Full Text



Press Release: Congresswoman Barbara Lee Unveils the Shirley Chisholm Forever® Stamp-- U.S. Postal Service Stamp Unveiled at Women’s Economic Agenda Forum

From the Office of Congresswoman Barbara Lee
Friday January 31, 2014 - 04:40:00 PM

Oakland-- Congresswoman Barbara Lee will join Leader Nancy Pelosi and former Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey to unveil the U.S. Postal Service’s Shirley Chisholm Forever® stamp. The event will be held 10:00 am at the Mills College’s Rothwell Center located at 5000 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, CA. 

The 37th stamp in the Black Heritage Series honors Shirley Chisholm—the first African American woman elected to Congress—who ran for president in 1972, which also distinguished her as the first African American and only the second woman to seek the nomination of a major political party. 

Barbara Lee first met Shirley Chisholm at Mills College in 1972 where she organized the Shirley Chisholm Northern California Presidential Primary that same year. Congresswoman Barbara Lee first introduced legislation in 2005 expressing the sense of Congress that a commemorative stamp should be issued in Congresswoman Chisholm’s honor. 

Designed by art director Ethel Kessler, the stamp art features a color portrait of Mrs. Chisholm by artist Robert Shetterly. The portrait is one in a series Shetterly titled, “Americans Who Tell the Truth”. The highlight of this event will be the unveiling of a large reproduction of the stamp image. The Shirley Chisholm Forever® stamp will be available for purchase at the event. 

The unveiling ceremony will be followed by panel discussion on the When Women Succeed, America Succeeds economic agenda which is geared at enabling women to achieve greater economic security, raise wages for women and their families, and allow working parents to support and care for their families. 


Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) 

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi 

Former Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey 

Alecia A. DeCoudreaux, Mills College President 

What: Stamp Reproduction Unveiling and panel discussion on the Women’s Economic Agenda.

When: Saturday, February 1, 2014

10:00 am – Stamp unveiling 

10:30 am – Panel discussion on Women’s Economic Agenda 

Where: Mills College, Rothwell Center, Student Union

5000 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, CA 94613

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

By Carol Polsgrove
Friday January 31, 2014 - 04:35:00 PM

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 



Three Berkeley Stories Which Might Be Happening

By Becky O'Malley
Friday January 31, 2014 - 03:27:00 PM

Readers keep calling and writing to tell me about things they know are going wrong in Berkeley, as if I could do something about it. I wish.

They hope that I still command the services of crack reporters who will dig deep into stories of evil intent and actual wrongdoing, and that when the news is out the people will put a stop to it, whatever it might be. Again, I wish.

I originally became a journalist because I thought that if you told people the truth, the truth would make them free. This came after a period of working in politics, managing campaigns and marching for causes. We were telling the truth there, too, but seldom was anyone paying attention, though we had our successes as well as a lot of failures.

So I shifted to journalism and adopted a new slogan: let people know what’s coming down before it lands on them. The idea was that even if you couldn’t persuade, you could at least warn, and then folks would be on their own to take the appropriate action. That strategy also produced some good results, but not as many as you might have thought it would.

It turns out that almost nobody wants to hear the bad news. Readers are happy to learn that a new and better pizzeria has opened in their neighborhood, but they don’t want to hear that the one that’s already there has gone under in the recession. And many aspire to be journalists, but competent reporters who can produce consistent results without dissolving into hissy fits when they miss a story are rare.

Now we can no longer pay reporters of any sort. I myself am too old, or maybe just too tired, to do the kind of big investigative pieces I did in my youth, with or without being paid. And yet, with no reporters, competent or otherwise, at my beck and call, I continue to be deluged with plausible-sounding tips from the still-numerous Planet audience. What should I do with them?

Here’s an experiment. I’m going to outline three might-be-true stories which are now circulating in the local gossip mill, and offer them to anyone who wants to pick them up and confirm or disprove the rumors. I would be happy if someone produced a story about any of these for another publication, and would also be happy to publish any results that seemed correct on this site.  

