“Move Over, Bitcoin. Ether Is the Digital Currency of the Moment.” by NATHANIEL POPPER

June 19, 2017 (nytimes.com)

The price of Bitcoin has hit record highs in recent months, more than doubling in price since the start of the year. Despite these gains, Bitcoin is on the verge of losing its position as the dominant virtual currency.

The value of Ether, the digital money that lives on an upstart network known as Ethereum, has risen an eye-popping 4,500 percent since the beginning of the year.

With the recent price increases, the outstanding units of the Ether currency were worth around $34 billion as of Monday — or 82 percent as much as all the Bitcoin in existence. At the beginning of the year, Ether was only about 5 percent as valuable as Bitcoin.

The sudden rise of Ethereum highlights how volatile the bewildering world of virtual currency remains, where lines of computer code can be spun into billions of dollars in a matter of months.

Bitcoin, the breakout digital currency, is also hitting new highs — one Bitcoin was worth $2,600 on Monday. But the Bitcoin community has struggled with technical issues and bitter internal divisions among its biggest supporters. It has also been tainted by its association with online drug sales and hackers demanding ransom.

Against this backdrop, Ether has been gaining steam. The two-year old system has picked up backing from both tech geeks and big corporate names like JPMorgan Chase and Microsoft, which are excited about Ethereum’s goal of providing not only a digital currency but also a new type of global computing network, which generally requires Ether to use.

In a recent survey of 1,100 virtual currency users, 94 percent were positive about the state of Ethereum, while only 49 percent were positive about Bitcoin, the industry publication CoinDesk said this month.

If recent trends continue, the value of Ethereum’s virtual currency could race past Bitcoin’s in the coming weeks. Virtual currency fanatics are monitoring the value of each and waiting for the two currencies to switch place, a moment that has been called “the flippening.”

“The momentum has shifted to Ethereum — there is no doubt about that,” said William Mougayar, the founder of Virtual Capital Ventures, which invests in a variety of virtual currencies and start-ups. “There is almost nothing you can do with Bitcoin that you can’t do with Ethereum.”


Racks of machines at a server farm mining Bitcoins and Ether in Guizhou, China, last June.CreditGilles Sabrié for The New York Time

Even though most of the people buying Ether and Bitcoin are individual investors, the gains that both have experienced have taken what was until very recently a quirky fringe experiment into the realm of big money. The combined value of all Ether and Bitcoin is now worth more than the market value of PayPal and is approaching the size of Goldman Sachs.

Investors buying Ether are placing a bet that people will want to use the Ethereum network’s computing capabilities and will need the currency to do so. But that is far from a sure thing. And real-world use of the network is still scant.

Bitcoin, on the other hand, has made inroads into mainstream commerce, with companies like Overstock.com and Expedia accepting Bitcoin for purchases, along with the black-market operators who use the currency.

The fact that there are fewer real-world uses for Ethereum has many market experts expecting a crash similar to the ones that have followed previous run-ups in the price of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Even during recent pullbacks, though, the value of Ether has generally continued to gain on Bitcoin in relative terms.

Ethereum was launched in the middle of 2015 by a 21-year-old college dropout, Vitalik Buterin, who was born in Russia and raised in Canada. He now lists his residence, jokingly, as Cathay Pacific Airlines because of his travel schedule.

The Ether he holds has made him a millionaire many times over, but he has generally avoided commenting on the price increase in Ether.

Mr. Buterin was inspired by Bitcoin, and the software he built shares some of the same basic qualities. Both are hosted and maintained by the computers of volunteers around the world, who are rewarded for their participation with the new digital tokens that are released onto the network each day.

Because the virtual currencies are tracked and maintained by a network of computers, no government or company is in charge. The prices of both Bitcoin and Ether are established on private exchanges, where people can sell the tokens they own at the going market price.

But Ethereum was designed to do much more than just serve as a digital money. The network of computers hooked into Ethereum can be harnessed to do computational work, essentially making it possible to run computer programs on the network, or what are referred to as decentralized applications, or Dapps. This has led to an enormous community of programmers working on the software.

One of the first applications to take off was a user-led venture capital fund of sorts, known as the Decentralized Autonomous Organization. After raising over $150 million last summer, the project crashed and burned, and appeared ready to take Ethereum with it.


Ethereum was launched in 2015 by Vitalik Buterin, a 21-year-old college dropout who was born in Russia and raised in Canada. CreditJohn Phillips/Getty Images

But the way that Mr. Buterin and other developers dealt with the problems, returning the hacked Ether to users, won him the respect of many in the corporate world.

“It was good to see that there is governance on Ethereum and that they can fix issues in a timely manner if they have to,” said Eric Piscini, who leads the team looking into virtual currency technology at the consulting firm Deloitte.

Many applications being built on Ethereum are also raising money using the Ether currency, in what are known as initial coin offerings, a play on initial public offerings.

Start-ups that have followed this path have generally collected Ether from investors and exchanged them for units of their own specialized virtual currency, leaving the entrepreneurs with the Ether to convert into dollars and spend on operational expenses.

These coin offerings, which have proliferated in recent months, have created a surge of demand for the Ether currency. Just last week, investors sent $150 million worth of Ether to a start-up, Bancor, that wants to make it easier to launch virtual currencies. If projects like Bancor stumble, Ether could as well.

Several big companies have also been building programs on top of Ethereum, including the mining company BHP Billiton, which has built a trial program to track its raw materials, and JPMorgan, which is working on a system to monitor trading.

Over the last few months, over 100 companies have joined the nonprofit Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, including global names like Toyota, Merck and Samsung, to build tools that will make Ethereum useful in corporate settings.

Many of the companies using Ethereum are building their own private versions of the software, which won’t make use of the Ether currency. Speculators are betting that these companies will eventually plug their software into the broader Ethereum network.

There is, though, also the possibility that none of these big trials come to fruition, and the current excitement fizzles out, as has happened many times in the past with Bitcoin after big price surges.

