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Morrie Turner: 1926-2014
Joseph Young
Morrie Turner: 1926-2014


Get Active, for Pete’s Sake (2011)
(a poem for Pete Seeger)

By Gar Smith
Tuesday January 28, 2014 - 11:03:00 AM


If you’re humming in your hammock on a sunny summer day

And you hear some gears a-groaning on a hill across the way,

It just might be a feller-buncher tearing down some trees

So grab a rope and climb a limb and tell the loggers: “Freeze!”


Don’t lie there like a log, my friend, and tell the world to “Screw it!”

You want a pot of java, Joe? You’ve simply gotta brew it.

A better world is waiting ‘round the bend, so hasten to it.

A boat is just afloat unless there’s someone there to crew it.

Hope is like a libr’ry card — you need to go renew it.

There’s really nothing to it.

For Pete’s Sake, do it!


If you’re punching clocks and buying stocks and diving into debt,

Just take a break and shake a leg and make yourself a bet,

To see what you can fix around the house, the yard, or block

Between the crack of dawn and up to midnight, twelve o-clock.


Don’t give up and grumble how now “Everything is fake.”

Give back a little heck for every nasty knock you take.

Push ahead and raise some dust with every step you make.

Don’t bitch and moan, go skip a stone — across the whole darn lake.

Head out for the open road and never hit the brake,

Pursue the wild and sing your song and dance — for old Pete’s sake!


If you’re walking down the sidewalk and you spot a chap in trouble

Don’t steer your feet across the street and head home on the double

Assert yourself, insert yourself, step forth and take as stand

Demand what’s right and join the fight for justice, life and land.


If you’re feeling kind of hungry in the middle of the day

Avoid that fast-food burger hut and walk the other way.

Your backyard garden’s just the place to score a tasty snack

Those seeds you planted back in April now are paying back.


Too many have too little and too few have got a lot.

Ten million souls in prison have been tossed aside to rot.

Our land is of the free, they say, our home is of the brave.

But if you’re poor, you’re shown the door and treated like a slave.


The masters of the world rely on owning every word.

In pulpit, print and politics, it’s money that is heard

Explaining what is real and good and what is right and wrong.

But all these lies will wither in the torchlight of a song.



The sun will rise, the sun will set, as dusk returns to dawn.

The years will roll, the bells will toll, those coming will be gone.

The ax will lift, the ax will fall, the forests fall and rise.

The tides return in endless reach beneath the starlit skies.

We mark our days in pain and praise — a game of give and take.

And with the wind, we’ll kiss the ground and smile — for old Pete’s sake. 


CNN's Tribute to Pete Seeger  

Pete Seeger Sings "Bring 'em Home"

New: Betty Medsger's The Burglary: They Broke the Law to Preserve It

By Carol Polsgrove
Monday January 27, 2014 - 09:39:00 AM

I have known for years that Betty Medsger, a former colleague and friend when we both lived in the Bay area, was working on the book that became The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI.

And now, it is here, and I see that one reason it took a long time arriving is that it is a very big book: not only the story of a group of eight anti-war activists who stole FBI files from an office in Media, Pennsylvania, but also the story of the world they unlocked the door to: J. Edgar Hoover's secret FBI.

That FBI story has been told before, but framed by the Media burglars' story it takes on a special meaning. Through Betty's telling, we can see how dramatically their brave act that March night in 1971 ripped back the curtain to reveal America's own demonic Wizard of Oz.

The sins of Hoover's FBI were legion, and The Burglary offers an array of them. Berkeley readers will especially be interested in the FBI's collusion in the firing of University of California President Clark Kerr, but there are worse cases—for instance the murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton and the framing of a man imprisoned for his murder. 

Would we know all this now if those eight activists had not plotted their way into that FBI office in Media and walked out in the night with their suitcases full of documents? Maybe. Or maybe not. 

For Betty Medsger, a reporter at the Washington Post in 1971, the story began when the mail brought her an envelope that contained copies of some of the files from the Media office. 

She was a young reporter still in her twenties, and she had come from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a mountain steel town falling on hard times. Her father was a boiler operator. Her mother was a homemaker. Betty went to a small church-affiliated liberal arts college. 

In 1971, after stints at a couple of other papers, she was at the Washington Post in a time when the country and the nation's capital were in extraordinary disarray: war in Vietnam, riots in the cities, a rogue President whose own criminal acts would soon bring him down. 

And there she was: a young religion reporter receiving documents that revealed a network of FBI informers and encouraged agents to increase interviews with dissenters in order to "enhance the paranoia" and "get the point across that there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox." 

It is perhaps a sign of Betty's relative innocence that when she received the documents and began making calls to develop her story, it never occurred to her the Post might not publish the story she was writing. 

In fact, the decision was difficult for Post publisher Katherine Graham. Other media organizations that received copies of that first batch of files returned them to the FBI. In the end, Graham decided: the story would run. 

After that, even newspapers that had deferred to the FBI in the past picked up the story. In an editorial the Philadelphia Inquirer proclaimed, "All two hundred million of us in this country are in a bad way—and our freedoms may be in jeopardy—if we are dependent upon information from burglars to find out what the Federal Bureau of Investigation is doing." 

The burglars would release more documents in batches and more stories would follow, along with congressional investigations that revealed without a shadow of a doubt the FBI's years-long, systematic assault on black communities, intellectuals, peace groups, socialists, and any others who did not fit Hoover's definition of true Americans. 

The FBI stood condemned. In comments that ring true today, at a 1974 hearing on the FBI's dirty tricks operation, COINTELPRO, California Congressman Don Edwards, himself a former FBI agent, said, 

"Regardless of the unattractiveness or noisy militancy of some private citizens or organizations, the Constitution does not permit federal interference with their activities except through the criminal justice system, armed with its ancient safeguards. There are no exceptions. No federal agency, the CIA, the IRS, or the FBI, can be at the same time policeman, prosecutor, judge and jury. That is what constitutionally guaranteed due process is all about. . . ." 

Congress and Attorney General Edward Levi took actions that would, for a time and to some extent, rein in the surveillance and persecution system Hoover had created to discourage political dissent.  

But the matter was not, of course, settled. Surveillance of activists went on through the '80s and '90s, and then came 9/11, which gave the surveillance establishment a key that would open endless resources. Where that has led we know now, thanks to Edward Snowden's release of National Security Agency documents. 

Betty's book must have been nearly finished when the Snowden story broke last June, throwing a bright light across the story she tells. Inevitably we see what those burglars did at Media through the lens of what Snowden has done in our time. And inevitably, now that we have her book, we see his story through theirs. 

We have in both stories evidence that a government that has great power to collect information and little oversight will misuse that power. We also have evidence of the power of individuals to challenge that government power. 

It would be years before Betty was to learn the specific course each of the Media burglars took to sum up the courage to break the law and, if they turned out to be unlucky, go to prison. In the hope of not getting caught, burglars swore to each other to carry their secret with them to their graves, even after the five-year period during which they could be prosecuted had passed. 

Then one evening in the late 1980s, Betty (by this time chair of the journalism department at San Francisco State University) was back east having dinner with John and Bonnie Raines. In a casual moment, they introduced her to one of their daughters as the woman they had sent those files to all those years ago. 

Betty saw an opportunity, finally, to get the rest of the story—to learn how these eight people made their decision to break in the FBI office at Media and then how they lived with that decision ever after. 

With the Raines as intermediaries, Betty found seven of the eight burglars and, through significant changes in her own life (including a move to New York City), she began her long trek through history. 

She spoke with the plan's architect, Haverford physics professor William Davidon, who died before the book came out. 

She had long conversations with John Raines, a religion professor at Temple University, and with his wife, Bonnie, director of a daycare center—parents of three young children at the time of the burglary. 

She talked with Keith Forsyth and Bob Williamson, both full-time anti-war activists in 1971, and with two others who agreed to be interviewed but asked not to be named in the book (they appear as Susan Smith and Ron Durst). 

Each had different stories to tell about what led up to their action: the reading they did in college, their work in civil rights and peace movements, their membership in communities like the Catholic left. 

They had different stories to tell, too, about the people they became after the burglary. For all but the Raines, it was a time of isolation with the secret of what was likely the most dramatic event of their lives. The opportunity now to tell their stories in this book appears to be, for some of them at least, a visible relief. 

As the teller of their stories, Betty is a quiet, unassuming narrator, yet her empathetic presence is apparent in the moments when they talk about their experience, especially in the interviews toward the end. There, before they make their exit, she presents them one by one, letting them step out on the stage to say what participation in this event meant in their lives—and what their story means for the present. 

For those readers who find the present political tasks overwhelming, William Davidon, who originated the plan for the burglary, shared thoughts with Betty that speak to us now: 

"When you feel, as I did, not only in the case of the prosecution of the Vietnam War, but also in many things being done by your government, it feels as though the forces you are fighting are so huge in comparison to what we can influence. At times like that, how do you keep alive the struggle to influence? It was a matter of keeping alive a sense of purpose and accomplishment when the forces seemed so overwhelming. 

"Not just Media, but a lot of other actions were important to me, to others, in just building that sense that the struggle isn't futile. . . .Sometimes we accomplished more than we had reason to expect, as in Media. It was a long shot. We didn't know if we could find anything important. Other times, we never knew if we accomplished anything—the draft boards, de-activating bombs, we didn't know. But it gave voice and a sense of purpose. It built little pockets of life that made sense at a terrible time." 

Carol Polsgrove is author of Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement, It Wasn't Pretty, Folks, But Didn't We Have Fun? Esquire in the Sixties, and Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause. She can be reached through her website, carolpolsgrove.com 

New: The Threat From the Right -- and What to Do About It

By Lewis Dolinsky
Saturday January 25, 2014 - 09:40:00 AM

Andrew Schmookler, author, political commentator and candidate for Congress in Virginia in 2012, will speak about the danger from the right in America -- and how to combat it

Schmookler will appear at the Niebyl-Proctor Library, 6501 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, January 29.

Schmookler's message:

"A destructive and dishonest force has arisen on the political right, unlike anything ever seen at center stage of American politics. The response from liberal America has been woefully inadequate.

"This combination of right-wing destructiveness and liberal weakness has caused tremendous damage. It's a dynamic that must be changed." 

Schmookler will present -- and discuss -- his understanding of the nature and roots of our national crisis. And he will propose a strategy to strike a meaningful blow in a battle that, he says, must be won -- for the future of America and, indeed, the planet. 

Schmookler is a graduate of Harvard and earned his doctorate in a combined program at UC Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union. His books include The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution. His opinion pieces have appeared in the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle, the Baltimore Sun, the Huffington Post, Daily Kos and regularly in publications in Virginia. He has been a radio talk show host. His blog is called None So Blind. 

In the 2012 election, Schmookler challenged incumbent Bob Goodlatte in Virginia's most Republican district. The result was predictable. But this video went viral: 

Press Release: Survey Shows Students Opting Out of Buying Textbooks:
Students Demand Lower Cost Alternatives

Monday January 27, 2014 - 11:30:00 AM

Today, a survey released by CALPIRG Students at UC Berkeley shows that 65% of student consumers have opted out of buying a college textbook due to its high price, and nearly half say that textbook costs can dictate whether they take a course. 

