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Free speech in MLK Park: Three of Berkeley's best express their opinion of the alt-right invaders.
M. H. O'Malley
Free speech in MLK Park: Three of Berkeley's best express their opinion of the alt-right invaders.


New: Activist charges that downtown Berkeley apartment complex is being illegally rented as a suites hotel

Becky O'Malley
Saturday April 29, 2017 - 12:23:00 AM

Downtown land use activist Kelly Hammargren has written to Berkeley Mayor Arreguin, City of Berkeley planning staff and the city council to report her discovery that a very large new apartment complex on South Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley is being rented as a hotel instead of as the dwelling units for which it was permitted. 

In a letter sent to them on Saturday night, she says: 

“For all the cries for affordable housing and the posturing that Berkeley isn’t approving and building enough housing, recently opened projects in the Berkeley downtown area can’t seem to find renters. Possibly luxury priced projects in the downtown are overbuilt or possibly there is more interest by the developer in being a hotel than providing housing. 

“Parker Place apartment complex at 2037 Parker Street is listed as a hotel in all of the common hotel booking websites, i.e. booking.com, expedia, hotwire, hotels.com, in fact just type in Global Luxury Suites Downtown Berkeley into your favorite search engine and see what pops up.” 

Attached to her letter are copies of several of the ads offering the Parker Place apartment complex as a hotel. She says that by using the program Snagit she can supply officials with copies of many more hotel ads if desired.

Five arrested yesterday in Berkeley demonstration

Dennis Culver (BCN)
Friday April 28, 2017 - 02:51:00 PM

Police in Berkeley on Thursday arrested five people during a day of demonstrations in the city. 

Mark Wilder, 52, of Irving, was arrested on suspicion of carrying a concealed dirk or dagger. 

Donque Addison, 28, of Oakland, was arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest. 

Stephen Hall, 48, of Oakland, was arrested on suspicion of attempting to incite a riot and for violation of probation. 

A juvenile was arrested on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance. 

A person who has not yet been identified was arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest. 

Police said the arrests were made as part of a coordinated effort to manage large-scale demonstrations in the downtown and South Campus neighborhoods and on the University of California at Berkeley campus. 

Police said officers confiscated numerous weapons during the course of the day. 

There were no reports of injuries or damage to property. 

The demonstrations were related to the canceled scheduled appearance of conservative commentator Ann Coulter. 

Coulter had planned a speech Thursday at the campus, but the Berkeley College Republicans canceled it on Wednesday saying the university could not guarantee the event would be safe.

Engines of Liberty offers strategies for this hour

Reviewed by Carol Polsgrove
Friday April 28, 2017 - 02:57:00 PM

In this time of heightened political awareness, David Cole’s Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law offers us maps for our way forward.

Cole, professor of law and public policy at Georgetown University Law Center, tells the stories of how activists paved the way for Supreme Court recognition of rights in three areas:

  • the right of same-sex couples to marry,
  • the right of individuals to bear arms,
  • and the right of detainees to protection from torture and unjust imprisonment.
Activists’ strategies varied in each area. To move the nation to legal recognition of same-sex marriages, activists adopted an incremental approach, laying the groundwork through state legislative action and courts before taking their case to federal courts. That way, a setback in one state would not apply to other states. 

Setbacks were common, as victories led to backlash, in the form, say, of referendums or amendments of state constitutions. But after “decades of advocacy of small groups of committed individuals,” the Supreme Court, in Obergefell v. Hodges, acknowledged a national change of mind. 

In the case of the right to bear arms, the National Rifle Association, following a similar incremental strategy, worked for changes in state laws before moving on to federal courts. To erode certainty about earlier court interpretations that the Second Amendment applied only to militias, the NRA also encouraged legal scholars “to unearth historical evidence to support its view that the Second Amendment was originally understood to protect an individual right to bear arms.” 

Extending legal protection to detainees in the War on Terror presented a special challenge: most of those who were tortured, imprisoned at Guatánomo, held incognito in other nations’ prisons, or killed by drones were not American citizens; their claim to protection under the U.S. Constitution had not been established. 

Organizations like the ACLU used the Freedom of Information Act to bring to light U.S. practices that violated international human rights law and the moral codes of many Americans. Publicity and criticism at home and abroad led the executive branch to revise its treatment of prisoners, and through a series of rulings between 2004 and 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that detainees had a constitutional right to court review. The Supreme Court decisions were, in significant part, a consequence of the work of organizations that drew back the veil of government secrecy. 

In his conclusion, Cole offers this takeaway: “Constitutional law is not something that hovers in the sky above us, or in an old piece of parchment to be divined, intoned, and enforced by judges in robes seated behind the well in formal courtrooms.... If you care about constitutional rights, the way forward should be clear: find or found associations of like-minded citizens, engage broadly and creatively, and do not leave constitutional law to the lawyers, much less the judges.” 

In a time when the foundations of our governance seem especially unsteady, Engines of Liberty suggests useful strategies for us. 


Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law/ by David Cole. Basic Books, 2016. 

Carol Polsgrove is the author of Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement and other histories. 







The first 100+ days of Berkeley's New Progs—how's it going here?

