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Student Who Posted Racist Threat at Berkeley High Discovered

Scott Morris (BCN)
Thursday November 05, 2015 - 06:11:00 PM

Berkeley High School administrators have found the student who posted racist threats to a library computer on Wednesday that prompted a massive walkout at the school this morning, a school district spokesman said.

The threats, found on a library computer at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, included several racial slurs, statements of support for the Ku Klux Klan and a specific threat of public lynching on Dec. 9.

Technology workers at the school worked quickly to gather evidence identifying the student, who was located this afternoon and brought in for an interview with school principal Sam Pasarow, district spokesman Mark Coplan said. When confronted with the evidence, the student confessed, he said. 

Administrators do not think that the student actually intended to commit any violence and there was no particular significance to the date of Dec. 9. School administrators are considering what disciplinary action to take, including possibly expulsion, and will turn over their findings to Berkeley police, Coplan said. 

More than half of the students at Berkeley High School walked out of class to protest the threats this morning. Between 1,500 and 2,000 of the school's roughly 3,100 students left class and marched to the University of California campus, Coplan said. 

Photos and video on social media showed students holding "Black Lives Matter" signs and screaming in outrage as speakers quoted the posted threats. 

The students who walked out will not face disciplinary action and in fact were joined by principal Sam Pasarow and two district board members, who were supportive of the students' actions, Coplan said. 

"We're really proud of our students, we think they did a great job in taking back the power that was really taken away from them (Wednesday)," Coplan said. Most of the students returned to class after the protest, he said. Pasarow said in a statement posted to the school's website Wednesday evening, "This is a hate crime and messages such as this one will not stand in our community." 

"We are working hard to create a positive and inclusive school culture and we recognize the deep pain and rage that hate crimes such as this one bring to our students of color, as well as the damaging effects on our entire community," Pasarow said. 

One speaker at today's demonstration said the response from Pasarow only came after emails and posts from the school's Black Student Union. The group drew a connection between the threats posted Wednesday and the recall of the school's yearbook in June because of derogatory messages about the school's Academy of Medicine and Public Service, which has a large portion of black and Hispanic students. 

The students also pointed out that a noose was discovered on the campus last year. 

"In the past acts of terror committed against the black student body have been ignored," Black Student Union members said in a statement. "We will not allow this to be trivialized like these other horrific instances."

Flash: Hundreds of Berkeley High Students Walk Out over Racist Threats

Scott Morris (BCN), Planet
Thursday November 05, 2015 - 12:32:00 PM

Update from BPD at 1:05 pm: Group has now returned to Berkeley High School campus.

Update from BPD: Group is now on the move again in area south of UC Berkeley campus. Heading westbound Bancroft from Telegraph Avenue toward Berkeley High.

Hundreds of students walked out of Berkeley High School this morning to protest threats of violence against black students and statements of support for the Ku Klux Klan found posted to a library computer on Wednesday afternoon, according to social media posts.

After a rally at Berkeley's old City Hall, adjacent to the BHS campus,students marched up Channing to Telegraph and ended up on Dwinelle Plaza at the UC Berkeley Campus, according to the Berkeley Police Department's post on the Nixle.com website. The BPD estimated that 700 people were at the earlier demonstration. Photos and video on social media showed students holding "Black Lives Matter" signs and screaming in outrage as speakers quoted the posted threats.

The messages include several racial slurs, threats of lynching and a specific threat of public lynching on Dec. 9, according to screenshots of the threat posted online. 

Berkeley High principal Sam Pasarow said in a statement posted to the school's website Wednesday evening, "This is a hate crime and messages such as this one will not stand in our community. 

"We are working hard to create a positive and inclusive school culture and we recognize the deep pain and rage that hate crimes such as this one bring to our students of color, as well as the damaging effects on our entire community," Pasarow said. 

He said the investigation into who posted the threats would involve the Berkeley Police Department and urged anyone with information to come forward. 

One speaker at today's demonstration said the response from Pasarow only came after emails and posts from the school's Black Student Union. 

The group drew a connection between the threats posted Wednesday to the recall of the school's yearbook in June because of derogatory messages about the school's Academy of Medicine and Public Service, which has a large portion of black and Hispanic students. 

The students also pointed out that a noose was discovered on the campus last year. 

"In the past acts of terror committed against the black student body have been ignored," Black Student Union members said in a statement. "We will not allow this to be trivialized like these other horrific instances." 

The school is asking anyone with information about the source of the threats to contact the school at (510) 644-6121. 

Racist, Threatening Messages Found on Berkeley High Computer

Scott Morris (BCN)
Thursday November 05, 2015 - 12:52:00 PM

Threats of violence against black students and statements of support for the Ku Klux Klan were found posted to a library computer at Berkeley High School on Wednesday afternoon, according to school officials. 

The posted messages include several racial slurs, threats of lynching and a specific threat of public lynching on Dec. 9, according to screenshots of the threat posted online. 

Berkeley High principal Sam Pasarow said in a statement posted to the school's website Wednesday evening, "This is a hate crime and messages such as this one will not stand in our community. 

"We are working hard to create a positive and inclusive school culture and we recognize the deep pain and rage that hate crimes such as this one bring to our students of color, as well as the damaging effects on our entire community," Pasarow said. 

He said the investigation into who posted the threats would involve the Berkeley Police Department and urged anyone with information to come forward. 

A statement from the school's Black Student Union drew connections between the threats posted Wednesday to the recall of the school's yearbook in June because of derogatory messages about the school's Academy of Medicine and Public Service, which has a large portion of black and Hispanic students. 

The students also pointed out that a noose was discovered on the campus last year. 

"In the past acts of terror committed against the black student body have been ignored," Black Student Union members said in a statement. "We will not allow this to be trivialized like these other horrific instances." 

The school is asking anyone with information about the source of the threats to contact the school at (510) 644-6121.

Racist, Threatening Messages Found on Berkeley High Computer

Scott Morris (BCN)
Thursday November 05, 2015 - 12:52:00 PM

Threats of violence against black students and statements of support for the Ku Klux Klan were found posted to a library computer at Berkeley High School on Wednesday afternoon, according to school officials. 

The posted messages include several racial slurs, threats of lynching and a specific threat of public lynching on Dec. 9, according to screenshots of the threat posted online. 

Berkeley High principal Sam Pasarow said in a statement posted to the school's website Wednesday evening, "This is a hate crime and messages such as this one will not stand in our community. 

"We are working hard to create a positive and inclusive school culture and we recognize the deep pain and rage that hate crimes such as this one bring to our students of color, as well as the damaging effects on our entire community," Pasarow said. 

He said the investigation into who posted the threats would involve the Berkeley Police Department and urged anyone with information to come forward. 

A statement from the school's Black Student Union drew connections between the threats posted Wednesday to the recall of the school's yearbook in June because of derogatory messages about the school's Academy of Medicine and Public Service, which has a large portion of black and Hispanic students. 

The students also pointed out that a noose was discovered on the campus last year. 

"In the past acts of terror committed against the black student body have been ignored," Black Student Union members said in a statement. "We will not allow this to be trivialized like these other horrific instances." 

The school is asking anyone with information about the source of the threats to contact the school at (510) 644-6121.

Berkeley Police Seek Fleeing Burglar

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Thursday November 05, 2015 - 12:50:00 PM

Police are looking for a suspect who allegedly burglarized a home and then fled from an officer in Berkeley this morning, a police spokesman said. 

Police received a report of the burglary at 9:32 a.m. in the 2700 block of Regent Street near Willard Middle School, Berkeley police spokesman Officer Byron White said. 

A resident arrived to find the suspect stealing things from the home, White said. 

Officers are describing the suspect as a black man in his 40s. He was carrying a guitar and a television, White said. 

The first officers to arrive spotted a blue four-door Acura with the trunk open on Derby Street, White said. 

The officers turned on the police vehicle's lights and sirens to stop the Acura, but the driver did not stop and instead fled south on College Avenue. The officers lost sight of the car near Ashby Avenue, White said.

Homeless Task Force Proposal Represents a Consensus of Community (Public Comment)

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin
Tuesday November 03, 2015 - 09:40:00 PM

I have a great deal of respect for Carol Denney and all of her work over the years as an advocate for the homeless and for social justice. However, I have some disagreement with her characterization of my proposal on the Homeless Task Force recommendations coming to the Berkeley City Council on November 17th.  

In the wake of 2012’s Measure S, I proposed that the City convene a task force to bring together community stakeholders to discuss and develop solutions to homelessness. I felt that Measure S was a reactive proposal that did not develop real solutions to reduce homelessness, and that there were real issues to discuss. In the summer of 2013, I convened the first meeting of the Berkeley Homeless Task Force at a meeting attended by roughly 100 people. Over the following two years, hundreds of Berkeley residents (homeless persons, service providers, business owners, city commissioners, faith leaders, students and others) participated in a series of meetings focusing on not only specific segments of Berkeley’s homeless population, but also on identified needs of the homeless. 

