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Berkeley Police Warn Residents against "Grandparent" Fraud Scheme

Officer Byron White, Berkeley Police Operations Division Area Coordinator--Area 1
Tuesday April 23, 2013 - 04:38:00 PM

Since yesterday, the Berkeley Police Department has received at least two (2) complaints from elder residents about a man telephoning them—claiming to be a police officer with a Bay Area police agency. Both incidents occurred yesterday during the daytime hours to residents of the North Berkeley Hills. 

· In one of the incidents, the man claiming to be a police officer claimed he had a female detained who said she was the resident’s daughter (BPD #13-22091). 

· In the other incident, the man stated that he had arrested a female who had the identification and financial information for the resident (the man now asking questions about the resident’s financial information) BPD 13-21878. 

According to a recent article on the FBI’s website, the “Grandparent” scam has been around for a few years. But the scam and scam artists have become more sophisticated. Thanks to the Internet and social networking sites, a criminal can sometimes uncover personal information about their targets, which makes the impersonations more believable. For example, the actual grandson may mention on his social networking site that he’s a photographer who often travels to Mexico. When contacting the grandparents, the phony grandson will say he’s calling from Mexico, where someone stole his camera equipment and passport. 


· A grandparent receives a phone call (or sometimes an e-mail) from a “grandchild.” If it is a phone call, it’s often late at night or early in the morning when most people aren’t thinking that clearly. Usually, the person claims to be traveling in a foreign country and has gotten into a bad situation, like being arrested for drugs, getting in a car accident, or being mugged…and needs money wired ASAP. And the caller doesn’t want his or her parents told. 

· Sometimes, instead of the “grandchild” making the phone call, the criminal pretends to be an arresting police officer, a lawyer, a doctor at a hospital, or some other person. And we’ve also received complaints about the phony grandchild talking first and then handing the phone over to an accomplice…to further spin the fake tale. 

· We’ve also seen military families victimized: after perusing a soldier’s social networking site, a con artist will contact the soldier’s grandparents, sometimes claiming that a problem came up during military leave that requires money to address. 

· While it’s commonly called the “Grandparent” scam, criminals may also claim to be a family friend, a niece or nephew, or another family member. 


· Resist the pressure to act quickly. 

· Try to contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate. 

· Never wire money based on a request made over the phone or in an e-mail...especially overseas. Wiring money is like giving cash—once you send it, you can’t get it back. 

Press Release: Berkeley Board of Education Selects Finalist in Superintendent Search

From Mark Coplan, BUSD PIO
Friday April 19, 2013 - 11:34:00 AM
Dr. Donald Evans
Dr. Donald Evans

After conducting an extensive national search for a new Superintendent, the Board of Directors of Berkeley Unified School District have unanimously selected a finalist for the position, Dr. Donald Evans. Dr. Evans currently serves as the Superintendent of Hayward Unified School District. 

“After searching all over the country for a strong instructional leader who is the best fit for Berkeley, the Board believes we have found our next Superintendent right next door in Hayward,” said Board President Karen Hemphill. “Dr. Evans came highly recommended from multiple sources, and we were even more impressed once we had an opportunity to meet with him and hear what his vision and experience could bring to our community.” 

In early February the Board retained the services of Ray and Associates, Inc. to assist in the search for a new Superintendent. There were seventy applicants for the position. The Board reviewed the top candidates, selected semi-finalists for interviews in late March, and narrowed the field to finalists in early April. As part of the application and interview process, the consultants conducted a thorough and independent background check of each finalist. Now that Dr. Evans has been unanimously identified as a finalist, the Board will conduct an additional in-depth review through a site visit of his current district before considering a contract. 

“The Board has been quite pleased with the process, including the recruiting and careful vetting of candidates. Our consultants listened to the Board, to staff, and to the community and created a clear picture of who would constitute a top candidate for Berkeley,” said Board Member Judy Appel. “We believe we have found the best person to be the next Superintendent of Berkeley Unified.” 

“It is easy for me to fully embrace Berkeley’s vision because I completely believe in it,” said Dr. Evans. “Every day counts for all of our students as we prepare them for the skills they need to be competitive in a global economy. I am very passionate about equitable outcomes for all students.” 

If hired, Dr. Evans would be expected to begin work on July 1, 2013. 

* * * 

[Dr. Evans' Resume:] 

Dr. Donald Evans is currently the Superintendent of Hayward Unified School District, where he has focused on the three R’s of “rigor, responsibility and results.” He has also built strong relationships with community members and stakeholders throughout the city. These efforts helped lead to last year’s passage of Hayward’s Measure G parcel tax, which protects critical education programs (such as math, reading, writing, and science labs), enhances library services, funds technology and college preparation programs, and allows Hayward to better attract and retain qualified teachers. Dr. Evans has also worked with the community on the Hayward Promise Neighborhood Partnership, a collaboration with multiple local agencies to provide a continuum of cradle-through-college-to-career solutions that includes both academic services as well as family and community supports. 

Dr. Evans brings 26 years of experience as an educator. Prior to being hired by Hayward, Dr. Evans served as the Associate Superintendent of Secondary Education in Compton Unified School District. During Dr. Evans’ time in Compton, students made considerable academic gains – e.g., the middle schools saw an average increase of more than 11% in their CST scores in both Mathematics and English Language Arts after having stagnated for several years. Dr. Evans also brought in advanced high school courses and expanded the music program. In addition, his schools saw a reduction in truancy and in expulsion rates, as well as an increase in teacher retention and in proficiency rates for English learners. 

Prior to his tenure in Compton, Dr. Evans served as an Elementary School Area Superintendent in Oakland Unified School District. (The position of Area Superintendent is similar to the position of Assistant Superintendent in BUSD; the primary job of both positions is the supervision of principals.) During his tenure in OUSD, he spearheaded the District’s successful effort to implement all-day kindergarten. He also played an instrumental role in the professional development of elementary school administrators under his purview. 