Becky O'Malley
Friday April 28, 2017 - 03:53:00 PM

Well, the first hundred days of dread have passed, and as yet no nuclear war, so that’s the good news, right? The record of what Gail Collins calls “can’t do” has been made, and this week it has been exhaustively reviewed in the major and minor media. David Remnick in the New Yorker has a very complete accounting of A Hundred Days of Trump, so I don’t need to add anything.

I find among my scribbler friends with longterm political involvement a sentiment analogous to compassion fatigue: Outrage Exhaustion. Many of us just can’t seem to say OMG one more time, as we learn that this president is unimaginably worse than we could ever have expected.

The good news is that a lot of people who have previously preferred to devote their time to watercolor sketching or madrigals or organic vegis have now awakened from their slumber and are carrying the ball. It seems that what some grandly call “The Resistance” is in good hands, so I’m going to leave it there for now. Thanks, guys, and more power to you!

Instead, I’m going to focus on another first term, now about six weeks more than 100 days in the saddle. That would be the dramatic change (fingers crossed) in Berkeley’s City Council fostered by the new Berkeley Progressive Alliance and its fellow travelers, some of whom were already incumbents in the 2016 election.  

The recent election of Kate Harrison to fill new Mayor Jesse Arreguin’s vacant District Four seat solidified what should be a supermajority of progressive councilmembers. However, we should be well aware of the human inclination to form what we used to call the circular firing squad. We used to think that this was exclusively a leftist weakness, but now the Republicans have started doing it too. 

In truth, everyone in local politics around here would count as a progressive somewhere in the world or at least in the U.S. The factional lines, such as they are, are more subtle and policy-driven, but they do exist. 

The main controversy that drove the results in November was how to manage Berkeley’s building boom and the housing shortage which was cited as justification for enabling it. The city has been dominated for a couple of decades by councilmembers whose campaign finance statements clearly showed that they were bought and sold by the building industry, but just in the last couple of years the propagation of big ugly buildings with billboards identifying them as luxury dwellings has finally caught the attention of complacent citizens. And on the sidewalk outside these monstrosities, we’ve also seen the proliferation of in-your-face homeless people, some of whom have been organizing politically with camp-ins and signs to call attention to their situation.  

Homeless activism has drawn the attention of those of us concerned about civil liberties to the way the city uses its police power. The Black Lives Matter movement is another branch of the same tree, particularly since Berkeley police directed by the previous administration made such a mess (such an expensive mess) in their reaction to the Black Lives Matter demonstration. Now, as well as a new mayor and city council, we have a new city manager and a new police chief—so we can hope for some progressive change. 

And just in time, too. I think the way Berkeley’s new team—mayor, council, city manager,police chief—has handled the recent invasion of the crazy right has been nothing less than brilliant, contrary to bloodthirsty criticism by online trolls. These public servants started off handicapped by U.C. Berkeley’s pathetic planning for the Milo fiasco, which caused a lot of damage, but by the time the March4Trump materialized the BPD’s strategy of confining the problems almost worked: no damage to buildings, no serious injuries, a reasonable number of arrests.  

Yesterday’s demonstration was, literally, a walk in the park. We (me, photographer, dog) were there for two hours, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. My human partner was reminded of a convention of flying saucer enthusiasts that he observed in New Jersey as a teenager in the 50s. We Americans do a great job of crazy, don’t we? 

Despite their spiked helmets and garbage can lid shields, the great majority of those in attendance, at least the ones I talked to, were amiable nuts. I suspect there was a good bit of overlap with the old Renaissance Faire crowd, the ones that liked to dress up in armor, kilts, and other military paraphernalia of days gone by. Some of them were youngish, but many of the guys were mid-life-crisis age, plump, balding and earnest.  

The gals were great, too. Many sported what I call the KellyAnne look: long stringy over-bleached or perhaps vinyl hair, tight teeshirts with slogans, skinny jeans (even on those whose actual bodies were far from skinny). My fave of these was the woman whose sign, hanging provocatively over her silicon-enhanced chest, said “Free speech is sexy.” 

Of course it is! Who could disagree with that? 

And enjoying the spectacle at lunchtime was a gaggle of charming Berkeley High students, who often eat in the park when the weather is nice. Three brave girls sat on the fountain just belong a goofy group of demonstrators, one wearing a suspiciously Germanesque spiked helmet and another with a shirt that said “Mohammed is in Hell”. 

Some of the demonstrators and speakers were even brown-skinned in various degrees. The sound system was terrible, so I couldn’t hear much of what they had to say, thank goodness. One that I did hear was a long, long, explication of why the Pilgrims got on those boats to America, to escape Bloody Mary, who was trying to burn them at the stake for reading the Bible. Plausible, unless you look up the dates for Queen Mary I of England and for the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock decades after her death.  

Another speaker said that “we’re here to support the First Fucking Amendment.” First time I’ve heard it described like that, but whatever works. I doubt that the students were shocked, if they heard it. 

My first First Amendment demo was in 1960, against the U.S. House of Representatives’ House Un-American Activities Committee (yes, Virginia, there was one.) The Un-America Activity in question was association with communists or even Communists, who turned out to be the parents of a couple of my friends.  

In those days, close to 50 years ago now, the SF cops turned on the fire hoses in City Hall to wash the demonstrators down a long flight of marble stairs. Messy, especially because in those days for demonstrations the guys wore coats and ties, and the girls dresses, hats and gloves. 

The Berkeley cops yesterday did a whole lot better, and I for one am proud of how they kept their cool. 

