Sarah Phelan

Uncommon Knowledge at the Roxie, Thursday

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What’s up with UC Berkeley Extension in SF?
By sarah Phelan

It’s not common knowledge that the UC Regents are proposing to close UC Berkeley Extension’s historic San Francisco campus and convert it into condos and a retail shopping center.

Thankfully, along comes Eliza Hemenway and her documentary, Uncommon Knowledge: Closing the Books at UC Berkeley Extension, just in time to get you up to speed before public comment closes in December.

So, get yourself down to the The Roxie Film Center for a special preview screening Thursday, Nov. 16, at 6:30 PM.
For advanced tix, visit www.roxie.com/Nov06.cfm (scroll down to Uncommon Knowledge).

Uncommon Knowledge at the Roxie, Thursday

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What’s up with UC Berkeley Extension in SF?
By sarah Phelan

It’s not common knowledge that the UC Regents are proposing to close UC Berkeley Extension’s historic San Francisco campus and convert it into condos and a retail shopping center.

Thankfully, along comes Eliza Hemenway and her documentary, Uncommon Knowledge: Closing the Books at UC Berkeley Extension, just in time to get you up to speed before public comment closes in December.

So, get yourself down to the The Roxie Film Center for a special preview screening Thursday, Nov. 16, at 6:30 PM.
For advanced tix, visit www.roxie.com/Nov06.cfm (scroll down to Uncommon Knowledge).

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Josh Wolf at 81 days

By Sarah Phelan

Spoke to jailed freelance videographer/blogger Josh Wolf by phone on his 81st day at Dublin Federal Correctional Institute. (Wolf clocked 31 days during his first stint, was released on bail, only to get sent back inside when the 9th Court rejected his appeal.)
“This is like the world’s worst summer camp,” joked Wolf, who keeps busy with lots of reading, writing and Scrabble-playing. “Though the people I play Scrabble with keep leaving.”

Wolf hopes to be free when the Democrats take over Congress in January 2007, in part because Martin Garbus, a big shot First Amendment lawyer, is now his lead attorney.

“I’m lucky to have such illustrious counsel. Garbus had been referred to me before I went to jail the first time, but I wanted to meet him face-to-face. Then, while I was inside, an inmate had a copy of Garbus’ 300-page long book, Heroes and Traitors. I read it in four hours straight.”

Another reason for hope: On October 11, Wolf’s legal team filed paperwork with the 9th Circuit in the hope of a rehearing, given that the panel’s decision in his case appears to conflict with a prior decision of the court, in which sessions in which a police officer sought counseling following a contentious and fatal shooting were given protection from investigators’ prying eyes.

In Wolf’s case, he’s being asked to produce video-out takes of a July 2005 anarchist protest turned violent–something he fears the police want to access so they can profile members of the anarchist community.

“The alleged arson of a police car is serious, but so is the chilling effect of trying to get a reporter to work as an arm of the government,” says Wolf, who has only 14 days to go before he tops former New York Times’ reporter Judith Miller’s 95-day stint inside.

“I’m looking forward to being out in the fresh air, walking around –and meeting you face to face,” says Wolf, who believes TV coverage of his case has been adversely affected by Dublin’s ruling that he can only give interviews by phone and that they can’t be taped.

“TV news doesn’t want to report what Josh Wolf says if there’s no voice and no face to go with it,” he observes. As for the fact that the two Chronicle reporters who printed leaked grand jury testimony in the BALCO steroids scandal remain outside, while Wolf remains inside playing Scrabble, is that evidence of preferential treatment of the corporate media, or evidence that the feds had something to gain in their “war on drugs’ by the leaked testimony getting out in print? Stay tuned.

Josh Wolf: 81 days inside, Scrabble Master

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By Sarah Phelan

Spoke to jailed freelance videographer/blogger Josh Wolf by phone on his 81st day at Dublin Federal Correctional Institute. (Wolf clocked 31 days during his first stint, was released on bail, only to get sent back inside when the 9th Court rejected his appeal.)
“This is like the world’s worst summer camp,” joked Wolf, who keeps busy with lots of reading, writing and Scrabble-playing. “Though the people I play Scrabble with keep leaving.”

Wolf hopes to be free when the Democrats take over Congress in January 2007, in part because Martin Garbus, a big shot First Amendment lawyer, is now his lead attorney.

“I’m lucky to have such illustrious counsel. Garbus had been referred to me before I went to jail the first time, but I wanted to meet him face-to-face. Then, while I was inside, an inmate had a copy of Garbus’ 300-page long book, Heroes and Traitors. I read it in four hours straight.”

Another reason for hope: On October 11, Wolf’s legal team filed paperwork with the 9th Circuit in the hope of a rehearing, given that the panel’s decision in his case appears to conflict with a prior decision of the court, in which sessions in which a police officer sought counseling following a contentious and fatal shooting were given protection from investigators’ prying eyes.

In Wolf’s case, he’s being asked to produce video-out takes of a July 2005 anarchist protest turned violent–something he fears the police want to access so they can profile members of the anarchist community.

“The alleged arson of a police car is serious, but so is the chilling effect of trying to get a reporter to work as an arm of the government,” says Wolf, who has only 14 days to go before he tops former New York Times’ reporter Judith Miller’s 95-day stint inside.

“I’m looking forward to being out in the fresh air, walking around –and meeting you face to face,” says Wolf, who believes TV coverage of his case has been adversely affected by Dublin’s ruling that he can only give interviews by phone and that they can’t be taped.

“TV news doesn’t want to report what Josh Wolf says if there’s no voice and no face to go with it,” he observes. As for the fact that the two Chronicle reporters who printed leaked grand jury testimony in the BALCO steroids scandal remain outside, while Wolf remains inside playing Scrabble, is that evidence of preferential treatment of the corporate media, or evidence that the feds had something to gain in their “war on drugs’ by the leaked testimony getting out in print? Stay tuned.

Extra Wacky Supes Meeting

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By Sarah Phelan

Singing. Shouting. Ranting. Magic tricks. These were just some of the weirdities at the Board of Supes meeting, which just happened to fall on election day. But it was Sup. Bean Dufty’s almost 5-week old baby Sidney who really stole the show—and got Dufty explaining to Sup. Sophie Maxwell, that it wasn’t him, when a bottle of formula led to burps and gas. So, if you’ve got a case of post-election withdrawal, check out the schedule at sfgov.org to watched televised coverage of it all, burps and all.

Three years 364 days and counting

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Three years 364 days and counting
By Sarah Phelan
Alix Rosenthal’s election night party at the 500 Club was feisty, even if She Who Would Usurp Dufty In District 8 didn’t win. This time around.
The fun started when Rosenthal arrived, to chants of “Al-Ix! Al-Ix!”. Then someone shouted, “Alix for Governor!” and the crowd went wild.
“We’ve got three years and 364 days to go,” said Rosenthal, radiant in a pretty pink suit.
“We started late in this race against an incumbent who had the support of the entire establishment. We did amazingly well. And I’m sticking around. It’s in my blood. I’ll be running again in four years, so I’ll be watching Bevan Dufty and all his moves.”
And we’ll be watching to see if Board of Supes Chair Aaron Peskin makes good on his promise to take Rosenthal to the best restaurant in the city, if she won 35 percent of the vote, even though she clocked in at 30.57 percent. This time around.

