Full Text

The purple areas in Berkeley will be upzoned if the Skinner-Wiener SB827 passes and is signed by Governor Brown.
The purple areas in Berkeley will be upzoned if the Skinner-Wiener SB827 passes and is signed by Governor Brown.



Toni Mester
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 11:31:00 AM
Ken Alexander at Work
Ken Alexander at Work

Over the holidays, I spent some time at the movies, catching up with the Golden Globe nominees to better share in the fun. But for great cinema, nothing beats the Pacific Film Archive, which is the best screen in Berkeley for quality of projection, sound, sightlines, and programming by astute curators. An attentive audience ensures a reprieve from date night muttering and the rustling of popcorn bags, and their appreciation of fine art often elicits applause at the end of the credits, when the house begins to empty, as it should. The price of a museum member ticket is $7 for the first film of the day and $5 for the second, and the cost of membership is quickly reimbursed for the avid cinephile. Upcoming series include perspectives on Ida Lupino, Liv Ullman in Ingmar Bergman films, Sergei Eisenstein and his contemporaries, and much, much more. Lucky us. 

Besides retrospectives, the PFA often runs art-house and festival winners that the first run movie theaters overlook, like the documentary California Typewriter that got four screenings in December. The last show, which I attended, was almost sold-out, so word must have gotten around about this intriguing look at a seminal machine of the analog age that is no longer being manufactured but still sold and repaired at the eponymous store two short blocks from my house. The business has been at 2362 San Pablo Avenue for 36 years, almost as long as I’ve lived in West Berkeley. With the celebratory film and the opening next door of a popular cannabis dispensary, the Berkeley Patient’s Group, my working class neighborhood suddenly feels so chic. 

The stars of the film are the shop’s owner Herbert Permillion III and repairman Ken Alexander. A focus on their dedication to keeping the store and its machines running is the thread that connects appearances by actors Tom Hanks and Sam Shepherd, writers Silvi Alivar and David McCullough, and musician John Mayer; who all attest to their romance with the typewriter. Its history is provided by Martin Howard, a collector who travels the globe in search of antique machines, and a profound expression of its aesthetics by Jeremy Mayer, who sculpts fabulous creations in human and animal forms out of typewriter parts. A musical interlude is provided by the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, whose percussive compositions exploit the familiar sounds of clickety-clack and ding ding

The philosophical undercurrent of the film asks us to consider the loss of analog expression, as the technology of composition has moved from the typewriter to the computer and other digital implements of writing. Have we lost the intimacy and comfort of slow writing to the instant gratification of word processing? It’s a question that has haunted me since watching this hugely entertaining documentary with its lingering intellectual afterlife. 

I grew up with typewriters. The office desk of our family business, Tri-State Electric Company, held a heavy black Underwood that my mother and I used to type letters and monthly invoices. At home, we had a sleeker Smith Corona, and my brother and I each took portables to college. I bought an electric typewriter for graduate school, which I kept until I bought my first Apple computer, an SE. I cannot remember how I disposed of the last of my typewriters, and frankly I don’t miss them one bit. Having suffered through whiting out hundreds of college papers, crumpling up failed attempts at correction, and retyping pages from scratch, I think computers are heaven on earth. Revision is a snap, especially with on-line dictionaries, spelling and grammar check, which is especially useful for stimulating the vocabulary of the aging brain. The vast research apparatus of the Internet provides breadth of information and gravitas of exactitude. With all this help, it’s a wonder how badly written so much of the Internet remains. But that’s another subject. 

The keyboard is the persistent element of the typewriter still in use, essentially the same QWERTY arrangement invented and patented by Christopher Latham Sholes in 1868, shortly after the Civil War. Today global villagers write English by pushing little keys in an order first conceived a hundred and fifty years ago by an American newspaperman practicing freedom of the press, with some additional functions of course. But the basics remain the same. 

One summer long ago, my mother urged me to take “touch typing” at the high school, where the classroom was arranged in long tables supporting rows of black manual Underwoods with blank keys. We students stared straight ahead at a large printed keyboard hung over the blackboard, instructed never to look down, but to find the right letters with our fingers. Thus was formed the eye to brain to hand connection that facilitated my higher education and livelihood. Learning to type helped me to think, write, and make a living. As a composition teacher, I told my students that developing the skill of writing at the keyboard would ensure they would always have a job. 

In material terms, there’s a continuum between the analog and digital world, not a total break and distinction. Theoretically, we don’t know if the world is continuous or discrete because we can’t see that small, and most people don’t give a damn about quantum physics anyway. PBS recently aired a documentary about George Boole, the nineteenth century English mathematician who formulated the calculus that allowed the digital revolution, but it took a century before inventors turned his logic into computers. The age of the human run analog machine is far from over but morphing into an industrial composite that uses artificial intelligence to run familiar machines like computer driven cars and other robots. We are probably living on the outer edge of the first industrial revolution, which started during the realm of Elizabeth I with the mining of lead. Five hundred years later, we are still trying to get the poison out of pipes and paint, so let’s not get carried away with technological hubris. In 2016 Americans elected a science denier as president, a historical setback and national humiliation, to say the least. 

The upcoming generation that has grown up in the digital age still has Popular Mechanics to teach them how the world works. Many smug teenagers who are showing old folks how to text know zip about the internal combustion engine and couldn’t rebuild a hot rod like grandpa and his friends in their youth. People take machines for granted without understanding the science of their structure. I once asked a class of travelers to explain how an airplane weighing hundreds of tons manages to stay in the sky, and nobody could explain the principles of lift. There used to be machine repair shops in the East Bay before retirements and high rent put them out of business. Now broken televisions, microwaves, and vacuum cleaners end up on the curbs rather than get fixed and re-used. We don’t live in a brave new digital world but in the junkyard of the analog age. 

Longing for an older, slower way of life infuses the film California Typewriter. Perhaps everybody who writes at a computer keyboard should have a typewriter handy for when the power fails. Arthritis often makes longhand difficult for the older writer, so demand for affordable typewriters as a fallback for that demographic may revive their manufacture. Even movies have gone digital. I was too stoned at the time to appreciate the irony, but I saw the original Star Wars in a friend’s garage theater, delivered to the screen by his antique 35 mm carbon arc projector. Now most celluloid has been digitized to disc, even movies that reek of nostalgia. 

Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley. 

BART Fares Up Again

Dan McMenamin (BCN)
Monday January 01, 2018 - 03:31:00 PM

Fares are going up for BART riders in the new year, with everyone paying 2.7 percent more than in 2017, according to the transit agency.

The minimum fare will rise to $2 for adults, $1 for youth between 5 and 18 years old, and 75 cents for senior or disabled Clipper card users. 

The youth discount is getting extended starting today for people up to 18 years old after previously being only for children between the ages of 5 and 12. Children 4 and under will remain free on BART. 

To encourage the use of the cards and cut down on fare gate maintenance cuts related to paper ticket jams, 50 cents are being added in the new year for each ride using BART's blue paper tickets. 

BART staff will be handing out free Clipper cards at three East Bay stations in the upcoming days -- at the West Oakland station from 4-7 p.m. on Thursday, at the Dublin/Pleasanton station from 4-7 p.m. on Jan. 8, and at the Bay Fair station from 4-7 p.m. on Jan. 9. 

People can go to clippercard.com to get a card, find in-person locations or find out how to get a discounted card for youth, seniors or disabled riders, according to BART.

Berkeley Marijuana Dealers See New Year's Day Rush

Janis Mara (BCN)
Monday January 01, 2018 - 03:25:00 PM

Customers crowded into marijuana dispensaries that opened early in the East Bay today, the first day recreational marijuana became legal in California.

Some dispensaries in Berkeley and Oakland opened as early as 6 a.m. after being licensed in California and their respective cities for recreational sales following the passage of Proposition 64 in November 2016.

Underscoring the new legal status of the herb, a personage no less impressive than the mayor of Berkeley, Jesse Arreguin, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Berkeley Patients Group on San Pablo Avenue.

"It's an exciting moment. We worked really hard in the fall to be sure BPG was ready to open," said Arreguin, who cut a green ribbon to officially open the dispensary to recreational sales. 

People were waiting outside the door before BPG opened at 6 a.m., and the same was true art Purple Heart Patient Center on Fourth Street. 

"We opened at 6 a.m. We had people waiting in line," said Kell McKenzie, a team leader at Purple Heart. 

Reached by telephone around 10 a.m., McKenzie said the store was crowded and the mood upbeat. 

"It's great seeing the new customers and they seem really excited about looking at the products," McKenzie said. 

Oakland's Harborside dispensary opened at 6 a.m. The Harborside in San Jose opened at 9 a.m. Emails and phone calls to the dispensary and its chief executive were not returned. 

While Oakland, Berkeley and San Jose signed off on various dispensaries to begin recreational sales starting Monday, other cities including San Francisco did not approve legislation for it in time for the start of the new year. 

In San Francisco's case, legislation was not signed until early December following lengthy debates over regulatory issues for the dispensaries. 

Ultimately, the board opted for a 600-foot buffer zone around city schools and did not institute bans or caps for the number of dispensaries in each supervisorial district. 

The city's existing 45 medical marijuana dispensaries and delivery services will be able to begin recreational sales as early as Saturday.



SB 827 (Skinner, D-Berkeley) will destroy local land use control

Becky O'Malley
Saturday January 06, 2018 - 02:12:00 PM
The purple areas in Berkeley will be upzoned if the Skinner-Wiener SB827 passes and is signed by Governor Brown.
The purple areas in Berkeley will be upzoned if the Skinner-Wiener SB827 passes and is signed by Governor Brown.

State Senators Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) are again lusting after our remaining affordable neighborhoods on behalf of their developer patrons, who are fronted by the astroturf YIMBYs:

As reported by Liam Dillon in the L.A. Times:

“A dramatic increase in new housing near transit stations could be on its way across California under new legislation proposed by a Bay Area legislator. Subject to some limitations, the measure would eliminate restrictions on the number of houses allowed to be built within a half-mile of train, light-rail, major bus routes and other transit stations, and block cities from imposing parking requirements. Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the bill’s author, said the state needs the housing to address affordability problems, maximize recent multi-billion-dollar transit investments and help the state meet its climate change goals.’
Here’s a link to the bill, authored by Scott Wiener and co-authored by our own State Senator Nancy Skinner:

SB 827, as introduced, Wiener. Planning and zoning: transit-rich housing bonus.

Transit-rich is the new buzz word in the title, and how ironically apt it is. This bill effectively removes all local planning controls in areas served by transit, opening up enormous swaths of our historically low-income urban neighborhoods (think southwest Berkeley) to gentrifying market rate development.

And no, it won’t make the current residents, especially renters, rich—but it will certainly make rich developers richer. That's who get the housing bonus.

This plan doesn’t seem to have been reported in the Bay Area press as yet, but Damien Goodmon, founder and Executive Director of Los Angeles’ nonprofit Crenshaw Subway Coalition, already has their number. He’s posted a stinging denunciation of the bill’s backers and its effect on low-income residents on the organization’s web site. I was intending just to link to it, but so much of the analysis also applies to the urban East Bay that I’ll quote most of it: 


“Like the Colonizers before them, YIMBYs claim the 'Hood as Theirs! 

“The bill is backed by group that calls themselves YIMBYs, which stands for "Yes in my backyard." Like the colonizers whose agenda they seek to replicate, it takes a certain entitlement/supremacist mindset to call a community they didn't grow up in, don't live in or are new to as "theirs." It's NOT their backyard - it's ours. And we're not about to give it up. WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED! 

“YIMBY groups are the very definition of "astroturf" - fake grassroots organizations backed by a corporate industry. The overwhelming white 30s-somethings-led groups push to remake our community of established institutions and organizations led by people of color. They aren't long-time residents of places like our South Central. 