Over the past decade, college textbook prices have increased by 82%, or at three times the rate of inflation, making them one of the biggest out of pocket expenses in college. Book prices are unnecessarily high and pose a serious cost barrier for students and families.
In recent years, alternatives to new, print textbooks have become widely available through rental programs, used book markets, and e-textbooks, which are digital versions of print books. While these markets offer students upfront savings, their prices are still determined by the cost of a new print book. 

“Even though used books and rental programs are saving students money, the price of textbooks is still going up. We need the federal government, states, and most importantly – individual campuses – to support and invest in alternatives outside of the traditional textbook market.” stated Allie Hughes, an intern with CALPIRG. “The best alternative for students is open textbooks.” 

Open textbooks are faculty-written and peer-reviewed like traditional textbooks, but they are published under an open license, meaning they are free online, free to download, and affordable in print. 82% of survey respondents said they would do significantly better in a course if the textbook were free online and a hard copy was optional, which is exactly how open textbooks work. 

Open textbooks save students $100 per student, per course on average. 

More and more open textbooks are becoming available and used in classrooms, as states and individual campuses establish their own open textbooks programs. From the University of Minnesota, the University System of Maryland, and Tacoma Community College, campuses have already begun opting in to the open textbook model. 

The amount that students are spending on books and supplies topped out at $1,200 this year, according to the College Board. That’s equivalent to fourteen percent of tuition at a four-year, public college – and thirty nine percent of tuition at community college. However, the report notes that spending on books has risen more slowly over the past 5 years than previously, and credits the increase in rental and used book options. 

The report also notes that the federal provisions passed in 2008 to increase textbook price transparency are having some impact. Students are able to see textbook prices during course registration, and faculty can see individual book prices, all of which can steer students toward used books and rentals. 

Nonetheless, the publishing industry continues to control the marketplace. Student consumers are still captive to high costs as prices on new print versions of books determine prices for used books. In order to actually turn the price curve downward, models that operate outside of traditional publishing need to be brought to the marketplace. 

“Students are paying too much for textbooks, plain and simple,” Allie explained. 

CALPIRG students from California participated in the survey. 

The report, entitled “Fixing the Broken Textbooks Market: How Students Respond to High Textbook Costs and Demand Alternatives,” can be viewed on our website at www.CALPIRGstudents.org

CALPIRG Students is an independent statewide student organization that works on issues like environmental protection, consumer protection, and hunger and homelessness. For nearly 40 years students working with their campus PIRG chapters have been making a real difference in people's lives and winning concrete changes to build a better world.

Alter Theater Offers Great Plays in Rep in San Rafael Store-Front

By John A. McMullen II
Friday January 24, 2014 - 01:13:00 PM

Just across the Richmond Bridge, up in San Rafael, there is theater on the main drag in a storefront. But not always the same store-front . ALTER THEATER, run by Jeanette Harrison, is a little peripatetic and portable. But she draws some of the best established and emerging actors in the Bay Area, and runs her plays in repertory, i.e, more than one play running on alternate evenings.

It’s rough theatre: sometimes you can hear people vacuuming in the apartment upstairs, but it all seems to fit together. It works, and supplies Marin County with cutting edge theatre.

Right now, they are playing at 1344 Fourth Street which is the main drag of San Rafael.

Right now, through February 9th, ALTER is running FOOL FOR LOVE by Sam Shepard and THE RIVER BRIDE by Marisela Treviño Orta Both shows then have a short run February 11-16
in San Francisco at A.C.T.’s Costume Shop Theater.

FOOL FOR LOVE is a Bay Area original which opened at the Magic Theatre in 1983 with Kathy Baker, Ed Harris, and Will Marchetti. Marchetti is directing ALTER THEATER’S production. Matt Lai and Harrison are the principals Eddie and May, with acclaimed actor Charles Dean as the Old Man, and Danny Jones as Martin. NY Daily News called it, “Sam Shepard's purest and most beautiful play."

THE RIVER BRIDE won the 2013 National Latino Playwriting Award, mad is the first professional production of a new play developed within AlterTheater’s playwright residency program. The play is inspired by Brazilian folkore about river dolphins who come ashore to seduce women
The description by Playwright Treviño Orta reads, "Three days before a wedding a handsome and mysterious man is fished from the Amazon River.” The ALTER website adds, “A beautiful new fairy tale about having it all.” It is co-directed by Bay area theatre doyenne Ann Brebner (who just celebrated her 90th birthday at Skywalker Ranch), and ALTER THEATERproducer and artistic director co- Jeanette Harrison. 

The cast is Livia Demarchi, Nick Garcia, Matt Kizer*, Carla Pauli, Cathleen Riddley*, Adam Roy (*member AEA).

Asked why she chose these plays, Harrison replied, “We’re an ensemble company, and our plays are actually chosen by our Literary Committee. I love the way AlterTheater makes decisions—I think it’s harder to take risks on challenging material when one person has all the weight of that decision-making on their shoulders. Our Literary Committee really delves deeply into the plays we consider, and we discover pretty quickly what we’re passionate about. I’ve always been a fan of THE RIVER BRIDE, and I’m thrilled that 6 of the plays developed within our playwright residency program are headed to production. Our season usually includes two new plays, plus one contemporary classic.”  

ALTER THEATER was begun in 2004 and has won awards: They were among Critic Sam Hurwitt’s TOP FIVE picks for theatre in Marin County for Jose Rivera's lushly poetic play "References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot," and for the world premiere of the first play to come out of their playwright lab, THE DEAD GIRL by Ann Brebner; their players have won Critics’ Circle awards, and they have been major grant recipients.

The rest of their season includes BABA, a one-woman show written and performed by the talented Denmo Ibrahim; it’s a touching and funny story of the American Dream, told through the eyes of an Egyptian immigrant to New York and his American-born daughter.

ALTER’S season finale is THE FELLOWSHIP by Ignacio Zulueta, directed by Hugo E. Carbajal, about a young man whose only real friends growing up in rural Northern California are figments of JRR Tolkien's imagination, sets out on his own quest to find a friend. But will the rest of the town let him?

It’s new, fresh, adventuresome choices that include international plays are compelling, and it’s a short drive from Berkeley to quaint San Rafael which has lots of good restaurants right around the theatre.
Take a drive and catch it soon.

Tickets, info at www.altertheater.org/

Morrie Turner: 1926-2014

Wednesday January 29, 2014 - 10:45:00 AM
Morrie Turner: 1926-2014
Joseph Young
Morrie Turner: 1926-2014

Betty Hannah Hoffman

Monday January 27, 2014 - 10:18:00 PM
Betty Hannah Hoffman: 1918-2014
Betty Hannah Hoffman: 1918-2014

Betty Hannah Hoffman, a retired executive editor of Cosmopolitan, and the only authorized biographer of Lucille Ball, died Friday at her home in Pacific Grove, CA. She was 96.

Ms. Hoffman, a pioneering journalist, was a 1939 cum laude graduate of Smith College in sociology. She edited the Smith yearbook and literary magazine, and Betty Friedan was on her staff. Following graduation, she served as a guest managing editor of Mademoiselle's first college issue. Ms. Hoffman then joined the Ladies Home Journal, where she rose to become associate editor. She wrote a series of articles on Joan and Ted Kennedy, and traveled with them on the campaign trail. The magazine enjoyed a circulation of 7 million, and she wrote two of the Journal's most popular long running columns, "Can This Marriage be Saved" and “How America Lives." Ms. Hoffman covered a wide swath of American life, from a coal mining family in Harlan County, Kentucky to the opulent Vanderbilt family estate. After working at the Ladies Home Journal, she served as the executive editor of Cosmopolitan under Helen Gurley Brown, and was head of press relations for the University of California system. She lived in Berkeley for about 20 years, between 1965 and 1985.  

Ms. Hoffman authored half a dozen books, including child development books with Erik Erikson and Berry Brazelton. She also authored a biography of Arthur Murray, and a best selling biography of Lucille Ball titled "Love Lucy."

Ms. Hoffman, a native of Essex Fells, New Jersey, is survived by three children, Clem of La Jolla, Bruce of Santa Cruz, Nell of Portland, and seven grandchildren. Her husband, Robert, a retired lawyer, died in March 2013 at age 96.

Press Release: Congressman George Miller Endorses Tony Thurmond for Assembly

From the Tony Thurmond Campaign
Thursday January 23, 2014 - 04:00:00 PM

Richmond, CA – Congressman George Miller, one of California's most respected members of Congress and a recognized leader on education, labor and the environment, announced today his endorsement of Tony Thurmond for State Assembly, District 15. Miller represents Congressional District 11, which includes Richmond, San Pablo, Walnut Creek, Concord and Orinda.  

“Tony Thurmond’s lifelong work helping children escape tragedy and poverty, along with his proven experience as a city council and school board member, make him the best choice to represent us in the State Assembly,” said Congressman George Miller. “Tony understands that when we break the cycle of childhood poverty and trauma, we make our economy stronger and our streets safer.” 

Miller continued, “Tony Thurmond gets it – when we get it right for our kids, schools, seniors and families, we get it right for California. I will be proud to cast my vote for Tony Thurmond for State Assembly.” 

Miller’s endorsement adds to the growing momentum for Thurmond’s campaign for Assembly. He has already garnered support from the California Nurses Association, Richmond Police Officers Association, Richmond Firefighters Local 188, Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriffs Association, California State Legislative Black Caucus, former Assemblymember Sandré Swanson, the Black American Political Action Committee of Contra Costa County, Contra Costa County Supervisors John Gioia and Federal Glover, local educators, community leaders and many more. 

“I’m so grateful and humbled to have Congressman George Miller’s support,” said Tony Thurmond. “For the last 40 years, he has been an ardent advocate for youth and the author of key education, labor and health policies, improving life for families, college students and seniors.” 

Thurmond continued, “As a member of the Assembly, I will champion legislation that improves the lives of California’s youth and families with the same tirelessness as Congressman George Miller. I will fight every day to ensure that we give our children a California as good as its promise.” 

“I am running because our Assembly district needs a leader who understands that our community’s challenges are interconnected, and as a former school board member and city council member, I have over 20 years of experience doing the real work to improve our schools, create sustainable jobs, make our streets safer, and fight for economic and environmental justice.” 

Tony Thurmond is running in Assembly District 15, which includes Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Emeryville, Hercules, Kensington, North Oakland, Piedmont, Pinole, Richmond and San Pablo. Current Assemblymember Nancy Skinner has held this seat since 2008 and will be termed out in November. 

Thurmond is a former elected member of the Richmond City Council and School Trustee for the West Contra Costa Unified School District. He has the most elected experience of any of the candidates in the 2014 Assembly primary for the 15th District, which includes all the areas Thurmond has represented. 

Learn more about Tony Thurmond’s campaign to make children and families a priority in California at: www.TonyThurmond.com 

Flash: Berkeley Re-Districting Referendum Qualifies for Ballot

Tuesday January 21, 2014 - 09:20:00 PM

A statement from Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, posted tonight on the Berkeley Citizens Action Facebook page, announces that a referendum on the Berkeley City Council majority's redistricting plan has qualified for the ballot:

"Victory! We submitted over 7,500 signatures to stop the City Council majority's unfair gerrymandering of Berkeley! Once again the community has spoken and stood up to big power politics! Let's hope the Council listens to the people and adopts a fair and inclusive map."

The council now must choose between rescinding the redistricting scheme they've adopted and putting it on the ballot for a vote by citizens.

