Civil Liberties

Will it fly? Drones in Alameda County and (almost) San Francisco

During what one official called the “show-and-tell” portion of a public hearing held yesterday by a committee of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, a representative from the Sheriff’s Office held up a drone so the crowd of 100 or so attendees could have a look. The small, lightweight device consisted of a plastic box to house technical equipment, a camera, and four spidery legs affixed with tiny black propellers.

“It’s cuute!” someone exclaimed. But that was likely a sarcastic wisecrack – concerned citizens had packed the board chambers in hopes of convincing the two-person Public Protection Committee that the civil liberties implications of surveillance drones were too great to justify flying them over Oakland and other cities. 

Last summer, Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern submitted a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant request for an “unmanned aircraft system” (UAS), police-speak for drone. The agency intends to purchase one or two, depending on the manufacturer, for uses ranging from thermal imagery to crime detection.

The Sheriff now seeks supervisors’ approval, and is working to secure a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the Federal Aviation Administration, required for aircraft flown at 400 feet. But the Sheriff’s plan has been met with strong resistance from civil liberties advocates worried that drones would open the gates to aerial surveillance and runaway data collection.

Concerns revolve around surveillance

Representatives from the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the grassroots Alameda County Against Drones voiced myriad concerns about what they viewed as flimsy privacy protections put forward by the department. “The potential concerns with drones are too great to justify any use of drones at all in Alameda County,” said Nadia Kayyali of Alameda County Against Drones.

In turn, Sheriff representatives sought to defend its plan to use the devices, at one point practically asking critics to think of the children.

“We get several hundred calls a year for search and rescue, and deployment of our teams, to find lost children, lost hikers, or elderly persons,” Capt. Tom Madigan explained, and his co-presenter even referenced the case of famed kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard as a possible scenario where a drone could have been deployed. Commander Tom Wright assured supervisors that the drones would not be equipped with weapons, and stated that UAS devices would “not be used for indiscriminate mass surveillance.”

Yet the use of drones for surveillance and intelligence gathering lies at the heart of the controversy. “Data collected in the name of search and rescue could be retained for intelligence gathering and analysis,” ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye warned in comments delivered to the Public Protection Committee. “In conjunction with other existing policies, this would lead to the submission of UAS-collected data to the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, also known as a ‘fusion center,’ where data – in some instances, about constitutionally protected activity –are stockpiled and analyzed in the name of so-called terrorism prevention.”

According to documents obtained by EFF and MuckRock News, the Sheriff’s Office indicated in its grant request that the unmanned aircraft could be used for “surveillance (investigative and tactical),” “intelligence gathering,” “suspicious persons” or “large crowd control disturbances,” the latter bringing to mind street clashes that flared up in downtown Oakland in 2011 when riot police sought to crush protests organized under the banner of Occupy Oakland. 

If the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department obtains drones, the unmanned aircraft could be deployed anywhere from Monterey to the Oregon border, Madigan noted, if regional law enforcement agencies determined that emergency circumstances warranted jurisdictional waivers.

Technology advancing

Unlike helicopters, drones can gather high-resolution footage and other kinds of data without detection, transmitting live video feed to a command post for real-time viewing. While the Sheriff’s Department is eyeing drones that travel a quarter of a mile from base with a 25-minute flight time capacity, the technology is advancing quickly. It’s technically possible for drones to be equipped with facial recognition technology, radar, or license-plate readers.

Those growing capabilities are part of the reason civil liberties advocates are so focused on hammering out strong privacy safeguards. “We’re wading into uncharted waters here,” Lye cautioned, noting that any privacy safeguards established for these drones would apply to more advanced models down the line. “We have to bake in the privacy safeguards into this template.”

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors held off on approving a drone purchase by the Sheriff Department late last year when faced with controversy. It was originally included as an agenda item before any public meeting had been scheduled, but was later removed after civil liberties advocates intervened. At a December meeting, Undersheriff Richard Lucia told supervisors that including drone approval on the agenda had been “an oversight.”

If Alameda County obtains a drone, it will be the first California law enforcement agency to do so. Several other cities are proceeding cautiously: Last week, for example, Mayor Mike McGinn of Seattle canceled a drone program amid heated controversy.

San Francisco also sought a drone 

Meanwhile, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department is not the only Bay Area law enforcement agency eyeing unmanned aircraft devices. According to a document unearthed by an EFF and MuckRock News, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) submitted a $100,000 funding request to the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative for a “remote pilot video camera,” basically a drone, that could be outfitted to “transmit real-time, geo-coded data to command centers.” The SFPD initially hoped to clear the FAA approval process by June of 2013, according to the document. However, its funding request was rejected. (It is unclear why San Francisco’s funding request for a drone was more than three times the funding request submitted by Alameda County.)

The grant request form notes that Lieutenant Thomas Feledy of the SFPD’s Homeland Security Unit sought funding for “the deployment of mobile compact video cameras in the visual and infrared spectrum … to provide live overhead views of critical infrastructure” in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

“It was rejected,” Officer Albie Esparza told the Guardian when we called SFPD media relations to ask about it. “And we have no plans of getting a drone.”

Norman Solomon: Washington’s war-makers are in a bunker


Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column

With the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion coming up next month, we can expect a surge of explanations for what made that catastrophe possible. An axiom from Orwell — “who controls the past controls the future” — underscores the importance of such narratives.

I encountered a disturbing version last week while debating Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Largely, Wilkerson blamed deplorable war policies on a “bubble” that surrounds top officials. That’s not just faulty history; it also offers us very misleading guidance in the present day.

During our debate on Democracy Now, Wilkerson said: “What’s happening with drone strikes around the world right now is, in my opinion, as bad a development as many of the things we now condemn so readily, with 20/20 hindsight, in the George W. Bush administration. We are creating more enemies than we’re killing. We are doing things that violate international law. We are even killing American citizens without due process. . .”

But why does this happen?

“These things are happening because of that bubble that you just described,” Colonel Wilkerson told host Amy Goodman. “You can’t get through that bubble” to top foreign-policy officials, “penetrate that bubble and say, ‘Do you understand what you’re doing, both to American civil liberties and to the rest of the world’s appreciation of America, with these increased drone strikes that seem to have an endless vista for future?’”

Wilkerson went on: “This is incredible. And yet, I know how these things happen. I know how these bubbles create themselves around the president and cease and stop any kind of information getting through that would alleviate or change the situation, make the discussion more fundamental about what we’re doing in the world.”

Such a “bubble” narrative encourages people to believe that reaching the powerful war-makers with information and moral suasion is key — perhaps the key — to ending terrible policies. This storyline lets those war-makers off the hook — for the past, present and future.

Hours after my debate with Wilkerson, I received an email from Fernando Andres Torres, a California-based journalist and former political prisoner in Chile under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Referring to Wilkerson as “that bubble guy,” the email said: “Who they think they are? No accountability? Or do they think the government bubble gives them immunity for all the atrocities they commit? Not in the people’s memory.”

Later in the day, Torres sent me another note: “Not sure if we can call it a bubble, ’cause a bubble is easy to break; they were in a lead bunker from where the bloody consequences of their action can pass unnoticed.”

Wilkerson’s use of the bubble concept is “a tautology, a contradiction implicit,” wrote the co-editor of, Kim Petersen, in an article analyzing the debate. “Often people escape culpability through being outside the loop. After all, how can one be blamed for what one does not know because one was not privy to the information. Can one credibly twist this situation as a defense? Wilkerson and other Bush administration officials were in the loop — privy to information that other people are denied — and yet Wilkerson, in a strong sense, claims to be a victim of being in a bubble.”

In that case, the onus is shared by those inside and outside the bubble. Wilkerson said as much when I mentioned that a decade ago, during many months before the invasion, my colleagues and I at the Institute for Public Accuracy helped to document — with large numbers of news releases and public reports — that the Bush administration’s claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were full of holes.

From there, our debate swiftly went down a rabbit hole, as Wilkerson took me to task for not getting through the bubble that surrounded him as chief of staff for Secretary of State Powell. “I didn’t see a single one of your reports,” Wilkerson said. “So, nobody called me from your group. Nobody tried to get in — nobody tried to get into my office and talk to me from your group. Other groups did, but your group never got into my office, never called me on the phone — never talked to me. Other groups did. Why didn’t you?. . . You didn’t call. . . You didn’t call. . . You did not call.”

Non-apology apologies have been a forte of former impresarios of the Iraq war. It speaks volumes that Col. Wilkerson has been more apologetic than most of them. The scarcity of genuine public remorse is in sync with the absence of legal accountability or political culpability.

The partway apologies are tethered to notable narcissism. It’s still mainly about them, the seasoned ones who have worked in top echelons of government, whose self-focus is enduring. At the same time, scarcely a whisper can be heard about renouncing the prerogative to launch aggressive war.

So, when faced with occasional media questions about Powell’s WMD speech to the U.N. Security Council six weeks before the Iraq invasion, both Wilkerson and Powell routinely revert to the same careful phrasing about their own life sagas. Interviewed by CNN in 2005, after his three years as Secretary of State Powell’s chief of staff, Wilkerson described his key role in preparing that speech as “the lowest point in my life.” Last week, in our debate, he called the U.N. presentation “the lowest point in my professional and personal life.”

As for Colin Powell, guess what? That U.N. speech was “a low point in my otherwise remarkable career,” he told AARP’s magazine in 2006. Yet the U.N. speech gave powerful propaganda support for the invasion that began the Iraq war — a war that was also part of Powell’s “otherwise remarkable career.”

So, too, a dozen years earlier, was the Gulf War that Powell presided over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in early 1991. On the same day that the Associated Press cited estimates from Pentagon sources that the six-week war had killed 100,000 Iraqi people, Powell told an interviewer: “It’s really not a number I’m terribly interested in.”

The illustrious and sturdy bow on the entire political package is immunity — a reassuring comfort to retired and present war leaders alike. Former Bush officials and current Obama officials have scant reason to worry that their conduct of war might one day put them in a courtroom dock. They’ve turned their noses up at international law, lowered curtains on transparency and put some precious civil liberties in a garbage compactor with the president’s hand on the switch.

Normalizing silence and complicity is essential fuel for endless war. With top officials relying on their own exculpatory status, a grim feedback loop keeps spinning as the increasingly powerful warfare state runs roughshod over the principle of consent of the governed. Top officials dodge responsibility — and pay no penalty — for lying the country into, and into continuing, horrendous wars and other interventions.

Without an honest reckoning of what did and didn’t happen in the lead-up to the Iraq war, a pernicious message comes across from Wilkerson, Powell and many others: of course we stuck it out and followed orders, we had private doubts but fulfilled our responsibilities to maintain public support for the war.

It’s a kind of role modeling that further corrodes the political zeitgeist. The upshot is that people at the top of the U.S. government — whether in 2003 or 2013 — have nothing to lose by going along with the program for war. In a word: impunity.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

Police gear up for round two on Tasers

On February 4, the San Francisco Police Commission will hold the second of three planned community meetings to gauge support for a pilot program to arm 100 SFPD officers with Tasers. The controversial proposal pits police Chief Greg Suhr, a proponent, against civil liberties organizations and homeless advocates who are mobilizing public opposition to the Taser initiative. 

Shortly after being appointed police chief in 2011, Suhr said arming the SFPD with Tasers would not be a top priority. But following the police shooting of a mentally ill man last July, Suhr has pushed the Police Commission to allow members of the cities Crisis Intervention Team (CIT)—who receive special training to deal with the mentally ill—to carry Tasers.

Since the shooting, Suhr has repeatedly argued that Tasers would help save lives and reduce instances of gun use. “You do have to have as many tools in the tool box before you go to guns,” he said at the first community forum.

The ACLU and local homeless advocates disagree.

“Every time there is an officer-involved shooting, the department uses it as an excuse to outfit officers with Tasers,” ACLU attorney Micaela Davis told the Guardian. “We continue to believe that Tasers are not a good alternative to firearms and we fear that officers run the risk of going to Tasers too early in a confrontation instead of using de-escalation techniques.”

Equipping CIT officers with Tasers would inject the controversial stun guns into already tense confrontations between the mentally ill and the SFPD.

Lisa Marie Alatorre, an organizer with the San Francisco Homelessness Coalition, argues Tasers could have a devastating effect on the city’s homeless population. “The CIT typically deals with people in crisis, people who are mentally ill, and people who are currently destitute and have nowhere to live,” she told the Guardian. “The use of Tasers in the midst of a crisis will cause severe trauma and could inflict significant psychological damage.”

