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Mario's party crowd
Mario's party crowd


Flash: Stabbing Charge Dropped in Berkeley's People's Park Tree-Sit; Midnight Matt Released From Jail Around Midnight

By Ted Friedman
Tuesday April 05, 2011 - 01:38:00 PM

Follow the synchronicity.

Matthew Dodt, 53,aka "Midnight Matt", who defended himself with a camping knife from tree invasion in his tree in People's Park only to wind up in Santa Rita Jail, was released shortly before midnight Monday, according to a releasing officer at the jail.

He served 61 days in Santa Rita and 91 days in the tree. The synchronicity is in there somewhere. 

The case against him, which began as attempted murder, then assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a police helmet, has shrunk to aiming a laser at University police—in the final days of a muddled tree-sit protest in the park. 

The prosecution's case collapsed when the stabbing victim flouted a subpoena to testify Monday morning at Manuel Wiley Courthouse in Oakland. One of the victim's close friends—contacted later in the park and also a refusing witness—believes his friend may have been arrested. 

University police logs show no such arrest and calls to key UCPD lieutenants have not, as of this writing, been returned. 

Nevertheless, the two refusenik witnesses, who prefer not to be named, may emerge as unsung heroes in the case, even though they caused the case. One of them told me Monday that university police were "playing" the two to instigate the arrest of the tree-sitter. "They said things like, are you going to let those guys bring more heat down on the park." 

Not only did the stabbing victim and another witness refuse, early on, to testify, but they have tried to make peace in the park, one of them donating mulch and labor recently to help Project Berkeley build a "peace garden," near "Camp Hate." 

CampHate is the peace and philosophy-loving encampment presided over by Berkeley's Hate Man. 

Alameda County Judge, Rhonda Burgess, tired of the prosecution's delays, denied one final delay, noting that the case had passed the sixty day mark which requires a defendant be brought to trial in sixty days. 

"You had plenty of time to present your case," the judge scolded the prosecutor. "Your witness was subpoenaed two weeks ago." 

Dodt refused to plea bargain—according to his friends. Not considered a flight risk, he was released on his own recognizance. 

He must return to court Mar. 18th, 9 a.m. to face the laser aiming charges which his attorney, C. Zadik Shapiro, says could carry a 6 months to a year sentence. He has served 60 plus days. 

According to Dodt’s volunteer attorney, “We are glad that the District Attorney did the right thing and dismissed the case. Now Matt will be released and do what he likes to do—work for a better community and a better world." 

But will that better world include Dodt's return to his tree? He has a decade long history working with SF's Coalition to end homelessness, tried to include assistance to the homeless among the tree-sit demands, and might want to protest again. 

A close friend, who has been in touch with Matt in jail, says that he has much on his mind, including finding new housing (he previously had shared housing in Oakland) and will not be making any statements for at least a few days. 

Zachary Running Wolf Brown, 47, who organized the People's Park tree-sit protest, would like to get his number one sitter back in a tree in the park, although not necessarily the original one which got a thorough pruning the night Dodt was arrested. 

Running Wolf has been hard at work constructing new platforms for the sit, he has said. 

As the stabbing shows, the tree-sit in the park never was understood or accepted in the park, where UCPD never lost an opportunity to blame the sit for increased police patrols and citations in the park. 

Then there was the inherent problems with the core demands of the protest, a hodgepodge of complaints, which grew after a District 7 councilman's calls for park reform, were rejected by voters. See "Up a Limb: Trying to Understand Latest People's Park Tree-Sit," Nov. 30, 2010, the Planet, for a full account. 

Perhaps as the park anticipates the warmth of spring and looks forward to its 42 year anniversary celebration April 24, featuring speakers and Indy bands, we are headed for some Rodney King moments. 


Ted Friedman has lived a half block from People's Park for 35 years. 









Press Release: April 2, 2011 Incident Involving Berkeley Police Department and Pit Bull

From David A. Frankel [Berkeley Police Department spokesperson]
Sunday April 03, 2011 - 05:19:00 PM

On Saturday, April 2, 2011 at approximately 3:30 p.m. the City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) got a call from a resident in the 3200 block of Shattuck Avenue who reported that a man was firing a handgun in the rear yard of a nearby residence. BPD Officers responded immediately and met with the witness/caller who pointed out the home to the officers. Officers contacted the occupants who complied with officers’ orders to exit the home. During the process, a Pit-bull dog came out of the residence and refused to comply with the verbal commands issued by one of the occupants. The dog then growled and lunged at one of the officers causing that officer to fear for his safety. This officer fired one round from his pistol at the dog and it died instantly. 

During the ongoing investigation, the resident admitted to participating in target practice with a pellet gun in his rear yard, a violation of the Berkeley Municipal Code. Inside the home, officers located a pellet gun that resembled a semi-automatic handgun. The gun investigation has been concluded and the case will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s office. 

All Use of Force incidents are thoroughly reviewed by BPD. No officer wants to be put in the position of using force, particularly deadly force, on animals or individuals, but sometimes must do so to protect him/herself, the safety of others and community safety.

Quick Action Needed to Stop Proposed Berkeley Anti-Sit Ordinance (Commentary)

By Sally Hindman, Youth Spirit Artworks
Sunday April 03, 2011 - 10:29:00 AM

The City of Berkeley is once again considering action on an anti-sitting ordinance, which would single out homeless people for ticketing, arrests, and possible jail if they are found sitting on the sidewalk in commercial districts. This "perennial weed" (anti-sitting/lying initiatives) is resurfacing, of course, in the worst economic recession in many years, and distracts our community from the step-by-step continued hard work we need to take toward ending homelessness.

Street Spirit will have material about this in its upcoming April issue. Homeless youth are a key target of the proposed effort--yet Berkeley currently has no drop in center for homeless young people and also only has a six month youth shelter with room for 25 young people open from 8pm til 8am. Where do folks expect youth to SIT, if not on the street, with no place to go!!!

The City of Berkeley Chamber of Commerce will be considering whether to push forward as the leader in this fight at its meeting on Monday April 4 Noon to 1pm at the Chamber office located at: 1834 University Avenue--near MLK.  

If you happen to have the lunch hour free this coming Monday, homeless groups, including Youth Spirit Artworks, AFSC/Street Spirit & other groups are organizing in coalition getting people out for this event. Since the Chamber has not yet made a decision about whether in fact to go forward with this--our first thrust will be to see if we can convince them what a BAD IDEA it is--before it's introduced to the City Council. We would love for Friends and others from the religious community to attend the meeting, if only to sit in the audience and eat a sandwich, to let them know the community cares VERY much about this matter! Speakers are also encouraged! 

If you aren't able to come out for the Chamber of Commerce meeting about this on Monday--you could make a QUICK call to their co-CEO's--Polly Armstrong or John deClercq at 549-7000. You could also email them: Pollyarmstrong@berkeleychamber.com or Johndeclercq@berkeleychamber.com. 

Alternatively, if it works to make a super quick phone call to a City Council member: Linda Maio (District 1) at 981-7110 or Darryl Moore (District 2) at 981-7120, Laurie Capitelli (District 5) at 981-7150, or Susan Wengraf (District 6) at 981-7160--this would also be a great help! These are considered the swing Council people on this issue. Linda, Darryl and Laurie are saying they still haven't decided what they will do. We haven't heard yet from Susan. Similarly, you could call Tom Bates (Mayor) at 981-7100 to let him know how disappointed you are he would push for this in a recession (or ever)--when we sooo badly need to focus our efforts in positive directions! 

If/when you call you can leave a super brief voice mail message and simply say you want to let them know you OPPOSE any efforts to push for anti-sitting/lying initiatives in Berkeley--that the City needs to stay the course and continue its "good work" plodding along investing in programs/resources needed to end homelessness! This is a distraction that won't work, and is unjust and discriminatory. 

Thanks for any efforts you might make to take action in solidarity with homeless folks right now--with everything else on your plates! 

P.S. Since a high proportion of the homeless youth on the street are GLBTQI, this is something to be sure to pass on to folks in deep solidarity with GLBTQI young people.

Updated: Brutality Charged as Berkeley Police Shoot Pet Dog

By Becky O'Malley
Saturday April 02, 2011 - 11:14:00 PM
Rock (nicknamed Big Baby)
Rock (nicknamed Big Baby)
Sean and Rock
Sean and Rock

The Planet at 9:21 on Saturday night received an email from Zviki ben Yishay, who lives in Los Angeles, alleging that Berkeley police officers shot and killed a pet dog belonging to his brother, who lives on Shattuck Avenue in South Berkeley. This is what he wrote: 


“hi my name is zviki and i would like to bring to your attention a case of police brutality in the city of Berkley California. earlier today my younger brother Sean age 25 was at home at shattuck Ave, Berkley ------ he and his friends were playing around with their toy airsoft pistol... after about half an hour 4 police squad cars stooped in front of the house and 5 police men charged his home with loaded M16.
they came from the windows back and front everyone in the house including my brother did not resist arrest and they were very cooperative and they told the officers right away that they have a dog in the house and that they want to put him on a leash so that they wont feel frighten by him.
The police men cuffed everyone in the house including my brother Sean and his 3 friends who were also there. after about half an hour that they talked and the police men understood that there is no danger they took my brother our of the house and while he was walked he begged the officer to let him put a leash on the dog in another room so nothing would happen to the dog. the officer told him that he has nothing to worry about and that he will not hurt the dog.
each of them as they were walked out of the house said to officer to please not hurt the dog and to let them put hum on a leash but the police man didn't listen and just puled them out of the house. after they took all 4 of the outside the fence of the house a couple of them went back into the house, after about a minute they herd a shot! 

they shot the dog in the head! 

my brother started scream asking to know what happened. 

the officers help him and his friend back and after 5 minutes he saw the officers coming out of the house with a black bag. 

the bag broke and his beloved dog fell out head first hitting the ground and blood was gushing out of his head. 

the picked him up and placed him in one of the squad car. 

the officers told him to calm down and that he is lucky that they are not charging him with a misdemeanor offence. 

they didn't give him their names or badge numbers and left. 

my brother is broken his heart is totally shattered he loved his dog Rock who was a very happy and had a greaet friendly personality, he loved that dog and he was his best friend. 

maybe you can look into this and maybe this wont happen again to some one else. 

thous police men did this act with intent. 

we filed a complaint with the police and will definitely try to file law suit for unneeded police brutality and murder of his beloved dog Rock may he rest in peace 

my brother Sean lives in 3204 Shattuck Ave, Berkley CA 94705 

phone number [withheld]. 

please investigate so those bad police men wont walk free and will be punished for their brutal unneeded force use on a defenseless dog.” 

thank you 



In a telephone call his brother, Shay (Sean) ben Yishay, confirmed the story. He told me that he and the three others with him had purchased an Airsoft air pistol at Big 5 Sporting Goods after being told that it was legal for them to fire it in their back yard. 

He said that he and one of the other young men are familiar with weapons because they are veterans of the Israel Defense Force (as is his brother Zviki), which is why they recognized the weapons the Berkeley police officers were using. 

He said that he and his companions had not been charged with any offense. 

He told me that his locksmith business, Rock-a-Lock, was named for his beloved dog, Rock (nicknamed Big Baby). As he told me this, he seemed to be crying. 

A call to the Berkeley Police Department dispatcher on Saturday night confirmed that officers had indeed answered a call at 3204 Shattuck at the time reported in Zviki’s email. I asked if there was anyone in the Berkeley Police Department who would like to comment on the dog being killed, and was told that the incident had just been reported and that no one was available to comment. However, a televised report with comments from Berkeley police was broadcast soon thereafter. 

The BPD information officer is off duty on weekends. A message left with the BPD dispatcher for the watch commander on Saturday night has not been returned. 

The email from Zviki ben Yishay was forwarded to Anne Wagley, the chair of the Berkeley Animal Care Commission (formerly the Humane Commission.) for comment. 

“It’s beyond outrageous—it’s completely inexcusable behavior, especially since the owner offered to put his dog on a leash,” she said.


Saturday April 02, 2011 - 11:48:00 AM

We've been told that some readers didn't know that the Point Molate "story" below was an April Fool's joke cleverly hatched by Tom Butt, and that "There is a casino hearing on Tuesday and this could easily trick a lot of people (who want to voice their opinions on the casino) into missing the hearing." Don't be fooled any longer. April Fool's day is over.

Berkeley Loves Telegraph Icons
Mario and Rosalinda Tejada
and Proves It at Gigantic Retirement Bash

By Ted Friedman
Friday April 01, 2011 - 05:28:00 PM
Mario, Manny Lopez--new owner, Mario Jr.
Mario, Manny Lopez--new owner, Mario Jr.
Mario and Rosalinda (from poster)
Mario and Rosalinda (from poster)
Mario's party crowd
Mario's party crowd

If you are throwing a retirement bash billed as "Berkeley Loves Mario and Rosalinda" (Tejada)—Berkeley had better mean it.

Boy, did Berkeley mean it, as hundreds jammed Mario's La Fiesta, next to Amoeba on Haste Thursday night for a lavish spread, free bar, and Mariachi band to pour out its heart to South side Berkeley's favorite couple. 

Celebrants, one-by-one told Mario, 81, and Rosalinda, 79 what Mario's La Fiesta restaurant has meant to them in 52 years of serving Telegraph Avenue. 

Many of the celebrants, who have grown old with the Tejadas, were saying goodbye to whole chunks of their lives. Memories flowed in the warm glow of a room filled with 

Mexican masks, musical instruments, and paintings. 

These items moved with Mario's on Teley when it moved a half block to Haste two years ago. 

Chris Ramer, 76, along with a U.C. student from El Salvador, was the first waitress (other than family members) for Mario's when it opened in 1959. Teary eyed when she left, Ramer said "Part of my life is gone." 

Kriss Worthington, 14 year District 7 city councilman wrote in the Tejadas' retirement guestbook: "Thank you for all of the positive energy you have both brought to the neighborhood and the city. Two beautiful people doing a lot of beautiful things." 

The send-off was financed by the Telegraph Business Improvement District. New Owner, Manny Lopez, 43, a former owner of Manny's Tap Room and a former manager at Raleigh's also contributed. 

South siders could not remember a more impressive event. 

Food included such items as sliced smoked salmon, cream cheese, baguettes, four giant cakes, and tea pastries. 

The estimated bill: $2000. Coffee, although not as popular as the draft beer, wines, and cocktails was provided by Cafe Mediterraneum. 

Roland Peterson, 53, spokesman for the events' sponsors wrote to the Tejadas: "You have been two of the most wonderful members of our community." 

Mario Jr. 50, and his sister Rosalinda, neither of whom is in the food business, but grew up in the restaurant, told of being called into service at midnight Wednesday for an all nighter to help their Dad prepare 11,000 burritos, and seven dozen enchiladas for two groups at Cal. "We went out with a bang," Mario Jr. boasted. 

The event was scheduled to end at 8p, but at 8:45 stragglers straggled . Ending was prolonged. 

Mario headed for the walk for still more conversation. As he walked alone through the semi-lit entranceway to Mario's, he said to no one in particular: "I don't own the restaurant, anymore." There was a note of wonderment in his softly intoned words. 

New Owner, Lopez, had the last word. "I face the challenge of taking over for a legend," he lamented. He plans to keep most of the basic Mario's offerings but to up-date the menu with specialties reflecting contemporary tastes. 

He plans to re-open in no more than four days ( with Mario's help) as Remy's Mexican Restaurant. Although the Daily Cal reported that Mario's staff will be retained by Manny, that turns out to be untrue. Manny says he must, by law, start hiring from scratch. Some but not all of Mario's loyal crew will remain. 

Mariachi Los Michoacanos, a spirited group, which performed Thursday and has performed regularly on weekends at Mario's, will continue for Manny. 

Although Mario and Rosalinda are looking forward to hanging out with their grand kids and their own children say they want their parents back after years of watching them work 24-7, Mario and Rosalinda have offered to help Manny if he needs them. 

Expect to see some new faces—even Mario's or Rosalinda's—when you stop into Remy's/Mario's to begin a new chapter of Berkeley history. 



Ted Friedman lived on big $1.00 bags of Mario-Rosalinda's fresh homemade tortilla chips in the 'Seventies.

See Saturn Shining Bright in April

By Saul Sugarman (BCN)
Friday April 01, 2011 - 11:37:00 PM

Bay Area residents are dusting off their telescopes and braving chilly evening breezes in hopes of catching a glimpse of the planet Saturn, which is poised for optimal viewing during the month of April. Saturn will be at opposition beginning Sunday night, meaning it will position itself along a straight line with the Earth and sun, said Jeffrey Silverman, public liaison for the University of California at Berkeley's Astronomy Department. Silverman said the department calendar has no special event planned for the ringed planet's shining moment because the phenomenon itself is not that extraordinary. "Saturn is going to be slightly more interesting to look at, but not much," he said. "At opposition, its rings brighten for a few days, but beyond that, opposition doesn't mean anything really special for observers on Earth," he said. Still, a casual observer will note Saturn as one of the brightest objects in the night sky seen with the naked eye beginning Sunday until about the end of summer, Silverman said. More ambitious enthusiasts can use shorter-range telescopes to spot the planet's lustrous hoops and maybe a small moon or two. 

People can also head over to one of several telescopes open to the public throughout the Bay Area. 

Lick Observatory, serving the University of California system's 10 campuses, is located on the summit of Mount Hamilton, 20 miles east from downtown San Jose at an elevation of about 4200 feet. 

The observatory is open to visitors Thursday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., but the public cannot look through a telescope at that time. Instead, Bay Area stargazers should look into the observatory's summer program, which begins June 24, according to the organization's website. 

During scheduled events in June through August, visitors can peer at Saturn and other celestial bodies beginning at 7 p.m. for a small ticket price. 

Alternatively, observers can make their way to Chabot Space and Science Center, which has telescope hours for visitors on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Residents can also head to Los Altos Hills in Santa Clara County, where Foothill College has telescope viewings on Friday evenings. 

UC Berkeley has a telescope available to university students who are currently enrolled in astronomy classes. The telescope is inaccessible for disabled people because the building it sits on has not been properly retrofitted to withstand earthquakes for about 20 years, according to the Astronomy Department. 

This Thursday, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco will host its weekly NightLife event, which opens at 6 p.m. to attendees ages 21 and over. 

The event includes a segment called "Telescopes and Star Talks," which features looking at the city's night sky and an informational talk by Paul Salazar, an urban astronomer.

Flash: WARNING: APRIL FOOl!!! Breaking News - Feds Kabosh Point Molate Casino!

By Tom Butt, Richmond Councilmember
Friday April 01, 2011 - 09:52:00 AM

With a critical April 5 vote less than a week away, a convoluted and fast moving chain of events involving a trio of federal agencies has apparently terminated the more than six year odyssey intended to turn Point Molate into an Indian casino anchoring a destination resort. A deal was reached at 12:01 AM today, EDT, among all parties for an unprecedented land swap that will end the casino project forever. In the creative new plan, the Department of Agriculture will exchange approximately 2,600 acres in the Mendocino National Forest to the Guidiville Band of the Pomo Indians, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and investors in Upstream Point Molate LLC for their rights under the Land Development Agreement for Point Molate. Point Molate will then be conveyed by the City of Richmond to the National Park Service, which will set up an operational and development plan similar to The Presidio Trust

Mendocino National Forest 

The plan was negotiated by an obscure and secretive Interior Department employee, Marvin Wardlow, who has been largely responsible for successfully acquiring thousands of acres of old growth redwoods on the northern California coast over the last dozen years. Rumor has it that Wardlow’s orders came directly from the White House. 

