Sunday, January 31, 2010

Prohibitionist Mentality at Santa Cruz City Council

Photo: Citizen Fitmaurice attends the 2oth anniversary remembrance of the October 17th, 1989 Earthquake in front of the Santa Cruz Post Office. Fitzmaurice was on the council in 2000 when the original medical marijuana dispensary ordinance was written. Photo by Becky Johnson

by Becky Johnson
January 31, 2010

Santa Cruz, CA. -- What's up with "marijuana-friendly" Santa Cruz? Five years after Prop 215 passed, the Santa Cruz City Council passed an ordinance to regulate dispensaries. Five years AFTER passage, and TEN YEARS after passage of Prop 215, the first dispensary, Greenway, opened. Since then, two other dispensaries have opened. One opened in the downtown area, but was shut down by the City in less than a month. The second, opened with permits and is still in operation. That's two dispensaries, and both are doing a brisk business. In cash-strapped Santa Cruz, many have thought of regulating and taxing marijuana as a way to boost sagging budgets. But few who are thinking along those lines actually hold a seat on the City Council.

And this, despite clear indications in February by the Justice Department, that the DEA would no longer enforce marijuana eradication efforts in States which have legalized such activities. On October 19, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder put it in writing. So why the delay?

The Santa Cruz Sentinel published news of the desire to extend a moratorium on new dispensaries by the planning department in an article by J.M. Brown entitled "Santa Cruz medical marijuana advocate urges city to rule on plan for new dispensary" on January 31, 2010 tells the tale of Stuart Kriege who completed his application to open a medical marijuana dispensary on the West Side of Santa Cruz. After 8 years of the intractable Bush Administration leaving in its wake arrests, crop seizures, and an array of charges or just seizures, the cannabis friendlies sensed that change from the Obama Administration would result in a less prohibitionist mentality. However, that is all that applicant Kriege was experiencing.

"Despite Kriege's plea, the City Council unanimously extended the ban for four months and 15 days so planners could verify whether there was a need for additional dispensaries. A city survey found a quarter of buyers at the existing clubs live outside Santa Cruz County."

Now one can wonder at how the City managed to survey pot buyers. People are disinclined to give their home address, and the information given to the provider is confidential. And since when has the City been concerned about visitors coming from outside Santa Cruz County to our environs to buy any other product? How would City Planners determine if there was a need anyway? People again, in an atmosphere of criminalization of selected substances, are unlikely to volunteer what their future marijuana buying habits are likely to be. And haven't City Planners had enough time already? At what point does a delay become a de facto ban?

"Council members also want planners to ensure Kriege's proposed shop and the two local clubs meet state and local regulations, including operating like nonprofit organizations."

Again, this is puzzling. The ordinance written in 2000, does provide minute detail for operating a dispensary. Two centers are currently operating, presumably within State and local laws, and structured as non-profits, so why the confusion? And why do we even PAY these planners? They sound like speedbumps. Costly speedbumps.

"the City Council has to weigh expanding legal access to pot at a time of increasing anxiety about drug- and gang-related violence."

So irrational fear, driven by an anti-marijuana prohibitionist mentality reigns supreme at the leftmost City Council. Nevermind that neither dispensary currently open has had any gang associations whatsoever, and a well-run dispensary would put drug-dealing street gangs out of business and customers would vote with their feet.

"Still, city planners said they need more time to make a recommendation about expanding regulations on dispensaries. The current ban was set to expire Feb. 8. Planners first asked
for a ban last June after receiving near daily inquiries about opening pot clubs -- as interest sparked by an announcement from the Obama administration that California
dispensaries would no longer be targeted by federal drug agents. Only Kriege has
pursued a formal permit request.
Several council members said they agreed to give planners more time to ensure that dispensaries don't operate at a hefty profit, given that medical marijuana is supposed to be a low-cost enterprise."

BECKY: This is the opposite of what they have actually said. They have urged operators to charge the same amount of money as black market street prices so that buyers are disinclined to sell it once they get it. Technically the dispensaries are not supposed to profit, but quite a bit of money does change hands. For budget-starved Santa Cruzans paying a very high sales tax and facing cuts in services, taxing marijuana seems a logical solution.

The ordinance doesn't say anything about the price, other than that they must provide it to anyone eligible, even if they can't afford it. (I am unaware of any other non-profit in Santa Cruz which is required to give away product!) Both dispensaries have attempted to supply grass to low-income folks including a discount and 'compassion baggies' which they give away.

"My primary concern is that our local ordinance and state law seemed to me to say a dispensary can only be a co-op or collective," Councilman Don Lane said. "Both models are democratically controlled and member-oriented."

