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Under the tarp last night at "general assembly" for anti-Wall Street protest
Ted Friedman
Under the tarp last night at "general assembly" for anti-Wall Street protest


Flash: Power Outage Closes Downtown Berkeley BART Station

By Bay City News
Tuesday October 11, 2011 - 05:21:00 PM

BART has closed the Downtown Berkeley station after a PG&E power outage was reported, a utility spokeswoman said. 

The outage was reported shortly before 4 p.m. and is affecting 1,150 customers, spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian said. 

Trains are running through the Downtown Berkeley station but are not stopping there, according to a Bart employee. 

The closure has caused delays for trains heading in the Fremont, Richmond, Millbrae and San Francisco directions, according to BART. 

No estimated time was available for when power would be restored.

Day 3: "Occupy Berkeley" Emerging as Berkeley Version of Anti-Wall Street Movement

By Ted Friedman
Tuesday October 11, 2011 - 04:45:00 PM
As rain returned, forcing protesters to huddle under a tarp, you can't tell from this photo, but the crowd for night three of Berkeley's anti-Wall Street protest reached nearly fifty
Ted Friedman
As rain returned, forcing protesters to huddle under a tarp, you can't tell from this photo, but the crowd for night three of Berkeley's anti-Wall Street protest reached nearly fifty
Under the tarp last night at "general assembly" for anti-Wall Street protest
Ted Friedman
Under the tarp last night at "general assembly" for anti-Wall Street protest

What do you do when your demo is overshadowed by San Francisco's and Oakland's, if not more than 240 anti-Wall Street protests across the nation?

If you are clever young activists, you brand yourself, and that is exactly what Berkeley's version of the growing national movement is trying to do. And doesn't Berkeley have a few moves when it comes to protest?

"Occupy Berkeley," is the first branding step. Pending approval by the protest's communication committee (the protest is governed by committees open to all--even provocateurs.)  

According to "Sister, our movement is nascent and growing." 

Occupy Berkeley is the moniker for a planned rally and protest Saturday at noon at Bank of America Civic Plaza, Shattuck and Center. The rally/protest will be followed by a "general assembly," at 2:30 p.m. 

Some of the issues which may be resolved Saturday include a move across the street from BA to Chase at Liberty Plaza and the downtown BART entrance/exit, whether to be arrested (probably optional), protest related actions off site, and the nagging problem of attracting more occupiers (over-nighters). 

Russell Bates, a wizened Berkeley radical and Cop Watcher, who has been occupying BA Plaza overnight, said six others defied a persistent October rain and six more were "in and out” of the overnight occupation. Establishing overnight shifts is under committee review. 

According to Alex Neil, communications committee member, an outreach to local schools is planned for this afternoon, and this could lead to a demographic change in the protest, which is now a mix of young and not young, a demographic different from the Manhattan protest. 

And just for the record, this protest is officially leaderless. When the issue of going on KPFA to spread the word was discussed, Neil noted that no one was able to represent or speak for the group. 

Those who-are-not-running the protest are still bristling at being compared to Mario Savio ("the two Savios") and I am appealing to Planet readers to provide a term I can use for them. Hint: they don't like "key persons" either. Persons of interest makes them sound like perps. The new activists? I give up. 

The Planet will be doing a weekly wrap-up piece over the weekend. In the meantime, follow our daily updates.

Protestors Begin Day Two of "Occupy Oakland" Demonstration

By Hannah Albarazi (BCN)
Tuesday October 11, 2011 - 01:02:00 PM

"Occupy Oakland" demonstrators who converged on Frank Ogawa Plaza on Monday afternoon remained camped out in front of Oakland City Hall this morning.
Dozens of tents dotted the lawn, and about 75 people gathered under a large tarp at the camp to discuss logistical plans for the open-ended protest.
A homeless protester who gave his name only as Adam explained that there is no one in charge of the movement or the camp. He said that about 1,000 people attended Monday night's general assembly. 

Another general assembly is planned for this afternoon. 

According to Lolo Schiener, an unemployed 27-year-old Berkeley resident with a master's degree in speech pathology, the group has been receiving a steady stream of donations that will allow them to continue occupying the plaza. 

"We have a lot of food," she said. "A lot of people have been donating food and money." 

The group has also been giving food to the homeless and those who ask for it. 

As with similar occupations occurring across the Bay Area and the nation, the amorphous movement has attracted many different types of demonstrators. 

Some protesters had signs, two of which read, "We do not consent to corporate oligarchy," and "Bail out schools, not banks." 

Schiener explained that heated debates are occurring at the camp on myriad topics, from "houselessness" to the Black Panthers to police brutality. 

Although Adam said a police K-9 unit had patrolled the camp around 3 a.m., there were no police in sight as of 11:30 a.m. 

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan addressed the camp this morning and condoned the occupation but asked that campers not urinate on plaza's large oak tree, because she said it has shallow roots. 

Glover, Mayors of Oakland, Berkeley and Richmond to Speak at "Jobs not Cuts" Rally on Saturday

By Zipporah Collins
Tuesday October 11, 2011 - 04:14:00 PM

Actor and activist Danny Glover has accepted an invitation to speak at a “Jobs Not Cuts” march and rally in Oakland on Saturday, October 15.

In addition to Glover, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, and community leaders will add their voices to the public outcry for government to invest in jobs and stop cutting needed programs for the poor and middle class. 

Demonstrators will gather at Laney College at 1:00 pm on Saturday and march at 2:30 to a rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza at 3:30. On the way, they will stop at the Federal Building to symbolically nail a list of economic demands to Congress’s door. They want investment in jobs, clean energy, education, and infrastructure, protection of Social Security and Medicare, war dollars brought home, fair-share taxation of the wealthy, and a speculation tax on Wall Street. 

Bay Area labor unions, MoveOn, and numerous anti-war, environment, civic, and community groups have united in organizing the demonstration (for the growing list of endorsers, see www.jobs-not-cuts.org). 

As the march enters Ogawa Plaza it will connect with Occupy Oakland demonstrators protesting the reckless speculation and greed of the financial institutions that crashed the economy and cost millions of people their savings and livelihood. Occupy Oakland is one of many groups protesting at financial districts across the country. 

Meanwhile 12 members of Congress—the “super committee”—are meeting to decide on a national budget and deficit plan to send to Congress by November 23 for an up-or-down vote. Bay Area workers, citizens, and activists who take to the streets for “Jobs Not Cuts” Saturday hope to send a clear message to the committee and all of Congress that these politicians need to act for the benefit of the 99% of Americans, not the wealthiest 1%.

Day Two: As Occupy Wall Street Movement Builds in Berkeley, How Berkeley Will it Be?

By Ted Friedman
Monday October 10, 2011 - 01:04:00 PM
Second night facilitator at Wall Street protest prepares instructional chart with hand signals for "general assembly."
Ted Friedman
Second night facilitator at Wall Street protest prepares instructional chart with hand signals for "general assembly."
Second night at Wall street protest. "Sister," in center holding notes, announces that "strongly recommending" no smoking is not good enough for her and she might have to drop out of the over-night "occupation."
Ted Friedman
Second night at Wall street protest. "Sister," in center holding notes, announces that "strongly recommending" no smoking is not good enough for her and she might have to drop out of the over-night "occupation."
These young socialists (they brought a small socialist lending library) at lower left, look on at second night of Wall Street protest at Bank of America downtown. National Lawyers' Guild phone number is lower middle
Ted Friedman
These young socialists (they brought a small socialist lending library) at lower left, look on at second night of Wall Street protest at Bank of America downtown. National Lawyers' Guild phone number is lower middle
Second night of Wall Street protest. A protester signs the  "stack" (speaker's list).
Ted Friedman
Second night of Wall Street protest. A protester signs the "stack" (speaker's list).

Day two of the national Occupy Wall Street Movement presently encamped (by night) in the Bank of America Civic Plaza at Shattuck and Center streets was a planning session which will determine the course of the protest.  

And already, some Berkeleyans are bristling under the yoke of a national movement with protocols originating in successful revolutions in the middle east--and masterminded by Micah M. White a senior editor at Adbusters, Vancouver, B.C., an anti-consumerist magazine, founded in 1989.  

Some veteran Berkeley protesters are wondering whether they are throwing in with a McDonald's franchise in which you do it McDonald's way.  

Others welcome the efficiency of such techniques as a "general assembly participatory democracy, stacks (speaker's list), and hand signals," which speed the development of an infrastructure and an agenda.  

The adbusting White spoke Saturday at B.A. Plaza, welcoming Berkeley to his national (going international) movement.  

Protesters, new to protesting, and veterans alike have become more fluent with new jargon and techniques in just the second day of the protest.  

Issues addressed by the [apparently] leaderless group, which prefers to keep its goals open, and is still discussing where the protest will encamp indefinitely (the protest could last "until Hell freezes over"), included plans for maintaining the occupying over-night sleep-ins, police relations, committees formation, anti-smoking, anti-drugs, public relations, logistics, and the discussion process itself.  

There was a call Sunday for more over-nighters (eight slept-over the previous night), possibly in shifts, and funds were quickly raised among the general assembly for the protest's communications committee.  

Sunday's protest drew more than fifty, down somewhat from the opening event the previous day.  

The Planet is presently covering the action daily. Stay tuned for updates.

Occupy Oakland Starts Today at 4 at Oakland City Hall

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Monday October 10, 2011 - 01:19:00 PM

The wave of protests that began with "Occupy Wall Street" in September is continuing to expand in the Bay Area, and activists plan to begin camping out in Oakland's Frank Ogawa Plaza this afternoon. 

Protesters announced online that "Occupy Oakland" will begin at 4 p.m. when they will gather in outside Oakland's City Hall, creating an encampment in the spirit of similar protests throughout the nation. 

The protests are intended to draw attention to the widening gap between rich and poor in the U.S. and widespread unemployment. 

As of early this morning, more than 850 people had said on Facebook that they would attend the beginning of Occupy Oakland. 

The Oakland demonstration comes on the heels of a similar demonstration in front of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. A march in support of "Occupy SF" drew hundreds to San Francisco's Financial District on Wednesday afternoon. 

That night, police ordered the protesters' tents, tables and other gear taken down and removed protesters' equipment from the sidewalk. 

Protesters, however, have continued to occupy the area in front of the Federal Reserve building, waving signs, playing drums and approaching passersby despite police warnings that permits would be required to continue camping on the sidewalk. 

One protester who was smoking marijuana was arrested this morning, witnesses said. 

CONTACT: www.occupyoakland.org

Berkeley Meeting Introduces Ashby Village

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Monday October 10, 2011 - 12:58:00 PM

Having frequently heard about Ashby Village, I had only the vaguest notion of what it actually is. But this past week, during an informal discussion group at the Berkeley Town House, lead by Andra Lichtenstein, we were provided details on the history and growth of this organization. (With over 30 years of experience in public and private sectors with a focus on community health centers, and as Planning and Development Director of Lifelong Medical Care, Andra is well qualified to describe the virtues of this very admirable organization.) 

Ashby Village is a community based network of people over age 50 living in the greater Bay Area, providing service referrals and resources to its members, making it possible for them to remain in their homes and neighborhoods. The concept began in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood in 2001. More than 56 villages now exist in the United States, with another 120 or so in development. As the longevity unfolds, senior villages will become one of the distinctive and social inventions of our time. 

Among the services offered to help people remain independent are help with grocery shopping, walking dogs, transportation and medical appointments, minor household repairs, and exercise and relaxation classes. Membership in Ashby Village is available to residents of Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, Kensington and Emeryville. Annual membership fees are listed on their website: www.ashbyvillage.org. A program currently being developed will make membership available to those with limited incomes. 

In 2006, the New York Times published an article about Beacon Hill Village in Boston, the most recognized models of the Village concept. It sparked conversation among Berkeley neighbors who wanted their own aging to be different from that of their parents' generation. Thus, in 2010 Ashby Village was launched and within one short year it now has 161 members, with only one full-time employee, Andy Gaines, who supervises a myriad of committees and activities and home-based volunteer services. 

Without question, Ashby Village offers a welcome safety net and peace of mind, an alternative to a retirement community or assisted living facility.

New: Berkeley Dodges End of the World, Joins National Anti-Wall Street Revolution Saturday at Bank of America Plaza Downtown

By Ted Friedman
Saturday October 08, 2011 - 10:21:00 PM
Bo-Peter Laanen, 20, a Cal poly-sci major is second from left in foreground. His techniques moved the crowd from the planning stage to an all-night camp-in Saturday at Bank of America Plaza downtown
Ted Friedman
Bo-Peter Laanen, 20, a Cal poly-sci major is second from left in foreground. His techniques moved the crowd from the planning stage to an all-night camp-in Saturday at Bank of America Plaza downtown
These people thought they were attending a planning meeting for an anti Wall Street protest, but before they could say boo, they had joined "the revolution."
Ted Friedman
These people thought they were attending a planning meeting for an anti Wall Street protest, but before they could say boo, they had joined "the revolution."
At BA Plaza, 8:30 p.m. Saturday as more than 20 anti Wall Street protesters continue their "General Assembly" discussions. Police relations, and food are being discussed. Ten volunteered to spend the night
Ted Friedman
At BA Plaza, 8:30 p.m. Saturday as more than 20 anti Wall Street protesters continue their "General Assembly" discussions. Police relations, and food are being discussed. Ten volunteered to spend the night
Michael Delacour on People's Park stage Thursday exhorting food line to revolt against Wall Street
Ted Friedman
Michael Delacour on People's Park stage Thursday exhorting food line to revolt against Wall Street

As Wall Street protests spread across America from Manhattan—to Boston, Hartford, Savannah, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Huntsville, Birmingham, Mobile. Columbus, Ga., Chicago, San Diego, among others—Berkeley, which recently survived the end of the world while awaiting "the revolution," joined one Saturday afternoon at the Bank of America Plaza at Center and Shattuck. 

Berkeley almost missed "the revolution." 

But thanks to heads up community organizing by a People's Park founder, Michael Delacour, 73, Berkeley is back in the game--with an initial crowd of more than one-hundred enthusiastic protesters, which is sure to grow. 

A process dubbed "general assembly," ably led by student leaders from the university moved a usually fractious mob to action. While avoiding the pitfalls of drafting demands, or writing a position paper, the crowd was unified enough, after a mere two hours of recitative consensus, to enlist more than ten volunteers to camp-in at the plaza to begin at 6p.m. and continue until "Hell freezes over," as one of the organizers put it. 

What began as a planning session became the beginning of a vibrant protest, with established protocols, and the prospects of long life. 

Russell Bates, of Cop Watch, a veteran Berkeley radical, could not believe his eyes. Looking to the heavens, he proclaimed, "Grandfather, I'm coming to join you" 

Delacour, earlier in the week, exhorting a group of People's Park users to protest, intoned, "if not now, when." 

When came sooner than anyone, including Delacour, could have expected. 

What spontaneously became a fully-formed protest had been billed as a "planning meeting." for a Wall Street protest scheduled for October 15 to give protestors time to collect their platforms and agendas. Instead at least two student leaders, who met with Delacour Wednesday after a small planning session in front of Bank of America on Telegraph, moved the crowd efficiently and swiftly to action. 

The demo is on, and it has no closing date, according to the organizers. "We're prepared to stay here until hell freezes over, one of the organizers said. 

How did the students do it? They used a process they called "general assembly," which they characterized as governmental. Here's how it works. Speakers speak briefly in a recitative oratory somewhere between rhythmic poetry and call and response. Speakers were limited (no more than three pro, three con). A speaker speaks his terse rhythmic message in tweets; the crowd repeats the words—a type of "active listening." 

They ought to patent the process, before donating it to Congress. You've got to see this to believe it. 

General assembly broke a log-jam over whether to stage the protest at downtown BA or Provo (lately AKA Martin Luther King Civic Center) Park. "Let's stay here for now, and if we grow, we can always branch out," it was agreed. 

The recitative style of oratory, which most speakers quickly adopted (it threw off Delacour, who has been known to ramble) was a major component of the successful event. 

Delacour was grass-rooting most of the week. He has interrupted his grieving for his wife, who died under mysterious circumstances more than four months ago, to lead the revolt. Earlier this week he took to the People's Park stage to exhort a motley band of People's Park regulars, lined up for free food, to join an anti-Wall Street protest. 

Delacour's appeal in the rain to a park food-line was met with indifference and shrugs. 

One woman called out, "I believe in alcohol," as some snickered. 

Delacour returned a day later to press his case, but this time with a brief appeal in which he offered to hold a demonstration under terms set by the crowd. "You pick the location for the protest," he offered. "It's your demonstration." 

Then he went to the end of the food line to get his Food Not Bombs feast. While in line, he discoursed on his relationship with his dead wife. 

This is a chance of a lifetime of community organizing for Delacour, and he seemed to be approaching his opportunity with great care. 

Wednesday he presided over a public planning committee meeting in front of Bank of America on Telegraph Avenue, which was attended by twenty, including eight students. For Delacour, whose People's Park organizing in the sixties relied on uniting with students, the symbolic student presence was a harbinger of a town-student action, and he glowed with satisfaction from the potential for sizable student involvement. 

Delacour's hopes, viewed by his detractors, as "crazy" came to fruition. 

"The students at the planning meeting told me, they can draw four-hundred students," Delacour said Thursday. Students may have fallen short of 400 (I counted fifteen), but the ones who turned out were choice. 

The new Mario Savios are John Holzinger, 20, from Pasadena, and Bo-Peter Laanen, 20, a Scandinavian. Both are Cal Political Science majors. Remember those names. 


Ted Friedman started out reporting this story from South side, but wound up off-beat downtown.