Preparing for scary

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› sarah@sfbg.com
Nine people were shot during this year’s big Halloween celebration in the Castro, prompting city officials to announce the convening of a task force that will examine the event and its future in San Francisco. Supporters and event planners say such early attention is crucial for a gathering of this magnitude — and that the lack of proper planning contributed to this year’s problems.
Concerns that the event has gotten out of control prompted some Castro residents and Sup. Bevan Dufty to announce in July that they wanted the event cancelled, moved, or drastically scaled back. Instead, the plan was hatched to increase the police presence by 25 percent, adopt a zero tolerance policy for public drinking and other crimes, and end the event at 10:30 p.m., which they announced just days before Halloween.
More than 100,000 people showed up anyway, passing big groups of police clumped at the edges of the event but rarely undergoing even cursory searches for weapons and other contraband as they entered the cordoned area. Just after the music was turned off at the one stage (down from three last year) and police announced, “The party is over,” a conflict between two San Francisco gangs escalated, with someone being hit by a bottle and then someone pulling out a gun and opening fire in retaliation. There were no fatalities, and the shooter escaped.
Other than that one incident, which most attendees weren’t aware of until the next day, the event was pretty tame. More striking and upsetting to most who came was the fact that the event ended just as its numbers were peaking and that the end was reinforced at 11 p.m. by water trucks and street sweepers that cleared the still-large crowd.
Mayor Gavin Newsom seemed to acknowledge the lack of preparation when he told KRON-TV, “We’re not going to wait until the last few months before the event. We’re going to start planning right away.” Nonetheless, both Newsom and Dufty praised the police and the planning efforts, with the mayor telling the Chronicle, “We’d done everything we could imagine doing.”
Yet critics say that if that’s the best city officials can do, we’re in no shape to host other large events, such as the 2016 Summer Olympics, which Newsom is bidding for.
“If San Francisco wants to host the Olympics, it can’t go around telling the world that it can’t keep a party under control one night a year,” Ted Strawser of the SF Party Party told the Guardian. “Halloween is like gay Christmas. It’s a travesty to talk about canceling it.”
Other cities seem to be up to the task. Take New York’s Village Halloween Parade. Twenty-five years ago, when its crowds first topped the 100,000 mark, New York celebration artist Jeanne Fleming began working closely with local residents, schools, community centers, and the police to maintain “a grassroots feel and prepare for future growth.”
Today, the New York Village Halloween Parade is the biggest in the world, a fact organizers actively advertise on their Web site to attract sponsors and fill the city’s coffers with $80 million worth of tourists’ money annually, thanks to two million spectators and 60,000 parade participants.
And while Newsom, Dufty, Police Chief Heather Fong, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, and Sheriff Michael Hennessey deliberate whether the party should continue and how to make it securer if it does, the NYPD hails the Village parade as a valuable public service that makes Halloween safe for New Yorkers.
“Maybe the SFPD needs to talk to the NYPD,” Fleming told the Guardian, noting that the Village parade has changed routes four times over the years in response to merchants’ fears and neighborhood concerns without losing its original identity. “Instead of putting up walls, San Francisco needs to open up its mind.”
That’s what Alix Rosenthal (the domestic partner of Guardian city editor Steven T. Jones) had been urging during her campaign against Dufty for his seat on the Board of Supervisors.
“Bevan Dufty has accused me of playing politics with Halloween, but he should have started working on this plan at least six months ago,” Rosenthal said at a day-after press conference. She believes that more entry points, entrance fees (with higher fees for uncostumed attendees), and a parade leading away from the Castro would be helpful. “Getting out the word that there are going to be changes has to be a huge PR effort.”
Paul Wertheimer of LA-based Crowd Management Strategies told the Guardian that talk of canceling the event is “an understandable reaction if you know you can’t do it right.”
“Organizers often fail to recognize the changing demographics and popularity of events,” Wertheimer said, pointing to the success of New Orleans in managing its Mardi Gras parades despite narrow streets and huge crowds. “You can’t have a hippie, anything-goes mentality. Once an event gets bigger than 3,000 to 5,000 people, it has to be organized and planned with the proper resources, but it can be done, because the techniques and plans are already laid out.”
Wertheimer hopes the SF Halloween task force will assess what worked and what didn’t, take a break, then begin planning no later than six months out. “And merchants’ issues have to be addressed. Merchants are always concerned, but if they can be shown ways they can benefit and be protected from vandalism, they’ll be for it.”
Or as Strawser put it, “We need to put the dollars into better management, not police overtime. Former mayor Willie Brown learned that lesson in 1997 when he tried to cancel Critical Mass. We’re a city that handles the Love Parade, Gay Pride, and Bay to Breakers. To cancel what began as a gay event because of fear of gay bashers and violence would be to give in to the terrorists.” SFBG

Cock of the walk

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Live report from Sarah Phelan

The booze flowed freely and the jumbo shrimp glistened on the napkins of a crowd of adoring fans at Bevan Dufty’s celebration at Lime. Well in the lead to be reelected as Supervisor in District 8, Dufty appeared to be cock of the walk, with his newborn in his arms and his child’s birth mother at his side. He told the crowd, “I’m ready to make my move” and then mumbled something about the SFPD, clearly aimed at the members of the SFPD in the audience. Then he acknowledged the presence of fellow Supervisor Sean Elsbernd in the crowd and lauded him for his “bravery in supporting gay marriage, when he has to drive west of Twin Peaks on his way home.”

Keefer looks ahead; calls Pelosi out

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Live report from Sarah Phelan

Krissy Keefer, the candidate for Congress, District 8, rose amid a flurry of Peruvian pan pipes at Café Boheme, dressed in bright green, to address the crowd of her supporters. Her platform had been: US out of Iraq, impeach Bush, stop global warming. With Democrat Nancy Pelosi leading at 77 percent — looks like she may be the next Speaker of the House – Keefer had this to say:

“The most important thing now is to see if measure J passes. Pelosi has to look at what her district wants — impeachment for Bush. Her district was against the Iraq war from the start.

It’s time for Nancy Pelosi to take the interests of San Francisco and put them at the center rather than the margins. People from SF will be watching.”

Cancelling Halloween is like killing Gay Christmas

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By Sarah Phelan

Is San Francisco going to let a handful of gang bangers shut down Halloween?
Er, wouldn’t that be like “letting the terrorists win,” to quote our not so favorite president.
And how can San Francisco seriously expect to win the Olympic bid if the city spends the next week blabbing on about how we don’t know how to control a large crowd or successfully manage a parade?
Because a parade could have turned Halloween 2006 into a peaceful success, instead of a violent disaster.
Instead, Sup. Bevan Dufty’s last-minute effort to reap political mileage out of the ‘law and order” theme seriously backfired when things turned nasty the MINUTE THE POLICE ANNOUNCED THE PARTY WAS ENDING EARLY.
Wiith meaningful planning, beginning NOW, the community can figure out cool ways to keep Halloween alive.
As District 8 supervisorial challenger Alix Rosenthal told the press, the city’s security and safety preparation “was badly conceived, badly executed–and preventable. We should spend at least 6 months planning this. Instead Dufty waited until the end of July to start doing anything and the city says, ‘We did our best.’ It’s time for new leadership.”

Bill Clinton kicks Big Oil’s ass

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By Sarah Phelan

Say what you will about Clinton, but when it comes to raising morale, the 42nd President still has what it takes.
“One side says stay the course, the other says, ‘We can do better,'”said Clinton, as he urged us all to vote Yes in Prop. 87, which raises $4 billion by taxing oil, and uses those funds for alternative energy research and development, including incentives for buying alternative-fuel vehicles. Too bad Big Oil didn’t spend $100 million on improving air quality, reducing asthma and lung cancer, instead of on all those misleading ads that try to frighten people into voting no.
“They can’t deny climate change, the national security implications, that too many of us, especially children, are breathing air that doesn’t meet minimum requirements, so they’re just spending $100 million to defeat Prop. 87,” said Clinton. “They’re really just saying, ‘We’re against any positive change.”

Bill Clinton kicks Big Oil’s ass, says yes to Prop. 87

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By Sarah Phelan

Say what you will about Clinton, but when it comes to raising morale, the 42nd President still has what it takes.
“One side says stay the course, the other says, ‘We can do better,'”said Clinton, as he urged us all to vote Yes in Prop. 87, which raises $4 billion by taxing oil, and uses those funds for alternative energy research and development, including incentives for buying alternative-fuel vehicles. Too bad Big Oil didn’t spend $100 million on improving air quality, reducing asthma and lung cancer, instead of on all those misleading ads that try to frighten people into voting no.
“They can’t deny climate change, the national security implications, that too many of us, especially children, are breathing air that doesn’t meet minimum requirements, so they’re just spending $100 million to defeat Prop. 87,” said Clinton. “They’re really just saying, ‘We’re against any positive change.”

