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These are a few of the people Gina Sasso served as executive director at Easy Does it.  Sasso's husband says the loss of her medical insurance, when she was fired at Easy Does It, kept her from seeking medical help when she delayed treatment for pneumonia, confusing it with flu.
Ted Friedman
These are a few of the people Gina Sasso served as executive director at Easy Does it. Sasso's husband says the loss of her medical insurance, when she was fired at Easy Does It, kept her from seeking medical help when she delayed treatment for pneumonia, confusing it with flu.


Is Saint Joseph the Worker Church on the Verge of Closing??? (Reader Report)

By Amy Morales-Ambriz
Tuesday June 07, 2011 - 05:50:00 PM

This past Sunday June 5th 2011, father Jorge Crespin, who has been at St Joseph’s for over 40 years, announced at the 11:00am Spanish mass with a sad heart that he has been ordered to leave the parish. 

Father Crespin, who retired a few years ago, remained at St. Joseph's by the request of the parishioners. He was kept as Pastor Emeritus. Father Stephan was announced to be the new priest in charge, but due to health issues he had to leave. Now for the past 2 years, Father John Direen has been placed in charge of the Church. 

At first all was welcome, and the parishioners wanted to get used to the new priest. But after two years, the Church has gone into a deeper economic deficit, Father Crespin has been told he must leave because the church is heading into a new path and he does not fit into the new plan, and the people of the church are not being told what is going on.  

Apparently 2 other Catholic churches that Father Direen was in charge of no longer exist, and we believe that Saint Joseph the Worker is next on that list. Last night, Monday June 6th, a candlelight vigil was held outside of the church!! And tonight there will be a meeting at Finnish Hall at 7pm to see what steps the community of Saint Joseph the Worker is going to take.

Press Release: Berkeley Civic Group Finds Annual Berkeley Overtime Payments Significantly Above Twelve-City Average. Group Requests Immediate Action.

From Jacquelyn McCormick, Berkeley Budget SOS
Monday June 06, 2011 - 12:05:00 PM

A comparative analysis of overtime payments in twelve regional municipalities by the civic group Berkeley Budget SOS reveals that the City of Berkeley annually spends above the average for overtime, as adjusted for population. If Berkeley reduced its overtime payments to the twelve-city per capita average, up to $30M in annual savings could be achieved while still leaving $17.5 M available for overtime expenses. 

The analysis uses the Public Employees Salaries Database and breaks down overtime payments by four categories—police, fire, public works, and administration/other. For police, Berkeley overtime payments are 218% above the regional average, for fire 138% higher, for public works 314% higher, and for administration 15% higher. 

According to project coordinator Jacquelyn McCormick, former Bank of America executive, “The City of Berkeley has hundreds of million of dollars worth of unfunded liability for pensions and physical infrastructure. Additionally, the Reserve Fund for emergencies is substantially underfunded. Recapturing this $30M in excess overtime payments each and every year would go a long way toward addressing these critical items and continue funding for vital safety-net services.” 

Berkeley Budget SOS is a civic organization dedicated to fiscal clarity, accountability and sustainability in the City of Berkeley. Its members include economists, attorneys, business executives and concerned citizens. It produces articles, analyses, insights and recommendations aimed at resolving the City’s fiscal challenges without additional taxation to its already financially-burdened residents. 

A complete copy of the report “Comparing Berkeley to Other Regional Municipalities: Overtime Above Base Salary Analysis” can be found on berkeleycouncilwatch.com.

Press Release: Shooting in the 1500 Block of Fairview Street on the Night of Friday, June 3, 2011

From Sergeant Mary C. Kusmiss,City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) Public Information Officer
Saturday June 04, 2011 - 08:45:00 PM

On June 3, 2011 at about 10:00 p.m., a group of young men were socializing in front of an apartment building in the 1500 block of Fairview Street in South Berkeley. City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) dispatchers received 911 calls from community members reporting hearing possible gunshots and a shooting. 

When BPD officers arrived, they found two men that were injured. One man, a 26 year old from Oakland sustained wounds from gunfire. The other man, a 24 year old from Berkeley had been struck in the face with an object. City of Berkeley Fire Department (BFD) paramedics transported the victims, each to a local ER for medical assessment and treatment. The injuries were deemed by medical staff as non life threatening. 

A large compliment of BPD officers and a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) worked in and around the scene. According to information garnered during a preliminary investigation, the victims were confronted by a group of young male suspects and words were exchanged between them. The incident escalated quickly when one of the suspects produced a gun and started shooting, striking one victim. The suspects fled on foot. 

It is very early in this investigation, and yet, BPD is confident that this shooting is not random. So as not to risk compromise of this ongoing investigation, these details are the total of what BPD is sharing today. BPD Crimes Against Persons, Homicide Detail detectives will conduct the follow up investigation. 

BPD is urging anyone who may know anything about these crimes to please call the BPD Homicide Detail at (510) 981-5741 or the 24 hour BPD non emergency number of (510) 981-5900. If a community member wishes to remain anonymous, he/she is encouraged to call the Bay Area Crimes Stoppers (BACS) at (800)-222-TIPS (8477). Any information may be critical to solving this crime. Sometimes the smallest or seemingly insignificant detail can be the key to arresting the suspect or suspects in any crime.

Press Release: Alameda County to Hold Public Hearings on Redistricting--
In Berkeley on Monday

Friday June 03, 2011 - 10:51:00 AM

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors will host a series of public hearings throughout the County to discuss redistricting, a process required by State law in which the County’s supervisorial districts are adjusted every ten years after the release of new federal census data. 

Six public hearings will be held between May 31 and June 9, and at least one hearing will be held in each of the County’s five supervisorial districts. Each County supervisor will host a meeting in his or her home district. 

Individuals and/or community groups are encouraged to participate in the redistricting process, and the public hearings are designed to facilitate this participation. Staff from Alameda County’s Community Development Agency will make presentations at each meeting regarding the 2010 Census data and how that may affect supervisorial boundaries in the County.  

The Board of Supervisors has established a redistricting ad-hoc committee to oversee the redistricting process. The public may submit redistricting proposals for consideration, or request to work with County staff in developing proposals, by contacting Michael Munk at the Alameda County Community Development Agency at michael.munk@acgov.org . Maps will be posted on the County redistricting website. The deadline for submitting redistricting proposals is June 10. 

On or around June 13, the Ad-Hoc Redistricting Committee will advise the full Board of Supervisors and the public regarding the submitted proposals. Work sessions may be held between June 20 and June 30, with a final redistricting plan scheduled to be adopted by the Board of Supervisors on July 12, with the second reading on July 26. 

For more information about redistricting in Alameda County, go to the County redistricting website at http://www.acgov.org/redistricting/

The schedule of public hearings on Alameda County redistricting is as follows: 


Tuesday, May 31, 2011 

6:00 – 8:00 p.m. 

Dublin City Council Chambers 

100 Civic Plaza, Dublin 

Conducted by Supervisor Nate Miley, District 4 and Supervisor Scott Haggerty, District 1 


Wednesday, June 1, 2011 

6:00 – 8:00 p.m. 

Hayward City Hall 

777 B Street, Hayward 

Conducted by Supervisor Nadia Lockyer, District 2 


Thursday, June 2, 2011 

6:00 – 8:00 p.m. 

San Lorenzo Village Homes Association 

377 Paseo Grande, San Lorenzo 

Conducted by Supervisor Wilma Chan, District 3 and Supervisor Nate Miley, District 4 


Monday, June 6, 2011 

6:00 – 8:00 p.m. 

Northbrae Community Church 

941 The Alameda, Berkeley 

Conducted by Supervisor Keith Carson, District 5 


Wednesday, June 8, 2011 

6:00 – 8:00 p.m. 

Alameda County Administration Building 

Board of Supervisors Chambers 

1221 Oak Street, Oakland 

Conducted by Supervisor Keith Carson, District 5, Supervisor Wilma Chan, District 3 and Supervisor Nate Miley, District 4 


Thursday, June 9, 2011 

6:00 – 8:00 p.m. 

Fremont Library 

2400 Stevenson Boulevard, Fremont 

Conducted by Supervisor Scott Haggerty, District 1 and Supervisor Nadia Lockyer, District 2 

35,000 New Residents for Berkeley?
“Plan Bay Area” Growth Workshop

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 02:47:00 PM
Participants in the Plan Bay Area workshop gather in the auditorium of the
              Metropolitan Transportation Commission headquarters.
Steven Finacom
Participants in the Plan Bay Area workshop gather in the auditorium of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission headquarters.
A MTC planner, right, tries to get skeptical participants to rank choices on
              colored cards during the small group sessions.
Steven Finacom
A MTC planner, right, tries to get skeptical participants to rank choices on colored cards during the small group sessions.
Matt Vander Sluis from Greenbelt Alliance speaks.
Steven Finacom
Matt Vander Sluis from Greenbelt Alliance speaks.
Lou Hexter from MIG manages the voting process on “priorities”. The
              smokestack graphic reminded participants that clean air is good, polluted air is bad.
Steven Finacom
Lou Hexter from MIG manages the voting process on “priorities”. The smokestack graphic reminded participants that clean air is good, polluted air is bad.
A map in the Initial Vision Scenario shows the network of infill development
              proposed from Berkeley to San Leandro.
A map in the Initial Vision Scenario shows the network of infill development proposed from Berkeley to San Leandro.
The projected “priorities” after shuffled by the votes of those who participated
              in the interactive voting.
Steven Finacom
The projected “priorities” after shuffled by the votes of those who participated in the interactive voting.

(The author covered, for the Planet, a workshop held by regional agencies on a State-mandated plan to designate places for future residential and job growth in the Bay Area. The currently proposed plan would mandate thousands of new housing units and tens of thousands of new residents in Berkeley, and hundreds of thousands of permanent new residents in Alameda County overall.

This article describes the experience of attending the forum, including small group sessions, interactive voting on a carefully pre-selected set of options, and some of the objections and questions raised by participants.)

A workshop on how to accommodate a projected 900,000 new households in the Bay Area—nearly 16,000 of them in Berkeley—over the next 25 years drew more than a hundred self-selected locals to Oakland on the evening of May 24, 2011. 

Organized by a consortium of regional agencies and private organizations that promote “smart growth”, the event’s presentations and format emphasized intensifying urban development as the primary strategy to house new residents. 

The three-hour event proved to be informative, controversial, discouraging, and provocative. It was enlivened—and sometimes disrupted—by repeated audience objections to the format and methodology, and a scattering of outspoken Eastern Alameda County residents who wanted nothing to do with urban development and regional government planning and were not loathe to say so. 

The forum was occasioned by the release of an “Initial Vision Scenario” (IVS) for “Plan Bay Area”. The IVS was mandated by State legislation in 2008 that required regional transportation plans to reflect a “Sustainable Communities Strategy” covering the next 25 years. 

“The principal purpose of the IVS is to articulate how the region could potentially grow over time in a sustainable manner, and to orient policy and program development to achieve the first phases of implementation”, a handout explained. 

“The Bay Area is anticipated to grow by over 2 million people…by the year 2035. This population growth would require about 902,000 new housing units. The IVS proposes where these new units might be accommodated.” 

Berkeley is allocated 15,730 of those new households, increasing the permanent local population by nearly 25%. Oakland is supposed to take 65,453 households, while next-door Piedmont will have to settle for only 10 new households. Alameda County as a whole is expected to accommodate about 20% of the regional housing growth, with Contra Costa County about 11% percent, considerably further urbanizing the East Bay. 

On a clear day, though, East Bay residents will still be able to gaze across to the green and pleasant hills of Marin County, which must only find room for 1.7% of the regional growth total. 

Over the next year and a half the scenarios will be refined, and finally adopted by regional agencies as a firm plan. The State legislation contains regulatory carrots and sticks to prod local communities towards accommodating the regional plan growth targets. 

The primary strategy assumed by the IVS is to intensify development in already developed areas served by transit. A map was flashed on an overhead screen with these bullet points for the IVS: “70% of growth in Priority Development Areas and Growth Opportunity Areas”; “Limits Greenfield development—97% of growth within the existing urban footprint”; “preserves character of existing residential neighborhoods”; “Utilizes existing transit; strengthens planned transit.” 

An array of speakers and interactive computer programs led the audience through a carefully structured sequence of choices and options. 

Throughout the evening the event organizers and speakers repeatedly tried to emphasize that they were there to gather opinions, not to advocate a particular viewpoint. I believe they were sincere, but it was also hard to escape the impression that this was essentially an education session for so-called “smart growth”. 

The evening began with a cheerful introduction from Erica Wood, Vice President of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, one of the Plan Bay Area sponsors. 

“How is everybody tonight? Delightful! Enjoying the food?” she led off. The workshop organizers had provided boxed sandwiches and soft drinks. “My role is to be the emcee and to keep us moving and on track.” 

She said this was the 10th of 10 public events, held in recent months around the nine-county region. (There was an earlier Alameda County one in Berkeley. The May 24 event was a reprise of the Berkeley presentation, in order to accommodate additional demand from Alameda County and Contra Costa County audiences.) 

“Over the next two decades we’re expected to add 900,000 new households” in the Bay Area, Wood explained, and a larger number of jobs. 

“The point is, we know we need to grow,” Wood said. “Not IF, but HOW.” 

“We believe strongly that these are your choices to make”, she continued. She said the workshops had grown out of a series of earlier workshops at which people had asked for “more inclusive, transparent, and efficient land use and planning processes” for the Bay Area. 

“We want you to have the opportunity to tell us about what matters to you”, she said. And “we have a really neat tool”, an interactive process for voting on growth options designed by a Vancouver planning firm, MetroQuest. 

(On its website, MetroQuest says that “Municipalities and planning agencies use MetroQuest to educate and communicate the long-term impacts of the various policy choices to non-expert audiences, leaving them with a sense of ownership over the result.”) 

“We also heard we need to be more responsive to local needs”, Wood said, but within a regional framework. “We’re pleased to be working tonight with non-profit organizations Greenbelt Alliance and TransForm” and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission are also linked to the effort. 

“It’s OK to disagree with each other. It’s not OK to be disagreeable,” Wood admonished the audience before introducing the next speaker, Miriam Chion, Principal Planner for ABAG, who would be speaking “on behalf of your two regional agencies,” ABAG and MTC. 

Chion was serious and earnest. She had the mien of a general briefing skeptical subordinates on a strategic plan she felt could win a war. 

Chion said that the sponsoring organizations were pursuing two basic goals as part of this planning process. “Get clean air” and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; “house our population, including all income groups.” 

To “open the dialogue”, she said, ABAG and MTC had “used the information we had to paint a first picture”, the “Initial Vision Scenario” document. “We have received an overwhelming amount of information in terms of the places local jurisdictions want growth,” she said. 

“We received from each local jurisdiction what are the places where you think you can accommodate growth.” 

(Berkeley did indeed previously identify “planned development areas”, but retiring Berkeley Planning Director Dan Marks has subsequently voiced public objections that the Berkeley allocation for new households in the IVS is far above what City staff anticipated or think is reasonable.) 

Chion acknowledged that “Alameda County takes on a significant amount of growth in the region” under the Initial Vision Scenario. But, she added, a goal is to “retain the character of existing residential neighborhoods”, and new development “has to be done according to the character of the place that the residents, the businesses, and the local jurisdictions are defining.” 

ABAG and MTC have created “place types” she said that will serve as a guide to defining what future neighborhoods might look like. 

“Where are we going?” Chion asked rhetorically. “We’re presenting a few thoughts.” We want to “have the conversation with you,” she said. 

“Many people are not having the choice to live in the Bay Area even if they work here”, she said. “How do we want to grow?” 

How did ABAG arrive at the projections in the scenario, an audience member asked. “We had a series of meetings with local elected officials, with city staff,” she answered. “We’re hoping that the strategy allows us to bring some consensus.” 

Another question: Who will do the final plan? “It is the responsibility of the regional agencies”, Chion answered. 

That led to a follow-up question about the make-up of the governing bodies of ABAG and MTC. Staff answered that most of them are elected officials—city council members, or county supervisors— appointed to the boards from their counties. 

While the event presenters struggled to keep things on their pre-scripted track, pointed questions, audience comments masquerading as questions, called-out commentary, and rumbling, diffuse, dissent in the room frequently threatened to run the whole evening off the rails. 

From the frequent questions and shouted comments, there seemed to be two basic sorts of objections to the proceedings. 

First, several people around the room appeared to come mainly from a property rights (and, apparently, an eastern Alameda County) perspective, and constantly questioned the presenters and small group facilitators about why the presentation seemed biased against cars, single family homes, and lower density neighborhoods, and about what impacts the solutions would have on taxes and property rights. 

At one point a women who wouldn’t identify herself by name became so vehement in her interjections that the air was peppered with shouted comments of both support and objection from other participants. Calls of, “Keep ignoring her!” “Let her talk!” “Shut up, now!” “I want to hear what she has to say!” “First Amendment rights!” volleyed back and forth across the auditorium. 

Second, a number of other people scattered around the room voiced skepticism about the approach to the survey and presentation, repeatedly questioning whether it was designed to produce certain results and whether the methodology was valid. 

One of the critics, who later identified himself as a researcher at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, had a handout that crystallized that issue. “The public questions and input appear to be carefully restricted to make sure that the conclusion of the public input is that we should have denser housing in certain areas,” he wrote. 

I spoke with him briefly, near the end of the forum, and he told me that one of his primary objections was that the organizers didn’t present quantifiable costs and benefits with various options so participants could weigh them in making their choices. 

For example, someone might choose differently between “build light rail” and “build bicycle paths” based on how much of the available transportation funds each option might consume, and how much carbon might actually be saved by each option. 

