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New: Berkeley's Fair Campaign Practices Commission Meets Tonight To Consider Light Penalties for Flagrant Election Law Evaders (News Analysis)

By Dave Blake and Dean Metzger
Thursday May 16, 2013 - 01:08:00 PM

Tonight the Fair Campaign Practices Commission meets (7 pm, N Berkeley Senior Center) to consider the stipulation offered by members of Tenants United for Fairness (TUFF)—a slate that ran for Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board in the November election—and the landlords who illegally funded their campaign. 

The proposed stipulation would fine the TUFF slate members $300 each, and their backers under $3000 total. 

In comparison, at the same meeting the people who raised money to defeat the street-sitting prohibiting Measure S and who failed to properly report $500 in late contributions in a timely manner are proposed to pay a penalty of that amount—$500, the amount they received. Nothing illegal about the contributions, they're just paying the amount of the contribution for failing to report it on time. 

TUFF raised and spent over $50,000 from landlords, over $30,000 from one PAC alone. Berkeley has a $250 per candidate donation limit and bars business donations, the vast bulk of those donations. Councilmember Maio's appointee to the Commission, Brad Smith, when first introduced to the violations, said they were flagrant and unconscionable, then at the next meeting urged the commission not to investigate the complaint at all, saying they were "just kids who didn't know what they were doing." TUFF was endorsed by five councilmembers including Maio, and put out illegal joint literature with two of them. 

When an audience member asked him to defend his objectivity in light of the fact that TUFF’s lead candidate, then Rent Board member Nicole Drake, has the exact same job he’d held for over a decade, serving Maio as her sole aide, Smith explained that he'd had lunch with Linda to explain to her that she wasn't to discuss the issue with him, to maintain his objectivity. 

At that meeting the Commission decided not to investigate, and to instruct their staff to negotiate with the TUFF members and their backers over what their punishment should be, leading to this proposed stipulation. 

Berkley election law specifically says that the Commission should consider fining candidates who accept illegal contributions the amount of contributions they illegally accepted, in this case over $40,000. Not only will accepting this stipulation mean that the candidates pay a pittance for their violations, but it will also mean that the candidate they successfully got elected to the Board with a campaign funded over 90% by illegal donations will remain in office, rather than be forced to resign in accordance with the law. 

The Commission meetings have been poorly attended, and completely uncovered by all the local mainstream media. For anyone who feels that the Commission should formally investigate what Commissioner Smith called the worst electoral crime in the history of Berkeley election law, this will be the last chance to appeal to the Commission's integrity. There is no appeal to the Council for FCPC cases. If the FCPC accepts the stipulation, the matter will be closed, unless the State’s comparable body decides to investigate. 

Berkeley Hills Shooting Victim Identified

By Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Tuesday May 14, 2013 - 01:10:00 PM

A 21-year-old Fremont man was shot and killed at a popular Berkeley hills turnout Sunday morning, a University of California at Berkeley police lieutenant said.

Alverto Santana-Silva was shot around 5:30 a.m. at an overlook off of Grizzly Peak Boulevard near signpost 16 that is frequented by people looking at the view of the Bay and hills, UC Berkeley police Lt. Marc DeCoulode said. 

There were three different groups at the turnout, which is on university land, and several people got into an argument. 

Santana-Silva intervened in the argument, however he did not know the people involved, DeCoulode said. 

About 30 minutes after he intervened in the fight, one of the people who had left returned. He came up and shot Santana-Silva while he was sitting in the driver's seat of a parked car, DeCoulode said. 

Santana-Silva was shot several times and pronounced dead at the scene, DeCoulode said. 

Before authorities arrived, the suspect fled. 

The suspect is believed to be a Hispanic or Filipino man in his mid 20s or 30s. He is about 5 feet 8 inches tall and roughly 200 pounds with a bald or shaved head. 

The suspect had initially left the turnout with an Asian woman who stood about 5 feet 3 inches. She was described as being in her 20s and had black hair in a ponytail. 

When the suspect returned, the woman was no longer with him and he was a passenger in a car. He is believed to have fled in that vehicle.  

He is associated with two different cars including a candy apple red Chevy Caprice, or similar sedan, with large chrome wheels with spokes, and a white Chevy Suburban, or similar car, DeCoulode said. 

Several people were held and questioned but have since been released.

Press Release: Homicide Near Berkeley on Grizzly Peak Boulevard, Signpost 16

From UC Police Department
Tuesday May 14, 2013 - 07:34:00 AM

On Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 5:38 a.m., UCPD officers were dispatched to the area near Signpost 16 on Grizzly Peak Boulevard regarding a report of a casualty, possibly related to a shooting. When they arrived on scene, they found a vehicle off to the side of the road and an adult male gunshot victim outside on the ground. UCPD officers provided medical aid to the victim, but unfortunately the victim did not survive his injuries and was pronounced deceased by the Berkeley Fire Department on scene. 

If you have any information about this crime, please contact: 

University of California Police Department Criminal Investigation Bureau (510) 642-0472 / 8AM–5PM (510) 642-6760 / All other times 

This crime alert is distributed as a public service to the University community and in compliance with The Jeanne Clery Act of 1998. In the interest of the follow-up investigation, these are all the very important community safety Crime Alert details that UCPD is offering at this time.

