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SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday August 16, 2019 - 02:41:00 PM

Bucket Brigades to Save People's Park!

Ace Backwords was one of the first to notice.
"What is up with the People's Park lawn?" he asked. "They've always had lush, green grass. But now all the grass is scorched and dying. Let me guess: The University won't let anyone water the lawn."

On August 8, Lisa Teague, with the People's Park Committee, confirmed these suspicions: "UC hasn't been watering the lawn in People's Park." Not to worry. There's no way the people are going to let the park wither away, Teague reports. A frisky band of park rangers quickly purchased a long hose and a sprinkler after which Teague happily reported spending "a couple of hours watering with Russell Bates yesterday, overjoyed, because we're gonna have green grass again." 

Coop Center Preparing to Become Homeless? 

It came as a surprise to many members of Berkeley's Cooperative Center that the Federal Credit Union is looking to sell its long-standing headquarters at the corner of Ashby and Adeline in order to "pay off debt incurred during the [2008] financial crisis and strengthen [its] capital position…." 

According to a joint message from the Board Chair and CEO, the Coop is negotiating to sell the land to "a local nonprofit affordable housing developer" that plans to build "about 80 units of affordable housing at the site." 

The note states, without explanation, that the property "has not been optimally used" despite being located across from the Ashby BART stop. 

While plans to abandon the Ashby site are well underway, there is, as yet, no clear plan for a new location. The Joint Letter claims the profits from selling the property will go to "improve services to members" but there is no clarity regarding where—or when—the Coop will reopen, just a statement that the main branch will "move to another location within the next one or two years." 

It's usually not a good idea to move out of your home until you know where you'll be moving to. 

One option would be to keep the Coop at the same location since the new development plan includes "ground-level space for one or more local nonprofits." Why couldn't the Coop simply reemerge as the ground-floor anchor tenant in the new high-rise housing complex? 

Instead, the Coop's administrators are thinking small by simply "examining the feasibility of placing a shared-branch kiosk or ATM in the new development." 

If the Coop hopes to find a new location that "improves services" to members, it will need to provide, at minimum, the same level of convenience members currently enjoy, including ready access to BART and free parking for 38 automobiles. 

Another question: What is to become of the 108 solar panels on the roof of the current building? 

Defeat Moscow Mitch 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is taking a lot of heat these days for his self-appointed role as Trump's "Grim Reaper," assuring that no gun control or ballot protection legislation gets a hearing in the Senate. As a result, the Louisville Courier-Journal recently noted that "#MassacreMitch was the top national trending topic on Twitter as online critics blamed McConnell for the nation's two latest mass shootings." 

Meanwhile, McConnell holds the contradictory position that (1) Russia didn't meddle in the 2016 elections while (2) steadfastly refusing to support a House-passed Voting Rights Bill to protect the 2020 elections from foreign hacking. 

If Trump frequently acts like Vladimir Putin's lapdog, this makes McConnell look like Putin's poodle. (Or, if you prefer, Putin's Turtle.) "During Mitch McConnell's speech at Kentucky’s premier political event Saturday," Slate reported, "protesters frequently broke out into chants of 'Moscow Mitch'." 

But let's not dump too much opprobrium on Moscow Mitch's wounded shoulders. Remember: we still have to deal with Leningrad Lindsey, Petrograd Pompeo, and Volgograd Bolton. 

Rampant Racism? Trump Caught Red-handed 

I think I may have discovered photograph evidence that ties Trump's race for the White House to the rise of White Supremacy. 

You know that familiar "OK" hand-sign that Trump always flashes—with thumb and index fingers joined in a circle and the remaining fingers spread wide? It used to be a common way to signal "all is well." But in 2017, some trolls on the 4Chan website started a rumor that the gesture had a second meaning—forming the letters W and P as a shorthand for White Power. 

Intended to mock snowflake liberals, the hoax actually caught on. In the process, it overlapped with a childhood goof called "the Circle Game" that involves showing the OK sign upside down and below the waist. 

Regarding Trump: Searching on the Internet, I was unable to find any images of Trump using the "OK sign" prior to the 2016 presidential race. Just plenty of "thumbs-up," and "open palm" signs. 

Trump's Hand-signs in Context\ 

It appears that Trump may have trained himself to start using the OK/WP sign during the early days of his presidential bid and it has now become a habitual, signature gesture. But how do you tell if someone wants the gesture to mean "OK" or "KKK"? 

As Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League explained to the Chicago Times: "You absolutely cannot assume what someone is doing when they make the OK sign unless there is contextual information." In Trump's case, the context is scary. 

Trump flashes the WP sign during the 2016 campaign 

https://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s--dEZx82JG--/c_scale,fl_progressive,q_80,w_800/cxa7qgo8o3x3di7ucqd9.jpg 

When Trump speaks at rallies and mentions Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez he first lifts his right hand and forms the White Power sign. Clearly, he is not signaling that he is "OK" with AOC. The gesture clearly is meant to convey a negative message. And many in the crowd believe they know what that message is—"Send her back." 

Trump also lifts his hand to brandish the WP sign when he mentions AOC's compatriots on "The Squad." Again, he is not signaling to the screaming crowd that these Congressmembers—women he has called "socialists," "communists," "terrorists"—are "OK." He is raising his hand to send a signal and a threat: "The solution to progressive women of color is . . . White Power." 

The crowd's response to this incitement varies—from "Send her back!" to "Lock her up!" to "Shoot her!" 

The BBC Takes a Look at Donald Trump's Hand Signs 

 

Background Checks and 'Red Flags' 

It's a no-brainer that background checks should be required before anyone is allowed to possess a deadly weapon (be it a pistol, a crossbow, or a knife). And it's only logical that guns should be confiscated if family, friends, or co-workers raise a "red flag" that a gun-owner has become unstable and poses a potential threat to the community. 

So why don't these same sensible preventative restrictions apply to a singular individual who has a proven record of reckless bullying, threatening behavior, and emotional insecurity? 

In short, wouldn't the US—and the world—be safer if Donald Trump had been required to pass a background check before being handed the keys to the nuclear codes? 

It's time for Congress to raise a red flag. 

You Can't Cover Up a Nuclear Disaster 

Internet newsies encountered a great example of a cover-up following the explosion of a nuclear-equipped Russian cruise missile on August 8. 

Addressing fears of radioactive fallout, a video dispatch from Al Jazeera quoted a Greenpeace source who cited official Russian monitoring data that showed radiation "spiked 20 times above normal" in a city located 30 kilometers from the blast. 

However, a competing report from RT News (an official Russian government broadcast operation) had a different take on the story. The news anchors repeated the government's line that there had been no leak of radiation and there was nothing for residents to worry about. In a delightfully sloppy piece of editing, RT News inadvertently included one of the background scenes that appeared in the Al Jazeera report. It included a clip of a local resident holding up a radiation detector that was clearly registering elevated levels of ambient radiation. 

Bad Sex and Comic Strips 

On August 13, Chronicle columnist Barbara Lane made mention of the British Literary Review's annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Noting that the current winner was too lurid to reprint in a family newspaper, Lane reposted the following excerpt from the 2017 winner, Venetia Welby's "Mother of Darkness": 

"The green grass curls around Tera's left breast as she curls her sleek physique around Matty's diabolical torso like a vine. Paralyzed, complete, the marble statue of the lovers allows itself to be painted by the dawn's lurid orange spillage." 

The same issue of the Chronicle also contained an exchange of naughty talk between two characters in Greg Evans's Luann comic strip. Gunther and his BFF Bets are seen posing in hand-made Renaissance costumes. Bets praises Gunther for his craftsmanship and Gunther tells Luann: "I hand-trimmed my jerkin and custom-fitted her bumroll." To which Bets replies: "I love it when you talk nerdy." To which Gunther replies: "Want me to tell you how I hooped your farthingale?" 

Letters from Elizabeth Warren 

I recently got a Facebook note from Aaron Glanz whose latest book is (take a deep breath): Homewreckers: How a Gang of Wall Street Kingpins, Hedge Fund Magnates, Crooked Banks, and Vulture Capitalists Suckered Millions Out of Their Homes and Demolished the American Dream. (The title is too long to memorize, so you either have to write it down or just pony up and buy a copy.) 

Glanz's note proudly displayed a photograph of a letter of praise from one of the book's newest fans: Sen. Elizabeth Warren. 

