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New: Interview: New Owners of the Oaks Theater

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday April 07, 2010 - 07:34:00 AM

It might take five men from India to save Berkeley’s historic Oaks Theater.  

Bhaskar Molakalapalli, Srini Vejalla, Satish Rayapudi, Satya Penmetsa and Rama Sagiraji have more than complicated last names in common—they share a vision for the future of cinema which they hope will turn the Oaks Theater around. 

As joint partners of Merriment Media Works, the company which leased the Oaks from Berkeley Realtor John Gordon recently, the five have a lot to do to reinvent the 1920’s Art Deco cinema into an attractive destination once again. In a recent email interview with the Planet, they explained a little about how they would go about doing it. 


Daily Planet: Why did you decide to lease the Oaks Theater? 

Merriment Media: We have experience in showing movies in India and we also distribute Indian movies in the United States. So we decided to enter into the movie theater business in the Bay Area. We have screened some Indian movies at our partner theater Serra Theaters in Milpitas which received tremendous response. So we decided to expand our business—we did some research on demographics in the Bay Area and singled out Berkeley as a potential candidate for art, foreign as well as English movies. 

Daily Planet: What can you do for Oaks that the former management could not? 

Merriment Media: Good question. Previously people in the East Bay got a chance to watch only a few foreign language films but predominantly second run English movies at Oaks. Our idea is to screen first run and second run English movies as well as art and foreign language films. Our main idea is to bring Asian and Indian movies to Oaks. Our research shows the Oaks’ neighborhood has a diverse culture which encourages good foreign language movies. 

We want to mix English as well as foreign language films with English subtitles so that East Bay movie-goers can get the ultimate experience. 

Daily Planet: Tell us about your plans for the new theater. 

Merriment Media: We are planning to improve the ambiance of the theater by making some small modifications with the City of Berkeley’s approval. We are currently in the planning stage. We are also trying to bring in a few Asian, Indian and other foreign language films which have received good reviews in other parts of the U.S. We are planning to use digital projection which makes watching movies a wonderful experience. 

Daily Planet: We heard you are interested in bringing dinner and drinks to Oaks? 

Merriment Media: Yes, we do have plans to introduce dinner and drinks while watching movies. We have studied how favorably people are responding to this concept—from Southern California to Washington to Illinois. It can be called the reinvention of the movie-going experience. But our idea is just in the preliminary stage and will have to go through all kinds of formalities first. 

Daily Planet: Can you tell us a bit about your experience in the movie theater industry? 

Merriment Media: We buy Asian and Indian movies for theaters all over the United States and screen them. Some of the theaters are our partners. As a result, we have pretty good experience in dealing with foreign films. Right now we have a partnership with Serra Theaters in Milpitas which mainly shows Indian movies. 

Daily Planet: Are you excited to come to Berkeley? Are you worried about the city’s stringent zoning laws or neighborhood opposition? 

Merriment Media: Yes, we are very excited to come to Berkeley The city has historically encouraged foreign films. It has a world renowned university which caters to students all over the world, diverse neighborhoods and a melting pot of cultures. From what we have heard, the Oaks’ neighborhood is simply excellent. 

Daily Planet: Would you like to hear from the community? 

Merriment Media: We are aware that the local community wanted to save the Oaks’ Theater. We are proud that we are meeting their interests and demands. We hope Berkeley residents, especially those living in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood, will encourage good films as they have done in the past irrespective of region or language so that we can bring some excellent art and foreign language films to the Oaks theater. We firmly believe that ‘for art there is no language.’ We would like to announce that we launched a new website www.BerkeleyOaks.com and we welcome everyone to visit it for movie schedules. We will be introducing a ‘feedback forum’ very soon, where people can share their thoughts and suggestions for the theater. Oaks will be managed by one of our partners, Rama Sagiraju. 

New: Panoramic Hill Neighbors Settle Memorial Stadium Lawsuit with UC

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday April 07, 2010 - 07:18:00 AM

A lawsuit filed by a Berkeley neighborhood group over UC Berkeley’s controversial Memorial Stadium expansion project has been settled out of court. 

The lawsuit, originally filed by the City of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oak Foundation in fall of 2006 against the University of California, challenged the seven projects included in the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects. 

Although the City of Berkeley, which was concerned about a massive parking garage proposed in the Integrated Projects, dropped out of the lawsuit mid-way by reaching an informal settlement with the university, Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oak Foundation battled on. 

But on Tuesday, Michael Kelly, president of the Panoramic Hill Association, said his organization had reached an agreement with the university “that involves the use of the stadium in the future.” 

Kelly said that as mandated in the agreement, both PHA and UC Berkeley were working on a joint statement which would be released over the next couple of days. 

“There were a lot of different issues in the lawsuit involving impacts on the neighborhood, impacts on the city,” Kelly said. “We will address everything in the statement.” 

UC Berkeley also declined to make any comments as of Tuesday. 

“The settlement was just completed and we are currently working with PHA on a joint statement that will detail the provisions and impacts of the agreement,” said university spokesperson Dan Mogulof.  

According to an email sent to the lawyers of the California Oak Foundation by PHA’s attorney Michael R. Lozeau and the university’s Charles Olson, the settlement agreement does not alter the existing Superior Court judgment regarding the Memorial Stadium project or the foundation’s pending appeal. 

However, the email says that the lawsuit “does resolve PHA’s pending [attorney] fee claim, and includes conditions regarding future events, stadium operations, an emergency vehicle on Panoramic Hill, complaint system, noise analyses, and various procedural interactions between PHA and the university.”  

Kelly said provisions such as no amplified music concerts or NFL events at Memorial Stadium had already been specified in the project’s environmental report. 

According to the settlement agreement, UC Berkeley has agreed to pay PHA’s attorney’s fees amounting to $75,000. Both parties have also agreed to waive claims of certain other costs. 

Steven Volker, the attorney representing the California Oak Foundation, sent a letter to the university’s lawyers saying that he objected to one of the settlement’s provisions which he felt might detract from any subsequent ruling in the continuing appeal. 

Volker asked both attorneys to confirm that the settlement “has no effect on California Oaks' separate lawsuit and appeal in the California Appellate Court.” 

“... If California Oaks’ legal challenges are sustained in whole or in part by that court or by the California Supreme Court, then such judicial resolution of those challenges will constitute the ‘final judicial determination’ of the validity of these projects and approvals,” not the agreement signed by the university and the Panoramic Hill Association, Volker’s letter said. 

The lawyers for the parties to the recent settlement assured Volker in an e-mail that the agreement would have no effect on the California Oak Foundation’s case and the pending appeal.  

Meanwhile, Stand Up for Berkeley! and the Council of Neighborhood Associations—comprised of Berkeley residents and Panoramic Hill neighbors—filed a new lawsuit in February challenging what they said were a list of substantial changes to the stadium construction project released by the university in December.  

They also objected to an "addendum" to the Environmental Impact Report, which they contend can only be approved when the changes proposed don’t have any significant environmental impact.  

“We sued saying that these changes clearly do have significant impact,” said Nigel Guest, a Panoramic Hill resident who is on the steering committee for Stand Up for Berkeley!  

Guest said that the university was proposing to completely remodel Witter Field in Strawberry Canyon which is an environmentally sensitive area.  

It is also planning to lower the playing field by two feet for better views from certain stadium seats which would involve “a very large earth moving exercise," he said. 

Guest said that an addendum was not subject to formal public comment. He said that the appellants wanted to see the addendum replaced with a "supplement," which is a much lengthier document and requires public comment. 

When asked about what he though of the settlement agreement, Guest, who is a member of the Panoramic Hill Association, said “it stinks.” 

“All the negotiations were conducted in total secrecy,” he said. “I only found out about the settlement by accident. I wasn’t informed by the board. The PNA has given up its right to take legal action against UC, which is why I joined Stand Up for Berkeley!” 

Both appellants are also suing over an amendment to the state’s Omnibus Bill, which exempts Memorial Stadium and other state historic structures from legal restrictions on building across earthquake faults.  

The university succeeded in convincing lawmakers to include this amendment to the Omnibus Bill, which has traditionally included only non-controversial subjects.  

UC has defended its action by saying the provision would only apply to retrofitting existing structures, and not to new construction. 

However, critics of the Memorial Stadium project say that it is more than just a retrofit project. 

Guest said that the appellants were also challenging the amendment on constitutional grounds because they are furious it was slipped into a local government Omnibus Bill. 

“And it has nothing to do with local government,” Guest said. 

Guest met on Tuesday with Assemblymember Roger Neillo (R-Fair Oaks) in Sacramento, who is proposing to convert the amendment into a single-subject bill to comply with conditions outlined by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger when he signed off on it in October. 

Concerned about the modifications to Alquist-Priolo, the main earthquake protection statute in the state which regulates and prevents building on earthquake faults, the governor asked the proponents of the amendment to introduce a bill in January which would satisfy concerns from his Office of Planning and Research, the Department of Conservation and the Seismic Safety Commission.  

However, Guest said that he didn’t think the language in the proposed bill was addressing the governor’s concerns. “I think it’s being done to void out our lawsuit,” he said. “We are trying to get Neillo to amend the bill.”  

The proposed bill is scheduled to come up for a first committee hearing next week. 


New: A Candlelight Vigil Mourns Prentice and Kyle

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Saturday April 03, 2010 - 01:53:00 PM
Riya Bhattacharjee
Riya Bhattacharjee
Mark Coplan
Mark Coplan

A candlelight vigil for Kyle Strang, who died in a car accident in Richmond Wednesday, was held at the park next to Strang's house on Acton Street and University Avenue around 7:30 p.m. Friday.  

Friends and family of both Strang and Prentice Gray, a Berkeley High graduate who was in the passenger seat when the accident happened, gathered in a circle inside the park, sheltering their candles against the cold April winds with their palms. Some leaned against each other, others hugged. A lot of people cried quietly and held hands. Most of Strang's classmates from Berkeley High School showed up, and by 8 p.m., there were more than 200 people at the park. Some of Strang's friends sang his favorite songs. The vigil celebrated the lives of two extraordinary young men who cherished their friendships more than anything else. Strang and Gray were remembered for being good students and dedicated community members,for their warm smiles and generous hugs, for their ability to reach out to anyone at a moment's notice, but most important, for being "true friends."  

“Some of us have been coming to Kyle and Prentice's place since we were kids – they were neighbors,” said one Berkeley High graduate as she walked toward the park with her friends. “They spent a lot of time at each other's house.” 

The tree-lined neighborhood in West Berkeley where both boys lived with their mothers was quiet Friday night. The front door of Strang's house had been left slightly ajar, to allow the steady stream of visitors who have been dropping by over the last few days to enter. 

Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan said that a lot of members of the Berkeley High community were still finding out about the tragic accident because most of them were away on spring break. 

“I spoke with Berkeley High teacher Phil Halpern who is away on vacation, and he told me Kyle had been like a son to him,” Coplan said. “Phil will be back at the school Monday. He's very unhappy he couldn't be at the vigil today.” 

Berkeley High teacher Dharini Rasiah, who teaches at Communication Arts & Sciences, the small school Strang belonged to, said she was completely devastated. 

"Kyle was completely passionate about everything he did in his life, from his video projects for my class to wanting to live and work in Israel after high school," Rasiah said. "He truly cared about others and wanted the best for everyone. I was always struck by how open and thoughtful he was. He communicated well. Our entire CAS community at Berkeley High is devastated. I will miss him terribly." 

On Sunday, April 4, funeral services for Kyle will start at 1:00 p.m. at Temple Emanu-el at 2 Lake Street in San Francisco.  

After the funeral, there will be a burial at a grave site (optional) about 20 minutes away and after that, a gathering at Kyle’s father’s house at Derby and Acton streets, where Prentice’s family will also be available as they live across the street.  

There will be an altar at the funeral so visitors can bring anything they consider a symbol of Kyle.  

Kyle’s family would like tax-deductible donations, in Kyle’s name, to be made to the school that Kyle attended, Communication Arts and Science (CAS).  

Contributions can be made to CAS at Berkeley High School by sending a check made out to Berkeley High School Development Group, Kyle Harty Strang Memorial Fund, and sent to Strang Memorial Fund, 828 Ashbury Street, SF 94117.  

For more information contact HMinassian@berkeley.k12.ca.us  



New: Berkeley Hiker Describes Climbing Partner's Fatal Mount Shasta Climb

By Bay City News
Friday April 02, 2010 - 12:06:00 AM

The family and the climbing partner of an Oakland man who was found dead on Mt. Shasta this morning released a statement today detailing the climb and recalling their loved one. 

Thomas Bennett, 26, was a chemical engineer who attended school in  

Vancouver, British Columbia, and then worked for a mining company at high  

altitudes in the Andes Mountains without ever experiencing any trouble with  

altitude sickness, according to Bennett's father. 

His climbing partner on the trip, 26-year-old Mark Thomas, of  

Berkeley, is an experienced climber who has climbed Mt. Shasta numerous times  

and has also scaled Mt. McKinley in Alaska. 

Thomas said Bennett appeared to have suffered from altitude  

sickness over the weekend, which left him stranded on Mt. Shasta.  

The pair had purchased mountain summit passes in advance of their  

trip and had left a detailed itinerary with friends before heading out on  

Thursday. They were prepared with proper climbing equipment and cold-weather  

gear, Thomas said. He added that when they left, avalanche and weather  

reports did not indicate warnings of severe weather or wind. 

He said he has since learned that Mt. Shasta was closed to  

climbers on Saturday, but the climbers had been on a remote side of the  

mountain since Thursday night and did not hear of the closure. 

Thomas said they camped at 5,000 feet at the trailhead on Thursday  

night and took to the trail, each with a 50-pound pack, at around 5 a.m.  

Friday morning on snowshoes. 

They made camp at 9,800 feet and at that point, Thomas said,  

neither showed any signs of altitude sickness. 

On Saturday, they decided to head to the summit because the wind  

was not too extreme, according to his anemometer, and Thomas said conditions  

appeared safe. He later learned that the worst of the wind had been blocked  

by other parts of the mountain. 

Thomas said that when the two reached the ridge at the summit,  

which is at nearly 14,200 feet, according to the Mt. Shasta travel center Web  

site, the winds were strong enough to make it impossible to stand. Because it  

was close to the end of the day, the two decided to spend the night near the  

summit at a protected site and descend at first light. 

They dug a shelter and Thomas said they talked throughout the  

night to check for signs of hypothermia or altitude sickness and found none.  

The next morning, winds had decreased and skies had cleared, but when they  

started their descent Bennett began experiencing symptoms of what Thomas  

described as acute high altitude sickness, including blindness and extreme  


He said Bennett's condition deteriorated quickly as winds worsened  

and soon couldn't walk. Thomas brought Bennett back to the protected area  

where they had camped and called 9-1-1 for search and rescue, but he was  

barely able to get out the call before the phone failed due to the cold. 

Thomas felt a storm approaching and dug a snow cave then moved  

Bennett, who was no longer responsive. Thomas said he attempted CPR but was  

unable to revive his friend. 

When he was certain there was nothing more that he could do,  

Thomas said he warmed up the phone enough to make another call to rescuers  

and decided to leave before worsening weather conditions prevented him from  


Both Thomas and the Bennett family say they would like to express  

their sincere appreciation to everyone who participated in the rescue  


They have asked those who feel the need to express their  

condolences through a donation to give it to the Siskiyou County Sheriff's  

Office Search and Rescue Fund at 305 Butte St., Yreka, CA, 96097.

Oaks Theater Finds New Tenant, One that Promises Foreign Fare

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 06:19:00 PM

Tired of watching the same old Hollywood blockbusters or even independent flicks at your local Berkeley Theater? Well, starting very soon, the historic Oaks Theater will be showing foreign fare—Indian, Korean and even Mexican—and perhaps serving dinner and drinks with it. 

John Gordon of Gordon Commercial told the Planet Wednesday that he had found a new tenant for the Oaks Theater after Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Theaters decided not to renew their lease in February. 

Metropolitan, which took over Oaks five years ago, had a difficult time attracting movie-goers to the theater, which Gordon attributed to competition from other Berkeley theaters such as AMC and the neighborhood rival Albany Twin. 

Gordon was not able to immediately confirm the name of the company that has taken over the lease, but said it was under the management of five Indian men who own a theater in Milpitas. 

The only company that matches that description is Serra Theaters, which is located in Silicon Valley at 200 Serra Way. 

The management, Great Indian Entertainment, which is headed by five individuals, opened the two screen 300-seat Serra Theater in 2008 with the intention of turning it into a hub for Hindi movies, including regional films in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam. 

“They are going to change the marquee that’s up there now,” Gordon said of the new company taking over the Oaks. “Right now it says ‘Avatar’ and some Hindi film, but soon it will display names of foreign movies. They want to tap into the Asian population in Berkeley. Overall, it’s an exciting thing for the whole neighborhood. If done right, it could open up a whole new market.” 

Gordon said that residents of the Thousand Oaks district had welcomed the news. 

“Of course the new management will need to take input from the neighbors about what’s right and what’s not,” he said. "If you look at the reviews for their theater on Yelp, it looks good.” 

Gordon said that Great Indian Entertainment would like to offer beer, wine and food inside the theater to attract more people. 

“That’s what a lot of theaters are doing these days,” he said. “If it makes a difference, why not?” 