Police Raid UC Berkeley's Occupy the Farm Site

By Zack Farmer (BCN)
Monday May 13, 2013 - 11:22:00 AM

University of California at Berkeley officials plowed thousands of plants from a tract of land they own in Albany this morning that the "Occupy The Farm" encampment planted during the weekend, a group member said. 

The Occupy activists had been there since Saturday when several dozen people marched onto the agricultural fields located near the corner of Marin and San Pablo avenues, part of a property they call the Gill Tract, to protest the university's plans to build a chain grocery store there. 

UC Berkeley police raided the Gill Tract at about 4 a.m. and removed the campers, organizer Lesley Haddock said. 

The campers planted thousands of plants over about an acre, Haddock said, including kale, squash, and other various vegetables and herbs. 

This raid occurred after the activists publicly announced they would leave the site later today. 

Once the campers had been cleared out, the university brought in a tractor at about 9 a.m. to remove the plants, organizer Matthew McHale said. 

"There is a sense of frustration and outrage," he said. 

Four people were arrested, including one who attempted to block the tractor, Haddock said.  

"This university is turning into a private institution and no longer holds my best interest in mind," Haddock, who is also a UC Berkeley student, said. "It really underscores they're really acting out of private interest." 

Calls to UC police have not been returned. 

Haddock says they plan to reconvene at the site at 5 p.m. to talk about what their options are.  

"This space is really important," she said. "We're not going away."

Drones or No Drones? The Debate Drones On (News Analysis)

By Gar Smith
Monday May 13, 2013 - 10:35:00 AM
Berkeley citizens express their concerns over drones.
Wendy Kenin
Berkeley citizens express their concerns over drones.
UAVSI drone on display at hearing
Gar Smith
UAVSI drone on display at hearing
Members of the Peace and Justice Commission listen to testimony.
Wendy Kenin
Members of the Peace and Justice Commission listen to testimony.

Late last year, when word leaked that police in Alameda County and Berkeley were preparing to jump on the post-911 bandwagon by acquiring unmanned, aerial surveillance drones, it was the kind of news that makes a pacifist go ballistic. So, on December 18, 2012, squadrons of anti-drone activists homed in on a City Council meeting to demand that the city -- home of the country's first "Nuclear-Free Zone" -- declare itself a "No Drone Zone."

Despite the unanimous public outcry against the idea of "drones in Berkeley," when it came time to act, the council was split -- with a majority clearly entranced by the promise of the city owning its own high-tech drone to handle "emergency situations." The council ordered a time-out for further study. They did, however, agree to send a letter to Alameda's Sheriff and Board of Supervisors asking that the county "delay any action on the purchase of a drone until the City of Berkeley has completed its evaluation of the issue." 

(Note: It's not just the anti-war crowd that bridles at the idea of UAVs flying over public parks and backyard barbecues. The specter of homegrown drones has united Republicans, Democrats and Tea Partiers in 29 states that are currently working on new tri-partisan laws to rein in any potential use of drones in US cities. In February, Charlottesville, Virginia, became the first US city to enact a drone-free ordinance.) 

An Anti-Drone Quorum at the Forum 

As part of the evaluation process, Berkeley's Peace & Justice Commission hosted a "Town Hall Forum on Drones" on May 1. Joined by members of the Police Review Commission, the two city panels heard testimony from five expert witnesses and 30 members of the audience. The Town Forum did not hear from either the BPD or the BFD, however. Police and fire department officials turned down invitations to participate in the discussion. 

The pros and cons raged for more than two hours. Only one of the five experts spoke in support of drones and only two members of the audience had anything good to say about the proposal to release unmanned spybots into the urban airspace. 

The sole pro-drone voice belonged to Patrick Egan, a spokesperson for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). Eagan brought along a display table featuring a small drone and a series of aerial photos that he had snapped. Eagan promised to provide the board with copies of an AUVSI book called "First To Deploy -- Unmanned Aircraft For SAR & Law Enforcement." ["SAR" refers to Search and Rescue.] However, instead of a report linking drones and cops, AUVSI provided a 38-page study on "The Economic Impact" of UAVs. The only part that was relevant to California was on page 24 where three charts predicted drone deployment would create several thousand new jobs, $1.8 billion in "total economic impact," and more than $10 billion in added state tax revenues by 2015. 

A Chorus of Criticism 

The remaining speakers (from the ACLU, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, CopWatch and the Electronic Frontier Foundation) chose to ignore the promise of economic gain and focused, instead, on the social and constitutional negatives. 

ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye began by noting the many ways drones raise serious Fourth Amendment privacy concerns. Lye also argued that deploying drones would likely violate the State Constitution's Article I, Section 1, which grants privacy protection for personal information. Lye listed four reasons to oppose drones: (1) They make surveillance "cheap", (2) they are "less obvious" to people being spied on, (3) they come with night-vision and infra-red capabilities that can "see through walls" to spy on the people inside and (4) they would be used in the SF Bay Area, which is one of the Federal government's "fusion centers" – a major hub for collecting and analyzing intercepted communications and intelligence data. 

