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No Fire in the Fireplace Today --Spare the Air

By Bay City News Service
Monday December 09, 2013 - 07:58:00 AM

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued its sixth Winter Spare the Air alert for today, banning all wood burning throughout the region. 

The air alert was issued due to a cold, stagnant weather pattern that has allowed air pollution to rise to a level that is expected to be unhealthy on Monday. 

"Because still weather and high pollution levels have persisted in the region, the Air District is extending this Winter Spare the Air Alert for another day," said Jack Broadbent, the air district's executive officer.  

Using fireplaces, woodstoves, pellet stoves, outdoor fire pits or any other wood-burning device is illegal during a Winter Spare the Air alert, except in homes where woodstoves or fireplaces are the only heat source. 

Violators could face fines of up to $500. 

To file a complaint or to find out more about the alert, residents can visit the district's website at www.sparetheair.org or call (877) 4-NO-BURN.

Police Search Home for Suspect in Temescal Shooting

By Bay City News
Friday December 06, 2013 - 11:31:00 PM

Oakland police unsuccessfully searched a home for a suspect who shot a victim in the city's Temescal neighborhood tonight, according to police. 

The shooting was near the corner of 59th Street and Telegraph Avenue, police Lt. Chris Bolton said. 

Neighbors said they heard shots fired and a man scream at about 9:20 p.m. 

The victim suffered injuries not considered life-threatening, Bolton said. Police then cordoned off the 400 block of 59th Street and searched a home but did not find the suspect inside.

The East Bay Remembers Mandela's 1990 Visit

By Sasha Lekach {BCN)
Friday December 06, 2013 - 12:31:00 PM

Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, died yesterday at the age of 95, more than two decades after he visited Oakland as part of a U.S. tour to rally support for anti-apartheid efforts.

Mandela served as president of the African National Congress in South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was elected after serving 27 years in various prisons for fighting against the apartheid regime.

His death, announced today by South African President Jacob Zuma, has prompted reaction from elected officials in the Bay Area and beyond, reflecting on the legacy of one of the world's most renowned civil rights leaders.

In his quest for equality for black and white people in his country, Mandela became a world leader that President Barack Obama today remembered as "one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth."

Gideon Bendile, 62, is a member of the South African band Zulu Spear, which performed at Mandela's visit at the Oakland Coliseum.

Bendile, who grew up in Johannesburg and left his native country in 1975 at the age of 21, remembered performing for Mandela, whom he occasionally affectionately called "Madiba."

He recalled the experience in Oakland as "just breathtaking" and went on, "I could just remember that very well. I was really angry. I left it right at the stadium."

He said hearing Mandela speak about peace and equality prompted the musician to never seek revenge again.

"That's when I felt peace within myself," he said. "He was just a person like me and you." 

Bendile, who now lives in Rohnert Park, said he has been in mourning today. 

"I'm thinking of all the good things Nelson Mandela has done," he said. "I'm still kind of shocked" even though his death was expected with his declining health and old age. 

As part of the South African community in the Bay Area, Bendile said he has been getting calls from friends throughout the afternoon. Mandela's passing is rekindling his hope for world peace. 

"Apartheid is not just about being black and white, but about having respect for other people," he said. 

Andrea Turner, the lead choir director of the Oakland-based Vukani Mawethu Choir, reflected on the experience of bringing more than 200 singers to flank Mandela at his Oakland debut. 

"It was an exciting moment," Turner said. "It was one of Oakland's finest moments." 

She said a diverse group of teachers, students, union members, church members, and others came together to sing for Mandela. 

Today Turner said she has been crying remembering the man she revered as a "king" in his struggle to end apartheid and racism in his country and beyond. 

"We must keep his vision alive," she said. "The struggle isn't over, it never is."

Berkeley Woman Can Sue Austrian Railroad for Injury

By Julia Cheever (BCN)
Friday December 06, 2013 - 11:32:00 PM

A Berkeley woman whose legs were crushed by a train in Austria six years ago won the right from a U.S. appeals court today to go ahead with a lawsuit against the Austrian railroad in federal court in San Francisco. 

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said by an 8-3 vote that Carol Sachs established an adequate connection with commercial activity within the United States because she had bought a Eurail pass from an American-based company. 

Sachs used the rail pass when she bought a ticket for a trip from Innsbruck, Austria, to Prague in the Czech Republic in April 2007. 

She fell to the tracks through a gap in the platform as she tried to board a train and was hit by the moving train. Both her legs had to be amputated above the knee.  

Sachs sued the Republic of Austria's state-owned railroad, OBB Personenverkehr AG, in U.S. District Court in San Francisco in 2008 for negligence in allegedly moving the train while she was trying to board.  

The railroad company, which claimed the train was already moving when she tried to board, argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because U.S. courts had no jurisdiction over the case. 

In two earlier rulings, now-retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker and a divided three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed the case should be dismissed. 

But the full appeals court granted Sachs' appeal for a rehearing before an expanded 11-judge panel, which ruled in her favor today. 

Judge Ronald Gould wrote in the majority opinion, "A foreign-state-owned common carrier, such as a railway or airline, engages in commercial activity in the United States when it sells tickets in the United States through a travel agent regardless of whether the travel agent is a direct agent or subagent of the common carrier." 

Unless the Austrian railroad successfully appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, the case will go back to U.S. District Court in San Francisco, where it will be assigned to a new trial judge. 

The appeals court noted in a footnote, however, that "a great many issues" that were not part of the appeal remain to be resolved before the lawsuit could go to a possible trial.

Berkeley City Council Bans Smoking in Multi-Unit Housing

By Carol Denney
Friday December 06, 2013 - 12:43:00 PM

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.

Press Release: Now Open - Dr. Toy’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide: An Insider’s Guide to the Best Toys by Berkeley's Dr. Stevanne Auerbach

Friday December 06, 2013 - 12:59:00 PM

Dr. Toy’s Holiday Gift Guide, a valuable toy resource, has launched at www.drtoy.com. This new special online service makes the search for the right gift for all ages much easier. Multi-media presentations are powered by Magic Toy Box – Dr. Toy’s unique virtual toy museum and marketplace. Information is available for each product with links to the company, and easy access to purchase. "Dr. Toy’s Tips on Selecting and Using Toys" are included. 

Some highlights: 

Dr. Toy observes children at play, and sees what works and what doesn’t hold up under tough testing from – active, inquisitive, and resourceful babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and older children. Therefore, Dr. Toy’s Holiday Gift Guide assists consumers to select the right products to enhance children’s play and learning. 

Selections are based on lasting play value, learning, and balance among children’s active, creative, and educational experiences. Dr. Toy looks for durability, and versatility: blocks, transportation and construction toys, games, and puppets to stimulate imagination, engage players, and deliver lasting value. These high standards are applied to all play products in Dr. Toy’s Holiday Gift Guide. The careful selection, play themes, and types of products are designed to match each child’s interests, abilities, and readiness.  

Annually, Dr. Toy reviews products created by varied manufacturers the world over. Final selections match Dr. Toy’s extensive criteria. Children’s positive reactions are worth careful selection. Toys and products selected for Dr. Toy’s Holiday Gift Guide meet these Dr. Toy high standards. 

Dr. Toy reminds parents and teachers, “Let’s not forget that ‘play is children’s work’ and should be respected and understood by all adults. Dr. Toy believes parents should consider what are the best products, or ‘tools for play,’ to provide wholesome experiences for children that provide positive and meaningful play interactions, and plenty of fun.” 

About Dr. Toy:  

Child development and toy specialist Dr. Stevanne Auerbach, “Dr. Toy,” has reviewed and evaluated thousands of toys to offer the best to parents, grandparents, and teachers this holiday season, and for the last 25 years through her award-winning website, Dr. Toy’s Guide (www.drtoy.com). Dr. Auerbach is author of dozens of books on childcare, parenting, toys and play, including Dr. Toy’s Smart Play/Smart Toys: How to Raise a Child with a High P.Q. (Play Quotient), written especially for parents and published in 12 countries.  


