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First responders at crash scene where reporter Michael Hastings died
First responders at crash scene where reporter Michael Hastings died


On the Strange Death
of Michael Hastings:
Was the Reporter Car-Hacked or Bombed?

By Gar Smith
Thursday August 08, 2013 - 02:56:00 PM
First responders at crash scene where reporter Michael Hastings died
First responders at crash scene where reporter Michael Hastings died

In the early hours of June 18, Michael Hastings was found dead in the flaming wreckage of his car. The 33-year-old journalist was, perhaps, best known for the 2010 Rolling Stone cover story that ended the career of Army General Stanley McChystal.

According to initial press reports, Hastings was driving south on Los Angeles' North Highland Avenue when he "apparently lost control of [his car] near Melrose Avenue and crashed into palm trees in the median about 4:20 a.m."

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) was unusually eager to announce that there had been no evidence of "foul play" surrounding the reporter's death. Typically, police departments withhold such judgments until after there has been an investigation -- including a coroner's report and toxicology tests, which can take days, if not weeks.

Those who knew and worked with Michael Hastings are questioning the "official story." 

According to Hastings' friend, Staff Sgt. Joe Biggs, Army brass had threatened Hastings after his reporting lead to General McChrystal's resignation. "He had been told, 'If we don't like what you write, we will hunt you down and kill you," Biggs said. "For him to say something like that -- those are his own words -- that's pretty intense." 

Biggs also observed that it was out-of-character for Hastings to be speeding. When it came to driving, Biggs insisted, his friend was "like a grandma." 

When it came to pursuing a story, however, Hastings was a greyhound. He also was an outspoken foe of the "surveillance state." Yet, despite occasional threats, he continued to engage in a reporter's riskiest business -- probing the darkest secrets of powerful interests. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, in the weeks before his death, Hastings was researching a story involving a lawsuit filed by Jill Kelley, the woman "who was involved in the scandal that brought down Gen. David Petraeus." (Hastings' distraught wife has denied this and publicly insists that her husband's death was nothing but "a tragic accident.") 

In its coverage of Hastings' death, the Canada Free Press noted: 

"It appears that Mr. Hastings made multiple contacts with sources directly associated with the illegal NSA domestic spying program, and either recently acquired materials and/or information about the extent of, the targets of, and the recipients of the information of domestic spying program. 

"It is speculated that the latter information was of particular concern to as yet unidentified individuals holding positions of authority within the US Department of Defense and their subcontractors, as well as certain parties within the Executive branch of the United States government. 

"Investigation and research suggests that Mr. Hastings might have obtained, or arranged to obtain, information pertaining to the role of a particular high-ranking officer within the US military overseeing the domestic aspects of the NSA project."  

Only a few hours before his death, Hastings contacted Jennifer Robinson (a lawyer with Wikileaks, the secrets-sharing website) to report his concerns that the FBI was investigating him. (An FBI spokeswomen swiftly and emphatically denied that the bureau was investigating the reporter.) 

Meanwhile, the possibility of "foul play" was bolstered by the discovery of a panicked email that Hastings sent to friends. In what proved to be his last message, Hastings wrote: 

"Subject: FBI Investigation, re: NSA -Hey (redacted names) -- the Feds are interviewing my 'close friends and associates. Perhaps if the authorities arrive 'BuzzFeed GQ,' er HQ, may be wise to immediately request legal counsel before any conversations or interviews about our news gathering practices or related journalism issues. Also: I'm onto a big story, and need to go off the rada[r] for a bit. 

All the best, and hope to see you all soon. Michael." 

From Car-jacking to Car-hacking 

In the aftermath of Hasting's bizarre death -- caught inside his burning Mercedes C250 shortly after the vehicle was videotaped speeding past a red light a Los Angeles street at 4 AM -- conspiracy theories began to proliferate: Hastings was killed by a US drone strike; Hastings was killed by an onboard bomb; Hastings was the victim of a cybernetic "car-hacking." 

Wait, what was that last one again? 

In a currently running TV ad, former football star Peyton Manning is shown tooling down the road in a new Buick. "I know what if feels like to be blindsided," he grins. Manning then proceeds to praise his ride for the latest computerized gizmos designed to keep him safe by raising warnings and overriding any move of the driver's part that onboard computers deem a hazard to road safety. 

Buick is one of several vehicles equipped with rear-view sensors to warn drivers of unseen traffic or obstacles approaching from the rear. New safety features also take over the wheel from tired drivers if they start to drift into oncoming lanes. And some vehicles can also park themselves. 

But can these autonomous systems fail? Or worse, could they be compromised by, say, a carful of teenage pranksters, road-rage-prone adults or . . . government assassins? 

There is, in fact, ample evidence that these systems can and do fail. These "modern conveniences" can quickly turn your cyber-driving experience from an interlude with a helpful onboard guide to a face-off with an invisible evil force -- the difference between a "Siri" and a "Hal." 

The ultimate expression of the hands-free motoring experience can be seen in the "driverless" Google automobile. But what would it mean if Googlemobiles -- typically touted as a major advance in assuring highway safety -- could be hacked? 

The problems are already starting to surface. In late June, the National Highway Safety Administration reported it was investigating 22 complaints that 2007-2008 Honda Odyssey minivans had been "unexpected breaking . . . without the driver pressing the pedal." 

In a 2010 article in Veterans Today, former Marine Gordon Duff described an assassination technique known as "Boston Brakes," whereby "drive by wire" cars -- like the Mercedes Benz -- can be remotely steered to simulate a driver-caused accident. 

Former US National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism Richard Clarke has also confirmed the existence of "drive by wire" attacks. Speaking to the Huffington Post following news of the Hastings' bizarre death, Clarke agreed that a single-vehicle crash is "consistent with a car cyber attack. There is reason to believe that intelligence agencies for major powers -- including the United States -- know how to remotely seize control of a car." Clarke added: "You can do some really highly destructive things now, through hacking a car, and it's not that hard." 

A Scholarly Demonstration of the Car-hacking Scenario 

A sophisticated "car-hacking" plot is one of the odder theories gaining traction in Internet chat rooms. The theory posits that Hastings' Mercedes may have been "hacked" -- its braking, acceleration and steering taken over by "outside forces" -- and driven to destruction. 

"Car-hacking" is not science fiction: it is established fact. Electronic controls have been infiltrating modern automobiles since the 1970s. Today, a luxury automobile may have 100 MB of binary code onboard, feeding anywhere from 50-70 Electronic Control Units (ECUs). 

In addition to internal ECUs that monitor engine and driving performance, there now are ECUs that communicate with the world beyond the dashboard. These wi-fi enabled "telemetric" systems not only broadcast information to outside receivers, they also respond to instructions beamed in from neighborhood and satellite communication systems. Think OnStar; think Bluetooth. 

In 2010, researchers at the University of Washington and the University of California at San Diego published a shocking piece of research describing how they had managed to override the safety features on two off-the-lot 2009 automobiles. The report, "Experimental Security Analysis of a Modern Automobile," documented an astonishing outcome: 

"We have demonstrated the ability to systematically control a wide array of components including engine, brakes, heating and cooling, lights, instrument panel, radio, locks, and so on. Combining these, we have been able to mount attacks that represent potentially significant threats to personal safety.  