The Destroy California Initiative

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› sarah@sfbg.com
If you knew there was an initiative on the ballot that would make it impossible for government to protect the environment, build affordable housing, raise minimum wages, and mandate health care, you’d vote no on it, right?
Especially if you knew this measure would force taxpayers to spend billions to prevent developers and private property owners from doing things that harm neighborhoods, communities, and the environment.
So why is Proposition 90, which does all this and more, still leading in the polls?
It’s all about fear — and the ability of one wealthy real estate investor from New York City to fund a misleading campaign that exploits legitimate concerns about eminent domain.
Eminent domain is the legal procedure that allows the government to take over private property. It’s been used traditionally to build roads, rail lines, schools, hospitals, and the like. But it’s also been used — abused, many would say — to condemn private homes and turn the land over to developers for more lucrative projects. And after the US Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that doing so was OK, it was easy for property-rights types to whip those fears into a frenzy.
New York Libertarian and real estate investor Howie Rich, who hates government regulation, used the court decision to saddle up a herd of Trojan horses with eminent domain, stuffing the poison pills of “highest best use” and “regulatory takings” deep in their saddlebags, slapping their rumps with wads of cash, and sending them into California, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Washington.
Here in California, Rich’s millions went in large part toward paying petitioners a buck per signature to qualify Prop. 90 for the ballot. The pitch was stopping eminent domain — but there was little mention of the extreme provisions contained within the measure’s fine print that if passed, will mean more lawyers and fewer herons and hard hats.
For starters Prop. 90 changes the rules for calcuutf8g how much the government has to pay property owners when it takes their land. The new rules would dramatically increase the price of infrastructure and public works projects like building roads and levees, as well as purchasing open space and preserving habitats and endangered species.
Worse, Prop. 90’s language changes the valuation of regulatory takings. That’s legal mumbo jumbo, but what it amounts to is this: whenever the government takes actions that aren’t explicitly for the protection of people’s health and safety — like establishing rent control, minimum wages, and agricultural easements — property owners can claim that the value of their holdings was decreased. (Protecting an endangered species, for example, might prevent some parcels from being developed.) Under Prop. 90 those landowners can file claims of “substantial economic loss” — and put the taxpayers on the hook for billions (see “Proposition 90 Isn’t about Eminent Domain,” page 22).
THE ICE AGE COMETH
Prop. 90 opponents predict that if the measure passes, its effects will be disastrous, wide-ranging, and immediate.
Bill Allayaud, state legislative director for the Sierra Club, told us it was Prop. 90’s “regulatory takings” clause that led to unprecedented opposition after individuals and groups analyzed the measure’s fine print.
“One little paragraph activated a coalition like we’ve never seen in California history,” Allayaud says.
Prop. 90 flushes away a century of land use and community planning, including regulations and ordinances that protect coastal access, preserve historic buildings, limit the use of private airspace, establish inclusionary housing, and save parks. In short, Prop. 90 destroys everything that makes California a decent place to live.
Over at the California Coastal Commission, executive director Peter Douglas frets that his agency will no longer be able to carry out its mandate to protect the coast.
“Every decision the Coastal Commission makes where we approve projects but impose conditions to protect neighborhoods and communities will be subject to claims,” Douglas says.
“Sensitive environments like the San Francisco Bay and Lake Tahoe will be exposed, along with residential neighborhoods, ag lands, and public parklands. And it will erode the state’s ability to protect against new offshore oil drilling, new liquid natural gas terminals, harmful ocean energy projects like offshore wind turbines and wave energy machines and make it impossible to set aside essential marine reserves to restore marine life and fisheries.”
Members of the California Chamber of Commerce oppose Prop. 90 because it will make it more complicated and costly to build new infrastructure like freeway lanes, sewer lines, levees, and utility sites.
President Allan Zaremberg observes, “At a time when California is trying to finally address the huge backlog of needed roads, schools, and flood protection–water delivery systems, the massive new costs of Prop. 90 would destroy our efforts to improve infrastructure.”
Among government agencies the outlook is equally bleak. Unlike Oregon’s Measure 37, which passed in 2004 and has already led to over $5 billion in claims, Prop. 90 isn’t limited to private land but extends to private economic interests. This wide-ranging scope means that it’ll be almost impossible for government to regulate business without facing claims of “substantial economic loss,” making it prohibitive to protect consumers, establish mandatory health care coverage, or raise minimum wages.
San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera told the Guardian, “If Prop. 90 passes, we might as well get out of the business of local government.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Asked what California would look like if Prop. 90 had been law for a decade, Gary Patton, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, paints a sprawl-filled picture.
“All the project proposals that weren’t built would have been, open space and parks wouldn’t have been preserved, almost every public works project would have been affected, and things wouldn’t have been constructed, because there would have been no money because the cost of everything would have gone up.”
Currently, the cost of a piece of land is valued by the market. Under Prop. 90 land would be valued by what it might be used for.
“For instance, a piece of land alongside a highway could one day be developed into a subdivision,” Patton explains. “So that’s the price it would have to be bought at. So unless taxes are raised, Prop. 90’s passage would mean that California would be able to do less. Traffic would be worse. The affordable housing crisis would intensify. Fewer swimming pools and civic centers would be built. Everything that’s done through spending dollars collectively would cost more.”
Within the Bay Area individual communities have chosen to adopt urban growth boundaries, but if Prop. 90 was already in place, Patton says, many environmental and community protection projects wouldn’t have happened.
“Where now we have more focused growth, which is economically and socially as well as environmentally beneficial, there’d be lots more sprawl,” Patton explains. “We’d be a lot more like Fresno and Bakersfield and San Bernardino and Los Angeles. The Bay Area is a place where more people have got together and made sure their communities did things that have been beneficial.”
As for restoring Golden Gate’s Crissy Field or the South Bay Salt Ponds or preserving bird and wildlife sanctuaries, forget about it.
“We’d be more like Houston. Prop. 90 says unless you can pay me for not developing this land, then one day I’m gonna be able to develop it,” Patton says.
A LAWYER’S WET DREAM
Mary Ann O’Malley, a fiscal and policy analyst at the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, helped write the legislative analysis for Prop. 90 and as such is familiar with the measure’s far-reaching but more obscure provisions.
“Governments will be required to sell land back to its original owner if they stop using the land for the purpose stated when it took the property in the first place,” O’Malley explains. “And government won’t be able to condemn property to build on another property for the purpose of increasing local government’s tax revenues, but it could do so to build roads and schools.”
As for how the “regulatory takings” section of Prop. 90 affects government’s ability to protect the environment, O’Malley says local governments frequently impose case by case mitigation requirements to uphold the Endangered Species Act, telling a developer where it can build.
“If this is simply an enforcement procedure required by the Endangered Species Act, then it probably would not be viewed as a compensatory act, but if it’s an independent local project decision, it might fall within Prop. 90’s purview.”
Although Prop. 90 supporters say it won’t affect existing laws, Douglas says it’s simplistic to believe that current zoning won’t be superceded.
“Zoning plans aren’t exclusive. They may allow ancillary uses with government’s approval. For instance, you can build additional housing and wineries on ag land, but sometimes these uses are totally incompatible with the area. At which point local government steps in and says, ‘Oh no you don’t.’ But under Prop. 90 government is vulnerable to claims.
“Taxpayers are gonna be stuck with a multibillion-dollar bill. It should be called the ‘Destroy California Initiative.’” SFBG
Read about the Proposition 90 money trail and the truth behind the campaign’s stories at www.sfbg.com.

Proposition 90 isn’t about eminent domain

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Here are some of the things that could be impacted if Proposition 90 passes: NEIGHBORHOOD PLANNING Developers could argue against providing additional community benefits, which are often mandated when increased building height or density is allowed. New zoning restrictions would be hit hard. LOCAL LAWS If Prop. 90 passes, it amends the state’s constitution — and virtually nullifies a number of local antisprawl and smart-growth measures also on the November ballot. In San Francisco the formula retail ordinance (Proposition G) and the tenant relocation ordinance (Proposition H) could create costly litigation. ELLIS ACT Prop. 90 does not affect statutes, ordinances, and measures that already exist, but new tenant protection would be rendered moot. “Any amendment to our law that would cost the city money would be affected by Prop. 90,” said Delene Wolf of the Rent Board. PUBLIC POWER Prop. 90 doesn’t lend any help to municipalities looking to control their own utilities. If San Francisco were to kick out Pacific Gas and Electric and take over the utility’s distribution infrastructure, the corporation could tack millions of additional dollars onto the city’s bill by arguing a loss of future revenue from the seizure. MANDATORY HEALTH COVERAGE San Francisco passed its landmark universal health care plan earlier this year. But with the plan set to be introduced in stages, there’s uncertainty as to whether it will leave the city open to claims of “substantial economic loss” from small businesses opposed to its passage. HISTORIC PRESERVATION St. Brigid Catholic Church in San Francisco is owned by the Academy of Art Institute, which recently petitioned the Board of Supervisors to have national landmark status removed from the 100-year-old building — allowing for a drastic altering of its Romanesque facade. The board denied the request this past October. Under Prop. 90 the Academy of Art could sue the city for the cost of adhering to these guidelines or for the profit lost for what it would have used the building for if allowed to change it. (Amanda Witherell and Sarah Phelan)

White Guilt on Your Green Lifestyle

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By Sarah Phelan

With the Green Festival’s tips on green homes, green investment, eco-travel and organic beer set to hit San Francisco Nov. 10-12, African People’s Solidarity Day coordinator and physicist Aisha Fields told the Guardian her group is hitting the Bay Area a week earlier to tell folks that “the entire white lifestyle—alternative or not—is unsustainable.”
Because of its colonial legacy, much of mineral-rich Africa has no infrastructure—something APSD wants to change by raising awareness, funding and support for Africa, including demanding reparations for centuries of slavery, theft and genocide.
“Tremendous natural resources only serve a few corrupt politicians, who pump them out and send them to Europe and the U.S.,” says Fields, who hopes to fund projects for electricity, renewable energy and water purification in West Africa. “People need to deepen their understanding of the root causes. Many of the minerals mined to make cell phones come from Africa, and many of the wars Americans see on TV are being fought to frighten folks off their land, or because a ruling party wants access to those resources.”
APSD takes place in Oakland, Nov. 4, 10am – 5pm, at the Humanist Hall, 390 27th St and in San Francisco, Nov. 5, 10am – 5pm at the Women’s Building, 3543 18 St. Contact info@apscuhuru.org. 510.625.1106

The Daly Show

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By Sarah Phelan

In the past few months, I’ve attended numerous city hall meetings in which Sup, Chris Daly vigorously pushed for more police foot patrols. Also sitting through those meetings were reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle, who witnessed Daly pushing Police Chief Heather Fong to implement the program that residents of Daly’s district and other violence-plagued areas of the city, are literally begging for. They also watched as Daly questioned whether the police department’s request for more funding was premature, something that the city’s budget analyst recently concluded was in fact true.
So it was disappointing, if not surprising, to watch the Chron repeat the B.S. about Daly’s supposed attempts to block funding for the police
And it was disappointing, if not surprising to hear Daly’s challenger Rob Black make similar claims, while on the phone to the Guardian answering questions about his connections to lobbyist and political mastermind Jim Sutton and his clients PG&E.
Black spewed the statistic that “30 percent of crime takes place in Daly’s district,” then claimed that Daly had done nothing about it, including repeating the lie that, “Chris Daly talks about the need for beat officers, but isn’t willing to put the money there.”
That statement simply isn’t true, as city watchers all know, so it was a relief to see BeyondChron take the Chron to task for its incessant peddling of misinformation, which apparently is their way of trying to influence the elections. Maybe there is hope, after all, that lies won’t trump the truth this fall.