Both the Coalition on Homelessness and the ACLU charge that the SFPD has dragged its feet in implementing the nonviolent components of the CIT program. Less than 75 officers have been trained in nonviolent confrontational strategies since the program’s adoption last summer, and Alatorre charges SFPD has yet to implement protocols that would bring the program to fruition.

Police Commissioner Angela Chan, a longtime proponent of the CIT program, echoed these concerns. “We need to improve our de-escalation tactics with regards to crisis intervention. Many of the steps to train and implement CIT have not yet been implemented and that’s where we need to focus our energies,” she told the Guardian.

Despite strong local opposition to Tasers, they are becoming standard equipment for police departments across the nation. SFPD officers are hopeful that public opposition does not kill this pilot program, like similar attempts before it.

Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a spokesperson with the SFPD, argued that equipping CIT officers with Tasers would give police more flexibility to use force without engaging their firearms.

“On the street, not every situation can be managed in a nonviolent fashion,” he told the Guardian. “CIT is a great program, and the implementation of Tasers would give those officers an additional tool to use before they have to escalate to deadly force.”

Police commissioners will make a final decision about Tasers after the third community meeting, which is scheduled for Feb. 11 at the Bayview Opera House.

The next community forum on the SFPD Taser pilot program will be held on Feb. 4 from 6-8pm at the Scottish Rite Center, 2850 19th Ave, in SF.  

Activists slam hollow report on SFPD-FBI spying


UPDATE: SUHR APOLOGIZES FOR REPORT The San Francisco Police Department continues to resist meaningful oversight of its partnership with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. After last year pressuring Mayor Ed Lee into vetoing a strong oversight measure and signing a weaker version, the SFPD last week issued a required report that activists are slamming as “grossly inadequate.”

The Coalition for a Safe San Francisco – which includes civil libertarians and members of Muslim groups and other targets of racial and religious profiling by the FBI – last May stood with Police Chief Greg Suhr and sponsoring Sup. Jane Kim as Lee signed what they called this “historic civil rights legislation.”

But at the time, the activists told the Guardian that the value of the watered-down legislation depended entirely on how it was implemented, particularly in the annual reports on SFPD-FBI operations that it required. To ensure they were specific enough to be meaningful, the coalition says it communicated with Suhr several times asking him to include the number of joint investigations undertaken, how many times FBI requests were denied by the SFPD, and possible violations of department policy and how they were handled.

Instead, when Deputy Chief John Loftus gave the first of these annual reports to the Police Commission on Jan. 23, he spoke for only a couple minutes and said the SFPD was in “full compliance” with the ordinance and a Suhr general order banning surveillance of law-abiding citizens, offering no further details.

“We were very clear with the chief about what we expected to see,” Nadia Kayyali of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, a coalition member, told the Guardian. She also said the report “was slipped on the agenda at the last minute,” despite assurances that the coalition would be notified and given a chance to respond. “It does show a lack of regard for the ordinance and the work that went into it.”

The activists say that Suhr broke his promise to them to include the more specific information that they sought, even after they recently followed up with messages reminding him about that assurance. “I was in the meeting where he said he would,” Nasrina Bargzie with the Asian Law Caucus, another coalition member, told us. Bargzie said she was disappointed and dismayed by what the report included, “but we’re going to keep pushing on it.”

The controversy surrounding possible SFPD-FBI spying on people who haven’t violated any laws – which is illegal under local and state law – broke almost two years ago when the American Civil Liberties Union obtained a secret 2007 SFPD-FBI memorandum of understanding placing SFPD officers under FBI command. It seemed to bypass local restrictions adopted after past SFPD scandals involving police spying on political groups.

Suhr tried to quell the controversy by issuing a general order banning officers from participating in surveillance that violates local rules or the state constitution’s privacy protections, but activists pushed for a stronger assurance. The Board of Supervisors then voted 6-5 to codify those protections into city law, but Suhr objected and Lee vetoed the measure. A weaker version calling for annual reports and Police Commission reviews of future SFPD-FBI MOUs was approved unanimously by the board.

Now, it appears the SFPD has done little to soften the “trust us” stance that it has taken from the beginning, frustrating activists who had pushed for more, here and in other cities that do domestic surveillance with the FBI.

“These policies are explicit and unequivocal. San Francisco Police Department members and their Joint Terrorism Task Force supervisors are aware of and familiar with these policies,” Loftus told the commission, explaining that the SFPD did its required quarterly reviews in November and two weeks ago, finding nothing to report.

Police Commissioner Suzy Loftus asked if he could “explain a bit more” and Suhr – who was at the stand giving his report as Deputy Chief Loftus (no relation) gave his from the lectern – answered: “All San Francisco police officers are held to the San Francisco Police Department policies and procedures and the policies and laws of San Francisco, whichever is more strict. So depending on wherever they are, their fallback, if you will, is whatever the policies, procedures, laws, ordinances, and all of San Francisco.”

Suhr’s answer seemed to satisfy the commission, which defended the SFPD’s secretive approach rather than asking any more questions.

“Our officers will not participate in any investigation unless there is a predicate offense that is a violation of the California Penal Code or the United States code, so they will not be involved in random surveillance or random assessments or talking to people,” Commission President Thomas Mazzucco said.

Commissioner Joe Marshall also said he trusts Suhr and we all should too: “I want the public to feel reassured that when the chief says that’s going to be the way it is, that’s the way it is.”

But the coalition, which includes 79 organizations, was less than satisfied with that answer. In a statement issued today, it wrote, “Deputy Chief Loftus’ report completely failed to provide the information required to ensure the accountability and transparency required under the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance. The Coalition calls on the Chief of Police to promptly issue a public written report containing the information he promised he would provide.”

Neither Kim – who sponsored both the original legislation and weaker alternative – nor the SFPD have returned Guardian calls for comment yet, but I’ll update this post if and when they do. You can watch the hearing yourself here, with that item beginning at the 48:20 mark.


Norman Solomon: Verbal tics and political routines


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

A lot of what we say and do becomes habit-forming. Groundhog Day 2013 could serve as a reminder that some political habits should be kicked. Here are a few:

**  “Defense budget

No, it’s not a defense budget. It’s a military budget.

But countless people and organizations keep saying they want to cut “the defense budget” or reduce “defense spending.”

Anyone who wants to challenge the warfare state should dispense with this misnomer. We don’t object to “defense” — what we do oppose, vehemently, is military spending that has nothing to do with real defense and everything to do with killing people, enforcing geopolitical control and making vast profits for military contractors. And no, they’re not “defense contractors.”

President Eisenhower’s farewell address didn’t warn against a “defense-industrial complex.”

The fact that there’s something officially called the Department of Defense — formerly the Department of War, until 1947 — doesn’t make its huge budget a “defense budget,” any more than renaming the Bureau of Prisons “the Bureau of Love” would mean we should talk about wanting to cut the “love budget.”

**  “Pro-life”

Last week, midway through a heated debate on the PBS “NewsHour,” the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America said that some politicians get elected while hiding their extreme anti-abortion positions — but would be rejected at the ballot box “if they ran on their pro-life values.”

“Pro-life” values? Not a label that abortion-rights advocates should use for opponents of a woman’s right to choose an abortion. One of the main reasons those opponents keep calling themselves “pro-life” is they want to imply that supporters of abortion rights are anti-life. Why help?

**  “Globalization”

In many realms, globalization can be positive, even essential. For instance, wonderful results flow from globalizing solidarity among workers around the world. Likewise, the planetary spread of awareness and cooperation among people taking action to protect the environment, stop human-rights abuses and end war.

Corporate globalization is another matter. Its destructive effects are lashing every continent with voracious commercialization along with exploitive races to the bottom for cheap labor, extraction of raw materials, privatization, flattening of protective tariffs, overriding of national laws that protect workers and replacement of democratic possibilities with the rule of big money.

Putting “corporate” before “globalization” may seem cumbersome, but it’s worth another three syllables. There’s a world of difference between globalization for human cooperation and corporate globalization. Blurring it all together misses the chance to clarify the distinct possibilities.

**  “Moderates”

Fifty-five years ago, in his book “The Causes of World War Three,” sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote about what he called “crackpot realism” — policy nostrums widely touted by mass media outlets and other powerful institutions as wisely reasonable, yet actually disastrous.

In a similar groove, these days, we hear about how certain elected officials are “moderates.” And we might refer to them that way ourselves. But the grim results of crackpot moderation — climate change and environmental degradation, incessant warfare, more poverty, widening economic inequities, abuse of civil liberties and so much more — are all around us. So-called “moderates” fuel the infernos of catastrophe.

What’s moderate about the extreme injustices and destructiveness of the status quo?

**  Skimming the headlines

We all do it sometimes — glancing at headlines and scarcely reading the stories — one of the reasons why, all too often, what we think we know actually isn’t so.

Case in point: a headline at the top of the New York Times front page days ago, no doubt leaving many quick readers with the belief that President Obama is getting tough on Wall Street.

Well, that’s what the headline conveyed. “SIGNAL TO STREET IN OBAMA’S PICK FOR REGULATORS,” it began, followed by an elaboration in big type just below: “A Renewed Resolve to Hold Financial Firms Accountable.”

Mostly focusing on the appointment of Mary Jo White to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, the article offered a fleeting indication in its eighth paragraph that the “renewed resolve” might actually be wobbly. “While Ms. White is best known as an aggressive prosecutor,” the article noted, “she also built a lucrative legal practice defending Wall Street executives, a potential concern for consumer advocates.”

The basis for that potential concern, however, did not gain any further elucidation until the article’s twenty-sixth paragraph, which provided the other mention of why consumer advocates might be concerned: “Ms. White could face additional questions about her career, a revolving door in and out of government. In private practice, she defended some of Wall Street’s biggest names, including Kenneth D. Lewis, a former chief of Bank of America. As the head of litigation at Debevoise & Plimpton, she also represented JPMorgan Chase and the board of Morgan Stanley.”

So much for headlines

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

Oakland to decide on controversial stop-and-frisk advocate Bill Bratton

On Tuesday, Oakland City Council will consider approving a $250,000 contract for an outside security consulting team, which could include controversial roving police chief and private security contractor William Bratton. With Oakland’s understaffed police department facing a 23 percent rise in violent crime over the past year, the Council’s Public Safety Committee unanimously recommended last week that the full Council approve a new round of funding for Boston-based police consultant Strategic Policy Partnership LLC. The firm intends to bring on Bratton as part of a new team of private policing experts to advise OPD.

At the five-hour Public Safety Committee meeting on Jan. 15, Oakland activists crowded into the chamber to voice concerns that Bratton—a nationally known proponent of “zero tolerance” policing and New York City’s extremely controversial stop-and-frisk policy—would be tapped as a member of the consulting team. Pressure from the community prompted committee members to tack on a provision suggesting that an alternative to Bratton be considered in the final contract.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Police Chief Howard Jordan both voiced enthusiastic support for Bratton’s appointment.  In a letter sent last Wednesday urging the Council to approve the contract, Quan wrote: “Bratton is uniquely suited to helping us perfect how that system works here.” She went on to promise that racial profiling would not be tolerated in Oakland.

Oakland attorney Dan Siegel, a former legal advisor to Quan, expressed dismay over Bratton’s possible consultancy to a lively group of protesters outside last Tuesday’s meeting. “Stop-and-frisk does not work,” he said. “Bratton is exactly what we do not need in the city of Oakland.”

Although Bratton did not attend last Tuesday’s meeting, he has publicly expressed interest in working in Oakland, despite the vocal opposition.  “I’m still very desirous of working in Oakland … I think the assistance that I can provide will be of value to the city,” Bratton told the Oakland Tribune following Wednesday’s protests.

From Boston, to Los Angeles, to New York, Bratton has implemented and championed a controversial mix of anti-crime measures, making him one of the nation’s most divisive and visible law enforcement officials. 

Lauded by supporters as America’s “Top Cop,” he has twice served as president of the influential Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), which was responsible for coordinating a police response to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. He also serves as vice chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

Serving as police chief in New York from 1994 to 1996 and Los Angeles from 2002 to 2009, Bratton built a national reputation as an outspoken proponent of stop-and-frisk, a tactic often linked with racial profiling. According to data compiled by the New York ACLU, the procedure disproportionally targets black and Latino residents. Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court Judge in New York deemed stop-and-frisk to be unconstitutional and issued an injunction limiting the policy in the Bronx. In July, when San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee suggested exploring stop-and-frisk in San Francisco, local civil liberties advocates balked.

