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Two Fires in One Night at Downtown Berkeley Restaurant

Brett Johnson/Jamey Padojino (BCN)
Friday November 27, 2015 - 04:52:00 PM

Firefighters responded to two fires at a restaurant within a six-hour span early this morning near the University of California at Berkeley, a fire official said. 

Crews responded to a report of a fire at Mandarin Garden Restaurant at 2025 Shattuck Ave. between University Avenue and Addison Street shortly after midnight, acting deputy fire chief Donna McCracken said. 

The one-alarm fire was found in a kitchen and extinguished, McCracken said. 

Crews cleared the scene around 3 a.m., but returned about two-and-a-half hours later to a report of another fire at the same location and quickly called for a second-alarm response, according to McCracken. 

Firefighters had to spray down water on the fire from outside the restaurant due to heavy flames and were able to extinguish a bulk of the blaze, she said. 

As of about 8:30 a.m., firefighters were still looking for hot spots and did not declare the fire under control, according to McCracken. 

A family that lives in the same building housing the restaurant had evacuated the structure during the first fire and remained outside when the second blaze occurred, she said.  

Occupants of two neighboring apartment buildings were evacuated from the units and are temporarily taking shelter at a hall at the UC Berkeley campus, McCracken said. 

The apartment buildings didn't sustain damage from the fire, but firefighters had to force entry into a commercial space near the restaurant to check for any fire extension, she said. 

It's not clear if the second fire started in the restaurant's kitchen and or if there's a connection between both blazes, McCracken said. 

The restaurant sustained severe damage and the roof partially collapsed, she said. 

No injuries were reported. 

The cause of both fires is under investigation.

Family Shot on I-80 Near Ashby and University Exits

Sara Gaiser/Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday November 25, 2015 - 11:14:00 PM

A family of three that was shot at while driving on Interstate Highway 80 in Berkeley Tuesday night did not realize what had happened until police found a bullet in their car, a Berkeley police spokesman said today. 

The family of three, which included a woman in her 60s, a woman in her 30s and a child, were driving east on I-80 between Ashby and University avenues when gunfire shattered their vehicle's window, according to police. 

"They actually thought they had gotten into a traffic collision, and they pulled over and called for help," Berkeley Police Officer Byron White said today. 

It was only when police arrived on scene that they found the bullet and realized what had actually occurred, White said. 

The woman in her 30s was injured by the glass and taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries not considered life-threatening.  

Berkeley police are investigating the incident along with the California Highway Patrol. 

White said the family is not aware of any traffic collision or confrontation prior to the shooting, and police do not have any suspect information at this time.  

The incident was the third shooting on the same East Bay highway this month. On Nov. 10, 25-year-old Athonio Ragland was shot and killed while driving an Audi on I-80 in Pinole. A female passenger was also injured in the shooting. 

On Nov. 2, a man was found suffering gunshot wounds in a Hyundai Elantra on an I-80 shoulder in San Pablo. 

CHP investigators are looking into the possibility that the prior two shootings on the highway are related, but Officer Daniel Hill today said that his office is not investigating any link between those shootings and last night's incident in Berkeley.  

White said it was "too soon to say" whether last night's shooting was related to any other incidents.  

Anyone with information about Monday night's shooting has been asked to contact the Berkeley police homicide unit at (510) 981-5741. 

New: Protesters To Sue Berkeley Police over December Protest

Scott Morris (BCN)
Monday November 23, 2015 - 08:13:00 PM

Eleven protesters and journalists who were injured during police brutality demonstrations in Berkeley late last year announced this morning that they will file a federal civil rights lawsuit for injuries suffered during the aggressive police response. 

They allege that officers clubbed and shot tear gas at non-violent protest attendees, who in some cases were trying to stop vandalism and violence by other protesters and in two cases were photographing the event as journalists.  

The Dec. 6 demonstrations were the first in Berkeley during a wave of protests throughout the Bay Area and the nation reacting to police killings of unarmed black men, particularly in New York and Missouri. The protests were some of the largest in Berkeley in decades. 

Similar marches had already happened in Oakland and San Francisco, but Berkeley's drew nationwide attention when it erupted in smashed windows, fighting between protesters and police, and use of tear gas on large crowds. 

The protesters are represented by the National Lawyers Guild, which provides free legal observers and representation for protests, along with veteran civil rights attorney Jim Chanin, who earlier this year accused Berkeley police of racial profiling in traffic stops and searches. 

Rachel Lederman, president of the NLG's San Francisco Bay Area chapter, said today that people in her office were surprised when after protests in numerous Bay Area cities, "the Police Department about which we received the most complaints and most shocking reports was Berkeley." 

Among the peaceful protesters injured during the demonstration was 55-year-old Moni Law, a mother, attorney and rent board counselor. Law said today that she joined the protest near the University of California campus and followed it to the police building at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Addison Street. 

"I stood, I marched, I sang, and it was a beautiful night," until the protesters were confronted by a line of police officers outside the department's headquarters, Law said. 

She got in front of the crowd and tried to keep distance between them and the police, turning to face the crowd of demonstrators. But as she stood with her back to the police, one officer broke formation and clubbed her in the back with his baton, she said. 

During the confrontation, another protester and plaintiff in the lawsuit, 62-year-old Joseph Cuff, was hit with a baton and knocked to the ground, according to the complaint. 

A freelance photographer on assignment with the San Francisco Chronicle, Sam Wolson, was pushed with a baton as he was walking along a police line. As he knelt to take a photo, an officer hit him the back of the head, knocking him to the ground. 

A lengthy report on the demonstration by Berkeley police said the officers were on alert because they had seen several demonstrators put on masks as they approached the police building. They said demonstrators who were clubbed were warned to move and acknowledged that a few reporters were hit with batons during this time. 

"Although reports of crowd members masking up had officers justifiably on alert, and violent protesters later demonstrated they were armed with projectiles and ready for conflict, the skirmish line may have exacerbated the situation because the crowd had been peaceful up to this point," police wrote in the report. 

The demonstrators were then allowed to move north on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. When they reached University Avenue, some demonstrators smashed the windows of the Trader Joe's store there and threw merchandise into the street. Police said during that time, sandbags, pipes, bricks and sideview mirrors were hurled at the officers. When police used smoke grenades on the crowd, some demonstrators threw them back. 

But the suing protesters claim police simply watched the destruction to the Trader Joe's and targeted people who were actively trying to keep the crowd peaceful, including 21-year-old UC Berkeley student Nisa Dang, who said she was struck with a baton in the back of her head and in her ribs. 

Law, in pain and trying to walk home, found Dang crying and complaining she had just been clubbed, according to the compliant. As they were standing together, officers threw smoke grenades at their feet, Law said today. 

The protests continued for hours. Later that night, a group of demonstrators tried to march onto Interstate Highway 80 near the University Avenue off-ramp. 

Plaintiff Curtis Johnson, a 30-year-old Los Angeles resident, was diverted off the highway there and joined the demonstration nearby where, unprovoked, he was hit in the right knee by less-lethal munitions fired by Hayward police officers, according to the complaint. He was left unable to walk and in extreme pain. 

Seminary student 30-year-old Cindy Pincus said today that she had to get staples in the back of her head after she was clubbed while stooping to help another protester at about 10 p.m., when a crowd ran from the area of Telegraph and Durant avenues, fleeing a cloud of tear gas. 

The plaintiffs contend that eventually Berkeley police forced the protesters into Oakland, tear gassing them repeatedly until they walked to the border, despite some trying to disperse and go home. They were finally pushed into Oakland at about 1:30 a.m., according to the complaint. 

According to police briefing materials provided by the plaintiffs' attorneys, officers were instructed to collect evidence such as projectiles thrown at police to be used as evidence in court and to provide to media. But Chanin pointed out that the department has yet to institute a body camera policy, so much of the police action was unrecorded by the department. 

"Every rock and bottle was photographed but the police conduct was not," he said. 

While much of the department's briefing material focuses on swiftly arresting violent agitators, one note instructs officers to "Get'um running! Stretch the crowd out so they are not a mass, but individuals." 

The department's summary report posted online acknowledged that many officers were confused, radio communication was bogged down by too much traffic, insufficient efforts were made to communicate with organizers prior to the event and officers were deployed in such a way that may have provoked the crowd. 

"The commanders and officers attempted to do their best to stem the violence and lawlessness that arose during the protests and were not fully satisfied with the outcome," the report stated. 

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of work, damage to career and punitive damages. City and police officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Free Admission to Redwood Parks on the Day after Thanksgiving

Keith Burbank (BCN)
Thursday November 19, 2015 - 08:16:00 PM

A group advocating for the protection of coast redwood trees in California and the state Department of Parks and Recreation are partnering to provide free admission on the day after Thanksgiving to 49 redwood state parks, some of which are in the Bay Area, the group's spokeswoman said. 

Save the Redwoods League will pay the $8 to $10 cost for any vehicle to enter any of 49 redwood state parks in California, league spokeswoman Jennifer Benito-Kowalski said. 

The event is meant to encourage people to enjoy the outdoors, Benito-Kowalski said. 

Outdoor company REI's decision to be closed on the day after Thanksgiving inspired league officials to offer free admission to see the redwoods the group has been working to protect since 1917. 