“That's why they could care less about the predatory lending that led to the greatest evisceration of Black wealth in decades - it wasn't their grandma whose mortgage became unaffordable overnight. 

“They don't talk about or prioritize legislation to address modern-day redlining (Blacks are being denied home loans and refinancing in our community that are being granted to Whites with the same credit score and incomes), because they're not the ones being discriminated against. 

“They never discuss the role of foreign money, Wall Street investors and rampant speculation in driving up land values that has made the communities our parents bought into completely unaffordable to even working middle-class Black people today. 

“They never propose solutions to fight the expansion and rise of Wall Street landlords like Blackstone, the largest private equity firm in the world, which in one day bought up 1,400 homes in Atlanta, because YIMBYs are largely funded and supported by the real estate investor industry. 

“YIMBYs are completely indifferent and nowhere to be seen on the strategies of protection and preservation of our dwindling affordable housing stock, because they're not being asked to move-in their cousin who makes less than $30K a year and was harassed out of their $850/month two-bedroom in Baldwin Village by the new corporate landlord who can now collect $2,200/month for the unit. 

‘As just one example, not a single major YIMBY group has expressed strong support for what will be the biggest mobilization of housing justice groups in Sacramento this year - next week's Assembly Housing Committee hearing on AB 1506 - the bill to repeal the horrible Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which all housing justice groups in the state consider the top legislative goal for 2018. 

“Scott Wiener's SB 827 is a declaration of war on every urban community in California - and especially our urban communities of color. 

“It is time that we put our war paint on, soldiers. SB 827 is a bill that must be killed.” 

I couldn’t have expressed it better myself. 

What in the name of heaven is Berkeley’s state senate representative Nancy Skinner’s name doing on this horrendous bill along with Wiener’s? We haven’t done the same research on her contributors that Damien Goodmon’s group did on Scott Wiener’s backers, so we don’t know if developers are funding her the same way they are him, but it’s time to find out. 

And what does all this mean for Berkeley? Thanks to Berkeley Housing Advisory Commissioner Thomas Lord for spelling it out for us on the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition list-serv: 

“Scott Wiener has proposed SB827 which I am guessing will sail through both houses and get an easy signature from the governor. You must see the attached map to really appreciate it.  

“Odds are, your street - your block - will be upzoned. Every place with purple shading on the map. “ 

“Oh, and, by the way -- the areas on the map that are not shaded? AC Transit will have land use authority over those. For example, all they have to do is decrease the peak commute schedule for the 88 bus from 15 minutes to 5 minutes and then all along Sacramento street will be upzoned. 

“What do I mean by upzoned? I'll quote this bill which puts every low income household on the chopping block: 

(b) Notwithstanding any local ordinance, general plan element, specific plan, charter, or other local law, policy, resolution, or regulation, a transit-rich housing project shall receive a transit-rich housing bonus which shall exempt the project from all of the following: 

(1) Maximum controls on residential density or floor area ratio. 

(2) Minimum automobile parking requirements. 

(3) Any design standard that restricts the applicant’s ability to construct the maximum number of units consistent with any applicable building code. 

(4) (A) If the transit-rich housing project is within either a one-quarter mile radius of a high-quality transit corridor or within one block of a major transit stop, any maximum height limitation that is less than 85 feet, except in cases where a parcel facing a street that is less than 45 feet wide from curb to curb, in which case the maximum height shall not be less than 55 feet. If the project is exempted from the local maximum height limitation, the governing height limitation for a transit-rich housing project shall be 85 feet or 55 feet, as provided in this subparagraph. 

(B) If the transit-rich housing project is within one-half mile of a major transit stop, but does not meet the criteria specified in subparagraph (A), any maximum height limitation that is less than 55 feet, except in cases where a parcel facing a street that is less than 45 feet wide from curb to curb, in which case the maximum height shall not be less than 45 feet. If the project is exempted from the local maximum height limitation, the governing height limitation for a transit-rich housing project shall be 55 feet or 45 feet, as provided in this subparagraph. 

(C) For purposes of this paragraph, if a parcel has street frontage on two or more different streets, the height maximum pursuant to this paragraph shall be based on the widest street. 

“ Another aspect of this: it creates a much greater incentive than ever before to empty and demolish rent controlled buildings in Berkeley. Berkeley charges some fees for this but they are peanuts compared to the potential windfalls. 

“Why will a bus service [AC Transit] have land use control over land use?” 

A good question, and it sheds light on something I’ve been wondering about. 

Within the last year, two new bus lines, 80 and 81, have been added to Ashby Avenue, with a stop right in front of our house. When our kids were at Berkeley High, we much appreciated the old 65, which took them from home to school in 15 minutes, but that’s been long gone. These new lines are part of a circuit which seems to go to the El Cerrito Plaza mall and the pricey 4th Street shopping area, neither one of which appeals much to me. 

Evidently, these lines are not filling any huge demand for others either. 

Since the service started, we’ve observed that very often there’s not a single passenger on these buses, and we have literally never seen more than two on any bus, day or night, since we’ve starting watching for them. 

AC Transit does not publish figures on operating costs per passenger mile, but the cost of transporting these few passengers in lonely splendor on huge gas guzzlers must be astronomical. We've been wondering why these lines keep on going. 

However, though I don’t want to go all conspiracy theory on you, it’s not hard to conjecture that the mere existence of these two routes in the next five or ten years, if SB827 passes, will dramatically increase the land values on Ashby for the benefit of speculative developers. The west end in particular, now devoted to nice well-maintained small single family homes, many minority owned, and small rental apartment buildings, will certainly be targeted for Build It Bigger market-rate projects as bad as the one on the corner of Ashby and San Pablo (which by the way was originally promoted as affordable housing, though it's now rented at market rates. ) 

A little history: The old “red-line” in southwest Berkeley used to be Grove Street, now re-named Martin Luther King Way. Minority residents had a mighty hard time buying or renting homes east of Grove, with the collusion of development and real estate interests, so as a result they clustered on the city’s west side. 

The area was home to Berkeley’s substantial Japanese-American population until they were interned during World War II, when African-Americans who migrated to the Bay Area to work in defense manufacturing bought or rented there. As a result Berkeley’s vaunted diversity tends to be concentrated in the southwest quadrant of the city, along with a substantial percentage of our rent-controlled units. 

If Berkeley’s control over its zoning is lost through the passage of the Skinner-Wiener SB827 bill, it’s highly probable that well-paid commuters to San Francisco jobs will soon gentrify southwest Berkeley, which is tantalizingly convenient to the Ashby freeway entrance. This will have the effect of forcing current residents to move to distant places like Antioch, Pittsburg and even Tracy, from which they will need to drive long distances to reach poorly paid service jobs in the urban core. 

At the very least, passage of this bill could motivate residents in all kinds of areas, including the rest of Berkeley, to oppose the extension of rapid transit to their neighborhoods, which in the long term would have detrimental consequences for those who already live there and do need right-scale bus service. 

This is a knotty topic which deserves a book of its own, for which we don’t have time or space here. Better to just reprise Damien Goodmon’s call to arms: 

“Scott Wiener's SB 827 is a declaration of war on every urban community in California - and especially our urban communities of color. 

“It is time that we put our war paint on, soldiers. SB 827 is a bill that must be killed.” 

What do you think? Is upzoning coming to your 'hood? You can comment at opinion@berkeleydailyplanet.com. Only comments signed by real names will be published. 











Happy New Year, just like the Old Years

Becky O'Malley
Monday January 01, 2018 - 01:47:00 PM

Looking through a box of old sewing patterns inherited from her grandmother, my daughter found a clipping of a column written by satirical columnist Art Buchwald, probably in early 1974. It’s a parody, a purported message from Richard Nixon’s winter White House in, yes, Florida.

Here’s Buchwald's introduction: “It is wrong to think that President Nixon’s political future rests on what evidence is produced by the Watergate hearings or whether the Supreme Court decides he has to give up the White House tapes.” Sound familiar?

Art’s gimmick was that it was a very cold winter, and Nixon was blaming the problem on Congress. His parody depicts the president claiming the usual bugaboos beloved of traditional Republicans: taxes (“I still believe a vast majority of Americans feel as I do, that it’s better to shiver than pay higher taxes’), the media (“The responsibility lies not only with Congress but with a press and TV media that for the past four months has been devoting endless space and time to weather reports that show the United States is a cold nation. … there are great parts of the United States that aren’t cold. Florida isn’t cold. Texas isn’t cold…All we ever see or read about is New England and Minnesota…), big government encouraging the lazy poor (“we’re not going to give a blank check to those able-bodied people who are capable of finding ways of keeping warm without government assistance…).

My daughter was amazed when she read it. The column was written at least 45 years ago, and yet today’s Republicans are still singing the same stale old tunes, except that now what was parody is presented with a straight face by the current president.

As we say all too often: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Except that things aren’t the same thing anymore in this surreal age. Congress is now populated by fools who actually believe such foolish dogmas, aided and abetted by an executive branch that is both ignorant (in a way that Nixon never was) and corrupt (as he certainly was). 

Thinking about the age of Nixon on New Year’s Eve as I write this reminds me of what I think was my most optimistic New Year’s Eve, in 1968 as I looked forward to 1969. Why optimistic? Well, because nothing could be any worse than ’68. 

Just a few low points in a generally awful year: Martin Luther King was assassinated. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. The Democratic Convention blew up with many arrested. Richard Nixon was elected President. How could it get worse? 

Well, as we know, it did get worse, though eventually it got better. Nixon stopped the Vietnam War, eventually, after allowing many more unneeded deaths for political reasons. Then he was caught behaving badly and had to quit. Good. 

In between, some of us thought in 2000 that 2001 was going to be pretty shocking, believing as we did that G. W. Bush had stolen the election with the connivance of the Supremes, as he had. We went to DC (with the late beloved firebrand Patti Dacey) and demonstrated in awful sleet at the Court on Inauguration Day—which did approximately no good. We thought W was pretty bad, but it turned out presidents could be a lot worse. 

Which brings us to New Year 2017, a year in which things turned out to be just as bad as we expected and perhaps even worse. It’s sobering, to say the least, to discover that the 2016 election was certainly stolen, by the Russians in fact, and that the new administration is thoroughly staffed with scoundrels.  

The current situation makes Nixon, Bush I and Bush II all look like statesmen, which is ridiculous. (Although I can’t help finding it mordantly amusing…) 

Perhaps we can instead concentrate on local politics as a refreshing alternative. 

The latest crop of Berkeley councilmembers are eminently more plausible than their predecessors, though some are disappointingly cautious when more forceful action is needed. Mayor Arreguin does deserve praise for not panicking when the bullies came to town, avoiding bloodshed, though at a sobering financial cost. Councilmember Kate Harrison in particular has distinguished herself by her intelligent pursuit of important governance reforms—she’s serving out a short term now, but will need to be re-elected in November of this year. Other councilmembers, even holdovers from the previous administration, seem to be making a serious effort to respond to vox populi, though they don’t all hear the people saying quite the same thing. 

And, of course, there’s an election in the fall, isn’t there? If you’re looking for a productive way to spend your time, there’s nothing more important right now than working to take control of the House away from the lunatics formerly known as Republicans, with the additional goal in Berkeley of making sure that Kate Harrison is re-elected. Berkeley’s District 8 City Council seat can also be contested in November, and there’s an active search right now for a progressive challenger to the incumbent. 

I’ve learned the hard way that there’s not much point in over-anticipating—and dreading—what a new year might bring. It’s true that things could get worse, but they could also get better, and chances are the answer is not either/or but both/and. What seems to me to be most important right now is to keep our eyes on two of the biggest prizes: action both local and international to slow or halt climate change and protection of human rights at home and abroad.  

Those in power are likely to remain in power for another year, so it’s our job to continually press them to do the right thing in as many situations as possible. We have our work cut out for us, don’t we? 


