Category Archives: Community

Headline of the day II: You know it’s dry when. . .

From the San Francisco Chronicle, reporting on the drought emergency measures in one parched Northern California coastal community:

Fort Bragg orders restaurants to use disposable plates, cups

Berkeley politics: Corrupt business as usual

In Berkeley, a town where developers are kings and poor people are being gentrified out of existence, genteel sleaze is the order of the day, as we noted recently.

The latest example to raise a stink in the normally complacent mainsteam media comes from the Oakland Tribune, under the headline “Berkeley council member profited from police chief’s public home loan.”

Here’s the gist from the story by reporter Thomas Peele:

In a move that ethicists call fraught with conflicts and cronyism, a city council member who voted to give Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan a $500,000 housing loan from public funds later worked as his real estate agent and took a commission on the chief’s purchase of a home, records show.

Councilmember Lawrence Capitelli said he split the nearly $30,000 commission on the $1.185 million sale with another agent in his office at Red Oak Realty, where he was a partner. The firm also took a cut of the commission. Capitelli’s questionable role in the 2010 home sale came to light this week after the Bay Area News Group published a story Sunday that showed how at least 33 local governments use taxpayer funds to help top public officials pay for housing.

A Berkeley city council member since 2004, Capitelli insists he did nothing wrong by representing Meehan after the council voted in November 2009 to loan the chief $500,000 because the two hadn’t discussed representation at the time of the vote.

But the Oakland Tribune story is a bit late, given that former mayoral candidate and Berkeley gadfly Zelda Bronstein had reported the same story three years ago for the Berkeley Daily Planet, a fact Peele failed to acknowledge in his story.

From her 31 October 2012 report:

On November 10, 2009, Laurie Capitelli joined the rest of the Berkeley City Council in approving the appointment of Michael Meehan as the City’s new police chief, effective December 13, 2009. The resolution of approval authorized “a housing assistance loan of up to $500,000 for the purchase of a residence within the City of Berkeley”.

In 2010 Chief Meehan moved into a home in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood in north Berkeley. I assume that he used his $500,000 loan from the City to purchase that property, which sold for $1,185,000. The seller used an agent from Northbrae Properties; the buyer used Red Oak real estate agent and Berkeley Councilmember Laurie Capitelli.

What makes the story more interesting is that Capitelli is the successor-apparent to Mayor Tom Bates, who is now in his final term of presiding over giveaways to his real estate developer pals.

Bates controls a city council majority elected in campaigns where the primary bankrollers are folks who are eager to gentrify every part of the city, and their gaze is now fixed on the city’s last remaining sanctuary for lower-income people of color.

As for the police chief, he’s the same fellow who gave his officers free rein to lay into peaceful as well as violent “Black Lives Matter” protests, and who has overseen an increasing militarization of the department, including military camouflage uniforms for his SWAT teams and landed one of those ugly Pentagon mine-resistance assault vehicles for his troops.

So forget any notion of Berkeley as a liberal bastion. The only part of Berkeley City Council politics with a liberal bent is the succession of meaningless resolutions — and even there the inevitable hot button issue is anything having to deal with Israel.

From the 15 September San Jose Mercury-News:

Cheryl Davila didn’t realize that she had waded into a minefield when she wrote a Human Welfare and Community Action Commission resolution calling for city divestment in Israel. Davila was removed from the commission by Councilman Darryl Moore just before the panel took up the issue on Sept. 16.

Davila said she wrote the resolution after reading about the 2014 military operation in Gaza, during which more than 2,000 Palestinians and some 70 Israelis lost their lives. She had also recalled that Berkeley had been among the first entities to divest from the apartheid state of South Africa decades earlier.

In part, the resolution asks the city manager to “examine the feasibility of divesting all city of Berkeley direct holdings in companies complicit in ongoing violations of human rights and international law under Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories.”

