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Meeting Tomorrow Morning:
Trump Tax Cuts and Affordable Housing

Kate Harrison, Berkeley City Council, District 4
Wednesday February 19, 2020 - 09:32:00 PM

At tomorrow’s Land Use Policy Committee, we will discuss requiring on-site inclusionary units in Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZs). I introduced this item and it is co-sponsored by all Councilmembers who represent QOZs – myself, Councilmember Davila, and Councilmember Bartlett.

The meeting is tomorrow, Thursday February 20 at 10:30am on the 6th floor of 2180 Milvia.

Qualified Opportunity Zones are census tracts designated as “economically distressed” in the 2017 Trump tax cuts. Housing projects built in these zones see massive federal tax relief, including deferring upfront capital gains taxes, forgiving taxes on the proceeds of the sale of the building, and more. All told, the Congressional Research Service says that projects can increase investment by 70%! Berkeley is going to see projects across the Downtown, South Berkeley, and Southwest Berkeley that will generate huge profits, and the City has a responsibility to recapture some of these profits by strengthening affordability requirements and preventing displacement in these low-income areas.

Berkeley has long required that new buildings include 20% affordable units, but we have provided the option to pay a fee instead of building the units. Developers typically choose the fee because it costs less, or utilize the state density bonus to provide 10% of units at a single level of affordability, then pay a fee for the rest. This means that affordable housing is built more slowly and in separate nonprofit buildings, rather than integrated in with market rate units. The courts have upheld a city’s right to require onsite units, rather than always paying the fee.

The City of Berkeley is facing two issues: the federal government is providing tax relief to gentrify low-income neighborhoods, and we need more affordable housing. The item I am introducing seeks to have these problems solve one another by requiring affordable units be built onsite by those projects that can most afford to do so because they are receiving these tax breaks. We are not changing the percentage or otherwise altering the affordability requirements, but rather ensuring that affordable units actually get built in these neighborhoods.

I hope you will join me in supporting this important piece of legislation.

Inclusionary Units Belong in Opportunity Zones:
An open letter to Berkeley City Council

Erin Diehm
Wednesday February 19, 2020 - 09:41:00 PM

Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend tomorrow's meeting of the Land Use, Housing, & Economic Development Committee to speak during public comment. I am, therefore, writing to express my strong enthusiastic support for Item 2, "Inclusionary Units in Qualified Opportunity Zones".

I want Berkeley to do everything in its power to allow people of all economic levels to live in the buildings funded by these QOZ incentives. I am deeply concerned that allowing developers to pay in-lieue fees effectively ghetto-izes lower income housing, pushing it further away from BART and other transit options. Our service workers, teachers, barristas, musicians and artists should be able to live near transit and other amenities, in buildings with people of all economic means, from high-income to low. Your proposal helps address these concerns and I enthusiastically support it. 

Thank you for proposing Item 2. It is a step in the right direction and I look forward to seeing it move forward!

Officer-involved Shooting, BART El Cerrito del Norte Closed

Kathleen Kirkwood
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 05:02:00 PM

One person was wounded in an officer-involved shooting Saturday afternoon at the El Cerrito del Norte Station, BART officials said. 

The station was closed shortly after 2 p.m. No other information was immediately released about the shooting. 

Trains are currently turning back at the North Berkeley BART station, according to BART spokesman Chris Filippi. \ AC Transit is providing service from the North Berkeley station and rider should take the AC Transit Bus 52 and transfer to Bus 72 or 72M to El Cerrito Plaza and Richmond.


Public Comment

Letters to Berkeley City Officials
Re: Accessibility problems at the Pathways STAIR Center

Mary Behm-Steinberg
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 02:58:00 PM

Dear Mr. Kapfer,

I'm writing to you to address the illegal construction at Pathways, which is in violation of federal law and the city code meant to bring us into compliance with federal law. I'm copying and pasting the problems, which I've already raised with Council, the Mayor, the City Manager's Office, Mr. Burroughs, and Mr. Buddenhagen, as well as the Disability Coordinator and the secretaries of the Homeless and Welfare Commissions, and I'm trying to find out what the path to approval looked like so that we can avoid problems like this in the future, both in terms of the humiliation and injury they are causing to residents at the center and in terms of wasted taxpayer money and the possibility of lawsuits that this is opening up. I would like to know who issued the final approval; whether or not there was a CASp certified consultant or inspector involved, and what the process was from the design stage to approval. I'm hoping that you can share that with me as soon as possible, but hopefully no later than Wednesday afternoon because it will be a topic of discussion at the HWCAC meeting.

The prior messages show the crux of the issue. I was referred to you by the Planning Department.

Thanks for your prompt attention to this matter. I left you a phone message earlier, and you can also reach me by phone at (510) 526-7259 during regular business hours, but this is a landline so no text.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best regards,

Mary Behm-Steinberg 


Prior emails:

Fri, Feb 7, 1:00 PM (6 days ago) 


to tburroughs, pbuddenhagen, Brittany, Dominika, Mary-Claire, Helen 

Dear Mr. Burroughs and Mr. Buddenhagen, 

I hope this finds you well. I'm writing to follow up on a phone message I left earlier, so that you'll also have my email address. I'm writing to you because your names are both on the contact list for the public hearing on June 12, 2018 regarding Local Adoption of Emergency Amendments to the 2016 California Building Code Governing Emergency Housing. 

Can you please tell me if the STAIR Center has or had an ADA consultant or CASp licensed consultant, and who checked off that ADA requirements were met at the STAIR center? I'm writing to you as a private citizen, though I also serve on the city's Homeless and HWCAC Commissions. I'm hoping to find this out before Monday night's Homeless Commission meeting. 

Thanks in advance for your help. I very much appreciate it. 


Hi Dominika, 


I hope this finds you well. I toured the Stair Center before I left town last Wednesday, and I was really disturbed by what I saw and heard there. I wish I had remembered to bring a camera and tape measure, because simply slapping an ADA accessibility label and a wheelchair icon on something doesn’t make it so. These aren’t nit-picky things: they are actually causing damage to peoples’ mobility equipment and preventing them from using the bathrooms at all at times. I wanted to get this done as quickly as possible, so please excuse the lack of better editing. 

The catalyst for this is doors without push buttons, though that is far from the only serious problem. While there are ramps to get into the buildings, without push buttons on the doors, you still can't safely access the buildings. Other people on the tour kindly opened them for me, and staff were certainly friendly and personable, but the group became quite diffuse, and the first time I tried to open one of those doors myself, I found out how heavy it was, and that it slams shut the minute you let go of it. My shoulder is still cursing at whoever signed off on this being accessible. I wondered how someone with a wheelchair might handle that. I soon found out--as well as finding out that while staff was very friendly and personable to me, and promised to work on my suggestions, their responses to the people who actually live there are allegedly quite different. 

I was allowed to take a look in each of the dorm rooms. There were a couple people home in one of them, and while staff were busy with the other visitors' questions, I got to chat with them for a few minutes. One was in a chair and said he couldn't walk, the other was a single mother who, as an aside from access issues, had been separated from her son. The lady's son has a job and is couchsurfing, and Stair is trying to push her into a shared housing arrangement with a stranger instead of her own family, who wasn't brought to the Stair Center with her. She said she's just using it for a roof over her head while she looks for housing herself, since staff isn't responding to her needs. 

Art Saldana was the man in the wheelchair, and he told me he can't walk. He informed me that his chair has been damaged more than once by those doors slamming on the control mechanism. Easy Does It can't always just run over for an instant fix, and even if they could, it is horrifying that someone would have to risk bodily injury to use the facilities, and from a budget standpoint, it is beyond stupid to keep paying for repair fees that should never have been necessary in the first place, had common sense accessibility been in place. So when someone in a powerchair is even able to wrangle the door open and it slams shut, it damages the joysticks on the chairs, leaving the person without any means of reaching the bathrooms or showers. Art told me he had asked repeatedly for a backup manual chair to be available, and BACS staff ignored him. He also stated that staff would use the ramps as a place to leave things out of convenience, so access was often blocked anyway. When I mentioned this to staff, they were open to getting another chair and tried to make it seem like they were doing a great job from having obtained a chair for Art in the first place, but I wondered why it took someone like me, who isn't a client, to have them make that promise when there had been such humiliating problems happening there that they had been informed of, repeatedly. One of them said "Oh, you've been talking to Art. He's my favorite. We get along great." Funny, but that's not what Art said. 

Art also said he was told that they were allowed to bring electrical appliances that were less than 13" high, and that he had brought a new microwave that he bought himself. They said it was a fire hazard, which I understand, but he claims they took it away and won't tell him where it is. He doesn't think he'll get it back when he moves. 

Art has a speech impediment, and I had problems understanding everything he said, so I wanted him to write me a note to confirm that I had heard him correctly on all points. He promised to do so. He told me that BACS had placed him in an accessible place, then stopped paying for it and moved him to two other places, both with access issues. I would like to sit down with him and write things down to confirm that I understood him right, but if staff is doing things like this and what the single mother mentioned above was saying, they need to be removed. 

