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New: Berkeley Man Dies in Grizzly Peak Fall

Dan McMenamin (BCN)
Monday August 18, 2014 - 01:02:00 PM

A 60-year-old man died in a fall from a p0pular lookout point on Grizzly Peak Boulevard in the Berkeley hills on Sunday night, a University of California at Berkeley police lieutenant said today. 

The man, identified by the Alameda County coroner's bureau as Donald Odwyer, of Berkeley, died after a fall reported at 8:24 p.m. near signpost 14 on Grizzly Peak Boulevard, UC Berkeley police Lt. Marc DeCoulode said. 

Odwyer was pronounced dead at the scene, DeCoulode said. 

Based on witness accounts, it appears Odwyer slipped and fell down the hill, the lieutenant said.

Press Release: Berkeley Demonstration Has Dispersed

From Ofc. J. Coates, Berkeley Police
Saturday August 16, 2014 - 11:19:00 AM

The demonstration has dispersed. The Berkeley Police Department (BPD) has resumed normal patrol operations. We would like to thank the California Highway Patrol and the Oakland Police Department for their assistance.

This evening at approximately 8:49 p.m. the Berkeley Police Department was noticed by the Oakland Police Department that large groups involved in a violent demonstration were headed into the City of Berkeley. 

Shortly after entering Berkeley, demonstrators damaged property in the 2800 block of Telegraph Avenue. 

During the demonstration a trashcan was set on fire near the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street, which was quickly extinguished by BPD officers. 

BPD made two arrests during the course of the demonstration. Taylor Tengwall, a 24 year old male, of Berkeley, was arrested for PC 148(a)(1), resisting or obstructing a police officer and Lael Montgomery, 19 year old male, of Vallejo, was arrested for PC 148(b), attempting to take a weapon other than a firearm from a police officer and PC 148(a)(1), resisting or obstructing a police officer. They were both transported and booked into the Berkeley City Jail. 

There have been no reported injuries associated with the demonstration.

Flash: Anti-Police Protesters Break Berkeley Windows

SaraGaiser/ScottMorris (BCN)
Friday August 15, 2014 - 11:08:00 AM

Protestors in an anti-police march that started in downtown Oakland this evening were stopped on Telegraph Avenue by a line of Berkeley police officers in riot gear and appear to be moving through Berkeley now.  

Numbers have dwindled to less than 100 as the march has continued down Telegraph from Oakland.  

A number of windows on Telegraph have been broken during the march, including those at the Bank of the West at 4800 Telegraph, Taste of Denmark Bakery, Telegraph Lofts, Articlepract and 2855 Telegraph. 

Some other protestors in the group have been heard shouting at those breaking the windows, telling them to stop.  

The anti-police violence march is being held in response to the shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri last week and the subsequent police response to protests there. 

It began at 14th and Broadway in Oakland at 6 p.m. today with several hundred participants and changed route several times before moving down Telegraph toward Berkeley.  

Protestors have chanted "Hands up! Don't shoot!" and "Justice for Michael Brown" as well as expletives aimed at police as they traveled through the area. Fireworks were set off at 14th and Broadway earlier in the evening, and freshly spraypainted slogans have been seen on buildings including "FTP We Here," "more dead pigs" and "we will never stop."  

The "hands up" chant has been heard across the country at other protests following the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson after an encounter with a police officer. Brown was unarmed during the shooting and there are conflicting reports about the events that led to his death. 

Brown's shooting triggered protests and racial tensions in Ferguson, a largely black community with a largely white police force. The heavily armed police response there, which included the use of tear gas, has drawn national criticism and triggered protests in cities around the country.  

Oakland was the scene of numerous anti-police protests, some of which led to violent confrontations with police and numerous arrests, during the height of the Occupy movement. Protestors set up a long-lasting encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza starting in October of 2011 and staged marches from the area, some of which also included vandalism against downtown businesses.  

Some businesses in downtown Oakland boarded up windows in preparation for tonight's protests.

Press Release: Skateboarder Slams Stabbing Suspect on Berkeley Bus

From Ofc. J. Coates, Berkeley Police
Wednesday August 13, 2014 - 06:51:00 PM

The Berkeley Police Department is announcing the arrest of a suspect following an apparent random knife attack on an AC Transit bus on Monday night, August 11, 2014, along San Pablo Avenue near Chaucer.

On August 11, at about 9:50 PM, witnesses flagged down a Berkeley Police Sergeant near San Pablo and Bancroft. They reported a knife attack just prior on an AC Transit bus, and pointed out the suspect. The Sergeant confronted the suspect at gunpoint, and, with the assistance of other officers, placed him in handcuffs and detained him.

Officers determined the suspect had been riding on the bus, when, for no apparent reason, he attacked another passenger. Witnesses reported the suspect walked down the aisle, pulled out a knife, said, “watch this,” and suddenly stabbed at a 21 year old woman seated nearby. Another passenger immediately took action, striking the suspect with his skateboard repeatedly and continuously, distracting the suspect from his attack.  

Even with the good Samaritan intervening, the suspect was so determined he broke away several times to keep attacking the victim. The suspect ultimately fled from the bus, which had pulled over near San Pablo Ave. near Chaucer, and was detained within moments by the Sergeant. 

The victim suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries, and was transported to a local hospital. There is no apparent motive for the attack. The investigation into the attack is continuing. 

Based on the investigation and witness accounts, the actions of the passenger, a 25 year old male, who intervened without hesitation in the attack, were potentially life-saving. 

Following the investigation, officers arrested Eric Palmer, a 24 year old male, of Berkeley, for attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Palmer was booked into the Berkeley City Jail and will be arraigned on Thursday.

The Crisis in Social Security (News Analysis)

Harry Brill
Friday August 08, 2014 - 10:18:00 AM

Despite running a surplus of $2.8 trillion, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has closed 80 offices, eliminated over 500 temporary mobile offices, and reduced its workforce since 2010 by 11,000. Moreover, it is planning on closing in the near future hundreds of more offices, and eventually, shutting down as many of the 1,245 field offices that it can get away with. Many additional thousands of useful jobs will be discarded. Seniors will be compelled to cope with their questions and concerns via the computer. If things go as planned, SSA's functions will be outsourced to private contractors. At the request of Congress SSA contracted with a think tank—the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) — to develop a long range vision for social security. NAPA is highly respected by Congress, which has given it a charter. Although the charter is just honorific, it gives an organization the aura of being officially sanctioned by the US Government. Significantly, current and past employees of major corporations have been on NAPA's Board of Directors. 

Here are NAPA's main recommendation, which would make life very problematic for seniors, the disabled, and SSA's employees. First, NAPA proposes that the main functions of SSA should be computerized so that direct service options, including face to face and phone contact, should be provided only in "very limited circumstances". Second, by computerizing, it would allow SSA "to employ a much smaller and more virtual workforce". In other words, more layoffs are seen as understandable and inevitable. 

Third, NAPA favors transferring public revenue to the private sector. As one observer noted, the result will be lucrative private sector contracts. Significantly, Congress on the whole share's NAPA's perspective. Despite the substantial increases in social security applicants, Congress has cut 14 of the last 16 SSA budget requests, which has forced the closing of many field offices. But Agency administrators have remained silent while cooperating with policies that retrench services. The same with the President and his administration. Their silence along with their actions reflects the establishment's concurrence with the report's dismal recommendations. 

The consequences will be devastating to many seniors. Only 57 percent of people over 65 years are online compared to a nationwide average of 87percent. Minorities and low income people are even less likely to use computers. Disabled social security applicants and recipients are less likely to be users as well. Many who access the social security website find it very confusing and have to spend very long periods of time on the computer. A critical report complained that by requiring people to fend for themselves it "will cause many to make unwise choices that will result in a permanent loss of benefits and cause alienation from an incredibly popular program".  

It is a matter of principle as well as necessity that we do what we can to stop and reverse the madness of pursuing efficiency and privatization at the expense of both current recipients and applicants. What should we do? To move toward a more moral and sane society we must continually remind ourselves and everybody else that the purpose of government is not to issue dividends but to improve the quality of life of its people. We must act now, which includes engaging in an ongoing discussion among ourselves and with everybody else who wants to make sane public policy prevail. 

Press Release: Assembly Candidate Tony Thurmond leads in fundraising and wins endorsements of Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune and All Major Primary Election Opponents

From the Tony Thurmond Campaign
Friday August 08, 2014 - 12:02:00 PM

Tony Thurmond, candidate for Assembly, District 15, continued to build a powerful lead in a week that saw a wave of good news and new supporters to his campaign.