Which brings us back to Capitell. Back in 2010, after Israel’s bloody Operation Cast Lead invasion of Gaza, the he was scheduled to co-sponsor a city council resolution condemning the attack. That was when the same crew of ZioNutsies who organized a campaign of intimidating Berkeley Daily Planet advertisers because the paper published letters to the editors and op-ed scribes critical of Israel sprung into action.

Three comments posted to an article at JWeekly, a San Francisco Bay Area publication, report what happened next:

BLOG CapitelliThe Capitelli “watchdog” website was pulled.

Spizter and Gertz, along with now bankrupt PR guru Jim Sinkinson, were the key players in the war on the newspaper.

The site smearing the Daily Planet remains, a celebration of what the Israeli think tank the Reut Institute [advisers to the Israeli government] hails [PDF] as a successful “price tag” attack.

R. Cobb and Tom Bates, a study in contrast

To esnl, R. [Ron] Cobb was America’s best cartoonist of the 1960s, surpassing even the estimable Paul Conrad.

Cobb never won a Pulitzer, unlike Conrad, no doubt because Cobb worked for an underground paper, the late, lamented Los Angeles Free Press [“the Freep” to fans] while Conrad drew for the Los Angeles Times.

But, like Conrad, the earthiness of Cobb’s characters and his skill with the pen [remember those?] imparted a power to his images that makes them as relevant today as when he drafted them a half-century ago.

We periodically surf the Web in search of “new” Cobb cartoons [meaning those offerings which haven’t appeared online before], and today we found several, including one especially relevant for Berkeley in the second decade of the 21st Century, featuring a figure who could well be esnl on Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley, circa 2030, though the notion that the city might provide a bench is ludicrous:

BLOG RCobbBerkeley

My primary beat during the six years I spent reporting for the late, and also lamented, Berkeley Daily Planet was land use — which was the one issue dominating a cash-strapped city government headed by a mayor and city council majority whose election campaigns were primarily funded by the real estate development sector.

Mayor Tom Bates, himself a one-time developer and subsequently state legislator, never met a development he’d didn’t love, nor a developer who wasn’t an instant BFF as well as a near-certain future campaign contributor.

Bates also prides himself on being a Cal Bears Rose Bowl starter in 1959, and his alumni status has been exploited by UC Berkeley’s real estate development arm as the school increasingly builds and leases off-campus, removing property from property tax roles [even that leased property is stricken form the rolls for the duration of the lease], while other administrators press for more high-rise apartment buildings, driven by the end of construction of new university-owned student housing.

In addition, Bates has thoroughly backed the push for the destruction of the city’s last industrial district to pave the way for university-spawned corporate startups.

The next result is a push for downtown high-rise proliferation, eased measures for destroying landmark buildings, and a push for gentrification of the city’s few remaining lower-income neighborhoods housing the folks needed to keep all those glistening new erections working.

Berkeley is losing its historic character, and the latest monstrosity planned for the city center will actually block the view of San Francisco Bay from the university’s signature campanile, which was designed by architect John Galen Howard to offer an unimpaired view of the world-renowned Golden Gate. The project is being ramrodded by Mark Rhoades, formerly the city’s Land Use Planning Manager.

The end result is that the city loses character and rich developers get richer building costlier apartments that force students deeper into debt to pay enrich all those developers and the former public servants on their payrolls and help them bankroll elections to make them even richer.

Meanwhile, Bates and his allies regularly reduce requirements for fixed percentages of low-income housing in new buildings as developers plead poverty.

Ain’t it grand?!

Another shaker hits the East Bay, a zooish one

Yep, right in the heart of the Oakland Children’s zoo, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s event page for the shaker, with the epicenter represented by that gold star:

BLOG Quake

We felt here at Casa esnl in Berkeley, and it was just enough to trigger some creaking in out old wood frame abode.

