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Hundreds gathered at Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park at 7:00 AM on Friday to greet the dawn and show Berkeley solidarity after the national election results by forming a giant peace symbol.  Mayor elect Jesse Arreguin and Councilmember Linda Maio and incoming Councilmember Sophie Hahn spoke, and joined with other elected officials in a line behind noted Berkeley folk singer Gary Lapow who sang his own version of "Hallejah" for and with the crowd.
Steven Finacom
Hundreds gathered at Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park at 7:00 AM on Friday to greet the dawn and show Berkeley solidarity after the national election results by forming a giant peace symbol. Mayor elect Jesse Arreguin and Councilmember Linda Maio and incoming Councilmember Sophie Hahn spoke, and joined with other elected officials in a line behind noted Berkeley folk singer Gary Lapow who sang his own version of "Hallejah" for and with the crowd.


New: Help Requested for Tent City - “First they came for the homeless” (PUBLIC COMMENT)

Marcia Poole
Wednesday November 23, 2016 - 10:48:00 PM

We are requesting the residents of Berkeley reach out to those in their community who are less fortunate. We ask this with the sincere hope that it awakens the community to immediate and compassionate action. 

The Berkeley City Manager’s office has repeatedly called on the Berkeley Police Department to roust a small group of clean and sober homeless people who are living outdoors in various locales. Last Thursday and Friday mornings, the police confiscated their warm sleeping bags, blankets, tents, tarps, clothing, etc. The police are mandated by law to put these belongings in a specific spot from where they can be retrieved. They have not done so. The current Tent City people are now sleeping under two spread out tarps that protect them from the rain and they are wrapped in whatever the community has been able to donate. The wind and cold still penetrate this temporary shelter and several of the people there are now very ill. 

If anyone has extra sleeping bags, blankets, small tents, warm socks and jackets, etc., please consider donating them to this group immediately. You could deliver them directly to Tent City - “First they came for the homeless” at the southwest corner of Milvia and Center Streets. 

We are also asking members of the community to volunteer to camp out with them for a night now and then. Choose whichever night you wish and bring your own warm camping gear. We are asking this in order to show solidarity with those in need and to act as witnesses in case they are rousted again by the police in the early hours of the morning. 

Three of the campers are currently very ill from exposure. If any of you have medical training - (nurses, doctors, medics) - we also ask you to drop in and help them. 

We thank you all. 

New: Birds around Berkeley

William Woodcock
Monday November 21, 2016 - 10:59:00 AM
Egret with Fish
William Woodcock
Egret with Fish

When things get tough, the tough can watch birds. These gorgeous photos, taken frequently by Bill Woodcock in and around Berkeley, will offer you a chance to see what birds are here now, and maybe even to learn their names.

New: Coalition Unites to Stop Raids on Tents

Carol Denney
Tuesday November 22, 2016 - 05:36:00 PM

A coalition of commissions, homeless people, and concerned community members are demanding that the City of Berkeley stop the raids on tent communities which are continuing despite the lack of alternatives for people trying to survive on the street. 

The Homeless Commission passed a unanimous recommendation November 9, 2016, for a "moratorium on evictions of the existing tent community at Allston Way/Center Street until the City Council Ad-Hoc Committee identifies a permanent location that is either permanent housing, a sanctioned encampment site or a navigation center." 

The Community Health Commission passed a similar recommendation, stating " Shelter capacity was inadequate even before the destruction of the city's Storm Shelter by the recent fire at First Congregational Church" calling the city's current policy of raiding tent groups and arresting those who don't move quickly enough for the police at 5:00 am " both morally unacceptable and fiscally irresponsible." The Peace and Justice Commission was the first to demand a moratorium on tent city evictions in October. 

The group of homeless people on what some are calling the "Poor Tour" have been chased from south Berkeley near the Berkeley Food and Housing Project to the steps of City Hall and continue to be scattered by period raids. The coalition is calling on Mayor-elect Jesse Arreguin for immediate action today.

New: Hundreds gather for Berkeley "Together We Rise" event

Steven Finacom
Friday November 18, 2016 - 11:02:00 PM
The human peace symbol from above, in a screen shot from filmmaker Kevin Kunze’s video.
Kevin Kunze
The human peace symbol from above, in a screen shot from filmmaker Kevin Kunze’s video.
Sophie Hahn greets attendees, with event organizer Lisa Bullwinkel at left.
Steven Finacom
Sophie Hahn greets attendees, with event organizer Lisa Bullwinkel at left.
The peace symbol forms, against the backdrop of old City Hall.
Steven Finacom
The peace symbol forms, against the backdrop of old City Hall.
Attendees formed the perimeter of the circle in front of the Veterans Memorial and raised their hands as the photography drone flew overhead.
Steven Finacom
Attendees formed the perimeter of the circle in front of the Veterans Memorial and raised their hands as the photography drone flew overhead.
Mayor elect Jesse Arreguin greets wellwishers after the event.
Steven Finacom
Mayor elect Jesse Arreguin greets wellwishers after the event.
Local songwriter Gary Lapow prepares to sing.
Steven Finacom
Local songwriter Gary Lapow prepares to sing.
Arreguin aide Stefan Elgstrand passes out refreshments to the early risers.
Steven Finacom
Arreguin aide Stefan Elgstrand passes out refreshments to the early risers.

Hundreds of Berkeley residents and other locals came to Berkeley’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park just before sunrise on Friday, November 18, 2016 at the request of Mayor Elect Jesse Arreguin.

“What an incredible crowd and what an incredible moment for our city” Arreguin said, as the sun began to glow through the seventy-five year old poplar trees behind him. “While many of us may still be coming out of the darkness, we are here, and our love of Berkeley shines bright.”

Behind the crowd, the spire of old Berkeley City Hall was touched with the gold light while the park itself was still in shadow.

“This is a time of renewal in Berkeley, and I know it may seem crazy but I feel energized. I really do. It takes a lot more than one crummy election to defeat us, right?”, he said to applause. “I have doubled down on my resolve, and I know you will too.”

The literal centerpiece of the gathering, which was quickly organized and promoted through social media by local arts impressario Lisa Bullwinkel, was a human peace symbol that participants formed on and around the central lawn of the historic park.  

Sophie Hahn, newly elected to the City Council, emceed the event. “What an amazing, beautiful, eclectic, vibrant community we have” she enthused. Vice-Mayor Linda Maio spoke, and City Auditor Ann Marie Hogan, Councilmember Lori Droste and Councilmember-elect Cheryl Davila joined the other civic dignitaries on the steps leading down from the centerpiece fountain to the lawn where the crowd had assembled. Davila, in particular, got a big cheer when announced. 

“It is just fabulous to be together in this”, Maio said. “Recover is something we absolutely must do. We haven’t been speaking with each other like we must do now. We cannot go down the Trump pathway.” 

Another brief speaker was Rabbi-Maggid Jhos Singer from Chochmat HaLev synagogue in South Berkeley. “Polar opposites actually have the capacity of bringing forth the peace. Find someone you totally disagree with, and sit down, be loving, be giant ears. This is the time, this is an exciting time, ‘easy’ is not exciting”, he concluded. 

Notable local songwriter and singer Gary Lapow led the crowd in his own version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, with lyrics appropriate for the occasion. The civic leaders linked arms and sang in a arc behind him. 

Besides those who spoke, several other newly elected or re-elected civic leaders were in the crowd, along with at least two School Board members, Ty Alper and Beatriz Leyva-Cutler. The crowd ranged from toddlers to elders, many of them wearing some touch of tie-dye as a Berkeley expression.  

Following yellow lines chalked across the lawn, those attending, many of them bundled up against the clear but chill morning, formed a peace symbol and waved or gave peace signs as a small drone—a “peace drone”, Hahn dubbed it—operated by local filmmaker Kevin Kunze hovered above and filmed and photographed the crowd. The circle nearly extended to the limits of the expansive lawn. 

The gathering reminded me of the place in Berkeley history of the civic center park. In 1941 the park was constructed, funded by a bond issue passed by Berkeley voters in 1940. The park had been a community dream for decades and its completion finally provided a suitable centerpiece for Berkeley’s main civic structures from City Hall to the Post Office.  

But when the park was dedicated, World War II was raging abroad and the United States was about to be drawn in. Berkeleyans had just emerged from the Great Depression and were facing an uncertain and violent future.  

Today, once again, Berkeleyans came to their physical civic heart to unite in the face of uncertainty. The importance of having such spaces to gather cannot be overstated. 


(The full text of Arreguin’s remarks is below): 



Good Morning Berkeley! Good Morning Neighbors! Good Morning Friends!  

What an incredible crowd and what an incredible moment for our city. While many of us may still be coming out of the darkness, we are here, and our love for Berkeley shines bright.  

I am so excited to be here with you and I feel great about our future. Really. I do. We live in the greatest little city in America, we are here, together, and the sun is rising as we speak. It doesn’t get much better than that.  

And like the sun, this is our time to rise up and shine brightly for each other, for our children, and for all the world to see: we are strong, we are resolute, and we are United.  

And you all know this, right? The People, United, will never be defeated! The People, United, Will never be defeated!  

That’s right. You got it. The people, united, will never be defeated.  

Like the sun we must be bold and bright. Our shared values of equity, inclusiveness, compassion, innovation and progressive action light the way, and we will express them in everything we do, now more than ever.  

Sure, we have a new president, but look around folks. Nothing has changed here. We still are who WE are. We have not changed who we are as a community - or what we stand for. And we are here today to reaffirm our shared values and recommit ourselves to a positive future for our city, and for the United States.  

Coming together, as we are doing today, we can do great things. Let us remember, what we cannot accomplish nationally we can – and we will - do here. Our city is a trailblazer. We will continue to lead with bold initiatives that model the world we want to live in. And we celebrate or greatest strength as a community: we are home to people of all backgrounds, faiths and life experiences. We thrive on diversity. And we will continue to be a sanctuary for all people. We strive for a better future for all – we will continue to fight for equity, inclusion and justice.  

Berkeley is a little city with a big voice, and we will continue to use it. We are a city of progressive ideals and values that resonate across different cultures. We celebrate diversity and individuality. There is a place for everyone here. 

From the free speech movement in the 1960s to the Black Lives Matter movement today, Berkeley has been at the epicenter of social reform. And under my Mayorship, this legacy will continue. No one is going to keep us from that path.  

On the contrary, this is our time to rededicate ourselves to peace, justice, equity, inclusiveness and kindness. 

This is a time of renewal in Berkeley, and I know it may seem crazy, but I. Feel. Energized. I really do. It takes a lot more than one crummy election to defeat us, right? I have doubled down on my resolve, and I know you will too.  

Let’s build more affordable housing so our working families don’t get pushed out of our city! Let’s house our homeless, and give them the compassion – and services – they need to rebuild their lives.  

Let’s get to a truly living wage, so that nobody who works full time in Berkeley lives in poverty.  

Let us continue Berkeley’s trailblazing environmental leadership! To protect our air, our water, and this precious planet. And let’s do all that we can to close the persistent gaps in health, education, and economic opportunity, so that every child in Berkeley has a fair shot and achieve her dreams.  

As Berkeley goes, so goes the State. Right? And as California goes, so goes the nation. What we are experiencing is a TEMPORARY SET BACK, folks. Progress is not a straight line. But I know in my heart and soul - and history has shown us - that, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” 

We have a MORAL OBLIGATION to be a leader in social, economic, and environmental justice. This may not be easy, but it is necessary. WE HAVE A MORAL OBLIGATION to remain a sanctuary city, and to open our arms to all people. We will continue to stand for human rights, LGBT rights, workers’ rights, environmental rights, and reproductive rights. Because remember: The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated.  

Michelle Obama famously said that when they go low, we go high. While there may be a dark night, there is always a sunrise, and the day is ours to make what we want of it. Let’s celebrate all that is bright, and beautiful, and good in each individual, and humanity.  

Here is what I promise to you as your new Mayor: I will work with you and work for you, to move our community closer to our ideals.  

And here is what we need to promise to each other: we will rededicate ourselves to our community. We will show up for each other, and we will participate. We will volunteer, we will mentor, we will help each other. We will listen, and open our hearts to our neighbors and community. And together we will rise to meet the challenges at home, in our state, and in our country, and to address the imperatives of climate change. We will build peace and friendship here at home, and strive for the same among peoples and all nations.  

So let’s be hopeful, let's be united, and let's get to work.  

Because together WE WILL RISE!!!!

New: Dr. Toy Says “No! Toy Guns” ©

Stevanne Auerbach, Ph.D.
Sunday November 20, 2016 - 07:41:00 PM

We applaud the City Council of Baltimore for taking on the issue of toy guns and banning them. The Baltimore City Council gave preliminary approval Monday to a citywide ban on toy guns that look like working handguns and rifles. Council members introduced the legislation after a 14-year-old East Baltimore boy holding a BB gun was shot by a police detective.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said replica guns are contributing to increased violence on Baltimore's streets. He said people are using fake weapons in robberies, and children who carry them are put in harm's way. There have been more than 800 shootings in Baltimore this year. “It's something that we should do for the safety of our children,” Young said. “We're getting stores robbed with replicas. We've got people running around with these things and they look real. ...I don't think we should be allowing replica guns in the city of Baltimore, especially with the murder rate we have.”

