Category Archives: History

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 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.

Ted Rall, banned cartoonist, on Snowden, media

The population of American newspaper editorial cartoonist is dying off faster than the population of salaried journalists, in part because the best cartoonists are both irreverent and provocative.

Ted Rall was one of two op-ed cartoonists for the Los Angeles Times until earlier this year when he was fired because the Los Angeles Police Department challenged a column and cartoon he had penned earlier this year about an encounter he had with an aggressive cop [more later].

His pen remains busy, and he has just turned his skills to the book, producing a graphic biography of Edward Snowden titled, aptly, Snowden.

In this 29 September Seattle Town Hall conversation with Paul Constant, Rall talks about Snowden and the events leading to his ouster by the Times.

From TalkingStickTV:

Ted Rall (Author of “Snowden”) in Conversation with Paul Constant

Here’s Rall’s graphic account of his ouster from the Times, via aNewDomain:

On July 27, 2015, the Los Angeles Times fired me as its long-time editorial cartoonist. The reason given was their belief, based on a secret LAPD audiotape of my 2001 arrest for jaywalking, that I lied about my treatment by the police officer in a May 11, 2015 blog for the Times. However, when I had the tape enhanced and cleaned up, it proved I'd told the truth. So why won't the Times comment or admit they were wrong?

On July 27, 2015, the Los Angeles Times fired me as its long-time editorial cartoonist. The reason given was their belief, based on a secret LAPD audiotape of my 2001 arrest for jaywalking, that I lied about my treatment by the police officer in a May 11, 2015 blog for the Times. However, when I had the tape enhanced and cleaned up, it proved I’d told the truth. So why won’t the Times comment or admit they were wrong?

Note that in his video talk, Rall drops a bombshell: The largest owner of shares in the Times‘ parent corporation is the pension fund of the Los Angeles Police Department. Curious, no?

And continuing with the subject of the relationship of editorial cartoonists and the LAPD, consider this 1968 R. Cobb offering from the late Los Angeles Free Press:

BLOG RCobbCops

She’s back: Abby Martin lands a Telesur show

A hearty welcome back to the East San Francisco Bay Area’s own Abby Martin, a passionate video journalist and artist whose RT America series Breaking the Set provided incisive alternative takes on critical issues of the day from September, 2012 to February 2015.

We were saddened by her departure from RT, and welcome the arrival her new show every Friday on Telesur English.

In this edition of The Empire Files, she interviews former New York Times Mideast Bureau Chief Chris Hedges on the power of the media and its spinners in the furtherance of American imperial dreams and the internalization of imperial control in the United States itself:

Abby Martin & Chris Hedges: War, Propaganda & the Enemy Within

Program notes:

Abby Martin interviews Chris Hedges on American myths, war and revolt. Hedges explains the ‘folly of Empire,’ the dangers posed by right-wing extremism and the urgent need for a new system.

Chris Hedges is a former New York Times journalist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He is the author of several books including his most recent, “Wages of Rebellion: the Moral Imperative of Revolt.” He publishes a weekly column on and is the host of Days of Revolt, airing every Monday night on teleSUR english.

teleSUR’s The Empire Files airs every Friday night at 10:00 EST / 7:00 PST. Watch live here:

FOLLOW @EmpireFiles & @AbbyMartin

Stunning news from Japan: An academic purge

First, a cartoon from the Japan Times:


And now for the story. . .

In parallel with  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government’s vote to abandon Japan’s 70-year-long ban on waging war overseas, Japan’s universities are closing their social science and humanities departments — long the bastions of resistance to the military aspirations of successive national governments.

From the ICEF Monitor:

A recent survey of Japanese university presidents found that 26 of 60 national universities with social science and humanities programmes intend to close those departments during the 2016 academic year or after. The closures are a direct response to an extraordinary request from the Japanese government that the universities take “active steps to abolish [social science and humanities departments] or to convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs.”

The government’s position was set out in an 8 June 2015 letter sent by Minister of Education Hakubun Shimomura to all national universities and higher education organisations in the country. In it, Minister Shimomura argued that the move was necessary “in the light of the decrease of the university-age population, the demand for human resources and…the function of national universities.”

The Minister also made it clear to the universities that the government’s ongoing financial support for each university depended on their response. “There was a clear ‘or else’ behind the demand,” wrote journalist and educator Kevin Rafferty in the South China Morning Post, “or else you won’t get money.”


Higher education policy in Japan is now reportedly determined via the President’s Council on Industrial Competitiveness, a special body composed of government ministers, business executives, and (two) academics. And it appears that the Minister’s June letter to universities emerged from deliberations within that group and, more fundamentally, from the President’s conviction that Japan’s higher education institutions should be more directly focused on the country’s labour market needs.

In other words, given the choice between an soldiers and a workforce to keep them in arms and the cultivation of an informed electorate, Abe has opted for the way of the gun.

Oddly, even during World War II — which could be dated to \Japan’s invasion of China — humanities and social sciences remained on the course schedule of the island nation’s institutions of higher learning, notes Takamitsu Sawa, president of Shiga University, in an essay for the Japan Times. But things didn’t go well for students majoring in human studies:

During World War II, students of the natural sciences and engineering at high schools and universities were exempt from conscription and only those who were studying the humanities and social sciences were drafted into military service.