More details from the web page:

M3.1 – 2km NNE of San Leandro, California

Event Time

2015-03-10 17:07:23 (UTC)
2015-03-10 10:07:23 (UTC-07:00) in your timezone

Nearby Cities

2km (1mi) NNE of San Leandro, California
6km (4mi) NNW of Ashland, California
7km (4mi) NNW of San Lorenzo, California
8km (5mi) ESE of Alameda, California
108km (67mi) SSW of Sacramento, California

EbolaWatch: Curves, PTSD, orphans, tourism

As the outbreak ebbs, stories come fewer and farther between, and we begin today’s compilation with the latest cumulative case curves for the three hardest hit nations, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Ebola cumulatives

From the Independent, another kind of casualty:

Sierra Leone athlete arrested in London for overstaying visa because Ebola killed his family

Sierra Leone’s best sprinter has been arrested after he was found living rough on the streets of London.

Jimmy Thoronka, 20, disappeared at the end of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last summer and said he could not return home because of the Ebola epidemic ravaging the country, and he has considered suicide.

He said his family have already died from the disease, which has killed 9,800 people in the three-worst hit countries.

Voice of America has more on the price paid by those left behind:

Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

Program notes:

There’s growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.

And StarAfrica has still more:

Liberia: Over 500,000 suffer mental illness due to war, Ebola — Official

At least 515,000 Liberians are suffering from mental illness as a result of the prolonged civil conflict and the Ebola outbreak in the country, a health official said on Friday.

The Chief Medical Officer of Liberia, Dr. Bernice Dahn said about 400,000 are suffering from mild mental illness, while 115,000 others have mental disorder.

The Liberia Chief Medical Officer made the disclosure Friday at a program marking the graduation of Mental Health Clinicians in Monrovia. The program is sponsored by the Carter Center.

She also attributed mental health to rape and other forms of sexual violence as well as substance abuse.

And another set of consequences, via AllAfrica:

Zimbabwe: Safari Operators Record 20 Percent Slump

SAFARI operators recorded an estimated 20% drop in revenue last year due to the ivory ban by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the outbreak of the Ebola virus, businessdigest has learnt.

In April last year, the USFWS announced a suspension on imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies taken in Tanzania and Zimbabwe during the calendar year of 2014.

“In Zimbabwe, available data, though limited, indicate a significant decline in the elephant population. Anecdotal evidence, such as the widely publicised poisoning last year(2013) of 300 elephants in Hwange National Park, suggests that Zimbabwe’s elephants are also under siege,” the organisation said.

EbolaWatch: Vaccines, recovery, bribes, Pyongyang

We begin with vaccines, first from the New York Times:

Doctor’s Mishap Sheds Light on Ebola Vaccine’s Effects

The moment he felt a needle jab into his thumb last September on an Ebola ward in Sierra Leone, Dr. Lewis Rubinson knew he was at risk of contracting the deadly disease. What could he do but wait to see if he got sick, and hope that treatment would pull him through?

Dr. Rubinson, an intensive-care specialist and associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, chose another option, described in an article and editorial published on Thursday in The Journal of the American Medical Association. He was quickly given a shot of an experimental vaccine, a type that had been used in only one other person. The hope was that if he had been exposed to Ebola, the vaccine would stimulate his immune system to fight off the virus.

As it turns out, it is not clear whether the vaccine could have protected him against Ebola, because blood tests indicate he was almost certainly never infected. It is clear, though, that the vaccine stirred up his immune system: He had fever, chills, nausea, muscle pains and a headache. But the symptoms ebbed after a few days, and when it was all over blood tests suggested that he was probably immune to Ebola.

Although it is impossible to draw broad conclusions from a single case, doctors said the information was nonetheless useful. There is hardly any other data on how the vaccine affects people, and knowing how Dr. Rubinson fared may help other health workers potentially exposed to Ebola decide whether to be vaccinated.

And a trial commencing, via the World Health Organization:

Ebola vaccine efficacy trial ready to launch in Guinea

Based on promising data from initial clinical trials in late 2014, WHO with the Health Ministry of Guinea, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Epicentre and The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), will launch a Phase III trial in Guinea on 7 March to test the VSV-EBOV vaccine for efficacy and effectiveness to prevent Ebola. The vaccine was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada. A second vaccine will be tested in a sequential study, as supply becomes available.