A police detective in East Baltimore shot and wounded 14-year-old Dedric Colvin in the shoulder and leg in April. Police said the boy was carrying a spring-air-powered BB gun that resembled a semiautomatic pistol. He survived the shooting. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis called the Daisy brand PowerLine Model 340 spring-air pistol that Dedric was carrying an “absolute, identical replica semiautomatic pistol.” City Councilman James B. Kraft introduced the proposed ban. He said, “The easiest way to resolve this is to get the replica guns off the streets.” http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-replica-guns-20161114-story.html 

The issue of violence and the disastrous toll it takes on society has been actively debated, but is still not solved. Children are greatly confused by adult’s conflicting angry, negative, and violent behavior. Even though legislation to mark toy guns with an orange band was passed, the band is hard to see at a distance and is not used consistently. Parents, police, and manufacturers of products have been well-informed, yet kids still die playing with toys and real guns throughout the country. 

We question why any parent would buy a gun of any kind for a child? Or why let them out of the house with a toy gun, BB gun, or anything that can be mistaken for a dangerous weapon? 

Parents also allow children to watch and play too many violent video games while their able bodies, reading scores, and capabilities plummet. Some are able to obtain real guns at home then bring them to school with disastrous deadly results such occurred as in Sparks, Nevada, last year, and in Townville, South Carolina only a few weeks ago. http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/01/us/south-carolina-elementary-school-shooting-victim 

Many other communities from Connecticut to California have been horribly shaken. These terrible stories have sadly persisted for too many decades across the entire country https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States 

In 1985, Dr. Thomas Radecki, psychiatrist, and Executive Director of the National Coalition on Television Violence, in a study of preschoolers compared the effects of playing with He-Man and Masters of the Universe figures, and playing with Cabbage Patch dolls. He reported the incidence of antisocial and violent behavior doubled after the youngsters played with the violent-theme toys. “The evidence is quite strong that we are transmitting an unhealthy message encouraging children to have fun pretending to murder each other,” he said. 

Also, that same year as Director of the San Francisco International Toy Museum (the world’s first “hands on” toy museum) at The Cannery, I said, “I would ban all toy guns because children accustomed to playing with them have also played with real weapons that were accessible, with tragic results as children can’t differentiate.” 

Then in February 1988, the shocking death of 13-year-old Tony Groshe, a disabled child who was shot and killed while he was running with a toy gun on Potrero Hill prompted a ban on realistic toy guns. To honor the child, and to create change, we held a transformative event in the Courtyard of The Cannery in Fisherman’s Wharf by inviting school children to turn in their realistic toy guns in exchange for Hula Hoops, which many used for the first time to their delight. Then, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to ban toy guns, followed by state legislation that mandated a bright orange band be placed on toy guns. Unfortunately this ID is inadequate, and hard to recognize from a distance. 

It’s frustrating that after all of these years of urgent messages, studies, positive actions, and the potential for improvements, more tangible changes have not yet happened. But if not now, when? 

In my book, Dr. Toy’s Smart Play Smart Toys, I review the value of the full range of excellent toys and games that provide discovery, engaging learning, and fun. I discuss the effects of violence. Some children want to act out what they see on TV, in the news, shows and in their community. Instead of toy guns it would be safer if they simply used their fingers, or a stick to role play, and then, as children do, they will quickly move on to a next new activity and a different theme of play. 

Instead of realistic toy guns, children should be actively playing with the thousands of amazing toys and games that support childhood with active, creative, and educational play, and learning experiences: Examples include, balls, Frisbees©, Hula Hoops©, jump ropes, Tangle® Toys, dolls, puppets, and plush toys to help discharge stress and negative feelings. The sport of jumping rope or keeping the hoop spinning around the body is great fun, and benefits all kids to be more physically active, and less tense. 

Children also need to build with LEGOs, blocks, and other construction materials so they learn, cooperate, and have fun together. 

They need to create art murals as supported by the Attitudinal Healing Connection in Oakland- http://www.ahc-oakland.org/ 

;And to plant edible school gardens as offered in Berkeley, and in other locations-http://www.edibleschoolgardens.org/ 

; To create with their hands as the Maker Movement promotes around the USA and around the world- http://makerfaire.com/maker-movement/ 

; To find a toy library- http://www.usatla.org/USA_Toy_Library_Association/Welcome_to_the_USA_Toy_Library_Association.html 

; And to find toys for special needs through LEKOTEK-https://www.lekotek.org/ 

We can, as concerned citizens, find ways to work with children everywhere, and find new ways to encourage them to participate, and create learning projects of all kinds (STEM, arts, nature, community improvements, etc.) that would provide age appropriate activities of all kinds, that will instill in each child pride, success, and engage them to work cooperatively. Consider contributing to the creative participation of schools, libraries, after school programs, Scouts, 4-H Clubs, Girls and Boys Clubs, churches, charter schools, home schooling, remote tech outreach like Khan’s Academy- https://www.khanacademy.org/ and others. 

We need more learning, training, and loving in our society. Words do matter! Words mean something so we can all understand each other. It’s time to find the right words and strategic ways to assist and protect our children by finding effective ways of improving communications, counseling, mediation, and preventing violence at home, in school, and in every community. 

Our Democracy has a responsibility to all of its citizens to respect each other and find ways to live in peace. We are now, because of escalating shootings resulting in injuries and deaths, a very poor example for the rest of the world. Let's strive to find effective new ways to peacefully solve the painful causes, resulting traumas, and challenging problems of violence. It’s the right time to find new, cooperative, and positive ways to “Teach Our Children Well!” 


About Dr. Toy 

Dr. Toy, Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, has been for many years one of the leading professionals on children's play and educational toys and related products. Dr. Auerbach relies on 45 plus years of training and hands-on experience to select the best educationally oriented, skill building products from both large and small companies world-wide for her original, annual award programs. Millions of parents, teachers, and toy buyers have used Dr. Toy’s Guide (www.drtoy.com) the first site on the internet on toys, in making their toy, learning and play, selections. Dr. Toy’s Smart Play/ Smart Toys: How to Select and Use the Best (now in its 4th edition) is a unique guide to play, child development, and the appropriate toys from baby to older children. The book has been published in 12 countries, and next year, it will be available in Japan. 


© 2016 Stevanne Auerbach, PhD/ Dr. Toy®, San Francisco CA 94104

Press Release: Alameda County Final Vote Count Results released

Guy Ashley, Alameda County Registrar of Voters Office
Friday November 18, 2016 - 10:58:00 PM

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters Office completed ballot processing this evening and has released Unofficial Final election results from the November 8 General Election. 

Updates posted to the Registrar’s website show ballots cast by 670,245 voters, the most ever to participate in an election in Alameda County. 

That number represents a 75.42 percent turnout of Alameda County’s 888,709 registered voters. 

Under State law, Alameda County has until December 8 to certify its election results.

New: Trump Has NOT Been Elected . . . Yet-- How We Can Stop Trump and Act to Make America a Democracy

Gar Smith
Sunday November 20, 2016 - 07:40:00 PM

When it comes to electing presidents, the US has never been a democracy. More than 108 countries practice the direct popular election of their leaders but the US is not one of them.

The US is one of six countries that rely on a parliamentary or an Electoral College system—we're right up there with Estonia, Germany, India, Pakistan and Surinam. (Among the countries arguably "more democratic" than the US: Abkhazia, Chad, El Salvador, Haiti, Iran, Mongolia, Nigeria, Russia, South Sudan, Uganda, Zimbabwe and the Republic of Korea.)

When Donald Trump complains that "The system is rigged!" he's right. With the Electoral College, it's rigged in his favor.



If the Electoral College vote is not challenged, Trump will join Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and George W. Bush as candidates who lost the popular vote but were given the presidency as a consolation prize. 

If America's elections were democratic, Hillary Clinton—consistently leading in the direct popular vote—would be our president. As of November 15, Clinton's lead in the popular election had increased to 1.16 million votes. As The Nation pointed out, that gave Clinton a larger margin than the lead racked up by John F. Kennedy in 1960. And, thanks, in part, to that growing lead, Clinton could still win the presidency. 

How is that possible? 

The simple fact is, that despite all the media rhetoric, Donald Trump has NOT been elected president. Yet. 

The Electoral College doesn't cast its votes until December 19—more than a month away. And, when that time comes, the electoral delegates are free to cast their votes for whomever they wish. 

Even before the November vote, members of ten state delegations already had signed a pledge to cast their ballots for the winner of the popular vote. (Details below.) More state delegations could be called on to honor the expressed "will of the people" and cast their electoral votes for Clinton. 

The rebellion has already begun. On August 25, Politico reported that three members of the Texas Electoral College delegation had considered depriving Trump of their votes. 

Trump is not yet President and—depending on what happens over the next four weeks—he may never be. There is, of course, one big downside to this unprecedented scenario: A corporate-friendly, regime-toppling, war-hawkish Clinton presidency. 

How Clinton Failed to Act in 2000  

In 2000, the Supreme Court intervened to "select" George Bush as president, even though Al Gore won the national popular vote. Hillary Clinton was elected senator that same year and she vowed to get rid of the Electoral College. A few years later, as a columnist for the New York Press, Paul Krassner sent Clinton a letter asking for a progress report. She never replied. 

"Irony lives," Krassner recently wrote: "On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump -- business crook, liar extraordinaire, star pussy-grabber, make-America-white-again and Putin’s "useful idiot" -- was elected as an insanely narcissistic dictator because of the electoral college, even though his opponent Hillary won the national popular vote." 

Hillary may have failed to act but Trump's apparent seizure of the Electoral College vote has prompted millions of shocked citizens to pick up the struggle. 

4 Million Citizens Call on Electoral Delegates to Chose Clinton for President  

In less than a week, a Change.org Electoral College reform petition posted by Elijah Berg, gained millions of signatures nationwide (4.4 million signatures as of November 15).  

"In most states," Berg writes, "electors can vote for Hillary Clinton if they choose and there is no legal means to stop them." Even in the 24 states where this is not officially permitted, electors can still cast their vote for Clinton (or Gary Johnson or Dr. Jill Stein) and their votes will be counted—as long as they pay a small fine. 

Can the Electoral College Save the Republic? 

As Bill Weinberg points out: "It's a little ironic that the Electoral College—the very institution that got us into this mess—now holds the only hope of getting us out." 

"The fact that Hillary won the popular vote gives the idea a moral and political credence." Weinberg writes. "A general revolt of the Electoral College is utterly unprecedented in American history—but then, so is the election of a balls-out fascist as president." 

Several times over the course of US history, disgusted Republicans have bolted their party to support a Democrat candidate. These deserters have been denigrated as "mugwumps" and electors who have "gone rogue" have been maligned as "faithless electors." But mere name-calling has never prevented these dissidents from voting their conscience. 

A campaign launched under the name #NotMyPresident (see also, #ElectoralNullification) lays out the game plan as follows: 

Electoral College results are only a preliminary projection of the outcome. A candidate still needs to earn 270 electoral votes to win. 

There are 21 states that do NOT restrict which candidate the electors vote for. 

Out of these 21, Hillary lost 16—worth 166 electoral votes. In these states, it is perfectly legal for electors to switch their vote. 

On December 19, electors could shift enough votes to Clinton to secure her victory in the Electoral College. And there is another scenario: 

These electoral voters can also abstain, which means that they can refuse to vote for either candidate. If . . . no candidate . . . [reachs] the required 270 . . . , the vote would be taken to the House. 

There are 16 key states that could switch their votes from Trump to Clinton. It would only take 38 of these 166 electoral votes (23%) to put Clinton over the top. 

The critical states are Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arizona and Idaho. 

Sign the Petition: End the Electoral College 

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire US. It has been enacted into law in 11 states with 165 electoral votes, and will take effect when enacted by states with 105 more. The bill has passed one chamber in 12 additional states with 96 electoral votes. Most recently, the bill was passed by a bipartisan 40-16 vote in the Republican-controlled Arizona House, 28-18 in Republican-controlled Oklahoma Senate, 57-4 in Republican-controlled New York Senate, and 37-21 in Democratic-controlled Oregon House. 

Eliminating the Electoral College does not require a Constitutional amendment. An effort known as www.nationalpopularvote.com/>The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is an agreement among US states and the District of Columbia to award their respective electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote. Once states totaling 270 electoral votes join the compact, the next presidential election will be determined the popular vote, not the Electoral College. 

As of November 9, 2016, ten states and the District of Columbia had signed the compact. These 165 electoral votes represent more than 60% of the total needed. If Democrats do well at the state level in the 2018 midterm elections, then the winner of 2020 presidential election could be determined by popular vote. 

Sign if you agree: Abolish the Electoral College and determine the winner of presidential elections by popular vote. 

Other resources: On Facebook, Abolish the Electoral College 

Sign the MoveOn Petition to Abolish the Electoral Collegehere

Impeachment as a Last Resort 

On November 7, University of Utah researchers released a report on the possibility of impeaching Donald Trump should he become president. 

Law professor Christopher Peterson claimed that there is sufficient evidence to charge the Republican candidate with fraud and racketeering (both felonies within state and federal law). 

Petersen's investigation, “Trump University and Presidential Impeachment,” focused on the activities of Trump University, where students went into debt to learn Trump's personal secrets to achieving real estate success. 