Which, after such a long digression, brings us back to the other issues on which we should judge the first 100+ days of Berkeley’s new progressive majority. Watching city council meetings where development issues were on the agenda, I’m not sure their supporters are enthusiastic for their record so far in this area. A couple of them are sounding off in this very issue.  

It looks to me like some councilmembers believe that they have a legal obligation to continue the mistakes of their predecessors. This is a legal error, probably under the influence of a lame duck City Attorney trying to do a few more favors for the old regime’s developer clients on his way out the door. 

There’s just one word for the way Kriss Worthington let down the neighbors of the Honda repair shop expansion on South Shattuck: inexcusable. There are rumbles of a candidate opposing him next year if he runs again. 

Still in the works is the proposal for 2902 Adeline, coming back to the council on Tuesday. It’s another one where there’s a claim that they deserve all the zoning variances they’ve demanded because of deals made by the Zoning Adjustment Board appointed by the previous council. 

This week the anger is about new Councilmember Ben Bartlett’s endorsement of the developer’s weaselly fake compromise, which offers way too little in the way of community benefits to compensate for the big bonuses they would be getting if their deal goes down. Here the rumor is that Bartlett plans to go after Tony Thurmond’s State Representative seat as Thurmond seeks higher office.  

Some say that he hopes to get campaign money from the building lobbies, both developers and the trade unions—that he’s willing to throw his current constituents under the bus to please the money men. That would be very foolish, especially since some in District 3 are now talking about a recall, which would look very bad on his record even if it failed. 

These are only two of the yardsticks by which the New Progs are being judged, and there are many more. I encourage readers, especially our regular opinion contributors, to add to the list in the next couple of weeks with their own analyses. To be continued…. 



Public Comment

City of Berkeley flouts state density bonus law for 2902 Adeline project

Robert Lauriston
Friday April 28, 2017 - 04:19:00 PM

California's density bonus law provides a variety of bonuses for housing projects that include a small percentage of below-market-rate units that are reserved for and affordable to low-income households. One bonus is "concessions," which can be used to set aside local zoning code provisions.

To qualify for that bonus, the law also requires that any existing units that are or were last occupied by low-income tenants be replaced by units with the same number of bedrooms. If the income of the tenant households is not known, the law requires the city to presume that they were low-income in the same proportion as all renter households in the city. The burden is on the applicant to rebut that presumption.

Last October, the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board approved permits to demolish a five-bedroom house at 1946 Russell and a mixed-use building at 2908 Adeline containing one five-bedroom unit and one two-bedroom unit in order to build a six-story building with 50 units, two of which would be affordable per the state law. This approval included use of a state concession to override the floor-area ratio limit. City staff did not inform the ZAB of the replacement requirement, so it was not even discussed. 

A group of 30 neighbors appealed that ZAB decision to the City Council. One of the bases for our appeal is the lack of replacement units. We believe that to qualify for the concession, the project would have to replace the demolished two five-bedroom and one two-bedroom units and include two new below-market-rate units. A letter detailing this was submitted to the City Council by one of our attorneys, Jassmin Poyaoan of the East Bay Community Law Center. 

The property owners claimed that they occupied the two units at 2908 Adeline, but we provided the Council with a list of 25 current or previous tenants, advertisements from last September offering rooms for rent, and documentation that all three of the owners live elsewhere. They also claimed that there was only one name on the lease at 1946 Russell and he was not low-income when he signed it, but they have provided no documentation of his income at the time they doubled the rent to force him and his roommates to move, and no information at all about his four roommates or the current or last tenants of 2908 Adeline. 

The city continues to refuse to make the required presumption, and the applicant has not rebutted it. Councilmember Hahn understands the problem but to date seems to have been unsuccessful in communicating that understanding to the rest of the council. 

Our appeal will be back before the Council for the fourth time this coming Tuesday, May 2. There will be no public comment, since the public hearing was closed, so if you want to make your opinion known on this matter, call or email Mayor Arreguin or the Council member for your district.


Toni Mester
Friday April 28, 2017 - 09:56:00 AM
Daylight plane
Daylight plane

­­­ For the past few months, I’ve been immersed in zoning because the rules that govern building in my West Berkeley neighborhood are under review at the Planning Commission. The continued public hearing on the R-1A will be held on Wednesday May 17 at the North Berkeley Senior Center at Hearst and MLK. We’re hoping for a big turnout, but I’ve learned that zoning does not excite most people until somebody wants to build next door, and then the neighbors scour the code and master plan for some justification to deny the permit.

Appeals by neighbors have become the rule. Dean Metzger, a convener of the Berkeley Neighborhood Council, reviewed City Council minutes since January 2015 and found 26 land-use appeals, some of which have had continued hearings. That’s a huge drain on resources including staff time to process the appeals as well as demands on the Council to review each appeal, hear it, and render a decision. In 2008 the City increased the fee to appeal in the hopes of reducing frivolous claims. There was a time when every fence and hot tub would engender an appeal. Now the appeals are mostly based on the scale of new buildings, and the higher fees have not dissuaded neighbors from protesting the perceived disruption. Since these buildings provide needed housing, more should be done to better harmonize new development with existing neighborhoods. The zoning code should be reformed to create conditions that would make such appeals the exception. 

