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  Nancy Skinner's backers invite you to contribute to her campaign,.
Nancy Skinner's backers invite you to contribute to her campaign,.


New: Six Teens in Berkeley Arrested for Alleged Assault of 16-year-old Boy

Jeff Shuttleworth
Wednesday November 18, 2015 - 05:11:00 PM

Six teenage males have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder for allegedly assaulting a 16-year-old boy in Berkeley on Sunday, police said. 

The 16-year-old suffered life-threatening injuries in the attack and remains in critical condition at a hospital, Berkeley police spokesman Officer Byron White said today. 

Officers responded shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday to multiple calls about a group attacking someone on the ground in the 1200 block of Ashby Avenue near Mabel Street, White said. 

Officers who were nearby arrived quickly to find the 16-year-old boy unconscious on the pavement, according to White. 

While medical personnel attended to the teen, other officers spotted the group believed to be linked to the attack walking on Heinz Avenue toward San Pablo Avenue, White said. 

When officers attempted to detain the group, they fled by running into the neighborhood just west of San Pablo Avenue, White said. 

Officers immediately formed a perimeter around the area and conducted a block-by-block search for the suspects. They eventually located and arrested six teenagers in connection with the attack, he said. 

Police identified four of the suspects as three 18-year-olds from Berkeley -- Aaron Meredith, Emauj Roos and Danari Williams -- and 19-year-old Caleb Williams of Oakland. 

Police also arrested two juvenile boys, a 17-year-old from Berkeley and a 15-year-old from San Leandro. 

White said the case remains under investigation. Berkeley police are asking anyone with information about the crime to call the department at (510) 981-5741.

Updated: Capitelli for Mayor 2016 Committee Forming

Tuesday November 17, 2015 - 05:19:00 PM

It's official--sort of. Realtor Laurie Capitelli, who has represented District 5 in the Berkeley Hills for a number of years, filed papers yesterday with the Berkeley City Clerk indicating his intention to run for Mayor of Berkeley. His professional campaign treasurer is Linda Perry of San Leandro (not the Linda Perry who formerly lived in Berkeley), and a San Leandro bank, U.S. Bank, is listed as the designated repository of to-be-deposited campaign funds. There are rumors, as yet unconfirmed, that Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates plans to retire in mid-December, allowing Capitelli to be appointed in his place and to run subsequently as an incumbent. There has been no official announcement as yet from Capitelli.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, one of the council's three progressive members, who represents downtown Berkeley, has already announced that he will be a candidate for Mayor in 2016.

Homeless Attacks

Sheila Goldmacher
Tuesday November 17, 2015 - 09:50:00 AM

Thanks for putting things into context by delivering the past history of these 3 "representatives" of Berkeley city council and mayor. In this time of chaos everywhere we care to look, to hear from these politicians who do not represent the best of humanity hopefully reminds us of what we need to be mindful of. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you always. So many of us are just one catastrophe away from being homeless and these 3 fools are making the prospect even more likely in this city of luxury buildings, the only thing they can come up with. I hope we all remember their comments next year when some of them stand for re-election or ask to be considered for an even higher office. Time for the humans among us to stand for election and clean up the mess .

Ohlone Park Problems

Sasha Futran
Tuesday November 17, 2015 - 09:36:00 AM

In response to Alejandro Soto-Vigil “Practical Solutions to Problems of Homelessness,” I am in complete agreement that solutions to the problem need a thoughtful approach and that there are too few resources in Berkeley. 

The reprinted list of suggestions made at one of the meetings addressing the problems of the homeless in Ohlone Park that overflows into the neighborhood contains ideas both practical and not. The problem of the ever-growing homeless population in Berkeley doesn’t lend itself to facile and simplistic solutions. 

However, here’s the bottom line sentiment that came out of our neighborhood meetings: We need our park back for the use it was intended. We also need the surrounding neighborhood back and civil for those of us residing there. 

We’ve had enough of needles found scattered about, watching drug deals going down, observing bike “chop shops” and parts being sold. We’re tired of sometimes being threatened or dealing with people screaming in foul language at no one in particular. We want to be done with listening to and watching fights. The human feces, garbage, and abandoned belongings aren’t wanted.  

We’re tired of all that in our park, in front of our homes, and on our property as the behavior spills into the surrounding neighborhood. 

The wave of neighborhood break-ins in have to stop. 

Ohlone is a narrow park and backs up directly on homes. It was built by the city with a tot playground, exercise equipment, basketball court, soccer and baseball playing fields, community garden, and a dog park. It is used by all ages.  

We need to be safe there once again and in our neighborhood. The park needs to be used as intended by the city when created. 

One thing that became clear at the meetings -- that included city personnel providing service to the homeless-- is that there is a large homeless population in Berkeley and few staff or resources. That is a problem that needs to be dealt with and will take time and cost money. 

In the meantime, we need the problems at Ohlone Park and the immediate neighborhood resolved and safety reestablished. Enforcing existing law is a good place to start. 

Practical Solutions to Problems of Homelessness: An open letter to neighbors of Ohlone Park

Alejandro Soto-Vigil
Monday November 16, 2015 - 01:45:00 PM

Homelessness is a chronic problem in Berkeley and beyond. Whether it's our mentally ill, senior citizens, youth, veterans, or families. This problem affects too many people. I've seen our Ohlone neighbors show a great deal of compassion and sympathy for the plight of other human beings. 

Recently, I've seen several emails sent by a few council members indicating that there are only two items addressing homelessness on the November 17th Council agenda. The reality is that there are three. I write this because sometimes politics and personal attacks need to be pushed aside to address long standing community issues, like homelessness.  

Over the last two years, the Homeless Task Force, convened by Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, examined various aspects of homelessness and sought to find short and long term solutions. Item #24 City Manager Referral: Implementation of Tier One Recommendations from the Homeless Task Force is the Council's opportunity to move the well thought out short term solutions forward. In short, Item #24 seeks to:  

  • Expand Outreach Teams
  • Expand Mobile Crisis
  • Crisis Intervention Training
  • Public Restrooms
  • Storage Space
  • Winter Warming Centers
Item #27 Protecting our Parks from Unsafe, Unsanitary Conditions is an attempt to deal with our Parks and Ohlone specifically. As we support this item, we should support making amendments based on what neighbors expressed at the meeting.  

First, that the restrooms be permanent rather than the installation of more porta potties - we deserve better. Second, that police vehicle should not drive on our parks. We want cops on bikes to troubleshoot not intimidate. Police vehicles also invites a physically threat to people in the park. This could lead to conflict with mentally unstable people and it destroys our grass and landscapes. :-( 

Some other suggestions from the Ohlone meeting:  

  • Install more signage in key areas. Park hours, no smoking, park rules.
  • Install new trashcans AND recycling bins. We need many more trashcans, preferably rat proof and with lids. They need to be emptied regularly. Currently there are no places to recycle in the park.
  • Install biohazard needle bins in portable toilet areas. Neighbors have seen needles.
  • Fix the side walks. For seniors walking in the park it’s dangerous.
  • Install trash bag rolls. Homeless individuals and neighbors are willing to help clean up.
  • Make sure that 311 operator has homeless outreach number at their fingerprints.
  • Cutting the vegetation so that you can see all the way across the park.
  • Rethink rules about pets in shelters.
  • Improve cleanliness and accessibility of shelters.
  • More staff for outreach. Two staffers is not enough.
  • Coordinate with other cities.
  • Fenced encampment at the marina during the night.
  • Extend the community gardens along the fence.
  • All these new developments – find a way to increase affordable units. We need more affordable units in Berkeley.
Item #28 Improve Conditions on Our Community Sidewalks; Amending Berkeley Municipal Code Chapters 13.36 and 14.48 doesn't make much logical sense. The irony of the proposal is while we are dealing with significant problems in Ohlone Park and other parks, this proposal will push homeless people to our parks. The ordinances do not apply in city parks only to commercial sidewalks. This proposal just shifts people from place to place without solving the underlying causes, and will NOT reduce street homelessness. 

Point 1: No human wants to defecate or urinate in public. If the City provided permanent public restrooms 24/7 and people continued to defecate and urinate in public then a ordinance prohibiting would make sense.  

Point 2: When you see a homeless person with a cart, more likely than not, the cart contains all of their personal belongings. To mandate someone with a cart to move hour to hour and location to location, this proposed law is essentially a local trail of tears on homeless people. Guess where folks with carts in the commercial districts will go - to our Parks. 

Point 3: To pass an ordinance restricting homeless people from taking up two square feet with personal belongings doesn't make sense. We should get the storage units first, and then examine how well the program works before making legal restrictions. Will we need larger storage units? How about more units altogether? Where are the storage units going to be housed? What hours will they be accessible? Doing a pilot program makes sense.  

I understand that the council majority is seeking to address homelessness. However, without thoughtful planning and knowing the needs of homeless people they continue to move proposals forward that lack practicality.  

We all agree that working to curtail homelessness and problematic behavior is a top priority. In adopting policy, it is important to look at it from multiple angles. I look forward to seeing all of our Ohlone neighbors on Tuesday night.  




New: Stop Shifting the Burden of Berkeley's Policy Failures Onto Homeless People: An Open Letter to the Berkeley City Council (Public Comment)

Elisa Cooper
Monday November 16, 2015 - 01:20:00 PM

I'm writing to express my shock that Council Member Maio's laws to criminalize the homeless not only suddenly resurfaced on the 11/17 Council meeting agenda, but Council Members Bates, Capitelli, and Droste have rushed to co-sponsor these alarmist, counter-productive laws. 

Though the citizens of Berkeley rejected similar laws when tested by vote several times and dozens held out until 1am to reiterate that opinion the last time proposals to criminalize the homeless were slipped into the agenda, Council members seem to be determined to go out of their way to impose their knee-jerk urge to sweep homeless people under some rug. Ostensibly, Criminalization of the Homeless 5.0 is a response to a deluge of letters that Council Members received behind the scenes. However, it seems more likely that these letters were generated by an organized campaign from a few obsessed reactionaries. 

The crusader-in-chief against homeless people is John Caner, whose Big Development clients directly benefit from removing homeless people from the area around their properties (or, rather, pushing them into other districts). When Caner was up for re-appointment, numerous citizens testified at that City Council meeting that we objected to our tax money going to fund Caner's lobbying efforts, which don't reflect the opinions of the average taxpayer: we made a collective statement that Caner doesn't represent us. Yet Caner has continued to lobby for the benefits of real estate investors with impunity. It did not go unnoticed that Caner has recently been prevailing upon his mailing list to write Council Members to "improve conditions on our community sidewalks". 

Another appallingly anti-democratic campaign was recently organized on the online social network NextDoor, ring-led by another real estate professional. This effort is particularly sleazy because homeless people can't join NextDoor: they don't have a verifiable street address. Therefore, NextDoor permits homeless profiling by a few highly prejudiced people who are drawn to places where they can promote such views unopposed and construct an echo chamber that perpetuates the illusion of social consent. A number of people, including myself, have complained about the inaccurate and unchallenged homeless-bashing on NextDoor. I would bet this person whipped up the whole "public outcry" regarding Ohlone Park. 

The highly stereotyped images of homeless people propagated by hate-mongers like Caner and the NextDoor writer harm the whole spectrum of people who fall into homelessness: women and children fleeing abuse, working people who can't afford shelter on the pittance of minimum wage, disabled people who have been caught for years in SSI and VA backlogs or who can't afford shelter on their meager fixed incomes, panhandlers who need to beg to hang on to shelter and need cash for non-food necessities, people who could not access services because of a criminal record...etc. Regional homeless counts show the mentally ill and the drug-using "traveler" only constitute a fraction of the chronically homeless. In seeking to persuade society to withdraw compassion from a dehumanized caricature of homeless people, the Caners and Garcias of the world get away with depriving everyone - who might at any time find themselves driven into homelessness - of desperately needed aid. 

As has been pointed out to City Council in the past, most of the "behaviors" they claim to be seeking to curb are already illegal: the only reason for reiterating these laws is to advertise City Counsel's intent to enforce such laws, i.e. to proclaim allegiance to criminalization. Furthermore, in this latest attempt at criminalization, City Council craftily transfers enforcement powers to the arbitrary judgment of a "Traffic Engineer", who would not be trained in homeless issues and would not be checked by democratic processes. Beyond the anti-democratic aspects of putting a Traffic Engineer in charge of enforcing already legally-questionable laws against the homeless, the liability risk boggles the mind. Both HUD and the Federal Department of Justice have been sending strong signals that they intend to hold City's accountable for mistreating the homeless: the Department of Justice considers it a human right for people to be able to sleep in public spaces when no shelter is available, and HUD plans to make cities compete for funding on the basis of whether they've made adequate efforts to reduce homelessness.

Moreover, sandwiching punitive laws between bribes of shelter and services does not magically make them good laws. I doubt I'm the only person who feels demoralized whenever such overt political manipulations are played out on the City Council dais. Please stop insulting the intelligence of the citizens of Berkeley. 

The most shameful aspect of City Council's repeated turns to criminalization is that they are punishing the homeless for multiple failures of City policy. 

1) The homeless are being behaviorally profiled for the City's past failure to provide public bathrooms. I wondered whether it's ever occurred to anyone on City Council that homeless people are not exempt from health catastrophes that may strike any of us. For instance, what is a homeless person to do if they suffer from a medical condition that drives them to seek a bathroom throughout the night? I can tell you from first-hand experience that the medical system is excruciatingly slow for Medi-Cal patients, and they neglect matters of social embarrassment, even if common sense would tell you that the situation would prevent someone from holding down a job or otherwise climbing out of poverty. Homeless people are already being subject to stressful, sleep-depriving conditions that exacerbate physical and mental illnesses, and even people with a mailing address have trouble communicating with medical providers regularly. It seems more reasonable and humane to make sure clean and safe bathroom facilities are available. However, I've heard that bathrooms aren't being established in appropriate central areas because they would "attract nuisances". 

2) The City does not provide enough shelters for homeless people during a universally acknowledged housing crisis. Therefore, efforts to make homeless people "uncomfortable" so they move on just results to pushing them around different districts. 

3) The City has failed to provide adequate subsidized public transportation. Therefore, the time and energy of homeless people are drained as they crisscross town trying to get from one service to another. Should they do without a shower, laundry, food, or shelter today? Should they miss the appointment with a lawyer or a community service agency? Where will the vaunted "storage" be located? Legally mandated storage of needed possessions could easily turn into inflicting more run-around and bureaucracy. 

4) The City is dodging responsibility for the consequences of preferring low wage businesses (restaurants and "local" retail) while letting market rate price-gouging landlords run amok. Why not take some radical action such as a rent freeze or market rate construction moratoriums in anticipation that this move will provoke legal challenges? This would enable the City to seek new rulings to overturn Costa Hawkins and reform Prop 13. 

5) The City is doing nothing about 4 known causes of the housing crisis:  

  • UC Berkeley expanding student recruitment,
  • Silicon Valley's failure to house its own - pushing the problem of housing the tech workforce into San Francisco and across the bay,
  • AirBNB soaking up room-based units, and
  • rampant speculation from outside investors, and groups of investors, who seek to exploit our housing pressures for their financial gain.
Why isn't UC Berkeley paying impact and community benefit fees for refusing to provide adequate housing for their students? Why aren't mega-corporations paying regional impact and community benefit fees? Why is AirBNB being allowed to operate in a college town that has exceptional need for room-based housing? Why aren't we building more youth hostels? Why doesn't the City focus policy on curbing speculation? Why is the City being led by the nose by outsiders who profiteer off of basic human needs? 

I would like to spend the remainder of this letter underscoring the hypocrisy of City Council's current attitude toward restoring "aesthetics" to public places. As a person who holds an advanced degree in European History, I've spent a great deal of time appreciating how the cultural legacy of Berkeley distinguishes the city and makes it a choice place to live. I believe in the importance of local "character" as the product of a community's multi-generational cultural work. I believe in historical preservation as a celebration of our collective legacy. I don't believe that aesthetic appreciation is contrary to the development of low income housing. Indeed, low income housing can be designed in such a way to contribute to a neighborhood's or a City's aesthetic luster while confirming Berkeley's world-renowned claim to the social vanguard. 

While City Council is busy punishing people for suffering from extreme poverty, they have become blind to the real danger to Berkeley's beauty and character. Council Member Lori Droste has appointed multiple San Francisco BARF members to the Housing Advisory Commission and the Zoning Adjustments Board. SF BARF has declared "character" and "preservation" as their chief enemies. Furthermore, SF BARF betrays local communities as they advocate for regional authority to take over City development. 

SF BARF is about ideology: abstract sustainability goals and crass supply-and-demand economics. They show no sensitivity to or willingness to accommodate local conditions. Berkeley is notoriously "quirky" - and the presence of the University and the existence of strong rent control mean that every policy decision requires a hyper-local eye. Once our historic buildings are destroyed, we will not be able to get them back. On the other hand, a homeless person that the City finds to be an "eyesore" can always be helped off the street. 

More worrying, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has been pushing to remove anti-displacement criteria from Plan Bay Area. Think about that for a minute. In Berkeley that's not only about allowing the forces of speculation to dislodge poor people from "wasteful" houses -- it's about clearing the way for demolishing historic structures and replacing them with more "efficient" stacks of density. Do we really need to destroy the individualistic "character" of this college town to provide enormous concrete filing-cabinets to contain Silicon Valley's junior employee overflow? Before demolishing Berkeley to give well-connected architects and city planners plum jobs and line the pockets of International investors, shouldn't we test whether we can mitigate the housing crisis through less destructive measures - such as freeing student-ready rooms from AirBNB? 

Again, homelessness can be reversed, the destruction of Berkeley's physical "character" cannot. We don't need regional authority to make sure Berkeley citizens do the right thing. From what I've seen, the hyper-local actions of the good Berkeley community have been advocating for low income housing, crying out to address disparate impacts of housing policy, and fighting discrimination - but these local efforts are being ignored by politicians who only seek "solutions" that jive with what benefits the California Real Estate Industry and super-rich developers. Don't let campaign greed become the Regionalista's excuse to deprive the City of power to control its own development and zoning. 

