Several Berkeley community groups will hold an event tonight to mark the birthday of a mentally ill transgender woman who died in a struggle with officers two months ago.
Today would have been the 42nd birthday for Kayla Moore, also known as Xavier Moore, who died after the incident at the Gaia Building in the 2100 block of Allston Way shortly before midnight on Feb. 12.
Members of Berkeley Copwatch and the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley will hold a memorial celebration for Moore in front of the Gaia Building at 2116 Allston Way at 5 p.m. tonight and then will hold a news conference in front of Berkeley police headquarters at 2100 Martin Luther King Jr. Way at 6:15 p.m. to ask that public records about the incident be released.
Berkeley police said the day after the incident that they went to Moore's home on a disturbance call and during the contact Moore "became increasingly agitated and uncooperative to the officer's verbal commands and began to scream and violently resist."
Police said officers eventually gained control of Moore and placed her under restraints but while she was under the restraints they discovered she wasn't breathing. Police said officers performed CPR on Moore and she was transported to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
The organizers of tonight's events said the Berkeley Police Department has provided very little information about the February incident and, according to the Alameda County coroner's bureau, has asked that the autopsy report on Moore be placed on hold for up to six to eight months.
Berkeley police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats wasn't immediately available for comment today.
Coats said in a statement on February, "There are significant constrains in place regarding the immediate release of information in a case such as this and we can't comment on specific information or even address inaccuracies which may be expressed in public discussion regarding this incident."
Coats said, "A thorough investigation takes time. We are obliged to wait for the evidence to be examined, the facts to be determined and the investigation to be completed."
Moore's stepmother, Elysse Paige-Moore, said in a statement released by the organizers of tonight's events that, "Xavier had a very difficult life but an indomitable spirit. He suffered with mental illness from an early age, struggling throughout his life with paranoid schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress syndrome."
Paige-Moore said, "He was a poet and a gifted singer and oh could he dance even at 350 pounds!"
A number of Bay Area residents, including at least two Berkeley residents, were among the thousands of runners and spectators in the streets of Boston today when two deadly explosions went off near the Boston Marathon's finish line.
Berkeley resident Lucretia Ausse, 54, was about to receive her medal after finishing the race in just over four hours when she heard an explosion and saw a plume of smoke. About 10 seconds later, she heard a second blast.
"I thought it was a water cannon," she said this afternoon, "I thought that was odd."
She soon realized something serious was happening.
"There was definitely fear and panic in the crowd," she said.
She was able to get her gear from a tent where her cellphone was, but she was unable to connect with her partner, who was on the subway trying to meet up with her at the finish line. Today is a holiday in Massachusetts -- Patriots' Day -- and the subway was packed, Ausse said.
She said a frantic 30 minutes passed before they were able to meet up safely and return to their Beacon Hill bed and breakfast, where she said everyone is hunkering down, watching the news closely and following police orders.
"It was a very terrifying and saddening experience," said Ausse, who has run five marathons. "For this to occur at this event is enormously frightening."
She said fellow runners, who come from around the world for the storied race, are shaken up.
"It's just starting to hit me what happened," she said.
One of the top finishers, Daniel Tapia, 26, of Castroville, said he had finished running the 26.2-mile course around noon Boston time and had gone into the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel near the finish line to grab a snack and recover.
He said he was inside the hotel when he heard what sounded like a loud pop. Hotel staff turned on the TVs as emergency personnel told hotel patrons to stay inside.
"I haven't left the room that I'm in," he said early this afternoon.
Tapia said his family is with him and that he was hoping to go out to dinner tonight in Boston, but as of this afternoon that didn't seem likely.
He said a medical tent had been set up in front of the hotel, and that he had heard about severe injuries.
At least three people were killed in the blasts, which occurred shortly before 3 p.m. Boston time. Reports early this evening indicated that an 8-year-old child was among the dead, and that more than 130 people were injured.
Tapia said he knows dozens of runners who participated in the race, and that he doesn't know where they all were when the explosions happened.
"I hope everyone's OK," he said.
Tapia placed ninth in the marathon, according to the race's website.
Boston Marathon officials posted about the incident on the event's Facebook page just before 1 p.m.
"There were two bombs that exploded near the finish line in today's Boston Marathon. We are working with law enforcement to understand what exactly has happened," the statement read.
San Francisco native and Berkeley resident Andrew Batjiaka, 25, had finished the race an hour before the blasts happened and had left the downtown area when he heard about the explosions.
He was able to return to a home in the city's Allston neighborhood where he is staying with friends.
Batjiaka said his sense of accomplishment and well-being after the marathon quickly turned to horror when he heard the news.
"I was super happy when I finished the race," Batjiaka said.
He said his Boston friends have offered to host fellow marathon runners stranded in the city.
Hundreds of similar offers have been made on a growing Google Document list titled "Need a place to stay - Boston Marathon explosion." The list is being shared online via social media.
President Obama made a statement this afternoon after he was briefed about the explosions, calling Boston a "tough and resilient town."
"We still do not know who did this or why," Obama said. "But make no mistake -- we will get to the bottom of this. And we will find out who did this; we'll find out why they did this."
By Carole Kennerly (former Vice Mayor of Berkeley)
Tuesday April 16, 2013 - 09:57:00 AM
Maudelle Shirek (born June 18, 1911-died April 11, 2013) is a former Vice Mayor and eight term City Council member, Berkeley, California. At the end of her tenure, she was one of the oldest elected officials in the State of California. In 2007, the Berkeley City Council renamed City Hall in her honor. She was my colleague, friend and mentor.
Maudelle and I served together on the Co-op Credit Union board of directors--I was the chair and she co-chair.
In 2001, after the 9-11 attack on our country, we traveled to Washington DC together in support of Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Barbara was the lone vote in the House of Representatives against America's invasion of Iraq--the authorization for use of military force that ultimately gave President George W. Bush seemingly unlimited war powers. Because of that vote, Maudelle was worried about Barbara's personal safety due to the threats Barbara had received. Maudelle asked me to travel to DC with her and I did. We shared a hotel room together and I shall never forget our first day after checking in the hotel the night before, how energetic Maudelle was--up early in the morning, exercised, had taken her vitamins, showered and dressed before my feet even hit the floor. She was about 90 yrs young then. Amazing!!! She was patient with me and my "jet lag". Finally, I got it together and off we went to Barbara's Congressional office.
Maudelle and I spent many hours sharing, debating and working on political, civic and community issues, concerns and problems. Maudelle was indeed an unusual talent, brilliant, outspoken, persistent and consistent in all that she did. She was proud of her roots, her family and the lessons that life had taught her. Maudelle was born in Jefferson, Arkansas and grew up on a farm, the granddaughter of slaves. She moved to Berkeley in the 1940s.
Maudelle did not wait to be asked, she just saw a need and got busy. I was fortunate, along with Barbara Lee, Ron Dellums, Gus Newport and many others to be counted as a member of her family. Maudelle did not hesitate to offer her support and love, but also did not hesitate to offer constructive criticism. She always took an active interest in the seniors and was hands-on in the preparation of the meals at the local senior center just down the block from where I live. She was a nutrition and health advocate and practiced what she preached. Her energy, commitment and dedication to her fellow human beings was limitless. I will miss her and I extend my sympathies to her family and friends. May she rest in peace.
