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DISCLOSE Act Moves Through Assembly

By Richard Knee
Friday January 13, 2012 - 07:47:00 PM

The Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee gave a 5-0 thumbs-up Monday to the California DISCLOSE Act (Assembly Bill 1148), which would require political ads on the web, radio and TV, and in print to identify who paid for them. 

Next, the bill is scheduled to be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday, Jan. 19. 

A mentioned, the measure is intended to to bring transparency to the political process, particularly in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, in the Citizens United Case, that corporations are people. The primary author of AB 1148 is Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica. 

The Appropriations Committee's chair is Felipe Fuentes, a Democrat from the San Fernando Valley. His Capitol address is P.O. Box 942849, Room 2114, Sacramento 94249-0039; phone (916) 319-2039; fax (916) 319-2139. The committee's phone number is (916) 319-2081, fax number is (916) 319-2181. 

Assemblywoman Brownley also would appreciate expressions of support for AB 1148. Her Capitol address is P.O. Box 942849, Room 2163, Sacramento 94249-0041; phone (916) 319-2041; fax (916) 319-2141. 

To become law, AB 1148 will need approval by two-thirds majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate, and Gov. Brown's signature. Or with simple-majority votes, the Assembly and Senate can place the measure before California voters in 2014. There is little doubt that voters would overwhelmingly pass it, though corporate interests could be expected to spend tens of millions in an effort to defeat it. 

You can see the bill's text and track its procedural progress at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html; simply type in the bill number and click on "Search". 

And if you want to become active on this issue, contact the California Clean Money Campaign, phone 310-297-0200, e-mail info @ CAclean.org, web address www.CAclean.org

Richard Knee is a freelance journalist and sunshine activist.

Press Release: Mountain Lion Sighting Reported--Tips on Safety

From UC Berkeley Police
Friday January 13, 2012 - 09:04:00 AM

On Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at approximately 10:14 p.m., there was an unverified sighting of a mountain lion on top of a dumpster at the Smythe-Fernwald apartment complex. In December, 2011 UCPD received a report of an unverified sighting of two mountain lions running north on Lawrence Road toward Glaser Road at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Last year several sightings of mountain lions occurred in the hills above the Berkeley campus and carcasses of animals suspected to have been attacked by mountain lions were also discovered. 

To reduce the chances of encountering a Mountain Lion: 

• Avoid hiking alone, especially between dusk and dawn, when lions normally do their hunting. Make plenty of noise while you hike so as to reduce the chances of surprising a lion. 

• Always keep children in sight while hiking and within arm's reach in areas that can conceal a lion. Mountain Lions seem to be drawn to children. 

• Hike with a good walking stick; this can be useful in warding off a lion. 

To reduce the chances of an attack when encountering a Mountain Lion: 

• Do not approach a lion, especially if it is feeding or with its young. Most lions will avoid confrontation. Give them a way to escape. 

• Stay calm and face the lion. Do not run because this may trigger the lion's instinct to attack. Try to appear larger by raising your hands. 

• Pick up small children so they don't panic and run. This will also make you appear larger. Avoid bending over or crouching. 

• If the lion acts aggressively, throw rocks, branches, or whatever can be obtained without turning your back or bending over. 

• Fight back if attacked. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal. People have successfully fought back with rocks, sticks, or bare hands. 


As with any emergency situation, if you see suspicious activity, call 9-1-1. 

>From a cell phone on or near campus, call (510) 642-3333.

Occupy Cal Shoot Re-Sprouts on Sproul

By Steven Finacom
Monday January 09, 2012 - 11:13:00 PM
Four people appeared today (January 9) and painstakingly crafted a new mandela on the Free Speech Monument on Sproul Plaza.
Steven Finacom
Four people appeared today (January 9) and painstakingly crafted a new mandela on the Free Speech Monument on Sproul Plaza.
A display on Sproul Plaza featured found objects, flowers, and foliage, as did similar displays during the height of the “OccupyCal” activities last Fall.
Steven Finacom
A display on Sproul Plaza featured found objects, flowers, and foliage, as did similar displays during the height of the “OccupyCal” activities last Fall.
By early December the daily OccupyCal encampment was dwindling in size, although a variety of displays and discussions remained on the Savio Steps.
Steven Finacom
By early December the daily OccupyCal encampment was dwindling in size, although a variety of displays and discussions remained on the Savio Steps.
One makeshift tent formed of branches and fabric stood next to the Savio Steps in this December 2 view.
Steven Finacom
One makeshift tent formed of branches and fabric stood next to the Savio Steps in this December 2 view.
Several banners, including this one, were hung from an oak tree on the other side of the Steps.
Steven Finacom
Several banners, including this one, were hung from an oak tree on the other side of the Steps.
After the December 11 UC clearance of the encampment, only a few physical objects remained including hearts attached to Sather Gate.
Steven Finacom
After the December 11 UC clearance of the encampment, only a few physical objects remained including hearts attached to Sather Gate.
On December 15—four days after the Steps were cleared—this cryptic message in pink tape had been added to Sproul Plaza.  It was later removed.
Steven Finacom
On December 15—four days after the Steps were cleared—this cryptic message in pink tape had been added to Sproul Plaza. It was later removed.

Is “OccupyCal” sprouting anew? The Fall encampment on the Savio Steps in front of Sproul Hall was quietly cleared by the University in mid-December, as Finals approached. There was little press attention, save a short Daily Cal article, in contrast to the much-publicized and Sturm und Drang evictions of Occupy encampments in Oakland, San Francisco, and Downtown Berkeley. 

Since then, the steps and Sproul Plaza have been visibly clear of encampment and Occupy emblems. 

But today (January 9, 2012) a multicolored shoot of revival may have emerged. In the afternoon, four individuals began creating a new ephemeral mandela around the Free Speech Monument in Sproul Plaza. Last Fall, the monument became something of an artistic icon or shrine of OccupyCal, featuring a changing display of intricately laid out found objects. 

When last seen, though, in December, it was a small pile of moldering vegetation that was swept away with the broader “clean-up” of the Savio Steps and encampment. 