Bratton is also an unabashed supporter of zero-tolerance policing, a method that stems from the “broken-windows theory” and encourages police to make arrests for minor infractions such as graffiti, litter, panhandling, prostitution or other petty offenses which are presumed to create an environment that breeds serious crime.

Bratton’s controversial tactics have been credited with reducing crime rates during his tenure in New York and Los Angeles. His work to diversify the LAPD and build closer ties between police and the community also drew praise from the Los Angeles chapter of the ACLU.

But in Oakland, local police reform advocates question the long-term efficacy of Bratton’s methods.

Rachel Herzing, co-director of Oakland-based Critical Resistance, an advocacy group that is part of a coalition of local organizations mobilizing against Bratton, charges that he deals in “quick fixes.” In the long run, she argues, his methods do not reduce crime but rather relocate it.

Bratton’s “all cops, no services approach does not work anywhere, and will not work in Oakland,” Herzing told the Guardian. “The aggressive sweeps Bratton is known for in New York ultimately just displace people, and drive them away from essential services. [These tactics] aren’t appropriate policing responses.”

The public outcry at last Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting drew responses from new Council members Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Dan Kalb. McElhaney, whose District 3 includes some of the city’s lower-income neighborhoods plagued with high crime rates, told colleagues that Bratton may come with “too much baggage.” Ultimately, McElhaney said, his presence in Oakland might prove to be counterproductive.

Speaking to the Guardian on Jan. 21, McElhaney said she was not yet sure if she would vote to approve the contract. “We are wrestling with some very big issues here,” she said.  “I am clearly concerned about some of Bratton’s tactics but I am also interested in his results in some of the cities he has worked in. I do know he has lowered homicide rates.”

She added that the overarching goal of addressing crime in Oakland should not be lost in the debate surrounding Bratton. “There’s the totality of the contract I’m considering… in the end, I’m more interested in the outcome as opposed to the individuals.”

In an effort to diffuse controversy at the Jan. 15 meeting, McElhaney and Kalb successfully amended the committee recommendation to urge Strategic Policy Partnership to consider potential alternatives to Bratton.

But given Bratton’s national profile and controversial approach to policing, his inclusion in the consulting contract will likely take center stage at the full Council Meeting on Tuesday. Both Bratton’s opponents and supporters plan to arrive in force at Tuesday’s Council meeting, and as of yet it’s uncertain which side will prevail.

Supervisors approve nudity ban on close vote


Over the objections of progressive supervisors and under threats of a lawsuit from nudists and civil liberties advocates, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors today voted 6-5 to outlaw public nudity in the city. Supervisors voting against the ban were David Campos, Christina Olague, John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Jane Kim.

Sup. Scott Wiener, who sponsored the measure, cast it as a last resort to deal with what has become daily displays of nudity in the Castro district he represents (and most recently around City Hall as his legislation was being considering in committees), noting that, “Public nudity is part of San Francisco and is appropriate in some circumstances.” His legislation makes exceptions for permitted events such as the Folsom Street Fair and Bay-to-Breakers.

But Wiener said that “public nudity can go too far,” as he says it has over the last two years in the Castro’s Jane Warner Plaza, and that “freedom of expression and acceptance does not mean you can do whatever you want.”

Campos echoed some of the legal concerns that critics of the legislation have raised, noting that, “As a lawyer, I do worry about when you ban specific conduct and then you have exceptions to that.” He also questioned whether Wiener has done enough to try to mediate the increasingly divisive conflict he’s been having with the nudist community and whether this was an appropriate use of scarce police resources.

“I don’t believe we’re at the point of saying this becomes a priority over violent crime,” Campos said, noting that he’s been unable to get more police foot patrols to deal with a recent spate of violent crimes in the Mission, which shares a police station with the Castro.

Avalos said it was absurd to focus city resources on this victimless issue when the city is wrestling with far more serious problems, such as poverty and violence, and he played a clip from the film Catch 22 where a soldier goes naked to a ceremony to highlight that absurdity. “I will refuse to put on this fig leaf, I just can’t do it,” Avalos said.

Mar said he sympathized with Wiener’s concerns, but agreed with Campos that Wiener could have done more to mediate this situation before both sides dug in: “I really don’t think we need citywide legislation, particularly overbroad legislation, to deal with a problem isolated to one neighborhood.”

Wiener seemed stung by the comments and said he could cite example of each supervisor pushing resolutions or ordinances that dealt with similarly trivial issues, comparing it to refusing to deal with a constituent’s pothole complaint until that supervisor fixed Muni and solved the city’s housing problem. But Campos pushed back, calling the comparison ridiculous and saying there was no reason for a citywide ban to deal with such an isolated issue.

Nudists at the hearing reacted angrily to the approval and started to disrobe before President David Chiu ordered deputies to intervene and abruptly recessed the hearing. Now, it will likely be up to the courts to decide whether Wiener’s concerns about weiners can withstand legal scrutiny.

Life-and-death decision


Proposition 34, the initiative to end the death penalty in California, is trailing in the polls, but proponents are focusing on a surprisingly large voting block that could still put it over the top: undecided voters.

“Anything can happen on Election Day,” said Natasha Minsker, campaign manager for Yes on 34. “I think what this election comes down to is who’s able to reach the undecided voter.”

The Los Angeles Times reports the race is 38-51 against the measure, while the Field Poll survey has it at 42-45 against. Both polls report that 11-13 percent of voters were undecided, and a more recent poll conducted by SurveyUSA shows the undecided vote may have grown to 20 percent.

Those large numbers, with less than two weeks until the election, raise an interesting and troubling question: on a decision as serious as whether we allow the state to kill someone in our name — a practice that is as costly to state finances as it may be to our very souls — why have so many voters failed to form an opinion?


Leading the charge to win over these ambivalent voters is a coalition of justice organizations, supported by prominent individuals and groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Amnesty International.

The campaign has raised more than $6 million in less than a year, outspending the opposition 35-to-1. Minsker told us the campaign is focusing hard on undecided minority voters, devoting most of its resources to an area they believe will help them win.

“We have more of a focus on young Latino, Asian, and African American voters, specifically in LA County,” she said. “These are voters who, once they hear about the facts of the proposition, they vote for it.”

Prop. 34 would replace California’s death penalty with a maximum sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole. The proposition would also make convicted felons work to pay restitution to their victims’ families.

The Field Poll reports that of all the regions surveyed, Los Angeles County contains the highest percentage of undecided voters, at 17 percent. Once voters learn that executions don’t prevent murders (numerous studies show it doesn’t act as a deterrent to crime) or save money (life-in-prison is cheaper than housing someone on Death Row and hearing legal appeals), support for capital punishment falls.

The Field Poll reports that 15 percent of voters aged18-39 are undecided, while minority voters (Latino, Asian and African American) contain even higher rates of undecided voters, ranging from 16-19 percent, higher than undecided white voters, at 11 percent.

Unlike on many liberal-leaning campaigns, this one also has strong support from the Catholic Church.

“The energy the Catholic community has brought to the initiative has been fantastic,” Minsker said. “It is certainly one of the few issues to bring together the ACLU and the Catholic Church, but it’s just wonderful to see.”

But in order for the proposition to pass, undecided voters must decide soon.

Field Poll Director Mark Dicamillo said that at this stage in the contest, the team that is leading in the polls usually wins.

“In our experience, with [two] weeks left, undecided voters usually vote no, if they haven’t figured out where they stand yet,” he said.

But Jeanne Woodford, executive director of Death Penalty Focus, a nonprofit group dedicated to educating the public about capital punishment, says these undecided voters are taking their time to get the facts straight before they decide.

“I think that [undecided voters] are very thoughtful voters who are not going to vote on this issue from a moral perspective,” she said. “Those are voters who are going to want to know the facts.”


With the election just around the corner, why are so many “thoughtful voters” still undecided about ending the death penalty?

UC Berkeley Public Policy Professor Bruce Cain attributes the undecided electorate to the state’s inconsistency toward capital punishment.

“Historically, the state of California has flipped on its [death penalty] policy,” he said. “My guess is that it is a little bit hard for voters to navigate through now.”

But at a time when California is in a fiscal crisis and federal judges have ordered the state to substantially reduce the population in its overcrowded prison system, Prop. 34 proponents have been making fiscal arguments more than moral ones.

According to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, ending the Death Penalty would save taxpayers $130 million a year, and set aside a $100 million annual fund for law enforcement agencies to use in solving homicide and rape cases.

Prop 36, reform of the harsh Three Strikes and You’re Out law, is the other big sentencing reform initiative on the ballot. Prop 36 would save taxpayers about $100 million a year, yet it is a 3-1 favorite in the polls, a stark contrast to Prop 34.

“The death penalty has been overshadowed by the Three Strikes prop, and that’s possibly another aspect of the undecided voters,” Cain said. “But remember people that are undecided at the end are the people that only get information from their TV.”

That’s something that Yes on 34 is well aware of and about to address.

The campaign has reported spending more than $3 million since July producing television and cable ads, which are launching this week.

“You’ll be seeing TV and radio which will provide much more information to the public, and when they have that information, the facts speak for themselves,” Woodford said.

But No of 34 campaign has fear and emotional arguments on its side. Spokesperson Peter Demarco told us, “Prop 34 isn’t about saving money. It’s the centerpiece of the liberal ACLU’s agenda to weaken California’s public safety laws.”

Cain thinks Prop 34 has a chance, but the real test is yet to come.

“If indeed the no people plan to throw money into this and really land some hard-hitting emotional ads, then you could see voters being moved dramatically,” he said. “If people see these emotional ads and don’t move, then that tells you that the electorate has changed.”


Executions in California go back to its earliest settlements, and it was first authorized in the state’s penal code in 1872.

In 1972, the California Supreme Court ruled the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the state’s constitution, commuting more than 100 death sentences to life in the prison without the possibility of parole.

Cain says that during the 1970s and ’80s, when California’s rising crime rate was making big news, the public began to embrace capital punishment.

“There were more violent murders, there was crack cocaine, there was a sense that people were going way over the line, and it was very much a moral issue,” he said.

In 1977, the California Legislature re-enacted the death penalty in first-degree murders only. In 1978, California voters broadened the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty. But polls show the pendulum swinging back.

“We haven’t seen a vote like this to abolish the death penalty in about 40 years,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of Death Penalty Information Center. “Just the fact that it’s happening is indicative to the growing skepticism toward the death penalty.”

The number of countries that have abolished the death penalty has doubled to more than 120 the past 25 years. In the US, Connecticut recently became the 17th state to abolish the death penalty, not including the District of Columbia. Will California be next?

“Ten years ago, it was 70-30 against ending the death penalty in California, but that’s changed and it’s closer now. The information is going to make a difference for undecided voters,” said Dieter.

Among that information, Minsker said, is the fact that “with the death penalty, we sometimes sentence innocent people.”

The University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law reports that in the last 23 years, more than 2,000 people convicted of serious crimes were exonerated in the US.

The Innocence Project, which assists prisoners using DNA testing, found that 18 people previously sentenced to death in the US have been exonerated.

“We have learned that innocent people have been sentenced to death,” said Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom. “States are increasingly abolishing the death penalty because it’s just not worth it.” According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1978 California has executed 13 out of 725 death row inmates, costing California taxpayers $4 billion. “It’s not worth keeping this lengthy, costly process any longer,” Saloom said, “and I think people are more likely to see that it’s not a very good government program.”



People who get their information exclusively from mainstream media sources may be surprised at the lack of enthusiasm on the left for President Barack Obama in this crucial election. But that’s probably because they weren’t exposed to the full online furor sparked by Obama’s continuation of his predecessor’s overreaching approach to national security, such as signing the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the indefinite detention of those accused of supporting terrorism, even US citizens.

We’ll never know how this year’s election would be different if the corporate media adequately covered the NDAA’s indefinite detention clause and many other recent attacks on civil liberties. What we can do is spread the word and support independent media sources that do cover these stories. That’s where Project Censored comes in.

Project Censored has been documenting inadequate media coverage of crucial stories since it began in 1967 at Sonoma State University. Each year, the group considers hundreds of news stories submitted by readers, evaluating their merits. Students search Lexis Nexis and other databases to see if the stories were underreported, and if so, the stories are fact-checked by professors and experts in relevant fields.

A panel of academics and journalists chooses the Top 25 stories and rates their significance. The project maintains a vast online database of underreported news stories that it has “validated” and publishes them in an annual book. Censored 2013: Dispatches from the Media Revolution will be released Oct. 30.

