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Bruce Blog

Ralph Nader writes a letter to Rep. John Boehner


September 22, 2014

Dear Speaker Boehner,

While millions of hardworking Americans are working more and more for less and less, you and your House of Representatives seem to have no problem working less and less for more and more.

If a mother of one in Butler County, Ohio — your home county — working at the Ohio minimum wage ($7.95 per hour) wanted to make a living wage — according to MIT’s Living Calculator for the county — she would have to work 88 hours a week, which adds up to a little over 12 hours of work per day, 7 days a week. You once defended the placement of Ten Commandments on public property. If this mother wanted to obey the Fourth Commandment — “Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy” — by not working one day a week, she would have to work over 14 hours per day, leaving her with only two hours left to spend with her child, given eight hours of sleep. For millions of Americans, the fair deal of eight hours of work, eight hours of rest, and eight hours of discretionary time has been broken.

Meanwhile, the work schedule of you and your fellow Representatives cannot be more different. You took a month in August off, as well as the first week in September. Last week you worked a four day week to start the month and then another four in the second week, and then cancelled a four day session that was set to begin on September 29. As one count pointed out, over the course of 103 days between the start of August and the middle of November, you will have been in session for eight days. You are out of control. Give a listen to Republican Rep. David Jolly:

“I believe in the radical notion that Congress should work. Congress should govern. And Congress should work more, not less…By increasing the days that we are in session, I believe we will create an environment where Republicans, Democrats and Independents can work together, substantively, thoroughly, and with great deliberation. We will create a Congress that works.” (http://1.usa.gov/1obUcMi)

Congresspersons are paid $174,000 a year, meaning that your pro-rated salary for 103 days of the year is $49,101. Presuming a 10-hour work day during those eight hard days of work in September, you earned the following hourly wage: $614 per hour. That mother of one making the Ohio minimum wage of $7.95 in Butler County would have to work 77 hours to make the $614 hourly wage for your colleagues during your September House session. (This is all without mentioning that specifically you, as Speaker of the House, make $223,500 a year, meaning you make $63,070 during this 103-day period this fall: a $788 per hour wage for your eight days in session, which would take the Butler County mother of one working minimum wage 99 hours of work to catch up to your earnings for one hour of work.)

If the 1968 minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would be $10.92 per hour, over three dollars higher than the paltry $7.25 per hour level to which Congress has let it erode. Should not hard, full-time work pay at least as much as minimum wage workers made 46 years ago? As twenty-six Republicans, spearheaded by Rep. Frank LoBiondo, wrote in a 2006 letter to you when you were Majority Leader urging you to raise the minimum wage: “nobody working full time should have to live in poverty.”

Yet you continue to prevent even a House floor vote on raising the minimum wage — a cause that is supported by a large majority of Americans. It’s time to ask yourself: while you and your colleagues make over $600 per hour of in-session work between August and November this year, do not the hard working low-wage Americans who cook, clean, farm, serve and care for people like you deserve a vote on restoring their minimum wage to its mid-century inflation-adjusted level?

Why don’t you ask the people back in your Congressional District — residents of Troy, Hamilton, Greenville, Tipp City, Eaton, and Springfield, Ohio; residents of a Congressional District where 62,000 workers would receive a raise if you allowed a vote on a minimum wage raise to $10.10; residents of a state where over 527,000 children live with a parent making less than $10.10 — these questions?


Ralph Nader

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian.  He was the founding editor and with his wife Jean Dibble the co-founder and co-publisher of the Guardian, 1966-2012). 

The back story of the celebrated Boys’ Night Out at John’s Grill



By Bruce B. Brugmann (Scroll down for photo id and to see Ex- Marine Pete McCloskey jump the barricade and storm Martin’s Beach) 

Boys’ Night Out, a creation of press agent Lee Houskeeper, was held recently at John’s Grill, home of Dashiell Hammett and the Maltese Falcon.   Houskeeper turned the falcon on its side, which meant that all of the news and gossip turned up by his newsworthy guests was privileged and could not be repeated to the outside world.

Nonetheless, the timing was perfect because the next day came the welcome news that a San Mateo Superior Court judge had ruled for the public and against a  billionaire coastal landowner to open up a valuable chunk of privately held San Mateo coastline. The Surfrider case was handled by  Attorneys Joe Cotchett and Pete McCloskey, both of whom were at the dinner.

Houskeeper, who does publicity work for Cotchett,  explained the back story to me after the dinner. He said that the Surfrider forces started “the public brouhaha” two years ago when the “Blackwater type security goons were arresting surfers who dared jump his locked Martin’s Beach gate fence.”  Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, had acquired the 53-acre parcel near Half Moon Bay in 2008. Houskeeper asked McCloskey, a Korean War veteran,  if he would risk arrest, jump the gate, and lead the surfers a half mile to “free” the beach.

“The former Marine (Silver Star, Bronze Star, Navy Cross and two Purple Hearts did just that at 85 years old,” Houskeeper said. 

“Six sheriff cop cars showed up and decided to protect Pete’s right to march to the beach. That action effectively stopped Khosla from arresting any more surfers.” And it was yet another victory for McCloskey, an environmenrtal hero as a fighting attorney, 16 year peninsula congressman, and the politician who beat Shirley Temple for Congress and then ran against Nixon in the Republican primary for president.  McCloskey was 87 on Sept.29. 

In the above photo, Cotchett is in the middle in the back row. McCloskey is sitting in the second row in suit and tie on the right between Houskeeper and Ron Turner.  Others in the picture in no particular order are listed below.  The photo was taken by Robert Altman, official photographer at  Boys’ Night Out events. b3

Ex-Marine Pete McCloskey jumps the barricade…

…and leads the charge of surfers to free Martin’s Beach. This was the key assault in the winning battle to save the beach.  Photos by San Francisco Stories 

Wavy Gravy, Joe Garrity, Greg Corrales, Joe Cotchett, Pete McCloskey, Mark Leno, Ron Turner, Bruce Brugmann, Don Sanchez, Al Saracevic, Bob Sarlatte, Michael Finney, Don Sanchez, Peter Albin, Kevin Fagan, Joe Rosato Jr., Alex Clemens, Gene Schoenfeld, Mark Matthews, Jonathan Bloom, Herb Gold, Tony Ribera, Rich Corriea, J.C. Juanis, John Marshal, Tomas Roman, Paul Wells, Phil Gregory, Paul Alvarado, Larry Kamer, Fred Pardini, David Ebarle, Jim Huntington, Marc Vogel, Rob Caughlan, Rod Glaubman, Robert Altman, Eric Christensen, Michael Taylor and Jack Balentine

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: His 1932 speech to the Commonwealth Club previewed the New Deal


By Bruce B. Brugmann (with the full text of FDR’s address) 

Ken Burns’ documentary on the Roosevelts, broadcast last week by KQED,  was a stunning achievement and the best work Burns has done. It previewed key elements of the New Deal and provided historic context and relevance for the progressive politics of San Francisco and California. But it didn’t mention a key local angle, FDR’s famous speech to the Commonwealth Club on Sept. 21, 1932, in the heat of his winning campaign for president. 

I got on to the speech when Joseph J. Ellis, the noted historian, spoke to the club last year on his new book, “Revolutionary Summer, The birth of American independence.” In his introduction, Ellis said that “in my view the most important political speech in the 20th century was delivered here by Franklin Roosevelt.”

 The speech was written by Adolph Berle, a member of Roosevelt’s “brain trust,” and drew heavily on earlier progressive ideas, particularly  those of John Dewey, a leading progressive scholar who taught mainly  at Columbia University in New York. His speech is in the Commonwealth Club collection “Each a Mighty Voice,” a beautiful hardcover book published by Heyday.  Here is his speech. b3


(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He was the editor and with his wife Jean Dibble the co-founder and co-publsher of the Guardian, 1966-2012.)

SOS: A bill to protect oil refineries also threatens public access rights


Gov. Brown. Veto SB 1300

This bill would establish a stealth template for how to gut the California Public Records Act one economic and political sector at a time. 

By Bruce B. Brugmann (with a First Amendment Coalition emergency message and a button for readers to request a Gov. Brown veto) 

Possibly the bill most damaging to the public interest in years is sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for signature. It is SB 1300, which amounts to an oil refinery protection bill proposed by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Assemblyperson Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), two legislators living in the shadow of the East Bay oil refineries who ought to know better. It was supported by oil companies, organized labor, and the California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH)  and was passed by the Assembly on a 68-5 vote and by the Senate on a 34-0 vote. No debate, no discussion, no questions asked. 

The gist of the damage is that SB 1300 was amended at the last minute to force a CPRA requester to pay fees if a court rules against disclosure. As the California Newspaper Publishers Association explained in its current legislative bulletin, SB 1300 “would expand the definition of what constitutes a trade secret and erect an insurmountable barrier to any effort by a member of the public to obtain information about DOSH’s performance in its role as a consumer watchdog over a refiner’s conduct.”

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition (FAC), warned in a special message that “it’s safe to say that no one will ever file a CPRA request for refinery information once it becomes known that a mere request may thrust the requester involuntarily into a costly battle against oil companies.” But just to be sure no one even contemplates filing a CPRA request, Scheer noted that the last minute amendments to the legislation also provide that the requester will have to pay his/her own fees as well as the fees of the oil company’s lawyers if he/she loses the suit. 

CNPA General Counsel Jim Ewert and Staff Attorney Scott Merrill worked furiously to try to  negotiate with Hancock’s staff and DOSH representatives to eliminate the toxic effect on CPRA requesters. But all CNPA amendments were rejected before the bill was taken up by both houses. Hancock told the CNPA advocates repeatedly that she would rather have the information in DOSH’s hands even if that meant that the public wouldn’t have access to it. 

Scheer wrote that “some may say that these changes to existing law, while terrible, are not such a big deal since they only curtail access to information about refineries. (This is presumably the view of organized labor, which cynically backs SB 1300 after getting a special carveout for refineries’ employment and financial data that unions want.)

“Try telling that to the families who live downwind of refineries.  But more than that, SB 1300 establishes a template for how to gut the CPRA one economic and political sector at a time. First, it’s information about oil companies; next it will be information about schools or about law enforcement or about water supplies. SB 1300 creates a dangerous precedent for other industries and special interets to follow.

“Don’t let that happen. Tell Governor Brown to veto SB 1300.”  

Below is the full text of Scheer’s message on the FAC website with a response button to email, fax, or phone requesting Gov. Brown to veto SB 1300.  CNPA is emailing Scheer’s message to its member papers in its Sept.12 Legislative Bulletin, several are preparing stories and editorials, and public access activists are mobilizing opposition across the state. Brown was expected to sign the bill, until CNPA and FAC blew the bugles and started blasting away.

 Meanwhile, ask Hancock and Skinner and DOSH how they came up with this abomination and ask your local senators and assemblypersons why they voted for it without gulping. You can start with the San Francisco delegation, all of whom voted for the bill (Assemblymen Ammiano and Ting and Sen. Leno). On guard, b3

Gov Brown, Veto SB 1300. Ostensibly about oil refineries, SB 1300 threatens public access rights.

P.S. CNPA laid out this Kafkaesque scenario for people who have the gall to request information on emissions from a nearby oil refinery fire: 

 “ A mother and her family driven from her home by the emissions from a fire at a nearby refinery submits a CPRA request to DOSH for information that she believes is disclosable about the next turnaround at the refinery to determine how safe the refinery is. Because her request could include trade secret information as now defined, DOSH notifies the refinery that a request for the refiner’s information has been received.

“The refinery files an action against DOSH for injunctive relief to prevent the disclosure of the information and, since the bill requires the refiner to name the requester as a real party in interest, the requester is named as a party in the lawsuit filed by the refinery.The requester, who may or may not have been willing to go to court to enforce her rights under the CPRA, now finds that she is an unwilling party in a lawsuit.

” If she decides to participate in the action to pursue the information she believes she has a right to obtain she will have to pay her own expenses for a lawyer and the costs associated with the action. If she decides not to pursue her rights she risks that a default judgment could nonetheless be entered against her.

 “If the court denies her request, or a default judgment is entered against her, the court would be required to order her to pay the refinery’s attorney’s fees and costs.

 “SB 1300 was also amended to provide ‘the public agency shall not bear the court costs for any party named in litigation filed pursuant to this section.'”  Incredible. Simply incredible.  b3

For the  CNPA letter asking Gov.Brown to veto the bill, click the link below


(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He was the editor and he and his wife Jean Dibble co-founded and co-published the Guardian, 1966-2012.) 








The Fourth of July: Remembering the good old days in Rock Rapids, Iowa


By Bruce B. Brugmann

(Note: In July of 1972, when the Bay Guardian was short a Fourth of July story, I sat down and cranked out this one for the front page on my trusty Royal Typewriter. I now reprint it each year by popular demand on the Bruce blog, with some San Francisco updates and postscripts.)

Back where I come from, a small town beneath a tall standpipe in northwestern Iowa, the Fourth of July was the best day of a long, hot summer.

The Fourth came after YMCA camp and Scout camp and church camp, but before the older boys had to worry about getting into shape for football. It was welcome relief from the scalding, 100-degree heat in a town without a swimming pool and whose swimming holes at Scout Island were usually dried up by early July. But best of all, it had the kind of excitement that began building weeks in advance.

The calm of the summer dawn and the cooing of the mourning doves on the telephone wires would be broken early on July Fourth: The Creglow boys would be up by 7 a.m. and out on the lawn shooting off their arsenal of firecrackers. They were older and had somehow sent their agents by car across the state line and into South Dakota where, not far above the highway curves of Larchwood, you could legally buy fireworks at roadside stands.

Ted Fisch, Jim Ramsey, Wiener Winters, the Cook boys, Hermie Casjens, Jerry Prahl, Elmer Menage, and the rest of the neighborhood gang would race out of  their houses to catch the action. Some had cajoled firecrackers from their parents or bartered from the older boys in the neighborhood: some torpedoes (the kind you smashed against the sidewalk); lots of 2 and 3-inchers, occasionally the granddaddy of them all, the cherry bomb (the really explosive firecracker, stubby, cherry red, with a wick sticking up menacingly from its middle; the kind of firecracker you’d gladly trade away your best set of Submariner comics for.)

Ah, the cherry bomb. It was a microcosm of excitement and mischief and good fun. Bob Creglow, the most resourceful of the Creglow boys, would take a cherry bomb, set it beneath a tin can on a porch, light the fuse, then head for the lilac bushes behind the barn.

“The trick,” he would say, imparting wisdom of the highest order, “is to place the can on a wood porch with a wood roof. Then it will hit the top of the porch, bang, then the bottom of the porch, bang. That’s how you get the biggest clatter.”

So I trudged off to the Linkenheil house, the nearest front porch suitable for cherry bombing, to try my hand at small-town demolition. Bang went the firecracker. Bang went the can on the roof. Bang went the can on the floor. Bang went the screen door as Karl Linkenheil roared out in a sweat, and I lit out for the lilacs behind the barn with my dog, Oscar.

It was glorious stuff – not to be outdone for years, I found out later, until the Halloween eve in high school when Dave Dietz, Ted Fisch, Ken Roach, Bob Babl, Jerry Prahl, Jack McBride, and the  rest of the Hermie Casjens gang and I made the big time and twice pushed a boxcar loaded with lumber across Main Street and blocked it for hours. But that’s another story for my annual Halloween blog.

Shooting off fireworks was, of course, illegal in Rock Rapids, but Chief of Police Del Woodburn and later Elmer “Shene” Sheneberger used to lay low on the Fourth. I don’t recall ever seeing them about in our neighborhood and I don’t think they ever arrested anybody, although each year the Lyon County  Reporter would carry vague warnings about everybody cooperating to have “a safe and sane Fourth of July.”

Perhaps it was just too dangerous for them to start making firecracker arrests on the Fourth – on the same principle, I guess, that it was dangerous to do too much about the swashbuckling on Halloween or start running down dogs without leashes (Mayor Earl Fisher used to run on the platform that, as long as he was in office, no dog in town would have to be leashed. The neighborhood consensus was that Fisher’s dog, a big, boisterous boxer, was one of the few that ought to be leashed).

We handled the cherry bombs and other fireworks in our possession with extreme care and cultivation; I can’t remember a single mishap. Yet, even then, the handwriting was on the wall. There was talk of cutting off the fireworks supply in South Dakota because it was dangerous for young boys. Pretty soon, they did cut off the cherry bomb traffic and about all that was left, when I came back from college and the Roger boys had replaced the Creglow boys next door, was little stuff appropriately called ladyfingers.

Fireworks are dangerous, our parents would say, and each year they would dust off the old chestnut about the drugstore in Spencer that had a big stock of fireworks and they caught fire one night and much of the downtown went up in a spectacular shower of roman candles and sparkling fountains.

The story was hard to pin down, and seemed to get more gruesome every year – but, we were told, this was why Iowa banned fireworks years before, why they were so dangerous and why little boys shouldn’t be setting them off. The story, of course, never made quite the intended impression; we just wished we’d been on the scene.  My grandfather was the town druggist (Brugmann’s Drugstore, “Where drugs and gold are fairly sold, since 1902″) and he said he knew the Spencer druggist personally. Fireworks put him out of business and into the poorhouse, he’d say, and walk away shaking his head.

