September 22, 2013

The Best Beer

There's a mystery at the heart of the craft brewing movement in America and the mystery is this:

Almost every "craft" beer you'll find at the local bar or in the expensive part of the grocery story shelves tastes like rubbish. The people who tell you they really like this stuff are variously lying or delusional. There are exceptions all around but they are just that: exceptional. They are exceptions which simply by the very fact of being exceptions, thereby, as the saying goes, prove the rule.

The "hoppy" craft beers have a simple message for drinkers. THIS IS HOPPY, they scream. The personality of the brewer comes through in the drink and for these hop-centric beers that personality is like a village idiot in a Monty Python sketch who can not speak but to scream and who can only scream, again and again: I BOUGHT HOPS. EXPENSIVE HOPS. I PUT HOPS IN THE BEER. THAT TASTE YOU TASTE? THAT'S HOPS. I BOUGHT HOPS. DO YOU LIKE HOPS? I BOUGHT HOPS!

Please sir, oh yes, do once again bring out some dried hops for me to smell and taste and do remind me One More Time how they are "closely related" to the marijuana plant. "Oh, so these will get me high?" "No, but smell them!"

High gravity American "Belgian style" ambers have a simpler, more refined message for drinkers. "My good sir," they say to the drinker, "there's a full bar down the street that carries an excellent selection of much more palatable whiskey."

Behind nearly every American dark beer, usually overly malted, is a brewer who in his more honest moments will let slip "I gave up trying to make something as good as Guiness years ago but this isn't bad for home-made, right?" No, brewer. It's actually pretty typical for home brewing. That's why it's sad. $5.50 for a scant pint, you say?

Every now and again some publicly minded scientist goes and samples the tap lines at craft beer pubs and reliably discovers that a huge majority of them are poorly maintained and filled with bacteria that are sure to spoil the taste and sour the stomachs of drinkers. THE PROBLEM PERSISTS BECAUSE DRINKERS CAN'T TELL THE DIFFERENCE. "Oh, the flavor is complex. It's challenging. I can see what makes craft beer so special." No, you ninnies the flavor is rancid and that upset stomach you'll have in a few hours is because you've been drinking bacteria-laden swill water. Belgian style. Extra hoppy. Medieval monks enjoyed better hygiene.

Look, it's absolutely true that some of the European traditional beers that are the supposed source of inspiration for American craft brewery are truly excellent. The list of ones that are readily available for export probably isn't long enough to fill the chalk board at your favorite pub. The really amazing ones come from breweries that go back 100s of years and the reason for that is because it took hundreds of years for them to get anywhere close to as good as they are today. A fellow who orders himself up some tanks, buys ingredients off the net, and mixes up a batch or 10 based on his own personal "improvisations" on the basic themes of a big yellow "Craft Brewing for Dummies" book is barely two steps ahead of the guy fermenting up some pruno in his jail cell toilet in the state lock-up.

Even when a rare exception of an American "craft" brew manages to not completely suck - even then - it rarely rises to the sublime level of a truly great beer:

America already has a great beer. America has the traditional American-style Light Lager.

Yes, I said it. So called "piss water" is, generally speaking, The Best Beer.

Consider the adjectives that describe the ideal "piss water" beer:

Crisp
Clean
Cold
Refreshing

I would also add in "Light" but there's a problem there. In recent decades, "Light" has come men "lower in calories" as a result of the US' collective eating disorders. But no, a good American Light Lager is:

Light (in gravity and taste)

A typical craft beer will give you cotton mouth and you'll want a glass of water or at least a wedge of lemon to cut it back.

An American Light Lager will quench your thirst hence its traditional ubiquity at soft ball games, BBQ grils, and next to the hood-popped Camaro sitting under the shade tree waiting for the engine to be pulled. Yes, it's a bitchin' Camero.

Pound a half dozen craft brews in an afternoon and you might want to have someone hold on to your smart phone for you before you start drunk texting that waitress chick who was Totally coming on to you before she turned down (bitch!) your loud drunken invitation to join you on a date at this cool spot you totally know in the part of Golden Gate Park where hardly anyone ever goes but you get a totally awesome view of the Richmond District. It's like you can see everything.

On the other hand, knock back a few American Light Lagers and its time to grab another hot dog to beat the crowd just before the 7th inning stretch. At no point will you be in much danger of, as they say, acting the fool.

The sad truth is that enabling legislation and changes in the marketplace allowed for a proliferation of brew-pubs and small "craft" brewers starting in the 1980s. In California, tied houses became legal. Around the country small brewers set up shop.

There was only one problem:

A good American Light Lager is one of the hardest beers to make. It requires filtration and cooling systems the little guys can't begin to afford.

Our belief in the superiority so called American craft brewing is the result of 30 years of grassroots marketing. You don't want to hurt the feelings of your neighbor with the pinball machine and wet bar with vintage tap handles in his basement gameroom so you try to see his point. "Yes.... um.. tasty! Sure, I'll have another. Do you get ESPN down here?" Or the guy with sexy ink and rubber boots washing out the tanks and wheeling the used mash out the back door, I mean, that's gotta be worth $5 or $6 for an almost-a-pint, right?

June 17, 2013

[Ted Friedman] Radical Berkeley Used to Gov't Surveillance

by Steed Dropout
June 13, 2013
Berkeley, Ca.

ASK NOT FOR WHOM THEY TROLL -- IT MAY BE THEE OR ME

Berkeley has not shed its radical past, which often put it under government surveillance, nor have I. (My story will be told last).

Seth Rosenberg, award winning SF Bay Area investigative journalist, traces FBI surveillance at U.C. Berkeley to the early WW2 years in his recent exposé of gov't surveillance.

Berkeley radicals have had a half century to adjust to big brother tactics.

Except for wide-spread Berkeley activities on behalf of whistleblowers, like Snowden and Manning recently, there has been little personal concern from Berkeley rads who assume they're being watched.

