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Flash: The Poor Tour Hits the Road Again

Carol Denney
Friday November 03, 2017 - 04:00:00 PM

On Friday afternoon, November 3rd, a storm was brewing in Berkeley. Winds chased dry leaves into corners, grey clouds gathered, and people on the street tacked any tarps they had down over their belongings anticipating rain. 

Some of the group gathered near the HERE/THERE sculpture at Adeline Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard were packing up in anticipation of an eviction the next morning from BART property ordered by federal court. Others had already packed out, setting up on median strips or elsewhere throughout the city. There are estimated to be about a dozen small tent cities throughout town, but this one, a loose aggregation of people called "First They Came for the Homeless", gathers together not just for safety, but to openly challenge laws criminalizing poverty and homelessness. 

"About this time last year we were doing the 'poor tour', evicted from site after site," stated Adam Bredenberg, one of the plaintiffs in the case opposing BART's eviction, who found me a place to sit while we talked. "We never went into the shadows because our survival depends on our visibility." 

"We stuck together, and we're still sticking together," said Bredenberg, a dignified young man who has been with First They Came for the Homeless for years longer than the ten months' stay on BART property. "We're having to bounce around again." 

"This is a semi-permanent solution," he said, watching the orderly, cooperative efforts to prepare for both eviction and hard weather after ten months of relative peace in one spot. "It would be nice to get six months or a year." 

Mayor Jesse Arreguin, still in the first year of his administration, had sent a message to Berkeley constituents only hours earlier complimenting the group and pledging city assistance: 

"If you have lived in Berkeley any amount of time, you've likely noticed the growth in homeless encampments, a direct correlation of the region’s lack of affordable housing. Over the past 30 years, 80 percent of government funding for homeless and mental health services has been cut and the homeless population has grown exponentially.  

While my administration is taking steps to open a new shelter in West Berkeley and build new units of below market housing and emergency shelter in the downtown area, we know that we don’t have the resources to shelter for everyone who needs it. As a result, people will continue to live on our streets. 


That’s why I have long believed that the HERE/THERE encampment should be allowed to remain. Unlike many homeless encampments, it has set rules, including a noise curfew, prohibits alcohol and drugs and keeps the area clear of debris. It functions like a well-run tent village and provides shelter for people who would otherwise be sleeping in doorways and park benches. In other words, it is a model we could potentially replicate in other camps --perhaps with some around the clock security -- moving forward. 


I am saddened that BART is not willing to let the HERE/THERE encampment stay, but am committed to helping members find a new location..." 

Adam Bredenberg responded stoically to this news. "People don't understand the situation the world is in, and especially this region," he said. "There's a shelter crisis because people aren't thinking right. They won't give us the tiniest little thing because it would fuck up their system and their ideology." 

I asked if he was present for the recent court hearing, and he said yes. Did the judge seem sympathetic, I asked? 

"I'm sure he was sympathetic, but he didn't have a solution." Bredenberg told me the judge had asked absurdly judgmental questions about the group - did they have jobs? were they on drugs? Bredenberg said it was a lot like reading the internet comments, but added "it doesn't matter. He's got to do his job." 

Bredenberg noted with soft irony the fact that BART's property was referred to as "private" while obviously being open to the public and thus "public" at the same time, a trick the University of California uses in legal settings as well. 

I asked about his take on Mayor Arreguin, who had spent his first days blaming the Berkeley City Manager, Dee Williams-Ridley, for chasing First They Came for the Homeless from one side of City Hall to the other within only a few dozen feet from his inaugural giant human peace sign event. 

"Arreguin is hedging his bets," responded Bredenberg, who noted that Arreguin's Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Homelessness has been meeting for over a year without managing to create a safe outdoor space. There are some modest improvements and expansions in a few shelter settings, such as allowing pets and adding more beds, but Bredenberg's point, echoed on paper by federal court Judge William Alsup, is that decades of an inadequate response remains inadequate. 

"I went two or three times," says Bredenberg of the mayor's Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Homelessness, saying that aside from the public comment period no one gets to contribute. "You can sit there knowing the answer to a question, but you can't say anything. No one from this camp is included." 

The Mayor's website even today, November 4, 2017, the day the 72-hour eviction stay runs out for the HERE/THERE tent city, has a roundabout way of excusing the city's refusal to provide a legal area for people to rest and set up personal shelters; "It is our hope that people living in encampments will choose to live indoors." 

Bredenberg says no one from their group is actually on the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Homelessness, which is composed of city council representatives, police, and city staffers. He got tired of having to sit and listen to the city voices without being able to respond. "I would go back as a participant," says Bredenberg. Which seems only fair. 

But Mayor Arreguin's statement needs at least one correction; the awkward, poorly worded part that says " we know that we don’t have the resources to shelter for (sic) everyone who needs it..." and it isn't the peculiar grammar that's the problem. Berkeley hasn't in several decades even considered putting the money it spends on chasing people pointlessly from one location to another toward simply renting available space, space it could even legally commandeer. 

Even commercial Airb&b rates for house rentals hit lower than the $15,000 per person the city is budgeting for their Pathways project beds, and that's with bathrooms, kitchens, the full housing monte. Berkeley has the money, and spends literally millions of the public's dollars helping downtown property owners promote their businesses instead of addressing the most pressing human needs. Berkeley does have "the resources to shelter for (sic) everyone who needs it", and the math is easy to do. It just hasn't wanted to honestly commit to providing housing with the money it spends anyway, preferring an exhausting, debilitating, humiliating system of temporary shelter even the federal court describes as "admittedly insufficient." 

Where is the legal campground? Judge Alsup is requiring that by November 28, 2017, the City of Berkeley and plaintiffs' attorney Dan Siegel provide more specific resolutions than those Mayor Arreguin and the Berkeley City Council have considered sufficient for their first year. The "we spend a lot of resources" refrain the city has used for years to fend off criticism while confiscating belongings and jailing the poor may have turned a corner. 

Flash: Federal Judge orders Berkeley to Produce Winter Plan for Homeless Shelter

Wednesday November 01, 2017 - 04:08:00 PM

Federal District Judge William Alsup today has ordered the city of Berkeley, by November 28, to submit to him “a practical plan for shelter for its homeless during the coming winter.”

He instructs the city authorities not to “simply recite the programs the City purports to offer, for they are admittedly insufficient.”

Instead, the city is required to “(s)ubmit a plan that will shelter substantially all of Berkeley's homeless.” He says in his order that “The Court is not ordering the plan to be adopted but wants to be informed, and the parties and counsel to be informed, concerning the scope of possible relief. “

The judge has also ordered that by the same date, Dan Siegel, the attorney for the homeless people who are now camped on Bay Area Rapid Transit land at the Berkeley/Oakland border, should submit his own proposed plan for sheltering the homelss . Siegel is told to “Be specific. Name soccer fields and open spaces he would convert to tent cities. Failure to be specific may be a sign that there is no practical solution.”

The judge in his order today did not address what the consequences of having no practical solution might be.

New: Public Health Alert re Trader Joe's Salads

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Tuesday October 31, 2017 - 11:43:00 PM

A public health alert has been issued because salads contaminated with bacteria were shipped to some Trader Joe's stores in California and could cause health problems, officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service said Tuesday. 

Salads with chicken made by Vallejo-based Ghiringhelli Specialty Foods have not been recalled because they are probably not being sold any longer or are past their "Use by" dates. 

But food inspectors said the salads should either be thrown out or returned to the store where they were bought. 

The salads, which were labeled as ready to eat, were sold in 9.3-ounce plastic containers at Trader Joe's with the name "TRADER JOE'S Broccoli Slaw & Kale Salad with White Chicken Meat." 

Food inspectors said the salads had "Use by" dates of Oct. 10, 11, 12, and 13. 

The contaminated salads can cause listeriosis, a serious infection that primarily affects older adults with weaker immune systems, pregnant women and their newborns. 

According to food inspectors, listeriosis can cause fever, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions. 

Sometimes diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems occur and invasive infections spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract. 

