Quiñones could appear — preferably in January.


City Council Candidate’s Odyssey from Pulpit to Politics


Zenger’s generally hasn’t been sympathetic to the cause of staff members of elected officials running for the same office when their bosses are forced out by term limits. All too often this practice smacks of what Latin Americans called “imposición” — in which the original officeholders continue to rule behind the scenes and their former staff members are little more than surrogates. From Bart Hartman’s disastrous tenure as San Diego County Assessor a decade ago (after a campaign in which at the candidates’ forums he spoke the name of his predecessor and sponsor, Paul C. Boland, as if he were referring to God) to Jim Madaffer’s mediocre stint replacing former boss Judy McCarty as a San Diego City Councilmember, there are plenty of local examples where staff members who win elective office brought most of the weaknesses and few of the strengths of their predecessors and mentors.

Every rule has its exceptions, though. Former San Diego City Councilmember Toni Atkins was one; though she ran as her predecessor Christine Kehoe’s staff member and anointed successor, she had a far broader background in community activist than your average office aide — including aggressive defense of women’s reproductive choice in her years as director of the Womancare family-planning clinic. In office, she proved to be more progressive than Kehoe on several significant issues, including affordable housing and medical marijuana.

Another staff member running for office as a strong candidate in his own right is Steve Hadley, chief of staff to Sixth District City Councilmember Donna Frye. Though he’s facing stiff competition from former Assemblymember Howard Wayne, who’s already been endorsed by the San Diego County Democratic Party and the San Diego Democratic Club, Hadley says he expects his association with Frye, his connections with the local community leaders and organizers he’s worked with for years, and his ability to reach out to Republicans and independents as well as Democrats in a closely divided district will help him win.

Hadley’s unusual background is also an asset. As he recounts below, he grew up in a family of Seventh Day Adventist church leaders and spent years in the ministry before going to law school and then seeking out a career in politics. Though his background is from a culturally and socially conservative faith tradition, he doesn’t seem to have had to do much soul searching to come out in favor of equality for women and Queers. In an era in which much of the opposition to Queer rights — including the decisive margins in almost all our marriage equality defeats at the ballot box — is based on religious traditions in general and Christianity in particular, we need more officeholders like Steve Hadley who can speak the message of equality in the language of faith. Zenger’s is proud to present Steve Hadley and endorse him for the District 6 seat on the San Diego City Council.

Zenger’s: Won’t you tell me a little about your background and how you came to be running for City Council?

Steve Hadley: I’m a third-generation Seventh Day Adventist pastor, actually. I had a great-uncle on my mother’s side who was, and my father was. My mom was an Adventist educator in the private school system. She actually taught secondary English, for many years and then became a superintendent of the state system for the Adventist schools in Arizona: a couple of high schools and a whole scattering of K-12 schools around the state, where she spent a lot of time doing administrative work out of their state headquarters. My dad was one of the church leaders, too, in the headquarters.

Growing up in that whole milieu of helping people and leading public events — weddings, funerals, worships, that sort of thing -—clicked and connected with my mind. My dad was a kid off the farm, and his family wasn’t too thrilled when he left the farm and went to college. They told him he was wasting his time. Later, of course, came to greatly appreciate what he was doing. But he came to college and was told by his professors that he was basically not cut out to do public leadership kinds of stuff. And I don’t know what all the reasons were. He was a little bit of a rebel at heart, so he had kind of a hard time getting into the Seventh Day Adventist church ministry. He always identified more with the lay people than the church hierarchy.

Some of my early childhood memories were of him standing up in statewide church meetings and challenging the brethren, usually on process and procedure that would include the laity’s voice in some of the decision-making, and certainly in the electing of officials. I grew up thinking that to be a little bit of an activist and a rabble-rouser on behalf of the average voter, the lay person, the common delegate at these meetings, that was the highest calling there was. So as a kid, thinking about what to do, I thought about pastoral work. But my attraction to that was the political side of it: the board meetings, the policy development, the administrative stuff that went with it, rather than prayer chains and and youth groups

I enjoy a certain amount of Biblical scholarship, but if you said, “Hey, let’s go out and challenge the brethren in their organization and their processes,” I was more inclined to stay up until 3 in the morning drafting a plan to do that than I was putting together an intense exegetical Bible study on some Hebrew prophet, and going and sharing that early in the morning. I got involved in pastoral work, but I eventually thought that I would like to go do law and politics, because they had fascinated me since I was a kid.

Zenger’s: Could you tell me a little about what the Seventh Day Adventist church is and what it stands for? I think people look back at its origins as an apocalyptic cult, and then they think of David Koresh, and those are about the only associations most people who aren’t Seventh Day Adventists have with it.

Hadley: Adventists came out of the 1840’s, that millenarian kind of group looking for Christ to return to earth. They were sorely disappointed, of course, and many of them gave up on religion altogether. Some went back and ate humble pie, and then went back to the denominations that they’d come from: mostly Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists and Presbyterians. A goodly number of them said, “We’re off base here on this whole return of Christ, but for a lot of other things we think we’ve got a lot of common understanding and appreciation for.”

