Bruce Brugmann

Deadline Poet Calvin Trillin writes on the Gulf oil spill



On the Gulf oil spill

Because of this spill

That “Drill, baby, drill,”

Which always seemed shrill,

Now seems shriller still

And certainly will

When we get the bill.

Calvin Trillin, The Nation (5/24/10)

PBS’s Frontline edits out single payer


Documentary misrepresented advocates as supporters of a public option

Silencing supporters of single-payer, or Medicare for All, is a media staple, but PBS’s Frontline found a new way to do that on the April 13 special Obama’s Deal–by selectively editing an interview with a single-payer advocate and footage of single-payer protesters to make them appear to be activists for a public option instead.

The public option proposal would have offered a government-run health insurance program to some individuals as an alternative to mandatory private health insurance. Not only is this not the same thing as Medicare for All, it’s an idea many single-payer advocates actually opposed, arguing that it would leave the insurance industry intact as dominant players in the healthcare business (, 7/20/09).

In the report, Frontline explained that insurance industry lobbyists pushed a bill in the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Sen. Max Baucus (D.-Montana) “that would include the mandate to buy insurance and kill the public option.” That “didn’t sit well with the president’s liberal supporters,” the Frontline narrator told viewers. After a clip from public-option supporter Howard Dean, a full minute and a half focused on protests: “The left counterattacked in May…. Liberal outrage arrived in Baucus’ own hearing room as healthcare activists, one after another, shouted him down.” Several of these protesters are seen in action, with a clip of an interview with Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) saying that these were members of her group shut out of the hearings.

Now, Flowers and PNHP are leading single-payer advocates–but you’d never learn that from watching the Frontline program, which never mentions the single-payer concept. Instead, viewers were left to assume that Flowers and the protesters were public-option proponents, since that was the only progressive proposal that had been discussed. As Flowers explained (Consortium News, 4/15/10):

When the host, Mr. [Michael] Kirk, interviewed me for Obama’s Deal, we spoke extensively of the single-payer movement and my arrest with other single-payer advocates in the Senate Finance Committee last May. However, our action in Senate Finance was then misidentified as “those on the left” who led a “counterattack” because of “liberal outrage” at being excluded.

Viewers saw more footage of protesters being handcuffed and led away, with an unidentified voiceover from Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! describing the arrests, and finally a voice was heard saying: “This option cannot be part of the discussion at a Senate hearing? Now, I think that’s wrong.”

The audience could only conclude that “this option” referred to the public option, but this conclusion would be incorrect; this voice was actually MSNBC host Ed Schultz, a single-payer supporter, and a fuller version of his quote (5/7/09) would have made it clear that he was complaining about single-payer being excluded from the hearing:

Now, let me explain single-payer for just a minute. The money comes from one source, the government. Now, you and I pay taxes, OK. The government pays the bill. It’s that simple. Patients are not caught in the middle between doctors and insurance companies, no game-playing here. There’s no middleman. You know? There’s no decision-makers between you and your doctor. It’s a clean deal.

So what Chairman Baucus has decided, this option cannot be part of the discussion at a Senate hearing? Now, I think that’s wrong. I don’t think it’s fair.

Frontline’s editors responded to Flowers’ complaints, saying that they “understand the frustration of Dr. Flowers and others in what she calls the ‘single-payer movement,'” but that “it’s the work of journalism to report widely on a topic, then find the sharpest focus for the reporting, unfortunately leaving out much strong material along the way to shaping the clearest communication possible in the time or space allowed.”

The statement also argued that

the section that included Dr. Flowers was focused on the power of the insurance lobby and showed how activists like Dr. Flowers were excluded from the debate over the bill. The protesters themselves said they were protesting the fact that they had been excluded from the debate, so we believe we presented the protests in the proper context.

But in Frontline’s presentation, “activists like Dr. Flowers”–that is, single-payer advocates–didn’t even exist. Having itself excluded their perspective from the debate–and even misrepresented them as supporters of a position that many of them actually oppose–there’s some irony in Frontline claiming to have put this exclusion in the “proper context.”

This is not the first time that Frontline has decided that a conversation about healthcare reform should exclude single-payer (FAIR Action Alert, 4/7/09). The March 31, 2009, Frontline special Sick Around America avoided discussions of national healthcare plans. This omission led Frontline correspondent T.R. Reid–who had hosted a previous Frontline special (4/15/08) that examined various public healthcare models–to withdraw from the project.
When Frontline pushed single-payer out of the debate last year, PBS ombud Michael Getler (4/10/09) weighed in on the side of critics, calling it a “missed opportunity.” Getler today (4/23/10) published a column about the latest Frontline omissions, once again finding that ignoring a popular policy like single-payer is problematic:

It seems to me that to ignore something that was out there and popular with millions of people and thousands of healthcare professionals, but not really on the table, was a mistake. Although obviously tight on time, the producers should have found 30 seconds to take this into account, because many Americans support it, yet the deal makers never mention it, nor is the politics of discarding it addressed.

We’re thankful that Getler has once again taken this view and encouraged a more inclusive discussion of healthcare on PBS. However, his criticism misses the critical journalistic fact that single-payer advocates were not only marginalized by Frontline–they were misrepresented.

Tell Frontline that their recent program Obama’s Deal should have accurately explained the views of single-payer advocates.


You may also want to write to PBS ombud Michael Getler (



Tell Frontline that their recent program Obama’s Deal should have accurately explained the views of single-payer advocates.


Memorial services set for Tricia Taborn–wear a dramatic hat!!


Memorial services for Tricia Taborn, the great San Francisco spirit who died April 7, have been set for Saturday, May 1, from 1 to 5 Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda, just south of Solano Avenue in North Berkeley.

Her husband Gerald Baron recommends that, in honor of Tricia’s love for flamboyant hats in dramatic colors, her friends come wearing  a dramatic hat in the Tricia Taborn tradition. More details will follow on this blog.

Click here to read Tricia Taborn’s obituary.


Tricia Taborn, a great San Francisco spirit, died today


I was saddened to hear that my former associate of many years, Tricia Taborn, died today (April 7) of cancer at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland.

She was four days shy of her 62nd birthday.

She entered the hospital on Saturday (April 3).  Her mother Neomi flew out from Dallas,  Texas,  to be with her the last few days. Her sister Ginny, her  two brothers Kenneth and Michael  and her husband Gerald Baron  were with her when she died. 

Tricia worked for me as assistant to the publisher from July of 1993 to April of 2000.

I always marveled  at how she  could jump into things and make them work.  Her friends and family say that she has been doing that throughout her life.  When she came to the Guardian, she had no newspaper or journalism experience, yet she quickly  fit in and

became a valuable employee able to handle most any administrative job that came along.  She kept me organized and she organized an endless series of events at the Guardian that included five annual awards contests and ceremonies (poetry, photography, cartoons, short stories, film treatments) that she structured to reflect the rich cultural diversity and artistic talent in San Francisco.

She also put on major events and dinners for the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the California Freedom of Information Coalition during its early days.  She loved being a hostess and she did so with flair, a rollicking laugh, flamboyant hats and an ability to make the event important and distinctive and  to see that everyone was welcome and having fun. She served for several years as a director and treasurer of SPJ.

Victoria McDonnell, a friend that Tricia talked with almost every day on the phone, agreed that Tricia liked to jump into things.

“I know she joined her high school year book committee in Florida soon after arriving at the school.  In San Francisco, she did this at Major Ponds (a jazz club where she worked as a bartender in the late 1970s and early 1980s), the Bay Guardian, the Industry Standard (the late magazine),  OneWorld Health, and lastly selling real estate.

“Tricia was the first employee for One World Health,  It started out at (founder) Victoria Hale’s house and grew to be a world-wide multimillion dollar non profit pharmaceutical company.  The first ever non-profit pharmaceutical company in fact. Tricia thrived on ‘start ups.'”

Victoria Hale said that Tricia was “an amazing woman  who accomplished much, despite the obstacles, with humor and passion, while caring for others.  She had an especially good relationship with the Indian physicians who worked on leishmaniasis.  She demonstrated much courage and trust by becoming the first employee of OneWorld Health, while still on the first floor of our house.”

Tricia lived in Florida, Utah, Atlanta, Dallas, and other places because her father Raymond Taborn was an aeronautical engineer and moved about because of his work. She bought a house in Berkeley in 2004 with her husband Gerald Baron. 

For the last two years of her life, Tricia lived her dream: getting her independence by selling real estate and having fun doing it. She worked in the Berkeley office of Coldwell Banker, specializing in low price housing that many real estate people avoided. She was recently recognized as the top sales person in her office.  Her main hobby, according to her friends, was shopping and she was well known at Nordstroms, Macys and Ross department stores, as well as thrift shops and farmer’s markets.

Tricia was diagnosed in November with metastatic colon cancer. Over the last two months she rallied and was able to spend time and phone calls talking to her friends and “wrapping up her relationships in a positive and meaningful way,” as Victoria Hale put it.