Rampant Rumor #1: Backroom plans are being hatched again to abandon Old City Hall (the Maudelle Shirek Building) or to privatize it. The mayor and some school board members have already started planning to move the council meetings to BUSD’s West Campus without telling councilmembers.  

At the January 21 Berkeley City Council meeting, Mayor Tom Bates introduced a disingenuously titled agenda item: Temporarily Relocate City Council Chambers to 2020 Bonar Street (West Campus) Until the Maudelle Shirek Building is Seismically Retrofitted . He jocularly said he just wanted the council to ask city staff to discuss this option with the Berkeley Unified School District, although using the former cafeteria on this site had been thoroughly discussed by council and rejected about a year and half ago. He asked for public comment before the council discussed the problem—and up popped dedicated gadfly and meeting maven Merrilee Mitchell. But oddly enough, in the online video of the meeting, her comments are blocked by a never-before-seen tape gap. However she told me (and a real-time recording of the meeting on a CD backs her up) that she had reported attending a “two-by-two” committee meeting between two councilmembers and two school board members—and that participants there had already decided to move the council and a host of other city events down to West Campus. 

A parade of neighbors at the January 21 council meeting objected to the impact all these gatherings with attendant cars and crowds would have on their quiet residential neighborhood. The council listened, but did not act. But has the deal already gone down in a back room, Sacramento-style? 

Which leads to … 

Rumor #2: City Hall insiders, including the Mayor and one or more councimembers, are colluding with executives of the Downtown Business Association and Improvement District, to privatize not only old City Hall but one or more of the other elegant civic buildings which make up Berkeley’s Downtown Historic District, specifically the Post Office, perhaps turning them into boutique hotels. 

Far-fetched? Watch the sleight of hand which took place at the last City Council meeting when this item was discussed: Berkeley Civic Center District Zoning Overlay.  

It started out as a good idea, proposed by Councilmember Jesse Arreguin: Ask staff to draft a “zoning overlay”, an ordinance to limit the allowed uses for these important buildings, including the Post Office, to a short list of public uses with public benefits. This would be an end run around commercial developers who might be angling to buy the historic sites and privatize their use. But Arreguin’s proposal was gutted at the very last minute by a Capitelli amendment which added a whole laundry list of additional uses which would effectively turn the zoning change into a toothless tiger. It might be a precursor to taking the site private. 

The maneuver was slickly executed and fooled many—two newspapers which I read seemed to report the outcome of the meeting as a triumph for Save-the-Post-Office. Again, I wish it were so. I hope someone can prove me wrong.  

And here comes: 

Rumor #3, hot off the digital presses yesterday on the February 11 City Council Agenda: Proposed Charter Amendment – Article V, Section 12 – Vacancy in the Office of Mayor or Councilmember and Tie Votes.  

It looks innocuous at first glance, just a little housekeeping detail. Here’s how it’s pitched in the staff report: 


The Charter provisions for Mayor and Council vacancies were previously amended in 1949 and 1974. No updates have been made since then. The provisions are very complex and likely would result in a special election to fill the vacancy. Such an election would be very costly and there is a statutory precedent for enacting alternative procedures. 


These amendments to the Charter will simplify the process for filling a vacancy in the office of Mayor or Councilmember, remove the outdated election deadlines, and allow the City to avoid calling a costly special election by filling vacancies at regular municipal elections." 

Oh sure. Here’s the back story: It’s been a tradition of the ostensibly-progressive-not-exactly-machine which has controlled East Bay politics in the 40 years I’ve lived here to have incumbents resign mid-term and to anoint their successors by getting them appointed to fill vacancies so they can run as incumbents. This isn’t always bad—that’s essentially how Barbara Lee got in, and she’s turned out to be great. But in Berkeley we’ve had more than a quarter century of the Bates/Hancock family dynasty in City Hall and Sacramento, and this charter change is designed to continue their control of the process. 

