Full Text



Berkeley Town Hall Meeting Tonight on Banning Drones

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday May 01, 2013 - 04:46:00 PM

Two Berkeley commissions are sponsoring a town hall meeting tonight on a recommendation that would ban drones in Berkeley. 

Bob Meola of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, which is sponsoring the meeting along with the city's Police Review Commission, said today that "drone technology is currently way ahead of safeguards for the protection of privacy and civil liberties of people they would affect." 

Meola said that on Dec. 18, the Berkeley City Council reviewed a recommendation by the Peace and Justice Commission that would proclaim Berkeley to be a no-drone zone but the council referred the issue back to the Peace and Justice Commission, the Police Review Commission and the city's Disaster and Fire Safety Commission for further review. 

He said the meeting tonight will focus on the technical aspects and limitations of drones, whether drones would really improve public safety, civil liberties concerns and the moral and political consequences of drones. 

Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern is considering buying a drone to be used in certain emergency situations but his proposal is still being reviewed. 

Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson has said that the drone wouldn't be used for random surveillance but would instead be reserved for situations such as when authorities are looking for a barricaded suspect. 

Meola said he first proposed a no-drone policy for Berkeley before he heard about Ahern's proposal to get one. He said he's concerned about drones in general because there are reports that the federal government plans to purchase thousands of drones in the next several years. 

Although some drones are large, some are small as insects and can be hard to see, Meola said. 

He said many other cities and 31 states are also considering legislation to regulate the use of drones. 

Meola said he hopes the Berkeley City Council will vote soon on the proposal to ban drones in the city. 

The town hall meeting will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. tonight at the multi-purpose room at the North Berkeley Senior Center at 1901 Hearst Ave. at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Berkeley.

New: Berkeley Police Officer Stabbed in Burlingame Brawl

By Zack Farmer (BCN)
Tuesday April 30, 2013 - 01:25:00 PM

An off-duty Berkeley police officer was stabbed several times and three others were injured in a brawl involving dozens of people outside a Burlingame bar on Saturday night, a police sergeant said. 

Two groups of people confronted each other outside of the Vinyl Room at 221 Park Road, off of Burlingame Avenue, shortly before midnight, Burlingame police Sgt. Don Shepley said. 

A group of about 10 people had been denied entry to the bar because a private party was taking place inside, Shepley said. When members of the party exited the building, a fight broke out between the groups, he said. 

Witnesses told police that somewhere between 40 and 60 people were involved in the altercation, Shepley said. 

The Berkeley officer who was stabbed was taken to a hospital and is listed in stable condition. Shepley said there is no indication that the officer identified himself as such during the fight. 

Also during the brawl, a bottle was thrown and struck a woman, causing a severe cut to the back of her head. Two others complained of pain after being punched and kicked, Shepley said. 

The investigation showed no previous connection between the two groups, and no arrests have been made in the case, police said. 

Anyone with information about the fight is encouraged to call police at (650) 777-4100. 

CONTACT: Burlingame police (650) 777-4100 

Copyright © 2013 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited. 


Iran's Nuclear Program: Made in the USA (Historical Analysis)

By Gar Smith
Thursday April 25, 2013 - 03:20:00 PM

In the June 6, 2011 edition of The New Yorker", Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh looked into U.S. intelligence assessments of Iran's nuclear activities, paying particular attention to the 2011 National Intelligence Estimate's (NIE) investigation of the status of Iran's nuclear energy program. 

Hersh reported the 2011 NIE had reached the same conclusion as the 2007 NIE. To wit: "there is no conclusive evidence that Iran has made any effort to build the bomb since 2003." 

Hersh's verdict was firm: "Despite years of covert operations inside Iran, extensive satellite imagery, and the recruitment of many Iranian intelligence assets, the United States and its allies, including Israel, have been unable to find irrefutable evidence of an ongoing hidden nuclear-weapons program in Iran." 

On February 24, 2012, the New York Times reinforced Hersh's analysis, noting that all 16 major US intelligence agencies -- CIA, FBI, NSA, DIA, NRO, et al. -- were in agreement: Iran did what it said it would do years ago -- it abandoned plans to pursue the construction of a nuclear weapon. 

In Senate testimony on January 31, 2012, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., further clarified that there was no evidence Iran was pursing a weapons program. "We don’t believe they have actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon,” Clapper told the committee. 

Uncle Sam: Iran's Atomic Enabler 

America's antipathy to the Iranian Atom is especially remarkable given the fact that it was Washington that exported nuclear technology to Teheran in the first place. 

Russia may have become Iran's best nuclear supplier since the 1979 Revolution, but, in the earliest days of Tehran's flirtation with the atom, it was the Eisenhower Administration that provided encouragement, equipment, funds and uranium to kick-start an Iranian nuclear program. An instructive timeline of America's shifting views towards the Iranian Atom (compiled by the Iranian Website Alakhbar) details this curious history. 

Beginning as far back as the 1950s, the US was busy promoting nuclear power around the world and one of the nuclear industry's first clients was Iran – then under the control of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a pro-Western despot who maintained his hold on power through the brutal excesses of his secret police, the Savak. 

In 1957, under the "Atoms for Peace" program, the US inked a civilian nuclear development deal with Iran. Three years later, the US sold a small research reactor to Iran. After the reactor went online in 1967, Iran signed and ratified the NNPT. 

In 1970, the US (joined by France and Germany) began negotiations for the construction of as many as 20 nuclear reactors inside Iran. The "nuclear superpowers" also reportedly discussed establishing an Iranian nuclear weapons program. 

The American public was not apprised of Washington's plan for an Iranian bomb program but it certainly heard a lot about Iran's civilian nuclear power program. 

The US nuclear industry was in an expansionist mode and would-be reactor builders needed to assure a wary public that atomic reactors would be safe and trustworthy neighbors. 

And that's how Iran's despotic and tyrannical Shah came to star in a string of eye-grabbing nuclear power ads in the USA. 

The Shah Loves Nukes So Why Don't You? 

The advertising campaign was backed by large energy companies like Westinghouse and General Electric and the ads carried the names of burgeoning nuclear operators from across several East Coast states.  

The ads, which began to appear in the early 1970s, bore the slogan "Nuclear Energy. Today's Answer." Small print at the bottom identified the sponsors: Boston Edison, Eastern Utilities Association, New England Power Co., Public Service Co. of New Hampshire, New England Gas and Electric Companies. 

The ads featured a striking photo of the Shah, in all his embroidered, beribboned, imperial splendor, epaulets ablaze and medallions aglow. Hovering over his photo was the phrase: "Guess Who's Building Nuclear Power Plants." There was no question mark at the end of the sentence because there was no question about the message. 

"The Shah of Iran is sitting on top of one of the largest reservoirs of oil in the world," the ad copy began. "Yet he's building two nuclear plants and planning two more to provide electricity for his country. He knows the oil is running out – and time with it." 

It read like an Earth Day message delivered by a well-meaning nuclear industry that wanted nothing more than to save the world from a plague of oil spills, pollution and global warming. 

But the real message wasn't about the shortcomings of fossil fuels, it was about the abiding fear of atoms. 

The Shah "wouldn't build the plants now if he doubted their safety," the ad copy read. "He'd wait. As many Americans want to do." But the Shah was clearly wiser than the average American. "The Shah knows that nuclear energy is not only economical, it has enjoyed a remarkable 30-year safety record." 

That 30-year span would include the first atomic tests at Alamogordo, the two bombs that destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nakasaki, and years of above-ground nuclear bomb tests that spread fallout around the world. Leaving aside those minor historic footnotes, the advertising copy pressed on to argue that atomic power's safety record was "good enough for the citizens of Plymouth, Massachusetts, too. They've approved their second nuclear plant by a vote of almost 4 to 1. Which shows you don't have to go as far as Iran for an endorsement of nuclear power." 

Shah-Bomb, Shah-Bomb 

But the Shah wasn't in the nuclear game just as a hedge against Peak Oil. There was more to it. 

The Shah tipped his hand in 1974 when he boasted to a French reporter that he expected to be "in possession of a nuclear bomb" much "sooner than is believe" (sic). 

President Gerald Ford publicly supported the Shah's nuclear ambitions, as did his White House henchmen Dick Cheney, Ronald Rumsfeld and Henry Kissinger who served as the Shah's nuclear lobby in Washington. 

By 1978, relations between Washington and Tehran were so cozy that the US bestowed its "most favored nation" status on the country, which allowed Iran to undertake the reprocessing of nuclear fuel (a sure pathway to acquiring "weapons-grade" uranium). 

The Shah's nuclear ambitions were never realized, however. In 1979, a popular revolution toppled the Shah and the hated Savak. The country's new leaders terminated the nuclear pacts with the West and ordered the nuclear program shut down for religious reasons. 