Invariably, her friends reported that Tricia remained upbeat until she went into the hospital for the last time.

She leaves her mother Neomi Taborn of Dallas, a sister Ginny of Dallas, two brothers, Kenneth of Arlington, Texas, and Michael of Phoenix, Arizona, her husband Gerald Baron,  and Tommy, her beloved cat.  Services are pending and will be reported on this blog when they are set.



Bill Bennett, Public-Interest Fighter, dies at 92


On the front page of the Oct. 19, l988 issue of the Guardian, we ran a big picture of Bill Bennett with a caption that read: “Bill Bennett, the only public official in California to take on PG&E.” The California Public Utilities Commission was poised to make yet another multibillion giveaway to the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. — and not one public official in San Francisco was on hand to monitor the CPUC hearings and testify about the horrible impacts the rate hike to pay for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant would have on the public. Our editorial noted, “The only public official in California who has taken on the case is Bill Bennett, a member of the State Board of Equalization and a former member of the CPUC, a determined old warrior who fought Diablo from the start and continues to do so, on his own, against the odds and at considerable personal cost.” William Morgan Bennett, the public official who for more than five decades fought the corporate goliaths, died Feb. 9 at his home in Kentfield after a short illness. He was 92. Today, there are other public officials out there fighting PG&E, but there is nobody who could take on PG&E and its private utility allies as effectively as Bennett.

For the full obituary, see the Bruce Blog at


Bill Bennett, the only public official in California to take on PG&E


William Morgan Bennett, 1918-2010

On the front page of the Guardian of Oct. 19, 1988, we ran a big picture of Bill Bennett with a caption that read: “Bill Bennett, the only public official in California to take on PG&E.”

The reason we featured Bennett was because the California Public Utilities Commission was poised to make yet another multi-billion giveaway to the Pacific Gas & Electric Company.

This time the CPUC would force the public to pay $3.4 billion worth of PG&E’s mistakes  at its Diable Canyon nuclear power plant and not one public official in San Francisco, home of the PG&E/Raker Act scandal, and not one from any other public agency or public institution was on hand to monitor the CPUC hearings and testify about the horrible impacts the Diablo rate hike will have on the public.

The lone, honorable exception was Bill Bennett. Our editorial noted, “The only public official in California who has taken on the case is Bill Bennett, a member of the State Board of Equalization and a former member of the CPUC, a determined old warrior who fought Diablo from the start and continues to do so today, on his own, against the odds and at considerable personal cost.”

To drive the point home about Bennett’s couirageous stand, we continued, “Those who ignored the case–for example, the supervisors, mayor and city attorney of San Francisco, the board of directors of BART, the regents of the University of California and their counterparts in every other public agency and institution that pays or represents people who pay PG&E bills–ought to be ashamed. The citizens of every city, county and district ought to look at their representatives and ask: Where were you when PG&E walked away with all the marbles.”

 The press in Northern California was ignoring the story, despite the colorful,  forceful and newsworthy campaign that Bennett was waging. He said he had called the  Chronicle and Examiner reporters to try to interest them in the story, but “it was useless so I gave up.”  Guardian Reporter Jim Balderston did the story and quoted Bennett  as saying, among other things, “This commission (the CPUC) must think long and hard of the welfare of the ratepayers and the shareholders of PG&E.” With no Bill Bennett on the CPUC, PG&E once again quietly walked away with billions in ratepayer money.

William Morgan Bennett, the public attorney  who for more than five decades fought the corporate goliaths from taking all the marbles, died Feb.9th at his home in Kentfield after a short illness. He was 91. An overflow crowd paid tribute  to his extraordinary life and career at services held on Feb. 12th at St. Patrick’s Church in Larkspur

When his daughter Joan phoned me about Bennett’s death, I realized once again how much the Guardian and the consumer and the rate-payer would miss Bennett. We are in the middle of PG&E’s biggest monopoly scam ever –Prop l6 and PG&E’s initiative to kill public power and community choice aggregation (CCA)– and Bennett is alas missing in action, for one of the first times in his life. Today, there are other public officials out there fighting PG&E, but there is nobody who can  take on PG&E and its allies as effectively as Bennett.

Our 1988 story had a sidebar with the head, “Bennett vs. PG&E: The 30 years war.” The sidebar recounted an incident characteristic of Bennett and the way he gave new meaning to the term public service.  In 1959 the El Paso/Pacific Northwest natural gas pipeline merger was all but approved by the CPUC, except for an appeal from Bennett as CPUC general counsel.  Before Bennett could file the appeal, he got a phone call from Gregory Harrison, a partner in the politically powerful law firm of Brobeck, Phleger and Harrison. Harrison asked Bennett if he was going to file. Bennett said yes and Harrison responded, “I told them you would say that.”

Harrison told Bennett he would be removed from the case if he filed the appeal. Bennett told Harrison he was going to call a press conference. Harrison responded. “I told them you would say that,” and hung up. Shortly thereafter, Bennett got a call from Gov. Brown, who asked him if he was going to file the appeal. Bennett said yes and Brown refused to discuss the matter further.

Twenty minutes later, Bennett got a telegram from Brown that stated, “You no longer represent me or the State of California in USA v El Paso.” This infuriated Bennett and fueled his relentless 14-year crusade to compel El Paso to divest itself of Pacific Northwest. because of its price-fixing and monopolistic implications for California. In 1969, appearing as a private citizen, he successfully argued the final U.S. Supreme Court appeal in the case, the last oral argument heard by the Earl Warren court.

The Washington Monthly caught the drama and precedent of Bennett’s appearance in its November 1971 issue. “His last appearance before the court in 1969
needs to have been witnessed. Standing alone against an array of the best legal talent that could be provided by El Paso, the states of California and Utah, lawyers for other gas companies and the U.S. government, represented personally by Solicitor General Erwin Griswold, Bennett attacked as the lone surviving avenging angel of the original antitrust action. Finger in the air, voice crying out in toners of retribution, he spoke brilliantly and forcefully without notes for an hour…In the process, Bennett impressed at least one justice privately, and many more observers, as one of the most brilliant and effective lawyers to have gotten to his feet to present oral arguments to the court during the last 14 years.”

 As the final footnote in this legal saga, Bennett  stopped El Paso’s efforts in Congress to pass legislation to void the breakup of El Paso. The result: the largest refund for California ratepayers in the history of regulation to date.  The decision set a  national precedent in antitrust law.

Bennett was born Feb. 20, 1918 in San Francisco to Lt. William M. Bennett of the San Francisco Police Department and Eva Curran of Amador. He attended Most Holy Redeemer Elementary School, St. Ignatius High School, the University of San Francisco and the Hastings College of Law. At the outbreak of World War II, he suspended his law studies and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps.

He was a B-17 pilot in the North African, Mediterranean and European theater of operations, l5th Air Force, 483rd Bombardment Group, 815th Squadron, stationed in North Africa and then in Foggia, Italy. The 483rd flew a total of 215 combat missions during 14 months of combat duty and Bennett was in the middle of it all. “Wherever there were major oil refineries, aircraft and parts factories, tank works, railroad terminals and marshaling yards, supply dumps, bridges and communication networks, he saw action,” Jane Bennett said.  He flew 35 missions and encountered severe flak and fighter attacks at some of the most heavily defended targets in Europe:  Linz’ Herman Goering Tank Works; Berlin’s Daimler-Benz Tank Works; Innsbruck; Vienna; Regensburg; Blechhhammer; Schweinfurt; Salzburg; Landshut; Moosbierbaum, and Ruhland where ME 262 German jets attacked his squadron.

The Tuskegee Airmen, the famous black squadron, escorted Bennett’s missions. “Their base was right next to my father’s,” Joan Bennett said. “They were separated on the ground but equal in the air. That is, they were  equal targets for the Germans.” Bennett often visited some of the fighters across the runway that segregated the blacks.   George McGovern,  the bomber pilot who later became a presidential candidate in l972, was stationed at a nearby base.  He flew B-24s.

Bennett flew some of the first shuttle missions into Russia.  As the bomber squadrons flew deeper into Germany, the planes did not have fuel or were too shot up  to return to their base in Italy. So the squadrons continued on to Poltova,  Russia, to get refueled  and repaired, and  then either flew back  immediately back to their base or stayed over night and flew back the next day.  The missions were kept secret during the war  but later became known as the “Poltova missions.”

 Of the original 646 crew members sent to Italy in March 1944, 38 per cent were killed or missing in action. His bomb group received numerous battle awards, including two outstanding unit presidential citations. Bennett was highly decorated and won three Oak Leaf Clusters, four Bronze Stars and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was awarded the DFC  for his courage and skill in miraculously bringing his plane back from a mission over Worgi, Austria, in February, 1945.  Bennett’s plane was hit by heavy enemy fire and the two right engines were shot out. He told his crew to bail out but they refused because they counted on Bennett to pull  them through.  Bennett did, safely piloting his crippled plane over the Alps. When the plane limped back to its base in Italy, there was nothing left inside, because the crew had ditched everything to lighten the load.