Trump U folded in 2010 but a major lawsuit is now pending, charging Trump with engaging in "false statements" and "fraudulent representations." According to Peterson, "Fraud and racketeering are serious crimes that legally rise to the level of impeachable acts" and Congress would be within its rights to push for an impeachment in civil cases—even without a criminal conviction. 

(Once in office, a US president is rendered uniquely immune from prosecution for conflicts of interest—a particular problem for a president who is not a public servant but a business leader with controlling interest in more than 500 businesses in the US, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Thailand, Argentina and many other countries. 

--- --- 

The following excerpt from a November 10 article in The Progressive by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman sketches the long history of voter manipulation in the USA. 

Abolish the Electoral College 

Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman 

For the sixth time in our history, a candidate for President of the United States may have won the popular vote and lost the White House . . . . 

This year’s vote has once again been stripped and flipped by GOP Jim Crow segregationist tactics that disenfranchised millions of primarily African-American and Hispanic citizens. 

The Electoral College was established at the 1787 Constitutional Convention to prevent the public from voting directly on our national leader. Ostensibly, it was meant in part to protect small states from being bullied by bigger ones. 

It also installed a “three-fifth bonus” that gave plantation owners a 60 percent headcount for their slaves. The ruse was counted into Congressional districting, giving the south a distinct advantage over the northern free states. That’s why every President from Jefferson to Lincoln either owned slaves or had a vice president who did. 

In 1800, Jefferson beat the incumbent John Adams in an Electoral College swung by “bonus votes” that came from slaves who could not actually cast them. In 1824, John Quincy Adams made a deal with Kentucky slaveowner Henry Clay to steal the presidency from Andrew Jackson, who had beaten Adams by about 50,000 popular votes. 

In 1876, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes lost to Democrat Samuel Tilden by about 250,000 votes. But the GOP used federal troops in the south to shift enough Electoral College votes to create a deadlock. Hayes then became president by agreeing to remove those troops and end Reconstruction, a catastrophe for southern blacks and a triumph for the Jim Crow segregation that has defined our national politics ever since. 

In 1888, Republican Benjamin Harrison lost the popular vote to incumbent Democrat Grover Cleveland but became president anyway. Cleveland won back the White House in 1892. 

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore beat Republican George W. Bush by a nationwide tally of about 500,000 votes. Gore was also ultimately shown to have won the popular vote in Florida. But Bush’s brother Jeb, then governor of Florida, used a computerized system to remove voters from the rolls, to steal Florida’s electoral votes and put George in the White House. 

Much the same was done in Ohio 2004 to defeat John Kerry. Bush ultimately was credited with a victory in the nationwide popular vote. 

This year, Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory will change history in unimaginable ways. But nationwide it appears he did not win the popular vote. Hillary Clinton did. 

There is much more to this story. But one thing is clear: There is no useful function for the Electoral College, a vile 230-year-old holdover from the bad old days of the southern slaveocracy. It poisons our electoral process . . . . [I]f we are to have anything that resembles a democracy, the Electoral College must be abolished.

Press Release: Davila prevails in District 2, first incumbent unseated since 1994

Noah Sochet
Friday November 18, 2016 - 10:55:00 PM

With more than 8100 ballots counted in Berkeley’s District 2, Cheryl Davila has won the city council race, becoming the first candidate to unseat a sitting council member in nearly a quarter century. Davila, a 35 year resident of West Berkeley, has served on the City’s Human Welfare Commission since 2009. 

In a campaign focused on a growing affordable housing crisis, Davila promised to promote “beautification without gentrification” noting “when development caters to only constituents who are new, high-income residents that can afford above-market-rate housing, we push out the existing business owners, homeowners, and renters. The outcome is a Berkeley without diversity – large corporations own the businesses and wealthy people dominate the neighborhoods.” Davila repeatedly pointed out that the previous city council allowed agreements with developers that produced new apartment buildings with little or no affordable units, and paltry community benefit packages. Davila has also proposed funding mental health crisis response teams that would include mental health professionals trained in de-escalation; they would deploy instead of police officers, insisting “when someone is in crisis, they need a counselor, not a fire truck.” 

Local residents, two-thirds of whom voted against incumbent Darryl Moore, expressed enthusiasm for Davila. Kathy Horsely, a longtime resident of District 2, said, “Cheryl won my support because of her personal qualities: honesty, modesty, sense of responsibility to the community, and reverence for culture—her own and the cultures of people around her. At all of her campaign events, she made a place for music, dance, and poetry.” 

Rochelle Gause, West Berkeley mother of two, pointed to the larger council swing from moderate to progressive in this election: “I hope this new council can start to address Berkeley's affordable housing crisis in a real way. I know Cheryl believes in the kind of city I want to raise my kids in: equitable, diverse, and committed to social justice.” 

In a statement, Davila noted the dark national political climate, but expressed hopefulness about the changes coming to Berkeley’s City Hall: “Despite the deeply painful national news, here in Berkeley, progressive values won across the ballot,” adding, “I am deeply humbled by the outpouring of support I’ve received from the neighborhoods of District 2. It will be my honor to serve as your councilwoman, and I’ll do my very best to make sure that your voices are heard at City Hall.

William Marx Mandel -- Presente !

James Vann (with help from Wikipedia)
Thursday November 24, 2016 - 01:16:00 PM

William Marx "Bill" Mandel (born June 4, 1917 in New York City), a former Bay Area broadcast journalist, left-wing political activist and author, best known as a Soviet expert, died this morning, Thanksgiving, at 1:15am. Bill was 99. His books, include “Soviet Women,” and the latest, his autobiography, “Saying No to Power (1999).”  

Considered a leading Sovietologist during the 1940s and 1950s, Mandel was a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, but lost his position there due to the political pressures of the McCarthy era. He is perhaps best known for standing up to Senator Joseph McCarthy during a televised 1953 Senate committee hearing in which Mandel pointedly told the senator, "This is a book-burning! You lack only the tinder to set fire to the books as Hitler did twenty years ago, and I am going to get that across to the American people!" 

In 1960, Mandel was again subpoenaed, this time by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He testified on May 13 in a hearing held at the San Francisco City Hall. Outside the hearing, hundreds of protesting Bay Area college students were blasted with firehoses and dragged down the marble steps by police officers, leaving some seriously injured.[3] Newsreel cameras recorded Mandel's scathing response to the question posed by Lead Counsel Richard Arens, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?": 

Mandel replied: “Honorable beaters of children, sadists, uniformed and in plain clothes, distinguished Dixiecrat wearing the clothing of a gentleman, eminent Republican who opposes an accommodation with the one country with which we must live at peace in order for us and all our children to survive. My boy of fifteen left this room a few minutes ago in sound health and not jailed, solely because I asked him to be in here to learn something about the procedures of the United States government and one of its committees. Had he been outside where a son of a friend of mine had his head split by these goons operating under your orders, my boy today might have paid the penalty of permanent injury or a police record for desiring to come here and hear how this committee operates. If you think that I am going to cooperate with this collection of Judases, of men who sit there in violation of the United States Constitution, if you think I will cooperate with you in any way, you are insane!" 

For over 10 years, Mandel hosted a weekly radio program on KPFA-Berkeley until 1995 as commentator and interpreter on Soviet affairs. He died peacefully at his home in Kensington. 

Edith Monk Hallberg
Feburary 7, 1947 - October 30, 2016

Helen Hallberg
Monday November 21, 2016 - 04:17:00 PM
Edith Monk Hallberg <br> Feburary 7, 1947 - October 30, 2016
Edith Monk Hallberg
Feburary 7, 1947 - October 30, 2016

On the morning of October 30, 2016, Edith Erlene Monk Hallberg passed away peacefully in her apartment at the Redwood Gardens in Berkeley, CA. She was 69 years old. 

Edie was born in San Francisco, CA on February 7, 1947, the third daughter of Edgar and Cledyth Monk. She grew up in the East Bay and graduated from Harry Ells High School in Richmond, in 1964. Soon after graduation she met her husband, Michael John Hallberg, moved to Berkeley, where they had two children together: Carl in 1967, and Helen in 1969. 

Edie’s experience with her kids’ preschool sparked a lifelong passion for education. She earned a degree in childhood education from SFSU, and worked as a substitute teacher in the Berkeley Unified School District for nearly 30 years; a generation of Berkeley kids will remember her as “The Cat Lady” thanks to the festive feline theme she brought to the classroom. 

Everyone who knew Edie knows she was a tireless champion for the rights of workers, teachers, the elderly, and the homeless. She became active in Berkeley politics and was a proud member of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, the Labor Commission, the Homeless Commission, the Commission on Aging, the East Bay Gray Panthers, the Rockin’ Solidarity Chorus, the California Alliance for Retired Americans, the Peace and Freedom Party, and countless other groups dedicated to justice for the underprivileged and underserved. Her tenacious activism will be missed by all. 

Edie is survived by her sisters Maxine Wood and Pam Railsback, her long time companion Bob Magarian, her children Carl Hallberg and Helen Hallberg, and 4 grandchildren. 

Friends and family are invited to attend a memorial service on Sunday December 11th, 1:00 pm at the North Berkeley Senior Center 1901 Hearst Ave, Berkeley. 



Что делать? What is to be done?

Becky O'Malley
Friday November 18, 2016 - 12:42:00 PM

Looking through my enormous pile of meaningless unread political mail after election day, I came across a small but thick envelope from Emily’s List. Normally I don’t subscribe to that organization, since over the years it’s backed some truly awful women out of a misguided—I was going to say “feminist patriotism”, but that’s a linguistically foolish construct, so let’s call it—“matriotism”.

In this case however, the envelope contained four small square black-and-white bumper stickers saying “Women can stop Trump.” I’d ordered them on the internet at the Emily’s List site after seeing one on a car, and I really hoped they were true.


Since I never got around to handing them out to my daughters or putting one on my own car, I now have to decide what to do with them. Throw them away? No. They’re a valuable historic artifact which should be passed on to my all-female descendants, as a reminder that we’re all in this soup together, women and men both.

As I promised last week, this week I’ll indulge in some brief ruminations on what went wrong in the presidential race on November 8, and where we go from here.

First, of course, we won. 

That is to say, Hillary Clinton was chosen by the majority of voters, perhaps a couple of million more than chose Herr Drumpf. But thanks to the archaic electoral college system, he nonetheless gets the prize. There have been suggestions that the electors exercise their putative constitutional right to vote for whomever they want. That came up on my neighborhood NextDoor thread, but it was greeted there with horror, much to my surprise, by the renowned Joe Grodin himself, per Wikipedia “ lawyer, law professor, and a former Presiding Justice on the California Court of Appeal and an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of California.[1] And one of the very best liberal justices of all time, I might add. I'm pleased to see he’s still a neighbor. 

He spoke up for not changing the rules after the game has been played, and I must agree: “Strikes me as a very bad idea to ask electors to ignore the vote of the people who selected them: contrary to the premise of the electoral system, a very bad precedent, and, if it were to succeed, certain to produce violent opposition.” 

Though the consequences could easily be epic, as far as the election was concerned it was statistically just about a tie. What concerns me about the race is not just who won, but the apparent fact that roughly half of the country voted for a lunatic narcissist whose campaign featured, among other things, breathtaking vulgarity, blatant sexism and hitherto unseen racism. 

However. As I told my weepy granddaughters, I’ve seen many presidents elected who I was sure would bring the end of the world upon us, and it didn’t happen. 

Tom Lord’s piece in this issue about The Graduate reminded me of the night we saw the first-run movie in Ann Arbor, and came out to hear on the car radio that Lyndon Johnson had decided not to run for another term. We were gleeful, having spent most of his term organizing against the war in Vietnam—we thought we’d won. 

Well, not so fast. His successor turned out to be Richard Nixon, not such a prize after all—but he did end the war. Only a good bit later, I, along with others, learned to appreciate how much Lyndon Johnson had done to advance civil rights, the other cause which I devoted most of my twenties to promoting. It’s not over until it’s over, is it? 

And then in 2000 we went to the inauguration in Washington with the late and much lamented Patti Dacey to protest the outcome of the Bush-Gore election. It was bitter cold, and our presence made not a whit of difference, and now the president-elect makes awful old W-Bush look like a statesman. 

What happened this time? In the more than half century since I’ve inhabited the revolving door between journalism and politics (with an 18-year break to make a living) I’ve learned that there’s one slogan which always works: “It’s time for a change.” I don’t know if it was invented by Plunkitt of Tammany Hall (“I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em”) but it affects almost every election where there’s a previously-elected candidate in the running. 

In this race, DT won by using the Xtreme version: “Throw the rascals out !”. He and his operatives managed to convince enough suckers on the Trump/Sanders right-left axis that Hillary Clinton was a crook that it won the election. 

This is where I get so angry as to be incoherent. Hillary Clinton, like most politicians, is not without flaws, but she’s much more sinned against than sinning. I have absolutely no patience with the fringe pseudo-leftists who have a sacramental view of what voting’s all about, who consider it just another opportunity to express their inner selves instead of a consequential decision. 

Luckily, Kurt Eichenwald has summed up my opinion exactly in his Newsweek column, The Scoop. Rather than foaming at the mouth myself, I’ll just quote his piece at length here: 



“Could Sanders still have won? Well, Trump won, so anything is possible. But Sanders supporters puffing up their chests as they arrogantly declare Trump would have definitely lost against their candidate deserve to be ignored.  