He said one of his frustrations in teaching has been that students often don’t attempt to understand or quantify costs before selecting benefits to pursue. He saw the same scenario playing out at these meetings. 

Another critic who got up during the presentation to question the speakers asked if the event was “a dialogue or an advocacy pitch?” Looking at the limited questions presented, he said, “I pretty much want to say I want ‘None of the Above’,” an option that was not available in any of the voting. 

“This is intended to be a dialogue, absolutely,” said Wood. “It’s not intended to be a particular advocacy pitch.” 

She then continued, with no apparent sense of irony, “I want to start to move us into the mindset…how can we accommodate growth?” 

Matt Vander Sluis a “senior field representative” from Greenbelt Alliance spoke next. He asked the audience to hearken to an inspirational story. 

Projecting pictures of the old Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco and the new Ferry Plaza that replaced it, he said the actions of former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos who advocated for the demolition of the freeway after the Loma Prieta Earthquake showed “big change can happen within our lifetimes.” 

“The built environment about us is not permanent and we have the power to make things better.” “There are moments of opportunity”, Vander Sluis went on, “and we’re in one of those moments right now.” “It only takes one person to make a difference.” 

“The goal of this evening is to find out what you want to fix.” 

He noted that over the next 25 years about $200 billion in transportation-related funding would come to the Bay Area, and the plan under discussion would focus on how to direct that money as a “blue print for the next generation of growth”, to minimize both traffic and pollution. 

Lou Hexter, an affable private sector consultant with MIG, Inc. in Berkeley led the next section of the presentation, trying to guide the group into voting with individual keypads at their tables on a prepared list of questions projected on three screens around the room. 

The first several questions were a demographic warm up. “How would you describe your perspective?” was the first. The choices were “Business Person, Social Justice Advocate, Environmental Advocate, Community Member, Health Advocate, Government, Educator/Student, Other.” 

When audience members wondered out loud what to do if they identified with more than one category, Hexter told them to just pick one. 

The results flashed up on the three screens facing different parts of the room. “Community member” was the most common, followed by “Business Person”, “Government”, and the “Social Justice or Environmental advocates.” 

Next, 59% of the voting attendees said their neighborhood was “urban”, 36% said “suburban”, and 5% answered “rural”. 57% said they owned their home, 43% rented. 

50% commuted by car, 23% by public transit. Curiously, the question linked “Bike / Walk” together (two very different modes). That yielded an aggregate 23%. 

“How often have you attended a public meeting or workshop on transportation or land use issues in the Bay Area?” A whopping 61% answered 2-3 times, or “more than 3 times”, while 33% said “never”. 

61% of participants identified as White, 14% Hispanic / Latino, 21% in various Asian-American categories, and 3% African American. 29% said “other” or declined to state. 

“If we accept that we’re going to grow, what are the choices?” Hexter asked, repeating what was clearly the forum mantra. Conveniently, he had a list of options to help people choose. 

He commenced projecting a series of 14 “Priorities”, asking each participant to rank them on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being most important to them, and 5 being least. 

This led to a great deal of confusion and objection in the room, and the next near breakdown of the meeting. Several people objected vehemently to the generalized nature of the priority list and/or asked what individual items on it really meant. 

For example, what did the priority “conserve open space” really mean? Did it mean only rural space? Garden space in existing cities? Public or private land? 

“Open space is undeveloped land”, answered Hexter. 

“Lower Carbon Emissions”, Hexter intoned as another priority choice to vote on. “Less Local Traffic.” “More Affordable Homes”. “Clean Air.” 

“Who doesn’t want clean air?” called out an exasperated voice from the audience. What would ranking it high or low actually mean, they wondered out loud. 

“We didn’t go into a lot of detail on purpose”, Hexter said. 

“Let’s move along, I’ll ask you to suspend judgment,” Wood pleaded with the crowd. 

“This is sort of bogus data. It’s a meaningless data point!”, another audience member objected. 

“We’re not going to get through this if we have challenges to each of these,” Hexter warned. 

“I’m going to do a ‘time out’ ”, Wood admonished the increasingly restless crowd, noting that she was experienced with that approach because she has a five-year-old daughter. She asked the group to raise hands if they wanted to “move ahead”. Most did, including me. 

I actually thought “move ahead” meant give up on the awkward priority list ranking and go on to the next agenda item, but apparently I was wrong. It meant continuing to vote through the list, but without further audience questions or challenges. 

Hexter finally made it through the fourteen priorities, getting votes on items like “less driving overall”, “Safer access to schools”, and “conserve water.” 

The MetroQuest system instantly tabulated the results and the percentages voting 1-5 were projected on a screen, but whoever was managing the display consistently yanked the results out of view after several seconds, before much of the audience had a chance to absorb them. Perhaps this was simply an attempt to facilitate moving ahead, but it was disconcerting. 

Our views on the fourteen priority issues finally in the bag, Hexter next asked the group to vote for option One or Two. 

Did they want to see the necessary new growth happen all in the nine county Bay Area, or some growth exported to surrounding counties? 

Choice One specified having exactly 719,700 new households “inside Bay Area”, and precisely 319,400 “outside – new in-commuters.” Choice Two designated 1,039,100 new homes, entirely “inside Bay Area.” 

“This is ridiculous,” said someone from the audience. “You’re only giving us a choice of one extreme or another.” 

“The choice is basically should we try to accommodate the growth within the nine counties, or not?” Hexter emphasized. “If you don’t feel comfortable with these choices you don’t have to participate in this exercise.” 

Ultimately, 35% voted for “Export New Homes”, and 65% endorsed “Keep Homes Here.” 

The next question posed four choices. 

People could vote for “A”, “Business As Usual”, indicating they agreed with the statement, “I want more development on new greenfield land at the edges of the region…” 

Choice “B”, “Planned Future”, paired with a nice picture of traditionally styled homes, called for “some greenfield development, increased development along major transit corridors, roadway investments…” 

Choice “C” was “More Urban” with “majority of development to be focused around transit and in walkable neighborhoods…”, and showed a row of three story townhouses or apartments. 

Choice “D” was “Most Urban”, “I want all growth to be accommodated through infill and redevelopment in existing urban areas”. That option sported a picture of Berkeley’s downtown Gaia Building. 

“You can’t say any of this, this is a bunch of BS,” an audience member called out. 

“I’m guessing we’re going to have some challenges to the exercises,” Hexter observed, pressing forward with the vote. 

The results came up on the screens, with a quarter of the audience voting for “Business as Usual”, a quarter for “More Urban”, and 34% for “Most Urban”. Planned Future was a poor fourth finish, with 18%. 

What would those choices mean for our group priorities? MetroQuest continued to crunched the numbers and the audience stared at the screens. As we waited in suspense for the answer to appear, Hexter mentioned that some people think he looks like “Jeopardy!” TV host Alex Trebeck. 

Earlier he had said “there is a great deal of science behind some of the information you’re going to see tonight.” Apparently the MetroQuest program was applying that Science to an analysis of the effects of the options. 

A couple of tables finally appeared showing the results of the various options. 

We learned that a choice of “Keep Homes Here” in the region, and “Most Urban” development would, over 25 years, save precisely 356 billion gallons of water, 490 square miles of open space, and 31 thousand tons of air pollution a year. Bay Area households would save $4,050 per year, per household by going with more intense growth. 

Only the priorities of “Keep my town as it is today”, “Large Homes with Big Yards”, “Less Local Traffic”, and “Easy and Low Cost parking” would suffer under that scenario. 

In contrast, a combination of “Business and Usual” and “Export New Homes” from the region produced, literally, a bunch of red flags. Everything would grow worse, except for the four factors above, which would grow better. And there were “No Savings”—big goose eggs—shown in every category. Say goodbye to that $4,050 a year per household. I could already feel the hole in my pocket. 

Some in the audience nodded sagely. Others craned to see the details on the projected charts, which were fairly complex and didn’t stay up for long. 

After Hexter finished with the voting exercise, Vander Sluis returned to the podium to outline three possible scenarios for urban growth, setting the context for additional discussion. 

“City Center” neighborhoods represented areas like Downtown Berkeley and Redwood City, he said. “Suburban Centers” characterized districts like the centers of Dublin and Walnut Creek. And “Urban Neighborhoods” were represented by districts like Fruitvale and Emeryville, which he characterized as “primarily residential” with neighborhood serving businesses. 

“We want single family houses included!” someone in the audience called out, as Vander Sluis projected image after image of mid-rise infill housing, some of it from Berkeley. 

Vander Sluis didn’t seem to have a single-family house picture to share, so he pressed forward into two examples illustrating options for development. 

First he showed photographs of a stretch of San Pablo Avenue in Oakland and of Downtown San Leandro. Both looked truly dismal. The Oakland scene had no pedestrians visible except a figure jaywalking across the street. I sympathized with his smart-growth-less plight. 

Vander Sluis then overlaid on each image colorful projections of planters, trees, multiple cheerful pedestrians, and mid-rise infill buildings. Viola! Bland San Leandro and San Pablo Avenue transformed before our eyes, into alluring ‘livable’ spaces, as if Dorothy had opening the door into Oz. It was rather like those “before and after” photos from a TV home-makeover show. 

That served as the framework for the next part of the forum, small group exercises. 

The audience was asked to reorganize itself into tables representing three of the four scenarios outlined by Hexter. 

“Business as Usual”, the fourth option, had mysteriously disappeared from consideration. Even though it had tied for second place preference in the voting—beating out “Planned Growth”—it had no place at the table—or, rather, no tables in place. 

I chose to go to a “Most Urban” table populated with a couple of earnest young MTC planners and some of the audience members who had been most vocal with challenging questions and comments during the presentation period. 

(Because I didn’t identify myself at that table as working on an article, I’m going to describe the members of the public only by first name. The planners are public officials, so I’ll quote them by full name.) 

David Vautin, an earnest and pleasant Transportation Planner from MTC, energetically tried to lead the group through three exercises. 

The first was to look at a map showing potential development areas throughout the county, and say what community you were from, and what you thought of the development scenarios for your community. The second and third exercises involved taking colorful cards and “voting” with them to show what priorities the table would collectively favor. 

One set of cards read “Transportation Strategies”, and presented options such as “increase funding for most effective transit services”, “widen freeways and local roads”, “Expand Commuter Rail Service”, and “Improve Bicycle and Pedestrian Routes.” 

The second set of cards—twice as large and in more vivid colors—retailed possible votes for “Policy Initiatives”, which included “Changing your driving habits” by reducing freeway speeds, “electric vehicles”, “pricing parking”, and “economic development.” 

Each card pack also included “wild cards” where participants could write down their own alternatives. 

Our group didn’t play well together. Only one or two people were enticed by the colorful cards and wanted to play by the rules. Others refused to vote, while others cast only the wild cards. 

“Paul”, who said he worked in Berkeley, objected when he saw what was on the cards. “You’re being very deceptive. You don’t know the cost” of the various options, he said to the planners. 

“I know what you mean”, answered Sean Co, from MTC, the custodian of the cards. “It’s more about priorities, rather than specifics.” 

“You can’t set priorities without knowing costs”, Paul retorted. 

“These are ideas,” Vautin protested. “They’re loaded ideas,” said Paul. 

“David” from Livermore wanted to talk about the possibility that the plan could lead to mandatory zoning changes that would affect property values. 

“This plan will not, I repeat, will not take away anyone’s private property!” protested Vautin. David from Livermore demurred. In his town, he claimed, BART was already proposing to buy numerous land parcels for an extension. That’s not this plan, was the response. 

“It’s going to be voluntary to start with, but our local governments in an effort to conform will start rezoning”, Livermore David worried. 

“The government is not going to take anyone’s property to get higher density”, David Vautin said. “But they can rezone it!” a woman at the table objected. 

Would the Initial Vision Scenario targets for new housing in various communities be mandatory, I asked? 

“If Berkeley opts to take that growth, they will get the transportation funds” responded a woman who had joined the table and gave the impression she was from ABAG, but wasn’t wearing a nametag. “It’s voluntary.” 

A woman who might have been, from her own description, from Pleasant Hill, but would not give her name, objected to the focus of the options on infill housing and reducing driving. 

“All of the cards are about penalizing people with cars!” she said. 

Ms. ABAG looked exasperated. “If you do nothing, then trust me, this is a region you WON’T want to live in”, she snapped back, temporarily losing her I’m A Friendly Public Planner demeanor. 

“We don’t want what you guys in Oakland are pushing,” interjected David from Livermore. 

“Phillip” from Oakland disagreed, saying he lived four blocks from the meeting site and favored more infill development. He said he wanted to hear what others had to say. 

“Do you have a car?” demanded Ms. Pleasant Hill. Phillip from Oakland said he did, but tried to get around without it as often as possible. 

“Robert” from Berkeley spoke for the first time. “I live near North Berkeley BART and I’d like to see that whole parking lot torn up and replaced with higher density mixed use development.” 

The MTC and ABAG representatives looked somewhat relieved that someone had unambiguously endorsed smart growth, in his own back yard—err, parking lot—no less. 

I raised two points. One was the disproportionate amount of new housing units being assigned in the first round of projections to places like Berkeley—an increase of an estimated 35,000 new residents over the next 25 years, on top of our current population of about 112,000. 

I said that it would be more equitable if the plan focus were to be on bringing less dense communities with development capacity towards somewhat higher density, rather than attempting to fit tens of thousands of new residents into already dense Berkeley, with more than 9,000 residents per square mile. 

David Vautin nodded. “We’re going to update our projections based on new data”, he said. “Then we’re going to refine those projections based on what the local jurisdictions say.” 

Second, I suggested that part of the discussion should not simply be “how do we accommodate growth?” but “is there an upper limit to the number of people the Bay Area can accommodate?” I reminded people that the environmentalist activists from the 60s and 70s they admired had often emphasized that issue. 

Ms. ABAG looked across at me and emphatically declared, “THAT question is beyond the purview of a land use planning and a transportation agency!” 

“I came to this meeting feeling great things about it,” a woman from Eastern Alameda County plaintively said. “But “I’m not exactly sure what this whole thing is about.” She said she had lived in both dense urban areas and suburban areas before, enjoyed both, but not everyone could ride a bicycle on their commute or daily rounds. 

A guy with a big video camera wandered by and poked it in to the group to record some of the conversation. 

The small group discussion, such as it was, continued with Ms. Pleasant Hill frequently objecting and interrupting, and often two or three people speaking at once, while others sat glumly. “Phillip” gamely tried to play peacemaker, but then got in hot water by implying “David” from Livermore had disrespected Ms. ABAG. 

Ms. Pleasant Hill and Ms. ABAG were now saying less, but seemed to be glaring daggers at each other. There were some side arguments going on that I couldn’t follow. A steady roar of conversation from the other tables made it hard to hear someone just across the table. 

David Vautin from MTC began to look a bit deer-in-the-headlights, like a dealer in a high-stakes poker game realizing that the players are starting to ominously accuse each other of cheating. The stacks of cards he had been charged with sorting unfortunately reinforced the impression. 

He gamely sorted the cards that had been “voted” and read off various conclusions, including the objections that Ms. Pleasant Hill and “David” from Livermore had written on nearly every “wild card” they could secure at the table. The pile included extra wild cards “Phillip” had tossed across to them in an exasperated effort to get them to stick with the role-playing program. 

Ms. Pleasant Hill started to accuse David Vautin of stacking the deck as he laid out the collected cards. He protested that he was doing it accurately, and taking the wild cards into consideration. The lyrics “you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run…” went through my head. 

The staffers at the table were finally saved from further rhetorical onslaughts when emcee Hill called the whole room back into a single session for a final series of electronic votes. 

“Which four Transportation Investment Strategies did your small group choose as their top priorities to complete the preferred growth pattern?” was the key question. 

The votes went in, although I wondered how any coherent result had come out of our table of three agency staff, three Berkeley people (two of them contrarian), one amiable Oakland guy, and three truly grumpy and suspicious suburban dissidents. 

“Improve bicycle and pedestrian routes” won 64% approval when the results were tabulated. “Increase funding for most effective transit services” placed second, with 55%. 

“Expand express bus and local bus service” came in next at 36%, and “increase funding to fix potholes” and “widen freeways and local roadways” tied for fourth, with 27% each. 

“Which three Policy Initiatives did your small group choose?” was the next question. “Wild card” (none of the offered solutions) raced out ahead with 82% votes, to some laughter. 

“New requirements for employers”, “changing your driving habits…”, “Pricing parking”, and “other pricing strategies” all garnered a 27% share apiece. Economic Development and Electric Vehicles brought up the rear. 

Finally, a series of wrap up questions assessed audience reaction. 45% said “Agree” to “I gained a better understanding of other people’s perspectives and priorities.” 

But “The meeting materials and information presented were clear, with the right level of detail” was a loser. 68% said “Disagree” or “Strongly Disagree”. Only 28% said “Agree”, and not one person voted “Strongly agree.” 

But would people “remain involved” in the planning process? 84% answered “Very Likely”, the survey said. 

By this time it appeared that about 60 people were still voting, and about half that number had given up in protest, confusion, or exhaustion. 

The meeting wound up. Hill announced with relief that things were right on schedule; it was exactly eight thirty. 

(Steven Finacom writes frequently on local history, planning, design, and government topics for the Planet. He thanks the organizers of the forum for making room for him at the last minute so he could attend and cover the event for the Planet.) 


The Plan Bay Area website can be found here . 

The “Full Report” of the Initial Vision Scenario for the Bay Area is available as a pdf at this link on the Plan Bay Area website. Page 40 shows the Alameda County numbers for proposed housing and job growth, including details for Berkeley. Page 50 includes a description of the “vision” for neighborhoods including those in Berkeley. 

The MetroQuest website is here.

