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New: Possbly Suicidal Man Surrenders to Berkeley Police

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday August 06, 2014 - 05:04:00 PM

A possibly suicidal person who was locked in a Cal Bears storage facility in West Berkeley this afternoon was convinced to come outside and is in police custody, a police spokeswoman said. 

At 11:12 a.m., officers responded to reports of the possibly armed man at a University of California at Berkeley athletic storage facility at the corner of Sixth and Virginia streets, Berkeley police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said. 

Coats said police were able to evacuate the staff, leaving the distraught man inside. Police hostage negotiators talked him out at about 3:10 p.m., she said. 

The Police Department's crisis intervention team was talking to him this afternoon, she said. Investigators were searching the inside of the facility and trying to determine if any criminal charges were warranted. 

Streets in the area were shut down but with the situation resolved, police expected to reopen them shortly, Coats said.

Press Release: Berkeley Police Sue City & Police Review Commission over Leak of Confidential Information

Contacts: Sergeant Chris Stines, Tim Talbot - Rains, Lucia Stern, Mary Jo Rossi
Wednesday August 06, 2014 - 11:11:00 AM

Oakland, California – When a police officer is asked to testify before a citizens’ Police Review Commission to recount, under oath, the details of a specific police incident, he or she does so under the promise of an impartial and confidential process. The law requires as much.

The Berkeley Police Association (BPA) says the City of Berkeley and its Police Review Commission (PRC) has broken that promise of confidentiality, announcing today that it filed a civil lawsuit yesterday in Alameda County Superior Court against the City of Berkeley and the PRC seeking injunctive relief and damages. 

“The purpose of Berkeley’s PRC is to provide impartial, fair and confidential investigation of complaints – which cannot take place when its representatives break the law by leaking strickly confidential information to the press,” said Sergeant Chris Stines, President of the Berkeley Police Association. 

On May 7, the Daily Californian published an extensive article detailing confidential information about the PRC investigation and findings related to the handling of the arrest of Kayla Moore in February 2013, claiming this detailed information was leaked to one of its reporters. BPA requested that the City of Berkeley conduct a formal investigation of the leak, with the City refusing to do so and, instead, requesting each individual PRC Commissioner to sign an affidavit stating that he or she did not provide the Daily Californian with any confidential information. 

“This is absurd – signing a piece of paper after the fact saying they didn’t do anything wrong is not an investigation,” Stines said. “Berkeley Police are accountable to the law and the PRC must be, too. Anything less is hypocrisy.” 

“The City needs to act responsibly by fully investigating and removing the leak,” Stines added. 

“Berkeley police officers were promised a confidential process and that promise was broken by the City of Berkeley and its Police Review Commission,” said BPA attorney Tim Talbot, of Rains Lucia Stern. “The City did not even investigate the PRC, all of whom deny leaking the information and still remain on the PRC.” 

According to Talbot, BPA does not believe its members should be forced to appear before the PRC and face the risk of further leaks. BPA’s attorneys are scheduled today at 9 a.m. to ask the Court for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) relieving its members from attending PRC proceedings until the source of the leak is determined, the responsible party or parties are removed from the PRC or denied all access to confidential information, or all PRC members are replaced.

New: Man Shot in South Berkeley

Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday August 06, 2014 - 10:58:00 AM

A man shot in South Berkeley on Sunday night was hospitalized but is expected to survive, according to police. 

The shooting was reported at 9:25 p.m. Sunday near the corner of Sacramento Street and Alcatraz Avenue, police said. 

Officers checking on reports of possible gunshots were flagged down by someone who told them a shooting victim was about two blocks away in the 3200 block of Sacramento Street, police said. 

The officers found a 24-year-old man suffering from a bullet wound there. He was taken to a hospital and his injuries are not considered life-threatening. 

Police are investigating how the man was shot but have not released any information about a possible suspect or motive. 

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Berkeley police at (510) 981-5741 or (510) 981-5900. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous can call the Bay Area Crime Stoppers tip line at (800) 222-8477.

Escalation Nation: How US Navy's New "Death Ray" Weapon Could Spark a War in the Persian Gulf

Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War
Thursday July 31, 2014 - 09:29:00 PM

Sometime this summer, the US Navy plans to deploy a new "death ray" laser weapon system. The device has already been mounted on the USS Ponce, a naval vessel assigned to engage in "war exercises" off the Iranian coast. The laser beam is not powerful enough to be used as a defensive tool: it can only be used to destroy slow-moving targets like drones and patrol boats. Iran routinely dispatches drones and small boats when the US conducts military provocations in the waters of the Gulf. 


Escalation Nation:  


US Navy Plans to Deploy a "Death Ray" Weapon in Persian Gulf 


Sometime this year—with turmoil in the Middle East already at a fever pitch -- the US Navy plans to deploy a new laser weapon aboard the USS Ponce, a naval vessel that has been assigned to engage in "war exercises" off the coast of Iran. 

In videos released by the Pentagon, an invisible, yet powerful, beam of energy sets fire to an unmanned drone aircraft flying overhead at some distance. The flaming aircraft tumbles into the ocean. This is the Laser Weapons System (LaWS) at work. The current weapon is a low-power (15-50 kilowatt) prototype of a planned 100 kW "death ray" that could someday fry guided missiles in mid-trajectory. 

According to Pentagon officials, the current low-power LaWS could prove useful against (1) slow-flying drones and (2) small boats. The current design is not effective against any target traveling at advanced speeds because the heat-effect builds up slowly—i.e., "it needs time to work." 

The distinction is important: This means the laser has no use as a "defensive" weapon. It is an "offensive" weapon, plain and simple. 

The Pentagon frequently stages US military exercises off the shores of distant nations as a way of "showing the flag" and "sending a message." The countries targeted for such unsolicited displays of naval might understandably view these intrusions as provocations. Conducting US "war games" in the Persian Gulf region is a dangerous stunt that is fraught with peril. Especially since it runs the risk of a face-off between the US and Iran. 

Iran in known to monitor US warships in the waters near its borders and Tehran uses both pilotless drones and speedboats for this purpose. Were the US to use this new laser weapon against Iran's ships or aerial surveillance craft, it could be seen as an act of aggression—risking injury and death to Iranian sailors. If US "field tests" of the new LaWS system happened to bring down and Iranian drone or sink an Iranian patrol boat, that could trigger retaliation from Tehran, leading to further escalations. 




Torching Speedboats and Drones 

In a test off the California coast in April 2011, the Navy's experimental Maritime Laser Demonstrator (MLD), a solid-state 15-kilowatt solid-state laser, was able to ignite the engines on a small targeted boat. In a matter of seconds, the vessel was set on fire. 