The Editor's Back Fence

Skeptics and Sex

Becky O'Malley
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 12:50:00 PM

In the last few months I’ve done a couple of pieces expressing a certain amount of skepticism about some reported cases of sexual misconduct: Setting All Kinds of Limits and Sexual Sins: Are Contrition and Redemption Possible?

It turns out that there’s a magazine for that. A Planet reader sent me a link to an interesting opinion essay, I, Too, Am Thinking About Me, Too by Carol Tavris, which was published in a publication I’d not been familiar with, eSkeptic. It’s the online newsletter of The Skeptics Society, whose announced goal is to “Make the world a more rational place and help us defend the role of science in society.” Tavris recounts another author‘s difficulty in finding a publisher for a defense of due process even when there are allegations of sexual transgressions. Some of the publication’s articles also appear in print as Skeptic Magazine.

The latest issue of eSkeptic features a book review, by Frederick Crews, a well-known Berkeley writer who is the author of several books and numerous articles about the weak scientific underpinnings of recovered memory theory and Freudianism, of The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment, by Mark Pendergrast. The book’s topic is even more explosive than sexual misconduct of men toward women: a pederasty conviction which the book’s author views as a miscarriage of justice. It seems that where sex is concerned, the rules about admissible evidence and statutes of limitations which usually apply in criminal prosecutions go out the window, especially if juveniles are the alleged victims. 

On Saturday the New York Times ran an op-ed about what will surely be called the backlash to #MeToo:Publicly, We Say #MeToo. Privately, We Have Misgivings by Daphne Merkin. 

Evidence that cooler heads are now reassessing the situation can be also be found in a couple of stories in today’s Times: Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks on the #MeToo Moment and Major Donor Reconsiders Support for Democrats Who Urged Al Franken to Quit.  

It’s obvious that many men and even some women need to clean up their act where sex is concerned, but though the cleansing is long overdue, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Even in apparently horrendous cases, the usual due process safeguards are needed to make sure that the offense actually occurred as charged, and if the crime is proved, the punishment should fit the crime. 






Public Comment

The U.S. in Iran

Jagjit Singh
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 03:00:00 PM

Oh, how our political pundits love to waggle their fingers and lecture autocratic rulers on democracy that we have done so much to undermine. Like the US (Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, .) the Iranians have squandered their precious resources fighting proxy wars and impoverishing their people. 

Let’s begin to examine own dark history in Iranian affairs. In 1953-54 the CIA (and British intelligence) orchestrated the overthrow of Iran's (parliamentary elected) Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, who had sought to build a true democracy. His major offense against the West was the nationalization of Iran’s oil fields, thereby denying the British (Anglo-Iranian Oil Co.) their control of Iran's chief natural resource.  

The CIA ushered in the demonic Shah of Iran who, as an absolute monarch, bought billions of dollars’ worth of weapons from the US, established a vicious secret police (SAVAK) that carried out torture and murder on a wide scale. In 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini led the Shia Iranian Revolution hostage taking which further fanned hatred against the US. Teflon President Reagan then generated revenue to support the Contras by selling weapons to Iran. We then enriched our defense contractors by selling weapons to Iraq in its eight war with Iran. 

Not much has changed. It’s a pity Mr. Trump in his latest tweet failed to express similar outrage for the people living under oppressive regimes that we support - in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt to name just a few.

What Is Your History Worth?

Carol Denney
Saturday January 06, 2018 - 06:57:00 PM

A conversation about the potentially imperiled view between the campus and the bay is happening right now. And there is still time to be part of it.

When city planning happens, it can seem small. It can even seem boring. Your extra six inches of roof height can block sunlight to my garden, which is no small matter to me and my tomatoes.

But the issue at stake in this case is decades of generations who have carefully planned the preservation of the iconic view of the Golden Gate from the Berkeley hills, a view so powerful that it's been celebrated by successive generations of artists, architects, planners, students, city and campus workers, residents, and visitors from all over the world.

The leading lights of voices for the preservation of historic landmarks spoke Thursday night at the Landmarks Preservation Commission on behalf of a petition to preserve Campanile Way, not just a setting one can see from the marina up to the campus as well as the hills above but also an irreplaceable, unforgettable view from either direction. The most compelling voices included former commissioners, architects, and historians who recognize, as have hundreds of petitioners, that it is our generation's obligation to honor the extraordinary efforts of previous generations to preserve the amazing intersection of both built and natural elements represented by this landmark petition. 

If this is news, take the time to walk to the Campanile and look west, where your view will sweep through the entire length of the city through the shoreline, past the extremities of the fingers of San Francisco Bay and on a clear day include the pastel elements of either islands or fog - one has difficulty knowing which from moment to moment. Imagine the sad state of our city if, without guidance regarding its protection, this powerful image which draws thousands of admirers and is documented by thousands of wedding and graduation pictures from every continent was sacrificed. 

One could put the biggest billboard on earth across the Grand Canyon. What would stop such a thing, or the destruction of any landmark? Voices. Voices of people who have walked the Campanile Way, and who have been moved by the sweep of imagination included an expansive setting in what would otherwise be just a lovely sunset. 

The last voice at Thursday's meeting, the final part of a unanimous parade of support for the landmarking of Campanile Way, was a woman who said she worked with young people who see a lot of concrete and asphalt and made a brilliant, concise case for the clarity and power of the sweeping vista to a young imagination. She somehow made us all understand its necessity, to resounding applause, making us think about not only what our history is worth, but what our history is worth to those young eyes looking for a sense of connection to the generations that came before. 

Note: to send support for the Campanile Way landmark application, write to Fatema Crane, Senior Planner, Landmarks Preservation Commission Secretary (510) 981-7413, fcrane@cityofberkeley.info, 1947 Center Street, Berkeley, CA 94704. To speak on the application's behalf, attend the next Landmark Preservation Commission meeting in February.

Stop an Impending Global Crisis

Mark Altgelt
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 02:35:00 PM

West Antarctica, Greenland and Arctic ice is melting because more than 90 percent of the heat from greenhouse gas emissions has been absorbed into the oceans and warm ocean currents are rapidly melting exposed ice.

In West Antarctica warm ocean currents 4,000 feet below sea level are carving canyons 30 miles long and 600 feet high at the base of three glaciers which is accelerating their unstoppable slow motion cascade into the Amundsen Sea.

When they are gone the ocean currents will begin dislodging and breaking up the West Antarctica Ice Sheet that is twice the size of Texas and two and half miles thick. That could take a thousand or several hundred years and would eventually raise sea level 14 feet. 

In the Antarctica Peninsula, next to South America, temperatures have risen nearly 5 degrees since 1950 and the winters have warmed 9 degrees reducing sea ice formation from seven to only four months a year. Nearby a section of ice the size of Delaware recently broke away from the Larson Ice Shelf. 

Greenland’s glaciers are melting faster than predicted because recent mapping revealed many glaciers are in water deeper than 600 feet which is 6 to 8 degrees warmer than colder Arctic water above 600 feet. Melting of Greenland's ice would raise sea level 24 feet. 

Southeastern Greenland has a 27,000 square mile aquifer of water within its top layer of ice and snow that will inevitably rupture. Here is more about that: nsidc.org/cryosphere/icelights/2014/02/can-liquid-water-persist-within-ice-sheet 

Arctic sea ice has declined 30 percent over the past 30 years and summer sea ice has been reduced 13.4 percent per decade. 

Globally, 19,500 square miles of sea ice was lost per year between 1996 and 2013, more than double the previous 17 years. 

Glaciers that provide water to millions of people in the Himalayas, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Indonesia and western North American are all in decline and permafrost degradation is occurring throughout northern regions. 

The world is facing a catastrophe caused by warming air and ocean temperatures. Republican and Democrat congressional representatives need to fulfill the will of the American people by enacting legislation that would stop heat trapping carbon dioxide emissions. 

The Citizen’s Climate Lobby legislative proposal would accomplish that by establishing a gradually increasing fee on the carbon content of coal, oil, and natural gas. The revenue collected would be returned in equal monthly dividend payments to everyone 18 years and older, including a half dividend for one or two children per family. The fee would start at $15 per ton of carbon, adding about 15 cents to a gallon of gas, and would increase $10 per year. 

The dividend payments would increase to compensate for the increasing cost of fossil fuels. That would stimulate the economy and a market-driven transition to alternative energy because clean renewable energy would be less expensive and a better long-term investment. 

The 62 Congressional representatives in the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus should introduce legislation based on the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, “Carbon Fee and Dividend,” proposal. With their votes in Congress and a Senate majority, national climate legislation would pass and go to President Trump for his signature or veto. 

In the event of a Trump veto, the United States would miss the opportunity to lead the world in developing a sustainable global economy by building a more efficient and productive American economy powered by clean renewable energy. Also a veto would further divide the world in addressing climate change and the impending global crisis of rising sea level. 

Increasing ocean temperatures are melting polar ice which is disrupting the natural balance that regulates Earth’s climate. But extreme cold Arctic temperatures make it possible to take drastic action to maintain the Arctic ice cap that is vital for maintaining the balance of Earth’s climate. 

Arctic ice is receding but ocean water could be pumped onto the winter ice that is melting so it will last throughout the year. Arctic winter temperatures average between -40 to +32° Fahrenheit so the pumped water would create a thick layer of solid ice that would be equivalent to old sea ice that has recently been replaced with thin, less solid ice. The science of this has been studied extensively at: www.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016EF000410/full 

Pumps operating continuously would pump water into 6 to 12 inch diameter horizontal perforated pipes two feet above the ice extending out 660 feet. The pipes could be heated to prevent freezing if necessary. The pumps would be spaced a quarter mile apart and be powered with electricity through a grid generated by large wind turbines in frames that can be raised under reinforced ice. 

The Arctic ice cap regulates global climate because Arctic sea ice reflects the sun’s radiation into space and retains cold ocean temperatures while open water absorbs and retains the sun’s radiation accelerating ocean warming. Warming temperatures in the absence of Arctic ice allow the jet stream to drift south bringing cold Arctic air to Eastern United States and for warm air to penetrate into the Arctic. Warmer ocean temperatures could disrupt the system of global currents that regulate Earth's temperature. 

Restoring the Arctic ice cap would maintain Arctic climate and surrounding ocean temperatures until greenhouse gas emissions are stopped and global temperatures decrease to a sustainable level. 

Maintaining Arctic sea ice would give polar bears and seals life-sustaining habitat for hunting, resting and breeding. 

The water in Greenland’s aquifer which formed in 1970 should be pumped to the surface to freeze before it bursts. Ocean water could also be pumped onto Greenland and Antarctica to maintain ice sheets and strategic ice flows. The pumped water would counteract rising sea level in addition to preserving ice and its benefits. 

Restoring Arctic and global ice may seem daunting but not compared to building sea walls or moving low-lying cities. 

As a matter of national and international security the United States Army Corps of Engineers and military personnel should be dispatched and funds allocated to restore the Arctic ice cap. For more information, visit: 


Mark Altgelt is affiliated with Citizen’s Climate Lobby 

Puerto Rico: The High Toll of Being Colonized

Harry Brill
Saturday January 06, 2018 - 05:30:00 PM

An important indication that a government is disinterested in the basic needs of a population is almost always reflected in its statistics. An uncaring government underestimates the extent of a problem that really should have been and still should be addressed. Puerto Rico's recent major Hurricane, Maria --- shouldn't it be named Hurricane Trump! -- killed according to the official count 64 people. President Trump praised the low number of deaths, although he objected that its officials were asking the U.S. Government for more resources. He criticized local officials for wanting "everything to be done for them”. 

If the damage was so relatively mild a reasonable argument can be made that Puerto Rico needs very little assistance. But It is not only that three months since the hurricane about half the households still lack power. According to the New York Times over 1,000 residents were killed as a result of the storm. The Times checked the same time period of recorded deaths in 2015 and 2016, which averaged over a thousand fewer who had died. But it is not just hurricane Maria that bears the blame for the immense damage. By contrast, the rich suffered far less in degree and kind. Most Puerto Ricans lack a safe environment, adequate infrastructure, and access to good and readily available medical services. 