Neal M. Blumenfeld, MD

Monday December 09, 2013 - 10:38:00 PM

Neal Blumenfeld, eminent psychiatrist, citizen of the world, passed at his home on December 1, 2013. He was 83. 

Neal was preceded in death by his beloved wife Lise, his parents Dr. Charles M. and Pauline Blumenfeld, and sister Mrs. Diane Miller, and is survived by many: his three children, Eve, Peter and Thomas; three stepchildren: Mimi, Judy and Mike Wolff; five grandchildren: Laura, Alex, and Nick Blumenfeld, and Alex and Nat Wolff; and friends, comrades, neighbors, classmates and colleagues. 

Neal was born on November 26, 1930, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and spent most of his adolescence in Sacramento, California, after having lived in Cleveland, Ohio and Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from UC Berkeley, received his medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and performed his residency in psychiatry at Yale University. He served as Army captain while stationed in Vicenza, Italy, where he and his first wife Leah Zeff adopted two children, Eve and Thomas. Peter was born nine years later. Neal settled in Berkeley and was a prominent figure in the Bay Area mental health scene since the 1960s. 

Not defined by his medical acumen alone, Neal was an astute political observer. A passionate civil rights advocate, his fervor found expression in the Free Speech Movement, which he fully embraced among countless human rights causes. He viewed the Free Speech Movement as a moral issue, rather than an issue of a youth rebellion, writing: “It is intriguing to speculate on why the moral issue is so frequently ignored or derided.… Perhaps it is too disturbing to recognize that there are people who can say: ‘I have not given over my whole conscience to any system -- I reserve the right to protest (and if necessary to break the rules of the system in that protest), when the system trespasses upon basic rights.’” As a philanthropist, he was a man committed to the betterment of those who either could not, or were not empowered, to help themselves. 

At various times in his life Neal could be described as a radical, revolutionary, Socialist, Neo-Trotskyist, lefty, and self-proclaimed BhuJew, yet these labels do not do justice to the depth of his commitment to the causes he believed in. A goal in his life was to make common cause, to help the oppressed, to stand up for the worker, to defend the individual and environment from corporations, and to give voice to the voiceless. A man with a large heart for those who needed help, he was a believer that a just society is a fair society. 

His adventurous spirit took him from Cuba to Eritrea, on trails and rope bridges, in cold rivers and lakes, up mountains and down gorges. His athleticism led him to enjoy everything from basketball and hiking to climbing, bicycling, tennis, and swimming, winning his age division in Master’s swimming at age 69. Neal enjoyed both art and music, and he loved to play his steel guitar and sing his favorite folk songs and Spanish Revolutionary War ballads. 

An avid life-long learner, he was both intellectually curious and physically active, equally at home in the library or public park. Intellectual, writer, environmentalist, linguist, raconteur, historian, antagonist, preservationist, and explorer, his vivacious spirit and larger-than-life personality captivated those who knew him. His dry sense of humor and endless supply of witty anecdotes entertained and engaged. 

The lefty has left, and an era has ended, but his indomitable spirit and joie de vivre remains and touches us. 

A celebration of his life will be held on January 18, 2014, at 1:00PM at the Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda, Berkeley, CA. In lieu of flowers the family requests that tax-deductible donations be made to the Free Speech Movement Archives, 1801 5th Street, Berkeley, CA, 94710.

Madeline Taylor Duckles
May 19, 1916-Nov. 23, 2013

Sunday December 08, 2013 - 08:59:00 PM

Madeline Taylor Duckles was born in Loomis, California to Allie Adella Fleisher and Porter Lee Taylor. After graduating from Esparto Union High School in 1933, Madeline enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in English Literature. It was at UC Berkeley that Madeline met the love of her life, Vincent Harris Duckles. Madeline and Vin were married on June 10, 1937 in Forest Hills, Long Island. In 1951, Madeline and Vin settled into their home in the Berkeley Hills, where they raised their family and where Madeline lived until her 96th birthday. Madeline's house was full of family, visitors and animals. She loved to entertain and receive visitors from around the world.  

Madeline committed her life to peaceful activism and social justice. Madeline joined the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in the 1940s and was an active member of WILPF into her nineties. She attended meetings with the World Council of Peace in Europe and Asia, and gave speeches regarding the anti-war movement in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, and was one of the first American women to visit North Vietnam. As a leader in the Committee of Responsibility during the Vietnam War, she brought Vietnamese children injured in the war to San Francisco for treatment. Her peaceful activism made her the subject of government surveillance, and years later, Freedom of Information Act requests revealed a dossier assembled by the FBI, CIA and military intelligence services about her work. Madeline's decades-long work was acknowledged on the floor of the United States Congress by Rep. Ronald Dellums in 1996 and Rep. Barbara Lee in 2005. 

Music was an important part of Madeline's life. Her husband was a renowned musicologist and all her sons had musical training. Three of her children continued their musical endeavors in a professional capacity, as well as three of her grandchildren. Madeline supported classical music and loved the opera and symphony. She continued to attend concerts even at 97 years of age. 

She counts close friends all over the world, many of whom stayed in her home and were the beneficiaries of her wonderful hospitality. 

Madeline Duckles died in Santa Rosa, California on November 23, 2013 at age 97. She is survived by five sons: Lawrence, Christopher, Lee, Peter and Jeremy; her foster daughter, Thuy; seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held in the spring. Donations may be made in her name to the Jane Adams Peace Association. 

[Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Dec. 8, 2013]



Whatever Happened to Democracy in Berkeley?

By Becky O'Malley
Friday December 06, 2013 - 09:31:00 AM

If you are looking for evidence that democratic decision-making is breaking down everywhere, not just in Washington, but even—god forbid—in formerly progressive Berkeley, you need look no further than two excellent pieces which appeared this week in local media. 

On the Berkeleyside site, Emilie Raguso’s report on Tuesday’s city council meeting, Redistricting map approved, referendum idea looms, shows how incumbent councilmembers, most likely at the behest of the avaricious developers who backed their campaigns, are trying to systematically eliminate progressive opposition on the council. 

And in the East Bay Express, Steven Tavares traces how conservative elements covertly fund campaigns, in his piece Sit/Lie Committee Violated Berkeley Election Laws, subheaded “The city's ethics commission plans to fine the Yes on Measure S committee for failing to report more than fifty cash payments to Election Day workers”. 

As it happens, despite my often-expressed disillusionment with the political arena, I witnessed the meetings which these pieces describe. The Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission (BFCP) did indeed vote to fine the Yes on S committee, supporters of an initiative to ban sitting on city sidewalks, in a campaign which was organized by the CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association (which many call the Downtown Business Association). Measure S was narrowly defeated in the last election. 

Yes on S was indeed cited under the Berkeley Election Reform Act (BERA)for not reporting payments to election day campaigners. But the $3000 fine which was discussed at the BFCPC meeting would be just a slap on the wrist for a committee which raised a bunch of cash and will soon disappear. And Berkeley City Attorney Kristy Van Herick has been authorized by the commission to negotiate a settlement with Yes on S’s attorneys at the Sutton Law Firm, one of the most powerful election law firms in the state, so that slap might be even lighter when it’s finally administered. 

Tavares missed one important wrinkle in an otherwise complete story. The FCPC has declined to decide whether Yes on S campaign funding from the DBA was laundered through the Berkeley Democratic Club, which despite its name is just one of several local “Democratic” clubs, and the most conservative of them in a district with essentially no Republicans. The BDC has so far managed to dodge the relatively strict reporting requirements of BERA by claiming to be a statewide committee—and California’s state reporting laws are much weaker. 

The Catch-22 in the discussion, spearheaded at the meeting by progressive Commissioner Zelda Bronstein, was that the threshold question of whether the city or the state has jurisdiction over campaign finance reporting is triggered by how much an organization spends on local versus statewide campaigns. Van Herick, who is city staff for the Berkeley commission, didn’t investigate the identity of a recipient of an expenditure in the BDC’s contribution report which was simply listed as “initiative”. 

