This week's new articles from the alternative weeklies...
- Double Drain: Program Pays Cops Pensions While Still on the Force (SF Weekly)
...In 2008, San Francisco found itself unable to properly staff its police force. The solution enshrined by city voters: Allow cops to simultaneously work and be retired — and earn both hefty salaries and pensions at the same time. The effectiveness of this plan is a matter of debate. Its craziness? Less so. "It appears you're paying people twice," former city Controller Ed Harrington notes, "because, in fact, you are." The Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) was sold to the city and its voters as the cure for a police department that was unable to attract new recruits, yet losing cops who took advantage of 90 percent pensions at age 55. The San Francisco Police Officers Association — which pushed DROP onto the ballot via a signature-gathering drive — argued that the city needed to entice the oldest officers to stick around. The means: Offer them a financial windfall. Earning a salary and pension at the same time, commonly known as "double-dipping," contravenes nearly every notion of fiscal common sense — and, not insignificantly, the city charter.
- The Uncivil Jewish Debate (East Bay Express)
At Passover Seders next week, Jews throughout the East Bay and the nation will repeat the phrase, "Next year in Jerusalem." But actually having a civil discussion these days among Jews about Israel and its controversial policies toward Palestinians is growing increasingly difficult. "It's worse than it's ever been," said Rabbi Michael Lerner of Berkeley, explaining that he believes a heightened questioning of Israeli policies, both inside and outside the Jewish community, has put staunch supporters of Israel on the defensive. Now, Lerner said, one's intention in criticizing Israeli political decisions, even from people like himself who pray for Israel every day, is irrelevant. Instead of arguing with him, critics say, "You're destroying Israel." Lerner should know. The Tikkun magazine editor has received death threats and his home has been vandalized because of his views.
- A Tale of Two Trials (East Bay Express)
Since March 21, reporters representing the cream of American journalism have been camped out in the Bay Area covering two high-profile trials. In an Oakland courtroom, two men are accused of being involved in three murders, including that of Chauncey Bailey, a journalist who was writing a story about Your Black Muslim Bakery. In San Francisco, baseball home-run king Barry Bonds is accused of telling a federal grand jury that he never knowingly took steroids. Aside from the fact that both trials are taking place, and all the defendants are African American, there is a disparity in how these cases are being treated by the media, both local and national. The Bailey trial is being covered by fewer than a dozen reporters from mostly local media: the Oakland Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, KTVU, American Urban Radio Networks, KCBS Radio, NPR, the Bay Guardian, Associated Press, ABC 7 News, and several websites and bloggers. Some are there every day, others are not. To be fair there was more media coverage for the first few days of the trial.
When cash pumps through the guts of city politics, the Ethics Commission is charged with keeping track of it all to help members of the public follow the money. But what happens when the public loses faith in the ethics of the Ethics Commission? In the run-up to a hotly contested mayoral race, in a city marked by rough-and-tumble politics influenced by moneyed power brokers, the function of this local-government watchdog agency is especially critical — and to hear some critics tell it, the Ethics Commission needs reform if it is to perform as an effective safeguard against corruption.