The bathrooms themselves also had accessibility issues. The only gender neutral bathroom is in the office. Sadly, simply hanging a sign on the door with a wheelchair icon and an ADA accessible sign doesn't make it so. There was maybe 12" of clearance between the front of the toilet and a shelf they put in front of it to hold toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Even without the walker, I would be concerned people would hit their knees on it. Staff first made excuses that that's really a staff bathroom, and clients only come in there to talk about housing options, but anyone with even rudimentary training in access issues would know that people in chairs frequently have neurological issues that make easy and immediate access to a bathroom essential. Not having an accessible bathroom also precludes BACS from hiring staff with mobility issues, and clearly, they need someone with that expertise. They promised to move the shelf, but even if they do, I don't think there's adequate room to turn a chair in there. I'd like to go back with a camera and a tape measure when I'm not constrained by time and find out. 

The showers I saw also had a hard lip on them that was at least an inch high, presumably to block water getting out, and I was having a hard time imagining how someone who couldn't get up would be able to get in and out by themselves. 

As an aside, there were no gender neutral shower facilities, and the only gender neutral toilet was in the office, not accessible, and not available at night. Staff stated that gender non-binary and trans people were just expected to use the facilities for the gender they most identify with. Men and women are kept together in the dorms. which is a recipe for fear in a place that has had fights break out. 

There were also problems they hadn’t even considered with access to medications. 

*If you need to refrigerate a medication you need 24 hour access to, the only possible place right now is in the communal refrigerators in the dining area. Insulin-dependent diabetes is a good example of how this could be a recipe for disaster. There are only a handful of insulin types, and people frequently reuse their own needles (I did when I was uninsured, I can see people doing it if they’re running low and not able to get out to resupply). Grabbing someone else’s bottle is a recipe for spreading contagion. 

*Marinol/Dronabinol is a Big Pharma synthetic THC that is prescribed instead of cannabis for some people and must be refrigerated or it melts. Anyone who knew what that was and had access to it might be tempted to steal someone’s prescription for a little recreational fun. The same is obviously true for things like opioids. 

*There is no locking storage next to beds for things like needles, or other prescriptions (like opioids, which could also be targeted for recreational theft) that have to be available 24/7. Again, if someone needs cannabis for neurological issues, those issues are often worse at night, when circulation slows down. Nausea from digestive disorders and chemo can also necessitate 24-hour access. Where can someone store it where they don’t have to worry about being shaken down by someone who just wants to get high? 

*I didn’t see any sharps containers. Staff told me they were behind the trash cans in the dorms, but I didn’t get a chance to go back and confirm that, and for obvious reasons, I’m not just ready to take staff’s word for it at this point. 

Other problems that came to light via Carole Marasovic but aren’t necessarily access-related included violence in overcrowded conditions. It’s also worth noting that men, women, and trans people are all expected to bunk in the same rooms, and that according to staff, 75% or so of Stair residents are male. Carole had a lot of very useful input on this and regularly follows the incident reports. One such fight involved someone using a lead pipe as a weapon. Talking about problems I encountered at Stair yesterday, one activist on condition of anonymity told me that one of the reason people don’t want to accept shared placements is that staff is completely insensitive to who people are being paired with, and one person allegedly turned down a placement because they were trying to pair the client with someone who assaulted them. As the example of the single mother mentioned above would seem to illustrate, they certainly have no problem with separating families. 

Carole had a lot very useful questions regarding this visit that I'd like to hear more about. We got separated during the visit, and I haven’t been able to sit down with her yet and compare notes for a larger report. I will be sending her my notes, but have already gone over the broad strokes with her. This is not looking good for expansion before some very fundamental problems are addressed. 

I will be refining this report further as I follow up at the Stair Center, hopefully with an architect with expertise on ADA issues (I have someone in mind who I hope will be available and has no bias or connection with city politics). The bottom line is that I see a lot of reasons for people not to feel safe here, and I’m hearing a lot of excuses for what never should have been designed this way in the first place. I hope that these things can be rectified in a timely manner. 

Thanks so much for all you do—I know how difficult all of this is, and I realize that options are limited with the available funding. All the more reason that hiring a professional grant-writing team to go after our share of the $4.5 billion dollars pledged regionally by Big Tech to provide VLI housing and combat homelessness is so essential. Priorities like permanent subsidies and keeping Dorothy Day House open shouldn’t have to compete with each other and leave us all arguing over crumbs, and it is scandalous to me that we aren't aggressively pursuing that money so that we can make places like Dorothy Day earthquake safe and no one has to take their life in their hands to access it. There’s no excuse for not doing everything we can to gain resources in a humanitarian crisis. 

As long as we're discussing access and poverty, I'm hard pressed to understand why, after the HWCAC already recommended it, we aren't using the Ed Roberts Campus for emergency shelter as well. There is no greater need among people with disabilities than from those who are already struggling just to survive on the streets, and it is embarrassing to me personally to live in the so-called home of the disability rights movement and have the poorest and most desperate among us left behind by the the very institutions that are supposed to be looking out for our best interests. Repeated calls and showing up in person have not gotten me calls back or a response. When I show up in person and wait in line (which is very difficult for me to do at present), I'm told by the front desk that they only want to deal with people registering for some event or other, and I should just leave a message (which is of course, never responded to). If it's a matter of inadequate funding for sufficient staff, then they should be speaking up and advocating for this issue even as they make their case for more resources. To ignore it and ignore advocates (who are part of their cohort, and have not gotten personal help when necessary from them either) seems really unconscionable to me, but I remain open to dialog (if anyone ever bothers even acknowledging my requests for coffee, information, help, etc.!). 

Thank you for all your time and hard work on this--I know there are far more access issues in the city than are reasonable for one person to have to address, and I also realize that the city took far too much time to hire you at all, so I know you're playing catch up. I hope that with clear, frank, communication on all sides, people in leadership roles can address the challenges we're facing head-on, without deflection, and engage in a productive, collaborative process with stakeholders that gives everyone the respect they deserve and the services they need. 

Thanks again for all you do. I look forward to speaking with you further soon. 

The Democrats' Dysfunctional Family Circus: Why Not Let the Kid Drive?

Michael Katz
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 02:49:00 PM

Like everyone from progressive Democrats to ex-Republican Never-Trumpers, I'm queasy about the Democrats' ability to settle on a candidate who can dump Trump. Or to even settle on a candidate.

But I've identified the root of my own queasiness: The Democratic presidential field feels like family. And not in a good way. They feel like relatives, neighbors, or childhood authority figures who definitely have positive qualities, but whose negatives are gratingly familiar.

Sure, I'd vote for any of them (or for Siba the Westminster-winning Standard Poodle) over Trump. But I'd plant myself at the opposite end of the table at a family dinner to avoid talking to several of them. Wouldn't you? 

Joe Biden is your weird grandfather who grew up in a different world, and has spent decades spouting bizarre ideas about race relations from another century. Yet somehow (wait for it:) some of his best friends are black people. Really. 

Bernie Sanders is your irascible uncle, who's constantly yelling about the injustices of the class system. Or just injustices. Or just yelling. (If you're Jewish, you grew up with at least one uncle like Bernie.) 

Pete Buttigieg is the good cousin your mom always held up as a role model. He's won a National Honor Society scholarship to Harvard, he's Rhodes Scholar material, and you could swear you saw him play an Indiana boy mayor on Parks and Recreation

Amy Klobuchar is your weird maiden aunt who tells cringe-worthy jokes, can't stop talking about herself, and can't stop talking. She's constantly whining about how Cousin Pete isn't really as smart or capable as her own kids, if she'd ever had any. 

Tom Steyer is your crazy rich neighbor – and amateur drag queen – who keeps crashing your family parties uninvited. (He paid off the caterers to let him in.) He sputters wild drunken rants about how Cousin Pete can't be trusted, because he plagiarized his Harvard admissions essay, or something like that. 

Mike Bloomberg is your eccentric rich uncle from the East Coast, who's never exactly attended one of your family parties yet. He just sits out on the lawn counting his money, and waiting...and it's really creepy. Somehow, his presence causes dessert plates with more than 100 calories to disappear before you can eat them. (Apparently, he's paid off the caterers, too. But then he stops and frisks them, checking for cigarettes.) 

Andrew Yang is the neighborhood smart kid your dad sometimes held up as a role model. He's a math whiz who got into M.I.T., but then kind of flamed out. Secretly, he wasn't really that good with math. E.g., he couldn't count votes. He also couldn't compute that a 13% Value Added Tax + state tax rates around 10% = Scandinavian levels of regressive taxation, in exchange for a flimsy U.S. welfare state. Basically, a deal that didn't add up for anyone. 