"For example, we are able to forcibly and completely disengage the brakes while driving, making it difficult for the driver to stop. Conversely, we are able to forcibly activate the brakes, lurching the driver forward and causing the car to stop suddenly." 

There are now more than 250 million passenger vehicles in the US and most of them are computer controlled to some extent. According to the researchers, our newest autos are "pervasively computerized." And, they warn, the risk of "car-hacking" is about to become much worse because Detroit is planning to introduce vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle enhancements in the near future. The ability of one vehicle to "communicate" with another will "only broaden the attack surface further." 

The research paper explains that there are two ways to seize control of a vehicle's computer systems -- by direct physical interference or by indirect interference. In the first instance, "a mechanic, a valet, a person who rents a car, an ex-friend, a disgruntled family member, or the car owner can, with even momentary access to the vehicle, insert a malicious component into a car's internal network via the ubiquitous OBD-II port (typically under the dash)." 

The other approach is to rely on "numerous wireless interfaces" -- some cars have five or more digital radio interfaces that accept outside commands, "some over only a short range and others over an indefinite distance." 

Remote Control of Speed, Brakes, Lights and Locks 

Since 2008, all cars sold in the US come with a Control Area Network (CAN) bus used for "diagnostic" purposes. The CAN controls all the other sub-networks in today's Buicks, Fords, Hondas, BMWs, VWs and GM products. 

The researchers' investigation found the CAN protocol was "extremely vulnerable to denial-of-service attacks." Furthermore, they found, "any single compromised component can be used to control all the other components." 

Here's what the university investigators were able to do, once they had gained remote control over their test vehicles: 

* Remotely increase the volume the radio and sound alarms, overriding the driver's ability to control the settings. 

* Remotely lock and unlock car doors, jam the door locks, pop the trunk, honk the horn, activate and deactivate headlights and turn signals, disable and enable window controls and windshield wipers. 

* Remotely release and lock the brakes, even at high speeds. 

* They were able to disable the key lock relays, thereby locking the key in the ignition. On the other hand, they were able to restart the car remotely, even after the ignition key had been removed. 

* The researchers also discovered they could remotely rev the engine, cause the motor to fail at highway speeds and even disable the engine so the vehicle could not be restarted. 

Forbes magazine recently invited two car-hackers to demonstrate their prowess by taking over the controls of a Ford Escape being driven by a Forbes reporter. The hackers found the driver's shocked reactions hugely amusing but the fact is, car-hacking is no laughing matter. 


The potential for deadly interventions is profound. The researchers reported: "We were able to release the brakes and actually prevent our driver from braking: no amount of pressure on the brake pedal was able to activate the brakes. . . . . With another [computer control] packet, we were able to instantaneously lock the brakes unevenly." 

The experiment included the creation of a "Self-destruct" scenario, in which the researchers were able to take control of the targeted auto and display a "60-second countdown" on the dashboard, complete with ticking time-bomb sound effects and "horn honks in the last few seconds." The demo "culminated with killing the engine and activating the door-lock relay (preventing the occupant from using the electronic door unlock button)." 

Combined with the ability to remotely race the engine and disable the car's brakes and lights, this gave the "controllers" a potentially deadly power over the targeted vehicle. All of this "required less than 200 lines of code." 

There is another reason car-hacking provides a special attraction for criminals and terrorists -- the attacks leave behind little evidence. As the researchers discovered: "the attack code on the telematics unit could perform some action (such as locking the brakes after detecting a speed of over 80 MPH). The attack code could then erase any evidence of its existence." 

A Reporter's Death: The Video Evidence 

Against all odds, the last minutes of Hastings' life and the immediate aftermath of his fiery death were captured in real-time by a professional news cameraman. A reporter with LoudLabs News happened to be in the neighborhood trying to track down what turned out to be a false report of a Justin Bieber crash on Sunset Blvd. While parked at a local gas station, the reporter's dash-cam caught Hastings' Mercedes Benz as it barreled through a red light travelling at a high rate of speed south on Highland. 

In a second video, the LoudLabs cameraman sets off down the street following reports of a crash. Within four minutes, he arrives at the crash site where Hastings' car is completely engulfed in flames. 

The first video raises the question: Why was Hastings speeding? One early assumption was that he was being pursued but the LoudLabs video clearly shows his vehicle was traveling alone. 

Another question: Why would Hastings -- or any other sane driver -- risk his life by plowing through an intersection against a red light. 

These two questions suggest a terrifying possibility. If Hastings was, in fact, the target of a car-hack, he may have found himself trapped inside a speeding vehicle without the ability to control acceleration or braking. His only control may have been limited to trying to steer the vehicle as it hurtled down the highway. 

Clearly, a car-hacking scenario would constitute a "cleaner" form of attack, leading to a crash that would likely look "accidental." So why would an assassin risk using explosives that would likely leave evidence signaling a plot? One thought comes to mind: To "send a message" to Hastings' friends and followers, those who had an interest in looking behind the presentations of the "official story." 

See the videos below: 



Mounting Evidence of an Assassination and a Cover-up 

As Hasting's colleagues -- and a growing online community of skeptics -- sifted through the evidence, there seemed to be increasing reason to doubt the "official story" -- i.e., that Hasting's speeding car had caught fire after swerving and crashing into a palm tree in the median of the divided suburban roadway. 

There were just too many troubling inconsistencies. There were no skid marks. Local residents reported hearing one or more loud explosions. 

The vehicle was engulfed in an extremely fierce torch-like inferno that some critics claimed was unlike a gasoline-fed fire -- and more like the kind of blaze associated with burning thermite or plastic explosives. 

The bomb scenario would certainly explain how the car's engine came to be blasted out of the vehicle and wound up down the road, 100 feet from the flaming wreckage. 

Furthermore, the damage to the car was inconsistent with a simple crash. There was a debris field that covered a good part of the block. Instead of splaying out around the palm tree, metal and plastic parts from the Mercedes were scattered down the roadway -- a great distance past the point where the auto struck the tree. 

The car's front left wheel somehow wound up nearly 100 feet away from the wrecked car -- on a sidewalk on the other side of the street. The car's engine and transmission had been hurled into the sky and wound up 200 feet down the roadway. 

And, inexplicably, the vehicle's hood (which should have born the brunt of the head-on impact) could be seen resting near the far side of the palm, intact and uncrumpled. It appeared as though the hood had separated from the Mercedes before the impact and landed, relatively unscathed, alongside the tree. 

The more one examines the video and next-day photos of the wrecked car, the more it appears that the vehicle was destroyed, not by a front-end impact but from a powerful explosion that occurred beneath the vehicle. The front of the car is missing and the roof is torn open like a sardine can. The rear of the car (which would not have been damaged in a front-end collision) also shows extensive damage. 

One of the most disturbing photos was taken hours after accident. It shows a team of police gathered around the crime scene in full sunshine. The police are guarding a tarp draped over the vehicle. But Hastings' charred body had been removed from the burned-out car hours. So what are the police hiding? The tarp is covering the front half of the car -- effectively shielding it from view by the public and the press. If the tarp were removed, it would have revealed the extensive damage sustained by the Mercedes -- the kind of horrific explosive mangling that could only be created by a bomb, not a palm. 

