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The stone medallion which decorates the front of the West Berkeley branch library.
Gail Garcia
The stone medallion which decorates the front of the West Berkeley branch library.
 

News

Flash: Fire in Telegraph Apartment Building Extinguished Quickly by Berkeley Firefighters

By the Planet (Updated)
Tuesday February 22, 2011 - 05:02:00 PM

The Sequoia Apartments at the corner of Telegraph and Haste, the building which housed Mario's La Fiesta for more than 30 years, experienced a big, smoky fire two-alarm fire this afternoon, attracting fire crews from all stations in the city of Berkeley. 

Deputy Fire Chief Sabrina Imrie told the Planet that the first call came at 3:19 and the fire was out by 4:11. She said that in all five engines, two trucks and 32 firefighters were used to do the job. 

"It's better to get in and give it all you've got," she said. 

The fire started in a wooden plank door in a stairwell, producing lots of black smoke. Chief Imrie said that firefighters had to chase it up and down the stairs, making the job even more difficult. All residents of the multi-unit multi-story building who were at home were evacuated. 

By 4:30 another fire department spokesperson reported that the fire was completely out, but firefighters remained on-site to be sure all was well. 

Alltogether, six fire trucks and two ambulance units were observable on the scene at various times, along with numerous police and traffic enforcement staff.  

Telegraph and Haste were both closed to traffic a block out from the intersection in all directions. Emergency personnel and spectators lined the nearby sidewalks, as ladders were put up to the building roof from two directions. Water spilled down Haste Street.

Telegraph reopened by 5:00 pm, Haste by 5:30. A small number of residents, mostly appearing of college student age, were let back into the building by police at 5:15. The ornate lobby appeared untouched, and there was only a faint smell of smoke on the nearby streets.

There were no signs of damage to the exterior of the building. Street front businesses now in the building include the popular Cafe Intermezzo and Raleigh's pub. Both were closed and dark, but appeared undamaged. Partially eaten meals remained on the tables in Intermezzo. 


Berkeley City Council Fails to Pass Controversial Resolutions

By Charlotte Perry-Houts
Tuesday February 22, 2011 - 10:11:00 AM

            Last Tuesday the Berkeley City Council discussed open government, Bradley Manning, the Affordable Housing Impact Fee, and PG&E's pipelines in Berkeley.

 

 

            Council voted unanimously to adopt the first reading of the Open Government Ordinance, with a second reading scheduled for March 8th. Then they voted to approve a second part of the item, regarding the agenda committee and the presiding officer's ability to move public comment to different parts of the meeting. Many members of the public spoke out against the item, commenting that the agenda committee has too much power over what goes onto the agenda, and that moving the public comment around during a meeting can be a problem for the disabled community, who cannot always stay until late into the evening to make their comments. The vote was all ayes except for Worthington and Arreguin.

 

 

            Returning to the discussion about Bradley Manning, council voted unanimously to send a letter requesting his humane treatment while awaiting trial. Manning, who allegedly released documents and information to WikiLeaks about the Iraq War, has been in solitary confinement and subjected to very difficult conditions in a military prison while awaiting his trial. The letter will be sent to the new Brig Commander, Denise Barnes.

 

 

            In light of the recent discussion about the safety of PG&E's pipelines, Council voted unanimously to request that PG&E identify the size, condition, age, location, and last inspection dates of all natural gas lines in Berkeley, and that they install shut-off valves.

 

 

            The Affordable Housing Impact Fee, a fee that developers pay when building housing that goes to the City's Housing Trust Fund, will be discussed again later in a worksession. Council voted unanimously to have the City Manager prepare an ordinance with a range of options for setting the Impact Fee, and to discuss the issue more in a worksession. There was a staff recommendation to set the fee at $20,000 per unit, and a Housing Advisory Commission recommendation to set it at $28,000 per unit.

 

 

            Council also passed an ordinance extending the operation of the warm water pool until construction actually makes it impossible for it to continue operating. The warm water pool was going to close this June.

 

 

            A number of members of the public came to the meeting to support the Peace and Justice Commission's recommendation that Berkeley step up in the safe resettlement of Guantanamo detainees. The Council took no action on the item.

 

 

            Ceremonially, the Council honored Josefina Lopez, who created Corazon Del Pueblo, a place for showcasing Latino and Chicano art. She announced the upcoming celebration of El Dia Del Nino, day of the child, occurring on April 30th at 4814 International Boulevard in Oakland.

 


Updated: Downtown Berkeley's Arpeggio Building is in Trouble

Friday February 18, 2011 - 09:32:00 AM
Exterior of the Arpeggio Building in December, 2010.
Exterior of the Arpeggio Building in December, 2010.
The Arpeggio Building's Sales  Office, February, 2011.
The Arpeggio Building's Sales Office, February, 2011.
Interior of The Arpeggio Building's Sales Office, February, 2011.
Interior of The Arpeggio Building's Sales Office, February, 2011.

It looks like the nine-story SNK Realty Group’s Arpeggio building, under construction on Center Street in downtown Berkeley, is on hold, at least for the moment. Passersby have noticed that construction has been halted for several weeks. The sales office on the site has closed, and the Planet’s calls to the sales number listed on the project’s website instead reached an independent Oakland real estate broker, who said that units would not be for sale until at least June. 

The San Francisco Business Times, in a proprietary article by Blanca Torres, confirmed today what has been rumored in Berkeley for months, that the project is in financial difficulties: 

“U.S. Bank took possession of the note in September after it bought the assets of Pacific National Bank, the original lender on the Arpeggio that was seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. In January, two mechanic’s liens were filed for the property including one for $43,601.35 from Idaho Pacific Lumber Co. Inc. and one for $39,765 from Paradigm Concrete & Construction Inc. The latter lien was waived Feb. 14.”
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Tom Bates alluded to the Arpeggio situation during a discussion of affordable housing in-lieu fees: 

“…you know these are terrible times…developers can't borrow money to build buildings in the first place. We currently have a building, Arpeggio, that's been under water… it has a substantial amount of fees, but they don't know how the heck they're going to pay the fees…It's not like …these developers are walking away with tons of money.."
Planning Commissioner Patti Dacey queried City Manager Phil Kamlarz about the project’s status in January, and she reports that he told her early this month that fees owed to the city for closing Center Street during construction had not been paid for almost a year, and now total close to $100,000 in arrears. 

The street is still closed, though construction has stopped. 


Last Council Meeting on West Berkeley will be Tuesday

Friday February 18, 2011 - 11:03:00 AM

The last public hearing on proposals to amend the West Berkeley plan and its zoning will be held in the City Council chambers of the Maudelle Shirek (Old City Hall) Building on Tuesday, February 22 at 7 p.m. The agenda and new written communications from West Berkeley business owners can be found here.


Berkeley Police Seek Holdup Suspect

Friday February 18, 2011 - 10:43:00 AM

The City of Berkeley Police Department has released a photo and description of a suspect in the January 6 holdup of the CVS phamacy on Shattuck. It can be seen here.


Flash: COMPUTER PROBLEMS! Try again soon if you get an error message.

Thursday February 17, 2011 - 05:40:00 PM

We're sorry to inform you that we've been experiencing intermittent outages on the server which a local company maintains for us with the Planet's data. We (and they) are working on the problem, but it might take a while to fix. In the meantime, if you get an error message from our site, try again in a few minutes--that's the best we can do for now.


Berkeley Council Fails to Pass Guantanamo Detainee Refuge Resolution

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday February 16, 2011 - 09:49:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council has rejected a resolution that would have invited "one or two" Guantanamo Bay detainees to resettle in Berkeley. 

Four council members voted in favor of the resolution late Tuesday night and only one member, Gordon Wozniak, voted against it. 

However, four members abstained and the measure failed because it needed five "yes" votes to pass. 

Mayor Tom Bates and Councilwoman Linda Maio proposed a substitute measure that would have postponed the issue on the grounds that, according to City Manager Phil Kamlarz, federal legislation prohibits detainees from settling in the U.S. But Bates and Maio were the only members to vote for that motion, with three members voting against it and four members abstaining. 

The resolution, which was proposed by the city's Peace and Justice Commission, stated that Berkeley should invite detainees who have been cleared of wrongdoing to move to the city because "the city has a longstanding policy in support of peace and justice, including previously welcoming refugees from other countries who unjustly suffered imprisonment, torture and related traumatic experiences."


School District Committee Plans to Allocate Taxpayer-Provided Funds

By Raymond Barglow, Berkeley Tutors Network, www.berkeleytutors.net
Wednesday February 16, 2011 - 11:33:00 AM
The information above comes from the BSEP website: http://www.berkeley.net/BSEP
Raymond Barglow
The information above comes from the BSEP website: http://www.berkeley.net/BSEP

Berkeley public schools are supported by supplementary funds coming from the “Berkeley Schools Excellence Program” (BSEP). These funds are provided by Berkeley voters, who once again this past November passed bond measures in support of the schools. The funds are, by law, allocated for specific educational purposes, and a “Planning and Oversight Committee” (P&O) oversees implementation.

Last week, the BSEP P&O Committee met to hear a report from Superintendent Bill Huyett about allocating funds for the next school year. Huyett noted that it is possible to shift some BSEP funding to compensate for state funding shortfalls, but that this has to be done in accordance with the will of the voters as expressed in the BSEP guidelines. P&O Chair Dan Lindheim also spoke about the importance of maintaining the trust of the voters, while acknowledging that “There is lots of debate about the meaning of words in the regulations.” 

Huyett spoke in detail about the current status and prospects of the district. Budgetary planning has become an extraordinary challenge, he said, since it remains unclear how much funding from the state will be available to support district education. Huyett said that the Board must be prepared for three funding scenarios: 

A. A flat budget, maintaining this year’s funding levels. That is an optimistic expectation, assuming that the voters decide to continue paying taxes that fund education. Huyett noted that Governor Brown’s policies promise to be more supportive of education than the policies of the past Governor were. However, the District is going to lose some federal funding this school year. 

B. Additional cutbacksdue to voter rejection of taxation continuation measures and failure of the legislature to approve taxes. This could result in a loss of $300 per student in Berkeley public schools. 

C. “Doomsday scenario”: cutbacks may have to be more extensive, amounting to between $800 and $1000 dollars funding loss per student in the district. 

Huyett said that he is hopeful that option A will prevail, but that the district must be prepared for additional cutbacks if they are required by the absence of government support. He is placing a priority, he said, on not reducing teacher-student ratios in Berkeley schools. 

One of the educational projects funded by Berkeley taxes is “Expanded Course Offerings” (ECO). An issue raised during the P&O meeting regards whether these offerings are being funded in accordance with the BSEP guidelines governing bond measure implementation. Principal Scuderi noted that some classes are being funded by BSEP for five periods per week, but are actually meeting for only two out of those five periods. 

However, BSEP guidelines specify that “any teacher allocated to provide expanded course offerings, like all classroom teachers funded from the BSEP Class Size Reduction fund, must be assigned to classroom [emphasis in the original] instruction, and may not be used for non-classroom duties such as administration, activities coordination or counseling.” 

When Parent Peggy Scott, representing Berkeley High School on the P&O Committee, asked whether BSEP regulations are being followed in the case of ECO-funded classes, Mr. Scuderi replied that AP augmentation classes (which students take to receive college credit and prepare for the AP English test) involve additional work on the part of teachers and have an on-line component. Superintendent Huyett added that on-line instruction in a “virtual class” may possibly satisfy BSEP rules: “A lot of learning does happen on-line. This is the college-board model; it is what they recommend.” 

The Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP) began in 1986 as a response to funding shortages caused by the passage of Prop 13. At issue today is whether and how much BSEP funds can compensate for a new shortfall, due to the current failures of state and federal government to support public education at even a minimally adequate level. Dealing with severe economic constraints originating beyond Berkeley’s own borders remains the perennial challenge of government in our city. 


Barbara Lee Takes Afghanistan Issue to Democratic Party National Committee

By Tom Hayden / The Peace Exchange Bulletin
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 09:56:00 PM

Rep. Barbara Lee is proposing that the Democratic National Committee officially commit itself to a policy of "prioritizing job creation and a swift withdrawal of US armed forces and military contractors in Afghanistan which must include a significant and sizable reduction no later than July 2011." The DNC will take up the resolution at its Feb. 24-26 meeting in Washington, D.C. 

ACTION: Lee's office is calling on all peace and justice advocates at state levels to contact their DNC representatives and urge them to support the resolution. 

The resolution is a challenge to the military-contractor-hawk alliance pushing President Obama to make only token troop withdrawals beginning this July. Others within Democratic policy circles have proposed reductions of approximately 60,000 between this July and July 2012. The Lee resolution declares that the reduction should be "significant and sizeable" and aimed at "a swift withdrawal of US armed forces and military contractors." 

President Obama has not made his decision known, making the DNC resolution debate timely. Lee, according to a recent statement, hopes to "change the President's political calculus" going into the 2012 election. 

Resolution to the Democratic National Committee 

Submitted by: Hon. Barbara Lee, California Donna Brazile, DNC Vice Chair/District of Columbia Hon. Mike Honda, DNC Vice Chair/California Alice Germond, DNC Secretary/West Virginia 

The following resolution will be considered by the DNC Resolutions Committee at its meeting on February 24, 2011, in conjunction with meetings of the Democratic National Committee, February 24-26, 2011. 