Without finding out who got the money, an accurate apportionment to establish jurisdiction can’t be made. The commission asked her to follow up, but as yet nothing seems to have come of the request. Nevertheless, the California Secretary of State’s office is now investigating BDC’s compliance with state law, so something just might come of the charges. 

Tuesday’s council meeting provided a graphic demonstration of how the majority on Berkeley’s City Council has turned into a rubber stamp for whatever Mayor Tom Bates, now in his second decade in office, wants and asks the staff to promote. Every ten years, following the U.S. census, the council is charged with rearranging the council district boundaries to reflect population changes. This time, through a series of slate-of-hand manipulations of the rules too complicated to explain here, the council majority engineered an up-or-down vote on a proposal from student government pols who controlled the Associated Students of the University of California last year. The announced intention was to create a district with a super-majority of student voters, so that the council would be sure to have at least one student member at all times. 

The tricky wrinkle here is that the proposal endorsed by staff leaves out the Northside co-op voters, generally the most progressive element in the near-UC electorate. The result is that Fraternity Row residents, traditionally conservative, reach a tipping point which will probably let them select the student councilmember. At Tuesday’s meeting a strong majority of speakers and the varied organizations they represented endorsed instead a set of district boundaries which was more broadly inclusive. 

Raguso did a good job of capturing the tone of the meeting, which I watched online. She quoted the nadir of the councilmembers’ comments, the place where ex-prog Vice-Mayor Linda Maio shed crocodile tears because she was [accurately] called out as “regressive” and Laurie Capitelli claimed to be progressive, which he’s never been. 

All the councilmembers, all three progs and all six cons, are clearly pandering to the student vote, but they want their own kind of students to control the seat. In fact, I myself happen to think that pushing all the students who live near campus into a single district of any kind is a poor idea. The current District 7 is 70% students, and Councilmember Kriss Worthington has had to court student support to get elected. As a result, he’s done a good job of reflecting their interests. 

Creating an 80% or 90% student ghetto would not be an improvement, regardless of which students are included. Students provide useful leavening wherever they are, requiring candidates to look beyond potholes and garbage collection as they campaign. As a pressure group in the several districts around the U.C. campus, they can do more for themselves and future generations of students who will take their place when they graduate and move on. 

There’s talk of a referendum on this decision—I’ve already gotten a communication posted on the Berkeley Citizens’ Action list-serv calling for volunteers to circulate petitions. That would be a good start, but even more reform is needed. 

While petitioners are at it, they might consider including a measure to create a West Berkeley district which would more accurately reflect the community of interest in that neighborhood, which is under perpetual siege from speculative developers backed by those in city hall whose campaigns they’ve funded. 

Also, how about using the ballot process to amend the Berkeley Election Reform Act to make money-laundering impossible? Currently individual contributions to campaigns are limited, but phony “non-partisan” committees can spend as much as they want without accounting for where the money came from. Citizens United, anyone? 

And the district election model seems to have broken down. As long as a majority sitting councilmembers have the power to gerrymander district boundaries at will to perpetuate their own faction, any current majority can extend its rule unchallenged. How about taking redistricting away from those who benefit from it, and establishing an independent body to draw the boundaries, as the state of California has successfully done? 

One more improvement would be to add two at-large councilmembers to represent the whole city, since Berkeley is getting more and more stratified by elevation and income. The mayor, currently the only at-large councilmember, usually speaks for big landowners and U.C. Berkeley. 

All in all, maybe Berkeley needs to have a citizens’ charter revision convention to come up with a whole new set of ideas for democratizing city government. Things are badly out of whack at the moment. 




Odd Bodkins: Shot for the stars. (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Saturday December 07, 2013 - 09:55:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Odd Bodkins: Life on this planet. (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Saturday December 07, 2013 - 09:50:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Odd Bodkins: Hug your elephant (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Saturday December 07, 2013 - 09:41:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Bounce: Internet Gnomes (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Saturday December 07, 2013 - 09:46:00 AM


Joseph Young


Public Comment

Paltry Fast Food Pay Nicks Taxpayers

By Tejinder Uberoi
Friday December 06, 2013 - 12:39:00 PM

As fast-food workers in about 150 cities are walking off the job in a coordinated effort to demand higher wages, a new report published by the Institute for Policy Studies entitled, "Fast Food CEOs Rake In Taxpayer-Subsidized Pay," exposes that these CEOs have saved billions of dollars paying their workers near starvation wages while further buttressing their own pay with government subsidized dollars. Incredibly, a perverse loophole in the tax code allows companies to deduct the cost of performance-based executive pay. 

For example, the CEO of Yum! Brands that runs, KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut chains raked in $94 million of this so-called performance pay in the last two years granting the parent company a whopping of $33 million in tax benefits. Research has clearly shown how the rules that govern this performance based pay can easily be rigged even if the CEO’s have performed badly. 

This obscene tax giveaway comes on the heel of another report that demonstrates the extreme hardship endured by fast-food workers.; more than have to rely on public assistance to survive. Many food outlets are acutely aware of these hardships and encourage their workers to seek additional employment and seek public assistance. It is time we acted in solidarity with these low paid workers and boycotted these fast food scrooge franchises. Also, I urge readers to contact their Rip-Van-Winkle legislators and demand that this obscene ‘performance pay’ tax perk be revoked.

Dickens Told the Tale of Today's Poor

By Ted Rudow III, MA
Friday December 06, 2013 - 12:41:00 PM

In a very real sense, Dickens popularized many aspects of the Christmas we celebrate today, including great family gatherings, seasonal drinks and dishes and gift giving. Even our language has been enriched by the tale. Who has not known a Scrooge, or uttered “Bah! Humbug!” when feeling irritated or disbelieving. And the phrase “Merry Christmas!” gained wider usage after the story appeared. 

“A Christmas Carol” may become an even more relevant tale as people cope with what is expected to be an economically bleak holiday season. Fast-forward to 2013, and America is in an acute economic crisis. There are a number of similar themes, including the increasing gap between the rich and poor. 

People in the working class are losing their homes or struggling to heat their homes, and we’re going into the holiday season with anticipated layoffs and high unemployment. For many, it looks like a pretty dreary Christmas. The message in “A Christmas Carol” also says it’s not just good enough to donate money, but individuals need to get involved, as Scrooge learns in the end. This is a message we can all keep in mind this year. You never lose by giving.

Praise Due Both Parties in Iran Accord

By Jagjit Singh
Friday December 06, 2013 - 12:45:00 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 which disproportionately impact the poor people of Iran. 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 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 supports 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. 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.



By Conn Hallinan
Friday December 06, 2013 - 11:43:00 AM

“One thing alone I charge you. As you live, believe in life. Always human beings will live and progress to greater, broader and fuller life. The only possible death is to lose belief in this truth simply because the great end comes slowly, because time is long.” 

—W.E.B DuBois, historian, activist, founder of the Niagara Movement, and author of the “The Souls of Black Folk.” 

Those words are taped on my desk next to James Baldwin’s searing quote from “The Fire Next Time”: “A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that they be wicked but only that they be spineless.” Nelson Mandela, the great clarion of African freedom, whose history was the very embodiment of courage, above all else believed in life. And like DuBois and Baldwin, he understood perseverance. 

With the news that Mandela’s breath finally failed him—his lungs were savaged by the tuberculosis he acquired during his 27 years of imprisonment in South Africa—two memories came to mind. 

In the spring of 1961, I stood in a vast crowd of people in London’s Trafalgar Square to hear a stream of speakers denounce apartheid, a term I had never before encountered. In part my ignorance was because I was an 18-year-old, fresh out of high school, where I had majored mainly in football and beer, but also because I was an American, and the word was simply not on my political radar screen. A few of us knew about the Sharpeville massacre the previous year, when South African police had murdered 69 peaceful demonstrators, but “apartheid” was as yet an exotic vocabulary word for me.  