“We have worked hard to reach this point,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan. “There has been massive mobilization on the part of the affected countries and all partners to accelerate the development and availability of proven interventions. If a vaccine is found effective, it will be the first preventive tool against Ebola in history.”

Vaccination will take place in areas of Basse Guinée, the region that currently has the highest number of cases in the country. The trial strategy adopted will be “ring vaccination”, based on the approach used to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. This involves the identification of a newly diagnosed Ebola case – the “index case” – and the tracing of all his/her contacts. The contacts are vaccinated if they give their consent.

“The Ebola epidemic shows signs of receding but we cannot let down our guard until we reach zero cases,” said Assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny, who leads the Ebola Research and Development effort at WHO. “An effective vaccine to control current flare-ups could be the game-changer to finally end this epidemic and an insurance policy for any future ones.”

On to Liberia with Heritage, and a landmark declared:

Liberia discharges last Ebola case today Featured

Liberia will today, Thursday, March 5  discharge the only confirmed Ebola case in the country, the head of the Incident Management Team on Ebola Mr. Tolbert Nyensuah has disclosed.

Mr. Nyensuah, who is also the Assistant Minister for Preventive Services at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, said the last case will be discharged from the Chinese Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) at the Samuel Kanyan Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, outside Monrovia.

The health ministry official made these comments yesterday  at the regular Ebola Hour hosted by the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) in Monrovia.

“The good news is that the only confirmed Ebola case that we have in the country will be discharged tomorrow from the Chinese ETU at the Samuel Kanyan Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville,” said the Incident Management Team head.

The Liberian Observer covers an NGO’s assistance:

YMCA Wages Intense Ebola Fight in West Point

The YMCA continues its fight against the deadly Ebola virus in West Point with the recruitment and temporary employment of forty residents every week to clean all the township’s seven communities.

The 40 volunteers, under the scheme, Food for Work (FFW) receive a 25k bag of rice, a gallon of cooking oil, half dozen tins of sardines and 50 pieces of Vital Cube at the end of the week.  A new team of 40 volunteers is hired each week.

The uninterrupted cleaning campaign which began in October 2014, is one of YMCA’s initiatives to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

The project, titled: Saving Lives and Restoring Livelihoods in West Point,’ was awarded by Y Care International and funded by Comic Relief, UK.

From IRIN, a look ahead:

Ebola: Liberia’s long road to recovery

Liberia has lifted nationwide curfews and reopened its land borders with key trading partners Sierra Leone and Guinea, but a full recovery from the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak will take time, experts say.

“The reopening of the border is going to have an impact immediately, both in terms of livelihoods and the availability of food, as well as informal trade,” said Errol Graham, the World Bank’s country economist for Liberia, who spoke to IRIN from Virginia. “But there is going to be a lot of asymmetry between the [speed of] recovery and the crisis. The crisis was an immediate thing because of fear and aversion. The recovery is going to take a little longer.”

Within hours of the reopening of the border, people and merchandise began to flow from one side to the other. Local markets, once again stocked with fresh produce, meat and home goods, buzzed with activity, for the first time in more than six months.

In the interior of Liberia, Graham said, “We are also seeing, with the abatement of the crisis, people starting to go back to work and we expect to see more of that over time. And as foreigners who were involved in concessions in the natural resource sector come back, we expect to see more improvements in the employment situation.”

But even for those back at work, business remains sluggish.

The New Dawn covers a political pronouncement:

Regional approach, collaboration key to zero Ebola cases

-Pres. Sirleaf

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says strong and concerted regional support with help from international partners is needed to achieve a robust recovery program, similar to what she called a ‘’Marshall Plan” that will demand huge resource allocation.

According to a Dispatch from Brussels, Belgium, the Liberian leader, who spoke Tuesday on behalf of the three most affected Ebola countries (Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone) at the European Union high-level Ebola Conference, said over the past decade, the three affected Mano River Union (MRU) countries made significant gains in the process of reconstruction after years of conflict.

