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Press Release: Bates and Berkeley Council Violated Brown Act in Measure S Process, Says ACLU in Letter

From Bob Offer-Westort, Berkeley Standing Up for the Right to Sit Down; Michael T. Risher, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California: 415 621 2493
Thursday September 06, 2012 - 02:38:00 PM

The ACLU of Northern California has sent a letter to the City Council, the Mayor, and the City Attorney alleging that Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and city councilmembers violated the California Brown Act when they approved the "sit-lie" ballot measure S this July. The letter was sent to the City Council on August 28, and was received this week.

In a letter sent to the city, the ACLU stated, "As a result of these violations, members of the public and of the Council were denied their rights to speak about this controversial proposal, and the proposal was adopted without the public debate by council members that is a crucial part of our democracy."

According to the ACLU complaint, during a heated July 10 Berkeley city council meeting at which councilmembers approved “sit-lie” for this November’s ballot, the council violated both the Brown Act and its own rules by voting on the measure before public comment was completed.

New: Berkeley Schools, the Billionaires, and the New Superintendent (News Analysis)

By Thomas Lord
Wednesday September 05, 2012 - 08:54:00 AM

Billionaires such as Bill Gates and Eli Broad (pronounced brōd) use charitable donations to school districts, schools, and education professionals to change public education policy nationwide. Berkeley feels its share of influence from these billionaires.

In 2003, the Gates Foundation helped Berkeley High School transition to a small schools model, a policy Gates was aggressively pushing nationwide. Today in 2012, the Broad Foundation has influenced the school district's choice for a new superintendent. 


The billionaires' influence

How does it come to pass that remote billionaires have such intimate influence over Berkeley school policies? 

The billionaires' influence: Bill Gates and the Small Schools Movement 

In 2003, Bill Gates took a turn at reforming Berkeley education policy. Berkeley High School transitioned to a "small schools" model. Money from the Gates Foundation helped to fund and assist that transformation via the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools (now known as the National Equity Project). [Berkeley Daily Planet, November 11, 2003] 

By accepting the money and guidance, Berkeley openly became part of a grand Gates experiment. Gates himself had been impressed by early statistics that seemed to favor small schools. He thought he could help by spreading the smalls schools movement to more districts. Berkeley was one of thousands of districts across the country that made a transition to small schools with help from Gates Foundation money. The rate at which small schools came into existence exploded nationwide; Gates' fondness for small schools was highly influential. [Forbes.com, November 18, 2008] 

In 2008, Bill Gates expressed disappointment that his small schools campaign was not working and withdrew it. [ibid] 

Whether the BHS small school system was an improvement or not (opinions vary), it is in any event a vestige of a billionaire's failed tinkering with public education policy on a grand scale. 

The billionaires' influence: Eli Broad and Edmond Heatley 

Today in 2012, Eli Broad may be the next billionaire to get a turn at influencing Berkeley education policy. The Broad Foundation describes their education reform goals this way: 

Transforming K-12 urban public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition [broadfoundation.org] 

Berkeley's new superintendent, Edmond Heately, is a 2008 graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy. [Broad Center] 

The Broad Superintendents Academy awards fellowships to "talented leaders" (their words). The Academy "prepares [those leaders] to lead large urban school districts, state departments of education and high-growth public charter systems". 

The Academy helps to place its alumni in strategic jobs around the country. Alumni are supported by a network of peers and provided placement assistance. There are "additional [alumni] services and investments for Fellows in particularly high potential roles and locations". [Broad Superintendents Academy (about)] 

Broad and Gates take two different approaches to influencing public education policy. Gates promoted small schools by offering school districts money to make the transition. In contrast, the Broad Foundation trys to influence education policy primarily by placing a network of sympathetic alumni in high level administrative and managerial positions around the country. The Academy was founded in 2002 with the initial aim of installing Broad-trained graduates in 25 of the largest 75 school districts in the country in only two years. [Christian Science Monitor, June 10, 2011] 

Today, the Academy boasts: 

More Academy graduates have served as urban district superintendents than those of any other national training program. Academy graduates have held 87 superintendent roles and 107 cabinet level roles. Thirty graduates are sitting superintendents in large urban systems, and four are state superintendents (MD, RI, LA and NJ). Academy graduates also lead two of the three largest districts in the country (Los Angeles Unified School District and Chicago Public Schools), as well as newly-formed systems that focus on the lowest-performing schools in Michigan and Tennessee. [The Broad Superintendents Academy (program overview)] 

Broad's and Gates' methods of influencing policy differ in how they relate to school district autonomy: Districts joined Gates' small school experiment only if they explicitly agreed to take the money. In contrast, districts can unwittingly join Broad's experiment just by hiring Broad alumni. 

The billionaires' influence: Broad and the job market for school superintendents (a case study) 

An examination of Edmond Heatley's career trajectory gives some indication of how the Broad Foundation has become so influential in the job market, so quickly. Connections to Broad show up with remarkable frequency. For example: 

The Broad Foundation trys to place a network of alumni in high level positions around the country. To that end, the network of Broad Foundation supporters must make themselves a powerful presence in the job market for school superintendents. Heatley's experience sheds some light on how the Broad network creates and maintains its market power. 

The billionaires' influence: Broad's Power Play 

The Broad Foundation's efforts are not limited to placing allies in superintendent positions. There is much more to Broad than just the Superintendent's Academy. 

One arm, The Broad Residency is (in the Broad Center's words) "A leadership development program that places qualified participants into high-level managerial positions in school districts, CMOs [charter school management organizations], and federal/state departments of education." The residency "[...] places talented professionals into management roles in carefully selected education organizations," where they will "report to the superintendent or senior executive of the partner organization". [The Broad Residency (about the residency)] 

The current chief of staff of the federal Department of Education, Tyra Mariani, is a former Broad Resident. Her boss is Arne Duncan who, as Chicago Schools Chief in 2002 accepted money from Broad to begin a (since abandoned) program to recruit and train Chicago principals. [US Department of Education (biographies of senior officials)] [The Broad Residency (network profiles)] [Broad Foundation April 30, 2002 (press release)]  

After Duncan's appointment to the Obama cabinet, the Broad Foundations bi-annual report gushed: 

The election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as the U.S. secretary of education, marked the pinnacle of hope for our work in education reform. In many ways, we feel the stars have finally aligned. 

With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments — charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time and national standards — the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted. [Broad Foundations 2009/10] 

Another component is The Broad Foundation is the umbrella organization under which the Broad Center, Broad Residency, and the Broad Superintendents Academy exist. The foundation is a grant giving organization but does not accept unsolicited proposals: they'll call you. They write: 

We are continually on the lookout for urban school districts and organizations nationwide that are progressive, led by talented, effective visionaries, and are strategically focused on improving student achievement. Once we have identified a potential investment opportunity, we initiate contact with a prospective grantee organization or individual and invite them to submit additional information.[Bround Foundations education investments] 

The academy and residency are run by The Broad Center. A sense of the Broad Center's heft and reach can be seen in it's large board of directors which includes, among others: 

  • The Honorable Joel I. Klein, Chair
    CEO, Educational Division and Executive Vice President, Office of the Chairman, News Corporation Former Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
  • Jean-Claude Brizard
    Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Public Schools
  • Harold Ford Jr.
    Managing Director, Morgan Stanley
    Former U.S. Congerssman, Tennessee
  • Wendy Kopp
    Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Teach for America
  • Michell Rhee
    Founder and CEO, StudentsFirst
    Former Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
  • Andrew L. Stern
    Former President, Service Employees International Union
    Ronald O. Perelman Senior Fellow, Richard Paul Richman Center for Business, Law and Public Policy, Columbia University
  • Lawrence H. Summers
    Charles W. Eliot Unviersity Professor, Harvard University
    President Emeritus, Harvard University
  • Moritemer Zuckerman
    Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, U.S. News & World Report
    Publisher, New York Daily News
[Broad Center (board of directors)]

What to expect

What can Berkeley expect now that the Broad Foundation has come to town? 

What to expect: Edmond Heatley 

Edmond Heatley is, of course, his own man. To say that he will do other than faithfully execute the policies of the school board, or to suggest that he is here on some Broad secret mission would be unfair. For that reason, there is no simple or sure answer to the question of what happens now that, so to speak, "Broad has come to town" in the form of Heatley's selection.  

On the other hand, admirers and critics agree that Broad superintendents generally have a reputation for pursuing the Broad foundation agenda. It is a good guess, at least, that Heatley will work towards similar aims.  

What to expect: The Broad Agenda 

The Broad Foundations' web site provides this one-line summary of their education mission: 

Transforming K-12 urban public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition [broadfoundation.org] 

That describes a familiar education platform in contemporary U.S. politics. Other Broad statements confirm a fondness for charter schools, performance-based pay, increased testing and testing based performance metrics, and so forth. The Broad Foundation is squarely on one side of a variety of modern political controversies about education policy. 

The Broad Foundations' education agenda is fundamentally policy oriented and calls for networking strategies. In other words: 

The agenda is "policy oriented" in that ideological ideals (such as "competition can make public education better") are expressed as policy directions (such as "encourage charter schools"). Broad's activist project is to try to improve education by causing districts to move in certain policy directions. 

The Broad Foundation in their 2011/2012 bi-annual report expressed this policy oriented view this way (emphasis added): 

While schools and school districts are full of talented and well-intentioned people, it is the systems in which they work that form the greatest barrier today to student and teacher success. Archaic policies and practices result in wasteful spending, disempowered teachers who feel overwhelmed and unsupported, and inequitable learning opportunities for many poor and minority students. [Broad Foundations 2011/12] 

Towards that activist aim, the Broad agenda calls for networking strategies: The Superintendents Academy is one tactic for getting Broad-friendly administrators into influential positions, the Broad Residents program another. The network provides a system of mutual support for exchanging career opportunity information, experiences in various districts, program templates, vendor information, and so forth. 

What to expect: Broad boasts 

The Broad Foundation reports: 

2/3 of Academy graduates currently serving as superintendents for 3+ years are outperforming comparison groups in raising student achievement on state reading and math exams, closing achievement gaps and raising graduation rates. [ibid] 

What to expect: Broad critics 

Actual results may vary. Dissent Magazine offered: 

Every day, dozens of reporters and bloggers cover the Big Three's reform campaign, but critical in-depth investigations have been scarce (for reasons I'll explain further on). Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that the reforms are not working. Stanford University's 2009 study of charter schools — the most comprehensive ever done — concluded that 83 percent of them perform either worse or no better than traditional public schools; a 2010 Vanderbilt University study showed definitively that merit pay for teachers does not produce higher test scores for students; a National Research Council report confirmed multiple studies that show standardized test scores do not measure student learning adequately. Gates and Broad helped to shape and fund two of the nation's most extensive and aggressive school reform programs — in Chicago and New York City — but neither has produced credible improvement in student performance after years of experimentation. [Dissent, Winter 2011] 

Three Broad superintendents were placed in Oakland's school district while it was under state control. Charter schools proliferated in Oakland. The East Bay Express' Robert Gammon wrote an article on the theme: 

Meet Eli Broad, a SoCal billionaire who uses his cash and connections to groom Oakland school administrators and keep the district under state control. [East Bay Express, October 10, 2007] 

Gammon wrote 

An ardent charter-school supporter, Broad built his influence through his close ties with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, who also happens to be Vince Matthews' boss. O'Connell, in fact, owes Broad a debt of gratitude. According to campaign finance records on file with the secretary of state, Broad helped O'Connell capture the state superintendent's office in 2002 by cutting a check for $100,000, which put him among the campaign's top donors. 

The billionaire's juice with California's highest ranked educator, in turn, has allowed him to operate what amounts to his own educational experiment behind the scenes in Oakland. 

Broad believes the best way to fix troubled urban school districts is to employ the classic American business model in which a powerful chief executive runs roughshod over a weak governing board. Oakland, under state control, has provided the perfect laboratory. Since the state takeover in 2003, Broad has donated $6 million to the Oakland schools, and the district has been led solely by graduates of his leadership training academy. During that period, nine other Broad associates also have held high-level positions in the district. 

For the Better?

Is the billionaires' influence good for Berkeley's public education policy? 

With so much money and political power you would think the case for the Broad education agenda would be easy to state clearly and convincingly. Yet, the case Broad makes in its own materials is vague (e.g. the importance of "leaders") and ideological (e.g. the emphasis on faith in "competition"). If the goal is to express and execute a clear and clearly winning reform program for public education, Broad has not only failed to achieve the goal but it has meanwhile drawn a lot of criticism for the disruptions and failures associated (rightly or wrongly) with Broad.  

If we understand Broad's goal differently — as a play to accumulate nation-wide influence over education policy to a few hands — Broad's education philanthropy is a smashing success. As a power play, Broad is winning hands down. In that sense, the Broad network's increasing political power is certainly good for the network itself, but it is quite unclear what that means for our schools and, in particular, our students.  