The Alameda Sheriff would be one of the first state police agencies to acquire a drone. (Sacramento reportedly acquired a drone in 2007.) The Sheriff's latest budget is for a whopping $20 million and the ACLU has requested an explanation of what the money will be spent on. Lye said she was still "awaiting a response." 

Current law guarantees citizens only a "reasonable expectation of privacy." But what is "reasonable" these days? "It could take years to resolve this in court," Lye noted, "but technology evolves much faster than constitutional law. So we need to act now." 

If drones were to be allowed, Lye advised, they should only be used upon the issuance of a warrant based on probable cause -- and there should be no sharing of gathered information between departments. 

The Rise of the Surveillance Society 

Don't be tempted by promises of grants from the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, Lye cautioned, since these are essentially bribes intended to prime the pump for the corporations set to benefit from the expansion of the Surveillance Society. It might not be fiscally prudent to rush to purchase any new surveillance toys, Lye argued. As an example of an investment that went sour, she pointed to the recall of the TSA's controversial full-body scanners, which she characterized as "a $45 million mistake." 

After enduring the crowd's enthusiastic applause during Lye's litany of criticisms, AUVSI's Eagan approached the microphone with an edge to his voice. 

"So you don't have fixed wing aircraft in Berkeley? You don't have helicopters?" he chided, in a mistaken attempt to establish that the crowd accepted planes and choppers but had a unique bias against drones. Eagan seemed caught be surprise when someone in the audience shouted, "Police helicopters are banned in Berkeley!" 

"Well, then," Eagan shot back, "I guess you [people of Berkeley] like privacy more than public safety!" 

Eagen went on to argue that store and street surveillance cameras, along with telephone, computer and text spying "already exist" (so more is better?). He suggested that drones were great tools for "studying grass fires" and finding lost children. (The argument that hovering cameras can be used to "find a lost child" or "an elderly person with Alzheimer's" comes up so often, it's become something of a running joke.) 

Commissioner George Lippman asked if the AUSVI received any money from companies that manufacture drones but the query failed to elicit a clear response. 

Why the 'Drones to the Rescue' Argument Won't Fly 

Nadia Kayyali, a Legal Fellow with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, began her presentation by recalling how the Alameda and Berkeley cops (in cahoots with the UC Berkeley campus police) had been embarrassed by exposure of a secret plan to jointly purchase and share an armored personnel carrier. Kayyali called the new push for drones another "rushed implementation that is being fueled by money." 

Kayyali quickly dismissed the "rescue drone" arguments. The battery-powered drones being considered for city purchase can't fly for more than 25 minutes at a time, they can only be flown during the day, they need to be controlled by two operators, they must be flown in "line-of-sight," they can't be operated more than 400 feet above the ground, they can't be flown on windy days and, if you tried to use one to monitor a grass fire or a burning building, it would probably start to melt. 

Kayyali's conclusion? "Current drone technology is best suited for one thing: surveillance." Because drones can "hover very quietly outside of windows," Kayyali warned, the ability "to conduct covert surveillance with a small piece of equipment is unprecedented." 

(The short battery life may not be a problem for future drones. Work now is underway to design metal tails that will allow drones to grab energy from city power lines and new ground-based laser systems may allow operators to recharge drones while they are still in flight.) 

It's Raining Cats and Drones 

Even in the best of conditions, drones would pose significant risks to public safety. "Drones are unproven in American civilian airspace" and the record of UAVs in combat situations is troubling Kayyali stated. "They are the least safe class of aircraft in operation." Customs and Border Protection has reported 52.7 drone accidents per 100,000 hours of flight time -- seven times the accident rate for all of civil aviation. 

One of the latest cases of "drones behaving badly" occurred last September when the Sheriff of Montgomery County, Texas, showed up for a demonstration of his department's new $300,000 Shadowhawk drone. The UAV successfully soared into the air -- only to plummet back to earth. It crashed into the police department's prized Bear Cat armored tank, which had been parked nearby. 

In combat zones, drones have experienced what the Pentagon likes to call "control uplink failures." These glitches have caused combat drones to "go rogue," requiring soldiers to chase after them and shoot them down. 

Even with the best camera technology, drones lack the critical "see-and-avoid" ability of a human pilot. To date, the FAA has not been able to find any collision avoidance system that can guarantee a drone won't fly into a commercial aircraft. (This is not a theoretical risk. In August 2011, a Shadow UAV crashed into the wing of a C-130 in the skies over Afghanistan.) 

Can Drones Be Weaponized? 

Kayyali cited a "large and expanding toolkit [that] makes drones incredibly powerful tools of surveillance" including "high-definition cameras, infrared systems which can see through obstacles, radar, LIDAR, the ability to intercept cell phone communications, 'less lethal' weapons, and lethal weapons." 

Kayyali noted that Alameda Sheriff Gregory J. Ahern went on record on February 14 warning that he would have no qualms about using drones to monitor public demonstrations. "I'm not going to tell you we wouldn't use [a drone] in the event that a crowd turned violent." 