Coincidentally, I had recently sent a note to Warren's campaign proposing two new T-shirt slogans: WARREN PEACE and FOR THE MANY/NOT THE MONEY. I also sent a greeting card with a personal message and three anti-Trump haikus. 

This Monday, a small envelop arrived in the mail. It was from Warren's office. Inside was a thank-you note personally signed by the Senator! She ended her message the same way she finished her letter to Glanz—with the hand-written salutation "Persist!" 

 


Opinion

Editorials

Impeachment Has Started, Softly But Surely

Becky O'Malley
Monday August 12, 2019 - 12:46:00 PM

When the toney restaurants I seldom frequent are in puberty, conceived and birthed but not yet debuted, they often have what the full-gush foodie press calls a “soft opening”. There’s no publicity, perhaps not even a sign, but those in the know are aware that they can get a pretty darn good meal if they stop by during the soft opening period, which may last days, weeks, or even months.

That’s where we are now with the pending impeachment of the country’s scandalous president which has progressives already salivating. It’s a soft start to a major conclusion.

House Judiciary Committee head Jerry Nadler is admitting as much, as quoted on CNN, MSNBC and in the Washington Post, to name a few. The phrase he’s used is “formal impeachment proceedings.” Not, yet, exactly, “articles of impeachment”, but mighty close. 

The story, for those who know where to look, can be found in the pleadings for House Judiciary Committee v. Donald F. McGahn II, a lawsuit filed on Wednesday: 

“The Judiciary Committee is now determining whether to recommend articles of impeachment against the President based on the obstructive conduct described by the Special Counsel.” 

and 

“The Judiciary Committee is conducting an investigation to understand the scope and extent of misconduct by President Trump, and that investigation includes consideration of whether the Judiciary Committee should exercise its Article I powers to recommend articles of impeachment. Articles of impeachment already have been introduced and referred to the Judiciary Committee in this Congress. 

“To fulfill its duties, the Judiciary Committee must obtain testimony and evidence from witnesses to the President’s actions to determine whether to recommend such articles against the President, or whether to recommend additional or alternative articles that the Judiciary Committee may prepare.” 

Pundits eager to stir the pot have been hypothesizing a split within the Democratic Party over when impeachment should officially open, but this language could hardly be clearer: it already has. This is the soft opening, the appetizer which precedes the main course. 

The first serving of red meat for the impeachment hawks has been provided by the subpoena Issued to McGahn. He has been asked to tell the Judiciary Committee whatever he knows about Donald Trump’s repeated crimes and misdemeanors in his attempts to obstruct justice. 

But that stuff happened way back last year, part of Trump’s flirtation with Russia and its magnetic overlord. El Presidente has since Ddone so many more appalling things since then that conspiring with Putin to steal the election seems trivial. 

Is there such a thing as a traitorous tweet? As a lifelong First Amendment absolutist, I’d have to say no. No matter what malodorous verbal rotten tomatoesTrump has hurled at The Squad in the wee small hours of the morning, it’s protected speech, not an impeachable offense. 

How about seizing hundreds of parents at work and leaving their kids with no one to take care of them? Again, horrendous, but not impeachable. 

How about hanging out with a notorious accused sex criminal? Disgusting, but oops, it seems that one will never come to trial now that Jeffrey Epstein is dead. 

(I’m seriously allergic to conspiracy theories, but even I have my suspicions. It seems unlikely that some external assassin was brought in to off Epstein, but surely someone with his financial resources could pay off the guards to turn their backs and even to give him enough rope to hang himself. Trump’s super-sleazy Attorney General Barr says he’s appalled (=shocked, shocked) by what happened, but the average 12 year old could have predicted this one.) 

It looks like the only way to stop all these major affronts to public morality will be to utilize the relatively minor offenses which are already in the pipeline. The House of Representatives can use this soft opening of the formal impeachment proceedings, a slow but steady accumulation of evidence by the ponderous Congressman Nadler and his judicious Judiciary colleagues, to take down Trump. 

It’s a process which could easily take months to build up a good head of steam, and then more months to be turned into precise articles of impeachment which would be guaranteed to stick. But that’s all right. It’s important to make sure that the House has all of its ducks in a row, so to speak. It would be a big mistake to rush the process only to have the Senate acquit just in time to influence the 2020 election in the wrong direction. 

We can still hope for the grand opening, the actual evidence-rich articles of impeachment which are the real indictment, but not until least a year from now. Meanwhile, the collection of evidence by the various congressional committees can move forward to an inexorable conclusion. 

No need to rush the process. Revenge is a dish best served cold. 

************************************************************** 

Presumably there will be no impeachment or indictment for the next week. We hope to take this weekend off, so the next issue will be dated August 23. There may be new postings between now and then, or not.


Public Comment

Moscow Mitch

Jagjit Singh
Friday August 09, 2019 - 03:58:00 PM

Finally, the media has penetrated the poker face Mitch McConnell by labelling him “Moscow Mitch”, a description he richly deserves. By his inaction he has left the nation unprotected from Russian interference.  

The Republicans, bowing to their master, Donald Trump, have ignored dire warnings from special council, Bob Mueller who warned that Russia is still conducting aggressive cyber wars. 

The usually placid McConnell, impervious to criticism, responded with fury when the media accused him of being a Russian asset.  

McConnell has only himself to blame for blocking federal election reform that would prevent Russian interference in our elections. He should stop whining and perform his duties as Senate Majority leader otherwise his nickname will stick. His critics rightfully accuse him of blocking stronger security measures to prevent a repeat of Russian interference in 2016. McConnell has left the door wide open hoping the other Russian asset, Donald Trump, will prevail in the 2020 election.  

More and more Americans are demanding to know why President Trump remains silent and refuses to heed such warnings. We must raise our collective voices and demand to see his tax returns which might reveal how he is being compromised by Russian oligarchs. We cannot have a Russian asset as our President.  

This is no longer about party, this is a matter of national security.


The "Equity" Cloak for Marijuana

Carol Denney
Friday August 09, 2019 - 04:01:00 PM

Marijuana promoter High Times' effort to use Cesar Chavez Park as a "designated location" for marijuana events was so strongly opposed in the spring of this year by grassroots park protectors and public health advocates that Mayor Jesse Arreguin reassured at least one advocate that there are "no immediate plans to revisit the marijuana events issue, and if we do I agree it should go to multiple commissions including the Health Commission, Parks Commission and Marijuana Commission, because this policy could have multiple impacts on our city."

That word apparently didn't travel far. The "Health, Life Enrichment, Equity and Community Committee" took it up on Monday, July 8th, 2019 at 10:00 am on the sixth floor of City Hall where it took another beating by community voices opposed to using any parks for marijuana promotions, especially Cesar Chavez Park. Councilmember Ben Bartlett quickly withdrew his proposal after public comment. 

Councilmembers Cheryl Davila, District 2, and Ben Bartlett, District 3, had referred the matter to the committee of three; Councilmembers Rashi Kesarwani, in whose district Cesar Chavez Park is located, Sophie Hahn, who chaired the 10:00 am meeting after, ironically, an item about air quality, and Ben Bartlett, who introduced the item as an "equity" issue. Racial equity is the concept of using lucrative marijuana dispensary licensing to address the disproportionate burdens the war on drugs and disproportionate criminal penalties have had on communities of color by making sure entrepreneurs of color are represented in the new landscape of marijuana profits. 

Most of the speakers were in favor of addressing racial disparities in just this way, but were opposed to marijuana promotions in public parks, access to which are a crucial park of public health in any healthy community and which, in Berkeley, are smokefree since 2008 by local ordinance. 

The materials in the committee packet touted Berkeley's overwhelming support for California's Proposition 64, which decriminalized recreational marijuana, as an indication that Berkeley would be in support of marijuana promotions in public parks. This is not the case. Proposition 64's support in Berkeley and in other California cities was for decriminalization, for safe access, and for the prohibition of marijuana smoking in all public places. That public smoking prohibition is part of why the proposition passed. 

Proposition 64 allowed cities to create municipal rules and permits for temporary marijuana events, but the law itself prohibits public smoking of marijuana, and lists marijuana smoke clearly as a carcinogen on its public health website as mandated by Proposition 65's public list of all known carcinogenic substances. There are many private areas where marijuana promoters could hold festivals and events. But Berkeley would have to erode its hard-won municipal public health protections to create marijuana events in public places. 