Dr. Evans has also served as a principal at Burckhalter Elementary School in Oakland before becoming an Area Superintendent, and, prior to that, as the first principal of the East Palo Alto Charter School in the Ravenswood City School District. In his one year leading Burckhalter, the school made the highest gains in English Language Arts out of all Oakland elementary schools; by the end of his two years at East Palo Alto Charter School, the school was the highest performing school in Ravenswood. 

Dr. Evans began his teaching career in San Diego Unified School District in 1988 at Silver Gate Elementary School where he taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. During his 10-year tenure in San Diego he also served as a GATE teacher, a teacher coach, and a vice principal. 

Throughout his career, Dr. Evans has focused extensively on curriculum and professional development. In San Diego, for example, he created the GATE curriculum for his classes. More recently, Dr. Evans has led numerous trainings on the conversion to the Common Core State Standards, with a particular focus on providing professional development to support administrators in the transition. 

Dr. Evans earned his Doctorate in 2010 from the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, in association with the Leadership in Educational Equity Program. His dissertation topic was on “Understanding Why Principals Leave or Stay in Challenging Schools.” He received his Masters of Education from United States International University, and his Bachelors of Arts from University of Delaware. Dr. Evans is originally from Lewes, Delaware.

New UC Berkeley Police Chief Named

By Dan McMenamin (BCN)
Friday April 19, 2013 - 09:04:00 AM

University of California at Berkeley has a new police chief, campus officials announced Thursday. 

Margo Bennett, 59, a UC Berkeley police captain with more than 35 years of law enforcement experience, was named the new top cop in the department. 

Bennett had been serving as interim chief since Dec. 30 after former Chief Mitch Celaya retired, according to school officials. 

"I am honored to have been selected for this position," Bennett said in a statement. "We have a highly skilled and dedicated police force at UC Berkeley, and I am committed to moving us to a higher level." 

Bennett joined the department as a captain in 2002 after previously working for the FBI and as police chief of the Northern Virginia Community College Police Department. 

UC Berkeley police oversee the main campus, as well as other UC-owned properties such as Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University Village in Albany, according to school officials.

Graffitirazzi — Meet the Gang

By Gar Smith
Friday April 19, 2013 - 11:59:00 AM
Thanks to more than one well-informed Planet reader, a window has been opened to the colorful world of the Bay Area's graffiti artists. It turns out that "Mr. Watchful," the distinctive graffiti meme saluted in our March 30 column, is better known as "Smiley." He is the work of a prolific tagger known as "BROKE." This, and more revelations are available at a website known as Endless Canvas, a site devoted to local "road dogs" who go by the tags ANEMAL, ASK, AURA, BELLA CIAO, BRAG, BROKE, CEAVER, CERN, COPS, DAMSEL, DEADEYES, GATS, HIER, HINT, MEME, MIGUEL, NART, OLD CROW, REKN, STUEY, SWAMPY, TURNIP, VADER66 and YODER.
Gar Smith
Thanks to more than one well-informed Planet reader, a window has been opened to the colorful world of the Bay Area's graffiti artists. It turns out that "Mr. Watchful," the distinctive graffiti meme saluted in our March 30 column, is better known as "Smiley." He is the work of a prolific tagger known as "BROKE." This, and more revelations are available at a website known as Endless Canvas, a site devoted to local "road dogs" who go by the tags ANEMAL, ASK, AURA, BELLA CIAO, BRAG, BROKE, CEAVER, CERN, COPS, DAMSEL, DEADEYES, GATS, HIER, HINT, MEME, MIGUEL, NART, OLD CROW, REKN, STUEY, SWAMPY, TURNIP, VADER66 and YODER.
Endless Canvas ("Graffiti Culture, Bay Area Daily Vandalism" -- http://endlesscanvas.com/) salutes BROKE as an "artist [who] has put up thousands of hilarious stickers, posters and tags all over the bay, off and on, since the mid 90's." BROKE's Smiley character also stars in the comic book "More Beer, Less Work" (http://www.endlesscanvas.bigcartel.com/artist/broke-beer-is-good).
Gar Smith
Endless Canvas ("Graffiti Culture, Bay Area Daily Vandalism" -- http://endlesscanvas.com/) salutes BROKE as an "artist [who] has put up thousands of hilarious stickers, posters and tags all over the bay, off and on, since the mid 90's." BROKE's Smiley character also stars in the comic book "More Beer, Less Work" (http://www.endlesscanvas.bigcartel.com/artist/broke-beer-is-good).
              A Planet reader calls BROKE "Berkeley's most prolific graffiti vandal."  Requesting anonymity, our reader goes on to note that this wall-artist "tags most often as 'BROKE' or 'PTV' or 'BEER IS GOOD' or with 'beer can' or 'beer face' icons or variations on all these categories. He's into multimedia: much paint (black, white, red, blue, etc) in addition to the slaptags and wheat-pasted posters….  He's active … nearly every night."
Gar Smith
A Planet reader calls BROKE "Berkeley's most prolific graffiti vandal." Requesting anonymity, our reader goes on to note that this wall-artist "tags most often as 'BROKE' or 'PTV' or 'BEER IS GOOD' or with 'beer can' or 'beer face' icons or variations on all these categories. He's into multimedia: much paint (black, white, red, blue, etc) in addition to the slaptags and wheat-pasted posters…. He's active … nearly every night."
Here is some background (courtesy of Endless Canvas) on the two other local illuminaries featured in the March 30 Graffitirazzi column.
              "RAS TERMS was born and raised in Miami. As part of the BSK and FS crews, he was a pivotal figure in the Miami graffiti scene. TERMS is a gifted illustrator and painter who has provided many images for the Rastafarian community. Since his arrival in the Bay Area, he has established himself as a character graffiti artist and has lent his talents to serve the community."
Gar Smith
Here is some background (courtesy of Endless Canvas) on the two other local illuminaries featured in the March 30 Graffitirazzi column. "RAS TERMS was born and raised in Miami. As part of the BSK and FS crews, he was a pivotal figure in the Miami graffiti scene. TERMS is a gifted illustrator and painter who has provided many images for the Rastafarian community. Since his arrival in the Bay Area, he has established himself as a character graffiti artist and has lent his talents to serve the community."
                                                              	"GATS [Graffiti Against the System] is one of the West Coast’s most prolific and rampant graffiti artists. Their iconic characters litter the landscape from coast to coast and have been spotted in over half a dozen different countries around the world."                 <p>
                                                              	One of the many surprises provided by Endless Canvas is the discovery that taggers don't always work alone. They frequently contribute collectively to a single piece of comingled wall art. The following example (from an abandoned building on San Pablo Avenue) celebrates the work of three different taggers: SAYE, KEOH, and BUGES.</p>
Gar Smith


"GATS [Graffiti Against the System] is one of the West Coast’s most prolific and rampant graffiti artists. Their iconic characters litter the landscape from coast to coast and have been spotted in over half a dozen different countries around the world."