You might wonder if this isn't Berkeley bragging.

But when Michael Delecour, who was a major planner in the People's Park Riots, 1969, or another ringleader, Brad Cleveland, tells me the FBI was watching them since the free speech movement, a few years earlier -- I believe them.

It would be incompetent of any government not to. Berkeley rads have not been cowed.

Oakland's F____the Police Marchers, who regularly stage actions in Berkeley, are rads who will mix it up with cops with ties to homeland security. How long before FTP is charged with terrorism?

Oakland police know the FTP leaders, from thick dossiers and photos.

One local Rad, who doesn't went to be named, is a hunted man, he claims; he loves it the way Thompson, Crane, and Hemingway loved being under fire. WE'RE WATCHING BIG BROTHER WATCHING US

What do Google's computers and Facebook's, and Amazon's, and Verizon's, and all the other Internet servers know about us?

Much has posted about bots in the cloud, yet the latest security leak, shows that gov't security agencies are watching us all the more since 9-11. To this reporter, public reaction could be likened to inspector Renault's, "I'm shocked, shocked that gambling is permitted here" (as he pockets his roulette winnings in Casablanca).

Journalist Mark Krulwich, writing in 2012, concluded that our mined and processed data (medical records, library books, prescriptions, internet content, friends and activities) reflects "more than even our friends and families know about us."

We have looked into the eye of Big Brother and Big Brother has noticed us. SO WHAT DOES UNCLE SAM HAVE ON BERKELEY REPORTER?

This is a bonus or a burden for those who've read this far.

I long ago signed away my privacy rights by going on welfare last century. I carry cards that document what I eat and drink. As Nixon, who learned a thing or two about surveillance, noted, "I knew I would be scrutinized...I didn't know they'd use a proctoscope."

Even fifty years ago,when surveillance was pre-internet, I knew someone out there was watching me.

The heat came from the FBI which surveilled draft resistors in Hawaii (a vast military base), where I wrote a series of resistance-positive articles for "Young Hawaii," lionizing Hawaii's Resistance.

In those days, surveillance was a squad of FBI agents who sat in an office clipping news accounts of their subjects.

I was first moved to throw in with these resisters after the FBI testified to Hawaii's legislators based on news clippings. Several resisters showed up suggesting the bureau should "just ask us our activities; we're an open organization. Come to our meetings, we'd like your feed back."

Then they burned their draft cards.

I urged (then illegal) my students to resist the draft, and was a draft counselor at Church of the Crossroads which staged a major servicemen's sanctuary in 1969. Such sanctuaries seemed to support desertion. I was interviewed for TV at the sanctuary.

I was then an inactive Navy reservist who completed sea-duty in 1965. I had nightmares of being recalled to my ship.

My delicate situation was not helped by an article in the Honolulu-Star Bulletin bragging about giving course credit for disrupting ROTC.

Then I was issued a warrant for sitting in in the Air Force Colonel's ROTC office and the trial made the front pages for weeks.

FBI clippers would have been compelled to create a clippings file on me.

I was so anxious to move to SF Bay area, I didn't even submit a tenure package at the University of Hawaii.

BERKELEY, 1970

Vowing to escape my radical (Vietnam-era) past, I laid low -- then blew it.

When, as a syndicated Berkeley underground feature writer, I phone-interviewed Louis Tackwood, a Los Angeles police informant, who had blown the whistle on Nixon's Dirty Tricks tactics, which led, eventually, to Nixon's resignation -- I was bugged.

I think now they were interested in what Tackwood was saying, not me. In fact Tackwood was on the lam.

THAT WAS THEN, HERE IS NOW

The kind of robot-generated mining which connects the dots within list serves and other on-line communities, could arouse suspicions about me.

My data would show up in phone calls and emails to local radicals.

Some calls I've made could sound conspiratorial, as I weigh in with plenty of advice about actions I've covered.

Some of those radicals have, ironically, called me "a conservative writer." I can't support every hair-brained Berkeley scheme.

Last year, the Berkeley Police Chief and a captain invited me to meet. I had written some pretty flamboyant articles about cops. We spent more than an hour talking about crime films.

The chief has a background in homeland security. Are they on to me?

June 15, 2013

[James Armstrong] "Help Wanted"

James Richard Armstrong
June 13, 2013

The linked video shows how ridiculous "get a job" actually is at this current time in our nation's history. What bothers me the most about the oversimplification of our nation's current plight is the willful ignorance of the populous and the facts. Purposefully burying their heads in the sand, only to pop those heads up when a (strategic) bombing or shooting goes on, just to scream, rant and rave, clamoring for the (propagated) low hanging fruit, the easy argument (through the scope of a vacuum chamber), just to bury their heads back in that sand, until something else occurs, and then they have to feign interest, again.

"We're in one of the richest countries in the world, and the minimum wage is lower now than it was thirty five years ago. There are homeless people everywhere. This homeless guy asked me for some money the other day. And I was gonna give it to him but then I thought you're just gonna use it on drugs or alcohol. And then I thought, that's what I'm gonna use it on. Why am I judging this poor bastard. People love to judge homeless guys. Like, your giving him money, he's just gonna waste it. He's just gonna waste the money. Well, he lives in a box, what do you want him to do? Save up and buy a wall unit? Take a little run to the store for a throw rug and a CD rack? He's homeless. I walked behind this guy the other day. A homeless guy asked him for money. He looked right at the homeless guy and goes why don't you go and get a job you bum. People always say that to homeless guys, get a job like it's that easy. This guy was wearing his underwear outside his pants. Outside his pants. I'm guessing his resume isn't all up to date. I'm predicting some problems during the interview process. I'm pretty sure even McDonalds has a underwear goes inside the pants policy. Not that they enforce it very strictly, but technically I'm sure it's on the books."