“For instance look at Viks,” Gordon said, referring to the Indian chaat and grocery store in West Berkeley that recently moved to a new location on Fourth Street. “It started out as a simple warehouse and has transformed itself so much. We need to have something that gets people excited. Neighbors were not supporting the old theater that was there. Perhaps if we do something different, then more people will come.” 

Gordon said that though others had expressed interest in the 16,000 square foot space which he advertised as leasing for 17 cents per foot on his website, Great Indian Entertainment “was ready, able and willing to go forward in the shortest period of time.” 

“So we made a deal,” he said, adding that the company was planning to show digital films on the two screens. 

“Going digital makes a lot of sense,” he said. “You can just email the movies over.” 

Calls to Great Indian Entertainment for comment were not returned by press time. 

The Oaks Theater at 1875 Solano Ave., was designed by the Reid Brothers in 1925. 

The 1,000-seat, two-screen theater was handed over to Metropolitan in 2005 by Allen Michaan, owner of another Reid Brothers creation, Oakland's Grand Lake Theater.  

Updated: Friends, Family Shocked By Death of Berkeley High Students

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 03:10:00 PM
Berkeley High graduate Prentice Gray and Berkeley High student Kyle Strang were killed in a car accident in Richmond Wednesday.
Berkeley High graduate Prentice Gray and Berkeley High student Kyle Strang were killed in a car accident in Richmond Wednesday.

For Berkeley High School students Prentice Gray and Kyle Strang, the end of their incredible friendship came too soon. 

Both boys, who called each other brothers, died instantly in a car crash in Richmond Wednesday afternoon, shocking family, friends and those who knew them closely over the years. 

Gray graduated in 2009 and was taking an year off from school to work while Strang was expected to graduate in 2011. 

Richmond police spokesperson Sgt. Bisa French said the accident happened around 12:45 p.m. March 31, when Strang’s car, a Dodge sedan, lost control while speeding north on Richmond Parkway, crossed over the raised center median and collided head-on into a school bus.  

“Both of them were killed on the spot,” French said. “There were no kids on the bus and the bus driver was not hurt. We are in the process of reconstructing the accident right now.” 

The road was closed in both directions for more than five hours as police investigated the accident. 

French said the Richmond Police and Fire departments and ambulances responded immediately to the scene and found the Dodge to be completely damaged. 

“The vehicle was completely smashed under the bus,” she said. “It was stuck underneath it. They had to lift the bus off the car to get to the people inside it.” 

French said that so far there was no indication that drugs or alcohol had been involved in the accident. Toxicology reports are expected in two weeks. 

The bus belonged to a Richmond company called First Student and was not affiliated to the Contra Costa Unified School District, French said 

“Prentice’s mom called me at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and told me that there was an accident and Prentice and Kyle had passed away,” said Dustin Michaels, who was in Gray’s class at Berkeley High and is close to his family. “I was going to meet with them later that night, but they died. I know they didn’t deserve to die. They were both like brothers to me. Prentice and Kyle were always together and they loved each other and we loved them back.” 

Strang’s uncle, landscape architect Ron Lutsko, said the accident appeared to be a “classic case of a young and inexperienced driver losing control of the vehicle.” 

“They had dropped the family cat off at the vet, were heading to an auto repair shop, driving north on Richmond Parkway, and lost control, jumping the divider and hitting the southbound bus head on,” Lutsko said. “It appears that they died instantly. Kyle and Prentice were both very happy, on upward swings in their personal evolution, connected to a wide community of friends and family, and their lives ended on a high note.” 

Son of Craig Strang and Sharleen Harty, Strang was born and raised in Berkeley. He became Bar Mitzvah at Lawrence Hall of Science where his father is associate director.  

A straight A and B student, Strang wanted to live in Israel and become a writer. 

Lutsko said Strang’s weekends were spent playing baseball in the Little League, where he was pitcher and second baseman. 

Quick to make friends, Strang developed a wide circle centered around his passion for his community, baseball, mixed martial arts and his small school at Berkeley High, Communication, Arts and Sciences. 

CAS teacher Dharini Rasiah said she was devastated by the news. Berkeley High is closed this week for spring break, but students and teachers have been going over to support the families of both boys over the last couple of days. 

“Kyle was fiercely loyal to his family, friends and classmates,” Lutsko said. “Everyone who knew him understood that he was always happy to be there at a moment’s notice. He had a particularly deep connection to his cousins.”  

In addition to his immediate family, Strang is survived by his many aunts, uncles and cousins. 

“Kyle was the most motivated, amazing, honest, and truly real person I have ever known,” said Allie McCoy, one of Strang’s best friends at Berkeley High. “He was always there to listen and give great advice. He was so funny—his laugh kills me inside when I hear it in videos now.” 

Gray’s friends said that his death was especially hard for his family because his father Prentice Gray Sr. had passed away in 2003.  

Gray lived in South Berkeley with his 13-year-old sister Amri who is a student at King Middle School and mother Irma. 

Michaels said Strang, a junior at Berkeley High, lived right across the street from Gray. 

“He (Strang) was a really good kid, very social,” said Michaels. “He was a cool guy and liked going to parties and meeting people—a regular 16-year-old. I spent a lot of time hanging out with both of them and I’ll miss them a lot.” 

A member of the Albany Junior League, Strang’s Facebook page showcases the usual mix of high school humor and interests—including funny YouTube videos—as well as pride in his Jewish heritage. 

Condolence messages from friends and family started pouring into both the students’ Facebook walls right after the news started spreading.  

“Rest In Peace to my brothers Kyle Strang and Prentice Theodore Gray. I love yall. you will be missed,” wrote one Berkeley High alum on Strang’s wall. 

Berkeley High student Tommy Nguyen offered a mixtape, while others scribbled memories of the two boys. 

Gray’s Facebook page is typical of a high school teenager’s, where he professes his love for homemade chocolate chip cookies, ice cream sandwiches, Jay Z, hot showers, the beach, Harry Potter, the Golden State Warriors, Tiger Woods and Jackie Chang. 

A profile of Gray for Farm Fresh Produce, where he worked, says: 

“Prentice T. Gray, is one of the coolest people you’ll ever meet. Raised in South Berkeley by his loving mother and supporting family, he has been able to help his peers with many hard situations “ 

Berkeley High English teacher Susannah Bell, who taught Gray for four years at Community Partnerships Academy, described him as “a profoundly intelligent, uproariously funny, deeply caring person who had probably the most fun-loving spirit I have ever encountered.”  

“Not a day went by that he didn’t bring a smile to my face,” Bell said. “On his last day of high school, I told him he was the face of CPA, and I still believe that. He was. He gave so much love to 

those he was close to, and even those he barely knew. He cherished his mother, Irma, who raised him alone after his father passed when Prentice was in middle school. He helped care for his little sister and his baby cousin. He delivered fresh vegetables to those who would otherwise have no access to them. He provided a shoulder to cry on for his many best friends on countless occasions. I say ‘best’ friends because that’s how 

Prentice was. He treated everyone like a best friend, and meant it. He gave of himself that much. I loved him, and I will never forget him.” 

Lily Owens, a close friend of Gray’s from Berkeley High, remembered some of their earlier days together. 

“I met Prentice Gray in my freshman year of high school but we didn’t become close until sophomore year,” she said. “We had biology together and slowly our friendship grew to doing group projects, going out to lunch with each other and having scary movie nights at our friend Chelsa’s house. Whether we were sitting next to each other in class sharing ear phones, drawing all over my arms, getting chicken sandwiches for lunch on school days, or listening to him make fun of everyone in the class there was never a dull moment with Prentice.” 

Owens described Gray as “one of the greatest friends that I have ever had.”   

“He made my life so much better and I love him more than he will know,” she said. “There won’t be a day that goes by that I won’t think of him and all of the amazing times that we had together. I'll miss his jokes, his laugh, and his ‘brown eyes’ that we always laughed about.” 

Owens said that the last time she saw Gray was last Saturday.  

“We didn’t even do anything, we stood outside my house for half an hour and laughed and talked but I’m so grateful that I got to have that moment,” she said. 

Gray, Owens said, had recently quit his job and was looking for a new one. 

“He told me he wanted to go back to school because he wanted to do something and go somewhere later on,” she said.   

LaShanté Churchwell, Owens’ surrogate sister, said she had met Gray for a brief period but remembered him as “the sweetest high school kid I’ve ever met.” 

“Prentice started new with everyone.” she said. “No pre-judgements, no if’s and’s or but’s about who they were, who they knew or what they did in life.”  


A candlelight vigil will be held near Kyle Strang’s mother’s house at University Avenue and Acton streets, 7:30 p.m. today (Friday, April 2). Visitors have been requested to wear bright colors and bring a candle if they have one. 

On Sunday, April 4, funeral services for Kyle will start at 1:00 p.m. at Temple Emanu-el at 2 Lake Street in San Francisco.  

After the funeral, there will be a burial at a grave site (optional) about 20 minutes away and after that, a gathering at Kyle’s father’s house at Derby and Acton streets, where Prentice’s family will also be available as they live across the street.  

There will be an altar at the funeral so visitors can bring anything as a symbol of Kyle. 

Kyle’s family would like tax-deductible donations, in Kyle’s name, made to the school that Kyle attended, Communication Arts and Science (CAS). 

Contributions can be made to CAS at Berkeley High School by sending a check made out to Berkeley High School Development Group, Kyle Harty Strang Memorial Fund, and sent to Strang Memorial Fund, 828 Ashbury Street, SF 94117. 

For more information contact HMinassian@berkeley.k12.ca.us.  





Berkeley Police Investigate Credit Card Skimming Reports

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 12:16:00 PM

Berkeley Police Department fraud detectives are currently looking at approximately 10 cases where community members say they have been victims of credit card skimming scams. 

Berkeley police spokesperson Jamie Perkins said Wednesday that the cases were under investigation and detectives “have not yet identified a point of compromise,” meaning the police don’t know yet where the victims’ credit cards were fraudulently used. 

In the meanwhile, police are asking Berkeley residents to check their bank accounts for any suspicious activity and report it immediately. 

Anyone who has been a victim of this crime or witnesses it occurring in the city should contact the Berkeley Police Dispatch at 981-5900. 

Perkins said that the investigation was not internal and had stemmed from a community tip. 

“We investigate fraud cases on an ongoing basis, so it’s not something new,” Perkins said. “We are not seeing a sudden increase in fraud cases or anything. The story didn’t start with our detectives. This information was running in other media outlets.” 

An undercover operation at a gas station in Martinez recently led to two Los Angeles men being charged for installing skimming devices on a gas pump. 

Police have also found devices at stations in Oakland, Hayward, Livermore and other cities. 

Perkins said that BDP did not have a single case confirmed in Berkeley where a skimming device was used. 

According to Perkins, a lay person may not recognize skimming devices on ATMs and gas pumps which capture credit card information or use a camera to take pictures of a customer’s pin number. 


Police Arrest Westside Gang Suspects For Robbery

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 10:53:00 AM

Berkeley police Saturday arrested alleged members of the city’s notorious Westside gang after being alerted by witnesses who said gang members had committed a robbery. 

On March 27, prior to 2:38 a.m., a group of young people was walking in the 2900 block of College Avenue when they were robbed by another group. 

According to Berkeley police spokesperson Officer Jamie Perkins, a 20-year-old female victim was robbed of her personal belongings, including her purse, with gun threats from the suspects. 

Perkins said the victim was from out of town. 

The suspects physically attacked and attempted to rob a male victim in the group, but did not take anything. They then fled the scene in a vehicle. 

Witnesses present at the scene reported to the Berkeley Police Department that they had seen a vehicle in the area. The police broadcast the information, and UC Police Department officers located the vehicle.  

The suspects were identified by eyewitnesses and the victims and later arrested. 

Perkins said that a total of six people were arrested, including three adults and three minors. 

Among those arrested were Aubrey Blank, 20, and Yuvette Martinez, 18, who were charged with robbery, attempted robbery and committing a felony in association with a criminal street gang. 

Jesus Diaz, 21, was charged with robbery and attempted robbery, committing a felony while being a known gang member, resisting arrest and vandalism to a UCPD vehicle. 

The minors included two boys and one girl who were arrested for similar charges and sent to the Alameda County Juvenile Hall. 

Perkins said she did not know about the suspects’ affiliation in terms of educational institutions, but they did not appear to be Berkeley residents. 

“It’s safe to say that some of them are members of the Westside gang,” Perkins said. “We have arrested members of that gang before for various crimes, including robbery.” 


Berkeley High School – the Science Labs and Governance Council Controversies Continue

By Raymond Barglow, www.berkeleytutors.net
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 09:18:00 AM

A rift between science teachers at Berkeley High School and the administration deepened at the end of 2009, when the School Governance Committee (SGC) approved Principal Slemp’s recommendation to eliminate science lab instruction being offered before and after regular school hours (in the 0th and 7th periods). This decision resulted in a campaign by parents and other members of the school community, including a group of parents calling itself “Science and Equity,” to preserve the labs. School district superintendent Bill Huyett intervened personally and met with school administrators and teachers, coming up with a compromise plan to reduce but not eliminate the labs. That compromise plan is currently not being implemented by the school administration, according to SGC parent representative Peggy Scott and science department head Evy Kavaler.  

Superintendent Huyett specified in the plan that a lab for the regular chemistry, biology, and physics courses would be made available to “any student who requests it.” But the administration is not honoring this provision, according to Kavaler, Scott and other parents. Scott said that counselors who are advising students preparing their fall course schedules are telling them that they cannot or should not sign up for the labs. 

Mark Coplan, the school board public information officer, explained this by saying that the district has not approved any funding for the labs, and cannot do so until it determines whether such funding will be available. Hence the compromise proposal that the superintendent worked out with BHS administration and teachers, said Coplan, cannot be considered as final, and has in fact not even been approved by the school board. 

In response, Scott says that this year’s handling of the lab sign-ups breaks with standard practice in the past, when students enrolling in science classes were automatically signed up for the labs. Scott said that even if there is some question about funding for the labs, students should be enrolling in them now, just as they have done in previous years when the district also faced funding uncertainties. Discouraging students from signing up for the labs creates a major problem, said Scott, because, judging from the past, it will be difficult for students to add them to their schedules later on. Because class sizes and resource allocations are made before school recommences in the fall, the school does not ordinarily allow students to add a course or lab just before the new term begins. 

Kavaler also pointed out that the compromise proposal, even if implemented, will do substantial harm to the school’s science program. Normally, she said, about two-thirds of BHS students participate in labs. This number will be sharply reduced under the new plan. Assuming that funding for the equity grants will continue next year, those that previously funded science labs will become available to support other courses at the school, and teachers will submit applications to receive them. It is possible for science teachers to apply for these grants, but Kavaler is doubtful that they will do so. “They took this funding away from us,” said Kavaler, so it seems pointless for us to apply to get it back.” 

With respect to the administration of Berkeley High, the current governance structure is currently being revised. The California Education Code specifies that there must be parity on public high school site councils, or any equivalent governance structure, between school personnel on the one hand and parents and students on the other. Berkeley High’s SGC, however, has 20 school personnel but only eight parents and students. In addition, the “small learning communities” into which the entire school is divided are currently not being given proportional representation. A restructuring plan is expected to be submitted to the school board at the April 14 meeting, and approval will be given by the board at its meeting on April 28. Information about this April schedule, which is tentative at this point, should be made available to the public at the BUSD website, at least 72 hours prior to these meetings.  

Scott said “I think the Policy Committee of the school board is making a very good faith effort to get this [governance restructuring] done before the student and staff elections for next year’s SGC. Those elections happen in the spring. SGC Parent elections traditionally happen in September.” Scott added that she has been assured that elections will not be held until the board has put new rules in place, even if this means delaying the elections for a short time. It is possible, according to Scott, that the board will increase the number of parent and student representatives on the governance council. 

Raymond Barglow is the founder of Berkeley Tutors Network. 




Point Richmond Turkeys Headed for the Soup

By Tom Butt, Special to the Planet
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 10:02:00 PM
Tom Butt
Tom Butt

Nat Bates is at it again. He wants to wipe out Point Richmond’s wild turkey flock and even go after the stragglers in North and East. 

In a move that is sure to make feathers fly, Councilmember Nat Bates has placed an item on the April 6 City Council agenda to put an end to the burgeoning turkey population in Point Richmond. “I’ve lived in Richmond all my life,” said Bates, “and I never saw a turkey until two years ago unless it was my Thanksgiving dinner. Now they’re everywhere, and they just keep multiplying.” 

“Now I hear a flock is starting up in the North and East. We have to nip this in the bud.” 

“I propose we take them off the street and send them back to Orinda and Moraga where they belong,” explained Bates. “Why, I just got a call from an elderly lady yesterday complaining that they are tearing up her yard and leaving giant turkey excrements on her patio.”  

“She called Richmond Police, and they told her to call Animal Control. They just blew her off. Nobody seems to be taking responsibility for this.” 

Bates’ plan would direct the city manager to have Public Works Director Yader Bermudez use live traps to capture what turkeys he can, then obtain a depredation permit from California Fish and Game to shoot the wily ones that can’t be trapped. “He’ll have to use a crossbow,” said Bates. “You can’t discharge a firearm in the City limits unless your life is in danger. That would be hard case to make for a turkey, although I have seen a few really mean ones.” 