Then there's Elizabeth Warren. She's your cool aunt, who cracks clever jokes and always brings you nice presents. (Like a free college education, and free health care that no one has to pay for.) Except, she's reverted to her original day job as an elementary-school teacher, and become a scold. 

I take the state of Warren's campaign personally, because I've admired her for so long. Gosh shucks, I've already voted for her in one Presidential primary. (I wrote her in on my 2016 primary ballot.) 

Warren used to be plain-spoken, warm, and spontaneous. In her Mario Savio lecture at UC Berkeley in 2010, she ditched her script to glow about having just gotten a phone call from her daughter, telling her she'd become a grandmother. 

But as a presidential hopeful, Warren has been so on-message and disciplined that she sounds over-programmed. Her campaign has relentlessly scolded giant corporations, along with billionaires who don't pay their fair share. 

Which is true, but overly simplified and off-base, in a way that 2010's Elizabeth Warren would have ripped apart. Her 2020 tack ignores relatively small financial and legal actors that cause outsized harm. Along with malicious officials, judges, and reactionary PACs and think tanks that aren't corporations at all. 

In all, 2020's Elizabeth Warren has gotten stuck on a consistent theme of resentment, way overshadowing a grace note about shared opportunity. And resentment isn't selling so well in this long, strong (Obama) economic recovery, which is still floating high employment and stock values. Maybe blame her consultants – and this awful thing called the Senate, which rots out its members' ability to communicate with fellow humans. 

Which brings me back to Cousin Pete, the one family member who hasn't overstayed his welcome with me. He has a résumé that one wag called manufactured in a Democratic think-tank laboratory. He fits the profile of the Dems who've actually managed to win the presidency in my lifetime: younger than his opponent, and a relative Washington outsider, with a hopeful message of ethical reconstruction. 

As a union-friendly Democrat from a red state, he's learned to talk in moderate terms, beckoning for support from independents and future former Republicans. But many of his stances would be pretty transformative.  

Buttigieg was the first Dem to revive the idea of restructuring the Supreme Court, to catch it up to the 21st Century. And he's the only major-party candidate to call for decriminalizing simple possession of all drugs. That's the proven Portuguese solution for reducing substance abuse and most of its associated harms. Think of how many Americans we could take out of the prison pipeline by erasing these victimless crimes. 

Finally, unlike other recent Democratic presidents (Bill Clinton, Obama), Buttigieg seems to have actually learned something from his Ivy League and Oxford education. He's mentally agile beyond his résumé.  

Around this date, I expected to have to put away my Warren button to support an electable moderate like Beto O'Rourke – remember Beto? – who could look and shimmy like Bobby Kennedy. Yet Buttigieg actually talks like Bobby Kennedy. He quotes quotable things from literature he's actually read. 

Given the other options, I've been swept right into the enthusiasm that Pete generates. I feel like he could actually win this thing. And considering the terrifying prospect that Trumpski might be unbeatable this year – given the strong Obama economy, Russian interference, digital devilry, and flagrant voter suppression by Trumpski's state-level GOP cohorts – I suspect that Pete would at least lose well. 

Win or lose, I see Cousin Pete capturing more electoral votes than any other Dem in this year's race. I admire Uncle Bernie for legitimizing important ideas (and I supported Bernie in the 2016 primaries). But I also lived through watching George McGovern win Massachusetts' 14 electoral votes and D.C.'s three, while Richard Nixon seized the other 49 states and a crushing landslide of 520 electoral votes. (Hell, I even ran Massachusetts phone banks for McGovern, when he made a second run in the 1984 primaries.) 

Given the past decade's angry, reactionary whitelash – which the Koch Brothers' Tea Party handed Trump, to exploit and further inflame – I unfortunately see Bernie's general-election map looking far too much like McGovern's. 

This is why I'm convinced we should give the kid the chance. Pete is moderate in tone, but inspiring. He's pragmatically progressive in ways that might actually accomplish some good things. He doesn't yell, sputter, or snark out of one side of his mouth. He doesn't throw binders at his staff. He doesn't whine. And I believe that under pressure, he won't cave.

A Short and Depressing Course On Tax Policy

Harry Brill
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 02:41:00 PM

1. According to the Republicans in Congress, the auditing practices of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are much too harsh on the big corporations and the wealthy. So to reduce the number of audits of those with lots of money, Congress has cut the budget every year for the last eight years. But have these cuts really been significant? Yes, indeed. Since 2010 there has been 675,000 fewer audits. That is a whopping 42 percent reduction. As the IRS auditing continues to decline every year the news gets better for the rich.  

2. If an audit is not made within 10 years after a tax return is submitted, the right to audit that submission expires. This problem has become more frequent because cutbacks in auditors has resulted in a growing backlog. In 2010, 482 million dollars in tax debt had lapsed. By 2017 that figure had risen to $8.3 billion. That’s 17 times as much than in 2010.  

3. What can be done to halt this theft? The most appropriate solution is for Congress to take Bernie Sanders advice, which is to legally prohibit business from deferring their tax obligations. Isn’t that much better than continuing to allow the wealthy an open invitation to cheat?  

4. Even more costly in lost taxes is that 80 percent of the large corporations place their profits abroad, which legally exempts these companies from paying income tax in the United States. In these tax haven countries the taxes are either very low or do not exist. The amount stored abroad is 1,3 trillion dollars (that’s over a thousand billion). The cost to the public is enormous. If, for example, the pharmaceutical industry had paid their taxes instead of avoiding their obligations, that money could have covered the cost of health insurance for almost one million poor children.  

5. Because of tremendous pressure from Republicans in Congress, the IRS has acknowledged that it is has become too difficult and often impossible to audit major corporations and the wealthy. In fact, millionaires are now 80 percent less likely to be audited than in 2011.  

6. Then what alternative does the IRS have? Unfortunately for low income workers, the IRS has been shifting resources to auditing the working poor. That’s fine with the Republicans and it is much easier and less expensive for the IRS. So low income workers are now being audited at about the same rate as the wealthiest 1 percent. Moreover, a person is more likely to be audited by those whose annual earnings are $20,000 rather than $400,000.  

7. Incredibly, the most heavily audited county in the country is Humphreys County, which is an impoverished rural county in Mississippi. And the racial group that is most likely to be audited is African Americans.  

8. So what can be done to overcome the inequality and prejudice that characterize American tax practices? The problem apparently is that although progressive ideas usually originate at the bottom, they are almost always violated by those at the top. Clearly, we need to develop strategies to shift the nation politically from oligarchy to genuine democracy. Of course that road entails a very steep climb. But there is no other alternative.

President Corleone

Tejinder Uberoi
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 03:11:00 PM

Following a sham impeachment trial with the Senate packed with his enablers, President “Corleone” Trump, the Godfather, continues to trash the US Constitution. He makes a complete mockery of the critical clause, “equal justice under law,” to favor his friends and punish his enemies. 

No longer can we claim to be a liberal democracy with respect for the law. 

He exposed his authoritarian nature during his 2016 campaign mocking his opponent as “crooked Hilary”, smiling and clapping when his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn chanted “lock her up.” He ridiculed his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions because he recused himself and failed to protect him from the Mueller investigation. He pressured James Comey, the former FBI Director to drop criminal charges on Flynn. He pardoned the former racist Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio.  

And now we are witnessing another blatant interference in the Justice Department overruling the prosecutors in favor of his friend and former campaign advisor, Roger Stone. The meek and compliant attorney general, William Barr readily agreed and overruled the prosecutors. A jury convicted Stone of obstruction of justice, lying to Congress and threatening a witness and the presiding judge with bodily harm, charges that should have condemned the unrepentant Stone to a life sentence. Kudos to the four courageous prosecutors who resigned in protest. 

Contrast the treatment of Stone and Flynn with Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen who spoke the truth and is now languishing in jail.

Smoking in Dispensaries:Letter to the Berkeley City Council

Carol Denney
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 02:56:00 PM

Dar Berkeley City Council,

I appreciate the revisions made to the dispensary regulations at the last City Council meeting, which recognize that flavored products are playing a large role in the underage smoking epidemic in California, an epidemic even higher in the City of Berkeley's current underage population and disproportionately targeted toward communities of color.

But the current regulations still allow involuntary exposure to employees and customers by allowing on-site consumption, something the tobacco, marijuana, and vaping industries have been trying to re-introduce into workplaces for decades. Only about half of the states in the nation have smokefree worker protections, and their disease rates show it. Many dispensary customers wish to have safe access to products such as creams, oils, patches, lozenges, etc., but do not use any combustible forms of cannabis and will risk exposure to secondhand smoke and emissions if they enter a dispensary with on-site consumption, since there is no effective ventilation or air filtration system which can remove small particulates (see ASHRAE Position Document below). This industry warning was updated only six months ago to ensure that no legislation suggests that ventilation is an effective safety measure, as Berkeley's impending regulations from the Cannabis Commission currently, erroneously, do.

