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Berkeley City Council Votes to Oppose Plan to Transport Dangerous Crude Oil Through City

By Jeff Shuttleworth
Monday March 24, 2014 - 05:21:00 PM

UPDATE: The Council unanimously passed the resolution, which was amended to include a long list of specific actions for city staff to take to try to stop the plan to transport crude oil by rail through Berkeley and other East Bay cities.

The Berkeley City Council voted tonight on a resolution that opposes plans by Phillips 66 to transport crude oil through Berkeley and other East Bay cities to a new refinery rail spur in San Luis Obispo County.

City Councilwoman Linda Maio, who wrote the resolution along with City Councilman Darryl Moore, admitted in a letter to the community that railroads are exempt from local and state laws because they are interstate operators.

But Maio said, "That must not stop us from fiercely opposing their plans and demanding intervention." 

She said that among the actions that Berkeley can take are filing briefs in environmental impact lawsuits opposing Phillips' plans, coordinating with other cities located along the planned transportation route, working with state legislators and lobbying California's congresspersons and senators. 

In a letter to other councilmembers, Maio and Moore said California refineries are in the process of securing permits to build rail terminals to import Canadian tar sands and Bakken crude oils from North and South Dakota. 

Maio and Moore said under current plans, crude oil trains would enter Northern California via the Donner Pass and eventually travel along the San Francisco Bay through Martinez, Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville and Oakland using Union Pacific tracks. 

From Oakland, the trains would use the Coast Line via Hayward, Santa Clara, San Jose and Salinas and continue along the Pacific Coast to the Santa Maria facility in San Luis Obispo County, they said. 

Maio and Moore said the Phillips 66 project would transport 2 million gallons per day of crude oil through the Bay Area and that "Roughly 80 tanker cars per day of crude oil assembled in a single train would pass through our cities." 

"A crude oil accident could occur anywhere along the transportation corridor including the densely-populated Bay Area," they said. 

The two councilmembers said transporting crude oil can be dangerous, citing an incident last July in the small Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, where 72 tanker cars loaded with 2 million gallons of crude oil derailed, dumping 1.5 million of crude oil. 

The resulting fire and explosions burned down dozens of building, killed 47 people and caused more than $1 billion in damage, they said. 

The Sierra Club's San Francisco Bay chapter said in a statement today that it "strongly supports" the resolution by Maio and Moore. 

Sierra Club staff attorney Devorah Ancel said, "The tar sands and Bakken crude are more carbon-intensive, more toxic, and more dangerous to transport than conventional crude oil." 

"Transport of tar sands and Bakken crude is growing at a ferocious pace - in 2013 alone more oil spilled from crude oil trains than has spilled from trains in the past four decades," Ancel said. 

She said, "These trains are not safe, they are not adequately regulated and they have no business traveling through Berkeley, the East Bay, or near any community or waterway that would be threatened by a catastrophic spill or explosion." 

Phillips 66 said in a statement that it "is committed to the safety of everyone who works in our facilities, lives in the communities where we operate or uses our products." 

"Preventing incidents and ensuring the safe and reliable transport of petroleum is our top priority while participating in the North American energy renaissance," the statement read. 

The company said it has "one of the most modern crude rail fleets in the industry, consisting of railcars that exceed current regulatory safety requirements and it began modernizing its crude fleet in 2012 "as a proactive precautionary measure to safely capture the opportunities of the rapidly changing energy landscape." 

Phillips said, "Our rail cars are inspected to ensure safe, compliant shipments, and we collect data to ensure compliance with the periodic maintenance plan for our rail car fleet" and its rail car program includes federally-mandated inspection, testing and repair of hazmat tank cars." 

The company said its Santa Maria facility is set up to process the heavier California-produced crude oil and the routes that train cars travel to reach the facility are selected by rail carriers. 

The Berkeley City Council meeting was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. tonight at Old City Hall at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

A rally opposing the rail transport of crude oil through Berkeley and other East Bay cities was held on the steps of Old City Hall at 6:30 p.m.

New: Two Teens Shot in South Berkeley

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Tuesday March 25, 2014 - 09:09:00 PM

Two teens were shot in South Berkeley on Monday night, police said. 

The shooting was reported at 9:41 p.m. in the 1500 block of Harmon Street, police Officer Jennifer Coats said. 

Responding officers found no victims but recovered shell casings and found damage to a home and cars nearby, Coats said. 

The two victims, a 16-year-old boy and a 19-year-old man, showed up at Highland Hospital in Oakland a short time later with gunshot wounds. Their injuries were not life-threatening, Coats said. 

Anyone with information about the shooting has been asked to call Berkeley police at (510) 981-5741 or to leave an anonymous tip at Bay Area Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

New: MH370: Connecting Some Dots on a Missing Airliner

By Gar Smith
Saturday March 22, 2014 - 10:08:00 AM
March 11 Malaysian Military Map
March 11 Malaysian Military Map
Connecting the Dots to Diego Garcia
Connecting the Dots to Diego Garcia

Media coverage of the unexplained disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 and its 239 passengers and crew has been strangely passive. Each day the press repeats the latest official announcements and speculation with little independent criticism or analysis. As reporter Michal Wollf observed in the London Guardian, "'missing' stories trump all others for their intensity and stickiness, fueling the imagination of journalists and audiences alike." Reporters and pundits have squandered precious ink and airtime reflecting on a cascade of officially announced "dots," while, at the same time, they have failed to connect some of the more obvious dots. Two, in particular.

MH370 was initially reported to have vanished from radar surveillance around 1:30 AM Saturday, March 8, while cruising across the South China Sea at 35,000 feet en route to Beijing.

The media's initial obsession with the story was based on the presumption that the plane crashed at sea. Then came a flood of high-tech evidence that established the plane had been intentionally redirected and flown off in a new direction.

The media currently has returned to the crash scenario and the "drama of the search"—providing extended coverage of an unprecedented air-and-sea mission extending over tens of thousands of square miles of open ocean. Even the discovery that the last hourly "ping" emitted by the plane was recorded 7.5 hours after the plane took off has failed to counter the mad rush to "find the missing wreckage" — it has only expanded the area of the search. 

We now know the plane Boeing 777-200's Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was manually turned off 40 minutes into the flight and its transponder was switched of 14 minutes later. 

The major failure to solve the mystery may have been the failure to follow the earliest and most obvious clue. 

The First Clue 

After remaining silent for three days, the Malaysian military announced it had tracked the plane after it "vanished." The Malaysian military revealed that, at the time of its sighting, MH370 had flown west for some 45 minutes after its standard tracking systems had been turned off. The military's radar reported MH370 had reduced its cruising altitude by 5,000 feet and was flying west in the northern portion of the Malacca Straight, approximately 200 miles northwest of Penang. 

Two sets of radar tracks (one civilian, one military) both showed MH370 turning to the southwest and heading for the middle of the Indian Ocean. 

On Tuesday, March 11, the military's tracking system was used to produce a map of MH370's new path. Despite press reports that described the plane as "doubling back," the Malaysia jet actually made a left turn that carried it across the Malaysian Pennisula and over the Malacca Straight. 

This raised an obvious connect-the-dots question: If the plane was still flying, where was it headed? (Flying in "stealth mode," the plane would be free to speed directly towards its final destination. There would be no need to zig-zag through the skies to confuse pursuers.) 

In this case, connecting the dots requires nothing more than a map, basic math and a ruler. Anyone can repeat this exercise. 

Take the Malaysian military's March 11 map and simply extend the flight path out into the India Ocean. How far would Flight 370 need to travel before reaching a destination where the plane could land? 

According to a March 13 report in the Wall Street Journal, US officials claimed that Flight 370 remained airborne "for up to four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location." At cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, a Boeing 777 travels at 564 mph (910 km/h). That comes out to a little more than 2,200 miles.  

But before anyone could grab a ruler and start pushing a pencil across the map, China stepped in to provide a major distraction. 

A 'Red Herring'  

On Thursday, March 13, Chinese authorities released a satellite image that showed three "suspicious floating objects" in the waters of the South China Sea. 

Suddenly the focus of the search went into reverse. Instead of looking west, the entire operation refocused to the east. After numerous overflights by Malaysian and Vietnamese aircraft, pilots reported no signs of the mysterious debris. China subsequently apologized for releasing the photo. One US official, described as "close to the plane investigation," called the Chinese satellite photo a "red herring." 

When news broke that satellites had recorded little-known "pings" that the aircraft had emitted on an hourly basis, the focus shifted again. This time, instead of looking east (or west), the new parameters for the Great Search became two huge arcs—one extending as far north as Khazakstan; the other curving south over tens of thousands of miles of ocean west of Australia. 