Don is behind the times. Owners quickly re-organized their operations to fit the cooperative or collective model. Buyers show proof of their medical eligibility, and agree to a set of terms. They then join the collective, thus complying with State Law. But apparently Don needs more time to figure this out. None of the reasons proposed make the slightest sense. The dispensaries have not generated a single call for service, not surprising considering that the ordinance requires a uniformed security guard to be on the premises during hours of operation (again adding to the costs which no other business or non-profit is required to do).

I can't imaging that GREENWAY is "democratically controlled" either. Owner, Lisa Molyneaux, invested her life savings to open the doors. A buyer coming to score some bud hardly has the same say about how it is run. Perhaps DON LANE just doesn't like smokers, no matter their brand. In September, the council, led by LANE passed a sweeping anti-smoking ban that criminalized burning any combustible substance.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Poor Science by the CDC and HHS on Second Hand Smoke

Man openly defies the smoking ban on Pacific Ave.
January 10, 2010 -photo by Becky Johnson

Editors Note: On June 16th of 2009, Laurie Lang testified before the ad hoc Outdoor Smoking Task Force headed by Santa Cruz City Councilmembers Ryan Coonerty, Mike Rotkin, and Don Lane, As the representative of the Santa Cruz County Department of Health she made the following claim:

"There are hidden costs to smoking. Three years after Pueblo, CO instituted its smoking ban, a 40% drop in emergency room visits for heart problems was recorded."

But is it true? That seems a very dramatic drop in emergency room visits based on banning second hand smoke in restaurants and bars? Yet, here was an expert, a paid professional health spokesman, reminicient of the flouride is good for our teeth people. Filled with their own authority and lulling the populace into thinking that solid science is behind these claims. Well, just as I suspected, it's not. But it takes a Medical doctor who has been studying the effects of tobacco on the human body for 20 years as a scientist, and is currently a professor at a university teaching social and behavioral sciences, to read the studies, look at the data, and ask what turn out to be very reasonable questions any thinking person should have asked.---Becky Johnson, Editor

"I am a physician who specialized in preventive medicine and public health. I am now a professor in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department, Boston University School of Public Health. I have 20 years of experience in tobacco control, primarily as a researcher. My areas of research interest include the health effects of secondhand smoke, policy aspects of regulating smoking in public places, effects of cigarette marketing on youth smoking behavior, and the evaluation of tobacco control program and policy interventions."

--- Michael Siegel, Boston, Ma.

CDC: Pueblo Smoking Ban Reduced Heart Attacks by 41%, Due Mostly to Decreased Secondhand Smoke Exposure; But Conclusions are Biased and Invalid

by Dr. Michael Siegel
January 5, 2010

Published at: The Rest of the Story
Tobacco News Analysis and Study
found online at:

In a new study published in the current issue of MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports), researchers from Colorado and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have concluded that the smoking ban in Pueblo, Colorado caused a 41% reduction in heart attacks during the three years following its implementation, primarily due to a reduction in secondhand smoke exposure associated with the ban (see: Alsever RN, et al. Reduced Hospitalizations for Acute Myocardial Infarction After Implementation of a Smoke-Free Ordinance --- City of Pueblo, Colorado, 2002--2006. MMWR 2009; 57(51);1373-1377).

The study compared the rate of hospitalizations for acute myocardial infarction (heart attacks) in the city of Pueblo with similar rates in Pueblo county (outside of Pueblo) and El Paso county (which includes Colorado Springs) for the 18-month period prior to the implementation of Pueblo's smoking ban and for the two 18-month periods following the smoking ban, which was implemented in July 2003. While there was no significant reduction in heart attack admissions for Pueblo or El Paso counties, there was a reduction in the heart attack rate of 19% and 41% from pre-implementation to the first and second post-implementation periods, respectively, in the city of Pueblo.

The study concludes: "These findings suggest that smoke-free policies can result in reductions in AMI [acute myocardial infarction] hospitalizations that are sustained over a 3-year period and that these policies are important in preventing morbidity and mortality associated with heart disease. This effect likely is mediated through reduced SHS [secondhand smoke] exposure among nonsmokers and reduced smoking, with the former making the larger contribution."

The Rest of the Story

Before you jump to any conclusions here (something the study did prematurely), consider this: let's accept the study's conclusion as correct - that smoking bans do lead to a dramatic, immediate reduction in heart attacks, in part because of a large reduction in smoking prevalence. Let's suppose that you want to demonstrate this "fact" by showing that compared to a similar city, heart attack rates in the city with the smoking ban fell substantially more after the ban was implemented.

Now you have to choose a comparison city. You have two choices, with the following information available about the smoking prevalence changes in those cities from pre-implementation to post-implementation:

City A - The smoking prevalence increased from 19% to 24%.
City B - The smoking prevalence remained relatively unchanged, dropping only from 24% to 23%.