Here’s the analysis of a long-time observer of Berkeley politics who doesn’t want to be quoted by name: 

“This item is intended to amend the Charter to give the Council the right to appoint the Mayor or a Council seat if there is a vacancy prior to the expiration of the term. Right now the Charter says if there is a vacancy in the office of Mayor or Council member and there is less than a year left in the term a majority of the Council can appoint a successor. Otherwise a special election would have to be called or it would be consolidated into the general municipal or statewide election.  

“We are a charter city and can set our own standards on filling vacancies, so we don’t need to change the law to conform to any state practices. The Berkeley Charter was written explicitly to lean on the side of giving the voters the choice of selecting their Mayor or Councilmember, not to let a group of political insiders select the person. 

“The Mayor's plan is to change the Charter so he can resign and the Council majority can appoint Capitelli before the 2016 election.” 

That would give Bates’ choice, most likely Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, the huge, almost unbeatable advantage of incumbency in that election. 

Makes sense to me. The mayor is getting on (he’ll be 76 next week) and his wife, State Senator Loni Hancock, will be termed out in 2016, when she’ll be 76 and he’ll be 78. Why would he want to run in 2016? And if he’s not going to run, why stick around for two more years? 

But letting go of power is painful. Getting his man appointed as Berkeley mayor by the councilmembers he controls, instead of submitting the choice of a successor to the untrustworthy Berkeley voters, would be one last hurrah for someone whose whole life has been about political ambition. 

Can’t blame a guy for trying. 

As academics have learned to say in their grant applications: Further Research Necessary. You’re welcome to try to confirm or refute the analyses presented here. 






Odd Bodkins: Yesterday (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Saturday February 01, 2014 - 06:23:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Odd Bodkins: Football (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Saturday February 01, 2014 - 06:20:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

February Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Saturday February 01, 2014 - 06:27:00 PM

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

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

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

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 

Israel - the Peace Process

By Jagjit Singh
Friday January 31, 2014 - 04:00:00 PM

In a significant development, Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid stressed the urgent need to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. He warned that failure to do so could lead to a European boycott of the Jewish state seriously impacting exports, the loss of thousands of jobs, soaring inflation and internal unrest. The Institute of National Security, a Tel Aviv think tank, warned that “Israel’s economy is much more vulnerable than its national security.” EU foreign ministers dangled a large juicy carrot pledging “an unprecedented European political, economic and security support package” to both Israelis and Palestinians “in the context of a final status agreement.” This would be an unprecedented win-win for both sides of the conflict. The EU cautioned Israel that further settlement construction could jeopardize the EU offer. Mr. Lapid warned that failure to heed the EU strictures could isolate Israel from the EU and other trading partners - much like former apartheid South Africa. 

Lapid was also vehemently opposed to Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognized Israel as a Jewish state. He said this was merely a delaying tactic to forestall the peace process. Israel would be wise to seize the moment and accept the generous EU offer and embrace John Kerry’s brokered efforts in bringing about a final peaceful settlement to the festering Middle East conflict 


THE PUBLIC EYE: Obama Comes Out Fighting

By Bob Burnett
Friday January 31, 2014 - 03:44:00 PM

Many Democrats were nervous about President Obama’s 2014 State-of-the-Union Address. For the past three months – since the end of the government shutdown – the President made a series of mistakes and the odds of Democratic 2014 mid-term-election victories diminished. But Obama came out fighting and established seven themes that should help the Democratic cause. 

After declaring that the US is strong, the President said, “The question for everyone in this chamber… is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress.” “Let’s make this a year of action.” It set the tone; Obama promised to take action with or without Congress. 

At the end of his address, the President introduced Cory Remsburg, a terribly wounded Army Ranger. After reporting that Cory had said, “My recovery has not been easy… Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy,” Obama declared, “Men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy.” 

Obama set the frame for his address: he would work for America’s downtrodden with or without Congress. 

America does not stand still, and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.
The President laid out seven action themes. 

“Build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.” Rather than talk about inequality, Obama emphasized expanding opportunity. “The best measure of opportunity is access to a good job.” “Let’s work together to close [tax] loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home.” 

