Nov 27

Stein’s votes probably gave Trump Michigan and Wisconsin

Ifjillnothill further evidence of Trump’s backstabbing of allies were needed, there’s his recent attack on Jill Stein’s recount initiative. He should be sending Stein flowers. Trump is deeply indebted to Stein’s Green Party and her siphoning votes away from Clinton.  In two of the three recount target states, Stein’s votes exceeded Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton.


Here’s the numbers:

State                                      Trump margin                                  Jill Stein votes 

Michigan                                10,704                                             51,463

Pennsylvania                         70,638                                            49,170

Wisconsin                               27,257                                            30,980

Totals                                     108,599                                          131,613

In other words, if all of Stein’s votes had gone instead to Clinton, Clinton would have carried both Michigan and Wisconsin, and shaved Trump’s margin in Pennsylvania to a razor’s edge. That’s not a mathematical certainty, because some of Stein’s voters might have gone to Trump, but it’s a high probability.  Stein’s total vote in all three states exceeded Trump’s combined margin of victory in those states by 23,014 votes.

The recount effort now casts Stein in the media eye as a challenger to Trump’s victory.  That’s great PR for Stein, but it’s doubly ironic.  First, because Stein’s campaign probably handed Trump the victory in two of those three states.  Second, because if the recount were to flip the results, Stein would still be a loser and her nemesis, Clinton, the winner.

How did we get here?  The Clinton campaign’s passive acceptance of the shadowy election results — mirroring Gore’s pathetic cave-in to Bush in 2000 — stirred up intense resistance from below and within Democratic Party ranks.  Stein made herself the voice of that feeling, and the stunning success of her crowdfunding effort (to which I contributed a modest amount), raising millions in a few days, moved the Clinton establishment to chime in with a lukewarm “me too” gesture, all while predicting that nothing would change.

If the Democratic Party had any grass-roots fight in it, it would have taken the lead in demanding the recount.  It would have challenged the voter ID laws and numerous other barriers put in place by several states to minimize the Democratic vote.  But if the Democratic Party were that kind of party, Jill Stein would not have had the political breathing room to get on the ballot in the first place. At bottom, the blame lies not on Stein, the mosquito, but on the big fat donkey that kicked aside a winning candidate, the outsider Bernie Sanders, and picked a lame insider who was out of touch with the base and destined to lose.

Nov 27

R.I.P. Fidel

fidel-and-students-summer-1963-customHe was a modern-day David who slew Goliath.  Leader of a ragged band of mountain guerrillas who drove a bloodthirsty monster into exile and seized state power just ninety miles from the sulfur-breathing behemoth that ruled the continent, he not only prevailed, he endured. Where a young Lumumba was hunted down and murdered, King and Malcolm assassinated in their prime, thousands of other rebels and revolutionaries tortured and slain, Fidel outlasted eleven U.S. presidents and died peacefully in his sleep in Havana at age 90.

As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, I had the honor to meet Fidel and Che in the summer of 1963, when I was part of a group of American students who defied the U.S. travel ban and spent two months on the revolutionary island.  Fidel played ping-pong with members of our group, shook all of our hands, and answered all of our questions.  I heard him speak on the big plaza in Havana on the occasion of the July 26 anniversary of the revolution, and I walked among the crowd, perhaps a million strong, and saw people listening with rapt attention, laughing at his jokes, responding, shouting, waving their arms — a people united.  Back home, I took my slides on a tour up and down New England, getting punched in the face by Cuban exiles (‘gusanos’), and raising money for the legal defense.

Cuba has gone through a lot of crises and changes since then, and my attention has mostly been elsewhere.  I suspend judgment on all of that.  But, regardless of what happens in the future, the name of Fidel Castro is written in the stars.

Nov 09

Bernie Blessing Beats Developer Dollars

arreguin-sanders-720x529Tens of thousands of developer dollars didn’t outweigh Bernie Sanders’ endorsement in Berkeley’s mayoral race. Bernie-blessed progressive Jesse Arreguin pulled the surprise upset of the century by beating the developers’ darling Laurie Capitelli convincingly in an instant-voting runoff.  The National Association of Realtors in Chicago had spent more than $60,000 on behalf of Capitelli.

Capitelli was retiring Mayor Tom Bates’ chosen successor.  Bates had a laudable record fighting for progressive issues in earlier decades, but in recent years turned into a crabby, high-handed, and devious proponent of high-rise luxury housing developments downtown.  Capitelli, a retired real estate agent, generally acted as Bates’ right-hand man.