In any event, firecrackers weren’t much of an issue past noon – the Fourth celebration at the fairgrounds was getting underway and there was too much else to do. Appropriately, the celebration was sponsored by the Rex Strait post of the American Legion (Strait, so the story went, was the first boy from Rock Rapids to die on foreign soil during World War I); the legionnaires were a bunch of good guys from the cleaners and the feed store and the bank who sponsored the American Legion baseball team each summer.

There was always a big carnival, with a ferris wheel somewhere in the center for the kids, a bingo stand for the elders, a booth where the ladies from the Methodist Church sold homemade baked goods, sometimes a hootchy dancer or two, and a couple of dank watering holes beneath the grandstand where the VFW and the Legion sold Grainbelt and Hamms beer  at 30¢ a bottle to anybody who looked of age.

Later on, when the farmboys came in from George and Alvord, there was lots of pushing and shoving, and a fist fight or two.

In front of the grandstand, out in the dust and the sun, would come a succession of shows that made the summer rounds of the little towns. One year it would be Joey Chitwood and his daredevil drivers. (The announcer always fascinated me: “Here he comes, folks, rounding the far turn…he is doing a great job out there tonight…let’s give him a big, big hand as he pulls up in front on the grandstand…”)

Another year it would be harness racing and Mr. Hardy, our local trainer from Doon, would be in his moment of glory. Another year it was tag team wrestling and a couple of barrel-chested goons from Omaha, playing the mean heavies and rabbit-punching their opponents from the back, would provoke roars of disgust from the grandstand. ( The biggest barrel-chest would lean back on the ropes, looking menacingly at the crowd and yell, “ Aw, you dumb farmers. What the hell do you know anyway? I can beat the hell out of any of you.”   And the crowd  would roar back in glee.)

One year, Cedric Adams, the Herb Caen of Minneapolis Star-Tribune, would tour the provinces as the emcee of local  variety shows. “It’s great to be in Rock Rapids,” he would say expansively, “because it’s always been known as the ‘Gateway to Magnolia.” (Magnolia, he didn’t need to say, was a little town just over the state line in Minnesota which was known throughout the territory for its liquor-by-the-drink roadhouses. It was also Cedric Adams’ hometown: his “Sackamenna,” as Caen would say.  Adams kissed each girl (soundly) who came on the platform to perform and, at the end, hushed the crowd for his radio broadcast to the big city “direct from the stage of the Lyon County Fairgrounds in Rock Rapids, Iowa.”

For a couple of years, when Rock Rapids had a “town team,” and a couple of imported left-handed pitchers named Peewee Wenger and Karl Kletschke, we would have some rousing baseball games with the best semi-pro team around, Larchwood and its gang of Snyder brothers: Barney the eldest at shortstop, Jimmy the youngest at third base, John in center field, Paul in left field, another Snyder behind the plate and a couple on the bench. They were as tough as they came in Iowa baseball.

I can remember it as if it were yesterday at Candlestick, the 1948 game with the Snyders of Larchwood. Peewee Wenger, a gawky, 17-year-old kid right off a high school team, was pitching for Rock Rapids and holding down the Snyder artillery in splendid fashion. Inning after inning he went on, nursing a small lead, mastering one tough Larchwood batter after another, with a blistering fastball and a curve that sliced wickedly into the bat handles of the right-handed Larchwood line-up.

Then the cagey Barney Snyder laid a slow bunt down the third base line. Wenger stumbled, lurched, almost fell getting to the ball, then toppled off balance again, stood helplessly holding the ball. He couldn’t make the throw to first. Barney was safe, cocky and firing insults like machine gun bullets at Peewee from first base.

Peewee, visibly shaken, went back to the mound. He pitched, the next Larchwood batter bunted, this time down the first base line. Peewee lurched for the ball, but couldn’t come up with it. A couple more bunts, a shot through the pitcher’s mound, more bunts and Peewee was out. He could pitch, but, alas, he was too clumsy to field. In came Bill Jammer, a farmer now in his late 30’s, but in his day the pitcher who beat the University of Iowa while playing for a small Iowa college called Simpson.

Now he was pitching on guts and beer, a combination good enough for many teams and on good days even good enough  to take on the Snyders. Jammer did well for a couple of innings, then he let two men on base, then came a close call at the plate. Jammer got mad. Both teams were off the bench and onto the field and, as Fred Roach wrote in the Reporter, “fisticuffs erupted at home plate.” When the dust cleared, Jammer had a broken jaw, and for the next two weeks had to drink his soup through a straw at the Joy Lunch cafe, John Snyder, it was said later, came all the way in from center field to throw the punch, but nobody knew for sure and he stayed in the game. I can’t remember the score or who won the game, but I remember it as the best Fourth ever.

At dusk, the people moved out on their porches or put up folding chairs on their lawns. Those who didn’t have a good view drove out to the New Addition or parked out near Mark Curtis’ place or along the river roads that snaked out to the five-mile bridge and Virgil Hasche’s farm.

A hush came over the town. Fireflies started flickering in the river bottom and, along about 8:30, the first puff of smoke rose above the fairgrounds and an aerial bomb whistled into the heavens. BOOM! And the town shook as if hit by a clap of thunder.

Then the three-tiered sky bombs – pink, yellow, white, puff, puff, puff. The Niagara Falls and a gush of white sparks.

Then, in sudden fury, a dazzling display of sizzling comets and aerial bombs and star clusters that arched high, hung for a full breath and descended in a cascade of sparks that floated harmlessly over the meadows and cornfields. At the end, the flag – red, white and blue – would burst forth on the ground as the All-American finale in the darkest of the dark summer nights. On cue, the cheers rolled out from the grandstand and the cars honked from the high ground and the people trundled up their lawn chairs and everybody headed for home. b3


Extra! Extra! Sunshine advocates beat the Anti-Sunshine Gang in City Hall


 By Bruce B. Brugmann

And so the  Anti-Sunshine Gang in City Hall, which for two years has been conducting a nasty vendetta against the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force,  capitulated quietly at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting without a fight or even a whimper.

The capitulation came in a two line phrase  buried in item 28 in the middle of the board’s agenda.  It was a report from the rules committee recommending  the Board of Supervisors approve a motion for  unnamed nominees to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force. “Question:  Shall this Motion be approved.”

Board Chair David Chiu asked for approval in his usual board meeting monotone. And the approval came unanimously, with no dissent and no roll call vote and not a word spoken by anybody.  He banged the gavel and that was that. And only a few veteran board watchers knew that this was the astonishing  end to a crucial battle that pitted the powerfuf Anti-Sunshine Gangs against the sunshine forces and the citizens of San Francisco. It was a battle that would decide whether the task force would remain an independent people’s court that would hear and rule on public access complaints.  Sunshine won.

It was ironic and fitting that Chiu presided over the capitulation. For it was Chiu as board president who orchestrated  the deal to demolish Park Merced and then orchestrated the  infamous 6-5 board vote  in September 2010 approving  a monstrous redevelopment  project that would evict lots of tenants, and destroy most of the affordable housing. This was a big deal because the housing crisis was heating up and Park Merced was the largest affordable community in the city and one of the largest In the nation. This is where tens of thousands of young people, young married couples, students and faculty at nearby San Francisco State, older people, and middle class people had come for generations with their families to live in affordable housing in an  “urban park,” as Park Merced promo once put it.

And it was Chiu as board president who was charged by the Sunshine Task Force, along with Supervisors Scott Wiener, Malia Cohen, and Eric Mar with violating the Sunshine Ordinance and the state’s open meeting law (Brown Act) when they approved the project with blazing speed.. 

Wiener, Cohen, and Mar were on the board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee when they voted on the contract. Literally minutes before the committee vote, Chiu introduced 14 pages of amendments to the contract. The deputy city attorney at the meeting blessed the amendments by saying, gosh, golly, gee, no problem, the amendments do  not substantially alter the contract and therefore the description of the item on the agenda was still apt and the committee could act on it. Bombs away! The full board approved the contract the same day by one vote.

This sleight of hand and pellmell approval process meant that Park Merced was going,going, gone and in its place would be a project that “has no hindsight, no insight, or foresight,” as Planning Commissioner Kathryn Moore was quoted as saying in a scathing Westside Observer column by landscape architect Glenn Rogers. “It is not a project of the 21st century.  It is the agenda of a self-serving developer.”

 The Observer, to its immense credit, was the only media in town to blast away at the project. (Read its coverage and weep, starting with a June piece by Pastor Lynn Gavin who wrote that the Park Merced owners did not disclose to her or her family that they “were going to demolish the garden apartment that was our home.”)  Gavin and her neighbors took the formal complaint to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force and got a unanimous 8-0  ruling condemning Chiu, Wiener, Cohen, and Mar for open government violations.

It was a historic ruling by the task force and demonstrated once again in 96 point tempo bold the irreplaceable value of the people’s court.  The ruling also had impact because it amounted to a stinging  expose of how government often works in San Francisco with big money and big development and how one vote can add gallons of high octane petrol to the housing crisis. It angered the hell out of the six supervisors who voted for the project.

 And in effect, it gave rise to what I call the Anti-Sunshine Gang in City Hall whose response to the ruling was, not to apologize and change their illegal ways, but to start a vicious vendetta against the task force for doing the right thing at the right time.  The six votes were David Chiu, Scott Wiener, Malia Cohen, Mark Farrell, Sean Elsbernd, and Carmen Chu. Elsbernd has gone on to Sen. Diane Feinstein’s office in San Francisco and Chu to becoming assessor. But the gang picked up other allies along the way, notably the city attorney’s office.

Two years ago, when the task force members came to the board for reappointment, the Anti-Sunshine Gang retaliated and swung into action by “launching a smear campaign aimed at purging the eight task force members who had unanimously voted to find the violations,” according to Richard Knee, a 12 year veteran of the task force, in a June column in the Observer.  Knee, who represents the local chapter of the Society of Professonal Journalists, also wrote that “the mayor and the Board of Supervisors…made sure that the panel gets minimal funding, staffing and resources, and the board has refused to fill two long standing vacancies, making It difficult at times to muster a quorum since task force members are volunteers with outside responsibilities such as family and work.

“Two year ago, the board’s failure to appoint a physically disabled member forced the task force to take a five month hiatus, exacerbating a backlog of complaints filed by members of the public.This year, Knee wrote,  the start of the appointment process was “farcical and ominous.”  He explained that, at the May 15 meeting of the board’s rules committee, which vets applicants for city bodies, the two supervisors present chair Norman Yee and Katy Tang (David Campos had an excused absence) “complained that there weren’t enough racial/ethnic diversity among the 13 candidates. “That didn’t deter them from recommending the reappointments of Todd David, Louise Fischer, and David Pilpel, all Anglos.”

Before the full board five days later, Yee complained again, “this time that lack of a regular schedule and frequent switching of meeting dates were making attendance difficult for task force members. Either Yee had no clue of the facts or he was lying.” Knee explained that the task force normally meets the first Wednesday of each month and its subcommittees usually meet during the third week of the month.

“Meeting postponements and cancellations are the result, not the cause, of difficulties in mustering a quorum, due to the vacancies—which now number three.

“In gushing over David, Fischer, and Pilpel, at the board’s May 20 meeting, Wiener offered no evidence or detail of their alleged accomplishments and ignored the fact that David has missed six task force meetings since March 2013, including those of last February and April. Until the board fills the other seats, the five remaining incumbents—Chris Hyland, Bruce Oka, David Sims, Allyson Washburn, and yours truly—stay on as ‘holdover’ members.”

Meanwhile, by the next session of the Rules Committee on June 5, the sunshine advocates had rallied and put together an impressive mass of sunshine power. Testifying at the hearing were representatives from SPJ and the journalism community, the League of Women Voters, the ACLU, the sunshine posse, the Library Users Association, the Bay Area News Group, the Inter-American Press Asociation, the Center for Investigative Reporting, the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, the First Amendment Coalition, the  Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Observer and neighborhood activists, and other sunshine allies and FOI groupies. It was quite a show of force. 

SPJ placed a pointed, timely op ed in the Chronicle (“SF Supervisors block Sunshine Ordinance Task Force,” good of the Chron/Hearst to run it but better if the paper didn’t black out local sunshine issues.) Members of the posse peppered the gang with public record requests aimed at tracking skullduggery and they found it. Reps from the groups lobbied the supervisors by email, phone, and personal office visits. And the word that the Anti-Sunshine Gang was back and on the gallop shot through the neighborhoods and around town and into election campaigns and among constituents of the gang.

SPJ and its vigorous Freedom of Information Committee under co-chairs Journalist Thomas Peele, of Chauncey Bailey fame, and Attorney Geoff King  were particularly effective. Peele is an investigative reporter with the Bay Area Newspaper Group, a lecturer on public records at the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and author of a respected book on Chauncey Bailey, a black journalist murdered on his way to work.

The word got around that the supervisors were blocking strong pro-sunshine candidates for the task force and that their first three nominees were the weakest of the lot. Campos, a stellar sunshine advocate, was back at the committee meeting, making the right calls and shepherding the strong nominees along through the committee and the Board of Supervisors.  Great job.

The cumulative weight and force  of the presentations of the nominees and the sunshine advocates made the proper political point:  any supervisor who voted with the Anti-Sunshine Gang was going to face their constituents and voters with the brand of being anti-sunshine and anti- government accountability.  More: they would have to answer some embarrassing questions: Who lost Park Merced? Who voted to turbo charge evictions and middle class flight from the city for years to come? Who tried to cover up the outrage and who did it? And who led the retaliatory vendetta against the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force for doing the right thing on behalf of sunshine in San Francisco?

And so the Board of Supervisors was dragged kicking and screaming into the sunshine of June 2014 and beyond. The supervisors ended up nominating what looks to be one of the strongest pro-sunshine task forces: Attorney  Mark Rumold and journalist Ali Winston from SPJ, Allyson Washburn from the League of Women Voters, Attorney Lee Hepner, Journalist Josh Wolf, and holdover Chris Hyland. Plus Bruce Oka who looks to be a late holdover in the disabled seat. Congratulations for hanging in and winning, hurray for the power of sunshine, on guard,  B3

P.S. l: PG&E institutionalizes City Hall secrecy and corruption:  The pernicious influence of the Anti-Sunshine gang hung heavy over the rules committee.  Tang tried to force every candidate to take a pledge of allegiance to the city attorney. Tang is the kind of neighborhood supervisor (Sunset) who has a 100 per cent Chamber of Commerce voting record. Her city attorney pledge demand was laughable on its face, given the fact that the city attorney refuses to move on the PG&E/Raker Act scandal and thus has helped institutionalize secrecy and corruption in City Hall on a multi-million dollar scale for decades. Which is reason enough for the city to always maintain a strong, enduring Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, to help keep tabs on how PG&E keeps City Hall safe for PG&E and its allies. (See Guardian stories and editorials since 1969.)  

Tang and Yee continued the gang’s hammering on Bruce Wolfe, a worthy candidate for the disabled seat whose main sin was that he was one of the Honorable Eight who voted condemnation.  The gang knocked out Wolfe as a holdover candidate the first time around and they were at it again at the committee meeting. Oka says he wants to resign from the task force but only when the board finds a good replacement. Wolfe, who was an effective and knowledgeable sunshine task force member, is the obvious replacement but he is still on the purge list.  Stay tuned on this one. . 

There are three things that no one can do to the entire satisfaction of anyone else: make love, poke the fire, and run a newspaper. William Allen White, 1917, line atop the editorial page of the Durango Herald, Durango, Colorado. 

Norman Solomon: Obama escalates his war on journalism


By Norman Solomon

 (Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.)

In a memoir published this year, the CIA’s former top legal officer John Rizzo says that on the last day of 2005 a panicky White House tried to figure out how to prevent the distribution of a book by New York Times reporter James Risen. Officials were upset because Risen’s book, State of War, exposed what — in his words — “may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.”

The book told of a bungled CIA attempt to set back Iran’s nuclear program in 2000 by supplying the Iranian government with flawed blueprints for nuclear-bomb design. The CIA’s tactic might have actually aided Iranian nuclear development.

When a bootlegged copy of State of War reached the National Security Council, a frantic meeting convened in the Situation Room, according to Rizzo. “As best anyone could tell, the books were printed in bulk and stacked somewhere in warehouses.” The aspiring censors hit a wall. “We arrived at a rueful consensus: game over as far as any realistic possibility to keep the book, and the classified information in it, from getting out.”

But more than eight years later, the Obama White House is seeking a different form of retribution. The people running the current administration don’t want to pulp the book — they want to put its author in jail.

The Obama administration is insisting that Risen name his confidential source — or face imprisonment. Risen says he won’t capitulate.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation calls the government’s effort to force Risen to reveal a source “one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades.”

Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg says: “The pursuit of Risen is a warning to potential sources that journalists cannot promise them confidentiality for disclosing Executive Branch criminality, recklessness, deception, unconstitutional policies or lying us into war. Without protecting confidentiality, investigative journalism required for accountability and democracy will wither and disappear.”

