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Santa occupied a stretch of Downtown sidewalk for the tree lighting festivities and wasn’t told to move along.
Steven Finacom
Santa occupied a stretch of Downtown sidewalk for the tree lighting festivities and wasn’t told to move along.


New: The Last Dermatologist to the Poor

By Ted Friedman
Friday December 14, 2012 - 05:23:00 PM
Chinese comedian, left foreground; overflow crowd, background.
Ted Friedman
Chinese comedian, left foreground; overflow crowd, background.

What may be the last dermatologist to Oakland's poor happens to be my dermatologist, as well. That this is the case says something about us both, but I'd rather cover his story. 

It took a comment by a fellow dermatology patient to get my attention. The patient had a diabetic condition that caused his blood to rush to his skin, he said. 

And my dermatologist was the only one in Oakland who would treat his condition. Did he mean that my dermatologist was the only dermo in Oakland, who would accept Medical-Medicaid? 

I asked my dermatologist about this, and he said, gravely, this was true. 

If you live in Berkeley, and have stripped-to-the -bones coverage, you may meet my doc. He's a dermatologist to the rich in an upscale Contra County enclave, in his other life. 

Still, he devotes four days a week to Oakland, and half of the fifth. 

Why didn't I notice that the cracker-box waiting room, and doll-house examination rooms told a story. Was this what has become of the safety-net? Every time I have an appointment, there is a waiting line to rival stadium toilet lines. 

The waiting room over-flowed the office, which was too small to contain the crowd, which spilled out into a cracker-box hallway. But it is on Pill Hill.  

The waiting line is predominately Asian elderly, Latinos, and the rare black, and even rarer Caucasians . A linguist would welcome the opportunity to hear the tower of Babel 


These waiting lines may be telling us something. It tells us that many dermatologists won't take medi-cal. 

Perhaps the lines tell us, that although dermatology is glamorous when it removes movie stars' blemishes, it is less so when dealing with the blemishes of the poor, who are more likely to have more serious conditions. 

Well, we get no glamour here, except for the dermo, who is very entertaining. He speaks no foreign languages, though. 

(Most non-English speakers are accompanied by an English speaking relative). 


Often, the dermo's waiting room crowd (crammed into a snuff box--seating ten, crammed elbow to elbow on K-Mart chairs) spills into the equally small hallway. The intimacy in the office leads to pick-up conversations (Wednesday, two women discussed hair styles).  

In a narrow Oakland hallway, we were galvanized by an Asian comedian, who didn't realize his comedic flare. 

He had a comedian's patter, a staccato delivery and a lively mind. "Obama, wants to tax the rich," he began. "Doctor's are rich, right? They all make more than $250,000." 

"Dermatologists, are at the low end," I said. "Radiologists and Anesthesiologists 

earn the most; I think dermatologists are at the bottom." 

"But they earn enough to be taxed by Obama, don't they?" he persisted. 

"I don't know," I said. "I haven't looked it up." 

When I did: Forbes Magazine had ranked dermatologists seventh (out of twenty) in medical incomes, at $364,000. The comedian was right. Our dermo was making big bucks, but how could he make that on us? 

Perhaps he's running a low-cost office, with an exclusive mass audience of poor people.. 

He's written papers and spoken at medical conventions. 

The next time I see him, I'm going to ask him what makes him tick. 


Our South-side Reporter, went off-beat, as usual. He also writes a "philosophical" sex column, Sex@Cal ™ for Berkeley Reporter.

Berkeley Students Protest Move to Ban on Salvation Army on Campus

By Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Thursday December 13, 2012 - 11:40:00 PM

A student group at the University of California at Berkeley took to a campus plaza this morning to protest the student government's proposal to ban Salvation Army donation bins on campus. 

The Young Americans for Liberty at UC Berkeley, a campus libertarian group, started their protest around 10 a.m. at Sproul Plaza to speak out against a November decision by the Associated Students of the University of California Senate to ban the charitable group from campus because of its alleged homophobic practices. 

The protest, led by group president Nils Gilbertson, a junior political science major, was also a fundraiser for the Salvation Army with students mimicking the organization's holiday tradition of bell ringing.  

Gilbertson said the senate's unanimous vote in November to ban all donation bins from the Salvation Army, which has been under fire for allegedly discriminating against gay and lesbians, is not representative of the student body. 

"If they are charities doing good work we want them to be able to see them on campus," Gilbertson said. 

The Young Americans for Liberty were also gathering signatures for a petition to show the administration that students do not support banning the Salvation Army. 

Gilbertson called it "ridiculous" to kick a charitable group off campus, especially one that collects food and clothing for those less fortunate in the Alameda County community. 

As the protest was ending around 1 p.m., Gilbertson said the group had collected about $40 and 50 signatures. 

The November senate bill that proposed the ban stated "Cal is home to students of a multitude of backgrounds, including queer students, who may take offense to the presence of collection containers operated by a discriminatory religious organization in their places of living." 

The bill continued, "Students may not be aware that their donations to the Salvation Army may be used in part to hire lobbyists to oppose sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination laws." 

Marty Takimoto, spokesman for UC Berkeley housing, said the housing department is looking into the allegations against the Salvation Army.  

If information surfaces linking Salvation Army to discriminatory action, the bins at a few residential halls will be removed and alternative organizations contacted to set up donations, he said. 

In the meantime, the collection bins will remain, Takimoto said. 

There are bins at one undergraduate residential hall and at the graduate family housing complex in Albany, according to Takimoto. 

"We promote a very inclusive community in our residential halls and encourage our students to practice social justice," Takimoto said. 

The senate bill, which has yet to take effect, proposes that the executive student office inform the university chancellor and student body about the purportedly discriminatory practices of the Salvation Army and to support other charity organizations.

New: Motorcyclist Killed in Berkeley Crash Identified

By Bay City News
Thursday December 13, 2012 - 12:53:00 PM

A motorcyclist who was killed in a collision with another car in Berkeley on Wednesday has been identified by the Alameda County coroner's bureau as 32-year-old Stephan Jarjisian. 

Jarjisian, a Berkeley resident, had been driving at the intersection of Shattuck Avenue and Rose Street when the collision was reported at 3:11 p.m., police said. 

Bystanders tried to help Jarjisian and responding officers attempted to resuscitate him with CPR, according to police. 

He was transported to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead. 

Police are investigating the cause of the collision. The driver of the other vehicle stopped and is cooperating with officers. 

Drugs and alcohol are not believed to be factors in the collision, police said.

New: The University of California's Two Big Mistakes: The New Logo and the Berkeley Stadium (Opinion)

By Christopher Adams
Wednesday December 12, 2012 - 04:58:00 PM

I worked for 27 years at the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) and then finished my career at the new UC campus in Merced. So I think I know a little about what goes on, or at least what should go on. UCOP sets overall policy, but the campuses plan and propose projects, UCOP reviews, and the regents approve. Two terrible things have happened to UC this year: the design of an absurdly ugly and unnecessary logo that some have compared to a flushing toilet and the revelations about the huge and unpaid debt for the Cal football stadium. And both problems I would submit are a result of UCOP malfeasance. 

Writing to other UC alumni, faculty, and friends about the logo has made me aware that the logo reflects a much bigger and dismal picture of the new culture at UCOP. I learned for example that Regent Blum was responsible for UC hiring Bain Consulting for $12 million to recommend various useless and counter-productive changes to make the University more like a private corporation and less like an educational institution. I learned that the logo was designed in-house at UCOP by, quote, " 2-3 people on staff working on this over the course of several months at about 10% of their time while they were doing other things." I learned that the logo is planned to be printed in many pastel colors and for use on shopping bags and delivery trucks. I guess we are lucky that Bain wasn't hired for the logo and only a small amount of funding was devoted to its design, but by my calculation even this amount of staff time converted to professional salaries amounts to more than I was able to donate this year to a scholarship fund at Merced. It is pretty depressing to think that what I can give for scholarships is wiped out by salaries at UCOP so we can have a nice design for shopping bags. 

At the Berkeley campus the football stadium was remodeled and enlarged to include an athletic training facility and an elaborate new press box at a total cost, in round numbers, of about half a billion dollars. Some of this was to come from gifts, but most was to be paid for from the sale of bonds. The campus athletic director alleged that the debt service on the bonds would be covered by the sale of permanent seats to alumni. Some seats have been sold but not enough. Servicing the remaining debt is calculated at about $17 million annually over and above what seat sales will bring in. This money won't come from the state so presumably it will have to come out of student pockets. If my numbers are correct, paying this debt will increase each Berkeley student's fees by about $485 a year. My question is how did the Office of the President recommend and the regents approve a financial plan that has such a horrible impact? At one time my job at UCOP was reviewing campus borrowings for housing, parking, recreation centers, etc. I also worked on the approval of capital projects. Remembering what sorts of analysis we did before ever sending something to the regents for approval I am simply stumped as to what folks at UCOP are now doing, except we know that some of them are spending 10% of their time on logo design. 

The logo, for all the jokes about its bad design, is not a trivial issue. It is emblematic of where the University of California is going. While its board of regents directs its Office of the President to move ever closer to a corporate model, they are neglecting their basic fiduciary duties. The California State Constitution gives the board of regents almost complete independence. The regents historically have been captains of industry and finance, usually associated with the party of the appointing governor. Recent events--one thinks of Countrywide Mortgage, Lehman Brothers, and Hewlett Packard--show how badly these sorts of people may be at running their own affairs. Perhaps it's time to consider whether UC needs a new way of governing itself. UC is not a private corporation; the regents are not a private board of directors; UC is not a "brand" that needs an updated corporate logo like a UPS truck.

New: FCPC Meeting to Discuss Possible Violations by Landlord-Financed TUFF Rent Board Candidates

By Rob Wrenn
Wednesday December 12, 2012 - 02:55:00 PM

On Thursday, Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission (FCPC) will consider possible violations of the Berkeley Election Reform Act by Berkeley Tenants United For Fairness (TUFF) rent board candidates. 

Also before them are possible violations by Diablo Holdings and Premium Property Management who gave $5000 and $1000 respectively to TUFF’s Slate Mailer Organization (SMO). 

The Commission could determine that there is probable cause to set hearings or take other action on these possible violations. A crucial question, which the Commission could direct staff to investigate further, is whether the TUFF SMO was also a candidate controlled committee, in which case it would fall within the Commission’s purview. 


Most of the money spent in support of the four rent board candidates on the TUFF slate was spent by the TUFF Slate Mailer Organization (SMO), which produced and mailed five mailers to Berkeley voters. The four candidates were incumbent Nicole Drake, and Judy Hunt, Kiran Shenoy and Jay James. Only Judy Hunt was elected on November 6. 

The TUFF SMO provided a way to fund a campaign for this slate of candidates that circumvents Berkeley’s $250 limit on contributions to candidates. There is no limit on contributions to oppose or support ballot measures. The TUFF SMO produced slate mailers that supported the four TUFF rent board candidates, but which also opposed Measure U. 

The TUFF SMO raised a total of $44,920. After Berkeley resident Patti Dacey filed a complaint with the FCPC on October 25 pointing to the TUFF SMOs receipt of prohibited contributions from business entities, three contributions totaling $1,440 were returned. These contributions were from Stuart Street Properties, Lower Carleton Properties and Ellis Street Properties. 

With the return of these prohibited contributions, TUFF SMO’s total receipts amount to $43,480. Of this, $6,050 was reported, in the TUFF SMO’s campaign filings (Forms 401 and 498), to have been given to support the four rent board candidates. That’s 14% of the TUFF SMO’s total. 

$37,000, or 85% of the total, was reported as received to oppose Measure U, the “Sunshine Ordinance”, which was defeated by a 77% to 23% margin. 1% was in contributions of less than $100, which weren’t itemized. 

While 85% of the money raised to pay for the mailers was reportedly received to oppose Measure U, only about 15% of the space in the mailers was devoted to Measure U. In the first two mailers, there were some bullet points and text against Measure U. But total Measure U space amounted to about one quarter of one side of the mailers, with the other side devoted only to the rent board candidates. 

In the last three mailers, there were only two small “Vote No on U” logos, one on each side, one of them measuring only .5” by 1”, with no accompanying text or bullet points related to the Measure. The rest of the space was devoted to the rent board candidates. 

So the candidates got far more space and reached far more voters than would have been possible with the $6050 given to the TUFF SMO to support the slate of four candidates. State law does not require that allocation of space in slate mailers be related to the proportion of funds received for each candidate or measure included in the mailer. 

Where the money came from 

Apart from $1600 received from the TUFF rent board candidate’s own campaign committees, virtually all of the money received by the TUFF SMO came from landlords, or people involved in property management or real estate. 

The East Bay Rental Housing Association PAC gave $32,000 to the TUFF SMO, $31,000 of it ostensibly to oppose Measure U. That’s fully 74% of TUFF SMO’s total. A further $5000 came from Diablo Holdings, a property and asset management company, with an office on Center Street in Berkeley. 

In addition to its contributions to the SMO, the East Bay Rental Housing Association PAC filed with the City Clerk Independent Expenditure Reports (Form 496) reporting independent expenditures of $9950.26 for “advertising” to support the TUFF candidates. 

Use of a slate mailer organization and independent expenditures allowed landlords to put large sums to work for the TUFF slate, sums much greater than what they could have contributed directly to the candidate’s own committees, where the $250 limit set by Berkeley’s election law applies. 

There have been 15 elections for Berkeley Rent Board held since 1984 when rent board commissioner first became an elective office. There has never been an election where one slate received such a high percentage of its funding from landlords and related real estate interests. Over 95% of the money raised and spent to support the TUFF slate candidates came from those sources. 

The large sums of rental property owner money channeled to the support of the TUFF candidates via the SMO and independent expenditures gave the TUFF candidates a major advantage over their opponents, who were not able to send as much mail to voters. 

The opposing slate consisting of Judy Shelton, Igor Tregub, Asa Dodsworth, and Alejandro Soto-Vigil, received a combined total of $24,038.67 in contributions according to the campaign statements filed with the City Clerk. Filings can be viewed here on the City’s Web site. 

Issues Before the FCPC 

In preparation for tomorrow’s FCPC meeting, Deputy City Attorney Kristy Van Herick, the secretary of the FCPC put together a twenty page initial staff investigative report. That report reviews and responds to the complaints received from Patti Dacey, both her original complaint of October 25 and a November 30 amendment. 

The full report can be viewed as part of the packet for the December 13 meeting on the Commission’s Web page.  

The staff report reveals some interesting details about some of the contributions received by the TUFF SMO. 

Staff talked to John Lineweaver, president of Diablo Holdings, about Diablo Holdings donation of $5000 to the TUFF SMO. The report says that Lineweaver stated on the phone that he “made the $5000 payment to support the mailer for the rent board slate, and that he knew the mailer included other items, but off the top of head he did not know what they were.” 

The TUFF SMO Form 465 filing, however, says that the Diablo Holdings contribution was a contribution against Measure U. 

The staff report says that Lineweaver clarified, via an e-mail sent later the same day, that it was a contribution to the rent board candidates and against Measure U. 

The issue for the FCPC is that any portion of the contribution from Diablo Holdings to rent board candidates constitutes a contribution from a prohibited source since Diablo Holdings is a business entity and such contributions violate Berkeley’s election law unless made by an independent expenditure committee. 

Mr Lineweaver told staff that his contribution was not an independent expenditure. If it had been an independent expenditure, it would have had to have been reported within 24 hours, and that did not happen. 

When contacted again by staff, Mr. Lineweaver said that the contribution was solicited by Sid Lakireddy on September 27. Lakireddy is president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association (BPOA). It seems clear from the staff report that the primary reason that his business made a contribution was to aid rent board candidates. 

Premium Property Management, with an office on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, may also have violated the law as it also failed to file an independent expenditure report. If it was not an independent expenditure committee, its contribution of $1000 would, like Diablo Holdings’ contribution, be a prohibited contribution by a business entity. It did not respond to a letter from FCPC staff. 

The BPOA sent a fundraising email, cited in Patti Dacey’s complaint to FCPC, encouraging donations to Berkeley TUFF. They were told that they could “donate to each candidate or you can send your check made out to Berkeley TUFF to 2437 Shattuck Ave, St. 17, Berkeley, CA 94704.” That is the address listed for rent board candidate Jay James’ campaign committee. 

The Staff report notes that “it is difficult to ascertain who made the decision as to how to allocate the donations, the party writing the checks or Berkeley TUFF’s officer or treasurer upon receipt of the funds.” 

The “primary officer” of the TUFF SMO is Jay James, who was himself a candidate. This raises the issue of whether TUFF SMO was a de facto local candidate controlled committee that would fall within the FCPC’s purview. If Jay James and perhaps his fellow candidates did not control the TUFF SMO, then who did? 

The staff report raises the question of whether Jay James’ role in the committee violates state election laws. The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) adopts regulations and investigates alleged violations of those laws. 

The report states: “The more active position taken by Jay James as Officer of the SMO, including use of his personal address for receipt of contributions to the SMO and presumably making decisions about how to earmark certain contributions, appears to be prohibited by the FPPC.” 