Nuclear Iran, After the Revolution 

For the next two years, Iran remained a staunchly anti-nuclear nation. In 1982, however, the ayatollahs were forced to rethink Iran's nuclear-free status. 

What happened? Iran had come under attack by its neighbor to the west. In 1980, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, sparking what would turn out to be a bloody eight-year war. 

Did the US condemn Iraq's aggression? Far from it, the US actively partnered with Saddam in his military campaign against the anti-US leaders of post-Shah Iran. 

The nuclear weapons program that had been warmly supported under the Shah's rule suddenly became hot-button issue among Iran's critics in Washington, triggering a frenzy of anti-Iranian "nuclear-fear-mongering" that has raged unabated for the last 30 years. (The term "Islamic bomb" has recently begun to proliferate in the Western media. At the same time, US news agencies have never felt the need to refer to the Pentagon's atomic weapons as "Christian bombs.") 

In 1984, Jane's Defense Weekly primed the pump with an alarmist article warning Tehran was likely to have a nuclear bomb by 1986. When that threat failed to materialize, Senator Alan Cranston, a California Democrat, warned Iran would certainly be brandishing nuclear bombs by 1991. 

Undeterred by these Western allegations, Iran stubbornly maintained its anti-nuclear stance -- until 1988. That was the year Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sketched out an initial proposal to militarize the country's civilian power program. Khomeini wasn't acting in a vacuum. His proposal was prompted by the alarm that followed Saddam Hussein's shocking use of chemical weapons against villagers during the Iraq-Iran War. 

A Bomb Is Coming, We Know It Is 

With the dawn of the 1990s, it was Israel's turn to start beating the drums about a potential Iranian A-bomb. In 1992, Benjamin Netanyahu (then a member of the Knesset, Israel's Parliament) warned that Iran would be able to develop a nuclear bomb in "three to five years." Netanyahu had a ready answer for how to confront this theoretical dilemma: "An international front headed by the US." 

Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres followed up with a warning, as well. "Iran is the greatest threat and greatest problem in the Middle East," he proclaimed. Why? "Because it seeks the nuclear option while holding a highly dangerous stance of extreme religious militantism." 

The criticism was blindingly ironic given the fact that Israel already possessed the Middle East's only (and growing) arsenal of atomic weapons. Also, by this time, the State of Israel had accumulated an impressive record of pugnacious foreign policy adventures that could easily meet the defining test of "extreme religious militantism." 

Meanwhile, in the US, a team of House Republicans formed a research committee that claimed a "98 percent certainty" that Iran had amassed enough material for "two or three operational nuclear weapons." 

The fact that Iran never managed to meet any of these dire predictions did not deter the fear-mongers. In his 1995 book, Fighting Terrorism, Netanyahu warned Iran was "between three and five years away" from becoming a nuclear threat. A year later, Israel's Foreign Minister Ehud Barak dialed back the hysteria a notch by warning the UN Security Council that Iran was expected to be able to produce a nuclear bomb "within eight years." 

In 1998, Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld added another log to the fire with the claim that, in as little as five years, Iran could build an intercontinental missile capable of hitting the US with nuclear or biological bombs. 

By the dawn of the 21st century, the Iranian Revolution had gone nearly two decades without announcing or producing any nuclear weapons. Instead, Iran's leaders continued to formally condemn the use or possession of nuclear weapons as incompatible with the Islamic faith. Iran's record failed to impress George W. Bush. Upon his arrival in the Oval Office, Bush declared Iran part of the "Axis of Evil." 

In 2003, as if to prove Mr. Bush wrong, Tehran invited the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its nuclear facilities. While noting a past "pattern of concealment," the IAEA concluded there was "no evidence" Iran was attempting to manufacture nuclear weapons. (In 2007, the NIE concluded with "high confidence" that Iran had completely abandoned its nuclear weapons ambitions but US and Israeli politicians continued to predict Iran would produce a bomb -- perhaps sometime between 2012 and 2014.) 

If Iran Poses No Threat, Why Does the US Impose Sanctions? 

Despite the universal agreement within the US intelligence community that Iran's nuclear power program poses no imminent military threat, the US successfully petitioned the United Nations to apply a series of punishing economic sanctions on Teheran. 

Washington's persistent badgering of Iran -- for presenting a hypothetical but unrealized "threat" -- is at odds with a stunning (but rarely mentioned) parallel reality: the specter of nuclear war already haunts the Middle East. 

The one country in the region that has an atomic arsenal also has a posture of belligerence that includes both threats of military action and a history of cross-border attacks targeting its neighbors. That nation is Israel. Unlike Iran, Israel is a nuclear "rogue nation" that has refused to sign the NNPT. Unlike Iran, Israel has never permitted international inspections of its secret nuclear energy and nuclear weapons facilities. 

We are left with a puzzle. Given the strategic consensus that Tehran poses no immediate military threat to the region or to the US, why does Washington persist in applying potentially destabilizing economic sanctions on the people of Iran? 

A possible answer was provided by General Wesley Clark, in his book, Winning Modern Wars. In 2001, Clark wrote, he had a conversation with a "senior military staff officer." The Pentagon planner described a plan to attack Lebanon. "But there was more," Clark was informed. Targeting Lebanon was part of "a five-year campaign plan" to topple a succession of governments. "There were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan." 

In retrospect, it appears that this Pentagon game plan has played out in real-world events. General Clark's stunning disclosure has never become part of the national foreign policy debate and you won't find it in mentioned in newspapers or in college textbooks. But you can find it on Democracy Now! and YouTube


A Fatwa against Fission 

In 2005, US Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested to Congress that Iran was harboring a secret plan to build nuclear weapons. The argument was weakened, however, by the fact that it was Powell who earlier made the notoriously bogus claim that Iraq harbored "weapons of mass destruction." 

During a meeting with IAEA officials in Geneva, Iran's Supreme leader Ali Khamenei offered a dramatic response to Powell's allegations: He formally announced a binding fatwa banning the production, stockpiling, or deployment of nuclear weapons. 

"We don't need atomic bombs and, based on our religious teaching, we will not pursue them," Iranian President Mohammad Khatami proclaimed. It was a sentiment that should have given comfort to a wary world that has yet to hear any similar statements from the leaders of nuclear-armed Superpowers. 

The Greater Threat Is Closer to Home 

True, President Barack Obama has called for the abolition of America's nuclear arsenal (but so did Ronald Reagan). However, while paying lip-service to abolition, Obama approved spending $214 billion over the next ten years on new nuclear weapons and the "modernizing" of our existing bombs. 

It is not Iran that poses an immediate, palpable nuclear threat. The greatest imminent danger resides is the powerful coterie of five nuclear-armed superpowers -- China, France, Russia, the UK and the US -- and four nuclear-rogue states operating outside the bounds of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Three of these nations happen to be US allies -- India, Israel and Pakistan. 

It is the fourth rogue state, North Korea, that has upped the Apocalyptic ante with recent threats to level US targets from Guam to Chicago. Faced with nuclear saber rattling from North Korea's Kim Jung-un, President Obama seems to have rediscovered his inner nuclear abolitionist. Obama has grandly called for the North to surrender its atomic arsenal as the first step toward creating a "nuclear-free Korean Peninsula." 

But, as the head of the superpower with the world's largest inventory of nuclear weapons (and the missiles, submarines and bombers needed to deliver then), the president should lead by example. As a first step, he should also insist on a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East (Iran has already proposed this), a nuclear-weapons-free Europe and, ultimately, a nuclear-weapons-free planet. 

Gar Smith is co-founder of Environmentalists Against War and author of Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth (Chelsea Green). Nuclear Roulette has been nominated for two national book awards.

Terrorism, Religion and the Media: When's the Last Time You Read the Phrase "Christian Extremism"? (News Analysis)

By Gar Smith
Thursday April 25, 2013 - 03:17:00 PM

When it comes to terrorism and religion, white guys tend to get a pass. But should a terror suspect hail from an Islamic background – be they foreigners, exchange students, or US citizens — their religious beliefs routinely become a major focus of media coverage. 

In the recent case of the Boston Marathon bombers, as soon as the Tsarnaev brothers were identified as key suspects, the question of their religious beliefs (and possible jihadist motivations) became an obligatory part of the daily news feed. 

The Wall Street Journal reported both brothers had "a growing interest in religion." CNN quoted Tamerlan Tsarnaev's mother recalling how her son "got involved with religion." The New York Daily News declared that the Tsarnaev brothers "became more religious, radical" after Tamerlan's latest visit with his family in Russia and quoted an acquaintance who claimed Tamerlan "returned a radically different man." The Christian Science Monitor wondered aloud: "Did a Foreign Hand Guide Boston Bomber Tamerlan Tsanaev?" By April 21, media outlets had taken to describing Tamerlan as the "Boston jihadist." 