A recent brief from the Obama administration to the nation’s top court “is unflinchingly hostile to the idea of the Supreme Court creating or finding protections for journalists,” Politico reported. The newspaper added that Risen “might be sent to jail or fined if he refuses to identify his sources or testify about other details of his reporting.”

This threat is truly ominous. As Ellsberg puts it, “We would know less than we do now about government abuses, less than we need to know to hold officials accountable and to influence policy democratically.”

So much is at stake: for whistleblowers, freedom of the press and the public’s right to know. For democracy.

That’s why five organizations — RootsAction.org, The Nation, the Center for Media and Democracy / The Progressive, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) and the Freedom of the Press Foundation — have joined together to start a campaign for protecting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. So far, in May, about 50,000 people have signed a petition telling President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to end legal moves against Risen.

Charging that the administration has launched “an assault on freedom of the press,” the petition tells Obama and Holder: “We urge you in the strongest terms to halt all legal action against Mr. Risen and to safeguard the freedom of journalists to maintain the confidentiality of their sources.”

The online petition — “We Support James Risen Because We Support a Free Press” — includes thousands of personal comments from signers. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say:

“Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are the cornerstones of our democracy. Stop trying to restrict them.”  Jim T., Colorado Springs, Colorado

“Protected sources are essential to a real democracy. Without whistleblowers, there is no truth.”  Jo Ellen K., San Francisco, California

“Enough of the government assault on freedom of the press! Whistleblowers are heroes to the American people.”  Paul D., Keaau, Hawaii

“It seems our government is out of control. The premise of deriving power from the people would appear to be a quaint notion to most within the three branches. Instead they now view us as subjects that must bend to their will rather than the other way around.”  Gary J., Liberty Township, Ohio

“‘Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.’ — George Orwell”  Todd J., Oxford, Michigan

“As a writer, I support freedom of the press around the world as a vital first step toward regaining control of our compromised democracies.”  Patricia R., Whitehorse, YT, Canada

“You promised an open and transparent administration. Please keep that promise.”  Willard S., Cary, North Carolina

“Without a free press, we really have nothing.”  Robin H., Weehawken, New Jersey

“The Obama administration’s attack on press freedom is an issue of grave concern. Why are we spending billions of dollars going after supposed ‘terrorists’ when the greatest threat to democracy resides right here in Washington, DC.”  Karen D., Detroit, Michigan

“Damn you, Obama! You become more like Nixon daily!”  Leonard H., Manchester, Michigan

“Congratulations, Mr. Risen!”  Marian C., Hollister, California

“The U.S. is becoming an increasingly frightening place to live, more than a little like a police state. President Obama, you have been a huge disappointment. I expected better from you.”  Barbara R., Newport, Rhode Island

“Come on, President Obama… you’re a Constitutional scholar. You know better than this. Knock it off.”  James S., Burbank, California

“There can be no true freedom of the press unless the confidentiality of sources is protected. Without this, no leads, informants or whistleblowers will be motivated to come forward. Reporters should not be imprisoned for doing their job.”  Chris R., North Canton, Ohio

“You took an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,’ freedom of the press!”  Diane S., San Jose, California

“Whatever became of the progressive Obama and the change you promised? Evidently it was a load of campaign bull puckey, making you just another politician who says whatever it takes to get elected. In other words, you and your administration are a complete sham. As for your constitutional scholarship, it would appear to be in the service of undermining the Constitution a la Bush and Cheney.”  Barry E., Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvani

“Without a free press, our republic is paper-mache. Remember John Peter Zenger! We must not shoot the messenger — we must raise the bar for conduct and probity!”  Lance K., Chelsea, Massachusetts

“A free press is the only counterbalance to crony capitalism, corrupt legislators, and a pitifully partisan Supreme Court, that continues to destroy our Constitutional protections.”  Dion B., Cathedral City, California

“I implore you to RESPECT THE FIRST AMENDMENT.”  Glen A., Lacey, Washington

“Did you not learn in grade school that freedom of the press is essential to a free country?”  Joanne D., Colorado Springs, Colorado

“We’ve been down this road before. What amazes me is that we condemn other countries for stifling freedom of the press, then turn around and do the same thing to advance our own purposes. Are we proponents of democracy and a free press or not?”  William M., Whittier, California

“Journalism is a vital component of a democracy, and it is a core function protected by the freedom of expression enshrined in both international and domestic law. You must stop harassing and persecuting journalists and their sources who are providing a vital public service in prying open the activities of governments that are illegitimately concealed from the public. If the public is not informed of state actions executed in their name, they cannot evaluate and render consent to those actions through the vote. This secrecy therefore subverts democracy, and you must stop using police powers to destroy the whistleblowers who enable government accountability to the public.”  Jim S., Gatlinburg, Tennessee

“I support freedom of the press, not the attorney general’s vicious abuse of his position!”  Bettemae J., Albuquerque, New Mexico

“Compelling reporters to reveal their sources just means that sources will stop talking to reporters. That will cripple the free press. If you think that’s not important, please resign immediately.”  Stephen P., Gresham, Oregon

“As an old woman who remembers the lies of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush (especially) and the current administration, I do not trust my own government to tell me the truth anymore.  Freedom of the press is my only chance [to] find out what the truth is. Protect reporters’ sources!”  Monica O., Lomita, California

“Without freedom of the press, we might as well kiss democracy goodbye!”  Melvin M., Vashon, Washington

“I am ashamed of this administration, its policies and its Department of Justice — what a travesty of criminal turpitude and mass media complicity. ‘Transparency’ — hah! Cheap campaign rhetoric.”  Mitch L., Los Altos Hills, California

“Walk the walk or stop talking about democracy. Free press is the basis of our constitution.”  Carl D., Manassas, Virginia

“No free press, no democracy!”  James F., Moab, Utah

“If you force the media to reveal its sources, no one will ever come forth with a news story or lead again. I’m sure this is precisely what the politicians and big business want. Then there’d be absolutely no accountability. We need an effective shield law rather than persecuting journalists and news organizations for reporting the news.”  Jim S., Ladera Ranch, California

“Freedom of the Press is the hallmark of a free society. Your administration has done everything in its power to subvert Freedom of the Press by jailing whistleblowers and reporters who uncover wrong doing. This must stop!”  Ed A., Queens, New York

“We have very few real journalists left. Let’s not jail them!”  Karen H., West Grove, Pennsylvania

“As the press goes, so goes citizens’ rights.”  Kathy F., West Bend, Wisconsin

“I have been shocked at how this administration has treated the American people’s right to know, prosecuting reporters, whistleblowers, and others who have had the temerity to cast light into the dark corners of our government. You bring the whole concept of democracy into disrepute and set a bad example for the rest of the world.”  Marjorie P., Montpelier, Vermont

“We need our investigative reporters more now than ever in history. Keep our press free.”  Joan R., Novato, California

“Investigative reporting is becoming too rare in the U.S., and compelling J. Risen to reveal his sources will only make such reporting even rarer. Is this your deliberate intent?”  Elaine L., Elk Grove, California

“I am responding in support of James Risen. Freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of our democracy and should never be trampled on by government.”  Lois D., San Jacinto, California

“Freedom of the press is more important than some stinking government attempt to find out how bad shenanigans made it into the press. Quit this crap about trying to make a reporter reveal his or her sources. We need good reporting a lot more than lousy stinking politicians trying to shut up the truth.”  Ralph M., Bakerstown, Pennsylvania

“Without a free press tyranny will ensue.”  Bob P., Holland, Pennsylvania

“I thought Mr. Obama was supposed to be a Constitutional lawyer and swore to uphold it. I thought the Attorney General was supposed to also protect the Constitution. It seems you both have abandoned those duties. Prove you hold the Constitution as the authority from which you derive your own and cease this persecution of a reporter who epitomizes one of the crucial things the Constitution stands for — a truly free press.”  Michael S., Tukwila, Washington

“I’ve seen mud more transparent than the Obama admin.”  Paul H., Carlton, Oregon

“Wow, this coming from the Obama administration who supposedly is for open govt. Isn’t it a police state when the govt cracks down on reporters for telling the truth? James Risen is a hero who will go to jail before revealing his source and the fact that you want to throw him in jail is the real crime here.”  Gayle J., Seattle, Washington

“Shocking.”  Peggy K., Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin

“You have way overstepped your authority. I consider myself a moderate, but your aggressive pursuit of journalists and whistleblowers strikes fear in my heart. Your use of intimidation to weaken the press is contributing to the dismantling of our democracy.”  Marcia B., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“Quit trying to silence journalists! This is a Vladimir Putin approach to government. Hope and Change? Get Real!”  Rich W., Grass Valley, California

“Stop destroying our heroes, the courageous whistleblowers and journalists, including Risen and others who should be thanked, not prosecuted! You know damn well that the People want these people honored!”  Nancy G., Palm Desert, California

“Please recognize the need for a journalist to be free of coercion to reveal confidential sources. Bravo to James Risen for having the courage to resist this onerous government intimidation.”  Thomas S., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“We are already seeing freedom of the press undermined by consolidation of media ownership. The founding fathers believed that we could only keep this republic if we have free press and an informed public. Stop the suppression of information. Free access to information is not an optional ingredient.”  Janelle J., Buffalo, Missouri

“Stop persecuting journalists and whistleblowers. Information is the lifeblood of a democracy.”  William C., Sherman Oaks, California

“Our government has become big brother. Journalists must not be forced to name their sources if we are to know the truth.”  Carolyn S., Los Angeles, California

“A free press is gone if confidential sources are revealed.”  Vincent H., Rutledge, Tennessee

“Frankly, Mr. President, I’m surprised at you, and I have to say, disappointed. This seems like something that happens in totalitarian countries.”  Karen B., Felton, California

“Freedom of the press is already under siege because big business controls so much of the message. The Obama administration must respect James Risen’s right to withhold his source.”  Patricia B., Marco Island, Florida

“Whistleblowers are vital to keeping our democracy from turning into a police state. And a free press is vital to keeping us informed. Drop this case, and uphold the principles of our Constitution.”  Cynthia D., E. Boston, MA

“The press should be free to do its job! How about some of that ‘most transparent administration’ stuff. If an administration has nothing to hide it has nothing to fear.”  Mike H., Terre Haute, Indiana

“James Risen is an investigative reporter of high repute who should not be subjected to state harassment and punishment for upholding his pledge of confidentiality to his sources. These encroachments on our Fourth Estate’s watchdog function as a check on the abuse of power must not stand.”  Barbara K., Santa Fe, New Mexico

“You both have to stop talking out of both sides of your mouth, i.e. lying. We are fighting for freedom of the press. Stop being enemies to us people.”  Judith N., North Bonneville, Washington

“Please don’t trash the Bill of Rights. Protect the freedom and independence of the press. Drop the case against James Risen.”  Andrew M., Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania

“Daniel Ellsberg was right. James Risen is right.”  Leonore J., Toledo, Ohio

“When the light of free press is no more, darkness prevails and evildoers flourish. I know this is what this corrupt government wants but over our dead bodies.”  Felix C., San Antonio, Texas

“What Mr. Risen did in this instance, was not criminal. Rather it was EXACTLY what a free press should do, without fear of reprisal. Stop the strong arm tactics.”  John S., Trumbull, Connecticut

“The investigative work of journalists sheds light on the world and what is happening. The increasing punishment of journalists is pushing our world and news into a scary age of non-information. Safeguard the confidentiality of journalists and their sources.”  Christin B., Barnegat Light, New Jersey

“Stop persecuting journalists and truth tellers.”  Phyllis B., Desert Hot Springs, California

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He is the former co-founder and co-publisher with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012.)

James Risen is printing the news and raising hell for a damn good cause in the best jounalistic tradition. He needs our support. B3

Citizen Agnos comes on strong for Proposition B in support of his Athenian oath


By Bruce B. Brugmann  (with the complete  text of Art Agnos speech  to the  May 21 dinner of San Francisco Tomorrow)

When Art Agnos was sworn in as mayor in 1988, he used the Athenian Oath that was taken by young men reaching the age of majority in Athens 2000 years ago.  He shortened the oath (as many did) to say: “I promise…upon my honor…to leave my city better than I found it.”

For Agnos, a Greek steeped in Greek traditions, the oath was a serious matter. “At the heart of our vision,” Agnos said in his inaugural address, “ is a refusal to let San Francisco become an expensive enclave  that locks out the middle class, working families and the poor. At the center of our strategy is a belief in the basic right of people to decent jobs and housing.”  

Twenty-six years later, Citizen Agnos was working hard  in private life to leave his city better than he had found it. He led a citizens’ movement that stopped the monstrous 8 Washington project, knocked the Warriors off the piers, forced the Giants to lower their  highrise expectations,  and promoted Proposition  B that would stop  the Wall on the Waterfront and require a public vote on any increases  to current height limits on port property.

 And Agnos is having the time of his life doing all this, as he made clear in his remarks to San Francisco Tomorrow, the one organization in town that has been manning the barricades in every major Manhattanization battle all these years  on the waterfront and everywhere else.  He enjoys taking on Mayor Lee and “the high tech billionaire political network that wants to control city hall and fulfill their vision of who can live here and where.” And he must relish  the Chronicle’s C.W.Nevius and the paper’s editors and their self-immolating bouts of hysteria.  

Agnos gave a splendid speech and confirms that he really is our best ex-mayor. I particularly liked his point about the “power to decide” on development. “Today that power to decide is in a room In City Hall. I know that room. I have been in that room. 

“You know who is in there? It is the lobbyists,..the land use lawyers…the construction union representatives..the department directors..and other politicians. You know who is not in that room. You.Prop B changes that dynamic and puts you in the room that matters. No more ‘advisory committees’ that get  indulged and brushed off. No more ‘community outreach’ that is ignored. It will all matter.”

Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes, on B and stopping the Manhattanization of the waterfront. b3

Agnos remarks to San Francisco Tomorrow 

I am delighted to speak to the members and friends of SFT about the waterfront tonight…and a special shout out to Jane Morrison as one of the pioneer professional  women in the media… and one of the  finest Social Service Commissioners in our City’s history. I also welcome the opportunity to join you in honoring tonight’s unsung heroes…Becky Evans with whom I have worked closely over the past year and half …Tim Redmond  the conscience of the progressive community for the past 35 years…Sarah Short and Tommi Avicolli Mecca from the Housing Rights Committee who stand up every day for poor and working people who need a voice in our city.

Twenty-four years ago in 1990, I made one of the best decisions of my mayoralty when I listened to the progressive environmental voice of San Francisco and ordered the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway. That freeway was not only a hideous blight but also a wall that separated the city from its waterfront. Hard to believe today…but it was a very controversial decision back then… just 3 years before…in 1987 the voters had defeated a proposal by Mayor Feinstein to demolish it. The Loma Prieta Earthquake gave us a chance to reconsider that idea in 1990. Despite opposition of 22,000 signatures on a petition to retrofit the damaged freeway… combined with intense lobbying from the downtown business community led by the Chamber of Commerce, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf and especially Chinatown…we convinced the Board of Supervisors to adopt our plan to demolish the freeway… by one vote.

And the rest is history…until today. 

After a period of superb improvements that include a restored Ferry Building…the Ball park… new public piers where one can walk further out into the bay than ever before in the history of this city… the 
Exploratorium…the soon to be opened Jim Herman Cruise Ship terminal…Brannan Wharf Park…there is a new threat. Private development plans that threaten to change the environment of what Herb Caen first called “our newest precious place” …not with an ugly concrete freeway wall…but with steel and glass hi-rises that are twice as tall.

Today…the availability of huge amounts of developer financing …combined with unprecedented influence in city hall and the oversight bodies of this city…the Waterfront has become the new gold coast of San Francisco. Politically connected developers seek to exploit magnificent public space with hi-rise, high profit developments that shut out the ordinary San Franciscan from our newest precious place. We love this city because it is a place where all of us have a claim to the best of it…no matter what our income…no matter that we are renter or homeowner…no matter what part of the city we come from.

And connected to that is the belief that waterfront public land is for all of us…not just those with the biggest bank account or most political influence. 

That was driven home in a recent call I had from a San Franciscan who complained about the high cost of housing for home ownership or rent…the high cost of Muni…museum admissions…even Golden Gate Bridge tours and on and on. When he finished with his list, I reminded him I was mayor 23 years ago and that there had been 4 mayors since me,  so why was he complaining to me?
“Because you are the only one I can reach!” he said.

Over the past few weeks…that message has stuck with me.  And I finally realized why. This is what many people in our city have been seeking… someone who will listen and understand. Someone who will listen…understands… and acts to protect our newest precious place…our restored waterfront. You see…it was not just about luxury high-rise condos at 8 Washington last year…It was not just a monstrous 
basketball arena on pier 30-32 with luxury high-rise condos and a hotel across the street on public land. It’s about the whole waterfront that belongs to the people of San Francisco…all 7 and half miles of it… from the Hyde Street Piers to India Basin. And it must be protected from the land use mistakes that can become irrevocable. 

