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UC Theatre Renovation Project Unveiled

By Steven Finacom
Thursday April 24, 2014 - 09:25:00 AM
Mayor Tom Bates (front left) and Mayeri pulled a rope to unveil the new marquee message on University Avenue.
Steven Finacom
Mayor Tom Bates (front left) and Mayeri pulled a rope to unveil the new marquee message on University Avenue.
The battered, but largely intact, interior of the theatre was set up with a panel displayed renovation plans.
Steven Finacom
The battered, but largely intact, interior of the theatre was set up with a panel displayed renovation plans.
The battered, but largely intact, interior of the theatre was set up with a panel displayed renovation plans.
Steven Finacom
The battered, but largely intact, interior of the theatre was set up with a panel displayed renovation plans.
A photograph on the theatre lobby wall shows University Avenue in earlier days.  The UC Theatre, with a now-vanished blade marquee, is at right.
A photograph on the theatre lobby wall shows University Avenue in earlier days. The UC Theatre, with a now-vanished blade marquee, is at right.

With a pull on a rope—and an assist from a man hidden atop the marquee—David Mayeri of the Berkeley Music Group and Mayor Tom Bates raised the curtain on the next stage in a long planned Downtown Berkeley project, the renovation and reopening of the UC Theatre. 

Shuttered since 2001, the much missed and admired historic movie palace which originally opened in 1917 will be converted by the non-profit BMG into a 1,460 person capacity live venue. Construction is planned for completion in 2015.  

The project was promoted Wednesday, April 23, 2014 with an event in the theatre lobby and the street outside. 

Planned alterations include conversion of the raked, single level, interior with fixed seating into three tiers arranged with either theatre seating, or cabaret-style table seating for 800, a dance floor, and a Meyer Sound system. 

The non-profit Berkeley Music Group plans to initially program 75-100 shows a year, “featuring a culturally diverse range of local, national, and international artists performing music genres ranging from Americana to zydeco and everything in between”, according to their press release.  

“The UC Theatre will be an all-ages venue”, and the programming will include live comedy, film events, and a speaker series, as well as opportunities for other local non-profits to use the theatre for fundraising events. 

Mayeri, who grew up in Berkeley and worked for 35 years for Bill Graham Presents, mastering the live music event trade, told the assembled crowd “when I went into the UC Theatre a few years back, I could exactly see the potential for the room.”  

“We’re thrilled to announce the start of construction this summer.” $2.7 has been raised to date, he said, of the planned $5.7 million project. He also announced an anonymous $250,000 challenge grant. “Today we ask for your support. We ask you to join us to ‘turn on the lights’.” 

Several local dignitaries made brief remarks, emceed by Berkeley Chamber of Commerce CEO Polly Armstrong, who said of the legendary 22 year run of weekly Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings at the UC, “I was too old, but my kids did” go to them. 

She said her children could probably supply some appropriate Rocky Horror quote for the occasion. (“A toast!” murmured someone in the audience, channeling one of the lines from the cult movie, where the audience would toss bread from the back rows.) 

“It’s so painful (the UC) has been unused for the past decade”, Armstrong said. The new project, proposed and approved by the City several years ago, would “help push the UC Theatre into the next and final stage of success.” 

“I’m just so pleased that this venue is about to open”, said Mayor Tom Bates. “Can you imagine what this will mean to the Downtown? We have so many great restaurants and this is just the icing on the cake.”  

After praising Downtown restaurants again, Bates rhapsodized that “this is the one thing we’re missing, a great entertainment place!” 

Armstrong adroitly hastened back to the podium to clarify, “I’m sure Tom didn’t mean we’re missing a great live entertainment venue” Downtown, reminding him the Freight and Salvage exists on the next block. “He just means a 1,460 seat” venue, larger than the Freight and Salvage, she assured the audience, as Bates sat back down.  

A later speaker was the acting director of the Freight and Salvage, who told the Berkeley Music Group team, “I’m here to welcome you to the neighborhood. We grow together. I’m totally excited that this place is coming back to life. We look forward to opportunities to collaborate on bookings.” 

“This concert venue will bring entertainment, vitality,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who represents Downtown Berkeley. “This is so critical to economic vitality and health. I can’t wait for the opening, and to come see the shows here.” 

Several speakers praised Mayeri’s tenacity in leading and promoting the planned project over several years. “I’m guessing there’s no one in the room who hasn’t gotten a call from David saying, ‘can I buy you some coffee and talk about the UC Theatre?’, Armstrong said. “He wins the passion prize.”  

“David Mayeri is a hell of a bulldog”, said Downtown Berkeley Association head John Caner. “I think he’s going to do it.” “University Avenue has been a little sorry”, Caner said. “Let’s share the love on University Avenue. This is really key as an anchor” for surrounding restaurants and businesses. 

Caner said that UC students had told him “what we really want is not to (have to) go to San Francisco”, for live entertainment. “This is really a wonderful, wonderful opportunity.” 

He pledged $1,000 for the challenge grant match, first saying ten thousand, then quickly correcting himself. “I’m on a non-profit budget.” Polly Armstrong said “I’ll match that $1,000!” and two others in the audience, including local attorney Moni Law, also quickly spoke up to pledge the same amount. 

City of Berkeley Economic Development Director Michael Caplan noted, “sometimes the biggest vision, the most transformative vision, is the one that see’s what’s there—that sees what can be a better version of itself.” He noted that the old UC Theatre was one of Downtown’s early entertainment venues. “It’s the first and oldest and in some ways the most powerful because of that. Let’s make Downtown the best cultural destination in the Bay Area.” 

Kevin Williams, from Berkeley Youth Alternatives, spoke, explaining a partnership program that would particularly bring West and South Berkeley youth to the new venue for internships and programs learning about live concert promotion and the entertainment business.  

Observing that the attending crowd was almost entirely white, Williams said, “we appreciate the emphasis on diversity” in the planned educational programs. “We want to make sure that our kids down in the community actually come up this way.” 

Speakers from Meyer Sound, including Helen Meyer, praised the project and described the state of the art sound technology they would be providing. 

After the speakers and a five minute video, the crowd went outside where one lane of University Avenue was blocked off and Bates and Mayeri unveiled the marquee, now reading “Let’s Turn on the Lights!” and giving the website for the project, www.theUCtheatre.org 

The large, single level, theatre interior was open for viewing during the event and looked much as it did during its film repertory days, although smelling musty and looking somewhat battered from more than a decade of closure. There was some apparent water damage, some pieces of plaster were missing from portions of the walls and ceiling, decorative end panels on the seats were gone, and some areas appeared to have had graffiti painted over, but most of the space was intact.  

The proposed project, if completed, would bring to an end community worries about loss of the theatre space which closed in 2001. Previous concepts for it—including a proposal to chop the large theatre up into smaller spaces—were floated, but died.  

In recent years there had been worries that the boarded up theatre, which includes storefronts along University Avenue and a second level of housing above the commercial strip, would either fall into complete disrepair, or be snapped up for development and demolished. The theatre was landmarked in 2002 after a landmark application petition was submitted by concerned citizens reacting against a plan to build apartments on the site.  

Press Release: Historic Lawsuit Settled on Behalf of Albany Housing Advocates and 28 Residents of the Albany Bulb

Wednesday April 23, 2014 - 02:26:00 PM

Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton along with the East Bay Community Law Center and the Homeless Action Center announced that today they have settled the lawsuit against the City of Albany (the City) on behalf of Albany Housing Advocates and 28 homeless Albany residents who currently live on a closed landfill known as the Albany Bulb. Plaintiffs sued Albany for of violation federal and state disability laws and homeless Bulb residents’ constitutional rights, including 4th Amendment property protections.

The 28 residents will be entitled to a $3,000 cash payment in exchange for their agreement to vacate the Bulb and remove all their personal property no later than April 25, 2014. In lieu of removing their personal property at their own expense, they may designate personal property to be removed and stored by the City for up to 120 days. Plaintiffs who do not accept the settlement will be entitled to dismiss their claims without prejudice. The Settlement Agreement is attached. 

“For a number of Albany residents experiencing homelessness, the Bulb has been a place they call home for 15 or more years. To simply evict them without providing any compensation to assist with additional housing arrangements was not acceptable. This agreement gives these residents recognition that they have a voice and are not simply anonymous individuals,” said Maureen Sheehy, who led the effort for Kilpatrick Townsend. 

The lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order was filed in November of last year after the City failed to respond to a demand letter asking the City to postpone its plan to evict Bulb residents in the middle of November as winter approached. Plaintiffs asked that they not be evicted until a plan was developed to provide them access to suitable housing. Plaintiffs’ complaint asserted that the City’s offer to set up a temporary shelter in portable trailers parked next to the entrance road to the landfill was insufficient given that the portables would be inaccessible to many Bulb residents with disabilities, there would not be enough beds for everyone who was evicted, and they would not provide people the right to privacy that they enjoyed in their homes on the Bulb. 

In November, the U.S. District Court in San Francisco cleared the way for the City to evict nearly 60 homeless people residing on the Bulb. In December, The City of Albany began enforcing section 8-4 of the Albany Municipal Code and began evicting and destroying some of the residents’ homes. The lawsuit contended that City’s enforcement of section 8-4 violated the Constitution, as it essentially made it illegal to be homeless in Albany. 

“We are happy to have reached a resolution and are hopeful that this settlement will send a message that homeless people should be treated with dignity and respect,” said Patricia Wall, Executive Director of the Homeless Action Center. “Like other U.S. citizens, homeless people also have rights under the Constitution,” she added. 

Osha Neumann of the East Bay Community Law Center, who has been working with residents of the Bulb for 15 years, struck a bitter-sweet note: “What is sad,” he said, “is that when this case is done Albany will have destroyed a rare and admirable community of people society calls homeless. On the Bulb they had homes! Now many of them will be back on the street. I’m glad we got some of them bit of compensation. That’s more than they usually get when kicked out of town. But the fact that they’re getting kicked out of town is the problem. And that struggle isn’t over.”

U.C. Berkeley Police Seek Man Who Allegedly Ordered His Dog to Attack Woman in People's Park

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday April 22, 2014 - 01:38:00 PM

University of California at Berkeley police are seeking a man wanted for assault with a deadly weapon after he allegedly ordered his pit bull to attack a woman at People's Park on Sunday night. 

Campus police said the 22-year-old woman, who is unaffiliated with the university, was with two friends at the basketball court at the park, which is several blocks south of the main campus, when she got into an argument with another group of people. 

Police said one of the men in the other group approached the woman and pushed her about 10 times, forcing her out of the park and onto Dwight Way. 

The man then gave a command to his pit bull and the dog attacked the woman, biting her arm, according to university police. 

The woman was able to escape from the dog and was treated for bite injuries at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley, police said. 

Officers searched the area but weren't able to find the suspect, according to authorities. 

UC police describe the suspect as a white man who is about 6 feet tall, weighs about 180 pounds, is in his early 30's and has shoulder-length blonde dreadlocks. 

The suspect had a triangle tattooed on his chin, another triangle under his left eye and three dots tattooed down his nose, police said. 

The suspect's dog is described by police as a tan-colored pit bull.

M&H Market Loses Liquor License in Berkeley for 20 Days; Employee Charged with Attempting to Buy Stolen Cellphones

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Monday April 21, 2014 - 10:46:00 PM

A South Berkeley liquor store has lost its license to sell alcohol for 20 days after an employee there bought purportedly stolen cellphones from an undercover agent, a state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control spokesman said today. 

ABC started a month-long investigation into M&H Market & Liquor at 3198 Adeline St., a corner store near the Ashby BART station, after receiving complaints that the store had been accepting stolen goods, ABC spokesman John Carr said. 

During the investigation, an undercover ABC agent sold several purportedly stolen iPhones to an employee at the store, Carr said. 

The ABC then filed an accusation against the store and the employee was arrested by Berkeley police, Carr said. ABC agents posted a notice at the store Thursday that its liquor license has been suspended for 20 days. 

For stores selling alcohol, "there's an expectation that they're going to be compliant with the law," Carr said. 

Once the 20-day suspension is up, the store will be on probation for the next three years and any similar violation could result in the revocation of its license, Carr said.

Warehouse Fire in Berkeley Cost $5 Million

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Thursday April 17, 2014 - 05:03:00 PM

A five-alarm that destroyed the warehouses of three West Berkeley businesses on Saturday night caused an estimated $9 million in damage, Berkeley fire Acting Deputy Chief Avery Webb said today. 

The fire, which was reported at about 8 p.m. in the 1800 block of Second Street, caused about $7 million damage to the structure, a roughly 20,000-square-foot warehouse complex, and $2 million in damage to the contents inside, Webb said.  

The massive fire took firefighters until 1 a.m. to control and left the complex a pile of smoldering rubble and brick walls.  

Three business were affected -- the Wooden Duck, Import Tile and Joshua Tree. 

The Wooden Duck and Import Tile lost warehouses and all the stock that had been stored there. Joshua Tree -- an artisan's collective for woodworkers, engineers and builders -- was entirely housed in the burned structure and took devastating losses. 

Members of the Joshua Tree collective are largely struggling artists who lost their livelihood in the blaze and are planning upcoming fundraisers to get back on their feet, Joshua Tree proprietor Joshua Goldberg said Wednesday. 

Their first fundraiser is tentatively scheduled for June 14. 

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but Webb said earlier this week that it does not appear that the fire was intentionally set.

In Memoriam Herb Wong, 1926-2014

Eulogy by John Stenzel, BHS Jazz Parent
Tuesday April 22, 2014 - 10:16:00 PM

Berkeley Unified’s music program lost one of its founding fathers when Dr. Herb Wong passed away Sunday at the age of 88. BHS Jazz was planning to honor Dr. Wong at our annual alumni concert on June 1st, with the City of Berkeley set to issue an award, but now, sadly, it will have to be presented posthumously. 

Dr. Wong was the visionary principal of Washington Elementary School, responsible for hiring Phil Hardymon, Dick Whittington, Bob Chaconas and others to teach jazz to children back in the late 1960s, when few people in the nation believed in jazz education at the elementary school level.  

In the words of current BHS Jazz Director Sarah Cline, herself a BHS alum: “This vision gave so many of us the opportunity to learn about jazz, fall in love with the music, and become the artists and people that we are today. Scores of professional jazz artists are alumni of the program Dr. Wong started, nurtured, believed in, and stumped for.” 

Raised in Oakland and Stockton, Wong served in World War II before pursuing his twin passions of jazz and science. Though he had a master's degree from San Jose State University and a doctorate from UC Berkeley in zoology, Wong was not content just to be a leader in revamping science education in the post-Sputnik era: he nurtured his lifelong passion for jazz as a KJAZ host for almost four decades, and as a writer who contributed hundreds of liner notes as well as articles for Down Beat and Jazz Educators Journal. As a teacher and later an administrator in Oakland and Berkeley schools, he was an innovator who recruited hardworking colleagues willing to break out of conventional molds and cross boundaries, to challenge themselves and their students. 

His work as a DJ and as a judge at school music competitions positioned him to identify the qualities of musical commitment beyond mere technical excellence, and his acumen as a critic and producer led to successful pioneering collaborations between performers and teachers. His intuition as an administrator guided him to spot talented musicians who would become top-flight music educators, and he tirelessly worked to augment his faculty and steer the curriculum at Washington Elementary, then a Laboratory School for the University of California. 

As principal Dr. Wong was upfront about both his pet agendas, science education and jazz, and by his persistence and prodigious effort he was able to convince his own teachers, district administrators, the University, even the National Science Foundation to support his audacious and successful vision. Before there was an Edible Schoolyard, Washington had its Environmental Yard, with teachers and programs attracting national and international recognition for their successful integration of diverse academic, social and creative initiatives. 

Dr. Wong’s friendship with Oscar Peterson led to an unprecedented 1965 visit to Washington Elementary’s auditorium, where the group played for two assemblies. Each thoughtfully integrated into Wong’s program of curriculum enrichment, culminating with the trio taking suggested notes from the kids and “co-composing” a tune to be improvised and fleshed out on the spot. In the years that followed, Berkeley schools saw visits from Rahsan Roland Kirk and his quintet, Vi Redd, Phil Woods, Duke Ellington and others, experiences cited by future professional jazz players as key moments of inspiration. 

In Sarah Cline’s words: “Another giant has fallen. Continuing to carry out Dr. Wong's vision falls to those of us who remain.” 

In 2009 at the BHS Jazz Ensemble Alumni All Stars Concert, Dr. Wong spoke at length about the program that he developed. This video features one number by the 1977 to 2008 BHS Jazz Alumni All Stars, and the story of Dr. Herb Wong’s journey in the Berkeley public schools. 