Col. Paul L. Barton, Bennett’s commanding officer, pins the Distinguished Flying Cross on Bennett in a ceremony on May 12, l945, at the air base on the Sterparone farm in Foggia, Italy.  Gen. Twining, head of the l5th Air Force who ended up as Chief of Staff of the USAF after the war,  attended the ceremony.  “There was no Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise WWII move glamor,”  Bennett’s daughter Jane told me.  “The base itself was primitive: steel mats for runways.  Ankle deep mud in the winter along with snow, ice and rain. Open latrines, no toilet paper, tent-living with one crew per tent. No mess halls. One canteen of water per day, etc.”  She said the Bennetts visited the farm in l982.  “The runways were vineyards,” she recalled. “The briefing hall for the men still stands. The interior of white plaster is still lined with drawings of pinup girls. The young girl who lived on the farm during the war is now the owner of the family land. She was very gracious.  She invited us in for coffee.”

 After the war, Bennett finished  law school at the University of San Francisco and then embarked upon a remarkable career of public service. Until I started working on his obituary,  I knew nothing about Bennett’s distinguished war record as a bomber pilot.   But it is clear to me that, having followed Bennett through the years, that  his combat experience under artillery fire and with flak coming at him from all directions served him well in public life.  He spent most of his public career  as a tough, smart and  aggressive attorney who relished  taking on the big cases and the big corporate behemoths who were screwing the public on illegal mergers or monopoly rate increases. To him, this was just combat in a different theater of operations. Sometimes as a public attorney, sometimes acting as an individual citizen, he handled precedent-setting cases  in antitrust, regulatory and criminal law and argued six times before the U.S. Supreme Court. He earned the nickname “the legal Houdini” but I always thought of him as “Fighting Bill” Bennett.

 As a deputy attorney general, he successfully prosecuted public corruption trials in 1954-55 against the State Board of Equalization in San Diego and put l3 public officials in jail. From 1957-59, he handled the celebrated case of Caryl Chessman, known as “the redlight bandit.” After his argument before the U.S. Supreme Court, the court clerk quietly handed him a note from Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter. He wrote, “There is no reason why I should not tell you how admirably you represented the state in this important case.” The clerk told Bennett he should save the note because it was only the second such note that Frankfurter had ever written.

From 1957-58, Bennett represented the state before the CPUC and won many cases against utilities that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in ratepayer rebates. Gov. Brown appointed him chief counsel of the PUC in 1958.

In 1960 Bennett was invited to join Sen. John F. Kennedy’s campaign as an advance man canvassing a territory from Chicago to New York.  He became friends with JFK and was considered part of Kennedy’s “Irish mafia.” Kennedy asked him to head the Federal Power Commission but he rejected it to remain with his family.

Bill Bennett and then presidential candidate John F. Kennedy  are pictured in 1960 as they got off the campaign plane at O’Hare field in Chicago.  Bennett was an advance man for JFK and helped stage several rallies in Chicago. Then JFK and Bennett headed east to Hamtramck, Michigan, and finished up at the garment center in New York.  JFK asked Bennett to be head of the Federal Power Commission but Bennett turned the appointment down to remain in California with his family.

In 1962, after Brown appointed Bennett to the CPUC, he promptly took on PG&E with gusto.  With the support of the Sierra Club, Bennett filed the lone dissenting opinion against the CPUC’s approval of a nuclear power plant upwind of San Francisco at Bodega Bay. The  Bodega fight was started in the living room of Prof. Joe Neilands, a UC-Berkeley biochemistry professor and stoked along by the Neilands/CharlieSmith/David Pesonen gang, with help from the Chronicle and its executive editor Scott Newhall and environmental writer Harold Gilliam.  The battle caught on and became a national story and focal point for the emerging anti-nuclear movement. PG&E was forced by public opinion to withdrew its application and skedall down  to Diablo Canyon. And so did Bennett.
Bennett was later visited by the chairman of PG&E, Robert Gerdes. told Bennett, “We don’t mind you dissenting, but do you realize the Russians are trying to stop us from building atomic plants.”

During his CPUC tenure, Bennett led the commission to regularly reduce electricity and gas rates in response to rate cases before the commission. In 1968, then Gov. Ronald Reagan refused to reappoint Bennett to the commission and sent Bennett a letter apologizing for not being able to reappoint him. Reagan did not explain the reason. Before Reagan could kick him off the CPUC,  Bennett  had saved the consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. Ever after Bennett, the CPUC has operated on a supine  basis with PG&E and other utilities and has handed down rate increases and goodies to them on a virtual assembly line basis.  

I first met Bennett in 1967 in his CPUC office overlooking the Civic Center  in the  state building. Lee Fremstad, then the San Francisco correndent for the Sacramento Bee, took me in and introduced me. I had rarely seen a public official like Bennett. He knew about the Guardian and me, had some juicy story ideas for me, and a batch more for Fremstad. Fremstad bantered back and forth with Bennett, noting a couple of ideas but rejecting others as too much even for the Bee and its longtime public power posture.  Bennett was open, expansive,  full of Irish humor,  a populist Democrat full of opinions I liked, jutting the Bennett jaw to make a point, and the kind of guy  who might be good for a lively  three martini lunch.

I thought he would have made a wonderful newspaper columnist or editorial writer, if he could find a newspaper that would publish his  tough consumer-oriented opinions that so  agitated the PG&Es and Hearsts  of the region.  We always enjoyed  Bennett at the Guardian, endorsed and supported him and used him as a friendly source and inspiration.all through the years. 

When Bennett left the CPUC, Neilands and Smith held an appeciation dinner for him in Berkeley that brought together the Bodega Bay/public power warriors of the era.   This was a watershed moment for the Guardian and me.  My wife Jean and I went, met Bennett and Neilands et al and got initiated. We also met Peter Petrakis, a fan of Bennett’s, and a graduate student of Neilands. Neilands did our pioneering expose of the PG&E/Raker Act  scandal in l969.   Petrakis joined the Guardian and  followed up Neilands’ work with a series of investigative storiies that revived the scandal and  the public power movement in San Francisco.  Bennett, as I realized, was a catalyst.  

Bennett’s next move to stay in public service was to run for the State Board of Equalization and Franchise Tax Board. He won his first campaign in l970 even though his opponent outspent him $450,000 to $4,000, all his own money. He was relected to five more terms, despite refusing to accept campaign contributions, and continued to fight the good fight against the special interests in Sacramento and beyond. He was also a professor of law at Hastings while on the board.

Bill Bennett with his wife Jane in 1943 at the primary cadet school in King City, Calif. They were married 67 years.

Bennett is survived by his wife of 67 years, Jane, and sons William (wife Gwendolyn) of Lafayette, James (Paula) of Kentfield, Michael (Roxanne) of Manhattan, Kansas, and daughter Joan of Kentfield and grandsons Jimmy, Will, Jack, and Brendan of Kentfield.

The Bennett family obituary  sums up their patriarch: “Despite his friendships with president and esteemed jurists, his out-going nature was such that he was a friend to all. He was a populist democrat, consumer rights advocate, and a veritable David against the corporate world’s Goliaths, in the vein of his mentor and ultimately friend, Earl Warren. Even with such achievements, his most important and cherished career was as a father and family man. Upon retirement, he embarked upon his most rewarding and enjoyable career: a devoted, loving, entertaining husband, father, and grandfather. For them and through them, he will live forever ‘in his way.'” 

For me, I will stick with our cutline under Bennett’s picture on our l988 front page: “Bill Bennett, the only public official in California to take on PG&E.”


The Bennett family photo was taken in May,  2009, at the Napa airport. A B-l7 was touring the country and Bennett wanted to see it. Jane Bennett said he actually went through the plane. “It was not easy. The access was a skinny, steep, metal ladder to the cockpit. I don’t know how he got up it. He refused a ride in the plane. As he said, ‘If I cannot fly it, what’s the point.'”

Editorial: No more silence on PG&E’s statewide power grab


Every single elected official, candidate for office, and political group in the state that isn’t entirely bought off by PG&E needs to loudly oppose Prop. 16 – now

EDITORIAL Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has found few allies in its effort to halt the spread of public power in California. The Sacramento Bee has come out strongly against PG&E’s initiative, Proposition 16 on the June ballot. Los Angeles Times columnists have denounced it. Six Democratic leaders in the California Senate have called for the company to withdraw the measure. Even the California Association of Realtors, hardly a radical environmental group, has come out strongly against the measure, in part because it’s so badly worded that it could halt residential and commercial development in large parts of the state.

But PG&E has already set aside $30 million to try to pass this thing – and since the cities and counties that would be hit hardest can’t use public money to defeat it, elected officials across the state need to be using every opportunity they have to speak out against it.