All Berkeley renters who use combustible medical marijuana can legally smoke in their units, and have no need of on-site smoking as many of the City Council erroneously stated: 

12.70.035 "...E. Use of medical cannabis, including through the use of an electronic smoking device, within the enclosed area of a unit by a person for whom using medical cannabis is not a crime under California law shall be exempt from this Section."

Science should matter to the Berkeley City Council; science-based policy is why we were formerly a leader in health policy on secondhand smoke. Without revisions, the current regulations will require re-writing our secondhand smoke protections to eliminate protections for vulnerable groups. Further, they mislead the public regarding the efficacy of ventilation, which should have been part of the discussion all along. The ventilation industry's voice should be the overriding authority on ventilation. Their entire position document is linked below (see below), which clearly states that the only effective way to eliminate health risks associated with indoor exposure is "to ban smoking activity."

Please pull the current regulations from the upcoming consent calendar and recommend their return to the commissions tasked with making sure public health and labor issues are not left out, as they have been so far. I would respectfully recommend adding the Commission on Disability, the Commission on Labor, and the Youth Commission to the groups offered input on this serious issue. 

The ASHRAE Position Document on Secondhand Smoke

ASHRAE concludes that:
• It is the consensus of the medical community and its cognizant authorities that ETS is a health risk, causing lung cancer and heart disease in adults, and exacerbation of asthma, lower respiratory illnesses and other adverse effects on the respiratory health of children.
• At present, the only means of effectively eliminating health risk associated with indoor exposure is to ban smoking activity.
• Although complete separation and isolation of smoking rooms can control ETS exposure in non-smoking spaces in the same building, adverse health effects for the occupants of the smoking room cannot be controlled by ventilation.
©The ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) Position Document on Secondhand Smoke


cc: Commission on Labor, Commission on Disability, Community Health Commission, Youth Commission

February Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Monday February 17, 2020 - 10:21:00 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! 

Delete Facebook

Tejinder Uberoi
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 03:22:00 PM

There is little doubt that Mark Zuckerberg and his flagship, Facebook, propelled Donald Trump to victory in 2016 and is likely to repeat the favor in 2020. He has left the door wide open for Russian trolls and other fake news. His partners in crime are Twitter and Google who generate $billions in political advertising making little effort policing its content. They engage in blatant theft of users’ personal data to bombard them with advertising to maximize their profits. But Facebook is by far the worst villain in amplifying political messages. 

There is a longstanding law — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — that insulates social media platforms from legal liability and defamation and similar claims. Facebook posts false information without taking any responsibility for its content. There seems to be a cozy relationship between Trump and Facebook in which Facebook post messages enhancing Trump’s reelection and in return is fully protected by the enormous power of the presidency.  

In 2016, Facebook provided embedded staff to the Trump campaign to optimize its advertising program.
Brad Parscale, the digital director of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and now his campaign manager for 2020, admitted that Facebook tilted the election in Trump’s favor in 2016 and will likely propel him to victory in 2020. Readers please dump Facebook and save our democracy.

Why Bernie Needs to Straighten Up His Act

Gar Smith
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 02:19:00 PM

I hate to be the one to say it but, if Bernie Sanders wants to stand up for America, he's got to do something about his posture. 

While all the other candidates are trotting around with heads held high and chests proudly thrust forward, Bernie schleps around like a crotchety alte kaker, raising his fist, raising his voice, and looking like grandpa trying to find his walker. 

Like Trump, Bernie doesn't seem to have much patience for dialog and chatty conversations. Instead, he has a tendency to rail and rant. While Trump enforces his rumblings by framing his bellows with two sub-sized hands seemingly frozen in the "OK sign" (aka the "WP" White Power sign), Bernie's preferred speaking stance is to lean forward with his fist held high while he lambasts billionaires in a rasping, booming baritone. 



It's never a good sign when a speaker's posture becomes a distraction. Trump's two preferred postures range from his passive conversation-time sessions with foreign leaders in adjoining chairs—"I'm-sitting-on-a-toilet-hands-between-my-knees-trying-to-follow-your-arguments"—to his aggressive podium posture—"I'm-gonna-square-my-shoulders-and-yell-my-flipping-orange-head-off." 

In contrast, Bernie stands alone as the only candidate whose public appearances often find him slouched so far forward that his ears are positioned below his shoulders—his nose positioned where you'd expect to find a bow-tie. 

Like no other candidate, Bernie combines the physical motifs of crouch, slouch and grouch. 

But there's good news for the Sanders campaign: there is a new product on the market that's designed to improve the posture of older, bent-over boomers. It's called a Posture Corrector and it slips over the arms and shoulders like a weighted backpack, instantly tugging the spine into a healthy, upright position. 

Let's encourage Bernie to buy and apply one. Our message of support to Sanders can be: "Bernie, we've got your back!" 

I'd love to see Bernie transformed from hunchback to fullback. 

The truth of the matter is that a politician (especially a democratic socialist) needs to stick his neck out and I, for one, would like to see Bernie's neck emerge from the sanctuary of his lapels. (We've already got one politician whose resemblance to a turtle has been widely noted—and nobody needs another Mitch McConnell.) 

And, while we're at it, could we persuade Bernie to smile more? It would be a boon if Bernie could make political struggle look like something that's engaging and not just enraging. 

Body language is a key tool in reaching the body politic. I want to vote for a candidate who "stands tall," "squares his shoulders," and "faces up to challengers." Not someone who "hunkers down" like a vulture in search of roadkill. 

Perhaps Bernie could sign up to take some charisma lessons from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young mover-and-shaker who's got a full menu of grassroots chops and enthusiasm to burn. Perhaps she could transmit some of this energy to Bern'. 

That would give me something to smile about. 




DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Irish Elections & Unification

Conn Hallinan
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 02:28:00 PM

The victory by Ireland’s leftwing Sinn Fein Party in the Republic’s recent election has not only overturned some 90 years of domination by the island’s two center-right parties, it suddenly puts the issue of Irish reunification on the agenda. While the campaign was fought over bread and butter issues like housing, the collapsing health care system, and homelessness, a united Ireland has long been Sinn Fein’s raison d’être. In the aftermath, Party leaders called for a border referendum on the subject. 

But nothing is simple in Ireland, most of all, reunification. 

For starters, the election’s outcome is enormously complex. Sinn Fein (We Ourselves) did get the largest number of first-choice votes—Ireland has a system of rated voting—but not by much. The center-right parties that have taken turns ruling since 1922—Fine Gael (the Irish Tribe) and Fianna Fail (Soldiers of Destiny)—took 22% and 21% respectively to Sinn Fein’s 24.5%. 

Although other progressive parties, like the Greens, also did well, it would be extremely difficult to form a government without one of the two big traditional parties. Fine Gael has ruled out working with Sinn Fein because of its association with the Irish Republican Army, but Fianna Fail is hedging its bets. Party leader Michael Martin was coy in the aftermath of the vote, saying he respected the democratic decision of the Irish people. 

But getting from the election’s outcome to actual governance promises to be a difficult process, and one that, in the end, might fail, forcing yet another general election. Sinn Fein will be reluctant to play second fiddle to Fianna Fail—the latter won one more seat than Sinn Fein—since junior partners tend to do badly in follow up elections. Sinn Fein would have won more seats if it had fielded more candidates, but it was reluctant to do so because it had taken a beating in local elections just seven months earlier. The Irish lower house, or Dail, has 180 seats. 

If governance looks complex, try reunification. 

On the one hand, there are any number of roadblocks to reuniting the Republic and Northern Ireland, many of them historical. On the other hand, there are some very practical reasons for considering such a move. Sorting them out will be the trick. 

Northern Ireland—called the Plantation of Ulster by Elizabeth I—was established in 1609 after driving out the two major Irish clans, the O’Neills and the O’Donnels, and seizing 500,000 square acres of prime farm land. Some 20,000 Protestants, many of them Scots, were moved in to replace them. 

From the beginning, Ulster was meant to be an ethnic stronghold. Protestants who used native Irish labor had to pay special taxes and eventually even intermarriage with Catholics was discouraged. Protestant farmers got special deals on rent and land improvements—the “Ulster Privilege”—and Catholics were politically and economically marginalized. Hatred between the two communities was actively stoked by extremist Protestant organizations like The Orange Order. The name comes from William of Orange (William III), the Protestant husband of Mary II, queen of England. 

This is hardly ancient history. Up until recently, Protestants controlled Northern Ireland through a combination of disenfranchising Catholics and direct repression. In 1972 a peaceful march in Londonderry demanding civil rights was attacked by British paratroopers, who gunned down 24 unarmed people, killing 14 of them. “Bloody Sunday” was the beginning of “The Troubles,” a low-scale civil war that took more than 3600 lives and deeply scarred both communities. 

Getting past that history will be no easy task, even though the Good Friday Agreement ended the fighting in 1998 and established the current assembly in Northern Ireland, the Stormont. A recent agreement between the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the largely Catholic Sinn Fein Party has the Stormont up and running after a three-year hiatus. 

