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Some of the historic homes on the Berkeley Architectural Heritage May Tour
Daniella Thompson
Some of the historic homes on the Berkeley Architectural Heritage May Tour


Berkeley Suspect Accused of Pistol-Whipping Student

By Sasha Lekach
Saturday April 06, 2013 - 08:22:00 AM

Berkeley police are asking for the community's help to find a man who pistol-whipped a high school student during a robbery before getting on a bus last month. 

The suspect confronted the student from Berkeley Technology Academy at the intersection of Milvia and Stuart streets around 11:35 a.m. on March 13, Berkeley police said. 

The student was walking a few blocks from the school when he was approached. 

The suspect demanded the suspect's property and when the victim refused the suspect then hit the victim several times with a gun.  

The victim was hospitalized but not seriously injured in the attack, police said. 

The suspect then ran east on Stuart Street with the student's wallet.  

A search immediately after the robbery prompted a brief lockdown at Berkeley Technology Academy and at King Child Development Center.  

Investigators believe the suspect got on an Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District bus. 

Surveillance footage from a bus shows the suspect getting onto the vehicle. 

He is described as a black man in his 20s standing between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet tall with a medium build. 

He was seen wearing a black or dark hooded sweatshirt, dark pants, a black beanie and was armed with a gun. 

Anyone with information is asked to call Berkeley police at (510) 981-5742 or (510) 981-5900. Those wishing to remain anonymous are asked to call Bay Area Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS.

Press Release: Berkeley Police Department Seeks Help to Catch Robber

From Officer Jennifer Coates, Berkeley Police
Wednesday April 03, 2013 - 11:05:00 AM

The City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) is seeking the community's help to identify an armed robber. 

BPD Detectives are actively investigating an armed robbery that occurred near the intersection of Milvia and Stuart Streets on March 13, 2013. The depicted individual [in these photos taken on an AC Transit bus] is believed to be the suspect. 

The victim was confronted by the suspect, who demanded his property. During the incident, the victim was struck several times with the gun causing non-life threatening injuries. The suspect fled the area and was last seen getting onto an AC Transit bus after the incident. 

The following is a description of the suspect: African American Adult Male, 20s, 5’10”-6’, medium build wearing black or dark hooded sweatshirt, dark pants, black beanie, armed with a gun. 

Any information may be crucial to solving this robbery. BPD is urging anyone with information about the robbery or the suspect’s identity to please call the BPD Robbery Detail at (510) 981-5742 or the non-emergency line at (510) 981-5900. If a person wishes to remain anonymous, he/she can call Bay Area Crimes Stoppers (BACS) at (800) 222- TIPS (8477).

Oakland Hit-and-Run Suspect Arrested In Berkeley

By Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Friday April 05, 2013 - 11:44:00 AM

A suspect in an Oakland hit-and-run early this morning was arrested several hours later in Berkeley, according to the California Highway Patrol and Berkeley police. 

A hit-and-run incident involving two parked cars hit by a third car was reported around 12:30 a.m. near Holly Street and 88th Avenue in Oakland, according to the CHP. 

An arrest was made in Berkeley around 5:30 a.m. connected with the Oakland incident, a Berkeley police dispatcher said. 

Further information about the arrest was not immediately available. 

No injuries were reported, according to the CHP.

Berkeley Basketball Team Leaves for Final Four

By Dan McMenamin
Thursday April 04, 2013 - 08:28:00 PM

The University of California at Berkeley women's basketball team left yesterday for its first NCAA Tournament Final Four trip in the school's history. 

UC Berkeley gave the team a send-off party at Haas Pavilion at 10:30 a.m. yesterday with performances by the school band and spirit squads, and a speech by head coach Lindsay Gottlieb. 

The No. 2-seeded Golden Bears then departed from Oakland International Airport at 12:30 p.m. for New Orleans, where they will play the No. 5 University of Louisville in the Final Four game on Sunday. 

Cal advanced to its first Final Four with a 65-62 overtime victory on Monday over the University of Georgia, which upset No. 1 Stanford University last weekend. 

The Golden Bears' game on Sunday is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. PDT and will be broadcast live on ESPN.

Graffitirazzi – Facing Off with a Downtown Tagger

By Gar Smith
Friday April 05, 2013 - 10:10:00 AM
Gar Smith
One neighborhood artist I've come to know is a character I call "Mr. Watchful." His simple cartoons have placed the blocks near my downtown office under constant, bemused surveillance.
              Sometimes, Mr. Watchful's graffitied gawk appears on a slab of sidewalk.
Gar Smith
One neighborhood artist I've come to know is a character I call "Mr. Watchful." His simple cartoons have placed the blocks near my downtown office under constant, bemused surveillance. Sometimes, Mr. Watchful's graffitied gawk appears on a slab of sidewalk.
Gar Smith
Sometimes, he can be found smiling on the window of an abandoned store.
Gar Smith
Sometimes, he can be found smiling on the window of an abandoned store.
Or watching warily from a locked and unused door.
Gar Smith
Or watching warily from a locked and unused door.

              Mr. Watchful isn't the only sketch artist keeping a lookout. He has a brother who also shares neighborhood-watch duties.
Gar Smith
Mr. Watchful isn't the only sketch artist keeping a lookout. He has a brother who also shares neighborhood-watch duties.
And a distant relative (a space-alien, perhaps) who stands guard at the entrance to a downtown alley.
Gar Smith
And a distant relative (a space-alien, perhaps) who stands guard at the entrance to a downtown alley.

Graffiti can appear as swirls of coded letters or as an outburst of design. Sometimes graffiti artists leave behind watchful faces sprayed on urban walls and peeping from downtown allies.

Here is a selection, beginning with a graffitied face gracing the entrance to Herrick Hospital



Arts Funding Drought Hits California

San Francisco Mime Troupe and others
threatened by 2013 grant shortfall

By Becky O'Malley
Friday April 05, 2013 - 08:44:00 AM

The good news this week is that Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, who represents the area around Van Nuys in Southern California, is trying to revive the moribund California Arts Council. He’s asked fellow assembly members to join him in co-authoring Assembly Bill 580, which “restores funding to the California Arts Council (CAC) and creates a stable revenue source for art programs that will be enjoyed and taken advantage of by local communities throughout the state."

That’s a very worthy goal, and Californians all over the state should ask their representatives to get behind it. Beloved arts programs all over the state, even icons like the San Francisco Mime Troupe, are having trouble holding on in today’s shaky economy, and they need our help. 

Jerry Brown, in his first term as Governor, launched the CAC in 1975 at the urging of artist Eloise Pickard Smith, founder of a seminal and effective arts program in the state's prisons. She became its first director, and in its first years the CAC brought arts programs to all kinds of underserved communities and populations 

Nazarian knows this history. He said Monday in a letter to colleagues that “the arts have proven vital to California's economy, specifically: the non-profit arts-related sector statewide supports 91,090 arts-related businesses and 500,891 jobs for people in California.” He pointed out that “the arts revitalize depressed neighborhoods, attract creative workers and industries, lower crime, especially juvenile crime and improve health outcomes for the elderly.” 

But in the last 10 years programs in California provided by arts organizations of all kinds have suffered major cutbacks because of the decline in government funding for the arts at both the state and national levels. 

In 2003 appropriations to the CAC were cut by 97%. Since 2003, California has ranked last or next to last among the states in per capita investment in the arts. Now we allocate a pitiful three cents per person from the general fund to support the arts. 

I have first-hand knowledge of what’s been lost because I interned at the California Arts Council when I was in law school in the mid-1970s, and I’m now a volunteer member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe board. When I worked for the CAC, SFMT originals Peter Coyote, now a famous film star, and Luis Valdez, founder of El Teatro Campesino, were on the Council, along with literary luminaries like poet Gary Snyder. SFMT playwright emerita Joan Holden remembers that with the CAC’s help performances were “spread around wonderfully” throughout the state, even into unlikely venues like juvenile halls in small towns and elementary schools. 

For more than 50 years, in the Bay Area and around the world, the Troupe’s staple offering has been “free shows in the park” which combine political education with a satiric edge and original music. Though admission has traditionally been free, audience members have been asked to “put something in the hat” after the show, and many who can afford to do so have responded generously. 

And for at least 25 of those years passing the hat has been supplemented by grants from government organizations like the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as from non-governmental foundations like the Hewlett Foundation. But in today’s shaky economic climate, these sources have been drying up, and audience contributions have also shrunk as citizens feel the pinch. 

It turns out that, as you might suspect, there’s really no such thing as a “free” show. Costs have pyramided as revenues declined. Some cities even charge the Troupe substantial fees for the privilege of using their parks to provide citizens with informative entertainment with no admission charge. 

