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Anna De Leon (center) sings to Save the Post Office at Saturday rally
Lydia Gans
Anna De Leon (center) sings to Save the Post Office at Saturday rally


New: Is Fizzled Berkeley Fair on Teley Fizzled Out?

By Ted Friedman
Monday July 29, 2013 - 09:52:00 PM

Telegraph Businessmen and Mayor Bates kept expectations low when they closed a few blocks of Teley street traffic to hold a summer-Sundays fair, launched June 9. 

According to all concerned, the fair would grow. 

Week eight, the fair's latest gasp was plagued by dismal fog-drips. The retrenching from four blocks to much less than two continued. Event planners will expand the event in the future, they say. 

But by week seven the fair had contracted—relegated to a block and a half stretch of the four-block fair route. 

Teley boosters like Craig Becker (Caffe Med), Al Geyer (Annapurna), and Eddy Monroe (Street Vendor) made it seem the fair would soon pull a rabbit out of a hat. 

But the rabbit may have been waylaid by Porky Pig. 

What is wrong? 

More students have come to town since the deserted days of June when Teley was a bare bone. But these students have a primary and exclusive destination—Cream, an ice-cream store hole in the wall at Teley/Channing, a former Mrs. Field's Cookies, where they score ice-cream jammed between just-out-of-the-oven thick dough-globs for $2.50 (up from $1.50). 

The mishmash melts before you can make it across the street to "Melt," raising the possibility of switched at birth. 

"We just scarf it down fast before it melts," a student told me. Scarfed too fast to taste? 

Fair planners have tried, jugglers, chess events, clowns, bands, but nothing can turn Summer (always slow business) into Fall. 

An ad hoc group of fixers met at the Med, recently to fix the fair. This South Side Reporter sat in and contributed to the fix with the idea of a Big Lebowski day. The fixers focussed on participatory activities. 

The chess stand at Teley/Channing, which draws chessnuts, exemplifies the participatory fix, but Big Lebowski seems not to have made the cut. 

Reasons given for the present fizzle include: absence of students, weather, competing events, and seasonal doldrums. 

Unmentioned is lack of publicity. The fair has not made various events calendars. 

That problem has been partially addressed. 

Rasputin, that rapscallion, may come to the rescue with a heavily-promoted street concert featuring crowd-drawing groups. This event-changer could come to the rescue soon. Other participatory activities are scheduled. 

By September, as students begin their comebacks, the fair should thrive, its fetal swoon forgotten. 


Follow Ted Friedman at berkeleyreporter.com 


New: Protesters Rally on Saturday
for Berkeley Post Office

By Laura Dixon and Sara Gaiser (BCN)
Saturday July 27, 2013 - 08:06:00 PM
Anna De Leon (center) sings to Save the Post Office at Saturday rally
Lydia Gans
Anna De Leon (center) sings to Save the Post Office at Saturday rally

More than 100 people, including some who say they plan to camp out, have gathered in front of a historic post office in Berkeley this afternoon to protest its closure.

The protesters represent the groups Save the Berkeley Post Office and Strike Debt Bay Area and are holding a demonstration and teach-in on the privatization of public services in front of the post office at 2000 Allston Way.

Strike Debt member Mike Wilson said the protest coincides with similar rallies in several other U.S. cities and will include speeches by activists and public officials, music and dance performances, street theater, free food, public forums and street art. 

"We hope to set an example for other municipalities to defend public space," said Strike Debt Bay Area spokesman and El Cerrito resident Mike Wilson. 

Just after 2 p.m., several dozen protesters at the rally were holding signs with messages such as "Our post offices are not for sale" and "The people's post office," Wilson said. 

He said many of the protesters brought tents to the rally and plan to set up camp there when the post office closes for the day at 3 p.m.  

"The idea is that we'll stay until we're forced to leave...we will make this an unattractive building for anyone thinking of buying it," he said 

The Postal Service has said it plans to close the downtown Berkeley post office and hundreds of other post offices across the country because it is in poor financial shape due to the bad economy and a steady decline in mail volume. 

The 52,000 square foot building, which was built in 1914, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

New: Berkeley Offers Reward for Hit and Run Driver

By Hannah Albarazi (BCN)
Tuesday July 23, 2013 - 09:39:00 AM

The City of Berkeley has announced that it is offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect responsible for a fatal hit-n-run collision in Berkeley on July 15, police said. 

On July 15, at about 5:10 a.m., police found 46-year-old John Patrick Miller, of Berkeley, down in the roadway on the University Avenue overpass in Berkeley. 

Paramedics responded to the scene of the collision, but Miller was pronounced deceased. 

The Berkeley police investigation indicates that Miller was struck and killed by a vehicle. 

The driver of the vehicle has not been located, according to police. 

Anyone with information about this fatal collision is urged to call Berkeley police at (510) 981-5980 or may do so anonymously at (800) 222-8477. 

A Day in the Life of an Anonymous Street Musician

By anonymous street musician, as told to Carol Denney
Sunday July 21, 2013 - 09:45:00 AM

I am a folk musician and I currently make my living in Berkeley, California. I sing in the downtown BART station Monday through Friday mornings. I sing at the Center Street Farmers' Market three Saturdays out of each month. I usually sing an hour-long shift at the BART station on weekday afternoons. Basically, I sing three hours a day for tips and occasional CD sales. I play guitar and sing without amplification, leaving my guitar case open to display my CD and to collect any money people wish to contribute for the music.

This afternoon I left my house later than usual and when I came to the BART station other musicians were playing, both inside the station and above ground near the entrance. Rather than go home without making a dime I decided to try singing across the street on Center Street. I chose a spot next to the side window of Games of Berkeley, tucking my guitar case under the window where the sidewalk is wider so as not to impede pedestrians. I stood next to my open case singing. I had been at it for about half an hour and earned one dollar when a Berkeley Ambassador showed up and interrupted my song.

He told me, "You can't play next to the building -- it's a business. You can play at the curb."

No musician would want to play at the curb where traffic and noisy traffic signals compete for the airwaves. No musician would want to breathe smog and exhaust. 

I packed up my guitar and adjourned to the nearby bus stop to wait for my next bus home, but as I sat there I began to wonder, "Who are the Berkeley Ambassadors and what authority do they have to tell me where I can and cannot stand or sing on a public sidewalk?" I went home to research the question and could only find out that the Ambassadors are employed by a company headquartered in Kentucky, until I called an activist friend whom I thought might have some information. She told me that the Ambassadors have their own program for busking musicians involving getting a permit from them. Curiously, the Ambassador who told me I could not play next to a business neglected to tell me about the Ambassadors' music program.”  

Note from Carol Denney: Do you remember voting to let an unelected group of wealthy property owners hire people to control our public spaces? Neither do I. And yet the Kentucky-based Block by Block program continues to grow from coast to coast and internationally as a nonsensical response to poverty and the housing crisis. Let your City Council know that public spaces should be for everyone.

Plan Bay Area Passed by MTC, ABAG

By Laura Dixon (BCN)
Friday July 19, 2013 - 08:42:00 AM

A coalition of Bay Area leaders late Thursday night approved a long-term regional plan meant to accommodate population growth over the next few decades while meeting state mandates for cutting air pollution and improving access to public transportation.

The final vote on Plan Bay Area came during a marathon joint meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) at the Oakland Marriott.

The two groups are made up of 21 Bay Area county supervisors, mayors and other local leaders.

Several hundred people, many who boarded buses from Marin and Santa Clara counties, packed a Marriott ballroom to protest the plan, voicing concerns that it will bring overcrowded housing developments and will bypass local control over development. 

Hundreds of attendees from groups such as Discontent with Plan Bay Area said they believe such a plan should be subject to a public vote and toted signs and chanted "Let us vote!" or "MTC, don't speak for me!" 

Several dozen others from Oakland-based public transit advocacy group TransForm carried yellow signs expressing support for alternatives to the plan under the slogan "Equity Environment and Jobs" or EEJ. 

According to the MTC, the plan is a "work in progress " that continues earlier efforts to "develop an efficient transportation network and grow in a financially and environmentally responsible way." 

Created by several agencies including MTC and ABAG, Plan Bay Area comes up with blueprints for the region's nine counties to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by the year 2040, as required under state Senate Bill 375. The plan also focuses on providing housing for all residents of all income levels near transportation hubs, according to MTC and ABAG officials. 

The federal government requires the agencies to update the plan every four years to keep up with shifting demographics and new data, MTC spokesman John Goodwin said. 

"There are no easy solutions in this plan but...this plan creates a way for the residents of the Bay Area to discuss our future openly," said ABAG Executive Director Ezra Rapport. 

But many of the Bay Area residents who spoke at the meeting said they either did not feel included in the planning process or felt that requests for public input were disingenuous and that board members had already made up their minds to approve the plan. 

Some speakers also voiced concerns that the plan would give the government undue authority to dictate where and how communities are allowed to develop housing. 

"It's clearly a social engineering experiment," Fairfax resident Kevin Krick said during the public hearing. 

Dozens of people said they would support the plan as long as it included amendments to increase funding under the plan for affordable housing and public transit options - amendments that were adopted later in the meeting. 

Some speakers praised the plan as it was originally presented, expressing hope that it will provide a wider variety of alternatives to congested Bay Area roadways and prevent the displacement of low-income residents as rents throughout the region soar. 

"I'm really glad to see the region take this pioneering step," said Adina Levin of Menlo Park. 

The Bay Area is among the state's 18 regions tasked with creating a vision for meeting mandated emissions reduction targets and implementing transit and housing solutions. 

Thursday night's vote came at the end of a three-year planning process involving the MTC, ABAG, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and local communities and agencies.

Press Release: EEJ Supporters Celebrate Plan Bay Area Victory
ABAG/MTC include some key elements of Equity, Environment and Jobs scenario

Friday July 19, 2013 - 04:21:00 PM

Members of the 6 Wins for Social Equity Network and other supporters of the Equity, Environment and Jobs (EEJ) scenario came away from last night’s Plan Bay Area adoption by regional decision-makers satisfied their voices were heard. 