Response from other Council members has been both quick and incisive but also mixed. 

Maria Viramontes was first to rise to the defense of Richmond’s turkeys. “I want to give you a little history,” she said. “This is a teachable moment.”  

Viramontes went on to explain that the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopa) is indigenous to the Americas and was a staple of the diet of her ancestors. She continued, “The American turkey was imported to Europe in the early part of the 16th century by the Spaniards via Turkey (the country.) It was confused in those early times with the Guinea fowl which also arrived via Turkey, and both birds were called turkeys in those days. When it was assigned its Latin name in the 18th century, the name turkey still stuck. Native Americans called it peru with no reference to the country of the same name.” 

“This is about manifest destiny.” declared Viramontes. “The turkeys are just taking back their native country.” 

“Wiping out Richmond’s turkeys,” continued Viramontes, “would be tantamount to avian cleansing, just three letters away from ethnic cleansing, and we all know what that means. We don’t want to go there.” 

Mayor McLaughlin echoed sympathy for the turkeys. “They are simply culinary refugees,” she explained, “trying to find enough to eat while avoiding being eaten.” We value being a diverse community, and I think we can make a place for them in Richmond.” McLaughlin went on to say that she was concerned the term “turkey” was pejorative and might offend someone. “Can’t we come up with something a little more positive?” she asked. 

Rogers, as usual, had a unique viewpoint and a well thought out plan. He pondered if totally removing the turkeys was desirable or even practical. “I think we can have it all.” he explained. “We’ll ship some of them back to Orinda, but we’ll retain a few in a really cool little ‘turkey trottoria’ down by Mechanics Bank so people can still see what they look like. It will be kind of like the Little Farm in Tilden Park. We’ll sell turkey treats to parents so kids can feed them, and we’ll use the profits for my favorite projects, like Greenprint.” 

“I really like that,” responded Ludmyrna.” My little boys will soon be at the age where they could enjoy feeding turkeys, and I don’t know why I should have to drive all the way to Berkeley to do it. These turkeys were born and raised in Richmond, and at least some of them deserve to stay.” 

Ritterman, always the practical one, expounded, “I’m a heart doctor, and I can tell you that nothing is better for your heart than wild turkey breast. A recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine confirms that it’s fat free and jammed with antioxidants. If we could get Richmonders to eat these birds, it would add years to their lives. The downside is it would probably put me out of business.” 

There are at least two theories about how and why the turkey flock, which is now pegged at 30 something, got to Point Richmond. One theory is that they followed Bill Lindsay here from either Walnut Creek or Orinda, both longtime habitats of the noisy birds. “We didn’t have this problem when city managers were homeboys like Isiah Turner,” complained Bates. “You go outside for a city manager, and this is the kind of thing that follows.” 

Another, more plausible, theory comes from Margaret Morkowsky, Point Richmond popular culture expert. “They heard about the Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot (see A Point Richmond Thanksgiving on KGO, November 28, 2008). “Turkeys are smarter than they look,” said Morkowski. “They knew the only turkey shooting going on in Point Richmond was with a shot glass of Wild Turkey. They feel safe here.” 

City Attorney Randy Riddle warned Councilmembers Butt, Ritterman and Bates to check with their personal attorneys before voting on the measure. “All three of you live in the Point Richmond area,” he lectured. “This could be a conflict of interest. You could go to jail.” 

In a remark that he will surely expand on during Open Forum, Corky Booze opined that the only turkeys he knew about were on the City Council. Nat’s right.” chortled Corky, “It’s time for all those turkeys to go.” 

Another frequenter of Open Forum, Jerome (“the Poet”) Smith, called me to provide a preview of the poem of Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah he had chosen for the occasion:


Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas 

Cos' turkeys just wanna hav fun 

Turkeys are cool, turkeys are wicked 

An every turkey has a Mum. 

Be nice to yu turkeys dis christmas, 

Don't eat it, keep it alive, 

It could be yu mate, an not on your plate 

Say, Yo! Turkey I'm on your side. 

I got lots of friends who are turkeys 

An all of dem fear christmas time, 

Dey wanna enjoy it, dey say humans destroyed it 

An humans are out of dere mind, 

Yeah, I got lots of friends who are turkeys 

Dey all hav a right to a life, 

Not to be caged up an genetically made up 

By any farmer...


Mike Ali (“Raccoon Eyes”) Kenney also expressed an interest in making a statement at Open Forum. “The wild turkey was important to my people,” explained Raccoon Eyes. “The Cherokee had flocks of domesticated wild turkeys before the white man set foot in America, and we used the feathers for ceremonial decorations. Lest it be forgotten, I’m sure you have noticed that I maintain that tradition by wearing wild turkey feathers to City Council meetings. Like the Native Americans, the wild turkey has been marginalized and driven from its native habitat. But now, like a prophesy, it is taking that land back. It shall be the same for my people. That explains why my brothers, the Guidivilles, are coming to Point Molate, and nothing can stop them.” 

With my special interest in history, I recalled a certain fondness by founding father Benjamin Franklin for the wild turkey. In fact, Franklin favored the wild turkey as the National Bird over the bald eagle:  

...the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America . . . a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on. 

Chevron and the Richmond Chamber of Commerce called a hasty meeting to strategize where they should position themselves. Refinery Manager Mike Coyle, who has watched turkeys tear up his prize Orinda lawn for years, had little sympathy. However, Chamber leaders Judy Morgan, Josh Genser and Tom Waller countered that they had just done some polling and found a surprising level of sympathy in the community for the growing turkey population. “If we can just find some way to tie this to jobs,” whined Waller, “it could mean victory in November.”  

“Unfortunately, the mayor likes those turkeys, too,” complained Genser. If we can move her closer to Ritterman’s position, I think we can take back the Mayor’s Office. “I’ll get a letter out to our membership right away” chimed in Morgan. “But what should it say?” 

As for me, all I have to say is “gobble-gobble.” 

April Fool! 


Tom Butt is a member of the Richmond City Council. No kidding.  

Pacific Steel Agrees to Release Some Odor Plan “Trade Secrets”

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 07:23:00 PM

Pacific Steel Casting has agreed to release certain parts of its Odor Management Plan, which it had previously declined to do, after arriving at a settlement agreement in February with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. 

A number of Public Records Act requests were filed by the City of Berkeley and community members for the Odor Management Plan which Pacific Steel submitted to the Air District in 2008 after being cited for multiple air quality violations. 

Calling the entire plan a trade secret, Pacific Steel refused to release any part of it to the public. 

When a representative from the City of Berkeley submitted a request to the Air District for the plan, the agency notified the steel foundry, which sued the Air District to keep it from being released. 

The Berkeley City Council asked City Attorney Zach Cowan to intervene in the case in early 2009.  

Settlement negotiations began, and in November, the council authorized a settlement under which most of the odor plan would be released, but certain parts would be redacted either as trade secrets or because of security concerns.  

According to a March 23 report from Cowan to the City Council, further negotiations and a judicially-supervised settlement conference led to the parties reaching an agreement.  

The case was settled in February by agreement to a Consent Judgment.  

The result and the redactions from the OMP were also approved by the environmental group Healthy Air Coalition, who sued the Air District in April 2009, alleging that the agency violated the California Public Records Act by denying access to Pacific Steel Casting’s Odor Control Plan.  

The city argued in its complaint to the court that the odor control plan in its entirety is not a trade secret and must be disclosed. 

The Consent Judgment found it to be in the best interest of the public and the settling parties to release a copy of the odor control plan with “appropriate redactions of trade secrets and plan security and safety concerns.” 

Accordingly, PSC will now have to submit a redacted copy of the Odor Management Plan to the Air District within 10 days of the court order, which is March 29, 2010. 

Portions of the plan that the court determined Pacific Steel will not release include odor control strategies, long term odor control strategies, further efforts to reduce alleged emissions, map layouts, odor abatement equipment maintenance programs and complaint response procedures. 

Copies of the Consent Judgment and the redacted Odor Management Plan were included as information items in the city council's March 23 packet.  



UC Study Finds Deportation of Lawful Immigrant Parents Harms U.S. Children

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 05:56:00 PM

A new study by the UC Berkeley and Davis law schools concludes that forced deportation of lawful immigrant parents convicted of minor crimes can be harmful to U.S. children. 

The report, “In the Child’s Best Interest?” shows that in the last decade, the U.S. has deported lawful immigrant parents of almost 88,000 children born in America. 

It finds that “forced removal of lawful permanent resident parents (or green card holders) convicted of relatively minor crimes can lead to psychological harm, behavioral changes, and disruptions in the health and education of tens of thousands of citizen children.” 

Based mainly on new analysis of data provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the report is a joint project of the International Human Rights Law Clinic and the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity at Berkeley Law and the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of California, Davis, School of Law. 

According to the report, dramatic revisions to U.S. immigration laws in 1996 have resulted in large numbers of deported lawful permanent residents, who make up nearly 10 percent of immigrants deported from the U.S.  

The report says that more than 68 percent of members of this group are sent back to their countries for minor crimes such as driving under the influence, simple assault and non-violent drug offenses. 

Local immigrant groups in Berkeley are examining the report carefully. Belen Pulido, lead organizer for Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action, says that her group helps documented as well as undocumented immigrants in Berkeley to fight deportation. 

BOCA played a significant role in supporting the Latino community in May 2008 when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained a Berkeley couple who were unable to show the officers their licenses while driving to the BART station, and subsequently failed to provide documentation to prove their legal immigration status.  

Estrella Caballero, a second year student at UC Berkeley and a BOCA youth leader, who went to Washington D.C. with BOCA last month to take part in the March for America, said that comprehensive immigration reform is extremely important. 

“During our trip in Washington D.C., representatives from Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi’s offices repeated again and again how significant families are in our lives,” Caballero said. “Nancy Pelosi’s representative even hugged one of the leaders that was giving his testimony on how both of his parents were deported and how he hadn’t seen his mother in seven years. The boy is thirteen years old. It is because of these happenings that we need immigration reform. Our current immigration system is allowing for the deportation of legal residents as if it weren’t already enough that families of undocumented people are being separated.” 

It gets us thinking then, Cabarello said, whether under the current legislation, legal residents are second rate residents. 

“How is it that our legal system deems it acceptable to separate families when the foundation of our society is based on the family structure?” Cabarello asked. “Families are what make our communities, communities shape our society, and our society makes our world what it is today. If our foundations are broken, how can we possibly function properly? 

The revised immigration laws currently restrict the ability of judges to take into account the impact of deportation on children. 

“In the Child’s Best Interest?” recommends “restoring judicial discretion in all cases involving the deportation of lawful permanent residents with U.S. citizen children.” 

“As Congress considers immigration reform, it’s time to focus on how the current system tears apart families and threatens the health and education of tens of thousands of children,” said Aarti Kohli, director of immigration policy at Berkeley Law’s Warren Institute. “This report makes a strong case for restoring judicial discretion so immigration judges can weigh the best interests of children when deciding whether to deport a parent.” 

The report found that the deported legal residents had lived in the U.S. for an average of 10 years, and that more than half of them had at least one child living at home.  

Approximately 50 percent of the children were younger than age five when their parent was deported. 

“Parents who are deported on the basis of criminal convictions are being punished twice for the same mistakes,” said Raha Jorjani, clinical professor at the Immigration Law Clinic at UC Davis. “Even after successfully completing their criminal sentences, they are subject to penalties within the immigration system—and risk losing their families. It’s often the children in these families that suffer the most. This nation should take into consideration the impact on families of uprooting individuals with such strong ties to the U.S.” 

Families who were interviewed as part of the study reported negative health impacts such as depression, sleeplessness and anxiety while children were found to have low grades, behavioral problems and an inclination to drop out of school to help their families. 

“The rights to health and education are firmly entrenched in international human rights law, and nearly every major human rights treaty recognizes the need for special protection of children,” said Laurel Fletcher, director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at Berkeley Law. “The U.S. should consider revising its policy to mirror European human rights standards, which permit judges to balance a nation’s security interest with the best interests of the child when considering deporting a parent.” 

The report recommends the following to U.S. lawmakers: 

• Restoring judicial discretion in cases involving the deportation of lawful permanent residents who have U.S. citizen children 

• Establishing clear judicial guidelines in these family deportation cases 

• Reverting to the pre-1996 definition of “aggravated felony” 

• Collecting data on U.S. citizen children of deported lawful immigrant parents to gain fuller understanding of impact of deportation laws. 




New: Organic Consumers Association Pickets Chez Panisse

By Raymond Barglow, www.berkeleytutors.net
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 02:40:00 PM
Picketers protest outside Chez Panisse in Berkeley Thursday afternoon.
By Raymond Barglow
Picketers protest outside Chez Panisse in Berkeley Thursday afternoon.

Picketers claiming that Alice Waters, known worldwide as an advocate of organic foods and gardens, supports “growing food on toxic sewage sludge” appeared today at noon in front of her Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley. The protestors, from the Organic Consumers Association, say as well that the Executive Director of Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Foundation, Francesca Vietor, is a Vice President of the PUC, which has been giving away the sludge “compost” to gardeners in the Bay Area.  

Unsuspecting users, according to OCA, include the school gardens that Waters herself has done so much to promote. John Mayer, campaign coordinator for the Organic Consumers Association, told the Planet that “Although the sludge is an-aerobicly heated, toxins remain…. The fact is that the sludge contains toxins, they cannot be gotten rid of, and this is improper for growing food.” 

Water’s foundation responded to this accusation on Thursday morning, a few hours before the picketing was scheduled to begin. The Foundation said that Waters issued a statement three days earlier “calling for safe composting methods” and welcoming “a full airing of the facts of the situation.” The Foundation added that Vietor has asked the PUC to suspend the sludge giveaways “until scientific data can be gathered and evaluated.” 

John Mayer told the Planet that the information issued by Waters’ foundation was new to him, and that he would have to evaluate it. He claimed that the foundation’s press release is erroneous in at least one respect: it states that the PUC has “stopped” giving away the sludge, while he contends that the practice, according to a PUC news release issued today, has only been “suspended.” The OCA is asking that Waters support halting the practice altogether. 

The PUC statement claims that its biosolids product – which is the PUC’s name for “nutrient-rich solid waste removed from wastewater at every wastewater treatment plan” -- “meets or exceeds all current federal and state regulations and guidelines for safe use in San Francisco.”  


News Group Tackles Offending Newsracks in Berkeley

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 01:20:00 PM
News racks not in use were removed from the pedestal near the downtown Berkeley BART station
Riya Bhattacharjee
News racks not in use were removed from the pedestal near the downtown Berkeley BART station
The pedestal outside the Berkeley Courthouse had egg cartons and trash in the West County Times and SF Chronicle slots Tuesday.
Riya Bhattacharjee
The pedestal outside the Berkeley Courthouse had egg cartons and trash in the West County Times and SF Chronicle slots Tuesday.

Berkeley may have finally found a way to regulate offending newsracks.  

A newspaper conglomerate has stepped up to the plate and agreed to tackle the problem. Well at least some of it. 

The Bay Area News Group, the local of the Media News corporation which publishes The Oakland Tribune, The Contra Costa Times and the San Jose Mercury News among others, has been sending out a crew to dismantle old broken ped-mounts (racks which hold boxes for multiple papers), fix them up and re-install them so that they are no longer considered a “hazard” by the city. 

Michael Switzer, Single Copy Director for BANG, is the man behind this “pedestal improvement” operation in Berkeley. He plans to repair about 10 multi-unit racks judged by city inspectors to be guilty of code violations. 

BANG, whose predecessors originally set up these pedestals many years ago and which has been “informally” in charge of their maintenance., will foot the estimated $3,000 bill, Switzer said. 

“Somebody has to do it, since we are the biggest newspaper around here, we decided we’ll do it,” Switzer said Tuesday. “If we put them out we should be able to clean them up. The smaller free newspapers like Open Exchange, the East Bay Express and the Guardian don’t have the resources to do it. I want to be able to see the Oakland Tribune on these racks. We have money in these racks. If this was San Francisco, the Chronicle would have done it.” 

The city’s battle with problem newsracks has a long history, but things took a turn for the worse when it decided to go ahead and permanently pull some of the more “unsightly” ones off the streets earlier this year. 

“And I got wind of it,” Switzer said. “Nobody was stepping up. We had big conversations with all the newspapers and decided to solve the issue as a group. I understand the city is frustrated, but it’s difficult for the papers too. There’s graffiti, people break in for money. Once upon a time we had a lot of newspapers out there and made a lot more money. It’s not the same any more.” 

The Planet, which stopped publishing a print newspaper and went online only in March, was not among the newspapers contacted in March about plans to revamp the racks.  

Switzer said that the Planet’s old racks would also be restored but it would ultimately be up to its publisher to decide their fate. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has been following the issue for a while, called the Planet when the racks started to go. He said he was happy to hear they would be reinstalled after two weeks. 

“It was scary to see all the racks disappearing suddenly,” he said. “I don’t think most newsracks are a much of a problem. In the rare case it is a problem, the city should address it without putting drastic pressure on the newspaper industry. There’s no need to be pesky about tiny things.” 

Worthington said that the city had received complaints from the Downtown Berkeley Association and the Telegraph Business Improvement District about newsracks flouting the city’s rules. 