The War Zone  

This morning I got an email asking me to show up at Civic Center Park to respect Berkeley and then another one telling me that the PD would rather that we stay home. Meanwhile the sound of helicopters has been constant. This is like living in a war zone, but like most other residents, I’m trying to live as normally as possible given the circumstances. It must be worse for parents of students at the high school and nearby Washington Elementary. So I’m going to write about zoning and respect the intelligence of my readers by not pretending that life is normal these days. 

My determination to carry on is complicated by the fact that I just had surgery on my right hand where a hard cast keeps hitting the space bar. The operation is called hand arthroplasty joint reconstruction ligament and trapeziectomy, quite a mouthful. It took almost two hours under general anesthesia, and I was in and out of Kaiser Richmond the same day. I stopped thinking about zoning for three days while weaning myself from Norco, which imposes a fuzzy mental zone that disallows rational thought and writing.  

I understand from drug ads on television, news stories, and friends in the medical professions that some people live on Norco, day in and day out. Norco is a combination of Tylenol and hydrocodone, an opiate. There’s supposed to be an epidemic of opioid drugs, which could explain some social phenomena we’re witnessing, such as mass stupidity. I spent two days on liquids to flush the anesthesia and avoid the notorious side effects of Norco. That worked, and I’m back on ibuprofen and thankful for a clear head again. Nevertheless, this column will be shorter than usual as a result. 

Berkeley can do better 

The Planning Commission discussions on the R-1A and the staff reports have mostly analyzed Berkeley’s own experiences. As a complement, I researched the history of R-1A zoning and created a parcel database from the City’s open data portal. But something was missing, a comparison with the zoning codes of other cities. So I made a list of 20 California cities with comparable populations as well as Oakland, Richmond, Palo Alto, Santa Rosa, and other nearby population centers and began to read their zoning code chapters that dealt with the neighborhoods just above the R-1 in density. Usually that was R-2. From this information, I constructed a simplified grid of their development standards. 

I gleaned much instructive data that can be applied to the R-1A, but the main take-away was that most other cities have more precise and complete zoning codes. Most of them were self-explanatory, explicit, and easy to decipher, and many had features missing from ours. For the sake of brevity and the condition of my right hand, here is a brief outline of what our zoning code lacks. 

Density parameters: Berkeley code describes a zone as “low­-medium density” or “high density” etc. but does not provide numbers in dwelling units per acre. Most codes of comparable California cities include densities for each zone measured in dwelling units per acre. The absence of densities in the Berkeley code makes computation of the density bonus difficult and affects the allowances in all residential districts. 

Lot dimensions: Berkeley’s lot requirements for new structures are given only in the square footage. Most other jurisdictions indicate not only the area required but also the minimum width and depth. This inadequacy creates problems in the older districts where the area may seem adequate, but the lots are too narrow for building two or three stories houses on the rear of the lot without intrusion into adjacent properties. 

FAR: Floor area ratio is only indicated in our commercial/mixed-use zones. Most other cities designate FAR for the residential zones as well, and some correlate the amount of building square footage to the lot area. The floor area ratio is a numerical relationship of the built square footage to the lot area that regulates the amount of floor area and helps to determine the building mass. 

Forms: even if a city has not converted to form-based zoning, the influence of contemporary trends is often shown by an emphasis on desired building types. Berkeley limits the types of dwelling units to single-family, duplex, and multi-family and omits cluster types like bungalow courts, townhouses, courtyard apartments, and live work developments. Our zoning code does not encourage compact infill housing in low and medium density neighborhoods. 

Diagrams: In many other cities, more pictures and graphics are provided of various setbacks and designs. An architect knows how to interpret development standards, but the ordinary prospective buyer or homeowner should be able to read the zoning code and know what is allowed by looking at illustrations. Depictions also show how setbacks and heights are applied. 

Daylight plane: a 45° setback is applied in half the cities studied to ensure adequate sunlight, obviating the need of shadow studies, which have become a cottage industry in Berkeley. The shadow studies are ignored anyway because the impacts are subjectively evaluated according to a meaningless standard of what is “a reasonable obstruction…” 

Design standards: most cities are very picky and specify design elements such as: the style of accessory buildings; preferred roof designs; finish materials, window placement to ensure privacy, % of the lot that must be landscaped, size of the second story by % of the first, solar roof protections, and many other provisions that influence the looks of the built environment. 

The codes of most other cities are more prescriptive and objective than ours. The cities are saying, build this way and you’ll be approved. Berkeley should incorporate some of these beneficial directives to ensure aesthetic and social harmony, prevent neighborhood distress, dragged out appeals, and waste of staff, commission, and Council time. 

Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley.

Hey, let's stop threatening speakers and making a mockery of Berkeley

Peter Ellman, New York
Friday April 28, 2017 - 04:08:00 PM

I'm a registered Democrat. I was not one of the Bernie supporters who out of protest voted for Trump (horrible idea) or Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or who didn't vote for any President at all (opposite of yuge). The reason I didn't do any of these things is because I thought and still do even more now that the Trump administration is probably going to prove to be one of the worst things to ever happen to our country.

He is a criminal and a deeply disturbed narcissist surrounded by other criminals and narcissist. When I say criminal I mean literally part of an organized racketeering crime ring providing a front for some of the worst elements of international organized crime including ties to Iran. Okay. So you know where I stand.