London's Daily Mail reported that Tamerlan had been booted from his mosque and posted the alarming news that the FBI was hunting a "mysterious religious leader who 'brainwashed' him." The Business Insider checked Dzhokhar's Facebook page and trumpeted the disclosure that he had posted the note: "My religion is Islam." 

Russia Today offered a rare note of counterbalance, citing a relative who insisted "Tamerlan was not a religious fanatic." A report in Atlantic Wire also offered an assessment from relatives in Russia that "the boys aren't/weren't religious." 

So if this is the sort of press obsession that informs coverage of a terrorist act by a perceived "other," what is the focus of media reporting when the terrorist is seen as a mainstream, guy-next-door (read: "white")? 

A look at media coverage of several major mass-killings of the recent past provides an answer. The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the Columbine school killings, the Aurora movie theater rampage and the Sandy Hook school murders were all committed by white men and boys. With that in mind, let's revisit the media's coverage of these tragedies and see how the issue of religion was handled. 

The Oklahoma City Bombers 

In press reports at the time, Timothy McVeigh, the mastermind of the Murrah Federal Building bombing, was generally described as a former US Army sergeant. His religion was never an issue. It turns out, McVeigh was raised a Roman Catholic and confirmed in the Good Shepherd Church in Pendleton, New York. The day before his execution, he wrote a letter declaring himself an agnostic but, just before his execution, McVeigh asked to take the Catholic sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. 

McVeigh wasn't motivated by religion. He was driven by rightwing, anti-government politics. He grew to distrust the federal government after the FBI opened fire on the wilderness cabin of anti-government survivalist Randy Weaver and his family, killing Weaver's wife and son. McVeigh was further alienated by the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms siege of the Branch Davidian church in Waco, Texas. The ATF's 51-day siege ended on April 19, 1993 with an assault that left the compound engulfed in flames, leading to the deaths of 76 people, including 21 children. 

The massacre at Waco (arguably an act of "state-sponsored terrorism" on the part of federal officials) was the motivation for McVeigh's Oklahoma City bombing. He even timed his explsion to bring down the government building on the second anniversary of the US massacre at Waco. 

Other biographical information ignored by the press included the following: McVeigh was a registered Republican; he voted Libertarian in the 1996 presidential elections; and he was a proud member of the National Rifle Association. 

Terry Nichols, McVeigh's partner in crime, was found guilty of 161 counts of murder. Nichols' religious beliefs were not a matter of media concern until it came time for sentencing. At this point, Nichols' defense lawyers argued their client had undergone a jailhouse conversion to Christianity. (There was no discussion of what religious beliefs, if any, Nichols had prior to his "conversion.") 

The Washington Post reported "Nichols had worn out four Bibles through prayer and research, and … he wrote an 83-page letter to a prayer partner in Michigan while trying to make a point about Christian faith." 

Defense attorney Creekmore Wallace testified: "Terry Nichols's belief in God is so firm that he believes if the rapture occurred today, he is going to heaven." Ultimately, Nichols was spared the death penalty. A prosecuting attorney credited the defendant's "conversion." 

The Columbine Killers 

In press reports, Eric David Harris and Dylan Klebold were described as angry and alienated, white supremacist, neo-Nazis with a taste for heavy metal music and violent video games. The press took note that the Columbine massacre was planned for April 20, the birthday of Adolf Hitler. But very little attention was made of the religion of either killer. 

Extensive online research fails to turn up information on Eric Harris' religious leanings, if any. The Web provides evidence that Klebold was raised a Lutheran and notes the young man also observed the Russian Jewish rituals of his maternal grandfather. 

The Tucson Shooting 

On January 8, 2011, Jared Lee Loughner shot eighteen people, including Congressmember Gabby Gifford, in an Arizona parking lot. Six people died, including a young girl. In the aftermath of the mass-murder, the media focused on Loughner's mental state. He was described as a "paranoid schizophrenic" with a penchant for heavy metal music. When the New York Daily News volunteered to assess Loughner's religious influences, it was only to dismiss him as a "chilling," "frightening," "sinister" and "twisted" Satan worshipper. 

Many people following the mainstream media coverage of the tragedy may have missed the report in the January 11 edition of the Jewish Journal, which revealed that the assassin's mother was Jewish. Some commentators speculated that the "Devil's altar" in Loughner's backyard (which included a skull enshrined on a brick altar under a tent-like cover) resembled the "Sukkot booth" featured in the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. 

While Loughner declined to state his religion when he applied to join the Army, he reportedly identified himself as "Jewish" in his MySpace profile. Even stranger, it turned out that Loughner and his parents were members of Congregation Chaverim, the same synagogue favored by Congresswoman Giffords. 

But Loughner was also a self-identified fan of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf who occasionally paraded as a Christian fundamentalist. In 2008, Loughner was busted for painting the letters "C" and "X" on a street sign (while his accommodating parents sat and waited in the family car, which was parked nearby). Loughner told the police the graffiti stood for "Christian." 

The Colorado Theater Shooting 

After James Eagan Holmes was arrested in the aftermath of a 2012 movie theater massacre that wounded 58 moviegoers and killed 12, the media began to dig into his background — including his psychiatric and academic difficulties. The issue of religion didn't enter the picture until March 2013, when the Washington Times revealed the accused killed had "reportedly converted to Islam and prays up to five times a day." 

Holmes, charged with 166 counts of murder and attempted murder, has allowed his beard to grow, now practices a strict Muslim diet and reportedly devotes his days to studying the Koran. But the media's sudden interest in Holmes' newly minted Islamic religious beliefs is missing some critical context. While the Times reported Holmes had "converted to Islam," it failed to explain: "converted from what previous faith"? 

A possible answer to this question can be found in hints from Holmes' past. In an article on The Huffington Post, Senior Pastor Jerald Borgie, revealed that he remembered Holmes as a youngster attending the Penasquitos Lutheran Church in San Diego. In July 2012, Scott Bloyer, pastor of the Elevation Christian Church in Colorado, told The Christian Post that Holmes had attended his sanctuary in the weeks before the shooting rampage. "We think he might've visited in the last month," Bloyer stated. 

The Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting 

In the aftermath of Adam Lanza's horrific assault on a school in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead, the media necessarily focused on the tragedy of the victims and the survivors. Lanza remained a mysterious, troubled young man. 

It wasn't until April 17, 2013 that the New York Daily News revealed Lanza had been bullied and physically abused while enrolled as a sixth-grader at Sandy Hook Elementary. A relative told the Daily News that Adam "never seemed emotionally right after his time in Sandy Hook." His mother, Nancy Lanza reportedly considered suing the school but opted to place him in another school after sixth grade. 

This provides some understanding as to motive but the question of Adam Lanza's religious beliefs were never a major concern for the probing media. Once again, there are only hints that suggest what religious traditions may have served to influence Lanza as a youth. 

On April 8, 2013, USA Today revealed that Nancy Lanza "had become increasingly concerned about her con's state of mind… after finding ghastly images in his room two weeks before the Dec. 14 school massacre." According to the New York Daily News (which quoted a family friend who had seen the sketches), one of Lanza's drawings showed "a woman clutching a religious item, like rosary beads, and holding a child, and she was getting all shot up in the back with blood flying everywhere." 

The suggestion that Lanza may have benefited from a Catholic upbringing is reinforced by the news that he had attended the St. Rose Catholic School. 

What more have we learned about the gaunt, wide-eyed child who grew to become a mass-murderer of children and adults? He was a "loner" with Asperger's Syndrome who disliked social settings and hated to be touched. He was obsessed with violent videogames like "Call to Duty." Despite his mother's reservations about her son's mental state, Adam had been allowed to amass a chilling assortment of weaponry including: a Bushmaster XM15 assault rifle with a 30-round magazine, a Glock 10mm handgun, a 9mm Sig Sauer pistol, a Saiga 12 shotgun with two 70-round magazines, a bolt-action Enfield rifle, a Savage Mark II 22-caliber rifle, more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition and a collection of knives and Samurai swords ranging in length from 13 inches to nearly seven feet. 

Among the artifacts at the Lanza home, police also found two NRA certificates, one for Nancy Lanza and on for her son, Adam. Also among Adam's possessions: a copy of the NRA's Guide To Basic Pistol Shooting

The NRA did not take kindly to this disclosure. It responded with a terse statement claiming there was "no record of a member relationship between Newtown killer Adam Lanza… with [sic] the National Rifle Association" and characterizing any such suggestions of a relationship as "reckless, false and defamatory." 

Conclusion: The Scorecard for White Killers 

When it comes to suggesting links between violence and religion, the evidence suggests that the mainstream media approaches the violence of the "other" by turning on the floodlights and surveying the landscape through the lens of a microscope. But when killers are members of the more familiar, "white" community, the media dons blinders that block out all peripheral information, leaving reporters to focus on narrow, single-minded narratives. 

This self-imposed myopia is especially odd in light of the many studies that show the greatest perpetrators of mass-violence are not "foreigners" or "jihadists" but ultra-conservative white people. 