But drones clearly have the potential to escalate those situations in which the police "turn violent." As Kayyali explained: "Drones are currently being armed with tear gas and rubber bullets, with obvious implications for public activism." 

Can the Police Be Trusted? 

In addition to the question: Can drones be trusted? Andrea Prichett, testifying on behalf of Berkeley CopWatch, raised a related question: Can the Berkeley police be trusted? "The BPD doesn't comply with the public records act," Prichett charged and "unlike Oakland and San Francisco, the BPD doesn't post its policies on police tactics." If the BPD were to obtain a drone, could the department be trusted to respect civil rights? "If we can't even get them to come to this meeting, I'm not very hopeful," Prichett noted grimly. 

Two members of the Peace and Justice Commission then mentioned cases where the BPD had refused to release photos or investigative information to the Commission. "If we can't get … one picture, how would we get photos from a drone?" a commissioner asked. 

Then it was the audience's turn. 

Public Testimony Favors a 'No Drone Zone' 

For the next hour, drones were critiqued and ridiculed by a host of speakers from a range of organizations including The World Can't Wait, Iraq Vets Against War, Environmentalists Against War, and the Nevada Desert Experience. 

A member of CopWatch spoke of the psychological stress of living under drones, citing "the intimidation factor of constant surveillance." In addition to the noise of hovering drones, sound-equipped UAVs would allow police "overseers" to bark orders and threats from the sky. 

Referring to repeated problems with microphones and one speaker's attempt to screen a PowerPoint presentation, lawyer and political activist Ann Fagin Ginger (founder of Berkeley's Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute), pointedly observed: "If we can't get our mikes and computers to work, what makes us think drones will work?" 

A member of the Asian Law Caucus noted that many of the police drones are built by the same companies that build drones the Pentagon uses to commit "targeted assassinations." Case in point: the 13.2-pound Stalker (yes, that's what they chose to name it) is built by the military arms giant Lockheed-Martin. 

One dubious speaker ridiculed the idea of "search and rescue" drones. "Drones aren't like helicopters," she pointed out. "They don't have onboard stretchers or ropes or doctors." 

"As a civil libertarian, I'm opposed to drones," one speaker added. "But as a journalist, I can't wait to get my own drone so I can spy on city politicians and monitor and record police operations in Berkeley." 

One speaker held up a copy of the March 2013 National Geographic and read some choice excerpts: 


Even when controlled by skilled, well-intentioned operators, drones can pose a hazard -- that’s what the FAA is concerned about. The safety record of military drones is not reassuring. Since 2001, according to the Air Force, its three main UAVs -- the Predator, Global Hawk, and Reaper -- have been involved in at least 120 "mishaps," 76 of which destroyed the drone. The statistics don’t include drones operated by the other branches of the military or the CIA. Nor do they include drone attacks that accidentally killed civilians or US or allied troops…. 

GPS is vulnerable…. Its signals can be blocked by buildings or deliberately jammed. In December 2011, when a CIA drone crashed in Iran, authorities there claimed they had diverted it by hacking its GPS…. 

[Dave] Raquet [a lab technician] demonstrates … with a square drone powered by rotors at each corner. On the first try the drone, buzzing like a nest of enraged hornets, flips over. On the second it crashes into a wall. “This demonstrates the need for trust,” Raquet says with a strained smile. 

A Pandora's Box Filled with Drones 

It wasn't until well into the final hour of the debate that the two camps were able to find some common ground. Speaking from the audience, AUSVI's Chet Hartridge (seeming to sense the overwhelming consensus) conceded: "I believe in the Forth Amendment. I don't want to be photographed in the nude in my backyard either." 

After listening to the evening's testimony (which clearly favored declaring Berkeley a "No Drone Zone"), Drone Subcommittee Chair Bob Meola announced that he had been convinced the Commission should return to its original demand for an outright ban on drones within the city boundaries. (Hobbyists still would be allowed to fly small drones over non-residential recreational areas.) 

Another commissioner asked what would happen if the County bought a drone and tried to fly it through Berkeley's airspace. The answer came from a woman in the audience: "Shoot it down!" she hollered. This prompted another Commissioner to surmise that, if drones were ever flown over Oakland, "they would be used for target practice!" 

These comments brought some welcome mirth to the high-stakes battle to keep the city's skies drone-free. As one participant noted: "If we can't stop drones in Berkeley, where can you stop this technology?" 

But the unique -- and looming -- threat of drones is not a laughing matter. 

Returning to that National Geographic story, here are some additional passages the speaker did not have time to read into the record: 

What, one might ask, will prevent terrorists and criminals from getting their hands on some kind of lethal drone? Although American officials rarely discuss the threat in public, they take it seriously. The militant Islamic group Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, says it has obtained drones from Iran.  

Last November, a federal court sentenced a Massachusetts man to 17 years in prison for plotting to attack Washington, D.C., with drones loaded with C-4 explosives…. 

The answer to the threat of drone attacks, some engineers say, is more drones. “The new field is counter-UAVs….” [designed to] enable one UAV to spot and destroy another, either by ramming it or shooting it down. 