That being said, I will fly out to Berkeley and personally physically protect Coulter if she chooses to speak on campus. Berkeley should close its academic doors and close up shop before it denies someone like Coulter free speech. We may not like her but she is not exactly a Nazi. She's someone with views not our own who likes to get a rise out of people by saying offensive and stupid things. Anyone who threatens her with violence or who goes further to plot violence against her is also a criminal and a fool.  

I'm a trained fighter so I'm happy to talk with anyone in person who wants to resort to violence. If you want to hurt someone because you don't like their mouthing off maybe take your extremist reactions and go punch yourself in the face. Stop making this world a worse place to be in.  

Just because you are on my side of the political spectrum does not make physically threatening or harming another individual okay who has done nothing to you. I don't care if you and I agree on everything else threatening or harming Coultier is bullshit. . I don't hit people. If you do, you don't belong anywhere near the Berkeley campus and you are losing the fight for all of us. Take a xanax and go write your congressperson

May Day and Labor Day- A Major Difference

Harry Brill
Friday April 28, 2017 - 04:00:00 PM

Some of you might be confused about the difference between May Day and Labor Day. Actually the difference is substantial.

The May Day holiday is broader than Labor Day. Beginning in the late 19th century, socialists referred to May 1 as International Workers Day. It was on May 4, 1886 when police killed workers who were demonstrating in Haymarket Square, Chicago for an eight hour day. But May 1 commemorates the struggles and contributions of not only American workers, but all working people around the world. It is no surprise that the conception of May Day was international in scope because it reflected the perspective of socialist and communist leaders, who tend to take a broad perspective. Because of the severe resistance and repression they confronted, May Day has historically promoted an anti-establishment perspective. 

Labor Day is a federal holiday that honors the contribution of American workers and the American Labor Movement. It was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor. It is celebrated annually on the first Monday in September. This holiday tends to be festive rather than adversarial. The Alameda Labor Council, for example, sponsors a huge annual picnic. For a small admission charge, all are invited. 

This May 1 there will be a rally and march for immigrant rights. A coalition of immigrants, workers, students, labor unions, and faith and community groups will join together. A rally will be held at 3pm at Fruitvale Plaza (near BART). The march will begin at 4:00pm.

Trump & Indonesia

Jagjit Singh
Friday April 28, 2017 - 04:17:00 PM

It’s a pity that VP Mike Pence seems to be unaware of the close ties that his boss has long established perhaps unwittingly, with the elites of the Indonesian underworld. In a shocking expose’, long time reporter, Allan Nairn revealed supporters of Donald Trump have aligned themselves with army officers and vigilante groups linked to ISIS in an attempt to remove Indonesian’s president.  

Several prominent supporters of the coup are a corporate lawyer working for the mining company Freeport-McMoRan who has close links with Trump’s advisor, Carl Icahn and a Fadli Zon, vice speaker of the Indonesian House of Representatives. Closely associated with this group is Hary Tanoe, Trump’s primary Indonesian business partner, who is building two Trump resorts, one in Bali and one outside Jakarta. 

Carl Icahn’s Freeport lawyer was videotaped not long ago at an ISIS swear-in ceremony, where he was one of two people presiding as a group full of young men pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. The program of massive street demonstrations, aimed at bringing down the Jokowi elected government, has been endorsed by radical Islamic Indonesians who have gone to Syria and joined up as ISIS fighters. 

This once again raises critical ethical questions regarding Trump’s business interests with Indonesia’s unsavory underworld.

Engineering failure of health care

Ron Lowe
Friday April 28, 2017 - 03:48:00 PM

Donald Trump and a few hundred Republican politicians are still out to repeal the successful Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to please its base of Freedom Caucus and Obamahaters. The only way the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will fail is if Trump and Republican politicians sabotage it. 

Thanks to Republicans' relentless propaganda campaign for the past six years, the concept of Obamacare is widely disliked. But most of what the law does is popular; expanding Medicaid, forcing insurers to cover those pre-existing medical conditions' allowing young people to stay on their parents' policies until age 26.  

If President Trump does cave to the hard-core extremists in the Republican Party base, what will Donald tell the millions of Americans who have the ACA health care plan and like it? And Donald you keep telling Americans the Affordable Care Act is dangerous: The only thing dangerous about the ACA is that its a threat to Trump-Republican lies and hypocrisy!

North Korea threat

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday April 28, 2017 - 03:44:00 PM

World-renowned professor Noam Chomsky offered some sobering thoughts during a recent interview. 

He reminded his listeners that an attack on North Korea would unleash massive artillery bombardment of Seoul where 28,500 American troops are stationed. US troops based in Japan would also be in the line of fire. 

B52 military maneuvers flying near North Korea’s border are highly provocative and have exacerbated an already explosive situation. North Koreans have much to fear. According to the Air Quarterly Review, US aircraft carpet bombed North Korea in June 1952 and then proceeded to destroy the dams releasing huge amounts of water destroying villages and rice crops, the main staple of North Korea. Tens of thousands of men, women and children died. 

Destroying the dams is a serious war crime for which the US was never held accountable. The massive ‘shock and awe’ and racist comments that followed was reminiscent of the Iraq war and the recent Tomahawk missile strike in Syria. 