In the last few years traditional funding has not been consistent enough for the Troupe to continue to subsidize free shows in the park without asking for even more help from the public. The company has been trying, with some success, to fill the gap by staging fundraising events for individual donors, but they’re still playing catch up. 

This year the major grant the SFMT sought from the National Endowment fell through, like NEA grants for many other arts organizations, with the federal government’s sequester follies suspected of being part of the cause of a reduced budget. There’s hope in the arts community that foundation grants, which are also down, might revive along with the stock market which supports most of their endowments, but that won’t happen this spring. 

The fiercely independent artistic collective which manages the Troupe has cut costs across the board year after year as the grant picture got worse, even working without pay for much of recent years, but this year there’s just nothing left to cut. They have reluctantly concluded that they must quickly raise another $30,000 from their supporters to add to their cash on hand by the end of this month, or they won’t be able to put on their summer season this year. 

They’ve already instituted a mid-course correction: working toward to a shorter season with fewer actors and musicians and simpler, easier to move sets than they’ve had in the past. The summer’s planned production has the working title of “Oil and Water”, with the theme of informing the audience about impending climate change, and there’s a silver lining here: Shrinking the show, besides saving money, will set a green example consistent with the theme by shrinking the company’s environmental footprint. 

Collective members hope that this strategy will become a sustainable model for future seasons even if a percentage of grant funding is restored as expected. Like all smart arts organizations these days, they are re-inventing themselves to do more with less as they meet today’s challenges. 

But the citizens of California should do their part too. 

AB 580 would increase CAC funding from the measly three cents a person to about $2.00 per person (approximately $75 million total, up from $1 million). Even at that rate, California would still not rank in the top ten in state funding for the arts. 

Legislators considering the bill should remember that subsidizing arts programs has been an excellent stimulus for a lagging economy, as the history of the WPA in the Great Depression demonstrated. 

In a 2011 study commissioned by the Irvine Foundation, University of Minnesota Economics Professor Ann Markusen (formerly of U.C. Berkeley) reported that 


“California’s arts and cultural nonprofits … have sizable economic impacts on their communities and the state as a whole. Through their purchases of equipment, materials and services, rental and mortgage payments, and spending by their employees and contractors, they generate a total of $8.6 billion in sales, $3.6 billion in labor income and a total of 71,000 FTE jobs, generating average full-time earnings of $50,000 per FTE. By sector, indirect and induced jobs are spread widely. Financial and business services, wholesale and retail trade, accommodation and food services, and health care account for the largest shares.”
If more state dollars are allocated to the arts, this impact will be multiplied. But it will unfortunately happen too late to save the SFMT’s 2013 summer show, so—get ready for it—here comes a shameless pitch: 


If you’re one of the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s many fans, if you’ve enjoyed their shows but perhaps have put less than you could really afford in the hat, now’s your chance to make amends. Go to their website and give what you can, as soon as possible, because time is running out for the 2013 summer show.  

Do it now.  

You might use an hour’s pay as your target gift, or even pay for a day, week or month if you’re one of the lucky people who are still getting ahead despite the economy. 

Click on this link to reach the SFMT website to make a donation.  

But also, on behalf of all the other worthy groups who also need your help, don’t forget to write to your local legislators, both assembly members and state senators, to ask them to bring the California Arts Council back to its former glory by supporting AB 580. Now more than ever, California needs all the benefits a flourishing arts environment can provide in abundance. 



The Editor's Back Fence

You Need to Know

Thursday April 04, 2013 - 09:03:00 PM

Here are a few important articles which ran this week in the commercial publications which cover Berkeley:

The Media News publications ran this story about the Berkeley City Council's handling of the city's chronic homeless population. It's noteworthy that reporter Judith Scherr not only covered the city council meeting, where all was mostly sweetness and light, but also covered the Chamber of Commerce meeting where Mayor Bates sang a different tune.

Sudden Oak Death is a very real problem for the East Bay. Berkeley Patch, the local manifestation of the Huffington Post/Yahoo empire, has a good story about a new UC project to track its spread.

Another UC Berkeley story that's not so upbeat is featured on berkeleyside.com: the Big U's plan to build a lavish and probably ugly swim center on Bancroft which has been criticized by city planners and residents.

And finally, Berkeleyside's links section points to a press release from the Berkeley Public Education Foundation which oddly enough was not sent to the Daily Planet, reporting the appointment of longtime developers' flack Erin Rhoades, spouse of Mark Rhoades, another one of same, as the foundation's executive director. This should come as no surprise, since the BPEF chair is developer Chris Hudson. School district watchers might be alert to the potential expansion of the Berkeley Unified School District's edifice complex, which is now producing a wall of concrete along Milvia, with more in the works.


Odd Bodkins: Not Afraid of the Dark (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday April 05, 2013 - 09:37:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

New: Berkeley School Garden Program Threatened

By Beebo Turman
Monday April 08, 2013 - 01:45:00 PM

We have a crisis in our public schools: our beloved garden and cooking classes are loosing their federal funding as of Sept. 30, 2013. We have a committee looking for alternative funding. We are having a community meeting at Longfellow Middle School, April 11 (Thurs.), 7:00 - 8:30, where we hope parents will come to testify how much they and their children love these classes. There will be some film clips (from "LunchLoveCommunity") and a panel of 5 people (where Martin Bourque from the Ecology Center will direct questions to the panel), and we hope to have a discussion about "Next Steps."  

I hope that everyone can attend this event, as I think it will be an interesting meeting.

Finally, A Bill of Rights for the Homeless!

By Rita McKeon, Member of the BOSS Community Organizing Team (COT), a project of Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency
Thursday April 04, 2013 - 08:35:00 PM

Authored by Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, the California Homeless Bill of Rights, AB5, had its first hearing in Sacramento on April 1st, 2013.

In recent years several cities have enacted or attempted to enact “broken window” lawslaws designed to criminalize homeless people and remove them from public view. The California Homeless Bill of Rights and Fairness Act is a first step to de-criminalize homelessness and grant equal rights protection to ALL: housed and un-housed.

This legislation would be a major public statement recognizing the basic human and civil rights of people without homes. It will help shift our discussions from the characterization of homeless people as vagrants or service-resistant to the reality in our society that there are not enough homes that are affordable on very low incomes, not enough jobs for people with low skills, not enough care for people with serious physical and mental health needs. Our discussions can then shift from blaming the victims to solving the problems: this is what AB5 will do—publicly validate the dignity of people without homes so we can direct our attention and resources to fixing the problems they face. 

Inhumane laws do not solve poverty, they only increase the misery of being poor. In many major US cities there are ordinances that make it punishable by law to feed homeless people and laws that make it illegal to “camp” in a public space, ultimately making it illegal to sleep, a basic human need. Some laws even make it illegal to sleep in your car. Hundreds maybe thousands of people end up with citations they cannot afford to pay, some facing jail time because they were caught sitting or sleeping.  

This is both a waste of tax payer dollars and a civil rights abuse. In February 2013, in the San Francisco Tenderloin District, a homeless man spent 30 days in jail because on two occasions a police officer found him sleeping on a milk crate. He was charged with public nuisance, unauthorized lodging and obstructing a sidewalk. The first two violations are listed as misdemeanors which can carry a year of jail time each – again, for sleeping on a milk carton. 

Whose quality of life is being improved by broken window laws? City officials say the goal of these ordinances is to preserve quality of life and keep down public nuances. Yet, citing homeless people and inflicting them with costly violations and jail time does not address their quality of life—rather, these laws are designed to serve big business and developers who want clear streets and storefronts. The fact is, people do have the right to sit, stand, and gather peacefully in public areas. And for behaviors that are less than peaceful or that damage property, there are already laws in place. 

Everyone is deserving of equal rights and protection. The California Homeless Bill of Rights and Fairness Act will assure the protection of homeless people’s property rights, access to public space, right to safety, right to sufficient health and hygiene centers, right to engage in life sustaining activities, right to privacy and confidentiality, right to counsel, right for homeless school children to stay at the same school they attended before they became homeless, and more. You can find the full Bill text on assembly.ca.gov.  

It’s about respect and dignity! When AB5 is passed it will help ensure that homeless people are treated as human beings: with respect and dignity. Send a letter of support to your district Assembly Member. Visit www.wraphome.org to learn more about the efforts to pass AB-5. 

AB-5 is authored by Assembly Member Tom Ammiano (D, San Francisco) and co-sponsored by Western Regional Advocacy Project, Western Center on Law and Poverty, JERICHO: A Voice for Justice, and the East Bay Community Law Center. See a full list of Bill supporters at http://wraphome.org/images/stories/ab5documents/AB5EndorsersMarch132013.pdf. 

