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New: Suspect in August Berkeley Killing Arrested

By Bay City News
Wednesday September 11, 2013 - 10:50:00 PM

Police arrested a suspect Monday in a West Berkeley fatal shooting last month. 

Krishna Ferreira, 23, was arrested in San Leandro and booked into Santa Rita Jail in connection with the Aug. 1 shooting death of Dustin Bynum, police said. 

Bynum, 24, was found shot at 9:18 p.m. in the 1800 block of San Pablo Avenue. He was rushed to a hospital but succumbed to his injuries. 

Since then police said that investigators developed information linking Ferreira, a San Leandro resident, to Bynum's death and got a warrant for his arrest. 

He was arrested by Berkeley police in San Leandro Monday.


New: Underwater Mortgage Plan Moves Ahead in Richmond

By Laura Dixon (BCN)
Wednesday September 11, 2013 - 01:19:00 PM

An unprecedented plan to buy struggling Richmond homeowners' underwater mortgages is moving forward. 

The Richmond City Council voted 4 to 3 early this morning to continue pursuing the controversial plan, which could use the city's power of eminent domain to force bondholders to sell underwater loans, allowing homeowners to restructure their mortgages.  

The council rejected an agenda item submitted by Vice Mayor Corky Boozé and Councilman Nathaniel Bates to strike down offers to buy the mortgages. 

"Many in our community have been targeted by predatory loans, too many have already lost their homes, and all of the city of Richmond has suffered," said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who authored the council resolution in favor of the plan. 

About half of the city's homeowners are underwater on their mortgages, city manager Bill Lindsay said at the start of Tuesday night's roughly seven-hour meeting at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. 

In a bid to counter that trend, City Mayor Gayle McLaughlin has led the charge toward a partnership with San Francisco investment firm Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP) to buy 624 city residents' mortgages that are underwater, or that owe more money than the home is currently worth. 

Under the Richmond Community Action to Restore Equity and Stability plan, or Richmond CARES, the city could use eminent domain to force the sale of the mortgages if lenders don't accept the offer, city officials say. 

Four of seven council members voted for the mayor's proposal to continue Richmond CARES and to set up a joint powers authority between Richmond and any other cities teaming up with MRP. 

So far, the Southern California city of El Monte has expressed the most interest in partnering with MRP and has urged Richmond to set a precedent by moving forward with the partnership, McLaughlin said.  

The council struck down a measure authored by Councilman Jim Rogers requiring MRP to provide insurance protecting the city of Richmond from all litigation and related damages related to the plan before moving forward with eminent domain action. 

Rogers said he drafted the item after learning that MRP hadn't secured insurance to protect the city from potential litigation stemming from the eminent domain plan. 

MRP executive chairman Steven Gluckstern noted before the meeting that the firm is covering legal costs associated with any litigation against the city related to the partnership and said a joint powers authority would provide further protection. 

On Thursday, a federal court is set to rule on a lawsuit brought against the city by Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank over the plan. The suit alleges that the proposed use of eminent domain, which is typically used to purchase private land for public use, is unconstitutional. 

The banks say the plan would also harm Richmond in the long run by making it tougher for city residents to get approved for mortgage financing. 

But McLaughlin and her supporters describe the plan as an innovative solution to help conscientious Richmond homeowners stay in their homes and as a long-overdue stand against the Wall Street investors that offered predatory loans in the first place. 

Groups on both sides of the eminent domain proposal attended Tuesday night's meeting to make their case. 

Many proponents of the plan, including members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and the Richmond Progressive Alliance wore yellow T-shirts and hoisted small flags provided by ACCE. 

Many of the dozens of speakers who voiced support for the plan during the marathon meeting identified themselves as underwater Richmond homeowners struggling to keep their homes. 

Patricia Castillo said her Richmond home, which she purchased in 2005, is on the brink of foreclosure, and that she is holding out hope that Richmond CARES will work. 

"I've seen a lot of impact in my neighborhood; families moved that couldn't modify or keep up with their payments," she added. "We need these programs to help stabilize our neighborhoods, it's time to stand up to Wall Street and stand up for the city of Richmond." 

On the other hand, Joshua Genser, a lifelong Richmond resident and longtime property and business owner, said the forced sale of a home for 80 percent of its market value under the city's proposal would harm Richmond property owners, not the banks. 

"If we pass this program it will be impossible to get credit in the city," he said. "The plan is dangerous to every resident, every business owner in the city of Richmond." 

Dozens of others at the meeting, including a group of about ten young men who declined to say whether they live in Richmond, wore red T-shirts that said "Stop Investor Greed," the name of a group formed against the eminent domain plan. The group is headed by local real estate broker and past president of the West Contra Costa County Association of Realtors Jeff Wright. Many residents at the meeting said they had recently received glossy mailers sent out by the WCCAR decrying the city's principal reduction plan. Wright said he believes the plan would harm Richmond by making it tougher for homeowners to get credit and said investors who might choose not to lend money in Richmond because of the plan would be exercising understandable caution. 

Some speculate that the city's failure last month to sell $34 million in bonds is a sign of Wall Street's early retaliation against the plan. 

But Amy Schur, an ACCE campaign director, said the mortgage acquisition program "is actually a win-win-win for everybody," including banks, which stand to lose from homes going into foreclosure. 

"This is not about anyone making money, this is about saving homes," she said. 

Schur also echoed statements from the mayor and other council members who have said any retaliatory action from banks against Richmond would equate to redlining - a term used to describe a discriminatory practice by banks that raise costs or decline to do business in minority communities.  

"We can't let fear stop us from stabilizing our community and we can't let fear keep us from boosting our local economy," Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said, drawing applause and cheers from the audience, which dwindled from several hundred Tuesday evening to several dozen by early this morning. 

The mostly peaceful meeting, punctuated with applause and cheers, devolved by the early morning into insults and personal attacks on fellow council members from Boozé and Bates, causing the mayor to call for a brief recess before the council's final vote.


New: Berkeley Shooting Victim Identified

By Hannah Albarazi (BCN)
Wednesday September 11, 2013 - 01:17:00 PM

Police have identified a man who was fatally shot in Berkeley on Sunday evening as 22-year-old Anthony Medearis. 

Officers responded to the scene of the shooting in the 1400 block of Eighth Street on Sunday at about 5:45 p.m. 

Upon arrival at the scene, police located Medearis, a Berkeley resident, suffering from gunshot wounds. 

Medearis was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced deceased, police said. 

While police were responding to the scene, they received information regarding a possible suspect near Eighth and Page streets, police said. 

Police canvassed the area for evidence but did not detain any suspects. 

The homicide remains under investigation. Anyone with information regarding the homicide is urged to contact Berkeley police at (510) 981-5741 or may do so anonymously at (800) 222-8477.


Judge Hears Arguments on Police Brutality Suit Against UC Berkeley

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday September 10, 2013 - 08:07:00 PM

A federal judge heard arguments but didn't make a ruling today on a legal issue in a lawsuit that seeks $15 million in damages for demonstrators who were injured in an "Occupy Cal" protest at the University of California at Berkeley in November 2011. 

The activist group By Any Means Necessary and 29 other protesters filed suit on Nov. 29, 2011, accusing the UC Berkeley and other agencies of police brutality, false arrest and violating their free speech rights during protests on Nov. 9, 2011. 

The defendants include UC Berkeley, top university administrators, university police, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and the Oakland Police Department. 

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers didn't address the merits of the lawsuit today but instead focused on a motion by UC Berkeley to have former Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and other top administrators dismissed from the suit. 

The university's lawyer, Janice Scancarelli, said even if it can be proven that Birgeneau, former Vice Chancellor George Breslauer and other top officials told police to crack down on protesters the issue is "if they knew or should have known that constitutional violations would occur" when police attacked protesters. 

Scancarelli said the lawsuit "doesn't link these particular individuals to the injuries" the protesters suffered. 

But George Washington, an attorney for the protesters who filed suit, said he believes top administrators "gave orders to police to attack defenseless students." 

Washington argued the university's motion is "an attempt to get the top administrators out of the lawsuit and let the cops take the rap." 

He said UC Berkeley administrators used an inappropriate "political judgment" in deciding to crack down on an Occupy Cal encampment on Sproul Plaza on Nov. 9, 2011, even though they hadn't removed an encampment at the same place in May 2010. 

Washington alleged that university officials were more sympathetic to the May 2010 protest because it opposed Arizona's anti-illegal immigration law but were concerned about the Nov. 9, 2011, protest because it addressed what he described as the more "entrenched and deep-seated" issue of inequality at UC Berkeley. 

However, Scancarelli said, "The allegations do not indicate that the chancellor or vice chancellor took action because of anyone's viewpoint" and "any attempt to infer a political intent would not be reasonable." 

Scancarelli said UC Berkeley officials wanted to remove the protesters from Sproul Plaza because they were concerned about safety and sanitation problems that had plagued other "Occupy" encampments across the country in the fall of 2011. 

Although Gonzalez Rogers took the matter under submission and won't rule until later, she told Washington that the lawsuit doesn't have enough hard facts to back up its allegation that top university officials were aware of the harsh tactics police were using against protesters. 

The judge said to Washington, "My main problem with your complaint is that it does much less than your argument." 