It's hard to say whether Broad will be good or bad for our schools in the long run but it's easy and accurate to say that Broad is going to continue to have a huge impact on public education policy whether for better or worse, including in Berkeley.  

Our public school systems are designed so that, ideally, education policy is determined by a representative democracy. Our school boards set high level policy and the public elects our school boards. In practice, non-political staff have considerable influence over policy both because they are a major source of policy proposals and evaluations, and because staff implement policies.  

Broad's education project exploits that gap between the ideal of public control over education policy and the de facto influence of staff. In a sense, the Broad network is an attempt to sieze the political power of high level education staffers around the country, and use that power to put forward Broad's particular agenda (more testing, charter schools, and so forth). Broad's agenda is pushed in large part not by persuasion, but quietly and through the murky process of filling high level administrative positions in schools.  


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 9, 2011: "DeKalb superintendent search foiled by job security"  

Berkeley Daily Planet, November 4, 2003: "BHS small schools plans gather new momentum" 

berkeleyschools.net "Superintendent search 2012" 

berkeleyside.com: "What Does Berkeley Want From its new schools head?" 

Broad Center press release, November 19, 2008: "Top education and military leaders graduate from urban superintendents academy" 

Bround Foundations: "Our Approach to Investing: Venture Philanthropy" 

Broad Foundations, April 30, 2002 "Chicago Schools Chief Arne Duncan and National business Leaders Announce Expansion of Drive to Recruit and Train Outstanding Public School Principals in Chicago" (press release) 

Broad Foundations 2009/10 Entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science, and the arts (bi-annual report) 

Broad Foundations 2011/12 Entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science, and the arts (bi-annual report) 

The Broad Foundations: "About the broad foundations" (web page) 

The Broad Superintendents Academy: "About the academy" (web page) 

The Broad Superintendents Academy: "Faculty and Speakers" (archived web page) 

The Broad Center: "Board of Directors" (web page) 

The Broad Center: "Impact of Broad graduates" (web page) 

The Broad Residency: "About the Residency" (web page) 

The Broad Residency: "Network Profiles" (web page) 

The Broad Superintendents Academy: "Program Overview" (web page) 

Clayton Board of Education, March 14, 2009: (minutes, called board meeting) 

Christian Science Monitor, June 6, 2011: "Is the Broad Superintendents Academy trying to corporatize schools" 

Dissent, Winter 2011: "Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools" 

East Bay Express, October 10, 2007: "Eli's experiment"  

forbes.com, November 18, 2008: "Bill Gates and his silver bullet" 

linked.com: (profile for Robert Avossa, Ed. D) 

newtoncitizen.com, February 3, 2009: "School board rejects old search firm" 

noozhawk.com, March 4, 2011: "Santa Barbara School Board puts plan in place to select superintendent by June 2" 

Santa Barbara School Districk K-12: (resume for David E. Cash, Superintendent) 

US Department of Education: "Biographies of Senior Officials — U.S. Department of Education" (web page) 

Washoe County School District press release, April 10 2009: "WCSD Trustees Select Superintendent Finalists" 

Washoe County School District:"Office of Superintendent" (web page) 

Berkeley School Board Chooses Finalist for Superintendent

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Saturday September 01, 2012 - 10:44:00 PM

The Berkeley school board has chosen Edmond Heatley of Georgia as the sole finalist for superintendent job that's being vacated by departing superintendent Bill Huyett. 

Huyett announced his retirement last December and the board had hoped to appoint a new superintendent by June but school board president John Selawsky said the search is taking longer than expected. 

Assistant superintendent Neil Smith and deputy superintendent Javetta Cleveland are serving as co-interim superintendents until the post is filled. 

Although Heatley is the sole finalist for the job, the school board hasn't yet approved a contract with him. 

On Thursday, a Berkeley Unified School District team headed by school board member Karen Hemphill traveled to the Clayton County Public Schools in Georgia, the school district near Atlanta where Heatley is superintendent. 

The visit will consist of interviews with school board members, parents, teachers, staff, district administrators, union leadership, and community leaders. 

Selawsky said the site visit is the final step of an extensive vetting process to verify Heatley's credentials and is being conducted in addition to the required background checks. 

He said once the due diligence is completed, the Berkeley school board will be in a position to formally offer Heatley an employment contract. 

That decision is expected to come before the school board in late September, possibly at the Sept. 19 meeting, Selawsky said. If a contract is approved at that time, the new superintendent would begin work in October, he said. 

Heatley said in a statement, "I am excited about the opportunity to join a high-achieving team focused on ensuring that every student has the opportunity to achieve greatness." 

He said, "I believe in a fair break for every child and that all students can learn. It is great to see that the Berkeley community feels the same way." 

Berkeley officials said that under Heatley's leadership, the number of students in Clayton County failing to meet expectations on Georgia's standardized exams has declined across all racial and ethnic categories, particularly among black and Latino students. 

They said Heatley has also spearheaded efforts that have improved graduation rates and college and career readiness. 

Heatley was a site administrator, an assistant superintendent, an associate superintendent and a superintendent at school districts in California before he joined the Clayton County Public Schools. 

He retired as a decorated Marine officer after serving on active duty from 1983 to 1996 and a member of the Marine Corps Reserves from 1996 to 2004. Heatley is married and has three children. 

There's Something About Tom Bates (News Analysis)

By Ted Friedman
Saturday September 01, 2012 - 01:59:00 PM
There's Something About Tom.
Ted Friedman
There's Something About Tom.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates rallied his supporters at his fourth mayoral run kick-off and fund-raiser, Wednesday, showing some of the style that has made him Berkeley's longest sitting mayor, ever. He's been mayor since 2002.

The elegant setting was Berkeley Mills, a furniture design workshop and showrooms on 7th Street.

There's something about "Tom"…which most of his constituents call him. A big glad-handing guy, even some of his most persistent opponents can't help liking him--even sixteen year council-veteran Kriss Worthington, who nonetheless made a last minute decision to oppose Bates after repeatedly clashing with him at council meetings

At his own opening event, Worthington said that the last straw which convinced him to run for mayor was the majority’s vote, at Bates’ insistence, to place a loosely specified bond issue (Measure M) on the November ballot. It prioritizes undefined street repairs over needed environmental infrastructure improvements, especially to watershed management, which would have benefited now-deteriorating Aquatic Park and addressed periodic flooding, particularly in South and West Berkeley.

But there's something about Tom, something that keeps him running for Berkeley mayor. His detractors say the "something" is a network of developers and other special interest groups. 

A member of the Planet reporting team who attended the soiree spotted a predictable number of participants in the development industry in attendance, including commercial real estate brokers, builders, property owners and lawyers.. There was a smattering of self-identified artists, teachers, business owners, Bates staffers, and a lot of old-time political operatives, including District 5 incumbent Councilmember Laurie Capitelli (now being challenged by Sophie Hahn). 

In attendance, as well, were five German students from Jena, Berkeley's German sister-city, who met Bates in Germany recently, and at his suggestion, are studying Berkeley politics first hand. 

But what is that something about Tom? Surely, it's not his power. Berkeley is one of forty U.S. cities with city manager-city council governments, in which the city manager runs the city partnered with the city council. In Berkeley, which is supposed to be a “weak-mayor city”, the mayor, elected at-large, simply presides over city council meetings, where he has one vote, making him mostly a power-broker rather than a power wielder. 

Bates presently lobbies and votes with a six-council voting bloc, which its opponents (three of them on council) say has drifted away from Berkeley's progressive politics into conservatism. 

In addition to environmentalists and neighborhood groups disappointed by Measure M’s lack of focus, this year's November mayoral race has attracted opponents of the mayor-sponsored Measure S, which would add sitting on sidewalks to lying on sidewalks, blocking sidewalks, and other unsightly behaviors already banned in Berkeley’s struggling commercial districts, as well as opponents of Measure T, the Bates-backed attempt to re-zone West Berkeley to allow redevelopment of several big properties which is opposed by many West Berkeley artists, manufacturers and residents. 

Wednesday's campaign launch was Bates-lite, pitching Bates' conciliatory political style over substance. 

Councilmember Susan Wengraf, District. 6, introduced the mayor, noting she had opposed him when he first ran, but when he came to her council office, offering to work with her, she fell under his spell. He "sets aside old political grudges," Wengraf said, in favor of "let's move on." 

"He could be out golfing, but instead he's mayor, still optimistic, determined to make Berkeley best,'' Wengraf observed. 

Bates "has the courage to be tough…the heart to be kind," Wengraf enthused. 

But opponents to Bates' support of the West-Berkeley development plan and his sponsorship of no-sit say that at midnight in council meetings he’s seemed neither courageous nor kind, as we have reported in more than one piece here. 

Basking in Wengraf's warm praise, Bates promised a face-to-face grass roots campaign to get out the vote. Characterizing himself as Berkeley's "number one volunteer," Bates said his son told him, "you're not being paid." 

City records from 2004 list the official salary for the Berkeley mayor’s office as $40,152, but Bates receives a higher pension from twenty years in the state assembly, and he can’t legally collect both at the same time. 

Bates said he had given up his car in favor of walking, "We recycle everything," he said; "we have worms eating our compost," to laughs. 

He invited everyone over for dinner, for more laughs. 

Getting serious, Bates said he will push to assist Berkeley students who need to improve their algebra to get into college, and provide other educational outreach where needed. 

As always, the mayor claimed that Berkeley is spending three million dollars for services to the mentally ill and homeless, a figure questioned by Measure S opponents. 

Asked whether Bates was still the progressive they recall from the 70s, a number of supporters at the event still viewed him as progressive, despite opponents' charges that Bates is selling out the city to developers. 

Bates is unabashedly pro-development, taking personal credit for bringing $110 million dollars in development money to Berkeley. 

The mayor would, like, he said, to make Berkeley competitive with Silicon Valley, boosting what he calls "green jobs". 

Carol Denney on behalf of the Planet informally surveyed Bates supporters in the room for their attitudes to Bates-sponsored Measure S (no-sit), reporting that none of five Bates supporters she interviewed supported the measure. 

Attendees numbered about seventy-five, all of whom had to contribute $25-250 to Bates' campaign for the privilege of attending. 

Worthington's kick-off was a massive free feed at a popular Southside restaurant, though contribution envelopes were scattered about for those who wished to pay. 

Bates' food was donated, prepared by Judith Iglehart, his new city-employee chief of staff, who called it "finger food." 

Southside Planet reporter Ted Friedman went "west, young man," way west, for this one. Carol Denney contributed to this report. 











Rare 'Blue Moon' to Shine Bright Over Berkeley Tonight

By Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Friday August 31, 2012 - 11:15:00 AM

A blue moon will light up the night sky tonight. 

The lunar occurrence, which has nothing to do with the coloring of the moon, means there are two full moons in the same calendar month, according to astronomy instructor Jonathan Braidman from the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland. 

The phases of the moon line up to occur in the beginning and the end of the month -- which happens about every two to three years, Braidman explained. 

The rare occurrence last happened in March 2010.  

The next blue moon will be in July 2015, with full moons on July 2 and July 31. 

The moon cycle takes only 29.5 days so over time the calendar day that the full moon falls on changes -- and is more likely to occur twice in longer months, such as August and July with 31 days. 

Braidman noted folk roots of the "blue moon," which has come to be an expression for something rare. 

The Farmers' Almanac mentions the blue moon as four full moons in one growing season, when usually there were only three.  

Bob Jacobs, a NASA spokesman, tweeted Monday morning that a private memorial service would be held Friday in Cincinnati for astronaut Neil Armstrong -- coinciding with the rare lunar event. 

Armstrong, an Ohio native, was the first man on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 space mission in 1969. 

He passed away Aug. 25 at the age of 82. 

The rare sighting, which will put the bright, full moon directly overhead at midnight Saturday, will give viewers an opportunity to see the spot where the Apollo 11 landed. 

The full moon has often been anthropomorphized as a human face, Braidman said. The spot beneath what looks like the moon's right eye is approximately where the spacecraft landed and Armstrong touched down on the lunar surface. 

Free lunar viewings at Chabot, located at 10000 Skyline Blvd. in Oakland, will be held Friday and Saturday night. 