Prop. 16 is about the most anti-democratic measure you can imagine. It mandates that any local agency that wants to sell retail electricity to customers first get the approval of two-thirds of the local electorate. The two-thirds majority has been the cause of the debilitating budget gridlock in Sacramento, and it will almost certainly end efforts to expand public power or create community choice aggregation (CCA) co-ops in the state.

It actually states that no existing public power agency can add new customers or expand its delivery service without a two-thirds vote — which means, according to former California Energy Commissioner John Geesman, that no new residential or commercial development in the 48 California communities that have public power could be given electricity hook-ups.

It also, of course, eliminates the possibility of competition in the electricity business, making PG&E the only entity legally allowed to sell power in much of Northern California. That’s a radically anti-consumer position that most residents of the state would reject – if they understood it.

And there’s the problem. With PG&E spending $30 million (of our ratepayer money) promoting this, using misleading language and a campaign based on lies, and with very little money available for a counter-campaign, it’s going to be hard to get the message out.

That’s why every single elected official, candidate for office, and political group in the state that isn’t entirely bought off by PG&E needs to loudly oppose it, now.

And there’s still a lot of silence out there.

State Sen. Mark Leno and Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, to their credit, are not only opposing Prop. 16, they are helping lead the campaign against it. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has helped build the coalition that’s running the No on 16 effort. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has passed a resolution opposing the initiative. Sup. Bevan Dufty, who is running for mayor, is a public opponent. State Sen. Leland Yee’s office told us he opposes it (although he hasn’t made much of a big public issue of the measure). Same for City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

But where is Mayor Gavin Newsom? Where is District Attorney Kamala Harris, who is running for attorney general? Where’s Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer? Where’s the City Hall press conference with the mayor and every other elected official in town denouncing Prop. 16 and urging San Franciscans to vote against it?

The silence is a disgrace, and amounts to a tacit endorsements of PG&E’s efforts.

And it’s happening at the same time that the supervisors are pushing against a tight deadline to get the city’s Community Choice Aggregation program up and running.

San Francisco is the only city in the United States with a federal mandate to sell public power, and the city is moving rapidly to set up a CCA system. This is a monumental threat to the city – and everyone either in office or seeking office needs to recognize that and speak out. Prop. 16 and CCA ought to be a factor in every local organization’s endorsements for Democratic County Central Committee and supervisor this year, and any candidate who can’t stand up to PG&E has no business seeking office in San Francisco.

Action alert: Stop the banks!



Let’s have a show of hands.

To those of you in small business: have you noticed the banks getting tough with you on credit?  To customers of banks: have you noticed all the funny business with higher fees and shorter grace periods with credit cards? Does it annoy you that the big banks and Wall street get bailed out with little oversight or accountability,  and the rest of us on Main Street and the neighborhoods of San Francisco and beyond suffer with no relief in sight?

Here’s one thing you can do.  Sign a petition from the Consumer Watchdog, a militant warrior for consumer rights in Washington, D.C., demanding that Sen. Dodd, a heavily bank-financed Democrat from Connecticut,  support an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency.  Carmen Balber, Consumer Watchdog’s DC director, supplies the details on the petition and  Dodd’s dancing and waffling. Balber writes in her email alert:

The Senate’s Wall Street reform bill will be public any day now but its author, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, still won’t say where he stands on consumer protection.

Sign your name to our petition today. Demand that Senator Dodd stand up for consumers, not Wall Street, by supporting an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency with full power to write, oversee and enforce new rules of the road to hold the big banks accountable.

In November, Dodd released a reform bill with a strong consumer protection agency. But news reports in January said he might abandon it, in February that it was back on track, and just last week that the consumer regulator was in doubt once again.

What’s the real story?

Tell Senator Dodd it’s time to make his choice. Will he stand with Wall Street or Main Street?

Sign the petition demanding Senator Dodd stand up for an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Thanks for signing,

Carmen Balber
Consumer Watchdog’s DC Director

Consumer Watchdog is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer protection organization.
To support their work, please make a tax-deductible contribution here.

Editorial: How to create jobs in San Francisco


If Newsom decides to solve the city’s $520 million deficit with cuts alone, he will be taking more than $1 billion out of the local gross domestic product

EDITORIAL If Mayor Gavin Newsom is serious about stimulating the San Francisco economy, he ought to start with a basic number that the city’s own economist, Ted Egan, passed along to us this week. The number is 2.11 — and Egan says that’s the multiplier effect of cuts in local public spending.
In other words, every dollar Newsom cuts from the city budget has a ripple effect of taking $2.11 out of the San Francisco economy. Which means that if the mayor decides to solve the city’s $520 million deficit with cuts alone, he’ll be taking more than $1 billion out of the local gross domestic product.
And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with the mayor’s economic stimulus package: it’s entirely aimed at the private sector, with no regard for how it will hit public spending.
A dose of reality here — public-sector jobs are also jobs. People who work in the public sector pay rent and mortgages and buy clothes and food for their kids and go shopping in local stores and go to local clubs and restaurants and pay taxes — and have the same economic impacts on the economy as private-sector workers. If you lay off nurses and recreation directors, those people stop spending money in town, and you continue the vicious cycle that has made this recession so deep and painful.
And if your entire economic stimulus program is aimed at cutting private sector taxes, it’s going to lead to public sector job losses. And those losses will undermine much of the impact of any gains you might get from private sector job growth.
Egan predicts that Newsom’s program of eliminating the payroll tax for new hires would create 4,330 new jobs in the city. We find that something of a stretch — it’s hard to imagine how any struggling small business would find eliminating a small tax enough reason to hire a new worker, and small businesses provide the vast majority of the private-sector jobs in San Francisco. But even if it’s accurate, it’s a fairly tiny gain. The city’s lost more than 35,000 jobs since 2007, and when the economy rebounds in the next two years, Egan predicts about 20,000 new jobs in the city even without the stimulus.
Egan also acknowledged to us last year that “the consensus among economists is that most of the time government spending stimulates the economy more” [than tax cuts].”
That’s particularly true in a city where the largest employers are all in the public sector (see opinion piece this page).
If the mayor and the supervisors actually want to create jobs in San Francisco, there are plenty of things they can do — starting with finding ways to close as much of the budget gap as possible without layoffs. Here are some possible approaches.
• Put a major revenue measure on the November ballot that saves city jobs without costing private sector jobs. There are several ways to do this, but all of them start with the well-demonstrated concept that transferring wealth from the rich to the poor and middle-class — that is, giving money to people most likely to spend it — is good for job creation. One option: shift the payroll tax to a gross receipts tax and charge bigger companies a higher rate. Another: a commuter tax on income earned above $50,000 a year would charge wealthier people who use city services and don’t pay for them.
• Issue infrastructure bonds. The notion that cities can’t borrow money the way the federal government does to fund economic stimulus programs is just wrong. San Francisco can sell bonds for a wide range of projects, from affordable housing to alternative energy projects to public works programs that are badly needed and could put San Franciscans directly to work. But it can’t be small-time projects; to make a difference, direct stimulus needs to be big, perhaps $1 billion. San Francisco’s property owners, who ultimately are on the hook for the bonds, are by and large (thanks to Prop. 13) entirely able to handle more payments.
• Lend more money to small businesses. The biggest obstacle to small business hiring isn’t taxes but a lack of credit. The $73 million Newsom is going to spend on tax cuts would create far more jobs as part of a city-sponsored microloan fund. Newsom’s efforts on that front are still very small scale.
There’s so much more the city can do — but cutting taxes and losing city jobs is the wrong way to turn around the economy.

Memorial for Charles Lee Smith (1925-2010), passionate pamphleteer


Memorial services for Charles Lee Smith, a classic liberal activist whose hero was Tom Paine and whose passion was pamphleteering, will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 12, at the Friends Meeting House, Walnut and Vine, in Berkeley. He died at his Berkeley home on Jan. 7 at 84.

His wife Anne said that Charlie, as we all called him, fell in December and never fully recovered. She brought him home under hospice care on Jan. 5 and she and his two sons Greg and Jay were with him his last three days.

Charlie first contacted me in the early days of the Guardian in the late l960s. I soon realized that he was my kind of liberal, always working tirelessly, cheerfully, and quietly to make things better for people and their communities. He was a remarkable man with a remarkable range of interests and causes that he pursued his entire life.

He campaigned endlessly for causes ranging from the successful fight to stop Pacific Gas and Electric Co. from building a nuclear power plant on Bodega Bay to integrating the Berkeley schools to third brake lights for cars to one-way tolls on bridges to disaster preparedness to traffic safety and circles to public power and keep tabs on PG@E and big business shenanigans.

When he first began sending tips our way, he was working with, among many others, UC Berkeley Professor Paul Taylor with his battles with the agribusiness interests. He was helping UC Berkeley professor Joe Neilands on his public power campaigns. I remember a key public power meeting that Joe and Charlie put together in a Berkeley restaurant. It brought together the sturdy public power advocates of that era. Charlie did much of the staff work and was seated at the speaker’s table next to the sign that read, Public Power Users Association.