When I returned home to San Francisco to start college, a few of us tried to get some traction on the issue. The UN had called for an international boycott in 1962, but it had been almost completely ignored by the West. Even Britain’s supposed anti-apartheid Labor Government rejected joining the UN boycott. It is hard to get Americans to look beyond their shores unless a lot of body bags are coming home. In any case, most of us were swept up in the civil rights movement, the free speech movement, and then the fight to end the war in Southeast Asia. The anti-apartheid movement went on the back burner.  

It was not that Americans were unaware of apartheid—even though I doubt that a lot people, even in the civil rights movement, could have given the definition of the Afrikaner word: “the state of being apart”—it was that no one quite knew what to do about it. Until the anti-apartheid movement came up with the idea of divesting in companies that did business with the Pretoria regime, it seemed a bridge too far. 

But starting in the 1970s that began to change and, without belittling any other area of the country, Oakland and Berkeley led the way. As the singer and activist Harry Belafonte said, San Francisco’s East Bay was “The birthplace of the U.S. anti-apartheid movement.” 

But it was a long, slow slog. 

In 1972 Berkeley Congressman Ron Dellums (D-Ca) introduced the “Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act,” which ended up dead on arrival in Washington. The following year Berkeley Mayor Lonnie Hancock tried to get the city to divest from companies investing in South Africa, but the effort failed. It took six years of repeated efforts to get Berkeley to divest. When it finally did, it became one of the first in the nation to do so. 

The turning point in the fight against apartheid came in 1984, when students and faculty at the University of California, Berkeley demanded that the biggest university in the world divest its billions of dollars of investments in companies that did business with South Africa. At the time I was a reporter, who wished them well, but had no great hopes of success. I kept thinking of a line from a poem by Irish revolutionary Padraic Pearse about those who had gone out “to break their strength and die, they and few, in bloody protest for a glorious thing. They shall be spoken of among their people. The generations shall remember them, and called them blessed.” 

How wrong I was. Memories of the past can sometimes blind us to the potential for the future. 

The students built shantytowns on campus, besieged the Board of Regents and took over historic Sproul Plaza for six weeks. The University responded in typical fashion: tear gas, arrests, expulsions and stonewalling, all of which was like trying to douse a fire with gasoline. Civil rights groups and trade unionists joined the demonstrations, along with people throughout the Bay Area. The University soon found itself at war with the whole East Bay. 

The pressure was just too much, even for the powerful and wealthy Board of Regents. In 1986 UC withdrew $3 billion from companies doing business with South Africa, dwarfing modest divestment decisions by universities like Harvard. Dellums re-introduced the divestment legislation, and in 1986 the U.S. Congress passed it. It was the death knell for apartheid. 

Mandela remained in prison until 1990, when it became clear to the South African government that it could no longer withstand the international pressure to release him and terminate the system that had enchained a people for over 40 years. While apartheid was officially ended in 1990, it was not until Mandela was elected president in 1994 that it was finally buried. 

And that leads to the second memory. 

On July 1, 1990, Mandela came to the Oakland Coliseum and told 58,000 people, “It is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that the unbanning of our organization [the African National Congress] came as a result of the pressure exerted on the apartheid regime by yourselves.” He thanked the crowd and held his fist in the air. No, Berkeley students, faculty, civil rights organizations, town residents and trade unionists did not bring down apartheid by themselves, but because they persevered and had spine, they started the avalanche. 

It is sometimes hard to remember these lessons because DuBois was right: ends come slowly and history is long. But in the end it is those who fill the plazas, who chain themselves to doors, who shrug aside tear gas and billy clubs—who persevere in the face of prison, exile, even death—to whom history’s laurels go. 

We shall miss this dear man who loved freedom and humanity so much that, no matter what was done to him, would not break. He set the bar high. We honor him by clearing it. 

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedge.wordpress.com 


ECLETIC RANT: Nelson Mandela, South Africa's Moral Center, is Dead at 95

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday December 06, 2013 - 11:55:00 AM

Nelson Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, is dead at 95. A great man has died.  

Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election.  

Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). In 1962 he was arrested and convicted of sabotage and other charges, and sentenced to life in prison. Mandela served 27 years in prison, spending eighteen of these years on Robben Island. At Robben Island, Mandela worked in the lime, which caused the damage to his lungs that led to his death. 

Following his release from prison on February 11, 1990, Mandela led his party in the negotiations that led to multi-racial democracy in 1994.  

Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.  

Since his retirement in 1999, one of Mandela's primary commitments has been the fight against AIDS. His son, Makgatho Mandela, died of AIDS on January 6, 2005. AIDS continues to be a major problem in South Africa and indeed, in all of Africa. An estimated 5.6 million people were living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa in 2011, more than in any other country. In that same year, an estimated 270.000 South Africans died of AIDS. 

In 2002, my wife Judi and I visited South Africa. While we were in Cape Town, we took a ferry ride to Robben Island, the political prison where Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders were imprisoned. The island is now a museum and the guides are former prisoners. Our guide served 8 years of a 10 year sentence for carrying explosives. He described the appalling conditions that the inmates endured. Our guide recounted how he had recently met a former prison guard, who had beaten him daily. The former guard was on the island to show his wife and two young children where he used to work. The guide warned him that if he was on his tour, he would single him out as one of the brutal prison guards. The former guard decided not to take his family on the tour. The guard did say he would like to sit down and talk with our guide. The guide said he had mixed emotions about such a meeting. I have always wondered whether the two ever met and, if so, the outcome of the meeting. 

During our visit to Soweto, a Black township just outside Johannesburg, we asked one of our black guides about his feelings toward white South Africans. He told us that Nelson Mandela invited his prison warden to sit at the head table at his inauguration and then commented, "Where our leader leads, we must follow no matter how bitter or angry we feel."  

We also visited Guguletu, a township near Cape Town. Our Black guide took us to a Community development project where we dined on African cuisine, including one of Mandela's favorite dishes -- a tasty casserole of beans and corn. Our Black guide took us to his squatter shack in the township. It was a two-room shack where he and his young son lived. The inhabitants of four such shacks shared an outhouse, which was cleaned once a week. We saw first hand how thousands of Blacks lived during apartheid.  

Madiba, you are one of history's great men.

Economic Inequality: 5 Personal Actions

By Bob Burnett
Friday December 06, 2013 - 10:25:00 AM

The United States is experiencing unprecedented income inequality. It’s not only affecting the lives of millions of Americans, but it’s the root cause of political polarization that has paralyzed the Federal government. Here are 5 actions you can take to address economic 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.” This video summarizes the problem. 

In a recent issue of THE NEW YORKER, Harvard Historian Jill Lepore analyzed political polarization, concluding, “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.” 

Here are 5 actions you can take to help move us out of this deplorable situation. 

1. Support a progressive candidate for President. The probable 2016 Democratic presidential candidate is Hillary Clinton. She’s unlikely to make economic inequality a prominent part of her platform unless progressives push her. 

That’s why it’s vital that progressives support Senator Elizabeth Warren now. A recent Politico article described Warren’s presidential candidacy as a “nightmare” both for Hillary Clinton and Wall Street. “[Candidate Warren] most likely would hammer away at the gap between executive pay and average wages and make the case for higher taxes on investment income enjoyed by the wealthiest Americans.” 

2. Work to ensure that Democrats take control of Congress in 2014. No meaningful economic inequality legislation will happen unless Democrats control Congress in 2014. There’s a series of laws President Obama would sign if both the House and Senate approved them. Among these are: • Raising taxes for corporations and the 1 percent • Breaking up big banks and corporations • Reducing the role of money in elections (reversing the “Citizens United”) • Strengthening the social safety net • Increasing support for education Progressives should support Democratic candidates where they offer a real alternative to Republicans. For example, in the Senate this would mean supporting Kentucky Democratic contender Alison Grimes against incumbent Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. In the House this would mean supporting candidates such as Iowa Democrat Jim Mowrer against incumbent Republican Congressman Steve King. 