Among the greatest killers anywhere is living in poverty, whether due to low paying jobs, unhealthy jobs, or unemployment. Unfortunately for those who reside in Puerto Rico, their misfortune is proportionately greater than anywhere else in the United States. The official unemployment rate exceeds 10 percent, which is over twice the national rate of 4.1 percent. The average annual income in Puerto Rico is about $15,200. That's half of Mississippi's, which is the poorest state in the union. In other words, if Puerto Rico was a state, its average income would be the lowest than all other states in the union. The widespread poverty creates conditions of living which makes the impoverished more vulnerable to disastrous events. 

Nelson Denis in his remarkable book, "War Against All Puerto Ricans", reports additional burdens that Puerto Rico's population bears is that water rates were hiked by 60 percent, and sales taxes have been increased to 11.5 percent. For electricity Puerto Rico's consumers pay more for their power than consumers in every state except Hawaii. Also, the costs to every Puerto Rican to cover the interest on Puerto Rico's public debt will be more than $1500 a year, which on average is at least 10 percent of their income. The abysmally low income and high taxes of most Puerto Ricans have pushed many of its residents into deeper poverty.  

Also, foreclosures have more than doubled in the last decade. About a third of Puerto Rican homeowners have fallen behind on their mortgage payments. Like the judicial process on the mainland, lenders must follow federal guidelines on notifying borrowers and must give them an opportunity to pay their debt. But to save time, inconvenience, and uncertainty for the mortgage lenders, the foreclosure notices are sent in English even though many residents speak only Spanish. Despite this outrageous violation, the federal government has looked the other way. 

To explain the desperate economic situation of many of the Puerto Rican residents, their basic problem is that they are colonized. They lack the democratic rights to build a better life for themselves. Although they are citizens, they are deprived of the right to vote for president. They are allowed one representative in the House of Representatives, but their rep is not allowed to vote on the floor of the house. Puerto Ricans do have their legislature. But Congress can veto any decision that the legislature makes. 

In fact, Congress passed in 2016 a notorious bill that completely eliminates any political and judicial rights of Puerto Rican citizens. The purpose of this 

horrendous law is to repay creditors for the money they are owed. A Financial Control Board (FCB) was established and pro-business appointments to the board were made to manage the entire Puerto Rican Economy. The FCB approved an austerity plan for 2017-2026 that includes cuts in health care and pensions, and massive cuts in education. Also 300 public school buildings will be closed and sold. Also, the FCB is empowered to preside over all leases, union contracts and collective bargain agreements.  

Clearly, Puerto Rico's population is painfully aware from their horrendous experience that the lack of democracy and their massive poverty are inextricably linked. For very good reason, they prefer political independence from the United States or at least statehood. But legally speaking, that decision is not up to the people. In fact, during the 1950s there was a growing nationalist movement for independence that was crushed by several thousand American troops. Also, two towns were bombarded. This is the only occasion in American history that the U.S. government deliberately bombed its own citizens. 

What have we learned from the routine contempt of Puerto Rican residents by many government officials? It is not only that they can be very tough. Too often these officials are also cruel. Being mistreated by those in control of the American colonies is the heavy price that is paid by those who are colonized. 

To Err is Human. But to Exploit and Humiliate is Not

Call Lethal Injection the Vile Torture It Is

Stephen Cooper
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 03:43:00 PM

In a New Year’s Eve display of liberal newspaper death penalty abolition harmony – buoyed by the release of the Death Penalty Information Center’s (DPIC) annual report evidencing another year in the long-observable trend of capital punishment’s disuse and disfavor in America – both the Washington Post and New York Times’s editorial boards published opinion pieces arguing for an end to what the Times called a “cruel and pointless” practice; one that is “savage, racially biased, arbitrary,” and which “the developed world agreed to reject...long ago.”
On her well-followed Twitter account, intrepid anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean opined that the Times “opened the New Year with a bang: a full-throated exhortation against the death penalty. The editorial hit all the right notes.” While I hardly disagree with Sister Helen on anything concerning death penalty abolition – and, despite all the truthful and pointed invectives the Times’s editorial board did skillfully use to highlight capital punishment’s moral depravity – I still preferred when newspaper editors used the word ‘torture’ to describe to the American people what lethal injection really is.
For example, take the column titled “Lethal Cruelty” published by the New York Times’s editorial board over a decade ago, in April 2006: Its final paragraph, a frustrating-beyond-belief marker of the meandering, snail pace of the abolition movement in the United States, concluded: “But even justices who think the Constitution permits capital punishment should find that lethal injections that torture prisoners in the process of killing them are unconstitutional.” (Hello Justices? Hello!? Any Justices at home and awake at the high court? As Martin Luther King, Jr., once judiciously declared: “The time is always right to do what is right,” which the Supreme Court can and should do immediately by “[w]iping the stain of capital punishment clean.”)
It is precisely because of its stinging, far-reaching legal, historical, ethical, and moral implications – especially in the putative “land of the free and home of the brave” – that I respectfully submit it is increasingly more important for anti-death penalty writers to use the word ‘torture,’ as a censure, to describe the barbarity of lethal injection. Other than genocide and atrocity, perhaps no other single-word descriptor is capable of generating the same level of opprobrium, righteous indignation, and negative international press coverage as the word ‘torture.’ A not very humble example is a column I published in the Hill last year, at about this same time, called “Alabama's torture of Ronald Smith spotlights unequal justice under law.” (Others include an opinion I published a few months later in Alabama’s Montgomery Advertiser – not only about Mr. Smith’s patently botched execution, but about all of Alabama’s volatile executions by lethal injection – called “Is Alabama hiding that it tortured its citizens,” “Alabama’s Human Guinea Pigs: Burning People Alive on Death Row,” and, most recently in the series, “Alabama's ‘Baghdad Bob’ of Death Row.”)
Nevertheless, notwithstanding my hyper-technical, terminology-centric complaint about this year’s version of the Times’s perennial plea for death penalty abolition, it was a darned sight better than the Washington Post’s overly rosy outlook. Despite leading with the appropriately morose title, “[a]nother year in death,” the Post’s piece irrationally extols the significance of DPIC’s annual report, insipidly informing its readers there is “cause for celebration” because “[n]o matter the reason, it is heartening to see the country become steadily more humane.”
Horse hockey. Each and every year since the death penalty’s reinstatement over forty-five years ago, stern-faced state officials, particularly in the South, regularly trot out, for extra pay, withered, weakened, beaten-down – dying even – old men (and much more rarely, women) to torture them to death. This occurs many years, sometimes even decades, after their crimes of conviction. As I have written elsewhere decrying the “unacceptable racial bias [that] persists in capital punishment”: “[s]ometime soon in the 31 states that have not abolished the death penalty, leaders at the highest levels of state government, men and women – mostly men and mostly white – will hold private, closed-door meetings, in which they will discuss the most secretive, most cost-effective, most media-friendly way to go about killing one, or more of its citizens.”
And there’s nothing – not a damn thing – humane or celebratory about that.
Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.

The Peril We All Face Due To Human Folly

Jack Bragen
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 02:54:00 PM

Soylent Green was a 1973 movie starring Charlton Heston, loosely based on the 1966 science fiction book "Make Room, Make Room!" by author Harry Harrison. The movie explored the effects of unchecked population, it predicted global warming (in 1973) and it concluded with the uncovering of a secret, that the ocean was dying, and with it, everyone would die.

Thus, human beings have known of global warming for more than fifty years. It was too inconvenient for us to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

Worse yet is how human beings treat our oceans. We've used them as a sewer, a garbage dump, a nuclear testing ground and nuclear waste sight, a platform for military battles. And worse. Recently there was the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear reactors, which released large amounts of radioactive material into the ocean. Additionally, we had the BP oil spill disaster in Gulf of Mexico.  

At the same time, we expect the ocean to provide us with oxygen, and we use it as a source of food. The ocean is responsible for about 70 percent of the oxygen we breathe. Due to warming of the oceans, some scientists believe that there has already been a forty percent reduction in the plankton that produces oxygen.  

When our situation worsens, it is conceivable that our oceans could turn anaerobic. This means everything in the ocean will die, and it means that human beings and most animals will slowly suffocate to death. 

Environmental issues are no longer strictly in the domain of bird watchers, hikers and nature lovers. Environmentalism is also no longer about mere health concerns, such as carcinogens in our environment, lead and mercury contamination, birth defects, towns becoming sick due to toxic waste, and so on. Now, the ante has been raised to whether or not our planet will continue to support human life, whatsoever.  

Is it too late for us? We must not assume that. It appears that the Republican Party, the fossil fuel industry, Congress, and the President, believe that it is hopeless to reverse global warming; and that we may as well build structures that will house the fortunate few. 

I am certain that President Trump is well aware of the scientific fact of global warming, despite his public denial of that. His circle of concern excludes everything and everyone other than his own power, importance, and wealth.  

To appease some of the less informed members of the public, oil companies have periodically aired ads claiming that we can take the carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere and store it. Any credible scientist can tell you that this would either A; require more energy than was obtained by burning the fossil fuels, or else B; it would deplete our atmosphere of oxygen.  

We currently have sufficient technology to convert to renewable energy. What stands in the way?--human folly of various kinds, such as greed, denial, the desire for comfort, and resistance to change. 

As it stands, we're looking at the likelihood of most life on our planet becoming extinct, and it seems to be happening much faster than we anticipated. 

Force and Violence in a Can

Steve Martinot
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 02:32:00 PM

Pepper spray. (Oleoresin capsicum or OC). During Redwood Summer, back in the 90s, people went north in an attempt to keep the old growth redwoods from being killed (aka logged). A group of young people chained themselves in front of a timber industry office with their hands in pipes so their ties together could not be broken. The cops, seeing these protesters sitting there defenselessly, daubed pepper spray in their eyes – causing unimaginable pain, and ruining the eyesight of two of them. [www.nopepperspray.org/levendosky.htm

This was two decades before the cop sprayed the sitting demonstrators at UC Davis. OC is an instrument of torture. In police hands, its only function is to cause pain for the purpose of gaining obedience or obeisance. Put an instrument of torture in the hands of a sadist, and he will use it to torture someone. 

It was also during the 90s that Berkeley City Council decided to authorize Berkeley police to carry OC. In 2017, the City Council extended this authorization to use in crowd situations. This was precipitated by the events of last summer when white supremacists and neo-nazis came to Berkeley to recruit to their organizations. Counter-demonstrations were organized to defend the city because people remembered that these invading organizations loved violence, and practiced it within the traditions they had adopted (pogroms, KKK raids and lynchings, World War II, etc.). There were confrontations, a few fights, a lot of media attention to violence, but mostly discussion and argument. The people of the Bay Area wore down the invaders, and they stopped coming. 

To close out this year of paradoxes, on Dec. 19, the City Council passed a resolution opposing fascism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism. And in the same session, it reaffirmed its former policy on OC use in crowd situations. Though many spoke against the use of OC – an element of police militarization, necessarily indiscriminate in its use, and as an instrument of torture – suggesting that its original authorization was unethical, the mayor assured the world that Berkeley had a “well-crafted policy” on the use of OC by the PD. “We crafted a policy very carefully to meet constitutional standards, and specifically target people who engage in violence.” [2:50:52 in the council video] 

One perceptive young man pointed out, however, that if the police have pepper spray, then people will bring pepper spray to the demonstrations to equalize with the police. That is, the police become a role model. Somehow, the idea of people defending themselves against police violence did not occur to the council. 