The final plan, adopted at last night’s special joint meeting of the MTC Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) Executive Board, will result in decisive improvements on many of the issues low-income communities and communities of color have been fighting for over the past three years. 

In particular, EEJ advocates won three amendments that will help protect families in these communities from displacement, improve their access to local transit service, and give them a voice in how billions of dollars in Cap and Trade revenues will benefit them. Specifically: 

· The One Bay Area Grant program, or OBAG, was a central part of the Equity, Environment and Jobs (EEJ scenario) won earlier in the process. It conditions grants to local cities on their adoption of a state-certified affordable housing plan. On top of that, last night’s amendments moved closer to the 6 Wins goal of tying regional grants to local anti-displacement measures. 

· Sup. John Gioia, a strong voice for communities impacted by refinery emissions in and around Richmond and a new appointee to the California Air Resources Board, successfully carried a motion that commits the region to an inclusive public process to set priorities for $3.1 Billion in Cap and Trade revenue, with an explicit focus on benefits to disadvantaged communities (as required by SB 535). 

· And Sup. David Campos, a champion in San Francisco, carried an amendment that, for the very first time, commits MTC to adopt a "comprehensive strategy" with a focus on local transit operating support. 

“While we certainly didn’t get everything we wanted, the final plan is better on equity, better for the environment, better for jobs and better for the Bay Area,” said Bob Allen, Transportation Justice program director at Urban Habitat. 

“Tonight’s vote was a first step in beginning to reverse patterns of development that increase economic and racial inequality in the Bay Area,” added Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, a senior staff attorney at Public Advocates Inc. 

6 Wins Network members are quick to say there is still much to be done and that they’re in it for the long haul as they follow the plan’s progress through state review and local implementation. And the planning process for the 2017 plan is expected to begin in two years. 

“Our advocacy put regional equity in the center of this planning process,” said Claire Haas, a lead organizer with ACCE. “But we clearly still have a lot of work to do." 

“We’ve been working for three years to ensure transit operations, affordable housing opportunity, and anti-displacement protections are part of this plan,” added Mary Lim-Lampe, a lead organizer with Genesis. “Fighting for social justice and equity is a process that requires persistence and courage.” 


Public Advocates Inc. is a nonprofit civil rights law firm and advocacy organization that challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination by strengthening community voices in public policy and achieving tangible legal victories advancing education, housing and transit equity. We spur change through collaboration with grassroots groups representing low-income communities, people of color and immigrants, combined with strategic policy reform, media advocacy and litigation, “making rights real” across California since 1971.

Press Release: Berkeley Democratic Club Accused of Violating Campaign Finance Laws

From Pattie Wall and Bob Offer-Westort
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 09:53:00 PM

The Berkeley Democratic Club (“BDC”) is facing serious questions about alleged violations of state and local campaign finance laws. On July 12, 2013, the Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission received a complaint against BDC alleging violations of the Berkeley Election Reform Act and state election law, including failure to file expense reports for false and misleading campaign materials that were distributed by homeless people during the November 2012 election cycle.  

BDC was an avid proponent of the measure (Measure S) that would have criminalized sitting on a city sidewalk. The measure failed to pass. In campaigning for Measure S, BDC paid for and distributed campaign literature that falsely claimed the Alameda County Democratic Party supported Measure S. BDC’s false and misleading literature prompted a letter of reprimand from the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee. 

On Election Day, BDC hired numerous homeless people to pass out their fraudulent literature at county polling places. Many if not all of the homeless people passing out the campaign materials were current or former clients of a Berkeley drug and alcohol treatment center, Options Recovery Services, Inc., whose director, Dr. Davida Cody, was a spokesperson for the Measure S campaign. “Hiring the homeless clients of a recovery program to campaign for their own criminalization is the opposite of harm reduction. Berkeley’s vulnerable populations deserve better,” said Patricia Wall, director of Berkeley’s Homeless Action Center. 

BDC’s failure to report its expenses – namely, printing false and misleading campaign literature then turning around and paying homeless people to distribute said literature – effectively kept from public view who gave money to BDC or how it spent that money. BDC’s violations could result in substantial fines and penalties from the Fair Campaign Practices Commission.

La Casa de La Chascona
A visit to Pablo Neruda's house in Santiago

By Gar Smith
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 09:44:00 PM

A calm flows from the mountainside.

A murmur spiced with the sound of birds

Envelops the enclave of Neruda and Matilda:

The upstairs café serves espresso

With bait-sized bits of 70% cacao.

Metallic Nerudafish and figurines

Hover near windows, catching light

As visitors wait to navigate Neruda's rooms.


Eyes rise to rooflines 

Where the branches of trees 

Erupt though outdoor decks 

Crossing a wrap of metal rails 

That raises a hint of unseen sails. 


Beneath the sky, halfway to the open door, 

We move in groups of ten— 

in Spanish, French and Yankee— 

And hear the story of the two lost streams. 


Once, across this yard, two small rivers rolled, 

Engraved in stone by Neruda's water-loving hands, 

Today, though, only memories, dust, regret— 

Neruda's peaceful cove another wound from Chile's 9/11. 


With Pinochet's bayonets and bullets 

and the hail of bombs that fell on La Moneda 

Came angry troops whose hearts were filled with howls, 

Whose mouths burned hot with hate for folks like Pablo. 


In the vice of cancer in a far-off town, 

Neruda heard his radio echo with the 

Concussions of Santiago's struggle 

As the Generals dropped dynamite on 

The shoulders of Allende's embattled era. 


Angry men with tortured hearts 

Descended on Neruda's quiet, hidden home 

Demanding the poet's blood. 


Outraged to discover empty rooms— 

No bones to crush, no flesh to tear— 

They turned their madness on the poet's words. 


His books were torn. 

Bookshelves toppled' 

Poems hurled 

Essays ransacked 

Letters thrown to the floor. 


Flung through the glinting frames of broken windows, 

Neruda's library turned to rubbish 

In the sacramental yard 

Where two innocent streams coursed, 

Shoved into muddied heaps, by screaming men, 

Neruda's books were used 

To choke the water's song. 


But water needs to flow. 


Bowing to the landscape's call, 

The brooks rose from their violated beds. 

Words and water mixed and 

tumbled in a mud-strewn swirl, 

Filling the lower floors. 


Ducts and tracts spilled down the stairwells 

Carpets floating amidst a cascade of 

poems spiraling away forever. 


And then the flames. 


As the anger took bright, all-consuming form, 

Portraits left by celebrated friends 

Presented over the dancing, wine-soaked years 

Were chased by fire and madness. 


Canvas curled crisp by hatred's furnace breath. 

Neruda's home aflame. 

Matilda's bed ablaze. 

The thesaurus of an artist's life 

Blown to smoke and ashes in the startled night. 


And in the hills above Neruda's lair 

Were lemurs in the city's zoo 

Confused by sounds of human riot? 

Were tigers dismayed by the scent 

Of dreams devoured by hate and flame? 


The metal hood falls. 

The candle's gleam is snuffed. 

A trail of smoke rises in the dying night 

And all is dark. 

— Santiago, Chile. July 2012

Berkeley's Hilton to Homeless now Four Stars: A Garden Grows On Telegraph

By Ted Friedman
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 08:59:00 PM

Two years ago I wrote a piece here, "Berkeley Hilton to Homeless." I had no idea how that would turn out.

Two years later, the piece still leads the Berkeley Hilton Google search result page. If you're looking for a room at the Berkeley Hilton, you might want to consider going homeless and saving hundreds of dollars. Free food and clothes, too. 

But I wasn't ready for Michael Gesregan, 52, a third-generation Irishman, with a blood-red goatee, who "likes to party a bit." Gesregan, known in Camp Hate, People's Park, as "O.G.," has found his Hilton in Berkeley. 

Gesregan's Hilton, he tells me, is (with permission) beside Happy Valley Chinese Restaurant at Dwight/Telegraph, where he beds down on the cold-stone sidewalks of Telegraph Avenue. 

I'd like to say my Hilton article brought O.G. to town, but he said he heard about us in Petaluma. "Everyone said you've got to see Berkeley." 

He's been here a year and a half now and says he's found his home. He related how he never got along with his stepfather, but loved his mother and spent ten "glorious" days with her before she died. 

"Why would you go elsewhere," he enthuses. 'Berkeley is a beautiful, beautiful place. I'll do anything for Berkeley." 

Maybe that's why he's planted a white-picket-fenced garden in a small strip of dirt near the Dwight-Teley diverter. He put in $230 of his own money on the plot, after workers left the dirt behind a recent street-do. 

He also cleans the walk beside Happy Valley at 3. a.m., he says. 

"I'm a citizen of Berkeley; I'm here to stay," he proclaims. 

I've interviewed scores of street "kids," but only those who are pregnant stay put. Everyone else eventually wanders. It's the wandering that appeals to them. 

If Berkeley's streets were the Hilton, O.G. would give it four stars. 

O.G. is no angel. He did 3-10 for petty theft in Florida (a London Broil, and a sleeping bag "when it was freezing cold.") 

He's been clean in Berkeley. "Cops know me, here. They say, how you doing, Michael? (fare to midland). If you act appropriately, they'll help you," he attests. 

"Well over 100 have stopped to look at the garden" he says. "Some of them hang around to work 10 minutes in the garden," he adds. 

Working in the garden 'is so relaxing. It takes the stress out of you." 

"Me and my garden talk," O.G. reports "as I pick out the leaves, I put my heart and soul into it." 


Follow Ted Friedman at berkeleyreporter.com 




Harmony, Not Perfect But Intriguing

By Becky O'Malley
Friday July 19, 2013 - 04:23:00 PM

Trying to reconnect with civic concerns after a month devoted to family matters, I resolved to attend last night’s meeting on Plan Bay Area, a topic which has generated considerable heat and some light on this site and elsewhere in the past few months. It was a joint meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments, which, the words of last week's press release from both bodies, is “an integrated transportation and land-use strategy through 2040 that marks the nine-county region’s first long-range plan to meet the requirements of California’s landmark 2008 Senate Bill 375, which calls on each of the state’s 18 metropolitan areas to develop a Sustainable Communities Strategy to accommodate future population growth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks.”