There are key actions you can take to address economic inequality at the local level: 

3. Work to raise the minimum wage so that it becomes a living wage. The current Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Economist Arindrajit Dube points out that for 20 years this has been below “the poverty wage level for a single full-time worker with one child,” which is $8.11 in 2013. Paul Krugman suggests raising the minimum wage to $10.10 noting, “a minimum-wage increase would help low-paid workers, with few adverse side affects.” Indeed, there’s little support for the conservative argument that raising the minimum wage would “kill” jobs. 

4. Strengthen the role of unions. As union membership has declined from roughly 35 percent of workers, after World War II, to 15 percent of workers today, inequality has increased. Union membership may be down but a recent Pew Research poll found that 51 percent few unions favorably. Now is the time to take action to support the ability of workers to organize and to push for more worker involvement in company management. 

5. Reach out to the poor and unfortunate in our communities. In a recent ALTERNET interview social philosopher Noam Chomsky observed that “the business class,” i.e. the 1 percent, is engaged in “a long and continuing class war against working people and the poor.” It’s a war that has produced record levels of income and wealth inequality and the widespread belief that the poor deserve their status because they are slackers. For example, Republican congress members justify cutting food stamps, and other forms of aid to the poor, because they believe public assistance demotivates the recipients. 

In his memorable address to the 2004 Democratic Convention, Barack Obama said 

It's not enough for just some of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people. If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription, who has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer - even if it's not my grandparent… It is that fundamental belief - I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper - that makes this country work.”
At the root of inequality is a moral choice: we either believe in the maxim, “I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper,” or we don’t. 

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

SENIOR POWER . . . on a binge

By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Friday December 06, 2013 - 11:58:00 AM

I recently went on a Babette’s Feast rewind binge. I had feasted some time ago when it-she was on TV, PSB probably. Decades later I come to Babette with a new perspective as well as greater appreciation and pleasure. And not just because it’s seventy-six year old Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s favorite film.  

Babettes Gæstebud was a 1987 award-winning motion picture from Denmark. Adapted by Gabriel Axel from a story of 19th Century Denmark by Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen, Babette’s Feast is mostly about two Protestant sisters hosting a French Feast. They and their guests are old. There’s one young person, a simple and efficient “lad” who charmed me. Babette herself is no spring chicken, but she’s French. Also Catholic. 

Axel chose to place Babette’s Feast in stark cold desolate brrrr Jutland, rather than in Norway as Dinesen had done. The DVD jacket describes a “…tale of a French housekeeper with a mysterious past who brings quiet revolution in the form of one exquisite meal to a circle of starkly pious villagers….” The DVD is in Danish, French or Swedish dialogue, with English subtitles possible. 

The final portion of the film is the preparation and serving of several sumptuous courses lavishly deployed by chef Babette in the austerity of the sisters' home for their guests. Up to this point, the film has been mainly in whites and grays. Now it gradually picks up colors, focusing on the lovely tableware and various and delectable dishes once served in Paris’ "Café Anglais," where Babette Hersant had been head chef before fleeing to Denmark. 

Folks at PBS, it’s time to show Babette’s Feast again. Also, Martha Stewart’s original Thanksgiving production that appeared on TV decades ago. There’s a hard-to-get video titled Martha Stewart's Secrets for Entertaining: A Holiday Feast for Thanksgiving and Other Festive Occasions [VHS] (1988) that I assume followed.  



Where in the world should one go in order to be happily elder? Which nations are the best and which are the worst for people who are old? According to a new study that looks at the welfare of people ages 65+ in 91 nations, the United States of America ranks eighth in the world for seniors’ wellbeing. (Read Max Fisher in the Oct. 4, 2013 Washington Post.) Sweden ranks first, followed by Norway and Germany. At the bottom of the list are Pakistan, Tanzania and Afghanistan. 

The report was conducted by the United Nations Population Fund and the HelpAge International group, an advocate for policies in support of the elderly. This action research used a number of metrics: health, income security, employment and education opportunities as well as something described as "enabling environment" measuring how friendly a society is to the elderly-- friendlinesses might include physical safety, access to public transportation, and ease of maintaining social connections late in life, a key component of mental health and happiness.  

The United States typically ranks near the bottom of the developed nations list on these sorts of human welfare indices, but performs unusually well here. An under-performer among developed nations on such things as public health and income equality, it outperforms much of the developed world, ranking above Iceland, Japan, Britain and much of Europe. Why? Education and employment opportunities for elderly Americans are some of the best in the world. Behind only Norway. As the report explains, "Older people value their capacity to work" because they "wish to maintain social contacts and self-worth" as well as remain self-sufficient. In most countries, people start getting locked out of the labor market as they age. The United States is unusual in that the elderly face less age discrimination and have an easier time getting the education and skills to remain competent members of the workforce. 

The Rand Corporation is offering Postdoctoral Fellowship[s] in the Study of Aging. (Contact Lisa Turner, RAND Corporation, 1776 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138.) Scholars are expected to come from various disciplines including economics, demography, sociology and psychology. Let’s hope that geriatricians and gerontologists are interested too and that Rand is interested in them! 

The Center for Hearing and Communication has recently begun a new, unique program to raise awareness around the issue of seniors’ hearing impairment/dementia and to serve at-risk seniors and develop new best practices for combined emotional/mental and hearing health. Contact Laura Grasso. (50 Broadway, 6th floor, New York, NY 10004).  

For an introduction to the very significant yet confusing difference between nursing homes and assisted living facilities, read Paula Span’s “Assisted Living or a Nursing Home?” (New York Times June 10, 2011). End-of-life and advance directives discussion groups appear rarely on senior center calendars, and yet they are both of great importance to most senior citizens. Again, Span is worth reading. “I rarely write about advance directives and end-of-life discussions without a few readers asking, sometimes plaintively: What if one does not have a family?” Finally! A reader commented, “The presumption is that everyone has someone available, someone most likely younger or in better health, and better able to carry out one’s wishes or make decisions with your guidance.” (September 24, 2013 New York Times)  

Nick Mulchay asks the 672-word rhetorical question, "Are Interns Too Green for End-of-Life Talks?" (Medscape Medical News, December 3, 2013). Apparently so. I must abstract some here: 

In discussing end-of-life care with patients, young clinicians might have to learn by doing rather than by special schooling, suggest the results of a first-of-its-kind randomized trial. Doctors and nurses in residency and fellowship programs who practiced end-of-life talks in simulated training sessions did not subsequently communicate with their patients any better than their counterparts who received usual education. 

Worse yet, depression scores were significantly higher in patients counseled by trainees than by those who received usual education. First-year residents (i.e., interns) fared especially poorly in the study, having a number of worse outcomes than the more senior clinicians. 

The study, the first-ever to measure patient opinions of providers trained in such simulations, was published in the December 4, 2013 JAMA. It had a "worthy goal" because communicating clearly with patients at the end of life has been proven to be "profoundly beneficial when done correctly." The investigators adapted their 4-day program from a workshop originally designed to teach medical oncology fellows how to deliver bad news. 

Study participants were internal medicine and nurse practitioner trainees at the University of Washington and the Medical University of South Carolina. The subsequent interaction between patients and healthcare providers took place up to 10 months after the training or usual education. Scores were significantly lower for interns (first-year residents) than for other, more senior trainees. Depression scores were also higher in the patients of interns than in the patients of more senior trainees. The editorialists call this specific finding "intriguing." 

"One conclusion from the study might be that end-of-life conversations should be left to more senior physicians." About this depression-related finding, "Patients could experience depressive symptoms or feelings of sadness as a result of discussion about end-of-life care;" increasing awareness of prognosis "may trigger negative experiences."  

Ultimately, the investigators argue that some clinical experience counts for a lot at the end of life. They suggest that the increase in the depressive symptoms score associated with first-year residents "might be associated with the skill level of the clinician having the discussion."