For the second year in row, Project Censored has grouped the Top 25 list into topical “clusters.” This year, categories include “Human cost of war and violence” and “Environment and health.” Project Censored director Mickey Huff told us the idea was to show how various undercovered stories fit together into an alternative narrative, not to say that one story was more censored than another.

“The problem when we had just the list was that it did imply a ranking,” Huff said. “It takes away from how there tends to be a pattern to the types of stories they don’t cover or underreport.”

In May, while Project Censored was working on the list, another 2012 list was issued: the Fortune 500 list of the biggest corporations, whose influence peppers the Project Censored list in a variety of ways.

Consider this year’s top Fortune 500 company: ExxonMobil. The oil company pollutes everywhere it goes, yet most stories about its environmental devastation go underreported. Weapons manufacturers Lockheed Martin (58 on the Fortune list), General Dynamics (92), and Raytheon (117) are tied into stories about US prisoners in slavery conditions manufacturing parts for their weapons and the underreported war crimes in Afghanistan and Libya.

These powerful corporations work together more than most people think. In the chapter exploring the “Global 1 percent,” writers Peter Phillips and Kimberly Soeiro explain how a small number of well-connected people control the majority of the world’s wealth. In it, they use Censored story number 6, “Small network of corporations run the global economy,” to describe how a network of transnational corporations are deeply interconnected, with 147 of them controlling 40 percent of the global economy’s total wealth.

For example, Philips and Soeiro write that in one such company, BlackRock Inc., “The eighteen members of the board of directors are connected to a significant part of the world’s core financial assets. Their decisions can change empires, destroy currencies, and impoverish millions.”

Another cluster of stories, “Women and Gender, Race and Ethnicity,” notes a pattern of underreporting stories that affect a range of marginalized groups. This broad category includes only three articles, and none are listed in the top 10. The stories reveal mistreatment of Palestinian women in Israeli prisons, including being denied medical care and shackled during childbirth, and the rape and sexual assault of women soldiers in the US military. The third story in the category concerns an Alabama anti-immigration bill, HB56, that caused immigrants to flee Alabama in such numbers that farmers felt a dire need to “help farms fill the gap and find sufficient labor.” So the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries approached the state’s Department of Corrections about making a deal where prisoners would replace the fleeing farm workers.

But with revolutionary unrest around the world, and the rise of a mass movement that connects disparate issues together into a simple, powerful class analysis — the 99 percent versus the 1 percent paradigm popularized by Occupy Wall Street — this year’s Project Censored offers an element of hope.

It’s not easy to succeed at projects that resist corporate dominance, and when it does happen, the corporate media is sometimes reluctant to cover it. Number seven on the Top 25 list is the story of how the United Nations designated 2012 the International Year of the Cooperative, recognizing the rapid growth of co-op businesses, organizations that are part-owned by all members and whose revenue is shared equitably among members. One billion people worldwide now work in co-ops.

The Year of the Cooperative is not the only good-news story discussed by Project Censored this year. In Chapter 4, Yes! Magazine‘s Sarah Van Gelder lists “12 ways the Occupy movement and other major trends have offered a foundation for a transformative future.” They include a renewed sense of “political self-respect” and fervor to organize in the United States, debunking of economic myths such as the “American dream,” and the blossoming of economic alternatives such as community land trusts, time banking, and micro-energy installations.

They also include results achieved from pressure on government, like the delay of the Keystone Pipeline project, widespread efforts to override the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, the removal of dams in Washington state after decades of campaigning by Native American and environmental activists, and the enactment of single-payer healthcare in Vermont.

As Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed writes in the book’s foreword, “The majority of people now hold views about Western governments and the nature of power that would have made them social pariahs 10 or 20 years ago.”

Citing polls from the corporate media, Ahmed writes: “The majority are now skeptical of the Iraq War; the majority want an end to US military involvement in Afghanistan; the majority resent the banks and financial sector, and blame them for the financial crisis; most people are now aware of environmental issues, more than ever before, and despite denialist confusion promulgated by fossil fuel industries, the majority in the United States and Britain are deeply concerned about global warming; most people are wary of conventional party politics and disillusioned with the mainstream parliamentary system.”

“In other words,” he writes, “there has been a massive popular shift in public opinion toward a progressive critique of the current political economic system.”

And ultimately, it’s the public — not the president and not the corporations—that will determine the future. There may be hope after all. Here’s Project Censored’s Top 10 list for 2013:



President George W. Bush is remembered largely for his role in curbing civil liberties in the name of his “war on terror.” But it’s President Obama who signed the 2012 NDAA, including its clause allowing for indefinite detention without trial for terrorism suspects. Obama promised that “my Administration will interpret them to avoid the constitutional conflict” — leaving us adrift if and when the next administration chooses to interpret them otherwise. Another law of concern is the National Defense Resources Preparedness Executive Order that Obama issued in March 2012. That order authorizes the President, “in the event of a potential threat to the security of the United States, to take actions necessary to ensure the availability of adequate resources and production capability, including services and critical technology, for national defense requirements.” The president is to be advised on this course of action by “the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council, in conjunction with the National Economic Council.” Journalist Chris Hedges, along with co-plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, won a case challenging the NDAA’s indefinite detention clause on Sept. 1, when a federal judge blocked its enforcement, but her ruling was overturned on Oct. 3, so the clause is back.



Big banks aren’t the only entities that our country has deemed “too big to fail.” But our oceans won’t be getting a bailout anytime soon, and their collapse could compromise life itself. In a haunting article highlighted by Project Censored, Mother Jones reporter Julia Whitty paints a tenuous seascape — overfished, acidified, warming — and describes how the destruction of the ocean’s complex ecosystems jeopardizes the entire planet, not just the 70 percent that is water. Whitty compares ocean acidification, caused by global warming, to acidification that was one of the causes of the “Great Dying,” a mass extinction 252 million years ago. Life on earth took 30 million years to recover. In a more hopeful story, a study of 14 protected and 18 non-protected ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea showed dangerous levels of biomass depletion. But it also showed that the marine reserves were well-enforced, with five to 10 times larger fish populations than in unprotected areas. This encourages establishment and maintenance of more reserves.



A plume of toxic fallout floated to the US after Japan’s tragic Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011. The US Environmental Protection Agency found radiation levels in air, water, and milk that were hundreds of times higher than normal across the United States. One month later, the EPA announced that radiation levels had declined, and they would cease testing. But after making a Freedom of Information Act request, journalist Lucas Hixson published emails revealing that on March 24, 2011, the task of collecting nuclear data had been handed off from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear industry lobbying group. And in one study that got little attention, scientists Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman found that in the period following the Fukushima meltdowns, 14,000 more deaths than average were reported in the US, mostly among infants. Later, Mangano and Sherman updated the number to 22,000.



We know that FBI agents go into communities such as mosques, both undercover and in the guise of building relationships, quietly gathering information about individuals. This is part of an approach to finding what the FBI now considers the most likely kind of terrorists, “lone wolves.” Its strategy: “seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity,” writes Mother Jones journalist Trevor Aaronson. The publication, along with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley, examined the results of this strategy, 508 cases classified as terrorism-related that have come before the US Department of Justice since the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001. In 243 of these cases, an informant was involved; in 49 cases, an informant actually led the plot. And “with three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings.”



The Federal Reserve, the US’s quasi-private central bank, was audited for the first time in its history this year. The audit report states, “From late 2007 through mid-2010, Reserve Banks provided more than a trillion dollars… in emergency loans to the financial sector to address strains in credit markets and to avert failures of individual institutions believed to be a threat to the stability of the financial system.” These loans had significantly less interest and fewer conditions than the high-profile TARP bailouts, and were rife with conflicts of internet. Some examples: the CEO of JP Morgan Chase served as a board member of the New York Federal Reserve at the same time that his bank received more than $390 billion in financial assistance from the Fed. William Dudley, who is now the New York Federal Reserve president, was granted a conflict of interest waiver to let him keep investments in AIG and General Electric at the same time the companies were given bailout funds. The audit was restricted to Federal Reserve lending during the financial crisis. On July 25, 2012, a bill to audit the Fed again, with fewer limitations, authored by Rep. Ron Paul, passed the House of Representatives. HR459 expected to die in the Senate, but the movement behind Paul and his calls to hold the Fed accountable, or abolish it altogether, seem to be growing.



Reporting on a study by researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute in Zurich didn’t make the rounds nearly enough, according to Censored 2013. They found that, of 43,060 transnational companies, 147 control 40 percent of total global wealth. The researchers also built a model visually demonstrating how the connections between companies — what it calls the “super entity” — works. Some have criticized the study, saying control of assets doesn’t equate to ownership. True, but as we clearly saw in the 2008 financial collapse, corporations are capable of mismanaging assets in their control to the detriment of their actual owners. And a largely unregulated super entity like this is vulnerable to global collapse.



Can something really be censored when it’s straight from the United Nations? According to Project Censored evaluators, the corporate media underreported the UN declaring 2012 to be the International Year of the Cooperative, based on the coop business model’s stunning growth. The UN found that, in 2012, one billion people worldwide are coop member-owners, or one in five adults over the age of 15. The largest is Spain’s Mondragon Corporation, with more than 80,000 member-owners. The UN predicts that by 2025, worker-owned coops will be the world’s fastest growing business model. Worker-owned cooperatives provide for equitable distribution of wealth, genuine connection to the workplace, and, just maybe, a brighter future for our planet.



In January 2012, the BBC “revealed” how British Special Forces agents joined and “blended in” with rebels in Libya to help topple dictator Muammar Gadaffi, a story that alternative media sources had reported a year earlier. NATO admits to bombing a pipe factory in the Libyan city of Brega that was key to the water supply system that brought tap water to 70 percent of Libyans, saying that Gadaffi was storing weapons in the factory. In Censored 2013, writer James F. Tracy makes the point that historical relations between the US and Libya were left out of mainstream news coverage of the NATO campaign; “background knowledge and historical context confirming Al-Qaeda and Western involvement in the destabilization of the Gadaffi regime are also essential for making sense of corporate news narratives depicting the Libyan operation as a popular ‘uprising.'”



On its website, the UNICOR manufacturing corporation proudly proclaims that its products are “made in America.” That’s true, but they’re made in places in the US where labor laws don’t apply, with workers often paid just 23 cents an hour to be exposed to toxic materials with no legal recourse. These places are US prisons. Slavery conditions in prisons aren’t exactly news. It’s literally written into the Constitution; the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, outlaws  slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” But the article highlighted by Project Censored this year reveal the current state of prison slavery industries, and its ties to war. The majority of products manufactured by inmates are contracted to the Department of Defense. Inmates make complex parts for missile systems, battleship anti-aircraft guns, and landmine sweepers, as well as night-vision goggles, body army, and camouflage uniforms. Of course, this is happening in the context of record high imprisonment in the US, where grossly disproportionate numbers of African Americans and Latinos are imprisoned, and can’t vote even after they’re freed. As psychologist Elliot D. Cohen puts it in this year’s book: “This system of slavery, like that which existed in this country before the Civil War, is also racist, as more than 60 percent of US prisoners are people of color.”



HR 347, sometimes called the “criminalizing protest” or “anti-Occupy” bill, made some headlines. But concerned lawyers and other citizens worry that it could have disastrous effects for the First Amendment right to protest. Officially called the Federal Restricted Grounds Improvement Act, the law makes it a felony to “knowingly” enter a zone restricted under the law, or engage in “disorderly or disruptive” conduct in or near the zones. The restricted zones include anywhere the Secret Service may be — places such as the White House, areas hosting events deemed “National Special Security Events,” or anywhere visited by the president, vice president, and their immediate families; former presidents, vice presidents, and certain family members; certain foreign dignitaries; major presidential and vice presidential candidates (within 120 days of an election); and other individuals as designated by a presidential executive order. These people could be anywhere, and NSSEs have notoriously included the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, Super Bowls, and the Academy Awards. So far, it seems the only time HR 347 has kicked in is with George Clooney’s high-profile arrest outside the Sudanese embassy. Clooney ultimately was not detained without trial — information that would be almost impossible to censor — but what about the rest of us who exist outside of the mainstream media’s spotlight? A book release party will be held at Moe’s Books, 2476 Telegraph, in Berkeley, on Nov. 3. You can listen to Huff’s radio show Friday morning at 8pm on KPFA.

Berkeley Police implement new limits on spying and mutual aid


The Berkeley Police Department is undergoing some major policy changes after mounting pressure from the community to enact reforms, with new limits on its participation with other law enforcement agencies.  