But the mayor assured us that pepper spray will only be used "properly." I suppose we can trust the police to do this, just as we can trust them to stop racial profiling (just kidding). Sporting a stern expression, the mayor says: “We are against anyone that commits violence against anyone in our community. Or against our police. That is not acceptible. That will not be tolerated.” [1:00:25] But it will be toloerated from the police themselves. That is why they want weapons. 

By "properly," he means only on individuals (which no one believes possible for a spray), and only against violent people. But who gets to define violence? Is it the people involved in their disputes with invading neo-nazis, or is it the neo-nazis and white supremacists themselves who come with their protestations of peace, that their entire history of violence belies? No. it will be the police who define violence, and thus when to use the pepper spray. They will have autonomous use, while City Council euphemizes "autonomously" as "properly." Big deal!! 

On what basis will a cop define another person as violent, so that he can use pepper spray on him? Will it be when the other is walking away though told to stand still by the police? Or when the person is defending himself against a neo-nazi? Will it be when someone tries to tear down a confederate flag used to insult and harass a fellow black Berkeleyan (for instance)? Or will it be when a cop tells a person to move and they just standing still? Police have often interpreted that (standing still) as violence. People have been killed by cops who felt "threatened" in just such situations as these. 

The fact that the police will be defining what is violent is left unsaid by the council. Or perhaps, "abdicated" is the proper word. A "carefully crafted" abdication? 

If pepper spray is an instrument of torture, then it is illegal under international law, banned by UN treaty to which the US is signatory (1994), making it unconstitutional (Article 6). And Berkeley City Council swore to uphold the Constitution. The entire council stands in violation of its oath. 

To authorize the police to use OC on people is to authorize state sanctioned torture. When four cops beat Rodney King on an expressway as he crouched trying to avoid their baton blows, they were subjecting him to state sanctioned torture. And similarly for the myriad unvideo-ed such incidents. Batons are not exempt from the category of torture instrument, and neither are tasers. State sanctioned torture violates the Nuremberg Agreements written at the end of that terrible war against fascism in 1945. Those Agreements focused on regimes that used torture to establish social control. Torture used for social control is not law enforcement. It is militarization. 

Paradoxically, the City Council reaffirmed giving a torture instrument to the police at the same time it passed the resolution against fascism. The resolution, submitted by the Peace and Justice Commission, stated that Berkeley opposed “fascism, white supremacy, anti-semitism, and any individuals or organizations promoting fascism and/or committing violent acts” against people. The mayor, however, pulled a fast one, and changed it, pulling out several whole clauses. His version of the above sentence now reads that Berkeley opposed “fascism, white supremacy, anti-semitism, and any individuals or organizations committing violent acts.” 

By making that change, though the statement still names fascism and white supremacy, it no longer opposes their activities to recruit and build their organizations, which was the purpose for which they came to Berkeley, and the issue inspiring the commission’s statement. By removing "promotes," the focus of the sentence shifts from opposing invading racists and neo-nazis to opposing violence in the abstract. 

What does it mean by violence? Does it mean anti-semitism? No, because anti-semitism is only a social concept, while violence is enacted by "individuals." Does it mean white supremacy? No, for the same reason. Violence in the abstract has no meaning. We are left with Stephen Colbert’s spoof of Trump’s failure to name the violent organizations that vandalized and killed in Charlottesville, while pretending to condemn violence “in the strongest terms.”. Colbert, interpreting Trump: “I condemn in the strongest terms … um … you know who … um … doing you know what.” 

Exactly what is it that the Mayor is saying we will not tolerate? 

It is noteworthy that the Mayor made this change on his own, without participation by the rest of council. [1:32:10] Yet he refers to it as something “we, the council” have done. He took a decision by the agenda committee and altered it unilaterally. He admits that did that just before the council meeting. Yet none of the councilmembers had the temerity to say, “wait a minute, that wasn’t what the agenda committee decided. And we weren’t consulted. So now you are speaking for us?” Though a few amendments were offered, the Mayor’s changes represented a serious shift in the statement’s ideological position. And the mayor just sprung it on the council (and on the PJC). The PJC representative was stunned. And the council confronts a mayor who speaks for them without their participation. 

To speak for other people is a form of thought control. It does autocratic violence to the decision-making process. And leaving the notion of "violence" abstract is precisely what gives the police the power to define it however they want, and to pick out at will who to shoot. “Um … you know who … um … doing you know what.” 


But the real reason the police want pepper spray as a weapon lies elsewhere. According to Chief Greenwood, “It is this new emerging tactic of a large group of folks bearing shields .. which render our less lethal weapons less effective.” For torturing? The less lethal weapons are batons or teargas. Greenwood doesn’t want to be limited to those two. He wants the police to have “a tool that allows us a direct focus use of force on a person.” [2:41:20] The mayor clarifies this. “We need to make sure that the police have the tools that they need to keep themselves safe, and to keep our community safe. … The alternatives are using either tear gas which is diffuse, and will effect an entire crowd, … or more heavy uses of force.”  

In other words, the Mayor and the Chief agree insidiously that if the police do not have this weapon (euphemized as a "tool"), other weapons will be used. When weaponry comes first, it signifies that the police will only deal with people at a distance. They do not want to get their hands dirty. They impose pain to sanitize their own violent approaches. 

This isn’t law enforcement, it’s the law of force, the force of war. For the Mayor and the Chief, a person to be arrested must first be subjected to pain. He must first be tortured, punished for being arrested before arresting him for his crime. Gone is the idea of walking up to a person and arresting him, like the old days. Instead, weapons become a rule of engagement. We, the people, become the enemy, subject to police definition of who we are and what we are doing. It is just another form of profiling. 

Racial profiling has nothing to do with law enforcement either. In law enforcement, when a crime is committed, the police look for a suspect to charge with having committed it. In racial profiling, the police commit an act of suspicion, and then look for a crime for their suspect to have committed. 

A lot of people now talk about the police gaining the trust of the people. Its easy. Just call off your war. Put the weapons away. Drop the military ideology. But also, prosecute those cops who kill, maim, injure, or torture. Be an organization of peace. 

Oh, well. Easier said than done. When did an army ever disarm in the face of the unarmed. Unarmed?? But the Chief mentions shields, saying the police need protection against them. Give me a break. 

Shields are defensive implements. We should not forget why demonstrators carry shields. They are used to ward off baton blows and beanbag rounds, they are signs of past violence by the police against demonstrators (going back to the 1960s). Many demonstrators now wear helmets for the same reason. Yet the Chief states that the police need weapons to protect themselves against shields and helmets. For him, shields are offensive, aggressive against the police, meaning OC becomes defensive. 

He doesn’t speak the same language as the people. And reading Orwell probably won’t help him. Once you invert offense and defense, nothing about the disputes between people can ever make sense. Ask the thousands of imprisoned women convicted for defending themselves against abusers. All that’s left is war, which the police, by inverting offense and defense, bring to us. And the council falls for it. 

The people know that the invading groups of neo-nazis and white supremacists have a past of violence, a murderousness that takes the Blitzkrieg and the burning cross as its icon and its tradition, killing endlessly, right up into 2017. 

The shields are signs of past police violence. The fascist symbols are signs of past violence that the Mayor disguises behind empty generalizations. Far from learning to trust the police, we are learning to distrust the council. 

So here we are, in the middle of a situation in which there is violation of the Nuremberg Agreements, torture used for social control, a council subjected to thought control, autocracy in government, militarization, a police power that can determine who we are and what we are doing, and a police force that refuses to get up off its own racism. Wow, it’s a good thing this isn’t a fascist society. 

Guam's Military Perspective: Let The Public Be Damned

Harry Brill
Monday January 01, 2018 - 02:59:00 PM

Guam, which is a possession of the United States, has been making the news in response to military threats by North Korea. North Korea's warning was triggered by military threats from President Trump. It is probably unlikely that either nation will attack the other. On the other hand, Trump does not need the approval of Congress to launch an assault even with the deployment of nuclear weapons. Although North Korea and Guam are about 2100 miles apart, their missiles can reach each other in only 14 minutes. Neither side would have much time to prepare for a catastrophe. In any case, the battle rhetoric has certainly increased world tensions. 

Guam is considered by the US Department of Defense as among the most important of the approximately 800 US bases. It is situated in the Pacific within easy reach of opponents, including China and North Korea. The base is also close to its allies, including Japan and South Korea.  

Guam has a history that the Defense Department is proud of. To support the Vietnam War, the Air Force sent 155 bombers to Guam to hit targets in Southeast Asia. Guam has also served as a refueling spots for military heading to Southeast Asia. During the US war with North Korea (1950-1953) many of its bombers and soldiers were deployed from Guam.  

Significantly, Guam is much more than a military base. It is also a growing colony of over 170,000 people. As a result of winning the a war against Spain (1898), the US obtained both Guam and Puerto Rico. Like imperialist nations generally, the US never offered the people of Guam any options such as gaining independence. And democracy in this American occupied Island is almost completely absent. In prior decades public officials openly referred to Guam as a colony. But since this is no longer respectable, Guam like other US colonies is now referred to as a territory. 

Those who are born in Guam or in several other US colonies are considered citizens. But it is in name only. They cannot vote for president, and although they are allowed one representative in the House of Representatives, they are not allowed to vote on the floor of the House. On domestic issues, they cannot override any decisions made by the military even when it clearly impacts, as it often does, their quality of life. One general explained to reporters "We can do what we want here". 

About doing" what we want", take for example the highly undemocratic decision of the navy to detonate explosives beneath the water's surface. The media was filled with critical comments about the project. It can pollute drinking water which already is contaminated. Guam citizens insisted that they be consulted but they were unsuccessful. The Coast Guard acknowledged the "inherent danger" and "potential hazards" associated with underwater detonation. But the Guam residents were told that it could not accommodate public comments due to time constraints. What nonsense! There was no urgency to proceed as quickly as possible. Also, to the chagrin of Guam's residents, the governor and other local leaders were blamed for their silence despite their anti-colonial rhetoric. 

Clearly, Guam's military establishment does not empathize with the problems of Guam's citizens. According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency Guam's sewage plants, whose purpose is to remove contaminants from the water, is in noncompliance with the Clean Water Act. Also, the air is foul due to Guam's military activities. And especially for residents living near the military airport, the noise level from planes taking off is virtually intolerable. About Guam's future, the population will be confronting another problem. the military is planning to relocate a minimum of 4,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam. On this small Island, which is only 240 square miles, the public is concerned with the already crowded roads and the additional pollution more vehicles will spew. But the protests by many "citizens" have been as usual in vain. 

The abysmal standard of living is also among Guam's serious problems. Although Congress has been financially generous to Guam's military base hardly enough trickles down to the population. About thirty percent of Guam's residents receive food stamps compared to around 13 percent in the US generally. The unemployment rate is 8.2 percent which is twice as high as the national rate. And Guam's official poverty rate is 23 percent compared to about 14 percent nationally. These are the official figures. The reality is really worse. 

Guam's military occupies about a third of the land. But politically speaking, the military impacts on the human rights of the entire civilian population. Its decisions are made undemocratically. It continually pollutes the environment. And it does essentially nothing to address the population's poverty problem. Clearly, the major principle that guides the conduct of the Guam military is "Let The Public Be Damned".

Judicial Appointments

Jagjit Singh
Monday January 01, 2018 - 04:18:00 PM

In contrast with Trump’s much hyped appointment of supreme court justice, Neil Gorsuch, appellate appointments have received scant media attention. What is even more disturbing are appointments to the lower courts which have the most impact on American life.

For example, last year the 13 circuit courts, rendered 60,000 opinions compared to the Supreme Court’s 62. Trial courts write several hundred thousand opinions per year.  

Trump’s appointments have received withering criticism from the American Bar Association (ABA). Many of his appointees have drawn scrutiny, including Leonard Grasz, whom the Senate confirmed earlier this month to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals despite a “not qualified” rating from the ABA. Meanwhile, Trump’s nominee to a lifetime appointment on the U.S. District Court in Washington withdrew from consideration, after a widely circulated video showed he was unable to answer basic questions about the law and had never tried a case in court. 