In less than three years after Northrop Grumman won a $98 million Navy contract to design the MLD, the prototype – in its very first at-sea trial—demonstrated its ability to cause "catastrophic failure" on a moving vessel in the open sea. 

In an interview with Spencer Ackerman, then the host of Wired magazine's Danger Room blog, Rear Adm. Nevin Carr beamed, "I never thought we'd see this kind of progress this quickly, where we're approaching a decision of when we can put laser weapons on ships." 

Solid-state lasers operating in the tens of kilowatts have shown they can be both accurate and deadly – as long as the targets are slow-moving or stationary. Before laser weapons are able to take down a supersonic jet or an incoming missile, it will be necessary to ramp up the weapon's power significantlyto at least 100 kilowatts. 

While buoyed by the success of the MLD, Adm. Carr wasn't satisfied. While the MLD's destruction of a small speedboat was "an important data point," he noted, "I still want the Megawatt Death Ray." 

The Megawatt Class Death Ray 

In 2011, scientists at a weapons lab in Newport News, Virginia, were able to produce a 500kV blast from an electron gun. This success promised to accelerate the development and deployment of a "megawatt-class" laser capable of taking down a missile or slicing holes in an enemy vessel. 

The Navy's goal is to perfect a Free Electron Laser (FEL), an energy-beam weapon with adjustable wavelengths that could bore through dust and sea spray to deliver a knockout blow—burning through enemy vehicles and vessels at the rate of 2,000-feet-of-steel-per-second. (By comparison, the world's most powerful free-electron laser currently is capable of cutting through 20-feet-of-steel-per-second.) 

With work on the FEL's electron injectors reportedly ahead of schedule, the Office of Naval Research expects to see it's first death ray device deployed sometime in the 2020s. 

According to Admiral Carr, the arrival of the FEL and the Navy's Mach-8 electromagnetic rail gun will enable the US to begin "fighting at the speed of light and hypersonics." 

But for the moment, the Navy must make do with the solid-state MLD. 

Death Rays in the Gulf 

The timing of a joint US-South Korea "war game" in the waters near North Korea recently lead that country's leader to threaten to rain nuclear-tipped missiles on US holdings from Guam to Nebraska. 

Despite the rising tensions in the Gulf Region (where Israel's cross-border airstrikes into Syria raise the risks of a spreading regional war), the Pentagon scheduled a major military exercise in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) ran from May 6-30 and involved vessels and personnel from 30 countries. 

Commodore Simon Ancona, the deputy commander of the Combined Maritime Forces, described the military show-of-force as a "multidisciplinary defense exercise" designed to protect oil tankers, oil terminals and oil and gas exporters in the region. In addition to placing a first-generation "death ray" on board a ship plowing through the waters near Iran, the Pentagon plans to launch drones to provide surveillance information to US-military forces in the region. 

Drones are part of the tension equation in the Persian Gulf. On March 14, 2013, Iran scrambled a jet fighter to chase down a US Predator drone that strayed too close to Iranian airspace. The US had two military aircraft shadowing the drone in international waters and, according to CNN, the Iranian jet retreated after "a verbal warning." In November 2012, Iran shot down a US drone over the Persian Gulf. 

In April 2013, the New York Times reflected that bolting a death ray to the deck of a US naval vessel "seemed meant as a warning to Iran not to step up activity in the Gulf." As if to drive the message home, the Navy released a video of a LaWS system being tested in the waters off San Diego. A laser beam was trained on a slow-flying drone. In less than five seconds, the aircraft burst into flame and plummeted into the sea. 

The 14-kilovolt solid-state LaWS the Navy has installed on the USS Ponce is capable of burning holes in small boats and propeller-driven aircraft. The Navy notes the LaWS will allow US sailors in the Persian Gulf "to easily defeat small boat threats and aerial targets without using bullets." The term "aerial targets" refers to drones. 

The Pentagon is well aware of the fact that Iran's favored response to US military activities in Persian Gulf waters is to dispatch small fleets of "fast boats" and swarms of aerial drones. 

In the sanitized language of Washington, the depiction of "defeating small boat threats" intentionally ignores the fact that any boats (and aircraft) targeted for destruction will be manned by human beings who will not simply be "defeated," they will also be burned, scarred and incinerated by a new kind of weapon the likes of which the world has never known. 

The Pentagon estimates it would take a laser with a power-punch in the 100-kilovolt range to offer any practical defense against an attack from an incoming artillery shell, fighter jet or missile. This underscores the fact that the LaWS can only be used as an offensive weapon, trained on non-threatening or low-threat "targets of opportunity." 

Peter A. Morrison, an ONR program officer with the LaWS program, has praised these new laser weapons that the Pentagon is rushing to the battlefield. "The solid-state laser is a big step forward to revolutionizing modern warfare with directed energy, just as gunpowder did in the era of knives and swords," Morrison observes. 

But is it reasonable to characterize each new Pentagon weapon as an "advancement"? Especially since every military innovation—from flame-throwers to nuclear bombs—has eventually been duplicated and adopted by "enemy" nations. Instead of securing the threat of unique capacities of devastation in the hands of a single, unchallengeable Superpower, each new military breakthrough has led to new round of proliferation allowing new, ever-deadlier weapons of war to spread around the planet. 

Electronic "death rays" pose such a unique danger that a growing chorus of voices are calling for a moratorium on deployment. Ultimately, critics insist, such weapons should be outlawed and banned from the battlefield—like chemical gases and anti-personal weapons. 

Gar Smith is Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal, co-founder of Environmentalists Against War and author of Nuclear Roulette.

EPA Plan to Increase the Public's Radiation Exposure
Would 'Make the World Safe for Nuclear Accidents'
(News Analysis)

Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War
Thursday July 31, 2014 - 09:07:00 PM

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should not be in the business of increasing the public's exposure to excess radiation—be it from leaking nuclear reactors, microwave ovens, solar flares or "dirty bombs." But that's exactly what is underway in Washington, DC as the EPA is pushing a plan to increase the public's "acceptable" exposure to radioactive contamination 200-fold. 

The Public Comment period ends on August 3, 2014. 

After initially blocking plans to increase permissible levels of radiation hatched by the George W. Bush administration, the Obama White House and GAO are now backing the EPA's proposal to weaken traditional Protective Action Guides (PAGs) for nuclear power. 

Proponents for the change (see "Absurd Radiation Limits Are a Trillion Dollar Waste," James Conca, Forbes magazine) argue that existing standards—which range from 4 to 25 millirem (mrem) -- are "absurdly low" while increasing allowable exposure to 5,000 mrem is "more reasonable." 