Towards the end of the first phase of the Task Force, we held a series of meetings in which the Task Force members reviewed the Homeless Task Force report (click on a link here to read the report), prioritized the different recommendations into Tier 1 (short term) and Tier 2 (long term) and reached a consensus about approving the report. Carol Denney actively participated in these sessions and provided valuable input into the report.  

We did include at her suggestion a section on “Criminalization of the Homeless” because we felt it was important to speak out against laws and enforcement that target homeless people and further escalate the cycle of poverty and trauma.  

Since the Task Force report was written in May of this year, Ms. Denney correctly points out in her recent opinion piece (“Council Member Arreguin's Report Distorts Homeless Task Force Work”) that both the federal Department of Justice, in a court case out of Utah, and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development have issued statements urging cities to not pass laws criminalizing natural human acts such as sleeping and carrying possessions. HUD has said federal funds will be reduced for cities that pass such laws, putting Berkeley and Alameda County in a position to lose needed federal funds to address homelessness.  

Also on the same night (Tuesday, November 17th) that the Homeless Task Force report will be voted on, the Berkeley City Council will be considering two proposals from Council member Linda Maio which will further criminalize the homeless. While I do not agree with Ms. Denney that the report “distorts” or “misrepresents” the work of the Task Force, I do think she has a good point in recommending that my proposal should include the recommendations on criminalization. Based on her suggestion I will be amending my proposal to also prioritize the recommendations on criminalization.  

I appreciate the work of everyone who has participated in the Task Force process, including Ms. Denney. Both my staff and I have spent hundreds of hours on this process because we care and want to find compassionate approaches that will end homelessness, rather than divisive proposals like Measure S. All of us put a lot of faith in this process, and put a great deal of time, energy and good ideas on the table. I think we came up with a visionary, thoughtful proposal that can help significantly reduce homelessness in our city.  

At a time when this problem is worse than ever, we should be focusing on real solutions, not on passing misguided laws. I think it is critical that the Homeless Task Force report come for an up or down vote on November 17th. The Council should have a thoughtful, positive approach to consider, not simply reactive measures which will cause harm and not solve the problem.  

Patient No More: Celebrating the Disabled Rights Movement's Historic 1977 Sit-in (Events)

Gar Smith
Tuesday November 03, 2015 - 11:53:00 AM

Runs until December 18 at Berkeley's Ed Roberts Campus (3075 Adeline St.) at the Ashby BART Station

There are many iconic moments in the history of the US civil rights struggle. There was the Pettus Bridge. There was Stonewall. There was Sproul Hall. And then there was the Section 504 Sit-in that took over a government building in San Francisco.

If you aren't familiar with the last historic watershed, the Section 504 Sit-in marks the day in April 1977 when more than 150 disabled men and women did something unheard of. On crutches and in wheelchairs, they converged on the US Federal Building, struggled up to the fourth floor and began a 25-day sit-in at the office of the Health, Education, and Welfare department to demand that the Carter Administration implement a four-year-old law protecting the rights of people with disabilities.




If you think it's an inconvenience to spend a single night on the hard floor of a federal office building, imagine doing it for nearly a month. Now imagine that you arrived at the sit-in courtesy of a wheelchair. 

The protesters didn't bring food to last for a month-long siege so they were supplied by supporters on the outside—including the Black Panthers, who showed up with home-cooked meals. 

The sit-in galvanized disabled Americans across the nation and is still remembered as "the heart and soul of the disability rights movement." 

The specific target was Section 504 of a 1973 law intended to guarantee the rights of people with disabilities. Finally, on April 28, 1977 (with disabled activists still holding their ground in the Federal Building), HEW Secretary Joseph A. Califano signed the Section 504 regulations—a major victory on the path to passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which provided full protections against discrimination. 

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA. 

The staff at the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University spent three years sifting through the archives of UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library compiling rare photos, newsletters, leaflets and protest buttons. The resulting exhibit, "Patient No More: People with Disabilities Securing Civil Rights," serves as a fitting tribute to the rightly impatient disabled crusaders who staged a sit-in that got America to sit-up and take notice. 

The exhibition, mounted on a collection of rolling walls, displays photos and rare momentos from the 70s, along with antique office furniture and artifacts from that disabled-insensitive era. The displays (which fill the lobby of the Ed Robert Campus) offer stunning—and occasionally emotional—evocations of the challenges that lead to the "Section 504 Sit-in," a remarkable but previously overlooked moment in U.S. history. 

In addition to the printed material, the exhibits also feature video screens that come alive at the touch of a button with background information on the sit-in, scenes from the extended occupation, reports on the spread of other protests across the country, moments of political theater, interviews with occupiers and activists, "untold stories" and, finally, "victory speeches and protest songs." (See video clips below for one of these enthusiastic hand-signed sing-alongs.) 

A quote from organizer Kitty Cone, emblazoned on one of the exhibit panels, reads: "In the face of government ignorance, we persisted and won." In another quote, activist leader Judy Heumann recalls how "blind people, deaf people, wheelchair users, disabled veterans, people with developmental and psychiatric disabilities and many others, all came together. . . . We overcame years of parochialism." Also on display is a popular campaign button that insists: "Nothing about us, without us." 

If you are planning a visit, first check with the campus calendar since the exhibit is sometimes moved into temporary storage to allow for other public events. 

To access the Ed Roberts Campus Patient No More audio description track, click here. For the traveling exhibit audio description, click here

We Shall Not Be Moved 

ASL interpreting by Sherry Hicks 


Patient No More: Opening Remarks 


Opening remarks by Catherine Kudlick, director of the Longmore Institute with featured appearances by several participants in the 1977 protests, inclulding Ron Washington, Jeff Moyer, Dennis Billups, Bruce Oka, and Corbett O'Toole. 

Traveling Exhibit 

In addition to the in-house exhibit, there is a separate traveling show that is bringing the story of the Section 504 Sit-in to communities around the Bay Area. Here is a list of the remaining venues: 

Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, November 4 - 12 

Contemporary Jewish Museum, November 15 

Notre Dame High School (SJ), November 16 - 30 

Marin County Office of Education, December 1 - 15

Coming up on the Berkeley City Council’s Agenda: November 17, homelessness, December 8, luxury housing project at 2211 Harold Way

Kelly Hammargren
Tuesday November 03, 2015 - 11:49:00 AM

As announced Monday, November 2, at the Berkeley City Council Agenda Committee, the hearing for all of the five 2211 Harold Way appeals is scheduled for December 8 at 6:00 pm. The location is not yet determined.  

Scheduled for November 17 City Council meeting is the first reading of Ordinance on Homelessness proposed by Councilmembers Linda Maio, Laurie Capitelli and Lori Droster. Additional services to be provided: 1) storage for personal belongings, 2) additional bathrooms 24/7 and mobile showers and bathrooms for public use. Disallowed: public urination and defecation, placement of carts in one location for more than 1 hour (must move to different block after an hour). The new ordinance on belongings and shopping carts is not supposed to go into effect until storage lockers are provided.  

Patti Wall and Osha Neumann spoke at the meeting against the proposed homelessordinances, pointing out that there is a new process for review of HUD grants. Cities that are reducing criminalization of homeless behaviors will receive points for higher consideration. Berkeley is going in the opposite direction by increasing criminalization of homelessness. There was no discussion of their comments by the agenda committee, and the meeting was adjourned at 2:45 pm, though it was scheduled to run until 3:30 pm.

Council Member Arreguin's Report Distorts Homeless Task Force Work (Public Comment)

Carol Denney
Monday November 02, 2015 - 09:42:00 AM

Years of work by the Homeless Task Force, a community-wide effort to make recommendations on issues of poverty and homelessness, is being misrepresented in a distorted report by Councilmember Arreguin on the Berkeley City Council's Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015 agenda.

The task force does support the recommendations now re-organized in the "tiered" priorities, but the most obvious, most important, most cost-effective recommendation, to vacate municipal laws that criminalize homelessness and poverty, is now buried and literally de-prioritized despite not only being cost-free but a cost-saving measure for our city and county. 

Both the Department of Justice and Housing and Urban Development have issued statements recommending not only that laws which criminalize natural human acts such as sleeping and carrying belongings are constitutional violations, but that grant funding will be reduced to cities which have such laws on their books. Surely Councilmember Arreguin should recognize this priority, which is changing the dialogue nationally on homelessness and poverty. 

The community-wide voices which put long hours into this report deserve respect. Request that Councilmember Arreguin withdraw the report until such time as its priorities reflect the work of the consensus group that produced it.

Three Arrested and One Hospitalized after Fight near UC Berkeley

By Bay City News
Sunday November 01, 2015 - 11:48:00 AM

Three suspects were arrested and one man was taken to a hospital when police responded to a report of a fight in a crowded area near student housing in Berkeley early this morning. 