The practical reasons for re-examining reunification are legion. 

During the 2016 Brexit vote, Northern Ireland, like Scotland, voted to stay in the European Union (EU). A majority of Protestants voted to leave, but a strong Catholic vote tipped the scales to “remain.” Northern Ireland gets more than $780 million yearly from the EU to support agriculture and encourage cultural development and intra-community peace. 

What was once one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world has been dismantled, and Ulster exports to the Republic are worth $4.4 billion a year. And because the border is open, the North has an outlet for its goods through the Republic. If Ulster follows Britain out of the EU, however, that will change. While there is agreement not to reestablish a “hard” border, Ulster’s imports from Britain will still have to be inspected to make sure they follow EU regulations. 

The Protestants were promised by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that there would be no EU inspections, but “promises” and “principles” are two words that don’t easily co-exist with the word “Johnson.” The Prime Minister—no longer dependent on the DUP for votes in the London Parliament—double crossed the DUP and agreed to a EU inspection regime in the Irish Sea. 

It is not clear how most of the people in both countries feel about reunification. Exit polls in the south found that most voters would support a referendum on unification. 

Polls also show that many Northern Irish would consider it as well, although that sentiment is sharply divided between “unionist” Protestants and “loyalist” Protestants. The former are more concerned with stability than religious sectarianism, and if Brexit has a negative impact on Ulster—the outcome most economists expect—they might be open to the idea. 

The “loyalists,” however, will certainly resist, a fact that gives Irish in the Republic pause. The south has gone through a long and painful economic recovery from the crash of 2008 and many are not enthusiastic about suddenly inheriting a bunch of people who don’t want to be there. 

Sinn Fein argues that the Good Friday Agreement essentially says that the Irish have a right to choose without reference to Britain, and is pushing for a border referendum. Under the Agreement, however, if the vote to reunite fails, another can’t be taken for seven years. 

Sinn Fein did as well as it did—particularly among the young—because of its political program to build 100,000 homes, freeze rents for three years, increase aid to education, house the homeless, improve health care, and tax the wealthy. Those are also issues in the north, where 300,000 people are currently waiting to see a medical specialist. Some15,000 medical workers recently went on strike to protest long hours and poor pay. 

At this point, Ulster’s Sinn Fein has seven representatives to the British parliament, but refuses to send them because they would have to swear an oath to the Crown. If Sinn Fein has any hopes of getting enough people in the north to consider reunification, however, it will have to rid itself of such nationalist trappings, and convince the majority of Protestants that their traditions will be respected. 

This may be less difficult than it was several years ago, because the Catholic Church in the Republic has gone into deep decline, pummeled by charges of child abuse and the exploitation of unwed mothers. The Catholic Church in the Republic fought hard against initiatives in 2015 and 2018 supporting gay marriage and abortion, and lost badly both times. 

If unification is the goal, supporters in the Republic and Ulster will have to be patient, and show that they can deliver a better life for the entire community. That will have less to do with Ireland’s “long sorrow” ancient hatreds than with decent health care, good schools, affordable housing and well-paid jobs. All the Irish can get behind that program.  

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





THE PUBLIC EYE:Evaluating the Democratic Candidates

Bob Burnett
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 02:22:00 PM

We're heading towards March 3rd, "Super Tuesday," and the race for the Democratic presidential nomination remains competitive. A field of 29 candidates has been winnowed to eight: Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Peter Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren. Here's my evaluation of the Democratic survivors. 

The February 10th Qunnipiac poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=3655 ) provided us with fresh insight on the state of the Democratic race: "[Bernie] Sanders gets 25 percent of the vote among Democratic voters and independent voters who lean Democratic, while [Joe] Biden gets 17 percent, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg receives 15 percent, Senator Elizabeth Warren gets 14 percent, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg receives 10 percent, and Senator Amy Klobuchar gets 4 percent. No other candidate tops 2 percent." In other words, heading into Super Tuesday, there are six viable contenders: Bernie, Biden, Bloomberg, Warren, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar. Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Steyer appear to have fallen far behind. 

In evaluating the top six candidates, I'm using four different criteria: (1) who has the best chance of defeating Donald Trump; (2) who does the most to strengthens the overall Democratic ticket; (3) who has the best perspective on "renewing" the presidency, and (4) who champions the best policies. 

Who would beat Trump: No matter which of these six candidates is picked to oppose Trump, most Democrats will vote for them. The February 10th Quinnipiac poll reported: "Among all registered voters, Democratic candidates lead President Trump in general election matchups by between 4 and 9 percentage points: Bloomberg tops Trump 51 - 42 percent; Sanders defeats Trump 51 - 43 percent; Biden beats Trump 50 - 43 percent; Klobuchar defeats Trump 49 - 43 percent; Warren wins narrowly over Trump 48 - 44 percent; [and] Buttigieg is also slightly ahead of Trump 47 - 43 percent." 

Quinnipiac provides no insight into what fuels these differences, but here are a couple of suggestions: the ultimate 2020 campaign can either be a referendum solely about Trump or it can be a "Which candidate is the least worse" such as the 2016 contest between Clinton and Trump. If the contest becomes a Trump referendum, then it will focus on Trump's handling of the economy. (Quinnipiac noted: "Voters approve 54 - 42 percent of [Trump's] handling of the economy.") In that contest, Bloomberg would be the best Democratic candidate to attack Trump's "stewardship" of the economy. 

Of course there will be mudslinging, but in a Trump referendum contest: Bloomberg gets the best mark of 3; Warren and Klobuchar get 2; and the others score 1. 

There's another way to look at the question of who can beat Trump: who would be best to counter the Trump-campaign disinformation juggernaut? (It's rumored that Trump has raised $1 billion to campaign via Facebook, Twitter, and similar social-media outlets.(https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-2020-disinformation-war/605530/ )) The only Democratic candidate that has a shot countering this is Bloomberg. So he gets a bonus point. 

Who Strengthens the Overall Democratic Ticket: In 2020, Democrats have to take back both the Presidency and the Senate. If "Moscow Mitch" McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he will block most Democratic legislative initiatives. So the question is: who will be the best candidate to organize Democrats to make sure they win across the board? 

Consider the situation in Arizona, where there's a contested Senate seat now held by Republican Martha McSally -- a Trump acolyte. In the 2020 Arizona Senatorial election, she'll be opposed by former astronaut Mark Kelly -- husband of former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords. In 2016, Arizona narrowly went to Trump. Which 2020 presidential candidate would have the best chance of turning Arizona blue and helping Mark Kelly win the Senate seat? From here, it would seem that Biden, Bloomberg, and Klobuchar would do the best job, because they are centrist candidates. Possibly Pete Buttigieg but he is not well known in Arizona. Because of their brand of liberalism, Sanders and Warren would not play as well. 

We can carry this analysis through all the states with a contested Senatorial contest: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, and North Carolina. 

Here's my ranking of the candidates on this vector: (3) Bloomberg, Biden, Klobuchar, (2) Buttigieg, and (1) Sanders and Warren. 

Who renews the presidency: It goes without saying that Donald Trump has divided the nation and demeaned the Presidency. (Even Trump voters don't like his behavior; they have chosen to ignore his Tweets and manic outbursts.) 

Which Democratic candidate would be the best choice to unite the nation, bring dignity back to the White House and civility back to the halls of Congress? At one time, I thought this perspective favored Joe Biden. Now I would add Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar. 

Another way to parse this factor is to ask: Which of these six candidates is likely to get the most votes from folks who do not traditionally vote Democrat? I'd say this is Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Biden. 

Who champions the best policies: Indivisible (https://scorecard.indivisible.org ) rated the candidates' policy platforms. Based on that, Warren and Sanders get a 3, Buttigieg a 2, and Klobuchar, Bloomberg, and Biden a 1. (Mike Bloomberg didn't get rated by Indivisible but his policies are very similar to those of Amy Klobuchar.) 

While the Democratic primaries may be policy oriented, I suspect that the general election will have a more narrow focus: Trump's "leadership;" the economy; global climate change; health care; and immigration. All of the top six Democratic candidates are a strong alternative to Trump. Nonetheless, Bloomberg would do better on the economy. 

Summary: Based on the BB rating system, Mike Bloomberg gets an 11, Amy Klobuchar gets a 9, Peter Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren are tied with 8, and Bernie Sanders has 7. (This rating is heavily skewed by my perception that Bloomberg and Klobuchar would do the most for the overall Democratic ticket.) 

So what should we expect after Super Tuesday? I believe that on March 4th we will have a three candidate race: Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Sanders. I like Amy Klobuchar but I don't believe that she has the financial support required to compete effectively on Super Tuesday. I think that Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren once had a shot but, for whatever reason, have not garnered enough votes. After March 3rd, I predict a three-man race. 

