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The city of Berkeley screws up again

By
February 21, 2008

The brouhaha sparked by the Berkeley (Calif.) City Council these past couple of weeks demonstrates again that you can be within shouting distance of one of the world’s great educational institutions and still be terminally stupid.

The council, as almost everybody not in a deep trance must know, voted to send a letter telling the U.S. Marine Corps to, in effect, get the hell out of town.

Predictably, that got the right-wing bloggers knee jerking right back, sending them into paroxysms of righteous indignation.

It also — and justifiably — upset more than a few decent people, including a lot of area residents, many of them strong opponents of the Iraq war, who were personally embarrassed and/or offended.

A week after the vote, as the besieged council met to reconsider, it generated the equally predictable street face-off between a group called Code Pink and other conspicuous peaceniks (on one side of the riot cops) and veterans and others, including the parents of some killed in the service, who believed that the Marine Corps deserved a better shake. The bill for the cops is still being toted up.

Now the council has more or less reversed itself, with some members confessing, in effect, that they hadn’t seen all this coming, making them the only people this side of Djibouti who hadn’t.

The proposal originated with the council’s Peace and Justice Commission but, according to a couple of the members, they just hadn’t read the thing before they voted on it.

“Sometimes,” said one, “we get caught up in our own cocoon. … We need to better scrutinize what’s before us.”

They also declined to apologize, which, coming from this council, wouldn’t have meant anything anyway except maybe an unexpected touch of grace and maturity.

In effect, since the original letter hadn’t yet been sent all the council had to do was — nothing.

But that’s hardly the end of the story. In voting to condemn the Marines as “unwelcome intruders,” the council also waived the fee for a weekly “street event” permit for Code Pink, so it can park a vehicle by the Marines’ door and heckle the building occupants and the customers.

When the council reversed itself early Wednesday morning Code Pink’s fee permit waiver was not rescinded. It may thus not be long before some other groups, asserting their constitutional rights, will demand similar no-fee permits to target other activities on Berkeley’s streets that the council and most residents of Berkeley might have a different attitude about.

By now, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates — who five years ago admitted going to news racks and trashing 1,000 copies of The Daily Californian, the Berkeley student paper, after it endorsed his opponent during the election campaign of 2002 — ought to know a little more about free speech and First Amendment rights. At that time he even apologized.

But apparently the lesson was forgotten or perhaps it never occurred to his fellow council members that even the Marine Corps has the right to hang its shingle on the streets of Berkeley.

You’d think that Berkeley, which has been the butt of endless jokes about its political correctness and other official nonsense, would be aware how much the Marine Corps episode would play to people such as Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and other sanctimonious phonies in Washington, most of whom never saw a day of military service in their lives.

Some 10 senators and 71 House co-sponsors signed on to DeMint’s “Semper Fi Act,” which would strip more than $2 million in pork-barrel dollars from a handful of Berkeley projects and deliver it to the Marines. That’s unlikely to happen since tit-for-tat earmark cutting is a game any number can play and few can win.

Even so, California Sen. Barbara Boxer immediately counterattacked. One news report described her as “apoplectic.” One of DeMint’s targets is the Berkeley schools’ “Edible Schoolyard” program, which is supposed to teach kids to grow, prepare and eat healthy food.

“They work the garden,” Boxer reportedly said, showing pictures of the kids working in the garden. “They learn about nutrition. They learn how to cook the food.”

The program “teaches them to love the whole notion of eating in a healthy way.” You can see how that’s going to rattle them good ol’ boys up there in the Piedmont.

Congressional Democrats will almost certainly bottle all this up, as they should, and this little tempest will run its course into forgetfulness in the days ahead. If not, a few more Berkeley kids will get to eat junk food: That’ll fix ‘em. After the council reversed itself last week, members expressed satisfaction that they’d re-enforced Berkeley’s long-standing opposition to the Iraq war. As to paving the streets … ?

(Contact Peter Schrag at pschrag(at)sacbee.com.)