(Rather than offer specific proposals to increase opportunity, the Republican response to the State-of-the-Union, delivered by Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers chose to blame Obama, “The President’s policies are making people’s lives harder.) 

“Climate Change is a fact.” Obama declared that his “all of the above” energy policy has moved America close to energy independence and substantially reduced America’s total carbon pollution. He added, “I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.” 

(Representative Rodgers didn’t mention climate change or energy except to claim Republicans have a plan for “cheaper energy costs.”) 

“Fix our broken immigration system.” Obama noted, “Independent economist say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades.” 

(Representative Rodgers responded, “We're working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform by first securing our borders and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world.”) 

“Women deserve equal pay for equal work.” The President observed, “Women make up half of our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.” “This year let’s all come together, Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main street, to give every women the opportunity she deserves.” 

(Representative Rodgers didn’t comment.) 

“Give America a Raise.” Obama said, “Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.” He said that he would “issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour.” He called upon Congress to follow suit, noting, “Today the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here.” 

(Once again, Representative Rodgers didn’t discuss this subject.) 

We are fixing “a broken health care system.” The President vigorously defended the Affordable Care Act. He introduced a single mother who first got health insurance on January 1st and “On January 6th, she had emergency surgery.” Again, he threw down the gauntlet to Republicans: “If you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice, tell America what you’d do differently.” 

(Representative Rodgers responded, “We shouldn't go back to the way things were, but this law is not working. Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government's.”) 

“America must move off a permanent war footing.” Less than a quarter of the President’s State-of-the-Union address was devoted to foreign policy. Obama noted that by the end of the year America will complete its Afghanistan mission although “a small force” could remain if the Afghan Government signs a security agreement. 

The President had strong words about Iran, defending the negotiations to reduce Iran’s nuclear program. “If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.” “If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.” 

(Representative Rodgers didn’t discuss Iran or foreign policy, in general.) 

76 percent of those who viewed Obama’s speech gave it positive marks. The President was positive, action-oriented, and concrete. In contrast, Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers was negative, passive, and vague. Score one for Obama and the Democrats. It will be a long 10 months, but the 2014 mid-term election campaign is off to a good start. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Keeping Firearms From the Mentally Ill

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday January 31, 2014 - 04:05:00 PM

The Obama administration announced January 3, 2014 executive actions intended to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is proposing a rule whereby states can submit information on such people to the National Criminal Background Check System (NICS). 

Who would be prohibited from buying or owning firearms? In addition to felons and people convicted of domestic violence, a patient involuntarily committed to a mental institution along with those legally determined to be a danger to themselves or others, and those who lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs. 

Presently, those who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution, have been found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity, or otherwise have been determined through an adjudication process to have a severe mental condition, are already banned from owning guns. The cases are reported by the judiciary. 

Under certain provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) such reporting to NCIS would be prohibited. HIPAA protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information. HHS has published a notice of proposed rulemaking, which would permit certain HIPAA-covered entities from disclosing to the NICS the identities of persons prohibited by federal law from possessing or receiving a firearm for reasons related to mental health. 

These executive actions come in the wake of mass shootings. Consider the following mass shootings since April 2012: , on December 14, 2012, 20 were killed by Adam Lanza in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the 12 killed at the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, on September 27, 2012, Andrew Engeldinger killed five people at the Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, on August 5, 2012, Army veteran Wade Michael Page killed six Sikh temple members at Oak Creek, Wisconsin, on July 20, 2012, James Holmes killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, on May 29, 2012 Ian Stawicki killed five people at Cafe Racer Espresso in Seattle, on April 6, 2012, Jake England and Alvin Watts killed five black men in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and on April 2, 2012, One L. Goh killed seven people at Oikos University in Oakland. 

Why an executive action rather than Congressional action? Because Congress failed to pass legislation strengthening background checks; to ban dozens of military-style assault weapons; to stiffen penalties for “straw purchasers,” and to limit the size of ammunition magazines. 

The president's only alternative is executive action. 