This is not new to our time…8 Washington and the Warriors arena were not the first horrendous proposals…they were only the latest. Huge… out of scale… enormously profitable projects… fueled by exuberant boosterism from the Chamber of Commerce… have always surfaced on our waterfront. 50 years ago…my mentor in politics…then Supervisor Leo McCarthy said, “We must prevent a wall of high rise apartments along the waterfront…and we must stop the filling in of the SF bay as a part of a program to retain the things that have made this city attractive.” That was 1964…

In 2014…Former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin said it best this way…”It seems like every 10 years…every generation has to stand up to some huge development that promises untold riches
  as it seeks to exploit the waterfront and our public access to it.” Public awareness first started with the construction of the 18 stories of Fontana towers east and west in 1963. That motivated then Assemblyman Casper Weinberger to lead public opposition and demand the first height limits… as well as put a stop to 5 more Fontana style buildings on the next block at Ghirardelli Square. This was the same Casper Weinberger who went on to become Secretary of HEW and Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan.

In 1970 the Port Commission proposed to rip out the then “rotting piers” of piers 1 – 7 just north of the Ferry Building. They were to be replaced with 40 acres of fill (3 X Union Square) upon which a 1200-room hotel and a 2400 car garage would be built. It passed easily through Planning and the Board of Supervisors. When the proposal was rejected on 22 to 1 vote by BCDC, Mayor Alioto complained, “We just embalmed the rotting piers.” No… we didn’t …we saved them for the right project…and if one goes there today… they see it…the largest surviving renovated piers complex with restaurants, walk in cafes, port offices, free public docking space, water taxis and complete public access front and back. 

In 2002… that entire project was placed on the U.S. National Historic Register. But my favorite outrageous proposal from that time was the plan to demolish another set of “rotting piers” from the Ferry Building south to the Bay Bridge. And in place of those rotting piers… the plans called for more landfill to create a Ford dealership car lot with 5000 cars as well as a new Shopping center. That too…was stopped.

So now it’s our turn to make sure that we stop these all too frequent threats to the access and viability of our waterfront.

In the past 2 weeks…we have seen momentum grow to support locating the George Lucas Museum on piers 30-32 or the sea wall across the Embarcadero.I love the idea…but where would we be with that one be if a small band of waterfront neighbors and the Sierra Club had not had the courage to stand up to the Warriors and City Hall 2 years ago. Once again they used the all too familiar refrain of “rotting piers” as an impending catastrophe at piers 30-32.

Proposition B will help prevent mistakes before they happen. Most of all… Prop B will ensure protection of the port on more permanent basis by requiring a public vote on any increases to current height limits on Port property.All of the current planning approval processes will stay in place…Port Commission…Planning commission…Board of Permit Appeals…Board of Supervisors…will continue to do what they have always done. But if a waiver of current height limits along the waterfront is granted by any of those political bodies…it must be affirmed by a vote of the people. Prop B does not say Yes or No…it says Choice. It is that simple. The people of SF will make the final choice on height limit increases on port property. 

The idea of putting voters in charge of final approval is not new. In the past the people of San Francisco have voted for initiatives to approve a Children’s budget…a Library budget…retaining neighborhood fire stations… minimum police staffing… as well as require public authorization for new runway bay fill at our airport. And at the port itself… there have been approximately 18 ballot measures to make land use and policy decisions.

So…we are not talking about ballot box planning…we are talking about ballot box approval for waivers of existing height limits on public property. Opponents like Building Trades Council, Board of Realtors, 
and Chamber of Commerce are raising alarms that we will lose environment protections like CEQA by creating loopholes for developers. 

Prop B is sponsored by the Sierra Club…Tonight we honor Becky Evans of the Sierra Club who sponsored Proposition B. That same set of opponents are joined by city bureaucrats issuing “doomsday” reports stating that we will lose thousands of units of middle class housing… billions of dollars in port revenues…elimination of parks and open space on the waterfront. Astonishing!

These are the same bureaucrats who issued glowing reports a couple of years ago that the America’s Cup would mean billions in revenue for the port and the city. And they wanted to give Oracle’s Larry Ellison 66-year leases to develop on 5 of our port piers for that benefit! Now…how did THAT work out? So far…city hall will admit to $11 million dollars in known losses for the taxpayers.

Another opponent… SPUR says any kind of housing will make a difference and there are thousands in the pipe line… so don’t worry.

We have not seen one stick of low income or affordable housing proposed on the waterfront since the 80s and 90s when Mayor Feinstein and I used waterfront land for that very purpose. Hundreds of low-income housing dwellings like Delancey Street and Steamboat Point Apartments…affordable and middle class housing like South Beach Marina apartments and Bayside village comprise an oasis of diversity and affordable housing in the midst of ultra expensive condos. For me…that was part of an inaugural promise made in January 1988…I said, “At the heart of our vision is a refusal to let San Francisco become an expensive enclave that locks out the middle class, working families and the poor. At the center of our strategy is a belief in the basic right of people to decent jobs and housing. 

Yes…that was the commitment on public land on the waterfront by 2 mayors of a recent era… but not today. Indeed…San Francisco has been rated the #1 least affordable city in America…including NY Manhattan. That is one of the many reasons we see middle class  people…as well as working poor…being forced to leave San Francisco for Oakland and elsewhere in the bay area. That reality was reinforced in the February 10, 2014 issue of Time Magazine…Mayor Lee said, “I don’t think we paid any attention to the middle class. I think everybody assumed the middle class was moving out.”

Today…An individual or family earning up to $120,000 per year …150 per cent of the median in this city… do not qualify for a mortgage and can’t afford the rent in one of the thousands of new housing units opening in the city. The Chronicle reported a couple of weeks ago that a working family of  3 who have lived in a rent-controlled studio apartment in the Mission is offered $50 K to leave. That is what the purely developer driven housing market offers. And that philosophy is reinforced by a planning commission whose chair was quoted in December 2013 issue of SF Magazine saying, “Mansions are as just as important as housing.”

Prop B changes that dynamic by putting the Citizen in the room with the “pay to play” power brokers. That is what it is all about my friends. Power.

Former SF city planning director and UC School of City Planning Professor…Alan Jacobs recently related what he called the Jacobs Truism of land economics: “Where political discretion is involved in land use decisions…the side that wins is the side with the most power. And that side is the side with the most money.” Prop B will ensure that if developers are going to spend a lot of money to get a height waiver on port property …the best place to spend it will be to involve, inform, and engage the citizen as to the merit of their request…not on the politicians.

Today that power to decide is in a room in City Hall. I know that room…I have been in that room. You know who is there? It is the lobbyists…the land use lawyers…the construction union representatives…the departmental directors… and other politicians. You know who is not in the room? YOU. The hope is that someone in that room remembers you. But if you really want your voice to be heard…you have to go to some departmental hearing or the Board of Supervisors…wait for 3 or 4 hours for your turn… and then get 2 minutes to make your case. Prop B changes that dynamic and puts you in the room that matters. No more “advisory committees” that get indulged and brushed off. No more “community outreach” that is ignored. 

It will all matter. That is why today there is no opposition from any waterfront developer…They get it. We are going to win. It is easy to see how the prospect of Prop B on the ballot this June has changed the dynamics of high-rise development along the waterfront. The Warriors have left and purchased a better location on private land in Mission Bay. The Giants have publicly announced that they will revise their plans with an eye to more appropriate height limits on port land. Forest City is moving with a ballot proposal to use Pier 70 to build new buildings of 9 stories…the same height as one of current historic buildings they will preserve on that site for artists.

The Pier 70 project will include 30 percent low-income…affordable and middle class housing on site… along with low-tech industries, office space and a water front promenade that stretches along the entire shoreline boundary. A good project that offers what the city needs will win an increase in height limits because it works for everybody. A bad one will not. My friends…I have completed my elected public service career. There will be no more elections for me.

And as I review my 40 years in public life…I am convinced of one fundamental truth. The power of the people should… and must… determine what kind of a city this will be. It must not be left to a high tech billionaire political network that wants to control city hall to fulfill their vision of who can live here and where. It starts with you… the people of this city’s neighborhoods… empowered to participate in the decisions that affect our future. You are the ones who must be vigilant and keep faith with values that make this city great. This city is stronger when we open our arms to all who want to be a part of it…to live and work in it…to be who they want to be…with whomever they want to be it with. Our dreams for this city are more powerful when they can be shared by all of us in our time…

We are the ones …here and now… who can create the climate to advance the San Francisco dream to the next generation. And the next opportunity to do that will be election day 
June 3. Thank you.

B3 note: The full Athenian oath: “We will never bring disgrace on this our City by an act of dishonesty or cowardice. We will fight for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many. We will revere and obey the City’s laws and will do our best to incite a like reverence and respect in those above us who are prone to annul them or set them at naught. We will strive unceasingly to quicken the public’s sense of civic duty. Thus, in all ways, we will transmit this City not only, not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted back to us.”  The National League of Cities publishes the oath and says it “was recited by the citizens of Athens, Greece, over 2,000 years ago. It is frequently referenced by civic leaders in modern times as a timeless code of civic responsibility.” 

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He is the former editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012. He can be reached at Bruoe@sfbg.com) 




The anti-sunshine gang intensifies its attacks on the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force in City Hall


By Bruce B. Brugmann   (with special sunshine vendetta chronology by Richard Knee) 

The Guardian story in the current issue demonstrates in 96 point tempo bold how important the glare of sunshine and publicity is in City Hall in keeping the public’s business public. Yet, the anti-sunshine gang in City Hall is intensifying  its savage attack on the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.

The Sunshine Ordinance established the Sunshine Task Force to serve as the people’s court for hearing citizen complaints on public access, thus giving  citizens a way to get secret records, open secret meetings, and hold government officials accountable. It empowers citizens to be watchdogs on issues they care about.  It is the first and best ordinance of its kind in the country, if not in the world, and its effectiveness is shown by the fact that the anti-sunshine gang regularly tries  to bounce strong members and gut the task force.

Terry Francke, then the executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition and author of the ordinance, and I as a founder anticipated this problem in trhe early 1990s and put a mandate  into the original ordinance for the task force to have representatives from the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (a journalist and media attorney) and the San Francisco League of Women Voters, two organizations with experience and tradition with open government issues. Later, the mandate included a representative from New America Media, to insure a member of color for the task force.

 I served for 10 years on the task force and then Mayor Willie Brown made the point about City Hall interference by targeting me for extinction.  He tried several times  to kick me off the task force.  I refused to budge, on the principle that neither the mayor nor any other city official should be able to arbitrarily kick off a member of the task force for doing his/her job. When Willie left office, I left the task force when my term was up  and the principle was intact.

Today, as Richard Knee writes in his timeline and chronology below, the principle is once again under city hall attack. Knee replaced me as the journalist representative  of SPJ and has served under fire  for a record 12 years. He writes that the latest attack is retaliation for a unanimous finding by the task force in September 2011 when Board President David Chiu and Supervisors Scott Wiener, Malia Cohen, and Eric Mar violated  local and state open meeting laws by ramming through the monstrous Park Merced redevelopment contract with 14 pages of amendments that Chiu slipped in “literally minutes” before the committee vote.

This was a historic task force vote in the public interest, and a historic vote for open government and for all the good causes. But instead it prompted a smear- dilute-and- ouster campaign by the Board of Supervisors, with timely assists from the city attorney’s office.  The ugly play by play follows. The good news is  that the sunshine forces inside and outside city hall are fighting back, hard and fast, and with a keen eye on all upcoming elections.   Stay tuned. On guard. :

 Special  chronology and timeline detailing the anti-sunshine gang attack on  the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force. By Richard Knee)

1. In April 2011, the Task Force voted to change its bylaws to declare that approval of substantive motions required “yes” votes from a simple majority of members present rather than a simple majority of all members, as long as a quorum was present. The quorum threshold remained at six. The bylaws change went against the advice of the city attorney’s office, which pointed to city Charter Sec. 4.104. Suzanne Cauthen and I cast dissenting votes on the bylaw change. David Snyder was absent from that meeting but made it clear that, reluctantly, he could find no reason to disagree with the city attorney’s opinion.

2. In September 2011, the Task Force voted, 8-0, to find that Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Supervisors Eric Mar, Scott Wiener and Malia Cohen had violated the Sunshine Ordinance and the state’s open-meeting law (Brown Act). Mar, Wiener and Cohen served on the board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee, which voted to recommend approval of a Parkmerced redevelopment contract. Literally minutes before the committee voted, Chiu introduced 14 pages of amendments to the contract. The deputy city attorney at the meeting opined that the amendments did not substantially alter the contract and therefore the description of the item on the meeting agenda was still apt and the committee could act on it. The full board approved the contract the same day.

Wiener tried to intimidate the Task Force from hearing the case. His legislative aide Gillian Gillette (now the mayor’s director of transportation policy) told us we had no business telling the board how to vote and that in taking up the matter, we would be overstepping our authority. Her tone of voice, facial expression and body language were clearly confrontational. We pushed back. Bruce Wolfe told her it was inappropriate to prejudge the Task Force’s vote before the hearing had begun. I told her that we were not interested in the LUED Committee’s or the board’s substantive vote on the contract, but we were concerned about the procedural aspect. A complaint alleging sunshine violations had been brought before us and we were duty-bound to hear it. I pointedly suggested she review the ordinance, especially Sec. 67.30, which defines the Task Force’s, duties, powers and composition. She skulked back to her seat, seething.

Chiu’s legislative aide Judson True told us that Chiu’s office had made a mad scramble to get the amendments printed and properly distributed to allow enough time for review by the supervisors and members of the public before the committee’s vote. He and Gillette, citing the city attorney’s opinion, reiterated that the committee and the board had followed proper procedure.

We were incredulous toward their claims that (a) 14 pages of amendments did not substantially alter the contract and (b) there was sufficient time to review the amendments before the committee’s vote. We consensed that there was no reason the committee could not have delayed its vote in order to allow adequate review time.

3. Wiener surreptitiously asked the Budget and Legislative Analyst in late 2011 to survey every city department on how much sunshine compliance was costing it. When we learned about it, Task Force Chair Hope Johnson sent a strongly worded letter objecting to the attempt at secrecy and to the form that the survey took; we felt many of the questions were vague or vacuous.

4. In May 2012, the Rules Committee (Jane Kim, Mark Farrell, David Campos) interviewed Task Force applicants. Committee members pointedly asked incumbents Suzanne Manneh (New America Media’s nominee), Allyson Washburn (League of Women Voters’ nominee), Hanley Chan, Jay Costa and Bruce Wolfe if it wouldn’t have been wise to follow the city attorney’s advice in order to avoid violating the Charter. They responded that while they deeply appreciated having a deputy city attorney at Task Force meetings and certainly gave due weight to the DCA’s counsel, such advice did not have the force of law, they had a right to disagree with it and they believed the bylaw change they had enacted in April 2011 did not violate the Charter.

The Rules Committee voted unanimously to recommend the appointments of newcomers Kitt Grant, David Sims, Chris Hyland and Louise Fischer, and returnee David Pilpel. Campos and Kim voted to recommend Wolfe’s reappointment; Farrell dissented.

Then, citing concerns about lack of “diversity,” Farrell and Kim said the Society of Professional Journalists, NAM and the LWV should have submitted multiple nominations for each of their designated seats. They pointed to language in ordinance Sec. 67.30(a) stipulating that the respective members “shall be appointed from … names” – and they emphasized the plural, “names” – “submitted by” the organizations. And the committee voted unanimously to continue those four appointments to the call of the chair.

It is important to note that this was the first time ever that the committee had made a multiple-nominations demand. Previously, the committee and the board had invariably accepted the single nominations from the three organizations.

The “diversity” argument was a smokescreen. They had already voted to bounce Chan, who is Chinese-American, and Manneh is a Palestinian-American fluent in Arabic and Spanish.

The truth was, they didn’t like the nominees. SPJ had nominated attorney Ben Rosenfeld and Westside Observer editor Doug Comstock. Both as a Task Force member and as a political consultant, Comstock had been a thorn in lots of local politicians’ and bureaucrats’ sides. And Manneh and Washburn had participated in the Task Force’s unanimous finding of violation against Chiu, Wiener, Mar and Cohen.

Upshot: By continuing those appointments, the committee and the board ensured that Manneh, Washburn and I would remain as “holdovers” and the SPJ-nominated attorney’s seat would stay vacant (Snyder had formally resigned). Manneh, citing an increased professional and academic workload, stepped aside a few months later, meaning two of the 11 seats were vacant, and it now took only four absences instead of five to kill a quorum.

5. At the subsequent meeting of the full board, after Campos moved to reappoint Wolfe, Wiener moved to replace his name with that of Todd David. In making his motion, Wiener delivered a scorching, mendacious attack on what was then the current Task Force. Details of the tirade are available on request. The board voted, 6-5, in favor of Wiener’s motion (ayes: Wiener, Chiu, Farrell, Cohen, Carmen Chu and Sean Elsbernd; noes: Campos, Kim, Mar, John Avalos and Christina Olague). The board then voted unanimously to appoint Grant, Sims, Hyland, Fischer, Pilpel and David.

6. Ordinance Sec. 67.30(a) stipulates that the Task Force shall at all times have at least one member with a physical disability. Wolfe was the only applicant in 2012 to meet that criterion. So when the board ousted him, the Task Force no longer had a physically disabled member. The city attorney advised the new Task Force that to take any actions before a new physically disabled member was appointed could land land the Task Force and its individual members in serious legal trouble. So the Task Force was sidelined for five months, finally resuming business in November 2012 following the appointment of Bruce Oka — who, by the way, is solidly pro-sunshine.