I credit that event and its assemblage of public power activists as inspiring the Guardian to make public power and kicking PG@E out of City Halls a major crusade that continues to this day. Charlie and Joe rounded up, among others, then CPUC commissioner Bill Bennett, consumer writer Jennifer Cross, William Domhoff, the UC Santa Cruz political science professor who was the main speaker, and Peter Petrakis, a student of Neilands’ in biochemistry who researched and wrote the Guardian’s early pioneering stories on the PG@E/Raker Act scandal. (See Guardian stories and editorials since l969.) The room was also full of veteran public power warriors from PG@E battles in Berkeley, San Francisco, and around the bay.

Charlie was a lifelong volunteer for the Quakers and pamphleteered on many of their projects.

My favorite story was how he was helping Dr. Ben Yellen, a feisty liberal pamphleteer in Brawley. Yellen and Charlie were political and pamphleteering soulmates, but Charlie was operating in liberal Berkeley and Yellen was in very conservative Imperial County.

Yellen was blasting away at the absentee land owners who were cheating migrant laborers on health care, on high private power costs of city dwellers, and the misuse of government water subsidies. And so he had trouble getting his leaflets printed in Brawley. He would send leaflets up to Charlie and Charlie would get them duplicated and then send the copies back to Yellen. Yellen would distribute them, mimeographed material on legal-sized yellow construction paper, under windshield wipers during the early morning hours and into open car windows on hot afternoons.

Charlie relished promoting Yellen as a classic in the world of pamphleteering and loved to talk about how Yellen followed up his pamphleteering with several pro per lawsuits, an appearance on CBS’ 60 Minutes television show, and a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Charlie liked to talk about his triple play of information distribution. He pamphleteered on street corners, prepared more than 50 bibliographies of undiscussed issues (including the best bibliography ever done on San Francisco’s Raker Act Scandal), and circulated his personal essays and cut and pasted newspaper articles. Almost every day, he would take the newspapers from the sidewalk near his house and put them on the front porches of his neighbors. He got some exercise, since his house was on a Berkeley hill, and he endeared himself to his neighbors. He was given the title of “Mayor of San Mateo Road.”

Charlie pamphleteered on more than l50 “undiscussed subjects,” as he called them, in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco. He sometimes went out to Palo Alto, Santa Rosa, and Napa, with occasional excursions to Boston and London. His subjects were practical and straightforward but breathtaking in their range: humanizing bureaucracy, employee suggestions, penal reform, illiteracy, migant labor, water, energy, land reform, ombudsmen, coop issues, library use, land value taxation, transportation, disaster recovery planning. He handed out KPFA folios and an occasional Bay Guardian.

He often combined pamphleteering with doing bibliographies to spread the word about the undiscussed subjects.  On the first Earth Day in l970 at California State University, Hayward, Charlie spoke about the evils of automoblies. Then he distributed his bibliography of the Automobile Bureaucracy. In recognizable Charliese, he produced a blizzard of numbered citations on a summary of his speech so the audience could read further on his issues.

He considered pamphleteering as a noble form of communication that “went on during the colonial Period for a l00 years before the revolution and the arrival of Tom Paine in l775,” as he put it in his own pamphlet, “Pamphleteering: an old tradition.” He wrote that his main contribution “is the novel use of sandwich boards to screen out the disinterested while reaching the already-interested and open-minded persons with leaflets on the street, but not invading anyone’s privacy.”

Sometimes, Charlie had news close to home.

He said that giving out pamphlets to one or two people at a time was like holding a meeting with those persons and thus it was possible to have a “meeting” with several hundred people nearly anywhere within reasonable limits. He concluded that pamphleteering was “basic to building support for worthwhile projects” and claimes that it “may even be more effective than other forms of expensive communication.”

Charlie knew how to work the streets, but he also knew how to work inside the bowels of the bureaucracy. He worked for the California Division of Highways (now Caltrans) from l953 to 1987, mostly in an Oak Street office in San Francisco. I admit when Charlie talked to me about fighting bureaucracy, as he often did, I had trouble understanding how he was going about it. But Charlie had his ways.

Executive Editor Tim Redmond recalls that Charlie worked for Caltrans back in the days when the very thought there might be transportation modes other than highways was heresy.

He was an advocate of bicycles, carpools and public transit and Redmond thought that, when he first met Charlie in l984, “he must be like the monks in the middle ages, huddled in a corner trying to preserve knowledge. Nobody else at Caltrans wanted to talk about getting cars off the roads. Nobody wanted to shift spending priorities. Nobody wanted to point out that highrise development in San Francisco was causing traffic problems all over the Bay Area–and that the answer was slower development, not more highways.

“But Charlie said all those things. He told me where the secrets of Caltrans were hidden, what those dense environmental impact reports really showed, and how the agency was failing the public. I had a special card in my old l980s Rolodex labeled ‘Caltrans: Inside Source.’ The number went directly to Smith’s desk.” Charlie usually carpooled from Berkeley to his San Francisco office.

Charlie wrote a leaflet about the “Work Improvement Program” that then Gov. Pat Brown instituted in l960. It was, he wrote, a “novel program to get all state employees to submit ideas to improve their work.” Charlie labeled it “corrupt” and laid out the damning evidence. No appeal procedure. No protection for the employee making suggestions that the supervisor or organization didn’t want to use. No requirement for giving the employee credit for the idea or for following up the idea.

Charlie noted that he was a generalist with lots of ideas, read lots of publications, and was “sensitive to the problems that bother people.” He noted that there were l,500 employees in his Caltrans district who submitted 236 suggestions. Charlie submitted 35 of them.  But, he noted wryly, “my supervisor, Charles Nordfelt, did not respond at all to any of my suggestions.” And then, to make neatly make his point, Charlie listed a few of his suggestions, all of them practical and useful.

Many were adopted without Charlie ever getting credit. Others were adopted decades later. For example, he pushed the then-heretical idea of collecting tolls on a one-way basis only, instead of collecting them two ways. He noted that the tolls are now  being collected on the wrong side of the bridge. They should, he argued,  be collected coming from  the San Francisco side, where the few lanes of the bridge open up to many lanes. This would reduce or eliminate congestion. .

He listed other suggestions that showed his firm and creative grasp of the useful idea. Putting the third stop light on vehicles (which was finally put into effect in 1985). Numbering interchanges. Installing flashing red and yellow lights at different rates. (He  explained that his wife’s grandfather was color blind and drove through a flashing red light when she was with him.) Getting vehicle owners to have reflective white strips on the front bumpers of their cars, helping police spot stolen vehicles. Some of his suggestions are still percolating deep in the bureaucracies and may yet go into effect.

Charlie never got the hang of the internet but he covered more territory and reached more people in his personal face-to-face way than anybody ever did on the internet.

Charlie was born on a homestead farm eight miles from Weldona, Colorado. He attended a one-room school house and then moved on to a middle and high school in Ft. Morgan, Colorado. He got “ink in his blood,” as he liked to say, by working on the school paper called the Megaphone and then as a printer’s devil at the weekly Morgan Herald.

He was drafted into the army in l943 and served as an infantryman with the 343rd regiment, 86th Infantry Division. He was severely sounded in 1945 in the Ruhr Pocket battle near Cologne, Germany, the last major battle of the war. He suffered leg and hip injuries and had a l6 inch gouge  out of his right hip that cut within a quarter inch of the bone. He spent six months in the hospital. He was recommended for sergeant but he refused the promotion and ended the war as a private first class.

After his recovery, Charlie came to the Bay Area and took his undergraduate work at Napa Community College and San Francisco State, then did graduate work in sociology at the University of Washington, and in city and regional planning at the University of California-Berkeley.

In 1949, Charlie joined the American Friends Service Committee and became a lifelong volunteer, working on a host of projects. He did everything from helping with a clothing drive in Napa to being part of the crew that built the original Neighborhood House in Richmond.

Charlie met Anne Read in l954, a college student in Oregon, when she was on an AFSC summer project in Berkeley. Charlie visited the project, spotted Anne, and double dated with her. When she returned to Oregon State for her senior year, Charlie wrote her every single day. The two were married the following summer in June of l955.

Charlie is survived by Anne, two sons Greg and Jay, daughter-in-laws Karen Vartarian and Andrea Paulos, and granddaughter Mabel.

The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, please send a donation in Charlie’s name to the American Friends Service Committee, 65 9th St., San Francisco, Calif. 94l03.

I asked Anne why Charlie, the inveterate communicator, had not taken to the internet. Charlie, she replied, was a print guy and simply could not understand the internet. “He never ever used email,” she said. “He still thought he had to go to a library to make up a bibliography. I think Charlie was so sure that making a bibliography meant a lot of hard work, he couldn’t possibly do it on the internet.”

Well, Charlie, you may have missed the internet but you covered more territory and reached more people in your direct personal way with good ideas than anybody ever did on the internet.