The day after Thanksgiving is commonly known as Black Friday, a major shopping day, and is on Nov. 27 this year. 

"It's really breathtaking to walk through these parks," state park spokeswoman Gloria Sandoval said. 

People can visit several redwood state parks close to the Bay Area, such as Mount Tamalpais State Park in Marin County and Jack London State Historic Park in Sonoma County, league officials said. 

In the Monterey Bay area, people can also visit parks such as Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park or Big Basin Redwoods State Park, league officials said. 

California is home to the tallest Redwood tree in the world, league spokeswoman Nancy Crowley said. 

The tree is named Hyperion and was discovered in 2006, Crowley said. It is 379.1 feet tall and located in a place known only to a handful of people because visitors would upset the ecosystem around the tree, she said. 

The free admission is only to the 49 state parks with redwoods, Benito-Kowalski said. Visitors to national parks, such as Muir Woods National Monument, on Black Friday will have to pay for admission, she said. 

To gain entry to any of the 49 parks, visitors must download and print a Free Redwood State Parks Day-Use Pass at SaveTheRedwoods.org/freefriday, Crowley said.  

Visitors must present the pass to a state parks staff member at the park's entry gate or visitors must put the pass on the dashboard of the vehicle they are traveling in to gain entry to the park for day-use only, league officials said. 

Day-use is usually from 8 a.m. to sunset, according to league officials.

Press Release: Marathon Takes Berkeley for a Ride

From Jessie Yarrow
Sunday November 22, 2015 - 10:03:00 AM

On Sunday, November 22, 2015, more than 7,000 runners will participate in the Berkeley Half Marathon, a 13.1-mile loop that takes racers past iconic Berkeley landmarks including Telegraph Avenue, the Sather Tower on the UC Berkeley campus and the Gourmet Ghetto. The race starts and finishes at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. Runners will pass through Telegraph Avenue, the UC Berkeley Campus and alongside the Bay Trail waterfront. The Berkeley Half Marathon raises funds for Berkeley youth through its official charity partner – the Berkeley Public Schools Fund.
Roadways will be affected. Below is information about road closure and detours. A detailed list of street closures is available on http://berkeleyhalf.com/race-day-traffic-advisory/ 



  • Eastbound Hwy 80 off ramp to Eastbound University Ave will be closed 6:00am to 12:00pm.
  • Westbound Hwy 80 off ramp to University Ave will be closed 6:00am to 12:00pm.
  • Use Gilman or Ashby exits from Hwy 80
  • Off ramps from Hwy 80/Ashby Ave. to Frontage Rd. will be closed 6:00am to 12:00pm.
Major Streets 

  • Intermittent north/south traffic on Shattuck at Channing will be allowed during the hours of 8:00am to 9:30am. Please allow extra travel time through this area.
  • Intermittent east/west traffic across Shattuck on Hearst will be allowed during the hours of 8:00am to 9:30am. Please allow extra travel time through this area.
  • Intermittent north/south traffic across Page and Jones on San Pablo, and Bancroft and Channing on San Pablo will be allowed during the hours of 8:00am to 12:00pm. Please allow extra travel time through this area.
  • Intermittent north/south traffic across Bancroft and Channing on Sacramento will be allowed during the hours of 8:00am to 12:00pm. Please allow extra travel time through this area.

About the Berkeley Half Marathon 

The third annual Berkeley Half Marathon will take place on Sunday, November 22, 2015. The Berkeley Half Marathon is organized by San Francisco-based company Jumping Fences, Inc., producer of a variety of local running events in the Bay Area, including The San Francisco Marathon. The Berkeley Half Marathon showcases the best and most representative locations in the city - beginning in Civic Center Park, going up Telegraph Avenue before entering the beautiful UC Berkeley Campus. After weaving through the historic lecture halls and iconic landmarks like Sather Tower, the course takes a turn on Shattuck, through the Gourmet Ghetto and into the tree covered streets of North Berkeley. Runners then take a tour of the east portion of the city, running through the hip 4th Street neighborhood and then getting a good look at the Bay as they run down the Bay Trail. Runners will then make their way back up to Civic Center Park where they will cross the finish line and enjoy the Finish Line Festival. For more information visit www.berkeleyhalf.com.  



Updated: Berkeley Launches New Witch Hunt

Becky O'Malley
Thursday November 19, 2015 - 07:54:00 AM

UPDATE: This piece appeared last Thursday. On last Sunday my Chronicle had a big scary front page article, another one of those single source stories which the Chron seems to be specializing in lately, which gave the impression that Ohlone Park was still full of homeless people. It appeared that reporter Rachel Swan had talked only to Councilmember Linda Maio, not to any homeless people or even their advocates. It was accompanied by great big photos of homeless people in Ohlone Park taken by Michael Macor. Since I was pretty sure that by the previous Wednesday the park had already been cleared, I emailed Macor asking when the picture had been taken. His answer: Tuesday. Q.E.D. Get your stone cold news from your Sunday Chronicle!

What’s going on here, anyhow? On Tuesday night I witnessed a performance by the majority of members of the Berkeley City Council which seemed so irrational, so devoid of logic, that I’ve spent the better part of the last two days trying to figure out what they thought they were doing.

In the first place, there was a lot of hand-wringing by councilmembers over the dire state of affairs in Ohlone Park, the strip which runs along Cedar from Martin Luther King to Sacramento that was left over from undergrounding BART. A couple of people who described themselves as parents from the Ohlone neighborhood recited cautionary tales of their kids’ encounters with possibly deranged street people, not clear where, but seemingly in the park. Unpleasant experiences with human excrement and/or needles were mentioned. Not good, I get that.

A much larger number of people either self-identified as homeless or as providers of service to the homeless or simply as compassionate advocates for the homeless offered ideas for solutions for some of these problems. They generally opposed a set of proposals in Council Agenda Item #28 as criminalization of homelessness, and suggested that passing these could lead to, among other things, loss of federal funds for housing. They pointed out that the more extreme bad behaviors cited were already illegal, and asked why new laws were necessary. 

For a good report of the meeting, see Tom Lochner’s story in the Bay Area News Group’s papers, and Frances Dinkelspiel on berkeleyside.com isn’t bad either. 

I knew that the Berkeley police and the Ambassadors (amateur enforcers hired by the Business Improvement Districts which now run downtown Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue) have been chasing out the homeless and transient inhabitants who used to sleep in doorways there. I’d seen that Willard Park had become the new refuge for many of those displaced, so I wasn’t surprised to hear that some of them had also ended up at Ohlone Park. It had been a good while since I’d been to Ohlone Park, and the activities described seemed so shocking that I thought I needed to see them for myself. 

Yesterday my partner and I made a quick tour of Ohlone about two o’clock in the afternoon. We saw people tossing balls around, kids on play structures, dog walkers both inside and outside of the big dog park area, a small community garden (though no gardeners present) and bicylists riding across on pedestrian paths (is that legal?). But we saw no campers or campsites clean or dirty, no visible trash on the ground, no needles in the grass, no panhandling, no sleeping bags or blankets—in all, zero evidence of the anti-social activity that had been described on Tuesday night. 

What was going on here? To be sure, we went back at about ten last night in a car, drove completely around the periphery of the park, shone headlights into the park from all the barriered streets that protect its north side, and still there was no one to be seen, except a couple of obviously unworried dog walkers and bicyclists. 

So I called around to figure it out. What I learned, from attorneys and others who knew what had happened, is that a couple of days after Councilmember Linda Maio (who lives very close to the park herself) hosted a meeting to discuss the park problems, Berkeley police and others had completely flushed out whatever undesired people, dogs and appurtenances were there. 

Which proved, for those who are not logic-challenged, that (a) there are already enough laws on the books to deal with the problems identified and (b) Berkeley police can and did enforce such laws. Of course, there’s also Interpretation (c), which is that what the authorities did was illegal, but my attorney friend might have challenged their actions if he’d thought so. 

What we actually have here in Berkeley right now, it appears, is the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party theory of homelessness management. If you’ve forgotten your Alice in Wonderland, what happened at that silly event is that when the Hatter hollered “clean cup”, everyone had to get up and move to a new place at the table. 

We have here in Berkeley a certain number of inhabitants who for various reasons are doing what the British call “sleeping rough”, a small percentage of them deliberately misbehaving. Rather than addressing and eliminating the causes of any undesirable behavior they exhibit, we just move them to a new site when a well-placed organization or official hollers. The hypocrisy of the majority of Berkeley’s councilmembers, each and every one of whom believes him-or-herself to be progressive or at least liberal, is breathtaking. Surely they must know that simply shuffling homeless people around the city will not make the problems disappear. 

Take, for example, the reported problems with human waste. 

Humans, almost all of them on this earth regardless of culture, really don’t like to defecate in public—they virtually never choose to do that if they have a choice, no matter how antisocial they might be. But if they can’t get to a toilet in time, sooner or later they’ll have to go somewhere. 

Anyone up there on the council’s dais with their city-paid laptops know how to Google? It’s already illegal to defecate in public places under state law.  