CONTACT: Chabot Space and Science Center (510) 336-7379 

Got Free Speech in Berkeley’s Constitution Square? (First Person)

By Carol Denney
Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 09:48:00 PM
Poster girl. Carol Denney, Berkeley activist, who has postered Berkeley since 1972, posters Sunday in Constitution Square (at downtown Bart entrance). Above her restricted area poster ("Wealthy People Only) is a "No Smoking" sign.  The glop running down the pole is her own special-formula glue, shot from her spray bottle.
Ted Friedman
Poster girl. Carol Denney, Berkeley activist, who has postered Berkeley since 1972, posters Sunday in Constitution Square (at downtown Bart entrance). Above her restricted area poster ("Wealthy People Only) is a "No Smoking" sign. The glop running down the pole is her own special-formula glue, shot from her spray bottle.
Denney protecting her poster from a downtown host-ambassador. Poster says: "Fascism...it starts here...Downtown Berkeley.
Ted Friedman
Denney protecting her poster from a downtown host-ambassador. Poster says: "Fascism...it starts here...Downtown Berkeley.
Busted. But Denney somehow turned the tables, and the cop went after one of the Hosts, when a Planet photographer backed up her story about being assaulted earlier by a host when she was re-posting.
Ted Friedman
Busted. But Denney somehow turned the tables, and the cop went after one of the Hosts, when a Planet photographer backed up her story about being assaulted earlier by a host when she was re-posting.

The “Ambassadors” in the Downtown Berkeley Association’s Block By Block program claimed on Sunday, August 19, 2012, that only fliers authored by the City of Berkeley were allowed on Constitution Square’s light poles. 

I’m a local community activist and the editor of the Pepper Spray Times. I was putting up signs which stated “Restricted Area: Wealthy People Only- Have Your Badges Ready”, a satirical, official-looking notice protesting the crackdown on homeless and poor people. 

“We’re just doing our job,” stated Ambassador program workers Jamie Bush and Craig Daniels as they repeated tried to pull down the fliers. I patiently replaced them as they came down, citing their clear legality under Berkeley Municipal Code. 

Daniels got so heated when I replaced the posters he destroyed that he grabbed and pried my fingers off the light pole in his next attempt to “clean” the pole. 

I told him that he had hurt my hand, but I continued to replace the fliers, citing the First Amendment, while a witness stood by taking photographs. Daniels shielded his face, turned his badge over so that his name would not be visible, and finally removed his badge altogether. 

Daniels also threatened to bring back a “rulebook” and “appeal to a higher power” regarding the poster issue, which I politely encouraged him to do. 

The Ambassador staff is hired by the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA), arguably the wealthiest business lobby in town. The DBA has plenty of funding from their mandatory Business Improvement District tax on downtown businesses to promote their events and their point of view. It even has a glassed-in kiosk which none of the rest of us has access to, despite its being situated on public land. 

It is probably legal for the DBA to pay the Ambassadors to deprive the rest of the community of their right to post informational posters downtown (posting fliers being a perfectly legal thing to do). But it is also certainly bad form to take our rights away. 

The Ambassador workers spoke to the BART police, and an officer accosted me (Badge #261). He implied that putting up posters was illegal, but acknowledged that he was not sure of the law and did not arrest me. 

Ted Friedman and I waited out the response of the host-ambassadors to my pole postings, and discussed the old days, after establishing that we’d arrived in Berkeley within two years of each other, 1970-1972. 

Friedman told me that downtown Berkeley wasn't what it used to be, not like the 1970's. We discussed bulletin boards as an alternative to pole posting, but I insisted that downtown Berkeley was essential in the case of something like a missing dog, or a downtown-related issue, such as the content-based poster policy. 

My witness and I walked away for several minutes to meet up with a videographer, then returned to the Constitution Square area where the Ambassador program workers were busily removed my fliers while leaving up “No Smoking” signs on the same light poles. I had put up all of the signs, including the ones allowed to remain. 

“I’m doing this to highlight the content-based flier removal policy currently being utilized by the Ambassador program workers,” I told anyone nearby looking quizzical. “If the government can put up posters, then so can we.”

New: Berkeley Election News in Other Media

Tuesday September 04, 2012 - 11:27:00 AM

Two summer interns at Berkeleyside.com have done a bang-up job reporting how incumbent Berkeley councilmembers use their city-paid funding to support worthwhile causes. Kriss Worthington comes out as "most liberal", with Laurie Capitelli on the parsimonious end of the scale.

Noteworthy in Berkeleyside's election-to-date roundup: The Berkeley Democratic Club, traditionally the Moderates when the Mod vs. Prog grouping meant something, endorsed District 2 incumbent Darryl Moore over his two progressive challengers, making Moore perhaps the new Mod standard bearer. Not to worry: few if any BDC members live in District 2—it's a Hills outfit primarily.

New: Wellstone Club Endorsement Meeting for the Berkeley November Election to Take Place in Oakland on Thursday

From the Wellstone Newsletter
Tuesday September 04, 2012 - 11:20:00 AM

On Thursday, September 6, the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club will consider Berkeley offices and initiatives, and elected positions for a variety of special districts including Directors for BART, AC Transit, and the Peralta Community College District, as well as Oakland city attorney. 

According to the Wellstone newsletter: 

"The Club leadership has worked very hard to contact candidates and ask them to submit responses to our questionnaire. Most candidates have responded. Some have not. We have decided to not consider those candidates who have not submitted responses. 

"We feel it to be our responsibility to contact candidates in order for them to be considered by the club. We also feel that candidates have the responsibility to both contact the club and respond to our requests." 

The responses of candidates can be seen at www.wellstoneclub.org 

All endorsements, candidates and propositions, require 60% of the vote. 

Location: Humanist Hall 390 27th Street, Oakland (between Broadway and Telegraph), Disabled Entrance and Parking on 28th St behind the Hall.. 

Time: Potluck at 6PM, meeting at 6:30PM. 

Berkeley's General Election Calendar

From the Berkeley City Clerk
Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 09:40:00 PM

Here are the relevant dates for Berkeley's General Election, which will take place on Nov. 6, 2012:  

Offices to be Elected: Mayor; Council Districts 2, 3, 5, 6;
Rent Board (4 seats); School Board (2 seats)



May 10, 2012 

Suggested Last Day to file petitions for initiative or charter amendment ballot measure. Petitions received after this date will be accepted, but may not be on the November ballot. 

June 1 - July 26, 2012 

Signature In-Lieu of Filing Fee Period - Candidates may collect signatures to offset the $150 filing fee. Charter Art. III, Sec. 6.5 

July 16 - Aug. 10, 2012 

EC 10220 et seq., Charter Art. III, Sec. 6.5

August 10, 2012 

Deadline to deliver resolution calling ballot measure election to Registrar and request election consolidation and services . For bonds, Tax Rate Statement also due. EC 12001, 10002, 1405, 9241; EC 9400-9401 

August 11-15, 2012 

Extended candidate filing period. Filing is extended if an incumbent eligible for re-election does not file for re-election prior to 5:00 p.m. on August 10th. Incumbents are not eligible to file during the extended period. EC 10225 

August 17, 2012 

Last day to file primary arguments. EC 9280-9287 

August 24, 2012 

Last day to file rebuttal arguments. Impartial Analysis due.
EC 9280-9287 

Aug. 24 - Sept. 4, 2012 

Public review period for ballot arguments and Impartial Analysis. EC 9295 

Sept 10 - Oct. 23, 2012 

Filing Period for Write in Candidates. EC 8601

Sept 27-Oct. 16, 2012 

Voter Information & Sample Ballot Pamphlet mailing period.
EC §13303-04, 13306 

Oct. 8 - 30, 2012 

Vote-by-Mail Ballots may be obtained between these dates. After October 30th VBM ballots may be obtained at the Registrar’s office. EC §3001 

October 5, 2012 

First Pre-Election Campaign Statement due. GC §84200.7 

October 22, 2012 

Last Day to Register to Vote. EC §§2102, 2107 

October 25, 2012 

Second Pre-Election Campaign Statement due. GC §84200.7 

October 30, 2012 

City Clerk must publish list of campaign contributions of $50 or more in newspaper of general circulation. BMC 2.12.065 

November 6, 2012 

Election Day EC §1000 

December 4, 2012 

Last day for County to certify election results. EC §15372 

December 11, 2012 

Council to adopt and certify election results. EC §9217, 10262-10263; Charter Art. III, Sec. 10 

January 31, 2013 

Semi-Annual Campaign Statement due. GC 84200 


Election Information: 2012 Berkeley Ballot Measures

Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 09:38:00 PM

Here the measures which will be on the Berkeley ballot for the November 6 election, along with the arguments for and against them: 


The City Council has placed a total on 10 measures on the ballot for the November 6, 2012 General Election. 

Ballot Measure Arguments 


Primary arguments for and against City measures were due no later than 12:00 p.m. (noon) on Friday, August 17, 2012. Rebuttal arguments may only be submitted by the author of a primary argument. Rebuttal arguments are due no later than Friday, August 24, 2012 at 12:00 p.m. (noon). Information is available by following the link below. Please contact the City Clerk Department if you have questions. 

Ballot Measure Argument Regulations 

The following City measures have been approved for inclusion on the November 6, 2012 General Municipal Election ballot: 

Measure M - General Obligation Bond for Streets and Related Watershed Improvements
Ballot Question and Full Text
City Attorney Impartial Analysis
Measure M - Tax Rate Statement
Argument in Favor of Measure M
Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Measure M
Argument Against Measure M
Rebuttal to Argument Against Measure M 

Measure N - General Obligation Bond for Pools and Associated Facilities
Ballot Question and Full Text
Measure N - Tax Rate Statement
City Attorney Impartial Analysis
Argument in Favor of Measure N
Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Measure N
Argument Against Measure N
Rebuttal to Argument Against Measure N 

Measure O - Special Tax to Fund Operation and Maintenance of the Replacement Warm Water and Willard Pools
Ballot Question and Full Text
City Attorney Impartial Analysis
Argument in Favor of Measure O
Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Measure O
Argument Against Measure O
Rebuttal to Argument Against Measure O 

Measure P - Ballot Measure Re-Authorizing Expenditures of Voter-Approved Taxes for Parks Maintenance, Library Relief, Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Services for Severely Physically Disabled Persons and Fire Protection and Emergency Response and Preparedness, Under Article XIIIB of the California Constitution (Gann Limit)
Ballot Question and Full Text
City Attorney Impartial Analysis
Argument in Favor of Measure P
No argument was filed in opposition to this measure  

Measure Q - An Ordinance of the City of Berkeley Amending Chapter 7.70 of the Berkeley Municipal Code to Modernize the Application of the Utility Users Tax (UUT)
Ballot Question and Full Text
City Attorney Impartial Analysis
Argument in Favor of Measure Q
No argument was filed in opposition to this measure  

Measure R - Charter Amendment to Allow City Council to Adopt Decennial Redistricting Plan
Ballot Question and Full Text
City Attorney Impartial Analysis
Argument in Favor of Measure R
Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Measure R
Argument Against Measure R
Rebuttal to Argument Against Measure R 

Measure S - An Ordinance of the City of Berkeley Adopting New Section 13.36.025 of the Berkeley Municipal Code to Prohibit Sitting on Sidewalks in Commercial Districts
Ballot Question and Full Text
City Attorney Impartial Analysis

Argument in Favor of Measure S
Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Measure S
Argument Against Measure S

Rebuttal to Argument Against Measure S 

Measure T - Amendments to the West Berkeley Plan and Zoning Ordinance
Ballot Question and Full Text
City Attorney Impartial Analysis
Argument in Favor of Measure T
Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Measure T
Argument Against Measure T
Rebuttal to Argument Against Measure T 

Measure U - Initiative Ordinance Enacting New Requirements for the City Council and Rent Stabilization Board and Boards and Commissions Relating to Agendas and Meetings, Requiring Additional Disclosure of Public Records, and Creating a New Commission (Sunshine Ordinance)
Ballot Question and Full Text
City Attorney Impartial Analysis
Argument in Favor of Measure U
Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Measure U
Argument Against Measure U
Rebuttal to Argument Against Measure U 

Measure V - Initiative Ordinance Requiring the City to Prepare Biennial, Certified Financial Reports of Its Financial Obligations for the Next 20 Year Period; and Requiring Certification of Such Reports Before Council May Propose or Voters May Approve Any Debt Financing, or New or Increased City Taxes, and Before Council May Approve Any Assessments or Property-Related Fees (FACTS Initiative)
Ballot Questions and Full Text
City Attorney Impartial Analysis
Argument in Favor of Measure V
Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Measure V
Argument Against Measure V
Rebuttal to Argument Against Measure V 



Berkeley Mayoral Candidates Forum on Sept 26th

By Margot Smith
Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 04:49:00 PM

Meet the candidates for Berkeley Mayor at a forum on Wednesday, September 26th at 1:30 PM at the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, corner of MLK. Moderated by George Lippman of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, the candidates will present their positions and discuss their visions for Berkeley. Sponsored by the Berkeley-East Bay Gray Panthers. 