What’s not to like about that? 

Well, I’d gotten other press releases from other organizations which indicated dissatisfaction with how the proposal on the agenda dealt with important considerations like the provision of affordable housing near job sites, displacement of residents from already affordable urban neighborhoods and inadequate provision for public mass transit. Berkeleyans who have a respectable record of civic involvement were skeptical. Journalists whom I respect had raised questions about the plan. Back in October, Tim Redmond in the San Francisco Bay Guardian had done an exhaustive analysis of potential problems, but I wanted to see for myself what all the excitement was about. 

Kind of. But as the 6:30 start time for the meeting approached, intellectual torpor set in. I couldn’t help remembering that my first assignment for the San Francisco Bay Guardian 40 years ago (surely not!) was covering the nascent ABAG, then housed in the basement of the Claremont Hotel, and I went to many, many meetings where nothing that happened proved to have future effect. This promised to be another one of those.  

I did anticipate some interesting fireworks from some opponents. Zelda Bronstein on this site more than a year ago had identified a constituency of anti-Plan people who could loosely be described as Tea Party types, and they were expected to turn out in force. 

When I check the MTC website for the agenda, I discovered an audio stream for the meeting, and lassitude won out. I chose to listen online while attending to household chores, and it’s a good thing that I did. Zelda, who actually went to part of the meeting, reported a crowded room with impossible sightlines and uncomfortable chairs, while I in the comfort of home could hear the whole thing, including the mind-boggling public comment period.  

If you have six hours to spare, you really ought to listen yourself.  

I’m going to hope that one of our local policy wonks will be moved to do a news analysis on the actual or potential consequences of last night’s meeting. What fascinated and bemused me was the tenor and passion of public comments, which stretched over a couple of hours at least, and the surprisingly harmonic convergence of left and right in many aspects of their analysis. 

Bass notes were provided on what might be called the left, for lack of a more precise term. These were groups like the law firms Public Advocates and Earth Justice. The discourse of the evening centered on the proper role of government, and these commenters had no quarrel with the prerogative and even the duty of government to provide for the common good. They just wanted it done the right way. 

If you want to mandate housing near transit, they said, it must be housing for all and real, funded transit, not just pricey urban condos and wishful thinking. And, they said, let’s keep the beat steady by using CEQA to make sure what you’re doing doesn’t harm instead of help the environment. 

By and large, at the end of the evening they seem to have gotten what they wanted this time. 

On the treble end of the scale, including many of those who might be called right wing, you heard a great variety of the fantastical imaginings of citizens who desperately fear abuse of government power. This included some who could be called Tea Partyish, people who worry most about government spending and don’t want to be told what they can do on their private property. You wonder how they can cope with local zoning laws. 

But there were also themes emanating from very different spheres. I heard an unusually high percentage of Slavic accents among the commenters, people who described themselves as former residents of Eastern Europe, who feared that a communist or fascist coup was imminent. At least one person, a Berkeley resident, supplied an obligato by describing herself as an old leftist and a hippy, citing traditional counter-cultural worries about government spying on us. 

All this seems like an echo of the current remarkably harmonious national uproar coming from both “left” and “right” about the federal government’s role, as revealed by Edward Snowden, in acquiring records of what private citizens do with communication technologies. And then there’s this week’s revelation that along with “Tea Party” the IRS looked for the words “progressive” and “Occupy” on their BOLO (Be On the Look Out) lists used to check on those who sought 501c4 tax exemption status for non-profits which dabble in politics.  

All in all, those who are wary of what government can and can’t do seem to have more in common than they might think.  






The Editor's Back Fence

Summer Schedule

Monday July 29, 2013 - 09:09:00 AM

I'm taking it easy this month since the Berkeley City Council has started its lengthy break and not much else is going on around here. A new issue will be posted only when the current one gets too long, at irregular intervals. Watch this space.

Now Read This

Thursday July 18, 2013 - 09:57:00 PM

Wounded ex-Berkeley activist wins a victory 

Richard Brenneman updates a previous Planet story. 

Public Comment

New: Go Ask Alice Walker

By J. J. Phillips
Tuesday July 30, 2013 - 09:47:00 AM

On 15 July, Alice Walker posted an essay in the Guardian, in which she ruminated on the slaying of Trayvon Martin. She reposted the text in her blog, with further comments, one among them alluding to George Zimmerman: “Of course if we are dealing with descendents of the Chitauri…we can expect more of what we are experiencing.” This oracular utterance speaks volumes about her recent profession of faith in the doctrines of David Icke.  

Alice Walker is an internationally respected African American feminist writer, human rights activist, Buddhist – cultural icon to many, even venerated in some circles; and David Icke is a man she hails as “a rare gift to the planet.” Icke has gained international notoriety for preaching a dizzying and totalizing farrago of conspiracy theory, pseudoscience and sci-fi mingled with old-school occultism, New Age spirituality, Iron Age religion, and whatever else he can toss into the mix. Larded throughout is a strain of anti-Semitism drawn from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other Aryan supremacist thought. All this is made cohesive by Icke’s ‘unified field,’ meta-conspiracy theory, which has it that the world is controlled by a diabolical cabal of ravening, blood-guzzling, shape-shifting reptilians from the constellation Draco, along with their equally sanguinary, miscegenated progeny, which establish the bloodline of the Illuminati and the “Rothschild Zionists.” (The terms become interchangeable; and Icke’s protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, the term “Rothschild Zionists” is nothing but a synecdoche for the Jewish people.) According to Icke, these mischlinge lust especially after the blood of blue-eyed, blond-haired Aryans, children, and menstruating women. In Icke’s modern-day iteration of the medieval blood libel against the Jews (in which Jews allegedly require the blood of Christians to make Passover matzos), now amped up to cosmic proportions, the reptilians and their Illuminati/Rothschild Zionist spawn transmogrify into monstrous lizards and engage in frenzied, orgiastic rituals of sparagmos and exsanguination. These are the teachings of the man Alice Walker hails as “a rare gift to the planet” whose thought she calls “stunning, profound.” This is a man she defends as a “courageous,” misunderstood genius and savior; and as evidenced in her blog posts, her zealotry grows by the day.  

To preclude uncomfortable questions about her adherence to Icke, she muses in one of her posts: “Do I believe everything? I don’t think it matters.” Yes, it does matter. The question is crucial. Her espousal of David Icke’s doctrines is exceedingly disturbing for a number of reasons; and she must be called to account. In order to legitimize her soi disant status as a “teacher, elder, guide, voice,” to present herself as a spiritually évolué truth-speaker, someone whose words should be listened to and heeded, she trades on her personal history and civil rights activities, her advocacy for Palestinian rights, her “womanism,” and her Buddhism. But her credentials and accomplishments grant her no monopoly on truth and wisdom. So when she declares herself an apostle of this so-called messiah, it matters very much just what she believes.  

In recent blog posts she gives every indication that she’s already swallowed his preachments whole-hog. Her ignorance even of basic scientific principles and logical argument leads her to surrender uncritically to Icke’s pseudoscience and pseudo-scholarship, and it seems that she does indeed believe everything. More ominously, she regurgitates Icke’s declaration that there exists an ancient ET reptilian “Illuminati [Rothschild Zionist] bloodline” which controls human affairs. This becomes highly problematic in light of her role as a prominent voice for Palestinian rights. Now she asserts that George Zimmerman is a reptilian hybrid. If Alice Walker truly possesses the strength of her convictions in Icke’s “profound” vision, it is patently dishonest and craven of her to speak out of both sides of her mouth, play coy and equivocate about just what she believes; while in the same breath she seeks to convert others to this paranoid, delusional belief system – when, beyond the absurdity of this sottage, such repugnant and pernicious visions are at the core of Icke’s doctrines. It damned well matters very much just what Alice Walker believes.  

She dances around Icke’s anti-Semitism by parroting the red herrings he flings at his interlocutors when so accused. And she’s given to using the appellation “Chitauri” (put forth by Icke’s Zulu ‘shaman’ sidekick) when speaking of these monstrous reptilians which infest her mind, as if Africanizing the term makes it palatable to African Americans and the multicult; yet she conveniently ignores the fact that Icke not only draws deep from the well of anti-Semitism, but has demonstrable ties to neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups that would just as well exterminate blacks as Jews. These are Alice Walker’s new bedfellows?  

Equally troubling is the fact that Progressives and Leftists (many of whom are Jewish) who laud her for her social activism are deafeningly silent on this matter. The policies of Israel with respect to the Palestinians are utterly reprehensible, a national shame; and there is enough poisonous rancor on both sides. Yet those who rally to defend her work for Palestinian rights ignore her alarming turn of mind and heart. When they continue to sing her praises and allow her proselytizing of Icke’s doctrines to go unchallenged, they play straight into the hands of an extremist claque which equates the slightest criticism of Israel, especially with regard to Palestinians, as tantamount to an avowal of Nazism and Holocaust denial. Likewise, her invocation of reptilians as the agents of Trayvon Martin’s killing is so grotesque and offensive that it completely trivializes every aspect of that tragedy. 

If Progressives, her Buddhist associates, those who work for human rights and social justice, whoever they might be, consider Alice Walker a voice for social change and a champion of human rights – and they have scruples but do not speak out and demand a public accounting from her, and also do not repudiate any association with this dangerous rubbish, they are nothing but self-serving cowards, crass epistemological relativists – or perhaps they share these detestable delusions. 




New: Why I'm Marching to Chevron This Saturday

By Dr. Jeff Ritterman, Vice President, Physicians for Social Responsibility, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter
Monday July 29, 2013 - 09:06:00 AM

On Saturday, August 3rd, my family will be at Totland in Berkeley celebrating our grand daughter Amiela’s second birthday. Amiela and I are particularly close, so my absence will be noticed.