One of the many surprises provided by Endless Canvas is the discovery that taggers don't always work alone. They frequently contribute collectively to a single piece of comingled wall art. The following example (from an abandoned building on San Pablo Avenue) celebrates the work of three different taggers: SAYE, KEOH, and BUGES.

              And here (courtesy of Endless Canvas) is an Oakland wall mural combining the talents of BROKE and OLD CROW.
Gar Smith
And here (courtesy of Endless Canvas) is an Oakland wall mural combining the talents of BROKE and OLD CROW.
                                              If you want to buy a poster or T-shirt version of artwork by BROKE (or other local graffiti artists) you can find their work for sale on the Endless Canvas website. As far as walk-in shopping goes, one Planetarian offers: "The only physical location I know to get their art is First Friday."
Gar Smith
If you want to buy a poster or T-shirt version of artwork by BROKE (or other local graffiti artists) you can find their work for sale on the Endless Canvas website. As far as walk-in shopping goes, one Planetarian offers: "The only physical location I know to get their art is First Friday."

"A city without graffiti is like a field without flowers." -- Tulz1996

"It's not art or vandalism. It's art because it is vandalism." -- Josiah Rodgers 

A video by Voice of Art features both GATS and RAS TERMS. 



In an April 10, 2013 article on the legendary tagger Barry McGee (recently featured in a retrospective exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum), the San Francisco Chronicle identifies SF's Ratio 3 gallery as a graffiti-friendly art-space. In the East Bay, Oakland's Le Qui Vive gallery (1525 Webster Street) also occasionally displays the work of local street artists.



What Berkeley Can Learn From Maudelle Shirek

By Becky O'Malley
Friday April 19, 2013 - 10:09:00 AM

After all the trouble President Obama got into for calling Kamala Harris the nation’s most attractive attorney general (I haven’t seen all the competitors, but he might be right) I hesitate to say this, but Councilmember Maudelle Shirek was a beautiful woman, easily the most beautiful councilmember I’ve seen in all my years of going to city council meeting. 

Maudelle had the kind of beauty that exists regardless of age, sex or gender. She was well past 70 when I first met her: a commanding erect figure with a crown of white hair, always exquisitely dressed, with piercing brown eyes that didn’t miss anything. And when she cared about something (she cared a lot about some things) she was a beautiful speaker too. Polished phases, sentences, whole paragraphs rolled off her tongue as if she was reading from a scripted teleprompter, but it all came out of her head and her heart. 

Congressional Representative Barbara Lee and former Vice-Mayor Carole Kennerly have contributed their memories of working with her to this space, so I won’t reiterate what they said. They knew her better than I ever did, but the experience I had working with her in her eightieth decade was inspiring in its own way. 

Maudelle believed in people, but she also believed in seeing the big picture. I was her appointee to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and she strongly supported the idea of preserving Berkeley’s history for future generations. But although she had a strong aesthetic sense (evident in her elegant personal style) she cared about more than just pretty buildings. My predecessor as her LPC appointee was the late Bob Sparks, one of the first generation of People’s Park activists, who championed the legacy of public space for community use, and through him she supported the designation of the park as a city-recognized historic resource, an official landmark. 

Maudelle Shirek was 92 when she retired, the oldest elected public official in California. In her last years, even supporters sometimes suggested that she should step down. 

The current lackluster Berkeley City Council, several of whose members have lingered on the dais long past their pull dates, presents a strong argument for term limits. Most of them have been on the council for way too long, and in some cases they also had been aides to councilmembers before being elected in their own right. For most of her long tenure on the council, Maudelle was a counter-argument, a steadfast spokesperson for the less privileged members of our community whose principles never wavered, with a unique perspective. 

Right until her last day on council, she was capable of springing into action to deliver an impassioned speech on an important topic. But even Maudelle perhaps stayed a bit too long. In her last couple of years on council she dozed from time to time during the most tedious parts of Berkeley’s interminable council meetings—which any of us at any age might be tempted to do, of course. 

Maybe we need term limits to save people from themselves. Maudelle Shirek was determined to hang in there as long as she could—she never agreed not to run again. Her eventual departure was engineered by a benign collusion of aides and friends which resulted in “mistakes” in the papers required to file for election, with Max Anderson actively waiting in the wings to take her seat. Her respected contemporary, Councilmember Betty Olds, abdicated after a similarly long tenure in favor of her long-time aide Susan Wengraf. 

In all the time I’ve been watching local politics, nine times out of ten succession has been insured by this kind of quasi-papal process which is almost impossible for a newbie to crack. And incumbents, whether they pay any attention to what their constituents want or not, are almost always re-elected. 

This method of choosing representatives has sometimes been described as a machine (incurring the wrath of some old-time liberals who hope it's not so) and the judgment is not inaccurate. Berkeley might be better served by term limits accompanied by an open process for choosing new elected officials, which could bring fresh ideas to our civic decision-making. Both Anderson and Wengraf are better than average councilmembers, but new blood is still needed. 



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Who was Tamerlan?