Listeriosis can also cause miscarriages, stillbirths, premature delivery or life-threatening infections in newborns. Serious conditions and sometimes death occurs in older adults or people with weakened immune systems. 

Food inspectors said the disease can be treated with antibiotics.

New: Around & About--Ancient Indian Theater & Dance: Kudiyattam

Ken Bullock
Wednesday November 01, 2017 - 10:31:00 AM

This weekend at the Mondavi Center, UC Davis

A remarkable event--perhaps the oldest ongoing theater form in the world, Kudiyattam, the last representative of the 2000 year old Sanskrit Theater, will be featured in performances this Friday and Saturday nights at the Mondavi Center on the UC Davis campus. 

Kudiyattam is hard to see in India, outside of Kerala state, and even there performances are relatively rare. 

Performed by highly-trained dancing actors who, as in the better-known theater form Kathakali (which was preceded and deeply influenced by Kudiyattam), are lavishly made up and costumed, stories from ancient Indian scriptures, myths and legends are danced to drums and percussion instruments while the text is sung. (There will be English subtitles at the Mondavi Center.)  

Kudiyattam itself dates back at least a millenium, its origins shrouded in time. It was first performed outside the temples, a controversial act, in 1955--and outside kerala, in Chennai, in 1962.  

The performances--Friday, of the demon Ravana's attack on the moon, and Saturday a sequence from Kalidasa's famous Sanskrit play, 'Sakuntala,' from a tale in the Mahabharata, translated into European languages in the late 18th century (praised by Goethe, subject of an uncompleted opera by Schubert, and of a sculpture by Camille Claudel)--are at 8 in the Jackson Hall Stage, preceded at 7 both nights by a free talk by Professor David Schulman of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Tickets are $10-$30 at: https://mondaviarts.org/event/2017-18-kudiyattam

Updated: Judge Declines to Block Eviction of Homelss Camp Near Berkeley Bart Tracks

Julia Cheever (BCN)
Tuesday October 31, 2017 - 11:39:00 PM

A federal judge in San Francisco today turned down a bid by five residents of a homeless camp near BART tracks in South Berkeley for a preliminary injunction blocking their eviction by the transit agency. 

U.S. District Judge William Alsup said he sympathized with the camp members' situation, but said "court approval to settle indefinitely on the land of a municipal transportation district would be unprecedented." 

"While sympathetic to the plight of plaintiffs, and the problem of homelessness, which is ever more severe, the court must be faithful to the law," Alsup wrote in a 10-page ruling. 

"The sad fact is that plaintiffs cannot meet the standard required for the drastic relief sought," the judge wrote.  

The camp, sometimes known as "Here/There," is located on land owned by BART on the west side of BART tracks near the Oakland border. 

A fluctuating number of 20 to 30 people who call their group "First They Came for the Homeless" has lived there since January, after having been evicted from several other sites on city land since 2015. Group members say the camp prohibits hard drugs, alcohol and violence. 

BART contends the group is trespassing. It says it is concerned about sanitation, health and safety and has received complaints from neighbors and parents at a nearby school. 

Alsup's ruling this afternoon followed an hour-long hearing this morning on a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the residents the day after BART posted a 72-hour eviction notice on Oct. 21. 

On Oct. 24, Alsup temporarily suspended the eviction by issuing a temporary restraining order that remained in effect until today's order denying a longer-term preliminary injunction. 

Today's ruling allows BART to go ahead with the eviction, but Alsup said the agency must post a new 72-hour notice. 

The group's lawyer, Dan Siegel, said, "I'm disappointed but not particularly surprised." 

Siegel said he doesn't expect to appeal the decision. He said that it is up to BART to post a new notice, but then, "I think if people do not leave they will be evicted." 

But Siegel said that even if evicted, the group will go ahead with pursuing a full trial on its lawsuit, expected early next year. 

"It's a good case," he said. 

Alsup said in his order that evidence gathering for a trial could begin. 

BART spokesman James Allison said, "We will continue to work with the courts and the community to resolve this complex issue." 

He said agency officials are hopeful the encampment will comply with the notice to vacate the property. 

The plaintiffs claimed violations of three constitutional rights. Alsup rejected all three arguments. 

He said the planned eviction wasn't an unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment because it would not amount to a criminalization of the occupants' homeless status. Instead, BART's action invoked the almost universally recognized doctrine of trespass, Alsup said. 

"In the absence of such protection, anyone would be free to live on any property," the judge wrote.  

Alsup also said the eviction would not violate the rights of due process and freedom from unreasonable seizures because BART planned to post a 72-hour notice and to keep any property left on the site for 14 to 90 days so that the residents would have a chance to retrieve it.

New: Ensuring Police Accountability - Join us October 31st!

Councilmember Kate Harrison
Monday October 30, 2017 - 08:09:00 PM

At next Tuesday’s Berkeley City Council meeting, the Council will consider legislation from our office directing the City Manager to require that all uses of force by the Berkeley Police Department are captured and analyzed with a goal of continuing de-escalation (item number 26 on the agenda). While we have an excellent police department that has already been taking steps to achieve improvements, it is critical that the Council help to guide and inform their efforts with a set of broad principles and requirements for the purpose of enhancing our use of force policy. The legislation is cosponsored by Mayor Arreguín and Councilmembers Bartlett and Worthington. 

In addition, Councilmember Kriss Worthington and I are sponsoring legislation that seeks to address disparities in policing across communities (Item 28 on the agenda) and to create a ballot initiative to enhance the Berkeley Police Review Commission (Item 29 on the agenda). 

Please join me next week in asking the Council to pass these items. Please note that the Council will likely address the item later in the evening. Signs are permitted. 

If you're not able to attend this Public Hearing e-mail your comments to council@cityofberkeley.info or to specific Councilmembers. 


You can read the item here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx4Ye7pmqiQ4MExabE1HZzRNY28/view 


More about this item: The Department’s use of force policies guide every officer in their day-to-day interactions with the community. Our department has already been taking steps to achieve improvements to existing policy. It is critical that the Council help to guide these efforts with a set of broad principles and requirements. For example, the current policy does not require comprehensive reporting when force is used. The legislation: 

  1. Enshrines de-escalation as a goal;
  2. Clarifies what constitutes use of force;
  3. Requires that all uses of force be reported;
  4. Categorizes uses of force into levels to facilitate continuing de-escalation;
  5. Requires incidents to be captured in a manner that allows for analysis; and
  6. Requires that the Department prepare an annual analysis report relating to use of force to be submitted to the Police Review Commission (“PRC”) and Council.
The item in no way impedes the work of our police officers. It gives the City Manager and Department significant latitude in shaping the final policy. However, the people’s voices should be heard and it is appropriate that the City Council help guide these efforts to update our policies. The City of Berkeley has an opportunity to proactively update its policies. This item is a step in that direction. 

Since the San Francisco Police Department has begun implementing more than 200 recommendations made by the Department of Justice, including those related to use of force policies, SFPD has reported an 11% decrease in use of force incidents and a nearly 9% decrease in complaints to the San Francisco Department of Police Accountability. 

New: A Solution to Powerline-Sparked Wildfires: Over-Grounding

Gar Smith
Monday October 30, 2017 - 12:14:00 PM
Gar Smith

There is concern that PG&E's electric transmission lines may have played a role in Northern California's devastating wildfires. Many times in the past, falling branches and trees toppled by high winds have crashed into electric transmission lines triggering grassfires that have erupted into major blazes. (It's happened before: in 2015, a damaged PG&E powerline started a fire in Amador County that fire burned for 22 days, killed two people, destroyed 549 homes and blackened 70,868 acres.)

During October's winds, cellphone images captured transformers dramatically erupting along suburban streets, underscoring the ignition potential of powerpoles inside cities as well as in the wooded foothills surrounding them.

The obvious solution—practiced in most of the world's developed nations—is to relocate these risky overhanging electric lines by placing them underground.