“Which leads back to the main point: Awash in false conspiracy theories and petulant immaturity, liberals put Trump in the White House. Trump won slightly fewer votes than Romney did in 2012—60.5 million compared with 60.9 million. On the other hand, almost 5 million Obama voters either stayed home or cast their votes for someone else. More than twice as many millennials—a group heavily invested in the “Sanders was cheated out of the nomination” fantasy—voted third-party. The laughably unqualified Jill Stein of the Green Party got 1.3 million votes; those voters almost certainly opposed Trump; if just the Stein voters in Michigan had cast their ballot for Clinton, she probably would have won the state. And there is no telling how many disaffected Sanders voters cast their ballot for Trump.

“Of course, there will still be those voters who snarl, “She didn’t earn my vote,” as if somehow their narcissism should override all other considerations in the election. That, however, is not what an election is about. Voters are charged with choosing the best person to lead the country, not the one who appeals the most to their egos.

“ If you voted for Trump because you supported him, congratulations on your candidate’s victory. But if you didn’t vote for the only person who could defeat him and are now protesting a Trump presidency, may I suggest you shut up and go home. Adults now need to start fixing the damage you have done.” 



Don’t believe him? Read his whole piece here: The Myths Democrats Swallowed That Cost Them the Presidential Election. He’s got the goods on Sanders. 


And if he’s talking about you, hang your head in shame and weep. 

We must take some responsibility for giving space to the paranoid left, I suppose, but as a free speech advocate I think it's better to help irrational people put their silly ideas right out front where they can be refuted by cooler heads. 

My partner in crime call it a “Trotsky Moment”—from the belief that enhancing the contradictions might bring on the revolution. He told this to our friend the Petaluma chicken farm heiress, who describes her parents as having different old leftist tendencies which they endless debated at the dinner table when she was growing up. The slogan she remembers from that era is “The worser the better.” 

How can we grown-ups fix things? That’s a topic for later. Judging by today’s news on Trump’s appointments, it’s not going to be easy. We’ll see what happens, but don’t hold your breath. 

P.S. On Sunday after this was published I had a visitor, a bouncy pig-tailed second-grade girl, African-American, about eight years old. She noted with approval the Clinton sign on the fridge and complained loudly about the election results. Then she noticed my mail stack, with the above-mentioned "Women Can Stop Trump" sticker and seized on it with glee. She read it aloud a couple of times, then asked if she could have it. Of course! She peeled off the backing and stuck it to her teeshirt, saying that she'd put it on her mom's car when she went home. And you know, she might just just be right. She will be old enough to vote in only ten years, and if we haven't stopped Trump (or his ilk) by then she and her sister and their mom and some friends might just take care of him themselves. 






Public Comment

Human peace sign event dovetails with stopping the homeless merry-go-round

Carol Denney
Friday November 18, 2016 - 01:07:00 PM
Carol Denney
Carol Denney

I know there will be photos from a drone of the aerial view of the early morning human peace sign in Martin Luther King Civic Center Park today, November 18, 2016, which was a lovely event. I wore tie-dye, I raised my hands in peace signs, I helped make the human peace symbol for the bemused seagulls nearby to see. 

But my favorite photos are these of only two of the many people who brought their sense of shared purpose, their willingness to cross political divides to help organize positive change in this post-election moment, but also their clear voices of concern about the repeated raids of First They Came for the Homeless, the peaceful, drug-free group which has spent years doggedly illustrating the crying need for a legal place to sleep. 

First They Came for the Homeless was raided twice on the night before the human peace sign event; chased in the middle of the night from an area within the park back to within a few dozen feet of the same place they were evicted from only the day before. They were raided again early in the morning and forced to move about a dozen feet away by the same city police and staff which continues this curious sleep-confounding custom even in the wake of an apparent change in political leadership. 

So who's running this carnival which has left so many with so little with even less? One of the young men flushed from location to location has a serious eye infection which jeopardizes his eyesight, an injury linked in part to the caustic cleaning fluids used in heavy quantities near the group; the workers wear protection, but the people closest to the spray, which becomes an aerosol, have none. 

Mayor-elect Jesse Arreguin and a small committee ostensibly looked into, but did not recommend, two sites for possible campgrounds far from the city center near the freeways in districts one and two. But the logical site is exactly where First They Came for the Homeless set up camp in the first place years ago: near City Hall, where there are bathrooms, services, transportation, YMCA showers, library resources, and social service outreach groups. 

City Hall, in its flush of progressive victory, needs prodded now, not later, to stop wasting community resources, tens of thousands of dollars per raid, accomplishing nothing. The resolve of First They Came for the Homeless is as strong now as it was four years ago, if not stronger. 

To paraphrase Commissioner George Lippman, who joined me in the early morning human peace sign event and was willing to chat briefly about the ongoing human rights violations just around the corner, "it is always a good time to talk about human rights."

Trump must end his flirtation with xenophobia and racism

Congresswoman Barbara Lee
Friday November 18, 2016 - 12:39:00 PM

With each passing day, Congress and the American people get a clearer look into the Trump White House.

People of conscience are horrified by what we’ve seen.

The Justice Department is our nation’s best instrument for protecting our civil rights and voting rights. I am appalled by the decision to nominate Senator Jeff Sessions, a man rejected from serving on the federal bench for his racist comments, as Attorney General. His confirmation would put much of our progress as a nation at grave risk. I strongly urge my colleagues in the Senate to reject his nomination. 

Likewise, the decision to name Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor is another step in the wrong direction. Gen. Flynn was forced out of his role at the Defense Intelligence Agency for insubordination and has made a career out of denigrating Muslims. Time and time again, we’ve seen dangerous comments like his used to recruit terrorists abroad. The decision to hire Lt. Gen. Flynn to oversee our national security is worrisome and baffling. 

Finally, President-elect Trump’s decision to name Steve Bannon, an alt-right nationalist, extremist and alleged domestic abuser, as chief White House strategist is simply unacceptable. As I said in The Hill, ‘we are better than this.’ 

President-elect Trump should be reminded that the majority of Americans, by more than a million-vote margin, rejected him and his dangerous flirtation with racism, xenophobia, sexism and hyper-nationalism. 

Once again, I call on President-elect Trump to live up to his Election Night promise to be ‘a President for all Americans’ and rescind the nominations of these dangerous individuals.

On the Berkeley elections: "hello darkness, my old friend"

Thomas Lord
Friday November 18, 2016 - 01:14:00 PM

At the end of the movie "The Graduate", Benjamin stands in the vestibule of the church pounding a single demand on its grand glass entryway: "Elaine!"

As Elaine abandons the altar, her eyes fixed on Ben, she takes her hypnotic walk back down the aisle. We see arrayed around her an older generation's bondage: middle class conformity, consumerism, patriarchy, sex (furtive and transgressive) as a social weapon, a business world distilled to a single word - "plastics".

For a moment, the soundtrack mutes the angry voices of those who came to see her wed. There are only red faces, teeth bared in awful grimaces. We see them shouting but their words are gone. The sound returns only as anger turns to violence when the soldiers of the social order try to snatch back the youths from the brink of terrible freedom.

In one of the most overwrought visual metaphors in cinema -- striking in an otherwise low-key film -- Ben drives back the angry mob by swinging wildly at them with a cross from their own church. As Ben and Elaine flee, they bar the door with that very cross, trapping inside the society they reject.

The pair make their getaway in the back of a public bus -- the closest the 1967 film comes to acknowledging the existence of Black people. As the wistful music swells before the final credits roll we see in their young faces a progression of emotions. The moment settles in and weighs upon them: giddy excitement, laughter, and romance give way first to uncertainty and then -- is that fear? "What next?", we see them think in unison.


Two eras ended in Berkeley last week:

On the political scene, 25 years of rule over City Council by a so-called moderate faction came to a decisive end as moderates lost all but one race they entered. Local wonks are calling it the first progressive sweep of an election in as long as anyone cares to remember. 

And on the mytho-poeic side, Cafe Mediterraneum ("Cafe Med") announced that its 60th year of business will be its last. It is among the least, yet most widely mentioned, significances of the Cafe that it is featured briefly in the "The Graduate"; Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) sits at a table and stares out the front window. ("The Dustin Hoffman table," the regulars call it.) 

The local election was widely portrayed as an epic clash between two forces. On one side, an old guard who was (depending on who you ask) either pragmatic and hard-nosed or else corrupted by big development money and cruel towards poor people. On the other side (depending on who you ask), either bold new leadership for a greener, more humane Berkeley for Everyone or else a clumsy gang of bleeding-heart idealists who are now poised to bankrupt the city and fill parks and sidewalks with homeless encampments. 

Whatever else may be said about the election, the voters ran away from the altar of the past in no uncertain terms. As Berkeleyans, we now sit on the back of the only bus that happened to be passing, headed to points unknown, wondering to ourselves: "What next?" 


With the hindsight of 50 years we have some idea what came next for Benjamin and Elaine, or at least the society for whom they were avatars. 

In '68, a year after they fled the church, cities burned in youthful rebellion around the world. The war and body count in Asia escalated. The Democratic National Convention ended in bloodshed after police and city powers rose to the bait, taking up arms against hippies. After the famous trial, the one Black defendant who alone was put in chains and prevented from speaking by the judge would be all but erased from popular white history, reducing the Chicago 8 to just 7. 

Nixon was the One that year. Two years later, when the country came within days of defaulting on its national debt, Nixon would briefly accomplish for Berkeley (and the nation) something Berkeley radicals had struggled for without success: a freeze on rent increases. 

For a decade, young people who were Ben and Elaine's age hit a brick wall as they tried to enter the economy: Massive unemployment (underplayed in the official numbers) combined with relentless inflation. Middle class life began its long, slow slide into history. 

I tend to imagine that after Ben and Elaine inevitably went their separate and disillusioned ways, Ben wound up somehow as Herman Blume in the film "Rushmore" (1998). Ben/Blume middle aged, looking like his mustachioed father in more ways than one: unhappy marriage, unenjoyable pool in the back yard which serves as a nihilist refuge from unlikable friends and incomprehensible children. Ben/Blume himself a worn out industrialist overseeing a tedious factory that, no doubt, cranks out something made of plastic. 


In hindsight the future is always clearer than the past, but in the present: "What next?" 

We live in dark times. An avowed white nationalist will take his seat at the right hand of an operatically charismatic con artist in the nation's highest office. We are promised an increase in the scope and capacity of the police state, a rush to develop environmentally ruinous production, a polarization of the working class into silos of mutual hatred and suspicion. We already have an economy in ruins for the working class, with falling wages, inflation, and high unemployment that official figures lie about. 

Perhaps the damnedest kick in the teeth -- speaking only on the political front -- is that what the losing candidate promised, in her fine print, may have been different from what we're getting -- but it wasn't wildly different. Larger forces are at work than any one politician. 

The new regime in Berkeley, meanwhile, is a loose coalition at best; collectively they have no more of a plan or vision of the future than Ben and Elaine did when they boarded that bus. We know what we've rejected perfectly well. It's where we're headed that leaves us in the dark.

Israeli Settlements

Jagjit Singh
Friday November 18, 2016 - 01:37:00 PM

Right-wing Israeli politicians eager to capitalize on Trump’s election gave preliminary approval to a bill that would retroactively legalize illegal settlements built in the West Bank. The bill was rushed through the Israeli parliament to forestall the demolition of an illegal outpost by 25 December.  

Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, expressed his disdain for international law boasting “the era of the Palestinian state is over.” 

Israel’s defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, went even further urging his government to negotiate a deal with the Trump administration to approve expanded construction in major West Bank settlements. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, oppose the bill warning that it violates international law. This development is a monumental failure of successive US administrations who have failed to broker a peaceful two-state settlement. Billions of US tax funds have been squandered rewarding Israel for their bad behavior. 

Senator Patrick Leahy, denounced Israel’s blatant theft of Palestinian land stating, “One of the most effective ways that ISIS and other terrorist groups have attracted recruits is by tarring the United States with Israel’s expanding occupation of the West Bank. This legislation to retroactively legalize illegal settlements will be welcomed by those murderous groups as further evidence that America’s closest ally in the region is bent on destroying a peaceful solution, including the possibility of a Palestinian state.” 

Let us hope that President-Elect Trump will use his deal making skills to broker a peaceful and equitable solution to the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

America under trump: a layman's predictions

Jack Bragen
Friday November 18, 2016 - 01:08:00 PM

Donald Trump won the election to the Presidency with promises of "making America great again" in which he seduced voters into believing we could create another post-WWII economy. There are numerous reasons why this isn't realistic, and why any attempt to bring the U.S. back to the late 1940's will have dire consequences for our country and for the world.  

The U.S. relies very heavily on guest workers and on foreign manufacturing. Trying to tamper with this will wreck everything that currently works. The main products for which the U.S. is responsible are innovation, information technology, sales of weapons of mass destruction, and financial control.  

The U.S. is not primarily a manufacturing economy. China is. We should let China do what they are good at, and we should continue doing the things we're good at. Almost all manufactured goods that you purchase at Wal-Mart are from China.  

The U.S. doesn't perform its own dirty work. For that, we rely on guest workers, people whose background is that of far harsher conditions than we can imagine, and who work incredibly hard for us for less than minimum wage. People born in the U.S., especially Caucasian people, would never be willing to do such work. Most people born in the U.S. are raised to aspire to professional employment.  