Congressman George Miller set the linchpin of the plan by quietly slipping last minute enabling language into a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government for the next three weeks. 


Senator Dianne Feinstein, an avowed opponent of urban gaming, carried the measure in the Senate. 


Both the National Park Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are under Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, which made some of the internal wrangling manageable Bringing in Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who is responsible for the U.S. Forest Service, was the third leg of the challenging but successful plan, which reportedly had the full support of the White House. The City of Richmond will retain an economic interest by becoming a partner in the new Point Molate Trust, but it is yet unclear whether the National Park Service’s interests will be managed by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area or Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park. 


The no cash deal will cost the government nothing but a few trees and will provide a fair reimbursement for the two tribes and other investors that have poured at least $15 million into Point Molate since 2004.

Facing an adverse vote from a City Council that has seismically shifted in its support for the casino since 2004, Jim Levine and John Salmon of Upstream Point Molate, LLC, appeared happy to be able to salvage their investment and emerge financially intact. The two Indian tribes embraced the prospect of ranch and timberland in the Mendocino National Forest with alacrity because of opportunities for healthy outdoor jobs in ranching and logging instead of cleaning toilets and dealing cards. When asked about the opportunity for other cash crops popular in the region, Michael Derry, CEO of the Guidiville Indian Rancheria, just smiled. 

A relieved Jim Levine, lead spokesman for Upstream Point Molate, LLC, summed it up: “After Measure U passed in November and Corky and Jovanka replaced Maria and Myrna, we knew the odds were stacked against us. We were prepared to bet the house in litigation, but who knows what the outcome would have been? Seven [years] may turn out to be our lucky number after all.” 

Not everyone was happy, particularly Councilmember Nat Bates who complained, “This is a travesty for American taxpayers. The government gave Point Molate to the City of Richmond. Now they are buying it back? How stupid is that?” 

Jim Rogers, who had gambled on the Point Molate casino to dramatically relieve Richmond’s double-digit unemployment and launch his political future into orbit, was philosophical. “Maybe there is a place in Point Molate for my Greenprint project now.” If we can’t make work for Richmond residents in the casino, maybe we can train them for green jobs.”

Norman LaForce of the Sierra Club and Robert Cheasty of Citizens for Eastshore Parks bore the longest faces as they watched the potential $40 million from Upstream vanish into thin air. The money was part of a litigation settlement that bought support of the environmental groups for the casino with the money to be delivered only on opening day. “Do you realize what it would take to make that much money in Sierra Club dues?” asked LaForce. “At $15 a pop, we would have to sign up 2.6 million new members. Where in the world would we find all those people?” 

County Supervisor John Gioia was also shocked as he watched the County’s $12 million bonus for casino opening disappear before his very eyes. “You know,” he sighed, “it was just paper and it was, after all, a crap shoot. Easy come --- easy go. Maybe we can make it up if the Scotts Valley casino on the Parkway comes back to life.”

Gayle McLaughlin and Jeff Ritterman, who had never supported the casino, were just relieved the struggle was over without litigation. “Now we can get on with our alternate plan for windmills, solar collectors, tidal energy generators, vegetable gardens, open space, and an academy to teach our youth how to be artists, vegetarian chefs and yoga instructors.”

Probably most disappointed was the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. “We staked our very reputation on this project,” pleaded spokesman Tom Waller, “ and Obama sold it out from under us? This will not stand!”

Chevron had no comment, but the distant popping of some kind of corks, possibly from beakers containing petroleum samples, could be heard from San Ramon.

The San Pablo City Council, which depends on Casino San Pablo for two-thirds of the City’s general fund, was ecstatic. “If Point Molate had been successful,” said Mayor Genoveva Galloway, “it would have been the end of San Pablo as we know it. This is so exciting, I am declaring a City holiday!” 

Jovanka Beckles, who has recently surprised Council watchers with her insightful unpredictability, looked thoughtfully into the distance and then blurted, “April Fool!” 

WARNING: APRIL FOOL!! Inspired by Parkmerced, San Francisco Unveils New Citywide Demolition Program--Berkeley to Follow Lead

By Reed M. Prack (BeyondChron)
Friday April 01, 2011 - 09:49:00 AM

At a press conference yesterday afternoon, Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Sean Elsbernd announced a new development strategy inspired by the proposed Parkmerced project. Under the new “Transit Oriented Demolition and Development” plan, the City will offer incentives to developers that agree to demolish existing low-density residential neighborhoods with older housing (“TODD zones”) and replace them with higher density, “transit oriented” development.

Berkeley officials who declined to be identified endorsed a similar proposal for the low-density area around the North Berkeley BART station, although they also declined to reveal the details of the plan. 

Against a backdrop showing a condominium high-rise skyline, Mayor Lee said of the plan: “We are so convinced of the benefits of the Parkmerced project that we are excited to bring these benefits of greater density, transit improvements and greenhouse gasses to the entire city.” 

Stellar Management and Fortress Investments, the Parkmerced developers, will reportedly seek approval to develop two other TODD zones in the city -- an 18 square block section of the Sunset District and a 23 block area of the Richmond district. Stellar spokesman P.J. Johnston would not confirm or deny the plan for the Sunset and Richmond districts, but did acknowledge that “these are certainly areas with low density, older housing and limited transit that would benefit from the type of smart growth we’re doing at Parkmerced.” 

Sup. Elsbernd will introduce legislation at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting to relieve developers of Planning Code limits where they propose to demolish units and promise to replace them. Under the plan, developers who promise to demolish more than 20 units will be granted density bonuses, waivers of height and setback restrictions, and freedom from conditional use hearings. There will be additional incentives for larger projects. A developer who agrees to demolish at least one hundred units will also qualify for special tax exemptions. 

According to Elsbernd, “We’re creating an incentive structure here. I know it’s counterintuitive, but the more units that are demolished, the more housing we will end up with. Only by demolishing units can we attract the funding necessary to rebuild higher density housing, which will have the net impact of increasing housing supply. The residents might not know it now, but this is for their own good.” 

Plan opponents begged to differ. “I think they’ve lost their collective minds,” commented Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants’ Union. “The property owners and tenants whose homes are demolished will be driven out of the city forever.” Several supervisors echoed the concern, issuing a joint statement condemning the proposal as the worst land use blunder in San Francisco since redevelopment of the Fillmore. 

Elsbernd responded that critics are missing the point. “Under the proposal, only older units could be demolished anyway, so residents of these outdated homes are being relieved of the challenges of living in aging housing stock. Now they won’t have to pay for repairs or endure drafty Victorian era windows or creaky floors.” Indeed, under the new legislation, only neighborhoods with housing built before the 1950’s will be targeted for demolition and development, comprising the vast majority of San Francisco neighborhoods. 

Michael Yarne of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development defended the proposal. “As we know from the Parkmerced project, the only way to increase density is to demolish existing low density housing. How else are we going to increase our tax base and fund transit? These new demolition and development zones will benefit the city, and the residents don’t need to worry because we are requiring the developers to promise that the residents will be able to move into the high rise condos when they are completed.” 

Under the proposal, the timeline for development in a TODD zone is unclear. According to one Planning Department representative who asked to remain anonymous, “These projects will be so large-scale that it would be unreasonable to hold developers to a specific timeline. So long as the project is completed in two or three decades, they will meet our new, streamlined requirements. Given the amount of money being put in, these projects are too big to fail, so we know they will get done eventually.” 

Building trades unions, including Local 104 (Sheetmetal workers), Local 22 (Carpenters) and Local 377 (Ironworkers) were present at the press conference and hailed the proposal as a positive step. Members turned out in force holding signs stating, “Demolishing and rebuilding San Francisco generates jobs.” 

One dissenting union member asked what would happen to workers who live in the new TODD zones: “Sure we might get jobs, but what good is that when we lose our homes?”

Berkeley School Superintendent Considers Safety Measures

By Jeff Shuttleworth(BCN)
Thursday March 31, 2011 - 07:06:00 PM

Berkeley school Superintendent Bill Huyett said today that he is considering a variety of measures to improve safety at Berkeley High School, where there have been a number of gun-related incidents this year. 

Huyett said a special school board meeting on Wednesday night was "very productive" and generated many ideas about reducing gun-related problems. The meeting was the second on the topic this week--a parent forum was held on Monday night. 

Huyett said he will study the ideas that were suggested at the school board meeting and recommend new safety policies at the board's next meeting on April 13. 

Among the ideas Huyett is considering are having students wear identification badges and having a police officer at the campus five days a week. 

However, Huyett said it probably would take time to set up a student ID program because school officials would have to figure out how to pay for it and staff it. 

He also said there are "different opinions" about student ID cards and that some people are opposed to them. 

Berkeley High School was locked down on Wednesday after a parent reported seeing a young man with a gun in his waistband near the campus. 

Police detained a group of people near the edge of campus but the parent who had notified the school did not identify any of them as the person who had a gun and no weapon was found. 

On March 23, two Berkeley High students were arrested after a gun they brought to school went off in a school bathroom and a third student was arrested later that day for having an unloaded handgun, according to school officials. 

There were several other gun-related incidents at the school earlier this year. 

Some people have suggested that metal detectors be installed at the school, but Huyett he thinks they "are not a good idea." 

Huyett said metal detectors are not effective at large schools such as Berkeley High, which has about 3,400 students, because they are costly and time-consuming. 

He said he thinks the machines aren't practical because there are too many students to process in a short period of time at the beginning of the school day. 

However, Huyett said, "We'll be as aggressive as we can" in trying to implement other ways of reducing gun-related incidents.

Flash: Berkeley Women Win Peabody Awards

Thursday March 31, 2011 - 11:26:00 AM

Projects spearheaded by Berkeley women have captured two of 39 prestigious national Peabody Awards, it was announced today:

Judith Ehrlich (and Rick Goldsmith) produced The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, which was also nominated for an Academy Award last year.

Ellin O'Leary is Chief Content Officer/President of Youth Radio, founded in Berkeley but now in Oakland, which won for Trafficked: A Youth Radio Investigation. 

From the Peabody web site: 

A record 39 recipients of the 70th Annual Peabody Awards were announced today by the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The winners, chosen by the Peabody board as the best in electronic media for the year 2010, were named in a ceremony in the Peabody Gallery on the University of Georgia campus. 

For seventy years the Peabody Award has defined excellence in electronic media," said Horace Newcomb, director of the Peabody Awards. "This list of Peabody recipients continues the commitment of the University of Georgia and the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, the stewards of the award. With that commitment, we challenge media makers and distributors to reach higher, try harder and be ever mindful of their central role in public life." 

Citations on the site described the prizewinning works and where they have appeared:  

POV: The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (PBS), American Documentary, POV, ITVS 

A fascinating true-life political thriller, Ellsberg’s remembrance of his historic actions is made even more compelling by the inventive presentation. 

Trafficked: A Youth Radio Investigation (NPR/All Things Considered) Youth Radio, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, Huffington Post online 

A wide-ranging expose of America’s child-sex trade, it was made especially powerful by first-person accounts by teen victims. 

Parent Reports Seeing Gun Near Berkeley High

By Bay City News
Wednesday March 30, 2011 - 08:47:00 PM

A parent of a Berkeley High School student reported seeing someone with a gun in his waistband near the campus this afternoon, Berkeley police said. 

Berkeley police got a call at about 3:10 p.m. from a school staff member who said a parent had reported seeing a young man along the western perimeter of the campus who may have had a black gun in his waistband, police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said. 

Police arrived at the school in under a -minute, and began searching the area for the young man, Kusmiss said. 

A safety officer from the high school had trailed the suspect from a distance and last saw him at Martin Luther King Jr. Way just north of Bancroft Way. 

Police detained a group of people near the edge of the campus along Martin Luther King Jr. Way, but the parent who had notified the school did not identify any of those people as the young man with the gun, and no weapon was found, according to police. 

The incident prompted a campus lockdown. 

Last Tuesday, two Berkeley High students were arrested after a gun they brought to school went off in a school bathroom, and a third student was arrested later that day for having an unloaded handgun, school officials said. 

A parent forum was held on the campus on Monday, and a special school board meeting is scheduled for tonight to discuss safety issues and violence on campus. 

The meeting is taking place at 7:30 p.m. at the district office at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

Press Release: Parent Sees Possible Gun on Young Man On Perimeter of Berkeley High School

From Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, BPD Public Information Officer
Wednesday March 30, 2011 - 08:44:00 PM

“On Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at about 3:10 p.m., the City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) received a call from a Berkeley High School (BHS) staff member. The staff member reported that a parent had shared that he/she had seen a young man with a possible black gun in his waistband on the western perimeter of the campus. BPD Officers, Sergeants and a Lieutenant arrived at the school within 30 seconds of the call and began doing area checks for the young man who had been described. A BHS Safety officer followed the subject at a distance and reported that he was last seen on Martin Luther King Jr. Way just north of Bancroft Way.” 

“BPD officers were in consistent communication and collaborated with the BHS principal, staff and safety officers throughout the response. BPD officers detained a group near the H building on the Martin Luther King Jr. Way side of the school campus. BPD conducted a field show up with the witness/parent who did not positively identify any member of the detained group. No weapon was found. BPD rebroadcast the description of the possible suspect and officers will continue to keep this individual in mind. 

This is the substance and/or total of the summary of this incident. 

*Please call the BUSD PIO regarding BHS Lockdown as it was initiated by the school. Thank You.

New Union Allegations Against Equity Residential, Funder of Berkeley Measure R Campaign

Wednesday March 30, 2011 - 09:23:00 AM

The Planet has been contacted on behalf of Metallic Lathers Union Local 46, a New York City construction union that has been engaged in an effort to educate the public about the irresponsible practices of Sam Zell's development company, Equity Residential. 

The local has been following the controversial activities of Sam Zell and Equity Residential in Berkeley, including the proposed Acheson Commons development and their involvement in Berkeley’s Measure R. 


Measure R, passed by the voters in November, was a “flagrantly greenwashed” bid to change Berkeley’s downtown plan and zoning to be more developer-friendly. Most of the funding for the Yes on R campaign came from Equity Residential, including an expensive mailer deceptively designed to look like it came from the Sierra Club. 

The union email said that “in light of Equity's controversial involvement in Berkeley politics and development issues, I thought you might be interested in taking a look at an informational website that we have put together, EquityResidentialWatch.info. This website contains information on Equity's dangerous buildings as well as their long history of violating tenants’ rights.” 

Some allegations on the site: 



"-- On July 16th, 2010, a three story parking garage collapsed at an Equity-owned building in N.J., leaving more than 300 residents unable to return home. Two months earlier, Equity was warned by a licensed engineer that the building’s parking garage might “catastrophically collapse.” Equity apparently ignored these warnings, putting the safety of its tenants, employees and the general public at risk (see the video here)
"-- Equity Residential is currently being sued by the Equal Rights Center for engaging in the systematic discrimination of persons with disabilities due to the construction of residential facilities that are alleged to violate the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. "
-- In 2005, Equity Residential was forced to settle with the Maryland Attorney General's Office for more than a quarter of a million dollars in response to allegations that the company charged exorbitant application fees and illegally deducted termination fees from tenants' security deposits. "
- In 2002, residents of Equity Residential buildings in Florida filed a class action lawsuit alleging the company illegally charged tenants thousands of dollars in termination fees. As a result, Equity was forced to discontinue these practices and pay out $1.6 million to tenants."  


Below: the entries in the Planet's Sam Zell Cartoon contest, held before the November election: 



Justin DeFreitas









Matt Breault









Gar Smith









Joseph Young









J. Epstein

Press Release: BAYER Shareholder Meeting on April 29 in Cologne, Germany:
Coalition Introduces Countermotions on Hazardous Drugs, Accidents in BAYER Plants, Bee-Killing Pesticides

From the Coalition against BAYER Dangers (Germany)
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 08:49:00 PM

The Coalition against BAYER Dangers has introduced countermotions to BAYER´s Annual Shareholder Meeting on April 29. Environmental and social justice organizations [have asked to] discuss the proposals within the meeting. About 4,000 shareholders are expected to attend.

Beekeepers from all over Germany will conduct a rally at the entrance of the Cologne Fair to protest against BAYER´s bee-killing pesticides clothianidin and imidacloprid. Additional topics of the protests will be deformities caused by the hormone pregnancy test Primodos, accidents in BAYER plants, union busting and layoffs, side effects of the birth control pill Yaz, BAYER´s advocacy for nuclear power and the contamination of conventional rice by genetically modified strains. 

The Coalition against Bayer-Dangers has been monitoring BAYER for more than 30 years. The company has published the countermotions on their website: www.asm2011.bayer.com/en/countermotions.aspx (“Download”). 


The complete countermotions (original motions in German; English translation by Bayer):

Countermotion: The actions of the members of the Board of Management are not ratified 

Reasoning: The BAYER Group is responsible for massive environmental and social problems. The Board of Management is accountable for this. The following is a selection of current problem areas. Background information can be found on the website of the Coalition against BAYER Dangers (CBG): www.CBGnetwork.org 

• The BAYER Group was one of the driving forces behind the introduction of nuclear power in Germany. BAYER was already represented on the Executive Committee of the Deutsches Atomforum at the end of the 1950s, when the nuclear program was devised. Werner Wenning remained true to this tradition when last August he signed the appeal to the German government to extend the lifetimes of the country’s nuclear power plants. These were drastically extended just a few months later as a result of the pressure from industry. Wenning, who has since stepped down as Chairman of the Bayer Board of Management, therefore shares responsibility for the continued use of this irresponsible technology. 

• BAYER is systematically pushing the unions out of its U.S. plants. Numerous factories with unionized workforces have been closed. Only one seventh of the U.S. workforce is covered by any collective agreement. And the unions now retain representation at only a handful of the approximately 50 U.S. plants. Last year again saw layoffs at Berkeley, although the surrounding cities had recently granted millions of dollars in subsidies. This pattern is now being repeated on the east coast of the United States, where several plants are being closed. Despite its anti-union actions, BAYER is receiving high tax incentives to keep the remaining sites going (more information). 

• Despite increased profits, Marijn Dekkers, the new chairman of the BAYER Board of Management, has announced that some 4,500 jobs will be destroyed. The burden on employees is already well above the pain threshold. Even safety-relevant areas are not exempted from the continuous job cuts. 

• In the fall, BAYER established provisions of €386 million. This money is intended for compensation payments to U.S. farmers whose crops were contaminated by genetically modified rice. Although this late admission of guilt is to be welcomed, it was not voluntary but was forced upon the company by a series of court cases that BAYER lost without exception. On March 18, 2011, BAYER was ordered to pay punitive damages of $136 million solely as a result of the proceedings initiated by the RiceLand cooperative. 

The Board of Management nevertheless remains committed to its plan to import genetically modified rice into the E.U. However, the contamination in the United States shows once again that the cultivation of genetically modified rice inevitably leads to outbreeding; the risks of large-scale cultivation would be simply incalculable. Importing it into the E.U. as planned would involve inestimable risks to humans and the environment and must therefore be stopped (more information). 

• One of the most terrible scandals in BAYER’s history is the deliberate infection of thousands of hemophiliacs with HIV. Hemophiliacs were infected by BAYER blood products until 1986 although methods to render the virus harmless had been available since 1982. Untreated batches continued to be exported to Asia after being banned in Europe. 

In January, the Coalition against BAYER Dangers revealed that Bayer and three other companies were paying tens of millions in compensation to hemophiliacs from 22 countries. This is the result of a settlement reached in the United States at the end of last year. Several thousand hemophiliacs infected with HIV and hepatitis C had previously sued the companies in federal court in Chicago. Amazingly, no reference is made to these payments in the BAYER Annual Report 2010, although company spokespersons had no choice but to confirm the settlement in response to news agencies’ inquiries. The Coalition against BAYER Dangers demands that criminal proceedings be instituted against those responsible (more information). 