Brothers Convicted of Murder in Death of Berkeley High Student

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday June 01, 2011 - 09:56:00 AM

Two Oakland brothers were convicted today of three counts of first-degree murder and other charges for killing their brother's wife and two of her family members,one of whom was a student at Berkeley High, on Thanksgiving Day 2006 in what a prosecutor said was a misguided act of revenge. 

Jurors deliberated for six and a half days before reaching their verdicts against Asmerom Gebreselassie, 47, and Tewodros Gebreselassie, 43. 

They reached the verdicts at the end of the day on Thursday but didn't announce them until this morning. 

The three people killed in the shooting were Winta Mehari, 28; her brother, Yonas Mehari, 17, a student at Berkeley High; and the Mehari's mother, 50-year-old Regbe Bahrengasi.  

In addition to the three murder counts, jurors convicted the Gebreselassie brothers of one count of attempted murder for wounding Yehferom Mehari in the shooting; one count of kidnapping for taking Winta Mehari's 2-year-old son from the scene; and two counts of false imprisonment.  

They were also convicted of two special-circumstance murder clauses: committing multiple murders and committing murder during the course of a kidnapping. 

The brothers both face life in prison without the possibility of parole when they are sentenced by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Vernon Nakahara on Aug. 2.  

In her closing argument in the lengthy case, which began on Feb. 8, prosecutor Joni Leventis said the Gebreselassie brothers conspired to kill their in-laws at the family's apartment at the Keller Plaza complex at 5301 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland on Nov. 23, 2006. 

She said the brothers, who are Eritrean, mistakenly believed that their in-laws were responsible for the sudden death of their brother, 42-year-old Abraham Tewolde, earlier that year. 

Tewolde was married to Winta Mehari and died at the couple's home at 2238 Russell St. in Berkeley on March 1, 2006. Leventis said two doctors who examined Tewolde's body determined that he died of natural causes. 

However, Leventis said the Gebreselassie brothers were still convinced that Tewolde had been killed by Mehari, perhaps with the help of her family members, and decided that Mehari and her family members should die. 

Leventis said the Mehari family never would have let Asmerom Gebreselassie into their apartment because he'd angrily confronted them several times about Tewolde's death, but that they allowed Tewodros Gebreselassie inside on Thanksgiving because he had maintained good relations with them. 

Tewodros Gebreselassie ate food and drank a traditional Eritrean coffee drink at the Meharis' apartment, then called his brother Asmerom on his cellphone and let him into the apartment, the prosecutor said. 

She said Asmerom proceeded to shoot and kill Winta Mehari, Yonas Mehari and Regbe Bahrengasi "in cold blood." 

Asmerom Gebreselassi, who represented himself at the beginning of the case but later was defended by a professional lawyer after he acted up in court, admitted during the trial that he killed the three victims but said he did so in self-defense. 

Gebreselassie said one reason he thinks his in-laws killed Tewolde is that they wanted to collect on a $500,000 life insurance policy he had taken out six months before his death. 

He also alleged that Winta Mehari wanted to kill Tewolde because he was going to disclose that her brother was gay and was molesting the couple's young son. 

He said homosexuality is unacceptable in the Eritrean community and the Mehari family would have been disgraced if Tewolde had made the allegations. 

Defense attorney Darryl Stallworth, who represents Asmerom Gebreselassie, told jurors that there was enough reasonable doubt to find his client not guilty. 

Tony Serra, who represents Tewodros Gebreselassie, said his client should also be found not guilty because there was insufficient evidence that he let his brother into the apartment and knew his brother would shoot their in-laws.

Gina Sasso Remembered in People's Park on Sunday

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday June 01, 2011 - 09:42:00 AM
Michael Delacour at a celebration in memory of Gina Sasso, his wife--doing what he
              does best: call for a demonstration at Cody's to honor Gina.
Ted Friedman
Michael Delacour at a celebration in memory of Gina Sasso, his wife--doing what he does best: call for a demonstration at Cody's to honor Gina.
These are a few of the people Gina Sasso served as executive director at Easy Does it.  Sasso's husband says the loss of her medical insurance, when she was fired at Easy Does It, kept her from seeking medical help when she delayed treatment for pneumonia, confusing it with flu.
Ted Friedman
These are a few of the people Gina Sasso served as executive director at Easy Does it. Sasso's husband says the loss of her medical insurance, when she was fired at Easy Does It, kept her from seeking medical help when she delayed treatment for pneumonia, confusing it with flu.
A-sittin and a-lyin at Cody's Sunday after celebrating Gina Sasso at People's Park. Michael Diehl is in brown on ground.
Ted Friedman
A-sittin and a-lyin at Cody's Sunday after celebrating Gina Sasso at People's Park. Michael Diehl is in brown on ground.

Gina Sasso, 49, who died last Wednesday of complications of pneumonia, was feted Sunday in People's Park and later memorialized by an ad-hoc demonstration at the corner which was formerly the home of Cody's Books on Telegraph. She was a Berkeley activist who touched the hearts and lives of the more than 75 people who showed up Sunday for a hastily-assembled celebration of her life and many others. The upbeat event was organized by longtime Sasso friends, Max Ventura and Soul. 

A sizeable contingent came from the disabled community Sasso had served for nine years in her role as executive director at Easy Does It, an organization linking caregivers with the disabled. One of them remembered her as "an effective bureaucrat," who was "so good she had to be fired." 

Despite his grief and rumors that he was hobbled by his wife's death, her husband Michael Delacour, 73, a prominent participant in the original People’s Park action, assumed his familiar inspirational speaker's role to rouse the crowd to action to pay tribute to Gina’s memory with a symbolic sitting protest after the event at the former Cody's corner, the scene of Sasso's last protest in April. 

Ten loyalists who responded to Delacour's appeal to action sat down at 4 p.m. as her memorial in the park ended. Their vigil continued until 6 p.m. according to Michael Diehl, a homeless advocate who vowed to step up his own activities now that Sasso is gone. 

In his speech, Delacour blamed the healthcare system for his wife's death, claiming that her death could be traced to her firing at Easy Does It, which caused her to lose her health coverage. "She had received a bill for $1,800" according to Delacour, for treating her granddaughter’s broken arm recently. It was that medical bill, he said, that had kept her from seeking treatment when her pneumonia, which she thought was the flu, persisted. 

"How is it," Delacour asked, "that we can fight three wars, but not fund healthcare?" 

From eulogizing his wife he segued into an impassioned plea to stage the spontaneous demo at Cody's after the celebration. Anyone who may have speculated that his wife's death would stop Delacour, doesn't know Delacour, according to close friends. 

Gina's last cause was opposition to a proposal backed by some owners of commercial property for Berkeley to enact a prohibition on sitting or lying down in the Telegraph and Downtown business district. She rallied a contingent from the Cody's anti sit/lie protest in April to take the issue to the council meeting that same night in hopes of influencing swing votes on the council. 

According to Jesse Arreguin, the District 4 City councilman whose district includes Downtown, the pie-in-the-sky ordinance now might just slip away altogether—since two of his pro-ordinance colleagues on the council are in fact wavering, he said. According to Arrequin, even if the ordinance, which has not yet been written, were adopted, it would undoubtedly be challenged and ultimately go to Berkeley voters as a referendum. 

Meanwhile, nevertheless, a draft of a sit-lie ordinance by the Telegraph Berkeley Improvement District, a group of Teley property owners. moves slowly forward. A board-requested re-write is to be submitted to the TBID next week. 

All the performers at the memorial gathering—speakers as well as musicians—began their sets with personal Gina tributes and stories. Carol Denney told of being mistakenly identified as Sasso in a demonstration and subsequently arrested. She showed up with a tribute-song written just for the event in which she immortalized Gina as, "my little Gina girl…who'll be our sunshine now."  

After hiding Saturday, the sun had appeared in time for the Sunday event. 

Soul presided over the stage, and also performed a spoken word piece. 

Ernest “Boom” Carter, Sasso's brother-in-law, famous for drumming on Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run", praised his sister-in-law and played a guitar set dedicated to her. Two of Gina’s sisters, Alice and Elizabeth, were present, as well as her foster son and grandchild, Dusk and Angelina. 

A "handful" of the Funky Nixons performed "Screw the Rich’, and Andrea Prichett, Copwatch founder and a close activist-ally of Sasso's, sang.  

Several speakers recounted Sasso's twenty-plus years of activism, including her support of the Memorial Stadium tree-sit protest and her 1992 opposition to the University of California’s ultimately failed attempt to install beach volleyball courts in People’s Park. 

At the time of her death, she had emerged as an effective organizer who organized her own events. She was a community advisor to Berkeley's B.O.S.S. the group which advocates for accessible housing and medically under-served Berkeleyans, and was an on-air personality at Liberation Radio, 104.1 FM 


Letters of appreciation from Sasso's adoring clients at Easy Does It were read. Kathleen Stuck, a poet, activist and close friend of Sasso's, said the last official words, and then the microphone was opened to the public. One speaker said that "often, the most recent friends—in a honeymoon state—have a special loss. They lost their future with her." 

As the size of the hastily called event proved, Sasso was loved by many, and her death has inspired them to carry on her causes. 

Michael Diehl has announced an anti sit-lie demo for June 7; 6:15p,at old city hall, 2140 Martin Luther King Way. A free meal will begin at 5:30p, according to Diehl. 



This video was produced by B.O.S.S. and shot by janny,a B.O.S.S. employee.  

Ted Friedman reports for the Planet, mostly from Southside.

Press Release: Students Want More Stores, Safer Shopping Experience on Telegraph Avenue and Downtown

From Councilmember Laurie Capitelli's office
Wednesday June 01, 2011 - 09:59:00 AM

For Immediate Release 

June 1, 2011 


Students Want More Stores, Safer Shopping Experience on Telegraph Avenue and Downtown 



Clara Botstein, Legislative Director for City & Community Affairs, Graduate Assembly, 

U.C. Berkeley: clara.botstein@gmail.com 914/388-0699 

Laurie Capitelli, Berkeley City Councilmember:  

lcapitelli@ci.berkeley.ca.us 510/981-7150 

David Fogarty, Acting Director of Economic Development, City of Berkeley 

dfogarty@ci.berkeley.ca.us 510/981-7534 

John Caner, Executive Director, Downtown Berkeley Association  

info@downtownberkeley.org 510/549-2230 

Roland Peterson, Director, Telegraph Avenue Association 

roland@telegraphberkeley.org 510/486-2366 

Caleb Dardick, Director, Local Government and Community Relations, 

U.C. Berkeley cdardick@berkeley.edu 510/643-5296  


Berkeley, CA – The results of a survey of over 1800 UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff indicate that they would shop and visit the Downtown Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue shopping districts more if there were a better selection of stores and if those districts were safer and more welcoming. 

Following a student government initiated City-University Forum with city leaders in March, Councilmember Laurie Capitelli suggested that students conduct a survey to advise the City of Berkeley on how to improve the quality of life, shopping and recreation in the Downtown and on the Telegraph Ave. corridor. More than 90% of the respondents were UC Berkeley undergraduate and graduate students. 

“The shopping districts near campus are under-performing,” said Capitelli. “And yet there are over 35,000 students nearby who are potential customers. If we are going to revitalize our local business districts we need to understand what the campus community wants to see here. Otherwise we are going to continue to lose business to Emeryville and San Francisco.” 

“Both districts fall short of meeting the shopping needs of our student population,” said Clara Botstein, Graduate Assembly Legislative Director for City and Community Affairs, who coordinated the survey. The survey found that 74% of respondents would come to Downtown Berkeley and 70% would visit Telegraph Avenue if the districts had more retail shops that they liked. Specifically, students want an “all purpose” store like Target (86.9% of respondents) , a “basic clothing” store (79.6%), an “upscale” clothing” store (86%), an electronics store (78%) a household appliance store (78.5%) and a grocery store (78.3%).  

Safety is also a major concern for students. “The survey underscores the fact that a high proportion of students do not feel safe in the business districts, particularly on Telegraph Avenue.” Botstein said. For example, the survey found that 66.6% of respondents would visit Telegraph more frequently if they felt safer and 75% said they would come more often if the area were cleaner and more inviting.  

“As a city we need to make every effort to make our commercial districts clean, safe and welcoming. We should not tolerate a situation where many students, particularly women, feel these areas are unsafe,” said Councilmember Capitelli. 

The survey was conducted by the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly (GA) and Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) in partnership with the Telegraph Business Improvement District, Downtown Berkeley Association, UC Berkeley’s Local Government and Community Relations Office, City Council Members Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf, Gordon Wozniak and the City of Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development.  

Next steps in this collaboration include the analysis and publication of the 4,000 comments by respondents and a follow up City-University forum to be scheduled in the fall. 

For more information and to see complete survey results, go to: www.berkeleysurvey.com 

Attachment : Highlights of Survey Results

Press Release: Daniel Borenstein to Speak on Berkeley's Unfunded Pension Liabilities on Thursday

From Barbara Gilbert
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 08:21:00 PM

Daniel Borenstein, award-winning columnist and editorial writer for the Bay Area News Group will address the Spring Meeting of the Northeast Berkeley Association (NEBA) on Thursday evening, June 2.


The evening’s topic is Berkeley pension liabilities. Mr. Borenstein will be joined by Berkeley City Auditor Anne-Marie Hogan and Berkeley City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli.


It is currently estimated that Berkeley, in addition to ongoing projected annual operating deficits of about $15M, has long-term pension-related liabilities in the hundreds of millions of dollars, along with similar unfunded liabilities for physical infrastructure.


NEBAis a nonpartisan community organization whose mission is to inform, educate, and advocate for the interests of Berkeley residents of local electoral Districts 5 and 6. Civic issues of particular interest and concern include municipal fiscal responsibility, local taxes and fees, public safety, public education, and basic neighborhood services. NEBA holds candidate and issue forums to stimulate interest and discussion, publishes a newsletter, and holds community meetings, each at least twice annually. The current newsletter can be found at www.northeastberkeleyassociation.org


All interested persons are invited to the June 2 meeting, to commence at 7PM, Northbrae Community Church, Haver Hall, 941 The Alameda (at Los Angeles) in Berkeley. There will be time to meet and mingle between 6PM and 7PM, and a question/answer period subsequent to the presentations.

First Person: Experiencing Taize

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 06:13:00 PM

One often sees reference to Taizé services held in a few East Bay churches, both Catholic and Protestant. "What exactly is a Taizé service and what does the name mean?" is a question frequently asked. Therein lies a fascinating story. 


The Taizé Community was founded by Brother Roger Frére in 1940, when he purchased a small house in a desolate village just north of Cluny, the birthplace of western monasticism. Only miles south of the separation line that divided a war-torn country in half, Brother Roger's home became a sanctuary to countless war refugees seeking shelter. In his words, "The defeat of France awoke powerful sympathy. If a house could be found there, of the kind I dreamed of, it would offer a possible way of assisting some of those most discouraged, those deprived of a livelihood, and it could become a place of silence and work." 


Throughout the year, meetings for young adults between 17 and 30 years now take place in Taizé, The number of visitors reaches more than 5000 during the summer and on Easter. The community, though Western European in origin, has sought to include people and traditions worldwide. They have sought to demonstrate this in music and prayers where songs are sung in many languages, and have included chants and icons from Psalms or other pieces of Scripture, repeated and sometimes sung in canon, now referred to as the Taizé chants. 


In the 1960's young people began to visit the Taizé community. The village church of Taizé, which had been used for the community's prayers, became too small to accommodate the pilgrims -- as many as 1400 participants from 30 countries. A new church, The Church of Reconciliation, was built in the early 1960's with the help of volunteers and has expanded several times in subsequent decades. In 1970, in response to student protests taking place all over Europe and the world, as well as the Vatican Council, Brother Roger announced a "Council of Youth", whose main meeting took place in1974. It became known as a "Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth", focusing on youth 


Tragically, on August 16, 2005, Brother Roger was fatally stabbed by a mentally ill woman during an evening service at Taizé. 


My first experience with a Taizé service occurred several years ago when I attended a three-day retreat at the San Damiano Retreat Center. Nestled in the hills of San Ramon Valley, guided by Franciscan tradition, San Damiano offers modern, challenging retreat programs (not all of a religious nature), providing a peaceful environment of natural beauty where people of all faiths may seek spiritual renewal and growth. The grounds are absolutely beautiful, with several gardens, a labyrinth and a large courtyard. My private room looked out on the gardens. My retreat was a Contemplation one, where no one spoke until the last day. (Me not speak -- now that was a sacrifice!) 


The most memorable and inspiring event of this retreat was an evening service in the Chapel, where in candlelight, I heard for the first time the haunting strains of the Taizé chants. I doubt very much that I'll ever experience the same sense of tranquility and serenity that I felt that evening. I'm happy to say, however, that Newman Hall's Holy Spirit Church at College Avenue and Dwight Way offers its own weekly Taizé service, as do other churches in the bay area. 


So, if you're in need of a respite from the stress and anxiety of today's troubled world, I would urge you to register for a retreat at the San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville. They're located at 70 Highland Drive; telephone (925) 837-9141.  





Making Money From Sex in Contra Costa County

By Gar Smith
Wednesday June 01, 2011 - 01:17:00 PM

Naturally I was shocked to learn that Contra Costa's law enforcement task force commander Norman Wielsch was involved in prostitution. But I was more shocked to read that, even with a unique competitive advantage — i.e., being able to use his badge to shut down other massage parlors — Wielsch still couldn’t make a financial go of it!  

I think the problem was the name he chose for his shady Pleasant Hill massage parlor. "My Divine Skin" just didn't do justice to Wielsch's unique contribution to the world of sexual commerce. With better branding, I believe, Wielsch could have used the police angle to attract a much larger clientele.  