Which city would you choose as the comparison city?

If you choose city B, you would be justified. There was little change in smoking prevalence, which mirrored the changes nationally during that time period, so one could argue that this is a reasonable comparison group.

If you choose city A, where there was a large increase in smoking prevalence, you are going to expect to see an increase in heart attacks due to the rise in smoking alone. This is going to artificially reduce any secular decline in heart attacks occurring in the comparison city and bias your results towards finding a larger decline in heart attacks in the city with the smoking ban.

A researcher who chose city A as the comparison city would certainly be suspected of having intentionally biased the results towards finding an effect of the smoking ban on heart attacks.

The last thing in the world that you want for a comparison city is one in which there was actually an increase in smoking prevalence, defying all odds about what the national trends in smoking are throughout the nation.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what this study does: it knowingly uses a comparison county in which it has been documented that the smoking prevalence over the study period has increased from 17.4% to 22.3%.

The study doesn't try to hide this fact. It openly acknowledges that the reported smoking prevalence in El Paso County (the comparison group) increased from 17.4% in 2002-2003 to 22.3% in 2004-2005.

Given this finding, El Paso County simply cannot be used as a comparison population. You can't take a population in which you know that smoking prevalence increased substantially and "pretend" that it represents a reasonable area in which to evaluate the baseline secular trends in heart attack admission rates that would have occurred in the smoking ban city in the absence of the smoking ban.

Of course you are going to find that the rate of heart attacks in El Paso County did not decline all that much, given the increase in smoking. El Paso County is clearly not going to give you a good, representative picture of what the actual secular trend in heart attack admissions is.

Now if smoking rates throughout the country had increased substantially during the same time period, one could argue that El Paso county is representative of the nation as a whole, or of Colorado as a whole. But clearly, the trends in smoking reported in El Paso are an anomaly - they are very different from the rest of the nation and from Colorado, where we know that smoking has continued to decline during the study period.

While I am not arguing here that the study intentionally used El Paso county in order to try to create the finding of a smoking ban effect on heart attacks, the fact that the study failed to even consider this problem suggests to me that there is a great deal of bias inherent in the paper. Yes, I do think that the study wanted to find an effect of the smoking ban and that it lost its neutrality somewhere in the process. It's natural to want to see the positive effects of a public health policy. But you have to separate your desires from the science itself. More about that later.

Another important problem is the other comparison group that was used: the rest of Pueblo county. Since this area is directly adjacent to Pueblo, which is the one city in this area, it would be expected that many residents of Pueblo county work in, and/or spend time in Pueblo, including eating in restaurants in the city. Thus, one would expect that if the smoking ban reduced heart attack rates, it would reduce rates among Pueblo county residents as well. It's not like those residents were somehow shielded from the intervention.

For this reason, the study should have combined the heart attack admissions from Pueblo and Pueblo county. Doing this, the reduction in the heart attack rate from pre-implementation to the second post-implementation period is 33%, rather than 41%.

Two logical comparison groups that one would want to consider are the state of Colorado as a whole and the nation as a whole. Heart attack admission rates for Colorado during the approximate period of the study (2002-2005) dropped by 18.4%. For the United States as a whole, the heart attack admission rate dropped by 17.2% during this period.

It is quite a different situation to claim that the smoking ban in Pueblo reduced heart attacks by 41% (because there was no significant decline in the inappropriate comparison county of El Paso) than it is to view the whole picture, and see that a 33% decline in heart attacks in Pueblo must be compared with about an 18% drop throughout the state of Colorado and a 17% decline nationally during the same time period.

The fact that these comparisons were not made is problematic, since the data are readily available (it took me about half hour to access and run the numbers). Why wouldn't the study want to look at the statewide trends in Colorado, rather than simply rely on the biased control group of El Paso county? In 30 minutes, the study could have determined that there was an impressive 18% decline in heart attacks in the whole state during the study period, thus making it clear that the present conclusion of the study is inaccurate.

The bottom line is that the study fails to appropriately determine the baseline secular trends in heart attacks in order to be able to judge the differences observed in Pueblo from the trends that would have been expected in the absence of the smoking ban. For this reason, the study cannot conclude that the observed changes in heart attacks are due to the smoking ban, rather than to other changes that took place over time, including changes in medications being used to treat heart disease, better diagnosis and more aggressive treatment of heart disease, and a substantial decline in smoking prevalence in Pueblo county during the study period, which may or may not be due to the smoking ban itself.

More troubling to me than the fact that the study draws a conclusion that is premature and inadequately supported by the data is the appearance of bias in the study. Not only in the choice of a comparison community where smoking prevalence dramatically increased during the study period, but also in the conclusion itself.