BHS Jazz Ensemble Alumni All Stars and Dr. Herb Wong: https://vimeo.com/92656149 



Carl Bloice

By Conn Hallinan
Wednesday April 23, 2014 - 11:54:00 AM

“One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.”

—James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time”

Carl Bloice, Foreign Policy In Focus columnist and blogger, and long-time African-American journalist, negotiated that journey with power and grace. Right up to the moment when he lost his long battle with cancer, he was contributing to the website Portside and struggling to complete a column on the Middle East. He died in San Francisco April 12 at age 75. 

He was a journalist his whole life, although he began his love of words as a poet. Born Jan. 28, 1939 in Riverside, Ca., he grew up in South Central Los Angeles at a time when racism and discrimination were as ubiquitous there as palm trees and beaches. He was one of those people who could not bear the humiliation of silence in the face of injustice and that simple—if occasionally difficult—philosophy was at the center of who he was. Civil rights, free speech, the war in Southeast Asia (and later Central America, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq), women’s rights, homophobia, and the environmental crisis: wherever the dispossessed were voiceless, Carl Bloice spoke for them. 

He was also my friend, for 44 years my colleague and co-conspirator, and the person who taught me how to write and think. I say this because this is less an obituary about an accomplished African-American journalist than a friend’s funerary oration, something we Irish think is important. 

Carl sold me on James Baldwin—and many other essayists, thinkers, novelists and poets—by convincing me that words mattered. He was utterly certain that a well-written piece of prose could tumble a government, shame the mighty, or shelter the powerless. 

He was a member of the Communist Party much of his life, finally leaving over that organization’s resistance to internal democracy and its reluctance to embrace women’s and gay rights, and the defense of the environment. 

In 1962 Carl was one of the first northern journalists to cover the southern civil rights movement, and he was staying at the A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Al. when the Ku Klux Klan tried to murder Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with a bomb. It blew Carl out of his bed. 

He recognized Watergate for what it was months before the mainstream press caught on to the profound corruption at the heart of the scandal and covered it for two years. He reported from Moscow, Central Asia, North Korea, Mongolia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. He was on the editorial board of the Black Commentator and wrote columns for FPIF on Israel, Libya, Argentina, Afghanistan, Cuba, and the growing and disturbing U.S. military presence in Africa. 

He was also a very funny man who loved to eat, drink and gossip. Indeed, the two of us decided that we had stumbled into a profession that gave us the perfect cover to engage in our favorite past time. Yes, yes, we talked politics—mainly foreign policy—but if the antics of the Kardashian clan slipped into the conversation, well, that was okay. 

We dearly enjoyed spotting linguistic sleight of hand. In the April 19 edition of the New York Times a reporter was going on about German-Russian tensions over Ukraine, and how Berlin is more comfortable with diplomacy—specifically the upcoming Ukraine-Russia-U.S.-European Union talks in Geneva—as opposed to some of the Cold War-type rhetoric that has been flying around: 

She wrote, “…diplomacy at last had a chance. Germany was back on familiar terrain—represented in Geneva, notably not by its own diplomat but by Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief of the 28-nation European Union, a partnership often gently mocked in Washington, but hallowed in Berlin as the real, if cumbersome, governing body of Europe.” 

I love those words “gently mocked.” 

They made me recall a conversation this past February between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, and the American Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. The two were plotting how to overthrow the elected government of President Viktor Yanukovych and install their handpicked guy in Kiev, and Nuland said, “Fuck the EU.” 

Who knew the Times considered “fuck” gentle mocking? 

Two weeks ago I would have phoned Carl and we’d have had a good laugh, but today there is no one to pick up the phone. The hardest thing about death is the silence it brings into our lives. 

Carl believed that words could empower the majority of humanity to reclaim their world from the 1 percent. In this he was much like his fellow poet, Percy Shelley, who penned these words of outrage in the aftermath of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre when cavalry charged into a Manchester crowd that was demanding democracy, killing 15 and wounding hundreds: 

“Rise like Lions after slumber 

In unvanquishable number— 

Shake your chains to earth like dew 

Which in sleep had fallen on you— 

Ye are many—they are few” 

Good night sweet poet. This harp shall ever praise thee. 





Public Comment

An Open Letter to the League of Women Voters from Lisa Stephens, Chair of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board

From Lisa Stephens, Chair, Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board
Friday April 18, 2014 - 10:26:00 AM

Dear Ms. Bickel and Members of the Board of the League of Women Voters,

The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board will be holding a Budget Workshop at our regular meeting on Monday, April 21. The Workshop is an opportunity for the general public to review with us the current Rent Stabilization Program and the proposed Budget for Fiscal Year 2014-2015. I expect that we will also receive a mid-year budget update and discuss the registration fee level.

On behalf of the full Board, I would like to invite you, the rest of your board members and the membership of the League of Women Voters to attend and provide public comment on the scope and level of service our program provides and any specific recommendations for changes to those services. This would also be the appropriate time to comment on the registration fee level.

I am extending this invitation specifically to the League in response to your letter of November 7, 2013. The letter contains a great number of inaccuracies and misconceptions regarding the current functions of the Rent Stabilization Program, our budget and the appropriateness of the current registration fee. The letter also makes a number of assertions, including that the Board does not fully exercise its fiduciary responsibilities – these assertions are not supported by specifics and are contradicted, in fact, by our extensive open and public budget process. 

I am very heartened that the League of Women Voters continues to support a program that protects tenants from unreasonable rent increases, discrimination and unfair evictions while providing a fair return for landlords. I believe that our current Program is very much in line with your policy position on rent control, and that imposing unnecessary austerity measures at a time when tenants are facing unprecedented high rents and profit-motivated eviction notices would be irresponsible and not in the interest of good government. We are always looking for ways to make the Program more efficient and effective, and welcome specific suggestions from the community. 

I hope that you will be able to attend and ask that you extend this invitation to the full membership of the League. The meeting begins at 7:00 p.m. We will take comments from the public at the beginning of the meeting and after the Budget presentation by the staff. Supporting materials for the meeting will be posted to our website as they become available. For those who cannot attend, our meetings are broadcast live on BTV by Berkeley Community Media with several re-airings, and on the air live on KPFB 89.3 FM. 


Lisa Stephens 

Chair, Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board 

Tasers Are No Magic Bullet

By Andrea Prichett of Berkeley Copwatch
Friday April 18, 2014 - 10:19:00 AM

After each mishap or tragedy that occurs these days in Berkeley, we are told that it could have been averted “if only” the police had been issued tasers. The mayor of Berkeley made this claim after six Berkeley police killed a mentally ill transgender woman in her own home last year. BPD officers made the same claim again when a mentally ill man stabbed himself several times. This week, Chris Stines of the Berkeley Police Association (BPA) went to great pains to spread the notion that if a Berkeley police officer had had a taser this past week, he wouldn’t have been assaulted. It is regrettable that the BPA uses these incidents as nothing more than a way to win political points. The issue of how to protect officers as well as the human rights of the citizenry is far more complex than simply giving cops more hardware on their belts.

Of course, these kinds of statements can never be proven. No one can know whether a taser would have prevented the confrontation in which the officer was involved in a fistfight with a suspect who was believed to be mentally ill. The BPA continues to apply steady political pressure to our local politicians and insists that somehow, real safety resides in our ability to meet suspects with electric shocks. At Berkeley Copwatch, we disagree. We believe that it is the duty of the officers to place the well being of the community at the forefront of their efforts. We believe that mentally ill people have a right to treatment and should not be subjected to torture because of a condition which they do not control. It is time for the City of Berkeley to return to the humane approaches for which it was once famous and reject the militarization of care which has overtaken our approach to community health and safety.

Top Ten Reasons to say NO to Tasers 

1. Tasers are a “sometimes lethal” weapon. There have been at least 547 deaths related to the use of tasers by law enforcement since 2001, according to the human rights agency Amnesty International. It is also reported that 90% of those who died were unarmed. TASER International, the main manufacturer of tasers, has begin issuing on its website a new warning to law enforcement, stating that its conducted electrical weapon “can cause death or serious injury.” Tasers used on most people harbor few long-term effects, but they are deadly for a small minority. Their use should be considered potentially lethal and limited to only those situations in which lethal force would have been justified. 