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Therapy Isn't Always Unfavorable

By Jack Bragen
Friday December 06, 2013 - 11:56:00 AM

In the three years that I have been writing this column, I have spent a lot of time criticizing mental health caregivers. I have been thin-skinned to the condescension of some of them and I have pointed out that there are some situations of cruel treatment. 

In my past, some mental health workers betrayed my trust--they may have had agendas other than my best interest. And in fact there have been some counselors who were iniquitous. Yet I have also seen the good side of mental health care. An important distinction needs to be made here. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who generally focuses on prescribing medication. A psychologist more often focuses on therapy, may have a doctorate but isn't a medical doctor, and most of them are unable to prescribe medication. 

Sometimes my wife and I must deal with salvos of challenging events. Therapy is useful for dealing with this. It helps to have a calm voice to remind you that there really isn't a grand conspiracy to "get you." 

"Support" isn't always in the form of material help. There is a lot of value to having a person whose job it is to listen, and also to offer comments that reflect what they have heard. When one perceives that one is alone and fending for oneself, it can be quite frightening. Even with a counselor not doing anything to offer material help, a mental health consumer, or in fact anyone, can feel that they have an ally in life. 

I have criticized psychotherapists for "emotionally dissecting" people. And I have criticized them for being manipulative in such a way that valid complaints aren't addressed. However, people who practice therapy are not all evil. When I am embarking on using a therapist who doesn't seem to be a match, I can usually discern it pretty quickly, and I will change to someone else. 

Therapy doesn't always have to be a matter of delving into deep-rooted, painful memories and emotions. It can be used for dealing with what is happening in the present. For some people this can be better compared to opening a Pandora's Box of accumulated bad experiences. There is no rule against telling the therapist where you would rather go and not go. Passivity is rarely rewarded. 

Using medication to treat mental illness might be helpful for someone's brain condition, but without environmental adjustments, it doesn't deal with a person's spirit. If someone is to get well, or at least become less ill, the human factor needs to be addressed. 

Some psychotherapists are apparently in the wrong business and are not very helpful. However, psychotherapy with a good therapist can make the misery a bit less and can introduce a bit more happiness. And that is good for you.


By Conn Hallinan
Friday December 06, 2013 - 12:35:00 PM

In November 2001, when the CIA assassinated al-Qaeda commander Mohammed Atef with a killer drone in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the U.S. held a virtual monopoly on the technology of lethal robots. Today, more than 70 countries in the world deploy drones, 16 of them the deadly variety, and many of those drones target rural people living on the margins of the modern world. 

Armed drones have been hailed as a technological breakthrough in the fight against terrorists who, in the words of President Obama, “take refuge in remote tribal regions…hide in caves and walled compounds…train in empty deserts and rugged mountains.” But much of the butcher’s bill for the drones has fallen on people who live in those deserts and mountains, many of whom are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time or get swept into a definition of “terrorist” so broad it that embraces virtually all adult males. 

Since 2004—the year the “drone war” began in earnest—missile firing robots have killed somewhere between 3,741 and 5,825 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and injured another 1,371 to 1,836. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that this death toll includes between 460 to 1,067 “civilians” and as many as 214 children.  

But, because how the U.S. defines “civilian” is classified, it is almost impossible to determine exactly who the victims are. Up until recently, it appears that being between the ages of 18 and 60 while carrying a weapon or attending a funeral for a drone victim was sufficient to get you incinerated. 

In his May address to the National Defense University, however, President Obama claimed to have narrowed the circumstances under which deadly force can be used. Rather than the impossibly broad rationale of “self-defense,” future attacks would be restricted to individuals who pose a “continuing and imminent threat to the American people” and who could not be “feasibly apprehended.” The President added that there had to be a “near certainty that no civilians would be killed or injured.” 

As national security expert and constitutional law professor David Cole points out, the new criteria certainly are a more “demanding standard,” but one that will be extremely difficult to evaluate since the definition of everything from “threat” to “civilian” is classified. Over the past year there has been a drop in the number of drone strikes, which could reflect the new standards or be a response to growing anger at the use of the robots. Some 97 percent of Pakistanis are opposed to the use of drone strikes in that country’s northwest border region. 

The drones that roam at will in the skies over Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, are going global, and the terror and death they sow in those three countries now threatens to replicate itself in western China, Eastern Turkey and northern Iraq, highland Peru, South Asia, and the Amazon basin. 

Drones have become a multi-billion dollar industry, and countries across the planet are building and buying them. Many are used for surveillance, but the U.S., Britain, Sweden, Iran, Russia, China, Lebanon, Taiwan, Italy, Israel, France, Germany, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all own the more lethal varieties. The world’s biggest drone maker is Israel. 

For a sure-fire killer you want a Made-in-the-USA-by-General-Atomics Predator or Reaper, but there are other dangerous drones out there and they are expanding at a geometric pace. 

Iran recently unveiled a missile-firing “Fotros” robot to join its “Shahad 129” armed drone. China claims its “Sharp Sword” drone has stealth capacity. A Russian combat drone is coming off the drawing boards next year. And a European consortium of France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Greece and Switzerland is developing the armed Dassault nEURon drone. Between 2005 and 2011, the number of drone programs worldwide jumped from 195 to 680. In 2001, the U.S. had 50 drones. Today it has more than 7,500. 

While drone promoters claim that robot warfare is the future, they rarely mention who are the drones’ most likely targets. Except for surveillance purposes, drones are not very useful on a modern battlefield, because they are too slow. Their advantage is that they can stay aloft for a very long time—24 to 40 hours is not at all unusual—and their cameras give commanders a real-time picture of what is going on. But as the Iranians recently demonstrated by downing a U.S. RQ-170 stealth drone, they are vulnerable to even middle-level anti-craft systems. 

“Predators and Reapers are useless in a contested environment,” says U.S. Gen. Mike Hostage, chief of Air Combat Command. “I couldn’t [put one] into the Strait of Hormuz without putting airplanes there to protect it.” 

But over the tribal areas of Pakistan, the rural villages of Yemen and the coast of Somalia they are virtually invulnerable. Flying at an altitude beyond the range of small arms fire—which, in any case, is highly inaccurate—they strike without warning. Since the drone’s weapon of choice, the Hellfire missile, is supersonic, there is no sound before an explosion: a village compound, a car, a gathering, simply vanishes in a fury cloud of high explosives. 

Besides dealing out death, the drones terrify. Forensic psychologist Peter Schaapveld found that drones inflicted widespread posttraumatic stress syndrome in Yemeni villagers exposed to them. Kat Craig of the British organization Reprieve, who accompanied Schaapveld, says the terror of the drones “amounts to psychological torture and collective punishment.” 

But do they work? They have certainly killed leading figures in al Qaeda, the Haqqani Group, and the Taliban, but it is an open question whether this makes a difference in the fight against terrorism. Indeed, a number of analysts argue that the drones end up acting as recruiting sergeants by attacking societies where honor and revenge are powerful currents. 

In his book “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s war on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam,” anthropologist Akbar Ahmed argues that the drone war’s major victims are not ideologically committed terrorists, but tribal people. And further, that when a drone sows death and injury among these people, their response is to seek retribution and a remedy for dishonor. 

For people living on the margins of the modern world, honor and revenge are anything but atavistic throwbacks to a previous era. They are cultural rules that help moderate inter-community violence in the absence of centralized authority and a way to short circuit feuds and war. 

Kinship systems can function similarly, and, in the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the drone war ends up creating a broader base for groups like the Taliban. The major target of drones in those countries is the Pashtun tribe which make up a plurality of Afghanistan and a majority in Pakistan’s tribal areas. From the outside, Pashtun clans are a factious lot until they encounter an outsider. Then the tribe’s segmentary lineage system kicks in and fulfills the old Pashtun adage: “Me against my brother; my brother and me against our cousins; my brother, me andour cousins against everyone else.” 

Occupying someone else’s lands is dangerous and expensive, hence the siren lure of drones as a risk-free and cheap way to intimidate the locals and get them to hand over their land or resources. Will the next targets be indigenous people resisting the exploitation of their lands by oil and gas companies, soybean growers, or logging interests? 

