Last year Berkeley citizens turned out en masse under the banner of Save the Berkeley Post Office. Claiming “dire financial circumstances” the U. S. postal service announced its intention to sell our historic post office building, as well as a number of others across the country, to private developers. Berkeleyans are determined to resist. But the issue is more than the sale of historic buildings. -more-
City of Berkeley officials today cleaned up a homeless encampment under the Gilman Street overpass adjacent to Interstate Highway 80 despite objections from advocates who have been working to find housing for those living there. -more-
A man who announced there was a bomb on a BART train at the North Berkeley station caused systemwide delays this afternoon, a BART spokesman said. Police responded to reports of a man who said there was a bomb at 2:23 p.m. and the train was stopped and evacuated, BART spokesman Jim Allison said. Bomb-sniffing dogs checked the train but found no evidence of a bomb, Allison said. Train service resumed about 10 minutes later. -more-
My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, by Ari Shavit, Spiegel & Grau; 1st Edition (November 19, 2013), 464 pages
Reviewer’s Note: I wrote the following very long review of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land in mid-May, at a time when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was at such a low ebb that, as Israeli polls repeatedly showed, most Israelis, if not Palestinians, had pretty much forgotten about it. Not to mention all the rest of us. I wrote the review because I had to, then filed it because it wasn’t of much use or interest to anyone else. I hope it will be helpful now.
Amongst the cacophony of voices this year shouting mostly horrible news, I would not be surprised if many people missed the brief exhalation of breath that signaled the end of the twenty-year Oslo period in Israeli/Palestinian history. (Explaining the failure of the peace talks, John Kerry said, “Poof. And that was that.”)
Although initially resisted by at least some in Israel (Rabin, who signed them, was assassinated), the Oslo Accords ultimately proved to be useful beyond imagining in myriad ways, not least of which was their success in keeping the American Jewish community tethered by the tantalizing promise of a Palestinian state. For twenty years, the on-again-off-again peace talks nearly completely suppressed all those nasty issues of occupation, apartheid, etc., the sort of thing with which Jewish Americans are so annoyingly concerned. If only we could give the Palestinians their own little (demilitarized) state, people thought, Israel could be both Jewish AND democratic, problem solved! It was only the Palestinians (obviously) and the left of the left among Jews who noticed—in the immortal words of Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat—that while they were discussing the future of the pizza, Israel was eating it. -more-
Anyone who imagines that U.S. policy in Central America has nothing to do with the flood of unaccompanied minors on our doorstep hasn’t been keeping up. Given that responsibility, what can we the people do?
As a start, we can summon up the political muscle to beat back those who would have Central American children stepping onto the fast track along with unaccompanied Mexican and Canadian children, who, under current law, can be sent home quickly without even seeing a lawyer or judge. -more-
The red area of the map below represents the Gaza strip, home to 1.8 million people. Because of the Israel-imposed blockade of Gaza which was begun in 2007, Gazans are not permitted to leave Gaza except under rare and special circumstances. Although sustainable fishing practice requires a fishing area that extends at least 30 miles from shore, Israel permits the fishers of Gaza to fish only within three nautical miles of the coast. Gaza has intermittent electricity and not enough food; most Gazans suffer from malnutrition. Building supplies are generally not permitted. As of January 1, 2014 unemployment in Gaza was at 38.5%. -more-
Press Release: Urgent Action Needed: Stop the Killing, Stop the Escalation, Stop Fueling Conflict in the Middle East
(Because this went out late Thursday afternoon, just as we learned Israel had begun a ground invasion of Gaza, many of you may have called but were unable to get through. Please call the White House today, between 9am and 5pm eastern time, at the number provided in this message.)
Peace Action has long worked for peace, disarmament and addressing the root causes of war and violence. As we know from experience, far too often U.S. military aid and weapons transfers to undemocratic and human rights abusing governments, or to one or more sides engaged in violent conflict, fuels that very conflict, rather than providing defense, security or stability.