-Greg Giraldo

Okay, right now, the "job" market is brutal. And it's not because there are a lack of jobs, per se. There are a bevy of jobs that recently opened up, thanks to a lot of college kids heading back home for the summer. It's not the amount of jobs that is the problem, it's the type jobs that are at issue here, and the salary involved. Most of these jobs are "minimum wage." And minimum wage in the Bay Area is $9.00.

Now, at that rate, you can live in places like East and West Oakland, and maybe Richmond. Those neighborhoods are not beach front nor are they mountain views... it's the ghetto. That's what you can afford on 40 hours a week, full time, at minimum wage, and even that comes with a roommate or three, and food stamps. In order for someone to work and live in Berkeley, California, they would need to work 100 hours a week at the current minimum wage rate.

That is over double time, people.

Just to get your basics... your rent, your food, your Cannabis... you have to work double time... every week?! When do I get to take a shit? When do I shave... okay, just joking. But when do I get to do anything else but work? Okay, I guess I could just work the bare minimum and live in the ghetto or on the streets. Or, I can kill myself, working two or even three jobs, just so I can live where I work (for whatever my reasons)? Something is wrong with this picture, everyone. Especially when you consider all the empty apartment buildings in downtown Berkeley, with more of them being built every month? Why would you have contractors build apartments nobody will be utilizing, unless...?

Of course the mayor's land-developer buddies are going to do well in this market, since the good mayor gives them so many projects to work with. Like the Berkeley High School... a friend of mine, Luis, told me, "Any money spent on education is a good thing. I think you're off on this one." And he's correct... if he knew what they were building. If they were building another wing on their library and books and computers to go with it, I'd agree. But that is not what they are doing. They built a brand new baseball field. They are building an entire "sports complex." On the west side of the high school, on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, they are putting the finishing touches on a concrete wall with the high school's name on it... just in case we all forget which high school sits there.

It's about allocation of city tax monies that is at issue. That's always the case, when you cry about not having the money to fix or manage something as pervasive as the "homeless" problem, and all that comes with those issues. Mental health being a large portion of it. That portion being ignored and blamed is the most maddening part of this situation. Again, if you're going to allow something, like the mental health issue to fester as we have done, apparently, complaining just seems... childish and annoying. Grow up. You can't blame something you never address... adequately.

As I walk throughout downtown Berkeley and elsewhere, I notice all the "Help Wanted" signs popping up. All of these jobs are minimum wage. None of them are going to pay me what I need to live in this town. A "liveable wage" consists of $17.50 an hour, period. Especially in a city like Berkeley, and in an area such as the Bay Area, where the largest disparity (in the nation) between rich and poor exists. Nothing here is cheap, except the wages. Everything goes up, except, again, the wages. Therefore, the only logical thing for someone like me to do is to avoid jumping on this Insane Merry-Go-Round ride, unless I don't wish to sleep. If anything, this philosophy promotes methamphetamine usage, since I would have to run on a constant loop. No time for sleep! I have three jobs to run off to!

So here's my thing: I believe I am needed by the employer more than the other way around, me needing him or her. And since I do hold this philosophy, that means things will be done my way or they won't get done at all, and that employer will get what they pay for: minimum.

So I head into one of the many service industry places and I ask for an application. I am told that I "need to bring in your résumé." I leave immediately, as if I [should] need a "résumé" for a minimum wage job, I am immediately overqualified. This pattern emerged a few years back. Employers most likely figured they could save a few more dollars by not having to print up applications, I believe. For an employer to expect a résumé, for that wage, would be like expecting a prostitute to perform oral and anal sex for the entire defensive line of the Dallas Cowboys, just for being allowed entry to a free dinner, for an event benefiting women defending against exploitation... okay, maybe it's not so much that, exactly, but it's close!

Then I go to another service industry employer and before he can tell me I need to bring back a résumé, I cut him off. "Hello, my name is James," I tell him, extending my (traditionally) right-hand (I'm left-handed), awaiting his grip and eventual shake. He grabs me hand and, as he's about to say something, again, I cut him off. "I see from the sign in your window, 'Help Wanted,' that you need an employee? What, kitchen work?" He nodded and said he was in need of an "experienced dishwasher." "You're in luck!" I tell him, "Because I used to work for Denny's in Redding, during the summer months, when all you city tourists would come through. And the volume there blows away the volume you get here on an average day, I imagine."

Then I ask him the wage, and he tells me "minimum wage." I tell him that "won't do." That I "need at least fifteen dollars and hour, although $17.50 would be more apt." He scoffed at that notion. Then he says, "The first thing you have to do, though, is bring me a résumé." I disagreed with his stance, of course. "First off," I said, "me needing a résumé for a 'minimum wage' job tells me I am overqualified. Secondly, all you have to do is hire me and put me to work and you will see, almost instantly, that you made the correct decision. All this other stuff is merely fluff. Nonsense. Look," I added, "I'm a writer. This means I can just lie on the résumé. I can get people to answer phones and lie to you. You're never going to know the truth anyway, so you may as well just put me to work and see what I can do."

The funny thing is, he thought about it, for a couple seconds. I saw those gears and combines moving... but alas, I had too much faith in humanity, as he concluded, "I can't really help you unless you fill out the résumé and get it back to me. Only then I can decipher whether or not I will hire you based upon that information." Of course, working for this guy would be tough anyway, as he doesn't seem to grasp the simple fact of "show me." On top of that, he is the one seeking someone for the position, not the other way around. I did not seek him out because I was looking for a specific gig. I saw the "Help Wanted" sign and decided to inquire, simple as that.