By Becky O'Malley
Friday April 19, 2013 - 09:41:00 AM

None of the reports I've seen about the young man who died in Watertown, Massachusetts, as police pursued him in their search for those responsible for the Boston marathon bombing took note of his first name. It was Tamerlan, an Anglicization of the name of a 14th century folk hero, Timur, who led the armies of what my first Russian teacher at my Massachusetts college used to call "the Wild Tribes of Central Asia". The Emperor Tamerlan ( alternatively Timur, Tamerlan, Tamburlaine) is described in Wikipedia as a Turkic ruler who conquered West, South and Central Asia and founded the Timurid dynasty. He was a romantic warrior who captured the imagination not only of Central Asians, but of Europeans. He was the subject of a 16th Century play by Christoper Marlowe and a 19th Century epic poem by Edgar Allan Poe, among others. One might speculate that whoever gave Tamerlan Tsarnayev his name was familiar with the historic associations, and even that the young man who has been accused of being a bomber might have fancied himself the 21st Century incarnation of the ancient hero.


Odd Bodkins: Sprung (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Sunday April 21, 2013 - 09:29:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

New: Islamic Council Denounces Boston Attacks

Friday April 19, 2013 - 05:13:00 PM

Northern California Islamic Council (NCIC), an umbrella organization that aims to provide a united Muslim voice to the Northern California community, is in shock and disbelief by the bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon, that killed at least 3 people and left scores injured. 

Our heartfelt prayers are with the families of victims of the blasts and the police officer that was killed in line of duty. We pray for the speedy recovery of the injured of this horrific incident. We are also thankful to the law enforcement authorities for their tireless efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice for committing this horrendous and cowardly act of violence. 

NCIC Chairman, Dr.Hatem Bazian, said, “We are outraged at the dreadful and senseless attacks, we share the pain, grief and shock with our fellow Americans, and we urge all to be calm and resilient in this time of crisis.” He categorically added, “These acts of violence and terror have no place in Islam, which condemns such acts - in strongest possible terms - that takes lives of innocent people or causes pain and suffering.”

Aquatic Park Heights Study

By Armin Wright
Thursday April 18, 2013 - 06:03:00 PM

Excellent work by Messrs. Price and Bailey showing the visual impact of various heights of possible development adjacent to Aquatic Park as seen from the west.

I believe it would be a valuable service to the community to show the impact of those various heights of development on views of the bay from several locations in the Berkeley/Oakland flatlands.

My personal belief is that it is unconscionable that developers might have the legal right to build large structures anywhere along the bay front that exploits the aesthetic benefits of the bay for its tenants while blocking the bay views of tens of thousands of flatland residents. 

As an aside, my home is at the base of the Oakland hills and I, personally, would not be affected at all by any of the heights of development depicted.

Changes in CalPERS Policy Will Affect Berkeley City Finances

By Barbara Gilbert
Thursday April 18, 2013 - 05:42:00 PM

Yesterday CalPERS shortened the rate smoothing period. This has major implications for Berkeley's budget. Employers' rates will go up by about 50 percent. This will mean even larger cuts to the city services and higher taxes unless there are substantial changes to employee compensation and employee contribution to benefits. How are we going to fix this as well as our decaying infrastructure? 

See quote below from the SacBee article and link below. 

"CalPERS will shorten the "smoothing" period over which it spreads investment gains and losses from 15 years to five years and amortize them over a fixed 30-year period. Currently, it rolls them over annually, which avoids committing to fully funding the system by a specific date. 

Those changes will trigger an increase in employers' rates of up to 50 percent over five years starting in 2015-16. The state's payments from the general fund, for example, will climb from $2.3 billion this year to more than $3.4 billion in 2019-20." 


Response to Jack Bragen

By Judi Iranyi, LCSW
Friday April 19, 2013 - 02:28:00 PM

This is a response to Jack Bragen's article, "Response to Letter by Judi Iranyi." Mr. Bragen is responding to my April 13, 2013, article, "Making Laura's Law More User Friendly." 

I am not sure Mr. Bragen fully understands Laura's Law. It is not about the police hogtieing the mentally ill or giving them the "authority to act as psychiatrists." Perhaps, Mr. Bragen is confusing Laura's Law with Cal. Health & Welfare Code Section 5150, which has long been in effect. Under Section 1550, when any person, as a result of mental disorder, is a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled, a peace officer, member of the attending staff, of an evaluation facility designated by the county, designated members of a mobile crisis team, or other professional person designated by the county may, upon probably cause, take, or cause to be taken, the person into custody and place him or her in a facility designated by the county and approved by the State Department of Mental Health as a facility for 72-hour treatment and evaluation. Any involuntary hold beyond 72 hours would have to be court ordered. 

Regardless, how can anyone oppose a 180-day assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) program considering the phenomenal results shown in the Duke study and New York's Kendra's Law -- the model for Kendra's Law. 

Consider the case of Nevada County where Laura Wilcox -- for whom the statute was named -- was killed and where Laura's Law was subsequently fully implemented. Laura's Law has proven so successful that the county was honored in 2010 by the California State Association of Counties. In announcing the recognition, CSAC said Nevada County offset public costs of $80,000 with savings estimated at $203,000 that otherwise would have been spent on hospitalization and incarceration of program participants.  

And Laura’s Law is not merely about medication – and is certainly not about the physical act of “forcibly medicating.” Forced medication can, and should, only happen in a licensed hospital following a Riese hearing. Laura’s Law is about prioritizing highest-need patients and the monitoring and case management that accompanies those patients under the law so that they have the support to stay on their treatment plan, which may include medication. 

In conclusion, Laura's Law could be viewed as an alternative to institutionalization, jail, or a continued life on the streets. 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. That's why I believe Laura's Law should be implemented in all California counties.


ECLECTIC RANT: Tyranny of the Minority Sinks Meaningful Gun Control Legislation

By Ralph E. Stone
Sunday April 21, 2013 - 08:59:00 AM

Given the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings, the shootings at a supermarket near Tucson, the pleas for gun control legislation by the parents of the Sandy Hook victims, and the testimony by Gabrielle Giffords, victim of the supermarket shootings, you would think that reasonable gun control legislation would likely pass in the U.S. Senate. Regrettably, it is not to be. 

Legislation strengthening background checks—supported by 90 percent of Americans—was defeated in the Senate 54 to 46. The ban on dozens of military-style assault weapons was also defeated by a vote of 40 to 60; a bipartisan amendment to stiffen penalties for “straw purchasers,” 58 to 42; and an amendment to limit the size of ammunition magazines, 54-46. 