The excuse for exposing the public to increased radiation levels? The threat of "nuclear terrorism." If a dirty bomb only exposed citizens to 25 mrem, the argument runs, why risk creating a panic? Under the proposed rule change, there would be no obligation to evacuate an urban population unless the fallout from a nuclear IED reached 5,000 mrem. 

Another argument for relaxing the safety standards: It would avoid "a trillion-dollar price tag trying to clean-up to levels even Mother Nature doesn't care about." Actually, nature does care about—and responds to—pollution incidents, especially those involving radioactive contamination. 

The proposed rule change to Protective Action Guidelines (allowing long-term exposure to 2,000 millrem radiation exposures) would increase the current standard of 1-cancer-in-10,000-adults over a 30-year period to 1 cancer in every 23 exposed adults—i.e., more than 4% of those exposed to these "more reasonable" radiation levels would contract cancers. 

As Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Executive Director Jeff Ruch has observed, "This is a public health policy only Dr. Strangelove could embrace." Ruch added that "no compelling justification is offered for increasing the cancer deaths of Americans innocently exposed…." 

Advocates of slacker regulation maintain that the current ALARA standard (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) should be abandoned because "no one has ever been affected by such low levels." 

This ignores generations of medical research findings. This ignores the children living downwind of nuclear reactors who suffer from thyroid illness. This ignores the rising levels of melanoma in the US population. (Thanks to the planet's thinning ozone shield, skin cancers have increased 300% since 1994). 

This ignores the National Academy of Sciences' warming that there are no "safe doses" of radiation. This ignores the findings of Physicians for Social Responsibility that "there is no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources.... Exposure to radionuclides, such as iodine-131 and cesium-137, increases the incidence of cancer. For this reason, every effort must be taken to minimize the radionuclide content in food and water." 

This ignores the findings of leading US nuclear experts like Karl Morgan, John Goffman and Arthur Tamplin, who all concluded that low-level radiation can cause serious health effects. 

The EPA's proposed relaxation of protections designed to shield the public from harm from exposure to radioactive contamination of the environment would establish a frightening new standard whose goal would seem to be "to make the world safe for atomic power and nuclear accidents." 

Some of these issues were raised in my 2012 book, Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth. Here is one excerpt: 

Responding to evidence of widespread contamination, the EPA announced on April 3, 2011, "We do not see radiation at harmful levels reaching the US from damaged Japanese nuclear power plants." While acknowledging that the danger was small, Robert Alvarez took issue with this argument. The nuclear industry "likens [radiation] to everyday life and it is not like everyday life," Alvarez stressed. "You shouldn’t have radioactive iodine, even in tiny quantities, finding its way into your milk supplies."[NWR1] The EPA promised to move quickly to release its tests for radioactivity in rain and snow but failed to do so. Within a week of the EPA’s reassuring advisory, independently tested milk samples in Phoenix and Los Angeles were registering iodine-131 at levels roughly equal to the EPA’s MCL. (Note: While the EPA’s MCL allows for one death per million Americans, the FDA’s more lenient "safe exposure" level permits 2,000 deaths per million.) 

As Fukushima’s hot breath blew across North America—contaminating strawberries in California9 and milk in Vermont—word began to circulate that Washington was preparing to follow Tokyo’s example by simply increasing "permissible" exposures. As it turned out, the nuclear-industry-backed plan to raise the "permissible" levels of radiation exposure started back in 2009. In the closing days of the Bush Administration, the EPA agreed to update the EPA’s 1992 Protective Action Guides (PGA) to subject the public to vastly increased radiation exposures. The Obama Administration has not closed the door on raising exposure guidelines. On May 29, 2012, the EPA's Radiation Protection website reported that revisions to the PAG Manual "are under review." 

According to investigators at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the new guidelines would "significantly increase allowable public exposure to radioactivity." The new guidelines would include a nearly 1,000-fold increase for exposure to strontium-90 and a potential 100,000-fold jump in exposure to iodine-131. "With the Japanese nuclear situation still out of control and expected to continue that way for months," PEER executive director Jeff Ruch observed, "this is the worst possible time for the EPA to roll back radiological protections for Americans." (At least nobody in Washington went as far as one cavalier Japanese politician who advised, "Smile and the radiation won’t harm you.") 

The industry benefits from radiation’s long lag time. While radiation-linked leukemia can manifest in 5 to 10 years, solid cancers do not appear until 15 to 60 years after exposure. And since radiation-induced genetic mutations tend to be recessive, many generations may pass before the damage from Chernobyl and Fukushima eventually resurfaces in the misshapen form of stillborn fetuses or deformed and disease-ridden children. As Dr. Caldicott emphasizes, there is no such thing as a "safe dose" of radiation, and all internal bodily exposures are cumulative. 

In March 2011, Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service[NWR2] filed a Freedom of Information Act request in an attempt to discover the basis for the NRC chair Gregory Jaczko’s remarkable recommendation that US citizens in Japan evacuate from locations within 50 miles of the Fukushima reactors. When the documents were finally released, nearly a year later, they further confirmed the government’s practice of "safeguarding the truth" rather than safeguarding the public. Among the documents was a 507-page transcript of NRC phone conversations revealing a multiparty discussion on March 17, 2011, about "the [radiation] [NWR3] doses they saw all the way out in California." One speaker states, "They were calculating doses, particularly for children—thyroid doses [that] . . . are showing millirem range doses, like one to 10 millirem." 

Later in the conversation, a speaker identified only as "Mr. Lewis" mentions a "dose estimate that was done for California . . . estimating what we believe to be very high doses to children." Referring to the accident in Japan, another NRC staffer notes, "The public doesn’t know what percentage of core damage [inaudible]. We did not on purpose put that in the press release, because it’s a little alarming." 


Here is the link explaining the EPAs intentions: 



Comments on the EPA's proposed increase in permissible radiation exposures are due by August 3, 2014. To submit a comment to the EPA, click on the following link: 



[NWR1]Alvarez quote needs source citation. 

[NWR2]Please confirm that "Service," rather than "Center," is the correct name of this organization. 


[NWR3]Please confirm that radiation doses is what they were talking about. 




UPDATE: Must Barbara Lee Always Speak for Me?

Becky O'Malley
Friday August 01, 2014 - 09:45:00 AM

On Saturday I went to the party for Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s birthday, held for the first time in Alameda, which is now part of her district. Last week I reported on the demonstration which was planned for the event, and as advertised there were indeed picketers outside the event, which was held in a dome-like tent outside a winery in a hot, wind-swept warehouse in the vicinity of the former naval base which is now slated for intensive development.