Antisocial Bullying for Some is not Hospitality for All 0n North Shattuck ((An Open Letter)

By Jennifer Mary Pearson
Friday April 05, 2013 - 06:17:00 PM

Dear Ms. Dana Ellsworth of the Board of Directors of the North Shattuck Association Business Improvement District:,

Yesterday I received this disturbing quote:

"Heather has been sending around street cleaners who are attempting to bully musicians and panhandler out of the area which she has no authority to do, arousing indignation at the French Hotel."

People are told this is from the City yet the 'cleaners' do not show City I.D. Have you voted on the NSA/BID Board for the Executive Director to commit resources for this antisocial bullying? A few of us have called your Executive Director Hensley--we learned she knows nothing about this? Enraged citizens are photographing evidence of this illegal and cruel 'cleansing of the poor' that is underway on the Rose to Cedar blocks of Shattuck Avenue.

Today I spoke with a nice polite elderly man who panhandles by the Bank of America. This morning around 10 he was threatened by 'ambassadors' that they would call the police and have him arrested if he didn't move off. That Bank's armed security guard (who often chats with him} said he could stay as did the management person at the bank and re-assigned him a spot. In a sense he 'backs up' the security guard with watching the flow--important because that bank has been held up several times per year. Imagine how his blood pressure went dangerously up! Many of us who everyday look out for each other in this shopping district are angered (again). For milennia our religious practices advocate for giving alms to the poor on the public street. To deny such is another violation of our Constitution, isn't it?

Do you know anything about 'ambassadors' hired by the BID to harasses and threaten good people who are NOT blocking the right of way? Instead, why is no one improving the path of travel for pedestrians, wheelchairs and baby carriages by the pizza shop line?Please visit and see for yourself. 

For lunch and dinner times the sidewalk is often blocked by 3 or more patrons abreast in the pizza line--milling about oblivious to our path of travel--we have to say loudly" "excuse me..let me pass"... Add 2 to 4 solicitors accosting us to collect signatures and 'donations.'. Boisterous young people in that line DO bump into us walking by--if we are elderly and have common balance deficits, we fall down. It is the panhandlers with 'Street Spirit' newspapers who pick us up! We have learned they watch out for us and at times have served to warn us of the presence of robbers intending to snatch purses and cell phones. 

Have you voted on the NSA/BID Board for the Executive Director to commit resources for this antisocial bullying? What more is to come? There are so many of us who have had been told by employees and business owners they are angered by Ms. Hensley's manner of coming into their shops and telling them what to do--yet not listening to their suggestions for district-wide 'improvements.' Nor, were they noticed that this cleansing/ bullying would take place. Similarly, they often are not noticed of street closings for Hensley's 'events.'  

How does the Board handle ACCOUNTABILITY of the Executive Director? You and other property owners are paying a levy for the management of the BID. Is there any effort to work up a performance audit? As a business person what is the business model that is the basis for operating this BID? 

Business people DO know about the ebbs and flows of business in their neighborhoods. Some grasp their slowing down of sales has to do with business cycles, less spending in times of recession, etc.. Now Safeway is reopened, no one says parking is scarce. There is ALWAYS metered parking available--even in the dinner hours when the Farmers' Market uses up many spots.(We have Thursday evening photos). 

In conclusion, we have been documenting these North Shattuck Shopping District contradictions with photos, researching the "Tactical Urbanism" planners playbook of tools such as 'increments', 'semi-permanent' projects that are intended to prove themselves by existing over time and more.  

Especially worrisome is the UNREASONABLE Discrimination (of elderly, disabled and differently-abled) by designing hazardous diagonal parking on a hill. We will no longer be ACCOMMODATED to parallel park to comfortably walk a short distance to shop at Healthy Nutrition, leave cleaning at Bing Wong's or meet for brunch at Bel Forno cafe..willl drive elsewhere. If this was a good idea, an improvement for business, it would have widespread stakeholder support of businesses, employees, customers and adjacent community--instead it is hidden by 'stealth planning' strategies. We hope you will address the troubling discrimination, bullying and hiding associated with this BID for the benefit of all. 

If you like, we can meet with you to answer your questions and share information.

If Corporations Are People, I'm All for DOMA

By Gar Smith
Thursday April 04, 2013 - 07:49:00 PM
Gar Smith

Under the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, corporations are now granted the rights of living people -- specifically the right to make unlimited financial contributions to political campaigns. all in the name of "free speech." 

Of course, "the law in all its majesty" also allows the homeless and the poor the same right to give massive amounts of personal wealth to politicians and political campaigns. 

But if we accept that corporations are people, what other rights follow? 

Well, human individuals have the right to marry. And that is why those who cherish the traditional definition of marriage support DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. 

And make no mistake -- corporations DO marry. Except, in the parallel corporate universe, the procedure is better known as "merger." 

Under law (as informed by GOP-centric "family values" advocates), marriage is a contract between a single man and a single woman granted for the sole purpose of procreation -- having and raising children. 

As Mitt Romney famously emphasized, "Corporations are people, my friend." Thus, under Mitt's definition, US corporate lifestyles exist in flagrant violation of bedrock family values. 

When we consider Exxon-Mobil, is Exxon the gentleman and Mobil the lady? Is it Mr. Goldman and Mrs. Sachs? Mr. Merrill and Mrs. Lynch? 

No. The fact is that corporations are neither male nor female and thus, under neo-con lore, they are ineligible to participate in the sacred practice of marriage/merger. 

These corporations are, in short, involved in impermissible liaisons –- "same-sexless-marriages," to be precise. 

There is an added behavioral problem with these disreputable corporate citizens. Many of them are so fond of illicit marriage/mergers that they overdo it and engage in multiple engagements. Polyandry is a practice banned under federal law. If corporations are people, it follows that PricewaterhouseCoopers and AOL/Time Warner should be compelled to divorce. 

Such serial mergers/marriages must be seen as an affront to all right-thinking neo-cons. Such abominations cry out for swift condemnation and require a call for a speedy and public dissolution. 

Corporate marriages also fail to pass moral muster because they do not lead to procreation. Corporations -- even under the most robust and fertile mergers -- do not produce true offspring. (And, as a matter of fact, no "living" corporation has yet produced a detectible heartbeat.) Worse, the activities of many multinationals result in explosions, fires and industrial accidents that serve to create, not progeny, but widows and orphans. 

More often than not, these "corporate citizens" support their own endless growth by vanquishing the competition and swallowing smaller companies whole. Instead of producing vital, independent progeny, corporate citizens frequently prosper through the antisocial practice commercial cannibalism. 

Under DOMA, our course of action is clear. The government -- lead by the Republican Party -- must put an end to illegal and immoral corporate mergers. 

It's time to restore the sanctity of marriage and the probity of mergers between corporate persons. 

The law is clear: One man, one woman. 

Sorry Sears and Kmart. Sorry Daimler Benz/ Chrysler. Sorry Disney Pixar.

Medicare -- Obama's Disastrous Proposal

By Harry Brill
Friday April 05, 2013 - 03:34:00 PM

President Obama is proposing an astronomical increase in Medicare deductibles for doctor care and outpatient services from the current $147 to $1,331 for the year, which is an eight fold increase!!!! Moreover, this increase is in addition to the mandatory co-payments for many services. 

The President arrived at this extraordinary figure by proposing to merge the deductibles for inpatient and hospital care into to one big deductable. The annual deductable for hospital care (Part A), which only 20 percent of Medicare recipients will currently use, is $1,184. But the 80 percent of recipients, who need only outpatient care (Part B) would now pay the combined annual deductable -- $147 (outpatient)+$1,184 (inpatient)=$1,331. In short, seniors would also be required to pay for the high deductable for hospital care even though they will not be hospitalized. 

Among the justifications given is to discourage people from seeking unneeded treatment. The problem, however, is the exact opposite. Millions of senior citizens will not be able to afford medical treatment because the deductable would be an immense hardship. The consequences would be devastating, and will certainly shorten the lives of many of the most economically vulnerable elderly recipients. 

It is urgent that we be heard. Those who have links to progressive organizations should encourage these organizations to rally in the streets, which is among the most effective way of educating and mobilizing large numbers of people. 

Our experience at our Tax the Rich rallies (every Monday, 5-6 near the top of Solano) has been that most people we engage with are completely unaware that cuts in vital programs are on President Obama's and Congress' agenda. But once they learn about these dismal proposals they want to do something about it. 

Please call your elected officials and ask everyone you know, including those who live outside of California, to do the same. We must tell Congress that for many senior citizens this is a life and death issue. 

To reach: President Obama: (202) 456-1414 

To reach: Your Congressional Rep & Senators Boxer & Feinstein. You can make free calls to the Capitol Switchboard, then ask to be connected: 1-877-762-8762 or 1-800-826-3688.