A former proposal offered by China and North Korea should be vigorously pursued. Simply stated, the de-escalation quid pro quo would freeze North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons systems and in return the US would halt its B52 flights near North Korea’s border and gradually withdraw US forces from South Korea and Japan. 

There is universal revulsion at the North Korean leadership but their basic instinct for survival is understandable. They remember the fate of Mohammar Kaddafi of Libya who paid the ultimate price after he surrounded his nuclear arsenal. 


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: When Childhood is Over

Jack Bragen
Friday April 28, 2017 - 02:54:00 PM

I almost titled this week's column, "You Can't Go Home Again." However, since I haven't read that book, by Thomas Wolfe, and since I am not really speaking of the same situation, I decided not to give it that title.

When a person with a psychiatric disability gets older, parents aren't available as much to provide help, or just to be there and lend a sometimes false sense of security. (Even if the sense of security is false, it still feels better.) Parents may become deceased, or they may get older and may wish to go on with their own lives, rather than caring for middle-aged offspring that can't quite survive on their own.  

And in some instances, a disabled offspring may be in a position of caring for an aging parent. This can be very demanding when a disabled person could be struggling merely to care for oneself.  

It can be frightening to have to survive on one's own, when we haven't been prepared for it by the mental health treatment system. And we may not be adapted to handling the same level of responsibilities that a nondisabled adult is expected handle.  

The loss of a parent can be devastating. It is not just a matter of lacking practical help in one's life. There are no words that can convey the loss of a close family member.  

And then, we must fall back on the mental health treatment system to become caretakers of us. And their agenda is to manage us, keep us out of trouble, and keep us from pestering the good working people. Their agendas for us may be far different from what we want and need.  

When childhood is over, and when we are responsible for taking care of ourselves, it can be harsh. It is hard for someone with a significant disability to live independently, partly because we usually don't have a pile of money or a good paying job to soften the blows and misfortunes that random chance may render.  

I was recently "T-boned" in my car by and Uber driver, and the collision was his fault. At about the same moment, hundreds of miles to the north, a dear member of my wife's family passed away.  

Now, my wife is dealing with loss, and I am dealing with the difficulties of temporarily (I hope) not having transportation. Meanwhile, finances have become harder due to unrelated issues.  

What prepares you to have the rug yanked from under your feet? Nothing. You just have to get back up and try a little harder.  

When I was young, I longed for the day when I could be an adult and not have to follow the dictates of parents or be a small person in a big world. I wanted great things for myself. I wanted out of public school, and I wanted to no longer endure the bullying of classmates. I wanted great success, and I wanted to live on my own terms.  

Now, I am an adult, I am getting older, and I am realizing that it is probably a lot easier to be a kid. The problem is that when you're a kid, you know nothing. When you get older, you know more, and that is the problem.  

Almost none of what I'd hoped for when young has come to be. Instead, I am doing everything I can to get by and to live with some amount of comfort. I am grateful for not being homeless, for having family to help, and for a number of other things that are good in my life.  

Getting older is difficult. When you have a brain illness and brain-suppressing medication that affect the ability to handle hard situations, the difficulty of life situations is at least double.  

At this point, it would be nice to have more care from the mental health treatment system and not less. However, I am up against the reality that there is really no one who will take care of me but me. And this is both good and bad.  


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Nuclear Breakthrough Endangers the World

Conn Hallinan
Friday April 28, 2017 - 03:25:00 PM

At a time of growing tensions between nuclear powers—Russia and NATO in Europe, and the U.S., North Korea and China in Asia—Washington has quietly upgraded its nuclear weapons arsenal to create, according to three leading American scientists, “exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.”

Writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project of the American Federation of Scientists, Matthew McKinzie of the National Resources Defense Council, and physicist and ballistic missile expert Theodore Postol, conclude that “Under the veil of an otherwise-legitimate warhead life-extension program,” the U.S. military has vastly expanded the “killing power” of its warheads such that it can “now destroy all of Russia’s ICBM silos.”

The upgrade—part of the Obama administration’s $1 trillion modernization of America’s nuclear forces—allows Washington to destroy Russia’s land-based nuclear weapons, while still retaining 80 percent of the U.S.’s warheads in reserve. If Russia chose to retaliate, it would be reduced to ash. 

Any discussion of nuclear war encounters several major problems. First, it is difficult to imagine or to grasp what it would mean in real life. We have only had one conflict involving nuclear weapons—the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945—and the memory of those events has faded over the years. In any case, the two bombs that flattened the Japanese cities bear little resemblance to the killing power of modern nuclear weapons. 

The Hiroshima bomb exploded with a force of 15 kilotons. The Nagasaki bomb was slightly more powerful at about 18 kt. Between them, they killed over 215,000 people. In contrast, the most common nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal today, the W76, has an explosive power of 100 kt. The next most common, the W88, packs a 475-kt punch. 

Another problem is that most of the public thinks nuclear war is impossible because both sides would be destroyed. This is the idea behind the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, aptly named “MAD.” 

But MAD is not a U.S. military doctrine. A “first strike” attack has always been central to U.S. military planning, until recently, however, there was no guarantee that such an attack would so cripple an opponent that it would be unable—or unwilling, given the consequences of total annihilation— to retaliate. 

The strategy behind a first strike—sometimes called a “counter force” attack—is not to destroy an opponent’s population centers, but to eliminate the other sides’ nuclear weapons, or at least most of them. Anti-missile systems would then intercept a weakened retaliatory strike. 