I am deeply saddened by the passing of Maudelle Shirek, and my thoughts and prayers go out to her friends and family.
Maudelle was truly the "godmother of East Bay progressive politics." The former City of Berkeley vice mayor and eight term council member was born and raised in Jefferson, Arkansas. As the granddaughter of slaves, she was passionate about justice and civil rights. After moving to Berkeley in the 1940’s, she became active in the anti-war movement, fought on behalf of unions, advocated for HIV/AIDS awareness, and helped organize the Free Mandela Movement. She was the first elected official in the United States to advocate for needle-exchange programs.
During her tenure as a Berkley elected official, she was instrumental in creating multiple city commissions, including the Berkeley Commission on Labor. When she retired at 92, she was the oldest elected official in California at the time. In 2007, the Berkeley City Council renamed City Hall in her honor.
I met Maudelle in the early 1970’s while I was a student at Mills College. She widened my perspective on global politics during our travels around the world including Vienna, Prague, Cuba, and Czechoslovakia. She reinforced the idea that we are all part of a global family and what happens here in the United States effects our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world and vice versa. Since that time, Maudelle has been a personal friend, mentor, and confidante.
Maudelle was a health aficionado. She was committed to educating seniors and the entire community on the benefits of healthy living. She loved shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables and you would often find her cooking nutritious meals at the West Berkeley Senior Center.
We loved to walk Lake Merritt and the Berkeley Marina together where she would talk to me about acupuncture, natural remedies like cayenne pepper and warm water for colds. We also traveled to Calistoga many times because of her love for mud baths and their healing properties.
Maudelle was a woman of great faith. During the 70’s, we enjoyed attending the Church of Tomorrow (Formerly the Church of Today) together. This is where I realized that her passion for service and justice was driven by her commitment to what she called, ‘doing the Lord’s work on earth.’ I will never forget the day she introduced me to the late Rev. Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams and I will never forget the impact that they both had on my life.
I believe Maudelle’s legacy of over 70 years of service to Berkeley, the East Bay, the nation, and the world will inspire many to speak for the voiceless and stand up for justice across the globe. I will deeply miss her wise counsel, support, and love.”
A Berkeley firefighter narrowly escaped serious injury when he was shot at while responding to an emergency medical call at an elderly man's home early today, a fire department spokesman said.
Firefighters responded to a home in the 1200 block of Dwight Way at 1:41 a.m. after they received an automated medical alert indicating that someone at the residence was having an emergency, acting Deputy Fire Chief Avery Webb said.
Firefighters asked Berkeley police to respond as well because the house was locked, but while they were waiting for police to arrive, the elderly man who lives there fired a gun at them, striking one of the firefighters, Webb said.
However, the bullet hit the firefighter's Swissphone, which Webb said is a pager-like device firefighters wear around their belts to receive communications.
The device "no doubt saved the firefighter from having significant injuries or worse," Webb said.
The firefighter was treated at the scene and, at this point, doesn't appear to need further treatment, he said.
Webb said the elderly man who lives at the house was taken away in an ambulance.
Berkeley police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats wasn't immediately available for comment.
Webb said the firefighter who was shot and the other firefighters who responded to the emergency call were released from their duties for the rest of the day for "defusing," a department policy that allows them time to deal with the psychological effects of a traumatic situation.
He said Berkeley firefighters are used to responding to other types of emergencies such as burning buildings and natural gas leaks, "but most incidents don't include firearms and circumstances like this."
Citizens for East Shore Parks (CESP) has published a survey of potential building heights on two parcels adjacent to Berkeley’s Aquatic Park at its northeast corner. The survey was commissioned by CESP during the debate on Measure T, a West Berkeley zoning revision that would have allowed master use permits for large sites in West Berkeley, and was completed after its narrow defeat in November 2012 by 512 votes.
The Berkeley City Council rescinded the master use permits at its March 19 meeting, but the heights survey would still be relevant to future planning efforts since the parcels are eligible for development permits under the current mixed use light industrial (MULI) zoning or by development agreement.
The park advocates consider Aquatic Park within their area of concern because it lies directly across the freeway from the brickyard area of McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, and the two are connected by the pedestrian and bicycle bridge across the I-80 freeway.
The two private properties adjacent to Aquatic Park on Bolivar Drive include an approximately 8 acre site between Addison and Bancroft owned by the Jones family, and nearly 3 acres owned by the Goldin brothers that lie south of Bancroft Way. Both would have been eligible for the master use permits allowing buildings up to 75 feet, but when environmentalists and neighbors objected, the City Council remanded the zoning of these two parcels to the Planning Commission as part of Measure T.
The Yes on T committee claimed that the two parcels had been removed from the ordinance while No on T said the parcels were still eligible for MUP designation and that approval by the voters would make it more difficult to protect the park’s open space views. The close vote was decided by provisional ballots counted two weeks after the election.
The heights survey, conducted by Steve Price (dba Urban Advantage) and surveyor Chris Bailey (Bates and Bailey), shows four heights: 45′ (the current zoning), 55′, 60′, and 75′ (the proposed MUP limit) from three viewpoints: the west side of the Park at lagoon level near the first picnic area, the overlook on the east side of the pedestrian bridge, and the brickyard at the approximate location of a proposed visitors’ center. The viewpoints are shown on slide 3 by three white arrows. Slide 4 magnifies the north end of Aquatic Park; the Plexxikon parking lot is on the bottom right.
The surveyors used a setback of 50′ from Bolivar Drive at the suggestion of CESP rather than no setback, which is the current MULI zoning, since it is believed that larger buildings closer to the park would not be approved. The existing Plexxikon building (91 Bolivar Drive) is 15′ in height and set back approximately 85′ while buildings on the Goldin site are 15′ and 20′ in height and variously setback.
Slides 5 & 6 show Bailey and his assistant at work surveying the site; slide 8 is the first composite showing the four heights from the shore. The bifurcation of the lines marking the heights reflects the difference of the ground level on the Jones site between the Plexxikon parking lot and the American soils lot, which on a rise of 18′.
The curvature of the lines in all the depictions accounts for perspective from the viewpoints. Slides 9 through 12 show the four heights from the shore individually. Slides 13 through 17 show the heights from the pedestrian bridge, first as a composite and then individually while slides 18 through 22 show the same heights from west of the freeway (the brickyard).
The slides end with drawings of waterfront developments that feature multiple setbacks and heights, selected by Mr. Price and do not reflect the opinions or suggestions of any other person.
By April 8, 2013, the western world lost a grand dame, an iconic figure, a woman admired by millions while dismissed by others as just another lady in a bouffant hairdo. She came from a modest social background yet she made her way to the top, a woman who could perform winningly in what is arguably the most competitive arena of life. I am, of course, speaking of Annette Funicello, singer and Hollywood actress.
Oh wait, some readers may have assumed I was pumping for Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Great Britain, who also died on April 8, 2013. No, Thatcher and Funicello had nothing in common, save for the bouffant hairdo and date of death.
Annette Funicello was a child star in the late 1950s, one of the Mouseketeers, complete with enormous Mickey Mouse ears, appearing on Walt Disney's "Mickey Mouse Club." As a teenager, she turned out hit tunes and captivated adolescent hearts in Beach Blanket movies.