2. Police already have an alternative. They can use their pepper spray. In 1997, the Berkeley Police made a campaign to obtain pepper spray. This they claimed was the best alternative to deadly force. If this was true, then why are we now being asked to finance yet another round of the latest torture technology? Why can’t we invest in longer term, more humane approaches to community safety? According to Chris Stines, police only needed to use their pepper spray three times last year. If so, then is it worth spending a few hundred thousand dollars to equip a department for three incidents a year? 

3. Cops can’t tell if there are underlying medical conditions. Studies by the American Medical Association confirm that tasers CAN cause heart attacks. Taser International also warns that tasers should not be used on people who are pregnant, on drugs, have asthma or who have heart problems. How can officers know if there is an underlying medical condition? They can’t. That is the problem. They are playing a lethal game of chance each time they use them. 

4. Not a substitute for critical analysis of police strategies and training. While we are glad that Berkeley officer Jeff Shannon is recovering from his encounter last week, we do not see how a taser would have saved him. For some unknown reason, the officer went to this call alone. It is rare that a traffic stop in Berkeley attracts less than 2-4 officers. Why did officer Shannon answer this call alone? His attacker surprised him and having a taser would not have changed that. According to press reports, the attacker was attempting to ignite a liquid. A taser blast on a flammable liquid could ignite (and has in the past) causing an even greater risk to the officer, the suspect and the public. 

5. The city increases its liability exposure. TASER International knows that this is a lethal weapon. They are covering themselves legally by issuing warnings about the lethal capacity of these weapons. In one month alone in 2013, five law enforcement agencies in North Texas announced they had discontinued using Tasers or were reviewing their policy regarding the weapons. The city of San Francisco declined to adopt tasers and opted to seek a truly non-lethal alternative. Across the country, agencies are reviewing their policies or seeking alternatives as a way of reducing their exposure to lawsuits. 

6. Mentally ill people are 2-4 times more likely to be tasered. A study by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that 30% of the people tasered in New York were identified as being mentally ill. How does the Berkeley Police department treat the mentally ill? With a desperate lack of emergency mental health services, police are often called upon to deal with emergency situations. At this point, our police chief sanctions the inhumane practice of hooding of mentally ill individuals and allows officers to engage in this practice without even have a policy on the use of such hoods. We fear that this lack of regard for the human rights of the mentally ill would extend to the way officers are empowered to use tasers. 

7. People of color are more likely to be tasered. African Americans are only 13.6% of the total population, yet represent 45% of the 2009-2014 taser-related deaths in America. In Albany, New York, 28% of the population is African American, yet they are 68% of those Tasered. Racial profiling exists. Sadly, Berkeley Police don’t even keep data on the race/ethnicity of people they stop so we can’t even track the degree to which policies are implemented in racist ways. 

8. We have a crisis of accountability for police. “Well, if a Berkeley officer acts out of line, why not just file a complaint?” you might ask. At this time, police accountability in this city (and state) is almost non-existent. Due to a California Supreme Court decision in the mid 1990’s called Copley Press vs. The City of San Diego, civilian review was severely limited, and in the city of Berkeley, it was decimated. These days, it is a minor miracle when an officer actually has a complaint sustained against him or her. If we put tasers into the hands of police, we will be powerless to even know whether or not they are being misused by police, let alone to actually punish an officer who deliberately misuses a taser. 

9. The Berkeley Police Association has conducted a misleading, high profile campaign. The BPA touts a “survey” claiming to show that 83 percent of Berkeley residents support investigating the use of tasers to restrain violent individuals. It is useful to note that the survey was given to a select group of people from the BPA over email. The very biased questions yielded the desired results, but did nothing to help us build a community wide approach to emergency mental health services. 

10. If someone dies from taser exposure, the DA won’t necessarily investigate because they only investigate firearms deaths. The employees in the District Attorney’s office explained this strange policy to us when we asked why the death of Kayla Moore was not being investigated. We know that there will be no justice for those who are wrongly tased and die as a result. It is sad, but it is the truth of the matter. 

From our perspective, tasers only make sense if they are identified as lethal force and their use is limited to those situations in which lethal force would be justified. The problem is that far too often, tasers are used to overcome resistance to officer commands. It is common to read about officers who used tasers on people in cars, people who didn’t act quickly enough, or on people who asked “why?” one too many times. They have been used on children as young as eight and old people into their 80’s. They are known to be lethal. 

We must raise the standard of what we consider to be real community safety and work to ensure that the safety of everyone in our community is of importance.

Israels Action Threatens Peace Process

By Jagjit Singh
Friday April 18, 2014 - 11:52:00 AM

In a move of outright vindictiveness, Israel has reneged on its promise to free Palestinian prisoners. Its announcement to construct 700 new settlements, was a direct insult to John Kerry’s laudable efforts to broker a peace agreement. Israel also announced their intention to withhold Palestinian tax revenue in an effort to intensify their suffering. Since the Oslo Accords, the number of Jewish settlers on Palestinian land has soured to more than 650,000 moving closer to Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election promise of one million Jews living in “Judea and Samaria”.  

In spite of Kerry’s frustrations he did not seek the’ nuclear option’ of withholding $3.2 billion in annual military aid. Propping up Israel with billions of aid money will ensure that it becomes a pariah state shunned by the international community and is an affront to US taxpayers many who are in desperate financial straits. The current Israeli policies are lifted from the playbook of apartheid South Africa.  

The constant mantra of demanding recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is code language for forcing the Palestinians to legitimize the occupation and condemning them to inferior class status. Israel looks more like a lump of Swiss cheese with holes carved out – dooming any prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state, and is a failure of US policy which tacitly enabled settlement expansion. Meanwhile the Palestinians remain stateless, impoverished, occupied, and second-class citizens inside of Israel.

Death of a Worker on the UC Berkeley Campus

From Toni Mendicino
Friday April 18, 2014 - 10:35:00 AM

Dear UC Berkeley Chancellor Dirk and UC President Napolitano,

I attended a memorial gathering yesterday in honor of Mr. Damon Frick, a coworker at the International House on the UC Berkeley campus who was killed on the job in a horrible and sad accident last week. I am shocked that the Chancellor's Office has yet to acknowledge this tragedy to the campus community. I only found out about Mr. Frick's untimely death from my coworkers in AFSCME 3299 and because I read the Daily Cal independent newspaper. I understand that Mr. Frick, who was a dedicated worker and a father, was killed while wearing a vacuum strapped to his back and while alone on a high lift cleaning windows at the International House. I can't imagine that these are safe circumstances for a staff person to perform work and hope that at the least full financial restitution to Mr. Frick's family and changes in UC health and safety practices will be implemented immediately. 

I myself have picketed numerous times over the years at the International House in my off-duty time in support of service and administrative workers who have been treated poorly by I-House management. It seems to me that the unionbusting, cutbacks, and layoffs of UC service workers statewide, including the serious understaffing of custodians, which is a huge ongoing problem if you talk to any custodian on campus, has lead to not only increased work injury and stress but now actual death. To not acknowledge Mr. Frick's death on the job and to appear to be possibly covering up for negligence on the part of the International House and UC Berkeley administration screams to me a deafening silence and in that way speaks volumes about how low-paid workers at UC are valued, or rather not. 

I look forward to hearing from you about this matter. 


Toni Mendicino

Springtime for Tasers in Berkeley

By Carol Denney
Friday April 18, 2014 - 10:12:00 AM

“Suhr says the constraints, to name a few, included everything from young people, old people, people in crisis, the mentally ill, wet people, and people near roadways. Officers pausing to consider all this might put them and the public more at risk.

'We're still months away from the final product,' Suhr said. 'And we're already to the point where it creates too much calculus on the part of the officer, too much to ask.' "

—“SF police chief withdraws request to use Tasers”, by Heather Ishimaru and Amy Hollyfield, April 11, 2013

If there were a way for tasers to know which people had heart conditions, suffered mental disabilities or drug reactions such that they could not comply with verbal orders, were old, were young, were disabled, were wet, were in crisis, were near roadways, etc., then the Berkeley Police Association would at least have a worthwhile argument to make for their use.

But they don’t. Tasers tend to be over-used, used in inappropriate situations, and are lethal for a subset of any given population. Police officers should not be using potentially lethal weapons except in situations which allow lethal force. 

Police Associations will always rally for the next high-tech gadget to keep up with the police department down the road. But San Francisco’s refusal to cave in to police department pressure came not just from the ACLU. It also came from a group of African American police officers who stated flatly that tasers would be used primarily on minorities: “The group Officers for Justice, which represents African-American police officers, was against the Taser proposal -- saying the weapons would be used mostly on minorities and drug addicts.” 

