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Congresswoman Lee on Nelson Mandela’s Passing

Congresswoman Barbara Lee
Thursday December 05, 2013 - 02:56:00 PM

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Nelson Mandela, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his friends, family, and the people of South Africa. His legacy will live on forever in how we live our lives and fight for freedom and justice in a multi-racial society. We must pause and remember Madiba in his greatness; he used his life not for himself, but for the good of his country and the good of the world, and his spirit will live on. 

“Even throughout his 27 years of incarceration and brutal treatment, his spirit was never broken and this stands as a testament to the power of reconciliation. Not only is Nelson Mandela the father of the liberation movement in South Africa, but he also laid the framework for modern liberation movements throughout the world. With a dignified defiance, Nelson Mandela never compromised his political principles or the mission of the anti-apartheid movement, fighting the global AIDS pandemic, ending poverty and preserving human rights. 

“During Mr. Mandela’s trip to the United States in 1990, it was a great honor to be a member of the host committee that welcomed him to my district of Oakland, California. One of my proudest moments as a member of Congress was when I led the effort to remove Mr. Mandela and the ANC from the U.S. Terrorist Watch list in time for his 90th birthday. I served as an official election observer for the 1994 South African elections when President Mandela was first elected, and it was a magnificent reminder that perhaps one day my own country would elect an African American president. 

“Mr. Mandela exuded a larger-than-life presence and a humble spirit that was remarkable; he is my hero and an inspiration to us all. While this earth will miss the physical presence of Nelson Mandela, his indomitable nature, his gentle spirit, and overwhelming smile will remain with us all. My heart is heavy as we mourn the loss and celebrate the life of this great warrior.” 

Follow Barbara Lee on Facebook and Twitter at @RepBarbaraLee. To learn more, visit lee.house.gov. 

Congresswoman Barbara Lee is a former Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and currently serves as CPC Whip and Chair of the Task Force on Global Peace and Security. Congresswoman Lee serves as a representative from the United States to the 68th General Assembly of the United Nations.

Updated: Nine Go to Hospital after BART Train Stopped in Berkeley Hills Tunnel

By SashaLekach/JeffShuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday December 04, 2013 - 06:38:00 PM

BART service is getting back to normal after a train experienced a brake failure and became disabled in the Berkeley Hills tunnel this morning in an incident that sent nine passengers to hospitals.  

The incident started around 8:20 a.m. when a parking brake deployed in error on a train bound for San Francisco International Airport on the Pittsburg-Bay Point line, according to BART spokesman Jim Allison. 

The train became disabled, blocking the tracks, and a "brake dust" filled some of the cars, BART spokeswoman Luna Salaver said. 

"There was absolutely no fire on the train," Salaver said. 

There were 600 to 700 passengers on the train at the time, and they were in the Berkeley Hills tunnel until the mechanical issues were resolved and the train began moving again about an hour later, Allison said. 

"Rescue trains" had initially been deployed to assist the stranded passengers, but were canceled after a technician got the disabled train to move on its own, according to Allison. 

Shortly after 9:30 a.m., the train arrived at the Rockridge station, where Oakland firefighters assisted passengers who had requested medical attention, Allison said. 

Oakland fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton said medical crews treated 11 passengers at the station. Nine of those people were taken to hospitals. 

Two of the nine were having difficulty breathing, she said. One passenger was semi-conscious when taken off the train, Drayton said. 

Passenger Angela Moore, 32, of Pittsburg, had gotten on the train around 7:45 a.m. at the Pittsburg-Bay Point station. 

She was headed to the 12th Street station in Oakland but when the train went into the tunnel it stopped. She said her train car, which was in the middle of the train, smelled like smoke. 

The train sat for about a long time in the tunnel. 

"I wanted it to be over," she said. 

A train operator came to her car and told passengers to stay calm, and told those affected by the smoky conditions to move to cars closer to the front or back, she said. 

Once at the Rockridge station, she was evaluated by Oakland fire medical personnel. They offered to take her to the hospital after she said she wasn't feeling well, but she declined. 

Instead, as of 10:30 a.m., she was waiting for her husband to pick her up at Rockridge and take her to her own doctor. She said her throat feels scratchy and it feels like she needs to cough. She also has a headache, she said.  

The Orinda and Rockridge stations were closed while the train was stuck in the tunnel, and crowds of commuters stood outside the stations waiting to take BART to work. 

An employee at the Cactus Taqueria on College Avenue across the street from the Rockridge station said the station's entrances were blocked by paramedics and firefighters. 

She said there were groups of people waiting on the sidewalk. 

As of 10:45 a.m., trains were running at reduced speeds between the Rockridge and Orinda stations, and passengers were advised to expect 15-minute delays on the Pittsburg-Bay Point line, Jim Allison said. 


Disabled BART Train Delivers Passengers for Medical Care at Rockridge

By MelissaMcRobbie/SashaLekach (BCN)
Wednesday December 04, 2013 - 10:48:00 AM

A BART train that became disabled between the Rockridge and Orinda stations this morning because of a smoky brake problem is now at the Rockridge station, where passengers have been let off the train.  

"All passengers have been evacuated and those in need of medical care are being treated by Oakland Fire Department personnel," BART spokesman Jim Allison said.  

The Oakland firefighters' union tweeted that fire personnel were assisting 10 patients, "with more being triaged." 

BART spokeswoman Luna Salaver said that at about 8:15 a.m., a San Francisco International Airport-bound train on the Pittsburg-Bay Point line suffered a parking brake failure. 

The incident created "brake dust" and caused some smoking, and the train became disabled, blocking the tracks, she said. She compared the smoke to that created when a driver slams on the brakes of a car.  

"There was absolutely no fire on the train," Salaver said. 

As of 9:05 a.m., the passengers remained stranded on the stopped train in the Berkeley Hills tunnel. 

The platform of the Rockridge station was cleared out in anticipation of the disabled train eventually coming in. 

The train eventually began moving again and reached the Rockridge station shortly after 9:30 a.m., Allison said.  

"A technician on board the train has been able to get it moving under its own power," he said. 

Two "rescue trains" that had been dispatched to assist passengers who were stuck on the disabled train have been canceled because they are no longer necessary, Allison said. 

Crowds of commuters stood outside the station waiting to take BART to work.  

An employee at the Cactus Taqueria on College Avenue across the street from the Rockridge station said the station's entrances were blocked by paramedics and firefighters. 

She said there were groups of people waiting on the sidewalk. A person on the disabled train tweeted at 8:32 a.m. that there was some smoke in the train car. 

Shortly after 9 a.m., that person tweeted, "Train operator calling for a doctor now... We are chatting in our car otherwise in good spirits." 

Salaver said there were major delays of up to 30 minutes in both directions on the Pittsburg-Bay Point line.

Flash: Smoke-Free Apartments Will Be the Law in Berkeley on May 1

By Carol Denney
Wednesday December 04, 2013 - 09:56:00 AM

The Berkeley City Council unanimously supported an ordinance making 100% of all multi-unit housing smokefree at its Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013 council meeting. The ordinance will include all shared-wall housing whether rent controlled or not, and will take effect May 1st, 2014. 

Council representatives asked questions regarding enforcement, but there was no opposition to strong, smokefree protections, which had been stalled for years. Serena Chen of the American Lung Association and Liz Williams of Americans for Nonsmokers' rights were among the supportive speakers. Approximately 16 cities currently have strong protections for occupants in multi-unit housing.

Flash: Berkeley City Council Adopts Greek-Dominated Redistricting Proposal

Tuesday December 03, 2013 - 09:42:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council has adopted on first reading an ordinance created from the Berkeley Student District Campaign Plan, adjusting the City Council district boundaries pursuant to Section 9, Article V of the Berkeley City Charter, to equalize population in the districts as a result of population changes reflected in the 2010 Decennial Federal Census. The BSD plan district covers mainly the south side of campus, dominated by residential fraternities and sororities, and excludes the more progressive co-op residences located north of campus. The three progressives on the council, Worthington, Arreguin and Anderson, proposed a more inclusive amendment to the district boundaries which was backed by leaders of the student co-ops and the U.C. residences, but they were outvoted by the regressive/conservative council majority, which is controlled by long-term mayor Tom Bates.