“There will be some extra reporting standards required, but procedures have been put in place for us to handle these new requirements,” BPD’s Public Information Officer Jennifer Coats told us, although she did not provide details on how they will be implemented. “This will not affect the high level of service the Berkeley Police Department continues to provide the community.”

Sparked by overzealous police responses to the Occupy movement in neighboring Oakland and UC Berkeley and by the issue of local police agencies working with the FBI to spy on law-abiding citizens, community groups in Berkeley urged city officials to revise policies regarding surveillance, intelligence activities, and police mutual aide.  

Leading the charge was the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley and the ACLU of Northern California.  Both groups attended the Sept. 18th Berkeley City Council meeting where the council voted to modify the city’s policing procedures.

Berkeley police will no longer respond immediately and automatically to mutual aid requests from other police agencies. “The policy change that the council approved said that in a case in which there is not serious or violent crime or destruction of property, that our police will seriously evaluate whether or not to respond,” says Councilmember Jesse Arreguin.  “We won’t automatically respond in cases of civil disobedience or peaceful protest.”

Mutual aid agreements were suspended last year while the city adjusted its policies.

“The Berkeley Police Department has a strong working relationship with other police departments,” writes Coats via email. “We are able to review the need for services on a case by case basis and we look forward to continuing to work closely with other agencies.”

Other revisions include the end of surveillance and intelligence gathering of residents who participate in political activity or express First Amendment rights. Police must also have at least reasonable suspicion in order to submit a Suspicious Activity Report, which will then be reviewed by the City Manager for approval before being made available to other police agencies. 

The council postponed a decision on the issue of immigration jail detainers after the ACLU of Northern California expressed its concerns with the proposed policy. The changes come after a decade of police agencies nationwide upping their law enforcement efforts, particularly in border and coastal states like California where local police often work with federal immigration and customs officers.

“After 9/11, there were a lot of agencies reorganized under the Department of Homeland Security and they all started collaborating in ways they hadn’t before,” says Nadia Kayyali of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, which consulted with the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley.  “Federal and local collaborations are extending across the country and I have yet to see strong evidence that what they’re doing is making us any safer.”

It was almost one year ago that Occupy Oakland made international headlines as clashes between police and protesters turned violent.  The Oct. 25 melee pit police officers from Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco against protesters occupying Frank Ogawa Plaza, resulting in serious injuries to protesters.  The mutual aid deployed from Berkeley left many residents livid after watching their police officers assist in using force against peaceful protesters.  

“If you’re involved in something that hurts the rights and security of protesters in a public place, it raises questions of complicity.  We don’t want our police to be used to halt civil liberties,” says George Lippman of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, which was involved in pushing the reforms. “There should be more oversight given to these types of activities of mutual aid when there are First Amendment activities going on.”

Lippman sees increased law enforcement as a growing trend to militarize local communities nationwide, and he points to the armored tank that Berkeley police almost acquired earlier this year as an example. The City Council blocked that effort and it remains unclear why exactly BPD wanted such a bellicose piece of equipment.  

“Fear is always a great substitute for rational thought in American politics,” says Lippman. “It’s also the benefit of those who profit from warfare to have something to base their weapon sales on.”

San Francisco has also taken steps to limit law enforcement practices. In May, the city implemented legislation that will force police officers collaborating with the FBI to adhere to privacy rights as stated in local and state laws.  Although hailed as a step in the right direction, that legislation was watered down after an earlier version was vetoed by Mayor Ed Lee.

Dick Meister: Let’s count our blessings on Labor Day!


By Dick Meister

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

OK, it’s time to celebrate Labor Day, time to celebrate the labor movement that won a wide range of benefits for working people. That includes, of course, a paid day off on Labor Day and other holidays or extra pay for working on the holidays. But there’s much more than that. Much more.

We can also thank unions for:

* The eight-hour workday with meal and rest breaks.

* Forty-hour work weeks and three-day holiday weekends.

* Overtime pay and paid vacations, sick leave and maternity leave.

 * Major help in the enactment of anti-child labor law laws and increased public education funding.

* Medicare and retirement and disability benefits.

* Job security and other workers’ rights.

* A strong political voice for unions that helped enact Social Security, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, health and safety and minimum wage laws and has helped elect pro-worker office holders.

* Important help in the passage of key civil rights and civil liberties laws that have particularly helped political dissidents, women and minorities and military veterans.

Certainly not every worker enjoys all the union-backed benefits. But even the non-union workers who make up the vast majority of working people these days have many of the benefits. And, thanks to the efforts of unions, they have the opportunity to win all of the benefits.

You can be sure that on this Labor Day, as on all others, political candidates will have lots to say about unions.  You can expect, however, that not much will be heard from Republicans. Their usual ranting in behalf of their moneyed backers about the evils of “Big Labor” and “union bosses” will be muted, lest they offend potential blue-collar supporters. Democrats undoubtedly will voice their usual support for union members and workers generally, many sincerely, some simply in hopes of gaining blue-collar support.

Union opponents seem to forget that unions are democratic organizations, whose members generally have a strong voice in their unions’ activities.  Union officers are elected, after all, and so are answerable to their members.

Union positions on political candidates and issues, as well as financial contributions to candidates, are not dictated by union officers, despite what anti-union politicians assert. Union positions and union political spending are determined by the votes of union members, usually on the recommendations of their Committees on Political Education (COPE). Officers who don’t reflect their members’ position face replacement by membership vote.

Once, Labor Day meant big parades in cities nationwide. But no more. Although union numbers continue shrinking, unions are surely here to stay. They’ve fought their way into the Establishment. They still parade here and there, but no longer feel that parading is necessary to show their strength and importance.

Unions are much more likely to mark Labor Day with the political activity that has become as important to them as economic activity since their arrival into the ranks of the economically accepted.

Thus the Labor Day messages of union leaders will stress politics. That will largely include support for President Obama, despite union complaints that he has not worked hard enough to overcome congressional opposition to pro-labor reforms that he’s proposed or supported. From labor’s point-of-view, Obama is nevertheless very much preferable to Mitt Romney, just as most other Democrats are preferable to their Republican opponents.

Despite much opinion to the contrary, the union stress on politics, rather on winning broader public support for unionization, does not mean that all unions have reached a permanent, unshakeable position in society.

Nor does it mean that unions are not still fighting battles that are as almost as significant as those of the 1930s and 1940s that drew broad support from a public which sometimes frowns on unions, now that they have secured the strong position in society which the public helped them win.

Labor influence is not measured strictly by the number of union members, because of labor’s strong influence in politics and because the wages and conditions of unionized workers set the standard for all workers. Yet numbers are important, and unions generally have been struggling just to keep overall membership steady.

Currently, only about 12 percent of privately employed workers are unionized. But while their numbers have remained low, the figure for unionized public employees has grown to nearly 40 percent. That has put public employee unions in the vanguard of the labor movement, and given the movement new, badly needed strength, although also raising strong political opposition to public employee unions.

There are some fairly solid reasons for the decline in union membership overall, ironically including the unions’ loss of their position as underdogs, the widespread granting of union conditions to non-union workers and illegal employer interference in voting by workers on whether to unionize.

Perhaps the most important reason for the decline in union membership has been a fundamental change in the workforce. Once dominated by blue-collar production workers, it has come to be dominated by white-collar service workers. But organized labor sometimes has been slow to move into white-collar fields outside of public employment.

Labor Day should cause us to reflect on the great importance of the labor movement’s vital mission – its organizing of workers to win economic and political strength and helping elect pro-worker officeholders, its help in creating jobs and otherwise aiding the millions of Americans who remain unemployed or otherwise in economic distress.

So while you may not be able to see a parade on Labor Day, labor is still doing many other things well worth watching, and well worth supporting.

A footnote: Despite what the standard history books say, the first real Labor Day celebration was not held in New York City in 1882, but 14 years earlier right here in San Francisco. That was on February 21, 1868. Three thousand paraded the city’s streets by torchlight to mark enactment of the 8-hour-day law in California.

Happy Labor Day!

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

Corporations, people, money, and speech


On July 24, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors weighed in on a policy debate that’s become a powerful cause on the American left. By a unanimous vote, the supervisors placed on the November ballot a measure calling for a Constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood.

“We’re living in a time of trickle down economics and tax breaks for the rich,” Avalos said, later adding, “Big corporations [are] able to spend vast amounts of money” and have “the greatest influence on the outcome of elections.

“We need to look at our Constitution and have it amended so we aren’t looking at corporations as living, breathing people,” Avalos said.

That’s an immensely popular sentiment in this country, and it’s been stirred up by the US Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a ruling that has come to represent all of the evils of big-money politics rolled into one two-word phrase.

More than 80 percent of Americans say they want the decision overturned. Six states, including California, have passed resolutions calling for a Constitutional amendment. Occupy protesters have made it a big issue. Marge Baker, policy vice president for People for the American Way, wrote a Huffington Post piece calling the campaign “A Movement Moment.”

But while Citizens United is a great rallying point, the challenge here goes way beyond one court decision. Citizens United didn’t create corporate personhood. Repealing the decision won’t end the flow of money in politics — and a lot of First Amendment experts are exceptionally nervous about anything that seeks to mess with this central part of the Bill of Rights.

And for all the denunciation of Citizens United, the solution — drafting the actual language of a new Constitutional amendment — turns out to be more than a little tricky.


Citizens United v. FEC has a complicated history. In 2002, Congress passed the McCain-Feingold Act, which barred corporations and unions from funding “electioneering” activities in the period right before an election.

The right-wing group Citizens United complained that Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 911 was an attack on George W. Bush and intended to influence the 2004 election, and the courts dismissed that complaint, saying that there was no evidence the independent documentary was an illegal campaign contribution.

Citizens United then started making its own “documentaries,” including one in 2008 that many saw as a campaign commercial against Hillary Clinton. The FEC found that the video was, in fact, “electioneering,” and the case wound up at the Supreme Court.

The legal decision was complicated, but among other things, the court ruled that a ban on independent corporate spending on election campaigns was a violation of the First Amendment rights of those business entities.

That was amplified when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney uttered his famous line, “corporations are people.”

But in reality, Citizens United alone hasn’t caused the tsunami of big money that’s poured into elections, including the 2012 campaigns. Much of the cash contaminating the presidential coffers this year comes not from corporations effected by the ruling but from individuals and private trusts that have been free to throw money around for decades.

“The flood of money is disgusting and corrupting,” Peter Scheer, director of the California First Amendment Coalition, told us. “But it isn’t coming from public corporations. It’s mostly wealthy people and private trusts, and they didn’t need Citizens United to do this.”

In fact, the groundwork for modern sleaze was set a long time ago, in 1976, when the Supreme Court ruled in Buckley v. Valeo that, in effect, money was speech — and that any rich individual could spend all he or she wanted running for office.

What the Supreme Court has done, though, is set the modern political tone for campaign finance — among other things, invalidating a Montana law that barred corporate contributions to campaigns. And in the majority ruling and the assenting opinions, the court made clear that it doesn’t think government has any role in leveling the campaign playing field — that it’s not the business of government to decide that the money and speech of rich people and big business is drowning out the opinions and speech of the rest of the populace.


So now that every decent-thinking human being in the United States agrees that there’s too much sleazy money in politics and that it’s not a good thing for government to be for sale to the highest bidder, the really interesting — and difficult — question comes up: What do we do about it?

There are a lot of competing answers to that question. And frankly, none of them are perfect.

That may be one reason why the ACLU is mostly on the sidelines. When I contacted the national office to ask if anyone wanted to talk about the efforts to overturn Citizens United, spokesperson Molly Kaplan sent me an email saying “we actually don’t have anyone available for this.”

But on its website, the organization — in a nuanced statement on campaign reform — notes: “Any rule that requires the government to determine what political speech is legitimate and how much political speech is appropriate is difficult to reconcile with the First Amendment.”

In an ACLU blog post, Laura Murphy, director of the group’s Legislative Office in Washington DC, argues that “a Constitutional amendment—specifically an amendment limiting the right to political speech—would fundamentally ‘break’ the Constitution and endanger civil rights and civil liberties for generations.”

But David Cobb, one of the organizers of Move To Amend, which is pushing a Constitutional amendment, told me that “the idea that spending money is sacred is part of the problem, the reason that we don’t have a functioning democracy.”

There are two central parts to the problem: The notion that corporations have the same rights to free speech as people, and the notion that money is speech. Eliminate the first — which is immensely popular — and you still allow the Meg Whitmans and Koch brothers of the world to pour their personal fortunes into seeking political office or promoting other candidates.