For anyone who travels abroad (to countries where powerlines are secured underground and out-of-sight), it can be an embarrassment to return to the US and having to face the visual anachronism of our national power grid—still largely supported by millions of pine, cedar, and fir trees conscripted from our forests and turned into load-bearing wooden polls treated with toxic preservatives like creosote and pentachlorophenol. 

PG&E has considered the option of "undergrounding" its rural grid but has moved slowly citing the high costs of this alternative. While San Diego Gas & Electric has place 60 percent of its grid underground, PG&E has only managed to underground 30 miles a year. 

Undergrounding power lines can cost four to 14 times as much as hanging overhead wires. One reason is that the trenches need to be 10 feet deep and five feet wide. Underground lines are also more vulnerable to ground movements including earthquakes. 

Burying cables presents an added inconvenience when it comes to maintenance. Servicing buried powerlines is more time-consuming and expensive than responding to interruptions in a grid that is accessible without having to use backhoes and shovels. 

But there is another option to consider. 

The Affordable 'Half-way" Solution 

There is an alternative that avoids the risks of hanging wires and the cost of buriing cables underground. You could call it "Overgrounding." 

With this approach, powerlines are secured inside long lengths of metal or plastic piping held firmly in place by small, inexpensive-but-sturdy concrete pylons. 

Placed a few feet the surface of the land, these electric "pipelines" would not disrupt movements of wildlife or flowing water. At the same time, they would remain readily accessible to utility crews who could service the system on foot. There would no longer be a need to truck in vehicles with elaborate "cherry pickers" to raise workers 30 feet in the air to gain access to overhead power lines. 

More importantly, "overgrounding" would eliminate the risk that falling branches or toppling trees could snap exposed electric lines. 

While "overgrounding" would not be appropriate for urban settings, it should be ideal for rural locations. The pylons and pipelines could be quickly installed over existing transmission routes. Existing powerpoles are installed about 160 feet apart. On those occasions where the old overhead lines cross roads, rivers, or ravines, a simple "bridge" structure could briefly elevate the protected powerlines. 

One concern that arises is: "What about the threat of vandalism?" Simple answer: overgrounded power lines would be less susceptible to vandalism or "terrorist" attacks than existing overhead lines, held in place by wooden poles that could be chain-sawed or torched. (Such attacks do happen, but rarely). As a further deterrence, the Idaho National Laboratory has devised "inexpensive, easy to install, and minimal maintenance" surveillance devices that can detect and communicate signs of tampering in real-time. Powered by the transmission line itself and able to operate on their own stored power in the event of a line failure, these small monitors are so sensitive they can detect "the hand removal of a tower base support nut." 

Here is an artist's rendering of what a cheap, convenient, "overgrounding" system might look like. 

Federal Judge To Consider Constutional Rights Of Homeless Encampment Tomorrow

Margy Wlikinson
Monday October 30, 2017 - 08:07:00 PM

On Tuesday, October 31, 2017, attorneys representing the members of the Berkeley group, First They Came for the Homeless, will ask a federal judge to extend his injunction forbidding BART from evicting the homeless camp near the intersection of Martin Luther King Way and Alcatraz Ave in Berkeley. The hearing before Judge William H. Alsup will take place at 9:00 AM in Courtroom 8 in the federal courthouse at 450 Golden Gate Avenue, San Francisco.​ 

On October 24, 2017, Judge Alsup issued a temporary restraining order forbidding BART from evicting the camp in South Berkeley until the hearing on October 31. The camp has been at its present location since January, 2017. The camp enjoys the support of many in the local area. Richie Smith, a South Berkeley resident since 1949 visits the camp regularly and says: I hope the court will have some compassion and allow this camp to remain in its present location. It has been a model camp in Alameda County and to disrupt and remove this camp at this time would be inhumane and a travesty. 

The issues to be argued involve the constitutional rights of homeless people. Their lawyers, Dan Siegel and EmilyRose Johns of Siegel, Yee & Brunner in Oakland, argue that criminalizing the homeless by evicting them under threat of arrest when they have nowhere to go violates their Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment because it penalizes people based on their status. The City of Berkeley does not have shelter space available and no alternative location for the camp. The Eighth Amendment has been applied in prior cases to strike down laws that penalize people because of their status, such as being addicted to alcohol or drugs. The attorneys also argue that confiscating and destroying the possessions of homeless people violates their rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by depriving them of property without due process of law. 

The public is urged to attend the hearing. Attorneys Siegel & Johns will be available to speak to the press immediately after the hearing. 

For more information please call Hannah E Samson at 704 728 9230 

New: It’s time to drive away the developers (Public Comment)

Steve Martinot
Monday October 30, 2017 - 12:12:00 PM

Funny how homelessness and the displacement of low income families by inordinate rent increases get turned against each other as issues. They are shunted into separate political domains, though building affordable housing would resolve both. The homeless are given shelters sufficient for 10% of their numbers, and the tenants facing displacement are given subsidy money to tide them over for a couple of months until the next threat of eviction. This, at least, is the extent to which City Council has seen fit to make positive policy with respect to these allegedly dual problems. The shelters guarantee that the problem of homelessness will not be reduced, and the city will continue to respond to it with increased policing. And addressing displacement only through monetary channels guarantees that for housing, the city will continue to turn to for-profit developers who will build market rate housing that induces displacement, and that the displaced cannot afford. Homelessness and housing get turned into policing and profiting, and people get thrown into the streets because there is no affordable housing. The outcome is the inability of the city to protect the majority of its people, the two-thirds of the population who are renters. 

Alex Vitale has recently published a book called “The End of Policing,” in which he discusses not the goals of policing, but rather how to end the police as a problem for contemporary society. He goes over such topics as the school-to-prison pipeline, the police tendency to traumatize or kill people with emotional problems because they don’t obey commands while going through emotional crises, the misguidedness (as a foregone failure) of the war on drugs, the immorality of criminalizing sex-work, among other things. As he goes along, he gives several reasons why reforming the police is really an exercise in futility, given the nature and structure of policing itself. A good example is the iniquity of criminalizing the homeless through policing. 

When a city administration polices the homelessness, it is using an administrative process that is irrelevant to the problem. It sets people flowing through circular channels from court to jail to the street to court to jail, and sadly, too often to prison sentences for incorrigibility because a person turns to real crime in an effort to escape this merry-go-round. The money spent to run this machinery turns out to be far more than it would cost to give these “victims of procedure” a home and a job. Researchers at the Univ. of Southern California showed that the “total cost per person of public services for two years living on the streets was $187,288, compared to $107,032 for two years in permanent housing” also with support services (a 43% difference). [Michael Cousineau, et al, Homeless Cost Study, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, 2009] In other words, "cost" is not the reason cities do not house the homeless. 

In reality, addressing the problem of homelessness through policing and criminalization is a trick to fool people into thinking that they need bigger police departments and larger jails, despite the costs. Civil society then picks up the tab for financing an agency whose primary objective is general regimentation of the populace. Through this trick and others, police departments have become so large they constitute a political force without equal at the urban level. 

On the other hand, Vitale argues, stopgap measures such as shelters and temporary housing have no effect for decreasing the homeless population. Homelessness, he says, “is about a mismatch between incomes and housing costs.” He references research by the National Low Income Housing Coalition that shows that “75% of extremely low income renter households spend more than 50% of their income on housing.” [“Rental Inflation Drives Homelessness and Housing Instability for the Poor,” May 1, 2015] For the more than “10 million extremely low income rental households in the US, … only 3.2 million rental homes … are available and affordable to them.” (Vitale, p.103) And I might add, on the basis of a survey I made of rent controlled units in West Berkeley during the fall of 2016, the majority of tenants in controlled apartments are actually paying 70% to 75% of their income for housing, with a substantial number paying more than that.  