To create Berkeley as that beautiful flower-basket city of City Council fantasies, we need to pursue the idea of housing as a human right. We need to move beyond dwelling on a property's highest potential and foster Berkeley as a city where human beings can aspire to their highest potential - supported by housing stability, lifelong education, a culture of compassion and public spirit. 

Most of all, the City needs to pay its own penance for our failure to pursue proactive housing policy instead of shifting the burden of bad policy onto the most weak and vulnerable citizens. Homeless people are an easy target since sentiment can be whipped up against them behind closed doors in the comfy houses of the more fortunate. City Council, however, should be representing all the citizens of Berkeley - even the ones who don't get to have a roof over their heads. 


New: Measures Important to Berkeley Tenants on Council Agenda Tuesday (Public Comment)

Berkeley Tenants Union
Monday November 16, 2015 - 01:03:00 PM

Berkeley Tenants Union has three important items at the City Council on Tuesday.

About the Demolition Appeal (Item 21): If the City Council allows this demolition to go forward, the law prohibiting unmitigated demolition of rent controlled housing means nothing anymore, and all of Berkeley is at risk of being bulldozed to make way for luxury housing. 

About changes to the Rental Housing Safety Program (Item 23): One reason developers give to tear down affordable older units is that they are in really bad shape. Never mind that they continue to rent them out while simultaneously making a claim that they are unsafe. In order to preserve our housing, we must make cyclical inspections a reality in Berkeley as they are in most other major cities. 

November 17 will also see the Council discuss a Windfall Profits Tax on High Rents. There will be a special workshop at 5:30 PM in order for the Council to consider a ballot measure to increase the business license tax on larger landlords and use the money to building and rehab affordable housing, including the student co-ops. 

For more info see http://berkeleytenants.org/ 

New: Homeless Advocates in Berkeley Aiming to Stop Passage of City Council Measures

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Monday November 16, 2015 - 08:48:00 AM

Advocates for homeless people will kick off an effort today to stop the Berkeley City Council from passing two measures at Tuesday night's city council meeting, homeless advocates announced.  

The advocates said one measure will lead to the construction of a luxury housing complex in downtown Berkeley and the other would drive homeless people from the city's commercial corridors. 

Homeless advocates will start their efforts with a prayer circle and fast by clergy at 6 a.m. today, leaders said.  

The advocates will also hold a sleep-in at 6 p.m. tonight at the steps of the old city hall at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, according to advocate leaders.

Flash: Oakland Police Shoot, Kill Person Holding Fake Gun

Keith Burbank (BCN) and Planet
Sunday November 15, 2015 - 10:37:00 PM

Police recovered what was described as a "replica" gun from a person whom officers shot and killed early this evening in Oakland, police said.

Oakland Police Watch Commander J. Moore told the Planet later tonight that the supposed weapon the person was carrying was not a real gun. 

The incident occurred in the area of 90th and Bancroft avenues as uniformed officers were having vehicles towed from a sideshow, according to police. 

The person with the gun approached police with the gun pointed at them and officers opened fire, police said. 

Officers performed CPR on the person immediately after the shooting and paramedics arrived a short time later, police said. 

No officers were injured, according to police. 

Officer Moore could not tell the Planet the deceased person's name, age, race or gender. 

Earlier in the evening, the Oakland Police Department released this statement: 

On Sunday, November 15, 2015 during the early evening, Oakland police officers were involved in an officer involved shooting in the area of 90th Avenue and Bancroft Avenue. The preliminary investigation at this time is a group of uniformed officers who were engaged in towing vehicles related to sideshow activity when they were approached by a subject who pointed a firearm in their direction. At least several officers discharged their service firearm fatally striking the subject. After the subject was shot, the officers immediately performed CPR until medical personnel arrived on scene. Medical personnel arrived shortly after.

No officers were reported to be injured.

Consistent with Departmental policy, this officer involved shooting is being investigated by the Oakland Police Department’s Homicide Section and Internal Affairs Division. An independent and concurrent investigation is also being conducted by the Alameda County District Attorney's Office.

The Oakland Police Department is committed to transparency. However, a complete investigative process requires information be limited in order to maintain the integrity of the investigation. For this reason, only those preliminary details that do not compromise the investigation can be released at this time. Additional information will be released as soon as practical. 

New: Why You Should Attend the Berkeley City Council Meeting on Tuesday (Public Comment)

Elisa Cooper
Sunday November 15, 2015 - 09:56:00 PM

If you care about the future of housing in Berkeley and preventing criminalization of the homeless, please join us for the Tuesday, November 17th City Council meeting at City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.  

The Special Work Session starting at 5:30pm will be addressing the Business License Tax on Rental Property, otherwise known as the Robin Hood Tax. This ordinance would apply a tax to large landowners to be, theoretically, directed into the Housing Trust Fund.  

The regular Council Session, which starts at 7pm includes seven items that relate to the plight of vulnerable tenants and homeless people. 

The Consent Calendar includes an amendment to the Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance to waive parking requirements in “walkable neighborhoods”: this deprivation of parking spaces may have disparate impact on the poor. 

The New Business on the Action Calendar includes an effort to appeal ZAB's decision to allow the demolition of 2631 Durant Avenue (Item 21). This demolition would remove several rent-controlled units with no legal way of replacing them. Circumstances suggest the landlord contributed to the inhabitable state of the units so the entire building could be replaced with market rate units. 

Old Business leads with a request from the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission to appoint a lawyer/organization director to one of the vacant slots for Elected Representatives of the poor (Item 22). As this person is not a direct representative of the poor, she should be added as a Council Member appointee rather than taking up one of the slots meant for direct representation of the poor. Items number 23 and 26 are of special interest to tenants: Item 23 attends to improving housing safety and habitability for tenants: Revising the Rental Housing Safety Program. and Item 26 strengthens eviction protections: Refer to the Rent Stabilization Board to Consider Creating an Ordinance Preventing Evictions for Minor Offenses. Items 24, 27, and 28 concern the situation of homeless people. Item 24 recommends implementing the Tier One Recommendations from the Homeless Task Force. Items 27 and 28 are blatant attempts to reintroduce, under new labels and catchphrases, laws that criminalize the homeless. Item 27 (Protecting our Parks from Unsafe, Unsanitary Conditions) encourages escalated police presence to enforce park rules that are meant to discourage homeless encampments. 

Item 28 (Improve Conditions on Our Community Sidewalks) heaps on laws to criminalize sitting on sidewalks or sleeping in public places by reducing the space allowed for personal belongings to 2 square feet and implying the impact on the homeless will be mitigated by “storage provided” without establishing a convenient location for this storage or taking into account the impact of additional bureaucratic hassle on the lives of homeless people. The sidewalk laws to criminalize the homeless have been rejected by Berkeley voters multiple times, and criminalization is still criminalization even if the threats of enforcement are smuggled in between offers of relief such as extending the transition-aged youth shelter hours and increasing the number of public restrooms. Furthermore, City Council seeks to empower a “Traffic Engineer” to oversee enforcement so regulations may be enforced arbitrarily without further reference to City Ordinances or the will of the voters. 

If you want to join the fight against criminalization of the homeless, there are a number of protest actions that need your support. Please show up for these planned civic actions at the steps of City Hall: 

  • Monday 6:00 am: Prayer Circle and Fasting
  • Monday 11am: Press Conference
  • Monday 6pm: Sing out/Rally for Justice and Human Rights
  • Monday overnight: Sleep out in solidarity with the homeless
  • Tuesday 6pm: Rally and speak out
  • Tuesday 7pm: City Council Meeting
At the very least, please show up at the City Council Meeting, Tuesday 7pm! Everyone has the potential to lose their housing in today’s environment of rampant speculation: please show up for the homeless. 

Tweet this: Fight #criminalization of the #homeless at the Tuesday 11/17 City Council meeting at #Berkeley City Hall! #HomesNotHandcuffs

Press Release: Oppose Anti-Homeless Laws at Council on Tuesday

Streets Are For Everyone Coalition
Sunday November 15, 2015 - 07:31:00 PM


The Berkeley City Council Pulls Yet Another Stunt

Kelly Hammargren
Sunday November 15, 2015 - 02:27:00 PM

It has become common practice for the Berkeley City Council to present a “surprise" ordinance for vote after closing public testimony. The minimum wage “compromise” was obviously crafted in advance of the Tuesday, November 10 special City Council meeting and was withheld from the public until public comment was closed. The public had no opportunity to see and comment on the “compromise” as an alternative to the recommendation from the Labor Commission or doing nothing. The handing out of blue paper “compromise” is at 3:50 into the meeting video. Mayor Tom Bates declared (video 4:06) that he had not seen the compromise although he stated maybe heard about it. Had he seen it, it would have been a violation of the Brown Act. Only Mayor Bates and the four council members involved, Droste, Maio, Moore and Capitelli know how much was shared with the Mayor in advance.

Surprise ordinances distributed at the last minute after public comment is closed usurps the democratic process and demonstrates once again that Berkeley does not have an open and transparent government. This and other behaviors/practices in Berkeley City Council, Boards and Commissions make it absolutely imperative that someone from the public is present at every meeting to observe, monitor, question and report.

Mid-week we got wind of “mitigations” being on the agenda of the 2 x 2 meeting, that is the meeting between the Berkeley Mayor, City Council Vice Mayor, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) President and Vice President. It is easy to miss what “mitigations” means if you are not closely involved with the Harold Way project and why city officials favoring Harold Way would want to have discussion with BUSD. 

Legal representation for BUSD filed an appeal on October 27, 2015 of the approval of the Harold Way project citing “…As the District has previously urged, we believe the Project as proposed will have potentially significant impacts on the health, welfare and safety of BUSD students, teachers and facilities…” The impacts that need to be mitigated (diminished/relieved) relate to noise, air pollution, traffic, teacher parking and sewage. Sewage is backing up at Berkeley High School (BHS) in the facilities and on the athletic field. Harold Way will add hundreds of residents upstream from BHS placing more pressure on a sewage system that is already in trouble. A full reading of the appeal is available through this link http://www.cityofberkeley.info/uploadedFiles/Planning_and_Development/Level_3_-_ZAB/2015-10-27_ZAB_APPEAL_Sakai_BUSD_2211%20Harold.pdf 

Five of us from the community showed up to observe. Mayor Tom Bates stated as the meeting that was about to start that he had been advised by the City Attorney that discussing mitigations would be a violation of the Brown Act and therefore this item was being pulled from the agenda. No one seemed to know how this item ended up on the agenda, but those of us from the community were not surprised. We have all been expecting an end run to pressure the BUSD to withdraw the appeal of Harold Way.

The Mayor indicated we could leave if this was the reason for our attendance. As good citizens, we all stayed. After all, we had managed to arrive at BUSD room 126 by 8:30 am, the meeting is not recorded and minutes from several past meetings are absent from the City website. Those of us who have been observing our city government closely were not so confident as to believe that discussion of the forbidden item would not ensue if we walked out. Along those lines, there was a suggestion from Mayor Bates that “comments” be added to the agenda to cover discussion of topics not posted. This came up when Beatriz Leyva-Cutler brought up a topic not on the agenda and was reminded as a public meeting, content needed to be posted in advance.


Choosing Up Sides in Berkeley for the 2016 District 9 State Senate Race

Wednesday November 11, 2015 - 02:33:00 PM
  Nancy Skinner's backers invite you to contribute to her campaign,.
Nancy Skinner's backers invite you to contribute to her campaign,.

Are you wondering which candidate to support in the race for State Senate, leading to the election about a year from now, on November 8, 2016? Battle lines are forming.

The accompanying graphic gives you a good idea of the kind of people who support candidate Nancy Skinner.

If you don't know who those hosting this Skinner fundraiser are or what they've been up to, you haven't been paying attention. To refresh your memory: John Caner and Susie Medak are honchos in the Downtown Berkeley Association, also know as the Downtown Business Association, the organization which represents downtown commercial property owners and some businesses. Mark Rhoades is the former City of Berkeley Planning Department manager who now fronts for big developers,notably for 2211 Harold Way, and Patrick Kennedy is a well-known (some say notorious) developer, one of Berkeley's most avid housing entrepreneurs, who has sold most of his downtown Berkeley holdings to a corporation headed by Chicago magnate Sam Zell.

Nancy Skinner's main opponent in the Democratic primary will be Sandré Swanson. From his web page

"... Before his election to the California State Assembly, Mr. Swanson served five years as Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Before that, he worked for 25 years as the District Director and Senior Policy Advisor for Congressman Ronald V. Dellums... 

"Early key endorsements of his campaign for the California Senate include key legislators currently representing the people of the 9th Senate district. They include the incumbent, Senator Loni Hancock, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, Assemblymember Tony Thurmond and his campaigns Honorary Chair, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and more." 

Whose side will you be on? Brother, could you spare $4,200 to put your gal in the Senate?

Students, Nurses March for Free Tuition in Berkeley

Scott Morris (BCN)
Thursday November 12, 2015 - 06:23:00 PM

Hundreds of nurses overwhelmed a student protest of tuition and debt at the University of California's Berkeley campus this afternoon. 

The protest, one of more than a hundred organized nationwide as part of the "Million Student March," called for tuition-free public universities, the cancellation of all student debt and a $15 minimum wage for all college employees. 

The roughly 200 students gathered in Berkeley's Sproul Plaza were badly outnumbered when a solidarity march from National Nurses United arrived. While student organizers did not endorse any political candidates or parties in calling for the march, the arriving nurses strongly advocated for supporting Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

"We've got a solution to the problem in a candidate," National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro said. The nurses came with large signs adorned with Sanders' face topped with a Robin Hood-style hat to advocate a "Robin Hood" tax on Wall Street trading that they say could be used to eliminate college tuition at public universities. 

Graduating students "literally have shackles around their neck," DeMoro said. "It's disgraceful." 

Some students already gathered outside of the college's admissions building advocated for Sanders, but others sold socialist newspapers or came out in a show of support for University of Missouri students who ousted their president for a slow response to a series of racist incidents. 

One organizer wearing a "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt said of Sanders, "He's still going to have to work for my vote." 

But the students largely embraced the show of solidarity by the nurses' union. Another student who had just led the crowd in a chant of "black lives matter," went on to say, "Shout out to all the nurses for coming out strong." 

"This is what they are afraid of: coalition building," she said. "They don't want us all out here fighting for one thing, they want to divide and conquer." 

That one thing the crowd clearly agreed on was free tuition for all students at public universities. The average college graduate this year will have over $35,000 in debt and join the 40 million Americans now sharing $1.2 trillion in student loan debt. Tuition at California's public universities has risen sharply in recent years, leading to widespread protests at Berkeley and elsewhere. 

But the idea of having free public higher education, prevalent in much of the world, has gained little traction in mainstream American politics, something everyone at the rally is seeking to change. 

"We have to resist the idea that abolishing tuition is radical," one student organizer said. 

After about an hour of speeches, the protesters marched to the campus administration building where they plastered the front door with demands for debt relief.

Victims of Berkeley Balcony File Suits

Scott Morris (BCN)
Thursday November 12, 2015 - 08:27:00 AM

Survivors and family members of those who died in the collapse of a balcony at a Berkeley apartment in June filed 12 separate lawsuits today against the owners, managers and builders of the apartment complex, alleging the tragedy could have been averted if the building was properly constructed and maintained. 

The suits were filed in Alameda County Superior Court by the law firm Walkup, Melodia, Kelly and Schoenberger on behalf of the seven people injured in the June 16 collapse and the families of five of the six people killed. They are suing building owner BlackRock, property manager Greystar, and the general contractor that built the complex, Segue Construction, as well as subcontractors involved.  

The 13 students were at a birthday party in Apartment 405 on the fourth floor of the Library Gardens Apartment Complex at 12:41 a.m., when the apartment's balcony gave way and dumped them 40 feet to the pavement below. 

Five visiting Irish students, identified as Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh, fell to their deaths, leading to their families filing lawsuits today. The family of the sixth person killed, 22-year-old Rohnert Park resident Ashley Donohoe, did not file a suit today. 

A city investigation found that the collapse, in which the balcony's wooden joists sheared off about 16 inches from the building's face, was caused by severe dry rot. Moisture had seeped into the sealed deck and rotted out the wooden joists, according to the city. 

The City Council enacted an emergency ordinance requiring regular inspections and stricter building regulations for outdoor balconies and patios. The state is considering updating its building codes as well. 

The suits allege that during the building's construction in 2005, general contractor Segue installed cheaper wood that was more vulnerable to water intrusion in the balcony, contrary to the approved design plans. 

The contractors then left the framed balcony exposed to rainfall for months before waterproofing. The wood was already saturated with water when it was waterproofed, which had the effect of sealing the water in, according to the complaint. 

Once the building was open, tenants living in the apartment building between October 2008 and the summer of 2010 reported finding large mushrooms growing on the balcony, an indication that the wood inside was rotting, according to the suit. The tenants complained about the mushrooms but the owners and managers did not make necessary inspections or repairs. 

In the months prior to the collapse, the balcony had even started to tilt away from the building when people stood on it, according to the complaint. 

The suits seek unspecified damages for each defendant for negligence in the construction and maintenance of the apartment.



Updated: The Berkeley City Council Takes Out Against the Homeless Again Tomorrow Night

Becky O'Malley
Monday November 16, 2015 - 12:56:00 PM

UPDATE: Just call me Cassandra. Exactly as I predicted, the Berkeley City Council wept buckets of crocodile tears over the plight of the city's unhoused, both on the streets and off, and then voted to add a few more oppressive legal restrictions to those already on the books, just upping the total of unenforceable or at least unenforced laws. Promises were made, to be broken in due course, the same kinds of promises that have been made periodically in the twenty-five years I've been watching the same cast of characters act out their fear of the poor.

Folks, we still don't have anything like enough public toilets in this city, and that's why people who have to sleep outside defecate and urinate when they can't wait any longer. How hard is that concept to understand? Why do they continue to think that police (or even worse, poorly paid and badly trained pseudo-cop "ambassadors") can solve the problems which are everywhere in this unequal society, not just in Berkeley?