Josh Wolf meets Eminem meets Nelson Mandela

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By Sarah Phelan
Got a letter from jailed videographer/blogger Josh Wolf, saying he remains hopeful. Here are 3 reasons why.
1. Legendary lawyer Martin Garbus has joined Wolf’s team as Lead Attorney. That puts Wolf in the company of Eminem, Nelson Mandela, Daniel Ellsberg, Amy Tan, Al Pacino, Spike Lee, Sean Connery, Robert Redford and Michael Moore, to name a few of Garbus’ high profile clients. Garbus is also working on the case of the two SF Chronicle reporters, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wade, who face possible jail time for refusing to name the source who revealed transcripts from a grand jury investigating Barry Bonds and steroid use in organized sports.
2. Josh’s attorney’s have filed an appeal in the 9th Circuit, refuting that panel’s decision that the court doesn’t have the power to create a common-law privilege, claiming that this ruling contradicts a previous decision, the Jaffee case, which established a privilege for psychotherapists in the case of a police officer who had gone into therapy following a disputed shooting.
3. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is going to do some cases in the 9th.

Wolf’s advice to San Franciscans? “Keep talking, refuse to be silenced.”
His advice to San Francisco? ”Cut all fiscal ties with the federal government. It’s a radical approach, but it has value beyond protecting journalists—it spares the city from the vice-like grip of No Child Left Behind, for example.”

The dirt in D6

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› amanda@sfbg.com › sarah@sfbg.com If you live in San Francisco’s District 6, it’s pretty difficult to avoid what some residents are calling a new filth polluting Tenderloin corners and SoMa streets. It’s not overflowing trash bins or urine-stained door frames — it’s the relentless election billeting that uses those images to support Rob Black and oppose Chris Daly for the district’s seat on the Board of Supervisors. “We’re tired of talk. Of loud, whining, condescending, offensive, abusive, lying, showcasing, arrogant talk,” reads a recent poster on a telephone pole. “District 6 is dirty and dangerous. District 6 is still poor. Chris Daly is why. Dump Daly. Back Rob Black.” “I was totally offended by this,” Debra Walker, a progressive activist and resident of the district for 25 years, told the Guardian. “This kind of message intentionally suppresses the vote. People I’ve talked to in the district who aren’t very political are totally turned off by the mailings from Rob Black or made in his benefit.” Some of the mailings, posters, and literature can be directly attributed to independent expenditure (IE) committees recognized by the Ethics Commission and acting legally. Some, however, have more dubious ancestry but apparent links to a campaign attorney with a long history of using millions to control the outcome of elections in San Francisco: Jim Sutton (see “The Political Puppeteer,” 2/4/04). Sutton did not return calls for comment. Most of the anonymous literature directs people to the Web site www.DumpDaly.org. SFSOS’s Wade Randlett told us his group paid for the site and a volunteer set it up. SFSOS and Sutton formed Citizens for Reform Leadership 1–6 — IE committees listed on many of the signs and much of the literature, including the poster quoted above. The committees haven’t filed any IE reports with the Ethics Commission. Walker, along with Maria Guillen, vice president of SEIU Local 790, and another District 6 resident, Jim Meko, submitted a complaint with the Ethics Commission on Sept. 29 with nine pieces of physical evidence supporting their concern that the roof had been blown off the $83,000 spending cap on the campaign, in place because all candidates agreed to public financing. The evidence submitted with the complaint varied and included three different mailers from “Concerned Residents of District 6,” a committee that has yet to exist on paper in the Ethics Commission filing cabinets. The mailers from the “Concerned Residents” are glossy triptychs critical of Daly but not explicitly advocating for another candidate. They do not state the amount the committee paid for them, which is required of any electioneering communication. On Oct. 6 the Ethics Commission released a statement saying the spending cap for District 6 was no longer in effect. John St. Croix, executive director of the commission, has identified at least $90,000 in IEs, including three unreported mailers. “At some point we will attempt to determine who distributed the mailers,” St. Croix said. “But it’s not likely before the election.” The tactic of breaking the law before the election and taking the heat after the ballots are in has been used in the past, and this new example flouts recently passed legislation. These mailings should have been filed with the Ethics Commission, according to an ordinance passed in 2005 in response to similar anonymous hit pieces that came out in the elections of 2003 and 2004 against Supervisors Gerardo Sandoval and Jake McGoldrick. (Sutton defended SFSOS’s main funder, Donald Fisher, in his successful Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation against Sandoval over the issue.) “It’s a strategy taken straight from Karl Rove’s playbook,” Meko, a 30-year SoMa resident, told us. Joe Lynn, former Ethics Commission member and staffer, told us “all the committees in San Francisco should turn their backs on contributions from people who are involved in this scheme — at least until they explain their involvement. These are the most sophisticated folks in San Francisco politics. I think a full investigation including possible criminal activity ought to be assigned to a master.” He said District Attorney Kamala Harris used Sutton in her race and therefore may have a conflict of interest. The Rob Black for Supervisor committee claims no connection to the literature that hangs on doorknobs and clogs mailboxes, the push polls calling people, or the postings in the streets and tucked under windshields. “I don’t support the anonymous pieces. If people are doing it on my behalf, I don’t want it,” Black told us. But Daly told us “the IEs appear to be coordinated…. The Black committee is not running a campaign that would be independently competitive. He’s only sent one piece of mail, but he’s had eight sent on his behalf.” Residents suggest it’s even more than that: Walker received three more anti-Daly mailers Oct. 20. Black confirmed that he had only sent one mailing to the district, and he’s “not surprised” that so many IEs have sent out mailings in his support. With the exception of a filing from the Police Officers Association, the only legal IEs reported with the Ethics Commission so far are from the Building Owners and Management Association (BOMA) and Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA). They also trace back to Sutton, Black’s former boss at Nielsen Merksamer, a law firm that represented PG&E in the 2002 campaign against public power, for which the firm was fined $100,000 for failing to report until after the election $800,000 from PG&E, the biggest fine ever levied by Ethics. Sutton left the firm shortly after. Black stayed on until 2004, when he took a position as legislative aide with Michela Alioto-Pier. The most recent poll released by Evans McDonough purports to show Black ahead by six points (with a five-point margin of error). It was commissioned by Barnes, Mosher, Whitehurst, Lauter, and Partners, which has also been employed by Sutton through BOMA and the GGRA for the IEs in the District 6 election. The financial shenanigans have been a rallying point for the Daly campaign. More than 70 volunteers signed in at an Oct. 21 rally and hit the streets: shaking hands, distributing literature, and making phone calls raising support for Daly. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi criticized the soft money’s “ugly, nasty, mean-spirited tactics” to oust Daly. “If they have to resort to these tactics, is that the kind of government we want in San Francisco?” he asked the crowd. “This is the nastiest, most personal and hateful thing I’ve ever been involved with,” Daly said. “It’s very painful.” But, he said, “our people power is better than their money power.” Outside a volunteer shouted into a bullhorn, “Don’t let downtown interests buy your democracy!” SFBG

3 reasons to visit Cody’s in Berkeley this Saturday Oct. 14

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By Sarah Phelan
Former Biosphere 2 crew member Jane Poynter speaks with a endearing British accent, says “bloody” when she gets excited and believes the two-year-and twenty-minute-long project of which she was part, is “one of the most publicly misunderstood and undervalued projects” of the 20th century.”

Or 21st century, given that the impact of the project—a mini-version of Biosphere 1, or Planet Earth, involving four men and four women isolated in a three-acre glass and steel structure near Tucson—continues to elude people to this very day.

All of which add up to a whole bunch of reasons for heading out to Books Inc, 301 Castro Street, Mountain View at 7:30 pm October 13 or to Cody’s, 1730 4th Street, Berkeley, at 7 pm on October 14 to hear Poynter share what it was like on the inside, when she reads from her new book, The Human Experiment” Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2.