In the last seven days, Thurmond:

  • Reported fundraising totals 30 percent higher than his opponent and more cash-on-hand leading into the critical late summer / early fall phase of the campaign.
  • Won the endorsements of Pamela Price, Sam Kang and Clarence Hunt – all the major candidates in the primary election who did not advance to the runoff – and all the candidates of color and all the Democratic candidates.
  • Won the endorsement of the Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune – the major news organizations of the district.

These powerful indicators of Thurmond's momentum come on the heels of a recently released poll by Oakland-based EMC Research that showed Thurmond with a narrow lead over his opponent and more room to grow his share of the vote. Thurmond is not only first in the polls, but also has a strong lead in grassroots campaigning, already launching the November election effort with a voter registration and activation town hall in Richmond, the first of a series of events in every corner of the district to drive turnout and voter engagement. 

Thurmond has served as a member of the Richmond City Council and the West Contra Costa County Board of Education. He currently works at the Lincoln Child Center and has been active in CEO Youth, an innovative program working to improve school attendance and reduce dropout rates. Previously, Thurmond served as Executive Director of Beyond Emancipation, a non-profit that provides oversight and mentoring to help former foster youth make successful transitions into adulthood.  

In addition to the Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune and all the major opponents from the primary election, Thurmond has earned the endorsements of leading Democrats including Attorney General Kamala Harris, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Congressman George Miller, as well as the California Nurses Association, California Teachers Association, California Professional Firefighters, SEIU-CA, California State Legislative Black Caucus, California Latino Legislative Caucus, Black Women Organized for Political Action and scores of local elected officials and community leaders. 




Which Berkeley City Council Candidates Should You Support?

By Becky O'Malley
Friday August 08, 2014 - 10:21:00 AM

Okay, today’s the last day for candidates for the Berkeley City Council to file, so it’s time to take a look at what choice voters might have for the November election. But first, let’s remind ourselves that the November election these days actually starts October 6, the first day you can get and mail your vote-by-mail ballot. So if you’re the kind of person who likes to cross items off your to-do list early, it’s time to figure out whether you might want to support any of the candidates. As you'll see if you read all the way to the bottom, I've made my choices. 

The general organizing principle in Berkeley politics these days is whether you’re for or against the status quo. The status quo is brought to you by Mayor Tom Bates and the five-to-three majority of councilmembers who have been kept firmly under his thumb for, what is it, about 12 years now. That would be Linda Maio, Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, Gordon Wozniak and relative newby Susan Wengraf (who was, however, aide to her predecessor for umpty-ump years before running herself. ) 

If you hold the Panglossian view that Berkeley is the best of all possible worlds, you can stop reading now. But if you think there’s room for improvement, you need to become aware of the names and numbers of all the players, so you can vote for the right person in your own district and help out those you like with their campaigns in other districts. 

First, you should know who doesn’t vote all-Bates-all-the-time. Three councilmembers have minds of their own. One, Max Anderson, the clearest voice on the council, who deftly articulates the progressive position in every discussion, is not up for re-election in this round.  

But his two progressive colleagues are. 

That would be Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington, policy wonks both, who make numerous enemies by closely reading all the documents in their packets and bringing to light inconvenient truths that the conservative majority would like to sweep under the rug.  

As of this writing—unless someone files before closing time today—Arreguin is unopposed for the District 4 seat. He’s well-liked in his district, and is probably assumed by possible opponents to be unbeatable. 

Kriss Worthington is another matter. Since he’s been around longer and has never been shy about taking firm stances on key issues, he’s had a chance to make even more enemies. He was the prime target for the majority’s gerrymander of council district boundaries, which is now being contested by a ballot measure. The putative (my favorite Berkeley word) excuse was that the council was trying to create a much-desired student-majority district. But—surprise!—no student seems to have decided to run even in the re-drawn District 7. So much for the bogus theory of hungry student hordes ready to batter down the council gates. 

Instead, the Bates apparatus has chosen to back Sean Barry. He’s a former U.C. student to be sure, but aren’t we all? He’s also an in-house flack for the Blue Shield insurance empire, not a job to endear him to a progressive electorate. His listed supporters are all about money, honey, so it will be interesting to see how many novice voters can be confused by big spending to vote his way. 

The District 1 race pits Worthington’s long-time aide Alejandro Soto-Vigil against Vice-Mayor Linda Maio, who’s been in her office even longer than Bates has been mayor. She’s known as the reliable fourth vote on the council—she’ll vote with the progressives as long as they’re sure to lose in a particular contest, but she spends most of her time gently reining in the Mayor’s old-guy explosions at council meetings. And if by some miracle one of the hard-core conservatives on his team threatens to switch sides, she’ll vote with the Mayor even when she knows better. In 2008 she was touched by a whiff of scandal for accepting a loan from bad-boy developer Patrick Kennedy and then voting on his projects, but that seems to have been forgotten. 

Soto-Vigil is another relatively recent former student, but one who has put down roots in the Berkeley community. He grew up in Richmond in an activist family and is often seen around City Hall with one of his handsome offspring on his hip. As a young father with a family he would represent a demographic which has been absent from the council for a good while now, and he’s well acquainted with the key issues.  

Merrilie Mitchell, another well-informed long-time resident, has taken out petitions but hasn’t returned them, so she probably won’t be a candidate.  

It’s District 8 where the contest might be most interesting, especially with the mathematics of ranked choice voting applied for the first time in a four-candidate race. 

All four have been very active in their local neighborhood associations, three in the Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association and one in the Willard Neighborhood Association. All have served on city commissions. 

In alphabetical order: 

Michael Alvarez-Cohen (his name as it would appear on the ballot) could be U.C. Berkeley’s main man on the council, following in the footsteps of now-retired U.C. administrator Gordon Wozniak, who is not running for re-election. His university online bio (posted under the name simply of “Michael Cohen”) says that “Mike drives initiatives, agreements and relationships that catalyze the commercialization of UC Berkeley innovations….[and] Mike conceived, co-championed and was the founding director (part-time) of the award winning Berkeley Skydeck -- an information technology-oriented startup accelerator in Downtown Berkeley.” A number of his endorsers are members or supporters of the council majority faction, and some are developers. 

George Beier—under his protest, it must be noted—was gerrymandered by the council majority out of District 7, where he’d run unsuccessfully against Worthington a few times. He has served on many commissions, as have his opponents, and despite knowing too much about Berkeley politics still wants to be on the council. He’s been a leader in the fight to restore Willard Pool, and is the president of the Willard Neighborhood Association. 

Lori Droste, like Alejandro Soto-Vigil, is a parent of young children. Her main civic service has been on the Commission for the Status of Women. Her major endorsers are also from the council majority faction.  

Jacquelyn McCormick is the current president of CENA, where Alvarez-Cohen and Droste are board members. She’s assumed the role of independent civic watchdog, going to every city council meeting and running the Berkeley Council Watch website. She has also been a leader in the fight to save the historic Berkeley post office as well as in the national campaign to save other threatened post offices. 

If I could vote in the two districts nearest to the U.C. campus, I’d happily vote to re-elect Arreguin and Worthington. Both have put the interests of their constituents, students as well as long-term residents, first—ahead of the greedy developers who are just in Berkeley to make money and take it out of town. Both do their homework to an impressive degree, trying their best to educate a woefully uninformed city council on the consequences of their votes. And both, along with Max Anderson, form the conscience of the council on progressive questions like a fair minimum wage.  

Sean Barry, Worthington’s non-student opponent, clearly displays the stamp of the ruling Bates apparatus in his list of endorsers, so District 7 voters who think there’s room for improvement in the way the city treats their neighborhood should vote against him.  

In District 1, it’s time for a change. It’s possible to believe that Linda Maio once knew better, but now she slavishly follows the Bates line in optimizing key votes for the benefit of commercial property developers like Kennedy. Constituents complain that staffing at Maio’s office is haphazard at best. Soto-Vigil on the other hand has proved in his job as Worthington’s aide that he understands what voters want and need, and he’ll do a good job. 

District 8 is harder, because I think any of the four candidates would probably do a pretty good job. That’s where I vote, and I lean away from the two candidates who have sought and received the support of the Bates crowd. If I had to vote tomorrow, I’d mark the first spot for McCormick because she’s had the most relevant experience and is not afraid to ask questions, followed by Beier, who’s been in some pretty good struggles but is unfortunately new to the district through no fault of his own. I’m not sure enough of the ranked choice math at this point to know whether I’d record a third choice, but if I did it would be Droste. I wouldn’t vote for Alvarez-Cohen because I think it’s the job of councilmembers to resist U.C. Berkeley’s excessive desire to control Berkeley’s civic decision-making, and given his job it would be hard for him to do that., 

If you like to follow the money, Frances Dinkelspiel on Berkeleyside.com has effectively mined the data on the city of Berkeley website for a first look at how the candidates are being funded. The big bucks will come in later, of course, as much as possible delayed until the very last minute. Voting doesn’t start until October 6, however, so I reserve the right to change my mind if new information surfaces.  