Just imagine how profitable a Global Drone War on Drones could become! 

You can watch the entire Town Forum on YouTube:


Public Comment

New: Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission to Act on Most Egregious Violations of Local Election Laws

By Alejandro Soto-Vigil
Thursday May 16, 2013 - 01:17:00 PM

Berkeley Tenants United for Fairness”, a pro-landlord slate, has admitted numerous violations of state and local campaign finance laws The violations committed by TUFF are some of the most egregious in Berkeley history and could pave the way for other violations in the future, and undermine the letter and spirit of Berkeley’s voter approved Election Reform Act. 

Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission, charged with enforcing the city’s voter approved Election Reform Act, will be acting on a complaint Thursday night against “Berkeley Tenants United for Fairness” a slate mailer organization (SMO) created in the 2012 election, who has admitted numerous violations of state and local campaign finance and disclosure laws.  

TUFF’s use of a Slate Mailer Organization (SMO) to circumvent local election laws has raised the concern of the Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission who will also be looking into establishing local rules to regulate SMOs. 

In response to a complaint filed, the City Attorney’s office is recommending that the commission approve a stipulation with TUFF that admits guilt for a wide range of state and local campaign violations in exchange for paying $4,000 in penalties. According to estimates by City staff, potential penalties for the violations committed by TUFF would normally result in tens of thousands of dollars in fines. 

Berkeley Tenants United for Fairness is a slate mailer organization created last fall to support four candidates for the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board: Jay James, Judy Hunt, Nicole Drake and Kiran Shenoy. Jay James was named as an officer of the committee and all four candidates had control over the content of mailers sent out, according to campaign filings. 

While misleadingly calling themselves “Tenants” United for Fairness, in fact the four person slate included a landlord (Judy Hunt) and a rent-stabilized tenant (Jay James) who also owns a 20% interest in a real estate LLC. All four candidates were supported by Berkeley Property Owners Association President Sid Lakireddy and landlord and real estate interests. Mr. Lakireddy also fundraised for TUFF and campaigned for all four candidates. These candidates campaigned on a platform which would have undermined Berkeley’s voter approved Rent Stabilization Ordinance, and hurt thousands of renters in Berkeley. 

TUFF received more than $50,000 in contributions from large property owners and corporate interests. However in the process of accepting contributions, it broke several laws. According to investigative reports, the role of candidate Jay James as an officer of the SMO made it a candidate committee, and therefore subject to local laws, including the city contribution limit of $250 per candidate and prohibitions on business contributions. Yet TUFF accepted thousands of dollars in donations and money from businesses. 

City staff, in a draft stipulation prepared for the Commission’s review, agreed that TUFF “accepted contributions from prohibited business sources …which were used for the benefit of the four candidates.” 

In the stipulation, City staff also notes the four TUFF candidates violated the letter and spirit of the Berkeley Election Reform Act namely “receipts and expenditures in municipal election campaigns should be fully and truthfully disclosed in order that the voters may be fully informed and improper practices may be inhibited.” The candidates disclosed contributions received through the TUFF SMO as much as two months after the filing deadline. 

What: Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission vote on complaint against Tenants United for Fairness 

Where: North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Avenue, Classroom C, Berkeley 

When: Thursday, May 16, 2013, 7:00 pm

New: OUTRAGEOUS! Berkeley's City Staff has essentially endorsed corruption by failing to hold TUFF and the BPOA accountable

By Fred Dodsworth
Thursday May 16, 2013 - 01:16:00 PM

Berkeley's Fair Campaign Practices Commission must hold the "Tenants' United for Fairness" TUFF slate — a dark-money stalking horse for the Berkeley Property Owners Association — accountable and punish these flagrant violations in a substantial fashion that sends a loud clear message to those who would destroy our local democracy! 

Anything short of fining the TUFF Slate substantially MORE than that fake slate acquired through illegal, coordinated contributions will simply encourage additional economic/electoral excesses in all subsequent elections and substitute a pervasive culture of corruption for the culture of community involvement and concern which Berkeley is nationally known for. 

Punish those who would destroy our democracy or the responsibility for this death of democracy lies at your feet. 

The famous story goes that as Benjamin Franklin was emerging from Independence Hall, after helping to craft our Constitution and coalesce the necessary support to enact our democracy a woman approached him and asked: "Doctor Franklin. What have we got? A Representative Republic or a monarchy?" Our founding father replied: "A Republic, madam, if you can keep it." 

Shine a light on the filth and decay, the corrupting, immoral, perverted monsters who hide their destructive monetary influences in the dark of shadows of corrupt but influential organizations which would deny us all representation. Support freedom. Support democracy. Support the values we believe in, have fought for and have bleed for, by holding those accountable who would do us such great damage.

Statement in Support of a Citywide "No Drone Zone"

By Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War (www.envirosagainstwar.org)
Monday May 13, 2013 - 10:30:00 AM

Environmentalists Against War is a global coalition of more than 100 environmental, peace, and social justice groups committed to addressing the impacts of war and militarism. 

We are opposed to the introduction of police and commercial drones in US cities. We are opposed to the militarization of the commons by private corporations that hope to profit by filling the urban environment with surveillance drones. 