How many hearts did Thatcher captivate in her teenage years? Did she even have teenage years? Or did she not vault directly from early childhood into late adulthood? In any case, she was no day at the beach.
The most memorable moment Thatcher ever provided for me was her adulatory spiel to the blood-drenched Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, as the two of them sat in a cozy room in Britain. Pinochet was resisting deportation to Spain to stand trial as a war criminal. He was rescued from justice by Prime Minister Tony Blair who regularly sucked up to reactionary war mongers especially those "friendly to the West."
Without stint Thatcher poured out her gratitude and admiration to a smiling Pinochet for "saving Chile from the communists," and restoring peace, liberty, and stability. She made no mention of the many thousands of Chileans whom Pinochet imprisoned, tortured, executed, or drove into exile. On that visit to Pinochet, Thatcher was wearing her fascism right under her makeup.
Would Annette Funicello ever kiss a dictator's butt the way Thatcher did? I think not. During her stardom, Annette described herself as “the queen of teen,” and millions of fans close to her age agreed. As one critic put it, "Young audiences appreciated her sweet, forthright appeal, and parents saw her as the perfect daughter." Here was the girl you might take home to meet and marry your son. Would you say the same about Lady Thatcher? Only if you really hated your kid.
Thatcher served for eleven years as Prime Minister, waging war upon the Irish, the Argentines, and the social democracy that existed in Britain. Be it health care, education, mining, transportation, housing, utilities or other public industries---many were privatized, deregulated, or cutback while customer rates and costs sharply increased. Corporate salaries rose to obscene heights while wages remained flat or declined. Labor unions were broken. Under Thatcher's reign, the free market was king, producing ever greater profits and lower taxes for the superrich and ever greater hardship for the populace. A poll tax was imposed upon those who still wished to vote, an equal sum to be paid by both the dustman and the duke.
Someone once said that Margaret Thatcher satisfied the average Englishman's longing for the perfect dominatrix. No doubt about it, she could deliver pain. The Iron Lady should best be remembered as the Leather Lady. Indeed, today Thatcherism leaves its dreary imprint not only on the Conservative Party but---thanks also to Tony Blair---on a Labor Party that accepts most of her regressive policies.
During her reign, Thatcher also pursued her "school-girl political crush for President Reagan" as one Labor MP pronounced during a parliamentary debate. Indeed, she and Reagan adored each other, politically speaking. With hands joined, as it were, they created in their respective countries more wealth for the few and more poverty for the many. They served as a free-market inspiration to one another as they advanced back into the dark ages.
President Barack Obama, who loves to grovel before rightwing leaders (note his adoring depiction of Reagan as a "transformative" president), issued a cloying statement following Thatcher's death: "With the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend. . . . Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history—we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will. " Obama invites nausea.
If only for a brief moment, let us get back to our girl Annette Funicello, the only laudable personage in this sorry parade. While Thatcher was cutting health services, Annette was championing the campaign against multiple sclerosis, a disease she herself grappled with for more than 25 years, until death took her at age 70.
Speaking of disease: long after they left office, both Reagan and Thatcher were inundated with honors; their material lives groaned with abundance. But their respective mental lives ended in dismal poverty, that is, in dementia. Their brains had turned to porridge.
There must be many reasons why people suffer dementia. But in regard to Reagan and Thatcher, I suspect it was a self-generated condition. When one tirelessly confects so many fictional representations and twisty untruths---all in the cause of callous plunder and greater social inequality---it must put an inordinate strain on one's brain.
Meanwhile the anti-Thatcher theme song, "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" now enjoys a massive revival in Britain and retains a top slot on the charts. The people are dancing in the streets.
All I can say is "May she rest in peace." (I'm talking about Annette.)
Michael Parenti's most recent book is The Face of Imperialism. Soon to be published is his childhood memoir Waiting for Yesterday: Pages from a Street Kid's Life.
When Banksy's stenciled art first appeared in North Beach, grumpy SF officials ordered the "unauthorized" art removed. The destruction was halted when local residents pointed out that Banksy was an international artist of considerable fame (See Banksy's movie "Please Exit Through the Gift Shop"). Besides, they really liked the cheeky new images on their crusty old walls.
But when a Banksy-style winged soldier appeared on one wall of the Alin Building parking lot, its days were numbered. (See "Banksy in Berkeley?" The Berkeley Daily Planet, June 20, 2010. http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2010-06-22/article/35656?headline=Banksy-in-Berkeley---By-Gar-Smith)
Unaware of Banksy's fame, the building owners quickly tossed a coat of paint over the haunting image. (In other cities, Banksy's art has actually been removed intact by chisel-wielding art-thieves who then sold the painted part of stolen wall for beaucoup bucks.)
The white cloak that blanked out Banksy's art eventually served as a canvas for this new art scrawl. I still haven't learned to "read scrawl," so the message remains a mystery. (Why the message was signed "Smith Anal," I've no idea.)
In time, that scroll vanished under a new tide of white cover-up.
But in mid-March, a new patch of graffiti burst forth on the Alin lot's western wall. It was an RIP memorial to a local celebrity known as "Big Bad."
BigBad's tribute was short-lived. It lasted barely two weeks before the building owners grabbed a bucket of paint and dabbed BigBad's parting salute into oblivion.
Some graffiti lasts longer than others – typically because its artistic merit engenders communal respect. That may explain the long tenure of the stark black-and-white image on the corner wall at Black and White Liquors (Shattuck near Ashby).
The image appeared several years ago, about the time Banksy was painting the town. But was this a Banksy original? Not according to the art-hip manager of Black and White who pointed to the message on the sign clutched by the rodent and noted: "Banksy don't use no felt-tip pens!"
Parking lots are a tantalizing target for urban taggers. The setting offers the combined attraction of a drive-in movie and an al fresco art gallery. The parking lot at the Alin Building (northeast corner of Shattuck and Dwight Way) has seen its share of graffiti sprout up, only to be washed away by incoming tides of white-out. In the unceasing ebb-and-flow, some rare moments can arise. Like the time in June 2010, when the British artist Banksy visited the Bay Area and left a sample on the Alin wall.
I believe it was Dorothy Parker who once famously stated: "Men seldom make passes At girls who wear glasses."
Does this explain why I'm still an old maid of a certain age, or, as my dear mother delicately put it, "a maiden lady?"
As one who enjoys a brisk morning walk along Dana and Telegraph Avenue, I try always to wear glasses and carry a folding cane. But yesterday I stubbed my toe on a crack in the sidewalk, and would have landed forward on my kisser, were it not for a Good Samaritan (and a strong one) who grabbed my elbow and sparred me a nasty fall.
So I praise the dear lord for giving us glasses (which, of course, we constantly lose).
This week we were sorry to learn that a key downtown Berkeley retailer is going out of business. We got the bad news in a press release:
“Primarily because of diminishing support from its largest and oldest customer, UC Berkeley, ALKO owner Gary Shows has decided to close the business. ALKO has served Berkeley and the East Bay in its current business entity since 1964, Shows has been with ALKO since 1972. ALKO employs four full time and four part time staff.”