Therefore, it is he who needs me, not the other way around. However, that is not how they and the rest of the world plays it. Just like your "government," they play us the same way. Making it seem as though they control us and we work for them... when it's the exact opposite that is true. This is how they keep most of us at the bottom. Since this guy had a sign in the window, asking for "Help," this tells me I am in the "cat-bird seat." I am the one who holds the power in this negotiation, not him. Again, he needs me more than I need him because he's the one with the sign. But we're not programmed that way, are we? And that is because they need that machine running, so they can keep that power over us all, so they can make more money, so they can create more pollution, so they can destroy their (perceived) enemies, foreign or domestic.

Of course, I never got the job. Again, I wasn't really looking for one, unless it paid an appropriate (for cost-of-living-and-inflation reasons). If that sign had not been in the window, I would have walked past that place without a second thought.

It's like being told, by your teachers and your parents, that "We are the 'government," just to hear them say at a crucial, later time, when you attempt applying those words into actions, because your nation's citizen's lives literally depend upon you doing just that, that "that's not really the case"? The word "idealistically" gets tossed around. "Perceivable" gets a nod or two. And, I imagine our teachers and parents are still telling our children this, correct? If so, STOP IT! If it's not true, STOP IT!

Every time I walk past the Post Office building in downtown Berkeley I see the words, "[please] No Trespassing -- U.S. Government Property," and laugh, because that's a redundant statement. If "'We' are the 'government,'" that sign makes no sense. If we're not, though, we need to be more clear with future generations. This slip-shod method of sliding-scale moralities and subjective goal post displacement gets frustrating and makes someone like me believe nothing society spews my direction. This type stuff is the reason for my detachment from mainstream society. It's why I don't own a cell phone. And happy I don't, considering it's now out in the open that they are spying on us all... but I'm just a "looney conspiracy theorist"... what do I know.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

-Benjamin Franklin

June 4, 2013

Revelopment Agency Shutdown May Cost $1.3M

Thomas Lord
June 4, 2013

The shut-down of Berkeley's redevelopment agency may wind up costing the city more than $1.3 million dollars, including $750,000 dollars gone missing from the Retiree Medical Trust Fund.    Oddities in how how the now defunct redevelopment agency was financed have left it with outstanding debts which the state is declining to repay.

In an effort to avoid this loss the city is taking the state to court, a topic that will be discussed at tonight's closed session before the regular council meeting.

Berkeley caught with its pants down

In February 2012 all redevelopment agencies in the state were shut down.   Redevelopment agencies were first established in the 1920s.  They allowed municipalities to claim a portion of property taxes to be used to help finance private developers for purposes such as fighting blight or building affordable housing.   Facing a financial crisis, the state legislature passed a law that all but eliminated redevelopment agencies by 2012.   Subsequently, the state supreme court ruled that the agencies had to be eliminated entirely.

Redevelopment agencies were replaced, temporarily, with "successor agencies" whose purpose is to wind down the debts and dispose of the assets of the redevelopment agency.

Berkeley's successor agency inherited two large debts to the city itself:  one an outstanding debt of $550,000 dollars related to a 1997 transfer from the city's general fund to the redevelopment agency;   the other an outstanding debt of $750,000 arising from a $600,000 transfer from the city's Retiree Medical Trust Fund to the redevelopment agency.

Had the redevelopment agency continued to exist these debts would have been repaid from the agency's tax and other revenues, or simply refinanced.    When the state legislature shut down the redevelopment agencies, it agreed to honor debts to third parties but not, in general, debts of a city to itself.   The state has declined to further pay back the money transferred from the Retiree Medical Trust Fund and has warned that it is likely to decline paying back the funds transferred from the General Fund in 1997.

Berkeley disputes the state's rulings about these obligations and is apparently taking the state to court over the matter.

Additionally, the state objected to how the city classified certain operating expenses of the successor agency.  As a result, the state has rejected repayment of an additional $64,000 in operating expense.

The strange Savo Island loan that wasn't

In 2002 the Savo Island affordable housing project needed financing help for repairs and maintenance.   They talked with the city about borrowing $600,000 via the redevelopment agency.

The city tentatively agreed and proactively transferred $600,000 from the Retiree Medical Trust Fund to the redevelopment agency.

Subsequently, loan negotiations with Savo Island stalled.  Savo Island found financing elsewhere.   The redevelopment agency was left with an unallocated, borrowed $600,000.   The Retiree Medical Trust Fund was left with a corresponding shortfall.

Rather than return that money to the Retiree Medical Trust Fund and avoid debt service, the redevelopment agency first spent $275,000 of it on the Jubilee Senior Apartments project, and then transferred the remaining $325,000 to the city's Housing Trust Fund.

Dizzy yet?

The redevelopment agency itself remained on the hook for that $600,000 loan and planned to repay it from its tax revenues, largely derived from the Savo Island project.

The 1997 bond issue that wasn't

In 1997, sitting on a large enough surplus, the City transferred a cool $1M to the redevelopment agency.   In return, the agency issued bonds to the city itself with the understanding that, upon demand, the city could require the agency to sell the bonds on the market to third parties.

Somehow that bond sale never happened and the $1M debt remained strictly between the city's redevelopment agency and the city's general fund: exactly the sort of self-dealing "debt" that the state declines to pay.

Then City Manager Phil Kamlraz saw the problem coming in 2011.   In September of that year he successfully urged council to scramble to opt-in to a program that would let the redevelopment agency continue to exist in exchange for the city paying $410,000 the first year and $97,000 each subsequent year to the county.   Otherwise, Kamlraz wrote:  "Upon dissolution of the Agency, all agreements between the Agency and the City would be considered null and void which could jeopardize the existing loan agreements, including the $1 million 1997 housing loan from the General Fund."

In October of 2011 the state's supreme court declared that opt-in provision unconstitutional.   The redevelopment agency would be dissolved in February of 2012 and there was nothing Berkeley could do about it.   Kamlraz's proposed last minute save couldn't work.

Next steps

The agenda for tonight's closed session includes discussion of the city's attempts to take the state to court to reverse these funding denials.  