Gonzalez Rogers said, "What I do not appreciate is all these allegations which are not actually supported by the facts in the complaint." 

She also said the lawsuit has more facts for some administrators than it does for others and told Washington, "It's incumbent to make sure you have the facts for each of the individuals instead of as a group." 

The lawsuit alleges that university administrators "saw police viciously clubbing peaceful protesters, yanking women by their hair, clubbing people on the ground and clubbing people after the tents had already been secured or destroyed and they did nothing to stop this conduct." 

In fact, the suit alleges that after police engaged in harsh tactics between 3:30 and 4 p.m. on Nov. 9, 2011, administrators "still set in motion a more violent police attack in the evening," around 9:30 p.m.


Updated: Man Who Died in Berkeley Fire Was USF Professor

Tuesday September 10, 2013 - 05:05:00 PM

A man who died in an apartment fire in Berkeley early this morning was a longtime professor at the University of San Francisco. 

Andrew Goodwin, 56, died in a two-alarm fire that was reported at 1:38 a.m. at an apartment building at 2431 Oregon St., near Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley fire Acting Deputy Chief Avery Webb said. 

Responding firefighters learned there might still be someone inside the building, and forced entry to a third-floor unit, where they found Goodwin, Webb said. 

Goodwin was transported to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, where he later died, according to the Alameda County coroner's bureau. 

The fire was controlled at 2:08 a.m. 

Goodwin was one of the founders of USF's media studies department and was a pioneer in the field of media and cultural studies nationwide, USF media studies chair Bernadette Barker-Plummer said. 

He taught classes on media theory, popular music and communication, among other topics, Barker-Plummer said. 

Goodwin taught a special class on Led Zeppelin and was writing a book on the band, program assistant Lydia Fedulow said. He had taught at the university for at least 20 years, Fedulow said. 

Former student Lindsay Dellas remembered having "great discussions" in his class about various bands and the evolution of music genres and the music industry. 

"He was a tough professor and he definitely challenged students, but was inspiring and extremely passionate about his area of study," Dellas wrote in an email.  

Goodwin is also known for his book "Dancing in the Distraction Factory: Music Television and Popular Culture," university officials said.  

"Andrew was the type of person that put his students first," Fedulow said. "He was always very concerned about students and making sure they were getting the most of their experience at USF. He was very brilliant. He will be missed a lot by faculty, staff and students." 

Goodwin received his Ph.D. from the Birmingham University Center for Cultural Studies in the U.K. He leaves behind an adult son and sister who lives in England, Fedulow said.


New: Barbara Lee Named to U.N. Post

Tuesday September 10, 2013 - 05:04:00 PM

President Barack Obama has nominated U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, as a representative to the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Lee's office announced today. 

The session begins later this month and will conclude in December, said Carrie Adams, a spokeswoman for Lee's office. 

Lee's current term in the House, which ends at the end of 2014, will not be affected by the nomination, Adams said. Lee has served as a representative for the East Bay since 1998. 

"This nomination comes at a time when tensions in our world are at a fever-pitch," Lee said in a statement. "I believe now more than ever that the United States must fully engage the United Nations and the international community to ensure a safer and more peaceful world." 

Lee's tenure in the House has been characterized by her anti-war stances, and she recently announced her opposition to the president's plan to pursue military action in Syria in response to allegations of use of chemical weapons by the current Syrian regime.


Berkeley Resident Dies in Apartment Fire

Hannah Albarazi (BCN)
Tuesday September 10, 2013 - 09:57:00 AM

A 56-year-old man died in a two-alarm fire at an apartment building in Berkeley early this morning, according to the Alameda County coroner's bureau. 

Berkeley resident Andrew Goodwin was transported from the scene of the fire to Alta Bates Summit Medical Center for treatment, where he later succumbed to his injuries, according to the coroner's bureau. 

The fire, located at 2431 Oregon St., near Telegraph Avenue, was reported at 1:38 a.m., said Berkeley fire Acting Deputy Chief Avery Webb. 

Firefighters arrived at the scene of the fire as residents were evacuating the building. Seven of the building's eight residents were accounted for and had evacuated unharmed, Webb said. 

A report from citizens that one resident might still be inside the building, led firefighters to force entry into the third floor unit, which was heavily engulfed in the fire, Webb said. 

Firefighters found Goodwin inside his third floor apartment and transported him to the hospital, where he was pronounced deceased, according to Webb. 

Firefighters brought the blaze under control at 2:08 a.m., Webb said. According to Webb, the fire caused heavy damage to the third floor as well as significant water damage to the second and first floors. The cause of the fire remains under investigation this morning.


Flash: Man Shot and Killed in North West Berkeley

By Sara Gaiser (BCN)
Monday September 09, 2013 - 08:20:00 AM

A man was shot and killed near Eighth and Page streets in Berkeley last night, according to a police spokeswoman.  

Gunshots were reported in the area at 5:43 p.m., according to Officer Jennifer Coats.  

Officers arriving on the scene found an adult male victim with gunshot wounds at Eighth and Page, Coats said.  

He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Coats said. 

Police remain on the scene, canvassing the area for evidence. No suspect information has been released yet, Coats said.


What the US Media Is Not Telling You about Chemical Warfare in Syria

Did US-backed Rebel Forces Use Chemical Weapons?

By Gar Smith
Thursday September 05, 2013 - 07:09:00 PM

(Note: Several of the videos in this report are disturbing and should be restricted for viewing by readers under the age of 18.)

"The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

-- Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, 2007.

"What we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don't know how they were used, when they were used [or] who used them."
-- President Barack Obama, April 29, 2013, responding to evidence that chemical weapons had been used by US-backed rebels inside Syria.

While there is convincing evidence that horrendous civilian casualties were sustained in an August 21 incident that devastated Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, there is as yet no clear and conclusive evidence as to what chemicals may have been used or who was ultimately responsible. 

According to Human Rights Watch, local activists claimed that 18 missiles were fired from the direction of a military museum in downtown Damascus and from Mezzeh, a military airport. The missiles reportedly hit several neigborhoods in East Ghouta -- Zamalka, Ayn Tarma, Douma, and Moadamiya. However, none of these targeted sites were controlled by opposition forces. 

Despite the lack of concrete intelligence, Washington announced plans to take immediate action -- without even awaiting the findings of UN weapons inspectors who had been invited to examine sites where chemical weapons appeared to have been used. 

This shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later response raised concerns – and suspicions – worldwide. 

Another oddity surfaced in the days following the attack. The White House subsequently claimed it had "overwhelming evidence" of the Syrian government's role in the attack. In fact, senior administration officials revealed, US intelligence claimed to have had evidence of preparations for a missile launch "in the three days prior to the attack." This prompted outraged cries from civilians and militants in Syria. As Razan Zaitouneh, a resident of one of the targeted towns, told London's Daily Mail: "It's unbelievable that [the White House] did nothing to warn people [or] to stop the regime before the crime." 

The intelligence report confessed to certain "gaps in our understanding." One of those uncertainties, the Mail reported was "whether the order was executed at a high level within the Syrian military, or if it was carried out by a rogue military officer." 

Following the attack on Ghouta, Syria admitted a team of UN experts to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons. On August 28, Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari asked that the UN experts also investigate three alleged chemical attacks staged by opposition forces -- on August 22, 24 and 25 in Jobar, Sahnaya, and al-Bahariya. 

It was Syria, by the way, that first called for UN inspections -- after a rebel attack in Allepo on March 19 left nearly 30 civilians and soldiers dead, apparently from the use of chemical weapons. 

On the same day that Ambassador Jaafari made his request to UN General-Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, Inter Press Service reporter Gareth Porter noted: "After initially insisting that Syria give United Nations investigators unimpeded access to the site of an alleged nerve gas attack, the administration of President Barack Obama reversed its position on Sunday and tried unsuccessfully to get the UN to call off its investigation," presumably because the UN's truth-seeking mission was "hindering [Washington's] plans for an attack." 

We now know that US Secretary of State John Kerry lobbied behind the scenes to derail the UN inspection of the Ghouta attack and reportedly tried to strong-arm UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, To his credit, the secretary-general refused to bend. The inspections went ahead – but with the understanding that the scientists were to focus only on the chemical evidence: they were to make no attempts to determine who actually used the weapons. 

Grounds for War? 

The Obama Administration has repeatedly cited the use of chemical weapons as a self-imposed "red line" that would result in a US attack on Syrian forces. But even if the Assad regime did use chemical weapons (a question that remains unresolved), this still would not give the US a unilateral right to attack targets inside Syria. The UN Charter permits the use of force in only two situations: for self-defense in the face of imminent attack and when the Security Council authorizes the use of force to counter a threat to international peace. 

(Ironically, international law now grants Bashar al-Assad the legal right to use military force against the threat of an imminent US attack!) 

Even if Congress were to grant Obama's Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), it would still be illegal to attack Syria. On September 2, 2013, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored this point by warning that any "punitive" action against Syria for an alleged chemical weapons attack would be illegal – unless the US first obtained approval of the UN Security Council. 

Under growing public and political pressure, the president agreed to acknowledge the US Constitution and the War Powers Act. On August 31, he announced he would seek Congressional authorization for the use of force. Ironically, this conciliatory maneuver only served to escalate the military threat. 