Alko was one of the Berkeley Daily Planet’s largest and oldest advertisers, and we returned the favor when we were in print and had an office by purchasing our supplies there, but of course our business with the office supply store was nothing compared to U.C.’s.
“ Lately we’ve been hearing from City Hall that when the council settled the city’s lawsuit against the university last May, it got UC to agree to buy more goods and services from Berkeley businesses.
'If only it were so. What the university administration actually promised was to “develop and implement within a reasonable time a local-purchasing program for prioritizing the purchase of goods and services in Berkeley”—and here’s the catch—“to the extent permissible under existing law and UC practices” (settlement agreement, Sections V.B. and D). In fact, recent changes in the university’s procurement practices and policies mean that Berkeley vendors will be selling fewer goods and services to the campus.
'The new reality began to dawn on one long-time independent Berkeley businessman and UC supplier this fall. In September, Gary Shows, the owner of the Alko office supply store in downtown Berkeley, sent UCB Associate Vice Chancellor Ron Coley a letter wondering why the campus’s Strategic Sourcing Program had “been actively encouraging and in some cases insisting that UCB Departments (our customers) buy supplies from OfficeMax instead of us” [emphasis in original]. Alko had been provisioning UCB for almost a century. But in the new program, the store’s “services apparently were not even considered. In my 35 years with ALKO,” Shows wrote, “I have never seen a single vendor so singularly supported the way [OfficeMax] is. I cannot believe that this policy reflects the will of the Regents of the University of California.”
There were various iterations of this discussion in the eight intervening years—the city of Berkeley also shifted its business to out of town chains in 2006 (Office Depot Beats Out Local Vendors for City Contract, by Suzanne La Barre). In those years the Buy Local concept got a lot of lip service around the country as well as in Berkeley, but the market share of local suppliers in most places continued to erode.
In 2007 the Staples chain moved into a downtown building with a big parking lot. Alko was game to compete, according to a Planet story by Judith Scherr. But the company’s best efforts didn’t pan out.
Last July Gary Shows announced that the store would be closed, but the business would remain open. Now it’s turned out that even without a storefront to support it seems to be impossible for a local business to compete against the chains for the big contracts. Shows says that “Elmwood Stationers on College Avenue in Berkeley will be taking over many of ALKO’s services.”
Local residents have lost many independent businesses in the last couple of decades. When we moved to Elmwood College Avenue had not only a stationery store, but a hardware store, a variety store, two pharmacies and a shoe repair, now all gone, replaced by boutiques, tchotchke vendors and fly-by-night restaurants. Then we could walk to do most of our errands, but now most often we have to drive instead.
What’s to become of Alko’s building? According to the press release:
“The building housing ALKO office supply has been sold. It is noteworthy that the 1908 building until now has always housed an office supply retailer. It will be exciting to see what the new owner of the beautiful old building has in mind.”
I don’t know what kind of protection for the building itself is in place, but I fear it could be torn down to be replaced by yet another rabbit warren marketed to gullible students or by luxury condos for San Francisco BART commuters with unlimited incomes.
It’s noteworthy that at no time in his company’s long struggle to survive did Gary Shows join the chorus of inept downtown businesses which have tried to blame the city’s homeless street population for woes actually caused by the larger economic picture. In fact, Alko was one of the businesses which endorsed the successful “Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down” campaign against the Downtown Business Association’s November anti-sitting ballot measure.
This is no surprise: the business owner has always had plenty of backbone. When he was threatened by a fanatic participating in the long-running hate campaign against the Planet, he told us about it but didn’t cancel his ads.
What’s next? You still have a couple of weeks to do some honest business with an honest businessman of the old school:“To clear merchandise out of the building a clearance sale will begin on April 8th and continue through the month with increasing discounts. The public is invited to participate in the sale. ALKO will continue commercial delivery service through April 30th.”
Drop by if you’re downtown to tell the folks at Alko that some of us in Berkeley appreciate everything they’ve done for us all these years. The address is 2225 Shattuck.
For early birds who've been eagerly checking for the "next issue", this one has been slow to post. Several articles are still waiting for photos to be processed, but I'm releasing this as the current issue anyhow. The new editorial is even slower to appear, so the old one will be left in place until it is replaced.
As the news media reported, President Obama proposed in Nov. 2012 to cut the Social Security payroll tax in half, from 6.2 percent to 3.1 percent. It would have decimated the program and accomplished what I believe is the political agenda behind this proposal -- the attempt to force recipients to rely more heavily on the private insurance companies.
About the route to privatization, the plan is always to both weaken and discredit public programs that benefit mainly the vast majority of people. Take for example what is happening to the Post Office (USPS) to the business advantage of USPS and Federal Express. Congress passed a law that mandates a financial burden on USPS which is not required of any other public agency. USPS must pay more than $5 billion a year to assure health benefits to retirees for the next seventy five years. This outrageous requirement even covers future employees who haven't yet been born! Other steps have also been taken to assure that USPS operates at a loss.
The mass media has accommodated business interests by persistently claiming that unavoidable economic factors instead account for its deficit. As a result, many people I meet are convinced that the USPS is running a deficit because of a decline in business, and therefore retrenchment is justified. Post offices are being closed throughout the country, and the direct and indirect inconveniences and problems that these closures are causing will encourage more members of the public to turn to UPS and Federal Express.
With regard to Social Security, which is in excellent shape financially, we should nevertheless not be surprised about President Obama's proposal in his 2014 Budget to change the cost of living index so that seniors would receive much smaller annual increases. Recall his comment in the 2012 presidential debate with Romney --"I suspect that on Social Security, we've got a somewhat similar position." Obama's proposed reduction is sizeable. The average earner when retiring would lose $658 each year until they reach age 75 and a cut well over $1,000 annually by age 85.
Moreover, Obama's proposed cost of living adjustment would be only the beginning. Other assaults on Social Security benefits will certainly follow. Also hurt are veterans and persons with disability, many of whom receive financial assistance from Social Security. To make matters worse, the federal government has been uninterested in repaying the Social Security Fund the money it had borrowed for other purposes. According to the Wall Street Journal, Social Security's "growing obligations will pressure the government to repay money it borrowed from the program to cover other costs". (WSJ, 4-11-13) As a result of the difficulties that recipients could experience, many of them will resort to expanding their protection via the private insurance industry.
Also, consider Medicare, where most senior citizens purchase supplementary insurance from the private sector because Medicare is so structured that seniors must pay 20 percent of their medical expenses in addition to co-payments. These costs are in addition to their premiums, which for medical insurance (Part B) exceeds $100 per month. To make matters worse, Obama's proposal to appreciably increase deductibles for Medicare will impose an intolerable, life threatening burden on retirees Again, the private sector will be ready and willing to rescue these recipients, but of course, at a considerable and even an unaffordable price.
I have a question for organized labor, senior citizen and veteran organizations: why aren't you organizing massive street protests to prevent your constituencies and the public at large from experiencing a severe decline in their standard of living and quality of life?
Coming the day after the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the new unemployment numbers show that unemployment is still high - and remains much higher for African Americans.
One thing hasn't changed in the last half century: if you're a person of color, you're more likely to be unemployed. Even though the black unemployment rate fell by .05% this month, it still sits at nearly 13.3%, nearly double the overall rate.