One of them, of course, is their view that it’s the seventh day, Saturday, that they ought to be worshiping on. They hold on to that from the Ten Commandments and from other parts of Scripture, but not the rest of the Jewish rules and regulations and rituals per se. It’s kind of an odd blend of Protestantism and Judaism in regard to the day of worship. There’s also their belief that the dead sleep and don’t really go anywhere until Christ returns; and their belief that he will return someday. However, there are probably quite a few who don’t think about that a whole lot and may not even actually believe it, and I’m quite sure I’ve run across a lot of church members who didn’t particularly care what happened to the dead anyway.

The original Adventists quickly worked themselves to death as a group of people trying to tell others — share what they believed. As a result, some of them had nervous breakdowns and wound up, in the 1840’s and 1850’s, seeking some of the new-found sanitariums and really got off on health consciousness. As a result, they have built hospitals around the world, Loma Linda University in southern California being a prime example of their interest in health, well-being and medical care.

Many people get them confused with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Latter-Day Saints and Christian Science, which also came out at about the same time, but they’re different. There’s a very traditional strand, like any denomination; and then there’s a very all-the-way-across-the-spectrum to very liberal crowd, probably including myself. One of the things I like about the Seventh Day Adventist church: they were so anti-Establishment that they resisted developing any kind of creed or set doctrines for probably the first 17, almost 20 years of their existence as a group. As a result, they had people who were anti-Trinitarian; people who believed in the Trinity; just a gamut of things. It’s really hard to drag them all back into the fold under a very narrow doctrine, even to this day, because of the diversity that existed and was actually fostered and protected in those early 20 years.

Zenger’s: When you spoke to the San Diego Democratic Club October 22, you talked about your struggles within the church, trying to move it to a more Queer-friendly position and more liberal on a lot of other issues as well. Could you tell me what drew you to that position, and why you felt a call to reform the religion you grew up in, instead of shifting to an already Gay-accepting denomination or starting your own like Troy Perry did with MCC?

Hadley: I think that’s literally the roots of what I grew up believing: that you ought to be looking out for the people who weren’t being looked out for. Some of it is that; some of it just comes from my sense that there ought to be equality, there ought to be fairness. I think anybody who takes their religion seriously believes in the dignity of humanity, and people tend to forget that as they get lost in a lot of other doctrines in their church or their religion.

But first of all, if your religion doesn’t help you appreciate and take care of your fellow human beings, then what is your religion all about? You hear these sermons of inclusiveness, and how the Christian gospel is for everyone, and everyone is equal now, there’s no male or female, and some of those Pauline passages, no slave or free, no Gentile and no Jew, we’re all one in Christ kind of thing; and if you take these things seriously as a young kid, looking at the world not only with a bent towards ministries but legal studies, it’s very obvious how you’re supposed to put that into practice.

It means that we actually treat the women as well as we do the men. We pay the women as much as we do the men. We actually let people on the platform who are Gay as well as straight. We actually treat people who are Gay with the same rights and the blessings and support of the church as we do those who are straight. It’s just a no-brainer. My mind ran in that direction.

Why didn’t I leave? There comes a point where I think we all have some ties to our community, whether you be Catholic or Jewish or Muslim or whatever else, and you still have some things in common — quite a bit in common. So you just don’t uproot all of that. I don’t know if that’s laziness or if that’s just simply comfort. When you’re changing so much in your life, you tend to hang on to a few things. I’ve known people who pitched everything overboard, and that wasn’t attractive.

I really didn’t care to do pastoral work strongly enough that I wanted to go out and start my own new church. I’ve tended to connect more strongly with individuals than organizations, anyway. I’d rather get out and be a part of a multitude of groups than break out and starting my own church. I never was a charismatic kind of person who people came to church just because they wanted to see me and hear me.

I think I was a very good leader, but I really was repulsed by charismatic, strong, authoritarian people whom congregants came and worshiped, just because, “oh wow, we belong to his church and he’s a star,” kind of thing. That whole phenomenon really still scares me. That is, people like Koresh and the Jim Jones and some of these other mega-church leaders who get their congregations to do crazy things at times. I just never was one of those, and didn’t care to be one of those. And I think you have to have a certain amount of that attitude to get out and start your own congregation.

Zenger’s: Yeah, you also mentioned your background as an attorney, and from what I’ve read about you on the Web it seems like you’ve bounced back and forth between the church and the law for quite a while. What drew you to that, and how did you finally end up in politics rather than ministry?

Hadley: There wasn’t as much bouncing as it may appear. I went straight from pastoral work to law school, after seventeen years and one year in graduate school — so it was about 18 years out in pastoral-related work — straight out of here to law school for two years straight. It’s like drinking out of a fire hydrant. And at the end of that two-year law-school experience I sat up and said, “Well, what am I going to do with this?” Because I really didn’t care at that point about getting back into pastoral work.

I’d thought about getting out and working within another denomination. I interned with a public defender for one year during law school. It was a wonderful experience, but I really didn’t feel like at mid-life I wanted to start doing that every day of my week for another 20 years. So I said, “O.K., so what did you have in mind as a kid when you thought you’d go to law school? My early inclination was to get involved in politics.”It was just a case of going out and trying out my childhood interest to see if maybe there was something naturally there that I hadn’t articulated, but a strong connection.