Embedded in The Square: Inside Egypt's Revolution

By Gar Smith
Saturday January 18, 2014 - 03:52:00 PM

The Square is a powerhouse of a film that plunges you smack into the middle of a people's rebellion – Cairo's Tahrir Square in 2011, where the Arab Spring sprang to rambunctious life. Jehane Noujaim's audacious filmmaking dives headlong into the emotions, the debates, the daring occupations of public space and the bloody repercussions that toppled the 30-year rule of the US-backed Egyptian strongman, Hosni Mubarak. The Square delivers 104 minutes of hope, heroism and heartbreak. The Square has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. 

The Square, directed by Jehane Noujaim, opens January 17 at SF's Roxie Theater. 

"We race towards the bullets because we love life and we go into prison because we love freedom." 

From a letter written by an imprisoned Egyptian freedom fighter  

Imagine it's 1776: the Sons of Liberty are planning the Boston Tea Party, and everyone's carrying a Smartphone in their leather pants. And Tom Paine and Betsy Ross show up with camcorders. Paul Revere wears a hat-cam for his midnight gallop thorough Boston. Shaky videos of George Washington crossing the Delaware are soon showing up on YouTube. Well, none of that happened but—thanks to technology and some brave filmmakers—it's a different story with the people's revolution in Egypt. 

The Square is a powerhouse of a film that plunges you smack into the middle of a people's rebellion – Cairo's Tahrir Square in 2011, where the Arab Spring sprang to rambunctious life. Jehane Noujaim's audacious filmmaking dives headlong into the emotions, the debates, the daring occupations of public space and the bloody repercussions that toppled the 30-year rule of the US-backed Egyptian strongman, Hosni Mubarak. The Square delivers 104 minutes of hope, heroism and heartbreak. 

Despite the initial jubilation following Mubarak's departure, the intervening years have not brought a "Hollywood ending" to Egypt's story. The election that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power started out looking like a victory for popular rebellion but it was soon betrayed by a grab for power on the part of President Mohammed Morsi that reignited the fires of public anger while, at the same time, splitting the unified front that had driven Mubarak from power. 

After winning awards at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals, Noujaim has continued to return to Cairo to pursue recording the story of a revolution that is still a work-in-progress. 

This kind of filmmaking is not for the faint-of-heart. Noujaim and her film crew were often in the thick of the street violence and the cameras record shocking sights and sounds as clubs, stones and bullets fly. 

There is astounding beauty and bravery on display in The Square. But, be forewarned: there also are scenes of brutality that will likely haunt viewers long after the film has ended. There is the lacerated back of Ramy Essam, a popular protest singer who is dragged off by police and tortured after an early conflict. There is the upraised face of a young woman with her back jammed against a wall, weeping as she clutches the dead hand of a young man (brother? boyfriend? husband?) whose body, crushed by a tank, lies crumpled on the ground. 

The Square follows five remarkable participants. Ahmed Hassan is a young street fighter with a gift for fiery rhetoric and a seeming disregard for personal danger. Khalid Abdalla, a British-Egyptian actor who starred in The Kite Runner, abandoned the security of a career in London to join the people in the streets of Cairo. Aida El Kashef is a young filmmaker who carries her camera into combat and shares her footage in outdoor screenings. Ragia Omran is a frontline human rights lawyer whose daring makes her a target of the all-powerful Military Council. And, finally, Magdy Ashour, a father of four and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Magdy's story is especially compelling as he attempts to straddle two worlds—on one hand, he is expected to follow the dictates of the Brotherhood; on the other hand, he is driven to follow the dictates of his conscience which allies him with the young people in the street who are driven by dreams of justice rather than religious sectarianism. 

The Square is filled with a dazzling amalgam of images that look like they were shot by a crack team of Hollywood cinematographers. In one scene, Ahmed has returned from a street confrontation that turned especially ugly. He is bathed in blue light. He is nearly motionless as he repeats what he saw. He looks like a made cut from ice. And he looks like he's about to shatter. 

The Square hits US screens at a propitious time. Egyptians have just spent two days voting on a referendum for a new constitution to guarantee peace and protect the rights of men and women alike. But it is clearly understood that the referendum is a mechanism to ensure the power of the ruling triad—the military, the judiciary and the police. The referendum is also seen as a steppingstone designed to install General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the next "elected" ruler of the nation. 


The Square is a rare and powerful must-see film experience. It's well worth a trip to San Francisco (the independent Roxie Theater is located in the Mission, just three blocks from the 16th Street BART Station). The Square will also be available on Netflix beginning Friday, January 17. 


Finest Kind –Freight & Salvage Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014

By Carol Denney
Saturday January 18, 2014 - 04:18:00 PM
Finest Kind –Freight & Salvage Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014
Alan Dean
Finest Kind –Freight & Salvage Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014

It’s like listening to pure gold.

Ian Robb, Shelley Posen, and Ann Downey of Ottawa’s Finest Kind started singing together after accidentally sitting close together at a singing circle. The sound that their three voices produced naturally was so arresting they couldn’t help but look at each other and wonder if they shouldn’t explore working together.

That was decades ago. Besides being internationally acknowledged as the finest vocal blend in music, Finest Kind has established itself as the pinnacle of musical arrangers, demonstrating their “we vote on every note” methods at workshops and festivals all over the world.

And they are so funny. Their Freight and Salvage show on Sunday, Feb. 2, will be rocking with laughter and sing-alongs – get your tickets early. 

They tell stories about the songs as only historians can, and they joke with an ease that comes of years together traveling and playing. The musicianship is breathtaking; Ian Robb on English concertina, Shelley Posen on guitar, and Ann Downey on bass and old-time banjo. But it’s the vocal blend and the painstaking arrangements that often reduce an audience to tears of joy. 

As local singer Arlene Immerman puts it, “Vocal music, particularly British isles and US traditional songs … brings me in tune with the universe. This is my version of spirituality. And being able to sing with others in a room full of harmony enhances the experience. Finest Kind presents this kind of music in a way that makes me even more rapturous than that. They take the best music and raise it to an even higher plane.” 

Vocal arrangers often fall for overkill – witness any a cappella contest’s excessive willingness to overlook true sync, true blend, for novelty. But Finest Kind puts the song first, always. Unafraid of stops, unafraid of unison, unafraid of seconds, or “jangles” as they put it, a word they coined to describe the more uncommon of harmonies. With Finest Kind, the song always come first, seeming to sing itself, and its context never leaves the room.  

Start this year singing. Start this year with the community of people who know Finest Kind as the foremost purveyors of song. Consider song, if you never have before, as the cohesion that, over centuries, has helped communities worldwide to create true connection.

"...Finest Kind's set on the Saturday night was a flawless piece of work, an extraordinary melding of history and song. Three of the finest voices in Canada singing about our past and filling the dark and still air with soaring, glorious harmonies. In a set of splendid songs, Shelley Posen's "No More Fish, No Fishermen" was, for me, the standout. I have a recording of the song but to hear it sung from that stage, to that crowd, was to understand the passion behind the piece. A very remarkable band... David Francey, at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival 2002 

Don’t say you weren’t warned. When the Super Bowl is over on Sunday, February 2, stroll down to Addison Street’s Freight and Salvage and check to see if there were any cancellations from what is sure to be a sold-out show. The next day there will be a few hundred people in town smiling from ear to ear at the good fortune of having heard a sound that will probably never be matched in hundreds of years. Be one of them. 

—advance tickets available at : http://www.thefreight.org/ticket-information)

Jerome Carlin

Tuesday January 21, 2014 - 09:50:00 PM

Jerome Carlin, a vibrant force in art, law and social justice in the Bay Area, died on January 7 at his home in Berkeley. Born in Chicago in 1927, he attended the Francis W. Parker School from kindergarten through 12th grade. Its liberal, progressive values had a great influence on him and it was there he formed many lifetime friends. He was graduated from Harvard University where he majored in Social Relations and was the student chairman of the Henry Wallace for President Campaign. He received his Master's and then Ph. D. degrees in Sociology at the University of Chicago. He also received his LL.B from Yale Law School. He wrote two books about the legal profession, LAWYERS ON THEIR OWN, a study of individual practitioners in Chicago, and LAWYERS' ETHICS, a survey of the New York City Bar, while at Columbia University's Bureau of Applied Social Research. Both are considered seminal works in their field. He was a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and a grant from The Social Science Research Council.

In 1964 he moved to Berkeley to teach and do research at The Center for the Study of Law and Society. In 1966 he left the University when his proposal to provide, for the first time, major city-wide free legal services to those who could not afford them was accepted by the Johnson Administration and he was chosen to be its director. This was the San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation, providing storefront law offices in five low-income neighborhoods throughout the city.

In 1970, as the money from Lyndon Johnson's poverty program was drying up, and his activities became more and more administrative, he decided to give in to his lifetime passion to paint. For the past 40 years Jerry was a full time painter with work in the collections of The Art Institute of Chicago, The Oakland Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in many private collections. His work has been shown in San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago and New York.

But he also continued his social activism. He swiftly opposed the War in Vietnam before it was popular to do so; helped create Bay Area Lawyers for the Arts that has grown to be a very effective and more encompassing organization now called California Lawyers For The Arts. He was active in creating the Bay Area Artists for Nuclear Sanity, supported the Ploughshares Fund, the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, worked with the Berkeley Fire Department to get a new firehouse built after the Oakland fire, and many other civic and peaceful causes.

He leaves his wife of 59 years, Joy Carlin, two sons, Nicholas, a San Francisco lawyer and cellist, Alexander, a rock musician, and daughter Nancy, an actor and director and four granddaughters, Celeste, Miranda, Sofia and Allegra.



The Crazies Go After a Berkeley Family

By Becky O'Malley
Friday January 24, 2014 - 11:26:00 AM

Well, wimp that I am, I initially decided not to write anything about the bizarre flyer that appeared on my doorstep on Tuesday morning tucked under my newspapers. Unlike many of the crackpot publications that I’ve received since I undertook this enterprise, it was neatly printed with correct spelling and punctuation. It seemed to have been written by an educated person (sentences, paragraphs, vocabulary) but it was apparent that the author is someone who resides at the intersection of Literacy and Lunacy.

The cover was a great big Google Maps screenshot of a house on the other side of Ashby from our house, with the address clearly visible. Superimposed on the picture in big type were these words:

Anthony Levandowski is building an unconscionable world of surveillance, control and automation. He is also your neighbor.”

The text accused Anthony, the guy who lives there, a pleasant, mild-mannered father of two little boys, of being the techo-equivalent of Satan Incarnate. 

Here’s a small sample of the over-blown rhetoric: 

“In the spirit of honoring the memories of all who died, went crazy, or disappeared on the streets of Berkeley, we wish to expose Anthony Levandowski and the evil he brings into this world. “Preparing for the action, we watched Levandowski step out of his front door. He had Google Glasses over his eyes, carried his baby in his arm, and held a tablet with his free hand. As he descended the stairs with the baby, his eyes were on the tablet through the prism of his Google Glasses, not on the life against his chest. He appeared in this moment like the robot he admits that he is.”
Oh, please! I’ve seen this nice guy entertaining his little son in front of his house many times. I know a good father when I see one, and he’s a good father. No robot he. 

I hoped if I ignored the flier the whole thing would just blow over. What the nutcase who wrote it obviously wanted was attention, and I didn’t feel like helping him get it. I also didn’t want Anthony’s family to be exposed to more harassment. 