This gap in employment has led to an economic divide between the richest and the poorest in America that is about as bad as in the divide in Rwanda and Serbia. The top 20% of Americans earn 50.2% of income, while the bottom 20% earns just 3.3%.Yet Congress continues to do nothing to directly address unemployment.
This is a dangerous trend. Recent studies - including one by the International Monetary Fund - show that countries with higher levels of economic inequality have slower growth rates, and that "economic inclusion corresponds with robust economic growth". Urban economies affect the prosperity of the entire surrounding region, and ultimately the country as a whole.
As our country grows more diverse, we must also acknowledge that economic inequality is closely tied to race, due to decades of past and ongoing discrimination. And this inequality undermines the racial progress that we have achieved.
As Dr. King asked in 1968, "What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?"
In the last year of Dr. King's life, he was organizing the Poor People's Campaign. He endorsed the Freedom Budget, a document that called for massive investments in public works and infrastructure, job training and education programs, and a higher minimum wage. The Budget insisted that smart investments in our most vulnerable citizens will spur economic growth.
Unfortunately, this plan never moved forward. But its message proved prophetic, and Dr. King's economic agenda is still relevant today. A strong and sustainable economic recovery requires an economic climate in which all Americans - regardless of race or class - can expect hard work to be rewarded with a steady job. This is not a partisan issue - it is an American issue. And Congress needs to act now.
Earlier this year the National Black Leaders Coalition came up with solutions for fixing the current unemployment crisis. They included implementing important parts of the American Jobs Act to revitalize urban areas; funding the Urban Jobs Act to create youth jobs programs; and increasing the minimum wage. These policies echoed King's recommendations 45 years earlier.
In 1962 Dr. King said, "There are three major social evils in our world today: the evil of war, the evil of economic justice, and the evil of racial injustice."
Fifty years later, need to recognize that inaction is not a policy option; it has been tried; and it hasn't worked. Let's try something new. Let's recommit ourselves to Dr. King's economic principles and advance an economic agenda that bridges our nation's divides and fosters an economic recovery in which all can benefit.
Benjamin Todd Jealous is President and CEO of the NAACP
Proposition 13, passed in 1978, has not only deprived California of billions of dollars of revenue for schools, public safety, infrastructure, and a host of other necessities but also shifted the burden of property tax from commercial owners to homeowners.
Before Prop 13, each group paid about half of the total. Now homeowners pay about two-thirds and businesses about one-third.
Why? Because (1) property is reassessed only when it is sold, and homes change hands more often than commercial property, and (2) corporations got "change of ownership" defined to mean that one buyer takes at least 50% ownership, and big business has deliberately structured sales to go to subsidiaries and divisions so that no one entity owns 50%. That means they keep the old assessment, even though the sale price is enormously higher.
Want to change this loophole and re-fund state services?
I'm asking the legislature to put an amendment on the ballot stating that commercial property shall be reassessed periodically.
We, the people, don't have $4 million to mount an initiative petition, but the legislature can put an amendment on the ballot with a two-thirds majority in each house, which the Democrats will have this year (once vacancies are filled--unless the Dems blow the special elections). We need to pressure them to act.
If we fix this loophole, state revenue may increase by $4 billion to $12 billion a year.
Homeowners' property taxes will not be raised by this reform.
State Senator Leland Yee has introduced Senate Bill 66 , which if passed, would remove a number of burdensome requirements in Laura's Law, an assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) program passed by the California Legislature in 1999 and recently extended to December 31, 2017.
For the uninitiated, an AOT program allows court-ordered, intensive outpatient treatment for people with severe mental illnesses who refuse medication because their illness impairs their ability to make rational decisions. Laura's Law provides for a 180 day period of intensive treatment under the supervision of the court. While we as a society must safeguard the civil rights of the unfortunate, we also have an obligation to care for those who are unable to care for themselves. Laura's Law provides safeguards to protect the civil rights of those being considered for the AOT program.
Currently AOT can only be used if a county’s board of supervisors enacts a resolution to implement and independently fund a discrete Laura’s Law program. SB 664 eliminates this requirement. SB 664 would give the county Department of Public Health complete discretion over whether or not to initiate an AOT program.
SB 664 also authorizes a county to limit the number of persons to whom it provides AOT. This would allow a county to provide AOT services only to the extent its resources permit.
Proposition 63 passed in 2004, established a one percent tax on personal income above $1 million to fund expanded health services for mentally ill children, adults, and seniors. SB 664 makes it clear that Proposition 63 funds can be used to support a Laura's Law program.
Only Nevada County has implemented Laura's Law. While Los Angeles County chose a small AOT pilot project. Perhaps with the passage of SB 664 the other 56 counties will implement Laura's Law.
I oppose the implementation of Laura's Law because I believe this law would have unintended bad consequences for persons with mental illness. It could usher in an entirely new time of abuses and restrictions on us, and might reverse progress toward mandated humane treatment by mental health practitioners. This is progress that was fought for over a period of decades.
I am very concerned over how the provisions of this law would play out in practice. And I believe it would create an atmosphere of fearfulness and suppression among our population.
In a recent issue of the Berkeley Daily Planet, a video was shown of a mentally ill man being hogtied by Berkeley Police, who also put a hood over the young man's head. This resembles the deplorable treatment to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Prison. Do we really want police to have the authority to act as psychiatrists? I believe Laura's Law might bring more of this.
Laura's Law was written with the intent of protecting the general public from persons with mental illness. It was not created for the good of the people being treated.
I was able to get over my acute illness because I learned for myself that I need treatment. Forcing medication on people on an outpatient basis could take away this empowerment. The law assumes that no one with a mental illness is able to get off of medication. Although I wasn't able to successfully get off medication, there may be others who are misdiagnosed and who could stop their medication.
However, the real issue is force. No one wants to be forced to do something, including when it is hypothetically good for them. Forcing medication on mentally ill people, employing physical force to do this, is a violation of basic human rights. And it doesn't feel good, either.
The tax money that Laura's Law advocates would like to divert was originally intended to fund programs that enrich the lives of persons with mental illness. Some of these programs are supposed to be implemented by mental health consumers. Physically restraining someone and shooting their butt with Haldol does not qualify as enrichment.
As you know, next Monday, April 15 is Tax Day. And next Monday is also when our Tax the Rich group will be rallying. Please, please join us for this very special Monday. Our emphasis will be on the highly inequitable taxes that the rich and the rest of us pay. That inequity help explains the problem of funding social and economic programs that improve our quality of life.
We play an important role informing people of what is happening and also what they can do about it. People are surprised, for example, when they learn that 30 major corporations paid no federal income taxes for the last three years. Nor do they realize that a family head who is earning about $50,000 annually is paying a higher tax rate than his or her wealthy counterpart. Also, most people have no idea how to contact their elected legislators.
As usual, we meet from 5-6pm near the top of Solano. By demonstrating in the streets, where both pedestrians, drivers and their passengers are continually passing by, we are reaching many people who we normally don't come in contact with. Our signs and our leaflets are informative. And many passerby's stop to talk with us.
So even if you cannot afford a full hour, please come for a shorter while. We don't grade you for coming later and leaving earlier! Also, encourage your friends and others who are concerned to join us. If you have an email list, please forward this message.