Today’s guerrilla artists laid out a central star, several smaller figures, and an outer border of vivid yellow gingko tree leaves, including the word “evolve”. When I stopped to talk to them on my way home after work, one said he’d been out of town for a month, but was now back and wanted to resume the modest displays, which are made of found objects, ranging from bottle caps to flower petals. In today’s display, banana peels were arranged around a follower made of lawn clippings and Lily of the Nile blossoms and marguerite blossoms. 

I asked if this meant that the Sproul “General Assemblies” and occupation would also resume? They didn’t know. 

But the “OccupyCal” Twitter feed also came alive today as well, by coincidence or not, with an announcement of a “General Assembly” at 6:00 pm to “start planning for spring actions”. Later, there was a note saying that 11 people had arrived for the evening meeting. 

During the holidays there were comparatively few Twitter postings, most of them having to do not with campus activity but with mentions of various OccupyOakland actions and other activities outside Berkeley. 

The “OccupyCal” website also has some updates hinting at Spring activities, including a “Bay Area Convergence” organizing meeting announced for January 21 off campus, to come up with five activities to implement somewhere in the Bay Area in the Spring. 

Otherwise, OccupyCal, like most Cal students, seems to have largely taken a winter break from intense activities. 

As finals and colder weather approached last fall, the number of people regularly on the steps—particularly those staying over night—had severely dwindled from the peak November protests. 

The visible face of OccupyCal had changed from a daily mass of active discussion and sit in to one makeshift structure constructed of branches, some banners hung in an oak tree adjacent to the Steps, a couple of small tents, and changing displays of signs and found objects on the steps. 

In the weeks immediately preceding the clearing, on my walks past the steps, I had noticed a low-key interplay between the demonstrators and campus police. Unlike the scenes in November, when lines of police clad in riot gear faced chanting crowds, the December interactions were more in the nature of one or two police officers chatting with one or two Occupiers, or watching from a distance. 

The University’s clearance of the steps on the weekend of December 10/11 (described in a Daily Cal article linked to below) may have actually been a blessing in disguise for the campus movement. There were few daily participants left and fewer students apparent as the semester came to an end. 

The removal of the remaining encampment provided the OccupyCal organizers with an opportunity to take a break from trying to sustain a presence when almost all students would be away from campus, and the primary pedestrians on Sproul would be daily dog walkers, tourists, and those UC staff (like yours truly) with campus jobs whose hours don’t change with when classes end. 

After the remains were swept up and the Steps washed on December 11, only a few pink cardboard hearts remained, transferred by someone from the Steps to Sather Gate. A few days later, a cryptic “Ready?” spelled out in pink tape appeared on Sproul Plaza, with an arrow point to the Steps and Sproul Hall. Other than that, by my observation, the fall stage of the outdoor occupation was largely done. 

What will come with the Spring? I don’t know, and I suspect that the OccupyCal participants don’t really know either. The Savio Steps are a big and enticing stage, but one wonders whether the encampment will return in something akin to its fall form, or morph into something entirely new? 

And, although the stage is large, the potential actors are many. Not only are there the OccupyCal participants themselves, but displaced OccupyOakland and OccupyBerkeley stalwarts, the Cal student body at large, and the official University community, which is not united. 

Two campus groups—the Academic Senate, and the UC Police officers themselves—carved cracks in the campus monolith in the Fall, the first with resolutions adopted 336 to 34 on November 28 condemning some of the campus response during the demonstrations, and the second with an open letter in which police officers stated, in part, “we are not your enemy” and asked “UC Administration and Regents: Please don’t ask us to enforce your polices then refuse to stand by us when we do.” 

How all these factors play out in the spring is anyone’s guess. But if today’s art appearance is any indication, some form of OccupyCal may grow anew as the semester begins. 

Steven Finacom has been keeping a periodic eye on the physical manifestations of the OccupyCal movement since last Fall. 






UC Police open letter on Occupy demonstrations, posted on Berkeleyside website: 


'Confession' of Accused CIA Spy Reveals Link to US Videogame Maker

By Gar Smith
Tuesday January 10, 2012 - 09:58:00 AM

Amir Mirzai Hekmati, a US citizen of Iranian descent and a former Marine, has been sentenced to death by a court in Tehran for spying. According to Iranian press reports, Hekmati was found guilty of "co-operating with a hostile nation, membership of [sic] the CIA and trying to implicate Iran in terrorism."

Although the story broke big in the mainstream press this week, Hekmati's alleged videotaped "confession" was actually broadcast -- in its entirety, with Hekmati speaking Arabic Farsi-- on Iranian television on December 18, 2011. While staged confessions are always suspect, in the videos, Hekmati looks relaxed and healthy and he speaks quietly, in calm, measured tones. 

Although Hekmati's videotaped "confession" was broadcast nearly a month ago, it is virtually impossible to penetrate the Western media's info-barrier to discover what he actually "confessed to." A Google name search only produces links to stories from the BBC and US news agencies – none of which contain the details of Hekmati's supposed confession. Even a Google search for Hekmati's name linked with the Fars News Agency (which broadcast the taped "confession") also leads to the same dead-end. Curiously, the Google search yields no matches for Fars -- only the same links to the BBC and Western media. 

It is only by going directly to the websites of Fars and the Tehran Times that one can track down the actual content of Hekmati's videotaped testimony. That is what this Planet reporter did. 

One of the most surprising revelations in Hekmati's online tell-all was his admission that, in addition to training at the Pentagon's Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, he also spent time working for Kuma/War, a US-based videogame company that specializes in combat simulations. Kuma/War has reportedly worked under contract for the US Army but, in the transcript of his taped statement, Hekmati also claims that, in addition to its Pentagon contracts, Kuma/War received funding from the CIA. 

Confessions of an Arrested American

On December 12, 2011, the Fars News Agency 
reported that the Iranian Intelligence Ministry has "arrested an agent of the CIA in Iran immediately after he started his spying activities inside the country." FNA went on to report: "The arrested spy has been born in Arizona of US and has a track record of ten years of training as a professional spy. Amir Mirza Hekmati was employed by the US Army's intelligence section in August 2001. In his confession that was broadcasted [sic] by Iranian TV on Sunday night, Hekmati explained his secret mission in Iran." 