Initially, the White House had suggested the US response would be limited to a single nighttime strike with cruise missiles and a next-day follow-up to obliterate any targets missed in the first raid. On September 4, however, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution that would give the president the freedom to attack Syrian targets for up to three months. And the goal shifted radically. Instead of "sending a message" about the use of chemical weapons, the goal of the new, extended mission became to render "decisive changes to the present military balance of power." 

In other words, the goal is to take sides in a civil war, employing the Pentagon’s military might to topple yet another foreign government. (Many observers believe this was the US intent all along and that the chemical weapons scare was only a convenient pretext for involvement.) 

What's wrong with this approach? Imagine a parallel scenario. Two angry men are beating one another bloody in the middle of a street. A police officer shows up. Instead of trying to break up the fight, however, the "peace officer" joins forces with one of the belligerents and starts pummeling the other fighter. 

President Obama unfortunately has placed his "credibility" on the line. Having publicly promised to strike Syria, he was wedded to take an action that would be condemned as illegal under international law. His invitation to involve Congress could have offered him a face-saving exit strategy. If Congress failed to approve his request to attack a government that poses no threat to the US, that would allow Obama to step back and acknowledge that he was responding to "the will of the people." 

While Obama's credibility as commander-in-chief might be damaged, the reputation of the US would be greatly enhanced. Like the earlier "no" vote in Britain's House of Commons, a similar thumbs-down from US Senators and Representatives would establish – emphatically – that the US is a democracy, not a military dictatorship. 

Chillingly, the president has indicated that, should he fail to win congressional support, he is willing – like his predecessor George W. Bush – to "go it alone." As Obama grimly proclaimed on September 4, 2013: "I always preserve the right and responsibility to act on behalf of America's national security" -- as he, and he alone, defines it. 

Who Can You Believe? 

Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly emphasized the charge that 1,429 civilians (including 426 children) were killed in the August 21 attack. These figures are now accepted without question. British intelligence, however has set the death toll at 350, a figure more in line with the cellphone images of victims' bodies shrouded in plastic and lined up on floors. This is still an atrocity of appalling proportions but, if the British assessment is closer to the truth, Washington could find itself accused of trying to "oversell" the tragedy. In any event, it’s a sobering reminder that we still don’t have "all the facts." 

But Kerry is only one of the administration's team of "salesmen" assigned to win public support for an illegal, unilateral US attack. Also onboard is National Director of Intelligence (NDI) James Clapper. One problem: Clapper is a notorious liar. 

When Sen. Ron Wyden recently asked the NID chief: "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Clapper replied under oath: "No, sir … not wittingly." When leaks by fugitive security contractor Edward Snowden revealed Clapper had dissembled – wittingly -- the intelligence chief's defense was that he had responded in the "least untruthful manner." 

Instead of being placed before microphones, the intelligence chief should have been placed behind bars. In short: Clapper should be in the clapper. If this is the kind of guy knocking on your door to sell you a subscription to "The New American Century," it's time to slam the door and burn the "welcome" mat. 

Were Chemical Weapons Used in Damascus? 

Disturbing cellphone images provide abundant evidence suggesting that some kind of chemical attack occurred in Ghouta. If UN inspectors turn up hard physical evidence (in the form of shell fragments or chemical clues) that could confirm the use of sarin nerve gas and the chemical characteristics of the weapon could potentially help identify the perpetrators. 

Sarin is a cholinesterase inhibitor. It causes muscles to contract and can lead to asphyxiation. Even without testing of hair and tissue samples, there was early evidence that sarin may have been present in some of the gassing attacks. Doctors without Borders treated many victims with atropine, a known antidote to sarin poisoning, and most who were treated in a timely fashion recovered. 

However, not all the gruesome deaths memorialized on YouTube may have resulted from sarin or other sophisticated weapons likely to be found in the arsenals of the Syrian government. The production of simple – but deadly -- chemical weapons is well within the reach of the average urban guerilla. 

An explosive release of chlorine gas can produce the kinds of convulsions and blistered skin captured on camera phones. Sarin and other nerve agents do not blister the skin. Blister agents (aka vesicants) are among the most common CW agents. Mustard gas, lewisite and phosgene (CX) are the best known. 

US-backed Rebels Have Used Chemical Weapons 

Previous deadly attacks involving chemical weapons have been traced to the rebel forces. One rebel attack on in Allepo on March 19, 2013 killed 30 Syrian soldiers and civilians. The incident prompted the Syrian government to call for a UN investigation. 

A report on the Allepo attack from a blogger who goes by the name "Syrian Girl," provides a detailed account of the deaths and immediate aftermath. The reporter noted that survivors complained of the smell of chlorine gas. Inhaling chlorine gas can flood the lungs with fluids, leading to asphyxiation – as well as "frothing at the mouth," which was reported at the site of the Damascus gassing. Syrian Girl pointed out that doctors and bystanders were not wearing protective gear, which suggested that nerve agents were not involved. "Syrian Girl" cited a CBS report in which a chemical weapons expert insisted the video evidence did not show the symptoms typically associated with the use of sarin or mustard gas. 

Here is the report from Syrian Girl: 

 

UN Investigator Faults 'The Rebels, Not the Government' 

After investigating alleged use of sarin and other chemical weapons in Homs in December 2012 and in Allepo in March 2013, Carla Del Ponte, head of the UN's Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, concluded: "This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities." 

 

In May of this year, a separate, independent UN investigation concluded that rebel forces were responsible for a series of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, including the use of sarin nerve gas. The report was carried on CCTV, China's English-language newscast (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rs86RJR3ZUk) but was not picked up by any mainstream news programs in the US. Here is the CCTV report: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rs86RJR3ZUk 

 

Killers of Bunnies: The Opposition's 'Chemical Battalion'  

The anti-Assad forces have been accused of murdering civilians and executing captured soldiers. And then there was the video of "Abu Sekar," a "US-backed militant" who made a show out of eating the heart of one of his victims. 

On December 5, 2012, a video attributed to the opposition forces was posted on YouTube (see below). The video purported to show how a rebel contingent had learned to mix chemical agents to create a deadly home-brew. In the video, a masked rebel demonstrates the gas' lethal effect on two unlucky rabbits. 

In the unverified video, the masked rebel points to the bodies of the convulsing rabbits and proclaims: "Enemies of Allah will die like rabbits. Your destiny will be like theirs because you are supporters of Bassah al Assad. God is great…. We are from the AR-Reeh Al-sarsar Chemical Battalion [the Destructive Wind Chemical Battalion]…. We shall kill you all with our chemical weapons." The containers of chemicals in the video appear to have come from Tekkim, a company in Turkey. Here is the video (Viewer discretion advised): 

 

On August 24, Reuters reported on the discovery of a trove of chemical weapons ostensibly linked to rebel forces. A video broadcast on Syrian State TV, showed the alleged contents of a rebel tunnel. In addition to piles of gas masks and shells, there were boxes and crates of chemical materials -- including containers bearing the signature: KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). Here's is the rough footage, as recorded by reporters on the scene: 

 

Behind the Ghouta Massacre: An Accidental Release of Saudi Chemicals? 

Associated Press correspondent Dale Gavlak published some eyewitness accounts of the attack in Ghouta: "From numerous interviews with doctors, Gouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the (deadly) gas attack," Gavlak reported. But Galvak’s most surprising disclosure came when Syrian militants in the Ghouta admitted that they were responsible for the August 21 incident but, they insisted, the civilian deaths resulted from an accident. The rebels claimed they had received weapons nitially intended for use by the US-backed al-Nusra Front. Rebels told Gavlak that they were not told what the weapons were and, lacking training, they mishandled the material and accidentally detonated some of the weapons. (http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/) 

Cui Bono? Who Benefits from a ChemWar Incident? 

The Assad regime insists it has not used chemical weapons and the US has, to date, offered no indisputable, airtight evidence that it has. Instead, Washington focussed narrowly on the question whether there is evidence that sarin nerve gas was deployed. 

As Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out during a long press conference on September 2, Bashar Hafez al-Assad (whose forces continue to dominate the rebels) had no strategic or political reason to resort to chemical weapons. Assad clearly understands that a resort to the use of chemical weapons would cross Obama's "red line" and give the US its long-sought pretext for a military strike. As Putin observed, "It makes no sense." 

Raining bombs on a foreign government to make it bend to the dictates of Washington is a brutal practice with a history of failure. So, if the goal of a US military strike is not to deter "future gas attacks," what is the purpose? Washington has not leveled with the US public. The "red line" and the chemical weapons scare are merely a pretext for an attack that is intended to weaken Assad militarily. 

The US has invested heavily to support, train and arm members of the Free Syrian Army and the al-Nusra Front. (The campaign is modeled after the "Contra" war waged against the democratically elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The model was also adopted by the CIA when it helped arm Osama bin Laden and the Taliban's rebel war against the Russian army of occupation in Afghanistan.) 

Despite this covert aid and a bloody two-year fight that has caused the deaths of as many as 110,000 civilians and driven three million people from their homes, the rebel forces have been losing ground to Assad's onslaught. But there's more at stake here than the US simply trying to justify its investment in the losing side of a civil war. Several US administrations – Republican and Democrat – have been wedded to a geopolitical game-plan that requires the destruction of the Syrian government. 