Well, it’s Groundhog Day again in Berkeley. One more time, Linda Maio, Laurie Capitelli and Tom Bates have enthusiastically launched yet another war on street people. I have in my garage a sign, ripped from a telephone pole circa 1992 or thereabouts, which proclaims that “Assemblyman Tom Bates supports Measures N & O”, two ballot measures which were a particularly noxious version of his perennial anti-homeless campaign. They passed with Bates’ support, but were eventually thrown out in federal court because they violated the First Amendment. 

Maio waffled on that one. Later she supported Measure S, defeated by the citizens of Berkeley at the polls in 2012. Now comes Maio again, channeling Eve, asking for yet another bite of the apple, the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. 

Will she ever learn that it’s evil to assault the weak? Rumor has it that she’d like to replace the lately somewhat-tarnished Capitelli as the right-wing’s candidate for Mayor, and perhaps this is part of the price of admission to the race. 

You can read in this issue a number of excellent pieces by some of the more literate and humane citizens of Berkeley explaining in detail everything that’s wrong with the latest proposal by the unholy trinity of Bates, Maio and Capitelli plus one more, naïve suburban-reared Lori Droste ( who managed to get herself elected by a few votes in District 8 in the last election, thanks to confusion about ranked choice voting.) 

Here’s the Cliff Notes synopsis for those not literate enough to read more comprehensive explanations: 

1) The same problems are everywhere, not just in Berkeley. See, for example, Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane’s thoughtful review of what’s been happening there. And also, activist Robert Norse’s claim that Lane doesn’t adequately address the situation. The pervasive disease of Berkeley exceptionalism causes some of us to believe that this city is a magnet for badly-behaving people, when the truth is that the situation here is no worse than in many, many other parts of this country, where the poor are getting poorer as the rich get richer. 

2) Just moving people around makes things worse, not better. As a District 8 resident, I went to a meeting that Droste had with residents who were, not surprisingly, concerned because homeless and/or transient people of various descriptions had moved into Willard Park (called, in the ‘60s, Ho Chi Minh Park, I’m told). Some of them have harassed students at Willard Middle School there. What didn’t come up in the time I was there was the key fact that there’s been a concerted campaign spearheaded by merchants to run these people off of Telegraph—and no one should be surprised that they ended up in the park. Ohlone Park now seems, similarly, to be home to people run out of Downtown Berkeley. Where are they supposed to go? 

3) Human beings have to exist somewhere. Unless and until Berkeley (and Santa Cruz and San Francisco and Portland and Boise and ……) can offer the floating population of the dispossessed viable alternatives, they’ll show up where they’re not wanted. The only way to move them on is to give them somewhere else to be. 

4) Promises don’t cut it. Even the Unholy Trinity Plus One knows that people on the streets, like all people everywhere, need somewhere to sleep, somewhere to urinate and defecate, and somewhere to exist in the daytime. Many of them could also use some mental health services. Berkeley still, after all these years, doesn’t even have anything like enough public toilets, let alone safe sleeping places for the unhoused or shelter from the weather. Even Santa Cruz, despite Robert Norse’s valid quibbles, does better than Berkeley. 

5) Until promises become reality, it’s unjust—and foolish—to criminalize those who have no place to go. Recent court decisions and Department of Justice policies penalize cities that don’t provide adequate alternatives for their homeless populations, particularly those which also hit them with quasi-criminal charges of the type now being proposed again for Berkeley. Maio’s proposal ignores these changes in federal policy. 

Also in my garage is another sign, one that proclaims that Measure S was “Supported by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner” and “Mayor Tom Bates”, as well as “most City Councilmembers”. Coupled with the invitation reproduced in this issue to a fundraiser for Skinner’s current campaign for State Senate, proudly hosted by some of the greediest members of the developer cabal, it becomes apparent that the latest manifestation of the relentless drive to criminalize the homeless is part and parcel of the drive to gentrify downtown Berkeley for private profit by displacing its neediest residents, and Skinner seems happy to be its spokesmodel. 

The plan to build 300+ expensive luxury apartments without a single affordable unit on the site of the Shattuck Hotel and Landmark Theaters at 2211 Harold Way is another version of the same scheme. On the council agenda tomorrow night is a consent item which would cram all five of the appeals to ZAB’s approval of that dreadful boondoggle into a one-night one-minute-soundbyte marathon, presided over by councilmembers who will not have read the hundreds of pages of testimony which citizens have submitted opposing the project. 

I predict that, following the Mayor’s example, on December 8 they will chat amongst themselves during the oral testimony and then vote like the robots they are to allow the theaters to be demolished and the building to go forward. Some will wring their hands and cry crocodile tears, but they’ll do it. 

And tomorrow night, with a bravura show of hypocritical sympathy, they’ll probably do the same thing regarding the homeless. 

They should all be ashamed of themselves. But then, I’ve been saying that for at least 25 years, haven’t I? Maybe it’s time for me to retire for the fourth time, and this time really mean it. 

The Editor's Back Fence

Reading and Writing the Planet

Becky O'Malley
Thursday November 12, 2015 - 04:46:00 PM

Regular readers have surely noticed that the Berkeley Daily Planet has continued its transition from a not-quite-daily print newspaper (or news paper) into an irregularly updated journal, largely of opinion plus a bit of news from time to time.

We might use the slogan “A Free and Independent Non-Commercial Journal of Opinion and Occasional News” if we could remember how to add that much text to the masthead. We don't sell ads, but sometimes we post free ads for friends.

We have no reporters now—the “we” is mostly me, Becky O’Malley, with tech support, photography and kibitzing from Mike O’Malley. We get occasional regular news stories from Bay City News. Sometimes readers are moved to send us news pieces, and sometimes we get news in the form of press releases from reliable sources which we publish labelled as such. These news articles appear under the Page One heading.

Almost everything else is opinion. That includes the editorial and the brief Editor's Back Fence comments, as well as Columns (the regulars) and Public Comment (everyone else).

We are pleased, in another form of opinion, to have several faithful unpaid reviewers, who seem to work mostly for the joy of it and maybe the free tickets. Their work, along with previews of coming events, can be found under Arts and Events.

To submit an opinion for publication, send it to opinion@berkeleydailyplanet.com . You must supply your own real name to be published and provide a telephone number so I can verify authorship. I prefer Word .doc or .docx attachments or, if that’s not possible, unformatted text within an email—no .pdfs please, or fancy graphics.

I try to write a new editorial every week to post,usually, on Fridays, but the old one stays in place until I get around to writing a new one.

There’s a new issue date approximately weekly, usually on Friday. Using the buttons at the top left, you can click back through the series of Previous Issues, and a button appears for the Next Issue as soon as I start posting articles in it. When I've mostly finished posting, I click a button to "publish the latest issue", and then the Next Issue becomes the Current Issue, the one that appears whenever someone types berkeleydailyplanet.com into their browser.

Just to make things more confusing, when I add new articles on a daily basis between issues, they usually go into the Extra category on the top right of the front page of the Current Issue, often labelled “New” or “Updated”.

Those of you who find all this hard to follow can be Subscribers. All this means is that I’ll send you periodic email “Updates” containing links to all the new pieces, many of which will be sent on Fridays but also throughout the week if anything happens. There’s no charge for this simple service. Just email subscribe@berkeleydailyplanet.com to get on the list. And to stop, just email unsubscribe@berkeleydailyplanet.com.

Submit news articles to news@berkeleydailyplanet.com. Again, I prefer Word .doc or .docx attachments or text within the email if that’s not possible—no .pdfs.

My personal Planet email address is bomalley@berkeleydailyplanet.com, for questions and not-for-publication comments. 

Public Comment

Trying to Act My Age

Christopher Adams
Thursday November 12, 2015 - 11:44:00 AM

Last week two-thirds of the students at Berkeley High School marched in protest over a racist screen shot posted on a BHS library computer. But ageism seems to be going strong, as demonstrated in a San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece on the mega-project proposed for downtown Berkeley. In the piece, Mark Rhoades, a Berkeley consultant who is fronting for the project, is quoted as dismissing the opposition because it’s “over 60 and white.” At an earlier city meeting he or one of his associates referred to these opponents as a “group of gray ponytails.” Apparently it is all right to disparage people for being old. 

I don’t have a ponytail, but my hair is certainly gray. And I oppose Rhoades’s project although the only immediate impact on me will be that early morning parking will get worse around the nearby Downtown Y where I go a couple times a week, along with a lot of guys and some women, many of whom are over 60. Perhaps Rhoades thinks my opinion shouldn’t count because I may not live long enough to feel the full consequences of his project. 

If I’m already dead when the predicted wind turbulence blows flower pots off the project’s roof terraces, I won’t get hit. 

If the view from the Campanile is blocked by an 18-story building, I won’t miss it if I’m not here to try and see it. 

I won’t miss the movies at the Shattuck cinema when it isn’t replaced because I won’t be able to attend, and the downtown restaurants which will no longer have movie goers as patrons won’t miss me because I won’t need food. 

It’s an interesting concept. If we take Rhoades’s thinking to its logical extreme, we should deny voting rights to folks on Social Security, who, after all, are by and large living on the taxes younger people pay and may vote the wrong way as a result. At the very least should not the mayor and the chairs of the Zoning Adjustments Board and Landmarks Commission demand that speakers give their age before being allowed to speak before them? And speaking of the mayor, who doesn’t have a ponytail but whose hair is white, shouldn’t he recuse himself from voting on Rhoades’s project? 

Christopher Adams is a retired architect and city planner. He is 78.

On the relationship between attacks on the homeless and the drive to gentrify Berkeley

Steve Martinot
Wednesday November 11, 2015 - 01:55:00 PM

The new laws assaulting the homeless will be presented at City Council next Tuesday, Nov. 17.

There are three connections between the criminalization of the homeless and the processes of gentrification that are now in progress in Berkeley (and the process of gentrification here includes the Harold Way building).

First, ethically and juridically they are both violations of human rights.

Second, economically they represent a failure on the part of city government to protect the people from impoverishment at the hands of real estate profitability.

Third, politically the criminalization of the homeless is a tactic for which the promulgation of gentrification is the strategy. That is, they are intimately linked, the one being part of the process of fostering the other. 

The concatenation of these three elements has erupted with the re-proposal in city council of laws by which to harass the homeless (which we will call “Linda’s laws,” in vague reference to some obscure authorial function). It comes on the heels of commissions affirming the Harold Way building plans, and a spate of proposals for large densifying market rate housing projects that will drive multitudes of low income residents out of the city through gentrification – and against which various neighborhood movements are demanding protection. 

Before outlining the content of Linda’s laws, and the nature of gentrification, a word about human rights. 

The essence of human rights is the protection of honor for people as human beings. To grant people their human rights is to honor them. Human rights are more fundamental than law or legality. To violate human rights is to deny a person standing, and thus render law and legality irrelevant. The violation of human rights by government always does two things. It dishonors people, and it proposes to drive them out of existence (politically, demographically, culturally, and even physically). Racial discrimination is the form of human rights violation that sits most emphatically at the center of the entire history of the US. So are vagrancy laws, the arrest of unemployed people, patriarchal hierarchy, and a general discrimination against the poor that have graced the history of the US and all industrial nations. 

To criminalize or to harass people because of their homelessness or their poverty is to violate their human rights. To gentrify a city without involving those who will be affected by the process in a participatory fashion in every stage of proposal and planning is to impose a situation on them which will destroy their culture and their ability to live in the area. It is to violate their human rights. In this respect, the attack on the homeless is paradigmatic of gentrification, precisely because housing is a human right. In both cases, there is a massive political withholding of honor from those who today live in this city, and who, tomorrow, will be forced to leave. 

For city government to ignore the fact that people are homeless by simply neglecting to provide housing, or services, is to commit and to affirm a violation of human rights. To refuse to address the social process whereby people are deprived of housing is to compound the violation. 

In considering these new laws now before city council, we must first ask, were the homeless consulted or made party to the writing of laws that will affect them? The answer is no. The city is now engaged in getting thousands of new housing units built. Will any of these housing units be for the homeless? No. Will many of them be for the low income residents of the city, families that in many cases are paying over 50% of their income for rent? Again, the answer is no. 

The city is supposed to require that 20% to 30% of these new housing units will be affordable. "Affordable" means that one pays no more than 30% of income for rent. Living in these units thus assumes that one has an income. The vast majority of homeless people have no income. Yet they are the ones who need housing most. On top of that, the city actually gives developers an escape hatch. They can pay a fee, and then not have to include affordable units among their market rate units. Market rate housing fits the corporate purpose better than affordable housing, so developers will tend to buy their way out of it. The 18 story building on Harold Way will have no affordable units among the over 300 units it will contain. 

What is the content of Linda’s laws? They refer in general to petty issues. A person’s property should take up no more than two square feet of space. People should not sleep in flower pots. One must betray one’s mammalian nature because the city provides no facilities to honor that nature. And one can sleep on the street only between the hours of 10pm and 6 am. 

These may look like minor regulations of behavior, and of the use of public space. Well, here’s how the criminalization works. 

Linda’s laws require the police to pay increased attention to the homeless as their implicit theme – for instance, to measure the use of space, or whether one is sleeping, or leaning against a tree. The police will ticket anyone who transgresses these regulations. No big thing; its just a ticket. Except that the ticket requires a court appearance. If the person doesn’t show up, a bench warrant is issued. The next time that person is ID-ed, s/he is found to have a bench warrant, and is arrested. Swept off the street, s/he loses the property s/he needs to survive on the street (the police trash it while arrestees are doing their month in Santa Rita). They come back to the street with a record, and a lower chance of survival because deprived of what had accumulated for the purpose of surviving homelessness. Such persons face being driven out of existence physically. 

But where is city council’s outrage that there are people sleeping on the street in the first place? Where is their outrage that there are no public toilets so that people can be more civil about their mammalian nature? Where is their outrage at being asked to violate the human rights of so many individuals by the proposed laws? Not only is poverty and homelessness criminalized, but these people are further impoverished by laws against their poverty. That is, their impoverishment is intentional. 

And that is the nature of gentrification, also. Here’s how gentrification works. 

With the construction of high income housing units, rented or sold at market rate (which is way beyond most people’s means now), the economic character of the city will change. Its social environment will be one tailored to the wealthy, the elite. Housing values will be too high for moderate income people. Rents will go far beyond moderate income levels. This is already beginning to happen. We see it in full swing in SF. Shops and restaurants that cater to high income clientele – boutiques and fancy salons – will replace the stores that low income people need for their survival. Those low priced businesses will be forced to close by landlords raising rents. 

With the construction of hundreds of market rate housing units, other landlords will raise their rents to keep up. Development establishes a situation in which it is profitable for landlords to chase current tenants out, and attract tenants who can pay more. Only the construction of affordable housing will prevent this process. But it would have to be built first. Building new market rate units will not bring rents down until it gets to a state of glut (that is, over-saturation of the housing and rental market). But development corporations will have ceased building in the area long before such saturation occurs. 

What the construction of market rate housing will do is raise the market rate for housing. As the market rate climbs with each proposed new building, the general increase in rents will result in many families having to move out of the area. They will be driven from their housing without any protection from the city government. They will cease to be residents of this city, if not rendered homeless. And the city will beg off, saying rent control would be against state law. 

It is a human right to be secure in your living situation. Just as the city offers no protection to homeless people while opening them to assault by the police, it offers no protection to long time neighborhood residents, but will leave them open to assault by unconscionable disruption of neighborhood economies. Like the homeless, low income families are without protection. 

Have the neighborhoods that will be affected in this way been made party to the planning process of which gentrification will be the result, so that they can protect themselves from its detrimental effects? No. They have been called to meetings to express what they fear and want protection from. The long litany of their hapless monologues become the totality of their participation in the political process. They have no part to play in the process of planning. 

The Harold Way building is the beginning of gentrification, along with the building at Russell and Adeline, the Higby building, the building at 1500 San Pablo, etc. Those who seek to prevent the construction of the Godzilla building at Harold Way are demanding that developers honor the neighborhoods that they will be changing by enabling the people of those neighborhoods to participate in planning what those buildings will be (as to size, style, content, income level, and benefits for those already living in that neighborhood). To refuse that is to dishonor those who have lived a long time in those neighborhoods. To refuse them a place at the planning tables will be a violation of human rights. And the imposition of the Harold Way building, which nobody voted on, since it was not specified in Measure R, will be just such a violation. 

If the purpose of harassing the homeless is to jail them or to force them to leave town, the purpose of gentrification is to drive low income families out of town. In both cases, it is to create these groups as unwanted in order to drive them out of existence with respect to this city. They are driven out of the city because the city does not honor them as people. In refusing to honor them, the city commits massive human rights violations. 

But there is another political purpose at work. It is to make gentrification palatable to those who will be eventually victimized by it (driven out of town). The city launches a campaign to “clean up the city,” and provide “new housing for everyone,” focusing on getting the homeless out of the way. It is a perfect ploy, presenting itself in the political equation that gentrification will clean up and revivify the city. The campaign against the homeless is to convince moderate income people that the city has their interest at heart, and that they will be able to stay in the gentrified city and even enjoy its benefits. They will then support the gentrifying process by believing it will provide them with a better place to live – never suspecting that eventually, if they can’t rise above their moderate income level, they too will be forced to relocate. 

To stop gentrification, we must demand the human rights of the homeless. To stop the criminalization and further impoverishment of the homeless, we must demand that the neighborhoods have a place at the planning tables, so that they can defend themselves and their neighborhood cultures against dishonor and violation of their human rights. 


A Modest Proposal for Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness in Berkeley, California

Asher Waite-Jones
Friday November 13, 2015 - 03:22:00 PM

On November 17, Berkeley’s City Council is set to vote once again on laws that would create new crimes that only homeless people are likely to be charged with. 

In 2012, voters rejected a measure that would have criminalized sitting on the sidewalk. This past June, it was well past midnight when the Council gave up an attempt to pass a raft of new anti-homeless laws including one that would have made it a crime to put anything on the sidewalk that takes up more than two square feet. Try lying down on a two-square-foot sleeping bag. Protestors chanted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as the councilmembers left the chamber. 

Now these laws are back, and I have a few suggestions for the Berkeley City Council. 

Councilmembers, I’ve read your proposals, and I tell you: Criminalization doesn’t work. You can arrest homeless people for pooping and peeing, putting their belongings on the sidewalk, and lying down, but these are necessities of life. Recognizing this, your humble correspondent asks that you consider these alternative proposals, which would create services that specifically address the root cause of the issues the Berkeley City Council have noted, creating a solution that is both more humane and sustainable. 