Just as Bates’ endorsement did not help Capitelli, so Capitelli’s endorsement plus $13,000 in Chicago money and nearly $18,000 in police PAC donations failed to advance Stephen Murphy, Capitelli’s chosen successor in the District 5 council post.  Sophie Hahn, who narrowly lost to Capitelli for the council seat four years ago, obliterated Murphy with 62 per cent of the vote.  Murphy, who was fined by the Court of Appeals in 2012 for dishonesty and incompetence as an attorney, has been a leading activist in promoting luxury housing development.

Retiring progressive Max Anderson in District 3 had better luck with his endorsement of Ben Bartlett.  Bartlett outclassed his opponents, winning a 57 per cent majority on the first ballot.

Incumbent Darryl Moore, in recent years usually another “me too” vote with Bates, appears to have lost his seat to first-time candidate Cheryl Davila.  Davila, a tenant and mother of two, campaigned in opposition to gentrification and for community control of police behavior.  On the first ballot, Moore was in the lead, but stood ten points short of a winning majority.  In the ranked-choice runoff, the votes of third place finisher Nanci Armstrong-Temple went primarily to Davila and put her over the 50 per cent mark with a lead of 42 votes over Moore.  However, a number of absentee ballots remain to be counted, and there is a theoretical possibility of a reversal.  Final results may not be known for a few days.

With Arreguin leaving his District 4 council seat to become mayor, a special election will have to be held early in 2017 to replace him.

With or without Davila, the tenor of Berkeley’s City Council has shifted in a progressive direction.  The Bates machine with its 6-3 rubber-stamp majority is demolished.

A major outlay of $892,540 by a PAC for the Berkeley Property Owners Association also failed to defeat Berkeley Proposition U1 or to pass Proposition DD.  The U1 measure, which passed by 74 per cent, will raise about $3 million for affordable housing.  The BPOA-sponsored effort, DD, would have raised less than half that amount.  The No vote on DD was over 70 per cent.

The CALI slate for the Berkeley Rent Board — Christina Murphy, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Leah Simon-Weisberg and Igor Tregub — won all four seats on the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board.  Incumbents Nathan Wollman and Judy Hunt were unseated.  The CALI slate also had Bernie Sanders’ endorsement.

The over-all pattern of voting in Berkeley reflects strong opposition to the luxury-priority high-rise construction projects that the Bates administration has pushed through in the past several years.  With a six-vote majority, Bates was easily able to override the three progressive council members, Arreguin, Kriss Worthington, and Max Anderson.  Council meetings frequently took on the air of a charade, with long parades of citizens lining up to oppose a given measure, and the council majority then ignoring all input and voting 6-3 in favor. Voters punished the Bates administration for this conduct. The progressives made it clear that they are not opposed to development per se, but to development that prioritizes luxury housing over affordable housing.

Nov 09

The Cure for Trump Suffering

sufferingSitting with a group of friends last night at a party that had been advertised as a celebration, we felt depressed, frustrated, infuriated, impotent.  In short, we suffered.  Why was that?

Mental suffering, according to a Buddhist teaching, comes from a craving for gratification that is frustrated because it  is rooted in ignorance about reality. When we suffer from a knot of negative emotions at the triumph of this menacing clown that is Trump,  the reason is that we are mired in misconceptions about the country that produced him.  We forget that America was named after an adventurer who stupidly thought he had landed in India. We forget that the advance of European civilization here came via blankets deliberately infected with smallpox, and saw every kind of treachery against the native people and and sabotage of the indigenous civilizations.  We forget that our lauded revolution of 1776 was in reality a slaveholder revolt against the winds of liberty sweeping the world and that the preservation of slavery was a cornerstone of our Constitution.  We blind ourselves to the fact that women could not vote for six generations after the founding convention.  We forget the savage campaigns of government-sponsored terrorism against Black Reconstruction, the waves of lynchings, the Jim Crow acts, and the modern extensions of Jim Crow in the War Against Drugs, Stop and Frisk, and the growing suppression of minority votes via voter identity laws and other chicanery.  We forget that immigration policy for decades acted as an overt racial filter, we forget the Japanese internment, we forget the guarantees of civil liberties we gave when the border with Mexico crossed south over the people living in California.  We forget that mine owners repeatedly massacred mine workers, that sweatshop owners locked women workers inside burning factory buildings ….  Need I go on?  Those are among the bedrock foundations of the country we live in.  Should we be surprised, then, that our electoral system, which is no better than our country, has vomited up a candidate who embodies all the disgusting, hateful, ignorant, and destructive qualities in our history?