• In the fall, the BAYER Group paid 3.3 million dollars as a result of false claims made in advertisements for vitamin products. These claimed that the addition of selenium and zinc could lower the risk of prostate cancer. In an action brought by various U.S. states, however, it was argued that “BAYER knew, or should have known, that large doses of zinc and selenium can raise the risk of the formation of aggressive and fatal prostate tumors.” The lawsuit describes the advertising as “misleading and unethical”. Bayer repeatedly uses unfair advertising methods, whether for contraceptives, painkiller tablets, or now for vitamin pills. In this way the group knowingly endangers the health of patients and consumers (more information). 


Countermotion to Item 3: The actions of the members of the Supervisory Board are not ratified 

Reasoning: The Supervisory Board does not adequately perform its supervisory role, and its actions therefore should not be ratified. The following are examples of irresponsible policies supported by the Supervisory Board:  

• In December, the BAYER Group sold the age-old pesticides Nemacur and Mocap to the U.S. company Amvac. The WHO classifies the two active ingredients as “extremely dangerous” (hazard class I). These agrochemicals are responsible for many cases of poisoning. Nemacur and Mocap were banned in Germany long ago. Since the 1980s, the Coalition against BAYER Dangers has been calling for production of both active ingredients to be halted and for sales of all class I pesticides to cease. BAYER should have discontinued production long ago instead of now selling off these superpoisons at a profit. Incidentally, the use of Nemacur is one of the probable causes of the “toxic oil syndrome” that claimed at least 300 lives and resulted in serious health problems for thousands of victims in Spain in 1981. 

• In January, the U.S. oversight authority, the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), published the report of its investigation into the serious incident at the facility in Institute in 2008. The CSB ruled that a serious lack of safety measures led to the explosion. Two employees were killed in the incident, which shook an area of 10km around the plant. The factory was regarded as a “sister plant” of Bhopal, as the toxic gas MIC released at Bhopal is produced and stored there in large quantities. 

According to the CSB, the safety systems had been deliberately deactivated when a production facility was started up. The CSB said that only fortunate circumstances had prevented damage to an MIC tank nearby. “A release of significant quantities of MIC could have had fatal consequences. This concern had been legitimately expressed by local residents for decades,” says Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairman of the CSB. Dr. Moure-Eraso describes the deaths of the workers as “all the more tragic because they could have been prevented” if BAYER had conscientiously provided training for staff and performed the proper checks on the plant prior to startup. The investigation report also notes that the MIC measuring equipment at the facility was not working. 

The Coalition against BAYER Dangers (CBG) had already called for an end to MIC production at BAYER’s Annual Stockholders’ Meeting four months beforethe explosion. The BAYER Board of Management had rejected this request. Bayer did not finally stop using MIC at the Institute facility until March 18, 2011, following legal action by local residents. 

Overall, the CSB report sheds revealing light on the safety situation at many BAYER sites. Owing to the high risks, BAYER must completely abandon the industrial use of highly toxic chemicals such as MIC and phosgene. Operating the carbon monoxide pipeline that runs right across North Rhine-Westphalia would also be irresponsible (more information on the Institute plant). 

• In the elections to the U.S. Congress at the start of November, donations from large companies went mainly to candidates who reject any requirements for reducing emissions. Of the European companies, none was as generous as BAYER – not even oil companies such as BP. Greg Babe, boss of Bayer USA, personally featured among the donors. The support from politicians who deny climate change shows once again that the BAYER Climate Program and the BAYER Climate Award merely serve as fig leaves. 

• A gigantic coal-fired power plant is due to be built at BAYER’s site in Krefeld. This climate killer is to be operated by BAYER subsidiary Currenta. Annual emissions of the climate killer carbon dioxide alone would be 4.4 million metric tons. Over 22,000 objections to the project were submitted last year. BAYER nevertheless remains committed to it. 

• BAYER also refuses to compensate the victims of the hormonal pregnancy test Duogynon / Primodos. Thousands of children suffered serious deformities in the 1960s and 1970s due to this product. Der SPIEGEL has now published documents showing that warnings had been given within the company at an early stage. A British employee wrote the following to the company headquarters in 1967: “The obvious correlation between the increase in congenital deformities and the sale of the pregnancy test appears quite alarming.” “We need to be extremely careful,” he wrote, regarding the use of the product by pregnant women. Shamefully, BAYER rejects the claims by victims, alleging they are time-barred (more information). 

• The BAYER Group is one of the largest manufacturers of bisphenol A. It has been known for decades that this chemical can damage the hormone system. The Coalition against BAYER Dangers has long called for a ban on high-risk applications, e.g. in food packaging, water bottles and children’s toys. The E.U. finally banned the use of Bisphenol A in babies’ feeding bottles from the beginning of March. BAYER nevertheless continues to deny the risks posed by the chemical, and many dangerous applications remain on the market. 

Please help! Coalition against Bayer Dangers seriously at risk 

Coalition against BAYER Dangers
www.CBGnetwork.org(in English)
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Coordination-gegen-BAYER-Gefahren-CBG/127538777294665
Tel: (+49) 211-333 911 Fax: (+49) 211-333 940
please send an e-mail for receiving the English newsletter Keycode BAYER free of charge

Advisory Board
Prof. Juergen Junginger, designer
Prof. Dr. Juergen Rochlitz, chemist, former member of the German parliament
Wolfram Esche, attorney
Dr. Sigrid Müller, pharmacologist
Prof. Rainer Roth, social scientist
Eva Bulling-Schroeter, member of the German parliament
Prof. Dr. Anton Schneider, biologist
Dr. Janis Schmelzer, historian,
Dr. Erika Abczynski, pediatrician 



Telegraph's Been Down So Long
It's Starting to Look Like Up--
Even Mario's Has a Future

By Ted Friedman
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 06:31:00 PM

Students returning from Spring break will find an upside to the downside on Telegraph Avenue--including a new life for Mario's La Fiesta, an avenue institution for half a century.

As the recently up-dated Berkeley Telegraph sales tax report makes painfully clear, Teley businesses have been struggling with declining revenues for decades.

But a spurt in new businesses on Teley is giving the Ave. new hope. 

The first hopeful sign is the recent lines-around-the block success of Cream, at Channing and Telegraph, which offers nothing more than hand crafted ice-cream sandwiches for $1.50. 

Then Daiso Japan, a Japanese tchotchkes emporium, with most items priced at $1.50, opened quietly before Spring break next door to the empty Blake's site. 

Daiso is drawing crowds who may have felt trapped at IKEA, now helplessly mesmerized by Japanese designed products, snacks, and utility items. You'll need at least an hour here.  

Has bargain-selling stepped in where profits failed to tread? 

Monday, Pepe's pizza, "a true pizza buffet" served up a wandering pizza person with legs and arms, on a pizza head to celebrate it's opening at 2516 Durant Ave. 

Although Pepe's offers, wings and pasta, they feature an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet including soup, salad bar, and ice cream and sodas for $6.99. Price point marketing rules. 

There was nothing cheap about the pizza person, though. The walking red tomato pie blended into the Teley scene like a participant in the "How Berkeley Can You Be" parade. 

Most of the complex on Durant that housed Tower Records, (Pepe's is downstairs where La Val's on South side used to be) is rented. What was many years ago one of Berkeley's old coffee houses, opened two weeks ago as, Fa-La-La Falafel, an addition to Durant's falafel gulch. 

Even the retirement of Mario, 81, and Rosalinda, 79, Tejada, a sad turning point for their loyal customers, if not the entire Avenue, has an upside. 

The business will re-open next month as Remy's Mexican Restaurant at the Mario's Haste Street location, near the West end of People's Park where it has been for two years. A former cook and long time friend of the owners, Manuel Lopez, who recently managed Manny's Pub (now Raleigh's) will preside. 

According to the Tejadas, the basic menu and most familiar employees will continue. Because the owners transferred most of the decor of Mario's, Telegraph, to their Haste Street location two years ago (particularly, the Mexican masks and other art), Mario's-Remy's will be Mario's La Fiesta for many more years. The original tables and chairs from Telegraph are in place. It feels and looks like Mario's 

The Tejadas are the longest original owners of a Teley eatery extant, and beloved by anyone who's met them. They will be feted by the Telegraph Business Improvement District at a free drinks, ‘derves, and mariachi music retirement send-off this Thursday, 5-8 at Mario's on Haste. 

Mario, who loved baseball as a youth in Mexico, wants to spend his time watching his grandkids play ball. Mario and Rosalinda say they spent their entire restaurant careers working 24-7. 

In yet another sign of hope for the Ave., Blake's is six months to a year from re-opening, with major structural changes, as Pappy's Grill to be run by Stephanie Dodsen, a former manager at Smart Alec's. Proposed changes include removing the mezzanine, raising the ceiling, converting the old rathskeller from a nightclub to a games room--all aimed at a Cal crowd, according to Roland Peterson, 53, spokesman for the Berkeley Businessmen's Property Owners Association. 

Al Geyer, 62, owner of Annapurna on Telegraph is sponsoring an Easter Parade on Telegraph for April 24--a first. 

An Easter Parade on Teley? Maybe the avenue will stage a resurrection of its own. 

Ted Friedman, a southsider for 40 years, is spending way too much time on the avenue.  


Are There Health Risks in U.S. from Japan’s Nuclear Disaster?

New America Media, Question & Answer, Dr. Erin Marcus
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 12:15:00 PM

Three weeks after the Japanese nuclear power plant disaster began, many U.S. residents are fearful about the possible health effects of radiation traveling across the Pacific. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an independent scientific research-based environmental advocacy group, has been monitoring the crisis closely. Below are some frequently asked questions from the UCS website regarding the health consequences of the Fukushima disaster, as well as information shared at news briefings by David Lochbaum and Edwin Lyman, nuclear safety experts with the UCS: 

What are radioactive isotopes, and which ones are of most concern in a nuclear power accident? 

UCS: Radioactive materials decay, releasing particles that can damage living tissue and lead to cancer. Some elements have different forms, called isotopes, which differ in the number of neutrons in the nucleus. 

The radioactive isotopes of greatest concern in a nuclear power accident are iodine-131 and cesium-137. Iodine-131 has a half-life of eight days, meaning half of it will have decayed after eight days, and half of that in another eight days. It is also volatile, so it will spread easily. 

In the human body, iodine is absorbed by the thyroid, and becomes concentrated there, where it can lead to thyroid cancer in later life. Children who are exposed to iodine-131 are more likely than adults to get cancer later in life. 

To guard against the absorption of iodine-131, people can proactively take potassium iodide pills so the thyroid becomes saturated with non-radioactive iodine and unable to absorb any iodine-131. Cesium-137 has a half-life of about 30 years, so will take more than a century to decay by a significant amount. Living organisms treat cesium-137 as if it were potassium, and it becomes part of the fluid electrolytes, and is eventually excreted. It can cause many different types of cancer. 

Is there a threat to Americans in Hawaii, Alaska, or the U.S. west coast? Should residents of these areas take potassium iodide pills to protect against thyroid cancer? 

UCS: No. While wind patterns will likely carry the radioactive plume eastward, since Japan is thousands of miles from the United States, radioactive material in the air will be so diffuse by the time it reaches Hawaii, Alaska or the mainland United States that it is highly unlikely to create significant health concerns. 

As a result, people in those locations will not have to worry about direct inhalation of a radiation plume, which is the kind of exposure potassium iodide (KI) pills are most effective against. 

Americans could also be exposed to radioactive iodine if agricultural products became contaminated. Radioactive iodine could be ingested by dairy cows, for example, and then would be concentrated in milk. Potassium iodide, however, would not be effective in that situation. Moreover, federal and state health authorities should test for such contamination and could take products off the market if necessary. 

Why is potassium iodide effective against inhalation of radioactive iodine, but not against ingestion via, for example, milk? 

UCS: Potassium iodide can only reduce the risk from radioactive iodine that has entered the body, not eliminate it. People in the radioactive plume do not have the option of not breathing, so taking potassium iodide is an effective countermeasure against inhalation. However, people have the option of not drinking contaminated milk or eating other contaminated food products. In comparison, taking potassium iodide would be less effective. 

Can you be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation flying across the United States due to the radiation released in Japan? 

UCS: No. As noted in the previous question, since Japan is thousands of miles from the United States, radioactive material carried by the wind to Hawaii, Alaska, or the mainland United States will be so diffuse that it is highly unlikely to create significant health concerns. This is true whether you are on the ground or in an airplane. 

Can nuclear plants in the United States withstand disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami that crippled nuclear reactors in Japan? 

UCS: Some U.S. reactors are sister plants to the Fukushima Unit 1 reactor, which is a boiling water reactor (BWR) designed by General Electric, and they are operating under similar regulations. If confronted with a similar challenge, it's folly to assume the outcome would not also be similar. U.S. plants have the same key vulnerability that led to the crisis in Japan. The basic problem is that the Japanese reactors lost both their normal and back-up power supplies, which are used to cool fuel rods and the reactor core. The reactors had batteries that could supply power for eight hours until the back-up system or normal power supply was restored. But officials were unable to fully restore either. 

Most U.S. reactors on the other hand, are designed to cope with station power outages (where both primary and back-up power supplies are out) lasting only four hours. Measures that increase the chance of restoring power within the four-hour time period, and provide better cooling options if that time runs out, would make U.S. reactors less vulnerable. 

But dozens of nuclear reactors in the United States have operated for years in violation of fire protection regulations, knowing that earthquakes can cause fires at nuclear reactors. Studies have concluded that fire can be a dominant risk for reactor core damage by disabling primary and backup emergency systems. Yet those nuclear reactors have no plans to address these safety risks. Finally, reactor emergency plans in the United States assume that a reactor accident would be the only demand on emergency response resources. The accident in Japan is another reminder of the need to revisit emergency plans to ensure that emergency responders are able to respond to both the problem at the power plant and the nearby community’s needs. 

Since 9/11, the U.S. nuclear industry has implemented additional power plant safeguards. Are we better equipped than the Japanese to cope with such a situation? 

DR. DAVID LOCHBAUM: Well, I think with the situation they have, they have to grasp at straws to try to explain why what happened there can't happen here. They're basically similar reactor designs operating under similar regulations, so if our reactors were faced with a similar challenge, the outcome would be similar. 

You know, there are certain things that were done since 9/11 that help, but I don't think that's a panacea that makes any of our reactors invulnerable to the type of problem that Japan faced. 

DR. EDWIN LYMAN: First of all, the plans are secret. So, no member of the public actually knows what those plans involve. Second, what we do know is that because those were addressing what (the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) considers to be a beyond design-basis event, namely an aircraft attack on a currently operating plant, we do know that the equipment, any equipment that would be staged or designated for that post-accident management would not meet the highest nuclear safety standards that are required for protecting its design-basis events. 

So, for instance, the Nuclear Energy Institute already admitted that that equipment is not safety related and would not be seismically qualified. So, if you have an event other than an aircraft crash, let's say a large earthquake, it's not clear that those plans and that equipment would actually survive to be available, putting U.S. reactors in the same spot that they were in in Japan. 

Will washing Japanese produce make it safe? Can Japanese produce be decontaminated? 

DR. LYMAN: With regard to iodine, that is a limited problem, and will be cleared in a few months. To the extent there's contamination with cesium, and other longer-lived isotopes, frankly, I don't think there are any good answers about how affected produce can be decontaminated. There are both national limits in Japan, international limits for destruction of contaminated produce, and I think those will have to be followed. 

The problem is going to be when the contamination is within limits that the authorities say is safe. I think people need to understand more. I think I've said before, understand the potential doses associated with those levels and make their own decisions whether they should consume the produce or not. 

But I would think whether or not it can be washed off, because I've been watching NHK and seeing what people are saying, I would be very wary of any unverified information about how to make produce safe at this point. 

The FDA has banned the import of milk and fresh produce from the Fukushima region. Should the U.S. ban all Japanese food products? 

DR. LYMAN: I haven't looked. Obviously it's not just the real risk, but it's also public perception and it's the same, you know, whether it's mad cow disease or melamine or lead, and unfortunately, one of the economic outcomes of this type of event …is the perception of contamination which can be as damaging as the actual, or more damaging than the actual, health risk, and that will have an economic impact whether or not there's actually a significant health risk. 

So, unfortunately, it's going to take a long time for Japan to restore confidence in the safety of its exports. 

Dr. Erin N. Marcus, is an associate professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Berkeley's Window on the Nuclear Crisis in Japan

By Bradley K. Sherman
Monday March 28, 2011 - 10:42:00 AM
Rainwater reveals whether radiation from Japan is reaching the Bay Area. This is the rain-swelled spillway at Jewel Lake in Tilden Park on March 27.
Bradley K. Sherman
Rainwater reveals whether radiation from Japan is reaching the Bay Area. This is the rain-swelled spillway at Jewel Lake in Tilden Park on March 27.

Berkeley residents have a telescope trained on the struggle to tame Japanese nuclear reactors damaged by the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11th. To discover if the radioactive emissions are reaching California, U.C. Berkeley graduate students worked through Spring Break to establish the Berkeley Radiological Air and Water Monitoring Team. They are publishing their data, to the Internet as quickly as they can collect and analyze samples. 

5,000 miles from Berkeley, Megacorporation Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is locked in an epic battle with six nuclear reactors at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on the east coast of Japan. Hydrogen explosions have torn the tops off three of the reactor buildings and in two there is fear that the core vessels are leaking extremely radioactive materials directly into the atmosphere and into the Pacific Ocean. People within 20 miles of the reactors have been evacuated. Food from Fukushima and neighboring prefectures has been declared too radioactive for human consumption. Water treatment plants around Japan have been told to temporarily avoid collecting rainwater. 

U.S. authorities have assured American citizens that, in the unlikely event that any of the radioactive materials reach our shores, the quantities will be insignificant. Fortunately, Berkeley is in a position to actually measure how much of the Fukushima miasma is making it across the Pacific Ocean, rather than relying on the accuracy of such assurances. Some of the world's top scientists in the detection of radioactivity work at the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Cal. Professors Kai Vetter and Daniel H. Chivers are coordinating and reviewing the work of the students. The website they have established has data, methods and a discussion forum. 

Because megacorporation Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is being very secretive about the situation, and about its plan to stabilize the nuclear plant, it is quite likely that Berkeley residents know more about the situation in Fukushima than do the people who once lived there.

Who's Behind the Push to Gut CEQA?

By Deirdre Des Jardins
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 07:08:00 PM

The Republican 5 have demanded a broad rollback of protections in California’s Environmental Quality Act as part of negotiations over a $12.5 billion tax extension. Passed in 1970, CEQA has been used in lawsuits by environmental and community groups over water use, air quality, environmental justice, land use, and greenhouse gas emissions.  

One of the biggest beneficiaries of a CEQA rollback would be Chevron, formerly Standard Oil of California. Chevron owns many oilfields throughout the state, and has been seeking to expand the company’s Richmond refinery to allow processing of heavier, dirtier crude oil, yielded by increasingly depleted oil fields. 

The refinery expansion was halted in 2009 after a coalition of community and environmental justice groups used CEQA to successfully sue over public health impacts. In 2010, Chevron lost the appeal.  

In a precedent-setting decision, the court also found that Chevron needed to provide specific mitigation not only for air quality impacts, but for a projected increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Chevron’s refinery is the single largest point source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The EIR indicated that the expansion could generate almost 900,000 tons of additional greenhouse gases.  