Gen. Wesley Clark (US Army, ret.) is one of those who has warned that the recent history of US attacks in the Middle East are manifestations of this long-established master-plan. 

During a visit to the Pentagon several weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Clark recalled how he was pulled aside by a top-ranking official who confided: "I just got this down from upstairs from the Secretary of Defense's office today. This is a memo that describes how we are going to take out 7 countries in 5 years…. Starting with Iraq, then Syria and Lebanon. Then Libya, Somalia and Sudan. Then finishing off Iran." Here's a clip of Clark’s remarks: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LTdx1nPu3k 

 

What Could Go Wrong?  

Col. Ann Wright (US Army, ret.) is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran and a former US diplomat. Wright resigned her diplomatic post in March 2003 to oppose George W. Bush's pending, illegal war on Iraq. Wright recently offered some seasoned advice on why attacking foreign nations is not a productive foreign policy. 

"At this time of crisis," She writes, "it is worth remembering another time, 30 years ago in October 1983, when US warships bombarded Lebanon, the country located next to Syria. Within weeks, the US Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by a massive truck bomb that killed 241 American servicemen: 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. Two minutes later, a second suicide bomber drove a truck filled with explosives into the French military compound in Beirut killing 58 French paratroopers. 

"As US warships gather off the shores of Lebanon to launch Tomahawk Cruise missiles at targets in Syria, we can make some educated guesses of what the 'unintended consequences' could be." 

Here are several 'likely outcomes' that could follow a US attack: 

• Syrian anti-aircraft batteries will fire their rockets at incoming US missiles. This would invite a Syrian counterattack on the US flotilla in the Gulf. If any US planes penetrated Syrian airspace and were shot down, this would clearly result in calls for US military escalation against Syria. 

• Many Syrians on the ground will die (especially if US bombs trigger the release of dangerous chemical gases over populated areas). Both the US and Syrian governments will blame one another for the deaths. 

• The US Embassy in Damascus will be attacked and burned. Many other US Embassies and businesses across the Middle East will suffer a similar fate. 

• Syria might also launch rockets toward Washington's staunchest ally in the region – nuclear-armed Israel. 

• Israel would launch bombing missions on Syria -- as it has three times in the past two years -- and perhaps take the opportunity to launch an attack on Syria's strongest ally in the region -- Iran. 

• Iran is a country with a population of 80 million. It has the largest military in the region – a force untouched by war in the past 25 years. Iran might retaliate with missiles aimed at Israel and US military bases in Afghanistan, Turkey, Bahrain and Qatar. 

• Iran could block the Straits of Hormuz and impede the transport of oil out of the Persian Gulf. 

• Russia, which has a naval maintenance facility in Syria, has stationed 16 warships in the Mediterranean Sea. 

After initially assuring the public that chemical weapons sites would not be targeted because of the inherent danger of triggering releases of deadly chemicals, the Pentagon is once again laying out a plan-of-attack designed to "take out" the regime's chemical weapons assets. 

And, Finally: The "False Flag" Email Washington Will Not Discuss 

In December 2012, a hacker in Malaysia intercepted an email exchange between David Goulding and Philip Doughty, two officials of Britam Defense, a British-based contractor. The contents of the email exchange were published in a story in the London Daily Mail on January 29, 2013. 

The Daily Mail reported: "Leaked emails have allegedly proved that the White House gave the green light to a chemical weapons attack in Syria that could be blamed on Assad's regime and in turn, spur international military action in the devastated country." 

The reputed email, dated December 25, 2012, read: 

'Phil,  

We've got a new offer. It's about Syria again. Qataris propose an attractive deal and swear that the idea is approved by Washington.
'We'll have to deliver a CW to Homs, a Soviet origin g-shell from Libya similar to those that Assad should have. 'They want us to deploy our Ukrainian personnel that should speak Russian and make a video record.
'Frankly, I don't think it's a good idea but the sums proposed are enormous. Your opinion?
'Kind regards,
David.'
 

In a rather strange development, this story was quickly "scrubbed" from the Daily Mail website without explanation. Officials at Britam Defense and in Washington have reportedly refused to answer questions about this memo or the censored Mail report. A few archived copies of the original article can still be found on the Web – but proceed with caution (see below). 

Have I Been Hacked? 

On August 24, I attempted to locate and download a copy of the Daily Mail's blacklisted news report that spelled out a secret "US-backed" plan to stage a "false-flag" chemical weapons attack that could be blamed on the Assad government. 

I tried to link to several archived versions of the story that turned up during an Internet search but none would open (the sites appeared to be blocked). On my final try, I hit a live link that lead to a posting of the censored news report. 

I downloaded it and formatted it for posting on the Environmentalists Against War website (wwwlenvirosagainstwar.org). And then something strange happened. 

I heard the sound of several loud keyboard clicks (about five) coming from my laptop. But my fingers were not on the keyboard. 

After an initial start, I shrugged this off and resumed my work. Maybe my ears were playing tricks on me. A short time later, however, I was startled when the sound of the keystrokes again returned to my laptop – once again my fingers were nowhere near the keys. A chill ran down my spine: I was spooked. 

Since I had finished my posting, I quickly disconnected from the Internet and shut off the laptop. (Do any readers have any knowledge of or experience with this kind of activity?) 

The next day (August 25, 2013), I attempted to log on to one of my regularly visited sites (the homepage of the San Francisco Chronicle). Instead, I got the following alert (along with some boilerplate advice): 

 

This Connection Is Untrusted

You have asked Firefox to connect securely to www.sfgate.com, but we can't confirm that your connection is secure.  

Normally, when you try to connect securely, sites will present trusted identification to prove that you are going to the right place. However, this site's identity can't be verified. 

What Should I Do? 

If you usually connect to this site without problems, this error could mean that someone is trying to impersonate the site, and you shouldn't continue. 

[Get me out of here!] 

Technical Details 

I Understand the Risks 

 



 

 

Gar Smith, an award-winning, Berkeley-based investigative reporter, is co-founder of Environmentalists Against War and author of Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth (Chelsea Green, 2012). 

 


SIDEBAR: Syria, Sarin, the Rebels and the US: The Underreported News

By Gar Smith
Thursday September 05, 2013 - 10:15:00 PM

The following collection of underreported news stories concerning gas attacks in Syria were posted online over the past weeks on the Environmentalists Against War website (www.envirosagainstwar.org). Warning: Some of these reports feature video clips that contain disturbing images. Taken together, these reports suggest that officials in Washington may once more be trying to "mislead" the nation into war. 

Syria, Assad, and the History of Chemical Weapons 
 

(Jon Lee Anderson / The New Yorker) 

The images are gut-wrenching. In one video, a man tries to revive a child, a boy perhaps three or four years old, by pouring water over his face, rubbing him, attempting a futile resuscitation. The boy is pale and limp and appears to have died. Around him there are more bodies in similar states of death or near-death, prostrate on a floor. Oddly, there is no blood. It is as if everyone has drowned. 
 http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13917 

No Proof on Chemical Attack but Obama Orders Preparations to Attack Syria 

(Jason Ditz / Antiwar.com) 

There's still no real proof, but Western officials say they have "little or no doubt" that Wednesday's Ghouta incident was a chemical weapons attack. Even though the UN investigators said the previous attack was almost certainly launched by the rebels, Western officials continue to present that as the Assad government is also culpable. Though President Obama insists there was "no rush" to attack Syria, he has privately ordered the military to draw up options for an attack. 
 http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13918 

US, UK Won't Wait for UN Inspection; Plan to Attack Syria Within 2 Weeks
 

(Jason Ditz / Antiwar.com) 

Discussing the matter in a 40 minute phone call on Saturday night, President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed in principle to start attacking Syria within the next two weeks. France is also reportedly in on the idea. The Syrian government has agreed to let UN inspectors into Jobar, the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack. The quick response has been condemned as "too late" by US officials. 
 http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13925 

Evidence Indicates Syrian Government Did Not Launch a Chemical Weapon Attack Against Its People
 

(Washington's Blog / Global Research) 

The last time the US blamed the Syrian government for a chemical weapons attack, the claim was debunked. But is the claim that Syria used chemical weapons against its people true this time? It's not surprising that Syria's close ally, Russia, is expressing doubt. But Russia isn't the only doubter. 
 http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13930 

Toxic Catch: Syria Rebels' Chemical Lab Uncovered Near Damascus 

(RT News) 

Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons against regime forces in the Damascus suburb of Jobar, where soldiers discovered stockpiles of toxic poisoning antidotes, state media reports. According to a SANA news report citing "an official source," the army unit pushed into the area, where soldiers were attacked before seizing a warehouse containing material labeled 'Made in KSA' as well as a large number of protective masks. 
 http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13929 

Report: Syrian Soldiers Find Chemical Agents in Rebel Tunnels
 

(Global Post.com & Patrick Henningsen / Global Research) 

Syrian state TV reports troops found chemical agents in rebel tunnels in Damascus in what some called an attempt to strengthen the case against a suspect chemical weapons assault -- based on UK and US efforts to win public support for a "humanitarian intervention" (similar to that which was perpetrated in Libya in 2011). Meanwhile, no one is asking the most fundamentally important question: were real military-grade chemical weapons actually used at all? 
 http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13923 

Rebels Behind Previous Syrian Chemical Weapons Attacks
 

(Russia Today News) 