The Editor's Back Fence

This Is a Double Issue

Friday August 15, 2014 - 10:58:00 AM

There will be no new issue dated today because the editor and various columnists are taking time off to enjoy the last roses of summer. We have a few pieces in hand which will be posted as the opportunity arises, but there will be no new editorial as far as I know at the moment. Of course, keep checking berkeleydailyplanet.com just in case something momentous happens.

Note to Subscribers: Gmail Fails, Comcast Fails, Grr!

Becky O'Malley
Saturday August 09, 2014 - 12:01:00 PM

For the past two or three weeks I've been sending the usual letters with article links to a list of "subscribers" via my Gmail account, since Comcast changed its interface so that my previous mail program no longer works. Now Google in its infinite wisdom has decided that our list of subscribers is suspiciously long, so they've unilaterally disabled ALL my outgoing email. I sincerely hope this can be fixed. Any ideas would be welcome. My incoming email still works, just can't reply.

Department of Oh Sure

Thursday August 07, 2014 - 10:46:00 AM

Herewith we launch a new BDP feature, the Department of Oh Sure, wherein we post irrational claims in the flood of campaign emails we receive. Names of the guilty will not necessarily be revealed: it would just encourage them.

This Just In: Parking = Traffic

From a lobbying organization trying to defeat Berkeley's Green Downtown initiative:

"Creating more traffic: the Downtown Initiative would significantly increase how much parking is built in downtown Berkeley and even make zero-parking projects illegal. More parking will create more traffic and make walking, biking, and transit less useful and convenient."

Oh Sure . . . 

Public Comment

New: Longest Blockade of Israeli Ship in History
​ ZIM ship turned away from SSA ​ in​ ​Oakland​ !

Mohamed Shehk
Wednesday August 20, 2014 - 02:46:00 PM

For four days straight the San Francisco Bay Area community blocked the Israeli ZIM ship from unloading at the SSA. And today, we salute the rank and file workers of ILWU local 10 for standing with us against Israeli Apartheid by honoring our pickets and letting the ship go from the SSA terminal yesterday afternoon! 

Saturday we mobilized thousands of our community to show the world that Oakland does not welcome racism, apartheid or Zionism, from Ferguson to Palestine. We flooded the streets and marched towards the Port only to discover that the ZIM ship decided to stay at Sea rather than dock and be confronted by the power of our numbers. The ship attempted to dock and unload on Sunday, but within a half hour’s time hundreds of us organized community pickets requesting that workers to stand with us on the side of justice and not unload the Apartheid ship. And as ILWU rank and file always have, and as they did during South African Apartheid, they demonstrated their solidarity with the global fight against oppression and honored our picket. The following Monday and Tuesday saw both an organized call to action as well as autonomous protests determined to keep the ship from being unloaded. These efforts coupled with worker solidarity continued the success of the weekend’s total blockade of the ZIM ship. 

Tuesday we declared a historic victory for Palestine as Oakland held down the longest blockade of an Israeli ship. Not only did we block the boat, but we also showed the world that racist exclusionary state of Apartheid Israel has no place on our port, and will soon find that it has no place on any port on the West Coast. After being blocked from unloading at the SSA Terminal, the ZIM ship was forced to leave and unload at another Terminal where it was met with protests by autonomous activists. This even further delayed the unloading of the ship.
From the use of tear gas to the training of police by Israeli military, Oakland feels firsthand the brutality of Israeli war-making. And Palestine knows too well the role the US plays in facilitating the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian people. From the policing and militarization of our local communities perfected with Israeli tactics of repression to the billions that the US provides Apartheid Israel, the connections are clear and are made for us. And over the last four days we showed the world that we stand shoulder to shoulder from Palestine to Oakland to Ferguson as we struggle bring down every wall, every Apartheid system and every racist state.
Palestine will be free.
Block the Boat was organized by a coalition of autonomous activists and the following organizations:
Al-Awda New York
All African People's Revolutionary Party (AAPRP)
American Friends Service Committee
American Muslims for Palestine
ANSWER Coalition
APEN: Asian Pacific Environmental Network
Arab Youth Organizing (AYO)
AROC: Arab Resource & Organizing Center
ASATA: Alliance of South Asians Taking Action
Bay Area Women in Black
Bay Area CodePink
Bay Area Latin America Solidarity Coalition
Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Committee
Black Organizing Project (BOP)
Black Organizing Leadership and Dignity (BOLD)
Black Workers For Justice
Catalyst Project
CodePink Washington
Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism (CODZ)
Communist Party of San Francisco
Critical Resistance - LA
Critical Resistance - Oakland
Critical Resistance - Portland
Descoloniza a Oakland/Decolonize Oakland
Free Palestine Movement
Freedom Archives
Friends of Deir Ibzi'a
Fuerza Mundial/Pueblos en Movimiento
General Union of Palestine Students – SFSU
Global Women’s Strike
Gray Panthers of San Francisco
Green Party of Alameda County
Haiti Action Committee
International Action Center
International Jewish Anti Zionist Network
International Solidarity Movement - West Bank/Gaza
International Socialist Organization
International Tribunal of Conscience for Camilo
ISM-Nor Cal
IWW Bay Area Branch
Jewish Against Genocide
Jews for Palestinian Right of Return
Justice for Palestinians
La Voz de l@s trabajadores/Worker's Voice
Labor for Palestine
Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Marcha Patriotica (Colombia) - California chapter
Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA)
Movement Generation
National Lawyers Guild SFBA Chapter
Noam Chomsky
NorCal Friends of Sabeel
Occupy SF Action Council
ONYX Organizing Committee
The Palestine-Israel Action Committee
Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions
Palestinian Youth Movement
Queers Undermining Israeli Terror
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network
San Francisco Green Party
School of the Americas Watch East Bay
Socialist Alternative - Bay Area Branch
Socialist Organizer
SOUL: School of Unity and Liberation
Southern Anti-Racism Network
Stanford Students for Justice
Stop the War Machine
Students for Justice in Palestine – Cal
Totally Radical Muslims
UAW Local 2865 (Academic Student Workers at the University of California)
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott
US Palestinian Community Network
Veterans For Peace Chapter 69
World Can't Wait Bay Area
Workers World Party
Xicana Moratorium

New: Tell your Congressperson TODAY: Arming Israel Defeats Palestinian Human Rights

Alana Krivo-Kaufman,Jewish Voice for Peace
Tuesday August 19, 2014 - 01:23:00 PM

Before leaving DC this month, your Congressional representative squeezed in time to send a "bonus" $225 million in aid to restock Israel's weapons supply.

Will you amplify the outpouring of anger and action across the country to hold Israel accountable? Let your representative know that constituents are outraged: Click here to send your message. 

Through decades of unconditional military, economic and diplomatic support, the US government has enabled the large scale violation of Palestinian human rights by Israel. US unconditional support for Israel has led to the deaths of over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza in the last 6 weeks, the destruction of hospitals, schools and vital infrastructure, and displacement of refugees made refugees again.  

Click here to tell your representative: Enough is enough, it's time to hold Israel accountable. 

Over the past year, our local chapters have begun building relationships with the Congressional Progressive Caucus to introduce our vital work for justice, human rights and long-term transformation of US policy. As a constituent, we need you to amplify our local organizing work. Tell your representative we are watching them vote for continued US support and funding of Israel's one-sided war of choice, with no end in sight. 

Click here to send your congressional representative the message that their vote to restock Israel's arsenal is an outrage. 

Across the country we've been in the streets with hundreds of thousands of people, rallying to let Gaza live from Boston to San Francisco, putting our bodies in front of warplanes and military contractors, and holding Jewish leaders accountable for their support of Israel's one-sided war of choice. 

Congress has been part of the problem. You can be part of the solution. Join us in taking action, in the streets and in building a movement strong enough to hold our government accountable.

New: U.C. Berkeley's Grizzly Peak Turnouts Are Lethal

Hank Chapot
Monday August 18, 2014 - 05:46:00 PM

These UC owned scenic spots are the ugliest turnouts in the West, and because the Eucalyptus log benches are on top of the cliffs and the set-up invites you to hang out on the cliff side of the benches, they should be considered an attractive nuisance and more deaths are predictable. 

In a letter to the East Bay Express a few months ago, I wrote, "Good turnouts are paved, they have a wide 3-4 foot stone wall enclosing the viewsite, the wall is wide enough with a thirty foot drop on the other side to deter exploration. The Eucalyptus logs should be removed and a safe perimeter built. Trashcans would help." 