Since losing the appeal, Chevron has sought a special legislative exemption from CEQA for the refinery. An attempt in August 2010 failed. Senator Anthony Cannella’s CEQA rollback bill, leaked to the LA Times, has a special exemption for greenhouse gas emissions under CEQA, which would apply to the refinery.  

In 2010, Chevron donated almost a million dollars to an independent expenditure campaign that ran ads in Senator Canella’s and Senator Blakeslee’s district, helping both candidates win in swing state Senate races.

Press Release: Beyond the Numbers of the Schools-to-Prisons Pipeline:
Senator Mark Leno and Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Fiona Ma to Discuss Crisis with Students, Parents, and Community Organizations at Golden Gate University School of Law

From Jonah Minkoff-Zern
Wednesday March 30, 2011 - 12:39:00 PM

California faces a crisis of students not completing high school. In an effort to develop solutions combating the systemic problems of truancy, dropouts, exclusionary discipline, and a large school-to-prison pipeline, Golden Gate University is proud to host California Senator Mark Leno and Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Fiona Ma in a two- part series of discussions with bay area students, parents, and community. The event is sponsored by Dignity In Schools student organization at Golden Gate University, and is supported by a coalition of community organizations, as well as the following student organizations at Golden Gate University: Queer Law Student Association (QLSA), Black Law Students Association (BLSA), La Raza, ACLU, National Lawyers Guild (NLG), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and the American Constitution Society (ACS). Assemblywoman Ma will be speaking on Friday, April 8th from 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm, and Senator Leno will be speaking on Saturday, April 16th, 9:00 am - 12:00 noon. 

The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that 37% of African American students are not finishing high school in the state and 22 % of all California students are unable to complete school. A large portion of students who do not finish high school end up incarcerated. According to the Harvard Civil Rights Project, 60% of African American males who do not finish high school will end up in prison by the time they are in their thirties. The California Dropout Research Project found that a 50 percent reduction in dropouts statewide could save $12 billion and prevent nearly 15,000 criminal acts. 

This event is an exciting opportunity for the Bay Area community to speak out together on this critical issue and all high school students, parents, and community members are invited to meet with Senator Leno and Assemblywoman Ma to help develop strategies addressing educational deficits and truancy. Students and community organizations have worked actively to prepare legislative proposals to present to Senator Leno and Assemblywoman Ma, which will be responded to at the forum. 

Dignity In Schools at Golden Gate University School of Law is a student organization which shares the national Dignity In Schools’ (www.dignityinschools.org) mission of pursuing four fundamental human rights: the Right to Education, Right to Participation, Right to Dignity, and Freedom from Discrimination.



Solutionism Reigns in Berkeley

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday March 30, 2011 - 09:42:00 AM

When I was toiling in the high tech vineyards in the go-go 90s, the buzz word (the successor to the 60s “plastics”) was “solutions”. Everyone was selling solutions—no one cared much about problems. That mentality is still around, even though many solutions which are tried fail because the problems never materialize as anticipated.

Solutionism is alive and well in Berkeley today, as always more than a few beats behind the measure in reflecting social trends. Last night’s Berkeley City Council meeting illustrated how the process operates.

For example, take the current push to convert industrial space in West Berkeley to high tech office-oriented developments, spearheaded by a collusion between the moribund Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, the big West Berkeley property owners and the aging pols whose campaigns they’ve funded—with the whole process orchestrated by the city’s clueless Economic Development and Planning Departments. Another act in this on-going soap opera played out at the meeting. 

Do the bureaucrats have data supporting their contention that Berkeley needs more big office buildings on the West Side? Well, no.  

In fact, if anyone here looked at data on real estate trends in the Bay Area, which evidently they don’t, they might have seen the chart headlined “More Tech Jobs in Less Space”, which is derived from Employment Development Department figures, reported in recent articles in the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere. Here’s the gist of it, excerpted from the Chronicle account: 

“…as tech jobs have multiplied, their real estate footprint has fallen. Where tech companies occupied 18.3 percent of San Francisco office space in 2000, they occupy just 9.3 percent today... 

“That's one reason so many offices in San Francisco remain vacant. At the end of 2010, 17.1 percent of the city's office space sat vacant… up from 14.7 percent in the first quarter of 2009… 

“In 2000, tech companies leased an average of 325 square feet per employee. Today that number has fallen to 175.” 

But if we build it, they will come. Sure they will. 

And over-building in West Berkeley is not the only solution around here which is disconnected from the problem it purports to solve.  

Take Bus Rapid Transit. If fully implemented as proposed, it might shave twenty minutes off the trip from San Leandro to Sather Gate. But unless the university adopts a San-Leandro-only hiring policy, there will still be a lot of U.C. Berkeley workers commuting through the tunnel past my house on Ashby every day. 

Meanwhile, local bus service in the East Bay shrinks daily. But this doesn’t deter speculators from building apartments downtown in the vain hope that fantasy residents will give up their cars in favor of fantasy buses which will never arrive. Study after study shows that such apartments are chosen by people who are already non-drivers, but making these apartments available never converts drivers to transit users. 

Mass transit is widely hyped as the solution to global warming even as transit options disappear. Thirty years ago my children could safely take one of several daily Greyhound busses from the Oakland Greyhound terminal to visit their grandparents in Santa Cruz—today the number of buses has been drastically reduced and safety is much more doubtful, so my Santa Cruz grandchildren can’t take the bus up here to visit me.  

Or how about the sit/lie laws, soon to be another Chamber of Commerce promotion which the Berkeley City Council majority is expected to endorse? This is supposed to copy the San Francisco ordinance approved by voters in November—but that’s been shown to be a dismal failure. There are still lots of homeless people in The City, many of them panhandlers—the only difference is that sometimes they stand up to beg instead of sitting down.  

Sit/lie ordinances are a solution, yes, but not The Solution to social problems which are much more complicated than such laws acknowledge. Never mind—we’ll probably get the same sort of useless and annoying ordinance in Berkeley soon. Adequate housing coupled with effective support services are a better solution to the real problems, but we prefer simple solutions, don’t we? 

And finally, there’s the very serious problem which is wrongly perceived as being “guns at Berkeley High”, discussed yesterday at great length on the Chronicle’s Berkeley Blog, (which repeats entries originating at berkeleyside.com). Almost all of the proffered solutions in the readers’ comments focused on what to do at the high school—build a wall around the campus, use metal detectors, ban pot smoking for minors, move to Orinda, don’t accept transfer students with families in Oakland or Richmond, fund charter schools, etc. etc.—and almost all ignored the real problem, which is that an all too high percentage of males in their teens and twenties are caught up in a culture of violence abetted by easy access to guns. Girls aren’t immune, but it’s the boys who are really affected, and it’s not just at school.  

Yes, having guns on school grounds is a flagrant and disturbing manifestation of the problem, but it’s a symptom, not a cause. In case no one’s noticed, the victims are everywhere. Many of them are minority kids, but not all.  

We’ve had young men murdered in broad daylight in cold blood in front of a barber shop on Sacramento. Just recently a Berkeley-raised young father was shot in the back at his own home on Blake Street, and before that a budding musician from Berkeley died in front of a relative’s house in Richmond. Another Berkeley-bred young man (White, this time, in case it’s important to you) was just convicted of stabbing a fraternity boy in a pointless dispute. And we’re worried about panhandlers downtown? 

A friend whose younger brother goes to Berkeley High asked him what he knew about what was going down among youths in Berkeley and neighboring towns. “I know too much”, he told her, “and you don’t want to know about it.” He’s a good kid, not in trouble as far as his family knows. But even the good kids know that trouble is everywhere around them.  

Part of the problem seems to be feuds between groups, popularly referred to as gangs but often not nearly that organized. A non-solution “solution” is the currently popular stratagem of banning lists of individuals thought to be gang members from certain geographical areas—as residents of adjoining areas in Oakland will tell you, that just moves the problem around.  

Another obvious partial cause of such problems is the consistently higher unemployment rate for people of color, especially for African-American males. A two-to-one discrepancy between Black and White unemployment rates has been a fact of life at least since 1973. So chances are that many fathers and grandfathers of today’s African-American young men have not had steady jobs either.  

In today’s economy, those numbers translate to at least a 15% unemployment rate for all Blacks, as a group, and it’s much worse for young Black males. One estimate is that 25% of them will never get steady jobs. Some of them will end up begging on the street, and others will go to prison. According to the Harvard Civil Rights Project, 60% of African American males who do not finish high school will end up in prison by the time they are in their thirties. 

Young men of any race who don’t see an achievable path to economic self-sufficiency in their future are apt to turn to dangerous hustles, often involving drugs, as a way of making money. That’s the underlying problem, and metal detectors at every entrance to the Berkeley High campus won’t solve the problem, it will just move the would-be bad actors elsewhere, probably not far away, and make the school more unpleasant for everyone else.  

Is there a solution, then? No easy one that I can see. It will do no good for school administrators and well-meaning parents and blog commentators to pretend that a host of half-measures represent progress, when the problem is much bigger than the school community can resolve, extending well beyond the Berkeley High campus. 

But that’s the nature of the solutions-first, problems-later mindset, sad to say. We’d all be better off if we’d stop and think what problem we’re trying to solve before we throw out a lot of half-baked notions that don’t work. Hard to do, of course. 

For a graphic illustration of what’s wrong, take a look online at the Berkeley City Council’s discussion of changes to West Berkeley zoning last night, tedious as that might seem. The mantra of the council majority, articulated, if that’s the right word, by Councilmember Wozniak: “We’ve got to create some new jobs.” And they actually seemed to believe the proposed zoning changes would do just that. 

It was Councilmember Anderson’s finest hour. He said that he doubted that new jobs for his constituents would come from the proposed re-zoning. Preaching to mostly deaf ears among his colleagues, he expressed the fear that conversion of space now used for warehouses to R&D sites would transfer wealth to the well-educated and well-off while doing nothing for those young men looking for a future. He noted that West Berkeley already has a lot of good blue-and-green collar jobs for ordinary workers, and those might be lost if permitted land uses in the area were shifted to promote speculative upscale ventures.  

Councilmember Maio, as is her habit, said that she felt his pain, but she voted with the majority in the end as usual. Councilmembers Worthington and Arreguin made a substitute motion to support the West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies’ compromise proposal to limit conversion, but it was roundly defeated..  

All of the other councilmembers voted enthusiastically for unlimited conversion in key zones, albeit with a minor quibble asking for a progress report after 50,000 square feet had been converted. Maio did ask for a report on how many jobs, and what kind, would be “created” by the altered zoning, but planning staff doubted that this could be provided. 

You can be sure, however, as Anderson pointed out, there will be few new jobs in the pipeline for the people who really need them as a result of the proposed changes.  

At the end of the discussion, the majority councilmembers launched into a rousing rendition of the old Joe Hill favorite: 

“You will eat, by and by, 

In that glorious land above the sky; 

Work and pray, live on hay, 

You'll get pie in the sky when you die. 

Okay, I made that part up. But all the rest of it actually happened—watch the council meeting online and see for yourself why this country is in trouble. 







The Editor's Back Fence

New: Berkeley City Manager Targets Citizen Commissions--Again

Sunday April 03, 2011 - 09:48:00 AM

Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz and his staff want to get rid of some of Berkeley’s citizen commissions, according to a story in Sunday’s printed San Francisco Chronicle, which will not be available online until Tuesday. His excuse this time: Berkeley’s budget crunch—a total cost of about $1 million to run all commissions which Kamlarz cited in 2008 is quoted in the article, weighed against a projected budget shortfall of about $12 million. But it’s no secret in Berkeley that the unpaid but mouthy citizen commissions have always been a thorn in the side of Berkeley politicos of all stripes and of the paid staff who work under Kamlarz’ direction.  

The major city expense chargeable to the commissions is providing a paid staff secretary at meetings, but when commissions have offered to take their own minutes without staff supervision they’ve been turned down. Presumably Kamlarz is not planning to abolish all citizen commissions, so what his proposal would actually save has not yet been revealed.  

According to the Chronicle story, the matter will come to the Berkeley City Council in May, after Kamlarz and staff are ready to make a report on their recommendations. No word in the story about how much it will cost to prepare that report….


Cartoon Page: Odd Bodkins, BOUNCE

Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 10:44:00 PM


Dan O'Neill



Joseph Young


Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 10:02:00 PM
Two images of Warren McKenna, as a young man, and more recently
Contributed Photo
Two images of Warren McKenna, as a young man, and more recently

Remembering Warren McKenna; Government Education is an Oxymoron; Football Safety Hearings; Stonewalled by Stonemountain; Berkeley High School and the Lack of Shops; Obama Didn't Tell the Full Story; New Beginning? 

Remembering Warren McKenna 

With the death of Warren McKenna on March 3rd, Berkeley lost one of its most extraordinary and dedicated citizens -- a man totally committed to social causes. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Warren graduated from Wesleyan College and Episcopal Theological School and went on to be the rector of St. Peter's in Jamaica Plain, Ma., then Holy Trinity in London. He was a member of the Progressive Party and a self-proclaimed radical, thus landing in FBI files! 

Attending the Moscow Youth Festival in 1957, he went to China with 41 fellow Americans at the invitation of the Chinese government. He participated in Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964 and went on to be Associate Director of the Delta Ministry in Greenville, Mississippi to promote voter registration and integration. In 1968. with his wife Elizabeth, he moved to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands where they both managed a hotel, built vacation homes, and opened Skyworld, one of the first gourmet restaurants on the Island, one that still exists. 

After 30 years of Island living, Warren and Elizabeth moved to Berkeley, where Warren continued to participate in peace demonstrations and closely followed politics. Throughout all of his life, he approached everything with passion, zeal for learning, and strong belief in people's ability to promote change and make the world a better place. 

In celebration and memory of Warren, a memorial service was held on Sunday, March 20th, at the Berkeley City Club, with family and friends paying tribute to this wonderful man. Daughter, Leslie Easterday, read a moving eulogy listing her father's remarkable achievements, and grandchildren offered their own loving sentiments. Before moving into another lounge for a delectable buffet, Elizabeth read a tender verse her husband had given her, "Hinterhof" ("Stay near to me and I'll stay near to you as you are dear to me will do." Need I say we were all reduced to tears at this point? All in all, the Memorial was a fitting and well-deserved tribute to a truly admirable, dedicated man! 

Dorothy Snodgrass 


Government Education is an Oxymoron 

As Isabel Paterson wrote in The God Of The Machine many years ago, 'Why do you have to get your fees by extortion and your pupils by compulsion ?' Michelle Melamed and Raymond Barglow are advocating more of the same poison which is killing the American mind. John Dewey's pragmatism is a horror in all respects, from the youth who have no ability to form concepts, to think beyond the most concrete-bound journalism to the politicians whose criterion is not that things work because they are true but they are true because they seem to work for the moment. 

After a century of unprincipled, warmongering liars from both Roosevelts to Wilson to Truman to LBJ, Nixon, both Bushes, Clinton and Obama you would think people could wake up and smell the house that's on fire. But no, just the Loni Hancocks and the Jerry Browns and the Babs Boxers, in other words the same old, same old. There is no right to anything produced by the efforts of others. In a modern industrial civilization this means the intellectual effort to create and sustain products and services. 

Education doesn't grow on trees and is NOT 'fun.' It's hard work that takes discipline and concentration. And it's not for everyone. The more graduates the less each degree is worth as the principle of inflation operates everywhere. Probably 95% of the total population is trainable, 5% is actually educable. T 

hose are the ones whom both high school and college should preserved for. The rest can go to trade schools or if we sensibly repeal asinine child anti-labor laws can start working. The sooner the better as no one in the future will be retiring before 75 at least. Uncle Obama is getting ready to have Year Number Three without COLA for those on Social Security. I think you can see which way the wind is blowing and not where Bobby D. thought. If education is totally privatized as it should be then you will have more diversity than one can imagine at present. No one size fits all model will be shoved down everyone's throat. Montessori schools, Progressive schools, segregated schools, integrated schools, the possibilities are vast. Oh, and no NEA or vast governmental administrative apparatus of hacks working to bring down everything to its lowest common denominator. If we can only live long enough the anti-Berkeley mindset future will be glorious. 

]Michael Paul Hardesty 


Football Safety Hearings 

U.S. Senator Tom Udall has proposed legislation on football helmet safety and there is sure to be helmet hearings in Congress in some form, on either Udall’s initiative or that of Democrats on the House Commerce Committee. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission has started an investigation of marketing claims that some football helmets can help reduce concussions. The FTC investigation will focus on safety marketing claims for some new and reconditioned helmets to determine whether they are misleading or deceptive. 

Congressional and FTC interest in football helmet safety is because pro-football injuries and concussions are at a nine-year high with brain-related injuries the most common type of injury in NFL games. As the season progresses, the chance of injury increases. It is not an exaggeration to say that there is a national public health crisis of concussions in sports – estimated to total four million annually, not including the possibility that tens of millions more “sub-concussive” head blows contribute to youth mental deterioration. 

For example, Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback for the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, has suffered two concussions already in his young career, and Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has suffered four concussions so far. 

The National Football uses college and university football programs as its minor leagues. Few college football players go on to the NFL, but I assume that most football programs rely directly or indirectly on the NFL for guidance on what equipment to use in their programs. Perhaps, this reliance is misguided. Reportedly, the safety claims made for helmet safety are based on studies conducted by individuals connected to the NFL or NFL teams. This calls into question the validity of these studies. This is one area Congress and the FTC will be investigating. 

Shouldn't colleges and universities with football programs be involved in the hearings? After all, they all have an interest in football safety. 

Ralph E. Stone, BA 1961 


Stonewalled by Stonemountain 

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Stonemountain and Daughter Fabrics, a Berkeley institution, and one of the few independent fabric stores left standing in an era of chain fabric stores which now devote much of their floor space to crafts rather than fabric. Stonemountain has remained profitable even in this difficult economy, grossing over $2 million last year. Owners Suzan and Bob Steinberg are proud of the store’s longevity and “giving back to the community”- but they should be ashamed. Their business was actually built by retail workers whose skills and knowledge they tout constantly (“Our knowledgeable staff”), but who have never been paid a living wage or offered more than part-time hours. 

The store was first unionized by the IWW in 2003, and a few concessions have been made since then. The base wage is now a whopping $10.70 an hour, and you can get crappy Kaiser health insurance if you’re willing to devote a third of your monthly paycheck to the premium- except you won’t be able to afford to use it, seeing as how it has a $1500 deductible. $10.70 may even look like a lot to people who are being paid minimum wage in other retail jobs, but the reality is that retail wages have barely risen at all over the past twenty five years- while the cost of things like gas, food, and rent have tripled. (For example, the Stonemountain starting wage today is about what Macy’s Union Square was paying in 1987, except Macy’s provided 100% employer-paid benefits, including medical, dental, vision, and a pension.) 

The union is currently in contract negotiations with the owners. They have offered the same contract as three years ago- no wage increase, a pitiful increase in paid time off, and a contract that runs four years. We were proudly told by the owners that we are some of the highest paid fabric store workers in the U.S.- which suggests that the others are horribly underpaid. All of the current employees at the store are women- it’s sad that a female business owner feels she can exploit other women. 

The owners apparently think we all have other jobs which are extremely lucrative, and we don’t need the money. In reality, standing on a concrete floor for nine hours a day, three or four days a week, doesn’t leave anyone a whole lot of energy for doing anything else. 

We are asking for support from Stonemountain customers and the community at large in our fight for a decent wage. We love the store and the customers and we want it to succeed, but we also want to share financially in that success. Please e-mail the owners, Suzan (fabriclady3@gmail.com) and Bob (steinbergdiane@yahoo.com) and tell them you support higher wages for Stonemountain workers. 