On the way in I talked with friends among the demonstrators, who carried signs with an adaptation of Barbara’s signature slogan, Barbara Lee Speaks for Me: “Barbara Lee, Speak for Me.” Their major complaint: Lee has voted for, or failed to vote against, funding for military aid to Israel, though she has also spoken out against various aspects of U.S. policy regarding Israel/Palestine. Jim Harris, a protester that I don’t know personally, has sent a commentary which appears in this issue with a report and a video about their discussion with her outside the party and links to his organization’s tally of her statements on the matter.

How much more should Barbara Lee’s constituents demand of her? I made my discounted senior rate contribution at the door and went inside so I could talk to her in person. Inside I saw several women I recognized, older generation peace ladies like me who cut their political teeth on opposition to the war on Vietnam and went on to serious electoral politics, who also buttonholed her about the Gaza situation. 

A man wearing a polo shirt with a Teamsters’ Union Alameda Local logo had a different message. He told Barbara that he really wanted to—I’m not good at capturing the language of violence—rough up the protesters outside. She demurred, saying something about the First Amendment, so he reluctantly backed down. 

She circulated freely in the diverse and enthusiastic crowd, fielding questions on all kinds of topics, including health care, education, student loans and more. It was an impressive impromptu performance. 

I spoke with her about my concern about the Gaza atrocities, the huge disproportionate loss of life (which has only gotten worse since then). She clearly did not disagree with anything I said, but her response was a rhetorical question: what else can I do? 

The obvious answer, the one espoused by the demonstrators, is to vote to cut off military aid to Israel. What we both know, however, is that this would make no difference in the U.S. House of Representatives at the moment. As I know only too well, any criticism of Israel in this country unleases the hounds of hell at your heels, and doesn’t change many minds. 

And Congresswoman Barbara Lee consistently accomplishes a lot on many other fronts. She spoke with justifiable pride of her crusade to shift the Democrats’ discourse from coming to the aid of “the middle class” to “the middle class and those aspiring to be middle class”—a subtle but effective way of pointing up the growing gulf between the haves and the have nots which threatens to obliterate what used to be called the middle class. 

There are some who mutter sotto voce that Lee’s votes for military aid to Israel are motivated by campaign contributions from local Jewish donors, but there’s absolutely no reason to think that should be true. She does, however, rely heavily on the cooperation of fellow Congresspersons who come from otherwise liberal districts where the Israel lobby, the AIPAC crowd, dominates electoral politics. She can’t change that by herself, so if she wants to achieve anything with regard to her other goals she must choose her battles carefully and preserve her ties with such colleagues. 

The only birthday present she received at this party was presented by Oakland Vice-Mayor Sandre Swanson. It was a framed group photo of Sandre, Barbara and all the other participants in the 1972 Shirley Chisholm for President campaign where she got her start in politics. 

I had to explain to the young man next to me that Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman in Congress, as well as the first to run for President, and the first woman to run for the nomination of the Democratic party. 

While the young Barbara Lee was promoting Chisholm’s campaign in California (they got 4.4% of the primary vote) I was one of the instigators of her Michigan campaign (we got a big 5% in our primary). It was, in retrospect, a children’s crusade. 

Innocents that we were, we believed that if your motives were pure and your candidate was the best in the race, you might win. Barbara went on to reality-based politics, and she’s done a lot of things that we might not have believed possible in those days, though not everything she supports has succeeded. 

Is it important now to put our organizing energy into trying to persuade Barbara Lee to vote against paying Israel to buy weapons? From an ideological perspective, maybe. From a practical perspective, probably not. At the moment there’s a world groundswell of disgust about the disproportionate number of innocent Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli weapons, and Barbara Lee’s vote won’t add much to the opposition. 

Of course, there are also those who think what’s happening in Gaza is okay. Those who agree will be gathering in San Francisco on Sunday for a rally in the Civic Center. Among speakers listed in a story in J-Weekly is Berkeley Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Congregation Netivot Shalom

If you disagree, speak out for yourself. Check out the website of Jewish Voice for Peace to see what people like you are doing around the world to protest. 

But I’ve reluctantly concluded that focusing a lot of attention on Congresswoman Barbara Lee is not a good use of time and energy. After all, she has only one vote, and she’s not really the problem. Sadly, it’s a lot bigger than she is. 

The Editor's Back Fence

Open Comment Welcome

Friday August 01, 2014 - 11:03:00 AM

We've been hoping to take some time off this week since nothing much seems to be happening in Berkeley, but the opinion@berkeleydailyplanet.com mailbox this week seems to be all about Gaza. Our intention here is to be mostly Berkeley-centric, but it seems that a lot of people in Berkeley at the moment are preoccupied with what's happening in the Middle East. We welcome comments on this and other topics and from other perspectives, and we'll find time to post them if they come in.

Public Comment

New: Re: Does Barbara Lee always have to speak for me

Sheila Goldmacher
Tuesday August 05, 2014 - 01:22:00 PM

YES. Especially when it concerns my tax dollars being used to continue a genocide of the Palestinian people.. When Lee stands up against War in Iraq but votes with the rest of the cowards in Congress for a shameful continuance of Israeli killings of innocent children and other civilians, you bet I am going to call her out. I called her office on Thursday to find out how she voted on the money for Israel - you might be interested to know I am still waiting for a call back. I suggest you see Judith Montell's and Emily Scharlatt's film -IN THE IMAGE:WOMEN CAPTURE THE OCCUPATION before you write another word about this issue.

The War Against Gaza

Joel Hildebrandt
Friday August 01, 2014 - 10:10:00 AM

There can be no justifying the attacks by Israel on the people of Gaza, the massacres of children, the deliberate bombings of UN refugee compounds, and the targeting of essential services such as power and water. Yes, it is wrong for Gaza residents to launch rockets into Israeli territory. But no balanced position can compare that with the horrors of Israeli slaughter of civilians, over 1000 to date and still increasing. A sane response to the Palestinians would involve negotiating in good faith with them. To begin with, the blockade must stop. Basic supplies are being kept from the civilian population. Gazans are essentially being held in prison, and when they protest they are slaughtered at will. That the US is condoning this slaughter is unconscionable; that we are providing weapons for it is beyond criminal.  

I call on my members of Congress,Congresswoman Lee and Senators Feinstein and Boxer, to support and work for a lasting ceasefire that includes lifting the Israeli blockade of Gaza and an end to military support for this occupation. 