UN human rights investigators have spoken to the victims of Syria's civil war and gathered medical testimonies that point to the Syrian rebels having used sarin nerve gas. Meanwhile, allegations of its use by the government remain unsubstantiated. Opposition fighters allegedly used unknown chemicals against residents in the town of Saraqib and in the northwestern province of Idlib to later put the blame on Assad forces. 
 http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13928 

Hacked Emails Reveal 'US-Backed Plan' to Launch Chemical Weapon Attack on Syria, Blame It on Assad 
 

(ANI & The Truth Seeker & Louise Boyle / The Daily Mail) 

Leaked documents have suggested that the Obama administration gave the green light to stage a chemical weapons attack in Syria that could be blamed on President Bashar al Assad's regime and, in turn, spur international military action in the devastated country. The story, first reported in the mainstream press by the Daily Mail, was subsequently removed from the site. Read the original censored story below. 
 http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13924 

Russia Suggests Syria 'Chemical Attack' Was 'Planned Provocation' by Rebels
 

(Russia Today) 

A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows bodies of children wrapped in shrouds laid out on the ground as Syrian rebels claim they were killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, 2013. But other evidence suggests the rebels (who have used chemical weapons in the past) may have staged the attack to provoke the US into attacking the Syrian regime. 
 http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13922 

Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack

(Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh / The Mint Press News) 

GHOUTA, Syria (August 29, 2013) -- As the machinery for a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria gathers pace following last week’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S. and its allies may be targeting the wrong culprit Rebels and local residents in Ghouta accuse Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan of providing chemical weapons to an al-Qaida linked rebel group. 

http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13944 

Report: Syrian Rebel Forces Trained by West are Moving Towards Damascus
 

(The Jerusalem Post) 

The French newspaper Le Figaro reports that guerrilla fighters trained by the West began moving towards Damascus in mid-August. The rebels were trained for several months in a camp on the Jordanian-Syrian border by CIA operatives, as well as Jordanian and Israeli commandos. The first group of 300 handpicked Free Syrian Army soldiers crossed the border on August 17 and a second group was deployed on August 19. 
 http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13931 

US Training "Rebels" Since 2011. Wikileaks Revealed The Complete Grand Plan in March 2012 Leak
 

(Tyler Durden / Zero Hedge) 

For all those still shocked by the "developing events" in Syria, here is the full rundown as it was orchestrated back in 2011, and as it was released in March 2012 by Wikileaks. The goal of US-backed Special Operations Forces was to "commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces, elicit collapse from within." In an air campaign, "The main base they would use is Cyprus, hands down." 
 http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13932 

Transparent Hoax Could Lead to War 
 

(Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com) 

There was the time they falsely claimed the Assad regime was killing babies in incubators. Then there was the "massacre" at Houla, which allegedly killed 32 children and over 60 adults. A photo "documenting" the slaughter turned our to have been a hoax. The story was withdrawn and the Syrian rebels went back to the drawing board. Western chemical warfare experts are skeptical that weapons-grade chemical substances were used. 
 http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13926 

Syria, Iran Warn a US Attack Would Set the Middle East Ablaze
 

(RT News & Bassem Mroue and Albert Aji / The Associated Press) 

Iran has warned the US not to cross "the red line" on Syria threatening it would have "severe consequences" for the White House. This follows a statement from Syrian officials who said a strike would create "very serious fallout" for the whole region. The Syrian government accused rebels of using chemical weapons Saturday and warned the United States not to launch any military action against Damascus. 
 

http://www.envirosagainstwar.org/know/read.php?itemid=13927 


SIDEBAR: A Short History of Chemical Warfare

By Gar Smith
Thursday September 05, 2013 - 10:12:00 PM

Chemical Weapons Outlawed

The use of chemical gases in the trenches of WWI horrified the world, prompting a global campaign to ban their use as weapons of war. In 1925, a Geneva protocol was passed outlawing the use of nerve gas, tear gas, and other deadly agents in warfare. The 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention (which went into effect in 1997) called for a ban on the possession or production of chemical weapons. (It's worth noting that many of these WWI chemicals found a new and "legal" purpose when they were reconfigured and sold as commercial herbicides and pesticides).

As of February 2013, Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Russia, and the US still admitted to possessing chemical weapons stockpiles. Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, signatory nations are required to destroy their remaining stockpiles. Russia and the US, with the world's largest inventories of chemical and biological weapons, have still not eliminated their stockpiles. This is why President Obama always qualifies his condemnation of the Syrian regime for possessing "the largest inventory of chemical weapons in the Middle East" (emphasis added).

It's worth noting that Syria never signed the Chemical Weapons treaty so, technically, Assad cannot be accused of violating the ban on possession and use of chemical arms. 

Washington's History of Chemical Warfare 

Between1962 and 1973, the Pentagon's Project SHAD conducted 37 secret chemical weapons tests, several of which involved firing artillery shells filled with sarin and VX gas at target ranges in Alaska and Hawaii. The Pentagon has admitted to exposing more than 60,000 military personnel to chemical gases in secret experiments like Operation Whitecoat. In 1968, one of the Pentagon's experiments went awry and wound up killing 6,400 sheep downwind of Utah’s Dugway Proving Ground. 

How US Helped Saddam Gas Iran 

Declassified CIA documents confirm that the US assisted Saddam Hussein when he used chemical weapons in 1988. The US provided Iraq with critical satellite intelligence that pinpointed the location of Iranian troops. The records made it perfectly clear that Washington knew Saddam was preparing to unleash his stockpile of chemical weapons -- including sarin. The US is now considered complicit in the deaths of 20,000 Iranian soldiers killed by Iraq's CW arsenal. 

The US, Israel and Sarin Nerve Gas 

On October 4, 1992, an Israeli El Al jet on a flight from New York to Amsterdam's Schipol Airport lost two engines and crashed into a 12-story apartment in Bijlmer killing all four people on board flight 1862 and incinerating at least 43 people in the housing complex. In the years following the crash, nearly 900 survivors fell victim to mysterious ailments including breathing and neurological problems. For years, El Al officials lied to the public, claiming the flight carried only "a regular commercial load… Israel has nothing to hide." 

On the sixth anniversary of the crash the "official story" collapsed with the publication of a leaked copy of the plane's cargo manifest. Instead of "regular" cargo, Flight 1862 was loaded with 10 tons of chemicals, including hydrofluoric acid, isopropanol and dimethyl methylphosphonate (DMMP) – three of the four chemicals essential for the production of sarin nerve gas. The DMMP came from a Pennsylvania firm called Solkatronic Chemicals Inc. and was headed for the Israeli Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) outside of Tel Aviv. 

The secret shipment was authorized by the US Commerce Department, in apparent violation of the Chemical Weapons Treaty. It was estimated that the chemicals onboard the doomed jet could have produced 270 kilos of sarin -- sufficient to kill the entire population of a major world city. 


Berkeley Officials Tour Devastated Tuolomne Camp Site

By Bay City News
Friday September 06, 2013 - 10:44:00 AM

City officials in Berkeley this week made the trek out to the city's nearly century-old Tuolumne Camp to assess the damage done by the massive Rim Fire.

Law enforcement escorted the staff Monday into the grounds, which remain closed as the fire continues to burn nearby. All the main buildings in the camp have been destroyed including the dining and recreation halls and the amphitheater, city spokesman Matthai Chakko said. 

The two permanent bridges were also damaged to the point they are unusable, Chakko said. 

Roughly 12 to 16 cabins remain in the camp's main area, but each have varying degrees of damage, Chakko said. 

A restroom and two tent cabins in the camp's Sun City area were untouched, but everything else in the area burned, according to officials. 

Prior to the fire, the camp boasted more than 80 buildings. 

"This is a place that meant a lot to generations of families," Chakko said. "The fire came through so fast it took out everything in its way." Chakko said it is still too early to tell what the city's plan for the camp will be. 

"We don't know what's feasible because we don't know enough about the next steps," he said. 

First, the city is hiring contractors to remove debris from the campsite, he said.  

Campers who were forced to evacuate before the end of their reservation dates will be refunded the amounts based on their stay, according to the city. 

Anyone who was unable to attend between the dates of Aug. 19 and Aug. 30 due to road closures will receive full refunds. 

Berkeley's Tuolumne Family Camp, established in 1922, is located off of state Highway 120 west of the entrance to Yosemite National Park. 

The Rim Fire, now the fourth-largest wildfire in California's history, began on Aug. 17 in the Stanislaus National Forest near the Jawbone Ridge area and has burned 237,341 acres. As of this morning, it was 80 percent contained. 

The U.S. Forest Service announced today that personnel from its Law Enforcement and Investigations division and the Tuolumne County District Attorney's Office have determined that the blaze started after the hunter "allowed an illegal fire to escape." 

There is no indication that the fire is related to a marijuana-growing operation, as had been rumored, according to the Forest Service.  

The hunter's name has not yet been released.  

As of this morning, 1,900 homes were still threatened and evacuations were in effect, according to Cal Fire.


Scenes from the Southside (First Person)

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Friday September 06, 2013 - 10:11:00 AM

I've recently come to regard myself as the Patron Saint of Telegraph Avenue. Hardly a day goes by that I don't get up to Peet's Coffee or Bateau Ivre. Sitting contentedly over a café au lait, I watch pretty girls with blue hair and young guys with tattoos on their sturdy calves come in and pour sugar in their drinks. 