The Daily Show Misinformation on Egypt

By Haroon Abdelrahman
Friday April 05, 2013 - 11:14:00 AM

US wise, he is unmatchable. Too bad this statement about Jon Stuart cannot be extended to describe the Daily Show's grip on Egypt.

In his segment about Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi on 04/01 episode, Stuart made plausible arguments only if you don’t know enough, or deliberately choose to ignore the facts. As much as he is smart and encyclopedic talking about American issues, when it came to Egypt Jon showed typical western unawareness of the region and the culture, and yet insisted on sharing his wisdom and teach Morsi quite a few lessons. 


Jon is wrong. Morsi isn't busy with Bassem Youssef. In fact his first legislation ever saved journalists from a Mubarak era pre-trial detention law. But it is the legal system that entitles every Egyptian to take to court any other Egyptian, and as such some decided to act against the comedy show star. Like many I would have preferred they haven't, but you need to closely follow up on Egypt and know how the Mubarak businessmen funded media there, is fiercely anti Muslim Brotherhood. This makes some MB supporters angry and makes them resort to such measures (measures that are still lawful). 

Let's ignore Jon's note that Bassem didn't insult Islam because as far as I know Jon doesn’t speak Arabic and cannot be watching "Al-Bernameg" and comprehend each and every word and signal there. So I want to move to a debate worthy point. As much as Youssef mimics Stuart and believes he is his Egyptian embodiment (and Jon too seems to like that very much) Youssef isn't really so. He simply is not. He could have been the one if he stuck to his early principles when he started his show on YouTube, but he lost the opportunity. Here is one fictional roadmap though for Bassem to be a true Jon's equivalent: it starts by having Jon leave his network and move to Fox News. While there, Jon may continue with a comedy show that doesn’t necessarily praise everything Fox promotes. In fact he is allowed to ignore most of what fox do in their other shows and even mildly attack some of it. He doesn’t have to cheer lead for Fox stuff that is strongly against his belief system; he just have to turn a blind eye to it. And while on his own show in the new network, Jon just has to choose battles to fight that fit Fox agenda, and in the same time correlate with some of what he believes in. For example, he may choose to mock Mahmoud Ahmadi Nijad, or keep taking on Kim Jong On. Naturally that will suit both his mindset and his new employer’s manifest. Nightmare, isn’t it? But if Jon Stuart (god forbid) goes through this imaginary course Bassem Youssef will be his mirror image, because this is really where Bassem is right now. 

Bassem Youssef works for "Mohammad Al-Amin", owner of Egyptian TV network “CBC” and emperor of a huge national media group, and former best buddy for Mubarak's team or actually a key member in it. Jon may want to research about his friend’s boss, and the money he made during Mubarak's time and the spending he is doing now to negate the Arab Spring and invalidate it altogether. Youssef’s boss recruited an army of Mubarak’s media old guards. Youssef is the cherry on the top of a big pile of “Mubarakists”. Not a single time did he question the whereabouts of his current employer or his networks message; neither did he question the controversial business engagements of his ex-employer (when he worked for “On TV”) or his call for western forces to pressure and control his own country.  

As for Morsi, he has to keep sailing the Spring boat in spite all of Mubarak old guards, their money, their media, their allies in the judicial and executive branches of the government, and their regional and international Mubarak mourning supporters do to stop him. He has to do that not only because as Jon said the world is watching, but more importantly because Egyptians deserve it; again as Jon said. They deserve to build their successful state and get independent from all kinds of international interference (mostly negative). And one day they even might take away from Jon the grounds for his “we pay for your weapons” mockery, in which case I will be extremely happy about my tax money utilization. 


When Restraining Orders Fail: Arm the Women!

By Gar Smith
Thursday April 04, 2013 - 08:10:00 PM

On March 23, 2013, 29-year-old Sandra Cruzes-Gonsalez was stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend Juan Ramirez.

Police officers responding to phone calls found the victim lying in the parking lot of her San Jose apartment complex. She died in a nearby hospital from multiple stab wounds.

What struck me about the story was this line: "The victim had an active restraining order against the suspect at the time of the homicide, according to police."

How many times have we read or heard of women dying at the hands of angry ex-boyfriends/husbands who had been placed under a "restraining order"?

In this case, as in too many others, the restraining order offered little to no protection for the individual under threat.

Perhaps it's time to consider a different approach. 

We are constantly told that American citizens need handguns for "self-protection." The statistics, however, establish that most weapons are fired in attacks on targeted victims or to commit suicide. Cases of American citizens successfully using a handgun (or, God forbid, an assault rifle) to defend themselves against an attacker are vanishingly rare. 

But, opposed as I am to the proliferation of handguns in America, there may be one case in which the argument deserves a serious hearing. Perhaps it's time to apply some lead-jacketed teeth to enforce restraining orders. 

The proposal: every time a court approves a restraining order to protect a woman from an abusive male, the victim –- if she so chooses -- will be issued a free handgun and ammo. The loan of the weapon would require a course in weapons training (which would also be offered free-of-charge). 

In the future, such "enhanced" restraining orders would clearly empower the woman to "shoot-to-kill" whenever a restrainee violated the court order to stay a proscribed distance from the person granted the promise of protection. A woman would not only be issued a weapon but she would be implicitly granted the right to fire it— legally and with lethal intent— without fear of subsequent criminal prosecution. 

This would provide otherwise aggressive exes with a powerful argument against engaging in stalking behavior or physical confrontations. 

Allowing victimized women to exercise "stand your ground" powers in the event of an imminent attack should significantly reduce the number of cases in which women wind up dead after the failed "threat" of a retraining order. 

Of course, the police (wisely) are typically opposed to the idea of putting more weapons in the hands of the public. Police departments know only too well that guns are mainly employed to injure and kill, not to defend. 

If the local police departments refuse to offer free guns and weapons training to endangered women, there is another recourse. 

The National Rifle Association needs to step up to the plate. As the leading voice for "gun freedom"—and one of the wealthiest lobbies in the US— the NRA can well-afford to match its rhetoric with action. 

Let the NRA match its deeds with words by demanding that it promise free guns to any women who can win a restraining order because she is threatened by a violent male. And let the NRA provide the bullets and weapons training. 

The gun industry (which has made a big point of marketing pink-colored "fashion pistols" to women) should also step forward with offers of free "loaners" to permit America's threatened women to fully exercise their "Constitutional right to self-defense." 

My only concern is that accidents can happen -- even when guns are in the hands of the best-trained and most-deserving citizen. 

It's still possible that a frightened victim might over-react. There could be cases where a paranoid victim might open fire on a FedEx employee trying to make a delivery on her front porch. But there are remedies for these new, yet-to-be-explored situations. 

In this case, anyone under a restraining order could be issued a window poster clearly noting the "stay-away" order. The poster could include a photograph of the individual who poses a threat. (This would allow watchful neighbors to alert the police if that individual was spotted in the neighborhood.) 

And any FedEx worker who spotted one of these window posters, would be well-advised to call before making a delivery—or don a FedEx-issued bulletproof vest. 

Until now, "restraining orders" have proven to be little more than a joke. It's time to get serious. 

In most cases, it is difficult to predict criminal behavior because it is typically random in nature. In the case of domestic (and date) violence, however, the possibility of imminent future threat is both provable and palpable. 

Perhaps it's time to explore the "pre-crime" strategy of arming women from men who are under orders to keep their distance. 

I'm tired of reading about women dying at the hands of angry men. If we believe that guns are really the best means of self-defense, let's put this theory to a test: Arm the women!


Keystone XL: Obama the Pragmatist

By Bob Burnett
Friday April 05, 2013 - 08:41:00 AM

On April 3rd and 4th, President Obama spoke at several San Francisco fundraisers. While he didn’t specifically mention the Keystone XL pipeline, the tenor of his remarks indicated that he’s likely to approve the controversial project. Obama seems to be most influenced by his inherent political pragmatism.

I’ve heard Barack Obama speak on several occasions. The first was February 19, 2007, at a San Francisco ore-election fundraiser with a lengthy question and answer session. Towards the end of the event a woman asked then presidential-candidate Obama what his position was on same-sex marriage. For an instant, Obama seemed surprised; then he gathered himself and responded he was aware of strong feelings on both sides of this issue and his position was evolving. Five years later, in May of 2012, President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage.

What took Obama so long to make up his mind? No doubt he needed to clarify his own moral position – although the Protestant denomination he was baptized into, the United Church of Christ, announced its support for same-sex marriage in 2005. But I’m sure the President carefully weighed the political consequences and, last May, thought the timing was right.

Over the last six years I’ve realized Barack Obama has several personas. On occasion he moves us with stirring oratory; that’s Reverend Obama, the rock star. Once in a while, he turns philosophical; that’s Professor Obama, the student of American history. On April 3rd, I saw Politician Obama, the pragmatic leader of the Democratic Party. 