Of course, America is also the land of grand ideals.  All men created equal. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness.  One man, one vote. Liberty and justice for all.  And so on.  And not only ideals.  We shed rivers of blood that required an end to slavery.  America is the land of the women’s suffrage movement, of the fight for the eight-hour day, the New Deal, the wartime alliance against fascism, the ninety per cent postwar tax on high incomes, the Civil Rights movement, and much else.  The American people have an unsurpassed capacity for generosity, empathy, and idealism.  From time to time, despite all obstacles, our political party system puts forward candidates who are able to arouse the better angels of our nature, and to ride that bright-eyed momentum into the White House.  Such candidates in my lifetime were Lyndon Johnson, JFK, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and, notably, Barack Obama.  I do not say that our better angels found gratification in their presidencies.  Quite the contrary.  When I came of age I voted for LBJ as the peace candidate in Vietnam.  He promptly turned around and escalated the war beyond all measure.  One can point to similar betrayals with each of the others.  What counted is that they energized enough of the virtuous hopes and dreams of American voters to win their elections.

Hillary Clinton was not such a candidate.  When the opponent has tons of baggage, you need a candidate who is squeaky clean.  You don’t win by offering voters a choice between two candidates who tell lies and whose financial dealings are corrupt.  When the primaries demonstrate huge pools of voter anger against the establishment, you don’t win by putting up an establishment candidate. When there is smoldering rage against the financial elite that caused the 2008 depression, you don’t win with a candidate who is politically in bed with that elite.  When it becomes obvious that voters want change — the magic word that propelled Obama into the White House — you don’t win by offering voters more of the same.  All this was clear, to those with eyes to see, fairly early in the primaries, which showed Bernie Sanders polling far stronger than Hillary against Trump.  By putting up Hillary, the Democratic Party’s inner government snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Democratic Party’s debacle will have terrible consequences.  The Supreme Court will be a right wing rubber stamp, possibly for decades.  Women’s right of choice, many civil liberties, climate change, education, environmental protection, Obamacare, and many other benchmarks of progress stand imperiled or doomed.  The lives of millions of immigrants will be disrupted and their families divided. The big wall, if it ever gets built, will further empower the criminal gangs who have the means to tunnel under it.  Nobody yet knows the consequences for foreign policy.

Is there hope?  The optimistic scenario is that the Trump administration will make a mess of the economy and otherwise alienate voters so severely that the opposition will sweep the midterm elections and confront Trump with a hostile Congress two years from now.  Then, four years from now, a progressive candidate — say, Elizabeth Warren — will enjoy a landslide victory.

Whether that’s realistic depends in part on the Trump administration.  Given the man’s personal and business history, we can expect vulnerabilities.  He has no ethics and readily commingles his personal, political, and business affairs.  When such people hold office, they become kleptocrats.  He will surround himself with others of the same breed.  Some of them will be caught and prosecuted.  He himself may be implicated.  He may be prosecuted for tax fraud.  His Trump University case is not over.  He may be caught at sexual offenses.  Improper relations with Putin may be unearthed.  Any of these may be impeachable matters.  Things could get quite rough and fragile in Washington.  Then there is the matter of managerial competence.  He doesn’t have it.  His tax policy, if Congress implements it, will hugely expand the federal debt and invite another financial meltdown.  His trade policy, if Congress goes along with it, risks an economic war with unpredictable consequences.

So, there are many vulnerabilities here.  But there is reason to doubt that the Democratic Party will have the moxie to press and exploit them.  The party that could not beat Trump the candidate will hardly have the strength to beat him as an incumbent.  Hillary’s conciliation speech set a tone of conciliation and capitulation.  There is no fight left in her nor in the party establishment that surrounds her.

Now, more than ever, if this electoral game is at all worth playing, the country needs a New Democratic Party.  I’ve criticized Bernie Sanders for not launching such a party at or immediately following the party convention in Philadelphia.  The vaporous “Our Revolution” initiative doesn’t cut it.  Millions of enthusiastic, young, and energetic Bernie activists and voters have been left politically homeless, with no tent in which to gather and no flag to rally around.  Worming one’s way into the Democratic Party with the hope of seizing control of it in a palace coup somewhere in the distant future is a ridiculous, infantile fantasy. The party establishment is wise to all of that; it’s been tried many times. The only way forward is to dump the Democratic Party and build a new one.

The root of suffering is seeking gratification in ignorance of reality.  We stop suffering when we understand the reality and work effectively to change it.