In addition to directing staff to further investigate whether TUFF SMO was candidate controlled, the commission could direct staff to forward the matter to the FPPC. 

Staff also found possible violations by the candidate committees for the four rent board candidates, James, Hunt, Drake and Shenoy. The violations include “receipt of contributions from a prohibited business source”, “receipt of contributions in excess of $250 from a single source” and “failure to timely disclose nonmonetary contributions.” 

The staff report notes that “none of the four candidates timely disclosed the contributions allocated to them on the Berkeley TUFF SMO filings on either their first or second pre-election statements. The candidates therefore did not comply with the BERA.” 

Judy Hunt is the only member of the TUFF slate who was elected. On Thursday night while the FCPC considers whether her campaign committee violated BERA, she will be the featured speaker at the BPOA Winter Dinner and Award Presentation at King Tsin Restaurant on Solano Avenue in Berkeley. 


Why It’s Hard to Replace the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Metaphor

By George Lakoff
Tuesday December 04, 2012 - 10:39:00 PM

Writers on economics have been talking since the election about why the “fiscal cliff” metaphor is misleading. Alternative metaphors have been offered like the fiscal hill, fiscal curb, and fiscal showdown, as if one metaphor could easily be replaced by another that makes more sense of the real situation. But none of the alternatives has stuck, nor has the fiscal cliff metaphor been abandoned. Why? Why do some metaphors have far more staying power than others, even when they give a misleading picture of a crucial national issue? 

The reason has to do with the way that metaphorical thought and language work in the brain. From a cognitive linguistics perspective, “fiscal cliff” is not a simple metaphor bringing “fiscal” together with “cliff.” It is instead a linguistic metaphor that is understood via a highly integrated cascade of other deeper and more general conceptual metaphors. 

A cascade is a neural circuit containing and coordinating neural circuits in various parts of the brain. 

Because we think with our brains, every thought we have is physical, constituted by neural circuitry. Because about 98 percent of conscious thought has an unconscious neural substrate, we are rarely aware of conceptual metaphors. And because the brain is a physical system governed by conservation of energy, a tightly integrated cascade of neural metaphor circuits is more likely to be learned, remembered, and readily activated. 

Let’s take a look at the metaphorical complexity of “fiscal cliff” and how the metaphors that comprise it fit together. The simplest, is the metaphor named MoreIsUp, which is a neural circuit linking two distinct brain regions, one for verticality and one for quantity. It is a high-level general metaphor widespread throughout the world, and occurs in a vast number of sentences like Turn the radio up, the temperature fell, and so on. 

The economy is seen as moving forward and either moving up, moving down or staying level, where verticality metaphorically indicates the value of economic indicators like the GDP or a stock market average. These are indicators of economic activity such as overall spending on goods and services or the sale of stocks. Why is economic activity conceptualized as motion? Because a common conceptual metaphor is being used: ActivityIsMotion, as in sentences like The project is moving along smoothly, The remodeling is getting bogged down, and so on. The common metaphor TheFutureIsAhead accounts for why the motion is “forward.” 

In a diagram of changes over time in a stock market or the GDP, the metaphor used is ThePastIsLeft and TheFutureIsRight, which is why the diagram goes from left to right when the economy is conceptualized as moving “forward.” 

When Ben Bernanke spoke of the “fiscal cliff” he undoubtedly had an mind a graph of the economy moving along, left to right, on a slight incline and then suddenly dropping way down, which looks like a line drawing of a cliff from the side view. Such a graph has values built in via the metaphor GoodIsUp. Going down over the cliff is thus bad. 

The administration has the goal of increasing GDP. Here common metaphors apply: SuccessIsUp and FailingIsFalling. Hence going over the fiscal cliff would be a serious failure for the administration and harm for the populace. 

These metaphors fit together tightly in the usual graph of changes in economic activity over time, together with the metaphorical interpretation of the graph. From the neural perspective, these metaphors form a tightly integrated neural cascade — so tightly integrated and so natural that we barely notice them, if we notice them at all. 

'Thelma and Louise' stillThere is, of course, more content to the “fiscal cliff.” Imagine driving toward a cliff with the possibility of going over. The car you are in is out of control. The cliff is a feature of the natural environment. If the car goes over, everyone in it would be harmed or killed. Thus, if the economy is a vehicle moving forward without control toward the cliff, there is great and immediate danger, and so the “fiscal cliff” metaphor engenders fear. Thus, knowledge about driving out of control toward a cliff, together with the metaphors cited above, characterizes the implications of the “fiscal cliff” metaphor. 

Because the conceptual metaphors constituting the fiscal cliff fit together so well and so naturally, it is hard to just jettison it and replace it with an even better integrated metaphor for our economic situation. 

Progressive economists like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich have rejected the fiscal cliff metaphor, but with different arguments and different alternative metaphors. Krugman points out that the idea of the fiscal cliff is tied to an economically false argument about the dangers of the deficit. He argues instead that the deficit is too small and that we need to invest more, not less, in the development of the economy. The real danger, he argues is that what is called the “fiscal cliff” is really an “austerity bomb.” The result would be dangerous cuts in necessary economic investments and safety nets, which would hurt many people and the economy as a whole as well, just as austerity programs in Europe have done. And Krugman has correctly pointed out that using the fiscal cliff metaphor helps conservatives because it accepts their economic theory of deficits. 

Reich suggests “bungee-jumping over the fiscal cliff.” He argues that President Obama should be willing to accept the drastic fiscal cliff cuts in the budget as of January 1. This could either be a “bluff” to scare the Republicans into believing the cuts would be pinned on them. Or it could be his “trump card,” since the new Congress could reverse the cuts after January 1. 

I agree with Krugman’s economic analysis and think that Reich’s political strategy is well worth considering. But from a cognitive linguistic perspective, their alternative metaphors, whatever their policy value, are not going to make it. Take “austerity bomb.” The Austerity Frame is about self-denial. As used in Europe, it assumes two conceptual metaphors, TheNationalBudgetIsAFamilyBudget and TheNation’sWealthIsTheGovernment’sCashOnHand. Both are terribly misleading. Great Britain is richer than it has ever been, just as America is, if you count the total wealth of their corporations and citizens. The nations are far from broke, but the requisite money is not in the government’s coffers. A family budget is nothing like a national budget, because the nation has vastly more resources and possibilities than any typical family. These are the austerity metaphors. The causal structure of austerity contradicts the causal structure of bomb. Austerity implies a long-term responsible form of self-denial that makes your situation better. Bombs blow up instantly and harm or kill you. 

The idea is that austerity as a national policy would be destructive, and it most likely would be, but the metaphor doesn’t have anything like a tightly integrated cascade of component metaphors. 

Reich’s “bungee-jumping” contradicts the inferences that arise from the tightly fitting component metaphors of the “fiscal cliff.” And though Reich’s “bluff” and “trump card” metaphors are instances of the commonplace BargainingIsGambling metaphor, it suggests a political strategy, but does not characterize our economic situation. 

There are two morals here. First, metaphors cannot be proposed at will and be expected to work, even if they are intended to fit reality better than existing metaphors. Second, when metaphors are tightly integrated, they are going to be hard to replace and we may have to live by them, as misleading as they may be. The national economic debate will most likely continue to be about the misleading fiscal cliff, not the reality that “austerity bomb” is intended to convey. This is a sad scientific truth. 

George Lakoff is coauthor with Mark Johnson of two of the classic books on the contemporary theory of metaphorical thought and language, Metaphors We Live By and Philosophy in the Flesh. He is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. Tags: cognitive linguistics, fiscal cliff, linguistic metaphors Bookmark and Share

Berkeley DBA Sidewalk Santa Rings in the Holidays

By Steven Finacom
Monday December 03, 2012 - 05:39:00 PM
Santa occupied a stretch of Downtown sidewalk for the tree lighting festivities and wasn’t told to move along.
Steven Finacom
Santa occupied a stretch of Downtown sidewalk for the tree lighting festivities and wasn’t told to move along.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Downtown Berkeley Association head Jon Caner officiated at the tree lighting.
Steven Finacom
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Downtown Berkeley Association head Jon Caner officiated at the tree lighting.
The holiday tree, which DBA hopes will be an annual tradition, rose from the planter next to the main BART station entrance.
Steven Finacom
The holiday tree, which DBA hopes will be an annual tradition, rose from the planter next to the main BART station entrance.

The presence of an elderly, out-of-town man with flowing white beard and eccentric bright red clothing who brought a chair and sat for hours on the sidewalk adjacent to Berkeley’s Downtown BART station did not deter scores of excited children and adults from flocking to the plaza on a rainy Friday evening for a festive event—the ceremonial lighting of a holiday tree by the Downtown Berkeley Association. 

DBA Executive Director Jon Caner and City of Berkeley Economic Development Director Michael Caplan watched cheerfully while numerous party-goers and passersby lined up to enjoy free hot chocolate as thick as pudding from Almare Gelato, delicious jam-filled cookies from PIQ, and a capella entertainment from the Cal Jazz Choir.  

As the students sang about a homeless child in a strange city—“Now sound the trumpet, beat on the drum! The wondrous holy night has come!” from “Jamaican Noel”—staff from the adjacent Downtown Verizon store circulated passing out “You’re A Winner!” postcards offering gift cards for those who made a return visit.  

Children and adults had their picture taken with sidewalk sitting Santa who was solicitously attended, not shooed along, by elves dressed in the florescent green field attire of the DBA Downtown “ambassadors”. A few street kids and homeless people were part of the crowd and partook of the refreshments, and on this evening of good feeling I didn’t see anyone tell them to go away. 

The official lighting ceremony was briefly deferred while waiting for the late Mayor Tom Bates, who finally showed up with family members in tow to light the tree (the unverified rumor in the crowd was that Bates had been delayed by lack of parking nearby).  

Caner called the crowd to attention for “the first lighting of the BART Plaza tree, hopefully the first time for many years to come!” and handed the microphone to Bates. 

“Thank you, it’s a wonderful evening…this is fabulous, we really appreciate what is happening in the Downtown”, Bates said. “This is another way of celebrating our wonderful Downtown. So without further ado, I’m going to plug these two cords.”  

He asked an audience member to join him, but she declined, perhaps dubious of the results of bringing two electrical connections together by hand in the drizzly outdoors. But Bates survived without mishap, and the tall, white, star-topped, tree (wires and a pole, we should note, not a cut tree) lit up in the planter bed behind him to applause from the crowd. 

“Please come to Downtown many times over the holiday season, be entertained, shop, and be merry!” Caner exhorted. Other introduced dignitaries besides Bates included North Berkeley City Councilman Laurie Capitelli, who has apparently added Downtown to the list of local commercial districts he now feels are safe to visit after dark. 

Despite the rain, Downtown was packed and bustling, as it usually is. Out of curiosity I stood on the Shattuck sidewalk and counted just those people walking by, excluding those at the event. In five minutes no less than 115 passersby of all ages, ethnicities, and apparent income levels passed by me, meaning one pedestrian, on average, every 2.6 seconds.  

The event recalled Downtown holiday decorations and ceremonies which go back at least to the 1920s, as far as I know. On and off for years decorations have been hung from the light poles. This year they’re large purple and gold balls. In the early 1930s there was a controversy over “modernistic” designs created by WPA workers, and the city returned to more “traditional” décor. There’s often a tree, and a Downtown arrival of Santa ceremony, all geared to entice local shoppers to patronize the downtown businesses. 

Berkeley has a traditional “Municipal Christmas Tree” from the early 1940s, a Giant Sequoia in Civic Center Park, but it has been a few years since the City last lit it up.

New: Berkeley: More than 900 Ambulance Users May Have Had Data Stolen

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Saturday December 01, 2012 - 11:29:00 AM

Berkeley officials said today that more than 900 people who were taken to hospitals by Berkeley Fire Department crews may have had their personal information stolen by an identity theft ring.

City officials said their ambulance-billing vendor, Advanced Data Processing Inc., which is based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., told them that they learned in October that patient information of some of the city's ambulance customers was inappropriately accessed by one of their employees in conjunction with a scheme to commit identity theft.  

The company, which does business as Intermedix Inc., said some of the stolen data was disclosed to a theft ring suspected of filing fraudulent federal tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service. 

ADPI said it is working closely with federal and local law enforcement agencies who are conducting a criminal investigation and it has terminated the employee's employment and access to its system. 

Berkeley officials said ADPI conducted its own investigation of the incident and told them on Oct. 15 that the personal information of 168 city of Berkeley ambulance customers had been inappropriately accessed. 

City officials said that on Nov. 21, after completing further forensic analysis, ADPI notified them that the employee may have accessed an additional 763 customer records, so a total of 931 customers may be affected. 

They said the unauthorized access to and, in certain instances disclosure of, personal information, may have included patient names, social security numbers, and dates of birth. 

However, ADPI has determined that no medical information was accessed or disclosed, according to city officials. 

The city and ADPI sent a letter about the breach of information to the initial 168 customers on Nov. 15 and a letter to the additional 763 customers was mailed Thursday. 

Berkeley officials said the letter advises potentially impacted individuals how to monitor their credit report for suspected misuse. 

They said people who believe they may be affected by this incident are advised to review credit card account statements and monitor their credit report for unauthorized activity. 

Information and resources are available at www.myidcare.com/intersecurity. 

The letter also tells impacted Berkeley customers that ADPI will pay for one year of credit monitoring service to detect any fraudulent use of personal information, along with information on how to access this service. 

Berkeley officials said if customers have any questions, they should call the city's customer service line at 311 or (510) 981-CITY for callers outside the city. 

In addition, ADPI has retained identity experts to provide information to help affected customers. Customers who want further information can call 1 (877) 264-9622 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time or visit www.myidcare.com/intersecurity.

Who's Responsible for the Fire That Killed 112 Garment Workers? (Opinion)

By David Bacon, Progressive Media Project
Saturday December 01, 2012 - 11:28:00 AM

The day after Black Friday demonstrations of workers and supporters in front of hundreds of Walmart stores across the US., a fire killed 112 workers making clothes for Walmart at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Bangladesh. This was the most recent of several such factory fires, leading to the deaths of another 500 young women. 

These fires are industrial homicides. They can be avoided. The fact that they're not is a consequence of a production system that places the profits of multinational clothing manufacturers and their contractors above the lives of people. The same profit-at-any-cost philosophy is leading to growing protest among workers who sell those garments in U.S. stores over their own wages and conditions, especially at Walmart.  

The Bangladesh fire tells us a lot about the conditions under which the garments consumers bought this Black Friday were made. Reports from the scene say there were no fire escapes. Several young women jumped from the windows to get away from the flames, as their sisters did a century ago in New York City, in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. Most Tazreen workers were trapped inside and burned to death.  

Walmart has a grading system for its contractors, and had put the Tazreen factory on "orange" status (green for good, yellow for not so good, orange for a warning, and red for a contractor whose orders are cut off). Yet the company's inspectors must have seen that there were no fire escapes, and kept giving Tazreen orders. 

The reason is clear. Wages are 21¢ an hour. Contractors like Tazreen compete against each other to get the orders. In a garment factory, the main way they cut costs is by cutting wages and expenses like safety. 

Workers have been trying to win the right to organize militant unions to raise those wages and improve working conditions. If workers had been successful, they would have had the power to force the company to build fire escapes and make the factory safe. 

But police in Bangladesh have been putting down demonstrations by workers in this region for months. One worker activist, Aminul Islam, was tortured and killed this year. The government uses low wages to attract manufacturers like Walmart. It does not enforce safety regulations, as the fires clearly show. Walmart then uses the labor of the women to boost its profits, and has the same attitude towards their efforts to organize unions that it does towards the efforts of its employees in the U.S. Total opposition. 

This is not just Bangladesh's problem, however. The system for garment production worldwide has nations competing in the same way -- Bangladesh vs. China, for instance. Factory fires are the logical result because safety, unions and higher wages are costs that will make a country uncompetitive. It's also a U.S. problem. According to the Economic Policy Institute, Wal-Mart's trade deficit with China alone cost 200,000 U.S. jobs between 2001 and 2006. Garment manufacturing in the U.S. has practically disappeared. 

Manufacturers claim that if wages and safety costs rise, so will the prices of garments in U.S. stores. Yet if wages of 21¢ an hour were doubled, it would add only a few pennies to the cost of even a cheap teeshirt. Walmart customers on Black Friday spoke out in favor of higher wages and more rights for Walmart's store workers. They would support the same for factory workers in Bangladesh. The obstacle is the contractor system, competition between contractors and countries, and a policy of suppressing unions. The system of self-policing hailed by Walmart and large manufacturers does not change this situation. It is a fig leaf. 

Instead, countries like Bangladesh and the U.S. should implement the international accords that, on paper, guarantee workers the right to organize unions. Consumers also have power. They can refuse to purchase garments made in factories like the one that killed 112 young women, or that are sold in stores that deny workers the right to organize. 

Whether at a sewing machine in Bangladesh or at a cash register in California, workers have the right to a safe job, a decent standard of living, and to organize. We need a system for producing and selling clothing that reinforces those rights, not one that works against them.