U.S. Prosecutors Announce Crackdown on Medical Marijuana Stores

By Julia Cheever (Bay City News Service)
Friday October 07, 2011 - 10:25:00 AM

Federal prosecutors in California announced a full-court-press crackdown on the state's commercial marijuana industry today, saying they will not allow large-scale, for-profit enterprises in the name of medical marijuana. 

The federal law enforcement effort was announced in a news conference in Sacramento by the four regional U.S. attorneys in the state, including Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for Northern California. 

California's voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996 allows seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana with a doctor's permission, but federal laws criminalizing marijuana make no exception for state laws. 

The U.S. prosecutors said they will target large commercial enterprises and not individual patients. 

U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner of Sacramento said, "Large commercial operations cloak their money-making activities in the guise of helping sick people when they are in fact helping themselves." 

Wagner said, "Our interest is in enforcing federal criminal law, not prosecuting seriously ill sick people and those who are caring for them." 

The four U.S. attorneys said their enforcement actions will include civil forfeiture lawsuits against properties used in marijuana growing, warning letters to owners of property where marijuana is sold and criminal prosecutions. 

Haag said her office will begin by concentrating on marijuana dispensaries near schools and parks. 

"Marijuana stores operating in proximity to schools, parks and other areas where children are present send the wrong message to those in our society who are the most impressionable," Haag said. 

"In addition, the huge profits generated by these stores, and the value of their inventory, present a danger that the stores will become a magnet for crime, which jeopardizes the safety of nearby children," she said. 

Haag said that while Northern California enforcement will begin with stores near schools and parks, "we will almost certainly be taking action against others." 

"None are immune from action by the federal government," Haag said. 

Lynette Shaw, executive director of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Fairfax, said the landlord of her dispensary received a "threatening and ominous" letter from Haag on Sept. 29. 

"It's very scary for us. We don't know what's going to happen," Shaw said. 

She said she believes her landlord doesn't want to evict the group, but that the landlord is consulting a lawyer about his options. 

The dispensary is 50 yards from Peri Park, Shaw said. But she said she believes the organization's presence has "absolutely not" harmed children and has in fact helped because it has reduced the number of street dealers of marijuana. 

The Marin Alliance received a use permit from Fairfax in 1997 and is the longest-standing medical marijuana dispensary in the state, Shaw said.  

She said the permit now has 53 conditions and said the alliance has "abided by every rule." 

Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, called the crackdown "a full frontal assault on medical cannabis." 

ASA Chief Council Joseph Elford said, "Aggressive tactics like these are a completely inappropriate use of prosecutorial discretion by the Obama Administration." 

Dale Gieringer, coordinator of the California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said, "With the federal budget on empty, the economy in disarray, our prisons overflowing, and prohibition-related violence raging across the border, it's an outrageous misuse of federal resources to wage war on marijuana dispensaries." 

Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole said in a statement from Washington, D.C., that the Justice Department "will not focus our investigative and prosecutorial resources on individual patients with serious illnesses like cancer or their immediate caregivers." 

But "the actions taken today in California by our U.S. attorneys and their law enforcement partners are consistent with the department's commitment to enforcing existing federal laws," Cole said. 

California was the first state in the nation to enact a medical marijuana law. Fifteen other states now have similar laws, according to NORML.

Berkeley's New Smart Boot System: The Potential for Abuse (News Analysis)

By Thomas Lord
Thursday October 06, 2011 - 09:10:00 AM

[Editor's Note:This is the second of two articles. Yesterday's article described in greater detail how Berkeley's new SmartBoot system, to be implemented on October 18, will work.]

Under the recently announced SmartBoot program, the Berkeley Police Department will drive a "boot van" around town. Equipped with cameras, computers, and a network connection this van will automatically detect parked cars from the scofflaw list - those with too many overdue parking tickets. When the van spots a scofflaw it stops and a parking enforcement officer boots the car with SmartBoot. Violators can remove the boot themselves if they are able to pay their fees and past due fines over the phone with a credit card. 

How does the system work? 

The City and PayLock LLC 

The SmartBoot system arises from a contract between the City of Berkeley and PayLock LLC, a New Jersey based corporation. PayLock operates a 24-hour help-line for people who have been booted. PayLock provides the city with the boot van equipment, SmartBoots, and various web-based IT services. PayLock also provides training, integration assistance, and, it would seem, PR help. 

Propagating the Scofflaw List 

Matt Silverman, Executive Vice President of PayLock Inc. walked us through the process: 

Each night the BPD's information systems generate a "scofflaw list" of wanted vehicles for the next day. The list includes license plate ids and information about the amount owed. The list is saved as a simple file. 

BPD's systems then copy the scofflaw list to PayLock's servers. "It's just an FTP thing," quipped Silverman. 

Once on PayLock's servers, the data is available to the 24-hour help line for people whose cars have been booted. 

PayLock also remotely copies the data to the Berkeley boot van computer, preparing it for the next day's rounds. 

Scanning Cars 

According to PayLock literature, the boot van should be able to cruise down most Berkeley streets at the speed limit, scanning licenses as fast as it goes. 

On the computer in the van, each license identified is compared to the earlier downloaded scofflaw list. When a match is found, the enforcement officer is alerted. 

The enforcement officer can then use the van's computer and network connection to contact PayLock's web servers, and double check that the scofflaw listing is current. If a scofflaw has paid his tickets and the payment been processed by the time the vehicle is spotted, the vehicle can be quickly removed from PayLock's copy of the scofflaw list and the boot avoided, even if the vehicle is still found on the boot van's copy of the list. 

If the scofflaw listing is current, the enforcing officer can boot the offending vehicle. 

When a vehicle is booted, the computer in the boot van notifies the PayLock servers of the relevant details. These are recorded in PayLock's databases. The secret unlock code is recorded at PayLock for that vehicle. 

Paying Up 

Violators who choose to pay by phone call PayLock's customer service line which is available at all hours, every day. Upon payment of fines, a $140 booting fee, and a $500 deposit, PayLock will give the violator the secret code to unlock the boot. 

PayLock's servers in turn notify the City's of the payment. 

The Lifecycle of SmartBoots 

PayLock maintains the pool of available boots. It issues boots to the city in anticipation of estimated demand (number of scofflaws likely to be caught). Boots are returned to a PayLock-affiliated return center. 

Data Retention Policy 

Scofflaw data on PayLock servers is preserved for a time. The exact length of time is, Silverman says, up to the City. 

Other PayLock Services 

Berkeley is not, at this time, adopting some of PayLock's other services that use much of the same equipment: digital chalking and permitting. These are what they sound like: using the cameras and computers and license plate recognition (plus, optionally, RFID reading) so that vans can recognize cars permitted to park in certain areas and can recognize cars that are over-parked in time-limited zones. In addition to being used for booting, the boot van is capable (if the city begins using these services) of helping make ordinary ticketing more efficient. 

"Off Label" Law Enforcement Use

We asked Silverman if the system could be used for other aspects of law enforcement. For example, could it be used to spot stolen vehicles? Could it be used to search for the vehicle of a wanted criminal? Silverman suggested Amber Alerts as an example of a case where the boot van could be used in the urgent search for a wanted vehicle. 

If the police department wants to, Silverman informed us, additional licenses can be added to the search list, by hand, on the boot van computer. The officer in the van need only type in the additional license numbers. 

We asked BPD Chief Michael K. Meehan about such other uses. He reports that BPD "has no immediate plans" to use the system for anything other than parking scofflaws. 

We asked Meehan if expanding the uses of the system was in the cards. He says that there are "no immediate plans" to do so. 

We asked if the police department would require additional authorization from the city before using the system for anything other than scofflaw enforcement. Chief Meehan wasn't certain. 

Some Risks 

At first glance it may seem that there could be no new risks created by the use of this system. After all, ever since license plates were first introduced more than a century ago, police have had the legitimate right to search the streets for a sought-after car. Proponents say that the new system makes that traditional search more efficient. 

Nevertheless, the boot van and SmartBoot program represent a sweeping change in how these searches are done. New risks result which we consider below: 

Risk Factors of the PayLock Corporate Form 

PayLock LLC is a privately held, New Jersey based corporation. This does not in and of itself create new risks, but it enhances risks that arise from other causes. 

Because PayLock is a privately held corporation its financial reporting requirements are significantly less than those of a publicly traded firm, and less than those of a government agency. PayLock's services assume some police and municipal functions, but with less financial accountability than if these functions remained with the city. 

Because PayLock is a privately held corporation in an out of state jurisdiction, it is far less subject to operational oversight and review than any government agency. For example, the city's internal handling of scofflaw records can be scrutinized through a variety of governmental audit mechanisms none of which apply to PayLock's handling of these same records. The city and PayLock agree upon rules for handling these records, but the opportunities to verify that the rules are being followed are diminished by PayLock's corporate form. 

The Risk of Vendor Lock-in 

The services provided by PayLock are not a commodity. If the city wished to continue to operate a boot van and use smart boots, but to switch from PayLock to another vendor or to internally provided services, it would have a hard time. 

At the same time, the city accumulates a sunk investment cost in staff training time and entrenchment of new parking enforcement practices. Even to revert back to a tow-only system of parking enforcement would cost the city. 

PayLock may therefore enjoy pricing power that works against the interests of Berkeley residents and the city government. For example, if they later demand that the booting fee be raised from $140 to some higher amount, the City may have little realistic choice but to assent. 

The Risk of Diminishing Returns and the Pressure to Expand Uses 

At the press conference where PayLock was introduced, we overheard City Council Member Capitelli ask Silverman whether diminishing returns on scofflaw enforcement ought to be expected. For example, in an initial sweep many long-standing scofflaws could be caught, bringing a lot of money to the city and to PayLock. Will that initially high level of revenue keep up? Or will it trail off as fewer people become scofflaws. 

Silverman said that in other cities such as Oakland they've seen a high initial spike in scofflaw enforcement, which then settles down to a slightly smaller but roughly stable level of revenue. 

We conclude that because PayLock is a for profit company, there is some risk that Berkeley will be encouraged or pressured to expand the uses of the PayLock technology in order to justify PayLock's continued presence. For example, as the police department becomes comfortable with the technology, perhaps there will be pressure to add more equipped enforcement vehicles and use the system for digital permitting and chalking. 

Such expansion would multiply other risk factors. For example, it would expand PayLock's assumption of police and city functions. Adoption of uses like digital permitting and chalking would strengthen PayLock's pricing power over service fees. 

The Risk of Data Escape 

Can the City of Berkeley's scofflaw records and other data be stolen from PayLock by third party criminals? 

Silverman pointed out that PayLock takes data security seriously, for example by storing data in an encrypted form. (A data thief would need not only the encrypted files, but also a stolen encryption key or other means of de-encrypting the file.) Unfortunately, there was not time for us to explore PayLock's data security measures in detail. 

Data security systems are notoriously difficult to implement well. It is common for systems that superficially appear quite secure to in fact contain design gaffes that leave them wide open to data theft. PayLock's data storage creates a data theft risk that is difficult, at best, to assess other than to make the general observation that truly secure systems are the exception, not the rule. 

This in and of itself would be nothing new: Berkeley's own IT systems are also a potential target for data thieves. 

Yet, the use of PayLock does heighten the risk in this sense: PayLock's servers contain data not only for Berkeley, but for all municipalities with which PayLock does business. A data thief stealing scofflaw data from Berkeley's own systems gets only Berkeley data, but a thief stealing from PayLock gets a much larger prize. In general, the effort data thieves are willing to make to steal some resource goes up, the more potentially valuable data there is. 

The Risk of Weak Employee Accountability 

When a violator calls PayLock's 24/7 help line, Silverman says, the operators have very limited information from the scofflaw list, Silverman says. Help line operators have the violator's license number and amount owed, but are not provided the car owner's name, address, and so forth. 

Nevertheless, violators must provide operators with a name and credit card number. 

Public record searches can usually, given a license plate number, identify the car's owner, address and so forth. In combination with credit card information, this is enough for acts of identity theft. 

There is of course no reason to assume that PayLock's help line operators are more likely than anyone else to commit identity theft, nor that PayLock's internal operations would make this easy. Unfortunately, though, the stakes are high because of the high volume and large number of calls PayLock processes for all the municipalities it serves. 

PayLock's corporate form (see above) compounds the problem because it diminishes the potential for oversight and auditing of the formerly governmental function of payment collection. 

The Risk of Internal Misuses 

Because of PayLock's corporate form, the potential for unchecked or even unnoticed misuse of city data internally to PayLock is greater than if the city performed these functions internally. 

It is our impression, in part from speaking with Silverman, that PayLock takes its responsibilities quite seriously. We intuitively doubt that they are likely anytime soon to do anything quite this nefarious, but here is an example of "what could possibly go wrong" but that PayLock's corporate form would make hard to detect. We emphasize again that we don't believe PayLock is currently inclined to come close to a misuse like this: 

Suppose that in some of PayLock's client cities, politicians are running for office who oppose the use of PayLock's services. PayLock could perform wholesale searches to find discrediting information against those politicians ("that woman never pays her parking tickets", "that guy parks in front of a brothel a lot") more cheaply and easily than by conventional and sanctioned means of searching. Having easily found a target to discredit, an evil version of PayLock could then obtain the same information by overt means (for plausible deniability) and leak it to the press without exposing the underlying abuse of police data. 

The Risk of Police Corruption 

This risk is inherent to any boot van system, regardless of whether it is operated by PayLock or internally by the city. 

The system is flexible enough to allow searches for vehicles other than scofflaw vehicles. As Silverman explained, additional licenses to search for can be entered into the computer on the van. 

Without strict and proactive auditing, this creates a potential for abuse if enforcement officers search for particular licenses for purposes other than law enforcement. 

We, of course, have great faith in our sworn officers and yet, even Berkeley has seen its share of police corruption such as thefts from evidence rooms. How would corrupt license searches work? 

As one example, a private detective might be seeking evidence of an adulterous affair for use in a divorce proceeding. By covertly partnering with enforcement officers, the detective could have help locating the target's vehicle. If it is found in a surprising location the information can be passed to the detective (in exchange for money) who can then "find" the car independently and use the evidence without exposing the misuse of the boot van. 

Strict auditing of the boot van use - assuming that PayLock's software enables it - can help prevent such problems but requires concentrated effort to implement and sustain. This problem is intrinsic to any mobile license plate recognition system that can be field programmed to search for arbitrary vehicles. 

The Risk of Population Tracking 

The system being deployed in Berkeley does not, as configured, record and report back a list of all parked cars scanned, where, and when - it focuses only on the vehicles targeted in the Scofflaw list. 

Silverman confirmed, however, that the system is capable of recording all parked vehicles - a record that can be used to track the movements of innocent drivers as well as guilty. 

That "track everyone" capability is gaining popularity with law enforcement. Industry standards have arisen to collect that information into searchable databases, allowing police to search "backwards in time" for the whereabouts of anyone they like. Because the data is collected without the need for a warrant, as things stand, it can be retained and searched without a warrant and with few meaningful restrictions on the purpose of the search. 

The Berkeley Police Department has no plans to perform this kind of surveillance and we suspect would be reluctant to rush into such a program. Nevertheless, times change. Little appears to stand in their way of eventually performing that kind of surveillance with no need for additional authorization from the city and no additional oversight. 

Generalized population tracking, if it were to begin, would heighten the risks of corrupt abuse of the system. Additionally, it would greatly challenge the balance of police powers vs. civil liberties. 

The Risk of "Wholesale" Surveillance 

Police have always had the right to examine the license plate of parked car and compare it to a list of wanted vehicles - or to look up information about any vehicle for legitimate police purposes. In that sense, the PayLock system is nothing new. 

What has changed is that such searches are now quantitatively so much more efficient, that there is a qualitative change in the civic order. 

The term "wholesale surveillance" to describe this kind of qualitative shift was coined by security expert Bruce Schneier who wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle and on his blog

"On the face of it, this is nothing new. The police have always been able to run a license plate check. The difference is they would do it manually, and that limited its use. It simply wasn't feasible for the police to run the plates of every car in a parking garage, or every car that passed through an intersection. What is different isn't the police tactic, but the efficiency of the process. 

"Technology is fundamentally changing the nature of surveillance. Years ago, surveillance meant trench-coated detectives following people down streets. It was laborious and expensive, and was only used when there was reasonable suspicion of a crime. Modern surveillance is the police officer with a license-plate scanner, or even a remote license-plate scanner mounted on a traffic light and a police officer sitting at a computer in the police station. It's the same, but it's completely different. 

"It's wholesale surveillance. 

"And it disrupts the balance between the powers of the police and the rights of the people.” 

Schneier later adds: 

"Like the license-plate scanners, the electronic footprints we leave everywhere can be automatically correlated with databases. The data can be stored forever, allowing police to conduct surveillance backward in time. 

"The effect of wholesale surveillance on privacy and civil liberties is profound; but unfortunately, the debate often gets mischaracterized as a question about how much privacy we need to give up in order to be secure. This is wrong. 

"It's obvious that we are all safer when the police can use all techniques at their disposal. What we need are corresponding mechanisms to prevent abuse, and that don't place an unreasonable burden on the innocent." 

This is awkward for a city like Berkeley. The adoption of PayLock by Berkeley is motivated by the goals of increasing city revenue by collecting on overdue tickets, while reducing enforcement costs and (purportedly) improving customer service. A resource strapped city like Berkeley, pursuing such goals, is less than likely to invest adequately in new regulations and mechanisms to prevent abuse. 

The wholesale surveillance aspect of the system makes it a bit like a very dangerous power tool. We hope that the people using the tool (the police and PayLock) will be careful and responsible, but for its unprecedented power there are precious few substantial protections from abuse. 