Scheduled for 6:45 is a public report about that closed session.

Hey, it's only $1.3M, right?

June 1, 2013

[James Armstrong] Downtown and the Mental Health Crisis

James Richard Armstrong
May 31, 2013


The Mental Health Crisis mounts daily, as on the final day of May, I see hoards of them wandering the streets of Berkeley, aimlessly searching for their next... whatever.


One guy, dressed like he survived Hiroshima AND Nagasaki, walked past a high school girl and her tiny toy dog, and decided he wanted to kick the little pooch. The girl freaked out, obviously, as they began shouting back and forth, him heading for the corner of Allston and Shattuck, her entering John's Ice Cream.

The man is obviously mentally handicapped and does not know or comprehend what he had just done or even why he did so. The girl, understandably upset, called for a police officer. Once the officer got to the scene the girl had calmed down a bit and had observed the mentally ill man sitting down... right next to me, and was drawn back into a shell, clutching at his knees, bent over, as though he was in some physical pain, stomach pain, but it was actually between the ears where the problem lies.

He's out of his medications. It's the final day of the month and a lot of them get their money tomorrow or later tonight. Most of these people will disappear for about five days to a week by tomorrow morning, as they go on their usual crack diet or whatever drug of choice they are using, since they aren't being monitored, because Ronald Reagan had the mental health system De-regulated some thirty years ago, and we as a society thought it was okay to just let it fester in that condition since that time, apparently.

The officer, one I know, handled the situation the best he could. He asked the girl what she wanted to do with him, giving her options (not that there were any of those), telling her that his hands were basically tied, but that he COULD have the man arrested and jailed. The girl, not being an ogre, decided to just let it go, as she could plainly see the man was not in any condition to understand the punitive decision that would have put him in jail, solving nothing, fixing nothing, being "pointless," as this officer likes to say, often... and he's correct.

Even his line of questioning was absurd, but he had to do it, because that IS his job. This is what he is instructed to do with the mentally handicapped, even though he's not a mental health professional. Sure, the Berkeley Police Department are more intelligent than most (especially when compared to the often militant, always reactionary policing styles of the L.A.P.D.), as they study the psychology of an event to determine whether or not it is even feasible to act at all, as they use that psychology to their advantage to squash any potential stupidity.

I once watched a man scream at a Berkeley cop for ten straight minutes, the officer standing directly in front of him, arms behind his back, listening to every single syllable of rant, just to ask the man, at the end of that ten minutes, "Okay, are you done? Okay, you still can't stand here and scream at people. So, if you can just move or stop that from happening, we'll be cool." The man was cool with it and walked away. He apparently just needed to get something off his chest, did, and it was handled, game over.

But it's not fair, to make everyone but those who are trained and paid to handle it... and crying about not having money in a false recession is absurd and maddening. California has fallen from 5th largest economy on the globe to 9th largest... oh, the horror. This is systematic, the Lies. They need the Suckers to buy into the Grift, or it doesn't work. The "Big Con," I think this is called, no?

Wake the fuck up... oh, you ARE awake?

Then why are we still in this mess?

-James

May 31, 2013

[Ted Friedman] National drug outfit sets up shop on Telegraph Ave


By Ted Friedman
May 27, 2013

Call it the corporatization of lower Telegraph.

Call it the end of an era. An era when Telegraph's Berkeley businesses were family owned.

Call it a mixed bag.

When Berkeleyside recently published a photo of CVS before it opened, comments were bitterly anti-corporate. Now CVS is a part of the South side (it had its grand opening Sunday). I was there.

I wrote a bitter-sweet story about Andronico's closing , so I thought I should cover the second-coming.

CVS is no Andronico's but it may not be as bad as the Berkeleyside flamers think.

Andronico's played mellow 70's music. CVS has music interspersed with in-store promotions. This is not necessarily the deal breaker, although it is a major drag.

Maybe the carpet is a deal breaker. When new, these commercial carpets can be toxic. My friend had to leave the store immediately.

But these are mere quibbles. According to some comments on Berkeleyside, it's better to have a tenant at Andronicos.

Moreover, if you hold your nose, CVS might contribute to the South side.

Eggs and Milk. Cereal. Cheap salami (CVS is about price point).

At the Med we layed out a CVS  Salami and and slit open its underbelly. Jos tested it and proclaimed it a good knock-off of Gallo. Although nitrated, the salami had a good nutritional profile. It's not health food, though. It was several dollars less than Gallos.

The usual suspect processed meats, thin-sliced, have become the styrofoam of our times. CVS promotes that unhealthy trend. Although, most Berkeley supermarkets sell packaged sliced meat, CVS does not sell the more costly varieties.

Although you can buy high-quality salad dressings, there are no packaged salads.

A Southside shopper, who lives across the street, said "CVS is following me."

Another neighborhood shopper told me that CVS's wine department couldn't rival Andronicos, but two students told me that Andronicos wines were over-priced and that the CVS wine section was fine.

The wine department is the same as at CVS north side; I noticed some premium wines.  CVS is nothing if not a purveyor of inexpensive spirits. This is not cheap booze just reasonably priced.

The spirits section offers all the major spirits at the lowest possible prices.

The food section is possibly the largest of any of CVS's area stores. Store planners  tried to beef up the food section. according to CVS store manager, Sonny Sing, who could lose his job for talking to me. Already I'm looking for CVS friends to replace my Andronicos friends.

One South side shopper wondered how this CVS could survive.

With students, CVS' main demographic, gone for the summer the CVS grand-opening was under-attended.

If you live in the CVS neighborhood and want to cop a can of beans and a bottle of wine, whip up an omelette, or cheese and salami sandwich on multigrain bread, pick up a carton of milk and cereal, CVS has your back.

I have no idea what this means, but CVS displays 3,000 greeting cards. I counted them.