New: Bicyclist Shot in Berkeley Identified

By Bay City News
Wednesday December 05, 2012 - 11:16:00 PM

Police have identified a woman on a bicycle who was fatally shot in Berkeley late Tuesday night.  

Pamula Mullins, 50, of Berkeley was found suffering from a gunshot wound on the sidewalk in the 1500 block of Derby Street at 11:36 p.m.  

Officers responded after receiving a report of what appeared to be bicycle crash, police said.  

Mullins was pronounced dead at the scene. 

The death marks Berkeley's fourth homicide this year, police said. 

Police are investigating the death, and are asking anyone with information on the case to call the department's homicide unit at (510) 981-5741, the non-emergency number at (510) 981-5900, or Bay Area Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS (8477). Callers can remain anonymous, police said.

Car Crashes into Berkeley Store

By Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Wednesday December 05, 2012 - 01:27:00 PM

An Albany man was arrested after crashing a car into a Berkeley liquor store on Tuesday night, a Berkeley police spokeswoman said. 

Police and firefighters responded to a report of a vehicle into a store at 3045 San Pablo Ave. around 9:30 p.m., Berkeley police Officer Jennifer Coats said. 

A four-door Chevrolet Cavalier had driven into the store, damaging the front-door area and striking a female patron, Coats said.  

The victim suffered minor injuries and was taken to a hospital, Coats said. 

Meanwhile, police arrested the car's driver, 36-year-old Keith Kelly, on suspicion of felony hit-and-run, Coats said. 

Store employees had to detain Kelly, who allegedly tried to run away after the crash, Coats said. 

Once police arrived, he was arrested and booked into jail, where he remained in custody this morning, Coats said. 

A front-seat passenger in the Chevy fled the scene after the crash and has not been found, Coats said. 

It does not appear drugs or alcohol played a role in the accident, according to Coats. 

The store, Easy Liquor, was partially open this morning, according to a man answering the phone there. 

He said employees were escorting customers through the damaged entryway. 

He said the store has been operating for 52 years.

Woman on Bicycle Shot to Death on Derby Street in Berkeley

By Bay City News
Wednesday December 05, 2012 - 08:28:00 AM

A woman on a bicycle was fatally shot in Berkeley late Tuesday night, police said this morning.  

Officers responded to the 1500 block of Derby Street at 11:36 p.m. after receiving a report of what appeared to be bicycle crash, police said.  

Police arrived and found the victim on the sidewalk, and paramedics were called to the scene.  

The paramedics determined that the woman, who was in her late 40s or early 50s, had suffered an apparent gunshot wound, according to police.  

She was pronounced dead at the scene. 

The death marks Berkeley's fourth homicide this year, police said. 

Police are investigating the death, and are asking anyone with information on the case to call the department's homicide unit at (510) 981-5741, the non-emergency number at (510) 981-5900, or Bay Area Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS (8477). Callers can remain anonymous, police said.  

Press Release: Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and Fairness Act Introduced to Assembly

Tuesday December 04, 2012 - 10:51:00 AM

Building off of Rhode Island’s community effort, a coalition of West Coast organizations is working with Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) to introduce a Homeless Persons’ Bill of Rights and Fairness Act today.

The bill’s author, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, said, “We need to stop criminalizing the behavior of people who have nowhere else to turn. People who are in need of mental health services or who have lost their jobs and their homes are being told, ‘Move along or go to jail.’ The Homeless Persons’ Bill of Rights begins to give us a framework for appropriate approaches to protecting our communities and those who are vulnerable.”

“From the Ugly Laws of the mid-19th century—which made it a crime to have a visible disability in public—through the anti-Okie law of the Great Depression—which made it a crime for poor people to enter the state—up through the present, state and local governments have used unjust laws to punish or conceal poor people,” said Paul Boden, Organizing Director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP). “But as long as these laws have existed, there’s been resistance. We’re introducing this bill of rights because we believe that the time has come to address the wrongs and most importantly stop them from ever happening again.” 

The effort is a collaboration between WRAP, Jericho: A Voice for Justice, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Judith Larson of Jericho said, “This is the essence of what Jericho was formed to do, and has continued to do for the past 25 years.” 

WRAP has conducted over 800 surveys concerning homeless people’s interactions with law enforcement. 82% of survey respondents had been hassled by law enforcement for sleeping. 78% had had interactions with law enforcement simply because they’d been hanging out in a public space. 77% had been harassed by law enforcement for sitting down. Becky Dennison, Co-Director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, said, “When we’ve criminalized sleeping, standing, and sitting down, we’ve basically criminalized a person’s existence. A bill like this is long overdue”. 

The Act would guarantee homeless people freedom from discrimination in law enforcement, employment, housing and shelter, and public benefits. It protects people’s right to use public space, to keep personal property, and to engage in life-sustaining activities. It also guarantees people the right to counsel in any case where they’re being prosecuted. Paula Lomazzi from Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee said, “These are basic rights that allow all people to stay alive and engage in a democratic society—things most of us get to take for granted, but which remain a daily challenge for many of the poorest members of our communities.”

Public Hearing and Walk Will Focus on Aquatic Park

by Toni Mester
Friday December 07, 2012 - 05:53:00 PM
Recent flooding in Aquatic Park
Toni Mester
Recent flooding in Aquatic Park

A public hearing on the draft environmental impact report (DEIR) of the Aquatic Park Improvement Program (APIP) will be held on Wednesday evening December 12 from 7 to 8:30 at the James Kenney Center (2nd floor), 1720 Eighth Street.

Testimony will become part of the CEQA record with all questions to be answered by the consultant (Atkins) in the final EIR. The report is technical, but not impenetrable to those familiar with the Park and its problems. The APIP is mostly a hydrology project aimed at improving water quality through increased circulation and faster flushing of storm water runoff through the lagoons, the latter purpose being the more controversial.

Interested persons are invited to join a free walk on Sunday, December 9 that will leave the Waterside Café at 84 Bolivar Drive promptly at 11 AM, circling the Park clockwise, and ending at 1 PM at the Touchdown Plaza in front of the new Dona Spring Animal Shelter. The walk will be led by Mark Liolios (Aquatic Park EGRET) and Toni Mester (CESP), who will point out relevant features of the Park and explain the APIP proposals. Birders can enjoy watching the winter arrivals. Although the forecast is for bright and breezy weather, the ground is saturated from recent rains; participants should wear sturdy footwear and bring a water bottle. The Café will be open for coffee. Dogs are welcome but must be on leash. No reservations are required; just show up at the Café before 11 AM. 

The entire DEIR is available on-line at the City of Berkeley Aquatic Park page. The project description (Section 3) summarizes the APIP objectives and background including the hydrology component. Major proposals include enlarging the outflows from the Potter Street storm drain, cutting a channel between the lagoons and replacing a section of roadway with a bridge, repairing the tide tubes, and installing slide gates to control the flow of water. 

A good amount of dirt will be moved around, taking fill from the channel cut and placing it on Bird Island and excavating a huge chunk of parkland on the west side to create earthen berms elsewhere. 

Some of these proposals win widespread approval like repair of the five central tide tubes that provide most of the tidal exchange; others have raised objections. 

Liolios fears that enlarging the culvert openings will allow for destructive flooding during winter storms. In 2008, after a year long examination of APIP, a Parks and Recreation Commission subcommittee approved an alternative that would not permit storm water from entering the lagoons, and this vote became the basis for the DEIR preferred project. In fact, the physical infrastructure is actually the same for all the CEQA alternatives; it’s only the operation of the system that differs. 

Phil Price, once a member of the parks commission and now chair of the Audubon East Bay conservation committee, is supportive of some project goals but wary. One of his 2008 Bird Blogs aptly summarizes the hydrology dilemma: how to increase tidal flows while preventing storm drain pollution. 

Other stakeholders are more interested in recreational opportunities. Matt Brandt, spokesman for the Berkeley Water Ski Club, spoke at a recent Parks and Recreation Commission meeting and expressed concern about their future, while members of the Rowing Club wonder how changes will impact access to their clubhouse. 

The problems of Aquatic Park fall into three rough categories: the winter, the summer, and the year round. The winter problems are currently on view, especially the flooding from storm drain overflow and runoff that enter the lagoons from many directions. 

The flood waters leave trash and pollutants in the park, damage or drown trees and other protective vegetation, erode the banks, paths, and stonework, and deposit sediment on the bottom of the already shallow lagoons, which then become too warm, stagnant, and odiferous in summer, overgrown with algae and aquatic plants. 

And so it goes, the winter problems generate the summer ones. 

The year round problems are perennial and legendary: the lack of a sound wall barrier to protect park users from the ever increasing traffic on I-80, failure to enforce the leash laws that should prevent dogs from hounding the shorebirds, and continued use of natural enclaves for sexual encounters despite official efforts to curb inappropriate behavior. 

It’s questionable whether APIP will solve any of the plumbing problems or just delay the solution, the rebuilding of the drain infrastructure that would divert storm water from the lagoons. The optimum upgrade, known as Option 1 of the Watershed Management Plan, is favored by environmental organizations, because it’s two hits in one, both preventing upstream flooding in southwest Berkeley and bypassing the Park. Unfortunately, it’s expensive. 

If any Santa out there has $20 million to spare or a sizeable chunk thereof, please contact John Steere at Berkeley Partners for Parks, a nonprofit that can receive charitable gifts on behalf of Aquatic Park. It is unclear how APIP will be funded or which improvements have priority. A Coastal Conservatory grant has been identified by staff, and additional money may be forthcoming from the recently approved Measure M. 

In the meantime, APIP tries to merge two incompatible functions: flood control and repair of the water quality in Aquatic Park, which wasn’t created as a flood basin. It’s questionable whether this redesign of the Park to accomplish both tasks at once can succeed without further damage to the Park’s infrastructure, especially if future storms exceed past downpours as a result of global warming. 

Hurricane Sandy is just one warning sign that trouble in on the way. A deluge in Copenhagen last summer dumped six inches of rain on the coastal city in less than three hours, causing over $1 billion in damages to personal, business, and municipal property. That’s a negative bottom line that makes $20 million look like a good investment. 

Copenhagen has devised a climate adaptation plan in response to recent flash floods. Maybe it’s time for Berkeley to get serious about flood control that would spare both Aquatic Park and the rest of downstream Berkeley. 

Toni Mester serves on the board of Citizens for East Shore Parks 

Occupy Bay Area Takes Over Richard Blum's Corporation in San Francisco Tonight to Protest Sale of Post Offices

Monday December 03, 2012 - 04:43:00 PM

In solidarity with Save the Post Office Coalition’s action at 11:30 AM on Tuesday, December 4, participants of Occupy Bay Area United (OBAU) are staging an overnight occupation of Blum Capital Partners, at 909 Montgomery Street, starting at 4 pm Monday, December 3rd. 

The owner of this firm, Richard Blum, UC Regent and husband to Senator Dianne Feinstein, is also Chairman of the Board of the politically entrenched real estate firm CB Richard Ellis (CBRE). Through leveraging his position as UC Regent, Mr. Blum has brought outsize benefits to Blum Capital Partners by exploiting UC’s sizable investment portfolio. He has directed a multitude of university build projects to his very own real estate company, even going so far as to construct a building named after himself on the UC Berkeley campus from which he personally profited. Thanks to his wife, Senator Feinstein, Blum’s real estate firm CBRE won contracts from the FDIC to handle the state’s residential foreclosures at above market rates, despite the firm’s weak track record in the field. As part of the nationwide threat to public services, the closing and selling off of California’s historic post offices have been contracted out to none other than Mr. Blum’s own CBRE, allowing him to profit from the public’s great loss of priceless buildings and works of art housed in them. 

Richard Blum and his companies exemplify the intractability of corporate influence on public policy, the marriage of wealth to politics and the incestuous twining of the two. In today’s political discourse, privatization is too often pitched as the only alternative, as necessary “reform”. “We are here today to stand for real reform: the removal influence over public policy by the 1% and their corporate allies, the establishment of true public accountability, and the preservation of public services,” stated OBAU member Jane Smith. 

Occupy Bay Area United is committed to nonviolent direct action. You can find more information, including schedules of our events, and information about our weekly General Assemblies at www.obau.org. Follow #OBAU on Twitter at @occbayareautd

Press Release: Save our Post Office! Rally on Tuesday, Dec. 4th at 11:30

From Dave Welsh, Save the Berkeley Post Office
Friday November 30, 2012 - 08:39:00 AM

Save our Post Office!

There will be a rally on Tuesday, Dec. 4th at 11:30 at the offices of Richard Blum, 909 Montgomery, San Francisco.

Towns and cities throughout the entire country are losing their historic post office buildings that were built with public monies. The giant real estate company CBRE advises the U.S. Postal Service on what post offices to sell and then profits as the listing agent. UC regent Richard Blum is the chairman of CBRE. Blum is married to California Senator Dianne Feinstein.

On Tuesday, December 4th. at 11:30 a.m. those of us outraged by this theft will meet at Richard Blum's office, Blum Capital, 909 Montgomery (and Pacific) to Rally and then March to Senator Diane Feinstein's office, 1 Post Street at Market Street. 

Right now, the USPS proposes to sell Berkeley's beautiful 1914 Main Post Office. It has two priceless New Deal art works. Our grandparents paid for this building and countless others in the country that are on the USPS hit list. Over 3,700 post offices are at risk of sale or closure. Sold post offices have morphed into restaurant and offices or have been abandoned. At some we must ask permission to see our public art work. Gray Brechin
and Harvey Smith of California’s Living New Deal Project will speak.

The USPS was established in Article I of the Constitution. Benjamin Franklin was our first Postmaster General. Until 1971, the Post Office was under Congress, and funded by taxpayers. Since 1971, the USPS has received no federal tax dollars. Congress's 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act forces the USPS to pay $5.5 billion each year to fund future retiree health benefits, an act designed to gut the service. This is another attempt at privatizing public services and profiting from our public good.

Those who are opposed to the selling off and privatization of our historic post office building must write to their senators and congresspersons, and to the US Postal Service, Ms. Diana Alvarado, USPS Facilities Office, 1300 Evans Ave, Suite 200, San Francisco 94188. Learn more about the threat to our postal service by visiting www.savethepostoffice.com. ;

We must confront Richard Blum about his selling of our public property and ask Senator Feinstein to act to save our post offices!

Dave Welsh
Save the Berkeley Post Office
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We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday December 12, 2012 - 03:01:00 PM

It’s the time of year when many who follow religious traditions, particularly those which arose in the deserts of what Europeans call the Middle East, organize celebrations based on their long history. The approaching winter solstice, the date when the day is shortest and the night is longest, has a lot to do with it. Europeans, particularly northern Europeans in the Christian lineage, need a lot of cheering up this time of year, what with the dark days and all.

But this year there are dark days in the Middle East as well. Angry clouds are on the horizon in many places, most prominently Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Israel. 

In Egypt, what started out as a democratic revolution is threatened with capture by the authoritarian elements which seem to exist everywhere—many currently in the guise of Islamic fundamentalism, but not really that different in kind from the ideologies which created the second world war. Syrians of many beliefs are struggling against an existing vicious authoritarian regime, with both democratic and anti-democratic elements participating in the revolutionary activity, but without clear evidence about what would happen if revolutionary forces won the current battle.

Sad to say, top-down anti-democratic tendencies seem to be part of the human inheritance everywhere. It’s particularly discouraging to see Israel, for years an exemplar of effective self-government and the rule of law, edging ever closer toward the cliff of permanent strife with Palestine.

You’d think that Jews, of all people, would know better. And in fact, some of them do. We received a Chanukah letter from Barbara Green on behalf of Americans for Peace Now, an organization spearheaded by American Jews, which identified the actions of the politicians currently running things in Israel as a perversion of the tradition which honors the Maccabees as zealots in a good cause. 

Talking about Netanyahu’s threat to extend Israeli settlement developments in the West Bank, she says: 

“The Chanukah story was a simple tale of good-versus-evil in which we - the good guys - won. The Maccabees were called zealots and their brand of zealotry was applauded and rewarded, no question about it.  

"Now, with hindsight, it doesn't look so simple. The word 'zealot' has taken on overtones of extremism, ignorance, and an inability to accept facts. Many of the settlers in what we have been calling the West Bank, but which we will now denominate properly as Palestine, are truly modern zealots in their willingness to use any extreme measures against the Palestinians in their midst, and increasingly even against Israeli Jews who dare disagree with them. Their zealotry includes many forms of violence. And they are joined in their zealotry by many Israeli politicians and their supporters, including in the American Jewish community, who appear eager to sacrifice every progressive Jewish and Israeli value - peace, tolerance, democracy - in their zeal to grab and hold more land. "Zealots" are no longer the good guys… zealots in power in Israel will harm Israelis as much as Palestinians, depriving both peoples of peaceful, secure futures.” 

It doesn’t have to be that way. 

Over the weekend, I was fortunate to attend a seasonal music performance which illustrated that at least here, in the bluest of blue corners of a blue state in the United States of America, we all can get along. 

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra presented a sublime Messiah, Handel's gorgeous music and a libretto that is the best possible pastiche of scriptural accounts of the Christian message, a Cliff’s Notes version of theology. 