The fight against “terrorism” may be the rationale for using drones, but the targets are more likely to be Baluchs in northwest Pakistan, Uyghurs in Western China, Berbers in North Africa, and insurgents in Nigeria. Some 14 countries in Latin America are purchasing drones or setting up their own programs, but with the exception of Brazil, those countries have established no guidelines for how they will be used. 

The explosion of drone weapons, and the secrecy that shields their use was the spur behind the Global Drone Summit in Washington, titled “Drones Around the Globe: Proliferation and Resistance” and organized by Codepink, the Institute for Policy Study, The Nation Magazine, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Lawyers Guild. The Nov. 16 meeting drew anti-drone activists from around the world to map out plans to challenge the secrecy and the spread of drones. 

Zeus gave Pandora a box, and her husband, Epimetheus, the key, instructing them not to open it. But Pandora could not resist exploring what was inside, and thus released fear, envy, hate, disease and war on the world. The box of armed drones, but its furies are not yet fully deployed. There is still time to close it and ban a weapon of war aimed primarily at the powerless and the peripheral. 

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




By Conn Hallinan
Friday December 06, 2013 - 12:27:00 PM

There are any number of obstacles that could trip up the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the “P5+1”—the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany— but the right to “enrich” nuclear fuel should not be one of them. Any close reading of the 1968 “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” (NPT) clearly indicates that, even though the word “enrichment” is not used in the text, all signers have the right to the “peaceful applications of nuclear technology.” 

Enriched fuel is produced when refined uranium ore—“yellowcake”—is transformed into uranium hexafluoride gas and spun in a centrifuge. The result is fuel that may contain anywhere from 3.5 to 5 percent Uranium 235 to over 90 percent U-235. The former is used in power plants, the latter in nuclear weapons. Some medical procedures require fuel enriched to 20 percent. 

Iran currently has some 15,700 pounds of 3.5 to 5 percent nuclear fuel, and 432 pounds of 20 percent enriched fuel. International Atomic Energy Agency investigators have never turned up any weapons grade fuel in Iran and have certified that Teheran is not diverting fuel to build nuclear weapons. Intelligence agencies, including Israel’s, are in general agreement that Teheran has not enriched above 20 percent. A nuclear weapon requires about 110 pounds of uranium fuel enriched to between 90 and 95 percent. 

Iran insists it is not building a weapon, and its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, against the production of nuclear weapons as being contrary to Islamic beliefs. 

The U.S. and its allies claim that the NPT does not include an inherent right to enrich fuel because the words “enrich” do not appear in the document. But the Treaty clearly states, in at least two different places, that the only restriction on nuclear programs is the production of a weapon. It is worthwhile to examine the two passages. 

The preamble to the NPT affirms “the principle that the benefits of peaceful applications of nuclear technology, including any technological by-products which may be derived by nuclear-weapon States from the development of nuclear-explosive devices, should be available for peaceful purposes to all Parties of the Treaty, whether nuclear-weapon or non-nuclear weapon States.” (Italics added) 

Since one cannot produce a nuclear weapon without enriched fuel, and since it is impossible to obtain weapons-grade nuclear fuel on the open market—it violates the Treaty (and common sense)—all nuclear weapons states enrich fuel. Several non-weapons states, including Japan and Germany, do as well. 

The second passage is Article IV, which has two parts: 

  1. “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop, research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with articles I and II of this Treaty.” [Articles I and II bar countries from transferring or receiving nuclear weapons or “any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapon…”].
  2. “All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”
The NPT has been signed or agreed to by virtually every country in the world, with the exceptions of Israel, India, Pakistan and South Sudan. North Korea, exercising its rights under Article X, withdrew from the Treaty in 2003. In theory, those countries who do not sign the NPT cannot buy uranium on the open market, but the Bush administration subverted this section of the NPT by agreeing to sell uranium to India. The Obama administration has not repudiated that decision, although the Indians have yet to act on it. 

Rumor has it that France supplied the Israelis with the knowledge of how to build its bomb, and Apartheid South Africa supplied the fuel. India and Pakistan developed nuclear weapons on their own. North Korea may have received the technical knowledge on how to produce its nuclear weapon from Pakistan, although there is no “secret” to building a bomb. All one needs is the right fuel and some engineering skills. 

Delivering a bomb is another matter. Putting one on a missile requires miniaturization, which is devilishly hard, and delivering one by aircraft is unreliable if the target country has even a semi-modern anti-aircraft system. 

It appears as if the P5+1 will eventually allow Iran to enrich fuel, although to what percentage is the rub. Will 20 percent be a red line for the P5+1? One hopes not. While 20 percent is closer to bomb-grade fuel than 3.5 or 5 percent, the increased inspection regime already agreed to two weeks ago would quickly spot any attempt to produce weapons-grade fuel. In any event, the 20 percent fuel can be configured in a way that makes it virtually impossible to upgrade it to bomb-ready material. There is also nothing in the NPT that bars enriching to 20 percent. 

At this point the heavy water reactor at Arak is also a potential obstacle to an agreement. Commenting on Iran’s commitment to building the Arak reactor, Teheran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said that such a reactor is a “red line, which we will never cross,” indicating, at this point, that Iran intends to follow through with the project. Iran did, however, invite UN inspectors to examine the plant. 

Heavy water reactors produce plutonium, which can also be used in nuclear weapons. The Nagasaki bomb was a plutonium weapon, and many of today’s nuclear weapons use it as a fuel. Heavy water reactors are efficient and don’t require an extensive enrichment industry, but they are expensive and produce what is unarguably the most dangerous and toxic substance on earth. 

However, there is nothing in the NPT that differentiates between light water reactors and heavy water reactors, and signers have the right to use both technologies. Whether that is a good idea is entirely another matter, but certainly not an excuse for the massive sanctions that have tanked the Iranian economy. Every country has the inalienable right to do something dumb, like produce plutonium with a half-life of 24,000 years (and you wouldn’t want to get too close to it even after that). 

Adherence to the NPT is no obstacle to an agreement. The roadblocks will come from Israel—which is not a party to the Treaty—the Gulf monarchies, the Republicans (and some Democrats) in Congress, and the alliance between the neo-conservatives who successfully pushed for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee. 

A close reading of the NPT is something everyone can do. The document is only four and a half pages and its language is accessible to anyone. In contrast, wading through the 53-page “Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty” , a document certainly as important as the NPT, is an ordeal. But a close reading of the NPT is not necessarily comfortable for the governments of the U.S., China, France, Britain, or Russia. In particular Article VI: 

“Each of the parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” 

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


Arts & Events

Sweet Dreams Rwanda: Drums and Ice Cream in the Cone of Africa
Opens December 6 at the Shattuck Theaters

By Gar Smith
Friday December 06, 2013 - 11:48:00 AM

Sweet Dreams is a truly delicious film—a triple-decker trifecta of a cinema treat that serves up an improbable mix of three of the most disparate elements imaginable: the 1994 Rwandan genocide, an insurgent team of feminist drummers and Central Africa's first ice cream shop. The work of two accomplished Berkeley filmmakers, siblings Lisa and Rob Fruchtman, Sweet Dreams already has racked up nine prestigious film awards. It has been screened and celebrated at film festivals in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America.

Note: Local filmmakers Rob & Lisa Fruchtman will be joined by Kiki Katese, founder of Ingoma Nshya for the 7:10 Saturday, December 7 showing of Sweet Dreams at Berkeley's Landmark cinema. In addition to a Q&A, there will also be a special live drumming performance by members of Rwanda's Ingoma Nshya drummers: Ingabire Rose, Mujawayezu Therese, Uwintiji Clementine, Uwamariya Clementine. 


Sweet Dreams is a truly delicious film—a trifecta of a cinema treat that serves up an improbable mix of three of the most disparate elements imaginable: the 1994 Rwandan genocide, an insurgent team of feminist drummers and Central Africa's first ice cream shop. 