I will be marching along with thousands of others concerned about climate change and horrified by the fossil fuel industry’s willingness to continue to place profits over worker and community safety, and over the very future health of the planet. 

I will be wearing my white doctor’s coat and marching with the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) contingent. PSR’s international affiliate, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for proclaiming that there was no medical response to nuclear war. The only option was prevention. We can now say the same for climate change. Extreme weather events, food and drinking water shortages and all of the known and unknown consequences of destabilizing the earth’s climate system are all best prevented. 

The mantra is clear and catchy. Adapt to that which you can’t prevent and prevent that to which you can’t adapt. Climate science now tells us that we can only burn 1/5 of the known fossil fuel reserves. Anything more will exceed the two degree centigrade red line everyone agrees we can’t go beyond without huge catastrophes. Even at two degrees we will lose half of the Sierra snowpack and therefore half of our drinking water. 

But Chevron, like the rest of the fossil fuel industry, is focused on short-term profits. They’re betting that no one will stop them from refining every last bit and then some, despite the cost to the planet and to my dear grand children. 

We need to wake up and do what is right for the future. There is no meaningful medical response to climate chaos. Help prevent it by marching to the Chevron Refinery on August 3rd. Meet at Richmond BART at 10AM sharp.

New: A Quick Fix?

By Romila Khanna
Wednesday July 31, 2013 - 04:05:00 PM

Party politics seems less and less concerned with representing everybody in our society, including poor people. Really poor people are also US citizens but they are powerless; they get no help meeting even their basic needs. They look up to some unseen power to help them survive somehow. The USA funds the needs of other countries. We work towards bringing peace elsewhere but at home our poor and needy die in a culture of poverty. They die from poor health, from helplessness, and from stark hunger.  

I appeal to our legislators not to be bought by lobbies and special interests. Let us work to make education and training opportunities available to poor people. When the gap between rich and poor grows too wide the poor no longer have a reason to be good citizens. They get no help for following the rules of the road. That is when alienation within a society grows dangerous.

One Bay Area, Acronymically

By Carol Denney
Friday July 19, 2013 - 07:33:00 AM

I live in a PDA, and I'm concerned about GHG, but the FPI and RHNA clearly forget that PM and TAC at more concentrated rates required by ABAG will kill those of us who live in TOAH. Human beings have UGB, too, unless we all give up and live in HOVs. 

[To decode, read this.]

Trayvon Martin

By Tejinder Uberoi
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 09:49:00 PM

The unarmed African-American teen, Martin, was walking back to his father’s house after buying candy at a nearby store – a perfectly innocent and non-threatening activity. This was confirmed by a police report which noted there was "no indication that Trayvon Martin was involved in any criminal activity at the time of the encounter and should not have been accosted.” The police dispatcher specifically prohibited Zimmermann from approaching Martin. Ignoring police appeals, Zimmermann precipated an altercation and an innocent victim was murdered in cold blood. Responding to intense public pressure the police finally arrested Zimmermann after 44 long days. 

The verdict is a travesty of a flawed criminal justice system that refused to treat the murder as a crime and has now left a vigilante a free man. 

The system of racist brutality carried out against poor people and people of color in communities from Florida to New York to California to Texas and elsewhere is an affront to all Americans. Martin’s tragic death follows a long pattern of police brutality against unarmed black youth such as Oscar Grant, Alan Blueford and Manuel Diaz and countless others. 

The ‘Stand your Ground’ Law is a throw-back to the Wild West days when the fastest gunslinger lived. This a barbaric law and should be repealed. 

The Zimmerman verdict will imperil all Americans, especially black teens who will no longer feel safe in the ‘land of the free and home of the brave.’

The Postal Service Decision to Sell Historic Downtown Berkeley Post Office

By Councilmember Jesse Arreguin
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 09:12:00 PM

I am deeply disappointed to receive news of the final decision of the United States Postal Service to sell the Berkeley Main Post Office. Their decision ignores the will of our community to find a sensible solution, and opts for the easy way out by auctioning off our culture and heritage to the highest bidder. 

Throughout the process they never seriously considered community comments, and arguably deprived the public of the opportunity for additional comment and review by classifying the decision as “Relocation” and not as a “Closure,” which is what it really is. 

Despite statements that the USPS needs to sell the building to address financial challenges, the Postal Service did not adequately consider alternatives to the sale, and ultimately selling a building that USPS already owns in exchange for renting high value commercial space in Downtown is like selling your car for gas. It’s more than short-sighted.

Whose Ground Is It, Anyway?

By Steve Martinot
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 09:08:00 PM

The Travesty goes like this.

The grounds for Zimmerman's acquittal were that he shot someone, and killed him. Pure and simple.

The grounds for Trayvon Martin's having been killed is that he decided to defend himself against someone stalking him.

Does it make sense? No. Is it true? Yes.

There's nothing to understand. That's just the way it is. But if we do want to understand it, we have to look at the "role model." Or rather, at The Role Model.

The Role Model is the US, the War Making Power. 

The US walks (drives, flies, shoots and bombs its way) into another country under fabricated excuses, and considers anyone who tries to defend their country against this as an aggressor. Hence, Guantanamo is filled with prisoners, never charged with anything because the only thing they did was try to defend Afghanistan against a US invasion. Trayvon Martin is dead for the same reason – that is, Zimmerman invaded his space (acting like the US). With a role model like that, you can't go wrong. Right? 

To act in self-defense is to be the aggressor. Just ask Marissa Alexander. She has a restraining order against her estranged husband. He invades her house and threatens her. She goes out to the garage to get her gun, and comes back into the house to expel this unwanted invader from it. He approaches her, she fires a warning shot into the ceiling, the invader leaves, and she is sentenced to 20 years in prison for attempted murder. She couldn't claim she was standing her ground because she is a black woman. The fact that this happened in her house meant that she was the aggressor. The judge said that she could not claim self-defense because she left the house and came back in, which made her the aggressor. Had she been acting in self-defense, he said, she would have fled. Her estranged husband, violating a restraining order with the same impunity that the US violates international law in invading countries and torturing prisoners, is the one who can claim to be the victim, standing his ground in her house, which is why she is accused of attempted murder. 

Trayvon Martin is walking along, minding his own business, which is why he cannot claim his space of privacy as his ground. The ground belongs to the invader, the one who aggressed against the space of Trayvon Martin's privacy, and stands on it. The one whodefends his space becomes the aggressor. 

Have I got that right? Whoever defends their space is a criminal, an aggressor (which is why Trayvon Martin is dead), while whoever invades that space and stands his ground can claim self-defense, and kill with impunity. Racially profiling a black teenager in a hoodie means he is a foreigner in his own space. We have prisons in Guantanamo for such people (unless we kill them first). 

War is the role model. For the last 60 years, the US has waged wars of aggression, bombing other countries and landing troops they have trained to be killers on foreign soil – Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan – while referring to each invasion as "self-defense." 

Invasion is self-defense. Self-defense is aggression. Racialization is equality. Unless you are the racialized. 

Zimmerman's ground, the ground he claimed, didn't belong to him. He was receiving stolen goods. You know how you steal land from people who do not see it as property? You turn it into property. You mark out a boundary, write that boundary down on a piece of paper called a deed, and sell it. You cannot steal land by picking it up and putting it in your pocket. You steal land by turning into a commodity. It is a juridical trick, like acquitting a man of manslaughter after he has just slaughtered a man. 

Oh, and one more thing to commodify the land, to steal it. You have to stand on it. 

Standing your ground is a colonialist notion, since the ground is not "yours." Not only is it not yours, it is a social space in which ownership cannot be claimed. 

Disputes between individuals are personal things, not spatial. To make them spatial is to make them territorial. Any claim to the territory has no legitimacy other than that of force or criminality. Or in other words, colonialism. For Zimmerman to have stood "his" ground is already to be a criminal. Which is enough to get you exonerated of any crime in a colonialist society. Colonialism depends on it. 

A beautiful thing happened at the demonstration in Oakland against The Zimmerman Travesty (two days after it happened). We, the colonized (yes, I make common cause under that name), met at the usual place, the plaza whose popular name commemorates the exercise of the police state that occurred at "Fruitvale Station." 

You know why this is a police state? Because you can't stand your ground against the police. They are the invaders against whom all others are aggressors. The slightest gesture of dignity or self-respect will get you beaten to the ground, arrested for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer, and possibly killed. Guess who the police arrested at the demonstration I am speaking about. A photographer, plying his trade. 

Anyway, there appeared at this demonstration a small band of the colonized on bicycles – bicycles tricked out with fancy wheels and decorations, and music playing. And just as the march was to start, they rode into the intersection, coordinated and circling around in it, stopping traffic in all directions. Taking back the land by not standing on it but moving. The motion, like dance, was powerful because it cannot be commodified. Only cars can stand their ground (i.e. colonize) on that land. Or cops – who arrived a few minutes later. These guys on bikes just rode circles around them, so that all the cops could do was take over the intersection, which meant taking over the task of stopping traffic in all directions. 

It happened again and again, until it finally happened on the expressway. Bikes. And photographers. And we, the colonized, dancing behind them to their music. 

Only the totally naïve would believe that Trayvon Martin attacked Zimmerman, instead of dancing around his stalking. There was a photo of Zimmerman with blood on his face, which surfaced three weeks after the event. Had the picture been made on the night of the murder, it would have been in every newspaper's front page the next day. It took three weeks to produce it. It didn't look like Photoshop, but you never can tell. 

All that happened not because Trayvon Martin is black. No, we are no longer permitted to play that race card. There is a whole slew of Supreme Court decisions that legitimize profiling. Please see Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow, for a partial list, complete with explanations in laymen's language. Trayvon Martin wasn't stalked and shot because he was black. He was stalked and shot because Zimmerman is white. It is the fact that Trayvon Martin could be stalked and shot by Zimmerman with impunity that makes him black. The DA and the AG assisted Zimmerman, in a cabal of jurisprudence, with the jury carrying the ball the rest of the way, because Zimmerman is white. It is that cabal that makes Trayvon Martin black. Pure and simple. 