“A lot of the newsracks people have complained about are not in that bad a shape,” he said. “The press has enough problems already. We don’t want the City of Berkeley becoming a problem. Access to information is extremely important whether or not you like the box or the color.” 

However, Switzer said that the city’s code enforcement officers had a point. 

“There are some pedestals in Berkeley that are absolutely offending,” he said. “We’ll fix them and have them look all good and put them back for the publishers who want them. But there are some which probably won’t make it back.” 

The rack in front of the Fat Apple restaurant in North Berkeley was taken down for good because it was taking up sidewalk space, another code violation, Switzer said.  

A “big giant monstrous rack” in front of the Coldwell Banker real estate office on North Shattuck Avenue had 48 spots, of which only eight were in use, Switzer said. “The other 40 had become dumpsters. It was the ugliest mess.” 

Many trade and real estate magazines went out of business during the recession, leaving behind empty racks with jagged metal, broken plastic and banged up trays. 

The rack in front of the downtown Post Office will be the next to go, he said. 

Altogether, BANG will rebuild 20 ped-mounts in Berkeley and Oakland, charging newspapers only if they wanted to replace the boxes in their entirety. 

“Normally there’s a $40 to $50 fee per newspaper for a brand new location, but we are doing the repairing for free,” Switzer said. At this point, newspapers are still responsible for their individual single box repairs. 



Suspected Drug Deal Leads to Car Crash

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 12:18:00 PM

A suspected drug deal investigation Wednesday morning set off a chain of crashes in Berkeley, sending a woman to the hospital with minor injuries 

Berkeley Police Department patrol officers were doing their usual rounds on Delaware and Eighth streets Wednesday morning when they saw a vehicle parked with someone leaning inside. 

The officers recognized the driver because of a previous contact with him and went up to talk to him. Officer Jamie Perkins of the Berkeley Police Department said the officers suspected he was taking part in a drug deal. The driver didn’t obey the officers’ commands to “stay put,” Perkins said and fled from the scene in a champagne colored Toyota van. 

He was later involved in a collision when his van struck a green Chevy Lumina going northbound on San Pablo Avenue, which in turn lost control and collided with a blue Volvo going south on San Pablo. The woman driving the Volvo was injured and hospitalized, Perkins said. The suspect vehicle lost his front bumper in the collision and the other two cars also suffered serious damage. 

The Lumina came to a stop after hitting Brent’s Unique Shop on San Pablo and Hearst, but Perkins said “there appeared to be no structural damage.” 

The suspect’s vehicle fled the scene and is still missing. Perkins said the officers had not pursued the vehicle because they had been on foot when they had gone up to talk to the suspect. 

Perkins said that investigators were not releasing the suspect's name at this point.  


New: Berkeley Supports Amnesty for Military War Resisters and Veterans

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday April 02, 2010 - 05:28:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council recently sent out letters to President Barack Obama, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressperson Barbara Lee recommending amnesty for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan war military resisters and veterans. 

The council approved the recommendation on a 7-0 vote March 9, with two councilmembers, Gordon Wozniak and Susan Wengraf abstaining on various grounds. 

Although the resolution had initially been scheduled for vote on Feb. 23, it was postponed after some councilmembers said they had concerns about the way it was worded. 

A subcommittee comprised of councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Linda Maio was formed to edit the language, which when finally adopted said that the council supported “Universal and unconditional amnesty for Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan War military resisters and veterans who acted In opposition to the war for matters of conscience.” 

The final resolution has some changes from the original passed by the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission last November. 

The Berkeley City Council’s resolution recommends that “all military personnel, serving since Oct. 7, 2001, be granted universal and unconditional amnesty amounting to forgiveness for all convictions or pending charges of desertion or Absence Without Leave (AWOL) or Unauthorized Absence (UA) if such leave or absence is determined to be caused by matters of personal conscience in opposition to the illegal wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.” 

It also recommends that military personnel convicted due to charges resulting from exercising free speech about their opposition to the wars in Iraq and Pakistan since Oct. 7, 2001 be granted amnesty for those convictions.  

The resolution supports amnesty for all veterans with less than honorable discharges for absence offenses stemming from personal conscience regarding opposition to the wars starting on or after Oct. 7, 2001. It calls for those veterans to have their “discharges automatically upgraded to honorable discharges or to general under honorable conditions and that those veterans be granted all benefits otherwise due to them.” 

According to Peace and Justice Commission Chair Bob Meola, the Berkeley City Council’s resolution is the first time the topic of universal unconditional amnesty has been approached since former U.S. President Jimmy Carter granted unconditional amnesty amounting to “full, complete and unconditional pardon” to draft resisters during the Vietnam War.” 

“I hope this resolution will serve as a model and inspire cities and towns across the United States to pass similar resolutions and ignite a movement which will result in universal and unconditional amnesty for Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan war resisters and veterans,” said Meola, who wrote the original resolution. “The troops who have had the courage to resist have been traumatized enough. They have followed their consciences and deserve healing and support and appreciation from people everywhere. The GI Resistance movement is growing. Its members are heroes and heroes should be treated as heroes as they are welcomed back into civilian society.” 

Wozniak, who abstained from voting, said that the original resolution had been “very badly worded essentially giving any serviceman unlimited amnesty for current or future violation of military rules.”  

“We currently have an all volunteer army; thus the analogy to the Vietnam war is inaccurate, since during that conflict there was a conscript army,” Wozniak said. “Although the revised resolution was more narrowly worded, I still disagree with some of the language. While I believe that conscientious objectors have the right to refuse to serve in combat, they also should bear the consequences of their decision.” 

Berkeley, which has been a sanctuary city for conscientious objectors since 1991, became a sanctuary city for military resisters to immoral and illegal wars in 2007. 



UC President Outlines Actions in Response to Campus Racism

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 04:05:00 PM

University of California President Mark Yudof at a Board of Regents meeting last week outined a series of actions to address recent racist incidents on campus. 

Black students at UC Berkeley staged a silent protest last month to stand in solidarity with their peers at UC San Diego, where an off-campus event mocking Black History Month and other incidents created tension among different student groups. 

The Berkeley students also complained about racist incidents on their own campus, calling for reform in a letter to their Chancellor, Robert Birgeneau. 

Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley was sent to UCSD to advise the president on campus race relations. 

In prepared remarks to the regents March 24, Yudof detailed a series of actions either already in place or soon to be carried out to quell instances of intolerance on UC campuses. 

“We must—and we will—deal with the causes of the offending behaviors, both the immediate and the underlying,” Yudof said. 

He promised to continue working with students to develop appropriate campus hate crime legislation. He also asked campus authorities to cooperate with criminal investigations that resulted from any of the incidents, and also to determine whether any campus codes were violated. 

“The chancellors have done admirable work in addressing these issues with their campus communities,” Yudof said. “And all have my full support. We all know that what affects one UC campus affects us all. Similarly, where we see best practices that promote diversity and tolerance, chancellors will share information with their colleagues.” 

Yudof also issued a “clarion call” for alumni and other supporters of the university to privately launch an effort to raise scholarship funds that would support underrepresented minorities on UC campuses.  

He called for “adjustments to the admissions process to make it ‘more in-depth and fair’ and competent to generate a larger pool of applicants—-changes which will need to have input and oversight from the Academic Council and the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools. 



Berkeley Woman Killed in Motorcycle Crash on I-80

By Bay City News/The Berkeley Daily Planet
Wednesday March 31, 2010 - 04:03:00 PM

A Berkeley woman was killed in a solo-motorcycle crash on Interstate Highway 80 in Richmond last Thursday night, according to the California Highway Patrol. 

The motorcyclist was riding a 1992 Kawasaki motorcycle in the far right lane of westbound I-80 at 8:51 p.m. when she lost control and struck a metal guardrail on the right shoulder just west of Carleson Boulevard. 

The impact launched the rider over the guardrail, and she was found in the trees and shrubs on the right side of the guardrail, the CHP said. 

The motorcycle slid and came to rest in the right lane. 

A witness told investigators that the motorcycle was going at least about 60 mph, but it did not appear that the rider was speeding, according to the CHP. 

The victim was identified as 41-year-old Berkeley resident Dayna Seico. 

The right lane of the highway was closed until shortly after 11 p.m. while the CHP investigated the crash and the coroner removed the body.

Berkeley Police Arrest Berkeley High Student for Suspected Robbery

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 31, 2010 - 04:01:00 PM

Berkeley police arrested a Berkeley High School student in downtown Berkeley last Thursday in connection with a robbery. 

The arrest occurred at 12:23 p.m. after a Berkeley Police Department officer saw the suspect walking along the 1900 block of Allston Way. 

BPD spokesperson Officer Jamie Perkins said that the suspect had been wanted for a robbery that took place in February. 

Perkins said the minor had been involved in a strong arm robbery and had taken the personal belongings of his victim. According to Perkins, the robbery occurred just before 4 p.m. on Feb. 19 at Allston and Grant. The victim was also a minor and a male student at Berkeley High. 

Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan said he saw 10 or 11 police officers take down the robbery suspect near Berkeley High at 12:20 p.m. and put a “net bag” over his head. 

Perkins said that a spit mask was used as a precaution. Spit masks are porous masks which prevent people from biting or spitting, Perkins said. She could not say whether the student had resisted arrest or behaved violently prior to being arrested. 

Perkins declined to release any specifics about the case because it was still under investigation and involved a juvenile. 

The student will be kept in Berkeley City Jail before being booked into Juvenile Hall, Perkins said. 

Telegraph Laundromat Dilemma Gets Postponed for a Month

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 31, 2010 - 03:31:00 PM
Riya Bhattacharjee

Southside Lofts residents were back Tuesday to make one last plea to the Berkeley City Council to deny a laundromat a permit to move into their building, or so they thought. 

The council, which was charged with hearing the appeal of the Zoning Adjustments Board’s February decision to deny a use permit for a laundromat at 3095 Telegraph Ave., decided to postpone the issue for a month. 

Although there was overwhelming testimony from homeowners and community members in favor of upholding the zoning board’s decision, the council found it impossible to arrive at any kind of a conclusion about the dilemma before them. 

An erroneously issued use permit by the Berkeley Planning Department led San Diego–based PWS to start the groundwork for a laundromat in the loft building. But a neighbor intervened, which led to the city discovering that although the use permit had been issued on the basis that there had been a previous laundromat at the site, that store had burned down years ago. Thus, the developers should have applied for a new administrative use permit. 

The city halted the construction, but after PWS threatened to file a lawsuit against the City of Berkeley, a settlement was reached whereby the city paid PWS $42,000 to cover costs arising from delays and relocation of vents.  

In return, PWS agreed to follow the required zoning process, but reserved the right to file a lawsuit in the event that the city did not approve the permit.  

A large group of neighbors showed up to plead against the laundromat, citing health, safety and parking concerns. 

Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, whose nearly half million dollar condo is right above the proposed laundromat, said he was worried about noise, vibration and odors. 

“My unit shakes, when I or even my neighbor washes clothes,” Ali said. “I believe a business directly below one’s home, with 50 washers and dryers, would prove to be a very serious nuisance. 

Ali quoted from the condo owners’ regulations, which he said clearly “prohibits noise, vibration and noxious odors.” 

Berkeley’s Planning Manager Debbie Sanderson said that the Bay Area Air Quality District had not found odors from the washers and dryers to be a health hazard. 

However, a neighbor testifying before the council later said that the Air District had not studied harmful effects of laundry machines at all. 

David Greens, an attorney representing PWS, said that project opponents had made a “lot of exaggerated charges.” 

“It’s meant to benefit the community,” he said of the laundromat. “We have complied with city laws.” 

Some neighbors think that PWS knowingly provided misinformation to the city to get a permit. 

“I am quite surprised they are unhappy with a laundromat because so many people came up to me even before the project started and said” they didn’t have a problem with it, said Sam Sorokin, who developed Southside Lofts. 

Southside resident Frank Darr told the council that Sorokin had told him while developing the condo complex that a laundromat would be incompatible with the project. But Sorokin told council: “I never said that.” 

Councilmembers Linda Maio, Kriss Worthington, Laurie Capitelli and Jesse Arreguin asked city staff to find out what kind of conditions and findings would be required to reject the proposal. 

Another problem appeared to be the parking. Although Sorokin had advertised the proposed laundromat space as having three parking spaces, the permit application says that there are four. 

The city had earlier denied a use permit for Quiznos for the very same spot due to a lack of parking. 

Worthington pointed out that weekend parking requirements would have to be in the ballpark of at least 10 to 12 spots. 

He said that the city’s municipal code allows the City Council to require more parking spaces if they find it necessary. 


Kyle Harty Strang,1993-2010

Friday April 02, 2010 - 05:29:00 PM

Kyle was born July 4th 1993 in Berkeley California, son of Craig Strang and Sharleen Harty, stepson of Persis Karim and brother of Niko Karim-Strang. Kyle and his dear friend and neighbor Prentice Gray, Jr. died in an automobile accident on March 31, 2010.  

Kyle was born and raised in Berkeley California and was extremely proud of his Jewish heritage. He became Bar Mitzvah at Lawrence Hall of Science where his father Craig, is Associate Director. From a young age his weekends were spent playing baseball in the Albany Little League, where he played the position of pitcher and second baseman. Over the years, he developed a wide circle of friends centered on his passion for his neighborhood community, the world of baseball, mixed martial arts and his small school at Berkeley High, CAS (Communication, Arts, and Sciences). 

Kyle was fiercely loyal to his greater family, friends and CAS mates. All who knew him understood that he was always happy to be there at a moment’s notice. He had a particularly deep connection to his cousins. He aspired to live in Israel and become a writer. 

In addition to his immediate family, Kyle is survived by his extended family, his many aunts and uncles, his cousins Sara, Erin Jeremy, Carlyn, Casey, Mike, Ronelle, Lily, Elissa, Megan, Mallory, Cassandra and Kayla, his girlfriend Hannah Plowright, and his wide circle of friends. 

In lieu of flowers, Kyle's family would like donations, in Kyle's name, made to the school that Kyle attended, Communication Arts and Science (CAS). CAS is a small school within Berkeley High School that emphasizes media literacy and communication skills in a context of social justice. CAS is designed to help students incorporate real-world experiences into their high school education while they explore issues of social justice, social change, and social responsibility. This remarkable community of teachers and students was an extension of Kyle's family, and provided a loving and safe circle of support in addition to a world-class education. 

Tax-deductible contributions can be made to CAS (Communication Arts and Science) at Berkeley High School, by sending a check made out to Berkeley High School Development Group, Kyle Harty Strang Memorial Fund, and sent to Strang Memorial Fund, 828 Ashbury Street, SF 94117. 

Saturday April 03, 2010 - 01:58:00 PM



Worth a Look

By Becky O'Malley
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 10:39:00 PM

Some interesting links to relevant pieces appearing elsewhere: 


This discussion of Mitch Kapor's planned palace at 2707 Rose Steet is VERY long, but worth reading. 

Does anyone but me remember how the architect for this project, Marcy Wong, engineered the effective (and probably illegal) demolition of the historic old Edy's ice cream building on South Shattuck to replace it with an ugly and now-vacant Eddie Bauer's outlet? Some people just have friends in the right places. 


Journalism 101--today's softball follow-up by a Chronicle staff writer to yesterday's hard-hitting expose by a "Special to the Chronicle" independent journalist cited in our editorial today:  

UC head forms panel to tackle cost of athletics  

by Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writer 


Sunshine at The Nation: 

Open Letter to Berkeley Students on their Historic Israeli Divestment Bill  

by Naomi Klein,The Nation  


Follow the money: 

Lawrence Berkeley Lab gets $18M for biofuels research center  

by Steven E.F. Brown,San Francisco Business Times  




Letting the Sunshine In After Eight Years

By Becky O'Malley
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 12:58:00 PM
Peter Houts

The great pitcher and philosopher Satchel Paige (may he rest in peace) used to say “Don’t look back—something might be gaining on you.” That’s advice I’ve always liked, but once in a while looking back can’t be avoided. Last Saturday Peter and Mary, old and dear friends from Ann Arbor in the 60s, who’ve been in central Pennsylvania even longer than we’ve been in Berkeley, unexpectedly came to town, and we met them at the Farmers Market for a lavish Berkeley breakfast of Blue Bottle coffee and crepes. 

They’ve been living in the country on a small farm all these years, so they were interested in what our local farmers had brought to town this week. As we toured the aisle, we encountered an eager citizen with a clipboard, soliciting signatures for the freshly minted Berkeley Sunshine Ordinance initiative. Suddenly I remembered that on one of their previous visits, when they stayed with us, Peter had created the poster opposite as a thank you gift, since I was then working on trying to get an ordinance enacted. Folks, the workshop the poster advertised was in September of 2002! 

Time flies when you’re having fun. Has it really been almost 8 years, or even more, since Berkeleyans first tried to get a little sunshine into City Hall? No better evidence is needed of the lethargy which afflicts our city government. No wonder citizens have had to take the law into their own hands so many times recently with initiatives and referendums—representative government in Berkeley is increasingly dysfunctional. Perhaps if the sunshine ordinance passes citizens will be able to figure out what’s gone wrong in the past eight years. 

Thinking about the past inevitably reminded me that it’s been seven years today that Mike and I, with help from many dedicated Berkeleyans, launched another experiment in democracy, leaping naively into the whirlpool world of newspaper publishing, soon to become a vortex which would swallow many print publications, eventually including ours. In the Berkeley Daily Planet’s online archives, I checked out what I wrote way back then about why we dived into this incipient maelstrom. 