“Extensive research now exists that the ultimate solution to homelessness involves increasing pay for low-wage work and creating more affordable housing, with support services for those who need it. Emergency shelters, transitional housing, life-skills training, and forced savings programs do nothing to reduce the overall amount of homelessness. The housing market on its own cannot house the growing number of people who are left out of the formal economy or have a tenuous relationship to it. In such a situation, the state has no choice but to intervene directly.” (Vitale, p. 102) 

That means that government “must either dramatically raise the value of transfers to stimulate new low-cost housing construction or provide the housing itself.” We are not speaking about government choosing radical solutions. What Vitale is arguing is that a radical solution is the only one left. Any other, such as income support, welfare payments, or earned income tax credits will fail to keep pace with housing costs, and get lost in a supply-and-demand cycle of their own, owing to the influx of new low income renters. 

Two years ago, the city of Berkeley admitted that the only real solution for the problem (aka travesty) of low income tenant displacement was building affordable housing. ("Affordability," on HUDs standard, means that the maximum rent chargeable is 30% of the tenant’s income). Building “market rate” housing has put the city on a treadmill, huffing and puffing to get housing built, and getting nowhere in terms of resolving the affordable housing crisis. In fact, Berkeley has glutted itself with market rate housing, having fulfilled its requirement under Plan Bay Area. Today, one sees banners on big apartment buildings over a year old still announcing “Now Leasing” and “Apartments available.” Indeed, in the face of this glut, developers are now approaching the Planning Dept. with a demand that they be able to condo-ize. With respect to homelessness, that would only set the city on another treadmill. 

The point of a treadmill is that it allows some people to crow that they are dealing with the problem while those who suffer from the problem see that the situation only getting worse. 

Okay, let’s get real – which means getting radical. City zoning only asks that 20% of each new housing project be affordable, which developers can avoid by paying a mitigation fee. That rate is a drop in the bucket given the need for low income housing. It also provides a pittance for the Housing Trust Fund (to use to build affordable housing) since the mitigation fee is only $34,000 per unit. The urgency of the situation calls for housing projects that will provide from 80% to 100% affordable units. 

The city could change its zoning to require that by changing one number in its municipal code (Sect. 22-20-065D). There is a formula there, with a "20%" in it. Change it to "80%" and raise the mitigation fee to $120,000 per unit (which would put real money in the Housing Trust Fund) and the city could resolve its affordable housing problem. The benefits from doing so would be many. 

First, these increases would not violate the Palmer decision (which holds that if a city mandates affordable housing units, then that city must make up the difference in developer earnings). The way the law is written in Berkeley, if 20% doesn’t violate Palmer, than 80% won’t either. The developer can still pay a mitigation fee to not include affordable units – that is, inclusion of affordable units remains voluntary. Second, it would defend the city against developers who opportune on the Housing Accountability Act that neutralizes the city’s ability to give democratic power or at least some choice concerning development to neighborhoods. And third, regulations like this would probably drive away some of the profit-hungry developers and their financial backers (aka banks). That might not be a bad bargain since all they can offer is a product (market rate housing) that we don’t need, while refusing to provide a product (affordable housing) that we do need. 

There are those who would cry out that this would insure that nothing gets built. They only reveal that they worship the god "profit" and use the “law of supply-and-demand” as gospel. It is a religious argument. After chasing the unneeded for-profit developers away, the task would be to take over the land they will no longer be using (there are ways of doing that), and give it to any of the non-profits in the area who build affordable housing. We have several organizations in this town – SAHA, RCD (Resources for Community Development), and others waiting in the wings, who would love to take this on. Raising the bar on affordable housing might (could, would, should?) violate the developers’ fixation on profit, but it does not mean that nothing will be built. It simply implies that it won’t be built by profit-fixated developers. 

The real job would be figuring out where to find alternate forms of financing. But alternate financing should be possible. There are many versions of mortgages to choose from, or bond issues, or federal subsidies (maybe a problem), or taxes on the rich and the huge corporations (maybe a virtue), or actually humanitarian investment, etc. But we already face this task. These would be the same means, using the same ideas and alternative sources, that would be needed to resolve the homeless crisis. There would have to be subsidized apartments for homeless people, until they get jobs and a stable income. And services will have to be provided in the meanwhile, since homelessness is a traumatic experience – one created by our socio-economic structure. To police the traumatized homeless is like breaking a man’s leg and then arresting him for vagrancy because he can’t walk. 

But as long as I’m talking "radical," let’s go for it. What we need is a suit against the Pentagon for spending money on unneeded, redundant, and useless war making technologies, where that money is needed by the people of the US. We have a recent precedent. Two California counties and a city have sued 37 oil, gas, and coal companies for selling their products in the knowledge that they were causing serious climatic disruption. Other cities are suing a smaller number of oil companies for the same reason. It is like the suits against the tobacco companies. The dangers of climate change are not just against human health, however, as with the tobacco plague. We face rising sea levels, the fact that entire species are moving northward, and there is an accompanying and on-going mass extinction in progress. All of this poses severe threats to the planet, to society, and to human life in general. 

This raises the interesting question of the kind of courage it would take to sue the Pentagon for hoarding the funds that would provide housing and free education and free healthcare for all the people of the nation. The only people who might object to such a suit and such courage (other than the usual corporate executives and investors) would be the white supremacists and white nationalists, since they do not want to be involved in national programs in which black and brown people have access equal to whites. 

But we should heap unending scorn on cities and states that whine about not having funds to provide a decent life for people. There is plenty of money, squandered and wasted by the five-sided institution. Its sole function is to kill people, and it does that to us as well by hoarding the funds we need to live better. Or at all. Every month, some homeless people die on the street. 

New: AROUND & ABOUT THEATER: Inferno Theatre's New 'Dracula'

Ken Bullock
Sunday October 29, 2017 - 09:08:00 PM

"Children of the night--what music they make!" That old potboiler of horror, 'Dracula,' most famous for Bela Lugosi's campy performance as the vampire Count, has been reworked by Giulio Perrone of Berkeley's Inferno Theatre (Inferno did an earlier adaptation by Perrone in the Fall of 2012 that got a rave review in these pages)--and Inferno is staging it Thursday through Sunday nights, till Saturday, November 18, at the Brooklyn Preserve, just off International Boulevard near Lake Merritt. 

Perrone promises a gender-bending Gothic Romance, staged with music (much of it live), physical theater, dance--and magic spells. His earlier adaptation featured a boldly female, or androgynous Dracula amid polyphonic ensemble movement with constant musical impulse. 

Thursday through Saturday at 8, Sundays at 7--with a special Hallowe'en performance with afterparty (costumes encouraged) this Tuesday at 8. Upstairs at Brooklyn Preserve (the historic Brooklyn Presbyterian Church, 1433-12th Ave (corner of East 15th Street, off International Boulevard), Oakland. $20-$25; Thursdays, pay what you can at the door. Tickets and information: infernotheatre.org/dracula or 825-0449 or infernotheatrecompany@gmail.com

Inclusionary Housing Requirements Now Allowed

Zelda Bronstein
Friday November 03, 2017 - 07:41:00 PM

In his October 30 op-ed, “It’s time to drive away the developers,” Steve Martinot doesn’t seem to realize that on September 29, Jerry Brown signed a bill, AB 1505, that overrides the Palmer decision and allows cities and counties to establish inclusionary zoning requirements—that is, requirements that new residential rental projects include a specified amount of officially affordable housing.  

There is a condition that the bill’s sponsor, Assemblymember Bloom (D, Santa Monica) apparently added under pressure from Brown, that authorizes the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development to review a jurisdiction’s inclusionary ordinance that requires more than 15% of residential rental unit to be affordable to households at 80% Area Median Income, if the locality has failed to meet at least 75% of it share of the state-mandated Regional Housing Need Allocation for above-moderate households over at least a five-year period; or if HCD finds that the locality has not submitted its annual Housing Element report for two consecutive years. In such cases, HCD may require a county or city to submit an economic feasibility study showing that its ordinance “does not unduly constrain the production of housing.” 

That said, this is a major breakthrough for affordable housing in California.