A staggering 150 backlog of vacancies exist in federal courts or about 10 percent of the federal judiciary, largely due to Republican obstruction of confirmations during the Obama administration.  

Another of Trump’s “brilliant nominations” was Texas lawyer Jeff Mateer, who has called transgender children evidence of “Satan’s plan,” and blogger Brett Talley, who was rated “unanimously unqualified” for a judicial post by the ABA. The lower courts have become filleded with very conservative judges, all of whom who have life tenure,of approximately 30 to 40 years, which will have a huge impact on American life for decades.

January Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Sunday December 31, 2017 - 06:14:00 PM

Editor's Note: The latest issue of the Pepper Spray Times is now available.

You can view it absolutely free of charge by clicking here . You can print it out to give to your friends.

Grace Underpressure has been producing it for many years now, even before the Berkeley Daily Planet started distributing it, most of the time without being paid, and now we'd like you to show your appreciation by using the button below to send her money.

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Dispatches Awards for 2017

Conn Hallinan
Monday January 01, 2018 - 07:09:00 PM

Each year Dispatches From the Edge gives awards to individuals, companies and governments that make reading the news a daily adventure. Here are the awards for 2017.

The Reverse WEBBY Award to the Colsa Corporation based in Huntsville, Ala, a company that runs the multi-million dollar WebOps program for the U.S. Defense Department. WebOps, according to Associated Press, employs “specialists” who “employ fictitious identities and try to sway targets from joining the Islamic State.” But the “specialists” are not fluent and used the Arabic word for “salad” in place of “authority.” Thus the governing body set up by the 1993 Oslo Accords became the “Palestinian salad” (tasty with a light vinaigrette).

Runner up is the military’s Special Operations Forces (SOFs) that botched a raid in Yemen last February that got a Navy SEAL killed and destroyed a $75 million MV-22 Osprey aircraft. Desperate to show that the raid gathered valuable intelligence, U.S. commanders published a video on how to make explosives that they say were captured during the raid. Except the video was 10 years old and all over the Internet. The raid also killed several children, but the Trump administration called it “a success by all standards.” 

The Little Bo Peep Award to the DOD’s “Iraq Train and Equip” program that lost track of $1.6 billion worth of weapons and military equipment, some of which might have fallen into the hands of the Islamic State. “Sending millions of dollars worth of arms into a black hole and hoping for the best is not a viable counter-terrorism strategy” Amnesty International researcher Patrick Wilcken told the Financial Times

The Rudyard Kipling Award to the U.S. DOD for spending $28 million on new camouflage uniforms for the Afghan Army that depict a lush forest background. The country is almost 98 percent desert. 

Runner up is the British New Century Consulting contractor hired by the U.S. for $536 million to train intelligence officers for the Afghan Army. There is no evidence that the company did so, but New Century did buy Alfa Romeos and Bentleys for its executives and paid six figure salaries to employees’ relatives without any record of their doing work. 

The U.S. has spent $120 billion in Afghanistan since 2002. Most of it goes to train the Afghan armed forces, whose desertion rate is close to 35 percent, in part because the Taliban are inflicting heavy casualties on police and soldiers. How many casualties? Not clear, because the Pentagon has classified those figures. “The Afghans know what’s going on; the Taliban knows what’s going on; the U.S. Military knows what’s going on,” says John F. Sopko, the special inspector for Afghanistan. “The only people who don’t know what’s going on are the people paying for it.” 

Dispatches suggest that readers read a short poem by Kipling entitled “Arithmetic on the Frontier.” Nothing’s changed. 

Marie Antoinette Award to Brazilian President Michel Temer, who has instituted a draconian austerity regime in one of the most unequal countries in the world, while ordering more than $400,000 in food for his official trips. That would include 500 cartons of Haagen-Dazs ice cream, almost a ton and half of chocolate cake, provolone, Brie and buffalo mozzarella for sandwiches, and 120 jars of Nutella spread. Public uproar was so great that the order was cancelled. However, Temer did host a taxpayer-funded steak and shrimp feed for 300 legislators in an effort to get their support for budget cuts. Temer ally Pedro Fernandez suggested that one way to save money on a program that feeds the poor for 65 cents a meal is to have them eat “every other day.” 

The Grinch Award had three winners this year: 

  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for demanding that Cambodia repay a $506 million debt to Washington for a Vietnam War era program called Food For Peace. While USAID was handing out rice, wheat, oil and cotton to refugees, the U.S. military was secretly—and illegally—dropping more than 500,000 tons of explosives on Cambodia. Those bombings killed upwards of half a million people, destabilized the Phnon Penh government, and led to the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge that killed more than two million people. Bombs still litter Cambodia and kill scores of people every year.
  • The U.S. Defense Department for discharging soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, thus denying some of them health care, disability pensions and education funds. Of the 92,000 troops discharged from 2011 to 2015, some 57,000 were diagnosed with PTSD, TBI, or both. The military is supposed to screen discharges before tagging them with the “misconduct” label, but in almost half the cases there was no screening. Of that 57,000, some 13,000 received a “less than honorable” discharge that denies them health care, pensions and benefits.
  • Stephen Miller, President Trumps speech writer, for intervening in the Group of Seven summit meeting in Sicily and sabotaging an Italian initiative to resettle millions of refugees from wars in the Middle East and Africa. The G-7 includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, and the U.S.
The Golden Lemon Award to Lockheed-Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons system in history. In the long run the program is estimated to cost $1.5 trillion. The plane was withdrawn from an air show in Amberley, Australia because there was a possibility of lightning (the plane’s name is “Lightning II”), and this past June five pilots’ experienced “hypoxia-like” symptoms—no air—and the plane was grounded. So far, no one has figured out the problem. The F-35 can’t open its weapons bay at high speed, because it causes the plane to “flutter,” and while it is supposed to be able to take off from an aircraft carrier, it can’t. According to a study by the Director of Operational Test Evaluation, “The aircraft will have little, if any real combat capability for years to come.” 

A better buy for the money? Higher education students in the U.S. are currently $1.3 trillion in debt. 

The Torquemada Award to Alpaslan Durmas, education minister in Turkey’s conservative Islamic government, for removing all references to “evolution” in biology textbooks because it is “too complicated for students.” Instead they will be instructed that God created people 10,000 years ago. Mustafa Akyol of Al Monitor points out the irony in Durmas’ order. Medieval Muslim scholars wrote about a common origin of the species, and “That is why John William Draper, a Darwin contemporary, referred to Darwin’s views as the ‘Mohammadan theory of evolution.’” 

Turkey has also blocked Wikipedia in case some of the kiddies want to read about evolution on line. 

Frankenstein Award to the U.S. Navy for building small “killer” boats called Autonomous Surface Craft that use artificial intelligence to locate and destroy their targets. I mean, what could go wrong, this is the U.S. Navy, right? The same one that rammed two high-tech guided missile destroyers into a huge oil tanker and a giant container ship this past summer, killing a score of sailors. A guided missile cruiser collided with a South Korean fishing boat, and the guided missile cruiser Antietam ran aground in Yokosuka Harbor in Japan. The Navy also kind of lost track of an aircraft carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean. 

So, not to worry. 

The Ostrich Award to The Trump administration for first disbanding the federal advisory National Climate Assessment group and then sending speakers representing Peabody Energy, a coal company; NuScale Power, a nuclear engineering firm; and Tellurian, a liquid natural gas group to represent the U.S. at the international climate talks in Germany. Barry K. Worthington, executive director of the U.S. Energy Assn., said he was going to challenge the idea fossil fuel should be phased out. “If I can throw myself on the hand grenade to help people realize that, I’m willing to do it.” 

It was a puzzling analogy. 

In the meantime, 2016 was the hottest year on record, breaking records set in 2014 and 2015. Temperatures were particularly high in Asia and the arctic, and drought was widespread in southern Africa. Wildfires burned 8.9 million acres in western Canada and the U.S. And a patch of warm water off the coast of Alaska facilitated the growth of toxic algae that killed thousands of seabirds and shut down fishing industries. 

The Doom’s Day Award to what the Financial Times calls the “uber-rich” who are “hedging against the collapse of the capitalist system” by buying up land in New Zealand. “About 40 percent of our clients are Americans,” says Matt Finnigan of Sotheby’s International Realty New Zealand. The buyers want land that comes “with their own water supply, power sources and ability to grow food.” 

But you don’t have to go down under to bunker down. Vivos Group will sell you a hardened concrete bunker in South Dakota for $25,000 and a yearly fee of $1000. Or you can buy a cabin on the World, a huge cruise liner that will take you far from trouble. If you are Larry Ellison, you can buy 98 percent of Lanai, one of Hawaiian Islands. 

In Memory of Edward Herman, co-author with Noam Chomsky of “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” who died Nov. 11 at age 92. The book was what author and journalist Matt Taibbi called “a kind of bible of media criticism for a generation of dissident thinkers.” Herman wrote almost 20 books on political economy and corporate power, including his 1997 “The Global Media” with Robert McChesney. 



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

ECLECTIC RANT: Congress, hands off Social Security

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday January 06, 2018 - 05:23:00 PM

Both my wife and I receive Social Security benefits. Yes, we are of that certain age. We pay taxes on part of our benefits. Luckily, we do not depend on these benefits to totally meet our daily retirement living expenses. Instead they supplement our employment retirement income. Many senior citizens, however, rely only on Social Security benefits to survive.  

About 169 million Americans pay Social Security taxes and we and 61 million others -- one family in four -- collect monthly benefits. The recipients are retirees, disabled persons, and families of retired, disabled or deceased workers. The maximum Social Security benefit for a worker retiring at the 2017 full retirement age is $2,687 a month. 

What is Social Security? 

"Social Security is largely a pay-as-you-go program. This means that today's workers pay Social Security taxes into the program and money flows back out as monthly income to beneficiaries. As a pay-as-you-go system, Social Security differs from company pensions, which are “pre-funded.” In pre-funded retirement programs, the money is accumulated in advance so that it will be available to be paid out to today's workers when they retire. The private plans need to be funded in advance to protect employees in case the company enters bankruptcy or goes out of business." 

In short, Social Security is an earned benefit. It is also an entitlement in the sense that when you actually file a claim for benefits and get approved, you are legally entitled to those benefits. Unfortunately, some Republicans in Congress have begun to use the word "entitlement" to imply some kind of government handout that can be just taken away. 

Tax Overhaul Estimated Net Deficits 

Experts estimate that the recent GOP tax overhaul will result in about $1.45 trillion in net deficits over a decade. Traditionally, deficits have been anathema to republicans. Remember when Paul Ryan warned of the dangers of deficits, “The facts are very, very clear: The United States is heading toward a debt crisis. We face a crushing burden of debt which will take down our economy — which will lower our living standards.” During his presidential campaign, Trump said he would pay off the national debt in eight years. To close the deficit caused by the tax overhaul, the Republicans are talking about cuts to safety nets such as Social Security. 

Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.) introduced a plan to "modernize social security for the Twenty First century." The LA Times described Johnson's plan, "The bottom line is that Johnson’s plan is one of the most cynical and dishonest Social Security “fixes” to come down the Republican chute in years. It “fixes” Social Security in the same sense that one “fixes” a cat, and makes the program less relevant for millions of Americans facing retirement with ever shrinking resources."  

Is Social Security Going Broke?  

While the Social Security system is in need of another overhaul (similar to the one in 1983), the fund is not going broke. The 2017 Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees, who oversee the fund showed that, if left alone, the Social Security system will continue to be able to pay its bills for at least the next 40 years — thanks in part to a $1.4 trillion nest egg of Treasury securities that has been stashed away over the past several decades. (A separate analysis by the Congressional Budget Office found the fund is in good shape until 2052.) 