Please resist the “pilot project” approach which was floated in San Francisco to give people the impression that there is any acceptable “practice” setting for using potentially lethal shock on human beings.

Brief Response to Jack Bragen

By Ralph E. Stone
Sunday April 20, 2014 - 09:08:00 AM

This is a brief response to Jack Bragen's criticism of my recent article, "Results of Research Concerning Assisted Outpatient Treatment in the U.S." To begin, I wonder if Mr. Bragen actually read the Survey and Brian Stettin's research cited in my article. And yes, I am an unapologetic supporter of Laura's Law, California's assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) law.  

Here are some facts that Mr. Bragen might consider or reconsider: 

* The Survey was of the application of AOT laws in the 45 states who have such laws. Presumably, each of these states had hearings on the proposed AOT laws where members of the public could voice their support or opposition. And then the laws were passed. 

* California, for example, passed Laura's Law law in 2002, and the law was extended by the California legislature until December 31, 2017. The known supporters of AOT is long and impressive.  

* Yes, the Treatment Advocacy Center, who conducted the Survey, is a well-recognized advocate for the mentally ill and a strong supporter of AOT programs. Does this make them biased? And because of this alleged bias, did they grade the states too harshly in the Survey? I don't think so. 

* Will AOT programs eliminate homelessness? Of course not. AOT laws are not aimed at homelessness in general. They are aimed at a discrete population An AOT program allows court-ordered, intensive outpatient treatment for people with severe mental illnesses who refuse medication because their illness impairs their ability to make rational decisions. Laura's Law, for example, provides for a 180 day period of intensive treatment under the supervision of the court.  

* Can AOT programs work? Many AOT laws, including Laura's Law, were modeled after New York's Kendra's Law. The results achieved under Kendra's Law are remarkable. A 2010 Columbia University study found that individuals under Kendra's Law orders, despite greater histories of violence, were four times less likely to engage in future violence than those in a control group. Other studies show Kendra's Law reduces homelessness (74%); suicide attempts (55%); and substance abuse (48%). It keeps the public safer by reducing physical harm to others (47%) and property destruction (43%). It saves money by reducing hospitalization (77%); arrests (83%); and incarceration (87%). Other studies show Kendra's Law causes no increase in perceived stigma or coercion, and that the court orders themselves (not just the availability of high-quality services) are instrumental in the program's success. 

In conclusion, AOT laws are here to stay. Forty-five states have enacted such laws and a federal AOT grant program is a future possibility. The focus today should not be on whether we should have such laws but rather, on properly implementing AOT laws already in place, enacting such laws in the five states that do not have them, and getting all the California counties to implement Laura's Law.  

Finally, in my opinion, any intellectually honest person examining the mountain of positive evidence on AOT should embrace AOT. The mentally ill will be the ultimate beneficiaries. 

New: A Final Reply to Ralph Stone

By Jack Bragen
Sunday April 20, 2014 - 05:10:00 PM

First of all, let me congratulate Mr. Stone on a well-constructed and pithy essay and on his good intentions. 

However, some of the arguments do not bear close scrutiny. I will say again that the research Mr. Stone is citing is generated by Treatment Advocacy, an already biased organization which has its own agenda concerning dealing with the mentally ill. Mr. Stone has agreed with this observation. 

I urge the reader to click on the hyperlinks in Mr. Stone's reply and study the material. Some of this material is predigested and contains predetermined conclusions without including hard evidence of its findings. Brian Stettin, whose research Mr. Stone is citing, just happens to be the policy director for Treatment Advocacy. 

Mr. Stone's other source of predigested material is mentalillnesspolicy.org This is an organization whose prominent claims of being unbiased are totally misleading. 

While one favorable study by Columbia University is being cited, it certainly doesn't constitute a "mountain of evidence." 

The fact that people are intentionally targeted under the auspices of Laura's Law is actually disturbing. Mr. Stone has said that there is a specific population which would qualify for "AOT" (a misleading terminology--it should be called "Involuntary Outpatient Commitment"). 

Forced treatment is a complex and thorny issue, and it is an issue that deserves a truly compassionate approach. Persons with mental illness need to be given a chance to learn. When someone is deprived of that, treatment becomes punishment and it will bring about resentment. 

If you are taking medication because you have the awareness that you need it, this is different from taking medication because it has been externally forced upon you. When force is introduced, it interferes with any possible learning curve that could allow a mentally ill person to achieve a lasting recovery. And then, they may be stuck in "the revolving door" of repeated relapses for the remainder of their miserable and short lives. 

In my columns I am trying to show an example of a way that I believe recovery can be done right. As a very wise man once said, "it is better to lead not by force but by example." 

And finally, these outpatient commitment laws do not address the lifelong problems experienced by "compliant" sufferers of mental illness. This is a population of people who often have very little to look forward to in life, and who need help with housing, employment and improvement in our quality of life.


Inside Paul Ryan, Inside the GOP

By Bob Burnett
Friday April 18, 2014 - 10:17:00 AM

After six months attacking Democrats for the alleged faults of Obamacare, Republicans finally went on the offensive with the budget plan developed by Representative Paul Ryan. The Ryan/Republican budget draws a stark contrast between the two parties.

According to the Ryan budget, America’s number one problem is the deficit. Republicans claim their plan “…reduces deficits by $4.6 trillion over the next ten years… By tackling the debt, this budget will help grow our economy today and ensure the next generation inherits a stronger, more prosperous America.” Nonetheless, national Polls have consistently shown that most Americans feel jobs and the economy are the nation’s number one problem; we believe America should do something about the jobs crisis before we tackle deficit reduction. A January Pew Research Poll found that 80 percent of respondents wanted to strengthen the US economy and 74 percent wanted to improve “the job situation.” Only 63 percent of respondents wanted to reduce the budget deficit. However, 80 percent of Republicans felt this should be a top priority; only 40 percent of Democrats agreed.

In 2014, Republicans are championing an austerity budget that has been decried by economists such as Paul Krugman and Harry Stein and Michael Madowitz, who noted; “The Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, projects that [the Ryan] budget will actually shrink the economy for the next three years.” 

The Republican job creation “plan” is tax cuts for the wealthy. The Ryan budget has no plan for job creation other than cutting the tax rate for the rich from 39.6 percent to 25 percent (thereby handing them an average $265,000 per year tax break) and reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. This diminishes federal revenue by $6 Trillion. Republicans pray their tax cuts will stimulate the economy and create the lost tax revenue. 

Ryan and his fellow Republicans adhere to their failed “trickle down” ideology. Economists Harry Stein and Michael Madowitz observed: “A 2012 paper by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez also found that cutting top marginal tax rates has not led to economic growth, but that it does seem to help the rich get richer.” 

The Ryan budget clobbers the social safety net. The Republican philosophy is: “For years, the federal government has been encroaching on the institutions of civil society. A distant bureaucracy has been sapping their energy and assuming their role—when it should have been supporting them.” Accordingly, he Ryan budget repeals Obamacare, cuts welfare programs, destroys Medicaid, and turns Medicare into a voucher program. 

Despite its rocky start, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has provided insurance to more than 13 million uninsured. “[The Ryan] budget repeals the President’s onerous health-care law. Instead of putting health-care decisions into the hands of bureaucrats, Congress should pursue patient-centered health-care reforms that actually bring down the cost of care by empowering consumers.” (A February Kaiser Family Foundation Poll found that the majority of respondents (56 percent) wanted Congress to keep or improved the Affordable Care Act. Once again, opinions were divided by Party; with 83 percent of Democrats positive about Obamacare and 62 percent of Republicans negative.) 

The Ryan budget would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid and turn the existing Medicaid program into a block grant system administered by the states. For those Americans aged 55 and younger, the Ryan budget would turn Medicare into a voucher program. 

The Republican Budget penalizes the middle class. A recent ABC News/Washington Post Poll found that when asked “which political party… do you trust to do a better job helping the middle class?” respondents preferred Democrats to Republicans by a 47 percent to 34 percent margin. (In the same poll, 68 percent of respondents described Republicans as “out of touch… with the concerns of most people in the United States.”) 

The Ryan budget is consistent with the perception of the GOP being out of touch with the 99 percent. Not only does the budget repeal the Affordable Care Act and radically alter Medicare and Medicaid, it also cuts welfare programs, agricultural programs, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the popular Pell grant program for student financial assistance. Republicans cut domestic programs by $791 billion over a decade, while adding $483 billion for the Department of Defense. 