In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security warned that the greatest domestic threats of violence could be attributed to religious "fundamentalists" and people "suspicious of centralized federal authority." The report identified some of the "single-issue groups" that posed "the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States." They included groups opposed to abortion, immigration and same-sex marriage. (After howls of outrage from the Tea Party, DHS was forced to withdraw the report.) 

In June 2012, DHS again addressed the issue in a report called "Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970 to 2008." The review again concluded that "single-issue groups" had a longer history of committing atrocities than "extreme right-wing," "extreme left-wing," "religious" or "ethno-nationalist" provocateurs. 

The 2012 report was more nuanced than the earlier survey: it apportioned blame to both ends of the political spectrum. "Anti-abortion" zealots were singled out but, so too, were conservatives, fundamentalists, Marxists and nationalists of various stripes. Crimes conducted under the banner of religious faith included both "Christian Reconstructionist" and "Islamist" actors. 

Instead of warning about a rising tide of religious extremism, the DHS study reported that the decade of the 1990s had been completely free of "religiously motivated terrorist attacks." 

Working with a $12 million grant, researchers with the University of Maryland's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism And Responses to Terrorism (START) reached a surprising conclusion. Despite the media's obsession with such partisan constructs as "Islamic terrorism" (the phrase "Christian terrorism" being totally absent from the media's vocabulary), START's detailed survey of four decades of terror events determined that acts of religion-inspired terrorism were "much less prevalent" than the threat of violence from "single-issue" criminals. While politically inspired single-issue violence had caused significant loss of life in 185 countries over the course of 40 years, the START analysis found significant "religious" violence had only erupted in 26 countries. 

Clearly, the focus on religion (and especially the single religion of Islam) to explain acts of terrorism is historically unjustifiable. The greater danger stems from politically motivated "single issue" violence. America's white-skinned mass murderers have been a mixed bag, religiously — Catholics, Jews, Lutherans, agnostics and unbelievers. 

In the words of the 2012 DHS report, the most serious terrorist threats stem from groups that hold beliefs that are "nationalistic (as opposed to universal and international in orientation), anti-global, suspicious of centralized federal authority, reverent of individual liberty, and believe in conspiracy theories that involve grave threat to national sovereignty and/or personal liberty." 

It is not religions that we need to fear; it is the extremism of the political "true-believer" that endangers public safety, domestic tranquility and democracy.

Graffitirazzi – Live Oak Park, Part 1

By Gar Smith
Friday April 26, 2013 - 11:36:00 AM
              Veer off the beaten (and paved) track just a bit, and you will discover graffiti trolls have been busy along Cordonices Creek -- especially where it crosses beneath Walnut Street. If you look closely, you'll find the massive artwork that completely covers the underside of the steel-and-concrete bridgework (pictured above) contains a memorial: "Rest in Peace."
              Here's is another look at the underbridge artwork that flows above the creek.
Gar Smith
Veer off the beaten (and paved) track just a bit, and you will discover graffiti trolls have been busy along Cordonices Creek -- especially where it crosses beneath Walnut Street. If you look closely, you'll find the massive artwork that completely covers the underside of the steel-and-concrete bridgework (pictured above) contains a memorial: "Rest in Peace." Here's is another look at the underbridge artwork that flows above the creek.
There is more off-the-street art to be seen on the bridge structure west of the Berkeley Arts Center building. A tagger known as OHIOE has left an elevated signature high in the metal cleft of the bridgework…
Gar Smith
There is more off-the-street art to be seen on the bridge structure west of the Berkeley Arts Center building. A tagger known as OHIOE has left an elevated signature high in the metal cleft of the bridgework…
And on a nearby sidewalk.
Gar Smith
And on a nearby sidewalk.
              Earlier in the year, the walls on both sides of the Walnut Street bridgeway were covered with monster tags but several months ago, the tags were obliterated — painted over with a uniform sheet of FedEx brown. But graffiti is resilient and the taggers recently returned to restore their marks.
Gar Smith
Earlier in the year, the walls on both sides of the Walnut Street bridgeway were covered with monster tags but several months ago, the tags were obliterated — painted over with a uniform sheet of FedEx brown. But graffiti is resilient and the taggers recently returned to restore their marks.
Gar Smith
Follow the creek north, and a short walk will bring you to another burst of graffiti signage that dominates a wall supporting a metal pedestrian staircase that leads upwards to Oxford Street.
Gar Smith
Follow the creek north, and a short walk will bring you to another burst of graffiti signage that dominates a wall supporting a metal pedestrian staircase that leads upwards to Oxford Street.
Colorful swirls of graffiti complement the ivy and flowers covering the concrete walls and metal stairs. (Hard to believe there's a tagger – or band of taggers – that goes by the name "Nerds.") But look closely at the section of wall on the far right, which features the outline of an unfinished tag.
Colorful swirls of graffiti complement the ivy and flowers covering the concrete walls and metal stairs. (Hard to believe there's a tagger – or band of taggers – that goes by the name "Nerds.") But look closely at the section of wall on the far right, which features the outline of an unfinished tag.
Return a few weeks later, and you may find new art has altered the wall. In this case, a new tag has been added by TMR.
Gar Smith
Return a few weeks later, and you may find new art has altered the wall. In this case, a new tag has been added by TMR.
              Next week: Live Oak Park Art, Part 2.
Gar Smith
Next week: Live Oak Park Art, Part 2.

Graffiti is not always up-against-the-wall and in-your-face. Sometimes you have to go looking for it. Sometimes it's hidden right underfoot — or, in some cases, under tire. Drive or walk down two popular North Berkeley streets, and you would never know there was a trove of remarkable underground art lurking beyond the concrete curbs and asphalt in the shadows east of Live Oak Park.

Estelle Jelinek (1935-2013)

By Becky O'Malley
Friday April 26, 2013 - 11:30:00 AM
Estelle and Zippie Collins hard at work on a production day
Michael Howerton
Estelle and Zippie Collins hard at work on a production day

Berkeleyans this week are mourning the loss of Estelle Jelinek, who died on Monday at the age of 78. Estelle possessed a fine intellect and considerable skill as a writer and editor, and she used these gifts on a wide variety of projects and causes, prompted by a strong social conscience and a kind heart. 

Those of us who worked on the printed Berkeley Daily Planet remember with gratitude that she donated her time as a volunteer copy editor for many years. She believed in the importance of a free press, and acted on her belief by coming in on deadline days to help us get the paper out on time—or sometimes late at night—with a rare combination of precision and a sense of humor. In all the time that she was there, we had only one complaint about her work: from a guy who used to enjoy finding ludicrous errors in the pre-Estelle Planet, who said she’d spoiled his fun. 

This was not her first experience with public interest journalism—she spoke with pride of her participation in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. She went south to Mississippi in 1967 to join the struggle, and worked as a reporter with the Southern Courier, a civil rights newspaper out of Mississippi and Alabama, until 1968. 

She moved to the Bay Area in 1968 with her then-husband Don Jelinek, whom she’d met in Mississippi. Here, she lent her talents to a number of emerging social movements. 

She was an outspoken feminist. Her Ph. D. thesis at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1976 was The Tradition of Women's Autobiography, which was published as a book in 1986 by MacMillan. 

According to SUNY Buffalo Professor Claire Kahane, it was “one of the first to propose [that] a gender-specific literary tradition existed for women's life-writings.” She also edited and wrote the introduction to Women's Autobiography,Essays in Criticism, published by Indiana University Press in 1980. 

Back in Berkeley in the 1980’s, she continued her support of the social movements she believed in. She worked hard on behalf of homeless women. Ranko Yamada, the executor of Estelle’s estate, told me that they became close friends after working together on the Berkeley Women’s Commission in the mid-80’s. Ranko said that the Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center (WDDC) was already planning to honor Estelle Jelinek as a key founding member at its 25th anniversary celebration on June 2.  

Another favorite cause was the Chiapas Support Committee. After visiting the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, in a Global Exchange Delegation, she and Mary Ann Tenuto-Sánchez started the organization to raise some money for the movement there. It gained non-profit status in 1998, and Estelle became a board member. She worked with them for many years later. 

At the same time, she continued her writing and editing career. Her full list of publications extends to more than three pages. She reported for the independent progressive Berkeley newspaper Grassroots from 1980 to 1985. 

In recent years, suffering from depression and the continuing pain of fibromyalgia, she became a dedicated swimmer, which gave her some relief. Characteristically, she also became a campaigner for Berkeley’s public pools, including the now-demolished warm pool.  

Behind this long list of causes and accomplishments was a sensitive, thoughtful woman who bridged the personal and political with grace and style. I’ll remember her most for acts of generosity small and large: her outrage as a Jewish-born intellectual about the Planet’s travails inflicted by misguided zealots, her gift of her vintage framed photo of soprano Renata Tebaldi to an aspiring opera singer she admired, the sympathetic email she sent me recently when she read here that I’d had my car stolen—all the little kindnesses you take for granted until the author of them is gone.  