She stressed that as a result of the Ebola outbreak, families and communities were torn apart, and doctors, teachers, mothers, religious leaders and other opinion leaders were greatly affected, while the disease robbed the communities of its ability to care for its own people.

The Liberian leader indicated that the countries’ health systems collapsed when health care workers, nurses and doctors died, trying to treat the sick, not knowing the nature of the disease they were dealing with.

On to Sierra Leoine and a controversy surrounding the late spokesperson for the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party, via the the Sierra Leone Telegraph:

Chaos and confusion in Freetown as unlawful exemption granted for burial of SLPP Tamba Sam

Tonight there is confusion and chaos in Freetown, as reports emerged of members of the opposition SLPP party storming Connaught hospital, where the Ebola burial teams were making arrangements for the immediate burial of Tamba Sam who died on Monday.

According to the Ebola state of emergency regulations, all burials – irrespective of whether death was caused by Ebola or not, must be carried out by the Ebola burial teams within twenty-four hours of death.

The Sierra Leone Telegraph has been reliably informed that since the passing of the safer burial regulations, government officials and the police have been granting exemptions to those with connections in high places and can afford to pay bribes.

Although the number of new Ebola cases has declined in the last three months by more than fifty-percent, there are serious concerns regarding the recent spike in the numbers, especially in the ruling APC party’s Freetown-northern heartlands, where Ebola has become firmly entrenched.

The Sierra Leone Concord Times covers another NGO’s efforts:

Peace Mothers intensify campaign to make Libeisaygahun Chiefdom Ebola free

Fambul Tok Peace Mothers in Libeisaygahun Chiefdom, Bombali District continue to complement the national effort to eradicate the Ebola disease in the country by engaging in house-to-house visits to ensure the disease does not enter their chiefdom.

Surrounded by a number of Ebola affected chiefdoms including Gbendembu Ngowahun, Sanda Tendaren and Makari Gbanti, Libeisaygahun is the only chiefdom that is yet to record a single case of Ebola due to the efforts of the Peace Mothers in collaboration with community members.

Explaining their success story, Chairlady of Peace Mothers in Batkanu Section, Ella Sesay, said before the outbreak of the disease sick people were taken to the chiefdom headquarter town of Batkanu for proper health care.

And from the Associated Press, Pyongyang eases up:

After Ebola ban, N. Korea opens marathon to foreigners

After lifting travel restrictions it imposed because of concerns over the Ebola virus, North Korea says foreigners can now take part in one of its most popular tourist events — the annual Pyongyang marathon, a travel agency said Thursday.

Even though no cases of Ebola had been reported anywhere near North Korea, the country shut out foreign tourists in October with some of the strictest Ebola regulations in the world, including saying that only local runners would be allowed into the marathon in April.

But Uri Tours, one company that takes tourists into North Korea, said on its website Thursday that it had been informed that North Korean authorities had “decided to re-open the doors to foreign amateur runners for the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon.”

MexicoWatch: Murders, politics, hypocrisy, art

We begin with murders, via teleSUR:

Mexico’s Murders Are Reducing Life Expectancy

  • Mexico’s high homicide rates have dragged down the country’s average life expectancy.

The roughly 138,000 homicides reported in Mexico in the first decade of the new century have negated public health gains from disease prevention, according to compiled figures released Thursday.

Speaking to La Jornada, researcher Carlos Echarri from the university El Colegio de Mexico, said the homicide rate had dragged down Mexcian life expectancy by over two years.

Citing data from the National Institute for Statistics and Geography, Echarri told the newspaper that between 2000 and 2010, the average life expectancy fell from 74 years to 72. The murder rate negated the life expectancy gains that would have been made by decreases in childhood mortality and deaths from some non-communicable diseases.

From Frontera NorteSur, more on murders and disappearances:

Bloody, Bloody Iguala

The police killings and forced disappearances of students and civilians last fall in Iguala, Mexico, put the city in the international spotlight.  As outrage and protests spread across Mexico and the world, attention focused on the goings on in the city before and after the attacks on the students from the Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa.