But it is also misleading to imply that "equity" mechanisms, efforts to address racial inequities, are best addressed through the promotion and sale of marijuana in public parks, especially considering that Berkeley's public health indices continue to show obscene disparities in public health between Berkeley's white populations and our communities of color. Minority communities have long been the target of Big Tobacco, which has linked arms with the marijuana industry and the vaping industry in primarily targeting youth, a practice documented by smokefree advocates for decades. Berkeley students smoke marijuana at twice the rate of California students more generally. As a city, we have work to do. 

High Times, the group whose inquiry originated this "pilot project", is a wealthy, white group promoting marijuana nationwide. It prides itself on violating smokefree ordinances wherever it goes as part of its rebel branding, a branding that made sense when marijuana was being unnecessarily demonized. High Times has had decades to demonstrate an honest interest in racial equity issues. It has not. It has the deep pockets to generate a fund to assist communities of color with start-ups not limited to marijuana; small businesses with are the heart of any commercial district. And it has done none of those things. It continues to do what Big Tobacco has done for decades; find ways to whittle loopholes in local smoking restrictions in an effort to restore the shrinking habitat for those who use its products, which now include vaping products and a wider array of marijuana products. "Equity issues" in Berkeley are just its latest cloak; this is about money, money it primarily makes off of communities of color. 

Look sharp for special interests using "equity" in the same familiar efforts Big Tobacco uses to undermine public health protections. Express your suspicions about any room set aside to discuss the use of public parks for marijuana promotions which does not include representatives from the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, Americans for Non-Smokers Rights, and the American Lung Association, to name only a few. 

And if you don't hear a ringing defense of your smokefree public parks and smokefree protections from your Berkeley City Councilmembers and your Mayor right about now as they try to coax people into back rooms and try to do an end run around the relevant commissions, please consider running for office. Your community needs you. The tobacco, marijuana, and vaping industry are coming for your kids, and there's nothing subtle about it.


Can Gun Control Work?

Harry Brill
Friday August 09, 2019 - 02:57:00 PM

That the overwhelming majority of the public supports background checks as a condition for obtaining a gun is not surprising. But perhaps you did not know that in contrast to the perspective of the National Rifle Association (NRA) most gun owners agree that serious background checks are necessary. According to a national public policy polling survey, over 80 percent of gun owners support background checks, and two thirds are likely to vote for political candidates who have a similar view. 

The survey results are important because we can count on a substantial number of gun owners, like most Americans, to advocate more effective laws to protect the public. Of course the 5 million members of the NRA also believe that the second amendment gives them a constitutional right to own guns. But many of us disagree because there is nothing in that amendment that justifies individuals owning guns. Nevertheless, there is agreement that background checks are important. 

The NRA 's main clients are not its five million members. NRA's commitment is mainly to represent the interests of the armament industry. The close relationship between the NRA and businesses that manufacture armaments is not only ideological. For obvious reasons they also donate substantial amount of money to the NRA. The Remington Arms corporation, which makes weapons both for military and civilian purposes, donated recently over a million dollars. Just as the armament industry can count on the NRA, so can the NRA count of the armament industry. 

The main legislation to protect against the misuse of guns, was enacted in1993. Known as the Brady Handgun Prevention Act it imposed a five day waiting period before a licensed dealer could sell and deliver a hand gun to an individual. Although The NRA could not defeat the bill, it won a major concession, which eliminated the waiting period, and replaced it with a computerized instant checking system. 

In many European countries, it may takes months before a gun can be purchased. In New Zealand for example, the government can interview candidates and the background check is more thorough. Because the standards for licensing guns are much higher in Germany, gun homicides in the United states are 17 times the German rate. 

In contrast to many other countries, there is only about a one hour waiting period to obtaining a gun in the United States. The problem is that the shorter the wait, the less likely the screening process will screen out candidates who should not have access to weapons. 

Despite the Brady law gun related deaths have been increasing. But the problem does not just reflect the law's weakness. Another major shortcoming is that guns can be legally purchased from private sources, which do not require background checks. According to a study by Harvard University, almost one-fourth of gun purchases bypass the Brady law. Instead, guns can be obtained in the private market, where sellers are not licensed. This access, referred to as the gun show loophole, provides private sources for those who want or need to avoid the legal requirements of the Brady law.  

This includes not only gun shows, but individuals who want to sell their guns. Any person can sell a firearm to an unlicensed resident of the same state. No background checks are required and these sales do not have to be recorded. So those who would not qualify under the Brady law can rely on obtaining a gun from the private sector. 

So the real truth about gun control in the United States is that there really is no control One way or another, a gun can be purchased without any background checks and without even the sale being recorded. 

In my view the task ahead is not only passing better laws and finding ways to assure they are enforced. We also need to build a society that tilts more toward encouraging mutual respect rather than preaching hate, as President Trump does. Admittedly, this is a formidable task. 


Marijuana Smoke Pollutes

Marcia Poole
Monday August 12, 2019 - 01:30:00 PM

I read Carol Denney's Public Comment piece on The "Equity" Cloak for Marijuana in the latest edition of the Berkeley Daily Planet. I totally agree with her and really appreciate her giving voice to the problem of public spaces being taken over by marijuana smoke. I am asthmatic and have gone through a particularly bad period this last year. It still effects me and the strength, or lack thereof, of my voice and lungs. Every time I walk by or am exposed to marijuana smoke, it triggers my asthma. Cigarettes do the same thing. I start coughing, can't breathe well and reach for my inhaler.  

I know I am not the only person living in Berkeley who has asthma and there are rules that the city has placed on the books to help us. The wearing of strong scents is another trigger, carbon monoxide leaks are another. The thing is, the asthmatics are the canaries in the gold mines. We tell you that the air is getting more toxic. The fires last year killed more people than were in the immediate vicinity. They caused people with weak lungs living 50 to 100 miles of the fire to suffer terribly and some died.  

Allowing companies, that ultimately profit from the sales of marijuana, to pollute our air further is not an issue of equity. Please carefully consider Carol's comments as representative of a whole population of people living in this community. 


New: Housing: the Economics of the Absurd

Steve Martinot
Friday August 16, 2019 - 02:44:00 PM

There are two crises facing the Bay Area. Supposedly. One is a crisis of homelessness, which is the economic production (through inflation and rent increases) of people who cannot afford housing, because they are priced out and are left to sleep on sidewalks and parks. The other is a crisis of affordable housing, which is politically produced by developers, landlords, and city governments that displace people from their homes in an economic environment in which they cannot find housing they can afford. They are either forced to move out of town, or become homeless, sleeping on the streets. It looks like one crisis to me. It is the failure of government to treat them as one that makes them two. 

When the number of homeless people in a city like Berkeley increases, the city has a choice. It can either work with the people, and try to get them past the dispossession and hard times they are experiencing (by finding partial-shelter, providing services, assisting in maintaining encampments, etc.). Or it can send the police. The Choice: democracy vs. despotism. 

Up to now, cities like Berkeley have chosen to just send the police. That is, they choose to help drive the bulldozer of victimization. The victims, the people thus assaulted, have little choice but to move to a different street. And get angry at the hypocrisy of a city that says it cares. Refusing to abandon their humanity, they eventually organize resistance. 

The authority for the police assaults is takes the form of local ordinances. But because these police actions almost always violate the US Constitution (Cf. “There is no law,” Berkeley Planet, July 6, 2019), the ordinances themselves exist as arbitrary, without legitimate foundation. What they also ignore is that the homeless, the victims of this suppression, are nevertheless residents of the city (just like those who are housed). As city policy, it is highly discriminatory toward the homeless. In effect, city policy implies that the homeless “have no rights that a property-oriented society is bound to respect” (to steal a line from the 1856 Dred Scott Decision). In other words, it’s a form of Jim Crow. 

Ironically, the fundamental assumption with respect to housing is not the ignoring of legitimacy but the very prohibition of law itself. The Constitution says, “no state shall [pass any] law impairing the obligation of contracts” (Article I, Section 10.1). Chief Justice Marshall, in 1810 (in Fletcher vs. Peck), interpreted that clause to mean that once purchase and sale were completed; no state government could set them asunder. In so doing, he elevated ownership to a sacrosanct property right. 

