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Press Release: Bulletin #3 – Day 12 of Tent City on steps of Berkeley’s Post Office
Tent City to privateers: Hands off the public commons! Halt the heist of the Post Office!

From Margot Smith
Wednesday August 07, 2013 - 11:59:00 AM

The Tent City on the steps of Berkeley’s main post office is now in its 12th day. Two dozen campers have been sleeping there to rally opposition to the Grand Theft of the people’s Post Office being engineered by Postmaster General Donahoe and his right wing collaborators in Congress. “These post offices were paid for by our parents and grandparents,” said one camper. “Why should they be sold off to line the pockets of a handful of big corporations?” 

Postal police and postal inspectors come by every day and all night, threatening to remove the camp and its banners, and arrest the protesters. But the Tent City, now calling itself Berkeley Post Office Defense (BPOD), is standing firm. 

The action has attracted broad support in the city, and some great media coverage including daily live reports from all TV channels. Every day hundreds of old and new supporters stop by the information table, volunteering to join the campaign to halt the sale of the building and defend the people's Post Office. Their strong support for the occupation is heartening. It seems that virtually the entire city of Berkeley wants to preserve the P.O. as a public institution, prevent it from being privatized, and defend the public commons.  


Participants in the encampment include a retired postal letter carrier, a minister, two graphic artists, a computer programmer, a builder, musicians, a gardener, a livestreamer and a former mail handler. An active support group provides food, flyers, supplies and and sound system. 

Protesters denounce the Postmaster General's decision to sell historic post offices in Berkeley, the Bronx (NY) and LaJolla (CA), close thousands of post offices and mail processing plants, and lay off 100,000-plus unionized postal workers making a living wage, in what they say is a "systematic plan to dismantle and privatize the postal service." 

“Young people today are being robbed of future employment,” said one passerby, “What jobs will be left for my young son and my daughter?” The Postal Service is one of a rapidly diminishing number of employers offering a living wage job, and is the largest unionized workplace in the nation with 550,000 workers. That makes it a prize target for the privateers who hope to bust up the Post Office and transfer the work to private companies paying Walmart wages. 

Destruction of the public Post Office would have “a disproportionate effect on workers and communities of color,” according to Tent City occupant Dave Welsh, a retired postal worker. “Today people of color make up 40% of the postal workforce (20% for African Americans). For many workers of all nationalities, it is one of the few places where living-wage jobs are still available in our low-pay, ‘post-industrial’ economy. The campaign to privatize and de-unionize the USPS is a threat to the livelihood of every affected worker and neighborhood. But it stands to hit hardest in those communities of color that are already suffering unemployment at Great Depression levels. 

“We need a movement that puts in the forefront those most impacted by the postal crisis – Black, brown and rural communities; elderly, disabled and low-income people,” Welsh added.  

Every evening at the Tent City features a delicious, freshly cooked dinner; music by local and traveling musicians; a daily meeting to decide on strategy and tactics; and “movie night.” Opening night featured the acclaimed Italian-language film, Il Postino (the Postman), followed up by The Postman, a Hollywood blockbuster; Matewan, about the coal wars and union organizing in Appalachia; and a film about the 1970 Postal Strike that shut down the country’s mail service for most of a week. 

The Post Office Defense action is the latest in a year-long campaign. The entire City Council came out against selling the Post Office, as did both houses of the California state legislature. Many hundreds came out to demonstrate and pack the hearings, or gathered at the steps and in the lobby to sing songs celebrating the Post Office, including “Please Mr. Postman” with new lyrics. 

Legal action to stop the sale is under way, as well as a plan to rezone the P.O. as part of a historic district of public buildings, so it can’t be sold to private investors.  

Organizations supporting the struggle in Berkeley include Save the Berkeley Post Office committee, Berkeley Post Office Defense (BPOD) and Strike Debt Bay Area. For more information, go to www.savethebpo.com or www.bpod.us or http://strike-debt-bay-area.tumblr.com/ A good source for the overall struggle to save the P.O. is www.savethepostoffice.com or www.cpwunited.com 

To see photos and article on Tent City, and samples of TV coverage: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/08/06/1229362/-Enter-the-Postal-Police-Day-10-of-the-Berkeley-Post-Office-Occupation http://www.flickr.com/photos/danielarauz/9436414593/in/set-72157634933471546 


Save the Berkeley Post Office Protesters Set up Camp | NBC Bay Area

New: Downtown Berkeley Takes Back Its Streets

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday August 07, 2013 - 03:53:00 PM

Don't call it a downtown miracle or transformation. Those terms are online cliches.

Besides, a miracle is inexplicable. This miracle/transformation has explanations.

Last year downtown was facing a crisis of anarchy as homeless youth and other hardcore street squatters trashed Berkeley's commons.

The Planet published scores of photos depicting the ragtag congestion downtown.

But when Berkeley's National Night Out held its second annual downtown Ice Cream Social near the downtown BART entrance, you might have been in Kansas. (Except for the exhibition of 120 photos of Tibetans, who immolated themselves since 2009 to protest Chinese persecution). 

Because we aren't in Kansas, the ice cream was Gelato from nearby Almare. Berkeley downtown ambassadors kicked in with sugar cookies. 

Brrrr weather limited the turnout compared to last year. Besides, the neighbors downtown have been cleared out. 

Some will mourn the loss of a Berkeley trope—street kids enjoying the right to assemble. 

But Jesse Arreguin, councilmember downtown, doesn't see it that way. The kids needed to be reined in, he told me. 

Lance Gorée, Downtown Berkeley Associationproject manager, told me the changed scene was the result of "combined efforts" of the Downtown Business Association, Berkeley Police, and downtown Ambassadors. 

Some of the troublemakers seem to have disappeared, others have changed--like Ninja Kitty, who fired up council debate over a [failed] no-sitting ballot measure by threatening to organize street kids. 

Gorée told me that Kitty (Michael) is now attending college. I see him on the Avenue, where he looks almost like a student. 

According to Berkeleyside's Emilie Raguso, "...community members from nearly 50 groups around town signed up to take back the streets in the city’s annual National Night Out celebration." 

According to Raguso, the local event—the latest "take a bite out of crime"—-takes place on the first Tuesday in August each year, spearheaded by the Berkeley Police Department, the Berkeley Fire Department and other city staff. It’s a way to get residents and businesses together to show [anti-crime] unity out in the community….” 

Berkeley Police Chief, Michael K. Meehan, Captain Andy Greenwood, Michael Caplan, Berkeley Economic Development Manager, John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, Arreguin and Gorée were on hand. The chief and his captain were off to see other neighborhoods take back their own streets. 

Downtown streets have already been taken back. At least for now. 



Follow Ted Friedman at berkeleyreporter.com 










Berkeley Shooting Victim Identifed

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Monday August 05, 2013 - 08:14:00 PM

A man who was fatally shot in Berkeley on Thursday night has been identified as 24-year-old Dustin Bynum, police said today. 

The shooting happened at about 9:15 p.m. in the 1800 block of San Pablo Avenue, near the Albatross Pub. 

Officers responded to multiple reports of shots fired and found Bynum, a Berkeley resident, suffering from gunshot wounds, police said. He was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. 

The murder was Berkeley's third of 2013 and came 13 days after Jermaine Davis was found shot in the 1800 block of Derby Street at about 6:50 p.m. on July 17. Davis died at a hospital a short time later. 

Bynum was shot about a block and a half from the spot in the 1000 block of Delaware Street where 34-year-old Zontee Jones was fatally shot shortly after 11 a.m. on Feb. 4. 

Two suspects have been arrested and charged with murder in connection with Jones' death, but no one has been arrested for the deaths of Bynum or Davis.

BART Strike on Hold for a Week

By Bay City News
Sunday August 04, 2013 - 11:30:00 PM

Governor Jerry Brown stepped in to forestall a BART strike this evening by appointing a three-person board of inquiry to look into contract talks.  

The board will investigate the threatened strike, which was set to begin at midnight tonight if BART did not reach a contract agreement with employee unions, Brown said in a letter tonight.  

Brown said he called for the inquiry because a strike would "significantly disrupt public transportation services" and "endanger the public's health, safety, and welfare." 

The board is required to report back on the contract talks within seven days, and all parties are prohibited from any strikes or lockouts while the investigation is in progress.  

Leaders of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents 1,430 mechanics, custodians and clerical workers, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents 945 station agents, train operators and clerical workers, notified BART on Thursday night that their members would go on strike Monday if a deal wasn't reached by midnight tonight. 

Negotiators were trying to strike a deal between BART and its two biggest unions on wages, pension and health care contributions. 

BART officials said they officially asked the governor today to call for a cooling off period to allow them to continue to negotiate. 

"This would allow us to continue negotiating while assuring the public that it will have transit service tomorrow and for another 60 days as we continue to bargain," BART Board President Tom Radulovich said in a letter to the governor.  

Union officials expressed disappointment in the outcome and said BART has been bargaining in bad faith, with no real attempt to reach a compromise and no interest in addressing many concerns raised by the union. They said the inquiry could help illuminate the problem, but will necessarily take energy away from contract talks. 

"We've been here for the last 24 hours and we only got a very regressive proposal from BART in the past 45 minutes," said Josie Mooney, a negotiator for Service Employees International Union Local 1021.  

Antonette Bryant, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, said talks could have been resolved by the end of June if BART had been willing to negotiate.  

"If the district would come to the table and bargain with us in good faith, none of this would be necessary, the governor would not have to get involved, the public worries would not be necessary," Bryant said.  

BART officials have said they are focused on long term infrastructure repairs and improvement and reining in the costs of benefits. 

"Our labor agreements must reflect those financial realities," Radulovich's letter to the governor said.

Man Shot and Killed in Northwest Berkeley Last Night

By Hannah Albarazi (BCN)
Friday August 02, 2013 - 08:50:00 AM

A 24-year-old man was fatally shot in Northwest Berkeley Thursday night, according to police. 

Officers responded to reports of shots fired and a victim down in the 1800 block of San Pablo Avenue, near the Albatross Pub, at 9:18 p.m., police said. 

Upon arrival, officers discovered the victim suffering from gunshot wounds. He was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced deceased, police said.  

Police are withholding the victim's name pending notification of his family.  

Homicide detectives are canvassing the area for information and interviewing witnesses. 

The shooting remains under investigation, police said. 

Anyone with information about the homicide is asked to call Berkeley police at (510) 981-5741 or (510) 981-5900. Persons wishing to remain anonymous may call the Bay Area Crimes Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

Dorothy Day Free Breakfast Program Forced to Seek New Location

By Lydia Gans
Thursday August 01, 2013 - 04:42:00 PM

Hunger is a world wide issue these days, not only in remote parts of the world but here in the United States, indeed here in our own city. Berkeley has a number of churches and non profit organizations giving out food baskets or serving daytime meals for people with what is called 'food insecurity'. But homeless people, with no place to prepare or store food, have a special need, that is for a morning meal. Only one organization, Catholic Worker/Dorothy Day House has for 30 years been providing a free hot breakfast every morning.

For the past six years or so the meal has been taking place at Trinity Methodist Church on Bancroft every morning except on Sundays when it happens in Peoples Park. In June the church management informed Dorothy Day House that they would have to move. There were problems, according to Pastor Mark Cordes, the program was 'beyond our capacity to support”. Since then they served briefly in Newman Hall and are currently at First Congregational Church but their stay there will end in mid August. The picture looks bleak after that. If no indoor location for the breakfast can be found it will have to be served outdoors. 

J. C. Orton, long time dedicated advocate and worker in many programs for poor and homeless people is busy seeking a new space to serve the breakfasts. An outdoor meal on a warm summer morning is pleasant enough, even for someone who has been out on the street all night, but on a dark, rainy winter morning it is pretty dismal. Orton talks about what it's like. “It takes some of the pizazz out of the hot this and the ice cold that – and it's stressing, can't set up the tents in time. And it's 8 o'clock in the morning and being able to do it, (to) provide certain hospitality besides (just) take your food and run under the trees. … We need,” he says, “to have a solid place where the people know they can get a meal in the morning, where they're warm and dry, that it's stable, that they're going to be in a caring situation (where they) know they're going to able to get their breakfast to start their day.” 

Depending on the season and the time of the month there might be well over a hundred people at the breakfast. (Most peoples' income comes from some type of government assistance program which isn't quite enough to see them through to the end of the month.) Some of the people are chronically homeless, some are experiencing an extended period of joblessness, a few might be in some sort of period of transition in their lives. For everyone this morning meal is of inestimable value. 

Eric has been coming to the meal for about ten years. “It's been a good place to be,” he says. He's worried about the meal not being able to continue. “It's going to be straight chaos … everybody's going to be hungry”, he worries. 

Art has only been coming for a few months. He is not worried. “I have faith that when I've had trouble in the past there's always some thing that comes through to help and there's a verse in the Bible – the verse is But seek ye first the kingdom of god in his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. So that has worked like a charm for me for quite a number of years. That's why I'm not afraid.” 

Nancy has been coming more than 3 years. She was living and working in New York when everything crashed. She lived briefly in various places until she settled in Berkeley. About the breakfast, she says, “I think it's wonderful. I can't imagine not being here, being somewhere.” She's 58 years old, the experience of “homelessness is difficult, really stressful situation, trying to survive, don't know how you're going to reestablish your life." 

Melissa, only recently became homeless and she too, talks about trying to reestablish her life. She is looking for work and hopes to be able to volunteer for the food program once Michael has been coming since '96 and he has a lot to say. “Coming here has been good for me for many years.” Many homeless people here, he says, have alcohol or drug issues “and even folks who aren't alcoholics or addicts in recovery who just have life issues of their own, first thing in the morning we all deal with our demons ...” Some people withdraw into themselves and others at times might become aggressive. 

Malakai also has been coming for many years and he often helps at the servings. He talks about the people who come to the program, “the ones that can mess it up or the ones that can enhance the program.” And he has seen people change. People who “behaved like two foot animals started acting like people”. 

The program, which at times could get quite chaotic, over the years has become more structured. Lassandro Wilson is staff member of the Dorothy Day program and head of security. He has developed a set of rules which he describes as “putting a boundary on certain things that the clients can and cannot do”.He spells it out some of the details; “There will be no fighting, no profanity, there will be no one coming here under the influence of anything high and I will see that you're high will feed you outside. … also no-one is allowed on the property where we're located now until 7:15. There's no dogs allowed inside the facility unless you have paperwork on your dog saying he or she is a service dog. Also once breakfast is all over I ask every client to make sure they clean up after themselves, leave the property immediately.” 

Wilson has worked in the program for 15 years. “I started off as a homeless person,” he says, “and I worked my way up from being homeless to wiping tables to the head man. You can start with nothing and get something if you put yourself in the right position.” 

Securing place to serve the daily breakfast is an immediate and pressing need. David Stegman is the executive director of Dorothy Day House in Berkeley. “We're like gypsies right now, he says, “it's kind of scary. Our program has been in Berkeley for thirty years. I feel anxious, (just) like the people on the street. This program has always had a place to go. Don't know what will happen, we're talking to a lot of people. I believe in God, I believe if you feel the spirit will happen, something good will happen. We're looking for some bridge and then a longer term solution. We can't keep running. People deserve better than that.” 

Stegman and Orton are appealing to churches, club houses, community centers, any kind of facility that can offer their space for one hour each morning for our less fortunate fellow human beings to enjoy a warm meal. “We just hope” J. C. says, “that the community will find some way of rising to the occasion.”

Transit Agencies Brace for Another Possible BART Strike

By Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Thursday August 01, 2013 - 03:31:00 PM

With a second BART strike possible on Monday, Bay Area transit agencies are again preparing alternate ways to get commuters to their destinations without BART trains running.

A 30-day contract extension between BART management and two of BART's employee unions -- Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 -- expires Sunday night and there is no sign yet that an agreement is likely before then.

The first strike occurred during the Fourth of July holiday week. It lasted four and a half days and ended on July 5.

Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin said today that the MTC is creating a strike contingency plan that is "largely the same" as the approach used during the first strike.  

BART officials said the agency provides about 400,000 rides daily, with slightly lower ridership during the summer months. However, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said a strike in August would impact more riders than the one during the holiday week in July. 

A conference call was held Tuesday with leaders of Bay Area transit systems including AC Transit, BART, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District and the San Francisco Bay Ferry. Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and Oakland and San Francisco city officials also participated, Goodwin said. 

He said participants discussed the logistics that need to be in place in the event of another strike.  

As with the first strike, BART will provide charter buses from the East Bay to San Francisco in the morning, and back for the evening commute. 

Trost said BART is working to secure up to 95 buses that will pick up passengers at four East Bay BART stations -- Fremont, Dublin/Pleasanton, Walnut Creek, and El Cerrito Del Norte -- and possibly at two others, Concord and San Leandro. 

Those buses will stop at West Oakland, where passengers will transfer to another bus into San Francisco. Passengers heading to the city can also board at West Oakland. 

During July's strike, Trost said a different number of buses were used each day for East Bay passengers. The most buses deployed in one day was 79, she said. 

Goodwin called the buses "a very limited lifeline service." 

"This is not going to come close to accommodating normal BART ridership," he said. 

Extra service will be offered again on the San Francisco Bay Ferry, which operates lines to and from San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda, Vallejo, and South San Francisco. 

There will be 13 vessels systemwide instead of the normal eight, ferry spokesman Earnest Sanchez said. During the last strike, the ferry system operated 12 boats. 

There will be additional departure times from Vallejo and Oakland in the morning, and for the evening commute there will be two extra ferries leaving from the San Francisco Ferry Building. 

"We are encouraging people to try to travel earlier," Sanchez said. 

He advised getting in line for a ferry before 7 a.m. and avoiding the Ferry Building during the 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. crunch time. 

The South San Francisco line will offer normal service, as will the Golden Gate Ferry, which leaves from Larkspur and Sausalito and is operated by the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District.  

"Ferries were pretty much filled in July," Goodwin said. "We expect that will largely be the case this time around." 

AC Transit hopes to bolster its transbay service depending on bus and staff availability, Goodwin said.  

Agency spokesman Clarence Johnson said, "We're going to roll out every piece of equipment we can." 

On its regular East Bay routes, Johnson said AC Transit tentatively plans to offer normal service, but may try to boost that service if needed. 

He said, "we will augment the heaviest routes to the extent we have personnel and equipment available." 

On the Bay Bridge and its approaches, carpool lane hours will be expanded and Goodwin advised motorists to use FasTrak passes to expedite trips through the toll plaza.  

Although the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge may appear to be a viable alternative to the Bay Bridge, MTC officials are warning motorists to expect delays on that bridge as well. 

The MTC is urging drivers to carpool, including by using casual carpool pickups at BART stations and other designated spots. There will be free parking at all BART stations in the event of a strike.  

Another option is to change work hours to non-commute times or work from home if that is possible, Goodwin said. 

In late June, before the first strike, MTC executive director Steve Heminger requested that the commission redirect state funding that normally goes to BART to other transit agencies if a strike occurred.  

Goodwin said that during July's strike, hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding was diverted to the CHP, Caltrans and bus and ferry agencies.  

He said more state funding would be diverted to other transit agencies this time around.  

Goodwin said the MTC could vote to pay for setting up even more transit options for commuters, but that there is no plan to do so yet.  

He said the MTC is considering a variety of options and could take more dramatic action if the strike drags on -- especially if it is still in effect when schools start to go back in session.  

"If there is a strike and it proves to be of long duration then it may prompt some policy changes on the commission's part," Goodwin said. 

For now, the MTC is waiting to see what happens with the BART negotiations. 

"We are hoping for the best, preparing for the worst," he said. 

Commuters can call 511 or visit http://alert.511.org/ for information about transit options during a BART stoppage.

Berkeley Judge Gets 5 Years Probation in $1.6 Million Elder Theft Case

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Thursday August 01, 2013 - 03:16:00 PM

A former Alameda County Superior Court judge who faced 32 felony counts for allegedly stealing at least $1.6 million from his elderly neighbor in the Berkeley Hills pleaded no contest today to two felonies and will only face five years' probation. 

Paul Seeman, 58, who had potentially faced a lengthy state prison term if he had been convicted of all of the charges against him, entered his pleas to one count of elder abuse and one count of perjury at a hearing in Alameda County Superior Court this morning, district attorney's office spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 22. 

The charges against Seeman stem from allegations that he stole from his neighbor, Anne Nutting, after her husband Lee died in 1999 at age 90. Nutting died at the age of 97 in April 2010. 

Berkeley police had investigated Seeman for more than two years before he was arrested in his chambers at the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland on June 15, 2012. 

Seeman was put on leave shortly after he was arrested and agreed in March to resign from his job as judge. 

He had been charged with 12 counts each of perjury and offering a false or forged instrument; three counts each of elder theft and grand theft; and two counts of unauthorized disclosure of information.  

Drenick said that as a result of Seeman's convictions today, he is barred from holding judicial office and is disbarred from practicing law in California. He will be required not to "harm, molest or annoy" Ali Mehrizi, the victim's surviving husband. 

Drenick said Seeman has already paid $299,436 in restitution and will pay an additional restitution amount of $5,649 before he is sentenced. 

Seeman earned his law degree from the University of California at Berkeley's Boalt Hall law school and his undergraduate degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz. 

He had served as a court commissioner for Alameda County Superior Court from 2004 to 2009 and as a referee pro tem for the county's juvenile court from 1991 to 2004. 

A Democrat, he was appointed by former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in March 2009.

Progressive Incoherence in “Radical” Berkeley (News Analysis)

By Zelda Bronstein
Thursday August 01, 2013 - 11:57:00 AM

In the fall of 2011 Occupy caught the world by surprise, as tens of thousands of Americans, led by youth no less, took to the streets demanding economic justice. In Berkeley, California, Occupy upset expectations of a different sort. That city, my home for thirty-three of the past forty-six years, is widely regarded as a prime redoubt of the American left. But in the East Bay and, for a few weeks, the entire country, the epicenter of Occupy materialized in front of Oakland’s, not Berkeley’s, city hall. 

To hear the media tell it, Berkeley’s default came out of the blue. “The Occupy movement,” wrote Carolyn Jones in the San Francisco Chronicle, “has been surprisingly quiet in Berkeley, which prides itself on a long history of rabble-rousing.” The quiescence surprised the alternative press as well. “[W]hy,” wondered Zaineb Mohammed in a piece posted on the New America Media website, “is [sic] the city and college that ignited the mass protests of the ’60s barely a blip on the radar now?” 

Media puzzlement at Berkeley’s truancy was predictable. For decades the press has disseminated the myth of radical—or leftist or liberal or progressive—Berkeley; take your pick, the terms are used interchangeably. With few exceptions, reporters cite sporadic “rabble-rousing” as evidence of a tenacious civic activism while disregarding numerous signs of a rightward turn within city hall, political disengagement outside it, and ideological disarray all around. 

But Berkeley’s enduring radical image is not simply the creation of an unobservant media. It’s also the work of the city’s political class and its constituents. Not that twenty-first-century Berkeley politicos call themselves radical or leftist or even liberal; their label of choice is “progressive,” a contested term embraced by political actors with diametrically opposed views. 

The rival claims to that label reflect confounding aspects of contemporary progressivism: Berkeley politics flesh out uncertainties if not downright disagreements on the left over “growth,” environmentalism, U.S. manufacturing, homelessness, and public employee compensation. In any serious political alignment, the positions taken on these subjects are crucial, yet their ambiguous formulation on the left has gone unremarked. To grasp the political realities of today’s Berkeley is not only to dispel an antiquated myth about an iconic place; it’s also to begin to grapple with major incoherence in progressivism at large. 

* * * 

Dissent has hardly disappeared from Berkeley civic life. In recent years the city saw two of the most flamboyant protests in its history: the 2006-8 tree sit-in against the University of California’s plans to raze a venerable oak grove that blocked the expansion of the school’s football stadium, and the 2007-8 effort to shut down a Marine recruiting office. During the nearly two-year-long arboreal demonstration, the press regaled the public with images of the dozen or so protesters perched in the threatened oaks, the nude photo shoot staged in their support, UC police being pelted from above by urine and feces, and the campus police chief negotiating with the tree-sitters from a metal basket suspended from a crane. The coverage of the anti-Marine campaign was only slightly less sensational, featuring Code Pink members dressed in their signature color chanting and waving flags outside the disputed office, fellow protesters who’d chained themselves to the office doorway, and some two thousand Marine supporters and opponents facing off across the street from city hall. 

Boisterous protest makes for spectacle, and spectacle makes the news. But as far as civic participation goes, in today’s Berkeley concerted dissent of any sort is the exception, not the rule. Most residents limit their involvement to voting in local elections, and they usually vote for incumbents. Since 2002, when Tom Bates became mayor (disclosure: I ran against Bates in 2006), the electorate has opted for a council dominated by Berkeley-style urban neoliberals who call themselves progressives. 

It may be hard to imagine that a term identified with the policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher—deregulation, privatization, union-busting—could apply to Berkeley city hall. Unfortunately, the neoliberal tag is all too apt, with one exception: the Bates council has habitually deferred to unions representing the city’s workers, though whether that deference should be considered progressive is arguable. 

In the face of recurring multi-million dollar shortfalls in the city budget, the mayor and his allies have cut social services and neglected Berkeley’s crumbling infrastructure while repeatedly approving generous salaries and benefits (pension plus health insurance) for city employees. Thanks to that munificence, and to Berkeleyans’ willingness to pay some of the highest taxes in California, as of February 2013 the city employed 1,295 men and women, one-third of whom—almost all of them police, firefighters, or managerial staff—had salaries over $100,000. Current police and firefighters are eligible for retirement at fifty, all other employees and new police hires at fifty-five. Pension costs for employees hired before 2013 are directly or effectively billed to Berkeley taxpayers. Staff can boost their pensions by adding unused sick leave to their years of service. In 2011 the then-city manager retired with a starting pension of $249,000 a year, joining seventy-five other former city of Berkeley workers receiving annual pensions over $100,000. 

Apart from its solicitude for the city’s employees, the Bates claque follows the neoliberal playbook’s top directives: let the market rule and serve big capital. At the local level, this means catering to the real estate industry. In Berkeley that industry’s most powerful representative is also the city’s largest landowner, employer, and developer: the University of California. 

Often acclaimed as the finest public university in the world, UC Berkeley now functions more like a profit-driven private entity than a public institution dedicated to higher learning. With the state of California now providing only 12 percent of its budget, UC is seeking to commercialize the scientific research done by its faculty and staff. An article describing that quest appeared in the April 2012 issue of the California Alumni Association’s magazine under the title “Fiat Lucre,” an irony-free pun on the school’s motto, “Fiat Lux.” Cutting-edge research requires lots of high-end lab and office space. That need has been a major driver of the university’s unprecedented physical expansion over the past decade. 

Tensions over campus growth erupted in 2004, when UC revealed plans for 2.2 million square feet of new administrative space, including 1.2 million square feet in downtown Berkeley, and a future enrollment of 34,450—7,000 more students than the maximum size that the California’s Master Plan for Higher Education specifies for UC’s largest campuses. Though property owned or leased by UC is exempt from property taxes, the university makes extensive use of city firefighters, police, sewers, and storm drains. A study commissioned by the city found that servicing the proposed new development would add $1.6 million to Berkeley taxpayers’ existing $11.4 million annual subsidy of the California state institution. The city’s planning department issued a scathing assessment of the university’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR), citing vagueness about specific projects and failure to lessen the impact on surrounding neighborhoods. UC proceeded to announce plans for a $100-$120 million academic building and the football stadium renovation mentioned above. In February 2005 the city sued the university under the California Environmental Quality Act. 

Mindful of the mayor’s predisposition toward both UC and big development, neighborhood leaders cautiously welcomed the lawsuit. Even they were shocked by the terms of the settlement that the city council secretly approved on a 6-3 vote in May. The lawsuit ended up facilitating the development it had ostensibly been intended to restrain: the city acceded to the university’s plans for new construction and agreed in advance that over the next fifteen years UC would not be required to mitigate that construction’s harm to the larger community; capped payments for city services at $800,000 a year through 2020; and committed the city to producing a new downtown plan whose contents and release to the public would be controlled by the UC Board of Regents. The settlement agreement exempted the campus from following the new downtown plan, stating that “as a dynamic research university, its [sic] needs may change.” The agreement did not mention possible changes in the city’s needs. 

The council also promised “to encourage private spin-off businesses that might result from UC-related research to locate in Berkeley.” Efforts to keep that promise have threatened the city’s industrial sector. People think of Berkeley as a college town, but manufacturing has been here since the 1850s, even longer than the university. Today the city’s industry is entirely located in the 1.8-square-mile bayside area known as West Berkeley. The district houses about 10,000 residents and a mixed economy composed of retail, offices, R&D, and 300 industrial businesses—manufacturers, wholesalers, and warehousers—as well as a thousand artists and artisans, also classified as industrial by city law. The majority of these businesses are small and medium-size firms that rent their space; like industrial tenants everywhere, they cannot afford high rents. 

Berkeley sits on extremely valuable land. In the 1980s intense community pressure moved the council to enact zoning that would prevent land speculation. The chief motive was to protect the jobs that industrial and artisanal activity provide to an educationally and socially diverse workforce. Since 2005 the Bates council has sought to dismantle this far-sighted public policy. The mayor and his allies have called for “flexible zoning” (code for the deregulation of land use) in West Berkeley that would facilitate “growth” (code for high-rent development)—specifically many more offices, labs, and apartment buildings. Vigorously opposed by numerous West Berkeley residents and businesses, the push to deregulate and deindustrialize the neighborhood has received vocal support from UC’s Office of Technology Transfer (code for the commercialization of university research). Zoning “flexibility” has also elicited enthusiasm from private developers, big landowners, and real estate brokers who would all profit handsomely from lucrative construction contracts and inflated property values. In July 2012 the council voted 6-3 to place a proposal on the November 2012 ballot, Measure T, that would allow multi-block office parks in every West Berkeley area zoned for industrial uses. 

* * * 

A common misconception has neoliberals opposed to government per se. In fact, they’re only opposed to government that challenges the prerogatives of capital. They’re happy to use the state to extend those prerogatives and at the same time to weaken the public sector and democratic rule. When these ends can be best achieved by relaxing state control, deregulation is the order of the day; when they’re better accomplished by tightening that control, neoliberal governments readily intervene. 

Case in point: the property-based improvement district, or PBID, a variant of the business improvement district that since the 1970s has proliferated throughout urban America. According to their proponents, PBIDs are public-private partnerships that revitalize faded commercial areas by providing otherwise unavailable monies for beautification, sanitation, hospitality, and security. Governed by state and city law and administered by cities, PBIDs get their funding from the owners of property in each district, who have agreed to pay extra taxes for services that benefit only their property. Tenants or residents, including homeowners, in a PBID area have no say. In the election to establish a PBID, votes are weighted according to the assessed value of the business or land; the higher the assessment, the more the vote counts—so much for one person, one vote. The rationale for this undemocratic procedure is that the greater a property’s value, the more it benefits from the services, and thus the more those services are worth to the property owner. 

Berkeley has three PBIDs. The largest and most active is located downtown and encompasses 325 commercial parcels and 186 landowners. The three biggest landowners in the district are, in descending order, the city of Berkeley, the University of California, and Equity Residential Corporation, the largest apartment owner in Berkeley and one of the largest in the United States. In the June 2011 election that established the downtown PBID, properties held by the big three represented 26 percent of the $859,560 PBID taxes levied on the 176 parcels whose owners cast ballots. The city, UC, and Equity all favored the PBID, whose establishment was approved by a weighted vote of 71 percent. 

Business improvement districts further weaken the public realm by funneling their revenues to private contractors. In its first year, the downtown Berkeley PBID allocated $765,000 of its $1.2 million annual budget to Block by Block, a private corporation headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, that provides services to sixty-five business improvement districts in fifty-three U.S. cities, including New York, Santa Monica, and Oakland. Block by Block employees are not protected by civil service laws or union contracts; the company has aggressively resisted efforts to organize its workers. Block by Block employs fifteen “Ambassadors” to clean downtown Berkeley’s sidewalks, water and weed its plantings, and interact with its visitors. The Ambassadors make $13.50 an hour, or $27,000 a year—46 percent less than the starting salary of a Berkeley groundskeeper. 

The council’s support of the downtown PBID sparked major controversy. But rather than protest the exploitation of labor or the hijacking of electoral democracy, critics assailed the Bates cohort for sanctioning the PBID’s attempt to privatize public space, criminalize the homeless, and suppress civil liberties in an effort to make downtown more palatable to what the PBID branding consultant called “the right kind of folks.” 

Blocking doorways, streets, and sidewalks; aggressive panhandling; lying on commercial sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. except on Sunday; and having more than two stationary dogs in any ten-foot area are all illegal in Berkeley. In June 2012 Mayor Bates proposed expanding the definition of illegal street behavior to include sitting on sidewalks in commercial districts during business hours. At a rancorous council meeting in July, a hundred members of the public sang “We Shall Not be Moved” as the mayor and his five stalwarts voted to place his “Civil Sidewalks” proposal, Measure S, on the November ballot. 

* * * 

How has “this bastion of populist politics,” as Berkeley was characterized in a New York Times story last October, come to be governed by apologists for property capital? 

The paradox begins to disappear once you recognize that the city’s famous grassroots activism is mostly history. Today no group can marshal Berkeley’s democratic energies the way progressive organizations did in the 1970s and 1980s, electing mayors and council majorities and instituting district elections, municipal campaign finance reform, the police review commission, and rent control. Opposition to today’s neoliberal city hall is ad hoc, reactive, and fragmentary, its weakness painfully evident at the polls. 

The decisive electoral power in town is exercised through endorsements made by the Sierra Club and by the local Democratic Party machine, which is controlled by Bates, who represented Berkeley for twenty years in the state assembly before he became mayor; his wife State Senator Loni Hancock, herself a former Berkeley mayor and state assemblymember; and their protegée, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner. When these figures speak with a united voice, their will, usually underwritten by real estate interests, is insurmountable. Even when they are divided, only an exceptionally well-run campaign has a chance of thwarting their dictates. 

Witness the failures of Measures S and T. Both were endorsed by Bates, Hancock, Skinner, and the Berkeley Democratic Club. The Alameda County Democratic Party endorsed T but stayed neutral on S. The Sierra Club also stayed neutral on S, whose ban on sidewalk sitting lay outside the club’s purview. But T had dire implications for the local environment. Indeed, the club had asked the council to protect a major park and its wildlife from the massive new development authorized by the measure. That request was denied. Nevertheless, the club remained neutral on T. (When it comes to Berkeley, the Sierra Club usually plays an insider’s game.) In short, the establishment was split. 

Opponents of both measures ran strong, media-savvy grassroots campaigns that focused on voter education. The No on S campaign cited independent studies showing that similar ordinances in other California jurisdictions had neither increased retail sales nor connected homeless people to social services. In any case, Measure S, they observed, said nothing about funding for social services of any sort. They called for constructive alternatives: more shelter facilities and expanded outreach by social service professionals. 

The Save West Berkeley campaign (which I helped lead) disabused voters of the notion that, to cite a Yes on T circular, the measure’s passage would bring the city “new ‘clean-and green’ businesses and jobs—and more tax revenue.” In fact, opponents argued, the deregulatory measure would benefit just a few big property owners while driving up rents and driving out industry, artists, and artisans. It also betrayed the city’s professed commitment to environmental leadership, as indicated by the EIR’s findings that traffic generated by the allowable new development would unavoidably worsen air pollution and gridlock all major intersections in the neighborhood. 

Crucially, both opposition campaigns garnered important endorsements. The National Lawyers Guild and the East Bay Community Law Center joined the ACLU in opposing S; so did the Associated Students of the University of California; numerous religious leaders, most of the local Democratic clubs, and SEIU Local 1021. No on T was endorsed by prominent environmentalists and small business owners; neighborhood associations in the hills; and SEIU Local 1021. The San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Daily Californian, the independent student paper at UC, came out against the two measures. 

Despite being grossly outspent, the opponents prevailed. The defeats of these measures were huge, but they merely maintained the status quo. Indeed, the most striking aspect of last November’s election was that the four incumbents who championed S and T—Bates and three of his five allies on the council (council terms are staggered)—were all returned to office with at least 54 percent of the vote. 

How could voters oppose controversial ballot measures but support candidates who pushed those measures? Most important, Bates got the Sierra Club’s nod, in keeping with the club’s practice of endorsing incumbents whom it has previously supported. He also raked in campaign contributions, raising $102,160. Donations to Bates’s closest rival, Kriss Worthington, who got 22 percent of the vote, totaled $36,620. Bates received $21,700 from real estate interests; Worthington got nothing. 

The real estate industry had an even greater impact on Councilmember Moore’s re-election treasury. Berkeley election law limits individual donations to candidates, including donations from unions and other electoral campaigns, to $250 but perversely allows unlimited contributions from committees formally unaffiliated with a candidate. The Los Angeles–based California Real Estate Independent Committee spent $18,350 on mailers and online ads promoting Moore’s campaign. The councilmember also netted $23,520 from individual donations, of which $6,250 came from real estate interests. Those interests accounted in all for $24,600 or 59 percent of his total funds. Moore’s two opponents raised between them $7,250. 

It’s possible to surmount daunting disparities in campaign funds, as the victories over S and T demonstrated. But beating a well-financed incumbent requires something besides an intense grassroots effort and excellent publicity: a popular and adept candidate. No such challenger confronted either Bates or Moore. In fact, for opponents of Berkeley’s neoliberal regime, finding viable candidates is a perennial problem. 

The viable candidate shortage is exacerbated by the city’s district elections. District elections arguably bind councilmembers closer to their constituents and reduce the cost of election campaigns. But in a small town (population 112,000) where 32 percent of the residents are college or graduate students, they drastically limit the field of prospective candidates. That said, I know seasoned activists in Moore’s district who would make strong contenders for his seat. I asked some of them to run against him last fall; they all declined. Some cited the measly pay; councilmembers’ salary is about $29,000 (the mayor gets $35,000) for demanding work that, when conscientiously performed, is a full-time job. Not incidentally, all but two members of the current council are either comfortably retired or drawing income from additional employment. 

But Berkeleyans’ reluctance to run for office also betrays another motive: a low tolerance for the unpleasantness of political life. Besides blighting electoral ambitions, that attitude makes it hard to find people willing to attend a council meeting, serve on a city commission (a volunteer assignment), or sit on the board of a neighborhood association. Such activities are commonly dismissed as too boring, inconvenient, or contentious. Direct involvement in municipal affairs is scant until a matter strikes close to home, and then participation usually lasts only as long as it takes to address the immediate problem. Disengagement begets ignorance, and ignorance about municipal affairs helps to account for the influence of endorsements and the staying power of incumbents. If you don’t know what’s going on in city hall, you’ll likely mark the names on the ballot that you’ve marked in the past. 

Ignorance also helps to explain the currency of the radical Berkeley myth in Berkeley. I’ve repeatedly watched residents attending their first council meeting express surprise, then consternation, and finally anger at the contempt with which the mayor and his allies address members of the public who cross him. “I thought this was Berkeley,” they mutter. 

* * * 

Such perplexity is compounded by the ambiguity of contemporary progressivism. At a public forum last December, one of Berkeley’s most distinguished residents, food writer Michael Pollan, voiced a sentiment often heard around town. The famous author opined that the city’s “left-wing reactionary phenomenon—the resistance to change—will give up at some point, I hope.” Pollan surely knows it’s the right, not the left, that’s customarily associated with reaction. His transposition of the two terms registers the predicament of the local left: too weak to effect its own programs, it can only defy the neoliberals who control city hall. More disconcerting, however, is Pollan’s wholesale disparagement of that resistance. To censure the dissent of the weak as reactionary is to cede legitimacy to power, while ignoring the ends to which power is being applied. 

The fetishization of change provides the mayor and his allies with ideological cover, allowing them to style themselves as forward-looking progressives while casting their opponents as an intransigent rearguard. Critics of development are indiscriminately derided as NIMBYs whose alleged aversion to anything new condemns the city to economic stagnation. During the fight over Measure T, the NIMBY indictment was expanded to include accusations of nostalgia for a bygone, environmentally retrograde industrial economy. The Yes on T website marketed the ballot measure as a “smart growth opportunity that moves Berkeley from industrial zoning of the 1950’s to 21st century uses: green startups and innovative businesses that employ local residents.” The campaign’s mailers featured photos of abandoned, graffiti-scarred factory buildings and the warning that “[t]hings will stay the same if Measure T fails”—an absurd claim that played to Berkeleyans’ fixation on change and ignorance about local “things” (the city’s manufacturing space had a vacancy rate of only 2.9 percent). It almost worked: T lost by only 512 votes. 

Such machinations exploit uncertainties about the meaning of progressivism that range far beyond Berkeley. “Nobody knows what the heck it means to be progressive anymore,” Tom Bates told the Daily Californian during the run-up to the 2010 election. Bates might have been exaggerating, but he certainly wasn’t complaining: his four-term mayoralty owes a great deal to the murkiness of the progressive tag, which, his demurral notwithstanding, routinely embellishes his campaign literature. Those who seek a renewal of the democratic left should complain plenty and set about dispelling the murk and exposing the principled disagreements that it obscures. Berkeley politics, with its competition for the city’s progressive mantle, is a fertile field for such a project. 

The politics of land use offer an especially rich source of enlightenment. Consider, for example, the underpinnings of “smart growth,” a keyword in the Yes on T campaign, noted above, and in the push for every major development in the city. Ensconced in America’s top planning schools (including UC’s), state and local governments (including California’s and Berkeley’s), the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Protection Agency, smart growth has been the leading movement in American city and regional planning for almost thirty years. Its acumen purportedly derives from its followers’ antipathy to suburban sprawl and their promotion of compact development navigable by walking, biking and mass transit. Its critics find themselves denounced in progressive circles as both NIMBY reactionaries and abettors of global warming, a double charge whose plausibility has been enhanced by the Tea Party’s attacks on smart growth as a UN plot to deprive Americans of their property rights and personal liberty. 

But you can believe in government regulation, the need to curb sprawl, and the catastrophic threat of global warming and still have serious doubts about smart growth. For starters, you can take umbrage at progressives allying themselves with the real estate industry. But this is the real estate industry constrained by environmental constraints. Not where I live, it isn’t. So, for example, accessibility to transit is a precept of smart growth; West Berkeley is poorly served by transit, and the city’s EIR predicted that new development authorized by Measure T would lead to widespread gridlock. Nevertheless, the measure was endorsed by Livable Berkeley, the locally influential nonprofit that lobbies for smart growth in the city. 

In like manner, the rhetoric of sustainability suffuses advertisements for the expansionist entreprenuerial university. As New York University Professor Andrew Ross contends, urban research universities sanctify their unbridled growth with the aura of “public goodness.” Just so, Berkeleyans are told that the colonization of downtown and West Berkeley by high-rent, UC spin-offs is essential to “meeting the global energy challenge.” But as Ross observes, the chief beneficiaries of such expansionism are FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate) interests, whose charges are covered by taxes and students’ ever-rising tuition, while skyrocketing rents displace existing residents and businesses. 

The struggle over land use in West Berkeley taps into another fissure on the left: a profound disagreement about U.S. manufacturing. On one side are smart growthers and others, including former Secretary of Labor and current UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich, who think domestic manufacturing belongs to a sclerotic “old” economy whose polluting relics should be swept away to make room for “green startups and innovative businesses.” On the opposite side stand MacArthur Foundation fellow and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Joel Rogers and others who observe that, now as ever, a robust manufacturing sector is crucial to technological innovation. They look to production-based ingenuity for an industrial ecology that, eschewing wastefulness for durability and utility, prizes repair, reuse, recycling—in short, sufficiency and resilience. And they see localized green manufacturing as a vehicle of shared prosperity and democratization. 

Berkeley politics raise other questions about current left agendas. Last October the president of the Downtown Berkeley Association, John Caner, told a reporter that Berkeley was “the only progressive city on the West Coast” without an ordinance similar to Measure S. Portland, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, and Seattle all have “ugly” laws designed to exclude unsightly persons from commercial areas. What Caner didn’t say was that in all these cities, such laws have provoked bitter controversy. In an op-ed posted online last October, former Santa Cruz mayor Mike Rotkin averred that his city’s “civil sidewalks ordinance” was “a model for Berkeley.” Rotkin recalled that when he introduced that law in 1994, he set off “a storm of protest similar to what recently happened in Berkeley.” “‘Mike,’” asked his customary allies, “‘how could you propose something like this as [a] long standing progressive in our community?’” 

At least the sequestering of the homeless and the privatization of the public realm are up for debate on the left. That’s not the case with another issue raised by current Berkeley politics: the appropriate compensation of cities’ unionized employees. I’m not talking about collective bargaining or the right to organize or automatic check-off of union dues. Nor am I referring to public school teachers. I’m talking about the salaries and benefits of municipal civil servants—specifically, the sort of outsized, unsustainable guarantees that Berkeley’s elected officials have granted the city’s unionized workforce, especially public safety and managerial personnel. In California, such guarantees are not uncommon. Question them and you’re likely to be told that “you sound like a Republican,” as if such misgivings could only be a pretense for attacking government spending, unions, and working people per se, or as if public officials were incapable of mismanagement. Fiscal prudence, not to be confused with neoliberal austerity, is a hallmark of democratic accountability. As such, it’s a quality that progressives ought to demand at every level of government. 

Making such demands at the local level offers a unique opportunity to practice citizenship. Conventional wisdom associates Berkeley radicalism with the passionate “democracy in the streets” practiced by the New Left. In fact, Berkeley’s super-liberal reputation—and, more important, achievements—were secured by committed activists who pursued democracy beyond the streets and into the halls of municipal power, where they wrested seats away from a entrenched elite. The decline of such activism and the entrenchment of another elite reflects the ever-rising price of local real estate and the town’s concomitant gentrification. But the waning of radical Berkeley also betokens the American left’s neglect of organizing for the long haul, including its inadequate reckoning with politicking’s disagreeable qualities—the boredom, inconvenience, and contentiousness cited by many Berkeleyans—and the exacting terms of democratic leadership. Until that negligence is remedied, progressivism will languish, no matter how righteous or coherent its agenda. 

* * * 

In November 2008 a New York Times reporter interviewing Robert Reich commented, “[Y]ou are known to be an unreconstructed liberal, although that’s probably true of just about everyone in Berkeley.” Reich responded: “Labels mean less and less. Berkeley is wonderful, but here I am on the right of most arguments.” Reich, who endorsed Tom Bates in 2008 and 2012, knew that the Times’ readers, dependably ignorant about Berkeley affairs, would assume that any arguments that put him on the right must be coming from a far-out left. 

But Reich also issued a perspicacious caveat: labels mean less and less. It would have been more perspicacious if he’d said the labels we have now, because labels aren’t the problem. As suggested by the current state of Berkeley politics, the problem for progressives is that many of our key labels have so loosened their grip on our circumstances that their use, which should animate our action, hinders it instead. That’s a problem we can fix. 


This article first appeared online in Dissent Magazine.

New: Book Review: The 15% Solution- How the Republican Religious Right took Control of the U.S. 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel

By Conn Hallinan
Saturday August 03, 2013 - 01:33:00 PM

The “15% Solution” might well be subtitled, “How to boil a frog:” slowly, so he doesn’t notice.

Jonas, a Harvard-trained MD, a professor of preventive medicine in the Department of Preventive Medicine Program in Public Health at Stony Brook University, has conjured up a book that is less fiction than contemporary politics wrapped in the form of a novel. Indeed, time after time, the “fiction” precisely parallels real life developments. While the book was originally written in 1996, a disturbing number of events—like systematic voter disenfranchisement—are now the rule in places like Texas and North Carolina.

In a sense, the “fiction” is a fiction. While the book does examine a supposed 40-year period, during which conservative forces and rightwing Christians take over the United States, many of the speeches, quotes, and statistical materials are real (and meticulously footnoted at the end of each chapter). In short, the only thing made up is the overthrow of the U.S. Constitution, the establishment of four “republics” based on race, and a “new” civil war. 

The title comes from a real-life strategy developed by the former Christian Coalition in the late 1980s to take over the country by locking down 15% of the vote. The idea is that many Americans never register to vote and, if they do, don’t turn out on Election Day. Hence, if you can control 15% of the national vote, you can elect presidents and the congress. And in low voter turnout elections, like state and local races, as few as 6% or 7% can end up determining an election outcome. State legislatures, in turn, draw electoral districts, which means that a dedicated minority can end up dominating the majority.  

If this sounds familiar it’s because that is exactly that has happened over the past several election cycles, Mitt Romney got swamped in the general election, but Republican hold power in the House of Representatives and in a majority of state houses. There is nothing “fictional” about the 15% solution as an electoral strategy. 

The form for the novel is a chronicle of the events that lead up to the establishment of fascism in the U.S., some of which are established history, others of which are projections from 1996 into the future. One of the devices Jonas uses are fictional interviews, speeches and letters from key characters in the novel. Indeed, sometimes it is difficult to separate out what is real and what is invented, which, one suspects, is exactly what the author wants the reader to struggle with. 

While using “grim” to describe “The 15% Solution” is probably an understatement, some of the book is good fun. Like when the New American Republic allies itself with the Republic of Quebec to dismantle Canada (that’ll learn ‘em to be so polite up there). Some of it may appear silly, like abolishing the national forests and parks, until the author reminds the reader that in 1995 U.S. Rep. James Hansen (R-Ut) led a campaign to do exactly that. 

What’s the old line about truth and fiction? 

The book examines race, class, gender, ethnicity, and inequality, and none of the disturbing trends concerning these issues are made up. In some ways, Jonas’s book feels a little like some of the writings of the sociologist C. Northcote Parkinson, who writes fiction in a way that reads like history. 

The 15% Solution is enjoyable and instructive, a good read, if a tad depressing on occasion. But Jonas is hardly a gloom and doom sort. He is an activist author, writing for Buzzflash, Truthout, and innumerable media outlets, and he is the editorial director of The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy. He has also authored, co-authored and edited more than 30 books and hundreds of articles. 

In his conclusion, Jonas examines how to avoid the road to perdition and, while measured and realistic, is also upbeat. Bad things happen, but people are hardly helpless in the face of history. And if the frog knows the burner is on he can get the damn hell out of the pot. 

The 15% Solution-How the Republican Religious Right took Control of the U.S. 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel 

By Steve Jonas 

Katz Impact Books, New York, 2013 

Amazon $14.50 


New: Book Review: The 15% Solution- How the Republican Religious Right took Control of the U.S. 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel

By Conn Hallinan
Saturday August 03, 2013 - 01:33:00 PM

The “15% Solution” might well be subtitled, “How to boil a frog:” slowly, so he doesn’t notice.

Jonas, a Harvard-trained MD, a professor of preventive medicine in the Department of Preventive Medicine Program in Public Health at Stony Brook University, has conjured up a book that is less fiction than contemporary politics wrapped in the form of a novel. Indeed, time after time, the “fiction” precisely parallels real life developments. While the book was originally written in 1996, a disturbing number of events—like systematic voter disenfranchisement—are now the rule in places like Texas and North Carolina.  

In a sense, the “fiction” is a fiction. While the book does examine a supposed 40-year period, during which conservative forces and rightwing Christians take over the United States, many of the speeches, quotes, and statistical materials are real (and meticulously footnoted at the end of each chapter). In short, the only thing made up is the overthrow of the U.S. Constitution, the establishment of four “republics” based on race, and a “new” civil war. 

The title comes from a real-life strategy developed by the former Christian Coalition in the late 1980s to take over the country by locking down 15% of the vote. The idea is that many Americans never register to vote and, if they do, don’t turn out on Election Day. Hence, if you can control 15% of the national vote, you can elect presidents and the congress. And in low voter turnout elections, like state and local races, as few as 6% or 7% can end up determining an election outcome. State legislatures, in turn, draw electoral districts, which means that a dedicated minority can end up dominating the majority.  

If this sounds familiar it’s because that is exactly that has happened over the past several election cycles, Mitt Romney got swamped in the general election, but Republican hold power in the House of Representatives and in a majority of state houses. There is nothing “fictional” about the 15% solution as an electoral strategy. 

The form for the novel is a chronicle of the events that lead up to the establishment of fascism in the U.S., some of which are established history, others of which are projections from 1996 into the future. One of the devices Jonas uses are fictional interviews, speeches and letters from key characters in the novel. Indeed, sometimes it is difficult to separate out what is real and what is invented, which, one suspects, is exactly what the author wants the reader to struggle with. 

While using “grim” to describe “The 15% Solution” is probably an understatement, some of the book is good fun. Like when the New American Republic allies itself with the Republic of Quebec to dismantle Canada (that’ll learn ‘em to be so polite up there). Some of it may appear silly, like abolishing the national forests and parks, until the author reminds the reader that in 1995 U.S. Rep. James Hansen (R-Ut) led a campaign to do exactly that. 

What’s the old line about truth and fiction? 

The book examines race, class, gender, ethnicity, and inequality, and none of the disturbing trends concerning these issues are made up. In some ways, Jonas’s book feels a little like some of the writings of the sociologist C. Northcote Parkinson, who writes fiction in a way that reads like history. 

The 15% Solution is enjoyable and instructive, a good read, if a tad depressing on occasion. But Jonas is hardly a gloom and doom sort. He is an activist author, writing for Buzzflash, Truthout, and innumerable media outlets, and he is the editorial director of The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy. He has also authored, co-authored and edited more than 30 books and hundreds of articles. 

In his conclusion, Jonas examines how to avoid the road to perdition and, while measured and realistic, is also upbeat. Bad things happen, but people are hardly helpless in the face of history. And if the frog knows the burner is on he can get the damn hell out of the pot. 

The 15% Solution-How the Republican Religious Right took Control of the U.S. 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel 

By Steve Jonas 

Katz Impact Books, New York, 2013 

Amazon $14.50 




What Many Still Don't Know about Racism

By Becky O'Malley
Thursday August 01, 2013 - 03:19:00 PM

The verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin produced a flood of opinion in the left-leaning press—many excellent coherent comments on the Second Amendment, Stand Your Ground laws and racism in general, some of them in this space and most of which I agree with. But the comment that’s stuck with me was not one of these, in fact from someone with whom I seldom agree, David Brooks.

Poor David Brooks is stuck with the label of “on the other hand” when news organizations are looking for a rightish Republicanish voice to balance all those clever lefties who write well and are available at a dime a dozen in the national media. Genteel outlets like the New York Times and PBS’s News Hour don’t want to publish slavering idiots like David Horowitz and Glenn Beck, but they have a residual commitment to offer a somewhat contrasting point of view, left over from the David Gergen era. This gets harder and harder as the Republicans trip blithely down the primrose path of Tea Party insanity, leaving behind the polite moderates like Brooks who used to support the sensible Northeastern version of quasi-conservatism.

What was remarkable about Brooks’ reaction to President Obama’s speech about the verdict, as I heard it in passing on the News Hour, which I seldom listen to on the radio and never watch on television, is that he reported experiencing some kind of personal epiphany as he watched the talk. The turning point, he seemed to be saying, was the President’s suggestion that the verdict would have been different if the shooter had been black and his victim white. It seems to be something he’s never thought about before.

As my pre-teen granddaughters would say, DUH! 

Where has David Brooks been all this time? Yes, I know he’s Canadian, but even calm Canada has its share of unfounded suspicions of the increasing numbers of Afro-Canadians, who could have explained it all to him. 

Obama’s speech was a good one, no doubt about that, but the rhapsodic reaction of a sizeable percentage of the national media, not just Brooks, was surprising.  

Obama’s recounting of his experiences growing up as a Black man in America was remarkably familiar. Being stopped for no reason by the police, being followed by store detectives who suspect shoplifiting, being passed by taxis on stormy nights, being avoided in elevators? That’s life, folks, if your skin is dark. 

And every so often the small stuff turns big, as it did for Trayvon Martin when he was stalked by a paranoid vigilante and unwisely “stood his ground” instead of backing off when he was confronted by Zimmerman. Mothers and fathers in San Francisco and Oakland and Richmond and Chicago and New York and, yes, Florida warn their sons and even their daughters about these risks, though they wish they didn’t have to do so. Standing your ground is not an option for Black kids, and certainly never carrying guns. 

How can someone be hired as a talking head on national public television who has missed this? 

Who among us with African-American family members, friends or even acquaintances has not heard stories like these? And even if you don’t number many people of color among your personal friends, you should have learned the score from the media, right? 

Well, there’s the rub. A lot of the press and especially television outlets are all too eager to feed the flames of fear, serving up salacious stories, complete with terrifying mug shots, every time an African-American person is connected with a crime. It’s not news, however, if a well-behaved young Black man is stopped and frisked by a New York city cop when he’s doing nothing wrong—happens all the time, doesn’t it? Erudite talking heads on the op-ed pages of the elite outlets deplore racism, but these common stories are seldom reported.  

Race matters, to borrow a tag from Cornell West. For example, a recent study of medical diagnoses showed that simply changing the racial description in simulated case histories resulted in experienced physicians arriving at different conclusions about the health of the imaginary patients, with those identified as Black less likely to be taken seriously.  

When people like David Brooks, presumably honest, sincere people who do not believe themselves to be personally racist, continue to have significant access to a national audience though they’re demonstrably ignorant of observable reality on racial matters, their editors and producers have some explaining to do. One might ask that credentials and experience should be checked before opinionators are hired to opine from prominent pulpits like the NYT and PBS. 

On the other hand (a favorite phrase in today’s journalism), David Brooks speaks for many Americans when he candidly admits his ignorance, and that’s worthwhile. More and more, I find that “straight reporting” leaves out more than it includes.  

I’ve always believed that all sorts of opinions, especially those I disagree with, are worth hearing. Americans are sorting themselves into smaller and smaller camps, each of which believes itself to be the illuminati, each of which however is ignorant of what the others believe. If we’re ever to make any progress in tackling racism in America, it’s important to understand that seemingly intelligent people like Brooks, not just illiterate Southerners, still need a lot of educating.  



Odd Bodkins: Evolution Marches On. (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday August 02, 2013 - 10:00:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Odd Bodkins: Edgy. (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday August 02, 2013 - 09:58:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Odd Bodkins: Nicotine Withdrawal Dream #98. (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday August 02, 2013 - 09:53:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

New: Building a powerful nationwide grass-roots movement to
Save the People’s Post Office

By Dave Welsh
Monday August 05, 2013 - 11:53:00 AM

Without question, the big-business class – and their agents in USPS headquarters, the executive branch and Congress – are on a path to dismantle the Postal Service, privatize the profitable parts of it, and neutralize or destroy the postal unions. 

Their whole economic system is in crisis. It’s not working. So the 1% are trying to pull their own chestnuts out of the fire by a full-bore attack on unions, the workers and the poor – an attack on our union contracts, our jobs, economic security, wages, benefits, conditions, and social services. Their assault on the Post Office is part of this strategy. 

The Post Office was founded July 26, 1775 by the Continental Congress, to provide public mail service. Today private companies like Pitney Bowes are salivating over the prospect of grabbing a chunk of this highly successful, $69-Billion-in-annual-revenue business. The plan? – to close post offices in poor and rural areas; shutter mail processing plants delaying the mail by 1 day to 1 week; eliminate door-to-door and Saturday mail delivery; wipe out 100,000+ union postal jobs in a time of high unemployment. They also want to sell off historic landmark post offices that they own free-and-clear like those in the Bronx, New York, and Berkeley CA, containing priceless New Deal artwork, and then pay top-dollar to rent retail space to replace it. 

How can we fight it? By itself, the legislative strategy – trying to influence Congress – is not working. Congress is bought and sold by the 1% – they won’t begin to listen to us until we’re in the streets, mobilized in all our numbers. 

The rank and file postal workers, and our communities, who support us – this is the source of our real strength. We need to reach out and tap into it, just as we did in the Great 1970 Postal Strike. That grassroots upsurge brought about a big change in the relationship of forces between postal workers and the bosses. What used to be work for poverty wages became a living-wage job, with a union contract to protect the workers’ rights. Any postal worker can see this. 

A statement by the Million Worker March movement helps to clarify the situation we face today: “All important social movements …in this country were started from the bottom up (rank and file/grass roots) and not from the top down….A handful of the rich, and powerful corporations have usurped our government. A corporate and banking oligarchy changes hats and occupies public office to wage class war on working people. They have captured the State in their own interests.” (Oct. 17, 2011) 

When Reagan took office as President, one of his first acts was to bust the PATCO air traffic controllers union, ushering in three decades of attacks on the union movement and steady decline in the living standards of the working class. 

Today, the 1% have a much bigger target – the Postal Service. They hate the fact that the 574,000 who work for the nation’s second biggest employer are under union contract and making a living wage. 

They hate the fact that in 1970 the postal workers took their destiny into their own hands and shut down the entire mail system for the better part of a week, demonstrating the power of the workers and disrupting business as usual. And the 1970 nationwide postal strike taught another lesson: that the wealth of the 1% only exists because the 99% creates it for them. 

The nation’s largest employer is Walmart. The employer class would dearly love to reduce those 574,000 postal workers to Walmart wages and non-union status. But just because they want it, doesn’t mean they’ll get it. 

The racist side of the campaign to demolish the P.O. and bust the unions  

There’s another side to the move to dismantle and destroy the public Postal Service, this country’s largest unionized employer. And that is the disproportionate effect it would have on workers and communities of color. 

If you’ve ever seen a group picture of postal workers from before the second world war, in many places it would be a practically all-white group, and mostly men. But after World War II things began to change, with the development of the civil rights and Black liberation movements. The P.O. began hiring Asian Americans, Latinos, Mexican Americans, African Americans, and a lot more women. So that by the time of the 1970 Strike, it was a much more integrated and diverse work force. 

Today the Postal Service is the largest single source of Black employment [20% of the postal workforce]. For many workers of all nationalities, it is one of the few places where living-wage jobs are still available in our low-pay, “post-industrial” economy. 

The campaign to privatize and de-unionize the USPS is a threat to the livelihood of every affected worker and neighborhood. But it stands to hit hardest in those communities of color that are already suffering unemployment at Great Depression levels. We need a movement that puts in the forefront those most impacted by the postal crisis – Black, brown and rural communities; elderly, disabled and low-income people. 

Building Community/Labor Coalitions in every city and town 

We can and must build a powerful, nationwide movement to defeat privatization, maintain living-wage postal jobs, expand postal services, and save the Post Office as a public entity operating in the public interest. This grass-roots effort has already begun. Community-based coalitions are springing up, with some creative tactics. Here’s a sampling: 

In New York City, Community-Labor United for Postal Jobs & Services organized large neighborhood protests to stop the closing of postal facilities in Harlem, South Bronx, Staten Island, Chelsea, and Coop City – as well as keep 6-day delivery and preserve living-wage postal jobs. The youth group of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network participated in a “Don’t Close It” march and occupation of a Harlem station. The coalition also organized a march of 500 to the Main Post Office on the anniversary of the 1970 postal strike, and a campaign to save the historic Bronx GPO, with active participation by the Puerto Rican community. http://clupjs.com  


In Portland, Oregon, a chanting crowd of 100-plus including postal union heads massed outside University Station, on the USPS chopping block for closing. Inside the station, one retired carrier and nine from Occupy Portland unfurled 10-foot banners reading, “Occupy the Post Office” and “No Closures, No Cuts!” and were arrested when they refused to leave. Media were all over the story. The community coalition includes Jobs with Justice and Rural Organizing Project, which has mounted a “Return to Sender” campaign to preserve full-service post offices [without reduced hours] all over rural Oregon. When the USPS replaced union postal truckers with scab contractors, the coalition blocked the scab trucks. 


In San Francisco, a large crowd with an Occupy the Post Office banner took over the lobby of the Civic Center post office– one of four in the city that the Postmaster General wants to close. The station is a lifeline for the many people without homes, or living in city-supported “single room occupancy” hotels for the very poor – who get their mail in P.O. boxes or at the “general delivery” window. Some 200 people took part in the rally, march or occupation of the P.O. It was organized by Save the People’s Post Office, a coalition that includes NALC and APWU activists, Living Wage Coalition, SF Labor Council, Church Women United, Green Party, Gray Panthers, Occupy SF Action Council, Union of Unemployed Workers, and Senior Action Network. After the action at Civic Center P.O., the Postmaster decided not to close the four S.F. stations after all. SaveThePostOffice@sonic.net  


Local coalitions have banded together to form Communities and Postal Workers United. CPWU organized a four-day hunger strike in Washington DC. The 10 fasting postal workers’ message to Congress: “Stop Starving the Postal Service!” The fast was heavily covered by national and local media – a breakthrough in explaining to the public about the pre-funding mandate and other efforts to sabotage and privatize the service. The week ended with a protest at USPS headquarters at L’Enfant Plaza. Retired mail handler John Dennie attempted to make a citizen’s arrest of Postmaster General Donahoe for the PMG’s criminal actions in seeking to destroy the service. [Dennie charged the PMG with violating 18 US Code 1701, Knowingly and Willfully Obstructing Passage of the Mail, and 18 USC 1703, Delay of the Mail.] When police grabbed Brother Dennie, demonstrators sat-in. Since then, CPWU chapters have sprung up in many cities and towns, including Tucson AZ and a very active chapter in southern California. www.cpwunited.com 


At the U.S. Capitol - Last December, when Sen. Joe Lieberman and Rep. Darrell Issa announced their intention of using the lame-duck session of Congress to eliminate 6-day mail delivery, CPWU members called a hunger strike for the duration of the session; camped out in a banner-strewn tent on the National Mall facing the Capitol; rented a horse-drawn carriage to bring a giant “Save Saturday delivery” postcard to the White House; hand-delivered to the postal Board of Governors a dossier documenting long delays of mail after the closing of the Frederick, Maryland processing plant; and staged an hour-long sit-in at Issa’s office, which led to one arrest and an impromptu 20-minute debate with Rep. Issa himself. 


In Berkeley, CA a year-long campaign to stop the sale of our historic post office has energized the community. The entire City Council came out against the sale, as did both houses of the California state legislature. People packed the hearings, and gathered at the steps and in the lobby to sing songs celebrating the Post Office, including “Please Mr. Postman” with new words. Legal action to stop the sale is under way, as well as a plan to rezone the P.O. as part of a historic district of public buildings, so it can’t be sold to private investors. On July 27, 2013, after a rally/fiesta of 200, activists launched Berkeley Post Office Defense, sleeping overnight in tents on the steps of the P.O., providing freshly cooked meals. Each day hundreds of people crowd the information table to volunteer to help save the P.O. At dusk we have “movie night,” showing films with a postal or class struggle theme. Great media coverage. By August 5, the growing encampment (a dozen tents and 25 campers) had entered its second week. 

The movement is under way and growing, initiated by rank and file letter carriers, clerks and mail handlers and aroused communities who don’t want to lose their Post Office. We can no longer wait for “someone else” to get things going. That “someone else” may very well be you. 


[Dave Welsh, a retired letter carrier and delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, is an organizer with Save the People’s Post Office, a community/labor coalition.] A good information source is www.SaveThePostOffice.com 

New: Senior Programs in Berkeley Threatened by State Senate Bill

By Maris Arnold
Saturday August 03, 2013 - 12:51:00 PM

Planet readers might be interested to know that State Senate Bill 173 completely wipes out funding for all Older Adult Programs in the state after June 2014. These programs are administered through the Adult Schools. The erasure of funds is an attack on Adult Education and is another step to eradicate free public education.

Senate Bill 173 is presently being reviewed in a Special Joint Education Committee of the State Legislature. Both Nancy Skinner and Loni Hancock are on this Committee.

Hancock supports wiping out the Older Adults Program money. Repeated attempts by this writer to find out where Skinner stands have been unanswered by her office.

There is no budget shortfall this year so it’s economically irrational to cut out all funding for the Older Adult programs that provide robust mental and physical exercise programs as well as evidence-based disease prevention workshops that save the state significant MediCal dollars. In that respect, the Older Adult program more than pays for itself. 

It is unfair and unnecessary to betray the trust of active older adults who worked, paid taxes, raised families, volunteered in their communities, and continue to contribute in many areas. By eliminating funding for the Older Adults Programs, respect for older people has gone by the wayside. 

By the way, there was an earlier version of Senate Bill 173 that wiped out funding for the Adults with Disabilities program. However, there was such a community outcry that the funding was restored. 

Senate Bill 173 will be voted on Aug. 14. Please, call Loni Hancock, 510-286-1333 and Nancy Skinner, 510-286-1400 and tell them to amend Senate Bill 173 to include full funding for Older Adult Programs. 

P.S. City of Berkeley has never provided program money for its senior centers which are 95% dependent upon the Older Adults Program. One can’t help wondering if the attempt to cut Older Adults programs and thereby lessen attendance at senior centers is also part of a plan to close the centers and privatize them.

Berkeley Rent Board is Only Opposition to State Law Protecting Tenants from Secondhand Smoke

By Carol Denney
Thursday August 01, 2013 - 09:11:00 PM

I’m sending [the editor, by U.S. Mail] the last page of the analysis of SB 332 because it illustrates that there was no opposition to protecting tenants from involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke. Except from Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board.

Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board moved quickly in the weeks before the January 1, 2012 enactment of SB332 to unilaterally re-word Rent Control legislation in an effort to preclude tenant protection from secondhand smoke (see enclosed Proposed Regulation 1313).

The Rent Stabilization Board’s staff attorney should have advised the commissioners who lobbied for this change that all landlords are responsible for basic habitability, including safe, breathable air, in any rental agreement or lease, as the courts have repeatedly shown. Instead, wording was inserted quickly without commission, community, or council input, putting thousands of lives at risk.

This is why the most recent proposal for multi-unit housing smoking restrictions was, as many City Council representatives at its hearing pointed out, a convoluted, pointless mess which made it harder, instead of easier, to achieve the goal of clean, smokefree air by saddling tenants with no provable damages with an obligation to go to court perpetually for small, monetary fines which still don’t protect them or their families from secondhand smoke. The “right of private action”, as the Rent Stabilization Board puts it, is the right to pointlessly sue your neighbor, a right all tenants already have.

The City Council should rescind Regulation 1313 before considering upcoming multi-unit housing smoking restrictions legislation. Smoking regulations only ask smokers to step outside, and have never resulted in the “massive wave of evictions” the Rent Board cites absent any foundation. Please help the majority of Berkeley citizens, low-income tenants, protect their health.

August Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Friday August 02, 2013 - 10:02:00 AM

Editor's Note: The latest issue of the Pepper Spray Times is now available.

You can view it absolutely free of charge by clicking here . You can print it out to give to your friends.

Grace Underpressure has been producing it for many years now, even before the Berkeley Daily Planet started distributing it, most of the time without being paid, and now we'd like you to show your appreciation by using the button below to send her money.  

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 


THE PUBLIC EYE: Abortion Politics

By Bob Burnett
Friday August 02, 2013 - 08:52:00 AM

There are indications America is becoming more liberal: recent Supreme Court rulings opened the door to same-sex marriage; more and more states are legalizing access to marijuana; and Rush Limbaugh is losing sponsors. Nonetheless, since the 2010 mid-term elections, Republicans have waged an aggressive campaign to limit abortion rights. 

Polls indicate that Americans attitudes about abortion have not changed since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. On the average more than fifty percent of Americans support a woman’s right to have an abortion in some circumstances. 

Despite this reality, Republicans see abortion as a key issue. The New York Times reported 

The success of new limits on when, how and where abortions can be done has invigorated the Republican base like few other issues this year. Because of such intensity, anti-abortion groups say they have found interest among the newer generation of Republican senators, especially those seeking to build up, or in some cases repair, their standing with conservative voters.
From my perch on the left coast there seem to be three explanations for the ferocious GOP attack on abortion rights. The first is that abortion is a complex and emotional subject that touches most Americans. While most oppose the repeal of Roe v Wade, few are in favor of unrestricted abortions. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 56 percent of respondents “said they’d prefer to impose limits on abortions after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.” (Although only 10 percent said they favored a total ban on abortion.) 

In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama carried 55 percent of the female vote. So it would seem that Republicans would want to adopt strategies that would strengthen their appeal to women – particularly young women, a group they lost overwhelmingly. But instead they’ve pursued their war on abortion rights with undiminished vigor. 

But it’s not only access to abortion that’s under attack. The Guttmacher Institute reported 

In the first six months of 2013, states enacted 106 provisions related to reproductive health and rights; issues related to abortion, family planning funding and sex education were significant flashpoints in several legislatures.
A second explanation for the GOP strategy is sociological: Republicans are still fighting a war against “sixties values.” That’s what University of California professor Ruth Rosen believes, “[Republicans] want to curtail women's sexuality by eliminating contraception as well [as abortion].” Another UC professor George Lakoff agrees, noting there is now an overriding “conservative moral logic” that is inherently patriarchal: “The idealized conservative family is structured around a strict father.” Family values are the values established by the strict father and he controls sex. 

Unfortunately, this does not explain why some of the most extreme anti-abortion Republicans are women; for example, Republican Congresswomen Michele Bachman and Marsha Blackburn

The third explanation for the GOP attack on abortion rights is political. Abortion has become a litmus test for Tea-party Republicans: the more extreme the position a Republican politician takes on abortion, the more likely he is to attract Tea-Party support. In a recent New Yorker article Texas Senator Wendy Davis observed: 

It all goes back to redistricting… Most states are not having conversations about issues in the middle anymore. When you have districts, like we have here [in Texas], that are almost purely Republican, all political messaging is directed toward Republican primaries. They don’t have to be answerable to anyone outside their base.
The violent gerrymandering that accompanied the rise of the Tea Party, in 2010, promoted the radicalization of the Republican Party. In many areas of the country, the Republican who wins the primary is the overwhelming favorite to win the general election. The Republican voters who turn out for the primary are usually the most conservative. To win their support candidates ratchet up the stakes by taking increasingly radical positions; for example, they oppose abortion under any circumstances; promote defunding of Planned Parenthood; want to require voters to have several forms of ID; oppose all gun control; and seek to defund the federal government. 

It’s this process that led to the extreme limits placed upon abortion in Texas and the rise of ultra-conservative Texas senator Ted Cruz. Recently Cruz has led the fight to shut down the government unless an agreement is reached to defund Obamacare. Describing the Republican leadership as the “surrender caucus” Cruz said, 

There is a powerful, defeatist approach among Republicans in Washington. I think they’re beaten down and they’re convinced that we can’t give a fight, and they’re terrified.
The statements of Senator Cruz indicate that the Republican Party has slid into internecine fighting as the Tea-Party wing takes on the Republican establishment. As long as this fight continues, it’s unreasonable to expect the GOP to soften its position on abortion or women’s reproductive health, in general. 

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

New: ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Illusions of Clarity

By Jack Bragen
Saturday August 03, 2013 - 11:29:00 AM

A common mistake in the thinking often brought on by psychosis is the incorrect perception that one's thinking is clear and accurate. If the mind is malfunctioning, one can not properly evaluate the quality of one's thoughts. 

Things may suddenly seem to make sense that before were baffling. A person might get the perception that they have embarked on a new and better level of consciousness. A psychotic person might believe he or she is spiritually enlightened or has special wisdom. 

(Sometimes it is not easy to know for sure whether one's thinking is actually on the mark, versus the illusion of that.) 

The idea that the thinking is inaccurate may be the last thing that occurs to a psychotic person. You can't usually convince a delusional person that their perceptions are inaccurate--they almost invariably won't listen to that. The delusional brain causes a state of mind in which direct evidence that contradicts delusions is ignored. A psychotic mind often has bizarre interpretations for things that would otherwise be taken at face value. 

Delusions can convince a person that they are famous (delusions of grandeur) that people are "out to get me" (paranoid delusions) that people can hear one's thoughts (thought broadcasting) or other odd and incorrect beliefs. 

The belief that oneself is "a psychic," can know things without directly observing, being told, or through surmising, is yet another assumption that quickly leads to deterioration. Being a "psychic" doesn't mix well with being psychotic. 

With experience and practice, we don't have to repeatedly "get bitten by the same dog." If a person who suffers from psychosis can learn from his or her mistakes, the same error does not have to unendingly repeat. Once someone acknowledges that they have been deluded, they can begin working toward correcting that. 

When I had my last round of severe psychosis (caused by stopping medication against medical advice) the recovery afterward was much harder than that of previous psychotic episodes. I was working with a brain that had begun to age and that had been through a lot. 

Upon reinstatement of medication, it was quite an uphill battle to get back to a "normal" state of mind. It really helped me to have the realization that my thoughts weren't correct--the realization that my mind was lying to me. This might seem obvious, yet to a psychotic person it is like a revolution in thought. 

The thoughts and the beliefs we have are often the product of our assumptions. If we assume we are perfect, it doesn't allow for the correction of errors. If we incorporate an assumption that the mind can deceive us, it causes natural self-correction to take place. 

Without medication, a person with schizophrenia suffers from a "hardware" problem. This means that nothing gets processed correctly. Once the hardware problem is to an extent corrected with medication, the person is left with the "software" mess that had been generated when the brain was malfunctioning. Medication may bring the hardware of the brain into a workable zone, but it does not correct errors that were generated before being medicated. This is where talk therapy and contact with other human beings is useful. 

For some people with schizophrenia, delusional thoughts are pleasurable. Additionally, the schizophrenic person may be obsessively attached to a delusional belief and cannot let go of it. The spiritual growth work that I have done over the past thirty years helps me not be too emotionally attached to a false belief. 

The mechanisms by which ordinary people remain "sane" tend to be social ones, or may be assisted by news and entertainment. Most people can not guide their thoughts strictly on their own observations. I rely on my wife for a lot of my "reality checking." 

My two books, "Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia: a Self-Help Manual," and "Jack Bragen's Essays on Mental Illness," are available for inexpensive download on Amazon, or can be purchased from there in paperback. I can be reached with your comments at: bragenkjack@yahoo.com

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Turkey: Uprising’s Currents Run Deep

By Conn Hallinan
Friday August 02, 2013 - 09:00:00 AM

For the time being, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyio Erdogan—with the liberal use of brutal police tactics and massive amounts of tear gas that killed four people and injured more than 8,000— appears to have successfully crushed demonstrations aimed at blocking the demolition of Gezi Park in central Istanbul and has weathered a similar outbreak in the country’s capital, Ankara. 

But the upsurge was never just about preserving green space, and the picture conjured up by most the Western media—secular Istanbul liberals vs. a popular Prime Minister backed by a conservative religious majority based in Turkey’s Anatolian hinterlands—was always an over simplification of the grievances behind the unrest. 

Nor are those grievances the kind that are easily dispersed by clubs and gas, and the “popularity” of the Erdogan government may be shallower and more fragile than it appears. According to Turkey’s MetroPOLL research center, Erdogan’s popularity has dropped from 60.8 percent to 53.5 percent. 

Certainly the demonstrations around Gezi Park reflect tensions between secular forces and Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP). In the months leading up to the outbreak, the AKP-dominated parliament passed laws restricting the use of alcohol and tobacco, public kissing, and abortion, and the Prime Minister called on mothers to have three children. The Turkish daily Zaman found that 54.4 percent of the population “thought the government was interfering in their lifestyle.” 

While the demonstrations may have begun with secular youth in Istanbul, according to Kemel Dervis, former Turkish economic affairs minister, it is now a “social movement” embracing the whole country and includes “observant Muslims, mid-career professionals, factory workers and many others.” 

The unrest gripping Turkey has less to do with headscarves and Islam than with politics and economics, fueled by a growing discomfort with the AKP’s policies of privatization, its push to centralize authority in the hands of the country’s executive branch, and its silencing of the media. The three are not unrelated. 

A case in point was the AKP’s recent move to turn the authority of the Chamber of Engineers and Architects—a group that opposed the commercial development of Gezi Park and challenged the government with a lawsuit—over to the Ministry of Environment and Development, effectively sidelining the Chamber. Private developers close to the AKP were then handed the contract for razing the park and building a mall modeled after an Ottoman barracks. 

Suppression of the media doesn’t just involve tossing journalists in jail, although the government has jailed more journalists than Iran and China combined. It is also about a culture of mutual back scratching between media owners and the AKP. 

According to Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar, “Turkey’s mainstream media is owned by “moguls who operate in other sections of the economy, like telecommunications, banking and construction,” and that support for the AKP translates into lucrative “public works contracts, including huge urban construction projects in Istanbul.” 

For instance, the owners of the news channel NTV discontinued a popular publication (also called NTV), because it ran a cover story on the history of Gezi Park. NTV is owned by the Dogus Group, which recently won a $700 million government contract to develop Istanbul’s old port for tourism, real estate and commercial shops. 

Turning public lands over to private developers has long been a central plank in the AKP’s approach to governance. In May 2011, the Erdogan government was granted the right to bypass parliament and make laws by decree for a period of six months. In August, the AKP dissolved the independent commissions overseeing the environment and “decreed” all such decisions now rested with the Ministry of Environment and Urban Development. According to Asli Igsiz, a professor of Middle East Studies at New York University, this meant that the environment was now at “the mercy of urban developers.” 

The Erdogan government is currently trying to pass a “Preservation of Nature and Biodiversity” bill that would dissolve independent watchdog commissions and hand all authority over national parks over to the Ministry of Forestry and Waterworks. If passed, the bill would essentially open 12,000 national parks, heritage sites and forests to “development, even the construction of nuclear and conventional power plants and factories,” according to Igsiz. 

The AKP’s push for privatization is consistent with conservative, business-orientated platforms of the Muslim Brotherhood—of which the Turkish party is a branch —throughout the Middle East. In the year that the Brotherhood dominated the Egyptian government, it sold off state-owned industries at bargain basement prices, resulting in the widespread layoff of workers. Erdogan has done much the same thing, earning the ire of Turkey’s trade union movement. 

On June 17, the Confederation of Public Workers (KESK) and the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), representing 800,000 Turkish workers, struck to protest police brutality and demand the resignation of the government. “Freedom loving laborers who are striking a claim on their future” are taking to the streets throughout the country, a joint union statement read, to protest the “AKP, which has transformed [the] country into a hell by inserting its authoritarian practices.” 

The widespread participation of trade unionists in the Turkey demonstrations has largely been ignored by the Western press, which also failed to report similar support by Egyptian trade unions—particularly those in textile and cotton—for the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and, more recently, Mohamad Morsi. 

Erdogan is still popular in Turkey, but that popularity has thinned and largely rests on the AKP keeping the economy running smoothly and coming to some kind of agreement to end the long-running war with its Kurdish population. 

But there is trouble on the horizon for the economy. The growth rate has dropped, and, while the AKP has overseen a dramatic rise in living standards over the past decade, the economy has cooled, income is stagnant, and the demonstrations have spooked the stock market and foreign investors. The stock market plunged 10.47 percent on June 3, and, as Tim Ash of Standard Bank told the Financial Times, “Simply put on a risk-rewards basis, Turkey does not appear to offer convincing values at present, and investors would be well advised to adopt a cautious approach.” 

Even a peace agreement with the Kurds appears to be in danger. 

According to the Guardian (UK), Ankara has flooded the Kurdish region with security forces, military camps, and checkpoints, in an effort to shut down one of the area’s major economic activities: smuggling. 

But after 30 years of war and some 40,000 deaths, the region’s economy is in ruins, and smuggling is sometimes the only economic activity left to the Kurds. “People here feel they are under siege,” Nazif Ataman, a Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party member told the Guardian. “The military controls are reminiscent of war. We lack everything here: schools, hospitals, factories. Peace has come, but the government only invests in security.” 

And, under pressure from Turkish nationalists, Erdogan has refused to consider two core Kurdish demands: that the Kurds be allowed to use their own language for education, and that the 10 percent threshold for entering parliament be reduced. Kurds make up about 10 percent of Turkey’s population and are concentrated mostly in the country’s east 

At the very time that Kurds in Iraq and Syria are increasingly autonomous from their central governments, the Turkish government is cracking down. On July 19, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) gave the Turkish government a “final warning” to “act quickly” and take “concrete and practical steps” to reach a peace agreement. 

Lastly, the AKP’s support for the insurgency against the Assad regime in Syria is increasingly unpopular among Turks. The AKP pushed its Egyptian counterpart to back the insurgency, which in part led to the recent coup in Cairo. It was Morsi’s called for a jihad against Damascus that helped propel the Egyptian Army’s move against the Brotherhood government. Egypt’s new foreign minister has already distanced Egypt from Morsi’s all out support for overthrowing Assad. Will the Muslim Brotherhood’s fall in Egypt reverberate in Turkey? It might. 

In the meantime, anti-AKP activists are continuing their campaign, one in which ridicule of Erdogan—he has a thin skin—has emerged as a tactic. Thus the “Alcoholic Unity League” (more than 80 percent of Turks do not drink) has joined with the “Looters Solidarity Front (Erdogan referred to demonstrators as “looters”). Despite water cannons, rubber bullets, and gas, the Turks have kept a sense of humor. 

But issues that fueled the May and June protests are hardly a laughing matter, and they are not about to quietly disappear. 

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



ECLECTIC RANT: Time for the FCC to Re-Examine Its Retransmission Consent Rules

By Ralph E. Stone
Thursday August 01, 2013 - 05:20:00 PM

Imagine not being able to watch "Person of Interest," "The Good Wife," "NCIS," and other programs on CBS or Showtime. But satellite customers like me as well as cable customers may not be able to have uninterrupted access to the major four (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox) because the 1992 Cable Act requires pay TV providers to get broadcaster consent to carry the station and, since there is no limit on what broadcasters can charge in retransmission fees, pay TV providers can either pay what is asked or lose access to these networks -- a black out. 

"Retransmission consent," by the way, is a provision of the 1992 U.S. Cable Television Protection and Competition Act that requires cable operators and other multichannel video programming distributors to obtain permission from broadcasters before carrying their programming. In exchange, a broadcaster may propose that the operator pay cash to carry the station or ask for any other form of consideration. The cable operator, of course, may refuse the broadcaster's proposal and not carry the programming. 

Presently CBS is in intense negotiations with Time Warner Cable (TWC), demanding $2 per month for each TWC customer its stations reach, about a 100 percent increase over the current contract. TWC has about 3.5 million customers, primarily in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas. If an agreement is not reached, TWC customers will be unable to watch CBS programming. This may not be too important in the summer, the time for reruns, but with the football season starting in September, CBS' leverage increases. 

The July 29, 2013 deadline for reaching an agreement was extended until August 2. 

Broadcasters usually have the advantage in such negotiations because a cable system is prohibited by law from offering broadcast channels à la carte. It cannot just pay a broadcaster for just those subscribers that choose to get broadcast programming via cable or by satellite instead of over-the-air. All broadcast stations are entitled to be carried on the "basic tier," and all cable subscribers are required to buy the basic tier in addition to whatever other programming they want. What's more, local broadcasters have a legally-protected local monopoly on national content they might have nothing to do with creating. Broadcasters get protections beyond what could be enforced by contract. Thus, cable systems cannot try to strike a deal with anyone else.  

According to the American Television Alliance, a coalition of industry and public interest groups, retransmission fees have increased from $216 million to nearly $2.4 billion in just six years. Fees are estimated to more than double by 2018. Of course, these costs are passed on to consumers. 

In addition, these same broadcast networks own most of the cable channels and link their carriage with broadcast channels, making it harder for new, independent networks to get their foot in the door. Nothing stops broadcasters from adding new cable channels, pushing out minority-owned or community-based channels. 

The CBS/TWC negotiations raise a number of larger issues. That is, the state of the media and the communications marketplace. Why, for example, should cable or satellite systems have to pay for broadcast stations at all. These broadcasters are leveraging their government-granted monopolies to force cable and satellite systems to carry their properties. 

Clearly, it is time for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stand up to the intense lobbying by broadcasters who want to keep the status quo and adopt rules to protect consumers from rising fees and open up lineups for independent and minority-owned and community-based channels. After all the FCC has had an open proceeding to consider such rules since 2011.  

SENIOR POWER: DNR and the facts of life

By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Thursday August 01, 2013 - 05:08:00 PM

This is about DNR, not DNA. DNR stands for Do Not Resuscitate. As in “revive.”

Advance directives and living wills are documents written by individuals, in order to declare their wishes for care, in case they are no longer able to speak for themselves. A DNR differs from an advance directive or living will. A physician or hospital staff member writes a DNR "physician's order," based on wishes previously expressed by the patient in an advance directive or living will. He or she has previously used an advance directive to appoint an agent.

Sounds easy. It isn’t. There are no guarantees, although there are assumptions galore. Not everyone has family or even close friends, who may not be keen on functioning as somebody’s agent. Many physicians resist anything that sounds remotely end-of-life related. You’re likely to see in the waiting room old issues of golf and architectural subscriptions, rather than Compassion & Choices or Ms Magazine or The Journal of Women & Aging… 

In medicine, a "DNR", sometimes called a "No Code", is a legal order written either in the hospital or on a legal form to respect the wishes of a patient not to undergo CPR or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) if their heart were to stop or they were to stop breathing. A DNR does not affect any treatment other than that which would require intubation, CPR or defibrillation. Patients who are DNR can continue to get chemotherapy, antibiotics, dialysis, or any other appropriate treatments. 

In the United States, an advance directive or living will is not sufficient to ensure a patient is treated under the DNR protocol, even if it is her or his wish, because neither an advance directive nor a living will is a legally binding document. The wishes expressed in an advance directive or living will are not binding. Here are some things you can do to make it more likely that your wishes will be honored: 

Complete the POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) form. It indicates which types of life-sustaining treatment a seriously ill patient wants. POLST helps give patients more control over their end-of-life care, and should complement an advance directive, not take the place of it. POLST has been in use since January 2009. Changes were made to the form based on actual usage from the medical field. (Previously-filled out POLST forms are still valid.) Because the POLST must be signed by your physician, speak to her/him to obtain a copy. POLST forms are printed on pink card stock so they are easily recognizable by emergency medical staff. Unlike traditional physician’s orders, POLST is not bound to a particular site. Rather, the orders contained within a POLST must be honored across care settings and hence may be used by EMTs, physicians, nurses, in the emergency department, hospitals, nursing facilities, etc. 

Post your own DNR notice on your apartment door or within your apartment (not in the refrigerator, as suggested to some tenants), and hope the paramedics heed its meaning. Carry a DNR notice in your wallet or purse. 

Check with your physician that a California Medical Association “Emergency Medical Services Prehospital do not resuscitate (DNR) Form” is in your file. You can find information about this form online. 

Wear a DNR bracelet (or necklace.) While having a bracelet will improve the chances that your wishes will be honored, there are no guarantees as to what will happen in an emergency situation. You can identify companies that sell DNR bracelets via the Internet, e.g. American Medical ID, Colonial Medical Assisted Devices, and Medic Alert. Depending on what state you live in, there are great variations. Some require that only bracelets that have been purchased with a doctor's prescription will be honored, while in others any bracelet will do. 




California Health Advocates has received reports about insurance company agents who are visiting senior apartment complexes, distributing false information, scaring people by telling them that in the autumn they will not be able to see their regular providers unless they sign up with the agent’s company. Agents who are scaring seniors with false information may be doing so deliberately to secure an enrollment commission or may misunderstand a new demonstration called Cal MediConnect, slated to begin no earlier than January 1, 2014 in 8 selected counties including Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara. The goal is to integrate Medicare and Medi-Cal benefits for individuals eligible for both programs, commonly called duals or Medi-Medis. Report incidents to Senior Medicare Patrol office at 855-613-7080.  


Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) is proposing that the U.S Postal Service phase out door-to-door delivery. Service would be shifted curbside [like trash] and to neighborhood cluster boxes [like RFD]. The Postal Service has been moving toward collective deliveries at shopping malls, business parks and new residential developments. Issa's proposal would allow for free hardship exemptions and door-to-door deliveries for “small, unspecified fees.” The National Letter Carriers Union opposes ending six-day and door-to-door deliveries, which it says would hurt jobs and harm the elderly and shut-ins who would have difficulty receiving [and paying for] mail. Issa, the powerful chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has a long history of attacking the postal service, which does not receive federal assistance; it gets revenue from postage sales, delivery services and other products. Now he has taken advantage of a crisis to get his committee to vote twenty-two to seventeen in favor of a “Postal Reform Act of 2013” (H.R. 2748) that American Postal Workers Union president Cliff Guffey warns “will lead to the demise of the Postal Service.”  


“Assisted living” is one of several, often-related terms that senior citizens need to understand. Others are Section 8 subsidized rent, low-income housing, affordable housing, public housing, housing authority. On Tuesday, July 30, 2013 PBS FRONTLINE broadcast the results of an investigation into the operations of Emeritus Senior Living, the largest assisted living company in the U.S., titled “Life and Death in Assisted Living.”  

More and more elderly Americans are electing to spend their later years in assisted living facilities, intended for people who cannot live on their own, but who do not need the standard of 24/7 medical care nursing homes provide. And of course, these particular elderly Americans can afford the cost of assisted living facilities—or they have families who can. 

“…there's really no specific definition of what ‘assisted living’ means, though there's no question this type of care has become a multi-billion-dollar a year business in the U.S. Because there are 50 states, and licensing and regulation of assisted care facilities happen at the state level, oversight and enforcement are inconsistent, often loose. Couple that with a quest for profits and you've got a situation causing nationwide concern as to whether some practices in the industry might be putting senior citizens at risk. 

FRONTLINE and ProPublica discuss the issue of one senior who took a fall at one of Emeritus' facilities and was found face down on the floor. Suffering from dementia, she was taken to the hospital alone because the facility didn't have enough staff to go with her to the hospital and talk to doctors on her behalf. When she returned, she was put in a bed and her condition began to deteriorate, until she developed pressure ulcers and extensive skin damage. She stayed at Emeritus' Emerald Hills facility for weeks, even though the laws of the state prohibit seniors with such serious wounds to remain in assisted living.”  

Emerald Hills is a neighborhood in Redwood City, California. 


Arts & Events

New: Film Review: Hannah Arendt: A Vivid, Honest, Unflinching Portrait
Shattuck Landmark Berkeley

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Saturday August 03, 2013 - 03:59:00 PM

If your knowledge of Hannah Arendt is limited to her memorable phrase, "the banality of evil," director Margarethe von Trotta's latest character-study-in-courage offers an illuminating profile of the remarkable human being behind the indelible words. 

Von Trotta's film begins with a troubling and inexplicable image. The lights of a bus approach out of a black night. A passenger disembarks and begins to make his way down a road, holding a flashlight to pierce the darkness. Suddenly, a truck approaches and breaks to a stop. The unidentified individual is attacked and hauled off screaming, his flashlight left behind to throw a small cone of light over the ground. 

Was this a random act of violence against an innocent Jew? We don't know: the identities of the attackers and victims remain a mystery. Sometimes, the human mind can penetrate the darkness; sometimes, history remains unaccountable. 

But watch what von Trotta does next. The image of the dying flashlight is replaced by the glow of a match in a dark room. As the light builds, we see the profile of Hannah Arendt, lighting a cigarette. The message seems to be: the torch has been passed -- Arendt is alive and thinking and people will be held accountable. 

In addition to being a philosopher, Arendt also was a practical thinker who foresaw the inherent dangers of Hitler's rise. After escaping Gestapo detention, she fled into exile at the age of 19. An intellectual possessed with a passionate soul, Arendt dove into a mad affair with one of her teachers, philosopher Martin Heidegger. (It was a wrenching experience for Arendt when Heidegger subsequently joined the Nazi party in 1933.) 

After escaping a notorious detention camp, Arendt found her way to the US and a new life in New York where she established herself as an author and an academic. 

Award-winning singer-and-actress Barbara Sukowa excels as Arendt, capturing her intellectual rigor, her social and emotional rhythms, her frisky sensuality and her endless consumption of tobacco. Wreathed in warm light and tobacco smoke, the home life of Hannah and her husband, Heinrich Blücher (Axel Milberg), is alive with comfortable flirtations (she calls him "Schtups"). The occasional, good-humored butt-slaps of a long-married but loving couple only add to the charm of this portrayal. 

Of course, this is not simply a story about love and adaptation. Arendt's tale involves the collision of moral principles with historic realities. For Arendt, this moral quandary took physical form in the person of Adolf Eichmann. (Eichmann, charged with responsibility for shipping German Jews to death camps, had been spirited out of Germany by Catholic monks – even receiving a passport, courtesy of the Vatican. He lived in exile in South America until his capture by Israel's Mossad in 1960.) 

Dispatched to Israel in 1961 to cover Eichmann's trial for The New Yorker, Arendt became puzzled that this man, presented as a personification of evil, turned out to be such a nonentity. Eichmann, a high school dropout who, in Von Trotta's words, "was unable to formulate a single grammatically correct sentence," was more nebbish than nefarious – a bureaucrat incapable of thinking outside-the-box. In German, the word is Gedankenlosigkeit

Von Trotta's film incorporates the actual black-and-white footage of Eichmann's uncomfortable, nervous testimony in the dock at his trial. These scenes cpould be seamlessly incorporated into the film because Arendt (who refused to swap her cigarettes for a seat in the courtroom), was compelled to watch the proceedings via TV, as they were broadcast into a nearby pressroom crowded with reporters. 

Arendt's analysis was probing and extensive. If Wallace Shawn, her sometimes frustrated New Yorker editor, thought he was getting a single, concise feature story, he was mistaken. Arendt insisted on keeping her own schedule and, in the end, produced a report that required serialization in the pages of five separate issues of the magazine. 

Arendt's outlier findings troubled her editors at the New Yorker but they bravely went ahead and published her report. As expected, her argument that Eichmann was no more inherently dangerous than the average unthinking desk-holder raised anger in many circles. But it was her refusal to gloss over the role of Jews who became complicit enablers of the Nazis that triggered a greater fury – one that threatened to consume Arendt and end her career. 

Von Trotta's film depicts the harrowing personal fallout from Arendt's uncompromising reporting. Even Arendt did not anticipate the force of the fury that would be arrayed against her. Shunned by some of her closest friends, threatened by her supervisors, attacked by her academic peers, and subjected to death threats, Arendt was forced into yet another exile, finding some token of peace and security in the safety of a remote cabin. Even there, she was not beyond the reach of Israeli secret agents who once accosted her as she walked along a woodside road. 

Van Trotta's depiction of academic life is superb (complete with conversations bouncing back-and-forth between English and German and an appearance by an actor standing in for the preening pro-Zionist scholar, Norman Podhoretz). Arendt's inner struggle finds articulation in her conversations with fellow academic and author Mary McCarthy (Janet McTeer), who was also subjected to scathing public attacks after the publication of her novel, The Group

The press notes include McCarthy's New York Review of Books essay, which was published following Arendt's death. It includes the following description: "She was a beautiful woman, alluring, seductive, feminine…. Above all, her eyes, so brilliant and sparkling, starry when she was happy or excited, but also deep, dark, remote, pools of inwardness. There was something unfathomable in Hannah that seemed to lie in the reflective depths of those eyes." 

Sukowa captures these elements of Arendt's essence in a powerful and moving performance that concludes with a bravura, uninterrupted eight-minute speech in which Arendt, standing alone at a classroom podium, lights a cigarette, takes a defiant puff, and faces down her critics – once and for all. 

This film treatment of Arendt's life benefits from the fact that Von Trotta and co-writer Pam Katz, were able to spend time interviewing many people who knew Arendt intimately, both as a friend and colleague. 

"There was more than a touch of the great actress in Hannah," Von Trotta reminisces. "She was incapable of feigning." And, where Eichmann was maleable, Arendt was adamantine. "No one has the right to obey," she once insisted. 

Arendt was a woman who followed her intellectual curiosity. She never was one to follow orders. 

Director Margarethe von Trotta and Barbara Sukowa discuss the film 

New: Blue Jasmine, Directed by Woody Allen, at the Albany Twin, August 2, 2013

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Saturday August 03, 2013 - 12:00:00 PM

In his latest film, writer director Woody Allen doesn't quite capture San Francisco but Cate Blanchett absolutely conquers the lead role as Jasmine, a woman who had it all and lost it all. 

Problem is, Jasmine (her given name, Jeanette, wasn't exotic enough) married young, falling into a fairytale marriage with Hal, a rich, sophisticated, self-satisfied financial tapdancer (Alex Baldwin, who else?). Jasmine quickly found herself playing the role of a New York socialite, clad in the cloture of Saks and happily traipsing around Manhattan in Christian Louboutin footwear. If Jasmine has one talent, it's a gift for playing the doyen role – to the hilt and to the gilt. But she's a Princess Bride without a foundation. She never had the time— or the need — to learn who she really was beneath the well-polished surface. 

When Hal is busted for his high-risk financial shenanigans, Jasmine's world falls apart. With nothing to fall back on— no man, no mansion—Jasmine jets to San Francisco, seeking refuge with her sister Ginger (British actress Sally Hawkins). 

Hawkins and Australian-American Blanchet look nothing alike. Allen's screenplay informs us they were adopted. Somehow, it works. 

Local audiences expecting to see San Francisco in a costarring role maybe disappointed. Ginger lives in an anonymous part of the city. We see little of the neighborhood beyond the sides of her apartment door. There is a brief foray to Chinatown, one tempestuous scene on the Marina Green and a sweeping view of San Francisco from a privileged balcony in Marin County. 

In a smart touch of crafted subtlety, the Rodgers and Hart tune, "Blue Moon," flickers in the background, providing a knowing commentary on Allen's hapless heroine. 

You saw me standing alone 

Without a dream in my heart 

Without a love of my own 

Blue Moon 

You know just what I was there for 

You heard me saying a prayer for 

Someone I really could care for 

The unsung lyrics sum up the stakes. Can Jasmine (a self-created figment of her own imagination) get her feet back on the ground and become her own person for the first time in her life? Allen has written a great role for Blanchet and she has a blast with it, careening from imperious and proud to irritable and irrational – an emotional train wreck of a woman derailing before our eyes. At her worst, Jasmine is self-destructive and out-of-control, popping Xanax like M&Ms and swigging vodka like some people might gasp for air. 

Ginger tries her best to toss a life-vest to her floundering pseudo-sibling. Ignoring Jasmine's jibes about Ginger's low-rent lifestyle and "loser" boyfriends, Ginger salvages Jasmine's self-esteem by suggesting she consider a new career as an interior decorator. 

This poses a problem. Jasmine insists she first needs to take classes in interior design. But this means she has to learn how to use a computer. And that necessitates a job to pay for her classes. (This plot turn raises a question: Is it really the case that some New York women are so pampered and spoiled that they have never bothered learn how to poke an iPad? Ginger raises another question when Jasmine pleads poverty but admits flying to SF in first class. "So how did you pay for First Class?" Ginger asks. The question passes without an answer.) 

Blue Jasmine ricochets between the gritty West Coast present and the opulent East Coast past. The angst is all in the East; the fun is in the West, thanks to a wonderfully entertaining cast that begins with local treasure Joy Carlin (as a stunned seatmate on the cross country flight, subjected to one of Jasmine's self-indulgent jetstream-of-consciousness recitations). Also on board are Bobby Cannavale as Ginger's boyfriend, Chile (with a haircut that deserves its own special award) and Andrew Rice Clay as Augie, Ginger's ex. 

While Chile, Augie and the gang are amusing and occasionally tormented lugs, they really aren't recognizable as locals. These guys are pure transplants from the burroughs of Manhattan. 

Only three members of the cast can pass as locals – Michael Stuhlbarg as a randy dentist, Peter Sarsgaard as a sensitive diplomat in search of a soul mate and Louis C. K. as "sound engineer." (Some of the reviewers at the SF press screening broke into a round of applause at C.K.'s appearance.) 

Will Sarsgaard's diplomat become Jasmine's salvation? You'll be rooting for these two to forge an alliance. You'll want Jasmine to rediscover happiness and rootedness in the arms of another dapper, rich dude. But it won't be easy for a women who's spent most of her life forging her identity. 

You may be tempted to shout: "No! Jasmine! Don't make up another false story to sell yourself!" Don't bother: she can't hear you and she wouldn't pay attention if she could. 

Blanchet's control of this character is remarkable. She is simultaneously endearing, unbearable and impossible – and, in spite of everything (including some dark family secrets involving lying and treachery ) she remains basically endearing. 

In one extraordinary scene, Jasmine is left to entertain Ginger's two hyperactive pre-teen boys. She takes them out for lunch. All starts well, but soon Jasmine launches into one of her it's-all-about-me tirades, leaving her young charges staring in baffled and half-terrified wonderment. 

At the end of this extraordinary speech, Blanchet's face fills the screen. She is entirely spent -- her soul exposed, gutted and empty. The frozen image of Jasmine in this pit of utter desolation is at the same time both horrifying and guffaw-worthy hilarious. An amazing moment. 

There aren't many actors who could have pulled this off. Allen was lucky to have an actress named Cate Blanchett and Blanchett was lucky to have a screenwriter and director named Woody Allen.

Theater Review: 'Pitch Perfect' at Central Works

By Ken Bullock
Saturday August 03, 2013 - 11:32:00 AM

"When you hired us, you said we were like family ... "

"That was bullshit!"

Frantic ad exec Bob (Brian Trybom) bursts into the half-abandoned LA office of the firm with bloodletting on his mind, having flown in from New York to fire someone, talking loud, brash and peppering his aggression with expletives, obviously trying to impress himself as much as everyone else in his self-conscious hard nose act. "You didn't have a childhood, did you, Bob?" queries Caitlin (Maggie Mason), the pert, blue-eyed Brit office manager-cum-multitasker, wearing many hats; "We used to have jobs here!" Then a Hide-a-Bed groans "Oh God, where am I?"—and the audience is introduced to Roger (Tim Redmond), a kind of self-made Robin Hood of an agency creative director, sarcastic and playful up against Bob's stiff contentiousness ... 

So begins former agency creative director Martin Edwards' play, an abrasive comedy, well-directed by Gary Graves at Central Works in the Berkeley City Club. All the testosterone-driven rivalry between Bob and Roger give what seems at first the focus of the tale the aura (and volume) of an arena rock concert. But it's not just a door slammer with iron doors. 'Pitch Perfect' is also something of a glib, wistful failed romance between Roger and his Ex, Maggie (Deb Fink), fired partly through Rogers's betrayal-as-ass-saving, which he confesses to her as he seeks her assistance in a Hail Mary play-of-a-pitch to save his neck again from wringing, pinned to a more unusual, personal pitch aimed at an estranged lover, sweetened with a rare bottle of Sean Thackary wine: a proposal of divorce. 

The women, Maggie and Caitlin, are the softer voices—one aspiring, feeling her way upward on the corporate ladder; the other bitter, brought back from early retirement, painting sunsets from the balcony of a Santa Monica condo, with an immediately rescinded job offer—as counterpoint to the sound and fury of the men, accented by Greg Scharpen's Mood Music. Deb Fink's an old hand at comedy at Central Works and on other local stages, the jaded Maggie being a new arrow in her quiver. Maggie Mason—who distinguished herself just a few years ago as the girlfriend of a white collar child abuser in TheatreFIRST's unusual 'Future Me,' staged in another room at the City Club—perfectly balances Caitlin's devoted adoration of Roger with her cool ambition, making her final gambit a fitting follow-up to Maggie's own call of Checkmate! 

If much of contemporary stage comedy hereabouts plays like rehashed Sitcom, 'Pitch Perfect' is more Movie of the Week. It's a good, breezy comedy for summer, one with an undertow, besides "throwaway" lines like the one about the exemplary Super Bowl ad with the projectile-vomiting baby, or Maggie's nettled declaration to Bob concerning Roger: "I'm not taking that job if the Executive Bathroom comes with him in it!" Not a bad choice for third position in a season of four plays, the bridge from Spring to Fall shows—but the run ends August 18, tickets priced at Central Works' usual bargain rates, including pay-what you-can Thursday nights, as well as daytime shows Sundays at five. 

“Woman in Black”: the scariest play I’ve ever seen comes to Hayward Theatre in September

By John A. McMullen II
Friday August 02, 2013 - 09:07:00 AM

Twenty years ago, on my first trip to London, for a Wednesday matinee my companion and I took a chance on a play we knew nothing about except that it was one of the more popular shows there.  

It was in a smallish, older theatre, but the house was full.  

I like spooky stories, and I was intrigued by what they would do with it. I had recently played the vampire hunter in a stage version of Dracula which was directed by a magician, and, while the effects were impressive and the audience enthusiastic, I can’t vouch that we frightened anyone. 

About fifteen minutes into the play, I got the you-know-what scared out of me.  

When the Sunday Mirror warns, “Don’t go unless you like being scared out of your wits,” they ain’t just whistling “Rule Britannia.” 

I guess they had installed speakers under the seats or something, but whatever it was, I jumped out of my seat and fell on the floor. 

The play was “The Woman in Black,” and I’m haunted by it to this day. 

Douglass Morrison theatre in Hayward will take a shot at in the month of September under the able direction of Marilyn Langbehn. Langbehn directed “Frost/Nixon” the year before last to some acclaim. At least to the acclaim of those who saw it—DMT is off-the-beaten path, no BART comes close enough, and it’s a circuitous route through a residential neighborhood to find it. But when Langbehn is directing and the cast looks good, I make the sojourn down the Hayward, and this time seems like one of those. Its cast is C. Conrad Cady, Mark Frazier and Cynthia Lagodzinski. 

The play, now in its 24th season in London, is the second longest-running play in the history of the West End, next only to Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” (which has been running since 1952 with 25,000 performances!). “The Woman in Black” has become such an icon in Britain that they use it to teach drama and comparative literature for the GCSE, their specialized version of secondary education. 

Here is the preview synopsis the DMT is offering: 

“The curtain rises on a small Victorian theatre. Arthur Kipps is attempting to exorcise the demons of his past by recounting his story to an actor, and the two men proceed to “act out” certain events from Kipps’ life. Many years before, his job required him to attend the funeral of the sole occupant of Eel Marsh House. He spies a gaunt young woman dressed all in black at the funeral and the haunting begins. Hidden behind the shuttered windows of that house on the windswept salt marshes lie tragic and terrible secrets.” 

They made a film of “Woman in Black” a couple of times, the most recent last year with Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe (65% Rotten Tomatoes – about what “Wolverine” is getting), but that’s probably because contemporary audiences like gore and horror and Zombies as opposed to sophisticated terror. 

“The Woman in Black” was written by playwright and actor Stephen Mallatrat whose credits you’ll recognize as a writer for “Coronation Street,” “The Forsyte Saga” and “Island at War,” and who was featured in “Chariots of Fire” and “Brideshead Revisited.” 

The play was dramatized from the book by English author Susan Hill whose books have won the Whitbread Fiction Award, the Somerset Maugham Award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and been shortlisted for The Booker Prize. 

“The Woman in Black” plays September 6-29, Fri/Sat/Sun at Douglas Morrisson Theatre, 22311 N. Third St., Hayward. More info at www.dmtonline.org 

Pitch Perfect hits a sour note at Central Works

By John A. McMullen II
Friday August 02, 2013 - 09:05:00 AM

I have referred to Central Works as a Berkeley Treasure. It has won many Critics Circle Awards. Gary Graves is a talented playwright and a good director. His choice of works is generally tip-top, while sometimes taking a chance with experimental fare.

However, this current production, Pitch Perfect by Martin Edwards, does not live up to that reputation in playwrighting, acting, and directing, as well as in the title, which is easily confused with the recent musical comedy film. 

Graves teaches playwrighting at Berkeley Rep School. The production is the second to come up through the Central Works Writers Workshop, a new developmental program at Central Works, initiated last year. Eight writers are commissioned in the twice-yearly program; those scripts selected for production are cast, and then go through a series of workshops with the actors and production team. 

The production itself features Timothy Redmond as the hotshot ad man in LA who has just lost many accounts and is visited by the NYC manager, played by Brian Trybom. Trybom’s character has come to serve Redmond’s character with his severance package and have him shown out by security. Deb Fink plays Redmond’s ex- wife who is also a player in the ad game and her ex-husband’s former partner, with Maggie Mason as Redmond’s secretary and lover. 

The play ends up in pretty much the same place it starts and no one seems to have made much change. 

There is a lot of chat, and too few witticisms, but they are undone by hackneyed jokes and one-liners. 

It rambles without clear action and the character development is lacking. 

Playwright Martin Edwards worked at a high-level in the ad game for many years, and the play is touted as if “… Don Draper decided to write his “Mad Men” insider memoirs as a comedy.” 

The dialogue cries out to be played with close-to-the-vest, sophisticated subtlety much as the acclaimed television model. But three-quarters of the cast is way over-the-top, milking the lines in fear that the audience might miss something—though after a while, they don’t seem to care. Brian Trybom comes in shouting as if to make sure the audience hears him rather than acting in character, and the over-projection continues until the last few moments of the play; it sets one teeth on edge and pulls the audience out of the play. Deb Fink slinks her nefarious character through its paces as one of the heavy-hitters in a man’s world—what they used to call the few women in advertising “Babes in Boyland.” Timothy Redmond is cheerfully insouciant with the hyper-expressiveness you get from drinking too much Red Bull. Maggie Mason plays the expat Brit, the type who can be found answering phones in many firms—hired much for their accent. Mason is a superb actress who gives life to a character that has little development, and we breathe easier upon her entrances. 

Both designers are award winners: Sound by Greg Scharpen is so subtle as to be unnoticeable and costumes by Tammy Berlin seem hurriedly pulled from the rack. The NYC ad manager’s suit is ill-fitting when we expect him to be impeccably and stylishly attired, as suits his position, Deb Fink at one point seemed to be wearing white Levi’s. Apparel in the ad world is stylish since their fundamental perspective is that the packaging is what makes the product sellable. 

I love this theater, and I recommend it heartily—just not this production. 

Playing through August 18th 

More info at http://www.centralworks.org/