Obama has learned that, as President, he only gets a fixed amount of political capital each year and has learned to ration it. In 2007, he didn’t feel it was worth stirring up controversy by supporting same-sex marriage; in 2012 he thought it was. He’s a cautious pragmatist. He doesn’t make snap decisions or ones that will divert his larger agenda.  

Intuitively, most Democrats know this about the President. At the beginning of 2012, many Democratic stalwarts were less than thrilled by the prospect of a second Obama term. While their reasons varied, there was a common theme, “Obama hasn’t kept his promises to my constituency.” There were lingering complaints that 2009’s stimulus package should have been bigger and a communal whine, “Obama should have listened to us.” Nonetheless, by the end of the Democratic convention on September 6th most Dems had come around.  

In part, this transformation occurred because from January to September of 2012 Dems scrutinized Mitt Romney and were horrified by what they saw. In January some had muttered, “There’s no difference between Obama and Romney,” but nine months later none believed that. While many Democrats were not thrilled by Obama’s first-term performance, they saw him as preferable to Romney on a wide range of issues. 

In 2009, Obama got a bad rap from some Dems because they believed he did not fight hard enough for the fiscal stimulus and affordable healthcare. In March of 2011, veteran Washington columnist, Elizabeth Drew, described Obama as

a somewhat left-of-center pragmatist, and a man who has avoided fixed positions for most of his life. Even his health care proposal—denounced by the right as a ‘government takeover’ and ‘socialism’—was essentially moderate or centrist. When he cut a deal on the tax bill, announced on December 7 [2010], he pragmatically concluded that he did not have the votes to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, and in exchange for giving in on that he got significant concessions from the Republicans, such as a fairly lengthy extension of unemployment insurance and the cut in payroll taxes. Making this deal also left him time to achieve other things—ratification of the START treaty, the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell.
Drew’s description of the President as a “left-of-center pragmatist” resonates with my sense of him. He is a political pragmatist who, over the past five years, has learned to guard his political capital and focus it on his highest priorities. 

In this year’s State-of-the-Union Address half of the President’s remarks concerned jobs and the economy.

We gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs – but too many people still can’t find full-time employment. Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs – but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged. It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.
He also spoke passionately about the need to address to address global warming, “For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.” But it’s clear that’s a secondary objective. 

At one of the Bay Area fundraisers, President Obama observed that his big challenge is to show middle-class families that, “we are working just as hard for them as we are for an environmental agenda.” 

Obama isn’t going to block the Keystone XL pipeline because he doesn’t believe that he can make the case his action will help the middle-class. He’s conserving his political capital. He’s being pragmatic. 

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

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Syria: A Multi-Sided Chess Match

By Conn Hallinan March 31, 2013
Thursday April 04, 2013 - 07:56:00 PM

In some ways the Syrian civil war resembles a proxy chess match between supporters of the Bashar al-Assad regime— Iran, Iraq, Russia and China—and its opponents— Turkey, the oil monarchies, the U.S., Britain and France. But the current conflict only resembles chess if the game is played with multiple sides, backstabbing allies, and conflicting agendas. 

Take the past few weeks of rollercoaster politics.  

The blockbuster was the U.S.-engineered rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, two Washington allies that have been at loggerheads since Israeli commandos attacked a humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza and killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American. When Tel Aviv refused to apologize for the 2010 assault, or pay compensation to families of the slain, Ankara froze relations and blocked efforts at any NATO-Israeli cooperation. 

Under the prodding of President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and buried the hatchet. The apology “was offered the way we wanted,” Erdogan said, and added “We are at the beginning of a process of elevating Turkey to a position so that it will again have a say, initiative and power, as it did in the past.” 

The détente will align both countries with much of Washington’s agenda in the region, which includes overthrowing the Assad government, and isolating Iran. Coupled with a Turkish push to resolve the long simmering war between Ankara and its Kurdish minority, it was a “Fantastic week for Erdogan,” remarked former European Union policy chief Javier Solana

It was also a slam dunk moment for the Israelis, whose intransigence over the 2010 incident and continued occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands has left the country more internationally isolated than it has been in its 65 year history. 

Israel’s apology might lay the groundwork for direct intervention in Syria by NATO and Israel. In recent testimony before Congress, Admiral James Stavridis, the head of U.S. European Command and NATO’s top commander, said that a more aggressive posture by the Obama administration vis-à-vis Syria “would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the regime.” 

According to the Guardian (UK), Netanyahu raised the possibility of joint U.S.-Israeli air strikes against Syria, which Israel accuses of shifting weapons to its ally Hezbollah in Lebanon. There is no evidence that Syria has actually done that, and logic would suggest that the Assad regime is unlikely to export weapons when it is fighting for its life and struggling to overcome an arms embargo imposed on it by the EU and the UN. But Tel Aviv is spoiling for a re-match with Hezbollah, the organization that fought it to a standstill in 2006. “What I hear over and over again from Israeli generals is that another war with Hezbollah is inevitable,” a former U.S. diplomat told the Guardian

There is some talk among Israelis about establishing a “buffer zone” inside Syria to prevent Islamic groups becoming a presence on the border. A similar buffer zone established after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon turned into a strategic disaster for Tel Aviv. 

Admiral Stavridis’s suggested that a more aggressive posture would almost certainly not include using U.S. ground troops. According to former Indian diplomat M. K. Bhadrakumar, a more likely scenario would be for NATO air power to smash Assad’s air force and armor—as it did Mummer Khadafy’s in Libya—and “if ground forces need to be deployed inside Syria at some stage, Turkey can undertake that mission, being a Muslim country belonging to NATO.” 

The Gulf monarchies—specifically Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan—have increased arms shipments to the anti-Assad insurgents, and France and Britain are considering breaking the embargo and arming the Free Syrian Army. If this were a normal chess game, it would look like checkmate for Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran. But this game is three-dimensional, with multiple players sometimes pursuing different goals. 

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are pouring what one American official called “a cataract of weaponry” into Syria, but the former apparently double-crossed the latter in a recent leadership fight in the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the umbrella organization for the various groups fighting against the Damascus government. Qatar derailed Saudi Arabia’s candidate for the SNC’s prime minister and slipped its own man into the post, causing the organization’s president, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, to resign. While most the western media reported Khatib resigned because SNC was not getting enough outside help, according to As-Safir, the leading Arabic language newspaper in Lebanon, it was over the two big oil monarchies trying to impose their candidates on the Syrians. 

Qatar ally Ghassan Hitto, a Syrian-American was anointed prime minister, causing a dozen SNC members to resign. The Free Syrian Army, too, says it will not recognize Hitto. 

Khatib also objected to the Qatari move to form a Syrian government because it torpedoed last June’s Geneva agreement that would allow Assad to stay on until a transitional government is formed. The Qatari move was essentially a statement that the Gulf monarchy would accept nothing less than an outright military victory. 

Qatar is close to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, while Saudi Arabia favors the more extremist Islamic groups, some with close links to al-Qaida, that the U.S. and the European Union have designated as “terrorist.” Tension between extremist and more moderate insurgents broke into an open firefight Mar. 24 in the northern border city of Tal Abyad. The secular Farouq Battalions, which favors elections and a civil government, were attacked by the Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, that wants to impose Sharia Law and establish an Islamic emirate. Four people were killed, and the leader of the Farouq Battalions was severely wounded. 

The Nusra Front has also tangled with Kurdish groups in Syria’s northwest, and its militias currently control much of the southern border with Iraq, Jordan, and the Golan Heights that borders Israel. It was the Nusra Front that recently kidnapped UN peacekeepers for several days and attacked Iraqi soldiers escorting members of the Syrian military who had fled across the border. There have also been clashes between secular and Islamic forces in the Syrian cities of Shadadeh and Deir el Zour.  

The Turkish government backing of the Syrian insurgency is not popular among most Turks, and that has to concern Erdogan, because he is trying to alter the Turkey’s constitution to make it more executive-centered and to himself become the next president. Although he is currently riding a wave of popularity over the Kurdish ceasefire, that could erode if the Syria war drags on. 

And without direct NATO-Israeli intervention there does not appear to be any quick end to the civil war in sight. Assad still has support from his minority ethnic group, the Alawites, as well as among Christian denominations and many business groups. All fear an Islamic takeover. “If the rebels come to this city,” one wealthy Damascus businessman told Der Spiegel, “they’ll eat us alive.” 

The longer the war goes on, the more the region destabilizes. 

