BART Proves Cellphone Shutdown Was a Mistake 

The transit agency has dealt with two protests in the past week without resorting to killing cellular service.

Ever since BART shut down cellphone service earlier this month in an attempt to disrupt a planned protest, the agency has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that it overreacted. The agency has continued its hard-line stance despite strong criticism from the Bay Area's major newspapers and an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission for possible violation of US law. BART also has maintained its intransigence even though its own actions in the past week prove that killing cellular service was unnecessary.

During the past two Monday evening commutes, BART responded to protesters by temporarily closing some stations in San Francisco. The closures inconvenienced riders, but they worked in stopping protesters from attempting to demonstrate on busy platforms as trains sped by. Such protests pose a risk for public safety, and BART was within its rights to block them.

But killing cellular service is another matter. It raises numerous First Amendment issues, not to mention state and federal laws governing phone systems. In fact, no other mass transit system in the country has ever done what BART did. Moreover, the ill-advised decision is now prompting more protests. Indeed, there's reason to believe that the last two demonstrations may not have taken place had it not been for the cellphone shutdown. During the days and weeks ahead, BART may have to deal with more protests because of its initial overreaction.

BART might have been able to avoid all that trouble by simply admitting it made a mistake and announcing that it won't do it again. In fact, the US Department of Homeland Security told the Bay Citizen that it would never advise a transit agency to kill cellular service unless it faced a more serious threat than a mere protest. The department gave the example of an explosive device triggered by a cellphone as an appropriate situation for doing what BART did.

Over the weekend, BART attempted to explain its cellphone decision by releasing information its investigators had collected about the protest it attempted to stop. The intelligence showed that the agency had justification for being concerned about the planned demonstration, as protesters allegedly were preparing to jump on top of trains. But the information fell well short of the Homeland Security cellphone standard of a serious threat. The intelligence also may have been flawed, because the protest never materialized.

BART officials also have continued to argue that cellular communication is not a "right" of its passengers because the agency provides it merely as a "service." Many legal scholars disagree, not surprisingly, and several state and federal statutes appear to directly contradict BART's assertions. But regardless of who's right, BART has now proven twice that it can keep its trains running — safely — without running afoul of the law.

Game Over

San Francisco 49ers President Jed York said he plans to ask the NFL to "postpone" indefinitely any future exhibition games against the Oakland Raiders because of widespread fan violence before, during, and after Saturday night's contest at Candlestick Park, the San Jose Mercury News reported. The 49ers also plan to curtail tailgating and beer sales at all games. Drunken fans were at the center of shootings and fights at the Niners-Raiders' matchup. Police also attributed some of the violence to rival gang members who were on hand. The 49ers also said they would crack down on season ticket holders who sell their exhibition game tickets for cheap.

Racist Cop Retires

Oakland schools Police Chief Pete Sarna, who unleashed an N-word tirade against a black police officer under his command, retired last week from the force. Sarna's attorney told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was drunk when he went on the racist rant, and that he has a drinking problem. Sarna previously had to quit a high-ranking position under then-state Attorney General Jerry Brown after he got drunk and crashed his car.

MTC Rethinking Oakland Departure

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission rescinded its vote to leave Oakland and buy a giant warehouse in San Francisco, and instead appointed a committee to study the issue, the Oakland Tribune reported. MTC came under intense criticism because it planned to use taxpayer funds on what amounted to real estate speculation. In addition, Oakland officials said that a consultant who recommended the move to San Francisco had overstated the costs of keeping the agency in Oakland.

Massive Wall Street Bailout

The Federal Reserve loaned Wall Street banks and other financial institutions a staggering $1.2 trillion during the height of the subprime mortgage meltdown, Bloomberg News reported, citing newly released data that the Fed had tried to keep secret. The massive bailout for banks that bought and sold risky mortgages and exotic securities came in stark contrast to the government's lackluster efforts to help millions of Americans who are underwater on their home loans.

GOP Wants to Tax the Poor

It turns out that Republicans like tax increases after all — but only if they're levied against low- and middle-income workers. The Associated Press reported that GOP Congressional members are pushing to raise taxes on tens of millions of workers, while staunchly resisting proposed tax increases on the wealthy and corporations. Republicans want to end a temporary payroll tax break on annual incomes of up to $108,000. President Obama and Democrats want to extend the tax break.

Three-Dot Roundup

Speaking of taxes, Amazon.com has poured another $2.25 million into its campaign to overturn a new state law that forces the online giant to collect sales taxes from its customers, the Bay Citizen reported. Amazon.com has now spent $5.25 million on its petition drive. ... Berkeley-founded grocery chain Andronico's filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, according to the Chron, and is in negotiations to be bought by a venture-capital firm. ... And two UC Berkeley alums were each sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran for allegedly being spies, but their families remain hopeful that the two hikers who were captured two years ago along the Iran-Iraq border will be released soon, AP reported.

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