I went out and beat the street with my suit and my résumé until I found a job at City Council about five weeks after taking the Bar exam here, and got a job down at City Hall, and have been there ever since except for about 10 months when I left and went to work in North County at a church. We had moved there to put our kid through school, and I had thought maybe I should get back and check that out. After 10 months I was ready to find a more liberal church than the one I was at, and Donna [Frye] called up at the same time and said, “Hey, I’ve got an opening. I need a chief of staff. Would you be willing to come down here?”

So I thought, “This is God opening windows and closing doors, getting me out of the church and into politics.” For those who are always looking for the Providential openings and closings of life, and believe that typically that would take you out of the devil’s work of politics and into the church; well, for me, that went backwards.

Zenger’s: How did you hook up with Donna?

Hadley: When I first went to work at City Hall, I got with Harry Mathis, who was terming out. He kept me for eight months during his last term. I actually turned down a job with Scott Peters, who succeeded him, because, as I told Scott, I really wanted to work in District 6, where I thought someday I would want to run for office. I was already living in District 6, and thought the District 6 people were my kind of people, and so I stayed on and got a job with Valerie Stallings. She left three weeks after I came to work for her, in that tragic series of events, and I stayed on during the interim.

So after working eight months with Harry and three weeks with Valerie, I went out to a forum there during the special election, and I said to my wife on my way out the door that March evening, “O.K. I’m going to go down there and see which of these 11 people I could identify with — and if I really don’t feel comfortable with any of them, don’t feel like any of them have a chance of winning, I’ve got to go out and find myself a real job, because this short-term work of eight months with one and three weeks with another obviously isn’t going to bring home any kind of long-term family pay.”

I got down to the Pacific Beach library, listened to all of these candidates, and they got up one by one and kind of did the typical political platitudes and clichés. And all of a sudden Donna got up, and it was just a breath of fresh air. She began to talk about how she had been raised in Clairemont during the 1950’s, and then there were the 1960’s, and then she kind of threw her head back and put her hand on her head and said, “Wow, the 1960’s were good, weren’t they?” And then she said, “Let’s skip the 1970’s. We won’t talk about them.”

She just began to talk about things in a humorous, not self-deprecating but just self-effacing way. The woman had balance. I’d heard she was an environmentalist. I really didn’t know her that well. I’d seen her on TV a couple of times while I was in law school. She had a very holistic approach to the environment. She talked about density and she talked about noise, and talked about a lot of things — not just the gnatcatcher and the fairy shrimp. And she seemed to talk about things genuinely. She seemed to know her stuff. So I went up to her after the meeting and I said, “Hey, I want to help you,” went out and volunteered with her night and day, and when she won she kept me on and I was very fortunate to make that connection.

It’s not very often in politics that you get to work with someone you can identify with ideologically as closely as I can with her. I don’t know; when you get to be mid-life, it seems like a lot of people are saying to themselves, “On top of all of this, I need to enjoy what I’m doing.” And I’ve got to say we have certainly had fun with her.

Zenger’s: Do you think she’s going to be a hard act to follow? As you’ve acknowledged, you’re not a particularly charismatic person. She is Ms. Charisma.

Hadley: Hard in some ways, yes. I think of Thomas Jefferson’s statement when he took over from Benjamin Franklin as U.S. ambassador to France, and he was asked, “It is you, Sir, who replace Doctor Franklin?” He would say, “No one can replace him, Sir; I am only his successor.” I’ve lived in the shadow of my folks, who were church leaders, and I was a leader in my own right. I don’t think the goal would be so much to be her, as just simply continue her work.

I don’t think Donna tries to be charismatic either. She simply is. She leads with her character and her brains and her determination and her courage, and everything else, and it winds up being very attractive. If I could wind up succeeding her in any way, continuing her work, I think I could do that. But I’m not pretending to be her. There’s not much hope at this point in my life of growing my hair long and blond. I think part of what she is, and part of what’s attractive to me, is to be yourself.

Zenger’s: One thing that Donna’s had some criticism aimed at her, particularly among the city workers and some people in the Democratic party, for her very tough line on city finances and her willingness to work with Republican Councilmember Carl DeMaio on plans to balance the city’s budget, some people say on the backs of city workers. What is Donna’s office doing about the city budget, and how would you see yourself as continuing it if you were elected?

Hadley: I’ll tell you what I would continue to do. I agree with Carl and Donna when they say you could take six percent this year from city workers’ pay, in whatever form you take it, and you can do that this year. You can do it again next year. You can take it to where they have absolutely nothing left to pay the workers, and that simply isn’t going to solve the city’s problems. I would suggest a couple of things. One is that we go back and live more frugally within City Hall. If we’re going actually to cut any pay, I would suggest we do it on a tiered level, so that people who make under $75,000 don’t take a cut. Those who make $75,000 to $100,000 would take maybe one or two percent. Those who make $100,000 to $125,000 — and so you’d scale the thing up so if you’re making $200,000 you’d be taking a large percentage of your pay back.

We have a number of people who’ve come from the private sector, who were not making as much in the private sector, who are making far more now working in the city than they were. Beyond that, we’ve got nearly $1 billion in contracts. Out of a $2.8 to $3 billion budget, about a third of that is let out in contracts, and an inordinate amount of that in consulting contracts. Nobody has suggested that we cut the consultants’ fees in a range by 6 percent in the last year.