New: Jane: Dr. Goodall and the Real Planet of the Apes

Review by Gar Smith
Sunday October 29, 2017 - 09:06:00 PM

Opens October 27 at Berkeley's Elmwood Theater

When I first saw the movie posters for Jane—the story of world-famous chimpanzee researcher Dr. Jane Goodall—I assumed it was a biopic and I wondered who had been chosen to play the lead.

To my surprise, it turns out that this true tale of a young woman's journey from a prim British childhood to a primeval African adventure (and onwards to global fame as an environmental activist) is a documentary starring none other than Jane Goodall herself.

The film is a magnificent cinematic and emotional achievement—by turns, whimsical, magical, illuminating, astonishing, and frightening.

Adding to the magic is the fact that this documentary only exists because of the recent chance discovery of 100 hours of presumably lost reels of 16mm film.  


The rare images on these precious reels were captured 50 years ago by Hugo van Lawick, a charismatic National Geographic filmmaker. Van Lawick, who also features prominently in Jane, also became Goodall's photography partner, friend, lover, and eventual husband. 

Goodall (still witty and energetic in her 80s) narrates the film. 

It seems adventure was always in her blood. When she was a little girl, Goodall recalls, she used to climb the tallest trees in her backyard and dream of Africa. In 1960, she realized her dream when Kenyan anthropologist Richard Leaky chose to send her on a research mission to Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge. As a 26-year-old secretary with no scientific training, Goodall was suddenly thrust into the wilds of the Gombe National Forest armed with nothing more than a pair of field binoculars and a notebook. 

The long-lost images, recovered and expertly edited by award-winning Dutch filmmaker Brett Morgen, somehow manage to tell it all. We see Goodall in the first five months of her immersion in Gombe, splashing barefooted through rivers, clambering up vine-choked ravines, and crouching in tree limbs, hoping to catch a glimpse into the lives of the wild chimpanzees. 

Jane Goodall's screen presence is electrifying. Her face radiates intelligence, curiosity, and good humor. With her wry smile and darting eyes, she has undeniable star power. 

The first images are of animals glanced at a far distance. As the months go on, however, the distance between Jane and the apes steadily narrows as they become used to the presence of this strange, solitary blonde primate. Eventually, a single, soft, hairless human hand reaches out and touches the calloused fingers of curious creature from the planet's wild history. 

While science fiction is filled with tales of brave astronauts traveling to far-off planets in hopes of making contact with alien intelligence, Jane Goodall has already accomplished this—by reaching out to an intelligent life-form right here on our own beleaguered planet. 

In one amazing scene after another, the apes grow closer. As Goodall takes copious field notes, we share in her discoveries as the chimpanzees reveal their personalities and foibles. At one point, the nearly lost film loops capture the amazing sight of chimpanzees casually fashioning their own implements to go digging for food. Goodall's revelation that these creatures were intelligent, tool-using animals sent shockwaves through the scientific community. Suddenly, humans were no longer the planet's only "tool-using animal." 

Van Lawick's camera work—whether in the jungles of Tanzania or on the savannas of the Serengeti—remains breathtakingly beautiful, enhanced by the saturated tones of the Ektachrome filmstock from the era. Whether van Lawick is tracing the fragile beauty of the smallest crawling insects or documenting bloody mortal contests between hyenas, lions, zebras, and gazelles—the scenes of animal behavior are eye-opening and heartrending. 

Van Lawick's camera seems to capture everything—from playful exchanges between infant chimps and their mothers to sudden bursts of physical rage among the adult males. 

In the course of their shared work in Tanzania, Jane and Hugo have a child. We watch their home movies as the little boy struggles, chimp-like, to master the art of walking. Later we marvel at the self-assured ease with which the five-year-old boy plunges into a lake and paddles around while a baboon sits on the shore and watches curiously. 

The scenes of Jane and the champs cavorting in the forests—and during increasingly common visits to her camp—are idyllic, as apes and humans bond, sharing food, pranks, and camaraderie. 

But in life, as in movies, idylls can be disrupted by drama, death, and destruction. 

A matriarch in the chimp community dies. We watch as her young son reaches out tentatively, then desperately, trying to rouse his mother's lifeless body from the river in which she has collapsed. Finally, the child wanders off in despair, settles down in the forest, stops eating, and dies. 

With the matriarch's death, the community is disrupted. Factions arise. One party takes off and settles in a different part of the forest. Once neighbors, they have become strangers. And, to Goodall's horror, the chimpanzees that she has grown to love over the years suddenly turn on one another, waging a brutal war on the outcasts and killing them all. 

Astonishingly, van Lawick managed to capture the grisly combat as screaming chimps, biting and flailing, crash through the underbrush and, at times, nearly collide with van Lawick's camera. 

The rapidity with which a stable community of neighbors can be divided and turn against itself, astonished Goodall. In our current state of political and social divisiveness, this should serve as a warning to our human tribes as well. 

Despite this single shocking plunge into darkness, Jane, is a remarkably humane and enjoyable film, filled with deeply emotional moments that will inspire, entertain, and remain in your memory.



How about an Armistice Day Peace Picnic in Berkeley on November 11?

Becky O'Malley
Friday October 27, 2017 - 01:27:00 PM

SECOND UPDATE, 11/3/17: It's now rumored that the Joey Gibson/Amber Cummings crowd of big baddies is going to bail on their November 11 rally. What a shame, since local stalwarts were busy organizing a Peace Picnic to shame them. On the other hand, rain is predicted, which might put the kibosh on both events. Watch this space for developments. 

UPDATE: If Berkeley needs to see how to deal with the alt-Reich, check out what the beautiful people of Tennesse did in Shelbyville, as reported in the London Daily Mail.

Protesters play Mexican folk song 'La Bamba' to drown out neo-Nazi speech at 'White Lives Matter' rally in Tennessee ...

This week I was present at a couple of gatherings of some of the happy little band of Berkeleyans who think of themselves as progressive, a gentle adjective that at least connotes good will to many, if not to all, with some disagreement on the details. One was a mini-reunion of a respectable percentage of people who’d worked on Jesse Arreguin’s campaign for mayor or at least endorsed him as I did.

This crowd is a feisty bunch, and as I looked over the cc list on the email invitation I was sure that some sparks would fly. In general, these folks manage to come together around election time, but soon thereafter fissures start to develop in the common front, especially if their candidates win(though this hasn’t happened often in Berkeley.)

There’s a whole repertoire of jokes about how lefties organize. There’s the one about the circular firing squad, which was roundly denounced this summer in The Nation, where humor goes to die: The Circular Firing Squad Isn’t Amusing Any More. A gentler, more sectarian version is attributed to Will Rogers: “I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat.” That would apply to some of the people at the get-together, but would be rejected by others, perhaps the ones who hadn’t read the Nation article and/or the ones who brought us the Nader and Stein administrations. You get the idea. 


The Mayor and his elves had hopefully put together a four-section suggested agenda. Typically, completely unsurprisingly, the attending group in an hour and a half got through only the first item: RESPONSE TO NATIONALIST EVENTS IN BERKELEY. This had two subheads: “Preventing violence while allowing people to present opposing viewpoints” and “Police actions/perceptions/performance.” 

The invasions from the crazy right (aka alt-reich) have derailed to a certain extent any progress the new administration has tried to make on Berkeley’s major problem, housing. That’s too bad-- it deserves a lot of attention. And it’s hard not to talk about them, though, as Councilmember Kate Harrison observed ruefully, these well-publicized events are a sideshow which distracts us from the real problems in Berkeley. 

What was surprising about the discussion was what people said. Some participants, I suspect, must have been disappointed to find out how little they disagreed with one another—and I don’t think it was just that they were being polite. There were quibbles about the timing of the police withdrawal from Provo Park on August 28 and some other details, but these were expressed cooperatively with perfect civility. 

No vote was taken, no big sheets of butcher paper were stuck to the walls to record comments, no report was delivered by a designated secretary—for all of which I for one am intensely grateful, since I hate that kind of thing. 

Was there a consensus? The talk turned to the next threatened invasion, as reported by those more patient than I who monitor the scuzzy alt-right online. I hadn’t heard about it, nor had many others in the room. 