OMG, my deepest apologies. I've got this all wrong. Its not that the US invasions of other countries is the role model for Zimmerman. Not at all. It’s the Zimmerman's of the country that are the role model for the US government.

Warkentin on Plan Bay Area

By Charlie Brown
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 09:16:00 PM

I have read Vivian Warkentin's article under "Public Comment" re: Plan Bay Area - A shocking Theft of our Democracy (June 28, 2013). Ms. Warkentin is a good writer and successfully condenses a very complex issue. Now Steinberg's Senate Bill 1, which passed the CA Senate and is before the Assembly, deserves attention. This Bill strengthens the Plan and, worse, puts property taxes at the discretion of an unelected regional body to fund the Plan. To add insult to injury, the Bill also authorizes the "taking" of land for development without the necessity of applying what constitutes the standard for "blight" designations. I hope Ms. Warkentin does an article on Senate Bill 1. Talk about shocking people out of their doldrums!  



New: ECLECTIC RANT: Time for the FCC to Re-Examine Its Retransmission Consent Rules

By Ralph E. Stone
Wednesday July 31, 2013 - 04:08:00 PM

Imagine not being able to watch "Person of Interest," "The Good Wife," "NCIS," and other programs on CBS or Showtime. But satellite customers like me as well as cable customers may not be able to have uninterrupted access to the major four (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox) because the 1992 Cable Act requires pay TV providers to get broadcaster consent to carry the station and, since there is no limit on what broadcasters can charge in retransmission fees, pay TV providers can either pay what is asked or lose access to these networks -- a black out. 

"Retransmission consent," by the way, is a provision of the 1992 U.S. Cable Television Protection and Competition Act that requires cable operators and other multichannel video programming distributors to obtain permission from broadcasters before carrying their programming. In exchange, a broadcaster may propose that the operator pay cash to carry the station or ask for any other form of consideration. The cable operator, of course, may refuse the broadcaster's proposal and not carry the programming. 

Presently CBS is in intense negotiations with Time Warner Cable (TWC), demanding $2 per month for each TWC customer its stations reach, about a 100 percent increase over the current contract. TWC has about 3.5 million customers, primarily in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas. If an agreement is not reached, TWC customers will be unable to watch CBS programming. This may not be too important in the summer, the time for reruns, but with the football season starting in September, CBS' leverage increases. 

The July 29, 2013 deadline for reaching an agreement was extended until August 2. 

Broadcasters usually have the advantage in such negotiations because a cable system is prohibited by law from offering broadcast channels à la carte. It cannot just pay a broadcaster for just those subscribers that choose to get broadcast programming via cable or by satellite instead of over-the-air. All broadcast stations are entitled to be carried on the "basic tier," and all cable subscribers are required to buy the basic tier in addition to whatever other programming they want. What's more, local broadcasters have a legally-protected local monopoly on national content they might have nothing to do with creating. Broadcasters get protections beyond what could be enforced by contract. Thus, cable systems cannot try to strike a deal with anyone else.  

According to the American Television Alliance, a coalition of industry and public interest groups, retransmission fees have increased from $216 million to nearly $2.4 billion in just six years. Fees are estimated to more than double by 2018. Of course, these costs are passed on to consumers. 

In addition, these same broadcast networks own most of the cable channels and link their carriage with broadcast channels, making it harder for new, independent networks to get their foot in the door. Nothing stops broadcasters from adding new cable channels, pushing out minority-owned or community-based channels. 

The CBS/TWC negotiations raise a number of larger issues. That is, the state of the media and the communications marketplace. Why, for example, should cable or satellite systems have to pay for broadcast stations at all. These broadcasters are leveraging their government-granted monopolies to force cable and satellite systems to carry their properties. 

Clearly, it is time for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stand up to the intense lobbying by broadcasters who want to keep the status quo and adopt rules to protect consumers from rising fees and open up lineups for independent and minority-owned and community-based channels. After all the FCC has had an open proceeding to consider such rules since 2011.  

New: DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Turkey: Uprising’s Currents Run Deep

By Conn Hallinan
Monday July 29, 2013 - 08:35:00 PM

For the time being, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyio Erdogan—with the liberal use of brutal police tactics and massive amounts of tear gas that killed four people and injured more than 8,000— appears to have successfully crushed demonstrations aimed at blocking the demolition of Gezi Park in central Istanbul and has weathered a similar outbreak in the country’s capital, Ankara. 

But the upsurge was never just about preserving green space, and the picture conjured up by most the Western media—secular Istanbul liberals vs. a popular Prime Minister backed by a conservative religious majority based in Turkey’s Anatolian hinterlands—was always an over simplification of the grievances behind the unrest. 

Nor are those grievances the kind that are easily dispersed by clubs and gas, and the “popularity” of the Erdogan government may be shallower and more fragile than it appears. According to Turkey’s MetroPOLL research center, Erdogan’s popularity has dropped from 60.8 percent to 53.5 percent. 

Certainly the demonstrations around Gezi Park reflect tensions between secular forces and Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP). In the months leading up to the outbreak, the AKP-dominated parliament passed laws restricting the use of alcohol and tobacco, public kissing, and abortion, and the Prime Minister called on mothers to have three children. The Turkish daily Zaman found that 54.4 percent of the population “thought the government was interfering in their lifestyle.” 

While the demonstrations may have begun with secular youth in Istanbul, according to Kemel Dervis, former Turkish economic affairs minister, it is now a “social movement” embracing the whole country and includes “observant Muslims, mid-career professionals, factory workers and many others.” 

The unrest gripping Turkey has less to do with headscarves and Islam than with politics and economics, fueled by a growing discomfort with the AKP’s policies of privatization, its push to centralize authority in the hands of the country’s executive branch, and its silencing of the media. The three are not unrelated. 

A case in point was the AKP’s recent move to turn the authority of the Chamber of Engineers and Architects—a group that opposed the commercial development of Gezi Park and challenged the government with a lawsuit—over to the Ministry of Environment and Development, effectively sidelining the Chamber. Private developers close to the AKP were then handed the contract for razing the park and building a mall modeled after an Ottoman barracks. 

Suppression of the media doesn’t just involve tossing journalists in jail, although the government has jailed more journalists than Iran and China combined. It is also about a culture of mutual back scratching between media owners and the AKP. 

According to Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar, “Turkey’s mainstream media is owned by “moguls who operate in other sections of the economy, like telecommunications, banking and construction,” and that support for the AKP translates into lucrative “public works contracts, including huge urban construction projects in Istanbul.” 

For instance, the owners of the news channel NTV discontinued a popular publication (also called NTV), because it ran a cover story on the history of Gezi Park. NTV is owned by the Dogus Group, which recently won a $700 million government contract to develop Istanbul’s old port for tourism, real estate and commercial shops. 

Turning public lands over to private developers has long been a central plank in the AKP’s approach to governance. In May 2011, the Erdogan government was granted the right to bypass parliament and make laws by decree for a period of six months. In August, the AKP dissolved the independent commissions overseeing the environment and “decreed” all such decisions now rested with the Ministry of Environment and Urban Development. According to Asli Igsiz, a professor of Middle East Studies at New York University, this meant that the environment was now at “the mercy of urban developers.” 

The Erdogan government is currently trying to pass a “Preservation of Nature and Biodiversity” bill that would dissolve independent watchdog commissions and hand all authority over national parks over to the Ministry of Forestry and Waterworks. If passed, the bill would essentially open 12,000 national parks, heritage sites and forests to “development, even the construction of nuclear and conventional power plants and factories,” according to Igsiz. 

The AKP’s push for privatization is consistent with conservative, business-orientated platforms of the Muslim Brotherhood—of which the Turkish party is a branch —throughout the Middle East. In the year that the Brotherhood dominated the Egyptian government, it sold off state-owned industries at bargain basement prices, resulting in the widespread layoff of workers. Erdogan has done much the same thing, earning the ire of Turkey’s trade union movement. 

On June 17, the Confederation of Public Workers (KESK) and the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), representing 800,000 Turkish workers, struck to protest police brutality and demand the resignation of the government. “Freedom loving laborers who are striking a claim on their future” are taking to the streets throughout the country, a joint union statement read, to protest the “AKP, which has transformed [the] country into a hell by inserting its authoritarian practices.” 

The widespread participation of trade unionists in the Turkey demonstrations has largely been ignored by the Western press, which also failed to report similar support by Egyptian trade unions—particularly those in textile and cotton—for the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and, more recently, Mohamad Morsi. 

Erdogan is still popular in Turkey, but that popularity has thinned and largely rests on the AKP keeping the economy running smoothly and coming to some kind of agreement to end the long-running war with its Kurdish population. 

But there is trouble on the horizon for the economy. The growth rate has dropped, and, while the AKP has overseen a dramatic rise in living standards over the past decade, the economy has cooled, income is stagnant, and the demonstrations have spooked the stock market and foreign investors. The stock market plunged 10.47 percent on June 3, and, as Tim Ash of Standard Bank told the Financial Times, “Simply put on a risk-rewards basis, Turkey does not appear to offer convincing values at present, and investors would be well advised to adopt a cautious approach.” 

Even a peace agreement with the Kurds appears to be in danger. 

According to the Guardian (UK), Ankara has flooded the Kurdish region with security forces, military camps, and checkpoints, in an effort to shut down one of the area’s major economic activities: smuggling. 

But after 30 years of war and some 40,000 deaths, the region’s economy is in ruins, and smuggling is sometimes the only economic activity left to the Kurds. “People here feel they are under siege,” Nazif Ataman, a Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party member told the Guardian. “The military controls are reminiscent of war. We lack everything here: schools, hospitals, factories. Peace has come, but the government only invests in security.” 

And, under pressure from Turkish nationalists, Erdogan has refused to consider two core Kurdish demands: that the Kurds be allowed to use their own language for education, and that the 10 percent threshold for entering parliament be reduced. Kurds make up about 10 percent of Turkey’s population and are concentrated mostly in the country’s east 

At the very time that Kurds in Iraq and Syria are increasingly autonomous from their central governments, the Turkish government is cracking down. On July 19, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) gave the Turkish government a “final warning” to “act quickly” and take “concrete and practical steps” to reach a peace agreement. 