It was a shameful time in the Senate. Failed gun control legislation has again fallen victim to the tyranny of the minority. 

Then again, any gun control legislation would have faced an uncertain future in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Except for the proposed assault weapon ban, the remaining gun control legislation received a majority in the Senate. Why then didn't they pass? Because the Senate failed to reform its filibuster rule and as long as the filibuster rule stands, gun control or any legislation for that matter can be defeated by a minority—41 votes—or never even come to a vote. 

As majority leader, Senator Reid set the rules of the Senate prior to the current term of Congress. However, he allowed the super majority requirement—60 votes—prior to any meaningful vote to stand and, as a result, preserved the threat of a filibuster, stating, "I'm not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold . . .. With the history of the Senate, we have to understand the Senate isn’t and shouldn’t be like the House." Thus, Senator Reid bears much responsibility for the defeat of pending gun control legislation in the Senate. 

What is the U.S. Senate filibuster rule anyway? It usually refers to any dilatory or obstructive tactics used to prevent a measure from being brought to a vote. 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, and unless "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn" (usually 60 out of 100 senators) brings debate to a close by invoking cloture. In recent years, the majority has preferred to avoid filibusters by moving to other business when a filibuster is threatened and attempts to achieve cloture have failed. 

Until members of Congress are penalized at election time for opposing gun control legislation, senators, fearful of the National Rifle Association, will use the filibuster rule to doom any future gun control legislation in the Senate.

THE PUBLIC EYE: Why We Should Reduce the Defense Budget

By Bob Burnett
Friday April 19, 2013 - 09:03:00 AM

According to a report by the National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2030, seventeen years from now the world will be remarkably different: “There will not be any hegemonic power… China alone will probably have the largest economy.” Why can’t the US plan for this and reduce our defense expenditures? 

“Global Trends 2030” predicts that four megatrends will reshape our world. One megatrend is “Diffusion of Power.” The NIC believes America will no longer be the dominant nation and asks, “Will the US be able to work with new powers to reinvent the international system?” 

Americans revel in our status as the number one nation on the planet, but that’s ending. “In a tectonic shift, by 2030, Asia will have surpassed North America and Europe combined in terms of global power, based upon GDP, population size, military spending, and technological investment.” Around 2030 China will pass the U.S. in the NIC’s “global power index.” The EU will be third with India a close fourth. (Russia and Japan have fallen far back.) 

For five hundred years, the West has dominated the planet – first Spain, then Great Britain, and since the end of World War II, the United States. Nonetheless, according to the NIC, “By 2030, no country – whether the US, China, or any other large country – will be a hegemonic power.” This shift has profound implications for America’s foreign policy, defense budget, and self-image. 

For the past seventy years, the US has been the world’s police force, whether in Germany, Korea, Vietnam, or most recently, Afghanistan, and the defense budget has grown accordingly. President Obama’s proposed 2014 defense budget is $527 billion. That’s a slight increase over 2013, holding the baseline defense budget steady after a decade of humongous growth. (The $527 billion budget does not include costs of the Afghanistan war or DOE nuclear weapons work.) 

Since America has left Iraq and plans to leave Afghanistan in 2014, it seems logical that the US could reduce the size of its military forces. This is what happened after the end of the War in Vietnam and the end of the Cold War. But when it comes to the defense budget, deliberations are seldom rational. There are several reasons for the contentious nature of defense budget deliberations. One is that US defense allocations are so enormous their size warps perspective. Writing in The New Yorker, journalist Jill Lepore observed, “Between 1998 and 2011, military spending doubled, reaching more than seven hundred billion dollars a year—more, in adjusted dollars, than at any time since the Allies were fighting the Axis.” The Council on Foreign Relations reported that in 2011 the United States had 4 percent of the world’s population, accounted for 22 percent of the gross domestic product, yet was responsible for 42 percent of military spending. Lepore observed that what drives our defense budget is “the idea that the manifest destiny of the United States is to patrol the world…six decades after V-J day nearly three hundred thousand American troops are stationed overseas including fifty-five thousand in Germany, thirty-five thousand in Japan, and ten thousand in Italy.” Former Republican Congressman Ron Paul claimed the US military operates out of 900 bases deployed in 130 nations. 

Another reason why it is difficult to trim the defense budget is because discussions are heavily politicized. Ever since 1952, when Republicans won the presidency by accusing Democrats of being soft on Communism and having “lost China,” Republicans have dogmatically advocated for gigantic defense budgets and attacked the manhood of all those who oppose this notion. . Barack Obama is the first Democratic President in sixty years to have unassailable credentials on national security. (During the 2012 presidential campaign, Obama won the final debate, on foreign policy and national security, because Mitt Romney couldn’t differentiate himself from the President.) 

Another reason for the contentious nature of defense budget discussions is that sixty-three years of ever-increasing defense budgets has fomented a military-industrial complex that constantly lobbies for billion-dollar defense projects. This has led to a bloated budget and an overabundance of generals. When senior officers do retire, they quite often join the staff of a military contractor and become lobbyists. Meanwhile, Senators and Representatives fight for military projects for their constituents believing that it will help employment and increase their prospects for reelection. 

Whenever defense budget reductions are proposed, generals and congressmen warn us, “The world continues to be a dangerous place.” They point out threats such as Iran and North Korea to justify the proposed budget. But what’s not discussed is why the United States has to continue to be the world’s police force. The NIC report indicates that we’re rapidly moving towards a quadripartite world governed by the US, China, India, and the European Community. In such a world, it makes no sense for America to shoulder most of the responsibility for policing the world and absorbing 42 percent of military spending. 

Now is the time for Democrats to drastically reduce America’s defense budget. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Things With Which Most of us Struggle

By Jack Bragen
Thursday April 18, 2013 - 05:58:00 PM

It occurred to me that a column about the things that matter the most to persons with mental illness would be fairly "on the mark." Getting and keeping adequate housing is pretty high on the priority list. Additionally, we must deal with the following life difficulties: getting and remaining on the right medications; surviving on the very limited income we have; relationships, both finding them and making them work; finding and maintaining a meaningful regular activity (or otherwise, what to do with our time.) In this week's column, I will try to briefly touch upon all of the above. 