Jane Powell 

Berkeley High School and the Lack of Shops 

Berkeley High School is yet another California public high school (with a corresponding school Board) that removed shop and vocational type classes, disabling the potential for any student to learn a living-wage trade, falsely believing that classes should only be “college-prep” explaining why the overall drop-out rate is high, leaving kids bored and eventually out on the streets. The school board should be empowering kids to bring tools of various trades to schools, and not handguns. If only one school board member had been, for example, a welder, carpenter, mechanic, or other in life. 

Robert A. Valentine 

Obama Didn't Tell the Full Story 

During his recent trip to Latin America, President Obama paid homage to the assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero, an El Salvadoran hero famous for standing with the poor during the war-torn 1980s. Oscar Romero was assassinated while giving mass 31 years ago this week. In El Salvador, Obama acknowledged Romero's heroism and bravery. However, what Obama failed to mention is that the Archbishop's assassination was planned and carried out by individuals trained by the United States at the School of the Americas (SOA). The SOA is still in operation, training Latin American soldiers that become human rights abusers at an astonishing rate. And until Obama acknowledges the U.S.'s role in Oscar Romero's tragedy and closes this school of assassins, the reputation of the United States will be tainted in Latin America. 

Beverly Bell 

New Beginning? 

Despite Obama's attempts to reach out to some Latin American leftists, Ivan Briscoe, the security analyst, believes elements within the US military’s Southern Command are advocating a "hard-line military response" to security problems in the region, even though this strategy has failed in the past. Guatemala, another impoverished Central American country, recently followed this "hard-line" approach when authorities declared a state of emergency to battle drug gangs. 

Structural problems in Central America, leaving average people with few viable options, can be traced to the mentality of local elites, says Carlos Velazquez, the El Salvadorian political researcher The history of Central America is so sad that it's almost too tragic to relate and how it's coming to a head to a new beginning is yet to be see! 

Ted Rudow III, MA

Public Concerns Brushed Aside as Berkeley City Council Approves Claremont Branch Renovation Contract With No Questions Answered, No Discussion

By Peter Warfield
Wednesday March 30, 2011 - 01:39:00 PM

Berkeley’s City Council voted last night, March 29, 2011, to award a contract valued at up to $3.3 million for a Claremont Branch Library renovation that will degrade library service to the public there for a generation or more, substantially reducing shelving for books and materials, decreasing floor space for the public, eliminating the current separate reference desks for children and adults that are apart from a busy circulation desk, and other changes. The vote was unanimous as part of the consent calendar. 

The contract goes to Fine Line Construction, and the bid protest of BHM Construction was rejected as part of Council’s action on Agenda Item 4. 

In part through a parliamentary maneuver that confused several members of the public, the item was left on the consent calendar, where it would pass without discussion or questions, along with other items considered too routine to take up separately. At least one member of the public, Dean Metzger, said he would have joined others speaking in favor of pulling the item from the consent calendar had he understood that the mayor was leaving it on, saying he thought the mayor said the item would be taken off.  

Council member Jesse Arreguin asked questions about the planned schedule, which the mayor asked him to take ‘off-line’ even though the Director of Library Services, Donna Corbeil, was present and could easily have answered such questions. I also spoke about the item, requesting that it be pulled from the consent calendar for full discussion by the council, so that at least questions could be asked about the significant impacts of the planned changes, and I read portions of a letter (see below) that highlights important issues. A man who did not give his name, and said he lives six or seven blocks from the branch, spoke of his enjoyment of the branch since childhood and asked that the item be pulled. Linda Schacht, who heads Berkeley Public Library Foundation’s branch fundraising campaign, spoke in opposition to pulling the item. 

Consent calendar rules of the City Council state: “In the event that there are more than three persons wishing to speak either in opposition to or support of a ‘Consent’ item, the Presiding Officer will move the item to the beginning of the Action Calendar.” Counting Dean Metzger, there were at least four members of the audience willing to speak about the item, yet it was left on the consent calendar,. 

In addition to reading portions of the letter below, I said that the concerns are not last-minute, but were raised beginning in May, 2010 via Commentaries in the Berkeley Daily Planet in a series of more than half a dozen published articles written by several writers. I also said that other members of the public have raised one or more of the issues mentioned in the letter at meetings of the Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) and in other documented public meetings. 

Honorable Members 

BerkeleyCity Council 

City Hall 

Berkeley, CA 

Delivered by hand at Council Meeting 

Subject: Concerns: Claremont Branch Renovation Contract, Item 4 Tonight 

Ladies and Gentlemen: 

We advocate for better libraries for all -- and are very concerned that future generations of library users, and the current one, will be shocked if they find that your body approved -- or did not at least ask questions about -- tonight’s agenda item 4, awarding a contract to renovate Claremont Branch Library and thereby proceed with a some very problematic degradations of service to the public. 

What your approval of the contract would mean:  

1. A huge reduction in shelving for books and materials. 

While our efforts and those of others eventually resulted in smaller cuts, the library’s own figures show that the library intended to cut 913 linear feet of shelving for books and materials -- see Board of Library Trustees agenda packet enclosure of May 12, 2011. The library eventually cut the reduction to 819 linear feet, according to the agenda packet of July 14, 2010, while the Library Services Director Donna Corbeil stated in a memo at the same meeting that the cut would be 574 linear feet. However, Ms. Corbeil provided no breakdown of cuts by area, e.g. Adult, Teens, Children.  

The library has stated that the existing branch has 4,027 linear feet of shelving, so these plans represent very substantial cuts. 

Question: What will the shelving cut be, and where is the detail documented? 

2. A reduction in floor space for the public. 

A memo from the Planning Department last summer revealed that the floor space usable by the public would actually be reduced. The Planning Department made the calculation in order to know whether any increase might require additional parking space under existing zoning codes. The loss would occur despite an increase of more than 300 square feet in the planned renovations. 

Question: What does the library say the public floor space cut will be? 

3. Elimination of free-standing reference desks. 

The library plans to eliminate the cozy adult and children’s reference desks now in the branch, that are separate from each other and apart from the circulation desk. The reference function, we are told, will be moved to the circulation desk where there is more noise and distraction, in downgrading of reference service. The library’s Program document, dated January, 2010, calls for encouraging reference librarians to roam about the library. 

Question: How will children’s and adult reference librarian service be provided? 

4. Privatization -- Including Donor Names on Spaces and Equipment 

In a place funded overwhelmingly by the public, via annual taxes and Measure FF (2008), the Berkeley Public Library Foundation plans to post donor names on a variety of equipment and spaces, where such names were never found before. Bigger donations get presumably more important placement, and Berkeley’s library users learn that money talks even in a place that once provided free and equal access to all, without any sign of the influence of private money. 


We ask you to consider this approval carefully, and at the very least ask questions that would put the library on record as to its intentions with this renovation. Much of this information has only been provided in documents that have not been generally provided to the public -- and in fact, much of this information is unknown to the public because the library’s publicity has omitted it. Will you really vote to spend millions of dollars on a library renovation that reduces space for books and materials, reduces publicly usable space, and provides other problematic changes? Please consider at least asking some of the questions suggested. 

Thank you for your consideration. 

Sincerely yours, 

Peter Warfield 

Executive Director 

Library Users Association 


Enclosure: Item 4 from today’s City Council meeting Agenda: 


4. Contract: Reject the Bid Protest of BHM Construction, Inc. and Award of Contract to Fine Line Construction for Renovation and Construction of the Claremont Branch Library (PDF) 

From: City Manager 

Recommendation:Adopt a Resolution: 

1. Approving plans and specifications for the Berkeley Public Library Claremont Branch Improvement Project; 

2. Rejecting the Bid Protest of BHM Construction, Inc.; 

3. Accepting the bid of Fine Line Construction; and 

4. Authorizing the City Manager to execute a contract, amendments, and any extensions or change orders until completion of the project in an amount not to exceed $3,300,000 which includes a contingency of approximately 11%. 

Financial Implications:See report 

Contact: Donna Corbeil, Library, 981-6100 


Toto! Are We in Kansas?

Winston Burton, Board of Library Trustee
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 06:35:00 PM

I’m in a dream or maybe a nightmare. The Board of Library Trustees, Berkeley Public Library staff , the City Council and even community members are being berated by the Tea Party and the Birthers, and misinformation is being masqueraded as the truth. Are they going after Obama? No! It’s the library plan to develop safe, up to date and more spacious branch libraries. I realize that I’m actually awake and a few individuals are presenting themselves as speaking for the people, while attempting to deny and negate a transparent process – endorsed by a substantial representation of the community, supported by their words, presence and their actions. A contentious few seem to continuously want to slow or derail the much anticipated upgrade and construction of the 4 branch libraries, by any means possible, although most of them don’t even live in the neighborhoods they are obstructing. 

I also must admit I am truly disappointed by the commentary in the Daily Planet from Steve Finacom as follows, “As I wrote in the original article, Linda Schacht.. denied that she would want to portray those who filed the lawsuit as working against minority communities in South and West Berkeley...then she walked into a private meeting that selectively included Berkeley’s two African-American Council Members, two African-American Library Trustees, and African-American community leaders-including a NAACP representative... which is quite different from the "community engagement" veneer laid over the public invitation.” 

Duh! The two African-American Council Members in question happen to represent the flatlands and their districts include or border the two neighborhood libraries under attack by a small number of people who seem to be trying to press their own agendas. Should Darryl have invited Council Members from the Berkeley hills instead, so our meeting would be less black (oops I mean selective) –what hogwash! 

As one of the African-American Library Trustees mentioned, I guess the other trustee in question (Darryl Moore) conveniently fits three categories on his own. He’s black, a Council Member, and a trustee. If he would have selectively invited another trustee I would have either been excluded or we would have violated the Brown Act. Also I can’t forget or understand Steve’s comment, “Including a NAACP representative.” What’s that suppose to evoke? For me I’m glad they were in attendance! I and my family are proud long standing participants, members and advocates for the NAACP, and what they stand for to me is fairness for all. Steve - what a distortion and a bridge too far! Even if everyone at the meeting were black, which it wasn’t, why does it have to be selective or a black thing when people of color meet - there was also Hispanics representation there. There are meetings in Berkeley daily without any African- Americans or people of color in attendance – does that make it selective ora white thing? I am not new to these characterizations, and I understand these types of implications and hoped they were a thing of the past. Let’s not go back in time. We live in Berkeley! We’re better than this! 

Open Letters to Berkeley School District Officials Re BUSD Transportation Policy

By Kasey Harboe Guentert, David Alumbaugh
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 07:38:00 PM

I am writing to advocate for the addition of a policy within the Transportation group at BUSD. The policy I am requesting would read something to this effect:

1. If children are placed in schools outside of their home zones when they requested only schools within their home zones, transportation will bus these children to the schools in which they were placed.

2. If a critical mass of children are in this situation defined above – a dedicated bus will take them from the zone to the school so as not to place unreasonable travel time burdens on our children beyond the home zone. 

I want to also make the following clear: I support the Berkeley School system – unfortunately not as much in the traditional sense of frequently volunteering in classes or being a fully fledged PTA member (due to my intense job and frequent work travel) – but the lottery and admissions process. We moved back to Berkeley to ensure that our child had access to diverse but high standard public schools. We avoided Albany and other suburban communities because they have not successfully integrated students. We are pleased with all the Berkeley elementary schools and feel that each school on the list in all zones is an excellent choice academically and socially. Secondly, I also am aware that the staff have accommodated requests on a case-by-case basis to transport students out of zone. My issue has to do with a firm, permanent out of zone transportation policy that will apply to all parents, rather than just the persistent and resourceful ones. I am sure you’ll agree that handling this through a blanket policy, given the continuing reality of overcrowding in the zones, is much more in line with your philosophy than allowing case-by-case situations to arise each time. 

To explain my own situation - we moved to the North Zone in October of 2010 and my oldest of 3 children is beginning 1st grade in September (James Guentert). We moved into the North Zone after finally buying a house in Berkeley. After being told that all subsidies and funding were cut for after school care, we were then told that all other schools were full and my son needed to stay at John Muir. I’ve been driving him to school, 25 minutes each way, and due to being consistently unavailable for work during these times I was laid off from my job in January (my job is ending in July). My layoff will cause significant financial hardship for my family. In addition, my son has often been late to class because I am struggling to get him there on time and meet my work demands. 

In spite of applying in the first lottery, my son did not receive a placement for a school within our zone for next fall. He was placed at Washington – to be clear he is being placed at a school we did not ask for. When I was informed of his placement status by Melisandra Leonardos, I became aware that the transportation department has not yet made arrangements to provide busing for Washington for the next school year. In fact, in speaking with Bernadette Cormier, it seems that the transportation arranges individual case-by-case transportation solutions once lottery results have completely played out (sometimes not until September or even October). There are a few reasons why I don’t believe that this is a good enough solution for Berkeley Public School parents. 

Rather than force each parent to negotiate individually with the transportation department and worry about how their child will get to school when Admissions is unable to match zone, I ask that we start a discussion on making this a promise. The promise would state that BUSD Transportation will make sure that each child gets to school when Admissions cannot meet the zone requirements. If we end up doing this in the end, why can’t we save the back and forth discussions, waiting and worrying for the parents, and create a written policy that we’ll meet this need under the stated conditions? Put this in writing and provide it to the parent, similar to the waitlist policy or any other procedure that exists to help explain a highly complex system. In my own situation, it would make a tremendous difference in my search for a new job to have knowledge today about my son’s school timing and transportation situation. It is not right to ask myself and the other parents in my situation year after year to wait anxiously to find out about how our child will get to school. 

I also believe that from the BUSD perspective, it would save administrative time to have the policy state that forced out of zone children will be transported. This could mean fewer calls to/from parents, fewer letters/emails and meetings handling this issue, fewer exceptions. 

I know that BUSD is getting to closer to this. I was encouraged that for this current school year Transportation received blanket approval to bus all children from the North Zone first to BAM and then to Washington. This is a great first step in creating the policy. However, please provide some guidance on how we can make this type of policy permanent and what we as concerned parents can to do help. I will therefore not accept a response that has to do with budget crisis, lack of resources, etc. – in particular because this has been done already on both a case-by-case basis and consistently for some schools this year. 

I would like to kindly request your written reply to acknowledge receipt and understanding of my points, and also a summary of next steps from your perspective. 

Kasey Harboe Guentert, Ph.D. 

I would like to express my support for the letter / request sent to you by Ms. Kasey Harboe. If the district is going to require there students to attend schools that are further away from their house than schools located within their zone, then the district needs to provide the transportation to those schools. Not doing so provides an additional burden on us families whose children that by a essentially a random number generator (I am assuming the lottery is in fact random and not biased) or because they do not already have a sibling in school, were not assigned to a school in their home zone. 

To give you a short history, I am recently divorced and my ex-wife lives in Oakland. This year my son Kiran attended kindergarten at a private school. Due to a number of reasons, including commuting and finances, and most importantly talking to a number of my neighbors who have been especially happy with the BPS system, we decided to sign him up for the public schools. What was especially encouraging during the application process is that he had friends at all three of the schools that we applied to in our zone (Thousand Oaks, Rosa Parks and Arts Magnate), and we felt the transition from his current private school to the public school system would be made easier by having someone he knows and is friends with in his classes. Thus it was disheartening to find out that he had been assigned to Washington. It then became infuriating to find out that not only was he not going to be at a school where his neighborhood friends were going to be, but that I would have to provide the transportation to that school. This is simply not an equitable nor environmentally sound principal. Therefore I request that you adopt a policy similar to that outlined below. 

David Alumbaugh 




On PGE's Bogus Opt-out Option

By Steve Martinot
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 07:01:00 PM

PGE has proposed an opt-out option that is not one. On March 10, the PUC directed PGE to develop an alternative to Smartmeter installation, in response to the massive upheaval and objection against the Smartmeters that has emerged throughout California (over 35 local governments, including Berkeley, have banned or called for the banning of these Smartmeters, pending further study). PGE came up with a plan last Thursday (March 24). But in their plan, they have ignored what people have been calling for, that is, a non-installation that would leave in place the old analogue meter. Instead, PGE has proposed a modified form of Smartmeter installation. In place of an opt-out plan, it proposes a minor modification of the original plan. But as a minor modification (rather than a non-procedure), it will be associated with major charges to customers. And therein lies a serious element of extortion. 

Here's how it would work. There would be a fee schedule attached to the Smartmeter. Those who do not want a Smartmeter would have to pay a fee up front to have the Smartmeter's radio function deactivated, then submit to having a monthly fee added to their bills (of somewhere between $20 to $50), and finally pay an "exit fee" when and if they move out of the residence to have the Smartmeter's radio function reactivated. 

The primary complaint about these Smartmeters is that they are unhealthy, and there are hundreds of stories of ailments now on record, along with accumulating experimental evidence concerning this fact (see Cindy Sage's "Sage Report"). They also create domestic insecurity because they are hackable from outside, and constitute an invasion of privacy, by collectiing data about one's personal life and movement as represented in one's electricity usage. To that extent, the proposed fees for deactivation of the Smartmeter constitute a "protection racket." PGE is saying to people, "we plan to install something in your house that is possibly injurious to your health, to your domestic security, and to the sanctity of your privacy, and if you do not want us to do that, you will have to pay us money." That is an extortion scam, under the laws of any state in this union. 

PGE doesn't seem to know how to stop scamming the people of California. It has scammed us with Prop 16, with its claim to a mandate for the installation of Smartmeters, with its claim that gas pipeline records are missing, and now, with its proposal for a bogus Smartmeter opt-out option. 

Prop 16 was a scam insofar as it was presented as a democratizing regulation. PGE claimed that the proposition would give people a vote on whether to have public power rather than PGE. But we already had such a vote. What the proposition would have done was effectively take it away by requiring a two thirds vote on whether to replace PGE or not. In other words, it would have fairly assured PGE of monopoly control of our electricity. 

The Smartmeters are not mandatory according to federal law. The Energy Act of 2005, which initiated the installation of Smartmeters, only requires that they be made available to those customers who might want them. But PGE has said, up until this week, that they are mandatory, and must be put in place to complete the power grid they are building. Now they are willing to have people opt-out of the grid, but still must take the Smartmeter, albeit unactivated. If they are willing to live with unactivated Smartmeters, then they should also be willing to live with unreplaced analogue meters. 

In San Bruno, before the explosion, there were phone calls by people who smelled gas in the air. PGE did nothing, having put its money into trying to pass Prop 16. Now 8 people are dead, and PGE is complaining that it has no records of the pipelines, let alone the complaints or the gas leak reports. 

Finally, PGE has come out with this bogus opt-out plan. What the anti-Smartmeter movement has been demanding is that a Smartmeter not be installed at all if the customer does not want it. On top of the complaints that Smartmeter microwave emissions are unhealthy, invasive and hackable, what has enraged most people is PGE's autocratic attitude, its anti-democratic stance that everyone must take a Smartmeter and like it, regardless of the electro-smog that Smartmeters create for every urban environment. Deactivating the Smartmeter would obviate the health and hacking problems associated with them. But then, one would have to trust PGE's word on deactivation. And few people in the anti-Smartmeter movement would council one to trust a corporation as deadset on scamming as PGE. But at this juncture, whether people trust PGE or not has become a seconary issue, an academic point. What is primary is the "protection racket" character of PGE's bogus opt-out proposal. If racketeering was not their thing, they could just leave the analogue meters in place, at no extra charge. 

This is not, of course, their only example of felonious behavior. To the extent PGE refused to properly maintain its gas pipelines in San Bruno, or respond to residents' reports of gas leaks, as required by state law and regulations, it is guilty of negligent homicide with respect to the eight people who died in the explosion. 