In California, that principle has taken the form of what is called the Costa-Hawkins Act. That act simply states that a property owner can set the rent for his property at anything he desires. In one sentence, it renders local regulation of rent levels illegal if without compensation. When Los Angeles passed an ordinance regulating rent levels, requiring “below market rate” units in developments for the benefit of low income families, landlords sued the city, demanding that the city compensate them for the difference between the rent they could collect under that law and what they would have collected if the unit rented at the market rate. The landlords won (it’s called the Palmer Decision of 2009). 

As a result, rent levels have risen enormously in the city of Berkeley (and throughout California). As developers showed they could make a killing by freely boosting rent levels, owners of private houses sought to keep pace with them, and displaced many tenants in order to raise the rent on their units, throwing people out of house and home. The going rate rose to around three thousand bucks a month for a one-bedroom apartment. One would have to earn over $120,000 a year to not be “rent-burdened” (a HUD term). 

The city fails because it cannot give equal protection to renters that it does to property owners. Under property rights, the 14th Amendment becomes useless. Hence, there is a crisis. 

This crisis is caused by an absence of law, not an absence of housing. There are entire apartment buildings in Berkeley that are empty – closed to occupancy and unused for years. And the government cannot open them. In addition, there are now large, brand-new apartment buildings, built over the last few years, that are still not fully rented. They have “Now Leasing” and “For Rent” signs on them, which means there is a glut of market rate housing. But cities are barred from passing laws by which to give renters equal protection, or any protection at all against rent gouging. That prohibition from protecting tenants is the fundamental economic principle of housing. 

The Costa-Hawkins Act is a perfect example. Its passage meant it was legitimate for the state to pass a law that says that no law can be passed in the interest of non-property-owners (aka renters). That is a statement right out of “theater of the absurd.” 

A vast political crisis arises from the conjunction of that prohibition with the inability of increasing numbers of people to live in this economy. It is an unlivability imposed by property, market forces, and government failure. 

Let’s look a little more deeply into this. 

The majority of residents of a city like Berkeley are renters, as with most cities. The Costa-Hawkins Act prohibits a city from protecting the majority of its residents from being victimized by rent-gouging. That is, it prevents the city from democratically representing the interests of the majority of its residents. It can only act in the interest of a minority, that of property owners (and developers). That is, a law passed by a state assembly makes democracy at the local level impossible. And in doing so, it affirms the priority of property rights over human rights. The democratic principle of equal protection under the law has been rendered null and void. Those dogmatists who still chant “build build” are not only “out to lunch” but also anti-democratic in making common cause with the cause of the problem. The problem is that there is no democracy. In dealing with the homeless, the city is lawless, and in dealing with property owners, the city is divested of its representative properties. 

This is an astounding situation. It makes representation a joke. Both councilmembers and the Mayor are elected by making promises to people in order to get their votes. But once elected, not only can they not fulfill their promises to the majority of the voters, but they cannot even ensure that those to whom they made those promises will not have been displaced and disappeared. The electoral process itself becomes absurd. 

 

A Resolution? Dream On  

There is a resolution for the affordable housing crisis. It is to building affordable housing. Affordable rent is defined by HUD as no more than 30% of a tenant’s income. The concept of affordability thus implies a breach in economic principle, an enormous paradigm shift. To make rent affordable means to relate rent to the tenant’s ability to pay, and not to some impersonal market. One could no longer say that “the market” determines all. Worse; it would be to recognize that the "market" is capable of killing people (starving them out), and thus must be superseded by regulation. Setting rents in relation to tenants’ income would also resolve the homeless crisis by providing housing that the homeless could afford. 

Unfortunately, this is not possible in a property-oriented society, in which the priority of property rights cancels democracy and its guarantee of equal protection. This fact was the core of the Palmer decision. Government must make up the difference between affordability (30% of a tenant’s income) and what the landlord would get at market rate. That is, providing housing for low income people can only be accomplished through government subsidies. The inability of government to give equal protection to renters makes affordable housing unaffordable to city governments. 

Ultimately, there is no resolution to the affordable housing crisis except an alternate economy. Rent levels can be controlled and related to the income of the tenants only through government-owned housing, or cooperative owned housing. And those structures would work as an alternate form of housing economics only if there was also a form of democratic control – a form of governance that would democratically represent the interests of the tenants. 

 

The future as imaginary  

Democratic control of housing, as the prerequisite for affordable housing to be real, is a dream in a society in which sanctity of property cancels democracy. Yet property exercises its hegemony and control in reference to a dream-world as well. 

In the Palmer decision, landlords argued (in Civil Court) that “this is what I could be getting out of that apartment if the city hadn’t required me to rent it for less, so the city has harmed me to the that extent, and I want recompense.” For landlords to argue against a city that they would have received specific earnings from renting at market rate, they must imagine the future of their enterprise, and then state it as established fact. They calculate about an imagined future and present it as real. 

This paradigm of raising imagination to the level of materiality is not just a quirk of housing economics. It is now an established international paradigm. With the founding of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the signing of a number of treaties like NAFTA under its umbrella, the principle of transforming the imaginary into the real was given international legitimacy. If a multinational corporation invests in a WTO signatory nation that has labor legislation setting high minimum wages and/or environmental legislation that required foreign investors to reduce all pollution and despoliation of the land, and those legal requirements reduce that corporation’s projected (imagined) earnings and profitability, then that corporation can hold the host country’s government liable or responsible for its loss of profits. And the WTO set up a special court in which suits of that nature could be filed by corporations against governments (the Investor-State Dispute Settlement court system (ISDS)). In other words, a corporation investing in another country is thus given the right to imagine in advance what its earnings and profit picture will be, and can then hold that host country responsible for its inability to attain that goal. While the proposal to make this paradigm official in the WTO was defeated in Seattle in 1999, it has been included in specific treaties like NAFTA (and was proposed for the Trans-Pacific Partnership). 

Treaties like that make democracy unfeasible for a country hosting corporate investment. Their labor and environmental laws can be rendered overly expensive, to the point of forcing their repeal. Even the US has been sued by Canadian corporations for just such a loss in profits. TransCanada sued over the Keystone Pipeline in 2016, and Methanex sued US when California banned the use of methanol in gasoline. In the case of underdeveloped countries that had little bargaining power against corporate suits, they have had to repeal labor and environmental legislation in advance in order to seek corporate investment. It also means that pollution by corporations (for instance, the release of greenhouse gases) could not be regulated. 

Every corporation has the official ability to transform imagined future earnings into real capital before the fact. 

It is against that kind of pro-corporate international treaty power that major international conferences have been organized, like the Paris Conference on global warming and climate change. Nations (if they were signatory to the WTO, etc.) no longer had the ability to act for the preservation of the planet on their own. They could only do so by changing some of the international rules established by the WTO. 

There is no democracy in a society that sets property rights first. There is no equal protection of people under the law if there is no democracy. There is no ability to supersede an investing corporation’s imagination if there is no equal protection of people under the law. 

By permitting development without giving equal weight and power to the residents of the community to determine the nature of that development, the city allows development to be imposed without recourse. Thus, it discriminates against its own residents. At the same time, it scares the so-called “middle class.” Their only protection against the oppression of corporate capital is to own a house. Otherwise, they find themselves unprotected on an impoverishing rental treadmill. But if they try to enjoy the fact that their property values go up, they also realize that sale of the house to gain control of that value will only make it evaporate. 

Some realize that they should make common cause with the homeless and renters to change the zoning laws to be more protective. Others are simply content to blame the victims. But something more fundamental has to change. 

 


Columns

THE PUBLIC EYE:How Did We Get Here?

Bob Burnett
Friday August 09, 2019 - 01:37:00 PM

As we reflect on the horrific El Paso and Dayton shootings, it's clear that we've reached an inflection point in our society. We're teetering on the edge of civil war. Let's take a couple of steps back and consider how we got here. 

Donald Trump is a symptom of a set of larger problems. Yes, he's cancer; but cancer resulting from a toxic environment. The product of three poisonous trends with American society. 

1.Racism: There's no doubt that Trump is a racist and that his brand of brand of racism has fomented violence -- most recently the El Paso shootings. But racism didn't begin with Trump; it's been around since the founding of this country. 