Poynter, who prepared for this two-year long stint by living in the Australian outback for six months and then on a research boat on the open seas, says Biosphere 2 was a seminal experience in which she quickly realized what is true for all of us, (but less obvious when your biosphere happens to be Planet Earth):

“Everything that I did daily affected my life support system, and vice versa. It made me realize how disconnected we are here in Biosphere 1, where technology keeps us comfortable and separate from the ravages of nature. In Biosphere 2, that separateness was broken down. I realized I was a cog in the biospheric wheel.”

One of her first priorities on remerging back into the regular world was to put her energies into a project that was big and positive, recalls Poynter of her decision, along with her crewmember/boyfriend and now husband, to develop an aerospace company.

“I’d done some reading and learned that some people who’ve been in isolation, like in Antarctica, commit suicide upon reentry, because they’ve had this seminal experience that no one else can understand and they’re also left with a ‘Now what?’ feeling,” she explains.

Faced with the specter of global warming, Poynter says it’s “very tragic that Biosphere 2 has been sitting empty without a mission for two years.” She now has fingers crossed that it will soon resume its role as effective research tool in the global climate arena.
As for why she decided to write her book now, Poynter says that for ten years her thoughts and experiences have been stewing inside.
“I wanted to put it all behind me, but when now I see misinformation about the project, out of its historic context. It irritated me. I want people to know that it involved an enormous amount of effort and intellectual prowess. It was a huge undertaking.”
It also led to a split in the crew, an event that, in hindsight, says Poynter, was predictable.
“One of the things that’s been shown to occur when people are in isolation and in small groups is that they split into factions. The folks at NASA say we were a textbook case. After a while, you run out of psychological energy and your inner values come to the surface.”

Those friendship rifts profoundly influenced how she runs her company in the present.
‘Taber, my husband, and I made a vow to make sure that the people we worked with got their fundamental needs met.”

As for comments that Biosphere 2 was Reality TV, before reality TV even existed, Poynter says, “On the surface, we were like Survivor, I guess, but we put hats over the camera lenses, we objected to having our private lives filmed, and we to some degree we were selected to get along with each other. In Reality TV, psychologists select people who won’t get along.”

As for the broken friendships she endured as a result of being on the inside of Biosphere 2, Poynter says she interviewed the crewmembers involved for the book and tried to be “very balanced” about what went down.

“I had a story, there were certain truths to be told, we didn’t all come out smelling like roses.”

As for the future, Poynter believes that Biosphere 2 “came bloody close to recreating Planet Earth. We showed it’s possible.”

She also believes that scaled-down versions will play a role in space exploration in centuries to come.

“It’s not necessarily about human destiny, but about life in general. Life sees a vacuum. Take Planet Mars. Maybe it once had life. Who knows? But now it’s waiting for more life to go fill it. Some people believe that it’s statistically likely that we’re going to destroy ourselves. But it’s probably a good idea to have back-up plan. Great things were learned from Biosphere 2. I really do hope it gets a third chance.”

You Can’t Trust Arnold

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By Sarah Phelan
I saw the “Angelides for Governor” bus long before I saw the man who would be the next Democratic Governor of California. The bus was peacefully barreling up San Francisco’s Franklin Street on its way to the Central Labor Council where Phil Angelides was set to speak to a crowd of blue and yellow-sign waving supporters. But not before a horn-honking tow truck, cut in on the scene, its driver shouting “No to the Angelides Tax Tune-Up!” (And was that Arnold, dressed in a Super Man suit, driving a big rig, laughing manically as he pressed on a ear-drum shattering horn just as Angelides alighted from bus? Probably not, but it’s hard to tell, given the tendency of Arnie’s supporters to hide their true identities behind Super Hero masks and costumes.)
Either way, nurses, teachers, firefighters and working folks in general haven’t forgotten what Arnold has done, or tried to do, to them in the past 3 years.
Like wasting over $70 million on a special election that nobody wanted instead of trying to fix the state’s educational system.
Like stomping for Bush in Ohio in 2004, instead of demanding that California get its share of federal funds.
Like bragging about kicking nurses’ butts instead of ensuring that all Californians have access to health insurance.
Speaking of which, “Someone got their butt kicked and it wasn’t a nurse,” laughed Assemblymember Mark Leno as he addressed the crowd prior to Angelides’ appearance. “Phil Angelides slam dunked that debate.”
And as Angelides supporters pointed out, after spending over $35 million and beating up on Angelides for the past 3 months, Arnold is frozen at 44 percent in the polls. And his record sucks.
Maybe Phil Angelides hasn’t made any movies but he sure seems more trustworthy than Arnold. As Angelides told the crowd,
“I’m running with you at my side to stop the greedy obscene corporate-interest give aways.”

The Lusty Lady loses its innocence

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› sarah@sfbg.com
If you’ve taken a women’s studies course in the past decade or if you’re a patron or follower of the sex industry, you’ve heard of San Francisco’s Lusty Lady. Depicted as a bastion of feminist values and workers’ rights, the 24-hour peep show floats amid the sea of macho-style strip clubs that dominate North Beach’s central strip.
Sure, the Lusty features live nude girls wiggling and jiggling while male customers masturbate in small enclosed booths, but dancers are protected from unwanted splashes of semen and sexual advances thanks to the panel of glass that separates them from the customers. Equally important, at least in the eyes of feminist voyeurs and dancers, is the theater’s reputation for having a broader vision of female beauty than prevailing cultural norms and for being a venue where discrimination simply isn’t tolerated. These credentials date back to the ’90s, when the club’s dancers traded boas for picket signs in what became a successful bid to organize the only unionized strip joint in the nation.
Back then, the drive to unionize was triggered by poor working conditions, including one-way mirrors that allowed customers, newly empowered with the affordable digital technology that emerged in the mid-’90s, to clandestinely film performers. Worried their images would end up as Internet porn or in bootleg videos or used against them in custody battles, the dancers and the male support staff joined forces and won representation with SEIU Local 790.
Less publicized is the fact that three years ago the club’s former management sold the business to the Lusty’s workforce. Since then, the theater has been run as an employee-owned cooperative, with an elected board of directors that signs the union’s collective bargaining agreement every year. Given the harsh fiscal climate that followed the dot-com bomb and the workers’ general lack of business experience prior to their involvement in the Looking Glass Collective (as the Lusty’s co-op is called), it’s no big surprise that the theater is currently facing some fiscal and management challenges.
But the next chapter in the Lusty Lady saga is the strangely twisted tale of how a small faction of male workers is trying to decertify the union against a backdrop of inflammatory e-mails, emotional outbursts, suspensions, and firings, along with competing allegations from dancers of sexual harassment and unfair labor practices.
It all started when one of the men began to argue that the place was losing money because the dancers were too fat.
Now some male co-op members (who work the front desk and the door and have the unpleasant job of cleaning the little rooms) say the union contract isn’t valid anymore because the co-op makes no distinction between management and labor. They are also spinning events to make it appear as if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) agrees.
DANCERS OF SIZE
The tale goes back to July, when a support staffer named Davide Cerri sent the co-op board an e-mail complaining that the peep show’s revenues were falling off. Since everybody’s pay at the Lusty is based on monthly revenues, any decline in cash flow would hit every worker’s wallet.
Cerri claimed that the Lusty’s madams were hiring “unwatchable girls” — women who were too big and not quite sexy enough — and that as a result, the club lost money.
“People comes [sic] asking for refunds, because they do not want to see girls that they would not want to have sex with even if they were completely drunk,” Cerri wrote. “This is reality, not question of options. We sell fantasies, not nightmares.”
Cerri’s missive so outraged dancer Emma Peep that she posted a copy on a message board where all the dancers could read it.
As Peep explained to the Guardian, “Davide’s e-mail was against everything we stand for, and it’s against the law to hire and fire based on size discrimination.”
But by making the missive public, Peep set off a firestorm.
“Everyone flipped out, people were crying in the dressing room, and the male staffer got ostracized,” one Lusty board member, who asked not to be identified by name, told us. “It’s great what we at the Lusty think the standards of beauty are, but the reality is that we’re in the adult entertainment business.”
Peep claims Cerri’s missive “led to others calling for the termination of women based on their size” — and in the end, to her own July 30 termination. In a supreme twist of irony, given that she filed a grievance with the union and wanted Cerri fired for his e-mail, Peep instead found herself fired “for creating a disruptive, hostile work environment” — via an unsigned letter shoved under her door.
Documents filed with the NLRB show that shortly after Peep filed her grievance, Cerri filed one of his own: he charged SEIU Local 790 with failing to represent his grievances and with treating and representing male and female employees differently.
Last week the NLRB’s regional office dismissed Cerri’s charges — on the grounds that the Lusty is a completely member-owned and member-operated cooperative and that as a shareholding member with the ability to affect the formulation and determination of the Lusty’s policy, Cerri is a managerial employee.
“Accordingly, the Union’s duty of fair representation does not extend to you,” ruled NLRB acting regional director Tim Peck in a letter.
In the meantime, the union has continued to press Peep’s grievances. On Aug. 4, SEIU Local 790 staff manager Dale Butler wrote Lusty Lady board members Miles Thompson, Monique Painton, and Chelsea Eis, informing them that Peep’s termination was “without just cause” and “inappropriate.”
Butler told the board members that the Lusty Lady’s union contract provides for mediation and that the theater could be subject to $2,000 in arbitration fees plus attorneys’ fees plus Peep’s back wages (a triple whammy that could bankrupt the already fiscally struggling club). When the union threatened legal action, the board finally agreed to mediation.
WHO’S THE BOSS?
Meanwhile, there’s a dispute about whether the union actually has a valid contract. Union representatives say they sent a final version of this year’s agreement to the board, which never returned it. Butler told the Guardian that on Sept. 25, male support staffer Tony Graf called the union to say that the board had no objections to the contract — except for an antiharassment clause that shop steward Sandy Wong had proposed.
Male support staffers Cerri and Brian Falls still maintain that the union has no business at the Lusty.
“The union has been fraudulently in the Lusty Lady’s business, because we’re a co-op and everyone is a manager,” Falls said.
As for e-mail writer Cerri, he told the Guardian that “the union is automatically out and their contract is not valid, which is great news. We were mobilizing to deunionize by collecting signatures but now won’t have to go forward with that.” Falls also acknowledged being involved in a decertification drive.
“Before the formation of the co-op there was a common enemy, the management, who treated the dancers and the support staff badly. But once we became a co-op, there was no reason for the union to be there,” he explained.
Falls also claims that Cerri’s e-mail wasn’t triggered by larger dancers per se, but because there were four to five large women on the stage at the same time.
“We were losing customers and saw decreased revenues,” Falls said. “The business isn’t doing that great. We’re on a revenue-based pay scale, so it hits everybody’s paycheck. We never said, ‘Don’t hire big women, fat women.’ There are people who enjoy large women. But a block of the same kind of women — that was losing revenues.”
Financial records obtained by the Guardian, however, show that the Lusty Lady made an average of $28,000 a week in January, $27,000 in February, $28,000 in April, $26,000 in June, and $27,000 in July. That hardly looks like a dramatic collapse of income.
The last word goes to a female dancer who refused to use her stage name for fear of retaliation.
“The union can be polarizing, but it’s scary to leave because it protects our rights,” she said. “The problem is that people will vote against their best interests. It’s like working people voting for Bush. I think I can understand that phenomenon since working at the Lusty Lady.” SFBG