Even if we stipulate that the smoking ban did cause the decline in heart attacks, how can the study possibly conclude that the effect was due primarily to reduced secondhand smoke exposure? The study made no attempt to determine the smoking status of the heart attack victims, so there is no evidence that the reduction in heart attacks occurred primarily among nonsmokers. Neither did the study measure changes in population-based exposure to secondhand smoke.

Moreover, the study itself documents that there was a substantial decline in smoking prevalence in Pueblo county during the study period, from 25.9% to 20.6%. Wouldn't this documented decline in active smoking prevalence be the presumed major reason for the observed decline in heart attacks, as opposed to reductions in secondhand smoke exposure? At very least, wouldn't a study simply remark that both mechanisms may be operating, but that it can't be determined to what extent each is contributing?

The fact that the study concludes that it must primarily be the secondhand smoke reduction is curious. The fact that the editorial note of the study begins by claiming that evidence shows that brief secondhand smoke exposure can trigger a heart attack is revealing. If you look at the report to which that claim refers (the 2006 Surgeon General's report), you will not find any conclusion that brief secondhand smoke exposure triggers heart attacks. And you certainly won't find any evidence in that report that if we reduce secondhand smoke exposure, we can reduce heart attacks triggered by secondhand smoke exposure.

You may remember that I have previously called attention to the poor science by CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services in their communications regarding the acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke, when they went out on a limb, against the advice of respected and expert scientists in the tobacco control field, and told the public that brief secondhand smoke exposure is enough to trigger heart attacks, cause heart disease, and cause lung cancer.

It seems odd that even if we stipulate that the overall conclusion of the study is valid (that the smoking ban caused a dramatic reduction in heart attacks in Pueblo), the study would emphasize that the effect must be primarily due to the reduction in secondhand smoke and thus a reduction in heart attacks among nonsmokers that would have otherwise been triggered by brief secondhand smoke exposures in restaurants or other public places.

Even if I were writing this editorial as a highly biased advocate, I would have simply concluded that the effect is likely due to the combination of a reduction in smoking prevalence and a reduction in secondhand smoke, but that the study provides no way of teasing out the degree to which these two phemomena are operating.

In fact, given the large decline in smoking prevalence reported in Pueblo county, even the above conclusion seems biased, since it is clear that if the effect were real, the smoking prevalence reduction would likely have been a major reason.

The study goes overboard not only in its overall conclusion, but in its attempt to paint these data as somehow proving that eating in a smoky restaurant for a half hour is causing lots of people to keel over from heart attacks. The study does nothing of the sort.

Let me finish by emphasizing that I would like nothing more than to have strong evidence presented that smoking bans are resulting in immediate and dramatic reductions in heart attacks. As I have devoted much of my life's work to promoting smoking bans, especially in bars and restaurants, it would bring a great sense of fulfillment to now that these policies are immediately saving lives and that we can document these acute effects.

However, I am first a scientist and I believe that in public health, our conclusions must be based on solid science, not just on conjecture or our deeply felt desire to see the success of our policies.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Downtown--music by Petula Clark, lyrics by HUFF


(music by Petula Clark, lyrics by HUFF)

1.When you're alone and rents are making you homeless, you can always go...Downtown.
When you're laid off, all the cops and their friends will move you to and fro...Downtown.
Just try and find musicians who will still play in the city.
Linger on the sidewalk and the police will say "no sitting"...How can you win?
The fines are much higher there; they have forgotten you live here, forgotten they care...
When you're Downtown--there's lot of hate for you; Downtown--it's not so great for you
Downtown--tickets are waiting for you.

2.Don't hang around and let the squad cars surround you, it's no movie show...Downtown.
Try to sit down and then the hosts will remind you that it's time to go...Downtown.
Just listen to the blaring of the motorcycles raging;
Salute and show your papers or it's you they'll be a cagin'....Spanging again...
The crowds are much whiter there; they just walk past all your troubles, step over your cares
When you're Downtown, with all the shops uptight; Downtown lit up and so rich and bright;
Downtown--uniforms watching for you

3. When you stand up for the wretched and homeless, cops will drag you down...Downtown.
They'll tell you shut up or face the weekend in lock-up, 'cause the merchants own..Downtown
Yet you may find somebody poor like you to understand you.
Someone who is getting screwed and needs a helping hand to stand and be strong.
So maybe we'll face them there, we'll stand up to the bullshit; let bullies beware!
When we're Downtown, things will be real when we're Downtown,
Don't let 'em steal our rights. Downtown let's stand together and fight..
Downtown...stand your ground...Downtown...stand your ground.