We're in the modern era of U.S. racism that began with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and culminated with the 2008 election of Barack Obama. It has three manifestations: Republicans have become the party of white racists; Republicans covertly disenfranchise people of color; and, until Trump, it was politically incorrect to use historic racist jargon -- such as the N-word. 

It's not an accident that Trump now leads the Republican Party. The members are not all racists but they -- card-carrying Republicans -- are enabling racism. (How many times have we heard wealthy GOP donors say: "I don't like what Trump says but I love his tax cuts.") 

Since the passage of the civil-rights act, we've seen the demise of "classic" racism -- for example, segregation and Jim Crow laws -- and the emergence of clandestine racism -- for example, redlining and voter-id laws. ( During the past 55 years, in some parts of the country, the living conditions of people-of-color have not changed.) 

Donald Trump has embraced the new clandestine racism and added his own flourishes: resentment and antipathy to political correctness. From the moment that Trump announced his candidacy (June 17, 2015) he embraced the politics of racial resentment: "The US has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems... When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists." He referenced a Hispanic "invasion" a phrase he's repeatedly returned to. Trump's appealed to dissatisfied white (non-Hispanic) voters with a singular trope: "These people are taking what's rightfully yours, your share of the American dream." 

In addition, Trump has called for an end to "political correctness" -- "I shouldn't be saying this, but...." We've gotten so used to Trump tweets that it's important to remember that before January 20, 2017, we'd never seen a President act like this. Goodbye to telling the truth. Goodbye comity. Goodbye to setting a moral example. Goodby to the Golden Rule. (Goodbye to Christian ethics.) 

Trump's bashing of "political correctness" has opened the door to white supremacists. Trump has normalized racism and racial violence. 

2. Violence: The United States has a culture of violence. We like violent novels, movies, TV shows, and video games. We love guns. Check the front page of any daily newspaper and you'll find reports of murder and mayhem. I hesitate to say that we're addicted to violence but it's obviously a large part of our culture. 

Americans are obsessed with guns. We have more guns in private hands than does any other nation. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful Washington lobbies. (The U.S. requires a license to drive a car but -- in most states -- not to own a gun.) 

There's physical violence and psychological violence. Trump has normalized violence in our everyday interaction. 

Not only has Donald Trump called for an end to "political correctness," he's called for an end to nonviolent conflict resolution. He does not treat people with respect. 

Trump's strategy for resolving conflict is to demean his opponents and insist on getting his way. (If Trump was a football running back, he would not try to finesse would-be tacklers, he would always chose to run over them.) 

Trump doesn't apologize, he "doubles down." Recently Trump tweeted demeaning remarks about four Congresswomen -- all women of color -- suggesting "they go back" to their countries of origin, even though all but one was born in the United States. When Trump was criticized for what was obviously a racist remark, he didn't apologize, he doubled down. (Trump went to El Paso on August 7th but didn't apologize to the Hispanic shooting victims for his incendiary remarks about Hispanics; instead Trump told the press how much all the victims loved him.) 

3.Pay to Play: The third poisonous trend within American society is unbridled capitalism. In Trump's case it has two malevolent faces. One is the replacement of Christian ethics by Capitalistic ethics -- the end justifies the means. ("Love those tax cuts!") The other toxic impact of Capitalism is the buying of politicians. 

It's too easy to write off Donald Trump as an extreme narcissist; someone who has no empathy and is, therefore, incapable of taking responsibility for his actions. We've gotten so used to bizarre Trump tweets that it's reflexive to dismiss him as mentally ill. Another explanation is that since Trump only cares about money, he acts the way he does because it brings in huge campaign contributions and fills his wallet. Trump is the most ostentatious representative of a general Republican position: We're for sale. 

The modern Republican Party has swallowed the ethics of Capitalism -- and Ayn Rand. Their politics begin and end with money. 

It's easy to see this in the behavior of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He refuses to do anything about election integrity -- Russian interference in our elections -- because he's getting donations from Russians. Similarly, McConnell refuses to do anything about gun control because he's getting donations from the NRA and Kentucky-based gun manufacturers. 

Trump and McConnell act the way they do because they are being enabled by their Republican colleagues and by wealthy GOP donors. That's why a real solution to our problems requires more than defeating Trump in 2020. Real change requires voting out Republicans at all levels of government. And, penalizing Republican donors. 


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


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Government Unfairly Targets Mentally Ill in Response to Gun Violence

Jack Bragen
Friday August 09, 2019 - 01:39:00 PM

The Trump Administration is benefiting in two or more ways from the recent outbreaks in gun violence. Trump is using this issue to divert public attention away from Russian interference in U.S. elections. Secondly, since the Trump modus operandi is largely to target minority groups as scapegoats, Trump is able to pick on yet another segment of American population, mentally ill people. Mentally ill people, historically and to this day, find it more difficult to speak up for ourselves and assert our rights in comparison to other minority groups. Leave it to Trump to attack those who are the most defenseless.

Other segments of U.S. Government are also picking on mentally ill people and on people with a history of being traumatized. I saw on television news, a government official described people who are suspect. The profile he gave puts Yours Truly in the crosshairs of people whom this official said should be reported. This is uncomfortable. 

The government official said, those with a history of being traumatized or who had a past where they were "pushed over the edge" are suspect. He also described suspect people as those who "want to make their mark on the world." 

Trump said that guns don't pull the trigger and that the problem is "mental illness and hate." And while I don't hate anyone, I do suffer from mental illness. And this is upsetting, since I fear that the government could come after me due to me having a psychiatric illness. 

If the government is going to blame people with mental illness for the gun violence, don't punish people for having a disease. People should not be criminalized for having a mental illness that we didn't create. If you're saying mentally ill people are to blame, and if you want to solve the stated problem, make it impossible for mentally ill people to obtain weapons. I believe mentally ill people have no business having weapons of any kind. 

Secondly, we need to provide more funds for treatment of mental illness, not punishment. Let's see society make conditions livable for people with mental illness, rather than forcing us to live in poverty and institutionalization. Provide job training for mentally ill people. Mandate hiring of mentally ill people at meaningful jobs that incorporate accommodation. 

Instead, the government will inevitably use oppressive tactics to make life even more miserable for people who have already suffered enough. 

The profile connected to the recent outbreaks in gun violence consists of Caucasian male young adults, who've possibly been socially disaffected, or who lack connections to other human beings. The internet has a role in enrolling new perpetrators. I've also heard that weapons had been purchased over the internet. However, with the absence of any regulations that have teeth, almost any adult or anyone who looks like an adult, could purchase a firearm, almost anywhere. 

If assault weapons were harder to get, it would make it less convenient to do these types of atrocities. It would not eliminate all violence, since some would resort to homemade weapons to do violence to others. 

Our government, rather than addressing the problem of mass shootings in any effective manner, is instead using this as an underhanded way to forward their oppressive and power grabbing agendas. 


ECLECTIC RANT: Escalating domestic terrorism**

Ralph E. Stone
Friday August 09, 2019 - 03:53:00 PM

I am saddened and outraged by the latest mass shootings. That’s three in eight days. On July 28, a 19-year-old shooter killed 3 — including a 6-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl — and wounded 12 others at the Gilroy, California, Garlic Festival; then on on August 3, another gunman killed 22 and wounded 24 others at a Walmart store in El Paso,Texas; and then on August 4, another gunman killed nine and wounded several others in Dayton, Ohio. An assault-type weapon was used in the first two shootings. 

This makes 251 mass shootings in 216 days, a record Americans should be ashamed of. And it is just not just mass shootings we should be concerned about. As Senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) remarked after the May 19, 2019, Virginia Beach mass shootings, “It’s not just mass shootings,” she said, adding that each day in America, gun violence occurs “on sidewalks and playgrounds and people’s backyards. It’s happening family by family across the country. And it doesn’t get the same headlines. And that is wrong.” 

In addition to the usual thoughts and prayers, the U.S. Senate should at least begin addressing gun violence in the U.S. by taking up two gun control bills passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The first calls for universal background checks on all firearms purchases. The second would extend the review period for a background check from three to ten days. But I doubt Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-KY) will bring any gun control legislation to a vote. 

In addition, it is about time for Congress to pass the assault weapon ban introduced by Senator Feinstein (the 2019 version). As the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held in Tardy v. Hogan, certain kinds of rifles, including assault rifles, are “weapons of war,” meaning they are not covered under the Second Amendment for the purpose of self-defense. The weapon used by the killer in the Gilroy shooting was purchased legally by him in Nevada. Such weapons are banned in California, demonstrating that a federal ban is more effective than state-by-state bans. 