The Risk of Federalizing Municipal Police 

In the years that have followed the attack on the World Trade Center, federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been building intelligence information systems. These are used to share massive surveillance databases among agencies. These systems include information sharing partnerships with states and municipalities. 

On the one hand, this is understandable and hopefully helpful. The nature of threats to public safety has changed dramatically. Centralized intelligence gathering has reportedly been helpful in detecting and thwarting terrorist efforts in their planning stages, before attacks can be carried out. 

On the other hand, this new mode of federalized surveillance of the general population is rife with potential for abuse yet is being carried out far away from meaningful oversight and accountability to the general public. 

As the ties and information sharing between municipalities like Berkeley and the Department of Homeland Security grow, there are few if any barriers to prevent license plate recognition technology from being used to conduct wholesale surveillance of the general population, forwarding the information to federal databases. 

The Risk of Third Party Surveillance 

Regardless of what actions are taken by PayLock, Berkeley, or the federal government, the risk of wholesale surveillance by third parties is also growing. 

PayLock's system of license plate recognition is polished and conveniently packaged, but the underlying technology is widely available. A determined private party could covertly equip any vehicle with discreet cameras and computers, drive around, and track vehicles. Even if Berkeley had not decided to use PayLock's systems at all, this risk would be present. 

Is the Sky Falling? What Can be Done? 

The sky is not (yet) falling. We have no reason to believe that, beginning October 18th, the newly deployed PayLock system will be abused. It seems far from likely. 

Nevertheless, in light of the risk factors considered above, it is hard to see how use of the technology in Berkeley will not expand, over time, putting us on a slippery slope to abuse and unchecked enhancement of policing powers at the cost of civil liberties. The risks should be taken quite seriously. Sadly, confronting these risks aggressively is likely to be expensive and politically difficult. 

Some suggestions for Berkeley: 

Berkeley's use of the PayLock system should be reviewed frequently, perhaps each six months. Reviews must not be limited to the system's impact on the city's bottom line nor to the purported customer service benefits. Reviews should look for positive proof that the system has not been abused in the field. Reviews should seek a definitive assessment of how data is being shared and used. Reviews should examine the data retention policies and their implications. 

For fiduciary as well as civil rights reasons, Berkeley should begin to explore the alternative of operating its intelligence gathering systems purely internally, without the need for third party out-of-state corporation. That is, a priority should be made of restoring to the city those police and bureaucratic functions which PayLock assumes. As the underlying technology becomes less expensive and more mature, this option should become easier for the city. 

The city should implement new systems of regulation and oversight for this and similar forms of surveillance. The police department should not be able to expand use of the system without prior approval from city council after public disclosure and hearings. 

The city, the police (and others) should respect the intelligence of the residents and engage in a public education effort to inform Berkeley residents of the detailed operations of the system, its risks, its implications, and what steps are being taken to mediate the risks. The people of Berkeley should be full partners in deciding whether and how to continue using this technology. Glossy sales pitches about improvements to "customer service" and the city's bottom line gloss over what is at stake in a condescending, unhelpful way. 

Meanwhile: Happy motoring and watch where you park.

Steve Jobs: Arab-American

By Shirin Sadeghi (New America Meda)
Thursday October 06, 2011 - 09:47:00 AM

Abdul Fattah Jandali, a young Syrian Muslim immigrant in Wisconsin, never met his son Steve Jobs. When a baby was born to the 23-year-old Jandali—now known as John— and his 23-year-old German-American girlfriend, Joanne Schieble, in 1955, there was no chance he'd be able to grow up with his biological parents. 

Joanne, who belonged to a white, conservative Christian family could not convince her parents to marry an Arab, a Muslim, according to Jandali, who called her father "a tyrant" in a New York Post interview in August 2011. In fact, according to Jandali, she secretly went from Wisconsin to liberal San Francisco to sort out the birth and adoption without letting either him or her parents know. 

And so it was that a nameless Arab American baby was adopted by an Armenian American family. Clara Hagopian and her husband Paul Jobs had been married around seven years and had not been able to conceive. The little bundle that would be Steve, was very much wanted in the Jobs household. 

Steven Paul Jobs, as they named him, grew up without ever knowing his biological father. It seems he had no interest in knowing him later in life, either. When, in August 2011, the London tabloid The Sun, contacted Jandali, he publicly reached out to Steve saying, "“I live in hope that before it is too late he will reach out to me. Even to have just one coffee with him just once would make me a very happy man.” 

But Steve never replied. Less than two months later, he has passed away. 

Jandali says it was his "Syrian pride" that kept him from reaching out to his famous son. In a September 2011 interview with the Reno Gazette—Reno, Nevada being the city the 80-year-old Jandali lives and where, having never retired, he is the Vice President of a casino. "The Syrian pride in me does not want him ever to think I am after his fortune. I am not. I have my own money. What I don’t have is my son...and that saddens me." 

One wonders what Jobs knew of his background. 

His biological father was no ordinary Syrian. According to an interview he gave to the Al Hayat newspaper in February 2011, he was born in French-mandated Syria in 1931 in the town of Homs to a "self-made millionaire" father with no university education who owned "several entire villages" and a homemaker, traditional mother. He was one of five children – the only son of a family with 4 daughters. 

He left Syria at 18 to study at the American University in Beirut, where he was "a pan-Arab activist", a "supporter of Arab unity and Arab independence" who organized with some of the most famous activists of his time. After university, he moved to the United States, and the rest is history, though he regrets leaving his homeland. 

"If I had the chance to go back in time, I wouldn’t leave Syria or Lebanon at all. I would stay in my home country my whole life. I don’t say that out of emotion but out of common sense,” he told Al Hayat. “Of course I miss the social life and wonderful food [in Syria], but the most important thing is the outstanding cultural attributes which in general you don’t find in the West,” says the non-practicing Muslim, who nonetheless “believe[s] in Islam in doctrine and culture.” 

His nostalgia aside, millions worldwide would no doubt disagree with Jandali. Surely a Steve Jobs of Apple Computers could only have been possible in America. 

The estrangement of a father and son is made even more tragic by the fact that not only did each know of the other, but they shared more than a father-son biological connection. Jandali and Schieble eventually did marry— just ten months after she gave their baby boy away to adoption, and just a few months after Joanne's father died. And they had another child—a daughter with whom Steve eventually had a relationship. Mona Jandali— now Simpson— is a world renowned author who was, in her own words, "very close" to her brother Steve once they established a relationship as adults. 

According to Jandali, he had no idea until just a few years ago that the baby his then-girlfriend secretly gave birth to in San Francisco was the man the world knew as Steve Jobs. But Steve must have known for decades, through his relationship with Mona. 

In the August New York Post interview, Jandali tried to let his son know that he didn’t know of Joanne’s San Francisco plans. That he was saddened when he learned of it. "I honestly do not know to this day if Steve is aware of the fact that had it been my choice, I would have loved to have kept him," he said. 

And unless Jobs’s upcoming November authorized biography addresses the issue, Jandali may never know. Instead, with news of Jobs's death, Jandali has

Parking Ticket Scofflaws Take Note! Berkeley's About to Boot Your Car

By Thomas Lord
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 08:26:00 PM
Thomas Lord
Thomas Lord
Thomas Lord

[Editor's Note: This is the first of two articles about Berkeley's new SmartBoot system. Tomorrow's article will explore the risks to citizens created by the city's use of this technology..]

Have you accumulated too many overdue parking parking tickets? If so, the Berkeley Police Department is putting you on notice: your car may soon be booted.

Beginning October 18th BPD will start using new tools to enforce against parking scofflaws. The "boot van", equipped with cameras, a computer, and wireless network connection, will roam the city scanning the license plates of parked cars, looking for those with too many overdue tickets. 

When the boot van spots a vehicle with 5 or more outstanding parking tickets, each at least 30 days old, an alarm will be signaled and the parking enforcement officer will verify the identification and immobilize the vehicle with a SmartBoot™. . Notices will be posted on both the driver's side window and windshield to ensure that drivers know their vehicle cannot be driven. 

The SmartBoot physically resembles traditional boots and immobilizes a vehicle in much the same way, but it adds some high-tech twists. SmartBoots have a numeric keypad. A car owner can remove a SmartBoot, in minutes by punching in a secret numeric code. The catch is that to obtain the code, the violator must first call a customer service number, give a credit card number, and pay up. (The new booting program also includes provisions for owners unable or unwilling to pay over the phone by credit card, and provisions for drivers physically unable to remove the boot themselves.) 

BPD is encouraging parking ticket scofflaws to pay up now, before October 18th, to avoid the extra hassle and penalties of getting booted. 

The Scofflaw Problem 

In the twelve month period ending on September 28, 2011, parking ticket scofflaws accumulated a roughly $1.5 million dollar debt to the city. 

Until now, the city's system for tracking down violators has been expensive and inconvenient for both the city and the violators: 

City employees have had to search "by eye" for offending vehicles and then arrange for them to be towed. The cameras and computers on the boot van are expected to streamline this process: The boot van can drive the speed limit while simultaneously scanning license plates on both sides of the street. One enforcement officer can check many more vehicles per hour than by using traditional methods. 

In the past, violators had to spend hours making a payment (including a $300 towing fee, plus impound charges for vehicles not retrieved promptly). Violators had to visit the impound lot to retrieve their vehicles. Now, drivers with a suitable credit card and phone can remove boots themselves, in minutes and be on their way. 

The Cost of Getting Caught 

If your car is booted, here is what you can expect: 

Seizure notices on your car: Parking enforcement officers will attach large notices to the driver's side window and windshield, alerting you that your car has been booted. The notices include a toll free customer service number which operates 24 hours a day, every day. 

Opportunity to pay over the phone If you have a suitable credit card, the customer service number can accept payment for your outstanding tickets, plus a $140 non-refundable booting fee, plus a $500 refundable deposit on the boot itself. Those unable to make such a payment can, for example, visit city service center to pay their fine in person. 

Self-help removing the boot: Once you are paid up, you'll be given the secret code number that can unlock the boot. You can remove the boot and be on your way in minutes. 

Return the boot for your deposit: You must drop off the boot at a return center to receive back your $500 deposit. Late fees accumulate if you do not, although BPD Traffic Bureau Lieutenant Diane Delaney says that the city can work something out with people who genuinely can not make the 24 hour deadline. 

Or else get towed after-all: If you've been booted and don't resolve the issue within 48 hours, your car becomes "tow-able", says Delaney, with a corresponding accumulation of additional fees. 

Attempting to Enforce Fairly and Evenly 

Delaney says that BPD wants to be sure the new enforcement technology is applied evenly to all parts of the city. Therefore, she says, the Traffic Bureau has divided the city into 10 "zones". The boot van will be deployed in one zone at a time, cycling through all other zones before returning. 

BPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Mary Kusmiss emphasized that pursuing parking ticket scofflaws has always been a focus of the department — the new boot van and SmartBoot are new tools in that effort, not a change in priorities.

Mumps Outbreak on UC Berkeley Campus Prompts Call for Vaccination Boosters

By Patricia Decker (BCN)
Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 01:37:00 PM

Fever, headaches, muscle aches and fatigue. For members of the University of California at Berkeley community, these symptoms could spell more than a common cold -- they could mean a case of the mumps.

The university community is experiencing an outbreak of the viral infection after several cases of mumps were confirmed in students last Thursday, campus health officials said.

On Tuesday, UC Berkeley's health services website posted an alert about the outbreak, encouraging all Cal students, faculty and staff -- regardless of their vaccination history -- to receive an additional dose of the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, or MMR. 

Most people receive two doses of MMR, with the first administered at 12 to 15 months of age and the second given any time at least four weeks after the first dose. 

Mumps is spread by droplets of saliva or mucus originating from the mouth, nose or throat of an infected person. 

"University Health Services and the City of Berkeley's Public Health Division are working closely with the California Department of Public Health to limit (the) spread of the disease," the alert read. 

Members of the UC Berkeley community should review their vaccination history, and health officials recommend that people seek vaccination if they are not sure whether they have received two doses of MMR. 

Officials also said that a third MMR dose may be helpful in stopping mumps outbreaks. 

The cases confirmed last week involved students residing on the Clark-Kerr campus, which is about half a mile south of the main campus, and living in the Cloyne student cooperative on the north side of campus. A suspected case also involved a student residing in the Cheney Hall dormitory. 

The number of confirmed cases was not provided in the alert. 

Symptoms generally develop 16 to 18 days after exposure to the virus, but may manifest anywhere between 14 to 25 days after exposure, health officials said. 

Those who may have been exposed to mumps should be alert for symptoms including fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue and loss of appetite, as well as swollen or tender salivary glands under the ears, jaw or under the tongue -- on one or both sides of the face. 

Treatment involves getting plenty of rest and consuming fluids. Antibiotics, which are not effective against viruses, are not useful in treating mumps. 

University health officials advice those who may be infected to stay home and contact a health care provider. UC Berkeley students or Tang Center patients may contact the nurse advice line at (510) 643-7197. 

Calls to representatives from University Health Services and the City of Berkeley's Public Health Division seeking comment were not immediately returned today.

Charles Rawson Collier, 1935-2011

Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 02:27:00 PM

Charles Rawson Collier, a long time resident of Berkeley, passed away on September 6,2011, just days before his 76th birthday. Charles came to Berkeley in 1964 with his first family to work as a visual artist, producing acrylics, etchings and prints. He soon became involved with the Free Speech Movement, participating in demonstrations and rallies at the Peoples’ Park and elsewhere in Berkeley. He with his wife Corlu founded the Committee for the Rights of the Disabled (CRT), a precursor of the Center for Independent Living in the Berkeley area. Charles advocated for handicapped accessibility on San Francisco transport and many other issues. He himself fought lifelong adversity and disability to live independently in his own home until his recent illness.  

Charles had a mischievous enjoyment and childlike enthusiasm for inventions, creations, and disruptions of the norm. He delighted in the kites flown at the Marina Park and the anonymous sculptures that appeared on the Bay shores. He spent months planning for his perfect photo of a solar eclipse. He was proud of his ability to solve all kinds of problems, including building of his own leg brace. He reinvented himself as new interests came into his life. He became well known for his Renaissance Woodwind Instruments (Collier Instruments) which he fashioned in his shop at the back of his house – recorders, shawms, flutes, and cornettini. His instruments are still played by early music groups in concert. When the business lost ground, he developed linotype equipment which allowed for greatly expanded printing capacity, As the industry moved to new technology. Charles became a recording engineer. He recorded student concerts for the Berkeley Public Schools and the Cazadero Music Camp, giving students, parents and teachers the joy of savoring student performances with his professional recordings.  

Charles will be remembered by neighbors and friends for his insistence on doing things for himself despite impediments. He loved zipping around Berkeley from his Grant Street home on his electric scooter, visiting his favorite coffee shop and Thai restaurant on Shattuck Avenue, or traveling as far as BART would take him to new destinations. He documented accessibility on BART with the hope of producing a publication. 

Charles was born in Washington, D.C. on September 10, 1935 to Nina Perera Collier and Charles Wood Collier. He grew up on Indian Spring Farm in Darlington, Md. He attended the Friends School in Baltimore, then Swarthmore College, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in NYC. He moved to Berkeley after exploring life in Taos, NM; Oaxaca, Mexico; and Portland, OR. He is survived by his two families, Melinda Collier and daughter Nina Collier; Corlu Collier, daughter Liz Collier, and son Richard Mulders; siblings, Leo, George, Lucy Collier and Monica Schmidt; nephews David John, Nicholas and Patrick Collier; niece Lucy Jane Collier; and extended family. A memorial event will be scheduled at a future time.



"Occupy Wall Street" Comes to Berkeley

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 12:26:00 PM

As Jimmy Durante used to say, ever’body wants tuh ged in tuh duh’act. (If you’re too young to remember him and/or don’t come from Brooklyn, Everybody Wants to Get into the Act.) After a frustratingly slow start, the Occupy Wall Street action finally has legs.

Over the weekend, it became front page news in the big national papers. They all ran approximately the same story, recounting how the previously invisible campers took to the road and were arrested in impressive numbers while trying to cross the Brooklyn Bridge in the auto lane. Most of the stories featured approximately identical quotes from various Poli Sci professors at second-tier institutions, ones easily located in the metropolitan areas where the newspapers were published, on the order of “If they want to accomplish anything, they’ll need a program and identified leaders.”

Well, no. The most useful analysis of what seems to be going on could be found on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times Science Section, in a fascinating article about slime molds. Here’s the basics: 

“Slime molds are a remarkable lineage of amoebas that live in soil. While they spend part of their life as ordinary single-celled creatures, they sometimes grow into truly alien forms. Some species gather by the thousands to form multicellular bodies that can crawl. Others develop into gigantic, pulsating networks of protoplasm. 

While naturalists have known of slime molds for centuries, only now are scientists really starting to understand them. Lab experiments are revealing the complex choreography of signals in some species that allows 20,000 individuals to form a single sluglike body. “ 

These congeries of creatures can move long distances as a group, consume all kinds of fodder, and generally take over the world by concerted action. Kind of like the Wall Street Occupyers, isn’t it? 

And now they’ve started spreading around the country. They’ve been detected in places as diverse as Chicago and McAllen, Texas, wherever that might be.  

They’re even in Berkeley, have been for a while now. The first wave was a group of Red Diaperish older people who spontaneously organized a “Tax the Rich” sign-waving in front of the empty Oaks Theater on Solano in mid-September, with allusions to the ongoing Wall Street action but no formal affiliation. The original convenor of that group, an artist friend of mine, doesn’t even use the Internet, but she found someone to publicize their second appearance on Solano with a commentary in these pages.  