Resolution Supporting Ending the War in Afghanistan Now and Transferring the Funding to Job Creation, Other Crucial Domestic Priorities and Deficit Reduction 

WHEREAS, the United States has been involved in war in Afghanistan for almost a decade and remains militarily engaged in what has become the longest war in American history; and 

WHEREAS, the mounting costs of the war in Afghanistan, now totaling over $100 billion a year, have constrained efforts to invest in job creation and in strengthening our country and our economy; and 

WHEREAS, according to a Gallup Poll released February 2, 2011, 72% of Americans favor action to "speed up the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan"; and 

WHEREAS, President Obama supports a transition to an Afghan-led security arrangement in Afghanistan "because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people's"; and 

WHEREAS, a diplomatic solution in Afghanistan that emphasizes economic development, political reconciliation and inclusion, the engagement of regional and global stakeholders, and the safeguarding of basic human rights is essential to ensure long-term stability in Afghanistan and the surrounding region; and 

WHEREAS, military and intelligence officials agree that the situation in Afghanistan will not ultimately be resolved by a military solution; and 

WHEREAS, the national and economic security of the United States depend upon a national defense strategy which addresses the modern threat of global terrorism in an effective, sustainable, and comprehensive manner; and 

THEREFOR BE IT RESOLVED, The Democratic Party recognizes the enormous strain placed on the US military servicemembers, and their families since 2001 as a result of continuing engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan and remains committed to ensuring that our troops have the support that they require when deployed as well as the care that they and their families need and deserve when they return home; 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Democratic Party supports prioritizing job creation and a swift withdrawal of US armed forces and military contractors in Afghanistan which must include a significant and sizable reduction no later than July 2011.


Updated: The Crowd-funding Revolution and the Reinvention of Capitalism

By Gar Smith
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 07:59:00 PM

It's never easy raising cash to start a new business. This truism was the focus of a recent meeting of the Sustainable Business Alliance (SBA).

On February 7, scores of local entrepreneurs poured into The Hub, on the forth floor of Berkeley’s David Brower Center (corner of Oxford and Addison), to hear a panel of fund-raising experts discuss a host of cash-chasing solutions -- ranging from community financing and crowd-funding, to peer-lending, socially responsible investment funds and direct public offerings.  

While Wal-Mart has no problem raising millions to build a new box store in Biloxi, it’s a harder slog for a business school grad who wants to open a bagel shop in Berkeley. As the SBA outlines the problem:  

“Locally owned, small businesses constitute about one half of the private US economy in terms of output and jobs but they receive almost no investment from the nation’s pension funds or from mutual, hedge, venture, or any other kind of investment funds.”  

Cobbling together start-up capital for a new business is an even greater problem in a half-collapsed economy. (“Half-collapsed” because, as UC Berkeley economist Robert Reich points out, there are two US economies. Most Americans are struggling to survive in the jobless First Economy while the 2% in the Second Economy are sitting on trillions of dollars in uninvested assets.) What the small business sector desperately needs is a new generation of innovative cash-traps for the cash-strapped.  

Providing solutions was a panel consisting of Jenny Kassan (CEO of Cutting Edge Capital and Managing Director of the Katovich Law Group), Ari Derfel (Executive Director of Slow Money and co-founder of Berkeley’s celebrated Gather Restaurant), Gary Bell (CEO of the Coop Federal Credit Union) and Bill Peterson (Chief Credit Officer for San Francisco’s New Resource Bank.). The panel was moderated by Jody Colley, publisher of the East Bay Express (whose upcoming edition would feature a timely cover story on “Fundraising for the Facebook Generation”).  

Local Lenders to the Rescue 

The unequal access to capital is not a new problem. Berkeley Coop CEO Garry Bell recalled that the coop (now located at the corner of Shattuck and Ashby) was started in 1942 during another period of uncertainty and fiscal constraint. When large commercial bands ceased making money available for families seeking home loans, Berkeley residents banded together to form their own independent financial coops. These community based lenders are still focused on providing funds to promote public good, not private profit.  

Jenny Kassen tossed a question to the audience: “What do you think is the average return on a 401(k) invested in the stock market?” The answers from the wiser-than-average crowd ranged from 6 to 10 percent. “Actually,” Kassen revealed, the yield historically averages much lower, “around 2-3%.” As to the argument that investing in the stock market is “less risky,” Kassen suggested that there may be less risk investing in local businesses that you can actually visit and oversee on a daily basis. (For those still enamored of the stock market, the panel recommended a Web site called Mister Market -- a platform for socially responsible trading that provides an alternative to Wall Street.)  

Bill Peterson explained that he works for a “four-year-old bank with a radical philosophy” -- i.e., one that focuses on sustainability, not profit. In Peterson’s words, the New Resource Bank (NRB) is “a courageous group of guerilla evangelists” committed to making investments that serve good causes. “Slow-banking” is not concerned with traditional banking goals like profitability, market-share, and growth, Peterson noted. Instead, NRB’s goal is to “influence the flow of capital to businesses that are doing good.”  

As Peterson sees it: “If you drive a Prius and shop organic, you shouldn’t have your money in Bank of America or Citibank.” Instead, you should be putting your money in a community bank. But first, he cautioned, make sure you investigate the local bank’s mission -- Does it exist to pursue profits or to extend services?  

The panel noted that another option for local fund-raising may soon be found in “alternative currencies” like the “Hour,” a form of legal tender created 10 years ago in Ithaca, New York. In California, Sonoma County was cited as a region where a working alternative currency is quickly gaining traction. Unlike Berkeley’s fledgling “Bread” bills (founded in 1997, one “Bread hour” was worth 12 US dollars), Sonoma’s “Community Cash” uses electronic credit currency. Montpelier, Vermont is working on a food-based currency that will benefit local farmers. [For more info, see: http://www.ithacahours.org; http://sonomacash.bellanet.com. Recommended movie: “The Money Fix.” http://www.themoneyfix.org]  

Meanwhile, one of the best options for today’s would-be entrepreneur can be found in a slew of innovative “crowd-funding” options (including online grant-sites like Kickstarter.com and IndieGoGo) that are offering a radically new source of funding.  

Crowd-funding applies the power of social networking to create a capital-raising alternative that is proving increasingly effective because it allows unlimited numbers of small “investors” to kick in sums as meager as $5 to $10. The only problem is, under US law, these alternatives may be illegal.  

How SEC Laws Favor the Super-rich 

Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) laws were supposedly set up to protect investors but, they also serve to protect the established investing clout of the financial Ruling Class. As defined under current law, investing is an activity reserved as an exclusive privilege of the well-off and super-rich.  

For example, Kassen explained, it is “illegal” to try raising funds without first dealing with a stack of “onerous paperwork” from State and Federal agencies. (There is a campaign to get the SEC to relax its regulations to reduce the paperwork for small businesses.) Furthermore, under SEC laws, you need a “pre-existing relationship” before you can solicit an investment from someone. So, if you don’t happen to have a bunch of rich relations (which is par-for-the-course if you’re already a member of the Ruling Class), you’re out of luck. In addition, under the SEC’s Schedule A regulation, unlimited funds can only be raised by approaching “accredited investors” -- i.e., individuals with more than $1 million in assets, which covers less than two percent of the US population.  

Because the SEC forbids all but the well-to-do from engaging in “general solicitations” to raise whopping amounts of capital, crowd-funders cannot currently offer contributors any promise of stocks, interest or capital gains. Your “investment” (which can never be legally referred to by that word) amounts to a non-returnable donation. In other words, giving money to a crowd-funding organization is essentially the same as donating money to charity. You do it because it benefits your karma, not your capital assets.  

While, crowd-funded start-ups are allowed to offer “perks” (in the form of, say, tote-bags or discounted meals at a restaurant you’ve donated to), offering too many of these “unfunded liabilities” could nibble away a business’ thin margin of profit. Another complication: acknowledging donations with tote-bags and T-shirts runs the risk of offending the SEC’s regulation on “disinterested generosity.” Kevin Lawton, author of The Crowd-funding Revolution, hopes the SEC will grant an exemption to allow crowd-funding organizations to offer securities to small, wallet-sized contributors.  

The SEC’s constraints on loan-seekers are an obstacle that the Sustainable Economics Law Center hopes to challenge. The SELC hopes to convince regulators to allow people to solicit $100 donations without having to file the “onerous paperwork.” The present system doesn’t make a lot of sense, Kassen reflected: “You can go to a casino and lose all your money but you can’t invest in the companies of your choice.”  

A Case in Point: How Gather Gathered Its Capital 

Rounding up the resources to open Berkeley’s award-winning Gather Restaurant (located in the ground floor of the Brower Center) provides a classic case of Slow Money in action. It took 22 months to raise the capital for this organic and locally sourced food oasis (and all at a time when the economy was in free-fall from the collapse of the housing market).  

In order to win the contract to create a restaurant in the Brower Center (aka “Berkeley’s Greenest Building”), Derfel explained how he and his partner had to raise $400,000 in one month. They went to friends and colleagues and they went “bank-shopping.” Derfel recalled how “I personally asked about 400 individuals and about 60 said ‘yes.’” From March 2008 to October 10, 2010, Derfel told the Hub crowd, the process of creating Gather was a parade of “eighteen-hour-days, 24/7, with no time off.” Now that the restaurant has been financed, designed, built and opened for business, Derfel says, investors should be receiving “95% of profits back until they are paid off.”  

One significant fund-raising constraint is the Federal definition of an "accredited investor" and the limits this places on an entrepreneur's ability to sell private securities. Unfortunately, not too many small, independent entrepreneurs count multimillionaires among their closest friends. Fortunately, the Gather guys discovered Schedule D, which allows for an unlimited number of “accredited investors” and allows up to 35 “unaccredited” investors. Gather made full use of this option and opened for business with 75% equity and only 25% debt. Derfel told the Hub crowd that he hopes investors may realize a 5-10% profit within 10-12 years.  

Since it’s opening, Gather has won accolades for its food and its philosophy, while creating 75 new jobs and leading the way for four new restaurants that have subsequently sprouted in the neighborhood. Esquire magazine recently named the fledgling restaurant one of the country’s top 20 eateries and crowned Gather’s Sean Baker “Chef of the Year”!  

The Slow Money Movement Is Slowly Cashing In 

In the past two years, the Slow Money movement [www.slowmoney.org] has convened two national conventions, in the process channeling $5 million of investment from members of Slow Money's network into projects that support farms, food and topsoil.(Derfel noted that a study of history shows that all the major civilizations that have collapsed shared a common problem -- a loss of topsoil, leading to a collapse of their food systems.)  

Recognizing the critical importance of viable cropland, the Slow Money movement has created an entity called The Soil Trust. As Derfel explained, foundations typically invest 95% of their funds in “traditional vehicles.” In contrast, the Soil Trust is designed specifically to invest 100% of its funds in sustainable food enterprises. As Slow Money Associate Director David Corson-Knowles emphasizes: “Slow Money is launching the Soil Trust to be driven 100% by mission aligned investing, not transitioning it from the typical foundation set-up.” 

If one million Americans invested 1 percent of their assets in local food systems, Derfel observed, this would equal more than $4 billion of investment that would have a measurable and lasting impact on rebuilding local economies -- and building more fertile soil for future generations.This would, in turn, erase the perceived “risk” for institutional investors who would then become interested in jumping onboard. One of the goals of the Slow Money eco-monetarists is to inspire the country’s Big Buccaneers to start investing in “the spirit of Biophilia (the love of Nature) and the Triple Bottom Line -- People, Planet and Profit.”  

For starters, the Slow Money movement is inviting millions of Americans to each invest 25 tax-deductible dollars. “We will then use the money in the Soil Trust to provide guarantees, seed capital and co-investment in sustainable food enterprises,” Derfel explained. “Doing so would mitigate risk and make it possible for existing financial intermediaries to participate in investments that otherwise would fall outside of their normal risk profile.” 

“The Soil Trust, as a risk-mitigating tool, would take on the risk that keeps investment in local food systems from happening to an adequate level. “If we do our job right,”Derfel grinned, the Soil Trust specifically will likely lose 10-15% annually. However, as a not-for-profit foundation, the Soil Trust is neither obligated to make money nor required to provide financial returns to those who donate to it. This is what makes it a potentially powerful tool, capable of catalyzing millions of dollars of investments in local food systems.” And, at the end of the day, Derfel notes: “If we do make money, we are required by-law to turn the profits back into good things.”  

Meanwhile, the culture may be evolving faster than anyone anticipated. Derfel recently hosted Joel Salatin (the whip-smart, wise-cracking pig-farmer featured in the documentary Food, Inc.). “Thirty years ago,” Salatin confided, most of his customers were “crunchy-granola hippies” looking for sustainably raised, chemical free meat. These days, he reported, 50% of his clients are “Christian homeschoolers.”  

Derfel paused to recall a recent day at Gather where he encountered one investor leading a class of school kids on a trip through the downstairs restaurant and then ran into another investor upstairs, voluntarily engaged in a planning meeting. “The sense of community is the most important creation,” Derfel said with a wide smile. “Money becomes a means of creating community.”  

Derfel mentioned Martin Luther King’s observation: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” With every purchase (and contribution), we make a decision about what kind of country we wish to live in. “At the end of the day,” Derfel concluded, “we are all investors.”  


Our thanks to David Corson-Knowles for helping us fine-tune this article. 

Gar Smith is a Berkeley-based writer and Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal. 


.Editor's Note: This update corrects some errors in the original posting.