It seems that one of their many groups, this one called PatriotPrayer, has announced a get-together at People’s Park on Saturday, November 11, a day which is now called Veterans’ Day. As I understand it, this is the crowd fronted by one Joey Gibson, which bailed on a threatened San Francisco outing in August. 

Oh, no. Here we go again. (If you’re thinking of going, click here for more information, but please don’t go.) 

The people in the discussion agreed that the alternative non-violent gathering on Oxford street on August 27 was a critical success, but they were unhappy that the violent clash between two small groups of hotheads in the Civic Center got all the press. Unfortunately, and you may have heard this here before, if it bleeds, it leads. 

Some were disturbed by a Pro Publica article by two or three of the more competent local freelancers which tracked down the identities of some of the two-bit ex-con thugs who congregate under the name of Rise Above Movement, or RAM. The story included an account of their altercations in Berkeley with black-clad lefties at a pro-Trump rally in April. The authors complained that the RAM combatants in Berkeley were not prosecuted afterwards, but they soft-pedaled the role of the Black Bloc, aka Anti-Fa, which played a major part in the outcome. In general, assault charges are much harder to make stick if two or more sides are throwing punches. 

One speaker suggested that Our Crowd should get self-defense training to fight off such baddies, but no one seemed keen to endorse that. 

Instead, there was general approval of having non-violent counter-demonstrations in other locations on days when the righties show up. One speaker suggested that participants wear white hats (any style) to identify themselves as non-violent, an idea which was applauded by the assembly. 

A consensus deplored the enormous public cost of policing these stupid clashes. 

That’s about all there was time for, but it gave me a good picture of where progressive activists in Berkeley are at these days. 

My second progressive get-together was with a few old ladies like me, some even older, if that’s possible, who have been active over many years in a variety of peace movements, some quite effective. They did a bit of creative brainstorming about what might be done in the current climate, coming up with a variety of good ideas for affecting public opinion. I learned a lot from their experience. 

Putting all this talk from both gatherings together, here’s what I suggest for November 11: 

I remembered that in my long ago childhood that date was called Armistice Day, and it was a celebration of the end of World War I, a peace day, not a war day. It’s still celebrated under that name around the world. 

Instead of getting into a fight with the PatriotPrayer crowd, Berkeleyans should announce an Armistice Day White Hat Picnic in one of our many lovely parks. San Pablo Park would be ideal, or Cedar-Rose, or? 

I don’t think a permit is required if you simply ask families and friends to join you on a Saturday to share a meal in the out of doors. And how about musicians? I don’t think acoustic music needs a permit either. 

That might be as much as we can do on short notice. On the other hand, it would be great if the Berkeley City Council would endorse the event and show up to participate. It would be even better if we could snag a big draw as a speaker. (Is Michelle Obama free?) 

Would this be enough to distract public attention from whatever jerks show up at People’s Park to make trouble? Could the self-styled anti-fascists be dissuaded from taking the bait this time? 

We can’t be sure, but we won’t know unless we try. Who wants to volunteer to be the organizer? 



Public Comment

Perpetual War

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday October 27, 2017 - 02:13:00 PM

The Pentagon budget for fiscal 2017-18 is a whopping $640 billion consuming 55% of discretionary government spending. Our lawmakers are loath to oppose funding the war machine lest they be accused of being weak on terrorism. We have troops spread across the globe in more than 182 countries.

With an appalling record of overthrowing democratically elected governments around the world (Iran 1953, Guatemala, 1954, Congo, 1960, Dominican Republic . . ) the CIA continues to be a destabilizing force around the world with 38,000 currently engaged in secret missions - with no accountability. Trillions of dollars and thousands of lives have been lost. The US continues to sell weapons to many rogue states guilty of appalling human rights abuses such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and many of the Gulf States. Tens of thousands of innocent civilians have perished in these a rich recruitment for its enemies. We must reject the false belief that we have a divine right to possess WMD’s. After all we are the only nation guilty of unleashing these terrifying weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We should bring back the draft so ALL Americans have a stake in Pentagon’s perpetual wars.

We need to replace our “Shock and Awe” with robust diplomacy. To compound global instability, Islam is wreaking havoc around the world, its terrorism rooted in its scriptures, to “kill all infidels”. Few Islamic scholars voice their opposition to this jihad rhetoric.

Supreme Court Confirmations: Extremism and Acquiescence

Harry Brill
Thursday October 26, 2017 - 02:50:00 PM

If a public official is impeached, that is, found guilty of misconduct, proceedings can then take place to remove the individual from office. In the early 19th century, a Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Chase, was tried for impeachment because he allowed his political views to interfere with his decisions. If this principle was applied to the conservative justices generally, very few would have escaped impeachment.

Too many outrageous and notorious Supreme Court decisions have been rationalized by making very flimsy connections to the American constitution. No language in the second Amendment justifies individuals owning guns for personal use. Yet the court ruled in 2008 that the 2nd amendment gave individuals a constitutional right to own guns. This decision motivated millions of Americans to arm themselves. The court's decision was made by five justices who were recommended by Ronald Reagan or George Bush and approved by the Senate majority. When the economic interests of business are involved these judges somehow find a constitutional connection. In this instance they have served the predatory economic interests of the National Rifle Association (NRA). That more than 12,000 people were killed by guns last year, and almost 1300 children suffer gun deaths annually are not among the concerns of the NRA.

These five justices have made many other decisions that have been detrimental to the public and especially the more vulnerable sectors of the public. Think about it --the main problem with the Supreme Court is that although the court plays a major and powerful role shaping public policy it is really a totalitarian institution. Once appointed, the justices are beholden to nobody, not even to the president who nominated them nor the senators who confirm them. Because these justices enjoy a lifetime appointment, they can and often do ignore public opinion. 

Particularly troublesome has been the Supreme Court's decision to gut an important provision of the 1965 Civil Rights Act which required states with a history of minority discrimination to obtain federal permission to change voting regulations and procedures. As a result a huge numbers of African Americans and many low income citizens have lost their right to vote. Incredibly, five Republican Party Justices made a decision that threatens both the lives and the democratic rights of millions of Americans. And unless these decisions are overturned, these drastic changes will remain even after they are gone.  

How the Democrats voted on the nominations is quite distressing. Reagan nominated both the very conservative Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, who also tilts in a conservative direction. Both nominees received 100 percent of the votes of the Democratic Party senators. The conservative John Roberts was nominated by Bush for the Chief Justice position. The Chief Justice has considerable power. He determines the weekly agenda, has considerable say about what cases should be selected, and is also the chief administrator of the federal courts. That is a too powerful position to take casually. Yet, there was not only no major debates about confirming Roberts. Also, fifty percent of the Democrats voted in his favor. 

Unfortunately there is a pattern of voting for Supreme Court nominees by both parties that favors the Republicans. When the Senate Democrats are voting on behalf of a candidate proposed by a Republican president, they have tended to vote in favor of the Republicans. However, the Republicans are much less likely to support the preferences of a Democratic President. The obvious reason for the difference is that the Republicans shutter at supporting the nomination of liberals, or any candidate who could be vulnerable to pressure from below. More likely, the Democratic Senators feel much more comfortable with having colleagues on the political right than on their left. Perhaps you are familiar with the recent purge by the Chair of the Democratic National Committee of many progressives from key positions while appointing several individuals with corporate-interest backgrounds. 

During the terms when all but one of the nominees were confirmed, the Republicans held a majority of the Senate seats. Wouldn't we expect a different outcome if the Democrats were the majority? Unfortunately, it is not necessarily so. Although the Democrats were a majority when the conservative Clarence Thomas was nominated by Bush, he nevertheless obtained a seat on the Supreme Court. 

In fact, Thomas would have breezed through were it not for Anita Hill's accusation that he engaged in improper sexual conduct. Among Thomas' strong supporters initially was Senator Biden. When he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee to examine the charges, he was accused of being partial To Thomas. 