Donations to honor Estelle can be made to the Women's Daytime Drop-In Center, P.O. Box 11612, Berkeley, CA 94712. There will be a memorial gathering on Sunday, May 5. For further information, call (510) 527-0173. 

Estelle Cohen Fine Jelinek is survived by her sister, Roslyn Cohen Sher, of Marlton, N.J, her nephew Leon Sher of Livingston, N.J., and many former colleagues and friends in Berkeley. 

We’ll miss her.



Boston, Bangladesh, Berkeley--Who Are the "People Like Us"?

By Becky O'Malley
Friday April 26, 2013 - 01:15:00 PM

My day gets off to a better start when Jon Carroll has a column in the San Francisco Chronicle, which since I’m an old-school kind of person still appears on my doorstep in print. This doesn’t happen every day, since the Hearst management which now runs the show over there seems to think that four times a week with frequent absences is plenty of exposure for columnists like Jon.

And I must admit that though I like cats I would prefer never to read 800 words about their cute antics, which is sometimes what Carroll thinks would make a fine piece on a slow day. I can take or leave his columns about the daily life of an aging home-based newsie, a topic I know only too well.

What he does best is two things: nonsense and soapbox. His goofy stuff is sometimes inspired. When I was an editor at Pacific News Service long ago he applied for a job there, submitting with his resume a couple of pieces which were pure Dada. I loved them and wanted to immediately offer him the position. I can’t remember whether soberer heads overruled me—PNS always took itself very seriously— or whether he changed his mind, but he didn’t get the job.

But it’s Carroll’s soapbox pieces—rarer and rarer these days—which are well worth the price of admission. Sadly, the price of admission has gone up. The Chronicle is now hiding its columnists online behind a pay wall, which means that fewer and fewer readers will see them.

Today’s column is the kind of thing which deserves the widest possible audience, and it won’t get it. I think this link will get you over the pay wall, and if you can find the piece, please read it. Not, of course, that I agree 100% with what he has to say, but it’s a topic that everyone should ponder.

Just in case you can’t read the column, here’s how it begins:

“How do we measure our tragedies? Is an industrial accident that kills 14 more tragic than a bombing that kills three? Is it body count that makes the difference? Or is it the age of the victims, so that younger victims count more? Or is it defenseless victims?

“Do we ration our grief by some metric that determines where an incident falls on the tragedy scale? Assuming we don't know anyone involved, how do we decide how affected we will be by this shooting or that explosion? Does the news media have anything to do with it? After all, it is the media that sets the tragedy bar. From the media, we know that the bombing that killed three is more important than the fertilizer plant explosion that killed at least 14.

“We know that from the coverage. It was wall-to-wall search for the suspects. The search for the reasons for the industrial accident was sort of a nonstarter. It was, "Well, you know, fertilizer." Only a few news outlets asked questions about OSHA inspections and previous failures of the plant to follow the rules. “

He goes on to suggest that the plant disaster story was perceived as less important because it was about the failure of government regulation, with attendant neo-con political overtones. Last night on MSNBC Chris Hayes nailed that topic with a detailed report on exactly why dangerous plants like this one continue to exist outside government safety standards.

They’re right: The public’s declining understanding of the role of government in protecting citizens is a big problem. It’s a disgrace to see Tea Party types haranguing against government interference when people are dying because of the lack of it in places like the West, Texas, fertilizer plant.

But there’s more to the question of why few news outlets bothered to pursue the causes of the Texas explosion. It’s a class thing. 

The major media these days is affected by the same dumbbell distribution of wealth that burdens all of American society. The tragedy at the Boston Marathon got a lot of coverage in the national media because it affected “people like us”, the well-paid, securely upper middle class reporters for the big time outlets both print and electronic. They could easily imagine themselves running in a big footrace, not so easily working in a fertilizer factory. 

It’s true that these days most newspaper reporters are not part of this elite world. A friend who used to work for the New York Times just sent me a link to a Salon story that claims that studies now show that being a newspaper reporter is the “worst job of 2013”. 

Nonetheless, even poorly paid and overworked reporters for the deteriorating dailies are not the kind of people who’ve considered getting a job in a chemical plant in rural Texas. And they’re even less connected to the hundreds or perhaps thousands of Bangladeshis who have died in garment factories which make cheap clothes for Walmart and its ilk, probably the self-same cheap clothes which workers in Texas buy for themselves—not, in any way, “people like us.” 

We’re a bit more than a century away from the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, a New York City tragedy in which 143 garment workers died. They were mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants, groups whose descendants have entered the ranks of “people like us”, so the centennial of that event received a lot of attention in the media a couple of years ago. The manufacturing jobs of such workers have shifted to people in Bangladesh, to people not so much “like us”, and with even fewer guarantees of safety. 

In the century since the Triangle fire, the United States made modest progress in protecting workers in this country, though much was undone in the Bush era. But worldwide, things are simply getting worse. 

The challenge for conscientious reporters today, at whatever level, is to convey to readers that workers like these everywhere, both in unregulated factories in Texas and true hellholes in Asia, are just as much in need of protection in an era of globalization as athletes in Boston. Empathy is the major criterion, a quality in increasingly short supply in the American press. 

For more information from Berkeley's David Bacon: http://www.progressive.org/bangladesh-disaster 


Odd Bodkins: The Message of Easter (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday April 26, 2013 - 10:58:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Bounce: Happy Poetry Month (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Friday April 26, 2013 - 11:23:00 AM


Joseph Young


Public Comment

The Return of Rezoning West Berkeley: An Open Letter to Tom Bates

By Curtis Manning
Friday April 26, 2013 - 02:15:00 PM


The absence of an extra honorific will be explained forthwith. Your Consent Calendar item on the April 30 agenda, would re-zone nearly a mile of 4th St. in West Berkeley from light industrial to commercial without any notification to neighbors, or indeed to the light industrial firms or to the commercial enterprises, who may or may not welcome the extra competition from big box corporate stores.

Here, for the edification of all is item #26; your contribution to the quality of life in West Berkeley,

Consent Calendar (April 30, 2013)

26. Extend Commercial Zoning on Fourth Street and Gilman Street
From: Mayor Bates
Recommendation: Request the Planning Commission consider expanding Commercial West Berkeley (CW) zoning along: 1) Fourth Street to Virginia Street, 2) Gilman Street from Sixth Street to San Pablo Avenue (precise area indicated on map attached to Council report).
Financial Implications: Increased tax revenue and employment opportunities.
Contact: Tom Bates, Mayor, 981-7100 

This confirms the rumors I have been hearing that, rather than accepting the will of the people their rejection of Measure T, there would be a retrenchment of your efforts to transform West Berkeley into a nirvana for corporations and the bloated UC Berkeley for-profit sector in West Berkeley. All this, heedless of the thoughts of good West Berkeley people who have spared no effort to make themselves heard.  

I think you have gone a little too far, Mr. Bates. You must feel that, with your 6-3 majority, you can do anything you want, otherwise only a fool would be so brazen. But are you so sure that your majority will hold up? Some are bound to have career plans, and will not wish to be pulled down into the moral morass that will be forming around you. You should have consideration for your loyal, um, what shall I call them, comrades? Your shadow, as you leave, will not make a good running track for Mr. Capitelli. 

Either way, the future looks interesting, does it not?  



Final Response to Judi Iranyi on Laura's Law

By Jack Bragen
Thursday April 25, 2013 - 03:47:00 PM

Dear Judi,

I have read and understood much of the text of Laura's Law, as it appears on the California Legislature's website. How can you say it isn't about forcing people, when "involuntary treatment" appears at the heading? 

Although a separate court order is needed to force medication, the patient is already in the court system, making it convenient, in practice, to do one stop shopping. 

AB 1421 immediately involves the patient in the court system-and, in fact, a court determination can take place in the patient's absence. I am more disturbed by what AB 1421 doesn't say, however. It leaves far too much up to the discretion of those enforcing it. 

As we all know, a law, when put into practice, can turn out to be very different than people are led to expect at the time it is being promoted-for example, the notorious Proposition 13. My intent in arguing against the implementation of Laura's Law is to prevent the cruel, inhumane, or incompetent treatment of persons with mental illness. 

When someone receives forced treatment at their place of residence, it allows for a lot of things to happen, due to the absence of witnesses, as well as the absence of supervision by a qualified psychiatrist. The law calls for "multidisciplinary teams of highly trained mental health professionals," but doesn't specify what this means. Laura's Law lacks definitions. 

You said the law had "phenomenal results" and that it has saved money for Nevada County. I don't doubt that it has saved money since you are not paying for expensive psychiatrists and nurses. 