The following is excerpted from Hekmati's broadcast interview: 

"I was graduated from high school in 2001 and decided to enter the US Army. It was in August 2001 that I wore the US Army uniform and underwent different military trainings of the army….

"When they realized that I know a little Persian and a little Arabic, they told me: 'We want to send you to a university to learn Arabic language.' I studied the opinions of Iraqi officials regarding the US and the presence of US military in Iraq. Our goal was to pinpoint those Iraqi officials who were inclined toward the US and do something that, in case of outbreak of any incident, they support US military. After sending our reports to US Army's intelligence department, security and intelligence officials held secret meetings with Iraqi officials and tried to establish closer ties with those officials." 

Hekmati then describes how, after several months in Iraq, he joined the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). He worked with the Cyber Security program. 

"After DARPA, I was recruited by Kuma Games Company, a computer games company which received money from CIA to design and make special films and computer games to change the public opinion's mindset in the Middle East and distribute them among Middle East residents free of charge. The goal of Kuma Games was to convince the people of the world and Iraq that what the US does in Iraq and other countries is good and acceptable." 


In July 2006, Hekmati claimed, he was approached by a woman who told him that she was a "government official." She actually worked for the CIA. 

"After her contact, I successfully passed the psychological and medical tests, as well as lie detection tests before the same CIA agent contacted me and told me that I had to wait for their call. I was contacted by BAE Systems and I was informed that I had to return to Iraq as an intelligence analyst. I learnt how to use secret systems and methods for gathering information from different places and individuals. During this period, CIA was trying to find a suitable cover-up for my important mission." [Note: BAE Systems, Inc. is one of the top 10 US defense companies, with more than 39,000 employees.] 

Hekmati stated that he was summoned to the Washington Hotel in the capital where a CIA agent informed him that he was to go to Iran to undertake an intelligence project. 

"The CIA agent, by giving detailed information, prepared me for my big mission, while assuring me that, given the cover-up provided for me, I would not face any problem in the way of conducting my mission." 


Hekmati claimed that he was to become a source for Islamic Republic of Iran's Intelligence Ministry. He would provide the ministry with coordinated information and would receive payment for his services before returning to US. 


"I was given access to the most secret data systems for gathering the required information before being sent to US Bagram Base in Afghanistan [where the CIA is known to maintain operations.] I had a series of flights from Bagram, including a flight to Dubai where I stayed for two days and then I came to Tehran by plane afterwards."  

According to Hekmati's statement, the CIA's plan was that he was to provide Iran's Intelligence Ministry with a series of deliveries of "apparently important classified information" in hopes that the Iranians would take the bait, putting him in position to serve as a double agent. "However," Hakmati concluded, "Iranian officials found out the truth. They dismantled the CIA spy network in Iran by finding out about my mission." 


First Video of Confessions of American-born CIA Spy Amir Mirzaei Hekmati 

Source: Lenziran.com 


The World of Kuma War 

Excerpts from the Kuma War Website 

"Kuma War is a series of playable recreations of real events in the War on Terror. Nearly 100 playable missions bring our soldiers' heroic stories to life, and you can get them all right now, for free. Stop watching the news and get in the game!" 

Kuma War Episode 108 

Relive Muammar Gaddafi's final take-down and the Libyan rebels' triumph with this brand new multiplayer mission! Above the streets of Sirte, a Predator drone and jets help force Gaddafi to flee the burning city and into the hands of the Libyan rebels. When the smoke clears, the former leader lays dead.  

About Kuma Reality Games 

"Kuma\War is a free online war game that uses cutting-edge game technology to accurately reconstruct real-war events from the news. Kuma\War is a first- and third-person squad-based war game. It is the first PC video game to bring the tactical FPS (shooter) into the 21st century by modeling missions on actual real-world events. Each month, players get new single player and multiplayer games (missions), to reflect unfolding events around the world. 

"Armed with identical weapons in a realistic re-creation of various locations, you'll experience some of fiercest engagements in the most hostile territories in the world. A vast database of intelligence accompanies Kuma\War online games: satellite photos, political context, event details and the weaponry, tactics and forces involved. You'll also get exclusive video news shows and insight from a decorated team of military veterans. 

"Kuma Reality Games builds re-creations of real-world events using advanced gaming tools. Many of the new missions are being developed in cooperation with the US military and soldiers returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom. Kuma Reality Games, headquartered in New York, New York is a privately held company. 

"At Kuma, we are very sensitive and respectful of American and coalition soldiers and the sacrifices they are making every day. We hope that by telling their stories with such a powerful medium that we enable the American public to gain a better appreciation of the conflicts and the dangers they face." 

CIA-Funded Video Game Propaganda? 

Writing in the GameZone website on January 9, Vito Gesualdi addressed the former soldier's arrest and death sentence: "American officials maintain that Hekmati was simply visiting relatives, though it's his purported confession which is raising eyebrows -- Hekmati admitting to working on the first-person shooter Kuma\War, claiming that the game is funded by the CIA and operates as modern-day propaganda meant to sway the attitudes of youths in Iran and other middle-eastern countries in favor of United States military actions...." 

Gesualdi though it odd that, while Kuma's press releases boast of "19 million users, with an additional 250,000 new players signing on each month," Kuma\War "seems to have been largely invisible here in the States -- a surprising turn given "the wealth of technological advanced shooters we have access to (Battlefield, Modern Warfare)." 

This raises a question for Gesualdi: "So who is playing Kuma\War? Given that the first language option on the Kuma Games website (aside from the default English) is Arabic, we have our suspicions." 

War Propaganda and Video Games 

The Kuma/War connection did not go unnoticed by the Kavkaz Center (an international Islamic pro-Chechen news service). In a December 21, 2011 commentary, Kavkaz wrote: 

"Kuma Games was receiving money from the CIA to (produce) and design and distribute for free special movies and games with the aim of manipulating public opinion in the Middle East, Hekmati said. The goal of the company in question was to convince the people of Iran and the people of the entire world that whatever the US does in other countries is a good measure." 

Kavkaz noted that "Kuma Games has worked under contract for the US government (in 2006 it was announced that the company produced a training game for the American army), but information about the connection with the secret services have not previously received. Representatives of Kuma Games have not yet commented on Hekmati's statement." 