In Berkeley's People's Park: A Slow Week in Lake Woebegone
Except for Rats, as Park Activists Eschew Violence,
Focus on 42nd Anniversary

By Ted Friedman
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 08:07:00 PM

It was a slow week in Lake Woebegone, aka People's Park. Park rats kept to schedule, however. 

No stabbings in trees, no high profile busts. 

Don't call Berkeley rats—in your best Cagney: "you rats, you dirty rats!" They are Rattus norvegicus, cousins of the "cute little mice," befriended by regulars of the Berkeley Inn, now a vacant lot frequented by the Berkeley Inn mice's high-living cousins (burgers and pizza washed down with coke?). 

The Berkeleyside site may have thought Berkeley rats was a big story: "The rats of Telegraph Avenue," complete with a gripping one minute video, but sources in the park say the sewer rats have outwitted the university—with all its scientific resources—for more than a decade. 

According to Berkeleyside's video, the filmic sewer rats would have made Cagney proud. Working below Screen Actor's Guild wages, the rats accept, as a gratuity, Telegraph Avenue's four star catering services. 

Yes, the rich food they crave is widely available in People's Park and near the old Berkeley Inn site where leftovers often are tossed. 

But according to Roland Peterson, 53, a spokesman for Telegraph Avenue businessmen, whose office is in an historic Victorian next to the Berkeley Inn lot, construction nearby may have disrupted one of the obese rats’ main pathways. 

But enough with the rats (Who does their publicity?). 

The People's Park Planning Committee which meets at 1 p.m. . . .in the park each Sunday near the stage (open to the public) has turned its attention away from violence in the park to what it does best—promoting the annual celebration of People's Park's founding with local bands and speakers. 

Unrest in the park related to a recent stabbing in an occupied tree in the park followed by the arrest of the victim of that stabbing on an assault charge unrelated to the stabbing, has abated. 

The park's 42nd anniversary celebration is scheduled for April 24. Speakers, including counter-culture celebs, will speak between Indy, folk, and ethnic music sets at an open mike, according to Michael Delacour, 72, still a force in the park after 42 years of park activism. 

Although the university and park activists are not hugging each other, there is a grudging tolerance on both sides. Although some planning committee members resent the university's park involvement, they must secure a permit from the university to stage events.  

The university, a major, although controversial player in the park's troubled history, oversees the park, through an on-site "co-coordinator," whose tiny office, although attached to the rear end of the park’s restroom overlooks a panorama of historic and expensive real estate. 

Meanwhile, an Indian elder in the Blackfeet tribe, Running Wolf, 47, is fund-raising for another tree-sit to replace the three month long protest that ended in a stabbing January 28. 

A new park protest would bring—judging by the tangled web of resentments that led up the January stabbing—a new note of discord in the park. 

And those pesky rats—remember the rats?—could suffer an upsetting case of indigestion. After more than a decade, those rats are now Berkeleyans, too. 


 

Ted Friedman, who is covering the park for the Planet, has owned a hamster and two rats; his granddaughters had a pair.  

 

 

 

 

 


Joanne Kowalski, 1938-2011

By Nancy Holland
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 10:09:00 PM

A neighbor's chalk on sidewalk tribute to Joanne reads " to be smart is fine, to be kind is better, to be both can be divine." 

Joanne grew up with her brothers Len, Joe and John in Michigan. Her father worked in the New Deal and UAW, and served as speaker of the state assembly. After receiving a Phd in psychology, Joanne and her husband moved to Utah where he taught. Joanne taught and did research and became chief psychologist at the University Medical School before moving to Berkeley. 

Clearly, Joanne had found her community. She settled on Roosevelt Street and immersed herself in the events of the day. When University Without Walls failed she went to New College of San Francisco for her law degree. She had become convinced she needed to understand the law of the land better. 

While she patched together a livelihood doing legal research, grant writing and taxes, her real work was living and nurturing life. Her interests were wide-ranging and she was always open to considering something new. She participated in the Early Music Society, was on the board of UA Housing, helped with homeless programs and neighborhood newsletters. She listened to peoples stories and troubles for hours on end often turning a crisis into a social event as well as offering relevant advice. When she had an opinion, or others solicited hers, she wrote an article and sent it to the Planet. 

A neighbor declared Joanne the kindest person she had ever met. She bestowed her compassion on plants, animals and people. Another neighbor commented that he loved watching Joanne weed because she always sat on the ground, as though being in and of the garden was more important than clearing it. Joanne painted and had great enthusiasm for Latin art as well as cultural and political activities generally.She personally practised her commitment to justice and freedom in her daily life. Many people and projects benefitted from her encouragement. She could always be counted on to inject her own style, ideas and ideals into conversations. She wanted to live life on her terms and encouraged others to do the same. 

Over the years Joanne shared her home with many people. Her friend Arnoldo was with her to the end. 

On hearing of her passing one neighbor drew him self up and announced firmly "Joanne Kowalski - Presente. " 


In Memory of Fast Eddie

By Lydia Gans
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 10:30:00 PM

A year ago we ran a story about the weekly drum circle at the Ashby BART station. One of the people featured was Fast Eddie who for years had set the rhythms and inspired many of the other drummers to work on their techniques and to appreciate their African heritage. Last weekend there was a bowl of flowers at the base of the tree by the drum circle and a notice of a memorial service for Eddie. Someone came by and placed a candle with the flowers. Eddie Jones was killed on January 23. He was 62 years old. It was not a random killing. 

 

Yukon Hannibal drummed with Eddie for many years and admired his drumming but was was aware that Eddie had a life outside the drum circle. A life in the ghetto, where poverty is a fact of life and problems are solved with violence. A life where kids grow up seeing violence on the streets and the television but few alternatives. Yukon reflects that “Eddie's story is a sad story but a story that one day needs to be written.” But for now people can remember him as they move to the rhythms of the drummers he inspired.


Opinion

Editorials

Manufacturing Consent in Berkeley

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday February 16, 2011 - 11:43:00 AM

In case you ever wondered why things happen the way they do in the People’s Republic of Berkeley, our putative democracy, consider this:

The local Berkeleyside website recently reported on what was billed as a “novel forum”, a very pricey online poll paid for (with city funds?) by the councilmembers from Berkeley’s three most affluent council districts: District 5’s Laurie Capitelli (Thousand Oaks etc.), District 6’s Susan Wengraf (the high Berkeley Hills) and District 8’s Gordon Wozniak (Claremont-Elmwood). The pollster was Peak Democracy, a self-described “non-partisan company whose mission is to broaden civic engagement and build public trust in government.”

Non-partisan? Well, they might not be big-D Dems or big-R Repugs, but they do have an oar or two in the water. 

More from the PD website

“Peak Democracy was co-founded by Robert Alan Vogel and Michael Alvarez Cohen, both experienced entrepreneurs in the information technology sector. Robert most recently started, ran and successfully sold a pharmaceutical software business. Michael is a Harvard MBA and has held various executive management positions with high tech companies in Silicon Valley. Robert is Peak Democracy’s CEO and Michael is a board member. “ 

Does the name Michael Alvarez Cohen ring any bells? It turns out that Mr. Alvarez Cohen wears two more hats besides his membership on the PD board. 

If you’re a longtime Planet reader, you might remember that a couple of years ago Richard Brenneman reported, in an article entitled Push For West Berkeley Zone Changes Linked To University, Lab Startup Firms , that Alvarez Cohen is “the university official who heads the marketing effort to commercialize UC Berkeley-generated patents with the private sector.” He’s also a member of the City of Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustment Board, appointed by—no surprise here—Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. 

Knowing that Mr. A-C is a three-hat guy, you won’t be surprised to learn the results of the poll. The question it asked was “Should the City Council amend West Berkeley zoning to allow conversion of warehouse and/or wholesale spaces to other uses including research and development (R&D)?” 

And the answer? “The final number of votes was 237 and the vast majority voted in favor of the new plans. This was the breakdown of responses: Yes: 182; No: 25; Neutral: 2; Maybe: 28.” 

No word on how many of these “voters” lived in West Berkeley and how many in the affluent hill districts represented by the sponsoring councilmembers, but we can hazard a guess, can’t we? Yes, go ahead and put it in Your Backyard! (as long as it’s Not in Mine….) 

How does Michael Alvarez Cohen fit into plans which are afoot to change West Berkeley’s zoning? Well, in the first place, it’s generally accepted that the proposed zoning changes would make it much easier for companies commercializing UC patents (Alvarez Cohen’s protégés) to build offices there. 

Second, a major feature of the changes is the proposal to relax specific requirements in order to give the Zoning Adjustment Board increased power to vote projects up or down on a case-by-case basis. Will Mr. Alvarez-Cohen recuse himself each time a project with UC connections comes before the board? Probably not. 

In fairness, his many-hatted involvement in the West Berkeley scheme is not the worst part of the Peak Democracy scenario. Even if the company didn’t have a major local political player as a founder and board member, their methodology is anything but democratic. 

From their site: 

“It's hard for most residents to participate in city council and other government meetings. Whether they're intimidated by public speaking, uncomfortable confronting others with opposing views, uneasy about publicly stating their opinion or too busy to attend evening meetings, most of your community's voices are rarely heard. When only a few people participate, it can be hard to know what the rest of the community thinks.” 

Of course, nothing is stopping such shy people from writing signed letters, email or snail, to their representatives, or even calling them on the phone. And also: “To prevent any one person from dominating the forum, Peak Democracy restricts participants to one statement per topic.” 

In other words, no dialogue allowed here, just spout off, shut up and vote right. 

Peak Democracy opinion posters are allowed to be, and most prefer to be, “semi-anonymous”: What does that mean? It means that the company management knows your name, but no one else needs to. For our older readers, this is all too reminiscent of disgraced Vice President Spiro T. Agnew’s claim that his reactionary views were backed by a “silent majority”, though it’s commonplace in the brave new world of online bloviation. 

The difference here is that Peak Democracy solicits paid sponsorship by public officials for its Open City Hall™ product, the one purchased and used by Berkeley Councilmembers Wozniak, Capitelli and Wengraf to generate apparent consent for their political positions. In Berkeley, they can even use their tax-funded council accounts to pay for it. 

It’s a pay-to-play scheme which can easily be engineered to produce any results the official needs to justify his or her vote. Capitelli, for example, has emailed his supporters asking them to participate in the poll, although many others in his own district and especially residents of flatlands districts don’t even know about it. Also, participating "voters" need to use computers , and many Berkeleyans don't know how. 

Again from the PD site, “Peak Democracy requires every user to verify their email address via a verification link sent to the user's email address. In addition, Peak Democracy subjects every registration to a battery of automated tests which inspect the user's home address, the IP Address and other available information.” The many Berkeley citizens who are alert to privacy issues are reluctant to give their personal information to a private company like Peak Democracy with no enforceable guarantees that it won’t be misused. 

The Open Town Hall ™ product is no substitute for representative democracy. Anonymous letters are not a substitute for public participation. President Woodrow Wilson espoused “open covenants … openly arrived at… no private …understandings of any kind but … always frankly and in the public view.” That might be a good motto for the Berkeley City Council. 

At the Planet, we have always believed that unsigned opinions were not worth the paper it took to print them Even though we’re now paperless, we still refuse provide space for people too cowardly even to sign their name to a letter to the editor. That’s an old school attitude, perhaps, but we’ll stick to it. City officials, please copy. 

 

 

 

 


Cartoons

Cartoon Page: Odd Bodkins, BOUNCE

Thursday February 17, 2011 - 02:07:00 PM

 

Dan O'Neill

 

 

Joseph Young

 


Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 08:21:00 PM

What Would Dr. King Do? 

Re: "What would Dr. Martin Luther King do?” (“A Grander Vision,” W. Schlesinger) 

That’s easy. He wouldn’t turn on the hardest working, least funded, most direct charity in the East Bay. 

Food Not Bombs deserves celebration and thanks in this, its 20th year. It deserves special recognition for being the living embodiment of the park’s most essential traditions. 

Carol Denney 

* * * 

Stop Wasting Tax Money on Wild Horse Roundup 

Congress is grappling with spending cuts, yet tens of millions of tax dollars are wasted on a relatively unknown Interior Department program that rounds up thousands of wild horses from the West every year. 

President Obama spoke to the Nation about "streamlining" ineffective gov. agencies, the BLM is a prime candidate. 

Now a recent Tube video shows a helicopter heartlessly stampeding an elder wild horse who collapses from exhaustion during a government roundup currently underway in Nevada. 

The federal government already warehouses more wild horses in holding pens and pastures (40,000+) than are left free in the wild, yet the roundups continue. Our tax dollars paid for this wasteful federal program to the tune of $67 million last year. 

The cost, lost freedom, family and loss of life, is also high for America's mustangs, who are protected as part of our national heritage, but are being terrorized and driven off federally protected wild horse and burro public lands, to make room for commercial livestock grazing. 

It's time for taxpayers to speak up against this inhumanity and fiscal insanity. 

We are Calling 1,800,000 to rise up, one voice for wild horse and burro freedom, upon wild horses and burro federally protected land. 

Fire the BLM from management of our wild horses, burros and land. 

Free our wild horses and burros now. 

To learn more, please visit and spread awareness: 

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wild-Horse-Protection-Act/148137931880317 www.StopTheRoundups.com. 