Officers dispatched to the vicinity of Channing Way and Piedmont Avenue around 12:30 a.m. found an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people "milling about" the area - which is near numerous sororities and fraternities as well as the University of California, Berkeley campus. 

Andrew Rateaver, an on-duty watch commander with the Berkeley Police Department, said officers received several reports of guns and knives being involved in the fight.  

One victim suffered moderate injuries and was transported to a hospital. Three suspects were arrested, according to Rateaver. 

Early reports described the incident as a riot, but Rateaver said it was mostly just a large group of students and other people out celebrating for Halloween.  

"I wouldn't go so far as to call it a riot," Rateaver said.  

"These were party goers who were coming out of parties and remaining on the streets," he said. "The downside of that was that there were several thousand of them." 

Officers were in the vicinity specifically to respond to a reported fight, according to Rateaver. No dispersal order was given to the crowd, and it wasn't declared an unlawful assembly.  

"The crowd remained in the area and they were there for a while," Rateaver said. 

Police have received reports of property damage nearby, and there may be additional victims who have not yet filed reports. There were no fires or overturned vehicles, however, Rateaver said.

Flash: This Just In: Rowdy Whiteboys Acting Up Again at UC Berkeley

Becky O'Malley
Sunday November 01, 2015 - 09:25:00 AM

The conjunction of a lingering supermoon, a football game and Halloween seems to have produced a traditional testosterone-and-alcohol-fueled uproar on Berkeley's Fraternity Row last night, reminiscent of the popular "panty raids" of my youth (well,other people's youth in my time frame). The local blogisphere called it a "huge riot" (Berkeley police respond to huge Southside riot), though not much actual damage or illegal activity of any kind were reported by the Berkeley police, who turned out in large numbers wearing their trademark scary outfits to join the fun.

"No, I would not call it a riot,"Officer Andrew Rateaver of the Berkeley Police Department told me this morning. He said it was between three and five thousand people who all got out of parties at the same time shortly after midnight, producing a few fights, one assault charge and one "medical contact". Nothing political about it, he said.

The Nixle.com website, to which I subscribe because it's supposed to report police activity in Berkeley, has said nothing yet about the event.

This sort of thing has been going on in college towns for a long time now. It was worse in the 14th Century.

Wikipedia reports:

"The St Scholastica Day riot of 10 February 1355, is one of the more notorious events in the history of Oxford, England.[1] Sparked off by a tavern dispute between two students and a taverner, the riot lasted two days and resulted in a large number of deaths among local citizens and students. The ensuing pacification led to a reinforcement and enlargement of the privileges and liberties of the academic institutions over the town." 


Updated: Citizens and Applicant Appeal Downtown Project Approvals to the Berkeley City Council

Becky O'Malley
Friday October 30, 2015 - 03:42:00 PM

Multiple appeals were filed on Tuesday to decisions by the Berkeley Zoning Adjustment Board and the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission to allow construction of a complex of three structures, the tallest of which would be more than 18 stories high, on the landmarked site of the Shattuck Hotel and the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas. There would be more than 300 market rate apartments in the project, but no on-site affordable or low-income units. 

Citizen appellants are asking the Berkeley City Council to overrule the decisions of the lower bodies, ZAB and LPC. Incorporated in the appeals are challenges to the Zoning Adjustment Board's vote to certify the Environmental Impact Report on the proposed project which the applicants offered, which appellants contend does not adequately inform commissioners of environmental harm which the projects might cause. 

Appellants include the Landmark Legal Action Fund, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition and the Berkeley Unified School District, along with several other organizations such as the Berkeley Gray Panthers, Save Shattuck Cinemas, the Peace and Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and more than a hundred individual Berkeley citizens who co-signed one or more of the appeals. 

The project, which has been named The Residences at Berkeley Plaza, is using the address of 2211 Harold Way, but the longest facade of the conjoined buildings would be along Shattuck at the corner of Kittredge, with some construction underneath the historic hotel itself, part of which would be demolished if the plan goes through. 

Another appeal was filed by the project applicant's representative, Mark Rhoades of the Rhoades Planning Group, who is a former City of Berkeley Planning Department employee. 

Below is the complete list of appeals filed, along with the names of the people who delivered the appeal documents to the Berkeley City Clerk's office. The office has not yet announced when the appeals will be heard at the City Council. 


Appellant - LPC
John McBride – LPC Appeal Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association 

Kelly Hammargren – LPC Appeal Sustainable Berkeley 

Save Shattuck Cinemas 

Gray Panthers, Berkeley 

Peace and Justice Committee, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship 

Additional Named Individuals 

Charlene M. Woodcock – LPC Appeal Landmark Legal Action 

Appellant - ZAB
Clarissa Canady & Deidree Sakai – ZAB Appeal Dannis Woliver Kelley Law Firm on behalf of the Berkeley Unified School District 

Mark Rhoades – ZAB Appeal Rhoades Planning Group 


Kate Harrison & James Hendry – ZAB Appeal Additional Named Individuals 

Margot Smith – ZAB Appeal 


Charlene M. Woodcock – ZAB Appeal Landmark Legal Action 

Additional Named Individuals 

Kelly Hammargren – ZAB Appeal Sustainable Berkeley 

Save Shattuck Cinemas 

Gray Panthers, Berkeley 

Peace and Justice Committee, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship 

Additional Named Individuals 

Copies of the appeal documents can be found here: 













U.C. Berkeley Police Warn about Drugging at Frats

Daniel Montes (BCN)
Friday October 30, 2015 - 02:42:00 PM

Campus police are reminding students at University of California at Berkeley to take precautions in light of a recent alleged drugging at the school. On Thursday, campus police said they received a report that one or more individuals may have been drugged at one of the school's fraternities. 

Campus police recommend that anyone who may been victimized after being drugged should seek medical treatment and should also consider filing a police report. 

"We encourage students to be cautious and use good personal safety tips," Berkeley police Officer Jennifer Coats said in an email. "If a victim wishes to come forward we ask that they please contact us." 

In order to reduce the risk of getting drugged, campus police recommend students do not leave drinks unattended at social gatherings. Also, students should be wary of accepting drinks from people they do not know very well. Students should also try pouring their own drinks and avoid sharing drinks with others, campus police said. 

If anyone believes they or a their friend may have been drugged, symptoms to look for include dizziness and nausea, memory loss, breathing or motion difficulties and acting disproportionately intoxicated relative to the amount of alcohol consumed, according to campus police. 



Things That Go Bump in the Night, Oakland and Berkeley Division

Becky O'Malley
Friday October 30, 2015 - 02:19:00 PM

From ghoulies and ghosties / And long-leggedy beasties / And things that go bump in the night, / Good Lord, deliver us!

With Halloween upon us, let’s talk about fear.

First, let’s reprise my traditional sermon about dangers to kids from malevolent neighbors. I’m making my traditional offer of a hundred bucks to anyone who can prove that a child was harmed by what a stranger gave them on Halloween (unless, of course, you’re the stranger who did the deed). I’ve been making this offer for at least 40 years, and no one has ever claimed it. It’s what the professor in my Cal folklore class called an urban legend. In fact, it now is Number Three on the list of the top 25 urban legends as reported by Snopes.com.

The most popular version of the story used to be that wicked homeowners put razor-blades in apples to injure children, but I haven’t heard that one for a while, probably because it never ever happened. In fact, at our house we usually offer kids apples, individual cookies and wrapped commercial candy, and it’s truly heartwarming to see how many are delighted to choose “real apples”.

Recently there’s been an ongoing discussion of a form of urban legend that’s more pernicious: racial profiling. A recent article in the East Bay Express described a local version:

Racial Profiling Via Nextdoor.com-- “White Oakland residents are increasingly using the popular social networking site to report ‘suspicious activity’about their Black neighbors — and families of color fear the consequences could be fatal.”

The story has spotlighted a great deal of justified concerned, especially among African-Americans and those of us who have Black family members and friends who visit our homes. A sizeable part of the response has been critical of NextDoor.com for airing the hysterical suspicions of some Oakland and Berkeley residents, but that seems to me to be killing the messenger who brings the bad news. 

To its credit, whatever its past history (brought up by some commenters on the Express site) NextDoor now requires participants to register and write using their real names (as do the Express and the Planet). This eliminates a lot of the really crazed racist ranting that you see on sites that allow pseudonyms, but it allows those who are sincere but misinformed prisoners of their fears of ghoulies and ghosties to be challenged by more stable correspondents. 

The fearful folks were around long before NextDoor. Years ago, we had our house painted by a musician friend, African-American. A well-intentioned neighbor, someone we didn’t know at the time, called the police to report that a Black man with a ladder was on our roof. What a waste of time and taxpayer’s money that was, especially because a couple of cops in a car came out to investigate. It would have been much better if that woman, who would never have considered herself racist, had posted her suspicions on something like NextDoor so we could have set her straight immediately. After that our musician/painter friend made sure to wear white coveralls on the job to signal professional status. 