Some of the choicer names that come to mind include: "Cops and Rubbers," “Pat-down Palace,” "Cop-a-Feel," “Hands behind your Back,” "Thin Blue Lie-in," "Arresting Ladies," “Police Me/Puh-leeze Me” and, for the Nevada franchise, "STD: Las Vegas." And to draw in the fetish crowd, how about: “Beat Patrol,” “Spread ‘Em,” “Get Down, Now!” “Taze Me, Bro” and “Cuff Me, Dano.”



Data-Free Decision-Making Marches on in Berkeley

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday June 01, 2011 - 12:18:00 PM

In the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, There You Go Again. That’s right, the city staff is once again trying to get rid of the major thorns in their otherwise well-padded sides, the citizen commissions who work hard to make sense of Berkeley’s city government. 

I watched the city council last night online with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu, a feeling that it was once again Ground Hog Day in Berkeley. It seems that every chance they get our city employees try to rid themselves of the prying eyes of what they clearly consider are busybodies trying to interfere with the smooth operation of business as usual in City Hall. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t sympathize with the Governor Walkers of this world who want to penalize public employees for an economy gone sour. But on the other hand, sometimes voters and taxpayers have legitimate beefs with the way public employees operate, which is often high-handed and sometimes badly misinformed. 

This is territory I’ve covered in this space many times before. The current excuse is that Berkeley’s now short of cash, all too true, but exactly the same maneuver was attempted way back in 2005, when things looked much rosier. In a 2005 editorial entitled “Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish, I made good fun of the estimate in the proposal at the time that the total cost savings would amount to about two full time equivalents in salary. That was in a period where city staff seemed to believe that Berkeley was flush with money and would remain so forever. 

So this time the staff, in the person of Deputy City Manager Christine Daniels (who’s rumored to be the designated replacement for City Manager Phil Kamlarz when he retires to collect his generous pension) has made the same proposal completely data-free. That’s right, the “report” which Daniels presented last night with a straight face was totally and completely data-free, which seems to be the preferred decision-making mode for Berkeley these days. 

This is all the report said about possible savings: “FISCAL IMPACTS OF RECOMMENDATION: By consolidating commissions, the City can reduce resources allocated to commission work and realign resources where needed due to other budgetary reductions.” 

How can councilmembers possibly decide what can be saved if they have absolutely no information on what current commissions cost? As I said in 2005 but won’t rehash at length here, citizen commissions more often than not save the city money, since commissioners are often experts in their fields who are volunteering free work as a public service. 

The manager’s report was just embarrassing, it was so flimsy. Several councilmembers, to their credit did, ask where the numbers were, but others blithely went ahead expressing their off-the-cuff opinions about where cuts could be made, with absolutely no information to back them up. 

The whole performance was depressingly parallel to the ongoing discussion of proposals to re-zone West Berkeley, also conducted in a largely data-free environment. Work of this quality would never be acceptable in the business world, and it certainly shouldn’t be in the public sector, where scarce tax dollars are on the line when mistakes are made. 

A couple of councilmembers claimed to be shocked, shocked, that this proposal had surfaced over the holiday weekend, and they claimed that they’d known nothing about it before getting the document this week. If this is really true, they ought to be reading the newspapers more carefully. Carolyn Jones first floated the story in the Sunday Chronicle on April 3. In case anyone missed it, I mentioned her story in this space soon thereafter. 

At last night’s meeting there was a stellar array of commissioners who had managed to find out about the plan speaking in public comment. City staff hadn’t bothered to consult them before coming up with the report. 

The commissioners presented concrete proposals for cost savings that didn’t involve doing away with or consolidating key commissions, including paperless packet distribution and coordinated meeting places and schedules. The staff was asked to come back with some figures about the current cost of commissions, but since they’ve had since 2005 to collect the relevant data and haven’t done so yet, we’ll see if they can do it now. 

In other news on the Engineering Consent front, at press time we’ve received and reprinted a press release from a select group of councilmembers and property owners fronted by mayoral hopeful Laurie Capitelli which purports to show that U.C. grad students just want Telegraph to be safer and nicer, and then they’ll shop there. This probably was intended to be the opening salvo in the renewed attempt to get Berkeley to ban sitting and lying down in some commercial districts. (Many still deny, of course, that any such proposal was ever in the works.) 

Do they still offer Statistics 101 at U.C. Berkeley? Perhaps some bright U.C. student would be willing to help us explain to these councilmembers, property owners, gullible members of the reading public and even the Graduate Student Assembly that a “survey” which polls only whichever subscribers to the graduate student assembly’s email newsletter bother to fill out an electronic form online is not statistically valid as a basis for decision-making. This technique is sometimes called cooking the data. 

The only real hard data to shed some light on this discussion is the figures on actual sales, especially sales tax collections. According to the city’s own economic development department, sales data continue to show that in the current economic decline Telegraph and Downtown have done better than the city’s other shopping districts. 

It’s tempting for some city fathers and mothers to use the current economic crisis as cover for taking a variety of actions which they’ve wanted to do all along anyhow. When their minds are made up, they don’t like to be confused with facts, and the city staff is all too ready to help them in their blissful fact-free decisionmaking. 





Cartoon Page: Odd Bodkins, BOUNCE

Wednesday June 01, 2011 - 10:59:00 AM


Dan O'Neill



Joseph Young


Public Comment

Letters to the Editor

Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 09:47:00 PM

Tom Roberts, the Puppet Man; A Matter of Mattresses; Flute Concert; Peace; UC Berkeley: Chancellor Treats Cal as Fiefdom; Take Care of the Children; Safety Net; Geography; Middle East; Disfunctional Government 

Tom Roberts, the Puppet Man 

I wrote some years back asking people to share their memories of the late Tom Roberts, known as the puppet man. 

People did indeed respond and more information keeps coming in. I want to invite people to look at the new website featuring those memories at http://puppetman.tk/ and ask that people write me directly at nsrounds@gmail.com

I will be glad to accept memories, leads, photos and mementos. 

Nathaniel S. Rounds 

* * * 

A Matter of Mattresses 

I'm convinced that Berkeley is the capital city of mattresses! For the past week a dumpster labelled "Cal Student Move On" has been parked across the street. It's been the object of curiosity all hours of the day and night, with agile people hopping inside to help themselves to the loot. I spent a full half-hour just now watching one of those yellow garbage trucks swallowing up mattresses, desks, chairs, even vacuum cleaners. It was a sinister, almost surreal scene as the truck moved down the street to the next dumpster. I think wistfully of all those Serta Beauty Rests gone forever! 

Dorothy Snodgrass 

* * * 

Flute Concert 

Some of you may know Marvin Sanders, the classical-flute-playing former street busker who produced the wonderful chamber-music concerts at Berkeley Art Center for many years. Marvin will be performing on June 12 at the Giorgi Gallery, 3 pm, with John Burke on piano. It's not only a concert of Bach, Haydn, Poulenc, and Faure; it's also a rent party because Marvin has gotten himself into deep financial doo-doo. This concert is a benefit to help Marvin stay housed. Refreshments offered. Admission: sliding scale $10-$50 (and more).510-845-6811. I highly recommend this concert. Bring your friends. 

Estelle Jelinek 

* * * 


In his famous book of 1795 Immanuel Kant advocated these three things: 

Standing armies must be totally abolished in due course; A country must not intervene with force to change another country's structure or government; During war a country must not act so that it becomes impossible to be trusted during a future period of peace 

The U.S. disarmed Japan to guarantee its war objective: that Japan never again become a threat to the U.S. In accordance with Kant's third principle, we must not apply limitless violence in war, and we must think about the period after the restoration of peace. As we bargain for peace let us remember there will be no refunds on lives given toward the same purpose 

There'll be love and laughter and peace ever after, in God's tomorrow when the World is free of war. God blesses peace! 

Ted Rudow III, MA 

* * * 

UC Berkeley: Chancellor Treats Cal as Fiefdom 

University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) has forgotten that he is a public servant, steward of the public money, not overseer of his own fiefdom (these are not isolated examples): 



  • recruits (uses California tax $) out of state $50,000 tuition students that displace qualified Californians from public university education;
  • spends $7,000,000 + for consultants to do his & vice chancellors work (prominent East Coast university accomplishing same,0 cost);
  • pays ex Michigan governor $300,000 for lectures;
  • in procuring $3,000,000 consultants he failed to receive proposals from other firms;
  • Latino enrollment drops while out of state jumps
  • tuition to Return on Investment drops below top10;
  • NCAA places basketball program on probation: absence [of] institutional control.
It’s all shameful. 

There is no justification for such practices by a steward of the public trust. Absolutely none. 

Birgeneau’s practices will not change. UC Board of Regents Chair Sherry Lansing must do a better job of vigorously enforcing oversight by President Yudof than has been done in the past over Chancellors who, like Birgeneau, treat the university as their fiefdom. 

Until demonstrable action is swiftly applied to Chancellors by the Board of Regents/President Yudof, the University of California shouldn’t come to the Governor or public for support for any taxes. 

I have 35 years’ consulting experience, have taught at UC Berkeley, where I observed the culture and the way senior management worked. No, I was not fired or downsized. 


* * * 

Take Care of the Children 

Oh what magical ways there are of cheating ordinary people! Especially young children and seniors. We hear that our worthy leaders in Washington are debating benefits for tomorrow's children and grandchildren. But who is debating the fate of today's children who are sunk in poverty? How can our leaders forget that some low income or no income family's child is keen to go to school but the family does not have enough food to eat? It is good to be farsighted but how can we forget the desperate need of those who are needy today? 

Do we really want the next generation to become parasites on productive members of society or we want them to get the knowledge and skills to become economically independent? 

We are asking today's children to manage on their own but how about teaching them employable skills? 

Let's change the mood from aggressive slashing of the budget to compassion towards the weaker section of our society. 

Romina Khanna 

* * * 

Safety Net 

What a joke! In one of the stories I've read, "Me First," a monkey gets the first big share and then sits down again with the other monkeys for his big share of what remains. At the end of the story the other monkeys get nothing to assuage their hunger pangs. In another story I've read the people who grew the fruit tree and watered it for many years get the smallest portion of the fruit. 

In today's enlightened society the first monkey gets the biggest portion without putting in any hard work. Ordinary hard working people drive cars which are owned by their banks. They pay through the nose for gas they put in the car. Why not raise taxes for oil companies which mint money off the back of these hard working people? 

Every Republican has a magic wand to make our crumbling economy sound in the shortest period of time. Cut entitlements. Cut Social Security. Cut Medicare. The purse of the rich must remain untouched so they can invest in innovation. Who needs a safety net for the ailing and the poor? 

At the present difficult time, elections are run by lobbyists. The representatives are willing to barter. You give me money to get elected. I will give you special write offs for your industry. 

I repeat: who needs a safety net for the ailing and the poor? 

Romila Khanna 

* * * 


There appears to be some geographically challenged folks in Berkeley. OSH Hardware 9th and Ashby, isn't 6 miles from anywhere in Berkeley. Although you'll get better service at any Ace including Ashby Lumbar 2 blocks from OSH or True Value (3 in Berkeley). 

Judi Sierra 

* * * 

Middle East 

In a major speech on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and on the Arab Spring, President Obama said a Palestinian state must be based on the 1967 borders, the first time a U.S. president has explicitly taken this position. The Israeli government immediately rejected Obama’s comments, calling the 1967 borders "indefensible." 

President Bush, over three years ago, made a similar speech. He said that "There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. [An] agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people." The Camp David summit of July 2000 was the latest in a long line of attempts by Israelis and Palestinians to attain peace in the Middle East. Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion unilaterally declared Israel a nation on May 14, 1948, following the UN partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. And the list goes on and on. So the World is fed up! And they have voted unanimously against further occupancy of the Palestinian lands by Israel. 

"The war crimes and occupation, oppression and inequality that Palestinians are suffering from must end. And it was absolutely despicable to see our Congress pandering to Netanyahu as if he was the president of the United States." --Rae Abileah, a Jewish-American activist. 

Ted Rudow III, MA 

* * * 

Disfunctional Government 

Everybody look what's going down. If you think the government is functioning improperly now, watch what happens if anti-tax Republicans shut it down again. The GOP obviously didn't learn its lesson when they shut the government down in 1995-1996. 

Destroying America's credit is no small matter. It's outrageous to risk doing so for political gain. But the Republicans and Tea Party seem determined to play chicken with the debt ceiling. 

If Congress is blocked by the GOP from raising the national debt ceiling how bad will it be? By the beginning of August the Treasury will be deciding which bills to pay. The U.S. would begin defaulting on some of the Treasury notes and bonds as they come due. Some pension funds and insurance companies that are huge holders of treasuries would have to dump them because they're prohibited from owning debt of institutions that are in default. 

The GOP and Tea Party threatening not to raise the debt ceiling is not just playing with fire, but playing with fire in a dynamite factory. 

Ron Lowe

Reply to Dr. Grossman – It’s about the Voters

By Gale Garcia
Wednesday June 01, 2011 - 09:44:00 AM

I appreciate Dr. Grossman’s thoughtful article about the Branch Libraries. It was forwarded to me as a member of the LeConte Neighborhood Association. I was preparing a letter to Dr. Grossman in response; since the Planet has printed his article, I will respond here instead.

Certainly some people would have voted for Measure FF to finance branch library improvements in 2008 even if they had known that demolition of the historic portions was a possibility. The question is whether the Measure would have passed if the entire electorate, including those who care about historic buildings, had known that demolition was a possibility. 

Measure FF language said nothing about demolition. It specified that funding would be used to “renovate, expand and make seismic and access improvements at four neighborhood branch libraries …”. Note that each of the verbs in this statement require there to be something remaining at each site to “renovate”, “expand” or “make” improvements to, while the actual plans of library officials involve clear-cutting the sites before constructing brand new buildings. 

The ballot and campaign literature not only avoided the terms “demolish” or “replace”, but repeatedly claimed there would be restoration of the branch libraries’ historic features. To preservation-oriented voters, this means that the original portions of the buildings, not the later featureless additions, would be preserved. 

The City’s definition of “demolition” is irrelevant with respect to Measure FF, as are the federal criteria for rehabilitation. Very few Berkeley voters have any idea how the City defines “demolition” or what federal standards are. Voters assume that they are being told the truth on the ballot – and we were promised, over and over again, that the historic portions of the buildings would be preserved. 

I am curious why Dr. Grossman believes that only “part of the facade of one small part” of the West Branch Library would be saved. One need only walk around the site to see that the vast majority of the 1923 building (the only portion that anyone wants to preserve) is intact. The east and west sides of the building even have all of their original windows, which are usually the first things to go. 

Dr. Grossman mentions that the West Branch is “described” as rotting and unsafe. Described by whom? Old buildings are always described thusly by those who wish to destroy them – and library officials definitely want to destroy these buildings. 

Berkeley City Attorney Zach Cowan was quoted in an article printed in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 29, “When the council looked at the bond measure in the spring of 2008 the staff reports that led them all said we would have to demolish the south (library) branch…” This would seem to be admitting, at least for the South Branch, that the intention was always to demolish. Why were the voters not given this important piece of information prior to the election? 

Measure LL, the Mayor’s revised “Landmarks” Ordinance (often referred to as a “demolition ordinance”), was on the same ballot as Measure FF in November 2008. Preservationists fought Measure LL vigorously, and would certainly have linked Measure FF with it if the terms “demolish” or “replace” had been used about the South and West Branch libraries.  

Given the context of the 2008 election, I can see no interpretation other than that Measure FF funding was acquired to demolish and build brand new libraries under the ruse of preserving the existing historic buildings – the voters were deliberately and premeditatedly deceived. 

The Branch Library Controversy

By Elmer R. Grossman, M.D.
Friday May 27, 2011 - 12:33:00 PM

In the last 50 years Berkeley city politics have richly earned a reputation for an extraordinary intensity, sometimes flavored with personal animosity and a touch of paranoia. The current inflammatory issue is whether two of our branch libraries should be rebuilt from the ground up or rebuilt in large measure but retaining some of the earlier structure because of historical architectural value. Those advocating partial rather than complete renewal argue that Berkeley citizens are the naive victims of a deliberate plot by city officials and staff to hide the fact that total rebuilding was envisioned for the West and South branches. They argue that if we had only known that demolition was a possibility we never would have voted for the bond issue financing the branch improvements. 

As part of their campaign against the proposed rebuild branches, this group hired an architect to make plans for partial rebuilding which can be studied in the 320 page Final Environmental Impact Report on the Berkeley City website. Close reading of the plans and the analysis of them reveals some interesting problems. 

For the West branch the partial rehabilitation proposal involves saving only the 1923 building which is one rather small part of the existing structures. In fact, since it is less than 50% of the total , this plan would be defined as “demolition” under city law. This appears to be in conflict with the preservationists objection to demolition. This 1923 structure, described as rotting, unsafe, and in the wrong place, would be lifted, moved to a somewhat different part of the site, the main entrance closed up, and the interior rebuilt. The extent and nature of the changes fail to match the federal criteria for rehabilitation of architecturally significant structures. The remaining part of the present library would be demolished and replaced by a new, two story addition. In sum, the preservationists plan would save part of the facade of one small part of the existing library, at considerable expense and involving the addition of a second story, a plan presented without advice or input from either library users or library staff. 

The South branch partial rehab proposal saves two large rooms of the present two buildings; less than half of the old structure would be demolished. The plan retains the appearance of some of the front of the building but major changes in the walls, roof and interior space would be required, and a second story would be added. As in the case of the West branch, many of these alterations would fail to meet federal standards for rehabilitation of historical structures. And as at the West branch, this proposal has not had the benefit of the user and staff opinions incorporated into the total rebuilding plans. 