But later in the day a Planet reader forwarded a link to a story on the IndyBay website, complete with a PDF of the flyer. The Googled picture clearly showed Anthony’s name and address. The anonymous posting included a smarmy account of an early morning visit to the home: 

“At 7am this morning, a group of people went to the home of Anthony Levandowski, a Google X developer. His house is a pompous, minimally decorated two story palace with stone lions guarding the door. After ringing his doorbell to alert him of the protest, a banner was held in front of his house that read 'Google's Future Stops Here' and fliers about him were distributed around the neighborhood.”
And soon thereafter, Tracey Taylor, who lives less than a block away around the corner from Anthony and me, posted a story about what had happened on her Berkeleyside website, complete with the picture showing the location, though the street number was blocked out. In the comments on the story there were complaints from readers that disclosing the family’s address might subject them to more unwelcome attention. When I looked again yesterday I discovered that the picture had been removed from the Berkeleyside site. 

Wednesday on the street I encountered a fellow who described himself as an Atlantic Monthly senior editor, and said that he is also the father of a young baby. He was dutifully talking to the neighbors, including me, but he told me he’d just about decided not to do a story because he thought the family didn’t need any more grief. Good call, but too late. A TV news crew also showed up on the corner with lots of equipment later that night, and I talked to them. Since I no longer have television I don’t know if they did a story. 

Unfortunately, the word is out. A Google search today produced a substantial crop of online accounts of what happened, each with the revelatory picture of the house with its address. Comments about the caper were overwhelmingly negative on all sites, as well they should be. 

So I guess there’s no point anymore in trying to protect the family’s privacy. I’ll just add a few points to the story that didn’t make it into other accounts. 

First, the First Amendment supports any wacko’s rights to print up any opinion about anyone and hand it out, as long as it’s not libelously untrue. But nothing in the constitution says that it’s okay to ring the doorbell of parents with a toddler and a new baby (who probably are sleep-deprived) at seven a.m. to tell them you don’t like the father’s job or politics. 

That’s just a rotten thing to do, no matter what you think you must tell them. Time, place and manner, right? And if it’s a home and you go up their front steps, it’s also trespassing. Besides being just plain nasty. 

Second, the miscellaneous anti-techno-babble in the flier is ludicrous. Example: 

“There are men and women in the Congo, slaving away in giant pits in order to extract gold and other precious metals from the earth. This gold will go into phones and tablets made by companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft. Anthony Levandowski has never worked in a pit mine nor will his children. People like him are exempt from this type of degrading and exploitative labor. Instead, he can casually stare at his screens as if there was not human blood making this technology possible, as if there was not a life in his hands.”
Say what? The flier was not printed with a letterpress on parchment. Like all such screeds, it obviously utilized computer technology aplenty, including the kind which contains rare metals, in its production. As one commenter on IndyBay noted, it’s kind of like animal rights protesters wearing fur coats to demonstrations. 

What about that “pompous, minimally decorated two story palace with stone lions guarding the door”? 

Back in the day, before we got here, that house was the home of one of Berkeley’s most famous leftist communes. Some nervous spinster ladies, Bank of America tellers who lived across the street, reputedly installed FBI agents in their attic with a telescope to keep track of activities at the address for several years. 

The clueless leaflet author says that “just a few blocks down Ashby from Levandowski’s house is the former site of a series of communes that existed in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In one of these communal houses, a group of rebels, freaks, communists and lovers wrote the Berkeley Liberation Program.” 

In fact, this might have been the very house where the Berkeley Liberation Program authors lived, though they wrote the manifesto in an Oakland hotel. (Google it—especially see the Planet article by Judy Gumbo Albert). Youth Liberation activists lived there in the 70s with the family of a friend of mine whose Berkeley High son was a member. 

Ashby Avenue has for many years been the home of people eccentric enough to endure the horrendous traffic on Berkeley’s principal sacrifice street for all kinds of reasons, especially saving money, since rents and home prices have always been much less than similar houses elsewhere on the city's quiet barriered streets. Many residents today are artists, musicians, writers. 

What does “pompous, minimally decorated” mean, anyhow? It’s oxymoronic. 

Statues of lions aren’t exactly minimalist decor. The cast-concrete lions on the porch appeared two or three owners before Anthony’s family. They’ve always been thought of as a good joke, since they decorate the porch of what is in fact a very common type of three-bedroom family house, the kind which were built all over the Bay Area in the early years of the last century. The Chronicle’s Pulitzer-prize-winning architecture critic Allen Temko started the tradition with a pair of high-concept Modernist lions on his porch when he lived a couple of blocks south on Ashby a couple of decades ago. Whimsical, not pompous. 

All joking aside, it’s no fun to have crazies stalking you at home. During the time the Planet was under attack from those few misguided zealots who objected to an op-ed we printed about Israel/Palestine, I got threatening emails from people saying things like “I urinated on your door as I walked past your house.” Not amusing. Rabbi Michael Lerner had some of the same crowd camped out at his house for a while, and I doubt that he enjoyed it. 

But as I told Anthony when I called to offer my sympathy, that’s life in the fast lane. The genesis of all this unwanted attention is probably a flattering profile of him which appeared in the New Yorker a few weeks ago, complete with a cover cartoon of the self-driving cars which he’s credited with developing at Google. 

There wasn’t much in the article that I found shocking, really only one thing: the New Yorker author revealed that Anthony Levandowski is a registered Republican! Even though I suspect that he’s a Libertarian at heart, we don’t see many Republicans around here. 

There goes the neighborhood, for sure. But I still think he’s a nice guy who doesn’t deserve to be stalked. On behalf of all the card-carrying pinkos, lefties, Democrats, Greens, ACLU members and cranks around here, I’d like to tell Anthony and his family that we’re sorry that this happened, and we hope they won’t be scared away by a few misguided crazies. 

UPDATE: On Friday I talked to someone, a reliable person I've known for 45 years, who happened to see the demonstrators at the door. This witness described them as about 10 white men and women, possibly in their 30s, possibly wearing predominantly black clothes, though no scarves or face masks à la some Occupyers.  


The Editor's Back Fence

Berkeley Sirens? Police on Their Way to a Funeral.

Wednesday January 29, 2014 - 08:16:00 AM

Did you wonder why a whole lot of police cars and motorcycles with lights blazing and sirens shrieking roared up Ashby during rush hour traffic at 8 a.m. this morning? The dispatcher at the Berkeley Police Department thought they might just be on their way to the funeral of the BART detective who was killed by a colleague. If so, that's very inappropriate. It does nothing to memorialize the victim of what we hope was an unfortunate error to endanger those in the path of the speeding officers.

Amazing Bedfellows Endorse Berkeley Referendum
Signature Drive Ends Tuesday

Saturday January 18, 2014 - 04:38:00 PM

From the Berkeley Tenant's Union Newsletter:

"The Redistricting Referendum is now supported by BTU and The Council of Neighborhood Associations, SEIU Local 1021, East Bay COPE, former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport, the Alameda Green Party, the Cal Dems, and former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean."

Who would ever expected to see all these people on the same page? Must be something going on!

Tuesday is the last day to sign the petition to put it on the ballot.


Odd Bodkins: The Little Heroes (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Wednesday January 29, 2014 - 10:41:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Odd Bodkins: Borrowed Vengeance (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Wednesday January 29, 2014 - 10:35:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

New: Blessings from Pete Seeger

By James Patterson
Wednesday January 29, 2014 - 12:06:00 PM

It was a cold night in Manhattan November 30 as I made my way to Carnegie Hall for what would be the last annual Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger holiday show. Seeger, 94, died January 26. The show was a family tradition that outlasted most of my family, save for my son and me. 

As Guthrie, Seeger and youngsters from both families came to the stage, an appreciative audience responded warmly. Seeger used canes in both hands but moved briskly to his chair at center stage. Guthrie announced, “We are going to play Pete songs tonight.” Another warm audience response as Seeger smiled and waved. 

Guthrie, with his guitar, and Seeger, with his banjo, sat side by side at center stage. Guthrie sang into his microphone as Seeger sat and sang softly away from his microphone. 

Seeger, proudly a lifelong political liberal and devout union supporter, gently strummed his banjo to some of the powerful folk songs that inspired our nation during economic and political hard times including the civil rights struggle, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the anti-union 1980s, and at other times of national crisis when his voice and banjo helped heal our national hurt. 

I first heard Pete Seeger sing as a little boy in civil rights era Alabama in the 1960s. He always had large crowds singing with him, especially when he sang his friend Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” 

“That man sure can sing,” my dear grandmother, in her thick Southern accent, told me once during a news report on a civil rights rally where Seeger sang loud, proud and clear during the dangerous times that claimed the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Tennessee, Medger Evers in Mississippi and civil rights marcher Mrs. Viola Liuzzo on the dark Alabama highway between Montgomery and Selma in 1965. 

There was no mention of our nation’s hard times at Carnegie Hall only the power and comfort of Seeger’s songs. “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Goodnight Irene,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Sailing down My Golden River,” and other “Pete songs” delighted the Carnegie Hall audience as we sang along. Pete sang softly from his seat. In my seat, I also sang softly as tears ran down my cheeks and long ago Alabama family memories ran through my mind. 

Seeger, in frail voice, offered two stories during the Carnegie Hall holiday show. One was about “crazy English” where he asked humorous questions such as “If a vegetarian eats only vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?” The other story had a social justice message from English history. He spoke softly and the audience hung on his every word and applauded in appreciation. 

Guthrie deviated from “Pete songs” to perform his Hobo’s Lullaby album classic “City of New Orleans” on a keyboard. He also performed Ledbelly’s “Alabama Bound,” another song from my Alabama childhood. 

When Guthrie suggested they were at the end of the performance, Seeger joined the audience in calling for more. After two additional songs, the two-hour holiday show ended and the legendary singers left stage. Seeger rose from his chair with assistance from the kids, but walked briskly with his canes off stage. 

The audience expected only Guthrie would encore with his long anti-Vietnam classic “Alice’s Restaurant.” When both Guthrie and Seeger returned, it was clear something different was in store. 

Guthrie took his seat as Seeger stood behind him with aid of his canes and they sang a rousing “This Land is Your Land.” Pete felt he should stand for this song regardless of his weak legs and failing health. I am proud to say I saw his last public performance of this incredible American classic. A standing ovation lasted long after Guthrie, Seeger and their kids had left stage. 

At Stage Door a small group of admirers, including me, waited to have a word with the singers. Guthrie had already left and Seeger wearing a bright red knit cap due to the biting cold quickly made his way to his RV, whose rear bumper stickers declared: “War is NOT the Answer,” and “If the people lead long enough, leaders will eventually follow.” 

As several of us stood in the cold, Seeger’s driver lowered her window and we had a few precious moments with Pete Seeger. It was a blessing for me to thank him for his music and his civil rights work in the dangerous days of my youth. He gave me something akin to a salute and a smile and that was another blessing that warmed me from the cold. 

Former Washington diplomat James Patterson, who attended Alabama’s segregated schools, is a San Francisco-based writer/speaker. Contact him at JamesPatterson705@gmail.com

New: Help Save Berkeley Post Office Tonight at City Council

By Margot Smith
Tuesday January 28, 2014 - 02:44:00 PM

Fill the Council Chambers at Old City Hall tonight (Tuesday) at 6:30.

Convince the Council to vote YES. Let’s make this the law.

MUSIC! RALLY! on the steps!