"Why can't you be more like your brother?" "Why don't you get off your rear-end and get a job?" These are the well-worn lines that have become a cliché of a judgmental parent. We are taught that we must earn our keep, or be considered an invalid person.
Taking criticism can be a challenge. When it is well-intentioned and carried in at least a somewhat gentle manner, it is easier to digest.
Two years prior to my first psychotic episode, when I was a teen, someone who had at one point been a friend confronted me because she thought I needed to realize that I was "messed up." The warning from this person was carried in the manner of a vicious verbal attack. At the time, it did more to send me farther over the edge.
My father was judgmental when I would lose jobs, and he would say I lacked enough "fortitude." (He a nd I both didn't realize the extent to which my illness made everything harder. My problems aren't apparent to an outside observer.)
When criticism stops being constructive and enters the zone of telling someone they are a bad person, it only compounds a problem.
Along these lines there is also weight-ism. Our society punishes people, especially women, who do not have the skinny body type. This is a source of a great deal of unnecessary self-punishment.
Excess weight may be a health risk, but it does not mean that people deserve the bad treatment that gets put on them. People are okay and deserving of love at any weight. How many movies have you seen with a leading lady who isn't picture-perfect skinny? None? Bigger actresses are relegated to doing only comedic roles.
The message of Hollywood, and all of the hundreds of television commercials, is that if you're not thin, you're nobody. I use the term "nobody" because in all TV commercials and ninety percent of movies, bigger women aren't even shown.
Additionally, movies and television idealize men with muscles and flat abdomens, causing normal looking men to think something is wrong with them.
People are judged for having a mental illness and for being unable to earn money. Depression, Bipolar, and Schizophrenia are real medical illnesses that can interfere with holding a job. If we can work, some or all of the time, we should be supported and helped at that. And if we can't work, if work is unbearable or impossible for us, it should be fine.
Before I met my wife, when I wanted to socialize with potential partners who weren't disabled, my psychiatric condition and not being able to work full-time was an instant disqualifier. In the singles scene, (at least back in the 1980's and 1990's) a man's job and his money defined him. As a man with mental illness who usually could not work, I was judged "not good enough" to be in a relationship.
We are often our own worst tormentors, especially when we think we can't appreciate ourselves exactly as we are in the present.
I am talking about a habit of comparing ourselves to something that may or may not be realistic, yet a standard that we have not reached, and unnecessarily berating ourselves as a result. When we learn to accept ourselves as we are, it can be a big relief.
When someone we care about or who we respect doesn't believe we're "good enough" it can be painful. When we ourselves don't believe we're "good enough" it really hurts.
The conclusion is that we ought to be easier on ourselves, criticize ourselves a little less, and appreciate ourselves for the things we have already achieved.
The UN General Assembly designated January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former Nazi death camp in Poland—as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This annual day of commemoration to honor the victims of the Nazi era and to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides. This year’s theme is Rescue during the Holocaust: The Courage to Care.
On April 8, thousands of youths from Israel and other countries marched in silence on at Auschwitz-Birkenau to pay homage to 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust.
And in mid-May begins the March of Remembrance and Hope, a program designed for university and college students of all religions and backgrounds. The program includes a two-day trip to Germany, followed by a five day visit to Poland.
Two years ago, my wife and I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oswiecim, renamed Auschwitz when the town and the surrounding area were incorporated within the Third Reich.
We had seen newsreels of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps at the end of WW II and a number of movies depicting the horrors of the Holocaust. However, newsreels and movies did not really prepare us for an actual visit to the site of the largest mass murder in history. As many as 1.5 million were murdered at Auschwitz, mainly Polish Jews, but also Soviet prisoners-of-war, Gypsies, Czechs, Yugoslavs, French, Austrians, and Germans.
First a little background on the beginnings of the Holocaust. In January 1942, a conference was held in the Berlin suburb of Wannesee, chaired by Reinhard Heydrich, acting under the orders of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, to devise a solution to the “Jewish Question.” The result of the conference was Nazi Germany's plan and execution of the systematic murder of European Jews. Heinrich Himmler was the chief architect of the plan, and Adolf Hitler termed it "the final solution of the Jewish question." A surviving copy of the minutes of this meeting was found by the Allies in 1947, too late to serve as evidence during the first Nuremberg Trials. I recommend Conspiracy, a dramatic recreation of the Wannsee Conference, in which actor Kenneth Branaugh played Reinhard Heydrich.
In 1940, the SS set up a concentration camp at KL Auschwitz because of overcrowding of the existing prisons in Silesia and because further arrests were anticipated in Silesia and the rest of German-occupied Poland. Why Oswiecim? Because there already existed an abandoned pre-war Polish barracks in the town and the town was an important railway junction.
The camp had 28 buildings housing between 13-16,000 people, reaching 20,000 in 1942.. In 1941, a second camp was built called KL Auschwitz II-Birkenau in the village of Brzezinka about 3 kilometers away. In 1942, KL Auschwitz-III was built iin Monowice near the German chemical plant IG-Farbenindustrie. And in the years 1942-1944 about 40 smaller camps were built in the vicinity of steelworks, mines, and factories, where prisoners were exploited as cheap labour.
KL Auschwitz I and KL Auschwitz II-Birkennau are now maintained as museums open to the public. The Museums include some barracks, the main entrance gates to the camps, sentry watch towers, barbed wire fences, the remnants of four crematoria, gas chambers, and cremation pits and pyres, and the special unloading platform where the deportees were selected to be exterminated or used as slave slave labor.
Those deemed unfit for labor, including women and children were told they would be allowed to bathe. They undressed in the “shower” room. The doors were locked and Cyclon B was poured from special openings in the ceiling. After gold teeth fillings, rings, other jewelry, and all hair had been removed, the bodies were taken to the incinerators. The human hair was used by tailors for lining for clothes. A room full of human hair and some of the prisoners’ belongings are on display at Auschwitz. The human ashes were used as fertilizer.
SS physicians conducted experiments of prisoners. Professor C. Clausberg tested women in an attempt to develop sterilization techniques to creat an efficient method for eliminating tfuture ”inferior” persons. Dr. Joseph Mengele experimented on twins and handicapped people. Prisoners were also used as unwilling subjects to test new medical or chemical substances. Toxic substances were rubbed into the skin and painful skin transplants were performed. Hundreds of prisoners died during the experiments or suffered severe physical damage or became permanently disabled. Despite ethical qualms, some of the Nazi research data was used by the Allies and others after the war.
Above the main gate at Auschwitz where the prisoners passed each day after working 12 hours, was the cynical sign “Arbeit mach frei” (Work brings freedom). Most of the prisoners believed that they were being resettled. That’s why they often brought their most valuable possessions with them. In a small square by the kitchen, the camp orchestra made up of prisoners would play marches, mustering the thousands of prisoners so that they could be counted more efficiently by the SS.
SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) Rudolf Höss was the first commandant of Auschwitz. He was hanged in 1947 following his trial at Warsaw. While awaiting execution Höss wrote his autobiography Death Dealer: the Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz. His memoirs became an important document attesting to the Holocaust.