This executive action should not run afoul of the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court in District of Columbia V. Heller held that Americans have a Second Amendment right to "keep and bear arms." However, this does not mean that federal and state governments cannot pass and enforce gun control laws. In fact, most gun control laws have been found to be valid after the Supreme Court decision. 

The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution prevents the federal government from mandating state participation. In order to improve state reporting, federal grants and state laws that require state agencies to report will be needed. 

However, it should be noted that most people who commit violent acts are not mentally ill, and the vast majority of people with a mental illness are no more violent than anyone else. To suggest otherwise tends to stigmatize the mentally ill. 

Once on any government "list," it is not always easy to get off. At the very least, the restoration of such individuals' right to buy or own firearms should come after a qualified clinician has determined the person is unlikely to relapse or become a danger to himself or others. 

While this executive action addresses the problem of the mentally ill buying or owning firearms, Congress still need to pass reasonable federal gun control legislation. 

Those who support or oppose this executive action can submit comments by March 10, 2014.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Burning Bridges vs. Building Them

By Jack Bragen
Friday January 31, 2014 - 04:01:00 PM

When someone receives a diagnosis that they are mentally ill, often they lose a number of their friends. Many people, it seems, do not want to associate with someone who has a mental illness. If the illness has caused someone to behave in ways that people can't accept, that person could lose more friends. 

Having some type of mental health diagnosis is more socially acceptable than it was in the past. However, there are still numerous people who will shun a mentally ill person, as if the person was an unwholesome creature. In some cases, we are regarded much as criminals would be. 

A person with mental illness may have to live without benefiting from the lifetime friendships that some other people cherish. This is very painful, especially since we didn't bring the illness on ourselves. 

For some, a mental illness can bring some level of inconsistency, in which appointments are missed or in which we show up late for things--or even impolitely early. A person with mental illness may require extra sick days in their job. 

Absences from a job because of being too depressed to work that day do not go over well with 99 percent of employers. This is so including in instances where someone has disclosed their illness to the employer. Thus, a person with mental illness, if they need a day off, must fabricate a cold, flu, or food poisoning. This is a bit unfair because mental illness is also an illness, and it would be nice if employers were more understanding about that. They typically believe that if you're depressed you "ought to work anyway," because "no one feels like coming in if they don't have to…" 

How does this connect? Because it causes a person with mental illness to burn their bridges with many of their employers--increasing the number of people to whom one can not go back. 

When someone has a past relationship with a girlfriend or boyfriend that didn't end on ideal terms, it is another source of people to whom one can not return. Persons with mental illness are not always as proficient at handling a relationship. Relationships may not last as long and may have a messier breakup compared to non-afflicted people. (This is not to say that all persons with mental illness can't handle relationships, there are many who can. And this is not to say, either, that persons without a mental illness are usually great at relationships. Relationships are a source of contention for anyone, with or without a psychiatric condition.) 

Thus, there are many places, people and things to which we can't return. Some of this is caused by people's ignorant hatred of someone different. Some of it is brought about by behavior caused by the illness--behavior that people do not understand. 

Mental illness has probably been in existence for thousands of years, and yet people still seem to be perplexed by it. Advances in medical science that allow us to have some limited understanding of mental illness have only been made in the past five decades. Before that, a mentally ill person was simply "mad," "the town idiot," or perhaps someone unable to survive. 

In the not too distant past, the subject of mental illnesses was not welcome in conversation. If someone had an aunt or cousin with schizophrenia, the relative was never talked about. 

The above two paragraphs might explain why people are now just beginning to get a clue about the problems, the needs, and the very existence of people with mental illness. This could, in the near future, lead to persons with mental illness becoming more accepted, and more often forgiven for problems of the illness that are some of the time beyond our control. 

My books for sale on Amazon, including but not limited to "Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia; a Self Help Manual," can be accessed by clicking here.