Jetara Tara-Argall 

* * * 

Build Trust 

When legislators want to transform failing schools, they forget that it takes time to build trust between teachers and alienated students. Many alienated students have never had a chance to express their feelings without fear of reprimand. A good teacher begins by regarding students not as a group but as individuals who have asembled for a class. Such a teacher listens to each student with deep attention. The respect a teacher shows in his or her listening motivates students with low self esteem. A student's effort in trying to say something meaningful receives full validation. I was at an interview during which I was asked by members of the interview board: "What are the tools you need to teach your students?" I answered, "Within a week I will motivate them to be self-learners but I want to use my own methods. I must be left free to design a curriculum for them." I was not given a chance to place my research on the table. I was not selected for the job. Every teacher has his or her own style of bringing about positive changes but old ways of thinking are hierarchical. According to this old view only the chair decides which teaching style is best for the entire department. Not only is the alienated student not motivated but the teacher's eagerness to help the student is stubbed. His or her keen desire to bring out the best in ordinary students goes waste. 

Romila Khanna 

* * * 

Mostly Mozart 

I received an e-mail last Saturday evening informing me of a free staged reading of a Mozart opera to be performed by the Berkeley West Edge Opera Lab the next afternoon at the Berkeley Piano Club. The work to be performed was a little known short opera, "Zaide". 

That phrase "little known" triggered an alarm, raising a question in my mind. To me it suggested that this opera is just plain no good! Or, to put it more delicately, it's perhaps not up to that composer's usual compelling scores. 

So, o.k., the opera wasn't that great, but spending two hours in the small auditorium of that lovely Berkeley Piano Club on Haste Street was a pleasure in itself. In "googling" for information on the Club I learned that it was founded in 1893 and is one of the nation's few musical clubs with private performance space. The landmark designation includes the Bertha Newell House at the front of the property, once the residence of John Galen Howard. 

In an upstairs workshop, a Manhattan Project scientist designed a triggering mechanism for the atom bomb. That scientist, of course, was none other than J. Robert Oppenheimer. We should be thankful he didn't blow up the place! 

Getting back to "Zaide", thanks to the very helpful program notes, we know that Mozart started work on this piece in Salzburg in 1779. He wasn't very pleased with it, which is understandable. It's a rather bizarre story with a Turkish setting, having to do with Sultans and slaves and executions. 

Fortunately for the audience, an affable pianist/commentator, Robert Ashens, made sense of the story, and five excellent vocalists sang the moving, emotional lyrics in both German and English. During intermission, guests gathered in the Club's lovely garden, enjoying wine, cheese and crackers and luscious desserts. Granted that Mo's "little known" opera was nothing to write home about, all in all it was a lovely afternoon, thanks to the Berkeley West Edge Opera Lab and the talented artists who participated in the program. 

Dorothy Snodgrass 

* * * 

Who Supports the Tea Party

Have you been paying attention? In a recent poll, 71% of Republicans" describe themselves as tea party supporters." Republican pundits keep asking the question, "Why are we still in Afghanistan?" As I recall Republicans and George Bush got us into the war in Afghanistan. 

Lock and load. Even after the Tucson shooting, the GOP and NRA are deadset against any new gun control. Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin appeal to the female "Mama Grizzles" who account for a 'disproportionate amount of the Tea Party ranks.' 

Remember: Pastor Terry Jones who threatened to burn the Koran on the September 11 anniversary sparking worldwide reaction. A Texas judge sentenced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to three years in prison on money-laundering and conspiracy charges. 

The GOP's effort to dismantle health reform under the catchy name Repealing the Job Killing Health Care Act" was a flat-out lie. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says tens of thousands of new health care jobs will be created. How will the Republicans and conservatives downplay the continuing economic upturn? 

Ron Lowe  

* * * 

Obama' s Silence on Climate Change 

Bob Burnett is correct that Obama has been almost entirely silent about what is perhaps the greatest threat facing humanity and much of life on earth: the climate change that is already manifesting itself in catastrophic weather events as well as melting ice and sea level rise. The president's silence is more heinous than his predecessor's since, unlike Bush Junior, Obama ostensibly believes in the reality of climate change but does nothing to educate the public about it. Does he think that the wealth he has recently accumulated will insulate his daughters from the consequences of his inaction now? 

Bennett's article is a non sequitur, however. He concludes by saying that "we" can still mobilize to fight climate change. Unfortunately, we have failed to act for too long: the feedback loops are locking in and the extreme weather events demonstrate that it is not just our children or grandchildren who will suffer. Turn on the nightly news and you will see that the future is now; all we can do is watch until the lights flicker and go out. 

Gray Brechin 

* * * 

Bearer of Bad News 

Bob Burnett's climate change wakeup call ["The Public Eye: Global Climate Change...," 2/9] is preaching to the converted in Berkeley, while most others fiddle while Rome is burning, either preferring to ignore bad news or as willing victims of the Koch/Fox propaganda machine. We are told the rapidly approaching disaster must be framed as a positive story in order to get people's attention - which is a bit like finding something cheerful about being on the Titanic. No wonder President Obama doesn't wish to touch it - and even undermined the Climate Bill, assuring it of defeat. He's got a similar problem of not being willing to be the bearer of bad news in Afghanistan (that the so-called "war" is lost), where the President we thought we had elected would have taken the war money to fight climate change, instead of using it to kill Muslims. 

Tom Miller


Say It Loud!

By Angela Tomeoni
Wednesday February 16, 2011 - 10:35:00 PM

Oakland“Plant Blight” Shakedown Update #3: Yes, It’s More Than Just About The Rosebushes!

By Bob Brokl
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 08:50:00 PM

My partner and I paid a huge $1279. fine for our “plant blight” violation on a California bungalow rental property. We were targeted by an angry neighbor enlisting a Public Works Dept. employee as inside advocate. But, to quote the old cliché about lemonade out of lemons, our shakedown has been the spur for a morbidly fascinating study of the dark side of the community and Economic Development agency (CEDA) Building Services Dept. This department makes up and applies its own rules, levies stiff fines, fees, and liens as it sees fit, and then forgives and removes same for those with the right juice. Moreover, their in-house “appeal process” is a bogus kangaroo court.  

Building Services has a huge purview: enforcement of the blight ordinance and building permit inspections. It generates millions of dollars in revenue for a nearly broke city. It shouldn’t be a surprise that such an agency might go rogue and abuse its powers. As collateral damage: the corrosive effect a rogue operations can have on other departments and elected officials. 

We made a public records request to the City Attorney’s office on our case, as we’ve often done on more portentous matters. But our seemingly small record was stonewalled by Building Services and CEDA staff. When we uncovered documents we were told didn’t exist, and walked them into the City Attorney’s office, they remained mute (except to ask where and when we got them). The Sunshine Ordinance and handling of Public Records requests were among the exemplary aspects of Oakland government. No longer.  

Further, Council members and their staff must either keep a blind eye on abuse or play the role of fixers, intervening--or not--between their constituents and CEDA’s Building Services. Council aides told us of the numerous angry constituents, caught up in vendetta complaints by neighbors.  

The nothingugly.com blog April 16, 2010 post details the writer’s long-running problems with Building Services. He forfeited a $2000 bond demanded of him by Building Services on a house he was buying in West Oakland, entangled in liens. An inspector suggested he pass on the property. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t able to make the required repairs under the timetable established by CEDA. He reports two councilmembers told him they get more complaints about CEDA Building Services than even about parking tickets.  

Feds and State Attorney General Looking at Building Services? 

Sanjiv Handa (fixoakland@aol.com) broke the story Jan .13 about subpoenas served and files and computers removed for analysis by the U.S. Dept. of Justice and the California Attorney General’s office. Others have confirmed the probes, focusing on CEDA’s Building Services and building inspectors in particular. It’s rumored the probes involve liens and fees placed on properties, perhaps in efforts to tip them into foreclosure or make them unaffordable for ordinary investors, where they are nabbed by a small group of well-connected interests, who then get the liens forgiven. The abrupt departure of the highly-placed Antoinette Renwick, Inspection Services Manager, after complaints to the City’s Ethics Commission, is noteworthy. 

For many more details about blight ordinance abuse and pending litigation, check out auditOaklandceda.com, established by other blight victims. Tellingly, both nothingugly.com and auditoaklandceda.com are by West Oakland urban homesteaders, who ought to be encouraged for putting down roots in dicey neighborhoods, not vulnerable targets of a predatory, fee-hungry bureaucracy. 

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU!: 

CEDA’s colorful blight ordinance brochure, “A Guide for Residential Property Owners” for “Improving the Appearance of Our Neighborhoods and Community” seems innocuous enough, with its emphasis upon “debris, litter, dirt and garbage,” prohibitions about “... storing or placing sofas, appliances, etc. on your front porch or yard”, and requiring storage of inoperable or unlicensed vehicles in a fully enclosed building such as a garage.“ Also: “Do not hang laundry in your front yard, porch, or balcony facing the street.” A stern guide for Ma and Pa Kettle in the Big City? 

But, apart from micromanaging duration of garbage cans remaining at the curb and clotheslines (sounds green to me!), the “Assessments $ $ $” section is the height of vagueness and deception: 

“Complying with the Legislation. Assessments $$$. If you receive a notice for violating these laws and do not comply within the time stated, you will be assessed a re-inspection and enforcement fee not less than $2,000. If fees are not paid within 30 days, a lien will be placed against the property and collected with the owner’s property taxes. Additional assessments of at least $500.000 will be made each time the unpaid fees are liened and recorded against the property.” 

In our case, according to the e-mails we were provided, a good two weeks before we met with the inspector to discuss our plant blight, the die was already cast. Walter Cohen, the head of CEDA whose boss is longtime City Administrator Dan Lindheim (Berkeley resident and de facto Mayor under nominal Mayor Ron Dellums), met with his deputy, Building Services head Ray Derania, and decided to throw the book at us. Derania advised: “If transgressors are turned back to us, it’s surprising how quickly they see-the-light and get with the program (even if it costs them some money sometimes).” Cohen assented with the hearty ”Well..if you insist...meddling can be such fun.”  

After our initial, alarming talk with field inspector William Patchen, we called his Inspector Supervisor Rich Fielding, who said we had the right to appeal our plant blight fine of $1279. In our case, a neighbor frustrated by our aloe blossoms overhanging the sidewalk had convinced Fred Loeser who handles right of way issues in Public Works to lodge a complaint with the above-mentioned Antoinette Renwick in Building Services. That first complaint supposedly led to the second “violation” and the draconian fine, even though the first inspector was so unfazed by our “blight” that he subsequently deleted the file, never met with us but simply did a drive-by inspection, and encouraged us to appeal our fine. Nor did he mention about the penalties of “repeat violations.” 

In previous postings, I called the blight ordinance a “two strike law.” In truth, the ordinance is as elastic as Building Services wants to make it. Section 8.24.080 of the Oakland Municipal code, the pretext for our being “...immediately charged fees at a minimum of $1,089...because you engaged in the same or similar violation within 24 months of another violation” is not what that section of the code states, except for the open-ended “the Building Official may establish time durations for abating blighting conditions...” 

Thanks to auditOaklandceda.com, we learned Building Services has complete leeway over how many strikes, if any, are required to trigger fines and routinely refund fines totaling thousands of dollars as, for example, the $6351 fine levied against Carlos Plazola, former chief of staff toIgnacio de La Funete and now head of Terra Linda Development and founder of the Oakland Builder Alliance lobby. Auditoaklandceda.com reports this refund, dated 7/8/09, was approved by Derania and Cohen. 

There’s a porous line between favoritism, retribution and corruption. 

Kangaroo Court  

Fielding told us we could file an appeal and a billing dispute form, but warned we would be fined an additional $113 for each denial, if that happened. We did not yet know our house had already been liened for “not less than $1000” as of Nov. 17. We also didn’t know the “billing dispute route” is a sham that doesn’t exist in the City’s codes. We soon learned why most citizens don’t appeal--we were initially turned down at the Building Services counter, later another employee accepted and stamped the appeal. Our $1279 payment, however, was received happily at the cashier’s window! 

Not surprisingly, we soon got a one page form letter, with the “denied” box checked and no names attached of officials who’d made the call, and on what basis. We’d written a 17 page letter, with attachments, in our defense. We learned latter, by circuitous means, that Patchen and Fielding, as judge and jury, were the authors of the denial. In a recent deposition, Fielding says the appeal process can be an “office meeting.”  

Broken Public Records Process: 

Nothing illustrates the breakdown of the public records process at the moment, in our admittedly “minor” case, than our attempt to obtain the “finding” explaining that denial. We knew it must exist, and--to paraphrase Reagan’s “I paid for the microphone” line--felt we’d earned it. 

In our experience, the public records requests have generally worked, after a fashion. Generally, you’d give the department a couple of days notice you wanted to come in and look at the files. The files would be put out for you to review and flag documents you wanted copies of. No muss, no fuss. Even the most reluctant bureaucrat would allow access to files (except documents relating to personnel and legal matters, a gray area). 

In this case, Building Services is the outlier. They stalled, never allowed us to see originals, released a paltry amount of e-mails in dribbles so as to handicap our appeal or other forms of redress, and, finally, was caught red-handed in a lie that seemingly has no consequences. We put up with additional delays caused by redacting e-mails and i-phone messages from the angry neighbor to hide his identity (not a secret anyway), nor did we mind sitting in an office with someone in attendance as we looked though our file, an option not allowed us. 

We repeatedly asked for the “finding letter.” Our Dec. 21 e-mail: “We have not been provided anything related to our appeal, dated Dec. 3, nor the denial, dated Dec. 9. There will have been staff discussions, including e-mails, relating to these...” On Dec. 22, Arlette Flores-Medina, who handled the request in the City attorney’s office, wrote back: “You have in your possession all documentation provided by Building Services in regards to the file case...to respond to the public records request you submitted to me on Nov. 19, 2010.“ An unambiguous response.  