Barbara Lee and Gaza

Jim Harris
Thursday July 31, 2014 - 09:18:00 PM

I’ve written up a summation of the protest here.


There is also a link to a video … when Lee took the time to speak to us. 

Barbara Lee danced around, in typical politician fashion, answering the question regarding military aid to Israel. But she is on record as supporting military aid. She needs to be asked this directly again and again, until she gives us an answer. Should we be encouraged that it seems that she is too ashamed to admit and defend her position for robust military aid to Israel? 

I have also put up some recent votes/statements that Lee has made - the good but mostly bad. It should be noted that the House passed unanimously a resolution supporting the current military campaign in Gaza. Though it was a voice vote, and we can’t even be sure Lee was in the House chamber at the time, she certainly has not said anything to say otherwise. 


Death Penalty

Chuck Mann, Greensboro, NC
Thursday July 31, 2014 - 09:20:00 PM

There has been yet another botched execution in our country. Many Americans want to reform the death penalty. I want to end it. It bothers me that so many Christians support the death penalty. Jesus opposed stoning, crucifixions, and other forms of torture and execution. He even said, ''Whatever you do to the least among men, you also do to me''. Prisoners on death row can certainly be considered the least among men. 

Some conservative Christians seem to prefer the Old Testament. There you will find the Ten Commandments. Thou shall not kill is a commandment, not a suggestion. There is no asterix, parentheses,or fine print after Thou shall not kill. I would like to encourage Christians, and non-Christians to support the elimination of the death penalty in our country, and worldwide . The best way to prevent the execution of an innocent person is to abolish the death penalty.

Gaza and Israel

Curtis Manning
Thursday July 31, 2014 - 09:26:00 PM

I wish to express my extreme displeasure at the ongoing incremental genocide of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis, the knee-jerk military support of the US government, and their apparent encouragement of the Zionist quest to solve the "Palestinian problem" in the same the way the Turks did the Armenians.  

But rather than scimitars, the Israelis have F-16's, drones with Hellfire missiles, the latest tanks, and a fleet of warships (it was a warship that hunted down and murdered those children playing soccer on the beach). And yet it is okay with Obama because the Palestinians have the temerity to offer resistance to the attack. In Palestine we have the new Warsaw ghetto. 

The current attack was clearly instigated by the Israelis, who were displeased at the agreement of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to form a single government, and the attempt to be granted observer status at the UN. 

Hamas did not kidnap and kill those three Israeli kids; this is now known. Yet Netanyahu used the lie as an opportunity to do hate mongering -- something he does very well. Many Palestinians were killed by the IDF before the rockets began to fly, but these killings are discounted as the normal killings which are an ongoing feature of the Israeli relationship with the Palestinians. 

I call for our government to cut off the supply of arms to Israel. We are being dragged down into the moral sewer that Israel already occupies by our eager complicity with what is an apparent ongoing genocide.

Antibiotics and Farm Animals

Melissa Tumas
Thursday July 31, 2014 - 09:25:00 PM

Factory Farms are pumping their animals full of antibiotics with only 20% of these drugs being used for actual illness. 

The use of these antibiotics are creating superbugs, which are drug resistant bacteria. Each year 23,000 American die from illnesses related to these superbugs since taking antibiotics is a futile effort. 

The only solution to these superbugs would be to remove these antibiotics from use in production and only use them for health purposes. 

Denmark currently does not misuse drugs for their food supply and evidence has shown that the bacteria revert back to being susceptible to drugs. So when humans are infected with bacteria they can still be treated by antibiotics and ultimately saved. 

Change will only happen if the FDA rules that antibiotics should only be given to sick animals, simple and straight forward.

Gaza - Rabbis speak out

Jagjit Singh
Thursday July 31, 2014 - 09:02:00 PM

Ignoring the carnage in Gaza, the U.S. military announced that it was resupplying the Israeli army to ensure the mass murder of civilians continues. Local reporters describe horrific scenes of distraught families witnessing their loved ones being blown to pieces before their very eyes. 

Hospitals are on the verge of collapse following the destruction of local power plants. There is no safe place in Gaza. Its 1.8 million residents are trapped, unable to leave Gaza by land or sea. Many are fleeing their homes which are being targeted but alas there is no place to run. Unable to refrigerate their food because of the lack of electricity, the people of Gaza are starving to death. No one is spared; reporters, medical personnel and many UN officials have been killed. 

Several Rabbis have voiced their vigorous opposition to the ongoing assault on Gaza. Rabbi Jill Jacobs of New York stated that in “human rights law and Jewish law – it is mandatory for the occupying force to protect the lives of civilians”. Rabbi Siegman formerly the executive director of the American Jewish Congress and head of the Synagogue Council of America, has expressed outrage of Israel’s polices in the Occupied Territories. He stated that ”there was a very simple remedy to prevent the attack on Gaza, namely to end the occupation which is the root cause of Palestinian outrage”. In a recent article in Politico Rabbi Siegman laid the blame on Israel for provoking the war.

Kashkari’s Sojourn

Carol Denney
Thursday July 31, 2014 - 09:01:00 PM

Neel Kashkari, Republican candidate for governor, spent an impressive seven days sleeping on park benches and in parking lots trying and failing to find work in Fresno. After his fifth day on the streets he concluded that all he needed was a job: 

“I asked myself: What would solve my problems? Food stamps? Welfare? An increased minimum wage? No. I needed a job. Period.” – Neel Kashkari, Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2014 

Kashkari’s sojourn illuminated a few issues for him, such as the short radius of job opportunities for people who need meals from a shelter, exactly how far $40 will take you, and how little good a roaring stock market does if you’re on the street. 

But Kashkari managed, at the other end of his experiment, to disturb not one of his free market, pro-growth, anti-regulation Republican principles including cutting Social Security and Medicare, overturning the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), weakening collective bargaining, as well as promoting fracking and off-short drilling for an oil-based economy, policies which may well be related to the drought currently drying up farm jobs in Fresno. 

If he’d stuck with it a little longer, if he’d committed to even six months to a year of job search, as most of us have had to do, or used his “free-market” Republican connections to insert himself into a low-paid retail position while looking for a “good” job, he would have learned a lot more. 

He would have learned that the tattered safety net for which he has such disdain needs more, rather than less, funding. He would have learned that a large ratio of low-wage workers need that safety net and qualify for food stamps despite having a job, since their wages are so low and their rents are so high that they can’t cover even minimal living expenses, which may have introduced him to different thoughts about rent control and the minimum wage. 