The Zoning Overlay Ordinance on Berkeley’s Historic Civic Center District which includes our historic Post Office has gained national attention. The Planning Commission voted to recommend the Ordinance features to the City Council. Tuesday, January 28th the Council will vote on the Overlay. Again we must fill the room to overfull!  

Berkeley’s Historic Civic Center District includes Berkeley’s Old City Hall, New City Hall, Berkeley High School, Veteran’s Memorial Hall, the YMCA, and the Berkeley Main Post Office at 2000 Allston Way. These are all on the National Register of Historic Places. The Zoning Overlay will help to preserve the area’s use for community, cultural, and civic purposes. We say our Post Office is NOT FOR SALE. It was funded by taxpayers in 1914, and belongs to the people. 

Berkeley’s Historic Civic Center District is our Public Commons. Let’s protect it with appropriate zoning. Although the uses of buildings change, the end result must be a stronger community, not richer real-estate developers. Let us show that we are a city of caring citizens in community.

New: Building Power

By Harry Brill
Tuesday January 21, 2014 - 09:24:00 PM

There are still many who believe that we lack the money to fund and improve our vital social and economic programs. But consider the following -- Social Security benefits can be substantially increased by raising the taxable limit of $117,000. Why should executives who earn, say $500,000, pay no more social security taxes than someone who earns substantially less. How about supporting a viable and expanding food stamp program for the growing number of poor Americans by at least in part reducing if not abolishing the tax deduction for executives who dine their clients and others in expensive restaurants. And generally speaking, how about assuring that the rich pay at least the same rate of income tax as the average worker? In fact, it is commonly known that some corporations that earn billions of dollars pay no taxes at all. What a major difference these changes would make to appreciably improve our quality of life. 

The problem is not, as the ruling circle insists, an economic problem. It is a political problem caused by the collective greed of the one percent. In short, the extraordinary economic inequality in our society reflects the extraordinary political inequality in our society. How, then, can the 99% prevail over the 1%? We certainly outnumber them. 

We are constantly waging political battles. But to stand a chance of winning the war we must always ask the question "How in the course of the many struggles we wage, are we building power?" To do so it is not enough to achieve our specific end. The particular means we adopt are crucial. Most important, are we operating democratically. Democratic participation is not only a virtue onto itself. Democratic participation also builds leadership, encourages activists to develop their skills and self-confidence, and also brings more people out in the streets.. And in the process of building a democratic movement, the vocabulary changes from "I" to "We. Our source of power is building a united front. Only then will Congress really listen to us. Lobbying and internet activism is not enough. 

Please keep in mind the very wise words of Mahatma Gandhi "You must be the change you wish to see in the world".

Setting the Record Straight on the Oakland Zoo Expansion Plan

by Laura Baker, East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society
Saturday January 18, 2014 - 04:24:00 PM

In last week's Oakland Tribune (1/9/14) Joel Parrott called for unity to launch the Oakland Zoo's disastrous expansion plan in Knowland Park, a plan reminiscent of many grandiose projects that appeal to a seductive illusion. Parrott lashed out at park proponents who aren't buying that destroying park land to create an illusory experience is better than holding on to the real deal. The California Trails project would fence, grade, and destroy 56 acres of prime park land in an effort to transport visitors back in time to pre-1850 California and charge them for the experience. To sell the deal, zoo execs have resorted to using secrecy and truth twisting to make some of the more problematic aspects of the project go away. 

Their decision to sink huge resources into the project is already proving costly to the public, the park, and the zoo itself. Last year the zoo spent over $1 million trying to pass a county parcel tax (Measure A1) it claimed was crucial to maintain existing zoo operations. The measure lost—in part because opponents publicized the fact (buried in the fine print) that these tax funds could be used to build the expansion. But instead of scaling back its plans, the zoo plunged blindly on. Last month the zoo's Board announced that it was taking $1.3 million from operations to put into "capital projects”, and had taken out a $10 million bridge loan. 

The City has been complicit in depriving the public of a fully informed decision on this project by never enforcing submissions of financial information required under the zoo Management Agreement. In 2011, despite the fact that the expansion would be one of the largest capital projects in a city increasingly unable to pay for basic services, and ignoring public protests, the City Council approved the project with no capital spending plan. 

Parrott falsely claims that voters approved this project. In 2002 Oakland voters passed Measure G, providing $23 million for a $40 million Wild California project on 40 acres. No location was specified, and many voters assumed the zoo would use the abundant land available within the zoo's current footprint. Today's project would cost $60 million and fence and destroy 56 acres of the richest and most sensitive lands as well as the most frequently visited portion of the park. Parrott's claim that this project would “protect and enhance Knowland Park and its plant species” would be laughable if it weren’t tragic. Once destroyed, the rare plant communities in the project area will be gone forever. And zoo execs have insisted on keeping their options open to develop even more of Knowland Park. 

The distortions continue. Documents from a Public Records Act request revealed that to obtain the $7 million State Parks grant that Parrott claims is evidence of state and public support of this project, the zoo had to tell a real whopper: that the whole project would cost just $23 million (at the same time it was telling the City that the total cost was $72 million). The reason? The application required Parrott to certify that the grant would complete full funding to build and operate the project. It was not true then, nor is it now. 

The high costs of the project were pitched as economically beneficial to the City, including construction contracts that would produce jobs and fatten the City’s taxes. But the recently completed vet hospital shows that the zoo doesn't play fair when it comes to city law. The project cost approximately $12 million (exact figures not released), but not one contract for that project was submitted as required to the City’s Contract Compliance Unit to ensure zoo compliance with City laws requiring that 50% of the contracts go to Oakland companies and small businesses and that there were no conflicts of interest (zoo Board Members include developers). 

One of Parrott's most astonishing claims is that the zoo will be an effective steward of the park. The zoo has had decades to earn that honor, but despite the fact that it gets millions of dollars in public subsidies annually, it has spent almost nothing to care for the park beyond its footprint. Instead, it has dumped manure and trash in the highlands, and spread french broom and other weeds up into the more pristine portions. French broom removal around the vet hospital is not voluntary—it is required mitigation for that project. Community members, not the zoo, have been the true stewards of the park: the California Native Plant Society and Friends of Knowland Park have spent thousands of hours in efforts to bring the park forward out of obscurity and give it proper care by wrenching out broom, taking the public on guided tours, inviting experts in natural resources to help conduct surveys, creating a trail map and website to guide visitors to the wonders of the park. Most importantly, we have advocated tirelessly for the protection of the park while behind closed doors the zoo has relentlessly pressured regulatory agencies to grant them permits by arguing for less environmental protection. 

Perhaps to deflect attention from his own false statements, Parrott says park proponents state "mistruths" and demonstrate a “blatant disregard for facts." Ironically, he ends his comments with the most outlandish “mistruth” of all—that the project "will open Knowland Park to the more than 700,000 guests who come to the zoo every year." Parrott knows full well that this city park has been open and free to the public since 1975 when it was deeded to the people of Oakland by the state under the provision that it always remain a public park. But the zoo project would fence off scenic walking trails and other popular sites and charge admission fees to areas that were formerly free to the public. 

We believe it's imperative that the City wake up and reconsider the environmental and financial disaster that will attend the launching of this project. The very secrecy surrounding its funding is fair warning that the deal is unsound. Without public scrutiny of the finances, it's likely that, if permitted, the zoo will fence and grade the site, digging itself further into a financial hole, hoping that the opposition will go away. But the future of funding for this project through completion and the accompanying increase in operational expenses leave little room for doubt that the zoo will be back asking for more money from the public, despite the fact that the heart of the park will have been destroyed. 





A Muslim American Reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

By Khalida Jamilah
Saturday January 18, 2014 - 04:05:00 PM

On January 20th, Americans will celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr, Day—a day to commemorate his achievements and to end racial segregation particularly for the African-Americans in the United States. Although I am not an African-American, King is one of my inspirations. He inspires me to be perseverant and courageous no matter how harshly people oppose you. And I am even more grateful because in one part of his classic “I Have a Dream” speech, I can make a connection to the Islamic teaching on equality for all humankind. This part, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" is parallel to the farewell sermon of the founder of Islam. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing of God be upon him) said, “All of you are equal. All men, whatever nation or tribe they belong to, and whatever station in life they may hold, are equal…….an Arab possesses no superiority over the non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab over an Arab.” 

Looking at the similarities between the two quotes, equality is an essential value in Islamic teaching. In practice, Islam’s concept of universality and equality can be witnessed during the annual pilgrimage- Hajj. No other religious experience equals the experience of brotherhood as is felt during Hajj. Seeing all men dressed in two white cloths, regardless of social status, economic status, or the color of the skin, one is forced to believe that in God’s eye there is no white or black or brown. In His eyes all men/women are equal. They differ only in their level of righteousness and nearness to their Creator. 

As a Muslim American, I am responsible to continue Dr. King’s legacy on equality because it is the teaching of my religion. So the two most influential leaders in the world had done their job in conveying the message of equality and universality. Now, what have you done?


THE PUBLIC EYE: It’s Class Warfare, Stupid!

By Bob Burnett
Friday January 24, 2014 - 12:24:00 PM

Republicans have begun their campaign to regain the Senate in the 2014-midterm elections. So far, they’ve emphasized negative ads about Obamacare. If this tactic falters, the GOP will fall back on the same lies they used in the 2012 presidential election: “Obama’s policies have hurt the economy.” Republicans talk as if they are job creators but they’re actually job destroyers, engaged in class warfare. 

Republican television ads running in states such as North Carolina and Louisiana claim “Obamacare doesn’t work,” and “attempt to stoke fears that the law will force people off of their current plans, require them to pay more, or prevent them from seeing their current doctors.” The problem with this GOP tactic is that by the time election day, November 4, rolls around most voters will have realized that Obamacare does work

Early in January, House Speaker John Boehner indicated that Republicans have a contingency plan; in addition to attacks on Obamacare, Republican candidates will ask, “Where are the jobs?” 

It’s a familiar Republican tactic. In 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said: 

President Obama’s answer to the our economic crisis was more spending, more debt, and more government… We’re struggling because our government is too big. As President… I will cut marginal tax rates across the board for individuals and corporations, and limit deductions and exclusions. I will repeal burdensome regulations, and prevent the bureaucracy from writing new ones… Instead of growing the federal government, I will shrink it.
Romney’s “jobs” agenda was a reprise of the discredited maxims of Reaganomics: government is the problem; helping the rich get richer will inevitably help everyone else; and markets are inherently self correcting and therefore there’s no need for government regulation. 

In 2012, voters didn’t buy this message but Romney was an inept candidate. (Remember his gaffe, “47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what [because they] are dependent upon government [and] believe they are victims.”) In 2014, Obama is not particularly popular and Republican “independent expenditure” groups will spend millions blaming the jobs crisis on the President. 

As Congress reconvened, NBC news reported that Democrats will respond by painting Republicans as the Party of the rich; they’ll accuse the GOP of waging class warfare. 

President John Adams famously said, “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” In 2014 Democrats can seize upon the job crisis and the record unpopularity of Republicans to formulate a winning argument that the GOP is ruining the promise of America. 

1. Since the Reagan Administration, the gap between the rich and poor has grown to an unprecedented degree due to conservative policies. 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.” 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. 52 percent felt the government “should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich.” 

2. Since 1980 the wages of working people have declined because of the Republican class war. Economist Robert Reich observed: “Nearly 55 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 have experienced at least a year in poverty or near poverty… Half of all American children have at some point during their childhoods relied on food stamps.” 