The Republican plan disproportionately impacts women The National Women’s Law Center observed: “[The Ryan budget] changes would leave millions of women and their families without the financial security of high-quality health insurance, unable to access the health care services they need, and facing dramatic increases in their healthcare costs.” 

It’s startling to see the difference in perspective offered in the Ryan/Republican Budget and the progressive Better Off Budget. The Democratic budget creates jobs while protecting the middle class and demanding that wealthy Americans pay their fair share.  

The Ryan/Republican budget puts the 2014 midterm election in perspective. Americans will choose between a new congress that caters to the 1 percent or one that protects the 99 percent. We will choose between plutocracy or democracy. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Psychotherapists; The Good, The Bad, and The Unworkable

By Jack Bragen
Friday April 18, 2014 - 10:57:00 AM

For many non-afflicted persons and not just those with mental illness, a good psychotherapist with whom you can talk can be an asset. And yet, not all therapists and not all therapy techniques are good for all recipients of therapy.

To begin with, if the therapist's paycheck isn't coming from you and is instead coming from a government affiliated and/or Medicare funded agency, then that therapist isn't necessarily working for you. In these cases, there can be several agendas at work other than just your recovery.  

If you are talking about Medicare rules, they appear to look at costs versus results. If someone can have their condition treated in a cost effective way and then can end up costing taxpayers less money overall, then Medicare is happy. For example, if someone is given medication and psychotherapy, and it prevents them from incurring spending in the criminal justice system, or prevents them from requiring expensive inpatient treatment, then the agency which is receiving those Medicare dollars has done its job.  

Thus, while your recovery seems to still be on the map, another primary goal of state funded psychotherapy is that you will end up costing less money to the government.  

However, some psychotherapy, such as when the therapist has ambitious ideas of a major therapeutic breakthrough, in effect just ends up stirring up bad feelings--and this can be counterproductive.  

The therapeutic cliché that you should be in touch with your feelings does not always hold true. In some cases, being in touch with your emotional pain can mean falling into a bottomless abyss.  

In the course of a therapy session, (if you are seeing a therapist who employs the model of releasing the bad feelings) the therapist will tend to maintain control of the session and will make you dwell on the negative. This can be quite painful, and it can feel like you are being tortured by this therapist. It doesn't very often help to dwell on the negative, since it reinforces a neural path that will create negativity.  

If it isn't broken, don't fix it. This ought to be the first rule that gets taught to newly licensed therapists.  

If a therapist is dealing with someone who already has a "system" that at least to some extent works for them, it should not be tampered with. (When I use the word, "system" here, I am not referring to a "delusional system" which is a bad thing--rather, I am talking about methods of approach to life situations and ways of problem solving.)  

If dealing with a therapist with whom the sessions are not going as you'd like, you can confront such a person and tell them specifically what's not working for you. If that doesn't pan out, it might be possible to go to the therapist's supervisor.  

Sometimes the therapist can get away with avoiding culpability by psychoanalyzing your complaint. In general, I feel mocked and cutified by this type of treatment.  

Some of the time, a particular therapist just isn't a match with you. In these cases, you should be open to seeing others, or to getting help from alternate avenues. Perhaps if individual therapy isn't working, you could try group therapy. Whenever you can describe the problematic issue and communicate what works for you and what doesn't, it puts you in a better position. It is not good to simply abandon treatment because one individual isn't helpful.  

SENIOR POWER: 20% of California adults over age 65 live below the poverty threshold of about $16,000.

By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Friday April 18, 2014 - 10:30:00 AM

He spent his final years in a low-income, seniors/disabled persons’, rent-subsidized housing project. He was all three: low-income, elderly, and disabled. And he was also alone and without family. Marginal.

His small “studio” reeked. The county provided a “caregiver” who jabbed, pushed and yelled at him. When she wasn’t with him, she was chatting with the building’s staff. While inventorying his possessions during one of his hospital stays, she was overheard to comment, “We can sell this,” possibly referring to his word-processor. When he was asked why he didn’t request a different caregiver, he responded “I’m afraid.” He was no eccentric recluse-- he wanted to be out and about. Weekends, when no building staff were on the premises, he would walk the length of the corridor, leaning on his walker.

What happens when an old person who has no family dies? Who advocates in their behalf? And who cleans up, so to speak? Friends, you say? Don’t count on it or them.  

England has been reducing the number of people receiving care, providing for only those with both very high needs and very little income. A “care bill” imposing a cap on the amount people can spend on care before the state steps in is the government's response. It raises the threshold at which means-testing will designate people to be eligible for help. To explore the question of how the “care bill” might change things, researchers at the Nuffield Trust looked to Japan, a country that combines the oldest population in the world with high levels of public debt and whose experience illustrates the consequences of retracting state support too far and relying on individual and familial support. 

Japanese policy makers are dealing with the situation by assigning it to business, viz “More elderly singles a boon to business of sorting belongings of deceased,” The Japan Times (an English-language newspaper published in Japan) March 25, 2014 issue. The business of cleaning up the personal belongings of people who have died is booming, reflecting an increase in the elderly single population. (25% of Japan’s population are elderly). However, some problematic firms threaten the reputation of the industry. No official authorization is required to start this kind of business. The industry itself has faced problems caused by some movers, home repair contractors, and industrial waste disposal firms, e.g. excessive fees, theft, and illegal dumping of personal mementos. To address the situation, an association based in Chitose, Hokkaido, established a qualification system for professionals in the business of sorting deceased persons’ possessions. Currently 5,500 persons in the industry have received the qualification for this specialization.  

In Japan, where family is important, many elderly Japanese now have no relatives. The circumstances of their deaths differ, and companies offering cleanup services receive various types of requests. “The work we do is similar to the work of moving companies, but there is a difference in terms of the strong feelings held by bereaved families,” according to 49-year old Satoru Takada, senior managing director of the Kawasaki-based company, Road. He qualified as a professional in the memento cleanup business.  

Until 2000, publicly-funded social care was nonexistent in Japan; caring for the elderly was a family responsibility. There were two main consequences of this approach. (1) Many reports of neglect and abuse of old people being looked after by family members. Caring also restricted the employment options of a growing number of Japanese women. (2) A phenomenon known as "social hospitalization.” Older people were being admitted to hospitals for long periods – not for any medical reason, but simply because they could not be looked after anywhere else.  

The response from the Japanese government was radical: long-term care insurance offering social care to those aged 65+ on the basis of needs alone. The system is part-funded by compulsory premiums for all those over the age of 40 and national and local taxation. Users are also expected to contribute a 10% co-payment towards the cost of the service.  

The result is that older people in Japan can access a range of institutional and community-based services, with few of the barriers to access which exist in England. ["Japan's solution to providing care for an ageing population," by Holly Holder (Guardian_ [London], March 27, 2014).] 



You may have seen Carolyn Jones’ reportage [March 25, 2014 San Francisco Chronicle] of a recent study, “California seniors have highest poverty rate, study finds”. It’s what journalists refer to as a human interest piece. It is accompanied by photos of and comments by well-known Berkeley senior citizen Allen Stross. Allen has served on the elective North Berkeley Senior Center Advisory Council, on the appointive Berkeley Commission on Aging, and as the Center photographer and innovator of its trip committee. 


Senior poverty levels declined in the 20th century due to Social Security and other safety-net programs, but rose again after the 2008 economic collapse, when millions of older people lost their jobs or homes, saw their savings evaporate or pensions slashed. In the Bay Area the soaring cost of living hits fixed-income seniors especially hard. Longer life spans also play a role. Some people simply outlive their savings, and spend more years enduring costly and debilitating medical care. 

Another contributing factor to the rising senior poverty rate is the decline of marriage and the scattering of families, leaving many seniors single and alone, without a partner or nearby relatives to pool earnings or share costs. Gays and lesbians, who until recently were not permitted to marry, are especially impacted. 


Single seniors have a far greater chance of living in poverty than their married counterparts, largely because they have no spousal or survivor benefits to draw from, no one with whom to share expenses. Twenty-one percent of never-married women over 65, for example, live below the poverty line, compared with 5% of married women in the same age group, according to the report. ["Single people face multiple challenges in retirement," by Chris Taylor (Reuters, April 3, 2014).] Men didn't fare much better. Over 19% of never-married men over 65 live in poverty, while 4.3% of married men do. 