Arts & Events

AROUND & ABOUT THEATER: 'Ubu' at Cuttting Ball

By Ken Bullock
Friday January 31, 2014 - 03:53:00 PM

"Äfter us, the Savage God." Young W. B. Yeats' melancholy pronouncement, the morning after one of the notable theater riots that took place periodically in Paris, from the heyday of Victor Hugo in the 1830s through 'Rite of Spring' & Picabia & Satie's 'Mercure', well into the 20th century, was handwringing over the implications of what 'Ubu Roi,' which opened & closed December 10, 1893, seemingly a mad farce by a 23-year old Alfred Jarry, pumped up from a scatologically-spoken schoolboy puppet show he & his friends put on in lycee to gig an unpopular teacher. (Yeats mentions the actors playing leapfrog onstage.)  

In retrospect, 'Úbu's' been called the predecessor of Dada & the postwar, post-surrealist theater dubbed Absurdist--the first completely modern play. Starting out as a puerile parody of 'Macbeth' & a little bit of 'Hamlet' (the opening word, "Merdre,"at which the audience erupted as the pear-shaped hero waved his toilet rush imperiously, is a schoolboy combo of "le Mot de Cambron" with a bad English class reading of "Murder most foul" from Hamlet's Father's Ghost), 'Ubu' descends or ascends into inspired nonsense, as the Entire Polish Army invades the Tsar's Russia, is outflanked by a rebellion at home ... Epic stuff for a mere handful of actors who play the part, at times, of such masses. 

Jarry, though, had a deep knowledge of Baroque & German & French Romantic theater (Apollinaire called him "the last sublime debauchee of the Renaissance), & well knew how to turn conventions on their head for a purpose. He had played the part of a troll in Ibsen's 'Peer Gynt' & took the kind of foolish bourgeois speech Ibsen took from Kierkegaard's sense of banal "drivel," carrying it through the scatological realm to a kind of Symbolist purity of anality: "Cliches are the armature of the Absolute."  

He also acquired from his fellow Breton, Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, poet whose plays influenced Ibsen, Strindberg & the whole Symbolist tradition, as well as sharing the fascination for a traditional Celtic character, a bombast & bore like Ubu (or Villiers' Tribulat Bonhomet), but one who can come forth with sublime absurdity, as did mad King Sweeney of the old Irish stories, who thinks he's a bird & sings exquisite tragic songs of his ludicrous fate, nesting in trees. T. S. Eliot & Flann O'Brien both appropriated Sweeney for their own as well.  

'Ubu' is seldom performed, though it's attracted attention, particularly in the music world, with the eponymous bad & the longtime interest the late Frank Zappa displayed in the big puppet-headed freak. 

But Cutting Ball Theater's putting on a production the next three weeks, directed by Russian director Yury Umov (Woolly Mammoth Theatre), from a new translation by Cutting Ball's Rob Melrose, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, with matinees Saturday at 2, sunday at 5, through February 23, Exit Theater on Taylor, 227 Taylor, san francisco (near Powell St. BART, not far off Union Square), $20-$50, with free student rush, line open 30 minutes before show. Check out what Ubu's about, presumably without the Fin-de-Siecle riot.

AROUND & ABOUT THEATER: A Note on Jovelyn Richards & Luisah Teich at la Pena

By Ken Bullock
Friday January 31, 2014 - 03:50:00 PM

Jovelyn Richards, an original kind of solo artist (backed up by her band & chorus), one who makes a new kind of cabaret or vaudeville from the African-american tradition of storytelling, did something unusual by combining forces with Luisah Teich for an encounter between one of Jovelyn's alter egos, Mz. Pat, brothel madam who helps heal the community around her, & Teich's Voudou Queen, modeled after Marie laval, visiting Mz. Pat.at a moment of tension over discrimination & murder in Cleveland, 'In the House of the Mothers,' staged one night at La Pena last week. 

After the invocation of women of color of past times by Teich, as their portraits glowed above the stage, Mz. Pat took to the boards, half telling us, half talking to herself in melancholy tones about warning a close friend, perhaps lover, a black doctor, of the danger he's in, over the dinner table she now clears while thinking back just a day or so—knowing he's now dead, but killed by another from their own community, The Woman Who Was Backwards, a new character for Jovelyn, of whom more to come ... 