After a link to the Express piece was posted on my local (southeast Berkeley) NextDoor site, close to a hundred people wrote in, most of them critical of those who posted the “suspicious” letters. One man offered to set up a face-to-face discussion in a public place, which seemed like a good idea, but the last time I checked I knew both of the people who like me signed up to participate, and if the meeting took place it would just be preaching to the choir, a confab of the like-minded. None of the fearful folk seemed to want to talk about their suspicions in person, perhaps because (one might hope) they’d already started to question their assumptions after reading the online dialogue and felt a bit embarrassed. 

The same kind of assumptions are directed not only at dark-skinned neighbors engaged in legitimate pursuits, but at “the homeless”, people who live on the street for a variety of reasons, chiefly poverty or mental illness. Some NextDoor correspondents (and yes, I know most of them) have initiated a discussion about whether it’s right to categorize street people on the basis of their eccentric appearance. 

At the last City Council meeting I was approached by a hard-to-parse fellow who takes an active role in public life despite the fact that he seems to live on the street shrouded in a huge sleeping bag and an exotic hat which almost covers his face. He knew my name (I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know his) and after complimenting me on my latest editorial (where does he see it online?) told me how disturbed he was by the NextDoor comments as reported by the Express. I wish I’d told him my favorite quote, from Justice Brandeis: “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” 

Speaking of policemen, however, the discussion gets more serious when the people who panic when they see a non-white person in an unexpected setting have guns. That would be the police, much in the news lately for sometimes fatal abuse of power, as effectively highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. 

A recent New York Times editorial laid out the most recent outrage: Political Lies About Police Brutality. It effectively demolished the totally bogus claim by the FBI Director, a man named James Comey, that “heightened scrutiny of police behavior — and fear of appearing in ‘viral videos’ — was leading officers to avoid confrontations with suspects. This, he said, may have contributed to an increase in crime.” 

Not only is there no data to support that contention, there’s plenty of data to prove the opposite. And those viral videos, while anecdotal in nature, are a powerful illustration of what the data shows as dry charts and spreadsheets. 

Sometimes fear is justified, sometimes not. The White lady in the Oakland hills who panics when she sees two Black guys sitting in their car on her block might learn not to jump to conclusions if she airs her fears on NextDoor and neighbors reassure her, though on the other hand the neighbors who read her post might instead succumb to mass hysteria. But the fear of police felt by most minority people, especially young men, and most justifiably African-American young men, is not hysterical, it’s reality-based: appropriate fear of an inappropriate reaction to imaginary threats. 

Halloween is a good time to reflect on the idea that fear has always been part of the human experience. It’s even possible to enjoy fear—my teenaged granddaughter is getting together with girlfriends to watch horror movies tonight. Fear of strangers, however, based on how they look or how they talk, has no place in the real life world of rational adults. Racial profiling, in its major and minor manifestations, is something all of us, including the police, need to unlearn, and the sooner the better. 

But I don’t think it’s a good idea to ask that NextDoor ban postings that amount to racial profiling. I think it’s much better to let the fearful put their anxieties on the line, and then to allow the more judicious and better-informed amongst us to explain to them, patiently and politely, where and how they’re off base. More light, less heat, always a good idea. 

The Editor's Back Fence

Letters I Never Finished Reading

From Ted Cruz
Thursday October 29, 2015 - 02:59:00 PM


I am declaring war on the liberal media, and I need to ask a personal favor from you.

Will you chip in $35 or $50 to my Post-Debate $1 Million Dollar Money Bomb to show the media we're dead serious?

Public Comment

Searching for Solutions to Syria's Refugee Crisis

Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War
Friday October 30, 2015 - 02:31:00 PM

The conflict in Syria has driven more than 3 million Syrians from their homes. (Some estimates place the number at more than 4 million). Many refugees have fled to desolate camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Others have chosen to attempt a dangerous and costly trek by land and sea in hopes of finding new lives in Europe. As winter approaches, the flood of refugees threatens to overwhelm Europe and the Balkans. Other resettlement options may seem far-fetched but—with rising numbers of global refugees—new solutions are needed.

How about tent cities in Saudi Arabia?

How about high-rise apartments in China? 

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the armed conflict inside Syria has driven more than 3 million Syrians from their homes. (Some estimates place the number of refugees at more than 4 million). Many of these huddled masses now struggle to survive in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Others have chosen to attempt a dangerous and costly trek by land and sea in hopes of finding new lives in Europe. Meanwhile, another 6.5 million Syrians remain "internally displaced" within the embattled nation. 

Lebanon has admitted 1.3 million, Turkey is expected to host 1.9 million by year's end, Jordan has accepted more than one million and Germany has pledged to receive 800,000. The US (whose air strikes and arming of anti-Assad forces on the ground have aggravated the refugee crisis) has agreed to admit a mere 10,000. 

With Syria's neighbors, the Balkan States and European nations bearing the brunt of the desperate flood of refugees streaming out of Syria, mounting criticism has been directed at the Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. These oil-rich states of have been accused of ignoring the plight of Syria's displaced millions. Nadim Houry, Human Rights Watch deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, has called the inaction of the wealthy petro-states "shameful." 

The criticism seems especially apt in the case of the Saudi monarchy. The two major financial backers of the rebels fighting to overthrow Syria's elected leader, the brutal president Bashar al-Assad, are the United States and Saudi Arabia. 

Saudi Arabia, however, accuses its critics of lobbing "false and misleading" accusations, claiming its has opened its doors to 100,000 Syrians. The UAE has offered a similar rebuttal. But these claims are themselves somewhat misleading. The UNHCR estimates there may be as many as 500,000 Syrians in Saudi Arabia—but they are not registered as "refugees." None of the Gulf States have signed onto the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Instead, a limited number of Syrians have been offered residency status in Saudi Arabia, which, according to a 2012 royal decree includes "the right to free education, healthcare and employment." 

Still, granting residency status to 100,000 refugees does little to address the scale of the humanitarian need. Lebanon's new refugee community is now equal to more than 25% of its own native population. By contrast, in Saudi Arabia (with five times the population of Lebanon) the number of resettled Syrians is equal to just two percent of its population. The Saudi monarchs and the rulers of the UAE apparently prefer to continue spending hundreds of millions of dollars to support overcrowded refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. 


Syria's Migrant Crisis: CNN 

A Humanitarian Hadj: Welcoming Pilgrims from Syria 

Saudi Arabia recently demonstrated its ability to host millions of foreign visitors. During the annual religious pilgrimage known as the Hadj, the Saudi royal family created a vast tent city in Mina, a town located about three miles from the holy city of Mecca. A large valley containing 160,000 tents (100,000 furnished with air-conditioning) became what Al Jazeera has called "the largest tent city in the world." According to the Saudi Central Department of Statistics and Information claims the country was able to house 3.2 million religious pilgrims 2012. 

Mina's canvas metropolis consisted of an expanse of white tents installed side-by-side in a low-lying valley. Most of the tents were designed to accommodate about 50 people (at an average price of $500 per pilgrim). If each tent were filled to his 50-bed maximum, a refugee site the size of the Mina settlement would be able to accommodate as many as five million refugees. 

Saudi Arabia has proven that it can accommodate millions of Muslim refugees and it certainly has the wealth to do it. And, like the population of Saudi Arabia, the majority of the people fleeing Syria are Sunni Muslims. 

Saudi Arabia's Tent City at Mina 


But there is a roadblock to the Saudi Solution. The conservative rulers in Riyadh are fearful some of the Sunni refugees might be sympathetic to the Islamic State, which is openly critical of the Saudi regime. Similarly, in Egypt, the military coup leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has rejected calls to admit Syrian refugees out of concern they many have links to Egypt's elected-and-overthrown Muslim Brotherhood. 

As Leonid Bershidsky noted in a report for Bloomberg, the Gulf's oil-rich nations "may not really be suitable destination for the asylum seekers." Owning to the tentative nature of the "Suni-Shia balance," Bershidsy explains, "Syrians don't feel welcome in Saudi Arabia and the other petro-states and therefore don't want to go there." 

Finally, as the mass trampling deaths of more than 1,100 pilgrims at the Mina encampment in September demonstrated, Saudi authorities lack the ability to operate these large encampments safely. 

So where else can these tides of refugees seek an expeditious solution to their desperate, stateless plight? One surprising answer just might be: Inner Mongolia. 


China's Ghost Cities: Shelter for the Dispossessed?  

One of the great engines of China's recent economic growth has been an unprecedented spasm of capital-intensive investment in infrastructure and urban development. A new generation of Chinese millionaires has spent the past decade pouring excess capital into the construction of high-rise housing complexes, large administrative buildings, verdant parks, monumental public sculptures, sprawling sports facilities, elaborate arts complexes, extensive freeway systems and extravagant airports. In short, entire cities. 