It was the usual high-minded sentiments: “The Truth Will Set You Free Blah Blah Blah.” Do we really still believe all that stuff? Yes. Do we still think print papers are the way to get there? Maybe. 

Coincidentally, a reader has contributed a commentary for this issue, published below, which suggests that too much sunshine might be a bad thing. That’s a curious sentiment coming from a Berkeleyan, particularly since he further suggests that the Sunshine Ordinance is suspect because it seems to have been drafted by chronic malcontents.  

Well, of course it was. If you believe that here in Berkeley we’re living in The Best of All Possible Worlds, why would you want change? Many would agree that the three questions highlighted in the poster still haven’t been answered eight years later. But why should we care? 

The old Russians used to say that “if our little father the Tsar only knew what was happening, he wouldn’t allow it” when anything went wrong. It’s the belief of sunshine advocates that one reason citizens make bad decisions is that they don’t have all the facts at their disposal. That’s where sunshine laws and places to publish the results make a difference. 

In recent years the majority of the elected city councilmembers have voted for a number of misbegotten laws which were stopped by citizen action. (That’s lower case citizen action, not the old Berkeley Citizens Action which has lapsed into slumber except when it’s time to endorse pre-approved candidates.) These include the builder-backed attempt to gut Berkeley’s Landmark Preservation Ordinance and the push to re-do downtown Berkeley according to UC Berkeley’s desires.  

On the other hand, Berkeley’s Police Review Commission has been hamstrung and hog-tied. The Planet, even when fully staffed by both experienced reporters and eager interns, has never in 7 years been able to get accurate crime information on a regular basis from whatever Public Information Officer happened to be in charge of keeping the facts under wraps. Perhaps the Sunshine Ordinance will change that. 

Some who oppose the Sunshine Ordinance will probably claim, with our correspondent today, that things are the way they are because the majority of citizens like them that way. We can leave the “it’s a republic, not a democracy!” discussion to whatever Goldwaterites are alive and well and living in Berkeley, but under either form of governmental organization (they’re not mutually exclusive, by the way) the majority can sometimes be wrong.  

Seeing Peter and Mary reminded me of the olden days back in Ann Arbor, when we were all “prematurely right” in 1964 about our country’s growing entanglement in Vietnam. Then, as now, the opinion of the majority was widely touted as being conclusive. The press was mostly against us, though I remember with gratitude the early involvement of John Knight, whose family owned one of the Detroit papers, who used his publisher’s column to endorse us noisy minorities who were launching the anti-war movement before it was fashionable. 

Recent instances of minorities being prematurely right include those who suspected last summer that UC Berkeley’s plan for a fancy new gym for 450 student athletes was a boondoggle (as shown by an amazing expose in the Chronicle this week). And now the world is starting to wake up to what’s going on in Israel.  

Until recently, the only way for Americans to find out that public opinion in Israel was not monolithic was to read the foreign press, European and Israeli, online. Most of the American press was intimidated into silence by the likes of AIPAC.  

But the prematurely right critics of Israel’s current government, once seen in only a few courageous publications, have now been joined by cautious editorial writers in the mainstream press and even by UC Berkeley’s own ASUC, not in recent years a hotbed of radicalism. Many Americans have not been aware of the growing and vocal minority of Israelis who are not afraid to speak up about their government’s misdeeds, but word is getting out.  

A friend who was raised in Israel but is now a U.S. citizen got back last week from a trip to visit his mother who is still there. He was in Israel during Vice-President Biden’s visit, which was marred by the government’s announcement of a new construction project in East Jerusalem. 

He’s always told Berkeley friends about what he learns from reading Ha’aretz in Hebrew, which he says contains critical details left out of the paper’s English version, but he didn’t have a strong sense of the growing strength of the movement for justice toward Palestinians. He brought glowing reports of the splendid anti-government demonstrations he’d participated in (“ Three thousand people in East Jerusalem! I saw all of my old friends from school days at the demos!”) and of hard-hitting critiques in local newspapers of just how those in power were going astray.  

He even attended a presentation of a new film about Rachel Corrie accompanied by a moving discussion by her parents. It was perhaps the one that got San Francisco’s Jewish Film Festival in trouble with its funders (including U.C. Regent Warren Hellman)—more freely shown in Israel than it has been here. Israel, warts and all, has always had a vigorous free press and a willingness to engage in open discussion of important issues, and that’s what will eventually save the country if anything can.  

In the brave new world of online everything, with print papers dropping like flies, citizen journalism is ever more necessary. If Berkeley’s Sunshine Ordinance gets on the ballot and is passed by the voters in November, citizens will be under an even greater obligation to use its provisions to find out the truth and publicize it. We hope to continue to provide an easy way for you do that. But first, of course, you have to sign those petitions in the next couple of weeks. 

A great new tool for disseminating information is the little “share” icon now on every page of the online Planet. You can click on it to pass on a piece that you like by email, Facebook or Twitter, or even print it out on paper for computer-illiterate friends. And don’t forget to try the Contents and Full Text buttons on the front page, to create personalized presentations of all the news we print in one place. Between the Planet and the Sunshine Ordinance, soon there will be no excuse for anyone in Berkeley not to know what’s happening. Pass it on. 

The Editor's Back Fence

New: Piedmont Publisher Eyes Berkeley Market

Friday April 02, 2010 - 11:51:00 PM

The Planet has always needed a gossip column, and here's the perfect item to kick it off: 

Is there big money in small newspapers? One R.Todd Kerr seems to think so. A rumor which flew over the editor's back fence says that he's hoping to launch a "Berkeley Times." Tagline: "A community rallies around its new hometown paper." A web search reveals that he is a Stanford grad, lives in Piedmont and is the associate publisher of the Piedmont Post (a goodnews weekly). In other words, a regular Berkeley kinda guy. He might give the Voice some stiff competition.  

A quick check of his Facebook page revealed not a single Mutual Friend among the hundreds he boasts. Does anyone out there know him? 



Odd Bodkins

By Dan O'Neill
Wednesday March 31, 2010 - 10:51:00 PM

Click on the image in order to see it magnified.

Odd Bodkins

By Dan O'Neill
Wednesday March 31, 2010 - 09:57:00 PM

Click on the image in order to see it magnified.

Pepper Spray Times

By Carol Denney
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 12:32:00 PM

Public Comment


Thursday April 01, 2010 - 04:44:00 PM

Financial Aid Relief 

My husband and I went from a two income family (with employer benefits), to a single income family (with a baby and rising tuition costs) within a matter of a year. Then the market crashed, then the layoffs, then the rise in in daily expenses... 

As I work towards earning my M.S. to become a Speech-Language Pathologists, I have been forced to take the maximum financial aid allocated to me. I will graduate with a bright future, and over $100,000 in student loans. I am trembling with relief knowing that I will not be required to dole out more than 10% of my yearly income towards this necessary debt, and am motivated to take my practice into the public schools by the thought of debt forgiveness in 10 years. 

Access to health care and education could perhaps be argued to not be "human rights"; however, they are "civilized rights". This administration is bringing us out of Dark Ages of the last decade, and putting us back on track. 

Mollie Mindel 


Elijah the Prophet in San Francisco 

It is a Jewish tradition during Passover Seders that occurred this week to open the door for Elijah, the prophet. It is said that Elijah will return to earth once every generation in the form of an impoverished person to see how he is received. If he is received well, then the Messiah will come.  

It is concerning to me that, due to recent policies of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome, if he was a young person in San Francisco that Elijah soon would be arrested for spending time on the sidewalk, as Elijah would have no home, and would be deported without due process, as he would be a young undocumented person. We cannot support political leaders who build their power by blaming our problems on the powerless, and make lives harder for those who are already suffering.  

Beyond that, we must look at each of our own actions and see how they support the type of society that would arrest and deport the Elijah, the prophet. If a homeless person on the street makes us uncomfortable, we must ask ourselves what are we doing to change a country that has so many resources and so many people without. 


Jonah Minkoff-Zern 



Berkeley Public Library 

Once again I write to lavish praise on the Berkeley Public Library -- that handsome Art Deco building on Kittredge at Shattuck Avenue, which over the years has afforded cultural and educational information to its users, and all for free. Credit for most of these programs must rightfully go to Debbie Carton, Art and Music Librarian. 

For the past year I've been enrolled in Debbie's class, Playreading, which meets every Wednesday, from 12 to 1 in the 4th Floor Story Room. Here a group of actors, retired actors or simply theatre lovers sit at a round table reading aloud from a broad range of plays. On Sunday, March 28th at 2 p.m. there was a very stimulating program, Playreaders Performers' Showcase, with those students offering excerpts from well known theatre masterpieces -- Hamlet, Under Milk Wood, Mrs. Warren's Profession, and The Little Foxes, to name only a few. This was truly sheer heaven for the large, enthusiastic audience of theatre worshippers present that afternoon. In addition to the Playreading Group, Debbie offers an occasional operatic program. On Thursday, April 1st at 12:15, people can enjoy Aaron Copeland's "The Tender Land." What better way to spend one's lunch hour! For a less esoteric program, a class on 100-mile bicycle rides is also available for athletes. So, again, I salute the Berkeley Public Library and Debbie Carton for providing these outstanding programs to our community. 

Dorothy Snodgrass  



A Breath of Relief for Students and Our Families 

It's not often that politicians deliver on their campaign promises, but that's exactly what President Obama did by signing the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act. During his campaign, Obama pledged to take on the issue of increasing college affordability by ending wasteful subsidies to private student lenders and giving the money saved back to students in the form of increased aid. 

That is exactly what the bill the President signed into law will do. The reform will cut more than $60 billion is subsidies to private lenders, double funding for Pell Grants for low-income students, and cap the amount that college graduates pay annually in student loans to 10% of their income. As the cost of attending college skyrockets, especially for UC students like myself, these reforms will go a long way to bringing relief to struggling families. 

Ian Magruder 


Clarification on BRT Acronyms 

A tiny clarification on NEPA and other procedural acronyms which have been buzzing around the Bus Rapid Transit issue. This information may help clarify the process. NEPA is not an agency, it is a law, and the acronym stands for National Environmental Policy Act. This act was passed around 1970, and requires that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be prepared for potentially impactful projects which will receive federal funding. The federal funding for BRT requires that an EIS be prepared in addition to an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) which is the state of California instrument as mandated by CEQA. Although an EIR and an EIS are distinct requirements, they can be combined in a single document, which is undoubtedly what will happen here. There are two main differences I am aware of between an EIS and an EIR. First is that an EIR allows for subsequent modifications to a plan after the EIR is presented which make the project less impactful than what was studied, and without requiring the need for a re-study. An EIS, on the other hand, requires a re-study if a modification CHANGES the overall impact significantly in either direction. A Supplemental EIS (SEIS) may be sufficient to accommodate the dropping of dedicated lanes from BRT, but AC Transit is claiming that either scenario is not feasible with regard to their funding and timeline requirements. The build option therefore becomes inflexible with regard to dropping dedicated lanes. It is all or nothing, and that is relevant to what the council votes to submit in the LPA on April 27th. The other difference between an EIS and an EIR is that an EIR is more rigorous with regard to requiring mitigations to actually offset impacts. The requirements of NEPA are much less rigorous in this regard. According to Wikipedia, NEPA does not require any mitigations to potentially harmful environmental impacts, only that those impacts be described in an EIS for the edification and information of all parties concerned. 


Joseph Stubbs 


Obama's Student Loan Reform Signed 

The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act will help America in an area that all experts say is crucial for our nation to continue to prosper: education. Making education more available and affordable for more young people will have a positive impact over time on the entire U.S. economy. 

I recently graduated from U.C. Berkeley as a transfer student from a community college. I self-financed 2/3 of all of my expenses. The remaining 1/3 was covered by federal grants and loans. Mine is a success story of the community college program, but I know many others who were not as fortunate, because of the financial stresses family and full-time jobs. I know that more Pell Grants and better programming at community colleges will increase the availability of classes and help many more students to navigate the financial waters of the self-financed student. 

I am very happy that Obama helped to pass such important legislation. I know it will make a meaningful and positive difference in the lives of many Americans. 

Isaac Nelson 


Update: Autism and Police 

It was reported to the Berkeley Police Review Commission, that the Berkeley Police purchased a copy of "Autism and Law Enforcement Roll Call Briefing Video". The dvd, priced at $154.95, comes with a training booklet. I'm still trying to figure myself out; I wouldn't expect the Berkeley Police to totally "get" me, but just to try to understand me a little. Of course the UC police still have hallucinations of me being a terrorist. But, Mitch "Mad Dog" Celaya can't keep it up for long. Someday soon, Mitch will be popping some kernels, and watching a certain dvd with his buddies. I know someone who would let Mitch borrow the dvd. I would like to suggest that the UC police make a pajama party out of it.  


Nathan Pitts 

Autism Spectrum Liberation Front 



Addressing Citywide Zoning Permit Issues  

The news that two Council Aides, who also hold positions on jurisdictional boards, acted contrary to City law is troubling. We do not need to become more cynical of those in positions of public trust. This is a product of a larger problem. 

It is not an isolated event but is rather evidence of widespread disregard for local zoning codes resulting from a lack of proactive zoning oversight and code enforcement. A systematic program to identify significant changes in buildings is long overdue. 

The practice of undertaking major construction without permits is rampant. Construction without review may be dangerous to occupants and neighbors. It may be harmful to nearby properties whose owners have no warning, let alone the opportunity to negotiate. Neighbors are then left to live with concerns, suffer detriment or become embroiled in battles.  

The City forgoes permit fees as well as immediate and long term property taxes. Isn't it likely that over a million dollars is lost every year from property owners who do not pay taxes on their improvements? 

Maybe if this unfortunate citywide situation were addressed, a proactive system could make the City safer and more solvent. 


Nancy Holland and Wendy Alfsen 

The Sunshine Ordinance and the People's Republic

By Alan Tobey
Wednesday March 31, 2010 - 05:23:00 PM

Dean Metzger's March 23 commentary on the proposed Berkeley Sunshine Ordinance (BSO) provides a summary list of changes it would bring to Berkeley civics in the cause of "open government." Most of them sound indisputably attractive. But as usual the devil is in the details -- the degree and extent of the specific changes -- and what those details add up to for the way we want to manage our city. Almost all of us are for more-open government. But as my mother used to say, more of a good thing is not necessarily a better thing -- not if it goes too far. 

If its petition is qualified, there will be much to discuss about the details of what the BSO proposes – at the highest level whether it’s “just what the city needs to be more democratic” or “an attack on our cherished representative form of government.” For now, however, it’s probably sufficient just to describe the history and political background of this citizen-led effort as a way to understand its intent, without discussing specific provisions yet. In the spirit of open disclosure, this writer is a skeptic on this particular ordinance who looks forward to an instructive public debate. 

About three years ago both the City Council and the local League of Women Voters “encouraged” interested citizens to work on a focused Berkeley ordinance. However, unlike similar efforts such as recent work on the Downtown Area Plan, the Council did not charter a formal “taskforce,” which would have had a diverse membership appointed by all council-members. As a result, from the beginning the BSO committee has been a motivated and self-selected group open to anyone (not necessarily a bad thing, since a great deal of detailed work has been involved). That said, along the way a more formal taskforce would have had to hold widely-noticed open meetings to receive public comment on the evolving concepts and especially on the final draft before submission – something this “open government” committee has not vigorously provided. 

The actual BSO working group, whether by design or not, has been composed mainly of citizens long at odds with the City Council over urban planning and “development” issues and over relationships with the University. Often on the losing end of Council and ballot decisions, Berkeley ciizens holding these views often accuse the Council of being “unresponsive” (meaning it votes the wrong way for them) and of concocting “secret agreements” with the University or with a cabal of greedy developers. More-public decision-making, from this perspective, would help them better achieve their political goals.  

So I thought my recent farmer's market conversation with one BSO petitioner, Martha Nicholoff, was instructive. Martha was a principal proponent of 2002's Measure P, an initiative to downzone major streets that was defeated citywide by an 80%-20% supermajority which chose not to pre-empt the Council's traditional responsibilities. When I asked Martha why Berkeley needs more "open government," her reply was "so we can stop the City Council from making deals to Manhattanize Berkeley with 22-story towers that will just fall down in an earthquake." Without commenting on that assertion, here's what struck me: she voluntarily made an explicit link between the BSO and particular positions and decisions recently considered by the City Council, not just with the mechanics of local government. The theory seems to be that many Council decisions would be made differently if "the citizens have all the facts" -- implying that all such decisions of consequence must now be made by a collusion of special-interest groups outside the public eye. 

Mr. Metzger himself was an author of and principal spokesperson for 2008's Measure KK, an initiative that would have required a "democratic vote of the people," rather than the normal vote of the City Council, every time we wanted to rededicate the use of an auto traffic lane to a transit improvement. That measure received a 77%-23% citywide No vote, another indication that most Berkeleyans don't necessarily think that "more democracy" is automatically better than simply letting the Council do the job we elected it to do. In this case the overt goal of the initiative was to stop a pending bus rapid transit project by using the prospect of more democracy as a blunt political tool. 