The Berkeley City Council majority voted on Tuesday to make urination and defecation in public places also illegal by city ordinance, but you know what: Without enough public bathrooms people living outside will still need to go, and eventually they will, law or no law. 

In the current Harper’s there’s an account of how a working class town in France whose government consists of current or former Communists and Socialists rousted a settlement established by Europe’s centuries-old migrants, the Roma (formerly known here as Gypsies). Author Justin E.H. Smith suggests that “ this, perhaps, is what remains of Communism in La Courneuve: the idea that communities do not grow, they are built, and not from the small spontaneous acts of individuals, of families and friends, but from the top down, from large decisions made by those in positions of power.” 

Thursday morning I got an email saying that about a dozen people had camped out on the terrace in front of the Maudelle Shirek Old City Hall Building. I stopped by to see what was going on, and talked to a nice guy named Henry who said he’d been living on the streets for about nine years. He said he’d love to have inside housing if anyone could help him get it. He suggested that he’d love to be sleeping inside the Maudelle Shirek Building, appropriately renamed for Berkeley’s legendary progressive councilwoman. 

It does seem that this spacious building would be an ideal place to adapt as a decent indoor home for many of Berkeley’s homeless residents. It might even be a catalyst for halting the demolition by neglect that the current administration has allowed for this civic treasure, whose elegant Beaux Arts façade adds a lot of grace to Berkeley’s historic city center. But it’s likely that such a practical suggestion would be met with horror by Berkeley’s timid council mothers and fathers, who prefer top down decisions made by those in positions of power. 

Why should this be true? It is perhaps in the nature of humans to be fearful, and to act on fears rather than on facts. 

Mayor Bates once confessed that encountering a Street Spirit vendor near the Berkeley Bowl made him uncomfortable, and he’s an ex-football player. It’s not surprising that other residents cringe when they meet street people who are not even as pleasant as the carefully curated newspaper sellers. 

But a very large percentage of such fears are based on anecdotes about infrequent occurrences, not on data about how often those sleeping outside actually harm anyone else. The council’s discussion on Tuesday was devoid of data, no real information, to the point that there was no mention of the fact that Ohlone Park had already been cleared of the offending humans and their gear by the time the discussion began. 


“We too have been known to prefer plot to truth; to deny the evidence before us in favor of the ideas behind us; to do insane things in the name of reason; to take that satisfying step from the righteous to the self-righteous; to drown our private guilts in a public well; to indulge in a little delusion.”
That’s a quote from Stacy Schiff’s new book, The Witches: Salem, 1692. The residents of Salem sincerely believed, for a number of years, that they were in real mortal danger from Satan and his minions, but they were wrong. And Councilmembers Capitelli, Maio, Bates, Moore, Wengraf and Droste are wrong about the need for adding even more superfluous laws to further burden the weakest members of our society. 


One interpretation is that they’re doing insane things in the name of reason, just indulging in a little delusion like the Salem witchhunters. But a more cynical interpretation now abroad in the commentariat is that this new uproar came suspiciously close to the day when Laurie Capitelli opened a bank account to begin his campaign to succeed Bates. 

It would be so much easier and more lucrative, wouldn’t it, to run against the homeless than to run against Jesse Arreguin, the other announced candidate? Fear is always good for swelling campaign coffers. 

The Editor's Back Fence

Public Comment

New: State of Emergency 101

Steve Martinot
Saturday November 21, 2015 - 08:27:00 AM

A Report on Berkeley’s “Affordable Housing 101” session, Nov. 14, 2015

It all began with the admonishment that this was to be a “learning session.” Well and good. But the student doesn’t always learn what the teacher proposes to teach. That is the risk, the “double edged sword” lurking in all propaganda.

We learned the familiar scale of income levels, for whom "affordable" means paying no more than 30% of a family’s income for housing. We learned that half of Berkeley’s renters are low income (generally those people earning below 80% of Area Median Income). And we learned that, from 2000 to 2015, the percentage of income spent on rent for extremely low income families has gone from 60% to 80%. There’s not much left for food and clothes.

Then we learned about the difficulties of financing affordable housing. Since corporate developers don’t make enough money on low rent buildings, it is up to non-profits to provide them. And they need funding. While 1400 affordable units had been built in this city over the last 25 years, that rate has not been maintained because the federal government has cut funding for such enterprises.

Berkeley, as a city, seems to be proud of its "learning" processes. This meeting was one of a series, in which it complimented itself on providing these chances to participate to the people. Prior meetings, complete with “pop-up” tents and tables, were set up to poll and survey the neighborhood (the Adeline corridor), to find out what the residents wanted. There was money involved. The city’s “Idea Center” that ran these events did so on a $750,000 grant from ABAG and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The purpose was to give the "populace" a voice.

What was lacking was how that "voice" translated into actual plans for the development of the area. No mechanism was described whereby the people would gain a seat at the planning tables, at which they could actually shape the course of things to come. But still, it was called "participation." The issues involved, from the neighborhood’s perspective, in these prior meetings, were clear. Affordable housing, no dislocation, no evictions; at several meetings, that was summed up as a call for a moratorium on market rate housing until the need for affordable had been satisfied. 

Somehow, none of that appeared in this A-H 101 session. Instead, we learned that there are no protections against people being dislocated by rising rent levels. In a section entitled “Protections for tenants,” we found out that there were procedures that the city considered “protections,” but they served to make the dislocation process a little less painful (such as covering moving expenses) 

It was stunning. After a year of meeings organized by the city in which people demanded affordable housing and protection against dislocation, we learned there are no protections. For non-rent-controlled buildings, rent can be increased at will, beyond what tenants can afford. There are stories extant these days of rents doubling and tripling with the expiration of a lease. Such rent increases amount to running people out of their homes. That’s a felony if done by non-monetary means. 

Rent control had offered protection. It provided a cap on rent increases when a tenant moved out. Such protections were prohibited by the Costa-Hawkins Act. Now, rent controlled apartments come off control upon vacancy. When a tenant moves out, the rent can go up to market rate (today, $2,200 a month for two bedrooms). 

Supposedly, these apartments go back on control when a new tenant moves in, but “at market rate.” One detects an oxymoron lurking in that. Supposedly, ten years from now, re-control will have made that apartment seem "protected." If it is unaffordable now at market rate for anyone but high income people, then this looks like rent control for the rich. 

But for uncontrolled apartments (and the city lost 36% of its controlled apartments through vacancy in 2014), there are no protections against being subjected to impoverishment at a landlord’s whim. This is the primary cause of resident dislocation (which effectively means exile to another city). 

The speakers at the meeting did say, however, that the only real protection for tenants would be to build affordable housing. And that is true. Given that 50% of all renters are low income (including very low, and extrremely low), they are the ones who need protection. And the city will say it is providing affordable housing by permitting market rate buildings, because it requires 10% of the units in new buildings to be affordable. But that’s a scam. Developers can pay a mitigation fee in lieu of affordable units, and build all market rate units. So that is not protection. Only building affordable housing for low income families will protect against massive dislocation of old time residents from this city. 

Building affordable housing is the only protection people can have against dislocation by rent increases. That has been known and expressed in a full year’s worth of city organized meetings in South Berkeley. Otherwise, low income families get caught and impoverished by the general increase in market rate housing that will accompany market rate development (through the "natural" operation of “market forces”). Despite the "learning" process offered by the Idea Center, people already knew what they needed to protect themselves from dislocation. 

So the Idea Center assures its audience that operations are starting for the building of affordable housing. So what? Given that funds must be raised to build affordable housing for low income families, which will take time, and given that the construction of such buildings will take time, what will protect low income families from being dislocated and exiled from the city while this is going on. Nothing. There are no protections. 

The only thing that will protect low income families was not mentioned in the presentations. That would be a moratorium on rent increses until affordable housing could be built. 

A moratorium on rent increases!! 

Otherwise, while affordable housing is being built, masses of low income people will be exiled by the natural market forces unleashed by development plans. 

But such a moratorium would be illegal under state law (Costa-Hawkins). 

This is an outrage. It is outrageous that there is an extant threat to the well-being of multitudes, of city constituents, of innocent human beings who pay taxes, work and contribute to society, and neither city nor county government can defend them against destruction of their life-styles and living situations. It is outrageous that cities do not have the right to defend their own residents against so-called market forces that are driving people out of their homes. (I say “so-called” because the housing development market is monopolized by corporations that will only build buildings they can profit from. Affordable housing buildings, with controlled rent levels, are “off the market.”) To "obey" market forces is to abandon low income families. Their needs don’t even appear in the market. 

That’s what we learned in Affordable Housing 101. 

"Subjected" to "market" forces, rents are rising so rapidly that it is creating a crisis situation. Even the city referred to this situation as a "crisis." Even the city knows that "crisis" is the proper word for what we face. 

Then to face this crisis, we need a declaration of a state of emergency, so that a moratorium can be imposed on rent increases, and the residents of Berkeley not subjected to massive dislocation and exile. And it turns out that such a thing is possible. On Nov. 16, 2015, Los Angeles declared a state of emergency around homelessness. 