The Mills College Bus goes by every day, and quite often I see the local poet, Julia Vinograd, in her familiar brown and gold tam limp across the street, peddling her book. Firetrucks and paramedic wagons go by regularly, and handsome young officers come in for coffee. 

Oh, yes, it's a scene I never tire of. Only on Telegraph Avenue! 

*** 

I get up every morning at 6 a.m., a habit I can't break! I cross to my 6th floor window on Dana Street to check the weather. The fog is often so thick I usually can't read the time on the Campanile. Sitting in front of my television set, I watch the morning news, generally ABC. That news is mostly about Syria, a grim subject if ever there was one. 


Let us hope that President Obama and John Kerry can bring an end to the violence and bloodshed in this troubled area. Meantime, I chomp away on my TV dinner (Sesame Chicken) and pray to the Good Lord above that peace will be restored to our land! 

*** 

Having nothing better to do on a beautiful September afternoon, this afternoon I walked up Bancroft Avenue to have a look at Boalt Hall School of Law, where I worked for more than 20 years as an administrative assistant— a metaphor for "secretary." I hardly recognized the place for all the renovations and improvements. Believe me, those were hectic days, as our beloved Governor, R.R. called in the National Guard (for reasons known only to him) and sprayed Manville Hall with tear gas just as students were about to take exams, hardly an ideal situation!

I had the privilege of working for several brilliant law professors—Stefan Reisenfeld, Albert Ehrenzweig, former Austrian Judge. and a poet of some renown, Herma Hill Kay, Robert Cole, Willie Fletcher and Frank Newman—all of whom became famous judges.

These were turbulent times, particularly in People's Park. I narrowly missed being struck by a brick at the Bank of America. A non-student was killed, as I recall.

Much as I enjoyed my job, I had the rather tedious task of typing letters of recommendation for students seeking clerkships with well-known judges. Having typed more than 100 hundred original letters (xeroxes not permitted), I threw in the towel and resigned my job. But, as I said, these were exciting times. Anthony Lewis and Archibald Cox were visiting scholars, and the Bakke case was a cause celebre.

As mentioned previously, some of my job was downright tiresome; I had to administer examinations, call time and collect blue books. None the less, I was proud to be part of the University of California Law School; I still serve on the Retirees Committee
and attend several meetings a year. This University, I'm happy to say, is regarded as the finest one in the Country, a fact which thrills me no end. 

*** 

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need; by sun and candle-light.......

"I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith,
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,— I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life— and if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death."

—Sonnets from the Portuguese


I recall seeing Myrna Loy portray Browning several years ago in a
play in a San Francisco Theatre. This may sound somewhat amazing
as Loy generally played sophisticated roles. None the less, she
recited beautifully lines from Browning's poetry. 

In the final scene of this play, Loy sits in an armchair, a scarf
draped over her shoulders. The scarf slips from her shoulder and
falls to the floor.

Is it any wonder I was reduced to sobs? Do we have any poets
today to match Browning's tender and moving paeans? Offhand,
I can think only of Billy Collins and his contemporaries.

Let us hope that a new generation of poets will inspire and bring
joy to our society. 

*** 

 


Alex Nicoloff: 1923 - 2013

Friday September 06, 2013 - 11:18:00 AM
Alex Nicoloff: 1923 - 2013
Alex Nicoloff: 1923 - 2013

Alex passed away on August 14th at the age of 90 years. He was born in Toronto, Canada on July 29, 1923. He moved to Chicago to study at the Institute of Design, where he met and married his wife Martha in 1952. 

After moving to the Bay Area, with wife and two tiny daughters, Tamara and Natalya he became professor of art history at San Francisco State University. The family moved to Berkeley in 1961 when he was named Principal Artist at the anthropology museum of the University of California Berkeley.  

His own creative work continued throughout the years: welded steel sculpture; casting sculpture in bronze; the solar spectrum projected from prisms which he cut, ground and polished; using the spectral light from prisms to make videos; calligraphic designs based on the letter 0, and lastly a photographic essay showing the chaos of wires on local utility poles. 

Apart from his creative work, Alex was active in creating a linear park along Hearst street. He also named it "Ohlone park" for the native people that once lived in the area. 

All that knew Alex found him an extraordinary person, gifted in so many ways, he will be greatly missed.


Opinion

Editorials

What Should Berkeley's University Be?

By Becky O'Malley
Friday September 06, 2013 - 08:12:00 AM

Social Notes from All Over: Local website Berkeleyside.com (never call it a blog) is now promoting what it describes as “an enthralling new gathering for those wishing to broaden their horizons.” Among the speakers at “Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas” will be new UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

From the inevitable flackery which such events generate:

“Dirks, a historian and anthropologist whose work focuses on India, will be in conversation. The subject: “What are the humanities — chopped liver?”

Now there’s a topic which is close to my own heart. 

Per Wikipedia, just a refresher for those who might be confused: “The humanities include ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy, religion, and visual and performing arts such as music and theatre.” 

As an Old Blue Comp Lit major, it’s been sad for me to see what New York Times Science Times columnist Natalie Angier called “the odious and increasingly pervasive term” STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) promoted as being innately superior to the humanities. In my undergraduate days, British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow was dining out on advancing the premise that humanities devotees were ignorant of science: 

“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?”
Well, yes, but now the shoe’s on the other foot. The STEMites are ascendant and the humanities are in retreat. 

Case in point: U.C. Santa Cruz has just announced, with crocodile tears of course, that it’s canning the immensely popular Shakespeare Santa Cruz summer play festival, putatively because of cumulative shortfalls adding up to perhaps $1.98 million over about 5 years, though the figures UCSC provides are vigorously disputed

Anyone familiar with technology funding knows that two million dollars is chump change in those circles. Santa Cruz is awash in Silicon Valley spillover—newly minted moguls who could underwrite those bills if they were asked politely. 

Now, I have nothing against science and technology: my husband is a computer scientist who once taught at U.C. Berkeley and my Daughter the Professor’s doctorate in biology is from UCSC. Despite my humanities education, I was a science reporter for a few years myself. But today’s University of California seems to be leaning way too far in the other direction now: STEM‘s in, Shakespeare’s out. 

And there’s a Berkeley example: The much lauded Young Musicians Program has been shut down. From the press release announcing its demise: 

“Over the last 45 years, the Young Musicians Program has provided a valuable public service to the community by providing high quality tutoring and musical education to low-income and disadvantaged youth. The program was initially founded within UC Berkeley’s Music Department in 1968 as a summer program for youth from Berkeley and surrounding communities. Over time, it has expanded to a year-round program, featuring individual, group, orchestral and choral instruction. Musical instruments and all other aspects of the program were provided at no cost to the students and their families. In the 2012/2013 academic year, YMP enrolled 92 students aged 10 to 18.”
So why was it axed? The back story is murky. I’ve called around to try to get it straight, but I can’t. 

I know quite a few current and past students in the program, and I’ve now talked to many administrators, parents, teachers and board members. The best I can determine is that ineffectual management allowed an untenable labor dispute to develop between the director and the instructors, so UC Berkeley just decided to bail, much easier than solving the problems or braving a lawsuit. Money woes haven’t even been mentioned. 

An external non-profit spinoff, to be called the Young Musicians’ Choral Orchestra, was announced in the press release which reported the YMP closure, but has yet to materialize. It’s being organized by a small group which includes YMP’s former director Daisy Newman (who hasn’t returned my calls) and its former advisory board chair and major donor Richard J. Olsen, a former TransAmerica corporate executive (to whom I spoke yesterday). 

Despite their evident good intentions, one more non-profit youth orchestra competing among many similar organizations for scarce foundation funds just won’t have the same cachet as a 45-year-old University of California program which has been an acclaimed success. 

UC Santa Cruz served not only its students but the city of Santa Cruz and the public at large by sponsoring Shakespeare Santa Cruz and providing a percentage of its funding. Christopher Krohn, a former Santa Cruz mayor, has written to UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal urging the formation of a blue ribbon committee, with members both from city government and from the university, to try to salvage the festival. As of this writing the university seems uninterested, but perhaps that will change. 

Here in Berkeley, citizens and others interested in salvaging the full scope of the Young Musicians’ Program for continuation under university auspices should make a similar offer to new UCB Chancellor Nicolas Dirks. I’m sure local residents who know and appreciate the Young Musicians Program would rally round—I’d certainly volunteer to help myself—and we could probably find one of our own ex-Mayors to participate. 

Perhaps one of the Ideas to be considered by Dirks and his interviewer at the “Berkeley Festival of Ideas” could be The Idea of a University (a title previously used but not trademarked by John Henry Newman). What the University of California in all its branches seems to be forgetting at the moment, as exemplified by these two cases, is the obligation of a great and historic public institution to be a good citizen in the communities where it resides. 

Saving these iconic arts programs would be one way for UC to provide a resounding answer to the challenging question which Chancellor Dirks should be asked to answer in his “conversation” onstage at the festival. 

What should a university be? 

Well, more than just chopped liver! 