Margot Smith Berkeley-East Bay Gray Panthers 2539 Telegraph Ave, Suite B Berkeley, CA 94704 510-548-9696 or 510-486-8010 GrayPanthersBerk@aol.com

Profiles of the Candidates for Berkeley Office in the November Election

From the Berkeley City Clerk
Tuesday August 28, 2012 - 10:15:00 AM

Names of and information about all candidates for office in Berkeley's November election can be found below: 

Click on the name of any candidate to view their profile page. The page contains the candidate's Form 700, Candidate Statement, and certain contact information for the candidate. Additional contact information may be obtained by sending a request to the Elections Inbox at elections@cityofberkeley.info.  

This list contains the names of all qualified candidates with their ballot designation. The names are listed in the order in which they will appear on the ballot within each contest.  


Bernt Rainer Wahl


Kriss Worthington
Berkeley City Councilmember 


Jacquelyn McCormick
Small Business Owner 


Zachary RunningWolf
Native American Elder 


Kahlil “Da Mayor” Jacobs-Fantauzzi


Tom Bates
Mayor, City of Berkeley 


City Council, District 2 

Adolfo Cabral
Retired Facilities Supervisor 


Denisha DeLane
Nonprofit Program Associate 


Darryl Moore
Berkeley City Councilmember 


City Council, District 3 

Max Anderson


Dmitri Belser
Non-Profit Executive Director 


City Council, District 5 

Laurie Capitelli
Berkeley City Councilmember 


Sophie Hahn
Zoning Commissioner 


City Council, District 6 

Susan Wengraf
Berkeley City Councilmember, District 6 


Rent Stabilization Board Commissioner 

Alejandro Soto-Vigil
Legislative Aide/Commissioner 


Judy Shelton
Rent Board Commissioner 


Kiran Shenoy
Attorney/PRC Commissioner 


Judy J. Hunt
Non-Profit Executive 


Igor A. Tregub
Rent Board Commissioner 


Asa Dodsworth
Rent Stabilization Board Commissioner 


Nicole Drake
Aide, Vice-Mayor Maio 


Jay James
Mechanical Engineer 


School Board Director 

Judy Appel
Nonprofit Executive Director 


Norma J F Harrison
Community Volunteer 


Tracy Hollander


Beatriz Leyva-Cutler


Jacquelyn McCormick for Mayor (Opinion)

By Martha Nicoloff
Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 05:30:00 PM

Five candidates have taken on the challenge of beating the Mayor Bates machine. One citizen to sign up early is Jacquelyn McCormick, a person with experience evaluating Council actions. She has a continuing website called "Berkeley Council Watch". one of the few sources of reporting on local politics. She has attended every Council meeting for the last two years. 

She is also a leader in writing the "Facts" initiative and gathering the signatures needed to put it on the November ballot. "Facts" would require the Council to report to the public truth about the City's liabilities and update the sum every two years. 

Mayor Tom Bates has been too involved with mega-developers, they have imposed grossly enlarged projects that make no attempt to harmonize with existing neighbors. Under his regime the University now has the potential of converting the central business district into a campus take over.He has been rude to citizens at Public Hearing before the City Council. 

Last election the city adopted Rank Choice Voting (RCV) now the voter choses a first, second and third choice of candidates for Mayor, according to preference. In rounds of counting, called "Passes" the first choice candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their second choice vote is passed to those selected by the voter. Encouraging people to continue to the end of a very long and complex ballot will be very important. Some say the Ranked Choice Voting favors the incumbent, I urge everyone concerned about the livability of Berkeley to vote for Jacquelyn McCormick as their number choice for a new Mayor.



New: ENDORSEMENT SPECIAL: Berkeley Mayor and City Council

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday September 05, 2012 - 09:14:00 AM

As promised, Labor Day has passed, and we’re following up on our promise to publish endorsements as quickly as possible. Today, the Berkeley City Council candidates, including the Mayor, are before us for consideration.

We’re pleased to learn that the three best candidates for Mayor of Berkeley seem to have created a mutual support pact which responds to the dynamics of ranked choice voting. They’re collectively urging voters to vote for all of them in one-two-three order. The consensus among them and their supporters seems to be that incumbent Mayor Tom Bates has passed his pull date, and it’s time to replace him—not that they agree on everything else, of course.

For Berkeley’s genuine progressives, the tipping point seems to have been Bates’ full-throated promotion of Measure S, the anti-sitting initiative which he ramrodded onto the ballot at the last minute by calling in all his chits with the Faux-Progs who make up his council majority, a couple of whom should actually know better. Everything that annoys anyone about street behavior is already illegal in Berkeley, so this measure represents nothing more than another swift kick aimed at the down-and-out. Those of us with long memories remember that then-Assemblymember Bates backed a similar proposal about 15 years ago, which was thrown out in federal court on constitutional grounds. 

But Bates(whose only non-political employment, way back when, was as a developer) never met a real estate speculator that he didn’t like. Not coincidentally, the Downtown Berkeley Property Owners Business Improvement District (PBID), an association of commercial landlords, is the principal instigator of Measure S. If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many empty storefronts downtown, the rents charged by some PBID members have a lot to do with it. But they prefer to blame Downtown’s problems on the downtrodden, and Bates is happy to aid and abet them.  

Mysteriously, a couple of senior stalwarts of Berkeley’s Older Left, regrouped now under the banner of the Oakland-based Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, have endorsed Bates while simultaneously denouncing Measure S, according to their list-serv posts forwarded to me by annoyed civil libertarians who expected better. Go figure. I guess it’s become politics above principle (or perhaps just cronies above credo) in some quarters these days. 

Environmentalists are especially annoyed by two of the other Bates-backed measures up for vote in November. Measure T rezones West Berkeley, mostly to benefit a few owners of large parcels which they wish to develop, with no guarantees that already threatened Aquatic Park won’t be further impacted. Measure M authorizes issuance of a general obligation bond “for Streets and Related Watershed Improvements” which is dangerously non-specific, essentially a blank check for spending the proceeds any old way. Continued neglect of watershed problems, including pollution at Aquatic Park and flooding in Southwest Berkeley, is anticipated by opponents of this measure.  

More on these later, when we discuss the ballot measures in detail. 

We’re with the critics of Bates’stances on the issues—no supporter of either Measure S or Measure T deserves your vote if you call yourself progressive. We would be more than happy to see either Kriss Worthington or Jacquelyn McCormick as Berkeley’s next mayor. Both have resoundingly denounced Anti-Sit Measure S and also Measure T. McCormick is more conservative than Worthington on some fiscal issues, but she’s equally progressive when it comes to civil liberties and the environment. 

Which one you rank first or second on your ballot is a matter of individual taste—the main difference seems to be that Worthington is more savvy about facts and figures and has had a lot more experience in local government (which might be the good news or the bad news.) He’s already the real policy wonk on the council.  

Third candidate Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi’s heart is in the right place, but it’s not clear that his head follows. He’d make a good Number Three on a ranked choice ballot. 

There are also two excellent challengers for District Two councilmember. Incumbent Darryl Moore has forfeited any claim to being a progressive by his lock-step fawning over the Mayor, including mindless support for both Anti-Sit Measure S and the wholesale sellout of his district which Measure T, the West Berkeley re-zoning proposal, represents.  

Denisha DeLane, who’s lived a long time in West Berkeley though she’s pretty young by Berkeley council standards, has a long history with the NAACP and learned a lot about city government as the late Councilmember Margaret Breland’s aide which she would put to good use as councilmember. Adolfo Cabral has been an active member of the West Berkeley Project Area Committee and many other civic organizations. They each have a long list of impressive supporters.  

We’re glad we don’t live in District 2, because we’d have a terrible time deciding which of these two to rank Number 1 and which Number 2. It’s too bad we can’t have both on the council. Needless to say either would be head and shoulders above Moore—voters aren’t required to specify a Number 3, and he doesn’t deserve even a third place vote. 

There’s really no contest for District 3, where Councilmember Max Anderson has consistently been an eloquent spokesperson, not only for Berkeley’s African-Americans, but for all residents of Berkeley’s lowest-income area, Southwest Berkeley. Opponent Dmitri Belser, Executive Director of Center for Accessible Technology, appears from his ballot statement to have concentrated his civic activities primarily within the disability rights movement.  

But in District 5, there’s a real choice in an old-fashioned two person race. Incumbent Laurie Capitelli’s main claim to fame is that he’s become a loyal cog in the Bates machine—his ballot endorsers are predominantly fellow-cogs. He also sells real estate and has been an executive in a major real estate firm, though you’d never know that from his ballot statement, which coyly says just that he’s a councilmember/businessman.  

Challenger Sophie Hahn, on the other hand, is a smart, energetic woman, raised in Berkeley and active in important community organizations ranging from the PTA to the Zoning Adjustment Board. A graduate of Stanford Law, she’s been putting her legal expertise to good use on the ZAB. By Berkeley City Council standards she’s a youngster, probably in her late 40s or early 50s, and would bring a breath of fresh air into the increasing airless council, which looks more and more like a happy hunting ground for UC Berkeley retirees with time on their hands.. 

As we speak, things are heating up fast. We’re hoping to list as many candidate forums and endorsement meeting as we can. One’s coming right up: the Wellstone Club endorsement meeting this Thursday, September 6.. It’s time to make up your own mind and join in the electoral process.

The Editor's Back Fence

Berkeley Heats Up For the Fall Election Season

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 06:10:00 PM

As summer slowly cools down, local politics is starting to heat up. We’ve made an earnest effort to take some time off, but our indefatigable contributors have continued to crank out excellent copy, so today’s new issue makes room for their latest output.

I’ve been whiling away the idle hours by attending a variety of campaign kickoff events for a miscellany of candidates as I’ve been waiting for the ballot information to be completed and posted by the Berkeley City Clerk’s office. As of this week, it’s all in, so it’s time to start reporting on local election activities in earnest.

This issue reprises all the information available from the Berkeley City Clerk’s office—and there’s a lot. Take a good look at what’s here, and when I get back to work after Labor Day I’ll get right to the question of endorsements. 

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. I’ve always been agnostic or perhaps even atheistic about the quasi-religious belief in journalistic objectivity. Every sentient human adult brings a collection of experiences and a store of knowledge to observation of the passing parade, making “unbiased” reporting just about impossible. 

Socrates taught that the unexamined life is not worth living, and I think unexamined, uncritical reporting is mostly not worth reading. He’s also one of the many credited with asking “what is truth”, and when it comes to reporting on politics the question is certainly relevant. 

It’s customary for conventional commercial publications to refrain from endorsing candidates and ballot measures, at least until the very end of the campaign period and sometimes forever. Local commercial news sources have indicated that they will observe this convention for this election. 

But this is an unconventional and non-commercial publication, and it would be deeply hypocritical to pretend that I have no opinion about what’s going to be on the November ballot. I can’t assume a false naïveté and persuade readers that I’m waiting to learn more about the people and ideas in Berkeley’s November race, because longtime readers know that I’ve been around the block more than once. 

With that in mind, I’ll just list the decisions I’ve already made about how to vote right up front in this space before the campaigns really get off the ground. I reserve the right to change my mind if anything happens to suggest that I should. Where ranked choice voting is concerned,when there’s more than one good candidate I might contemplate the right one-two order right up until election day, but by and large there’s not much more to learn. 

I have no idea how much my opinions will influence voters, but at least I hope to spur those who agree with me (and even those who don’t) to get involved in the campaigns early, because electoral activity amplifies individual votes. And as far as financial contributions are concerned, “early money is like yeast”. Our family usually contributes to candidates and causes we support, as you can learn from the city clerk’s records, and we encourage individuals who can to do likewise. You can be sure that the corporate contributions will flow without my prompting—and there’s no limit on how much corporations can spend to promote their pet ballot measures, and no requirement that the names of the contributors to PACs be disclosed.. 

As usual, our corps of pro bono reporters will be encouraged to keep on submitting their reports on what’s happening, which will be variously billed as “news”, “news analysis” and “opinion” depending on the ratio between facts and subjectivity in a given article. We’ll also make an effort to call attention to worthwhile news reports in the several outlets which now watch Berkeley—they provide pieces of a mosaic which add up to the big picture from time to time. 

Our “Election Section” will be revived for local elections, with announcements of public forums and campaign events, including where available press releases from candidates and position statements from advocates about candidates and ballot measures. We especially solicit opinion pieces from Berkeleyans who are knowledgeable about the 10 Berkeley measures, which are complicated and often couched in language intended to deceive unwary voters. 

As usual, our Public Comment sections will be open to anyone who’s willing to sign his or her real name and will provide a phone number so we can verify authorship. If we like you, we might even fix your grammar, punctuation and spelling if needed. 

We’ll leave publishing anonymous rants to others. 

Endorsement editorials will start after Labor Day, and will appear as fast as I can crank them out.