If we deport all of the undocumented workers and implement the 35 percent trade tariff, both of which Trump promised, things would quickly fall apart.  

One of the first things we might notice will be a food shortage. We might soon discover that no one is available to do our landscaping, to clean our office buildings, to do construction cleanup, to bus tables at restaurants.  

We will see a sharp increase in the price of manufactured goods, and many of the products we are accustomed to buying may be completely unavailable. This is because we are not currently set up to manufacture our own products.  

Because of all of this disruption, the public could go into emotional shock. Conditions could worsen due to widespread panic, and society could spiral out of control. What happens after that, one can only guess. Would Trump institute martial law if people are rioting?  

Of course, none of this is going to happen because saner heads will advise Trump to leave things pretty much as they are while giving some appearance of revolutionizing everything. Guest workers will still be here, but they will have fewer rights than they had before Trump, and they will be criminalized more. But we need them and there is no way that they will be deported.  

We will continue to manufacture in other countries and we will continue to purchase manufactured goods from China, because we have no other choice.  

The other option would be to let all of the people out of the prisons and jails who are doing hard sentences for nonviolent offenses, and put those individuals into the jobs left vacant by deported people. Yet, that will not happen, either.  

In short, not much will change under the new President. This is due to the fact that the people truly in control of things like it the way it is. As President, Trump will have limited power, and any actions that are excessively ill-advised will be blocked by the Republican Congress.  

The Satanic Friendship Between Government and Business

Harry Brill
Friday November 18, 2016 - 01:18:00 PM

When the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced that the most recent official unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, the enthusiasm was widespread. According to a survey of economists by the Wall Street Journal, the majority claimed that we are finally close to full employment. The news that the economy is doing very well has been reported not only by the business journals but uncritically by the go-along mass media as well. Moreover, a high level official of the Federal Reserve Bank believes that the economy is doing too well. He complained that "we may not have enough unemployment". Indeed, many public officials and economists agree because they are worried about inflation. But since their sympathies are with business, it is higher wages more than higher prices that makes them anxious. 

However, both unemployment and poverty have been widespread for a long while. In fact, millions of working people have given up looking for work because they have been unable to find a job. So they are not counted as unemployed. If the estimated 13.6 million long term discouraged workers are included, the official unemployment rate would be over 16 percent, which is almost at a depression level. It is not surprising, then, that over 30 percent of the homeless are in the streets because they lost their jobs. 

The Chief Executive Officer of the Gallop Poll, commenting on the absurdly underestimated official unemployment rate, claims that the figures are "extremely misleading" and "it is a big lie". Of course it is a big lie. BLS is certainly aware that millions of unemployed have given up looking for very legitimate reasons. 

Certainly truth is not among the clients of the BLS. But why does the BLS routinely provide the public with false estimates? The unhappy and unavoidable explanation is that the federal government mainly panders to the expectations of private enterprise. What business wants is a low wage workforce and conditions that make labor organizing extremely difficult. These objectives are best achieved not only when there is a substantial labor surplus. The excessively optimist propaganda being presented to the public and to Congress serves to discourage a collective political response. After all, why fix what is not broken. Also, the mythology of full employment justifies the import of foreign low wage workers at the expense of qualified domestic job seekers. 

Thanks to the federal government, which has looked the other way, there are 6.5 million undocumented immigrants who have crossed the border and work in the United States. Many of these workers have replaced domestic employees. Undocumented workers rank among the nation's most vulnerable and exploited workers. These immigrants are victims of unpaid wages, dangerous work, and uncompensated workplace injuries. It is no surprise, then, that business prefers these employees rather than the many available domestic American workers, who had been accustomed to higher wages. Although the federal government has joined business in complaining about a labor shortage, their actual agenda on behalf of business has been to drive down wages 

To recruit skilled foreign labor requires more planning and coordination between business and government. Here is where official government data is particularly important. As an illustration of how business and government work together, let's take a look at how the high tech industry with government cooperation has successfully exploited the myth of full employment. Drawing from government data, the industry has persuaded Congress, or more likely pretended it has been persuaded, that a severe shortage of trained and skilled technology workers exists. In response to the fictitious claims of a skilled labor shortage Congress passed legislation known as H1B, which allows business to hire up to 65,000 foreign workers per year. The law, nevertheless, does not require a business to prove that it is unable to recruit domestic workers. Just as well. If government insisted on evidence, business couldn't provide any. 

Because Hi Tech recruits H1-B workers year after year, the cumulative impact is substantial. In Silicon Valley, foreign workers in the high tech industry constitute 75 percent of the work force. But the industry is still not satisfied. To support its appetite for more foreign workers, it is asking Congress to increase the lid. 

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton supported the industry's request. Rather than siding with skilled domestic workers who were or will be replaced by foreign labor, she instead supported tripling the annual import of skilled foreign labor to 195,000 per year. In fact, in an email released by WikiLeaks she told a group of Wall Street executives that any kind of limit on immigration is "fundamentally un-American". So among the reasons Hillary lost votes was that many workers who were worried about losing their jobs did not think that Hillary as President would attempt to protect them. Unfortunately, it appears that their fears were justified. 

Her request was at odds with the Democratic Party's platform which she endorsed. The relevant section reads "we are committed to doing everything we can to build a full employment economy".  

Several members of the U.S. Senate had a very different perspective. Ten U.S. Senators including Bernie Sanders requested that the H-1B program be investigated. In a letter that they sent to several federal departments, they complained that some of the large corporations deliberately laid off thousands of American workers so that they can be replaced by lower wage workers with H1-B visas. In fact, according to their complaints, many American employees are being forced to train foreign workers who were taking their jobs! Obviously, the industry's insistence that there is a shortage of domestic workers is 100 percent propaganda. Clearly, both the deception and mistreatment of working people are immense. 

So what are the options? Unfortunately, too many Americans, who are deeply concerned about how badly things are going, have been willing to elect a right wing candidate for President. Obviously, Bernie Sanders would have been by far the much better alternative. But the Democratic Party establishment engaged in illegal and unethical practices to deprive Bernie of the nomination. 

However, no matter who is elected, the combined power of government and business against the interests of working people presents tremendous hurdles to overcome. So to stand a chance of successfully addressing the many specific problems that workers and their families confront requires building a formidable political movement. 

But to achieve a morally equitable society in which coping with one crisis after another is no longer the usual situation, we should also consider a vision that poses an alternative to capitalism. Human needs rather than the profit motive should mainly guide how we live. Indeed, we should engage ourselves in a serious campaign to move our society in a socialist direction. If this sounds like pie in the sky, please recall the very positive public response that Bernie Sanders received when he talked positively about socialism. Undoubtedly, achieving a socialist economy would entail a long and arduous climb. However, to believe that the severe and chronic problems that workers and their families suffer can be adequately dealt with in a capitalist society is a delusion


New: THE PUBLIC EYE: Was Hillary Cheated?

Bob Burnett
Monday November 21, 2016 - 04:18:00 PM

At this writing, Hillary Clinton has won the 2016 presidential popular vote by 1.7 million votes (1.3 percent). Unfortunately, she lost the Electoral College (232 to 290) because Donald Trump carried the 13 swing states by an aggregate 850,000 votes (1.9 percent). Many Democrats think Hillary was cheated; they believe there were nefarious political tricks that cost her the election. There's not a clear-cut case. 

1. Comey's intervention: The Clinton campaign blames her loss on the October 28th intervention by FBI Director James Comey who, in effect, reopened the issue of the Clinton email server. Certainly this was an unprecedented act; one that some Washington observers felt violated the Hatch Act. Coming out of a strong performance in the third presidential debate, Hillary had momentum; some saw her winning by double digits. 

Then the Comey memo was issued and the momentum shifted. Writing in The Guardian veteran pollster Stan Greenberg observed, "The [Clinton] campaign’s close was disrupted by a flood of hacked emails, whose release was linked to Russia, intended to show that friends of Bill Clinton were using the Clinton Foundation to enrich the former president, and then by FBI director James Comey’s letter to Congress... This allowed Trump to close his campaign with a call to 'drain the swamp' and reject 'the Clintons’ big business trade deals that decimated so many communities'." 

Did this shift in momentum cost Clinton the electoral college? Writing in Mother Jones Kevin Drum opined, "My guess is that his last minute intervention swayed the vote by about 2 percent." (The 538 website agreed.) 

Writing in the Washington Post, Aaron Blake observed that last-deciding voters broke strongly for Trump: "In Florida and Pennsylvania, late-deciders favored Trump by 17 points. In Michigan, they went for Trump by 11 points. In Wisconsin, they broke for Trump by a whopping 29 points, 59-30." 

By the way: Hillary's emails were a big deal to many voters. Writing in the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza noted: "Almost two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) said that Clinton's 'use of private email' bothered them 'a lot' or 'some.' Among that group, Trump won 70 percent to 24 percent." 

2. Clinton's Response: Pollster Stan Greenberg argues that, after the Comey memo, the Clinton had time to fight back but didn't do so effectively: "[The Clinton campaign] used its advertising muscle to shift the spotlight from Clinton to Trump. Its ads running right through the very last weekend showed Trump at his worst. By then, nobody could remember that Hillary Clinton was a candidate with bold economic plans who demanded that government should work for working people and the middle class, not corporations. She was no longer a candidate of change." 

Writing in The Nation, Joan Walsh cites Stan Greenberg's study, " The Clinton campaign stopped making a strong case for her populist economic policies in the closing weeks of the campaign, research by Greenberg’s Democracy Corps found. A poll of 1,300 voters—including 400 who are considered part of the rising American electorate of black, Latino, and other nonwhite voters plus unmarried white women (also known as the Obama coalition)—found they never heard her strongest economic pitches throughout the long campaign." 

3. Disgruntled Bernie voters: Perhaps it is the case that Clinton lost key swing states because of disgruntled Bernie Sanders voters. In Pennsylvania, Clinton lost by 68.000 votes while Gary Johnson and Jill Stein got 190,000 votes. In Wisconsin, Clinton lost by 27,000 votes while Gary Johnson and Jill Stein got 136,000 votes. In Michigan, Clinton lost by 11,000 votes while Gary Johnson and Jill Stein got 223,000 votes. 

There are not definitive studies in Michigan and Wisconsin, however in Pennsylvania the prestigious Brookings Institute felt there was a clear reason for Clinton's loss: "Although Clinton’s statewide total in Pennsylvania fell just short of Obama’s in 2012, this modest shortfall was not why she lost the state. The real story is that Donald Trump ran up the score in every Republican-leaning rural and small-town county, besting Mitt Romney’s statewide total by nearly 300 thousand votes." 

4. Stolen votes: Rumors persist that Hillary's stunning losses in supposedly solid swing states was due to various forms of voter suppression. Writing in Alternet, Steve Rosenfeld examined five states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin there are questions about results in areas that use electronic voting machines that provide no paper trail. In Michigan, there will be a recount due to the fact that "87,000 ballots did not show a presidential vote," a result that could indicate faulty optical scanners. 

Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by a total of 106,000 votes. An excellent analysis by German Lopez concludes that voter suppression does not explain Clinton's loss in Michigan and Pennsylvania: "In Pennsylvania, Clinton got 2 percent fewer votes than Obama did in 2012, while Trump got 11 percent more than Mitt Romney. In Michigan, Clinton got 11 percent fewer votes than Obama did in 2012, while Trump got 8 percent more than Mitt Romney. Clinton simply got fewer people to turn out for her than the last Democrat who ran, while Trump appeared to get more than the previous Republican." 

Conclusion: On October 27th, Hillary Clinton was ahead in the polls but a significant number of voters did not trust her because of her email problem. FBI Director Comey's October 28th memo reminded these voters of their concerns about Hillary and they began to move towards Trump. In the remaining 10 days, Clinton had an opportunity to blunt Trump's new momentum -- with an economic message -- but failed to do this. As a consequence, late-deciding voters went with Trump, seeing him as an agent of change, even though they didn't like him. 

THE PUBLIC EYE:Trump’s First Mistake

Bob Burnett
Friday November 18, 2016 - 02:18:00 PM

Given his electoral-college victory, Donald Trump has amassed short-term political capital. Early indications are that he will fritter it away.

Beginning January 20, 2017, Americans should expect an ultra-conservative government accentuated by Trump's impetuousness and irascibility. We can count on the Trump Administration to overreach. That's why Trump will misuse his political capital. 

Trump was elected because his supporters believed he would shakeup the economic order. Before the election, Democratic pollster Pat Caddell's survey of likely voters found 87 percent of respondents believed, "The country is run by an alliance of incumbent politicians, media pundits, lobbyists and other powerful money interests for their own gain at the expense of the American people." The New York Times exit poll indicated that of those voters whose most important candidate quality was "can bring needed change," 83 percent chose Trump. 

Jobs: Trump should use his political capital for a massive job-creation initiative. 

In his election night speech, Trump said: "We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it." 

What Trump is suggesting seems to be the same program that President Obama suggested after the initial recovery from the great recession. This was blocked by congressional Republicans.  

Now Trump is proposing a similar infrastructure-based jobs program but with a different method of financing: "The American Infrastructure Act leverages public-private partnerships and private investments through tax incentives to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over the next ten years." For example, in Trump's plan, America would finance new highways by giving construction companies tax incentives up front and, after the highway was completed, letting the builder charge tolls. 