By its very nature, the content of Kuma/War offerings is polarizing and guaranteed to inflame passions regarding the conflict zones depicted in the games. One game that prompted a surge of anger was a "reality-based" game released last spring. As Kavkaz noted, the game Kuma/War 2, included a mission in which the player was invited "to 'kill' Osama bin Laden (martyr, Insha'Allah)." 

Kuma/War has also outraged Iranians with a release called "Battlefield 3," As Kavkaz notes, "This shooter has caused resentment of local authorities due to the fact that part of its action takes place on the streets of Tehran." 

It is fair to wonder how Americans might react to an Iranian videogame that involved heroic members of Iran's Republican Guard gunning down Americans in the simulated streets of New York. Recently, Behrouz Minai, the head of the Iranian National Center for Computer Games announced that the NCCG was preparing to release a game designed to serve as "a response to the Battlefield 3." 

Americans can relax. Times Square will not be in the crosshairs of this "reality-based shooter." In the Iranian version of Kuma/War, the plan is to depict the Iranian army attacking Tel Aviv. Minai explained that his game-designers decided to target Israeli city because such a virtual attack would "anger the Zionist rulers in the US more than an attack on Washington." 


Gar Smith is a Berkeley-based reporter and co-founder of Environmentalists Against War (www.envirosagainstwar.org). 

Updated: Family Says Berkeley City Clerk Died from "A Terrible Accident"

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Monday January 09, 2012 - 11:09:00 PM

Berkeley City Clerk Deanna Despain died early Saturday morning as a result of "a terrible accident" at her home in Oakland, according to a statement issued today by her family and Berkeley City Manager Christine Daniel. 

Despain, 37, was found dead inside her home in the 4100 block of Lyman Street in Oakland just before 2 a.m. Saturday, Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said. 

Oakland police initially said Despain's death was suspicious but Watson said that's no longer the case. 

However, Watson refused to provide further information about Despain's death, saying it's still under investigation. 

Daniel said in a memo to city of Berkeley employees that, "Her family has shared with us that although it is too soon to expect an official report, the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda Coroner's Office have told them that her death was a result of a terrible accident." 

Daniel said, "This was very sudden, and our hearts are with her family as they come to terms with this unexpected tragedy." 

Daniel said, "This is a heartbreaking loss for Deanna's family, as well as all of us at the city. She was an incredible human being and an excellent city clerk who worked incredibly hard, cared deeply about good government, her profession and her staff. 

Daniel added, "Most of all, she loved her friends and her family. To her husband and daughter especially, she is irreplaceable." 

Despain became Berkeley's Acting City Clerk in June 2008, succeeding Pamyla Means, and was officially appointed City Clerk on May 17, 2009. 

Before becoming Acting City Clerk, Despain served the city starting in September 2004 as the records manager, assistant city clerk and deputy city clerk. 

Despain attended the University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College, according to a resolution that the City Council passed when it appointed her City Clerk. 

As clerk, Despain was responsible for preparing agendas for city meetings, overseeing elections, managing records for the city and processing appointments to boards and committees. 

Mayor Tom Bates said, "It's really sad to hear the news because she was such a valuable employee and was truly liked in city politics. She had a pleasing way of getting along with people." 

Bates said Despain "was an excellent clerk and was skilled in untangling and interpreting the complicated resolutions passed by the City Council." 

He said, "The city's staff is in shock and in mourning" after hearing about her death. 

Bates said it's especially sad that Despain's daughter, who is less than a year old, will grow up without her.

Just Another Day in The Hood
(First Person)

By Ted Friedman
Monday January 09, 2012 - 09:47:00 AM
Occupy People's Park?
Ted Friedman
Occupy People's Park?
University police say tent must go, so tent comes down.
Ted Friedman
University police say tent must go, so tent comes down.
Last load at site of Sequoia Apartments fire. Work to re-open Raleigh's and Intermezzo can now begin.
Ted Friedman
Last load at site of Sequoia Apartments fire. Work to re-open Raleigh's and Intermezzo can now begin.
As last Sequoia rubble is removed behind Raleigh's doorway, work will begin to re-open what is now nothing.
Ted Friedman
As last Sequoia rubble is removed behind Raleigh's doorway, work will begin to re-open what is now nothing.
Once sumptuous Raleigh's reduced to hole in the wall after Sequoia Apartments fire. Now work to bring it back in some form or other will begin. View from Haste and Telegraph.
Ted Friedman
Once sumptuous Raleigh's reduced to hole in the wall after Sequoia Apartments fire. Now work to bring it back in some form or other will begin. View from Haste and Telegraph.

Just another day in the hood, Berkeley's South-side—my Lake Woebegone. 

The last pile of putrid rubble from the Sequoia fire, en route to a concrete-lined Nevada dump which accommodates waste so toxic California won't take it, awaited one final photo-op. 

On the way to shoot the last remains of the Sequoia, I skirted People's Park where I noticed something bizarre in the park—even for the goof-ball arena it has become—a single tent. 

Pitching a tent, at any time, in the park is illegal. The tent was a few feet from the sign prohibiting the tent. 

The tent was more than illegal. After a hundred Occupy tents in Civic Center Park were evicted weeks ago, and tent encampments at Cal's Sproul Plaza were also booted—tent-pitching in Berkeley become persona-non-tent. 

But the People's Park tent- pitcher had not a clue. I know. I talked to the tentist, and she was as clueless as you get, from a life of harried homelessness. 

Tent-girl turned out to be a petite young traveling woman, last encamped at Occupy Oakland. She wore the expressionless face of a depressive, and resisted my humor, in what was to be for me a day of not drawing a laugh—and worse. 

I'm always kidding around with my sources, but I couldn't even get a smile, from the sad young woman. 

Before leaving, I checked my park facts with the posted rules sign. Yep—no tents, which I relayed to her. "You'll probably just get a warning," I re-assured her, and she re-assured me she was keeping the tent up, once she finished erecting it, which I was interrupting. 

Her tent bore an Occupy poster, but she said she was not occupying the park. 