Odd Bodkins: Fred for Prez (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Tuesday August 28, 2012 - 11:18:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Bounce: The Shunning (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Tuesday August 28, 2012 - 11:21:00 AM


Joseph Young


Public Comment

Don't Ask Teachers to Avoid Controversy in Teaching about Climate Change

By Alan Gould
Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 05:37:00 PM

Re: Global Warming Are We Paving the Way to Inaction? , by Shahir Masri. 

I feel the essence of Masri's message is contained in the sentence: "Therefore, it is not only misleading to depict global warming as a controversial issue, but illogical and potentially destructive to do so within the framework of education." 

There are many aspects of global warming that are controversial...mostly in the realm of "how bad might things get?" and "what can we or should we do about it?" There are some things that are not controversial, mainly the basic science facts:—we expect global temperature to rise as atmospheric CO2 levels rise—not only do we expect it, but it's happening. 

And the following is not controversial, not so much from basic science, but more inference and data analysis—atmospheric CO2 levels are rising due to human activity, largely from two behaviors: burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. However, I feel strongly that to make blanket statement to teachers to avoid the controversial aspects of climate change is unnecessarily tying their hands. There is both scientific controversy regarding the extent of damage that will occur and controversy in the realm of economics and how society should respond to the threat of that damage. 

As an example of what I mean, see chapters from the Climate Change book Global Systems Science, high school science curriculum materials that I help develop and maintain, in particular a chapter titled "What is the Controversy About?" 

Alan Gould is Director, Global Systems Science http://globalsystemsscience.org ,University of California, Berkeley, The Lawrence Hall of Science

Berkeley Police at Washington Elementary School Do Not Promote Student Safety

Friday August 31, 2012 - 11:10:00 AM

I am writing to express my outrage at the police's treatment of law-abiding parents and children at Washington Elementary school. The purpose of a police department should be to prevent crime and promote safety. Instead, however, the Berkeley traffic officers and meter staff take up valuable drop-off parking spots, cause additional anxiety for drivers by stating clearly that they are here to collect parking fines, and threaten/intimidate parents trying to drop off children at school. This creates an unsafe environment for children and unnecessary chaos. 

Children should not be rushed to exit their cars and parents should be able to leave the vehicle momentarily to ensure that their children enter the building safely. It appears from the department's actions that Berkeley is primarily interested in collecting additional revenue from fines, thereby taking advantage of innocent citizens rather than protecting them. As an example, I found it highly inappropriate that an officer was stationed at the entrance to the school for the purpose of handing out a letter explaining ranges of fines on the first day of school. Going forward, I would like to see police officers help ensure that only people who belong on the school campus allowed through the gates, and that children are helped to safety cross the street between the main building and the bungalows. 

Kasey Guentert is the mother of two children at Washington Elementary.

Romney's Vision for the Future: An Uninhabitable Earth

By Jack Bragen
Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 04:07:00 PM

I have heard Newt Gingrich, (who I’m relieved won’t be president any time soon) use the term, “Social Engineering” to describe some of the politics to which he is opposed. Ironically, it is the Republicans who are attempting this. Apparently, the Republican vision of the future includes the total elimination of the middle class and the ruination of the Earth’s environment. Under Romney’s vision, America will have only two classes: the few super-rich, and their serfs, the many people who are extremely deprived.  

Romney, who lacks any kind of plan to address global warming and who wants to deregulate and promote the giant energy conglomerates, is of the opinion (apparently, without admitting it) that it is inevitable that we will make our planet uninhabitable and that we will need to don oxygen masks before venturing outdoors. Therefore, it seems that Romney believes it won’t hurt us to hasten the process of creating an uninhabitable environment for most of the life on our planet.  

While the above is conjecture, how else could a candidate not address the obvious facts of global warming and the ruination of the environment? It has to be either an extreme case of denial, or else the Republican Party is fully anticipating an un-breathable atmosphere and unendurable high temperatures in the future.  

Go ahead Romney, ruin the oceans. We don’t need to have safety regulations that restrict offshore drilling; that’s big government interfering again. After all, the plankton are only responsible for three quarters of the oxygen we breathe. So what if we have more accidents like what happened in the Gulf a few years ago… Go ahead, strip mine our parks, and cut down our forests. We need the energy for our Cadillac Escalade and for the electricity used by our big mansions. We couldn’t possibly put a solar cell on the roof—that’s bad for the economy—after all, you can’t make a profit on solar. (This is because you can’t charge people for the sunlight that falls on their roofs.) 

In contrast, President Obama naively hasn’t given up. He’s still hoping that we can maintain a habitable Earth. Obama’s energy policy has taken shape as favoring renewable energy, but also promoting other sources. Owners of the oil, gas and coal companies, giving massive campaign contributions to Romney, seem to think renewable energy is unrealistic and disastrous for the country.  

Looking at the Republican candidates, I initially thought Romney might become a conscientious President. Now that I have learned more about his proposals, I realize that I was wrong. With respect to President Obama, the novelty of an African-American President has worn off, and he is evaluated more by his policies and his performance. (President Obama has been a moderate in office, and so far has not done a lot to shake things up. But that can also be a good thing.) Also, racism hasn’t disappeared, and many white Americans won’t vote for Obama because of his color.  

Obama’s health care initiative will give hope and upward mobility to millions of Americans among the working poor, in addition to disabled people. These are two groups which have largely been kept at the bottom of the socioeconomic heap by the extreme expense of medical care. Disabled people are presently forced to remain unemployed or to work very part time because of the consequence to working of losing their healthcare benefits. Meanwhile, the working poor often live under a pile of debt if they have any kind of need for a doctor. Obama’s health care plan will change all that, I hope.  

We have two choices: prevalent severe poverty and a ruined and possibly uninhabitable planet, versus things becoming moderately better. President Obama should be re-elected.  



Thursday September 06, 2012 - 10:05:00 AM

This Year Make Sure that Our Causes are Larger...

By Rabbi Alana Suskin, Director of Strategic Communications, Americans for Peace Now
Thursday September 06, 2012 - 09:59:00 AM

Last spring, an event galvanized a segment of American Jews like no other. People knew it was going to change their lives and they wanted to stop it. There were weeks of Facebook comments decrying it. Petitions were launched. The Jewish community became galvanized.

You remember - the Trader Joe's supermarket chain announced that its chocolate chips would no longer be certified as kosher pareve (containing no dairy or meat products), and would instead be kosher dairy.

As much as this affected some people's lives (kosher dietary laws forbid consuming meat and dairy products at the same meal), how many became as indignant over the daily violations of Jewish law taking place in Israel and the West Bank? Imagine if the continued building of settlement outposts on Palestinian-owned land, the defacing of mosques by Jews, and attacks on IDF soldiers by settlers could cause as much buzz as little bits of chocolate! 

Buzz can lead to action. That's "people power," --a real and effective tool in changing an unacceptable status quo. We at Americans for Peace Now (APN) harness people power in order to end Israel's rule over the Palestinians through a negotiated settlement leading to two states for two peoples. With APN's help, people are learning about the increasingly anti-democratic atmosphere in Israel that stems from its 45-year occupation of the Palestinians. It is impossible to avoid knowing that the occupation will eventually make Israel choose whether it wants to be a democracy or a Jewish state, because with a Palestinian population as large as the Jewish population, it can't be both. A recent poll by B'nai B'rith International found that most Israelis want their country to be Jewish and democratic. The radical right has no answer to that. 

This trend scares our opponents. It undermines their attacks on the two-state solution. It exposes them as more concerned about retaining land and building settlements than about retaining Israel's democratic and Jewish character. And so they spend a lot of money to obscure these inconvenient truths with hasbara, spin. 

The Talmud says that so great is human dignity that in order to preserve it, one can violate commandments found in the Torah. I called this to mind as I watched a video this summer of an Israeli border policeman violating this humane dictum by kicking a 9-year-old Palestinian boy. The seeds planted by the occupation have borne fruits of malice. We have seen how what started as a fear for survival has turned into fear of "the Other." 

It isn't just the radical right, but too many Jews in general who hesitate to publically criticize Israel. Hasbara that shows the very real good side of Israel, but ignores what needs correcting, causes too many of us to forget not only our love for Israel, but our duty. That's not to say we should single out Israel by any means. We must understand Palestinian complicity and intransigence in the conflict, and accept that Israel has real enemies. Yes -- it takes two to tango (that's not from the Talmud) and the Jewish tradition understands that you can't blame someone else for events you have set in motion yourself. Yes --Israel can do more by doing less -- less settlement building, less occupation, and less control over another people. Less --leading, of course, to none-- the conditions Israel must deploy for a two-state solution. 

It is my belief that Israel is not "a state like any other," but one which carries a deep moral purpose, which means that we cannot tolerate the depravity of, theft from, or violence and discrimination against, others. The land itself demands from each of us the greatest generosity toward one another and toward our neighbors. 

That's why I invite you, at the beginning of this New Year, to join Americans for Peace Now. APN is the American voice for a negotiated two-state settlement with the Palestinians that would end Israel's 45-year occupation of another people and grant verifiable security to the Jewish State. APN will be your resource for up-to-the-minute information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Encourage your friends, family and colleagues to take advantage of our extensive resources as well. 

All of us are ready and willing to come to your community and speak the truth. We want to show you how a two-state solution really is possible. We want to show you why peace is the only real guarantor of Israel's security. And we want to give you the tools to help make it happen. One of these tools is our mobile app which shows you where settlements are being built. And our "They Say/We Say" brochure is a survival handbook for responding to critics and understanding the pro-peace point of view. Go to our website (www.peacenow.org) for these and other critical resources. 

APN is the U.S. sister organization of Peace Now (Shalom Achshav) in Israel. APN provides nearly half of the funding for Israel"s Peace Now movement and helps make possible the actions, research and legal advocacy that assist our patriotic counterparts in Israel: to keep the hope alive for peace and a two-state solution. And if there is news about the settlements that the Israeli government does not want you to know about, it is likely to have emanated from Peace Now's Settlement Watch. 

One may still disagree about many things in Jewish life and in Israel. But surely we must all agree that Jews spraying graffiti on mosques is wrong. That Jews attacking IDF soldiers is wrong. That soldiers kicking small children is wrong. 

These are the "fruits" of the occupation. 

We should neither be afraid of the truth nor allow it to be obscured. In my case, the truth has allowed me to honestly admit and accept the problems that Israel faces. And this has led me to discover an even more valuable truth: people really can unite, act, and ultimately change things for the better. 

We have seen over and over again that when the American Jewish community speaks loudly and united in action, stuff happens. We need your help --Jewish or not-- to be heard. I close by writing that on Rosh Hashanah, we read the stories of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael. They are stories of strife, pain and self-sacrifice. At the end, though, half-brothers Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father, and perhaps to bury the hatchet as well. 

That choice is ours too. This year, for all the right reasons, with our rich Jewish traditions guiding us, let us make sure that our causes are larger and more vital than chocolate chips. 

Shanah Tovah. 


THE PUBLIC EYE: Mitt Romney: The Great White Hope

Friday August 31, 2012 - 10:59:00 AM

To secure the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination, Mitt Romney had to take increasingly conservative positions. Many observers expected that once he became the nominee, Romney would move towards the political middle ground. But he hasn’t. His campaign has taken even more extreme stances because Romney believes it is the only way he can attract the votes of working-class whites. 

Romney’s flip-flops are well documented. The former Massachusetts Governor began his political career as pro-choice but switched positions in 2007 and became pro-life. At the beginning of his career Romney supported gay rights but in 2005 he stated his opposition to gay marriage and civil unions. Romney claims to believe in man-made global warming but says he “is not certain to the extent that man is causing the change in the environment.” And on and on. 

Because of his flip-flops, and his Mormon religion, some doubted Romney would become the Republican candidate. But he out spent his opponents and by winning the Texas primary, in late May, became the presumptive nominee. Then his campaign made a series of calculated moves to the extreme right. 

On August 12th, Mitt Romney anointed Tea-Party favorite Paul Ryan as his running mate. In the process, Romney assumed all of Ryan’s baggage, including the draconian Ryan budget. Romney joined Ryan in his plan to turn Medicare into a voucher-driven system, gut Medicaid and Federal food stamp programs, and repeal Obamacare. 

With Romney’s tacit approval, on August 28th Republicans approved an ultra-conservative platform that adopts most of the Tea Party’s proposals. Many of these are fiscal: “No new taxes” and “Repeal Obamacare.” But the platform also adopts Ron Paul’s proposal to audit the Federal Reserve, supports reversing all regulations written by President Obama, and advocates dropping the tax deduction for home-mortgage interest. 

What gotten the most press attention are the ultra conservative social planks in the Republican platform. On women’s rights: the GOP wants a “human life amendment” that has no exceptions for abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. (The misogynistic platform wants an end to military women serving in combat zones.) On gay rights: the GOP opposes recognition of same-sex marriages (and civil unions) and wants a repeal of the military’s “don’t ask; don’t tell” rule. On immigration: the Republican platform supports the (mostly invalidated) laws adopted in Arizona and Alabama. 