The FAA currently has no plans to prevent potential collisions with drones. Despite these unresolved safety concerns, Congress has moved to legalize domestic drones within three years. Government incentives will be used to encourage the country's 18,000 police departments to purchase spy-drones. 

By 2030, as many as 30,000 remote-controlled mini-aircraft are projected to fill US skies. Military contractors anticipate the domestic market for drones designed to spy-on-the-fly could become a $30 billion industry by 2015. 

Drones are already being used by paparazzi to stalk celebrities on the French Riviera. Drones are already being used in the US. The Pentagon's Reaper drones (the same kind used by the US to kill "targets" in the Middle East and Africa) are currently deployed along the US-Mexican border. Ten years ago, I reported on the existence of the Flybot, a Pentagon drone capable of hovering between buildings and remotely firing grenades and chemical weapons to suppress civil unrest. 

In the US, entrepreneurs want to use 100-pound drones to deliver pizzas. Like all machines, drones fail. As Wired magazine editor and former Berkeley resident Chris Anderson has observed, when drones fall from the sky they become "flying lawnmowers." Last September, a US Predator drone suffered an "inexplicable engine failure" over Afghanistan and was intentionally flown into a mountainside. Cost to taxpayers: $3.8 million. 

Aerovironment, a major US drone maker, has produced spy drones in the shape of hummingbirds and sparrows able to "perch-and-peep" on unsuspecting civilian targets. Some Pentagon drones are the size of flies. Aerovironment's Switchblade drone—a "robotic kamikaze" the size of a rolled-up magazine—can be quickly weaponized to drop bombs or fire rockets at a human target. 

Individuals and groups like Team Blacksheep have already flown spy drones over and around potential terrorist targets — including the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge. Even the most sophisticated drone can be hacked by a potential terrorist. In 2011, Iran famously seized electronic control of a Predator drone—which is now proudly on display in Tehran. 

As the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer has stated: "I'm very concerned we're at the beginning of a revolution in surveillance that will not stop. It's like having a permanent camera over everybody's head, in every street, forever." 

For these reasons we support the adoption of the No Drone Zone resolution.


THE PUBLIC EYE: Who’s to Blame for Long-Term Unemployment?

By Bob Burnett
Monday May 13, 2013 - 10:21:00 AM

May 3rd brought news that the unemployment rate has dipped to 7.5 percent and there’s been an alarming rise in the suicide rate for middle-aged Americans. According to the Center for Disease Control, “The [suicide] increase does coincide with a decrease in financial standing for a lot of families…” 4.35 million Americans have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks. Whose fault is this? 

As a result of “the great recession,” U.S. unemployment peaked at 10.2 percent in October of 2009. Since, the job situation has steadily improved. The economy is recovering, but not as fast as many had hoped. 

4.35 million workers have been jobless for more than 26 weeks. Although the total is down from 6.7 million in April of 2010, this trend is little consolation to forlorn jobseekers who typically have been without employment for 36.5 weeks. 

Many observers believe the situation is actually grimmer because of the millions of workers who are no longer included in the labor force statistic because they are “discouraged” or “marginally attached.” One of these is George Ross, whose story was in the San Francisco Chronicle. Ross, an information technology specialist, has been out of work for two years, but quit looking because he has to care for his son, a disabled Afghanistan War veteran. 

There are two competing economic explanations for long-term unemployment. Structural unemployment postulates long-term unemployment results from the changed nature of the labor market: it argues there are jobs available but the long-term jobless don’t have the proper skills. However, a recent paper by economists Edward Lazear and James Spletzer disputed this: “An analysis of labor market data suggests that there are no structural changes that can explain movements in unemployment rates over recent years. Neither industrial nor demographic shifts nor a mismatch of skills with job vacancies is behind the increased rates of unemployment.” Furthermore, the number of unemployed persons per job opening is high: “When the most recent recession began (December 2007), the number of unemployed persons per job opening was 1.8. When the recession ended (June 2009), there were 6.2 unemployed persons.” Currently the metric is 3.1. 

The second economic explanation is cyclical unemployment. Lazear and Spletzer said, “The patterns observed are consistent with unemployment being caused by cyclic phenomena that are more pronounced during the current recession.” Writing in the New York Times Nelson Schwartz observed, “the jobless rate remains far higher than it typically would be this far into a recovery…While the private sector has been on the upswing since last summer, cutbacks in government employment continue to prevent a stronger acceleration in the economy.” 

The cyclical explanation has three components. Writing in the Washington Post Zachary Goldfarb blamed weak economic conditions, “Several years after the end of the recession, more than 10 million people still owe more on their homes than their properties are worth… [Studies] have shown that carrying a high debt leads consumers to spend less and save more, depriving the economy of its traditional engine of growth.” 

Furthermore, because of economic uncertainty Employers are taking longer to fill job openings. Writing in the New York Times Catherine Rampell noted, “vacancies are staying unfilled much longer than they used to – an average of 23 business days today compared to a low of 15 in mid-2009.” 