Fighting has broken out between Shiites and Sunnis in northern Lebanon, a Sunni-extremist fueled bombing campaign is polarizing Iraq, and Jordan is rent by an internal opposition that poses a serious threat to the Hashemite monarchy. Even Saudi Arabia has problems. A low-level but persistent movement for democracy in the country’s eastern provinces is resisting a brutal crackdown by Saudi authorities. As National Public Radio and GlobalPost reporter Reese Erlich discovered, some of those regime opponents are being given a choice between prison and fighting the Assad government, a strategy that the Saudi government may come to regret. It was jihadists sent to oppose the Soviets in Afghanistan who eventually returned to destabilize countries in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, and who currently form the backbone of al-Qaida associated groups like the Nusra Front . 

Aaron Zelin, Middle East expert and Fellow at the Washington Institute told Erlich that fighters from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, and Jordan are being funneled into Syria. 

Chess with multiple players can get tricky. 

Turkey wants regional influence and Assad out, but it does not want a neighbor dominated by the Gulf monarchies. It may also find that talking about Turkish “power” doesn’t go down well in the Middle East. Arab countries had quite enough of that during the Ottoman Empire. 

The Gulf monarchies want to overthrow the secular Assad regime, isolate regional rival Iran, and insure Sunni supremacy over Shites in the region. But they don’t agree on what variety of Islam they want, nor are they the slightest bit interested in democracy and freedom, concepts that they have done their best to suppress at home. 

The French and British want a replay of Libya, but Syria is not a marginal country on the periphery of the Middle East, but a dauntingly complex nation in the heart of the region that might well atomize into ethnic-religious enclaves run by warlords. That is not an outcome that sits well with other European nations and explains their hesitation about joining the jihad against Assad. 

Even the Israeli goal of breaking out of its isolation, destroying Hezbollah, and strangling Iran may be a pipe dream. Regardless of Turkish-Israeli detente, the barriers that keep Palestinians out of Israel also wall off Tel Aviv off from the rest of the Middle East, and that will not change until there is an Israeli government willing to remove most of the settlements and share Jerusalem. 

As for Hezbollah, contrary to its portrayal in the western media as a cat’s paw for Teheran, the Shite group is a grassroots organization based in Lebanon’s largest ethnic group. It is also being careful not to give the Israelis an excuse to attack it. In any case, any Israeli invasion of Lebanon would automatically rally international sentiment and Arab public opinion—Shite, Sunni, Alawite, etc.—against it. 

If Assad falls, Iran would lose an ally, but Teheran’s closest friend in the Middle East is Baghdad, not Damascus. And despite strong American objections, Teheran recently scored a major coup by inking an agreement with Pakistan’s government to build a $7.5 billion gas pipeline to tap Iran’s South Pars field. The pact will not only blow a hole in western sanctions against Iran, it will play well in the May 11 Pakistani elections. “The Pakistani government wants to show it is willing to take foreign policy decisions that defy the U.S.,” says Anthony Skinner of the British-based Maplecroft risk consultants. “The pipeline not only caters to Pakistan’s energy needs but also logged brownie points with the many critics of the U.S. among the electorate.” 

In the end, the effort to knock Syria off the board may succeed, although the butcher bill will be considerably higher than the current body count of 70,000. But establishing a pro-western government in Damascus and inflicting damage on Iran is mostly illusion. “Victory”—particularly a military one— is more likely to end in chaos and instability, and a whole lot more dead chess pieces. 

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


ECLECTIC RANT: Roe v. Wade: Still Controversial After 40 Years

By Ralph E. Stone
Thursday April 04, 2013 - 08:52:00 PM

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. In this case, Jane Roe, a pseudonym for Norma Leah McCorvey (née Nelson), brought a class action suit challenging the constitutionality of a Texas criminal abortion laws, which forbids procuring or attempting an abortion except on medical advice for the purpose of saving the mother's life. The Supreme Court stated that state criminal abortion laws "that except from criminality only a life-saving procedure on the mother's behalf without regard to the stage of her pregnancy and other interests involved violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects against state action the right to privacy, including a woman's qualified right to terminate her pregnancy." 

Roe established a "trimester" threshold of state interest in the life of the fetus corresponding to its increasing "viability" (likelihood of survival outside the uterus) over the course of a pregnancy. States were prohibited from banning abortion early in pregnancy but allowed to impose increasing restrictions or outright bans later in pregnancy. 

In the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld the "central holding" in Roe, but replaced the trimester system with the point of fetal viability (whenever it may occur) as when a state's right to override the woman's autonomy begins. Casey also lowered the legal standard to which states would be held in justifying restrictions imposed on a woman's rights. 

In an ironic twist, McCorvey/Roe in 1994 converted to Christianity and expressed remorse for her part in the Roe v. Wade decision. She later worked for the pro-life movement, such as Operation Rescue now Operation Save America, which conducts mass protests at abortion clinics to promote the pro-life cause. 

The Roe decision is significant when you consider that by age 45, about half of American women will have an unintended pregnancy and about four in ten will terminate her pregnancy. Twenty-two percent of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion. 

But since the Roe decision, there as been a decades-long "Roe Rage" or "Roe Backlash" against the decision. In the last two years alone, 30 states have passed 135 laws restricting access to abortion. For example, twenty-one states have adopted laws restricting insurance companies from paying for abortions. 

The federal Affordable Care Act maintains the status quo of no federal funding for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is endangered. A federal judge recently wrote "the express language does not provide for taxpayer funded abortion. That is a fact and it is clear on its face." Insurers selling their plans on the state exchanges taking effect next year must segregate the premiums they collect for abortion coverage, a definite built-in disincentive. In addition, under the Act, states can enact stricter rules of their own. So far, nineteen states bar or restrict insurance companies on their exchanges from covering abortion. 

North Dakota is taking Roe rage to the extreme by taking a step toward outlawing abortions altogether by passing what has been termed a "personhood resolution," that states a fertilized egg has the same right to life as a person. If passed by the voters, the wording would be added to the state's constitution. In light of Roe and subsequent decisions, the resolution probably violates the U.S. Constitution. But if the matter comes before the present U.S. Supreme Court, who knows how it will rule. 

On the other side of the coin, Washington state is considering legislation, which would mandate insurance companies to pay for abortions. The proposed Reproductive Parity Act would require insurers in Washington state who cover maternity care -- which all insurers must do -- to also pay for abortions. The bill passed the state House, but must now pass the state Senate and, if it does, then goes to a popular vote. 

And in California, AB 154 was introduced, which would expand the number of trained health professionals who can provide early abortion cases. AB 154 would authorize trained nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, and physician assistants to provide early abortions. Presently, women in 52 percent of California counties do not have an accessible abortion provider. If passed, women in rural areas will not have to travel great distances to find a provider.  

Some critics of the Roe v. Wade decision argue that the states should have worked out delicate matters like abortion for themselves.  

The broad ruling in Roe stopped activity in state legislatures, created polarization and some would say, damaged the authority of the court. But in "Backlash to the Future? From Roe to Perry," the authors dispute this so-called Roe Rage or Roe Backlash. “Before Roe,” they wrote, “despite broad popular support, liberalization of abortion law had all but come to a halt in the face of concerted opposition by a Catholic-led minority. It was, in other words, decidedly not the case that abortion reform was on an inevitable march forward if only the Supreme Court had stayed its hand.” Thus, it may have been time for the Supreme Courts to step in to vindicate the rights of the minority even at the risk of a rage or backlash. 

Forty years later, the Roe v. Wade decision still ignites rage and a backlash. The opponents of legalized abortion appear to be gaining ground and as a result, the cause of women's reproductive rights are set back. Do we really want to go back to those dark days of back alley abortions with a coat hanger or knitting needle, causing injury and sometimes even death?  

SENIOR POWER Five matzohs for Nora!

By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Thursday April 04, 2013 - 08:14:00 PM

I recommend Nora’s Will, a 2011 DVD about death, family, love, mental health, Passover, and suicide. 

It’s from Mexico, in Spanish, closed captioned in English or French. Cinco Dias Sin Nora [Five Days Without Nora] came first, in 2009, as a motion picture by writer-director Mariana Chenillo. 

I’m usually skeptical about claims of “serious comedy” —not this time, though. And the humor is quite acceptable, even relevant. Most reviews of Nora’s Will go something like this one: “Set among Mexico City's Jewish community, this comedy focuses on the complications involved with organizing a memorial while others are preoccupied with Passover. Also complicating matters are José's status as a nonbeliever and the unexpected contents of Nora's will.” 

Here’s my take. Nora Boren Kurtz (“Mrs. Boren”) and José Kurtz are neighbors, each armed with binoculars, in their own nearby apartments. Hers is particularly nice. Cut flowers, books, resident cat, Passover dinner china and crystal table-setting for ten, snacks here and there. His is ok. Dozing, online card games, and constant nibbling evidently occupy his time. He has a key to her apartment and her on speed dial. 