The problem is, while building hundreds of these new cities created the illusion of growth, many of the gleaming mega-cities failed to attract either residents or businesses. As a result, many now stand empty or largely unoccupied. Today, each of these desolate and deserted inland outposts risks becoming an economic albatross. Still, China's building mania continues. 


Never before in history has any nation built as many bridges, roads and airports as China. The country now is online to build additional new cities capable of housing as many as 3.4 billion people. Critics point out that this is more that double China's current population. 

China's Xinhua news agency reports all 12 provincial capitals are planning to construct "a total of 55 new districts, with one alone planning 13." Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, plans to build a new metropolis covering 58 square miles (an area larger than the existing provincial capital). The Peoples' Daily has openly challenged the practice of constructing more of these grandiose new cities under the assumption "If you build it, they will come." 

They Didn't Come . . . but Others Might 

Welcome to Ordos, the largest unoccupied city on Earth. Built from scratch in China's Inner Mongolia, Ordos's Kangbashi New Area was blueprinted to house more than a million residents. As of 2014, only 2% of the buildings were occupied and housing prices had plummeted from $1,100 to $470 per square foot. 


As emotionally stressful and taxing as the current refugee crisis has become, it is only a foreshadowing of a greater crisis that is certain to come. War is a disruptive force that can drive millions from their homes but now climate change threatens to drive even more millions from largely equatorial and Third World nations devastated by crop failures, famine, floods and disease. 

World leaders have failed to adequately plan for families fleeing wars in Syria and Sudan. The world has not yet begun to consider how to cope with a rising tide of environmental refugees that may soon be on the move around the planet. 

Perhaps China could play a critical role in meeting not just the immediate crisis triggered by wars in Syria and Sudan, but also the specter of a worldwide climate emergency. It would take some thought, however. Although these cities stand desolate and unoccupied, many of the empty apartments have been "sold." They were purchased by newly wealthy Chinese speculators who invested in these "ghost apartments" as a hedge against inflation. Compensating these leaseholders could be costly. It would certainly be problematic. 

In an article in The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/may/08/ghost-cities-of-china-wade-shepard-review-planning> Owen Hatherley describes these spooky urban outposts as something more than "Potemkin cities set up as property boondoggles." In China, Hatherley notes, the land is nationalized and no one actually "owns" property. Instead, there are leases—available for up to 70 years. As Hatherley explains, "it is normal for middleclass Chinese to borrow their way into owning several unoccupied flats, even if they don't have one to live in." The result is less than optimal, in Hatherley's eyes. "Given the government has the power to make and remake cities, why are the results so sad? Copycat 'western' towns, endless Central Business Districts, huge malls; this is urbanization purely for quantity and profit." 

Strangely, many of China's silent cityscapes are modeled after foreign cities. There are life-sized ghost-town replicas of cities in Spain, Italy, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. There is a Manhattan (with Twin Towers still standing), a Paris (complete with an Eiffel Tower), and Hallstat, an Austrian lakeside village (featuring an endlessly looping recording of "The Sound of Music" playing in the background). [See videos at the end of the article.

Eventually, with Beijing's cooperation, a global Emergency Resettlement Fund (ERF) might be created to help house the world's displaced millions in a selected number of China's empty "ghost cities." The major contributions to the ERF should, of course, come from the countries most responsible for promulgating climate disruption—i.e., the United States, the Gulf States, and China itself. 

China might also be approached to build entirely new "shelter cities" specifically designed to house refugees. (Given China's demonstrated prowess in creating mirror images of foreign towns, local architects and builders might be persuaded to build a new Aleppo in Lanzhou.) 

The UNHCR could provide supervision and support to the resettlement sites. China could be reimbursed for hosting the dislocated victims of both war and climate disruption, thereby gaining a return-on-investment for economically dead properties that would otherwise simply drain the national economy. 

If China were to rise to the occasion, it would mark an act of generosity unequaled in the recorded span of human history. If history books are still being printed and read 100 years from now (an increasingly dicey assumption), children in the 22nd century might grow up celebrating the story of the Ghost Cities that briefly became Shelters of Peace in a battered and beleaguered world. 

As Mao Zedong famously said: "Dare to think; dare to act." 

And let 100 cities bloom. 


Apartment blocks in Chenggong, Yunnan, China (image: Matteo Damiani) 

A Video Tour of Some of China's Ghost Cities 











Amazon Colonizes the UCB Campus

Gar Smith
Friday October 30, 2015 - 02:40:00 PM

The corporate makeover of the University of California's Berkeley campus is about to gain another dab of pernicious commercial luster.

Over the years, a steadily growing list of multinationals has been staking claims to territory on the Berkeley campus. To date, these Big Money interlopers include: Zellerbach Hall, the Haas School of Business, the Bechtel Engineering Center, the $350 million Energy Biosciences Institute (bankrolled by British Petroleum), the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences (the naming rights cost Mr. Li $40 million), and six different on-campus buildings and sites perpetuating the memory of media baron William Randolph Hearst.

It's all just part of a long tradition. 

LeConte Hall, for example, was named after a savvy businessman who became rich making munitions for the Confederate Army. (John LeConte went on to become UC Berkeley's first president). Peder Sather—who gave the campus an iconic gate and a tower—was a banker whose operations were absorbed by Bank of America. And then there's Barrows Hall. In March 2015, Berkeley's Black Student Union complained that the prominent building was named after a "slave-owning racist and colonizer." 

There is, arguably, one campus structure that commemorates a truly progressive, populist figure—the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building. 

But now that the new MLKJSU is emerging from a costly, multi-year architectural redesign, reports have surfaced of another annoying corporate fly in the ornamentation. 


According to October 27 edition of The Daily Californian, Cal students are looking forward to the debut of "a new Amazon center, designed to provide a more convenient pickup location for Amazon orders." But that's not all: the new Amazon outlet also promises "an interactive device bar" and "a sitting lounge." 

And where is this corporate monolith ($88.99 billion in revenues for 2014) planning to set roots? Smack in the heart of the new MLK Jr. Student Union. 

Turning to campus-wide email to pump up expectations, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Joseph Greenwell explained the UC administration was simply responding to student pleas for "faster, easier and safer ways to (receive) their Amazon purchases." 

Earlier this month, Amazon officials reportedly met with the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) Board of Directors to hammer out and nail down Amazon's turf inside the new building. The new Amazon outlet is expected to be up and running by January 2016. 

The Daily Cal reports that the new facility will "provide student resources, including lockers for package pickup [and] a small technology bar where students can interact with digital media." These interactions will be somewhat compromised, however. As the Daily Cal notes, "digital interactions" will be limited to those "using Amazon electronic products." 

And since there's nothing that enhances to modern academic experience more than online shopping, students should be delighted to learn the new Amazon commerce zone promises "free same-day pickup for orders placed by noon" for all "Amazon Student and Prime members"—all the better to "ensure minimal waiting time during busy ordering seasons." 

Amazon has announced that it will be giving back to the campus community. Two to three percent of all purchase costs will be donated to the Student Union. Not by Amazon, however, but by students who "opt into an online program hosted by Amazon." 

As Student Union undergrad representative Joe Wilson told the Daily Cal, Amazon's new campus carve-out will provide a space where students can relieve their academic stress—a space where having ready access to the world of Amazon is expected to "contribute to this positive environment." 

Or as ASUC representative Williams put it: "I think part of the vision of the ASUC Student Union is making undergraduate students feel more at home on campus. The Amazon relationship will just add to that experience." 

And now we know what the "B" in UCB stands for. "Bezos."

The Berkeley City Council "Hopes" for Housing

Steve Martinot
Thursday October 29, 2015 - 01:26:00 PM

At the Berkeley City Council meeting on Tuesday night, they considered a measure proposed by District 8 Councilmember Lori Droste to relieve developers of the necessity to put parking spaces in new buildings, hoping that the developer will use that space for more affordable housing. The word heard during the discussion from a number of councilmembers was indeed "hoping." The developer would still have the option to use the space for market rate housing (according to the law, i.e. the Palmer decision).

During public comment, I mentioned that since "affordable" housing is especially for working people of the city (among others), many of whom commute to their jobs, a place to keep a car is still necessary. Given the state of public transportation in Berkeley, as District 6 Councilmember Susan Wengraf pointed out, travel to jobs is most often very problematic. The impression I got from the stony-faced look of the councilmembers was, “well, those aren’t the kind of people we want in this town any more anyway.” 

Given the housing crisis (and some of the students pointed out that they have to squeeze six people into space for three in order to come up with the rent), if you build market rate housing or moderate income housing, that space doesn’t trickle down. You have to build low income or very low income housing, in order for the space to trickle up. Think of it this way. Those paying 80% of their income for rent will be the ones looking for housing at lower rent where they only pay 50% of their income. That will leave the higher rent apartments available. The look that got from the council said, “What you are saying is just totally beside the point.” 