Here’s what you propose, and my suggestions: 


YOUR PROPOSED ORDINANCE: Allows a “traffic engineer,” to make the rules for what people can put on the sidewalk. You suggest two square feet, or six square feet for a shopping cart from 7AM to 10PM. Also criminalizes attaching belongings to public fixtures like poles.

MY PROPOSED ALTERNATIVE: Create secure storage spaces in multiple accessible places. 

Homeless people often have all of their things with them – where can they keep them if they don’t have a home? You propose to create one storage space for homeless people to put their things. Great idea. Except, will one be enough? How large will it be? Where would it be located? Will it be walking distance for people with disabilities or who are ill? Will people have access to their stuff 24/7? None of these questions will be answered before your ordinance goes on the books. And by the way, why is a traffic engineer deciding what homeless people can do on the sidewalk? People are not curb cuts or speed bumps. 


YOUR PROPOSED ORDINANCE: Criminalizes peeing and pooping in public. 

MY PROPOSED ALTERNATIVE: Create a sufficient number of public restrooms and showers for homeless people in Berkeley. 

Everybody poops. But the vast majority of restaurants and stores in downtown Berkeley do not allow non-patrons to use their bathrooms. 

You say you will provide more bathrooms and showers in the Downtown and Telegraph areas. But you promised that before. And where will they be? When will we get them? How long will we have to wait in line? And, most importantly, will the toilet paper be organic and will the soap be scent-free? (This is Berkeley, after all.) We’ll get the law, but as for the bathrooms, all we have are promises. 


YOUR PROPOSED ORDINANCE: Criminalizes putting belongings in planters or in or near tree wells. 

MY PROPOSED ALTERNATIVE: Create a job program that would pay homeless people to care for Berkeley’s trees and other greenery. 

Take a page out of San Francisco’s book – SF’s Clean City Partnership provides jobs for low-income and homeless people to clean the sidewalk and care for the city’s greenery. 

Trees are important, but so are humans, including homeless humans. And really, this is such a big problem you need to pass a law about it? 


YOUR PROPOSED ORDINANCE: Criminalizes lying in or on the walls of City-Owned Planters  

MY PROPOSED ALTERNATIVE: Create more affordable housing and homeless shelters in Berkeley. 

Like pooping and peeing, everybody needs to lie down when they’re tired. I used to fall asleep in my 10th grade chemistry class. As my teacher can tell you, waking somebody up and telling them they’re not allowed to sleep won’t prevent them from going right back to sleep the moment you walk away. 

If we are honestly concerned about homeless people lying in planter beds, we need to provide them with viable alternatives, such as homeless shelters and affordable housing. The US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), gives federal dollars to localities to develop these types of projects, and it chooses which localities and projects to fund based on an application. HUD has allocated two extra points to projects in localities which have been taking active steps to decriminalize homelessness. HUD has also made its application for funding more competitive this year, by ranking projects against one another nationally – for the first time ever, projects in Berkeley will be competing against projects across the county for funding. By criminalizing homelessness, the City of Berkeley is potentially shooting itself in the foot when it comes to being able to create more housing for its homeless population. 


Across the country, there’s growing consensus that criminalizing homeless people is inhumane, futile, and counterproductive. Giving the police more power to cite people for petty offenses won’t make them go away. It just makes their lives more miserable. I believe, with my last shred of optimism, that the Berkeley City Council is capable of grasping this reality. It can show this on November 17, by rejecting the proposed laws and joining with the community to seek real solutions to real problems. 

Asher Waite-Jones is a Berkeley resident and a 3rd year law student at UC Berkeley School of Law. He is currently an intern in the Homelessness Unit at the East Bay Community Law Center. 


The War on Ourselves

Toni Mester
Friday November 13, 2015 - 03:17:00 PM

After a half century of searching, I finally found my soul mate. Unfortunately, he was assassinated on October 1, while he was teaching a community college English class, the same kind of work I did for over forty years. 

That’s not all that Lawrence Levine and I had in common. Like me, he was a lover of rivers, the back woods and books. A writer and a fan of Tom Waits, he was my date, in an imaginary parallel life, at the mesmerizing ACT production of The Black Rider. 

I have been reading all the reports about the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, searching for a reason for his murder, the first of nine victims in his creative writing class: the others were his students, including the shooter. 

This crime matters to me as a retired English teacher because it could have been me or another one of our nation’s vast legion of adjunct professors or any teacher for that matter. The killing of Larry Levine matters to me not only because he was a mensch but because the reactions to his death were a last straw, breaking my silence on a scary and difficult problem. 

School shootings not only threaten teachers, their students and educational institutions but learning itself, the crucial and creative process that incubates personal growth among the young, provides workers with the ability to adapt and compete during their productive years, maintains health and social engagement in the aging population, and ensures a future for the republic. 

The Umpqua shooting made the headlines for a day or two, but after President Obama complained at a press conference that mass shootings had become routine, he was greeted by angry gun rights activists when he visited Roseburg to offer condolences to the families of the victims. What were they thinking? 

Wanting to learn more about the gun control v. gun rights controversy, I found two recent scholarly books in the Berkeley Public Library on the second amendment and read them cover to cover. Just as I finished, the newest Mother Jones arrived with a cover story by Mark Follman on threat prevention, “Inside the Race to Stop the Next Mass Shooter.” Follman writes regularly for the magazine on gun violence, and I credit him for helping me understand the complexity of the problem. 

A mass shooting is defined as one that involves multiple victims, and these targeted killings are on the rise while the murder rate in general has declined. Few people, even the experts, agree about the causes. 

Following the Roseburg shooting, for example, opinions ran the gamut. Obviously we don’t fully comprehend the problem, suffer from a collective head-in-the-sand syndrome, or have given up expecting the politicians to do something. We don’t want to know the details of these grisly events or we think it can’t happen here or we don’t want to think about it at all in the hope that it will just go away. 

Rounds of Blame 

A mass shooting is beginning to resemble a political Rorschach test in which each person projects their own interpretation on the event, depending on their profession, predilection, or prejudices. 

The Guardian on-line reported that twelve people interviewed in Roseburg advocated more guns for self-defense as the appropriate response to the shooting. This is the NRA answer made infamous by their CEO Wayne LaPierre after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” 

The idea that more guns will make us safer has been widely disputed by experts, but for the average citizen, the problem boils down to a simple either/or conflict between gun control and gun rights. After the slaughter of the innocents at Sandy Hook, expectations rose that something could be done to limit access to high powered weapons, but as Frontline documented in “Gunned Down” the NRA emerged from the last Congressional vote even stronger as a lobby. 

In his post Sandy Hook remarks, LaPierre accused a violence ridden culture, and cited familiar statistics about the number of shootings seen on television and video games. “A child growing up in America today witnesses 16,000 murders, and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18.” According to the NRA, it’s not the easily acquired lethal machinery that’s to blame but media and images. 

There’s some truth to that perception. One of Follman’s informants in his latest Mother Jones article explains that social media has mythologized the Columbine High School shooters and inspired copycat crimes, some of which have been thwarted by professional interventionists. 

Media attention is an obvious motive in some recent shootings coupled with nihilism and personal despair, as many are followed by suicide. Fifteen minutes of infamy are traded for a productive life, and the publicity motive is cited by some law enforcement officials when they refuse to name the killers. 

Some writers condemn poor parenting, especially lack of a moral and engaged father. But Ian Mercer, the divorced father of the Roseburg shooter, in his turn faulted the availability of guns, not his son. Some mental health professionals and armchair psychologists have tried to identify a diagnosis to explain motives for mass murder from narcissism to an extreme form of Asperger’s syndrome, which has angered many including parents of slain children

To elude the ire of the NRA, experienced politicians and neophyte candidates like Donald Trump blame mental illness and gun-free zones. The State of Oregon allows concealed guns on school grounds but institutions can make their own rules. Campus carry-laws vary by the state; last month Governor Brown signed new restrictions to strengthen gun free schools in California. 

Trump thinks teachers should carry guns and presumably be ready to shoot their own students if necessary. Teachers know that is unrealistic nonsense, as we have articulated in positions on gun violence by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. 

According to Trump and the NRA, It’s not the means, but the mentality of the perps; presumably an armed citizenry, including classroom teachers, should walk around, lethal as the Terminator, but we would keep our cool because the shooters are crazy while we normal healthy folks are sane 24/7. They seem to forget that teachers have their backs to the classroom a goodly portion of each lesson, writing on the blackboard. 

For Trump & Co. mass murder is a sign of mental illness, but the NRA and the craven politicians are unwilling to name the disease or say what causes these outbreaks while anyone familiar with the basics of criminal law knows that most mentally ill people are not violent, and not all killers are mentally ill. 

We live on a merry-go-round of blame, each actor pointing the finger at another cause. To test your own knowledge of this issue, here’s a multiple choice quiz. Which is the correct answer to the problem of school shootings: 

A. More effective gun regulation 

B. Better protection at schools 

C. More services for at risk youth 

D. Better threat assessment and intervention 

E. Less exposure to media violence 

F. All of the above 

That’s probably not even a complete list. The problem is complex, especially if you assign weight or priority to the options. If you answered yes to A, there’s a follow-up essay question: Please write a minimum of 500 words on the state of gun regulation in America today; explain which regulations would be most effective and why.  

If you have trouble completing the exam, you are not alone. People in general don’t like to think or talk about guns, and when the voters avoid debate, the politicians duck for cover. 

Gun regulation has already begun to differentiate the Democrat and the Republican candidates in the 2016 Presidential race with Hilary walking point for reform and Bernie treading carefully behind, advocating what his campaign calls “a middle ground solution.” Both seem far more informed than the Republicans, even the so-called moderates, as exemplified by the spineless statement of Jeb Bush, “stuff happens.” 

Indeed, the Umpqua College classroom massacre has already retreated to the back pages; Larry Levine and his students have become statistics in a bloody accretion of self-inflicted wounds, as one after another campus gets hit: U. Missouri, Clayton State GA, Spartanburg Methodist SC., Tennessee State, Syracuse U.NY, and Norfolk State U. VA, and these are just the campus shootings since October 1. Stuff is happening.  

Why wasn’t God watching? 

According to one survivor of the Oregon massacre, the shooter Chris Harper-Mercer, who was enrolled in the class, said “I’ve been meaning to do this for years” before shooting his professor in the head, point blank. So it wasn’t a personal grudge against Larry Levine, who could have been any teacher or authority figure who demanded coherence, competence, and accountability. The shooter’s mania for destruction had been brewing for a long time. 

Then Harper-Mercer got dramatic, asking his fellow students about their religion before shooting them, asking if they were Christian and telling them they were going to see God. He had been working set construction on the college production of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, which might have incited a script in his head. Maybe he needed to be on stage, to be in the limelight. I asked a priest if the slain students were Christian martyrs, and he said that if they were killed for their religion, the answer was yes. 

I believe that all victims of campus shootings are martyrs to education. Everyone involved in the learning process is aware of the current situation, from administrators to parents who see their children off to school in the morning. But mostly students bear the psychological burden. Going to school should not have to be a daily act of heroism. When they face a threat, any threat, the community should respect their feelings and be supportive. They just want to be able to grow up and live in a peaceful and compassionate society. 

There’s a sound track to the killing of Larry Levine and his students: a ballad by Tom Waits, Georgia Lee, which dignifies the unsolved murder of an African- American girl in Marin County with the refrain, “Why wasn’t God watching? Why wasn’t God listening?” According to press reports, Larry Levine had written several novels. His friends should publish them; we can’t let killers have the last word. 

Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley. 

The Moral Pestilence of Paupers:An examination of vagrancy law from the middle ages to present day Berkeley.

Thomas Lord
Thursday November 12, 2015 - 02:18:00 PM

[Editor's Note: This is a rather long piece. Some readers may want just to read the introduction and then scroll down to the conclusion.]

Introduction: Disposing of the superfluous workforce

iIt is the custom in Berkeley these days to say that the visible homeless people in and around our commercial districts are guilty of crimes.

The litany of complaints includes unwanted panhandling, offensiveness by vulgar expression, intimidation by the presence of dogs, intoxication, petty theft, inappropriate elimination, intimidation by displays of madness, and the excessive occupation of public space. The visible homeless are accused of being bad for business. Some people complain that they avoid the commercial districts entirely, owing to the irksome presence of the visible homeless.

The policy debate around these issues is polarized as follows:

At one pole there are calls for expanding the powers and activities of the police in order to better regulate public behavior. Examples include calls to legislate against panhandling near street parking payment kiosks, and to increase enforcement of existing prohibitions against sleeping in various convenient locations. Advocates for these kinds of policies often assert the moral culpability of the visible homeless for their status and for their conduct. Young and apparently able-bodied adult homeless people are apt to be characterized as the "homeless by choice", parasitic loafers and a moral hazard to all. When the homeless cannot be held morally culpable for reasons of apparent insanity, still a moral failing is asserted: the moral failing of society at large for negligently and cruelly allowing such people to be present in public space without close supervision. 

At the other pole in these debates, the moral agency of the visible homeless is de-emphasized. The moral obligation assigned to society shifts: At this pole the homeless are relentlessly measured and assessed as the innocent victims of extrinsic circumstance or biologic fate. The homeless person is more apt to be described as the cast-aside former foster child, the sufferer of an organic mental illness, the born-that-way, queer runaway, or the abandoned military veteran. At this pole the policy cries are for increased medicalization of the homeless through expanded treatment programs or supportive "transition" programs. 

It seems to me that in one sense, there is not much that separates these two poles. Both sides agree to "police" the homeless by one means or another, in order to regulate and diminish their visibility on commercial streets. The main difference seems to be that on one side this policing role should fall mainly to the actual municipal police, while on the other side, it should be the job of society's "medical police", including aid agencies and their "social medicine". 

Consider, for example, the prospect of housing homeless persons in a facility where they can be constantly monitored, required to perform various self-improvement tasks on pain of punishment, and restricted in their travel and association (however slightly) by guards. Given that description: are we discussing the county jail or supportive housing? Do not the calls for latter seem equivalent to demands for a more humane version of the former? 

It is not my intent here to trivialize the differences. The gap between brutal and humane policing is large and important. My point is simply that there is some larger, unspoken agreement already underway, a goal that both sides embrace (though each in its way): an aspiration for a kind of social cleansing, particularly of our city's commercial districts, whether it is brought about by arresting offenders or by forcibly insisting upon their personal redemption. 

Describing the universal agreement that way, as a "social cleansing", is sure to elicit the objection that I am exaggerating or even distorting the situation. There is a kind of "politics of respectability" around the questions of homelessness. No respectable person would behave in the manner of the visible homeless, say some. No respectable person would withhold aid meant to escort the visible homeless out of their condition, say others. From those points of view it is not a social cleansing at stake so much as a social restoration, healing, or repair. 

Three facts convince me that "social cleansing" is the better description: 

First, there is the coercive nature of proposals from both ends of the political spectrum. I encountered a number of homeless people who do not wish to accept either the punitive or the well-meaning-aid forms of coercion. I heard this from people who engaged in no crime that I could see, who behaved peacefully and non-threateningly, whose only offense seems to be that some part of the population takes umbrage at the appearance and idleness of these homeless people. 

Second, I noted that both poles in the homelessness debate, the fans of punitive measures and the fans of social aid measures, so often speak of "ending homelessness". Both sides envision some future utopia in which homelessness has, after a vigorous collective effort, disappeared from the streets of our commercial districts. On that day, no such people as the homeless will exist anymore. 

Third, I could not see how to reconcile anti-homeless legislation with constitutional guarantees of liberty and due process and I observed that, indeed, the courts have found such legislation to be fraught with constitutional peril. 

We are left with a paradox: 

Neither side openly agrees that they intend a social cleansing but both of their utopias would require one. 

Neither side agrees they are tyrannical, yet both propose coercive measures against innocent and benign free peoples. 

How did the policy debate acquire this disingenuous character? How did we come to agree to this universal agenda of cleansing commercial districts of homelessness, even if nobody would admit to that goal? 

In search of an answer I did some research into the history of vagrancy laws. I was particularly interested in how vagrancy laws related to power relations in society, over the course of this history. What I learned was very interesting and helps to shed some light on how we got here, and what is at stake. 

In this essay, I will make, tentatively, the following argument: 

Vagrancy law has seen at least three periods of significant alteration and elaboration since the 14th century, each time playing a role in reconfiguring the production relations of society: 

1. The transition from feudalism to capitalism (roughly the 14th through 18th centuries).

During this period, vagrancy laws developed as a system for compelling the poor to provide labor, and governing where they were obliged to work. At first vagrancy law was used to prop up feudal relations after the Black Death. Later, vagrancy law helped to turn paupers into the proletariat -- that is, turn them into people obliged to sell their labor power -- after Enclosure. 

2. After the Emancipation and in the wake of the destruction of the slave-based plantation system.

In the 19th century, in the U.S., vagrancy law continued to be used to govern the supply of labor but it now additionally was used to help construct a new, white-supremacist system of racially segregated employment and forced (prisoner) labor. 

3. In the wake of the Great Depression.

The depression brought a massive and persistent drop in the demand for labor. Therefore, vagrancy law was no longer useful for expanding supply to an already over-supplied labor market. The enforcement practice of vagrancy law increasingly functioned as a purely discretionary mechanism allowing the police to arrest, and the courts to imprison, almost any person on the flimsiest of excuses. 

The vagueness and political flexibility of vagrancy law made it a battlefield during the mid-century civil rights struggles. Earlier in the century, vagrancy law was a flexible tool for policing racial segregation. Towards the end of the century, legal attacks on the legitimacy of vagrancy law were a way for the civil rights movement to gain territory. To overcome constitutional objections vagrancy law began to shift from an exceptionally vague set of statutes to some that are hyper-specific. (For example, in Berkeley, one issue is the exact number of feet one must be from a parking payment kiosk if one is to panhandle.) At the same time, the ostensible purpose of the laws shifted from an open-ended prohibition against the undesirable, to a specific protection of a public purpose. For example, in Berkeley the alleged purpose of vagrancy laws has become to protect the function of commercial districts as centers of retail commerce. 