The message was all over the web before it hit the big papers, of course. But national press, complete with videos of 700 people getting arrested, did wonders for spreading the word.  

Now even U.C. students, a bit slow off the dime, are poised to get into the act, according to the Daily Californian. A couple of planning meetings have already happened. There will be an official planning meeting (“General Assembly”) at noon this Saturday in front of the Bank of America at Center and Shattuck, followed by a full-dress Occupy Berkeley action in the same location the Saturday after that.  

These new folks are fully up to code in their use of modern media. They’ve got a web site, http://www.occupyberkeley.org/, a Facebook page, Twitter (@occupyberkeley), and even a telephone number (1-510-924-0268) and an Email address for questions.  

Of course, using all this stuff as they are, they haven’t quite managed to free themselves from corporate shackles. The first item on the website is an invitation to join a Google Group, and Facebook and Twitter are also somewhat corporate, aren’t they? 

So what’s the message? Well, it seems to be whatever you need it to be, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There has even been sotto voce speculation, in Twittering and commenting in various venues, that some Tea Partyers might want to make common cause with Occupyers, since none of them have anything good to say about big banks. 

The possibly apocryphal story about what President Franklin Roosevelt is supposed to have said to African-American union leader A. Phillip Randolph comes to mind: “Go out and make me do it.” Roosevelt supposedly knew what the right and just way to deal with “Negro” demands was, but was reluctant to take the intiative to set things right without pressure from Randolph and his troops.  

This story has been reported to be a favorite of President Barack Obama’s. He might be hoping that the Occupyers will “make him do it.” 

Whatever, of course, “it” is. That’s the problem. So much is wrong, it’s hard to know where to start. Lists of grievances have been produced in New York, Berkeley and elsewhere, but solutions are not so easy.  

It’s all about money and moneymen, though, as it always is. There’s another Roosevelt presidential quote for that one: “malefactors of great wealth”—but it’s from a different president, trust-busting Teddy, way back in 1907. The malefactors been around for a while, and they’re still up to the same old tricks. 

Commentators on current events are talking about “right” and “left” populism, but the distinction continues to be fuzzy. Those of us who didn’t sleep through our European history lectures can’t help remembering what we learned about other periods, especially the 1930s, when the many populist streams initially seemed to be flowing together into a mass almost as powerful as a slime mold on the move.  

Slime has a bad name in some quarters, but this is not intended to be a pejorative analogy. Slime molds are one of nature’s many forces, neither good nor bad intrinsically, just what happens.  

We’ve been down these paths before. Commenters on Occupyer websites and Facebook pages are already citing Mario Savio’s famous Free Speech movement exhortation. 

And these new populists could easily take as their manifesto Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 speech announcing the Second New Deal, in which he denounced all of the same evils being catalogued this week on Wall Street. What’s often forgotten is that America’s most powerful homegrown Fascist, Father James Coughlin, started out as a strong supporter of the New Deal and denouncer of bankers. He cleverly manipulated radio, the modern media of his day, to build a strong national following for diatribes that sounded not unlike some of the speeches which are now being made in New York and elsewhere, if you leave out his anti-Semitism.  

The populism of the 1930s eventually diverged and re-coalesced into a variety of mass movements, some good and some bad. Even Hitler started out as a populist.  

Some of my Old Left descended friends now organizing for this new movement can remember family stories about the horror with which some of their parents and grandparents greeted the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact, though it eventually collapsed. They don’t want to make the same mistakes their parents did, but they don’t necessarily have a completely new strategy to cure the ills of society.  

Meanwhile, we can expect the Major Media to continue to look for The Leaders, because that makes reporting so much simpler, doesn’t it? Just a simple quote or two and home to bed. Both publishers and politicians searched furiously for the “Negro Leaders” in the 1960s, and were continually confounded by the likes of Fanny Lou Hamer, who didn’t fit their stereotypes of what a leader looked like.  

In the end, all we really know now is that this movement, whatever it will turn out to be, is on the move. Why and where are yet to be determined. It will be fun to watch. 





The Editor's Back Fence

This Is the Weekend Issue: Good until Monday

Sunday October 09, 2011 - 01:21:00 PM

We're trying this week to use the issue with Friday's date all through the weekend for consistency. If you have time, keep checking for updates. The issue with Monday's date will appear midday. 


Also, the editorial until further notice will be kept up until it's replaced by a new one.

Hancock Bill Extends Berkeley Solar Finance Scheme to State: Was it a Success or a Failure?

Thursday October 06, 2011 - 02:51:00 PM

Today the Planet received a press release from the office of Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), touting a bill she sponsored that would let homeowners borrow against the value of their property to finance installing solar energy systems, backed by government bonds, with payback billed with property taxes. This plan is similar to one originally floated in Berkeley by her husband Mayor Tom Bates's then assistant, Cisco DeVries.

The release describes the Berkeley experiment as being "highly successful" but for another point of view, see Berkeley's Solar Plan Goes Dark, The city has decided to abandon its once-touted home-solar financing program. an article by Judith Scherr in the East Bay Express.

You be the judge. Here's the release: 




Sacramento – Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) welcomed the Governor’s decision today to sign SB 555, a bill she authored that creates a new program for the voluntary financing of energy efficiency and water conservation systems on residential and commercial property. 

SB 555 enables general law cities, counties, special districts and regional planning agencies to establish a voluntary “community facility district” (CFD) to help property owners invest in energy efficiency, alternative energy and water conservation improvements on their property. The new program is completely voluntary. Only property owners who “opt-in” to the financing scheme will participate. 

“For many years now, Californians have been looking for ways to reduce emissions and water consumption while decreasing their own utility bills. This new law will do just that,” Senator Hancock stated. “While the cost savings to property owners in the new law are important, we will all benefit from reduced emissions, reduced energy and water use, energy independence and job creation. All this comes at no cost to taxpayer.” 

Under SB 555, property owners who voluntarily agree to participate will realize immediate savings on their utility bills while paying off the high up-front costs over time on their property tax bills. Funding for the program will come from a bond issued the new CFD and repayment will be guaranteed by future property taxes, even if the house if sold. 

The bill is modeled after the City of Berkeley’s highly successful “Financing Initiative for Renewable and Solar Technology program (FIRST). The $1.5 million pilot program, undertaken in 2008, sold out in less than 9 minutes. [Emphasis added] Fifteen other states have already passed legislation enabling local governments to replicate the Berkeley FIRST program. The signing of SB 555 into law makes California the 16th state to take action. 




Public Comment

AB 292 and SB 900: Both Bad for the Environment;
Why Did Skinner and Hancock Vote for Them?

By Antonio Rossmann
Tuesday October 11, 2011 - 09:58:00 AM

Enactment of these two bills represent the culmination of a perfect storm, which runs the risk of repetition often in the days ahead. But first explanation of what they are.

SB 292 was the special interest bill to facilitate approval of a new NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles. The project proponent is AEG Enterprises, Philip Anschutz' empire that includes many of the world's major sports and entertainment stadia, and ownership of several professional sports teams in hockey, basketball, and soccer. AEG claims they need special treatment under CEQA in order to bring an NFL team to Los Angeles; the asserted fear is that a lengthy CEQA lawsuit would delay the arrival of a team they acquire from elsewhere, leaving that team stranded in its present location. AEG also claimed discrimination because two years ago the Legislature gave a competing Southern California promoter categorical exemption from CEQA. AEG built a political consensus for its project and CEQA exception by touting the tens of thousands of jobs that would be created by stadium construction. 

It is noteworthy that the competing promoter has had his blanket CEQA exemption for two years, premised on the creation of immediate jobs at his site, and none (nor a football team) have been created there. It also bears observation that short of Chevron and Apple, AEG more than any other corporate entity in America has financial capability to assume the risk of stadium construction, and legal ability to marshal the law firms to defeat a meritless or competitor-motivated CEQA case. AEG appeals, however, to a defining and bipartisan theme of our political generation: all reward must remain private, all risk becomes socialized. 

Claiming that it was not asking for a blanket exemption, AEG negotiated with the Assembly Speaker's office the terms of SB 292: any CEQA case would have to be filed directly in the Court of Appeal rather than Superior Court. This process would thereby potentially shorten legal review by essentially depriving challengers of a guaranteed appeal on the merits, because appeals from decisions of the Court of Appeal can be summarily denied without hearing by the California Supreme Court. This process also meant that in this one case the Court of Appeal would be expected to set aside all of its appellate tasks to act in this instance as a trial court, for the sole benefit of AEG's project. 

Complementing these unfortunate features, SB 292 has some positive elements. It does impose some project approval conditions that are intended to minimize greenhouse gas emissions from the new stadium project; whether these are feasible or enforceable remains to be seen if the project does move forward. The bill also requires the approval agency to maintain a contemporaneous public record and submit that record immediately to the reviewing court with only copying costs charged to the petitioner. (One can argue that existing California law has always required the agency to maintain its record contemporaneously, and then to submit it to the court upon payment of solely copying costs, but in recent year truculent cities and developers have made a game of racking up both time and expense for doing what the law already requires, and demanding in some cases that CEQA petitioners pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for record preparation before a CEQA case can be tried.) 

SB 292's terms were introduced in the Legislature seven days before the end of session. The tactic used was "gut and amend" of an existing Senate measure in the Assembly, thereby precluding all but the most perfunctory of hearings on one day's notice in both houses of the Legislature. Once approved by the Assembly as gutted and amended, it went to the floor of the Senate for concurrence vote. As expected, Governor Brown (who became quite critical of CEQA as mayor of Oakland, despite his strong support for the law in his initial gubernatorial terms) signed the bill, with much fanfare at the proposed Los Angeles stadium site. 

But SB 292 left an immediate legacy of even greater potential harm. Once it was voted out of the Assembly, the Senate President Pro Tem performed a similar gut and amend in his chamber on another Assembly measure, AB 900, and copied the AB 292 format to be applied statewide in major projects selected by the Governor. Thus, instead of confining the CEQA trial to one Court of Appeal case and to one known project, AB 900 makes trial courts out of all the Courts of Appeal in the state for any number of projects, and of equal moment, is not tied to any specific project known at this time. Instead, the projects eligible for this special treatment are chosen by the Governor, with the proviso that his selection is not subject to judicial review. The Governor signed this bill concurrently with SB 292. 

AB 900 resulted from a process even more foul than that of SB 292. AB 900 was introduced on the next to last day of the legislative session, given a perfunctory hearing in the Senate, and then rushed off the floors of both houses, all in under 24 hours. As a consequence, the only "participants" in this measure were those who secretly negotiated it; even less opportunity was provided for critical or considered review, or to have AB 900's flaws exposed or corrected before such rapid enactment. If the accepted legislative process had played out over several months, the entire land-use regulatory, environmental, and development communities could have addressed CEQA revisions with a more rational and beneficial outcome. 

As the Daily Planet's editor reports, our Assembly Member voted for both of these measures, and our Senator voted for the more significant and flawed one, AB 900. These votes can be explained on two levels. The first is that of following party leadership on pain of disciplinary action; on the Assembly side, the Speaker has not hesitated to punish Democratic dissenters, in one case actually threatening to terminate the staff of Pasadena's representative for supporting the efforts of newspapers to uncover the chamber's internal expense account. The Speaker believed he had negotiated a stadium bill that was less drastic than a complete override of CEQA. On the Senate side, the President Pro Tem has made no secret of his personal priority to keep the Sacramento Kings in that town, and so exploited one of the basic arguments against the stadium SB 292 (it singles out one project for favorable treatment) to expand the opportunity for equal treatment for what may emerge as his own professional sports stadium. 

(What is is about stadia, be they at Cal or Staples Center or in the Natomas floodplain, that causes our officials and leaders to lose their heads? Do not the University and State of California have better priorities?) 

The larger explanation for these bills lies in successful exploitation of our current economy to stoke unsound fears that environmental protection must be sacrificed to restore economic opportunity. "Jobs" has replaced "national security" as the talismanic codeword to justify the waiver of protections that most citizens support and that time and again have been shown in dispassionate analyses NOT to stand in the way of economic progress. In Washington this banner is carried by the minority party; in California it finds large support in the majority party. Even a generally progressive Governor Brown (and hence his staff) envision "CEQA reform" as a priority for state legislation. But we must remind these leaders that if AEG wanted to create jobs in downtown Los Angeles without SB 292, it has ample financial and legal resources both to play fair and to exact fairness from others in the land-use review, without asking the state to remove the last measure of private risk standing in the way of its private enrichment. 

The proper response, then, calls for a comprehensive public review of CEQA procedures, not the private deal-brokering that stained the end of the current legislative session. That will require our local legislators to vote their constituents' values in the coming session, and stand up for a better outcome. The good news is that an example was set in the concluded session, by Assembly Member Jared Huffman of Marin and Sonoma Counties, who properly objected to a foul process and a foul result. In the coming year Berkeley's representatives should not let Huffman stand alone, and make clear to the administration and their party leadership that we can do better. 

In the meantime, we should observe how 292 and 900 play out. Perhaps the NFL will yet decline to let LA steal another city's team. Perhaps no project will qualify for SB 900's exemptions, and the measure will sunset in 2014 never having been exercised. And let's not discount a constitutional challenge: the Court of Appeal's original jurisdiction is defined by the State Constitution, which includes the courts' discretion to decline to hear a case on the merits. Can the Legislature tell the courts how to conduct that business, any more than the courts can tell the Legislature how to do theirs? But perhaps the ultimate irony would be an affirmative answer to both questions, with a judicial decree that the Legislature can no longer proceed under "gut and amend" as it did this year. 

Antonio Rossmann has practiced CEQA law for nearly 40 years, including some of its landmark appellate decisions. He also teaches that subject at UC Berkeley School of Law. 


Local Activists Join New National Movement to “Take Back the American Dream”

By Ken A. Epstein
Tuesday October 11, 2011 - 04:17:00 PM
Van Jones
Van Jones
Gaby Pacheco
Gaby Pacheco
Nelini Stamp
Nelini Stamp
Justin Ruben
Justin Ruben

Twenty-three- year old Nelini Stamp became an activist at the age of 17 when her family was evicted from their apartment in New York City. She is one of the young generation of organizers who responded quickly to the call of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

“I went down there and didn’t realize it was going to change my life,” said Stamp, who is a member of the Working Families Party. “I started sleeping on cardboard (and began) pressuring labor organizations and community organizations to come on down and check it out.”

“We don’t need demands,” she explained in response to mainstream press criticisms. “If we tell them demands, it’s saying they have the power. And we have the power because we have strength in numbers.”

Stamp was among the 2,0000 veteran and newly emerging leaders from around the country who came together recently in Washington, DC to spark what they hope will become a national coalition and movement to “ Take Back the American Dream” from bankers, corporate CEOs and the lobbyist-owned politicians who have turned that dream into a nightmare. 

“Something is happening” in the country, something the Occupy Wall Street protesters represent, a turning point, said Van Jones, a leader of the coalition who became nationally prominent for his work in the Bay Area for green jobs for urban youth. 

“You knew at some point there was going to be a pain threshold that ordinary people would hit,” said Jones, predicting a rising wave of protests and new progressive candidates in races across the country. “You are going to continue to see the sleeping giant stand up…They had the Arab spring. Welcome to the American autumn.” 

The new coalition came out of the national “Take Back the American Dream” conference held Oct. 3 – Oct. 5 at the Washington Hilton. Prime movers include Jones, who heads Rebuild the Dream, designed to serve as the “hub” or support group for the coalition. Jones, now based in the Los Angeles area, served briefly as Obama’s “Green Czar” before he was sabotaged by attacks from Fox television and Glenn Beck. 

Other key players are MoveOn.org, a non-profit advocacy group with 5 million members that pioneered the use of the Internet to raise millions of dollars for progressive candidates; and Campaign for America’s Future, a progressive public policy think tank, whose board includes leaders of the AFL-CIO, The Nation magazine and the NAACP. 

The 10-point program, Contract for the American Dream, reflects a focus on the country’s immediate and desperate economic, health and social needs: Tax Wall Street speculation, rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, expand Medicare so it is available to all, invest in public education, strengthen Social Security, invest in green technology, create decent paying jobs, end the wars and rebuild the country and strengthen democracy. 

The 10 demands are product of tens of thousands of ideas submitted last summer. Over 130,000 people participated in submitting and ranking proposals. Nearly 1,600 house meetings were held, reaching into every Congressional district in the country, to evaluate and finalize the contract, according to Justin Ruben, MoveOn’s executive director. 

Underscoring the demands is one the coalition’s basic messages, Ruben said: “America is not broke – our democracy and our economy have been hijacked by the wealthy few.” 

“This is the newest force in America,” he said, calling for nationwide demonstrations on Nov. 17. “We’re going to draw a line in the sand saying we will not accept yet another budget agreement that cuts everything but the handouts for the rich.” 

According to Robert Borosage, Co-Director of Campaign for America’s Future, we need to understand that because this calamity was man-made, we ourselves can solve it. “We need a politics that is disruptive, that challenges this order. If ordinary people do extraordinary things, we can win.” 

Among the 70 labor, environmental, political, human rights and other groups that already joined as partners in the American Dream movement are the Sierra Club, AFSCME, Planned Parenthood, Change to Win, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Common Cause, Code Pink, Communication Workers of America (CWA), Ella Baker Center of Human Rights in Oakland, the Hip Hop Caucus, Peace Action and Youth Speaks. 

The strategy is not to require groups to change what they do or believe but to bring them together under a single banner, as Jones explained. People are already fighting back, he said. “The only question is whether we are going to fight together or continue fighting alone.” 