I agree that noncompliant, severely mentally ill people could benefit from treatment, but it needs to be done differently than in the provisions of Laura's Law. I have a problem with the involvement in the court system this law entails, and also with turning someone's home into a mental hospital. If you can't be safe in your home, where can you be?

A Letter the Chron Turned Down

By Gar Smith
Thursday April 25, 2013 - 02:43:00 PM

On April 22, the Chronicle ran a story ("Pentagon chief stresses Israel's right to strike") in which US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel explained that, because Tel Aviv felt threatened by Tehran, it had the right to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iran.

When and if Tel Aviv decides to pounce, Hagel added, the US will be duty-bound to protect Israel. This news prompted the following letter to the Chronicle. The Chron's editors elected not to print it.

To the Editor / SF Chronicle:

I ran into Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel the other day.

I felt threatened, so I punched him in the face.

"Just deploying your 'George Zimmerman' theory of deterence," I explained. (Zimmerman, of course, is the self-appointed peacekeeper who stalked and killed a "suspicious," unarmed youth named Trayvon Martin.) 

I reminded Hagel of his recent statement that Israel retains a "sovereign right" to decide to attack Iran "to defend itself." 

(The idea of "launching an attack in self-defense" is an exercise of Doublespeak that would make Orwell giddy. No country has a "sovereign right" to wage a "pre-emptive" war on another country. "Pre-emptive strike" is Doublespeak for "aggression.") 

The problem is, I told Hagel (who was still rubbing his jaw), when you attack based on suspicions rather than concrete actions, things can go bad. Remember Iraq? No WMDs. More than a million civilians dead. 

Another problem. If Israel makes that "decision," the US has promised to "defend Israel." That means it is Israel (not Congress, not even the President or the Pentagon) that will decide when the US goes to war. 

With Tel Aviv in charge of US foreign policy, that would seem to leave Israel's leaders free to commit aggression -- "the ultimate war crime." Washington has abdicated its own sovereignty. 

As Hagel struggled to his feet, I punched him again. 

Not because I felt threatened, this time. As an American, I simply felt betrayed. 

Gar Smith 

(Note: This letter is satirical. In real-life, I am a staunch advocate of nonviolence.)


THE PUBLIC EYE: What’s Wrong With Social Security?

Friday April 26, 2013 - 09:57:00 AM

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For 58 million Americans, the Social Security system works satisfactorily. Therefore, many were surprised when President Obama suggested a fix, using the chained CPI for the cost-of-living adjustment. What’s wrong with the Social Security system? 

Obama’s concerned because the Social Security trust fund is being depleted. From 1984 to 2009, the trust fund grew when the amount paid in exceeded the amount of benefits paid. Then the situation reversed and the fund began to diminish – at the end of 2012 the balance was $2.735 billion. Recently, the Congressional Research Service reported, “the Social Security Board of Trustees released its latest projections showing that the trust funds will be exhausted by 2033 and that an estimated 75 percent of scheduled benefits will be payable with incoming receipts at that time.” 

The root cause is demographics. During the first half of the twentieth century, the US population was actuarially young, due to “relatively high fertility, declining infant and childhood mortality, and high rates of net immigration to the United States by young workers and families.” Since 1950 this trend has changed. By 2040, twenty percent of Americans will be age 65 or older – 80 million folks. (15 million will be 85 or older.) The Congressional Research Service observed, “Between 2010 and 2030, the number of people aged 65 and older is projected to increase by 77 percent.” 

Meanwhile, “The number of workers supporting each Social Security beneficiary is projected to decline from 2.9 in 2011 to 2.0 in 2035.” The era of a “pay as you go” Social Security system is over. By 2033 America needs to do something to bolster the Social Security trust fund or it won’t fully meet its obligations. 

Four generic solutions have been proposed. The most popular is raising the ceiling on income subject to the Social Security tax. In February, the Congressional Research Service evaluated several options for raising the ceiling and observed, 


Although the maximum taxable limit is updated annually in response to increases in average wages, the proportion of covered earnings subject to the payroll tax is not constant—it has fallen since 1983. A primary reason is an increase in wage inequality. Wages have become more unequally distributed since the early 1980s, mostly due to wage gains at the top of the income distribution. Consequently, a larger share of earnings of high-wage workers will be above the maximum taxable limit [Emphasis added].
Raising the ceiling would greatly extend the life of the Social Security trust fund. However, this change is opposed by “high-wage workers” and Republicans, who consider it a tax increase. 

A second solution is changing how Social Security trust funds are invested. Currently, they are invested “in securities guaranteed to both principal and interest by the federal government.” The Center for American Progress suggested increasing the life of the trust fund by shifting “a 25-percent portion of the trust funds’ assets into corporate securities” to improved the yield. While supported by economists, this notion has not been given serious consideration on Capitol Hill. 

A third solution is raising the retirement age. In 1983, Congress increased the Social Security full retirement age from 65 to 67 (phased in over a twenty-two-year period beginning in 2000). The 2010 Simpson-Bowles Commission recommended further increasing the retirement age to 69. This acknowledges that since 1940, when Social Security was enacted, worker life expectancy has increased by almost 20 years. However, opponents note that racial minorities and workers in physically demanding occupations are not living longer. 

The fourth solution is changing the method used for the cost-of-living adjustment. Each year Social Security benefits are adjusted to reflect inflation as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index. In 2002, the Bureau of Labor Statistics introduced an additional index, the chained CPI, which some say is a more accurate reflection of inflation. In his 2014 budget, President Obama proposed adopting this for Social Security. 


The Budget contains the President's compromise offer to Speaker Boehner from December. As part of that offer, the President was willing to accept Republican proposals to switch to the chained CPI. But, the Budget makes clear that the openness to chained CPI depends on two conditions. The President is open to switching to the chained CPI only if: The change is part of a balanced deficit reduction package that includes substantial revenue raised through tax reform. [And] It is coupled with measures to protect the vulnerable and avoid increasing poverty and hardship.

Most observers agree that the President’s proposal is not meant as a comprehensive effort to fix Social Security but rather to achieve political objectives. Many believe the President’s proposal will penalize the most needy Social Security recipients, those who are already underserved by the program. 

Nonetheless, it’s clear that while the Social Security system currently “ain’t broke” it will soon need repair. Who is going to fix it? 


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


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: The White House’s Flawed Korea Policies

By Conn Hallinan
Thursday April 25, 2013 - 03:43:00 PM

In the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula the Obama administration is virtually repeating the 2004 Bush playbook, one that derailed a successful diplomatic agreement forged by the Clinton administration to prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons? While the acute tensions of the past month appear to be receding—all of the parties involved seem to be taking a step back— the problem is not going to disappear and, unless Washington and its allies re-examine their strategy, another crisis is certain to develop. 

A little history. 

In the spring of 1994, the Clinton administration came very close to a war with North Korea over Pyongyang’s threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expel international inspectors, and extract plutonium from reactor fuel rods. Washington moved to beef up its military in South Korea, and, according to Fred Kaplan in the Washington Monthly, there were plans to bomb the Yongbyon reactor. 

Kaplan is Slate Magazine’s War Stories columnist and author of “The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War.” 

“Yet at the same time,” writes Kaplan, “Clinton set up a diplomatic back-channel to end the crisis peacefully.” Former President Jimmy Carter was sent to the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea (DPRK) and the Agreed Framework pact was signed, allowing the parties to back off without losing face. 

In return for shipping their fuel rods out of the country, the U.S., South Korea and Japan agreed to finance two light-water nuclear reactors, normalize diplomatic relations, and supply the DPRK with fuel. The U.S. pledged not to invade the North. “Initially, North Korea kept to its side of the bargain,” say Kaplan, “The same cannot be said for our side.” 

The reactors were never funded and diplomatic relations went into a deep freeze. From North Korea’s point of view, it had been stiffed, and it reacted with public bombast and a secret deal with Pakistan to exchange missile technology for centrifuges to make nuclear fuel. 

However, the North was still willing to deal, and DPRK leader Kim Jong-il told the Clinton administration that, in exchange for a non-aggression pact, North Korea would agree to shelve its long-range missile program and stop exporting missile technology. North Korea was still adhering to the 1994 agreement not to process its nuclear fuel rods. But time ran out and the incoming Bush administration torpedoed the talks, instead declaring North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, a member of an “axis of evil.”  

Nine days after the U.S. Senate passed the Iraq war resolution on Oct. 11, 2002, the White House disavowed the 1994 Agreed Framework, halted fuel supplies, and sharpened the economic embargo the U.S. had imposed on the North since the 1950-53 Korean War. It was hardly a surprise when Pyongyang’s reaction was to toss out the arms inspectors, fire up the Yongbyon reactor, and take the fuel rods out of storage. 

Kaplan points out, however, that even when Pyongyang withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in early 2003, the North Koreans “also said they would reverse their actions and retract their declarations if the United States resumed its obligations under the Agreed Framework and signed a non-aggression pledge.” 