What do these three episodes have in common? Each of those three critical periods, when vagrancy law took a significant turn, started with a sudden, massive displacement of the productive class (workers). The disruption in each episode was followed by a significant reconfiguration of production relations: (1) The interruption of the Black Plague was followed by the gradual transition to capitalism; (2) The Civil War and Emancipation was followed by the emergence of Jim Crow society; (3) The Great Depression was followed by the emergence of government supervision of the domestic economy starting with the New Deal, then World War II, and then in attempting to dismantle Jim Crow society. 

The overarching trajectory of vagrancy law has been from a time when it was necessary to make labor compulsory, to a time when it has become necessary to make consumption compulsory. Today, vagrancy law means roughly: spend money or move along. 

The Great Depression marks a critical turning point and the history of vagrancy law can usefully be divided into the period before this event, and the period after: 

From the 14th through the early 20th century, the principal use of vagrancy law was to forcibly guarantee a supply of labor power. The first task of vagrancy law was to transform displaced peasants into proletariat. The second task was to return emancipated slaves to a revised form of slavery. 

After the Great Depression, labor power was generally over-supplied. The legitimacy of vagrancy law came into question as these laws were stripped of their former purpose. In the 21st century, the crisis of legitimacy has been (momentarily) resolved by making vagrancy law hyper-specific and, at least ostensibly, narrowly focused at defending retail districts. 

Formerly, the main defense against being arrested for or sentenced for vagrancy was proof that one had a job and was earning a wage. 

Now, today, the main defense against vagrancy enforcement is proof that one is spending money. 

The legitimacy crisis of vagrancy law has nevertheless not disappeared although it has changed form. The hyper-specific forms of vagrancy law, aimed at excluding the destitute from areas where retail commerce takes place, are increasingly questioned on the grounds that they may tend to make it impossible for homeless people to survive. 

Early on, the urgent task of vagrancy law was to bring into being, by force, the proletariat characterized as those who are forced by state power to work. 

Alarmingly now, in what might speculate is "late capitalism", the urgent concern of vagrancy law is how best to dispose of a population that has become wholly superfluous to production and capitalist consumption. 


Prelude: On the moral pestilence of paupers

In 1941, vagrancy law visibly transitioned from the task of ensuring (by force) a supply of labor for capitalist expansion, to the task of managing (by force) an increasingly superfluous reserve army of labor. The moment of transition is memorialized by a 1941 supreme court decision in the case of of "Edwards v. California". 


In 1939 a man named Frank Duncan, a resident of Texas, out of regular work during the Great Depression, was employed by the Works Progress Administration. Since he was employed by a federal emergency relief program Duncan was, in the vernacular of his day, an "indigent" man. Duncan was part of a vast army of suddenly and surprisingly useless workers. 

Duncan's brother-in-law, a California resident recorded only as Edwards, traveled to Texas to fetch Duncan and help him move to California. At their departure from Texas, Duncan had only $20 to his name. By the time they arrived back in California, Duncan was flat broke. The court records that Duncan then spent his first 10 days in California at the home of his sister and her husband, Edwards. During that time, Duncan applied for and was granted public assistance. 

Not much later, Edwards was arrested. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to six months in jail. His crime was that he knowingly assisted an indigent man to migrate to the state. 

As late as 1941 it was illegal in California to assist an indigent person into the state. Section 2615 of the Welfare and Institutions Code read: "Every person, firm or corporation, or officer or agent thereof that brings or assists in bringing into the State any indigent person who is not a resident of the State, knowing him to be an indigent person, is guilty of a misdemeanor." 

Edwards' appeal reached the U.S. Supreme Court who overturned the California law for encroaching on the federal jurisdiction over interstate commerce. Almost as a technicality, the 1941 court had to first set aside a precedential opinion from 1836: 

"There remains to be noticed only the contention that the limitation upon State power to interfere with the interstate transportation of persons is subject to an exception in the case of 'paupers'. It is true that support for this contention may be found in early decisions of this Court. In City of New York v. Miln [...] it was said that it is 'as competent and as necessary for a state to provide precautionary measures against the moral pestilence of paupers, vagabonds, and possibly convicts; as it is to guard against the physical pestilence, which may arise from unsound and infectious articles imported ....'" 

In 1836, the impoverished, idle worker represented a "pestilence of paupers". Correctly or incorrectly, the indigent could be regarded as a clear and present, mindless yet relentless threat to the survival of the community: A literal "pestilence". 

In setting aside the 1836 viewpoint, the 1941 court replied simply: 

"Whatever may have been the notion then prevailing, we do not think that it will now be seriously contended that because a person is without employment and without funds he constitutes a 'moral pestilence'. Poverty and immorality are not synonymous." (Edwards v. California.) 

In retrospect, this was a huge shift. 

The Great Depression reflexively shook off of millions of workers, almost overnight. It made it impossible to continue to regard the pauper as an infectious agent attacking the social body because, suddenly, so much of the social body itself was composed of the recently pauperized. By the 20th century, in 1941, the law was forced to set aside the old notion of pestilence for the new: "Poverty and immorality are not synonymous." 

With that simple recognition that employment could no longer be obligatory if for so many millions it could not be supplied, the court began to distinguish the individual condition of idleness, a moral failure and a social pestilence, from the individual circumstance of destitution, an imposed pauperization not far removed from what today we call homelessness. 

It seems to be about here, in the thick of the Great Depression, that today's debates about criminalizing homelessness first emerge in recognizable form. 


Medieval Origins of Vagrancy Law

Much has been written about the medieval origins of vagrancy law and accordingly I will not dwell on the topic. Briefly: 


In 14th century England the Black Death devastated the feudal order and left in its wake a shortage of labor and a sharp increase in the numbers of able-bodied beggars. Vagrancy laws were first an attempt to rebind the poor to the land and the compulsory labor of feudal production. Then, as feudalism gave way to capitalism, there was a kind of reversal. As enclosure laws and the breakdown of feudal property pushed peasants off the land, forcing their migration, vagrancy laws became a means to compel them into wage slavery. The peasantry became the proletariat, so to speak. 

Albert Tschopp's doctoral thesis from 1903 (University of Bern) rehearses an account of the sort that courts on both sides of the Atlantic would later take up: 

"An enormous increase of beggary took place after the terrible Black Death (1348). Scarcity of labour and misery were the primary causes. The roads became infested and able-bodied men capable of work were found disguising themselves as cripples, often only awaiting an opportunity to spring upon and rob the unwary. 

"The beggar of this period was, from general account, a dangerous, cunning and ferocious individual, extorting alms from the passer by. 

"Strenuous laws now followed one after another, especially directed against the 'able-bodied' beggar who refused to work. In the last year of King Edward III we find the Commons petitioning the king: 'that Ribalds and sturdy Beggars may be banished out of every town'." (p.4-5 "The Beggars of England in Prose and Poetry, From Earliest Times to the End of the 17th Century"). 

And in 1937, an English jurist (in Ledwith v. Roberts) described the transition from feudalism to capitalism: "The early Vagrancy Acts came into being under peculiar conditions utterly different to those of the present time. From the time of the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century till the middle of the 17th century, and indeed, although in diminishing degree, right down to the reform of the Poor Law in the first half of the 19th century, the roads of England were crowded with masterless men and their families, who had lost their former employment through a variety of causes, had no means of livelihood and had taken to a vagrant life. The main causes were the gradual decay of the feudal system under which the labouring classes had been anchored to the soil, the economic slackening of the legal compulsion to work for fixed wages, the break up of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, and the consequent disappearance of the religious orders which had previously administered a kind of `public assistance' in the form of lodging, food and alms; and, lastly, the economic changes brought about by the Enclosure Acts." 


The reconstruction of slavery after the civil war

In the 19th century, the Civil War in the United States ended the plantation system and slavery. In the latter part of the 19th century and well into the 20th century, vagrancy laws were commonly applied to compel poor blacks into both segregated employment and, in some cases, slave labor as imprisoned criminals. 


The role of vagrancy laws after the Civil War is illustrated by this brief 1917 news item from The Evening Independent, a newspaper in St. Petersburg, Florida. Many similar stories can be found. Under the headline "Local officers after vagrants" the subtitle is given: "All Loafing Negroes Are To Be Sent Up To Work For The County": 

"Local officers, both city and county, are united in an effort to rid St. Petersburg of loafing negroes and one has already been sentenced to serve 90 days at hard labor. The police and the local constable are working together and it is believed that the idle negroes can be made to work. 

"In St. Petersburg today are a great many negroes who will not work, living off the wages paid their wives or relatives. There is plenty of work now and the contractors are trying hard to get laborers but are unable to get enough men although there are scores of able-bodied, sound negro men loafing about the quarters. These loafers are to be arrested and unless they are able to show good cause why they were not at work will be turned over to Magistrate R. R. Carter who will impose stiff sentences similar to that he imposed yesterday afternoon." 

In other cases, vagrancy laws were applied to black Americans not to compel their labor, but to forbid their migration. 


After the Great Depression: A superfluous reserve army of labor

A third great turn in vagrancy law was prompted by the great depression. 


The depression gave rise the displacement associated with an over-supply of labor as the result of productivity breakthroughs in industrial capitalism. There were suddenly more workers than could be employed. Vagrancy law began to lose its usefulness as a tool for forcing people to work. 

Vagrancy laws adapted to this change first as a tool to reinforce failing lines of racial segregation, and then as a tool to compel economic consumption (rather than to compel labor). 

In the courts, the decades after the second world war were generally a time of increasing restraint on the police. It was during this period, for example, that limits on warrant-less searches were strengthened, that it became obligatory to clearly inform arrested persons of their rights, and that the rules against arrest on false pretenses were strengthened. 

Until the late 1960s, vagrancy laws stood as an exception to that general trend. Vagrancy law had a peculiar status in American law. First, these laws were vaguely written, giving police broad discretion to arrest more or less anyone at any time. Second, in part because of their long history, vagrancy laws were often an exception to the usual requirements on judicial proceedings. In particular judges often had broad discretion to deny jury trials and even issue summary judgments while not taking any meaningful testimony from the defendant. 

The legal scholar Celeb Foote studied the situation in 1951, observing hundreds of vagrancy proceedings in Philadelphia courtrooms. Foote recorded his observations at some length in a 1956 Universy of Pennsylvania Law Review article ("Vagrancy-Type Law and Its Administration"). Here is a small excerpt: 

"The next morning, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an editorial under the title, "Get Bums off the Street and Into Prison Cells," ' which noted with satisfaction that three month sentences were being imposed and that "... Chief Magistrate Clothier has threatened them with jail sentences of two years." The editorial felt that "If they have nothing worse to expect from the police than a warm cell to sleep it off for the night, the vagrants will hardly be discouraged. But two years in prison is something else again; only the most hardened bum will take a chance on that." The editorial had no suggestions on how one who was already a "bum" could avoid taking the chance. 

"The hearings that morning moved even more rapidly; between 50 and 60 defendants were handled between 10:39 and 10:54. Five defendants were committed under the same procedure already noted, the magistrate merely calling their names, taking one look, and then pronouncing sentence. To another he said, "You look like one, three months." 

Such arbitrary application of detention and sentencing is a flexible tool and the powers that be took every advantage of it. Foote notes the use of vagrancy law to prevent migration (especially of racial minorities) and take custody of those persons regarded with suspicion, but emphasizes something else: the use of vagrancy law as a "catch-all of the Criminal Law": 

"[One of the] major policy [objectives] which is served by vagrancy law administration in Philadelphia has been almost completely ignored by courts and writers. When a magistrate talked about "cleaning up his district," he was referring to the role of vagrancy-type enforcement as the garbage pail of the criminal law. Prosecutions were carried on in a bewildering variety of other situations which had no relation to the suppression of criminality. These included cleaning "loafers" out of the city center, "mopping up" the drunkards in the skid row, punishing attempted suicides, obliging persons who desired to send unwanted aged relatives to the House of Correction on cooked-up vagrancy charges, convicting mentally ill persons of vagrancy and likewise confining them behind the House of Correction's bars, punishing minor nuisances which do not amount to any crime and vindicating affronts to police dignity. The common ground which brings such a motley assortment of human troubles before the magistrates in vagrancy-type proceedings is the procedural laxity which permits "conviction" for almost any kind of conduct and the existence of the House of Correction as an easy and convenient dumping-ground for problems that appear to have no other immediate solution." 

The vagueness and flexibility made vagrancy laws popular with local authorities. At the same time, that vagueness gave rise to a crisis of legitimacy. A project like the social cleansing of a district benefits from not having to state exactly why a defendant is being punished. Yet conversely, to maintain its legitimacy, the law must constantly be able to articulate why it metes out the punishments it does. In the case of vagrancy laws, their vagueness at once facilitated cleansing projects and, simultaneously, called into question the legitimacy of those exercises of power. 

Perhaps this is why, in the 1960s and since, there is an increasing obsession with understanding exactly who the vagrant is. A scientistic quest takes shape, hoping to discover proof of the vagrant's essential difference, a difference that will explain why the police are doing what they do. The legalistic need is for an explanation of the vagrant that will justify his removal from society. 

Medicalization of vagrancy is a common theme for justifying its policing. On September 24, 1962, the St. Petersburg Times announced in a headline: "Romantic hobo gone; Contemporary vagrant nothing but sociopath". 

The meat of the story is dressed up as the latest in social science: 

"Modern vagrants seem to be outcasts in a complex, technical world which for its survival, finds their irresponsibility intolerable. 

"In keeping with this technical theme, sociologists have researched skid rows, notably West Madison and North Clark Streets in Chicago, and have created a new and scientific name for vagrants. 

"Sociopaths, they're called. 

"Which loosely defined means a person who can't or won't adjust to normal society." 

"... The sociopath rejects both responsibility and respectability. If he works, it's done begrudgingly, and it's as a dishwasher or unskilled laborer. His home is the culvert, an alley, the mission, the jail. 

"Sociologists discovered, interestingly enough, that the vast majority of vagrants, or sociopaths, aren't alcoholics at all. True, they guzzle anything containing alcohol, but not by compulsion. ..." 

Conversely, the civil rights movement was helping to delegitimize the use of vagrancy laws to maintain racial segregation and oppression. 

Joseph Waller (later called Yeshitela Omali) a black resident of St. Petersburg, a member of SNCC, and a professional proof-reader was arrested in May of 1964 on trumped-up charges of vagrancy. He had been unable to produce identity papers when stopped. Other African Americans in St. Petersburg recalled that during the course of this arrest, Waller was beaten. On May 29th of that year, the St Petersburg Times noted of the arrest only that: 

"The 22-year-old Negro was arrested and handcuffed as he walked with a friend on Fifth Avenue South on his way home from work. Patrolman James Brodner said Waller was jailed because he could not produce proper identification. His friend was released when he was recognized by another policeman. 

"Waller's case was dismissed by Municipal Court Judge Laurence D. Childs. Brodner failed to appear in court." 

The paper might not have reported the incident at all but for the fact that Waller sought and was granted an injunction against the City of St. Petersburg and Police Chief Harold C. Smith, ordering them not to use fingerprints and photographs taken during the arrest. (In fact the fingerprints had already been sent on to the FBI.) 

The evident racism of the arrest was an unspoken truth for the Times. They would not openly write about the arrest as racially motivated until a 1965 editorial. In 1964, they were more circumspect, noting merely that: 

"[Police Chief] Smith said 'at this time' he is neither defending nor criticizing Brodner's actions. 

"`However, as far as defending stopping people for questioning, I will defend that,' he said 

"'This particular incident,' Smith said, 'was more of a personality clash between the two of them than a civil rights issue.'" 

Two weeks later, on June 8th, 1964, the Times ran the results of their own statistical research into local vagrancy arrests: for example that two thirds of the arrested were white, that most were men, and most had prior arrests on similar charges. A tell-tale pull-out from the article explains: 

"EDITOR'S NOTE: This study of all vagrancy charges made by St. Petersburg police in a week selected at random was conducted to better understand some recent vagrancy arrests which made bigger news than vagrancy arrests generally do." 

The questions of general obnoxiousness 

Historic vagrancy law lost most of its legal legitimacy in the years following the passage of federal civil rights legislation. It had lost its usefulness for compelling labor in the 1930s. It had become a vague tool for resisting the civil rights movement in the mid-20th century. In the late 1960s and 1970s, many vagrancy laws were overthrown as the civil rights movement pushed back. 

The case of Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville came before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971, is widely cited, and helps to illustrate the logic of this turn in vagrancy law. 

Justice William O. Douglas had sat on the bench back in 1941 and helped to decide the Edwards case ("Poverty and immorality are not synonymous"). He concurred with the court's decision in favor of Edwards. 31 years later, still on the bench, Douglas cited that earlier decision in the new case of Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville. 

Part of the case concerned Jimmy Lee Smith, of Jacksonville, who was "a part-time produce worker and part-time organizer for a Negro political group. He had a common-law wife and three children supported by him and his wife. He had been arrested several times but convicted only once. Smith's companion, Henry, was an 18-year-old high school student with no previous record of arrest." 

Smith's arrest is recorded: "This morning it was cold, and Smith had no jacket, so they went briefly into a dry cleaning shop to wait, but left when requested to do so. They thereafter walked back and forth two or three times over a two-block stretch looking for their friend. The store owners, who apparently were wary of Smith and his companion, summoned two police officers who searched the men and found neither had a weapon. But they were arrested because the officers said they had no identification and because the officers did not believe their story." 

"Heath and a codefendant were arrested for "loitering" and for "common thief." Both were residents of Jacksonville, Heath having lived there all his life and being [405 U.S. 156, 160] employed at an automobile body shop. Heath had previously been arrested but his codefendant had no arrest record. Heath and his companion were arrested when they drove up to a residence shared by Heath's girl friend and some other girls. Some police officers were already there in the process of arresting another man. When Heath and his companion started backing out of the driveway, the officers signaled to them to stop and asked them to get out of the car, which they did. Thereupon they and the automobile were searched. Although no contraband or incriminating evidence was found, they were both arrested, Heath being charged with being a "common thief" because he was reputed to be a thief. The codefendant was charged with "loitering" because he was standing in the driveway, an act which the officers admitted was done only at their command." 