Here are some of Charlie’s favorite pamphlets:
Governor Pat Brown’s Work Improvement Program
Pamphleteering: An Old Tradition
Short Statement on Plamphleteering

Editorial: The mayor’s race starts now


Ross and Jeff and any other progressive candidates need to decide soon if they are serious about running for mayor and either announce that they are running or step out of the way so someone else can step forward

EDITORIAL Back in 2007, when no leading progressive stepped in to run against Gavin Newsom, Sup. Chris Daly called a convention in the hope that someone would come forward and take up the challenge. All the major potential candidates showed up and spoke, but none announced a campaign.

Let’s not go there again.

We’re two years into Newsom’s second term, and the city’s a mess. After absorbing a round of brutal cuts last year, the budget’s still half a billion dollars out of whack. The mayor’s only answer at this point is to cut more (then raffle off to landlords the right to get rich by evicting tenants and turning apartments into condos). The Newsom agenda hasn’t created jobs or addressed the housing crisis or resolved the unfairness of the tax code or taken even the first steps toward energy self-sufficiency. Over the past year, he’s been largely inaccessible and hostile to the press, a mayor who won’t even tell the public where he is and what he does all day.

A candidate who wants to change the direction at City Hall should have no problem getting political traction in 2011. But the progressives are still floundering. And while the race is two years away, the more centrist candidates are already out the door. Sup. Bevan Dufty has announced he’s in the race, and state Sen. Leland Yee might as well have announced since everyone knows he’s running. Same for City Attorney Dennis Herrera. And at a certain point — in the not-too-distant future — those candidates will be starting to line up endorsers and making promises to major financial backers and constituency groups, which aren’t going to wait around forever for the progressives to settle on someone willing to make the immense effort to mount a serious campaign for mayor.

So the potential candidates — starting with Sup. Ross Mirkarimi and Public Defender Jeff Adachi — need to decide, soon, whether they’re serious about this or not, and either announce that they’re running or step out of the way so someone else can step forward.

With public financing, a candidate in San Francisco doesn’t have to be as well-heeled as Newsom was his first time around. It won’t take $6 million in contributions to win. But a progressive who wants to be the next mayor needs to demonstrate he or she can do a few key things, including:

<\!s>Motivate and unite the base. Labor (or at least the progressive unions), the tenants, the left wing of the queer community (represented to a great extent by the Harvey Milk LGBT club), the environmentalists, and the progressive elected officials have to be fairly consistent in backing a candidate or downtown’s money will carry the day. So Mirkarimi and Adachi (and anyone else who’s interested) ought to be making the rounds, now. If that critical mass isn’t there, the campaign isn’t going to work.

<\!s>Develop and promote a signature issue. Newsom won in part because he came up with the catchy “care not cash” initiative. Voters frustrated with years of failed homeless policies (and an incumbent, Willie Brown, who said the problem could never be solved) were willing to try something new (however bogus it turned out to be). Nobody’s developed a populist way to approach city finance. Nobody’s got a workable housing or jobs plan. What’s the central issue, or set of issues, that’s going to define the next progressive mayoral campaign?

<\!s>Put together a central brain trust. This city’s full of smart progressives who have experience and ideas and can help put together a winning platform and campaign strategy. A good candidate will have them on board, early.

<\!s>Herrera, Yee, Dufty, and others who might run (including Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting) are already out there looking for progressive supporters and allies, but none has yet offered an agenda the city’s left can support. Dufty pissed off the tenants by refusing to back stronger eviction protections. Herrera pissed off immigrant advocates by refusing to be as aggressive in supporting the city’s sanctuary law as he was in defending same-sex marriage (and because he hasn’t officially announced yet, he’s still not taking stands on political issues). Yee tried to sell off the Cow Palace. Ting has taken some great initiatives (forcing the Catholic Church to pay its fair share of property transfer taxes), but hasn’t developed or spoken out on the broader issues of city revenue. More of those candidates have been leaders in the public power movement.

It would be inexcusable if the progressives, who control the Board of Supervisors, are forced to pick a mayoral candidate by default. It’s time to end the speculation and dancing and find a candidate who can carry the progressive standard in 2011.

Cheers and happy holidays from the Guardian

And so as this miserable year ends, let us hope that the next one will be much better for us all.

Well, it’s late in the afternoon of the last day of the year and Jean and I are off to Pompei’s Grotto. This is the marvelous little family-owned restaurant in ther heart of Fisherman’s Wharf that we have been going to on New Year’s Eve for more than 20 years.

All is not right with the world, but somehow things always seem better in this oasis in the midst of the Wharf. . Candles and poinsettias on red-checkered table cloths.
A line of lights on the wall and tasteful holiday decorations throughout. Fresh oysters and crab. Splendid martinis. And friendly service from a family that knows how to prepare and serve fish and has done so expertly and graciously for decades. That has been the hallmark of the Pompei family since Frank Pompei and his wife Marian opened the original Pompei’s in l946.

Frank’s father, Mario Pompei, immigrated to America in 1913 from San Benedetto del Tronto in Marche, Italy. He fished for the next 30 years out of the Port of San Francisco and then worked outside his son’s restaurant cracking crabs and running the crab stand.

Frank liked the word “grotto,” which in Italian meant a small cave. This is what the restaurant looked like in the beginning, litrtle more than a counter, a few tables, and an easy ambience. The word also represents a safe haven for fishermen, which is what Frank wanted for his restaurant, “a safe and welcoming refuge for fishermen and others alike,” as the menu writeup puts it.

For me, Pompei’s is still a safe and welcoming refuge. And the Pompei family of daughter Nancy
and son-in-law Gayne and their children Tom and Amy’s husband Vincenzo, and their kids VJ and Frankie are keeping it that way by doing the day to day operations. It’s a family class act that makes for a wonderful restaurant and a wonderful New Year’s Eve in the old San Francisco and Italian tradition.

See you next year. B3

FAIR: The 2009 P.U.-Litzer Awards


FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986.

The 2009 P.U.-Litzer Awards

For 17 years our colleagues Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon have worked with FAIR to present the P.U.-Litzers, a year-end review of some of the stinkiest examples of corporate media malfeasance, spin and just plain outrageousness.

Starting this year, FAIR has the somewhat dubious honor of reviewing the nominees and selecting the winners. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. So, without further ado, we present the 2009 P.U.-Litzers.

–The Remembering Reagan Award
WINNER: Joe Klein, Time

Time columnist Joe Klein (12/3/09), not altogether impressed by Obama’s announcement of a troop escalation in Afghanistan, wrote that a president “must lead the charge–passionately and, yes, with a touch of anger.”

He described the better way to do this:

Ronald Reagan would have done it differently. He would have told a story. It might not have been a true story, but it would have had resonance. He might have found, or created, a grieving spouse–a young investment banker whose wife had died in the World Trade Center–who enlisted immediately after the attacks…and then gave his life, heroically, defending a school for girls in Kandahar. Reagan would have inspired tears, outrage, passion, a rush to recruiting centers across the nation.

Ah, Reagan–now there was a president who could inspire people to fight and die based on lies.

–The Cheney 2012 Award
WINNER: Jon Meacham, Newsweek

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham declared (12/7/09) that Dick Cheney running for president in 2012 would be “good for the Republicans and good for the country.” He explained that “Cheney is a man of conviction, has a record on which he can be judged, and whatever the result, there could be no ambiguity about the will of the people…. A campaign would also give us an occasion that history denied us in 2008: an opportunity to adjudicate the George W. Bush years in a direct way.”

While the 2008 election might have seemed a sufficient judgment of the Bush years, it’s worth pointing out that at beginning of the year (1/19/09), Meacham was adamantly opposed to re-hashing Cheney’s record, calling it “the rough equivalent of pornography–briefly engaging, perhaps, but utterly predictable and finally repetitive.” The difference? That was in response to the idea that Cheney should be held accountable for lawbreaking. Apparently a few months later, the same record is grounds for a White House run.

–The Them Not Us Award
WINNER: Martin Fackler, New York Times

The New York Times (11/21/09) describes the severe problems with Japan’s elite media–a horror show where “reporters from major news media outlets are stationed inside government offices and enjoy close, constant access to officials. The system has long been criticized as antidemocratic by both foreign and Japanese analysts, who charge that it has produced a relatively spineless press that feels more accountable to its official sources than to the public. In their apparent reluctance to criticize the government, the critics say, the news media fail to serve as an effective check on authority.”

The mind reels.

–The Thin-Skinned Pundits Award
WINNER: Dana Milbank, Washington Post

Washington Post reporters Dana Milbank and Chris Cilizza got into trouble when, in an episode of their “Mouthpiece Theater” web video series, they suggested brands of beer that would be appropriate for various politicians. What would Hillary Clinton drink? Apparently something called “Mad Bitch.” The video, unsurprisingly, was roundly criticized, and was pulled from the Post site. So what lesson was learned? Milbank complained (8/6/09) that “it’s a brutal world out there in the blogosphere…. I’m often surprised by the ferocity out there, but I probably shouldn’t be.”