CVS offers an assortment of specialty foods, like Beaver Horseradish, and pickled red-cabbage.


Ted Friedman still covers the South side. His "creative" journalism is featured at berkeleyreporter.com.  He pens South Side Tales for Berkeley Times.

January 30, 2013

I want to hire Ted Friedman

I can't.   I want to hire Ted Friedman but I can't.  I don't have the money.

This is my own fault, probably.  I briefly got pretty rich in the first dot-com boom but I stood up to the wrong bullies and it turned out they didn't play by the same rules.   Lost a lot of money in the ensuing chaos.  Long story and not for today.  

Point is: I'm not rich but I remember what it's like.   "I could have been a contender" goes the line from a movie I haven't seen.   If I were rich the Berkeleynativesun would have a start-up budget in excess of $9.95 per month and I could spend a bit to try to bootstrap a going concern here.

If I wasn't broke I'd hire Ted Friedman.  Probably first.   Probably as a stringer with an occasional expense account.  A stringer because I'd be rich but still not made of money and, anyway, putting Ted on salary would risk taking the fight out of him.

You might wonder why I'd hire Ted.   Well, it's simply because he is The World's Worst Reporter.   He says so himself.  It's worth a close read.

Buy low and sell high.   It's hard to beat the price of the World's Worst Reporter.  In the right context, Ted could be a profitable investment.  He reminds me of someone...

Ted Friedman is no Hunter S. Thompson

Contemplating a story about Werewolfs, Hunter S. Thompson wrote to his editor at Playboy magazine in 1967

What are you thinking of in terms of expenses? I've given the project just enough thought to see it might involve a hell of a lot of travel. England, for instance, is very big on weird phenomena. Would Playboy go for a round-trip shot to London? Or were you assuming I could do the piece on the basis of whatever research you sent to Woody Creek? I won't be home for at least another week, so I on't know what you sent....but in any case, I'd be reluctant to write any article based entirely on other people's research. I'm sure we'll come up with some very good/weird stories in this area, but the problem is that the most believable ones are going to be the ones I'll want to check out personally. No honest writer, for instance, wrould validate -- with his byline -- a third-hand account of a Scottish gamekeeper who claims to be a wereworlf. You'd have to confront the man (assuming he's alive), and get a fix on his head by discussing other things.

That's smart investegatory thinking, pure and simple. 

First, Thompson was demanding money up front.  Smart.

Second, Thompson was absolutely right that you don't get to the bottom of a scuttlebut like the werewolf story unless you can "confront the man (assuming he's alive), and get a fix on his head by discussing other things."

Famously and sometimes infamously Thompson was about getting inside of a situation and telling a story from the inside out.   That reminds me of Ted.

After all, you don't get close enough to piss off the likes of legend Micah White, and have him declare you "worst reporter", unless you've confronted him and gotten a fix on his head.  "Close" is needed to confront and "fix on his head" is the only way to really piss someone off like that.  Ted got a lot closer to the camera-and-mic-shy Occupy leader than any other Berkeley reporter at the time.

Ted's no Hunter S., though. Whatever problems may or may not lie in Ted's past with drink  he's reached the age of "young side of senior" quite sharp and bright-eyed, not stumbling and slurring and playing with heavy weaponry as a form of dismal self-parody.

Nor, to my knowledge, has Ted found himself a little too closely embedded in any Hell's Angels gang rapes.

I don't think I'd want to hire Hunter if he happened to be still alive and living on the South Side. Thompson never recovered from the crushing blow of celebrity and it killed his talent.

Ted's no Hunter S. Thompson.

You Are Here

I don't recall who but someone once inspired me by saying something like:

It is the role of good journalism to give the readers a truer perception of the world around them, exposing them to significant realities that would otherwise elude them.

That's one of those glib summaries that can be twisted and distorted to mean just about anything, but really it doesn't.

Printing the school lunch menu and captioning crime scenes, fires, and elementary school recitals with pro-forma recitations spreads information but it isn't journalism. Wrap up too much of that kind of information as alleged news and pretty soon you're doing the opposite of journalism, narrowing rather than expanding the world views of readers.

These days Ted longs to get inside and figure out what's going on with all this talk of an Oakland crime wave spilling over into Berkeley. He's got friends in the police department and that's a good start but not enough.

"You need criminal sources, for this story," I advised him, as if I were in a position to hire him.

I didn't say but was thinking it would take money since that kind of access doesn't come free.   And I didn't say it but I think he'd need a translator in the field to help, for which purpose I'd offer myself.

(I am no good at code switching and sound stupid if I try but I am reasonably fluent at understanding the mostly-Black vernacular of the toughest streets and at being understood even while talking White. "He's alright. He's a white nigger," went one kindly delivered accolade designed to break some tension.)

There is no point in romanticizing Oakland crime these days but neither can the story really be understood without some insight from the inside about what the players are doing and what they think they're doing and, in a historical context yet to be explored, just why and how they got there.

It'd be a mistake to think Ted would be good for such a story because of the style in which he writes. Ted would be good for such a story because -- if suitably back-stopped by money -- he could help get the story in the first place.

(And Ted, I don't suggest trying to get it on the cheap. There's no point in romanticizing stupid risk-taking, either.)

January 22, 2013

a note on social welfare programs

The context for this note is the public policy debate that we'll be entering in a few scant weeks when the sequestration debate is taken up in connection to the slightly post-poned debt ceiling debate.   Here are some progressive talking points you'll soon be meeting (for the good reason that they are sound):

1) Raising the retirement age is terrible public policy while unemployment is so high for young adults. Asking people to stay on the job longer when there is a shortage of jobs is plainly crazy. (I believe that there are factions of the financial elite who will strongly endorse this argument just as their are factions that would be thrilled to dump employer-provided health insurance entirely. Corporations don't like being in the business of supplying individual pensions when that interferes with their flexibility to change who's on payroll.)