4. Stop and speak out when the cops use bad laws to drive the poor away...Downtown.
Ring out the alarm when the gunsels with badges turn the sunlight grey..Downtown.
Raise the price of tyranny for those who run the city.
Spark a new resistance to the petty and the shitty, What's there to lose?
It's better than hiding out; it's time to wake up and boogie, to stand up and shout...
That this Downtown--it's all for here tonight; Downtown--not just for rich and white;
Downtown let's find the strength to do right.

5. Remember what counts--that the sidewalks belong to everyone who goes...Downtown
The rich and their cops may have the lawbooks but we're right to go...Downtown
Don't run away from thugs today, whatever badge they're wearing
It's time to care and time to dare to make this life worth bearing--Take back the joy!
Yes, maybe we'll face them there. we can't forget all our troubles but we'll share all our cares
When we're Downtown--things will be real when you're...Downtown
Don't let them steal your rights; Downtown, drag the truth into the light.

6. Time to get down and shout out to the merchants till they hear our call--Downtown.
Stand up and stay strong; let your dollars speak louder, when you walk the mall--Downtown.
Picketing bad business shops is all that we are urgin'.
Raise the cry to those who lie and stop your friends fron splurgin', 'til there's a change...
If all of us stand as one, we'll beat back the bigots and still have some fun
When we're downtown...don't shop where bigots feed--Downtown
Say no to merchant greed; Downtown--People, let's find a new way.

7. Billions for war, and the homeless get blamed for everything that's wrong--Downtown.
Harass them some more to make them scurry along--that's the new merchant song--Downtown
Disappear the benches; make the laws a little meaner.
Add new nasty police patrols to make scared souls feel cleaner...Yo, what's that smell?
The stench of hypocrisy; the cheap Xmas lights can't disguise what you see..
That this Downtown--where poor folks are second class.
Downtown, with cops shoving homeless ass... Downtown---Time to say no and be free.

(note: these new lyrics were first sung on Jan 6, 2010 by HUFF members, just prior to ticketing)

8. Where are the songs on the sidewalk today?...the best have gone away— from Downtown
A single complaint will have the cops out to send the singers on their way—Downtown
Sing a song of protest just outside the local bookshop
Music with a message means a steep fine---makes the poor stop
Singing their tale.
So stop singing your doubt, you'll see bigots on phones
All calling cops out
To come downtown—
muz-zel-ing those they fear
Downtown—don't want your kind SO near,
Downtown---watch uniforms smother our dreams

9. They don't give their names, but the cops tell the singers—"You!--Be on your way!" Downtown
“We've had a complaint, so you must stop your singing at this spot today.” Downtown
Everyone around you may appreciate the groovin'
One heckler 's veto gives the cops excuse to get you movin'
In spite of the law
The police don't give a damn, which Constitution they're shredding
It's all quite a sham.
When you're downtown—shame on the fear that rules
Downtown—bad laws from frightened fools
Downtown— Sing Out and Recover Your Dreams
Downtown—Grinding Us Down;. Downtown—Silencing Sounds. Downtown.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Politics of the Playground

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

by Chris Snowdon

PHOTO: Man openly violates the smoking ban
on Pacific Ave. January 10, 2010

found online at:

Like many a political leader before him, the Mayor of Santa Cruz is learning that when it comes to tobacco, nothing you do is ever good enough to satisfy the prohibitionists.

As reported previously, Santa Cruz recently enforced an outdoor smoking ban to go along with its many other anti-smoking laws. Santa Cruz resident Ethan Epstein describes how 'comprehensive' these bans are:

In this bastion of “tolerance,” smoking has been banned throughout all indoor public spaces, outdoor dining areas, parks, beaches, and downtown thoroughfares. My (exorbitantly overpriced) apartment building has imposed a smoking ban that even covers private residences.

I don’t smoke, but my girlfriend does, and she is forced to shiver in the bitter – for California – cold when she wants to light up. That smell wafting into your apartment is not cigarette smoke: it’s illiberalism and intolerance.

And what does the American Lung Association in California (ALAC) do to reward Santa Cruz's slavish devotion to the anti-smoking cause? It awards the city a 'D' in its Tobacco Report Card.

Treating this arbitary rating system with absurd high seriousness, ALAC spokesman Paul Knepprath said the city was oh-so-close to getting a 'C'.

Paul Knepprath, vice president for advocacy and health initiatives with the American Lung Association in California, said although Santa Cruz city code identifies "smoke" as a public nuisance, the wording isn't strong enough.

Knepprath said if the code specifically referred to second-hand tobacco smoke, it would have meant an additional bonus point, which after the errors were fixed, would raise the overall grade.

"That's how close it was," he said.

In other words, Santa Cruz could have only got a 'C' if its politicians lied and said that smoking outdoors posed a health risk to nonsmokers. There is, of course, no evidence for this.

