Backpedaling in the East Bay 

The City of Berkeley says never mind to its strict new greenhouse gas rules, and ex-Oakland City Manager Robert Bobb may not run for mayor after all.

There's an old tradition in politics. If you say or do something you later regret, there's only one tried-and-true course of action — backpedal. Fast. Witness the string of Republican politicians who earlier this year dared to criticize right-wing radio overlord Rush Limbaugh. Nearly all of them later went to Limbaugh, on their knees, and apologized. They didn't mean to say that he's an idiot blowhard who wants President Obama, and thus the country, to fail. Their words were misconstrued.

Last week, we had our own little version of the Limbaugh backpedal here in the East Bay. First, there was the City of Berkeley and its plans for strict new standards to deal with global warming. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a page-one story, saying that the rules could require homeowners to spend more than $30,000 each remodeling their houses to make them more energy efficient — everything from buying new appliances to installing new white roofs that reflect sunlight.

But after the story came out, top city officials backpedaled big time. First, they blamed the newspaper, saying it got the story "wrong." These were just "goals" not new regulations, they maintained. There was only one problem: Berkeley's global warming document, known as the Climate Action Plan, says the city will "require" residents to meet new standards. Councilwoman Linda Maio later said there would be less "confusion" if the city changed "require" to "set a goal." That certainly would result in less confusion because then it would no longer be a new regulation.

Confusion also reigned in Oakland after ex-City Manager Robert Bobb told the Chron that he was preparing to run for mayor in 2010. "We're working on a plan of entry" into the mayor's race, Bobb declared. But then for some reason, Bobb started to backpedal, too. The next day he told the Chron: "I want to weigh all my opportunities and running for mayor is an option." Then he went even further, telling the Oakland Tribune: "The speculation that I have somehow made some official announcement is not true at all." So why is Bobb backpedaling? It's not clear. GOP politicians later begged Limbaugh for forgiveness, because he's got a huge audience and some serious political influence. Same with Berkeley and its new global warming rules. The Chron front-page story created quite a stir. But Bobb? Why would the respected former city manager decide to take back his comments?

Why We Tortured People

For years, Bush-era officials, including UC Berkeley law school professor John Yoo, have defended "enhanced interrogation techniques," saying they were trying to stop another 9/11. But several recent reports have shown that the effort failed because we disrupted no terrorist plots as a result of torturing prisoners. Then, late last week, we learned that one of the primary reasons for torture had nothing to do with protecting innocent people from terrorism. Instead, it was all about getting us into the Iraq War.

According to a newly declassified bombshell, Major Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantanamo Bay in the summer of 2002, told Army investigators about the other reason for torturing prisoners: "A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful." So as top Bush officials got more "frustrated" at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, "there was more and more pressure to resort to measures" that would provide the connection.

In other words, we tortured Al Qaeda prisoners so that they would tell us there was a link between Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein — a link that we eventually learned never existed. And why would we do that? Because the Bush administration was desperate at the time to go to war with Iraq, and figured the best way to do it was to torture prisoners into saying there were ties between Iraq and the people responsible for September 11. Sure enough, it worked. The prisoners gave their torturers what they wanted — because that's what happens when you torture people; they tell you anything to get you to stop. And then, once the Bush administration had obtained its completely bogus "intelligence," we launched a horrible, unnecessary, and costly war.

Three-Dot Roundup

Speaking of backpedaling, both President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said they would support "a truth commission" that would investigate Bush-era lawbreaking, but then the president inexplicably changed his mind. ... The electric car is making a comeback. Nissan and several other automakers said they plan to start selling electric vehicles next year. ... A swine flu panic swept the country as Obama attempted to calm people down. ... San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is officially taking on state Attorney General Jerry Brown in the race for the Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination. ... Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi is running to replace Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher. ... The state budget deal is in serious trouble because the Democratic Party refused to endorse Proposition 1A in the May special election. ... The Oakland City Council wants to tax medical marijuana, but not raise the city's sales tax. ... Four Oakland cops were fired for falsifying search warrants. ... State overseers missed another $15 million budget problem in Oakland public schools. ... The Contra Costa County District Attorney announced that he would stop prosecuting some misdemeanors because of budget cuts. ... The murder of Sandra Cantu of Tracy must have been horrific because a judge has refused to release her autopsy results for fear of "public outrage" over the "heinous" nature of the crime. ... And speaking of backpedaling, the owners of the El Cerrito Speakeasy Theater said they were going to close and then didn't.


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