I was talking to Wendy Brick, who was the customer services director for the city and subsequently went out and started her own consulting firm. I said, “Wendy, you go around to these different cities in the county. Do they have a range for consulting fees, or do they just pay you whatever you demand?” She said, “Oh, no, they’ve got a range, and if you get their job, this is the range you’ll get paid in.” The city of San Diego just isn’t doing quite so well with that.

We just ran across a $7 million contract just the other day for a city department. We called up and we said, “Just what is this consultant contract for?” They said, “Well, we keep this company on retainer in case we need them.” “For what?” “Well, just in case we need them.” “Well, what are you going to do with it?” They couldn’t tell us, and they didn’t know. But you take $7 million here, $10 million there, $8 million, $2 million there, and you add it up and there’s money that we’re losing.

There’s just a real struggle to make sure that we operate as efficiently as possible. You’ve got the police that are bringing in suggestions on how to save money in their department. You’ve got AFSCME that’s brought in just pages and pages of suggestions on how to save money in their departments across the board, where those workers work. And somebody needs to carefully take a look at those things.

When I came back to work with Donna, she was sending out monthly letters to people in the district. Every month she was sending out a different letter, informing them of services that the city provided. It’s a good thing to do, to make people more aware of services that the Building Department, or Development Services for building permits, or the Water Department, streets and transportation. If you want a stop sign, here’s a pamphlet on how to get one, that kind of thing. We were buying stationery and paying for postage to the tune of $12,000 to $15,000 per year to send out those letters every month.

I said, “Hey, I don’t think we have to do this.” She agreed, and we stopped doing it. People can go online. There are all sorts of meetings we go to, all sorts of information we can hand out to people, all sorts of ways we can get that out there besides us spending the money sending out a monthly mailing. O.K. Eight people in our office working for her, $12,000 a year we’re saving for the last five to six years, 11,000 employees in this city: if you take every eight of them saving $12,000 in whatever little section or department they work in, there’s $17.7 million per year that could be saved if you just met that kind of small goal.

Yes, I would look at pensions — not the pay, certainly not the health care. You’ve got AFSCME that gets no cancer health care these days. To me, that’s unconscionable. We’ve got a group of people working in our buildings, working outside. These are the people who are exposed to hazardous waste, to the elements of the weather, and they’re the ones, I think, that are most likely in the years to come to discover that they have cancer of some sort. Not to be giving those people cancer benefits in their health care is wrong. I don’t know who negotiated for that, but it’s wrong.

I would do a couple of simple things. We’ve paid out a cost-of-living allowance (COLA) of 2 or 3 percent this last year, while Social Security COLA is zero until we get out of these tough times. Why is the city paying COLA to its retirees? I don’t want the retirees to live in poverty, but there are a few things that we ought to be looking at. I know that’s not really something that gets me great favor with the city workers. But somebody needs to stand up and say these things before we wind up having a bankruptcy judge determine who’s going to get what, and we don’t have any say in it at all.

Zenger’s: What about privatizing or outsourcing city jobs?

Hadley: I’ve told the labor unions and I’ve told the Lincoln Club both that I’m opposed to that. I’m not convinced that we’re really going to be saving money. But, more importantly — and I think Blackwater is a great example of this — you lose accountability. You lose control. There are obviously capital improvement projects where we have to go contract out on a one-time kind of deal, or maybe ongoing help for major projects around the city, when it comes to our streets and infrastructure. There are times when our city attorney needs to contract out and get some specialized help. But to take some of our departments, take some of our functions, and privatize them, I’m simply opposed to it.

Zenger’s: What about the comment made by one of your opponents that the voter initiative requires the city to privatize?

Hadley: I don’t know that it requires it to, as much as it does to go look at it and study it, and that’s being done.

Zenger’s: Because my understanding is that when you outsource a city service, the only way the private contractor can make a profit is either reducing the pay of workers or lowering the quality of service. And in other cities that have privatized, they usually do both.

Hadley: That’s my understanding, too. Logically, how else can they do it? People say that if you outsource, you’ll be able to cut your management. No. To do this effectively, you’ve got to have somebody in there managing these contracts, managing these companies, overseeing them for the city. You’ve still got to pay for your middle management. So where are the cost savings, actually?

The assumption is they’ll always save money in worker benefits, including health care, something. To me, that is so short-sighted, because who in the end is going to pay for that when they don’t have the health care they need? It’s going to come back on the local economy. It’s just another one of those “we’re going to kick the can another 10 to 20 years” things, and hope that we don’t have to be around when those very people come around needing health care and retirement.

Zenger’s: What are your thoughts about the proposal for a new stadium for the Chargers?

Hadley: I want to look at what they’re talking about down there at the Wonder Bread site. I really haven’t heard enough about it yet, but my suggestion would be if you’re going to build one, build one with a lid on it. Build one that you can open the roof off of for game day, but you can close on inclement weather days and you can have conventions going on down there, like you do at the Superdome or the Hoosier Dome, year-round, so you’re using it for all the sporting events, and then for the multitude of days during the year when the thing’s sitting there not used, why, you can have all sorts of not only exhibits and fairs, but you can have meetings down there as well for people who want to have that big venue.
I would think that by doing that, you could have a broad range of investors help build the thing, because they were going to stand to gain from it, and not just one group, say, a sports team. So if they’re really serious about this, I hope they’ll look at a multi-use facility that gets multi-funding and shares the wealth with multi-groups and investors. But I don’t have any opinion, other than that suggestion, at this point.