Bob Burnett is a Bay Area writer and activist. He can be reached at bburnett@sonic.net

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: A Dilemma: Miss an Essential Appointment or Drive Impaired

Jack Bragen
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 02:10:00 PM

As adults living in a developed country, most of us have had to drive in an emergency. It might mean taking a sick person to a doctor, taking a sick beloved pet to a veterinary clinic, or even evacuating when under the threat of a hurricane or a fire. 

The high death toll or Hurricane Katrina was partly due to it occurring toward the end of the month, a time when many impoverished residents of the affected area could not pay to fill up their gas tanks. 

Driving is not a right; it is a privilege. Driving while impaired does not only apply to being intoxicated by alcohol or illicit drugs. You could be taking prescribed medication at prescribed dosages, and if those medications affect your ability to operate a motor vehicle, you are driving while impaired. 

Secondly, you could be impaired by fatigue due to not getting enough sleep. Thirdly, a stressful situation can create impairment. 

There are two issues we are dealing with--actually more. One issue is that of whether we could be arrested and put on trial, if law enforcement believes we're "on something," and we've been at fault in a car accident. Another issue is simply the basic responsibility toward fellow human beings, something that goes beyond being punished by the courts. 

Circumstances for each situation suggest varying responses. If you are evacuating a natural disaster, your choice is clear; you have to get out of there and do your best. If you are in life-threatening danger because of a physical threat from a criminal, you need to get out of there. On the other hand, sometimes people will pressure us, or circumstances will pressure us, such as a medical or mental health appointment, or showing up for work. Or maybe someone wants us to run an errand or take them somewhere. In those instances, if you feel that it is difficult to drive because you have just taken your medication, or you are fatigued from lack of sleep, maybe you'd better stay home. 

People could say, "I've very disappointed in you." 

On the other hand, if we strike and kill a pedestrian, that person's life is over, and ours may be over as well. The lawful ramifications of killing someone due to driving while impaired--you don't want them. The course of your life will be changed for the worse. 

On the other hand, missing a medical or mental health appointment could cause us to lose services. That kind of thing can usually be repaired. You could find someone else or do something else. 

A friend may be angered if we refuse to drive her or him somewhere. If they are family or a close friend, if their car broke down on the freeway and they are stranded, and they can't find someone else to give them a ride, it is a factor in favor of picking them up. On the other hand, if an acquaintance went to a bar and got drunk, and they want a ride home at two in the morning, just say no. Do not let someone make their problem into your problem. 

An additional note: I've been pulled over by police in the circumstance of a car accident, and on some routine stops. Police have questioned me as to whether I've taken any drugs. (They knew I was not on alcohol because if I was, they would be able to smell it on my breath.) 

In short, my answer to them has always been, "I'm schizophrenic, I'm on psych meds." (You do not have to volunteer this information unless the officer asks you if you are taking drugs) In my experience, that answer has worked to prevent them from doing anything to me. Most police in California have had some degree of mental health training and are not completely ignorant on the subject. Despite the news stories of police using excessive force, most are dedicated to working for the good of the community. 

As I said, I was in a car accident that was determined to be my fault. In 2012, following my father's death, I ran a red light due to being distracted from the road by grief. It was a big mistake to get behind the wheel. When there is a death of a loved one, often this is a disruption to one's normal functioning. 

There is no law that you can't drive following the loss of a family member. Yet, if I had killed someone that night, I would have to live with that for the rest of my life. I've been lucky. 

Many persons with mental illness including me have a driver's license and should be allowed to drive. I do every bit as well at it as do most nondisabled people. I am very careful, and I drive defensively. When I feel I shouldn't drive, I don't, regardless of whether it will make someone mad because I didn't do what was promised. It is a "boundary." 



Don't hesitate to take a moment and look at some interesting stuff on my professional Facebook page. 




Ralph E. Stone
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 02:43:00 PM

“Brexit” is a shorthand word combining two words — ”Britain” and “exit” —for the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.

The Brexit vote was conducted in 2013, when then United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister David Cameron was looking ahead to his re-election. He did not want to lose too many voters to an anti-European Union political party. So he promised, if re-elected, to hold a referendum on whether Britain would stay in the European Union (EU) or not. He said that the referendum would have just have two options — in or out and that it would be binding.

When Cameron made that promise, he and his advisers believed it would be a relatively low-risk ploy to deal with a short-term political problem. It turned out to be a gross miscalculation. The June 23, 2016 referendum to leave won 51.89%. 

While it is still not entirely clear why the British voted for Brexit, three possibilities have been advanced: the UK never fully accepted the legitimacy of European control over British institutions, the EU’s liberal views on migration, and what is seen as EU’s burdensome economic regulations. 

On January 31, 2020, after nearly four tumultuous years (https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7960#fullreport), the UK departed from the EU. Now the UK and the EU begin a transition period until December 31, 2020, to negotiate new agreements on trade, security, and other areas. If no deals are reached, then the UK will leave without any such deals. 

Some experts say that a no-deal Brexit would cause economic chaos by eliminating trade agreements and imposing tariffs, customs checks and other barriers between the UK and the EU, its biggest trading partner. The EU counted for 54% of Britain’s imports and 43% of its exports in 2016. About a third of Britain’s food comes from the EU. 

In pre-Brexit moves, nearly 100 companies have already relocated from Britain to the Netherlands or set up offices there to be within the EU due to the UK’s planned departure from the bloc. Another 325 companies worried about losing access to the European market are considering such a move. The businesses are in finance, information technology, media, advertising, life sciences and health. These jobs and money are unlikely to return. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen dismissed any UK idea of a loose trade deal with the EU. She let the UK know that access to the EU would require the UK to abide by the EU’s standards. I foresee difficult negotiations ahead for the UK. 

Stay tuned. 


SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 02:25:00 PM

Stamp Out Breast Cancer

During a visit to Berkeley's Main Post Office this week, I overheard the following exchange between a young USPS clerk and an older male customer.

He: "I'd like some stamps."

She: "Here's our selection."

He (pointing to the "Fund the Fight; Find a Cure" stamps in her right hand): "I'd like those, please."

She: "So you want breast cancer?"

He: "Whoa! Nobody wants breast cancer!"

She (shocked): "What? You don't support breast cancer?!"

He: "No, but I do support finding a cure for breast cancer…."

Tension defused.

Those Political Ads

Forget the John Kerry rumors, I'm starting to wonder if Barack Obama is being considered as a late-minute replacement for would-be president Joe Biden? It's no surprise that Barack Obama is invoked in Biden's ads but that's not where Barackomania ends. With increasing frequency, Obama keeps popping up in TV ads for other members of the current batch of Democratic contenders—Mike Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, Tom Steyer, Tulsi Gabbard (and their less-well-known rivals, Deval Patrick and Eric Jaye). 

Adding to the confusion: Mike Bloomberg's team has been broadcasting campaign spots voiced by Michael Douglas ("I've played a president in movies"). 

Adding more to the confusion: Bloomberg's PR advisors have hired a Tom Steyer sound-alike to narrate one of Bloomberg's "Mike Will Get It Done" pitches. 

When it comes to inspirational background music for political ads, I'd put Steyer and Bloomberg at the front of the pack. 

Independent Media Struggling to Survive 

An alarming note has been sounded in the cybersphere: "Fox News and Big Tech keep getting bigger and progressive outlets keep shutting down or shrinking, whether it’s CREDO Action and ThinkProgress recently, or blogs like MyDD and Open Left a few years ago." 

According to a report on Business Insider, 7,800 people lost their jobs in a 2019 "media landslide" that triggered an avalanche of "media layoffs, cuts, and buyouts." 

Is there nothing but gloom on the media horizon? Well, according to Daily Kos campaign director Chris Bowers, "unlike many other left-leaning media organizations, such as Buzzfeed, HuffPo, Vice and Vox, we have not even had to make layoffs. Further, we have actually been able to expand our operations, nearly doubling our staff in the era of Trump." 


Mainstream Media's Corporate Take-over 

Jim Hightower adds another cry of alarm in the January issue of his monthly Hightower Lowdown. Hightower's exposé, which exposes how "Wall Street is savaging local journalism," focuses on the hedge-fund-managed New Media Investment Group. 

In 2017, New Media was acquired by SoftBank Group, a super-large Japanese conglomerate. In November 2019, the multi-glomerate acquired Gannett, Inc. At the time, Gannett owned 20% of America's dailies. In one fell scoop, a foreign-owned investment firm acquired a large chunk of America's media landscape—including "144 dailies, 684 community publications, and over 569 local-market websites in 38 states." The Gannett purchase alone gave SoftBank control over more than 100 US dailies (including USA Today) and nearly 1,000 weeklies. 

Hightower laments the consequences: a rash of "layoffs" (called :synergies" in corpspeak) and "forced retirement" (aka "headcount reductions"). One single-day mass-firing of reporters, photographers and editors was described as "a small restructuring." 