Albany Evictions--and Resistance (News Analysis)

By Lydia Gans
Friday November 29, 2013 - 10:27:00 PM

Albany's threatened eviction of the campers from the Albany Bulb is moving on full steam but resistance of the campers and their many allies is proving equally determined. They invited the public to two days of music, food and conversation and, as a special feature, an Art Walk. The art includes paintings and exotic constructions that were created over the years from materials found at the site. Some are old works that have faded and deteriorated from exposure to the elements which the campers have been working to restore. The fate of the art works is yet to be determined. They too, are threatened with 'eviction.' 

Now for the ugly news. As a first step in the eviction process the city contracted Operation Dignity to set up a Temporary Transition Shelter to house the campers for six months. No further accommodations for homeless people will be provided by the city of Albany after that. Berkeley Food and Housing Project is still under contract to provide services and help find housing but there virtually no possibility that more than a handful of the people will actually be housed. 

The shelter consists of two trailers set up along the road at the entrance to the parking lot. They are box-like affairs about 20' x 40', one for men with 22 beds, the other for women with 8 beds and dining facilities. Outside, facing the driveway, there are 4 toilets, 2 each for men and women, shower structures behind them, and 4 large cages to serve as kennels for the dogs. Behind the kennels an enclosure houses the generator. The population slated to be evicted includes 35 men and 8 women. There are 25 dogs including 2 service dogs and a number that serve as emotional support dogs. 

The trailers were opened up Friday night October 22 and a notice listing hours and rules was briefly posted on the door. They are closed from 8:30 A.M until 5:30 P.M. Campers signing in before 6:30 have priority, after that, the notice says, “available beds will be provided to others who are homeless in Albany”. It is worth noting that this is the first time that the city of Albany is providing any shelters for its homeless people. People must be in the shelter no later than 8 P.M., lights out at 10. Showers available 8:30 P.M. to 9:30 P.M. People can bring only a small bag of personal possessions into the trailers. There is an outside storage area but it is not clear how much space would be available. 

Not surprisingly, the trailers have had few if any occupants. For the campers, people who choose to live with nature, who value the freedom to lead their lives how and with whom they choose, living in the trailers is clearly unacceptable. In the words of attorney Osha Neumann, “People have certain rights, like the right to privacy, to live with people they want and not with people they don't want.” Long time camper Amber Whitson points with some outrage at the posted rule “Proper attire is required at all times.... definition (of what is proper) is at the discretion of the program staff.” Reacting to the warning “no visitors are allowed on the premises” a camper commented “even in jail people can have visitors.” 

As far as the campers are concerned the Bulb is their home and they continue to take care of it. They are holding planning meetings and reaching out to the people in the community. Amber Whitson says “We're trying to get organized as fast as we can to be able to defend ourselves as this place is – as a liberated zone, a place … for freedom, not free do so whatever you want but a place where you should be free to do things that do no harm, things that help. ..” 

They are engaging in new projects. Whitson has managed to salvage the necessary components to construct a composting toilet, something she has been planning to do for a long time. And public events like the Art Walk, movies and discussions are engaging community interest and support. 

As for legal issues, while the attempt to prevent the eviction was denied there is still the issue of accessibility for handicapped persons. It is not clear what, if any, other legal means can be taken to prevent the eviction, or for that matter to provide a safe location for the campers when the six months are up and homelessness becomes a crime in Albany. 

There have been parallel situations elsewhere and encampments that have survived. A 2010 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless entitled Tent Cities in America describes a number of homeless encampments on the West Coast. They all started more or less like the Bulb with a group of homeless people settling on a piece of public land. They would be met with strenuous opposition from city governments and harassment by police. Those that survived managed to win public support and some level of sponsorship by churches or non profit organizations and ultimately were able, under specific conditions, to be granted secure access to a piece of public land.

Lawyer for Suspect in Berkeley Teen's Burning Asks for Juvenile Court

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday November 26, 2013 - 11:02:00 PM

The defense lawyer for a 16-year-old boy accused of setting a skirt-wearing teen on fire on an AC Transit bus three weeks ago said today that he will seek to have the boy prosecuted in juvenile court instead of in adult court. 

William DuBois, the attorney for Richard Thomas, said the Nov. 4 incident in which Thomas is accused of setting 18-year-old Luke "Sasha" Fleischman on fire on a bus in Oakland was only "a prank" and "wasn't adult-type conduct." 

Thomas currently is being prosecuted as an adult on charges of aggravated mayhem and felony assault as well as hate crime clauses. However, he's being housed at Alameda County Juvenile Hall in San Leandro and wore a blue and white juvenile hall sweatshirt in court today. 

Fleischman, a student at Maybeck High School in Berkeley, suffered severe second- and third-degree burns after the teen's clothing was lit on fire as Fleischman slept in the back of an AC Transit bus as it traveled near MacArthur Boulevard and Ardley Avenue at about 5:20 p.m. on Nov. 4. 

Thomas was scheduled to enter a plea today but Alameda County Superior Court Judge Gordon Baranco agreed to delay Thomas' plea entry and instead set a hearing for Dec. 20 on DuBois' motion to have Thomas' case sent to juvenile court. 

After the hearing, DuBois said security footage from the AC Transit bus makes it clear that Thomas is the person who set Fleischman on fire but the question is what the circumstances were and what Thomas' state of mind was. 

The defense attorney said Thomas thought there would only be "a little puff of smoke and everyone would laugh" and Thomas was "mortified" when Fleischman became engulfed in flames. 

Thomas is "very remorseful" and didn't intend to seriously harm Fleischman, DuBois said. 

Thomas "made a horrible mistake that he may never be able to make up for," he said. 

Oakland police Officer Anawawn Jones said in a probable cause statement that Thomas told investigators that he set Fleischman on fire because he's "homophobic." 

But DuBois said he doesn't think Thomas used that term and he doesn't think Thomas is homophobic because he has a cousin who is transgender. 

DuBois said that in addition to facing a lighter penalty, Thomas will have a better chance of getting rehabilitated if he's prosecuted in juvenile court instead of adult court.

New: Berkeley Teen Released from Hospitas

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday November 27, 2013 - 08:20:00 PM

An agender, skirt-wearing 18-year-old Berkeley high school student who was set on fire on an AC Transit bus three weeks ago was released from the hospital today in time for Thanksgiving, his family said. 

Sasha Fleischman, who was named Luke at birth but doesn't identify as either male or female, is "doing really well" but is still wearing bandages on both legs after suffering second- and third-degree burns in the Nov. 4 incident, according to Fleishman's mother, Debbie Fleischman. 

Sasha Fleischman, who prefers to be called "they" rather than he or she, is a senior at Maybeck High School in Berkeley and hopes to return sometime next week, Debbie Fleischman said. Sasha was treated at the burn unit at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco. 

Richard Thomas, a 16-year-old Oakland High School student, is accused of lighting Sasha Fleischman's skirt on fire while the teen was sleeping in the back of an AC Transit bus as it traveled near MacArthur Boulevard and Ardley Avenue in Oakland at about 5:20 p.m. on Nov. 4. 

Thomas is being prosecuted as an adult on charges of aggravated mayhem and felony assault as well as hate crime clauses. 

But his attorney, William DuBois, said at a hearing in Alameda County Superior Court on Tuesday that he believes Thomas should be prosecuted as a juvenile because Thomas is immature and would have a better chance of being rehabilitated in a juvenile facility than in an adult facility. 

A hearing on the matter has been scheduled for Dec. 20. 

Oakland police Officer Anawawn Jones said in a probable cause statement that Thomas told investigators that he set Sasha Fleischman on fire because he's "homophobic" but DuBois said he doesn't think that's the case and he doesn't think Thomas should be charged with a hate crime. 

DuBois said Thomas is "very remorseful" about the incident and didn't intend to seriously harm Sasha Fleischman. 

Fierce Winds Blow Down Trees, Power Lines in Berkeley and Elsewhere

By Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Friday November 22, 2013 - 01:56:00 PM

Windy weather throughout the Bay Area overnight has knocked out power for tens of thousands of PG&E customers today and blown trees and debris into roadways.

The strong winds brought massive power outages with 55,000 PG&E customers initially losing power Thursday night, according to utility officials.

PG&E spokesman Jason King said as of 11 a.m., there were 13,000 customers throughout the Bay Area still without power.

The most heavily impacted areas are in the North Bay, as well as the East Bay cities of Berkeley, Oakland and Albany, King said.

Some 7,300 East Bay customers were still affected, while 3,400 customers in Sonoma County remained without power. 

King said a majority of the outages are related to tree contact that damaged utility poles and wires. 

PG&E hopes to have power restored for all customers by the late afternoon, he said. 