The work of two accomplished Berkeley filmmakers, siblings Lisa and Rob Fruchtman, Sweet Dreams already has racked up nine prestigious film awards. It has been screened and celebrated at film festivals in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. It was even shown at United Nations Headquarters in New York to mark the 18th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide. 

Sweet Dreams would have been a gripping film if it had focused only on the power of musical performance to bridge the haunting horrors of neighbor-on-neighbor violence. Hutu and Tutsi women—survivors of a horrific genocide that saw nearly one million deaths during a politically promoted, media-fueled mayhem of tribal violence—find redemption and healing by taking up the sticks and drums traditionally wielded only by men. 

The sight of the 60 Tutsi and Hutu members of Ingoma Nshuya (the country's first and only all-female drum troupe) wielding oversized drumsticks and dancing, singing and laughing together, becomes an overwhelming anthem and tribute to the dream of global feminism. 

But wait, there's more! 

It's not enough that this is a documentary about women overcoming the physical and psychic scars of genocide, war and rape through the redemptive powers of music and dance. This is also the story of how a group of Rwandan women decided to become entrepreneurs by forming a coop and building the country's first ice cream shop. 

A great story arc soars even higher when Kiki Katese, the drumming troupe's director, takes it into her head to fly to New York on a singular mission. In Brooklyn, Katesea strikes up a friendship (and a business deal) with Jennie Dundas and Alexis Miesen, the young owners of Brooklyn's Blue Marble Ice Cream shop. As if running a certified organic business in the heart of post-recession Brooklyn wasn't enough of a challenge, both owners decide to form a nonprofit to help their foreign visitor. Soon, the Brooklyn shopkeepers find themselves commuting to Rwanda to help Katese bring ice cream to her hometown of Butare. 

The film begins with horrible images of the genocide and these memories continue to resurface regularly throughout the film in the recollections of the women who survived and must now move on and in a world where neighbors—and even parents—remain locked in prison for unspeakable crimes against others. 

"People are not like roads and buildings," Katese observes. "How do we rebuild a human being?" Strangely enough, one remedy shows up in the form of a sugar cone filled with vanilla ice cream. 

"Reconciliation is not just about two peoples," Katese says. "People have to reconcile with themselves, with happiness, with life." 

Naturally, the women decide to name their fledgling shop Inzozi Nziza (Sweet Dreams). And the sign they hang outside their improbably upbeat ice cream parlor reads: "Ice Cream, Coffee, Dreams." 

The film is populated by dozens of unforgettable women. There's Marta, a Hutu woman whose husband was killed because he was a Tutsi. Seraphine saw her entire family murdered when she was only eight. Regine's parents are serving prison terms for murder. 

Meeting Rwanda's President 

Rwanda's President Paul Kagane shows what a real leader looks like. Rail thin and soft-spoken, Kagane looks more like a field worker than a typical fat cat politician. At public gatherings, he doesn't just drop in to give a speech. He sits down and takes questions from the audience. 

In Sweet Dreams, we watch as President Kagane listens to individuals who approach a microphone and unleash streams of personal complaints: "I made bricks for this building and I was never paid!" a woman complains. "My wife ran off with a student!" fumes an angry husband. And, from one young woman with a baby on her hip: "I thought I would have a cow by now but it hasn't come." 

"So!" Kagane asks from the stage, "Do you want a cow?" 

The woman smiles shyly and backs away from the microphone. 

Kigane grins, signals to some aides on the sidelines, and you just know that young lady is going to get her cow. 

But other ministerial duties are darker. 

Every year, Rwandans spend the entire month of April remembering the holocaust. In one uniquely harrowing scene, Kagane is shown addressing a huge crowd in an outdoor stadium. He's solemnly addressing issues of pain and reconciliation and, throughout his speech, horrible shrieks and cries erupt from the crowd as people faint and collapse from memories that still haunt them. Some bury their heads in their hands, some sit on the ground shivering and sobbing in the arms of friends, others are taken from the stadium in stretchers and rushed away in hospital ambulances. 

When a country is soaked in a malevolent brew of such complex and damaging memories, the appearance of something totally novel can seem to offer a path away from the emotional sinkhole of memory. 

Ice cream, after all, was totally unknown under these hot African skies. And if something as unprecedented as a sweet, cooling cone of ice cream suddenly drops from the skies, who's to say what other miracles might be available in "a world beyond the past"? 

From Berkeley to Butare 

Lisa and Rob Fruchtman, the film's co-producers and co-directors, have racked up a host of impressive A-list film awards over their long careers. Both are Academy Award winners. So how did they go from working on films like Apocalypse Now, The Right Stuff, and The Godfather Part Three to documenting a tale of redemption in Central Africa? 

"What we knew of Rwanda was the devastation of the genocide—800,000 minority Tutsis killed in 100 days, many by neighbors and friends. How, we asked ourselves, was it possible for Rwandans to move forward from that?" 

And how did drums and barrels of ice cream factor into the mix? The Fruchtmans decided to book a flight to Rwanda to see for themselves. 

They found Rwanda "a country of contrasts—a beautiful land that is also an impoverished one," a nation that has made "exciting strides of economic development" while still in the grip of "trauma and tremendous sadness." 

The filmmakers made four trips to Rwanda over the course of a year, capturing performances by the drumming troupe and slowly getting to know (and film) some of the many compelling women who share their nightmares and dreams during the film's propulsive 85-minute run-time. 

"We filmed the emergence of the women as budding entrepreneurs, their struggles to build their cooperative, their delight as they learn to make and taste ice cream for the first time," the Fruchtmans explain. "And when the cohesion of the group is threatened by the difficulties inherent in starting a business, we saw the tensions lurking within the society and the group begin to emerge." 

There have been other films that have meticulously reconstructed the horror of Rwanda's genocide but Sweet Dreams offers a hopeful addendum. As the Fruchtmans put it: Sweet Dreams is "a new kind of story…. The story of a remarkable group of women who dare to dream of new possibilities for themselves and their country." 

One last note: The film's soundtrack is a work of perfection—the kind of work you would expect from Berkeley's Saul Zaentz film studio. It's so pristine and pure—from speech and sound effects to musical anthems—that it could be called "ice cream for the ears." 

For more information, see: http://www.sweetdreamsrwanda.com/filmmakers/

Plonsey and Schott to Present Three Night Extravaganza: Dec. 11, 12, 14 [date corrected]

By Dan Plonsey
Friday December 06, 2013 - 12:49:00 PM

I'm convinced that live music has enormous transformative power, and acting from that belief, my good friend John Schott and I have been preparing for three consecutive days of music at the Berkeley Arts Festival, the latest of many outposts erected by Bonnie Hughes to reclaim and redeem abandoned spaces.

For three consecutive nights – Wednesday, Thursday and Friday ,Saturday, December 11, 12, and 13 14— John and I will present contrasting sets of music at the Berkeley Arts storefront, 2133 University Avenue (by the Ace Hardware, between Shattuck and Walnut). John will perform solo acoustic versions of a wide variety of American music: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Johnson, Clarence Ashley, Geeshie Wiley, Frank Hutchison, and more. In the second set, I will present selections of the music of El Cerrito: 

Wednesday, Dec 11: "New Monsters" performed by Daniel Popsicle: Cory Wright, Michael Zelner, Chris Silvey, Masha Albrecht, Myra Chachkin, Jules Ryan, Lynn Murdock, John Shiurba, Steve Lew, and Suki O'Kane. 

Thursday, Dec 12: New Hells Quintet: me, John Shiurba, John Schott, Steve Lew and John Hanes. 

Friday , Dec 13: More New Hells: A piece of pieces-within-a-piece, performed by: 


  • a string trio of Masha Albrecht, Sarah Willner, and Mary Artmann – these are sounding great in rehearsal!
  • clarinets/saxophones and percussion: me, Cory Wright, and Ward Spangler
  • guitars: John Shiurba and Myles Boisen, and I think John Schott too, and probably others.