In 1960, 68% of those age 15 and older were married, according to a recent report on marriage trends by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). By 2010, that figure had sunk to 54%. Meanwhile, the ranks of the divorced, widowed, and never-married have exploded to 46% of the over-15 population. 

The demographic shift has been so major that it could significantly alter the retirement landscape in the years ahead. Never-married Americans, in particular, may lack such safety nets as relying on a spouse's income, inheriting his or her assets, or receiving survivor benefits from a spouse's pension or Social Security. 

The U.S. Senate's Special Committee on Aging opened a hearing in March, looking into the plight of seniors living in poverty. Senators also are looking at a bill that would raise the amount of money a senior can keep - from $2,000 to $10,000 - before qualifying for certain benefits. 

The situation is particularly dire in California, due to the high cost of health care and housing. About 20% of California's seniors - compared to 15% nationally - live below the poverty threshold when taking health care expenses into account, according to the Kaiser Foundation study. 

Allen Stross, for example, receives less than half the amount required for seniors to cover basic expenses in Alameda County, according to the Elder Economic Security Index, which looks at rent, food, transportation, health care and miscellaneous expenses. He and his wife receive Social Security and small pensions, totaling $1,700 a month, but their rent is nearly $1,000 a month and they spend well over $1,000 annually on medications. 

He started working at age 13. Now, at 90, he and his spouse live on about $21,000 a year. After they pay for rent and medications, they're left with just $416 a month. "No restaurants. No movies. No new clothes. We look for a lot of freebies," he said. "But I try not to worry about things I can't control, such as the past or the future. My wife's a Buddhist. That helps." Hyshka is a retired art teacher, and she too frequents the North Berkeley Senior Center. 

I wonder why Allen Stross doesn’t have taxi scrip, which is free for Berkeley seniors. The photos show him taking the AC bus. A $3.00 donation is “suggested” for seniors 60 and older who lunch at the senior center. “Persons under 60 can enjoy a meal for a fee of $5.” Not all seniors find the lunches enjoyable. Women especially, contend they can provide an in-house lunch for less. I have even heard from some who can manage a meatless dinner. 




Two Florida doctors who received the nation’s highest Medicare reimbursements in 2012 are both major contributors to Democratic Party causes. The pattern of large Medicare payments and six-figure political donations shows up among doctors whose payment records have been released for the first time by the Department of Health and Human Services. (For years, the department refused to make the data public, and finally did so after being sued by The Wall Street Journal.) Topping the list is Dr. Salomon E. Melgen, 59, a North Palm Beach ophthalmologist, who received $21 million in Medicare reimbursements in 2012. ["Political Ties of Top Billers for Medicare," by Frances Robles and Eric Lipton (New York Times, April 10, 2014).]  

Doctors who have been charged with Medicare fraud over the last 16 months were paid $17 million of taxpayer money in 2012, according to an analysis by The Hill (considered by many hotshots a top U.S. political website, read by the White House and more lawmakers than any other site http://thehill.com/). A majority of these Medicare reimbursements went to Detroit-area Dr. Farid Fata, who took home $10 million+ from Medicare in 2012.  

A New York surgeon, Syed Ahmed, was reimbursed “only” $2.4 million by Medicare in 2012 although he billed Medicare for nearly $27 million and stands accused of $85 million in fraudulent billing over a three-year period. ["Medicare millions flowed to doctors charged with fraud," by Jonathan Easley and Elise Viebeck (Hill [Washington, DC], blog, April 9, 2014).] 


Arts & Events

New: Next Goal Wins: And So Does the Audience

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Tuesday April 22, 2014 - 10:20:00 PM

Opens April 25 at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco

Set on the South Pacific island of American Samoa, Next Goal Wins introduces us to the survivors of a soccer match that ranks among the most misbegotten contests in the history of the sport. In 2001, the team from American Samoa went head-to-head with the Australia soccer squad in a World Cup Competition match and suffered a loss of 31 to 0—the worst defeat in the history of professional soccer. With the 2014 World Cup approaching, the team decides to take a shot at redemption. Can they overcome their humiliating reputation as "the World's Worst Soccer Team"? Yes, they can—with an improbable assist from an irrepressible, white-haired Dutchman. 


To be clear: Next Goal Wins (a big hit at the 13th Annual Tribeca Film Festival) is not a slam-bang grunt-fest about the world of competitive soccer. It's something milder, sweeter and more beguiling. Instead of bulldozing the audience, the film starts out as a simple and undemanding tale—as casual and referential as someone's home movie. Set on the South Pacific island of American Samoa, the film introduces us to the survivors of a famously disastrous soccer match—one that ranks among the most memorably misbegotten contests in the history of the sport. 

In 2001, the team from American Samoa went head-to-head with the Australia soccer squad in a World Cup Competition match and got knocked on their duffs. They suffered a loss of 31 to 0—the worst defeat in the history of professional soccer. 

Since that dark day, the Samoans managed to score only twice in 17 years, losing every game they played. But with the 2014 World Cup approaching, the team decides to undertake an improbable shot at an impossible goal. Can they overcome their humiliating reputation as the "World's Worst Soccer Team"? 

Next Goal Wins was independently produced by two die-hard British soccer-fans/filmmakers who put their own money on the line, despite the long-shot odds that this team would be able to turn their lead feet into gold. 

As it turned out, the gamble paid off. Still, the film gets off to a slow start with a spate of islander interviews that are filled with coaching clichés, hackneyed positive-thinking preachments, and perhaps a bit too much Biblical psychobabble. 

This is an island where ancient Samoan traditions (which still survive in the form of warrior songs, fierce Hakka chants and graceful communal dances) comingle with the trappings of imported colonial Christianity. (During services filmed in a local church, the Samoan flag and Old Glory share equal billing on opposite sides of the pulpit.) 

Truth to tell, the players on the Samoan team, while big-hearted and good-natured, are absolute stumblebums on the soccer pitch. It is almost painful to watch. But just when it looks as though this film is going nowhere slow, a rogue agent tumbles into the story like a special-effects meteor falling from the sky. 

The newcomer is a gruff and grizzled, white-haired galoot named Thomas Rongen. A former Dutch footballer (who once played with soccer legends like Britain's George Best), Rongen has been dispatched to the island by the US Soccer Federation in a last-ditch attempt to support the local players in their bid for redemption. 

Fortunately, Rongen (a skinny, wiry cuss with a voice that sounds like John Goodman by way of Tom Waits) has charisma to burn. He not only fires up the team but his hyperkinetic, go-for-broke enthusiasm abruptly shifts the entire movie into overdrive. 

In publicity interviews, the filmmakers admit they initially feared Rongen's unanticipated intrusion was going to poison their film. In fact, Rongen (nicknamed "TR") actually becomes the unexpected star of the documentary. 

The way that Rongen handles his challenge (he has only four weeks to turn his forlorn hopefuls into credible competitors) brilliantly demonstrates some of the traits it takes to become a winning coach. Whereas the team's previous coach mainly provided shouted criticisms and groans of exasperation from the sidelines (and an endless stream of shallow platitudes in the locker room), "TR" offers penetrating, personal and precise instructions to the players. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, he charges onto the field, kicking the ball, mixing it up with the players, teaching them new tricks to build their confidence, and making the key strategic decisions that just might give the team its first real shot at victory. 

One delightful highlight comes when TR shows the young Samoans how to execute a slide tackle on a grassy field that happens to be covered with about 2 inches of rainwater. (Rain is a constant factor in Pago Pago.) You want to see a coach who really throws himself into a practice session? TR is your guy. 

In addition to shoring up the skills and confidence of the local players, TR reaches back to the US mainland and recruits two "ringers." One is Rawlston Masaniai, a US player who has been away from Samoa for 20 years; the other is Ramin Ott, a Samoan player serving in the US military, 6,000 miles away at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Somehow (there must be some rabid soccer fans in the top echelons of the Pentagon), TR manages to arrange a leave of absence for his new striker. 

There are a number of memorable stand-out characters in the home-team lineup. Nikki Salapu, an ex-pat from Seattle, is a haunted athelete saddled with title, "World's Worst Goalkeeper." It was Nikki who stood between the goalposts on that day when the net was peppered with 31 Australian goals. "I want to win a game," Nikki tells the filmmakers. "If we win, I would die as a happy person." 