3. Republicans in the 113th Congress haven’t addressed jobs or inequality. In fact the Republican-controlled House of Representatives hasn’t done much of anything. In 2013 Congress sent a record low number of bills to the White House. (Instead of working on America’s economic problems the House voted 47 times to defund Obamacare.) 

4. Rather than address jobs, in October the Republican-controlled House of Representatives shut down the government for 16 days. This damaged the economy

The financial ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said… the shutdown ‘to date has taken $24 billion out of the economy,’ equaling $1.5 billion dollars a day and ‘shaved at least 0.6 percent off annualized fourth-quarter 2013 GDP growth.’
It’s estimated that approximately 120,000 fewer private sector jobs were created because of the Republican shutdown. 

To respond to Republican class warfare, Democrats must deliver a strong populist message in the midterm elections. The US economy must work for all the people. This means ensuring that everyone who wants to work can find a job – a job rebuilding American’s infrastructure, if need be – with a living wage. The Democratic midterm message must emphasize that the proceeds from America’s economic growth should go to everyone, not just the one percent. 

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




ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Delusions and Recovery

By Jack Bragen
Friday January 24, 2014 - 12:22:00 PM

Aside from moans about the evil mental health treatment system (which sometimes it is) it is obvious to anyone who can think that the life of a person with a major mental illness, at least some of the time, is pure hell.  

Most people have no concept of what it is like to be medicated on a heavy dosage of antipsychotic medication. These medications are like using a sledgehammer to go after a mosquito. The feeling of taking some of these medications is like going snorkeling with a hangover. Sometimes it is a feeling that you want to jump out of your skin. Sometimes it is a drug-induced hopelessness.  

People do not understand the terror and the suffering that a person can have when delusional. Part of the fear comes from the delusions themselves in which a person may believe that their life is threatened. And part comes from the reality of one's situation, that one is disconnected from the environment, can't think properly and is experiencing peril because of that. On some deep level, a psychotic person is probably aware that something is very wrong with them.  

Normal status of emotions and thought, for some people, occurs after many months of treatment. When emerging from the delusional state, it can be a relief to know that many of the things we thought were happening, in fact, weren't. It can also be painful, because some of the delusions may have promised good things.  

Emerging from a relapse is partly a bad feeling, because we may realize we have a very long road of recovery ahead of us. Although most of the delusions may be gone after a few months of treatment, it doesn't mean that we have achieved a full recovery. According to one psychiatrist, it takes about ten years to get back to being fairly normal following a psychotic episode.  

The thing we should remember is that there can always be hope of a better life. Life may never be completely normal, and we may never own a house in the suburbs with a picket fence, two car garage, spouse, kids and dog. And yet, things can be better than they are now, if we work for that. If you don't try, you are guaranteed of getting nothing.  

As I write this I have nearly eighteen years without a relapse of psychosis, largely because I have been medication compliant, and because I make an effort to get along with people. I am recovering from a bout with the intestinal flu (I was warned to get a flu shot but I ignored it), and I find that being sick with the flu causes me to have increased symptoms of mental illness. I am also dealing with a car that keeps breaking down, thus I am forced to get rides from people, and sometimes I have to beg for this.  

When you try to do things the right way, at some point people will recognize that and will often try to help.  

The secret to success is that generally there are no shortcuts and that life makes no promises. We all must figure out how to navigate, and it is always a work in progress.

THE PUBLIC EYE: 2014 Democratic Agenda: Protecting the 47 Percent

By Bob Burnett
Saturday January 18, 2014 - 04:03:00 PM

Politicians occasionally tell the truth. That happened in September of 2012, when Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney lambasted the “47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what [because they] are dependent upon government [and] believe they are victims.” Romney spoke for the Republican Party, which has decided to turn its back on the least fortunate Americans. The 2014 Democratic Agenda must respond to the cold-hearted Republican stance. 

During a political gathering, Romney said

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it -- that that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. ... These are people who pay no income tax. ... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Romney’s statement can be parsed in three ways. The first is factual. While it was true, in 2011, that 46.4 percent of Americans paid no Federal income tax that didn’t mean they paid no taxes. According to CBS News, “nearly two-thirds of households that paid no income tax did pay payroll taxes. And most people also pay some combination of state, local, sales, gas and property taxes.” While most of the people who didn’t pay income tax were very poor, “more than half of the filing units not paying income taxes are those with incomes less than $16,812 per year,” more than 100,000 Americans with incomes above $211,000 also paid no taxes. As usual, Republicans bent the truth. 

The second view of Romney’s statement is political. He mouthed the contemporary Republican ideology: “[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." Republicans contend that a substantial number of Americans are deadbeats, people who do not want to work. “[W]ho are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” 

This “dump the deadbeats” attitude is at the core of the Republican resistance to extending long-term unemployment insurance. It’s the basis of the GOP contention that 10.4 million unemployed want a free ride and the supporting claim that unemployment insurance actually promotes unemployment. Recently, Senator Rand Paul argued that extended unemployment benefits, "do a disservice to workers, causing them to become part of this perpetually unemployed group." 

Once again, there’s no truth to these claims, Economists have found that employers have stopped interviewing people who have been out of work several months. “[The] long-term unemployment trap has to do with our great recession, and not-so-great recovery. With a labor market that doesn't work for people who made the mistake of losing their job at the wrong time.” 

The third aspect of Romney’s statement justified the heartless recovery: “[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Republicans have turned their back on Romney’s 47 percent and, more generally, on groups that are not likely Republican voters. 

A recent Gallup study found that 38 percent of respondents self identify as Conservative, 34 percent as Moderate, and 23 percent as Liberal. It’s a safe bet that Romney’s 47 percent is mostly Liberal and Moderate voters. 

A 2011 Pew Study sheds more light on this. Pew found that 35 percent of registered voters were in one of three groups: “Staunch Conservatives” (11 percent), “Main Street Republicans” (14 percent), and “Libertarians” (10 percent). This corresponds to the roughly 35 percent of Republican voters that oppose everything that Obama and the Democrats propose. 

The Pew study found that Democrats were in three groups: “Solid Liberals” (16 percent), “New Coalition Democrats” (9 percent), and “Hard-Pressed Democrats” (15 percent). Pew found that moderates were in two groups: “Disaffected” (11 percent) and “Post-Moderns” (14 percent). 

Thus, Romney’s 47 percent includes Democrats plus a slice of Moderates. In essence, he said the only Americans who count are Republicans; specifically older, White, relatively well-to-do voters. (A recent Gallup poll, found that Republicans are primarily non-Hispanic Whites [89 percent]). 

To respond to cold-hearted Republican ideology, the 2014 Democratic Agenda must have a strong populist bent. It should begin with the assertion that the economy must work for all the people. This means ensuring that everyone who wants to work can find a job – a job rebuilding American’s infrastructure, if need be. This means that the proceeds from economic growth must go to everyone, not just the one percent. This means we must protect the 47 percent “have nots” as well as the “haves.” 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Crisis in the California Courts

By Ralph E. Stone
Saturday January 18, 2014 - 04:49:00 PM

Last year, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi made statements on the importance of adequate funding for the California courts.

Why? Because the California state court system -- the largest in the world - is in crisis. In the last five years, the judicial branch has been cut $1 billion and over the same time, General Fund support of the court system has been reduced by almost 65 percent and an additional $1.7 billion has been borrowed or redirected from court construction costs.  

The California court system is made up of the Supreme Court with seven justices; six district Courts of Appeal with 105 justices siting in panels; and 58 county Superior Courts with 1,646 judges, 376 commissioners and referees. As of November 2013, there were 8 appellate court and 85 superior court vacancies. 

The financial crisis has meant that 39 court houses have been closed, another 77 courtrooms in still-open courthouses have been closed, 30 courts now have reduced hours, and 37 courts have been forced to reduce self-help and family law facilitators. In short, the court system has been forced to balance its budget on the backs of the most vulnerable members of society by closing or reducing special court programs that deal with juvenile dependency, indigent defendants, drug addiction, veterans, and victims of domestic violence.  

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has said that it will take an additional $1 billion over the next three to five years to ensure that the courts are open and accessible to all citizens. California is expected to receive billions of dollars in extra tax revenues. But will the court system receive enough of these tax dollars to start restoring access to justice? 

An independent judiciary is one of the foundations of our democratic society. The judiciary is supposed to be a co-equal branch of government. But because the judiciary receives its funding from the state legislature, the judiciary is often at the mercy of the the annual budget. This places the judiciary in the position of being less than co-equal with the executive and legislative branches. 

Californians do not deserve rationed justice. It is time for the legislative and executive branches to infuse more money into the judiciary.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Tragic Shooting in North Carolina

By Jack Bragen
Saturday January 18, 2014 - 04:11:00 PM

An eighteen year old man afflicted with schizophrenia was shot and killed by a policeman in North Carolina. He hadn't commited a crime, but was exhibiting symptoms of mental illness which may have included agitation and/ or, being assaultive.  

Policemen were in the process of getting the man under control when an additional policeman appeared on the scene, and, believing the young man was a threat, shot and killed him. He (the eighteen year old) had been wielding a screwdriver, and this was believed by this policeman to be a deadly weapon.  

The eighteen year old man was already being subdued and the situation was de-escalating prior to when the additional policeman appeared on the scene and abruptly shot the young man, killing him.  

This young man afflicted with schizophrenia could have been me when I was younger. The incident hits close to home, because we with mental illness are often afraid to call for help when we need it. We tend to worry that we will be treated brutally by police if the wrong officer shows up at our door. It is no wonder that many persons with mental illness are afraid of police.  

I have nothing against those officers who, on a daily basis, are risking their lives to keep our community safe. However, there are some who use excessive force against people with mental illness, and sometimes this seems brutal as well as senseless.  

Certainly, when someone with mental illness is processed by the jail system, they receive inhumane and creul treatment which is undeserved. What I am describing is the flip side of the coin that the public doesn't often hear about, but which happens with great frequency. 

When someone with mental illness shoots innocent people, which is actually quite rare, it is all over the newspapers, and people in the community will call for greater restrictions on us. However, I have witnessed numerous incidents in which mentally ill people who are harmless get treated creully by two or more officers who have hugely more physical strength compared to the ill person. I have heard about several incidents over the years in which a mentally ill person ends up deceased because of the excessive force that officers have used. Yet, when someone with mental illness is killed, few people make a big fuss over that.  

The above paragraph obviously points to a double standard.  

We would hope that in the San Francisco Bay Area, police would have top notch training in how to deal with persons with mental illness, and would handle mentally ill people skillfully and with great care. However, some of the time at least, this has not been so. Some police whom I have dealt with have been fine people who care. However, in my more than thirty year history of being mentally ill and often dealing with police, there have been other police officers I have run across who have been quite pigheaded and nasty.  

There is room for improvement. This can only take place if we put pressure on our state legislature and local government.  

People should remember that in the issue of how to deal with persons with mental illness, there is also our perspective, that of the people upon whom force is used. This perspective doesn't get into the picture very often, but it sorely ought to.  

SENIOR POWER: Memoirs, Memories

By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Thursday January 16, 2014 - 04:08:00 PM

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about memoirs. All these references to memoirs and memoir-writing and writing about one’s own memories. If you Google memoir-writing, you’ll get ‘how to’ do your own thing as well as eager ghost-writers galore! And there are senior center and library classes on memoir-writing. 