It seems unlikely that Trump will get the support of establishment Republicans

If Trump really is a transformational President -- if he really is serious about changing a rigged system -- then he will use his political capital to push through a real infrastructure program. For an early reading of Trump's intention, watch what happens when the Indianapolis Carrier factory closes. (For comparison six months into the Trump Administration: as of 11/8/16, the U.S. unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, the number of manufacturing jobs was 12.2 million, and quarterly GDP growth was 2.9 percent.) 

Immigration: Rather than focus on jobs, Trump will likely settle for some sort of immigration initiative. 

During his campaign, Trump made three immigration-related promises: build "a wall" along the US Mexico border, deport all of America's undocumented immigrants, and block immigration of all Muslims. Early indications are that Trump has softened his position on each of these. 

Initially Trump said his wall would be 1000 miles long, rise 35-40 feet, and cost $8 billion. The Washington Post studied Trump’s wall design and estimated that it would cost $25 billion for design and material; in addition, the construction would require “40,000 workers per year for at least four years.”  

Trump has backed off his demand that Mexico pay for the wall which leaves its funding an open question. One way to finance the wall would be to hide it in the Department of Homeland Security budget -- estimated at more than $40 billion in FY 2017. If packaged in this fashion, the Trump Administration could try to sell the wall as a "twofer," a combination security measure and jobs initiative -- even though the construction jobs would not help workers in the rust-belt states. 

Trump has also softened his position on deporting illegal immigrants. Pew Research says there are actually 11.3 million illegal immigrants (who comprise about 5.1 percent of the US labor force)  

Now Trump says he would initially deport "two million to three million immigrants" he sees as criminals or "dangerous." Fact checkers say there are only "820,000 undocumented immigrants living in the US with a criminal record."  

Finally, in December Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Once again his position has evolved and now Trump calls for banning immigrants from "terrorist countries." 

It's clear that Trump could ban immigrants from countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria without much congressional opposition. 

Trade: Rather than focus on jobs or immigration, Trump might take the easy way out and focus his political capital on trade, 

During his campaign Trump railed against trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and NAFTA. While the TPP is already dead -- it can't get the necessary congressional votes, NAFTA continues. Trump could kill it without getting congressional approval by invoking article 2205 on January 20th -- US withdrawal would happen six months later. It's unclear what the impact would be. 

Prediction: Trump's presidency will be defined by his first 100 days in office. Rather than govern as an outsider, and enact a radical populist initiative, such as an infrastructure-based job program, Trump will succumb to the Republican establishment and settle for xenophobic immigration programs. It will be his first big mistake and one that is likely to scuttle Republican prospects in 2018. 

ECLECTIC RANT: Berkeley's Violent Raids on Tent Communities Illegal

Ralph E. Stone
Friday November 25, 2016 - 12:12:00 PM

The Berkeley police have conducted raids on homeless camps as members of the homeless community continue to protest the Hub — the city’s homeless services system — for its alleged inefficiency in providing homeless Berkeley citizens with housing and other services. 

It is illegal to criminalize someone's status rather than their conduct, and therefore enforcing no-camping laws when homeless people don't have viable alternatives is criminalizing their state in life. A shelter is a basic human right and efforts to remove the homeless self-help shelters -- including tents -- are likely to run afoul of the law.  

Earlier this year, an Oakland federal district court judge, in Cobine v. City of Eureka, prohibited the city of Eureka from evicting eleven homeless unless the city provided them with adequate shelter and assurances that their possessions would be stored and safeguarded. The Court found that the eviction of these eleven homeless violated the 4th, 8th, and 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

While this case applies only to these eleven plaintiffs, the Court's reasoning is sound. And remember this district court is in the Ninth Circuit, which covers Berkeley. This places the constitutionality of Berkeley's anti-homeless program in doubt. 

That does not mean, of course, that Berkeley cannot enact restrictions on homeless encampments to maintain hygiene, safety, and lawful conditions. As homeless encampments are here to stay at least for the foreseeable future, instead of violent raids on such encampments, Berkeley should provide portable toilets, trash bins, trash, trash removal, other amenities to make the encampments more livable, and enforce laws preventing blocking of streets, sidewalks, and entrances to businesses.  

Whether we like it or not, homeless encampments are now part of the urban environment. 



DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: “Spiral: Trapped in the Forever War"
Simon & Shuster, 2016, $26.00

Conn Hallinan
Friday November 18, 2016 - 01:41:00 PM

“We have fallen into a self-defeating spiral of reaction and counterterror. Our policies, meant to extirpate our enemies, have strengthened and perpetuated them.”

-Mark Danner

Danner—an award winning journalist, professor and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, who has covered war and revolutions on three continents—begins his book “Spiral” with the aftermath of a 2003 ambush of U.S. troops outside of Fallujah, Iraq. The insurgents had set off a roadside bomb, killing a paratrooper and wounding several others. “The Americans promptly dismounted and with their M-16s and M-4s began pouring lead into everything they could see,” including a passing truck, he writes. “By week’s end scores of family and close friends of those killed would join the insurgents, for honor demanded they kill Americans to wipe away family shame.”

The incident encapsulates the fundamental contradiction at the heart of George W. Bush’s—and with variations, that of Barak Obama’s—“war on terror”: the means used to fight it is the most effective recruiting device that organizations like Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Shabab, and the Islamic State have. Targeted assassinations by drones, the use of torture, extra-legal renditions, and the invasions of several Muslim countries has been an unmitigated disaster, destabilizing several states, killing hundreds of thousands of people and generating millions of refugees. 


Danner’s contention is hardly breaking news, nor is he the first journalist to point out that responding to the tactic of terrorism with military forces generates yet more enemies and instability. But Spiral argues that what was once unusual has now become standard operating procedure, and the Obama administration bears some of the blame for this by its refusal to prosecute violations of international law. 

Torture is a case in point. In the aftermath of the 2001 attack on New York and Washington, the Bush administration introduced so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques that were, in fact, torture under both U.S. and international law. Danner demonstrates that the White House, and a small cluster of advisors around Vice-President Dick Cheney, knew they could be prosecuted under existing laws and carefully erected a “golden shield” of policy memos that would protect them from prosecution for war crimes. 

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Obama announced that he had “prohibited torture.” But, as Danner points out, “torture violates international and domestic law and the notion that our president has the power to prohibit it follows insidiously from the pretense that his predecessor had the power to order it. Before the war on terror official torture was illegal and an anathema; today it is a policy choice.” 

And president-elect Donald Trump has already announced that he intends to bring it back. 

There is no doubt that enhanced interrogation was torture. The International Committee of the Red Cross found the techniques “amounted to torture and/or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” How anyone could conclude anything else is hard to fathom. Besides the water boarding—for which several WWII Japanese soldiers were executed for using on allied prisoners—interrogators used sleep depravation, extreme confinement and “walling.” Abu Zubaydah, who was water boarded 83 times, describes having a towel wrapped around his neck that his questioners used “to swing me around and smash repeatedly against the wall of the [interrogation] room.” 

According to a 2004 CIA memo, “An HVD [high value detainee] may be walled one time (one impact with the wall) to make a point, or twenty to thirty times consecutively when the interrogator requires a more significant response to a question.” There were, of course, some restraints. For instance, the Justice Department refused to approve a CIA proposal to bury people alive. 

And, as Danner points out, none of these grotesque methods produced any important information. The claim that torture saved “thousands of lives” is simply a lie. 

There was a certain Alice in Wonderland quality about the whole thing. Zubaydah was designated a “high official” in Al Qaeda, the number three or four man in the organization. In reality he was not even a member, as the Justice Department finally admitted in 2009. However, because he was considered a high up in the Al Qaeda, it was assumed he must know about future attacks. If he professed that he knew nothing, this was proof that he did, and so he had to tortured more. “It is a closed circle, self-sufficient, impervious to disobedient facts,” says Danner. 

The logic of the Red Queen. 

The Obama administration has also conjured up some interpretations of language that seem straight out of Lewis Carroll. In defending his use of drone strikes in a 2014 speech at West Point, the President said he only uses them “when we face a continuing, imminent threat.” But “imminent” means “likely to occur at any moment” and is the opposite of “continuing.” A leaked Justice Department memo addresses the incongruity by arguing, “Imminent does not require the U.S. to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” 

Apparently the administration has now added, “elongated” to “imminent,” so that “a president doesn’t have to deem the country under immediate threat to attack before acting on his or her own.” As Humpty Dumpty says to Alice in Through the Looking Glass, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.” 

Danner turns the phrase “American exceptionalism” on its head. The U.S. is not “exceptional” because of its democratic institutions and moral codes, but because it has exempted itself from international law. “Americans, believing themselves to stand proudly for the rule of law and human rights, have become for the rest of the world a symbol of something quite opposite: a society that imprisons people indefinitely without trial, kills thousands without due process, and leaves unpunished lawbreaking approved by its highest officials.” 

The war has also undermined basic constitutional restrictions on the right of intelligence agencies and law enforcement to vacuum up emails and cell phone calls, and has created an extra-legal court system to try insurgents whose oversight and appeal process in shrouded in secrecy. 

The war on terror—the Obama administration has re-titled it a war on extremism—has not been just an illegal and moral catastrophe, it is a failure by any measure. From 2002 to 2014, the number of deaths from terrorism grew 4,000 percent, the number of jihadist groups increased by 58 percent, and the membership in those organizations more than doubled. 

The war has also generated a massive counter terrorism bureaucracy that has every reason to amp up the politics of fear. And yet with all the alarm this has created, a total of 24 Americans were killed by terrorism in 2014, fewer than were done in by lighting. 

Terrorism, says Danner, is “la politique du pire,” the “politics of the worst” or the use of provocation to get your enemy to overreact. “If you are weak, if you have no army of your own, borrow you enemy’s. Provoke your adversary to do your political work for you,” he says. “And in launching the war on terror, eventually occupying two Muslim countries and producing Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib celebrating images of repression and torture, the United States proved all too happy to oblige.” 

Danner argues that idea you can defeat terrorism—which is really just a tactic used by the less powerful against the more powerful—with military force is an illusion. It can and does, however, make everything worse. 

Even the Department of Defense knows this. In 2004, the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board found that : 


  • American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature and support for radical Islamists while diminishing support for the United States.
  • Muslim do not “hate our freedoms,” they hate our policies, including one-sided support for Israel and for tyrannies in the Arab world.
  • American talk of bringing democracy to Muslim countries is self-serving hypocrisy.
  • The occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has not brought democracy to those countries, but chaos and destruction.
Increasingly the war on terrorism/extremism is a secret war fought by drones whose targets are never revealed, or by Special Operations Forces whose deployments and missions are wrapped in the silence of national security. 


And as long as Obama calls for Americans “to look forward as opposed to looking backward,” the spiral will continue. As Danner argues, “It is a sad but immutable fact that the refusal to look backward leaves us trapped in a world without accountability that his [Obama’s] predecessor made. In making it possible, indeed likely, that the crimes will be repeated, the refusal to look backward traps us in the past.” 



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





ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Keeping Paranoia and Fear At Bay

Jack Bragen
Friday November 18, 2016 - 01:00:00 PM

Many persons are traumatized by a lengthy, nasty, and awful election and by its outcome in which we seem to have someone who could end up being a very harsh, nasty and mean leader. Mentally ill people are often more sensitive to fear-provoking stimuli, and this election may have already taken a heavy toll on the mental condition of many.  

If mentally ill, if subject to greater than normal levels of anxiety, and if you feel pessimistic about the fate of the country and about your own fate, I suggest exercises of mindfulness, and other techniques that could be loosely termed as meditation, to adapt to new conditions.  

If you can adapt to being mentally ill, to being forced to take psychiatric medications for the rest of your life, and to all of the other baggage, financial and social, that come with being categorized as mentally ill, you should be able to adapt to a new and very different administration in the White House.  

To begin with, I suggest keeping your options open. This could be difficult if you are just barely eking by month to month. However, research could be done on the internet concerning things like job possibilities, housing possibilities, and alternatives concerning where and how you get treatment for mental illness. The knowledge you gain could come in handy in a pinch. Also, getting on some waiting lists, (even if you plan to continue living where you are) or other waiting lists, is a good idea. Then, when your name comes up, if you are fine where you are, you could just tell whomever it is to cross off your name.  

Your routine--of paying bills, keeping appointments, if you have a job, showing up for work, and other things that you do to survive on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis--should be continued.  

Concerning maintaining your mental health, seek additional counseling as needed. Secondly, try to put the presence of a possibly malicious president in perspective within your thoughts. Persons with psychiatric disabilities will probably be affected by the new President at some point, but we don't yet know how and when. As soon as you gain more knowledge of what will transpire, you can work on adapting to that at the time.  

I believe that we should continue to have a positive attitude. As individuals, we can not control everything. We do not yet know what the ramifications will be of Trump being in office. Rather than panicking, bemoaning, or retreating into a psychological shell, we should do what we can to make our situations continue to work, and we should continue to try to make things better for ourselves.  

We don't have to welcome a President whose campaign was based on countless lies, on scapegoating women and minorities, and possibly on collusion of the FBI and Russia. However, we need to acknowledge the reality of Trump being elected. He is likely to be a worse President than Richard Nixon. However, he will have limited power.  

Trump is partly attempting to rule through fear with the revelation that he has an enemies list. We shouldn't be intimidated by that, and we should feel at liberty to speak out and to speak the truth.  