In order to have good housing, income is necessary. On the money made by most persons with chronic mental illness, at least those of us who live on Social Security of some kind, getting and maintaining a HUD certificate or voucher is usually necessary. 

In housing intended for disabled, disadvantaged, and mentally ill persons, harassment is frequent. When I lived in disabled housing, people would come to my door at three in the morning asking for a cigarette. Also in disabled housing, I was physically attacked, and my wife was sexually harassed. 

Living in a halfway decent "normal" apartment in a decent neighborhood, on HUD, is the exception rather than the rule. Most of the persons with mental illness who are also unemployed must endure the hardships of problematic and/or substandard housing. I lived for over five years in a unit where I was eventually forced out through intimidation and harassment by people who likely had a meth lab in the building, or who at least were dealing drugs. 

Problematic housing can be difficult for persons with mental illness to endure, since our illness already provides us with enough difficulties, without adding genuine threats and hardships, rather than just the problems that we imagine. It can be a doubly rocky road to try and get well when we have a dangerous or thorny situation on our hands. 

Getting and staying on the right medications can be a trial and error enterprise. Sometimes, after getting on the right medications at the right dosages, a person with mental illness makes the grave mistake of thinking they're cured. When things are going well, it isn't time to go off medications; instead it means that something was done right which ought to be continued. 

Living on Social Security benefits is difficult, and means that we must do without many of the things money can buy-things most Americans take for granted. When the rent and bills are paid, and perhaps some food purchased, the money is used up. If we try to bolster our income with a job, our benefits are reduced. The amount of red tape involved in reporting wages can be daunting. Furthermore, if a person on SSI gets a job for a brief period of time and then loses that job, it can take months for benefits to go back to the previous level. Meanwhile, an SSI recipient is in dire economic straits. 

Persons with mental illness may deeply desire a meaningful relationship with a partner, yet may not be emotionally ready for it. Anyone with or without a mental health diagnosis may need to experience a few relationships that don't work before they learn how to handle a relationship, what to do, and what not to do. Some people with mental illness are socially underdeveloped, while others do just as well as people without a mental illness. Gaining social development can be challenging, since it seems to be mostly a trial and error, hard knocks endeavor. Someone with a mental illness isn't always psychiatrically stable enough to handle this. This is rough, since persons with mental illness have the same desires as anyone else. 

Persons with mental illness often choose to do volunteer work to fill up the time. However, the volunteer jobs that exist in present day often have a higher level of expectations than they once did. It was several years back that I obtained a volunteer position doing office work. I called in sick one time, and after that, the work venue couldn't use me. It almost seems as though the expectations of a volunteer job exceed those of paid employment. When persons with mental illness try to work, whether this is at a volunteer or paid position, most of us require more sick days compared to someone without a disability. Very few employers are willing to tolerate this. 

The above paragraph explains a reason for wanting to be self-employed and for recommending this to others. It may be quite a challenge to create a profitable business. However, there are numerous other reasons than making a profit that make self-employment highly valuable. A self employed person gains great experience that they would not get otherwise. 

Running a small company, even one without employees, can be a fulfilling and fun activity. It also lends social stature. Making a profit is difficult in most small businesses, for persons with or without a disability. The amount of effort required in making a profit can be daunting. However, self employment is usually worth doing, regardless of this. 

At a self employed position, you don't have to worry about being fired. I know of two persons with mental illness who are presently self-employed, and both of them seem quite happy with what they do. One person is a tutor and the other does housecleaning. When I was self-employed I did electronic repair, before electronics became almost universally throwaway. 

I can be contacted with your comments at: bragenkjack@yahoo.com but I can not give advice to individuals, since I am not credentialed to do so.

SENIOR POWER: Sexuality… It’s a good thing.

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday April 18, 2013 - 05:32:00 PM

“Of all the passions, the old man should avoid a foolish passion for women,” advised The Old Man’s Guide to Health and Longer life with rules for diet, exercise, and physic for preserving a good constitution and preventing disorders in a bad one, by J. Hill, M.D., member of the Imperial Academy (1764). John Hill (1714-1775) also opined that to marry was everyone’s duty, except for the aged.  

A double standard of sexual behavior still exists, particularly among middle-aged and older people. This is about sexuality. Not sex, as in female/male sex; not gender, as in feminine/masculine gender. And sometimes, as in love. 

“If there is one style of consciousness that will surely have to change radically in the elder culture, it is that of the alpha male,” wrote Berkeley author Theodore Roszak in his 2009 book, “The making of an elder culture.” In speaking of the end of sex (Chapter 9, ‘Love, loyalty, and the end of sex,’) he was using ‘end’ in the goal sense, rather than a finish. 


Robert Neil Butler (1927-2010) was a gerontologist and psychiatrist, a lead investigator of one of the first interdisciplinary, comprehensive, longitudinal studies of healthy community-residing older persons. He founded the National Institute on Aging and the first U.S. medical school geriatrics department. He died of leukemia in 2010 at age 83. 

His Why Survive? Being Old In America won a 1976 Pulitzer Prize. On page 396 he snuck in a footnote that suggests the main reason that universities, foundations and even the National Institute of Mental Health “cannot easily support studies of love affairs, which are so common in practice and which, as a clinician, one sees so frequently. This is an instance of one of the real issues of human life that is not subjected to study because it is so freighted with societal mores, conflicting feelings and repressive tendencies. I have known wives who have urged their impotent husbands to have affairs in hopes that it would cure them, and husbands who want frigid wives to do the same.” 

“We are in the midst of a longevity revolution… What is needed now is a revolution in our thinking about what it means to be older. Attitudes toward love and sex are a good place to start!” Butler and Myrna I. Lewis, Ph.D. prefaced The New Love and Sex After 60. Their aim was to bring people the latest data on the dynamic subject as they grow older, e.g. erectile dysfunction. “The phallocentric era of sexual research with a focus mainly on male erectile capacity is giving way to equal curiosity about women and the conditions that interfere with their sexual expression.” They conclude “… How can we take full advantage of our added thirty years of life expectancy? One way is to recognize that love and sex after sixty is no longer a surprise. It is a fact of life.”  