These improvements should go in before UC gets sued. There is so much drinking, drug use, littering, illegal fires, fireworks and car sex going on up there it's a wonder there aren't more deaths.

New: Militarization of Law Enforcement

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday August 15, 2014 - 04:10:00 PM

Mercifully, the mood in Ferguson has changed drastically over the past 24 hours. On Wednesday night, the city resembled a war zone as police fired tear gas, stun grenades and smoke bombs. Common sense prevailed, as the newly appointed African-American Highway Patrol captain, Ron Johnson, was put in charge of security and ordered the ‘big gun’ military weapons to be put away. Johnson helped to defuse the tense situation by mingling with the crowd. Attorney General Eric Holder expressed concern regarding the deployment of military equipment and vehicles to quell a relatively minor domestic incident. What Holder forgot to mention was the federal government’s role in supplying local police forces with military-grade equipment – all paid with federal dollars from grant money generously doled out by the Department of Homeland Security. 

Radley Balko, author of the book, "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces” commented, "when we take domestic police officers and train them like soldiers and give them military gear and dress them up like soldiers and tell them they’re fighting a war — a war on crime or a war on terror — it is going to alter their mindset where they’re going to start to see themselves as soldiers”. It is time put a halt to the militarization of law enforcement, heighten racial sensitivity and aggressively recruit more minorities.

New: Militarization of Law Enforcement

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday August 15, 2014 - 04:10:00 PM

Mercifully, the mood in Ferguson has changed drastically over the past 24 hours. On Wednesday night, the city resembled a war zone as police fired tear gas, stun grenades and smoke bombs. Common sense prevailed, as the newly appointed African-American Highway Patrol captain, Ron Johnson, was put in charge of security and ordered the ‘big gun’ military weapons to be put away. Johnson helped to defuse the tense situation by mingling with the crowd. Attorney General Eric Holder expressed concern regarding the deployment of military equipment and vehicles to quell a relatively minor domestic incident. What Holder forgot to mention was the federal government’s role in supplying local police forces with military-grade equipment – all paid with federal dollars from grant money generously doled out by the Department of Homeland Security. 

Radley Balko, author of the book, "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces” commented, "when we take domestic police officers and train them like soldiers and give them military gear and dress them up like soldiers and tell them they’re fighting a war — a war on crime or a war on terror — it is going to alter their mindset where they’re going to start to see themselves as soldiers”. It is time put a halt to the militarization of law enforcement, heighten racial sensitivity and aggressively recruit more minorities.

New: Why Don’t They Do It in the Road? A Berkeley Disgrace on La Vereda

Ruth Rosen
Saturday August 09, 2014 - 01:55:00 PM

La Vereda is a narrow, winding street, tucked between Cedar and the Virginia stairs that lead to the north side of the Berkeley campus. But these three blocks have been decaying for decades. Before EBMUD began tearing up the street this summer, the street was filled with patches, pot holes and rubble. I broke my foot in a pot-hole in front of my house. Down the street, Sallie Stockton fell over a pot hole, rolled over and over again, until her head hit the curb. Neglect has caused some homes to flood because the road is not properly paved. One resident took a picture of an enormous pothole and managed to get a patch from the city. In short, La Vereda looked more like an unpaved road in rural Mississippi than an urban street in the city of Berkeley.  

For four decades, residents on La Vereda Rd have been asking the city to pave what has become a very dangerous street. The city responded that we needed sewer and water done and then they would re-pave it.  

So we waited. At last, EBMUD began their work this summer and it may very well turn into a ten-week job. It’s been inconvenient, but both workers and residents have shown a gracious and generous patience, even though the road is closed to us all day long. One reason for that patience is that after living in a war zone with monstrous machines that have damaged cars and trees, we imagine living on a properly paved urban street. 

We became suspicious, however, when several EBMUD workers told various neighbors that the road would not be paved. A letter to the EBMUD superintendent confirmed that their only responsibility was to “restore” the road to how they found it. We couldn’t believe it. They have torn up the road and still have 37 separate connections to make with individual homes. After that, the road, at best, will be littered with patches and pot holes far worse than in the past. 

Then we learned that the city of Berkeley has no intention of paving the street after the work is completed. Instead, they expect EBMUD to patch up their work, and then, the city will tear apart the road all over again, and pave it in the spring of 2016. 

That’s when our patience ran out. If EBMUD just patches all these pot holes, pebbles and rubble, it will once again be a dangerous street for walkers and drivers. We understand that EBMUD is not responsible for re-paving the street. But the city is. And we do not want to wait until the spring of 2016 when the road will be closed again while they pave it. Think of the waste of money: EBMUD “restores” the street to its former decrepit state, and then city tears up the whole street again and paves. 

This street is truly a disgrace. Aside from injuries, many people fear walking on the road. One senior told me that she’s afraid to walk her dog. Students who use this as a short cut to the campus walk their bike because it’s too dangerous to ride on. Parents worry about their kids playing on a surface they can’t handle themselves. 

As one EBMUD worker said to me, “This is by far the worst street I’ve ever seen in Berkeley. It’s really dangerous for walkers and drivers. How come a bunch of white Berkeley hills folks can’t get their street paved? You folks should organize.” 

Fortunately, we are a relatively well- organized community that holds regular earthquake and fire drills and potlucks so that we know our neighbors. So we sent a petition to Susan Wengraf, our councilwoman, two city engineers, Adrian Merry and Sean Rose, and the Mayor. We asked that they changed their scheduling and pave the road when EBMUC has completed its work. 

If they refuse our request, it would be a colossal waste of money to patch the widespread damage EBMUD did to finish its work and then have the city tear the street apart again in two years. 

So far, we’ve not heard back from anyone, even though we’ve invited them to take a walk and see firsthand that they have a serious liability problem. Too many people have been injured, but none of us ever sued the city. Inevitably, that may change. 

La Vereda is not widely visible to most people in Berkeley, but it is used by a constant flow of cars, delivery and garbage trucks, cars and bicyclists and hikers. The city knows the condition of this street. Last year they said that they couldn’t even patch the street anymore because nothing will stick to the pebbles and rubble. 

Older residents tell newer neighbors that they have waited 40 years for the city to pave this crumbling road. Isn’t that long enough?  



Congresswoman Lee Reacts to U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq

Congresswoman Barbara Lee
Friday August 08, 2014 - 11:48:00 AM

I support strictly humanitarian efforts to prevent genocide in Iraq.

While the President has existing authority to protect American diplomatic personnel, I remain concerned about U.S. mission creep in Iraq and escalation into a larger conflict, which I oppose.

There is no military solution in Iraq. Any lasting solution must be political and respect the rights of all Iraqis.

I am pleased President Obama recognized this in his statement last night, when he said: ‘there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq. The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.’

I will continue to call for the President to seek congressional authorization before any combat operations. For too long, Congress has abdicated its Constitutional role in matters of war and peace. The President should come to Congress for authorization of any further military action in Iraq.


Tejinder Uberoi
Friday August 08, 2014 - 01:57:00 PM

CIA Director, John Brennan, apologized to the Senate Intelligence Committee after previously feigning outrage that such a ‘hollowed’ agency should be accused of illegally monitoring their computers. The explosive report reportedly documents extensive abuses and a massive cover-up by CIA officials. This is reminiscent of the bungling attempts of the Watergate plumbers. Only two weeks before John Brennan issued his weasel words of apology, the Obama Justice Dept. announced it would pass on investigating the allegations of CIA spying on Congress. Why? Doesn’t spying on Congress constitute high crimes?  

Has the separation of powers been mysteriously expunged from the US Constitution? According to AP reports the White House has already devised a series of talking points to further whitewash a torture report that's been watered down, redacted and edited into a sanitized version suitable for a Readers Digest condensed edition for the entire American family. Among the proofreaders was George Tenet, Bush torture architect and Medal of Freedom winner, still close to his former acolyte, Brennan, who was invited to all the cutting and pasting sessions.  

It’s a direct reflection on the Obama admintration that he should have nominated Brennan who has an extremely checkered past. It’s inexplicable that President Obama should express “great confidence” in Brennan’s leadership when he disgraced himself before Congress. The buck stops at the White House and he should reverse his decision and fire Brennan and James Clapper who also lied before Congress.

Civilian Deaths in Gaza

Lucymarie Ruth
Friday August 08, 2014 - 11:28:00 AM

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

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. 

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. 

