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UC Berkeley speakers boycott gains steam

Add State Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, to the list of speakers who have withdrawn from commencement activities at the University of California, Berkeley due to ongoing labor strife.

Gloria RomeroRomero, also a candidate for state Superintendent of Public Instruction, had been scheduled to keynote the UC Berkeley Latino Student ceremony this Saturday; a labor union issued a statement today in which Romero said she’ll honor a boycott called by Cal workers and student groups.

“It was with a heavy heart that I informed the UC Berkeley students and dedicated faculty and staff that I would not appear to deliver my remarks in person. What an irony I would have seen: on one hand, students in robes celebrating the overcoming of obstacles and staking their claim in the American Dream; on the other hand, I would have seen Latino workers—perhaps their own uncles and aunts, holding picket signs asking this internationally acclaimed university to simply pay them a living wage so that the graduates’ younger ‘hermanitos’ could one day attend the same university,” Romero said in her statement.

Others who have chosen to honor the boycott include former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, who had been scheduled to address graduating political science students on Monday, and author Karen Joy Fowler, who had been scheduled to address graduating English Department students next Sunday, May 23. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, earlier this week cancelled her June 12 appearance at UC Riverside’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences graduation ceremonies, saying her family roots are in organized labor and she won’t cross a picket line to speak.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 – which represents more than 20,000 UC service and patient care workers and which announced Romero’s withdrawal – said the boycotts have been called in part due to mandatory reductions in hours for low-wage service workers, such as custodians and food service workers – cuts of 4 to 6 percent in take-home pay, when some were already making as little as $24,000 a year.

“These cuts have been devastating for low-wage workers,” said AFSCME 3299 President Lakesha Harrison. “Layoffs and reduction in hours are only the tip of the iceberg. UC executives are now proposing massive cuts to our retirement. We may be facing a double whammy – a depletion of our savings now and a gutting of the income we were counting on for our future.”

The UC Berkeley speakers boycott also been called by the Union of Professional and Technical Employees; CWA Local 1 (UPTE 1) represents UC research support and technical workers.

And that’s not the only Cal labor strife that’s getting political attention this week. House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, wrote a letter yesterday to UC President Mark Yudof expressing his concern about the university’s failure to come to an agreement with the union representing its 6,000 post-doctoral scholars – a topic on which he held a committee field hearing just a few weeks ago.

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Toilet-paper prank targets Cal’s John Yoo

One of the many activists protesting University of California, Berkeley law professor John Yoo – who as a Justice Department lawyer helped build a legal framework for the “enhanced interrogation” techniques many now consider to be torture and for other perceived Bush Administration transgressions – has found a, well, creative new way to voice displeasure with him.

Students using the restrooms at Cal’s Boalt Hall Law School today reportedly found “Yoo Toilet Paper,” printed with text from the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

Los Angeles-based activist/artist Matt Cornell said the prank was meant to remind law students that “Yoo helped turned human rights laws into toilet paper.” At the bottom of each roll is a reminder that “this toilet paper was made by possible by John Yoo, Professor of Law.” He also said his toilet paper is both softer and better than that provided by the budget-crunched university, and that it contains “valuable reading material” for students.

(I’ll assume that the “Josh Wolf” listed in the video’s production credits is the very same UC journalism student who keeps getting in trouble with various authorities as he blurs the line between journalism and activism.)

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Protestors can’t find Yoo, but Jon Stewart did

Protestors’ targeting of Cal law professor and former Bush administration lawyer and torture-memo author John Yoo has taken an almost comical turn into cat-and-mouse territory: They want to keep disrupting his classes, but they can’t find him.

Yoo is teaching a Tuesday-evening class this semester on “Constitutional Design and the California Constitution,” but Boalt Hall’s schedule lists the class’ location as “to be announced.” Activists from World Can’t Wait and FireJohnYoo.org say their calls to the Cal Registrar’s office and the law school seeking the class’ location have been rebuffed – gee, I wonder why?

“We continue to call for Yoo to be fired, disbarred, and prosecuted for war crimes, along with his entire cohort from the Bush-Cheney Torture Team,” World Can’t Wait organizer Stephanie Tang said in a news release. “Torture is a war crime. Thousands have been tortured thanks to John Yoo’s work for the White House, long after Yoo himself returned to teaching. The faculty and students right here at UC – and all people of conscience everywhere — need to denounce these crimes, not turn away in silent complicity.”

They’ll hold a news conference outside the office of Boalt Hall Dean Christopher Edley Jr. at 3 p.m. today to demand information about Yoo’s class. If I were them, I wouldn’t hold my breath for an answer. They certainly have a right to protest Yoo, but expecting the university to provide them the information they need to disrupt his classes seems foolhardy.

Meanwhile, Yoo was on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” last night. See the complete, unedited interview in three parts, after the jump…
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John Yoo asks that torture lawsuit be dismissed

University of California, Berkeley Boalt Hall Law School Professor John Yoo – widely recognized as an architect of Bush Administration policies on torture and detainee rights – has filed a brief asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to toss a lawsuit filed by a former prisoner.

American citizen Jose Padilla claims Yoo, an attorney in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 through 2003, provided the legal framework for the harsh treatment he received while held as a military prisoner for several years.

Padilla was arrested in 2002; authorities said he’d been involved in a plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb,” and held him as an “enemy combatant” in solitary confinement in a military brig in South Carolina, where he claims he was illegally mistreated. Though authorities eventually dropped the dirty-bomb claims and transferred him to civilian courts, Padilla was convicted in 2007 of conspiracy and providing material aid to terrorists; sentenced last year to 17 years and four months in federal prison, he’s now appealing that conviction while he also sues Yoo.

Yoo’s lawyers moved to dismiss the case, saying that Padilla’s claims would force the courts to create a new legal right against government lawyers for legal advice given to the president, and that doing so “would not only constitute an unprecedented intrusion into the President’s authority in the areas of war-making, national security and foreign policy, it could jeopardize the ability of the President and other Executive Branch officials to obtain candid legal advice on constitutional matters of utmost national importance and sensitivity.”

But U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco in June refused to dismiss the case, and Yoo has appealed that ruling; he filed his opening brief late yesterday.

In it, Miguel Estrada, Yoo’s attorney, claims White overstepped his authority by creating “an implied constitutional damages remedy against Yoo for legal advice he allegedly gave to the President on matters of national security and foreign policy,” and that Yoo is entitled to qualified immunity – a protection for public officials who perform their official duties reasonably – because he wasn’t personally responsible for Padilla’s detention and treatment.

“Moreover, Padilla does not allege the violation of any clearly established rights. The law governing enemy combatants was and remains murky. To the extent enemy combatants possess any of the rights Padilla invokes—and, in most cases, it is clear they do not—those rights were not clearly established when Yoo worked in OLC,” Estrada wrote.

“This case also threatens to disrupt the political branches’ constitutional role
in war-making and foreign policy,” he wrote later in the brief. “If Executive Branch lawyers are threatened with personal liability should their legal analysis turn out to be incorrect, they will be reluctant to provide candid guidance on politically controversial issues.”

Padilla and his mother and co-plaintiff, Estella Lebron, must file an answering brief by Dec. 9, and Yoo has the option to file a reply within two weeks after that. The 9th Circuit appeals court has not yet set any oral argument date for this case.

Yoo has been the target of repeated protests and classroom disruptions at the Cal campus; the next protest is scheduled for Nov. 30.

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National HIV/AIDS discussion Sunday in Berkeley

The next National HIV/AIDS Community Discussion will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. this Sunday, Nov. 1 in the Little Theater at Berkeley High School, 1980 Allston Way, according to the White House.

These discussions, hosted by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), offer the public a chance to provide input as the White House works to fulfill the President’s pledge to develop a National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

That strategy – in light of more than 56,000 new HIV infections happening in the United States each year – will aim to reduce infections, increase access to care, and reduce HIV-related health disparities. Alameda County since 1998 has declared an official state of emergency due to the high HIV infection rate among African Americans.

Among those scheduled to participate Sunday are ONAP director Jeffrey Crowley; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; California Office of AIDS chief Dr. Michelle Roland; the Rev. Elouise Oliver, pastor of the East Bay Church of Religious Science; and Dr. Lisha Wilson, Medical Director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Magic Johnson Oakland and San Francisco clinics.

Sunday’s event is open to the public, but an RSVP is required; click here to register.

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Berkeley, Oakland urge oil money transparency

Berkeley City Council last night approved a resolution urging the U.S. Senate to approve S.1700, the “Energy Security Through Transparency Act” by U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., which would urge the Obama Administration to require that companies disclose payments to foreign governments for oil, gas and mineral rights. Oakland City Council passed a similar resolution last week.

“Good governance in extractive industries contribute to a better domestic investment climate for U.S. businesses, increase the reliability of commodity supplies, promote greater U.S. energy security and thereby strengthen our national security,” says the summary on Lugar’s Web site.

San Francisco-based Justice in Nigeria Now hails the cities’ actions as a moral victory.

“I was tortured and imprisoned by the Nigerian military for my peaceful protests against Shell Oil’s destruction of our land,” Suanu Kingston Bere, a Nigerian activist who spoke at the Berkeley City Council meeting, said in JINN’s news release. “I believe the City’s support sends a strong message that communities in the U.S are concerned about the human rights abuses and environmental damage associated with oil extraction. I do not want to see my people continue to go through what I went through.”

Berkeley’s resolution also calls on the State Department to support third-party peace talks in the Delta to address environmental destruction and lack of investment in the oil producing region. The resolution was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin, Darryl Moore and Max Anderson and was introduced to the council through the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, which worked with JINN to draft it.

JINN says 50 years of oil exploitation in the Niger Delta has produced over $700 billion in oil revenues shared between the Nigerian government and oil giants like San Ramon-based Chevron as well as Exxon Mobil and Shell. More than 40 percent of Nigeria’s oil is exported to the U.S. Yet despite the corporate oil wealth, local residents’ quality of life has deteriorated – their drinking polluted, their food fisheries poisoned, their access to education, health care and even electricity limited.

“Oil companies in Nigeria have had long a relationship with the notoriously corrupt and historically brutal Nigerian government where rampant corruption, fraudulent elections and violent suppression of peaceful protests are the norm in the Delta,” Nigerian writer and activist Omoyele Sowore said in JINN’s news release. “The proposed ESTT Act in the Senate is an important step toward holding oil companies accountable for their collusion with the Nigerian government, which protects their profits while killing and injuring innocent local people and destroying the Delta’s fragile environment.”