It is beside the point because the economic structure this all happens in will result, from Droste’s proposal, in increased market rate housing without on-site parking. The proposal also assumes that if the developer chooses market rate units, that money will be contributed to the Housing Trust Fund. It forgets that the Fund contributions are non-enforceable, and developers have not been paying into it. 

In brief, Droste’s measure will free developers to put in housing rather than provide space for cars for tenants. When stated like that, it seems to be favoring housing, rather than cars. But because the type of housing (target income level) is not specified (and cannot legally be specified), it will mean market rate housing, which will not affect or correct the housing crisis, and not low income housing, which is what is needed. By not specifying the income level of the housing to be required by developers, the proposal, and the council’s sentiment in favor, are a sham. 

Why cannot developers be required to put in low income affordable housing units? There are several reasons, besides the Palmer decision of 2009, which made cities liable for loss of profit to developers from affordable housing. One reason is the mitigation fee, paid in lieu of building affordable housing. Its unenforceability makes it a joke. 

Another reason is that developers are corporations. This means that they will go for highest profitability, first of all. But it also implies that they must to be able to recapitalize their projects if real estate value ever take a dive. This requirement hinges on the use of the building itself as collateral for the loans necessary to build it. Without that ability, their financing will be in jeopardy. And they will face higher interest rates to compensate for the increased risk. Thus, they are caught in the debt structure that corporate operations mostly require. 

Though Droste’s measure seemed to focus on affordable housing, the council only spoke about "developers," and the council’s "hopes" that low income housing would be built. But the council also expressed the hope that this measure, which the proposal states only pertains to "inclusionary" housing (market rate buildings that "include" some affordable units), would close some of the loopholes that developers have. Those loopholes were not spelled out in the discussion. Neither are they spelled out in the proposal. 

What is borderline horrendous in the proposal is that its "theory" of the benefit of reducing parking space in new development is based on studies done in other cities, such as New York, Portland, Seattle, etc., not Berkeley, and not taking into account the predominant aspects of transportation in California. There are those who can live without a car, depending on their employment situation and location. But California society is based on the car. To simply impose a no-car paradigm on people is to greatly restrict them. Until a truly extensive public transportation system is developed, as the necessary infrastructure for Droste’s theory, her proposal has social misery written all over it. It is just another example of how city council thinking really amounts to imposition on neighborhoods, rather than taking the time to listen to them. 

Some comic relief was offered to this tragic spectacle by a proposal to "lend" the Housing Trust Fund a million dollars (ostensibly from the city’s General Fund, whose size is a carefully kept secret). A million dollars, these days, would be a drop in the bucket in terms of building new affordable housing. It won’t even buy a single family house in most sections of the city. It could be used to rent a whole lot of apartments, if the city wanted to do that for the homeless, for instance. But since that idea has been proposed at least five times to council people, and never made it to the agenda, it seems they are not interested in anything that "radical." 

We have a situation in which the council is useless, not because they don’t mean well (some of them mean well), but because they operate in an economic environment that makes it impossible for them to do the right thing. The only possibility they have, while doing the wrong thing (permitting the building of more market rate housing) is to make pleasant platitudes about how fewer cars will be good for the planet and how they hope that more housing will be available to the people without taking the time to really address the real need for housing, which would require specifying the income levels for that housing. 

If the neighborhoods of Berkeley are to survive, they are going to have to do it on their own, with some new alternate political structures, and some real political clout developed and manifest locally in those neighborhoods themselves. Otherwise, we’ll all be dislocated and relocated by the corporate whirlwind that is now gentrifying the bay area. 


Speak Up for Seniors

Romila Khanna
Thursday October 29, 2015 - 01:27:00 PM

It is distressing to hear that all seniors have to pay more for Medicare Part B coverage next year. This is the part of Medicare which covers outpatient visits Seniors make to their doctors. Why has the rate been increased now, I wonder, when Social Security has cancelled the usual cost-of-living allowance? Why do Seniors in straitened circumstances have to bear the burden of filling the Treasury budget hole? The most vulnerable elderly persons should never be asked to pitch in extra. 

Representatives are welcome to sacrifice their own benefits before acting to reduce the hard-won dignity of seniors. Wake up America! Aging and staging is on its way to you as well. Speak up for vulnerable seniors today, to build a society that will never seek to pinch pennies at your expense tomorrow.

The Country of Thieves

Rebecca Wu
Sunday November 01, 2015 - 05:48:00 PM

When I was attending high school in China, I noticed something very strange: every time we had a class discussion, our class would automatically separate into two teams: me versus everyone else. All of my teachers and classmates would have the exact same opinion about any given topic. What’s more, nobody was forcing them; they actually did all think alike! 

Take the time we were studying Italo Calvino’s Black Sheep. After reading the fable, the entire class (minus one) came to one sound conclusion: in a country where everyone steals, good people have no choice but to turn bad too, or else die. How inconsequential the actions of one good person! How cruel the blow of the real world! 

The fable itself is as follows: 

There was a country where they were all thieves. 

At night everybody would leave home with skeleton keys and shaded lanterns and go and burgle a neighbor’s house. They’d get back at dawn, loaded, to find their own house had been robbed. 

So everybody lived happily together, nobody lost out, since each stole from the other, and that other from another again, and so on and on until you got to a last person who stole from the first. Trade in the country inevitably involved cheating on the parts both of the buyer and the seller. The government was a criminal organization that stole from its subjects, and the subjects for their part were only interested in defrauding the government. Thus life went on smoothly, nobody was rich and nobody was poor. 

One day, how we don’t know, it so happened that an honest man came to live in the place. At night, instead of going out with his sack and his lantern, he stayed home to smoke and read novels. 

The thieves came, saw the light on and didn’t go in. 

This went on for a while: then they were obliged to explain to him that even if he wanted to live without doing anything, it was no reason to stop others from doing things. Every night he spent at home meant a family would have nothing to eat the following day. 

The honest man could hardly object to such reasoning. He took to going out in the evening and coming back the following morning like they did, but he didn’t steal. He was honest, there was nothing you could do about it. He went as far as the bridge and watched the water flow by beneath. When he got home he found he had been robbed.  

In less than a week the honest man found himself penniless, he had nothing to eat and his house was empty. But this was hardly a problem, since it was his own fault; no, the problem was that his behavior upset everything else. Because he let the others steal everything he had without stealing anything from anybody; so there was always someone who came home at dawn to find their house untouched: the house he should have robbed. In any event after a while the ones who weren’t being robbed found themselves richer than the others and didn’t want to steal any more. To make matters worse, the ones who came to steal from the honest man’s house found it was always empty; so they became poor. 

Meanwhile, the ones who had become rich got into the honest man’s habit of going to the bridge at night to watch the water flow by beneath. This increased the confusion because it meant lots of others became rich and lots of others became poor. Now, the rich people saw that if they went to the bridge every night they’d soon be poor. And they thought: ‘Let’s pay some of the poor to go and rob for us.’ They made contracts, fixed salaries, percentages: they were still thieves of course, and they still tried to swindle each other. But, as tends to happen, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer and poorer. 

Some of the rich people got so rich that they didn’t need to steal or have others steal for them so as to stay rich. But if they stopped stealing they would get poor because the poor stole from them. So they paid the very poorest of the poor to defend their property from the other poor, and that meant setting up a police force and building prisons. 

So it was that only a few years after the appearance of the honest man, people no longer spoke of robbing and being robbed, but only of the rich and the poor; but they were still all thieves. 

The only honest man had been the one at the beginning, and he died in very short order, of hunger. 

(Retrieved from http://garts.latech.edu/erufleth/blacksheep.htm) 

I naturally became the only person to challenge the class’s “democratic consensus.” I thought that in no society does a person have only one option to choose from. Why did the honest man have to passively accept his “fate?” Why couldn’t he have rebelled, spoken out, or at the very least ran away? 

At my words the entire class reacted violently: “Who are you to judge that man? Did you go through his hardships? Have you ever tried living in a country of thieves? Do you really think you would have done any better under the same circumstances? How naïve Americans are.” Friends and neighbors consoled me: “In China, the bird who sticks out of a crowd will be shot, the person who tells the truth will be attacked. It is only a class. It is not a big deal. It is safe in numbers. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. This is for your own good.” After going through the ordeal a few times, I decided to keep my mouth shut. 

On 2015 September 7th, I saw on the news that an elderly man in Kaifeng City, Henan Province, China, had died on the street after falling off his bike. Ironically, he had died because nobody dared to help him up. The picture of this poor old man gave me a hard blow to my heart. I realized that, if we choose to stay silent, if we do not choose to fight for justice, we will be doomed to suffer the consequences of a country where they were all thieves. 

Is death the only option for an honest person in a theif country? Looking upon history, we can see that man has frequently gone through times when bad people dominate: the good are mercilessly crushed, and evil prevails. However, even in such times the human race has produced those who refuse to succumb, whether by fierce rebellion, by spiritual influence, or by stubborn non-conformation. 