Just what is a memoir? It appears that a memoir can be anything you want it to be. Literary, autobiographical, book-length, or not. At the moment, former Secretary of Defense Robert Michael Gates (1943- )’s new book-- Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War -- is news. Controversy sells. 

Off hand, though, I can think of few authors whose books have been both memoirs and memorable. There’s Mary Therese McCarthy (1912-1989)’s Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, which is autobiographical, as well as her How I Grew and Intellectual Memoirs: New York: 1936-1938 (Harcourt Brace, 1957, 1987 and 1992.) Her best-selling novel, The Group (1963) was a sexual depiction of classmates at Vassar and their lives following college. McCarthy graduated from Vassar when it was a single-sex undergraduate college. (She did not write the screenplay of the 1966 movie.) 

Of his Palimpsest; A Memoir, Gore Vidal (1925-2012) wrote “A memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history.” A palimpsest is writing material (like a parchment or tablet) used after earlier writing has been erased. Not quite the same, but reminds me of Lillian Hellman’s (1905-1984) “pentimento.” 

And then there are the memoirs which make it to alumni magazines and public library collections. A memoir doesn’t have to be in book form, nor intended for a specific audience, although I suspect that many old persons (those with families) intend their memoirs to be for the benefit of their offspring.  

The memoirs of twenty women and men are compiled in We Are Here Stories: From the Berkeley Public Library Memoir Writing Workshop edited by Frances Lefkowitz and published by Paper in My Shoe Press of Petaluma in 2013. It is in both the Berkeley Public Library circulating and reference collections. Mark Donnelly, a Queens, New York outreach librarian and writer contributed “Memoir writing for older adult groups” to Librarians as Community Partners; An Outreach Handbook (2010). 

Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673) wrote “… I verily believe some censuring readers will scornfully say, why hath this Lady writ her own life? Since none cares to know whose daughter she was or whose wife she is, or how she was bred, or what fortunes she had, or how she lived or what humour or disposition she was of. I answer that it is true, that ‘tis to no purpose to the readers, but it is to the authoress, because I write it for my own sake, not theirs.” [The True Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life. 1656] She had it right. My The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually; A Memoir isn’t in any library collections.  



Katherine Morris, MD, is a surgical oncologist, cancer researcher and assistant professor of medicine who practiced in Oregon, the first state to a pass a Death with Dignity Law, where she saw firsthand the importance of physician assisted suicide. She now practices medicine in New Mexico and is a plaintiff in Morris v. New Mexico, Compassion & Choices' suit seeking the Court's recognition that physician aid in dying for mentally competent patients with terminal illnesses is in no way an "assisted suicide" as currently prohibited in New Mexico. The case goes to trial in December. Aja Riggs is a New Mexico woman with advanced uterine cancer who is also a plaintiff. Dr. Aroop Mangalik is a practicing oncologist as well as clinical researcher in internal medicine and hematology-oncology, and a professor of medicine. 

Mangalik, Morris and Riggs are asking the court to declare that physicians who provide a prescription for medication to a mentally competent, terminally ill patient, which the patient could consume to bring about a peaceful death, would not be subject to criminal prosecution under existing New Mexico law, which makes a crime of assisting another to “commit suicide.” 

The case asserts that choice of a dying patient for a peaceful death is no kind of “suicide and the physician does not assist such a patient in “committing suicide.” Compassion & Choices and the ACLU of New Mexico represent the plaintiffs. 








THE PUBLIC EYE: Why Hasn’t Obama Reined in NSA?

By Bob Burnett
Friday January 10, 2014 - 04:34:00 PM

After the 2008 election, Barack Obama supporters had high expectations for his national-security policy. We thought he’d end US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and open talks with Iran. We expected he would close down Guantanamo and end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic surveillance program that collects Americans’ phone and e-mail data. He’s accomplished some of these objectives but he hasn’t reined in the NSA. Why not? 

Writing in the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza observed that before becoming President, Obama was inconsistent on national security policy and the NSA. “In 2003, as a Senate candidate, he called the Patriot Act ‘shoddy and dangerous.’ And at the 2004 Democratic Convention… he took aim at the ‘library records’ provision of the law.“ Nonetheless, in in 2006 Obama voted for a renewal of the Patriot Act. 

As a presidential candidate, Obama’s attitude appeared to shift. In 2007, Obama criticized Bush, "This administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance civil liberties. It is not. There are no shortcuts to protecting America." In an August 2007, campaign speech Obama criticized, “unchecked presidential power” and vowed a change in national security policy: “that means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens, no more national-security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime… [and] no more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient.” 

Nonetheless, Obama’s presidential record has been disappointing. Lizza noted:

It is evident from the Snowden leaks that Obama inherited [from George Bush] a regime of dragnet surveillance that often operated outside the law and raised serious constitutional questions. Instead of shutting down or scaling back the programs, Obama has worked to bring them into narrow compliance with rules—set forth by a court that operates in secret—that often contradict the views on surveillance that he strongly expressed when he was a senator and a Presidential candidate.

A recent New York Times editorial noted:

■ The N.S.A. broke federal privacy laws, or exceeded its authority, thousands of times per year, according to the agency’s own internal auditor. ■ The agency broke into the communications links of major data centers around the world, allowing it to spy on hundreds of millions of user accounts and infuriating the Internet companies that own the centers. ■ The N.S.A. systematically undermined the basic encryption systems of the Internet, making it impossible to know if sensitive banking or medical data is truly private, damaging businesses that depended on this trust.

There are three explanations for the President’s weak NSA policy. 

1. Obama decided not to expend political capital changing it. Given the economic problems he inherited from George Bush, plus the difficulty of working with a divided Congress, Obama may have decided it was not worth the effort to rein in the NSA. That’s been true of national security in general. Obama had increased defense spending, expanded the national-security state, and maintained the hundreds of US military bases that dot the globe. Obama tried to shut down Guantanamo but was thwarted by Congress. 

2. Since becoming President, Obama has been in a national security bubble. Writing in the New York Times, Peter Baker reported that “the evening before he was sworn into office, Barack Obama [was informed] of a major terrorist plot to attack his inauguration.” (This turned out to be a false alarm.) In December of 2009, the President was shaken by the failed attack of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who tried to detonate an underwear bomb as his plane landed in Detroit.  

Over the past five years, the intelligence community has alerted Obama to dozens of potential attacks. That’s affected him. This past June Obama defended NSA surveillance, saying, “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information.” (Pro Publica reports that the NSA has provided specifics on only four of these cases and there is little support for the President’s contention that NSA surveillance actually “averted” these threats.) 

3. The National Security State is too powerful to change. The President may have decided that it was impossible to make major changes to NSA, and the gargantuan national-security state, so he opted to “bring them into narrow compliance with rules.” Obama inherited a pit bull and decided to handle it with extreme care. 

Both the New York Times and Ryan Lizza reported that James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence who oversees NSA, lied to Congress, in March, when he denied that NSA was collecting data on millions of Americans. It wasn’t the first time the national-security state deceived us. Their litany of falsehoods and screw-ups stretches from Pearl Harbor through the Vietnam War to the 9/11 attacks and the decision to invade Iraq.  

We may never know why President Obama has continued the Bush-era domestic surveillance programs. Whatever his reasoning, it’s time for him to rein in the NSA. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Contagious Delusions

By Jack Bragen
Saturday January 18, 2014 - 04:13:00 PM

Delusions can become perniciously contagious when more than one person not in treatment associate together and enable one another, especially if they are away from outside contact.  

About nineteen years ago, I attempted to take care of a man who was in a dangerous manic phase. This man was physically assaultive, was wild, and was harmful to people in the community. When medicated, which was always by force, he was a decent man who wanted to help other people.  

(Trying to take care of someone like this is pure folly, and my situation with this man didn't have a good outcome. A few years later, after I was no longer in contact with this person, I was told he had died.)  

However, when in treatment, persons with mental illness are often helpful to each other.  

"Milieu Therapy" is time spent within a group of people with mental illness--and some psychiatrists believe it is therapeutic. In all fairness, milieu therapy can sometimes be helpful. It allows mental health consumers to commiserate and to not feel as isolated.  

On the other hand, when numbers of people with mental illness are put in the same place, sometimes there are common core beliefs and attitudes that get propagated. Additionally, people's delusions can spread from person to person, creating a collective set of delusions.  

For example, an idea was circulated that was called, "spiritual warfare." This apparently consisted of an imagined battle of good versus evil, and the battle takes place on a "spiritual plane." Thus while "spiritual warfare" to my understanding doesn't usually involve anything physical, it can make people act in ways that are very unusual.  

If someone with psychotic tendencies would like to get well, it is probably a good idea to be exposed to some mainstream belief systems. If all of one's contacts with people consist of being around other mentally ill people and mental health caregivers, it prevents a person from being exposed to a "normal" version of reality. In that case, one learns how to behave like other mentally ill people, but one never learns how to exist among anyone else.  

The environment in the mental health treatment system can help, or in some instances, can keep a person stuck in a less conscious, less aware state. It seems that people with mental illness have created our own subculture.  

People with a later onset of their illness have had more of a chance to develop normally in their lives. Not all of those with a severe mental illness have always been immersed in institutional situations. In my life among other persons with mental illness, I have met numerous people who have been more successful than I, who have lived more normally. I have met others who are more impaired than I. 

The more time spent among others with mental illness, the more someone will be mentally offset from the mainstream. This can interfere with having a significant recovery.  

Doing some kind of meaningful activity within the community, such as a volunteer job, can help improve one's condition. Going to school is another option, if one doesn't feel ready to go into a job. There are also online resources that can give people remote contact with others, which is less immediate but better than nothing.  

Spending all of one's time around others with mental illness may be unhealthy. However, for a limited time, involvement in the mental health treatment system can often help.  

Arts & Events

New: Ben Kreith Trio: Rosenak/Josheff/Kreith
At Berkeley Arts on Friday

Monday January 27, 2014 - 11:36:00 AM

Alban Berg's trio arrangement of the Adagio from his Chamber Concerto will be played alongside music by Darius Milhaud and Peter Josheff. Also a performance of Galina Ustvolskaya's austere and uncompromising 1949 Clarinet Trio. Her controversial music has been described as "a phenomenon" (Dmitri Shostakovich), "to be approached with caution" (Alex Ross) and "kind of ugly" (Roy Harris). Here's a chance to hear for yourself! 

Karen Rosenak, piano Peter Josheff, clarinet Benjamin Kreith, violin  

Berkeley Arts Festival Friday January 31, 8 pm 2133 University Avenue

Press Release: Expressions Gallery invites you to the Grand Opening of the Homelessness Art Show:
Saturday, January 25, from 6-8 PM

From Marcia Poole, Renna Flohr, Alejandro Soto-Vigil
Friday January 24, 2014 - 12:27:00 PM

The City of Berkeley co-sponsored the Homelessness Art show and contributed funds that covered the costs of art supplies from the homeless artists. Their art, as well as that of community artists, show the many aspects of homelessness. Please come and join us in the presentation of this important exhibition to the public. 

Homelessness impacts everyone. It is all around us whether we notice it or not. It's the piles of clothing and people’s belongings in our doorways; the people pushing shopping carts piled with all their worldly possessions; and those trudging along our city streets with bent shoulders and gloveless hands. Among these people are artists who never get the chance to show their work because they cannot do more than sketch their ideas in small notebooks or found cardboard. They have no materials or places to work on their art, no computers to submit work to galleries, no place to store their work, and no money for framing.  