“I hope this is the year where we start to close the gap between the speculative value and the actual value,” Mr. Mougayar said. “There is a lot at stake right now.”

“Summer of Love’s hippies had it right about big government” by Lawrence J. McQuillan

June 25, 2017 (sfchronicle.com)

Two women in Monterey on June 17, 1967. Photo: Associated Press

Photo: Associated Press.  Two women in Monterey on June 17, 1967.

Fifty years ago, during the Summer of Love, thousands of young people fled cultural norms and flocked to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. They didn’t all find what they were looking for, and the good vibes didn’t endure. But the hippies’ defiance of government holds lessons for us today.

The Haight’s flower children opposed the military draft and American meddling in foreign conflicts, especially the Vietnam War. But since 1967, the U.S. military has intervened in nearly 20 foreign conflicts — most undeclared by Congress — resulting in more than 60,000 deaths among U.S. service members. There are more than 58,300 names on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Today, the government is stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s longest war, following visions of “nation building” and “regime change.” President George W. Bush’s war of choice in Iraq, based on mistaken beliefs, resulted in jihadi leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the terrorist organization Islamic State, and atrocities throughout the Middle East.

The hippies also favored more tolerant attitudes and looser drug laws. Instead, the government imposed new prohibitions. President Richard Nixon began the “War on Drugs” in 1969 as a weapon to use against antiwar hippies and African Americans. John Ehrlichman, a former Nixon aide, confessed in 1994, “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the (Vietnam) war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”

Despite the federal government’s spending more than $1 trillion on interdiction efforts, drugs remain plentiful. The war’s major accomplishment has been to bring crime, death, poverty and needless incarcerations to minority communities. Only four states have legalized recreational marijuana, which remains classified federally as a Schedule I drug with “no currently accepted medical use,” along with heroin, quaaludes, ecstasy and LSD, which California outlawed in 1966.

For good reason, the Haight hippies were also suspicious of government’s domestic meddling, favoring political decentralization and local community solutions over Big Brother’s control. But America has become more centralized since the Summer of Love.

Today, government controls 37 percent more of the nation’s output than it controlled in 1967. The number of pages in the Federal Register, a crude measure of federal regulations, has increased by 355 percent since 1967. Relatively more resources and decisions are controlled by government than by private individuals.

Government power also surged after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Abuses include warrantless wiretapping, no-fly lists of people never convicted of crimes, Patriot Act overreaches, and the Talon database, a collection of information on antiwar activists. In 2011, President Barack Obama ordered the killing of a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, with a drone strike, which was justified with a secret 2010 memo.

The military draft ended in 1973 — a victory of sorts, although draft registration continues — yet by almost any other measure, the key concerns of the Haight hippies that summer have not translated into a long-term shift in government policies to peace and personal freedom. Instead, Big Brother has grown bigger and stronger.

Half a century after the Summer of Love, resistance to government orthodoxy and the quest for personal freedom remain noble pursuits. Social problems can be tackled without government.

Peter Coyote, a founder of the Haight community action group the Diggers, said, “We thought culture is much more important than politics. Let’s just start getting people living the way they want to live.”

In 2017 and beyond, America would benefit from less politics and more reliance on individuals solving problems in their own communities.

Lawrence J. McQuillan is a senior fellow and director of the Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation at the Independent Institute in Oakland.

“Wheelchair repair program a lifeline for the disabled — particularly on the streets” by Natalie Orenstein

John Benson, called “Cripple A” by his clients, repairs a wheelchair in his Emeryville shop. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

June 28, 2017 (berkeleyside.com)

On a recent morning, Benjamin Royer was doing donuts in his electric wheelchair. He spun round and round and round in the empty Emeryville parking lot outside the Easy Does It wheelchair repair shop, giggling loudly the whole time.

“I have to admit I’ve had this thing up in the air for a second or two,” he said, though he did not offer to demonstrate.

Royer, who is experiencing homelessness and lives in Berkeley, had not come to the repair shop just to show off his maneuvers. He had dropped in to fix the wheels on a walker that belonged to another homeless friend of his. He’d clearly been to the shop enough times to know his way around, plucking the right parts from the shelves and digging up a basket that could hold the Street Spirit newspapers his friend sells. He screwed it onto the walker and admired his handiwork.

“She’s going to hit the floor when she sees this thing,” said Royer.

“That’s what you’re trying to prevent!” joked John Benson, who runs the shop with another part-time staffer and some volunteers.

Benson has been providing repairs and loaner chairs to Berkeley’s disabled population for years. He is one of the many long-time employees of Easy Does It, a city-supported nonprofit that provides emergency services to Berkeley residents with physical disabilities. Launched by disability rights advocates in 1994, the organization took off in 1998, when Berkeley’s Measure E created a property improvements tax to fund emergency assistance for severely physically disabled residents. Advocates of the tax easily earned the support of the police and fire departments, who were overwhelmed by emergency calls from people who found themselves stranded with a flat wheelchair tire or unable to get into bed when their attendant was a no-show. Since then, Easy Does It has offered emergency attendant care, accessible transportation and, a bit more recently, equipment repair.

Now the organization averages 3,000 calls a year, from a variety of seniors, students and others. The homeless clientele, although still a fraction of the total Easy Does It client base, is growing “exponentially,” said Benson. Most of the clients experiencing homelessness request his services, and he responds to about seven of their calls each week.

Benjamin Royer leaves the Easy Does It repair shop with a walker he has fixed up for his friend. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
Benjamin Royer, who does not have a permanent home, got his electric wheelchair from John Benson at Easy Does It, so he returns the favor by volunteering in the shop. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

For several years, Benson ran the repair shop out of a small space he rented in the old Macaulay Foundry building in West Berkeley. When he and other tenants were forced out after a fire brought safety hazards to light, it turned out to be blessing in disguise for Benson. He had built up a “mountain” of donated wheelchair parts and pieces, which are now organized on neat, if jam-packed, shelves in the spacious Harlan Street shop. There is a fabrication space under a loft Benson built, and rows of rubber wheels, battery packs and cushions. In the center of the space are a number of second-hand wheelchairs, many donated by people who have upgraded models or whose family members have died, leaving their chairs behind.