Other than passive starvation, we would have at least the following three options: 

One, change people’s hearts to change the world. Shakyamuni Buddha, Muhammad, Jesus Christ, and other visionaries were all born into turbulent times, but they managed to found the world’s greatest religions, leaving a wealth of wisdom for their descendants. None of them chose to passively starve just because the environment was hostile; rather, they used their actions to build an everlasting legacy, one that has lasted thousands of years. 

Two, stick to your personal integrity. That was ideal success for ancient Chinese Confucius: If you are in power, save the whole world; If you do not have the chance, maintain your own integrity. It’s true that not everyone can be Jesus Christ to save mankind, but we do have the ability to choose our own behavior. The honest man could have struck a bargain with his neighbors: leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone. If A stealing from B, B stealing from C, and C stealing from A used to work perfectly fine, why should the addition of a new person D change anything? Just go on with your thievery cycle and pretend I don’t exist. If his neighbors proved too stupid to get his reasoning, the honest man could have run away. The country where they were all thieves is not the only place in the world. America’s first European immigrants came so they could escape oppression in Europe and stay true to their own religious beliefs. If they had chosen to passively starve to death where they were, we would not have the United State of America. 

Three, change the rules. There is more to the world than the rules of thievery. Thievery can be a nuisance: risky, time-consuming, and inefficient (what you steal may not be what you really want). Why not use the rules of the free market? We can establish a market in which we exchange goods at equal values; everyone can be happier. We can see a trend towards such social order in the course of human history. To achieve our objective, we can write books, hold forums, set oneself as an example, appeal to the leaders, or use any other one of the gazillion methods that don’t involve starving to death. 

As a member of the country of thieves, we can maximize short-term gains by choosing to steal or stay silent. However, on a larger time scale, each and every one of us will ultimately pay the price for doing so. We are like fish living in the same tank: if the water is contaminated, no single fish can escape the consequences. Why did no one approach the elderly man in KaiFeng after his fall? Because people were afraid of being blackmailed. The elderly as a whole became a shunned group in China. 

Many of China’s current problems, including pollution, fraud, and corruption, stem from the fact that citizens rarely stand up for what is right, preferring to stay silent and protect themselves. 

Black Sheep is a fable that says different things to different people. The response of myself and many others American friends is that the honest man did not die from honesty; he died from cowardice. He invited his own fate! Why didn’t he stand up for himself? Why didn’t he run away? Maybe the existing social order was hard to fight, but why didn’t he even try

Black Sheep is an example of a badly designed social standard, one that we should take to heart and avoid at all costs. We must not let such an order gain the better of us. 

One haunting issue in China is the fake-traffic-accident fraud, more commonly known as “knock down your porcelin.” The gist: an elderly person falls over, and a sympathetic passerby comes to help him up, only for that person to sue them on fraudulent charges that the passerby had knocked him over. In one 2013 Dazhou City, Sichuan Province, three elementary school children helped an old “granny” up after she fell. At the hospital, she declared that they were the ones who knocked her over and demanded 7,500 Yuan (about $1176). In the end, the children’s families paid 1100 Yuan in a settlement, because the old granny’s family insisted if the responsibility for an accident is not clear the parties are supposed to share responsibility. 

These and similar cases have had a crushing effect on morale. The 2015 Kaifeng incident I mentioned earlier is just a natural result of a society that lets the blackmailing granny win. The shameless “Granny” had turned many good people to bad with her evil intention. 

A society that does not reward good people is never sustainable; a society where there is no justice will harm everyone eventually. Luckily, people have been making many efforts to erect this despicable condition. In the 2013 Dazhou case, the three children were later proved innocent with the help of two policemen and witnesses, even receiving a 5,000-Yuan award from a Good Samaritan charity in 2015 August. The elderly woman’s son, inciter of her actions, was detained for ten days and fined 500 Yuan. Earlier this month, Beijing drew up a draft legislation to protect good people from being sued by those they help, to the cheers of many. Such good news gives us hope. Perhaps passerby will be just a little more willing to help one who is in need, and a little more, and a little more, until we have a society where everyone is willing to lend a helpful hand. 

If you are a good person, please do not be afraid to stand up! Do not let bad things happen to you. 

If you are happened in power, please uphold the standards to protect good people. You will certainly benefit for your effort. We are in the same ecosystem, inter-connected. 

Stand up, all you who yearn toward justice! Together we can create a better world, a country where we are not thieves. 




ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Editing and Correcting Thoughts

Jack Bragen
Thursday October 29, 2015 - 01:24:00 PM

This week's column primarily pertains to mood and does not so much discuss severe symptoms of mental illness.

This week's piece involves looking at thoughts. Focusing on one's thoughts can worsen symptoms for some people with schizophrenia. On the other hand, if able to handle it, making deliberate changes to the thought patterns can bring a lot of progress. The reader should use his or her best judgment concerning this week's piece.

The methods described in this week's piece should not be construed as a suggestion to go off medication. This method potentially goes well as an adjunct to meds.

Thoughts are the precursor to emotions. If a thought is generated by the ego, in which case it says something relating to the perception of self, an emotion will soon follow--it could be painful or pleasurable depending on the content of the thought and how the mind processes it.  

To say this more succinctly; if you have a good or bad emotion, a thought comes first. If you can learn to change the thoughts, it follows that the emotions will change. This is important for people suffering from depression.  

If you have an inexplicable bad mood, sometimes but not always, it could be fixed through identifying a negative thought, or multiple negative thoughts, that have triggered the emotional pain. Sometimes a few negative thoughts will occur, and the bad mood may persist long enough afterward that the initial thoughts have already gone away. Yet it can still help to try to backtrack and figure out what the initial thoughts were.  

Most people, whether or not they have a mental health issue, are unaware of thoughts being merely thoughts. Instead, people instantly accept their thoughts as being reality. In order to gain conscious influence over thoughts, we must first get a little distance from them. Admittedly, this is easier said than done. 

Ironically, many people are unaware even of what they are thinking. Instead, they are living in what they perceive to be reality. In fact, most people live in a distorted version of the world in which their reality is defined by their assumptions and thoughts. This is true for anyone and not just someone with mental illness.  

Academic study or reading a magazine article could be two examples of having thoughts that do not trigger emotions. However, thoughts that say something about an event, pertaining to "you" in some way, thoughts about who you are, or thoughts that say something is supposedly good or bad, will tend to produce emotions. A nonjudgmental observation tends not to bring forth much emotion.  

In the past five years or more, antipsychotic meds have been marketed to treat depression. Antipsychotics seem to lower the volume of thoughts. If your depression is caused by excessive negative thoughts (and this doesn't mean that you are a negative person--it is simply the content of the thinking) then depression would be less if you have fewer thoughts or thoughts at a lower volume.  

If medication slows the thoughts to the extent that they are less overwhelming, it might become possible to recognize some of the thoughts that bring difficult emotions. If you can then intentionally think a different thought, one that nullifies the painful thought, you could correct part of the emotion.  

One possible problem with the method I have outlined is that you may not know which thoughts ought be replaced, and what thoughts to create and use as replacement thoughts. If you produce an unskillful thought as your substitute, it could cause things to get worse. This is where a therapist can be useful. If you can pinpoint those thoughts that you believe are causing you problems, and share them out loud with your therapist, they may have some idea of a better thought to use as a replacement.  

(This sort of cognitive therapy should never be attempted while driving or operating machinery. Secondly, if you are crossing the street and a big truck is speeding toward you, the problem isn't related to thoughts--you have to get out of the way of the truck.) 

If you can correct several negative or perhaps delusional thoughts and substitute better thoughts, it could cause the content of the thinking to make a big shift and this causes the perception of reality to change for the better.  

You do not have to fix every thought in your mind for things to get better. Just by replacing a few of your negative or delusional thoughts, it causes the subconscious to do more of the same on your behalf. Thus, your mind could shift from a negative, painful, or delusional space to content that feels better and that might cause you to brighten up.  

A pen and a pad of paper can come in handy for this. Writing one's thoughts in a journal can have the effect of getting them out of your head and onto paper, and this by itself can bring relief.  

The basic lesson that thoughts are not "reality" is important. Most people mistake their thoughts for being reality, when in fact, thoughts are an attempt to describe reality, and thoughts are subject to error--frequently.  

If all of this seems foreign or impossible to you, don't worry--it is advanced stuff. Getting to know your mind is a gradual and time-consuming process--people who have spent decades meditating could tell you that. Yet, for many people, not everyone, it is worth the time and effort.

THE PUBLIC EYE:The Republicans’ Secret

Bob Burnett
Thursday October 29, 2015 - 01:12:00 PM

In the past few days, US voters has been reminded of the reasons why we don’t trust Republicans: Representative Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee demonstrated that the GOP abuses congressional power for political purposes. The Republican threat to not raise the debt limit indicates they don’t understand how the Federal government works. But it took GOP candidate Donald Trump to reveal the darkest secret of all, Republicans don’t keep American safe. 