U.S. taxpayers fund over $3 billion in military aid to Israel annually, enabling continuation of the illegal occupation of Palestine and armed conflict with the Palestinians, as we see now, once again, in the awful violence in Gaza. Peace Action advocates nonviolent solutions to conflict, and as such calls for a ceasefire by Israel and Hamas to end the current conflict. Additionally, the U.S should suspend transfers of weapons, crowd control devices, and military training to Israel in response to Israel's human rights abuses of Palestinians in order to help end what The Washington Post called a “deeply asymmetrical conflict.” -more-
A new poll conducted by Oakland-based EMC Research shows the Tony Thurmond campaign in the lead for the State Assembly district that includes Berkeley but goes way up north into Contra Costa County. -more-
On Monday, July 14, the East Bay Tax the Rich group had a well attended celebration for achieving along with many other organizations and activist individuals a minimum wage ordinance for workers employed in Berkeley. Although it was initially opposed by a majority on the Berkeley City Council, it was finally enacted by a unanimous vote. This victory demonstrates what many of us already know, which is the enormous advantage of mass, militant organizing.
At least 8500 low wage employees who work in Berkeley will enjoy a better standard of living. They will receive a minimum of $10 an hour beginning in October of this year. Their income will then increase the following year to $11 an hour, and in 2016 their earnings will rise to $12.53 an hour.
Let us take a look at what this means to these workers. A waitress who works 30 hours a week at a very popular Berkeley restaurant told me that she is earning $8 an hour. The 25 percent wage hike to $10 an hour will yield her an additional income of $3000 for the year. In 2016, when her wages increase to $12.53, her weekly income will increase by $135.90. Her annual income will climb to about $6,700 more. -more-
San Francisco, CA – On Sunday, July 20, at 4:00pm, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, and the Board of Rabbis of Northern California will hold an Emergency Solidary Gathering to Stop the Sirens in Israel and end the latest cycle of violence in the Middle East. As Israel continues to face incessant rocket fire from Gaza, and Hamas rejects Israel’s offers of a ceasefire, we call on our community to come together for a mass gathering to stand with the people of Israel during this difficult time. The event will feature the Israeli Consul General, elected officials, community leaders, interfaith leaders, and music. It is ecumenical and open to the public. -more-
Groups of internationals have been staying at [El Wafa Hospital in Gaza] for days, as Israel has been warning it will be targeted. Just in the last few hours, reports are that it has been destroyed, or at least heavily damaged. At least some patients were evacuated. As Doctor’s Hospital in Richmond is fighting for its existence, money for Israel pours in from the US congress to fund the bombs and bullets to continue the carnage.
Which brings me to this local angle… Barbara Lee is on record as supporting the funding the weapons for this slaughter, or at least to the Israeli military in general, and has limited her response to the escalation to a weak press release of “concerns”. (below). Not what we should expect for a “renegade for peace and justice”. A petition has been initiated:
Berkeley faces a serious fiscal crisis. Years of deferred maintenance and postponed improvement have left Berkeley with a massive infrastructure deficit. The state-level looting of the CalPERS pension fund, compounded by the financial fraud crisis of 2008, has saddled Berkeley with an overwhelming, unfunded retirement benefits liability.
All nine members of the City Council and every attentive resident of Berkeley with a lick of sense knows these problems.
The only possible saving grace is that this fiscal crisis will unfold somewhat slowly, only as the bills come immediately due. Berkeley has some time to try to work its way out of the problems.
In the short term our fiscal problems will be partially addressed by further reductions in service and payroll. If the city is to remain solvent this appears to be the only choice. In other words: if the public facilities and services have seemed to grow a little shabby around the edges over the past decade, know that they are going to become worse. -more-
Patrick Kennedy’s at it again.
The guy who managed to convince this supposedly green community to build ugly, only-a-student-could-stand-it condos and apartments on toxic former gas station sites wants to up the ante on one of Berkeley’s neighborhoods that suffers the most – southside of campus.