Another arrest, consolidated in the court proceedings, concerned two mixed-race couples out on a date: 

"The facts are stipulated. Papachristou and Calloway are white females. Melton and Johnson are black males. Papachristou was enrolled in a Job-training program sponsored by the State Employment Service at Florida Junior College in Jacksonville. Calloway was a typing and shorthand teacher at a state mental institution located near Jacksonville. She was the owner of the automobile in which the four defendants were arrested. Melton was a Vietnam war veteran who had been released from the Navy after nine months in a veterans' hospital. On the date of his arrest, he was a part-time computer helper while attending college as a full-time student in Jacksonville. Johnson was a tow-motor operator in a grocery chain warehouse, and was a lifelong resident of Jacksonville. 

"At the time of their arrest, the four of them were riding in Calloway's car on the main thoroughfare in Jacksonville. They had left a restaurant owned by Johnson's uncle, where they had eaten, and were on their way to a nightclub. The arresting officers denied that the racial mixture in the car played any part in the decision to make the arrest. The arrest, they said, was made because the defendants had stopped near a used-car lot which had been broken into several times. There was, however, no evidence of any breaking and entering on the night in question. 

"Of these four charged with "prowling by auto," none had been previously arrested except Papachristou, who had once been convicted of a municipal offense." 

Justice Douglas took note of the history of vagrancy law, writing: 

"Jacksonville's ordinance and Florida's statute were "derived from early English law," Johnson v. State, 202 So.2d, at 854, and employ "archaic language" in their definitions of vagrants. Id., at 855. The history is an oftentold tale. The breakup of feudal estates in England led to labor shortages which in turn resulted in the Statutes of Laborers, 3 designed to stabilize the labor force by prohibiting increases in wages and prohibiting the movement of workers from their home areas in search of improved conditions. Later vagrancy laws became criminal aspects of the poor laws. The series of laws passed in England on the subject became increasingly severe. 4 [405 U.S. 156, 162] But "the theory of the Elizabethan poor laws no longer fits the facts," Edwards v. California, 314 U.S. 160, 174 . The conditions which spawned these laws may be gone, but the archaic classifications remain. 

"This ordinance is void for vagueness, both in the sense that it "fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute," United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 617 , and because it encourages arbitrary and erratic arrests and convictions. Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88 ; Herndon v. Lowry, 301 U.S. 242 ." 

In his decision, Douglas wrote extensively in defense of the idle. From his conclusion, for example: 

"Those generally implicated by the imprecise terms of the ordinance -- poor people, nonconformists, dissenters, idlers -- may be required to comport themselves according to the lifestyle deemed appropriate by the Jacksonville police and the courts. Where, as here, there are no standards governing the exercise of the discretion granted by the ordinance, the scheme permits and encourages an arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement of the law. It furnishes a convenient tool for "harsh and discriminatory enforcement by local prosecuting officials, against particular groups deemed to merit their displeasure." Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U. S. 88, 310 U. S. 97-98. It results in a regime in which the poor and the unpopular are permitted to "stand on a public sidewalk . . . only at the whim of any police officer." Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham, 382 U. S. 87, 382 U. S. 90. Under this ordinance, 

"'[I]f some carefree type of fellow is satisfied to work just so much, and no more, as will pay for one square meal, some wine, and a flophouse daily, but a court thinks this kind of living subhuman, the fellow can be forced to raise his sights or go to jail as a vagrant.' [Amsterdam, Federal Constitutional Restrictions on the Punishment of Crimes of Status, Crimes of General Obnoxiousness, Crimes of Displeasing Police Officers, and the Like, 3 Crim.L.Bull. 205, 226 (1967).] 

"A presumption that people who might walk or loaf or loiter or stroll or frequent houses where liquor is sold, or who are supported by their wives or who look suspicious to the police are to become future criminals is too precarious for a rule of law. The implicit presumption in these generalized vagrancy standards -- that crime is being nipped in the bud -- is too extravagant to deserve extended treatment. Of course, vagrancy statutes are useful to the police. Of course, they are nets making easy the roundup of so-called undesirables. But the rule of law implies equality and justice in its application. Vagrancy laws of the Jacksonville type teach that the scales of justice are so tipped that even-handed administration of the law is not possible. The rule of law, evenly applied to minorities as well as majorities, to the poor as well as the rich, is the great mucilage that holds society together. 

"The Jacksonville ordinance cannot be squared with our constitutional standards, and is plainly unconstitutional." 

The rise of hyper-specific vagrancy law 

It would be a mistake to think the 1972 decision in Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville ended the criminalization of the economically idle. 

Prior to the reversals of the '60s and '70s, vagrancy law served as a catch-all power to arrest and jail which local elites could use for whatever purpose suited them (from compelling labor, to suppressing political dissent, to enforcing segregation). 

Cases like Papachristou did not end the desire of local authorities to sweep "undesirables" off the street. Instead, local authorities were compelled to find new directions of attack. 

In the immediate aftermath of the decisions overturning "vague" vagrancy law, society took up with growing urgency the questions of who should count as vagrant and on what prosecutable basis. 

In 1972, the St. Petersburg Times pondered the question: "How do you tell who is a vagrant?": 

"'Go to Williams Park and clean out the vagrants and drunks," the St. Petersburg police radio dispatcher ordered a patrolman early Friday afternoon. Someone apparently had telephoned a complaint to the police. 

"The park was crowded. Most of the 200 persons seated on the rows of benches were waiting for the afternoon concert to begin. 

"Others seated body-to-body on the benches or lolling in the damp grass would listen to the concert, but they would have been in Williams Park anyway; they're among those who spend entire days sitting in Williams Park, reading or courting or feeding pigeons or just sitting. 

"ARE THOSE people vagrant? 

"The people whom the patrolman told to move on were what one might call obviously vagrant - two men who were sitting on the ground beneath a big tree near the southeast corner of the park, using their clothes bag as cushions between them and the trunk of the tree. 

"A third man was asleep nearby, his laundry bag-like sack and his shoes next to him. 

"A fourth man had moved from his nap-place in the grass to the end of a bench, where he sat and gazed sleepily at passers by, his suitcase next to him. This man had money with him, so technically he wasn't vagrant. 

"The patrolman found no drunks, although one elderly man tottered out of the park as the uniformed policemen walked in. 

"A few others in the crowd looked as though they might have sipped a little bit of spiked eggnog or other holiday cheer before beginning their daily walk or bus ride to the downtown park. 

"'WHO DO YOU call a vagrant?' the patrolman asked, looking at the crowd. Most of the people there are jobless, and probably only a few had any money with them." 

It is striking, in retrospect, how concisely that 1972 story anticipates the future of vagrancy law. 

The patrolman is caught between two great powers. On one side the high courts of taken away his authority to arrest arbitrarily under the powers of broad but vague vagrancy laws. On the other side, the local authorities are still driven to "clean up the district". Cleverly, he tries to resolve the contradiction by concentrating on very specific behaviors: sleeping in public; carrying a bag of clothing. 

That shift from the vague offense of idleness to a litany of hyper-specific offenses anticipated the course legislators would take. 

From around 1980 onward, economic statistics show a general trend: The number of people in the U.S. in poverty climbs. The utilization of shelters for the homeless, in major cities, climbs rapidly. Adjusted for headline inflation, wages flatten. By more realistic inflation measures wages fall over the course of decades. 

The Great Depression proved the arrival of a large, permanently superfluous workforce far larger could be employed. World War II, by slaughtering workers and razing factories, reversed the trend for about 20 years. By 1970, the crisis of a permanent job shortage was returning. 

There was a widespread impulse by local powers to attempt to segregate the workforce: to separate the idled from the employed; to keep those who were neither earning or spending much at bay. 

In 1985, the Evening Independent in St Petersburg ran a story under the headline: "Businessmen complain about transient problem". It invokes several themes that are still with us: 

"In the evening, they stroll through city streets, leisurely enjoying spruced-up courtyards and well-tended parks. Other times they relax on benches. 

"St. Petersburg's downtown seems especially attractive to homeless transients, if not to couples out for an evening of dining. 

"Downtown businessmen complained Thursday that vagrants are hurting their ability to attract customers into restaurants and shops, particularly in the evening. 'People are afraid to come into the downtown area because of vagrants,' said Al Gelford, owner of A.G. Mingles restaurant. `They see these people with their shirts off, with their - excuse me - their butts hanging out the back, walking around with a bottle in their hands. 

"'(Vagrants) are presenting an image that is hurting downtown business,' Gelford said." 

The logic by which businessmen came to blame the homeless for weak demand is flawed but that did not diminish their influence in cities throughout the country. The structure of the argument was roughly the same everywhere: 

a. The presence of the destitute is said to offend, shock, and frighten economic consumers. 

b. As an alleged result, the profits of local businesses fall. 

c. The behavior of the destitute must therefor be regulated with ever-greater specificity until the profit rate is restored. 

Thus, for example, in the 1990s Berkeley embarked on a program of regulating its commercial districts, specifying the number feet distant from a banking machine a beggar must be, limiting the number of dogs permissible in a 10 square foot area during certain hours, and prohibiting those who sit on the wide sidewalks (there being so little seating) from doing anything the police might deem to be reclining. 

An op-ed in the L.A. Times, on February 15, 2015, describes the situation: 

"But those rulings [Edwards and Papachristou] weren't the end of vagrancy laws. In their latest iteration, they target homeless people. After homelessness began skyrocketing in the 1980s, cities responded with laws that criminalize basic life activities conducted in public like standing, sitting, resting or sleeping, and even sharing food with homeless people. As the crisis worsened in California — 22% of America's homeless population now lives in the state — cities have piled on more and more vagrancy laws. 

"[...] Statewide arrest data show that these laws aren't just for show. Although arrests are only the tip of the enforcement iceberg, more than 7,000 Californians were picked up for vagrancy in 2013 according to police agency reports to the FBI. Vagrancy arrests increased 77% in California from 2000 to 2012, while arrests for "drunkenness" and "disorderly conduct" declined by 16% and 48% respectively. In other words, vagrancy laws increasingly are being used to punish people's status — being homeless — rather than their behavior. 

"[...] These research findings mirror reports from homeless people themselves. The Western Regional Advocacy Project conducts street outreach and has surveyed thousands of homeless people in California since 2010. The results are staggering: More than four of five of homeless people report having been harassed, cited or arrested for sleeping in public. Nearly that many have been punished for sitting or lying down. More often than not, homeless people are harassed by police or private security guards without reference to any law at all." 


Conclusion: May the idle and poor exist?

Over the course of six centuries, vagrancy laws shifted from a means to force people into work, to way to cast out those for whom no work could be provided. 


Starting with the great depression, the legal form of vagrancy law shifted from a vague, general criminalization of the idle, to a hyper-specific criminalization of the most destitute members of society. 

In its present form, vagrancy law is understood as a means to protect a desirable class of of people - consumers - from the shock, intimidation, or fear allegedly aroused by the presence of the destitute. The necessity of this legal protection for consumers is given as the weak profits of merchants. 

Over the past 40 years the size of the superfluous work-force has grown. Marx, Keynes, and even, increasingly, neo-classical economists all concur that as capitalism reaches the limits of global expansion, and becomes ever-more automated and efficient, a crisis must arise in the form of a growing mass of people who are excluded from work. 

In those 40 years, the U.S. has reacted to the crisis in a diversity of ways. The U.S. has vastly expanded the size of its prison population. It has developed a system of laws to chase and harass the destitute when they appear in urban commercial districts. The U.S. has "stimulated" the economy with cut-backs to entitlements and expansions of military spending and venturism. 

The economy has the permanent problem of, as Keynes put it, economizing on labor faster than it can find new uses for labor. We have a lasting crisis in which the society as a whole is materially wealthy, but increasingly more people in the society are poor and shut out of the economy. 

No amount of punishing the poor will change that economic crisis. The crisis is not caused by the choices of the poor. The crisis is caused by the advanced development of production, and the diminishing use for wage labor. 

It follows that penalizing the behaviors typical of the homeless, with the intent of boosting business in commercial districts, is a wrong strategy. 

The unsteady performance of downtown businesses isn't caused by the homeless, it is caused by a permanent, global surplus of workers. The problem will get worse in the future, not better, no matter how many stationary dogs are permitted in one 10 square foot area. 

Because the purpose of today's vagrancy laws can not be achieved by the action of those laws -- since today's hyper-specific prohibitions are based on a misunderstanding -- they can not be regarded anymore as legitimate. 

I do not mean to say that we should not take seriously the complaints of some consumers and some merchants. We should spend effort and if necessary treasure to pacify those decades old, constant, simmering conflicts. But we must ease those conflicts by some means other than the perpetuation of misguided vagrancy laws. 

We're all in this together. 

In support of a $20 minimum wage: Why Berkeley needs to raise the minimum wage to a living wage

James McFadden
Wednesday November 11, 2015 - 01:58:00 PM

The reasons for raising the minimum wage to a living wage can generally be broken down into the categories of moral, social, practical, environmental, governmental and economic. The first five arguments favor raising the minimum wage, but the last economic one is generally used by those in power to trump all other arguments. In this comment I will outline the primary arguments in favor of raising the minimum wage and close with a summary of why the economic argument is hollow, based on a neoclassical economic model whose assumptions are absurd. 

Moral Argument – It is immoral to pay people less than a living wage to perform tasks that are deemed necessary in our society. It is also immoral to pay them far less than their contribution in the production of the final good. Low wages are a form of theft. It does not matter that both parties have agreed to the wage price – the negotiation is not on a level playing field. When one is faced with a choice between starvation and extreme poverty at the minimum wage, there is no choice. A living wage reduces the exploitation of those who are desperate for work. The primary exploiters are the service industries where low wages are the norm. These low wages create a peasant class of workers who own nothing and struggle just to feed their families and pay their rent. Meanwhile their labor creates the profits that continue to accumulate to the investor-owner class. The very idea that a wage structure can allow those at the top of a corporation to pay themselves 1000 to 10,000 times the wage of those who actually perform the physical work is morally obscene. The idea that the surplus value created by the workers can be entirely siphoned to an investor-owner class is also immoral. 

The current low-minimum-wage system is designed to extract maximum profit from those doing the work, from those who have the least, and funnel that money into the pockets of rentiers (owner-investor class) who add little or no value. This extraction clearly doesn’t provide the maximum benefit to society. Instead it has created a wealth disparity that is greater now than at any point in U.S. history. After overthrowing feudalism, which was criticized for allowing a noble-rentier class to control all wealth, capitalism has undertaken to create a similar structure of wealth inequality with the investor-rentier at the top. It is just as immoral for capitalism to enshrine the investor-rentiers as the class deserving to accumulate all the wealth, as it was for feudalism to enshrine noble-rentiers as the God-endowed inheritors of surplus value from the land. The inequality that results from such a system is immoral no matter what the economists claim. And in a democratic society, it is the moral argument that should trump all other arguments. A living wage that allows all workers in a community to afford to live in that community is the moral choice. 

Social Argument – Paying people less than a living wage, or forcing them into long hours of labor, or forcing them into long commutes, creates dissent and envy. It breaks the social bonds that hold us together. If wages are so low that both parents are forced to work long hours, children will not receive the kind of adult supervision they need. This sets up the next generation for failure, and that failure will often manifest as an increase in crime, drug addiction, and mental health problems. These problems result in long term costs to society. By keeping the minimum wage low we are privatizing the short term profits while shifting the long term costs and risks onto the public. A living wage will strengthen the social bonds that encourage social cohesion, cooperation, compassion and altruism. Without a living wage, the harsh financial conditions imposed on the working poor will result in abuse, depression and addiction. Creating a society where even the poorest have their social needs met – food, shelter, health care, education, and adequate leisure to strengthen social and family bonds – will in the long run benefit all of society, reducing the long term costs of breaking the social contract that we share with each other. 

Practical Argument – A vibrant city is created with a diverse population who bring to the table a variety of cultural views and tastes that make the community experience more enjoyable for all. When a city becomes unaffordable to the diverse groups who work there, unaffordable to the artists and musicians who wait the tables and work the cash registers, then the city’s culture begins to die. When a city gentrifies, it becomes a bland monocrop of sameness. The city’s cultural centers will be subject to the disease of too few patrons. With a shrinking diversity, driven by a wealthy class whose limited tastes atrophy the social experience, the city begins a slow, cultural death. Eventually those businesses that located in a city so they could hire a creative and energetic group of workers, workers who gravitated to the cultural Mecca, will find those workers leaving – repelled by the cultural desert created with the shift to a mono-culture of high paid workers. And shortly after the creative workers leave, so will the businesses. To create a sustainable city with a vibrant cultural life that attracts the best and brightest, the lowest paid workers must be able to afford to be part of the community. They bring a special richness to the city with their culture, art and music. 

Environmental Argument – By setting the minimum wage to a level where all workers are paid enough to afford housing in that city, we reduce the need for long commutes and the associated fossil fuel usage. This change will primarily impact those lower-paid workers who perform the tasks (from washing dishes to running the cash register) that are necessary to make a functioning business community and are least equipped to afford a long commute. The higher minimum wage could also be supplemented by an intensive effort by the city to construct affordable housing to meet the needs of the working poor. As part of that process, we should avoid centralizing market-rate housing near the transit hubs, which would effectively transfer this infrastructure to the upper income classes. Instead the city should mandate mixed housing with high fraction of inclusionary housing near all transit centers. This would also reduce some of the pressure for a higher minimum wage since housing costs make up a significant fraction of the working poor’s budget. With climate chaos and ocean acidification happening now, it is critical that public policies support a change in work-living arrangements to reduce fossil fuel usage. An increased minimum wage that allows one to live in the community where one works would be a step forward. 

Governmental Argument – When the minimum wage is below the livable wage, government subsidies are required make up the difference. Fast-food franchises and companies like Walmart point their low-wage employees to government programs to reduce their costs. This direct subsidy pads the profits of those corporations and puts other companies at a disadvantage. Those subsidies funded by the taxpayers include Medicaid/CHIP program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and food stamps. A recent UC Berkeley study showed nearly half the families with workers in fast-food, child-care, or home-care required public assistance, totaling hundreds of billions of dollars (http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/the-high-public-cost-of-low-wages/). In addition, the high costs to society are realized when the poor wait until the last minute before going to emergency rooms because they can’t afford health care, or when people become so desperate they turn to crime and end up in costly prisons. A livable minimum wage combined with universal health care would reduce the overall costs to society and reduce the need for most of these government subsidies. 