It is not likely that the government will retaliate if you exercise your First Amendment rights. There are far too many people against Trump for small fries and those who are "judgment proof" (meaning you have no assets, therefore no one is likely to sue you) to invoke the wrath of Trump.  

There are encouraging signs, as Trump prepares for the transition, that he is capable of rational thought. This doesn't excuse the fact that his campaign employed racism, misogyny, homophobia, prejudice against disabled people, and any other type of bigotry you can think of. Purely from a pragmatic perspective, this is the government that will come into existence--at least until his four years are up or until we impeach him out of office for some type of misconduct.  

Thus, we'd better prepare for change. Anything you can think of that could buffer your life situation in a crisis, such as saving up a few hundred dollars, strengthening connections with people who could help you, or looking into getting a part time job, could all come in handy if things go south.  

I don't suggest investing, unless such investing is in the form of your own startup, and obtaining the equipment, licensing, advertising, or other resources related to that. Investing in oneself rather than investing in someone else's company is my suggestion, since we do not know what will happen with the stock market.  

Even doing volunteer work is useful, since it looks good on a resume, and it channels your energy into something positive.  

Being afraid can be immobilizing. However, mobilizing in the face of fear, including when this is very uncomfortable, will help defeat the fear. And, for many, our own anxiety, fear and apprehension is our greatest enemy, and not President-Elect Donald Trump. 

ECLECTIC RANT:The fall of the democratic party: what happened and what's next?

Ralph E. Stone
Friday November 18, 2016 - 12:57:00 PM

Much has been written about the disaffection of likely Democratic voters in the just-held presidential election. But this disaffection began long ago. Consider that in the middle of the Twentieth Century, the working class, once the core of the Democratic coalition began abandoning the Democratic Party. In 1948, 66% of manual laborers voted for Democrats, as did 60% of farmers. In 1964, it was 55% of working-class voters. By 1980, it was 35%.  

The white working class in particular saw even sharper declines. In 2008 Democrats had a 15-point advantage among poor white voters but in 2012 this had slipped to a 2-point advantage. In 2012, among white voters making between $30,000 and $75,000 per year, the GOP had taken a 17-point lead. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt set up his New Deal in 1933 and forged a coalition of labor unions, liberals, religious, ethnic, and racial minorities. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the twin forces of the Civil Rights Movement and the counterculture — civil rights, the Vietnam War, affirmative action — caused a fracture in the party in the northern states. 

Then came the GOP's "Southern Strategy," popularized by Richard Nixon, whereby the Republican Party consciously appealed to many white southerners' racial resentments in order to gain their support. Under this strategy, the GOP didn't need or actively seek the African-American vote. From 1948 to 1984 the Southern states, once a Democrat stronghold, became key swing states, providing the popular vote margins in the 1960, 1968, and 1976 elections. Note that Trump won every state except Virginia below the Mason-Dixon line while Barack Obama won only Virginia and Florida. 

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. The Act's aim was to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote. However, in 2013, the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder, essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act where the Court argued, “it wasn't necessary anymore.” The Shelby decision led to sweeping changes in voting rules across states that had historically discriminated against minorities. These changes included new voter ID requirements as well as closing or changing locations of possibly thousands of polling sites, that used to require federal approval. Studies and some court rulings have said that ID laws have disproportionately impacted racial minorities, a group that tends to vote Democratic. 

In 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of wage and salary workers who were members of a union was 11.1 percent, down from 20.1 percent in 1983. Consider that union membership peaked in 1954 at 28.3 percent. Union membership is down partly due to the enactment of right-to-work laws. The 1947 Taft-Hartley amendments to the National Labor Relations Act permitted a state to pass laws that prohibit unions from requiring a worker to pay dues, even when the worker is covered by a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement. Twenty-five states have right-to-work laws. Thus, workers in right-to-work states have less incentive to join and pay dues to a union. And unions have been a bulwark of the Democratic Party.  

Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin had for decades voted for Democrat presidential candidates and pre-election polling pegged them for Hillary Clinton in 2016. The last time a Republican carried Michigan and Pennsylvania was in 1988, and Wisconsin last in 1984. But on Tuesday, the three "blue firewall" states went to Trump. In the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders won Michigan and Wisconsin. Clinton did not even visit Wisconsin during the general election. 

Today, some eight years after the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression, the nation's economy was once again central to both parties' appeal to voters. Under Obama, the economy continues to slowly expand. As of the first quarter of this year, the U.S. economy is nearly 15 percent bigger than when Obama took office in 2008, adjusted for inflation. The Obama administration, which began in the midst of massive layoffs from the Great Recession, has presided over a job market turnaround. Overall employment is about 7 % higher than when he took office. Yet, voters forgot that the George W. Bush and the Republicans were responsible for the recession and failed to connect Clinton to the economy turnaround under Obama. 

There is now a definite urban-rural divide in this country. Rural and small-town workers voted for Trump while in urban areas, where black and Hispanic voters are concentrated along with college-educated voters, already leaned toward the Democrats. Clinton, however, did not get the turnout from these groups that she needed. African American voters did not show up in the same numbers they did for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. 

People tend to forget, however, the closeness of this past election. While the final vote counts are not in, it appears that Hillary Clinton is on course to receive more popular votes than any other U.S. presidential candidate in history except Barack Obama – despite losing the Electoral College vote to Donald Trump 306 to 232. Alas, close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades. 

This is the fifth time the popular vote winner did not win in the Electoral College. Thus, calls for eliminating the Electoral College altogether and instead, electing a president on the popular vote. The Electoral College is set forth in our Constitution and getting rid of it would require a constitutional amendment with a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate and the ratification of three-fourths (38) of the 50 states. Consider that republicans have been the beneficiary of winning the Electoral College vote but not the popular vote in 2000 and 2016 and would be less likely to want to eliminate the Electoral College. It is unlikely that a Republican-controlled House and Senate would vote to eliminate the Electoral College. And Republicans now control both the governor's mansion and legislature in 24 states, 70 of the 99 state legislative chambers, both chambers in 30 states, plus Nebraska's single chamber, and 31 governor's mansions and you can see how difficult it would be to get ratification by 38 states. 

How did Trump get elected president? In a few words, it was Clinton’s real and perceived baggage coupled with Trump’s successful appeal to Americans’ emotions and prejudices rather than on their rational side. In defeat, Clinton blamed the FBI Director’s October 28, 2016 letter to Congress "in connection with the Secretary Clinton email investigation." This letter and the FBI’s election-eve absolvement came too late. 

What should the Democratic Party do now? It is time for the Democratic Party to undergo a fundamental reassessment. The Democrats will shortly choose a new Democratic National Committee chairman, which could be a fight between the establishment wing of the party, embodied by Clinton, and the party’s more liberal members, many of them aligned with Bernie Sanders. Hopefully, the DNC will choose the latter as the DNC needs to be re-imagined as less of an insider’s club focused on raising money and more of an advocate for the working-class. With a new, reinvigorated DNC and a new nominee, the Democrats can take back the White House in four years.

Arts & Events

Robert Wilson & Mikhail Baryshnikov Stage Nijinsky’s Diaries

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean with Kathryn Roszak
Friday November 18, 2016 - 02:27:00 PM

When the curtain goes up in Letter to a Man, a collaboration by director Robert Wilson and dancer/actor Mikhail Baryshnikov based on the diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky, a man in white face, Mikhail Baryshnikov, is seated onstage and spotlighted. He speaks in Russian and a male voice is heard speaking ostensibly the same thing in English. Supertitles also give the English version. The words are, “I understand war, because I talk with my mother-in-law.” These words in Russian and English with their English supertitles are repeated again and again, perhaps ten times. Is this a mother-in-law joke or a sign of Nijinsky’s madness? This is only the beginning of a 75-minute hodge-podge of a one-man show put on by Cal Performances purporting to reveal the genius of Vaslav Nijinsky, who was perhaps the greatest dancer as well as one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century, perhaps of all time. It is also the beginning of a show devoted to Nijinsky’s decades-long slide into schizophrenia. Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall hosted this show November 10-13.  

Letter to a Man illuminates nothing about Nijinsky’s art as a dancer or choreographer, and in truth it offers little to illuminate Nijinsky’s mental illness. This show is pretentious and empty; and it is not even technically well-produced. Often, a female voice is heard speaking English. However, while the English-speaking male voice is clear and crisp, the female voice is strangely muffled, making what she says difficult to hear much less understand. So one looks high above the stage at the supertitles rather than at Baryshnikov‘s movements onstage. Even the supertitles, however, are often dimly lit and unreadable, especially when they come and go so quickly one has no time to read them all the way through. Furthermore, why there is a female voice at all is never made clear. Is this supposed to be the voice of Nijinsky’s wife, who took care of him during his long mental illness? Nothing is clear. Everything in this hodge-podge is just thrown together willy-nilly. Nijinsky speaks of sexuality (he was bi-sexual); he speaks of God; there are bits of music hall tunes, a snippet from Arvo Pärt, gospel music, blues, sounds of explosions, and a little girl cut-out pulling a huge chicken cut-out on a leash. Meanwhile, Baryshnikov shimmies, sashays, wafts branches in the air and does a few Charleston moves, all the while avoiding any dance moves associated with Nijinsky. Nothing in this show holds together and makes sense. It’s a portrait, I suppose, of schizophrenia. But who is supposed to be schizophrenic? Nijinsky or Robert Wilson? 

Look, I am no fan of director Robert Wilson. His work rarely moves me. For example, Wilson’s staging of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal at Los Angeles Opera some four or five years ago struck me as outrageously pretentious and empty. Some may say this is only appropriate for Wagner’s pseudo-philosophical ravings in his own Parsifal libretto full of half-baked Christianity, superficial snippets of Buddhism, vegetarianism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and downright fear of female sexuality. But Robert Wilson was not sending up Wagner’s Parsifal; he was taking it seriously and portraying it as profound. Likewise, in Letter to a Man, Wilson and Baryshnikov have explicitly stated that their intention in mounting this show was to illuminate the genius of the gifted but troubled Vaslav Nijinsky.  

Would that they had done so. But they have only shown Nijinsky to be mad without illuminating how or why he became mad or offering more than a bare glimpse of any genius left in Nijinsky by the time he slid into schizophrenia. 

My friend Kathryn Roszak, a noted dancer and choreographer who accompanied me to this show, assures me that Nijinsky’s Diaries are a genuinely inspired work of art. So at the end of this Wilson-Baryshnikov Letter to a Man, I asked Kathryn whether she found this show in any way illuminating of the genius of Nijinsky. 


Kathryn Roszak 

Letter to a Man tells us something about Robert Wilson, something less about Mikhail Baryshnikov, and even less about Vaslav Nijinsky. In putting this show together, Wilson and Baryshnikov assume people know about Nijinsky, his achievements and his slide into madness. But by no means everyone is familiar with the story of Nijinsky’s life, and they need to know what this show doesn’t reveal, namely, that Nijinsky was revered as the greatest dancer and also as the greatest innovator in dance of all time. Nijinsky danced with a marvelous, exotic, almost hypnotic quality, and his leap took people’s breath away. Letter to a Man never even hints at this. Though Mikhail Baryshnikov still has magic and expression in his movements onstage, the choreography (by Lucinda Childs) in this piece avoids anything even remotely suggesting the quality of movement Nijinsky brought to his work onstage. Worse, this show is primarily a mish-mash of extraneous music and extraneous visuals that lack the artistic integration and originality that were the hallmarks of Nijinsky’s choreography in works such as Le Sacre du Printemps set to music by Stravinsky and Prelude a l’après-midi d’un Faun and Jeux with music by Debussy. 

Meanwhile, Robert Wilson gives us lighting effects that merely dazzle and distract us, while Nijinsky’s diary, itself a fantastic document of his combination of genius and madness, is butchered into meaningless sound bites. Letter to a Man presents Nijinsky’s madness in cliché form, starting with Baryshnikov’s straight-jacketed figure at the opening and continuing throughout nthis disjointed and fragmented work. As a child, I saw choreographer Maurice Béjart’s Nijinsky, Clown of God, a show in which multiple dancers portrayed Nijinsky in his greatest roles alongside a huge puppet representing the impresario Serge Diaghilev, who played such an important but ultimately disastrous role in Nijinsky’s life. Bejart’s piece probed infinitely deeper into Nijinsky’s life and art than Letter to a Man, which stays superficially on the surface. 


Lianna Haroutounian Stars in MADAMA BUTTERFLY

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday November 18, 2016 - 02:16:00 PM

Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian, who made such a sensational debut here in 2014 as Tosca, returned to San Francisco Opera for ten performances November 6-December 4 as Cio-Cio-San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Haroutounian has been hailed by Opera Today as “one of the major voices of our time,” and her interpretations of Puccini’s soprano roles are already considered benchmarks. Haroutounian’s Cio-Cio-San at the November 15 performance I attended was incandescent, both vocally and dramatically. Haroutounian sings with perfect pitch, precise diction, an exquisite sense of dynamics, and luscious lyricism. Her soprano voice is voluptuous in the lower register and scintillating in the upper register, with no break whatsoever between the chest tones and head tones. Dramatically, she portrays both the delicacy and vulnerability of her Butterfly character and the power and pathos of Butterfly’s love for the American sailor Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton. This interpretation, with its acknowledgment of vulnerabilty, sets Haroutounian’s Cio-Cio-San somewhat apart from the Patricia Racette version of this role that has reigned here from 2006 to the present, for Racette, who sang beautifully, emphasized the steely and unyielding quality of Cio-Cio-San from beginning to end, whereas Haroutounian traces the changing trajectory of her character from vulnerability in Act I to steely albeit desperate resolve in Act II. 