Gannett's investors have been promised rich rewards from cutting the costs of news-gathering by $300 million a year. The end result: an era of "Fast-food Journalism" relying on clickbait, listicles, and regurgitated syndicated content designed to homogenize the newsphere. 

Ultimately, Gannett's masterplan foresees ending print editions and herding readers onto cheaper web-based news sites. 

Alas, as our Founding Fathers tried to warn us: you can't have a thriving democracy without a thriving and independent free press. 

As is his wont, Hightower ends his media-munching-post-mortem with an antidote of activism. His "Do Something!" coda urges readers to seek out the Institute for Nonprofit News, a nonprofit "committed to editorial independence and transparency." 

Is My Hard-drive Haunted? 

My laptop's been acting up (actually, slowing down) so I thought I'd run a virus check using MalwareBytes software. Usually, I don't pay much attention as the progress bar moves slowly from left to right but this time I leaned in close to see if I could read some of the items that were being searched. While many flitted by too quickly to read, there were a several that I was able to jot down. 

Here are a few of the scanned titles that popped up in tiny print on the screen: MacSpy, Generic Suspicions, Crossrider, Evil Egg, Iron Core, Mindspeak, Videx, and Spigot. 

Now I don't know whether to be (1) relieved because these items are benign and system-friendly tools or (2) freaked because they are creepy intruders waiting to wreak havoc on my hard-drive. 

A Squeeze Ball for a Sleazeball 

Does Donald Trump get on your nerves? Does the democracy's demise leave you mourning the rise of an authoritarian Tweet-dictated Donocracy? 

If so, relief may be at hand. Literally. 

The crew of newsies at BuzzFlash has announced it will be raising operating funds by selling a "Release the Rage" Squeezable Rubber Trump Head. It measures 3-by-3 inches—perfectly sized for repeatedly crushing in your fist. (It turns out there are scores of Trump Head Stress Balls on the market.) 


Speaking of the Orange Scourge 

Did you know that self-styled pro-life populist Don J. Trump has a "spiritual advisor"? 

Here's Trump boasting of his prolifically pro-life cred before an evangelical crowd in Florida: 

"Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House. Sadly, the far left is actively working to erase out God-given rights, shut down faith-based charities, ban religious believers from the public square and silence Americans who believe in the sanctity of life." 

Prepare thyself for a jarring revelation. 

According to investigative report Bill Berkowitz, Paula White, "a master of the 'prosperity gospel' and Trump's spiritual advisor" recently proved herself worthy of this bizarre title by declaring during an January 5 sermon: 

"In the name of Jesus, we command all satanic pregnancies to miscarry right now. We declare that anything that's been conceived in satanic wombs—that it'll miscarry right now, it will not be able to carry forth any plan of destruction, any plan of harm." 

When White was castigated for appearing to endorse partisan mass-abortions, she responded with Trump-like defiance, vowing that "any strange winds that have been sent . . . against this nation, against our President, sent against myself, against others, we break it by the superior blood of Jesus right now." 

Trump Favors Anti-Semetic Media 

D. J. Trump has made a habit of excoriating members of the press as "enemies of the people" and has even banned certain reporters from his press briefings. But heads are being scratched after the disclosure that Trump has requested that press credentials be bestowed on an outlet called TruNews

TruNews was founded by Rick Wiles, a journalistic outlier who promotes the conspiracy theory that there is an underground plot seeking to remove Trump from office. But it's not the "Deep State" that's Wiles fears. According to Wiles, the Get-Trump plot is the work of a "Jewish cabal." According to Wiles: "That's the way Jews work. They are deceivers. They plot. They lie. They do whatever they have to do to accomplish their political agenda. This 'Impeach Trump' movement is a Jew coup, and the American people better wake up to it really fast." 

Wile has also proclaimed: "When Jews take over a country, they kill millions of Christians." 

In December, Congressmembers Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Elaine Luria (D-VA) sent a letter to Trump's acting chief-of-staff demanding to know how "an extremist website that frequently attacks Jews and other minorities" and is clearly an " anti-Semitic purveyor of hate received access to the White House." 

"A phonecall for you, Mr. President. It's Bibi Netanyahu on the line." 

Fun Times at the Public Library 

While visiting the North Branch library, I happened to pick up a handout listing scads of "Free Library Events" for Adults, Teens and Kids. I was amazed to discover more than 180 events were scheduled for the month of February. I was even more amazed by the range of free events to the public. Here's a short list: 

For Adults and Teens: Gentle Yoga, Drop-in Computer Class, Anime Club, Free Tax Filing Assistance, African American History Month, Extended Reality Thursdays, Virtual Reality for All Ages, Lawyer in the Library, Be A Census Taker, Cookie Decorating, Free Bike Repair, Disaster Prep for People with Disabilities, Nature Sketching and Journaling, Teen Anti-Valentines Day Party, Poetry Circle, Conversation Club, Adult Game Night, Coding Self Study, Eviction Defense Center, LEGO in the Library, Home Maintenance Basics, Free SAT Prep, and The Knitting Hour. 

Events for Kids: Baby Tickle Time, Family Yoga, Movement Story Time for Walkers, Family Story Time, Baby Toddler Story Time, Preschool Storytime, Middle School Book Group, Love Is Everywhere Story Time and Jazz/Art: Black History Month. 

Free Films: BPL's Super Cinema offers free film screenings. February's selection includes "Mean Streets," "Last Black Man in San Francisco," "Room with a View," "Killer of Sheep," "Pariah," and "Do the Right Thing." 

Live Performances: In addition to the regularly scheduled events, BPL's Fab-Feb offerings also feature a half-dozen live performances including: Ah-Lan Chinese Dance, Village Rhythms with Onye Omyemaechi, African American comic Unique Derique, Asheba's Caribbean Music for Kids, poet Rebecca Radner, and wrapping up with a musical performance by Amber Hines' Soul Soup. 

BPL's outreach to younger visitors is clearly aimed at the most precocious. According to one BPL description of its services, the goal is to provide "books and media for children from birth through the 8th grade." (We'll try to follow-up with a list of BPL's best post-partum media.) Times and dates for these events—and more—can be found at www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org

Happy Valentine's Day 

On February 14, while waiting in a long line at the Dollar Store on University Avenue, customers were surprised when one of the clerks—on a break from ringing up purchases—sauntered down the queue and stopped to place a hand on every shoulder. This was followed by a pleasant squeeze, a smile, and the greeting: "Happy Valentine's Day!" 

Smiles broke out and all eyes were on her as she continued down the line. Then, suddenly, she stopped, with a look of shock on her face. 

Pointing at a tall, lanky, long-haired shopper, she blurted out: "Hey! I know you! I saw you on that court show on TV last week!" 

"Yeah," the fellow admitted. "That was me." 

Others in line began to shout, "Did you win your case?" 

"Naw," he replied. "I got flat-lined." 

The crowd groaned in disappointment and returned to the business of shopping. 

At least he wound up getting a nice Valentine's Day hug.

Arts & Events

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar: Feb. 16-23

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Saturday February 15, 2020 - 02:16:00 PM

Worth Noting and Showing Up:

The most important thing you can do to save the last shreds of this Democracy is to vote and to reach out to help, encourage, push, people to register especially in other states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan. Check www.rockthevote.org for quick reference.

February 18 is the last day to Register to Vote for the March 3, CA primary, https://registertovote.ca.gov Use the same link to check your registration. If you are a permanent absentee voter you should already have your ballot. The Ballot Collection box in front of City Hall on Milvia is ready for your ballot.

Monday, President’s Day – Bernie is coming to Richmond for a noon rally

Tuesday – Council Facilities, Infrastructure Committee is meeting Tuesday at 2 pm not Thursday

Wednesday – Governor Newsom gives State of the State address at 10:30 am, The next Democratic Debate is Wednesday, 6 pm, NBC and MSNBC, the debates are always available live online from multiple sources if you do not have access to NBC or MSNBC,

Thursday – Land Use 10:30 am includes requiring inclusionary affordable units in Opportunity Zones, Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board 7 pm, presentations Moms 4 Housing and Redlining.