2) Similarly, the flexibility of the younger part of the workforce is obviously tied to the welfare of seniors. Further reducing and delaying benefits directly increases the financial and care giving burden on younger workers, harming their earning and saving potentials at a time when, to cope with the demographic bubble, we need to increase the earning and saving potentials of younger workers. (This part should have a lot of appeal to middle class and working poor younger workers who are currently fretting about what is to become of their baby boomer parents. At least I know that it's on my mind.)

3) This next bit is a little tricky. Put a progressive floor on payroll tax revenues as follows:

Implement generous means testing and a raise on the earnings cap for payroll taxes. If the private sector isn't producing enough employment to cover the programs' costs, but is producing plenty of income, the tax burden needs to go up on higher incomes. If employment improves, the extra burden on high earners can be reduced. In this way, as a matter of policy, we can fairly keep payroll tax revenues stably in proportion to anticipated need for benefits.

The law could actually be written that way: Variable payroll taxes on high incomes could be either or a mix of a variable ceiling on taxable income or progressive but variable rates. The level of the new progressive part of the payroll tax would be varied automatically to hold revenues to some constraint. So there would be an employment-related floor on payroll tax revenues.

(The money party objection to this would be that it implies raising taxes (on high income earners) during contractions in employment so "job creaters durpdy durp" and arguments along those lines. As we saw in the election, though, there is pretty strong popular rejection of that argument. It is in any event a huge retreat from "OMG, the gov't is going bankrupt!")

4) Reducing health care costs is the #1 biggest thing we can do to reduce projected benefits. This is fantastic news because other than the political barriers, it's very easy and painless to make huge progress. The government is paying far too much for prescription drugs, thanks to lobbyists, for example. These are the kinds of hard choices we need to make to bring down cost projections going forward: choices that some of the wealthiest individuals and corporations may not like because where we anticipate excessive governmtent spending, they see themselves as the likely recipients, who will get that spending as windfall revenues and profits. If the government starts paying a fair price for prescription drugs, their profits will be smaller. Well, they can still make a decent profit even if the government is allowed to negotiate on price and now it's very important to move in that direction.

5) The government spends a lot to provide a safety net with the likes of unemployment insurance, housing assistance, foodstamps and WICs support, ... And yet in the pockets of poverty in this country so much of that spending is inefficient because communities are under-served. Access is scarce, for many, to healthy, affordable food. Many of the nation's poorest live in areas from which it is economically hard to escape and where the environment, even the housing in which people live, is unhealthy. These conditions drive up the nation's health care costs and put huge obstacles in the way of kids who should be getting an education and preparing to join the workforce. We should create local citizen commissions to advise local housing authorities and authorize a process for administrating federal tax relief incentives to projects that improve the housing stock and food security in low-income neighborhoods in deep cooperation with the people living in these pockets of poverty, who have the greatest interest in the outcomes. (E.g.: Federal tax incentives to create cooperative groceries, urban farming, brownfield restoration projects, lead paint and other toxic substance removal from residences, installation of modern insulation in regions with cold winters, high-priority small business assistance, and community recreation facilities.)

My intent (failed or not) here is to suggest a positive program that is easy to grok on a naive, intuitive level and that also seems plausibly realistic to a policy implementation wonk. I haven't personally tried to quantify any of it, though (so that's a big weakness, I admit, but then again the alleged quantifications of money-party policy platforms aren't what carries them, I think.).

January 18, 2013

The GOP has won

This quick note of a post is a bit unusual because of how it came to be:

I had a very brief, pleasant, 140-character chat on Twitter with Dave Winer. This piece continues that conversation which started when Winer tweeted to the world (I've left out a link to the article Dave was talking about):

Dave Winer ☮ Ryan: GOP might not hold the world hostage in an epic hissy fit. [Ryan had spoken to the press suggesting the House Republicans would vote for an unconditional short-term raise of the debt ceiling.]

thomas_lord @davewiner Nah. Ryan is saying they want to tie debt ceiling to sequestration debts ("short term raise"). It's a raise not a fold.

Dave Winer ☮ @thomas_lord -- he's chickenshit, he likes living in a world with health care, garbage men, and doesn't want to revert to the stone age.

thomas_lord@davewiner hehe (re "chickenshit"). Fair enough. 140 too small -- I should write a blog post about the topic.

Dave Winer ☮ @thomas_lord -- do write a blog post! please.

So, here Dave. Hope you like it.

Dear Dave,

The GOP has won. They are, hands down, the stronger party in the federal government. The electoral landscape is such that this appears unlikely to change anytime soon. If the GOP's strengths in state government hold fast, they'll even stand a good chance of taking the presidency in 2016 (if they should happen to want it).

The headlines today are amusing and seem to tell a very different story.

  • "ANALYST: It Looks Like This Is 'Unilateral Disarmament' By The GOP On The Debt Ceiling" -- Business Insider
  • "House Republicans Cave on Debt Ceiling Brinkmanship" -- Time

How exciting! Only ... there has been no disarmament, quite the opposite. There has been no cave. The GOP is just collecting the pot. They had the stronger hand all along. They're laying down their cards one by one. Read 'em and weep. This is what their victory looks like.

"Just because the bear is eating you slowly doesn't mean you aren't dead."
That's an old proverb I just made up.

Didn't Obama demand, just the other day, either a clean long-term raise or else presidential authority to raise the limit by executive order? Didn't he say that there would be no negotiations?

Now with this three month extension proposed, what happens?

  1. The three month offer gives a middle finger to Obama who can only talk tough because he has no apparent leverage.
  2. The GOP retains its capability to force a government shut-down. With a three month delay, they'll have exercised their option to control the timing of such a shut-down, should they want to invoke it.
  3. The GOP will have more tightly tied sequestration negotiations to the threat of a government shut-down.
  4. Some pundits will help give the GOP cover here by declaring this three month extension a sudden "return to sanity" rather than calling it what it was -- the playing out of the GOP's stronger position.