Gaza: Human Rights Watch on International Law

Jagjit Singh
Friday August 08, 2014 - 11:27:00 AM

According to Human Rights Watch, the only option remaining for Palestinians is to seek International Criminal Court jurisdiction over potential war crimes committed on and from Palestinian territory. The former, U.N. special rapporteur, on human rights in the Palestinian territories and emeritus professor of international law at the University of Leiden, in the Netherlands, Dugard, concurs. “Given the fact that Gaza is an occupied territory, it means that Israel’s present assault is simply a way of enforcing the continuation of the occupation, "and the response of the Palestinian militants should be seen as the response of an occupied people that wishes to resist the occupation." After all early settlers in the ‘land of the free, home of the brave’ were accused of ‘terrorism’ - resisting the oppression of the British crown. Dugard sees an exact parallel between apartheid South Africa and Israel. Tragically we have been complicit in Israel’s crimes by supplying it with massive uninterrupted supply of weapons.  

When Obama said “enough” after the UN building was bombed, Israel stopped its assault. How many lives could have been saved had Obama shouted “enough” sooner? According to HRW, eyewitnesses reported the Israel military shot and killed fleeing civilians – yet another blatant war crime. Israeli ambassador’s claim that Israel “deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for its extraordinary restraint” is an abomination. 


New: ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Dealing with Symptoms with Meditation and Medication

Jack Bragen
Friday August 15, 2014 - 03:43:00 PM

It is 7:30 in the morning and my thoughts have started on a negative tangent. It occurred to me that I ought to stop what I'm doing, take a step back, and reset my thought processes.  

Buddhist-type practices probably were never intended to combat schizophrenia and other disorders. However, I find that mindfulness techniques along with the standard treatment for mental illness are both valuable. Even an incomplete and possibly feeble attempt at meditation can help point me in a better direction. 

At the point of realizing that my mind is behaving errantly, I will try to fix it by sitting in a chair, looking at the inside of my consciousness, and pinpointing the exact thoughts that are getting to me, as well as what part of my body holds the discomfort.  

Some of the time, if I forget for a few hours to take medication, I am reminded to do so by the symptoms and emotional ache that will inevitably arise.  

I have learned usually not to be guided by the 'crazy' part of my mind. My perspective is partly outside the level on which my mind is subject to delusions.  

Meditation isn’t a substitute for treatment; going off medication would lead to a completely psychotic state of mind. (This psychosis is very severe because the brain has become used to being medicated.) This would also wipe out most of the progress that was made when meditating.  

If I were then fortunate enough to be reinstated on medication (rather than the disastrous alternatives to that) then I would have to start at square one; I would need to relearn meditation and clarity of thought from the very beginning. A psychotic episode can wipe out years of progress.  

Progress toward feeling better is built upon a foundation of being medicated.  

Merely taking medication without also being able to meditate might be hellish for many persons with mental illness. I recommend reading books about meditation, experimenting with your own meditation methods, and eventually establishing meditation as a legitimate route for relief from mental and physical pain. Doing this can provide hope and may possibly prevent addiction to illicit drugs and alcohol.  

This is not to say that while medicated and with knowledge of meditation, I don't make errors—I do. However, I have the ability to reflect and to ultimately put myself on what I believe is my correct path.  

If there is a typical life of a meditation practitioner, doubtless I wouldn't fit the criteria. Mornings are spent drinking coffee, taking medication and spacing out.  

At some point, I will either write something if I feel well enough to do so, or I might practice meditation if I am anguished and if at that time I possess the faculty necessary to meditate.  

I am fortunate that I receive Social Security which makes it possible for me to survive without working at a “real job.” Trying to fit into a job situation at this point would be an extreme hardship for me. 

My faculties can't be taken for granted. I have a tendency to fall into a fairly unconscious mode in which I am unaware that I am unaware. If, at the same time, I experience agitation or some other difficult emotions, it is time to either take extra medication which has been prescribed as a “PRN.” The alternative is to spend an hour or so looking at thoughts and feelings. Despite a lot of meditation, I do not always control my mind.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: We Should be Considered a Minority

Jack Bragen
Friday August 08, 2014 - 11:10:00 AM

The maltreatment experienced by persons with mental illness is not on the same scale of severity that African American people experienced several decades ago in which there was extreme violence perpetrated upon them. (We yet have a long way to go to alleviate the discrimination, wrongful conviction and violence directed at nonwhite individuals.) 

Yet, the maltreatment of persons with mental illness is real—it is not a figment of our psychotic imagination. Part of this is that we are essentially a segregated population. Some of this occurs through wrongful imprisonment. Some occurs by means of being supervised by the mental health treatment system. 

Some of the maltreatment is brought forth by attitudes of people in mainstream society who are intolerant of someone different. It remains socially acceptable to regard persons with mental illness with disdain and ridicule. 

We are considered to be a lower form of life by most people. The stereotype of a person in treatment for mental illness is that of a person either rocking back and forth on a bench while smoking a cigarette, or involuntarily twisting their face while boarding a bus. We are considered a bunch of "sick people." 

Some of the mistreatment perpetrated upon persons with mental illness is economic. It is much harder for us to get hired at a decent or any job. Banks set up predatory lending which victimizes unwary individuals--and a number of them are mentally ill people. Although gainful employment is sometimes an unlikelihood, the government doesn't provide a decent amount of money for us to live on. 

Persons with mental illness are presumed stupid, which is the same lie that was once directed toward African American people. 

Persons with mental illness experience being physically tied up in the name of "treatment." We are forced to ingest mind-altering drugs. In some instances, we are forced to have our brains zapped with electrical current. 

The segregation and discrimination we experience have some level of subtlety but are nonetheless genuine. Outpatient segregation means living in an unlocked facility designated for persons with mental illness. And without transportation or money, we are stuck in such a facility unless a family member decides to take us to a coffee shop. 

You may not realize it, but many persons with mental illness have jobs, drive automobiles, go out on dates, and do all of the "normal" activities that you, the reader, do. Not all persons with mental illness are stuck in a psychological childhood, and not all of us are disabled even though we may have a condition that requires treatment. 

Persons with psychiatric disabilities have some ability to "hide" our status of being in the mentally ill minority. If we are at a supermarket, we are often treated the same as anyone. 

On the other hand, we are often subject to being recognized as a "client" by people at such a supermarket who work in the mental health treatment system. Our disability may also be apparent to some, since we may not be as well dressed or groomed as most, and we may have differences in our mannerisms due to being on heavy medication. 

Thus, in some instances, I am treated disrespectfully at random and for no apparent reason while I am out in public. 

Persons with psychiatric disabilities are subject to violent attack perpetrated by criminals. Criminals see mentally ill people as easy victims since the medication slows our reflexes and makes it harder for us to defend ourselves. Furthermore, drug dealers may believe a mentally ill person is a likely customer for the stuff they sell. 

To summarize, persons with mental illness are unfairly victims of bad treatment. I believe we should be given minority status, which in some cases already exists through the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, the ADA is often easy for corporations to maneuver past, and we do not have the same status as other minorities in terms of civil rights or in terms of what actually gets enforced. Legally, we are actually a subverted group, since laws are now on the books to streamline the process of being locked in a hospital, and having medication forced upon us. 

One day, there will be recognition, by mainstream society, of someone’s ignorance and bigotry, when they say something derogatory or insulting about persons with mental illness. It will be easier for us to get jobs, and we will be in on some of the good things that life has to offer that we are currently denied.

SENIOR POWER: the long goodbye

Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Friday August 08, 2014 - 11:06:00 AM

Francisco Mártinez Roca aka Paco Roca is a strip cartoonist, born in 1969 in Valencia, Spain. Experienced with graphic novels and advertising illustrations, he is most known for comic books like his graphic novel, Wrinkles. (In Spanish, arrugas. Unrelated to the 1978 novel of the same title by Charles Simmons.) 

Paco Roca’s Wrinkles was adapted to motion picture format in 2011 by Ignacio Ferreras and produced by Perro Verde Films. It recently opened in Manhattan. A review by Jeannette Catsoulis, titled "A Toon's (animated film) View of Aging,” appeared in the July 4, 2014 New York Times. She writes, “Whether you find ‘Wrinkles’ an animated look at creeping inanimation, amusing or terrifying will depend almost entirely on which side of 50 you are currently parked. Even the youngest viewer, however, will sense the tragedy coming off this film in waves: It takes more than cartoon characters to buffer the horror of human decline.” Whew! 

Other reviewers differed strongly. When the film premiered at the San Sebastián International Film Festival, Neil Young of The Hollywood Reporter called it "a genuine crowd pleaser deserving of the widest possible exposure" and "one of the most accomplished Spanish films, from any genre, of recent years… Wrinkles takes a commendably unsentimental and nuanced approach to a complex subject, one that avoids melodramatic situations and simplistic characterizations while adhering to certain conventions of this particular sub-genre. ... There's no shortage of genuine poignancy here and though Nani Garcia's score largely hits conventional, predictable beats, each tear is hard earned and never simply 'jerked.' Ferreras' animation style is realistic and direct with close attention paid to tiny specifics of decor, clothing and gesture." 