Eliminate the second and you open a huge can of worms.

“It would be a disaster, in my view,” Scheer said. “As a general principle, I’m frightened by the concept of tampering with the Constitution.”

Money may not equal free speech, but it’s hard to exercise the right to free speech in a political campaign without money. And there are broader impacts that might be hard to predict.

But Peter Schurman, one of the founders of and a leader in Free Speech for the People, told me that “it’s a false premise that money equals speech. The point is to get a level playing field.”


Move to Amend and Free Speech for People are promoting similar approaches, Constitutional amendments that, in fairly simple terms, would radically and forever alter American politics. Several members of Congress have offered Constitutional amendments that include similar language.

The Move to Amend proposal is the broadest and cleanest. It states: “The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only. Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.”

It goes on to say: “Federal, State and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, for the purpose of influencing in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.”

It also includes this statement: “Nothing contained in this amendment shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.”

Free Speech for the People is simpler. It only addresses the corporate speech issue: “People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulations as the people, through their elected state and federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.”

Cobb notes that the Move to Amend measure doesn’t say how political speech should be regulated; it just opens the door to that kind of lawmaking. “The question of how to protect the integrity of the electoral process is a political question, not a Constitutional question,” he said. In the end, there’s a huge issue here. The framers of the Constitution, their political consciousness forged in a battle against big and repressive government, feared as much as anything the notion of rulers controlling the rights of the people to speak, write, assemble, publish (oh, and carry firearms) freely. Corporate interests (with the possible exception of the British East India Company, which monopolized the tea trade) weren’t a major concern.

And First Amendment purists still recoil at the idea that government, at any level, could make decisions limiting or regulating political speech. I sympathize. It’s scary. But in 2012, it’s easy to argue that the power of big money and big business has far eclipsed the power of government, that for all practical purposes, the rich and their corporate creations are the government of the United States — and that the people, assembled and exercising the power envisioned under the Constitution, need to make rules to, yes, level the playing field. Not rashly, not in crazy ways, with full cognizance of the risks — but also with the recognition that the current situation is fundamentally unacceptable, and that the potential dangers of messing with the First Amendment have to be balanced with the very real dangers of doing nothing.

Black Young Democrats rally against stop and frisk


A group organized by the San Francisco Black Young Democrats rallied at City Hall today. Their message: no to stop and frisk.

Members of the group, as well as the ACLU and the Asian Law Caucus, said the policy would violate the civil rights of San Franciscans.

Supervisors Malia Cohen, along with Avalos, Campos, and Mar also attended the rally and expressed their support. They co-sponsored a non-binding resolution, introduced by Cohen,  that condemned the idea of implementing stop and frisk in San Francisco.

Mayor Ed Lee said he was considering implementing the controversial policy a few weeks ago.

Under a stop and frisk policy, police have the leeway to stop and search people that they consider suspicious. On average, 85 percent of those stopped in New York City are young African American and Latino men.

Opponents say racial profiling is inevitably involved and that, for people who may be carrying minor contraband but no dangerous weapons, this racial profiling leads to selective enforcement of laws. About 87 percent of those stopped in New York were completely innocent, according to numbers compiled by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Lee said he suggested the idea after a spike of gun violence in June. But it has generated a backlash, and at today’s rally about 75 showed up to present a petition signed by more than 2,000 asking the mayor not to implement the policy.

Joaquin Torres, director of that office, accepted it on Lee’s behalf.

Lee himself didn’t engage with the protesters, but he did issue a statement not an hour after they left City Hall “clarifying his position” on stop and frisk.

“I want to be clear that I have not considered implementing a policy in San Francisco that would violate anyone’s constitutional rights or that would result in racial profiling,” the statement reads.

Ellington said the statement was not enough. “We want Mayor Ed Lee to say that he will not implement stop and frisk in San Francisco, nor any policies that are like stop and frisk. No policies that infringe upon our civil liberties,” Ellington told the Guardian.

“These are predatory policing practices that we don’t want in our city,” he said.

Stop ‘stop and frisk’


EDITORIAL If the San Francisco Police Department put up checkpoints and metal detectors all along lower Market Street and stopped and searched every person who walked by, they’d find some contraband. No question — a certain percentage of people on the city’s main downtown artery are carrying drugs or weapons. Some have warrants out. There would be multiple arrests and criminals taken off the streets.

And it’s hard to imagine that anyone would consider that a good idea.

So how about moving those checkpoints to the Mission and Bayview-Hunters Point? You might get even more weapons and drugs. And it would still be a profound violation of the civil liberties of every San Franciscan.

But what Mayor Ed Lee is now talking about — instituting some version of the notorious New York City “stop and frisk” law — isn’t much different. Under New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the police have been given the authority to search, without cause or a warrant, anyone who looks suspicious. The goal is to get guns off the street.

The result: The vast majority of people stopped are African American or Latino — and 88 percent are totally innocent.

It is, in other words, a huge waste of police resources as well as a systematic program or racial profiling and harassment.

Lee told the San Francisco’ Chronicle’s editorial board that he realized the problems with the New York system and wants a better model. And he said, correctly, that there are serious problems with gun violence, particularly in Bayview-Hunters Point. “I think we have to get to the guns,” Lee said. “I know we have to find a different way to get to these weapons, and I’m very willing to consider what other cities are doing.”

But San Francisco has spent huge amounts of time and resources trying (not always successfully) to build a community policing program that would increase trust between the police and communities of color — and any version of “stop and frisk” would instantly undermine that effort. It’s a terrible idea, and Lee should make it clear that he is dropping any discussion or consideration of it.

The mayor and his supporters insist that they’ll only pursue this approach if it can be done without profiling. But that’s almost impossible and it’s a fantasy to think the San Francisco cops, once empowered to stop anyone for any reason, would target white people the same way they do blacks and Latinos. There’s never been an example anywhere in the country where this kind of law was anything but a case study in racial profiling. Even Police Chief Greg Suhr sounds dubious.

The fact that Lee would even suggest this is a sign of how far he’s moved from his progressive roots. Moving even a step further toward this sort of wholesale civil-liberties violation would be a disaster for San Francisco.

Ed Lee gets frisky


I knew Mayor Ed Lee was going to be more friendly to developers that I would have liked, and I knew he’d be a tough sell on new taxes, but I didn’t expect to see him talking about a program that has racial profiling and civil liberties issues written all over it.

Yeah, we could find some weapons if we simply gave up all rights to privacy. Yeah, if we put a metal detector on Market Street and strip-searched everyone who passed by we’d find some contraband. But seriously — I don’t think even my crazy trolls think this is a good idea.



Mayor Lee signs watered-down limits on SFPD spying


Flanked by members of Coalition for a Safe San Francisco, Police Chief Greg Suhr, and Sup. Jane Kim, Mayor Ed Lee today signed legislation that calls for San Francisco Police officers working with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force to respect privacy rights in the California Constitution and local laws and calling for annual reports on SFPD-FBI activities.

Coalition members trumpeted what they called “historic civil rights legislation,” but this watered-down version of legislation that Lee vetoed last month doesn’t offer the same guarantees and codification of privacy principles as the previous version, which was approved on a 6-5 vote of the Board of Supervisors, whereas this new version won unanimous approval.

Its endorsement by the most conservative supervisors – those most deferential to the SFPD, politicians who routinely vote against even the most innocuous progressive legislation – is a sure indicator that the legislation doesn’t really do much to clips the wings of the SFPD, which initiated this controversy with a secret 2007 agreement with the FBI that federalized local officers.

That was precisely the objection to the initial legislation that were offered by Lee and Suhr, that it codified local privacy protections with specific limits on SFPD officers engaging in surveillance on citizens who had broken no laws, and that it subjected any future agreements with the FBI to approval by the Police Commission. The new legislation is far more vague.

“It is a step in the right direction, there’s no doubt it’s progress, but whether it’s real progress depends on the implementation,” says John Crew, an expert on police practices with the American Civil Liberties Union-Northern California, which unearthed the 2007 secret memo.

Crew has worked on this issue for years and has been troubled by the FBI’s claims that local laws don’t apply to federalized agents, with the SFPD’s resistance to allowing specific limits to be codified in local law, and with the deferential position Lee has taken to the SFPD. Crew said the strongest part of the new ordinance is the explicit statement that local officers can’t ignore local and state laws, but the details of how that’s applied weren’t really addressed in this new version.

“The question now is will there be a vigilant, meaningful, and sustained effort to implement this law and will there be sufficient transparency,” Crew said.

Two of the strongest advocates for the new law, Nasrina Bargzie of the Asian Law Caucus and Zahra Billoo of CAIR-SFBA, say the compromise version addressed their main issues and is worth celebrating, but they agree with Crew that its strength will ultimately depend on how it is implemented.

“We don’t see this as the end. We need to make sure it is implemented properly,” Billoo said, calling it a “watered down version” of the stronger and more specific initial legislation.

For example, the legislation calls for annual reports on FBI-SFPD activities, but it doesn’t go into much detail on what those reports will include.

“Part of what we’re going to do is communicate with the stakeholders about what we expect those reports to look like,” said Nasrina Bargzie, a coalition member from the Asian Law Caucus, noting that they would like to base them on the work that has been done in Portland, Ore., which has been a leader on the issue. “It’s going to require us to watch those trouble spots during implementation.”

While the vetoed legislation would have given the Police Commission more authority over future SFPD-FBI agreements, the signed version simply calls for public hearing before the Police Commission when there are new agreements. “Ultimately, it will come down to political will at the Police Commission” to enforce privacy protections, Crew said.

He called San Francisco “one of the strongest communities of concern about civil rights in the country,” and as long as that remains the case then this legislation could be an important vehicle for protecting civil rights. But the real question is what happens when there’s another terrorist scare and the JTTP decides civil liberties are secondary to beliefs that the police state and its surveillance efforts needs to be beefed up. Or when the police state decides to simply refuse to disclose is activities.

A seat in Congress for the 99 percent


For the first time in two decades, voters north of the Golden Gate will choose a new member of Congress. Given the overwhelming party registration, a Democrat will fill the open seat. But what kind of Democrat?

We need a truly independent, progressive Democrat — determined to support the party leadership when it upholds our principles, and just as willing to challenge when it doesn’t.

We can’t defeat a heartless Republican agenda by being spineless. Rather than letting the reactionary GOP define “national security” or “fiscal responsibility,” we’ve got to stand tall for our core beliefs.

That’s why I’m running for Congress.

The retirement of Lynn Woolsey, a stalwart champion for peace and social justice, means that an open seat is up for grabs — and corporate interests are eager to grab it.

I’m convinced that the only way to beat corporate AstroTurf is genuine grassroots. And that’s the ongoing commitment of the Solomon for Congress campaign in this new North Coast district, which stretches from Marin County to the Oregon border.

Our campaign has become the grassroots leader in the race. While refusing to accept a penny from corporate PACs or lobbyists, we’ve relied on thousands of individuals to build our campaign from the ground up.

That’s why more than 1,000 volunteers are engaged in our campaign, why more than 5,100 individuals have contributed — and why the latest poll shows me on track to advance to the general election under California’s new top-two primary system.

This is a deep-blue, very progressive district. We can — and must — do much better than just sending a check-the-box Democrat to Washington.

Like so many in our district, I’m outraged at perpetual war and misplaced federal priorities that bail out Wall Street banks while pushing millions of homeowners into foreclosure.

I insist that we must fully uphold habeas corpus and other precious civil liberties, not throw them under the bus.

Nuclear power plants, including Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, must be closed. We can’t afford a wait-and-see approach. Nuclear energy isn’t safe or green; it’s not sustainable, and its radioactive waste is not an acceptable legacy for future generations.

We need a serious commitment to conservation and renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

And we must reject the austerity program that has wrecked budgets and ripped vast holes in safety nets from Sacramento to Washington.

We need a Green New Deal that combines job-creating public investment with a deep commitment to sustainability — while defending the ecosystem instead of big corporations.

North of San Francisco, with an open congressional seat at stake, wealthy interests have put big money on my main opponents.

While I’m outpolling her, multimillionaire Stacey Lawson is dumping huge quantities of money into TV and radio commercials touting her “middle class” values — while declining to mention her enormous wealth, much less the fact that she couldn’t be bothered to vote in two-thirds of a dozen elections.

The elections when Lawson failed to vote included the historic November 2008 contest that decided on the presidency and the anti-gay-marriage Prop 8 as well as a state measure seeking to undermine young women’s right to choose — requiring parental consent, waiting periods and penalties for doctors.