Implicated in the killings and kidnappings of the students, Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife fled the city and eventually were arrested by the federal government. Similarly linked to the brutal crimes, dozens of police officers and individuals connected to the Guerreros Unidos organized crime group were detained.

Exposed as a corrupted institution, the municipal police force was withdrawn for retraining and security assigned to a new federal police force, the National Gendarmerie. Order and public safety were restored, right?

World attention on the city located in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero notwithstanding, day-to-day events on the ground indicate that little or nothing has fundamentally changed since the bloody assault on the Ayotzinapa students last September.

A teleSUR English video report offers at least one small consolation for the grieving families of the disappeared:

Mexico: New Attorney General says Ayotzinapa case not closed

Program notes:

Contradicting statements made by her predecessor, Mexico’s new Attorney General Arely Gomez said the case of the missing Ayotzinapa students is not closed. Yesterday, Gomez met yesterday with a team from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and promised to give them access to government documentation on the case. Clayton Conn reports from Mexico City.

From teleSUR, a quintessential insider’s elevation questioned:

Controversy Plagues Mexican Supreme Court Nominee

  • The nominee is the current ambassador to the U.S., a former attorney general, and was once director of Mexico’s intelligence agency.

A storm of controversy is engulfing Mexican official Eduardo Medina Mora as he is put up for candidacy for a spot on the country’s highest court.

Medina has been proposed, along with two other candidates, by President Enrique Peña Nieto to fill the position, which arose after the the death of Supreme Court Minister Sergio Valls in December last year.

Medina, who is currently ambassador to the United States, faced a Senate committee hearing Monday, during which several senators grilled him for his professional record in government.

In the previous administration of Felipe Calderon, Medina occupied the attorney general’s seat during polemic events such as the so-called “Michoacanazo,” which resulted in 38 Michoacan State officials, pertaining to opposition parties, being detained and accused of corruption weeks before elections: they were all later released for lack of evidence.

The Guardian notes the sadly obvious:

Mexico drug kingpins behind bars but violence and corruption go unchecked

  • Mexican authorities’ successes in jailing top narco-gangsters has led drug cartels to fragment while leaving politicians and businessmen unpunished

The routine has become almost familiar: a fugitive mafia boss is cornered by Mexican security forces and captured without a shot fired.

The stony-faced kingpin is marched by a masked special forces escort across airport tarmac dotted with army helicopters, to be whisked away for questioning.

Mexican politicians and police hail another victory in the drug war, warning that no mafia boss is too powerful to escape justice. US officials shower praise on their colleagues, and chalk up another victory in the drug war.

But all the while, violence fuelled by drug-trafficking and corruption continues to rage across Mexico, and shipments of marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine keep crossing the border into the US.

And from teleSUR, again, hardly surprising but sad nonetheless:

Mexico’s Ruling Party Blocks Probe on Electoral Fraud

  • Accusations of fraud during the 2012 elections are being reviewed by the Mexican Congress.

In a press conference Wednesday, the head of Mexico’s Congressional Investigative Commission investigating fraud accusations against the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) said the party and its allies are blocking efforts to carry out the probe.

“On more than six ocassions, the PRI, the Green Party and New Alliance have impeded the work of this commission,” said Roberto Lopez Suarez, who heads the probe. “The sub-commissions continue working (…) on a document that we will reveal next Tuesday. There we will show the mistakes and irregularities made by the National Electoral Institute (INE) to exonerate Monex.”

Monex – one of Mexico’s biggest credit card companies – allegedly helped president Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI win the 2012 elections by issuing massive numbers of special credit cards in exchange for votes.

And we close with images from Poesía Visual Morelia featuring a graphic creation by Felipe Ehrenberg, symbolizing the remains linked to Alex Mora, the only one of the missing students of the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa in Iguala, Guerrero, identified from a sack of ashes found near the alleged cremation site in nearby Cocula, photographed by Hersalía Cantoral:

BLOG Ayotz