Oct 23

Berkeley Candidates Paid For By Chicago Money

The Realtor Building in Chicago -- funding Berkeley candidates

The Realtor Building in Chicago — where almost $100,000 in money for certain Berkeley city candidates is coming from

Follow the money!  That’s the basic rule for understanding what’s what and who’s who in the election business.  It’s as true in a little town like Berkeley (my home town) as on the national stage.  Here, four of the candidates on our City Council ballot are beneficiaries of so-called Independent Expenditures by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).  This body, which says on its website that it’s “widely considered one of the most effective advocacy organizations in the country,” has spent a total of $92,485.79 to influence the Berkeley election as of October 14, spread as follows:

  • Laurie Capitelli for Mayor          $60,381.64
  • Darryl Moore, District 2                  9,011.76
  • Stephen Murphy, District 5          13,018.26
  • Susan Wengraf, District 6            10,074.13

The National Association of Realtors is headquartered in the Realtor Building, 430 North Michigan Street, Chicago (see photo, above).  What possible interest could the NAR have in the local election in a little burg like Berkeley?  Well, Berkeley is not unique.  NAR intervenes with its money in hundreds, if not thousands of municipal elections. It even sponsors a political party, the Realtor®Party.  There’s a couple of specific issues and one broad basic principle that are dear to NAR’s heart.

The real estate transfer tax.  It’s a key element of the Berkeley city budget.  NAR hates real estate transfer taxes and would like to see them abolished, or reduced, or at least not increased.  Increasing the real estate transfer tax would be a positive step toward increasing the supply of affordable housing, which Berkeley desperately needs

Highways v. public transit.  With a string of new luxury housing developments going up in Berkeley, traffic congestion is going to get worse, not better.  NAR believes in building more roads and highways for cars, “versus transit and other modes.”  Affluent people don’t ride public transit.  Get it?

NAR is opposed to any programs that “benefit the many by taxing the few.” Its own words. However, NAR has no objection to programs that benefit the few by taxing the many.  NAR’s money, coming all the way from Chicago, is a boost for candidates who share that philosophy. They may talk progressive, but money talks also, and the money says otherwise.

These numbers come from the Berkeley city website.


Oct 01

A Trump of Our Own

rottenapple-customGiven the monstrous possibility of a Trump victory nationally, it may seem petty to worry about the decline of public ethics in this little town of Berkeley. But the local air has carried the stink of corruption for a while now. The city council majority has rubberstamped a string of high rise luxury housing projects, about the last thing this city needs.  A former city planning official, Mark Rhoades, sold his contacts and insider knowledge to the out-of-town developers pushing these projects. The City Council majority is eating out of his hands.

Now there’s a candidate for city council in the district where I live whose ethics are, if anything, even lower. His name is Stephen Murphy.  Stephen Murphy is dishonest, a hypocrite, incompetent, frivolous, truculent, unprofessional, incapable of showing remorse, and careless of taxpayer resources.  That’s not my personal opinion, it’s part of the written opinion of the California Court of Appeals.  How’s that?

Murphy, a lawyer, represented one side in a divorce case where the other side was old and ill.  If the matter was delayed long enough, the other party might die. According to the affected family, who also live in this same district of Berkeley, Murphy deliberately dragged on the litigation. One of Murphy’s delaying tactics was to prosecute an appeal even though the time limit for filing an appeal had already passed.

Murphy was able to get away with this normally dead-end maneuver (for a while) because the clerk of the family law court in Oakland had not kept a copy of the proof of service for the court decision that Murphy was appealing from.  Murphy had actually received the decision. But the crucial fax cover sheet which was proof of service on him, and started the appeal clock ticking, was not in the court file that was sent up to the Court of Appeals.  Unaware that the appeal was filed past the deadline, the judges of the Court of Appeals worked up the case and were preparing to render a decision when the other side hired a lawyer specializing in appeals. This lawyer smelled a rat and asked Murphy to please provide him with a copy of the missing proof of service.  The court clerk who had neglected to keep a copy also asked Murphy the same thing.

Normally this kind of request from one lawyer to another, or from a court clerk, is routinely granted as a matter of professional courtesy.  I practiced law for 29 years and there must have been a dozen times when I or an opposing lawyer exchanged courtesy copies of papers that we couldn’t locate in our own files.  But Murphy got on a high horse with the requesting lawyer and said he had no duty to send him a copy of the paper.  And Murphy got cute with the court clerk, refusing to send the clerk a copy of the paper because allegedly personal and confidential notes had been handwritten on it.