Much is made of how this kind of GOP hardball effects polling for them but those articles talk about inconsequential, national approval ratings (and such). What really matters for the GOP is whether it has the House by the throat with a secure majority (it does), whether it remains strong enough in state governments to push for electoral college reforms to have a go at the WH (the GOP remains sufficiently strong at the state level), and whether the Obama administration has any actual leverage against any of this (it doesn't -- at least none that is yet visible).

Isn't this all because Obama is weak-willed and/or evil?

If anything, a Democrat Executive Branch and Senate provide the GOP with excellent cover. It makes the Democrats look like they have a lot of policy-making power when, in fact, they do not.

As long as the pundits refuse to acknowledge that the GOP is actually in the dominant position, the popular narrative is that Obama and Democrats are somehow incompetent or corrupt, either weak in their negotiating skills or secretly hoping to dismantal progressive policies.

This is the kind of story the main stream press and the "left" press seems to prefer but it fully misses the point that the GOP has played the superior chess game. Solid GOP control of the House means that the Democrats have very little federal legislative power at the moment and that's not likely to change soon. The GOP is very secure in many states and congressional districts.

Won't The moderate traditional moderate republicans come to the rescue?

Also widely (and falsely) reported is that there must be some kind of huge schism between the traditional fiscal conservative Republicans and the new "batshit crazy" tea party.

Consistently missing in these popular, wishful-thinking narratives is any serious account of how these two factions seriously differ over most public policy. Their differences are over legislative strategies and electoral strategies. They are arguing over how best to spend the party's superior power. They agree on dismantling entitlements except for people who are already old. They agree on dismantling many forms of regulation. The GOP may have small numbers of dissenters on some social issues like gay rights but nobody writing anywhere has identified any serious scism in the party.

Indeed, the carefully disciplined way the GOP is collectively talking about the debt ceiling ought to be a clue: they remain a very unified force.

What the GOP wants

The GOP fat cats and the GOP base agree on a few things. They would like to see far weaker protections for labor and the environment. They would like to see more cops and more "toughness on crime". If the public school system went away tomorrow, they wouldn't miss it much especially if the freed up money could go to privately owned charter schools.

For the fat-cats, this will lower the cost of US labor as well as regulatory costs. There will be fewer rules and workers will be more desparate. In a global market, those economically and morally devastating conditions for workers will raise the long term value of US assets held by the fat cats. At least that is their thinking.

For the low-information base, GOP reforms will inject some kind of tough-love morality into the economy. These are folks who believe, one way or another, that virtue is achieved through deprivation and punishment. Roughly speaking, their superstitious thinking is that dysfunctions in public policy must be because people aren't humble and beat down enough.

January 16, 2013

Gun regulation and surveillance by the state

In reaction to recent mass shootings, liberals and progressives across the nation are allegedly enthusiastic about beefing up federal gun regulation. The NRA is finally on the ropes, it is oddly presumed against all evidence. Now is the time for common sense regulation, of some sort, because Australia and London "Bobbies" or something.

Common sense is a tricky bird. We really ought to step back and consider if these "common sense" measures will really improve public safety and what else these measures might do.

One of the proposals is to expand the use of the federal database for background checks. Checks would be required even for private sales at gun shows. States would be pressured to more fully report people who are forbidden from buying because of certain kinds of encounter with the mental health system.

There is some history here. Starting in 1993 the federal government used to broadly require states to supply certain mental health records to the FBI for open-ended purposes. They were entrusted to surveille people like this probably because of the FBI's decades long history of respecting privacy and never abusing its powers. The mental health part of the background check for gun purchases grew out of that reporting requirement.

Alas, in 1997 the requirement that states report mental health records to the FBI was struck down by the court. Today, many states voluntarily participate barely or not at all in the program, though a few participate with seeming enthusiasm.

Interestingly, even the NRA who generally resist gun regulation complain about the situation with mental health reporting. They have endorsed the idea of making mental health record reporting more complete.

Will it work? What will it do?

I'm not sure exactly what the effect on violent crime will be if the database is beefed up with greater mental health reporting and wider use. I'm skeptical that it will make a huge difference to public safety one way or another but none of us really know.

There's only an uncertain gain from the proposal but there are some certain costs:

a) The proposal is to expand unaccountable, universal, domestic surveillance by federal law enforcement.

b) In particular, it proposes attempting to track everyone who is ever involuntarily committed or who are subject to certain kinds of court orders related to mental illness. (And it is a virtual certainty that such a list will include many people who would pose no special risk as gun buyers.)

Surely this information can't be abused?

It is commonly believed that, at least on paper, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) can only be used for the very narrow purpose of regulating gun sales. Unfortunately, that's a bit misleading.

It's true that the law itself specifies the creation of the NICS database, who can use it, and for which (narrow) purposes. The law explicitly specifies auditing policies aimed at preventing abuse.

There is a big loophole in the law, though. The law specifies restrictions on how the NICS database itself may be used but it does not so narrowly limit what the FBI can do with records submitted for addition to the NICS.

When the NICS staff get a record from a state they update the NICS database itself but they are also assigned the duty of updating other (less regulated) federal databases from those same records.

In effect, the FBI may not (per law) directly use the NICS database for "general law enforcement" purposes but the FBI can in effect make a copy of all incoming records to the NICS, and keep those in less restricted databases.

Here is a quote from Law Enforcement Records Management Systems (RMSs) as They Pertain to FBI Programs and Systems, a manual published by the FBI):

"The NICS Section [the department that runs NICS] also is instrumental in effecting the update of applicable federal, state, and local automated criminal history databases to ensure the availability of current record information for future inquiries by law enforcement agencies."

So is all this really -- as a practical matter, legislative intent aside -- really about "common sense" gun control?