But the most remarkable team member is Jaiyah Saelua, member of Samoa's so-called "third gender." As a fa'afafine, Jaiyah walks, dresses, dances—and plays soccer—like a woman. Jaiyah even pauses before each game to apply her make-up before charging onto the field. "I'm not male or female, I'm just a soccer player," she insists. "I want to inspire people who are like me to just go out and do what they love to do. Do it to the best of their ability." 

To Jaiyah's surprise, TR promotes her to the starting lineup in the first critical World Cup elimination match against a rival team from Tonga. 

Jaiyah may prance more than she scrambles, but her fearlessness even impressed Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA (Federation International de Football Association), who praised her daring on the soccer pitch during a difficult time when the world of soccer was being rocked with racist chants and stirrings of anti-homosexual bigotry. 

Next Goal Wins is a film that blossoms into a deeper story that offers more than lipstick and slapstick. There are touching human themes about hope and loss. The islanders are still recovering from a deadly tsunami that washed away homes and more than 100 lives in 2009 and Rongen and his wife are still recovering from the loss of their vivacious teenage daughter. 

There is a scene in the film that gets close to the heart of the film. One of the Samoan players invites TR on a hike to the top of the tallest peak on the island. In a gesture that says as much about the heart of this film as it reveals about the nature of the hard-charging and hopeful coach, TR demonstrates that it's sometimes possible to rise "even higher" than the summit.

The Handel Opera Project Presents Médée on May 4

By William Ludtke
Friday April 18, 2014 - 11:06:00 AM

On Sunday, May 4th, 2014, at 7:00 p.m.,The Handel Opera Project will present, Médée by Luigi Cherubini.

Beethoven regarded Cherubini as the greatest of his contemporaries and his opera Medea in its Italian version was made famous by none other than Maria Callas. The performance stars soprano Eliza O’Malley in the title role; tenor Brian Thorsett in the role of Jason; soprano Sara Hagenbuch as Dirce; baritone Martin Bell as dirce’s father Creon; and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Moss as Neris. 

The performance will take place at The Christian Science Organization at the University building, 2601 Durant in Berkeley, a beautiful historic building designed by Bernard Maybeck’s student Henry H. Gutterson which has undergone some major repairs recently. With its splendid acoustics, the hall is a wonderful space for chamber opera. 

In the past two seasons, The Handel Opera Project has performed Giulio Cesare, Acis and Galatea, Allor chio dissi addio, and Rodelinda all by out namesake, Mr. Handel – as well as Mr. Bach’s Coffee Cantata, Mr. Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and The Impresario, and Mr. Gluck’s Orphee et Euridice 

The Handel Opera Project is an affiliate of The San Francisco Early Music Society.

AROUND AND ABOUT MUSIC: Trio 180 at Berkeley Chamber Performances on Tuesday

By Ken Bullock
Friday April 18, 2014 - 10:58:00 AM

Trio 180--formerly New Pacific Trio--will play Tuesday night at 8 for Berkeley Chamber Concerts at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant, between Dana and Elllsworth. The trio--Ann Miller, violin; Nina Flyer, cello; Sonia Leong, piano--is in residence at the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music, where all three are professors, and is continuing its residency at Old First Church in San Francisco, is celebrating its 12th anniversary.  

The program is: Beethoven's Trio Op. 1, No. 1in E-flat major (1793); a new piece dedicated to Trio 180 by Berkeley composer-UCB Professor of Composition Cindy Cox; and Dvorak's Trio No. 4 in E minor, "Dumky." A complimentary wine and cheese reception will follow the concert, offering an opportunity to meet the artists.. General admission: $25; high school students free; post-secondary school students $12.50. 525-5211; berkeleychamberperform.org

New: Hemp Unbound: The Crop that Could Save Us from Environmental Collapse

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Tuesday April 22, 2014 - 10:42:00 PM

"Hemp Bound," by Doug Fine (Chelsea Green, 2014)

What if there was a completely natural and affordable alternative to fossil fuels? A healthy and nutritious substitute for packaged foods? A replacement for energy-intensive steel and plastic parts? An alternative to chemical-based (and occasionally toxic) medications and pharmaceuticals? 

There is, says "comedic investigative journalist" Doug Fine, and that multifaceted industrial feedstock is a miracle product called . . . hemp. The tasty details are all rolled up in Fine's new book, Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution (Chelsea Green 2014). 

We've all heard the stories about hemp's history as crop that provided canvas for the sails of the USS Constitution. It was hemp that was pressed into the parchment Tom Jefferson used to inscribe the Declaration of Independence and was spun into the cloth Betsy Ross used to stitch the first US flag. Hemp's powerful fibers were so essential to the US Army that the Pentagon commissioned a black-and-white documentary celebrating "Hemp for Victory." 

Thanks to the stubborn, stoner persistence of the Sixties counter-culture, hemp today has grown into a crop that is once again providing Americans with a range of new-again products ranging from clothing to medicines to breakfast cereals. 

What Doug's fine book does is take the story of hemp to the next higher level, providing a look inside a burgeoning new industry that is generating a buzz for innovators, entrepreneurs and customers alike. 

Across the US, new business start-ups are discovering amazing new ways to reinvent the old manufacturing paradigms that have ravaged and polluted the planet. Hemp is re-emerging as a legal and leading American crop at the same time Colorado and other states are striking down laws against the medicinal (and recreational) use of cannabis. Fine sees the trend as an irreversible return to a human-plant relationship that dates back more that 8,000 years. Ten states now allow the commercial cultivation of industrial hemp. 

Fine calls cannabis prohibition "America's worst law since segregation." And just as popular pressure reformed and refuted America's race laws, the 77-year-old war against hemp/cannabis/marijuana is now coming to an end. And the post-war era promises to bring growing profits to heartland farmers (whose profits have been tied to genetically modified and federally subsidized corn and soy) and an expanding legion of domestic companies who, to date, have had to rely on costly shipments of imported hemp. 

Fine takes his readers on a gallivanting, trippy trek to the frontlines of a Brave Renewable World—"from Canada to Hawaii, Germany to Colorado"—to meet the "hempreneurs" whose new businesses will be creating the new products and new jobs for a sustainable future. (If the contamination and ravages of the Old Oil/Chemical/Nuclear Economy doesn't do us in first.) 

Meet the 'Hempreneurs' 

One of Fine's first stops is in Richmond, California where John Roulac presides over Nutiva, a $77 million-dollar hemp seed oil company that has been growing like gong-busters. "Our company has doubled in size each of the past two years, has been growing 41 percent per year since 2006," Roulac beams. 

Also on board is Dr. David West, a former Big Ag scientist who is now a leading hemp researcher/advocate; Ray Loflin, a Colorado farmer currently cultivating 60 acres of legal hemp; Simon Potter, a Canadian biologist who's working on "hemp insulation, hemp tractors and hemp energy"; Francis Clark, an Ontario inventor who has found a better way to harvest hemp fibers from the plant's tough outer husk; Colleen Dyck, a young woman who churns out hemp-infused GORP Clean Energy Bars in her basement; Barbara Filippone, whose $15 million company, EnviroTextiles, is positioned to topple the global cotton industry. "The federal government knows hemp is an alternative to cotton that's drought-resistant," Filippone says. "Cotton's done. China knows it too." 

One of Fine's revealing visits takes him to a lab in Winnipeg where Composites Innovation Center is creating hemp-based products for the $80 billion biocomposits market. CIC's lab nerds proudly show off auto parts (hoods, fenders and the like) made from hemp. Because vehicles made from biocomposits are 30 percent lighter, they will be more fuel-efficient. The manufacturing process produces less carbon and hemp-bodied roadsters fueled by tanks of hemp oil will produce 78 percent less carbon per mile driven. 

Unlimited POTential 

Long story short: Hempsteading is not only good for the economy, it's great for the ecology. On a planet threatened by climate change, polluted seas and depleted resources, Fine demonstrates, "hemp hands us a ninth-inning comeback opportunity" that can heal the soil, expand local food production, produce sustainable energy along with plant-based plastics and paper that will enable us to stop burning oil, polluting the planet and clear-cutting our forests. 

Hemp Bound is a breezy read, filled with snappy banter and visionary-on-the-point-of-happening head-trips galore. 

Fossil fuels, chemicals and nuclear energy have brought us to the brink of global environmental ruin but hemp—more than ever before—looks like the Plant that Could Save the Planet. 

Here's looking forward to the second edition of Hemp Bound—and hoping that it come to us published on renewable, tree-free plant paper.