Zenger’s: There’s been a lot of discussion about whether Petco Park was a viable model for this sort of project. There were a handful of people in the local media — mainly Don Bauder in the Union-Tribune and myself — who were warning, “This is going to be a financial disaster. It’s going to give away and cost the city way more money than it brings in,” and lately Don Bauder has been writing in the Reader, “Hey, guys, I was right.” So what are the good things and the bad things about the Petco experience that the city ought to have in mind if they do a deal for a Chargers’ stadium?

Hadley: To begin with, be straight up front and truthful about the financing. Don’t tell the voters that you’re going to build a stadium and it isn’t going to cost them anything, when you’re actually getting them to pay for debt service. Just flat-out say, “Here’s where it’s going to come from, every bit of it. Here’s what it’s going to cost. Here’s what we’re having to take out, as far as loans or bonds or other funding. Here’s where we’re going to pay for it, and here’s how it’s going to affect what the public might or might not have otherwise.”

I remember sitting back behind Harry Mathis when they were voting on the ballpark, before he left, and talking about transportation in and out of there, and parking. Of course, that crowd maintained that if you didn’t have a lot of parking, people would just take public transit. Now we have all these people in these condominiums downtown frustrated because the streets are all jammed 80-some nights of the year because people haven’t taken public transit. They’re still out there looking for parking and crowding their streets.

If you’re going to put a stadium down there, you really need to take into account what the public is going to do here in San Diego, and not just assume that because they go to the ballpark in Pittsburgh and Boston and Cleveland and New York in a subway, that they’re necessarily going to do that here if you don’t provide parking for them.

Zenger’s: That was another one of the points we Cassandras were making, when they said, “If you don’t build the parking spaces, they’ll take the trolley.” Not! Not in southern California, they won’t.

Hadley: We’re spending a lot of money on a bridge across the harbor. I’m trying to think of how many millions that is now, but if you’re really getting serious about putting a stadium down there, then let’s make sure that all the infrastructure we’ve got for public walkability and transit and everything else flows together and connects. We need to do more coordinated activity, instead of having people out there paving a street, and then two weeks later we’re digging it up again to put in another utility line.

Also, if we’re going to expand the East Village — if we put a ballpark there at Wonderland or Wonder Bread — and then this requires that we have to build more restaurants and condominiums even father east — then what are we doing now with the residents who are living there now, and with the homeless people? When we buiit Petco, we just had the notion that the homeless were going to take care of themselves, or they were going to bleed in elsewhere, or they were going to scatter around the city. There really wasn’t a good plan for what was going to happen to them.

Now we’re having to deal with the fact that they’re not going to leave, in spite of the fact that we’ve built high-rise condominiums in their neighborhood and we’ve tried to crowd them out. Just look at the 15 acres of the Wonder Bread place. Look at the whole surrounding area and do a comprehensive plan for that community that works, before you build a piece of it and hope the rest of it will just gel.

Zenger’s: Another question: the new library.

Hadley: It’s one of those civic icons, civic symbols. Those of us who really appreciate books would argue that it’s the more books, the better; the larger the collection, the better; and all that. But at some point, I really think we’ve got to take care of what we’ve got out there in the library system first, and make sure we’re fully up to staffing and funding those. We’ve cut so many library hours now, it would be a shame to build something as nice as it would be downtown, and leave our libraries closed as much as they are out in the communities. And some of them are in dire need of repair.

Would I like to have a new library? Yes, I’d love to. I’d love to have a new car, I’d love to have a lot of things tonight. But I really think that the voters ought to get a say in all of this. I really hope that the voters get a say on whether there’s a new library, a new stadium, all this sort of stuff — unless somebody comes along with private funding and wants to help pay for it and it really doesn’t cost the voters a dime. Then maybe they’ll ask the voters about the design.

Zenger’s: One concern that was raised about your candidacy at the San Diego Democratic Club was that your Democratic opponent is much better known throughout the city, has much greater name recognition and a much larger donor base. That was one of the considerations that led the Democratic Club and the county Democratic party in endorsing him over you. How do you think your campaign can overcome those disadvantages, and contest not only the primary but also the general election against a Republican who will also be very well funded?

Hadley: That all assumes a number of things. Howard [Wayne] has been out of office longer than he was in office. He hasn’t run for a contested seat in 13 years. He’s been very involved in the party, and is well known in political circles, but he isn’t that well known in the community. He hasn’t been involved in civic groups and activities. He attends, and he belongs to community councils, but he hasn’t been out there involved in the life of the community.

I’m attached to the person who probably is best known in District 6, and still draws in 64, 65 percent of the vote when she runs for Council in that district. I can tell you from being out knocking on doors this past month that people still love her, and when I tell them that I’m her chief of staff and she can’t run any longer, so she’s endorsing me, there’s a very warm reception. I’ve got the community leaders who are recognized in the district lining up to endorse me, and I’m very appreciative about that.