What makes all this funnier, is that the Mayor has taken the news very badly indeed and has started throwing his toys out the pram. He scribbled an angry letter to the ALAC, saying...

"This is ridiculous and, frankly, it does not motivate me to press my City Council colleagues to take further action to reduce smoking: quite the reverse."

Quite the reverse? You mean you're going to take action to increase smoking just because the ALAC hurt your feelings?

"I feel we are being abused and that the rating system is clearly a fraud and meaningless."

And Mayor Rotkin was still throwing a hissy-fit when the press caught up with him...

"Frankly, it makes me so angry I don't ever want to talk to these people again," he said in an interview.

Is this the level of school-yard politics we've be reduced to? Draconian laws being introduced to impress the bigger boys and then petulant name-calling when they don't get the pat on the head they feel they deserve?

I don't claim to be an expert on local politics in America, but aren't politicians supposed to be acting in the interests of their electorate rather than trying to to earn gold stars from out-of-town single-issue campaigners? Rotkin's reaction makes it pretty clear that climbing up a league table comes ahead of serving his electorate.

Rotkin himself is a rum fellow. He teaches 'Community Studies' at the University of California ("yes, I think I will have fries with that"). This includes an Introduction to Marxism, which I'm sure he teaches in a balanced and reasoned way, as you would expect from someone who edited The Socialist Review for ten years, describes himself as a "Marxist-Feminist" and lists his interests as...

Marxist theory, capitalist system, community power structure, institutional analysis, and affirmative action.

According to Discover the Networks:

Rotkin's ideals are outlined in his 1991 PhD thesis (entitled Class, Populism, and Progressive Politics: Santa Cruz, California 1970 - 1982), which describes his stealth strategy to implement socialism in the United States. A chapter from this thesis, titled "A Three-Part Strategy for Democratic Socialism," currently serves as an assigned reading for his "Introduction to Marxism" course.

Part one of this strategy is Grassroots Organizing, which means finding groups with grievances against society and helping them to "wrest concessions," as he phrased it in his thesis. Borrowing from Saul Alinsky's tactics, Rotkin advocates hiding his true socialist agenda from the people he helps while "preparing the ground" for subsequent stages.

I don't wish to offend the good people of Santa Cruz who have elected him as Mayor four times, but from where I'm sitting this man sounds like an asshole.

And it gets better. Mayor Rotkin - who, let's say again, has banned smoking outdoors - is a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Is this guy for real, or what?

It's interesting to note that Santa Cruz's recent outdoor bans were brought in to curry favour with the ALAC after getting a 'D' last year.

The city received a "D" for 2008, which partially prompted the council to pass the ban on smoking along Pacific Avenue, West Cliff Drive, the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf and other public sites. The ordinance, which took effect in October, expanded earlier prohibitions against smoking in restaurants and in lines for movies and concerts.

All of which makes last year's debate over whether or not to bring in these bans look like a bit of a charade. Policy seems to be being dictated by unelected pressure groups rather than the council. The silver lining is that the ALAC seem to have gone too far this time and alienated the childish and self-absorbed politicians upon whom they rely. I predict Santa Cruz will be getting a 'C' sometime soon.

Thanks to Becky for the tip

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sing a Song, Go to Jail?

Photo: Officers Schoenfeld and Inouye interview a suspect accused of singing on Pacific Ave. January 6, 2010. The suspect was cited for "listening" to HUFF singers.

by Becky Johnson
January 08 2010

Santa Cruz, Ca. -- They say that "Let it Snow," one of the most popular Christmas songs in American history, was written by two Jews during a record heat wave in Hollywood and doesn't mention Christmas at all. Likewise when a few HUFF members decided to to sing a new song (to us, anyway)the sun was shining brightly and folks were walking along Pacific Ave. in tee-shirts. Yet in a town actually called the Leftmost City, two Santa Cruz police officers were chilling freedom of speech by issuing four $445 tickets to four people singing "Let it Snow".

SCPD Officer Schoenfeld #159 interrupted our first attempt at "Let it Snow"
and told us she'd received a complaint of excessive noise.

"They're happy with you protesting, they just said you were a little loud. They were willing to sign a citation. I'd rather not do that.
" Since we were in one of the two "free speech" zones on Pacific Avenue, not playing amplified music which requires a permit, singing, and engaged in 1st amendment activities , and hadn't been very loud, the charge seemed odd. Of course in America, any citizen can sue anyone about anything, or so we're told.

"An elderly couple are in one of the apartments upstairs and they're trying to take a nap and they say you've been playing for about four hours. My obligation is to write a ticket if someone makes a complaint,"we were told. "I'm here to try to inform you that someone is complaining."