After a comedic—a very funny—turn with a—literally—old character, the 103 Ms. Lucy, Jovelyn was joined onstage by the Voudou Queen, Teich helping to clear the air & pedicting the future for The Backwards Woman & a few audience members, bookending what amounted to a work-in-progress by Jovelyn, which hopefully we'll see more of soon, one in which she sounded a different note in a minor key, both thematically & in her evolving style of performance.

The PORNOGRAPHER’ DAUGHTER is entertaining and The Real McCoy

By John A. McMullen II
Friday January 31, 2014 - 04:36:00 PM

The PORNOGRAPHER’ DAUGHTER at lives up to its name. Liberty Bradford Mitchell is the real thing: daughter of Artie Mitchell, who with his brother won the Cannes Film Festival Award for the ground-breaking “Behind the Green Door,” and who ran the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Street theatre that earned a “must see” in Playboy Magazine back in the day. 

Liberty is the survivor of a crazy-ass childhood, viewing porn when she was in grade school, in a world of reefer and coke and free love and loony people all around.  

Her mismatched parents—her mom the black sheep of a Eastern Establishment family who ran away to the Summer of Love, and her infamous dad, the son of a Okie poker player—lead off her story of her upbringing in a wildly contradictory, counterculture universe.  

The climax is the events and trial of the murder of Artie by his brother Jim. Her story is not unlike a distaff Hamlet, and invokes the lines, “I, the son of a dear father murder'd, / Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, / Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words, /And fall a-cursing, like a very drab, / A scullion! 

Video by Skye Borgman is used expertly in a blend of her childhood photos with her family and clips of X-rated movies including the famous one with the with Marilyn Chambers-- the girl on the Ivory Snow box turned porn star 

Producer/designer Jeff set has just enough to evoke the mood and for practical movement including the brilliant touch of a scarlet/purple plush seat encircling a round pillar onstage; stage right there a looming and provocative Green Door. His lights are the greatest. They follow her expertly, and transport you to the interior of that famous place at the corner of O’Farrell & Larkin—with which this reviewer was all-too-familiar in his younger days. 

The band is named “The Fluffers” and the joke was not lost on the rowdy bourgeois/bohemian crowd (if you don’t know what a “fluffer” is, maybe this show isn’t for you—or maybe you need to see it to round out your cultural education—anyway): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluffer They were perfect accompanists, getting the crowd in the mood, and providing emphasis for Liberty, and backing her on the one song she sang with a trained, talented, and heartbreaking voice.  

Our star is a very pretty and wholesome 43-year old blonde mom who looks younger with sparkling blue eyes and rounded features. She is a graceful, compelling and sexy dancer, and we keep hoping for the next time she takes a turn. When she sings the one song, we hear a soulful and talented voice. 

But she’s not an actress. If this wasn’t her show, you wouldn’t want to see her up there. In this auto-biopic she pokes fun and nearly everything in her life while letting a little pain seep through, but still it is presentation in an overdone fashion. Which is probably good for us, because putting the gloss on this Cain and Abel family story with a seamy underbelly makes it good fun and palatable while the lascivious side seduces us into having a damn good time. The l’envoi about her work with women is misplaced and undoes the tone which needs an uplifting end rather than a moral about this seemingly amoral time and enterprise. 

While Director Michael T. Weiss does an excellent job of staging, developing a non-actress into an off-handed and realistic delivery requires a diligent coaching that most directors aren’t equipped to do which was not obvious in the final product. 

In another incarnation, and I think this show “has legs,” we hope that the delivery gets more polished and more of her soulful singing is integrated.  

No matter my picayune comments, it is a great story, a rousing good time chock full of Bay Area history and plenty of erotica and an fun weekend happening with shows at 8 and 10 pm. 

Z-Space (Z-Below Theatre) 

at 450 Florida @16th St. 

San Francisco CA