By developing a coalition that allows for independent action on the part of its partner groups, this month’s founding conference managed to avoid the furious battles over strategy, priorities and beliefs that so frequently derail attempts to build unity. 

Some critical observers have questioned whether this group will in fact be a smoke screen to lure young people and other disillusioned Americans into supporting the Democratic Party and Barack Obama.  

On the opposite side, others raise concerns that the organization might undermine the president, already the target of unrelenting attacks, giving aid and comfort to those who are seeking a Republican presidential victory in 2012. 

According to Jones and the other leaders the American Dream movement, neither of these criticism are true. The 2008 campaign slogan never was “Yes, he can,” but “Yes, we can,” Neither the president nor any of the elected officials can turn around the situation by themselves. 

“We finally have a people-powered, people-owned independent political movement. It’s not based on any political party and not beholden to any political party (or leader),” said Jones at the closing of the conference. “ Something bigger is at stake,” he said. “We have to rescue America: middle class, working class and poor folks. 

“Outside the context of a mass movement Washington is helpless to oppose” the threat to liberty from economic and corporate power, he said. “Bankers have flooded (Washington) with 20,000 lobbyists, who have more influence than 300 million Americans.” 

Richard Trumka, a third generation coal miner and head of the AFL-CIO, brought the assembly to its feet when he called for making job creation a national priority. 

“Work isn’t just what supports your family,” he said. “It’s what defines us, it’s who we are, it’s how we contribute to the world. It’s our legacy. 

“The harm (of joblessness) is deep, and it’s long lasting. We, the people, are angry, and who can blame us? (But) where will our anger go, toward hatred and extremism? Or toward building a future for everyone?” 

Many participants appeared to be deeply moved by what they saw and heard at the conference.  

“I was one of those people who (previously) was quite discouraged,” said East Bay resident Judy Pope, a member of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club. “I’m 65, and everything I care about is under extreme threat. 

“I’m very encouraged to come here and see a lot of young people and people of color doing a lot of phenomenal things,” she said. “It seems that we might be coming together.” 

One of the young activists who spoke at the conference was Gaby Pacheco, 25, who organizes youth in Southern Florida into the national United We Dream Network to fight for the Dream Act, a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to attend university. 

Born in Ecuador, she came to the U.S. with her parents when she was seven years old. Though a college graduate in special education, her undocumented status means she still is unable to teach and pursue a career providing music therapy for autistic children. 

To support the Dream Act, she and three others last year walked 1,500 miles from Miami to Washington, DC, taking their arguments to members of Congress. 

As a result of her outspoken leadership, federal immigration (ICE) police raided her home. 

Because I started speaking, they selectively came after my family,” she said. “Immigration rounded up all of us. I remember seeing my parents and two sisters taken away in a white van. We have lived in the United States for 20 years, but my dad was put on an ankle bracelet.” 

Determined and not intimidated, she proudly says her organization has already stopped 125 deportations this year. “I think there is hope,” even though the deportations are worse now than they were under Bush, she said. 

“We’re going back to President Obama to say `follow through – you can be our friend,’” said Pacheco. “There’s a lot still to do to push our elected officials and President Obama.”

New: Occupy Berkeley Report

By Steve Martinot
Sunday October 09, 2011 - 03:11:00 PM

The Berkeley occupation, joining some 900 other cities, has begun. Though the original call was for people to come to the B of A grounds at Center and Shattuck to plan an occupation, which would then begin on Saturday, Oct. 15, 100 people showed up, and the decision was made to begin right away. 

The process was inspiring, at least to me. The people, upon arriving at the assemblage, all had different thoughts about what was to transpire, about how to understand the corporate enemy, and with little common conception of what to do first, where to do it, or how. Slowly, over the course of a few hours, those issues were resolved. It was slow, but only those who think that time is money would be frustrated by the rate of speed of the process. What the assemblage sought for most was an understanding in common. 

The procedure was one of consensus, traditionally a difficult process for a large group. Consensus works best for small groups of a dozen or twenty. But for this assemblage, knowing that this had worked in OccupySF, and in OccupyWallSt, and other places, consensus was the means, and it worked. 

The decisions made were first, to start the occupation on that day, Saturday, October 8, which meant that a number of people came forward and said that they would camp out there starting tonight; second, to make it an occupation in the sense that all the others were; third, that the General Assembly for this occupation would meet every day at 6 pm, and be composed of those who were there, acting to support the encampment and the occupation; and finally, that the General Assembly would be the direction and guidance of the occupation, and that all committees and activities would be responsible to it as a decision making body. 

Each of these decisions emerged out of serious oppositions and choices. Whether to start right away raised the issue that it would only be a few people to start, and thus risked creating a great vulnerability. But various resources were offered that strengthened the feeling toward action. The issue whether this should be an "official" occupation, a true "sister" encampment to all the others raised the debate over whether it should be at the B of A or at MLK park, opposite City Hall. Those who volunteered to be the first campers chose the B of A. The issue of the General Assembly meeting each day at 6 was easily resolved. And people took a break to return at 6 that very day to compose the first GA. 

I was amazed and heartened at the ability of the assemblage to come together, even from moments when it was evenly divided pro and con on an issue, and arrive at a consensus. This happened a number of times. People took seriously the notion that process is important, and in fact, primary. 

The first GA (at 6 pm) was composed of about 30 people, almost all of whom had been at the noon assemblage. It addressed the issue of whether consensus worked or not, the question of facilitation, the question of respect for difference, the question of organizing committees to take care of tactical considerations, and proposals on process and organization. The meeting continued after I left at around 7 pm. 

One aspect of these assemblages is particularly noteworthy, and that is the use of the "people's mike" – in place of the electronic technology by which we have become used to speaking to groups. With the people's mike, those who can hear the speaker repeat what the speaker says, so the those who can't hear the speaker can hear the repetition, which is louder because spoken by many in unison. This puts the speaker in a position of speaking only short phrases, and pausing while the assemblage repeats his/her words for those more distant. It means that the speaker can be (and really has to be) more circumspect, more concise, more directly to the point. It is also edifying for the speaker to hear his/her own words in echo. And harangues become very difficult, if not impossible. Things become clearer when one has to slow down, which the "people's mike" requires. As each person is recognzed by the facilitator, s/he says "mike check" to get the attention of those nearby, who then repeat "mike check," and then function as the people's mike for what the person then has to say. 

It is truly wonderful how slowing things down this way really speeds them up. 

Late breaking item: about 6 people slept at the encampment last night (Saturday, oct. 8), divided between activist and some homeless who have been sleeping on that corner for certain lengths of time. Everyone slept well, and there is plenty food there for them. Everyone should get down there when and if they can.

New: Hancock's Senate Bill 555 Release is Wrong: Berkeley's Solar Program Went Up in Flames

By Nigel Guest
Saturday October 08, 2011 - 10:43:00 PM

Loni Hancock's press release for this bill that you published is seriously flawed. I wrote [the following commentary about the Berkeley Solar Program]for the (Berkeley) Council of neighborhood Associations' August, 2011 newsletter.

The key problems are:

1) The Federal Housing Financing Authority has ruled that solar property tax liens cannot be accepted for properties with "conforming" mortgage loans.

2) The BerkeleyFirst solar financing scheme was not a success. It was a disaster. Only 13 people went through with it, and, after the FHFA ruling, the City abandoned it. 

Mayor Tom Bates speaking about the solar financing program at the City Council meeting of September 16, 2008: 

“I want to compliment the staff on the ingenuity and the creativity that has brought us to this day … This could be the most important contribution we’ve made in turning around global warming, because it can provide the opportunity for people to have affordable solar for their homes and businesses, and do so over a long time at a low rate of interest. It’s not for everybody. But it certainly is an exciting prospect. The world is sort of watching us to see how we do it”. 

In 2008, Mayor Tom Bates recommended that the City Council approve the BerkeleyFirst residential solar program, which they did. I was one of the very few participants in the program. The basic idea was that homeowners would install electrical-generating panels on their roofs, with no batteries, and sell excess power to PG&E, or pay for any net consumption as usual (mainly during winter). The federal government gave a 30% tax rebate, the State then gave about 18% cash to the installer, and the City was willing to finance everything except the state rebate, and add it to your property taxes at an interest rate of 7.75% for 20 years. 

Some people balked at the interest rate, but l already had a mortgage, like most homeowners, conventional refinancing to cover the cost of the solar installation would have forced me into jumbo-lite territory, with stringent qualification requirements and high interest rates. So I thought the interest rate was reasonable, especially as it was possible that the whole of the additional property tax could be deducted from federal tax. My own house was not a very favorable location, as the roof is heavily shaded, but imaginative contractors found solutions that were not absurdly expensive, so in 2008 I went ahead. 

Then my troubles began. The City planned to add a tax lien to each affected property to secure the loans, and issue bonds to recover their money. They described the tax liens as “just like the lien for the taxes you pay to Alameda County”. I'm a born skeptic, and went down to the County Recorders' Office to check this. There is no County Tax Lien, unless you're in default, so the new City lien would stick out like a sore thumb. My standard (conforming) California mortgage contract states that that any tax lien must be paid off immediately. I confronted the City with this, and got pure evasiveness for an answer. The City had subcontracted all financial arrangements to a company called Renewable Funding, LLC. They were charged with answering questions, and did so in as vague and obfuscating manner as possible. 

Meanwhile, the City project manager sat back and appeared to be using commitment-delete software on the few emails that she sent. I contacted my mortgage lender, who said over the phone that the new lien was no problem. However, they would not commit to this in writing. I then posed the question to the City: What if I refinance or sell, so that I am dealing with a new mortgage lender? I got no sensible answer, and the City obviously hadn't done its homework on this issue. The problem was that if my lender, or a new lender, insisted that the lien be paid off, the City wanted all future interest payments for 20 years, which was absurd. When I challenged them on this, they claimed that it was a condition of their contract with the holders of their future bond holders. This became their standard answer to any difficult question. By the time I had obtained my loan, I had exchanged over 300 email messages with the City and Renewable Funding, and found out very little. 

The next thorn became the date when the City would pay me. They refused to guarantee this, which could have left me owing the solar installer a substantial sum of money for some time. Luckily, the installer was patient. 

The final major issues were the administrative fees that I would be charged for the loan, and the dates and amounts of the additional property tax payments. Quite basic, wouldn't you think? However, the standard documentation was so unclear and self-contradictory that I insisted on, and got, a detailed breakdown from the City Director of Finance. 

By then, I had discovered that the whole scheme, including the incredibly complex financing plan was developed by Cisco DeVries, former Chief of Staff of Mayor Tom Bates – and now President of Renewable Funding. Mr. Devries had used his political contacts to set up the BerkeleyFirst financing system, and had approached several other cities as well. 

The initial pilot scheme, for $1 million, was supposed to accommodate 40 homeowners. In fact only 13 completed the program. Last year, the Federal Housing Finance Agency ruled that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should not accept new “conforming loans” with tax liens like Berkeley's on the property, although they grandfathered in existing liens, like mine. This killed BerkeleyFirst, and other similar programs. Belatedly, City management addressed the problems with mortgage lenders, and the Council waived the pre-payment penalty on future interest, so now refinancers and sellers can simply pay off their solar loans in the normal manner. 

Unfortunately, this program is yet one more example of the City having good intentions, but lacking the ability to think through the problems, and develop real solutions.

A Nurse's Viewpoint

By Berit Block, RN
Friday October 07, 2011 - 08:12:00 AM

I have been a Registered Nurse at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center for over 29 years. I love my job. I started at age 24 when it was Merritt Hospital and have worked there through various mergers and labor disputes and strikes. We, as Registered Nurses, have worked very hard through the years for a contract that protects our patients and offers us fair working conditions and upholds our work as a profession. Our contract is upheld by nurses working in other facilities as a Gold Standard. What is happening now, as we are negotiating our contract is unprecedented. Never, in almost 30 years have I experienced what we are now going through. We are asking for language in the contract for better murse-patient staffing ratios and it should be noted that California is one of the only states that has a law that mandates nurse-patient ratios to protect the patients. These have already decreased the number of deaths and poor outcomes in the state. We, as CNA members, are only asking that our previous contract be upheld. We are not asking for anything new, not even a cost of living pay raise. We only want NO TAKEAWAYS. 

The number and type of takeaways proposed by the hospital are unfair and outrageous. They are proposing elimination of all positions less than 4 days a week. There are many nurses working less than 4 or 5 days a week and their benefits are pro rated. Every nurse currently is required to work every other weekend until they have been employed for 15 years. Our previous contract allowed nurses to work every third weekend after 15 years of service and then eliminated the requirement after 20 years of service. Sutter wants every nurse, regardless of years of service, to work every other weekend. Sutter is proposing elimination of ALL sick pay, stating that SDI will kick in after the 8th day of illness. In addition they are proposing cutting back on maternity leave. They are proposing elimination of all 12 hour positions and cutting back on the hours that non-benefited nurses can work. They are proposing large cuts in hourly pay. These are just a few of the more than 72 takeaways that Sutter has offered us! It feels a bit more than trimming the fat. It appears to be more of a union busting technique as the number and type of takeaways are so over the top. 

There have been many figures in the media about how much money nurses make. We are a profession. There are a few nurses who are in a specialty that requires them to be on call and these nurses have the potential to make a lot of money as they usually make half of their hourly wage while they are waiting to be called in. However, this is a time where you are literally waiting for the phone to ring and you do not have total freedom to be any where or do anything you want while you are on call. These are usually high risk areas and are vital should a patient come in needing emergent care. Nurses otherwise make a good salary but if you look at the breakdown in terms of pay per patient the perception changes a bit. If you have 4 patients that you are responsible for and you make $60 an hour, which is average for an experienced nurse, you are talking about $15 an hour per patient. This is for skilled nursing for acute patients such as those out of surgery or medically ill enough to need to be hospitalized with frequent assessments and treatment changes. I know babysitters that get paid more per child and who well deserve it. We are highly trained professionals and are at the bedside 24/7. The figure that you quoted, $130,000, cannot be made hourly by the average nurse and perhaps if you included all of the health care insurance and other benefits might come close but I think it is a stretch. It is a disservice to Nurses to quote that figure since it leads the public to erroneously conclude that we make a huge amount of money per hour and in this depressed economy may not give us support at a time when we need it for ourselves and our patients. 

Sutter Health, a not-for-profit hospital, in 2010 made a "surplus" of $878,000,000. Yes millions!! And this surplus was made by Alta Bates Summit Medical Center only, not all of the hospitals in the Sutter chain. This "surplus" was made while upholding our contract. The very same contract that we are trying to negotiate to keep now. Nothing new for us, just the same contract that still allowed the corporation to collect this huge "surplus". [Sutter executive] Pat Frey received a 43% raise and now makes at least 4 million dollars a year. Who knows how much more he will make when the figures for the 2011 "surplus" are in. Sutter donated 1 million dollars to keep the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento. This is not a corporation that seems to be in financial distress. The term CORPORATE GREED comes to my mind. 

The employees of Sutter Health from the nurses, housekeepers, lab technicians and all the others who keep the hospital running have made that profit, as have the health care consumers. When our negotiations first began and it became clear where we were headed, I felt very disrespected in my mind about how little Sutter seemed to respect my work and that of my colleagues and all the others that work in the hospital. Who did they think made the profit for them? What gets me through this difficult time are the patients. They are why we are here and do what we do. We know we make a difference in people's lives, be it teaching, performing tests, giving reassurance, improving the health or quality of life, or even saving a life. The patients are why we do what we do. We will continue to offer excellent care and are even willing to strike so that we can continue to advocate for them and mandate the highest standards possible for their protection and for our profession.

Beware the Hurry to Build at Haste and Telegraph

By Carol Denney
Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 01:43:00 PM

“If people have an exciting idea, certainly we can try and show community support so that we can encourage the property to move forward,” Worthington said. “Having a vacant lot sitting there is costing the city a lot in terms of lost vitality to Telegraph.”

Daily Californian 10-4-2011

This quotation was a prominent part of the most recent story on the vacant lot at the corner of Haste and Telegraph currently being demonized by public officials, press, residents, and students. The latest article in the Daily Californian describes University of California architecture students eagerly offering designs for projects-to-be in an atmosphere of urgency.

The article neglects to mention that the vacant lot at Haste and Telegraph was previously a single room occupancy hotel which provided both retail space and 77 units of crucial low-income housing. The building was the victim of deliberate arson, as the previous residents know who received warning the night before one wing was set ablaze. 

Berkeley has systematically destroyed its single room occupancy housing, replacing it with high-end condos and “affordable” rental units which are only affordable to the $80,000 a year median income crowd. Single room occupancy units, which generally are the only option for the lowest income and homeless groups they often shelter, are becoming an endangered species. 

It should matter to us as a community, if we care about helping low-income people and homeless people get off the streets , that we replace and protect such housing, which also offers important alternatives for migrant workers, seasonal workers, artists and musicians who come to town for brief periods, and people who need a starting point before they can contemplate the expensive first-month last-month security deposit requirements of more permanent housing. 

The Daily Californian article also neglected to mention that current lot owner Ken Sarachan submitted a proposal for a combination retail and housing complex which was turned down by an earlier city council. Sarachan is not quoted at all, which implies that he is somehow an obstacle to the lots development, despite the fact that his earlier proposal included affordable units and proposed that it be named for Bob Sparks, a beloved community housing activist. 

A history-free story runs the risk of greasing the wheels for a proposal which may not replace the crucial 77 units of low income housing Berkeley sorely needs. A vacant lot may be characterized as contributing little to the avenue, but a development there which precludes the replacement housing Sarachan once tried to build is a theft of potential housing which is irreplaceable. 