Photo: Ian, who heckled as four people were cited for "unreasonably disturbing noise" on January 6th, 2010 on Pacific Ave. in Santa Cruz, Ca. Photo by HUFF

"I couldn't even hear from across the street," said Valerie Promise, a local street singer associated with S.A.F.E. (Society for Artistic Freedom of Expression
who had chanced by our event, and had joined us in singing "Let it Snow" when Officer Schoenfeld walked up. Valerie was not cited.

A somewhat lengthy discussion took place which resulted in Officer Schoenfeld revealing that she really expected us to pack up and go away based on the warning enforced by her threat of citation. We understood her warning to be about excessive noise and not our presence with the HUFF table, our petitioning effort ( 3 petitions, including one about police harassment were on the table), or our giving away a pot of hot, tasty soup to many hungry and grateful recipients. Our theme that day was "Unsafe to be Homeless in Santa Cruz" which was chosen after a record number of annual homeless deaths, 47, had been reported the previous month.

Vice-Mayor Ryan Coonerty formed a Downtown Task Force along with councilmembers Robinson and Mathews in the spring of 2007 which privately met with business owners, members of the Downtown Association, and agents from the Redevelopment Agency and the police department to teach citizens how to call police to enforce minor violations against people they didn't like. Ryan's committee completely bypassed the Downtown Commission, an indication of things to come.

Had Ryan Coonerty met with the complainant before he left the building? Did he speak to Schoenfeld before she came to "warn" us? Ryan was seen exiting Bookshop Santa Cruz less than 10 minutes before Officer Schoenfeld arrived.

HUFF members milled while Schoenfeld, now joined by Officer Inouye , questioned witnesses, only to be confronted by a man on a bicycle named Ian who stopped to jeer at us loudly. A woman leaned out of an upper window and yelled things at us, so people started to yell back at her and a noisy dialogue ensued, far louder than any noise our tabling event had produced earlier. She openly videotaped us as well. Meanwhile the complainant, Sean Riley, came down to fill out his complaint. As I took his photo, he gave me "the finger" right in front of Officer Schoenfeld. She ignored him.

"They've been here for three hours!" Riley told Schoenfeld. This was about 3PM and didn't sync with when our first HUFF member had arrived at 1:30PM to pick up the soup or the publicized time of our event. I myself arrived at 2:30PM and only sang one and a half songs. In all, I maybe sang for about 15 minutes. We had no amplification, and other than our singing, the only other sounds we made were with Blindbear's little drum and Coral's keyboard, an instrument she has played on Pacific Ave. for five years.

Yet despite that we had stopped singing when Schoenfeld had interrupted us. Despite that we had not started singing again, she inexplicably decided to write us citations anyway.

Robert "Blindbear" Facer, who was cited, did not sing a word but participated solely by keeping time on his small drum. He has been homeless on the streets of Santa Cruz for about 18 months now, and has been taken to court for sleeping out of doors twice. Now this man who sleeps in the dirt has been issued an expensive citation. He doesn't have the income to pay the $70 fee to register for the so-called "humanitarian option" of community service, much less pay the fine. And if he "doesn't take care of it" he will eventually wind up being jailed for it down the road.

"I was just making a joyful noise to the Lord," said Facer, "on the feast of the Epiphany." Facer is Amish.

Photo: Robert "Blindbear" Facer shows his identification to Officer Schoenfeld prior to being cited for "unreasonably disturbing noise Jan 5th, 2010." Photo by HUFF

After the last citation was issued, Robert Norse told Schoenfeld that he also wanted to make a citizen complaint. He wanted to cite the citizen complainant, Sean Riley, for filing a false police report---a misdemeanor. Schoenfeld suddenly did a 180. "I don't think his police report was false," she stated. Robert pressed her. "Why do you think his report is accurate when you said earlier that you didn't witness the excessive noise." "I didn't say that," she insisted. "You witnessed us singing and yet you didn't cite any of us Officer. I'm not telling you how to do your job, but if you witnessed a crime, you are somewhat obligated to either issue a warning or a citation, aren't you?

"I did warn you," she said. "But you refused to move..."

"I thought this was about excessive noise. If we played more softly would we be in violation if we didn't leave?" Norse continued. Schoenfeld finally and reluctantly admitted that "yes" that would have been legal. We asked to speak to her sergeant and were told he was "too busy" and would "call later."

I couldn't understand why Schoenfeld decided to cite us since we had stopped singing or playing any music and had not refused to stop playing or started to play again. I mean if a cop warns you to stop doing something, and you stop, is it really a warning if they give you a citation anyway?

Michelle who is a friend of Coral's, had heard us starting to sing, and came down to listen. She also lives in the same building as the complainant. We were all shocked to see that she was cited. She exclaimed her innocence and said "Robert, tell them!! I wasn't singing. " Robert told her "They don't care." He was right. They didn't.