A wind advisory was issued for most of the region Thursday afternoon and expired this morning, except in the North Bay, a National Weather Service meteorologist said. 

The warning will remain in effect until 10 p.m. in high elevation areas in Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Logan Johnson. 

Gusts reached up to 65 mph in eastern Alameda County, 60 mph in Sonoma County and up to 50 mph were recorded in higher elevation areas in Contra Costa County overnight, Johnson said. He said lighter winds are expected today. 

He said a lot of downed trees have been reported in the North Bay and throughout Contra Costa County. 

"We're still seeing it pretty windy up in the hills," Johnson said. 

The wind came after a storm system moved through the Bay Area earlier this week, he said. 

Rain is expected to return on Thanksgiving. 




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Bart Service Resuming After Computer Problem

By Dan McMenamin (BCN)
Friday November 22, 2013 - 09:50:00 AM

BART service is resuming this morning after computer problems prevented trains from picking up any passengers for the first few hours of the morning commute, agency officials said.

Service was resuming at about half-capacity as of 7:15 a.m. with full service expected by 8:15 a.m., BART spokesman Jim Allison said.

Systemwide delays began shortly after midnight because the agency's computer systems were not communicating properly with track switches, Allison said. 

Many commuters were forced to drive instead, snarling traffic on highways throughout the Bay Area this morning.

More Than 17,500 PG&E Customers Still Without Power

By Dan McMenamin (BCN)
Friday November 22, 2013 - 09:17:00 AM

More than 17,500 PG&E customers remain without power in the Bay Area this morning as a result of strong winds in the region, a utility spokeswoman said.

As of 8 a.m., about 13,000 customers were without power in the East Bay, along with about 4,500 in the North Bay, 56 along the Peninsula, nine in the South Bay and five in San Francisco, PG&E spokeswoman Jana Morris said.

More than 55,000 customers initially lost power overnight because of the windy conditions, PG&E officials said.

New: Over 1,000 Bay Area residents to participate in 114th Christmas Bird Count

Wednesday December 04, 2013 - 12:59:00 PM

There’s a rare Painted Redstart in a Berkeley backyard. But will it still be there on Sunday December 15th? That’s one of the questions on the minds of San Francisco and East Bay residents who will be taking part this month in the 114th Christmas Bird Count. 

Golden Gate Audubon Society is organizing two counts locally that will involve more than 300 people – one centered in Oakland/Berkeley on Sunday December 15, and another centered in San Francisco on Friday December 27.  

Hundreds of other birders will take part this month in counts elsewhere in the Bay Area, organized by other Audubon chapters. 

As part of the CBC, birders fan out within a 15-mile circle to count every species and every individual bird in a 24-hour period. They stumble in the dark to count owls; charter boats and paddle kayaks to count water birds; tromp through cemeteries and parks to tally songbirds and raptors. 

They are particularly eager to find rarities, such as the Painted Redstart (normally native to Mexico and Arizona) that caused a stampede of birders to a Berkeley backyard in late November. 

Results of the count – sponsored every year since 1900 by National Audubon Society – provide important data to help scientists track trends in bird populations. 

“The data collected by Audubon’s citizen-scientists in the CBC is more important than ever because of climate change,” said Michael Lynes, Executive Director of Golden Gate Audubon Society, the chapter serving San Francisco and the East Bay. “Information from the CBC can help us understand and respond to the impacts of climate change on wildlife.” 

# # # 


Want to cover a CBC team in the field? We have lots of opportunities in both the Oakland and SF counts, including teams with some young (aged 10-15) birders, teams looking for particular rarities like the Painted Redstart, and teams in scenic areas such as kayaking near the Oakland Airport. 


Contact GGAS Communications Director Ilana DeBare at idebare@goldengateaudubon.org or (510) 301-5573 IN ADVANCE to arrange to meet a team in the field. 





The NY Times uncovers conservative attacks, then prints one; both are on the front page

By George Lakoff
Monday November 25, 2013 - 07:42:00 PM

Editor's note: This week we are fortunate to have a commentary by Professor George Lakoff. Since it's longer and denser than the usual op-ed submission, we've made it a Guest Editorial. The editor will be back in this space after the holiday.

On Thursday (Nov. 21), the New York Times front page reported on the conservative attacks against the President Obama and the Affordable Care Act. On Sunday, the Times front page contained a conservative attack on President Obama and the Affordable Care Act mixed in with news stories. Here is an analysis of both.

For decades, Republican conservatives have constructed and carried out extensive, well-planned, long-term communication campaigns to change public discourse and the way the public thinks. It has been done very effectively and, for the most part, not secretly. The NY Times finally began reporting on this effort on Thursday, November 21, 2013 in a fine piece by Jonathan Weisman and Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

The Times reported on the House Republicans’ memo on how to attack the Affordable Care Act through a “multilayered sequence assault,” gathering stories “through social media letters from constituents, or meeting back home” and a new GOP website. The Times also reported on the “closed door” strategy sessions, going back to last year.

It’s a start, and it’s about time. What the Times missed was the far deeper and systematic efforts by conservatives extending back four decades and the nature of the underlying general ideology covering dozens of issues that have been served by these efforts. The Times also missed the reason why the attack on the ACA is more than just anti-Obama politics, but rather part of an attempt to change the idea of what America is about. The Times missed the think tanks, the framing professionals, the training institutes, the booking agencies, the Wednesday morning meetings on both national and state levels, and the role of ALEC in the states — all set out in the Lewis Powell memo more than four decades ago and carried out since then as part of seamless system directed at changing the brains of Americans. 

I do mean changing brains. Because all thought is physical, carried out by neural circuitry, every change in how we understand anything is a brain change, and conservatives are effectively using the techniques that marketers have developed for changing brains, and they’ve been using them for decades, at least since the notorious Lewis Powell Memo in 1971. 

Full disclosure: I began writing about conservative framing in my 1996 book Moral Politics, and about the conservative brain changing machine in my 2004 book Don’t Think of an Elephant!, p. 15 (click to see the discussion here). For the Powell memo, just google “Lewis Powell memo.” 

At least, the Times did get an important part of it right on Thursday, and we should be grateful. 

Then, on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, the Times published on its front page what looked like a news story, but was a conservative column called “White House Memo” by John Harwood, who is CNBC’s Chief Washington Correspondent, and who previously worked as the Wall Street Journal’s political editor and chief political correspondent. It’s one thing to publish a blatant conservative attack on President Obama in a column on the op-ed page or in the Sunday Review, and another to publish it on the front page, mixed in with the news stories. 

The Harwood column is illuminating in its attack mode, which is quite artful and an excellent example of conservative attacks. To appreciate it, we should begin by discussing some basic cognitive linguistics. As the great linguist Charles Fillmore discovered in 1975, all words are cognitively defined relative to conceptual “frames” — structures we all use to think all the time. Frames don’t float in the air; they are neural circuits in our brains. Frames in politics are not neutral; they reflect an underlying value system. That means that language in politics is not neutral. Political words do not just pick out something in the world. They reflect value-based frames. If you successfully frame public discourse, you win the debate. 

A common neuroscience estimate is that about 98 percent of thought is unconscious and automatic, carried out by the neural system. Daniel Kahneman has since brought frame-based unconscious thought into the public arena in what he has called “System 1 thinking.” Since frames carry value-based inferences with them, successfully framing public discourse means getting the public to adopt your values, and hence winning over the public by unconscious brain change, not by open discussion of the values inherent in the frames and the values that undergird the frames. 

I have always suggested to progressives to know their values and state their real values clearly, using frames they really believe. Values trump mere facts presented without the values that make them meaningful. Honest values-based framing is the opposite of spin — the deceptive use of language to avoid embarrassment. 

The reason that those of us in the cognitive and brain sciences write so passionately about framing issues is that unconscious thought and framing are not generally understood — especially in progressive circles. Most progressives who went to college studied what is called Enlightenment reason, a theory of reason coming from Descartes around 1650 — and which was historically important in 1650. The Cartesian theory of how reason works has since been largely disproved in the cognitive and brain sciences. 

The Cartesian theory assumes that all thought is conscious, that it is literal (that is, it fits the world directly and uses no frame-based or metaphorical thought), that reason uses a form of mathematical logic (not frame-based logic or metaphorical logic), and that words are neutral and fit the world directly. Many liberal economists have been trained in this mode of thought and assume that the language used in economic theory is neutral and just fits the world as it is. They are usually not trained in frame semantics, cognitive linguistics, and related fields. The same is often true of liberal journalists as well. Both often miss the fact that conservatives have successfully reframed economic terms to fit their values, and that the economic terms in public discourse no longer mean what they do in economics classes. 