I’m also talking to the Republicans. We’ve got about 34,000-35,000 registered Democrats in the district; about 27,000-28,000 Republicans; about 20,000 who are undecided, decline to state; and another 4,000-5,000 that are Green and every other party, American Independent. You’ve got a fairly good split between independents, Republicans and Democrats. So I’m out talking to the Republicans as well as the Democrats. The Republicans simply do not have a strong candidate yet. I’ve been saying that since June. I’m talking to leaders as well as elected officials in the Republican party, and they are talking to me.

So I’m quite hopeful that once we get through the primary, I’ll be the guy out there in the middle that’s appealing to a cross-section of voters, like I already am. I know what the talk is. I know what the blogs say, I know what the party conventional wisdom is. But the reality is the voters in District 6 are probably a pretty independent-minded group, more so than in some other districts. They are actually repulsed by the idea that somebody has made decisions for them. So if they ever get the sense that any group, any party, any collection of people has pre-ordained their choices, they’ll just go seeking someone that’s more independent.

Two Views of “Pirate Radio”

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTO: L to R, actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rhys Ifans and writer/director Richard Curtis on the set of Pirate Radio. (Alex Bailey/MCT; copyright © 2009.)


Frat-Boy Romp Through the British Invasion


“One boat, eight D.J.’s, no morals.” That’s how Pirate Radio, the new film by writer-director Richard Curtis, is being advertised. But though Pirate Radio is a work of fiction, it’s inspired by true events in Britain in the mid-1960’s. At the time, British rock bands — the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Yardbirds and others — were the most popular in the world; indeed, they sold so many records and drew so many concertgoers in the U.S. as well as the U.K. that they were known as the “British Invasion.” But the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) only broadcast rock ’n’ roll on the AM band two hours a day — and to serve a rock-hungry public a group of independent entrepreneurs hit on the idea of breaking the BBC’s monopoly and broadcasting all-rock programs from stations aboard ships, moored in international waters off the British coast and therefore at least theoretically out of the reach of British law.

At least that’s the legend the film tells. The BBC wasn’t as uniformly hostile to rock as it’s depicted in this movie. The Beatles themselves had a half-hour weekly program on the BBC, Pop Go the Beatles, in which they played not only their hits but material (mostly covers of 1950’s hits by their American heroes, including Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly and the Coasters) they never otherwise recorded — and in 1994 some of these songs were issued on CD’s and turned out to be among the most exciting and dynamic performances the Beatles ever gave. What the BBC did refuse to do was play rock ’n’ roll records for more than two hours a day. In the U.S. in the 1930’s and 1940’s U.S. radio stations had generally avoided playing commercial records, partly because the record companies didn’t want them to (the reasoning was that you wouldn’t buy a record if you could hear it on the air for free) and partly because they didn’t think records sounded good enough for the radio. Improvements in sound quality and the development of radio as a promotional medium for records changed all that in the U.S. in the 1950’s — but the BBC still clung to the idea that if they were going to broadcast rock at all, they were going to do it the old-fashioned way, with the musicians in their own studios performing in real time.

The inspiration of the pioneers of what came to be called “pirate radio” — not only because they were operating in defiance of British law but because they were literally doing so at sea — was not only to play rock records on the air but to copy the format of American Top 40 radio. That meant a high-energy presentation in which the disc jockeys wouldn’t just politely tell you what the song was called and who was playing it, the way the BBC’s announcers did; they’d practically scream out the titles and band names, carry on a running line of patter to project their own personalities and sometimes even talk over the music. It also meant that they would accept advertising and support themselves financially through commercials, the way American stations did. In her 1966 book on British rock, The Pop Makers, author Caroline Silver described how the most popular of the pirate stations, Radio Caroline — named after U.S. President Kennedy’s daughter and the real-life model for the fictitious “Radio Rock” in Pirate Radio — operated:

“Unlike licensed British radio stations, which do not broadcast commercials, Radio Caroline is a commercial station, accepting advertisements which are paid for at the rate of 100 pounds sterling ($280) a minute. With this money, Caroline operates two radio ships, Caroline North and Caroline South, from which it transmits continuous pop music interspersed with commercials. Since unlicensed broadcasting is not permitted on British territory, both the ships are moored in international waters, which means they must always be at least three miles out to sea. Caroline South lies off the southeast coast of England; Caroline North is moored in the Irish Sea near Liverpool. Their programs are enormously popular with British teenagers. The name ‘pirate’ was given to the radio ships by the press. In response, disc jockeys working on board the ships wear T-shirts with skulls and crossbones on them.”

The real Radio Caroline was powerful and well-heeled enough to run the Caroline Club, a fan club which gave it both extra promotion and an additional source of income in membership dues; and to promote live shows on the British mainland — including a November 1965 concert called Zowie One at the New Brighton Tower ballroom near Liverpool (one of the places the Beatles had played in the early days) in which 11 bands, including the well-known Yardbirds, played for free in exchange for promotion on Radio Caroline. The movie “Radio Rock” is a considerably raunchier operation, in which — unlike the real pirate D.J.’s — the fictional ones hardly ever leave the ship. It comes off as less a radio station — even a counter-cultural one — than a giant, ongoing frat party at sea. The plot of Pirate Radio intersperses three story lines: the coming-of-age story of young naïf Carl (Tom Sturridge), who’s sent to the station’s ship by his hyper-sexual mother Charlotte (Emma Thompson); the rivalries among the D.J.’s themselves — particularly the charismatic Gavin Cavanaugh (Rhys Ifans) and “The Count” (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an American expat hired by Radio Rock to give their programs the authentic U.S. “feel” they were aiming for; and the efforts of the British government to shut down the pirate stations.