I was off for the Ave., and the Sequoia. On the way, I eyeballed the fishbowl of the Caffe Mediterraneum (that's when you press your nose to the Med door-glass, looking for inside action). The Med was dead. 

Emerging from Bongo Burger, adjoining the park, I saw, first, the university police squad car, and then two officers near the tent. The officers will never know that I delivered the first warning to tent-girl, because they not only didn't like my jokes—they despised me. 

I despised me. Nothing sucks like a failed comedian, which I know all too well from my failed night-club comedy career back in the late 70s. 

Tent-girl had left her tent unattended while she went to the other end of the park, as a diminutive veteran Berkeley Cop-Watch videographer aimed his tiny camera at the imposing cops like a pea-shooter. 

I tried, unsuccessfully, to crack up the cop-watcher, whom I've known since 1976, but when he's on watch, he's at some sexual point of no return. Did the cops associate me with the "menacing" voyeur? 

"Good afternoon," officers, I soothed. I'm a reporter from…. "Is the girl leaving?" 

":Ask our public information officer; we can't talk to you." 

I hate the PIO gambit, and should not have said, "I can get my own public info right here." 

Do you have a press card," they asked. I came close to saying, "I don't need no stinking badge" (like your stinking badge?). I left out the joke, as I looked into their cold-cold eyes. 

"I know the drill," I said. "You can't talk because you don't want to get fired and lose your pension." 

This was a joke requiring an explanation—the worst kind of joke, and really just irony, a poor relative to humor. 

"I knew you would be difficult," one of the two officers said. 

"Difficult?"I asked, "How am I being difficult?" 

"You're arguing with me," the wise-guy said. 

"Sir," I said gravely, "I taught argumentation at the university [Hawaii, 1967-70], and I could teach you a few things about argument." 

That cut it. 

The whole screwed-embroilment was like my "Expletives Fly in Panoramic Hills" yarn (Planet: May 18, 2011) in which I snark-assed threatened to slug a citizen, who messed with me on a shoot in the hills. 

Anyone who has read my cops 'n robbers pieces in the Planet will know that I dig joking with, and "schmoozing" cops. Were these cops unschmoozable? 

"Would you answer my questions if I were from Ch 4?" 

"Of course," said the officer. 

"Do you live in Berkeley?" I asked; "Oops I know I'll have to ask the PIO that question," I added. "I ask because, you should be reading the local paper." 

"I'm an Oakland Tribune reader," the cop said. 

"It shows," I, fortunately, failed to retort. 

Berkeley police, including the chief, read me. What was wrong with these university cops?Tent-girl packed up her tent and left. I returned to the Ave., vowing to either get some better jokes or stop effing with my stolid police sources. 

Ted Friedman, sometimes off-beat, always finds something to report from his sizzling South-side beat. 





Press Release: Realty Notes from All Over: Developer Bails, Berkeley Blamed, Ross-for-Less Building Sold for $8.425 Million

From Adriana Aceves, Marketing, Retail West Inc.
Tuesday January 10, 2012 - 11:32:00 PM

"After over three years of vacancy the former Ross Dress for Less building located at 2190 Shattuck Ave. on the corner of Shattuck & Allston has been sold to a new ownership group, Somera Sansome Partners based out of San Francisco. Retail West Inc.’s Matt Holmes and Dean Copans represented both the buyer and seller in this transaction that sold for $8,425,000. According to Holmes, "The building went vacant at the outset of the recent recession and there had been considerable interest from an out of state developer to try and assemble the entire block in an effort to create a quasi San Francisco Center styled type of urban retail project with both hotel and large promotional retailers. The market decline killed that ambitious project and than [sic] two subsequent deals died at the hands of the city of Berkeley with their zoning and planning oversight." Holmes added that this has been a classic case of utopian urban planning versus the realities of a tough market and limited retail playing field.' A single tenant retailer is in negotiations to occupy the street level and the developers are intending to create a second story large format class A office space on the upper floor."



Serving the Citizenry Should be the Goal of Berkeley Mayor's Staff

By Becky O'Malley
Friday January 13, 2012 - 05:42:00 PM

Who does the Mayor of Berkeley serve? The city charter provides for a “weak mayor” form of government, with the mayor theoretically having not much more power than an extra at-large councilmember who presides over meetings and cuts ribbons at civic events.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, schooled in the ways of politics by 20-some-odd years in the state legislature and married to the former mayor, has made the most of the job. He is adept at squeezing every possible perk out of the job, though he can’t accept direct pay for his work without losing his state of California pension.

What he does have, and exploits to the max, is a great big city-paid office staff, huge considering what the mayor is supposed to be doing under the charter. When his wife had the job, she increased the staff head count from one (like all the other councilmembers) to four FTEs. They’re well-paid by the city of Berkeley—with 2010 salaries alone totaling close to a half-million dollars, before benefits, which in Berkeley are famously generous.

(These figures come from the San Jose Mercury’s Public Employees Salaries Database—but the city has refused to disclose how much is paid out in benefits despite repeated requests.)

What does the Mayor’s staff do for the citizens of Berkeley, exactly? 

From the Mayor’s website: 


“Julie Sinai, Chief of Staff to the Mayor, serves as the Mayor’s policy advisor on youth, education, jobs, health, social service issues, inter-government relations and is the press contact for the Mayor's Office. [paid $105,956 in 2010]  

“Calvin Fong, Senior Aide to the Mayor, works with the Mayor on transportation, development, land use and housing issues. [$83,508] 

“Nils Moe, Assistant to the Mayor, works on environmental issues, including renewable energy initiatives, the green economy, Berkeley FIRST and climate action policy. He is also the main contact for website issues. [$76,855] 

“Sbeydeh Viveros-Banderas, Assistant to the Mayor, Scheduler and Constituent Services, is the office manager and handles the Mayor's schedule. She also runs the Intern program and handles many constituent services. [$47,748] 

But that’s just the old staff. 

Now the famous revolving door has turned, and Sinai has moved over to work for U.C. Berkeley instead of for the mayor. Some small-minded critics at berkeleyside.com smelled a whiff of corruption even in that move, but there was more to come. 