That’s already chicanery.  But if Murphy had backed off and provided the missing paper at that stage of the proceedings, the appeal would have been thrown out of court.  There’s no excuses for filing a late appeal.  You snooze, you lose.  So, like Trump when he’s caught in a trap, Murphy doubled down.  He filed papers with the Court of Appeals in which he evaded the whole timing issue, launched personal attacks and threats against the other lawyer, and with slippery words lied to the Court of Appeals that the proof of service had never been served on him.  Even when the missing paper finally surfaced and he was caught red-handed he made threadbare excuses and showed no remorse.

In ordinary business or social life, that kind of behavior gets a person a reputation as a crook and a pathological liar.  In the Court of Appeals, after bending over backwards to give Murphy every benefit of the doubt, the judges had this to say:

“What is especially disturbing to us is Murphy’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge his breach of his duty to provide us with a document bearing on our jurisdiction and to express any remorse for that breach.”

“Murphy aggressively and with remarkable temerity threatened [opposing counsel] with sanctions.”

Murphy’s “response to us ‘was both truculent and dismissive.'”

Murphy “repeated his personal attacks” on opposing counsel.

Murphy “demonstrated no recognition whatsoever of the gravity of his misconduct.”

Murphy “met our concerns with nothing but petulance and disregard.” 

The “degree of objective frivolousness is very high …. ‘no competent attorney could conceivably believe in good faith’ the appeal was timely.” 

Murphy displayed “steadfast refusal to recognize his conduct as blameworthy.” 

Murphy’s conduct displayed “‘dishonesty and lack of remorse.'”

This conduct “has also harmed others….Other appellate parties, many of whom wait years for a resolution of bona fide disputes, are prejudiced by the useless diversion of this court’s attention…. In the same vein, the appellate system and the taxpayers of this state are damaged by what amounts to a waste of this court’s time and resources. … In this time of limited budgets and strained judicial resources, this court can ill afford to devote its attention to an appeal it has no power at all to hear.”  

For this conduct, the Court of Appeals fined Murphy $8,500 to be paid to the court, plus a portion of the opposing party’s costs and attorney fees to be determined by the court below.  The $8,500 is one of the highest monetary sanctions ever imposed by the Court of Appeals.  Only two out of a thousand appellate cases ever result in the imposition of monetary sanctions in any amount.

As a lawyer, I find Murphy’s conduct appalling.  I have been up against a number of lawyers at various times who have been rude, dishonest, and cut a corner or two.  But I’ve never seen or heard of anybody who tried to defraud the Court of Appeals by hiding the court paper that would kill his case. That’s a truly Trumpian level of chutzpah.

The Court of Appeals filed its opinion containing the above remarks on November 30, 2012, not even four years ago.   This is not ancient history.  When the East Bay Times first broke this story on Sept. 16 (this year), Murphy told an interviewer, “I’ve licked my wounds and moved on … I learned from my mistakes and moved on.”  Murphy’s concern with his own wounds isn’t paired with a shred of concern for the wounds he inflicted on others.  He refers to “my mistakes” but without specifying whether his mistake was doing the fraud or being caught.  Like a true narcissist, he doesn’t apologize or try to make amends.  He just “moves on,”  like Trump “moved on” from his birther fraud.

Stephen Murphy is now trying to “move on” to the Berkeley City Council. The family who were devastated by Murphy’s conduct have launched a website,, expressing their opposition to his candidacy.  Referring to the Court of Appeals decision, they write:

The ruling reflects poorly on Mr. Murphy’s character, integrity, attitude toward the use of public resources, and fitness for office.

It is for these reasons that our family, as Berkeley District 5 voters, cannot stomach the prospect of Stephen Murphy representing us on the Berkeley City Council.  If he has any sense of decency, he will withdraw from the race.

To that sentiment, which I second, I want to add my disappointment with the elected officials who have endorsed this rotten apple, with the employer who has put him in a position of administrative responsibility, and with the City Council member who appointed him to a city commission.  A woman candidate with this stain on her record would be torn to shreds.  But Stephen Murphy seems to wear teflon.  His campaign chest is loaded with developer money. From the big developer point of view, a man who would try to defraud the Court of Appeals — a man of big chutzpah, small brain, and no ethics — is perfect for the Berkeley City Council.


Sep 26

Words That Matter

jessewilliamsI rarely watch television. It took a friend in Norway, of all places, to alert me to Jesse Williams’ great speech this past June at the BET awards in Los Angeles. Hats off to Mr. Williams.  All that rubbing with celebs in tinseltown hasn’t dulled his edge.

Here, in case you also missed it, is the YouTube of his speech, followed by the transcript.  Williams is also active with QuestionBridge, a multimedia website on the Black male experience, and with the Advancement Project, a civil rights nonprofit.  He’s @iJesseWilliams on Twitter.

Transcript link

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