The technical breakthrough that suddenly makes this a possibility is something called the “super-fuze”, which allows for a much more precise ignition of a warhead. If the aim is to blow up a city, such precision is superfluous, but taking out a reinforced missile silo requires a warhead to exert a force of at least 10,000 pounds per square inch on the target. 

Up until the 2009 modernization program, the only way to do that was to use the much more powerful—but limited in numbers—W88 warhead. Fitted with the super-fuze, however, the smaller W76 can now do the job, freeing the W88 for other targets. 

Traditionally, land-based missiles are more accurate than sea-based missiles, but the former are more vulnerable to a first-strike than the latter, because submarines are good at hiding. The new super-fuze does not increase the accuracy of Trident II submarine missiles, but it makes up for that with the precision of where the weapon detonates. “In the case of the 100-kt Trident II warhead,” write the three scientists, “the super-fuze triples the killing power of the nuclear force it is applied to.” 

Before the super-fuze was deployed, only 20 percent of U.S. subs had the ability to destroy re-enforced missile silos. Today, all have that capacity. 

Trident II missiles typically carry from four to five warheads, but can expand that up to eight. While the missile is capable of hosting as many as 12 warheads, that configuration would violate current nuclear treaties. U.S. submarines currently deploy about 890 warheads, of which 506 are W76s and 384 are W88s. 

The land-based ICBMs are Minuteman III, each armed with three warheads—400 in total—ranging from 300 kt to 500 kt apiece. There are also air and sea-launched nuclear tipped missiles and bombs. The Tomahawk cruise missiles that recently struck Syria can be configured to carry a nuclear warhead. 

The super-fuze also increases the possibility of an accidental nuclear conflict. 

So far, the world has managed to avoid a nuclear war, although during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis it came distressingly close. There have also been several scary incidents when U.S. and Soviet forces went to full alert because of faulty radar images or a test tape that someone thought was real. While the military downplays these events, former Secretary of Defense William Perry argues that it is pure luck that we have avoided a nuclear exchange, and that the possibility of nuclear war is greater today than it was at the height of the Cold War. 

In part, this is because of a technology gap between the U.S. and Russia. 

In January 1995, Russian early warning radar on the Kola Peninsula picked up a rocket launch from a Norwegian island that looked as if it was targeting Russia. In fact, the rocket was headed toward the North Pole, but Russian radar tagged it as a Trident II missile coming in from the North Atlantic. The scenario was plausible. While some first strike attacks envision launching a massive number of missiles, others call for detonating a large warhead over a target at about 800 miles altitude. The massive pulse of electro-magnetic radiation that such an explosion generates would blind or cripple radar systems over a broad area. That would be followed with a first strike. 

At the time, calmer heads prevailed,, and the Russians called off their alert, but for a few minutes the doomsday clock moved very close to midnight. 

According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the 1995 crisis suggests that Russia does not have “a reliable and working global space-based satellite early warning system.” Instead, Moscow has focused on building ground-based systems that give the Russians less warning time than satellite-based ones do. What that means is that while the U.S. would have about 30 minutes warning time to investigate whether an attack was really taking place, the Russians would have 15 minutes or less. 

That, according to the magazine, would likely mean that “Russian leadership would have little choice but to pre-delegate nuclear launch authority to lower levels of command,” hardly a situation that would be in the national security interests of either country. 

Or, for that matter, the world. 

A recent study found that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan using Hiroshima-sized weapons would generate a nuclear winter that would make it impossible to grow wheat in Russia and Canada and cut the Asian Monsoon’s rainfall by 10 percent. The result would be up to 100 million deaths by starvation. Imagine what the outcome would be if the weapons were the size used by Russia, China or the U.S. 

For the Russians, the upgrading of U.S. sea-based missiles with the super-fuze would be an ominous development. By “shifting the capacity to submarines that can move to missile launch positions much closer to their targets than land-based missiles,” the three scientists conclude, “the U.S. military has achieved a significantly greater capacity to conduct a surprise first strike against Russian ICBM silos.” 

The U.S. Ohio class submarine is armed with 24 Trident II missiles, carrying as many as 192 warheads. The missiles can be launched in less than a minute. 

The Russians and Chinese have missile-firing submarines as well, but not as many and some are close to obsolete. The U.S. has also seeded the world’s oceans and seas with networks of sensors to keep track of those subs. In any case, would the Russians or Chinese retaliate if they knew that the U.S. still retained most of its nuclear strike force? Faced with a choice committing national suicide or holding their fire, they may well choose the former. 

The other element in this modernization program that has Russia and China uneasy is the decision by the Obama administration to place anti-missile systems in Europe and Asia, and to deploy Aegis ship-based anti missile systems off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. From Moscow’s perspective—and Beijing’s as well—those interceptors are there to absorb the few missiles that a first strike might miss. 

In reality, anti-missile systems are pretty iffy. Once they migrate off the drawing boards, their lethal efficiency drops rather sharply. Indeed, most of them can’t hit the broad side of a barn. But that is not a chance the Chinese and the Russians can afford to take. 

Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Forum in June 2016, Russian President Valdimir Putin charged that U.S. anti-missile systems in Poland and Rumania were not aimed at Iran, but Russia and China. “The Iranian threat does not exist, but missile defense systems continue to be positioned---a missile defense system is one element of the whole system of offensive military potential.” 