Economic Argument – The economic argument reduces to the simplistic supply-demand curves found in any economic textbook. The argument states that “any” minimum wage will result in moving the number of jobs to a level lower than the “equilibrium point” determined by the “laws of supply and demand.” The argument is primarily based on the up-sloping shape of the supply curve (which says that people will want work more hours at higher pay), and the down-sloping shape of the labor demand curve (where higher wages will result in less demand for labor as prices are raised and demand decreases). Neoclassical economists believe that the optimal benefit to society, and maximum number of workers employed, are determined by the crossing of these two labor curves which determines the “equilibrium” employment rate for all of society. This economic model ultimately posits that this “equilibrium” wage is actually determined by the choice of workers between working more to enhance consumption or working less to enhance leisure. The model may sound reasonable, but only because we have been so indoctrinated with neoliberal propaganda that we don’t question the assumptions that form the basis of this theory. 

The full argument against the neoclassical/neoliberal supply-demand narrative is too long for this short discussion (see Steve Keen’s Debunking Economics for the long version). So instead I will just list the primary problems. 

1) The most obvious fallacy of the economic argument is that the interaction of millions of people fighting over wages could be reduced to the crossing of two curves. This ignores the complexity apparent to anyone who studies the real world. The neoclassical model requires simplifying assumptions that take the model outside the domain of reality. 

2) The second fallacy is the assumption that wages reach an “equilibrium” when in fact the economy is dynamic (time-dependent) and never in a state of equilibrium. Neoclassical models ignore time! They ignore the complex time-evolution of economies, including the inherent instabilities in the system. 

3) A third fallacy is the up-sloping supply curve which suggests that if the minimum wage was lowered, that workers would choose more leisure time rather than be forced to work more to feed their families. The shape of the curve does not apply to the real world of low wages. The up-sloping supply curve is based on the assumptions that all people have the identical tastes (absurd on face value) and that our consumption patterns don’t change with income (again absurd - think about whether Bill Gates spends the same fraction of his income on food now as when he was in college). These assumptions were required to generalize the “utility” theory of human behavior into a model that described group behavior. The utility theory itself is absurd since if involve unmeasurable quantities (utility) and is based on a model of selfish human behavior that ignores compassion and altruism. Absurd assumptions result in an absurd model. 

4) A fourth fallacy is that as you raise the minimum wage and put more money in the pockets of the poorest people who generally spend all their income, that this shift in monies from profits into wages will not impact demand for goods, which will in turn increase demand for labor. The model ignores any feedback, treating the supply and demand functions as independent, and assumes the equilibrium point is a stable equilibrium. In fact, as history tells us, employment can be unstable with lower wages resulting in less demand for products, leading to more wage cuts or layoffs, which will further reduce demand, all in an endless positive feedback as happened during the Great Depression. In fact, raising the minimum wage can be shown to be a stabilizing influence on the economy (Steve Keen’s “Debunking Economics”). 

5) Lastly, the neoliberal model posits that the actual wage rates are entirely in the hands of workers choosing between consumption and leisure. This model tells us that the hundred-million dollar salaries paid to Wall Street CEOs, and the dollar-a-day wages paid to workers in third world countries who actually produce our goods, are all controlled by a free-markets that reward people what they are worth according to the benefits they provide to society. This model leaves the CEOs and owners of Walmart off the hook for paying less than a living wage, and allows those in power to shift the blame for low pay onto the workers. This is classical blame-the-victim. The neoclassical model is so far from the reality of rigged-markets and monopoly profiteering that the delusional predictions of such theories are useless. 

Impact on Small Business - Since the general economic argument can be shown to be hollow, a final comment may be in order regarding the impact on local small businesses. I am sure that small business owners will cry foul – worrying that a rising minimum wage will hurt their bottom line. I’m sure that they will claim that small local businesses will be most hurt by a higher minimum wage – that customers will travel to Oakland or elsewhere to save that extra dollar or two. Really? Drive miles to save a few dollars? If that was the case then all small businesses would have been driven out by big box and chain stores. I am also sure that we will hear threats that they will have to close down and move. Really? Move out of Berkeley which has one of the healthiest rates of disposable income? These arguments are hollow. Wages are no different than all the other inputs to a business’s balance sheet – taxes, rental space, raw materials, management costs, advertising, and profits. Wages are part of the cost of doing business, and like other inputs they vary with location. If your taxes go up, you raise your prices. If your rent goes up, you raise your prices. If your raw materials go up, you raise your prices. If your management costs go up, you raise your prices. If your advertising goes up, you raise your prices. If you are mandated to provide health care, you raise your prices. Why should wages be any different? They are just part of the cost of doing business. If anything, a higher minimum wage makes small businesses more competitive with local big-box stores – it is an equalizer since there is no savings from scale. More likely the higher minimum wage will create a happier work force, with more money to spend locally. The dollar multiplier effect is highest among those with the smallest incomes. The result could very likely be a net gain to small businesses. But the real response one should give to a small businesses owner who fails to pay a living wage is: “What is wrong with you? How can you treat your employees so poorly?” This is a moral question. Small businesses should pay people adequate wages so they can live a healthy life. 

In Summary - The economic models used by politicians to justify a low minimum wage are built on absurd simplifications (see 1 above), omitted variables (see 2 above), logical contradictions (see 3 above), approximations that ignore feedback mechanisms (see 4 above), and assumptions that markets are not rigged by those who control them to maximize profits (see 5 above). At the heart these models are ideological beliefs that trump the logic and mathematics used to construct the models (see Steve Keen’s “Debunking Economics”). The result is a neoliberal mythology of meritocracy and market magic whose predictions are at odds with reality. This mythology has been so deeply ingrained in our culture for the last 4 decades by neoliberal and libertarian think-tanks, that mainstream business, news, and political leaders no longer question their basis even when they fail miserably to predict an outcome. Instead you get the befuddled response of Alan Greenspan who finally admitted he does not understand why his models failed (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGYtnW_1lUU). It is important to understand that the truly faithful, the economists who promote these neoliberal/neoclassical models of the economy, may actually believe that free-market no-regulation policies produce the optimal benefits to society in spite of the obvious wealth inequality they generate. However, those who hold the reins of power have long ago realized that this mythology is a useful tool to implement an agenda that enriches the 1%. So they continue to fund the neoliberal economic dupes, like Frederic Mishkin (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5msVl3oZl4U), paying them to produce more economic nonsense based on absurd assumptions. This nonsense can then be used to justify the obscene wealth inequality we see in the U.S. today, and in the world as a whole from globalization. 

In Conclusion - We as a society should ignore the neoclassical and neoliberal economic arguments and treat them as the propaganda that they obviously are. Instead we should base our political decisions on arguments that everyone in our society can understand – primarily moral arguments. These moral arguments can be supplemented by social, practical, environmental and governmental arguments. When it comes to moral issues of social justice, we are all experts and need not rely on the economic charlatans to tell us how to act. Based on my own observations of the cost of living in Berkeley, I would recommend a minimum wage of at least $20/hr – and that it be enacted ASAP. 





Boycott,Divestment, Sanctions Growing

Jagjit Singh
Wednesday November 11, 2015 - 02:13:00 PM

Hundreds of university professors in the United Kingdom plan to halt all further cooperation with Israeli schools in an effort to draw world-wide attention to Israel's violations of international law. They hoped their action would draw attention to Israel’s apartheid policies and encourage other institutions to follow their lead. The move is part of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that aims to isolate Israel as a form of nonviolent resistance to defend basic Palestinian rights. 

"The need for solidarity with the Palestinian people is made more urgent today by the current escalation of violent conflict in Israel/Palestine. The fatalities are overwhelmingly of Palestinians engaging in street protests provoked by Israel's 48-year and ever tightening occupation," organizers said in a statement. "Palestinians are driven to desperation in the face of Israeli intransigence, and its continuing ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem." 

The 343 signatories from 72 institutions throughout the UK cited the "deep complicity" of Israeli academic institutions in Israel's violations of international law and have vowed to maintain their boycott "until the State of Israel complies with international law, and respects universal principles of human rights". 

The signatories accused Israeli universities of being complicit in the countries violations of international law including research leading to the development of weaponized, unmanned bulldozers that have been used to demolish Palestinian homes. It is tragic that the Obama administration and all prior administrations continue to fund the Israeli war machine and thereby abandon its core values of promoting human rights.

My art/photos - all of my art work and prints and nearly all of my art monographs stolen

James Wood
Thursday November 12, 2015 - 02:11:00 PM

This is my art work.

I am very angry over losing nearly all of my art books, [some] of which showed [up] after [being] stolen from my Uhaul storage locker at a local bookstore, Moe's Books, in Berkeley, CA.

Last time I was robbed of [more than] 200 music CDs (approx. $5000 value) which showed [up] at a local music store just across the street from the bookstore Moe's. The police did nothing!

I can't believe this, as others have had the same experience having their things stolen and finding them in these two stores on Telegraph Ave. If it is as common as it appears why do the police do nothing? 

I lost over $10.000 in personal property to this recent theft at an Oakland Uhaul location. Besides losing my Art Books I lost all of my electronics, including stereos, radios, cameras etc. as well [as] all of my clothes. 

I am 61 with a severe physical disability and it's been very cold. My doctors here did nothing to help get my RSDI, retirement survivors disability insurance. If they had I may have been off the street and would not have suffered this loss. I was just properly awarded my RSDI after being misplaced on SSI screwing up my back pay. 

Now I have almost nothing and lost as well all of my personal art work. A friend, Catholic Worker on the street JC Orton, suggested I am too attached to my things. I countered by saying that art and music is spiritual and the objects or media is necessary for humans for reference. After all the Nazis burned books for a reason. And just like his bible, my books and music have a spiritual value of which there is no monetary value. I was not attached to my physical things such as stereos etc. but on a fixed income and disabled I can not replace these items. 

I am again devastated by this loss. 



ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Why I Object to Laura's Law

Jack Bragen
Thursday November 12, 2015 - 08:42:00 AM

My objections to Laura's Law are largely based on reading the text of the law, and how it will affect the basic human rights of persons with mental illness in upcoming years. I feel that Ralph Stone in his recent article isn't giving you the whole truth about this law, and I believe much of what he states is misleading.

It is fine to tritely say that opponents of this law believe it badly affects "civil rights," but let me outline what some of that really means.

To begin with, Laura's Law criminalizes having a mental illness. This assessment is based on the facts that: Firstly, it uses a court order to control a mental health consumer. Secondly, written into this law, the only recourse, if there is a grievance, is to go to the Public Defender. Laura's Law immediately entangles a mental health consumer into our court system.  

To continue, the law is written with some instances of vagueness. For example, the listing of how a person can be qualified to be a recipient of the program. The preface of this says "…if the following are true…" This could be interpreted to mean "any" of the following, and I believe that is the intent behind that instance of vagueness. In that case, there are a number of ways that a person with mental illness can become enmeshed in Laura's Law. One of the qualifiers simply states that in someone's assessment, the consumer "could benefit" from AOT. Nothing must be proven in order to qualify someone for these "services." A cooperative judge could get into a habit of rubberstamping applications.  

A second vagueness in the law consists of what qualifies an individual to be a member of a treatment team. The law specifies "a multidisciplinary team of highly trained professionals." But it contains no further specifics. A high school dropout could be a member of the treatment team, based upon this.  

A third problem I see in this law is its lack of provision to assure quality of care. If a consumer is unhappy with how he or she is treated, his or her only recourse is to go to the Public Defender. The law doesn't provide any other grievance procedure, and it fails to provide an unbiased overseeing body.  

Another problem is the lack of specifics of how a visit from the treatment team will play out. By not specifying what will occur and not occur in these visits, you are leaving it up to the discretion of the treatment team, which I have already said, could consist of high school dropouts. Is the consumer to be forced to swallow pills? Are they to be injected by force with medication? If not, then what is to take place? Typically, a court order under Laura's Law might be accompanied by an additional order to give forced medication.  

I assume that, so far, Laura's Law is performing okay, because we are still in its honeymoon period. However, I seriously question the validity of the statistics that Mr. Stone has rattled off. I believe that in future years, this law could become a monstrous method for mistreatment.  

To read the text of Laura's Law, go here: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=200120020AB1421 


ECLECTIC RANT:Closing Guantánamo

Ralph E. Stone
Thursday November 12, 2015 - 08:41:00 AM

On the campaign trail in 2008, President Obama made a pledge to close the Guantánamo Bay Detention facility. Obama is nearing the end of his presidency and the remaining prisoners at the detention facility have not been transferred to U.S. prisons and the facility has not been closed. Supposedly, the Obama administration will soon set forth yet another plan to close Guantánamo. 

Again, there is strong resistance to closing Guantánamo. The recent House defense bill would bar Obama from moving prisoners from Guantánamo to U.S. prisons. In response, Obama has threatened to use his executive authority if Congress won’t act to close the prison. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) has placed a hold on Eric Fanning, Obama’s nomination for Secretary of the Army, in an attempt to prevent the president from bypassing Congress to close the prison. 

As of November 4, 2015, there were 112 prisoners still held at Guantánamo. Of these 112, 49 are on indefinite detention without charge or trial probably because they are deemed too risky to release but not feasible to prosecute because torture was used. Holding prisoners indefinitely without charges is a clear violation of international law. 

The Senate Torture report confirms that Guantánamo was a place of torture and indefinite detention, and continues to be an international embarrassment. 

Opponents of closing the Guantánamo Bay Detention facility do not want “terrorists” on U.S. soil. Yet, during World War II, the U.S. housed, fed, and worked over 425,000 German POWs in 700 camps in 46 states with little or no risk to the populace. Most of the camps were low to medium security camps, not prisons, although some of the camps had to be designated “segregation camps,” used to separate the Nazi “true believers” from the rest of the prisoners. Of the 425,000 POWs held in U.S. prison camps, only 2,222 – less than 1 percent – attempted escape with most quickly rounded up. 

Guantánamo prisoners, on the other hand, would be sent to medium, high, or even so-called supermax security prisons, where the chance of escape would be minimal. 

It is time for President Obama and Congress to agree on a plan to quickly release the remaining prisoners or bring them to a speedy trial, close Guantánamo, and then return Guantánamo Bay to Cuba. However, given Congressional resistance, Obama will have to use his executive authority to close Guantánamo.

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:A Kingdom Stumbles: Saudi Arabia

Conn Hallinan
Thursday November 12, 2015 - 08:35:00 AM

For the past eight decades Saudi Arabia has been careful.

Using its vast oil wealth, it has quietly spread its ultra-conservative brand of Islam throughout the Muslim world, secretly undermined secular regimes in its region and prudently kept to the shadows, while others did the fighting and dying. It was Saudi money that fueled the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, underwrote Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran, and bankrolled Islamic movements and terrorist groups from the Caucuses to Hindu Kush.

Today that circumspect diplomacy is in ruins, and the House of Saud looks more vulnerable than it has since the country was founded in 1926. Unraveling the reasons for the current train wreck is a study in how easily hubris, illusion, and old-fashioned ineptness can trump even bottomless wealth. 

The Kingdom’s first stumble was a strategic decision last fall to undermine competitors by upping oil production and, thus, lowering the price. Their reasoning was that, if the price of a barrel of oil dropped from over $100 to around $80, it would strangle competition from more expensive sources and new technologies, including the U.S. fracking industry, the arctic, and emergent producers like Brazil. That, in turn, would allow Riyadh to reclaim its shrinking share of the energy market. 

There was also the added benefit that lower oil prices would damage countries that the Saudis didn’t like: Russia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Iran. 

In one sense it worked. The American fracking industry is scaling back, the exploitation of Canada’s oil sands has slowed, and many arctic drillers closed up shop. And, indeed, countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, and Russia took a serious economic hit. But despite obvious signs, the Saudis failed to anticipate China’s economic slowdown and how that would dampen economic growth in the leading industrial nations. The price of oil went from $115 a barrel in June 2014 to $44 today. Because it is so pure, it costs less than $10 to produce a barrel of Saudi oil. 

The Kingdom planned to use its almost $800 billion in financial reserves to ride out the drop in prices, but it figured that oil would not fall below $80 a barrel, and then only for a few months. 

According to the Financial Times, in order to balance its budget, Saudi Arabia needs a price of between $95 and $105 a barrel. And while oil prices will likely rise over the next five years, projections are that price per barrel will only reach $65. Saudi debt is on schedule to rise from 6.7 percent of GDP this year to 17.3 percent next year, and its 2015 budget deficit is $130 billion. 

Saudi Arabia is spending $10 billion a month in foreign exchange reserves to pay the bills and has been forced to borrow money on the international financial market. Two weeks ago the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) regional director, Masood Ahmed, warned Riyadh that the country would deplete its financial reserves in five years unless it drastically cut its budget. 

But the Kingdom can’t do that.  

When the Arab Spring broke out in 2011, the Saudi Arabia headed it off by pumping $130 billion into the economy, raising wages, improving services and providing jobs for its growing population. Saudi Arabia has one of the youngest populations in the Middle East, a lot of it unemployed and much of it poorly educated. Some 25 percent of the population lives in poverty. Money keeps the lid on, but for how long, even with the heavy-handed repression that characterizes Saudi political life? 

In March, the Kingdom intervened in Yemen, launching an air war, a naval blockade, and partial ground campaign on the pretense that Iran was behind the civil war, a conclusion not even the Americans agree with. 

Again, the Saudis miscalculated, even though one of its major allies, Pakistan, warned Riyadh that it was headed for trouble. In part, the Kingdom’s hubris was fed by the illusion that U.S. support would make it a short war—the Americans are arming the Saudis, supplying them with bombing targets, backing up the naval blockade, and refueling their warplanes in mid-air. 