Lastly, the AKP’s support for the insurgency against the Assad regime in Syria is increasingly unpopular among Turks. The AKP pushed its Egyptian counterpart to back the insurgency, which in part led to the recent coup in Cairo. It was Morsi’s called for a jihad against Damascus that helped propel the Egyptian Army’s move against the Brotherhood government. Egypt’s new foreign minister has already distanced Egypt from Morsi’s all out support for overthrowing Assad. Will the Muslim Brotherhood’s fall in Egypt reverberate in Turkey? It might. 

In the meantime, anti-AKP activists are continuing their campaign, one in which ridicule of Erdogan—he has a thin skin—has emerged as a tactic. Thus the “Alcoholic Unity League” (more than 80 percent of Turks do not drink) has joined with the “Looters Solidarity Front (Erdogan referred to demonstrators as “looters”). Despite water cannons, rubber bullets, and gas, the Turks have kept a sense of humor. 

But issues that fueled the May and June protests are hardly a laughing matter, and they are not about to quietly disappear. 

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



THE PUBLIC EYE: Racism in America: The Killing of Trayvon Martin

By Bob Burnett
Friday July 19, 2013 - 07:31:00 AM

When Barack Obama was elected President, many of us were hopeful that it signaled an end to widespread racism. We were naïve. George Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict indicates how much work remains. 

From the perspective of a white man born and raised on the Left Coast, race relations have improved. When I was a child there was de facto segregation throughout California. My parents didn’t know any people of color. Now there are blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in my Berkeley neighborhood. I have people of color in my extended family. 

Despite the progress that has been made, my black, Hispanic, and Asian friends continue to tell harrowing tales of racism. There are large swaths of the US where they are afraid to travel. Blatant racism has been replaced by covert racism. 

The elements of the George Zimmerman trial seemed straightforward: Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, was walking home when George Zimmerman, a Caucasian adult, pursued him. There was a struggle and Zimmerman shot Martin dead. It seemed that Zimmerman was guilty, at the least, of Manslaughter. Certainly if the roles had been reversed, if it had been Martin who pursued and shot Zimmerman, Martin would have been found guilty, at the least, of Manslaughter. 

The Zimmerman verdict indicates there are two different standards of justice in America: one for whites and another for blacks. Attorney Judd Legum detailed the consequences: 

1. A black male born in 2001 has a 32% chance of spending some portion of his life in prison. A white male born the same year has just a 6% chance. 2. In major American cities, as many as 80% of young African-American men have criminal records. 3. African-Americans who use drugs are more than four times as likely to be incarcerated than whites who use drugs. African Americans constitute 14% of the population and 14% of monthly drug users. But African-Americans represent 34% of those arrested for a drug offense and 53% of those sentenced to prison for a drug offense. 4. In seven states, African Americans constitute 80% or more of all drug offenders sent to prison. 5. Black students are three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. One in five black boys receive an out-of-school suspension. Education Secretary Arne Duncan who commissioned the study, said “The undeniable truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.” 6. Black youth who are referred to juvenile court are much more likely to be detained, referred to adult court or end up in adult prison than their white counterparts. Blacks represented 28% of juvenile arrests, 30% of referrals to juvenile court, 37% of the detained population, 35% of youth judicially waived to criminal court and 58% of youth admitted to state adult prison. 7. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.

Eighteen days before the Zimmerman verdict, the Supreme Court struck down the cornerstone provision of the Voting Rights Act. In her dissent, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed 

The focus of the Voting Rights Act had properly changed from ‘first-generation barriers to ballot access’ to ‘second-generation barriers’ like racial gerrymandering and laws requiring at-large voting in places with a sizable black minority.
Voting discrimination has morphed just as racial prejudice has taken new forms. “Jim Crow” racism has become structural racism. 


Many have called for the Department of Justice to review the Zimmerman-Martin case and that should be done. But the Zimmerman verdict and the Supreme Court ruling must serve as a wakeup call for progressives. Racism is alive and well in America. We need to redouble our efforts to build a just and equitable society. 

It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. gave his memorable I Have A Dream speech in Washington DC. His words are as applicable today as they were then 

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality… We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one… We cannot be satisfied so long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote; and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing to vote for. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer famously observed, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” There won’t be true democracy in the United States until blacks and whites, and citizens of every color, are on equal footing. Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. 

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

THE PUBLIC EYE: Whatever Happened to the Women’s Movement?

By Bob Burnett
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 09:50:00 PM

Hillary Clinton will likely be the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and the odds-on favorite to become the 45th President. Nonetheless, while over the last sixty years there’s been a lot of civil-rights progress in the US, women remain second-class citizens. Whatever happened to the women’s movement? 

Historians say the American women’s movement has gone through three stages. The first focused on women’s suffrage. The second stage began in the sixties – about the time Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique – and lasted into the eighties. It focused on gender inequality. The third stage arose in the nineties as a reaction to the perceived failures of the second stage, in particular the lack of inclusion of women of color. 

On the one hand women have made progress in America. There are more females as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, 21, than there were 60 years ago. More women go to college than do men. And women live longer

On the other hand more women live in poverty than do men. And despite years of protest and countless lawsuits, women still earn less than men when they do comparable work: “Women on average make only 77 cents to every dollar earned by men.“ And despite the accomplishments of women like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, politics is still dominated by white men. (Since 2010 the number of female elected officials has declined.) 

From the perspective of a straight white guy perched on the left coast, there seem to be three reasons why the women’s movement hasn’t produced gender equity. 

First, at the same time women were struggling to gain their rightful place in American society, there has been a horrendous class war. Since the Reagan presidency conservatives have waged war on the middle class. Inequality rose as middle-class income and wealth declined. 

Income inequality became the dominant social issue and drained energy and resources from the women’s movement. Many women who in the sixties might have gone to a university class or a consciousness-raising group were forced to take a second job. Women’s equity issues didn’t go away but they were shoved into the background by deteriorating economic circumstances for the 99 percent. 

Second, in their drive to promote corporate capitalism and turn the US into a plutocracy, conservatives targeted the women’s movement. Modern conservative political strategy dates from the 1971 Lewis Powell memorandum that called upon the US Chamber of Commerce and corporations to become more involved in politics. As a consequence, corporations and rich conservatives spent millions developing a conservative strategy to take over America. They argued that a liberal attack on traditional values had caused most of America’s problems. Republicans became adept at mobilizing resentment and in campaign after campaign Republicans have fueled the anger of lower and middle-class white men and redirected it to fictional groups, such as promiscuous women who supposedly want abortion on demand. Tom Frank described this process in What’s the Matter with Kansas: economic conservatives distracted social conservatives with inflammatory social issues in order to get their votes and keep them from noticing the life-threatening problems caused by conservative economic policies. As University of California Professor George Lakoff explained: there is now an overriding “conservative moral logic” that is inherently patriarchal: “The idealized conservative family is structured around a strict father.” Conservatives promoted sexism both as a way of securing white male votes and keeping women as second-class citizens. 

Third, the mainstream media continued to promote sexist images of women. Powell argued that conservatives had to manipulate the media. This led to the rise of Fox News, conservative radio commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, the neutering of much investigative journalism, and a steady increase in sexist images of women. A recent study by the Parents Television Council found, 

An examination of 238 sitcoms and dramas airing during four weeks in 2011 and 2012 found a third of the episodes included content that "rose to the level of sexual exploitation" of females
This year’s Academy Awards host, Seth MacFarlane, opened with the sexist ditty We Saw Your Boobs

Civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer famously observed, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” There won’t be true democracy in the United States until men and women are on equal footing. 

Progressives must acknowledge the reason the women’s movement hasn’t achieved all of its objectives is because the movement hasn’t had the whole-hearted support of men. Progressive males have to adopt women’s issues as their issues. For example, unfettered access to reproductive health services is not exclusively a women’s issue; it’s a human rights issue that impacts all of us. As another example, a giant step towards ending economic inequality is guaranteeing equal pay for women. 

The presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton will be an opportunity for progressives to redefine their agenda so that so-called women’s issues are given the attention and resources they deserve. 

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




SENIOR POWER: Senior Moments in the Dark

By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 09:18:00 PM

Of the many negative stereotypes that exist about older adults, the most common is that we are forgetful, senile and prone to so-called "senior moments." In fact, research from the USC Davis School of Gerontology reveals that, while cognitive processes do indeed decline with age, simply reminding older adults about ageist ideas exacerbates their memory problems. It is an extension of the idea of "stereotype threat" — that when people are confronted with negative stereotypes about a group with which they identify, they tend to self-handicap and underperform. In so doing, they inadvertently confirm the negative stereotypes they were worried about in the first place. 

Several films thought to appeal to older audiences, or films with themes closely related to aging, have been nominated for Oscars and other awards. The AARP Movies for Grownups Awards began as a magazine feature 12 years ago. The 2013 Awards include these two, available as DVD’s and in libraries’ collections: Bernie, for best comedy, with Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black; and Ben Lewin, best screenwriter, for The Sessions. They are all winners, but it is difficult (for me) in many instances to ken the special appeal for older audiences or their having themes closely related to aging. 



Bernhardt "Bernie" Tiede II (born 1958) is a convicted American murderer who confessed to shooting wealthy, East Texas widow-woman Marjorie Nugent. Forty-four year old Thomas Jacob "Jack" Black is an American actor, comedian, writer, and musician who plays at being Bernie Tiede‎ in the semi-factual motion picture titled Bernie.  

Carthage is a small East Texas town whose “notable people” include singer Tex Ritter and mortician Bernie Tiede. East Texas runs along the western border of Louisiana. Carthage is on a line with Shreveport, Louisiana. In the 2000 Census, Carthage males’ median income was $33,080, and females $21,473. 