I don't believe in guilt by association, and I do not mean to imply all members of the BS committee share these anti-current-Council political views. But at least we can see how particular political views, and opposition to a series of particular recent Council decisions, have joined with more politically neutral open-government advocacy to inspire the BSO. 

The cure for our present deficit of democracy is, in the BSO view, to make sure everything that matters occurs in full public view with abundant advance notice, with every scrap of relevant information viewable at will – and to make sure that it happens primarily at our evening meetings of citizen commissions and the Council. These meetings often run into the late-night hours and are most often attended by a subset of the same core group of 200-300 citizens who contend among themselves on almost every public matter. Yet it is in these vigorous public meetings of a small minority of citizens, BSO proponents feel, where democracy happens best in Berkeley. So the BSO would, for example, require "enough City Council meetings so that meetings adjourn around 11:00 p.m." regardless of the amount of public comment -- a provision without any limitation whatsoever. 

The critique most often made of this public-meeting-centric viewpoint is that we are the People’s Republic of Berkeley, not the People’s Democracy. Our City Charter is designed to take the “burden of daily government” off the public at large and – with appropriate checks on excess – to simply trust our representatives to do their jobs. Elected officials who are corrupt or overly “unresponsive” can be voted out or recalled if they truly do not represent the majority of their electing public.  

Moreover, our public meetings are definitely not set up to make citywide decisions based on polling the very small minority of citizens who happen to remain in attendance late into the night; public comment is meant to be only one of the multiple sources of information decision-makers need to weigh.  

So if the BSO qualifies for the ballot, we will need to look closely at how much it may impede the traditional flow of our republican government, and how much making decisions in brighter sunshine would change them -- toward views that only a typical 20-25% minority support. In short, we will need to ask whether the BSO has crossed the line from promoting "open government" to being deliberately "anti-government." 

Let me end with an analogy. All life on earth ultimately depends on sunlight. But the full light of the sun is actually hazardous -- so that we are also dependent on our protective atmospheric ozone layer, which moderates 100% sunshine to a level that lets us go about our normal lives. Berkeley's republican form of indirect government is, in effect, our political ozone layer. It intentionally encourages much of our day-to-day government decision-making to occur in an atmosphere of moderated delegation and trust, and not always in public view, as a deliberate and desirable civic benefit.  

There is no doubt that Berkeley could benefit from many of the specific provisions of the BSO, such as regularizing meetings and information access and enforcing a spirit of openness. But if this measure qualifies we will need to look closely at the totality of what it proposes to help us decide whether too much of a good thing is involved here, and how much of our political ozone layer we need to preserve. That community discussion is timely and worth conducting in its own spirit of full and open discussion. 



Alan Tobey is a Berkeley resident who voted with the majority on measures P and KK.  

Culminating Debate on BRT Begins

By Joseph Stubbs
Friday March 26, 2010 - 05:11:00 PM

The big debate on Bus Rapid Transit in city council has finally begun. The games began in earnest on March 23 in Council chambers when Mr. Bates and possibly others delivered their first stomach blow to the public by scheduling the item in such a way as to guarantee it would not come up until about twenty minutes to midnight, after droves of people had waited four to six hours to speak and many had left. This was acknowledged by councilmember Kriss Worthington, who referred to it as profoundly "disrespectful" to the public, and moved that an entire council meeting be dedicated to this important subject. So, on April 20 at 8pm the public will get their hearing, and on April 27, the Council will vote on whether to submit the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) in its current form to AC Transit for official study in the Environmental Impact Report. 

Tom Bates attempted to put the Council's upcoming vote "into perspective" for a public eager to speak out against lane removal on Telegraph. He pointed out that they were only voting on "what was to be studied" but stopped short of actually saying the words that the city would be able to pick and choose from aspects of a build option, especially when it comes to things like lane removal on Telegraph. Clearly he wanted to say that, but his voice became muffled and the words didn't actually come out. It was good he didn't say those words, because in this case it isn't true. Normally on an EIR project, decisionmakers would have this freedom, but in a display of timing which seems tactical, AC Transit revealed only days before the March 23 meeting that certain restrictions on their federal funding mean that the dedicated bus lane aspect of the proposal cannot be dropped or selectively modified down without triggering the need for a re-study. This is very important, because it means that the “build option” is rendered inflexible with regard to lane removal on Telegraph. So Berkeley can either accept that aspect, or reject the entire build option after the EIR is completed. In other words, it IS important whether or not lane removal is in the LPA at this stage in the game. If it is NOT in, the city will have at least some options for selecting elements of a build-based BRT. If it IS in, the build option may be DOA due to the enormous public opposition in the impact zone to this particular part of the BRT proposal. The other options being studied by AC in the EIR are a locally proposed Rapid Bus Plus plan and a ‘do nothing’ alternative. Both of these are considered no-build alternatives, and in themselves do not require an EIR. 

It is important to note that although Tom Bates would like to trap public opposition to BRT behind two knights and a queen procedurally, public opposition to this plan is so profound in the neighborhoods around Telegraph that this may not be possible. Every neighborhood association in the area has formally adopted positions in opposition to the full build proposal, as has every merchant association. And this is still only the tip of the iceberg, for the majority of the public in these neighborhoods still do not even have this on their radar. But those who would say “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it” have another very good reason to loathe this project. This project is a veritable poster child for the modern concept of a bad idea which hides behind a green blanket. In fact, the core problem with this project is that the developmenal incentive is so enormous that the merit of this as a practical transportation plan is in dire danger of not being properly considered. The key point of developmental incentivization from an infrastructural point of view is the floating bus stop islands (also referred to as "stations") which accompany the lane dedication concept. This aspect is the trigger for reclassification of Telegraph as a Major Transportation Corridor under state rules, dramatically redefining limits for developmental height, density, and for the ability of preservation instruments to protect historic resources (see new developmental incentives for Major Transportation Corridors under recent state legislation SB375). 

Another important factor is irreversibility. City staff revealed in written Q & A after the Willard Neighborhood meeting that once a dedicated lane BRT system is built, the only entity with the contractual authority to remove it is AC Transit. Whereas this is understandable and reasonable with regard to the needs and obligations of AC Transit, it does dispel the idea that if this BRT idea doesn't work that it can be removed, another deflective idea propagated by Tom Bates. 

Precedents should be carefully considered in upcoming debates. BRT systems involving lane removal in other cities have either worked well or been catastrophic failures depending on the specific aspects of the specific situations into which they have been imposed. One factor in the potential for success appears to be the ratio of collateralized traffic needs to alternative routes of equal or greater efficiency. With regard to freeway access from southeast Berkeley, Telegraph is the most efficient option without an equal or better alternate for motorists. By contrast San Francisco light rail works well because it allows for transportation incentivization through arduous downtown parking without interfering with the ability of auto traffic to move. Freeway access is efficiently preserved for the central city, for example, via four lanes either way along Oak and Fell. In contrast, Berkeley's alternative routes to freeway access from Willard, Le Conte, and Halcyon are poor.  

Another indicator may be the demographic spread for potential mode shift. Most people do not travel to downtown in Berkeley to shop, but to a variety of locations. It cannot be therefore considered as a centralized destination for local traffic from people who are chaining errands. Clearly the only demographic or potential demographic which can be clearly targeted by this BRT is commuters to and from downtown and to UC Berkeley campus from points south to go to school or to work. But it can also be argued that this group is already incentivized to near the maximum to take the bus because the entire city of Berkeley is preferential parking. All other types of motorists are discriminated against egregiously by this proposal. 

The support for a BRT idea in Berkeley has come generally from voices outside of the area impacted, from other stakeholders for whom elite consensus is driving this project, and from members of the commuter demographic that could be equally benefited by a Rapid Bus Plus style of plan. UC is also now chiming in with a position in favor of BRT, because it is no doubt deemed as beneficial to its long term development goals. Yet it is a non-controversial fact that UC shows little precedent for caring about the needs or concerns of the larger community. With opposition this intense in the area to be impacted by this plan, it makes little sense to pursue such an idea if there is not irrefutable indication that it is going to work well, or that it is for some reason essential. If Berkeley is placed in the corner of having to decide now on an all or nothing build option with regard to lane removal, then it should take the lane removal out of the LPA now as is consistent with being in that position, if it finds confidence is low in this aspect of the plan. 


Joseph Stubbs lives in the Willard neighborhood.

The Tea Party Crowd: Little More Than Thugs

By Ron Lowe
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 05:03:00 PM

I find it humorous to read about the so-called Tea Party movement and their cry to return to core conservative values. Why the outcry now as they work to place more fiscally irresponsible Republicans back in office? 

Where was the Tea Party crowd the past eight years when conservative Republicans and Georgr Bush, who I'm sure they voted into office, were exploding the size of our federal government and spending money like drunken sailors? Why the outcry only now? 

A photo of Tea Party protesters caught my attention: I noticed a large "No Socialized Medicine" sign and a "Hands Off My Health Care" sign held by a senior citizen. I assume she along with many in the Tea Party have Medicare as their primary health insurance. If they dislike government-run programs so much, let them opt out of Medicare. 

We're all so tired of listening to Tea Party hypocrisy. 

I've been trying to get a clear picture of who these people are. 

How can a mob of essentially "whites only", angry, anti-everything conservatives, represent a diversified and multi-cultural America? Who are these activists who call themselves the Tea Party? 77% of them claim to be Republicans. 

One wonders how 46% of Americans, in a very recent poll, claim to have a favorable view of the Tea Party movement. Either Americans have not done their homework, have bought into TV soundbites about this group or have been brainwashed by Tea Party spokespersons Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and GlenBeck. 

The recent actions of the Tea Party show that they are little more than thugs hiding under the banner of patriotism. The Tea Party is peopled by factions from anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-tax and anti-gay movements. This motley crew has found a comfortable home, have the blessings of, and are the future foot soldiers of the Republican Party. 

Wake up America. The Tea Party is not a chapter of the local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. 

Analyzing Obama

By Marvin Chachere
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 04:58:00 PM

For almost two years - nomination through fourteen months in office - Barack Obama has occupied center stage. Usually that would be time enough for every interested voter to see where he stands and decide what he’s likely to accomplish. This has not happened. Instead his position is hard to figure out which has no doubt caused his approval ratings to plummet. 

Obama’s tenure has stretched and diversified the usual opponent/supporter spread: those who voted for McCain hate his guts; Republican Congresspersons and party leaders not only shout “No!” regardless of what Obama proposes but acquiesce to crude virulent outbursts of “birthers” and Tea Party crazies; Latinos cultivate vocal skepticism spiced with hope; Asians generally maintain their customary influential position on the sidelines; Blacks except for a few opportunists remain rock solid but with their fingers crossed. Barack Obama is hard to figure out. 

There is no doubt that he is smart, literate, eloquent, confident, diligent and persevering. These laudable qualities don’t seem to matter; everything he stood for before entering the Oval Office has been reversed, diluted, postponed or ignored leaving liberals despondent and progressives in despair. His campaign promise “Change we can believe in” is today almost inaudible.  

His manner of governing on any issue is startlingly consistent. He chooses a problem, invites bipartisan comment and cooperation, listens to scholars, specialists and ordinary people, weighs viable solutions, chooses one that is malleable enough to be altered. This style was displayed early on: he pondered the Iraq-Afghanistan quagmire for months and ended up sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. In similar manner, he chose healthcare reform and at first he acknowledged that if he could start from scratch he’d prefer a single payer system. Then after months of bitter partisan warfare Obama signed a Healthcare bill that had no more resemblance to single payer than a giant oak has to an acorn. 

The first year of Obama’s presidency resembles nothing so much as “Bush Lite”: Guantanamo is still operating, torture is against policy but still allegedly practiced, drones kill civilians by the dozens, Israel continues to get weapons, including cluster bombs, openly gay soldiers still get discharged, banks get bailed out but homeowners don’t, the same people who brought the economy to its knees are charged with lifting it up. Obama has stirred up but little to clear up the mess he inherited. Why? 

In my view there is not very much besides his family that our 44th president cares deeply about. He may care about nuclear armaments that threaten his girls’ future. He cares about the Israel/Palestine conflict but not much and his caring about all the other problems he faces is equally light.  

Before taking office Obama decided to look to the future rather than the pass, meaning he would let the confessed misdeed of the Bush/Cheney gang go unpunished thereby refusing to uphold one of the major responsibilities of his office. Recently his vacuous statements on education, for example that teachers must be held accountable for their students’ progress, leave me gasping for air. (Surely, this must strike fear in the hearts of Sasha’s and Malia’s teachers, whoever they are.) 

In my view Barack Obama is the most all-round gifted Democrat to occupy of the Oval Office since JFK, though not the most astute astute. 

No one knows now how his presidency will be assessed twenty years hence. Everyone knows now that whatever the future has in store not much will be different.

Celebrate and Give Thanks

Janine Kovac
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 04:51:00 PM

On December 30, 2009, my little boys landed on the planet with pre-existing conditions. They were born at twenty-five weeks of gestation — three months early. They have been in the hospital for the last eighty-two days, racking up a combined sub-total of two million dollars in hospital bills. And that’s just for the first forty-five days. 

We’re not out of the woods yet, and won’t be even after the boys are discharged. There will be monthly assessments and physical therapy appointments. It is expected that the boys won’t sit up until they are about seven-months old, crawl at a year, and maybe not even speak until the age of three. For the next two years we will have to get inoculations for a respiratory virus each month – from November to April. We will be tracked closely by the medical establishment for the next two years, and intermittently for the two years after that 

That’s a lot of doctors’ bills 

Luckily, we’re covered. My husband has excellent health insurance through his work. Of course, we are still getting calls from healthcare providers because my insurance company isn’t paying its negotiated share. We still get loads of bills everyday. I’m still confused by all the fine print. 

Up until the day President Obama signed the healthcare bill, I worried. Worried that we would suddenly get dropped. Worried that my husband might get laid off and we wouldn’t be able to afford the $3000 monthly COBRA coverage. Or that he might become chained to his job just because of the health benefits. I worried that the benefits package could disappear. 

But now, in light of this historic event, I am relieved. Now I know that for the rest of their lives, no one will deny my little boys healthcare coverage just because God brought them into the world a little early. Now I know that no matter what happens with my husband’s job or our fickle insurance company, we will not go bankrupt just because we choose to keep our family healthy. It’s a huge relief. 

However, I’m not just relieved, I’m flooded with gratitude. For years my husband and I have been the über-healthy ones, paying into a system month after month, year after year and never drawing on it. We were the ones the insurance companies cherry-pick and love to cover –young folks who never need to see a doctor. ;Of course the twins changed all that. Now we will never pay into the system what we get out of it. And the only reason their security—their health—will even be possible will be because of you. All of you. Every person in this country. Our twins can be covered no matter what because now their risk can be balanced by your health. Oh, I am grateful. So grateful. Thank you, Representative Pelosi. A special thanks to my representative, Barbara Lee. Thanks to all of you--from those to who voted for healthcare reform to those who will make it possible for the system to work. 

My sons are alive because of the wonderful healthcare they received. They will continue to be able to get care and coverage because of the new legislation that will pass. And while we, the Kovacs, might never pay enough into the system with hard dollars, there are other ways we can repay our debt. My sons have their entire lives in front of them. You can be sure that we will raise them so they know that they owe you. Maybe they will be scientists who discover cures. Maybe they will be doctors who help heal the sick. Maybe they will be judges who will fight for justice. Maybe they will be artists who inspire others. Maybe they will be loving husbands and fathers who will raise scientists, doctors, judges, or artists. 

Whatever vocation they will follow, know that they will do it with compassion and empathy. They will know that we are stronger as a whole than we are as individuals. They will teach others that the strong always help the weak. They will be generous in spirit and always, always, grateful. 

It’s a good day. A good day indeed. And thanks again, everybody. 

Welfare Cheat Confesses All

By Gar Smith
Wednesday March 31, 2010 - 01:55:00 PM

You've heard of me but we've never met. I've been part of America's political landscape for around 60 years. You might call me one of the original Baby Boomers. Like other boomers, I'm at the age when I can expect to look forward to retirement and the enjoyment of my government pension. But I'm not your typical Boomer. 

Unlike most of today's aging seniors, I've been receiving a government pension since the first day I showed up for work. Heck, I've been pulling down a cushy government pension since the day I was born.  

And, get this: I've never actually worked a day in my life. For my entire career, I've done noting but sit around, radiating the serenity that goes with being part of a select, pampered minority. There are currently around 4,225 others that share my Federal job description and are drawing down big bucks -- even though we're officially classified as "inactive." Thanks to Congress, the population of our little off-the-clock but very much on-the-dole clan is set to double by 2012. 

And here's the beauty part: I've never been required to contribute one red cent to cover the cost of my upkeep and my generous pension. Since the day I was born, I've been living off the taxpayer. All my creature comforts are covered by the government. I'm a government employee and proud of it. 

As you may have guessed, I work for the Defense Department.  

Talk about Social Security! I receive free housing for life. Growing up, my appetites were fueled by costly taxpayer-supported imports and billions of dollars are still being spent to satisfy my highly refined tastes. I'm currently relaxing at a sprawling gated community in sunny New Mexico where armed police guarantee that my safety and security are second-to-none. I have 20,000 government specialists assigned to safeguard my health and wellbeing. I get flown around the world free on government planes. The US Air Force is spending a fortune on "Avionics Midlife Improvements" to the B-52H, just to accommodate my special needs. 