But six months down the line the conflict has turned into a stalemate. The war has killed 5,000 people, including 500 children, flattened cities, and alienated much of the local population. It has also generated a food and medical crisis, as well as creating opportunities for the IS and Al-Qaeda to seize territory in Southern Yemen. Efforts by the UN to investigate the possibility of war crimes were blocked by Saudi Arabia and the U.S. 

As the Saudis are finding out, war is a very expensive business, a burden the Saudis could meet under normal circumstances, but not when the price the Kingdom’s only commodity, oil, is plummeting. 

Nor is Yemen the only war that the Saudis are involved with. Riyadh, along with other Gulf monarchies, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, are underwriting many of the groups trying to overthrow Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. When anti-government demonstrations broke out in 2011, the Saudis—along with the Americans and the Turks—calculated that Assad could be toppled in a few months. 

But that was magical thinking. As bad as Assad is, a lot of Syrians, particularly minorities like Shiites, Christians, and Druze, were far more afraid of the Islamists from al-Qaeda and the IS then they were of their own government. So the war has dragged on for four years and has now killed close to 250,000 people. 

Once again, the Saudis miscalculated, though in this case they were hardly alone. The Syrian government turned out to be more resilient that it appeared. And Riyadh’s bottom line that Assad had to go just ended up bringing Iran and Russia into the picture, checkmating any direct intervention by the anti-Assad coalition. Any attempt to establish a no-fly zone will have to confront the Russian air force, not something that anyone other than U.S. presidential aspirants are eager to do. 

The war has also generated a flood of refugees, deeply alarming the European Union, which finally seems to be listening to Moscow’s point about the consequences of overthrowing governments without a plan as to who takes over. There is nothing like millions of refugees headed in your direction to cause some serious re-thinking of strategic goals. 

The Saudis goal of isolating Iran is rapidly collapsing. The P5+1—The U.S., China, Russia, Great Britain, France, and Germany—successfully completed a nuclear agreement with Teheran, despite every effort by the Saudis and Israel to torpedo it. And at Moscow’s insistence, Washington has reversed its opposition to Iran being included in peace talks around Syria. 

Stymied in Syria, mired down in Yemen, its finances increasingly fragile, the Kingdom also faces internal unrest from its long marginalized Shiia minority in the country’s east and south. To top it off, the IS has called for the “liberation” of Mecca from the House of Saud and launched a bombing campaign aimed at the Kingdom’s Shiites. 

Last month’s Hajj disaster that killed more than 2100 pilgrims—and anger at the Saudi authorities foot dragging on investigating the tragedy—have added to the royal family’s woes. The Saudi’s claim 769 people were killed, a figure that no other country in the world accepts. And there are persistent rumors that the deadly stampede was caused when police blocked off an area in order to allow high-ranking Saudis special access to the holy sites. 

Some of these missteps can be laid at the feet of the new king, Salman bin Abud-Aziz Al Saud, and of a younger generation of aggressive Saudis he has appointed to key positions. But Saudi Arabia’s troubles are also a reflection of a Middle East in transition. Exactly where that it is headed is by no means clear, but change is in the wind. 

Iran is breaking out of its isolation and, with its large, well-educated population, strong industrial base, and plentiful energy resources, is poised to play a major regional, if not international, role. Turkey is in the midst of a political upheaval, and there is growing opposition among Turks to Ankara’s meddling in the Syrian civil war 

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is impaled on its own policies, both foreign and domestic. “The expensive social contract between the Royal family and Saudi citizens will get more difficult, and eventually impossible to sustain if oil prices don’t recover,” Meghan L. O’Sullivan, director of the Geopolitics of Energy project at Harvard told the New York Times

However, the House of Saud has little choice but to keep pumping oil to pay for its wars and keep the internal peace. But more production drives down prices even further, and, once the sanctions come off of Iran, the oil glut will become worse. 

While it is still immensely wealthy, there are lots of bills coming due. It is not clear the Kingdom has the capital or the ability to meet them. 

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

Arts & Events

New: AROUND AND ABOUT MUSIC: ZOFO Piano Duet returns to Berkeley City Club: Eva-Maria Zimmermann & Keiku Nagoshi

Ken Bullock
Monday November 16, 2015 - 01:24:00 PM

Eva-Maria Zimmermann of Switzerland (familiar to those who've attended Other Minds concerts) & Keisuke Nakagoshi from Japan (in residence at both the SF Conservatory of Music & Opéra Parallele--will perform Musical Gems of the Piano Four-Hands Repertoire, including Terry Riley's G-Song (with jazz chord progression, from 1973 but arranged for ZOFO last year); a world premiere of Ryan Brown's composition of this year, I Heard Bells from My Rotating House; Samuel Barber's collection from 1951 of six dances from 1951 (later orchestrated for a ballet); Estonian composer (known for his musical cosmologic references) Urmas Sisask's The Milky Way, 1990; & well-known Berkeley composer Gabriela Lena Frank's Sonata Serrana No. 1, commissioned by ZOFO in 2012, presented by Berkeley Chamber Concerts, 8 p. m. Tuesday at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Avenue, between Ellsworth & Dana. $30 general admission, post-secondary school students $15. (510) 525-5211. (A complimentary wine & cheese reception & chance to meet the artists follow the concert.)

New: Affordable Housing Teach-In

Sunday November 15, 2015 - 02:09:00 PM

Berkeley faces a housing crisis. Rents are soaring and home prices are out of reach for most of us. The city is an increasingly unaffordable place for low and moderate income households and for students, which is threatening the city’s valued diversity. People can't find housing and live in fear of eviction.

A teach-in on Berkeley's housing crisis will be held on Sunday, November 22 at 2 PM at the Berkeley Arts Festival, 2133 University Ave, Berkeley.  


Facilitated by Paola Laverde, Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board Commissioner, the panel speakers are Stephen Barton, Ph.D., Former Director, Housing Department and Deputy Director of the Rent Stabilization Program in Berkeley, Moni Law, Affordable Housing Activist, Rick Lewis, Executive Director, Bay Area Community Land Trust and former Housing Advisory Commission Member,Austin Pritzkat, President, Berkeley Student Cooperative and Katherine Harr, Berkeley Tenants Union. 

Panelists will address: o What can our local elected officials do? o How do we prevent displacement of lower income folk and people of color? o Discuss ways to get funding for affordable housing: • increase business license fee paid by large landlords • city density bonus • housing impact fees and inclusionary housing • new revenue, such as a proposed tax on short-term rentals 

A City of Berkeley study found that in 2014 the average rent for a two bedroom apartment in a new building was $3434 a month. The rent for new tenants in two bedroom apartments increased by 32% between 2011 and 2014. Older rent controlled housing is also more expensive. 

Panel ideas will include increasing the business license fee on large landlords, increasing fees for affordable units required in new for-profit housing, using new revenue sources such as the proposed tax on short-term rentals, and allowing more small housing on existing lots. 

There will be an opportunity for questions and comments. 

Sponsored by the Berkeley Progressive Alliance with support from Sustainable Berkeley Coalition, Berkeley Citizens Action, the Berkeley Tenants Union, CALPIRG, the Berkeley NAACP, Black Student Union of Berkeley City College, and the Better Berkeley Working Group.

The Berkeley Video & Film Festival
Screens Friday, Saturday & Sunday November 13,14 & 15

Gar Smith
Friday November 13, 2015 - 03:19:00 PM

The East Bay Media Center is wrapping up its 24th Berkeley Video and Film Festival (BVFF) this weekend with screenings drawn from more than 75 independent films from the US, Switzerland, Russia, and Ireland. Thanks to an exclusive partnership with the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts the BVFF will also spotlight a host of "masters-degree" short films and animations. In addition to an array of Jury-selected features and documentaries, the BVFF also includes outstanding shorts and experimental cinema.

The last three days of festival's offerings will be held at the East Bay Media Center's performance space at 1939 Addison Street in Berkeley's Downtown Arts District. Space is limited so it's advisable to secure tickets in advance. Tickets are also available at the door at a 'pay what you can' rate.

Email maketv@aol.com, or call 510-843-3699 for more info and to order tickets. 

Here's the schedule for the BVFF's Final Weekend 


Friday November 13 

5:50pm - Infrastructures - Aurele Ferrier - Experimental - 23 minutes - Switzerland 

The film involves a journey through a landscape of infrastructures that are common to an everyday reality of routine. Yet here we find these environments are deserted. This allows attention to focus instead on the design and spatial arrangements of the objects, which become centrally present. Infrastructures involves a series of seven tracking shots. A steady flow of objects in various contrived arrangements passes by the eye. 

6:30pm - Suggestive Gestures - David Finkelstein - Experimental Feature -75 minutes 

A journey into a labyrinth, where a variety of dazzling verbal, musical ad visual textures lead to a mystery at the center. 

7:45pm - Q & A with David Finkelstein 



8:30pm - NOWRUZ: Lost and Found - K-Von - Comedy - Best Comedy Documentary Award - 82 minutes 

In his movie, K-Von discovers he was not informed about a huge holiday known as NOWRUZ (Persian New Year) celebrated by over 300 million people worldwide. Instead of getting mad at his Iranian father for not sharing, he grabs a camera crew and sets out to learn as much as he can, inviting the viewer to join along on his quest. 

Saturday November 14 

7:35pm - TWO LANDSCAPES - Neil Ira Needleman - Short Feature, 3 minutes 

A clash between the landscape the eye perceives and the one that's deeply embedded in the mind. 

7:40pm - SPRINT TO THE PAST - Selkin Fedor - Short Feature - Russia -16 minutes 

This short film follows 3 students involved in Academic Rowing and how their lives evolve and change into middle age. 

8:00pm - AmericaAntiAmerica - Neil Ira Needleman - Experimental - 3minutes 

A short, light philosophical video that asks questions about the meaning and power of imagery, and the nature of patriotic (and anti-patriotic) acts. 

8:05pmPsychoNation 2.0 - Kit Young - Experimental - 4 minutes 

Our Sisyphean journey towards racial equality was in mind as I created this piece, as well as how differently our democracy appears from different perspectives in our country and around the world. 

8:10pm - Business - Zachary T. Scott - Music Video - 3 minutes 

Two thugs rob a mansion. Then get a taste of their own medicine. 

8:30pm - Scammerhead - Dan Zukovic - Feature - 90 minutes 

Scammerhead is a Global Film Noir with dark comic elements that follows the adventures of Silas Breece, a legendarily unorthodox business hustler who travels the world seeking capitol from bizarre investors and underworld mobsters, for a series of increasingly elaborate investment schemes. When his projects turn sour he finds himself in a desperate cat and mouse chase with the global mafia out to exact revenge. 

10:00pm - Intermission 

10:15pm - Fight to the Death - Zachary T. Scott - Short Feature, 3 minutes. 

Two brothers survive the apocalypse only to be so bored they decide to fight to the death. 

Sunday November 15 

3:00pm - Leaving Selma - Andrew Young, and C.B. Hackworth - 94 minutes 

"The darkest hour of the Civil Rights movement, was its greatest victory". After passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, white America and President Johnson moved on to other issues. But in many places, the new law was simply ignored. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. realized it would be necessary to replace racist public officials where blacks were still unable to register to vote. Dr. King brought the movement to the small, vicious town of Selma, Alabama and made history. Starring: Willie Bolden, Amelia Boynton, Narration by: Molly C. Quinn 

5:00pm - Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguan Valley - Jesse Freeston - 92minutes 

When the first military coup in a generation ousts the only president they ever believed in, these farmers took over the plantations of the most powerful man in the country . . . and they have no plans to ever give them back. 

More information on the programming can be found at BerkeleyVideoFilmFest.org 

Mozart’s THE MAGIC FLUTE Sung in English at San Francisco Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday November 13, 2015 - 03:16:00 PM

Back in 1974, I wrote my very first opera review for the Berkeley Barb about the Merola Opera Program’s production that summer of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which was sung in English. In that production, director Richard Pearlman staged this opera as a mystical exploration of the psychedelic world of “non-ordinary reality.” Setting The Magic Flute in Mexico, Pearlman cast the earthy Papageno as a kinky-haired hippie traveler consorting with Aztec peasants and getting high on magic mushrooms and peyote, while seeking to turn on his straight friend Tamino. Sarastro was depicted as a benevolent advocate of The Teachings of Don Juan as told by Carlos Castaneda. In this production, the use of W.H. Auden’s English translation seemed utterly justified, if only for the reason that it dovetailed so perfectly with our generation’s quest for self-knowledge through exploration of altered states that might lead to higher spiritual consciousness.  

Sadly, I can’t make a similar argument for the English translation by San Francisco Opera’s General Director David Gockley that is used in the company’s current production of Mozart’s German-language original Die Zauberflöte. Instead of the high-seriousness of Auden’s translation, albeit a high-seriousness achieved back in 1974 in Richard Pearlman’s ingenious staging by literally “getting high,” Gockley gives us nothing but low-brow fatuity. The sheer inanity of Gockley’s translation, which is guilty of striving to be all-too-current, is apparent very early on when Papageno first encounters Tamino and asks, “What’s your problem, boy toy?” Much later, Gockley’s awkward gaffes are compounded when he has the villain of the piece, Monostatos, utter the words, ”If I can’t have the daughter, I’ll go hit on the mother. She’s a very sexy lady!”  

There are other textual miscalculations in Gockley’s translation, but I won’t belabor the point here. Suffice it to say that in spite of Gockley’s superficial and regrettable exploitation of colloquial “now-ness,” this production of The Magic Flute succeeds surprisingly well thanks to fine singing among the principals and, above all, to Mozart’s immortal music. The composer’s extraordinary musical gifts are here fused with a sensitive, sympathetic understanding of the many ways of being human. Consequently, the way each figure in the opera is characterized by distinctive music sets each and every character in relation to everyone else, so that the drama unfolds, musically and symbolically, in a richly woven tapestry of multi-colored resonances on the theme of being human. 

As Tamino, the high-minded prince, tenor Paul Appleby sang with power and nobility. As his unlikely cohort, the earthy Papageno, baritone Efraín Solís was a stout vocal presence and a clear-cut everyman’s counterweight to the aristocratic Tamino. Soprano Nadine Sierra, coming off her sensational run in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor, was a sweet and wholesome Pamina. Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova was an effective Queen of the Night, who handled Mozart’s most difficult fioratura passages – and their daunting high-Fs – with impressive ease. On the other hand, tenor Greg Fedderly’s arch-villain Monostatos was both overly antic and underwhelming vocally. Bass-baritone Alfred Reiter was perhaps slightly miscast to carry off successfully the lowest notes usually allocated to a bass, although, to his immense credit, Reiter almost managed to be utterly convincing in this very demanding role. The three ladies were admirably sung by soprano Jacqueline Piccolino, mezzo-soprano Nian Wang, and mezzo-soprano Zande Švėde. Maria Valdes was a suitably sexy, bumptious Papagena. The chorus under director Ian Robertson sang beautifully; and the conducting by Lawrence Foster, if a bit on the slow side, managed to hold things together musically.  

Mozart’s music, it almost goes without saying, is a wondrous creation – something which, as the great pianist Arthur Schnabel once remarked, is “too complex for beginners and too simple for the experts.” Of course, Schnabel was talking not just about Mozart’s operas but about all his music. In any case, Schnabel’s epigram has always seemed to me so perfectly apt, but perhaps especially in regard to the marvelous fairytale combination of comical common-places and spiritual seriousness that somehow becomes magically synthesized in Die Zauberflöte. Musically, The Magic Flute contains elements of singspiel, folksong, intermezzo, dance, oratorio, and religious liturgy, in addition, of course, to some of the familiar elements of opera. 

Incidentally, I noticed several cuts in this production’s performance of The Magic Flute. One of the most important lines in the spoken dialogue was cut. In Act II, just before Tamino and Papageno are about to undergo their initiation trials, a priest asks, somewhat doubtfully, if Tamino will muster the self-discipline to succeed in the trials. “He is,” says the priest, “a prince,” thereby intimating that Tamino might be too spoiled by privilege to endure the trials. “He is a man!” responds Sarastro. This interchange was entirely omitted. Perhaps more importantly, the thrice-repeated very solemn chords that first appear in the opera’s overture and re-appear at the onset of the trials by fire and water in Act II, were totally omitted in the Act II initiation scene of this production. 

Finally, a word must be said about this opera’s Masonic symbolism. Both Mozart and his librettist and co-collaborator Emmanuel Shikaneder were members of Vienna’s Masonic lodge; and they included in The Magic Flute many allusions to Masonic ideals, rites and symbolisms. After the death of Emperor Joseph II, who had been sympathetic to the Masons and had sought to lessen the influence of the Catholic Church and, particularly, of the Jesuits, Empress Maria Theresa reversed this policy and sought to interdict the Masonic lodges. At this moment of history, the Masonic movement was considered a manifestation of bourgeois humanism riding on the wake of the French Revolution. The Masonic emphasis on the equality of all mankind was considered dangerously anathema to Maria Theresa.  

Mozart and Shikaneder somewhat subversively sought to endow their Magic Flute with overtones that were unmistakably Masonic. They set the opera in Egypt, the mythical source where freemasonry was believed to have originated. They made Sarastro the sage devotee of Isis and Osiris and the Egyptian rites of immortality. The ordeals of Tamino and Pamina were modeled on the initiation rites of the Masons. When Die Zauberflöte was first performed in Vienna in 1791, many commentators identified Tamino with the recently deceased Emperor Joseph II; Pamina with the simple and forthright Austrian people; Sarastro with the scientist-astrologer Ignaz von Born, a Freemason; the vengeful Queen of the Night with the Empress Maria Theresa; and Monastatos with the clergy, especially the casuistic Jesuits. In this interpretation, the fact that Tamino gains acceptance to Sarastro’s brotherhood of wisdom by successfully meeting his trials, while the earthy Papageno ultimately wins acceptance by failing all his trials, simply but clearly illustrates the Masonic notion that each and every human being follows his or her own path to higher wisdom, One person, a high-minded aristocrat like Tamino, might attain this goal by self-discipline and abnegation, while another person, like Papageno, might attain the same goal by failing all the trials yet ultimately succeeding by resolutely refusing to be anything other than what he knows himself to be. Thus is Mozart’s profoundly universal celebration of everything that is human resoundingly made palpable in The Magic Flute, his immortal testament to what it means to be human.