But Bush, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and Vice-President Dick Cheney, banking that increased sanctions would eventually bring down the Kim regime, were not interested in negotiations. 

Ignoring North Korea, however, did not sit well with Japan and South Korea. So the White House sent U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly to Pyongyang, where the North Koreans told him they were willing to give up nuclear weapons development in return for a non-aggression pact. Bush, however, dismissed the proposal as “blackmail” and refused to negotiate with the North Koreans unless they first agreed to give up the bomb, a posture disturbingly similar to the one currently being taken by the Obama administration. 

But “the bomb” was the only chip the North Koreans had, and giving it up defied logic. Hadn’t NATO and the U.S. used the threat of nuclear weapons to checkmate a supposed Soviet invasion of Europe during the Cold War? Wasn’t that the rationale behind the Israeli bomb vis-à-vis the Arabs? Pakistan’s ace in the hole to keep the vastly superior Indian army at bay? Why would Pyongyang make such an agreement with a country that made no secret of its intention to destabilize the North Korean regime? 

North Korea is not a nice place to live and work, but its reputation as a nuclear-armed loony bin is hardly accurate. Every attempt by the North Koreans to sign a non-aggression pact has been either rebuffed or come at a price—specifically giving up nuclear weapons—Pyongyang is unwilling to pay without such a pledge. The North is well aware of the fate of the “axis of evil”: Iraq was invaded and occupied, and Iran is suffocating under the weight of economic sanctions and facing a possible Israeli or U.S. attack. From North Korea’s point of view, the only thing that Iraq and Iran have in common is that neither of them developed nuclear weapons. 

Indeed, when the U.S. and NATO overthrew the Gadaffi regime in Libya, a North Korean Foreign Ministry official told the Korean Central News Agency that the war had taught “the international community a grave lesson: the truth that one should have the power to defend peace.” Libya had voluntarily given up nuclear weapons research, and the North Koreans were essentially saying, “We told you so.” 

There are a number of dangers the current crisis poses. The most unlikely among them is a North Korean attack on the U.S. or South Korea, although an “incident” like the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the sinking of South Korean warship, the Cheonan, is not out of the question. Moreore likely is a missile test. 

All of the parties—including China and Russia— know that North Korea is not a serious danger to the U.S. or its allies, Japan and South Korea. Which is why China is so unhappy with the U.S.’s response to Pyongyang’s bombast: deploying yet more anti-missile systems in the U.S. and Guam, systems that appear suspiciously like yet another dimension of Washington’s “Asia pivot” to beef up America’s military footprint in the region. Russia and China believe those ABM systems are aimed at them, not North Korea, which explains an April 15 accusation by the Chinese Defense Ministry that “hostile western forces” were using tensions to “contain and control our country’s development.” 

While the western media interpreted a recent statement by Chinese President Xi Jinping as demonstrating China’s growing impatience with North Korea, according to Zackary Keck, assistant editor of the Asian-pacific focused publication The Diplomat, the speech was more likely aimed at the U.S. than at Pyongyang. Keck argues that China is far more worried about growing U.S. military might in the region than rhetorical blasts from North Korea. 

The Russians have also complained about “unilateral actions…being taken around North Korea.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “We believe it is necessary for all not to build up military muscle and not to use the current situation as an excuse to solve certain geopolitical tasks in the region through military means.” 

Tension between nuclear powers is always disconcerting, but the most immediate threat is the possibility of some kind of attack on North Korea by the U.S. or South Korea. Conservative South Korean President Park Geun-hye told her military to respond to any attack from the North without “political considerations,” and the U.S. has reaffirmed that it will come to Seoul’s defense in the event of war. It is not a war the North would survive, and therein lays the danger. 

According to Keir Lieber of Georgetown University and Daryl Press, coordinator of Dartmouth’s War and Peace Studies, current U.S. military tactics could trigger a nuclear war. “The core of U.S. conventional strategy, refined during recent wars, is to incapacitate the enemy by disabling its central nervous system…leadership bunkers, military command sites, and means of communication.” While such tactics were effective in Yugoslavia and Iraq, they could prove counterproductive “if directed at a nuclear-armed opponent.” Faced with an overwhelming military assault there would be a strong incentive for North Korea to try and halt the attacks, “a job for which nuclear weapons are well suited.” 

Council of Foreign Relation’s Korea expert Scott Snyder says, “The primary danger is really related to the potential for miscalculation between the two sides, and in this kind of atmosphere of tensions, that miscalculation could have deadly consequences.” 

The demand by the Obama administration that North Korea must denuclearize before serious talks can begin is a non-starter, particularly when the Washington and its allies refuse to first agree to a non-aggression pledge. And the White House will have to jettison its “strategic patience” policy, a fancy term for regime change. Both strategies have been utter failures. 

There are level heads at work. 

South Korea recently praised China for helping to manage the crisis, and Seoul has dialed back some of its own bombast. The U.S. canceled a military maneuver, and a “senior administration” official warned about “misperception” and “miscalculation,” remarks that seemed aimed more at South Korea than at the North. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also says Washington is open to talks with China and North Korea. 

But such talks are predicated, according to the U.S. State Department, on Pyongyang proving “its seriousness by taking meaningful steps to abide by its international obligations.” In short, dismantling its nuclear program and missile research. Neither of those will happen as long as the North feels militarily threatened and economically besieged. 

In a way, the Korean crisis is a case of the nuclear powers being hoist on their own petard. The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was not aimed at just stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, but, according to Article VI, at eliminating those weapons and instituting general disarmament. But today’s world is essentially a nuclear apartheid, with the nuclear powers threatening any countries that try to join the club—unless those countries happen to be allies. North Korea should get rid of its nuclear weapons, but then so should China, Russia, the U.S., Britain, France, Israel, Pakistan, and India. 

As far as ending the current crisis, one could do worse than follow up on what basketball great Dennis Rodman said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told him: “Obama should call me.” 

Good place to start. 

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







ON MENTAL ILLNESS: CPAP, Teeth, and Optometry

By Jack Bragen
Thursday April 25, 2013 - 03:50:00 PM

When one's brain is regularly deprived of oxygen, it can impair the thinking ability. This is one of the problems introduced by sleep apnea. 

Sleep apnea is a disorder in which people stop breathing while asleep. Sometimes, excessive weight can worsen breathing, and sometimes there is an obstruction in the airway. If one is dealing with an airway obstruction, sometimes a special dental piece can pull out the lower jaw to open up the airway and thus allow easier breathing. However, this may not work as well as using a CPAP machine. 

Persons with mental illness are probably more susceptible to this disorder because of the sedation of medication as well as our tendency to be overweight (also due to being medicated.) The deprivation of oxygen to the brain caused by sleep apnea can worsen symptoms of mental illness and can make medication less effective. Cigarette smoking can also worsen sleep apnea. 

Before I was on a CPAP, my writing had inexplicably gone downhill. When I had been on the CPAP for a little while, I reviewed some of my recently submitted pieces, and realized that my sleep apnea had probably been harming my brain function. 

Before starting CPAP treatment, I was heavily fatigued during the daytime, and I took a long nap in my chair nearly every afternoon. I was on 300 milligrams of Wellbutrin but was still depressed. 

My wife suggested we both do a sleep study. A few years beforehand, I had previously been diagnosed with severe sleep apnea, and I had been noncompliant with using the mask. This was because it scared me, and also I didn't want to be dependent on a machine. When I finally did the sleep study the second time, the doctor said my sleep apnea was bad enough that it could kill me in the not too distant future, and said that I needed to start on the machine immediately to avoid heart damage. I took this seriously. 

My wife was diagnosed with sleep apnea as well, and we were both put on machines. As it turned out, we both required BiPAP's. This is a setting on the machine in which the air pressure eases up on exhalation. 

After about a month on the sleep machine, it was apparent to others that I was doing better. I began to get things done about which I had procrastinated. My naps became less frequent. I began to think more clearly, and this was a boost to the quality of my writing and to the effectiveness of my meditation practices. 

** Persons with mental illness are more susceptible to tooth decay compared to people in general. Medications can cause dry mouth, which in turn is bad for teeth. It is harder for someone with mental illness to take care of their teeth, because, for someone with mental illness, everything is harder. 

Medi-Cal doesn't pay for dental checkups or any dental work other than emergency extractions. Persons with severe mental illness who also live on SSI are extremely unfortunate if they can't pay out of pocket for a preventative dental visit. 

Medicare will pay for a thorough Optometry exam but won't pay for glasses. Getting an eye exam is worth doing, since eye diseases can be detected. In some cases, getting an eye exam can uncover a problem with the brain, such as a tumor or stroke. An Optometry patient is normally screened for glaucoma and other retinal problems. If you need glasses, they are fairly inexpensive at Wal-Mart. (Wal-Mart might be considered an evil empire by many progressives-however, if you are living below the poverty line, there isn't much choice.)