The revolving door has turned once again. Sinai’s replacement, Judith Iglehart, subject of not one but two paens by Lance Knobel at berkeleyside.com in the last couple of weeks, is a U.C. Berkeley veteran who lately has specialized in business development of university-spawned innovations. 

Here’s part of her bio, from the website of HitBarcelona, a “meat market” where startups are showcased for the edification and potential profit of venture capitalists. (We worked this event, or perhaps one of its progenitors, for our aspiring high tech company many years ago—the only time I ever shook hands with Bill Gates.) 

“During her career at the University of California she worked as a Special Assistant for two Chancellors at Berkeley and four UC Presidents. She served as UC’s Chief Research Development Officer, and Deputy Senior Vice President for Business and Finance, Chief of Staff to the California Senate Majority Floor Leader, as President/CEO of BARTA/TechVentures, a ten county program to identify and assist early stage companies, UC Berkeley’s Director of State and Federal Government Relations, and as the Associate Director of the California Policy Seminar. Today she serves as a State Senate Appointee to the California Governor’s Small Business Board. … Her doctorate explored technology transfer issues at the University of California between 1984-2004. She lives in Piedmont and has two grown children.”
It’s a heady world, that high tech environment, and Iglehart certainly has an impressive list of ex-employers. But what’s someone like that doing as the chief of staff for Tom Bates? Is there something in the works that has yet to be revealed? 

How is she expected to replace someone whose area of responsibility was “youth, education, jobs, health, social service issues, inter-government relations”? 

Well, maybe the third category is relevant, but otherwise why was she hired for this position? There’s a lot in Berkeley that needs doing, but little of it appears to be covered by her resume. 

It’s the small stuff that gets lost in the shuffle, and that’s what the Mayor with his lavish staff ought to be taking care of. 

One small but sensitive example: Someone seems to have sicced the enforcement bullies on the beloved Roxie Deli on the corner of Ashby and Telegraph. Not just someone, actually—knowledgeable Planet correspondents blame the corporate attorneys who are trying to get a liquor license for the Walgreens a couple of blocks away, who might think putting Roxie out of business would improve their chances. 

A citizens’ petition is circulating on behalf of Bill, the proprietor, but what is the Mayor’s office doing about it? Not much, it appears. 

Someone somewhere in the Mayor’s aura seems to have decided that what Berkeley really needs, instead of corner grocers, is more high tech startups. Someone probably thought that the opening as the Mayor’s chief of staff would be the ideal slot for a recruiter of same. 

But whatever happened to the Office of Economic Development? Isn’t it the right locus for that kind of activity, if it’s needed at all? 

As a (retired) entrepreneur who’s actually participated in starting something up, I can testify that adding one more bureaucrat to the Mayor’s office staff won’t make a dime’s worth of difference to location decisions of nascent enterprises. I once was part of a team that surveyed biotech startups for Jerry Brown’s first term Commission on Industrial Innovation. The overwhelming consensus in that field was that the scientists wanted the state simply to meddle out so that they could do their research and develop their products in relative peace. 

Another very relevant question is what Iglehart will expect to be paid. Ironically, Sinai’s salary in the $105,000 range, which would seem generous to a beginning teacher, will look like chump change to someone from the entrepreneurial milieu whose home is in Piedmont. But that’s no reason to pay Iglehart any more than Sinai was making. 

All in all, recent publicity about the compensation of top level bureaucrats in Berkeley and elsewhere indicates that it’s time and past time for the City Council to take a hard look at hiring decisions like this one. That would include the permanent city manager position now supposedly under recruitment, the staffers in the Mayor’s office, and anyone else who’s looking to be paid more than $75,000 a year. 

The Editor's Back Fence

Berkeley Business in the News

Saturday January 14, 2012 - 11:01:00 PM



Odd Bodkins: Ten Megatons (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Tuesday January 10, 2012 - 10:18:00 AM


Dan O'Neill


Bounce: Joe: Final Awk (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Tuesday January 10, 2012 - 10:23:00 AM


Joseph Young


Public Comment

Letters to the Editors

Friday January 13, 2012 - 06:10:00 PM

Kamlarz Rip-Off 

Great article on the amazing Mr. Kamlarz. To make matters worse he "retired" shortly after a review of City of Berkeley finances indicated that he was an inept manager...and he lives in Oakland. Is it any wonder that regular citizens are fed up with the abuse their elected (and non-elected) officials are dishing out to their constituents? Way to go Phil! 

The City of Berkeley owes it to it's citizens to NOT make good on this rip off just as the City of Bell refused to pay their city manager what was clearly an unwarranted sum. 

Dan Grassetti 

Burial of a 5-year-Old Boy 

To the mournful music of a mariachi funeral dirge and with dozens of white balloons drifting overhead, a small white casket holding the body of Gabriel Martinez, Jr. was lowered into a grave Friday afternoon at Rolling Hills Cemetery in Richmond. A Franciscan monk blessed a small golden cross with holy water and presented it to his grieving mother. Gabriel was killed outside his family's taco truck December 30th, the 110th homicide in Oakland in 2011. More than 900 persons attended funeral services at St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church in the Fruitvale district in Oakland last Friday. In a 75-minute ceremony, Pastor Reverend Martin Ibarra addressed the mourners in English and Spanish. "Gabriel's death reveals the pain of the inner city of Oakland that we are forgetting. We pray that today will never be repeated. Let's keep working so that our community will be a safe one. Gabriel belongs to the community of saints now." Gabriel was a beautiful child and, according to his aunt, Elizabeth Pelayo, "He just lit up a room. He was happy, you could see it in his eyes." Last Friday, several mourners were seen gazing up at the sky on a grassy hillside under sunny and blue skies where the last of the balloons were still visible, a white dot drifting off into space. The only source was the continuous wailing of the mariachi band and the uncomprehending crowd. May we hope that Gabriel's cruel and untimely death brings about a new start to 2012? 

Dorothy Snodgrass 

Meeting of Gray Panthers 

The Occupiers: Why We Demonstrate is the topic for the monthly Berkeley-East Bay Gray Panther meeting. Pamela Drake of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Ruth Maguire of the Gray Panthers, and activist photographer Anna Graves will tell about their experiences with the Occupations of Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, and why this movement is so important in changing today's political dialogue. 