10,000 of Us Are on the Federal Dole 

I'm not alone: There are more than 10,000 like me. But don't call us freeloaders. Although we don't get the publicity we deserve (because of security issues, the Pentagon likes to keep our branch of the service under wraps), we're proud to be members of the Armed Forces. We've been called "responsive," "enduring," "effective" and "flexible." Our services are so highly regarded that, each year, Congress routinely votes to renew the budget that supports our services. More often than not, Congress even increases this budget.  

Since the mid-1990s, the funds dedicated to supporting our life-style have doubled to $6.5 billion. That factors out to $650 million for each one of us, making us the highest-paid members of the military.  

It may seem strange that you never see our pictures in the newspapers, but then you never see photos of CIA agents, either. When you think about it, we're much more powerful than the CIA so it's probably better that people don't know what we look like. Terrorists would love to get their hands on us but that's not about to happen. 

We are on perpetual pension but, believe me, we're worth the expense. After all, we help guarantee that the US retains its position as the world's preeminent superpower. In return, the government provides for all our earthly needs.  

Of course, I can't be expected to go on like this forever. The sad fact is, I'm growing old, and Washington knows it. While many Americans are concerned about the rising costs of prescription drugs, I'm a member of a little-known Federal plan that covers all my survival needs. In addition, the government recently embarked on a costly "life-extension program" to prolong my vitality and "significantly enhance" my skills. Over the next decade, many of us are scheduled to benefit from "life-extension" operations that will guarantee that we retain our youthful vigor at least through 2030. 

During the Clinton Administration, there were calls to kick us off the Federal dole. It was argued that our services were no longer needed; that we were actually more trouble than we were worth. Some critics warned that our increasing age made us unreliable, even dangerous. Others complained that our abilities were outmoded and unsuited for 21st century military missions that required more finesse. Lt. Gen. William Odum (ret.) complained that we had become too dangerous and costly to maintain. "From a professional's perspective," Odum stated, "it's damn hard to work up any excitement about them." 

Fortunately, we still have a lot of friends in business and academic circles. Even Clinton was forced to compromise with our defenders. He declared a hiring freeze to keep our numbers from growing but he agreed to continue generous government subsidies to cover our upkeep. He called this a "stewardship" program but we all knew it was really "pork-barrel" politics. 

Years ago, we used to have to prove ourselves in regularly scheduled tests but critics put an end to this, claiming that we were "harming the environment." In the end, this only made our work easier. These days, we no longer have to move a muscle. The government has created sophisticated computers that can "simulate" our work. These simulations give us passing grades and we don't even have to break a sweat. 

All in all, it's been a good life. We may have lived in the shadows, without publicity or glory, but we know our services have been respected. 

As some of us begin to enter our twilight years, it's occurred to us that we've never paused to thank our fellow Americans for all the trillions of dollars lavished on us over the past 60 years. So, on behalf of myself and the rest of our unsung brigade of quiet warriors, I'd like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation. 

Thank you, America. Thanks for all you've given us and all you've done to make our days comfortable and secure. 

Oh! Forgive me, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Mark.  

Mark-61. I'm a nuclear weapon. 

Gar Smith is Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal and co-founder of Environmentalists Against War  


Future Shock, Carl Jung and President Obama

By Jack Bragen
Wednesday March 31, 2010 - 07:15:00 PM

As a mentally ill and yet hopefully a studious person, I have had some exposure to Carl Jung’s philosophy both through reading some of his books and talking with Jungian therapists. Some of his ideas are applicable to phenomena occurring in Obama’s presidency. 

The story of the pied piper is fairly Jungian if you substitute mindless masses of people going off a cliff in the place of rats. Part of Jungian theory is the concept of the collective unconscious. This is the idea of a group consciousness, but one that most people are unaware of. It expresses itself in the phenomenon of angry mobs, and also when you see everyone at a baseball game doing the same thing at the same time. The idea of a relatively unconscious group of people following their leader is the same thing. That leader doesn’t need to have a clue as to how to do things, but simply must be able to determine the direction of the masses. 

Sarah Palin and other charismatic individuals in the Republican Party are very much Pied Pipers who are leading their followers in a direction of universal destruction. 

We have a segment of the population in the U.S. that isn’t adapted to the future and which instead keeps trying to go back to the past. President Obama represents the changes we need to make now in our society if the human race is to survive into the twenty second century. 

I was pleasantly surprised and shocked when the health care bill passed and when this was followed by Obama moving on to accomplish more. I was proven wrong about Obama because I believed he wasn’t living up to his campaign promises and that he was essentially the same as many other Presidents have been; saying one thing and doing another. 

A lot of people are afraid of President Obama because they are also afraid of the future. The future we are looking at will demand a lot more adaptation from each individual compared to how it has been. People who cannot adapt to advances in technology, and to advances in how people do things on a day to day basis, will be left behind. Another way of saying this is that a lot of changes are coming our way, and we had all better be ready for it. 

Those who think we are having an “Armageddon” are experiencing psychotic delusions brought on by their terror concerning the future and magnified by the fact that whole groups of people are having the same delusions. There is no such thing as the Armageddon that some people think is predicted by the Bible. I don’t believe that is a valid interpretation of the Bible, nor do I believe that everything in the Bible need be taken literally. I don’t believe the Bible is the word of God either—it was written by human beings. You may as well believe that Chilton’s Auto Repair Manual is the word of God. Such a belief either way flies in the face of common sense. 

Part of our future then, will be finding ways to deal with the people who can’t or won’t adapt and who make the world more difficult for the rest of us. 

Food Sovereignty

by R.G. Davis
Wednesday March 31, 2010 - 05:30:00 PM

In this short thought piece I repeat the phrase “food sovereignty“ a few times to see if it can replace “food security,” “food choice,” “slow food,” “gourmet food,” and “sustainable agriculture.” 

Food sovereignty is used by the international peasant organization La Via Campesina to define its objectives. One has to read the book – one copy in the UC system library -- by Annette Desmarais La Via Campesina, Pluto, 2007, or the on-line articles on Food Sovereignty by Peter Rosset, former director of Food First, to obtain a full explanation: “Food sovereignty starts with the concept of economic and social human rights, which include the right to food, but it goes further, arguing that there is a corollary right to land and a ‘right to produce’ for rural peoples.” (MR July Aug. 2009:116)  

When you walk into the UC Moffitt undergrad library there is a smiling face and large display of the newest book by Michael Pollan. Shaved head, big teeth—he is a tall guy, who has a young person’s cracked voice delivery and thus presents as if he were just a regular college graduate. He is the Chair of the Journalism Department, has an agent and marketing devices to sell all the books, and no doubt has editors, researchers and fact checkers to be able to produce a plethora of platitudes on food.  

When I first heard and saw him it was years ago at a Journalism School presentation. He introduced a newfound friend, the farmer Joel Salatin. Pollan introduced Salatin as the “last radical organic farmer” in the US. The exaggeration was something like that – the “last” or the “only” or the “unique.” This was the startling opener that filled the room, mostly with Slow Food, gourmet friends of chic restaurants and liberals.  

To define the liberal from a left position, which is to say a Marxist perspective, is hardly clear enough. In current parlance I view this subject from an ecological socialist vantage point. (See the Journal Capitalism Nature Socialism for a complete explanation of ecosocialism). 

When Salatin finished his one-man show of his exploits and unique organic chicken and farming practice I asked him if he had heard about Rudolph Steiner? “Yes,” Monatouba Fukouka? “Yes,” Allan Chadwick? “Yes,” John Jevans? “Yes,” Bill Mollison? “Yes.” He said: “I learned something from every one of them.” I responded: “So why didn’t you mention them?”  

Pollan presented the unique individual as if all the other organic farmers that I knew were dead. In 2004 I had finished an MA Thesis having interviewed 35 farmers and people associated with organic farming in the Bay Area, way down to Watsonville & Corallitos and up to areas north of San Francisco. There were many more organic farmers who did as much and more than Salatin who were less peculiar or less photogenic. The inventive Warren Weber in Bolinas, Phil Foster in San Juan Bautista, and most influential Amigo Bob Cantisano farmer, organic consultant, and moderator at the annual Eco Farm Conference at Asilomar: a 1200 plus event with at least three hundred farmers besides the retailers, opportunists and apprentices. 

When liberals address a movement they tend to do a few things that apply to both political and cultural affairs. In the food movement Slow Food, journalists, restauranteurs, and in the cultural sectors puff adders and P.R. persons, engage a current (fashionable) topic that is also socially important – health, diabetes, cancer, food, medical care, mortgages, banks – first addressing the subject with an inflated title “Omnivore’s Dilemma” or “Too Big to Fail”—and then directing attention for the masses to a trivial issue wherein individuals can avoid being suckered by commercial advertising. 

Liberals divest the socially important subject of its connections and focus on the narrowest and eventually irrelevant details, winding up with a trope of warm air: the ever-present Vote! Nevertheless liberal critics, in print, can be insightful and revelatory. Eric Schlosser for example, details the monstrosity of the meat & food processing industry, but ends up with Vote! Similarly Christopher Cook Diet for a Dead Planet, 2004: Vote! Consumerism equals Vote!  

Then there is the extraction process, for example: the Slow Food movement in Italy begun by Carlo Petrini – who came out of ARCI, the cultural arm of the Italian Communist Party—is represented in the US by four chic restaurants. There are nevertheless a few radicals in Europe like Jose Bove and Confederation Paysanne, who has entered the political real to protect small farmers, organic food production and oppose junk food distributors.  

Meanwhile in the US the emphasis for some is on ‘choice’ that ignores the maintenance of the mass junk food system, where everyone who is not an individual has to eat. Outside the areas of choice, alternatives to fast junk food are rare and difficult to find. Choice is like a shopping guide, protecting one’s self, not necessarily one’s family, certainly not society, the water, air, soil or the ecology.  

Current food fashion arguments are an easy read: You as an individual can avoid poisoning the planet and yourself by eating locally. Most egregious is the notion that consumerism can change the world. “Change the world with what you eat,” “Vote with your dollars.” Such nostrums appear in DVDs like Food ,2000, or Rob Kenner's Food Inc. 2009, Kevin Danaher & The Green Festival, The Bioneers, as well as the books of Schlosser, Pollan, and Cook.  

When I read through tracts on the disaster of industrial processing and the consumption of junk food I wonder why they don’t state eat organic, buy it, grow it, support it, cook it yourself, pay for it, ask for it, search it out, learn about it, study it, go to classes and help others learn about it, find organic CSAs, & farmers’ markets (not all are organic) snap up those little paper instructions at the Ecology Center, read them, become a master gardener, a producer, and then see if there is a non-liberal group and invite others to grow and cook/eat organic food. Plus join an international organization: La Via Campesina also supported by Jose Bove and the French Confederation Paysanne (see Food for Thought, Pluto 2002)  

Food Sovereignty chops the whole matter of choice into quarters. Peasants should own their land and become producers, not farm workers (not farm worker unions either). Peasants organized to grow organic food (‘sustainable’ is a flatulent obfuscating phrase like ‘choice’) control the markets distribution system, agriculture out of WTO, and—necessarily—stop the dumping of cheap GMO foods by US and Brazilian agribusiness. La Via Campesina has international relations with hundreds of similar organizations in South America Asia, Europe, Africa and a few in North America. This replaces individualistic liberal consumerism with peasant producers thereby turning the recent food manipulation by international corporate Mongols, and their liberal cohorts towards a structural change called food sovereignty. Walden Bello introduces Desmarais’ La Via Campesina: “La Via Campesina not only fights for farmers rights and for land reform, it is also fighting for a way of life that has proved its worth for eons. It is fighting for a relationship between people and their environment that was snapped by short sighted industry first strategies, whether these came in socialist guise or in that of neoliberal capitalist.”  

So food sovereignty also addresses the international culture of capitalism, while the liberals talk about choice (oh, and vote!)  


R.G.Davis received a PhD from UC Davis in 2009,with a dissertation on “Ecological Aesthetics.”  





By Conn Hallinan
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 11:04:00 AM

When Israeli Minister without Portfolio Yossi Peled said recently that a war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah was “just a matter of time” and that such a conflict would include Syria, most observers dismissed the comment as little more than posturing by a right-wing former general. But Peled’s threat has been backed by Israeli military maneuvers near the Lebanese border, violations of Lebanese airspace, and the deployment of an anti-missile system on Israel’s northern border. 

The Lebanese are certainly not treating it as Likud bombast. 

“We hear a lot of Israeli threats day in and day out, and not only threats,” Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri told the BBC. “We see what is happening on the ground and in our airspace…during the past two months—every day we have Israeli airplanes entering Lebanese airspace.” Hariri added that he considered the situation “really dangerous.” 

The increasing tension was behind the recent visit to Beirut by Senator Philippe Marini, French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s special envoy to Lebanon. After Marini met with Hariri, Christian Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, and Hezbollah leaders, the envoy said that he feared a Hezbollah-Israel rematch could easily become a regional war. 

Rhetoric all over the region is heating up. 

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman first said that Israel would never return the Golan Heights to Syria, prompting Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem to comment that Israel “should not test Syria’s determination.” Lieberman responded by taking direct aim at Syrian President Bashar Assad: “In the next war, not only will you lose, but you and your family will lose the regime.” 

Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006 following a Hezbollah raid that captured two Israeli soldiers. The 34-day war cost Lebanon more than 1,000 dead, and tens of billions of dollars in damage to bridges, roads, airports, and towns. But the war also saw the once-invincible Israeli Self-Defense Forces (IDF) fought to a bloody standstill, and a barrage of some 4,000 Hezbollah rockets into Israel. 

Many in the Israeli military would love to re-establish the IDF’s reputation by beating up on Hezbollah, but the Shiite-based militia has broad support throughout Lebanon, as the last elections demonstrated. While the “pro-western” March 14 Movement won the most seats—largely as a result of ethnic gerrymandering—the Hezbollah bloc won the most votes. In any case, the March 14 Movement has begun to unravel with the defection of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. 

Lebanon is a deeply fractious place, but an Israeli attack would unite the country as it did in 2006. “I think they’re [Israelis] betting that there might be some division in Lebanon if there is war against us,” said Hariri, “Well, there won’t be a division in Lebanon. We will stand against Israel. We will stand with our own people.” 

Lebanon’s military is no match for Israel. It has a small army and its air force consists of two grounded 1950s vintage Hawker Hunter fighter-bombers, plus a motley collection of helicopters, most of which are not operational. In the 2007 fight with Islamic extremists in Tripoli, Lebanese Army soldiers pitched bombs out of French Gazelle helicopters by hand. 

As the IDF found out in 2006, however, Hezbollah is a different matter. Of course, a massive Israeli ground invasion would overwhelm the group’s militia, but any occupation of South Lebanon will conjure up old nightmares for Tel Aviv. It was Hezbollah’s roadside bombs and ambushes that drove the IDF out of the same area in 2000. 

The Israelis are threatening to flatten the entire country if it comes to war—“taking off the gloves” as Israel military analyst Yisrael Katzover puts it—and they certainly have the capabilities to inflict a stunning amount of damage. But Hezbollah claims it has some thunder of its own. Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, vows to bring Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport under fire if Israel bombs Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport as it did in 2006. “If you hit our ports, we will hit your ports,” Nasrallah said Feb. 21. 

According to Israeli intelligence, Hezbollah has 42,000 rockets, some with the range to hit Tel Aviv and targets further south. Whether the group actually has that many rockets is unclear. Israel tends to pump up the threat its antagonists pose. In any case, Hezbollah certainly has rockets and demonstrated its ability to strike northern Israel in 2006. If Nasrallah is to be believed, it may be able to bring central Israel under fire as well. 

Does the war have the potential to become regional? 

Only if Israel decides to make it so. While the Netanyahu government talks about Hezbollah being little more than a cat’s paw for Iran and Syria, the group has deep roots in the country’s long-repressed Shiite majority. It does receive arms from both Damascus and Iran, and Teheran also gives the group about $200 million a year in aid. That is, however, a tiny portion of Hezbollah’s annual budget. 

Lebanon’s Shiites are also quite different than their Iranian counterparts. While Iran’s mullahs dominate civil and economic matters, Lebanon’s Shiites are suspicious of direct involvement in government, because they believe that it will ultimately corrupt Islam. A number of Iraq’s Shiites, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, come from a similar current in the Shiite sect. 

Hezbollah is quite aware of the damage that Israel can inflict, and, is consequently unlikely to do anything provocative. As Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian and former Israeli Knesset members writes in Al-Ahram, “Hezbollah has made it clear it intends to avoid giving Israel any excuse to go to war.” 

As for Syria, the last thing Damascus wants is a war. Its economy is humming, its careful diplomacy has lifted it out of isolation, and over the past several months world leaders from France and Spain, and regional governments—including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey— have beaten a path to President Assad’s door. When U.S. Special Forces violated the Syrian border while looking for al-Qaeda terrorists last year, the Assad government’s response was a mild protest. When Israel bombed a site in northern Syria, the Damascus government did nothing. Syria has nothing to gain, and much to lose, from a war. 

Israel has moved its new Iron Dome anti-missile system to its northern border, even though the original plan was to deploy it in the south to intercept rockets fired from Gaza. The system is supposed to be up and running by June. “Making Iron Dome operational will transform Israel’s diplomatic and security situation,” says Israeli Defense Ministry director general Pinhas Buchris. 