Arts & Events

Around & About Music: Modern & Contemporary Chamber Music--'Curious Flights,' Debussy Trio at Berkeley City Club

By Ken Bullock
Friday April 26, 2013 - 02:29:00 PM

►Among the number of modern & contemporary chamber music concerts lately (& see below for another), there's one intriguing program tonight at 8, Friday the 26th, at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street (between Mission & South Van Ness, 20 & 21 Streets) in San Francisco's Mission District. It features San Jose composer Brian Holmes' piece Updike's Science (Holmes himself teaches sciences, including astronomy, in San Jose), sung by splendid Lithuanian-American soprano Indre Viskontas with Ian Scarfe on piano, followed by Valinor Winds quintet playing Joseph Stillwell's Fantasy Pieces (a world premiere of a commission), Paul Schoenfield's Cafe Music by the Aleron Trio, Khachaturian's Trio for Harp & Clarinet played by Trio for Clarinet, Violin & Piano & Arnold Bax's Nonet, played by the Curious Flights Chamber Ensemble, conducted by Brenden Guy, founder & artistic director of the new series (who also performs clarinet on the Khachaturian piece, as well as on the Stillman--and plays with Berkeley Symphony). $10-$15. (415) 640-3165 

►Berkeley Chamber Concerts features the Debussy Trio playing music of the 20th-21st centuries, this coming Tuesday, April 30, at 8: Marcia Dickstein, harp; Angela Wiegand, flute & David Walther, viola, will play Sydney Hodkinson's 1998 piece Skitter, Paul gibson's Ternion Sonata No. 1 (premiered by the Trio last year); There Is Always Something to Do by Bruce Broughton; Ravel's Sonatine; Sofia Gubaidulina's 1980 piece Freuden und Traurigkeiten & the world premiere of Just Another Day by acclaimed film composer David Reynolds. Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue. $25. students through high school, free; post-secondary school students, $12.50. 525-5211; berkeleychambermusic.org

Around & About Theater: Last Performances of Symmetry Theatre's 'The Language Archive'

By Ken Bullock
Friday April 26, 2013 - 01:56:00 PM

Symmetry Theatre's engaging show at the Berkeley City Club, 'The Language Archive,' is going into its last weekend. A romantic fantasy that doesn't take its own metaphors too seriously, Julia Cho's play makes the funny juxtapositions of a researcher into dying languages (Gabriel Grilli) whose wife (Elena Wright) leaves him over his diffidence while he's monitoring a rustic ethnic couple (troupers Howard Swain and Stacy Ross) who speak the endangered tongue--but argue fiercely in English--as well as the researcher's lovestruck assistant (Danielle Levin), an Esperanto teacher-cum-kind of therapist (Ross again) and a familiar face in a bakery ... It's by turns charming, hilarious, offhandedly touching.  

Symmetry founder Chloe Bronzan directs her ensemble well, with particularly fine comic characterization by Swain--his bluff but wily peasant gives the whole thing a kind of turning-the-tables edginess that help to dismiss the preciosity most plays that toy with language and love, trying to throw together an ersatz poetry, get hung up on. As 'The Language Archive' unfolds, it manages paradoxically to draw the audience deeper into its ineffable world with its funny over-the-top dialogue--and a hint of wistfulness for what maybe has never been in the spaces between words. Friday-Saturday at 8, Sunday at 2, 2315 Durant. $20-$28. (415) 377-0457; symmetrytheatre.com

“A Killer Story” at Berkeley Marsh—intriguing language, ideas, difficult form

By John A. McMullen II
Friday April 26, 2013 - 11:42:00 AM
Madeline H.D. Brown and Robert Parsons with Ryan O’Donnell (in background)
David Allen
Madeline H.D. Brown and Robert Parsons with Ryan O’Donnell (in background)

“A Killer Story” by Dan Harder at the Berkeley Marsh has talented actors and a provocative message about the power of fear and conjecture. However, it’s structure—extensive and overlapping monologues with only an occasional exchange of dialogue holds it back from gripping you as detective stories ought. It could easily be high-level radio drama with a 1940’s touch. 

When it started, I was struck—nay, clobbered—with the piano score by Randy Craig. It seemed much like the theme from Garrison Keillor’s Guy Noir a parody of the detective genre on NPR’s “Prairie Home Companion.” I soon recognized that this was a serious drama, but every time the piano struck up the music I giggled internally which intruded on my enjoyment.  

Directed by Michelle Haner, it is performed in low light, with a red flooded backdrop and gobos of jail bars across the actors. 

Madeleine H. D. Brown’s Lana Turner-esque turn is slinky, fashionable, and the essence of svelte femme fatale, and her movement—somewhere between dance and model posing, entrancing and sensual —is the high point of the show. 

Robert Parsons plays a paranoid neuroscientist; long-boned, cadaverous-looking the clichéd down-light, this 6’4” actor’s matter-of-fact yet deep persona was the break from the persistent nagging giggle that kept dogging me and nipping at my enjoyment of the play. 

Ryan O’Donnell looks the part of the private dick, rumpled and surly, but is unusually expressive for the genre, breaking the cards-close-to-the-chest Bogey expectations, and this helps sustain our attention. 

They all deliver their long narratives convincingly, but long monologues in low light are lulling. 

The writing is above average and strives to be poetic. There are some intriguing turns of phrase, some alliteration and similes that make you smile, and the language is enjoyable. 

The audience seemed to enjoy it, no one departed during the 90 minutes, and gave them a rousing applause. “A Killer Story” plays at The Marsh Berkeley at 2120 Allston Way through May 18.

“The Arsonists” at Aurora –Psychological and Virtual Fireworks Prevail

By John A. McMullen II, member, Theatre Critics Circle
Friday April 26, 2013 - 11:45:00 AM
Tim Kniffen, Dan Hiatt, Michael K. Wisely
David Allen
Tim Kniffen, Dan Hiatt, Michael K. Wisely

“The Arsonists” at Aurora Theatre on Addison in Berkeley does much outstanding work, and a lot of it happens when Mark Jackson is directing. 

The set by Nina Ball is that of a luxurious home with a revealed attic. Comfortable and tasteful without ostentation, it is believable as a place where a company owner might domicile. Its tranquility lulls us, giving us a sense of warmth and security, in perfect contrast to what precipitates in the next 90 minutes. 

Max Frisch, befriended and inspired by Brecht and influenced by the writings of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, wrote the play in 1953. When I read it a decade ago, it was called “The Firebugs,” but this is a new translation by Alistair Beaton. It smacks of class-warfare, but with a touch of psychopathology.  

When I read it a decade ago, I was intrigued, but I confess that I missed the humor. Jackson’s directing does not miss it, and it has many laughs to break the tension, with Michael K. Wisely* responsible for more than a few. 

Wisely plays a down-and-out wrestler who worms his way past the guardian housekeeper to beg shelter for the night from Dan Hiatt*, the fat-cat CEO-ish homeowner. When confronted by the wrestler bulk and bonhomie, our fat-cat is most accommodating. Soon friends (Tim Kniffen*, Kevin Clarke) join our wrestler, to the consternation of the CEO, his smiling wife (Gwen Loeb*), and distraught maid (Dina Percia) whose disgruntled and shocked comic expressions bring more smiles in the midst of impending disaster.  

A Greek-like chorus of Firefighters (Kevin Clarke, Tristan Cunningham*, Michael Uy Kelly) gives warning and echoes the audience’s fears just as they have for 2500 years. 

There are some fancy fireworks in store in the relatively small theatre, and the sound design by Matt Stines is enough to put a chill in your bones. 

It is one of those “not-to-be-missed” pieces of theatre that the Aurora does more than its share of. 

Catch it by May 12, or be sad that you missed it when you hear people rave about it at the next fête you attend! 

*-Member, Actors Equity Association

A Discovery (First Person)

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Friday April 26, 2013 - 02:34:00 PM

My spirits absolutely soared today when, on my morning walk, I discovered "Telegraph Commons," a private residence for U.C. students. Located just a 3-minute walk to class and 2 blocks from campus at the corner of Telegraph & Channing, Telegraph Commons is a private dormitory providing a safe, clean and fun experience for students attending the University of California. It has the best value in town, with 118 spaces still available for the Fall semester.  

Telegraph Commons gives students the opportunity to experience life in a diverse and exciting dorm setting at affordable prices. The units are newly renovated and fully furnished, all utilities and internet included. 

Among its many amenities, Telegraph Commons offers 14 hour Monitored Security, Keyed Elevator and Lobby, Free Wi-Fi Internet access, cable TV room, Study Lounges, Furnished Rooms with Refrigerators in every unit, Daily Professional Janitorial Services, and Kitchen and Smartcard Laundry on each floor. 

For more information, call (510) 644-1876 or e-mail, tiffani@telegraphcommons.com