Part of what the Cartesian theory of reason misses is the real brain mechanism that allows the conservative communication theory to be effective. By framing language to fit conservative values and by getting their framing of the language to dominate public debate, conservatives change the public’s brains by the following mechanism. When a frame circuit is activated in the brain, its synapses are strengthened. 

This means that the probability of future activation is raised and probability of the frame becoming permanent in the brain is raised. Whenever a word defined by that frame is used, the frame is activated and strengthened. When conservatives successfully reframe a word in public discourse, that word activates conservative frames and with those frames, the conservative value system on which the frames are based. When progressives naively use conservatively reframed words, they help the conservative cause by strengthening the conservative value system in the brains of the public. 

Liberals, in adhering to the old Cartesian theory of reason, will not be aware of their own unconscious values, will take then for granted, and will think that all they have to do is state the facts and the public will be convinced rationally. The facts are crucial, but they need to framed in moral terms to make moral sense and a moral impact. 

To those who have a liberal Cartesian theory of reason, the attempt to warn the public and other liberals about the way language really works and to warn liberals not to use conservative framing will be seen as hiding the facts and misleading the public. That is what the Times columnist and CNBC Chief Washington correspondent, John Harwood used in his manipulative NY Times column. 

The word at issue is “redistribution.” The subject matter is the flow of wealth in the society and what it should be. This is a fundamentally moral issue, and the major political framings reflect two different moral views of democracy itself. 

The liberal view of democracy goes back to the founding of the nation, as historian Lynn Hunt of UCLA has shown in her book Inventing Human Rights. American democracy was based on the idea that citizens care about other citizens and work responsibly (with both personal and social responsibility) through their government to provide public resources for all. 

From the beginning, that meant roads and bridges, public education, hospitals, a patent office, a national bank, a justice system, controlling the flow of interstate commerce, and so on. Nowadays it includes much more — the development of the internet, satellite communications, the power grid, food safety monitoring, government research, and so on. Without those public resources, citizens cannot live reasonable lives, businesses cannot run, and a market economy would be impossible. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness require all this and health care. Unless you can get health care, your life is in jeopardy, as well as your freedom: if you have cancer and no health care, you are not free; if you break you leg and have no access to health care, you are not free, and so on. And if you are injured or sick and cannot maintain health, your life, liberty and happiness are all in jeopardy. 

Under this view of democracy, the flow of wealth should guarantee the affordability of health care as a basic moral principle of democracy. If wealth has flowed in violation of this principle, that flow of wealth has been immoral, unpatriotic, and needs reform. So when liberals point out that productivity has risen greatly while salaries have not, they are talking about fairness in the flow of wealth: If you work for a living, you should earn a fair salary, that is, you should earn a living wage, which should be enough to guarantee adequate health care. 

Pensions are delayed payments of wages for work already done, and taking away pensions is theft. Employment is the purchase of labor by an employer with a negotiated price for the labor. Since corporations have more power in those negotiations than employees, unions are necessary to help make negotiations fair for the price of labor. When it is observed that most of the wealth in the past decade has flowed to the one percent, that means that fairness and the most fundamental of American principles have been violated and salaries and public resources have been inadequate and unfairly low. 

The Affordable Care Act, from this perspective, is a move toward reform — toward a moral flow of wealth in line with the founding principles of the nation. I believe that President Obama, and most liberals, understand the intentions of Affordable Care Act in that way. 

Conservatives have a very different view of democracy. They believe that democracy gives them the “liberty” to pursue their own interests without the government standing in their way or helping them. Their moral principle is individual responsibility, not social responsibility. If you haven’t developed the discipline to make it on your own, then you should fail — and if you can’t afford health care, so be it. Health care is seen as a “product” and citizens should not be paying for other citizens’ products. Rudy Giuliani, as a good conservative, likened health care to flat- screen TVs. 

Conservatives say that no one should be paying for anyone else (except their children and family members). Using public resources is seen as making you weak, taking away incentives for you to work for yourself. And they see it as making hard-working moral citizens pay for immoral slackers. This is the conservative frame for redistribution: it is taking away money that you hard-working Americans have earned and deserve, and “redistributing” it to those who haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it. For conservatives, this happens whenever there are public resources paid for by taxpayers. Therefore they believe that all public resources should be banned — and the affordable Care Act is a major special case and just the start. 

That’s why John Boehner said, in explaining why the House has scheduled only 113 days to meet out of 365, said “We need to repeal old laws. Not pass new ones.” That is why the House conservatives saw it as moral to shut down the government and to let the sequester happen. They are ways to cut public resources. 

Under this view of democracy, money previously made was made properly and using tax money for public resources is “redistribution.” “Using my money to pay for someone else” is inherently unfair in the conservative tradition. Conservatives over the past four decades have framed the word “redistribution” that way. Use of the word activates the conservative framing in general, not just the framing of the Affordable Care Act, but of the nature of democracy itself. 

Because most liberals, including liberal economists, still believe in and use the inadequate Cartesian theory of reason, they do not comprehend that the word “redistribution” has been redefined in terms of a conservative frame, and to use the word is to help conservatives in their moral crusade to undermine progressive values and the traditional view of liberal democracy. 

At this point we turn to the NY Times story, “Don’t Dare Call The Health Law ‘Redistribution’”on the front page, and inside “The economic policy that dare not speak its name.” John Harwood writes the following: 

“These days the word is particularly toxic at the White House, where it has been hidden away to make the Affordable Care Act more palatable to the public and less a target for Republicans, who have long accused the Democrats of seeking “socialized medicine.” But the redistribution of wealth has always been a central feature of the law and lies at the heart of the insurance market disruptions driving political attacks this fall.” 

Note that he uses the word “redistribution” without quotation marks, as if it were simply a fact and as if the Republican attacks were just true and the White house was trying to hide the truth. He later calls the Affordable Care Act a “semantic sidestep” on this issue. 

Harwood goes on to cite the president’s misstatement that if you like your insurance you can keep it. I suspect that the president assumed that no one would like inadequate insurance if they could get much better, and adequate, insurance for the same price, which they might have been able to if the website had not failed. The president knew that no company was forced to cancel inadequate insurance, and incorrectly assumed that they wouldn’t. Yes, the president made those incorrect assumptions. But here is how Harwood comments: 

Hiding in plain sight behind that pledge — visible to health policy experts but not the general public — was the redistribution required to extend health coverage to those who had been either locked out or priced out of the market. 

Now some of that redistribution has come clearly into view. 

The law, for example, banned rate discrimination against women, which insurance companies called “gender rating” to account for their higher health costs. But that raised the relative burden borne by men. The law also limited how much insurers can charge older Americans, who use more health care over all. But that raised the relative burden on younger people. 

And the law required insurers to offer coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions, which eased costs for less healthy people but raised prices for others who had been charged lower rates because of their good health. 

“The A.C.A. is very much about redistribution, whether or not its advocates acknowledge that this is the case,” wrote Reihan Salam on the website of the conservative National Review. 

Here again, the “redistribution” word is used in a conservative frame without quotation marks as if the frame were simply true, and the citation is from a major conservative publication, where the word is used with a conservative frame. 

The issue is what democracy is about and what health care in a democracy is about. For liberals, democracy is defined by equality, and by the “self-evident” “inalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” where health is inherent to those values. Under such a conception of democracy, health should never be denied because one belongs to a demographic group that fate had given more ailments and injuries. 

Conservatives are helped when “redistribution”, which they have successfully reframed their way, is used by certain liberal economists, who naïvely believe that the word is neutral because economists use it as a technical term. 

Harwood begins framing his piece by discussing the case of Rebecca M. Blank. 

Ms. Blank is a noted academic economist, having been one of three members of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. From 2009 to 2013 she served as Deputy Secretary of Commerce in the Obama Administration, and has since left for the grand opportunity to become chancellor of the University of Wisconsin. 

In 2011, she was considered for Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers while serving in the Commerce Department. Harwood reports that she was passed over for the post because of something she had written in 1992: 

“A commitment to economic justice necessarily implies a commitment to a redistribution of economic resources, so that the poor and the dispossessed are more fully included in the economic system.” 