Yes, the problem with calling someone a “bitch” is the “ferocity” of your critics.

–The Sheer O’Reillyness Award
WINNER: Bill O’Reilly, Fox News Channel–TWICE!

1) Asked by a Canadian viewer, “Has anyone noticed that life expectancy in Canada under our health system is higher than the USA?,” Fox’s O’Reilly (7/27/09) responded: “Well, that’s to be expected, Peter, because we have 10 times as many people as you do. That translates to 10 times as many accidents, crimes, down the line.”

2) Drumming up fear of Democrats’ tax plans: “Nancy Pelosi and her far-left crew want to raise the top federal tax rate to 45 percent. That’s not capitalism. That’s Fidel Castro stuff, confiscating wages that people honestly earn.”

Perhaps Castro was president of the United States in 1982-86, when the top rate was 50 percent. Or maybe all of the 1970s, when it was 70 percent. Or from 1950-63, when it was 91 percent.

–The Less Talk, More Bombs Award
WINNER: David Broder, Washington Post

Post columnist Broder expressed the conventional wisdom on Barack Obama’s deliberations on the Afghanistan War, writing under the headline “Enough Afghan Debate” (11/15/09):

It is evident from the length of this deliberative process and from the flood of leaks that have emerged from Kabul and Washington that the perfect course of action does not exist. Given that reality, the urgent necessity is to make a decision–whether or not it is right.

–The Racism Is Dead Award
WINNER: Richard Cohen, Washington Post

Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote (5/5/09): “The justification for affirmative action gets weaker and weaker. Maybe once it was possible to argue that some innocent people had to suffer in the name of progress, but a glance at the White House strongly suggests that things have changed. For most Americans, race has become supremely irrelevant. Everyone knows this. Every poll shows this.”

For the record, “every poll” does not actually show this; the vast majority of Americans continues to recognize that racism is still a problem. Cohen went on to write months later–still presumably living in his racism-free world–that he did not believe Iran’s claims about its nuclear program, because “these Persians lie like a rug.”

–The When in Doubt, Talk to the Boss Award
WINNER: Matt Lauer, NBC News

Today show host Lauer announced a special guest on April 15: “If you really want to know how the economy is affecting the average American, he’s the guy to talk to.” Who was Lauer talking about? Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke. The ensuing interview touched on the Employee Free Choice Act, which Lauer noted was supported by many unions but opposed by some large corporations–leading him to ask Duke, “What’s the truth?” Yes, look for “the truth” about a proposed pro-labor bill from the new CEO of an adamantly anti-labor corporation.

–The Socialist Menace Award
WINNER: Michael Freedman, Newsweek

Newsweek’s “We Are All Socialists Now” cover (2/16/09) certainly turned heads, but one of the stories inside explained in more detail the real threat. As senior editor Michael Freedman asked: “Have you noticed that Barack Obama sounds more like the president of France every day?”

The real problem, though, is what that’s going to do to us Americans, says Freedman: “If job numbers continue to look dismal, or get even worse, an ever-greater number of people will start looking to the government for support…. It’s very easy to imagine a chorus of former American individualists demanding cushy French-style pensions and free British-style healthcare if their private stock funds fail to recover and unemployment inches upward toward 10 percent and remains there.”

Pensions and healthcare for all–this is worse than we thought!

–The Iraq All Over Again Award
WINNER: Too Many to Name

After the invasion of Iraq, countless journalists who had treated allegations about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as facts were embarrassed when there were no such weapons to be found. So you’d think they’d be more careful about thinly sourced claims that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. But in 2009, many journalists are still willing to treat such allegations as facts.

-NBC’s Chris Matthews (10/4/09): “As if Afghanistan were not enough, now there’s Iran’s move to get nuclear weapons.”

-NBC’s David Gregory (10/4/09). “Iran–will talks push that country to give up its nuclear weapons program?”

-Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly (9/25/09): “All hell breaking loose as a new nuclear weapons facility is discovered in Iran, proving the mullahs have been lying for years…. Iran’s nuclear weapons program has now reached critical mass. And worldwide conflict is very possible. Friday, President Obama, British Prime Minister Brown and French President Sarkozy revealed a secret nuclear weapons facility located inside Iran.”

Some even went further, turning allegations of a nuclear weapons program into the discovery of actual nuclear weapons:

-ABC’s Good Morning America host Bill Weir (9/26/09): “President Obama and a united front of world leaders charge Iran with secretly building nuclear weapons.”

–The Talking Like a Terrorist Award
WINNER: Thomas Friedman, New York Times

In a January 14 column, New York Times superstar pundit Tom Friedman explained Israel’s war on Lebanon as an attempt to “educate” the enemy by killing civilians: The Israeli strategy was to “inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical.” Friedman added, “The only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians–the families and employers of the militants–to restrain Hezbollah in the future.” That strategy of targeting civilians to advance a political agenda is usually known as terrorism; Osama bin Laden couldn’t have explained it much better.

–The It Only Bothers Us Now Award
WINNER: Wall Street Journal editorial page

When Barack Obama only called on journalists from a list during a press conference, the Wall Street Journal did not like the new protocol (2/12/09):”We doubt that President Bush, who was notorious for being parsimonious with follow-ups, would have gotten away with prescreening his interlocutors.”

Actually, Bush was famous for calling only on reporters on an approved list; as he joked at a press conference on the eve of the Iraq War (3/6/03), “This is scripted.”

–The No Comment Award
WINNERS: MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski and Rush Limbaugh

When asked by Politico (10/16/09) to name her favorite guest, MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski named arch-conservative Pat Buchanan “because he says what we are all thinking.”

Rush Limbaugh on Obama (Fox News Channel, 1/21/09): “We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles…because his father was black.”

IPI: Three Killed in Pakistan Press Club Bombing


The International Press Institute is a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists. They are dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, the promotion of the free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.

Three Killed in Pakistan Press Club Bombing

Pakistan IPI Member Warns: Media Now a ‘Central Target’

VIENNA, 22 Dec. 2009 – At least three people were killed on Tuesday in Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan when a suicide bomber detonated explosives outside the city’s Press Club, according to media reports.

Two policemen and a passer-by were killed, Reuters reported. At least 17 people were wounded.

Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, has been wracked by violence since the Pakistani armed forces began an offensive against Pakistani Taliban militants in October.

“It was a suicide attack. The bomber wanted to get into the Press Club and, when our police guard stopped him, he blew himself up,” city police chief Liaqat Ali Khan told Reuters – which noted that Peshawar reporters had said militants had threatened journalists since the beginning of the offensive against the Pakistani Taliban.

Pakistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. According to IPI’s Death Watch, seven journalists have already been murdered there this year.

Owais Ali, an IPI member, and Secretary-General of the Pakistan Press Foundation, told the IPI Secretariat: “Things are getting from bad to worse. There was a time when the press was collateral damage in covering the war on terror. Now it seems the press has become a central target for terrorists.”

He added: “This is another blow for press freedom in Pakistan. It’s high time the government moved beyond issuing routine condemnations for attacks on journalists and moved to providing security for journalists.”

Ali said that many newspapers didn’t have the money to provide proper security at their entrances, and warned that in the absence of concrete measures to bolster media security after Tuesday’s attack some journalists might choose self-censorship rather than remain exposed to the wrath of the militants.

IPI Director David Dadge said: “Pakistan is already one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists out in the field. The fact that journalists are now being attacked in the traditional haven of a press club is another tragic blow for freedom of the media in Pakistan. Journalists must never be targeted because they will not
follow a political or ideological line and I call on the authorities to do everything to ensure that the perpetrators are brought swiftly to justice.”

Podesta: The Progressive case on health bill


John Podesta from the Center for American Action Fund recommends passage of the Senate health bill despite its many flaws

The Center for American Progress Action Fund is the sister advocacy organization of the Center for American Progress. The Action Fund transforms progressive ideas into policy through rapid response communications, legislative action, grassroots organizing and advocacy, and partnerships with other progressive leaders throughout the country and the world. The Action Fund is also the home of the Progress Report.

By John Podesta

Since Joe Lieberman demanded stripping the public option and Medicare buy-in provisions from the merged Senate bill, some strong progressives like Howard Dean have argued that without a public option or a Medicare buy-in provision, the bill is a giveaway to private insurers and should be killed. Other progressive leaders like Senators Jay Rockefeller, Tom Harkin and Sherrod Brown believe that the bill represents the best chance for passing health care reform in the foreseeable future. “I’m going to vote for it,” Brown told reporters. “I can’t imagine I wouldn’t. I mean there’s too much at stake.”