On March 15, US investigators proposed that the jetliner's most likely last-known position was in a zone about 1,000 miles west of Perth, Australia. As a result, US planes and vessels are now part of a massive (and likely futile) effort to survey 2.4 million square nautical miles of ocean. 

Maps and Misdirection 

On March 15, a new map was released that purported to show the Malaysian military's tracking of MH370's last-known position. Strangely, this map no longer showed the plane "doubling back." Instead of a making a sharp 45-degree turn to the southwest, the new map showed MH370 making an 80-degree turn that pointed north toward the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

On March 16, the Associated Press began to resurrect the theory that MH370 had plummeted into the ocean. Instead of following the original Malaysian military radar path over the Malacca Straight, the AP was now promoting the idea that the plane might have flown over as many as 11 countries—before crashing. 

Forgotten in all the hoopla about the "highly complex, multinational effort" that now included search teams from 25 nations, was the fact that the best information on the plane's last known destination had it heading west—not toward any major national land mass, but towards the Indian Ocean. 

But this vast expanse is not just water. The Indian Ocean contains a critical "dot" that the press has, so far, managed to miss—one of NASA's 33 emergency landing sites, a leftover from the days of the Space Shuttle. This unique site also happens to be designated as an official Extended Range Twin Engine Operations (ETOPS) emergency landing site for commercial jets that may encounter in-flight problems while crossing the Indian Ocean. This ETOPS site is listed as being able to handle anything from an Airbus A330 to a Boeing 777. 

The Pentagon's Secretive 'Dot' in the Indian Ocean 

What is this unique outpost? It is the former UK naval base on Diego Garcia, an island that was brutally expropriated from its native population, the Chagos Islanders, by the British. Diego Garcia has since been leased to the US. This strategically important base is believed to be under the control of the CIA and was, in fact, used during the CIA's "rendition" program to transport abducted "terrorist" suspects to various "black sites" where they were imprisoned and tortured. 

So let us return to our map, pencil and ruler. 

It turns out that, if you take the Malaysian military's initial map from March 11 and extend the path of flight MH370 for 2,142 miles (1,609 km)— 3.8 hours of added flight time—it exactly intersects with Diego Garcia. 

Diego Garcia is the Pentagon's greatest strategic asset in the Indian Ocean. It has served as a staging ground for US military invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The site is outfitted with the most advanced surveillance systems available—including an array of radar and tracking systems. 

In short, if the wayward Malaysian airliner was flying anywhere in the Indian Ocean (let alone directly over Diego Garcia), the military monitors embedded at the Pentagon's premiere regional airbase would have known about it. 

So, if we ignore the red herrings and refuse to be distracted by the media/military maneuvers dedicated to scouring 2.5 million square nautical miles of deep ocean waters off Western Australia, we are left with a question: What can the Pentagon's assets at Diego Garcia tell us about the flight path and destiny of Malaysia Flight 370? 

The Pentagon Is Silent 

Unfortunately, the Pentagon isn't talking. Not even to Malaysia. Malaysia's Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has publicly complained that the US has refused his requests for information gathered by US satellites and ground stations. Malaysia has asked for data from Washington's secretive spy bases in Australia (at Pine Gap and at the Jindalee Operational Radar Network), to no avail. Similar requests sent to the Five Eyes network (Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the US), to France and to China have been rejected. Although the US has "possibly the best ability" to track the plane, the defense minister acknowledges that the US is likely to remain unwilling to share its information on "national security" grounds. 

There are some very bizarre theories circulating about how Diego Garcia might be part of an intricate global conspiracy involving the missing plane but none of these plots are rooted in any responsibly resourced research. The important question for the moment is: What light can Diego Garcia's military and intelligence apparatus shed that might help us learn the fate of 227 missing passengers and 12 crewmembers? 

Things We Didn't Know until Now:  

Flight 370 continued to emit hourly "pings" for 7.5 hours after takeoff. These messages are released even if the plane is on the ground—as long as the aircraft's power is still on. 

Rolls Royce, the manufacturer of the jet's engines, is able to monitor the performance of its jets remotely with reports generated every 30 minutes. Information from Flight 370 was broadcast to a centralized global receiving station based in Derby, UK. 

The two passengers who boarded with stolen passports were ruled not to be suspicious. They were "apparently seeking to emigrate illegally to the West." (By flying to China.) 

The Boeing 777-200ER is reportedly equipped with a computer-driven "fly-by-wire" (FBW) system — an autopilot that can be "hacked" by an external agency. In theory, such planes can be skyjacked by other aircraft flying nearby. A properly equipped interloper would then be able to operate the 777 as if it were a drone. 

A profile of the passengers produced a surprising discovery: 20 ticket holders (12 from Malaysia; 8 from China) were identified as being "electronic warfare experts." They were all employees of Freescale Semiconductor, a US company based in Texas. One of the Freescale's shareholders is the shadowy Carlyle Group, whose advisory board includes former CIA Director and President George H.W. Bush and whose clients have included the construction company owned by the family of Osama bin Laden. 


Gar Smith is a prize-winning investigative reporter and the author of Nuclear Roulette. He is just as baffled by the Flight 370 mystery as anyone. 

New: Connect to Survey about Berkeley Police Beats

From Richard Brady,BPD
Wednesday March 26, 2014 - 03:24:00 PM

Berkeley Police are evaluating the department's beat structure to ensure the most efficient police service is being delivered to all those who come to and live in the city.

The community can help in that effort by filling out an online survey about police services and the current beat structure:https://surveymonkey.com/s/TJJHDBS

The Berkeley Police current beat structure that divides the City into 18 police patrol beats has been in place since 1993. Crime trends, calls for service, crime statistics and staffing levels were used to determine this beat structure. Given changes in the City over that time, the Police Department is now examining its beat deployment strategy with the help of Matrix Consulting Group. Matrix will analyze population, geography, patrol deployment, staffing levels, officer workload, calls for service, proactive patrol time, response times, crime data, industry standards and best practices and the need for flexible units to respond to identified crime trends, as well as the costs associated with service delivery. Additionally, Matrix will assess community perceptions and priorities through the use of surveys and community meetings. 

Any recommended changes to the geographic beat areas will take into consideration an even distribution of workload across beats, boundaries which utilize efficient routes of travel, the minimization of natural barriers and the minimization of neighborhood divisions. Any proposed changes will be brought to the City Council for review and discussion. Public input is important. The Berkeley Police Department asks that all those who live, work and visit the City of Berkeley fill out the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TJJHDBS . 

Please complete the survey by Friday, April 11, 2014. 

If you have any questions about completing the survey, please feel free to contact Matrix project manager, Richard Brady, at (650) 858-0507 or rbrady@matrixcg.net.

New: Another Piece of the Malaysia Airlines Puzzle.

By Gar Smith
Saturday March 22, 2014 - 10:16:00 AM

There is a website called FlightRadar24 that tracks online flight traffic. FlightRadar has been called “the best live flight tracker that shows air traffic in real time.” The much-visited site is popular with pilots and airline hobbiests. 

On the day Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, FlightRadar24 caught something that only a few wonky web-watchers spotted. They naturally posted it onlne for others to ponder. 

En route to China, MH370 (identified as MAS370 on the FlightRadar system) is shown to vanish from the radar map. The statistics bar on the left side of the map reports a change in altitude—from 37,000 to 0 feet. This “anomaly” occurred at about the point where the Malaysian Military subsequently placed the aircraft before it reportedly “went silent” and veered southwest, away from its intended route. 

Inexplicably, the next day, FlightRadar24 appears to have posted to new “version” of the flight. In this second radar track, the flight icon reappears on the screen, but it then undergoes some radical changes in direction and climbs more than 10,000 feet in altitude. The plane eventually returns to its regular 37,000-foot cruising altitude and course—and proceeds north, past the coast of Vietnam. 

Later in the flight, MH370 appears to be closely trailed by another, faster-moving plane. As the radar track continues, another aircraft 30 minutes ahead of 370 suddenly disappears from the screen. Shortly afterwards, the flight icon for MH370 vanishes for the second time, due south from the Chinese island of Hainan. Location: latitude 17.67; longitude 110.32. 

You can view the videos here



Odd Bodkins: Travis the Dollar (November 29, 2004) (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Saturday March 22, 2014 - 10:45:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

New: LIBRARIES: Overhaul Fails

By Phil Allen
Wednesday March 26, 2014 - 09:46:00 AM

Impression of the now-completed Berkeley libraries' physical overhaul: the same as new coinage, especially the flip side of pennies, and the latest counterfeit-proof bills. Play money, pretend communalities. 