We wouldn’t all agree on all of its sectarian themes, but some phrases, like this one, linger in memory as guides to what might be: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” 

The musicians exemplified this noble sentiment. On the day after Pearl Harbor Day, the conductor was from Japan, Masaaki Suzuki. Right across from him in the orchestra was a Japanese-American viola player. Other musicians, judging by their names were by ancestry Jewish, Latino, Chinese, Dutch—you name it, all in harmony. In the chorus I recognized a well-known Bay Area lesbian mezzo-soprano, proudly clothed like her male counterparts in white tie and tails instead of her female companions’ little black dresses. 

In the audience I saw a male friend who is a Yiddish expert in enthusiastic attendance despite the fact that it was the first night of Chanukah, accompanied by a lady friend with an Irish name and a fuzzy Christmas sweater. 

The soprano soloist rejoiced in the storied Middle Eastern name of Sherezade. The bass-baritone, an American from the Bronx with a strong dark African face and magnificent dreadlocks atop his European-style formal attire, belted out the takeaway message from Psalms: 

“Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed.” 

To which the chorus replied: 

“Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us.” 

Indeed. Let's do it. 

It’s tempting to dismiss the significance of the performance's graphic demonstration of how we can all live together on this earth in harmony as bourgeois sentimentality, but that would be a mistake. In fact, the people of the earth now face a crisis unprecedented in human history, and we must cast away the yokes of authoritarian rulers whose focus is sectarian strife in order to save ourselves and the world. 

It is absolutely imperative that we act harmoniously together to deal with climate change, or we and our grandchildren will inevitably suffer the direst consequences. 

Instead, our nations continue to furiously rage against one another, our national political parties argue about taxes, our state government can’t manage to support the scientific institutions that might find the solutions we need, and our city officials are mesmerized by a few ne’er-do-wells who happen to be sitting on downtown sidewalks. (And no, Virginia, tearing down existing buildings to construct LEED skyscrapers for mega-profiteers won’t prevent global warming—it's a tin fiddle in this song.) 

In the words of the prophet Isaiah, quoted in Messiah “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned ev’ry one to his own way…”. Now it’s time and past time to turn back, to start working together for the common good—before it’s too late. 

And that goes double for what we used to call "the Holy Land".

Berkeley Goes Berserkeley Once Again

By Becky O'Malley
Friday November 30, 2012 - 08:55:00 AM

Okay, okay, I think I might have to take it all back. Often enough, I’ve complained that the other media, the out-of-town media in particular, have done all too many “Berserkeley” stories, too many stories purporting to show that the silly season is year-round around here.

But then a story like this one comes along. The local CBS television outlet has skewered our recently re-elected mayor for his latest dog-in-the-manger move, attempting to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic—er, I mean on the Berkeley City Council dais.

Here’s the whole story, complete with a video clip that tells all.  

It’s a story right out of junior high. Tommy just can’t bear to sit next to that nasty boy who makes fun of him, even though that nice girl Linda is already on the other side to keep him company. Who knows, Kriss might even punch him some time. So Tommy gets his best friend to switch seats with Kriss. Now it’s love, love, love on all sides for Tommy.  

Or at least to the right of him and the left of him. Out in front, at least in one minute segments, a few of the mouthier kids might still able to stick out their tongues to give Tommy a Bronx cheer. But he’ll probably figure out a way to stop that too. 

On one level, it’s not too surprising that the politician who launched his reign by stuffing copies of a newspaper which endorsed his opponent in the trash should have a few more juvenile moves like this one on his agenda. Anyone who watches the Berkeley City Council meetings (all 47 of us) has seen plenty of childish tantrums from Bates in his ten years in office.  

But Berkeley voters don’t seem to care, or most charitably they don’t seem to know, what’s been happening. Either that, or this is the kind of carryings-on that they think befits the chief elected official in a city with more than 100,000 residents, since they enthusiastically voted him into a 5th term this November. 

Meanwhile, things on the ground in the real world continue to go from bad to worse. Berkeley made the front page of today’s Chronicle with a story about how the personal data of people who’ve been taken to the hospital in Berkeley Fire Department emergency vehicles has been stolen from a contractor company that collects bills from patients. The problem surfaced in September, but the city has only recently started to inform potential identity fraud victims that they might be at risk.  

But seriously—can’t we all just get along? 

Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin continue to doggedly propose sensible solutions to Berkeley’s many problems, even as the neo-moderate Bates crowd continues to offer quick dumb fixes like Measures S and T which solve nothing and create ill will. Sometimes the progressive councilmembers’ ideas even get legs—the workshop about Telegraph Avenue on Tuesday at least gave an airing to some of Worthington's better suggestions for how to improve the main drag in his district. Whether anything translates into action will depend on whether the council majority actually wants to make things work or not. 

Of course, there were a lot of bad ideas aired too. You can watch it all here if you’re interested—but don’t expect anything to happen any time soon. 

One project that could make things either better or worse, which you can see on the video, is UC Berkeley’s scheme to replace the admittedly plug-ugly Eshleman building, a non-descript 60s office block, with a more up-to-date shopping mall facing onto Bancroft, a street that has been almost criminally degraded by the blank wall of the university’s sports palace, which takes up a large portion of the Bancroft street frontage west of the university entrance. 

Those with even longer memories than mine (they may all be dead by now) remember that the fabled Sproul plaza itself, not to mention Eshleman and Zellerbach Auditorium, stand on the site of what was once a thriving commercial area starting just outside Sather Gate. It was urban-renewed by public domain enabled demolition sometime in the 50s, I think, and that’s what really began Telegraph’s decline.  

Will turning the campus entrance into a mall make things nicer? Don’t hold your breath. 

Meanwhile, speaking of nice, neither Bates nor Worthington seems to be able to make nice with Ken Sarachan, who happens to hold title to several corner parcels on two major intersections on Telegraph. At the workshop Ken claimed that he had renovation and building projects ready to go for the old Cody’s corner and the vacant lot diagonally across from it, but couldn’t get the city’s planning office to okay them. 

Sarachan is certainly—a colorful individual—but he’s got a lot of imagination and a lot of property. I’d be glad to sit down at a tea table with all three guys plus the planning director and try to help them to work out a sensible plan for turning Ken’s holdings into an asset for Berkeley, if they’d all get down off their high horses for an hour or two.  

Sadly, that’s not how things work in Berserkeley, however. The mayor, who has little actual power but a bully pulpit, could choose to exercise some sort of leadership by reaching across the virtual aisle and trying to get along with the three progressives who speak for flatland Berkeley, but instead he’s chosen to pick a needless fight, and Berkeleyans are blithely letting him get away with it.  

Meanwhile, the rain falls, and I have no doubt that the traditional flooding in South and West Berkeley will follow, enabled by ten years of delayed maintenance of storm water drains under the Bates regime. 

As I believe I may have said in this space before, I’m reluctantly concluding that Berkeley deserves what it gets.

The Editor's Back Fence

Social Notes from All Over

Saturday December 15, 2012 - 10:34:00 AM

Here's a new entry in the Branding of Berkeley saga. It's a wordless evocation of every sentimental cliche beloved of Old Blues, content-free as befits the brave new world of commercialization of what used to be a respected institution of higher learning.  


By the way, retiring Chancellor Robert Birgenau himself, putative signer of this YouTubed seasonal greeting, was spotted by our reporter thoroughly enjoying the Cal Performances-sponsored Messiah put on by the Philharmonia Baroque orchestra, a much more highbrow Berkeley event than what's spotlighted on this video. 

During the intermission and after the show, he was surrounded by a claque of admirers. He was overheard by an inadvertent eavesdropper telling one of them that "I turned down invitations to come to this!"  

Someone asked how he was doing these days. Fine, he said, "but I'll better after June 1," presumably the date he turns his hot seat over to a new guy. He said he's got his research lab all ready to go. 

* * * 

In other news, local restaurant queen Alice Waters has been reported to be taking the gospel of fancy food to Cuba, accompanied by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, whose son was once a Chez Panisse waiter, and his spouse State Senator Loni Hancock, whose ex-husband Joe Hancock was a very early exponent of organic farming when they were still married.  

Cuba already knows a thing or two about sustainable agriculture, having been forced for decades by U.S. embargos to do without American agribusiness chemicals, including toxic pesticides. But maybe Alice & Co. can teach Cubans about how to market their chemical-free products in a more capitalistic way.

Just Keep Checking This Space

Thursday December 13, 2012 - 09:50:00 AM

It seems that many Planet “subscribers” (people who'’ve asked to get reminder letters with links to interesting updates) are confused by our abandonment of the Friday deadline schedule. Thanks, everyone, for letting us know. Some have made suggestions for changes, but unfortunately these seem to involve more work, not less. It’'s a good guess that readers who haven'’t joined the mailing list are also confused. 

Nonetheless, your best strategy for a while will be just to type berkeleydailyplanet.com into your browser from time to time and see what comes up. We'’ve been posting new items fairly often on no particular schedule, usually identified for a few days with the green “New” label in the headline.

There's More

Friday November 30, 2012 - 12:51:00 PM

Under the new plan, not much here yet . But don't forget to use the "Previous Issue" button at the top of the pages to check on everything posted in the last couple of weeks.


Odd Bodkins: Holidaze (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Tuesday December 04, 2012 - 05:51:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Odd Bodkins: A Beginning (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Sunday December 02, 2012 - 09:20:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

Disarm America

By James Sayre
Sunday December 16, 2012 - 10:34:00 PM

It is time for America to disarm, both at home and abroad. Since we have only 5% of the world’s population and 50% of military expenditures, we can safely reduce our military budget by 90%. This will free up money for health care and vast reconstruction of our crumbling infrastructure. We can withdraw from our eight-hundred military bases located in one-hundred foreign countries. 

At home, guns are used to force people to do things that they don’t want to, to rob and to kill and also for the killing of innocent wildlife. None of these uses have any true social value. So, every gun owner should be given a single-shot, flint-lock, breech-loading musket, typically used in our Revolutionary War period, 1776-1783. All modern handguns, pistols, automatics and rifles will then be confiscated. And the proud new owners of muskets can use lead balls and powder and practice being members of well-regulated militias…

New: Freedom of Information and its Loopholes

By Steve Martinot
Sunday December 09, 2012 - 09:13:00 PM

Freedom of information is supposed to represent transparency in the political process. But it brings with it an opaqueness. Development and urban improvement are supposed to represent "progress," but when they represent a top-down process that minimizes people's participation, that progress brings with it a regress.

The context for this rumination is a small set of short streets at the corner of Shattuck and Rose. Some local residents have approached the city manager and a couple of councilmembers with requests of information about plans and policies for this quaint little area. Some requests were met, others not. But it seems there were some secret, or at least unpublicized meetings last September between the city manager and the North Shattuck BID, to start changing the Shattuck-Rose neighborhood a bit.

Two questions lurk over the process of information requests from government, like buzzards on a bare tree limb, looking down at what will possibly be their next meal. The first is, did the government officials send all that they had that would fulfill the request, or was something withheld, for whatever reason, like evidence withheld by the police from the defense in a trial? Second, why do we have to go through this request process at all? Why isn't the information on all policy matters overtly present already, in the name of transparency? 

Indeed, isn't the Brown Act supposed to open all such things to public scrutiny, without having to rely on an official's non-withholding? The Brown Act has a loophole. Are you surprised? We'll get to it in a minute. 

First, a little history. Over the years, there have been, off and on, a number of attempts to develop a plaza in the Shattuck and Rose area, where the farmers market is on Thursdays. This goes back to 2001. The plaza idea proposes to close some streets, change the parking arrangement, pave, pave some more, change the zoning, pave a few other things, get rid of a few trees, plant some large flowerpots, and tell everyone how much more congenial the ability to hang out in this area would become. With a few intervening years of surcease here and there, this has been a perennial visitation to the neighborhood. 

Needless to say, there is a growing coterie of activists, immersed in a neighborhood association called LOCCNA (Live Oak Codornices Creek NA) that consistently takes umbrage at this prospect. (Don't worry, the plaza idea also has a few acolytes.) And so, like a scene out of "High Noon," as developers, or the BID, or the city make there appearance at one end of town, these activists step to the middle of the street, and make a showdown, ready to defend a style of life, the character of its streetscorners, and of its places to hang out. 

After all, the issue isn't just paving and flower pots. It’s a defense of time itself. The character of a neighborhood is something that evolves. It cannot be built. Only buildings can be built. But people live in a style and character of residency that they themselves participate in bringing about. The stores, restaurants, cafes, grassy places, are given meaning, stability, and enhancement because residents use them, made them memorable, held meetings there, and so on. One thing that disrupts this neighborhood character is money that does what will be profitable for it, rather than what will harmonize with the social environment. There is still a roaring animus at what sealed the fate of Black Oak Books, a very important dimension of the character of the neighborhood, which got driven to close by rent gouging, and which facility still remains empty after four years. 

Development always tends to warp the character of a neighborhood because it must destroy in order to build. It can decriminalize that destruction by calling it progress, but when it does this without consultation (not just hearings, but dialogue) with the people affected by this (de/con)struction, we must ask, progress for whom? Generally, it is progress for someone's investment portfolio, but not for the places and emporia that shut down and are left empty by the loss of business and availability incurred during the destructive phase. Jackhammers are famous for closing a block, a testiment to the marginal existence of what is not "big corporate." The process of making an area more congenial to hanging out tends to destroy the social environment that makes hanging out there congenial in the first place. 

For many residents, it is not just the rezoning and flowerpots, but the arrogance and impunity of top-down institutions, against which they want democracy and transparency. Without participation in planning, however, all that is left is an FOIA request, to get ready for the next High Noon. 

The last one happened just this past September. A BID proposal (by North Shattuck Association Business Improvement District) for parklets (extending the sidewalk out into parking spaces in front of various emporia to facilitate sidewalk tables and hanging out) was sent to Council, and a councilmember put it on the Consent Calendar, to sidestep even a public hearing. Can you imagine? Its like a backroom deal, hidden in plain sight. (Popular outrage convinced him to take it off.) 

Well, the showdown occurred Sept. 12, at a meeting called by LOCCNA. And the BID representative suggested, probably as an attempt to mollify, that the BID had changed its strategy from proposing a big project like the plaza to working with small incremental steps. Huh? Incremental toward what? 

The purpose of small incremental steps is to make a move that doesn't bring about a showdown. What the FOIA response revealed was that small policy decisions can be made without coming under the Brown Act. If they are small enough, the backroom becomes sufficient venue. There was a meeting between the BID and the City Manager to restripe the parking spaces (diagonal rather than parallel) up in the Shattuck-Rose target zone, without having to go to city council, or hold hearings. That restriping is part of the parklet idea, which is part of … 

The Brown Act says that "meetings" of legislative bodies and government agencies must be open to the public. And it defines "meeting" as a gathering of a majority of members of an entity to discuss matters within that entity's jurisdiction. [Govt. Code section 54952.2(a)] "Meetings" by individual government officials, if they are not a majority of the entity of which they are members, are thus not covered. Under the Brown Act, a few directors of the BID, if less than a majority, can meet with the city manager, and discuss actions that do not have to be public under the Brown Act. It will not be considered a "meeting," though it makes policy. That is a big issue. Because the real issue is the top-down ethic, the ethic of money's impunity, finding and using loopholes. 

Ultimately, the plaza itself is a small issue. It is minor next to the tremendous strife seen over Pacific Steel, its pollution of West Berkeley, its footsy with ICE that threw 200 workers into the street, and its backroom deals with City Council enabling it to avoid anti-pollution requirements in the name of "economic stability." The plaza is a small issue next to the possibility of establishing a bio-synthetic lab at Aquatic Park, or even in Richmond, a lab that will creating life forms, using genomic technology, that have no relation to planetary ecology, and thus have no natural predators, with no foreknowledge on the part of experimenters concerning how to control them (think of the sci-fi nightmare if one got away), in the name of "scientific progress." The plaza is small potatoes next to the impunity of the University in destroying crops planted in its Gill Tract at Marin and San Pablo by "Occupy the Farm," land that was given to the university with the proviso that it be used only for agricultural purposes, and which promise the university was going to violate by opening it to commercial enterprise without the say-so of the neighborhood or the city, or the entire "food sovereignty" movement, under the rubric of "better use of the land." 

The issue of the plaza is not just about shutting down some parking spaces, or paving a median. It is the issue of democracy, and the ability of those affected by a policy to participate in defining the issue about which policy is to be made, articulating it, and then deciding on it. And those two buzzards just sit there waiting for the cultural death dealt by the steamroller of money's impunity to feed them. 

Problems at Alta Bates

By Linda Diamond
Sunday December 09, 2012 - 08:59:00 PM

The protracted labor dispute between Sutter and the nurses is now seriously jeopardizing patient safety. I hope the Planet does some investigative reporting into this situation. Sutter is seriously trying to destroy this hospital and break the nurses. I saw first hand the effects of nursing shortages over the weekend and watched the amazing few nurses on the oncology floor scramble to manage all the patients under untenable conditions.

December Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Sunday December 02, 2012 - 09:23:00 PM

Editor's Note: The latest issue of the Pepper Spray Times is now available.

You can view it absolutely free of charge by clicking here . You can print it out to give to your friends.

Grace Underpressure has been producing it for many years now, even before the Berkeley Daily Planet started distributing it, most of the time without being paid, and now we'd like you to show your appreciation by using the button below to send her money.  

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 


New: THE PUBLIC EYE: American Politics: I’m With Crazy

By Bob Burnett
Friday December 14, 2012 - 05:32:00 PM

As America completes an eventful political year, it’s increasingly apparent that many members of the Republican Party have lost their senses. December 4th brought PPP polling that revealed, “49% of GOP voters nationally say they think that ACORN stole the election for President Obama,” despite the fact ACORN disbanded in 2010. That same day 38 Republican Senators blocked passage of the “UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities,” erroneously believing the treaty would allow the UN to dictate US law. 

Why do Republicans say and do things that make no sense? 

For a decade I’ve assumed the Republican Party had four wings: the sincere, saintly, sinister, and stupid. The sincere includes folks like William F. Buckley, David Brooks, and in 2012, John Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty. They’ve read Edmund Burke and honestly believe the fundamental conservative tenets. The saintly includes folks like James Dobson and Pat Robertson, and in 2012, Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum. In the dogmatic pursuit of their fundamentalist Christian beliefs they want the US to become a Christian nation. The sinister includes folks like Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, and Mitt Romney who use the Republican Party to pursue their own agenda. Finally, there are the stupid, whom Tom Frank described in his classic, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America; Republicans who have renounced “our middle-American prosperity in pursuit of a crimson fantasy of middle-American righteousness.” In 2012, Michele Bachman represents this wing of the GOP. 

There’s only a fine line between stupid and sick. In September of 2011, Congresswoman Bachman linked childhood inoculations and mental retardation. Herman Caine quipped, “Obama intentionally wants to destroy capitalism.” Rick Santorum observed, “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.” And Mitt Romney argued, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. … These are people who pay no income tax. … and so my job is not to worry about those people.” 

But are these statements a sign of diminished capacity or collective insanity? 

The Law Dictionary defines insanity as “mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.” 

1. Inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. Despite polls to the contrary, many Republicans thought Mitt Romney would win the 2012 presidential election. Now they argue that Obama won by cheating. Many will fall back upon the GOP shibboleths, “He isn’t a citizen,” or “He’s a Muslim who advocates Sharia Law.” 

On December 9th, former presidential candidate, Rick Santorum appeared on Meet the Press and quipped, “You haven’t heard [President Obama] condemn Sharia law or radical Islam.” It was a factually untrue statement but one that fed the collective GOP delusion that Obama is a Muslim. 

2. Cannot conduct his/her affairs due to psychosis. While Republicans rail against big government, what has become obvious is that they enjoy most Federal services; they just don’t want to pay for them. Underpinning this paradoxical behavior are the crazy economic theories espoused by Ronald Reagan: helping the rich get richer will inevitably help everyone else; markets are inherently self correcting and therefore there’s no need for government regulation; and the US does not need an economic strategy because that’s a natural consequence of the free market. 

We have to look no further than the George W. Bush presidency to understand that Republicans can’t manage national affairs: the Bush Administration turned a budget surplus into a massive deficit, started two ill-considered wars, and facilitated the 2007-2008 Global Financial Crisis. 

3. Subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior. We see so many examples of rash GOP actions that they’ve become commonplace. On October 25th Republican candidate Mitt Romney told an Ohio crowd that Chrysler was thinking of moving Jeep production to China. The Chrysler CEO repudiated the claim. Nonetheless, the Romney campaign ran a TV commercial repeating the claim. Romney blurted out an accusation, was told it was false, and then doubled down, showing terrible judgment. 

Because Republicans control the House of Representatives until 2015, no Federal legislation can pass without negotiating with them. It is possible to bargain with a lawmaker who is either dogmatically conservative or stupid. Unfortunately, it is infinitely more difficult to negotiate with a lawmaker who is insane; who cannot differentiate fantasy from reality – who believes that Barack Obama is the Antichrist or that Obamacare is a socialist mind-control program or that Global Climate Change is a hoax. 

Welcome to the new Washington reality. As he attempts to lead the United States, President Obama is forced to negotiate with crazies. Good luck Barack and good luck America! 

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

New: ON MENTAL ILLNESS: An Invisible Disability

By Jack Bragen
Friday December 14, 2012 - 05:29:00 PM

Most persons who have a mental illness are in treatment of some kind. This allows most of us to live with some amount of normality, and to do many of the things that so-called "normal" people do. Because of this, it can be hard for others to understand that we have a psychiatric condition when, for the most part, we are acting normally as well as appropriately. 

When someone uses the word, "schizophrenic" or "bipolar" it immediately conjures up images of a "crazy person" or a "psycho." However, most of the time persons with psychiatric disabilities are behaving quite normally. This seemingly normal behavior, which is unlike most people's perceptions of us, is a challenge to some non-afflicted people's comprehension. 

People who are seen on the street, who may be homeless and who may be behaving in uncouth ways are not representative of the whole population of persons with mental illness. 

The stereotypes concerning persons with mental illness are not usually accurate, and they are upsetting. People are entertained by movies that sensationalize mental illness and that portray us as freaks. 

Despite many people's misconceptions, you can't categorize a person as mentally ill or as not mentally ill by how they look. We do not necessarily exhibit any external characteristic that would indicate our illness. Some persons with mental illness (when in recovery) aren't fantastically dressed and groomed, and may seem to have sort of a dull edge. However, this applies to only some persons with mental illness and not all. (I have also seen psychiatrists who don't pay much attention to how they dress.) 

It is the deep desire of many persons with mental illness to perceive ourselves as normal, as capable, and as being just as worthy of self-respect as an ordinary man or woman of our age. When we are categorized as disabled by the mental health system, it generates anger and it can cause low self-esteem. 

People who are dealing with us, if honest, should acknowledge that in fact we are different, but should not assume that we are something less. In a work situation we may require reasonable accommodation of some kind, such as adjustments to reduce stress, more sick days and perhaps a lower quota of productivity. That type of adjustment acknowledges the reality of our condition, but it doesn't necessarily insult our intelligence. Acknowledging a difference is not the same thing as discrimination. 

I know a woman who is probably in her eighties and works as a cashier at a drug store. Her accommodation (for being mature, not mentally ill) is partly that she has a chair behind the register to sit on when tired. She also gets my help when negotiating a heavy bag. This does not negate her value as a human being; it only makes her work possible. (In most ways, this woman is a better worker than the other employees who are mostly in their twenties.) Accommodation of that kind, and in that light, is what I'm talking about-there is no judgment attached. 

Can people be accommodated for psychiatric disabilities without the baggage of being perceived as "special people"? What would it take to make mainstream people regard persons with mental illness as normal and essentially the same as them? 

Disabilities created by mental illness are often invisible, but perfectly real. We aren't freaks and we have the same right to dignity as anyone. Being the butt of people's jokes, viewing us through a stereotype, or perhaps the assumption that we aren't essentially the same as "normal" people, is an insult and it is hurtful.

New: SENIOR POWER “P-A-D is appropriate”

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Sunday December 09, 2012 - 09:01:00 PM

The Massachusetts ballot initiative to give terminally ill, mentally competent adults with six months or less to live the freedom to obtain a prescription for aid in dying was defeated. The right to be at liberty to die should have been an election issue everywhere.  

Popular and professional media had been crammed with other “stories” and “reports” like Joe Klein’s June 11, 2012 Time magazine cover article, “How to Die,” in which he described the dramatic improvement in his parents’ care after they moved into a facility organized with an important distinction: no monetary incentives for unwarranted interventions.  

At Liberty to Die: The Battle for Death with Dignity in America, has just been published by New York University Press. It was borrowed for me from the San Francisco Public Library via the LINK, the taxpayer-library user’s lifeline. Standing next to me at Library Circulation was a proverbial little old lady who chimed in audibly “At liberty to die that’s good that’s needed that’s important!” (Old women are so often assumed to be little and ladies, or at least lady-like… My bad.)  

Author seventy-five year old Howard Ball is Professor Emeritus of political science at the University of Vermont. He has authored books about the Supreme Court, judicial policy and politics, and international justice, including The Supreme Court in the Intimate Lives of Americans (also published by NYU Press); and Genocide: A Reference Handbook.  

“Provocative and compelling” is Compassion & Choices magazine’s take on Ball’s latest book. It charts how end-of-life choice has become deeply embroiled in debates about the relationship amond religion, medicine, civil liberties, politics and law in American life. Ball explores the cases that built the constitutional framework and the legislative and ballot battles in state after state up through the 2011 legislative sessions. He also describes the legal rulings and media frenzies that accompanied the Terry Schiavo case and documents the growing number of Americans like my library ladyfriend who support a person’s right to aid in dying as well as “the continuing and vigorous opposition of the ‘sanctity of life’ organizations.” 

When a terminal illness is diagnosed, control of one’s own life ceases. Of every six hospital admissions, one is to a Catholic hospital, where aid in dying and other end-of-life choices are strictly forbidden. For many of those patients, a Catholic hospital is the only local “choice.” Supporters of the policy of allowing a physician to assist a terminally ill patient to die do not refer to “suicide.” Nor is the older phrase “physician-assisted suicide (PAS)” used by Ball. “Physician-assisted death” (PAD) is appropriate.  

Mental health specialists contend that there is great difference between suicide and the choice made by a dying patient to hasten impending death in a peaceful and dignified manner. The American Psychological Association has recognized that the reasoning on which a terminally ill person bases a decision to end her or his life is fundamentally different from the reasoning a clinically depressed person uses to justify suicide.  


“The Suicide Tourist” documentary aired on PBS Frontline on March 2, 2010. (www.pbs.org). The DVD can be purchased and is in some libraries’ collections. It depicts one person’s travail and travel following diagnosis and onset of ALS. It is the account of Craig Ewert, his devoted wife Mary who enabled their trek, and their decision to journey to Switzerland, where assisted death is possible, albeit not easy. 

ALS is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also referred to as motor neurone disease in some British Commonwealth countries and as Lou Gehrig's disease in North America. It is a debilitating disease with varied etiology characterized by rapidly progressive weakness, muscle atrophy, difficulty speaking and swallowing, and d ecline in breathing ability.  

In 2007, Dignitas, a Switzerland-based organization, began an effort to gain legal permission for healthy foreigners, including married couples committed to suicide pacts, to end their lives in Switzerland. As of October 2008, approximately 100 British citizens had travelled to Switzerland to die at one of Dignitas' rented apartments in Zurich. Most of these people remain anonymous. In July 2009, British conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife Joan died together at a suicide clinic outside Zürich "under circumstances of their own choosing." Sir Edward was not terminally ill although in great pain; his wife had been diagnosed with rapidly developing cancer. Read Anushka Asthana’s article in The Guardian Observer, Saturday, July 18, 2009. Right-wing politicians in Switzerland have repeatedly criticized “suicide assistance” for foreigners, branding it suicide tourism (Sterbetourismus in German). 

The documentary, “The Suicide Plan; Assisted Suicide in the United States,” aired locally on PBS Frontline in November 2012. (www.pbs.org). It depicts the travail of several persons as they attempt to experience or to facilitate death with dignity of a human being. “In this groundbreaking 90-minute film Frontline explores the shadow world of assisted suicide and takes viewers inside one of the most polarizing social issues of our time – told not only by the people choosing to die, but also by their ‘assisters,’ individuals and right-to-die organizations at risk of prosecution for their actions to hasten death.” Featured are nonprofit organizations Compassion & Choices and Final Exit Network as well as Derek Humphry’s Final Exit book. The video of "The Suicide Plan" video is available online; the DVD can be purchased at the website.  


The leading cause of death in America differs by age group: 45-64 years – cancer, 65+ heart disease, dementia and cancer. Of the 1.4 million Americans who die each year, the vast majority are frail elders.  

The American Association of Suicidology reports that the elderly account for 12.5 % of the total population. In 2009 (the most recent year data were gathered), they accounted for 15.7% of all the suicides committed in the United States. Caucasian men age 65+ were at the highest risk for suicide; almost 85% of elderly suicides in 2009 were male.  

While the number of suicides among middle-aged Americans has gone up steadily since 2000, there has been a decline in geriatric suicides. Older adults take their own lives for a variety of reasons, including learning of an incurable illness. A new report from researchers has been published in the December issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 

Note that I avoid using the commit suicide phrase because I believe that ending one’s own life, with or without assistance, is not a crime, as in commit murder, and that PAD – physician assisted death – is the valid term. 



Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) is the country's largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults. SAGE is a national organization that offers supportive services and consumer resources for LGBT older adults and their caregivers, advocates for public policy changes that address the needs of LGBT older people, and provides training for aging providers and LGBT organizations, largely through its National Resource Center on LGBT Aging. With offices in Washington, DC, Chicago, and New York, SAGE coordinates a growing network of 23 local SAGE affiliates in 16 states and the District of Columbia.  

A maintenance worker at the Torrance, California Golden West Towers senior-living complex found three persons dead in an apparent murder-suicide. When he saw a man who lived in the facility holding a gun, he locked himself in the maintenance office and called 911. He heard one of the women victims say, "Please, no! Please!" and then two gunshots. A few minutes later, another shot. Officers found the bodies of two women and a man. Employees at the facility told the Los Angeles Times that the alleged perpetrator was a male resident of the facility, and that one of the victims was a manager of the complex and the other was a caregiver. One employee said the alleged shooter was prone to violent outbursts and had expressed anger toward those who were killed. Authorities confirmed that one of the victims was an employee at the apartment complex. They said none of the previous threats had been reported to Torrance police. [Los Angeles Times. November 20, 2012]  

A reliable source informs us in “a matter of public concern.” Strawberry Creek Lodge will be merged into Affordable Housing Associates. Affordable Housing Associates recently announced merger with Satellite Affordable Housing Housing to become Satellite Affordable Housing Associates. Informant wonders “if we are caught up in a non-profit version of Merger Mania? Merger manias are not a reassuring phenomenon… [Read Wikipedia article re the term merger.] One way of looking at this affair is that the possibility of getting $14 million blinded them to the obvious advantages of improving the Lodge slowly and gently, without risking our independent existence and without subjecting the tenants to a grueling accelerated program of demolition and reconstruction.” 

OWL, “the Voice of Midlife and Older Women,” reports that the median income for older women is $15,000.00 a year. Unemployment is much higher among older women – 20.5%, than men – 7.2%. Women are far more likely to serve as unpaid family caregivers. The notorious wage gap between women and men – 77 cents to the dollar – increases as women age. And gaps in life expectancy between rich and poor set to increase over the next 10 years. 





THE PUBLIC EYE: The Fiscal Cliff: Three Opportunities

By Bob Burnett
Sunday December 09, 2012 - 08:57:00 PM

When I was a child, it was common in large cities to see men carrying hand-written signs that proclaimed, “The end of the world is coming.” These days most doomsayers have blogs, but quite a few are Washington pundits who prophesy, “The fiscal cliff is coming.” It’s clear that “taxmageddon” is a disaster if Congress does nothing. Nonetheless, the crisis offers progressives three opportunities. 

In February, Ben Bernanke, Chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, coined the term fiscal cliff to describe what would happen on January 1, 2013, “[The US will go over] a massive fiscal cliff of large spending cuts and tax increases.” 

What most Americans understand is that, unless Congress acts, their taxes will go up on January 1st. What is less well understood is that there also could be be a series of automatic spending cuts, “sequestrations,” totaling $1.2 trillion split between defense and domestic spending. 

Throughout 2012 the Congressional Budget Office studied the fiscal cliff and described the problem: 

“Taken together, CBO estimates, those policies will reduce the federal budget deficit by $607 billion, or 4.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), between fiscal years 2012 and 2013. The resulting weakening of the economy will lower taxable incomes and raise unemployment, generating a reduction in tax revenues and an increase in spending on such items as unemployment insurance… Such a contraction in output in the first half of 2013 would probably be judged to be a recession.” [Emphasis added.]
Because of the likely dire consequences, most observers believe that President Obama and Congress will reach some accommodation. During this process, progressives have three major opportunities: 

1. Promote income equality: It’s widely believed that raising everyone’s taxes would inhibit the growth of US GDP. However, many economists argue that increasing the tax rates of the richest 2 percent, those making over $250,000 per year, would have little impact on their behavior and would raise a huge amount of money. The top tax rate would revert to that of the Clinton era and increase from 35 to 39.6 percent. The White House estimates this change, plus increased taxes on investment income, would generate approximately $960 Billion over the next decade. Progressive see this as one small step to address income inequality. 

2. Attack Global Climate Change: To reach his objective of $1.6 Billion in new revenues over ten years, President Obama is searching for $600 Billion in additional revenue. Remedies he’s proposed include changing the rules for the inheritance tax and a new form of the Alternative Minimum Tax that imposes the “Buffet Rule:” all taxpayers making more than $1 million would pay a minimum 30 percent tax. 