The PUC has to pass on PGE's proposal, so we have some time to present opposition to it. But perhaps this is also the time for us to seriously consider shifting to public power, with local elected boards and an elected directorship that would represent and listen to the people with respect to the people's health, safety, and privacy. Neither PGE nor the PUC seem to be capable of doing these things.

The United States Middle East Foreign Policy Cul-de-sac

By Rizwan A. Rahmani
Wednesday March 30, 2011 - 12:00:00 PM

When the UN resolution against Israeli settlements—which was co-sponsored by 130 countries—came up for a vote and all fourteen members of the Security Council voted for the resolution except for the United States: it vetoed the resolution with a statement that was peculiarly full of absurd logic, contradictions, and balderdash which bordered on inane. And it was not the first time the U.S. found itself alone on a limb on this issue. So why the U.S. is being made to walk this razor sharp knife edge of a Middle East policy, shoeless and bloodied in the process? Moreover, it stuck to its counter intuitive policy at a time when any gesture towards Middle East peace may actually win goodwill for the United States, now that the Middle East is making overtures to democracy all over the region—and the rather incongruous paradox to all the newly kindled democratic fervor is that United States didn’t have to fire a single shot to realize these changes (I realized I spoke too soon after hearing the news of the air attack on Libya). 

Current events in the Middle East fly straight in the face of the Bush administration’s sophist political rhetoric and cowboy doctrine which tried to forcibly shove democracy down Iraq’s throat, and his ‘axis of evil’ cover story for a war that was already scripted. With this policy, he decimated a country and its populous and went through over seven hundred billion dollars of our money (and counting) to go after a lone dictator with negligible influence (out of many worldwide with equal or worse human rights records). As the macabre saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat—of course, cogitating other alternatives would have been asking too much from a person who once self professed, “I don’t do details”. 

The Bush administration with its myopic view of the world effectively outsourced its Middle East foreign policy to the American Enterprise Institute’s Likudnik Neocons. Whether it was Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perl, Bill Kristol, Norman Podhoretz , Douglas Feith, John Bolton, or Frank Gaffney of Center for Security Policy (to name a few) , they all seem to have the solutions for the Middle East problem, and quite a few of them had key positions in the Bush administration to promulgate their agenda with carte blanche access. Wolfowitz had ingeniously paid for the war in his lofty oil revenue estimates before the real war even began, and had the Iraqis welcoming them as liberators. Richard Perl had the Iraqi people naming grand squares after Bush, and Rumsfeld thought that war was going to be a walk in the park and fired people who raised concerns! 

No group has done more to weaken the United States’ notorious might and economic footing while besmirching its already bedraggled reputation in the Middle East and around the world than the Neocons. These self professed experts on the Middle East were utterly clueless about its people and culture: it was a comically tragic display of on-the-job training gone awry. 

Nowadays you don’t much hear from these architects of the war in Iraq (until last week - some of them appeared again with the usual drumbeat), and most of them have gone into hiding. Some of them have laughed all the way to the bank: Blackwater, Halliburton and its subsidiaries have bilked U.S. tax payers out of billions of dollars, and will continue to as long as two wars are underway. And if they do reappear after a long hiatus, with a sheepish lying-through-their-teeth demeanor and affected, transparently pathetic, arrogant swagger, they usually hawk their own fictionalized account of the events in books full of manufactured rubbish, as removed from reality as the village idiot. 

The United States’ Middle East strategy basically amounts to putting all its eggs in two baskets: Israel and Saudi Arabia. Sure, it has some interest in other oil producing emirates but they are minor players. Iraq was always on the United States’ radar for its oil reserves, but engaging in Iraq wasn’t quite inevitable until the late nineties. Some Iraqi oil was making its way into the world spot market by way of the United Nations’ food for oil program scam after the first Gulf War, but when oil demand rose exponentially in the late nineties, Iraq became a renewed target with its second largest oil reserve after Saudi Arabia. 

As we applaud aspiring democracies sprouting across the Arab world, and the toppling of decades-old autocratic regimes, we forget how those regimes came about: these tyrants and radical elements weren’t created in vacuums. They were a direct result of British Colonial meddling pre-1950 and then the United States’ pro-Israel policies in the Middle East for the last sixty years. Al-Qaida, Hezbollad, and Hamas were created only in the last thirty years as a direct response to the policies by Israel and the United States. 

Moammar Al-Qaddafi rose to power in a coup in 1969 by idolizing Nasser and the Libyan national hero Umar Mukhtar, and like Nasser, he toppled a monarch that was propped up the British. Also like him he took to speaking on behalf of the Palestinians and championing their cause by demonizing the United States’ proxy power in the region: Israel (incidentally Saddam Hussein played from the same playbook, and now Mahmoud Ahmedinejad too has been reading from the script). This approach gave Qaddafi a lot of early success with the Libyans and Arab contingency, but also made him one of the West’s vilest persona non grata – he was deservedly much reviled for his anti-west rhetoric or sponsorship of anti-west violence, but perhaps his worst offense was his nationalization of Libyan oil. 

Gamal Abdel Nasser officially came to power under similar circumstances over a decade earlier: he too took on Israel on behalf of Palestinians, and was a formidable foe for Israel because he was able to unite other countries in the region against it. Nasser’s leadership quality provided him with a certain standing among his people and the Arab world. After he lost the six day war (1967) where Israel attacked its neighbors in a surprise air strike and Egypt, Syria, and Jordan lost territories in that war, Nasser resigned. But he was reinstated after his people pleaded him to come back. After his death his VP Anwar Sadat (also a Military man) took the reins of Egypt. Mubarak came to power after Sadat’s assassination: he was Sadat’s VP. 

Sadat did want a détente with Israel, he wanted to settle Egypt’s territorial dispute of 1967 to gain some standing among his people, but he was rebuffed by the Meir regime. After fearing an imminent attack from the Israelis according to the Soviet and other intelligence, Sadat started a preemptive war in 1973. During that war, Kissinger was effectively in charge of the U.S. foreign policy. He was known for his rogue style of diplomacy that Nixon absolutely detested and was weary of Kissinger, especially when it came to the Middle East. He even took to writing his important memos by hand for fear of alteration. But during that war Nixon was consumed with the crisis of Vietnam and Watergate, and he was unable to keep a watchful eye on Kissinger. 

After an initial setback, Israel pleaded with the United States and the Europeans for help, and the United States, with lots of meddling by Kissinger, did supply the Israelis with intelligence, logistics, and arms to turn the war in Israel’s favor. Kissinger also managed to keep a direct military intervention by the Russians at bay—this also allowed the United States to showcase its military superiority to the Russians, who were supplying arms to Egypt and Syria. This had a two fold effect: it demoralized the Egyptians—Nasser was not happy with the Soviet support during the 1967 war—and Sadat began to doubt his alliance with the Soviets after the 1973 war. 

This was the opening the United States had planned to break Egypt away, with heavy input and coaxing by Kissinger. He had always believed that the viability of Israel in the region depended on getting Egypt and possibly Syria out of the opposition picture, and he managed to persuade the two nations to talk peace directly after some deft diplomacy with the Meir regime. He eventually succeeded, as the two countries signed the Camp David peace accord during Carter’s presidency, thanks in large part to a juicy carrot that secured Egypt’s signature and agreement to stay out of Israel’s hair—an annual aid package of about three billion dollars. The U.S. didn’t really care what sort of government it was buying. 

The United States has had a relationship with Saudi Arabia since the thirties, and Standard Oil Company was responsible for exploring the very first oil well there. But the U.S. really began to take Saudi Arabia seriously late into WWII, and had an official diplomatic presence there. After a finding more oil, the Arab American Oil Company (ARAMCO) struck a deal of sharing the royalties. The United States had a large footprint in Saudi Arabia with its military personnel presence and training facilities to arm the Saudis against other political influences. 

After the 1973 war and U.S. support of Israel in the war, there came the short-lived but annoying oil embargo, and the Saudis decided to voice a few word of discontentment with the United States for show—yet ARAMCO remained there to look after the interests of the United States: a de facto U.S. representation without the stigma of a foreign government presence. Saudi Arabia officially nationalized the oil company in 1988, but still sells most its oil to the United Sates, and remains on the list of favored nations despite its despotic laws. 

The United States prefers democracies of its own flavor in the Middle East —otherwise it is quite happy supporting corrupt regimes that would play by a United States’ rule book. But Israel really doesn’t want democracy around it borders: it loves to flout its Western style pseudo democracy in the region as a cause célèbre, claiming a kinship with Western society, and quite truly so as most of the Jewish population that settled in Palestine after WWI were Ashkenazim. 

Case in point: when democratically elected militant entities like Hamas and Hezbollah come to the fore, empowered by embittered and oppressed populous suffering at the hands of Israeli policy of aggression in the region, they are quickly delegitimized. They are unacceptable to the West because instead of being brutally crushed and dehumanized in silence, they have taken to arms against the aggressor. The formidable Zionist propaganda machine does an excellent job of telling one side of the story—it drowns out any voice of dissent with its high decibel disinformation noise floor and strong arms governments around the world to adopt its propagandist rhetoric. 

The current overthrow of some of these corrupt regimes in democratic uprisings is ironically a repudiation of U.S.-Israel policy in the Middle East. But the United States hasn’t learned its lessons from its history in the region. Israel has often behaved belligerently towards its neighbors, but also towards the United States despite claims of being an honest ally, and now U.S. finds itself beholden to the point of paralysis by the Israeli lobby machine. This is particularly tragic right now, because United States has a chance to make new allies in the region with more palatable regimes. 

When Huggnagh, Lehi, and Irgun terror groups conducted the Plan Dalet (the operation which began as ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages outside the planned country of Israel months before the declaration of independence in 1948), the Zionist groups gave the U.S. the proverbial finger which had already agree to a border, they rebuffed the U.S. after it condemned the massacre at Qibya, they ignored a cease fire agreement and risked bringing the Russians directly into the fray during the 1973 war, and they bombed USS Liberty deliberately off the coast of Lebanon (the U.S. endured the indignation under lobby pressure). And when Jon Pollard was caught spying for Israel, Lawrence Franklin was caught passing sensitive information regarding Iran to Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman of AIPAC, and Ben-Ami Kadish pleaded guilty to spying for Israel, even during these offenses the United States assumed a tacit stance. 

Susan Rice (who would have shown more integrity by walking out of the assembly) was under pressure from heavily lobbied Congress to make the embarrassing statement which amounted to, and I am paraphrasing, “We strongly oppose any illegitimate settlement (though illegal is more accurate) in the Palestinian territories, and are united with the Council on that point but we regrettably must veto the resolution because well-intentioned outside forces (UN) cannot resolve it for them”. Pardon, come again madam ambassador? Later in an interview she further said that it is an Israeli and Palestinian internal conflict and without direct talks UN cannot do much, and UN cannot create an independent state of Palestine, and declaratory statements “don’t achieve anything”. She further conjectured that the passing of the resolution would have in fact increased settlements, and perhaps would have hardened the two parties, and would have been unwise for the peace process, etc. etc. etc…. 

What? If not at the UN, then where on Earth is the proper venue, Madam Ambassador? Didn’t the United Nations come into existence precisely to address this sort of thing? Didn’t it create the state of Israel? Did someone forget to brief her that the main obstacle to the peace talks was the Israeli settlements? While I think the United Nations structure, giving five “permanent” Security Council members veto power, is about as anti-democratic as you can get, and tantamount to a modern colonial power under the guise of a benevolent name (current events in Libya is an evidence of that), I still do hold some hope that someday it may function as it was intended to. 

Interestingly, Susan Rice had no qualms about making a rather strong statement about the internal unrest in Libya and condemning it, and even helped to foment consensus of an unprecedented nature for referring the war crimes case against Al-Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court, suspending Libya’s membership in the U.N., and passing a resolution on a no-fly-zone over Libya with the help of the Security Council which was egged on by the usual Neocon suspects like Clifford May, John McCain, Bill Kristol, Randy Scheunemann, and Liz Chaney—on the face of it all very just causes but there is certainly more here than meets the eyes. But nevertheless, shouldn’t the same litmus test be administered to other nations in the region? 

Which brings me back to U.S.’ flawed approach in the Middle East which keeps producing autocrats and radicals, and allows heinous humanitarian crimes perpetrated against Palestinians and harassment of neighboring countries by one of its allies: Israel? Israel is a signatory to the Geneva Convention, and is bound by its articles. Yet it has egregiously violated those articles by razing Palestinian homes, building settlements, and ignoring UN resolution 242 in the occupied territories despite condemnation from the international community and the World Council of Churches, which thought that the United States missed a golden opportunity to start making amends towards peace and be an honest broker. 

I am all for democracy in the Middle East and at this point maybe a single state can work, as suggested by the Israeli scholar Ilan Pappe: let’s start with Israel, and give all its non-Jewish population exactly the same rights as the Jewish population. Since Israel claims hegemony over the Palestinian land “promised to them by God” in some deist tome or another (no offense intended, but as an atheist that one really amuses me), let’s proffer citizenship and representation to all denizens of the Gaza Strip and West Bank—generationally they have more sovereignty (Jus soli) rights over the land than the Ashkenazim and Sephardim aliyah (immigration)—and let’s have a real participatory democracy. 

Israel maybe the only country recognized by the United Nations that has not officially declared its borders for 63 years, and still refuses to do so. The people in the occupied territories are either Israelis—and Israel can dictate their behavior according to its constitution—or they are not: the two are mutually exclusive. The Zionist leader David Ben Gurion, a strong proponent of a larger Israel (beyond the UN-designated boundaries), said “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population”. It seems that the state of Israel has taken that advice to heart, and has been doing exactly that since Ben Gurion left office. Sadly, the United States has been the main enabler and continues its absurdly askew policies in the region, and ostensibly risks fostering new crop of radical elements in the Middle East. 





Unnatural Enemies

By Joe Eaton
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 12:37:00 PM
Adult male tricolored blackbird: endangered but unprotected.
Monte M. Taylor
Adult male tricolored blackbird: endangered but unprotected.
Cattle egret in breeding plumage: adaptable predator.
Rick Kempel
Cattle egret in breeding plumage: adaptable predator.

One of the recurring dilemmas of conservation biology is whether, and how far, to intervene in predator-prey relationships: in particular, what action is appropriate when an endangered species is being eaten to extinction by a more common one. That question has come up with raven predation on desert tortoises in the Mojave, golden eagle predation on island foxes on Santa Cruz Island, California gull predation on western snowy plovers and least terns in the South Bay. 

It’s trickiest in cases like those three where both predator and prey are native species. When the predator is an invasive exotic—as with red foxes versus California clapper rails, or feral pigs and goats versus any number of native plants—there are usually administrative resources at hand, although even the pigs and goats have their defenders (as in When the Killing Stops, T. C. Boyle’s new novel about the Channel Islands wildlife wars.) 

What do you do, though, when the victim isn’t officially recognized as endangered and the non-native predator happens to be legally protected? 

The victim in question is the tricolored blackbird, a California near-endemic (there are small populations in Baja California, Nevada, and Oregon.) This bird, a close relative of the widespread red-winged blackbird, was once incredibly abundant. John Neff, writing in the 1930s, estimated the statewide population as two to three million. 

Tricolors, named from the male’s black, white, and crimson plumage, nested in huge colonies in freshwater wetlands throughout the Central Valley and coastal central and southern California. Most are itinerant breeders, raising one brood at a San Joaquin Valley location, then moving north en masse for second and sometimes third attempts in the Sacramento Valley. 

That’s how it was before the development of rural California. More recent estimates have ranged from 150-260,000 between 2000-2005 and 400,000 in 2008. That apparent increase may be an artifact of methodological inconsistencies between the two studies. Biologists who study the tricolor, like Robert Meese of UC Davis, believe numbers are continuing to fall. 

Meese presented the grim news in a recent Golden Gate Audubon Society program. He pointed to the usual suspects: the loss of wetlands to agriculture and urbanization, exacerbated by water diversions. The replacement of crops like alfalfa and sunflower with vineyards and orchards has eliminated additional suitable nesting and foraging habitat. Until 1989, it was legal to shoot tricolored blackbirds as agricultural pests. Some Sacramento Valley rice growers (Meese wasn’t naming names) still do so; enforcement is spotty. 

Tricolors are also falling victim to a kind of attractive nuisance. They’ve been adaptable enough to switch from cattails and bulrushes to other nesting substrates: Himalayan blackberries, nettles, mustard, milk thistles, giant reeds, and—unfortunately for them—the triticale that’s grown to feed cattle. Growers have been harvesting the triticale before the birds complete their nesting cycle, killing thousands of fledglings. There used to be a federal program that, among other things, provided financial incentives to delay the harvest. It has been defunded, of course. 

And now the beleaguered blackbirds, at least the San Joaquin Valley population, are facing a new threat: predation by cattle egrets. “In 2006, they went into a tricolored blackbird colony in Tulare County and basically wiped out the colony,” says Meese. “Three colonies were lost last year. No young fledged.” The worst-case scenario: young egrets are learning that blackbird nests are an easy food source. What happens when they strike out on their own? Meese’s answer: “We’ve got a huge, huge problem on our hands.” 

Cattle egrets evolved in Africa and Asia in the company of large grazing animals, following them around and snatching the insects they stir up. They’re equally at home with elephants, rhinos, water buffalos, capybaras, tortoises, or tractors. Relatively new immigrants to the Americas, the birds appeared to have crossed the Atlantic from West Africa to South America, then worked their way through the Caribbean up to Florida, thence north and west, reaching California in 1964. Although they’re now established as far north as the Sacramento Valley, the bulk of the state’s cattle egret population is in Southern California’s Imperial Valley. 

Like most herons, cattle egrets do not scruple at taking the occasional smaller bird. (I once saw a great egret grab and swallow a song sparrow at the Hayward Regional Shoreline.) Some have taken to waiting on Gulf Coast beaches to pick up exhausted northbound migrants. But the mass attacks on nesting colonies are new. 

So why not cull the egrets, at least in Tulare and nearby counties, to give the blackbirds a respite? First, the tricolored blackbird is not recognized on either the state or federal levels as an endangered or threatened species. It’s listed as a California Species of Special Concern, which confers no meaningful protection. Second, the cattle egret is specifically protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. OK, it’s kind of migratory. But it’s not a native bird! I’d love to know whose bright idea this was. 

Meanwhile, Meese and other biologists, organized as the Tricolored Blackbird working group, have drafted a conservation plan in lieu of a formal endangered listing. To learn more, visit the Tricolored Blackbird Portal (tricolor.ice.davis.edu.) 

Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libyan Wars and the California Tradeoffs

By Ralph E. Stone
Sunday March 27, 2011 - 08:38:00 PM

The United States national debt exceeds $14 trillion and is climbing. Nearly 14 million Americans are unemployed, about 2.2 million in California. Americans continue to lose homes to foreclosure. Public health, education, social services, and police and fire departments are facing cutbacks. Yet, we can spend more than $1 trillion dollars in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Yes, if we bomb and strafe Libya, we are at war with that country. Greed, uncontrolled corporate power, and our addiction to foreign oil have led us to perpetual war, and economic and moral decline.  

What is the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan war so far and what are the tradeoffs? As of March 2011, 4,441 Americans have died in Iraq as have as many as 150,000 civilians, and another 4.5 million civilians have been displaced. In Afghanistan, 1,513 Americans have died and, although accurate counts are hard to come by, as many as 8,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and another 3.7 million refugees are internally displaced or living in neighboring countries.  

The cost of those who died in these wars is immeasurable, but the dollar tradeoffs can be calculated. 

