News & Notes

Babs jumps the bandwagon while Cruz campaigns for dictator; Honesty's a dangerous policy; Monsanto flacks did it; And hey! We won!

I pledge allegiance: No one used to complain when schoolkids reciting the Pledge would mutter creative alternatives: “… of the United Snakes of a merry cow, and to the Republicans for which they scam, one nacho underpants.” But when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last Wednesday that the phrase “under God” made the pledge temporarily unconstitutional, politicians practically drooled over themselves to prove that they wouldn’t let anyone mess with their beloved pledge.Who’d have guessed that among those quavering pols would be our very own Barbara Lee? The same Babs Lee who, let’s be honest, gained her political identity by telling Congress to take its reactionary war on civil rights and shove it. But preventing the forced indoctrination of schoolkids was apparently even more controversial than going to war: Lee jumped right on the bandwagon and voted for a House resolution condemning the ruling. All of which makes 7 Days wonder what that wacky Berkeley city council would do? City clerk Sherry Kelly says the council probably won’t take up the issue until September, when it traditionally makes its yearly — ouch! — recitation of the Pledge. As for local school districts, state Superintendent Delaine Eastin has given them permission to stick with the Education Code, which prescribes daily “appropriate patriotic exercises” for all students.

To the dictator: If our schools need someone to lead these patriotic calisthenics, might we recommend Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante? At a rally for union workers at the Port of Oakland last Thursday, Davis Jr. seemed to forget he was at a labor event, not an auditorium full of third-graders. He warned the crowd that America faced a grave new danger — the threat of a Godless Pledge. And he was going to do something about it. “I’d like everybody to right here, right now join me in the Pledge of Allegiance, despite what the court says,” Bustamante exhorted.

Ignoring scattered cries of “Bullshit!” and “Fuck that!” from the crowd, the lieutenant governor spun around in search of a flag toward which to genuflect, and found one hanging forlornly behind him. “Hands over your heart!” he commanded, then launched into the Pledge, stopping halfway through to bark “Take off your hats!” at the half-interested union members.

Afterward, Bustamante defended its place in the classroom. “The kids can stand up if they want to,” he insisted. “And if they don’t believe that part that says ‘under God,’ they don’t have to say it. It’s voluntary!”

Funny thing, he never told the Port workers that.

And to the team: Never let it be said that UC Berkeley is elitist. That charge has been debunked by news that Cal has joined the scores of colleges that commit fraud on behalf of their celebrity student athletes.

In the spring of 1999, sophomore wide receivers Michael Ainsworth and Ronnie Davenport began to, let us say, fumble when it came to grades. Bad news for the football program, which particularly needed Ainsworth for its passing game that fall. Fortunately, ethnic studies professor Alex Saragoza was there to bail them out. Saragoza, who did not return a call seeking comment, gave both Davenport and Ainsworth credit for his course “Crossroads: California and the World.” The fact that neither player actually took the class is one of those irritating details that gets in the way of a winning season.

But Cal football coach Tom Holmoe had a reputation for running a particularly clean program, and over the summer told the school’s athletic director that the course credits were possibly fraudulent. As the university and the Pac Ten conference investigated matters, Ainsworth led his team in receptions for the fall 1999 season, but that wasn’t sufficient to save Holmoe, who resigned last year after posting an abysmal 1-10 record. Ainsworth and Davenport flunked out in the spring of 2000, and the university punished itself by withdrawing four football scholarships and suspending Saragoza for a semester.

Apparently the NCAA didn’t think that was sufficiently contrite, and last week banned Cal from all bowl games for a year, and gave it five years of probation. Seems a mighty strange reaction for a school that noticed the misconduct and ratted itself out to the world, but hey, the WorldCom scandal sprang out of an internal audit, too.

The saga doesn’t exactly help Cal’s ethnic studies department, which for decades has faced critics who claim the entire field is muddle-headed therapy disguised as academia. Now that one of his professors has been caught fixing grades for jocks, department chair Jose Saldivar may have to contend with yet more sneers from his peers. Saldivar notes that Cal has the top-ranked ES department, and its graduates are hot commodities at universities around the country. “If there was a Mickey Mouse component to our program, schools wouldn’t be hiring our Ph.D’s,” he says. “But we always have to struggle against the perception that we’re not a legitimate field of study. This doesn’t help, obviously.”

And the contracts: A recent move by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to restrain SFO’s spending on its controversial runway expansion plan will no doubt be bad news for high-flying project consultants. Supe Aaron Peskin made it clear he wanted the airport to spend its cash on scientific research for the environmental impact report, not on payments to well-connected political hacks.

As widely reported, one of those well-connected hacks, attorney Karen Skelton, a former Clinton administration official, has billed the airport $500,000 for her services — which reportedly included an $876 dinner at a chichi DC eatery. Also on the recipient list are former Oakland congressman-cum-consultant Ron Dellums and his biz partners, Lee Halterman and Bob Brauer. Their firm, Dellums, Brauer, and Halterman (DBH), has been on the airport dole for a couple of years, trying to persuade fish-lovers that paving the Bay really ain’t such a bad idea. According to the Chron, SFO paid the firm more than $117,000 from January 2001 through May 2002.

Airport propagandist Kandace Bender says it’s still too early to determine the fate of DBH’s consulting contract. That one, she says, was part of the original $11.2 million proposal, which the supes scaled back, setting $5 million of it in reserve. Airport director John Martin will go back to the board at summer’s end, Bender says, to ask for permission to spend that 5 extra-large. Then we’ll see whether or not Dellums & Co. will be grounded.

With anonymity: Who are Mary Murphy and Andura Smetacek? Or more to the point, who owns their e-mail accounts? Alert readers may recall that people using these pseudonyms were accused of engineering an online smear campaign to discredit UC Berkeley associate professor Ignacio Chapela and graduate student David Quist. The two Cal researchers published a highly controversial paper in Nature claiming that genetic-engineered DNA has spread into the remote hills of Oaxaca, the evolutionary cradle of corn, possibly threatening the genetic diversity of the species (“Kernels of Truth,” May 29). The mysterious pair posted about sixty of the first e-mail messages to the prominent Internet forum AgBioView, criticizing Quist and Chapela’s research and questioning their impartiality. Those behind the postings did not return the Express‘ calls or e-mails — but reporters from several British publications have claimed that the two women’s e-mail messages led back to the Bivings Group, a Beltway PR firm that specializes in “Internet advocacy” campaigns and represents Monsanto, a seed industry giant that stands to lose out if Quist and Chapela’s claims are correct. Although a Bivings spokesperson emphatically told the Express that the claims of the British publications were “baseless” and that the firm had never heard of either Murphy or Smetacek, Bivings changed its tune shortly after our story. According to a transcript of a BBC2’s Newsnight television program broadcast the following week, Bivings admitted that at least one of the culprits was either an employee or “clients using our services,” but denied it was running a secret campaign.

And prizes for all: The Express has won four 2001 East Bay Press Club awards, competing against journalists from the area’s other major daily and weekly newspapers. Staff writer Kara Platoni took top honors in two categories. Her May 25 article about the travails of Webvan won the business-writing award, and her December 19 piece on National Novel Writing Month led the pack in the light-features division. Staffer Will Harper won first place in profile-writing for his October 24 article about Richmond political consultant Darrell Reese, and theater critic Lisa Drostova took third place for criticism for three of her 2001 reviews. Hey! What about 7 Days?

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