Given that Hezbollah has not fired a rocket at Israel since the summer of 2006, why would Tel Aviv move Iron Dome to the northern border unless it was to assure the Israeli public that it will not come under fire in the advent of a new war? In any case, Iron Dome is unlikely to transform anything, since anti-missile systems tend to be more about hype and hope than performance. 

There is, of course, the possibility that the Israelis will bet the house and hit Lebanon, Syria and possibly Iran’s nuclear facilities. The rhetoric coming out of the Netanyahu government ties all three countries together, which is why Peled lumped Syria with Lebanon. The standard line coming out of Tel Aviv is that Iran is behind everything, including Hamas. 

Any rational reading of the Middle East makes that charge difficult to credit. Iran commands neither Syria nor Hezbollah, and while Teheran might provide arms to Hamas, a radical Sunni organization is unlikely to go to war because a Shiite government told it to. The only one of those parties that might welcome a war with Israel is Iran, but only so that the Ahmadinejad regime can use it as an excuse to crack down on internal dissent. 

Many in the Israeli establishment openly advocate attacking Iran. Danny Yaton, former head of Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, told the German Council on Foreign Relations “The entire world should take military action to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.” 

The Sunday Times (London) reports, “According to well-placed sources, Israel is speeding up preparations for a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.” The Israeli daily Haaretz says that the Netanyahu government is asking the Obama administration to supply Israel with GBU-28 “bunker buster” bombs and refueling tanker aircraft, both which would be essential for a strike at Iran. 

But some in the Israeli military establishment seems reluctant to launch such an attack. Brigadier-General Uzi Eilam, an Israel war hero and a man the Sunday Times calls a “pillar of the defense establishment,” says that Iran is a “very, very, very long way from building a nuclear capacity.” Eilam charges, “The intelligence community is spreading frightening voices about Iran,” and that such an attack would be “counter productive.” 

Maybe this is all saber rattling aimed at getting the U.S. to step up the pressure on Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Maybe, as Eilam charges, it is all about the IDF getting “a bigger budget.” Maybe it is a diversion from the charges that Israel committed war crimes in its invasion of Gaza, its settlement building on the West Bank, and the diplomatic storm it has reaped from its assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai. 

But ramping up the rhetoric of war in a volatile region can lead to a misstep—by accident or design—and once the dogs of war are off their leash, it will be hard to bring them to heel. 


Late Development: The U.S. is transporting 387 bunker-busters, including BLU-110 and massive BLU-117 bombs, to the British controlled Island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, suggesting that Washington is still contemplating an attack on Iran—or wants Teheran to think so. 

THE PUBLIC EYE:Life after Healthcare: What’s Next for Democrats?

By Bob Burnett
Wednesday March 31, 2010 - 03:05:00 PM

If there was every any doubt, the rowdy passage of the Healthcare Bill indicated we have begun the mid-term elections campaign. Building upon the momentum from their healthcare victory, Dems need to challenge Republicans with a series of bold initiatives to create jobs. 

No Republican voted for healthcare reform and many 2010 GOP candidates immediately pledged that if elected they would voted to repeal the act. The GOP mid-term election strategy will be to oppose everything the Democrats propose.  

In response, Democrats must paint themselves as the Party of accomplishment, the Party with solutions for America’s problems. The public’s biggest concern is the economy, specifically unemployment, and Dems must address this through big actions. On March 18th, President Obama signed an $18 Billion Jobs Bill that was a good first step. But much more needs to be done to address the loss of eight million jobs.  

In his state-of-the-union address President Obama outlined an initial three-step job creation process. The first step is financial reform. 

Noting America must “guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our entire economy,” Obama demanded that the Senate act on legislation passed by the House and levy a tax on the big banks benefiting from the TARP bailout. The Senate’s response, the Dodd bill is about to be debated. Although this is not directly related to job creation, Dems need to pass this minimal legislation to convince voters that the Administration is serious about reform. It would be an important first step in convincing Independent voters that the Obama Administration supports the interests of Main Street over those of Wall Street. 

The second job-creation step is encouraging innovation, particularly in the energy sector. Obama observed, “to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives.” As one part of this process, Obama called upon the Senate to pass the House Energy and Climate Bill.  

Obama’s third job-creation step is “a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports” and create jobs. On March 24th, the House passed a $14 billion bill providing tax relief to small businesses plus infrastructure funding. The Senate needs to approve this.  

An obvious fourth step is for the US to pressure China to float its currency. China currently underwrites its exports by manipulating the Renminbi. On March 16th, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate that would force the Obama Administration to act against this unfair competition. President Obama should embrace this and take a tougher stance with China. 

While these four steps are important, there is an important fifth step: supporting small businesses by attacking monopoly capitalism. 

Writing in the WASHINGTON MONTHLY, researchers Barry Lynn and Phillip Longman argue that the Reagan administration “radically altered how our government enforces our anti-monopoly laws” and this paved the way for mega-corporations such as Walmart. The authors present persuasive evidence that the growth of corporate behemoths killed thousands of small businesses and thus stifled job growth.  

Lynn and Longman observe that the same economic theories that produced the 2008 financial crisis – the so-called Chicago School -- also promoted monopoly capitalism under the euphemism of “facilitating the free market.” This conservative ideology touted “efficiency” and “productivity” as the inevitable byproducts of laissez-faire capitalism. The Chicago School economic theories – the prevailing wisdom in Washington for 20 years – produced the great recession and the loss of eight million jobs. 

Lynn and Longman argue that what is needed now is a new populist economic theory – a rejuvenation of the New Deal – and tougher enforcement of our antimonopoly laws. “The new and better jobs of tomorrow will be created…[by Americans] working in big corporations made subject to competition and working in small ventures launched specifically to compete.”  

The history of the Wall Street bailouts indicates the need to break up America’s biggest banks – which, at the time, were judged to be too big to fail, thereby enhancing their monopoly status. These banks must be divided into separate companies, as should behemoths in other industries such as energy, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals, as well as retail giants like Walmart. The absence of a level playing field discourages innovation, disadvantages entrepreneurs, inflates prices, and penalizes workers and consumers. 

In tandem with the enforcement of antimonopoly laws, Democrats need to encourage innovation by actions such as strengthening tax breaks for companies that invest in research and development. 

The seven months before the November 2nd mid-term election provides plenty of time for Democrats to act on these five job-creation steps and prove that they are the Party that supports Main Street.  

The passage of healthcare reform indicated that Dems could pass important legislation without Republican votes. Now they need to address the loss of eight million US jobs, with or without the support of the Party of No. 






























Life After Healthcare: What's Next for Democrats? 

If there was every any doubt, the rowdy passage of the Healthcare Bill indicated we have begun the mid-term elections campaign. Building upon the momentum from their healthcare victory, Dems need to challenge Republicans with a series of bold initiatives to create jobs. 

No Republican voted for healthcare reform and many 2010 GOP candidates immediately pledged that if elected they would voted to repeal the act. The GOP mid-term election strategy will be to oppose everything the Democrats propose. 

In response, Democrats must paint themselves as the Party of accomplishment, the Party with solutions for America's problems. The public's biggest concern is the economy, specifically unemployment, and Dems must address this through big actions. On March 18th, President Obama signed an $18 Billion Jobs Bill that was a good first step. But much more needs to be done to address the loss of eight million jobs. 

In his state-of-the-union address President Obama outlined an initial three-step job creation process. The first step is financial reform. 

Noting America must "guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our entire economy," Obama demanded that the Senate act on legislation passed by the House and levy a tax on the big banks benefiting from the TARP bailout. The Senate's response, the Dodd bill is about to be debated. Although this is not directly related to job creation, Dems need to pass this minimal legislation to convince voters that the Administration is serious about reform. It would be an important first step in convincing Independent voters that the Obama Administration supports the interests of Main Street over those of Wall Street. 

The second job-creation step is encouraging innovation, particularly in the energy sector. Obama observed, "to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives." As one part of this process, Obama called upon the Senate to pass the House Energy and Climate Bill. 

Obama's third job-creation step is "a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports" and create jobs. On March 24th, the House passed a $14 billion bill providing tax relief to small businesses plus infrastructure funding. The Senate needs to approve this. 

An obvious fourth step is for the US to pressure China to float its currency. China currently underwrites its exports by manipulating the Renminbi. On March 16th, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate that would force the Obama Administration to act against this unfair competition. President Obama should embrace this and take a tougher stance with China. 

While these four steps are important, there is an important fifth step: supporting small businesses by attacking monopoly capitalism. 

Writing in the WASHINGTON MONTHLY, researchers Barry Lynn and Phillip Longman argue that the Reagan administration "radically altered how our government enforces our anti-monopoly laws" and this paved the way for mega-corporations such as Walmart. The authors present persuasive evidence that the growth of corporate behemoths killed thousands of small businesses and thus stifled job growth. 

Lynn and Longman observe that the same economic theories that produced the 2008 financial crisis - the so-called Chicago School -- also promoted monopoly capitalism under the euphemism of "facilitating the free market." This conservative ideology touted "efficiency" and "productivity" as the inevitable byproducts of laissez-faire capitalism. The Chicago School economic theories - the prevailing wisdom in Washington for 20 years - produced the great recession and the loss of eight million jobs. 

Lynn and Longman argue that what is needed now is a new populist economic theory - a rejuvenation of the New Deal - and tougher enforcement of our antimonopoly laws. "The new and better jobs of tomorrow will be created...[by Americans] working in big corporations made subject to competition and working in small ventures launched specifically to compete." 

The history of the Wall Street bailouts indicates the need to break up America's biggest banks - which, at the time, were judged to be too big to fail, thereby enhancing their monopoly status. These banks must be divided into separate companies, as should behemoths in other industries such as energy, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals, as well as retail giants like Walmart. The absence of a level playing field discourages innovation, disadvantages entrepreneurs, inflates prices, and penalizes workers and consumers. 

In tandem with the enforcement of antimonopoly laws, Democrats need to encourage innovation by actions such as strengthening tax breaks for companies that invest in research and development. 

The seven months before the November 2nd mid-term election provides plenty of time for Democrats to act on these five job-creation steps and prove that they are the Party that supports Main Street. 

The passage of healthcare reform indicated that Dems could pass important legislation without Republican votes. Now they need to address the loss of eight million US jobs, with or without the support of the Party of No. 








Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at bobburnett@comcast.net 
















Bob Burnett, Berkeley, CA 


(510)527-6754 office 

(510)409-2633 mobile 




SENIOR POWER: Nursing Homes

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Wednesday March 31, 2010 - 01:40:00 PM

There it was, on the March 22 TV news. Reportage of events associated with the Elmwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center (2929 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley) once again brought nursing homes and caretakers, and thereby, elder abuse, into the news. Briefly. 

Attorney General Jerry Brown's office had charged 51-year old Concepcion "Connie" Pinco Giron with theft, elder abuse, false imprisonment and other charges. The former Elmwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center assistant administrator allegedly stole $50,000+ from 6 elderly patients and kidnapped one of them so she could cash the woman's pension and Social Security checks. Brown's office had received a complaint about her. The Department of Justice also found that she had conned a patient’s son into paying her $600 a month to keep his mother at Elmwood.l She faces one count each of kidnapping to commit another crime, false imprisonment and elder abuse, and 6 counts of theft from elder or dependent adults by a caretaker.  

CalQualityCare provides free ratings of such long term care providers as nursing homes, home health care agencies, and assisted living facilities. Medicare compares nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. 

Elmwood is a for profit-corporation owned by Shattuck Health Care, Inc.. Certified in 2005, it was rated “below average.” It participates in Medicare and Medicaid (California’s Medi-Cal), with 74 beds, and it reports the presence of a Resident Council.  

When was the last Ombudspersons’ visit, and what did they do about conditions? Did they consult the Resident Council?  

I was stunned by the conditions at Elmwood when I visited an old old friend, an SSI recipient who rented a small “studio” in HUD-subsidized senior/disabled housing. She had been transferred to Elmwood after what is referred to by some as the hospital three-days.  

I just walked in the back door and roamed around. No one stopped me or challenged my presence. It was very noisy. The doors were all open, TVs blaring, people yelling. Most of the patients appeared to be elderly. Trays with left-over food lined the corridors on portable shelves. Two chatting staff members rejected my attempt to get information.  

I found my friend in a tiny room containing 2 beds crammed together. She confided that she was nauseous at night and “afraid” she might vomit— there was no way “without bothering them.” An attendant who responded 50 minutes after I pushed the button snarled “it’s in her night stand,” which was not within reach of the bed. During another visit, an ‘occupational therapist’ insisted my friend get into a wheelchair: as she drew back the sheet, fresh blood was visible.  

At my next visit, I found my friend’s bed empty and stripped. I waylaid a staff member who failed to ask, minimally, whether I was a family member. He didn’t know where my-friend-the-patient was! She died 2 weeks later.  

When a so-called low-income senior is hospitalized, where s/he goes after the three-day hospital stay is pretty much up to the surgeon or other physician, who may or may not record a recommendation on the chart. Another human factor is whether there is a family member.  

Fraud and exploitation by staff are inevitable precursors to abuse of patients, senior citizens especially, in nursing homes and hospitals.  

The Resource Center on Aging at the University of California Berkeley reports that one-third of Americans now pass through a nursing home before they die. “Although many individuals aged 65 and over will be admitted for short stays for rehabilitation or skilled nursing needs, 55% of those admitted may stay for at least 1 year, and 21% may stay 5 years or longer.” About one-fifth of Americans die in a nursing home.  


For your consideration:  



When: Monday, April 12, 2010  

What: Registration begins for May-August Albany Senior Center Summer Trips  

Where: Albany Senior Center, 846 Masonic Ave., Albany 94706  

For more info: (510) 524-9122; www.albanyca.org 


When: Friday, April 23, 2010 

What: “Caregiving and wellness; Forum on healthy aging II”  

Where: West Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline St., Oakland 94607  

Details: Free. Registration required. By phone or online  

For more info: (925) 284.7942 



Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at pen136@dslextreme.com  


Arts & Events

MUSICAL OFFERINGS: Berkeley Symphony Plays Widmann, Barber, Brahms Tonight at Zellerbach

By Ken Bullock
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 06:05:00 PM

Joana Carneiro takes up the baton again tonight, Thursday, April 1, when the Berkeley Symphony performs a triple bill: Jorg Widmann's “Con brio”, in its West Coast premiere; Samuel Barber's Knoxville, “Summer of 1915”, sung by exquisite soprano Jessica Rivera, the Symphony's artist in residence; and Brahms' First Symphony

Widmann, a young German composer and clarinetist, has been heard in Berkeley when Kent Nagano led the Berkeley Akademie last year in performing a Widmann piece--as he will May 20, with Widmann's “Versuch uber die Fuge” on a program that includes Beethoven's Quintet in E flat for Piano and Winds and Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A. 

Barber, whose centennial year is being celebrated around the country, is finally receiving his due as a great American composer, and a great composer of song in particular. “Knoxville, 1915” is from what Barber referred to as a prose poem in James Agee's novel, A Death in the Family. 


Brahms' sketches for his First Symphony date from 1854. It was not completed until 1876. The middle movements have reminders of Beethoven; the last movement's first theme sprang from the composer's reflections on John:14:10--"I am in the Father, and the Father is in me." 


8 p.m. April 1 at Zellerbach Hall. www.berkeleysymphony.org or 510-841-2800. 


ONSTAGE, ROUNDABOUT: A Seagull in the Hamptons

By Ken Bullock
Thursday April 01, 2010 - 09:36:00 PM

Orson Welles staged a voodoo Macbeth and a fascist Italian Caesar in the 1930s. Now, Shakespeare's plays are set in Victorian garb, the Wild west, outer space ... Marco Bellochio's TV movie of Chekhov's The Seagull seems to subtly shift locale to Italy, and Andre Gregory's modern dress show for Louis Malle's camera fulfills its title: Vanya on 42nd Street. 

Now the Shotgun Player are staging Emily Mann's adaptation, A Seagull in the Hamptons,at Ashby Stage. 


On Robert Broadfoot's excellent beachfront set, where the young folk have pitched their flimsy stage, the first act is most successful at translating Chekhov's comedy of languor into a New York weekend in the country, and Richard Louis James as the doting but disappointed big city lawyer uncle is greatly responsible for setting and maintaining the tone, in a funny and touching performance. As his sister, prickly middle-aged stage diva playing younger-than-thou, Trish Mulholland makes her presence felt. Beth Deitchman, better known in North Bay theater for more substantial roles, is very good as the caretaker's wife, carrying on with the world-weary doctor, played well by John Mercer, who's played a trio of Chekhov's fellow physicians in the past year or two. 

Things get a bit thicker after intermission, with the increasingly serious stuff in the later two acts, exactly what Chekhov found humorous, though it's seldom played as such. The performers flag a little and become paler than they were at first. Director Reid Davis and his cast turn in a decent effort, but this adaptation is just a bit more stageworthy than the bulk of lugubrious versions that melodramatize Chekhov. (For the record, Paul Schmidt's translations seem to come closest for the difficult "poetry" of the original, which the great V.S. Meyerhold, who originated several of Chekhov's characters onstage and grew close to the author, said was in the rhythm.) 


Ashby Stage, Ashby at MLK. 841-6500 or www.shotgunplayers.org