Harwood quotes William Daley, Obama’s chief of staff at the time, as saying, “Redistribution is a loaded word that conjures up all sorts of unfairness in people’s minds.” The Republicans wield it “as a hammer” against Democrats, he said, adding, “It’s a word that in the political world, you just don’t use.” Daley is right that it is a loaded word, in just the sense noted above, namely, that it has been framed by conservatives to fit their ideology and using it activates their frame and their ideology in people’s brains, thus helping conservatives. In 2011, Obama was up for re-election and Daley judged that having Republicans dig up that quote would help them launch an unfair attack against the president. 

Harwood reports the affair as if Obama had something to hide, rather than not wanting a conservatively framed concept to be falsely attributed to him. Harwood is clever. First, he quotes another liberal economist, Jonathan Gruber, who uses the word naively as a neutral technical economic term. Then at the end of the article, he reports an Obama slip at a talk in Elyria, Ohio 18 months earlier. The slip involved Obama’s use of a negative. In Don’t Think of an Elephant!, I pointed out that negating a word, activates the meaning of the word. If I tell you not to think of an elephant, you will think of an elephant. Here is the Obama slip that Harwood cites, “Understand this is not a redistribution argument … This is not about taking from rich people to give to poor people.” That was the slip, and Harwood searched back 18 months to Elyria, Ohio to find it. But then the president caught himself and said positively what he meant. “This is about us together making investments in our country so everybody’s got a fair shot.” 

Here’s the take-away from these two pieces in the Times this week. 

First, there was a tiny glimpse of the huge conservative Republican communication system, with no account of its history, its extent, or how it works to change people’s brains. I hope the Times will go on to do more and better in the future. 

Second, the Times printed on its front page a classic example of how the conservative system works, naively presenting it at face value without any serious framing analysis. The Times missed the conservative reframing of the word “redistribution,” missed the difference in the views of morality and democracy that lie behind the framing difference, missed the use of the conservatively reframed word as neutral by liberal economists, missed what it means for a word to be “loaded,” and succumbed like other journalists trained on Cartesian reason in helping conservatism keep its hold on public discourse. 

Harwood is a smart political operative. His technique is a classic example of the Republican message machine reported on in Thursday’s Times, and is well worth serious study. The Republican brain change mechanism is not only worth a front-page discussion of its own, but deserves itself to brought into public discourse and reported on regularly. 

George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley. His website is www.georgelakoff.com

The Editor's Back Fence

This Has Become a Double Issue

By Becky O'Malley
Friday November 29, 2013 - 10:40:00 PM

Slacking off, using Thanksgiving as a excuse, I'm not creating a brand new issue this Friday. Some of our faithful correspondents have nonetheless sent in excellent pieces, so I'll just be posting them in this issue.

Public Comment

New: A.C. Transit vs. the People of Berkeley, Again

By Russ Tilleman
Monday November 25, 2013 - 10:06:00 PM

AC Transit is at it again. After failing in 2010 to force their ill-conceived Bus Rapid Transit project on the citizens of Berkeley, now they are trying to damage Berkeley again. This time they want to:

1) Cut down mature trees on College Avenue 2) Remove a lot of badly-needed parking on University Avenue 3) Add new traffic lights that will speed up vehicles driving through residential neighborhoods 4) Make bike lanes significantly narrower and more dangerous 5) Move speeding buses closer to pedestrians and bicyclists 6) Move around or completely eliminate existing bus stops

Worst of all, these permanent disruptions to AC Transit riders and City of Berkeley residents don't seem to be motivated by any desire to increase ridership. I didn't see any projections in AC Transit's plan that even one car might be removed from the road.

AC Transit's plan seems to boil down to "if the bus doesn't have to stop to pick people up or drop them off, it can go faster." By that logic, the best way to improve service would be to remove all the bus stops so the buses could drive as fast as possible. Too bad that wouldn't leave any time for passengers to get on or off the bus! 

This appears to be just another attempt by AC Transit to arbitrarily change things to look like they are doing something productive. If this wouldn't damage Berkeley and the people who live here, I wouldn't object very much. But these plans will result in harm to the people of Berkeley. 

In addition to the problems I listed above, I have a personal reason to criticize this plan. AC Transit wants to relocate an existing bus stop to within about 50 feet of my house, greatly increasing the noise I will hear. Since I am disabled and it is essential for me to do things like get enough sleep, the unrelenting noise from the screeching brakes and the very loud automated voice announcement of the PARKER STREET stop will be harmful to my health over the decades that I can expect to be exposed to it. 

This new bus stop appears to offer absolutely no benefit to this neighborhood, absolutely no benefit to the citizens of Berkeley, absolutely no benefit to the people who ride AC Transit, absolutely no benefit to the environment, and absolutely no benefit to AC Transit. In view of the irreparable harm to my health likely to result from its construction, I feel that the City should not grant AC Transit permission to make this change. 

It is the duty of the City of Berkeley to look out for the citizens who live here and who pay for the very generous salaries, health care, and retirement benefits of the City employees. It is not the duty of the City of Berkeley to give AC Transit special permission to harm those citizens on a whim, for no constructive purpose. 

After I became disabled, I moved to Berkeley partly because of the City's history of respect for the disabled. I do not know if the City still has respect for disabled people or whether the employees of the City have respect for disabled people, but if they do, they will not grant permission to AC Transit to victimize any disabled residents, including me. 

I'm hoping the City of Berkeley will protect the people who live here from this reckless and irresponsible plan. I recently sent a letter to the City of Berkeley about this situation, and my physician is also writing a letter to the City on my behalf. 

The issue is coming up for a City Council vote in a couple of months. We'll see what happens.

New: It's Turtles All the Way Up

By Thomas Lord
Monday November 25, 2013 - 09:31:00 PM

I suspect that the turtles once meant for the fountain are now the turtles that, appropriately enough I guess, decorate.... wait for it... 

.... fifth floor city hall.

New: Rouhani, Obama Praised for Nuclear Accord

By Jagjit Singh
Monday November 25, 2013 - 08:29:00 PM

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and President Obama deserve credit for reaching an accord limiting Iran’s nuclear enrichment program in return for easing crippling sanctions. It is encouraging that we are moving away from a strident confrontational approach and have softened our language to reach this accord. In contrast, Israel’s Prime Minister, Netanyahu are irked the US with his hyper-ventilating militaristic attitude attempting to drive a wedge between US lawmakers and the White House. It must be remembered that Netanyahu's hardline rhetoric is aimed at appeasing his right-wing coalition that helped him get elected as Prime Minister.  

In sharp disagreement with Netanyahu, Israeli President Peres and former military chief Amos Yadlin support the US-Iranian accord. As a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has every right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Over 40 countries--signatories of the NPT--carry out enrichment programs. The International Atomic Energy Agency monitors the performance of most countries who produce nuclear fuel. In contrast, Israel has refused to sign the NPT lest its huge stockpile of nuclear weapons be exposed. As a historical footnote, it was the Bush administration who refused to respond to Iran’s diplomatic efforts which would have severely curtailed its nuclear ambitions. As a bonus, perhaps largely prompted by the US/Iranian accord, the Syrian government and the opposition have agreed to peace talks in Geneva on January 22.


New: THE PUBLIC EYE: Polarization: Worse Than You Think

By Bob Burnett
Friday November 29, 2013 - 10:33:00 PM

Recent polls made it clear that Americans are fed up with acrimony and gridlock in Washington. Voters may blame Republicans more than Democrats but they’re not happy with either Party. Some political observers believe that if we only had competitive elections throughout the country – if most congressional districts weren’t gerrymandered – then we would have more moderates in Congress and, therefore, less polarization. Think again. Polarization is the new normal. 

A late October NBC news/Wall Street Journal poll asked, “Do you feel that Congress is contributing to the problems in Washington?” 74 percent of respondents answered yes. A Esquire magazine survey, 13 Things That Define the New American Center, found that 49 percent of respondents agreed, “The two-party system we have in this country is broken and out of date…” And, “I never put any faith in politicians of either party because they always end up disappointing me.” 58 percent were pessimistic about “politics in this country.” 

So, what’s the problem? 

If you’re a Republican, you’re likely to contend it’s the fault of Barack Obama – he’s very unpopular with the GOP rank-and-file, the majority of whom routinely blame him for everything that goes wrong.  

If you’re a Democrat, you’re likely to argue it’s the fault of a small political group, Tea Party activists, who have taken control of the Republican Party and moved it savagely to the right. You blame the people who stand behind the Tea Party, a cabal of rich Republicans. 

Both these stances are wrong. 