CENSORED!

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› sarah@sfbg.com
Last month, two news stories broke the same day, one meaty, one junky. In Detroit, US District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that the Bush administration’s warrantless National Security Agency surveillance program was unconstitutional and must end. Meanwhile, somewhere in Thailand, a weirdo named John Mark Karr claimed he was with six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey when she died in 1996.
Predictably, the mainstream media devoted acres of newsprint and hours of airtime to the self-proclaimed beauty queen killer, including stories on what he ate on the plane ride home, his desire for a sex change, his child-porn fixation, and — when DNA tests proved Karr wasn’t the killer — why he confessed to a crime he didn’t commit.
During that same time period, hardly a word was written or said in the same outlets about Judge Diggs Taylor’s ruling and the question it raises about why Bush and his power-grabbing administration repeatedly lie to the American public.
The mainstream media’s fascination with unimportant stories isn’t anything new. Professor Carl Jensen, a disenchanted journalist who entered advertising only to walk away in greater disgust and become a sociologist, says the media’s preoccupation with “junk food news” inspired him to found a media research project at Sonoma State University about 30 years ago to publicize the top 25 big stories the media had censored, ignored, or underreported the previous year.
That was the beginning of Project Censored, the longest-running media censorship project in the nation — and it drew plenty of criticism from editors and publishers.
“I was taking a lot of flak from editors around Project Censored’s annual list of the top stories the mainstream media missed,” recalls the now-retired Jensen. “They said the reason they hadn’t covered the stories was that they only had a limited amount of time and space, and that I was an academic, sitting there criticizing.”
But Jensen had an answer: there was plenty of time and space, but it was just being filled with fluff.
Since 1993, Project Censored has been running not only the stories that didn’t get adequate coverage but also the “junk food news” — the stories that were way, way overblown and filled precious pages and airtime that could have been used for real news.
While Jensen would love to be able to claim that Project Censored solved the media’s problems with censorship and junk food news, that didn’t happen.
“If anything, it’s gotten worse,” Jensen says, pointing to increased media monopolization.
Project Censored’s current director, Peter Phillips, says entertainment news may be addictive, but that’s no excuse for the media to push it.
“Massacres, celebrity gossip — we’re automatically attracted,” Phillips says. “It’s like selling drugs. But we don’t tolerate the drug dealer on the corner. For the democratic process to happen, we have to have information presented and made available. To just give people entertainment news is an abdication of the First Amendment.”
Art Brodsky, a telecommunications expert at Public Knowledge, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC, says some of the problems with censorship are a product of journalistic laziness. Brodsky, who has written extensively on network neutrality, which is the number one issue on this year’s list, says the topic hasn’t received enough coverage, partly because the debate has largely remained couched in telecommunications jargon.
“Network neutralilty is a crappy term, other than its alliterative value,” Brodsky says. “It’s one of those Washington issues that gets intense coverage in the field where it happens but can be successfully muddied, and it’s technical. So a lot of editors and reporters throw their hands up in the air, a lot like senators.
Following are Project Censored’s top 10 stories for the past year.
1. THE FEDS AND THE MEDIA MUDDY THE DEBATE OVER INTERNET FREEDOM
In its relatively brief life, the Internet has been touted as the greatest vehicle for democracy ever invented by humankind. It’s given disillusioned Americans hope that there is a way to get out the truth, even if they don’t own airwaves, newspapers, or satellite stations. It’s forced the mainstream media to talk about issues it previously ignored, such as the Downing Street memo and Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse.
So when the Supreme Court ruled that giant cable companies aren’t required to share their wires with other Internet service providers, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the major media did little in terms of exploring whether this ruling would destroy Internet freedom. As Elliot Cohen reported in BuzzFlash, the issue was misleadingly framed as an argument over regulation, when it’s really a case of the Federal Communications Commission and Congress talking about giving cable and telephone companies the freedom to control supply and content — a decision that could have them playing favorites and forcing consumers to pay to get information and services that currently are free.
The good news? With the Senate still set to debate the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006, as the network neutrality bill is called, it’s not too late to write congressional representatives, alert friends and acquaintances, and join grassroots groups to protect Internet freedom and diversity.
Source: “Web of Deceit: How Internet Freedom Got the Federal Ax, and Why Corporate News Censored the Story,” Elliot D. Cohen, BuzzFlash.com, July 18, 2005
2. HALLIBURTON CHARGED WITH SELLING NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY TO IRAN
Halliburton, the notorious US energy company, sold key nuclear reactor components to a private Iranian oil company called Oriental Oil Kish as recently as 2005, using offshore subsidiaries to circumvent US sanctions, journalist Jason Leopold reported on GlobalResearch.ca, the Web site of a Canadian research group. He cited sources intimate with the business dealings of Halliburton and Kish.
The story is particularly juicy because Vice President Dick Cheney, who now claims to want to stop Iran from getting nukes, was president of Halliburton in the mid-1990s, at which time he may have advocated business dealings with Iran, in violation of US law.
Leopold contended that the Halliburton-Kish deals have helped Iran become capable of enriching weapons-grade uranium.
He filed his report in 2005, when Iran’s new hard-line government was rounding up relatives and business associates of former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, amid accusations of widespread corruption in Iran’s oil industry.
Leopold also reported that in 2004 and 2005, Halliburton had a close business relationship with Cyrus Nasseri, an Oriental Oil Kish official whom the Iranian government subsequently accused of receiving up to $1 million from Halliburton for giving them Iran’s nuclear secrets.
Source: “Halliburton Secretly Doing Business with Key Member of Iran’s Nuclear Team,” Jason Leopold, GlobalResearch.ca, Aug. 5, 2005
3. WORLD OCEANS IN EXTREME DANGER
Rising sea levels. A melting Arctic. Governments denying global warming is happening as they rush to map the ocean floor in the hopes of claiming rights to oil, gas, gold, diamonds, copper, zinc, and the planet’s last pristine fishing grounds. This is the sobering picture author Julia Whitty painted in a beautifully crafted piece that makes the point that “there is only one ocean on Earth … a Mobiuslike ribbon winding through all the ocean basins, rising and falling, and stirring the waters of the world.”
If this world ocean, which encompasses 70.78 percent of our planet, is in peril, then we’re all screwed. As Whitty reported in Mother Jones magazine, researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2005 found “the first clear evidence that the world ocean is growing warmer,” including the discovery “that the top half-mile of the ocean has warmed dramatically in the past 40 years as the result of human-induced greenhouse gases.” But while a Scripps researcher recommended that “the Bush administration convene a Manhattan-style project” to see if mitigations are still possible, the US government has yet to lift a finger toward addressing the problem.
Source: “The Fate of the Ocean,” Julia Whitty, Mother Jones, March–April 2006
4. HUNGER AND HOMELESSNESS INCREASING IN THE UNITED STATES
As hunger and homelessness rise in the United States, the Bush administration plans to get rid of a data source that supports this embarrassing reality — a survey that’s been used to improve state and federal programs for retired and low-income Americans.