Expressions Gallery is proud to present a show that deals with the multiple aspects of homelessness. Community artists who are touched by the lives and scenes of the homeless, along with artists who are homeless or have previously been homeless participate in this show. It is the first opportunity for some of the homeless artists to present and display their finished works in a professional gallery. Painting, photography, printmaking, digital art and sculpture are the mediums used. Craft artists who offer jewelry, scarves, hats, ceramics and more are also displayed. 

This show is unique in that it is a collaborative show that brings together community artists with local non-profit organizations whose work is to transform and improve the lives of the homeless. BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency) and St. Mary’s Center (whose goal is to transform lives and build communities) have joined with Expressions Gallery in providing work by the homeless artists in their programs. These organizations have given homeless artists access to a place to work, materials to use and assistance in the presentation and submission of their work. Funds and materials have been donated to assist the homeless artists create and frame their work for presentation. The City of Berkeley supports the exhibition and has also donated funds to make this show possible. 

Artists included in this show are: Miriam Abramowitsch , Joan Alexander, Judith Allen, Robert Z. Apte, Tiphereth Banks, Georgia Binns Bassen, Sarita Blum, (BOSS Kids: Sophie, Jonathan, Diego, Jovanni, Amber, Clintera, Joshua, Jasime, Angie, Michael, Martin, and A’shalan,) Carol Jones Brown, Gabriele Bungardt, Jackie Bunton, Janis Burger, Aaron Carter, Ron Clark, Ellen Coffey, Andrei Crandall, Attila Cziglenyi, Pedro del Norte, Carol Denney, Mary Martin DeShaw, Jan Dove, Debbie Fimrite, Rinna B. Flohr, Rozita Fogelman, Sue Mary Fox, Chandra Garsson, Evelyn Glaubman, Harriett Hache, Dwayne Hood, Stan Huncilman, Diane Jacobson, Ann Jasperson, Minal Jeswani, Larry E. Jones, Coral Lambert, Silvia Ledezma, Charles Lucke, Jennifer Wallace Mack, Patty McAfee AKA Rhinestone Patty, Qadir McCray, Teddy Milder, Doug Minkler, Maj-Britt Mobrand, Rose Moore , Malcolm Nicoll, Aphra Pia, Vicki Pierpont, Jo-Anna Pippen, Marcia Poole, Lynda A. N. Reyes, Ernest and Lois Rich, Charlene Richter, Gregory William Rick, Diego Marcial Rios, Selma Rockett, Joanna Ruckman, Sumiko Saulson, Jesse Sterling, Arlene Risi Streich, Elizabeth Teal, Gary Turchin, LaWanda Ultan, Roosevelt A. Washington and Liz Wiener. 

The Homelessness exhibit runs from January 25th – April 18, 2014 at the Expressions Art Gallery, located at 2035 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, Ca. (1/4 block from the Ashby Bart) 510-644-4930 Hours: Noon – 5 PM Wednesdays – Saturdays and Noon – 3 PM Sundays. 

The Opening Reception is Saturday evening, January 25, from 6 – 8 PM at the Expressions Gallery and will also feature local musicians and food. The reception is free to the public. Any sales or tax deductible donations will go to help support the non-profit organizations that have helped make this show possible and who have enabled these artists to use this opportunity to become recognized as local artists and create a better future for themselves through their art. 

Around & About Theater: Jovelyn Richards & Luisah Teish--Ín the House of the Mothers,'Sunday at La Pena

By Ken Bullock
Friday January 24, 2014 - 12:19:00 PM

African-American storyteller Jovelyn Richards, a kind of vaudevillean, & her band will be joined by Luisah Teish for "än interactive version of Mz. Pat & the Voudou Queen ... who comes to visit with a bundle of herbs & charms in her pocket." Mz. Pat's Jovelyn's ongoing alter-ego, a 30s brothel madam whose house offers sanctuary & escape from the world outside, "where love & healing are experienced through ritual theater." A rare collaboration by two original performers. One night only, this Sunday at 7, La Pena Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck (near Ashby BART). lapena.org $15

Around & About The Movies: Noir City Film Noir Fest #12

By Ken Bullock
Friday January 24, 2014 - 12:18:00 PM

Noir City, the brainchild of Eddie Muller of Alameda, is back for its twelfth time around, from Friday night until a week from Sunday afternoon, with evening shows & weekend matinees (at the bargain price of $10 per double or triple feature program) on the glorious big screen at the Castro Theatre.  

Opening night--this Friday--features two Orson Welles vehicles of international intrigue, mystery, stylized filmmaking & world-weariness: 'Journey Into Fear' (1943) & the iconic 'The Third Man' (1949). 

But for this Noir City as a whole, the accent is just as much on "ïnternational" as on intrigue, mystery, Expressionism or Weltschmerz--the breadth & depth of the offering of genre film from around the world is the true star of this edition of the festival.  

Film Noir from the UK ('Brighton Rock' 1947), Japan (Kurosawa's 'Drunken Angel' & 'Stray Dog,' 1948 & 49, with Toshiro Mifune's screen debut), Spanish film noir (Bardem's 'Death of a Cyclist' 1955), Mexican film noir, Argentinian film noir--Norwegian film noir!--some never before shown in the States, will be screened as well as the long thought lost, rediscovered & restored 'Too Late for Tears' (1949) & 'The Hitch-Hiker' (1953, directed by Ida Lupino), also newly restored, both from the great years of the genre in Hollywood. 

On Monday, there's an unusual double feature: two films set in Germany, 'Murderers Are Among Us' (1946), an immediate postwar German reaction to the guilt of those entangled in the Reich, & the first Hollywood movie shot postwar in Berlin, 'Berlin Express' (1948), Jacques Tourneur's international intrigue film. 

And like a mini-festival-within-a-festival, the weekend after this features on Saturday afternoon & evening a remarkable array of French film from the 30s through 50s, which show the stylistic subtleties & perfections the Gallic muse has added to the hardboiled genres picked up from America ever since Baudelaire translated Poe's 'Purloined Letter' & 'Murders in the Rue Morgue.'  

(Detective movies, policiers, gangster films, heist & other suspense pictures were such a glut in postwar French cinema, director Jean Renoir said Francois Truffaut told him that when a Renoir Hollywood film, penned by Faulkner, a drama about poor whites & flooding in rural America, opened in France, due to a mistaken transatlantic phone message, instead of translating "'The Southerner,' a film by Jean Renoir,' posters & ads read: "'Le Souteneur' [The Pimp], un film de Genre Noir.") 

From Duvivier's 'Pepe le Moko' (1937), one of the greatest of popular movies--one that directly inspired 'Álgiers' (with Charles Boyer), 'Casablanca,' 'To Have & Have Not' & others (& which was kept from American distribution until the past decade)--with fugitive Jean Gabin bursting forth in song on the roofs of the Casbah, to J-P Melville's rarity, 'Two Men in Manhattan' (1959), starring Melville (best-remembered as actor wryly playing Rumanian writer Parvelscu opposite Jean Seberg at Orly in Godard's 'Breathless'), as well as perhaps the greatest of heist films, American director Jules Dassin's French masterpiece 'Rififi' (1955), Noir City demonstrates in five films over an afternoon & evening the mellifluous French touch on the down & dirty. 

Noir City closes on Sunday, February 2, with a triple bill of exotics, something that carries internationalism to--& beyond--the limit: 'Singapore' (1947, with Fred MacMurray & Ava Gardner), & two unusual ones by "the greatest of exotic filmmakers--& one of the great lights""(Orson Welles), Josef von Sternberg's 'Macao' (1952, with Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell & Noir icon Gloria Grahame), plus 'his 'Shanghai Gesture' (1942), now neglected, but a strong influence in its time--& after--in France, with glamorous Gene Tierney cast against type as slumming college girl Poppy & the great Walter Huston, as well as a droll performance by Victor Mature as Dr. Omar, spouting quatrains from The Rubaiyat. 

Double & Triple bill evening shows from 7:15 or 7:30, matinees from noon or 1:15, $10; 27 film festival pass (plus admission to opening night Castro mezzanine reception at 6), $120. Castro Theatre, Catro Street near Market, San Francisco. noircity.com

JUDI IRANYI PHOTOGRAPHY Site Launched (First Person)

By Judi Iranyi
Friday January 24, 2014 - 01:05:00 PM

I recently launched my website -- JUDI IRANYI PHOTOGRAPHY. I hope everyone will enjoy looking at it; I encourage everyone to share the link with your friends who are interested in photography. 

For the past 46 years, I have been seeking simplicity, directness, and purity in my photographs by attempting to capture the dignity and substance of ordinary people in their natural environment. 

Photography for me is an act of distilling reality into my personal vision. A photograph speaks without words; it provides a medium in which to express myself. It is not only an art form but also an important sociological tool. By looking at photographs of different periods and places, we can see how customs and conventions of a community change over time. 

Three of my life passions are traveling, literature, and photography. This has allowed me to broaden my view of the world and appreciate different cultures. I want my photographs to resonate with viewers in this way. 

I was born in Hungary at the close of World War II. Later I emigrated to Venezuela, and also lived in Trinidad, Barbados, and West Germany before moving to San Francisco in 1971. 

I became interested in photography in the sixties. I studied photography and art at City College of San Francisco, San Francisco State University, U.C. Berkeley, and John F. Kennedy University. However, I worked as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker until my retirement. 

Now that I am retired, I am dedicating my time to my photography. I have been published and have had two solo exhibitions. My book, “Bay Area Families” was one of the ten jury selection mentions in the exhibit “Cover to Cover” at San Francisco Camerawork (2013) and won second prize in portraiture in the Professional Women Photographer’s 38th Anniversary International Women’s Competition (2014). 

Feedback is most welcome.

AROUND AND ABOUT THEATER: Shadowlight's Poro Oyna,' Myth of the Aynu

By Ken Bullock
Saturday January 18, 2014 - 04:16:00 PM

The Aynu (or Ainu), indigenous people of Hokkaido, Northern Japan, and of Easternh Russia, whose culture dates back 2200 years, were only recognized as such by the Japanese Diet in 2008. Fewer than 15 native speakers of their language are alive. 

Shadowlight Productions of San Francisco, which Larry Reed founded over 40 years ago to explore the theater of shadowplay and shadow puppets, greatly expanding on that ancient medium with the introduction of projections, cinematic and modern music and sound techniques as well as masked live shadow performers, is putting on a show, this weekend only, with Aynu and Japanese performers featuring live Aynu music and singing, of 'Poro Oyna ["he Great Story"], the Myth of the Aynu,' adapted from Aynu lore of Ainu Rakkur, demi-god who rescued the Sun Goddess from a monster. 

Coming from Japan are Oki, an Aynu performer and stringed tontori player, Marewraw, a fur-woman chorus and members of Urotsutenoyako Bayangans, a Tokyo theater company that performs shadowplay. 

Shadowlight shows are a unique form of spectacle. If you've never seen one, this very rare chance to witness Reed's splendid artistry in collaboration with Aynu and Japanese performers, who together created a manifestation of a little-understood, endangered traditional culture, it's a double reason to see 'Poro Oyna' this weekend. 

'Poro Oyna' Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 & 8, Sunday at 2, Southside Theater, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard, San Francisco. $15-$35. shadowlight.org