Beware the atmosphere of urgency surrounding potential development of the lot at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street in Berkeley. Putting up a building of some kind at that corner might seem urgent from some perspectives. But the need for single room occupancy housing is much, much more urgent. Our community needs to insist that all 77 units of single room occupancy housing be replaced by any new development at the corner of Haste and Telegraph.

How Berkeley Employee Costs Eat Up the Rest of the City's Budget

By David M. Wilson, Berkeley Budget SOS
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 08:24:00 PM

Berkeley residents are beginning to understand why there is no money for those nasty potholes, decayed play structures, community pools, and safety-net social services. They are also beginning to see cracks in the whole civic structure as the City is forced to cover tens of millions in unfunded pension and infrastructure liabilities. 

Silently and stealthily, City employee costs have devoured the rest of the City budget. 

In FY 1991, the total City budget was $139,380,776. 64% of this amount, $90,643,816, was devoted to personnel costs (wages, overtime and other cash payouts, and benefits). The rest of the money was there to keep our streets and sewers and parks in good shape. Twenty years later, in FY 2010, without any significant change in population, the total budget rose 226% to $315,000,553 and employee compensation rose to $252,571,909 or 80% of the budget. 

During that same period, the CPI was up 166% but the City budget was up 226% and employee cost was up 224%. How did we fill the shortfall? Instead of tough bargaining with our unions, we caved in to their wish list, and paid for it by short-changing things like parks, road and sewer maintenance, and the like. 

For example, 1991 capital expenditures by the Public Works Department was $13,563,971. In 1992, $27,054,500 was budgeted. Assuming a total City budget of about $140,000,000 for each of those years, this equates to about 10% and 19% respectively, for capital improvements in those years. 

Twenty years later, for Public Works capital improvement, only $12,967,999 was spent in FY 2010 and $8,387,008 was budgeted for FY 2011. This equates to 4% and 3% respectively of the total City budget of $315,000,000. 

When adjusted for inflation the 1991 expenditures of $13,563,971, should have been $22,516,191 in 2010, just to break even. The $27,054,500 budgeted in 1992 should have become $44,910,470 in 2012, just to break even. Looking at just the past two years as compared to twenty years ago, we’re talking about a real dollar decrease of $26,808,190 in what the city has spent for ongoing infrastructure maintenance and improvements. 

It’s clear that part of the budget that was previously devoted to capital improvements and rainy day reserves is being eaten by the out-of-control employee costs. It’s kind of like the cuckoo who lays her eggs in a smaller bird’s nest. The cuckoo babies get bigger and bigger and starve the rest of the fledglings out of their home. 

How we got here is a bit less clear. Certainly it is not the fault of employee unions: they exist to cut as good a deal as they can for their members. But Berkeley’s job is to cut as good a deal as it can for the city as a whole. Are we afraid of being called “anti-progressive” if we bargain too hard? Or is there something structurally wrong making the City Manager chiefly responsible for negotiating wage/benefit packages of which he is a primary beneficiary?  

The City Council knows or should know all of this. But instead of real solutions, it is now ready to ask the voters (yet again) to pay more taxes. In the meantime, other cities, like San Francisco, have bargained with their unions to bring wage/benefit packages into line with available resources. Berkeley should do the same. 

A new report by the civic group Berkeley Budget SOS reveals that Berkeley has the highest number of employees and highest employee compensation per capita of twelve regional cities of similar size (to view report “City Employee Costs, Proposed Savings and Action Plan” go to www.berkeleycouncilwatch.com). 

Berkeley Budget SOS is a civic organization dedicated to fiscal clarity, accountability and sustainability. It produces articles, analyses, insights and recommendations aimed at resolving the City’s fiscal challenges without additional taxation to its already financially-burdened residents.


My Commonplace Book (a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader.)

by Dorothy Bryant
Tuesday October 11, 2011 - 01:04:00 PM

The advantage of the melting pot is that it undermines tribalism. One gains a distance from one’s own national folly. Fashionable present-day multiculturalism, with its naïve call for ethnic pride, sounds to me like an attempt to restore me to precisely that state of mind my parents ran away from in Europe. The American culture is a strange concoction prepared and cooked by each individual in his own kitchen. It ought not to come in a package with a label and a fake list of wholesome, all-natural ingredients.

—Charles Simic, poet, NY Times Book Review, 12/20/03 

When Simic wrote this, nearly a decade ago, I read it with relief, as a sign that we were coming to the end of a period of manufactured “multiculturalism,” when many hyphenated-Americans were asserting their “ethnic pride”— and trying to force their version of it on others of their ethnic group. 

I hoped the change meant that acquaintances who had suddenly become super Italian-American, would stop accusing me (as one stated in a review) of “concealing my Italian identity” under a WASP name. (In other words, I use my husband’s name; I’d say you could accuse me of being, at worst, old-fashioned.) 

Another accusing question asked by these newly super-ethnic Italian-Americans was why I did not write on “Italian-American subjects,” meaning why I touched only here and there, as needed for the story, on my family experience, instead of churning out the standard IMMIGRANT SAGA. I patiently smiled and said, “Since I am an Italian-American, everything I feel compelled to write about becomes, by definition, an Italian-American subject.” It seemed more polite than saying, “ Nobody tells me what to write.” 


Many defenses of “multiculturalism” are boring and silly. But they can also be sinister. We must not tolerate oppressive, sometimes barbaric, traditions (inflicted mostly on middle-eastern women.) Examples include not only the forced veiling of women’s heads, or whole bodies, but the horror of female genital mutilation that, only a few years ago, I was told was actually being inflicted on some African immigrants in Oakland. (I hope that was just an urban legend.) 


What Simic called the “undermining of tribalism” is great gift to recent immigrants and perhaps an even greater gift to less recent ones. We Americans can be grateful that our parents left behind their “national folly,” while contributing their national treasures and talents into the “melting pot,” so that all of us can choose wholesome flavors from everywhere in the world. 


(Send the Berkeley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book)

It’s the Water, Stupid: The Perils of Clearcutting

By Bob Burnett
Friday October 07, 2011 - 08:47:00 AM

When you fly to the west coast, you usually pass over the Sierra Nevada mountain range. On a clear day you’ll notice the surrounding forests are irregular; they’ve been “checkerboarded.” Millions of acres have been logged and ”clearcut.” While problematic on many levels, clearcutting imperils the drinking water for 45 million Americans. 

Clearcutting is a logging technique where all trees in a given area are cut down. The valuable timber is hauled away and the residue, the “slash pile,” is burned. Then the ground is scraped and sprayed with herbicides to suppress native vegetation. The area is replanted with one species, typically pine. In recent years, this process has been rebranded as “even-age” timber management. 

In California, clearcutting is only permitted on private land and usually occurs on property owned by Sierra Pacific Industries – the largest private landowner in the state holding over 1.7 million acres. Since 1990 Sierra Pacific has received permission from the California Forestry Board to clearcut over a quarter million acres. 

In 2000, the California legislature debated a bill that would have banned all clearcutting because of concerns about its environmental impact. Democratic Governor Gray Davis killed the law by declaring he would only sign legislation “that was the result of compromise between environmentalists and loggers.” (Sierra Pacific made significant contributions to Davis’ campaign and on July 13, 1999, hosted a fundraiser that raised $129,000 for the Governor.) 

Clearcutting has two major consequences. First, it impacts biodiversity. Replacing native trees and plants with a solitary species, pine, may simplify logging but it disrupts the habitat for plants and animals. Clearcutting fractures the fragile forest ecology causing species to migrate and, in some cases, disappear. And, wherever there is clearcutting there are roads for logging trucks; these roads also impact the environment directly by the introduction of polluting vehicles or indirectly by increasing the number of landslides. 

Second, clearcutting has a savage impact on water resources. 60 percent of California’s water supply comes from watersheds in the Sierra Nevada – 15 percent comes from the Colorado River and the remaining 25 percent from groundwater. The logging practices of Sierra Pacific have three impacts.  

The initial clearing process leaves the Sierra Nevada topsoil exposed and vulnerable. Winter rains often carry the best soil away, clogging streams and damaging habitat far away from the logging site. That’s the problem at Battle Creek a stream that descends from Mount Lassen in California’s Shasta County. The US Bureau of Reclamation is overseeing a $128 million project to revive the Battle Creek Salmon population; five dams are being removed and four others modified so steelhead and winter- and spring-run salmon can return to their spawning habitat. Tragically that same habitat is threatened by erosion resulting from upstream Sierra Pacific clearcutting, authorized by the California Department of Forestry. California doesn’t require loggers to monitor water quality and the agency charged with overseeing fish habitat, California Department of Fish and Game, has been decimated by budget cuts. 

The second impact of clearcutting is alteration of the rate of rainwater absorption. In a natural forest, native tree root systems trap and filter rainwater; as a result water percolates slowly through the soil, gradually recharging streams and aquifers over California’s dry months. In “even-age” forests, this process is altered and water is primarily distributed when it’s not needed. In the summer there is less stream water and this negatively affects fish habitat as well as plants and animals on adjacent properties. 

The third impact is from the introduction of herbicides. Each year an average of 200,000 pounds of herbicides are used to domesticate California private forests. Until recently, the most commonly used herbicide was Altrazine. In 2004, the European Union banned Altrazine “because of its persistent groundwater contamination.” US researchers are alarmed by Altrazine’s effects as an endocrine disruptor and its epidemiological connection to low male sperm count. (Health problems from aerial herbicide spraying have been reported in Triangle Lake, Oregon where most residents have tested positive for atrazine in their urine.) Recently, Altrazine has been replaced by Roundup, the most widely used US herbicide. The European Union classed Glyphosate, Roundup's main ingredient, as "dangerous for the environment" and "toxic for aquatic organisms". 

In 2006, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported on Global Warming and California’s Water Supply: “By the end of the century, if global warming emissions continue unabated, statewide annual average temperatures are expected to rise into the higher warming range (8-10.5°f). This temperature rise will lead to more precipitation falling as rain instead of snow, and the snow that does fall will melt earlier, thus decreasing the spring snowpack in the Sierra Nevada by as much as 90 percent… spring stream flow could decline up to 30 percent.” 

There are many signs that California’s water supply is imperiled by global climate change. Clearcutting increases the probability that the Sierra Nevada watershed will be furthered diminished or rendered unfit for consumption. It’s time for Governor Brown and the Legislature to ban clearcutting in all circumstances. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at bburnett@sonic.net

On Mental Illness: Smoking, Obesity and Type II Diabetes

By Jack Bragen
Sunday October 09, 2011 - 01:19:00 PM

Far too many persons with mental illness literally “drop dead” at too young an age. In many instances, our deaths are the result of preventable health issues that most un-afflicted people address by middle age. The mental health treatment system is failing to provide preventative maintenance to a population which is very vulnerable to premature illness and death through heart disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and emphysema. If the assumption is that persons with mental illness have less competence compared to the mainstream population, then it becomes the responsibility of mental health caregivers to help regulate the diet, smoking and exercise level of their clientele. 

The lives of persons with mental illness are not to be considered trivial because of our lack of position in society or because we don’t come across as being as attractive, brilliant, charismatic or fit as others. I’m saying that our lives should be considered just as valuable as those of non-afflicted persons. This means that a crime is being committed. We are being allowed to die because it is convenient for the mental health caregivers to overlook our physical health issues. 

Neglect for our physical health issues is one of many instances in which persons with mental illness aren’t taken seriously, even though we have serious issues which are genuine and which can create real suffering and death. In past columns I have mentioned that the psychiatric medications cause weight gain and diabetes. I have also said that these medications make it harder to get physical exercise because of the sedating effects. This means that a lot of attention had better be paid to the diet of the psychiatric consumer. Excessive eating must absolutely be avoided. Nutritional foods must be consumed, and “junk food” must be kept at a minimum. It is the responsibility of the mental health treatment system to facilitate these good eating habits by educating people. 

Quitting smoking may be out of reach for many persons with mental illness, due to the sheer strength of the smoking addiction and due to the fact that it is thought to be mentally somewhat therapeutic. (This is not a recommendation for smoking.) Gradually creating good eating habits plus moderate exercise may be the only remaining areas where persons with mental illness still have some “wiggle room,” in our battle against poor health. 

Good eating habits can be phased into gradually, and if so, will have a better chance of being sustained. A person can start by adding a handful of green beans or green peas to one’s pot of macaroni and cheese. A person can switch to ordering one hamburger at a drive thru, instead of two or three. A person can buy a couple of frozen entrees instead of a freezer full. These are changes that won’t “rock the boat” as much concerning one’s comfort level and thus will have a greater likelihood of being sustained. 

There was the story of a board of directors meeting of a large tobacco company. A newcomer started to smoke, and was ridiculed for it. A board member at the meeting said that smoking is for “White trash and n___.” This gives you an idea of how much the tobacco producers believe in their product. 

The same sort of hypocrisy might exist in parts of the mental health treatment system. A mental health treatment venue might provide hamburgers and pizza for their lunches, which sedate the consumers by filling their stomachs; making it easer for them to be managed in the afternoon. Meanwhile, the lunches the therapists eat might consist of some concoction that has kidney beans, brown rice and tofu. Who will die first? 

Meanwhile, the medications that persons with mental illness are essentially required to take cause diabetes and extreme weight gain. All of the well-known atypical antipsychotic medications are known for raising blood sugar and increasing weight. Most mental health treatment venues have switched to these newer medications. This is because they are less likely (compared to the older generation of medications) to cause uncomfortable side-effects, and less likely to cause “tardive dyskenisia,” (a crippling, irreversible and disfiguring movement in the upper body). 

Because psychiatric drugs create obesity and diabetes, drug companies stand to gain even more profits by sales of insulin, high blood pressure medications, and blood thinners. This makes a person question if there could be some conspiracy in which people’s bodies are being harmed for the sake of profit. Whether or not this is too farfetched, it seems that taking one medication leads to taking another, and so on. The scientific community needs to devote some attention to creating psychiatric and other medications that do not cause chronic and deadly health problems. 


Senior Power: The older the fiddler, the sweeter the tune. English proverb.

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday October 06, 2011 - 10:04:00 AM

Elderly musicians hear better than elderly non-musicians. Age-related hearing loss is a significant detriment to quality of life in the aged although it is poorly understood. Oxidative stress causing loss of hearing cells is one theory. Chronic exposure to loud noises in the environment is another. It would seem that listening and playing music throughout one’s life could damage the ear. However, a new study comparing aged musicians to non-musicians suggests that decline in cortical auditory processing may be reduced in musicians whereas decline in cochlear function is similar to non-musicians. According to lead researcher Benjamin Rich Zendel, being a musician may contribute to better hearing in old age by delaying some of the age-related changes in central auditory processing. This advantage widens considerably for musicians as they get older when compared to similar-aged non-musicians. 

The June 1909 issue of The Etude magazine advertised The Home For Aged Musicians in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “A fully equipped and amply guaranteed residential home located in a desirable part of Philadelphia. This home is maintained to provide for elderly ladies, whose services to the art of music as teachers entitle them to rest, attention and freedom from care for the remainder of their days…236 South 3rd Street.” You can still view The Home For Aged Musicians. Google MAPS. 


The University of California, Berkeley’s Music Department is sponsoring the 59th Annual Noon Concert Series, usually on Wednesdays and Fridays from 12:15 - 1 P.M. in Hertz Concert Hall. Walk north from the intersection of College and Bancroft into the campus, past the fountain. Between the two large buildings, Wurster (Environmental design) and Kroeber (Anthropology) Halls, Hertz is directly in front of you. AC bus routes run along Bancroft Way and Durant Ave. Tickets are not required and admission is free. Events contact is concerts@berkeley.edu or 510-642-4864.

On Wednesday, October 12, enjoy pianist Andrea Wu and Bach, Beethoven and Ginastera.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue is one of his best known works, an extravagant work of virtuosity and bold harmonic structure. It is a large, sprawling, emotional piece and unique in its character compared to other Bach music. Ms Wu will also play Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)’s Sonata Op. 31 No. 3. As he grew more deaf, Beethoven’s visitors wrote their conversation down for him to read; 140 of these “conversation books” are known to exist. Her program will conclude with Alberto Evaristo Ginastera (1916-1983)’s Sonata No. 1 . A portion was performed in the soundtrack of the 1980 motion picture, The Competition. Following a visit to the United States in 1945–47, where he studied with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood, Ginastera returned to Buenos Aires and co-founded the League of Composers, later moving back to the United States and from 1970 living in Europe. 

On Wednesday, October 26, enjoy pianist Tony Lin and Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Liszt. 

Mr. Lin will play Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)’s Sonata in A minor, D. 784. Schubert was one of the leading exponents of the early Romantic era in music, and he remains one of the most frequently performed composers. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)’s Dumka, Op. 59 follows. Dumkka refers to a song, especially a Slavic folksong, which has alternating happy and sad passages. Frédéric François Chopin (1810-1849)’s Polonaise-Fantasy Op. 61 follows. Chopin has been called "the poet of the piano". Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor and teacher. His Transcendental Etude No. 10 in F minor concludes Mr. Lin’s program. "Allegro agitato molto" is the tenth Transcendental Etude of a set of twelve by Liszt. It is possibly the most played of the etudes and has a prominent melody. 



MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Be sure to confirm. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events that may interest boomers and seniors. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred. pen136@dslextreme.com

Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011. 10 A.M. – 1 P.M. Lavender Seniors of the East Bay’s Annual Aging in Place Symposium & Resource Fair for Older Adults. Marina Community Center, 15301 Wicks Blvd., San Leandro. Refreshments, entertainment. Free. Dan Ashbrook at 510-667-9655 Ext 1. Email dan@lavenderseniors.org

Thursday, Oct. 6, 12:15 P.M. – 1 P.M. West Edge Opera presents highlights from their upcoming production of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 

Thursday, Oct. 6. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. Berkeley Public Library South branch. 1901 Russell. 510-981-6100. Also Oct. 13. 

Mondays, Oct. 10, 17, 24. 11:10 A.M. – 1 P.M. Introduction to Video Production. Learn to use a video camera, script writing, storyboarding, basic lighting and sound to 

produce a newscast and a short documentary. No experience required. Equipment provided. Graduate to the advanced class on October 31, 1:00 P.M.-3:00 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Tuesday, Oct. 11. 1 P.M. Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) 

Marilyn Ababio and Dorothy Ridley, POLST representatives inform about POLST, a form that spells out the medical treatment you desire during the end of your life + question and answer period. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Tuesday, Oct. 11. 7 P.M. Latin American Music, with. Rafael Manriquez and Ingrid Rubis. Kensington Library, 61Arlington Avenue. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Wednesday, Oct. 12. 12:15 P.M. – 1 P.M. Noon Concert Series Performing Arts - UC,B Hertz Concert Hall. Andrea Wu, piano. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, Oct. 12. 6:30 P.M. – 8 P.M. Drop-In Poetry Writing Workshops. Free. Albany branch of the Alameda County library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720. 

Thursday, Oct. 13. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Public Library. 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Oct. 20 and 27. 

Thursday, Oct. 13. 10:30 A.M. New Member Orientation & YOU! Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Guided tour outlining the various activities, programs, and services, and a coupon to enjoy a complimentary lunch provided by Bay Area Community Services (BACS)! Reserve by visiting the Mastick Office or calling 510-747-7506. 

Saturday, Oct. 15. 11 A.M. Landlord/Tenant Counseling. Central Berkeley Public Library. 510-2090 Kittredge. 510- 981-6100. 

Monday, Oct. 17. 9:30 A.M.- 12:30 P.M. Beaded Jewelry Making. Rose O’Neill, Custom Jewelry Designer. Beads and tools will be supplied unless you would like to go “green” and redesign beads already in your possession. Limited to 10 students. $15 per person. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. (Also Mondays, Nov 21 and Dec 19.) 

Monday October 17. 12:30 PM - 1:30 PM Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker's Forum: Fred Setterberg, Lunch Bucket Paradise has been described as "postwar dreams of a working-class California suburb, and the struggles—comic, tragic, and triumphant—of those who came of age in that time and place.”Contact Ronnie Davis 510-526-3720 x16 rdavis@aclibrary.org 

Monday, Oct. 17. 2 P.M.-3:30 P.M. Queue Rolo, M.A., M.S., Museum Studies, SFSU, will present “W.A.Leidesdorff: America’s 1st Black Millionaire.” Free for OLLI and Mastick Senior Center members. MastickSenior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Tuesday, Oct. 18. 12:30 P.M. San Francisco Gray Panthers General Meeting: Program to be announced. Location: Fireside Room, Unitarian Center, 1187 Franklin St. at Geary, # 38 bus. 415-552-8800. graypanther-sf@sbcglobal.net, http://graypantherssf.igc.org/ 

Wednesday, Oct. 19. 12:15 P.M. – 1 P.M. Noon Concert Series Performing Arts - UC,B Hertz Concert Hall. University Gospel Chorus - Another Day's Journey. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, Oct. 19. 1:30 P.M. Alameda County Library San Lorenzo branch, 395 Paseo Grande. 510-670-6283. Social Security Administration Public Affairs Specialist Mariaelena Lemus will address older adults’ questions and present information specifically for them. Program repeats at other branches through December. No reservations required. Free. Library Older Adult Services at 510-745-1491. 

Wednesday, Oct. 19. 7 P.M. – 8 P.M. The Bookeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie R. King. Book discussion. Alameda County Library Albany Branch, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720. (On Sunday, Oct. 23 @ 2 PM, the author will read and speak. Albany Community Center.) 

Thursday, Oct. 20. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. Berkeley Public Library West branch. 1125 University. 510-981-6270. Also Oct. 27. 

Sunday, Oct. 23. 2 P.M. – 3 P.M. The Albany Library (1247 Marin Av.) presents Laurie King, the author of Albany Reads book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Community Center Hall. 510-526-3720.
Mondays, Oct. 24, 26 and 31. 10A.M. – 12 Noon. Oliver Guinn, Ph.D Economics, returns to teach “Our Damaged Economy: The Financial Meltdown and Economic Inequality.” Free. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Tuesday, Oct. 25. 1 P.M. AC Transit and YOU! Representatives from United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County will inform about the Regional Transit Connection (RTC) Discount Card Program and the Clipper Card, route changes, and the 10-year AC Transit Fare Policy. Refreshments. Free. MastickSenior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Tuesday, Oct. 25. 3 - 4 P.M. Tea and Cookies. Central Berkeley Public Library. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. Central Berkeley Public Library. 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 

Wednesday, Oct. 26. 12:15 P.M. – 1 P.M. Noon Concert Series Performing Arts - UC,B Hertz Concert Hall. Tony Lin, piano. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, Oct. 26. 1 P.M. Berkeley Gray Panthers meets at North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, corner of MLK. Free. 510-548-9696. 

Wednesday, Oct. 26. 1:30-2:30 P.M. Alameda County Library Albany branch. 1247 Marin Av. Great Books Discussion Group. Roman Fever, Edith Wharton short story. Facilitated discussion. Books available at the Library. Parking! 510-526-3720 x 16. 

Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 26/Sacramento and 27/South San Francisco, 2011

"Dementia Care Without Drugs - A Better Approach for Long-term Care Facilities" symposia about misuse of psychotropic drugs as treatment for dementia, difficulty in managing dementia treatment, and non-pharmacological approaches to care. CANHR staff attorney Tony Chicotel presentation, "Stop Drugging Our Elders!" California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform http://www.canhr.org. 415-974-5171. Fax 415-777-2904. http://ossmc.givezooks.com/events/dementia-care-without-drugs-a-better-approach. 

Thursday, Oct. 27. 12:30 P.M. Celebrating a birthday in October? Cake, music, 

balloons, and good cheer. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. . 510-747-7506. 

Thursday, Oct. 27 1 P.M.- 3 P.M. Fall Dance…Halloween Stomp. Come in costume 

to be eligible for “best costume award”, enjoy door prizes, and refreshments. Volunteers enter free with volunteer badge. Cost is $2.00 per person. . Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. . 510-747-7506. 

Thursday, Oct. 27 1:30 P.M. Music Appreciation with William Sturm, Volunteer Instructor. Piano recital and discussion on “The Sceptered Isle: Music of England”. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 510-747-7506. 

Saturday, Oct. 29. 12:15 P.M. Halloween Bingo Bash. Patrons will receive a free Halloween dauber (ink marker) compliments of Center Advisory Board and Bingo Committee. Doors open at 10:00 a.m. with the first game at 12:15 P.M. 18 years of age+ are welcome. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Av. 510-747-7506. 




Tuesday November 1. 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM League of Women Voters. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Contact: Ronnie Davis 510-526-3720 X16 The League of Women Voters invites you to join them. 

Wednesday, November 2. 1 P.M. Mastick Book Club members review Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Av., Alameda. One Day by David Nicholls will be reviewed. 510-747-7506, -7510. Free. 

Wednesday, November 2. 6-8 P.M Lawyer in the Library. Free. Albany Library. 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-0660 

Wednesday, Nov 2. 7 P.M. Democracy For America Meetup – Pizza 6:30 P.M., Presentation at 7:00 P.M. Rockridge Library, 5433 College Ave, Oakland. . Cindy Young, Statewide Campaign Coordinator for the California Single Payer Coalition, will explain how the California Universal Health Care Act, SB810 will affect you and how to support its passage. Co-sponsored with the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club. Contact Nancy M. Friedman at nmf123@pacbell.net 

Thursday, November 3. 1:30 P.M. SOCIAL SECURITY & MEDICARE. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-3720. Free workshop. Speaker Mariaelena Lemus from the Social Security Administration. For older adults, family members, service providers. Reservations not required. Continuing into December, program will be presented throughout the Alameda County Library system; for a list of dates and locations, check the Alameda County Library system website. Older Adult Services at 510-745-1491. 

Thursday, November 3. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library at South branch, Berkeley. 1901 Russell. 510-981-6260. 

Wednesday, Nov. 9. 6:30-8 P.M. Drop-in poetry writing workshop. Free. Albany Library. 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-0660. 

Saturday, Nov. 12. 12 Noon. Beef Bowl Anime Club meeting for adults. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Contact: Ronnie Davis(510) 526-3720 x16. 

Monday, Nov. 14. 12 Noon. J-Sei Center, 1710 Carleton St., Berkeley. Monday Senior Center Lecture. “Do You Have The Right Insurance?” Speaker: Darrell Doi – CLTC Financial Advisor/Long Term Care Specialist. To place a reservation for the lecture and/or lunch at 11:30am, call 510-883-1106. 

Monday, Nov. 14. 12:30 -1:30 P.M. Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker’s Forum: Bob Lewis, Birds of the Bay Trail . Bob will illustrate this talk with images of birds seen along the Bay shoreline and will discuss identification, migration, feeding habits and nesting. Contact: Ronnie Davis 510-526-3720 x16. 

Tuesday, November 15. 1 P.M. Falls Prevention Discussion Group. Join Tina Maria Scott, Community Health Outreach Worker, with the Senior Injury Prevention Program—Senior Injury Prevention Project, for a Falls Prevention Discussion Group. Focus will be on factors that cause falls. Areas that will be discussed are Changing Behaviors, Nutrition & Medication Management, Fitness, and Home Safety Checklist by way of “Show & Tell”. Participants will receive a Falls Prevention Manual and other useful information that is easy to read. 

Tuesday, November 15. Annual National Memory Screening Day. http:///www.nationalmemoryscreening.org 

Saturday, Nov. 19. 10 A.M. – 4 P.M. Friends of the Albany Library Book Sale. 1247 Marin Av. Please do not bring donations the week prior to the sale. Contact: Ronnie Davis 510-526-3720 x16 rdavis@aclibrary.org Also Sunday, Nov. 20 from 11-4 P.M.
Thursday, November 23. 1:30 – 2:30 P.M. Free. Albany Library. 1247 Marin Av. 510-526-0660. Great Books Discussion Group: John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley 


American Pie: A Cautionary Tale About Three Sixth Grade Misfits

By Ruth Rosen
Thursday October 06, 2011 - 09:37:00 AM

We were bad. Incorrigible, they said. We had curious minds, awkward bodies and awakening hearts. When we disrupted the class with our chattering and chaotic behavior, the teacher asked us to leave the room and stand in the hall until we behaved properly. On our report cards we received "unsatisfactory" for our social behavior.

The year was 1957. Our teacher viewed us as difficult, inattentive, and troublesome, but no one ever suggested to our parents that we had a medical problem or learning disability that required medication.

But that was then, when we were 11 years old and the great waves of hyperactivity/ADHD diagnoses and stimulant medications were still a thing of the future. Now we wonder what would happen if we were misfits in 2007. Would we be referred for medical diagnosis? Would we be among the nearly 10% of children currently treated with psychoactive drugs? 

The truth is, we didn't really care how long we had to wait outside in the hall. We peered through the window and watched our classmates. Don hummed and Peter and I talked about books we were reading. We learned from each other and were glad to be moving, feeling and thinking. 

We loved learning, but we were restless, active and energetic; we just couldn't conform to the constraints of the classroom. We called out before we raised our hands; we didn't stay in our seats; we walked about the room to peer at the goldfish or thumb through the encyclopedia in the back of the room; and we constantly "talked to our neighbors." From the teacher's point of view we disrupted and distracted the class and, she was right. 

Every so often, she'd call out, "Ruth (or Peter or Don) would you please stand out in the hall so we can continue class?" Sometimes, we spent as much as 1/4 of our time out in the hall, frequently talking with each other. Often, we had to stay after school--punishment for our bad behavior. We were three of the more difficult kids in the class, surely a topic of discussion in the teachers' lounge. They probably talked about us and wondered, what will become of them? 

Despite their likely bleak predictions, we all became successful and productive adults. Recently I--one of these troublemakers--had lunch with another of these sixth grade misfits. His name is Peter Conrad and he is a distinguished medical sociologist at Brandeis University. He's perfectly wonderful and quite normal. He has just published a book called The Medicalization of Society. Like Peter, I have also enjoyed a successful career in academic life and became a historian at the University of California, as well as a journalist. Today, I teach write for a variety of magazines and publications. Between us, we've probably published ten books and hundreds of articles. 

Though we're relatively well known in our own small worlds, the third misfit is positively famous. He is Don McLean, the legendary songwriter, whose "American Pie," one of the greatest songs of our generation, gave us the sober words, "that was the day the music died." I still remember Don humming and strumming on his ukulele, before he picked up a guitar and became a professional musician and songwriter. His songs live on. On his website, fans write that their grandchildren are busy memorizing the lyrics of this great poet. 

Yes, we were disruptive and incorrigible. Don wanted to create music; Peter and I were too curious and restless to sit in a class where our veteran but traditional teacher--who seemed like a species from another planet to us--had to deal with a large baby boomer class. 

But we weren't sick, we didn't act manic and nor did we suffer from attention disorder or any learning disability. We needed freedom to express our interests and talents, but drugs were not the solution. 

Half a century later, today's sixth grade misfits are likely to be evaluated by doctors, diagnosed and medicated. By the time they reach college, they have been told repeatedly that they have an array of diagnosable behavior problems and learning disabilities. Every year, the number of university students who have brought me letters that certify their learning disabilities increases. It seems like a growth industry. 

Many young people do, of course, suffer from serious medical problems and learning disabilities. But I confess to a certain skepticism. Are all these "experts" capable of distinguishing between creative kids who simply need a respite from conforming to educational norms and those who require medical help for their own benefit? 

My sixth grade friends share my skepticism and worry about the growing medicalization of today's classroom misfits. After catching up with Peter, Don and I spent hours on the phone fondly recalling our experiences out in that hall and happily discovering how much our values had not changed. 

What happens, we asked each other, to individuality and creativity when our educational system demands compliance and students must demonstrate conformity in order to avoid diagnosis and drugs? Could it be that some students merely need a hallway in which they can chatter and learn from each other? The three of us have reconnected and discovered, much to our pleasure, that we are still rebels, in our different ways, and live successful and satisfied lives with our families and our work. 

Ruth Rosen, Profesor Emerita of Hisgtory at the University of California, Davis, was a former columnist at the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle. She is currently a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Right-wing Movements at U.C. Berkeley. and the author, most recently of The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America (Penguin, 2006). She will be contributing occasional columns to the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Dispatches From The Edge: Why The Drone Wars Threaten Us All

By Conn Hallinan
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 08:25:00 PM

Lost in debate over whether the Obama administration had the right to carry out the extra-legal execution of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Yemini cleric and al-Qaeda member, is who pulled the trigger? It is not a minor question, and it lies at the heart of the 1907 Hague Convention, the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and the 1977 additions to the ‘49 agreement: civilians cannot engage in war.

In the main, laws of war focus on the protection of civilians. For instance, Article 48, the “Basic Rule” of Part IV of the 1977 Geneva Conventions, states, “In order to ensure respect for and protection of civilian populations and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between civilian populations and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.” 

What follows in the 1977 Conventions are nine articles specifying what the general rule means, ranging from prohibitions against attacking power plants and water sources and spreading “terror among civilian populations” to destroying the “natural environment.” There are many civilian-related sections in other parts of the Conventions, but the 10 articles that make up Chapter I, Section I, Part IV on “Civilian Population” are the clearest guidelines about what is allowed when civilians are caught up in war. 

The Conventions were mainly a response to the horrors of World War II, where civilian deaths were more than twice those on the military side. Of the approximate 80 million people who died in WW II, 55 million of them were civilians. In comparison, out of some 17 million who died in World War I, seven million were civilians. 

The logic behind Article IV of the Conventions is that civilians are innocent bystanders, with no ability to defend themselves or inflict damage on an antagonist. However, if civilians take part in hostilities, they lose their protected status. If the warring parties have an obligation to protect non-combatants, civilians also have obligations, the most important of which is that they do not act as soldiers. 

In short, if someone takes a pot shot at you, it is irrelevant if he or she is a civilian, by their actions they are no longer innocent bystanders. Members of a resistance movement may not wear uniforms or be part of a military organization, but if they blow up your Humvee or ambush your patrol, they are combatants. 

Which is why the question of who killed Anwar al-Awlaki (and over 2,000 people in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen killed by drones) is relevant. If the cleric was killed as part of a military operation—as with, for instance the assassination of Osama bin-Laden—then the arguments are around issues like whether we have the right to execute enemies without a trial (the Conventions say we don’t), or violate another nation’s sovereignty. 

But al-Awlaki was not taken out by Navy Seals, he was assassinated by a member of the Central Intelligence Agency, the organization that runs the drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. CIA members are civilians. Indeed, the new director, David Petraeus, formally resigned his Army commission to make that point. Even if he had not, however, the CIA is not a military organization and is not under the control of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

Why is this important? Because if civilians in the U.S. are killing combatants in another country, then those civilians lose their protection under the Conventions. Worse, it means all U.S. civilians become potential targets. If a CIA employee based in Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, or Djibouti in Africa kills a Pakistani, Somalian, or Afghan with a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone, one can hardly complain if everyday U.S. citizens are targeted for retaliation. 