In 1998, journalist Skip Hollandsworth published an article about the Bernie Tiede affair in the Texas Monthly. His clever title, "Midnight in the Garden of East Texas," relied on John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a 1994 non-fiction best-seller and later a film directed by Clint Eastwood. 

Bernie relies heavily on LOL humor -- little old ladies. Mind… I’m not saying they’re not lifelike! They are caricatures that people from a-way might consider parody. Be sure to view the DVD Special Features’ deleted scenes, an interview with the real Bernie (in prison), and Carthaginians auditioning. Was there (is there) really a “MRS. SENIOR CARTHAGE” competition? (Yes) Did Bernie’s qualifications consist of a Louisiana “associate in mortuary science”? Why does Shirley MacLaine make a picture that suppresses her talents? Possible reasons: she’s an old (79) woman who likes to work. 


Mark O’Brien was a Catholic poet and journalist who lived in Berkeley, California. His work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Whole Earth Review. He spent most of his life in an iron lung. The Sessions is adapted from his essay (The Sun, May 1990) about having sex for the first time at the age of thirty-six. He was also the subject of the 1996 Academy Award–winning documentary Breathing Lessons. He died in July 1999 from post-polio syndrome. 

The Sessions (originally titled The Surrogate) is a 2012 American independent drama film written and directed by Ben Lewin. "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate” was about a poet paralyzed from the neck down due to polio, who hired a sex surrogate in order to lose his virginity. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt star as O'Brien and sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene, respectively. Cohen-Greene was a consultant to the film. Local scenes are appealing. The power goes off in the middle of the night (think iron lung). 


Probably the film dealing with aging that has received the most attention recently is 2012’s Amour. (Not the 1971 Amour film made in Denmark.) This award-winning, Austrian film is set in France and is not a Hollywood product. Amour is about a devoted couple, both music teachers, married for many years. It begins with a brigade of firefighters breaking down the door of an apartment in Paris to find the corpse of Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) lying on a bed, adorned with cut flowers. 

The wife had had a stroke that began the painful, irreversible decline. The film is based on an identical situation that happened in writer-director Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke's family. The issue that interested him most was how to manage the suffering of someone you love. 

Emmanuelle Riva, 85, is the oldest person ever nominated for a best actress Oscar. Her role in Amour shows how we, the older audience, are changing the face of cinema. Amour has won awards not usually possible for “small” foreign-language films lacking much recognition-- the Cannes Film Festival, the British Academy of Film and Television Awards, critics’ organizations. Amour also has Oscar nominations for best picture, best director, best screenplay and best foreign film! It has played in the San Jose area; although not in libraries, the DVD can be ordered for purchase from Amazon. 







On Thursday, August 1. 1:30 – 2:45 P.M. at the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave. 510-526-3720, speakers from the Oakland Family Search Library will show genealogists of all levels how to get the most out of their ancestry searches. This talk will focus primarily on discovering sources of information, learning how to search the records, using card catalogs and on-line indices, and exploring FamilySearch.org and ancestry.com. Reservations not required. For more information, call the Alameda County Library’s Older Adult Services at 510-745-1491. 

In June 2013, the Administration on Aging published a Notice of Proposed Rule-  

Making in the Federal Register to strengthen and clarify how State Long-Term Care Ombudsmen (SLTCO) implement and operate their programs. SLTCO and their representatives resolve complaints and advocate for the rights of residents in nursing facilities, assisted living, and board and care facilities. There has been difficulty in fully implementing the program, causing inconsistency among states in the quality of Ombudsman services provided to residents. Proposed rule topics include: 

* Responsibilities of the State Ombudsman, State Unit on Aging, and Representatives of the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman related to the program operations 

* Consistent approaches to resolving complaints on behalf of residents 

* Appropriate role of ombudsmen in resolving abuse complaints 

* Conflicts of Interest-processes for identifying and remedying conflicts so that residents have access to effective Ombudsman services. 

Go to Medline and read more about Ombudsman services and Patient rights. As a patient, you have certain rights. Some are guaranteed by federal law, such as the right to get a copy of your medical records, and the right to keep them private. Many states have additional laws protecting patients, and healthcare facilities often have a patient bill of rights. An important patient right is informed consent. This means that if you need a treatment, your health care provider should give you the information you need to make a decision. Many hospitals have patient advocates who can help you if you have problems. Many states have an ombudsman office for problems with long term care. Your state's department of health may also be able to help. 


















New: ECLECTIC RANT: Will Zimmerman Face a Second or Third Round of Litigation?

By Ralph E. Stone
Tuesday July 30, 2013 - 09:44:00 AM

The world now knows that George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, was acquitted of shooting and killing Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. The teen was walking inside a gated community in Sanford, Florida, where he and his father were visiting his father’s fiancée. 

The prosecution failed to convince a six-women jury that Zimmerman had “a depraved mind without regard for human life” when he shot Martin, which was required for a second-degree murder conviction. Prosecutors also failed to show that Zimmerman killed without lawful justification, which was required for a manslaughter conviction. 

The NAACP in conjunction with MoveOn have an online petition asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to bring federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman. Reportedly, over 50,000 have signed the petition. 

The FBI did conduct an investigation of the shooting, but halted its investigation, deferring to Florida’s investigation and ultimate prosecution of Zimmerman. However, on July 15, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder reaffirmed there is an “open investigation into the death of Trayvon Martin.” 

If the DOJ does charge Zimmerman, it will be under the federal hate crimes acts, which states in pertinent part, ”Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person.” 

There are a number of obstacles, however, facing the DOJ if it decides to charge Zimmerman with a hate crime. First, the DOJ must establish that Zimmerman “willfully” killed Martin. In criminal law statutes, willfully ordinarily means with a bad purpose or criminal intent. This is a much more difficult standard to establish than for a second degree murder or manslaughter conviction. 

Additionally, the DOJ is usually very cautious where there is a state level trial. 

Finally, and most importantly, a key element in a hate crime is establishing racial bias or hatred on the part of Zimmerman. 

“‘Fucking punks. Those assholes, they always get away,’” said assistant state attorney John Guy using the same words that Zimmerman told a police dispatcher as he pursued Martin on the night of February 26, 2012. By saying these provocative words, was Zimmerman racially profiling Martin, or was Zimmerman referring to the spate of unsolved burglaries in the area where the culprits “always” got away with it? Regardless of the state court acquittal, many still believe Zimmerman’s actions were racially motivated. 

But consider that during the FBI’s own investigation conducted last year, agents interviewed Zimmerman’s co-workers, neighbors, and other acquaintances, including his ex-fiancée, and found no evidence of racial bias. The FBI further reported that Zimmerman comes from a mixed-race family and does volunteer work helping underprivileged African-American children. Not only does he have black relatives, he has also donated his time tutoring black children. 

Finally, lead Sanford police detective Chris Serino told the FBI that race was not behind the shooting. Rather, Serino believed Zimmerman’s action was based on Martin’s attire, the total circumstances of the encounter, and the previous burglaries in the community. Serino described Zimmerman as overzealous and as having a “little hero complex,” but not a racist. 

In effect, the FBI has already cleared Zimmerman of a hate crime based on racial bias or hatred which, of course, does not mean racism does not exist in the U.S. 

Given that there is no or conflicting evidence that Zimmerman had any intention of depriving Martin of any cognizable federal right, I would be very surprised if the DOJ filed a hate crime charge against him. 

A much more likely second round of litigation would be a civil action by the Martin family against Zimmerman. A good comparison is the O.J. Simpson case, where Simpson was acquitted in the criminal trial but successfully sued in a civil trial by the families of the deceased. 

The standard of proof in a civil trial is much lower and Zimmerman could be forced to testify. I am not sure the result would be any different in a civil trial, but Zimmerman could be found liable for the death of Martin.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Muddling Through Difficulties

By Jack Bragen
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 09:02:00 PM

Life is never perfect; it is often fraught with difficulty, and it refuses to conform to our wishes and our expectations. This seems true for all beings, yet truer if you are living with a severe mental illness. 

Those without mental illness might have other difficulties. For example, it is not an easy time for soldiers, who, if they survive, are coming back to the US with post traumatic stress and numerous other problems--not to mention permanent physical injuries. Other people are oppressed by socioeconomic problems, and never get a chance at a good education, or at an opportunity that would allow them to rise out of poverty. Still others must face terminal illnesses, in which case they are looking at impending, certain death. 

The point is, nearly everyone has their own set of difficulties. Many wish they could exchange the difficulties they experience for those of someone else. However, this does not change the basic predicament, which is, according to the Buddha, that "All Life is Suffering." 

However, Buddhism also states that all things are impermanent; this is a good thing. 

If one is having a difficult time in life, one should know that the difficulty will not last forever. Conditions could get better through luck, through being helped, through random probability or through one's own efforts. One can at least count on things not remaining the same. 

It may be helpful to clarify a difficult situation in one's mind in order to know what exactly is bothersome. When you can pinpoint the issue that causes emotional upset, and when you get a "map" of how it affects you (e.g. what part of the body is tensed up, and the specific thoughts that comprise the suffering) the issue can sometimes be set aside or can even be resolved on an emotional level. 

Sometimes one's path is difficult over a long stretch of time, but this does not mean that things will always be this way. If you gain understanding about what makes you unhappy, you then have the option of working to correct that thing, or accept it. It is harder to accept something that bothers you if you don't have clarity about what the thing is. This is where paper and pen come in handy. 

If the difficulty relates to the symptoms of mental illness, one should realize that the brain changes over time. A symptom that is foremost at present could get better over a longer period of time, or a better medication to treat it could be invented. 

If the difficulty is that of medication side effects, one should realize that side effects sometimes get less severe with time. The human mind is designed such that eventually you may learn to ignore a medication side effect that is constant. (This does not include Tardive Dyskinesia, which is awful but which doesn't have to ruin one's life.) 

If something in life is awful, it might help to just pay more attention to something else. If you have had a bad day, forget about it. You could watch your favorite TV program, or maybe go to the ice cream place and get a scoop of ice cream. I recommend "housewives" which is so mindless, so superficial, and so irrelevant that it will make you happy to be yourself. I also recommend Thrifty brand ice cream which is still available at Rite Aide. 