Another way to provide additional revenue would be to impose a national carbon tax. Such a tax would be levied on all fossil fuels – coal, natural gas, and oil – and would raise the price of many products; for example, gasoline, food, and manufactured goods. In September, the Congressional Research Service evaluated the carbon tax and found that a minimal tax of “$20 per metric ton of CO2 would generate approximately $88 billion in 2012, rising to $144 billion by 2020… this estimated revenue source would reduce the 10-year budget deficit by 50%.” (In August, Australia enacted a carbon tax.) A US carbon tax has the support of both environmentalists and business leaders (including Michael Bloomberg, New York Mayor, and Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil CEO). It would be a rare political twofer that produces massive revenues while lowering emissions of CO2. 

3. Reduce Defense Spending: In 2013, sequestration would cut $55 Billion from the defense budget – roughly 11 percent. As one might expect, the Secretary of Defense and other pro-defense voices screamed that such a cut would be “a disaster for national defense.” Nonetheless, many Washington pundits doubt that there would be a dramatic impact. They point to reports of waste in defense spending and note that the US is in the process of winding down two wars and defense expenditures – which have almost doubled since 2000 – should be expected to decline. Former assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb observed, 

”Sequestration certainly is not a smart way to cut the defense budget… but it also means the Pentagon will be spending more in 2013 after sequestration than it did in 2006, at the height of the Iraq war… Moreover, the United States will still account for 40 percent of the world’s military expenditures.”
Former Congressman, White House Chief of Staff, and current Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel once observed, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste… it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” The Fiscal Cliff crisis presents progressives with an unprecedented opportunity to address income inequality, global climate change, and rampant military spending. 

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

New: ON MENTAL ILLNESS:Anxiety Revisted, Again

By Jack Bragen
Friday December 07, 2012 - 05:01:00 PM

Anxiety attacks are common for people with a major mental illness including when not part of the diagnosis. Some people with mental illness believe that they have a mixture of mental illnesses, e.g.; a little bit of everything. Their symptoms do not fit neatly into one or two categories. This is not uncommon and it may be related to being medicated. Anxiety can put a damper into a person's activities. If it is allowed to, anxiety will quickly grow into a giant specter and will take over large parts of a person's life. Anxiety seems to feed on its own energy. 

A pet cat or dog can be helpful. I had a cat for fifteen years that would sit on my chest and would take away my discomfort. After he passed away I began to feel anxiety on a daily basis at a consistent time of day. 

Meditation can be helpful but not always. Sometimes the body will produce anxiousness despite almost any meditative effort to alleviate it. However, I doubt that there are very many Zen masters who get anxiety attacks. If they do, they are not telling us about it. 

Anxiety can be caused by phobias. In this instance, it is possible to move through the anxiety, get to the other side of it, and eliminate the phobia. Anxiety in which the cause has not been identified is harder to deal with. 

Unlike with anxiety, you can't move through psychosis and fix it by getting to the other side. The "other side" of psychosis is just more psychosis. It is caused by a major malfunction of the brain often requiring physical intervention, as in medication. 

Unlike with psychosis (which seems to be a pretty clear situation) attempts to treat anxiety through medication may have mixed results. If anxiety is ruining a person's life, and if it isn't resolvable through therapy of some kind, medication may help. Benzodiazepines, such as Clonazepam are often prescribed. However, Benzodiazepines can be habit forming. 

When treating anxiety strictly with medication, a mental health consumer may find that in order to take enough medication to wipe out the anxiety, they must put up with a tremendous amount of sedation. I tried Clonazepam as a treatment for my recurrent anxiety, and it didn't agree with me. In fact, my memory of the three days I tried it are kind of blacked out. My wife reported that I did nothing but sleep and that I also had reduced intelligence. I decided it was better to put up with my anxiety than it was to deal with taking Clonazepam. This is not a truth that will apply to all people. Some people may have much better luck taking this drug than I. 

I recently had a lot of anxiety concerning a trip to the Oakland Airport to drop off my wife and to pick her up. The car stalled on the way to the Caldecott Tunnel, and it also hesitated a lot when going uphill. It is a temporary replacement car that I got after my car accident. At some point, on the way to picking up my wife, my anxiety peaked. And then, a moment later, it was gone and I was comfortable. The condition of the vehicle isn't affected by this; it still is not dependable for long distances. However, now I have considerably less anxiety while driving. 

Sometimes, the right kind of therapy seems to deal with anxiety more powerfully than anti-anxiety medication. As a last resort, anxiety can merely be tolerated, and eventually it will usually subside. 

Anxiety attacks, unlike cases of severe psychosis, are often treatable without psychiatric drugs. There is no political or dogmatic approach here-I am simply observing what works and what doesn't work, in different situations.

ECLECTIC RANT: Ending the U.S. Senate's Filibuster Rule

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday December 07, 2012 - 10:28:00 AM

There is increasing sentiment in the U.S. Senate to end or reform the filibuster. Supposedly, all seven of the newly elected senators and newly elected independent Angus King of Maine have pledged support for changing the Senate's filibuster rule. Presently, as we have seen in the last sessions of Congress, a 41-vote minority of Republican senators has effectively bottled up or killed legislation. 

A U.S. Senate filibuster usually refers to any dilatory or obstructive tactics used to prevent a measure from being brought to a vote, according to Wikipedia. Senate Rule XXII permits a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn" (usually 60 out of 100 senators) brings debate to a close by invoking cloture. Since 1917, there have been 1,372 cloture motions filed, 989 votes on cloture, and 440 cloture invoked. In recent years, however, the majority has preferred to avoid filibusters by moving to other business when a filibuster is threatened and attempts to achieve cloture have failed.

In the last six years, the Senate has had 380 filibusters. From the moment Obama entered office, right-wing conservatives' goal was to make Obama a one-term president. As Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell put it, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." The Republicans used the filibuster or threat of filibuster to further this obstructionist strategy.
The Democrats have not been adverse to using the filibuster. They used the filibuster to prevent the confirmation of conservative appellate court candidates nominated by President George W. Bush. In the Republican-controlled 108th Congress, ten Bush judicial nominees had been filibustered by the minority Democrats. As a result of these ten filibusters, Senate Republicans began to threaten to change the existing Senate rules by using what Senator Trent Lott termed the "nuclear option" or sometimes called the "Constitutional option." This change in rules would eliminate the use of the filibuster to prevent judicial confirmation votes. As a compromise, the so called Gang of 14 signed an agreement, pertaining to the 109th Congress only, whereby the seven Senate Democrats would no longer vote along with their party on filibustering judicial nominees (except in "extraordinary circumstances," as defined by each individual senator), and in turn the seven Senate Republicans would break with the Republican leadership on voting for the "nuclear option."
Previously, a filibuster meant non-stop speeches made famous by Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", and infamously by Senator Strom Thurmond's 1959 marathon oration against the civil rights bill. Thurmond holds the Senate's filibuster record of 24 hours and 18 minutes.
Emmet J. Bondurant in his article, "The Senate Filibuster: The Politics of Obstruction", persuasively argues that: "The notion that the Framers of the Constitution intended to allow a minority in the U.S. Senate to exercise veto power over legislation and presidential appointments is not only profoundly undemocratic, it is also a myth." In this regard, Common Cause filed a lawsuit on May 16, 2012 asking the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. to declare that "the Senate’s filibuster rule is unconstitutional and violates the core American principle of majority rule."
In the last session of Congress in early 2011, efforts to reform the filibuster fell seven votes short of passage. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who opposed and voted against the idea at the start of the last Congress has recanted and thrown his weight behind the effort.
However, changes to Senate rules could be achieved by a simple majority. Nevertheless, under current Senate rules, a rule change itself could be filibustered, with two-thirds of those senators present and voting (as opposed to the normal three-fifths of those sworn) needing to vote to end debate.
Despite this, the possibility exists that the filibuster could be changed by majority vote, using the nuclear or constitutional option mentioned above. The Senate Democrats could override the current filibuster rules by a simple majority vote and end a filibuster or other delaying tactic. The new interpretation would become effective, both for the immediate circumstance and as a precedent, if it is upheld by a majority vote. Under the U.S. Constitution, the Senate has the right to choose the rules governing its procedure by majority vote, including ending filibuster altogether or ending a filibuster (cloture) by a majority vote.
The Senate's authority and step-by-step guide to change the filibuster rule can be found in "The Constitutional Option to Change Senate Rules and Procedures: A Majoritarian Means to Overcome the Filibuster" by Martin B. Gold and Dimple Gupta  

Clearly, the time has come to change the present Senate filibuster rule by invoking the nuclear option or constitutional option. The filibuster has become a tool of obstruction, replacing majority rule by the tyranny of the minority.

Dispatches From The Edge:Four More Years: Central & South Asia

By Conn Hallinan
Saturday December 01, 2012 - 11:23:00 AM

From the ice-bound passes of the Hindu Kush to the blazing heat of the Karakum Desert, Central Asia is a sub-continent steeped in illusion. For more than two millennia conquerors have been lured by the mirage that it is a gateway to immense wealth: China to the east, India to the south, Persia to the west, and to the north, the riches of the Caspian basin. Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Mongols, British, and Soviets have all come and gone, leaving behind little more than forgotten graveyards and the detritus of war.

Americans and our NATO allies are next.

It is a cliché that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires, but a cliché doesn’t mean something is not true, just that it is repeated over and over again until the phrase becomes numbing. It is a tragedy that the US was “numb” to that particular platitude, although we have company. In the past 175 years England has invaded Afghanistan four times. 

Our 2001 invasion was itself built on a myth—that the Taliban had attacked the US on 9/11 was fabricated to lay the groundwork for the invasion of Iraq 17 months later. That both invasions turned into disasters is hardly surprising. Rudyard Kipling and TE Lawrence predicted those outcomes more than a 100 years ago. 

Most of all, the war has been a calamity for the Afghan people. The country has staggered through more than 30 years of war. According to a recent UN survey, conditions for Afghans in the southern part of the country are desperate. Some one-third of the area’s young children—one million under the age of five—are acutely malnourished. “What’s shocking is that this is really high by global standards,” Michael Keating, deputy head of the UN mission to Afghanistan, told the Guardian (UK). “This is the kind of malnutrition you associate with Africa, and some of the most deprived parts of the world, not with an area that has received so much international attention and assistance.” 

The area in question embraces Kandahar and Helmand, the two provinces targeted by Washington’s 2009 troop surge. That the provinces have widespread malnutrition and are still deeply restive—both are among the most dangerous areas in the country— is a commentary on the futility of the entire endeavor. 

The question is, what now? How the White House answers that will go a long way toward determining whether Afghanistan can begin to extricate itself from its long, national nightmare, or once again collapse into civil war that could destabilize the entire region. 

There are a couple of truths the White House will need to absorb. 

First, there can be no “residual” force left in the country. Right now the Obama administration is trying to negotiate a status force agreement that will allow it to keep anywhere from 6,000 to 15,000 troops in the country to train the Afghan army and pursue al-Qaeda. Such an agreement would exempt US forces from local laws, and is a non-starter for Afghans from the get go. The Taliban and their allies—in particular the highly effective and quite lethal group, the Haqqanis—will not allow it, and insisting that US troops remain in the country will guarantee the war continues. If there is one truth in Afghanistan, it is that the locals don’t cotton to outsiders. 

Nor are the regional neighbors very enthusiastic about having the American military in residence next door. Since those neighbors—specifically Iran, China, Pakistan and Russia—will be central to any final settlement, one does not want to annoy them. It doesn’t take much effort to derail a peace process in Afghanistan. 

As for al-Qaeda, it doesn’t exist in Afghanistan, and it is even a specter of its former self in Pakistan. In any case, the Taliban and its allies are focused on local issues, not worldwide jihad, and pose no threat to the US or NATO. Indeed, way back in 2007, Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, pledged that the organization would not interfere in the affairs of any other country. 

The White House can get the ball rolling by finally closing down Guantanamo and releasing its Taliban prisoners. Pakistan has already started its prisoner release. Washington must also stop its aggressive use of drones and Special Forces to pursue Taliban leaders. These so-called “night raids” and drone assassinations are not only provocative, but make any final agreement more difficult to negotiate. The US has already decapitated much of Taliban’s mid-level leadership, which, in turn, has atomized the organization into scores of local power centers. In fact, that decentralization may make reaching a final agreement much more difficult, because no single person or group of people will be empowered to negotiate for local Taliban affiliates. 

In the long run the war will most likely be resolved the way most things end in Afghanistan: in a compromise. For all their war-like reputation, Afghans really excel in the art of the deal. The Taliban will be part of the government, but all the scare talk about Islamic extremists sweeping into power is exaggerated. The Taliban are mostly based in the Pashtun-dominated south and east, and they will remain the biggest players in Helmand, Kandahar and Paktika provinces. But Pashtuns only make up a plurality in the country—about 42 percent—and will have to compromise with the other major ethnic groups, the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. Even when the Taliban ruled the country it never succeeded in conquering northern Afghanistan, and it has less support today than it did then. 

One major danger comes from US support for local militias that do nothing to control the Taliban, but are quite successful at building up provincial warlords and protecting the opium trade (harvests increased 18 percent over a year ago). The Soviets followed exactly the same path, one that eventually led to the devastating 1992-96 civil war. 

In short, the US needs to get out, and as quickly as possible. Its NATO allies have already boarded that train—the French are leaving a year early, the Dutch are gone, and the Brits are bunkered down—and prolonging the war is more likely to end in a debacle than any outcome favored by Washington. It is not our country, we don’t get to determine its history. That is a lesson we should have learned in Vietnam, but apparently did not. 

The future of Afghanistan is linked to Pakistan, where current US policy is in shambles. A recent poll found that 74 percent of Pakistanis considered Washington an enemy. Many attribute those figures to the deeply unpopular American drone war that has killed scores of civilians. The drones have definitely made a bad situation worse, but the dispute goes deeper than missile-toting Predators and Reapers. Pakistan is legitimately worried about its traditional opponent in the region, India, and Islamabad views Afghanistan as part of its “strategic depth”—a place to which to retreat in case of an attack by the much stronger Indian Army. Given that Pakistan has lost four wars with its southern neighbor, paranoia about the outcome of a fifth is understandable. 

Instead of showing sensitivity to this concern, Washington has encouraged India to invest in Afghanistan, which it has done to the tune of over $2 billion. India even has paramilitary forces deployed in southern Afghanistan. Further, the Obama administration has taken Kashmir off the table, in spite of the fact that, in the run-up to the 2008 elections, Obama promised to seek a solution to the long-running conflict. Dropping Kashmir was a quid pro quo for a growing alliance between New Delhi and Washington aimed at containing an up and coming China. 

But Kashmir is far too dangerous to play the role of a regional pawn. India and Pakistan came very close to a nuclear war over the area in the 1999 Kargil incident, and both countries are currently accelerating their nuclear weapons programs. Pakistani and Indian military leaders have been distressingly casual about the possibility of a nuclear war between the two countries. Rather than actively discouraging a nuclear arms race, Washington has made it easier for New Delhi to obtain fuel for its nuclear weapons programs, in spite of the fact that India refuses—along with Pakistan—to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As with agreeing to mute concerns over Kashmir, the US’s waver of the NNPT is part of Washington’s campaign to woo India into an alliance against China. A nuclear exchange between the two South Asian countries would not only be a regional catastrophe, but would have a worldwide impact. 

Independent of the dangers Kashmir poses for the region and the world, its people should have the right to determine their own future, be it joining Pakistan, India, or choosing the path of independence. A UN sponsored referendum would seem the obvious way to let Kashmir’s people take control of their won destiny. 

For starters, however, the US should demand that New Delhi accept a 2004 Indian government commission’s recommendation to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which Human Rights Watch calls “a tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination.” The Special Powers Act was first created to control Catholics in Northern Ireland and then applied across Britain’s colonial empire. It is used today by Israel in the Occupied Territories and India in Kashmir. It allows for arrests without warrants, indefinite detainments, torture, and routine extra-judicial killings. 

Washington’s fixation with lining up allies against China has also seen the US cut corners on human rights issues in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Indonesia. But recreating a version of the old Cold War alliance system in the region is hardly in the interests of Central and South Asians—or Americans, for that matter. India and Pakistan do not need more planes, bombs and tanks. They need modernized transport systems, enhanced educational opportunities, and improved public health. The same can be said for Americans. 

There was a time when countries in Central and South Asia were responsible for much of world’s wealth and productive capacity. In 1750, India produced 24.5 percent of the world’s manufactured goods. England, in contrast, produced 1.9 percent. By 1850, the world had turned upside down, as colonialism turned—or to use the anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s term, “de-evolved”—India from a dynamic world leader to an economic satrap of London. The region is emerging from its long, colonial nightmare, and it does not need—indeed, cannot afford—to be drawn into alliances designed half a world away. It is time to bring the 21st century’s version of “the Great Game” to an end. 

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

THE PUBLIC EYE:Global Climate Change: Preparing for World War III

By Bob Burnett
Friday November 30, 2012 - 08:36:00 AM

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, 68 percent of Americans acknowledge, “Global warming is at least a somewhat serious problem.” Nonetheless, it’s unlikely that Washington has the political will to mobilize America to combat global warming. This grim reality is reminiscent of the beginning of World War II, when the US dithered for 21 months until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor forced us to act. 