The anticipated West Branch, finished after South's rebuild, is a bleached tomb. The industrial-sized back doors are an affront to the purpose of the place, a way outside to nothing in particular. The noise problem was apparently never an issue with the architects, as no abatement from the previous building's racket-sharing is noticeable. 

Different design firms must have been hired, as the smaller South Branch seems to have had more considerate minds in its planning: the walls are warmly colored and mosaiced, the spaces more inviting than West's. The large lobby area is rather awkward; it belongs in a bigger building. 

The new Main Branch is sad. One seeks a proper 'main desk' in vain, the floors seem intentionally talkative when chairs are being adjusted, and the pea-soup exterior, originally suggested by the architect, could really use some gold or turquoise relief coloring. 

These, of course, are hopeless wailings. We're stuck with these efforts until the Flood. What we must be vigilant over is the always-possible removal of irreplacable sources, and other sneak attacks on access to lore we can hold in our hands.

New: Save Berkeley Vacuum and Sewing Center!

By Debbie McBride
Wednesday March 26, 2014 - 09:44:00 AM

I was very surprised to learn last week that there was a development plan that would involve closing the Berkeley Vacuum & Sewing Center. I would like to protest the use of this land for another high rise residence in place of the small businesses which presently exist on the block between Berkeley Way and University, Oxford and Shattuck. The Berkeley Vacuum & Sewing Center is the only place in the area where is it possible to get all types of small appliances repaired. This may seem like a small inconvenience, but as an senior citizen who has lived in the area of close to 30 years, I have brought many lamps and kitchen appliances to the store to be fixed. It is particularly important because it is close to the Ace Hardware store on University where spare parts are sold.  

It seems as if the entire street is moving towards electronic stores where disposable computers and smartphones are sold. I think it is very important that this example of repair, recycle and recovery be preserved. There are very few people who do this type of small, handicraft work. Before a building permit is issued, I would ask that you look at the diversity of businesses, the impact on the community and the types of residents who are affected by the closure of these businesses.

New: Suing Self is Senseless and Silly

By Councilmember Kriss Worthington
Monday March 24, 2014 - 05:32:00 PM

You might think it goes without saying that suing yourself is senseless or silly. If you heard that the City of Berkeley is suing itself you might think it was an April Fool’s prank. Sad to say, this is happening in the real world. Seriously, and it’s only March.

The City Council just voted to sue itself to attempt to immediately implement the controversial redistricting plan. The only stated goal of the lawsuit is to get the court to overrule the voters’ signatures for a referendum letting the voters vote on the politicians controversial plan kicking out coops, keeping out many dorms from the student district, and splitting neighborhoods. When people laugh at Berkeley for being first in the nation to adopt progressive policy, I feel proud of Berkeley’s trailblazing. When people ridicule and laugh at Berkeley for suing itself, there will be no reason to feel pride. I feel sadness and shame that the political effort to kick out the coops and keep many dorms out of the student district has stooped to a new low. Instead of laughing out loud or laughing behind their backs, please tell the City Council to stop suing itself. 

10 Reasons to Stop Berkeley from Suing Itself:

1. The public was not given a chance to comment. Two other possible actions were listed on the agenda – this lawsuit was not. 

2. No written proposal was presented to the Council before the vote. 

3. No grounds for a lawsuit were stated. It appears to be an end runaround Berkeley Charter Section 93 which gives voters the opportunity to prevent controversial actions by the City Council. 

4. Surprising Council members and the public with an unexpected agenda item is not good government. 

5. Squandering the taxpayers money is not justified. The money spent on outside attorneys is needed for more practical, legitimate uses. 

6. Legally, the City does not have standing to sue as the City has not technically been harmed by the City Council’s failure to adopt either a permanent or temporary compromise. 

7. Legally, the issue is not ripe. The Registrar of Voters office says the City has time to consider alternatives to its redistricting plan and submit it to be used for the November 2014 election. 

8. It is very strange for the City to sue itself ostensibly to create a student district. Numerous major student groups prefer an alternative map. These include RHA, BSC, Cal Dems and Young Dems. The Daily Cal has also editorialized in favor of keeping Northside in any redrawn district 7. 

9. The USDA compromise has been fully vetted by City staff analysis and nine months of public review. The USDA meets the publicly stated goals of the adopted map. Additionally, it does not kick out most of the coops and includes more students, more dorms, as well as Northside tenants and I-House. 

10. Additional alternatives are available. 10 compromises have been presented by the student/neighborhood/progressive coalition. We are happy to discuss other possibilities, while being clear that kicking out so many coops and keeping out so many dorms are obstacles to genuine compromise. 


It is time for the City to drop the Mayor’s controversial lawsuit, which is unwise, unwarranted, and unwinnable. If it drops the suit before wasting too much money, we can remember it as a premature April Fool’s joke and we can all laugh along.

Press Release: COMING TO A TOWN NEAR YOU... Ticking Time Bombs: Hazardous & Volatile Crude Transport by Rail

From the office of Councilmember Linda Maio
Monday March 24, 2014 - 05:09:00 PM

Community Rally

in Opposition to Rail Transport

of Hazardous Crude Oil

through Berkeley and the East Bay

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

6:30 p.m. Gather on the steps of Old City Hall (2134 MLK Jr. Way)

7:00 p.m. Council Meeting

Berkeley Vice-Mayor Linda Maio recently discovered the Phillips 66 plan to ship highly volatile and hazardous crude oil along the California coastline through Berkeley, Albany, Oakland’s Jack London Square along the Amtrak corridor -- a stone’s throw from schools, residences, shopping areas, offices and businesses. 

The devastating accidents that happened Aliceville, Alabama; Casselton, North Dakota; and most tragically, Michigan’s Kalamazoo River; Lac Mégantic, Quebec, can happen in any of the towns and cities along their proposed route. 

Massive explosion after train derails in Lac-Megantic: http://youtu.be/RzfhrQZI8QI 

Train explosion in Lac-Megantic: http://youtu.be/zslOC_uW3H4 

On Tuesday, March 25, at 7 p.m., the Berkeley City Council will take up the matter. It was discovered in EIR documents as part of the Phillips 66 proposal to San Luis Obispo County to build a rail terminal to receive the crude. “No one knew this was on the drawing board until one of our residents, a subject-matter expert, combed through the EIR documents,” said Maio, “and alerted us. “This is highly hazardous crude, dirty, and viscous. Almost impossible to clean. The Bakken crude from the Dakota’s is particularly flammable.” 

March 25 City Council item: http://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/2014/03_Mar/Documents/2014-03-25_Item_29_Opposition_to_Rail_Transport_of_Hazardous.aspx [PDF] 

Lac-Mégantic Crude By Rail Accident, July 2013 

For more information:
Office of Vice Mayor Linda Maio | 510-981-7110 | lmaio@cityofberkeley.info | cityofberkeley.info/lindamaio

New: LIBRARIES: Doomed

By Judi Sierra
Sunday March 23, 2014 - 10:35:00 AM

A week ago I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents about the downhill trajectory of the Berkeley Library and this week an added letter plus an official library press release has awoken me from my complacency. Since I haven’t been downtown in a while, I can’t speak to that much, but I certainly have had thoughts about the South Branch being very sterile ever since it reopened. I too consider myself a lifelong lover of libraries and have been to many here and out of state so I am well versed in library layout, comfort and usage. 

While the old library may have been a little cramped (cozy in my mind), there was life there. The checkout desk was at the center of adult activity and there was plenty of it. Sitting at the tables in front of it, with readers, studiers and sleepers, I knew all the librarians of which there were at least 2 if not 3 there. Others would come and go to the back. There were little niceties like more storage space for old issue periodicals, saving the Sunday paper ads and coupons for us low income folks to look at instead of tossing straight outside to the recycling bin. 

Now the desk is basically in the hallway, it is staffed by 1 person and everyone else spends hours hidden away in the back. The only patrons other than small children and a couple of newspaper readers seem to be immobile hunched-over laptop users there for the free wi-fi, taking up most of the available sitting area. I have to admit although I go there only once a week now I’m not inclined to stay and give it a chance--it is just too sterile, cold and unwelcoming! 

I’ve had neutral feelings since the main library was remodeled years ago but this week's official press release [from the Berkeley Public Library] is foreboding. 

It tells us "We are excited to be bringing the Central Library more in line with the renovated branches, and to create public spaces that will meet all of our visitors needs now and into the future. I hope the community will join us in this effort as they did for the neighborhood branch libraries project..... Renovations of the interior public spaces will improve the layout of collections, lighting, placement of the public computers, and address the need for quiet and group study areas, as well as adequate and appropriate space to meet the needs of teens and youth. .." 