President Bush’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2007 includes an effort to eliminate the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation. Founded in 1984, the survey tracks American families’ use of Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, child care, and temporary assistance for needy families.
With legislators and researchers trying to prevent the cut, author Abid Aslam argued that this isn’t just an isolated budget matter: it’s the Bush administration’s third attempt in as many years to remove funding for politically embarrassing research. In 2003, it tried to whack the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on mass layoffs and in 2004 and 2005 attempted to drop the bureau’s questions on the hiring and firing of women from its employment data.
Sources: “New Report Shows Increase in Urban Hunger, Homelessness,” Brendan Coyne, New Standard, December 2005; “US Plan to Eliminate Survey of Needy Families Draws Fire,” Abid Aslam, OneWorld.net, March 2006
5. HIGH-TECH GENOCIDE IN CONGO
If you believe the corporate media, then the ongoing genocide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is all just a case of ugly tribal warfare. But that, according to stories published in Z Magazine and the Earth First! Journal and heard on The Taylor Report, is a superficial, simplistic explanation that fails to connect this terrible suffering with the immense fortunes that stand to be made from manufacturing cell phones, laptop computers, and other high-tech equipment.
What’s really at stake in this bloodbath is control of natural resources such as diamonds, tin, and copper, as well as cobalt — which is essential for the nuclear, chemical, aerospace, and defense industries — and coltan and niobium, which is most important for the high-tech industries. These disturbing reports concluded that a meaningful analysis of Congolese geopolitics requires a knowledge and understanding of the organized crime perpetuated by multinationals.
Sources: “The World’s Most Neglected Emergency: Phil Taylor talks to Keith Harmon Snow,” The Taylor Report, March 28, 2005; “High-Tech Genocide,” Sprocket, Earth First! Journal, August 2005; “Behind the Numbers: Untold Suffering in the Congo,” Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski, Z Magazine, March 1, 2006
6. FEDERAL WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION IN JEOPARDY
Though record numbers of federal workers have been sounding the alarm on waste, fraud, and other financial abuse since George W. Bush became president, the agency charged with defending government whistleblowers has reportedly been throwing out hundreds of cases — and advancing almost none. Statistics released at the end of 2005 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility led to claims that special counsel Scott Bloch, who was appointed by Bush in 2004, is overseeing the systematic elimination of whistleblower rights.
What makes this development particularly troubling is that, thanks to a decline in congressional oversight and hard-hitting investigative journalism, the role of the Office of Special Counsel in advancing governmental transparency is more vital than ever. As a result, employees within the OSC have filed a whistleblower complaint against Bloch himself.
Ironically, Bloch has now decided not to disclose the number of whistleblower complaints in which an employee obtained a favorable outcome, such as reinstatement or reversal of a disciplinary action, making it hard to tell who, if anyone, is being helped by the agency.
Sources: “Whistleblowers Get Help from Bush Administration,” Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Web site, Dec. 5, 2005; “Long-Delayed Investigation of Special Counsel Finally Begins,” PEER Web site, Oct. 18, 2005; “Back Door Rollback of Federal Whistleblower Protections,” PEER Web site, Sept. 22, 2005
7. US OPERATIVES TORTURE DETAINEES TO DEATH IN AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ
Hooded. Gagged. Strangled. Asphyxiated. Beaten with blunt objects. Subjected to sleep deprivation and hot and cold environmental conditions. These are just some of the forms of torture that the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan inflicted on detainees, according to an American Civil Liberties Union analysis of autopsy and death reports that were made public in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
While reports of torture aren’t new, the documents are evidence of using torture as a policy, raising a whole bunch of uncomfortable questions, such as: Who authorized such techniques? And why have the resulting deaths been covered up?
Of the 44 death reports released under ACLU’s FOIA request, 21 were homicides and eight appear to have been the result of these abusive torture techniques.
Sources: “US Operatives Killed Detainees During Interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq,” American Civil Liberties Union Web site, Oct. 24, 2005; “Tracing the Trail of Torture: Embedding Torture as Policy from Guantánamo to Iraq,” Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch.com, March 5, 2006
8. PENTAGON EXEMPT FROM FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
In 2005, the Department of Defense pushed for and was granted exemption from Freedom of Information Act requests, a crucial law that allows journalists and watchdogs access to federal documents. The stated reason for this dramatic and dangerous move? FOIA is a hindrance to protecting national security. The ruling could hamper the efforts of groups like the ACLU, which relied on FOIA to uncover more than 30,000 documents on the US military’s torture of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantánamo Bay, including the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.
With ACLU lawyers predicting that this ruling will likely result in more abuse and with Americans becoming increasingly concerned about the federal government’s illegal intelligence-gathering activities, Congress has imposed a two-year sunset on this FOIA exemption, ending December 2007 — which is cold comfort right now to anyone rotting in a US overseas military facility or a secret CIA prison.
Sources: “Pentagon Seeks Greater Immunity from Freedom of Information,” Michelle Chen, New Standard, May 6, 2005; “FOIA Exemption Granted to Federal Agency,” Newspaper Association of America Web site, posted December 2005
9. WORLD BANK FUNDS ISRAEL-PALESTINE WALL
In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the wall Israel is building deep into Palestinian territory should be torn down. Instead, construction of this cement barrier, which annexes Israeli settlements and breaks the continuity of Palestinian territory, has accelerated. In the interim, the World Bank has come up with a framework for a Middle Eastern Free Trade Area, which would be financed by the World Bank and built on Palestinian land around the wall to encourage export-oriented economic development. But with Israel ineligible for World Bank loans, the plan seems to translate into Palestinians paying for the modernization of checkpoints around a wall that they’ve always opposed, a wall that will help lock in and exploit their labor.
Sources: “Cementing Israeli Apartheid: The Role of World Bank,” Jamal Juma’, Left Turn, issue 18; “US Free Trade Agreements Split Arab Opinion,” Linda Heard, Aljazeera, March 9, 2005
10. EXPANDED AIR WAR IN IRAQ KILLS MORE CIVILIANS
At the end of 2005, US Central Command Air Force statistics showed an increase in American air missions, a trend that was accompanied by a rise in civilian deaths thanks to increased bombing of Iraqi cities. But with US bombings and the killing of innocent civilians acting as a highly effective recruiting tool among Iraqi militants, the US war on Iraq seemed to increasingly be following the path of the war in Vietnam. As Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker at the end of 2005, a key component in the federal government’s troop-reduction plan was the replacement of departing US troops with US air power.
Meanwhile, Hersh’s sources within the military have expressed fears that if Iraqis are allowed to call in the targets of these aerial strikes, they could abuse that power to settle old scores. With Iraq devolving into a full-blown Sunni-Shiite civil war and the United States increasingly drawn into the sectarian violence, reporters like Hersh and Dahr Jamail fear that the only exit strategy for the United States is to increase the air power even more as the troops pull out, causing the cycle of sectarian violence to escalate further.
Sources: “Up in the Air,” Seymour M. Hersh, New Yorker, December 2005; “An Increasingly Aerial Occupation,” Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch.com, December 2005 SFBG
For the next 15 of Project Censored’s top 25 stories, go to www.sfbg.com.

Bailed Wolf worries proposed federal reporter’s shield laws won’t protect independent press