But there is more. Let me say this as baldly as possible. State law prohibits city governments from protecting their own residents and constituents from being victimized or impoverished by market forces. But it is not just state law. There are state agencies that prevent city governments from defending their own constituents against this threat. ABAG is one such agency. It demands that cities build a certain number of market rate housing units. And it is this requirement, before any construction is begun, that is leading to the unconscionable (impoverishing) rise in rent levels. 

For the state to do anything to prevent cities from controlling the rent levels in the interests of their constituents against what the state is imposing is nothing but a form of autocracy – an institutional autocracy. 

Beyond plain autocracy, the kind exercised by a person with autocratic power, it is autocracy imposed by the very same institutions to which the victims of its impositions and impoverishments (local residents) also pay taxes. They pay taxes to an institution that prohibits them from defending themselves against threats to their well-being and their living situation. 

But it gets worse. It is a form of institutional autocracy that can result in the death of innocent people, or in a lesser case, their imprisonment. To be driven out of one’s home by so-called market forces, having done nothing wrong, is to be placed in severe jeopardy of being rendered homeless. On top of this, the city is taking measures to exile homeless people from the city by jailing or threatening to jail them. The jailing occurs because a ticket is written, the person fails to appear in court because they have no funds for the fine, and a bench warrant is issued. 

Living on the street is injurious to one’s health. Today, the homeless have no protection against their own criminalization, against processes that simply drive them into prison because they are poor and homeless. 

For an ordinary resident, though one may have paid one’s bills, paid one’s rent, repaid one’s debts, and paid one’s taxes, to be then driven out of one’s home signifies that all those payments were not honestly accepted. They were stolen rather than collected in good faith. Even though one has paid one’s debts and one’s bills, to be driven out of the safety of one’s home into possible homelessness and possible death from exposure or starvation signifies that those to whom one paid that money were stealing it. The city is one of those recipients. 

Berkeley is now involved in a process of criminalizing homelessness. It is intent on passing new ordinances that will allow the police to harass or arrest or expel homeless people. It accuses homeless people of soiling the sidewalks and streets, though it refuses to provide toilets. It accuses homeless people of smelling bad without providing showers, and of sleeping on the sidewalk without providing shelters or housing. Homeless people do not want to soil the streets. It is an embarassment. But the city refuses to provide toilets in order to accuse them of soiling the streets (yes, it has to be looked at as intentional). 

And the failure of the city to protect rental residents from so-called market forces will create more homelessness. And that means that the city is doubly involved in criminal victimization of its own constituents and residents. The homeless and low income residents are now being subjected to the same kind of institutional autocracy. 

It means that the people in each neighborhood are going to have to figure out how to defend themselves. Self-defense is a human right. 

A Small, But Priceless Item – The Morning After

C. Denney
Friday November 20, 2015 - 04:06:00 PM

A small item showed up in The Berkeley Daily Planet around the same time as the Mayor Tom Bates team methodically passed their law criminalizing having more than two square feet of belongings in public.

A local artist had all of his work stolen from a storage facility. He had property stolen as well, property which apparently showed up later for re-sale at Moe’s Books and Amoeba Music on Telegraph Avenue. But his original artwork, a colorful collection including unique prints and monographs perhaps without the same immediate re-sale value appear to be gone forever.

Councilmember Linda Maio of District One told the whole town all summer “they can put their stuff in parks, they can sleep in parks, they can hang out in parks” to excuse her two square foot sidewalk law, generating a park-protective backlash that she used to grease the way to criminalizing more obvious attributes of homelessness with the usual sweeteners; non-existent bathrooms, storage, and services.

People who attended the overflowing City Council meeting were treated to a letter from the business (oh, yes, it is a business) run by Jack Petranker called the Mangalam Research Center for Buddhist Languages which claimed their business (yes, it is a business) was down because of the terrible homeless people across the street whom they're not sure but might be stealing bicycles and are just so icky anyway. 

This would be the new Buddhism, since the old Buddhism had a slightly different perspective on the poor. And it was especially interesting to those of us who have had the police explain that as a matter of policy they are purposefully moving people from Shattuck down to Harold Way. I'm not suggesting this is a nefarious conspiracy. I'm just saying. 

None of the anti-poor stuff was particularly original or unexpected; criminalizing poverty has become a holiday tradition in Berkeley as predictable as Muzak in retail stores playingSilver Bells. Some wondered if the new, official language from the Department of Justice and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) advising against criminalization measures would have any effect. They didn’t; people who criminalize poverty are great at characterizing it as a safety or public health measure, and the new burden it puts on grant writers is apparently not a compelling concern even though it affects around seven million dollars of our HUD funding. 

But the real public health crisis is the fact that our current housing policy, which here in Berkeley is the result of thirty solid years of Mayor Tom Bates and before that his wife,former Mayor Loni Hancock, presumes that having people sleeping in parks, under bushes, and tucked away as best they can under every overpass and in every alley is just the way things are. Wave to your nearby homeless people in your park as you and your kids enjoy a picnic, brought to you by the developer-friendly policies of your local and state politicians. 

But the neighbors are right. No park is designed as a campground, and the necessity of clean, safe parks is better understood in Berkeley than most places although park maintenance is still woefully underfunded. None of them, by the way spoke directly in favor of the criminalization elements in Maio’s proposal, just in favor of the same things any homeless person living unhappily in a park wants—safe surroundings, convenient, available bathrooms, and the enforcement of the laws we already have. 

The campground of necessity should be the City Hall grounds, where there are no more green lawns to confound anymore with tarps and tents thanks to the drought and where public officials have to meet the people their luxury-housing-only policies have affected by necessity if not inclination. 

The little item about the local artist who lost all of his work was probably too small to capture much attention. This man’s artwork was in a fully paid U-Haul storage locker. Many artists use storage lockers after generating an inconvenient amount of canvases, especially those who work without dedicated studio space once plentiful in a now priced-out Bay Area. 

But the item I read and re-read like a powerful book was the perfect morning after to the sad council meeting in which hundreds of people brought compelling testimony to a council majority that ignored them. 

A friend of mine’s roommate and close friend died unexpectedly a few weeks ago, and even more unexpectedly her landlady told her to vacate the apartment at the end of that month, ostensibly for repairs which need a permit she has yet to pull. My friend is a disabled senior on a fixed income in one of the few remaining rent-controlled apartments in Berkeley. Even if she can struggle through the difficulties a disabled woman faces trying to establish many years of tenancy on paper and establish her right to stay, she faces living on a pittance, nursing every dollar, and hoping for the best. 

Her top concern, when we speak, is making certain that her roommate’s artwork is preserved, that the work be organized and recognized so that her roommate’s value as an artist is not overlooked. My friend is an artist herself, as am I, so there flows between us even in a time of community and personal crisis an understanding that some things are just the things you do because you care. 

To the man who lost so much of his personal artwork in the U-Haul robbery, thank you for personalizing what our Berkeley City Council majority (Councilmembers Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguin, and Kriss Worthington excepted) does not seem to grasp about the perils of storage even in the best of circumstances ---even assuming the City of Berkeley gets itself into the business of trying to provide it, since right now none exists for people who can’t pay the cost. Because his story helps those who need to think about it crystalize one clear thought: nothing quite works so well as housing


# # #

Middle East Turmoil

Jagjit Singh
Thursday November 19, 2015 - 08:16:00 PM

In the recent Democratic Presidential Debate, Bernie Sanders was right to hold Hillary Clinton’s feet to the fire for her hasty, short-sighted decision to topple Saddam Hussein of Iran and Gaddafi of Libya. Her glib response that it was ‘a mistake’ is a gross understatement. Neither Hussein nor Gaddafi were an existential threat to the US. Their removal has plunged the whole Middle East into utter chaos. Sanders was also right to condemn ‘regime change’ as a core foreign US foreign policy objective. It has been an unmitigated disaster in destabilizing so many countries in the world. Western powers, most notably the US, Canada, France, the UK and Israel have flooded the Middle East, with billions of dollars in weapons sales. The US sold Saudi Arabia over $30 billion in F-15 Boeing fighter jets and Lockheed F-16 to bomb Yemen and Syria. The Emirates will be receiving a fleet of Predator drones to run spying missions. France has just completed a $10 billion contract with Saudi Arabia. 

The Emirates spent nearly $23 billion last year, more than three times what they spent in 2006. 

Saudi Arabia spent more than $80 billion on weaponry last year and has become the world’s fourth-largest defense market. Our administration and defense contractors seem to be totally unconcerned that our great ‘ally’ Saudi Arabia is the epicenter of terrorism and many of the weapons will be funneled to ISIS and to wage war on Iran and Yemen. Does trade and profits in these killing machines triumph concerns for human life? Doesn’t this conflict with our much touted “core values’? Our current polices are a prescription for mayhem where most of the victims are innocent civilians. As a first step the US and are allies should create a weapons free zone in the Middle East. We should extricate ourselves from regional proxy and sectarian wars and let the Muslim nations sort out their differences which are rooted in a profound disagreements over the rightful descendant of Prophet Mohamad. 

For more go to, http://callforsocialjustice.blogspot.com/ 


Why Berkeley City Council Measure Perpetuates Racism: Comment to Berkeley City Council Meeting , November 17, 2015

George Lippman, Chair, Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission (for purposes of identification only)
Thursday November 19, 2015 - 08:15:00 PM

I’m going to try to explain why, from a social justice perspective, the proposals in item 28 perpetuate the country’s history of racism, particularly against African Americans and Latinos. 