However, I fear that after all the sound and fury is over, the cycle of killings, hand wringing, and mourning will continue ad infinitum. Why because we have a president who has not condemned domestic terrorism, but indulged it. Sure racism and and anti-immigrant sentiment has been with us for decades but today we have a president who has normalized it. 

Unfortunately, gun violence has become as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. 


++ This is an updated, expanded version of my August 2, 2019 article, Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting.


SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday August 09, 2019 - 03:42:00 PM

Note to CBS: Woodstock Was a Blast—But Not That Kind

On August 15, in the summer of 1969, an historic festival was organized to celebrate "three days of peace and music." On August 4, 2019 CBS Evening News debuted a 12-minute feature to commemorate the event. They titled it: "Woodstock at 50: A return to 'ground zero for peace and love.'"

Ground Zero?

When did radiating love become the equivalent of radioactive leftovers?

You might say this kind of militaristic expropriation "puts the BS in CBS."

Clammy Comic Calamities

The #MeToon movement continues to rack up examples of cartoon-strip misogyny and, once again, the winner and all-time champ is . . . The Fusco Brothers

 

On August 2, Rolf Fusco (the brother with a hairdo that looks like four fingers shoved up the inside of a moldy glove) confronts a woman at a coat check desk and, without introduction, declaims: "When I was a kid and my parents would have a party, I used to love to roll around in the pile of coats on the bed. Would you care to join me in a trip down memory lane?" 

 

"I Have the Best Words"

The preceding subhead will be recognized as Darn Ol' Trump's gloating self-evaluation of his vocabulary (which depends overly on words like "amazing," "incredible," "disgusting," "disgrace," "deplorable" and "losers"). Trump's also got a few "best phrases" that he repeatedly trots out when his brain cells fail to fire. These include "believe me," "everybody says so," "he's a great guy," "fake news," "billions and billions," "we're going to take care of," and his now-classic description of his laser-focused, problem-solving approach to leadership: "Well, we'll just have to see what happens." 

 

And sometimes, Trump stumbles over even the simplest of words. 

Here, courtesy of The Daily Show, is a Trump-talk sampler: 

 

But now, thanks to Oakland author Jane Solomon's new book, The Dictionary of Difficult Words," there is a brave new word we can use to describe our Reprimander-in-chief and that word is "Ultracrepidarian." It sounds appropriately "bigly" and somewhat creepy and reptilian, to boot. It means: "Someone who has big opinions about things they know nothing about." 

 

White Racists in the White House

Donald Trump isn't the first white supremacist to inhabit the White House (as evidenced by the portrait of Andrew Jackson that Trump ordered prominently displayed in the Oval Office). Sacramento Bee editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman recently posted a six-panel illustration purporting to share a phone conversation between Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. It contained a caveat that read: "Historical hypothetical conversation within the commentary boundaries of an editorial cartoon." But, in addition to the satirically imagined chit-chat between Dick and Ron, the cartoon included one quote from an actual phone call recorded in 1971 in which Nixon raged: "To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they're still uncomfortable wearing shoes." 

 

Tricky Dick helped pave the roadway for Icky Don. 

 

Al's Back!

More than a year after resigning his Senate seat over charges of improper touching (on the Joe Biden level, not the Harvey Weinstein level), Al Franken appears to have announced his comeback by posting an article attacking the Trump regime for its "sheer tonnage of lies, the endless vitriol and stupidity, the unyielding crassness, cynicism and self-aggrandizement, not to mention the sheer cruelty coming on a daily basis from Donald Trump." 

 

After spending a long dark patch in the political wilderness (and thanks to the passage of time and a well-considered New Yorker article by Jane Mayer), Franken is reemerging as a staunch voice of the progressive left. 

In his blistering essay, Franken called out the president for his failure to accept any share of responsibility for the minority-baiting hate-tweets and public bellows that preceded the mass killings that claimed 30 lives in El Paso and Dayton. And he skewered the president's embarrassing failure to project any sincerity during the delivery of the first public-speech-ever in which he has deigned to criticize "white supremacists." 

Franken noted that during Trump's performance "his expressionless face appeared to be mounted on a swivel-head, turning mechanically from one prompter to another in a way that suggested that he was reading the words for the first time and that he really felt he had better things to do." 

Welcome back, Al! 

 

The Rise of Top-down Dress Codes

It always strikes me as a bad sign when a government starts issuing dress codes, so I was bummed to read that the freedom-loving Netherlands has joined its EU neighbors— Austria, Belgium, Denmark France, and Germany—in banning Muslim women from wearing their burqas and niqabs on public transportation or in government buildings, hospitals, and schools. 

 

So far, it seems, just Muslim women are being told to de-faith their public wardrobes. Jewish ladies appear free to wear their tichels while 

men of all faiths are still permitted to sport yarmulkes, dastars, even Muslim kufi caps. 

One enduring question about hats and faith: Isn't it strange that, before entering a Catholic church, men are required to remove their hats to bare their heads while women are required to don a veil to cover theirs? 

If countries are going to impose dress codes, how about doing something about all the grown-up American men who continue to dress up like underage boys—wearing the preteen uniform of short pants, T-shirts, and baseball caps? 

 

Cyber-Terror on Four Wheels

California's Consumer Watchdog (CW) recently released a 49-page report warning that the advent of "driverless cars" could lead to a cataclysmic Auto Armageddon in which cyber-terrorists could highjack the controls of millions of cars racing down US highways and send them flying off freeways, sideswiping pedestrians, and causing "Sept. 11-level casualties." 

 

Essentially, it would be (literally) the biggest "computer crash" in recorded history. 

CW warned: "Millions of cars on the Internet running the same software means a single exploit can affect millions of vehicles simultaneously. A hacker with only modest resources could launch a massive attack against our automotive infrastructure, potentially causing thousands of fatalities . . . ." 

The warning brings back memories of a 2013 investigative piece in the Planet. The report ("On the Strange Death of Michael Hastings: Was the Reporter Car-Hacked or Bombed?") looked into the mysterious death of Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings who was killed after his car was seen speeding out-of-control down North Highland Avenue in Los Angeles at 4:20 in the morning. Hastings died in a fiery explosion after his car crashed into a palm tree. 

Hastings had been a fierce critic of the "surveillance state" and he had been threatened after his reporting lead to the downfall of Army General Stanley McChystal. Hastings told friends that he feared government agents had been trailing him. Just hours before his death, Hastings emailed friends expressing his concerns and adding: "I'm working on a big story and I need to go off the radar for a bit." 

Here is a video that the Planet included in the investigative piece on Hastings' mysterious death. 

 

The Huffington Post subsequently revealed that "As of October 2014 the CIA was also looking at infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks" in order to stage "nearly undetectable assassinations." 

Adding to the mystery: One of the videos posted by the Planet (which appeared to show an explosion taking place beneath the car's gas tank prior to the final crash) has been removed because, YouTube claims: "The account associated with this video has been terminated." 

 

Halfway Measures

It's troubling that nearly half of teenage drivers killed in auto accidents die because they didn't bother to use their seat belts. But there's good news on the horizon: Chevy has announced an improvement to the Ralph-Nader-inspired seat belt—a car that can't be driven until the seat belt is buckled. (Kind of like the AlcoLock device that requires a driver pass a breathalizer test before the ignition will work.) 

 

Unfortunately, Chevy has taken a perfect solution and made it optional, not mandatory. 

In order to work, Chevy's Malibu, Traverse, and Colorado models first need to be placed in "Teen Driver Mode," after which, if the driver attempts to shift into gear, the car will not move, an audible alert will sound, and the instrument panel will light up with the admonition: "Buckle seat belt to shift." 

Problem solved? Not quite. First: teens don't like to be told what to do. Second: the "Buckle to Drive" block is automatically removed after 20 seconds, leaving the driver free to careen down the highway blissfully unbelted. 

Our best hope: that teens will be so impatient to get moving that they will opt for belting over waiting. 