Höss wrote: “I am completely normal. Even while I was carrying out the task of extermination I led a normal family life and so on.” The commandant’s living quarters were a scant 150 yards away from the barbed wire enclosed concentration camp. We envision Höss, his wife Hedwig and their four children living a “normal” life a short distance from where over a million prisoners were being overworked, starved, and murdered. Just imagine Höss having dinner with his family after a tiring day of supervising the murder of prisoners. We wonder if they celebrated Christmas with a decorated tree and listened to Christmas music.
There has been much written about the banality of evil in connection with those involved in the Holocaust. Hannah Arendt, in a report in The New Yorker, covered the Otto Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. She wrote, "The deeds were monstrous, but the doer ... was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous." She further observed, ". . . the only specific characteristic one could detect in his [Eishmann’s] past as well as in his behavior during the trial and the preceding police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think."
On January 27, 1945, the Soviet army entered Auschwitz and liberated more than 7,000 remaining prisoners, who were mostly ill and dying. Poland then traded German occupation for Soviet occupation until 1989. when the independent Republic of Poland was formed.
As non-Jews, we found our visit to Auschwitz sobering. We cannot imagine what a visit must be for a Jew, especially one who has lost family members at Auschwitz or at another concentration camp.
It is estimated that over 100 million people have been the victims of Genocide. As George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Perhaps, this year's commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkanau will help us “remember the past” so “never again” will have meaning. We are hopeful but not optimistic.
Why on Earth would a film from Brooklyn be crossing the country to screen in Oakland? Two good reasons: (1) Oakland used to be called Brooklyn (see below) and (2) this award-winning East-of-the Hudson documentary tells a story of Big Development versus Community Resistance than resonates with a local history of poor, established neighborhoods bulldozed into oblivion to make way for freeways, shopping malls and sport stadiums.
First: Here's the skinny on Brooklyn-by-the-Bay.
It was way back in 1856 that the East Bay settlements of San Antonio and Clinton first merged under the name "Brooklyn." The name was chosen in honor of the ship that delivered the first Mormon settlers to California. Beginning in 1870, the Central Pacific Railroad proudly offered a "San Francisco to Brooklyn" route. In 1872, the Bay Area's Brooklynites voted to approve annexation by Oakland. But old traditions die hard: it took nearly a decade before the railroad changed the name of the Brooklyn station to the "East Oakland" stop.
Meanwhile, in the 21st century Manhattan borough of Brooklyn, old traditions also die hard. In some cases, they refuse to give up the ghost at all – at least, not without a fight.
Michael Galinsky's and Suki Hawley's gritty doc, Battle of Brooklyn, follows the day-to-day struggle of Daniel Goldstein, a "reluctant activist" who is forced to defend his home, family and community from being eradicated to further the fortunes of the monied class. It's an all-too-familiar story (America's Cup anyone?). A cabal of movers-and-shakers hatch a plan to use the promise of a "major sporting event" to lay their cold, dead hands on a living landscape and turn neighborhoods upside down. In Brooklyn's case, the plan to build a "professional basketball stadium" served as a convenient pretext to replace vibrant neighborhoods with what has been called "the densest real estate development in American history."
The so-called Atlantic Yards project involved seizing 22 acres of Brooklyn and replacing hundreds of homes with a mammoth sports stadium and 16 skyscrappers to bear the name Barclays Center. (Yes, as in Barclays bank.) Standing in the way is Goldstein, who stubbornly refuses to leave his apartment. For more than seven years, Goldstien rallies the community to resist the developers (and their powerful political enablers) in the courts, the streets, and the media. In the process, he ripped the veil off the corrupt use abuse of eminent domain that allows the One Percent to stage mass-removals of the poor majority.
The New York Daily News' Michael O’Keeffe called the film "a riveting flick that shows how real estate developers use sports to seize other people’s property and enrich themselves with taxpayer subsidies; it is about how corporate interests enlist their allies in government to get what they want, even if that means lying to the public and screwing people who lack deep pockets and political connections."
At the official groundbreaking in September 2010, Mayor Bloomberg boomed a prediction: "No one's going remember how long it took. They're only gonna look and see that it was done." The filmmakers' response: "Battle for Brooklyn will ensure that, despite the Mayor's wishful thinking, people won't forget."
Battle for Brooklyn (an award-winning documentary that was the opening night film at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival) is set to screen at the San Francisco Film Festival in November but East Bay filmophiles can get an advanced look at a number of "insurgent" screenings that will be popping up around the Bay Area over the next few weeks. (See list below.)
Asked about this rare string of "grassroots screenings," local activist/promoter Michael Orange told The Planet that his Oakland-based Broaklyn Film & Theater Co. is an extension of Top Ten Social, an organization "with a mission to present stories common to historically ethnically rich communities like Brooklyn and like Oakland. Ultimately, we present the question -- Do land rights exist?"
Battle for Brooklyn is part of a larger series of related urban-angst docs. In addition to the New York prizewinner, Orange has added several related films to the package including Lemonade: Detroit, Flag Wars (a film on Columbus, Ohio) and The Fillmore.
The Broaklyn Film & Theater Co. mission statement reads: "Pushing the cultural, artistic &intellectual envelopes of urban expression." In a pre-screening conversation with The Planet, Orange expanded on the group's purpose: "Broaklyn Film & Theater Co. presents stories relevant to historically ethnically rich communities like Brooklyn and Oakland, particularly amidst heightened social displacement via gentrification and redevelopment. We are impassioned by a belief that through story, we may transcend traditional barriers such as geography, race, gender, sexuality and socioeconomic class."
Addressing specific issues in East Bay land use, Orange said: "It seems there's been little talk about the effects of the new residential developments on neighboring communities outside the immediate radius of downtown and the celebrated Uptown." But the impacts are already apparent. "Rents have skyrocketed on the opposite side of Lake Merritt by roughly $300 for starters, I'm told."
Assessing Oakland's popular First Fridays, "another celebrated Oakland phenomenon," Orange wonders if the experiment's hyped success is broadly shared. "With no Economic Impact study completed to date," he points out, "who exactly is benefiting from the arts movement and where is the revenue going? As advocates for the inclusion of all communities in this economic development, we're saying there's nothing wrong with progress -- just as long as it doesn't impede anyone else's."
BATTLE FOR BROOKLYN: Oakland Premiere
Tuesday, April 16, 2013 (7:00 p.m.)
Saturday, April 20, 2013 (4:45 p.m.)
Followed by guest speaker panel with Director Michael Galinsky.
Robert Redford returns to the screen as actor/director for the first time since his 2007 anti-Afghan war film, Lions for Lambs. Based on a book by Neil Gordon, The Company You Keep takes the premise of "The Fugitive" and gives it a Weather Underground spin. The cast is not just stellar: it is downright A-List cosmic. The dialog crackles and the directing is sure-footed and fast-paced, but I had some reservations. So, do yourself a favor: See and enjoy this film first. And only then, read the rest of this review.
A Mixed Review
It's worth noting that several movie critics at the SF screening of The Company You Keep chuckled appreciatively throughout the screening and the film won a rare round of applause as it ended. The post-screening consensus was that Redford had delivered an excellent and entertaining film -- "much better than Lions for lambs," as one critic noted. But I had some qualms.
Things got off on the wrong track when I made a mistake I'll never repeat: I began reading the press handout before the film started. In these preview sheets, Redford recalls the anti-war protest of the Sixties and confesses: "I sympathized with that at the time, but I didn't get involved."