But Benson spends most of his time outside the shop. In the morning he checks in with his dispatcher, who tells him who has called in to request new bolts, or who is stuck on such-and-such sidewalk because their tires pooped out. Benson loads up his minivan and responds to about five or six calls a day. Some of his clients call him “Cripple-A,” a play on AAA — because they call him up when they have a roadside emergency.

Benson began working as an attendant with Easy Does It while studying at UC Berkeley in the 1980s, until he caught a client who fell out of their chair, sustaining a severe injury that prevented him from doing attendant work any longer. After working as a driver with Easy Does It for awhile, Benson launched the repair program. He had grown up with a mother who used a wheelchair, and around car culture in the Rust Belt, so he already knew a thing or two about mechanics.

Benson, who has a wild beard and moonlights as a musician, is the kind of guy who knows everyone. He is close with the activists whose grassroots disability rights work put Berkeley at the front of the movement, and some are still clients of his. But the demographics of Berkeley and the clientele of Easy Does It, have changed dramatically over the years. Aging Baby Boomers mean attendants are responding to more calls from seniors, said Nikki Brown-Booker, the executive director of Easy Does It.

For Benson, “There’s been a huge shift. A lot of those [activists] have passed away, and the homeless population has increased significantly.” Preliminary findings from the most recent count show Berkeley’s homeless population at 972, up 16% since 2015 and more than 50% since 2009. And Benson’s homeless clients have unique needs and circumstances.

“They live outdoors, people steal their stuff, and some have never used a chair before,” he said. A lot of people who could use a wheelchair or other assistive equipment “fall through the cracks.”

A few months ago, for example, he met a woman who said she and her four-year-old granddaughter had come from Las Vegas after the city gave them a one-way bus ticket to Berkeley. (A Las Vegas spokesperson did not immediately reply to a request for confirmation). The pair was living in the bushes behind a fraternity, and couldn’t easily leave the area because the grand-mother had trouble walking. Benson brought her an electric scooter.

“Now she brings her granddaughter to daycare. She’s able to ride between her knees on the scooter,” he said.

Royer said he was using a manual chair when Benson approached him. Because of his disability, “sometimes I get too tired to lift a finger, literally,” Royer said. “This thing’s got the power that’s necessary to get around,” he said of the electric wheelchair Benson gave him, though he has to spend a lot of time at the public library to charge it.

John Benson tests out a potential chair for Kaye Lamaestra’s (right) friend, while her fiancée Alex Noonan gives her input. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
John Benson and Kaye Lamaestra joke around in the shop. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Easy Does It clients pay a $15 hourly copay for the subsidized attendant, transportation and repair services, and $15 to pick up or drop off loaner equipment, though Benson said he does not collect fees from homeless clients.

Many clients who do have financial means say they depend on the repair program too.

“Most of the wheelchair repair shops are disappearing,” said a long-time Berkeley resident and Easy Does It client Tim, who did not want to give his last name. “When that started happening, John started doing this.”

Kaye Lamaestra, a youth arts therapist, said she has a “bourgie” chair — the same kind Stephen Hawking uses. But ‘“when one part breaks, the whole thing breaks,” she said.

“The process of ordering tiny little parts takes so long, it’s incredible to be able to come here,” said Alex Noonan, Lamaestra’s fiancée. However, all the parts they can find in the shop are somewhat, if not quite, used. Benson said he has undergone the training required to sell new parts from high-end brands, but in order to become certified to do so, the companies would require him to stop selling used parts as well — hardly a feasible proposition for a program fueled by donations.

Lamaestra and Noonan had come to the shop the same day as Royer, and for the same reason: to pick up something for a friend in need. An able-bodied friend of Lamaestra’s had just gotten in a terrible accident that nearly paralyzed him from the waist down, and he needed his first chair.

The packed shelves in John Benson’s Emeryville repair shop. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Lamaestra and Royer are two of the many clients who come volunteer in the shop to offer their thanks.

Surveying the shop that afternoon, Lamaestra began to devise ways she could help out this summer.

“You need some plants,” she said, eyeing the shelves stocked with drab metal and rubber. “Some ivy would look good.”

On a roll against the odds

Benson subscribes to the independent living ethos developed by students and activists with disabilities in Berkeley in the 1960s and 1970s. (Berkeley’s renowned Center for Independent Living has been replicated in countless other places across the country.) The approach respects the self-determination of people with disabilities and assumes they and their disabled peers know what kind of support they need to live comfortably and be part of a community.

“This organization was created by disabled people, and they really pushed the idea that the medical movement is wrong,” Benson said. (He is able-bodied but many of the other staff and all the board members are not.) “If you’re not going to ‘get better,’ you should be able to live the life you want.”

Working as an attendant, Benson quickly learned there was no formula for succeeding at the job.

“I was wrapping my head around the idea that if I went to five different people’s houses, the way they locked their door was different, the way they wanted to be touched was different. I had to respect that,” he said. “I approached repairs the same way. They know the sound their chair makes. Even though I’ve fixed thousands of wheelchairs, I’m going to ask their idea first.”

Benson worries that with the gradual loss of the old guard, and an uptick in clients who lack the livelihood to be at the forefront of an advocacy effort, the movement and organization won’t have the same momentum as it has in the past. Easy Does It has relied on its clients to consistently champion the organization and seek continued support from the city.

Easy Does It’s executive director Nikki Brown-Booker. The organization has more than 30 staff members. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Other changes have also made it more difficult for the organization to sustain the work it does in Berkeley.