The total dollar cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far exceeds $1.171 trillion. The taxpayers in California will pay $21.8 billion for proposed total Iraq and Afghanistan war spending for FY2011. To place this figure in perspective, this money could have provided 7.5 million low-income people with healthcare for one year or 14.7 million low-income children with healthcare for one year or 7.8 million homes with renewable electricity -- solar photovoltaic for one year or 2.5 million Head Start places for children for one year or 283,672 elementary school teachers for one year or 234,012 police or sheriff's patrol officers for one year or 2.6 million scholarships for university students for one year. 

There are also societal costs not included in the $1.171 trillion figure mentioned above. A 2008, RAND Corporation study found that one-in-five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression. The RAND study estimates the societal costs of PTSD and major depression for two years after deployment range from about $6,000 to more than $25,000 per case. The RAND study estimates the total society costs for two years range from $4 billion to $6.2 billion. If PTSD and depression go untreated or are under treated, there is the likelihood of drug use, suicide, marital problems, unemployment, and homelessness. There are an estimated 107,000 homeless veterans nationwide on any given night and another 1.5 million at risk of becoming homeless.  

Obviously we need to exit Iraq and Afghanistan so monies can be spent on desperately needed domestic programs and to prevent further expenses for veterans' assistance. We have an exit strategy for Iraq. President Obama has ordered the 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq withdrawn in three phases. They'll leave major cities - including Baghdad, Mosul and Baquoba - by the end of June 2011. Combat operations will end by August of 2010 - leaving a force of up to 50,000 Americans, primarily to train Iraq's military. Supposedly, all U.S. troops will be out by the end of 2011.  

President Obama "hopes" that U.S. troops will start leaving Afghanistan in the summer of 2011. "Winning" in Afghanistan depends largely on Pakistan, our unreliable ally. Since 2001, the U.S. has given Pakistan about $22 billion in aid and then Pakistan refused to allow an audit on how the money was spent. That amount of money would almost erase California's budget deficit. Most of the money lined the pockets of Pakistani political and military leaders or was spent to fight an unlikely war with India, not as it was intended, to train and equip Pakistanis to fight al Qaeda.  

Remember, however, these exit strategies for Iraq and Afghanistan are targets only. Given the instability and corruption of both governments, these target dates are unlikely to be met.  

And in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai admitted that Afghanistan cannot win the war and was reportedly -- although he denied this -- seeking to broker a truce with the Taliban. The estimated $1 trillion in Afghanistan's reserves of iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and lithium makes the war more important and complicated. Will the Taliban give up so easily knowing it is worth the fight to control the country's immense potential wealth? 

In Libya, defense analysts estimate that the U.S. is spending $100 million per day. Just imposing a no-flight zone over the northern part of Libya could cost $400 million to $800 million for the initial strikes. It had also projected costs of $30 million to $100 million a week to patrol the area. Just one Tomahawk missile costs $1.4 million. More than 178 Tomahawk missiles were filed worth $250 million.  

We cannot continue these enormous war expenditures ad infinitum, especially with our faltering economy. The U.S. has lost its way.

Dispatches From The Edge:The U.S., Oil & the Libyan War

By Conn Hallinan
Saturday March 26, 2011 - 03:14:00 PM

Cynicism is not a healthy sentiment, and as the late Molly Ivins pointed out, it absolutely wrecks good journalism. But watching events in the Middle East unfold these days makes it a pretty difficult point of view to avoid. 

Let’s take the current U.S bombing of Libya. The rationale behind United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians from being beaten, shot up, and generally abused. 

But while this applies to Libya, it does not apply to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, or Yemen, where civilians are also being shot up, beaten, and generally abused. Is this because Muammar Gaddafi is uniquely evil? Crazier and odder, certainly, but being in the “opposition” in any of those countries is not a path to easy retirement. Civil liberties don’t exist, prisons are chock full of political prisoners, and getting whacked if you don’t like the leader is an operational hazard. 

So what’s it all about? Okay, here is the cynical joke: “Is it all about oil? Nope. Some of it is about natural gas.” 

Too simplistic? Maybe, but consider the following. 

1) In 2009, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted that world oil reserves had “peaked” and that over the next several decades supplies would drop and prices would rise. There is some controversy over the study, but there is general agreement that easy-to-get petroleum sources are getting harder and harder to find. 

2) Approximately 65 percent of the world’s remaining oil reserves are in the Middle East, as well as considerable amounts of natural gas. Iran has the second greatest reserves of gas outside of Russia. 

3) The U.S.—with the largest economy in the world—uses around 21 million barrels of oil per day (bpd). Since it produces only 7.5 million bpd domestically, it imports two thirds of its oil. Its major sources are (in descending order) Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Iraq. 

4) China—the world’s number two economy—uses about 8 million bpd, a demand that is projected to rise to 11.3 million bpd by 2015. Since it only produces 3.7 million bpd domestically, it too relies on imported oil. It main suppliers are (in descending order) Saudi Arabia, Iran, Angola, Russia, Oman and Sudan. 

It is estimated that, sometime between 2030 and 2050, China will surpass the U.S. and become the world’s number one economy—provided that it can secure enough energy for its growing industrial needs. Insuring access to oil and gas is a major focus of Chinese foreign policy, particularly because Beijing is nervous about how it currently obtains its supplies. Some 80 percent are transported by sea, and all of those routes involve choke points currently controlled by the U.S. The U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain controls the Hormutz Straits, through which Saudi Arabian, Iranian, and Omanian oil passes. The Fifth also dominates the straits of Bab el-Mandab that control access to the Red Sea and through which Sudan’s oil is shipped into the Indian Ocean. In addition the Malacca Straits between Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula is the major transit point for oil going to China. The U.S. Seventh Fleet controls that choke point. 

China’s nervousness over its sea-based oil supplies is one of the major reasons behind Beijing’s crash naval program, its construction of ports in South and Southeast Asia, and its efforts to build land-based pipelines from Russia, Central Asia, and Pakistan. 

The Chinese are also trying to cope with the fact that Iran, its second largest supplier of oil and gas, is currently under international sanctions that have reduced production and cut into China’s supplies. Beijing has invested upwards of $120 billion to upgrade Iran’s energy industry, but recently has had to cutback investments because its banks could end up being sanctioned for helping out the Teheran regime. 

The Chinese are not the slightest bit cynical about why the U.S. is bombing Libya and not challenging Bahrain and Yemen: Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, and Yemen’s port of Aden dominates the Red Sea. China can play chess. 

As for Libya. The U.S. doesn’t get oil from Libya, but its allies in Europe do. And the current crisis is African Command’s (Africom) coming out party. Up to now the record of the spanking new military formation has been less than impressive. First, no one would host it, because the U.S. military in Africa makes the locals nervous. So it is still based in Germany. Then it coordinated the absolutely disastrous Ethiopian invasion of Somalia that ended up turning most of the country over to the extremist Shabab. 

But Libya is a fresh slate for Africom, and that is making the Chinese even more nervous (and explains why they have been so cranky about civilian casualties in Libya). When Africom was in its infancy it war-gamed a military intervention in the Gulf of Guinea in case “civil disturbances: caused any disruptions in oil supplies. Angola, China’s other major African supplier, is in the Gulf of Guinea. It hardly seems like a coincidence that, at the very moment that African oil supplies become important, the U.S. creates a new military formation for the continent. Africom is currently advising and training the military forces of 53 countries in the region. 

Okay, so here you are in Beijing. Your industries are clamoring for power. Media in the United States reflect a growing hostility toward you, with headlines in newspapers reading, “The Chinese Tiger Shows Its Claws,” and U.S. politicians routinely blame you for America’s economic problems. And the U.S. has basically puts its thumb on each one of your oil and gas sources. Nobody is cutting off any supplies at this point, but the implied threat is always there. 

In end, it is not so much about oil and gas itself, as the control of energy. Any country that corners energy supplies in the coming decades will be in a powerful position to dictate a whole lot of things to the rest of the world. That’s not cynicism, its cold-blooded calculation. And right now a lot of people in the Middle East are paying the price of the ticket. 

Read Conn Hallinan at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com 

Deconstructing America’s Nuclear Cult

By Bob Burnett
Saturday March 26, 2011 - 03:10:00 PM

The August 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki both ended World War II and precipitated the United States’ 65-year-long addiction to nuclear power. In the light of the catastrophe at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi facility, it’s time to reconsider America’s lethal habit and our cult of atomic energy. 

The first US nuclear reactor surreptitiously powered up on December 2, 1942, as part of the Manhattan Project that tested the first Atomic bomb July 16,1945. On that momentous occasion, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the project scientific director, famously mused, I am become death, the destroyer of worlds

After the end of World War II, the US scrambled to justify its awesome destroyer and, in 1953, launched “Atoms for Peace.” Our first commercial nuclear generator became operational in December 2, 1957. America is now the world’s largest producer of nuclear power; our 104 reactors provide slightly more than 19 percent of our electricity. 

Notwithstanding our extensive deployment of nuclear reactors, and the billions of dollars expended, the US atomic energy program has been cloaked in lies and disinformation since its inception. In addition to standard complaints about behemoth federal programs – wildly unreasonable expectations followed by repeated missed deadlines and enormous cost overruns – the US nuclear power industry has been dogged by three persistent problems, issues that also surfaced at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi site. 

First, government officials responsible for atomic energy seem incapable of candor. We saw this at Fukushima Daiichi where the Japanese government has consistently understated the gravity of the situation. (On March 16th, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Gregory Jaczko told Congress that the situation at Fukushima was worse than the Japanese government had admitted.) This contributed to the low level of panic that infected the US West Coast, where many Americans did not believe what the government was telling them. 

The second problem is that Nuclear Engineers consistently make gross errors that jeopardize site safety and the lives of the unfortunates in surrounding communities. At the Fukushima Daiichi site there were at least three such errors. First, the site was not designed to survive worst-case conditions, a massive earthquake followed by a tsunami that knocked out power to the cooling systems. Second, Fukushima Daiichi clustered reactors in clumps with four in one contiguous group and two side-by-side a quarter of a mile away. Third, in addition to housing six reactors, the Fukushima Daiichi site is a repository for forty years of spent fuel rods, an estimated 1914 tons including active fuel. 

The third problem is that, despite having had 65 years to consider the problem, Nuclear Engineers have yet to come up with a common-sense solution for spent fuel. (The spent nuclear fuel, no longer capable of sustaining a nuclear reaction, remains dangerously lethal for thousands of years and no reasonable person wants it stored in their neighborhood.) This had led to the great Yucca Mountain storage debate in the US and similar sagas throughout the world. At Fukushima Daiichi they “solved” the problem by keeping the spent fuel on site. 

The US has accepted these problems because we’ve been indoctrinated by a cult that’s facilitated our atomic energy addiction. America’s nuclear cult is ruled by what Admiral Hyman Rickover once called “the nuclear priesthood.” 

A cult is a group that engages in “coercive persuasion” and for 65 years that’s been true of the US atomic energy establishment. Our nuclear cult has six defining characteristics: First, people are placed in a “physically or emotionally distressing situation;” citizens are warned that if we don’t build nuclear power plants we will run out of electricity. Second, legitimate concerns are dissuaded by “one simple explanation;” we’re assured that our nuclear priests are smarter than the rest of us and their “science” will solve all problems. Third, converts typically fall under the spell of a “charismatic leader;” for four decades, Edward Teller mesmerized Washington with his exaggerated atomic energy claims, “nuclear power will be too cheap to meter.” (Teller was the model for Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.) Fourth, adherents savor a new powerful identity; the US prides itself as being part of an exclusive nuclear “club.” Finally, cult members are isolated and “their access to information is severely controlled.” This, of course, is what has happened in Japan, where dissenting opinions were stifled and in many cases vital information was withheld; for example, what has happened to the fuel at Fukushima Daiichi reactor four. 

As is the case with most cults, America’s nuclear priesthood has insisted upon special privileges. Thus, builders of American nuclear plants are granted legal immunity from lawsuits in the event of catastrophic events. And even when new information arises that would question facility safety, nuclear plant operators are give a free pass, told they do not have to submit to new tests or rules. (For example, they’ve ignored the new fault by California’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Reactor.) 

For 65 years the US has been the victim of coercive persuasion administered by our nuclear priesthood. In light of the horrific Fukushima Daiichi events, it’s time for Americans to be deprogrammed. It’s time for us to kick our atomic-energy addiction and close all of our nuclear plants. 

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

On Mental Illness: Persons with Mental Illness and Cults

By Jack Bragen
Saturday March 26, 2011 - 03:21:00 PM

At least in young adulthood, it seems common for a person with a mental illness to seek answers to the predicament of being mentally ill. This leads to a vulnerability to cult followings, since their spiritual teachers usually claim to have all the answers to life’s quandaries. 

Following a spiritual teacher at the least is harmless; a bit worse is when a lot of time is wasted; worse than that is when their flawed belief systems render you unable to survive in the world; even worse is when you get brainwashed and become a full member of the cult, and have devoted your life to furthering their agendas. In my case, twenty years back, I wasted a great deal of my time following two different cult groups that operated in the Bay Area; and I also lost or failed to develop survival skills. Had I never programmed myself with their systems, I might today be much better off than I find myself to be. 

I am not naming the two organizations with which I was involved. However, one of the two was supposedly based on Buddhism, and its ethic was the expectation of relinquishing all demands and desires in life. There was a fairly small group of people in the local part of this group who were friends with me for over a decade. Over time, I discovered that their system was unworkable when applied to life in any realistic sense. I parted ways from them, and then had the impulse to go back, years later. The same group was still there a decade later and they appeared as if they hadn’t aged much. 

When I was at their potluck, one of the members asked me who knew my whereabouts at the moment and was I expected to be anywhere soon. Of course, a red flag went up in my head. My response, which was accurate, was that my wife knew where I went and was expecting a ride home from her friend‘s house when I was done at the potluck. “Of course, we’re not going to keep you here by force,” he said. This to me all added up to say they were considering kidnapping me, and doing something to me. I then immediately, while we were sitting, got my cellphone from my shirt pocket and phoned my wife and I told her to expect me within a half hour. I told the cult member I would be leaving now, and he tried very hard to talk me into staying, but I was insistent to the point of revealing my capacity for psychotic anger. I was outa there. And I haven’t been back, since. 

I haven’t had the same experience with the other “cult” group I was involved with. However, their belief system was as crippling as that of the first cult group. While the first group valued an unattainable complete detachment toward events in life, the second group attributed internal emotional events to being produced by invisible external forces. The behavior of people in the second group appears to be relatively mild, yet might be collectively delusional. 

Mentally ill people often seek spiritual teachings or spiritual groups because these groups usually claim to offer solutions to life’s difficulties. These groups also may seem to have an answer to the question: “What happened to me? What made me mentally ill?” Also, it may be easier for someone who has been psychotic to slip into an alternate belief system compared to some un-afflicted people who are stuck with adhering to one way of interpreting the world. 

As it turns out, life is worth living without the gimmick of filtering it through a special system of beliefs. Not only that, I underestimated myself; I can actually survive and compete in the world of people, I am a good enough person to be accepted in that world, and I do not need the crutch of a pseudo-Buddhist system for this to happen. 

Once again, I invite the readers to contact me with your stories or comments for the column. You can do this care of the Berkeley Daily Planet, or I can be reached directly at: Bragenkjack@yahoo.com. However, I can not provide any advice to individuals.

Senior Power: Japan Elders News, continued

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Saturday March 26, 2011 - 03:28:00 PM

Here is information from Rikuzentakata, which is part of Iwate Prefecture, one of 6 that constitute Tōhoku ("northeast")region. It is abstracted from "Hope for missing fades in Japan; elderly hard-hit" (Associated Press Online, March 17, 2011): 

The elderly couple fled their home on foot as the warning sirens blared. But they could not keep up with their neighbors and fell behind as the tsunami rushed in. Nearly a week later, 71-year-old Taeko Kanno and her husband are still missing. "I think there is no hope," said Katsuo Maiya, Kanno's brother-in-law. "I can't find them. The only thing I can do is wait until the military collects their bodies." 

As collecting bodies increasingly becomes the focus of crews working along Japan's devastated tsunami coast, it's clear that Friday's twin disasters feared to have killed more than 10,000 have taken their heaviest toll on the elderly in this rapidly aging nation. 

Many, unable to flee, perished. Survivors lost their daily medicines. Hospitals lost power and water. Sometimes, the consequences have been fatal. Fourteen older patients died after they were evacuated to a temporary shelter in a school gym, because their hospital was in the evacuation zone near the Fukushima nuclear plant. Workers are scrambling to prevent a meltdown after the disaster knocked out the reactors' cooling systems. 

Two of the patients died in transit Monday and 12 more at the gym, said Chuei Inamura, a Fukushima government official. It took until Thursday to get all the remaining patients into other hospitals. "We feel very helpless and very sorry for them," Inamura said. "The condition at the gymnasium was horrible. No running water, no medicine and very, very little food. We simply did not have the means to provide good care." 

Some international rescue teams ended their efforts, acknowledging there was little prospect left of finding missing people still alive. "We have no more tasks," said Pete Stevenson, a firefighter heading Britain's 70-strong team. "The Japanese government have told us they are now moving from search and rescue to the recovery phase." He insisted their departure wasn't related to any fears of radiation from a troubled nuclear plant about 90 miles (150 kilometers) south. 

Japan's relatively large elderly population presents a particular challenge for rescue and relief in what is already a disaster of epic proportions. About 23 percent of Japan's 127 million people are age 65 or over, nearly double the proportion in the United States. 

Japan's rural areas have been in decline for years, and many of the small coastal towns hit hardest by the tsunami had seen an exodus of young people moving to cities for work. Kanno, the woman who couldn't keep up with her neighbors, comes from one such town— Rikuzentakata, a port city that was home to 20,000 before the disaster. 

[NOTE: Google Crisis Response provides “Resources related to the 2011 Japan Crisis.” Go to www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html or simply keyboard in Google Crisis Response.] 

"For seniors in Japan's tsunami zone, a full circle of hardship," by Marck Magnier (Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2011). LAT requires free registration before providing articles. Japanese and English: 

Many of the elderly grew up during WWII and are facing large-scale tragedy once again. And yet there are signs of strength. Many of the elderly leave shelters during the day to clean and search for precious items, returning to the evacuation centers at night. Most houses that are still standing have a pile of possessions out front, seen in Japan not as an invitation to steal but a pragmatic way to start digging out. Bulldozers have pushed debris into the side streets to clear the main avenues, leaving piles up to 10 feet high. Between them, in the ruins, elderly women can be seen pushing shopping carts with a few possessions. 

"Japan should not use pension funds for disaster relief - minister," by Chris Panteli (Global Pensions [London], March 22, 2011):  

Japan's Economy Minister Kaoru Yosano said that the country should not resort to pensions to fund disaster relief efforts. "It is undesirable to use pension funds as a source of money for disaster relief, as it would destroy the basic principle of a pension fund," Yosano told reporters after a cabinet meeting. Japan’s debt is set to reach 210% of gross domestic product in 2012, representing the highest level of debt among countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. 

"Elderly Refugees Overwhelm Japan," by Daisuke Wakabayashi, Toko Sekiguchi, and Eric Bellman (Wall Street Journal, March 19-20, 2011, P. A1). Full Text of the WSJ is available, for a fee, at: http://www.wsj.com; however, full text of this article may be available via GoogleNews (http://news.google.com) by searching on the title or author. Full text is also available (usually on a one day delay) via the ProQuest Newspaper Library, for the Eastern Edition only.  