 

Climate Chaos: The Jet Stream Has Gone Loopy

More evidence of climate chaos has been appearing in the press—record high temperatures, accelerated melting of polar ice, massive die-offs of endangered species, water reserves falling, sea levels rising. And the evidence of climate collapse has once again become evident in the daily weather maps charting the progress of the jet stream that once flowed reliably, from west to east, across the northern hemisphere. 

 

For much of 2019, this steady band of weather-forming wind has moved north, into Canada. The jet stream—like many birds, insects, and animals that have been driven to fly, buzz, and trot north in search of more livable temperatures—is also migrating north. 

At the same time, the jet stream has been running out of steam. It has slowed down and, like a meandering river, has begun to flow south and north in unprecedented and unpredictable loops of atmospheric energy. 

On the weather maps, the result has been stunning. And alarming. 

On August 2 and 3, for the first time in memory, the jet stream not only stopped flowing west to east—moving, instead from south to north and even partially flowing backwards, from east to west—but actually broke in two with one contorted path disappearing into Canada while another, lower remnant twisted itself into a massive 2,500-mile wide circle running from Butte, Montana to Mexico City. 

The Stream had become a Pond, slowly circulating in an ominous clockwise spin. Off the Eastern Seaboard, a third broken strand of the Stream was pummeling the region with rain and thunder. Meanwhile, every state in the union—and most of Canada—was registering temperatures at or above 80° F. 

Looks like it's time to start investing in sunscreen and umbrellas.


Arts & Events

American Bach Soloists Perform Pergolesi’s STABAT MATER

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday August 12, 2019 - 12:59:00 PM

Giovanni Pergolesi (1710-1736) enjoyed a brief, mercurial career, dying at age 26. His most famous works were composed in Naples, where he drew upon local dialect to write comic operas or intermezzi, the most well-known of which is La Serva padrona (The Maid-Mistress). Pergolesi set his dramatic works in Naples and dealt with ordinary characters in everyday situations. With his mercurial musical style, Pergolesi vividly brought his characters to life. He did likewise in his sacred work, the Stabat Mater, which he composed in his last days. Here too, as in his works for the stage, Pergolesi strove to emphasise affect, or the emotions.

In the second concert of their 2019 Summer Festival, American Bach Soloists performed Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater on Friday, August 2, at San Francisco Conservatory of Music. For the second half of the program, ABS presented George Frideric Handel”s “Utrecht” Te Deum & Jubilate (1713). This concert was dubbed “Treasures from Lyon” because the scores for both works were discovered in the library of the venerable Concert de Lyon, France. Soloists for Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater were ABS stalwarts soprano Mary Wilson and baritone William Sharp. Jeffrey Thomas conducted the period instrument orchestra and the American Bach Choir.  

Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater begins with a brief instrumental introduction. Then Mary Wilson and William Sharp offered a stirring duet depicting the weeping Mother beneath the cross. Next Mary Wilson sang the aria “cajus animam” describing the Mother’s mournful soul. Possessed of an incomparably bright, lush and full soprano, Mary Wilson also combines flawless technique with an ability to get inside the music, as it were, and to vocally portray the emotional content of the words she sings. In this aria, she effortlessly navigated the jerky, iambic rhythm so typical of Neapolitan popular songs. Mary Wilson has for many years been an invaluable asset to the American Bach Soloists. Likewise, baritone William Sharp has long been associated with American Bach Soloists, and he too brings superb musicianship to his performance. When teamed together with Mary Wilson, as in the duet “Quae moerebat,” this pair of singers is outstanding; and here they excelled in Pergolesi’s operatic showpiece, a piece that some critics, however, have found inappropriate in a sacred work. No one, however, has found fault with the ensuing soprano aria, Visit suum,” which Mary Wilson sang exquisitely, wringing from it every expressive element of pain and tenderness, and bringing it to a plaintive close with a forlorn pianissimo. The American Bach Choir sang a lively choral piece, “Fac ut ardeat,” which was followed by a lengthy duet, “Sancta Mater,” sung by Wilson and Sharp. I personally find the text of this duet quite masochistic in its emphasis on the narrator’s ardent wish to share Christ’s agony and pain. Oh well, Christianity has its masochistic side. This same morbid sentiment is echoed in the baritone aria, “Fac ut portem, which follows. A duet ensues, and its allegro section was a highlight of this performance. Likewise, the ensuing duet, “Quando corpus morietur,” offered an ever so plaintive wish that upon death the narrator’s soul would go to Heaven. To close this Stabat Mater of Pergolesi, the American Bach Choir sang thel fugal “Amen” in high contrapuntal style. Throughout, Jeffrey Thomas led his instrumental and vocal forces in a taut, focused rendition of the score. 

After intermission, Handel’s “Utrecht” Te Deum & Jubilate of 1713 was performed. This work celebrated the eagerly anticipated ending of the War of the Spanish Succession (1700-1713/14). Handel used it as a showpiece to impress the English monarchy, and he seems to have been successful in this regard. It is, in fact, a showy, florid work for orchestra and chorus. 

Here it proved a welcome vehicle for American Bach Soloists’ period instruments and American Bach Choir’s exquisite voices. Among the latter, an alto, a tenor, and a bass were given ample opportunity to shine. Before the concert began, Jeffrey Thomas read out the names of the American Bach Choir’s soloists; but he failed to identify which singers performed which parts, so I am unable to attach names to the fine alto, tenor, and bass who were so prominently featured in this work by Handel.  

 


All Dressed Up and No Place to Go: Bach’s B-Minor Mass

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday August 12, 2019 - 01:25:00 PM

In 1749, at the end of his long, creative life, Johann Sebastian Bach assembled bits and pieces of music he’d written many years earlier, added a few new bits, and, voilà, there was his Mass in B-Minor. Bach seems not to have written this setting of the Latin Mass for any commission or performance. Indeed, the B-Minor Mass was not performed in the remaining months of Bach’s life. So why did he, a devout Lutheran, compose this Catholic mass? The answer seems to be that Bach, who revered his musical heritage, knew the traditional importance attached to settings of the Latin mass, and decided he too ought to show he could excel in this time-honoured genre. And excel he did! Today, Bach’s B-Minor Mass is considered a lasting testament to his art. 

I first heard Bach’s B-Minor Mass in late 1969 or early 1970 in Paris’s Église St. Séverin in the Latin Quarter. The performance, as I recall, was by the Roger Wagner Chorale. Under the Flamboyant Gothic vaulting, Bach’s contrapuntal music made a grand impression. Indeed, it seemed the perfect counterpoint to the Gothic architecture of that church. If when he wrote this work, it was all dressed up with no place to go, ultimately, the Église St. Séverin in Paris seemed the perfect venue for a centuries-spanning performance of the B-Minor Mass. 

San Francisco’s own American Bach Soloists recently gave two performances of Bach’s monumental B-Minor Mass, Sundays, August 4 and 11, at San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I attended the August 11 performance. Music Director Jeffrey Thomas led the American Bach Soloists Academy Orchestra and the American Bach Choir. It is almost uncanny the way Bach combines bits of music he’d written over a span of thirty-five years to create a work that, to us, seems remarkable for its encyclopedic variety in unity.  

The Kyrie and Gloria date from 1733, when Bach dedicated them to Elector Friedric August !! in Dresden. In the American Bach Soloists’ performance on August 11, the Kyrie’s solo parts were sung by sopranos Hannah De Priest and Elijah McCormack. In the final run-through of the choral Kyrie eleison, the soprano section of the Choir overpowered the lower voices and even sounded a bit shrill. (This was their only flaw in an otherwise wonderful performance.) In the Gloria, the first vocal solo was by mezzo-soprano Kristen Dubenion-Smith, while the accompanying violin solo was by YuEun Kim. The ensuing duet, Domine Deus, featured sweet-voiced soprano Carley DeFranco and robust tenor Haidar Haitham, while the accompanying flute solo was by Lynn Hallarman. Countertenor William Duffy and bass Cody Mūller, respectively, sang the final arias of the Gloria. The choral sections were often accompanied quite effectively by three trumpets. 

In the Symbolum Nicenum, soprano Paulina Francisco was joined by countertenor Benjamin Wenzelberg in a a duet that featured nicely blended voices. The choral piece Et incarnatus est was suitably slow and mysterious. The ensuing Crucifixus, as one expects, was sad and halting. The et resurrexit, however, rang out triumphantly, accompanied by trumpets, flutes, oboes, strings, and basso continuo. The aria Et in Spiritum Sanctum was impressively sung by baritone Jared Jones, accompanied by Gaia Saetermoe-Howard and Amanda Kitik on oboes d’amore. The Confiteor, a newly composed piece from 1749, offers a plainchant cantus firmus. The Et expecto features a robust chorale marked Vivace e Allegro. 