 

 


The Editor's Back Fence

Computer Company Outage Took Planet Off Line for Hours

Saturday September 07, 2013 - 10:18:00 AM

A system failure at our web hosting company, XO.com, took the Planet off line, along with many other customers all over the country, from about 3 p.m. PST yesterday until about 10 this morning. We regret the inconvenience--in fact we're furious at the inconvenience. The good news is that it doesn't seem to have been the guys in the Black Helicopters trying to suppress Gar's story in this issue.



Cartoons

Odd Bodkins: The Last Days of Summer (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday September 06, 2013 - 11:15:00 AM

 

Dan O'Neill

 


Bounce: Adage Infinitum (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Friday September 06, 2013 - 11:11:00 AM

 

Joseph Young

 


Public Comment

New: What About Syria?

By Bruce Joffe
Sunday September 08, 2013 - 10:17:00 PM

I'm a peaceful activist who believes we must significantly disable Syria's military. Poison gassing is an atrocity, on top of 100,000 horrible atrocities, that must receive severe consequences. Without consequences, no standards against abhorrent behavior can be upheld. 

Objectors say, "why should we be policeman to the world?" The answer is we are the most powerful country that also stands for principles of human rights and justice. True, we sometimes give only lip-service to these ideals while pursuing selfish national or corporate interests, but, the other powerful countries don't even pretend to uphold these ideals. They'd let people kill each other, so long as they can buy resources and sell their products. If we don't act, who will? 

Objectors say, "why go to war now when we did nothing while 100,000 civilians have been killed already?" The answer is that we've no clear threshold beyond which condemnation and reaction are called for. Should the world have reacted after 100,000 murders? or 50,000? or 1,000? or 50? How many people must die to call this an atrocity? We don't know. But we do know that use of poison gas, biological or nuclear weapons IS an atrocity, and now, that line has been crossed. 

How can peace-loving people condone war? When negotiation and diplomacy fail, then one must push back when confronted by a bully. Diplomacy only works when all parties actually want to find a resolution. In the case of Syria, the tyrant Assad wants only to eliminate his opposition.


Columns

THE PUBLIC EYE: Syria: One Crisis Too Many

By Bob Burnett
Thursday September 05, 2013 - 10:25:00 PM

Polls indicate that Americans aren’t in favor of military intervention in Syria. That’s certainly true out here on the left coast. It’s not that we don’t care about Syria’s humanitarian crisis; it’s that we’ve run out of energy. America is in crisis overload. 

Most Americans believe that Bassar al-Assad is a bad guy and probably used chemical weapons on his people. We feel sorry for the Syrian civilians. But we also feel sorry for working-class Americans who are struggling to keep their heads about water. We are worried about jobs and the economy. We are worried about crazed Republican congresspeople who, because of their hatred for President Obama, seem determined to tank the economy. We are worried about global climate change and savage weather. We are worried about violence against women and children. We are worried about the Federal government spying on our private affairs. We have more than enough to worry about without adding Syria to the list. 

Of course, reasonable people feel that we ought to intervene in Syria. The President argues, “we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus.” Many observers believe there is an epic humanitarian crisis in Syria and we ought to draw a line against the use of chemical weapons. 

But other reasonable people argue that America can no longer afford to be the world’s police force. New Mexico Democratic Senator Tom Udall observed: 

I have grave concerns about what the administration is asking of us, of our military and of the American people… I see this potential bombing campaign as a potential next step toward full-fledged war.
Those opposed to intervention note there are many humanitarian crises throughout the world and American cannot afford to intervene in all of them. The Obama Administration argues that we should intervene because Bassar al-Assad has used chemical weapons, but since World War II three dictators (Adolph Hitler, Gama Nasser, and Saddam Hussein) have used chemical weapons against their people and the US did nothing. It’s not clear what is unique about the Syrian situation. 

In addition, there is broad-based opposition to intervention based upon both pubic opinion and Congressional perception that Syria might become another fiasco like the invasion of Iraq. On the far right, Republicans oppose intervention because they oppose anything proposed by the Obama Administration. But on the far left, Democrats oppose it because they feel burned by the White House. The Snowden and Wikileaks revelations have convinced many Dems that Obama has turned into a clone of George W. Bush. (Many poll respondents indicated they did not believe the Obama Administration contention that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against civilians.) 

Nonetheless, it’s clear that there would be negative consequences if the US does nothing. There are long-term foreign-policy implications. President Obama argues that intervention in Syria would send “a message to the world.” Specifically, he means a message to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, Iran, and Russia. Hezbollah is an active partner of Syria and Iran, and a consistent threat to Israel. Iran, of course, is a fledgling nuclear power and potentially a grave threat to American and Israeli interests. 

But the biggest US “message” would be sent to Russia. On September 4th, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reported that Russia is supplying Syria with chemical weapons. It’s the latest provocation from the Russian government headed by President Vladimir Putin. Since the late eighties, the hopeful days of Perestroika and the end of the Cold War, the situation in Russia has steadily deteriorated. Americans might do well to ask: If we don’t send a message to Russia now, what dangers lay ahead? Will the relationship continue to deteriorate? Where will we draw a line in the sand? 

The Syrian civil war began in March of 2011 and has gotten worse with each passing month. It’s become a humanitarian crisis and a security crisis. Many political observers see no good options. 

Perhaps the most even-handed response comes from Jim Wallis the founder of the Sojourner community in Washington DC: 

The clear moral case for intervention requires a more imaginative moral response than military action. The complications of the Syrian situation must not lead to a passive response but to a more creative one… It’s time to punish Assad without further punishing his people, his neighbors, the stability of the region, and the security of the rest of the world. We must hold Assad accountable, pressure the world to join, protect the vulnerable, and ultimately find a political solution. A moral crisis does require a moral response.
These are wise words but it’s not clear that America has the energy to do anything about the devastation in Syria. We have too many other concerns and we’re tired of war. 


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


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Housing and Predators

By Jack Bragen
Thursday September 05, 2013 - 10:01:00 PM

Sociopaths, predators, criminals and drug dealers are attracted to the vulnerabilities of persons with mental illness. Persons with mental illness are often preyed upon. Our illness, our medication, and the fact of having been taught to be docile have altogether made us an easy mark. 

Drug dealers make themselves available at the beginning of each month at apartment buildings that have been set aside for persons with disabilities. The SSI check of a disabled person means to a drug dealer that they could make money off of that person. Most persons with mental illness aren't physically very able, and this allows the drug dealer to use physical intimidation. This also means that even if the mental health consumer isn't buying drugs from social predators like these, the predators will find other ways to take advantage of the person. 

Women who are consumers in the mental health treatment system will sometimes have the wrong sort of boyfriend. The same thing happens to men with mental illness. Persons with mental illness need to be educated concerning the hazards posed by the wrong friends. 

Over the years, I have had quite a few friends who turned out to be either a bad influence, or bad news. I was lucky at the time that the consequences weren't as bad as they could have been. At this point, I have firm, well-defined boundaries concerning what I will put up with and the situations I am unwilling to get into. I am able to spot a bad influence early, and not get involved with such a person. Being married to the right person also helps. 

Persons with mental illness who have an apartment must deal with the temptation to let people without income move in with them. If the mentally ill person is fairly naïve, it can mean that he or she doesn't realize it is a common mistake, and it is to be avoided. 

Section 8 housing has strict guidelines which do not allow a renter to invite a live-in guest. Despite the rules, this still happens. 

For someone with mental illness who also relies on SSDI and/or SSI, housing is everything. A bad housing situation can mean being stuck in the presence of dangerous people or people who are parasites. On the other hand, if the housing situation is pretty good but the consumer allows oneself to be influenced by the wrong person, it can ruin housing prospects for years to come. 

Persons with mental illness who do not have section 8 will sometimes rent an apartment that they can't afford, thinking that they will be able to work to pay for such a place. If the person couldn't work before getting the apartment, they probably can't do so with the apartment. If they are working and then lose their job, it can cause inability to pay rent. When this happens, the mental health consumer may have no alternative but to go back to institutional type housing. 

In general, persons with mental illness, when young and chronically mentally ill, could benefit from some help with navigating life. If the person can not hear such advice, they might be doomed to suffer the consequences of their mistakes. When a situation is painful enough, it may cause a person to learn from it. However, the learning curve of persons with mental illness is not always present. The illness, because it affects brain function, may interfere with learning from mistakes. 

People with mental illness need protection from criminals who prey upon us. In some instances, we may need to be protected from ourselves if we have bad judgment that puts us in jeopardy. Unfortunately, at present this protection doesn't exist.


SENIOR POWER: Welcome Jonathan Torres

By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Friday September 06, 2013 - 10:19:00 AM

Following its opening in 1979 in its own new building on the corner of Hearst and MLK, the North Berkeley Senior Center (NBSC) became well known as innovative and active. Attendance and the number of volunteers and donors increased dramatically. The many accomplishments included The Nugget newsletter, Japanese Seniors Program, Portable Meals, and minibus service. Special programs included local authors and musicians, intergenerational activities, the Nutrition Program, assistance and advisory groups, monthly birthday celebrations, entertainments as well as topical discussions, and the Center’s own up-to-date Resource Guide. Gray Panthers and Save Section 8 began meeting at the NBSC. A relationship with the Berkeley Adult School brought onsite free classes taught by credentialed instructors. A diverse and accessible staff was on hand. As senior citizens and elders (and later, boomers) entered, they were welcomed, often in their own language. 