So we have the situation of a group arguing that major rebuilding of two branch libraries should be held hostage to saving the (somewhat altered) appearance of a wall at West Berkeley which, by the way, has not been visible for decades, and part of an exterior wall and portions of interior walls at South Berkeley. Despite the reality that over half of one branch and just under half of the other would be demolished, the preservationists argue that their plan avoids “demolition.” 

Those of us who value and want to preserve old buildings can appreciate the enthusiasm of the preservationists, but some of us oppose efforts such as this which can save so little at such potential expense. The city council’s recent unanimous vote to continue with the planned complete replacement of these two library branches is welcome news. 

Consolidation of Berkeley Commissions

By Paul Kamen, Naval Architect
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 10:38:00 PM

The City Council is considering a measure to consolidate several commissions in order to reduce these commissions' demand on staff support resources.

This might be a valid cost-reduction strategy in general, but in the case of combining the Waterfront Commission with the Parks and Recreation Commission, it will have just the opposite effect. 

Although the two Commissions are both supported by the City's Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department, they are supported by different staff and have different funding streams. Nearly all Waterfront Commission staff support is provided by the Waterfront Manager or the Harbormaster. It makes no sense to ask waterfront staff to sit in on meetings that involve upland park issues that have no relevance to the marina. 

Even if waterfront staff time in support of the Waterfront Commission could be reduced, this saving will have no effect on the City's General Fund. The marina is a Special Enterprise Zone - its revenue and expenditures are independent of the City's general fund. And on occasions when non-marina staff time does need to be used in support of waterfront projects, the Marina Fund, not the General Fund, is billed. 

More to the point, this particular consolidation will increase the time burden on the non-marina staff, who are paid from the General Fund. When waterfront staff and parks staff are both present - which will likely have to be the case at most of the consolidated commission meetings - we will have unnecessary and wasteful duplication. Do we want Parks and Recreation staff to sit through discussions on waterfront issues that have nothing to do with city parks? Should staff be asked to deal with maritime issues well outside of their areas of expertise? 

This last point may be particularly important: The Berkeley waterfront includes berthing for over a thousand boats, four restaurants, a large hotel, commercial fish boat support, a boatyard, sailing schools, and a number of other water access organizations and the specialized infrastructure that goes with all of these activities. There is a major ferry terminal in the works. Waterfront staff is well versed in all of these issues, but the issues are largely irrelevant to upland park management. 

The Waterfront Commission itself contains some specialized expertise in these areas that would most likely be lost through consolidation. Current Commissioners include board members of BCDC, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, Cal Sailing Club, Berkeley Yacht Club, and a number of other sailing, windsurfing and paddling advocacy and access groups. There is a strong commitment on the current Waterfront Commission to low-cost public access to water-related activities. This depth of experience in maritime affairs, both recreational and commercial, has been a valuable asset to the marina. It is largely through the efforts of a knowledgeable and committed Waterfront Commission that the Berkeley Marina remains a welcoming access point for a wide variety of boating, fishing and waterfront recreation, especially for people who cannot afford boats of their own. 

Perhaps a more direct way to reduce staff time overload would be to allow members of the Commission, instead of commission secretaries, to take their own minutes, prepare reports and handle other administrative tasks with reduced staff assistance. Any Commission worth retaining will certainly be able to cover these basic functions from within their own membership. 


Another Point of View on BUSD Laundry

By Kristen Lono
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 08:26:00 PM

I teach at Berkeley Arts Magnet and the portrait painted by parent Ms. McCleary in a recent letter published by your paper bears no resemblance to the school as I know it. To post this under a "BUSD Dirty Laundry" headline was irresponsible and divisive. Ms. Collins has worked hard since she came on board to pull Arts Magnet out of its academic tailspin. 

She inherited a school which had been identified as a program improvement school under the federal mandate of No Child Left Behind. Under her guidance, the school has made steady and statistically significant gains based on the California Standards Test results, which state and federal agencies use to measure school success, whether we like it or not. Ms. Collins has had to make difficult decisions, most driven by fiscal imperatives or District directives. She has often had to bear the brunt of uninformed community voices who assume she has more authority than in fact she has to allocate resources or determine site priorities. She works closely with a school site council and is under the authority of the school board and district administration. The school has not met all of its goals, and the work continues. This entire staff is dedicated to the idea that all children can and should be able to succeed . 

Our school is devoted to offering a rich arts program, and in a time of debilitating school cutbacks across the state and the country, Arts Magnet has been able to offer, with the support of Berkeley voters and our own PTA, in addition to the music and science programs underwritten by the District, full and part-time percussion, dance, and visual arts. We have a full-time library technician, counseling services in partnership with the City of Berkeley, a vibrant and active PTA and site council, YMCA trained P.E. teachers, and yard supervision staff, as well as a host of other committees and programs with staff and parent participation. 

Finally, Berkeley Arts Magnet, under the leadership of our principal Kristin Collins, has been a willing and active participant in the District sponsored effort to close the achievement gap through staff development and training as well as outreach and communication with all of its cultural communities. Arts Magnet has hosted four Meetings on the Bridge, facilitated by Pamela Harrison-Small, to build relationships, encourage participation and franchise, and further the goals of equity at our site and in our district. This District-wide program was well-promoted at our site through school newsletters, flyers, and our website. Ms. Collins participated along with several staff members and families. 

Ms. McCreary has every right to speak her mind and advocate for children, so I respect her activism while disagreeing with her conclusions. I have taught for 30 years, in BUSD for over twenty years, and have worked at three separate schools in this district. I have never worked with a more conscientious, supportive, and ethical administrator than Ms. Collins. Whether one agrees with Ms. Collins' administrative style or not, it is just plain wrong and hurtful to characterize her as apathetic. 

Your reporters can access Berkeley Arts Magnet data through the state database to see our recent achievement record. I hope you will hear from my colleagues and other community members who support our wonderful school and the work we all do to make it a safe, empowering, and enriching place for children. 


Kristen Lono is a 3rd Grade Teacher at Arts Magnet School 

The Cal Stadium Renovation Will Not Make The Stadium Safe (Commentary)

By Hank Gehman
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 08:23:00 PM

The university would have people think that the Cal football stadium renovation will eliminate dangers to public safety in the case of the earthquake and make the stadium and its environs safe for intensive use. This is not true. The renovation of the stadium will not create a risk-free structure and there are other risks that cannot be mitigated by a retrofit.


To mitigate exposure to these risks, the occupancy of the stadium must be kept to the minimum. The CMS should only be used on football game days and the university must abandon its commercial plans to have concerts and other mass events at the stadium.



1. The renovated stadium would remain vulnerable to a serious earthquake


The university claims that the planned renovation of the CMS “addresses 100% of the seismic deficiencies” and so any number of mass events are perfectly safe. This is a false and dangerous claim. The CMS project is an untested, experimental seismic design which adds spaces intended for additional continuous occupancy.


The State Geologist with the California Geological Survey, the State Seismic Commission and the City of Berkeley engineers have reviewed the project and have three areas of concern.


--The seismic design itself. The State Geologist has strongly criticized the seismic design of the stadium. Writing in 2009 opposing the exemption of the CMS from Alquist-Priolo, “Furthermore, we are unaware of any accepted means of designing structures to accommodate fault displacement… and we are unaware of any published standards to support the proposed concept of designing for surface fault rupture.”


--The large superstructure for expensive seating and entertainment spaces above the western rim of the stadium. The CGS, the SSC and the City of Berkeley engineers believe this structure risks toppling in an earthquake and adds a significant new danger to the renovated stadium. As a top heavy structure, it is described as an “upturned pendulum” and would be subject to a “whipping motion”. It is added to the stadium solely for commercial purposes and is bad seismic design. Not only would the people in the structure be at risk, its collapse would threaten either people below in the stadium or, if it fell backwards, would crush people on the roof of the SAHPC (the sole exit path for the western half of the stadium) and block egress from the stadium.


--The physical expansion of the stadium. The new CMS will add approximately 35% new Gross Square Footage to the existing stadium. This will be primarily for new spaces for new day and night uses (such as a tutoring and study center) and will attract an additional 400 people a day. This year-around continuous occupancy makes it likely that the stadium will be occupied during the earthquake.



2. The stadium is on a very dangerous and complex seismic location.


--An official group of seismologists predict a 31% chance of a serious earthquake on the Hayward Fault in the next 25 years. The stadium straddles the Hayward Fault which the USGS now predicts can produce an earthquake with a magnitude as large as 7.2 or even 7.5. The lateral shear could be more than 6’ and the vertical uplift 2’. The seismic experience directly at a fault is dramatically different than even close by and is impossible to reliably predict. The state Geologist writes that fault displacement, “…is less well understood than strong ground shaking.”


--The geologist, Dr Patrick Williams of UC Berkeley and the LBNL and the university’s own expert on the stadium site, concluded in his major study of the adjoining Berkeley Hills that an earthquake at the fault would release seismic energy stored up in the hills that “probably can produce a larger moment-magnitude earthquake than previously estimated.”


--The USGS has mapped the stadium site as a liquefaction zone.


--The stadium is largely built on fill. This can cause an arrhythmic shaking (like a bowl of jello) which can defeat seismic designs. During the Loma Preita earthquake (70 miles away), Cal football players were knocked to the ground and unable to stand.


It is the height of hubris to ignore the uncertainties of earthquake behavior or discount the possibility that the earthquake will be larger and more powerful than the design is planned for.



3. Landslides.


The USGS maps the hill which the stadium is cut into as a landslide zone. Dr Williams believes that there is a high likelihood of landslides at the Strawberry Canyon hills in an earthquake. The USGS study of landslides created by the Loma Prieta earthquake showed a strong correlation between ground cracking at the base of hills that produced “larger and more complex” landslides. The Hayward Fault runs exactly at the base of the hill that towers over the stadium. A landslide would cover some or all of the eastern half of the stadium.



4. Crowd panic


Crowd panic is an ever-present danger at any large event at the stadium regardless of whether or not there are structural failures or landslides and could be the most serious safety risk of all. The experience of an earthquake at the stadium will be much more frightening and disorienting than what people experienced at the World Series game in San Francisco during the Loma Prieta earthquake. There will be a deafening sound, extremely violent shaking and a tearing apart of the field. People will not know if there are more quakes to follow but will naturally assume the worst. It is doubtful that people will congregate on the field and wait there (for what?) as the university’s plan requires. The predictable response would be to try to be among the first to get through the tunnels and out of the stadium.


The new design of the stadium actually reduces the egress from the stadium. To the west, people must all exit by the SAHPC roof top and then by a stairs to the north. The principle exits at the north and south of the stadium may be blocked by the independent stadium seismic segments after they have moved per design during the earthquake. The east side may be blocked by a landslide. As we have seen in Germany, it doesn’t take much to start a panic. It rapidly accelerates and is impossible to stop. Most deaths will be by compressive asphyxiation.



5. No emergency response is likely.


The stadium is compacted into a dense residential neighborhood making access problematic for the stadium and the neighborhood. After the earthquake city rescue services will be overwhelmed. The City of Berkeley doubts that there will be any emergency response at all at the stadium. Holding mass events with little likelihood of public safety response is irresponsible.


Just listing the dangers at the stadium site doesn’t guarantee they all will happen. But it is reasonable to expect that one –or all—will occur in an earthquake. A developer may wish to ignore these obvious dangers but public officials must not. The warnings of inadequate egress at the rock concert in Germany were downplayed and ignored. The earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand confounded the experts with their size and violence.


The only way to overcome these risks is to not site stadiums on earthquake faults, or second best, to use them as little as possible.


The Public Eye: Republicans Have a Problem. So What?

By Bob Burnett
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 03:25:00 PM

The Republican brain trust is gearing up for the 2012 Presidential election, stuffing their war chests and deploying an arsenal of dirty tricks. But they’re having trouble finding a suitable Presidential candidate. Why should we care? 

Potentially strong “centrist” GOP candidates, such as Governors Haley Barbour and Mitch Daniels and former Governor Mike Huckabee, have opted out of the race. As result, the remaining Republican Presidential hopefuls can be divided into two groups: crazies and weenies

Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann typifies the crazies. Bachmann, the leader of the “Tea Party” wing of the House Republicans, is a birther, a global climate change denier – she’s anti-science in general, and a skeptic that there will be serious consequences if the US fails to raise its debt limit. Besides Bachman, the crazies group includes Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Sara Palin. In addition to being anti-government and anti-science, they toe the line on conservative Christian orthodoxy, declaring that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances and same-sex marriage should be prohibited. These candidates view the ideal US government as a free-market theocracy, where evangelical Christian orthodoxy guides personal conduct, and the vagaries of the marketplace determine national economic, energy, and environmental policy. 

The second group of Republican candidates is best described as weenies, because, without exception, they’ve been forced to disavow previous positions – rational policies – in order to satisfy the crazy wing of their Party. A prime example is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who, in 2006, signed the Massachusetts Health Reform Law that provided near-universal healthcare for state residents. Nonetheless, confronted with adamant Republican opposition to “Obamacare,” Romney has had to back away from his healthcare record. In addition, Romney was once pro-choice but switched to pro-life when it became axiomatic that Republican candidates adhere to socially conservative dogma. 

A recent addition to the weenie crowd is former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who criticized the portion of the House Republican budget – the “Paul Ryan plan” – that guts Medicare and was immediately forced to back off. Gingrich has changed his positions so often that vacillation has become his trademark. 

The other major weenie candidate is former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. A Roman-Catholic convert to evangelical Christianity, Pawlenty toes the social conservative line on abortion and same-sex marriage. He’s also adamantly anti-tax. So far he’s been circumspect with regard to his support for the Ryan budget. Nonetheless, Pawlenty merits the weenie label because he’s been forced to disavow his prior acknowledgment of the human contribution to global climate change and his support for a cap and trade system for regulating emissions. 

The only other declared weenie candidate, John Huntsman, former Governor of Utah, has changed his position on Medicare to support the Paul Ryan plan. 

When Republicans hold their Tampa, Florida, convention at the end of August 2012, they will nominate a member of either the crazy or weenie wing of their Party. At the moment, that’s most likely to be Tim Pawlenty. 

Even though this appears to be a weak set of GOP candidates, all sensible Americans should care about this situation, because the ultimate Republican candidate will have pledged allegiance to a series of ultra-conservative principles: 

1. Not to raise taxes under any circumstances. Republicans want to maintain the status quo for corporations and wealthy individuals – the Ryan budget actually lowers these taxes. 

2. Severely limit the role of government. In particular, Republicans believe that government plays no role in job creation; they trust that the “free” market will create the jobs necessary for an equitable economy. 

3. Support the Ryan Budget, passed April 15, that savages Medicare and Medicaid and repeals “Obamacare.” 

4. Support the Defense of Marriage Act and oppose same-sex marriage. 

5. Promote the repeal of Roe v. Wade and nominate judges that will further this objective. 

Saddled with these dogmas, the 2012 Republican nominee will be the most conservative presidential candidate in ninety years, pledged not only to repeal the legislation passed during the Obama era but also the New Deal. The Republican candidate will not only oppose women’s access to reproductive health services but will also strive to roll back ninety years of progress for women. Since the Reagan era, Republican presidential candidates have gotten more and more reactionary. As a consequence, we’re about to see the most conservative Republican candidate since Warren G. Harding. 

The most recent Pew Research poll on political preference indicates that only 11 percent of voters are “staunch conservatives” who support the five ultra-conservative principles. (Another 14 percent are “main street Republicans,” who would support most of the principles but likely not the Ryan budget.) 

Somewhere between 75 and 89 percent of registered voters disagree with the core Republican principles. Nonetheless, the most extreme wing of the GOP is driving the Party. That’s the Republican “problem.’ 

It’s a problem for all Americans because it signifies that a tiny minority is having disproportionate influence on our political process. 

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

Eclectic Rant: Are Private, For-Profit Prisons the Answer to California’s Overcrowded Prisons?

By Ralph E. Stone
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 03:21:00 PM
Monte Wolverton

On May 23, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata, (www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/09-1233.ZS.html) affirmed lower court rulings that ordered California to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent, or to 109,805 from 143,436 prisoners within two years. (California’s prisons are designed to house a population of just under 80,000.)  

The decision was based on evidence that prisoners were being deprived of basic medical care caused by overcrowding. The Court noted, for example, that there were high vacancy rates for medical care (20 percent for surgeons) and medical health care (54.1 percent for psychiatrists). And the state had not budgeted for sufficient staff and, even if vacant staff positions were filled, there is not enough space for them. The Supreme Court ruled that the state had violated the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the infliction of "cruel and unusual punishments."  

Governor Jerry Brown's response to prison overcrowding is to shift low-risk inmates from state-run prisons to counties as set forth in Assembly Bill 109 signed into law last month (www.aroundthecapitol.com/Bills/AB_109/20112012). But, of course, the legislature and counties must find the money to move inmates to county facilities, many of which are already overcrowded, to comply with the Supreme Court decision without putting criminals back on the street. AB 109 will be at best a short-term solution to California's overcrowded prison system.  

Why is the prison system overcrowded? California's tough-on-crime policies have led to the passage of hundreds of laws that increased prison terms. One of the most significant was the 1977 policy mandating that every prisoner leaving the system get paroled resulting in thousands of ex-convicts being sent back to jail each year for minor parole violations. Last year’s change in parole laws, which allows some non-violent offenders to avoid parole and others to avoid getting sent back to jail for minor violations, was a step in the right direction. 

In 1994, California passed the three-strikes law, which requires those convicted of any three felonies be sentenced to 25 years to life. There is also a two-strike provision, as well, which requires hose convicted of a second felony to receive a doubled sentence. As the 25-year-to-life inmates increase, California will be housing a disproportionate share of elderly inmates. 

California has a 70 percent recidivism rate. What is needed is a support network for inmates reentering society. Unfortunately, rehabilitation and drug treatment are severely underfunded.  

In 2000, Proposition 36 was passed by the voters that permanently changed state law to allow qualifying defendants convicted of non-violent drug possession offenses to receive a probationary sentence in lieu of incarceration. As a condition of probation defendants are required to participate in and complete a licensed and/or certified community drug treatment program. If the defendant fails to complete this program or violates any other term or condition of their probation, then probation can be revoked and the defendant may be required to serve an additional sentence which may include incarceration. Proposition 36 is not retroactive, meaning that defendants who had to attend unlicensed drug rehabs prior to Prop 36 are not afforded the opportunity to have their cases reheard in court. One UCLA study (http://articles.latimes.com/2007/apr/24/opinion/ed-prop3624) found that convicted drug users had become more likely to be arrested on new drug charges since the proposition took effect. 

AB 900, passed in 2000, provides authorization to build up to 40,000 state prison beds and up to 13,000 local jail beds in two phases. Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, the chairman of a state Assembly committee overseeing the state's prison construction efforts remarked about AB 900: "The department is a shambles. They couldn't build their way out of a paper bag. Everyone has a reason to be skeptical. Everyone is holding their breath, hoping that this time they're successful." Cearly, AB 900 was not the answer to prison reform. Otherwise, California would not have been a defendant in Brown v. Plata. 

Prison overcrowding has been a problem for years but the California legislature has lacked the political will to implement necessary reforms. Will California be forced to turn to private, for-profit prisons to help solve its overcrowding prison problem?  

Many believe that government programs -- social security for example -- would run more efficiently and cheaply by the private sector. This may or may not be true. However, recent research by the Arizona Department of Corrections (www.azcorrections.gov/adc/reports/ADC_FY2010_PerCapitaRep.pdf) indicates that this is not necessarily so for private, for-profit prisons. This research based on Arizona's own facts and figures shows that privately-operated prisons can cost more than state-run prisons, even though they often do not accept the sickest, costliest inmates. Arizona law stipulates that private prisons must create “cost savings,” but the research shows that inmates in private prisons cost as much as $1,600 more per year, while many cost about the same as they do in state-run prisons.  

Similarly, a University of Utah team reviewed years of research and concluded in a 2007 report (http://ucjc.law.utah.edu/wp-content/uploads/86.pdf) that “cost savings from privatizing prisons are not guaranteed and appear minimal.” 

For many years, private prisons have been a hot issue in California. While Texas and Florida have embraced privatization as a supplement to state-run institutions, California has resisted. In 2002, former Governor Gray Davis ended California's experiment with privately operated prisons, fulfilling his promise to the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCOA) that spent $2.3 million to help elect him to his first term. Davis' budget proposed closing five of California's nine private prisons almost immediately and phasing out the rest as their operating contracts expire. He cited budget concerns, saying that the state could save about $5 million by closing the minimum-security facilities. Prisons run by private companies was finally discontinued in 2007 after continued lobbying by the CCOA. 

California does use private, for-profit facilities for community corrections facilities (seven are in operation today) and various contracted services, including education, vocational training, and substance abuse treatment.  

Private prisons are making a subtle comeback in California. For example, as the prisons' population swelled to an all-time high in 2006, former Governor.Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a public safety emergency and then used his emergency powers to begin transferring more than 10,000 inmates to private prisons in other states. California now contracts with for-profit private prison companies to house up to 10,468 inmates in out-of-state facilities.  

Shortly after Schwarzenegger's declaration of a public safety emergency, the Reason Foundation (http://reason.org), a Los Angeles-based libertarian think-tank that promotes the privatization of government services, and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (www.hjta.org) issued the so called "Reason-HJTA Report (http://reason.org/files/private_prisons_california.pdf), which advocated sending 25,000 California inmates to out-of-state for-profit prisons, claiming that would save the state up to $1.8 billion over a five-year period. The Report purports to offer a solution to California’s prison overcrowding crisis.  

The cost savings touted in this Report were severely criticized by the Private Corrections Institute, a non-profit citizen watchdog group that opposes prison privatization: “The joint Reason-HJTA report is based on sources that are so plagued with conflicts of interest that the results would be laughable if they weren’t masquerading as credible research.” (www.privateci.org/private_pics/PCI%20press%20release%20re%20Reason%20report%202010%20%282%29.pdf),  

I believe that California will turn to private, for-profit prisons as the long-term solution to prison overcrowding and not necessarily for any purported cost savings, but because California may have no other choice. California cannot build new prisons and/or remodel/expand existing prisons fast enough to keep up with new inmates. Lacking the political will, California will likely take the easy way out by shipping the prisoners to private prisons. 

N.B.: In his State of the State address in January 2010, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that California is spending 10 percent of its general fund on prisons and 7 percent on higher education. Isn’t this a case of misplaced priorities?

On Mental Illness: No Shame, No Blame, No Low Self-Esteem

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 03:10:00 PM

People’s perceptions about mental illness and about those who suffer from it are often negative and/or incorrect. Being subject to those perceptions comprises emotional and social baggage included in the “package deal” that comes with having a mental disability. This also applies to how we with mental illness might perceive ourselves. I would like to set straight some of these erroneous stereotypes and perceptions, in the hope that doing so will provide some relief to the readers. 

No one is to blame for the mental illness of a family member, acquaintance, or coworker. This neurobiological disease is not the result of something the mother or father did wrong, when they raised that person from birth, into childhood and to adulthood. While there are antiquated theories about the mother being to blame, there has never been evidence to support those theories. There is much evidence, however, to support the theory that some people are genetically predisposed to contracting a mental illness. The environmental factors that might contribute to a predisposed person getting such an illness are not yet understood. However, I think that many of those with mental illness may have received an accidental blow to the head during childhood. There are also those who suffered from childhood shyness and the lack of social skills. This initial social deficit can “snowball” to the person becoming a scapegoat and receiving various levels of abuse perpetrated by one’s peers. This, in turn can lead to isolation and alienation, both of which might contribute to these illnesses. 

Blaming oneself for one’s illness, blaming either or both parents, or blaming anyone, is destructive and serves no purpose. My parents, for example, did a great job of raising me, and both of them set good examples of how to be a good person. However, I became mentally ill just the same. I also know that I didn’t cause my own illness. Most of the time when someone gets blamed for a person’s mental condition, you’re pinning guilt on an innocent person, including yourself. 

An exception to what I have said in the above two paragraphs is that some cases of depression can be linked to a history of trauma. People who are abused as children may not grow up to be bipolar or schizophrenic but may have other problems. 

Your mental illness needn’t cause you to be ashamed. It doesn’t make you a sick or morally depraved person. It doesn’t make you weak-willed, and it doesn’t make you a “defective” person. It is simply a medical condition, and is unrelated to who you are as a human being. You didn’t manufacture your brain, your genes, or the environmental factors that combined to create this medical condition. It ought to be no more shameful to have a psychiatric illness than having diabetes or hypothyroidism. 

t persons who mock or ridicule persons with a mental illness. It is important to maintain a thick skin against these people, as you would against anyone who expresses a bigoted attitude. The disdain for persons with mental illness is bigotry, no more, no less. 

A mental illness doesn’t mean that life is hopeless. It impacts numerous aspects of living as do all disabilities. Any disability requires adaptation. By managing the condition with diligence, it becomes possible to do many of the things you want to do in life. 

I find it hard to understand that people who have sustained a physical brain injury, including a stroke, or a head injury, in which part of the brain is physically removed, often seem to function better in life compared to someone with mental illness, whose brain is physically intact. The difference may be to some extent that those with mental illness go through much more indoctrination to convince them that they can’t do anything. On the other hand, those who have a physical brain injury are encouraged to do as well as they can. 

The people who espouse the idea that mental illnesses are physical diseases, especially many mental health practitioners, are sometimes the same people who treat a person with mental illness as less than an adult who can think. This is hypocrisy. The continuous presumption by people that we are incapable eventually leaks into our self view, or we become angry over it. 

The anger is preferable, if properly managed. Such a “chip on the shoulder” can be channeled into good deeds that prove wrong those who believe we can’t accomplish something in life. 

As always, your comments and stories are welcome. I can be reached at: bragenkjack@yahoo.com or c/o the Planet.

Dispatches From The Edge:The New Face Of War

By Conn Hallinan
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 08:25:00 PM

The assassination of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden did more than knock off America’s Public Enemy Number One, it formalized a new kind of warfare, where sovereignty is irrelevant, armies tangential, and decisions are secret. It is, in the words of counterinsurgency expert John Nagl, “an astounding change in the nature of warfare.” 


It is also one that requires a vast intelligence apparatus, one that now constitute almost a fourth arm of government that most Americans are almost completely unaware of. Yet, according to the Washington Post, this empire includes some 1, 271 government agencies and 1,931 private companies in more than 10, 000 locations across the country, with a budget last year of at least $80.1 billion.  


“At the heart of this new warfare,” notes the Financial Times,” is high-tech cooperation between intelligence agencies and the military” that blurs the traditional borders between civilians and the armed forces. And it fits with the U.S.’s penchant for waging war with robots and covert Special Forces. 


But, by definition, the secrecy at the core of the “new warfare” removes decisions about war and peace from the public realm and relegates them to secure rooms in the White House or clandestine bases in the Hindu Kush. When the Blackhawk helicopters slipped through Pakistani airspace, they did more than execute one of America’s greatest bugbears, they essentially said another country’s sovereignty was no longer relevant and consigned Congress to the role of spectator. 


Over the past several decades U.S. military theorists have clashed over how to use the armed forces, though it is a debate that gets distorted by the requirements of industry: the U.S, does not really need 11 immense Nimitz class aircraft carriers, but the Newport News Shipbuilding Company—and the aerospace giants that fill the flattops with fighter bombers—do. 


The arguments have revolved around three different approaches, the Powell Doctrine, the Rumsfeld Doctrine, and the Petraeus Doctrine. 


The Powell Doctrine is essentially conventional warfare a-la-World War II: massive firepower, lots of soldiers, clear goals. This was the formula for the first Gulf War, which, after a month of bombing, lasted only four days. But it is a very expensive way to wage war. 


The Rumsfeld Doctrine merged high tech firepower and Special Forces with a minimal use of Army and Marine units. It also relies on private contractors to do much of what was formerly done by the military. The doctrine routed the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and quickly knocked out the Iraqi Army in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Once the shock and awe wore off, however, the Doctrine’s weaknesses became obvious. It simply didn’t have the manpower to hold the ground against a guerilla insurgency. The 2007 “surge” of troops in Iraq, like last year’s surge in Afghanistan, was an admission that the doctrine was fundamentally flawed if the locals decided to keep fighting. 


The Petraeus Doctrine is old wine in a new bottle: counterinsurgency. In theory, it is boots on the ground to win hearts and minds. It draws heavily on intelligence—what Gen. David Petraeus calls “bandwidth”—to isolate and eliminate any insurgents—and attempts to establish trust with the locals. It is cheaper than the Powell and Rumsfeld doctrines, but it also almost never works. Eventually the locals get tried of being occupied, and then counterinsurgency turns nasty. Building schools and digging wells give way to night raids and targeted assassinations that alienate the local population. According to U.S. intelligence, the current counterinsurgency program in Afghanistan is failing. 


So, what is this “astounding change” that Nagl speaks of? If you want to put a name to it, “counter-terrorism” is probably the most descriptive, although with a new twist. Like counterinsurgency, counter-terrorism has been around a long time. The Phoenix Program that killed some 40,000 South Vietnamese was a variety of the doctrine. Phoenix, too, paid no attention to sovereignty. During the Vietnam War, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols secretly went into Cambodia and Laos.  


In recent years, the U.S. clandestinely sent Special Forces into Syria and Pakistan in a sort of shadow war against “insurgents.” A number of other countries have done the same. 


But the Obama administration openly admits to sending a Special Forces Seal team into Pakistan to assassinate bin Laden, and it was prepared to fight Pakistan’s armed forces if they tried to intervene. And when Pakistan asked the U.S. to curb its use of armed drones in Pakistani airspace, the Central Intelligence Agency said it would do nothing of the kind. 


It is as if counter-terrorism reconfigured that classic line from the movie “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”: “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges, we got drones and Seals.” 


The principle behind counter-terrorism is eliminating people you don’t like. There is no patina of “hearts and minds,” and the new strategy makes no effort to practice the subterfuge of “plausible deniability” that has deflected the ire of target countries in the past. 


While clandestine warfare is not new, the boldness of the bin Laden hit is. Certainly the people who planned the attack wanted to make a statement: we can get you anywhere you are, and impediments like international law, the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Charter be damned. 


“Targeted assassinations violate well-established principles of international law,” says law professor Marjorie Cohn. “Extrajudicial executions are unlawful, even in armed conflict.” 


From the U.S.’s point of view, the doctrine has a number of advantages. It is cheaper, and its expenses are generally hidden away in a labyrinth of bureaucracy. For instance, the $80.1 billion figure is only an estimate and does not include the cost of the CIA’s drone war in Pakistan, or Homeland Security. 


Recent moves by the White House suggest the administration is putting this new strategy in place. “Petraeus’s appointment to head the CIA is an important indication that the U.S. wants to fuse intelligence and military operations,” a “senior figure” at the British Defense Ministry told the Financial Times


In the past the division between military and civilian intelligence agencies allowed for a range of opinions. While the U.S. military continues to put a rosy spin on the Afghan War, civilian intelligence agencies have been much more somber about the success of the current surge. That division is likely to vanish under the new regime, where intelligence becomes less about analysis and more about targeting. 


The new warfare opens up a Pandora’s box, the implications of which are only beginning to be considered. What would be the reaction if Cuban armed forces had landed in Florida and assassinated Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch, two anti-Castro militants who were credibly charged with setting bombs in Havana and downing a Cuban airliner? Washington would treat it as an act of war. The problem with a foreign policy based on claw and fang is that, if one country claims the right to act independently of international law and the UN Charter, all countries can so claim. 


In the end, however, the biggest victims for this “new” warfare will probably be the American people. Once an enormous intelligence bureaucracy is created—there are some 854,000 people with top-secrecy security clearance—it will be damned hard to dismantle it. And, since the very nature of the endeavor removes it from public oversight, it is a formula for a massive and uncontrolled expansion of the national security state.  




Conn Hallinan can be read at Dispatchedfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com 

















Senior Power: Who Laughs at What, and Why

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 06:02:00 PM

Who laughs at what… and why interest me.Mainly, laughter by-for-about the aged and aging. 

Theories of humor have been divided into 3 groups. In general, they are theories of (1) superiority or degradation, (2) incongruity, frustration of expectation, and (3) relief of tension or release from inhibition. Humor supposedly plays a safety valve role, providing institutionalized outlets for hostilities and for discontent ordinarily suppressed by the group. Like ageism, racism, sexism... 

Humor may be verbal, visual or physical. Although it is ultimately decided by personal taste, the extent to which an individual finds something funny depends on such variables as geographical location, culture, maturity, education level, intelligence and context

Ageism is discrimination based on one’s chronological age-- especially prejudice against, and disparate treatment of, the elderly. It manifests itself in unacceptable behavior that occurs as a result of the belief that older people are of less value than younger people. It lends itself to satire, sarcasm, ridicule and stereotyping. Fear has a lot to do with it too. 

Disparate treatment negatively impacts older persons’ ability to obtain employment and to receive serious consideration in many places in society. The ease with which people make fun of older Americans trickles down to the workplace. Casual comments that would never be tolerated if directed at a member of another protected class are acceptable, even routine. Here are some examples of this type of pejorative usage: Little old lady / “We need some new blood around here” / Fuddy-duddy / “You’ve had # years, and that’s enough” / “We need new energy” / Not a good cultural fit / “I’m not sure we want a grandpa working with our students.” 

When a late night talk show host makes fun of an African American or a gay politician, there may be nervous laughter, followed by a public discussion and the inevitable apology. There are no such taboos with age. Completely acceptable by society at large were some of David Letterman’s snappy remarks about John McCain (age 75) in the last presidential campaign: “John McCain looks like a guy whose head you can barely see over the steering wheel.” “John McCain looks like the guy who thinks the nurses are stealing his stuff.” Chuckle chuckle. 

An email has arrived from a “youngish writer in New York City,” who has “a lot of issues with ageism in the entertainment business” and feels “our stars should be men and women again, not fancied-up 25 year-old and under children.” Remember The Dick Van Dyke Show, the American television sitcom that ran for 5 years in the 1960s? Created by Carl Reiner and staring Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, it won 15 Emmy Awards. Remember The Mary Tyler Moore Show that ran from 1970-1977 and garnered 3 Emmy Awards? That email also reminded me of The Gin Game, originally a two-person, two-act play by D. L. Coburn that premiered in 1976. 

In May 2003 Moore and Van Dyke appeared together again. Van Dyke was 78 years old and Moore was 67 when they co-executive produced and starred in The Gin Game. 

Broadcast on PBS, it was described as “a bittersweet comedy” about a relationship that develops between two prickly, senior citizen-nursing home residents during a series of card games. It is more bitter than sweet, and not humorous. Each discovers that they are both gasp “on welfare.” The nursing home is unrealistic. Moore’s character is pictured as having her trunk delivered to her single room! (Unfortunately, the DVD is not closed captioned.) 

Now seventy-five, Moore has reportedly gone into a facility for surgery to remove a benign tumor on the lining of her brain. People magazine reports that meningiomas are extremely common and usually occur in older adults. Mayo Clinic staff describes a meningioma as a tumor arising from the membranes that surround one’s brain and spinal cord. Most are noncancerous (benign), though, rarely, a meningioma may be cancerous (malignant); they occur most commonly in older women, but a meningioma can occur in males and at any age. 


I was already old when I first recognized ageism in cartoons. Right there in front of me, a 1984 cartoon in the Mainichi Daily News, a Japanese English-language newspaper. It was captioned “Gaijins can’t believe that little old ladies are waiting to clean the urinal while they’re using it!” and accompanied by an admittedly humorous drawing of exactly that… a babushka’d little old lady waiting, mop in hand, next to an embarrassed gaijin (foreigner) partially facing the urinal. 

An advertisement arrived in the U.S. mail. It’s for Assisted Living; The Musical. It features songs like “Help, I’ve Fallen for You and I Can’t Get Up.” “The Uplifting Viagra Medley.” “The Lawyer’s Lament.” “Organ donor.” “AARP.” “Goin' To The Chapel and We're Gonna Get Buried.” Audiences are said to be laughing so hard, they cry. Am I the only one who finds this stuff offensive? This satirical revue is said to have opened to a standing ovation in Florida and will be in San Francisco in July. Meantime, go to www.assistedlivingthemusical.com

Is it not possible to think positively about old persons in humorous terms? “…the best cartoons not only produce laughs, they tell truths. And laughs last,” writes editor Mort Gerberg in his introduction to Last Laughs: Cartoons About Aging, Retirement… and the Great Beyond. Most of these full-page cartoons are original, made to order for the collection, although several have appeared in The New Yorker. They are indeed clever. But many negate aging and aged persons. I searched in vain through 133 pages of this trade book (Scribner 2007) for humorous truth-telling cartoons consisting of positive images or that acknowledge ageism. At best, there’s bland indifference. Like… Male M.D. to male patient: “You know what might be fun? An M.R.I.” Like… Two old males chatting in their club as decrepit tray-carrying waiter passes by: “Five hundred dollars Hodge dies before you get your Martini.” Like … Male M.D. to seated dowager-type female, “When he goes, should we tell you directly, or is there some euphemism you prefer?” 

For years The Bulbul Cartoon Service has been providing pithy humor that is both powerful and entertaining while underscoring ageism and its ally, sexism. Like… stylish granny reads to a child from a picture book, “The Easter Bunny joined a coalition of the egg decorators union, the jelly bean workers action committee, and the spring time mobilization for a living wage.” Like… a diverse group of old ladies study the DeLuxe Menu while displaying a People’s Hunger Project picketing sign; the caption is “Congressman smugly voted against our food stamps so we’re joining him for his expense account lunch.” (A scheduled display of some Bulbul single panel and strip cartoons was inexplicably cancelled at the North Berkeley Senior center.) [POB 4100, Mountain View, CA 94040. www.bulbul.com

English researchers report that people in general are mentally healthier in their later years despite problems associated with old age and impending death. Far from dwelling on a halcyon view of the past or a bleak future, pensioners (English senior citizens and elders are sometimes referred to as “pensioners”) have learned to live in the moment and adopt a "life is too short" attitude to negative feelings. Their problems may be greater—due to ill health and age-related decline—but researchers claim they are better able to deal with them because of experience. (How old are those researchers, one wonders.) 



Older men may be at risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI), often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, earlier in life than older women, according to information from the National Institute on Aging. A Mayo Clinic NIH-supported study suggests gender differences in cognition problems. MCI development and progression are more common in older men than in older women, and it is consistently higher in men than in women across all age ranges. 

“Some Observations on the Social Consequences of Forgetfulness and Alzheimer's Disease: A Call for Attitudinal Expansion” is a plea for change in the way Alzheimer’s disease is both publicly and professionally understood. N. Shabahangi, et al highlight the way in which the human process of forgetting as we age has been pathologized into a symptom of dread disease. They contend that age-associated cognitive changes such as forgetfulness are an essential aspect of growing older. 

A group of elderly Japanese engineers is prepared to come out of retirement for their final mission -- to fix the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Hiroaki Koide, the courageous Japanese antinuclear activist (See May 18, 2011 Senior Power column), and other age 60+ civil engineers are planning to set up a Skilled Veterans Corps to assist in restoring control over crucial cooling functions at the tsunami-hit nuclear Fukushima power plant. Decades of professional engineering expertise combined with a desire to protect younger workers from radiation exposure unite them. The idea was masterminded by Yasuteru Yamada, 72, a retired engineer alarmed by reports of young subcontractors undertaking the high-risk work. "Young people, especially those who have children in future, should not be exposed to radiation." Organizers dismiss potential comparisons with World War II kamikazi suicide pilot fighters. The proposal is supported by a number of politicians. 

Email your Senators by June 3 to oppose Medicaid cuts; go to www.ncoa.org for an easy email. The National Council on Aging is a nonprofit service and advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. It warns that Medicaid (California’s Med-I-Cal) is a prime target in current deficit reduction talks. The House of Representatives has already approved a budget that would cut Medicaid by almost $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years. This would be devastating to the millions of vulnerable seniors who rely on the program for long-term care and Medicare low-income protections. Now many believe that the focus of entitlement cuts is shifting to Medicaid. 




MARK YOUR CALENDAR: June-July-August 2011 Call to confirm, date, time and place: 

Wednesday, June 1 Noon. Playreaders, Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge. Meets weekly to read aloud from great plays, changing parts frequently. Intended for adult participants. Free. Also June 8, 15, 22 and 28. (510) 981-6160. 

Wednesday, June 1 10 A.M.-Noon North Berkeley Senior Center Advisory Council, 1901 Hearst. (510) 981-5190. 

Wednesday, June 1 9 A.M. – 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. AARP Driver Safety Refresher Course specifically designed for motorists who are 50+. To qualify, you must have taken the standard course within the last 4 years. Preregistration required; $12 per fee for AARP members; $14 for non-AARP members. Registration is payable only by check. (510) 747-7510. 

Thursday, June 2 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Public Library. Free, Drop-In Classes - Relaxed Atmosphere - Self-Paced. Learn how to use the mouse, use the keyboard, set up e-mail and search the Internet. Also June 9, 16, 23, 30. 510-981-6148. 

Friday, June 3, 12:30 p.m. Downtown Oakland Senior Center, 2000 Grand Avenue. Movie-Lecture Series continues with Suddenly, Last Summer. Center Director Jennifer D. King will present this controversial 1959 classic starring Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn and lead a discussion of the themes explored. Free but required RSVP by calling (510) 238-3284 or signing up at the Reception Desk. Refreshments. 

Saturday, June 4. Giant community flea market to raise funds for senior programs. North Oakland Senior Center, 5714 MLK, Oakland. For information: (510) 597-5085. 

Monday, June 6 6-6:50 P.M. Evening Computer Class. Central Berkeley Public Library. Free drop-in beginners’ computer class. (510) 981-6148. Also June 13, 20, 27. 

Thursday, June 6 5 P.M.,6 – 7:45 P.M. Lawyers in the Library, West. West Branch Library. 1125 University Ave. at San Pablo. Free legal advice. Sign-ups begin at 5 P.M. . “Names put in random order at 6 P.M.” Also June 23. (510) 091-6270. 

Wednesday, June 8 10 A.M. Emeryville Commission on Aging. Meets monthly on 2nd Wednesday, at the Senior Center, 4321 Salem St. Confirm (510)596-3730. 

Thursday, June 9 5 P.M.,6 – 7:45 P.M. Lawyers in the Library, South. South Branch Library, 1901 Russell St. Free legal advice and help. Referrals to Alameda County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, or to an appropriate free or low-cost legal service provider, if necessary. Wheelchair accessible. In-person sign-ups only, begin at 5 P.M. . Names pulled by lottery at 6 P.M. 

Thursday, June 9 7 -8:45 P.M. Café Literario. West Branch Library. Part 2 of facilitated discussion in Spanish of Julio Cortazar’s Rayuela. Cortazar (1914-1984) was an Argentine poet, short story writer, and translator whose pseudonym was Julio Denis. Rayuela, es la gran novela de Julio Cortázar. El libro donde el escritor argentino supo condensar sus propias obsesiones estéticas, literarias y vitales en un mosaico casi inagotable donde toda una época se vio maravillosamente reflejada. 

Tuesday, June 14 10 A.M. Mastick Senior Center. “V A Benefits and YOU!” Michael Ennis, Alameda County Veterans Service Officer, will provide an overview of VA Benefits. To reserve a seat, sign up in the office or call 747-7506. 

Wednesday, June 15 World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Advocates from around the world set out to promote awareness, in an attempt to prevent elder abuse, the “silent epidemic” that is unacceptable in any language or circumstance. More in June 8 and 15 Senior Power columns. 

Wednesday, June 15 1:30 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging. Meets on 3rd Wednesday at South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis. Confirm. (510)9081-5178. 

Thursday, June 16 12:15 – 1 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library Art & Music Dept. James Joyce & Jazz. Celebrate "Bloomsday" with Celtic/jazz vocalist Melanie O'Reilly and pianist Frank Martin, in a concert of original music inspired by Joyce's works, as well as contemporary arrangements of traditional works cited by Joyce. 

Saturday, June 18 11 A.M. – Noon. Landlord/Tenant Counseling, Central Berkeley Public Library. Housing Counselors from the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board offer free, one-on-one counseling sessions. (Third Saturday each month) They assist both tenants and landlords by answering questions and making referrals on housing related topics-- including security deposits, rent control, evictions, unpaid rent and other difficult issues. Contact Jacquelyn Morgan for more information at 510-981-7368 Ext 4917. 

Tuesday, June 21, 10 A.M. Mastick Senior Center. “Victoria’s Legacy on the Island.” Judith Lynch serves on the City of Alameda historical Advisory Board. She will provide an overview on Victorian history and culture, highlighting the 19th century building of Alameda. This program will meet for 6 weeks, and include 4 slide presentations and 2 walking tours. Sign up in the Mastick Office or call 747-7506. Class limited to 25 participants. 

Wednesday, June 22 1:30 P.M. - 2:30 P.M. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Great Books Discussion Group meets on the fourth Wednesday of the month. This month's book is A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. (510) 526-3720 x16 

Thursday, June 23 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center. Music Appreciation Class discussion and performance “Leroy Anderson: American’s Master of Light Music” 

Tuesday, June 28 3-4 P.M. Tea and Cookies at the Central Berkeley Public Library. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. (Monthly on the 4th Tuesday ) (510) 981-6100. 

Tuesday, June 28 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center. California Relay Service & YOU! 

A representative from Hamilton Relay (one of two providers of the California Relay Service (CRS) free service offered through the California Public Utilities Commission) will explain the various programs available. Register in the Mastick Office or call 747-7506. 

Wednesday, June 29. 2 – 3:30pm Become a genealogical super sleuth at the Berkeley Public Library, ready to research your family history. Electronic Classroom of the Central Library for the very popular introduction to Ancestry.com, an online resource that offers searchable census tracts, immigration records, photos, stories and more. (510) 981-6100. 

Friday, July 15 8 A.M. – 2 P.M. Compassion & Choices of Northern California is a participant in the Healthy Living Festival. Oakland Zoo, 9777 Golf Links Road. For information, email admin@compassionandchoicesnca.org 

Wednesday, July 20 1:30 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging. Meets on 3rd Wednesday at South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis. Check to confirm (510)9081-5178.  

Wednesday, August 10 10 A.M – 2 P.M. Compassion & Choices of Northern California is a participant in the Healthy Aging Fair Festival. Chabot College, 25555 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward. Email admin@compassionandchoicesnca.org 



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





Arts & Events

Around & About Music: 8th Berkeley World Music Festival This Saturday, All Afternoon--Free

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 08:45:00 PM

The 8th Berkeley World Music Festival kicks off at noon on and around Telegraph Avenue at both indoor and outdoor venues between Bancroft and Dwight Ways, with continuous music all afternoon & evening, noon till nine--and it's free! 

In cafes and restaurants (The Med, Milano, Raleigh's, Remy's), music stores (Amoeba, Rasputin's), in People's Park (Crafts Bazaar from noon, music from 1, with mc Bryan Ullenbrock), on the old "Cody's Corner" on Tele & Haste, in the UC Art Museum Sculpture Garden, and a block south of Dwight at The Village, an exceptional range of musical delights for listening and dancing has been put together again by Gianna Ranuzzi & crew, including: 

The Druid Sisters Tree Party (Celtic, Gypsy); Riffat Sultana & Sukhawat Ali Khan (Qawali sufi); Fito Reino y Ritmo y Armonia (Cuban); SF Balalaika Ensemble; Forro brazuca (Brazilian accordions); Mamadou & Vanessa (Mali blues); Eliyahu & the Qadim Ensemble (Middle Eastern mystical); The Belly Dance Bazaar; Rafael Manrique & Ingrid Rubio (Latin American song); Sadza Marimba & Mbira (Zimbabwean music & dance); Pusaka Sunda (West Java gamelan & dance); Jie Ma & Daniel Berkman (Chinese pipa & African kora); Beth Custer Ensemble (jazz & funk)--from noon to 6--and the Helladellics, Greek roots music, at The Village for a Festival Finale, 7-9. (Festival Post-Party, with the West African High Life Band, at Askenaz, San Pablo at Gilman, is ticketed: $10-$13.) 

Info, map & schedules at: berkeleyworldmusic.org

Around & About Theater: Woman's Will Playfest 2011--with a preview of Women Behind Suffrage

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 08:42:00 PM

Woman's Will, the East Bay all-female troupe which was founded by Erin Merritt for women to play all the roles in Shakespeare and other great theater, has for years put on an annual playfest. This year, with Victoria Evans Erville's artistic direction--and dedication to the principal not just of roles for women, but plays written and directed by them--the short plays presented were written by female playwrights from around the country over a two month period, including; 

It's Good to Know, by Megan Cohen; 740 is a Blue Ribbon, by Nancy Gall-Clayton; Counting the Minutes, by Evelyn Jean Pine (all directed by Erville); 1960, by Marilyn Hughes; After the Prologue, by Carol Lashoff (directed by Jodi Schiller); Blood Sisters, by Robin Rice Lichtig (directed by Kate Jopson) ... 

And a special preview of Woman's Will's first original play, Starving Hearts: The Women Behind Suffrage, by Kate Jopson, Sharon Huff and Anne Hallinan, directed by Huff--which will premiere next Fall. 

The company notes that only 20% of all professionally produced plays are by women playwrights or directed by woman directors. 

Playfest 2011 is a celebration of what's become a Bay Area theatrical institution. 

8 p. m. Friday, June 3 and Saturday, June 4, at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason, San Francisco, 6th floor (a block west of Union Square). $20-$30. 1-800-838-3006; brownpapertickets.com (Further information at: womanswill.org


Book Review: German Voices: Memories of Life during Hitler's Third Reich, by Frederic C. Tubach.

Reviewed By Joanna Graham
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 05:43:00 PM

Ten years ago, the University of California Press published An Uncommon Friendship,by Bernat Rosner and Frederic C. Tubach. The authors, Orinda residents who were then just retiring from their respective professions, had been longtime close friends on the basis of shared interests, shared values, and a common background, both having grown up in rural villages in pre-World War II Europe. But there was one vast dissimilarity. Rosner, a Hungarian Jew, was the sole member of his family to have survived Auschwitz. Tubach, a German, was the son of a man who early and with enthusiasm joined the Nazi party and ultimately the SS. Together, they took on the difficult task of remembering and recounting their wartime experiences and ultimately produced a spare, honest, and deeply moving book which on the one side of the Holocaust refuses to whine and on the other to excuse. 

Fritz Tubach’s new book, German Voices: Memories of Life during Hitler’s Third Reich,published also by U.C. Press, is very much a follow-on project to the first, both with respect to intentions and to methodology. Therefore, I will speak briefly first about “An Uncommon Friendship.” 

In the mid 1990s, Bernie Rosner, as the retired chief counsel of Safeway Corporation and an American citizen leading a comfortable well-to-do life, had long dealt with his early losses and suffering by never thinking about them. His agreement to do the painful work of remembering which resulted in “An Uncommon Friendship” led to two years of intimate and painful conversations with his friend in which bits and scraps of discontinuous memories were slowly recovered and assembled. Rosner refused to write these memories down himself, instead asking Tubach to do so for him. Thus the book consists of alternating chapters in first person (Tubach) and third person (Rosner). In addition, the current life of the two men and their friendship is frequently referenced, providing a context for these recovered memories from so long ago. 

What carried these friends into and through this very difficult project? Tubach’s answer is that, “for one thing, because the German crime of the Holocaust never lets me go. [But also] this new undertaking came to form the crux of what was important to me: bridge building. I simply refused to accept the fact that…Hitler would have the last word in how we could relate to each other.” Rosner’s answer (in Tubach’s words) was that “it was our common European cultural heritage, with its utopian longing for a civil society and the shared experiences of great art, and as for the rest, we agreed with Peter Ustinov’s dismissal of ethnic and religious identity: one should have one’s roots in civilized behavior and leave it at that.” 

Tubach himself had what turned out to be the good fortune of being born in San Francisco in 1930. Raised in Germany, he activated his American citizenship in 1949 and moved to the Bay Area, where he ultimately became a professor of German literature at UC Berkeley. An avid traveler, through the years he has maintained a kind of dual American and German outlook, which surfaces strongly in his second book, the core of which is a series of interviews done in the past decade or so with now elderly Germans who lived through the war years as adolescents or young adults. The interviewees were not selected scientifically. Most of them are people who attend the annual conferences of a German business organization of which Tubach and his wife are the only American members. One interviewee was the visiting mother of a Bay Area friend met quite accidentally at a birthday party. Furthermore, not everyone who was interviewed is represented in the book. Despite this unscientific procedure, however, with some obvious biases built in, Tubach does a good job of presenting stories about a wide range of experiences from many different people, both men and women, of urban and rural backgrounds, from many geographic regions and social classes. Some were civilians and some fighters, including infantrymen on both fronts, fliers, and POWs. A few, but not all, of their stories are horrific. In all of the interviews, Tubach’s patient listening, humane curiosity, and refusal to pass judgment, comes through, as it does in his first book. 

These interviews are preceded by Tubach’s hundred-page summary of what the Nazi regime felt like to ordinary (non-Jewish) Germans. Most of this material is available in other, more detailed studies, but sometimes we have to be reminded that Hitler in the ‘thirties made life better. A more thorough program of social spending than the New Deal lifted Germans quickly out of the Great Depression. Tubach is at his best, as always, in presenting his own childhood memories. The Nazi youth programs may have had sinister intentions of indoctrinating young Germans in the Nazi cause and toughening up boys for war, but I for one did not know that, if one was a kid, the hide-and-seek style war games ranging through streets and woods were just plain fun. 

A word on the Holocaust is in order, since it is now, of course, the single greatest association all of us have with the Nazi era. Tubach includes a chapter on it in his summary, as, I assume, he must, but it is one of the weaker chapters in the book since it is essentially a summary of others’ work. Far more compelling for me is his own strong childhood memory, described in “An Uncommon Friendship,” of seeing a Jewish neighbor on the street of his village the day after her home had been vandalized and pillaged during Kristallnacht and understanding, just from her gait, that something terrible had happened to her, something that had turned her “from subject to object.” Even though this incident is trivial compared to what ultimately happened, it is just this kind of detail, I believe, with its immediacy and complexities, that epitomizes the concretization and specification of German experience that Tubach is trying to accomplish. Early on in “German Voices,” Tubach admits that it is “problematic” to omit the Holocaust from the memories he recounts but argues that, although “for some readers, this may seem a scandalous assertion,” “it did not play a major role in the lives of the majority of Germans.” I believe this to be true: how many of us are paying attention to, let alone doing anything about, the killing that is currently going on in our name? 

This issue brings me, however, to the weakest part of the book. The last sixty pages consist of excerpts from letters written home by German soldiers during the war. I’m not surprised that children in their towns and villages in Germany in the 1930s were not paying a great deal of attention to what the Nazi Party was up to, but I cannot grant to soldiers, on the Eastern Front in particular, such innocence. The handful of letters, parts of which Tubach translates and comments on, were selected from a vast archive. I can accept the arbitrariness of interview subjects who are acquaintances or parents of friends. The book is, after all, intended to be a personal project, not a definitive historical statement. But, by its very existence, it does add to the data and that data, particularly on this subject which remains so fraught, should be untainted by any hint of apologetics. The last sixty pages, except for a few brutal comments, show a studied ignorance of the vast amount of killing, of Jews and others, in which the Wehrmacht was engaged. Although I’m certain that Tubach’s intentions here are completely benign, these pages mostly make me curious to learn what is in the 80,000 or so letters from which he doesn’t cite. 

With this caveat, however, I can recommend Tubach’s book, which I do feel should be read as a companion volume to his first. Why did Tubach undertake this second project? He says in his preface that his intention is “to add—for the record—German voices that have not been sufficiently heard in the United States.” This is the sort of Tubachian understatement that goes off in the mind about two hours after reading. Later in the book, he makes his impulse more exact when he says, apropos of an interview with an elderly survivor of the Dresden bombing, “My first dinner with Bernat Rosner, my friend who had survived Auschwitz, came to mind….I hoped to retrieve and thereby save the most traumatic experiences in their individual lives from the leveling effect of the violent storm that engulfed them.” Again, this offhand parallel between Jew and German, without saying so, asks us to consider the difficult proposition that suffering is suffering, no matter who must endure it. 

Although not stated as an aim, my guess is that at least part of the intention is to add to the effort currently underway to re-normalize Germany and Germans. It’s been fifteen years since Daniel Goldhagen became an overnight sensation for his book, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners,” in which he argued that the Holocaust occurred because of a lethal anti-Semitism specific, like a bad gene, to the German people. I find, interestingly, that even though I believe Goldhagen’s book to be, in Raul Hilberg’s words, “completely wrong” and “worthless,” I, as a Jewish-American, am hanging up, in a weird way, over the extremely attractive dust cover of Tubach’s new book. There is the title, “German Voices,” printed large at the top and the subtitle, “Memories of Life during Hitler’s Third Reich” smaller at the bottom, both superimposed over a black-and-white photograph printed on khaki-green paper of the author as a smiling boy in the 1930s dressed in sandals and lederhosen and standing in front of uniformed men, identified on the back flap as members of a visiting fire brigade. 

Does this child and others like him, now in old age, have the right to speak? On that subject, I will give the distinguished Israeli, Avraham Burg (who, on his father’s side, has German roots), the final comment. In his own deeply thoughtful book,The Holocaust is Over; We Must Rise from Its Ashes (2008), he writes: “In the detention cell of humanity there is only one detainee left from the dark days, and it is Germany. There will be those who will justify it and claim that they deserve it forever. But others may understand that the best interest of the human race requires the unshackling of the problematic relationship between the Jewish guard and the German prisoner….In the day we leave Auschwitz and establish the new state of Israel, we also have to set Germany free….On the day that the Shoah is no longer part of our daily lives, we can recite the Kaddish for its victims and for ourselves. The prayers will transition from the mournful years of bereavement, suspicion, and anger to the age of memory, optimism, trust, and hope.” 

Fritz Tubach will be reading from German Voices on Thursday, June 9th at 5:30 p.m. at University Press Books, 2430 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, and on Thursday, June 16th at 3:00 p.m. at Orinda Books, 276 Village Square, Orinda.

Film Review:Midnight in Paris Strikes Gold
(But Woody’s Script Doesn’t Pan Out)

Review by Gar Smith
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 08:34:00 PM

Like many devotees, I trekked to Woody Allen's latest celebration of Nebbish Cinema (actually, I caught it at a press screening). And I have to report that the predictable parade of our favorite antic-auteur’s resume of neurotic mannerisms (draped, this time, on the capably slack shoulders of Allen-stand-in Owen Wilson) left me feeling ambivalent (when I wasn’t laughing, of course). Laughter is contagious. So, too, is neurosis. Let me kvetch. 

Although I enjoyed this time-travel frolic (call it "Zelig on the Seine"), Midnight in Paris succeeds largely by relying on the Reward of Recognition Trick. (It’s the same thing that happens at an oldies concert when a crooner hits the first few notes and the audience hoots and shrieks because it recognizes a favorite song that's about to be re-hashed). Need a laugh? Trot out Degas, Lautrec or Buñuel and listen to the audience titter. This is the kind of stunt you can only pull once but Woody does (give him credit) pull it off beautifully. 

It must have been a kick for a kaboodle of actors to step into the shoes and slippers of legends like Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Picasso and Hemingway. And the actors do not disappoint. One standout among many: Adrien Brody’s turn as Salvado Dali is a dilly. 

However! There were some continuity errors and “plot holes” that gnawed at me. And they were especially bothersome since the audience was being asked to look at Paris through the eyes of a self-confessed “hack” screenwriter. Let me belabor just three examples. (I’m assuming, for the sake of this post-mortem, that you’ve already seen the film. If not: Spoiler Alert.) 

(1) In his haste to make his post-midnight rendezvous and consummate a time-travel tryst, Gil (our zero-hero) steals his fiancé's earrings to use as a gift for Adriana, the girl of his 1920s dreams. This sets up an amusing scene where Gil has to explain (a) what he's doing rushing out the door smelling of cologne, with (b) a gift box in his hand. Much anxious hilarity ensues. Unfortunately, it is all undone by the very next scene. Allen takes us along as Gil visits a Paris jewelry shop to buy a new pair of ear-gear to present to Adriana. 

SO! If Gil had time to go shopping before the Chimes of Midnight... why did he risk clipping Inez' earrings?

(2) In the set-up scene where (First Femme) Carla Bruni is translating Adriana's French memoire on a park bench, Gil hears that his evening with Adriana is preordained. Adriana, writing in the Twenties, records a dream in which she meets and American named Gil who girts her with a pair of earrings and they hit the sheets. This, naturally, sets up the previous scene where Gil is motivated to douse himself with cologne and steal the family jewels. 

SO!If it the Gil-Adriana meeting was all preordained by Adriana's novel, why didn’t Woody’s script “go by the book”? Instead of hitting the sack, Adriana invites Gil to catch a horse-drawn cart back to the Belle Epoch. Contrary to expectations, no coupling, no consummation. I felt cheated but, oddly enough, Gil (still presumably reeking of an excess of cologne) didn't seem to notice or mind. (I ran this by Mick LaSalle, the Chronicle’s prescient film critic who advised me not to fret since “that was a dream.”) 

(3) Finally, thanks to the earnest intercession of Hemingway and Stein, Gil gets a chance to rewrite his novel. Allen shows him working in bed with pages of the manuscript propped up on his knees. Later (actually, make that “earlier,” since we’re now back in the 1920s) Allen shows Gil delivering his massive rewrite to Gertrude Stein. 

SO! Gil's a modern guy, but we never see him hunkered over a laptop (or even a manual typewriter) re-working that honkin' manuscript. Are we to assume he wrote the original manuscript in longhand and simply rewrote all the changes in script? 

There are other plot-holes for a neurotic to stumble into but I'll leave it at that. 

On second thought, there is one last thing. Can we talk about Owen Wilson's nose? Let’s face up to it. It's hard to accept Wilson as a new-and-different character when he always shows up with that same distracting twist in his schnoz. There’s no question Wilson can play a generic slacker but Woody Allen is a character, and that requires some dramatic distance. (And it doesn't help that Wilson shows up in his trademark surfer-dude Bieber-coif.) 

Anyway, thanks for the laughs, Woody, and hats off to the great cast of expat celebs — Dali was a delight; Picasso a p---k, Hemingway a hoot — but I would have liked to have seen more of Josephine Baker. 

Who knows, maybe there will be a sequel where Woody’s doppleganger-of-the-day will romance Josephine. I can only dream.

Film Review: Empire of Silver: A Local Filmmaker’s Awesome Debut

Review by Gar Smith
Thursday June 02, 2011 - 02:19:00 PM

Empire of Silver opens June 3 at the San Francisco Metreon and AMC Bay Street in Emeryville. 

With her first feature film, Taiwan-born Christina Yao (a Bay Area resident and an established local stage director) has made a spectacular leap into the front ranks of cinema’s great artists. Empire of Sand approaches Lawrence of Arabia for historical sweep, moral narrative and sheer cinematic brilliance. From the first awe-inspiring shot, you know you’re in the hands of a master. If there was one criticism of Empire, it might be that this film is almost too gorgeous for its own good. A dozen times during the press screening we attended, hardened critics involuntarily gasped aloud at the film’s beauty. The extraordinary cinematic eye-scapes prompted repeated outbursts of “Yow!” (But, in fairness, that exclamation should be spelled “Yao!”) 

In the very first scene, the camera slowly pans across an endless red plain that stretches to a distant horizon of low, brown mountains. As the pan continues — and continues and continues — it slowly dawns on viewers that the camera must have already tracked full circle and there is nothing else on Earth to be seen but this endless barren landscape. 

And then the camera cuts to a lone figure. Standing in the middle of several thousand square miles of Chinese desert, the character’s voice reflects: “The world is large. How much can one man matter?” At this point, the camera lifts to the sky like a vast curtain rising on an epic play and the story begins. 

We find ourselves in 1899, the last days of the 19th century, where old cultural values are being challenged and overturned. But instead of another tale of Emperors and competing warlords, the heroes and villains of this Empire are a powerful Shanxi family of bankers, lead by the imperious Lord Kang. It is a time of change: the concept of paper fiat money is being introduced and the moral code of Confucianism is being replaced by the expedience of Legalism. 

Kang has four sons: a quick-tempered warrior, a soft touch, a sad-eyed wastrel and a young man off to a new life with his young bride. Who will inherit the family’s burden as silver-keepers for the Qing Dynasty? 

After a series of misfortunes thins the herd, the mantle falls on the unwilling shoulders of the third son, “Third Master.” Naturally, it is the son with the greatest distaste for power who is fated to become the new lord of China’s Wall Street. 

But there is something odd about the way Third Master haunts the family mansion — especially when in the presence of Lord Kang’s young wife. As the story unfolds, we discover a twisted Oedipal relationship that is waaaay beyond complex. 

The hedonistic Third Master is played by charismatic Hong Kong heartthrob Aaron Kwok (a popular musician, dancer and singer who is known as “the Michael Jackson of Hong Kong”). He is perfectly matched by the amazing Hao Lei as Lord Kang’s wife. The actors share a love scene that includes an astonishingly long single-take close-up that never leaves their faces. In the middle of this scene, at just the perfect moment, Hao Lei conjures a single tear that wells in her eye and spills down her cheek. If acting were an Olympic event, Hao Lei would take the gold. 

While Director Yao can wow you with long, intimate moments, her film also dazzles with images that must have taken days to stage but only occupy a few moments of screen time. Her camera becomes a character in itself, spinning and skating through the air like a martial artist doing wire-work. In one amazing visual, the camera rises from an ancient courtyard and drifts slowly over tilted tile rooftops until it reaches a huge fortified wall that marks the boundary of the city. And as the camera continues to pan, we see, standing outside the wall in the moonlight, a silent crowd of 3,000 peasants. The spectacle of the massed crowd lasts barely a second on the screen. 

Empire was filmed inside authentic 500-year-old buildings (many of which are now museums) and the actors wore authentic clothing and unique, irreplaceable jewelry on loan from private collections and China’s great museums. The film was shot in 13 counties and cities over the course of four months in four provinces. Computer graphics were used to carefully erase any evidence of modern skylines. 

Computer graphics likely played a role in a harrowing scene that finds Third Master and a business partner surrounded by a pack of wolves in a moonless desert. Their means of their escape is ingenious. (Lesson to backpackers everywhere: when traveling in wolf country, always carry at least two instruments made of steel.) 

Empire of Silver has won more than a dozen international film awards since its release in 2009. Director Yao, who previously had only made a couple of short films, makes a point of praising Executive Producer Jeremy Thomas (the money man behind The Last Emperor, Fast Food Nation, Naked Lunch, and 13 Assassins), the "one man" with the vision — and the money — to make the difference that brought Christina Yao's monumental movie to the screen. 

The Empire of Silver and the Confucian Path to Banking

By Gar Smith
Thursday June 02, 2011 - 02:18:00 PM

The Shanxi merchants depicted in Christina Yao’s epic film, Empire of Silver, were powerful players in Chinese history. By the end of the 19ths century, their wealth and influence rivaled that of the ruling Ming and Qing dynasties. Shanxi province, the setting for Empire of Silver, has been called “the Wall Street of China.” 

Like the “too big to fail” tenants of modern Wall Street, Shanxi’s bankers quietly dominated elements of the national economy by offering loans to bolster government spending and helping to finance wars. Shanxi’s merchants also reaped revenue by offering to bail out local towns and cities by covering their imperial taxes — for a price. 

The term for these merchant-run enterprises was “piaohao.” In addition to managing funds through deposits and loans, they derived much of their power from the invention of a system of codes that allowed for the transfer of wealth “on paper.” 

Previously, when it became necessary to move gold and silver from one city to another, a “wire transfer” would require a costly convoy of horse-drawn carts guarded by scores of well-armed soldiers. (There is a scene in Empire of Silver where such a delivery ends with a parade through city streets to reassure worried investors. It is only when the carts are securely inside the walls of the recipient bank that it is revealed the silver-boxes are actually filled with nothing but stones. That could be the filmmaker’s wry metaphor for our contemporary economic system.) 

The Shanxi merchants also came up with the concept of profit sharing, which helped to promote cohesion and loyalty. Unlike modern banks, the piaohao were guided by Confucian principles that stressed fair treatment and high standards of morality. The meant that investors and families were kept at a distance and banned from interfering with the operations of the piaohao. The Confucian edicts were so rigorous that piaohao managers were only allowed to see their families for six months after each three years of service. Making the commitment even more like a monastery than a Wall Street enterprise, Shanxi’s “masters of the universe” were forbidden to take concubines or visit brothels. 

One of the themes of Empire of Silver is the conflict between two competing philosophies, the traditional moral code of Confucius and the manipulative ideology of Legalism. Ironically, the film presents the son as the embodiment of traditional Confucian values while the father is the master of manipulation. It is Lord Kang who looks at the spreading misery of disease striking down the population and realizes he can make a killing by monopolizing the salt trade — and hoarding the salt to derive maximum profit. By contrast, the younger Kang, motivated by compassion and honor, makes the decision to pay back holders of worthless certificates of credit by digging up a patch of his family’s buried gold and silver. 

The Boxer Rebellion, the rise of the Nationalists and the Allied invasion all combined to undermine the authority and power of the piaohao, which either transformed into Western-style banks or closed their doors forever. 

Still, the legacy of “moral banking” has managed to persist as director Christina Yao attests with this remarkable story: 

“There was an Englishman in the 1960s who got a large sum of money deposited into his account in Hong Kong,” Yao recounts. “He wasn’t sure what that was about so he looked into it and found out that his grandfather was in business with a merchant from this same Shanxi school and the business failed. 

“That merchant, on his deathbed, said to his family that if ever the family is able to resurrect its glory, they have to return the money. So, two generations later, they return the money. 

“What’s important is that it’s not just that the grandfather was loyal to his code, but two generations after him also were loyal to that code. That is something that we don’t have anymore.”