Genuine social change requires fighting for our ideals. Please help me occupy a seat in Congress for the 99 percent. Let’s work together to make it happen. *


Norman Solomon is a candidate for Congress in the new North Coast district that stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border. A longtime activist, educator and policy advocate, he’s the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” For more information:

Lee veto protects the SFPD’s ability to spy on you


Mayor Ed Lee yesterday vetoed legislation that would have banned San Francisco Police Department officers working with the FBI from conducting covert surveillance on law-abiding citizens. Not terrorists, not criminals, not foreign spies, but people like you (well, people like you who are Muslim, protesters, visitors to certain websites, or people who otherwise have caught the attention of the FBI) who are not even suspected of criminal activity.

While Lee says he will support a so-called “consensus ordinance” introduced yesterday by Sup. Jane Kim, the sponsor of the vetoed measure, his veto letter makes clear that he wants San Francisco to reserve the right to spy on whoever the FBI wants to, echoing post-9/11 fear-mongering and right-wing bait-and-switch tactics while still trying to placate civil libertarians with his rhetoric.

“This ordinance intends to amend the Administrative code to require the San Francisco Police Department to either terminate a counterterrorism Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or materially restrict the interaction between the two law enforcement bodies,” his veto letter begins.

That MOU with the FBI is the one that the SFPD secretly entered into back in 2007 (which was exposed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union after a long public records court battle) that placed SFPD officers under FBI control without recognizing state and local privacy and civil rights restrictions. The resulting scandal caused the SFPD to apologize and work with the Police Commission on a general order clarifying that local officers must obey those restrictions, which Lee, Police Chief Greg Suhr, and some supervisors have maintained is good enough.

But six members of the Board of Supervisors didn’t agree with this “trust us” approach, noting that future chiefs and Police Commissioners can change the policy at any time, and saying protecting the privacy and civil rights of city residents and visitors is an important enough issue to be formally codified in local law.

John Crew, the police practices expert for the ACLU, has said that the only reason to oppose the ordinance is if officials want to reserve the right to spy on law-abiding citizens, and Lee seemed to signal as much by writing “the restrictions it places on our Police Department overly constrain their ability to protect our City from very real threats.” And he enumerated those “threats” by equating those being spied on for their political beliefs or because of their ethnicity with terrorists who want to blow us up.

“Recently, the United States Department of Homeland Security raised San Francisco’s risk rating – we are now considered the fourth-highest terrorism target risk in the nation along with cities like New York and Washington, DC. Protecting San Franciscans is the most important responsibility I have as Mayor. This goal, however, does not justify a trampling of constitutionally protected principles, and we have a government structure in place to ensure this dichotomy never materializes,” Lee wrote.

See what he did there? There was nothing in this measure that limited the FBI or SFPD’s ability to monitor suspected terrorists, which they’re already free to broadly define, particularly since 9/11 and the USA Patriot Act and other police state changes, including the very creation of the Orwellian-named Department of Homeland Security. But civil libertarians have been trying to hold the line and prevent the FBI – which has a long and sordid history of spying on law-abiding citizens and using that intel for political sabotage – from going after anyone who looks different or criticizes this country’s leaders or policies.

It’s great that Lee, who was a civil rights attorney decades ago, gives lip service to that concern and says he’s willing to work with the Coalition for a Safe San Francisco on legislation that would allow a hearing by the Police Commission of any future JOAs with the FBI after it’s been signed. But Kim’s statement that, “It’s a compromise that essentially will accomplish the same thing” just isn’t true, as the activists who pushed this tell us. The vetoed measure was already a compromise, with Kim making many amendments at the request of Suhr and repeatedly delaying final consideration of the measure so any other concerns could be addressed.

The JOA should have been suspended and rewritten, as the city of Portland, Oregon did when these same concerns were raised there, with no detriment to its relationship with the FBI. But even that request to suspend our JOA had already been removed from the watered down ordinance that Lee vetoed. “When we work together to create solutions that represent our shared values, we make San Francisco a safer, better City together,” Lee piously wrote, glossing over his unwillingness to work with the coalition before vetoing the measure. “He won’t even meet with civil rights groups on this,” Crew told me last week, as the Coalition was trying to talk with Lee to head off a veto.

Activists like Shahid Buttar, executive director of Bill of Rights Defense Committee and a member of the Coalition, are trying to look on the bright side and they say they’re happy that Lee now wants to work with activists on the issue. But the compromise and consensus are what’s been happening over the last several months – now, it’s simply Lee bowing to the SFPD rather than trying to regulate it and trying to save face on a bad veto.

As Buttar told us, “It’s disappointing that Mayor Lee would choose to overrule the voice of residents of the city and their representatives on the Board of Supervisors.”

SFPD-FBI spying restrictions could face mayoral veto


If the San Francisco Police Department isn’t working with the FBI to secretly spy on law-abiding local residents – as a secret document released last year indicated they had the authority to do – then why are Police Chief Greg Suhr, Mayor Ed Lee, and others opposing legislation that would ban such surveillance?

That’s the question that longtime police policy expert John Crew of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California is asking as he tries to get two more members of the Board of Supervisors to join the six current co-sponsors of the legislation, which the board will consider on Tuesday, in anticipation of having to override a mayoral veto.

“What’s the harm?” Crew told us. “There’s something that doesn’t add up here.”

As we reported at the time, the ACLU last year obtained a 2007 memorandum-of-understanding between the SFPD and the FBI establishing procedures for the Joint Terrorism Task Force, in which SFPD personnel would be under the command of the FBI, circumventing local and state restrictions on domestic surveillance of people who haven’t committed any crimes.

After the ensuring controversy and under pressure from members of the Police Commission, Police Chief Greg Suhr issued Bureau Order #2011-07 to clarify that SFPD personnel are bound by local and state privacy protections. “With this Bureau Order, the language of the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding no longer applies and SFPD personnel are bound by the provisions of the 2011 Order,” SFPD Public Information Officer Albie Esparza told us last month.

Suhr and Lee have each made public statements indicating that the new legislation – developed by the ACLU and carried by Sup. Jane Kim with five progressive supervisors as co-sponsors – is redundant and unnecessary. But Crew and the ACLU made a Sunshine Ordinance request for any modifications to the MOU or communications with the FBI indicating that SFPD’s contractual obligations no longer apply, and there were no such documents.

“When you talk about civil rights, you put it in writing,” Crew said. “This really doesn’t add up. We’re getting conflicting explanations. And the bottom line is this problem has been solved in Portland.”

When a similar issue arose in Portland, Oregon, civil libertarians pressured the city to withdraw from its MOU with the FBI and create a new one that includes restrictions on the surveillance of people who were not suspected of any crimes, but who may have been subjected to FBI attention because they were Muslims or because of their political beliefs. And Crew said it didn’t harm the relationship of the two policing agencies.

At an emotional hearing last week before the Public Safety Committee, a long string of representatives from groups that have been singled out for FBI surveillance that violated protections under the California Constitution – Muslims, anarchists, anti-war activists, Occupy demonstrators, immigrant groups, environmentalists, animal rights activists, etc. – urged supervisors to stand up for them. The legislation has a long and diverse list of organizational supporters.

Sup. Scott Wiener – one of two supervisors that Crew is hoping to win over – told us, “I agree that local surveillance rules should govern. But I’m not convinced that we need this legislation.”

Wiener said he still hasn’t made up his mind, and he plans to speak with Portland’s mayor before Tuesday’s hearing.

So why wouldn’t he support legislation that simply made his position official city policy? Wiener said he’s wary of telling SFPD how to do law enforcement and with “reducing the ability of the department to be flexible in the future.”

Crew said representatives of the Mayor’s Office, which did not respond to our calls for comment, have told him that Lee would defer to the SFPD’s determination of whether to sign the legislation. “That’s a pretty stunning claim,” Crew said, “which does not bode well in terms of reasonable civilian control of the SFPD for the next few years. I sure hope they back off that.”

Kim, who has a good relationship with the Mayor’s Office, also did not return calls for comment. But Crew was incredulous about why anyone who believes in civil liberties would oppose this legislation, telling us, “This is not a radical stand here.”

Dick Meister: The IWW Legacy


By Dick Meister

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement and the other anti-capitalist forces of today could find no greater inspiration than the Industrial Workers of the World – the IWW, one of the most influential organizations in U.S. history, that was founded in Chicago in 1905 by a band of fiercely dedicated idealists.

The Wobblies, as they were called, battled against overwhelming odds. Their only real weapon was an utter refusal to compromise in a single-minded march toward a Utopia that pitted them against the combined forces of government and business.

Their weapon, their goals, the power of their opponents, the imperfect world about them made it inevitable that they would lose. But this is not to say the Wobblies failed because they didn’t reach their goal of creating “One Big Union” to wage a general strike that would put all means of production in the hands of workers and transform the country into a “Cooperative Commonwealth of Workers.”

To say the Wobbles failed would be to misinterpret the history of the Wobbly battle that left the world, as few battles leave it, a little less imperfect.

You need not believe in the simple Marxism and direct action techniques of the Wobblies to appreciate their great contribution to democracy, to union theory and practice, to folk music and literature, to the American idiom.

The IWW was founded by a group of socialists and dissident union organizers as an alternative to the American Federation of Labor, which they saw as an elitist and racist handmaiden of the capitalist class that controlled the economy. They denounced the AFL for ignoring the racially and ethnically mixed mass of unskilled workers in favor of the far fewer skilled and semi-skilled white craftsmen who were organized into separate unions according to their crafts.

The Wobblies would bring all workers, all of them members of the working class, into the “One Big Union” regardless of their race, nationality, craft or work skills.

Wobbly organizers crisscrossed the country on freight trains to spread their message. They mounted street corner soapboxes in many cities, often battling police and vigilantes who tried to silence them. They organized lumberjacks, mine workers, farm workers, factory and mill hands. They led strikes.

The speeches, the written statements and the songs of the Wobblies were powerful, simple, direct and moving. So were the cartoons, posters and other material that filled the IWW’s tremendous outpouring of publications, among them a dozen foreign-language newspapers that were distributed among the many unskilled immigrants from European nations where unions had goals similar to those of the IWW.

Much of what was said and sung and written is still with us, a century later. Probably most important are the brilliant insights of the IWW’s chief leaders, Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and the songs of famed IWW martyr Joe Hill, those simple satirical rhymes set to familiar melodies that focused workers on a common body of ideals.

You’ve probably heard at least one of Hill’s songs. Remember? “You will eat, bye and bye/ In that glorious land above the sky/ Work and pray, live on hay/You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.”

The IWW legacy goes far beyond words and song. There’s still much of value that we can draw from its history, sadly including what the IWW’s ultimate fate tells us about how excessively undemocratic our government can be if left unchecked.

The Wobblies’ refusal to support U.S. entry into World War I and their refusal to abandon strikes and other organizational activities during the war were used as an excuse by officials at all levels of government to side with employers. They called out troops and police to attack non-violent IWW strikers and raid IWW offices. They encouraged vigilantism and lynchings and generally raised public hysteria against “IWW terror” that allegedly hampered the war effort.

After the war ended in 1918, officials seized on the IWW’s open support for the Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia as an excuse to crush Wobbly strikes and organizing efforts by mass arrests and imprisonment of strikers and IWW leaders for engaging in “Bolshevik conspiracies.”

The IWW was all but destroyed. Membership shrank steeply and steadily, to the point that today the organization has only a relative handful of members, most of them employed at coffee shops, bookstores and other small businesses, their message spread primarily via websites.

Make no mistake, though. Employers did make some concessions in response to the IWW, and the very example of the Wobblies, their spirit of protest, their tactics, their history, and their courage continue to inspire labor and political activists worldwide.

As author Joyce Kornbluh notes in her magnificent IWW anthology, “Rebel Voices,” the Wobblies made “an indelible mark on the American labor movement and American society” – laying the groundwork for later mass unionization, inspiring the formation of groups to protect the civil liberties of dissidents, prompting prison and farm labor reforms and leaving behind “a genuine heritage … industrial democracy.”

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 350 of his columns.


Local control of cops


Sup. Jane Kim has introduced legislation to the Board of Supervisors calling for a re-examination of the San Francisco Police Department’s participation in some aspects of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which was created by the Federal Bureau of Investigations to do domestic surveillance.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit the SFPD from working with the JTTF to collect intelligence on individuals in the absence of criminal wrongdoing, which has been a concern of civil libertarians since last year when a secret memo revealed that local officers were under FBI command and not bound by local and state restrictions on such surveillance (see “Spies in blue,” 4/26/11).