I'm not much of a singer, but then this wasn't American Idol either. Since we had been warned about something we didn't do---violate the excessive noise ordinance---and then following the "warning" we had not continued our activity, why the citation? It was extremely chilling because now we had no idea what constitutes a violation of the law and Officer Schoenfeld was playing some kind of guessing game with us when we asked for clarity regarding what constitutes a violation of the code.

When Schoenfeld moved to cite Robert Norse, he protested. "What me?" said Robert. "I spent most of my time here talking to people who were signing petitions. I barely sang at all." "I heard you singing," replied Schoenfeld, who had suddenly decided she could determine whether our singing rose to the level of a code violation or not. Apparently for Schoenfeld, singing anything at all was sufficient cause for a citation.

Schoenfeld and Inouye left without taking Norse's cross-complaint of making a false police report.

Valerie Christy of HUFF had not been at our event due to her job, but had planned to play with Coral later that night. However, after the citations, both were too frightened to play. Later we heard that Schoenfeld intimidated two other musicians to stop playing music from the sidewalk in front of Borders Books, also with the threat of citation based on "citizen complaint" for "excessive noise".

Municipal Code
9.36.020 "unreasonably disturbing noise" states in part:

"No person shall make, cause, suffer, or permit to be made any noises or sounds (a) which are unreasonably disturbing or physically annoying to people of ordinary sensitivenesss or which are so harsh or so prolonged or unnatural or unusual in thier use, time or place as to cause physical discomfort to any person, and (b) which are not necessary in connection with an activity which is otherwise lawfully conducted."

Without some objective standard, even LISTENING to a political song can be dangerous. Does this mean that when Officer Schoenfeld gets out her ticket book, every person in the vicinity had better get up and leave because this is one SCPD officer who believes in guilt by association?

This is not an isolated incident. Police have been regularly going up to street performers and telling them to stop playing and move along or they'd get a ticket 'from a citizen'--a form of pressuring which chills free speech, misreads the law, and allows a “heckler's veto” to any street singer.

HUFF members met with Mayor Mike Rotkin on January 15th. He suggested the ordinance did not apply to singers on the street unless they were screaming at the top of their lungs over a long period of time and promised to “look into” the matter.”

Robert Norse contributed to this article last updated January 17, 2010.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Proto-Fascism On The American Right

NOTE TO READER: I came across this opinion piece while cruising the net and found its analysis of what was fascist about the G.W. Bush administration and what's right about the Obama administration to be food for thought. Torture is not acceptable as a national policy. It brutalizes America. It puts our soldiers at risk for themselves being tortured. And it produces bad information, such as Bush's torture of an Iraqi who "admitted" under torture that Saddam Hussein was involved in the planning of the September 11 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. He wasn't. But it was that bad intelligence which Bush used as a pretext to the war on Iraq and which Valerie Plame and Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV tried so hard to expose. --- Becky Johnson, editor

Photo: Andrew Sullivan, columnist for the Atlantic, courtesy of

05 Jan 2010 12:15 pm

Proto-Fascism On The American Right

by Andrew Sullivan

found online at:

Charles Johnson explains his concerns here. He's particularly right about the kind of proto-fascist love of violence against "the other" that you see pulsating in the writing of, say, Michael Goldfarb or Robert Stacy McCain.

I think proto-fascism is a better term than neo-fascism. Cheney and Bush respected the outer limits of constitutional democracy. They obeyed a Supreme Court ruling that struck down their maximalist views of their own inherent power as the executive branch. They left office after an election. They are not fascists. But they do see the executive branch as a kind of fascist element within a democratic polity, an element that can simply ignore the law or hire lawyers to twist it into meaninglessness, an element that has the inherent power to seize anyone, citizen or non-citizen, in the US or not the US, detain them without due process and torture them, in the name of national security, meaning any government response to "active threats" of terrorism.

This proto-fascist tendency, proven chillingly in the last week as Cheney Republicans like Stephen Hayes called for the torture of the undie-bomber, is what worries me. It is the embrace of raw violence against the defenseless - not within the constraints of just war, but outside all constraints except victory against an 'evil' enemy.

I do think partisanship has clouded conservative eyes on this question. I don't think many on the right have yet absorbed the full ramifications of what Cheney asserted and what the GOP now holds as its view of the power of government - i.e. total power over the individual, to the point of torture, in the name of national security.

That's why, in my judgment, Obama is essential. He is the barrier between us and a form of fascism, imbued with utter moral certainty, that now animates the core of the GOP. Until that core is defeated, real conservatives need to keep their distance from this kind of authoritarian thrill.