In addition to the wheelchair repair shops, many of the machine shops that used to pepper West Berkeley and West Oakland are gone, along with many of the artists and fabricators who used to be available to help Benson perform common repairs, like straightening out a bent footrest, he said.

California’s In-Home Supportive Services program, which funds attendant care, is again facing potential budget cuts, after weathering slashes under both Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown. And “there’s a lot of fear in the community” about the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, said executive director Brown-Booker, who uses Easy Does It’s attendant services herself.

“Pretty much everyone we serve has a preexisting condition,” she said. Fewer and fewer providers cover wheelchairs anyway, she said, and a number of Easy Does It’s clients do not have insurance at all.

That is a particular issue for homeless clients.

“They’re out on the street using their chairs 24/7, and their equipment breaks down and they don’t have insurance,” Brown-Booker said.

The reliable support from the city has been crucial, she said.

In 2016, Berkeley voters overwhelmingly supported Measure V1, which re-approved, in part, the 1998 improvements tax that funds Easy Does It. The revenue has allowed Easy Does It a $1.2 million annual budget. Most of the organization’s more than 30 staff members have traditionally been paid a nominal wage plus the clients’ copays. But when Berkeley’s new minimum wage policy eliminated the exemption for on-call workers, Easy Does It confronted some financial trouble. In May, the city increased its support for the organization, providing a one-time chunk of funds from the improvement tax reserve, and direction to Easy Does It to come up with a sustainable plan for the future. Brown-Booker said her vision is to develop a network of private donors.

Despite new and persistent challenges for those living with disabilities and those working to serve them, Berkeley is still “the place” to be disabled, said Brown-Booker. “There’s a real community here that people seek out,” she said.

Those who can are often willing to pay a premium to live here, especially for access to the unusual on-call emergency services provided by Easy Does It, she said.

In hopes of preventing others from slipping through the cracks, Benson often approaches people on the street who seem like they could use the services, like he did with Royer. He has built up quite a roster of regulars over the years. But he knows from experience that the landscape and need will continue to shift.

Note from Mike Zint:

Ben, a member of The Poor Tour, is very passionate about his wheelchair. Stability is helping him follow that passion.


Across Oakland and Berkeley, tent camps are sprouting near BART tracks and underpasses. As rents skyrocket in the Bay Area, California working class communities are disproportionately affected.

Documenting economic inequality and homelessness in California’s Bay Area, this photo essay, by photojournalist Rucha Chitnis, gives faces and voices to the people behind the numbers. The article shines light on homelessness, the impact of poverty on people with disabilities, and the criminalization of the poor—three significant issues in the US that Trump’s proposed budget will have a devastating impact on. The essay makes it clear that low-income and disabled community members will not see their dreams unleashed by Mr. Trump’s new financial plan. The budget will “Make America Great Again” for the already rich, while devastating the rest. Read the introduction.

Brett Schnaper arrived in Berkeley when he was 17 years old. He became homeless at the age of 54. “I have osteoarthritis, and my nerves are dying. I couldn’t pay my rent and became homeless,” he said.  “If I don’t find adequate housing, I will probably wind up in a wheelchair. If I spend another winter out on the streets, I will probably die.”

“The city is hiring professionals with book knowledge, who have not lived a life on the streets. I have ten years on the streets—a PhD in poverty,”

Michael Zint, founder, “First They Came for the Homeless” encampment protest

Schnaper is part of “First They Came for the Homeless” encampment protest.  Most members of this encampment community have a disability.  Their agenda is clear: to become the visible faces of homelessness by setting up tents in the heart of the city to bring attention to the crisis of affordable housing. “Homeless people can solve their own problems, because this is our lived experience. The city is hiring professionals with book knowledge, who have not lived a life on the streets. I have ten years on the streets—a PhD in poverty,” said Michael Zint, the founder of the encampment protest.

Zint says their camp has been raided over 15 times since October 2016, often before dawn when it is bitterly cold. Each time, their possessions are confiscated by the police, including tents and blankets.  The encampment protestors are demanding the city of Berkeley sanction an area for a responsibly-run tent city, where the rules would be designed by the homeless to live safely without the threat of eviction. “This is the very first step for our stability. Tents save lives. Then we are requesting the city to set up tiny homes or container homes, which are not expensive, and finally move the homeless into affordable housing, which will take years,” he said.

“Everyone deserves a home,” said a four-year-old girl at the Citywide Homeless People’s Assembly outside San Francisco’s City Hall to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. According to St. Mary’s Center “more than one quarter of all children in Oakland live in households with annual incomes under $23,000, the highest poverty rate in the Bay Area.”
Everyone deserves a home,” said a four-year-old girl at the Citywide Homeless People’s Assembly outside San Francisco’s City Hall to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. According to a 2014 report by the National Center on Family Homelessness, California is the third worst state for child homelessness, with over half a million children affected.

“This is re-segregation in the guise of gentrification”

Across Oakland and Berkeley, tent camps are sprouting near BART tracks and underpasses. As rents skyrocket in San Francisco and Oakland, working class communities are disproportionately affected. “This is re-segregation in the guise of gentrification,” said Janny Castillo, Seniors for Hope and Justice Coordinator at St. Mary’s Center, a nonprofit that serves at-risk seniors and preschoolers in Oakland. “We have lost a large percentage of people of color, who can’t afford to live in a city where they have had deep roots for generations.”

In the face of a narrative of Make America Great Again and a new presidency, advocacy groups for the homeless believe that they continue to fight a system that has a long history and legacy of criminalizing the poor and the homeless.  “We have been fighting these battles for over 50 years. Whether it is Trump or Governor Brown, we are against a wall that doesn’t care for the poor.  We are still fighting for civil rights and anti-poverty programs,” said Castillo.

“Poor people didn’t create homelessness. The federal government did. And now homeless people are being sent to jail for simply existing.”

Paul Boden, Executive Director of WRAP

“What’s important to us now is that America does not forget again,” said Joe Wilson at the Citywide Homeless People’s Assembly outside San Francisco’s City Hall to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “People put their lives and livelihoods on the line for our rights. So many lives are still not considered worthy. In this struggle, every voice matters. We have to stay woke and be strong,” said Wilson, who is a program manager at Hospitality House, a community center in the Tenderloin.  Joe was homeless over 30 years ago, and found shelter at Hospitality House.  He spent the next several years as a social justice advocate and returned to Hospitality House as a program manager.  Last year, he shared his moving story in the San Francisco Chronicle titled, Homelessness Doesn’t Have to Be the End of the Journey.

Castillo concurs. “Homelessness is a condition. It doesn’t define who you are,” she said. Castillo has emerged as a powerful community organizer and an advocate for homeless seniors and attributes her lived experience as a driver for her activism.  “I was a single mother of three and was homeless for nine years. Boona Cheema of Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency took me in, and I was able to get back on my feet,” she said.

Benny Whitfield, a 73-year-old senior, has been in recovery for eight years with support and services at St. Mary’s Center. “The Center is my family and community. I am here three times a week for my recovery meetings,” he said
Benny Whitfield, a 73-year-old senior, has been in recovery for eight years with support and services at St. Mary’s Center. “The Center is my family and community. I am here three times a week for my recovery meetings,” he said.

“ Poor people are being criminalized simply for sleeping, sitting, or standing still.”

Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), a coalition of social justice groups on the West Coast that works to expose and eliminate the root causes of homelessness and poverty, is spearheading a California Statewide Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign to decriminalize homelessness. Paul Boden, Executive Director of WRAP, contends that the US has a long history of criminalizing the poor, minority, and immigrant communities—from the Jim Crow segregation laws to Operation Wetback in California and Arizona in the 1950s to remove undocumented Mexican immigrants to Sundown Towns that did not allow minorities to remain in the town after sunset.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, nearly 10 percent of the adult homeless population is veterans. “Politicians need to be accountable to the poor. They need to educate themselves by spending time on the streets—see how people survive and are treated. Spend a year on the concrete,” said Arthur, a homeless veteran in downtown Berkeley.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, nearly 10 percent of the adult homeless population is veterans. “Politicians need to be accountable to the poor. They need to educate themselves by spending time on the streets—see how people survive and are treated. Spend a year on the concrete,” said Arthur, a homeless veteran in downtown Berkeley.

In 2010, WRAP surveyed 721 homeless people in California on their interactions with the police, private guards, and the criminal legal system. Their data indicated that 79 percent of the illegal offenses targeting homeless people were for sleeping in a public space, with 56 percent of these people cited and 31 percent arrested. “Poor people are being criminalized simply for sleeping, sitting, or standing still. Because of this, we wrote the Right to Rest Act,” he said.

Boden, who was homeless as a youth, credits Reaganomics for worsening homelessness, when dramatic cuts were made to federal spending for subsidized housing. Reagan also discarded Jimmy Carter’s Mental Health Systems Act, which cut federal spending on services for the mentally ill, and thousands of beds in state-run mental hospitals were shut down. “Poor people didn’t create homelessness. The federal government did. And now homeless people are being sent to jail for simply existing,” said Boden.

“People didn’t create homelessness, but are blamed for it,” said Bilal Ali, organizer at the Coalition for the Homelessness, at the homeless people’s assembly. “We are not afraid of Donald Trump. We have to organize or die. People bring change.”
“People didn’t create homelessness, but are blamed for it,” said Bilal Ali, organizer at the Coalition for the Homelessness, at the homeless people’s assembly. “We are not afraid of Donald Trump. We have to organize or die. People bring change.”

“Homelessness is caused by a severe shortage of affordable housing.”

According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s survey of 187 cities in 2014, 53 percent of cities prohibit sitting or lying down in particular public places. “Homelessness is caused by a severe shortage of affordable housing. Over 12.8 percent of the nation’s supply of low-income housing has been permanently lost since 2001, resulting in large part, from a decrease in funding for federally subsidized housing since the 1970s. The shortage of affordable housing is particularly difficult for extremely low-income renters who, in the wake of the foreclosure crisis, are competing for fewer and fewer affordable units,” the report observed.

“We are homeless but not helpless,” said Mike Lee, member of the First They Came for the Homeless Encampment. “We are the public face of a protest to demand change, so that people can talk to us and find out who we are.”
“We are homeless but not helpless,” said Mike Lee, member of the First They Came for the Homeless Encampment. “We are the public face of a protest to demand change, so that people can talk to us and find out who we are.”

“We need to step up our responsibility. People need to realize that people on the sidewalk or tents are human beings with real values, who need to be recognized, not just tolerated,” said J.C. Orten, founder of Night on the Streets Catholic Worker.

Seniors at St. Mary’s Center in West Oakland agree. Twenty of them gathered in December last year to share their vision for unconditional prosperity in Oakland as part of Alameda County’s listening session for “All In: The New War on Poverty.” On top of their list: affordable housing and dignity. “We need safe and secure housing,” said Benny Whitfield, a 73-year-old senior, who was once homeless and lived by the railroad tracks in Oakland. “Seniors need a community and space to gather to support each other emotionally and spiritually,” he said.

About the Author

Rucha Chitnis is a photojournalist, writer and founder of Changing the Narrative, a storytelling project of women of color rising and raising their voices in the face of ecological and climate challenges and social inequities. Her stories and photo essays have appeared in Yes! Magazine, National Geographic, Public Radio International, Truthout, among other places. Rucha also consults as a storytelling strategist with philanthropic groups and nonprofits, elevating stories of hope and resilience on how frontline communities find pathways to transformative change.

All Photos: Rucha Chitnis © The Oakland Institute.

Top Image: People gather to honor the lives of seniors, who lived and died on the streets at a Homeless Memorial in December 2016, at St. Mary’s Center.

Full article at:  https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/homelessness-fault-american-greatness


“One year after a Berkeleyside special on homelessness: Where we are today” by Frances Dinkelspiel

A man stores his possessions on a couch on the street. Photo: Ted Friedman

June 28, 2017 (berkeleyside.com)

In the 364 days since June 29, 2016, when Berkeleyside devoted a whole day of coverage to the issue of those experiencing homelessness, much has happened to those living on the streets and to the city that provides services.

Today, Wednesday, June 28, Berkeleyside is again devoting the day to the homeless crisis in Berkeley, participating once more in the SF Homeless Project initiated by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2016. Dozens of other Bay Area media are also taking part.

What’s ahead for the homeless crisis?

It looks like the coming year will be as eventful as the last when it comes to homelessness in our city, although no city official or social service provider believes Berkeley will be able to house its close to 1,000 homeless people anytime soon. Steps will be taken, progress made, perhaps, but there just isn’t enough housing, or money for housing, or even short-term solutions to find beds for everyone now sleeping in cars, shelters or on the streets.

A recent white paper prepared for Mayor Jesse Arreguín by boona cheema, the former executive director of BOSS, Elliot Halpern of the ACLU, Jiro Arase-Barham, an intern at City Hall, and Jacquelyn McCormick, Arreguín’s senior advisor, states that approximately 20% of Berkeley’s chronically homeless population will receive permanent housing and wrap-around services over the next five years. But the remaining 80% will not be housed for many more, according to the memo.

“Housing that is both permanent and affordable is the solution — but the inventory will never meet the need,” according to the document. “Even if we were able to double the rate of current housing placement, it would take over 10 years to house all of our homeless population.”

Arreguín was elected on a promise to make ending homelessness a priority. And he and City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn have introduced the Pathways Project, a $4.3 million annual plan to create two transitional shelters to accommodate those on the street. Berkeley already spends $17.7 million in federal, state and local funds on its array of homelessness programs and services, and has pledged to pursue an ambitious $90 million homeless housing development on Berkeley Way. Only time will tell if Berkeley will find the money and donations to make it all come to fruition.

From June 29, 2016, to June 27, 2017, Berkeleyside published 59 stories and opinion pieces on those experiencing homelessness. Here is a recap of some of what happened in that time:

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Berkeley has gone up about 16% since 2015, to 972, according to a “point-in-time” count done in February by volunteers working with the nonprofit group EveryOne Home. But many social service providers and city officials believe that is only an approximation since it does not capture couch surfers and others in precarious situations. In 2016, Berkeley officials said there were about 1,000 homeless in Berkeley. The EveryOne Home count showed that 308 of those in Berkeley were sheltered, while 664 slept outside. Countywide, homelessness grew 39% from 2015, from 4,040 individuals to 5,629. Most surveyed said money issues led to their lack of housing, with 12% attributing their homelessness to mental health issues and 12% to substance use issues, according to the count.

The Hub is located inside the Berkeley Food & Housing Project headquarters on Fairview. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Starting in January 2016, Berkeley reorganized the way it brought people into the system.Previously, those looking for shelter or services could go to almost any community-based organization and access services. Berkeley wanted to move from an emergency approach to homelessness to one focused on getting people into long-term housing. Now people must begin with the “coordinated entry system” at “The Hub” in South Berkeley. So far the approach has helped get 68 chronically homeless people off the street into permanent housing, according to statistics shared with Matthai Chakko, a city spokesman. Since it opened, The Hub has fielded 6,460 calls, has helped 946 people who walked into the office, done 1,134 street outreach engagements, a recent city report. There are 140 shelter beds available in Berkeley each night.

“Obviously, getting people who are homeless into supportive housing is a not a simple process, like buying a gadget at a store,” Chakko wrote in an email. “It’s a long-term commitment that takes months or years to see dividends.”

Berkeley doubled the number of people it could help during winter. In December, at the start of a winter of torrential rain, the city manager activated an “emergency operations center” approach and doubled the number of shelter beds available, to 130, in two locations. Berkeley also paid for the Dorothy Day House to operate a 47-bed shelter on Second Street that had ample storage, allowed people to bring pets and stay during the day. Because of private donations, that shelter remained open until June 15. The cost of the extra winter services was around $400,000, according to a memo by Paul Buddenhagen, the director of Health, Housing & Community Services for the city.

For the first time, Berkeley has established a five-person team of outreach workers, including case managers and a public health nurse, that will focus on getting chronically homeless, mentally ill individuals off the streets and into housing. The team won’t wait in offices until clients come to them but will go to parks, shelters, encampments and sidewalks to find out their needs. These case managers will focus on the people that studies show are the most critical to help: “the long-term homeless who suffer from disabilities, specifically mental health,” the city said in a statement.

Homeless camp at Gilman Feb. 1 2017. Photo by Nancy Rubin
Homeless camp at Gilman Feb. 1, 2017. Photo: Nancy Rubin

The encampment at the Gilman underpass has been disbanded. For much of 2016, the “poster child” for the issue of homelessness was the encampment at the Gilman underpass. Dozens of people, many of them addicted to drugs or mentally ill, set up camps and sleeping bags there. One resourceful Berkeley resident served a Thanksgiving meal complete with a tablecloth and candles. Slowly but steadily, Caltrans, which owns and controls the land under the freeway, set up chain-link fencing around places people once camped. The space is now vacant. Many former Gilman residents are now camping across from the Sea Breeze Market on University Avenue, right by Interstate 80 and the marina.

A number of First They Came for the Homeless members in November 2016 after city workers rousted them from their tents on the Adeline median.  Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The First They Came for the Homeless encampment is thriving. The other encampment that garnered a lot of public attention in the past year was established by the group “First They Came for the Homeless.” Some of the group’s leaders, including Michael Zint and Mike Lee, have served as articulate spokesmen for the right of the homeless for self-determination. They have long insisted that, if the city gave them a piece of land, they could successfully self-govern. However, the group, which also calls itself the Poor Tour, continuously set up tents on public property. The city of Berkeley removed about 13 of those encampments from October through January, according to a graphic T-shirt designed by the group. The “Poor Tour” has been staying on the Berkeley-Oakland border across from Sweet Adeline’s Bakery for six months. There have not been complaints about the group, so the city has not forced them to move, according to Mayor Arreguín. While Berkeley has looked around for a possible permanent campsite, Arreguín told Berkeleyside recently the city will not establish a permanent spot for tents.

Mike Zint, the founder of First They Came for the Homeless, talks at the vigil held for Laura Jadwin. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

A number of homeless people died on the streets. Over the rainy winter months, a number of people living outside succumbed to the elements. It is hard to quantify this number, but at least three people died outside in the past year, prompting a number of advocates to hold a vigil calling for increased services. Roberto Benitas died in his sleeping bag on Sept. 11 while camping outside the former U-Haul store on San Pablo Avenue. Laura Jadwin, 55, died under a tree in an empty lot on Martin Luther King Jr. Way on Jan. 14. And Daniel Messer, originally from Texas, died in the 2000 block of Hearst Way on Jan. 22. “Hate Man,” a perennial figure who lived in People’s Park, also died, although it was at Alta Bates Hospital.

Lawsuits filed claiming government agencies are illegally seizing property. When Caltrans or Berkeley identifies an illegal encampment, they generally set up notices telling people to leave and remove their stuff by a particular date. If people, tents and other belongings are still in place by the announced time and date, the objects are removed. Some are thrown into the trash and some are sent to storage. People living in Berkeley’s various encampments have continually complained that most of their stuff is thrown away. In December, a number of civil-rights groups filed a class-action lawsuit demanding that Caltrans stop “confiscating and destroying their property in ongoing sweeps.” The suit named 28 people who had their possession confiscated from under the Gilman underpass.

The idea of building storage lockers seems to have been set aside. The City Council approved, in concept, a number of restrictions on how much room people could take up on the sidewalks, but postponed implementation until Berkeley built storage bins that could hold people’s possessions. Berkeley has abandoned the idea of stand-alone storage facilities because they are too expensive and will incorporate them into future construction, leaving the future of the sidewalk property rules in question.

Because of the recent election, more money will be available to construct affordable housing. Voters in Alameda County approved a $580 million bond measure, Measure A1, for affordable housing. Berkeley’s share of that should be $15.8 million. In Berkeley, the passage of Measure U1, which raised the business license tax on rentals, could generate from $3 million to $4 million a year, which could be directed toward affordable housing. In June, the City Council voted to prioritize the construction of a supportive housing project for the homeless on a parking lot on Berkeley Way. City officials plan to use $9 million of the Measure A1 money for this when it becomes available. Practically speaking, this leaves Berkeley’s savings account for affordable housing empty. However, Jacquelyn McCormick, the senior advisor to the mayor, said Berkeley has been able to get $4 million from the county’s boomerang fund to apply against displacement.

Note from Mike Zint:

I can’t help wondering if the city would have been so “concerned” about homeless issues if we had not been protesting.

Letter from Assemblyman Ting regarding single payer for California

Dear Californian:

Thank you for your recent correspondence in support of Senate Bill (SB) 562. I value your opinion and appreciate you taking the time to share it with me.

I wholeheartedly support single-payer health care; from a public health perspective, it is without question the best solution for universal coverage. I have previously requested to be added as a co-author to SB 562.

As you know, SB 562 would enact a universal single-payer health care coverage plan for all California residents, without premiums, deductibles or co-payments of any kind. As passed by the Senate, the bill is not clear about how the single-payer program would be financed, how care would be delivered, and how health care costs would be controlled. It also is not clear if the Trump Administration will issue necessary waivers under the Affordable Care Act, or whether a repeal of the ACA would create legal or financial obstacles for California to set up its own single-payer system.

Given these unanswered questions, the Speaker of the Assembly ordered SB 562 held in the Assembly Rules Committee and shelved for consideration this year. I expect the work on single-payer healthcare to continue and seriously debated during next year. As part of those discussions, the Legislature and the Governor will need to develop a long-term funding plan, including the potential for California voters to pass new taxes to finance the program. According to a study conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy, a single-payer system would cost $367 billion a year. The Senate Appropriations Committee estimated total annual costs of $400 billion, including $200 billion in additional tax revenues. For context, California’s state budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 amounts to $183 billion.

Please continue sharing your views with me as it helps me to better serve you in Sacramento.


Assemblymember, 19 th District

“Hawaii Becomes the First State to Pass a Bill in Support of Universal Basic Income” by Dom Galeon (futurism.com)

June 15, 2017
This month has shown that Hawaii may be the U.S.’s most forward-thinking state. Earlier in June, it became the first state to formally accept the provisions of the Paris Climate Accord, and now, the state congress has passed a bill that puts Hawaii on the path to universal basic income.


Innovation and forward-thinking may be Hawaii’s two biggest exports in 2017. Earlier this month, the state earned the distinction of being the first in the U.S. to formally accept the provisions of the Paris Climate Agreement after President Donald Trump decided to withdraw the nation from it, and now, Hawaii is taking the lead in embracing yet another innovative idea: universal basic income (UBI).

Today, Hawaii state representative Chris Lee wrote a Reddit post about House Concurrent Resolution 89, a bill he says he introduced in order to “start a conversation about our future.” According to Lee, “After much work and with the help of a few key colleagues, it passed both houses of the State Legislature unanimously.”

Lee also mentioned the development via Twitter:

The bill has two major provisions. First, it declares that all families in Hawaii are entitled to basic financial security. “As far as I’m told, it’s the first time any state has made such a pronouncement,” wrote Lee. The second provision establishes a number of government offices “to analyze our state’s economy and find ways to ensure all families have basic financial security, including an evaluation of different forms of a full or partial universal basic income.”

The congressman thanked “redditors” in his post, as he said the site became his first resource in considering UBI, and added a Reddit-standard TL;DR at the end: “The State of Hawaii is going to begin evaluating universal basic income.”


Under a UBI program, every citizen is granted a fixed income that’s not dependent on their status in life. Despite the current focus on the concept, it actually isn’t particularly new. In fact, former U.S. President Richard Nixon actually floated the idea back in 1969.

Universal Basic Income: The Answer to Automation?
Click to View Full Infographic

However, the benefits of such a program have become more appealing in light of recent technological advances, specifically, the adoption of automated systems that could result in widespread unemployment.

Proponents of UBI have highlighted how it would be an improvement on existing social welfare programs while mitigating the effects of the joblessness expected to follow automation. Critics think that UBI would encourage a more lax attitude about work and argue that funding such a system would be difficult, if not impossible.

Existing pilot programs, however, seem to indicate otherwise.

Hawaii may be the first U.S. state to pass any sort of UBI-positive legislation, but several countries around the globe are already testing the system. Finland began its two-year UBI pilot in 2016, and Germany has one as well. Canada plans to start trials in Prince Edward Island (PEI) and Ontario, while India is currently debating the merits of UBI. Several private UBI endeavors are also in the works, including one that uses blockchain and cryptocurrency.

Of course, the implementation of any major UBI program requires a great deal of political will. As Lee wrote, “Planning for the future isn’t politically sexy and won’t win anyone an election […]. But if we do it properly, we will all be much better off for it in the long run.”

Turkish police clash with Gay Pride activists in Istanbul

© BULENT KILIC / AFP | Turkish riot police officers block an access to Istiklal avenue to prevent LGBT rights activists from going ahead with a Gay Pride annual parade on June 25, 2017 in Istanbul

Video by FRANCE 24


Latest update : 2017-06-26

Turkish police on Sunday thwarted an attempt by Gay Pride activists to hold a parade in the country’s largest city Istanbul in defiance of an official ban from the local authorities.

Police fired rubber bullets at a group of around 40 activists, an AFP journalist reported, a day after the city governor’s office banned the march citing safety and public order concerns.

Small groups gathered at Taksim Square but witnesses said a heavy police presence outnumbered the activists, and at least four people were detained.

It is the third year in a row that the march has been banned, and organisers denounced the move.

“We are not scared, we are here, we will not change,” the Pride Committee said in a statement on Sunday. “You are scared, you will change and you will get used to it.

“We are here again to show that we will fight in a determined fashion for our pride.”

‘Governors change, we stay’

In one of the biggest LGBT events in the mainly Muslim region, the 2014 Gay Pride parade in Istanbul drew tens of thousands of people.

Last year, with the city on the edge after bombings blamed on the Islamic State group and Kurdish militants, organisers were denied permission to march.

Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who defied the ban.

Eleven activists went on trial in Istanbul this week for defying last year’s ban on the Gay Pride march, but they were all acquitted.

This year, the parade coincided with the first day of Eid, the festival marking the end of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

City authorities banned the parade after threats from far-right and conservative groups.

Critics accuse President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of having overseen a creeping Islamisation since he came to power, first as prime minister in 2003 and then president in 2014.

He has repeatedly infuriated activists with his conservative comments on sex and family planning, but has generally steered clear of commenting publicly on gay issues.

But in 2010, former family minister Aliye Kavaf, a woman, described homosexuality as a “biological disorder” and a “disease”.

Homosexuality has been legal in Turkey throughout the period of the modern republic but gay people in Turkey regularly complain of harassment and abuse.

“We are not alone, we are not wrong, we have not given up,” the Pride Committee’s statement said Sunday.

“Governors, governments, states change and we stay. Threats, bans, pressures will not deter us … We will not give up on,” it added.


Date created : 2017-06-25

SF Berniecrats and OccupySF Action Council on single payer for California

Note from SF Berniecrats:

As you all know, Speaker Anthony Rendon decided to shelve SB562, preventing it from moving through the State Assembly. If he thought the bill had weaknesses and wanted to improve it, he shouldn’t be preventing any amendments from being made. So, if you haven’t yet, please make sure to:
Note from Occupy San Francisco Action Council:


California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

TEL. 562-529-3250  &  916-319-2063



Tell him to REVERSE his decision and STOP BLOCKING  Healthcare for Californians

before the Rules Committee this Thursday, June 29th!

Demand that he allow assembly members to discuss, amend, and vote on S.B. 562.

Rendon is the California Democratic Head of the CA Assembly. On Friday, June 23rd – before 5pm he blocked SB 562 by sending it to the Assembly Rules Committee where bills sit to die. Speaker Rendon is preventing the Assembly from voting on S.B. 562, The Healthy California Act.

The California Nurses Association has done extensive research on S.B. 562. The U Mass Amherst  study released in May 2017, lays out a viable, evidence-based single payer funding and cost reduction strategy. of SB 562,

DEMOCRATS Kill Single Payer Healthcare In California.  Youtube: https://youtu.be/bfYfjQEqg58

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~ ~  ~  ~

Emergency Rally for SB 562

The Healthy California Act

11am to 1pm Wed June 28 in Sacramento

Car Pooling from San Francisco at 9:00am (must RSVP)

Let Don B. dbechler@earthlink.net  / 415-810-5826

Let him know if:

-You can drive and how many people you can take


-If you need a ride.

Leaving from the corner of Fulton and Larkin Sts. by the Asian Art Museum at 9:00am.

Meet up in Sacramento at 11:00am. Meet at intersection of  11th and “L” Street outside of Chicory

Face bookhttp://bit.ly/2t4n0nR

Graphic from California Nurses Association

Image may contain: text

| Powered by Mantra & WordPress.