Kashkari’s person wealth, at only around $5 million, is not impressive by Republican standards. But it does move him out of the arena most of us know well; the scramble just to stay ahead of bills and obligations, watching the sunset of dreams we once had for our communities, our children, and ourselves as our libraries and schools scud along with minimal funding, our after-school programs are put on hiatus, our arts institutions sadly compete against each other for dwindling support. 

Let’s respectfully applaud Kashkari’s week on the streets of Fresno. Let’s encourage him to donate at least one of his millions to the Poverello House shelter in Fresno. And let’s encourage him to continue his experiment, so that his values have a more realistic opportunity to get some traction in a very real world.

Horrific Gaza Cleansing

Amro Ezzat
Thursday July 31, 2014 - 09:05:00 PM

Civilians have paid a horrific price in the ongoing violence in Gaza. 

While it's imperative to address the immediate crisis, I also hope the U.S. will support long-term stability by shifting from a militarized approach in the Middle East to one rooted in inclusive, diplomatic solutions. The success of the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran and the agreement to destroy Syria's chemical weapons demonstrates that the world can be made a safer place through diplomacy, not more bombing. 

I hope my members of Congress will support and work for a lasting ceasefire that includes lifting the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The U.S. has particular responsibility to help end the killing since U.S. weapons are fueling this conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross has called the blockade collective punishment against a civilian population. U.S. policymakers must call for lifting the blockade to ensure a durable ceasefire.


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:China & The U.S.: The Past’s Dead Hand

Conn Hallinan
Tuesday July 22, 2014 - 09:12:00 PM

A major cause of current tensions in the East and South China seas are two documents that most Americans have either forgotten about or don’t know exist. But both are fueling a potential confrontation among the world’s three most powerful economies that is far more unstable and dangerous than most people assume.

Consider what has happened over the past six months:

  1. In February, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry assured Japan that the Americans would defend Japan in case of a military confrontation between Tokyo and Beijing. That same month, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said the Philippines could count on American support if there were a clash with China in the South China Sea.
  2. In early May, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces practiced “retaking” islands of the Amami Group near Okinawa in a not-so-subtle challenge to China over the ownership of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. That same week, U.S. and Philippine forces held joint war games, while President Barack Obama promised “ironclad” support against “aggressive” neighbors seeking to alter “changing the status quo” in Asia.
  3. In mid-May, China challenged Japanese ownership of Okinawa, stating it did “not belong to Japan,” challenging Tokyo, and indirectly calling in to question the presence of huge U.S. bases on the island.
  4. At the end of May, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Tokyo would support the Philippines, Vietnam, and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in their disputes with Beijing over islands and shoals in the South China Seas.
  5. On July 1, the Abe government “re-interpreted” Article 9 of its peace constitution to allow Japan to use military force in support of its allies. U.S. allies in the region supported the move. The Philippines agreed to allow the U.S. military use of the former American base at Subic Bay.
American naval vessels have accused the Chinese Navy of playing chicken off China’s coast. Chinese ships are blockading Philippine ships near a number of disputed shoals and reefs. Vietnam claims China rammed some of its ships. Japan scrambled a record number of fighter planes to intercept supposed incursions by Chinese and Russian aircraft. U.S. Senator John McCain called China “a rising threat,” and the Pentagon’s Frank Kandell told the House Armed Forces Committee that U.S. military superiority in the Pacific was “not assured.”

In short, “tense” doesn’t quite describe the situation in Asia these days, more like “scary.” 

A major source of that friction are two documents, the 1951 “San Francisco Treaty” that ended World War II in Asia, and a little known doctrine called the AirSea Battle plan.  

According to research by Kimie Hara, the Director of East Asian Studies at Renison University College and the author of numerous books on the Cold War in Asia, today’s tensions were purposely built into the 1951 Treaty. “Close examination of the Allies’ documents, particularly those of the United States (which was primarily responsible for drafting the peace treaty), reveals that some, if not all, of these problems were intentionally created or left unresolved to protect U.S. strategic interests.” 

Hara say the U.S. wanted to create “strategic ambiguity” and “manageable instability” that would allow the U.S. to continue a major military presence in the region. She specifically points to disagreements over the Kurile/Northern Territories Islands, the Dokdo/Takeshima islands, the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, the Spratley/Nansha and Paracel/Xisha islands, the divided Korea, and the Taiwan Straits. All of these—plus a few others—have led to tensions or confrontations among Japan, China, Russia, the Philippines, Vietnam, South and North Korea, Malaysia and Brunei. 

Neither China nor Korea was invited to the Treaty talks, and while the USSR was present, it was not a signatory. 

Sometimes the U.S. directly sabotaged efforts to resolve issues among Asian nations. In 1954, Japan and the Soviet Union restored diplomatic relations and were on the verge of cutting a deal over the Kurlies/Northern Territory islands, essentially splitting the difference: Japan would take two islands, the USSR another two. 

However, Washington was worried that a peace treaty between Tokyo and Moscow would eventually lead to diplomatic ties between Japan and communist China, and that would have exerted, says Hara, “considerable pressure on the United States to vacate Okinawa, whose importance had significantly increased as a result of the Americas’ Cold War strategy in Asia.” Okinawa was a major base for the U.S. during the Korean War. 

So Washington torpedoed the deal, telling Tokyo that if it did not demand all four islands, the U.S. would not return Okinawa to Japan. The U.S. knew the Soviets would reject the Japanese demand, which would scuttle efforts to reduce tensions between the two nations. There is still no peace treaty between Russia and Japan. 

AirSea Battle (ASB) has been official U.S. military doctrine in Asia since 2010, and what it calls for is chilling: the military defeat—WW II style—of China. Not even during the height of the Cold War did the U.S. and it allies envision defeating the Soviet Union, seeking to rather “contain” it. 

In the 1990s, China began building a military that could defend its coastal waters. Called “denial of access,” it includes a variety of anti-ship and ballistic missiles, stealth submarines, cyber warfare and space surveillance. China’s turn from its traditional reliance on land forces to “denial of access” was given a major push in 1996 when the Clinton administration deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups in the Taiwan Straits during a period of tension between China and Taiwan. Beijing could do nothing about it, and the Chinese military was deeply embarrassed. 

ASB is designed to neutralize “denial of access” by “blinding” Chinese radar and surveillance capabilities, destroying missile sites and command centers, and, according to Amitai Etzioni of Washington University—author of books on U.S. foreign policy and a former Senior Advisor to the White House under Jimmy Carter—allowing U.S. military forces to “enter contested zones and conclude the conflict by bringing to bear the full force of their material military advantage.” 

A land invasion of China? 