Wrinkles’ trailer is neither here nor there. “A cast of eccentric characters who rebel against authority in this wonderfully animated and poignant comedy for adults… Using hand-drawn animation, Wrinkles moves freely between the inmates’ daily routines and their more colorful, dementia-induced fantasies, leaving plenty of room for both tears and laughter as it pokes pointed fun at society’s attitude towards the elderly.” Comparing it to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in an old folks home” is unacceptable. 

The story is set in a retirement home and revolves around the friendship between two elderly men, one of whom is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. In the English-language version, Emilio (Martin Sheen’s voice), a former bank manager whose son has placed him in a nursing home, meets Miguel, a wily operator big time with tips for navigating institutional life — especially avoiding the advanced dementia patients’ floor. 

The animation allows one to see through the resident’s eye. That woman sitting by the window all day might be suffering from the long goodbye of Alzheimer’s, but she’s actually on the Orient Express, heading for a new life in Istanbul. 


A review of accessible, related July 2014 literature: 

"At Drexel, testing a new approach to Alzheimer's," by Stacey Burling (Philadelphia Inquirer, July 17, 2014). 

"Roche Reports Mixed Results in Trial of an Alzheimers Drug," by Andrew Pollack (New York Times, July 17, 2014).  

"Roche Alzheimer's drug fails main goals in mid-stage study," by Caroline Copley (Reuters, July 16, 2014). 

"New Culprit Protein Linked to Cognitive Decline, Alzheimer's," by Susan Jeffrey (Medscape Medical News, Jul. 25, 2014).  

"One in three Alzheimer's cases preventable, says research," (British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC] News, July 13, 2014). 

"Sleep disorders may raise risk of Alzheimers, new research shows," by Fredrick Kunkle (Washington Post, July 14, 2014).  

"Smell and eye tests show potential to detect Alzheimer's early," (Eurekalert [American Association for the Advancement of Science], July 13, 2014). 

"Study of noninvasive retinal imaging device presented at Alzheimer's conference," (Eurekalert [American Association for the Advancement of Science], July 13, 2014). 

"Singing familiar songs may help prompt Alzheimers patients to speak," by Kathryn Doyle (Reuters Health, July 11, 2014). 

"Alzheimers disease: simplified diagnosis, with more reliable criteria" (sciencedaily.com, July 7, 2014). 

"Compounded outcomes associated with comorbid Alzheimer's disease & cerebrovascular disease" (Eurekalert [American Association for the Advancement of Science], July 3, 2014). 

"ADSCs (adipose-derived stem cells) transplantation promotes neurogenesis in Alzheimer's disease" (Eurekalert [American Association for the Advancement of Science], July 10, 2014). 

"Plasma Panel Linked to Progression From MCI to Alzheimer's," by Nancy Melville (Medscape Medical News, July 29, 2014).  

"'Alive Inside' illustrates music's joyous power for dementia patients," by Susan King (Los Angeles Times, July 31, 2014).  

"Alzheimer's documentary 'Alive Inside' pushes for music therapy," by Eric Kelsey (Reuters, August 1, 2014). 

"(California Supreme) Court says paid caregivers can't sue if injured by Alzheimer patients," by Maura Dolan (Los Angeles Times, August 5, 2014). 


Is there a censorial attitude towards the aged, especially in the comics? Paco Roca contends that he made nothing up, that his Wrinkles story came from research, not fabrication. Starting in the late 1940s, the national syndicates distributing newspaper comic strips imposed strict censorship. Scripps-Howard pulled Li'l Abner from papers. Time reported that the controversy centered on Al Capp's (1909-1979) portrayal of the U.S. Senate. "We don't think it is good editing or sound citizenship to picture the Senate as an assemblage of freaks and crooks... boobs and undesirables." (Edward Leech of Scripps) 

Perhaps because comics have been considered mostly for children, they have a more rigid censorship code than other media. In general, they are not allowed to include such words as "damn", "sucks", "screwed" and "hell", although there have been exceptions. In the September 22, 2010 Mother Goose and Grimm, an elderly man says, "This nursing home food sucks." In Pearls Before Swine comics from January 11, 2011, a character uses the word "crappy". According to Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams (1957- ,) naked backsides and shooting guns cannot be shown. 

Such issues as sex, narcotics, and terrorism can rarely be openly discussed in strips, although there are exceptions, usually for satire, as in Guy Berkeley "Berke" Breathed (1957- )’s Bloom County adult reading strips. Some cartoonists resort to double entendre or dialogue children do not understand, as in Greg Evans' (1947- ) Luann series, cataloged in children’s library collections.  

Young cartoonists claim commonplace words, images, and issues should be permitted in the comics. Some of the taboo words and topics are regularly mentioned on television and in other visual media. Web comics and comics distributed primarily to college newspapers are much freer. 



The Campaign for America’s Future (at www.ourfuture.org) reports that the Social Security Administration is about to close dozens of field offices. The SSA contends that seniors will use their smart-phones or laptops if they need help! The SSA may consider this a money-saving idea, but it could be disaster for seniors with vision problems or arthritis or those who cannot afford a personal computer. Social Security is a great but often complex system. While many seniors are expert computer users, others will struggle. Still others will give up. Sign the petition demanding the SSA keep community field offices open. [https://takeaction.ourfuture.org/action/soc closures ]  

The Department of Justice’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act title III regulation in order to provide closed movie captioning and audio description to give persons with hearing and vision disabilities access to movies. It is published in the Federal Register and open for public comment until September 30, 2014. The Department is interested in the public's views on this NPRM, including answers to the many questions that are posed throughout the document. Submit comments, identified by CRT Docket No. 126 or RIN 1190-AA63, at www.regulations.gov. Or by U. S. mail to Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, POB 2885, Fairfax, VA 22031-0885. For more information about the NPRM, visit the Department's ADA website at www.ada.gov. A direct link to the www.regulations.gov page for submitting comments is being added to it. 

“Eva Bluestein, 90, Holocaust survivor, teacher, social activist, loving mother and grandmother, died peacefully in her home on June 12, 2014.” Community members are invited to a memorial for her to be held at 11 A.M. on Sunday August 17 at Congregation Beth El, 1301 Oxford St., in Berkeley.

Arts & Events

New: Yo-Yo Ma Plays Bach at The Greek Theater

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday August 15, 2014 - 03:46:00 PM

On Tuesday night, August 12, world-renowned artist Yo-Yo Ma played three of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello at The Greek Theater. Until this performance, I had resisted falling under the sway of Yo-Yo Ma. One of the reasons for this was his 1998 recording “Inspired by Bach,” in which Yo-Yo Ma improvised on isolated movements from Bach’s Cello Suites, giving them silly titles such as “Falling down stairs.” Why play fantasy versions of Bach, I asked myself, when there is Bach?  

Granted, Yo-Yo Ma had already demonstrated back in 1983 that he could very capably play – and record – Bach’s Cello Suites. But along with all Yo-Yo Ma’s other crossover ventures, “Inspired by Bach” turned me off big time. Moreover, the one recording I owned featuring Yo-Yo Ma, playing Samuel Barber’s Cello Concerto and Benjamin Britten’s Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, failed to convince me that Yo-Yo Ma was anything other than a technically sound cellist who habitually failed to infuse his playing with passionate feeling and deep intellectual inter-pretation of the music. For recordings of Bach’s Cello Suites, I returned again and again to Pablo Casals, the man responsible for renewing interest in these works, or to Mstislav Rostropovich, who recorded them in 1995 in the beautiful hilltop Basilica at Vézelay in the heart of Burgundy, or to Janos Starker, a much under-appreciated cellist and interpreter of Bach.  