Subsequently, we obtained the 3 page Fielding/Patchen denial finding. We walked it into the City Attorney’s office, leaving it for Mark Morodomi, the city attorney handling public records. Later we got a call from Flores- Medina asking for the source, and when we got it. She asked if the letter was obtained after the (specious) Building Service’s claim. I said yes, but declined to divulge the source. There has been no other follow-up, although we suggested that there are other missing documents as well. Despite our media outreach, CEDA would have you believe nothing has been discussed internally, because nothing after Cohen’s Nov. 16 “fun” remark has been turned over. Circle the wagons! 

Be Very Afraid! 

The “secret” finding is relevant and scary because it directly contradicts an e-mail Fielding was only too happy to provide, which he wrote himself. After our phone encounter with the inspector, we set up an onsite inspection. No one appeared on the day we thought we’d arranged--the inspectors, we were told, were at a meeting. I then called Cohen’s office. His helpful executive assistant volunteered Fielding’s cell phone. Fielding, reached on his cell, was LIVID. In the e-mail he wrote the assistant the same day, he explained: “My conversation with Mr. Brokhl (sic) ended cordially.” Not!  

Fielding also claimed: “”His interpretation of what is required from his discussion with Patchen would appear to be a significant exaggeration. He is not being asked to make any major changes at his property. Just a maintenance issue on site to clear the guardrails (barriers to side of stairs) that serve as his entry stairs, and a clearing of the right of way. He believes that there is a measurement for passage at the sidewalk and a limit to how much the right of way needs to be cleared. We need it from property line to face of curb per OMC 12.04.070. There may be an issue regarding his foliage blocking the required light and ventilation at his windows (this would be a safety issue related to the CBC)...” (emphasis added.) 

The “secret” finding of Fielding and Patchen contradicts his e-mail. The finding, with it’s misspellings (“vegetaion, Brokhl”), does indeed cite us for all of the above. And, as in all propaganda, only the neutral/pejorative word “vegetation” is used, never landscaping, plantings, decorative shrubs, street trees, flowers, natives. Or else, inspectors don’t have the training to identify landscaping, so the generic “vegetation” suffices. 

How You’re Affected: 

*In the inspectors’ view, none of your property is “private.” Not side yards, back yards, or yards behind fences and gates. We were cited for bird of paradise leaves overhanging the ample and original stucco balustrades, and fortnight lilies growing along the “private” sidewalk to the front entrance. 

Patchen photographed the rear (tenant’s private space) yard through a crack between gate boards. His opening remark to us was that he “wasn’t going to complain about the problems with that yard.” 

*Right-of-way” and “non-constricted” sidewalks mean whatever the inspector and his supervisor want it to mean--from the 36” required by our Inspector #1 to “2 people walking abreast” when we passed our second inspection. Fielding and Patchen demand 6’8” straight up from the edge of the sidewalk, but that is nowhere in the regulations and not even a standard for official street tree trimming (whenever that happens). OMC 12.04.070 refers to “weeds” and “grass”--never even mentions landscaping. 

*Do not assume you can have plants in front of windows or too close to doors. Do not assume you know how close is too close. Do not assume your plants are “grandfathered in.” 

*Do not assume you will ever find out who your accuser was. Do assume, since the complaint was anonymous and there is not minimum threshold of seriousness, the source was anyone or no one. 

*If you do manage to get your appeal “accepted,” don’t expect to find out why you were turned down. 

*If you were tagged once, expect to be tagged again. 

*No “offense” is too minor. According to a 2008 Contra Costa Times article, an Oakland resident was fined $951 for leaving on vacation for 3 days and not taking her garbage cans inside. 

ONWARD:  

We have a hearing in Small Claims court, May 6. Dept. 14, 9 a.m. Superior Court, 1221 Oak St. We intend to raise the issues of widely varying interpretation, lack of records, misinterpretation of the ordinance, and a totally flawed process, made up on the spot and out of thin air that punishes, rewards, and forgives, depending on the inspector and the “violators.” 

Mayor Quan has called for citizens to suspend their “cynicism,” volunteer and shop Oakland.  

But who will restore confidence in the public records process? How can you remove the tarnish from City Council members that have been hearing for years about blight ordinance enforcement abuse and done nothing (because of the revenue stream?), or found fixes for their friends and supporters? How can one assume Lindheim and his appointee Walter Cohen are not aware of the abuse, even corruption, and have turned a blind eye? 

Tunisia, Egypt, CEDA? 


Demolition of Branch Libraries – Not What the Voters Approved

By Gale Garcia
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 05:46:00 PM
The stone medallion which decorates the front of the West Berkeley branch library.
Gail Garcia
The stone medallion which decorates the front of the West Berkeley branch library.

I grew up loving Berkeley’s historic architecture. Until age nine, I lived about seven blocks from the West Berkeley Branch Library. I viewed this Classical Revival structure fondly every time I went down University Avenue. Its stone medallions, representing the curved pages of an open book, seemed to invite one into the joy of reading and the magic of books. How appropriate for a library! 

Some time during the 1970s the West Berkeley Branch Library was desecrated with blocky additions. When I first saw the renovation, I couldn’t believe that anyone could do such insensitive alterations to a stately and classical structure. 

In 2004, there was a plan to restore the historic 1923 portion of the building, move it forward on the lot and enlarge the back. But the proposal was not funded and the plan was dropped. 

Now, in 2011, funding is available for just this sort of project, because voters approved Measure FF in 2008, providing $26 million to “renovate, expand, and make seismic and access improvements” at Berkeley’s four branch libraries.  

Despite the clear and simple mandate from Measure FF, the Board of Library Trustees’ plan is to use the Measure FF money for a brand new modern library to be built after the historic structure is expunged from the site. The South Berkeley Branch Library is slated for a similar fate. 

A matter of social justice 

I participated in two petition drives to preserve Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance. I gathered hundreds of signatures over several weeks out on the street, and talked to over a thousand people during the process. 

Two of my favorite spots to gather signatures were near the Ashby BART station and near University Avenue in West Berkeley. I do not recall ever hearing a resident in these areas say that they wanted Berkeley’s old buildings knocked down for modern new buildings, while claims to this effect were not uncommon in wealthier areas. Dozens of African American residents told me that they felt that their neighborhoods were regarded as targets for demolition. 

Is it therefore disheartening that the Trustees’ plan is to demolish the South and West Branch libraries, while simply renovating, expanding and making seismic and access improvements – exactly what the voters approved in 2008 – to the North Branch and Claremont libraries. What is wrong with this picture? 

Berkeley’s “public process” is a sham 

The vast majority of residents never attend city meetings. Those of us who do, but aren’t part of Berkeley’s in-crowd know that the decisions have generally been made in advance, and the subsequent process is a sham conducted so that insiders can claim that there was a lengthy public process involving many public meetings. 

The process for the plan to demolish the South and West Branch Libraries is the poster child for this phenomenon. 

In 2007 there was a top-down plan to move the South Branch Library into the Ed Roberts complex on Adeline Street. Neighbors formed a group called Save Our Library (SOL) to advocate for the preservation and improvement of the South Berkeley Branch Library. 

The Library Board of Trustees hired a firm, Hatcheul Tabernik & Associates (HTA), to survey the community’s needs. It determined that there would be a favorable response to the move. How it came to this decision is completely unknown. 

SOL members therefore did their own survey. They stood outside the South Branch Library for many days and asked people how they felt about the potential move, only to learn that very few people had even heard about it. SOL members found only one person who had actually been interviewed by HTA. They ultimately gathered over 600 signatures asking to keep the library (and historic building) on Russell Street. 

The Board of Library Trustees completely ignored this grassroots effort to save the South Branch Library. Just two years later, a “public process” was conducted to “show” that a majority of residents wanted a new library. Those who disagreed were simply ignored (see Steve Finacom’s commentary, “Measure FF and Branch Library Demolitions” in the December 15, 2010 issue of the Planet). 

The planned demolition of the West Berkeley Branch library is even more outrageous. The West Branch is a designated a City of Berkeley Structure of Merit. Furthermore, the 2008 Berkeley Public Library Branch Libraries Facilities Master Plan (FMP) recommended “restor[ing] the original 1923 branch façade and the lovely interior historic details”. The Berkeley City Council decided to put Measure FF on the ballot – based upon the findings of the FMP! Why is demolition even being considered? 

It’s not nice to fool the electorate 

The voters certainly were not informed in 2008 that demolition was part of the Trustees’ plan. The text of Measure FF did not reveal it. The City Attorney’s Impartial Analysis of Measure FF said “Current plans for renovation include restoration and refurbishment of historic features at the branch libraries as part of any renovation”, while saying nothing about demolition.  

An attendee of the October 14, 2009 Library Board of Trustees meeting told me that one of the trustees stated that they had always planned to demolish the buildings; they just didn’t put it in the bond. The official recording of this meeting mysteriously trails off before this statement was made. 

Why was the critical piece of information about the planned demolitions left out of the bond language? It seems obvious to me that the bond measure would very likely have failed if the truth were told. Then $26 million would not beavailable – no millions would be available – to renovate any of the branch libraries.  

The citizens of Berkeley voted to support funding to“renovate, expand, and make seismic and access improvements” at the four branch libraries. And that is exactly what should be done. 

 


HUAC** at Peace and Justice Commission?

By Gene Bernardi
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 07:59:00 PM

A rather startling interruption occurred during the Peace and Justice Commission’s (P&J) discussion of a motion at its February 7, 2011 meeting. The motion was to send a letter drafted by the P&J’s Nuclear Free Berkeley Act (NFBA) subcommittee to Library Director Donna Corbeil, asking for “clarification as to whether the risk of unsupported checkout systems, a possible result of the identified gap between the end of the 3M contract and installation of the Bibliotheca system, places at risk the termination of the 3M contract by 14 March, 2011.” 

Translated, this means: Will the Berkeley Public Library (BPL) have its newly-purchased Bibliotheca Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) checkout system for books and other materials fully installed by March 14, 2011. This, so that there will be no question regarding whether BPL can meet the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act waiver deadline of two years that was approved by the City Council, which allowed 3M to maintain the existing proprietary RFID checkout system. (The waiver was required because the 3M Company declined to sign a city-required form that they are not involved, and will be involved, with nuclear weapons or the nuclear fuel cycle during the life of the contract.) 

Suddenly, during the Commission’s discussion of the motion, the secretary to the P&J Commission asserted to the Commissioners that two members of the public, Gene Bernardi of SuperBOLD (Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense) and Peter Warfield of Library Users Association and SuperBOLD, who had earlier spoken during public comment, were litigants in a suit against the BPL. The chair allowed these two members of the public to respond. Each one stated that neither the organizations they represented, nor either of them as individuals, were litigants in a lawsuit against BPL. 

The P&J secretary, concerned that perhaps Bernardi and Warfield or their organizations may not NOW be litigants, then asked, ‘have you EVER been a litigant against the library?’ 

Although startled by this interruption, which was irrelevant to the motion on the table, Bernardi and Warfield responded that they did not recall any such litigation. However, Warfield said he did recall a SuperBOLD challenge to the Public Comment procedures of the Berkeley City Council and the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT), made with the assistance of the First Amendment Project. The challenge — which was not a lawsuit, and did not become one — resulted in expanded public comment at the City Council, in conformance with the Brown Act.  

The First Amendment Project “is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition,” and serves “a core constituency of activists, journalists, and artists who seek to vindicate important First Amendment rights . . . by contesting governmental non-compliance with open records and [open] meetings laws….” according to the group’s website. 

Warfield continued that SuperBOLD received a James Madison Freedom of Information award in the Citizen category from the Society of Professional Journalists for this effort, which resulted in Public Comment improvements at City Council. 

Warfield and Bernardi, in their public comments at this P&J meeting, suggested that, rather than sending the NFBA subcommittee’s letter directly to Library Director Donna Corbeil, that P&J instead advise the City Council to send the letter to the library director. Bernardi read a selection from Berkeley’s Commissioner’s Manual which instructs commissions to advise the City Council and not communicate with outside agencies. 

The effect of the secretary’s interruption was not just the spreading of inaccurate information, but perhaps worse — creating an irrelevant distraction from the topic at hand. It is important to note that even if the falsehood about litigation were true, there is nothing unlawful or inappropriate about filing a lawsuit.  

So the big question is: Why are the NFBA subcommittee and the P&J secretary trying to shield the library director from potential City Council knowledge that either (1) the NFBA waiver deadline may not be met, or that (2) there may be a security gap at the library? 

**HUAC = House Un-American Activities Committee, famous for repeatedly asking the question: “Are you now or have you ever been….?” 


Gene Bernardi is a member of SuperBOLD, Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense, and received a City of Berkeley Outstanding Woman of Berkeley award in 2009. 


Tree Sit, Tree Sit, Tree Sit

By Dan McMullan, Disabled People Outside
Wednesday February 16, 2011 - 08:57:00 AM

Someone sent me a crazy letter that was sent in to the Planet about People's Park. I could go on point by point ad nauseum, about its crazy assertions So I will. As a disabled person who was thrown on the streets after over a year in the hospital.In one fine day I lost my leg, use of an arm, my pelvis broken in 7 places, back, head and clavicle fractures and 5 broken ribs. These kind of injuries can make work a challenge so excuse me if I take offense at the "get a job" B.S. 