Kim said the ordinance was necessary to ensure the “requirement of reasonable suspicion before we do any type of investigation of criminal activity. And we don’t base it on ethnic identification or religious practice as some of the members of the community have been experiencing the last couple of years.

“Our office is sponsoring this because many members of the Arab, Asian and the Muslim community worship in the district and own many small businesses,” she said.

Critics of the relationship between local and federal law enforcement agencies, facilitated through participation in the JTTF, have long raised concerns about racial profiling and unnecessary spying ordered at the federal level, and carried out by SFPD inspectors assigned full time to the task force.

Federal regulations governing FBI intelligence gathering are weaker than standards set by San Francisco and California’s Constitution. In 1990, the San Francisco Police Commission established rules requiring that intelligence-gathering involving any First Amendment activity be based on reasonable suspicion of significant criminal activity. Those rules reflect the California Constitutional requirement of an “articulable criminal predicate” before law enforcement agencies engage in intelligence-gathering activity.

However, because the SFPD inspectors assigned to the JTTF work under the direction of the FBI, the local regulation and control of law enforcement is effectively limited in JTTF investigations.

“It’s important that a clear prohibition against policing based on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion applies to all of our officers, all of the time,” said John Crew, police practices expert for the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU is one of more than 30 civil rights and community organizations participating in the Coalition for Safe SF, which helped develop the proposed ordinance.

According to the coalition, current rules prevent the SFPD from barring its inspectors assigned to the JTTF from joining FBI agents in collecting intelligence on San Franciscans without any “particular factual predication.”

“The purpose of this legislation is to restore local control, civilian oversight, and transparency over the SFPD’s participation in FBI intelligence-gathering,” stated attorney Nasrina Bargzie of the Asian Law Caucus, which is part of the coalition.

The coalition was a major participant in the San Francisco Human Rights Commission hearing in 2010 on the issue of baseless spying and racial profiling in JTTF investigations. The result was a comprehensive report, endorsed by the Board of Supervisors last spring.

But in 2011, the ACLU and Asian Law Caucus learned that key protections for civil liberties — including civilian oversight of intelligence activity and safeguards to limit intrusive tactics — were thrown out the window and replaced by a secret Memorandum of Understanding with federal law enforcement in 2007.

Under the MOU, SFPD paid officers work out of the local FBI office. The secure nature of their work means they must seek federal permission to even talk to their superiors in the SFPD about their work, effectively removing them from the local chain of command. Despite mandated requirements on local law enforcement, the MOU does not allow for any civilian oversight of the work of officers assigned to the JTTF.

San Francisco Chief of Police Greg Suhr said he believes that the concerns have already been addressed. In his first days in office, Chief Suhr issued a binding Bureau Order #2011-07 setting forth the requirement that officers comply with local standards.

An excerpt of the order reads, “SFPD officers shall work with the JTTF only on investigations of suspected terrorism that have a criminal nexus. In situations where the statutory law of California is more restrictive of law enforcement than comparable federal law, the investigative methods employed by SFPD officers working on JTTF investigations shall conform to the requirements of such California statutes.”

“With this Bureau Order, the language of the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding no longer applies and SFPD personnel are bound by the provisions of the 2011 Order,” SFPD Public Information Officer Albie Esparza told the Guardian.

But Crew said that as long as the MOU between the SFPD and federal law enforcement remains in place, Suhr’s order at best creates contradictory policy. “The Memorandum of Understanding is a binding legal contact with the federal government. Which do you think will take legal precedence when it comes up against a local police chief’s departmental order?” said Crew, who urged the department to clarify the matter by withdrawing from the MOU, a step the SFPD has thus far been unwilling to take.

A letter from Sept. 28 of last year to Coalition for Safe SF from FBI Special Agent Stephanie Douglas regarding the contradiction clarifies the matter. “I do retain the right to assign FBI JTTF cases,” states Douglas, who goes on to assert it is she who makes the confidential judgment of which cases fall afoul of the state and city rules and which do not.

After years of intelligence-gathering authorized under a secret memorandum, public mistrust in the SFPD’s relationship to federal law enforcement persists. Kim says she believes the proposed ordinance will still help make San Francisco safer. “It increases the trust of the community members that are working with public safety in reporting, and in cooperating around many of the actual criminal activities that might be going on in the city,” she said.

The proposed legislative approach of regulating the scope of local participation in federal JTTF work is not unprecedented. The city has the option of terminating the MOU with 30 days notice, a step that the city of Portland, Oregon has taken to prevent its police force from spying on citizens in violation of local and state law.

In December, the city of Berkeley suspended its agreement with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (an arm of the Joint Terrorism Task Force) as part of a broad review of that city’s relationship to other local and federal law enforcement agencies (see “Policing the police,” 12/13/11).

“What this is about is maintaining local control of law enforcement and ensuring the civil liberties of the people of San Francisco,” Crew said. “Don’t San Franciscans deserve the same protection of their civil liberties as the people of Portland?”

Kim was joined by Sups. David Compos and John Avalos in sponsoring the ordinance. Supervisors are expected to vote on the whether to adopt the ordinance this spring after the measure is heard by the city’s Public Safety Committee following the normal 30-day hold. The measure seems to have the support it needs to pass the Board of Supervisors, but it remains unclear whether Mayor Ed Lee, who did not answer our inquiries, will sign it.

This is our country, too: Fred Korematsu’s daughter on her father’s civil rights legacy


“One never knows after someone dies what happens to their legacy. Sometimes it becomes a part of history and sometimes it grows,” Karen Korematsu -remarked in a phone interview with the Guardian this week. Her father, civil rights activist Fred Korematsu, will be honored statewide with his own official day on Mon/30. You can celebrate his legacy locally at the Oakland Museum of California’s Lunar New Year event on Sun/29, where Karen will be speaking about her dad’s contribution to our cultural heritage.

“In the case of my father, his legacy seems to be growing,” Karen continued. “His story resonates and remains important to people.” Last year was the first time California celebrated the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. This year, events from a photo exhibition in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, panel discussions, and teacher workshops in Humboldt, San Diego, Davis, San Francisco, and San Jose will commemorate his work.

The Oakland Museum of California’s celebration will be especially meaningful — Korematsu was born and raised in Oakland.  The event will include remarks from Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, a talk by Karen, performances by students from the Korematsu Discovery Academy in Oakland, vocalist Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, and koto player Brian Mitsuhiro, and a screening of the Emmy Award-winning Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: the Fred Korematsu Story.

The elder Korematsu was a civil rights hero who refused to be incarcerated in the Japanese internment camps during World War II. When President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 requiring Japanese Americans to be placed in internment camps, the 23-year-old Korematsu refused to report. He attempted to continue his life as a normal American citizen, but was spotted and arrested in San Leandro three months later. Convicted for violating military orders, he lived for several months at the Tanforan assembly center in San Bruno and subsequently was transferred to Topaz, Utah — one of the 10 incarceration camps that were set up for Japanese Americans during WWII — where his family was also being held. 

Korematsu refused to let go of the belief that his civil liberties as guaranteed by the constitution were being directly violated. He appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court to no avail. 

That is, until 1983, when researcher Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga and professor Peter Irons brought to light previously-suppressed documents detailing the FBI and military intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Japanese Americans were not threats to national security. 

Korematsu’s case was re-opened by a legal team of pro bono attorneys and at long last, his conviction was overturned in a federal court in San Francisco. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice released an admission of error in the case of the Japanese American internment camp. 

Karen is disappointed that her father didn’t live to see the apology. But she sees the confession as an important step towards bringing “accountability to people in government who need to take responsibility in making sure that decisions are always in the best interests of all Americans.”

She holds that actions like those of her father are especially relevant today, in these times of anti-immigrant sentiment. “He took a stance against racial profiling in issues such as national security and immigration,” she said. 

Following 9/11, Fred, along with the Japanese American Citizen League, spoke out against the national security measures the U.S. government was taking towards Muslim inmates being held at Guantanamo Bay. He became an active member of the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations. He assisted in the passage of a bill that prompted an official apology from the U.S. government, granting $20,000 for each surviving Japanese American who was incarcerated.

Today, Fred’s legacy lives on through the work of the Korematsu Institute. Founded in 2009 through the Asian Law Caucus, the institute’s mission is to advance pan-ethnic civil and human rights through education. 

Karen said that one of the many ventures of the institute is creating supplemental curriculum for K-12 schools to provide historical information that is missing in textbooks. She believes that her father’s story is an important lesson for children. “It tells the truth about American history, the Constitution, and their own backgrounds,” she said. 

Sensitive to the current financial troubles of California’s school system, the Korematsu Institute raises funds independently to create educational kits that it distributes to schools free-of-cost. 

Upon her father’s death, Karen believed that she had been passed on the torch in terms of challenging prejudice through education — so that nothing similar to the Japanese internment camps will ever happen again. “It’s heartwarming to tell my father’s story and see his legacy grow,” she concluded.


Lunar New Year celebration

Sun/29 noon-4:30 p.m., free with museum admission

Oakland Museum of California

1000 Oak, Oakl.

(510) 318-8400




Stuck in reverse


Some days, you wake up, check the news, and wonder just what the hell happened to this country. And I’m not talking about that nutty right-wing view that we’ve strayed from the original vision laid out for us by the authors of the Constitution or the Bible. I have just the opposite view: I’m wondering why those people seem so intent on dragging us back into the bad old days of bygone centuries, when white male property owners ran things as they saw fit.

A dangerously intolerant religious fundamentalist who longs for the Puritan days, Rick Santorum, essentially tied for first place in the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses. And he was part of an entire field of candidates that wants to revoke women’s reproductive and LGBT rights, deny that industrialization has affected the environment and should be addressed, dismantle already decimated government agencies, simply let the strong exploit the weak, and hope that Jesus comes back to save us from ourselves. Their strange reverence for the Constitution apparently stems from wanting to drag us back into the 18th century.

And don’t even get me started on President Barack Obama and his worthless Democratic Party, which is only a bit better than the truly heinous Republicans. At least Obama says some of the right things – like wanting to raise taxes on millionaires, reverse Bush-era attacks on civil liberties, respect states’ medical marijuana laws, and use diplomacy rather than only bellicosity with concerning countries like Iran – even though he acts in contradiction of those statements, over and over again.

It’s no better in the Golden State, where the yestercentury crowd now wants to abandon plans for a high-speed rail system that has already been awarded $3.5 billion in federal transportation funding and for which California voters authorized another $10 billion in bond funding. Why? Because a panel headed by an Orange County douchebag says the business plan isn’t detailed enough and the money for the entire $100 billion buildout isn’t nailed down yet. Well guess what? California also doesn’t have a plan for when its highway and airport systems get overwhelmed by population growth over the next 20 years. And criticizing the viability of high-speed rail – something most other advanced countries figured out how to build decades ago – isn’t exactly going to help secure private equity commitments. It’s a super fast train, folks – not some scary satanic iron horse from the future – people will pay to ride it.

But the situation must be better here in liberal San Francisco, right? Wrong! Mayor Ed Lee, the San Francisco Chronicle, and all their business community allies continue to relentlessly push their belief that the main job of government is to create private sector jobs, even though most economists say a politician’s ability to do so is limited at best.

Lee is pushing for all city legislation to be measured by whether it creates private sector jobs, as if protecting the environment, preserving public sector jobs, or safeguarding the health, welfare, and workers’ rights of citizens weren’t also under the purview of local government. A Chronicle editorial today called Lee the most “realistic city leader in memory. He’s all about creating jobs, repaving streets, sprucing up faded Market Street and fixing Muni’s flaws,” the same goals the paper was focused on a century ago.

But the main trust of the editorial was calling for Lee to also focus on homelessness. Not poverty, mind you, but homelessness. “A decrease in jobless numbers is important, but so are fewer shopping carts pushed along sidewalks and a drop in the numbers of mentally ill in doorways and on park benches,” they wrote. In other words, they just don’t want to see poor people on the streets, because that newspaper and its fiscally conservative editorial writers and base of readers certainly haven’t been calling for a fairer distribution of this city’s wealth, or even higher taxes on the rich that might fund more subsidized housing programs or mental health treatment. I get the feeling they’d be content to just allow shanty towns on our southern border where our low-wage workers can live, just like the Third World cities that they seem to want to emulate.

Ugh, so depressing, so ridiculous, so regressive. I think I’m going back to bed now.