Does Congress Raid the Social Security Trust Fund?  

Of course. Should we be worried? No. More Social Security taxes are collected than paid out. This buildup of surplus was intentional -- the government wanted to build a reserve that would cover the benefits of the baby boomers. This surplus has been invested in special U.S. government bonds that are legally obligated to pay the stated rate of interest, and then repay the principal when they mature, according to the terms of the bonds. These special bonds are just part of the funding of the overall federal government, and the assets in the Social Security trust fund represent about 15% of the government's total debt. With the special U.S. government bonds held by the Social Security trust fund, we should be concerned whether future taxpayers can make good on the interest and principal payments when they come due, or if future bonds can be sold to pay the principal of the maturing bonds. The real issue is the federal debt. If it gets too big, then we might indeed be justified in worrying about the ability of future taxpayers to make good on the special bonds in the Social Security trust fund. 


As Nancy Altman, co-founder of Social Security Works, put it, in the last election “no one voted for massive cuts to Social Security, nor to end the program as we know it.” In December, 2015, just ahead of the Iowa caucuses, then-candidate Donald Trump stood up at a town hall and reassured a concerned AARP Iowa member that they "were not taking their Social Security." Perhaps, Trump should tweet Congress, telling them to take their "hands off" Social Security.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Method of Retasking the Mind

Jack Bragen
Saturday January 06, 2018 - 07:00:00 PM

Most people, I have observed, are generally unaware of what it is they are trying to do.

Some examples: What comes to mind when you hear someone say, "I'm not angry!" or, "I'm not jealous!"? What comes to mind when you hear someone say, "I don't do it for the money"? And, what comes to mind when you hear someone say, "I can take it or leave it"?

The human mind is constructed in a such a way that we may have a blind spot that may prevent us from understanding our own motives. This is so for a non-afflicted person's mind as much as it is for someone with a psychiatric diagnosis.  

The mind, at any given point, functions under a cache of commands/assumptions, which are our agendas. If the mind is on a painful, destructive, or useless task, it can grind on this indefinitely until something happens, externally or internally, to get us off that track.  

A television can play a horrible, awful, distasteful show, and it can play something better. The human brain is another vehicle that carries content. A person isn't necessarily stuck with one set of thoughts. We can divert to something else. If we are experiencing unhappiness, it could be due to bad content.  

Of course, it is not always so simple as that. Content is largely created by someone's environment--by surroundings, and the content being inputted from other people near us. When someone speaks and we hear it, this affects us whether we like it or not. How it affects us depends on what is being said, how it is being said, and on how our brain processes it. We don't always have full control over how our brain processes something.  

Environment often shapes the content of the mind, and the processing of the mind. When the environment is not demanding, we have more choices and we can give the mind assignments that we choose to give it. 

If our environment is not too demanding, it becomes more plausible to do almost any type of meditation or mindfulness. What I am calling "retasking," is where you change the postulates, the content, and the processing done by the mind. 

The first thing in "retasking" should be to discover your current postulates/commands. If it is a hot day, your postulate could be: "I'm hot; I need to cool down." If your stomach is empty, it might be: "I'm hungry." If someone is yelling at you about something, your postulate might be, "What a jerk!" If you are trying to figure out your postulates, one of them will be that of finding the postulates. 

Or, we might be preoccupied with postulates not connected to happenings in the moment. For example: "I need to get a better job." Another could be "This car is a piece of crap." Another could be "My ___ [girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse] is cheating on me--I know it!"  

The postulate cache in the mind can probably hold about a dozen accurate or erroneous beliefs at a given time. If you can get them to stop, one by one, it can bring peacefulness.  

You can learn to swap content. Another way of saying this is "distracting yourself." When we think of distraction of oneself, it may bring skepticism. It may seem like it doesn't resolve anything. However, the act of distracting should not be underestimated.  

Also, there is the act of ignoring. You might think ignoring something doesn't accomplish anything. However, you'd be wrong.  

People in certain jobs have learned to ignore the desire to urinate--for example, bus drivers and truck drivers. It is unhealthy to put this off for too long. However, if you have to go another half hour because it doesn't work to stop in a bad part of town, or, if your break time at your job is in fifteen minutes, being able to ignore this for fifteen minutes can be handy.  

Ignoring being hungry can come in handy if you are trying to lose weight. Ignoring being somewhat cold or hot is useful if you'd like to save money on your heating or cooling bill. Ignoring low-level physical pain is useful if you are a professional athlete, or perhaps a laborer.  

(A note about "ignoring pain": The reader must not construe this as an invitation to do harm to yourself or to fail to seek medical attention when sick or injured.)  

When you ignore a stimulus, it tells the mind that it is of low priority. When you distract yourself, it fills up mental space that might otherwise be used to mentally complain.  

You might be skeptical and believe that none of this solves your emotional pain. Yet, you should give this a chance. Retasking works because most emotional suffering that most Americans feel is caused by the content of the mind. If you change the content of your mind, it often solves a lot of unhappiness. 

There are a lot of ways to use the idea of retasking the mind. The basic idea is that you swap the content of your thoughts--you focus on things that do not cause you to be upset, and, additionally, you focus on things that help you and that make you feel better.  

The above concept doesn't address a neurologically caused mental illness. However, it can help with quality of life. This technique doesn't change any problems in life that must be addressed. It is merely a way to create a better mood. 

A shortcoming of modern psychotherapy, as administered to mentally ill adults, is that the therapists are trained to make their subject go into their pain more deeply, in the mistaken belief that this is somehow going to solve it. What they are doing is to train their "clients" to magnify their pain. This is a reason, among many, that I am resistant to therapy. A page in my chart says that I am "resistant to therapy." 

Changing the content of thoughts is something with which you can experiment. We are not in a demanding situation twenty-four hours of the day. When we have some time, we could practice at it. If you go into a more demanding situation, and begin it with thinking that is more positive, it can sometimes create a better outcome. 

The mind is happy when the mind thinks it is happy. The origin of most happiness versus unhappiness is often based on the content--the set of thoughts that currently occupy the mind. 

When someone says something negative to you, you might make a mental note that you will not absorb this into your mind. You don't have to say anything to the person who said it, since the person might be offended. If you know the person well enough to tell them, you could do so, hopefully in a tactful way. 

Spending time revising thoughts is not a waste of time. You can do this with paper and pen as an aid, not on a computer. What we think and how we think can have a major effect on mood, and I suggest looking into this. 


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Extraterrestrials

Jack Bragen
Monday January 01, 2018 - 03:01:00 PM

Recently, mainstream sources have begun to legitimize the belief that we are being visited. I have seen two stories about this on CNN.com, one of which sources the New York Times, Senator Harry Reid, and a high-ranking military official.

We are not close to having a flying saucer land in Times Square. Even if we were to believe that some UFO's are extraterrestrial, and that they are studying us, no human is ready to have them over for coffee or tea.

The human nervous system is probably not equipped to deal with intelligences that are millions of years more advanced than we are. They would have to be ahead of us by that much, if they are able to travel from other star systems to Earth.

But, you might ask, what does this have to do with mental illness? A simple answer in three parts: much of the delusional content I've had relates to extraterrestrials. A second part of this; people who believe in ET's have been branded 'crazy' for decades. Thirdly, people other than me who've been psychotic could have also had delusions about ET's.  

Does the apparent normalization of ET's mean that I wasn't psychotic? No. It still holds true that the aliens with whom I was in contact were products of a malfunctioning brain.  

The lines between illusion and reality aren't always well-defined. Some people who have delusions don't necessarily believe in the impossible. However, many delusions are highly improbable. Some delusions are in the form of extreme exaggerations. 

More than likely, the actual extraterrestrials, if they are visiting Earth, do not have time or inclination to have dealings with a down and out, mentally ill man in his thirties, something I was in 1996 the most recent time I was fully psychotic. At times, I had a delusion that I was on Mars. 

The rule of thumb to discern delusions is not always that they are beliefs in impossibilities. It often has more to do with the manner in which a belief manifests in the mind. If the belief floods in and takes over, if it crowds out reason, and if you "need" to have the belief, these are indications of a thought generated by a psychotic malfunction. 

Will the extraterrestrials rescue the human species from our possible impending self-destruct? With current world leaders' attitudes, with the increasing threat of nuclear annihilation, with us ruining the atmosphere by excessive carbon emissions, there is some doubt that life on our planet will continue into the next century.  

However, will the aliens rescue us from our impending self-inflicted demise?  

This is my best guess, (from the perspective not of an expert, but that of a presently reasonable, well-informed person): If humans cannot learn to coexist, neighboring civilizations may see us as a possible threat to nearby star systems. 

Don't count on being rescued by extraterrestrials. If we are foolish enough to wipe ourselves out, I think extraterrestrials will let us do so. Concerning beliefs about contact with extraterrestrial aliens, you should consider them delusions. 

This is just a reminder that any time, you can browse my self-published books available on LULU. The works are easy to read, clearly written, and should be helpful to almost any reader


ECLECTIC RANT: 2018 and Trump is still president

Ralph E. Stone
Monday January 01, 2018 - 03:19:00 PM

It is 2018 and I remain as angry, frustrated and embarrassed as anyone that Donald J. Trump continues to be the president of the United States and represents this country to the world. As Tom Engelhardt put it, "Beyond himself, his businesses, and possibly (just possibly) his family, Trump clearly couldn’t give less of a damn about us or, for that matter, what happens to anyone after he departs this planet."  

Yes, there is talk of impeachment and the use of Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to remove Trump because he is mentally disabled. Ain't going to happen. I am now convinced that Trump will serve out his presidency. 

Sure there are calls to impeach him under Article II, section 4 the U.S. Constitution. Even if the Robert Mueller investigation provides overwhelming evidence that Trump obstructed the investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 presidential election or worse, colluded with the Russians in the election, no Republican-controlled House is likely to vote out articles of impeachment against Trump and, even if it did, it would be extremely unlikely that 2/3 of the Senate would vote to convict.  

Ordinarily, impeachment would be so embarrassing that the person would resign. But Trump doesn't embarrass easily and he would probably chalk it up as a witch hunt, and like Bill Clinton before him, finish his term. 

Of course, if the Democrats take control of the House in the midterm elections, impeachment is a likely possibility. But again it is unlikely that 2/3 of the Senators would vote to convict, no matter which party controls the Senate after the midterms. But at least a Democrat-controlled House and/or Senate would provide some check on Trump's power to do further damage. 

After the midterms, our focus should be on defeating Trump in the presidential election. That means the Democrats will have to come up with a winnable candidate -- Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Cuomo, Michelle Obama, et al. 

I don't read or listen to anything about Hillary Clinton. She's yesterday's news. Time to move on. 

Our focus now should be on electing Democrats in the midterm elections. The midterms will offer the first nationwide referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency. The whole U.S. House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and most governorships will be at stake, along with hundreds of state legislative seats and local offices around the country. Even with Trump's low poll numbers -- about 40 approve -- the midterms are no slam dunk for the Democrats. The Senate map does not favor the Democrats and the House map is also slanted in Republicans’ favor, due in part to gerrymandering and in part to geography — as are many state legislative districts. 

Onward toward the midterms. Hopefully, the Democrats will not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Arts & Events

San Francisco Early Music Society Presents VAJRA VOICES

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday January 07, 2018 - 03:02:00 PM

In a series of concerts throughout the Bay Area designed to ring in the New Year, the vocal ensemble Vajra Voices, led by their founding Director Karen R. Clark, performed medieval music ranging from ca. 1150 to 1377. I attended the Berkeley concert on Saturday evening, January 6, 2018, at St. John’s Presbyterian Church. Presented under the auspices of San Francisco Early Music Society, the concert featured selections from such musical and literary luminaries as Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), Perotin (organist at Cathedral Notre Dame ca. 1200), and Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377).  