World War II began on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. On May 10, 1940, German troops swept into France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. By mid-June, France and its neighbors had surrendered and the Battle of Britain commenced. Throughout this period the US did nothing. Although President Roosevelt wanted to help our European allies, Congress rebuffed him. It wasn’t until after the sneak attack on December 7, 1941, that America declared war. 

Just as Germany’s military intentions were clear 75 years ago, the consequences of Global Climate Change seem obvious today. In 2009, planetary scientists agreed that an increase in global temperature beyond 2 degrees Celsius would cause horrific damage. Since 2009, we’ve moved three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target and unprecedented heat waves, severe drought, sharp sea level rises, dissolving coral reefs, and catastrophic weather events like Sandy. 

In President Obama’s victory speech he noted four immediate challenges facing his Administration, “reducing our deficit, reforming out tax code, fixing our immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil.” But he also mentioned Global Climate Change, “We want our children to live in an America… that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” That’s an indication he might launch an initiative. Eventually. 

But like the Nazi’s march through Europe, the onslaught of Global Climate Change is relentless. It’s unclear how long we can postpone action. 

In the 21months between September 1, 1939, and December 7, 1941, US indifference to the war in Europe and Asia was justified by public sentiment, “It can’t happen here.” Recovering from a severe depression, Americans turned inward, seemingly secure in the knowledge that thousands of miles of ocean separated them from foreign battlefields. And after a decade of economic hardship, citizens were not emotionally prepared for the austerity that war would bring. Then the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor left us no choice. 

Hurricane Sandy was an impressive event but probably not sufficient to move Americans to make the sacrifices necessary to curtail Global Climate Change. It’s likely that 113th Congress will provide the funds necessary to repair the damage from Sandy, but not call for a national mobilization on the scale last seen when the US entered World War II. After all, it’s been 71 years since Americans were last called upon to sacrifice and we’re not used to to taking extreme steps to protect our selves and our families. 

1. Abandon use of fossil fuel. Writing in ROLLING STONE, environmentalist Bill McKibben observed that we can only emit 564 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050 and still have a reasonable chance of keeping the temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius. Last year we pumped in 31.6 gigatons; at this rate we’ll exude 564 gigs by 2028. McKibben pointed out that the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies are 2975 gigatons , “the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn.” Individuals must stop using fossil fuel and the public has to shut down fossil-fuel companies. 

2. Make dwellings energy efficient. Approximately, 78 percent of America’s energy use is provided by fossil-fuel. As we stop using coal, oil, and gas, Americans will need renewables that, at the moment, are not available in sufficient quantities. A good first step is to make our homes more energy efficient by thorough insulation, use of a non-fossil-fuel heating system, and conversion to electricity supplied by a renewable source. 

3. Move to secure locations. In June 2009, A White House task force produced Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. Among its 10 key findings, two relate to where we should live: “Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and storm surge.” “Thresholds will be crossed, leading to large changes in climate and ecosystems;” for example, the “Dust Bowl” region will become more vulnerable to drought and wind. Three findings relate to food and safety: “Climate change will stress water resources.” “Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.” “Risks to human health will increase. Harmful health impacts of climate change are related to increasing heat stress, waterborne diseases, poor air quality, extreme weather events, and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents.” Many Americans will have to move away from coasts and storm areas to locations where food and water are available and safe. 

These are extreme steps but America has gone through something like this before, after we entered World War II. There were extreme hardships but our people adapted and the American economy thrived. We can do this again if we view Global Climate Change as World War III and mobilize. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS:Dealing with a Diagnosis

By Jack Bragen
Friday November 30, 2012 - 08:31:00 AM

Becoming diagnosed with schizophrenia hurts. Just prior to the diagnosis, a person with mental illness very likely had an episode of psychosis that caused them to be diagnosed. An episode of full-blown psychosis is nothing to sneeze at-it is usually a horrible experience. Being told that you are mentally ill and that you will probably have this problem for the rest of your life adds insult to injury. 

Coming to terms with a diagnosis of having a major mental illness is a difficult feat for someone who has difficulty living in reality to begin with. Denial, usually in the form of the belief that the diagnosis is wrong, is common. Accepting the reality that you will be dealing with this illness for years to come is a major hurdle. Yet, doing so is the key to getting better and to making progress in life. 

It is difficult for someone who has experienced a psychotic episode to have the necessary clarity of thought that is needed to grapple with their diagnosis, to accept it as real and to move on from there. 

For some people, psychiatric illness was precipitated by illicit drugs. That opens the door for that person to believe the drugs solely caused their illness, and to believe incorrectly that they are not ill and don't need medication, that they will be fine if they merely remain off of the illicit drugs. There are numerous avenues of rationalization available to someone who tends to be in denial. 

(It is not uncommon for someone to be in a mental hospital after taking illicit drugs. The narcotics in some cases triggered a psychotic episode that would have happened without illegal drugs, but would have happened a little later. Still others are permanently damaged by illicit drugs and thus they entail the psychiatric diagnosis and the medication that goes with it.) 

How can you blame someone for denying a diagnosis that seems like a life sentence to taking medication (that often has awful side effects) to living with the label of mentally ill person, to being institutionalized (even if sometimes on an outpatient basis) and to not having the good things in life that he or she was looking forward to upon reaching adulthood? How can you blame someone for not wanting to believe that he or she is a "defective" person, someone whom society often ridicules or shuns? Having a diagnosis of mental illness is harsh, and it takes a lot of work to get used to the idea. 

Denial of the diagnosis, believing it isn't correct, and sometimes imagining other causes of one's difficulties, is one of the main paths to being medication noncompliant. 

Part of the problem is, when the brain isn't working right to track reality, it can't deal with the information that it has a deficiency. Clarity must somehow be arrived upon in order to be able to digest the information that the brain has this problem. Under circumstances like these, it is sometimes necessary to force medication on someone. Once someone is medicated, we might hope that clarity will arrive and help the person get "on board" with their treatment. 

It took me several repeat episodes over a period of decades to be able to finally admit for good that my disease is real and that I must remain in treatment, probably for life. The admission comes with some relief, since I am no longer battling against admitting the truth. Admission of the disability part of my illness allowed me to stop masochistically getting low-end employment which did not suit me. 

The reader should note that denial of the diagnosis is more common when someone has a psychotic illness like schizophrenia, and does not happen as much with depression or with those cases of bipolar where there is no psychosis. With illnesses other than those that create psychosis, often the consumer embraces their diagnosis because they are glad to know what is wrong with them so that they can get it treated accordingly. 

* * * 

Just to remind you that my new self-help guide is available in both electronic format and hard copy on Amazon. You will find my books for sale if you put my name into the Amazon search box. As always, I can be contacted at: bragenkjack@yahoo.com however I can not give advice to individuals as I have no license or credentials to do that.

Arts & Events

New: Telegraph Ave Holiday Street Fair Is Back

Saturday December 15, 2012 - 10:30:00 AM

The 29th Annual Telegraph Ave Holiday St. Fair is scheduled for 6 days this year: Friday, Dec. 14th and Saturday, Dec.15th; Sunday, Dec.16th and Saturday, Dec.22nd; Sunday, Dec.23rd and Monday ,Dec.24th 

As usual, it is located on Telegraph Ave between Bancroft Way and Dwight Way in Berkeley. 

More than 200 street artists, merchants, community groups, musicians, and entertainers fill four blocks of Telegraph Ave when it is closed to traffic for the Fair. 

Hours are: 11am-6pm. 

The Telegraph Ave Holiday St. Fair offers unique and unusual handcrafts by some of Northern California’s finest Artists, an opportunity to buy fine art originals and gift items. 

Local restaurants and community organizations add to the festive spirit of Telegraph Ave. 

Holiday shoppers to the Telegraph Business District will be treated to an abundance of entertainment, great music, fine food, and high quality crafts. 

Festive lights, and a friendly multicultural shopping atmosphere complete the experience. aarondo@amazingaccordion.co 

Once again, the cultural heart and soul of Berkeley is alive and well and ready to celebrate! www.telegraphfair.com

New: Musical Theater Review: Splendid Revival of 'Pal Joey' by 42nd Street Moon--this weekend only

By Ken Bullock
Friday December 14, 2012 - 05:24:00 PM

"Don't analyze it. If you take it apart, you might not be able to put it back together." So Vera Simpson's wry advice on life to her brazen young "protege," nightclub entertainer Joey Evans, the Joey of the title of Rodgers & Hart's masterful, knowing 1940 musical, 'Pal Joey,' staged as a splendid piano-accompanied, full costume, well-choreographed revival by 42nd Moon--just through this weekend. 

Joey, the rakehell letter writer to "Friend Ted" in John O'Hara's epistolary novel, was something new to Broadway, when Rodgers & Hart took up the challenge O'Hara threw down, to create a musical comedy around his seedy charmer, an anti-hero whose distant relations in musical theater were the distinctly unseedy noble seducer Don Giovanni, the highwayman Captain Macheath of John Gay's ballad opera, 'The Beggar's Opera,' and his Berliner gangster offspring, Mack the Knife, in Brecht's 'Threepenny Opera,' which only made a success in New York in 1956, and then in the Village, not on the Great White Way. (In 1940, influential critic Brooks Atkinson praised 'Pal Joey' in execution, but asked "can you draw sweet water from a foul well?") 

Johnny Orenberg plays the title role in 42nd Street Moon's production with energy and verve, in many ways dominating the first, thoroughly enjoyable act, with its backstage scenes of rehearsals of acts and of Joey's braggadocio and manueverings. 

The second act, in which Vera attempts the makeover of the near-burlesque toilet where the slumming socialite discovered her diamond in the rough into the toney Chez Joey, brings the equally marvelous supporting cast to the fore as something more than counterpoint to the irrepressible Joey they're (almost) all wise to, but want a piece of. 

Deborah Del Maestro as Vera--the wealthy woman of the world O'Hara added to his original story as the diva role--delivers her finest moments here, including the wistful reprise of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," and the ladies' duel, "Take Him," turning into a duet with ingenue Linda English (Chloe Condon). Also reprised well by Orenberg at the very end is the great "I Could Write a Book," a duet in the first act with Condon. 

Just as engaging are the comic turns by Ryan Drummond as agent-cum-blackmailer Ludlow Lowell, a fast-talking sharper who teams up with chorine Gladys Bumps (Ashley Rae Little) in song, dance and scheming--and Becky Saunders as a deadpan lady reporter on the nightclub beat who tells her own story in hysterical bump-and-grind. David Vishni takes over the stage at one point with a deft tap dance. And there's a great humorous production number. 

Expertly directed and choreographed by Zack Thomas Wilde, with fine musical direction by Dave Dobrusky, from the almost-stride piano overture to the curtain call chorale of "I Could Write a Book," 'Pal Joey' is a delightful 20th anniversary show by 42nd Street Moon, and a great, adult musical entertainment treat for the holidays--but it ends in a few days! Don't miss it, if you can help it. 

Nightly through Sunday--Friday at 8, Saturday at 6, Sunday at 3--at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson, near Battery, in the Golden Gateway Center, San Francisco. Tickets: $25-$75. (415) 255-8207 or 42ndstmoon.org

Occupy Your Merchant Association

By Carol Denney
Wednesday December 12, 2012 - 05:03:00 PM

Sick of having merchant associations run target-the-homeless campaigns under the guise of creating a “welcoming” downtown? Feel like singing? At noon on Sunday, December 16th at the BART plaza (Shattuck @ Center, Berkeley) we’re going to have an anti-Downtown Berkeley Association Christmas caroling gathering - songbooks provided- for about half an hour. Dickens Fair attire optional, instruments welcome, and here's a sample: 

(to the tune of Joy to the World)

guess who’s in charge of this whole town
it is the DBA!
they run the city council
they run the police department
they’ll run you out of town
they’ll run you out of town
if you have no money just get out of town

guess who’s in charge of your civil rights
it is the DBA!
you’d better hope they like you
‘cause otherwise they’ll bite you
they’ll run you out of town
they’ll run you out of town
if you have no money just get out of town

guess who’s in charge of public streets
it is the DBA!
if you put up a poster
you will not win a toaster
they’ll run you out of town
they’ll run you out of town
if you have no money just get out of town

guess who’s in charge of elections
it is the DBA!
except for Measure S
they lose a few I guess, but
they’ll run you out of town
they’ll run you out of town
if you have no money just get out of town

(to the tune of oh Christmas Tree)

oh, DBA, oh DBA
what happened to your conscience
oh, DBA, oh DBA
what happened to your conscience
you chase the poor at Christmastime
for simply asking for a dime
oh, DBA, oh DBA
what happened to your conscience

oh, DBA, oh DBA
you’re just a bunch of bullies
oh, DBA, oh DBA
you’re just a bunch of bullies
we need to eat we need to sit
and sometimes even take a shit
oh DBA, oh DBA
you’re just a bunch of bullies

oh DBA, oh DBA
you spend a lot of money
oh DBA, oh DBA
you spend a lot of money
a little bit on Christmas lights
a lot destroying human rights
oh DBA, oh DBA
you spend a lot of money

oh DBA, oh DBA
we wish we had your budget
oh DBA, oh DBA
we wish we had your budget
for all you’ve spent getting nothing done
we probably could house everyone
oh DBA, oh DBA
we wish we had your budget

(to the tune of Oh, Come All Ye Faithful)

what’s wrong with our county
and our city council
why are there entire families
out on the street?
why do our planners
only build for rich people?
they keep on building condos
they keep on building condos
they keep on building condos
that we can’t afford

why do these merchants
let themselves be harnessed
for fascist agendas of
the DBA?
real estate interests are
driving the agenda
of chasing round the homeless
of chasing round the homeless
of chasing round the homeless
all over town

no correlation
exists between panhandlers
and depressed effects on the
our public spaces
should belong to all of us
let’s take back public spaces
let’s take back public spaces
let’s take back public spaces
and our civil rights

(to the tune of Away in a Manger)

away in a dumpster
with no place to go
the young, poor and homeless
just try to lay low
the stupid Ambassadors
chase them around
the same here in Berkeley
as every damn town

what’s wrong with our city
that won’t house the poor
why won’t they build low
cost housing anymore?
our dumb politicians
don’t return our calls
developers have most of
them by the balls

just follow the money
you’ll see what we mean
these green shirts aren’t here
just to keep the streets clean
Ambassador fascists
are DBA staff
the rich get well treated
the poor get the shaft

(to the tune of The First Noel)

the DBA doesn’t represent me
but it wants to control
everything that we see
public streets and public space
public benches downtown
you can’t hang out in public
if a green shirt’s around
why is this town run by the DBA?

if you look like you have dough
then they welcome you in
if you’re poor then they’ll sweep you
right into the bin
they tried hard to make a crime
out of just sitting down
out of panhandling too
and just hanging around
why is this town run by the DBA?

politicians really suck
when they scapegoat the poor
instead of putting vacancy fees
on empty stores
we kicked Measure S butt
and we will not back down
these Ambassadors need to get
run out of town

Theater Review: Inferno Theatre's Original 'Dracula' at Historic South Berkeley Community Church

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday December 05, 2012 - 03:52:00 PM

"Children of the Night! What music they make!"

Count Dracula has exulted in those words to his querulous guest Jonathan Harker, upon hearing wolves howl near daybreak, whether in Bram Stoker's original novel or Bela Lugosi's performances as The Count on Broadway and in Tod Browning's movie ... but no version of 'Dracula' I know of has such a musical undertow as Inferno Theatre's original take on the story, now playing at the historic Arts & Crafts-designed South Berkeley Community Church.

Original, yet truer to Stoker's text than other versions, and livelier. And the music comes in as mad waltzes and a kind of ensemble merriment, high spirits verging on hysteria, that makes its best moments theatrical in a way that festivals, rituals, moments in crowded cities and out under the sky in the country, among locals, prove to be very immediate--and high--theater. 

"A play represents pure existing, while a novel is a past reported in a present, what one mind, claiming to be omniscient, asserts to have existed,' said playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder, a Berkeley high grad, some of whose short plays are onstage at the Aurora. That puts the finger on what Inferno's accomplished--adapting a novel like 'Dracula'--which Bram Stoker, a man of the theater himself, who tried spreading out the narrative through various characters' voices--to the stage, and bringing out the mise en scene, having the ensemble express themselves polyphonically, through individual voices and movement, but arranged, choreographed together, in a hotel or its ballroom, on a train or a ship, pitching through the waves with vocal expressions and gestures ... 

It's the most ambitious production yet by Inferno, who've brought some international taste and excellence to local stages, especially at the Berkeley City Club, with their founder (and 'Dracula's' adaptor and director) Giulio Perrone's plays 'Galileo''s Daughters' and 'The Iliad,' the past few years. From Harker's appearance in Transylvania--delirious scenes of locals celebrating, spying, warning him, then conveying him by coach to Dracula's chateau in the wild--to the final journey to pound in the stake, the ensemble swirls in polyphonic color around its central figure, a remarkable female--or androgynous--Dracula, enacted brilliantly and with glee by Valentina Emeri, an original member of Inferno. 