Twenty years ago, after thirty years of marriage and a son, he divorced her. During the times when she had most needed his understanding and support, he responded with jealousy that continues to affect their lives. She suffered while he failed her, and she has attempted suicide several times. His disagreeable negativism is conveyed in remarks like “She’s 63 but looks 70” and frequent references to “my ex-wife.” When the rabbi asks him to complete a questionnaire about Nora for his (the rabbi’s!) use at the burial service, José is smug about his inability to think of five charitable or good deeds performed by her. But he’s great with kids. 

How could things have gotten so screwed-up. We must come to our own conclusions, and there may be more than one direction in which one might go. José is well-acted by 75-year old Mexican TV and film actor and father of ten Fernando Luján. Nora, alive and dead, is played by Silvia Mariscal (1946- ), seen mostly in telenovelas. 

Nora schedules her death right before Passover, forcing José to stay with her body until she can be buried properly. He soon realizes that he is part of Nora's calculated plan to bring her family back together for one last Passover feast. He views it as her wish to control him. The rabbi informs José that if she is not buried immediately, they will have to wait five days -- cinco dias already. When the actual cause of Nora’s death dawns on the rabbi, he invokes a rule that prohibits burial of deceased suicides: a “special area of the cemetery is set aside for criminals and suicides.” And he spreads his good word around the community. 

Nora’s (and José’s) son chimes in by long-distance: he objects to cremation and embalming of his mother. José consults the yellow pages for a cemetery. Nora’s preparations included listing cemeteries in her address book. The Cemetery of Jesus, offers a Wake-To-Go service. Ultimately, the only nonjudgmental response that José is able to get from Christian and Jewish buriers is “What goes on in each person’s head is a mystery we must not judge.” 

From her bedroom, where she has been laid out on ice, Nora’s final days are dominated by three problem guys: José, rabbi Jacowitz, and Dr. Alberto Murko, friend-of-the-family-type psychiatrist whom José calls to confirm Nora’s death and who counseled José, “She can never fall in love again.” Also involved in Nora’s strategy are two great cooks -- “Nanny” Fabiana and far-sighted Aunt Leah from Guadalajara -- who convert shomer Moisés to cookery. 

José is finally seated at the Passover table, opposite the empty chair that is Nora’s. The second time I saw Nora’s Will I discovered nuances I’d have otherwise missed. The title refers, not to the documents she has addressed to each person, but to Nora’s determination. 

Five out of five for Nora’s Will


Murder-suicide is a disturbing trend among the elderly. Assisted suicide is on the agenda in several states. Asian Americans struggle with suicide. Among Chinese elderly, it is on the rise, and as families change, South Korea’s elderly are turning to suicide. 

Bioethicists are concerned with ethical questions in relationships among biotechnology, life sciences, law, philosophy, and politics. They also study the more commonplace questions of values -- the ethics of the ordinary, as it has been called -- which arise in primary care and other branches of medicine. 

Here’s a book that could serve as raw material for instructors of “selection and collection- building” courses that are often part of library and media education curricula, and especially for users of case study methodology. In Forced Exit, bioethicist Wesley J. Smith (1949- ) confounds assisted suicide and the right-to-die with euthanasia. Of Smith’s Forced Exit: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and the New Duty to Die (2003,) the Library Journal (not a scholarly journal) declared “Above all, Smith fears that euthanasia will eventually become a legally enforceable right to kill. Not one to mince words, he calls proponents of the right-to die movement ‘death fundamentalists’ and warns against the degeneration of essential human values.” 

In his Culture of Death; the Assault on Medical Ethics in America (1997,) Smith opposed deliberate self-chosen and medically-assisted death. In Forced Exit…he describes euthanasia as a “caste of disposable people” and the betrayal of medicine is “an enemy of the disabled.” Hospice or hemlock—the choice is allegedly ours. Encounter Books, an American conservative publisher, advertises “this expanded edition of a classic book…a compelling case against legalized euthanasia… a closer look at the truly humane and compassionate alternatives.” 

According to Smith (Forced Exit page 9, ): “… those most vocal in pushing the death agenda seem to be those least likely to be victimized by it… They downplay the harm that will follow for the poor, the uneducated, those without access to medical care, or the disabled… Not to worry, these death culture leaders breezily assert, ‘protective guidelines’ will fix everything.”  

He refers to Compassion & Choices as “a new euthanasia advocacy organization formed when the Compassion in Dying Federation merged with the Hemlock Society.” We are, he says, “people of the ‘overclass’: well-off whites with a strong and supportive family or social structure who never believe they could be victimized or pressured into an early death.” I am a Caucasian, feminist, Compassion & Choices life-time member, with no family, an educated former LJ reviewer. 


On Thursday, May 2 - 1:30 to 2:45 P.M. , the Alameda County Library Albany branch at 1247 Marin Avenue (510-526-3720) will sponsor a Veterans’ benefits program of particular interest to seniors and their families. 

A Yale University study has found Facebook bias against elderly people among Facebook users. Researchers found that a startling percentage of public Facebook groups in a targeted search engine sample contained negative stereotypes of people over the age of 60. The descriptions included everything from severe sarcasm to assertion that older people should be put before a firing squad. This is ‘must’ reading: [Jim Shelton (New Haven [Connecticut] Register via San Jose [California] Mercury News, March 31, 2013).] 

On March 7, 2013, Susanna Kim reported on 150 nations’ “retirement security.” The United States ranked 19 among the top 20. The Global Retirement Index measured how well retired people live based on health measures, income levels, their country's financial state, and quality of life. The analysis used data World Bank and United Nations data. The U.S. finished with a final score of 74%. Norway top-ranked, with an 87% score. The U.S. ranks 23rd by health measurements, with the world's highest per-capita health spending, but lags behind other nations in its access to care and life expectancy. [ABC News] 


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Buddhist-Style Mindfulness Applies

By Jack Bragen
Thursday April 04, 2013 - 08:26:00 PM

Buddhist ideas and some Buddhist practices are extremely applicable to people who have found themselves in the predicament of being mentally ill. Buddhist ideas of nonattachment and acceptance are potentially a lifesaver for people who experience numerous hardships. 

Buddhist acceptance can help someone come to terms with the limitations and difficulties involved in being mentally ill. Persons with mental illness may find that many of the good things in life that others enjoy are out of reach. It requires a lot of acceptance to be able to be happy in spite of not having much to look forward to. 

Meditative techniques can help someone deal with the suffering that comes with being ill and being medicated. Acceptance can help someone cope with the disdain received from bigoted people who don't understand mental illness. 

Many nondisabled meditation practitioners apparently are attracted to Buddhism because they have unusually painful emotions that they seek a way to resolve. A high level of painful emotions like this could be caused by an undiagnosed, low-level form of mental illness. 

On the other hand, when someone has a mental health diagnosis, they are likely to suffer from greater than average levels of painful emotions. This is attributable to the effects of the illness, of medication, and because our life circumstances tend to be much more challenging than those of average people. 

Many persons with mental illness have sought relief through use of either illicit drugs, or a numbing level of prescription drugs that they might ask for. A therapist once commented that it was amazing that I had not resorted to illegal drugs because of how badly my life up until then had gone. I have stayed off of street drugs because I have never given up hope, including when things weren't going well. 

Practicing meditation doesn't rule out taking a medication such as an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety agent. However, medication to feel better may sometimes not be enough. 

Every person is different, and each individual needs to do what works for him or her. I am only offering some ideas, and you don't have to listen to me-I don't know you. 

Many people believe that psychiatric drugs block a person's meditation faculty. However, this is only to an extent, and it can sometimes be overcome with extra focus. 

A person with mental illness who would like to meditate would be worse off in terms of achieving attainment if they were to go off medication-symptoms of mental illness are far more of a blockage to the meditation faculty than being medicated. Furthermore, a severe episode of mental illness (that can be brought about by going off medication) can obliterate a person's meditative and other progress, and this progress can be harder to rebuild on the second or third try-due to the damage to functioning caused by a severe episode of mental illness. 

Being stabilized and remaining so is a help to meditation. Someone on medication may have the same shot at "enlightenment" as anyone else. However, the enlightenment of a person with mental illness will be supported by psychiatric medication, and is put in jeopardy if the medicine is stopped. 

If someone with mental illness attempts to meditate and becomes disturbed, they should stop their attempt at meditation practices. Either improper meditation, or meditation when unready, can do more damage than good. 

If a meditation class gives you a strange feeling, or if they advise you to stop taking medication, these are red flags that you could be dealing with a "cult" group, and you should avoid such a group. Something with a reputation, such as most Zen centers, a Yoga class at the YMCA, a meditation class at your county's Adult Education, or something that has a reference you can check, would be a safer bet. When a meditative or religious practice has been around for thousands of years, you are less likely to get trouble from it. 

This instance of the column does not include meditation techniques. If interested, there are plenty of books available on the subject, there are classes, and there are meditation centers. 