The choral Sanctus, which was included by Bach in a Lutheran liturgy on Christmas day in 1724, comprises the third section of Bach’s B-Minor Mass. There follows the Osanna, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, and Dona Nobis Pacem. In the Benedictus, tenor Ethan DePuy was accompanied by Ellen Sauer on flute. In the beautifully plaintive Agnus Dei, mezzo-soprano Allison Gish displayed a deep, resonant voice and superb technique. The choral Dona nobis pacem closed the B-Minor Mass with a plea for peace. 


The Berkeley Activist's Calendar, August 11-18

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Saturday August 10, 2019 - 09:39:00 AM

Worth Noting:

City Council is on summer recess until September 9th and most of the Boards and Commissions also take a summer break, some in July and some in August.

Wildfire Evacuation Drills for high risk fire areas

  • August 11 from 9am – 10 am, neighborhood Wildcat Canyon to the east, The Alameda to the West, Berkeley-Contra Costa border to the north, Codornices Park to the south,
  • August 25 from 9am – 10 am, neighborhood Berkeley-Contra costa to the east, Spruce to the west, Codornices Park to the north and UC Berkeley to south.
For more details on Wildfire Evacuation Drills and to sign up go to link https://www.cityofberkeley.info/City_Manager/Press_Releases/2019/2019-07-23_Sign_up_for_City-led_wildfire_evacuation_drills_in_August.aspx 

 

Sunday, August 11, 2019 

Wildfire Evacuation Drill, 9 - 10 am, neighborhood Wildcat Canyon to the east, The Alameda to the West, Berkeley-Contra Costa border to the north, Codornices Park to the south, 

Monday, August 12, 2019 

Concurrent Meeting Parks and Waterfront Subcommittee and Public Works Commission T1 Infrastructure Subcommittee, 9 – 11 am at 1947 Center, Sitka Spruce Room, 1st Floor, Agenda: 3. T1 Phase 2 Timeline and Recommendations, Proposed 5 public meetings, geographic equity, local vs. citywide elements 

https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Public_Works_Commission_Homepage.aspx 

Tax the Rich Rally, with music by Occupella, 5 – 6 pm at the Top of Solano in front of the Closed Oaks Theater, Rain/Extreme Heat Cancels 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019 

Alameda County Housing Survey and Community Meeting on Housing - Fair Housing Community Engagement Meeting, 1-3 pm at 2090 Kittredge, Berkeley Downtown Central Library, Board Room, 

https://www.cityofberkeley.info/CalendarEventMain.aspx?calendarEventID=16221 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019 

Commission on the Status of Women – Santa Rita Jail Subcommittee, 7 – 8 pm at 2939 Ellis, South Berkeley Sr. Center 

https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Commission_on_the_Status_of_Women_Homepage.aspx 

Homeless Services Panel of Experts, 7 pm at 2180 Milvia, 1st Floor Cypress Room, Agenda: 6. Draft Mission Statement, 7. Budget Recommendations, 8. Appointment ex officio members to other commissions, 9. Presentation BUSD on funding youth and family programs 

https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Homeless_Services_Panel_of_Experts.aspx 

Parks and Waterfront Commission, 7 – 9 pm at 2800 Park St, Frances Albrier Community Center, Agenda: 8. Waterfront leases, Cesar Chavez Park Signage, Aquatic Park encampments, 9. Presentation WETA Ferry Feasibility Study, 10. Berkeley Marina Website Launch, 13. Adopt a Spot, 14. Marina Area Specific Plan, 15. RV study authorized by Council that includes marina as potential site, 16. T1 Bonds, 17. Southern Waterfront Parking 

https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Parks_and_Waterfront_Commission.aspx 

Police Review Commission Subcommittee Probation & Parole Searches, 11 am, at 1947 Center, Sitka Spruce Room, 1st Floor, Agenda: Development of new BPD policy regarding probation and parole inquiries and related searches 

https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Police_Review_Commission_Homepage.aspx 

Thursday, August 15, 2019 

Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, 7 – 11 pm, 1231 Addison St, Agenda, 4. C. amend contracts with the Eviction Defense Center and the East Bay Community Law Center, d. Communication to HUD in opposition to proposed changes to Section 214 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1980, 5. Appeal 1921 Delaware #5, 6.(1)Regulation 53 (revocable trust), (2) filling Board vacancy (3) Streamline various Rent Board regulations 

https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Rent_Stabilization_Board/Home/Agenda__RSB_2019_Aug_15.aspx 

Design Review Committee, 7 – 10 pm at 1947 Center St, Basement Multi-purpose Room, Agenda, https://www.cityofberkeley.info/designreview/ 

2352 Shattuck – demolish 2 existing commercial buildings, split lot in two, construct 2 8-story mixed use buildings, 206 units including 15 very low income units, 11, 460 sq ft commercial space, 19,530 usable open space, 93 ground level parking spaces, Continued preliminary review, Majority recommendations 

2176 Kittridge – demolish non-residential building, gas station and carwash, construct 7-story mixed use building 165-residential units, ground level retail, underground parking, Preliminary Design Review, Majority Recommendations 

Open Government Commission, 7:30 or 8 pm at 2180 Milvia, Cypress Room, listed on community calendar, NO AGENDA posted, check before going 

https://www.cityofberkeley.info/opengovermentcommission/ 

Friday, August 16, 2019 

No City meetings or events found 

Saturday, August 17, 2019 

No City meetings or events found 

Sunday, August 18, 2019 

No City meetings or events found 

____________________ 

 

Register for August 22, 6 – 8 pm, Climate Action Coalition – Clean Transportation Convening, clean energy home, home electrification, East Bay Community Energy, SunShares bulk discount program. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ride-electric-all-the-way-home-electric-cars-101-the-future-of-berkeleys-clean-transportation-tickets-64738825570 

 

_____________________ 

 

 

Public Hearings Scheduled – Land Use Appeals 

2325 Sixth St (single family residence) – public hearing 9/24/2019 

Notice of Decision (NOD) With End of Appeal Period https://www.cityofberkeley.info/planning_and_development/land_use_division/current_zoning_applications_in_appeal_period.aspx 

910 BANCROFT 8-19-19 

1633 Bonita - 8-19-19 

857 Contra Costa - 8-12-19  

2019 Del Norte- 8-16-19 

1407 Gilman – 8-19-19 

2707 Hillegass – 8-14-19 

2851 Russell – 8-19-19 

1235 San Pablo 8-22-19 

2613 San Pablo 8-16-19 

1909 University - 8-15-19 

485 Vincente – 8-6-19 

1835 Virginia 8-22-19 

Remanded to ZAB or LPC With 90-Day Deadline 

1155-73 Hearst (develop 2 parcels) – referred back to City Council – to be scheduled 

2701 Shattuck (construct 5-story mixed-use building) – ZAB 6-30-2019 

 

 

WORKSHOPS 

Sept 17 – Arts and Culture Plan, Zero Waste Rate Review, Adeline Corridor Plan 

Oct 22 – Berkeley’s 2020 Vision Update, Census 2020 Update, Short term Rentals 

Nov 5 - Transfer Station Feasibility Study, Vision Zero Action Plan, 

Unscheduled – Cannabis Health Considerations 

 

Unscheduled PRESENTATIONS 

Referral Response: Explore Grant Writing Services 

 

_____________________ 

 

To Check For Regional Meetings with Berkeley Council Appointees go to 

https://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/City_Council/City_Council__Committee_and_Regional_Body_Appointees.aspx 

 

To check for Berkeley Unified School District Board Meetings go to 

https://www.berkeleyschools.net/schoolboard/board-meeting-information/ 

 

_____________________ 

 

This meeting list is also posted on the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition website. 

http://www.sustainableberkeleycoalition.com/whats-ahead.html and in the Berkeley Daily Planet under activist’s calendar http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com 

 

When notices of meetings are found that are posted after Friday 5:00 pm they are added to the website schedule https://www.sustainableberkeleycoalition.com/whats-ahead.html and preceded by LATE ENTRY