The others are truly an ensemble, sometimes resembling leaves on the wind, like Kokoschka's canvas 'the Tempest,' magnetized to or repelled by Dracula and each other. AeJay Mitchell and Ilya Parizhsky turn out to be good "movers," in this opus of movement theater. Shena van Sponsen as the bedeviled and devilish Lucy proves herself in the clutch--of Dracula. That's just to name three of this cast who stand out ... 

Simone Bloch, another Inferno original, plays Seward, the asylum director, with fortitude, but has relatively little in movement to do for that character from such a fine movement performer, one who can be both flamboyant and subtle. Renfield, her charge, played by Christina Shonkwiler, is the most Grand Guignol of ghouls, cackling and exclaiming over verminous "presents," while contorting her frame into Gothic poses. With Emeri, they form a troika of women taking over traditionally male roles with elan. Julia Ellis plays a poised Mina, Paul Davis a driven Van Helsing ... 

An accordion sounds, or a saxophone, conjuring up a lonely visitation or a wild group dance ... and the dancers prey, in the friendliest fashion, on whomever they can get their hands on ... Hypnosis, somnambulism, the logic of dreams--all shared onstage, seeping over into the audience, as Dracula utters his welcome from Stoker's text, echoed in Perrone's design, Norman Kern's music, Michael Palumbo's lighting, the voices and movements of the performers--the audience's response: "Welcome to my house. the night air is chill. Enter of your own will. Come freely, go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring." 

Inferno Theatre's 'Dracula'--Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays at 8, Fridays at 9, till December 16 at South Berkeley Community Church, 1802 Fairview at Ellis, two blocks west of Adeline, near Ashby BART. $12-$25 sliding scale. Reservations: 788-6415 or email infernotheatrecompany@gmail.com

AROUND AND ABOUT MUSIC: Berkeley Symphony This Thursday--"The Rebels"--Ligeti, Robert Schumann ... & Berkeley's Dylan Mattingly

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday December 05, 2012 - 09:08:00 AM

Thursday night, December 6, at 8, Berkeley Symphony will perform "The Rebels," another eclectic pick of compositions that spans the modern history of the orchestra, as Joana Carneiro's been wont to program ... but this one with an unusual local twist, featuring Gyorgi Ligeti's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, with Shai Wosner as soloist, with Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 2--and Invisible Skyline by Berkeley native Dylan Mattingly, the world premiere of a Symphony commission. 

Mattingly, now 21 and studying at Bard College in New York, is a Berkeley High grad, where he pitched on the varsity baseball team. He also studied in the John Adams Young Composers Program at Crowden Music Center and has been mentored by Adams. Mattingly was chosen as a composer in the Berkeley Symphony's Under Construction Composers Program and has had his compositions performed locally at the Berkeley Arts Festival, by the Young Peoples Symphony Orchestra, at Other Minds Seance by Sarah Cahill and at the Cabrillo Festival. At Bard, he's co-artistic director of Contemporaneous, a music group that has brought out a CD of his compositions, Stream of Stars. 

For more information: dylanmattingly.com / and interview in the Planet, 2009: 

Ligeti's Piano Concerto (composed 1980-88), played by Israeli pianist Shai Wosner, was regarded by the composer as a statement of his aesthetic credo, showing an interest in natural harmonics for horns, and an expansion of his work in his three volumes of piano etudes into an orchestral context. Schumann's Symphony in C major, No. 2 Opus 61, opens with inspiration from Bach, showing influences from Beethoven songs and the Ode to Joy towards its conclusion. 

Zellerbach Hall, UC campus, near Bancroft & Telegraph. $15-$68. 841-2800, ex. 1; berkeleysymphony.org

Theater Review: 'Wilder Times'—four short plays by Thornton Wilder—at the Aurora

By Ken Bullock
Monday December 03, 2012 - 04:50:00 PM

"Whenever you get near the human race, there are layers and layers of nonsense." 

Thornton Wilder's best-known, of course, for 'Our Town,' where the quote's from, the bare stage small-town play, narrated by a stage manager, which has become something like an icon of Americana, almost lumped in with, say, Frank Capra movies (one reviewer even mentioned Norman Rockwell) as a reminder of a happier, more innocent pas—rather falsely, as Wilder's always after bigger game than provincialism making light of itself. "A little play, with all the big subjects in it," Wilder—a Berkeley High graduate—wrote his friend and mentor, Gertrude Stein. 

Aurora Theatre's staging four of Wilder's even "littler" plays as a program, 'Wilder Nights,' (Barbara Oliver directing) that highlights some of Wilder's concerns, and provides a few perspectives on the themes and ways of treatment he worked over and over. 

'Infancy' has a humorous, anxious nanny—played with panache by Heather Gordon—who utilizes the park where she takes her charge in a baby carriage as the stage for her anxieties, her servant's social life, as she kvetches about her lot in life, flirts with a comic Italo-American policeman (Soren Oliver), listens to Mrs. Boker's Yiddish-flavored chit-chat ... while the babies, played by grown-ups Patrick Russell and Brian Trybom, emerge from their perambulators and shoot the breeze, even more anxious and angry about their brief social experience, ignored by their elders. 

'Childhood' follows, a trio of kids (Marcia Pizzo, Gordon, Russell) elude their parents (Stacy Ross and Trybom) in a fantasy bus ride as pretend adults, yet presided over by the adults in the guise of bus driver and older passenger, as they learn through play some of life's intransigent side. The theme of mortality's taken up again after intermission with 'The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden,' a family's little road trip to visit a married daughter, older sister, who's had a baby—and suffered tragedy—and is highlighted in the most famous of the quartet, 'The Long Christmas Dinner,' which inspired the famous breakfast table scene in 'Citizen Kane,' with a time lapse glimpse of generations stepping up to the holiday table together—and shuffling off alone into oblivion, but with a sprightly theatrical touch ... 

It's good to see some of Wilder's unique material back onstage in a form different than the overly-positivistic cliche 'Our Town's' too often become. Wilder mastered the short form, mined it for nuances and new kinds of representation he used in his major plays, yet the shorter ones, now mostly brought up in mentioning that influence, have their own life still, are refreshing, with that slightly acerbic air of Wilder's sensibility. 

There're problems here, too, not the least the staging of plays from very different eras together, but in reverse chronological order. 'Infancy' and 'Childhood are from the 1960s, part of an unfinished series on the Ages of Man Wilder projected, while the other two, which end the evening, are from the 30s, more self-enclosed works that resemble aspects of 'Our Town' or 'Skin of Our Teeth.' The constant seems to be family life, but that thematic way of lumping all four together has a way of detracting from their singularity, their individual takes on a range of themes, the secret ways they might work together and bring out the performers' abilities over the course of the evening. 

As it was, the individual actors—all good—sometimes got a little lost in the shuffle, while the ensemble didn't really come to the fore as a unit until 'The Long Christmas Dinner,' which also saw Soren Oliver's best moments, as well as a charming debut on the Aurora stage by a talented intern, Gwen Kingston. 

Everybody has the chance to show themselves to advantage as well as work closely together in this final play of the evening, while those leading up sometimes inadvertently feature one or another, or a few moments of a performance. Stacy Ross particularly comes forward in 'The Happy Journey ...'—with some nice work in tandem with Marcia Pizzo, mother comforting daughter. 

Aurora deserves congratulations for bringing back Wilder's shorter plays, almost a genre in themselves, which prepared for the little revolution in stagecraft of 'Our Town,' still performed constantly around the world. Maybe this production will encourage others to make new match-ups of his one-acts—pays like the unusual 'Pullman Car Hiawatha,' or the "playlets" he innovated, which may've helped break up what—to some—looked like sameness in the arrangement of these sensitive plants of the theater, each one opening at its own moment. 

Tuesday through Sunday at various times through December 9. 2081 Addison, near Shattuck. $32-$60. 843-4822; auroratheatre.com

Around & About Theater: 'Fierce Play' Series by Ragged Wing Ensemble

By Ken Bullock
Monday December 03, 2012 - 04:40:00 PM

This weekend, Ragged Wing Ensemble is premiering a new series of short performances by members of that talented group, Fierce Play ... 

This weekend, three plays: "Air:born" by Soren Santo ("What cellular ambitions have patently unfolded through evolution?"), "Fish Tank piece" by Addie Ulrey, directed by Keith Davis ("Does a boring job make you boring? Would you rather crochet a enough squares to fill a fish tank or drive all the cars off a container ship?") and "The Music Tree," by Phil Wharton (who cites Berkeley's Jaime De Angulo, 'Indians in Overalls': "Everything is living, even the rocks, even that bench you are sitting on. Everything is alive. That's what we Indians believe. White people think everything is dead." A Miwok origin myth, and the question of a little girl to her geologist grandfather while walking on what's now called Mt. Diablo.) 

Fierce Play will resume with a new set of work by different Ragged Wing members February 1-3. 

Friday through Sunday at 7, at 1515 Webster,Downtown Oakland, near 15th Street. $15-$30, brownpapertickets.com or raggedwing.org 

Press Release: Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra Performs All-Mozart Concerts

From Elaine Hooker
Friday November 30, 2012 - 01:09:00 PM

The Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra will perform three all-Mozart concerts in December under the direction of Music Director Ming Luke. The concerts are free and open to the public.

BCCO will perform the Great Mass in C minor, K. 427; Symphony No. 29 in A major, K. 201; and Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618. The concerts will be Sunday, Dec. 2, at 4:30 p.m. at St. Joseph the Worker Church, 1640 Addison St., Berkeley; Saturday, Dec. 15, at 8 p.m. at Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley Campus; and Sunday, Dec. 16, at 4:30 p.m. at Hertz Hall. 

"From the sublime to the witty, the humorous to the dramatic, these three pieces were composed at major transitions in Mozart's life and showcase the full genius of Mozart,” Luke said. 

The Hertz Hall concerts will be BCCO’s first performances in a professional concert hall, with concert acoustics and seating for more than 650 concertgoers. 

“Cal’s Music Department has only recently begun offering Hertz Hall to community performance groups, and we are honored to have this opportunity. So many of us have attended concerts at Hertz, never dreaming that we would be on that stage,” said Karen Davison, BCCO board president. 

The concert will be dedicated to long-time former Music Director Arlene Sagan, who passed away July 5, 2012, after a long illness. 

“Arlene devoted many years of her life to inspiring hundreds of people to make wonderful music together, while building BCCO into the vibrant community resource it is today. Arlene generously shared her knowledge, creative energy, and joyful love of music with everyone who sang or played under her direction,” said Mary Rogier, BCCO board member. 

Soloists for the Great Mass will be Jennifer Paulino, soprano; Megan Berti, mezzo-soprano; J. Raymond Meyers, tenor; and Igor Vieira, baritone. 

BCCO is a non-auditioned community chorus of more than 220 singers that performs major classical works with orchestral accompaniment. Luke is the third director since BCCO’s founding in 1966. 

Some of Luke’s recent conducting engagements include the San Francisco Ballet, Opera San Jose, Sacramento Opera, Napa Regional Dance Company, Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra, Napa Valley Symphony and the Bolshoi Orchestra. 

Luke is director and conductor of the Berkeley Symphony’s music education program. The Berkeley Symphony announced recently that it was honoring Luke for his work with its nationally recognized Music in the Schools program, which supplements music education for more than 4,000 students in all of Berkeley’s public elementary schools. 

Luke also is music director of the Napa Valley Youth Symphony and the Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra. The two orchestras took top honors last year at the Los Angeles International Music Festival. 

BCCO’s assistant conductor, Derek Tam, performs in the Bay Area as a pianist and a harpsichordist in addition to acting as conductor for various organizations. 

For more information, call BCCO at 510-433-9599, or see http://www.bcco.org.

UC Berkeley Holiday Offerings

By Steven Finacom
Friday November 30, 2012 - 11:21:00 AM

While it’s a secular institution and also largely shuts down during the Christmas / New Year’s week, the UC Berkeley campus does have sources of winter holiday gifts and cheer. Several of them come at the end of November / beginning of December. Here’s a short overview. 


An affordable and fun musical evening takes place this Friday, November 30, in Hertz Hall when the UC Chorale Ensembles stage their annual Holiday Show. Student singing groups and Music Department choruses perform. This year there are at least nine performing groups, each doing a couple of numbers, which usually range from Christmas carol parodies to sweet holiday classics, Hanukkah songs, spirituals, and traditional classical music—all beautifully sung.  

The Alumni Chorus and Cal Gospel Choir add their massed voices to the smaller a capella groups. At the end of the evening all of the performers—hundreds and hundreds of them—gather on the Hertz Hall stage and lead the audience in a spirited sing-along of the “Twelve Days of Christmas”. It’s a light-hearted and very musically talented event. 

8:00 PM, Hertz Hall on campus. I couldn’t find an exact ticket price on line, but in previous years it’s been about $10 for the general public—a very good deal for music of this quality and variety. Open seating, so arrive a bit early if you to pick a prime location (remember hat where you sit also determines which of the Twelve Days you sing). Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Student Musical Activities office on campus, by phone (before 12:30 on Friday), or one hour in advance of the performance, at the door. See the Choral Ensembles website at http://ucce.berkeley.edu/index.html 


The campus used to have a School of Forestry. No more, but there’s still an active Forestry Club among College of Natural Resources students. Each year they do a Holiday Tree Sale on campus, featuring conifers “from Sierra Nevada; handpicked by Cal Forestry Students.” “Trees are selected by students to be trees that would not normally survive to adulthood (usually because they are too close to other trees), thus they are considered sustainably harvested. Tree species harvested are mainly White Fir, Red Fir, and Incense Cedar.” Proceeds benefit the Club. Trees cost $6 a linear foot which, to my mind, compares favorably with commercial tree lots.  

The sale is outside Mulford Hall (on campus, uphill from Oxford Street). It runs Sunday, December 2, through Saturday, December 8, 8-5 pm, “rain or shine”. For details, see http://nature.berkeley.edu/forestryclub/christmas_tree_sale.htm 


This on-campus studio (formerly the ASUC Art Studio), located just downhill from Sather Gate by the south bank of Strawberry Creek, offers students and community members art classes from photography to ceramics. Student and professional works are sold in their annual sale. Offerings this year include ceramics, some jewelry, painting, and photography. Last year, I felt the prices had sharply escalated; this year, for the ceramics at least, they’re back closer to a level where you feel you’re getting both a handcrafted artwork and a financial deal. 

Starts this week, and runs through December 13. Monday through Friday, noon to 9 PM. Weekends, noon to 5 pm. http://sa.berkeley.edu/asuc/art-studio 


On December 5, there’s a two hour evening class where you can make your own holiday wreath or garland using foliage from the Garden. 

December 7, from 2-6:30 PM there’s a “Garden Holiday Soiree” selling plants and “garden inspired gifts.” 

And almost any fall or winter day is worth a stroll through the beautiful and varied temperate landscape of the Garden in Strawberry Canyon. 

See the Botanical Garden website http://botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu/ and click on “Events” for details.

Press Release: Seth Rosenfeld Will Discuss "Subversives" on Monday in Berkeley

Friday November 30, 2012 - 11:13:00 AM

University Press Books welcomes Seth Rosenfeld for a discussion of his new book, Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals and Reagan's Rise to Power at the Musical Offering Cafe .on Monday, December 3rd, from 6:30-7:30,with a book signing to follow, at 2430 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. 

Subversives traces the FBI’s secret involvement with three iconic figures at Berkeley during the 1960s: the ambitious neophyte politician Ronald Reagan, the fierce but fragile radical Mario Savio, and the liberal university president Clark Kerr. Through these converging narratives, the award-winning investigative reporter Seth Rosenfeld tells a dramatic and disturbing story of FBI surveillance, illegal break-ins, infiltration, planted news stories, poison-pen letters, and secret detention lists. He reveals how the FBI’s covert operations—led by Reagan’s friend J. Edgar Hoover—helped ignite an era of protest, undermine the Democrats, and benefit Reagan personally and politically. At the same time, he vividly evokes the life of Berkeley in the early sixties—and shows how the university community, a site of the forward-looking idealism of the period, became a battleground in an epic struggle between the government and free citizens.  

“[An] electrifying examination of a newly declassified treasure trove of documents detailing our government’s campaign of surveillance of the Berkeley campus during the ’60s.” —Matt Taibbi, The New York Times Book Review 

“Armed with a panoply of interviews, court rulings, and freshly acquired F.B.I. document, Rosenfeld shows how J. Edgar Hoover unlawfully distributed confidential intelligence to undermine the nineteen-sixties protest movement in Berkeley, while brightening the political stars of friendly informants like Ronald Reagan. Rosenfeld’s history, at once encyclopedic and compelling, follows a number of interwoven threads.” —The New Yorker 

Seth Rosenfeld was for many years an investigative reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, where his article about the free speech movement won seven national awards. He lives in San Francisco. 

Monday, December 3rd, 6:30-7:30 

(with a book signing to follow) 

The Musical Offering Café 

2430 Bancroft Way, Berkeley