For ten years Social Security answered my petitions with. "Your disability will not last longer than a year." The leg never did grow back, the elbow is still gone too.Hmmmm. The slender UC paycheck you speak of is about 10 times what we survive on here at my house!!! The beatings I have endured from the UC police department have done very little to endear them or the elitist a-holes they represent to me. The last time they assaulted me was 5 years ago when they put me in the hospital in front of my two young sons because my 4 year old at the time knocked over a saw horse that was blocking Park access. 

Why should UC admin. employees be swimming in gravy while the disabled and elderly are made to bear the burden of the mistakes and greed of the rich? We live in terror of being homeless again. While others fear they might have to give up one of their vacations. 

Medi-cal has been gutted to the point that doctors no longer accept it. The very few that do see it as pro bono work. 

Anyone...ANYONE who is out there bringing attention to what is going on in the Park and this country deserves our support and appreciation. I spent a month sleeping on a traffic island last June to bring attention to proposed cuts to In Home Supportive Services and Medi-cal with a dozen other disabled people and it was not easy (I am no spring chicken, and those years on cold cement did not help my healing process much.) There was violence. Our vulnerability attracted predators. and we were 12 old people in wheelchairs. What we really need is for elitist snobs to be educated about what is really going on in the world. 

Let's get a few things straight. All land in the western hemispere from the North Pole to Tierra del Fuego is Indian land. The vast majority of homeless people are 1) disabled 2)orphans/foster care kids, all with no support system or medical coverage. And people wonder why they self-medicate? I had the bad luck of being both. Shit happens. 

In my work I have had the opportunity to see a lot of people that were once pretty well off become homeless. At first they think they are a special case. They not like the "others" But after a while they come to see (if they have any sense) that we are all brothers and sisters and that bad luck and disaster does not care who you think you are. If you are out there trying to make things better for all people I applaud you. Keep up the good work!!! Who knows maybe Democracy will spread to the U.S. too!


Support KPFA's Winter Fund Drive Feb 14 - Mar 4

By Akio Tanaka, KPFA Local Station Board member
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 10:36:00 PM

Last year KPFA was on course to a fiscal train wreck. (See the graph above). The Pacifica National Board (PNB) stepped in to bring the KPFA finances under control which necessitated some cuts in staff. Seven people took voluntary severance, and in the end two people were laid off. 

The PNB is the Pacifica Foundation’s democratically elected Board of Directors. The Executive Director is hired by and reports to the PNB. The PNB is responsible for the overall financial health of the entire network; however, there are some who have cast its actions as a seizure of power and dismantling of the system of local governance and have convinced some of the KPFA paid staff, half of the KPFA board members, and many listeners to accept this explanation of events. 

Matt Hallinan recently claimed in the Berkeley Daily Planet (1/27/11) that the cuts were not necessary, that the layoffs violated the union contract, and that Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt seized all powers at KPFA. 

• [MH said] “KPFA's local management, working with the unionized staff, had produced a [sustainable] budget proposal that showed the books could be balanced without making programmatic cuts. [It] involved a number of proposals for reducing the one-way flow of funds to Pacifica – which now absorbs 24% of listener contributions to KPFA.” 

• [A response] The graph plot which is taken from the annual audited budget belies Matt’s claims. A sustainable budget is one in which expenses match revenue. As the Listener Support declined sharply between 2005 and 2009, there was no corresponding reduction in ‘Salaries and Benefits’. 

Payments to Pacifica, however, were reduced to reflect the decline in Listener Support. KPFA pays 17% of its Listener Support to Pacifica and 2.8% for the network archives. Pacifica provides central services like FCC license renewal and maintenance, insurance, annual audit, and programs such as Democracy Now! and Al Jazeera. 

• [MH said] “Why would Pacifica choose to cut the program that raises the most money during the station's fund drives?” 

“The firing of Brian Edwards-Tiekert was purely political.” 

• [A response] The layoffs were done in accordance with the KPFA/CWA contract which specifies seniority within skill sets. The contract does not give preference based on a member's popularity or favorable time slot. 

Brian was laid off based on the contract that also allows him to return as a paid staff member by exercising the union’s seniority bumping rights, although not necessarily to his former program slot. 

• [MH said] “[The] Executive Director of Pacifica, Arlene Englehardt seized all power at KPFA.” 

“Arlene Engelhardt [replaced the Morning Show] with one of her own choosing.” 

• [A response] What Pacifica Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt did was to step in to save KPFA from the brink of bankruptcy. She hired a new General Manager and an interim Program Director both of whom are committed to reinstating the Program Council, a mechanism for listeners, station management, and paid and unpaid staff to determine KPFA programming decisions collaboratively. 

The current crisis revealed the strength of KPFA. What makes KPFA special is the skill and dedication of both its listener members and unpaid staff which constitutes 2/3 to 3/4 of the KPFA workforce who, seeing the financial crisis at the station along with a CWA union stipulation that paid staff not cooperate, stepped up to put on the ‘The Morning Mix’ show to help the station meet its financial challenges. 

They are truly helping ‘save’ KPFA! 

You can help KPFA get through these hard times by making a generous contribution during the 2011 Winter Fund Drive, February 14- March 4 

 

 


Mubarak Resigns: YAH-YA MISR – “Long Live Egypt”

By H. Scott Prosterman
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 10:26:00 PM

Hosni Mubarak has finally resigned. The man who was a cautionary, pro-American caretaker for 30 years morphed into one of the most brutal and autocratic dictators on the planet. In the interim, he milked the U.S. State Department for $billions as a legacy of the Camp David accords, and hopefully closed the chapter on the American policy of supporting autocratic regimes, friendly to Western interests, at the expense of human rights and real liberalization. Until recently, a dictator could carefully control the information by shutting down newspapers, radio and TV stations. Thanks to the global information network, that tactic is now a sure backfire. 

When I traveled through the Middle East in 1980, I began and ended my trip in Amman, Jordan because that’s where I got the cheapest flight. After a few days in Amman, I boarded an Egypt Air flight for Cairo to study the impact of Camp David. I don’t think there was one woman on the plane. That was also a reflection of Arab street life at the time. The men were Egyptian laborers returning home. 

As the plane landed, a spontaneous chant came out in unison from all the passengers – “YAH-YA MISR, YAH-YA MISR” “Long Live Egypt.” The happiness at returning to the country they loved was infectious, though I had yet to set foot there. Naturally, I joined in the clapping and chanting too. 

One of the many remarkable elements of the recent demonstrations in Egypt is the presence of women on the street. My time in Cairo found very few women on the streets ever. This was a dynamic and function of a Muslim society. 

Reports on the ground from (Medaan Tahrir) Tahrir Square have been truly awe-inspiring. This “awe” has been either 31 or 59 years in the making. The last formal Egyptian Revolution occurred in 1952 when Gamal Abdel Nassar took control of the army to seize control from King Farouk. Egypt has had a military government since then, carrying out various forms of individual and political oppression. Reports of badly injured men and women returning to the front lines to throw rocks and challenge the police, illustrates the sense of desperation and intolerance that has been building throughout the lives of all participants. The prevalence of a carnival atmosphere amid the riots marks the truly Egyptian character of this event. 

The army was loyal to President Anwar Sadat, who was party to the Camp David accords. His assassination by one of his officers in 1981 was just as shocking as the events of the past three weeks. Mubarak’s appointment at the time was unexpected, and he was promoted as a “compromise candidate,” whatever that meant in a one-party system. 

My time in Cairo in 1980 was focused on completing my Master’s Thesis at Michigan on The Impact of Camp David on the Egyptian People. The verdict: not much. The initial $5 billion in American military and economic largesse never trickled down the sieve of baksheesh (gratuity) and corruption to make a difference in the price of bread. American good will and generosity did not demand any accountability. My interview at the time with U.S. Ambassador Alfred Atherton illustrated a fatalistic acceptance of this fact. This may be changing now. The peace with Israel was and is fragile, and the American priority was maintaining a regime friendly to American corporate and military interests. 

This primary determinant of “US Foreign Policy 101” has been governing the counterproductive nature of American foreign police since World War II. This factor blinded us the need for balance when popular revolutions occurred in Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Tunesia, Ireland and elsewhere. As a result, anti-American sentiments prevail in most of these countries. We supported brutal dictatorships who were friendly to our economic interests, and turned a blind eye to the consequences too often. 

Until recent weeks, Egypt has been a compliant society living in twin fears – of the government and G-d. The government is represented by the omnipresence of the police and army; G-d is represented by the Muslim Brotherhood (Al-Akhwan al-Muslimun). During the peaceful time of 1980, every street corner had at last one cop or soldier. Most street corners also had Egyptian soap box preachers in the form of a Brotherhood member, shouting prayers through a bullhorn or megaphone, collecting money and giving out small sheets of paper with spiritual messages. But these fears do nothing to mitigate the culture of systemic corruption that is . . . 5,000 years old. While various imperial occupiers have held sway in Egypt over the centuries, the culture of corruption has pervaded through all aspect of the economy, military and civil service. Much of the service economy is driven by the system of baksheesh (gratuity); so is the civilian and military economy. This is why Camp David was a qualified failure. Camp David made NO difference in the lives of most Egyptians – they perceive they got NOTHING from the peace with Israel. The military and government officials all took their cuts, leaving nothing for agricultural subsidies or other real difference makers. 

Riots erupted over the bread supply in January 1977 when Sadat had tried to remove the government subsidy on this most important of all Egyptian food staples. He restored the subsidy in response to the riots, leaving the Egyptian economy on shaky ground. The Egyptian Arabic word for bread is “aish”, which literally means “life.” The current uprising was portended by another round of lesser bread riots in January of this year. In 2008, similar “non-political” uprisings occurred when the bread price went up 300% and deliveries were disrupted. Until recent weeks, bread was the only thing that had led to uprisings since the 1952 Revolution. NOW it’s political! 

The strikes of civil servants and middle class workers was impossible 30 years ago. The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 is the most brazen expression of government dissatisfaction since the 1977 riots. For some, that time was seen as a high point in Egyptian political activism; today represents a new high point. 800 people died as a result of Sadat trying to comply with draconian economic terms that were dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In the past, Egyptians would riot only over the bread supply. This time, they rioted demanding a new government. The question is what form it will take. 

The immediate course is that the army is in charge. For the past 18 days, the army has been treading a thin line of acquiescence to authority, and support for the Revolution. The army has held most of the power since 1952, and especially since 1981, and may not easily cede their standing. But new elements have arisen to create a viable alternative. The pieces are not all in place for a smooth transition. The Muslim Brotherhood is the longest-standing, best organized political organization in Cairo. It is a radical fundamentalist organization with few elements of liberalization. The educated class is small, but anxious and ready for change. The recent general strike represents this, as does the full spectrum of Egyptian society, who participated in the demonstrations. The first task is for people to go back to work and rebuild the economy. Painful growing pains are yet to occur in Egypt, but the process has begun. Yah-Ya Misr. 

 

H. Scott Prosterman


Columns

Dispatches From The Edge: The Irish Elections & the Ghost of Padraic Pearse

By Conn Hallinan
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 10:17:00 PM

“I say to the masters of my people, beware. Beware of the thing that is coming, Beware of the risen people who shall take what yea would not give.”
Padraic Pearse, Irish poet and revolutionary, executed May 16, 1916 for his part in the Easter Rebellion.

It is almost a hundred years since Pearse and his comrades were executed in the aftermath of the failed rising of 1916, but the people who run the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union (EU) might take a moment to read his poem—originally read over the grave of the great Fenian leader, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa—and take notice: an election is scheduled for Feb. 25, and Irish eyes are not smiling.

At stake is whether Ireland will lock itself into decades of high unemployment, burdensome taxes, and eviscerated social services in order to bail banks and real estate speculators out of trouble, or rise up and say “enough.” 

The current economic crisis that turned the once formidable “Celtic Tiger” into a throw rug is the direct result of massive speculation by banks—both domestic and foreign—in Ireland’s real estate bubble. From 1994 to 2008, house prices in Dublin rose 500 percent, and speculators went on a massive construction spree that filled up the landscape with “ghost” projects: houses that were never finished or would never be lived in. Unemployment is 14 percent, and personal income has declined 20 percent. Projections are that more than 100,000 people will emigrate in the coming two years. 

The banks and politicians were the major culprits in the speculation madness, with the former handing out cash they didn’t have, and the latter making sure that fees, taxes and regulations were waived. Ireland has the lowest corporate tax rate in Europe. Michael Lewis, writing for Vanity Fair, has calculated the following: the Anglo-Irish Bank lost 34 billion Euros, which if measured by its percentage of the national economy, would be the equivalent of 3.4 trillion dollars in the U.S. Using the same formula, the losses for all Irish banks—106 billion Euros—would translate into 10 trillion dollars. Do keep in mind that Ireland is half the size of Alabama and one tenth the size of Texas. 

The ruling coalition of Fianna Fail and the Green Party pushed through a $114 billion EU/IMF bailout, one that required Ireland to go back to the Iron Age, or maybe the Stone Age, when all is said and done. Taxes on the income of working people were raised to 41 percent, the minimum wage was slashed, tuition raised, and social services disemboweled. And Ireland was locked into paying back the EU at the usurious rate of 6 percent, even though the EU is borrowing the money it is lending to Ireland at 2.8 percent. 

The bailout has tanked what was left of the Irish economy—the pre-bailout estimate of a 2.3 percent growth rate has been downgraded to 1 percent—and enraged the populace. One of Ireland’s current heroes is Gary Keogh, who took two rotten eggs—he prepared them by leaving them in his garage for six weeks—into a shareholders meeting of the Anglo-Irish Bank and egged the bank’s chairman. 