But what really got me was Redford's comment that he was fascinated by the story of former radicals forced to live under assumed identities. "It wasn't so much about the antiwar movement," Redford reflected, "because that belongs to history."
WTF? Like Americans haven't been protesting a long string of Bush-Obama wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen (with intimations of new conflicts in Iran, Syria and North Korea)?
Maybe it was also the case of the topic sticking a little too close to home. The Company You Keep begins with an archival news clip of ABC News Anchor Frank Reynolds reporting on Weather Underground bombings in Oakland and Berkeley.
I'd been an anti-war activist, my phone was tapped, I was subject to an FBI "mail watch" and the nice lady who ran the post office in Bolinas turned out to be spying on me for the FBI. In addition, a former co-worker of mine was gunned-down during the LA Police Department's scorched-earth attack on a Symbionese Liberation Army "safe house" in 1974.
So, as the film began, I just wasn't prepared to fully suspend my disbelief. And this, admittedly, was unfair to the film.
A Jaundiced Viewing
When Redford, as Jim Grant -- a former-radical-in-hiding-turned-progressive-civil-rights-attorney -- first walks into his kitchen to greet his daughter and her nanny, I was already feeling peckish. His young daughter, Izzy, (played ably by pre-teen singing sensation Jackie Evancho) struck me as too-cute-by-half (and well aware of it). And when Grant's cellphone rings and he starts slapping his shirt and pants to locate it, I found myself noting super-critically that his shirt didn't have pockets.
Copping to the fact that I was not behaving as a fair-minded critic, I determined to cut the film some slack and soon found myself swept up in the surging storyline and shifting perspectives.
It's hard to resist the mouse-and-cat ballet that takes place between Jim Grant and the young Boston reporter Ben Shepard (played to prickly perfection by Shia LeBeouf). As LeBeouf put it in an interview, Ben Shepard is a "fame-whore." He's an unrelenting, go-for-broke reporter but the real story is "all about him."
Ben oozes distain for these former radicals who, in the course of their rebellion against the government, staged a bank robbery that resulted in the death of an innocent bystander. But even after Ben exposes Jim Grant as an imposter, he does grant that, though the fugitive may be a criminal, "he's still logical."
This Film's Line-up Is Hollywood Gold
The Company You Keep keeps some pretty amazing company. Susan Sarandon stars as Sharon Solarz, a former Weather Underground member whose decision to face up to her crimes sets the dramatic dominoes in motion. Along the way, the film features a wonderful array of character performances by Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte, Stanley Tucci, Brendon Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Sam Elliot and a punk-pixie-like Julie Christie. The film is (among other things) a wonderful appreciation of an aristocracy of aging actors -- boldly displayed in all their well-earned sags and wrinkles.
The younger cast members deserve full credit as well. LeBeouf immediately establishes himself as a known quantity -- self-absorbed, hollow and manipulative. And a sparkling Brit Marling proves more than equal to LeBeouf's bluster. (Marling's someone to watch. A former investment analyst with Goldman Sachs, Marling underwent a radical career-shift to emerge as a prolific actress/writer/producer. She premiered two films at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.)
Hot-head on the Trail
The Company You Keep suggests that, in order to be a good reporter, you need to be an absolute prick. Ben may be a pain-in-the-tuckus, but he knows his trade. He only needs to snap a photo of Grant's license plate to quickly establish that the paper trail supporting the attorney's identity abruptly vanishes somewhere in mid-1979. (A fact that somehow failed to stop Grant from becoming a successful public attorney.)
When Jim Grant concludes that Solarz's arrest means he will be next to fall, he hops a train to clear his name and the chase is on.
Somehow, throughout the film, Ben Shepard intuits nearly every step of Grant's journey (far better that the high-tech-equipped spies of the FBI, who follow in stumbling pursuit, always in Ben's wake).
Ben alone realizes that Grant is not on the run to avoid the law but to "clear his name." Why does Ben believe this? Because, he explains, if Grant had merely wished to escape, he would have taken his daughter along with him. (Yeah, sure. Like there's nothing about a 76-year-old man traveling with an 11-year-old daughter that would draw attention.)
Logic on the Lam
Logic takes another drubbing in a dramatic scene where Ben's editor (Stanley Tucci) berates him for a series of stories that exposed secret lives and held individuals up to public scorn. (Hold on, dude! You're the editor. You're the one who decided to publish those stories!)
And we're expected to believe that fugitive Grant could avoid a police sweep of a crowded AMTRAK car by hiding in a restroom. And that, having avoided detection, he opts to run from the train so he can hop a bus and travel to a university town or a small village on the other side of the US. And that he can then saunter into a classroom or a run-down bar and introduce himself to a pair of former politicos who have been hiding from their activist pasts and living under new identities for 30 years.
As filmgoers, however, it is easy to accept these excursions because Grant's former partners-in-revolution are played (deliciously) by Richard Jenkins and Nick Nolte.
Grant's overriding goal is to locate the mysterious Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), a former collaborator and lover. Grant stands accused of participating in the bank heist that claimed the life of an innocent civilian. In fact, Grant had decided to opt-out of the robbery and was not involved. Nonetheless, he was falsely accused of murder and now "only Mimi can clear my name."
Once again, logic bristles. Why couldn't other members of the revolutionary robbery brigade have cleared Grant's name years ago? Why didn't Mimi simply provide a notarized affidavit claiming that Grant had no part in the robbery-gone-wrong?
That said, Julie Christie is a treat as Mimi, the sea-going pot-smuggler. She is particularly strong in her refusal to apologize for her past radicalism. In a rare moment of cinematic trailblazing, her character defends violent revolution and explains that she would never turn herself in because such surrender would amount to a recognition of the power of a government whose moral legitimacy she has rejected. (Not that devoting your life to a career as a West Coast weed-runner is much of a revolutionary act.)
More Plot Twists and Twisted Logic
The story spins forward like a top, bouncing off one unlikely coincidence after another. (Did I mention the plot twist that introduces a surprise "love child" along the way?) And, in the progress, logic continues to take a bruising. In one scene, Grant is told that he only has 30 seconds to make a call before the FBI will be able to trace his location. And 20 minutes later, Grant insists on using a cellphone for an extended chat with his daughter. Naturally, this alerts the FBI to Grant's secret location in the wilds of northern Michigan.
And, wouldn't you know it, the first person to track Grant down in his wilderness retreat isn't the FBI but enterprising reporter Ben Shepard -- who beats an FBI chopper to the scene by a matter of minutes. Fortunately this leaves just enough time for the fugitive attorney to impart a long-winded but profound bit of advice before charging off into the woods:
"Secrets are dangerous things, Ben. We all think we want to know them. But if you've ever kept one yourself, then you understand to do so is not just knowing something about someone else, it's discovering something about yourself."
Will Ben make a selfless decision for once and hit the "delete" key on his latest scoop? Will Jim be exonerated and reunited with Izzy?
Yes, there will be a happy ending. Yes, it comes simply and without obvious struggle. It's what's known in the business as "a pat ending."
There is only one lingering secret. While it's no surprise that Redford's film has opened in SF at the Sundance Kabuki Cinema, why is this politically charged film not being screened in Berkeley or Oakland?