            7. After interviewing 12 of the 13 task force applicants on May 15, 2014, Rules Committee members Norman Yee and Katy Tang complained about a lack of racial/ethnic diversity among the candidates, but that didn’t stop them from voting to recommend the reappointments of members David, Fischer and Pilpel, all Anglos (Campos was absent). Nor were they deterred by the fact that David has missed six task force meetings since March 2013, including those of last January, February and April. They continued consideration of additional appointments to a future meeting, possibly June 5.

At the board meeting on May 20, Wiener repeated his slander of the 2012-14 task force and heaped praise on David, Fischer and Pilpel without offering a shred of corroborating evidence. The board voted to confirm their reappointments, again ignoring David’s porous attendance record.

8. To be seen: whether Rules and/or the board will continue insisting on multiple nominations, and whether it will move forward on other possible appointments. Including Grant’s resignation and the possibility of holdovers, there is a risk that as few as eight of the 11 seats will be filled, meaning three absences would kill a quorum. Sims is moving to Los Angeles but remaining as a holdover for the moment. If he resigns, that could pull the number of fill seats down to seven, meaning two absences would kill a quorum.

The foregoing commentary is strictly personal and not intended to reflect the views of any other individual or organization.

Respectfully submitted,

Richard Knee

Member (since July 2002) and past chairman of the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force

Member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California Chapter, Freedom of Information Committee

San Francisco-based freelance journalist

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He is the former editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012). In San Francisco, the citizens are generally safe, except when the mayor is in his office and the board of supervisors is in session. You can quote me.  B3

Memorial Day: Remembering the good old days in Rock Rapids, Iowa, circa 1940s to 1950s


 Bruce B. Brugmann

(Reprinted and updated by popular demand)

When I was growing up in my hometown of Rock Rapids, Iowa, a farming community of 2,800 in the northwest corner of the state, Memorial Day was the official start of summer.

We headed off to YMCA camp at Camp Foster on West Okiboji Lake and Boy Scout camp at Lake Shetek in southwestern Minnesota. The less fortunate were trundled off to Bible School at the Methodist Church.

As I remember it, Memorial Day always seemed to be a glorious sunny day and full of action for Rock Rapids. The high school band in black and white uniform would march down Main Street under the baton of the local high school band teacher (in my day, Jim White.) A parade would feature floats carrying our town’s veterans of the First and Second World wars, young men I knew who suddenly were wearing their old uniforms. And there was for many years a veteran of the Spanish American War named Jess Callahan prominently displayed in a convertible. Lots of flags would be flying and the Rex Strait American Legion Post and Veterans of Foreign Wars would be out in force. We never really knew who Rex Strait was, except that he was said to be the first Rock Rapids boy to die in World War I and the post was named after him.

After the parade, we would make our way to our picture post card cemetery, atop a knoll just south of town overlooking the lush green of the trees and the fields along the lazy Rock River.A local dignitary would give a blazing patriotic speech. A color guard of veterans would move the flags into position and then at the command fire their rifles off toward the river. I remember this was the first time I ever saw a color guard in action, with a sergeant who moved his men with rifles into position with strange “hut, hut, hut” commands.

After the ceremony, everyone would go to the graves of their family and friends and people they knew and look at the flowers that would be sitting in bouquets and little pots by the headstones. The cemetery was and is a beautiful spot and many of us who are natives have parents, friends, and relatives buried here. It is one of the wonderful things that connects us to the town, no matter where we end up.

And so this year I got my annual telephone call from Dorothy Bosch, at the Flower Village florist in Rock Rapids, reminding me about the flowers I always place on Memorial Day  on the graves of my relatives in the Brugmann plot. I always get a kick out of doing business with Flower Village because it once was in the Brugmann Drugstore building on Main Street that had housed our family drug store. (“C.C. Brugmann and Son, where drugs and gold are fairly sold, since 1902.”)  Flower Village  later moved across the street to the building that once housed the Bernstein Department store and is now known as Home-ology.  Dorothy always fills me in on the latest Rock Rapids news, which is particularly important this year because I will be back in Rock Rapids in June for Heritage Days, the annual celebraton for the town and county and the alumni for high school reunions Last year was my 60th reunion of the dream class of 1953, a class of 32 with 16 girls and 16 boys. 

I always ask Dorothy to get the most colorful flowers of the season and she then sees that they are displayed near the headstones in the Brugmann plot a couple of days ahead of Memorial Day. This year, I called Pauline Knobloch to pick up the flowers and put them in her garden.  Pauline and I go back to 1947, when she was a young clerk, just in from Lester, in the store.  I started clerking at age 12  that year, selling stamps and peanuts in the front of the store.  Pauline and I worked together all my school years and she continued on until my dad sold the store in the late 1970s. Pauline at 92 is still going strong, as they say in Rock Rapids.

Ours is an unusual plot, because it holds the graves of my four grandparents, my parents, my aunt and uncle and someday my wife and I. My grandfather C.C.Brugmann and my father C.B.Brugmann spent their entire working lives in Brugmann’s drugstore, which my grandfather started in l902. My father (and my mother Bonnie) came into the store shortly after the depression.
My grandfather A. R. Rice (and his wife Allie) was an eloquent Congregational minister who had parishes throughout Iowa in Waverly, Eldora, Parkersburg,  and Rowan. He retired in Clarion. My aunt Mary was my father’s sister and her husband was her Rock Rapids high school classmate, Clarence Schmidt. He was a veterinarian and a reserve army officer who was called up immediately after Pearl Harbor and ordered to report to Camp Dodge in Des Moines within 48 hours. He did and served in Calcutta, India, as an inspector of meat that was flown over the hump to supply the Chinese forces under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek in Kunming. 

Through the years, Elmer “Shinny” Sheneberger, the police chief when I was in school, would say to me, “Well, Bruce, you and I have to get along. We’ll be spending lots of time together someday.” I never knew what he meant until one day, visiting the Brugmann plot, I noticed that the Sheneberger family plot was next to the Brugmann plot. Every Memorial Day, Shinny took pictures in color of the flowers on the Brugmann and Sheneberger family graves and would send them to me in San Francisco.  I would send on them on to my sister Brenda in Sun City, Arizona, and the families of the three Schmidt boys John in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Conrad and Robert in Worthington, Minnesota. Well, Shinny died three years ago and alas I no longer get his annual batch of pictures. But he was right. We will be together for a long, long time.

Every year the rep from our American Legion Post puts a small American flag on the grave of every person buried in the cemetery who served in the Armed Forces. Chip Berg, who was three years ahead of me in school, performed this chore every year. My uncle gets one. And, Chip assured me, I will get one someday. I earned it, I am happy to report, as an unhappy ROTC soldier for two years at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (1953-55), as a cold war veteran (1958-60), as an advanced infantryman at Ft. Carson, Colorado, as a survivor of two weeks of miserable winter bivouac in the foothills of the Rockies, and as bureau chief of the Korea Bureau of Stars and Stripes (carrying my favorite byline: SP5 Bruce B. Brugmann,  S and S Korea bureau, Yongdongpo, Korea.) I am proud of the flag already. B3, who never forgets how lucky he is to come from the best small town in the country.

P.S.1: As the years went by, I became more curious about how my uncle Schmitty, as he was known, could leave his three young boys and his veterinary practice in nearby Worthington, Minnesota,  and get to Camp  Dodge so fast and serve throughout the entire war. I asked him lots of questions. How, for example, did he handle his veterinary practice? Simple, he said, “my partner just said let’s split our salaries. You give me half of what you make in the Army and I’ll give you half of what I make in veterinary practice.” And that’s what they did and that’s how the veterinary practice kept going throughout the war. Schmitty returned to a healthy practice, retired in the 1960s, and turned it over to his second son Conrad.

P.S.2: Confession: I was not drafted. I enlisted in the federal reserve in the summer of 1958, which amounted to the same thing. Two years of active duty, two years of active reserve, and two years of inactive reserve. I did this maneuver so that I could formally say that I beat Elmer Wohlers. Elmer was the local draft board chief who had spent a little time in World War I, “the big one,” as he would say. The word around town was that he never got out of Camp Dodge in Des Moines but you would never know it by his rhetoric. He had a bit of black humor about his job and we had a running skirmish for years.

Whenever he would see me on the street in Rock Rapids, he would say, ” Bruce, I’m going to get you, I’m going to get you.” And I would reply, “No, no, Elmer, you’ll never get me.”  I think he was particularly annoyed when I escaped his grasp and went off for a year to graduate school at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. I would send him cards through the years, from an ATO  fraternity party at the University of Nebraska, or from my hangout bar in New York City (the West End Bar, across from the Columbia Journalism building.) I would write in effect, but with elegant variations, “Elmer, having a wonderful time. Keep up the good work. Wish you were here.” When I was in town and we would spar on the street,  I would invite Elmer over to the Sportsmen’s Club for a martini, but he always refused, most testily. 

And so I joined the federal reserve and ended up with the initials FR instead of  US on my dog tags that hung around my neck for two years. I was officially FR17507818 and rose from lowly  recruit in the 60th infantry at Ft Carson, Colorado, to the lofty position of  E-5 and bureau chief of the Korea edition of Stars and Stripes bureau. But my big accomplishment was that Elmer didn’t get me. I still feel good about beating Elmer at his own game.

P.S. 3 Here’s how things work in Rock Rapids.  One year, in sending my annual Memorial Day drill in an email note to Rock Rapids alumni of my era,  I recounted the Shinny anecdote and placed the Brugmann and Sheneberger plots in the southeastern corner of the cemetery. I promptly got an email note back from Joanne Schubert Vogel (class of ’49). She wrote that she had sent my note to her brother Dale Schubert in Rock Rapids (class of ’55, who was a halfback when I was a quarterback on the celebrated Rock Rapids Lions football team. Dale called her and said that I had made an error and that the Brugmann and Sheneberger plots were in the southwestern corner of the cemetery, not in the southeast corner. Amazing. He was right and I was wrong. Joanne softened the blow by saying she was sure that this was the first error I had ever made.

(Bruce B. Brugmann, or B3 as he signs his emails and blogs, writes and edits the Bruce Blog on the Guardian website at SFBG.com   He is the editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012, now retired. He can be contacted atBruce@sfbg.com [1].)

Source URL: http://www.sfbg.com/bruce/2013/05/26/memorial-day-remembering-good-old-days-rock-rapids-iowa-circa-1940s-1950s

[1] mailto:Bruce@sfbg.com

Dick Meister: The real May Day



By Dick Meister

May Day. A day to herald the coming of Spring with song and dance, a day for
children with flowers in their hair to skip around beribboned maypoles, a
time to crown May Day queens.

But it also is a day for demonstrations heralding the causes of working
people and their unions such as are being held on Sunday that were crucial
in winning important rights for working people. The first May Day
demonstrations, in 1886,  won the  most important of the rights ever won by
working people ­ the right demanded above all others by the labor activists
of a century ago:

“Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will!”

Winning the eight-hour workday took years of hard struggle, beginning in the
mid-1800s. By 1867, the federal government, six states and several cities
had passed laws limiting their employees’ hours to eight per day. The laws
were not effectively enforced and in some cases were overturned by courts,
but they set an important precedent that finally led to a powerful popular

The movement was launched in 1886 by the Federation of Organized Trades and
Labor Unions, then one of the country’s major labor organizations. The
federation called for workers to negotiate with their employers for an
eight-hour workday and, if that failed, to strike on May 1 in support of the

Some negotiated, some marched and otherwise demonstrated.  More than 300,000
struck. And all won strong support, in dozens of cities ­ Chicago, New York,
Baltimore, Boston, Milwaukee, St. Louis, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Denver,
Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Detroit, Washington, Newark, Brooklyn, St. Paul
and others.

More than 30,000 workers had won the eight-hour day by April. On May Day,
another 350,000 workers walked off their jobs at nearly 12,000
establishments, more than 185,000 of them eventually winning their demand.
Most of the others won at least some reduction in working hours that had
ranged up to 16 a day.

Additionally, many employers cut Saturday operations to a half-day, and the
practice of working on Sundays, also relatively common, was all but
abandoned by major industries.

“Hurray for Shorter Time,” declared a headline in the New York Sun over a
story describing a torchlight procession of 25,000 workers that highlighted
the eight-hour-day activities in New York. Never before had the city
experienced so large a demonstration.

Not all newspapers were as supportive, however. The strikes and
demonstrations, one paper complained, amounted to “communism, lurid and
rampant.” The eight-hour day, another said, would encourage “loafing and
gambling, rioting, debauchery, and drunkenness.”

The greatest opposition came in response to the demonstrations led by
anarchist and socialist groups in Chicago, the heart of the eight-hour day
movement. Four demonstrators were killed and more than 200 wounded by police
who waded into their ranks, but what the demonstrators¹ opponents seized on
were the events two days later at a protest rally in Haymarket Square. A
bomb was thrown into the ranks of the police who had surrounded the square,
killing seven and wounding 59.

The bomb thrower was never discovered, but eight labor, socialist and
anarchist leaders ­ branded as violent, dangerous radicals by press and
police alike ­ were arrested on the clearly trumped up charge that they had
conspired to commit murder.  Four of them were hanged, one committed suicide
while in jail, and three were pardoned six years later by Illinois Gov. John
Peter Altgeld.

Employers responded to the so-called Haymarket Riot by mounting a
counter-offensive that seriously eroded the eight-hour day movement’s gains.
But the movement was an extremely effective organizing tool for the
country’s unions, and in 1890 President Samuel Gompers of the American
Federation of Labor was able to call for “an International Labor Day” in
favor of the eight-hour workday. Similar proclamations were made by
socialist and union leaders in other nations where, to this day, May Day is
celebrated as Labor Day.

Workers in the United States and 13 other countries demonstrated on that May
Day of 1890 ­ including 30,000 of them in Chicago. The New York World hailed
it as “Labor’s Emancipation Day.” It was. For it marked the start of an
irreversible drive that finally established the eight-hour day as the
standard for millions of working people.

Bay Guardian columnist Dick Meister, formerly labor editor of the SF
Chronicle and KQED-TV, has covered labor and politics for a half-century as
a reporter, editor, author and commentator. Contact him through his website,
dickmeister.com, which includes several hundred of his columns.

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruoe B. Brugmann, editor at large of the Guardian. He is the former editor of the Guardian and with his wife Jean Dibble the co-founder and co-publisher of the Guardian,1966-2012.)

Norman Solomon: The problem with Obama denouncing a breach of international law in Ukraine


International law is suddenly very popular in Washington. President Obama responded to Russian military intervention in the Crimea by accusing Russia of a “breach of international law.” Secretary of State John Kerry followed up by declaring that Russia is “in direct, overt violation of international law.”

Unfortunately, during the last five years, no world leader has done more to undermine international law than Barack Obama. He treats it with rhetorical adulation and behavioral contempt, helping to further normalize a might-makes-right approach to global affairs that is the antithesis of international law.

Fifty years ago, another former law professor, Senator Wayne Morse, condemned such arrogance of power. “I don’t know why we think, just because we’re mighty, that we have the right to try to substitute might for right,” Morse said on national TV in 1964. “And that’s the American policy in Southeast Asia — just as unsound when we do it as when Russia does it.”

Today, Uncle Sam continues to preen as the globe’s big sheriff on the side of international law even while functioning as the world’s biggest outlaw.

Rather than striving for an evenhanded assessment of how “international law” has become so much coin of the hypocrisy realm, mainline U.S. media are now transfixed with Kremlin villainy.

On Sunday night, the top of the New York Times home page reported: “Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has pursued his strategy with subterfuge, propaganda and brazen military threat, taking aim as much at the United States and Europe as Ukraine itself.” That was news coverage.

Following close behind, a Times editorial appeared in print Monday morning, headlined “Russia’s Aggression,” condemning “Putin’s cynical and outrageous exploitation of the Ukrainian crisis to seize control of Crimea.” The liberal newspaper’s editorial board said that the United States and the European Union “must make clear to him that he has stepped far outside the bounds of civilized behavior.”

Such demands are righteous — but lack integrity and credibility when the same standards are not applied to President Obama, whose continuation of the Bush “war on terror” under revamped rhetoric has bypassed international law as well as “civilized behavior.”

In these circumstances, major U.S. media coverage rarely extends to delving into deviational irony or spotlighting White House hypocrisy. Yet it’s not as if large media outlets have entirely excluded key information and tough criticism.

For instance, last October the McClatchy news service reported that “the Obama administration violated international law with top-secret targeted-killing operations that claimed dozens of civilian lives in Yemen and Pakistan,” according to reports released by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Last week, just before Obama leapt to high dudgeon with condemnation of Putin for his “breach of international law,” the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed piecethat provided illuminating context for such presidential righteousness.

“Despite the president’s insistence on placing limits on war, and on the defense budget, his brand of warfare has helped lay the basis for a permanent state of global warfare via ‘low footprint’ drone campaigns and special forces operations aimed at an ever-morphing enemy usually identified as some form of Al Qaeda,” wrote Karen J. Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University’s law school.