The potential dangers involved in such an undertaking are sobering. Since ASB includes strikes deep into Chinese territory, Beijing might assume such attacks were directed at China’s nuclear weapons arsenal. The general rule with nukes is “use them or lose them.” According to Etzioni, the Center for Strategic and International Studies concludes that, “China is likely to respond to what is effectively a major attack on its mainland with all the military means at its disposal—including its stockpile of nuclear arms.” 

While Pentagon officials claim that ASB is not aimed at any particular country, China is the only power in Asia capable of “access denial” to the U.S. military. Etzioni quotes one “senior Naval official” as saying “AirSea Battle is all about convincing the Chinese that we will win this competition.” 

The Chinese are fully aware of ASB, which does much to explain their recent assertiveness in the East China Sea. The Diaoyu/Senkakus are part of the “first island chain” through which Chinese submarines and surface craft must pass in order to exit Chinese coastal waters. If Japan controls those islands it can detect—and with anti-ship missiles destroy—anyone going from China to the Pacific. 

The South China Sea disputes also find their roots in the San Francisco Treaty. China has a good case that Japan’s claim to the Diaoyu/Senkakus violates the 1945 Potsdam Agreement. Potsdam was supposed to dismantle Japan’s empire, including territories that it had seized during its years of expansion. The Diaoyu/Senkakus were absorbed by Japan following the1894-5 Sino-Japanese War, so China has a solid ownership argument. 

However, it can make no such case for the Spratleys, Parcels or reefs and shoals of the South China Sea. It may be that defense considerations are driving some of those disputes—most of China’s energy supplies transit the region—but oil, gas and fishing rights would seem to loom larger. In any case, China appears to be in violation of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that guarantees countries a 200 nautical mile “exclusive economic zone.” China, using a 19th century “nine dash line” map claims “indisputable sovereignty” over 3.5 million sq. kilometers of the South China Sea, a sea that borders six nations and through which one third of the world’s shipping passes. 

While China’s forceful behavior in the East China Sea is somewhat understandable, throwing its weight around in the South China Sea has given the U.S. an opportunity to exploit the situation. Because of tensions between China the Philippines, the U.S. military was invited back into the islands. And China’s unilateral actions in the Paracels has some Vietnamese talking about a military relationship with Washington. 

All sides need to take a step back. 

China should adhere to a 2002 ASEAN code of conduct to consult and negotiate its disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines, and to bring the issue of the Diaoyu/Senkaku before the International Court.  

The U.S. should back off its blank check support for the rightwing Abe government. Tokyo started this fight in 2010 by first arresting a Chinese fisherman—thus violating an agreement not to apply domestic trespassing laws to fishing violations—and then unilaterally declaring sovereignty over the Diaoyu/Senkakus in 2012, a violation of a 1972 agreement with China to leave that issue up to negotiations. 

Washington sould also reverse its expensive expansion of military forces in Asia—the so-called “Asia pivot”—and reconsider the folly of the AirSea Battle doctrine. According to Raoul Heinrich of Australian University, ASB “will greatly increase the range of circumstances for maritime brinkmanship and dangerous naval incidents.” Establishing military “hot lines” between the major powers in the region would also be helpful. 

The current tensions are exactly what the San Francisco Treaty was designed to do: divide and conquer. But with the potential dangers of escalation embedded in the doctrine of AirSea Battle, local tensions are threatening international order. 

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com 



ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Regaining Thinking Ability

Jack Bragen
Thursday July 31, 2014 - 09:21:00 PM

A psychotic episode and the ensuing recovery (and this generally includes being put on medication) can leave a person with somewhat of a blank mind. Or, on the other hand, the mind can be plagued with residual symptoms. Either way, a psychotic episode and recovery from it can sometimes leave a person not knowing how to think, and needing to relearn that. 

Many persons who have a psychotic problem must rely on "partial hospital" or "day treatment" programs that provide counseling as well as "milieu therapy." This "milieu therapy" consists of spending time in the company of other persons who are receiving treatment. 

It is often helpful to be around other human beings rather than isolating. Thus, while milieu therapy won't put a man or woman on the moon, it has its uses. 

A psychotherapist can be like an instructor, or, if you get a lemon, could be destructive to the thought processes. My experience is that most people in the psychotherapy business are here to help. I have had a problem with the ones who automatically assume that I am ignorant, and who treat me accordingly. 

I recently had a therapist who tried to get "under the hood" of my psyche before establishing trust. When I resisted, this therapist became more pushy, proving to me that he did not deserve to be privy to my underpinnings. This therapist was also condescending—eventually to the point of being mocking. He wasn't a very experienced therapist. Perhaps he had big ideas about himself, much as I once had. 

A bad therapist or another negative influence can be destructive to structures of thought that normally make us able to function in our lives. Negativity is contagious and so is nonsense. Thoughts, like many things, need to be cultivated, maintained, and sometimes pruned. Bad speech and actions are initiated by bad thinking habits. 

In this column, one dilemma I have is whether I should encourage mentally ill persons to seek treatment and cooperate, versus encouraging assertiveness and standing up for ourselves. I believe that both of these things can be done, but I don't want to encourage combativeness. Without some level of cooperation, someone with mental illness may not have the benefit of receiving treatment, and treatment is often needed. 

Mental illness can be a debilitating disease, or it can indirectly be a fatal disease. Accepting treatment can make the difference between tragedy and triumph. Asserting your intelligence should be a lower priority. 

When relearning how to think, there is the dilemma between independent thought, which can sometimes be dangerous, versus learning how to think from doctors, which can be less independent, which might run the risk of conventionality, but in which you will not be, as they say, "reinventing the wheel." 

When recovering from mental illness, in our thoughts we can adopt the following premise: "I have a mental illness which means that my mind has the tendency to fool me." When this acknowledgment is a part of the basic thought process, it makes room for the mind to be corrected by other people or even to catch one's own errors. An adjunct to this premise is the basic idea that: "I am seeking more accurate thinking." 

Reminding oneself of the basic ideas above can allow the power of the subconscious and conscious mind work on your behalf and not against you. 

None of this is intended to replace medication. However, in the recovery process, it can pick up from where medication leaves off.


Ralph E. Stone
Friday August 01, 2014 - 10:01:00 AM

In response to an eight-year Israeli blockade of Gaza and the closing of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, Hamas shoots rockets into Israel, causing a disproportionate response from Israel, which in turn causes worldwide condemnation, furthering isolating Israel from most of the world. A ceasefire will eventually be negotiated, Israel will withdraw from Gaza, calm will again result for a short while, and then the cycle of violence will be repeated over and over again. And Israel will have another excuse for not engaging in meaningful peace negotiations with the Palestinians.  