At Tuesday night’s recital at The Greek Theater, however, Yo-Yo Ma won me over by sticking to Bach. And not only did he stick to Bach; he played Bach’s CelloSuites 1, 5, & 6 masterfully, with gorgeously burnished tone and committed musicianship. Bach wrote these six Cello Suites around 1720 during his six-year tenure as music director at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. In these same years, between 1717 and 1723, Bach also produced his “Brandenburg” Concertos, Suites for Orchestra, Violin Concertos, The Well-Tempered Claviar, and Sonatas and Partitas for Violin. In short, Bach composed much of his finest instrumental music at Cöthen 

Bach’s Cello Suites all begin with an elaborate Prélude followed by a fairly regular series of dance movements such as an Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue, with pairs of Menuets (Suites 1 & 2), Bourrées, (Suites 3 & 4) or Gavottes (Suites 5 & 6) intervening before the final Gigue. At Berkeley’s Greek Theatre, Yo-Yo Ma began the program with Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007. Right away, Yo-Yo Ma seemed determined to strike out an original vision of these famous suites. Eschewing the muscular approach, Ma played Suite 1’s opening phrases quite a bit more softly than usual, beginning almost diffidently, then building throughout the Prélude in flowing rhythmic patterns leading up to this movement’s majestically strong closing measures. Was this a valid approach? I had to say yes, though it was by no means the only – or preferable – approach. Then came a slow, expansive Allemande followed by a lively Courante, a dance movement often featuring music to jump by. In Yo-Yo Ma’s hands, one could hear and almost see the leaping dancers. Next came a stately Sarabande, followed by two Menuets played softly, and con-cluding with a lively Gigue. My overall impression was that this Suite No. 1 in G Major received a competent, stylistically individual interpretation by Yo-Yo Ma. Next on the program was Bach’s Suite No. 5 in C Minor, BMV 1011, considered the most austere and profound of the six Cello Suites. Yo-Yo Ma played the opening Prélude in melancholy fashion, then interpreted the Allemande as a stately, austere movement culminating in quite intense figures. Next, Bach’s Courante was played as a slow, hesitant movement totally devoid of leaping and jumping figures. By contrast, the ensuing Sarabande was extremely lively. Then the first of two Gavottes was slow and soft, and the second was extremely delicate. Here Bach surprises us by going against the grain of our expectations. In the Finale, a Gigue, Bach offers lively skipping rhythms, but then closes with an unexpectedly soft ending. Yo-Yo Ma handled all these surprising twists and turns consummately, offering a convincing interpretation of this austerely demanding Suite. 

After intermission, Yo-Yo Ma returned to perform Bach’s Suite No. 6 in D Major, BMV 1012. This work was originally written for a now obsolete cello with an added fifth, high E string. This Suite’s opening movement, a dynamic Prélude, re-quires extraordinary fingering by the cellist as he navigates extreme register shifts from the highest high notes to the deepest bass notes. Incidentally, it was in this movement that I especially appreciated The Greek Theatre’s live video screens offering close-up views revealing the incredibly intricate fingering required of the cellist in performing this opening Prélude of the D Major Suite. Yo-Yo Ma demon-strated his extraordinary technical prowess in mastering this challenge in virtuoso fashion, offering plaintive highs and plangent bass notes amid frequent cross-bowings.  

The following Allemande was played as a slow, infinitely poignant movement; and the ensuing Courante offered lively skipping and jumping rhythms. The Sarabande was played as a melodious, poignant movement, followed by two Gavottes, the first a vigorous and emphatic melody; the second a drone-like imitation of a French musette or bagpipe, culminating in the return of the first Gavotte’s vigorous main theme. The concluding Gigue rounded out this suite with a brilliant finish, bringing to a close this extraordinarily difficult D Major Suite. 

After acknowledging the audience’s tumultuous standing ovation, Yo-Yo Maplayed as encore what I believe was a Scottish air. At the conclusion of this recital, I left the Greek Theatre realizing that while Yo-Yo Ma may spread himself dangerously thin in his adventuresome crossover endeavors, he nevertheless has the chops -- not just the technical chops, which were never in doubt, but also the intellectual and emotional chops -- to play the most austerely demanding of composers, namely, Johann Sebastian Bach, in convincingly passionate and intellectually insightful interpretations. Was this a one night only affair? That remains to be seen. 

MUSIC REVIEW: The New Esterházy Quartet Plays Mozart’s “Haydn Quartets” at Berkeley’s Hillside Club

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday August 08, 2014 - 11:52:00 AM

Mozart’s string quartets, at least those from the early 1770s to the early 1780s, owe much of their inspiration to the string quartets of Joseph Haydn, whose Opus 17 quartets of 1771 and six Opus 20 “Sun Quartets” of 1772 were models for Mozart’s early string quartets written between 1771 and 1773. However, for nearly ten years between 1773 and 1782 Mozart wrote no further string quartets. It was the publication in 1781 of Haydn’s six Opus 33 quartets that spurred Mozart to take up again the composition of string quartets. Musicologist Alfred Einstein writes, “the impression made by these quartets of Haydn’s was one of the profoundest Mozart experienced in his artistic life.”  

Haydn himself noted that his Opus 33 quartets were “composed in an entirely new and special manner.” Especially, all four instruments now shared equally in the musical discourse of thematic development. Mozart studied these quartets avidly; and he quickly learned from them. Between 1782 and 1785, Mozart composed six string quartets which, when published in late 1785, bore a dedication to “my dearest friend, Joseph Haydn.” Earlier, in February 1785, Mozart presided over an evening in which at least some of these quartets were performed in the presence of both Haydn and Leopold Mozart. It was on this occasion that Haydn told Mozart’s father: “Before God and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name. He has taste, and, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition.” 

These six “Haydn Quartets” by Mozart were performed over three evenings, July 30, August 1 & 3, at Berkeley’s Hillside Club by The New Esterházy Quartet. This local group was formed in 2006 and took its name from the Esterházy estate in Hungary where Joseph Haydn lived and worked for nearly three decades. The New Esterházy Quartet is comprised of violinists Kati Kyme and Lisa Weiss, violist Anthony Martin, and cellist William Skeen, all of whom have wide experience performing here and abroad. 

Though I might have preferred that they perform Mozart‘s six “Haydn Quartets“ in chronological order, I’ll defer to their judgment and take up these quartets in the order in which they were performed by The New Esterházy Quartet. On Wednesday, July 30, Mozart’s Quartet No. 18 in A Major, K. 464, opened the series. Chronologically, this is the fifth or next-to-last of Mozart’s “Haydn Quartets.“ The key of A Major is almost always treated by Mozart in a sunny, warmly lyrical fashion; and that is the case here. After an opening Allegro movement, in which counterpoint intensifies Mozart’s economical themes, the following Menuetto and Trio offer yearning figures and a sense of melancholy despite the sunny key of A Major. The third movement, an Andante, receives extended treatment and offers some dissonance. For the final movement, an Allegro non troppo, Mozart offers an enigmatic opening that soon turns decept-ively simple, then becomes ever more complex, and finally leaves the listener in a slightly troubled, pensive mood. Beethoven was so impressed by this movement that he copied it out by hand. In the hands of The New Esterházy Quartet, this A Major Quartet was given an appropriately subtle interpretation. 

After intermission, Mozart’s Quartet No. 17 in B Flat Major, K. 458, was performed. Whereas Kati Kyme played first violin in the A Major Quartet, she now took second chair and Lise Weiss played first violin. This B Flat quartet, nicknamed “The Hunt“ after the 6/8 rhythm of its opening measures, features first movement themes that seem simple yet receive extended development that reaches a climax in a quite extended coda which unexpectedly turns solemn, then bursts suddenly into agitated counterpoint. (Mozart’s interest in counterpoint was developing in the early 1780s through the musical evenings he spent at the Viennese home of his patron Baron von Swieten, where he frequently heard music of Handel and Bach.) An ensuing Menuetto and Trio are liltingly melodious in mood. Then a brief Adagio in E Flat Major strikes an ominous tone, followed by a final Allegro assai that, in this performance, featured first violinist Lisa Weiss in lively melodic themes that brought to a close this opening concert of Mozart’s “Haydn Quartets“ played by The New Esterházy Quartet. 

On Friday, August 1, the second of three concerts devoted to Mozart’s “Haydn Quartets” featured The New Esterházy Quartet performing the first, Quartet No. 14 in G Major, K. 387, and the last, Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K. 465. In the former, it is already clear how much Mozart has learned from Haydn’s Opus 33 quartets about sharing the thematic discourse fairly evenly among all four instruments. In the opening movement, the viola assumes a far greater share than usual in stating – and working out – the principal themes, which are also developed by each instrument in turn. The result is a brilliant opening movement. Then comes a Menuetto where the cello takes the lead. The ensuing Andante cantabile movement opens with a slow ensemble statement of the themes, which are then shared among all four instruments, cul-minating in a moving dialogue between cello and violin. This work’s final movement, marked Molto allegro, begins with a fugue, then plays with the difference between ‘learned’ and ‘galant’ styles, only to take up a second fugal section combining lovely lilting melodies, and, finally, launches into a fugal finale worthy of Mozart’s last symphonic work, the 41st or so-called “Jupiter” Symphony. Further, in yet another subtle tribute to Haydn, this finale closes with a ‘surprise’ ending, comprised of softly played notes that follow a pause after what seems like a brilliant ending.  