Most men with erectile dysfunction (ED) remain untreated. Undertreatment of ED continues to be common, even though treatments have proven efficacy and quality of life impact. Despite high erectile dysfunction (ED) prevalence, most patients receive no treatment, according to a new United States study, presented in March 2013 at the 28th Annual European Association of Urology Congress. 

The prostate differs considerably among species anatomically, chemically, and physiologically. The Skene's gland, also known as the paraurethral gland, found in females, is homologous [similar] to the prostate gland in males. In 2002, Skene's glands, were officially renamed the female prostate by the Federative International Committee on Anatomical Terminology. The female prostate, like the male prostate, secretes Prostate specific antigen (PSA) and levels of this antigen rise in the presence of carcinoma of the gland. The gland also expels fluid, like the male prostate, during orgasm

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new drug to treat postmenopausal women who experience pain during sex. The drug Osphena (ospemifene) mimics the effects of estrogen on vaginal tissue, which can become thinner, drier and more fragile from menopause. The pill, taken with food once a day, makes vaginal tissue thicker and less fragile, reducing pain during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia). 


AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, is a United States-based non-governmental organization and interest group, founded in 1958. Lately, it has been criticized for functioning as a conglomerate of auto, health, life, and travel insurance companies. AARP Dating claims to be the fastest, easiest, most fun way to go on awesome dates. Its Dating site is powered by the online dating engine HowAboutWe. 

OurTime ranked fifth of the five best dating sites of 2013. “Designed to create lasting relationships or companionship. Search for singles instantly without a membership… Easy to use, especially for seniors new to online dating...” Its claims mislead. A choice of paid plans accompanies a photo of a gray white-haired, bespectacled male with a female who is not. “Designed for Seniors Serious Relationships. OurTime has grown exponentially and has become one of the top online dating sites catering to a more mature population… geared for singles over the age of 50 who are looking for all types of relationships, including marriage, travel companionship and pen pals.”  

Four aged-care experts from academe, writing in the Australian Journal of Dementia Care, advocate sex and intimacy as a normal part of life in an aged-care facility. Every nursing home should have clear policies on sexual expression. Regarding sex for people with dementia, most were reportedly more interested in intimacy than sex.  

Want better sex? Consider getting a new hip or knee, says Mary Ann Oklesson, a Manhattan magazine publisher who had both hips replaced. Arthritic pain walking, exercising, climbing into a taxi had also taken a toll on her sex life. But that changed after hip replacement surgery. “It definitely improved my quality of life, and my love life,” she says, apparently equating sex and love. 

Make the most of life and enjoy every moment was NSW Seniors Week’s theme. Ita Buttrose, 71, Australian of the Year and ambassador for New South Wales Seniors Week, says “There is plenty of evidence that older Australians enjoy an active sex life as much as younger ones do, they are just more discerning.'' Participants in the 2013 NSW Seniors Week program could enjoy an afternoon of creative, cultural and sporting pursuits, gay and lesbian-themed cinema, and learning how to write erotic literature. ''After Fifty Shades of Grey, I think everyone is interested in erotic writing,'' Buttrose said. 

E. L. James is a pseudonym used by English novelist Erika Mitchell (1963- ), author of bestselling “erotic romance novels.” Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) and two successors have sold 65+ million copies worldwide. The trilogy traces the relationship between a female college graduate named Steele, who narrates, and a male business magnate named Grey. Explicitly erotic scenes feature elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM). It set the record as the fastest-selling paperback of all time, surpassing the Harry Potter series. Large print paperbacks are available. A motion picture, screenplay by Kelly Marcel, is said to be “under development.” 

Critical reception of the novel has been mixed. Fifty Shades… didn’t catch my attention sufficiently to pursue its two successors. Too much panting, groaning, moaning… boring. It caught my attention in places, but so might a vibrator. 

More than one-third of men aged 70+ are still sexually active, according to the Monash Institute of Medical Research. A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found a quarter of married women over age 76 still had sex. Are these comparative statistics valid and reliable? The men’s marital status apparently was not considered relevant, and what about the age 70-76 women?  

Dr. Patricia Weerakoon, a Sydney sex educator, gives Sexy and 60-Plus' presentations in retirement villages. She says the children of the sexual revolution were much more comfortable with intimacy than previous generations. Today's older people are able to keep active, and being sexually active is part of that. 

Lisa Ling refers in her Huffingtonpost to time she spent in a Boca Raton, Florida retirement community where most residents are widowed. While some people were mourning the loss of their spouses, others were looking to start new relationships. “In fact, what I experienced there had me totally flabbergasted. The candor. The flirtation. The threesomes… yes, that did come up in the Sex Over 60 class.” 

Reading and discussion can help prevent seniors’ cognitive decline. Can you envision a Fifty Shades of Grey discussion group --or any book discussion group-- or a Sex Over 60 class in local senior centers and housing projects? A Seniors Week might be tolerated. 










Arts & Events

Don't Miss This

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Thursday April 18, 2013 - 05:51:00 PM

Breathing a deep sigh of relief having mailed off my 2012 Income Tax return, I am now seeking ways to relax and unwind. Fortunately there are absolutely scads of entertaining and educational activities, which I list below in no particular order: 

Arlo Guthrie, "Here Comes the Kid." In tribute to his legendary father's 100th birthday, Arlo returns a celebration of Woody's Guthrie's immeasurable contribution to American folk music. April 18th, Zellerbach Hall. Cal. Performances, (510) 642-9980. 

An Evening with David Spade, the 4th Annual Hope for the Homeless Benefit Show, April 26th, 8 p.m. Lesher Art Center, Walnut Creek (925-943 SHOW. 