The danger here is that arms agreements will begin to unravel if countries decide that they are suddenly vulnerable. For the Russians and the Chinese, the easiest solution to the American breakthrough is to build a lot more missiles and warheads, and treaties be dammed. 

The new Russian cruise missile may indeed strain the Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty, but it is also a natural response to what are, from Moscow’s view, alarming technological advances by the U.S. Had the Obama administration reversed the 2002 decision by George W. Bush’s administration to unilaterally withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the new cruise might never have been deployed. 

There are a number of immediate steps that the U.S. and the Russians could take to de-escalate the current tensions. First, taking nuclear weapons off their hair-trigger status, which would immediately reduce the possibility of accidental nuclear war. That could be followed by a pledge of “no first use” of nuclear weapons. 

If this does not happen, it will almost certainly result in an accelerated nuclear arms race. “I don’t know how this is all going to end,” Putin told the St. Petersburg delegates. “What I do know is that we will need to defend ourselves.” 


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



THE PUBLIC EYE:Berkeley Gets Trolled

Bob Burnett
Friday April 28, 2017 - 03:36:00 PM

"What's happening to Berkeley? Are you safe?" our friends ask. National headlines scream: "Riots in Berkeley!" "The Death of Free Speech!" Yes, something is happening in Berkeley. We've been trolled by the hard right. And our "leaders" haven't responded effectively. Now it's time for the true defenders of free speech to step forward.

The so-called "riot" unfolded in three acts. 

ACT ONE: Berkeley Young Republicans invited Breitbart bigot Milo Yiannopoulous to speak on campus . On February 1st a crowd formed before the speech (estimated size 1000). Suddenly it was invaded by the East Bay anarchists, who call themselves "AntiFa." They threw cherry bombs, started fights, and generally riled things up. Campus police cancelled the speech. 

Milo's speech, and subsequent (cancelled) speeches by David Horowitz and Ann Coulter, were funded by the Young America's Foundation, one of whose donors is the notorious Rebekah Mercer -- daughter of Oligarch (and Trump supporter) Robert Mercer. 

(Young America's Foundation has sued the University of California over the cancellation of the Coulter speech.) 

ACT TWO: Subsequent to the cancellation of Milo's speech, a pro-Trump group scheduled a protest in a downtown Berkeley park; part of the nation "March 4 Trump" demonstrations—which drew a laughable 160 to the National Mall. A few Trump supporters showed up in Berkeley and were met by many more Anarchists, resulting in fist fights and 10 arrests. 

On April 15th there were national tax day marches. Once again, in the same downtown Berkeley park, the pro-Trump forces staged a rally. Predictably they were met by the anarchists, resulting in a several hours of sporadic fistfights and 23 arrests. And national news headlines: "Riots in Berkeley!" 

It's informative to consider who was at the April 15th rally. Prominent was Identity Evropa a White Nationalist group founded by Nathan Damigo . Their office is in Oakdale, California, the central valley. The source of their funding is unclear but Damigo is affiliated with Richard Spencer, of the National Policy Institute . The National Policy Institute was founded by far-right donor William Regnery; some of its board members are connected to Rebekah Mercer. 

Another group at the rally was the Oath Keepers. Formed in 2009, this is among the largest US extremist groups claiming 30,000 members many of whom are former members of the military or law enforcement. It's founder, L. Stewart Rhodes, was present on April 15. Again their funding is unclear. Rhodes lives in Montana. 

Also present were The Proud Boys, who called for the April 15 Alt-right rally. They were represented by Rich Black. Once again, it's not clear how they raise funds. (Although Black has solicited donations for his organization, "Liberty Revival Alliance" on the notorious Alt-right site Wesearchr.) The Proud Boys' offices are in New York City. 

What these three Alt-right groups have in common is their mysterious funding and that they are headquartered outside the Bay Area, 

On the other hand, the Antifa group is local. Antifa, short for anti-fascism, is a collection of anarchists, including the Berkeley chapter of "By Any Means Necessary." Its most prominent member is Yvette Felarca. 

On April 27th, the hard right staged another Berkeley protest because of the cancellation of Ann Coulter's speech. At the downtown Berkeley segment, there were a couple of dozen identified Alt-right individuals. Oathkeeper L. Stewart Rhodes said he was there to defend free speech. (Antifa didn't show; Yvette Felarca reportedly boasted, "We don't need to come to the park. We won. We caused the cancellation of Coulter's speech.") 

ACT Three: In hindsight, the Milo Yiannopoulous event was mishandled by the UC authorities. The hard right has seized upon this as an excuse to troll Berkeley; they're likely to keep doing this until Berkeley citizens take charge. 

Milo Yiannopoulous should have been allowed to speak, as should other conservatives no matter how inflammatory their views. Antifa is wrong to block the exercise of free speech. Berkeley must remain the home of free speech. 

History indicates that if there is a massive outpouring of nonviolent-free-speech support this will check the violence from the Alt-right and from Antifa. Therefore, the Berkeley nonviolent community has to mount a concerted effort to mobilize several thousand free-speech advocates to show up whenever there is a far-right speech or the Alt-right schedules a rally. 

This is our challenge, Berkeley. We must defend free speech by standing up to political violence. 

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