The New York Times reported that Romney’s advisers are “convinced he needs a more combative footing against President Obama in order to appeal to white, working class voters.” 

“Many of those voters are economically disaffected, and the Romney campaign has been trying to reach them with appeals built around an assertion that Mr. Obama is making it easier for welfare recipients to avoid work. The Romney campaign is airing an advertisement falsely charging that Mr. Obama has ‘quietly announced’ plans to eliminate work and job training requirements for welfare beneficiaries, a message Mr. Romney’s aides said resonates with working-class voters who see government as doing nothing for them.”

By this tactic, and others such as making a birther joke Romney has introduced race and class into the 2012 contest. Political writer Elspeth Reeve opines that Romney’s descent into demagoguery is a deliberate tactic to ensure that he gets at least 61 percent of the white vote. (In 2008 whites favored McCain by a 55 to 43 percent margin.) 

Romney’s tactic may work – it will be bolstered by a multi-million dollar ad campaign financed, in part, by Conservative Super PACs. But it has several inherent problems: Independent voters may see Romney as “extreme” and this could negatively affect his already shaky favorability ratings. (In the latest polls as many voters view Romney unfavorably, 43 percent, as view him favorably.) 

And, Romney’s adoption of the strident Republican campaign against women may cause him to lose the votes of white women. 

But the biggest danger in the Romney strategy is that it will turn the 2012 campaign into one based on race. Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Edsall observed, “89% of voters who identify themselves as Republican are white.” He continued, 

“The Romney campaign is willing to disregard criticism concerning accuracy and veracity in favor of ‘blowing the dog whistle of racism’ - resorting to a campaign appealing to racial symbols, images and issues… The result is a campaign run at two levels. On the trail Paul Ryan argues, ‘we're going to make this about ideas. We're going to make this about a positive vision for the future.’ On television and the Internet, however, the Romney campaign is clearly determined "to make this about" race…

One of the complaints about George W. Bush was that he would say and do anything to win. Many hoped the Mitt Romney would be a different sort of candidate, one who would debate Obama about ideas and vision. Instead Romney has turned out to be a reprise of Dubya, a moral weakling who had decided to play the race card and cast himself as “the great white hope.” 

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

AGAINST FORGETTING: Voter Suppression: The "Schurick Doctrine" and the Unravelling of American Democracy

By Ruth Rosen
Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 09:16:00 PM

Republicans across the United States have passed a spate of voter suppression laws aimed at those most likely to vote for Obama. They are specifically targeting African American women who, in the past, created a gender gap that decisively elected Democratic presidents. America needs immediate international monitoring of its presidential election. 

How will the American Presidential election be won in November 2012? By the Republicans buying the election? Perhaps. But money cannot always buy an election. That is why Republicans have spent the last 4-6 years passing a spate of voter suppression laws in “swing states” that will make it more difficult and costly for the young, the elderly, minorities, union members and single and elderly women to cast a vote for Barack Obama. 

Although the Republican effort is not exactly a secret, few Americans are discussing it with the urgency it deserves. The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law says that since the start of 2011, 16 states—which account for 214 electoral votes—have passed restrictive voting laws. Each law is different: some curb voter registration drives; others require new and costly forms of identification; and still others insist that voters produce government-issued photo IDs at the polls. The Brennan Center also points out that: 


“[T]he scope of the suppression movement and its potential impact are staggering ... as many as 11 percent of eligible voters—roughly 21 million Americans—lack current, unexpired government-issued photo IDs. The percentages are even higher among seniors, African-Americans and other minorities, the working poor, the disabled and students—constituencies that traditionally skew Democratic and whose disenfranchisement could prove decisive in any close election.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups have been trying to gain injunctions against laws passed by Republican-dominated state legislatures, but with mixed success. 


The Republicans argue they are preventing voter fraud. But is there a significant amount of voter fraud? Or is this a partisan effort to find a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist? The Bush administration spent five years (2002 to 2007) searching for voter fraud and found only 86 cases. The Brennan Center for Justice, as well as the ACLU, have also found infinitesimal instances of voter fraud. 

The sudden need for unexpired passports, the demand for government-issued photo identification, is simply a flagrant way of suppressing the votes of those who are more likely to vote Obama. The new identification requirements make it difficult, if not impossible, for some citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote. In some states poll hours have been expanded for likely Republican voters and decreased for probable Democratic voters. Many elderly people no longer have their birth certificates. Many minorities and young people don’t own cars and therefore don’t have driving licenses. Young people often don’t have access to any of these records when they live far away from their parents. But those who vote by absentee ballot—suburban voters who tend to be independents or Republicans—are not required to have photo IDs. Ironically, this from a country that has consistently—in the name of liberty and freedom—refused to force its citizens to carry identifications cards. 

What few critics seem to realize is that women—who constitute at least half of all these targeted groups and who vote more often than men—will be even more disenfranchised. Ever since 1980, African American women have been decisive in creating a gender gap that has helped elect Democratic Presidents. And in 2012, these women—in addition to single and elderly women—may be prevented from protecting Obama’s signature health care program, women’s reproductive rights, the right to abortion, funds for Planned Parenthood, and Social Security and Medicare—the very safety net that the Romney/Ryan Republican ticket has campaigned to eliminate or change in fundamental ways. 

Image of elderly black woman.  

Viviette Applewhite. Photo: ACLU of
Pennsylvania, aclupa.org

Consider the case of Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year old resident of Pennsylvania. She marched with Martin Luther King Jr. but cannot get a photo ID because all her papers were stolen from her purse. On three occasions she has tried to obtain a birth certificate from The Pennsylvania’s Division of Vital Records. Although she paid the fees, she never received one. Now, a newly engaged lawyer has been trying, once again, to obtain her birth certificate. On July 25, 2012, however, the Pennsylvania court upheld the law that may very likely prohibit her from voting. 

Republicans are thrilled by their successful effort at suppressing women’s votes, particularly those from African American women. The conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh recently said “When women got the right to vote is when it all went downhill because that’s when votes started being cast with emotion and maternal instincts….” 

Middle-aged white woman  

Commentator and author Ann Coulter. 

Photo: Gage Skidmore 

Earlier, in 2007, the conservative Fox news guest and celebrity pundit Ann Coulter told the New York Observer, “If we took away women's right to vote, we'd never have to worry about another Democratic president. It's kind of a pipe dream, it's a personal fantasy of mine, but I don't think it's going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women.” 

Now her dream may be coming true. By choosing Paul Ryan as his Vice Presidential running mate, Mitt Romney has shown his true agenda. Although Romney has flip-flopped repeatedly on women’s issues, Ryan is a standard bearer for a budget proposal that would ban common forms of contraception and eliminate abortion. He also voted to end funding for Planned Parenthood and against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 that promoted fairness in the work place for women. Both men have repeatedly said they are against Obama’s affordable care health program. In addition, Ryan has repeatedly said he wants to eliminate Medicare, the popular medical insurance for the elderly, and Social Security—the country’s only safety net for seniors without pensions. 

Other Republicans have similarly gloated about how voter suppression will elect Mitt Romney. According to one news report, “Former Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer (currently under indictment for stealing party funds) acknowledged in a deposition that a 2009 Republican party meeting included discussions about ‘voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting.’” The report also revealed that “In December, Paul Schurick, a top aide to former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, was convicted of election fraud for using automated phone calls to suppress the African-American vote during Mr. Ehrlich's unsuccessful 2010 bid." Entered into evidence was one consultant’s memo that described a "Schurick Doctrine" to "promote confusion, emotionalism and frustration among African-American Democrats." 

The Republicans know exactly what they are doing and they have been astonishingly successful at creating different ways of suppressing votes that might re-elect the President. In an August 16th editorial, The New York Times criticized a Pennsylvania judge for upholding a Republican-backed voter ID law “that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of poor and minority state residents in November.” The judge acknowledged that he “was aware of the remark made by Michael Turzai, The Pennsylvania House Republican leader, that the voter ID requirement would win the state for Mitt Romney in November” but then, in an outrageous defense of his decision, said that no proof existed that other legislators agreed with Turzai. The editorial ended with this ominous warning: “Many voters won’t be able to participate in the democratic process any longer. Some won’t show up at the polls, unwilling to leap the hurdles placed before them, while others will try to vote and find their ballots rejected. This lawsuit was an opportunity to sweep away barriers to full citizen ship.” 

This is hardly the first time the supposedly greatest democracy on earth has suppressed voting. After the Civil War, the South passed Jim Crow literacy and poll tax laws to keep African Americans from voting until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The United States, moreover, is one of the few nations that prevents former felons, in some states, from voting for the rest of their lives. In 2004, 5.3 million Americans were denied the right to vote because of previous felony convictions. In the 2000 election, former convicted felons in Florida---disproportionably African American---were prohibited from voting. They would have put Al Gore in the White House. 

Civil Right advocates rightly call this disenfranchisement our new Jim Crow laws. 

Across the country, civil rights groups continue to sue states that have passed laws to suppress voters, something that still may surprise a great number of Americans, not to mention the rest of the world. Meanwhile, the election looms closer and people who cannot meet the new requirements get fed up, feel helpless, and are less likely to go to the polling place on Election Day. 

So this is America in 2012, a democracy in rapid decline. On August 21, TalkingPoints Memo reported that: 


“The GOP platform committee adopted language on Tuesday supporting states that have passed voter ID and proof of citizenship laws. The citizenship amendment, proposed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), would support laws that make voters prove their citizenship before they are allowed on the voter rolls.”
When the Supreme Court decided in a landmark case that the First Amendment allowed corporations and unions to give any amount of money to candidates, they turned elections into a arms race for campaign donations. The suppression of voters is the final unraveling of what used to be viewed as a democratic nation. 


It is not too soon to ask the international community to monitor the 2012 American election. This is an emergency. 


This column originally appeared on Open Democracy. 

ECLECTIC RANT: Chevron's Richmond Refinery Fire: Another Case of Environmental and Community Destruction

By Ralph E. Stone
Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 04:31:00 PM

Chevron's Richmond Refinery -- the company's second largest refinery -- recently spewed toxic smoke over Richmond and San Pablo sending more than 14,000 people in the East Bay to medical facilities with smoke-related complaints. This is but the latest in Chevron's legacy of environmental and community destruction. 

Chevron is the second largest oil company in the United States and the third largest corporation in the U.S. with $26.9 billion in 2011 profits. It explores for, produces, refines, transports and markets oil, natural gas, and gasoline. Major operations also include chemical, coal mining and power generation companies. But Chevron's main revenues is from its oil and gasoline businesses. 

Chevron's world headquarters is located in San Ramon, California. Its refinery in Richmond, California is one a the largest in the U.S. More than 25,000 people live within three miles of the refinery. According to the U.S. Census,about 16 percent of the residents live below the federal poverty line, and about 80 percent of the residents are listed as “minorities." Within a mile of the refinery are businesses, houses, a school and playgrounds. 

One of Chevron's ads states, "Protecting the planet is everyone's job. I agree. What Chevron is doing. . . Yet, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported the release or disposal of more than 600,000 pounds of toxic waste from the Richmond site in 2009, including at least 36 toxic substances, including more than 3,800 pounds of benzene, a known human carcinogen, and over 235,000 pounds of ammonia, repeated exposure to which can cause an asthma-like allergy and lead to lung damage 

According to the California Air Resources Board (www.arb.ca.gov), Chevron was the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California in 2009 and a high priority violator (HPV) of the Clean Air Act since at least 2006. HPV is the most serious level of violation noted by the EPA. 

A 2008 Brown University toxic exposure study concluded that the air inside the homes of Richmond residents is more toxic than outside due to harmful pollutants from the refinery, which can cause respiratory diseases. (http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local&id=6070514) In fact, Richmond had the third highest number of deaths from cancer between 2003 and 2007 of any city in Contra Costa County.  

In addition, an October 2010 County Asthma Profile found that county residents, as compared to all Californians, are hospitalized for asthma at higher rates; have higher death rates due to asthma, particularly among adults ages 65 and older; and have higher rates of visits to the emergency doctor, particularly for children aged 0 to 4 years. 

For the sake of the community and the environment, it is time for federal and state regulators to force Chevron to use its vast resources to finally clean up its act. 

Source: The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report (may 2011) released by Global Exchange last year. The Report shows Chevron's consistent pattern of using its vast financial and political weight to operate with blatant disrespect for the health, security, economic livelihood, safety, and environment of far too many communities within which it operates. Such as the gross human rights abuses by the company in Burma and Nigeria; environmental and public health devastation in California, Alaska, Mississippi, New York, New Jersey, Angola, Canada, Chad, Cameroon, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, and the Philippines; participation in a war for oil in Iraq; and great political and consumer price manipulation throughout the U.S. and globally.