More in line with the branches...in that case the main branch is really doomed

New: LIBRARIES: The Sterilization of the Berkeley Libraries

By Vivian Warkentin
Saturday March 22, 2014 - 08:53:00 PM

Re: "What has become of the Berkeley Library?". I view the remodeling of our libraries as yet another deliberate stealing and corporatization of the public commons. At what point will we put our feet down? At what point will we see the loss? 

I used to frequent my nearest branch, the North Berkeley Library, often to see what was happening around town. In the front lobby used to be some shelves where citizens could put flyers, newsletters, and literature to share with others. It didn't look neat as a pin, but lived in and alive. Post remodel, the built- in wooden shelves are gone, scraped and amputated from the wall. Outside on the corner sidewalk near the street used to be a community message board where people could post notices and posters. That too has been removed and not replaced. 

When I went inside to check things out I asked the girl at the desk where we were to put our communications for other citizens to read. She replied, "Well there are blogs." She told me if I wanted to post something I could give it to her to put on the bulletin board located by the restrooms, if it passed her inspection. I went to the hidden location to look, and saw only slick Berkeley City planning flyers, nothing of regular citizens. 

Now I hear The Berkeley libraries are getting rid of books and interaction with librarians. What is a library? A warehouse for computer terminals? A place with a "dashboard" to brag about how much greenhouse gas you have saved, because of your fancy remodel at our expense? Who is orchestrating this purge of the spiciness of humanity and our ability to know what our government is doing? Will there be any hard relics of this culture in the future, or just piles of blank unlit computers and smart contraptions?.

LIBRARIES: Re: "What Has Become of the Public Library?"

By Alice Diane Kisch, Emeryville
Thursday March 20, 2014 - 06:05:00 PM

Dear Berkeleyites,

As a long-time supporter and enthusiastic lover of public libraries, I read Sheila Goldmacher’s What Has Become of the Public Library? with sadness, frustration and empathy.

I live in Emeryville, and the library closest to me is the Golden Gate branch of the Oakland library system, where I typically visit twice a month. Golden Gate is the diametric opposite of your main branch: our library is small, often crowded with kids and parents, and we have real live – and very friendly – librarians who check out our books.


I have been frequenting Golden Gate for more than 10 years, and I still get a warm feeling when I am about to go there for my twice-monthly visit. Even the building looks like the school and library buildings I remember from my Back-East childhood in the forties. 

So Berkeley, if you’re tired and depressed about the tomb-like atmosphere of your public libraries (even your South branch has lost much of its charm since the renovation), come on down to Golden Gate! We’re happy to show you a real public library – just like in the old days. 


New: HOMELESSNESS: Response to Nicola Bourne

By Mary Ann Uribe
Sunday March 23, 2014 - 10:42:00 AM

I find it hypocritical, ignorant and incredulous that Ms. Bourne, a woman of 67 years of age, has not lived long enough, not read enough and is not observant enough to see the solution to people like David Simmons dying in the rain on February 6, 2014 in Berkeley is to have city employees who work 24/7 to do their job of “protect and serve” by taking our homeless residents to shelters and churches to get them out of the rain so they will not die of pneumonia like David did. 

Ms. Bourne has obviously not had to sit down on a bench, not been given a ticket or sat on the street and had a police officer try to run her off because of what she looked like. Ms. Brown, I am not blaming you but if the shoe fits, wear it. 

I do not see you at church feeding the homeless or even educating yourself about being one of the 16 million Americans who are homeless in the United States including over 5 million children. Perhaps if Ms. Bourne was not deaf, dumb and blind she could use her heart to look into the eyes of the homeless and realize it is her guilt that prevents her from accepting the truth about David and our other homeless brothers and sisters we have in Berkeley.

HOMELESSNESS: Re: the Death of David Simmons

By Nicola Bourne
Thursday March 20, 2014 - 05:55:00 PM

I find it saddening that Ms. Uribe first blames people who routinely dedicate themselves to community outreach on the homeless among us and then proceeds to chastise the Berkeley Police Department, alleging that their combined "failures" led to the recent sad death of David Simmons. She goes on to claim that Mr. Simmons "should have been rescued, not persecuted... not forgotten," without giving a shred of evidence that anyone persecuted him or that neither of the two groups just mentioned had tried to get him off the street. Finally, she declares, "Nobody in Berkeley cared," and that "we should all be ashamed." 

That's an astonishing amount of blaming. However, I have to wonder where she and Mr. Simmons "friends" were during his year of homelessness, and what she she and/or they do to rescue him. Is she, and are they who actually knew and befriended him ashamed?  

The fact is that a whole lot of Berkeley citizens care very much about the large number of people who are, or might appear to be, homeless. It isn't as if we don't pass two or three such people by on every single downtown block, and we regularly approve budget requests to support "saving" them from their situation. Some of us also go out of our way to offer direct assistance. I'm very sad to learn that one among us died in such a way, but Ms. Uribe's words ring falsely and hollowly to my ear.

New: Living Requires a Living Wage

by Harry Brill, Co-Coordinator East Bay Tax the Rich Group
Saturday March 22, 2014 - 10:53:00 AM

I would like to urge you to attend the Berkeley City Council meeting on April 1, 7pm to persuade the Berkeley City Council to enact a minimum wage ordinance for working people in Berkeley. The living wage movement is a national movement that seeks to abolish poverty wages. In the last several decades the buying power of the minimum wage has declined considerably, which has further eroded the standard of living for millions of individuals and families. The problem has become so severe that many of these family are forced to rely on government programs, including the food stamp program and a heating allowance. 

The recently enacted California minimum wage law increases the minimum wage to a mere $10 an hour in 2016. It neither includes a cost of living inflation adjustment nor medical benefits. In short, it fails to lift minimum wage workers out of poverty. By contrast, the ordinance submitted to the Berkeley City Council by its own Labor Commission, chaired by the highly committed advocate, Sam Frankel, while not perfect, is far more generous. The minimum wage would begin with $10.74 an hour in businesses with 50 or fewer employees, and beginning on June 30, 2016, it will be increased every year by 55 cents until it reaches a living wage. Also, wages will be adjusted for inflation. And businesses that do not provide health benefits will be required to pay an additional $2.22 cents an hour. Businesses with over 50 employees will be required to pay $13.34 per hour in addition to the annual 55 cents increase, the inflation adjustment, and the $2.22 for medical benefits. 

The business community, particularly the restaurant industry is howling, as if the ordinance would precipitate another 1906 earthquake. Employers warn of businesses closings, substantial layoffs, and consumers finding more consumer services and goods unaffordable. The evidence, however, refutes their warnings. In San Jose, for example, unemployment declined after a minimum wage law was enacted. Not surprising because higher wages have increased spending power. 

In fact, take a look at Berkeley's experience. In the year 2000 it enacted a living wage law that applies to firms that do business with the city or who reside on property belonging to Berkeley. They protested then as they do now. Workers covered by the act now earn $13.34 an hour plus $2.22 for health benefits for a total of $15.56 per hour. And business since then have been doing fine. 

To counter the enormous pressure from many in the business community, please let City Council members know that you strongly support the minimum wage ordinance.  

Contact information is below. No matter where you live, please contact Mayor Bates and Councilman Capitelli, who is interested in being the next mayor. Also contact the council member who represents your district.


Finally, please come to the Berkeley City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 1, 7pm. City Hall is on MLK between Allston and Center Street. We will probably have a short rally at City Hall at 6:30pm.

District Incumbent Phone Email
Mayor Tom Bates (510) 981-7100 mayor@CityofBerkeley.info
District 1 Linda Maio (510) 981-7110 lmaio@CityofBerkeley.info
District 2 Darryl Moore (510) 981-7120 dmoore@CityofBerkeley.info
District 3 Max Anderson (510) 981-7130 manderson@CityofBerkeley.info
District 4 Jesse Arreguin (510) 981-7140 jarreguin@CityofBerkeley.info
District 5 Laurie Capitelli (510) 981-7150 lcapitelli@CityofBerkeley.info
District 6 Susan Wengraf (510) 981-7160 swengraf@CityofBerkeley.info
District 7 Kriss Worthington (510)981-7170 kworthington@CityofBerkeley.info
District 8 Gordon Wozniak (510) 981-7180 gwozniak@CityofBerkeley.info
p.s. Our East Bay Tax the Rich Group will be rallying on the living wage issue Monday, March 31, 5-6pm. near the top of Solano Avenue.