In program notes, Karen R. Clark emphasized the selection of works celebrating the turning of the seasons at Winter Solstice, the opening of new possibilities in the New Year, redemption after the fall, and radiant light arising out of darkness. Vajra Voices was joined in these concerts by instrumentalists Shira Kammen on medieval harp and vielle and Kit Higginson on recorder and psaltery. The seven vocalists of Vajra Voices include Lindsey McLennan Burdick, Amy Stuart Hunn, Allison Zelles Lloyd, Phoebe Jevtovic Rosquist, Cheryl Shafer Moore, Celeste Winant, and Karen R. Clark. In the highly melismatic singing, altos, sopranos, and mezzo sopranos form ever-changing vocal combinations, their richly textured voices blending beautifully. Occasionally, soprano Allison Zelles Lloyd did double-duty by playing medieval harp accompanied by Shira Kammen on vielle and Kit Higginson on recorder.  

The program opened with the song Annus novus in gaudio from the St. Martial manuscript (ca. 1150). “Let the New Year be celebrated in joy,” exclaims the text. “Let singers and instrumentalists be praised.” Next on the program was an instrumental offering by Shira Kammen on vielle, followed by the florid song Gaudia debita temporis orbi from the St. Martial manuscript. In this brief work, soprano voices soar above the lower voices in celebrating the turning of the New Year and the redemption by the new Adam (Christ) of the sins of the old Adam. Then came a set of works by Hildegard von Bingen, including O quam mirabilis est, O virtus sapientiae, a work accompanied by magic tricks with metal rings performed by Kit Higginson, and O quam magnum miraculum est, which latter featured the earthy voice of Karen R. Clark. An instrumental interlude offered airs on chants of Hildegard played by Shira Kammen on vielle and Allison Zelles Lloyd on medieval harp. Next came an organum from the St. Martial manuscript, Mundo salus, followed by three more songs by Hildegard von Bingen. Another instrumental piece featured harp, vielle and recorder, and the first half of the program ended with Verbum Patris humanatur, one of the earliest surviving three-part pieces of music, from the St. Martial manuscript. 

After intermission Vajra Voices returned to perform works from the 13th and 14th centuries. First came the organum Alleluia Nativitatis by Perotin (or as he sometimes called Perotinus). As successor to Leonin as organist at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Perotin revolutionized medieval polyphony, taking advantage of a new, more refined system of notation to indicate rhythm. Typically, Perotin wrote highly melismatic upper voices over extremely long notes, derived from Gregorian chant, in the tenor (literally, held) part. His Alleluia Nativitat celebrates the birth of the Virgin Mary. Perotin’s massive works, the justly famous Viderunt omnes and Sederunt principes, though too long to include in this concert, are the earliest known four-part music in European history. Next on the program were works by Guillaume de Machaut, the dominant figure in both lyric poetry and music in 14th century France. This set opened with an instrumental offering on airs of Machaut arranged by Shira Kammen for harp, vielle, and recorder. Next came the motet Quant en moy/amour et biauté/amar valde. In this work love is both celebrated and bemoaned when it is unrequited, as the upper voices sing of bittersweet longing while the tenor drones on the words “very bitter.” Following this motet came Machaut’s witty rondeau Ma fin est mon commencement, in which the composer creates a musical text that literally describes the cyclical structure of this music.  

The final set of this concert offered 14th and 15th century music from England, including two songs from the Trinity Carol Roll (a parchment ca. 1400). The program closed with a 14th century English song celebrating Christmas, Now is Yole Comen Anon. Bay Area audiences owe a pleasant debt of gratitude to Vajra Voices and San Francisco Early Music Society for inaugurating 2018 with such a fine concert offering infrequently heard music from the Middle Ages. 


The Berkeley Activist's Weekly Calendar, January 7-14, 2018

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Saturday January 06, 2018 - 05:17:00 PM

The first Berkeley City Council meeting of 2018 is January 23rd. You can get a heads up by looking at the planned agenda under Monday’s Agenda Committee Meeting. Agenda items are listed that warrant scrutiny and response. An email sent to council@cityofberkeley.info will be distributed to all the Council Members and the Mayor. You can, of course, always address each Council Member and the Mayor Individually. The final agenda for January 23rd should be posted this coming Thursday, January 11. https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/City_Council__Agenda_Index.aspx 


Indivisible Berkeley is warming up for a hectic 2018. There is always a list of actions you can do from home, https://www.indivisibleberkeley.org/actions, but note the IB calendar of Berkeley City meetings is projected meetings, not the final schedule. 


The meeting list is also posted on the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition website. 



Remember, being active and engaged is the best remedy for all that ails us. 


Sunday, January 7, 2018 

Indivisible Berkeley Science and Environment Team Meeting, Sunday, Sun, Jan 7, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm, 1581 University Ave, Three Stone Hearth 


Monday, January 8, 2018 

Agenda Committee Meeting, Mon, Jan. 8, 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm, Milvia, Redwood Conf Room 6th floor, Agenda for Jan 23 City Council meeting: surveillance ordinance, significant community benefits. Ad hoc committees, summer learning loss, removing impediments to port-a-potties, wash stations and Hepatitis A vaccines, housing, inequitable policing (disparate treatment by race) by BPD, increase feasibility study of pier and ferry services to $330,744, keep West Campus pool open year round 


Personnel Board, Mon, Jan, 8, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Personnel_Board_Homepage.aspx 

Youth Commission, Mon, Jan, 8, 6:30 pm, 1730 Oregon St, Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Services Center, Agenda: homelessness, immigration 


City Council Closed Session, Mon, Jan, 8, 4:00 pm, 2180 Milvia, Cypress Room Agenda: Health Officer position to be filled 


Commission on the Status of Women Paid Leave Subcommittee, Mon, Jan 8, A meeting is listed on the website home page, but there is no agenda, time or location, call 510 981-7071 for information 


Tax the Rich Rally Cancelled Due to Rain, Mon, Jan 8 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 

Solano Avenue Business Improvement District Advisory Board, Tue, Jan 9, 6:00 pm, 1821 Catalina Ave, Thousand Oaks Baptist Church, Agenda: Special Project Grant, Buy local participation $250 


Wednesday, January 10, 2018 

Homeless Commission, Wed, Jan 10, 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Presentation by YEAH and Homeless Youth Policy, Civic Center port-a-potty, centralized referral system, City response to pending litigation 


Police Review Commission, Wed, Jan 10, 2939 Ellis St, South Berkeley Senior Center 

6:00 pm – 7:00 pm Subcommittee on BPD June 20, 2017 action 

7:00 pm – 10:00 pm - Regular Meeting, Agenda: mutual aid pacts, NCRIC, restructuring PRC, specially equipped van, accountability plan, use of force, 


Thursday, January 11, 2018 

Zoning Adjustments Board, Thur, Jan 11, 7:00 pm – 11:30 pm, 2134 MLK Jr. Way, City Council Chambers 

2009 Addison – Demolish an existing, single-story commercial building and construct 7-story mixed use performing arts space and 45 rent free dwellings, staff recommends continue off calendar 

1406 McGee – raise existing single-family residence by 44” and add internal ADU, staff recommend dismiss appeal and approve 

1499 University Ave – 3-story 39 room hotel previously approved, request add rooftop deck, staff recommend approve 

2305 Edwards St – add 560 sq ft second story, increase bedrooms from 2 to 5, staff recommend approve 


Friday, January 12, 2018 

Berkeley City reduced service day 

Saturday, January 13, 2017 

McGee-Spaulding Neighbors in Action – neighborhood meeting, Sat, Jan 13, 9:30 am potluck brunch, meeting 10:00 am-12:00 pm, University Terrace Commons Room – entrance in back 

Sunday, January 14, 2017 

SB 100 CA Climate Legislation – 100% renewable energy by 2045, Sat, Jan 14, 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm, 12530 San Pablo #1, Berkeley, Sierra Club Bay Chapter Office, presentation on bill, current status, Q & A. 


Young Beethoven in Concert

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday January 01, 2018 - 01:48:00 PM

The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, led by Music Director Ben Simon, offered three Bay Area concerts, December 29-31, focusing on Beethoven’s early works. I caught the Saturday, December 30 concert at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre. Opening the program was a true chamber work, Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Opus 20, a work from 1799-1800. In this piece, Beethoven’s choice of instrumentation was innovative. An ensemble of clarinet, bassoon, French horn, violin, viola, cello, and double bass was anything but traditional. Further, the prominence given to the clarinet as an equal to the violin was new. This joyful work was beautifully dispatched by the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra.  

Next on the program was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Opus 15. This work, though given the number 1, was actually the third piano concerto composed by Beethoven. The composer himself gave this concerto the number one, acknowledging that his true first and second concertos were not as good and dramatically new as this one, which he decided to publish as Number One. Soloist in these performances was debut artist Rin Homma, a twelve year-old pianist who has won numerous awards, including two successive prizes in the California Concerto Competition in 2016 and 2017. In her rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Rin Honna was excellent. Undaunted by the difficult cadenza in the first movement, Rin Homma navigated its difficult passages with aplomb. If I had any reservations about her playing, they occurred in the slow Largo where a clarinet soars above the piano. This movement seemed more plodding than flowing. The third movement, a Menuetto, and the final Adagio, closed out this youthful work by Beethoven, excellently interpreted by Rin Homma. 

After intermission, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra returned to perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Opus 21. Conductor Ben Simon announced that he considered both Symphonies 1 and 2 more interesting to him than Symphony No. 3, the Eroica, which is usually cited as Beethoven’s break-through work. Under the lead of Ben Simon, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra proceeded to offer a respectable candidate for the breakthrough status claimed for it by their Music Director. Whether or not I bought Ben Simon’s claim, I enjoyed his rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C Major, a work I dearly love. All told, this was a welcome way to close out the year of 2017 and to welcome in 2018.

The Berkeley Activist's Weekly Calendar

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Monday January 01, 2018 - 03:18:00 PM

Happy New Year, hope you have been enjoying being on holiday too. The first week in January is off to a slow start at least here in Berkeley. There are only a few meetings while the City catches up from reduced scheduling and time off. City Council is on winter break until January 23, 2018. 

Comment Deadlines 

Jan 16: Stop EPA from withdrawing from Clean Power Plan 


Jan 11: Community Choice Energy under attack, write to PUC


Monday, January 1, 2018 

Happy New Year 

Tax the Rich rally – resumes Monday, Jan 8, winter hours 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm top of Solano in front of closed Oaks Theater, 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018 

No city meetings, Council on winter break until January 23, 2018 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018 

Board of Library Trustees, Wed, Jan 3, 6:30 pm, 1901 Russell St, Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch Library, Agenda action: adopt resolution to identify consulting services Communications training, Organizational Review, Interest Based Bargaining (IBB) 


Commission on Disability, Wed, Jan 3, 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Universal Design, automatic door openers, EVV (electronic visit verification) system 


Planning Commission, Wed, Jan 3, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, listed as meeting on Planning Commission calendar, no agenda packet posted and Planning Commission webpage does not list a meeting, call before going 981-7520 


Thursday, January 4, 2018 

Landmarks Preservation Commission, 7:00 pm – 11:30 pm, 1901 Hearst Ave, North Berkeley Senior Center, agenda: 

2301 Bancroft Way – View from Campanile Way – open hearing 

Certified Local Government Grant (CLG) Application – discussion 

2526-30 Shattuck – discussion appeal of designation of University Laundry Building 


Public Works Commission, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm, 1326 Allston Way, Willow Room, City of Berkeley Corporation Yard 


Friday, January 5, 2018 


No announced meetings or demonstrations posted, 


Saturday, January 6, 2018 

McGee-Spaulding Neighbors in Action, Saturday, Jan 6, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm, petitioning to end participation in Urban Shield 


Sunday, January 7, 2018 

No announced meetings or demonstrations posted,