In the role of Pinkerton, Neapolitan tenor Vincenzo Costanzo made his USA debut, and although he has a pleasant voice with a soft timbre, Costanzo’s Pinkerton was simply not in the same class with Horoutounian’s Cio-Cio-San. Moreover, Costanzo’s voice was frequently smothered under Yves Abel’s overly loud conducting of the orchestra. Pinkertons’s Act I aria “Dovunque al mondo, lo Yankee vagabondo” lost much of its usual swagger due to Costanzo’s inability to vocally rise above the orchestra. In fact, Costanzo was by no means the only singer whose voice often got smothered in this production, for other victims of Abel’s conducting were tenor Julius Ahn as Goro and baritone Anthony Clark Evans as Sharpless, the American consul in Nagasaki, Japan, where Madama Butterfly is set. When Evans’ voice was not overwhelmed by the orchestra, he was a superb Consul Sharpless, ever-sensitive to the innocence and vulnerability of Cio-Cio-San. Mezzo-soprano Zanda Švėde managed to hold her own as the faithful servant Suzuki, singing especially well in Act II’s famous “flower duet” as she and Cio-Cio-San decked the house with flowers in preparation for Pinkerton’s expected return after a 3-year absence.  

This production of Madama Butterfly reprised Jun Kuneko’s colorful staging of this opera from the 2014 season, and it held up well. In fact, in the interim, Director Leslie Swackhamer has refined the staging, especially where the figures in black are concerned. These black-clad figures wear boxes on their heads; and this, as I noted in these pages in my review of June 27, 2014, was a puzzling and distracting element in the 2014 staging, especially when they were seen to crawl menacingly outside the house during the night vigil in Act II when Cio-Cio-San, her young son, and Suzuki await the expected return of Pinkerton. For this current revival, Swackhamer eliminated the ominous night vigil action by the black-clad figures, and she relegated them to the role of solemn, ritualized stagehands reminiscent of the kurogo figures in Kabuki and Noh dramas. Though they still inexplicably sported box-heads, their reduced and redefined role constituted a major improvement in the staging of Kuneto’s Madama Butterfly. 

Where vocal highlights are concerned, it was all Haroutounian. The famous love duet in Act I, though beautifully sung was not up to its usual excellence because of the imbalance between Haroutounian’s sumptuous voice and Constanzo’s weaker, more tentative voice. However, nothing could detract from Haroutounian’s gorgeous delivery of Madama Butterfly’s most famous number, Act II’s “Un bel di vedremo,” in which Cio-Cio-San vividly pictures the expected return of her husband. This was singing of the highest caliber.  

In minor roles, bass Raymond Aceto was a powerful, forbidding Bonze; tenor Edward Nelson was an able, albeit frustrated Prince Yamadori; bass-baritone Matthew Stump was an effective Imperial Commissioner; and baritone Jere Torkelsen was more than adequate as the Official Registrar. Finally, Adler Fellow Julie Adams did not have much opportunity to sing as Kate Pinkerton, but she filled the role with grace and winning humility. Ian Robertson’s Chorus made the most of its opportunities, and Choreographer Melissa Noble did a fine job in presenting the arrival of the bridal party at the wedding ceremony of Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton. Madama Butterfly continues with the same cast through December 4, although Jordi Bernàcer will replace Yves Abel as Conductor for the final performance on December 4. 

National Bird: America's Symbol Is No Longer the Eagle

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Friday November 18, 2016 - 01:22:00 PM

Opens at SF's Roxie Theater on November 18

National Bird, executive produced by Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) and Errol Morris (The Fog of War), is a slow, chilling excursion through the haunted lives of three US drone vets—two women, one young man. Director Sonia Kennebeck's presentation intentionally lacks razzle-dazzle and focuses, instead, on grim silences and intense, quiet monologs.

The film begins simply with a grainy black-and-white aerial video and a woman's voice. We watch as a man on the ground casually walks down a street in his Afghan neighborhood.

"We hover and watch for days," the voice recalls. "Sometimes we get intel that he's a 'bad guy' and we blow him up. Just drop a Hellfire missile on him."

The figure on the screen stops walking. He appears to sit down to rest. In the next second, he's gone—replaced by a volcano of smoke and dust and chared body parts scattered on the ground.

You've just seen the "tip of the spear" in Washington's so-called "War on Terror."

Cost to US taxpayer for this cowardly act of automated assassination? One $47,000 Lockheed/Martin/Raytheon Hellfire missile.

The cost of "counterterrorism" is neither cheap nor effective—drone attacks actually serve to "recruit" new enemies—but, if you're a "defense" contractor, it's damned profitable.




Kennebeck introduces us to three of the people behind the violence. Heather is an unlikely military vet who decided to escape her small-town fate by joining the Air Force. She would see the world and fight for her country by becoming "Big Brother and helping everyone out." Instead, she wound up helping to kill people by remote control. 

Daniel, a desperate young man without a job and homeless chose the military because he "had no other place to go." He wound up as a signals intelligence analyst with a security clearance at Fort Meade. Now a drone-war vet (with an Edward Snowden-like moral intensity), Daniel worries constantly about whether the government will "go after me" for publically criticizing the drone assassination program. 

Lisa is a Bay Area woman who became part of the government's covert drone program because "I thought I'd be on the right side of history but, today, I don't believe I was." 

It's no longer a matter of one individual sitting in front of a console and twisting a joystick to blow up an individual on the other side of the planet. Lisa says. "It's now a huge system. This is global. It's like borders don't matter any more and there's a huge system that spans the globe that con just suck up huge portions of your life, your personal data." 

All three feel constrained by the fear of their own government. Lisa has seen what the secret programs are doing but she doesn't feel free to speak out and warn the public. Lisa's discharge certificates salutes her for identifying "121 insurgent targets" during the course of her "service" in Afghanistan. 

These vets recall how the stress of being forced to kill people on a daily basis caused emotional and mental distress—and how the military refused their pleas to be reassigned. 

It's no easier once these drone-soldiers emerge from their secret world and try to return to civilian life. These stressed-out vets break down in tears and sobs but when family and friends rush to their sides and ask, "What's wrong?" all they are permitted to say is: "I can't talk about it." 

America's forgotten drone vets tend to be nervous, angry, and borderline suicidal. 

Obama Bomber 

Obama is shown defending the drone program by arguing "America was attacked on 9/11/." But the majority of the 9/11 attackers came from Saudi Arabia. So far, not a single Hellfire missile has been shipped to a US drone base within flying range of Riyadh. 

We hear Obama on the TV claiming that the US takes great pains to avoid killing civilians and only "targets those who want to kill us"—i.e., people who pose "a continuing and imminent threat to the American people." But this concern is belied by the increasing counts of dead civilians in foreign combat zones. 

And it seems disingenuous, at best, for the President to suggest that American civilians back in the "Homeland" are at risk of being harmed by individuals who are being secretly stalked by remote-controlled killing machines lurking in foreign skies—often in total violation of local sovereignty. 

Clearly, the only "American people" at immediate risk are the US soldiers who have been flown to distant countries only to be armed and ordered to police the "locals." 

Kennebeck's vets dispute the president's claim that US missiles strike only when there is a "near certainty" that no innocent civilians will be killed. There's always a degree of guesswork involved, we are told. It is "only in the aftermath" that the Pentagon is able to (sometimes) determine who they killed. 

The Rise of Drone-Think 

The drone vets can see where this will lead. These weapons potentially can fly anywhere in the world and kill anyone at will and do it without oversight, without regulation, without accountability. 

The Pentagon is training 18-24-year-olds to commit murder by remote control. 

Consider the euphemisms: "Surgical strike" suggests that the act of blowing someone to bits is somehow akin to providing life-saving medical attention. 

In 2013, Heather became one of the first insiders to publically criticize the Pentagon's secret drone war. But, when she wrote an article that was published in London's Guardian newspaper, she put herself at risk of being imprisoned under the 1917 Espionage Act. (Fearing legal action, the Guardian editors had to include a statement that the op-ed "does not possess any classified material." And Kennebeck, for her own protection, had to include a similar statement at the end of National Bird.) 

After her Guardian article appeared, Heather experienced a torrent of online abuse but what bothered her even more was the total lack of response from Washington's bureaucrats. Heather complains about the frustration of "having to try and stop your own people from killing civilians." 

What's the use, she weeps, if nobody really cares—cares about the victims, cares about drone vets like herself? And if someone knocks on her door some night and she is "disappeared," she agonizes: "What difference does it make?!" 

Lisa lives in the Bay Area. A week after meeting Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal at a Commonwealth Club book tour, she books a flight to Afghanistan to do humanitarian work. 

Haunted by the memories of watching the US deliver death-at-a-distance—after stalking potential victims from 20,000 feet—Lisa hopes to reclaim that part of her humanity that she lost during her time in the drone program by "seeing these people as part of humanity. It will be nice to just see [them] up close." 

America's Drone Victims Speak 

In Kabul, Lisa and the filmmakers hear from the survivors of a notorious February 21, 2010 Predator drone attack launched from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. The attack killed 23 of their family members, including children. 

The attack was so onerous and unjustified that Gen. McChrystal was compelled to apologize on Afghan TV. He promised it would never happen again. 

(McChrystal ignored the fact that it had already happened before: In 2008, US air attacks killed 27 civilians at a wedding party in Nangarhar Province, at least 47 at a wedding party north of Kandahar, and another 90—including 60 children—at a funeral in the village of Nawabad. In 2009, a US airstrike on a village in Farah Province killed 147. ) 

During the meeting in Kabul, a little boy whose father was killed in the US airstrike, shows the stump of a leg he lost in the US drone attack. Two of his siblings—ages 4 and 7—were killed in the explosions. 

During the interview, a US helicopter flies by overhead. The women look to the sky, terrified. The little boy covers his ears, shuts his eyes and cowers. 

At this point—in a remarkable, and harrowing, match of cinema and reality—National Bird begins to shift between the stories of the wounded and traumatized survivors and the actual footage from the US drone that presided over the deadly attack. 

We watch the emotionless surveillance video, as it follows a convoy of three vehicles. We watch as the passengers stop by the roadside and emerge to pray. We hear the words of the drone operators as they speak disparagingly of the people on the ground turning towards Mecca to pray. 

When young children are identified in the group, the Americans (working in the comfort of their air-conditioned trailers near Las Vegas) begin to complain. At first they try to deny that any children are present. Then they provide excuses to justify an attack. "Teenagers can fight," says one operator. "Pick up a weapon and you're a combatant," says another. (Under US rules of engagement, any male older than 16 years is pre-determined to be a legitimate target.) 

The command comes back—It's party time!"— and swiftly missiles destroy three vehicles filed with unarmed Afghans. Survivors emerge, staggering from the wreckage, waving their arms. One raises the body of a child. 

Back in Kabul, the survivors present the filmmakers with a video that recorded the moment the bodies—wrapped in blood-soaked blankets—were returned to the village. Screams and wails break out as the blankets are pulled back and the remains of the dead are identified. 

Anyone who dares defend the US drone program should be required to watch this video—daily, for the rest of their lives. 

The Uncertain Fate of Drone Vets 

It's hard for drone vets to get treatment for the emotional damage and mental distress that comes with the work. The Pentagon does not consider these "console jockeys" to be "combat vets." An added complication: the vets are cautioned that they could face arrest if they speak to anyone—including mental health professionals—lest they reveal "privileged" details of their covert work. 

FBI and Pentagon agents contacted two of the whistleblowers to inform them that their names were now on a "terrorist kill list." 

Government agents warned Heather's step-dad that a "known terrorist gang" was searching for her. If she valued her security, Heather was warned, she would be well advised to tone down her criticism—no more op-eds and no more complaints on Facebook, Twitter, etc. 

On August 8, 2014, two FBI agents knocked on Daniel's door—backed by 20 combat-armed federal soldiers with weapons drawn. The government justified the raid by claiming Daniel was being investigated for espionage. Over that past 99 years, only 12 people have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act. Daniel could be the next. 

The film ends with a series of direct appeals from the Afghan survivors of US violence. Their message is simple and stark: "They [the Pentagon] apologized but then they continue to bomb us. We are saying to our American brothers: All we want is for the bombing to end." 

Throughout the film, Kennebeck intersperses the vets' personal stories with aerial shots of US neighborhoods. At first, these drones-eye views seem innocuous but, it slowly becomes a sinister insinuation of what our wars abroad could someday bring to our own streets and backyards. 

Other countries have been acquiring weaponized drone aircraft. Eventually, "terrorists"—as well as citizen militias and inner city gangs will acquire their own aerial armadas. Smaller, to be sure, but just as deadly. 

As Lisa observes darkly: "Imagine what it would feel like if this were happening to us." 

Also Worth a Look: 

Unmanned: America's Drone Wars--Brave New Films


(April 1, 2015) -- Directed by Tonje Hessen Schei and produced by Flimmer Film, Unmanned features former drone operators as well as people in conflict zones living under threat of drone attack.