"We're not equipped to handle dementia," Mr. Harada said. "Ask them to take her to the proper facilities. We just don't have the resources for such care." Refugees from Minamisoma, a coastal town in Fukushima evacuated because of nuclear-radiation fears, say many residents chose to stay to take care of their aging parents. 

"Sick and elderly abandoned in fallout zone," by Ben Doherty (Morning Herald [Sydney, New South Wales, Australia], March. 19, 2011):  

As Japan’s big southern cities swell with thousands of nuclear refugees fleeing the fallout zone from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the human cost to the country is being uncovered. 




Q & A 



Whatever became of the Delaney sisters? 


Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years was a 1993 bestselling book for sisters Sarah “Sadie” Louise Delany (1889-1999) and Dr. Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany, DDS (1891-1995). (Whoopi Goldberg recorded it.) They never married and lived together until Bessie’s death. “Turning one hundred was the worst birthday of my life. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Turning 101 was not so bad. Once you're past that century mark, it's just not as shocking.” On my own at 107: Reflections on Life Without Bessie, by Sarah Delany with Amy Hill Hearth and illustrated by Brian M. Kotzky was published in LARGE PRINT in 1997.  


What can you tell me about the Comfort Keepers? 


I have no information beyond what is posted on their Internet web sites. The “umbrella” appears to be “CK Franchising, Inc. An international network of independently owned and operated offices” providing “Interactive Caregiving”, products and services at varying rates. Each Comfort Keepers office is independently owned and operated. 

I emailed a question that was apparently too delving – no response. The following is from their websites: “Comfort Keepers senior care franchise is a rare business opportunity. This leading national brand providing in-home senior care combines exceptional growth potential with both the financial and feel-good rewards unique to a business dedicated to caring for others. Comfort Keepers does have a mandatory requirement that all prospects have at least $50,000 in capital, (i.e.: Cash, Home Equity Loan, Investments, SBA), and a net worth of at least $200,000.” 


What are ADLs and IADLs?  


These appear to be jargon acronyms. ADLs are Activities of Daily Living, described by Comfort Keepers as basic tasks essential for day-to-day functioning (e.g. bathing, dressing, grooming, eating, mobility and toileting.) IADLs are Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, less basic than the traditional ADLs (e.g. shopping, paying bills, cleaning, doing the laundry and meal preparation.)  


Can you explain the donut hole? 


The Medicare Part D coverage gap — informally known as the Medicare donut hole — is the difference of the initial coverage limit and the catastrophic coverage threshold, as described in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program administered by the United States federal government. After a Medicare beneficiary surpasses the prescription drug coverage limit, the Medicare beneficiary is financially responsible for the entire cost of prescription drugs until the expense reaches the catastrophic coverage threshold. 


We are fortunate to live in a Section 8 senior housing project. But neighbors have been burgled and treated like they are either responsible or mistaken, required to complete a form and questioned by a police officer. How does one keep a little bit of cash and important documents on hand safely? 


I sense that you are also wondering how it’s possible to live in such an environment and retain self-respect! Alas I have little information that would be responsive. Furthermore, there is no ombudsman provision for senior rent-subsidized housing. (See Older Americans Act, especially Title VII). I can only suggest:  

  • post on the apartment door a DO NOT ENTER EXCEPT IN EMERGENCY sign;
  • never loan key or leave door unlocked;
  • purchase a lockbox at a hardware store;
  • attend the Alameda County Library-sponsored Program for Older Adults on Consumer Fraud: Scams Targeting Seniors, Tips for Protection and Prevention, a free workshop by Legal Assistance for Seniors (LAS). Library Senior Services (510) 745-1491. At Albany Library, May 5.

Advice and pamphlets about making adjustments to avoid falling are about indoor falls. Got any tips for preventing falls while outdoors? 


I suppose the emphasis on preventing indoor falls is logical, albeit depressing, inasmuch as the elderly are often associated with being indoors. Avoiding outdoor falls is, however, extremely important-- for sure, cement is harder than carpet, and once an elder falls outdoors, s/he is likely to avoid going outdoors. 

  • Use your pc to Google AVOID FALLS ELDERLY.
  • When walking alone outdoors, use a cane. (Your cane should be adjusted to your needs by a physical therapist; tape your email address and or phone # to it.)
  • Watch the sidewalk but resist bending forward! Alas, this means that unless you pause, you’re likely to miss seeing pleasurable things like the camellias blooming.
  • Wear tinted lenses; wear prescription lenses if you have them.
  • Wear hat with brim or a visor/baseball cap.
  • Walk in pairs. (Another easier said than done.)

I heard there are Three Big Lies connected to cutting Social Security benefits, either directly or by raising the retirement age, that are being used to justify benefit cuts.  


  1. "We must cut Social Security to reduce the federal deficit." False. Social Security does not contribute to the budget deficit. It is a separate program funded by payroll taxes.
  1. "We must cut benefits to keep Social Security from going broke." False. Even if no changes are made to the system, it will be able to pay 100% of benefits through at least 2037. Full solvency can be achieved for the next 75 years and beyond by scrapping the current $106,800 cap on wages subject to the payroll tax.
  1. "We must raise the retirement age because people are living longer." False. In fact, women's life expectancy has stagnated over the past 30 years. (Women rely on Social Security more than men.)


Special events: 

Saturday, April 9, 2011: The Friends of Albany Seniors will hold its annual White Elephant & Bake Sale. Albany Senior Center, 846 Masonic Ave. Bargains in handcrafted items, jewelry, books, toys, houseware and baked goods. All proceeds go to support the Albany Senior Center. Donated goods (except large furniture, electronics and clothing) are welcome; contact Zion Lee, Program Coordinator, Albany Senior Center, 510-524-9131. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011. 58th Annual Noon Concert Series - Hertz Concert Hall, 12:15-1:00pm, free admission. Department of Music, University of California, Berkeley. (510) 642 – 4864. PIANO TRIO Anna Presler, violin; Leighton Fong, cello; Karen Rosenak, piano. Bright Sheng: Four Movements for Piano Trio (1990). Ravel: Trio (1914). 

Mondays & Thursdays Weekly - Older Adult Kosher Lunch: 12:00-1:00pm. Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, 1414 Walnut Street, Berkeley, 94709.5811 Racine Street, Oakland 94609. The new caterer of JCC’s Kosher Lunch meals is Janice Mac Millan of Kosher Craft.  

Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at pen136@dslextreme.com.Please, no email attachments or phone calls. 




Arts & Events

A Concert for Her Homeland
Japanese Piano Teacher Holds Student Concert Fundraiser

By Barbara McDonald
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 07:58:00 PM

Tomoko Sakai, a piano teacher from Japan, is coordinating a concert and bakesale to benefit victims of Japan's recent earthquake and tsunami. With donations of talent and treats from her many students, Sakai hopes to raise money to donate to the relief fund in her homeland. 

Born in Osaka, Japan, Sakai moved to the U.S. eighteen years ago. Her children, Momoko and Haruko, were raised in the U.S., therefore her roots in both countries run deep. 

Sakai's sister, Naoko Kanagawa, also a piano teacher, and brother Yoshifumi Sakai, the owner of many flower shops, live in Osaka, Japan. For a tense 38 hours her brother went missing. Although she was relieved to know he and her family were safe, she is aware of the millions of people who are suffering and need help. 

`"My piano students will donate an afternoon of musical offering and I hope the community will come out to enjoy the performances and contribute to our fundraising efforts," Sakai hopes. 

Sakai will donate 100% of money collected to the Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund. 

Benefit for Japan will be held at the East Bay Waldorf School in El Sobrante on Sunday, April 3 at 2pm. A $10 donation at the door is requested and there will also be delicious baked goods for sale.

Directing Duet’s Marriage: College Dreams Come True with Bette & Boo

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 06:51:00 PM
David Weiner, Michelle Pond, Anne Collins, Ellen Brooks
Adam Telfer
David Weiner, Michelle Pond, Anne Collins, Ellen Brooks

When DC Scarpelli and Peter Budinger met as undergrads at Yale, they shared a love for the theatre, and decidedly for another Yalie’s work: Christopher Durang’s The Marriage of Bette & Boo.

They came to the Bay Area, and started TheatreTremendo. Two of their entries won Best of SF Fringe. It Came from Beneath the Kilt! in 2000, and Where the Sun Don’t Shine in 2006, Both actively perform, mainly in musicals.

They are consummating another part of their dream by co-directing Durang’s play at the Masquers Playhouse. 

Durang’s autobiographical marriage of satire and tragedy is about the complex, confused and comic lives of two families plagued by death, alcoholism, and Catholicism. 

The cast includes Ellen Brooks, Peter Budinger, Anne Collins, Craig Eychner, Robert Love, Michelle Pond, Nancy Sale, Jerry Telfer, David Weiner and Vicki Zabarte. 

At Masquers Playhouse in Point Richmond through April 30. 

Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 pm on April 3 and 10. 

Tickets can be purchased on line at www.masquers.org 

or by calling (510) 232-4031. 

The playhouse is located off of Highway 580 (Richmond Parkway exit) at 105 Park Place, Point Richmond across from the Hotel Mac. 

A dinner benefit performance will be held on Sunday April 17. Dinner is at the Hotel Mac and tickets for this performance are $45.

Film Review: Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 06:05:00 PM
Queen of the Son
Queen of the Son
Yvon Achard
Yvon Achard

Queen of the Sun is hardly the first documentary about the world’s vanishing honeybees but it may well be the best. We’ve already seen The Vanishing of the Bees (narrated by Ellen Page) and Kevin Hansen’s Nicotine Bees, but Taggart Siegel’s Queen is the first Bee-Movie that has the potential to reach a mainstream audience with an essential “tipping-point” message.

Let’s hope there is still enough time left to make a difference. 

The visually gorgeous and well-scoredQueen has at least two things the other B-movies lacked: (1) an opening sequence that features a young, half-naked woman dancing outdoors, covered in bees. (2) French beekeeper Yvon Achard, who professes his “love for the queen” as he lovingly brushes his bushy moustache over a frame covered with bees and proclaims, “They love it!” 

Bees have been in decline for generations but the underlying problem has been disguised — year after year — by a number of unsustainable, short-term techno-fixes — such as flying cargo planes filled with “healthy” bees halfway around the world from Australia to pollinate crops in the US. (This practice of “migratory bee-shipping” also spreads exotic diseases that wind up killing bees when they mix in the fields.) 

Back in 1923, scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner observed what was happening in fields of his Austrian homeland and correctly predicted the honeybee’s global tailspin in 80 years. It was in 2005-2006 that “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) swept through a dozen countries around the world, leaving hives mysteriously empty. 

Without pollinators, of course, Earth’s flowers, fruits, and vegetables will not bear the harvests that help protect humanity from starvation. (And the planet’s birds would die off, too.) In the US alone, we have lost an estimated 50 million colonies. As one of the film’s beekeepers notes, without bees “all we’d have to eat would be bread and oatmeal… and a couple of nuts.” Or, as the filmmakers put it: “Bees are the engines that keep the Earth in bloom.” 

Queen of the Sun enumerates all the problems that have been identified as contributing to the vanishing of the bees — climate change, pesticides, habitat loss, and industrial agriculture’s dependence on chemical-intensive mono-cropping — but goes beyond the complaints to spotlight the alternatives that are already proving effective in the all-important here-and-now. 

It’s a familiar diagnosis and it has a familiar cure. CCD is just another symptom of the industrialized world’s unsustainable, high-tech, short-term, oil-dependent, profit-directed approach to life and the solution is: “Back to the future.” 

Three of the film’s main voices belong to Berkeley’s Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma), India’s Vandana Shiva (author of Stolen Harvest) and Virginia’s Gunter Hauk (author of The Honeybee Crisis). 

Pollan describes the horrors of modern agriculture through the lens of California’s Central Valley almond orchards, where bees are enslaved by commercial interests that force-feed them on corn-fructose, ship their hives (wrapped tight in weatherproof plastic) thousands of miles by truck, and release them to labor in fields permeated with pesticides. Shiva paints a worrisome picture of chemical agriculture, which compels bees to negotiate vast rows of identical, genetically modified plants shrouded in envelopes of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. In one stunning stat, the filmmakers note that (unless you’re wearing organic fibers) it took a third of a pound of pesticides to produce the cotton T-shirt you’re wearing. 

Hauk, who runs a biodynamic farm with his wife, Vivian, is a hands-on practitioner of the ancient beekeeper’s craft. Humans have been successful beekeepers for more than 10,000 years but it is only with the dawn of the Age of Oil and the invention of “modern” agriculture, that the survival of bees (and polar bears, and tigers, and ancient forests, and fresh water, and clean air, and tolerable climates, and so much more) has been put at risk. 

The Hauks have created a 610-acre “honeybee sanctuary” that demonstrates how you can save bees by first saving the land. Rejecting Monsanto’s approach of “solving the hunger crisis” by increasing the use of chemicals and genetically engineered “frankenfoods,” the Hauks are following a different course — healing the land using nature’s slower, but proven, methods (think diversity, organic compost, and natural inputs of seed, sun and water). 

While mainstream scientists keep looking for a technological “silver bullet” to “overcome” the problem of collapse (both at the level of the bee and on the scale of an entire planet), the beekeepers, environmentalists and deep-thinkers interviewed in this film have all come to the same conclusion: the solution lies in accepting that we need to abandon our current way of doing things and return to a simpler, more practical, ways of living. 

If the world is going to survive, we need to relearn how to (as the cliché has it) “live in balance with nature.” Globally, we need to halt the use of dangerous pesticides (like the neonicotinoidsthat attack a bee’s nervous system). Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Food International, minces no words on this issue: “Bayer [which has a production facility right here in Berkeley — GS] is responsible for the use and production of pesticides that kill bees.” In the US, part of the work of restoration should include a campaign to create “bee sanctuaries” in every state. What “the wisdom of the hive” teaches us is that collaboration is natural and powerful. If we hope to save ourselves and our planet, we first need to be prepared to save the bees. 

“Queen of the Sun” opens at the Elmwood Theater in Berkeley on April 1 

Bee-friendly Resources: 

Information on bees and pesticides. Contact the SF-based Pesticide Action Network: www.panna.org 

Backyard Beekeeping Class, April 17. Berkeley Ecology Center: www.ecologycenter.org 

Bay Area Beekeeping Clubs: www.honeybee.com/beeclubs.htm 

Don't Miss This!

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Tuesday March 29, 2011 - 12:37:00 PM

Grateful that we weren't all swept out to sea during those eleven days of constant rain, bay area residents will doubtlessly be looking for enjoyable and stimulating programs to lift their spirits. Certainly there's plenty out there to satisfy that need. Listed below, in no particular order, are just a few of the events that may strike your fancy.  

If you're an aspiring actor, you might consider auditioning for "Stomp, New York City" April 24 at the Orpheum Theatre. (www.Stomponlinecom/auditions.) And there are several opportunities for amateur film makers, one being the 24 Hour Digital Film Festival, with 3-minute films to be created on April 16, and a reception taking place on April 22 at Ex'Pression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville. For information, go to Promotions@EastBayExpress.com.  

The First Annual Albany Film Festival is calling for entries of film and video, with prizes of $250 and $500. Details at www.albanyca.org/albanyfilm fest.  

You could use a good laugh? Then you'll certainly want to catch comedian, actress and writer, Sarah Silverman, who brings her "aggressively silly, button-pushing comedy style to U.C.'s Zellerbach Hall, April 11, 8 p.m. (510) 642-9988.  

Music lovers are in for a treat with several fine concerts -- i.e, The American Bach Soloists program, "April Follies: Bach & Telemann, Saturday, April 2nd, 8 p.m. at Berkeley's First Congregational Church. Bach had a tremendous sense of humor. His famous "Coffee Contata" shows the master to be a man of wit and comedy. (415) 621-7900. And the Golden Gate Men's Chorus presents its Annual Spring Concert April 2, 8 p.m. at Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light. www.ggmc.org.  

The Laney College Theater at 800 Fallon Street, Oakland, presents its Destiny Arts Performance Company in a musical, "Free voices from the Curbside" -- hip-hop, martial arts, rap and song. Performances on April 1, 2 and 3. (510) 597-1619.  

Not exactly on an intellectual level, Comics book lovers should get themselves over to the Moscone Center South in S.F. on April 1-3, for live stage shows featuring special comic guests. (www.comic-con.org/WC) To each his own! Celebrating Earth Day Weekend, April 23, noon to 2 a.m . information will be given on Cannabis, Health and Ecology, with 500 Exhibitors. O.k., so this isn't your cup of tea, but here's information: www.deepgreenfest.com.  

The 5th Annual OaklandIndie Awards will be held Friday, May 13, 6 p.m., Awards Kaiser Center Theatre; 6:30 p.m. Kaiser Rooftop Garden, 300 Lakeside Drive, Oakland. This is a party focused entirely on local flavor (fabulous finds from Oakland unwrapped), whatever that means! Tickets are $10.00 http://oaklandindieawards.com Hopefully you'll find something of interest (if not exactly heart pounding) in the above line-up of events and activities.

Theater Review: Beekeeper, by Virago at Rhythmix

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday March 30, 2011 - 12:37:00 PM

Beekeeper, Jennifer Lynne Roberts' play in its premiere by Virago Theatre Company at Rhythmix Cultural Works in Alameda, is going into its last weekend. Set in rural Oregon, the story is of an eccentric, single parent beekeeper and his daughter, Oleta, who also has a passion for the bees. A tragic accident that comes of her childhood enthusiasm makes a rift between father and daughter ... and as a young woman, she goes off to study, returning home after her father's death to visit her aunt and uncle--and confront the past, swarming like a hive around her. 

She's been studying Colony Collapse Syndrome, the worldwide phenomenon of many beehives abandoned, though no trace is found of the bees. Roberts uses this as a metaphor for family, for society--but sparingly, more as a parallelism, with much careful detail and grounding of the story, avoiding the pitfalls of a kind of genre or sub-genre of drama that's emerged over the past few decades in which mathematics, poetry, music--some specialized field of endeavor--is used as an analogy for psychological or sociological phenomena ... abandoning any but the most conceptual sense of poetry, math ... whatever stands in for the complexity of life. (David Auburn's Proof or Joan Ackerman's Ice Glen--which played at Aurora a few years back--would serve as examples.) 

Roberts gets the sense of family intimacy and eccentricity without lingering too much on the details, and of what's inherited, one generation to the next. There's a hint of King Lear here, intended or not, with the closeness of father and daughter, no mother present--then their estrangement and his emotional opacity and extravagance ... All on a smaller scale, as befits a troubled apiary, not a divided kingdom. Or maybe Beekeeper's a kind of descendant of Virgil's Fourth Georgic, the poem about beekeeping which veers off into the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, hinting at parallels between beehives and human lives ... 

Virago's production is well put together, with an excellent cast (Kit Asa-Hauser, Donald Hardy, Melissa Keith, Julian Lafferty, George Macrae, Sandi Rubay) and tight, sensitive stage direction by Laura Lundy-Paine, who gets the most out of both cast and story. Donald Hardy's strong as the father, as is Melissa Keith as Oleta, grown up. Particularly impressive details are the young actors onstage (and young understudy Trixie Klein, who stepped in opening night to play Oleta as a child), as well as Sandi Rubay's performance as Oleta's aunt, her father's sister--the only mature female in the mix ... Rubay has played character roles with distinction in comedies, drama and musicals around the Bay (Virago cast her in their splendid production of Bernstein's Candide)--but she's never played in a solid supporting role hereabouts, and acquits it like an old trouper. 

--Thursday at 7, Friday and Saturday at 8, Rhythmix Cultural Works, 2513 Blanding, Alameda. $10-$25. 1-800-838-3006; brownpapertickets.com; viragotheater.org