The real 1960’s pirate D.J.’s were regularly ferried back and forth between the radio ships and dry (British) land, where they got to socialize, hang out in pubs and generally have normal lives. The movie D.J.’s are a bunch of horny straight guys trapped on the ship almost 24/7 with only one female — a Lesbian cook named Felicity (Katherine Parkinson) — and supplied with food, drink and sex only at two-week intervals when a launch comes to the ship bearing women. Among the ship’s permanent residents are the self-consciously aristocratic owner Quentin (Bill Nighy), whom Carl at one point thinks is his father. (Asked by one of the D.J.’s who his dad was, Carl laconically says, “Some guy who fucked my mum one night and left without leaving a thank-you or an address.”) The assorted D.J.’s include Dave (Nick Frost), who takes on the task of getting Carl his first chance at sex — an effort which ends a good deal better for Dave than Carl when he comes between him and nice-girl Marianne (Talulah Riley), Quentin’s niece and the woman Carl really wants but is too scared to ask.

The forces of authority are led by Cabinet minister Sir Alistair Dormandy (an almost unrecognizable Kenneth Branagh) and his assistants, Twatt (Jack Davenport) and Miss C (Sinèad Matthews) — in the original draft of the script she was called “Miss Clit” but Curtis blessedly decided that two characters whose names were sexual innuendi were at least one too many. Coming off as refugees from Monty Python (whose initial run on BBC-TV started in 1969, three years after the prime of pirate radio), these three are caricatures of the evil authority figures common in rock ’n’ roll movies. Dormandy is a social reactionary who wants to impose his own preference for classical music on the entire country, and he’s also sufficiently screwed-up sexually that he continually talks about wanting to “grab the testicles” of the radio pirates and squeeze them.

The conceit that there’s an ongoing battle for the soul of radio between elitists who want to stick the public with boring classical music and down-to-earth folks who want to give audiences the pop they want is as old as the 1943 movie Reveille with Beverly — also based on a real-life radio personality (a woman named Jean Hay who broadcast a swing-music show to American servicemembers in World War II) and also refusing to acknowledge the possibility that there might be some people out there who like both classical and pop. It’s an especially ironic plot gimmick for a movie set in 1960’s Britain, where many of the rockers drew on the classics for inspiration (Paul McCartney wrote a piccolo trumpet into “Penny Lane” after he heard one in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, and Procol Harum turned a Bach organ chorale into “A Whiter Shade of Pale”) and were quite proud of themselves for doing so.

There’s another older movie that has a similar authorities-vs.-youth conflict over music, and it was also both made and set in Britain: It’s Trad, Dad! (released in the U.S. as Ring-a-Ding Rhythm), a 1962 production directed by Richard Lester and drawing on the same cheeky sensibilities as his later films with the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night and Help! In some ways it’s even cheekier than Pirate Radio — complete with a narrator who takes an active part in the action — made during a time when film censorship was considerably stricter in both the U.K. and the U.S. and the kind of sexual content splashed across the screen in Pirate Radio would have been inconceivable. Nonetheless, Pirate Radio (released in Britain — and listed on the Web site — as The Boat That Rocked, a more ambiguous title) is quite likable, a rambunctious romp, nicely acted and so ferociously energetic that though it’s relatively long (135 minutes) it doesn’t seem padded, as so many two-hour-plus movies these days do.

Pirate Radio is being sold as a star vehicle for Philip Seymour Hoffman, probably because he won the Academy Award for playing the title role of Capote, but it’s really an ensemble film. Certainly Hoffman’s role as the grizzled “Count” is as far from the nattily dressed, queeny Truman Capote as could be imagined — a nice tribute to the actor’s versatility — but Rhys Ifans’ Gavin is a more striking and more charismatic character. (Ifans previously starred in a charming Australian import from 2004 called Danny Deckchair, in which he’s a proletarian loser whose life changes when he equips his deck chair with helium balloons and flies: a live-action precursor to the recent computer-animated hit Up.) As Carl, Tom Sturridge is perfectly cast, attractive but sufficiently guileless that we can believe he’s still a virgin when the action starts — and Emma Thompson delivers a force-of-nature performance as his mom, making an indelible impression in just five minutes of screen time. Bill Nighy is O.K. as Quentin — though I couldn’t help but wish Curtis had cast Branagh in this role and got Monty Python veteran John Cleese to play Dormandy — and of the three “baddies” it’s Jack Davenport’s Twatt who makes the strongest impression, projecting the character’s bullying nature as well as his fear of losing his job if he can’t figure out a legal way to get Radio Rock and its pirate brethren off the air.