"Summer Sounds Concerts, (free outdoor concerts every Wednesday, Noon to 1 p.m., City Center Plaza Stage, through 8/28. 13th and Broadway 

Oakland Symphony, Michael Morgan Music Director. "A Celebration of the Music of Dave Brubeck." Sunday, June 1st, Paramount Theatre, 800 745-3000. 

Oakland Indie Awards, May 3 0, 6:30-10:30. Kaiser Center's Roof Top Garden, 3001 Lakeside Drive. Live Music, Great Eats. S.F. Decorator Showcase, April 27-May 27, 2800 Pacific Avenue (a remarkable Georgian mansion built in 1899. (415) 447-5830. 

Napa Valley Tour de Cure, "Stop Diabetes," Sunday, May 5th, Veteran's Home in Yountville. (510) 654-4499, ext. 7460. 

Belva Davis, the retired KQED anchor discussing her book, "My Wildest Dreams" A Black Woman's Life in Journalism." Wednesday, April 17, 5:30-7:00 p.m. 

Rolling Stones, May 5th, Oracle Arena, $170 for a cheap seat, or $750 to $2,000 for a VIP ticket. 

Mother's Day, Sunday, May 12th. Celebrate Mom with the best brunch buffet in town. 1919 Fourth St. (510) - 845-7771. 

Lagunitas 5th Annual Beer Circus, a benefit for keeping music in the schools. 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. Non stop burlesque, 1280 N. McDowell, Petaluma. 

An Evening with Angela Davis, (activist, author and professor) April 17, at First Congregational Church, 2435 Channing Way, 7 p.m. 

Autism Awareness Month, Adaptive Learning Center, 3227 Clayton Road, Concord, 94519. Celebrating 25 years of service. 

"Cinderelia", May 3-12. San Francisco Ballet, S.F. Opera House. 

Now don't say complain there's nothing doing in the Bay Area the next several weeks. But you may well go bonkers deciding which of these events you want to sample.

Around & About Theater: Ragged Wing Ensemble's 'Time Sensitive'--& a New Theater!; Actors Ensemble Reading of Hildeshimer's 'The Showing'

By Ken Bullock
Thursday April 18, 2013 - 05:29:00 PM

—"A crack is growing. The shape of time is changing. Only a few can see it." Ragged Wing, Berkeley's plucky little movement theater troupe, has announced the opening of co-founder/artistic director Amy Sass' new, prize-winning (Playground's June Anne Baker Award) play, 'Time Sensitive,' running Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, April 18-May 18—as the inaugural production at their new theater, Sanctuary for the Arts, 496-38th Street (at Telegraph), Oakland, two blocks from MacArthur BART ... Sass, a talented director, will be at the helm in a show which "combines clockwork choreography, rhythmic fugue & ice art into a fantastical tale that urgently asks: How do we hold a moment, if we constantly crave the next big thing? $25-$40 (sliding scale). 1-800-316-8559; raggedwing.org (Ragged Wing's David Stein directs a rare reading of a Wolfgang Hildeshimer play—see below: ) 

—As part of the ongoing reading series around their current production of Stoppard's 'Rock 'N Roll' (directed by Robert Estes, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 through May 4 at Live Oak Theater), Actors Ensemble will feature a rare reading of a play, 'The Showing,' by German playwright Wolfgang Hildesheimer, translated by former AE board member (& present resident of Hungary) David Fenerty, directed by David Stein: the "simple transaction" of a house sale is complicated by the mutual history of A (buyer) & B (seller)—& their divergent plans for the future. Playwright, novelist, artistHildeshimer, the grandson of the modernizer of Orthodox Judaism in Germany, left in 1933, lived back & forth between London & Mandatory Palestine—& later, back in Germany, where he served as clerk-translator at the Nuremberg Trials. He was associated with writers' Group 47, along with notable authors like Paul Celan, Gunter Grass, Peter Weiss, Heinrich Boll, Martin Walzer ... Sunday, at 7, Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck (at Berryman). Suggested donation: $5-$8. 649-5999; aofe.org

Around & About Theater: Theatre of Yugen's Annual Show of Classic Kyogen Comedies--Sorya!

By Ken Bullock
Thursday April 18, 2013 - 05:27:00 PM

Theatre of Yugen, the Bay Area's classical Japanese theater company (& the only company in North America that practices & performs Kyogen, the classical Japanese comedy that is staged between Noh plays) is performing their annual show of Kyogen comedies, 'Sorya!,' minimalist stagings of rigorous physical theater—like dance or martial arts in its patterns—that portrays medieval comic types, almost the Japanese equivalent of Chaucer or Boccaccio: servants tricking masters, wives fooling husbands, pompous priests & judges made fun of ... 

Directed by artistic director Jubilith Moore, this year's run—ending next Monday night—hearkens back almost 35 years, to the founding & early days of Theatre of Yugen, when all the performers were women, a reverse of the classical tradition in Japan, where all parts are played by men. 

"The Thunder God," "The Bonsai Thief" & "The Snail"—three short comedies in an hour: timeless laughter. 

Saturday & Sunday at 2, Monday at 7 at NOHspace, Project Artaud, 2140 Mariposa (between Bryant & Harrison, near 18th Street), San Francisco. $15-$25 theatreofyugen.org —info: (415) 621-0507

Around & About Opera: SF Cabaret Opera (Goat Hall Productions) Stage Scenes & Arias from Mozart, Weill, Menotti--'Anything But Here'

By Ken Bullock
Thursday April 18, 2013 - 05:21:00 PM

San Francisco Cabaret Opera, that redoubtable touring show out of goat Hall Productions, is staging scenes & arias from Mozart, Weill & Menotti this Saturday & Sunday at 8, in the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street (between 2th & 21st), in San Francisco's Mission District, to open their 13th season, "Mischief & Mayhem"--featuring the direction of Michelle Jasso, Choreography by Brittany Blakenship--& at the piano, Skye Atman, presiding over a fine cast: Sibel demirmen, Zoltan DiBartolo, Steve Hoffmann, Alexis Lane Jensen, Justin Marsh, Letitia C. Page--& founder/artistic director Harriet March Page. General admission, $15; Cabaret table seats, $25; Seniors & students: $10. (707) 451-8396; goathall.org