ECLECTIC RANT: The GOP and the John Galt Factor

By Ralph E. Stone
Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 04:20:00 PM

Vice President candidate Paul Ryan once remarked, "The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand," Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/04/26/ryan-now-rejects-ayn-rand-will-the-real-paul-ryan-please-come-forward) And at the Rand celebration he spoke at in 2005, Ryan invoked the central theme of Rand's writings when he told his audience that, "Almost every fight we are involved in here on Capitol Hill  . . .  is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict - individualism versus collectivism." 

Ryan has handed out copies of Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged as Christmas presents. Later he seemingly rejected Rand's philosophy. Ryan shrugged. 

According to Rand, "Totalitarianism is collectivism. Collectivism means the subjugation of the individual to a group—whether to a race, class or state does not matter. Collectivism holds that man must be chained to collective action and collective thought for the sake of what is called “the common good.” According to Ryan, social security, for example, is a collectivist system

Rand has other admirers on the economic and religious right. "Who is John Galt?" signs are seen at Tea Party protests. John Galt, by the way, is a fictional character in Rand's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged. The Tea Party loves Ryan. Conservative commentators Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh have praised the book. And Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Clarence Thomas cited Atlas Shrugged as among his favorite novels. 

Who is Ayn Rand and what is it about Atlas Shrugged that appeals to Ryan and the Tea Party? As the Atlas Shrugged plot unfolds, Galt is acknowledged to be a creator, philosopher, and inventor who symbolizes the power and glory of the human mind. He serves as a principled counterpoint to the collectivist social and economic structure depicted in the novel. This depiction portrays a society based on oppressive bureaucratic functionaries and a culture that embraces stifling mediocrity and egalitarianism, which the novel associates with socialistic idealism. 

As outlined in Atlas Shrugged, the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or rational self-interest and that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism. "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." 

Paraphrasing the late Gore Vidal on Ayn Rand: Rand gives moral sanction to greed and self interest. She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the “welfare” state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you’re dumb or incompetent that’s your tough luck. In sum, Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality 

The phrase "going John Galt" or simply "going Galt" has been used to describe productive members of society cutting back on work in response to the projected increase in U.S. marginal tax rates, increased limits on tax deductions, and the use of tax revenues for causes they regard as immoral. That's why we see Galt signs at Tea Party rallies and protests. 

With the addition of Ryan, the GOP presidential candidates now celebrate the virtue of selfish capitalism. Remember, Romney devoted his career to vulture capitalism; he would buy up companies, extract the most profits for Bain Capital and its investors, often firing workers, outsourcing jobs, and loading up companies with so much debt that they were forced to declare bankruptcy. Bain and Romney left with massive profits. 

If she were alive today, Ayn Rand would probably vote for Romney/Ryan in the November election, favor a free market economy devoid of regulation, and, of course, oppose any tax on the rich. 

In sum, Rand in her writings had the particular genius of recasting the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as oppressed. The GOP and Ayn Rand are a match made in Heaven. Well maybe not in Heaven. 

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: The Mali War: The Wages of Sin

By Conn Hallinan
Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 04:17:00 PM

The reports filtering out of Northern Mali are appalling: a young couple stoned to death, iconic ancient shrines dismantled, and some 365,000 refugees fleeing beatings and whippings for the slightest violations of Sharia law. But the bad dream unfolding in this West African country is less the product of a radical version of Islam than a consequence of the West’s scramble for resources on this vast continent, and the wages of sin from the recent Libyan war. 

The current crisis gripping northern Mali—an area about the size of France— has its origins in the early years of the Bush Administration, when the U.S. declared the Sahara desert a hotbed of “terrorism” and poured arms and Special Forces into the area as part of the Trans-Sahal Counter Terrorism Initiative. But, according to anthropologist Jeremy Keenan, who has done extensive fieldwork in Mali and the surrounding area, the “terrorism” label had no basis in fact, but was simply designed to “justify the militarization of Africa.” 

The U.S. military claimed that when the Taliban fell in Afghanistan, terrorists moved west into the Horn of Africa, the Sudan and the Sahara. But Keenan says, “There was absolutely no evidence for that…really a figment of imagination.” The real target of enlarging the U.S.’s military footprint was “oil resources” and “the gradually increasing threat of China on the continent.” 

The U.S. currently receives about 18 percent of its energy supplies from Africa, a figure that is slated to rise to 25 percent by 2015. Africa also provides about one-third of China’s energy needs, plus copper, platinum, timber and iron ore. According to the Financial Times, new gas fields were recently discovered on the Algeria-Mali border 

There have been terrorist acts in Africa. In 1998, hotels were bombed in Kenya and, in 2002, a synagogue in Tunisia. The 2004 Madrid train bombers were associated with the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group, an organization that set off bombs in Casablanca in 2003. 

But these groups had no affiliation with international terror groups like al-Qaeda, and the only one that could be said to be Sahara-based was the Algerian Salafist Group for Fighting and Preaching. That group later renamed itself “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” (AQIM). 

In 2006, the International Crisis Group also concluded that the Sahara “was not a hotbed of terrorism” and that most North African governments saw the Trans Sahal Initiative as a way to tap into high end arms technology, like attack helicopters, night vision equipment, and sophisticated communications networks. 

When the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) was formed in 2008, it took over the Initiative and began working directly with countries in the region, including Mali, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Niger, Mauretania, and Senegal. Indeed, the only country in the region that did not have a tie to AFRICOM was Libya. 

The US also has basing agreements with Uganda, Ghana, Namibia, Ghana, Gabon, and Zambia. Some 1500 U.S. Marines are currently deployed at Lemonier, a French Foreign Legion base in Djibouti on the horn of Africa. 

The “terrorism” label has always been a slippery one. For instance, the US supported the 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia that overthrew the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) government. Washington said the UIC was associated with al-Qaeda, but never produced any evidence of that. The UIC was a moderate Islamic movement that drove out the U.S.-supported warlords and brought peace to Somalia for the first time since 1991. It included such radical Islamic groups as the Shabab, but those organizations did not dominate the government. 

The Ethiopian invasion changed all that. For Somalians, Ethiopia is a traditional enemy, and the Shabab succeeded in uniting a large section of the population against the occupation. Thus, a small group that was marginal in the UIC became the backbone of the resistance. “The end result of the US-backed invasion was driving Somalia into the al-Qaeda fold,” says Somalia’s former foreign minister, Ismaciil Buubaa. 

The crisis in Mali has a long history, rooted in the country’s deep poverty, on one hand, anda on the other, a push by the Tuaregs—a nomadic Berber people that have long controlled trans-Sahara trade—for greater autonomy and a bigger piece of the development pie. The Tuaregs have staged unsuccessful revolts four times since Mali won its independence from France in 1960, but the fall of Mummer Gaddafi in Libya gave them a golden opportunity. 

Gaddfi had long supported the Tuaregs in their war for independence, and many Tuaregs served as pro-government mercenaries in Libya. When Gaddafi fell, a cornucopia of arms opened for the Tuaregs, who quickly put their newly acquired firepower to use against the largely ineffective Malian army. 

The so-called “terrorist” groups, like Ansar al-Din, al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad and AQIM, only moved in after the Tuareg Movement for the National Liberation of Azawed had expelled the Malian army from the north and declared a separate country. It is these groups that are stoning people to death, tearing down Sufi shrines, and enforcing rigid Sharia law. The Tuaregs have largely been pushed to the side, and many of them have returned to the desert, abandoning cities like Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal to the Islamic groups. 

Besides the original protagonists in northern Mali, there is growing tension between the Islamists and the Songhai, Mali’s largest ethnic group. There are rumors that Songhai villages are organizing militia, adding yet another dimension of potential trouble. 

None of this had to happen. 

When the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973 on Mar. 17 last year, it was to “protect civilians” in Libya. At the time, the 53-member African Union (AU) was attempting to negotiate a political solution to the crisis, but two days after the UN resolution was approved, NATO launched Operation Odyssey that smashed up Gaddafi’s air force and armor. 

On Mar. 20, the AU met in Mauritania in an effort to stop the fighting. “Our desire,” read a joint AU statement “is that Libya’s unity and territorial integrity be respected as well as the rejection of any kind of foreign intervention.” The AU was acutely aware that Africa’s delicate post-colonial borders have enormous potential for creating instability, and that Libya might end up being a falling domino. 

“Whatever the motivation of the principle NATO belligerents [in ousting Gadaffi], the law of unintended consequences is exacting a heavy toll on Mali today,” former UN regional envoy Robert Fowler told the Guardian (UK) “and will continue to do so throughout the Sahel as the vast store of Libyan weapons spreads across this, one of the most unstable regions of the world.” 

A decade of growing US military involvement on the continent has not only failed to curb instability and the growth of so-called “terrorist” groups, the US’s actions in Somalia and Libya have directly fed the formation of such organizations. And “training” has hardly stabilized things. Indeed, the Mali army captain, Amadou Sanogo, who overthrew the civilian government—the act that led to the Tuareg’s successful offensive—was trained by the U.S. military. Sanogo attended the Defense Language Institute in 2005 and 2007, a US Army intelligence program in 2008, and an officer-training course in 2010. 

“Terrorism” in Africa is fueled by local conditions, not by an international jihadist agenda. Boko Harum in Nigeria reflects the tension between the poverty of the country’s largely Islamic north and its more prosperous Christian south. Similar fault lines run through Niger, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. Terrorism in Algeria and Morocco mirror economies that are unable to provide jobs for a huge swath of their populations, coupled with authoritarian political structures that stifle any attempt to do something about it. Somalia was first a pawn in the Cold War, and then the very definition of chaos. When an Islamic government began taming that chaos, the U.S. overthrew it, unleashing the Shabab. 

Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid is being directed at fighting terrorism on the continent, and the US military is training the armed forces of dozens of African nations. A Malian army captain used that aid and training to pull off a coup that now threatens to turn into a regional war. 

Will Morocco use U.S. aid to fight terrorism or tighten its grip over the mineral rich Western Sahara and re-ignite its war with the Polisario Front? Will Niger fight “terrorists” or crush Tuareg resistance to French uranium mining in the Sahara? Will Algeria go after the AQIM or its own outlawed Islamist organizations? Will aid to fight terrorism in Nigeria be diverted to smash resistance by local people to oil production in the Niger Delta? 

Bayonets won’t defeat the source of terrorism and instability in Africa. Indeed, military solutions tend to act as recruiting sergeants for groups like AQIM. Africa doesn’t need more weapons, but rather aid, development, and programs that lift a significant section of the continent’s population out of poverty. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Kennedy, Jackson and Bipolar

By Jack Bragen
Friday August 31, 2012 - 10:28:00 AM

Patrick Kennedy and Jesse Jackson Jr. are two people with bipolar illness who were or are [respectively] members of Congress. It doesn't take a genius to realize that these examples of people who have bipolar are a different breed than those who get a weapon and do a random shooting. 

An extremely violent incident gets headline press coverage and makes people erroneously believe that violence is an essential trait of mental illness. The television stations are after ratings and will indulge in sensationalism to keep fascinated viewers watching, to keep selling advertisements. 

Kennedy and Jackson are two examples of very high functioning people who have a mental illness. Many people with mental illness struggle with basic career issues. A person must manage their symptoms and their emotions (many of which are very uncomfortable) and must at the same time be able to focus on their work. They must also deal with the slowness that is sometimes induced by being medicated. If Jesse Jackson Jr. feels that it is too much, for the time being, to deal with being a congressman, there ought to be no shame in that. However, if Jackson believes he can still do the job, I think we ought to give him a chance. Worse things have happened to our leadership than having one member of congress with bipolar. It is not as if by Jackson staying in congress that we would have a national disaster as a result. Additionally, Jackson could represent the concerns of persons with mental illness, some of whom are constituents. 

In a CNN interview, Patrick Kennedy brought up many of the same points that I have made in the past, in this column. Kennedy said that persons with mental illness are stigmatized-and that this is improper since mental illnesses are actually medical conditions. Kennedy brought up the comparison with cancer, mentioning that a cancer patient is treated very differently and better than someone with bipolar even though these are actually both medical conditions-he said this is because bipolar is something you can't see, and because it affects behavior. Patrick Kennedy apparently was one of the authors of the Mental Health Parity Act, which prevents HMO's from discriminating against persons with mental illness. 

I hope that the public, when they think of people with mental illnesses, will keep Patrick Kennedy and Jesse Jackson Jr. in mind, and would not automatically associate a mentally ill person as a "crazy" and dangerous person. There are plenty of persons with mental illnesses who simply live a "normal" existence and who are contributing members of society. You don't hear about them because most find it necessary not to reveal that they have this condition, due to people's ignorant prejudice against us and the resultant disregard. 