And there’s systemic bias against the long-term unemployed. Bloomberg News reported, “When researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston sent fake resumes to employers with job openings, the length of time candidates had been out of work mattered more than their job experience in determining who got called in for an interview.” That’s the experience described by software developer, Geoffrey Weglarz, on a recent PBS News Hour. Weglarz has been out of work for two years, has applied for 481 jobs, and has run out of money. 

Who’s to blame for America’s long-term unemployment problem? 

The primary fault lies with failed conservative economic policy. Beginning with the Reagan administration, Republicans were guided by three malignant notions: helping the rich get richer would inevitably help everyone else; markets were inherently self correcting and therefore there was no need for government regulation; and the US did not need an economic strategy because the free market would fix our problems. This ideology led the Bush Administration to ignore the housing bubble and Wall Street malfeasance and caused the great recession of 2008. 

Unfortunately, Republicans can’t admit their philosophy was wrong. They cling to Reaganomics and contend that government is the problem. Even worse, Republicans have no sympathy for the unemployed. Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain, told the Wall Street Journal, “If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.” 

President Obama has tried to do the right thing, both for the economy and the unemployed, but has had no support from Republicans. That situation is unlikely to change until Democrats control Congress. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Timeshares: Know What You Are Buying

By Ralph E. Stone
Monday May 13, 2013 - 10:34:00 AM

Mr. Smith received a mailer -- "3 Free Nights in Waikiki-Spend 3 nights in 4 star hotel-no purchase necessary." The mailer directed him to call the listed telephone number "to schedule your short presentation from ABC Resort." When he called the telephone number on the mailer, he was given a nearby address and time for him to attend the presentation. Both Mr. Smith and his wife showed up and were given a hard-sell sales presentation that while not illegal, bordered on the unethical. Instead of carefully reading the contract or better yet, taking it home and having their lawyer read it, the Smiths impulsively signed the contract obligating them to pay $20,000 for their timeshare. 

The Smiths received their voucher for 3 nights in Waikiki, but, of course, had to pay the airfare and the times were subject to availability.  

What is a timeshare anyway? It is the subdivision of condominium property into legal estates where occupancy rights are restricted to a number of days, usually seven, at specified or reserved times of the year. Timeshares are either owned in fee simple or nonfee. Under fee ownership, the purchaser receives an undivided interest in real estate, coupled with an exclusive but restricted right of occupancy. 

Timeshare fee ownership periods are either fixed or floating. Fixed time ownership is where the calendar year is divided into fifty-two one-week periods and property occupancy rights are assigned by week number. The owner of week thirty in a fixed-time timeshare property, for example, has the right to use week thirty forever. In a floating time arrangement, the calendar year has been divided into seasons. The owner of a floating time timeshare week has the right to occupy the property during any week within that season provided the resort can confirm the availability of that week.  

In a nonfee arrangement, the interest is contractual. The person buys a lease, license, or club membership (sometimes called a points-based vacation plan) that allows the person to use the property for a specific amount of time each year for a stated number of years. 

Many timeshare owners become a member of an exchange program, where the timeshare owner can, for example, "exchange" his Colorado resort timeshare for the use of a similar time period in a Florida resort. Exchange companies label time periods according to whether they are in high, mid, or low season. They also grade and rate each property to provide for an equal or fair exchange.  

Timeshare resort developers may both develop and sell timeshares. In other case, the developer will arrange for a company specializing in marketing and selling his timeshares. If done this way, marketing and sales cost can be 50 percent or more of the developers sales price. Let's look at the math. Assuming the developer can can build and furnish a two‑bedroom condominium unit for about $150,000 per unit. By dividing the unit into 50 one-week units and selling each unit for an average price of even as low as $10,000, the developer will gross $500,000 per unit. If the developer spends half this amount marketing the units ($250,000 per unit), the construction, sales, and marketing costs together will total $400,000, leaving $100,000 net income per unit.  

There are about 8 million timeshare owners in the United States. Annual sales volume in United States resorts has grown from about $291 million in 1978 to approximately $6.5 billion in 2011. The number of resorts has increased from 240 to about 1,500. In 2011, the average sales price for a timeshare was $18,401 with annual maintenance fees averaging $786. The states with the largest sales volume of timeshares are Florida, Hawaii, California, and South Carolina.  

Many owners of these timeshares are interested in selling. Thus, a timeshare resale market or secondary market has emerged over the years. Unfortunately, timeshare owners are usually competing with the highly sophisticated sales promotions of timeshare resort developers or marketers. In addition, timeshare owners are typically absentee owners who live some distance from their timeshares. Therefore, it is inconvenient for them to show their timeshares to potential buyers. Thus, timeshare owners frequently seek assistance from timeshare resale companies in selling their timeshares. While attempting to sell the timeshare, the owner will probably be responsible for maintenance fees, taxes, and finance charges. 

The timeshare buyer is paying an inflated price for his or her unit as about 50 percent of the price represents the developer's marketing and sales program. As there are many more trying to sell their timeshares than those looking to buy them, the resale market is generally a buyers' market.  