Greenberg went on to indicate the scope of the U.S. government’s ongoing contempt for international law: “According to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the Obama administration has killed 4,700 individuals in numerous countries, including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Obama has successfully embedded the process of drone killings into the executive branch in such a way that any future president will inherit it, along with the White House ‘kill list’ and its ‘terror Tuesday’ meetings. Unbounded global war is now part of what it means to be president.”

But especially in times of crisis, as with the current Ukraine situation, such inconvenient contradictions go out the mass-media window. What remains is an Orwellian baseline, melding conformist ideology and nationalism into red-white-and-blue doublethink.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugnann, editor at large of the Bay Guardian.  He is the former editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012. B3) 

I always believed that the right song at the right moment could change history.  Pete Seeger, folksinger, 1919-2014

“Monologos de la Vagina” An artistic and cultural triumph at the Brava theater in the Mission


I had just settled into my seat Friday night at the  Brava Theater in the Mission to see  the opening night  production of “Monologos de la Vagina” and the San Francisco debut of Eliana Lopez as a performer and producer.

This would be an interesting evening, I mused, because the play is being performed in Spanish and I speak only a word or two of Spanish.  The play, known in English as the “Tne Vagina Monologs,” was written by Eve Ensler. It opened in 1994 for a five year run off Broadway and has been produced internationally in many variations. It became, as the New York Times put it, “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade.” .

 Art Agnos, the ex-mayor who is leading  the battle to stop the Manhattanization of the waterfront, was attending the performance  with his wife Sherry. He tapped me on the shoulder and said quietly, Bruce, they filed a lawsuit this afternoon to block our waterfront initiative. They, he explained,  were the developers, the Building Trades and Construction Union, and the San Francisco Giants.  We chatted for a few moments about the impact of the suit and what  must be done quickly to stop  it in court.

This was, I thought, a quintessential San Francisco moment.

Here were Sherry and Art, coming to the Brava Theater, deep in the heart of the Mission at 2781 24th St., on the very day that the waterfront  gang were bringing up their big guns to knock out a people’s initiative aimed at saving the waterfront on the other end of town. The timing was exquisite and the political and community points became eminently clear as the evening wore on.

The  Warriors’ arena proposal, as Art and his allies have argued, is merely a loss leader for a monstrous condos-for-millionaires project by a Los Angeles developer  that would do serious short and long term damage to one of the most valuable pieces of property  in the world.  And it’s on public property on the waterfront  and would involve enormous public subsidies for the duration. The Giants, quiet till now, have their own highrise agenda.

 By contrast, here were Eliana, the Brava Theater, and  her merry band of monologists  working to do good, lots of good,  by producing  the first professional Spanish-speaking  production of the Monologs in San Francisco—and its message  that illuminated  women’s sensuality and the social stigma of rape and abuse.  In the process they were helping to save a lovely old Mission theater building and institution and  helping  the Mission District, which needs all the help it can get these days.

 Neighborhood theaters like Brava are an endangered species in San Francisco and its home base in  the Mission is under relentless eviction and gentrification pressure.  San Francisco is the only major urban municipality in California  that is not seeing an increase in its Latin population..

Eliana became famous in her native Venezuela as a star in television soap operas, but her real passion is live theater.  Her father is a theater director in Caracas and live theater is in her bones. She feels strongly that San Francisco needs more and better access to Spanish-speaking  theater and Brava is a wonderful venue for her to indulge her passion.  She and her husband, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, live with their son Theo, 4,  on the edge of the Mission, only three blocks from the theater. 

I found that the good  thing about seeing the Monologos without knowing  the language was that I could still get a lot out of the play and the production  The lady from Venezuela can act—and did so beautifully and with charm, gusto, and style. And she can perform in both English and Spanish, as she has done in other Monolog productions. .

 She can also produce, mounting  a professional production that could play on any stage in San Francisco or Caracas or points in between. And she is also a splendid promoter and public face of the play and the theater, appearing regularly on Spanish  programs on radio and television and in public appearances. Her six person ensemble  included  two actors  who have performed  the Monologs in Spanish in Miami and New York: Alba Roversi  and Marisol Correra. Eliana performed with Alba in Caracas.

The actors  worked together nicely, obviously enjoyed each other and  the dialog, played to each other’s strengths, and got their points across with expressive  gestures and voice inflections and humor and poignancy. They loved the play and got a big kick out of performing at the Brava Theater. The audience loved the ladies and their performance and gave them a standing ovation.  Alas, the play was only for the three day Valentine’s Day weekend.

Bravo, Eliana. Bravo.  Keep on rolling, as we say in English. B3 

A newspaper is not just for reporting the news as is, but to make people mad enough to do something about it.  Mark Twain  (The motto of Random Lengths, an alternative newspaper published by James Allen in San Pedro, Calif.)

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the Bay Guardian.  He was the editor and co-founder and  co-publisher with his wife Jean Dibble of the Guardian, 1966-2012)

Sue Hestor’s 70th birthday party: “We Shall Overcome.”


By Bruce B. Brugmann

Plus: Tim Redmond reports on Sue Hestor and her environmental legacy on his new local  website 48 Hills.org.  

How do you say happy birthday to a San Francisco icon like Sue Hestor?

Some 200 of her friends, allies, pro bono legal clients, political heavies, and fellow warriors against big developers and their pals in City Hall gathered Saturday at Delancey Street for a surprise party to celebrate Sue’s 70th birthday.

When she arrived, she was obviously surprised to find a band playing “We shall overcome” and her friends standing, clapping, cheering, and singing  in admiration for a woman who has spent more than four decades as a citizen activist and attorney fighting for one good cause after another, usually at bad odds against the big guys, often for clients without pay. It was truly a historic moment in the history of San Francisco politics. 

I first knew Sue when she popped up as a feisty volunteer in the Alvin Duskin anti-high rise campaign of the the early 1970s. The Bay Guardian was doing an investigative book, “The Ultimate HIghrise,” on the impact of highrises on the city. She pitched in on the project and was in the book’s  staff photo, jauntily wearing her trademark straw hat, standing next to the hole in the ground for the Yerba Buena Center development.

 We billed a central feature of the book as “the world’s first comprehensive study of the true cost of skyscrapers.” Our research group demonstrated that highrises cost much more in services than they bring back in revenue,  a finding that infuriated the Chamber of Commerce because they could never effectively refute it. We also laid out in detail for the first time the power structure behind pellmell Manhattanizaton, how destructive those policies are, how they shift the tax burden from dowotown to neighborhoods and small business, who profits from them, why there are more muckmakers than muckrakers. Our talented art director Louis Dunn provided brilliant graphics that drove home the damaging points about highrises.

Our conclusion was most prophetic: “The most disturbing finding can’t be quantified–but it should be shouted to the heavens.  It is this: unless the city of San Francisco reverses past practice and immediately enacts an ironclad land-use policy such as Duskin’s proposed height limit, the long scoffed at ‘Manhattanization’ of the entire city is a surefire, 100%-guaranteed inevitability.” 

I like to think this project and its results were a fitting start to Sue’s career in land use litigation and terrorizing big developers, City Hall enablers, and their ever more virulent forms of Manhattanization. 

In the early l990s, I called on Sue again, this time to be the founding chair of the spanking new Sunshine Task Force. It was a new task force formed to enforce the Sunshine Ordinance, which gave citizens the right to make complaints about government secrecy and its tradition of keeping City Hall safe for PG&E, big landlords, and developers etal. The task force would, I knew, drive the bureaucrats nuts and  it thus needed a strong attorney as chair who would be smart enough and tough enough to go up against the city attorney and the crocodiles in the back bays of City Hall.

 The neat thing was that nobody could kick Sue off the task force.  She was one of two members who were “grandfathered” in by the ordinance–an attorney (Sue)  and a media rep (B3) –who were selected by the Northern Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, not the supervisors. She performed admirably and got the task force on a firm footing as the first and still the best local open government task force in the country, if not the world. 

Through the years of development battles, it was often Sue and Calvin, Calvin and Sue.  Calvin being Calvin Welch, a crafty environmental and neighborhood strategist who worked with Sue and others in developing counters and initiatives and all kinds of hellish moves to beat or slow down and mitigate development.  He said Sue’s career could be summed up in two words: “cumulative impacts.”  The good thing was that we all knew, when the developers brought up their heavy artillery or their sneaky back alley maneuvers, Sue and Calvin would be there to blow the whistle and take on the fight. Call Sue, call Calvin was the watchword but they usually called us first at the Bay Guardian. 

Let me call now on Tim Redmond, a Guardian reporter who covered Sue and Calvin and the highrise battles from 1982 on, to explain what Calvin meant.  Tim laid out the political points in his piece, “Sue Hestor’s birthday and a lesson in SF environmental history,” on his new local  website “48 Hills.org.”  Read Tim’s first paragraphs for the fun stuff on Sue and the last paragraphs for the really important contributions she has made to the city and urban planning, as explained by Calvin.

As Tim concludes, “In 1964, Hestor, representing San Franciscans for Reasonable Growth, sued and won a stunning decision in the California Court of Appeal mandating that the city start studying the cumulative impacts of development. As Welch noted, ‘there was an obligation for developers to prioritize mitigations.’ That’s where the affordable housing program, the transit-impact fees–and the entire concept of analyzing development on the macro, not the micro level emerged.  That was the idea behind the 1986 measure Prop. M, which included no height limits at all–but did include programs and policies designed to protect neighborhoods from the effects of unlimited growth.” 

Well, the Hestor faithful may not have “overcome” the big developers and their latest monstrous Manhattanization plans.   But they have come pretty damn close. On Sunday, the day after Sue’s party, the Warriors caved on its waterfront project and Matier and Ross did a Chronicle column with the head, “Warriors call for timeout on Waterfront arena plan.” And on Monday, the waterfront warriors marched triumphantly into City Hall and, as the  Chronicle’s John Cote reported,  “turned in more than double the number of signatures needed to qualify a measure for the June 3 ballot that would require voter approval for any development on the San Francisco waterfront to exceed existing height limits.”

That could kill the massively inappropriate project.  “If passed,” the Chronicle continued, “the measure would put a check on high-rise hotels and condo towers along the bay and require voter approval for height increases for three major waterfront development plans, the Golden State Warriors’ proposal for an 18,000-seat arena complex, the San Francisco Giants’ plan for an urban neighborhood on what is their main parking lot and the development of the industrial Pier 70 area.”

Whew! That’s what I call a nifty bit of Hestoring and Calvinizing.   b3

If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own. (Wes “Scoop” Nisker on KSAN radio during the dark days of the Vietnam War.) 

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the Bay Guardian.  He is the former editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble, from 1966 to 2012.)









Solomon: Why the Washington Post’s new ties to the CIA are so ominous


American journalism has entered highly dangerous terrain.

A tip-off is that the Washington Post refuses to face up to a conflict of interest involving Jeff Bezos — who’s now the sole owner of the powerful newspaper at the same time he remains Amazon’s CEO and main stakeholder.

The Post is supposed to expose CIA secrets. But Amazon is under contract to keep them. Amazon has a new $600 million “cloud” computing deal with the CIA.

The situation is unprecedented. But in an email exchange early this month, Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron told me that the newspaper doesn’t need to routinely inform readers of the CIA-Amazon-Bezos ties when reporting on the CIA. He wrote that such in-story acknowledgment would be “far outside the norm of disclosures about potential conflicts of interest at media organizations.”

But there isn’t anything normal about the new situation. As I wrote to Baron, “few journalists could have anticipated ownership of the paper by a multibillionaire whose outside company would be so closely tied to the CIA.”<–break->

The Washington Post’s refusal to provide readers with minimal disclosure in coverage of the CIA is important on its own. But it’s also a marker for an ominous pattern — combining denial with accommodation to raw financial and governmental power — a synergy of media leverage, corporate digital muscle and secretive agencies implementing policies of mass surveillance, covert action and ongoing warfare.

Digital prowess at collecting global data and keeping secrets is crucial to the missions of Amazon and the CIA. The two institutions have only begun to explore how to work together more effectively.

For the CIA, the emerging newspaper role of Mr. Amazon is value added to any working relationship with him. The CIA’s zeal to increase its leverage over major American media outlets is longstanding.  

After creation of the CIA in 1947, it enjoyed direct collaboration with many U.S. news organizations. But the agency faced a major challenge in October 1977, when — soon after leaving the Washington Post — famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein provided an extensive expose in Rolling Stone.

Citing CIA documents, Bernstein wrote that during the previous 25 years “more than 400 American journalists … have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.” He added: “The history of the CIA’s involvement with the American press continues to be shrouded by an official policy of obfuscation and deception.”

Bernstein’s story tarnished the reputations of many journalists and media institutions, including the Washington Post and New York Times. While the CIA’s mission was widely assumed to involve “obfuscation and deception,” the mission of the nation’s finest newspapers was ostensibly the opposite.

During the last few decades, as far as we know, the extent of extreme media cohabitation with the CIA has declined sharply. At the same time, as the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq attests, many prominent U.S. journalists and media outlets have continued to regurgitate, for public consumption, what’s fed to them by the CIA and other official “national security” sources.

The recent purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos has poured some high-finance concrete for a new structural bridge between the media industry and the surveillance/warfare state. The development puts the CIA in closer institutionalized proximity to the Post, arguably the most important political media outlet in the United States.

At this point, about 30,000 people have signed a petition (launched by RootsAction.org) with a minimal request: “The Washington Post’s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of the Post is also the main owner of Amazon — and Amazon is now gaining huge profits directly from the CIA.” On behalf of the petition’s signers, I’m scheduled to deliver it to the Washington Post headquarters on January 15. The petition is an opening salvo in a long-term battle.

By its own account, Amazon — which has yielded Jeff Bezos personal wealth of around $25 billion so far — is eager to widen its services to the CIA beyond the initial $600 million deal. “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA,” a statement from Amazon said two months ago. As Bezos continues to gain even more wealth from Amazon, how likely is that goal to affect his newspaper’s coverage of the CIA?


Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org. 

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of the Bay Guardian.  Bruce is the former editor and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian with his wife Jean from 1966-2013.) 

Solomon: The CIA, Amazon, Bezo, and the Washington Post: An exchange with Executive Editor Martin Baron



By Norman Solomon 

(B3 note: This exchange between Norman Solomon and the Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron followed a Solomon column that dramatized the ethical issues involving the Post and its new owner Jeff Bezos, founder and CE0 of  Amazon. Solomon noted that Amazon has landed a $600 million contract with the Central Intelligence Agency.  He wrote that “news media should illuminate conflicts of interest, not embody them” and that Bezo is now doing “big business” with the CIA “while readers of the newspaper’s  CIA coverage are left in the dark.”) 

To: Martin Baron, Executive Editor, and Kevin Merida, Managing Editor, The Washington Post
Dear Mr. Baron and Mr. Merida:

On behalf of more than 25,000 signers of a petition to The Washington Post, I’m writing this letter to request a brief meeting to present the petition at a time that would be convenient for you on Jan. 14 or 15.

Here is the text of the petition, launched by RootsAction.org:

“A basic principle of journalism is to acknowledge when the owner of a media outlet has a major financial relationship with the subject of coverage. We strongly urge the Washington Post to be fully candid with its readers about the fact that the newspaper’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, is the founder and CEO of Amazon which recently landed a $600 million contract with the CIA. The Washington Post’s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of the Post is also the main owner of Amazon — and Amazon is now gaining huge profits directly from the CIA.”

The petition includes cogent comments by many of the people who signed it.

I hope that you can set aside perhaps 10 minutes on Jan. 14or 15 for the purpose of receiving the petition and hearing a summary of its signers’ concerns.

For confirmation of an appointment, I can be reached on my cell phone…

Thank you.

Norman Solomon
Director and Cofounder, RootsAction.org
[January 2, 2014]


Dear Mr. Solomon:
Thank you for your note. I was able to read the petition on the RootsAction.org site and to see the list of those who signed it. I certainly would be happy to review any additional information you might send.
The Post has among the strictest ethics policies in the field of journalism, and we vigorously enforce it. We have routinely disclosed corporate conflicts when they were directly relevant to our coverage. We reported on Amazon’s pursuit of CIA contracts in our coverage of plans by Jeff Bezos to purchase The Washington Post.
We also have been very aggressive in our coverage of the intelligence community, including the CIA, NSA, and other agencies, as you should know. The Post was at the leading edge of disclosures about the NSA in 2013. Most recently, it reported on the CIA’s hidden involvement in Colombia’s fight against FARC rebels, including a fatal missile attack across the border in Ecuador. You can be sure neither the NSA nor the CIA has been pleased with publication of their secrets.
Neither Amazon nor Jeff Bezos was involved, nor ever will be involved, in our coverage of the intelligence community.
The petition’s request for disclosure of Amazon’s CIA contract in every story we write about the CIA is well outside the norm of conflict-of-interest disclosures at media companies. The Post is a personal investment by Jeff Bezos, whose stake in Amazon is large but well less than a majority. The CIA’s multi-year contract with Amazon is a small fraction of company revenues that have been estimated at roughly $75 billion in 2013. Amazon maintains no corporate connection to The Post.
Even so, we have been careful to disclose Jeff Bezos’ connection to The Post and Amazon when directly relevant to our coverage, and we will continue to do so. For example, such disclosures would be called for in coverage circumstances such as the following:  CIA contracting practices, the CIA’s use of cloud services,  big-data initiatives at the CIA, Amazon’s pursuit of cloud services as a line of business, and Amazon corporate matters in general.
We take ethics very seriously here at The Post. One of our policies is that we seek comment from the subjects of our stories prior to publishing them and that we make a genuine effort to hear and absorb their point of view. By contrast, I am unaware of any effort to hear us out prior to the launch of this petition drive. A personal meeting now does not seem necessary or useful.
I hope this note explains our perspective. And again, if you wish to send additional information that you feel might be helpful to us, we will review it closely.
Martin Baron
Executive Editor
The Washington Post
[January 2, 2014]


Dear Mr. Baron:

Thank you for your letter.