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By Sarah Phelan
Like a mole emerging from a hole, bespectacled freelance journalist Josh Wolf squinted into the September sunlight, as he stood on the steps outside the U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit building on Seventh Street in San Francisco. It was the 24-year-old’s first taste of freedom after a month-long stint inside Dublin Federal Correctional Institute for refusing to give a federal grand jury video outtakes of an anarchist protest turned violent.
During his stretch at Dublin, Wolf was only able to breathe fresh air for an hour each day, and he looked as if was relishing the feeling of the sun on his skin, as he voiced his belief that what should have been a SFPD investigation into an assault on an officer, turned into a federal witch hunt, which so far has involved the FBI, the Joint Taskforce on Terrorism, a grand jury—and the thousands of tax payers’ dollars to prosecute and jail him.
As Wolf, who’d traded prison dudes for black jeans, blue shirt and white sneakers, began to speak, jackhammers went off across the the road, as if some evil mastermind was making a last ditch effort to censor the truth. The crowd of camera wielding, microphone-holding paparazzi pressed closer, as Wolf expressed his hope that the 9th Circuit’s decision to grant him bail was a positive sign. (A month earlier, District Court Judge Alsup denied Wolf bail, calling his case “a slamdunk for the federal government.”)
“The late Senator Paul Wellstone once said that significant social change comes from the bottom up,” said Wolf, who hopes his case will ultimately help cement the rights of the independent, as well as those of the traditional, media. Expressing concern that the federal shield laws that are currently on the table “do not encompass people who meet my criteria,” Wolf critiqued the proposed laws for only protecting those who are employed by or under contract with an established media outlet.
‘There should be a common law to protect journalists,” he said, voicing the belief that anyone who is involved in gathering and disseminating news and information is a journalist, whether they are paid for their activities or not.
“I am a journalist, I have a website, I’ve sold footage, including to MichaelMoore.com,” said Wolf, who worries that proposed federal reporter shield laws will create two classes of journalists, those that report and get paid, and those that do it out of volition. “It will create a corporatocracy in which only corporations are media,” he said. “It goes against the idea of a free and independent press.”
He also critiqued what he saw as an increasing abuse of grand juries, which were established to protect the rights of those accused, but increasingly appear to resemble military tribunals and are used so the feds to secretly coerce and investigate targets.
“There is no means that any extended stay in jail is going to bring about a coercive effect,” said Wolf, who believes the case of former New York Times journalist Judith Miller, as well as those of the two BALCO reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle who still face jail time, helped publicize his plight, as well as the blogosphere.
‘It’s egregious that the feds took up an investigation into an assault in a SFPD office,’ said Wolf, who believes that the alleged arson to a SFPD car was used as a hook, simply because SFPD receives federal funds.
“In my tape you hear someone yell, ‘Officer Down!’ That’s the extent of it,” said Wolf, in reply to the question of what interest the feds could possibly have in his clips on the cutting room floor.”
“I don’t want my case to be a reason why people don’t get involved in grassroots journalism,” he said,a cknowledging that his case shows there are risks, “An individual can decide what’s important and truly change thw world we live in,” he said, comparing that freedom to the restrictions imposed on journalists who work for corporate media.”
To help freelancers, Wolf would like to see more information out there on what independent journalists should do if they are subpoenaed. “Know your rights and how to protect them,” he advised.
By the way, when was the last time that an assault on a SFPD triggered a federal investigation, involving the FBI, the JTTF, a grand jury and a reporter doing jail time?

The flaws in the Josh Wolf case

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› sarah@sfbg.com
Last week the California State Assembly and Senate unanimously asked Congress to pass a federal shield law to protect journalists from being forced to disclose unpublished material and the identity of a source.
Part of the motivation for the new push for federal legislation is the recent spate of federal attempts to imprison journalists who won’t give up their confidential sources. The latest victim of that crackdown, Josh Wolf, is in federal confinement after refusing to give prosecutors outtakes from a video he shot of a demonstration at which a San Francisco police officer was injured and a taillight was broken on a cop car (see “The SFPD’s Punt,” 8/23/06).
And while Congress is reviewing the case for protecting journalists, the Guardian has taken a hard look at the case against Josh Wolf — and it’s looking more dubious every day.
For starters, the local cops and the federal prosecutors are trying to claim that Wolf isn’t really a reporter.
That’s what sources in the San Francisco Police Department and the US Attorney’s Office tell us, and it’s borne out by the way the feds are pressing their case in court. In legal briefs, the government never refers to Wolf as a journalist, only as a witness. One federal official, who spoke on the condition he not be identified, likened Wolf to a convenience store owner who has a security camera that catches criminal activity on tape.
There are all sorts of problems with this argument — the first being that the courts have never formally contested Wolf’s journalistic credentials. In fact, the local prosecutors admit in legal briefs that they contacted Washington to seek permission to subpoena Wolf — a process that’s required whenever journalists face this sort of legal action.
As Peter Scheer of the California First Amendment Coalition points out, “The Justice Department claims it complied with regulations that say you can’t subpoena a journalist for outtakes without getting a special order from the attorney general.”
Scheer also notes that under California law, even bloggers enjoy the reporter’s privilege, as recently established when Apple Computer unsuccessfully tried to obtain the identities of sources who allegedly leaked business secrets to bloggers.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Virginia-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says that a case for Wolf qualifying as a journalist could be made under both the House and Senate versions of the Free Flow of Information Act, simply because Wolf was paid for broadcasting his video of the protest.
“In the Senate version, you have to be involved in journalism for money, make some part of your livelihood from it, while the House version is even broader,” said Dalglish.
Watching the part of Wolf’s video that he’s made public, which is posted online at www.joshwolf.net and was aired without his consent by at least three major TV networks before he was eventually compensated, it’s easy to speculate that the SFPD would not have delighted in the picture it paints of local law enforcement.
The footage of the July 8, 2005, protest begins peacefully with protesters, many of them wearing black ski masks, carrying banners saying “Anarchist Action,” “War is the Symptom, Capitalism is the Disease,” and “Destroy the War Machine.” As night comes on, the mood sparkles, then darkens. Someone lights a firecracker, smoke rises, helmeted police arrive, newspaper boxes are turned over, a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. office is sprayed with paint, and suddenly a police officer is captured holding a protester in what appears to be a choking position, while someone shouts, “Police brutality! Your career is over, fajita boy!” and an officer warns, “Leave or you’re going to get blasted. I’m a fed, motherfucker.”
At the same demonstration, Officer Peter Shields was hit in the head while charging into a crowd of protesters — and nobody knows exactly who hit him. That’s not on the public part of Wolf’s video, and Wolf and his lawyers insist there is no footage of the attack. Wolf fears that the government may be looking for something else — perhaps some video of other protesters — and will ask him to identify them. He refused to turn over the outtakes.
Carlos Villarreal, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, says District Court Judge William Alsup, who ordered Wolf to jail, “made a big deal that Josh did not have agreement with a confidential source, but his argument turns Josh’s video equipment into a de facto government surveillance camera.”
Noting that there is a lot of trust between Wolf and protesters at demonstrations — “People aren’t afraid to go up to the camera and say, ‘Did you check out the pig that’s kicking a guy down the street?’” — Villarreal claims that “independent journalists are harder to see and spot than their corporate counterparts.”
The second, perhaps equally troubling problem is that the Wolf case should never have gone to the federal level in the first place.
Alan Schlosser, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, told us there are a lot of red flags in the Wolf case, “beginning with the question, ‘Is there a legitimate federal law enforcement issue here?’”
The federal agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and the FBI didn’t choose to investigate the case — the San Francisco cops requested assistance. That in itself was odd: why is an assault on an officer a federal affair?
Schlosser asks, “Were the feds called in because they aren’t bound by the state’s reporter’s shield law?”
In theory, the local cops say it’s a federal issue because a cop car was damaged — and the city gets money from the federal government for law enforcement. Schlosser said it’s disturbing that “the SFPD doesn’t have to show the federal funds went towards paying for the allegedly damaged car…. So that statute could be applied to any number of situations. It’s very troubling. It federalizes law enforcement around demonstrations.”
A highly placed source in the SFPD offered a somewhat alarming explanation: the feds were brought in, the source said, not because of shield law issues but because the cops figured the JTTF and the US Attorney’s Office would move faster and more aggressively than San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, who has not been on the best terms with the local police.
In other words, if this source is correct, the SFPD is choosing who will prosecute crimes — based on politics, not the law.
As of press time, all Harris’s office was saying was that “the DA strongly believes in the First Amendment and the rights of the press. She also believes in justice for members of the SFPD. An officer was gravely injured that evening, and those responsible need to be held accountable.”
Asked why the federal government was involved in the investigation, Luke Macaulay, a spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office, said, “This is not an attempt to profile anarchists and dissidents. It’s an attempt to get to the bottom of a crime.”
Macaulay also referred us to federal filings with the US District Court, which conclude that “the issue could not be more straightforward…. The incident is under investigation so that the grand jury can determine what, if any, crimes were committed.”
As far as we can tell, there’s nothing in writing that lays out when a San Francisco cop is allowed to ask for federal intervention in a case. All the SFPD General Orders say is that department members requesting assistance from an outside agency have to obtain the permission of a deputy chief.
According to records from the Investigations Bureau General Work Detail, Inspector Lea Militello filed a request for assistance from the FBI and JTTF to investigate a “serious assault against an SF police officer.” It was approved by Captain Kevin Cashman and Timothy Hettrich, deputy chief of investigations.
As of press time, the SFPD had not returned our calls inquiring why the FBI and JTTF were involved in an assault case, which is usually the domain of the DA’s Office.
David Campos, a member of the San Francisco Police Commission, said he thinks the commission needs to look at the issue “to make sure investigations are federalized when it’s appropriate and not as a way of getting around California’s shield laws.”
Reached Aug. 23 by phone in the Dublin Federal Correctional Institute, where he’s been held since Aug. 1, Wolf suggested that the feds are after more than pictures. “The Un-American Affairs Committee [in the 1950s] called in one person and forced them to make a list of all the people they knew. It was like Communist MySpace. So, I anticipate that they want all my contacts within the civil dissent movement.”
Wolf said he offered to let the judge view his video, which he insists does not capture the arson or assault. “There should not be a federal investigation. I published my video. They can use that to do their investigation.” SFBG
With all briefs filed, a decision on the Josh Wolf case is expected by Sept. 4.