Durst: The Top Ten Comedic News Stories of 2009


Okay. Here’s the deal: the Top Ten Comedic News Stories of 2009 are not to be confused with the Top Ten Legitimate News Stories of 2009. They are as different as night and day. Fire and frogs. Popeye’s chicken and ballet fundraisers. High rise condo balconies and balsa wood furniture. Southern Baptist 4th of July church picnics and snow tires. There were all sorts of heavy- duty stories that impacted the country and the planet. Can’t think of any right now, but trust me, there was a bunch. Rather, the Top Ten Comedic News Stories of 2009 are the accounts that provoked a slow shake of the head and a soft chuckle without having to bear a moral weight larger than Manitoba owing to the extreme unfunny nature of the death, destruction and gruesomeness inherent in the legitimate news. So here is the flip side, the stories from 09 most filled with mirthing possibilities.

Editorial: Russoniello has to go


Sen. Barbara Boxer is screening candidates for the U.S. attorney post and now ought to finalize her choice quickly and send it to the White House for appointment

EDITORIAL When you look behind the problems San Francisco has had with its sanctuary city policy — the arrest and threatened deportation of kids as young as 15, the threats to city officials trying to protect juveniles, the threats to the new policy Sup. David Campos won approval for — there’s one major figure lurking: U.S. Attorney Joe Russoniello.

He’s the same one who was behind the raids on medical marijuana clubs. He’s a Republican whose former law firm, Cooley, Godward, gets hefty legal fees from representing Pacific Gas and Electric Co. — one of the biggest federal criminals in the land. He served under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Meister: The Courage of Rose Bird


Dick Meister, is a former City Editor of the Oakland Tribune, labor editor of the SF Chronicle and labor reporter on KQED-TV’s “Newsroom.” Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 250 of his recent columns.

The Courage of Rose Bird

By Dick Meister

Farmworkers rarely have had a greater champion than Rose Bird, the late chief justice of California’s Supreme Court who died ten years ago this month, her vital help for farmworkers largely forgotten by the general public.

Much was made of Bird’s unyielding opposition to capital punishment, a stand that was most responsible for voters ousting her from the court in 1986. But close attention also should be paid to her role in granting basic rights to farmworkers and others who had long been denied them.

Bird’s public efforts on their behalf began two years before she joined the court in 1977, during her tenure as Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s secretary of agriculture. Bird, the first woman to hold any cabinet-level position in California, was also one of the few non-growers who’ve held the agriculture post.

Stiglitz: Too Big to Live


Here is our monthly installment of Joseph E. Stiglitz’s Unconventional Economic Wisdom column from the Project Syndicate news series. Stiglitz is University Professor at Columbia University and the winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics. His forthcoming book Freefall will be published this winter.

By Joseph E. Stiglitz

NEW YORK – A global controversy is raging: what new regulations are required to restore confidence in the financial system and ensure that a new crisis does not erupt a few years down the line. Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, has called for restrictions on the kinds of activities in which mega-banks can engage. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown begs to differ: after all, the first British bank to fall – at a cost of some $50 billion – was Northern Rock, which was engaged in the “plain vanilla” business of mortgage lending.

The implication of Brown’s observation is that such restrictions will not ensure that there is not another crisis; but King is right to demand that banks that are too big to fail be reined in. In the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, large banks have been responsible for the bulk of the cost to taxpayers. America has let 106 smaller banks go bankrupt this year alone. It’s the mega-banks that present the mega-costs.

Editorial: Don’t rush the Candlestick EIR


The city wants to rush the massive Candlestick Point Redevelopment Project through during the holiday season without adequate oversight, review, or discussion. It needs to extend the public comment period for at least another 45 days.

The Candlestick Point redevelopment project is by far the biggest land-use decision facing San Francisco today, and one of the most significant in the city’s modern history. The project, sponsored by Lennar Corp., would bring 10,500 housing units and 24,000 additional residents to the area. Those residents would need new schools, playgrounds, open space, and transportation systems. Industrial and commercial development would create some 3,500 permanent jobs, and those people would need ways to get to work. Plans calls for new roadways, including a bridge over the fragile Yosemite Slough. The 708-acre site includes areas with significant toxic waste issues.

It’s no surprise that the draft environmental impact report on the project weighs in at 4,400 pages. It took two years to review the land use, transportation, air quality, water quality, population, employment, noise, hazardous materials, and other potential issues.

Dick Meister: The Oakland General Strike


Within two days in December of 1946, a general strike all but shut down Alameda County. It is much less remembered than the San Francisco general strike but it was no less effective.

By Dick Meister

(Dick Meister is a former city editor of the Oakland Tribune, labor editor of the SF Chronicle and labor reporter on KQED-TV’s “Newsroom.”)

It was 7 a.m. on a cold, rainy day in the heart of downtown Oakland 63 years ago this month.

Dozens of strikers, picket signs held high, were gathered outside the Kahn’s and Hastings department stores on Broadway on that gloomy Sunday morning of December 1, 1946. Suddenly, some 200 Oakland and Berkeley police, many in riot gear, swept down the street. They roughly pushed aside pickets and pedestrians alike as they cleared the street and the surrounding eight square blocks. They set up machine guns across from Kahn’s while tow trucks moved in to snatch away any cars parked in the area.

Behind them came an armed guard of 16 motorcycle police and five squad cars.
The lead car carried Oakland Chief Robert Tracy and the strikers’ nemeses, Paul St. Sure, a representative of the employers who fiercely opposed their demand for union contracts, and Joseph R. Knowland, the virulently anti-labor newspaper publisher who controlled the local political establishment. That included the Oakland City Council, which had demanded that the police move against strikers.

Dick Meister: Time to hustle, Tiger


Shame on Tiger for his marital infidelities. But what about his worse transgressions?

By Dick Meister

(Dick Meister is a San Francisco writer.)

Oh, the handwringing over golfer Tiger Woods marital infidelities, and shame on him, a man who claims to stand for solid family values. But what of his worse transgressions?

I mean Tiger’s attempts to get gullible sports fans to buy goods that he endorses – not because of any value they may possess, but because he’s paid millions of dollars to do it by Nike, American Express, General Motors and others who lust after our money, just as Woods lusted after ladies who weren’t his wife.

Tiger Woods is hardly the only one. Many athletes in many sports also hustle us and, like Tiger, are not criticized in the slightest for helping merchandisers peddle goods and services to impressionable youngsters and star-struck adults.

Rather than being reproached , the athletes often become even more celebrated. Think, for example, of O.J. Simpson, widely admired before his murder trial at least as much for his car rental commercials as for his football exploits. The more celebrated the athletic pitchmen become, the more commercial opportunities they are offered and the richer they become at the expense of those who celebrate them.

The commercial money is, of course, in addition to the athletes’ earnings for playing their sports that often run into the millions. Obviously, the athletes don’t need the money. But as long as it’s available, they’ll grab it.

Even the Olympic athletes who are supposedly the best this country has to offer are in on it, their medal-winning performances earning them the golden chance to try to sell us breakfast food, flashlight batteries and such.

Coaches can also profit, most notably college basketball coaches. They can make $10,000 to $100,000 a year – sometimes even more – for wearing certain brands of ostentatiously labeled sweaters and sweatshirts during televised games or even news conferences, for doing radio and TV commercials and otherwise pitching products, most lucratively by outfitting their teams in particular brands of footgear.

Peculiar conduct, isn’t it, for a group whose job description includes helping mold the character of young men and women. The coaches, in any case, are as eager as the others who happily sell their services to commercial interests.

How can they resist? As actor Robert Young acknowledged in explaining why he became a TV pitchman after years of turning down commercials as demeaning, “It’s a license to steal.”

But there has been at least one celebrated American who turned down the chance to play highly-paid pitchman – former New Jersey senator and presidential candidate Bill Bradley. Sounds crazy, I know, but throughout his entire 10-year career as a professional basketball superstar with the New York Knicks a quarter-century ago, Bradley actually refused – refused! – to endorse products or engage in any of the other immensely profitable commercial ventures so readily available to star athletes.

Look at this from Bradley’s 1976 book, “Life on the Run”:

“Perhaps I wanted no part of an advertising industry which created socially useless personal needs and then sold a product to meet those needs …. More probably, I wanted to keep my experience of basketball …. as innocent and unpolluted by commercialism as possible…. Taking money for hawking products [would have] demeaned my experience of the game. I cared about basketball. I didn’t give a damn about perfumes, shaving lotions, clothes, or special foods.”

One, however, does have to admire the entrepreneurial spirit of those who revel in being paid lavishly for conning people into buying stuff they don’t necessarily need. Consider another basketball superstar, Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest fan hustler of all time. Or at least he was before Tiger Woods came along .

On returning to basketball in 1995 after taking a year off to play professional baseball, for instance, Jordan shrewdly changed his basketball jersey number from No, 23 to No. 45 so as to generate still more sales of replicas to the fans who spend more than $12 billion a year on jerseys, shoes and other products bearing the names – and numbers – of their heroes.

But Tiger Woods probably can do much better than that. He may have to. Those girlfriends of his may prove quite expensive, don’t you think?

Dick Meister is a San Francisco writer. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 250 of his recent columns.e mighgt have to All all