Whatever the Post’s guidelines and record on ethical standards, few journalists could have anticipated ownership of the paper by a multibillionaire whose outside company would be so closely tied to the CIA. Updating of the standards is now appropriate.

You write that The Washington Post has “routinely disclosed corporate conflicts when they were directly relevant to our coverage.” But the RootsAction.org petition is urging the Post to provide readers of its CIA coverage with full disclosure that would adequately address — and meaningfully inform readers about — relevant circumstances of the current ownership.

Those circumstances are not adequately met by a narrow definition of “corporate conflicts.” A reality is that the Post is now solely owned by someone who is by far the largest stakeholder in a world-spanning corporate giant that has close business ties — and is seeking more extensive deals than its current $600 million contract — with the CIA, an agency which the newspaper reports on regularly.

The petition requests that The Washington Post adopt a full disclosure policy that is commensurate with this situation. The gist of the request is recognition that, as the saying goes, sunshine is the best disinfectant for any potential conflict of interest.

When you write that the Post has a policy of routinely disclosing corporate conflicts when “directly relevant to our coverage,” a key question comes to the fore:  What is “directly relevant”? Given that few agencies are more secretive than the CIA — and even the most enterprising reporters are challenged to pry loose even a small fraction of its secrets — how do we know which CIA stories are “directly relevant” to the fact that Amazon is providing cloud computing services to the CIA?

Amazon’s contract with the CIA is based on an assessment that Amazon Web Services can provide the agency with digital-data computing security that is second to none. We can assume that a vast amount of information about CIA activities is to be safeguarded by Amazon. With what assurance can we say which stories on CIA activities are not “directly relevant” to Jeff Bezos’s dual role as sole owner of the Post and largest stakeholder in Amazon?

We actually don’t know what sort of data is involved in what your letter calls “the CIA’s use of cloud services.” The disclosure/non-disclosure policy that you’ve outlined seems to presume that, for instance, there would be no direct relevance of the cloud services contract to coverage of such matters as CIA involvement in rendition of prisoners to regimes for torture; or in targeting for drone strikes; or in data aggregation for counterinsurgency. Are you assuming that the Post’s coverage of such topics is not “directly relevant” to the Bezos/Amazon ties with the CIA and therefore should not include disclosure of the financial ties that bind the Post’s owner to the CIA?

Readers of a Post story on the CIA — whether about drones or a still-secret torture report, to name just two topics — should be informed of the Post/Bezos/Amazon/CIA financial ties. In the absence of such in-story disclosure, there is every reason to believe that many readers will be unaware that the Post’s owner is someone with a major financial stake in an Amazon-CIA deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

If Amazon’s $600 million multiyear cloud contract with the CIA is a small fraction of the company’s revenue, there is clear intent for it to grow larger. And $600 million is, by itself, hardly insignificant; let’s remember that Mr. Bezos bought the Post for less than half that amount.

“We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA,” a statement from Amazon said two months ago. In public statements, Mr. Bezos and Amazon have made clear that they view this as a growing part of Amazon’s business: a feather in the corporate cap of the company in its drive to increase market share of such business operations. This is intended as a major and expansive income source for Amazon and for its CEO, Mr. Bezos, whose personal wealth of $25 billion is a consequence of Amazon’s financial gains.

Why not provide a sentence in the Post’s substantive coverage of CIA activities, to the effect that “The Post’s owner Jeff Bezos is the largest stakeholder in Amazon, which has a $600 million contract with the CIA”?

By declining to provide such disclosure, the Post is failing the transparency test when coverage of the CIA falls outside of the circumscribed areas where your letter says Post policy now provides for disclosure (“CIA contracting practices, the CIA’s use of cloud services, big-data initiatives at the CIA, Amazon’s pursuit of cloud services as a line of business, and Amazon corporate matters in general”).

Such concerns are among the reasons why tens of thousands of people, including many Post readers, have signed the petition to The Washington Post that I will be delivering onJanuary 15. While it’s unfortunate that you don’t want to have a meeting for a few minutes on that day, I hope that you will mull over the concerns that are propelling this petition forward.

Norman Solomon

[January 4, 2014]


Dear Mr. Solomon:
Thank you for expanding upon your views.
Just to reiterate, The Post has among the strictest ethics policies in the field of journalism. Those policies are sufficiently expansive, comprehensive, and current to take into account The Post’s acquisition by Jeff Bezos. The policies are strictly enforced. However, as I explained in detail in my previous note, your proposal is far outside the norm of disclosures about potential conflicts of interest at media organizations.
Meantime, as plain evidence of our independence, we will continue our aggressive coverage of the intelligence community, including the CIA. I hope you’ve noticed it. The CIA has, and it’s not happy.
Martin Baron
Executive Editor
The Washington Post
[January 4, 2014]


Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

Holiday greetings and an early start to the New Year!


Special graphic for the Bruce blog by Louis Dunn, former Bay Guardian art director, graphic artist, and cartoonist. Selections from his work can be seen at LouisDunn.com

Joe Bulgo: The neglected hero of Pearl Harbor


By Bruce B. Brugmann

(B3 note: reprinted from last year and to be reprinted every year by me for reasons that will become apparent upon reading this story.)

This is the incredible story of the neglected hero of Pearl Harbor.

His name is Joe Bulgo and he lived across the street from our family for years on 14th Avenue in the West Portal area. I knew him as a neighbor, and our daughter and son played with his two daughters. His wife Val for decades has sold and still sells fine jewelry in a downtown department store. Daughter Linda played the star Snow White for years in Beach Blanket Babylon and now has her own show in Las Vegas. Daughter Dianne is the catering director at the St. Francis Hotel.  And our families shared a wonderful domestic helper, Rose Zelalich.

But neither our family nor any of his neighbors had any idea of his Pearl Harbor heroism until his daughter Linda gave me a copy of a story on Joe in the December issue of the 1990 Readers Digest.

The story, “No Medals for Joe,” started when the reporter on the story, Mayo Simon, was asked to do a television script about the sinking of the battleship Oklahoma on December 7, 1941.  Simon tracked down the phone number of a sailor who was believed to be an eyewitness to the Oklahoma disaster. When Simon called,  Joe said in his Hawaiian accent, “Nobody knows this story.  Not my wife, not my children. Come on up, I tell you everything. I remember everything.”

So Simon came to Joe’s house, sat on the living room couch, and got Joe’s first and only interview on the Oklahoma disaster. Joe laid out the story of how he, a 21-year-old shipyard worker,  and his “chipping” gang of 20 worked for four days and nights to save 32 sailors who had been locked in their compartments amidst the pandemonium, floating bodies,  trapped air, and rising water.

“Joe worked tirelessly, opening bulkhead after bulkhead, only to find himself in a maze of compartments filled with debris,” Simon wrote. “Sometimes he came upon smashed bodies of sailors in passageways, but he had to keep going. Whenever Joe paused, he could hear desperate tapping reverberating through the ship. Save me, save me, the terrified sailors were saying. Give me life…That sound would live in Joe’s marrow forever.

“Night fell, and the clatter of the chipping guns continued. Fully expecting another Japanese attack, the workers could not use lights on the hull.  Instead, they relied on the grisly illumination from the burning Arizona. Toward midnight, when Joe cut into the hull, water bubbled out. He tasted it: sweet.  He hit a fresh water tank…They drilled open its bottom and a shout went up: inside was a dry, white shaft. A way in!”

He kept on going and “suddenly the ship began to sway and groan. Joe’s stomach tightened in terror. If it starts to settle, I’m gone. Fighting the urge to turn back, he tried to catch his breath in the choking stench of oil and sewage. Then he heard the tapping. Faint. Steady. Joe tapped back with his chisel on the sweating metal bulkhead. Come on, he thought. Tell me where you are. Finally, answering taps.

“Joe’s chipping gun dug into the steel, the trapped air came out with a whoosh, water was rising to Joe’s waist, but he refused to be distracted. “Keep on going, he told himself. Get them out!” Finally he was able to pry open the steel and “immediately the sailors came out in a huge rush of water—kids smeared with oil, hardly able to move or breathe after being trapped for more than 20 hours. None had the strength to get up to the hatch. So Joe said, ‘Here, up on my back!’

“One by one they climbed on his broad back, and he lifted them to the hatch, where other workers pulled them to safety.  By the time the last sailor got out, the water was up to Joe’s neck.” Joe scrambled up the hose line and the hatch was sealed behind him. “Joe blinked in the sunlight, filling his lungs with fresh air. The sailors, wrapped in their blankets, were already in the launch that was taking them to the hospital ship. Joe shouted and waved, but they were too far away to hear. He watched them disappear across the gray harbor.” They were gone and he didn’t know who they were and knew he would probably never see them again.”

More than 400 men died in the Oklahoma, but Joe Bulgo and his chipping crew saved 32 men. And Joe, miraculously, carried l0 of them to safety on his back as the water kept rising dangerously.

Simon reported that later that year the Navy gave citations to Joe and his crew “for heroic work with utter disregard of personal safety.” After the war, Joe married, joined the merchant marine and came to San Francisco during the Vietnam War to work on a chipping gang at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard.

His most valuable possession, his citation, was lost when his suitcase was stolen in a bus station. He wrote letters to Washington and finally got a copy of the citation with a note that he might someday get a medal. But Joe never got a medal and “it seemed the rescue was a forgotten episode about a forgotten ship.”

Simon said kept thinking to himself. “This man deserves a medal. Well, if nothing else, the film will give him and his fellow shipyard workers the recognition they merit.” But the film was never made and he put away his interview notes and script.

A year later, Simon  was asked to speak at the next convention in San Jose of the U.S.S. Oklahoma Association, an organization of all who had ever served on the ship. He almost declined but then remembered that Joe had  lamented the fact that he had never seen any of the men he had saved. “It was all in the dark and so quick.  I wish I could have talked with them once.”

On May 16,1987, Val and Linda Bulgo and Linda’s husband Matt wheeled Joe into the big convention room. Joe was in a wheelchair, his once powerful body shrunken, his eyes filled with the pain of bone cancer. The Bulgo family was seated in front at the head table. Simon told Joe’s story and how Joe had finally cut through the bulkhead and released the trapped sailors and told them in his island accent, “Here, on my back” and then lifted each one to safety.

“I know three of those men are here tonight,” Simon said. “And I also know you never got a chance to thank him. So if there’s something you would like to say to that Hawaiian kid who risked his life to save yours 46 years ago—well, he’s right over there.”

Simon wrote that it was “impossible to describe the emotions that swept the hall as I  pointed to Joe, and 200 people rose to their feet and cheered. He covered his face with his napkin. He didn’t want them to see him crying. Three elderly veterans embraced the man who could no longer stand, even to acknowledge the applause, but on whose broad, strong back they had once been carried.”

Joe Bulgo died two months later. The San Francisco Examiner called Simon and he gave them the story that the hometown daily paper had missed all those years. The obituary started:  “Joseph Bulgo, Jr., a neglected hero of Pearl Harbor…”

Simon supplied Joe’s epitaph in the conclusion to his own story: “Well, yes, there hadn’t been any medals for Joe. But, I thought to myself, in the end we made things right. We said thank you, at last, to an American hero.”

Linda Bulgo told me, as her dad lay dying in the hospital, that she asked him how why he risked his life to rescue the sailors. “I just knew I had to do it,” he told her. She has never forgotten those eight words.

For my tribute to my old neighbor,  I will do the story of Joe Bulgo, the neglected hero of Pearl Harbor, on every  Pearl Harbor anniversary.  Click here for the full Readers Digest story.


Dick Meister: The jobless need help. Now!!


By Dick Meister

Guardian columnist Dick Meister, former labor editor of the San Francisco
Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than
a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes several hundred of his

It’s time for Congress to help the many jobless Americans ­an estimated
450,000 in the next three months alone ­ who are about to be denied
federally- funded Unemployment Insurance benefits.

What Congress must do ­ and must do quickly ­ is once again expand the
emergency program that was established during the Great Recession in 2008 to
provide benefits averaging $300 a week to the steadily growing number of
jobless.  Congress has until only January 1 to block the first cutbacks of
extra benefit weeks that could continue until at least 2015 unless Congress

President Obama and congressional Democrats are pushing measures that would
lengthen the benefit payout period through 2014 at a cost of about $25
billion on top of the $225 billion spent so far on the program. But given
the congressional haggling over economic measures, the chance of agreement
before Congress adjourns December 31 is slight.

Meanwhile , the number of Americans unable to find  jobs they need for
survival remains in the millions. Already, there are four million who have
been seeking jobs for more than six months and many others who have stopped

 Particularly hard hit are aging as well as younger workers, and women and
minorities. Their number ­ and need for unemployment benefits ­ is certain
to grow, most likely at a rapid pace.

All this is happening, of course, at the same time that banks, corporate
interests and other wealthy Republican friends continue raking in huge
profits. Money gained from relaxing the tax breaks given such political
friends, for instance, could very well go into funding further Unemployment
Insurance payments and other steps to help U.S. workers.

Ironically, cutting the federal benefit program could actually lead to more
unemployment. That’s because workers denied benefits naturally have less to
spend and that could in turn cause those who rely on the laid-off workers’
business to cut back operations.

 The need for extending the federal benefit program should be obvious to
anyone outside the powerful circle of GOP & friends. Listen to what Gene
Sperling, Obama’s chief economic adviser, told the New York Times’ Annie

“There has not been a time where the unemployment rate has been this high
where you have not extended it. Why would you not expand now, when you’re
dealing with the nearly unprecedented levels of long-tern unemployment
coming off such a historic recession? “

Why not, indeed?

Guardian columnist Dick Meister, former labor editor of the San Francisco
Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than
a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes several hundred of his

Copyright 2013 Dick Meister

Where I was on the day President Kennedy was shot


By Bruce B. Brugmann

On Nov. 22, 1963, I was a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal, a famous MIlwaukee daily newspaper always rated among the top ten U.S. newspapers.

I was packing with my wife Jean and two kids, Katrina and Dan, to go to San Francisco with the idea of starting a newspaper, which three years later became the San Francico Bay Guardian.  But I was still on duty in the Journal newsroom on the  Friday morning of the assassination. 

Early in the morning I got a call from the publicist of the Moscow Circus, which was finishing up its highly successful run in town. I had covered the circus as part of my show business beat and had rated it highly as the splendid show it was. The publicist, a good guy and competent at his job, wanted me and the Journal’s music critic, Walter Monfried, to go with him to lunch at a nearby German restaurant called Mader’s.

“I will buy the lunch,” he said, ‘”and you won’t have to write a thing.  You will be doing me a big favor.  I have lots of money left over on my expense account and I need to get it spent.  I want to spend it on the two of you.” And he repeated the point  for emphasis, “You will be doing me a big favor.”

And so Walter and I, after our noon deadlines on the afternoon paper, headed out for Mader’s,  planning for a big meal and lots of drinks.

We had a couple of drinks and ordered some German specialties of the house and settled in for a long lunch. Word of Kennedy’s death came to Milwaukee at 12:49 p.m. on Nov. 22, but Walter and I got the news by special messenger. Suddenly, Gus Mader, the proprietor, broke the lunch decorum by running around the room carrying a little sign.  “Kennedy’s been shot, Kennedy’s been shot,” he said in an excited voice.”Kennedy’s been shot.” Ane he kept running around the restaurant with the message.

I looked at Walter and said, “Walter, you know Gus. Can he be believed?”   Walter replied, “Yes, he can.  Kennedy’s been shot.”

We quickly finished our meals and did what newspeople do in the news business when disaster and a big story breaks.  We immediately went  back to the Journal newsroom.

It was pandemonium but functional pandemonium. The staff had only minutes to make the final deadline on the afternoon edition. Someone called downstairs to the press room,  nobody knows who, to yell “stop the presses” All the wires were pumping out copy relentessly,  AP, UPI, sports, regional wires, all of them. Our ace reporters had already been dispatched to the scenes, Bob Wells to Dallas and Harry Pease to Washington. Editors were conferring with reporters. Reporters were on the phones or typing furiously on their typewriters. Ruth Wilson was handling the mountains of material streaming in from the wires. The city desk was organzing local coverage and reaction followups and coverage from our Washington bureau. Things were tense and the air crackled but I was amazed at how efficiently and professionally the paper moved along.