The agenda for the February 25 City Council meeting is available for review and follows the list of meetings.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

No City meetings or events found

Monday, February 17, 2020 - Presidents’ Day Holiday

Bernie Get Out The Vote Rally, 12 p – 2 pm, doors open 10 am, Where: Craneway Pavilion, 1414 Harbour Way S, Richmond, CA, 94804


Tax the Rich Rally, with music by Occupella, 4 – 5 pm at the Top of Solano in front of the Closed Oaks Theater, Rain Cancels 

Tuesday, February 18, 2020 

City Council Facilities, Infrastructure, Transportation, Environment & Sustainability Committee (special meeting Tuesday – no meeting on Thursday), 2 pm, at 2180 Milvia, 6th Floor Redwood Room, Agenda: 2. Bright streets – paint crosswalks, bike lanes, traffic signage within 3 blocks of schools, 3. Terminate sale of gasoline, diesel and natural gas passenger vehicles in City of Berkeley by 2025, 4. Revive Berkeley Bus Rapid Transit, 5. Potential Bonding and Funding Opportunities for improving the PCI (Paving Condition Index) and creating a Paving Master Plan. Unscheduled/Items for Future Agendas: Traffic Circles, Plastic Bags, Climate Emergency Dept/Office 


Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board – Evictions in Berkeley A Workshop for Landlords, 6 pm, at 2090 Kittredge, Berkeley Central Library, 3rd Floor, Community Room 


Wednesday, February 19, 2020 

Governor Newsom gives State of the State address at 10:30 am, will be live streamed on facebook, https://www.facebook.com/CAgovernor/ 

Commission on Labor – Special Meeting, 7 – 9 pm at 2939 Ellis, South Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: 5. Council referral (5-15-2018) to Establish Fair Workweek Requirements https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Commission_on_Labor_Homepage.aspx 

Commission on the Status of Women, 6:45 – 9 pm at 2180 Milvia, Cypress Room, Agenda: 5. Presentation by LaTanya Bellow, Director of Human Resources, 8. Update Equal Pay Independent Audit 


Human Welfare & Community Action Commission, 7 – 9 pm at 2939 Ellis St, South Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: 6. Election of Low-Income Representatives, 7. 2020 Census, 8. Lava Mae service delivery data, 9. East Bay Community Law Center Program and Financial reports, 12. West Berkeley Air Quality, 13. Discuss making Berkeley a Sanctuary City for Black People, 15. Accessibility at STAIR Center, 16. Homeless Encampment near Here/There sign 


Planning Commission – meeting cancelled 

Rally outside at Governor’s State of the State, 8:30 – 10 am at 1303 10th St, Sacramento, Capitol, Sacramento, rally to phase out oil extraction in California, sponsor Last Chance Alliance 


Democratic Primary Debate, 6 pm PT, NBC News and MSNBC, (Nevada Caucus Feb 22) 

Thursday, February 20, 2020 

City Council Land Use, Housing & Economic Development Committee, 10:30 am, at 2180 Milvia, 6th Floor Redwood Room, Agenda: 2. Inclusionary Units in Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZ) in owner occupied developments similar ordinance for Rental Housing Projects, 3. Discussion Small Business Listening session, April 16, June 4, Oct 1, Dec 3 


Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, 7 – 11 pm, at 1231 Addison St, Agenda: 5. Special Presentation: Moms 4 Housing, 6. Special Presentation: Redlining in Berkeley The Past is Present, 7. (2) waivers of late registration penalties, 


Design Review Committee, 7 – 10 pm at 1947 Center St, Basement Multi-purpose Room 


Acheson Commons (1987 Shattuck, 2111-2113 University, 1922 & 1930 Walnut – modification signage 

2650 Telegraph at Derby – demolish existing commercial building, construct 5-story mixed use with 45 dwelling units (including 4 very low income) 1290 sq ft commercial space, 50 bicycle spaces, 20 vehicle parking spaces 

2590 Bancroft Way – demolish 2-story building, construct 8-story mixed use with 87 dwelling units (including 5 very low income)4,490 sq ft commercial space, 2767 sq ft usable open space, 40 bicycle spaces, no vehicle parking 

3201 Shattuck at Woolsey– Pre-application demolish existing single story building, construct 3-story mixed use with ground floor commercial, 6 live work units, 6 3-bedroom units 

Fair Campaign Practices Commission & Open Government Commission, 7 pm at 2180 Milvia, Cypress Room, Agenda: 7. Officeholder Accounts and Office Expense Accounts, 8. Public Financing, 9. Public Financing Certification Process, Open Government Commission,  


Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts, 6:30 – 9 pm at 2939 Ellis St, 2nd Floor, South Berkeley Senior Center, Agenda: Presentations, 1. BUSD, 2. Ecology Center, 3. YMCA-Diabetes Prevention, Action items: 2. Healthy Checkout, 3. Information literature for Berkeley Retailers 


Transportation Commission, 7 – 10 pm at 1326 Allston Way, Corp Yard, Building A Willow Room, Agenda: B.2. Proposed Transportation Demand Management Program 


Friday, February 21, 2020 

Black History Celebration (all ages), 6 – 8 pm, at Francis Albrier Community Center, San Pablo Park, 2800 Park Street, (snacks will be served) 


California on Fire – Toyota protest rally, 4 – 5:30 pm, at 2400 Shattuck, Toyota Dealership, can’t come call Toyota USA CEO Jim Lentz @ 800-331-4331. 


Saturday, February 22, 2020 

No City meetings/events found 

Sunday, February 23, 2020 

No City meetings/events found 



February 25, City Council meeting: to comment email Council@cityofberkeley.info 

CONSENT: 1. 2nd reading public financing of elections contribution limit to qualify 30 unique contributors $10 each or more total $500. Contribution limit $50/individual, candidate cannot contribute more than $250 to self (includes spouse, domestic partner, unemancipated children), 2. 2nd reading wage theft prevention,3. 2nd reading regulations & operating standards cannabis business, 5. Formal Bid Solicitations and RFP, $13,085,000, 6. Contract $313,800 with Worldwide Travel Staffing for Nurse Registry Services March 1, 2020 – June 30, 2023, , 7. Contract $500,000 with Van Meter Williams Pollack for Professional Planning Services to Prepare Zoning Standards and EIR for Ashby and North Berkeley BART Stations, March 1, 2020 – July 31, 2021, 8. Amend Agreement with CA Dept of Transportation (Caltrans) for maintenance of the State highways within the City of Berkeley will address roadway and traffic signal improvements, 9. Contract $388,489 (includes 10% contingency) with APB General Engineering for Sanitary Sewer Rehab and Replacement, 10. Permit Fee Waiver for PG&E for Undergrounding existing overhead electrical facilities and electric service conversions in Utility Undergrounding District No. 48. (Grizzly Reak/Summit), 11. Asylum for Survivors of Domestic Violence, Affirm Berkeley’s Commitment to our asylum-seeking residents, 12.&13. Council donations, 14. Schedule Special City Council Meeting on Ohlone History and Culture, 15. Support S.2012(Feinstein) Restoring Local Control Over Public Infrastructure Act of 2019, 16. Support SB-431(Mobile phones), SB-801 (back-up battery packs), SB-802 (allow diesel-powered generators during declared disasters) support people whose lives would be endangered with emergency power shutdowns, 17. Referral: Street Lighting Near Campus, ACTION: 18. Issuance $38,000,000 General Obligation Bonds for Measure O Affordable Housing, 19. Refinancing 2009, 2010 General Obligation Bonds (Measure FF), 20. Issuance and sale of lease revenue bonds to refinance outstanding Refinance 2010 Certificates (originally issued to finance Animal Shelter Project), 21. a.,b.,c. appeal 1582 LeRoy convert Hillside School to residential use, 22. ZAB Appeal 2422 Fifth St, 23. Surveillance Technology & Acquisition Reports, License Plate Readers, GPS Trackers, Body Worn Cameras, INFORMATION REPORTS: 23. City Manager Response to audit of Code Enforcement Unit, 24. Mayor Arreguin is President of ABAG, Regional Leadership and Goals for 2020. https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/2020/02_Feb/City_Council__02-25-2020_-_Regular_Meeting_Agenda.aspx 




Public Hearings Scheduled – Land Use Appeals 

0 Euclid – Berryman Reservoir TBD 

2422 Fifth St – mixed-use building 2-25-2020 

1581 LeRoy Ave – convert vacant elementary school property – LPC & ZAB 2-25-2020 

Remanded to ZAB or LPC With 90-Day Deadline 

1155-73 Hearst (develop 2 parcels) – referred back to City Council – to be scheduled 

Notice of Decision (NOD) With End of Appeal Period 

30 Roanoke 2-25-2020 

1760 Sonoma 2-27-2020 

20 Stevenson 2-25-2020 

1914 Stuart 2-25-2020 





March 17 – CIP Update (PRW and Public Works), Measure T1 Update 

May 5 – Budget Update, Crime Report 

June 23 – Climate Action Plan/Resiliency Update, Digital Strategic Plan FUND$/Replacement Website Update 

July 21, Sept 29 – no workshops scheduled “yet” 

Oct 20 – Update Berkeley’s 2020 Vision, BMASP/Berkeley Pier-WETA Ferry 


Unscheduled Workshops/Presentations 

Cannabis Health Considerations 

Vision 2050 

Systems Realignment 



To Check For Regional Meetings with Berkeley Council Appointees go to 



To check for Berkeley Unified School District Board Meetings go to 





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

http://www.sustainableberkeleycoalition.com/whats-ahead.html and in the Berkeley Daily Planet under activist’s calendar http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com 


When notices of meetings are found that are posted after Friday 5:00 pm they are added to the website schedule https://www.sustainableberkeleycoalition.com/whats-ahead.html and preceded by LATE ENTRY