In a recent issue of THE NEW YORKER, Harvard Historian Jill Lepore discussed political polarization. She dismissed the notion that the widening gap between Democrats and Republicans is due to the rise of gerrymandered congressional districts. Lepore observed that since Reagan was President, “the parties have become more coherent and more organized.” “Party leadership controls the story the party tells the press.” 

Lepore concluded that the core problem is economic inequality. “Polarization in Congress maps onto one measure better than any other: economic inequality.” The greater the gap between the rich and the poor, “the greater the disagreement between liberals and conservatives, the less Congress is able to get done.” 

The United States is experiencing unprecedented income inequality. In 2011, the Congressional Budget Office found that between 1979 and 2007, “After-tax income for the highest-income households grew more than it did for any other group… 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households, 65 percent for the next 19 percent, just under 40 percent for the next 60 percent, and 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent.” 

The chasm between the rich and the poor shifted our perception of reality. A recent study by professors Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels, and Jason Seawright compared the political attitudes of these millionaires, the 1 percent, to those of the American public in general. Not surprisingly, America’s wealthy are much more negative about Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, and affordable healthcare than are the 99 percent. 

But many Americans, the 99 percent, don’t understand how bad economic inequality really is. A recent Harvard study found:

The bottom 80 percent owns only 7 percent of the nation’s wealth, and the top 1 percent hold more of the country’s wealth – 40 percent – than 9 out of 10 people think the top 20 percent should have. The top 10 percent of earners take home half the income of the country; in 2012, the top 1 percent earned more than a fifth of U.S. income – the highest share since the government began collecting the data a century ago.

Fortunately, increasing numbers of voters have woken up to America’s harsh new economic reality. A recent Gallup Poll found that only one-third of respondents believed the current distribution of money and wealth is “fair” and 59 percent felt money and wealth should be more evenly distributed. Furthermore, 52 percent agreed that the government “should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich.” Bubbling below the surface of Washington politics is an underground inequality movement. But it’s got a steep hill to climb. 

In their book, Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches, political scientists Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal observed that the growing inequality gap widens the political chasm between Republicans and Democrats and “polarization reduces the possibilities for policy changes that would reduce inequality.” In other words, the greater the inequality, the more the polarization, and the less the chance of getting anything done to reduce the inequality. It’s America’s deadly political embrace. 

That’s why the current Congress is one of the least productive in history. On critical issue after critical issue – healthcare, immigration, Iran, Federal spending, food stamps – Republicans and Democrats can’t agree because their worldviews are influenced by economic inequality. For the most part, Republicans represent the 1 percent and Democrats represent the 99 percent. They come from two radically different worlds. 

But don’t despair. Something can be done to address economic inequity. Stay tuned. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT:Recommend Alameda County Adopt Laura's Law

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday November 22, 2013 - 01:26:00 PM

On November 19, 2013, the Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a resolution advising the Alameda County supervisors to adopt Laura’s Law. I urge Alameda County to do so. 

At this point, a brief review of Laura’s Law may be useful to the Alameda County supervisors. 

Laura Wilcox, a 19-year old sophomore from Haverford College, was working at Nevada County's public mental health clinic during her winter break from college. On January 10, 2001, she and two other people were shot to death by Scott Harlan Thorpe, a 41-year old mental patient who resisted his family's attempt to seek treatment. Thorpe was found incompetent to stand trial and was sent to Atascadero State Hospital and was later transferred to California's Napa State Hospital.  

Laura Wilcox’s death was the impetus for passage of AB 1421 in 2002, an assisted outpatient treatment program (AOT), which has since become known as Laura’s Law.  

For the uninitiated, an AOT program allows court-ordered, intensive outpatient treatment for people with severe mental illnesses who refuse medication because their illness impairs their ability to make rational decisions.  

People with psychotic disorders who received court-ordered treatment for 180 days had significantly better outcomes than those who were given either intensive treatment alone, or a court order alone. Thus, AB 1421 provides for a 180 day period of intensive treatment under the supervision of the court. Currently AOT can only be used if a county’s board of supervisors enacts a resolution to implement and independently fund a discrete Laura’s Law program. Now, an AOT program is available statewide as a tool that can be, but is not required to be, used to efficiently treat the most problematic patients.  

A 2000 Duke University study demonstrated that people with psychotic disorders who received court-ordered treatment for 180 days had significantly better outcomes than those who were given either intensive treatment alone, or a court order alone. That's why AB 1421 incorporates these findings by providing for 180 day periods of intensive treatment under the supervision of the court.  

AB 1421 was modeled after New York's "Kendra's Law." Among the targeted hard-to-treat population, Kendra's Law resulted in 74 percent fewer homeless; 83 percent fewer arrests; 49 percent less alcohol abuse; and 48 percent less drug abuse. Assisted outpatient programs have also worked in Iowa, North Carolina, Hawaii, and Arizona.  

Fortunately, money should no longer be an issue since voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 63 in 2004, which established a one percent tax on personal income above $1 million to fund expanded health services for mentally ill children, adults, and seniors. The signing of SB 585 into law makes it clear that Mental Health Services Act (Prop. 63) funds may be used to fund Laura’s Law. 

Laura's Law has been implemented in Nevada County and Los Angeles County opted for a small pilot project of AOT. That means 56 of the 58 California counties have not enacted Laura's Law.  

In Nevada County, where the killings took place, the law has been fully implemented and proven so successful that the county was honored in 2010 by the California State Association of Counties. In announcing the recognition, CSAC said Nevada County offset public costs of $80,000 with savings estimated at $203,000 that otherwise would have been spent on hospitalization and incarceration of program participants.  

We have heard much hand-wringing about what to do with the homeless -- many of whom are chronically mentally ill -- who are picked up off the streets. They may or may not be placed in a treatment facility, if one is available. Once they complete treatment, they are too often dumped back on the streets with no housing, jobs, money, or followup by a professional case manager. In a short time, these homeless are back on the street. Laura's Law could be invoked for those who refuse medication because their illness impairs their ability to make rational decisions, and utilize court-ordered outpatient treatment and provide for a 180 day case-managed followup.  

An estimated 3.6 million Americans suffer from untreated severe bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Oftentimes, they are too ill to recognize their own need for treatment AOT does not take away someone’s civil rights. Severe mental illness, not its treatment, restricts civil liberties. By assuring timely and effective intervention for the disabling medical condition of severe mental illness, AOT restores the capacity to exercise civil liberties and reduces the likelihood of the loss of liberty or life as a result of arrest, incarceration, hospitalization, victimization, suicide, and other common outcomes of non-treatment.  

While we as a society must safeguard the civil rights of the unfortunate, we also have an obligation to care for those who are unable to care for themselves. Laura's Law provides such safeguards.  

It is time for Alameda County to adopt Laura’s Law.

THE PUBLIC EYE:It’s Inequality, Stupid: Defending Affordable Healthcare

By Bob Burnett
Friday November 22, 2013 - 09:23:00 AM

To say the least, the Affordable Care Act is off to a rocky start. Some Democratic congresspeople have been backing away from the law. We can’t let that happen; Progressives can’t let “Obamacare” fail. Affordable healthcare is a key component in our fight against inequality. 

Polls indicate that Americans are most concerned about the economy and jobs. There’s no specific mention of inequality. But a recent Gallup Poll found that only one-third of respondents believed the current distribution of money and wealth is “fair” and 59 percent felt they should be more evenly distributed. Furthermore, 52 percent agreed that the government “should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich.” Bubbling below the surface of Washington politics is an underground inequality movement. 

President Obama has frequently decried economic inequality. On December 6, 2011, Obama said, 

This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class… Because what's at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, [and] secure their retirement. Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia… they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules. I am here to say they are wrong… I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules. These aren't Democratic values or Republican values… They're American values.

The most recent census report indicates the scope of economic inequality, “in 2007, real median family income was 8.3 percent lower than in 2007.” In 2011, the Congressional Budget Office found that between 1979 and 2007, “After-tax income for the highest-income households grew more than it did for any other group… 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households, 65 percent for the next 19 percent, just under 40 percent for the next 60 percent, and 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent.” 

Progressives promote equality for both ethical and economic reasons. One important policy is the guarantee of a social safety net. A key aspect is affordable healthcare. 

The latest census report indicated that 48 million Americans have no health insurance. One of the key objectives of the Affordable Care Act is to guarantee insurance for those who, today, have none. One of its strategies is to expand families eligible for Medicaid but in 25 states Republicans have blocked coverage leaving 4.8 million poor folks uninsured – far more than those who are affected by insurance companies cancelling substandard policies

At one time, Republicans proposed alternatives to the Affordable Care Act but recently their sole strategy has been to repeal “Obamacare” There’s a lot of media focus on GOP opposition to the Affordable Care Act but not nearly as much to their opposition to other progressive initiatives to reduce inequality. (In the President’s words, Republicans “want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years.”) 