The NSA monster

By Jagjit Singh
Friday March 21, 2014 - 10:51:00 AM

The NSA continues to operate in the shadows with no congressional oversight. New disclosures from Edward Snowden warn the NSA has intensified its computer hacking activities. According to the news website, The Intercept, the new malware software code named “implants,” is infecting millions of computers under an automated system codename, “Turbine”. Masquerading as a fake Facebook server, the software targets a computer and removes files from a user’s hard drive. This prompted an outraged Mark Zuckerberg to call President Obama and demand the NSA cease and desist its illegal activities. The security of the Internet is seriously at risk. 

The NSA, Congress, and the White House have completely lost control of their Frankenstein because the monster is roaming the Internet with no virtually no human oversight. London Guardian, Luke Harding reported that whole paragraphs mysteriously disappeared from his computer while he was writing his latest book, “The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man”. The British spy agency, GCHQ, which works in close concert with the NSA swooped down to the Guardian newsroom and demanded that all material relating to Snowden be destroyed failing which the Guardian would be forced to cease publication. Thus, the enemies of free speech, democracy and the rule of law forced a courageous newspaper to destroy critical reporting – the hallmark of a free society.

PARKING: Does Berkeley Need $2.75/hour Metered Parking until 8 PM? Please Comment.

By Michael Katz
Thursday March 20, 2014 - 02:56:00 PM

For the second year in a row, Berkeley city staff is pushing to raise parking meter rates (to as high as $2.75/hour), and to extend metered hours until 8 PM, Monday through Saturday. 

You can comment on these proposals through March 26, via this (long) online survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/goberkeley2014 

This is also a good time to contact Berkeley's City Council and Mayor. The Council will receive staff's final proposals in June, and will vote in July -- when much of the city is out of town -- whether to accept or change them. 

Last summer, the Council gave staff clear direction to back off evening parking charges. (Those were an embarrassing, despised failure in Oakland.) Several Councilmembers urged pricing restraint. Yet staff keeps returning with aggressive, punitive proposals. 

Some background: These changes would affect all or parts of Downtown, the Elmwood, and Southside. Staff is also proposing to expand its "value" parking zones in some of these areas -- but to raise their rate from $1 to $1.50/hour. (Which would end the "value" zones, since that was the rate before they were declared.) This whole "goBerkeley pilot program" is subsidized by a regional grant. 

Here are some points you might make, in your survey or Council submission: 

* Instead of expanding Downtown meter charges and hours, the City could use the grant funds to create real-time electronic displays of parking availability at the underused Berkeley Way lot, and at other public lots. (These displays have been discussed for years, but staff keeps prioritizing expanded meter fees and hours.) 

* In Southside, staff claims the "value" zones have "succeeded too well" in freeing up "premium" metered spaces near the UC campus. If so, then rather than raising "premium" rates from $2.25 to $2.75/hour, it would be at least as viable to reduce them -- to the prior $1.50, or maybe $1.75. While keeping the "value" rate at $1. 

* Drop staff's target of maintaining exactly 1-2 free spaces per block. The public never voted to adopt this quirky engineering target. Recognize that it's more important for Berkeley's commercial districts to appear hospitable to visitors, than to optimize a geeky numeric criterion imported from some other city. 

* Especially given staff's resistance to Council direction and to public input, the Council could simply vote to discontinue this whole "goBerkeley pilot program." We could restore parking rates that functioned passably before 2013. 

* Add your own best ideas for making Berkeley's commercial districts welcoming to those who choose to (or must) drive to them.

New: PARKING: Unforeseen Problems with Fees

By Steve Redmond
Sunday March 23, 2014 - 10:49:00 AM

Social engineering is fraught with unforeseen problems. We attended the meeting at Claremont Library this past week and heard an earnest staff explain their reasoning, but there were unforeseen problems they didn't anticipate: 

1. Charging a lot and increasing fees to $2.75 an hour will drive many to park in neighborhood residential streets that are already overloaded. We have the Alta Bates employees and visitors to contend with and the erratic policing of 2 hour parking by use of a computer reader has proven disastrously compromised.(More on this later) 

2. Use of social media information could help parking and free up spaces while reducing circling. This needs to be step one and is the least expensive option. 

3. Making the first hour of parking free might open up more spaces and encourage people to be a bit more efficient in the use of their time while parked. 

The ever-expanding use of fees to not only deal with parking issues but expand the city coffers is a poor way to fund city operations. Policed enforcement of traffic laws would not only make the community safer but bring in revenue. It may inadvertently also reduce crime rates as criminals are less likely to adhere to traffic laws than honest folks. 

Looking out forward, how can cities mover people around most efficiently? That is the grand question. Pilot projects with people movers on surface streets might be useful and could be tested. So much money is wasted in efforts that don't move the problem forward that we forget our cities were never built for auto traffic. Perhaps we need to move toward eliminating the need for autos in Berkeley as our long term goal.

The Effect of Obstructionism on the Public

By Romila Khanna
Friday March 21, 2014 - 09:41:00 AM

Is it true that policy makers don't think about those who are really affected by their obstructionism? America has always shown generosity towards people who suffer in this wide world. But why do our policy makers ignore the low-income people in the US who can barely make ends meet? 

Our community includes a variety of people with a variety of needs. Some need help in gaining marketable skills; some need help in maintaining good health; and some need help in managing their psychological stresses. Are we willing to support these needs of members of our community by expressing our concern to Congress? 

The health and happiness of many needy people will improve if they get timely help. I request our lawmakers to extend a helping hand to the needy and poor in our land. The rich and powerful might feel a pinch in the short run, but in the long run they will gain the security that comes from a general decline in crimes, unrest and unhappiness.


AGAINST FORGETTING: The Invisible War: Sexual Assault in the America Military

By Ruth Rosen
Friday March 21, 2014 - 09:55:00 AM

Many young women who join the military are idealistic, patriotic and ambitious. The military promises education, training, a possible career and the adventure of deploying to foreign lands. Even though military life requires serious sacrifices, most believe that the American military’s Uniform Code of Justice is fair and equitable. 

Then reality upends their lives. Male colleagues subject them to humiliating initiation rituals, and grope their breasts and bottoms. Three soldiers gang rape a female soldier. A commanding officer holds down a woman as he threatens her with a charge of adultery - which would end her military career and send her to prison - if she tells anyone.  

This is the Invisible War, the title of a 2012 film about sexual assault in the American military. Stories of sexual assault have been in the news for several years. Last June, all twenty women in the US Senate sat down and decided “enough was enough.” Women, they argued, should not have to fear their officers and male counterparts, as well as foreign enemies. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior Democratic Senator from New York who replaced Hillary Clinton, resolved to change what they all agreed was obscene and illegal. And the women decided that no matter how many bills they might individually sponsor, they would band together and engage in civil discourse, which they did. 

For nearly a year, Kirsten Gillibrand campaigned all over the country to promote what was commonly called the “military sexual assault bill,” arm-twisting Senators, and publicizing the stories of sexual assault women experienced in the military. The Pentagon, she repeatedly told audiences across the nation,estimated that 26,000 soldiers, mostly women, but also men, had experienced sexual assault in 2012, based on an anonymous survey. Most soldiers, however, had declined to report the assault to their commander and in about a quarter of the cases, he was the rapist or abuser. Even reporting sexual assault was a career breaker. A commanding officer had the power to say nothing had happened, and could decide not to prosecute those who raped or sexually assaulted soldiers under his command. The Pentagon requires Congress to supply them with annual reports about sexual assault and recentlyrevealed that sexual assaults had increased by 50% from 2012 to 2013.  

Senator Kirsten GillibrandClearly something had to be done, and Sen. Gillibrand thought carefully about the best way to address sexual assault in the military. Her specific legislation allows an accusation of sexual assault to bypass the chain of military command and go straight to an independent review. Gillibrand’s reasoning was that sexual assault cases are often perpetrated by someone in the chain of command, ensuring that either revenge or the end of a woman’s military career is the response to any complaint. 

After months of highly visible public discussion and debate about the extent of sexual assault in the military, the Senate was finally ready to vote on Gillibrand’s challenge to military culture in early March, 2014. Until the very last moment, no one could predict the outcome of the vote. Senators kept trading votes back and forth in a frenzy of political deals about other matters that had little to do with the military. On March 6, the day that the vote took place, Gillibrand said on the Senate floor, “The people who do not trust the chain of command are the victims, That breach of trust, that fundamental breach of trust has been broken for victims of sexual assault.” The suspense grew, and finally the Senators voted. Gillibrand’s bill lost by five votes.  