I devoted the August 17, 2010 Senior Power column to "A Conversation with Two Old-Timers" who were retiring. One was NBSC director Suzanne Ryan. In the interim, concern for Berkeley’s aged citizenry has bounced around among City departments and divisions while three or four persons tried to fill her shoes. My attempts to arrange interviews were unsuccessful. 

That was then, and this is now. On June 17, 2014 Jonathan Torres assumed the leadership role of NBSC Director. Recently, I had an opportunity to chat with him. As I was ushered through closed doors to his office, I was impressed with how organized everything looked. As always, the Center was busy… the phone rang constantly. That same day a senior had experienced a health crisis. 

Torres reports to Leah Talley of the Aging Services Division, part of the Housing and Community Services Department. I learned that he recognizes the importance of the Center’s successful functioning of the advisory council and volunteers in general. He says that the NBSC is now fully staffed, including a “case manager” three-days a week. (“Case management” is the city’s Social Services [Unit], which provides consultation and referral in areas of concern to Berkeley residents over age 55.) The Nugget newsletter is being redeveloped, and WiFi workshops scheduled at both North and South Berkeley Senior Centers. 

Thirty-two year old Torres comes to us from Pinole, where he was employed in city government that included senior services. He and his family live in Emeryville, and he drives to work. In 2005 he received his B.A. degree from San Francisco State University, with a major in recreation and Leisure Studies. His interest in embarking on a UCB Master’s degree in public policy is on hold while family life and the NBSC fully occupy his life. 

* * * 

Independence at Home is a program part of Obamacare, said to provide incentives for selected primary-care providers who are able to save money by making time-consuming home visits to medically complex, Philadelphia patients. In other words, it’s an experiment in one big city. House calls were once the main patient-doctor point of contact, but physicians have been encouraged to maintain high-volume offices, mainly by low reimbursement rates. (Doc Martin’s writers apparently haven’t been informed.) 

In August 2013m the U.S. Justice Department announced an agreement with the City of Fort Morgan, Colorado to improve access to civic life for people with disabilities. Reached under Project Civic Access (PCA), the Justice Department’s initiative ensures that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The settlement agreement with the City of Fort Morgan can be accessed at the ADA website. 

On August 28, 2013 PBS Newshour identified the top U.S. cities for “successful aging” (none in California) and “8 Things Your City Should Be Doing to Help Seniors, According to Age-Friendly New York City.” They include advocate for improvements in public transportation. People over age 65 make up 54% of the national average of those who use public transit. Work toward affordable, supportive housing solutions. Welcome HUD Section 202 housing. Check out Creating an Age-friendly NYC, One Neighborhood at a Time, a toolkit for creating age-friendly neighborhoods. 

Of 59 nations that promote gender equality in the workplace, Israel ranks 21st. Women’s pension benefits in Israel average NIS 2,000 lower than men’s, according to the Annual Statistic Report on the Elderly released by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Israel - Eshel-JDC. (1 Israeli New Sheqel = 0.28 US Dollar.) According to the data, women’s pensions stand today at an average of NIS 4,197 compared to NIS 6,192 for men. Tsk Israel. The employment rate among women aged 65+ has been rising steadily over the last decade, from 4.1% in 2000 to 7.4 % in 2011. 

* * * 

In September:

The National Council on Aging, Inc. has announced Senior Center Month. 

Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013: National Grandparents Day. 

Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013: PBS Frontline will present an encore of its November 2012 program,“The Suicide Plan.” 

Monday, Sept. 16, 2013: Grantmakers in Aging is hosting “Senior housing plus services,” a webinar linking affordable housing with services for seniors. Jennifer Ho of the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) will discuss partnerships to improve health and housing stability for residents of HUD-assisted housing. Register online with the NCOA. (The term webinar is a combination of web and seminar, meaning a presentation, lecture or workshop that is transmitted over the Web.) 

Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013: Falls Prevention Awareness Day: Help spread the word about falls prevention, on the first day of Fall. http://waystohelp.ncoa.org/ 

In October:

Wednesday-Friday, October 2-4, 2013: “Senior Centers 2013: Where Do We Grow from Here?” Join the National Institute of Senior Centers and the Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging for a national senior center conference. Sturbridge MA. 

 


Arts & Events

Opera Live in Berkeley on Sunday Afternoon

Thursday September 05, 2013 - 10:43:00 PM
Soprano Eliza O'Malley will sing the role of Gilda in Sunday's Verismo Opera production of Rigoletto, 2 p.m. at the Hillside Club in Berkeley.
Soprano Eliza O'Malley will sing the role of Gilda in Sunday's Verismo Opera production of Rigoletto, 2 p.m. at the Hillside Club in Berkeley.
Baritone Chris Wells as Rigoletto, Soprano Eliza O'Malley as Gilda
Baritone Chris Wells as Rigoletto, Soprano Eliza O'Malley as Gilda

This week brings the grand opening of San Francisco’s grand opera, complete with glamorous get-ups and lavish parties. But what’s often forgotten is that opera’s 19th century roots were firmly in common ground. It’s been a popular art form in Italy and elsewhere for more than two centuries, even though it’s attracted superb classical composers. Many European cities and towns still have small opera houses, and travelling music-lovers report that up-close and personal opera is exciting in a way that big-house and/or big-screen opera can never be.

Large American companies like the San Francisco Opera now fly in famous singers from around the world for elaborately staged and costumed extravaganzas, creating a level of expense which mandates big auditoriums and high ticket prices for fans who want to be close enough to see the action without binoculars. There have been a number of more-or-less successful recent attempts to make opera available to a larger audience: bringing streamed performances to movie houses, adding video to the nosebleed section of big opera houses, and other gimmicks.

But last September’s S.F. Opera experiment with bringing a streamed Rigoletto to the Giants’ waterfront ballpark is not being repeated this year. The company’s web site says that another Opera in the Ballpark will be presented in the summer of 2014, but neither the date nor the program is announced.

Nonetheless, whether you’re already an opera lover, or if you just think you like what you’ve heard on Prairie Home Companion and want to hear more, it doesn’t have to be a budget-busting expenditure. And if you’ve only seen opera on the big screen until now, you could be experiencing it live in a good number of Bay Area venues.

Next Sunday afternoon, September 8, for example, you’ll be able to see a real live production of Rigoletto presented by a company, Verismo Opera, whose goal is to make opera “accessible to the public at reasonable prices through a community effort of professional musicians and singers.”  

This week brings the grand opening of San Francisco’s grand opera, complete with glamorous get-ups and lavish parties. But what’s often forgotten is that opera’s 19th century roots were firmly in common ground. It’s been a popular art form in Italy and elsewhere for more than two centuries, even though it’s attracted superb classical composers. Many European cities and towns still have small opera houses, and travelling music-lovers report that up-close and personal opera is exciting in a way that big-house and/or big-screen opera can never be.

Large American companies like the San Francisco Opera now fly in famous singers from around the world for elaborately staged and costumed extravaganzas, creating a level of expense which mandates big auditoriums and high ticket prices for fans who want to be close enough to see the action without binoculars. There have been a number of more-or-less successful recent attempts to make opera available to a larger audience: bringing streamed performances to movie houses, adding video to the nosebleed section of big opera houses, and other gimmicks.

But last September’s S.F. Opera experiment with bringing a streamed Rigoletto to the Giants’ waterfront ballpark is not being repeated this year. The company’s web site says that another Opera in the Ballpark will be presented in the summer of 2014, but neither the date nor the program is announced.

Nonetheless, whether you’re already an opera lover, or if you just think you like what you’ve heard on Prairie Home Companion and want to hear more, it doesn’t have to be a budget-busting expenditure. And if you’ve only seen opera on the big screen until now, you could be experiencing it live in a good number of Bay Area venues.

Next Sunday afternoon, September 8, for example, you’ll be able to see a real live production of Rigoletto presented by a company, Verismo Opera, whose goal is to make opera “accessible to the public at reasonable prices through a community effort of professional musicians and singers.”

In keeping with its mission statement, the non-profit company has been offering affordable opera for several years in a variety of locations around the bay, including Vallejo, Pacifica, Redwood City, San Francisco and Santa Cruz as well as Berkeley. Most shows are fully staged and costumed, with chamber orchestra and English supertitles, and every seat in the intimate houses where Verismo plays is a good seat.

The top price for tickets at Berkeley’s Hillside Club on Sunday at 2 will be only $20, with discounts below that for seniors and students.

The lead singers are experienced Bay Area pros: Frederick Winthrop (Duke of Mantua, tenor), Chris Wells (Rigoletto, baritone) and Eliza O'Malley (Gilda, soprano). They might be familiar to Berkeley audiences from previous Verismo productions at the Hillside Club theater—the most recent, La Traviata, played to a full house and a standing ovation in June.

Date: Sunday, September 8 

Time: 2 p.m. 

Place: Hillside Club;2286 Cedar Street; Berkeley 

Tickets: Brown Paper Tickets or at the door.


Around and About Theater and Music: Marion Fay's Theater Explorations and Music Appreciation Adult Ed Classes

By Ken Bullock
Friday September 06, 2013 - 09:44:00 AM

Marion Fay's excel