One could argue that, since al-Awlaki was an American citizen, the hit didn’t really contravene the Conventions and the arguments should be over whether you can order the killing of an American citizen without due process. However, others targeted by the drone war—like members of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani Group, and the Somali Shabaab—do not fall in this category. 

According to the CIA, the drone wars have killed no civilians. “There hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop,” John O’Brennan, the Obama administration’s counterterrorism advisor told the New York Times. 

That assertion is almost beyond ridiculous. Even a supporter of the drone war like Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal, says the claim is “absurd.” The United Kingdom based Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that out of the 2,292 people killed by drones in Pakistan, 775 of them were civilians. Pakistan journalist Noor Behram puts the total much higher, telling the The Guardian (UK), “For every 10 to 15 people killed [by drones], maybe they get one militant.” 

The U.S. claim, however false, allows the drone war to continue. There is nothing in the Conventions that bars lying. 

The Obama administration (and the previous Bush administration) argue that drone war is part of the “war on terror” that Congress mandated after the 9/11 attacks: hence we are at “war” with at least the Taliban and its allies, the Shabaab, and al-Qaeda. But the CIA still has no authority to exacute a war. The last two run by the organization—the war in Laos and the Contra war against Nicaragua—were not only unmitigated disasters, they were illegal. 

Many countries have already stretched the Geneva Conventions to the breaking point with regards to civilians and the treatment of prisoners. For instance, by using the term “collateral” to describe civilian deaths, a country sidesteps the Convention’s stricture against “deliberate targeting” of civilians by claiming the damage was “inadvertent.” By calling insurgents “combatants” rather than “soldiers,” the U.S. has water boarded people, thus finessing both the Conventions and the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture. 

One could get cynical about this—aren’t civilians always the victims of war? —but in their own uneven way, the Geneva Conventions have protected civilians. Indeed, it was the Conventions that led to what is now an almost world wide ban on landmines and may end up eliminating cluster weapons in the future. The fact that laws don’t always work, or that people of ill will figure how to contravene them, is an argument for greater adherence to the rules, not ignoring or contravening them. 

The danger is that the U.S. is blurring the difference between civilian and military, and that is a dangerously slippery slope. We already have a former general running the CIA, and former CIA Director Leon Penetta heads up the Defense Department. If we reach a point where there is nothing to distinguish our military institutions from our civilian ones, then all of us are fair game. 

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com 

Arts & Events

Berkeley Arts Festival Continues

By Bonnie Hughes
Thursday October 06, 2011 - 02:10:00 PM

The Berkeley Arts Festival, now in residence at 2133 University Avenue, carries on throughout October. Here are the events, day by day: 

October 6, 8 pm--Steve Adams Solo and Steve Adams Quartet, Steve Adams, solo woodwinds and electronics plus Lisa Mezzacappa, upright bass; Scott Amendola, drums and electronics; John Hanes, electronics 

October 7, noon--Jerry Kuderna, piano 

October 8, 8 pm-- "Dan Plonsey's New Montrosities in Jazz" Steve Adams and Plonsey saxophones, Jim Bove, drums, Scott Looney, piano and Steve Horowitz, bass. Plus Fred Frith, guitar and Theresa Wong, cello 

October 14, noon--Jerry Kuderna, piano 

October 15, 8 pm--Jerry Kuderna, piano concert 

October 16, 4 pm--India Cooke, violin; Bill Crossman, piano 

October 20, 9 pm--Darren Johnston "Nice Guy Trio" DarrenJohnston - trumpet; Rob Reich - accordion; Daniel Fabricant - bass 

October 21, noon--Jerry Kuderna, piano 

October 22, 8 pm--Phillip Greenlief, Double Duet, Phillip Greenlief/David Boyce, tenor sax duo Plus Kris Tiner, trumpet; Mike Bagetta, guitar duo 

October 26, 8 pm--Dean Santomieri, Three Stories of Music Plus The Glasses Quartet--Chris Grady, trumpet; Larry Leight, troombone; Dave Mihaly, percussion; and Safa Shokrai, upright bass & compositions 

October 28, noon--Jerry Kuderna, piano 

October 29, 8 pm--Nathan Clevenger Sextet: Aaron Novik, clarinets; Sylvain Carton, tenor sax, clarinet; Evan Francis, alto sax, flute; Sam Bevan, bass; Jon Arkin, drums; Nathan Clevenger, compositions, guitar.  

Suggested donation $10-$20 

For more info: www.berkeleyartsfestival.com

American Teacher Has a Lesson: Superman Is a Myth; Teachers Are the Real Heroes

Review by Gar Smith
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 10:30:00 PM

The film opens October 7 at San Francisco's Roxie Theater

Last year, filmmaker David Guggenheim's Waiting for Superman created a mega-buzz by pushing the idea that the problem with US education was: lazy, overpaid, unionized, tenure-protected teachers. Guggenheim's solution: "privatizing" education by promoting charter schools (which, in many cases, were publicly supported).

Well, hold onto your cape, corporate crusaders, because a new documentary is set to hit the screen like a load of kryptonite and is guaranteed to blow holes in that argument. American Teacher, a documentary directed by Academy Award-winner Vanessa Roth and narrated by Oscar-winner Matt Damon, puts the superhero cape where it belongs — on the shoulders of the country's dedicated and self-sacrificing teachers.

Instead of looking at the problem through the eyes of desperate parents, anxious children or an über-administrator like Michelle Rhee, American Teacher offers the missing perspective — education as it's seen and lived by the women and men who dedicate their lives to the classroom. 

We've all seen the stats. Among the world's industrialized countries, the US now ranks 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. Bill Gates spent millions to figure out the best way improve America's educational system. It turns out the answer wasn't to be found in charter schools, test standards, class size, curricula or technology. As Gates admits in the film, "The more we looked at it, the more we realized that having good teachers was the key thing." 

It should be a no-brainer. "Without good teachers, we don't have a democracy," US Education Secretary Arne Duncan tells the filmmakers. And Barack Obama has made it equally clear that "the single most important ingredient inside the classroom is the quality of the teacher." Still, fusillades of anti-teacher vitriol continues to vent from the opinionaires at Fox News where teachers are routinely scapegoated as overpaid public servants who "seem like they are just serving themselves." 

In ten years, more than half of the country's 3.2 million public school teachers will be retiring. That is, if they can last that long. The fact is that today's teachers are quitting the profession in droves and college grads are no longer considering teaching as a profession. 

American Teacher was co-produced by local author Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari (both of San Francisco's 826 Valencia project). Eggers' mom was a teacher and Calegari is a former SF teacher with a master's degree in education from Harvard. Both teamed with Daniel Moulthrop to write the 2003 New York Times best-seller, Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers

In typical doc fashion, the film makes its argument by focusing on the lives of a few iconic individuals. There's Jaime Fidler, a first-grade teacher in New York who heads to school at 7AM and gets home at 6:30PM. In her first year of teaching, Jamie spent more than $3,000 out of her own pocket for classroom supplies. "No pencils, crayons, nothing." She came back from her first day in tears, wondering whether she really wanted to continue. Fidler's case is the norm: More than 90% of US teachers have to spend their own money on classroom supplies. 

Even with 40 chairs in her classroom, Amanda Lueck, a 27-year-old Colorado middle school English teacher, has to seat some of her students on countertops along the windows. There's always too much to do, Lueck sighs. "Maybe if I had three of me, I might be able to get it done." Lueck's candid video diaries powerfully capture the stress of working long hours with little to no support. 

Most of his students know that Erik Benner, a Texas middle-school history teacher, grew up poor in a trailer. Benner's success provides inspiration to many of his students who are living in trailer homes today. "He pushes you really hard," one student says, "but he's also like your friend, too." 

Rhena Jasey, a New Jersey elementary school teacher, recalls how her friends were flabbergasted to hear she wanted to work in the classroom. "Why do you want to teach?" they asked. "You went to Harvard! You should be a doctor or a lawyer. You should make money." 

At San Francisco's Leadership High School, Jonathan Dearman explains his devotion to teaching. He loves challenging his students to rise to meet expectations. His reward is seeing that miracle happen when his students discover that they are capable of more than they would have believed. Dearman is African-American in a school system where 35% of all students are either African-American or Latino but only 15% of the teachers are members of a racial minority. 

Marguerite Izzo, New York State's 2007 Teacher of the Year, disputes the notion that "teachers work short hours and only part of the year." The truth is, the hours are long and the role requires not only a love for teaching, but the ability to make "thousands of decisions each day, tailored to the individual needs of hundreds of students with differing needs. It's an extremely difficult environment." 

On average, a teacher spends 50 hours at school and a minimum of 15 hours a week at home grading papers, preparing tests and lesson plans. Many US teachers routinely work more than 65 hours a week. 

Today's poor teaching salaries are due, in part, to institutionalize sexism. In the early 20th century, the film explains, women were recruited as teachers "in part, to reduce salary levels." Thousands of talented women (who were smart enough to be lawyers, engineers or astrophysicists) could only find work as secretaries, nurses or teachers. As women began to gain access to other professions in the 1980s, teaching became less attractive and some of the best and the brightest went off to pursue careers in professions that offered better salaries. 

For most of the film, these teachers come across as committed heroes, dedicated and preserving. But before the film ends, there will be bodies on the battlefield, some broken and bleeding. 

When Benner's $27,000 school salary is no longer enough to support his growing family, he has to take a second job driving a forklift in the evenings to pay his bills. With no time off to spend with his wife and two daughters, his marriage suffers. 

Nearly a third of US teachers are forced to work second jobs to pay their bills. If you add coaches, advisors and tutors, two-thirds of the teaching population are holding down second jobs. 

So it's not surprising that US teachers suffer from the greatest burn-out rate of any US profession — 20% quit every year and 46% of US teachers quit within five years, citing long hours, low salary, lack of support and lack of prestige. This attrition is estimated to cost the country more than $7 billion annually. 

In San Francisco, Dearman is forced to give up his "teaching habit" to earn a living in real estate. It is an especially sad moment, having seen earlier footage of Dearman surrounded by his laughing, adoring students. As one student tells the filmmakers: "He was a pillar and you always assume that pillar is going to be there." And then, one day, when a teacher has to leave a classroom that she or he loves to work in a Target store, drive a forklift, become a waitress or sell real estate, "it's traumatic." Kids are left crying in the hallways: "Mr. Dearman is leaving!" And what kind of lesson does that leave behind for the abandoned students? 

The film includes wrenching interviews with a half-dozen award-winning teachers who were forced to quit teaching to find financial security in other professions. They give different reasons — "I burned out," "I couldn't take it," "It was the lack of respect," "The financial realities of the situation" — but they all repeat the same common regret: "I think about going back every single day." 

This shouldn't happen. Our country should not force teachers to live in poverty. Teaching is one of society's most important jobs and teachers should be supported, honored and paid accordingly. While salaries for doctors and lawyers has nearly tripled over the past 20 years, the average teacher's salary has only risen by about one-third (and that's not adjusting for inflation). Because the profession fails to offer comparable rewards, it has become increasingly difficult for America's teachers to pay their bills. 

Rhena Jasey is lucky. She is one of eight applicants (out of a field of 600) selected to teach at a new charter school run by The Equity Project. TEP offers a starting salary of $120,000 (financed by public funds). The benefits of a professional-level salary benefit the schools as well. In Greensboro, North Carolina, increased salaries were accompanied by a decline in attrition rates from 20% to 14%; at the same time, student gradation rates improved nearly 12%. In Denver, Colorado, after teachers' salaries were increased, drop-outs subsequently plummeted 42%. 

The film places the US in an uncomfortable context by comparing America's schools with the world's top three leaders in educational performance — Finland, Singapore and South Korea. Unlike the US, all three actively recruit top college students; all three pay for teacher training (in the US would-be teachers pay for their own training, incurring debt to do so); all three pay teachers top professional salaries (at least 2.5 times greater than US salaries); all three treat teachers with respect (and do not require them to purchase pencils and paper out of their own pockets). There is no burn-out and almost no teacher attrition in Finland, Singapore or South Korea 

Meanwhile, back in the US, Erik Benner, after 15 years as an award-winning teacher and football coach, still has to drive a forklift every night after he leaves his day job. 

In the press packet, Nínive Calegari reflects on her own experience as a teacher and she sums it up nicely: "Teaching wasn't ever just a job for me: it was a way of life and it shaped the way I still think about the magnificence and fragility of our democracy, an honest day's work, creating community, and being responsible for other people." 

If you have friends who were swayed by Waiting for Superman, invite them along to a screening of American Teacher. And don't be surprised if Occupy Wall Street demonstrations start popping up on America's schoolyards.

Theater Review: Patience Worth by Symmetry Theatre Company

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 01:53:00 PM

"Many a singer's career has been ruined by the premature singing of songs."

A play about frustrated personal and social aspirations, about mothers and daughters, men and women, Michelle Carter's new play, Patience Worth was premiered by Symmetry Theatre Company—one of the handful or two of the Bay Area's tiny independent troupes that stage unusual shows with acting and production values that can rival the artistry of the bigger theaters—tells the true story of Pearl Curran (Megan Trout), an almost painfully normal young woman of the nineteen-teens, the pain all her own, a yearning to be somebody better, or of a better class. Pearl had little education besides musical training, but became widely published, the words on the page ostensibly not her own, but those of Patience Worth, a 17th century woman's spirit Pearl claimed to be speaking for. 

From Patience's first manifestation from a ouija board wielded by Pearl's socially ambitious acquaintance Emily Hutchings (Elena Wright) and the reluctant Pearl, through the adoption of a foundling, Patience Wee (Alona Bach—memorable in Just Theater's "Down a Little Dirt Road" at the Berkeley City Club) to satisfy one of Patience the spirit's biddings, through recognition and contention over Patience's "dictation" (or ventriloquism) to Pearl, and the repercussions on Pearl's family of her mediumship, Carter's new play (she's best-known for Ted Kaczynski Killed People with Bombs and others premiered at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco), commissioned by Symmetry, in some ways is novelistic in its approach. It is well directed by Erika Chong Shuch, the choreographer/director who's worked with both Cal Shakes and Shotgun, realizing Pearl's spiritualist possession with a kind of pantomimic dance form for Megan Trout, effective and allusive of entertainment in the days of vaudeville ... 

"Peddle your prowess to another spook!"—Pearl's farewell to Emily as she takes possession of the spirit who possesses her. 

The cast—including Warren David Keith ( a frequent face on Aurora's stage) as Pearl's older husband, as well as the other men—publishers, journalists, "men of the world"—in her story (and Patience's) and Jessica Powell as Pearl's acerbic mother from the Ozarks and a couple more female authority figures (including a great turn as author-lecturer Agnes Reppler at the conclusion)—is strong, plays as a good ensemble and has great flexibility, which brings the story alive. 

Allen Wilner's set and lighting design's also strong—and simple—with good costume design by Jessica Powell and sound by Cliff Caruthers. 

The company's run just ended at Thick House on Potrero Hill in San Francisco; play, playwright, theater company are all deserving of a repeat of this effort, and of audiences for their further ventures. (Symmetry will be producing Emilie by Lauren Gunderson--Exit, Pursued by a Bear--about Voltaire's paramour, at the City Club early next summer. symmetrytheatre.com )

Friends of Negro Spirituals Heritage Day is Saturday

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday October 05, 2011 - 07:22:00 AM

Friends of Negro Spirituals will hold their 8th Annual Heritage Day this Saturday, 3:30-5:30 p. m. at the west Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline, Oakland. Admission: free.  

Honored as Negro Heritage Spirituals Keepers awardees will be 98 year old pianist and choir director Mrs. Juanita Letha Meadows; Grammy nominee, cultural historian and artistic director of the Cultural Heritage Choir, Linda Tillery; and the first recepient of the Marian Anderson Youngest Award, concert pianist and music instructor Dr. Carl Leroy Blake. 

The gathering will also salute the heritage of Negro Spirituals and African and American ancestors. The audience will sing together as a community.

Press Release: Afghanistan Peace Day: On the 10-year anniversary of the US war in Afghanistan, the Afghan and American people call for peace.

From Adam Hudson and Fatima
Tuesday October 04, 2011 - 08:33:00 PM

Sunday, October 9th, 2011, 3pm - 7pm, Fremont, CA

On the 10th year of the US/NATO war in Afghanistan, the Afghan community along with their American allies will be gathering in Fremont, CA for “Afghanistan Peace Day”. This will be the first time in Fremont that such a gathering for peace will take place. 

Community leaders such as Imam Zaid Shakir, Samina Sundus, Dr. Arshad Irshad and Dr. Fakhrunnisa Faizani will be speaking. American war veterans and inter-faith community leaders will be speaking as well. A message from the “Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers” inside Afghanistan will be shared. 

Organizers include “Afghans for Peace” and “Muslim Peace Coalition”. 


3:00pm - Walk for Peace @ Fremont-Centerville Train Station (37260 Fremont Boulevard, Fremont, CA 94536) 

4:30pm - Gather for Peace @ Centerville Community Center (3355 Country Drive, Fremont, CA, 94536) 

6:30pm - Pray for Peace 


Fremont, CA is home to the largest Afghan community in the United States. The US war in Afghanistan is one of the longest in recent U.S. history and has surpassed the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The US has spent $460 billion on the war in Afghanistan, while millions of Americans suffer economically in a deep recession. Our tax money is needed right here for education, social services and equal opportunity for all. 

For more information about this event and/or “Afghans for Peace”, please contact either Adam or Fatima: Adam Hudson: (925) 216-6146, adam@afghansforpeace.org Fatima: (818) 915-3743, fatima@afghansforpeace.org