One of Gillibrand’s most powerful and vociferous opponents - aside from Republican war hawks who bristle at any challenge or change to the military - was Sen.Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, who had offered a competing bill which had also been discussed for months. Seventeen of the nineteen women Senators who had gathered last June voted to support Gillibrand’s legislation. Like her, they felt that commanding officers could not fairly deal with accusations of sexual assault. 

But when Gillibrand’s bill failed, they kept their bargain to vote together. They knew that even if Gillibrand’s had passed the Senate, House Speaker John Boehner almost certainly would not have allowed a House vote on the legislation, which is his privilege in his role as House Speaker. The truth is, Gillibrand and most of the women Senators had aimed straight at a macho military culture, and most male Senators wanted change that did not challenge the military chain of command. Claire McCaskill made it easier for them to achieve this goal. 

Senator Claire McCaskillSen. Claire McCaskill had promoted weaker legislation, and on March 10th her bill was passed overwhelmingly by 97-0 votes. It will now go to House, where it is expected to receive bipartisan approval. 

The difference between the bills is significant. Gillibrand’s legislation would have taken the prosecution of sexual assault cases out of the military chain of command and given it to the independent Judge Advocates General Corps. As a result, victims of sexual assault could have bypassed their commanding officer and not risked their career if they reported sexual assault. McCaskill’s legislation just pushed the review further up the chain of military command. 

McCaskill defended the weaker legislation she had proposed. As a former prosecutor, she said, “I have more experience prosecuting sexual assault cases than anyone in the Senate. I have spent more time holding the hands of rape victims,” she told Gillibrand’s supporters. “This bill does not let anyone off easy.” 

And she’s right that her legislation will, in fact, improve the lives of women in the military. According to a Time Magazine analysis of her legislation, “When a case is reported, if either or both the commander or prosecutor don’t want to proceed, the case is referred to the head of that military branch for review.” McCaskill’s bill also eliminates the “good soldier” defense that astonishingly allows the impeccable record of a soldier to be used as evidence that he could not have committed such an atrocious crime. Significantly, it requires that every commander’s record of handling sexual-assault cases will now be considered when he is eligible for promotion.”  

Congress is genuinely embarrassed by the extent of sexual assault in the military. It is “conduct unbecoming a soldier” and also makes recruiting women more difficult. Without a military draft, the American military actually needs women within its ranks. McCaskill’s bill gave senators an opportunity to back something substantive on sexual assault, without really challenging the macho chain of command system that has destroyed the lives of thousands of women in the military. 

But why would a Democrat who has prosecuted so many rape cases fight for weaker legislation?  

First, McCaskill correctly assessed that her weaker legislation had a greater chance in both houses of Congress. Some have also noted that McCaskill was considered the “most endangered” Democrat in the US until her opponent Todd Akin stuck his foot in his mouth and began babbling about “legitimate rape” and how women’s bodies would naturally repel the sperm of rapists. That ensuredher victory as a Senator in Missouri, which had increasingly become a reliably Republican state. 

It didn’t help either that President Obama, who has often condemned the military for its shameful record of sexual assault, offered Gillibrand no support. Gillibrand later said that the President could have helped tip the scales in favour of her proposal. As Commander in Chief, he could have implemented serious reforms. But he didn’t. 

Another reason for McCaskill’s competing and weaker legislation may have to do with politics. It’s “the 2016 factor.” Gillibrand is widely seen as a Democratic presidential contender if Hillary Clinton declines to run as a presidential candidate. She is a feminist who has made improving women’s lives the focus of her political legislation. Claire McCaskill, on the other hand, is considered a “war hawk,” particularly towards Iran. Many think that McCaskill wanted to undermine a rising female star in the Democratic Party. 

The effort to halt sexual assault in the military is arriving in slow, but steady changes. Last year, outraged Democrats and Republicans changed the Uniform Code of Military Justice by stripping commanders of their ability to overturn military jury convictions. This was an enormous victory for women in the military. 

Decades ago, sexual harassment and assault were as common as a coffee break in American civilian life. But then the women’s movement, in the 1970s, redefined them as crimes, as well as a violation of a woman’s civil right to earn a living. By the 1990s, sexual assault and sexual harassment had become illegal. Soon, every institution had a sexual harassment officer who adjudicated accusations.  

The military, with its macho culture and adherence to the chain of command, still tolerates sexual assault and violence. Think about it. How could it be different? Soldiers are trained to engage in impersonal violence and to become killing machines. This is their job. Compared to their training, sexual assault may simply seem to some like rest and recreation, rather than as criminal behaviour.  


THE PUBLIC EYE: America’s Gas Problem

By Bob Burnett
Friday March 21, 2014 - 09:34:00 AM

Most US politicians regard natural gas as the key element in our energy policy. In his January State-of-the-Union address President Obama said, “[Natural gas is] the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.” Many environmentalists disagree; John Farrell describes natural gas as “a gateway drug.” 

President Obama isn’t alone believing that the US must have an all-of-the-above energy policy; slowly reducing our use of coal while heavily relying on natural gas and ramping up renewables. The Washington conventional wisdom argues the US can’t meet its energy needs, and reduce carbon emissions, without using natural gas as our primary energy source. This perspective has become one of the few points of agreement between Democrats and Republicans. (Although every time there’s any disruption in the international oil market, Republicans reprise their “drill, baby, drill” refrain.) But there are four problems with this perspective. 

History teaches that the conventional wisdom is often wrong and dogmatically clinging to it reduces opportunity, in the long run. After all, it was once the conventional wisdom that the earth was flat (and the center of the universe). Just before the Montgomery bus boycott, it was the conventional wisdom that it would take many decades to end segregation. (In 2007, it was the conventional wisdom that an African-American could not be elected President.) 

As a (retired) technologist, I’ve seen the conventional wisdom about computers change numerous times: at first, computers were thought to have limited uses; then the mainframe was regarded as the “center” of the information universe; more recently is was believed that smart devices – such as phones and tablets – were not as versatile as personal computers. 

The second problem with the natural-gas-as-a-bridge paradigm is that it creates the false impression we have the global-climate-change problem under control. Journalist Amy Harder observed: 

First, shifting significantly away from coal to natural gas doesn't get the planet anywhere close to the carbon-reduction levels scientists say we must reach. And second, while the natural-gas boom is great for the economy and the immediate reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions, it has deflated the political urgency to cut fossil-fuel dependence, which was more compelling when we thought our resources of oil and natural gas were scarce.
American public opinion reflects the weakening of our will to address global climate change. A recent Gallup Poll found the majority of respondents (54 percent) believe that the effects of global warming are “already happening.” However, only a third (36 percent) believe “global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime." 

This flies in the face of reality. Writing in ROLLING STONE, environmentalist Bill McKibben observed that we can only emit 564 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050 and still have a reasonable chance of keeping the temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius (the threshold for catastrophic consequences). Last year we pumped a record 36 gigatons into the atmosphere; at this rate we’ll exceed 564 gigs in about a decade. (McKibben also pointed out that the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies are 2975 gigatons , “the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn.”) 

The natural-gas-as-a-bridge paradigm has slowed down the pace of critical adaptation. If Americans are going to hit a horrific environmental threshold in slightly more than a decade then we need to start changing our behavior now; but we’re stuck in our old ways. Writing in the Washington Post, Brad Plumer observed: 

Say the world wants to stabilize the amount of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere at about 450 parts per million — giving us a shot at limiting global warming below 2°C. If that's the goal, then the world can use natural gas for only a brief period before transitioning to carbon-free power. Global gas consumption would have to peak by 2020 or 2030.
We must move aggressively into renewables now. 

The fourth problem is there are negative costs associated with the natural-gas-as-a-bridge strategy. A recent report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science enumerated the risks of global climate change. There are serious public health consequences including air pollution, infectious diseases, drought, flooding, extreme heat, and extreme weather, in general. 

And, of course, there are major economic repercussions. A recent UN report indicated, “The effects of global warming could cost the world $1.45 trillion in economic damages, with the planet's crop production projected to decline up to two percent every decade.” Reliance upon fossil fuels deflates the US economy. The Rocky Mountain Institute noted that 76 percent of American industry relies upon fossil fuel power. They projected that if the US moved off of carbon-based fuels to renewable fuels, there would be $5 trillion in savings, growing the economy by an estimated 158 percent. 