And Abe’s move fulfills the wishes of another post-war government, Sawa writes:

In March 1960, the education minister in Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi’s Cabinet said that all departments of the humanities and social sciences at national universities should be abolished so that those schools would concentrate on the natural sciences and engineering. He also said that education in the humanities and social sciences should be placed in the hands of private universities.

One could argue that the real justification of studying the humanities and social sciences is the development of a culture that will strive for peace through the cultivation of a deeper understandings of the wellsprings of the human condition.

By opting for the way of the gun, Abe is forgetting the maxim set forth by tht ardent student of the humanities, George Santayana, set forth in The Life of Reason:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Chart of the day: Waves of immigration to the U.S.

From a new report [PDF] on immigration from the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Migrants

Yet another American military con game

A blockbuster story from a highly-respected American journalist has detonated with scarcely a peep.

It concerns a fake terrorist attack aboard an American airliner, a staged provocation designed to intimidate Al Qaeda and to reassure Americans about the safety of travel on the nation’s airliners.

A Canadian by birth, Sean D. Naylor is senior writer for Army Times, the privately owned weekly newspaper. Gannett, the media conglomerate that owns the paper, also publishes sister publications devoted, respectively, to the Air Force, Navy, and Marines.

Naylor dropped his blockbuster is his newest book, Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command [JSOC], published by St. Martins Press.

JSOC assembles under one administrative roof the ranks of the military’s self-styled “operators,” the Navy’s SEAL Team Six, the Army’s Delta Force, and the Air Force’s little-known 24th Special Tactics Squadron. These are the highly trained fighters whose successes and failures rarely reach the public’s eyes and ears, the covert operators, provocateurs, and assassins who thrive best under a shroud of secrecy.

One notable former JSOC commander was four-star Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, whose career was demolished by Michael Hastings in his reporting for Rolling Stone — leading some to suspect a hidden hand in the journalist’s subsequent death in a curious one-car high-speed accident.

What Naylor discovered was a JSOC plot worthy of a Ridley Scott film, triggered by a 14 September rumor that a hikjacked airliner was sitting on an airport runway outside Washington D.C.

Naylor writes:

Hijackings in the United States were usually the purview of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, but after the September 11 there was a sense at [Ft. Bragg] that the old rules might no longer apply. “We flexed out on that and got ready to deploy the aircraft takedown team up there,” before the there was no hijacking reached Bragg, said the Delta source.

Meanwhile, Delta’s operators brainstormed. To dete future hijackings, they suggested the government, in conjunction with the FBI and the airlines, “leak out that there are Delta operators on board almost every flight and do a fake takedown” using role players “in a first class compartment that’s all stooges” on an otherwise regular commercial flight, said the Delta source. A “terrorist” would attempt a hijacking before operators in plainclothes too him down with “hand-to-hand or something,” the source said. “Get that out [via the media]. Get inside their heads.” The aim was to make [Al Qaeda] think twice and begin to think, “Hey, they’re on to us, there’s special mission guys on every airplane.”

While Delta commander Colonel Jim Schwitters gave the concept only cautious support, higher-ups wisely relegated the plan to the round file.

Lest the reader think the notion was only hare-brained cerebral flatulence, consider the America military’s long history of creating pretexts for military intervention.

To folks of esnl’s generation, one provocation stands, the so-called “Gulf of Tonkin” incident, in which an American destroyer sailed into North Vietnamese waters, triggering a exchange of fire that provided the pretext for a greatly expanded U.S. military presence in Vietnam and leading to the first acknowledged American military defeat in a major war.

But the incident that offers the deepest resonance was part of a package submitted to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara by Admiral Lyman L. Lemnitzer, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on 13 March 1962. The memo [pdf], dubbed Operation Northwoods, was a package of provocation proposals designed to create an incident justifying a full-scale U.S. military invasion of Cuba and the ouster of the government of President Fidel Castro.

One aspect of the plans seems especially notable in light of the proposed post-9/11 JSOC ploy, and here’s the key section from that memo [click to enlarge]:

BLOG Northwoods

In the words of James Bamford, a former Navy intelligence analyst and perhaps America’s premier journalist on the trail of misdeeds of America’s secret world, “the Joint Chiefs of Staff drew up and approved plans for what may be the most corrupt plan ever created by the U.S. government.”

And while the plan talks about loading the initial flight with students and then moving them off so an empty aircraft could then be destroyed, the Pentagon planners had to know that local newspapers and television stations would bombard their parents with requests for information about their “dead” children — and that would lead to the truth and consequent international condemnation.

And that leads to one somber conclusion: The Pentagon planners knew that the only way the plan would’ve worked was to have let the airliner passengers die.

Fortunately, saner heads prevailed.

If there is one fact that stands out, it’s that America’s military leaders must always be regarded with suspicion.

Which takes us back to where we began, the curious lack of coverage from the mainstream media.

Aside from a very few blogs, only the blog Gawker gave the story any coverage, with Sam Biddle parsing the key components of the JSOC plot. That the New York Times and other papers failed to sound the alarm should raise a great many questions about the institutions professing to be the watchdogs of democracy and the champions of full disclosure..

Lee Judge: Yo, dude, wanna go serfing?

From the editorial cartoonist of the Kansas City Star:

BLOG Cartoon jobsWe’ll leave the commentary to Sen. Bernie Sanders:

Robin Hood in Reverse