Even though Republican Congressional Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had already admitted the purpose of Representative Gowdy’s Benghazi committee was not to ascertain the facts and prevent further security breaches at our embassies but rather to drive down presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers, it still came as a shock to witness the Republican’s abusive questioning of Clinton . This was standard Republican demagoguery. As political commentator Bob Cesca reported, the GOP has a long history of going after individuals and groups it perceives to be its adversaries: Planned Parenthood, ACORN, the IRS, peace activists, political commentators, and on and on. 

It’s one thing to abuse government process and quite another to refuse to pay its bills. That’s what the debt-limit crisis is about. According to the US Treasury Department, “The debt limit is the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments.” When asked if he would approve raising the debt limit, Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson responded, after repeated prodding, “What I'm saying is what we have to do is restructure the way that we create debt.” Like most Republicans, Carson appears to be unable to differentiate between the federal budget (where we run up debts) and the debt-limit (where we set a boundary on paying debts already incurred). 

But the most devastating of the Republicans’ dirty secrets was revealed during a testy exchange between Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. Goaded into defending his brother, George, Jeb responded, “He kept us safe!” Trump responded, “The fact is we had the worst attack in the history of our country during his reign. Jeb (Bush) said we were safe during his reign. That wasn't true." For once, Trump was right. 

CNN security analyst, Peter Bergen, observed 

Before 9/11 senior Bush administration officials did not see al Qaeda as the serious threat it was, despite the fact that the group had blown up two American embassies in Africa in 1998, killing more than 200 people, and had also bombed the USS Cole warship two years later. Also, they ignored multiple, clear warnings from the CIA during the summer of 2001 about a likely al Qaeda attack…

George W. Bush did not protect the US from the horrendous 9/11 attacks. To make things worse he then launched an unnecessary war in Iraq. Newsweek observed: 

After September 11, forcing a regime change in Baghdad made good political sense for the Republicans… the administration needed to be seen as doing more in its declared global war on terror. By going after Saddam they would be well positioned to “wrap themselves in the flag” and compensate for missing the September 11 attacks.
(The US Iraq casualties were 4493 dead and 32021 wounded; the estimated cost was at least $2 trillion.) 


“Dubya” wasn’t unique among Republican Presidents in failing to keep America safe and launching unnecessary military actions. In the modern era, this ineptitude began with Richard Nixon. As soon as he became President, in 1969, Nixon scuttled pending talks to end the Vietnam War and authorized bombing of North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. (More than 21,000 Americans were killed on Nixon’s watch and more than a million civilians died.) 

Ronald Reagan send US troops into Lebanon. In April 1983, 63 Americans were killed during an attack on the US embassy in West Beirut. In October of 1983, 241 Americans were killed in an attack on US troop barracks in Beirut. To restore his popularity, later than October, Reagan authorized the invasion of Grenada

During the first year of his presidency, George H. W. Bush authorized the invasion of Panama, the first “regime change” war. Two years later Bush authorized the first Gulf War. Barry Lando observed: “[George H.W. Bush] sent American troops half way around the world to launch the First Gulf War—an error of tragic proportions; responsible in its own way for much of the horror that afflicts the Greater Middle East (and America) to this day.” 

Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II used the military to accomplish political objectives. They weren’t focused on keeping American safe. It’s no wonder that Bush II launched a poorly thought out war in Iraq and as a consequence destabilized the Middle East, creating ISIS and the current chaos. Nixon, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II did not govern by a strategic plan but rather a set of ad hoc tactics intended to improve their short-term political futures. These Republicans didn’t keep us safe. 

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

Arts & Events

New: The 40th Anniversary American Indian Film Festival

Gar Smith
Saturday November 07, 2015 - 02:32:00 PM

November 6-13, 2015 at San Francisco's AMC Metreon

Gala 40 Dinner & AIFF Award Show on November 14, 2015 at Hotel Nikko

When most Americans think about movies, the images that typically come to mind involve romance, villainy, heroism, guns, explosions and car chases. Or course, we accept that commercial cinema serves up a world of escapist fantasy but we lack the cultural yardsticks to measure how far removed our movie-going experiences are from anything approaching an average life on planet Earth.

Take those car-chases, for example. In nearly every mainstream movie you expect to see someone driving a car. That's "normal." Well, nope, it's not. The truth is that 91 percent of the people living on this planet today do not and never will own a car.

It may also be true that 91 percent of the films the average movie lover sees in the course of a year do not constitute anything close to a realistic impersonation of the global human condition.

Fortunately, a good dose of remedial Big Screen therapy is headed our way as the American Indian Film Festival (AIFF) brightens Bay Area movies screens from November 6-13. The AIFF's eight-day run manages to include 95 works from Canada and the USA—an incredible selection of feature films, documentaries and 59 shorts (ranging from two to thirty minutes).



Launched in 1975, the AIFF is both the oldest and most prominent media showcase for indigenous cinema, having brought more than 2,000 examples American Indian and First Nations films to enthusiastic urban audiences over the past four decades. (The fact that the festival was founded 40 years ago may explain why it is called the "American Indian" and not the "Native American" film fest.) 

Year after year, the AIFF proves real-world cinema can be just as entertaining as reel-life cinema. This is, after all, the cinema of the world's majority. 

There are no master spies, no superheroes, no glamorous superstars. Instead, the AIFF is grounded in the lives of people who tend to live close to nature, who are members of close-knit families, who live and struggle in small (and often remote) communities. 

These are stories that reflect the experiences of most of the globe's seven billion inhabitants. The protagonists in these films aren't Marvel superheroes or Hollywood royalty spouting the words of award-winning screenwriters, but that doesn't mean the films are lacking in humor, human drama, or uplifting and wrenching emotional swings. 

There are too many films to list (let alone review), so let's just note some highlights (the complete schedule is available online): 

A Sampling of Some of the AIFF Feature Films 


We're Still Here: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited

We're Still Here is a documentary based on the book, A Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash and the Making of Bitter Tears. Antonio D'Ambrosio's book (and now, his film) charts the evolution of Cash's little-known 1964 protest concept album—a collaborative project with Native American folk artist Peter Lafarge that stands as a heartfelt tribute to the struggles of Native People. 


A Thousand Voices (USA) 

They say "It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story" and this documentary manages to blend an array of voices—from the Navajo Nation, Mescalero Apache Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Tribe. Kiowa Tribe, Pueblo de Cochiti, Ohkay Owing, and Pueblos of Acoma, Laguna, Jemez, Santo Domingo, Pojoaque, Santa Clara, Taos, Nambe and San lldefonso—into a universal account of Native American women whose strength and wisdom has helped safeguard Indigenous traditions and culture. 


Songs My Brother Taught Me (USA) 

Filmed in the Great Plains and the Badlands of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the film explores the complex bond between a bother and his younger sister—two children searching for a sense of belonging but caught on separate paths. 


Children of the Arctic (USA) 

A coming-of-age film that encompasses a yearlong study of Native Alaskan teens in Barrow, Alaska. Still surrounded by the legacy of their ancestors, these twenty-first century youngsters are members of an isolated culture that has survived centuries in a tundra wilderness now undergoing fundamental change on a rapidly warming planet. 


Le Dep 

A psychodrama about a young Innu woman who works at her family-run convenience store in rural Québec takes a frightening turn when she robbed by a gun-wielding assailant. Lydia's trauma takes a strange turn when she realizes she knows the identity of her assailant. 

OKPIK'S DREAM | Official trailer from Catbird Productions on Vimeo


Okpik's Dream (Canada) 

As a child, Harry Okpik's dream was to own a sled and become a respected dog racer. The Canadian government disrupted that dream when (in an act of savagery that echoes the US Army's genocidal slaughter of the Plains buffalo) federal agents gunned down thousands of Inuit sled dogs across the Canadian Arctic. The 11-year-old Harry watched the snow turn red and believed his dream was dead as well. Fifty years later, Harry remembers the Dog Slaughter and the accident that cost him a leg. This moving documentary follows Harry through several long arctic seasons as he prepares a team of huskies for the Ivakkak—a grueling 373-mile sled race. 

Awards Show & Gala 

A concluding Awards Show & Gala will be held on Saturday, November 14 at the Hotel Nikko. 

For complete details, visit aifisf.com

Ticket and Showtimes 

All evening screenings will be held at the AMC Metreon (135 4th St., San Francisco) and will begin at 7 p.m. 

For ticket information please visit aifisf.com

About American Indian Film Institute & American Indian Film Festival  

"The American Indian Film Institute's mission is to foster understanding of the culture, traditions and issues of contemporary American Indian and First Nations peoples. We encourage Indian filmmakers to bring to the broader media culture the indigenous voices, viewpoints and stories that have historically been excluded from mainstream media. Moreover, our goals include tireless advocacy for authentic visual and work-force representations of Indians in the media."