John Farrell is right when he says, ”Natural gas isn’t a bridge, it’s a relapse.” 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at bburnett@sonic.net 


ECLECTIC RANT: A Cat Story with a Happy Ending

By Ralph E. Stone
Thursday March 20, 2014 - 05:59:00 PM

First a little background before telling this nice story about a lost cat. We have two three-year old feral indoor cats, one a male named Noche -- because he's black -- and Amber a small tortortoiseshell female. Both are now socialized. Both have been neutered. When cats are neutered, the tip of their right ear is clipped.

About three years ago, a mother and five siblings showed up in our backyard. We provided some kibble and water. They left, but returned shortly. Out of the six, three -- one grey and two blacks -- stayed and took up residence on our deck and backyard. My wife named them Azuli, Blackie, and Solo. We have cat houses for them and provide food and water daily. All three have been neutered. The remaining cats in the litter are fed by a neighbor. Why three stayed and three left is a mystery. 

Now the story begins. About a week ago, my wife and I noticed a small grey and white tuxedo cat near our back deck. Let's call her Gubi. Gubi ducked underneath the deck and had probably been living there for awhile. We put out some food and water nearby and she gobbled it up. Eventually, Gubi ventured forth onto our deck attached to the house and tried to eat the feral cats' food. Azuli, Blacky, and Solo were wary of this interloper, although they didn't attack her. And you've to remember that Azuli, Solo, and Blackie have become quite territorial. The deck and backyard are theirs and stranger cats are not welcome. We were somewhat apprehensive that if Gubi stayed in our backyard, Azuli, Blackie, and Solo might leave.

We assumed the new cat was feral too. However, when we approached her she immediately rubbed up against our legs and just let us pet her. We even picked her up without any fuss. Gubi turned out to be a sweet cat starving for attention. Our three ferals didn't like the attention Gubi was getting.

We tried to get her into the house, but on seeing Noche and Amber, Gubi let out a screech and Noche and Amber fled. This reaction indicated that a third cat would not be welcome by Noche and Amber.

On the off chance that Gubi had been microchipped, we took her to the Balboa Pet Hospital, who have a microchip scanner and lo and behold, Gubi is microchipped. The vet phoned the national registry, telling them that Gubi had been found and called Cruella and gave her our telephone number. 

Microchipping, by the way, is done by using a needle to insert a little chip under the animal’s skin, usually between the shoulder blades. That chip has a unique number on it that can be picked up and read by a scanner. Up to 8 million animals end up in shelters every year. Unfortunately, only 15-20 percent of dogs and less than 2 percent of cats are ever reclaimed by their owners. One of the ways to increase the chances of finding your lost pet is having it microchipped. If a cat is found and is microchipped, a scanner will show a number. By calling the national registry and giving the number, the owner's contact information is disclosed.

The owner -- let's call her Cruella -- did call. We were quite upset to learn that Cruella had tired of taking care of Gubi and put her out to fend for herself even though there are a number of more humane alternatives for unwanted cats and dogs. By the time we noticed Gubi in our backyard, she had been on her own for about five weeks.

Luckily, Mike, an acquaintance of Cruella, had told her that he would take Gubi, but was disappointed to learn that Gubi was gone. He tried in vain to find her. The good news is that once learning that we had found Gubi, Cruella notified Mike who then contacted us. We united Gubi with Mike, who turned out to be a friendly bachelor in his 60s..

The moral is do not just throw an unwanted cat or dog out to fend for themselves. There are shelters for unwanted animals in most cities. And it is advisable to have your cat and dog microchipped. And finally, your pets should be spayed/neutered.

Alls well that ends well. 

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Changing the Wavelength

By Jack Bragen
Friday March 21, 2014 - 09:37:00 AM

Aside from the usefulness of medication to treat psychosis, a large part of the issue might be dealt with when the patient can calm down. The second to last time that I was hospitalized, in 1990, it was due to going off medication against medical advice. As soon as I was in the inpatient ward, I was reinstated on medication. However, as far as "coming back" from my delusional state, the process was helped when I watched the movie "field of dreams" which was played on videocassette for the patients. 

Changing the wavelength from one of despair, fear, and perceived survival, into a wavelength of calm, or release, or even bliss, will practically cure psychosis, when nothing else has worked. 

I have never seen someone get delusional during a game of ping pong. The human mind has its own set of "settings" which affect how we interact and how we respond to different things. Part of the trick of recovery from delusions is to stay in a "mode of operation" in which you are dealing with real things, and in which you are in communication with people. Also, if you are doing something fun, or at least something interesting, it goes a long way toward helping your recovery. 

While doing something fun and interesting isn't a substitute for the proper medication, it can help your morale, outlook on life, and state of well-being. Part of the problem with being schizophrenic is that it is difficult to enjoy things. But if something can be enjoyed, (something other than illicit drugs and alcohol) it helps put you in a far better frame of mind. 

If you're strictly taking about calming down, it is helped when your environment feels safe and secure. An external threat, one which is genuine and not a delusion, is bad for your condition. An imagined threat, one generated by delusions, can be a product of already being ill, but can also make the illness worse. 

Persons with mental illness deserve safety. When safety is threatened, it is a violation of basic human rights. You can't enjoy yourself when you are terrified. Doing something enjoyable, at least some of the time, is necessary for a good recovery. However, enjoyment is off the map if you feel unsafe. 

Unfortunately, the world often is not safe. Thus, we persons with mental illness may need to hobble along at times in the attempt to feel more secure in insecure situations. 

Anti-anxiety medications are helpful for some people with mental illness. The problem, however, is that these can be habit forming. 

Persons with mental illness, when we can change the method of operation that we are using to encounter life, can help make mental illness a non-issue some of the time. If you go to a park with a friend, maybe visit the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, or the Lindsay Museum in Walnut Creek, you can then forget about mental illness for a day, as well as set aside your symptoms--and this is good for you. 

* * * 

I can be reached with your comments at: bragenkjack@yahoo.com and my self-published books can be found with a search on Amazon.

SENIOR POWER F G M stands for…

By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Friday March 21, 2014 - 10:35:00 AM

There were two references to female genital mutilation (FGM) in March 6, 2014’s Senior Power column about Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. Wikipedia online encyclopedia has an excellent article about FGM. Ayaan HirsiAli’s books are in the public library’s collection: The caged virgin :An emancipation proclamation for women and Islam; Infidel; and Nomad: From Islan to America—A personal journey through the clash of civilizations. In 1993 Harcourt Brace published Warrior marks: Female genital mutilation and the sexual blinding of women by Pratibha Parmar and Alice Walker. For a list of publications about FGM, consult the LINK catalog. Many articles about action against FGM are accessible via the public library’s Encore catalog. 

Different societies practice different rituals of so called female circumcision. Female circumcision and female genital mutilation differ. Which of the following do you consider are true and which are false? The practice of mutilation of females’ genital organs is… 

  1. acceptable when performed by a certified midwife or rabbi.
  2. considered the female counterpart of male circumcision.
  3. estimated as having been imposed upon 70+% of the women of Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan.
  4. part of the culture.
  5. strongly encouraged by many mothers for their daughters’ welfare.
FGM is sometimes incorrectly attributed to cultural or religious practice. It is practiced in 28 African countries, some parts of Asia and the Middle East, and among immigrant communities in Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States. An estimated 100-140 million women and girls have undergone genital mutilation, and each year another 2 million girls are at risk of undergoing some form of this barbarism. 

In some procedures, the foreskin of the clitoris is removed. Others involve "infibulation," in which the clitoris and labia minor are surgically removed and the two sides of the vulva are sewn together. These violent procedures are performed without anesthetic, often with primitive, unsterilized tools.  

Immediate health risks to the girl or woman include hemorrhage, tetanus, blood poisoning, shock, and death. Survivors are left with scarring; sexual relationships are joyless and painful. The surgery leaves openings inadequate for the flow of urine and menstrual blood, which can cause vaginal and urinary tract infections and sometimes sterility, the ultimate disaster for women whose value is based on their ability to reproduce. 

Infibulated women who do give birth must be surgically reopened and re-sewn after each childbirth. Other forms of FGM include cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissue; scraping of tissue surrounding the vaginal orifice or cutting of the vagina; and introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina for the purpose of tightening or narrowing it. 

In Somalia, a study reported by Lori Heise of 33 infibulated women showed that their final labor stage was 5 times longer than normal, 5 babies died, and 29 babies suffered oxygen deprivation from the prolonged, obstructed labor.  

As the U.N. has noted, girls are discriminated against throughout the world, often even before birth in cultures where more value is placed on boys. Some Muslims believe the Koran demands FGM, although, as the World Health Organization points out, the practice predates Islam. Others see women's genitalia as unclean and believe infibulation is a ritual purification. Men in such cultures will not marry unmutilated women, believing them to be unclean, promiscuous, and sexually untrustworthy. Many women do not object to the procedure because they view it as a tradition and natural part of their role in life.  