The Feb. 25 vote will see six parties vying for votes in the 26-county elections. The current ruling party Fianna Fail, and Fine Gael, the Labor Party, the Green Party, Sinn Fein, and the brand new United Left Alliance (ULA). 

A brief scorecard. 

Fianna Fail (“Soldiers of Ireland”) has dominated the politics of the Irish Republic for 60 out of the last 88 years. Its economic philosophy is free market, and its social policies are conservative and closely aligned with the Catholic Church. Its traditional base is small farmers and businesses, but in recent years it has been able to draw on the enormous wealth of property speculators and financiers. If there is any one party responsible for the current meltdown, it is Fianna Fail, and it may drop from its current 71 seats in the 166-member Dial to as few as 30. 

Fine Gael (“Family of the Irish”) is center-right, and the second largest party, but it hasn’t won a general election since 1982. Its economic politics are not much different than Fianna Fail’s, and the party voted—with minor reservations—for the EU-IMF bailout. Its base is large farmers, rural businesses, and Dublin professionals, and it tends to be socially liberal. 

The Labor Party is center-left and an offspring of several earlier parties, including the Democratic Left, the Irish Workers Party, and the Official Sinn Fein Labor. Its base is trade unionists, civil servants and teachers, and it also voted for the bailout. Its leader, Eamon Gilmore, is demanding that bank bondholders absorb some of the pain from the bailout. If it does well, it will probably go into a coalition with Fine Gael, although there will be friction over Fine Gael’s program to privatize public services. 

The Green Party has only six seats, and it is almost certain to feel the wrath voters will level at Fianna Fail, its coalition partner. It is a mostly urban party whose only real accomplishment was to ban stag hunting. It may cease to exist after Feb. 25. 

Sinn Fein (“Ourselves Alone”) is a left party, and the only one to vote against the bailout. While it currently holds only five seats in the Dial, it recently took a seat away from Fianna Fail in a Donegal by-election. Its unrelenting opposition to the bailout is earning it points with trade unionists and civil servants, and the party may be on the verge of a major breakthrough, possibly even outpolling Fianna Fail. 

The United Left Party (ULP) is a newcomer, formed in November 2010 from the Socialist Party, the People Before Profits Alliance, the Workers & Unemployed Action Group, plus former Labor Party members and independents. It also opposed the bailout and says it will not go into a coalition with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail. 

Sinn Fein contends that the bailout’s austerity program will destroy whatever is left of the Irish economy, an argument that recently got strong support from the British Office for National Statistics. The Office found that the United Kingdom’s economy had fallen by 0.5 percent because of a falloff in services and consumption. While the new Conservative-Liberal alliance tried to blame the bad news on the early December snowstorms, economists generally agreed that Britain’s draconian austerity budget was largely to blame. 

“Now we are seeing the first signs of what the Conservative-led government’s decisions are having on the economy,” British Labor Party economic spokesman told the New York Times. Even the Confederation of British Industry chimed in. The new government has “been careless of the damage they might do to business and to job creation,” said Confederation Director Richard Lambert. “It is not enough just to slam on the brakes.” 

Fianna Fail says it wants to renegotiate the 6 percent interest rate, and the Labor Party wants bondholders to take some of the pain, but so far, only Sinn Fein is demanding that the agreement be dumped. Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams says his party would reject the bailout, reverse the cuts, and submit a new budget that would ensure that those that can afford to pay will pay more. “We reject the EU/IMF deal, which is a digout for greedy bankers and speculators, not a bailout for the Irish citizens.” 

Odds are the Fianna Fail will get shellacked, Fine Gael will win big, and go into a coalition with Labor. But the latter alliance will be an uncomfortable one, and there are rumors of a deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. The idea would be for Fine Gael to rule as a minority government with an agreement by Fianna Fail to support it. That would allow Fianna Fail to slip into government through a side door. 

The key to all this will be how well Sinn Fein and the ULA do, and whether either party gets enough votes to torpedo a Fianna Fail-Fine Gael gentleman’s agreement. What Labor will do in this case, is unclear. There is no love lost between Labor and Sinn Fein, but Labor is deeply worried that if it highlights its centrist credentials, Sinn Fein and the ULA will draw off large numbers of angry trade unionists. 

One thing is clear: The Irish are angry, and they aren’t being quiet about it. “All deputies receive calls to their Dial offices from members of the public,” says Sinn Fein Dial leader Caoimhghin O Caolain. “Often they are the old, the sick and the vulnerable. Yesterday my office received one such call from an elderly man whose blind pension was cut in the budget. He had one simple message: ‘Give us a voice.’ We must all listen to him and to countless others like him.” 

Any attempt to renegotiate the terms of the bailout will meet stiff resistance. Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, a member of the European Central Bank executive board, says that the EU would not allow any “reneging” on the agreement. On the other hand, the Germans seem to be edging away from the EU’s hard-nosed posture of enforcing punitive interest rates. 

Whatever party does a better job of taping into Ireland’s anger will likely do well Feb. 25. But the outcome of this election is not just a concern for the Irish. Greece—another victim of EU/IMF austerity will certainly be watching what happens and whether Ireland will be the first country since Argentina declared bankruptcy in 2002 to say “Enough.” Waiting in the wings are Spain and Portugal. 

Ireland is just a little island, with not many people and a lot of rain. But on occasion it engages the attention of the world. It did so in 1798. It did so during the Great Famine of 1845-48, and again on Easter Sunday, 1916. It may do so again on Feb. 25, 2011 when Pearse’s risen people will have their say. 


Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com 

 


The Public Eye: Republicans Renew Their War on Women

By Bob Burnett
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 08:46:00 PM

The new Republican House majority had no sooner settled into their offices than they proposed savage restrictions of women’s reproductive rights. Americans might question the GOP actions, since the new laws have nothing to do with Republican campaign promises to create jobs and reduce the Federal deficit. But it’s consistent with their archconservative ideology, yet another brutal attack in the three-decades-old Republican war on women. 

 

During the Reagan regime, conservatives developed an ideology with three essential elements: unlimited military spending, unwarranted faith in the free market, and exaggerated emphasis on “traditional” values. Whatever we may think of the intellectual merits of their strategy, it reaped political rewards, producing twenty years of Republican Presidents. The GOP tenets recognized changing social mores: the desire of Southern Whites for an alternative to the Democratic Party they had come to see as favoring people-of-color and “undesirables;” the longing of many Americans for a simpler time; and widespread rural anger at coastal “elites” and their so-called “sixties values.” 

 

Contemporary Republicans are still promoting the ideology that has worked for them if not for Americans, in general. Republicans maintain that it’s essential for the US to have the world’s largest military. And, despite the disastrous consequences of the Regan-Bush economic policies, the GOP dogmatically pursues the same flawed notions: low taxes for the wealthy, limited government, and an unregulated market place. And Republicans persist with their traditional values agenda. 

 

There’s no reason to believe the GOP traditional values agenda has broad political appeal. Over the past decade attitudes about abortion have remained relatively static: three quarters of Americans believe that abortion should be available in some circumstances and only one quarter feels it should not be permitted at all. But abortion foes are primarily Republicans and, therefore, abortion has become a litmus test for GOP candidates; if a politician is not aggressively “pro life,” there is little chance that he or she can achieve national power in the GOP – that’s one of the reasons why New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg isn’t touted as a possible 2012 Presidential candidate. 

 

Abortion and rejection of same-sex marriage are the most visible manifestations of the Republican traditional values agenda. They are the banners that herald a conservative world-view that is radically different from that of progressives. In his landmark book, Moral Politics University of California Linguistics Professor George Lakoff examines the elemental differences between Republicans and Democrats. Most Republicans/conservatives favor a “strict father” family system, while most Democrats/progressives support a “nurturant parent” model. Lakoff explains how these alternative worldviews shape the divergent opinions about hot-button issues such as reproductive rights and pay equity. 

 

Men and women are viewed quite differently in the competing worldviews. The conservative “strict father” family model casts the man as the unquestioned leader of the family: father, breadwinner, and protector. Women are subordinate to men, caregivers for the children and father. 

 

This deep-seated paternalism has prompted Republican opposition to legislative measures to promote gender equality including ratification of the CEDAW treaty (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women). At the November 18, 2010, Senate CEDAW hearing, only Steven Groves from the archconservative Heritage Foundation spoke in opposition. Groves claimed CEDAW has a clandestine pro-abortion agenda, “[seeks] the modification of the roles of men and women as husbands, wives, caregivers, and breadwinners,” and “supports the concept of ‘comparable worth’ to address allegations of gender discrimination in compensation.” As a consequence, no Republican Senator supported the ratification of CEDAW and it never came up for a full Senate vote. 

 

The Republican traditional values agenda is the bulwark of their three-decades-long war against women, an absolute repudiation of the notion of gender equality. There are three aspects of this campaign of which the attack on reproductive rights is the most visible. Conservatives believe that women’s access to contraception and reproductive services has undermined the family. Recognizing that a strong majority of Americans wants abortion to remain legal and affordable, Republicans have been chipping away at it bit by bit (That’s the purpose of the “Smith bill” H.R. 3 and the “Pitts bill” H.R. 358.) 

 

But there are two equally important wings of the traditional values agenda. Republican oppose pay equity. That’s why they show so little regard for employment discrimination, the fact that women typically earn 23 percent less than men for comparable work. 

 

Finally, Republicans seek to diminish the number of women in American politics and in the 2010 elections they turned back the tide of slow but steady progress. After the mid-term elections there were fewer women in the House of Representatives and fewer women in state legislatures

 

In the final analysis, contemporary Republican ideology has three interlocked components: promoting a permanent state of war; favoring the interests of the rich over those of the poor; and relegating women to be second-class citizens whose rights are subordinate to those of men. 

 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at bobburnett@comcast.net 

 


Eclectic Rant: Time for the U.S. to Cease Support of the Museveni Regime in Uganda

By Ralph E. Stone
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 08:37:00 PM

Last October, a Kampala, Uganda tabloid newspaper ran a diatribe identifying 100 individuals it described as "Uganda's top homos." The article was accompanied by a front-page picture of David Kato, the most outspoken gay rights advocate in Uganda, saying "Hang Them." On January 26, 2011, David Kato was beaten to death at his home outside Kampala. No one really believes the murder of Kato was not related to the article and Uganda's governmental animosity towards homosexuals. 

Uganda already punishes gay intimacy with life in prison. Now Uganda wants to wipe out gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Ugandans with passage of the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009.” The Bill would penalize anyone who “attempts to commit the offence” with up to seven years in jail. Additionally, a person charged will be forced to undergo an invasive medical examination to determine their HIV status. If the detainees are found to be HIV+, they may be executed. 

With passage of “Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009,” the 25-year-old Museveni regime, supported by the United States and many European governments, would disavow many international treaties on human rights. This proposed law would allow for extradition of homosexuals living in other countries back to Uganda--violating current international norms. 

How did this draconian Ugandan law come about? In March 2009, American anti-gay activists traveled to Uganda for a conference that pledged to “wipe out” homosexuality. Seven months later, in October 2009, David Bahati, a Ugandan lawmaker and a member of the "Family," sponsored the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009.” The legislation is still pending. 

The "Family" or the "Fellowship," by the way, is a secretive, privately-funded group and one of the most powerful, well-connected Christian fundamentalist movements in the U.S. This organization used its influence and funds through the Family’s African outreach programs to support the proposed Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill. Previously, the Family had converted Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to its anti-gay brand of Christianity. Doug Coe, the Family's leader, called Uganda's President Museveni the Family’s “key man” in Africa and the Family and other anti-gay groups have long viewed Uganda as a laboratory to experiment with Christian theocracy. 

The Family’s membership includes congressmen, corporate leaders, generals, and foreign heads of state. The Family engages in backroom dealings effecting both domestic and foreign affairs with little or no public accountability. Their activities possibly violate the Open Government Act. Because the Family chose not to register as a lobby group, their domestic and foreign activities are purposely kept secret. At the very least, we as Americans should challenge our elective officials as to their membership in the Family, what they do for the organization, and how the organization shapes their views. See "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power" and "C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy" both by Jeff Sharlet for more information on The Family. 

Museveni was once the poster child for African democracy. Today, Museveni is just another ruthless thug. Consider, that according to the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights Report on Human Rights Abuse in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 1993-2003, Museveni and his army collaborated in the genocidal massacres of Rwandan Hutu refugees and Congolese Hutus in the DRC. Museveni’s own army uses child soldiers with a recruitment age of 13. And Museveni was the first dictator in the Great Lakes Region to be guilty of using targeted rape, including male on male rape, to spread HIV to decimate the indigenous Acholi region of Northern Uganda. 

Ugandans will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on February 18. No one expects the election to be fair. Kizza Besigye, Uganda's top opposition leader in the upcoming elections, stated that if elected he may work to decriminalize homosexuality. And opposition members in Uganda are threatening Tunisia- and Egypt-style protests if the presidential election is rigged so that Yoweri Museveni can extend his 25-year grip on power. 