Though Curtis draws on many real-life incidents involving the pirate radio ships for plot elements — including an on-air marriage of one of the D.J.’s and a shipwreck scene he directs in what appears to be a deliberate parody of the James Cameron Titanic — the most moving plot element is the dramatization of just how powerfully the pirate stations reached their audience and built a sense of community. Early on in the film Curtis shows a young boy sneaking a portable radio out of his dresser drawer and keeping it under his pillow so he can listen to Radio Rock clandestinely while his parents think he’s sleeping — a scene Curtis remembered from his own childhood. Throughout the film Curtis cuts between the broadcasting activities aboard Radio Rock’s ship and people of various ages and stations in life listening to them and cherishing the D.J.’s as virtual friends. (Even the station’s newscaster, played by Will Adamsdale as the expected WKRP in Cincinnati nerd stereotype, seems to spend more time talking about the doings of the D.J.’s than anything that’s happening outside the ship.) This powerful sense of rock ’n’ roll radio as a community builder — immortalized in the 1960’s by songs like Bob Seger’s “Heavy Music” and Lou Reed’s “Rock ’n’ Roll” — is, more than anything else, what makes Pirate Radio more than just a raunchy comedy with an intriguing premise.

The ending of Pirate Radio portrays the battle between the pirates and the authorities as one in which the pirates lost the battle but won the war. Curtis doesn’t tell us that the British government’s response to pirate radio was both to beat them and join them; while Parliament was passing the Marine Offences Act to make the pirate broadcasters illegal, the BBC was creating a 24-hour rock channel, Radio One, and even hiring some of the pirate stations’ star D.J.’s — including Radio Caroline’s Johnny Walker (real-life model for “The Count”) and Radio London’s John Peel. Nor does he mention that the real crusader against pirate radio in the British government wasn’t a cookie-cutter Right-winger like the fictional Dormandy; he was Tony Benn, a radical socialist in the Labor Party (he’d been born into an aristocratic family as Anthony Wedgwood-Benn but had cut down his name to match his Leftist politics). Curtis’ final credits boast that there are now half a million radio stations in the world playing rock and pop full-time, but in his zeal for an affirmative ending he ignores just how homogenized and dull commercial rock radio has become; a little over a decade after Seger and Reed penned their songs about the power and community of broadcast rock, the best songs about rock on the air were cynical anti-commercialist diatribes like Elvis Costello’s “Radio, Radio” and the Clash’s “Capital Radio.”

Nonetheless, Pirate Radio is a dazzling film, a fun romp that manages to put a fresh spin on the hoary old clichés of the rock ’n’ roll movie and make some pretty well-worn situations seem new and amusing. Occasionally Curtis seems to have written his script around the music — one gets the impression the film uses “Marianne” and “Elenor” as character names just because there were songs from the period with those titles — but with strong, vital music like this that’s not a problem. Ironically, the songs by American acts — the Beach Boys, Turtles, Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding, Aaron Neville and the Box Tops — seem to hold up at least marginally better than the ones by the Brits, the Kinks and the Who excepted. But there are enough music cues in this film that if they included all of them on the soundtrack CD, it would be a boxed set. Though one could imagine an even more interesting film with the 1960’s radio pirates as its basis, this one is quite entertaining and well worth your while.


Something for Everyone

by D J CEE

Pirate Radio has something for everyone. Saying some thing like this is usually lazy and evasive, but this film really does have just about everything.

(Full disclosure: I was a D.J. on Free Radio San Diego for about five years and was asked to do this review because I might have a unique take. This movie is about a very different time, and my pirate experiences only vaguely resemble the fictionalized history Pirate Radio offers.)

Let’s check everything off and be sure that Pirate Radio does have something for everyone.

Sex: Yes, plenty; about as much as you can have in an R-rated film and still have time for anything else. (While the gigantic popularity of Radio Caroline, the main inspiration for the film, might have given the D.J.’s an edge with women, a man today would have better luck being in the worst band in town than being a pirate D.J.)

Heartbreak: Yes. One D.J.’s marriage collapses as soon as it begins. (See also sex.)

Coming of age/Journey of Discovery: Yes. Much of the film focuses on a young man just expelled from school, who for no rational reason ends up living on the pirate radio ship. He also loses his virginity. (See also sex.)

Violence/Catastrophe: Not much in the way of violence, personal violence. There’s a rivalry between D.J.’s that approaches insanity. The real action comes toward the end. There’s a police raid (something too familiar to radio pirates today) that puts you on the edge of the seat. The real action comes at the end in a shipwreck that draws on The Poseidon Adventure and Titanic.

Comedy: Yes. Lots. Sometimes just right. Sometimes a bit jarring: the Pythonesque scenes of Kenneth Branagh as the government minister working to close down pirate radio just try too hard.

Now while it’s fun to dissect a movie, you will have much more fun seeing this one. It will make you talk to your friends. You’ll wonder why some things are unavoidable on radio while others are entirely absent. You’ll remember times that you got together with others for a purpose.

Perhaps more than the sex, catastrophe, comedy or great ensemble acting, this movie is about the power of music. Even if you don’t like rock ’n’ roll, or any sort of popular music, you have almost certainly been under the spell of a musician. Screaming, hollering, running around in front of the bandstand (or the pulpit) demonstrates the power of music. Falling into a trance at a piano recital demonstrates music’s power. Risking prison, confiscations, and astronomical fines just to broadcast makes music’s hold on us plain. Celebrating the power of music and uncensored speech is what pirate radio is all about. Happily, it’s what this movie is about.