Instead of creating functional, affordable housing, which is not rocket science, these dorm-style revolving-tenancy nightmares are developers’ efforts to capitalize on the housing crisis because a few units are purported to be “affordable” according to Patrick Kennedy: 50% of the median income.
Even if you’re willing to dance with the semantics, this means 59 of the 65 proposed units will be “unaffordable”, in other words highly profitable. It goes without saying that in a deliberately created housing crisis people will, in fact, double and triple-up in absurdly small, window-free units for the duration of their undergraduate or graduate student tenure. Take a look at the horror that is now the town of Isla Vista near the UC Santa Barbara campus for the full view of what happens to a community when ripping off students becomes the dance of the day.
The median income, a number wildly skewed by a techie millionaire or two, is $72,000, half of which is $35,000. If you do the math, this will still leave a minimum wage worker $11,000 short of being able to pay rent alone in one of these units, let alone any other living expense. -more-
Commonly people think of heroes as big strong young guys riding white horses. Not me, not always.
This week I was sorry to learn about the death of one of my heroes who was, when I knew her, a little gray-haired lady wearing spectacles. Reference librarians in general have always been my heroes—when I was writing for magazines they rescued me from many sticky situations. In those pre-Wikipedia days they were essential. Zoia Horn was a librarian’s librarian, and a hero in other ways to boot.
In 2004 Dorothy Bryant wrote a wonderful appreciation of Zoia when she was a youthful 85. You can read it here if you want to get to know her: Zoia Horn Takes Pride in Provoking.
The money quote from that article:
"But at 85, Zoia refuses to become a quiet icon. She is still provoking people, protesting attempts to charge fees for library reference services, defending a gay librarian in Oakland attacked for creating a display of gay library materials, speaking at community meetings urging the Oakland Public Library and the Oakland City Council to adopt resolutions against the Patriot Act (they did)." -more-
The Editor's Back Fence
After last week’s story on the planned demolition of the Grocery Outlet store in West Berkeley, a reader forwarded the 2012 California Form 460 campaign expenditure reports filed by the “Coalition for a Sustainable West Berkeley for Measure 'T'”, the front organization for property owners trying to overturn the citizen-created West Berkeley Plan. It turns out that Read family members, who own the property where Grocery Outlet is located and hope to replace it with an apartment building, were the major contributors to that campaign, which was ultimately defeated by Berkeley voters. A grand total of $7,500, which is big money in a Berkeley initiative election, was attributed to Reads: $2,500 from Read Real Estate LLC and $5, 000 from Peter Read, Owner, Read Investments. The family seems to have been tired of the low-end grocery trade and ready to shift into presumably more lucrative property development for a while now. For Berkeley, that means the loss not only of affordable groceries but also of union jobs and sales tax revenue. -more-
This month is the twenty-fourth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed July 26, 1990. Not only a landmark in removing barriers and increasing autonomy for people with disabilities, it is one of the nation’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation. The ADA is modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The death-with-dignity movement represents the latest civil rights struggle. All people deserve full autonomy in living and in dying. -more-
The main concerns that govern how well someone with mental illness will do, include, but are not limited to, treatment, housing, relationships and employment. -more-
Arts & Events
Established ten years ago, Napa Valley’s Festival del Sole advertises itself as a celebration of music, food and wine. I suggest that the elements should be reversed. The emphasis should be on the wine. Rivers of wine flow throughout Festival del Sole’s ten days of events every July. This is only natural, for Napa Valley is now an industry based on wine. During the Festival, food is often served alongside the wine, but the wine clearly takes precedence. Music is added to help create an ambience of high art and good living. All this, of course, takes money, lots of money. What Festival del Sole is really about, if you scratch below the surface glitter, is money. To become a VIP Patron entitled to attend all events in the 2014 Festival del Sole will set you back a mere $8,500. For a slightly lower amount you can be an Allegro Patron and attend most of the events. Of course, no one could possibly attend all or even most of the Festival’s offerings, for aside from the damage done to one’s constitution by so much wine guzzling, many events are held concurrently with others. -more-