Given the number of timeshares for sale in both the primary and secondary market coupled with the large amount of profit to made, the sales of timeshares has been ripe for scams. As an attorney for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), I prosecuted a case against Timeshare Owners Foundation, Inc. (TOF), a Florida-based timeshare resale company, the first FTC challenge to a timeshare resale company. The FTC complaint alleged that TOF and its principals misrepresented the nature and present value of its $1,000 bond guarantee and by misrepresenting the likelihood of a sale within a year for a price equal to or in excess of the price paid for the timeshare. The suit was brought in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.  

TOF targeted timeshare owners as its customers by mail solicitations, inviting the owner to call TOF, or by unsolicited telephone calls. The pivotal come on was a $1,000 bond guarantee that promised a sale of the timeshare within 12 months or the owner would receive a $1,000 government bond. The principal elements of the sales pitch was the promise of a sale at a desirable price within a year.  

In actuality, the $1,000 government bond turned out to be zero coupon bonds worth from $62.50 to $95.00, considerably less than the $295 to $495 price that customers paid for TOF's services.  

TOF's promise of a sale within a year or less was also alleged to be false. TOF's services simply did not provide customers with access to any resale market that were likely to sell timeshares within a year at any price. 

The TOF defendants entered into a stipulated permanent injunction -- without admitting fault -- ordering them to pay $1.25 million in pro rata redress to consumers. The defendant were also ordered to clearly disclose the nature and value of any bond. Further the defendants were enjoined from representing the likelihood of a sale within a given time period or price without the possession of reliable data substantiating the claims before making such claims. Finally, the defendant were ordered to provide a twenty day right-to-cancel the transaction and receive a full refund. 

Before buying a timeshare, calculate the total cost of the timeshare, including mortgage payments and expenses, like travel costs, annual maintenance fees and taxes, closing costs, broker commissions, and finance charges. Then compare these costs with the cost of renting similar accommodations with similar amenities in the same location for the same time period. And remember, a timeshare is not an investment for profit or an interest in real estate that will likely appreciate over time. And if you try to resell your timeshare, it is unlikely you will get any way near what you paid for it.


By Jack Bragen
Monday May 13, 2013 - 10:26:00 AM

Self-coaching might consist of you telling yourself positive things, some of which might be affirmations, in order to deal with a situation. If a situation brings anxiety or apprehension, or if challenging to face, self-coaching can make it easier and can sometimes make the outcome better. 

People who are disabled are sometimes given a job coach. However, when the positive messages are generated by oneself, without the need for external help, it can be better for self esteem. 

In a job, self coaching might consist of assuring oneself that one can perform a task, and/or that everything is going okay. If a person has negative anticipation about something, coaching oneself can help with that. The term, "self-assurance" implies that a person is reassuring their self. When someone creates their own confidence, it equips them to successfully deal with a number of things in life. 

When an Olympic gymnast stumbles during a floor routine, or when a performer trips and falls in front of hundreds of people in their audience, they normally do not have a meltdown and run away, they get back up and finish their performance. The truism says that if you stumble, you are supposed to get back up. This is one example of the usefulness of self-coaching. 

Self coaching can help a person remain focused on the task at hand, and not get sidetracked by internal, self-critical thoughts which detract. A housekeeper (working for my wife and I) broke a picture frame by accident. I did not make a negative comment, nor did I criticize her-I continued to be confident in this person's ability. This helped in producing a good outcome. And I assume that the housekeeper had her own internal system for remaining confident. 

When worried about a future scenario, it is good to visualize it in advance, and deal with the emotions and the thoughts that come up. This prepares you for dealing with a situation in which, at that time, you may not have the option of stopping what you are doing to deal with the detracting thoughts and emotions. This could apply to a political candidate making an important speech, or could be used by someone who has difficulty going to the store and buying a loaf of bread. 

Affirmations can be used by anyone, disabled or not, across the entire demographic spectrum, and in a wide variety of situations. 

Sometimes it is a good idea to get a sheet of paper (yes, actual paper and not an I Pad) and write down affirmations that you have thought of. If the thoughts that you are going to use have come from you, they have a better chance of being effective, rather than if you are adopting someone else's ideas. Because someone else's ideas might feel foreign, they might be rejected by your subconscious. 

It helps not to program oneself with absolutes. This means you shouldn't program yourself with the thought "I am invincible," or "nothing can stop me." You are better off keeping things milder. A good thought with which to program one's mind might be something like, "Yes, I am capable of doing this job." Another might be "I am safe when I am at the Laundromat." 

Self-coaching can include, but is not limited to, affirmative thoughts that boost one's self-confidence and self-esteem. You might tell yourself something like, "People do like me," or "I am intelligent and good-looking." You can also work to undo some paranoid beliefs, if that is applicable. You could affirm the thought, "It is probably my imagination that people are out to get me." 

Self-coaching is a form of autosuggestion, and is applicable to numerous challenging or difficult situations. It can be used in social or work situations, or anything that is anxiety producing. The subconscious often takes things literally, so anything you repeat to yourself enough times will probably be incorporated. It won't change your surroundings although it might seem to, since it can change how you interpret your surroundings. It can change an intolerable situation into a viable one. This is accomplished simply with the change in attitude that will be produced by using affirmations.