Psychotherapy by a good therapist (and not all therapists are good) can also help a person feel emotionally better-and some psychotherapists will do a guided meditation. 

* * * My two books about mental illness, "Instructions for Dealing With Schizophrenia: A Self Help Manual," and "Jack Bragen's Essays on Mental Illness," as well as a short story collection, "Selected Short Fiction of Jack Bragen"-(containing several previously published short stories as well as some new ones) are available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

Arts & Events

Press Release: Little Ones, Latinos and Labor Celebrating Cesar Chavez in Berkeley with a Community Forum on Immigration

From the offices of Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin
Tuesday April 09, 2013 - 09:11:00 PM

On Thursday, April 11th, the City of Berkeley will be holding a community forum on immigration.

The event features little ones (fourth graders), Berkeley’s three Latino elected officials and a labor leader who served in the White House.

The event starts at 7:00pm and will be held at the Berkeley Adult School at 1701 San Pablo Ave. There will be live music, food and guest speakers, including Maria Echaveste, the former White House Deputy Chief of Staff on Federal Immigration Policy Reform, Rodrigo Guzmán, the young Berkeley boy who found that he was unable to return home after a family vacation to Mexico, Alejandro Soto Vigil (Rent Board), Jesse Arreguin (City Council), and Beatriz Leyva-Cutler (School Board). 

This year's Berkeley Chavez Commemoration is focused on immigration and is cosponsored by the Alameda County, Central Labor Council and BAHIA. President Obama introduced a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform, and with thousands of people and families being deported each year, including in the East Bay, it is a critical time for a community conversation on this important issue. 

Recently a case close to home has highlighted the need for immigration reform. A fourth grader at Berkeley's Jefferson Elementary School, Rodrigo Guzmán, and his family were unable to return to the United States in January due to an expired visa. They have been told by ICE that they cannot get a new visa for five years. While the family is barred from coming back to the US, Rodrigo's classmates have organized a campaign to lobby officials to allow Rodrigo and his family to come back to Berkeley. The April 11th event will feature Berkeley elementary student activists working on the Save Rodrigo campaign and help raise funds for them to go to Washington to lobby officials on Rodrigo's case and on immigration issues. 

April 11th, 2013 at 7:00pm, Berkeley Adult School, 1701 San Pablo Ave, to honor Cesar Chavez.

The Revolutionary Optimists: Indian Slum Kids Overcome the Odds--Opens at the Rialto Elmwood on April 5

By Gar Smith
Thursday April 04, 2013 - 07:49:00 PM

Can a bunch of underage slumdogs from the Indian state of Kolkata find the inner strength to become internationally recognized community activists? You bet! But it's not easy. 

The youngsters portrayed in The Revolutionary Optimists are up against some pretty daunting odds. They live in one of Kolkata's 5,500 slums. Twelve percent of India's kids between 5 and 14 are trapped in child labor. Instead of pursuing education, nearly half of Indian's girls become child brides before the age of 18. But this film (the work of two Bay Area filmmakers, Oakland's Nicole Newnham and Portola Valley's Maren Grainger-Monsen) demonstrates that birth is not destiny. 

This film (distilled from more than 250 hours of footage) covers nearly four years in the lives of four young slumkids as they struggle to overcome poverty, government disinterest, and physical abuse. 

Inspired by an energetic über-optimist named Amlan Ganguly (a criminal lawyer turned visionary teacher), these youngsters learn how to employ education and the arts – drama, dance, puppetry -- to forge new identities as agents of change. All it takes is someone to tell them they have the potential to challenge and change the world around them. Galvanized by hope, the kids of Ganguly's Prayasam slum school plunge into the work of community organizing. Using rudimentary tools and an abundance of charisma, these kids manage to control the spread of polio and malaria at the same time they are turning garbage dumps into playing fields. 


These are remarkable youngsters. They are articulate and passionate. They can think on their feet and they seem smart beyond their years. Despite being confined to living situations that people in the material-mined West would deplore, the kids are lively, healthy, intelligent and hopeful. 

We follow two of Ganguly's Dakabuko (Daredevils), 12-year-old Salim Shekh and Shika Patra, as they storm through their mud-hut slum insisting on change. Both are irresistible silver-tongued firebrands, aflame with conviction and a sense of mission. Brandishing clipboards and hand-made paper megaphones, they charge down the dusty alleyways, collecting information to create the first map of their sprawling neighborhood. On the official maps, these communities appear as a large blank space with no indication of the existing roads and alleys (let alone thousands of homes). 

Kajal Kahar is a slim, beautiful 12-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a tailor. She spends half her days working in a brickyard and the other half in an ad hoc school Ganguly has managed to fashion in the brick field. But when Kajal's mother falls ill, the girl has no choice but to abandon school and return to the brickyard fulltime --the same brickyard in which her grandmother worked when she was a girl. 

Under blistering heat, Kajal must repeatedly kneel to gather bricks to pile atop her head -- two bricks at a time -- until they are stacked four-bricks high. Then it's off at a brisk trot across the brickyard and down a rickety wood-stick ramp to a handler who removes the load. (A surprising amount of the housing construction in India's cities still depends on these hand-made mud-bricks, which are even used in the construction of multistory buildings.) 

Priyanka Mandal is a talented young dancer who works with Ganguly to train members of the school's dance troup, Allhadi (Dear Ones). Despite Ganguly's concerns, Priyanka sees childhood marriage as her only escape from her family where she suffers physical abuse. 

Shika and Salim make a powerful couple -- a boy and a girl who join forces to organize their neighbors to demand the government make good on a long-promised plan to bring clean water to their dirt-poor community. 

Because there is no water pipe, Salim has to struggle out of bed at 4AM and walk three kilometers to a water faucet in a neighboring slum. Once there, he must wait in a long line of other slum dwellers who shuffle forward impatiently, waiting to fill their plastic jugs with life-giving water. 

Shika and Salim see their efforts recognized when, in a surprising turn of fate, they are invited to plead their case before the Indian Parliament in Delhi. The filmmakers were on hand when a group of local politicians broke the news of the invitation to Salim. As his neighbors cheer and his beaming father hugs his son, the usually voluble Salim suddenly finds himself without words. 

Meanwhile, Shika has won a battle of her own -- she challenges and overturns the tradition that banned local girls from the community soccer field. After the film wrapped, Shika was invited to address India's National Girl Child Day. 

There is more to this adventure than the film itself. As Newnham explains, "we actually also partnered with the children" to create a piece of mobile technology called http://revolutionaryoptimists.org/map-your-world>"Map Your World." Based on the Daredevil's mapping work – and assisted by a media lab in San Francisco – other young activists in India and around the world will now have a powerful new tool for local organizing and problem-solving. 

Update: During their five visits to India, the filmmakers became intimately involved in the lives of these youngsters, their families and their community. On one visit, they hosted filmmaking classes for Ganguly's students. It paid off. Sikha recently produced her first short film. She is now contemplating a career as a lawyer or a journalist. In 2012, Salim was invited to address the World Forum in Oxford, England. He hopes to become a lawyer. Kajal still works in the brickyards but she has become a photographer and now shoots all the photo's for Prayasam's publications. 

Special Event! Amlan, Shika and Salim will be coming to Berkeley to join the filmmakers at the Elmwood where they will take questions from the audience after the 7PM screenings on Friday, April 5. 


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Prayasam www.prayasam.org">www.prayasam.org 

Volunteer or donate to Prayasam and other worthy organizations at http://omprakash.org/partner_profile/p/284>Omprakash or through the http://omprakash.org/partner_profile/p/284>Prayasam Scholarship Fund

Claremont Hills: Historic Homes Above the Claremont Hotel Open on May 19 for BAHA Tour

By Daniella Thompson
Friday April 05, 2013 - 10:21:00 AM
Some of the historic homes on the Berkeley Architectural Heritage May Tour
Daniella Thompson
Some of the historic homes on the Berkeley Architectural Heritage May Tour

The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) will hold its 38th annual Spring House Tour and Garden Reception on Sunday, May 19, 2013, from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. 

Ten spacious and elegant residences and their parklike gardens will be open on this year’s BAHA spring tour. The houses are all survivors of the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. They were constructed between 1909 and 1941 for well-to-do families by leading architects of their day, including Albert Farr; Louis Christian Mullgardt; William C. Hays; William R. Yelland; Walter H. Ratcliff, Jr.; Vickery, Atkins & Torrey; Clarence Tantau; William E. Schirmer; Archie Newsom; and Louis Engler. 

Tour map, illustrated guidebook, and refreshments will be provided. General admission $40; BAHA members $30. 

For tour information and reservations, visit the BAHA website, e-mail baha@berkeleyheritage.com, or call (510) 841-2242.