Life's difficulties arise periodically and usually, at some point, change. Sometimes you just have to muddle through a difficult period, and hope that things will be better in the future.

Arts & Events

Press Release: March with Families to Seek Justice in Trayvon Martin Case

Friday July 19, 2013 - 10:41:00 PM

Oakland neighbors, including families with young children, will gather in downtown Oakland Saturday morning to seek justice in the case of Trayvon Martin. 

The event was designed by East Bay moms with families with young children in mind: 

11 a.m.: Kids and parents gather to make signs outside at City Center/ 12th Street BART in Oakland 11:45 a.m.: "Mom's March" from BART to federal building, 1301 Clay noon- 3 p.m.: Join student-organized vigil at 1301 Clay Street 

"Families look out for each other," reads the event's Facebook invitation. "And we know that when the system fails any of us; it fails us all." 

The sign-making and march is coordinated with a noon action organized by the Student March for Peace and Justice, a coalition of Bay Area youth activists and civil rights groups committed to the principles of nonviolent social change. 

“As youth, we are our greatest advocates,” said Justin Jones, 17, chairman of the organizing committee for the noon rally. “We are armed with an unparalleled wealth of passion and knowledge, and ultimately we must be the ones to change our communities.” 


Family sign-making and march 

Oakland Neighbors United 

Sara Steffens 




Student vigil 

Student March for Peace and Justice 

Justin Jones 

(510) 691-5089 


Film Review: Redemption Song: 20 Feet from Stardom--Now playing at the Shattuck Landmark

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 09:40:00 PM

The word is getting out. Morgan Neville's Sundance Festival stunner, 20 Feet from Stardom, is the must see/must feel movie of the summer. Even on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, I found the Landmark's screening room packed and the management promising refunds if there were no seats left. 

How engaging is this movie? Well, this is the first time I was so mesmerized by a film that I absolutely forgot to touch my popcorn. 

20 Feet from Stardom is a film for music lovers, rock fans, feminists, black activists, romantics, lefties and, generally, anybody with a working pair of eyes and a good set of ears. The audience at the Tuesday screening frequently burst into knowing laughter, broke into wild applause or just gasped astonished "Wows!" 

Director Morgan Neville's moving movie is a celebration of the human voice, a salute to resilience of the human spirit and a hard lesson in the unpredictable nature of the Fame Game. 

In a quick nod to history, the film demonstrates what a difference a decade made. Before the Sixties smashed headlong into the country's prevailing conservative, cultural piñata, a peak TV musical experience was a relaxed (i.e., "near-comotose") Perry Como blandly singing alongside three pert but zombie-like ladies. These network-approved white trios weren't really "backup singers," we are told. These gals were referred to as "readers" because they rehearsed their tunes clutching reams of sheets music. They performed their lines with cool precision, never once daring to lift so much as a foot off the floor. 

But when the revolutionary tides of the times began to flood the airwaves (radio first, then TV) with the Gideon's trumpet of Gospel abandon, the tumult unleashed a see-change and a hear-icane that changed the musical weather map forever. 

The newcomers were full of stomping, raw energy. These lads and ladies didn't need to bring along sheets of music: the music was already in their heads, their hearts, their souls. These were backup singers who understood how to pour gasoline on a song and tear up a stage. 

It is surprising to learn that the unheralded voices behind the megahits of Ray Charles, Ike Turner, Lou Reed, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Sting and so many other everlasting hits, belonged to a small group of anonymous "divas." 

20 Feet from Stardom does long-overdue justice to these women, the astonishing talents that rocked the music of the Sixties, the Seventies and beyond -- Patti Austen, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fisher, Darlene Love, Claudia Lennear, and Tata Vega. 


Neville's film underscores the fact that there are two paths in the world of power-rock. You can be part of a collective of back-up signers -- and that can be quite enough -- but, if you've got a certain hunger, there is the greater lure of that single spotlight that anoints the soloist. As director Neville puts it: "It's that tension between the 'we' and the 'I' that all of them do a dance with throughout their lives." 

Allegiance to the group is a beautiful thing but singing directly to an audience of thousands is transcendental. It's like the search for perfect love. And, too often, the search proves disappointing. 

These are women of awesome talent who know they possess phenomenal vocal "gifts." But despite producing solo albums and mounting sold-out solo tours, their careers inexplicably spun out in shallow waters. 

20 Feet from Stardom bubbles over with humor and occasional notes of pathos. It is heartbreaking when a singer recalls hearing a recording of her performance credited to another singer (Thank you, record producer Phil Spector). Another singer, fallen on hard times, recounts how she found herself listening to one of her hit songs playing on a radio as she did maid's work -- cleaning the bathroom in the sprawling home of a white employer. 

With this film, director Neville has given these extraordinary performers exactly what they so desperately sought and richly deserved -- national recognition as incomparable stars, worthy of sharing space within the constellation that includes Aretha, Ella, Etta, Nina, Diana, and Beyonce. 

Finally, their names are receiving the mainstream attention they have so long deserved. So grab a friend, buy a ticket (forget the popcorn) and put your hands together for the "divas." 

Film Review: How to Make Money Selling Drugs--Now playing at the Elmwood

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Thursday July 18, 2013 - 09:35:00 PM

How to Make Money Selling Drugs is a message film with a simple message: It's surprisingly easy to amass a fortune pushing pot and cashing in on cocaine. Director Matthew Cooke spells it out in Ten Easy Steps that are so simple even a school kid could do it. 

As a matter of fact, school kids do. One of the surprises of this film is that half of the dealers interviewed are white and many of them started dealing as fresh-faced teens. Bobby Carlton was a blond schoolyard pot-shop hotshot at 14. By 18 he was pulling in $50,000-a-day moving cocaine around the planet. 

Bay Area rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson recalls how he resorted to dealing drugs when he turned 8 years old and his mom was murdered. He was a bling-encrusted entrepreneur before he turned 12. 

The colorful cast includes a number of standouts. 

"Big John" Harriel grew up in a home with little-to-no food. Fed up with not being fed, he got busy. By the time he was 15, he was making $100 an hour selling drugs. 

Brian O'Dea (DEA, ironic, no?) once made $200 million selling 50 tons of marijuana but he takes greater pride in how he out-foxed the cops to do it. When he got a tip the shipment was going to be intercepted, he engineered a switch. When the cops swept in to open the boxes of contraband, instead of pot, they discovered crates containing pots of coffee and hundreds of complimentary donuts. 

Mike Walzman grew up in Los Angeles where he became the richest kid on his block by supplying cocaine to a thriving local market – his fellow teens living in Beverly Hills. 

"Freeway" Rick Ross was a crack dealer who was making $1 million a day before he turned 30 – and before he made the mistake of trying to sell 100kg of coke to an undercover agent. 

Barry Cooper made more than 100 drug busts during his career as a cop. Then, one day, after sampling a reefer, he quit the cop racket and went to work defending arrestees from crooked cops who planted drugs on innocent victims. 

Neill Franklin, a Maryland State cop who served on 17 different drug task forces, is now the Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). 

How to Make Money is basically a guy's film. If any woman ever made a career out of selling drugs, this film doesn't mention it. Nor does Cook explore the mechanics that keep the drug trade a male-only club. The only women to break through the film's testosterone curtain are actress/activist Susan Sarandon and Alexandra Natapoff, a law school professor and legal expert specializing in the art of snitching.  

Director Cooke is a rather colorful character in his own right. While a teenager, he bounced around the country working as an actor and a musician before forging a lucrative career making and selling fake Ids. 

In 1996, he returned to college and picked up a BA in filmmaking (magna cum laude, no less) and three years later, he raised $7 million to build the Internet's "first and only patented broadband search engine." In 2005, Cooke penned the screenplay for the hit film The Falcon and the Snowman with Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton. 

It was reading Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States that redirected Cooke's sense of what film could – and should -- do. He became interested in "telling the story from the people's perspective." That's the genius of How to Make Money: it takes time to listen to the real people behind the term "perps." And what could be more radical than daring to humanize "criminals"? 

"I think we're lead to believe we're a nation of two types: criminals and citizens," Cooke says but, in fact, "if we are divided about anything it's by two conversations – the truth Americans speak on the streets and the conversation between our commercial news and Washington elites." This idea of an "alien" Criminal Class is "blasted across our media – drowning the rest of us out." 

Washington and Big Media fail to focus on the fundamentals: The US is the world's biggest consumer of cocaine (40% of annual consumption). Pot is the country's most profitable crop ($36 billion a year). Since 1981, the federal drug-busting budget has expanded more than 16-fold to $25 billion a year. During that time period, police SWAT drug raids have ballooned from 3,000 to 50,000 a year. America boasts 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's jail inmates. Over this time period, the number of prisoners held for drug offenses has increase from ten percent to 25 percent of the prison population – and the majority are Latino and African-American. 

Final bit of contextual information: According to the Centers for Disease Control, the country's deadliest drugs are perfectly legal – alcohol kills around 47,000 Americans every year while cigarettes account for more deaths than all homicides, drug overdoses, car accidents and AIDs combined. The corporate "pushers" not only remain free, they enjoy lavish operating subsidies from Washington. 

Out in the poorest expanses of our country the drug black market offers one of the few accessible paths out of poverty.  

"This is not a war on drugs," Cooke argues, "It is a war on people, waged particularly against minorities and the poor. US drug policy costs the lives of users, dealers, law enforcers and the innocent." And, in the process, it enriches the powerful nexus of corporations and billionaires who profit from the continued expansion of the Prison-Industrial Complex – which feeds on "criminals" with the same ferocity the Military-Industrial Complex consumes "soldiers." 

As Cooke puts it: "My intention with this film is to empower the conversation we've been having on the streets. And to embolden viewers to challenge an issue that has long been taboo politically. In the wise words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 'Either we go up together or we go down together. Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.' That would be a dream come true."