The assassination was of particular moment for the Journal and its talented staff. They liked Kennedy and his politics and had a special personal and political affection for him. J. Donald Ferguson, the Journal editor sitting on the Pulitzer Prize board  in 1957, was responsible for the choice of Kenendy’s book, “Profiles in Courage,” to be given a Pulitzer for the best biography.  “The book had not been considered by the other judges until Ferguson won them over, telling the board he had read it aloud to a 12-year-old relative, “‘and the boy was absolutely fascinated,'” according to a Journal history.

Kennedy had visited the Journal newsroom during the crucial 1960 Wisconsin primary and was friendly with many of its reporters and editors and his administration hired some Journal staffers, including Ed Bayley, former star political reporter  and later founding Dean of the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism  The  Journal warmly endorsed him during the primary and general elections. Kennedy was a welcome change after the Journal’s famous battles during the 1950s with its native son Joe McCarthy and the national scourge of  McCarthyism.

The story made the final edition and then there were other extras, with huge “EXTRA ! EXTRA !” at the top of the front page. When the first of l00,000 copies of an extra rolled off the presses with more details, the Journal lobby was jammed with people waiting to buy papers.

The  Journal rose to the occasion magnificently, put out a special edition on deadline, and produced some of the nation’s best coverage of the assassination and funeral of any paper in the country.  We were all sad about Kennedy but very proud of our newspaper. . b3



























Calvin Trillin: JP Morgan cops a $13 billion plea


They touted securities they knew were trash.

The government’s case plainly shows

They’re willing to profit from bucket-shop scams,

Although they wear much nicer clothes.

Calvin Trillin: Deadline Poet: The Nation

Solomon: We met Edward Snowden in Moscow: Please defend his right to travel


(B3 note: Norman Solomon sent out the following message from Roots.org. The message was signed by four Americans who recently  visited Snowden in Moscow: Thomas Drake, Ray McGovern, Jesselyn Raddack, and Coleen Rowley.)

Most Americans probably take the right to travel for granted until this right is lost or curtailed. Passports are, of course, required for most international travel. When our group (Jesselyn Radack, Thomas Drake, Ray McGovern and Coleen Rowley) recently traveled to Moscow to meet with Edward Snowden and present him with the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence, we depended upon our fundamental right to travel.

The intelligence whistleblower whose integrity we honored, however, has been deprived of that right. Vindictive U.S. officials revoked the passport of Snowden, whose disclosures have informed and educated the people of the United States and the world about secret surveillance and massive data-gathering that the NSA and other government agencies are engaged in within the U.S. and around the world.

If you’ve already signed the RootsAction petition urging that Snowden’s passport be restored, please forward this email to people you know and urge them to do the same. If you haven’t yet signed the petition, you can add your name by clicking here.

Proposals for serious reforms that will enhance security as well as preserve constitutional rights are now being studied and debated in Congress as a result of the disclosures. Snowden made it clear in our conversation with him that achieving debate and reform of the unethical, illegal and counter-productive massive data collection was his sole motivation and remains his focus. He hopes to play a continuing role in that debate, even if it’s at long-distance from Russia where he was granted temporary asylum.

The least we can do in recognition of Snowden’s personal sacrifices on behalf of all of our civil liberties and human rights is to sign and share this petition urging Secretary of State John Kerry to restore the NSA whistleblower’s passport.

To send an email now to Secretary of State Kerry, click here.

Please forward this link to like-minded friends:

Thank you!

Best wishes,
Thomas Drake
Ray McGovern
Jesselyn Radack
Coleen Rowley

Ray McGovern: Snowden Accepts Whistleblower Award


Meister: OK, Nike, pay up!




By Dick Meister

Guardian columnist Dick Meister is a longtime Bay Area journalist. He can be
reached at www.dickmeister.com, which includes several hundred of his

OK Nike, pay up! You owe me big. Exactly how much, I can’t say, since I
don’t know the going rate for athletes and others who act as human
billboards for you. You know, those whose team uniforms, workout gear and
other garments display your swoosh brand symbol prominently.

I assume the swoosh-marked college athletes are not paid openly, lest they
lose their amateur status, although their colleges, while profiting from the
athletes’ play and display of the swoosh and other brand symbols, of course
face no penalties for doing so.

My days as an athlete are long gone and, sad to say, there were no swoosh
contracts back in those days. But now, I think, it’s time for me to collect
a little.  You see, I was recently quite ill, and on leaving the hospital
was under strict orders to go easy and, among other things, to wear light,
loose fitting clothing.  No tight jeans and such.

But sweatpants, they’d be perfect. So I popped into by favorite clothing
establishment and grabbed a pair of sweatpants off the rack without
bothering to check anything but the size. Didn’t even try them on.

Oh, but when I got the pants home. The shock! the shock! There it was on the
side of the left leg, the dreaded swoosh for all the world to see on my
daily doctor-prescribed walks and other sweatpants-clad forays into the
community. I had become a walking billboard for Nike.

So where’s my endorsement money, Nike? My pay. I’m working for you, after
all. Do I have to bring in a union to get me what I ‘m owed? I’m not asking
for much, just whatever you’re paying other human billboards. I’m not
exactly a celebrity, but I am known rather well . . . and highly regarded, I
like to believe, in some parts of my community. Seeing me wearing the swoosh
might influence some of my neighbors to rush out and buy their own Nike
gear. Naturally.

But realistically, I must tell you it’s not likely I’ll get paid for my
valuable work on behalf of Nike. Big time athletes are paid, and paid well
for wearing and endorsing the swoosh. But not us plain folks who wear the
Nike brand.  We need a union to demand decent pay . . . to demand decent

That’s it, a union to demand decent treatment for all who wear the Nike
brand . . . plus the money they should be owed by Nike for doing so. There
are, of course, unions of professional athletes. But their concern, as I
guess it should be, is for their members. We need to form a union of our own
to also get the big bucks for wearing the swoosh.

And while we’re at it, we could use the leverage of our union to effectively
demand much better treatment for the workers in Nike sweatshops in poor
countries who produce most of the swoosh brand stuff.  Nor should we forget
the celebrity athletes whose huge pay for endorsement of Nike products
drives up the price we ordinary folks have to pay for sweatpants and other
gear that the celebrities endorse only because they are paid to endorse

It’s highly doubtful that any of our spoiled, hugely paid athletes would
readily agree to share their endorsement money with lesser-paid citizens.
But with a union, who knows? Professional athletes have their own powerful
unions, so why don’t their unions take up the cause of unpaid Nike

That’s one of the basic principles of unionism, unions seeing that their
members get a fair share and helping members of other unions get their fair
share. You know, solidarity and all that.

So, swoosh wearers, unite! Unionize! We have nothing to lose but our

Guardian columnist Dick Meister is a longtime Bay Area journalist. He can be
reached at www.dickmeister.com, which includes several hundred of his

Halloween 1951 and the good old days in Rock Rapids, Iowa


The tale of what really happened on Halloween Eve in 1951 in Rock Rapids, Iowa.  (Updated by popular demand.)

By Bruce B. Brugmann

Back where I come from,  Halloween was one of the most culturally advanced holidays of our era.  We had some fast times and created some enduring smalltown legends on Halloween. This was in my hometown of Rock Rapids, a small farming community nestled along the Rock River in northwest Iowa just five miles south of  the Minnesota state line.  I can speak for a generation or two back in the early 1950s when Halloween was the one night of the year when we could raise a little hell and and hope to stay one step ahead of the cops.

Or, in the case of Rock Rapids, the one and only cop, who happened to be Elmer “Shinny” Sheneberger. Shinny had the unenviable job of trying to keep some semblance of law and order during an evening when the Hermie Casjens gang was on the loose and genial mayhem was on the agenda.  Somehow through the years, nobody remembered exactly when, the tradition was born that the little kids would go house to house trick and treating but the older boys could roam the town looking to make trouble and pull off some pranks.

It was all quite civilized.

The Casjens gang would gather (no girls allowed) and set out about our evening’s business, being careful to stay away from the houses of watchful parents and Shinny on patrol. Dave Dietz and I specialized in finding cars with keys in the ignition and driving them to the other end of town and just leaving them. We tipped over an outhouse or two, the small town cliche, but one time we thought there was someone inside. We never hung around to find out. There was some mischief with fences and shrubs and lawn sprinklers and potted plants on porches.

After an evening of such lusty adventures, we would go home about 11 p.m. and tell our parents what we had been up to and how we evaded Shinny the whole evening and they would (generally) be relieved. Shinny would just drive around in his patrol car and shine his lights here and there when he saw trouble brewing  and do some honking. But somehow he never caught anybody, made no arrests nor did any  followup investigations.  And the targets of our pranks never seemed to make police complaints. I once asked Paul Smith, the editor of the celebrated Lyon County Reporter, why he never wrote up this bit of zesty small town lore. “Bruce,” he said, “I don’t want things to get out of hand.” During my era, they never did. As a Rock Rapids reporter on special assignment, I feel an obligation to retell this story on Halloween and bring some Rock Rapids values to San Francisco.

Nonetheless, the city elders decided to keep Halloween devastation to a minimum and scheduled a dance in the Community Building, with the misbegotten idea the pranksters would give up their errant ways and come to the dance. The Casjens Gang would have none of this. In fact it was the year of the dance diversion that we made our most culturally significant contribution to Halloween lore in Rock Rapids. We happened upon a boxcar, loaded with coal, parked on a siding a block or so from Main Street, which also served as a busy main arterial highway for cars coming across northwest Iowa.

It is not clear to this day who came up with the idea of rolling the boxcar across Main Street and blocking all traffic coming from both directions. We massed behind the car and pushed and pushed but it wouldn’t budge. Then Bob Babl came up with a brilliant idea:  to use a special lever his dad used to move boxcars full of lumber from the  nearby Babl  lumberyard. Bob slipped through a fence behind the yard and somehow managed to find the lever in the dark. He soon came forth, triumphantly holding the lever.

We massed again, now some 20 or so strong, behind the railroad  car and waited for the signal to push. Willie Ver Meer climbed to the top of the car and wrenched the wheel that loosened the brakes. We heaved in unison and the car moved slowly on the tracks until it reached the middle of Main Street. Willie gave a mighty heave and ground the car to a dead stop, bang, squarely in the middle of the street. Almost immediately, the cars started lining up on both sides of the car, honking away. Grace under pressure. An historic event. Man, were we proud.

We slipped away and from a safe distance watched the fruits of our labor unfold. Shinny, the ever resourceful police chief, soon came upon the scene. He strode into the dance in the nearby Community Building and commandeered the dancers to come out and help him move the car back onto its siding. We bided our time, waited till the dancers started dancing again and then went back and pushed the car once again into the middle of the street. Jerry Prahl added a nice touch by rolling out a batch of Firestone tires onto the street from his Dad’s nearby store. Suddenly, Main Street was a boxcar- blocked, tire-ridden mess. Again, the cars started lining up, honking away. Then we fled, figuring we were now wanted pranksters and needed to be on the lam for the duration.

The Casjens gang and groupies have retold the story through the years at our regular get togethers at the Sportsmen’s Club bar at Heritage Days in Rock Rapids and at our all-Rock Rapids Cocktail Party and Beer Kegger held for years in a Long Beach park and then in the back lawn of the Mary Rose Babl Hindt house in Cupertino. We would jokingly say that the statute of limitations never runs out in Rock Rapids and so we needed to be careful what we said and ought not to disclose fully the involvement of Dave Dietz, Hermie Casjens, Ted Fisch, Ken Roach, Jerry Prahl, Bob Babl, Romain Hahn, Willie Ver Meer, and lots of others, some who were there working in peril, others who declared they were there safely after the fact.

A few years ago, just before Halloween, I was invited back to Rock Rapids to speak to a fund-raising event for the local high school. It was a a crisp clear night just like the night of Halloween in l95l and a perfect setting to tell the story publicly in town for the first time. The event was at the new community building, on Main Street, just a block or so from the old Community Building, and a block or so from the siding where we found the boxcar. I told the audience that Shinny had assured me the statute of limitations had run out in Rock Rapids and that I could now,  five decades later, tell the boxcar- across -Main -Street caper with no fear of prosecution. And so I did, with relish.

Chuck Telford was in the audience and I recalled that he had driven up to us that night, as part of a civilian patrol, and inquired as to what we were doing. When he could see what we were doing, he just quietly drove off. “Very civilized behavior,” I told the audience.  Afterward, I told Chuck I would back him for mayor, on the basis of that enlightened response alone. Craig Vinson, then the Iowa  highway patrolman for the area, came up to me and said he remembered the incident vividly because he was on duty that night and came upon the boxcar blocking the highway with long lines of honking cars. “I got ahold of Shinny that night and told him it was his job to move the boxcar and get it off the highway,” he said. Others in attendance said they had gotten a whiff of the story but were never able to pin it down and were glad to get the real story.  The high school principal and superintendent didn’t say much and, I suspect, were worried my tale might lead to the Rock Rapids version of the movie “Ferris Buhler Takes A Day Off.”

For years, I said in my talk, I didn’t think that Shinny ever knew exactly what happened or who was involved in the caper or how we pulled it off, twice, almost before his very eyes. Shinny retired in Rock Rapids and I saw him twice a year when I came back to visit my parents. But I never said anything and he never said anything but I finally found the right moment and cautiously filled him in. He chuckled and said, “Let’s drink to it.”  And we did,  for years.

At the 55th reunion of the famous Dream Class of l953, I invited Shinny to sit in with us. He was still going strong at 89. He assured us once again that the statute of limitations had run out and we could speak openly about the Halloween caper in his presence and in front of witnesses. So Dave Dietz and I retold the story with expansiveness and gusto. Shinny supplied some key missing details. For example, he said that he didn’t get his troops out of the dance but out of the nearby movie theater with the threat that he would arrest them if they didn’t help him move the boxcar. However, Dave and I didn’t pin down some key details, such as how Shinny got someone nimble and brave enough to undo the work of Willie Ver Meer, climb to the top of the boxcar, twice, and wrench loose the brake. The boxcar would not budge until that brake was undone. That would have required some  expertise with boxcars, plus some physical skills, and would have been quite a feat to do at night with a gallery of a crowd and honking cars.  And then there was the issue of the second boxcar blocking and how he could rally his troops twice in one might. Thus, there are some tantalizing questions that may never get answered.

So there we were, five decades later, working to make the fast times even faster on Halloween in Rock Rapids. Did Shinny  ever arrest anybody on Halloween? “No,” he said. “I would just shine my car lights and honk my horn and everybody would run.” Any hard feelings? Shinny chuckled. “Naw,” he replied. “Let’s drink to Halloween in the good old days.”

And so we did. Shinny often called me at my office in San Francisco and he always told  the receptionist, “Tell Bruce, it’s Shinny. I’m his parole officer in Rock Rapids.”  I”m glad that we were able to confess properly to the top cop of Rock Rapids in l951 and to hear Shinny’s side of the story. 

Alas, Shinny had died by the time of our 60th class reunion last summer. But in the curious way that news gets around Rock Rapids, Delores Ockenga Berg  reported at the reunion that there was some major news about Shinny. She said the source for the news was a relative of hers who was the camp director at Camp Foster, a YMCA camp on East Lake Okiboji where Dave Dietz, Alan Lyng, and I from our class and many other boys from Rock Rapids and northwest Iowa towns spent many happy summers. Among other things, we learned to swim, because our town had no swimming pool, and we learned to row boats and paddle canoes, because we had no lake and only a shallow river. 

Shinny, Delores said, had willed his farm to Camp Foster. The camp had sold the farm and used the money to build a large lodge in his honor. Delores said the lodge was named Sheneberger Hall and that it  was a splendid addition to the camp. Shinny didn’t say much before he died about his plans for this unusual bequest. Most people didn’t even know he owned a farm. But he confided in me in his later years and explained  that he wanted to do something special for Camp Foster. The reason, he said, was because the boys who went to Foster had all turned out so well and he wanted to do his bit to see that this trend continued.  

And so we toasted Shinny as a philanthropist for young boys and an enlightened small town police officer whose career was symbolized by the way he handled things on Halloweens in Rock Rapids: he turned on his patrol lights and honked his horn but never made any arrests.

Those were the days, my friends. The days of fast times and enduring legends of Halloweens in Rock Rapids, Iowa. Let’s hope they never end.  B3

P.S.: Ted Fisch, a key conspirator, and I talk regularly about Rock Rapids. He was the center and I was the left-handed quarterback on our almost  famous 195l football  team. He became a colonel in the Air Force and loved to say that he was the only field grade officer he knew of who was a solid Democrat. He lives in Redondo Beach and we talk often on the phone and discuss such things as why there are so few Democrats in Rock Rapids. and why our congressional district must live with Rep Steve King, a tea party politician before there was a tea party. In one conversation, he said, “Bruce, a friend of mine googled my name the other day and found that I was mentioned in your Halloween story. How could that be? Does that mean I am up there forever? Does that mean the boxcar story will be up there forever?” Somehow, the news made me feel good.

STOP THE DIGITAL PRESSES:  Then I realized as I was finishing  this blog that Ted has a good and timely point. So I just now googled Dave Dietz and Hermie Casjens and Jerry Prahl  for starters and found that they, too, and probably all other named co-conspirators, have been outed in my world-wide blog, Thank God the statute of limitations has run out in Rock Rapids.