To begin with, I know some people would like to believe that the ordinances against street behavior will not criminalize the homeless. Let’s be clear: 

Making activities unlawful obviously makes them illegal. Violating these laws is a criminal act. People will be fined for offenses arising from their homeless status. Because they have very little income, they will be unable to pay the fines. Because they do not pay, they will be sentenced eventually to jail time, known historically as debtor’s prison. This is not idle speculation. It is the logical result of the decisions you are making tonight. 

Secondly, the homeless are disproportionately people of color, especially African American. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. 40% of homeless people county-wide are Black. In 2009, the figure for Berkeley was 59%. In San Francisco, even more Latinos than African Americans are homeless. This is a racial justice issue as much as a class issue. 

Thirdly, we ought by now to understand the consequences of introducing African Americans in particular into the mass incarceration system. A simple arrest leads not only to jail time, to time away from family, from earning, from stability and community, it often leads to stigmatization, mental health issues, destruction of education and career plans, a greater dependence on the underground economy, and in the end to a cycle of imprisonment, parole, and re-imprisonment. Already in some American cities, three of four young African American males will serve some time in prison. This is a destruction of the Black community that can be described as genocidal. 

As Joseph, a 68-year-old homeless Black man in San Francisco explained: 

“Asians, Blacks, Latinos and Chicanos—I feel [police] target them the most… if you are any of the people I just named, then you are doing something wrong. They automatically come up with that mindset, thinking, There’s too many of you together, so there’s got to be something going on that’s not right.’” 

2015 is a high tide of consciousness-raising about the value of Black lives. We would like to think we have learned a lot about the prevalence of racism, of the differential impact of law enforcement on Black people; thanks to Kamau Bell, about micro-aggressions; thanks to the Berkeley NAACP, about the destruction of the livability of the city for the Black community; and thanks to the BHS students, about the importance of standing up to even one example of racist activity. 

But tonight I wonder if we have learned anything at all. The impact of these proposals is to further the mass incarceration regime, to destroy Black lives and Black communities. 

This is the hidden reality of the anti-homeless ordinances, and it gives the lie to the liberal Berkeley rhetoric about how we all agree that Black lives matter. They say that Black lives do not in fact matter. This puts us in bed with the trend of racism-denial that is rampant in the Republican debates. Anti-homeless ordinances are part of the ethnic cleansing of American cities, as much as racial profiling and hyper-development are. 


ECLECTIC RANT: Thoughts on the Paris Attacks

Ralph E. Stone
Friday November 20, 2015 - 04:08:00 PM

France and the free world are in mourning following the horrible Paris massacre on November 13 by at least seven gunmen, killing 129 and wounding another 352, 99 critically. 

The Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attacks, claiming retribution for French military aircraft “striking Muslims in the lands of the caliphate.” 

French officials believe that Salim Benghalem, a French national who joined ISIS several years ago, directed Abdelhamid Abaaoud, an ISIS deputy and a Belgian national, to orchestrate Friday’s bloody rampage. The two men are believed to be in Syria. 

There is no justification for this massacre or the Charlie Hebdo killings but placing these horrors in context makes them more understandable. 

A poll conducted before the Paris attack showed that 1 in 6 French citizens have a positive attitude toward ISIS. This percentage increases to 27 percent among respondents aged 18-24. 

The French government believes that more than 900 French citizens have joined ISIS in Syria and Irag. ISIS seems to be winning the hearts and minds of some disaffected French citizenry. 

France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, estimated at about 5 million. Due to growing Islamaphobia, French Muslims are often marginalized. The January 7 massacre in Paris prompted by cartoons published in the weekly satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, reflect some of the longstanding tensions concerning immigrants from former French colonies in North and sub-Saharan Africa. Two radicalized brothers killed twelve at the Charlie Hebdo offices and days later killed four at a Jewish market. Certainly, the magazine’s history of xenophobia, racism, sexism and homophobia, made the magazine a likely target for incensed Muslims. 

Also, France’s policy towards the war in Syria has been more forward than any other western country. France was early in calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down and recently joined airstrikes inside Syria against ISIS. In the war against ISIS and al-Qaeda, collateral damage – the inadvertent killing of innocent civilians – has become so common as to pass with little or no media comment. Civilian deaths by coalition bombings and drone attacks have become an effective recruiting tool for ISIS. Are Western deaths more important, more newsworthy? 

Sudden shocks such as the Charlie Hebdo and Paris massacres have been used to justify the French to bolster its security and intelligence forces and introduce new surveillance laws. In ordinary times, such laws might have been vigorously opposed by the populace. When security trumps privacy, the terrorists win. 

The killings in France are only two of many attacks attributed to ISIS. In 2015 alone, at least 88 attacks have been attributed to ISIS, including the November 12 bombing in Lebanon, killing 43; an ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility for downing a Russian plane in Egypt on October 31, killing all 224 aboard; and it is believed ISIS was responsible for two explosions on October 10, killing 100 people in Turkey. 

The United Nations estimates 800,000 refugees have journeyed to Europe, arriving mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The European Union estimates another 3 million more refugees will arrive by 2017. Citing security and economic concerns, countries seem unwilling or unable to absorb these refugees fast enough. 

Bottom line, we are not winning the war against terrorism. Bombings are not doing the job. Boots on the ground may be required to defeat ISIS. In the meantime, we can expect the enactment of tougher security laws and more refugees fleeing conflicts around the world. We can also expect the war against terrorism to continue for years with the assurance of more bloodshed to come.


Bob Burnett
Friday November 20, 2015 - 07:48:00 AM

Four years ago, US Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden; many Americans believed Al Qaida had been broken and the terrorist threat eliminated. The November 13th Paris Massacre demonstrated that terrorism has a new face: ISIL – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Where should the US do? 

There are several acronyms used for the same group of jihadi terrorists: ISIL, ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – and DAESH – an acronym based upon the group’s full Arabic name. The US government uses ISIL most of the time. While a tiny minority within Islam, ISIL is an ultra-conservative Muslim sect. 

ISIL’s roots go back to 2010 when the group, then known as Al Qaida in Iraq, was decimated by American forces. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi then became ISIL’s leader. Al-Baghdadi is an Iraqi-born ultra-conservative (Salafi) Sunni Muslim cleric who fought against the US troops. 

At the end of 2011, US forces left Iraq, as a consequence of the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. (Jeb Bush has implied that President Obama had the option to keep 10,000 troops in Iraq but Politifact has ruled this assertion “mostly false.”) 

Shortly thereafter, Iraq began to come apart. The New York Times observed that after US troops left: 

… tensions began rising between the Sunnis and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki... Salaries and jobs promised to cooperating [Sunni] tribes were not paid. There seemed little room for Sunnis in the new Iraq. The old Sunni insurgents began to look appealing again.

The New York Times noted that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was briefly imprisoned. In US Camp Bucca he met Sunni military officers (Baathists) who had served Saddam Hussein. Beginning in 2011, Al-Baghdadi recruited them to serve in ISIL. 

In the spring of 2011, civil war began in Syria. ISIL saw this as an opportunity and moved in from the east. In 2013 it claimed Raqqa, a Syrian city of 200,000, as its capital. 

In June of 2014, ISIL seized the northern Iraq city of Mosul and mountains of weapons left behind by fleeing Iraqi troops. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared at Mosul’s Nuri Mosque announcing the formation of the Levant caliphate and his role as caliph. Atlantic writer Graeme Wood observed that al-Baghdadi was in a unique position to become caliph because he was a Sunni Muslim, (Salafi cleric), and Quraysh, a descendant of the tribe of the prophet Mohammed. 

Pew Research estimates there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. 87-90 percent are Sunni Muslims, 1.4 billion. The remaining 10-13 percent are Shias who are concentrated in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and India. Many Middle-East countries contain Sunnis and Shias (for example, Shias are two-thirds of the population of Iraq and roughly one-quarter of the population of Turkey.) 

There are significant differences between the Sunni and Shiite practices. Pew Research observed, 

Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa tend to be most keenly aware of the distinction between the two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia. In most countries surveyed in the region, at least 40% of Sunnis do not accept Shias as fellow Muslims.
Among the most intolerant Sunni sects are al-Baghdadi’s Salafi, which constitutes less than one percent of the 1.4 billion, roughly 8 million. ISIL’s forces are composed of Salafis from Iraq and Syria, and foreign recruits who are attracted to the notion of a modern caliphate. 

Several things are clear about ISIL/ISIS/DAESH. 

1. Unlike Al Qaida, ISIL occupies substantial physical territory; it is in effect a state. We can declare war on them. (President Obama has been trying to get Congress to do this but so far they have punted.) 

2. It’s a theocracy, like Iran. The leaders of ISIL teach a fundamentalist version of Sunni Islam that advocates slavery or death for apostates (among whom are other Muslims). Graeme Wood observed that to understand ISIL Americans have to imagine that a splinter group of Christians took over a US State and preached a form of Christianity based upon the book of Leviticus: a ”dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.” 

3. ISIL is Islamic but not representative of all Islam. Its adherents are less than one-half of one percent of the total. 

4. ISIL seeks a holy war in the Middle East. Graeme Wood believes their theology prophesizes that, before the end times, there will be a final battle in northern Iraq between “the armies of Islam” and “the armies of Rome” (Christians, the west.). 

The United States needs to form a multi-nation coalition to destroy ISIL. This must include Sunni Muslims as a major component; after all, alienating Sunnis was one of the factors that led to the formation of ISIL. The US needs to find a way to obliterate ISIL while making allies of Muslims, in general. 

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


Jack Bragen
Thursday November 19, 2015 - 08:22:00 PM

Anxiety, that knot in your gut or that giddiness in your spine, isn't always a villain. Sometimes, your body is trying to tell you something. The message could be essential, or it could be erroneous. There is no absolute rule concerning whether you should push past anxiety, or heed it and back off.  

When anxiety is chronic and interferes with daily living, it needs to be addressed. In some instances, therapy or meditative practices can help, while in other instances, a medication is needed. And some of the time, anxiety can be solved with a combination of both.  

Anxiety isn't always an instance of your body trying to warn you. However, that possibility ought to be explored first, before assuming that the anxiety is merely a symptom. If you have established that there is nothing about which you need to be warned, antianxiety practices, whether they consist of mindfulness, or medication, can be pursued.  

Self-confidence is usually a better approach to solving a problem than a state of anxiety. Too much anxiety can be debilitating and can render the inability to do anything. 

Evolution gave us the capacity to be afraid so that we would have the ability to run away from danger or fight for our lives. However, in modern times, anxiety often does more to interfere with necessary actions rather than helping us to survive. Even if put in a situation where we must fight, run, or face being obliterated, anxiety can interfere. If you are fearless, it puts you in a better state of mind to deal with situations that would normally be fear inducing.  

So far, I have neglected to add that anxiety can be very darned uncomfortable!  

(I am not clear as to the origin of social anxiety, but many people try to deal with it by drinking alcohol, and then you have a party. Or else you have alcoholism, in which case alcohol is used to shield the mind from the emotional discomfort of living.)  

People who have a lot of anxiety may also have specific phobias. In a very unexpected place, a mental health worker admitted to a phobia of dogs. That person was frightened even of the part Chihuahua, part who-knows-what, little yappy dog that is my wife's pet. People can also be otherwise "normal" but could still have a few phobias.  

Some mental health professionals advise gradual desensitization to deal with phobias. I do not know if this strategy works for everyone.  

Moving "through" the emotion and getting to "the other side" of it could work for some individuals who suffer from anxiety. To do this, the anxious person must be completely aware, at least on an intellectual level, that there is no need to worry.  

Antianxiety medications may be the solution for some people. Some medications that are not benzodiazepines do not have much potential for abuse.  

For some people with PTSD, whether they are veterans or have experienced other trauma, a service animal can do wonders. I had a cat named Boris, who, whenever I was stressed out, could sense it and would meow at me in a whiny voice that said, "Sit down and calm down, I need to sit on your chest." When he passed away at age fifteen, it was the beginning of a very difficult time for me. Now the other cat we have is finally starting to warm up to me a bit more even though she is well into her middle age.  

If someone has a schizophrenic type disorder, keeping anxiety at a minimum helps with remaining stabilized. Anxiety for someone with schizophrenia can worsen symptoms. I have heard one psychiatrist claim that valium is very helpful to people with schizophrenia. However, some psychiatrists are reluctant to prescribe benzodiazepines, and they would rather prescribe antidepressants that have anxiety reducing properties, or sometimes "beta blockers," such as Inderal. 

Regardless, anxiety can feel awful, can be hard to be rid of, and it can be debilitating. If having chronic anxiety, one should not be a martyr and try to live with it--one should do something to feel better.


Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Thursday November 19, 2015 - 08:11:00 PM

Physician- assisted suicide in California

Governor Jerry Brown has signed a measure allowing physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who want to hasten their deaths. The new law is modeled after one that went into effect in 1997 in Oregon, where last year 105 people took their lives with drugs prescribed for that purpose. The California assisted suicide law will permit physicians to provide lethal prescriptions to mentally competent adults who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and face the expectation that they will die within six months. The law will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns its special session on healthcare, which may not be until 2016. It is also allowed in Washington, Vermont and Montana, although in Montana it was by a court decision. 

Critics predicted the bill would be abused by greedy heirs pressuring elderly people to end their lives prematurely. (Why assume that every elder has a family?!) Supporters of the new law point out that such problems have not occurred in Oregon, where in the last 17 years, doctors have written 1,173 prescriptions. Of these, 752 patients have used the medication to bring about their deaths and 421 have chosen not to use it, according to Compassion & Choices.  


The popular vote 

A referendum is an election device in which a law can be either accepted or repealed based on the popular vote of people. In this process, voters can reject or accept a law or statute passed by a legislature by taking a popular vote on the issue. 

One day after Gov. Brown signed the bill allowing assisted suicides for the terminally ill in California, opponents filed papers to seek a referendum to overturn the measure on the November 2016 ballot. A group called Seniors Against Suicide filed papers with the state attorney general’s office to get an official title and summary for the referendum, the first step toward collecting signatures. The group would have 90 days or until Jan. 3, 2016 to collect the signatures of 365,880 registered voters. The measure was also opposed by a group called Californians Against Assisted Suicide, consisting of doctors, disability activists and religious groups, which has said it is considering a referendum among other options.  

The right to try 

Despite his landmark decision to grant terminally ill patients the right to end their lives with a doctor's help, Gov. Brown rejected Assembly Bill 159, the so-called "Right To Try'' bill, which sought to allow terminally ill patients who have exhausted all other options to access experimental drugs, products or devices that have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The measure has already been adopted in 24 states, most recently in Oregon in August 2015 . 

California residents counting on the bill's passage were devastated by the news. Proponents insisted that dying patients do not have time to wait for the FDA to approve new therapies, or tolerate the red tape that can complicate the agency's "expanded access" program, which provides experimental drugs to patients with life-threatening illnesses. The FDA did not take a position on the legislation, but it has announced that it is taking steps to simplify and more clearly communicate how physicians can request to get their patients experimental drugs. 

How-To … Provide Aid In Dying 

Now that California has legalized aid in dying for some, advocacy groups are planning statewide education campaigns so that physicians know what to do when patients ask for lethal medication to end their lives. One of the first stops is a doctor-to-doctor toll-free helpline, staffed by physicians from states where the practice is legal, who have experience writing prescriptions for lethal medication. 

"We try to answer any doctor's phone call within 24 hours," David Grube, a retired family doctor in Oregon who accepts calls says. "I might answer questions about the dose of medicine, the timing of the giving of the medicine, things to avoid, certain kinds of foods." He recommends prescribing a specific dose of sleeping pills, along with anti-nausea medication. People usually fall asleep within five minutes after taking the drug, and usually die within an hour. 

This kind of information will also be shared in training sessions, online and at hospitals and medical schools throughout the state before and after the law takes effect in 2016. "Health care systems should start preparing now for their patients who are going to be requesting and demanding information about the End of Life Option Act," according to Compassion & Choices, the advocacy group that led the charge for legalization in California and is spearheading the education campaign. Kaiser Permanente in Oregon and Seattle Cancer Care in Washington hired patient advocates specifically to respond to requests for aid-in-dying medication and to guide patients and doctors through the process. 

DNR stands for Do Not Resuscitate.  

Do you recall The Sopranos’ DNR episode? And House, M.D., when the show's main character-- a pain medication-dependent, unconventional, misanthropic genius -- gave a bedside order that evoked his team’s cautionary “She’s DNR!” And he ignored it. There’s casual mention of DNR in 5 Flights Up… A couple’s attempts at selling their elevator-less, Brooklyn apartment. (The 2015 DVD is based on Jill Ciment’s novel, Heroic Measures.)  

Locally, Holiday baskets (translation: bags of food in November and December) have been, and perhaps will be again, distributed by firefighters, Lions, and other good souls to seniors and disabled persons. There are seasonal wreaths on some of their apartment doors. And cutesy cat pictures functioning as don’t let the cat out warnings. And a DNR door sign addressed to paramedics.  

Do-not-resuscitate orders are often established for and with patients whose prognosis is poor. An example is in-hospital cardiac arrest, which affects nearly 200,000 patients in the United States annually, with rates of favorable neurological survival (i.e., survival without severe cognitive disability) of less than 20%. In a recent study, almost two-thirds of hospital patients with the worst prognosis did not have DNR orders in place. (September 22/29, 2015 JAM A)  

DNR orders often do not align with poor prognosis, however. A routine pre-surgery exam might introduce a DNR reference. Or it might not. Ask for it.  

A DNR differs from an advance health care directive, also known as a living will, which is a legal document in which a person specifies what actions should be taken for their health if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves because of illness or incapacity. In providing the patient with this albeit limited control aspect, it differs from a DNR. In the U.S. it has legal status in itself, whereas in some countries it is legally persuasive without being a legal document.  

POLST stands for Physician Order[s] for Life-Sustaining Treatment.  

A POLST is an approach to improving end-of-life care in the United States, encouraging doctors to speak with patients and create specific medical orders to be honored by health care workers during a medical crisis. POLST began in Oregon in 1991 and is currently promoted in over 26 states through national and statewide initiatives. The POLST document is a standardized, portable, brightly colored (pink is apparently the California POLST color) single page form which documents a conversation between a doctor and a seriously ill patient or their surrogate decision-maker. It is a medical order, always signed by a doctor and, depending upon the state, the patient. 

A difference between a POLST form and an advance directive is that the POLST is designed to be actionable throughout an entire community. It is immediately recognizable and can be used by doctors and first responders (including paramedics, fire departments, police, emergency rooms, hospitals and nursing homes). POLST forms are recommended for patients with life-limiting illnesses or progressive frailty.  

What’s so great about a POLST? While presumably intended to influence medical personal, mainly physicians, the POLST is a form that gives seriously-ill patients more control over their end-of-life care, including medical treatment, extraordinary measures (such as a ventilator or feeding tube) and CPR. Signed by both doctor and patient, a POLST can prevent unwanted or ineffective treatments, reduce patient suffering, and increase the likelihood that a patient's wishes are honored. 


“How assisted suicide will work in California," by Patrick McGreevy (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 6, 2015). 

"Referendum papers filed on assisted suicide law," by Patrick McGreevy (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 7, 2015).  

"'Right To Try' bill: Brown rejects proposal to let terminal patients use unapproved drugs and devices," by Tracy Seipel (San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 12, 2015). 

"California Doctors Get Advice On How To Provide Aid In Dying," (KQED via US National Public Radio, Oct. 13, 2015). 


Arts & Events

Wagner’s DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NÜRNBERG at San Francisco Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday November 23, 2015 - 10:03:00 AM

If, as the saying goes, brevity is the soul of wit, then how astonishing is it that Richard Wagner’s comic-opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg somehow manages to be witty in spite of a running-time of over five hours. Of brevity, of succinctness, Wagner knew nothing. As in all his operas, here Wagner rambles on as if he had all the time in the world – and his audience’s world --at his beck and call. He belabors every dramatic issue and even manages to belabor some of the admittedly beautiful musical issues he explores in Die Meistersinger. Yet, somehow, Wagner brings it off admirably in this opera. To this day, Die Meistersinger remains Wagner’s most accessible and most popularly acclaimed opera. 

However much the listener might wish that Wagner would simply “get on with it,” one almost has to admire the way, in Die Meistersinger, Wagner sets up a conflict between conservative respect for hidebound tradition, on one hand, and creative innovation, on the other. Likewise, one can’t help noticing that, in this conflict, the aristocratic but displaced newcomer to Nürnberg, Walther von Stolzing, offers the creatively innovative element while the stolid bourgeois guild members of the Mastersingers represent the backward-looking provincial community stuck in old, out-of-date models. And all this at a moment in history -- mid-16th century Germany -- at a time when Martin Luther’s theses were challenging the old aristocratic Catholic order and the bourgeoisie was on the rise all over Europe.  

What differentiates Die Meistersinger from all of Wagner’s other operas, however, is the fact that here his characters are no mythologized, larger-than-life abstractions, as are the Dutchman and Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer; both of the principals in Tristan und Isolde; Venus, Tannhaüser and Elizabeth in Tannhaüser; Lohengrin and Elsa in Lohengrin; and, needless to say, all the characters in the Ring cycle and in Parsifal. Here, however, in Die Meistersinger, and only here, Wagner’s characters are not superhuman gods, heroes or cold, albeit often overheated, abstractions. They are full-blooded human beings drawn from life, with all the complex web of good, bad, and ambiguous characteristics common to us all as human beings.  

In Die Meistersinger, the pivotal character is Hans Sachs. A truly historical figure, Hans Sachs of Nürnberg was a 16th century poet, composer of songs, and playwright, who was well-loved in his native city. To this day, a statue of Hans Sachs stands in a main square of Nürnberg. In Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, Hans Sachs occupies a central position between the hidebound conservatism of the Master-singers’ guild and the romantically inspired innovations of Walther von Stolzing.  

In this San Francisco Opera production, Hans Sachs is sung by English baritone James Rutherford, who makes his debut here. Compared with other singers I’ve heard in this role, such as James Morris and Bernd Weikl in San Fran-cisco, and the great Theo Adam in Munich back in 1969, James Rutherford was an adequate but by no means outstanding Hans Sachs. While I can’t fault his singing, Rutherford’s baritone lacked both the power and the depth needed to make this role stand out as it should. On the other hand, tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Walther von Stolzing turned in a superb performance, his voice ever supple though perhaps not as robust as usual because, as we learned from an announcement between Acts II and III, he was singing with a cold. Rachel Willis-Sørensen sang the role of Eva Pogner, and while she was certainly not on a par with Cheryl Studer in this role, she sang with a clear, bright soprano and good German diction. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and tenor Alek Shrader were a perfectly matched couple as Magdalene and David, each singing beautifully and endowing their roles with great dramatic presence. As Eva’s father, Veit Pogner, Estonian bass Ain Anger was another standout performer. His supple bass and dignified demeanor made his character a believable burgher offering his daughter in marriage to the victor in a song-contest presided over by the Master-singers of Nürnberg. Baritone Martin Gantner was an appropriately ridiculous Beckmesser, the pedantic town clerk who lusts after Eva and therefore corrupts his role as judge (or Marker) of Walther’s attempts to win acceptance to the Mastersingers’ guild. The character of Beckmesser, by the way, was originally named Hans Lick in Wagner’s first draft of Die Meistersinger. In thus naming this character and endowing him with a critically conservative attitude in musical matters, Wagner was satirizing the noted Viennese music critic Edward Hanslick, who had resoundingly criticized Wagner’s earlier operas. Die Meister-singer has too many characters to credit all of them in a review, but one more singer, bass Andrea Silvestrelli, deserves mention for his fine performance as the Night Watchman.  

Making his company debut in Die Meistersinger was English conductor Sir Mark Elder, who presided over about as taut a performance as this often flaccid opera can hope for. Particularly beautiful was the Act III vocal quintet when Hans Sachs, Magdalene and David, and Walther von Stolzing join with Eva in praising Walther’s newly created song, which will ultimately win him the approval of the Mastersingers, admission to their guild, and Eva’s hand in marriage. The Opera Chorus under the leadership of Ian Robertson sang beautifully. This was a new production of Die Meistersinger, actually a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Glyndebourne Festival Opera, conceived by David McVicar, who decided to set the opera in Wagner’s youth (early 19th century) rather than the time of Hans Sachs (mid-16th century). I can’t say I approve of this choice, but the sets provided by Designer Vicki Mortimer were pleasant to look at. Co-directors Marie Lambert and Ian Rutherford did their best to keep things moving even in the longwinded passages where little happens. Oh, if only Wagner had an editor! 

Die Meistersinger continues through December 6.

Harpsichordist Richard Eggar and Philharmonia Baroque in Bach’s Brandenburgs

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday November 20, 2015 - 03:51:00 PM

Noted harpsichordist Richard Eggar led the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in four of the six Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach. I attended the Saturday evening concert, November 14, at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church. Before the concert began, Richard Eggar provided droll commentary, noting that these concertos were finished in 1721 and immediately sent off to the nobleman who had commissioned them, Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg. Apparently, the Margrave did not think highly of them, if indeed he even looked at the scores, which he filed away in his library. Upon the Margrave’s death in 1734, Bach’s scores were sold off in a job lot with a miscellaneous collection of music. Bach’s sons were not aware that their father’s Brandenburg Concertos even existed.  

The program began with Richard Eggar conducting from the harpsichord Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046. It was, in my opinion, a rough beginning. The First Concerto is the biggest of the set of six, in terms of the number of movements and size of instrumentation. With more than twenty instrumentalists all playing at once, the opening attack of Concerto No. 1 was aggressively loud, almost grating. As he led the orchestra, Richard Eggar kept leaping up from his seat at the harpsichord, flailing his left arm to mark the beat, vigorously bobbing his head, and, it seemed, generally egging on the orchestra to play ever louder. Featured in the first movement were Katherine Kyme on violino piccolo, (a small violin tuned a minor third higher), a woodwind choir composed of three oboes, a bassoon, and two French horns. In this movement’s ritornello, the horns play rhythmic hunting fanfares. The second movement, a lovely slow Adagio, offers an eloquent dialogue between the first oboe and the violino piccolo; and, thankfully, it offers a welcome respite from the loud and raucous opening move-ment. However, the third movement reverts to the raucous character of the first, with more rollicking hunt motifs. Tacked onto these first three movements are two suites of dances: a French minuet with a trio for two oboes and bassoon, and a Polish “polacca,” with another rollicking hunt motif scored for the horns and unison oboes.  

If the First Brandenburg brought out the manic side of Richard Eggar as conductor, the rest of the evening’s Brandenburgs brought out a mellower side. Eggar’s conducting style became less animated and more subtle as the evening progressed. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048, was next on the program. This work features only strings and continuo, the strings consisting of groups of three violins, violas, and cellos. A three-note melodic figure is introduced at the outset and is ingeniously developed by Bach’s counterpoint throughout the long first movement, which climaxes with all three cellos playing in unison. The second and final movement of this, the shortest of the six Brandenburgs, is in the form of a dance movement, an Italian gigue. Towards the end, the first violin and first viola make unexpected solo appearances. 

After intermission, Philharmonia Baroque returned to perform Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050. In this work the harpsichord, elegantly played here by Richard Eggar, is elevated to the rank of a soloist, stepping out from its usual task of supplying the basso continuo. Also featured are a flute, here admirably played by Janet See, and violin, handled adroitly by Lisa Weiss. Both the harpsichordist and flautist get quite a workout in this concerto. Initially, the harpsichord shares the solo passages with the flute and violin. However, in a remarkable solo cadenza, the harpsichord is given a chance to show off Bach’s abilities as a virtuoso improviser. Richard Eggar dispatched this cadenza in magisterial fashion. The second movement, a slow and lyrical trio marked Affetuoso, brings the three soloists together in a lovely interplay, offering a rhythmic first subject and a rounder answering subject, both themes being frequently inverted. This trio offered some of the most delightful music of the evening. The final movement, in the meter of a gigue, brings the work to a lively close, with the trio of soloists introducing the theme and the orchestra later joining in for the finale. 

The final work on the program was Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049. This work features two recorders and a first violin soloist, accompanied by a full orchestra of about twenty instrumentalists. Elizabeth Blumenstock was a brilliant solo violinist here, and Hanneke van Proosdij and Andrew Levy were first-rate performers on the recorder. Initially, the recorders exchange lines in an intricate duet, while the violin soloist remains subdued. Soon, however, the violin soloist embarks on the first of three virtuoso episodes in the opening movement, interspersed with more dialogue from the recorders. The second movement is a graceful Andante in the form of a minuet with a touch of melancholy. The recorders carry the melodic line, and the first recorder even has a brief solo cadenza just before the movement’s end. The final movement, a lively fugato marked Presto, introduces a fugal subject announced by the violas against a contrasting bass line. The first solo episode is for violin and recorders, and the second is for solo violin with light orchestral accompaniment. In this latter episode, Elizabeth Blumenstock displayed her virtuosity as violin soloist, performing flights of accelerated passage-work. Eventually, the fugal subject returns in a slower countersubject and the full orchestra reiterates the fugue as the work comes to a homophonic conclusion.

Youssou N’Dour at Zellerbach

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday November 20, 2015 - 03:50:00 PM

African music’s superstar Youssou N’Dour came to a packed Zellerbach Hall with his band, Super Étoile de Dakar, on Saturday, November 7. Now 56 years old, Youssou N’Dour began performing at the age of 12 and became one of Africa’s most popular musicians in the 1970s, subsequently achieving international recognition as a musician and cultural ambassador of his native Senegal. Singing in Wolof, Senegal’s principal language, as well as French, and English, Youssou N’Dour draws on the West African griot tradition of praise singing and oral history. His music is a fusion of mbalax (a polyrhythmic West African dance music,) Cuban rumba, jazz, reggae, and soul. With his powerful, high-pitched griot voice and his charismatic stage-presence, Youssou N’Dour was named by Rolling Stone magazine as « the world’s most famous singer. » He was the subject of the filmed documentary Youssou N’Dour : I Bring What I Love, about Senegal’s divided reaction to his Grammy Award-winning album Egypt, a deeply spiritual album dedicated to a more tolerant view of Islam. In 2012, Youusou N’Dour assumed the office of Senegal’s Minister of Tourism and Culture.  

I first heard Youssou N’Dour live at the Fillmore more than twenty years ago in San Francisco in summer 1994. His 1992 CD entitled Eyes Open had quite literally opened my eyes and ears to the genius of Youssou N’Dour and his band. I have sub-sequently heard them numerous times, and they have never disappointed. Nor did they disappoint on Saturday at Zellerbach. Quite the contrary. They had the place jumping. By the end of their two-hour show, performed without intermission, everybody in the audience was on their feet dancing or at least swaying to the infectious mbalax rhythms. The song-list numbered more than twenty, (I lost count), and included a mix of new songs and selections from older CDs such as his 1993 release, Womat (The Guide). Among the latter were « mame bamba » and the pop-chart hit « 7 seconds. » (On the latter, the female voice, originally sung by Nenneh Cherry, was here sung by the band’s female back-up singer Pascale Kameni-Kamga. ) 

Several songs featured percussionists Babacar Faye and El Hadji Faye, longtime members of Super Étoile de Dakar. Alain Oyono was featured on saxophone. Moussa Sonko was outstanding as an acrobatic dancer, performing West Africa’s highly energetic whirls, kicks, and somersaults with amazing ease and flamboyant showmanship. Towards the end of this two-hour feast of African music, Youssou N’Dour intoned his hopeful hymn entitled “New Africa;” and I believe he had all of the audience joining in his praise of the as yet unachieved promise of this great continent, where I spent two of the happiest and most seminal years of my life in my very early twenties..  


Theater Review: An Evening of Harold Pinter (Landscape & The Dumb Waiter)

Ken Bullock
Friday November 20, 2015 - 07:51:00 AM

"I'd like to stand by the sea ... " 

Two people in the same room, sitting at the same table. They speak, as if to someone else. Is it to, or about, each other? Beth (her name is never used) seems in a reverie, remembering what seems to have been a very personal encounter, somewhere else--or was it? What was it about?: 

"He felt my shadow ... I may have been mistaken. Perhaps the beach was empty. Perhaps there was no one there! They never saw my man. He didn't stand up ... Singing in the sea by myself ... " 

Meanwhile Duff (his name also not used) appears to be speaking to her, more or less. Her husband? A caretaker of someone else's property? (Typical of some of Harold .Pinter's other characters, too.) He moves about, at times restlessly; she sits still, gazing up ...  

Do parallel lines converge? Two separate stories, maybe about the same people. He's chatty, she's nostalgic--but chatty to her? Nostalgic about him? 

Landscape. We see the two spectators who describe to us, via each other--maybe via each other--what they see or have seen--or want to think, or us to think what they've seen. It works theatrically through a device very familiar in American theater since Eugene O'Neill--the Strindbergian Monologue: telling the audience something by speaking to another character, who doesn't respond.  

(Ron Nash, the director of An Evening of Strindberg, produced by Gary Gonser of Marin Onstage, showed his familiarity with Strindberg when he directed Miss Julie, also for Marin Onstage, last year. He and his actors make Pinter's sometimes opaque dislocations--which owe something to Samuel Beckett, but in the case of Beth's monologue, perhaps James Joyce, too, Molly Bloom's internal monologue at the end of Ulysses--work as transparently as a typical experience: watching others interact, suddenly aware of the moments, the expressions and lack of expression, between contact, their drifting sense of attention ... ) 

Kit Grimm plays Duff with a particular kind of gruff engagement. Esther Mulligan is fine as the dreamy Beth, recalling her own gaze out to sea. 

After intermission in the cozy cabaret theater that Margie Belrose made out of an old downtown church over 50 years ago, just across from the old brick San Rafael Library, a block from the Victorian Dollar Mansion, Falkirk, now housing the city cultural center, another Pinter two-hander: The Dumb Waiter. 

These two plays together constitute bookends of what Pinter typically does in his plays--a kind of bleak poetry of place--a vague, half-remembered place, or a gritty, too well-known (but nonetheless indistinct) place, with everyday characters populating it, their everyday speech opening up, or coming apart at the seams to reveal their own dislocation; against their attempts at poise or offhandedness, their sense of being lost, even in what at first seemed to be home.  

Gus and Ben are bivouacked in a basement room in the Midlands, early 1950s, having traveled for a job they must perform--and have performed often before. They try to kill time with small talk and petty contention, waiting for the moment to come. Are they there to intimidate someone, do violence to a stranger? Then a note appears under the door. And by turns all hell breaks loose--though it's the hell of little things, innocuous objects charged with ominous, unclear meaning--and the two partners become a music hall vaudeville team, descending into grotesquely hiarious slapstick ... 

(I remember British publisher John Calder talking about visiting his old client and friend Beckett, who told Calder--who'd first published Pinter--that Pinter had sent him the manuscript of his latest play. "What's it like?" Calder asked. Beckett smiled. "Oh, you know Harold. always the same. menace in a room!" 

It's a proof of the artistry of Pinter's plays and a tribute to them that his heavies, over the years and through many productions, have gradually taken on a kind of patina of charm, some becoming awkwardly likable thugs, hit men you know like an old shoe, a little like the old gangster movies, but at once more realistic in their talk and more stylized, more strangely poetic, the poetry of the banal things in life.)  

Michael Walraven and GreyWolf pair off well as the "boys," the seasoned professionals who're blown away by an unexpected breeze, knocked over by a dandelion floating on it ...  

It's a good taste of Pinter, a satisfying evening of one of our recent geniuses of the stage. 

And this's the last weekend, less than a half hour from Berkeley at the Belrose Theatre, 1415 Fifth Avenue, San Rafael--less than a mile west from the Central San Rafael exit off 101. Friday, November 20th, 8 pm & on the 21st, 2 & 8 pm. Tickets $12 (children), $19 (students & seniors) and $22 (general). marinonstage.org or (415) 290-1433