Some see Republican negativism as inherent in their strategy of blocking everything that President Obama supports. But it’s best understood as a reflection of polarization. In their book, Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches, political scientists Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal observed the growing inequality gap widens the political chasm between Republicans and Democrats and “polarization reduces the possibilities for policy changes that would reduce inequality.” 

What’s taking place in Washington is a pitched battle between the “havenots” and the “haves,” between the 99 percent and the one percent. In this struggle, Democrats are trying to defend affordable healthcare and the existing social safety net (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) and expand initiatives such as the minimum wage and food stamps. Republicans are trying to block the Affordable Care Act and make major cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They oppose raising the minimum wage and recently voted to cut food stamp aid. 

In his second inaugural address, President Obama said, “[Americans] understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.” 

Progressives believe that the true backbone of America is the middle class; not the elite one percent. We believe in a level playing field and government as a force for good. It is the US government rather than corporations or churches that guarantees our human rights. Progressives believe the government must provide a social safety net to protect Americans’ human rights. 

Our core values emphasize empathy, compassion, and fairness. That’s why we must defend Obamacare and the social safety net, in general. 

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

New: ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Involuntary Treatment

By Jack Bragen
Friday November 29, 2013 - 10:33:00 PM

There is a nationwide push toward giving more power to the mental health treatment systems, in states and counties across the US. The justification is, at some point, innocent people have been killed by consumers off their medication. Thus, in California we have "Laura's Law," and in New York we have "Kendra's Law." 

One organization that promotes these laws is based in Virginia and called "Treatment Advocacy" whose slogan is, "Removing the barriers to mental health treatment." The model for these laws which are being enacted in states across the country is to give more power to the counties to decide that a mental health patient should receive outpatient involuntary treatment (which includes forced medication), when county officials decide that a patient is deteriorating. 

These laws which give more power to the counties would be fine if we could always trust county officials to behave in a fair, just and compassionate manner. However, this will inevitably not always be so. 

The Patient's Rights Movement took place especially because treatment professionals had too much power, and were abusing this power on a regular basis--through the cruel and inhumane treatment of persons with mental illness. Hence, state legislations promoted by Treatment Advocacy will usher in an entirely new "dark ages" of mental health treatment, and the hard fought gains made by the Patient's Rights Movement will be deleted. 

I understand a lot about Laura's Law because I have read a lot of its text and have comprehended it. When a law is drafted with the purported intent to solve a problem, often it has unanticipated ramifications, such that we are often worse off when new laws are enacted. For example, California's notorious Prop.13. 

I suggest that the readers go to the California Legislature website, read about Laura's Law, and think critically about how it would work in practice. For the readers' convenience, I have included the following link: 


When evaluating the text of Laura's Law, the reader should consider what isn't being said as well as what is being said. Laura's Law doesn't incorporate a grievance process. Treatment by treatment teams could occur in the absence of outside witnesses, and this could cause of a lack of accountability. The only mechanism to obtain justice, if a patient is unhappy with how they are being handled, is through the court system. 

The court system can be very difficult for someone to navigate who may have limited capabilities. It can be more difficult for a mental health consumer to know his or her rights, in comparison to people in the general public. 

Every citizen in the State of California deserves equal protection under the law. Enactment of Laura's Law would make persons with a mental illness into an underclass of people who are essentially incarcerated within invisible, legislative walls. It's not nice for me to know that if county officials suspect that I am medication noncompliant, I could be forced to appear in a court of law to maintain the liberties that I currently enjoy. (Ordinarily, to have a court appearance, I would need to do something wrong.) 

I am not arguing with the idea that we need a way of getting severely mentally ill people who lack insight about their condition into treatment. However, just as Obamacare apparently needs some tweaking, Laura's Law needs to incorporate safeguards that assure humane and competent treatment. This law needs a better system of checks and balances to assure that people are treated fairly. An appearance in court (which actually, according to this law isn't completely required--proceedings can take place in the patient's absence) is not adequate to do this.

SENIOR POWER Dementia/Alzheimers, Part 2: ‘I hear tell’

By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Friday November 22, 2013 - 09:28:00 AM

November’s Senior Power columns are about Dementia, Alzheimer’s (a form of dementia), their caregivers, and — this week — the very significant dementia-hearing relationship. 

“The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex… than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus — the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir and keeps us in the intellectual company of humankind.” (Helen Keller in Scotland: A Personal Record Written by Herself (1933.) Helen Adams Keller (1880-1968) knew that, in her words, “Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.”  

Studies suggest — some would say demonstrate — that hearing loss, which is prevalent in more than 30% of adults age 60+, may be a risk factor for dementia. Hearing loss can be a precursor to cognitive dementia and possibly Alzheimer's. It is the social isolation plus the strain on the brain trying to fill in the missing information. 

A recent Charlie Rose program consisted of an impressive roundtable of hearing loss experts. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Division of Otology’s Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D. and University of Iowa Professor of Audiology Ruth Bentler, Ph.D., and others. While the effect of hearing loss experienced by old people and the importance of access to hearing aids (assistive listening devices) were mentioned, they were downplayed. The subject was cochlear implants and how they now can repair damaged, lost, or “never had” hearing. 

The cochlear has only 15k "hair cells," non-regenerative electro-mechanical transducers of the ear. A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)’s Internet site is a good source of information about the cochlear. Paula Span writes of “A different kind of hearing aid” (November 11, 2013 New York Times.) She includes reference to Medicare’s stance regarding hearing aids. “…younger seniors and those with higher speech scores do better with implants. After prolonged hearing loss, ‘the pathways in the brain that handle auditory processing may begin to atrophy,’ according to Dr. Lin, so while ‘the attitude among a lot of people is, Let’s wait until it gets really bad,’ results are better if you do not. Medicare will undertake a national study of cochlear implants in older people, so that policy could change, eventually. Meanwhile, the absurdity of Medicare’s willingly paying $70,000 to $80,000 for implant surgery and all the associated costs at the Cleveland Clinic, but not $4,000 to $5,000 for a digital hearing aid, continues.” 

A research study released in 2011, Hearing Loss and Dementia Linked in Study, by Johns Hopkins researchers and supported by the intramural research program of the National Institute on Aging suggested that seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing. The findings could lead to new ways to combat dementia, a condition that affects millions of people worldwide and carries heavy societal burdens. 

The reason for the link between dementia and hearing loss is unknown, but the investigators suggest that a common pathology may underlie both or that the strain of decoding sounds over the years may overwhelm the brains of people with hearing loss, leaving them more vulnerable to dementia. They also speculated that hearing loss could lead to dementia by making individuals more socially isolated, a known risk factor for dementia and other cognitive disorders. Not surprising, then, are three conditions that have been found to be conducive to delaying dementia: early music involvement, multilingualism, and healthy sleep. (Read, for example, "Speaking more than one language may delay dementia," by Kim Painter, USA Today, Nov. 7, 2013). 

Whatever the cause, these scientists’ findings may offer a starting point for interventions — even one as relatively simple as hearing aids — that could delay or prevent dementia by improving patients’ hearing. At this point, I’m asking Why, then, does Medicare refuse to fund hearing aids? Why are old people denied this support? And what can we together do about it?! Well, for one thing, the decennial White House Conference on Aging is in the planning stages. Its purpose is to make recommendations to the President and to Congress to help guide national aging policies for the next ten years and beyond. The White House Conference on Aging in 2015 theme is “The Shape of Things to Come.” 

“Researchers have looked at what affects hearing loss, but few have looked at how hearing loss affects cognitive brain function…There hasn’t been much crosstalk between otologists and geriatricians, so it’s been unclear whether hearing loss and dementia are related.” (Study leader Dr. Lin.) To make this connection, Lin and his colleagues used data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging (BLSA). The BLSA, initiated by the National Institute on Aging in 1958, has tracked various health factors in thousands of men and women over decades. 