Former archbishop Desmond Tutu has in the past likened the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to the racist South African apartheid system.  

What is the response of our politicians? Rally behind Israel. And our lockstep support of Israel continues.

Arts & Events

Updated: Merola’s Muddled Production of Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday August 01, 2014 - 11:23:00 AM

Young American director James Darrah, who recently excelled as production designer and director of San Francisco Symphony’s highly successful semi-staged production of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, failed to live up to his own high standards in tackling Merola Opera’s production of Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI. At the opening night performance on July 31 at Everett Auditorium in San Francisco, Darrah opted for a unitary stage-set for the entire opera, making it serve all pur-poses as an artist’s studio, a party scene, the home of Donna Anna and her father, the Commendatore, and much else. Tables and chairs got pushed around (by Lep-orello), and the back wall seemed to serve as a kind of bulletin board where Don Giovanni, here portrayed as an artist, hung photographs or sketches of his latest conquests. (At least that’s what I think the various pieces of paper stuck onto the back wall are supposed to offer. However, try as I might, I could not actually see what was on those pieces of paper.)  

Darrah likes to crowd his unitary stage-set with supernumeraries; and he does so at some of the oddest moments. During the overture, Darrah has baritone Edward Nelson, who sings the role of the don, walk through a gaggle of lovely ladies, eye-balling each one in turn. Then Nelson steps to the front of the stage and peers out into the audience. He espies a woman who stirs his interest and signals for her to join him onstage. It turns out to be Donna Anna, here sung by soprano Amanda Woodbury. She gets up from her seat and, accompanied briefly by a confused Don Ottavio, sung here by tenor Benjamin Werley, joins Don Giovanni onstage. Don Ottavio meekly disappears into the woodwork; but Donna Anna allows herself to be prodded, petted, and portrayed in a charcoal sketch by an artistic Don Giovanni, whose art seems highly fetishistic. So far, so good, or at least not bad. We get that this Don Giovanni is an artist of sorts, that this is his studio, and that Leporello, here sung by bass-baritone Szymon Wach, is the don’s studio assistant who no longer relishes his servant’s role. 

Meanwhile, the gaggle of lovely ladies (and their male friends) remain on-stage as the dramatic action between Donna Anna and Don Giovanni gets under way. They even remain onstage to witness at close range the duel between the Commendatore and Don Giovanni, in which the father of Donna Anna is killed. Don Giovanni and Leporello don’t then run offstage; in this production they just melt into the crowd. These supernumeraries (plus Don Giovanni and Leporello) only exit the stage when Don Ottavio asks them to carry off the dead body of the Commendatore. Now alone onstage, Donna Anna indulges her grief at the death of her father and prods Don Ottavio into swearing an oath of revenge. In the role of Donna Anna, Amanda Woodbury is excellent; and as Ottavio Benjamin Werley, while not quite up to Woodbury’s vocal standard, has a pleasing tenor voice.  

Next we find Don Giovanni and Leporello back in the now empty studio. They argue a bit, then break off their dispute when Don Giovanni sniffs out the arrival onstage of a woman, who turns out to be his jilted lover Donna Elvira, sung here by soprano Karen Chia-Ling Ho. As Elvira, Ms. Ho’s voice is a bit darker than most sopranos who sing this role; and this tends to weaken the dramatic shifts of tone and timbre that usually mark Elvira as a neurotic individual whose mood- swings are manic. When Don Giovanni fobs her off on Leporello, the ensuing catalogue aria by Leporello involves a series of art portfolios containing charcoal sketches of nudes who represent Don Giovanni’s thousands of conquests. 

Next comes the wedding celebration of Zerlina and Masetto. Here Don Gio-vanni plays at being a wedding photographer. When he manages to separate Zerlina from Masetto, he sings the famous come-on, “Là ci darem la mano.” Zerlina, sung here by soprano Yujin Kim, picks up his tune, hesitates but soon gives in. By the end of this duet, she’s pulling Giovanni by the lapels and taking the lead in a game of mutual seduction. Masetto, sung here by bass-baritone Rhys Lloyd Talbot, mumbles bitter reproaches to Zerlina.  

Here, by the way, Conductor Martin Katz allowed the orchestra to drown out much of Masetto’s singing, a problem that also cropped up occasionally when Lep-orello was singing. Vocally, Szymon Wach’s bass-baritone did not project all that well; and, consequently, Leporello’s role seemed smaller scale than usual. Even Edward Nelson’s voice as Giovanni, a baritone rather than a bass-baritone, seemed lighter than most who sing this role; and this resulted in a Don Giovanni on a smaller scale than usual, one who was by no means a vital force of nature but rather a cold, calculating fetishist. (Does he even make love to these women, or merely get them nude and sketch or photograph them?) One further criticism I would make of Con-ductor Martin Katz is that he had the bad taste to allow – or even to encourage – Yujin Kim to indulge in vocal flourishes at the end of Zerlina’s aria, Batti, batti, o bel Masetto.” As composed by Mozart, Zerlina certainly needs no improvised vocal flourishes: her utterly charming simplicity does wonders all by itself.  

At the ensuing party scene, set in this production in Don Giovanni’s artist’s studio, director James Darrah unwisely has Yujin Kim portray Zerlina as a raving exhibitionist who dances flirtatiously with every male at the party. Are we at all surprised, then, that Don Giovanni, now fueled by jealousy as well as lust, sexually assaults Zerlina? In yet another unwise move, director Darrah does not have the don drag Zerlina offstage, but has him assault her in the midst of the party-goers, most of whom are too inebriated to care about what’s going on. 

ACT II begins with partygoers sleeping in a drunken stupor, while Don Giovanni exchanges clothing with Leporello, then manipulates him like a puppet in his feigned reconciliation with Elvira. Later, when the don, disguised as Leporello, encounters Masetto armed to the teeth and out to kill him, director Darrah, who thus far has filled the stage with supernumeraries, now ignores the don’s own words about dividing up Masetto’s posse of revenge-seekers, and stages this scene as a one-on-one encounter.  

Later, in the cemetery scene, set in the wee hours of the morning, when Don Giovanni and Leporello encounter the Commendatore’s marble statue, Darrah absurdly stages this as a crowd scene! He also stages the opera’s final banquet as a crowd scene, which allows him to portray this gaggle of lovely ladies as, at first, lusting after Don Giovanni, then turning against him as the Commendatore’s marble statue consigns the don to Hell. Oh well, in spite of having a few good ideas and one or two nice touches, James Darrah has made something of a muddle of Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI.