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Flash: Berkeley City Council to consider compromise on minimum wage once again tomorrow at another special meeting

Scott Morris (BCN) and Planet
Thursday August 25, 2016 - 08:24:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council will vote at a surprise meeting on Friday morning on a new ordinance that would raise the city's minimum wage to $15 in two years. Previously, a mayoral candidate and councilmember, realtor Laurie Capitelli, orchestrated a supposed compromise with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), but then failed to show up for a special council meeting he himself had called.  

The latest special meeting during the council's summer recess was only announced this morning. The proposed ordinance, which would raise Berkeley's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018, is intended to stave off confusion from dueling measures on the November ballot.  

According to city documents, the ordinance up for vote Friday is a compromise between proponents of the two measures. If passed, the city would urge voters to reject both measures. 

Berkeley's minimum wage is set to go to $12.53 on Oct. 1, still below the minimum wage in neighboring cities of Emeryville and Oakland. 

If the proposed ordinance is passed on Friday, Berkeley's minimum wage would rise to $13.75 on Oct. 1, 2017, and then to $15 on Oct. 1, 2018. It would go up according to the consumer price index after that. 

Voters will still be faced with a choice on competing ballot measures to raise the minimum wage this November. If the compromise is passed, the City Council will recommend that voters reject both measures, one previously recommended by the city that wouldn't raise the minimum wage to $15 until 2019 and another that would raise it aggressively to $15 next year. 

The ballot measures have divided the City Council. Council members Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington along with labor leaders have supported the more aggressive Measure CC while Mayor Tom Bates and the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce support the competing Measure BB. 

Aware that Berkeley is falling behind other area cities, the City Council has been considering raising the minimum wage since it passed its last series of hikes in 2014. The council considered an aggressive plan at a meeting last year that would have raised it to $19 in 2020 but after hours of public discussion the meeting ended without an agreement. 

Each time the council discusses the issue, labor advocates clash with business owners, who claim that sudden, drastic increases in the minimum wage are untenable.  

Meanwhile, Oakland, Emeryville and San Francisco have passed faster schedules to raise the minimum wage. Oakland's is currently $12.55 and set for an increase based on the consumer price index on Jan. 1, Emeryville's is $13 an hour for businesses with 55 or fewer employees and $14.82 for businesses with more, and San Francisco's is set to rise to $15 in 2018. 

In March, Gov. Jerry Brown announced a deal that would bring the statewide minimum wage to $15 by 2022.

Press Release: HAVE YOUR VOICE HEARD: Council Special Meeting re MINIMUM WAGE, Tomorrow, Friday, Aug 26, 11:30am, Old City Hall, 2134 MLK Jr. Way.

John Caner, CEO, Downtown Berkeley Association
Thursday August 25, 2016 - 12:20:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council has called a Special Meeting for tomorrow morning, to revisit the Berkeley Minimum Wage. The meeting will be held at 11:30am in Council Chambers on the 2nd Floor of Old City Hall at 2134 MLK Jr. Way. 

On June 14 Berkeley City Council put on the ballot a measure (Measure BB) that would increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2019, double paid sick leave from 24 to 48 hours per year, provide for a health care credit, and provide a youth training exemption. 

A citizen led measure (Measure CC) also on the ballot, would raise the minimum wage to $15 in 2017, and CPI plus 3% up to the City Living Wage (approximately $20/hr. in 2023). This measure has no health care credit, and no youth training exemption. 

A new ordinance being considered by Council at the special meeting tomorrow would: raise the minimum wage to $15 in 2018, raise paid sick leave to 72 hours for employers of 25 or more persons, and eliminate the health care credit, and phase out a youth training exemption by 2020. 

Currently the Berkeley minimum wage is $11/hour and is scheduled to increase to $12.53/hour on Oct 1 of this year. 

Please show up or email council at council@cityofberkeley.info ASAP regarding your thoughts about this revised measure. 

From City of Berkeley's website: 

Adoption of revised Minimum Wage Ordinance Chapter 13.99 and new Paid Sick Leave Ordinance Chapter 13.100 


1. Adopt first reading of an Ordinance repealing the existing Minimum Wage Ordinance and adopting a revised Minimum Wage Ordinance Chapter 13.99. 

2. Adopt first reading of an Ordinance adopting a new Paid Sick Leave Ordinance Chapter 13.100. 

3. Instruct staff to attempt to withdraw and replace ballot argument for Measure BB (Minimum Wage Ordinance) urging voters to reject existing Minimum Wage measures. 

Financial Implications: See report 


Stairway to Heaven:
Pacific School of Religion might partner with Rhoades client for market-rate development on Holy Hill(Reportage? Op-ed?)

Fred Dodsworth (candidate for City Council, District 6)
Thursday August 25, 2016 - 10:20:00 AM

EDITOR'S NOTE: Council candidate Fred Dodsworth, a former Planet reporter, submitted this colorful piece with the above tag. You be the judge, but for a more conventional report from the excellent Tom Lochner in the East Bay Times, see http://www.eastbaytimes.com/breaking-news/ci_30285536/berkeley-developers-outline-proposed-senior-facility-north-uc.

For extensive reproduction of the promoter's renderings which purport to show the proposed development, see berkeleyside.com: http://www.berkeleyside.com/2016/08/24/pacific-school-of-religion-to-build-265-unit-senior-center/

Tuesday night the latest iteration of grotesque and inappropriate over-development visited north Berkeley like the ghost of some nightmarish future. For the very summit of Holy Hill, just one block from CAL-Berkeley, the Pacific School of Religion AND Mather-Lifeways have proposed a “market-rate” (read obscenely expensive) senior living complex which would be best described as an undistinguished, ugly, five-story pile of stucco and concrete, —the sort of monolithic wall of office buildings (not homes) one finds a-plenty of in Sunnyvale or Walnut Creek. If Berkeley’s Bard, the fabulous Malvina Reynolds were alive today I’m sure she would quickly pen a new verse regarding these “little boxes made out of ticky tacky — they all look just the same.” Unfortunately, in the senior housing context such “little boxes” take on a much darker meaning.

Berkeley’s busiest developer mouthpiece, Mark Rhoades played wrangler for PSR/MLW’s proposal. In exchange for not taking the wrecking ball to the historic chapel on campus and the Maybeck designed home further down the hill, Mr Rhoades implied that the neighborhood owed PSR/MLW the right to cover more of the site than the city’s already over-generous zoning allows. Rhoades threatened the attendees with even taller buildings looming over their bucolic residential streets if the neighborhood didn’t quickly fall into line. Rhoades also insisted that no one was allowed to record the presentation (just because), and that they wouldn’t take questions out loud from the audience, a stricture that was roundly ignored by the 50 or 60 unhappy neighbors in attendance. After an hour of astonishingly dull explanations as to why and how this was the most important and best use of these historic structures and endangered open space, the Rhoades show broke up into a half a dozen stations where folks could speak directly to the various so-called experts in color and texture and transportation, which, as might be expected, led to a mass exodus of neighbors, affording the various consultants and PSR/MLW principals the opportunity to continue speak to each other. 

Meanwhile in the animated discussions taking place outside the building immediately afterwards, several parties claimed PSR had already sold the entire property to Mather, conditional on prompt approval of their atrocious scheme; that PSR was already bankrupt. (I mean really, who sends their sons or daughters off to an exciting life in the church these days?) Rumors have it that enrollment at PSR is negligible although PSR’s pleasant President David Vásquez-Levy mumbled something about maybe 250 students if one counted all the folks who weren’t actually enrolled; that both CAL and ASUC were eyeing the site; that many in the community would much prefer PSR privately sell off the various residential properties contiguous to the campus for private ownership; and most humorous to this correspondent, the elderly female CEO of Mather (who lives in a Mather senior complex in Illinois) suggested those neighbors over 60 could sell their very valuable homes and they might still have just enough left over to buy into the PSR/Mather project for the grand privilege of paying an exorbitant monthly fee to live in the same neighborhood in which they currently reside. Sounds just fabulous. 

Police seek help in finding UC Berkeley Library vandals, thieves

Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday August 24, 2016 - 01:16:00 PM

Police are asking for help tracking down four suspects caught on video vandalizing and stealing from the University of California at Berkeley library in June. 

Police on Tuesday released a surveillance video still of the four suspects. They are suspected of stealing and damaging property at the Doe Memorial Library on June 23. 

The video was taken when the suspects went into the library at about 10:20 p.m., after it was closed. 

Anyone who recognizes the four suspects has been asked to call Detective Brendan Tinney at (510) 642-3658 or btinney@berkeley.edu.

SENIOR POWER: Looking back ahead

Helen Rippier Wheeler pen136@dslextreme.com
Wednesday August 24, 2016 - 12:03:00 PM

Women finally got a piece of the action in 1920. Passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution provided American women with full voting rights fifty years after all American men were enabled to vote. Sixteen other nations had already guaranteed women this right.

August 26th is designated as Women's Equality Day to commemorate this event. Women’s Equality Day is officially proclaimed in some locales. It was instituted by Congressional Representative Bella Abzug (1920-1998) when she was 60 years old. Women and girls have come a long way but there is still much work to be done to achieve true equity. Women’s Equality Day is not on the calendars of the Berkeley public library, the City of Berkeley, nor Berkeley senior centers.  

What does this have to do with senior power, with old Americans? One might also ask whether old women vote. Voter turnout is the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot in an election. Just who is or is not eligible to vote varies by country. Some nations discriminate based on sex, race, and/or religion; age and citizenship are usually among the criteria. Low senior voter turnout has been attributed to a variety of factors, and it may be due to disenchantment, indifference, or contentment.  

In 1995, then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (1947- ) made international news in her speech at the Fourth World Conference on Women. She declared, "It’s time for us to say here in Beijing, for the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights."  

Quingrong Ma (1943- ), Chinese women’s rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize recipient believes that “The only way to solve the problem of women’s subordination is to change people’s mindset and to plant the new idea of gender equality into every mind.” 

Mahnaz Afkhami (1941- ), Executive Director of the Foundation for Iranian Studies, and former Minister of State for Women's Affairs in Iran, sees “The connection between women’s human rights, gender equality, socioeconomic development and peace … increasingly apparent.”  

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly, has not been ratified by the U.S. A coalition of 100+ organizations signed a letter urging the U.S. Senate to ratify this treaty. President Obama endorses ratification, and has identified the Convention as a multilateral treaty priority. Opponents claim that the Civil rights Act of 1964 protects women from discrimination. It has been downgraded in a sense to a Committee.  


“Housing is a human right,” declared labor and senior-rights advocate Helen Corbin Lima (1917-2005). She was a resident of Strawberry Creek Lodge (SCL) senior housing. Strawberry Creek Lodge -- referred to locally as The Lodge or Strawberry -- was built in 1962 in Berkeley, California. Its purpose was affordable rental housing for lower to middle income senior citizens. Three adjoining buildings in a park-like setting provided 150 units—most were studios, some one-bedroom apartments, each with a bathroom and kitchenette. An elective, not-free evening meal was introduced when there no longer was a supermarket within walking distance.  

Housing problems especially for low-income and disabled seniors in Berkeley were and are in the news. At SCL (1320 Addison) and Redwood Gardens (2951 Derby), for example. (December 19, 2014 PlanetTroubles in Berkeley's Redwood Gardens.”)  

In 1991, when Lima moved into a tiny SCL studio, her only income was Social Security. She applied for Section 8 housing, and a whole new realm of political activity opened up for her. From then until her death, she was active in the fight for so-called affordable housing (which differs from low-income housing) and to save Section 8, which was threatened. Until her deteriorating health made it no longer possible, she was also actively involved in a SCL Tenants Association.  

Section 8 refers to Section 8 of the Housing Act as repeatedly amended. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) manages Section 8 programs. It authorizes the payment of rental housing assistance to private landlords on behalf of millions of low-income households in the United States. The largest part of the Section is the Housing Choice Voucher program which pays a large portion of the rents and utilities of households. 

Section 8 also authorizes a variety of "project-based" rental assistance programs, under which the owner reserves some or all of the units in a building for low-income tenants, in return for a federal government guarantee to make up the difference between the tenant's contribution and the rent in the owner's contract with the government.  

In 1997 Lima founded Save Section 8, a nonprofit self-help, grass-roots effort in behalf of American seniors who need rent-subsidized apartments. No admission or membership fees were charged to attend meetings. Activities included picketing, petitions, meetings, newspaper publicity, publications, presence at California’s annual senior rally, counseling individuals and providing speakers. Income came from voluntary contributions.  

Rent was and is charged for non-senior related events held in Berkeley senior centers rooms. Save Section 8 meetings in the large meeting room of the North Berkeley Senior Center were not always viewed by the City fathers as senior events. I corresponded with the City Manager’s office about this perception and Save Section 8 was finally able to hold monthly meetings without paying rent. Collecting contributions within the senior center towards Save Section 8 expenses was prohibited. Center Rules prohibit soliciting. Some gutsy seniors resorted to standing outside on the corner with tin cans, but this was discouraged.  

Lima was responsible for the production of a video, Housing is a Human Right: Seniors and Section 8 (22 minutes, closed captioned). The Santa Clara City Library had it in its collection; the Berkeley Public Library did not. (It appears no longer to be in libraries, possibly attributable to public libraries discarding VHS’s in favor of DVD’s. I have a copy, and film director Anahita Forati may have copies.)  

It was generally agreed that SCL buildings were in poor shape when, in August 2009, it received a 66.69 inspection score, which was 23.2% worse than the average HUD inspection score (100=best) for all Section 8.  

By 2012, the Lodge was a not-for-profit complex governed by a Board of Trustees whose meetings were attended by a Tenants Association representative. SCL was managed by Church Homes of Northern California (CCH). Income was derived from residents’ rents and HUD subsidies under Section 8.  

Most recently, Satellite Affordable Housing Associates – SAHA – “acquired SCL and is partnering with Strawberry Creek Lodge Foundation to refinance and remodel the Lodge including seismic and building upgrades. SAHA … also provides property management services, as well as … on-site service coordination.” [Internet]  


BOOK REVIEW: "Living past 100 will force us to rethink retirement," a review of The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, reviewed by Justin Fox (Bloomberg News via Chicago [Illinois] Tribune, August 23, 2016).  

TV REVIEW: “Better Late Than Never sends (William) Shatner, (Henry) Winkler, (Terry) Bradshaw and (George) Foreman on adventure through Asia and tired old tropes," by Robert Lloyd (Los Angeles Times, August 23, 2016). NBC 10 PM Tuesday. 

The Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times may require free registration before providing articles. I recommend reading this book review! I do not recommend Better Late Than Never.  

New: Armed robbery at Blake and Dana

Allison Levitsky (BCN)
Wednesday August 24, 2016 - 12:18:00 PM

An armed robbery took place at approximately 1:50 a.m. Wednesdy morning at the intersection of Blake and Dana streets, Berkeley police said. The victim described the two suspects as 25-year-old black men, about 6 feet tall, both wearing black hooded sweatshirts and black jeans. Both suspects reportedly had handguns. After taking the victim's cellphone, they fled north on Dana Street. The victim was not harmed.

Berkeley Shooting Victim Identified by Police

Dave Brooksher (BCN)
Tuesday August 23, 2016 - 09:37:00 PM

Police have identified a man who was fatally shot late Thursday night in Berkeley as 22-year-old Alex Goodwin. 

Goodwin, a Berkeley resident, was found unresponsive in the vicinity of Mabel and Burnett streets after officers responded to that area at 11:58 p.m. on report of shots fired. 

He was transported to a hospital and pronounced dead, according to police. 

Information about the suspect or suspects was not immediately available, but police said the shooting did not appear to be random. 

Anyone with additional information is asked to call investigators with the Berkeley Police Department at (510) 981-5741.

Berkeley Police investigate fatal shooting

Dennis Culver (BCN)
Friday August 19, 2016 - 10:11:00 AM

Police in Berkeley are investigating a shooting that occurred Thursday night and left one person dead. 

Officers with the Berkeley Police Department responded at 11:58 p.m. Thursday to multiple calls of shots fired in the area of Mabel and Burnett streets. 

Responding officers located an unresponsive male shooting victim. h There victim was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced deceased, police said. 

The suspect or suspects in the shooting remain at large. 

Police said the shooting does not appear to be random, and they do not believe there is an immediate threat to the community. 

Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call the Berkeley Police Department at (510) 981-5741.



The Keystone Cops are running the Berkeley City Council. (So what else is new?)

Becky O'Malley
Friday August 19, 2016 - 02:09:00 PM

UPDATE: The do-over happened at a second special meeting on Friday. See story, August 26. 

Rule #1 for reporting on politics, especially Berkeley politics: Never attribute to conspiracy what incompetence will also explain.

That said, the trail of conspiracy/incompetence which led to Councilmember Laurie Capitelli’s aborted City Council meeting a couple of weeks ago was remarkable, even for Berkeley. I’ve spent the last week asking around, getting lots of answers, only some for attribution on the record, and my conclusion is (drumroll): What happened was just what appeared to happen.

A colossal screw-up, maybe intentional, maybe not. 


Short form summary:

Councilmember and mayoral candidate Laurie Capitelli reneged on a meeting he’d called himself, with the only public notice that he was to be a no-show provided “at the midnight hour” (an hour before the announced start time) not by the city staff, but by the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Berkeley Association via emails to their members.

Evidently those who pay the piper (i.e. actual or potential corporate donors to Capitelli’s campaign fund) called the tune. It’s more, I think, on the conspiracy side of the calculus, but at best it was inexcusably sloppy, a waste of time(=money) for the city staff who had to prepare for the meeting, open the council chambers, etc. 





Long form explanation:

Capitelli engaged in a series of negotiations with SEIU, the public employees’ union, brokered by attorney Andy Katz, who’s run for a variety of local offices both public and organizational, and is now serving in several of them. The goal was to reach consensus on what kind of council resolution was needed to improve Berkeley’s minimum wage and sick leave regulations. As things now stand, there are competing ordinance initiatives for these topics on the November ballot, both likely to be defeated because when voters have too many alternatives they just vote no on everything. 



Katz issued a press release saying that there had been a meeting of the minds, appropriate language soon to be submitted to the Berkeley City Council for ratification. 

A “Proclamation” calling a special meeting of the council for Thursday, August 11, 2016,
6:00 P.M was submitted, with signatures of convenors affixed as follows: 

s/Jesse Arreguin, Councilmember, District 4
s/Laurie Capitelli, Councilmember, District 5
s/Lori Droste, Councilmember, District 8
s/Darryl Moore, Councilmember, District 2
s/Kriss Worthington, Councilmember, District 7

And then, when the appointed time arrived, Arreguin, Worthington and Moore were in place on the dais in the council chambers in the Maudelle Shirek Old City Hall, but (without a word of warning to their colleagues) Droste and and Capitelli were no-shows, so the meeting lacked a five-member quorum. 

Vice-Mayor Maio was in Europe. Mayor Tom Bates was “unavailable” at an undisclosed location. Susan Wengraf pleaded family obligations, though rumored to have been available if needed. 

Retiring District 3 Councilmember Max Anderson, however, was definitely on call at home, ready to come in to make a quorum if needed despite persistent back pain. 

There’s some sort of murky narrative about the timing of the release of the proposed language as it relates to Berkeley’s four-month-old Open Government Ordinance (OGO) which I’m not even going to bother to track for you. I talked to the city attorney who finalized the draft, and even he wasn’t willing to guess what the problem might have been. 

In any event, the escape clause would have been that if six councilmembers had managed to arrive, they could have waived whatever requirement might exist in the OGO and gone on with the meeting. (Moore + Arreguin + Worthington + Anderson + Droste + Capitelli=6). 

Another version of the story is that Capitelli possessed the draft language in time to meet the deadline for publication for a five-member quorum, but held it back in order to torpedo the meeting when he changed his mind about supporting it. Choose your poison pill. 

In any event, the two draft ordinances (one re minimum wage , the other re paid sick leave ) in motion were finally placed in limited release by Capitelli just yesterday. 

Berkeley increasingly seems to be governed by the Keystone Cops. Mr. Capitelli has been on the Berkeley City Council since before the creation of the universe, and yet he orchestrated this farcical performance and hasn’t even apologized for it. 

And, no, I haven’t even bothered to ask him what he thought he was doing, because the sequence between the Downtown Business (error intended) Association’s CEO John Caner’s whiny first press release and Capitelli's abortion of the council meeting with notice only to his patrons in the corporate sector is obvious. He didn’t even tell Andy Katz that he would miss the meeting, it seems. 

As we used to say in law school, res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself). 

Oh those wicked politicians, they’re all the same, one is tempted to say. But this case provides an unusually clearcut example of which councilmembers are trustworthy and which are not, and also, which two mayoral candidates operate in good faith and which one doesn’t. (Since Droste, not up for re-election for couple of years, was also a no-show, it seems to indicate that she’s marching to Capitelli’s drummer, but there’s no way to prove it.) 

Meanwhile, the reigning council majority members (Capitelli, Bates, Maio, Wengraf, Moore, Droste) have blithely embarked on their lengthy summer vacation without dealing with the other two of the most pressing issues now facing Berkeley. 

One of them, just today, seems to have resolved itself without Berkeley’s input: Jerry Brown’s attempt to impose pro-developer by-right zoning on cities like ours in return for a trivial amount of funding for affordable housing. A coalition of labor, environmental and housing activists from all over the state seems to have persuaded legislative Democrats to turn him down on what would be a very bad deal for us. 

But Berkeley has still not dealt with the very serious grievances articulated by citizens involved in Black Lives Matter advocacy. The most recent outrage on this front was the way some mid-level city bureaucrats, fronted by an assistant city manager and a press guy and backed up by a phalanx of uniformed police officers, denied entry to the city administration building during business hours to a committee of eight activists who had scheduled a meeting with a councilmember, simply because of an unsubstantiated rumor that they were planning a sit-in. 

If the activists had actually overstayed their welcome by sitting in somewhere, then a foolish city administrator might have tried charging them with trespass, but keeping them out of a public building before they’d even done anything was patently illegal. They said they came to talk, and that request should have been honored. 

The constitution of the US&A, the same one that Mr. Khan carries a copy of, has been interpreted by the courts as forbidding pre-censorship of speech, including symbolic speech, on the basis of content. And what about the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances? This just in: No Prior Restraint. 

. It appears that the City Manager wasn’t even consulted before the doors were barred. The Mayor and Vice-Mayor were Unavailable, as usual. Who’s in charge, anyway? 

Here’s a radical idea: if it was possible to call a special city meeting at the behest of labor activists to deal with wage issues, even if Capitelli bailed at the last minute, how about trying again for a properly noticed special meeting about all three major items of unfinished business left on the table when the council took off? Perhaps five councilmembers would sign off on that. 

This time, however, it might be a good idea to ask the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Association for permission beforehand, since they appear to be running Berkeley these days…. 

I’ll say it again: it’s time for a change. We don’t need any more of this stuff, whether it’s conspiracy or incompetence. The election’s in November: precinct walking in progress this weekend and beyond. 




Background reading

Here's the full set of links. Read them and weep. In reverse order of occurrence, roughly.

Betrayal at the Berkeley City Council (Public Comment) Harry Brill 08-11-2016

Flash: No Special Berkeley City Council Meeting Tonight Re Minimum Wage John Caner, CEO Downtown Berkeley Assn. 08-11-2016

Flash: Whole Lotta Shakin' at a special City Council Meeting tonight? Becky O'Malley 08-11-2016

City of Berkeley News: City Council Special Meeting, Thursday August 11 at 6:00PM Councilmember Kriss Worthington 08-11-2016

Press Release: Berkeley City Council to hold special meeting on raising minimum wage Stefan Elgstrand, Office of Councilmember Jesse Arreguin 08-11-2016

Press Release: HAVE YOUR VOICE HEARD: Council Special Meeting re MINIMUM WAGE, Tomorrow, Thurs, Aug 11, 6pm, Old City Hall, 2134 MLK Jr. Way. John Caner, C.E.O. Downtown Berkeley Association 08-11-2016

Press Release: Agreement Reached on Berkeley Minimum Wage
Attorney Andy Katz led negotiations for Special City Council vote Thursday
Andy Katz, andy@andykatzlaw.com 08-11-2016

Press Release: PROCLAMATION CALLING A SPECIAL MEETING OF THE BERKELEY CITY COUNCIL From Leslie D. Harris, City of Berkeley City Clerk Department 08-11-2016 









The Editor's Back Fence

They're at it again

Thursday August 25, 2016 - 12:44:00 PM

This just in: another city council meeting to tinker with the minimum wage proposals for the November ballot. Still nothing about the Black Lives Matter or the Brown By-Right proposals however. How do we know? From the DBA, of course. The city of Berkeley seems to pay someone to write press releases, which seem to go first to the campaign funders who make up the Downtown Business Association.

Public Comment

War Crimes

Tejinder Uberoi
Friday August 19, 2016 - 06:39:00 PM

In a perverse twist to its stated reason for promoting “stability within the region," the U.S. continues to sell large numbers of weapons to Saudi Arabia, (a staggering $110 billion) — which the Saudis have been raining down on a predominantly civilian population in Yemen. President Obama bypassed Congress to facilitate the sales.

The State Department recently approved an additional $1.5 billion in arms sales. Our British and European cousins are also jumping on the bandwagon eager to participate in the bonanza.

Despite clear marking and GPS coordinates provided to the warring factions, a Doctors Without Borders hospital was recently attacked - again, killing medical personnel, patients, and civilians.  


The attack on DWB and their support facilities was the fourth attack in the past year. The war has killed 6,500 people and displaced 2.5 million. We also continue to ignore mounting evidence of Saudi’s close alliance to terrorist groups (including the perpetrators of 9/11) and its long history of exporting its Wahhabism strain of Sunni Islam which has fueled greater intolerance of “non-believers”. Daniel Benjamin, a former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism, has called Wahhabism "a devastating invasive species in Islam's enormous ecosystem”. 

It is time the American people raise their collective voices and demand an immediate halt to further weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. Failure to do so will make us complicit in Saudi’s war crimes. 

As Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut told CNN: “There’s an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen.” Shameful.

Response to July 29 commentary

Mark DiPietro, Director of Marketing & Communications Landmark College
Thursday August 18, 2016 - 08:36:00 PM

The July 29 issue of the Berkeley Daily Planet included a Public Comment by Gar Smith titled “Has UC Berkeley become an Academic AirB’n’B?” Included in the commentary is a description of a five-day summer workshop for college students developed and sponsored by Landmark College, and taught by Landmark College instructors. The workshop was held at UC Berkeley from August 1-5.

While much of the information was factually correct, some was misleading. Landmark College, in Putney, Vermont, was founded in 1985 to serve students with dyslexia, and has since expanded to serve students with other learning difficulties. The phrase “students who learn differently” is not, as stated in the opinion piece, “the current politically correct phraseology,” but is an accurate description of the students served by Landmark College’s model. A learning disability is a neurological disorder that interferes with learning processes; “students who learn differently” is a broader phrase that can include other significant challenges to a student’s ability to process information. Landmark College serves students with many learning profiles, hence the use of the broader phrase, “students who learn differently.”

Students and adults with an LD are more prevalent than it might seem, as LD is “invisible.” The National Center for Learning Disabilities reports that 4.6 million Americans have a diagnosed LD but also notes that the actual number is likely higher. 

In addition to its bachelor’s and associate degree offerings, Landmark College offers several short-term programs for high school and college students who need strategies and skills to help them succeed in a college setting. The 5-Day Intensive Workshop for College Success is one such short-term program. Unlike Landmark College’s full-time degree programs at its campus in Putney, Vermont, an LD diagnosis is not required because the College’s philosophy is that every student can benefit from the introduction of various skills and strategies to help them become more independent and effective learners. 

We appreciate the opportunity to correct the record. For more information about Landmark College, please visit www.landmark.edu.


THE PUBLIC EYE:Top 10 Trump Predictions

Bob Burnett
Friday August 19, 2016 - 01:22:00 PM

As Donald Trump stumbles towards the November 8th election, it’s clear that each week will bring a new Trump screwup. Here are my top ten predictions.

10. Trump’s tax returns will be hacked. Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns. He called upon Russian hackers to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails and release them to the press. Trump’s remark has some hackers promising to make public Trump’s tax returns. On a recent Bill Maher show, the host asked WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange when they were going to release Trump’s returns; Assange replied, “We’re working on it.” It’s only a matter of time before someone releases Trump’s recent returns. They’ll likely show zero taxes paid, no charitable contributions, and scary ties to Russian oligarchs.  


9. Trump will drop any pretense of political correctness. Trump is in a death spiral: he makes an offensive remark; his ratings lower; his fragile ego is shaken; Trump lashes out with another offensive remark. How low will he go? Recently, he accused Obama and Clinton of “founding” ISIS. Soon Trump will sink lower and call them “traitors.” Trump’s bad behavior will egg on his crowds and poison the presidential debates. (Trump’s August 17th hiring of Steve Bannon is proof of this.) 

8. Trump will receive only a limited security briefing because of his ties to Russia. On August 17th, Trump was given a general national security briefing. Subsequently, Trump will ask for a detailed briefing on Russia; this will be denied because of the ties between his staff (Paul Manafort and Boris Epshteyn) and Russian interests. Trump will blurt out this news. (This week, the New York Times published information about Manafort’s ties to subterranean Ukrainian-Russian politics.) 

7. Most GOP swing-state senatorial candidates will move away from Trump. It’s already started to happen; incumbent Republican candidates with tough re-election races – such as Illinois Senator Kirk – disavow Donald Trump. By Labor Day, if Trump doesn’t change his ways, most challenged Republican incumbents will move away from him. This list includes: Ayotte (NH), Blunt (MO), Burr (NC), Grassley (IA), Johnson (WI), McCain (AZ), Portman (OH), Rubio (FL), and Toomey (PA). (If Trump bombs in the September 26th presidential debate, the majority if GOP congressional candidates will abandon him.) 

6. Trump fundraising will tank. As an inevitable counterpart to a faltering candidate, Republican presidential fundraising will decline. In order to secure big donations, Trump promised to appear more presidential and to run a conventional campaign. He hasn’t done this and, as a consequence, large donations will dry up. (Big Republican donors will give to Senate and House candidates.) This won’t impact Trump’s visibility but it will mean few Trump TV ads and a miniscule get-out-the-vote effort. 

5. Trump will escalate crowd anger. As Donald Trump spirals downward, his anger and frustration will egg on his supporters. His crowds won’t get any smaller – Trump’s base is about 30 percent of likely voters – but they will sense that the election is slipping away. Trump will feed their anger by telling them the system is rigged and accusing Obama and Clinton of being “traitors.” (The Secret Service will warn Trump about his rhetoric but he will continue to ignore these admonitions.) 

4. Because of his erratic behavior, two-thirds of Americans will find Trump “unfit” for office. The current Huffington Post poll of polls indicates that 64.5 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Donald Trump (32.5 percent view Trump favorably). Trump’s unfavorability will continue to decline. (Can it get to 70 percent?) 

3. US/Iraqi forces will drive ISIS out of Iraq. Politico contributor Mark Perry writes that Iraqi and Kurdish forces, led by US advisors, are preparing a major push into Mosul that should result in ISIS forces being pushed out of Iraq just before the election. This should bolster Obama-Clinton favorability and further diminish Trump’s chances. (Either this or the leaking of Trump’s tax returns will be the dreaded “October surprise.”) 

2. Only one presidential debate will occur. After non-stop whining about the debate format, Donald Trump will show up at the September 26 Presidential debate at New York’s Hofstra University. Even though he understands how important this debate is to his Presidential aspirations, Trump won’t be able to control himself: he will be evasive and irritating. He will refuse to abide by the debate format: six 15-minute segments, each on a particular topic; with each candidate having two minutes to respond followed by an opportunity to question each other. Trump will refuse to honor the time limit; he’ll interrupt Clinton during her response; and call her “crooked Hillary” and other derogatory terms. When questioned, Trump will refuse to give straight answers. Trump will lose the substantive debate and his favorability rating will further decline. 

1. Clinton will win by 11 points and garner 348 electoral votes. After the September 26th debate, the course of the election will be clear: Hillary will defeat Trump by a convincing margin. The MSM focus will turn to competitive Senate races. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Homeless encampments may be here to stay until adequate shelters for all are provided

Ralph E. Stone
Friday August 19, 2016 - 01:16:00 PM

Homeless encampments are springing up in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and elsewhere in the Bay Area because local governments are unable to provide shelter, let alone permanent housing, to their homeless. The homeless are, therefore, forced to find their own self-help shelter in tents, under bridges, in doorways, and in our parks.

Courts and the federal government have said it's illegal to criminalize someone's status rather than their conduct, and therefore enforcing a no-camping ordinance when homeless people don't have viable alternatives is criminalizing their state in life. A shelter is a basic human right and efforts to remove the homeless self-help shelters are likely to run afoul of the law. Without shelter, the homeless are exposed to the dangerous condition of living on the streets.  

In April, eleven homeless people facing eviction from city-owned property filed suit against the city of Eureka, California. In Cobine v. City of Eureka, Oakland U.S. federal District Judge Jeffrey White opined: 

"Getting injunctive relief in a federal court is no easy task. To do so, plaintiffs much show three things: that their case has merits and a likelihood of success at trial; that without a temporary restraining order, they would suffer irreparable harm; and that a temporary restraining order would be in the public interest." Judge White decided that all factors tipped in the plaintiff's favor. 

The Court found that the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution protected plaintiffs from seizure of their possessions and their "homeless retreats regardless how ramshackle." 

The Court also found that laws criminalizing an individual's status, rather than specific conduct, are violations of the Eighth Amendment. Further, the Court found, the Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment are irreparable,while the city's potential harm are monetary.  

The Court issued a restraining order prohibiting the eviction of the eleven plaintiffs until Eureka identifies housing for the eleven and provides assurances that the homeless plaintiffs' possessions will be stored and accounted for. 

While this case applies to only eleven homeless in Eureka, Judge White's reasoning is compelling.  

That does not mean, of course, that cities cannot enact restrictions on homeless encampments to maintain hygiene, safety, and lawful conditions. As homeless encampments are here to stay at least for the foreseeable future, local governments may have to provide portable toilets, trash bins, trash, trash removal, other amenities to make the encampments more livable, and enforce laws preventing blocking of streets, sidewalks, and entrances to businesses.  

Until adequate shelters are provided to all the homeless, homeless encampment are now part of the urban environment.

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Dangerous Seas: China & The U.S.

Conn Hallinan
Friday August 19, 2016 - 01:26:00 PM

A combination of recent events underpinned by long-running historical strains reaching back more than 60 years has turned the western Pacific into one of the most hazardous spots on the globe. The tension between China and the U.S. “is one of the most striking and dangerous themes in international politics,” says The Financial Times’ longtime commentator and China hand, Gideon Rachman.

In just the past five months, warships from both countries—including Washington’s closest ally in the region, Japan—have done everything but ram one another. And, as Beijing continues to build bases on scattered islands in the South China Sea, the U.S. is deploying long-range nuclear capable strategic bombers in Australia and Guam.

At times the rhetoric from both sides is chilling. When Washington sent two aircraft carrier battle groups into the area, Chinese defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun cautioned the Americans to “be careful.” While one U.S. admiral suggested drawing “the line” at the Spratly Islands close to the Philippines, an editorial in the Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times warned that U.S. actions “raised the risk of physical confrontation with China.” The newspaper went on to warn that “if the United States’ bottom line is that China has to halt its activities, then a U.S.-China war is inevitable in the South China Sea.”  


Earlier this month China’s Defense Minister Chang Wanquan said Beijing should prepare for a “people’s war at sea.” 

Add to this the appointment of an extreme right-wing nationalist as Japan’s defense minister and the decision to deploy anti-ballistic missile interceptors in South Korea and the term “volatile region” is a major understatement. 

Some of these tensions go back to the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco that officially ended WW II in Asia. That document, according to Canadian researcher Kimie Hara, was drawn up to be deliberately ambiguous about the ownership of a scatter of islands and reefs in the East and South China seas. That ambiguity set up tensions in the region that Washington could then exploit to keep potential rivals off balance. 

The current standoff between China and Japan over the Senkakus/Diaoyu islands—the Japanese use the former name, the Chinese the latter—is a direct outcome of the Treaty. While Washington has no official position on which country owns the tiny uninhabited archipelago, it is committed to defend Japan in case of any military conflict with China. On Aug. 2 the Japanese Defense Ministry accused China of engaging in “dangerous acts that could cause unintended consequences.” 

Tokyo’s new defense minister, Tomomi Inada, is a regular visitor to the Yasukuni shrine that honors Japan’s war criminals, and she is a critic of the post-war Tokyo war crimes trials. She also has called for re-examining the 1937 Nanjing massacre that saw Japanese troops murder as many as 300,000 Chinese. Her appointment by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seems almost calculated to anger Beijing. 

Abe is also pushing hard to overturn a part of the Japanese constitution that bars Tokyo from using its military forces for anything but defending itself. Japan has one of the largest and most sophisticated navies in the world. 

Over the past several weeks, Chinese Coast Guard vessels and fishing boats have challenged Japan’s territorial claims on the islands, and Chinese and Japanese warplanes have been playing chicken. In one particularly worrisome incident, a Japanese fighter locked its combat radar on a Chinese fighter-bomber. 

Behind the bellicose behavior on the China and U.S. sides is underlying insecurity, a dangerous condition when two nuclear-armed powers are at loggerheads. 

From Beijing’s perspective, Washington is trying to “contain” China by ringing it with American allies, much as the U.S. did to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Given recent moves in the region, it is hard to argue with Beijing’s conclusion. 

After a 20-year absence, the U.S. military is back in the Philippines. Washington is deploying anti-missile systems in South Korea and Japan and deepening its military relations with Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia and India. The Obama administration’s “Asia pivot” has shifted the bulk of U.S. armed forces from the Atlantic and the Middle East to Asia. Washington’s Air Sea Battle strategy—just renamed “Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons”—envisions neutralizing China’s ability to defend its home waters. 

China is in the process of modernizing much of its military, in large part because Beijing was spooked by two American operations. First, the Chinese were stunned by how quickly the U.S. military annihilated the Iraqi army in the first Gulf War, with virtually no casualties on the American side. Then there was having to back down in 1996, when the Clinton administration deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups in the Taiwan Straits during a period of sharp tension between Beijing and Taipei. 

In spite of all its upgrades, however, China’s military is a long ways from being able to challenge the U.S. The Chinese navy has one small aircraft carrier, the U.S. has 10 enormous ones, plus a nuclear arsenal vastly bigger than Beijing’s modest force. China’s last war was its disastrous 1979 invasion of Vietnam, and the general U.S. view of the Chinese military is that it is a paper dragon. 

That thinking is paralleled in Japan, which is worrisome. Japan’s aggressive nationalist government is more likely to initiate something with China than is the U.S. For instance, the crisis over the Senkaku/Diaoyus was started by Japan. First, Tokyo violated an agreement with Beijing by arresting some Chinese fishermen and then unilaterally annexed the islands. The Japanese military has always had an over-inflated opinion of itself and traditionally underestimated Chinese capabilities. 

In short, the U.S. and Japan are not intimidated by China’s New Model Army, nor do they see it as a serious threat. That is dangerous thinking if it leads to the conclusion that China will always back down when a confrontation turns ugly. Belligerence and illusion are perilous companions in the current tense atmosphere. 

The scheduled deployment of the U.S. Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile systems has convinced Beijing that the U.S. is attempting to neutralize China’s nuclear missile force, a not irrational conclusion. While anti-missile systems are billed as “defensive,” they can just as easily be considered part of the U.S.’s basic “counterforce” strategy. The latter calls for a first strike on an opponent’s missiles, backstopped by an anti-ballistic missile system that would destroy any enemy missiles the first strike missed.  

China is pledged not to use nuclear weapons first, but, given the growing ring of U.S. bases and deployment of anti-missile systems, that may change. China is considering moving to a “launch on warning” strategy, which would greatly increase the possibility of an accidental nuclear war. 

The AirSea Battle strategy calls for conventional missile strikes aimed at knocking out command centers and radar facilities deep into Chinese territory. But given the U.S.’s “counterforce” strategy, Chinese commanders might assume those conventional missiles are nuclear tipped and aimed at decapitating China’s nuclear deterrent. 

According to Amitai Etzioni of Washington University, a former senior advisor to President Jimmy Carter, “China is likely to respond to what is effectively a major attack on its mainland with all the military means at its disposal—including its stockpile of nuclear arms.” 

A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that if China moves to “launch on warning,” such a change “would dramatically increase the risk of a nuclear exchange by accident—a dangerous shift that the U.S. could help to avert.” 

President Obama is said to be considering adopting a “no first use” pledge, but he has come up against stiff opposition from his military and the Republicans. “I would be concerned about such a policy,” says U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “Having a certain degree of ambiguity is not necessarily a bad thing.” 

But given the possibility of accidents—or panic by military commanders—“ambiguity” increases the risk that someone could misinterpret an action. Once a nuclear exchange begins it may be impossible to stop, particularly knowing that the U.S. “counterforce” strategy targets an opponent’s missiles. “Use them, or lose them” is an old saying among nuclear warriors. 

In any case, the standard response to an anti-missile system is to build more launchers and warheads, something the world does not need more of. 

While China has legitimate security concerns, the way it has pursued them has won it few friends in the region. Beijing has bullied Vietnam in the Paracel islands, pushed the Philippines around in the Spratly islands, and pretty much alienated everyone in the region except its close allies in North Korea, Laos and Cambodia. China’s claims—its so-called “nine dash line”—covers most the South China Sea, an area through which some $5 trillion in trades passes each year. It is also an area rich in minerals and fishing resources. 

China’s ham-fisted approach has given the U.S. an opportunity to inject itself into the dispute as a “defender” of small countries with their own claims on reefs, islands and shoals. The U.S. has stepped up air and sea patrols in the region, which at times has seen Chinese and American and Japanese warships bow to bow and their warplanes wing tip to wing tip. 

The recent decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague that China has no exclusive claim on the South China Sea has temporarily increased tensions, although it has the potential to resolve some of the ongoing disputes without continuing the current saber rattling. 

China is a signatory to the 1982 Law of the Sea Treaty, as are other countries bordering the South China Sea (the U.S. Senate refuses to ratify the Treaty). China has never tried to interfere with the huge volume of commerce that traverses the region, a trade that, in any case, greatly benefits the Chinese. Beijing’s major concern is defense of its long coastline. 

If the countries in the region would rely on the Law of the Sea to resolve disputes, it would probably work out well for everyone concerned. The Chinese would have to back off from their “nine dash line” claims in the South China Sea, but they would likely end up in control of the Senkakus/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. 

But to cool the current tensions Washington would also have to ratchet down its military buildup in Asia. That will be difficult for the Americans to accept. Since the end of WW II, the U.S. has been the big dog on the block in the western Pacific, but that is coming to an end. According to the International Monetary Fund, China surpassed the U.S. economy in 2014 to become the world’s largest. Of the four largest economies on the globe, three are in Asia: China, Japan and India. 

Simple demographics are shifting the balance of economic and political power from Europe and the U.S. to Asia. By 2015, more than 66 percent of the world’s population will reside in Asia. In contrast, the U.S. makes up 5 percent and the European Union 7 percent. By 2050, the world’s “pin code” will be 1125: one billion people in Europe, one billion in the Americas, two billion in Africa, and five billion in Asia. Even the CIA predicts, “The era of American ascendancy in international politics that began in 1945—is fast winding down.” 

The U.S. can resist that inevitability, but only by relying on its overwhelming military power and constructing an alliance system reminiscent of the Cold War. That should give pause to all concerned. The world was fortunate to emerge from that dark period without a nuclear war, but relying on luck is a dangerous strategy. 


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












ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Is Antipsychotic Medication a "Chemical Straitjacket"?

Jack Bragen
Thursday August 18, 2016 - 08:30:00 PM

Author's Note: Just to remind the reader that this column is an opinion column only, and does not represent expert advice. It is up to the reader to judge whether the material presented is useful or not. The author does not assume any liability for mishaps attributed to reading this column. 

Being heavily medicated on antipsychotics can feel like being in a chemical straitjacket. Having been on these medications since the early 1980's, this feeling has become part of "normal" for me. However, I still sometimes notice side effects even after taking antipsychotics for more than thirty years.  

I have been fortunate that I haven't so far acquired Tardive Dyskinesia, which is a syndrome of tongue, mouth, face, and upper body movements-- which are involuntary and uncontrollable. Tardive Dyskinesia is often irreversible, even upon discontinuing medication. The chance of getting this is a risk for anyone who takes drugs in this class.  

However, the sensation of being medicated still feels physically like being constricted and restrained. Sometimes I get what is termed, "motor restlessness" in which it is hard to sit still. There are a number of other side effects as well.  

Because I have been taking these medications for nearly all of my adult life, I am past the temptation to try going off medication for purposes of relief from these side effects. On an emotional level, I am in complete acceptance that this is part of my life; and life isn't always comfortable.  

Meditation practices are sometimes harder for someone who is medicated versus someone who isn't, but they can still be done if one compensates with extra focus and extra effort. Reading can be harder while on medication. However, I have pushed past this difficulty as well, via extra effort, which, by now, I don't even notice most of the time. Medication, at least in my case, hasn't hindered the ability to try.  

Body movement is harder while on medication. Exercise for most non-afflicted people is a great release of tension. However, if on antipsychotic medication, a wall of restriction makes it a lot harder to accomplish physical activity. The continuous physical discomfort and mental restriction is a significant factor in widespread noncompliance among people with schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medication sometimes also induces depression.  

Why, you might ask, would anyone take these medications if they are so bad? The answer: the alternative is much worse.  

To begin with, if you want to go medication noncompliant, you are very much on your own; the mental health treatment system will not support you in that. Secondly, and more importantly, there is the factor of untreated mental illness.  

If you are a multimillionaire, you might have the option of exploring alternative treatments that might work and might not. Schizophrenia and bipolar are believed to have medical causes; and because of this, the treatments given involve drug therapy.  

I have heard of widely famous movie stars as well as other well-known people who have been forced to conclude that their psychiatric conditions require treatment. These are individuals in a position to seek any doctor or any alternative treatments available regardless of the cost. (I won't name names due to the issue of liability.) 

Untreated mental illness is hell. 

If you go a few years on medication without relapsing, the memory might fade of how bad it was to have a psychotic, manic, or depressive episode. You might believe you could get through another episode, get to "the other side", and cure yourself through some type of purification. This is likely to be a grave mistake.  

When I was eighteen and had been recently diagnosed, I did just that. I became medication noncompliant, I worked full-time as a janitor, and I moved out of my parents' house. However, the illness caught up with me a year later. In successive episodes of noncompliance, it didn't take nearly as long for me to relapse upon quitting medication.  

Having fully-blown psychosis is nothing to trifle with. It can create grave danger, legal liability, and long term damage to one's level of function. It can be a terrifying and incredibly painful experience.  

Is it worth it to try going off medication against medical advice? In the vast majority of cases, apparently it is not. If you look at me, for example, I have an above average I.Q., and I have at my disposal tremendous cognitive techniques that help the condition of my mind. However, I know that if I went off medication now, I would lose everything. Not only would my living situation fall apart, but also, another psychotic episode would cause me, in the aftermath (which would include returning to the hospital and subsequently recovering, again), to lose functioning--that I am now likely to be too old to restore.  

Is antipsychotic medication a chemical straitjacket? Sometimes it can feel that way, however, a person can work around it, and furthermore, there is no acceptable alternative.  


On LULU, I have just released a miniature (16,000 word) short fiction collection (of science fiction stories that I wrote) at an affordable price. Most of the material in it has appeared in either The Street Spirit, or in Bewildering Stories. I am calling it; "A Weekend Afternoon of Great Science Fiction." To view this product, click here.

Arts & Events

New: AGRIPPINA: A Rollicking Handel Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday August 21, 2016 - 10:06:00 AM

West Edge Opera’s third and final production of this summer’s festival offered George Friedrich Handel’s Agrippina directed by Mark Streshinky and with sets designed by Sarah Phykitt. Streshinky states in program notes for Agrippina that he wanted sets to evoke Hieronymus Bosch’s famous painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. I suppose the sets provided by Sarah Phykitt satisfied Streshinsky, though I fail to comprehend how they added anything to an opera set in Nero’s Rome. I found the accordion-folding sets a distracting conceit that contributed nothing to this Handel opera.  

Agrippina is in many ways a kind of prequel to Claudio Monteverdi’s magnificent opera of 1642 L’Incoronazione di Poppea. Whereas Monteverdi’s opera deals with the courtesan Poppea’s opportunistic dropping of her lover Ottone to take up with Emperor Nero, Handel’s Agrippina explores the maneuvers of Nero’s mother, Agrippina, to have her son proclaimed Emperor. In these efforts Agrippina ultimately succeeds, though most of her maneuvers involve tricking Poppea and Ottone and using Nero’s lusting after Poppea to her own advantage in gaining for her son the Imperial throne. 

With the orchestra conducted by Jory Vinokour, West Edge Opera’s Agrippina offered fine singing by a uniformly excellent cast. As Agrippina, soprano Sarah Gartshore gave a lush-voiced performance, with flawless technique and fine diction in Italian. Likewise, mezzo-soprano Céline Ricci gave an outstanding performance in the trousers-role of Nero. Ricci’s singing was utterly gorgeous, and her acting prowess was simply stupendous! Ricci nearly stole the show! As Poppea, soprano Hannah Stephens was superb. Her bright-toned soprano rang out crystal-clear, and her acting as the beautiful courtesan desired by all the male characters was spot-on, full of demure flirtatiousness that allowed her always to remain in control of the men who pursued her.  

As for the male singers, countertenor Ryan Belongie gave an impassioned performance as Ottone, who ends up refusing the throne if it means giving up his beloved Poppea, who shares his love. In the role of Agrippina’s second husband, Claudio, baritone Carl King was excellent. When Claudio arrives in Rome to report on his success in pacifying Britain, Carl King entered from the back of Oakland’s vast abandoned train station, and he proceeded by shaking hands and greeting scores of audience members just as any demagogue would do as he made his way to the stage and mounted the podium to make a grandiose speech with extravagant hand-gestures reminiscent of Benito Mussolini. Likewise, Carl King’s singing voice was full-throated and vigorous, with fine Italian diction.  

In minor roles, baritone Nikolas Nackley was a spirited Pallante, mezzo-soprano Johanna Bronk was a fine Narciso, and baritone Nick Volkert ably sang the role of Lesbo. Lighting was by Kevin August Landesman and costumes were designed by Alice Ruiz. Especially effective was the costume for Nero, a sequined vest over a black tunic and trousers. The dramatic highlight of this Agrippina involved Nero stripping off most of his costume in his lusty haste to get at Poppea, who nonetheless rebuffs him. As Nero, Céline Ricci removed the vest and dropped her/his trousers. However, in her/his haste she/he neglected to step out of her/his trouser-legs, with the result that her/his lustful advances on Poppea were by hopping forward with trousers around the ankles, looking almost like a child hopping in a potato-sack race. This moment of hilarity brought down the house, with the audience reserving the loudest applause at the close of the opera to the well-deserving Céline Ricci for her trousers-role portrayal of Nero. Finally, conductor Jory Vinokour deserves admirable mention for leading a fairly brisk account of Handel’s tuneful Agrippina.

Lo and Behold: Will the Internet Save Us or Destroy US?

By Gar Smith
Friday August 19, 2016 - 06:14:00 PM

Opens August 19 at the Shattuck Landmark

Lo and Behold is a magician's-trick of the movie. It is metaphorical, metaphysical, metawhimsical, and metapocalyptic. It's a film by Werner Herzog, which is to say it is thoroughly "meta."

Herzog's new film doesn't feature man-eating bears (a la Grizzly Man), demented conquistadors on self-destructive quests (Fitzcaraldo; Aguirre: Wrath of God), or spelunking through 30,000-year-old art galleries (Cave of Forgotten Ancestors). In Lo and Behold: Reveres of a Connected World, Herzog trains his camera—and his quirky curiosity—on the world of computers. And the Internet. And social media. And robots. And solar flares. . . . 


Werner Herzog seems an unlikely guide for a journey trough the realms of electronic escapism. Recently profiled in Wired magazine as a "flamboyantly dour Bavarian Luddite," Herzog has savagely scorned social media as a "massive, naked onslaught of stupidity." He only owns a single cell phone and uses it rarely. "I'm nostalgic for the days when there were no smart phones and no constant availability," he grumps. "My social network is basically the table in my home. Our social network happens across our dinner table." 

Herzog's interest in the "connected world" spiked in February of 2015 when "the Internet of things" dramatically fell apart in Arizona. Cell phones went dead, gas pumps wouldn't work, and ATMs froze in mid-transaction. If there's one thing that attracts Herzog's attention, it is the whiff of imminent, universal disaster. 

Not surprisingly, this is a hodgepodge of a film. In about a dozen episodic vignettes, Herzog hops from one setting to another, plunging into whatever electronic detour grabs his fancy and chasing it down with the focused intensity of a hungry foxhound. 

Once he has his interviewers cornered, he delights in sending them squirming with unexpected queries like: "Do you love your robots?" "Does the Internet dream?" "Does the Internet need us?" 

At one point, while listening to Elon Musk expound on mankind's first trip to Mars, Herzog interrupts to announce: "I would come along!" The unexpected comment leaves Musk startled, befuddled, and silenced. 

Meeting the Pioneers of the Internet 

The 28 people interviewed in the film are good matches for Herzog. Like the filmmaker, they are all somewhat strange—talented but otherworldly outliers. (The majority of the people interviewed hail from Carnegie Mellon University.) There is Ted Nelson, the pioneer techie who came up with the word "hypertext," Internet protocol honcho Bob Kahn, World Wide Web creator Tim Berners Lee, and hacker-icon Kevin Mitnick (an author, activist, and a one-time fugitive who serve five years in a federal prison for various computer "crimes"). 

Herzog starts off with a walk down a dingy corridor at UCLA where Prof. Leonard Kleinrock unlocks a room that houses the refrigerator-sized proto-computer that gave rise to electronic forum that lead to the Pentagon's ARPANET and, ultimately, to the Internet. 

Kleinrock merrily pounds the historic hunk of metal with his fist and recounts the historic moment in 1969 when a computer in Los Angeles successfully sent a message to another computer at Stanford University. This first attempt was only a partial success, however, but it gave rise to the delicious "insiders' joke" that also provided Herzog with the title for his documentary. (I'm tempted, but I won't reveal the punch-line in this review.) 

Because the Internet is "all pervasive," Herzog observes, it inevitably "seeps into the dark side of human existence as well." And he provides a cringe-worthy example with a visit to a grieving family scorched by flames flung by Internet trolls. After losing a daughter in a horrific automobile accident, the parents and the girl's two sisters were forced to suffer further anguish after photographs of the young girl's mangled body were posted on the Internet and prompted a viral storm that generated a flood of cruel comments and merciless taunts. 

Facing Herzog's camera, the family stands defensively behind a kitchen counter. No one moves during their interview, they just stare, dull-eyed. Finally, the mother offers one of the film's most haunting lines: "I have always believed that the Internet is a manifestation of the Antichrist." 

Herzog provides more evidence that Google's mantra, "Do No Harm," is not the guiding principle in the world of electronic innovation. At one point, he visits a team of robotics engineers who are creating cyber-soldiers for the Pentagon. In another segment, he looks on as a gang of skinny twenty-somethings scrambles around a laboratory floor watching two teams of hand-made robots play a fierce game robo-soccer. (Looking at all these detached males "nerding-out" in security-clearance-level labs and cubicles, you may find yourself asking: Do these guys ever get outside and play real soccer? Do any of them have girlfriends or partners?) 

One of the few women in the documentary is astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz. Dr. Walkowicz is made-to-order for Herzog's World—she is smart, she is critical, and (look closely) she has a scene from Herzog's Caves of Forgotten Ancestors tattooed on her shoulder. 

Walkowicz warns that the Internet, while "a manifestation of human consciousness, [is] almost a separate being—that's comprised of human activity but has a life of it's own." 

In Lo, Herzog includes several meta-episodes that circle the main theme in fairly wide orbits. Walkowicz covers one of them—the threat of Coronal Mass Ejections. Yep, it turns out that the powerful blasts of energy regularly released by solar flares can bring down the Internet. Also at risk: entire electric grids, thereby posing a threat to transportation, the delivery of food and water, and even risking the mass meltdowns of nuclear reactors. Herzog and Walkowicz discuss these possibilities against a stunning visual backdrop of massive electromagnetic storms erupting on the surface of the sun. 

Another of Herzong's distant-orbits revolves around a small community of electro-sensitive people who have fled their urban livelihoods to seek refuge in rural hinterlands far from cell towers, radiowaves, and the baggage of modern electric appliances. While the connection to the Internet is spotty, Herzog's interviews still capture some interesting personal histories. 

Finally, kudos are due to Jim McNeil and the folks at the Internet security firm NetScout for providing Herzog with the opportunity—and the funding—to exercise his curiosity over the course of a feature-length documentary. 

As McNeil has explained in various interviews: "We wanted to explore how the Web can be used for ill, as well as who might be trying to bring it down. What could happen if the connected world is interrupted? We didn't set out to scare the daylights out of people, but it would be quite easy to do." 

Recent examples are easy to find: The growth of the Dark Web, the spread of electronic organized criminal activity, the creation of cyberwar tools designed to attack critical networks in other countries, and the hacking of supposedly "protected" data controlled by political figures, the Democratic National Committee and even the National Security Agency. 

The Internet, McNeil notes, is "capable of doing so many wonderful things, and it's also capable of being used to do really horrific things. If we do not educate ourselves in a meaningful and intelligent way, we are all going to be very disappointed at some point in the future. It might stop working the way we wanted to." 

Issuing his own judgment on technological "progress," Herzog is more succinct: "It's doable, sure," he says. "But should we do the doable? That's my question. I think we should not." 

Silk Road Ensemble Plays Berkeley’s Greek Theatre

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday August 19, 2016 - 02:38:00 PM

Founded in 1998 by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Silk Road promotes cross-cultural music performance and international collaboration. On Thursday evening, August 18, the Silk Road Ensemble performed an inspiring concert of world music at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre. Performing with the Silk Road Ensemble, Yo-Yo was admirably self-effacing in this concert, as he allowed the group and its individual members to enjoy the spotlight. Yo-Yo Ma’s famed abilities as a cello soloist were only featured in one number in this concert, a Finnish folksong for piano and cello by Michio Mamiya, in which Yo-Yo Ma was accompanied on piano by Spanish artist Cristina Pato. Ms. Pato was also featured in the concert’s opening number, this time on Galician bagpipes. In this opening work, a Fanfare for Gaita and Suona, Cristina Pato was paired with Chinese pipist Wu Man; and the two musicians serenaded each other and the audience from opposite sides of the Greek Theatre’s stage, occasionally coming together at center stage only to retreat once again to the sides. This opener was exhilarating and exciting, and it foreshadowed the wonderful music to come. 

Next came a Tuareg song from Mali in West Africa. Although the Silk Road Ensemble includes no African or African-American musicians, they played this Tuareg song with appropriate attention to its rhythms, which are derived from the movements of textile dyers working in indigo pits. Following this piece came a very popular Irish fiddle tune, O’Neill’s Cavalry March, featuring Colin Jacobson on violin. Next came a piece composed by Wu Man, who first heard the melody hummed by his four year-old son. Wu Man turned the tune into a composition entitled Green. Although it starts out softly, Green builds and builds into a very loud – indeed too loud –finale, which rivals in cacaphonous volume many a heavy metal finale. Following this piece came a duet from Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh and bassist Jeffrey Beecher. Entitled Syrian Improvisations, this was an atmospheric, moody piece of great poignancy. After the aforementioned Finnish folksong played by Yo-Yo Ma on cello and Cristina Pato on piano came a duet with Wu Man on pipes accompanied by a Chinese female artist Wu Tong, who played a traditional Chinese equivalent of a guitar. 

By far the longest and most complex work on this concert’s program was Atashgah, composed by Silk Road Ensemble violinist Colin Jacobson, who took his inspiration for this piece from an ancient Zoroastrian fire temple he saw while visiting his colleague Kayhan Kalhor in the latter’s native Iran. Kalhor himself was featured prominently in this beautiful work on kamencheh, a spiked violin from Persia. Incidentally, one novelty in this piece was a cello played standing up by Mike Block, something I had never seen before. Next came a piece featuring Sandeep Das on tabla and Wu Man on pipes. Entitled If you shall return, this piece was inspired by boatsmen’s songs heard by Sandeep Das on India’s Brahmaputra River as well as by boatsmen’s songs heard by Kojiro Umezaki on China’s Yangtse River. Following this work was an arrangement by William Arms Fisher of Antonín Dvorák’s Going Home. Featured on vocals in this piece was Wu Man, whose ringing tenor voice sang in Mandarin and English. Closing out the first half of the concert was an arrangement by Silk Road percussionist Shane Shanahan of Billy Strayhorn’s famous jazz tune Take the “A” Train.  

After intermission, Silk Road Ensemble returned to play Cut the Rug, composed for the group by David Bruce, who took his inspiration from the tribal rugs woven in Central Asia and Turkey as well as from gypsy music and flamenco. Next came an arrangement by Ensemble member Colin Jacobson of Paco de Lucia’s influential Zyryab, a piece celebrating the 9th-century Kurdish poet Ziryab, who worked at the court of the Umayyad Caliphate in Cordoba, Spain, where he introduced the Persian lute and thus became a sort of godfather to the Spanish guitar and flamenco. Wu Tong was featured in this piece on the Chinese equivalent of a guitar. The final work on this concert’s printed program was Wedding, a composition by clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, who set out to capture the musical atmosphere of a Syrian village wedding. As part of this long work there was a thrilling bit of wordless vocalise in Arabic musical style sung by Wu Man. Silk Road Ensemble then went on to play two lively encores. Many of the pieces performed in this concert can be heard on the group’s latest CD, Sing Me Home.