Victims’ advocate Hirsi Ali reports that "…this cruel ritual does not take place in all Islamic societies. But Islam demands that one enter marriage as a virgin. The virginity dogma is safeguarded by locking girls up in their homes and sewing their outer labia together. Female circumcision serves two purposes: the clitoris is removed in order to reduce the woman's sexuality, and the labia are sewn up in order to guarantee her virginity." … " 'Circumcision' is a term that implies that the practice is acceptable. It is not acceptable. Nor is it culturally 'excusable.' "  

American media coverage of the legal case of Fauziya Kasinga illustrated a range of perceptions within her own family and community in Togo. Kasinga was granted political asylum in the U.S. in 1996, citing fear of forced circumcision. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service recognized for the first time that the fear of genital mutilation was legitimate grounds for asylum. The U.S. Congress outlawed infibulation in the U.S. under the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1996; in addition, U.S. representatives to the World Bank and other international financial institutions are required to oppose loans to the 28 African nations where the practice exists if those countries fail to conduct educational programs to prevent it.  

Arab-American Nonie Darwish recounts how Aunt “Batta once talked about the strange subject of tahara, circumcision of girls. The word tahara literally means cleanliness. In Aunt Batta’s generation, and my mother’s as well, all girls at around age seven had to go through tahara. Batta was laughing while describing how for days young girls could not walk because of the pain between their legs. It did not seem to me like something to laugh about, I noticed that my mother was uncomfortable with the subject and tried to steer the conversation away from it. Fortunately, my mother and much of her generation and class stopped doing this to their daughters. I was relieved that tahara was not something that would be forced on me. However, a large number of the uneducated lower classes still practiced this genital mutilation on their young girls in my generation, and tragically, it is still practiced to this day in many Muslim and African countries.” 

Adult females who have been subjected to FGM as children and who seek repair or reconstructive surgery are unlikely to be successful. There is, however, the possibility of referral to a urogynecologist (there are some practicing in Northern California) for at least a “consult.”  


This Senior Power column concludes with some other recommended reading and listening:  

Sequestration, Salary Cap Needed For Nonprofit Housing Developers,” by Lynda Carson (Berkeley Daily Planet, February 28, 2014.) 

“Sherwin B. Nuland, 'How We Die' Author, Dies at 83," by Denise Gellene (New York Times, March 5, 2014.)  

"Fresh Air Remembers Surgeon And 'How We Die' Author Sherwin Nuland," a replay of an interview of Sherwin Nuland by Terry Gross in 1994 (National Public Radio Fresh Air, March 7, 2014.) Print and audio transcripts (running time: 12 minutes, 42 seconds) are available at the site. 

Alone in her rented rooms, my great grandmother, Mary Dodge Wardell, died of “nephritis,” then known as Bright’s disease. She was buried in her GreenWood Cemetery lot in 1911. When I was working on The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually; A Memoir, I hadn’t been able to find much in the literature about Bright’s disease until I read Nuland. In his memoir, Dr. Nuland referred to his aunt's fatal illness as Bright's disease, "at the time a not uncommon process of progressive destruction of the kidneys. It usually was precipitated by an undiagnosed and unremembered streptococcal sore throat, going on to cause renal poisoning and gradual failure. Its relentless advance toward an inevitable death took place over the course of years or even decades."  

"More than 200,000 Los Angeles County residents to be forced into managed health care," by Susan Abram (Los Angeles Daily News, March 16, 2014). Thousands of California residents whose health coverage is provided by Medicare/Medi-Cal (“MediMedi”) are being forced into HMO’s through a state pilot program.  

Abram writes, “Thousands of elderly and disabled Californians will be pushed into managed health care plans soon under a state pilot project, but doctors’ groups and patient advocates have found a number of problems with the program that could threaten care for the most medically fragile. Called Cal MediConnect, the project is touted as a voluntary, three-year pilot. The state’s Department of Health Care Services and the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), described it as a way to ‘help those eligible receive coordinated medical, behavioral health, and long-term institutional, and home-and community-based services through a single organized delivery system.’ … But several groups, including the Los Angeles County Medical Association, the Los Angeles Podiatric Medical Society and at least six other nonprofit organizations, have voiced their concern to the state, saying the notices sent to those who are eligible are inadequate and confusing, and there are no forms that clearly give patients the right to opt out. …” 

Behold the Ides of March” by Toni Mester. (March 14, 2014, Berkeley Daily Planet. First Person).  

Arts & Events

AROUND & ABOUT THEATER: Breaking News--Philip Kan Gotanda Appointed as Professor for UC Theater, Dance & Performance Department

By Ken Bullock
Thursday March 20, 2014 - 05:53:00 PM

Philip Kan Gotanda, playwright known for such plays as The Wash, Day Standing on Its Head and the libretto for Manzanar, a symphonic work about the relocation camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II, has just been appointed professor in the Department of Theater, dance and Performance Studies at UC-Berkeley, where he has in the past been artist in residence (as well as at Berkeley Rep and Stanford).

AROUND AND ABOUT MUSIC: Atlantic Crossing: New Century Chamber Orchestra With Chanticleer--Tuesday, First Congregational Church

By Ken Bullock
Thursday March 20, 2014 - 05:50:00 PM

Across the ocean from New York to Europe--that's the program for Atlantic Crossing, the collaborative concert of New Century Chamber Orchestra, led by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, with all-male chorus Chanticleer, this Tuesday at 8, First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way (near Durant & Dana). 

Music from the period between the World Wars will be featured, opening with NCCO's rendition of Fritz Kreisler's Midnight Bells, followed by Offenbach's Barcarole--and then a panoply of pieces by Miklos Rosza, Bartok, Hindemith, Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill and Gershwin, concluding with "Tea for Two"--and a medley of Ellington/Strayhorn tunes. 

Some of the arrangements are from the 30s all-male German chorale, the Comedian Harmonists. 

NCCO showed their flare for collaboration the last time they played at First Congregational, in February. After a vigorous set of operatic instrumental music, the string orchestra, beefed up with some winds, backed three talented operatic singer/actors (Marai Valdes, Efrain Solis--& the excellent Thomas Glenn) from the Adler Fellows program of San Francisco Opera in a well-directed (Eugene Brancoveanu) staging of Donizetti's delightful short opera buffa, 'Rita,' a slapstick-y, sung salute to ... domestic violence? --though it's hard to tell, in this crazy menage-a-trois, who's getting the worst from whom. 

Atlantic Crossing, Tuesday, March 25, 8 pm, First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way. $29-$59 (Single tickets at $15 for those under 35). (415) 392-4400; ncco.org

Press Release: Berkeley Public Library selects Noll & Tam Architects and Planners For Improvements to the Central Library Interior Public Spaces

Friday March 21, 2014 - 11:07:00 AM

The Berkeley Public Library is pleased to announce that the award-winning design firm of Noll & Tam Architects and Planners has been selected to provide a full range of programmatic, architectural and design services for its Central Library. Renovations of the interior public spaces will improve the layout of collections, lighting, placement of the public computers, and address the need for quiet and group study areas, as well as adequate and appropriate space to meet the needs of teens and youth. After a competitive process, the firm was selected based on their extensive library design and building experience. 

Modern library services have significantly evolved with the continuing expansion of the internet, CDs and DVDS, online services, streaming media and electronic materials, and the Berkeley Public Library is meeting the challenge of this evolving environment to respond to how patrons perceive and use the Library in the 21st century. Noll & Tam Architects and Planners design services cover developing alternative and cost-effective innovative solutions to improve the Central Library’s interior public spaces using the existing square footage without substantial structural change. Improvements will be phased in to allow continuation of services while selected areas are renovated. 

“We are excited to be bringing the Central Library more in line with the renovated branches, and to create public spaces that will meet all of our visitors needs now and into the future. I hope the community will join us in this effort as they did for the neighborhood branch libraries projects,” said Donna Corbeil, Director of Library Services. The design firm will host a series of teen focus groups to solicit input into the teen space design and two community meetings to allow the public to provide input into the planning process. 

The Library invites the public to join us at these meetings: 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 6:30 – 8:00 pm 

Central Library, Community Meeting Room, 3rd Floor 


Saturday, April 26, 2014, 12:00 – 1:30 pm 

Central Library, Children’s Department, 4th Floor 


More information will be posted on the Library’s website, http://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org/, under Planning – Central Library Improvements 2014.