I congratulate the producers at CNN for giving airtime to "our side" of the mental illness issue communicated by Patrick Kennedy.

Arts & Events

Berkeley Arts Festival presents: Erik Satie's Vexations: September 8 & 9, 2012 - Saturday 6 pm through Sunday around 2 pm

By Diane Caudillo
Monday September 03, 2012 - 09:56:00 AM

The act of performing or listening to a complete performance of Erik Satie's Vexations cannot be compared to any other musical experience. 

On September 9, 1963, avant-garde history was made when John Cage presented the world premiere of Satie's Vexations, played by a team of pianists, in New York City. A short theme with 2 harmonizations, the piece is to be repeated 840 times, and the pianist must prepare himself "in deepest silence, by means of serious stillness". The performance lasted about 19 hours and the experience was transforming: "I had changed and the world had changed," Cage said. 

Since that time, there have been other complete performances of Vexations, including one at Roulette in New York City in 1993, the 100th anniversary of the composition, with 20 pianists, lasting over 20 hours.  

A group of Bay Area pianists, including Sarah Cahill, Luciano Chessa, Patti Deuter, and Roger Rohrbach, propose to perform Vexations once again, beginning at 6 pm Saturday, Sept. 8, finishing around 2 pm Sunday, Sept. 9, the 49th anniversary of the first performance, by Cage. 

Everyone is invited to come and go throughout the duration and the performance is free.

FILM: Red Hook Summer: Hook, Line and Sinker
Opens August 31 at the Shattuck Cinema

By Gar Smith
Friday August 31, 2012 - 10:31:00 AM

Some films merely disappoint. Others aggravate. Spike Lee's third return to Brooklyn falls in the latter category. This latest Spike Lee Joint (filmed in just 18 days) is an entertaining but wildly dis-jointed beast of a film—paved with good intentions but plagued with conflicting road signs and pitted with plot holes. 

The false notes begin with the movie poster. It shows the film's two eighth-grade protagonists, Flik Royale and Chazz Morningstar (played by engaging young stars Jules Brown and Toni Lysaith) kneeling alongside Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clark Peters), the head of a struggling Brooklyn church. The kids have their hands pressed together in prayer and all three are smiling. 

This image is in no way true to the story. 

The poster copy tells us that Flik, a "sullen young boy from middle-class Atlanta," discovers — through the love of local teen Chazz and preacher grandpa Enoch — that "the world is a lot bigger, and perhaps a lot better, than he'd ever imagined." 

Capital B. Capital S. 

What Flik discovers in the course of the film is (1) Brooklyn's Red Hook can't match the greenery and calm of Atlanta, (2) his granddad is prone to oppressing and publically humiliating him, (3) the local thugs will steal his most precious belongings, and (4) trusted adults are capable of the most heinous crimes. 

The film begins hopefully with fluid, well-choreographed (almost dancing) camerawork. Flik enters Red Hook hiding behind his iPod 2 (product-placement alert), warily recording the strange new world around him with a filmmaker's detachment. The editing that integrates the images on Flik's iPod screen with Lee's simultaneous film footage is deftly executed. 

[Technical footnote. In one great editing stunt, two characters are shown ambling down a sidewalk. The camera — on street level — catches a white van entering an intersection in the background at the end of the block. In the next scene, the camera is looking down from a rooftop. We see the characters continuing to walk — as the van finishes crossing the intersection. The eye does a quick double-take, looking for the first camera set-up — but the sidewalk is empty! Apparently, the van was hired to drive through the intersection twice. Two shots, two angles, spliced together for one subliminal two-second visual jolt. Full marks!

Looking for the Hooks 

The problems begin when the story kicks in. While the young actor debuting as Flik (sporting the best 'Fohawk since Mr. T) is convincing, the young first-timer playing Chazz is not. She is merely playing Chazz. It's earnest line-reading, not seamless acting. She has sass and a luminous smile, but it's hard to believe some of the scripted dialogue the kids are called on to exchange. 

Going in, we are never told why Flik's mom travels all the way from Atlanta to drop her only child off at his grandfather's door to spend the summer. She turns down Bishop Rouse's invitation to come inside and catch up on family gossip. Sorry, she's got a cab waiting outside. (And, given a serious plot turn later in the story, you might be left wondering "What was she thinking?" when she decided to bring her son to Red Hook.) 

Adding to the lack of discovery is the fact that Flik is essentially "confined to quarters" for most of the film — holed up in the bishop's apartment or forced to work in the bishop's struggling Brooklyn church. Flik is rarely seen exploring the streets of Red Hook. There is only one time where he is shown experiencing an adventure that might be something to write home about — a single afternoon spent kayaking on the Hudson. 

As for Flik's "love affair" with Chazz, it mostly consists of superficial bickering — the swapping of street lingo and yo-momma insults. They are pals, at best. There is no hint that the kids are engaging in what the bishop calls "sharing spit." (And is this really the best phrase we could expect from two talented screenwriters like Spike Lee and James McBride — the latter an award-winning writer whose memoir, The Color of Water, sold 2.2 million copies was translated into 16 languages?). 

The film offers only a few "warm, human" moments (and the best, ironically, comes in the form of a late-night online mom-son iChat exchange) and there are not nearly as many laughs as one might expect. The film's indisputable high points include three full-steam sermons in the Little Piece of Heaven church, delivered with volcanic energy by Bishop Rouse (OK, let's go with the joke — the sermons are "Rousing") and backed by a wailing organ and orgiastic church choir wailings. 

Casting About 

There is a standout performance by Thomas Jefferson Byrd as the soused Deacon Zee whose "guzzling the Devil's milk" ramblings — about the stock market, Apple shares and the black community's inability to produce anything of economic value beyond "rapping" — soar to near-Shakespearean heights. The problem with this standout performance is that it stands out too much. These scenes could be cameos plucked from an entirely different film. The performance comes across as a "director's gift" to a talented actor. (In fact, Byrd is a Lee regular who has appeared in four previous Joints.) 

Several talented women share a number of supporting roles but it's the men who get to chew most of the meat. 

In one scene late in the film, a riveting in-your-face soliloquy deliver by Colman Domingo takes the film off in a whole new direction. It's an astonishing and powerful scene. But, again, it seems to belong in another movie. 

And there is a debatable directorial choice involving an accusation of child molestation. The mere accusation would have been sufficient. There absolutely was no need for a flashback to reenact the seduction of a six-year-old boy by an adult reciting the Biblical Song of Solomon. (The only thing this gratuitous scene of Baptist-on-Baptist crime seems to accomplish is to take some of the pedophilic heat off the miscreants in the Catholic Church.) 

Was it the intention of Red Hook Summer to render Christianity as a good-natured fraud — little more than an endless recitation of feel-good platitudes? ("God made everything in Red Hook and everything is good and beautiful.") Sure, it makes people feel protected and blessed, but in the greater context of Red Hook reality, faith seems to be a matter of desperation, tradition and self-deception. (The church is in heavily in debt but "God will provide." Except, He don't.) 

Flik offers a welcome antidote to his granddad's (literal) bible-thumping insistence that the young man needs to "accept Jesus." Flik challenges Enoch to provide any proof of God's existence, let along evidence of His beneficial guidance and support. Flik even has the audacity to ask why all the imagery in his grandpa's church depicts the traditional "White Jesus." All Enoch has to offer in response is the usual mouthful of dusty clichés. 

You may find yourself hoping that Flik will turn the tables on Enoch and convert the bishop to adopt common sense over Communion. It doesn't happen. None of the characters changes their initial worldview. The characters are all linear; there are no "character arcs" in Red Hook

There is an odd scene near the end where Enoch and Flik are asked to ID some thugs who assaulted them in a park. "There were six witnesses," the cops explain but, for some reason, Enoch and Flik (not the witnesses) are hauled in to view a line-up. They refuse to become snitches. The scene goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing. It only seems to exist so that one cop can sigh, "That's Red Hook, baby," while the other cop takes 15 seconds to pronounce the longest, slowest "Sheeeeeeeeeeeeet" in film history. 

On the plus side: The camera work is colorful and brilliant (except for the inconsistent use of grainy, overexposed, jittery 16-mm footage that appears inexplicably from time to time), the writing is occasionally stirring (as when Deacon Zee laments Red Hook as a place where children die because of asthma and the lack of lights after the sun goes down). 

And best of all: a soundtrack that explodes with vitality (much of the credit due to soul artist Judith Hill who has a debut album coming out soon). And, speaking of credits, do yourself a favor: stay in your seat through the credits and experience the music. Especially, the closer, the Morehouse College Glee Club performing "Zachariah and the Scaly Tree," with a lead vocal by the amazing "Thunder" Johnson.

AROUND AND ABOUT OPERA: Lisa Scola Prosek's New Opera 'Daughter of the Red Tsar' Featuring John Duykers as Winston Churchill

By Ken Bullock
Friday August 31, 2012 - 11:05:00 AM

Bay Area opera composer Lisa Scola Prosek has written the music and libretti for some of the most creative, melodic works in the genre staged hereabouts over the past decade or so. Her new—and typically ambitious—piece is an 80 minute one act, 'Daughter of the Red Tsar,' about Churchill's flight to Moscow in 1942 to meet Stalin, their all-night drinking bout getting to know each other, and the plight of Stalin's daughter Svetlana and her doomed Jewish intellectual boyfriend. 

Featuring John Duykers as Churchill, stage direction by Melissa Weaver, conducted by Martha Stoddard, it opened last weekend and plays tonight (Friday) through Sunday at 8 p. m. at Thick House, 1695-18th Street (near Connecticut) on Potrero Hill in San Francisco. $30. (415) 246-4829; firstlooksonoma.com

Don't Miss This

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Wednesday August 29, 2012 - 09:47:00 PM

"Summer time and the living is easy." Also easy (and free) are the fabulous cultural and educational activities occurring in the bay area this month. Where to begin? 

Theatre lovers will want to see a new play by Ed Decker and Robert Leone, "Rights of Passage", a world premiere now playing through Sept. 16 at The New Conservatory Theatre. "Sometimes It Takes a World of Courage." (415) 861-8972. 

Another play, "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity," by Kristoffer Diaz. "Behind every winner lies a really excellent loser." Playing through Sept. 30, 1/2 price tickets for people under 30. Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 843-4822. 

"Super Cinema," Friday afternoons, 3 p.m., Berkeley Central Library. "Unforgettable People" -- Sept. 7, "Anne Frank Remembered", Sept. 14, Capote; Sept. 21 "Norma Rae." 

"Hero Day", Combine an outdoor concert street festival and block party, all that is good about Oakland. Sept. 3rd. On San Pablo between 17th and 18th. 

"Mission Creek Oakland," Music and Arts Festival, Sept. 1-29, Mosswood Park and Disco Volante. mcofestinfo.org. 

Oakland Art Murmur Galleries, Saturday Stroll, every Saturday, 1-5 p.m. 18 galleries & 7 mixed-use venues. Pro-Arts! 150 Frank Ogawa Plaza. 

Yoshi's Jazz Fest, "celebrating 40 years in the Bay Area. Aug. 26, on the Waterfront at Jack London Square, Noon to 5 pm. www.Yoshi's.com. 

"A Rose Walk in Berkeley," designed by Bernard Maybeck and built in 1913, celebrating its centennial next year. The elegant path leads to secluded benches and a collection of Henry Gutterson cottages. 

Pinchas Zukerman opens the S.F. Symphony Season, performing Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, Sept. 5, 6, 7, and 8. (Some matinees). Grove between Van Ness and Franklin. (415) 864-6000. 

"Post Apocalypse", three artists make bold, dooms-day tinged work. Alison Frost, Vanessa Marsh and Francesca Pastine, Kala Art Institute, 2990 San Pablo Ave., through Sept. 15. 

"Man Ray and Lee Miller," two artists who worked and lived together in Paris from 1919 to 1932. First images of the Nazi concentration camps and napalm attacks during World War 2. Legion of Honor, S.F., through Oct. 14. (415) 863-3330. 

Now tell me there's nothing doing in the bay area in summer!!

AROUND AND ABOUT THEATER: Subterranean Shakespeare Presents 'Shakespeare Night At the Blackfriars' Labor Day at the Berkeley Arts Festival Theater

By Ken Bullock
Friday August 31, 2012 - 11:09:00 AM

Subterranean Shakespeare will present a staged reading of Berkeley playwright George Crowe's play, 'Shakespeare Night at the Blackfriars,' about a fictional contest between Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson and other playwrights of the era, directed by Robert Estes, this Monday Labor Day) at 7:30, the Berkeley Arts Festival Theater, 2133 University Avenue. $10. 276-3871.