In conversation with violist Anthony Martin during intermission, I remarked that some scholars consider the movement we had just heard, the finale of Mozart’s G Major Quartet, the most astounding instrumental movement Mozart ever composed. Martin replied that, for him, this amazing movement foreshadows not only Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony but also the remarkable music Mozart wrote for ever-broadening vocal ensembles in the finale scenes that bring to a close many first acts of his operas. With this observation I couldn’t agree more. 

The second half of this concert was devoted to Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K, 465, nick-named the “Dissonant.” This is perhaps a misnomer, for it refers only to the opening measures of this quartet, which have puzzled listeners for centuries. Here Mozart, writing in a sunny, radiant key of C Major, begins this quartet with a slow, dark, remarkably dissonant opening statement. Why does he do this? Does he wish to show the doubts and insecurities he faced in writing these string quartets? In his dedication to Haydn, Mozart mentions the “long and laborious endeavor” he undertook in writing these quartets. Moreover, study of Mozart’s autograph scores shows that he made many false starts and corrections in composing these works, thereby providing at least an exception to the notion that his music was already fully formed in his head when he sat down to scribble it on paper. 

In any case, after the disturbingly dissonant opening, the C Major Quartet asserts this key’s expected radiant optimism, which then pervades the rest of this work. There is once again sharing of thematic development among all four instruments, first, between cello and viola, then between cello and first violin. In the final movement, the sunny C Major key reigns triumphant as the music offers lively counterpoint for the finale. 

At 4:00 PM on Sunday, August 3, Berkeley’s Hillside Club hosted the third and final concert featuring The New Esterházy Quartet performing Mozart’s “Haydn Quartets.” The original Hillside Club, built in 1906 by Bernard Maybeck, burned down in the 1923 fire. But the current Hillside Club was rebuilt the next year by Maybeck’s partner and brother-in-law John White; and the exceptional acoustics of this intimate hall are perfect for chamber music. The New Esterházy Quartet thrives in this setting; and they bring an easygoing, approachable informality to their appearances here. (I was even able to tease them about their color-coordinated Hawaiian shirts and flowered print blouses on Sunday.)  

Leading off Sunday’s program was Mozart’s Quartet No. 15 in D Minor, K. 421. This work, composed in 1783, is, as Eric Blom notes, “the only mature example in one of the minor keys which Mozart used so sparingly, but nearly always with a force of significance rarely equaled by any of his works or movements in major tonalities.” Indeed, there is a somber, anxious quality that distinguishes this D Minor Quartet from its five companions. (Many years after Mozart’s death, his widow Constanze reported that Mozart wrote this quartet during her pregnancy with their first child, who died two months after birth.) 

The D Minor Quartet opens with the first violin playing an elegiac first subject, followed by a shapely second subject separated by an agitated transition. In the Andante, a rising broken-chord motif generates, in the middle section, two passionate outbursts. The Menuetto features chromatically descending bass figures, which Alfred Einstein terms “fatalistic.” The brief Trio offers the first violin playing a serene melody with pizzicato accompaniment. The final move-ment opens with ensemble statement of a theme that ultimately goes through four variations. This theme is a lilting siciliano, which is developed through curiously fitful gleams of inter-mittent major and minor, culminating in a dialogue between viola and first violin. Whatever may be the reason behind this quartet’s anxiety, it reveals a darker side of Mozart than the otherwise habitually gay mood he exhibits both in society and in most of his compositions.  

After intermission, violinists Kati Kyme and Lisa Weiss changed places, with Weiss occupying the first chair and Kyme the second. Incidentally, whereas the other members of The New Esterházy Quartet play authentic 18th century instruments, Lisa Weiss plays a contemporary violin modeled after an 18th century original. The resultant switch in tonality proved a bit disconcerting, for in the opening movement of Mozart’s Quartet No. 16 in E Flat, K. 428, Weiss’s tone sounded slightly shrill in the high notes. However, in the two slow movements, where the yearning chromaticisms have drawn comparison with Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, the ensemble playing of The New Esterházy Quartet smoothed over any sharpness of tone. The final movement, an Allegro molto, also featured superb ensemble playing that culminated in new counterpoint with an almost humorous touch at the end.  

All in all, I found it infinitely rewarding to hear all six of Mozart’s String Quartets dedicated to Haydn played in three concerts by such a talented group as The New Esterházy Quartet. We are indeed fortunate to have this chamber ensemble as residents in the Bay Area.

THEATER REVIEW: Central Works “Dracula’s Inquest” has a Second Act Worth Staying For

Reviewed by John A. McMullen II
Friday August 08, 2014 - 10:54:00 AM
Joshua Schell as Jonathan Harker
Jim Norrena
Joshua Schell as Jonathan Harker

DRACULA’S INQUEST by Gary Graves at Central Works through August 17 is a harrowing 50 minutes with astonishing acting—that’s the second act. If you go, and I do urge you to go, do not leave at intermission no matter how much you want to.  

It is set in an asylum where the stock characters of Dr. Seward, Jonathan Harker, Dr. Van Helsing, and Mina are being interrogated by Detective Sly to discover the truth of the murders of Harker’s employer, Lucy Westenra, and the disappearance of a titled foreign national from Transylvania. The Berkeley City Club’s Romanesque and Moorish architecture with an actual great hearth at one end of the playing space lends a better set than perhaps a designer could have devised. The curtains are overwrapped in another dirty, white tattered curtain that matches the madhouse dirty, white smocks of the inmates. They are as sooty as one would expect a Bedlamite to be. 

Gary Graves’ second act is a masterpiece of terror. Jan Zvaifler’s direction keeps up a head-snapping pace on the long stage and never lets the tension down—and sustaining tension for an hour is a heroic task. Graves’ rhythms and their changes assist that task. 

Award-winning sound designer Gregory Scharfpen’s accompaniment of sounds are jolting and integrated, not those of a haunted house, but matched and timed according to the moment, and the play would be much less without his audio imagination. That all the actors have spot-on dialects, at least to my ear, also aids the audial experience. 

Megan Trout gives a stunning performance. Her lovely natural blonde Anglo-Saxon features have a trace of the vampiric in them. She contorts her body in the way that special effects need to do in the cinema. She moves from English Rose to frightening monster in a trice. Her subtlety in her business while not in focus is compelling and supportive—feeling her new fangs, taking dictation as the others speak (she was a stenographer before her incarceration), and always fully playing the implications of her character and situation. She is an award-winning actress, who, if anyone ever deserved an award, does for this performance. 

Joe Estlack (who paired with Ms. Trout in Shotgun’s “Bonnie and Clyde” last season) plays Van Helsing with a controlled yet desperate energy and the presence of great actor.  

Movie-star good-looking Joshua Schell plays Jonathan Harker, who, with his extended explanation of what mysterious, horrific violence occurred in the Carpathian mountains, brings the writings of Stoker-via-Graves into clear and terrible imagery in our mind’s eye. In the Greek plays, they never showed violence onstage but rather had a messenger come in and describe it—and I can’t imagine that this 2,500 year tradition has been done better. He has his turn in the latter half of the first act, yet his performance loses impact since the extended monologue requires close audience attention which by then is exhausted. 

Now let’s talk about the first act. I saw Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula.’” I read the book. This was a tedious retelling of a story that I [would] venture most of us already know. Regrettably, John Flanagan* as Detective Sly is directed to be anything but; he is a “Lestrade” knock-off, an incredulous, dense Cockney with an attitude, who badgers the poor Dr. Seward—who is in a straight jacket--and sneers at his stories. And those are the only intentions he is allowed to enact. How much more interesting if he were a “sly,” intelligent and competent detective with a passion to reveal the truth and make the suspects admit their crime—not by beleaguering them, but with subtlety, as we see so often on the in all those British detective episodes. 

For half the first act, Kenny Tol is under the same constraint. As Dr. Seward, he pleads for understanding in a tremulous voice with intermittent bouts of transcendent insanity a la the character Renfield (as in “the master is coming!”) who is, ironically, absent from this madhouse menagerie. 

The first act is static in its staging and played in a declamatory fashion of old. It would be so much more interesting if it were more subtle and realistic to lay the groundwork for the masterful second act. 

The title threw me. It’s really not an “inquest.” It is an “enquiry.” The Oxford Dictionary defines inquest as, “An inquiry by a coroner’s court into the cause of a death,”* and an enquiry as “the act of asking questions or collecting information about somebody/something,”** The definition also provides the spot-on example of, “The police are following several lines of enquiry.” These are the British usages, it occurs in England, and thus my quibble. 

Why they didn’t play this in October baffles me. But the latter half is a tour-de-force of this theatre season that you should not miss, it is the 44th original premiere of this treasured Berkeley theatre company, and it plays through August 17

Central Works 

The Berkeley City Club 

2315 Durant, Berkeley 

(510) 558-1381 


* http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/ 

** http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/