The Mercedes is a well-built car. It is known for not exploding -- even in high-speed crashes on Germany's autobahn. In an odd piece of public relations, Mercedes-Benz officials withheld comment, choosing instead to defer to the LAPD. 

There was another oddity about the crash scene. A small geyser of water could be seen near the burning car. At first, it was assumed the car had clipped a fire hydrant. But that would have caused a much higher plume of water. On closer inspection, the water could be seen springing from the ground near the cement caps of a water-access point. But the cement caps were undamaged. Something had apparently caused a portion of the buried waterlines to rupture underground. 

What might cause such unusual damage? Only two explanations come to mind: (1) an earthquake or (2) a powerful blast violently shaking the ground. 

Where Is the Autopsy Report?  

Kimberly Dvorak, an investigative journalist with San Diego's News 6 television has been following the Hastings story. On July 14, she reported: 

"Despite the LAPD's categorization of the Hasting fatal accident as a 'no (evidence of) foul play,' LAPD continues to ignore . . . requests made by San Diego 6 News for the police report, 9/11 call, autopsy, bomb squad and toxicology reports, or make the Mercedes available for inspection." 

Adding to the macabre nature of the case, the LAPD apparently authorized the precipitous cremation of the reporter's remains. The ashes, stuffed into an urn, were delivered to Hastings' grieving family in Vermont. According to press reports, the family was not consulted about the decision to cremate the reporter's body. 

Even though the body had been cremated, LA Coroner Captain John Kades insisted that the results of the autopsy tests would take another four to six weeks to complete. 

A New Video Surfaces 

A day after the crash, another video surfaced. This one came from a surveillance camera mounted on a popular neighborhood restaurant called Pizzaria Mozza. It captured the last seconds of Michael Hastings' life. 

In the grainy video, the reporter's car can be seen racing down the empty street at a high rate of speed. There is a quick flash of light that appears to burst just beneath the car. At this point, all the lights in the car appear to go out. A spreading glow erupts out of the briefly darkened road, followed by a small explosion, quickly followed by a massive blast that illuminates the neighborhood. 

The video appears to show all the explosions occurring in the street, not off to the left inside the median strip. 


After reviewing the coverage of Hastings' death, Jonathan Turley, a nationally recognized legal scholar who specializes in constitutional law, wrote: "In a world where American Presidents openly arrogate to themselves the right to kill people deemed enemies of the United States, all things suddenly become possible. When the basic right of habeas corpus can be denied to American citizens, based upon unproven allegations of their being threats to this country, isn’t it possible for those with the power to detain and to eliminate individuals, to make decisions as to someone’s existence doing harm to this country? Finally, doesn’t this unconstitutional expansion of powers give individuals with government connections the leeway to take revenge on those who expose them?" 

It has now been seven weeks since the death of Michael Hastings. The LAPD has yet to issue a report on its investigation of the crash. The Los Angeles Coroner's office has yet to issue an autopsy report. 

Gar Smith, an award-winning investigative reporter, is the co-founder of Environmentalist Against War (www.envirosagainstwar.org) and author of Nuclear Roulette -- recently named one of Ralph Nader's Top Ten books for summertime reading.

Budget Cuts are Stealing Hope from the Poor
In Berkeley and Across the Nation (News Analysis)

By Lynda Carson
Friday August 09, 2013 - 10:43:00 AM

Massive federal budget cuts are stealing hope from the poor, elderly and disabled. As evidence of this horrific trend, in recent months during 2013 the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) notified 14 households that their Section 8 housing choice vouchers have been suspended until further notice. The BHA also served notice to around 200 additional households in the final stages of being eligible to receive Section 8 vouchers, that their applications for vouchers have also been suspended until further notice.

With $1.7 million in budget cuts hitting the BHA in 2013 plus an additional loss of $386,000 in administrative fees to run its housing programs, the BHA also estimates that an additional 74 households may lose their Section 8 housing vouchers during 2014. 

Low-income families in the Section 8 program pay 30 to 40 percent of their income in rent each month, and the rest of the rent is paid to the landlord by the federal program.

Nearby, during FY 2013 the Oakland Housing Authority also faced a budget cut of $11 million, and with Congress going on vacation last week until late September, it nearly guarantees that the next round of sequestration budget cuts totaling around $110 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts will occur during the beginning of October, when FY 2014 begins.

The additional $110 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts set to begin in October will eventually be a great hardship for low-income households in Oakland, and may result in the further loss of stable housing for the poor, elderly and disabled throughout the City, and across the nation. Already it's estimated that 125,000 households across the nation may be at risk of losing their Section 8 housing vouchers due to the first round of sequestration budget cuts that began on March 1, 2013.

Making matters worse, the House and Senate recently failed to pass a federal budget for FY 2014 that would have funded the nation's federal housing programs through the latest Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) appropriations bill.

With regards to budget cuts for some other local housing authorities during 2013, it was also reported that the Santa Clara Housing Authority faced a budget cut of $21 million. The San Francisco Housing Authority faced a budget cut of $9.4 million. The Contra Costa Housing Authority faced a budget cut of $7.2 million. The Alameda County Housing Authority faced a budget cut of $5.8 million, plus the San Mateo County Housing Authority faced a budget cut of $3.6 million.

With the on-going massive budget cuts continuing locally and throughout the nation's federal housing programs, housing authorities across the nation are stepping up their efforts to detect fraud or some kind of wrong-doing occurring in the Section 8 program and public housing program, as a way to dump the poor from their housing programs in response to the budget cuts.

Recently, a local Section 8 household was threatened for having guests stay in their household. A notice sent out to a Section 8 household from a local housing authority warned the household that they may be dumped from the program for having any guests stay with them for over 30 days, or a total of 90 cumulative calendar days during any 12 month period. This includes relatives visiting from out of town that may have brought numerous children with them while making a visit. As an example, 3 people visiting for 3 days shall constitute 9 of the 90 allowable days a Section 8 household may have guests stay with them during any 12 month period. Violation of these or other rules may result in a Section 8 household being dumped from the program.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is making an effort to get reimbursed if a housing authority makes payments to landlords with substandard housing for Section 8 tenants.

As an example, during 2012 HUD's Office of Inspector General (OIG) completed a review of the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) in response to a hotline complaint. In one instance they found indications that 13 of 19 housing units inspected did not meet housing quality standards, and that 8 of those units were in material noncompliance, resulting in the OHA paying $28,508 in Section 8 program fees to owners of housing units that were not decent, safe and of standard quality. The OIG recommended that the OHA should reimburse its Section 8 program from non-Federal funds if the 8 units have not been brought up to housing quality standards.

As an another example of going after a tenant for fraud, during July of 2013 in Mansfield, Ohio, it was reported that Section 8 tenant Danette Stevenson was accused of allegedly stealing more than $14,000 in funds while she was in the Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly called the Section 8 program). She faces sentencing for accepting funding while she was not eligible to receive funding, in addition to being dumped from the program.

In Baltimore during July of 2013, it was also reported that landlord Daren Kareem Gadsen was convicted and faces 30 years in prison, plus a $1 million fine for ripping off $1.4 million from the Section 8 housing choice voucher program in that City. Tyeast Brown, William Darden, and Keith Daughtry also pleaded guilty for having a role in that scheme.

On-going budget cuts continue to steal hope from the poor, and with problems such as fraud allegedly occurring in the nation's federal housing programs there is less funding available for those that are in need, and eligible for federal housing assistance. 

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com

The Camp-Out at the Berkeley Post Office Continues

By Lydia Gans
Thursday August 08, 2013 - 06:26:00 PM

As word spread of the U. S. Post Office Department plans to sell the Berkeley post office building, public protest has become ever more vehement.

Ying Lee is on the steering committee of the group of concerned citizens called Save Our Berkeley Post Office . They have been gathering information and planning actions to avert the sale.

“We're also working nationally,” she said, “with people in the Bronx and people in the National Trust”. 

There are issues around historical preservation as well as of art work. 

“There are 3500 post offices to be sold, and there are 1100 post offices that were built during the New Deal with a lot of good art", Lee said. 

The Berkeley post office was built almost one hundred years ago but the art was created during the New Deal. 

Growing public anger was building up to some sort of protest action. Civil disobedience doesn't make sense when there is no one and no law to disobey. Everybody, from the entire Berkeley city council, representatives on the Board of Supervisors, the State Senate and Congress and even the Berkeley police, was unanimous in their opposition to the sale. 

A camp-out in front of the Berkeley Post Office was inaugurated with a rally on Sunday, July 28. Tents were set up, as well tables for literature and regular food donations, and signs were posted. A small tent city, with a very diverse but committed group of people, was established. 

Bill Rose is one of the campers. “Camping is a tactic we hope will spread”, he said. 

“It puts pressure on politicians, it shows commitment and it helps get the word spread … It's the right thing to do to raise awareness (that) the true cause of the Post Office's burdens is bad legislation like the 2006 postal enhancement and accountability act making them pre-fund their entire health benefits for 75 years in only ten years and that's the main source of their financial burden. It's unnecessary and it's a clear coordinated attack by people that are interested in privatizing the public commons.” 

He reports that people have been very supportive except for some postal police officers who “hassle the campers at night”. 

Charles Copeland comes to the encampment with a different life experience. He has been homeless for a long time and usually stays somewhere near Civic Center Park. He has been with the encampment since it started. 

“Why do I do this – one reason is I love Berkeley. I don't have no tent, I sleep in my sleeping bag, I'm part of the security team, I make sure all these people are safe at night – I walk around. ... It's a blessing just to be able to say I'm somewhere where I am a part of life, I can say, because this is life.” 

He talked about calling his grandmother and when she asked where he was and what he was doing, telling her he was in Berkeley “and we're trying to save the post office.” 

When he explained it to her he said she recalled that she had seen it on TV and told him “If you believe strong that this place, that landmark building needs to be saved, I'm with you.” 

Later on he said “This is not an OOCUPY. These people are coming together and doing the right thing. And I feel like I'm doing the right thing. …” Talking about the many different people, young and old, some who are well off some not, he said “they're here for a reason and I love them.” 

Bryan Lipson sits at a table with a sign saying Write a letter, Defend the Berkeley Post Office

“So I invite people to make use of it in its most treasured fashion” he explains. “I have here everything anyone would need for person to person hand written mail – stamps, domestic and international, envelopes, paper pens colored pencils, crayons envelopes, post cards.” 

There are ever so many reasons for writing a personal letter – just to a friend, or a visitor from out of town writing to the folks at home and telling them about what is happening here. 

Lipson describes how the idea grew: How someone suggested writing to public officials on political issues which inspired someone else to bring a list of addresses people might want to write to. He mentioned “the Postmaster, Bradley Manning, Marissa Alexander who is in jail in Florida, … then somebody added Lyn Stewart. 

Then somebody added "I want people to write to me'". So he started a list he's calling random pen pals. 

"People who want to be pen pals are putting their names so people who want someone to write to can put their names on this list. I also have blank post cards for people who want to write a note to their favorite radio station, to journalists...” he said. 

In encouraging people to write personal letters he says, “I'm inviting people who are already down with the politics to engage in the service and this will give you a whole new feeling and maybe some new thoughts.” And for people who have never engaged in political action this is an opportunity to take a small step toward making a difference. 

For now the spirit in the camp out is strong but the Post Office cannot continue to ignore the wishes of the public. People are gong to get very angry.

Nepal's Newar Convene for Support

By Sol Fraley
Friday August 09, 2013 - 10:25:00 AM
Sol Fraley

Through out the day last Saturday, the Berkeley waterfront was alive with unique and delightful sounds, sights and smells as the Newar Organization of Northern California brought together an assembly in honor of their culture. The Newar people make up one distinct ethnic group out of several dozen native to the Himalayas of Nepal. The August 3rd Newar gathering of family and friends, centered around a splendidly decorative stage, and large banquet spread carefully over several tables. Nearly 150 attended, enjoying the traditional foods and festivities in celebration of Newar traditions and community in the Bay Area. Brightly colored cloth tents were erected and traditional ornaments, flags and medallions, decorated the assembly grounds. Youth gathered for games and soccer in the adjoining green as speakers shared the stage, presenting stories, poetry, song and dance. 

The 2011 Nepal Census found Newars to be Nepal's sixth largest ethnic group. 

They are also one of the oldest, inhabiting the Kathmandu valley since prehistoric times. Their language, classified as Tibeto-Burman, has been strongly influenced by the Indo-Aryan languages which dominate the Indian subcontinent to the south. Similarly, Newar religion reflects a mixture of both Hindu and Buddhist practices.  

Lalit Shresthe, speaking at the event, urged parents to continue speaking Newari at home. "Children of other ethnic groups have succeeded in carrying on their native language in addition to English" he said, "we are free to do the same." Event organizer Amrit Karmacharya explained, "our language is quite different, we are part of the Nepali community but we have our own traditions, that is what brings us together…meeting as a group like this is a great way for us to carry on our language and values."  

Bishu Shakya a respected elder of the community, asked for "people to be true to the religion they are from. All over the world, this is my utmost request." His folk songs accompanied by drumming and instrumentation brought cheers of enjoyment. Shortly after, Iswar Maskey spoke, relating his experience of coming to San Francisco 35 years ago. "At that time there were only two Nepali in the Bay Area. It wasn't easy. I felt like a chick dropped in an eagles nest. I am proud to see more and more Newars living here and the community growing."  

Growth has not only been seen among the Newar, but more broadly, the Nepalese community has expanded significantly in recent years. The Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) reports that numbers in the area have increased recently due to social unrest in Nepal. Sahayeta.org, a Bay-area Nepalese Alliance, describes "an influx of international students, political refugees and immigrants entering the Bay Area." Co-founder and president, Nisha Thapa, estimates that nearly 20,000 Nepalese now live in the San Francisco Bay area.  

With so many immigrants coming from backgrounds that contrast sharply with those typical of this nation, there has been a pressing need for supportive community platform. That is what Sahayeta.org is all about, making it their mission "to facilitate integration…through education, information and mentorship." Since it was founded six years ago Sahayeta.org has aimed "to connect these individuals with resources to get them situated in their new environment while helping create a sense of community by celebrating the Himalayan heritage and culture." The organization serving as an essential resource for the community has also provided support in areas such as health, education, job training and legal assistance. In addition to Sahayeta, other organizations home to the Bay Area and serving a similar mission are Motherland Nepal (motherlandnepal.org) and the Nepali Association of Northern California (NANC). 

Interestingly, all of these organizations were founded by community members who themselves were immigrants to the U.S. Certainly this speaks of the unique ability of those who have successfully coped with such adjustments to help others who are faced with similar challenges. President of the Newar Organization Narayan Somname, voiced this sentiment at the gathering on Saturday when he said "every group needs to preserve their own culture. Our main goal for this assembly has been to bring community together to support Newar culture and especially our language." The large turnout of families and the full-spirited enjoyment of their community that was witnessed on Saturday is perhaps the best testimonial to success in this area.

Warren Hamilton Widener

Sent by Carole Kennerly
Tuesday August 13, 2013 - 11:07:00 AM

Warren Hamilton Widener, age 75, passed away on June 25, 2013, in Hayward, CA, after a long struggle with pneumonia. He was born in Oroville, CA, in the Sacramento Valley, settled in Berkeley, Oakland, and Piedmont, and moved to Roseville, CA, after his retirement. He served his community in roles as Mayor of Berkeley and member of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, served his country as a Captain in the U. S. Air Force, and served his church as a young man leading the Methodist Youth Fellowship with his wife at Downs Memorial United Methodist Church. 

Warren received his Juris Doctorate from Boalt Hall School of Law. He worked as a lawyer and as President of the Urban Housing Institute. His tireless and successful efforts to improve his community, especially to improve the lives of the homeless following the Loma Prieta earthquake, will be long remembered. 

He is survived by his three sons, Warren Jr., Michael and Stephen; his cousin Zaretta; a granddaughter and great grandson; and his former wife Mary. He also leaves to cherish his memory his brothers Arnold and Michael, his sister Lorraine, and many other treasured relatives and friends. 

A private military honors service will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 3, 2013, at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery, 5810 Midway Road, Dixon, CA 95620. 

The public is invited to a Celebration of Life at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 3, 2013, at Downs Memorial United Methodist Church, 6026 Idaho Street, Oakland, CA, 94608. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent in Warren’s memory to Downs Memorial UMC designated for the Fishes and Loaves feeding program. 


James Courtland Goodwin
Tuskegee Airman

By Leah Goodwin
Tuesday August 13, 2013 - 10:58:00 AM
James Courtland Goodwin <br> Tuskegee Airman <br> 1925-2013
James Courtland Goodwin
Tuskegee Airman

James (Jim) Courtland Goodwin, of Santa Rosa, passed away on April 14, 2013 due to cardiac arrest. He was 87 years old. He was laid to rest with full military honors, next to his wife Eva, in the Gustine National Cemetery on April 22, 2014. A Celebration of Life will be held for him in the community room at Friends House 684 Benicia Drive, Santa Rosa on September 21, 2013 at 2pm. 

Jim was born on November 2, 1925 in Fullerton, California, the oldest son of Lee and Ruby Goodwin’s five children. At the height of World War II in 1944, Goodwin joined the Tuskegee Airmen, 332nd Fighter Group, a unit of the Air Force made up of dedicated young men who enlisted to become America’s first black military airmen. He was honorably discharged in May of 1946.  

Following the war, he went on to University of California Berkeley where he received his undergraduate and law degrees. At Cal he met and then married his lifelong best friend, Harriet (Helene) Goodwin, an incoming freshman and sociologist from Chicago. They had two children, David and Leah. That marriage lasted about seven years. 

Then, while clerking for the Supreme Court of California, District Court of Appeals under the late Justices Maurice T. Dooling and Raymond E Peters, he met Eva, a graduate of Oberlin College, who would become his lifelong wife and partner of over 50 years. 

He had a career that was dedicated to academia and educational policy, affirmative action, economic and community development. In1965, Jim was assistant director of the Bay Area Neighborhood Development (BAND), a nonprofit foundation. He later became their Executive Director and moved the focus of its programs from consumer education to consumer action and vigorous community and economic development. He pioneered the use of bi-lingual education materials (Spanish/English) for low income consumers; these materials were picked up and distributed nationally. In addition, he served as senior field representative for the Office of Economic Opportunity assigned to rural economic and community development in several sparsely populated areas of California.  

From 1966 to 1968, he served as a special consultant in minority staff recruitment for the Peace Corps. 

In 1968, when the University of California Berkeley passed an Executive Order to develop affirmative action and equal employment opportunity policy for minorities and women at the nine campuses of the University he was hired to lead the work as Assistant to the Vice President of the University. He was instrumental in obtaining $4,786,810 from the Federal Emergency Employment Act, the California Welfare Reform Act of 1971. As a result the University employed more welfare recipients than any other State entity. 

In 1978 he was appointed by the Governor to serve as a Commissioner on the California Public Broadcasting Commission. There he inaugurated a fellowship and chaired a joint funding committee with the California Council for the Humanities. He also funded programs by independent producers in public affairs, the arts and humanities.  

On March 29, 2007 the Tuskegee Airmen both living and deceased were recognized for their distinguished service and dedication to the military history of the United States of America and were given the Congressional Gold Medal, the Nation’s highest and most distinguished civilian award. 

In January of 2009, he traveled with his daughter, Leah, and joined hundreds of Tuskegee Airmen who were invited by President Barack Obama to attend the inauguration of our Nation’s first African American President. 

Throughout his life Jim found respite in participating in the arts. He especially enjoyed opera, classical music, and theatre. He had a true love of nature, spending time exploring the many trails of the Point Reyes National Seashore. His second home in Inverness was a place for writing, resting and deep contemplation. 

Jim spent most of his life as a resident of Berkeley, California. He and Eva retired and later moved to Friend’s House, a Quaker community in Santa Rosa. There they spent their last years painting, walking, listening to music and connecting with many new friends. 




An Open Letter from the Berkeley Daily Planet to Jeff Bezos as He Takes on the Washington Post

By Becky O'Malley
Thursday August 08, 2013 - 03:44:00 PM

Dear Jeff,

By now you must have heard that old joke at least 20 times:

Mr. Bones: “Do you know how you can make a small fortune in the newspaper business?”

Eager Buyer: “No, Mr. Bones, how can I make a small fortune in the newspaper business?”

Mr. Bones: “Why, start with a large fortune, of course!”

Luckily for you, you seem to be starting with a large enough fortune that you might be able to afford to run the Washington Post. And you seem to be smart enough to realize that this venture will not be a sure-fire money-maker like your current business, Amazon Inc.

Like you, we bought a failing newspaper once upon a time. We also used earnings from a previous successful business to do so, though on a much different scale: several orders of magnitude, perhaps several dozen orders of magnitude less than the one you’re operating in.

You’re reported to have paid $270 million dollars for a paper estimated by Brad DeLong, a Berkeley economist neighbor of ours, to be worth just $100 million.

We paid only $15,000 for the Berkeley Daily Planet, for which we got a bunch of obsolete Macs, some ugly furniture and the tail end of a commercial lease in the bargain, plus whatever rights the founders had to the Daily Planet name. And that was more that it was worth. Like you, we overpaid in our enthusiasm for becoming newspaper owners.

Both your paper and ours had a consistent recent record of losing money. Though we did not expect that publishing was going to be as profitable as software development had been, we naively believed that with good management and quality improvement we’d eventually be able break even.

Didn’t happen. In fact, over eight years we lost a considerable percentage of what we’d made in our previous high tech enterprise, hoping for much too long that things would turn around.

So, what advice can we give you? 

Well, the first thing you need to know is that it’s not about distribution. Your signature venture is all about optimizing distribution—the product sold by Amazon Inc. is created by someone else. But now, like it or don’t, you’ve entered the production end of the news business. 

And that doesn’t mean printing newspapers. We optimized printing and delivering papers to a fare-thee-well: cheap paper stock, boxes where readers could pick up their own copies so we didn’t need delivery, all that stuff. But it’s been decades since selling printed copies of newspapers has been a way to make money. 

Then, advertising, the way newspapers had supported themselves for close to a century, collapsed out from under us and many other publications. Rightly or wrongly, retail merchants everywhere no longer believe that advertising in a news publication is the way to increase their sales. 

You know something about how that happened, don’t you? For the whole eight years we were supporting the Planet, the big local-but-world-famous Berkeley bookstore, Cody’s, consistently refused to advertise with us. By the time we threw in the towel, Cody’s had gone under. Some blamed the vagrants who sat on the sidewalk in front of the store on Telegraph Avenue, some blamed the last owner who’d acquired it from the founding Cody family, but most people, probably including the last proprietor, blamed—you—or at least Amazon Inc.  

And in truth no one, even us, really thought advertising in the Planet or any other publication would have helped book sales much. The same kind of thing has happened with other local retailers, once the main support of newspapers. Classified ads experienced a similar downward trajectory, accelerated by Craig’s List online.  

So you won’t be able to make money by selling ads in the Washington Post.  

Your product these days is not copies of newspapers or subscriptions or ads—it’s information. This week Paul Krugman (the main reason we still read the New York Times at our house, on paper or online) summed it up nicely: 

“It’s true that information technology makes it increasingly easy to carve out your own brand; I’ve done some of that myself. But it also makes monetizing information harder; I believe that Arcade Fire makes a lot of its money from live performances rather than record sales, and in any case they have not become wealthy. This is OK for music — great music can be made without super-profitable record companies — but not so OK for journalism, which relies on a substantial infrastructure of non-superstar reporters. 

…[T]he Times, or any news organization, depends on the services of many reporters, staff, etc. who actually have to live on their salaries.” 

”Somehow the economics of this new world have to be worked out; but they are definitely problematic. Someone like Nate [Silver] can become a celebrity and cut free of the middleman; but the people reporting on City Hall can’t, and we need those people too.” 

There’s the rub. News doesn’t just happen—someone actually has to turn events into stories. And that certain someone needs to be paid to create the product which the publisher sells. 

When we were publishing the printed Planet, because of the Berkeley cachet we were able to attract excellent reporters like Richard Brenneman while paying very modest salaries, yet we still lost money hand over fist. That’s the problem, Jeff: You’ll continue to incur the cost of reporting without the advertising revenue which paid for it in the old days. 

And as for monetizing (don’t you love that word!) news by selling online ads or putting up pay walls—well, good luck. No one’s been able to succeed at either one of those so far.  

It’s tempting to think that running a lot of opinions might be an inexpensive way of creating marketable content. We tried that at the Planet. Our open-to-all commentary section was probably the best-read part of the paper, but eventually some op-ed writers ran afoul of a powerful interest group. 

We printed some pieces from readers who were supportive of Palestine and critical of Israel at a time when other publications considered Israel to be journalism’s third rail, never to be touched. This caused a very small but energetic minority of wacko Israel supporters to launch a campaign to persuade our advertisers to boycott us. Sinister visitors dropped in at local places of business and loudly denounced the Planet as anti-Semitic, sometimes in front of customers.  

Despite affirmations of support from many members of the Jewish community, a substantial number of advertisers (including even our own insurance company) were scared into dropping their ads. And we were already way short of ad revenue…. 

After we gave up on newsprint, we tried for a while to publish online with a print-on-demand option in conjunction with a copy shop, but their upper management was scared off by more threats from the usual suspects.  

These days there’s much more open discussion of Israel/Palestine in the press, but you can be sure that some other third rail issue will bite you if the Post runs controversial opinion content. 

Already, my leftist pals are on the warpath because Amazon’s cloud computing capacity has been offered to U.S. intelligence people—even though I realize the WaPo is your personal investment, not Amazon’s. On the other hand, your support of liberal/libertarian social policy on gay marriage can be expected to incur the wrath of the other team. You can be sure that some group will organize a boycott for some reason before you’re through. 

We’ve ended up these days at the bloggish end of the spectrum, relying most of the time on pro bono pieces written by members of Berkeley’s extensive literati who are willing to work without pay. We’ve learned, sadly but not surprisingly, that many such people eventually get bored and wander off, no matter how good their intentions, though some have persisted, which we appreciate. It’s nice enough, but it’s not really a newspaper. 

My conclusion, Jeff, which I’m happy to pass along to you pro bono with no consulting fee, is that running a newspaper isn’t a business any more, but a philanthropic enterprise. Your role model should be Andrew Carnegie, who made his fortune in the steel industry and then put his profits into the wildly successful project of setting up free public libraries across the country and founded organizations devoted to world peace, racial justice and other worthwhile causes.  

As long as you’ve given up the idea of making money from owning the Washington Post, you’ve embarked on a worthy task. You’ve made your mark in business, and now you can secure your place in history if you do it sensitively. 

And while you’re at it, by the way, you should enjoy it too. Now that you’re really rich, you should be able to have a bit of fun for a while. At least, I’m here to tell you, it won’t be boring. 

Best of luck, 






Odd Bodkins: Enligntened Self-interest (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday August 09, 2013 - 11:53:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

Press Release: Save the Post Office Rally Held in Berkeley on Saturday--the Videos!

From Save the Post Office
Tuesday August 13, 2013 - 02:00:00 PM

The USPS plans to sell Berkeley's historic main post office. On Saturday, August 10th, people met to rally and march in protest and to support those who have been camping out at the post office since July 27th. This is not a local issue but one arm of the struggle against privatization and the global fight for economic justice.

Resist the intrusion of corporations into every aspect of our lives. This is a fight we can win. See some lively short videos of excerpts from yesterday's rally to save the Berkeley post office:  



US Embassy Closures

By Jagjit Singh
Friday August 09, 2013 - 10:41:00 AM

Perhaps the worldwide travel alert of possible al-Qaeda threats coming on the heels of mounting public outrage over domestic spying – should come as no surprise. Is this a real or imagined threat? Is the massive NSA spying agency using the terror threats to wage war on our civil liberties? Prior administrations have used terror threats to goad us into disastrous wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The NSA alleges that the terror threats arose from chatter on the Internet. But don’t our enemies adjust their terror activities to thwart our terror alerts? With the credibility of the NSA at an all-time low, the general public is highly skeptical of the true reasons for its recent unprecedented actions. The closures of 19 embassies would clearly suggest that al Qaeda is a growing menace and not “on its last legs” as the Obama administration claims. 

The escalation of drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and more recently in Yemen has clearly intensified the seething hatred of the U.S. and continues to be a major recruitment tool of the growing network of al Qaeda and its affiliates. The BBC recently showed the scarred images of 20 innocent men, women and children from a failed drone strike in Yemen. The hasty retreat of American civilians in Yemen by helicopter is eerily similar to the final withdrawn from Vietnam and is a sad testament to failed U.S. foreign policies.

Major Banks Agree to Principle Reduction, Lower Interest

By Barb Weir
Friday August 09, 2013 - 11:17:00 AM

U.S. homeowners struggling to make payments on mortgages worth as much as three times the value of their home were astonished to learn that their banks had decided to offer principle reduction and lower interest. 

“We’ve been negotiating for years and the banks have been unwilling to budge” said Deepa N. Dette from Salem Quick, Wisconsin. “Now this? What does it mean?” To answer this question, I spoke to Hugh Reilly-Kairs, spokesperson for the American Banking Oligarchy: 

Barb Weir: Mr. Reilly-Kairs, please explain the thinking behind this decision. 

Reilly-Kairs: Honestly – no, really, Ms. Weir – we were surprised that anyone doubted the willingness of U.S. banks to reduce their principles. We didn’t have many to begin with, but we’re always willing to cut back further. 

Barb Weir: I really don’t think this is what– 

Reilly-Kairs: We have been willing to let whole communities become blighted and deserted except for criminals and wild dogs just to foreclose on homeowners so that we can collect on the mortgage insurance. 

Barb Weir: Mr. Reilly-Kairs, it’s not that kind of princip– 

Reilly-Kairs: In many cases, those homeowners paid taxes that bailed out the insurance companies that paid us. 

Barb Weir: It’s principal, p-r-i-n-c-i-p-A-L, Mr. Reilly-Kairs. You know – the non-interest part of the loan. 

Reilly-Kairs: That’s right, Ms. Weir. The insurance company, backed by the taxpayer, pays us 80% of the p-r-i-n-c-i-p-a-l, even if the house is worth only half that. It’s a great system and then we get to sell it off for peanuts and still make a nice profit. That shows pretty unprincipled methods, if you ask me, but we’re willing to see if there are any principles left to shed. 

Barb Weir: OK, Mr. Reilly-Kairs, but your announcement also spoke of lower interest. 

Reilly-Kairs: Yes, that’s right. We have very little interest in these homeowners or their communities. Sometimes we’ve fixed up a couple of homes after we foreclose, in order avoid blight penalties, but we’re willing to reconsider and show less interest in them. In that case, whoever buys the properties (if anyone) will have to worry about the fines. In fact, we pledge to take no interest at all. 

Barb Weir is a satirist and familiar of Paul Larudee.


Adult Education Teaches Both English and Democracy

By Romila Khanna
Friday August 09, 2013 - 11:00:00 AM

We want all Americans (established families and new immigrants) to be proficient in the language of the land. We also want them to be proficient in the responsibilities of democracy. How shall we achieve both ends? We can make adult English language classes more widely available and we can include inspiring civics classes in the evening as part of the adult curriculum.  

But the most important input is the creation of an encouraging environment in which people at the bottom of society feel they have a chance at success. Such an environment cannot be created without reducing the inequality between rich and poor in our great democratic nation. People forget that the well-being of the least privileged members of a community adds to the dynamism of the entire economy. Just think of the difference between hiring a poorly educated laborer and a competent, confident graduate of a high school. It is in everybody’s economic interest to support extension of adult education in English and civics in a way that welcomes those who are not already well-off.


THE PUBLIC EYE; Negotiating With the American Taliban

By Bob Burnett
Friday August 09, 2013 - 10:22:00 AM

In June the US agreed to < a href= http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/06/u-s-to-begin-peace-negotiations-with-taliban/>meet with the Islamic Taliban to discuss the future of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, comparable negotiations between the Obama Administration and the American version of the Taliban, the Tea-Party wing of the Republican Party, have reached an impasse, which threatens to shut down the US government. 

Political commentator Thom Hartmann reported that on January 20, 2009, Republican leaders met to plan their resistance to the incoming Obama Administration. One attendee, Texas Republican Representative Pete Sessions, said the GOP would use the tactics of the 

Taliban Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban. Insurgency is the way they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person's entire processes. And these Taliban -- is an example of how you go about to change a person from their messaging, to their operations, to their frontline message. And we need to understand that Insurgency may be required when [dealing with Democrats on] the other side.
Since their 2009 strategy session Republicans have attempted to block every move of the Obama White House, regardless of the impact on the country. After the GOP seized control of the House of Representatives in 2010, they’ve thwarted most Democratic initiatives, regardless of their merits. As a consequence, the House has done little work of substance. Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza noted that the 112th Congress was “the least productive in history,” passing just 561 bills. The current Congress, the 113th, is on track to be even less productive. Writing for MSNBC, Ari Melber observed that even though House Speaker John Boehner claimed that “jobs continue to be our number one priority,” of the 183 bills House Republicans put to a vote, only one was job-related. 

The Taliban insurgency has disrupted the legislative process. As a consequence, there’s not only friction between congressional Democrats and Republicans but also acrimony within the Republican caucus, pitting the traditional conservatives versus the Tea-Party radicals. It’s this conflict that threatens to shutdown the government on October 1st, when the next fiscal year begins. AP writer David Espo reported 

Some Senate Republicans have blocked Democratic attempts to begin compromise [budget] talks, saying they will relent only if there is agreement in advance not to raise the federal debt limit as part of any deal. "Let me be clear, I don't trust the Republicans," said GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. "I don't trust the Democrats, and I think a whole lot of Americans likewise don't trust the Republicans or the Democrats because it is leadership in both parties that has got us into this mess."
On September 9, when Congress returns from its summer vacation, negotiations will begin on a new Federal budget and raising the debt limit. What happens next will depend upon the strength of the Taliban segment of the Republican Party. If they have their way, the government will shut down. 

In his classic analysis of the latest incarnation of the GOP, American Taliban: How Sex, Sin, and Power bind Jihadists to the Radical Right Markos Moulitsas observed that Tea-Party Republicans and Islamic militants share six common perspectives: theocracy, violence, sex, women, culture, and truth. Moreover, they share a common moral tenet, that the ends justify the means: “both the American and Islamic Talibans believe they are doing their god's work, thus all means are justified in their mad pursuit of power.” 

The Taliban wing of the GOP wants to shut down the government unless all funding for Obamacare is cut out of the budget. In the Senate, Tea-Party Republican Senators Cruz (Texas), Lee (Utah), and Rubio (Florida) have championed this plan. It’s run into opposition from conservative Republicans such as John McCain: 

Those of us who have been around for a while know what happens when there's the threat of a shutdown of the government: It's the Congress that gets blamed. If the minority uses its strength, its 41 votes [to filibuster government funding], then clearly the American people will blame the Congress.
The biggest problem is in the House of Representatives where Republicans refuse to negotiate with Democrats and Republicans are split into two factions: traditional conservatives and the Tea-Party Taliban. (House Republicans outnumber Democrats 234 to 201, with 51 Republicans identified with the Tea Party.) 

Striving to appease all factions of his caucus, House Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly referenced the Hastert rule that a majority of the majority must back any bill that he permits to come up for a vote. 

Now Boehner is on the spot regarding the looming budget showdown. At a recent meeting of the Republican caucus, the Speaker wouldn’t rule shutting down the government unless Obamacare is defunded. 

The Tea-Party Taliban are a tiny minority of the American electorate and members of Congress, but they are effective because they “believe they are doing god’s work, thus all means are justified in their mad pursuit of power.” 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Being a Proactive Participant in Treatment

By Jack Bragen
Thursday August 08, 2013 - 06:20:00 PM

Antipsychotic medication is used to treat psychotic illnesses and sometimes bipolar. It is a very imperfect treatment for serious illnesses that might otherwise create enormous amounts of suffering. Medication causes suffering through its side effects. However, untreated mental illness can cause a far greater amount of suffering. 

Antipsychotic medication turns up the relative volume of the external environment in consciousness. This reduces the tendency to focus on internal stimuli. On medication, it is harder to ignore one's environment, and people may "get through" your "defenses" a bit more. Others may be able to influence you more easily. This is not necessarily a bad thing. 

If the alternative is to live in a world of gross illusion, which psychiatrists term as being "delusional," it is worthwhile to take the medication and not worry so much about one's independence. With maturity can come less difficulty accepting some of the situations that seem unfair. 

Some say that antipsychotic medication blocks the higher functions of the human mind. I don't agree. If delusions are in charge, that will block the higher functions immeasurably more than will medication. 

I have noticed far more blockage of consciousness when I was taking an "older" antidepressant called Trazodone. There is no right or wrong to medication--it just is. There is no intrinsic rule that says a medication blocks or doesn't block consciousness. 

(Different people react differently to various medications. A medication that helps one person with mental illness may be bad for another.) 

Cooperation with treatment despite the fact that it may seem unfair is the only way I know for a person with severe mental illness to overcome an otherwise unworkable situation. People against psychiatry are often extremely polarized, and many don't believe mental illness even exists. (Mental illness does exist--its existence is not an hallucination. Mental illnesses are medical conditions.) 

On the other end of the spectrum are those who do not believe persons with mental illness have life potential, who believe that we must always be under supervision, who believe that we can never be responsible for our own destinies, and who believe we are a nuisance and a threat to the rest of society. (None of this is true--persons with mental illness have worth and potential. And we do not deserve to live under oppressive conditions.) 

My position is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. I believe that mental illnesses exist and are caused at least in part by a brain malfunction. However, as a person who has mental illness, I am aware of the abuses of power perpetrated by treatment "professionals" supposedly in the name of making the person well. 

Imagine becoming ill and then being punished for it. Such treatment is one reason why many persons who have been in mental hospitals would like to do away completely with the profession of psychiatry. 

If a person has found a psychiatrist who treats them with respect, with empathy, and with a good "bedside manner," it is worthwhile to give him or her one's cooperation. This entails, among many other things, not keeping secrets. 

Sometimes delusions are difficult to articulate, especially when the delusions are paranoid, or when the delusional thoughts have not been recognized as delusions. However, the more you can express to a good psychiatrist precisely what is going on for you, the better equipped the psychiatrist is to give you the correct treatment. Lack of communication can mean that symptoms are not adequately addressed. 

Playing an active role in one's treatment can include asking for what you want. If you think you are overmedicated, ask to be on less medication. If your symptoms are getting to you, ask for medication to help alleviate that. 

Working hard as a recipient of psychotherapy (not to be confused with psychiatry) may pay off in the long term. There is much value of talk therapy in addition to medication. Talk therapy in no way implies that you are a sick person. Many psychotherapists themselves see a therapist. Getting one's troubles aired out through talking about them may prevent emotional wounds from festering. 

Being a proactive recipient of treatment among other things includes trusting your own judgment when stabilized, and realizing that while you are not always right, you are not wrong about everything. This means among other things that you can disagree with the opinions of mental health professionals.

Arts & Events

New: Oakland Hosts a Wonder of a Film Feast: Matatu Film Festival Runs August 15-17

By Gar Smith
Wednesday August 14, 2013 - 06:25:00 PM

San Francisco has made a habit out of hosting scores of local and international film festivals. Now it's Oakland's turn, thanks to some dedicated East Bay souls who are determined to start something great and lasting. The Matatu Film Festival is well worth a look. Miss this and you'll miss your chance to see some rare and wonderful examples of award-winning world cinema. 


The short, power-packed festival features "a collection of African stories from across the planet that have faired well on the festival circuit," says Broaklyn Film and Theater Co. (BRTC) founder Michael Orange. "We've been bringing a lot of films here recently that wouldn't ordinarily make it to Oakland, and I'm hoping to get the word out about these, as they're each playing just once and deserve much longer runs." 

Screenings begin at 7 p.m. at The New Parkway (474 24th St., Oakland). Tickets are available at the door for $10 or online at: www.matatu.eventbrite.com 

Orange is enthusiastic about the line-up for his first-ever Oakland-based film-festival. BFTC's eclectic collection of world cinema includes "a body of stories concerned with global journeys of humility, pride, resistance, and faith, conveyed through film. From stories of black on black gentrification in South Africa, to post-Duvalier Haitian immigrants living in Brooklyn, to one man's process of coming to peace on his last day on Earth." 

"The festival launch is important," Orange tells the Planet, "because its success leads to our ability to follow up with screenings for underserved communities in Oakland." That's why a portion of the proceeds from the screenings will go to promoting BFTC's mission "to share these stories and performances with those who've not the access, time, or financial means." 

So what's on the bill for this inaugural three-day film blitz? Here's the schedule. The following films will all screen at the New Parkway, starting at 7 p.m.: 

August 15: Stones in the Sun (Haiti) 

August 16: God Loves Uganda (Uganda) followed at 9 p.m. by Dear Mandela (South Africa) 

August 17: Stolen Seas: Tales of Somali Piracy (Somalia), followed by Touba (Senegal) and concluding with Alain Gomis' radiant, metaphysical tale, Tey (Senegal). 

A closing-night party will wrap up the proceedings at the New Parish (579 18th St., Oakland) with live performances by Rich Medina, Kinghost, Nina Sol and J Boogie. 

Why Matatu? 

In Kenya and neighboring East African nations, matatu is the Swahili word for the privately owned (and highly decorated) minibuses that serve as local taxis.  

"Matatu not only offer a means of travel," Orange explains. The matatu also offers "a means of navigable access to what is new and current in the world. Until recently, matatu were the only form of public transport available in Nairobi." 

The idea for Oakland's Matatu Film Festival was inspired by the original matatu's ability to transport poor people beyond the boundaries of their immediate lives. According to Orange: "We believe that everyone has a spectacular story, that every spectacular story deserves to be heard, and that everyone deserves the means to travel, even through story." 

Why Broaklyn? 

As Orange tells it, the precursor for the BDTC event was a "Brooklyn Film Festival" originally crafted by New Yorker Adam Schartoff. When Orange left New York and headed west to settle in Oakland, "I brought the series here… with a mission to present stories common to historically ethnically rich communities like Brooklyn and like Oakland." Concerned about issues of poverty and social inequity, he retitled the West Coast version "Broaklyn." 

But there's another reason the Broaklyn Film and Theater Co. found its perfect home in the East Bay city. As Orange delights in pointing out, "East Oakland was called Brooklyn until the 1870's." 

The Matatu Film Festival is presented by the Broaklyn Film and Theater Co. (BRTC), Top Ten Social, and is co-sponsored by KQED and ITVS. For more information, go to http://broaklyn.org 


New: Theater Review: 'Pitch Perfect' at Central Works

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday August 13, 2013 - 11:25:00 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.