We understand that half of Uganda’s annual budget comes through international aid. On May 24, 2010, for example, President Obama signed The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act into law. Under the Act, within 180 days of that time, President Obama is required to report to Congress on a strategy for tackling the problem of the LRA and its leader, Joseph Kony, who is now operating in the DRC, Central Africa Republic, and Southern Sudan. However, in addition to offering funding for desperately needed long-term reconstruction and transitional justice mechanisms, the Act also opens the door for renewed military action in the region, which has historically come at the expense of civilians. A number of Africa advocacy organizations in Washington voiced numerous concerns about this possibility. Past military operations against the LRA resulted in backlash attacks on civilians and the displacement of thousands. Instead of relying on military action, advocacy groups want the United States to prioritize a non-violent approach to demobilizing, disarming, and reintegrating the LRA fighters. Unfortunately, in November, 2010, Obama presented his plan to Congress, and as the advocacy organizations feared, the plan is long on military action against the LRA and short on reconstruction and humanitarian aid. Again, Uganda's civilians will pay the price for Museveni's expected military excursions against the LRA. 

Why does the United States keep giving money and weapons to the Museveni regime? The answer may be the influence of the Family and the United States deployment of Ugandan mercenary troops in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and, as needed, elsewhere on the African continent. 

Clearly, it is time for the United States to cease its support of the Museveni regime. 

 

 


On Mental Illness: Common Misconceptions

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 08:35:00 PM

When someone uses the word, “Schizophrenic,” (applied to a mentally ill person and not used as modern slang to represent a dichotomy) the first association for many people is “split personality.” However, Schizophrenia is not the same thing as multiple personalities. When a doctor uses the term split personality, it means that the afflicted person’s personality has split off from reality. The personality could be intact, but stuck in an internally generated false world. Input from the five senses gets reinterpreted in bizarre and strange ways. An obvious fact could be ignored, dismissed, or given a completely different interpretation. 

Multiple personality disorder is its own category of mental illness, and it can exist independently from psychosis. It may be brought on by extremely traumatic events during someone’s childhood. Schizophrenia, on the other hand, is more likely to be caused by heredity. 

In some old movies from the mid 1900’s there may be a person who has “gone mad,” and the hero of the movie grabs the person’s shoulders, gives them a good shaking and says, “snap out of it!” 

You don’t just, “snap out of it,” if you are experiencing psychosis, clinical depression, or the mood swings of a bipolar episode. In fact, it can take a very long time and a lot of work, done by family, helping professionals, and the afflicted person, to bring a person back. And even then, that so called “normal” state of being is often fragile at the beginning and must be protected from trauma and stress, as well as nurtured through therapy, relaxation and other beneficial experiences. 

In some cases, recovery to a fairly normal state is relatively fast, perhaps a few weeks, such as when there is not much time spent being acutely ill, and at the same time, if the medication works really well for that person. In 1990, I had been hospitalized for a few weeks with delusions. The staff of the hospital played the movie, “Field of Dreams.” The relaxation of watching that movie helped bring me back to a fairly normal state. 

Some people misguidedly believe that if you get enough exercise, it will cure all of your illnesses. These “natural healing” advocates believe that pharmaceuticals should not be taken, and that you can cure your mental illnesses if you just run ten miles a day and live on a diet of brown rice. 

When I experienced psychotic episodes, I got a ton of exercise as I wandered many miles from one town to the next. What you get is exhaustion on top of the psychosis. If psychotic, you can get as much exercise as you want, and it will not bring back your sane state of mind. Instead, you will become an “in shape” delusional person. 

On the other hand, moderate exercise in combination with conventional treatment may be helpful for depression. It is also true that moderate exercise will help lower stress, for most people. However, exercise as a cure will not work. Many people are under the impression that mental illnesses are caused by something that the parents did wrong when raising their child. The term, “schizophrenogenic” was created by psychologists to describe parents who transmit the disorder to their child through the contact of raising the child. One therapist implied that if the parents lied to their child it was worse for the child than if they openly and honestly hated their child. 

Particularly in the case of a psychotic disorder, this idea is untrue. Most of the studies that have been done indicate that there is a genetic predisposition that largely causes the person to become ill. And while environment may play a role, it doesn’t require that the parents have done something wrong. There are numerous other things in a person’s environment, including how someone is treated by peers, whether someone lives in an urban area versus a rural one, the possibility of accidental head trauma, and problems that may have occurred while that person was still in the womb. Studies have been done with identical twins who have been separated at birth. If one twin develops Schizophrenia, their twin has about a fifty-fifty chance of developing the same illness. 

There are some categories of mental illnesses that are more likely to be caused by abusive upbringings. However, just because someone has a mental illness, you cannot assume that the parents failed.


Senior Power: Age Well

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 08:25:00 PM

There’s too little emphasis on seniors as individuals as well as on their involvement in senior center programming. 

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is a nonprofit service and advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, DC. It is described as a national voice for older Americans--especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged--and the community organizations that serve them. 

The Accreditation Manual of the National Institute of Senior Centers (part of the NCOA) describes the role of senior centers in the community “As an integral part of the aging network, a senior center serves community needs, assists other agencies in serving older adults and provides opportunities for older adults to develop their potential as individuals within the context of the entire community.” 

In January 2010, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee heard from senior center leaders about the important role senior centers play in the aging network. In a two-hour meeting, 13 NCOA members and NISC staff launched an important dialogue about how the Administration on Aging and senior centers can work together to help older adults age well in their communities. 

The meeting focused on: 

  • The current role senior centers play in the aging network and the important contributions they make.
  • NISC’s vision for the future of senior centers.
  • Policy considerations that impact senior centers and the older adults they serve.
  • The potential impact that a strategic investment in senior centers could make.
The meeting was a step in an ongoing dialogue about how to strengthen and support the nation’s 11,000 senior centers, 116 of which have met the National Senior Center Accreditation Board’s self-assessment requirements and peer review process. 

xxxx 

This “snapshot” of accredited senior centers was provided by NISC vice chair Jay Morgan. Today’s senior centers are constantly evolving from social centers to service centers to community centers and even becoming entrepreneurial centers in order to adjust to the changing needs of the seniors they serve. As generations change, successful senior centers are adapting to new challenges by listening to the expectations of their communities and designing facilities, programs, services and activities that meet the needs of this dynamic market. 

Senior center accreditation serves as the tool centers need to assist with potential change, identify target markets and compare themselves to the national standards. 

Senior center accreditation began in 1999. In 2004, the Aurora (Colorado) Senior Center became the 100th senior center to earn national accreditation. 

Based on an analysis of the first 100 centers to complete the accreditation process, the average nationally accredited senior center 

· is part of a governmental agency located in an urban/suburban area. 

· It opened in 1977 and, if it added a new renovation or opened in a new expanded facility, it took 14 years to accomplish. 

· It has 16 members on its board. Although the director reports to the board, it is an advisory board and does not have the power to hire or fire the director. 

· It is open a little more than 43 hours weekly, 5 days a week. It is only open on weekends for special events or rentals. 

· The typical accredited senior center serves 3,700 participants each year, with an average daily attendance of 200. Two thirds of participants are female; they are predominantly white, 60-74 years old. 

Is your senior center becoming entrepreneurial? Are you, and it, a dynamic market? 

READ: 

For more about senior centers, see August 24, 2010 Planet SENIOR POWER column. 

"How to Market to an Aging Boomer: Flattery, Subterfuge and Euphemism," by Ellen Byron (Wall St. Journal, February 5-6, 2011). 

"In a Graying Population, Business Opportunity," by Natasha Singer (New York Times, February 6, 2011). 

SENIOR POWER ON STAGE: 

“We all know that I’m no spring chicken,” writes Rita Moreno (born 1931) in a note informing that she has had a knee replacement and her Berkeley Rep premiere of Rita Moreno:Life Without Makeup has been postponed. But not cancelled! Call the box office at (510) 647-2949 if you have tickets and to receive a special bonus surprise or refund! 

GETTING AROUND: 

UCB 58th Annual Noon Concert Series, Hertz Concert Hall, 12:15-1:00pm, free admission: 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011: Voice and harpsichord, French and English music of the 15th and 16th centures: Elizabeth Elkus Memorial Noon Concert. Alana Mailes, soprano; Melody Hung, harpsichord. French and English Music of the 15th and 16th century Harpsichord pieces by Catherine de Loison, Elizabeth Jacquet de LaGuerre, Nicolas Le Bègue, Johann Jacob Froberger, and Gaspard Le Roux. Vocal music by Purcell. 

Friday, February 18, 2011 noon: Chamber music: Beethoven Jason Yu, piano; Rachel Keynton, cello. Beethoven: Sonata for Piano and Cello, No. 2, Op. 5 in G minor. 

Jewish Community Center of the East Bay-Older Adults 

1414 Walnut Street, Berkeley, 94709 | 5811 Racine Street, Oakland 94609 | Berkeley and Oakland | CA | 94609:  

Kosher Lunch every Monday and Thursday. 12:00-1:00pm. $5 for older adults, $8 general. Fresh fruit and salad served at every meal! 

Tuesdays - Dine-Around First timers welcome. Experience new restaurants and meet new friends while enjoying great Bay Area restaurants. To RSVP or for more information, contact Tuesday-Dine Around coordinator, Jordan, preferably by email at J94102@yahoo.com or by phone at 206-666-6517. 

 


Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at pen136@dslextreme.com. No email attachments; use “Senior Power” for subject.


Arts & Events

Theater Review: Collapse, at the Aurora

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday February 16, 2011 - 08:11:00 AM

"On a mission ... embracing the fear!" A couple trying to have a baby—“All we can do is go to the clinic and hope for the best!"—is suddenly confronted at home by the wife's ecstatically homeless sister, returning from a trip to move in with them ... and carrying a package to be delivered to some party with a gamey handle ... 

Thereby, an odyssey begins, over the bridges of Minneapolis, as Hannah (Carrie Pfaff) meets a recovering sex addict, Ted (Aldo Billingslea), as she attempts to sub in for her reticent husband David (Gabriel Marin) at a support group. She, more than figuratively, cries on Ted's shoulder, as David and Hannah's batty sister Susan (Amy Resnick) drink it up at home. Then David is deputized by Susan to deliver the unopened package from abroad ... 

Flurries of screwball activity and ridiculous, funny dialogue get the audience that far, anyway, with the plot—is it involuted or convoluted?—of Collapse. The new comedy, by Allison Moore, emerged from the Aurora Theatre's Global Age Project play-reading development series for a fully-staged Rolling World Premiere on the Aurora stage, the second to be so honored. (The first was last year's excellent The First Grade, by Joel Drake Johnson.) 

And Collapse is a winner, too, madly entertaining, with a jaundiced, parallax view of private individuals and public events in contemporary life. Like The First Grade, though very different, Collapse gracefully skirts the cliches and superficialities of the sitcom, employing real, dense theatrical dialogue and situations to put—or tip!—the point across. 

Filmmaker Howard Hawks, one of the architects of the screwball comedy onscreen, once said that the only difference between drama and comedy was that the obstacles in the way of a dramatic protagonist provide the tension as they're overcome, whereas the same obstacles in a comedy are there only for the humorous embarrassment of the comic hero. 

Obstacles abound, pile up as the couple goes round and round and round again, with missed beats, missed connections, misunderstandings, each mistake screwing the whole comedy of errors deeper into the grain of the action. 

Husband David has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a victim of the collapse of the bridge over the Mississippi in the Twin Cities in August 2008. Moore, who lived in Minneapolis then, connected the bridge failure to the economic collapse a couple of months later, and this fast-paced, savvy send-up of contemporary fast-paced, frustrated life was born. 

Melpomene Katakalos' set is dominated by the girders of the bridge, as Moore put it, "the ever-present reminder" to Minneapolitans of what had happened, as they scurried for months to find other routes to and fro. The superstructure figures in the last, hysterical scenes of the play, as if, say, North By Northwest had become a wacked-out domestic comedy. 

The show is sharply directed by GAP director Jessica Heidt in her Aurora mainstage debut—and it’s an auspicious one. The actors—all familiar to Bay Area audiences—shine with her direction and Moore's script and dialogue, build up marvelously comic rhythms amid the driving tempos of much of the play's hecticness and more subtly comic moments during dynamically opposite moments. They deliver an unending stream of delicious comic lines, attitudes and facial expressions, often several in counterpoint in rapid succession. 

Heather Basarab's lights, Cassandra Carpenter's costumes and Will McCandless' sound all contribute to the hilarious overall effect. 

It's one of those increasingly rare shows that can be seen for entertainment or considered as a comic glimpse of the madness we're living through. The Global Age project has struck it again. 

Collapse by Allison Moore, Aurora Theatre Co. Wednesday through Sunday (some Tuesdays), various times, through March 6, 2081 Addison (near Shattuck), $10-$45, 843-4042; auroratheatre.org


Around and About

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday February 15, 2011 - 07:56:00 PM

Poetry Reading/Photography Exhibit 

Poets Alissa Valles (Orphan Fire), Belle Randall (The Coast Starlight), Jeremy Cook & Luis Garcia will read this Sunday at 3 p. m. at Art House Gallery & Cultural Center, 2905 Shattuck, with the opening of an exhibit of photographs by Sabrina Lanier, "Travels in Tibet and Beyond" through March 9. (Luis Garcia, whose readings and poetry have been reviewed in the Planet, is a Berkeley native who studied with the great Chilean poet Nicanor Parra in the 60s, and has been associated with Robert Creeley and produced readings that featured James Schevill's poetry and his own.) 

Reception for the artists starts at 2. $5. 472-3170 

Mort Sahl in concert 

"I'm an old Berkeley radical!" said pioneering stand-up comedian and political satirist Mort Sahl, who was interviewed in the Planet, summer 2009. Sahl's now a North Bay resident, and is performing