However, the issue soon became national news. The committee televised the three days of hearings, which millions of listeners watched. Moreover, Thomas was vilified by the press. Afterward Biden and many other Democrats decided to change their minds and vote against Thomas. Still, eleven Democrats supported Thomas, and so he squeaked through by 52-48.  

The national publicity certainly played an important role in narrowing the vote margin. Still, if just three more senators voted against confirming Thomas, he would not have been appointed. Could it have been that despite the sexual harassment charge, not enough senators were troubled by his political conservatism? Certainly Biden wasn't. Here is an interesting perspective on this issue suggested by Barak Obama. Obama acknowledged what he refers to as a well known secret of legislating. Senators could feel free to vote against a candidate provided that there is still sufficient support remaining for the candidate to assure a successful confirmation.  

Currently, the conservatives hold a five to four majority of the Court's seats. So the prospects of the conservatives maintaining a majority on the court are not only very likely.. Particularly worrisome is that Trump may be able to nominate other candidates that are right wing extremists, who could dominate the court for many decades. Replacing the deceased Scalia with his ideological twin, Neil Gorsuch would have made Scalia very happy. Since Gorsuch is only 50, he has many years ahead to do what he can to undermine civil rights and human rights. Trump may be enjoying another opportunity soon to increase the number of hard right justices. The liberal Justice, Ruth Ginsberg, who is 84 years, may be retiring soon. Also, Kennedy, who is over 80 years, is considering retirement. Although Kennedy is among the conservatives, he also votes occasionally with the liberal justices. He too would probably be replaced by a candidate on the hard right. The aggregate result of Trump's efforts to stack the Supreme Court could be to provide the public with the most reactionary court for many decades.  

However, the combination of a strong disdain for Trump along with the Senate elections coming up in November 2018 may have convince the Democrats to trade their acquiescence for an adversarial approach. So far, Senate Democrats have used the filibuster to prevent the appointment of 27 nominees to fill important administrative posts, including Secretary of Education (Betsy DeVos), Secretary of Labor (Rene Alexander Acosta), and Attorney General (Jeff Sessions).  

Also, the Democrats attempted to prevent a vote on Gorsuch by filibustering the Senate. But it failed because the Senate Republicans voted to reduce the minimum number of votes required to end the filibuster from 60 to 51. Unfortunately, none of the challenges were successful, but the Democrats at least tried. 

Although the conservatives control a majority of the Supreme Court seats, the public at large is far from helpless. As the historical record tells us, building an effective response both electorally and on the streets are certainly doable. Grass roots movements have made tremendous gains despite the indifference and resistance of the Supreme Court and other courts as well. During the 1930s, for example, enormous political and economic gains were made despite a conservative court system. And even conservative judges have been flexible when confronted by formidable opposition. The civil rights movement is an example of how those at the bottom of the ladder can effectively influence those on the top. Although the Supreme Court can slow things down, people often are victorious when they stay awake, stick together, organize, and keep on moving.


THE PUBLIC EYE: Have We Reached Trump’s Tipping Point?

Bob Burnett
Friday October 27, 2017 - 01:57:00 PM

Even by Trump regime standards, the past several weeks have been unusually tumultuous. First, Trump botched aid to Puerto Rico; then he muffed condolence calls to widows. Now he's being condemned by two Republican Senators. Have we reached the long-awaited 'tipping point"? Is this the beginning of the end of the Trump era?

Since Trump took office, Democrats have been waiting for one of two events. Either Trump would mature and begin to act presidential, or his base would desert him. After nine months, it's clear that Trump is not going to change. (On October 24th, Republican Senator Jeff Flake deplored Trump's "reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior.") Given Trump's inflexibility, are we nearing the point where his base deserts him?

According to the political website 538 Trump's popularity has remained stable for five months. It's currently at 56.7 percent disapprove and 37.2 percent approve; since May, Trump's approval ratings have stayed within a band of 54 to 56 percent disapprove and 37 to 39 percent approve. He's an unpopular President but, based on this metric, his base is sticking with him.

Democrats find Trump so repugnant that's it's hard to imagine that any American would support him. Nonetheless, he's tightened his grip on most Republican voters. There are three reasons for this. 

The first is that Trump commands the right-wing media. While the mainstream media (MSNBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post...) has reported adversely on Trump's behavior, the distinctly right-wing media (Fox, Breitbart...) has been supportive. New Yorker columnist Elizabeth Drew noted Trump's political skills: "He can... make use of social media, Fox News, and friendly talk shows to keep [his base] loyal." 

To gauge the gap between left-wing and right-wing media, turn on your TV and use the remote control to switch back and forth between "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC and "Sean Hannity" on Fox News. They two shows emphasize different topics and have dramatically different perspectives on Trump. 

In addition, Republicans no longer trust the mainstream media. In August, The Economist published a poll indicating, "When Republicans were asked whether they trusted Mr Trump more than the New York Times, the Washington Post or CNN, at least 70% sided with the president each time." 

A second reason why Trump has tightened his grip on the Republican base is that he expresses their worldview. (The latest Gallup Poll indicates that 80 percent of Republicans approve of Trump.) In his classic, "Moral Politics," University of California professor George Lakoff notes that conservatives and liberals have two vastly different world views; conservatives have a "strict father" worldview and liberals have a "nurturant parent" worldview. Recently Lakoff observed: "Most Trump supporters have Strict Father morality... They see Trump as bringing America back to their values in a powerful way, making their values respectable and in line with the way the country is being run. Trump’s presidency has given them self-respect. Their self-respect is more important than the details of his policies, even if some of those policies hurt them." 

This worldview chasm is made clear by the difference between Democrats and Republicans on key issues. Recently Pew Research updated their landmark study of American political behavior on the left and right. On immigration, study participants were asked if immigrants "Strengthen the U.S. with hard work and talents." The average participant agreed (65 percent) but no "Country-First Conservatives" agreed (0 percent); they saw immigrants as "a burden." 

Most Republicans see the world so differently from Democrats that they approve of a President whom most Democrats deplore. 

There's a final reason why Trump's base is loyal: He knows how to tailor his message to make each Republican constituency believe that Trump will deliver their most cherished political objective. Pew Research divides Republican voters into four segments: Core Conservatives (13 percent), Country First Conservatives (6 percent), Market Skeptics (12 percent), and New Era Enterprisers (11 percent); for a total of 42 percent of the electorate. Trump has promised Core Conservatives that he will deliver massive tax cuts. He has promised Country First Conservatives that he will "build the wall." (And he has promised conservative evangelical Christians that he will guarantee "religious liberty.") 

The Pew study indicates why Trump has Trump has held onto his base but also suggests his vulnerabilities. Obviously, at some point he has to deliver on his promises. 

In addition, the Pew study indicates that Trump's aberrant behavior is beginning to wear on Republican voters. Core Conservatives and Country First Conservatives generally approve of the way that he conducts himself. In contrast, only 24 percent of Market Skeptics like the way that Trump conducts himself as President; only 32 percent regard him as "even tempered." (Only 49 percent of New Era Enterprisers describe Trump as honest.) 

The Pew data suggests there is room for Trump's approval ratings to plummet due to his "reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior" and his failure to deliver on his key promises. We're inching closer to Trump's tipping point. 



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



ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Getting and Remaining out of Crisis Mode

Jack Bragen
Thursday October 26, 2017 - 02:06:00 PM

There are some people who could be thought of as "crisis junkies." The addiction to crisis may not be uncommon. A crisis brings adrenaline, it revs you up, and it blocks out certain sets of emotions.

Fear seems to have ways of reinforcing itself, such that getting rid of it can be very difficult. But it is not impossible to be rid of fear.

In the Dune Trilogy, science fiction from the 1960's, there was a saying: "...Fear is the mind-killer..." Does fear interfere with cognition? Yes, it probably does. Fear convinces you that you need to be afraid. You've probably heard this one: "FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real." While this may not always hold true, we could be rid of many of our fears and still be just fine.

When in "crisis mode" we may neglect a number of things that should be done. This includes enjoying life. It includes doing those extra things that we could be doing to make our lives and the lives of others better.  

If we are unable to be rid of our anxieties, our fears, and so on, we can learn to coexist with them. This means that we're not going to postpone enjoying life. And this entails acceptance on another level.  

Before being able to be rid of our fears via cognitive techniques, I believe it is necessary to be able to tolerate these fears and to function in spite of them. There is probably no shortcut to becoming free of fear.  

This doesn't mean that one must experience all of the realities of which we are afraid. It is not necessary to experience Armageddon to get past a recurring fear of that. However, we may need to be able to go to the store and buy a loaf of bread, at the same time as we are afraid that at any time, we could be vaporized by WWIII happening. In other words, our worst fears don't have to materialize in order to get past these fears, but we must be able to experience these fears, and at the same time, we must be "okay" on another level. If you are afraid to feel fear, you can not become the master of it.  

Being a "crisis junkie" could mean that we are afraid to let go of fear. We could be afraid that if we stopped being afraid, all of the bad things we fear are going to happen. This is the illusion that the fear is somehow protecting us.  

Fearfulness, brought into existence by evolution, was intended to be a self-protection mechanism. However, as adult human beings who possess all of our faculties, we can do okay without experiencing most of the fears we may have.  

"Crisis mode" brings a poor quality of life. Being stuck in that mode for a long period of time may make it more difficult to finally let go of it. When we finally let go of crisis mode, we will be different people. We will not be afraid to start new things. We will not be afraid to do things that we enjoy.  

In the not too distant past, I have experienced actual crises brought about by unforeseen circumstances. Having dealt with actual crises and having dug my way out of them, I am a stronger person for it. Yet, in the aftermath of all of these crises, which seem to happen one after another, it is hard to calm down. I keep expecting some new urgent problem to come up.  

But we must go on. Regardless of the demands we may have to meet, some of which could be unexpected, we have to live our lives.  

Getting out of crisis mode is important. You can not live effectively if controlled by fear. Mastering fear can do more for quality of life than almost anything concrete that you can do. When functioning from a space of not fearing anything (and I am not there yet) it could free us up to achieve almost anything we want in life.  

How to achieve this? That is the hard part.  

One possible route to get there is through various cognitive therapies, which seem to me to be Americanized versions of Buddhist practices.  

An advantage of these over actual Buddhist meditation is that you're cutting out the religious aspects, your cutting out the ceremonial parts, yet you are keeping something that could work to liberate the mind. Also, with "cognitive techniques" as opposed to Buddhism, you can continue with any religion you want, outside of that. So, if you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or of any faith, you don't have to discontinue it or feel that you are in conflict with your faith.  

Getting past fear also can include getting past the "fear of success." It could do a lot toward improving quality of life.  

When we climb past fear, often the next rung is anger. I believe you can't get past anger without first getting to anger. That doesn't mean you must become aggressive toward people or obnoxious. You must merely be in touch with that set of emotions. What you do with those emotions will be up to you. 

I'm scheduling the release of my new, self-published book, "Understanding People with Schizophrenia," for the beginning of December at the latest. It will be available on LULU, and a bit later on Amazon. 


While we were distracted, look what the Republican-controlled Congress is doing

Ralph E. Stone
Thursday October 26, 2017 - 02:10:00 PM

While Americans are busy analyzing the Republican tax reform for the rich, protecting health care, demanding hurricane and fire relief, and the constant Trump tweets, these are the bills submitted by our Republican-controlled House of Representatives: 

1. HR 861 would Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency (The EPA protects human health and the environment); 

2. HR 610 - Vouchers for Public Education (May end free public education as we know it); 

3. HR 899 would Terminate the Department of Education (Could this lead to greater disparity between states); 

4. HR 69 would Repeal the Rule Protecting Wildlife (As Ronald Reagan once said, “You know, a tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?”); 

5. HR 370 would Repeal the Affordable Care Act (There have been least 70 unsuccessful Republican-led attempts to repeal, modify or otherwise curb the Affordable Care Act since its inception as law on March 23, 2010); 

6. HR 354 would De-fund Planned Parenthood (Even though none of our tax dollars go toward abortion services); 

7. HR 785 - National "Right to Work" (Presently 28 states have right to work laws or as some call them right-to-work-for-less laws. This would be a federal anti-union law applying to all states); 

8. HR 83 - Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill (Would eliminate sanctuary protections for immigrants); 

9. HR 147 would Criminalize Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”) (Now abortion in the U.S. is legal, via the landmark case of Roe v. Wade); and 

10. HR 808 would Impose Sanctions Against Iran (Even though U.S. officials and our European allies have agreed that Iran has complied with the terms of the Iran nuclear agreement). 

Be afraid, be very afraid. Wonder Woman is not going to swoop in and protect us from Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress. It’s up to each of us to fight, at the very least, to keep what we’ve got now and hope the mid-term elections will wrest control of Congress from the Republicans.

Arts & Events

Korean National Gugak Center Creative Orchestra Performs Two Concerts of Works New & Ancient (Including New Works By UC Faculty)

Ken Bullock
Friday October 27, 2017 - 01:50:00 PM

With Parade and Symposium Saturday Afternoon & Evening on UC Campus

The Korean National Gugak Center Creative orchestra, a 55-member group charged with preserving the ancient musical traditions of its native land as well as developing contemporary works for performance, will display both facets of its repertoire this Saturday, October 28, with two Zellerbach Hall (UC campus) concerts at 3 and 8, a roundtable with the composers and the orchestra director at 1 at the Alumni House near Zellerbach Hall--and a traditional Gilmori parade with native costumes and many percussion instruments culminating at Spieker Plaza by Zellerbach Hall, 7-7:45.

Saturday afternoon's concert will feature world premieres of compositions specifically made for the Orchestra by Edmund Campion, UC-Berkeley Music department chair and director at the Center for New Music & Audio Tech (CNMAT) at UC-Berkeley; David Evan Jones of UC-Santa Cruz, Chinary Ung of UC-San Diego and Shih-Hui Chen, George Lewis and LEE Geon-yong. The roundtable at 1 at the International House will feature all six composers and Gugak Center Orchestra director PARK Chi-wan, with UC-Santa Cruz Professor Hi Kyung Kim presiding. 

The evening concert at 8 will feature court and folk music from over a millenium of Korean history. 

Two local percussion bands will join in the parade: the Monterey Percussion Ensemble and EGO, UC-Berkeley's percussion group. 

Cal Performances is producing the events in collaboration with the Pacific Rim Festival at UC-Santa Cruz. 

Korean food from Pyeongchang Tofu House will be available to buy in front of the Alumni House near Zellerbach Hall from 5-8. 

Tickets for the concerts are $20-$56 with UC discounts available at calperformances.org or 642-9988. The symposium and parade are free.

26th Annual Video & Film Festival at the East Bay Media Center, Two Weekends: October 27, 28, 29 & November 3, 4, 5--Including Alice Walker in Person

Ken Bullock
Friday October 27, 2017 - 01:44:00 PM

The East Bay Media Center, 1939 Addison between Milvia and MLK, is hosting the 26th Annual Berkeley Video & Film Festival (BVFF) this weekend and next, October 27-29 and November 3-5, featuring over 45 independent films, including animation, documentaries, features and short features from around the world as well as 47 short subjects from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts 2017 First Look Festival.  

Special guests include Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author Alice Walker introducing a new documentary on former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, 'Citizen Clark,' narrated by Martin Sheen, screening Saturday, November 4 at 4 p. m. San Francisco public Defender Jeff Adachi will answer questions after the Friday, November 3 screening of 'Defender,' on his career. And Jack Kerouac's old buddy, Al Hinkle, in his mid-90s, will appear with Jack Foley this Friday, October 27 at 8 for 'The Good Blonde,' by UK filmmaker Nic Saunders, from the Kerouac piece of the same title. 

Tickets are $10-$15--info & tickets at www.berkeleyfilmfest.org or 843-3699 or Maketv@aol.com