The study, published in the Archives of Neurology, focused on 639 people whose hearing and cognitive abilities were tested as part of the BLSA between 1990 and 1994. While about a quarter of the volunteers had some hearing loss at the start of the study, none had dementia. These volunteers were then closely followed with repeat examinations; by 2008, 58 of them had developed dementia. The researchers found that participants with hearing loss at the beginning of the study were significantly more likely to develop dementia by the end. Compared with volunteers with normal hearing, those with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss had twofold, threefold, and fivefold, respectively, the risk of developing dementia over time. The more hearing loss they had, the higher their likelihood of developing the memory-robbing disease. Even after the researchers took into account other factors that are associated with risk of dementia, including diabetes, high blood pressure, age, sex and race, hearing loss and dementia were still strongly connected. 


PC stands for personal computer as well as for pleasant communication! Cognitively stimulating activity is among the lifestyle factors that may help lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. And yet technology use among elderly Americans is low, relative to the rest of the population.  

Seniors 74-years-old and older are the fastest-growing age group on social-networking sites. Why are some senior citizens so resistant to technology? Would they be less so if senior centers and retirement communities encouraged their pc learning and acquisition? Instruction and equipment are often lacking. A few tears ago I received an email from England from a second cousin I never knew I had — she had found me via the Internet. She’s a genealogy buff, and we have exchanged photographs via the Internet (by email attachments) from our personal “archives.” 

A senior center planning a program of motion pictures related to dementia and AD might consider these: Floating is Easy (BBC Film Network;) Iris, a 2001 biographical film that tells the story of British novelist Iris Murdoch and her relationship with John Bayley; Away From Her, based on Alice Munro’s short story, “The bear came over the mountain;” A Moment to Remember, a love story about quiet carpenter Chol-su and Su-jin with AD, in Korean with optional subtitles; The Savages with Laura Linney, a 2007 closed captioned motion picture in English with optional subtitles; and She Doesn't Want to Sleep Alone.  

No quiero dormir sola is the original title, with English subtitles, of She Doesn't Want to Sleep Alone, the feature debut (in 2012) of Mexican director Natalia Beristain, who co-wrote the script. Two generations of women dealing with loneliness and addiction are elements of dramah in any language. Mexico City resident Amanda (37-year old Mariana Gajá) is well off and doesn’t need to work. She dabbles in photography during the day and sex with various men in the evening. Bartender Pablo is patient with her because she has a problem— she can’t sleep alone without pills. A neighbor summons Amanda to the neglected, memento-stuffed apartment of grandmother Dolores (79-year old Adriana Roel,) who maintains a state of inebriation that exacerbates her Alzheimer’s-induced short-term memory loss. Amanda must acknowledge her grandmother’s need for full-time care, and checks her into a residential facility for aged. Amanda gradually finds spending time with her abuela gratifying. Even when most confused, grandma has a sharp grasp of Amanda’s character. A tender empathy grows between them…applying makeup, enjoying the swimming pool, reacting to the sight of themselves naked in a changing-room mirror.  

In his 2011 book, My Father at 100; A Memoir, Ron Reagan suggested that his father suffered from the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease while he was still in the White House. President Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1994, five years after leaving office. He died in 2004 at age 93. Reagan's son (then 53 years old) wrote that he believed his father would have left office before his second term ended in 1989 had the disease been diagnosed then.  

The Consumer Handbook on Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids; A Bridge to Healing, 3rd edition, edited by Richard E. Carmen (Auricle, AZ: Auricle Ink Publishers, 2009) can be borrowed in your behalf via The Link service. Twelve chapters by several experts provide information about topics not usually covered in memoir-like collections, including AD and dementia, the audiogram, tinnitus, aging, wireless telephones (hand-held phones with built-in antennas, often called cell, mobile, or PCS phones,) CAPD, boomers, and cost of hearing aids. I recommend chapter 6, ‘Hearing aid technology and rehabilitation’ by UCSF Department of Otolaryngology Director Robert W. Sweetow, Ph.D. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a system of cell phone ratings. When acquiring a cell phone, watch for a M3, M4, T3 or T4 rating. The “M” refers to the microphone and “T” to the T-coil.  

For a state-by-state list of services for adults with hearing loss, as of April 2012, go to www.hearingloss.org/content/medicaid-regulations. (“Covered states” included Florida and Hawaii; “not covered” were mostly in the Deep South.) 

Why is Medicare so anti-hearing aids for senior citizens? What are we together doing about it? 

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Thirty Years Medicated

By Jack Bragen
Friday November 22, 2013 - 09:20:00 AM

Antipsychotic medication, over time, affects brain structure. When, like me, you have been on medication thirty years, (nearly all of my adult life) medication becomes a factor in how the brain develops. 

Make no mistake; Schizophrenia is a very pernicious illness. Not treating this illness has a much worse effect on someone's development compared to the problems that come with treatment. 

The physical side-effects of antipsychotic medication seem worse than limitations introduced to cognition. Physically, you can get "Parkinsonian" symptoms, which are parallel to having Parkinson's. This is because antipsychotic medications block neurotransmitters such as Dopamine. Parkinsonian side effects are the tip of the iceberg of medication side effects. I do not have space here to cover them all. (Medications are prescribed to help with side-effects, yet they have side effects of their own.) 

However, it has been my experience that meds don't reduce intelligence. If anything, they help with intelligence by reducing psychotic symptoms which would otherwise interfere with intelligent thinking. 

Some medications, for some people, can interfere with concentration, and can make it very uncomfortable to read or to do tasks that exert one's mind. This is not the same thing as reducing intelligence. The intelligence still exists albeit could be hampered at some tasks. Depending on the dosage of antipsychotic meds, how long they have been taken, and other factors, it is possible to push past this difficulty concentrating. In the long term, if you do things that intensively use the mind on a regular basis, you will probably eliminate the difficulty by means of exercise. 

Lack of exercising your mental capacities will make them more likely to wither away. If you take medication but do not stay active, you might lose mental capacity due to atrophy of the brain. However, even for someone without a psychiatric illness who never needed or took psychiatric meds, lack of using the brain can cause the brain to lose functioning. 

It has been my experience that medication doesn't block mindfulness, meditation or spirituality. Being in a psychotic mode (due to lack of medication) will completely prevent you from practicing meditation--I can almost guarantee that. Achieving meditative "attainment"--which is a word that describes some degree of being "enlightened"--is more difficult for someone with mental illness than it is for a non-afflicted person, but most of this added difficulty isn't caused by the medication. 

(The quest for meditative attainment is quite a challenge for anyone, mentally ill or not, and any progress, even a little bit of progress, is valuable.) 

After thirty years on antipsychotic meds, I can no longer work at a full-time job, an ability I once had in my distant past. I can not handle physically demanding situations. I can't do tasks that entail moving fast. 

Because of the combination of the medication and relapses of the illness, it is likely that my brain is prematurely aged. For one thing, I experience some amount of memory problems. However, some of my problems are hard to distinguish from the normal effects of aging. 

Going on and off medication on a repeat basis is very bad for the brain. If medication is needed, you should take it and keep taking it. Going off medication and then relapsing is a shock to the brain cells. When medication is reinstated and reality is restored in the mind, you may realize you've had quite a big setback. 

With every relapse into severe psychosis, gray matter is lost. Medication has some effects that may be bad for the brain, but if medication is needed, then doing without it is far more harmful. 

You wouldn't expect that you would pitch at the World Series if you had two broken arms. Those arms need to be put in a splint and allowed to heal. The same goes for your brain--medication is equivalent to a splint. 

In another analogy, if you had diabetes, you would want to take diabetes medication to prevent damage to your organs as well as other life-threatening problems. Medication to treat psychosis prevents brain damage to important parts of the brain which occurs through an episode of severe mental illness. 

I have been on heavy dosages of antipsychotic meds for thirty years now. If medication were really that bad for me, I wouldn't be able at this point to go to the store and buy a loaf of bread, much less write this column. Being heavily medicated on a long-term basis apparently isn't nearly as bad for me as it would have been if I were determined not to take medication. Many people may mistakenly ascribe some cognitive problems as being caused by medication that are actually caused by the illness. 

After thirty years on medication, certain things don't function as well as they did when I was in my twenties. However, I can say that my logical thinking ability is better than it ever was. I have had nearly eighteen years recovery (since my last relapse due to stopping medication) under my belt. This has allowed a brain that's mostly very good to recover and to serve me well. 

Author's note: 

It is a shame that the medications that help us stabilize have so many side effects that ruin our health as well as inducing physical and mental suffering. Assuming that there is no hidden agenda, we need more research to invent medications that work for us without ruining our lives in the process. 

* * * My books, including but not limited to "Instructions for Living with Schizophrenia: A Self-Help Manual," are available on Amazon. I can be reached at: bragenkjack@yahoo.com However, I can not give any advice.