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 at 1:30 PM North Berkeley Senior Center 1901 Hearst, corner of MLK, Berkeley, CA 

All Welcome, Wheelchair accessible. 

From the Gray Panthers 


As results of the Iowa caucuses dribbled in, Americans got to see how the Republican candidates greeted victory and defeat. Rick Santorum rose to the occasion but his true nature still showed through the new camouflage he has put on. Nobody has been paying attention to Santorum so he has been given a free pass and was able to sneak under the radar. Hello, Rick Santorum put the E in extremism. He has all the usual Republican/evangelical baggage: hard-core anti-abortionist, anti gay all the way, anti-immigration and if he was a current politician Santorum would surely have signed the anti-tax pledge. Speaking of pledges, Mr. Santorum recently signed a pledge with Michele Bachmann implying that African-American children were better off under slavery than they have been since President Obama's election. How do you answer idiocy like this except to say, I bet the Republican and Tea party white religious base loved it. 

Ron Lowe 

New Year's Message 

We see a change in the way modern people think regarding sharing of goods and personal comfort. There was a time in our history when even with limited resources, people shared their own cash and goods with those whose need was greater than their own. They must, I think, have derived some inner satisfaction from extending themselves. They must also have derived some “outer” satisfaction from knowing that their gesture was widely appreciated by their community. People used to depend on each other and they knew that they would receive help from neighbors at a time of crisis. People felt connected to each other even when they belonged to different social classes. But in modern life we have learned to think chiefly of ourselves; our extended families and communities do not figure significantly in our thoughts. That selfless action which spreads happiness inside and outside of ourselves is hardly ever practiced. As a result we stay sullen and dissatisfied. 

All of us are part of the family whose home is planet Earth. If we want to stop the surge of unhappiness on our planet, we should learn again how to think of others and to share our good fortune with them. 

May generous neighborliness be our motto for the New Year. 

Romila Khanna 

The Other Gray-Haired Brigade

By Roger O. Blais
Friday January 13, 2012 - 07:02:00 PM

A self-described patriotic friend recently sent me a letter entitled, “The Gray Haired Brigade". He apparently believed I would be receptive to its suggestions that, “You have tasted socialism and seen evil face to face, and have found you don’t like it after all”, and “We didn’t fight for the Socialist States of America, we fought for the ‘Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave’”.

I told my friend I am not threatened by the U.S. Postal Service, Social Security, the National Guard, U.S. Marshals, our National Parks Service, the FBI or public schools. That’s the socialism I have tasted.
I explained that my wife and I are both military veterans, and our son is currently serving in Naval Special Forces. We place our hands over our hearts when saying the words, “With liberty and justice for all”. To us, “all” refers to Americans regardless of religion, race, color, income, sexual orientation, or health conditions.  

My own gray-haired friends remember days when everyone thought it was wrong to freely dump sewage into our water ways and oceans. Americans united did something about it, and built sanitary sewage systems. Republicans now complain that our water and air pollution problems are dreamed up by “radical environmentalists”. That stopping pollution means re-tooling machinery and is just too costly. They claim that the Environmental Protection Agency is just out to get them. We wonder what happened to the days when pollution was everyone’s concern and preserving the environment was valued. 

We too believe in the right to bear arms. Yes, I have weapons in our house but don’t believe that AK 47s or 20 round gun clips should be available for purchase as easily as were the old Daisy BB guns when we were kids. We don’t understand why AK 47s or 20 round gun clips are recommended for home defense or hunting. We do not own hand grenades or rocket launchers either.  

In contrast to the Tea Party folks, I am a proud Democrat following my awakening ten years ago after being a proud Republican for over 35 years. I was taught that the president should be respected. My own gray-haired friends don’t believe in drawing disrespectful pictures of President Barack Obama with a bone in his nose or labeling the president with the N word. In the good old days it was fun to draw pictures of President Abraham Lincoln with his tall top hat. We wonder why such racial hatred still exists but then quickly realize that greed, bigotry, and selfishness are core values to others. 

We remember when folks believed in the value of immigrants building railroads, harvesting our produce and laboring in the service industry. We believe that the same minorities are now some of our finest professionals. It’s odd nowdays how the same Republicans who insisted on opening the doors for cheap labor now claim it’s the fault of “socialist liberals” in government that our borders are out of control. 

We still believe in the value of hard work, labor unions, a fair wage and collective bargaining. We believe in a college education, and support the notion that education should not be merely a gift for the wealthy but the right of all citizens. “One nation under God with liberty and justice for all” still rings true to me. Especially the all part. 

We remember when product icons like Levi’s and Coca Cola were proudly made by American workers in the USA. Now, the self-described “job creators” have relocated divisions of these and other corporations all over the world in pursuit of shockingly low labor costs and minimal pollution restrictions. 

There is still comfort in Old Glory. But patriotism is more than just the bravery of a soldier, singing the national anthem or belief in the United States Constitution. It’s a commitment to resist and defend this nation from within and abroad against the greed, hatred, bigotry and indifference that now threatens all Americans. My friend was right, I have seen evil face to face. 


Worldwide Candlelight Vigil to Unite Movements for a Better World--
MLK, Jr. Birthday, January 15, 7pm

By Kenn Dzaman
Friday January 13, 2012 - 06:38:00 PM

On his birthday and in the spirit of Dr. King’s vision for racial and economic equality, peace, and non-violence, we are holding candlelight vigils at 7pm in each time zone to unite our world in a global movement for systemic change. On January 15, wherever we may be, whether in our homes, in city squares, online, Occupies, places of worship, or at work, we lift a beautiful message high above the political dialogue. We light the dream of a more equitable world in our hearts. We can overcome! 

Dr. King said, “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas… and say: “This is not just.” 

We gather to empower a great and global dream, a dream we have all dreamt of for thousands of years. We will sing, because “freedom songs are the soul of the movement.” Together, we will make the dream a reality.

No Birth Control for America's Last Wild Buffalo!

By Sandy Sanders
Friday January 13, 2012 - 07:43:00 PM

Papers across the country are revealing horrific plans by the USDA-Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service to sterilize members of America's last wild buffalo population, the beloved herds of Yellowstone country. 

Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) promotes the livestock industry. Now this federal livestock overseer intends to conduct population control experiments upon America's last wild free roaming buffalo. 

APHIS intends to use a chemical birth control vaccine and conduct invasive hysterectomies on wild buffalo stolen from Yellowstone. Wild bison are ecologically extinct throughout their native habitat. Already, fifty-three young wild buffalo have been stolen from their habitat and from the public for APHIS' experiments, due to a back room deal made between Yellowstone National Park and APHIS. APHIS plans to capture and remove up to 108 buffalo, many of which will be killed at the end of their experiment. APHIS has already made its decision to move forward without conducting an Environmental Impact Statement and public review. APHIS states that they will be conducting an environmental analysis, which under federal law they are required to do, but they have already sequestered wild buffalo with full intention on carrying out their nefarious plans regardless of public opinion or justification for the harmful study.  

APHIS's intentions hold no benefit for wild American buffalo. The goal and purpose of this federal agency is to serve the livestock industry, and not wild buffalo. 

In truth, the wild bison of Yellowstone are the *last* wild population left in America. They number fewer than 3,700 individuals and are badly mismanaged under a state-federal plan that aims to serve the interests of Montana's cattle producers. 

Wild bison need habitat to recover their population, not birth control by a taxpayer funded agency acting on behalf of the livestock industry.

MIC CHECK?!?! State Run Political Campaigns?

By Thomas Lord
Tuesday January 10, 2012 - 09:40:00 AM

Imagine opening up your copy of the Constitution one day and finding these words:

Federal, State and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, for the purpose of influencing in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.

Federal, State and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.

On January 7th, Occupy Berkeley's ruling authority, its General Assembly, somehow came to endorse an upcoming protest called "Occupy the Courts". The protest is in response to the Citizens United decision which overturned federal limits on independent electioneering expenditures by corporations. 

On January 20th, the Occupy the Courts organizers hope to "occupy" federal courthouses around the country. 

Occupy Berkeley did not invent or plan this particular protest, they merely seem to endorse it, for some reason. The action at courthouses was masterminded by an organization calling itself Move to Amend

According to their website, Move to Amend calls for a constitutional amendment that would give federal, state, and local governments authority to regulate, limit, or even prohibit any and all campaign contributions and expenditures. The amendment text above is part of their proposal. 

While these powers are common features in repressive regimes around the world, here in the U.S. the Citizens United decision has only added to the many ways in which government cannot suppress political activity. Move to Amend's proposed amendment apparently wants to close that gap and ensure that elected officials can fully control campaign spending. 

Move to Amend is funded and backed by the Liberty Tree Foundation, a Wisconsin-based not-for-profit organization that, with no apparent ironic intent, describes itself as "building a foundation for a democratic revolution." 

The Liberty Tree Foundation was chartered in 2004. Their website cites no legislative or legal victories among their accomplishments but they have built a network of regional affiliates. They accept monetary donations at their web sites.

New: REDEVELOPMENT FORUM: The Facts behind the Hype

By Jim Mellander
Thursday January 12, 2012 - 10:16:00 AM

Redevelopment has been sold to the public nationwide as a virtual panacea for numerous urban ills. The California Redevelopment Association website features pictures of happy children frolicking in a presumably redeveloped urban area. Although this idyllic image is charming, adults need to address quality of life issues in a mature way. There are many desirable societal goals for which redevelopment is touted as the road to achieving these goals. This brief letter will discuss some of the hard facts behind the hype surrounding redevelopment. 

Blighted areas in urban settings are one of the ills redevelopment is expected to correct. In order to qualify for redevelopment an area must be declared “blighted”. State law is sufficiently vague and elastic to allow such areas as parkland, new residential areas, professional baseball stadiums, oil fields, shopping centers, orange groves, open desert and dry riverbeds to be declared as blighted. 

A city park in Lancaster was determined to be blighted and paved over to make space for Costco. In order to build a test track for a major automobile manufacturer, California City declared open desert land to be blighted. In Orange County, a public health facility was declared blighted and the property turned over to a BMW dealership. The extremely wealthy southern California gated-community of Indian Wells has several redevelopment areas despite an average six-figure income of its residents. 

Redevelopment agencies received enormous revenue from the increased property tax in the redevelopment area as a result of the property improvements financed by public bonds issued by the redevelopment agency. Over 10% of total property tax revenues in the state have been diverted to these redevelopment agencies – this is big business cloaked with the power of government, used for the benefit of the few, at the expense of the many. In the meantime, schools and other public services have suffered from the diversion of these funds away from general funding streams. In order to offset this loss, school districts have won their own property tax diversions from cities, in the form of the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund (ERAF) further pressuring municipal budgets. 

From a purely financial standpoint, such increase in property values could be justified if it had resulted in increased prosperity for the citizenry – a rising tide floats all boats. The report “Subsidizing Redevelopment in California” found that redevelopment activities did not result in any net economic growth or increase in property taxes, and, in fact, that redevelopment was being subsidized by funds diverted from schools, the state, and special districts. The California Redevelopment Agency (CRA) initially fully cooperated with this study. However, when the conclusion was reached the CRA blasted the report and tried to have it buried. Per capita income growth in California cities with redevelopment agencies generally has slightly lagged behind comparable cities without redevelopment, exactly the opposite of what would be expected if redevelopment was a successful tool for economic growth. 

Politicians and other special interest groups will tout the relatively few successes of redevelopment as indicators of its value to the community. Certainly, those who directly benefit from this largess are understandably perturbed by the pending demise of the California redevelopment establishment. Aside from the workers in redevelopment agencies and those who have received subsidies, politically connected developers enjoy favorable loans in sweetheart deals. 

Statewide, 37% of all redevelopment funds are spent for debt service on bonds, 25% for actual development, 6% for land acquisition, and 12% for administration (i.e. redevelopment staff salaries). By law, 20% of all redevelopment funds must be spent on "low cost" housing, but only 3% is actually being spent directly on housing. 

More troubling to many people than the financial issues are the property rights violations inherent in the power of eminent domain, often aggressively used by redevelopment agencies to clear out uncooperative property owners in the way of the agency’s vision of “progress”. 

The Bill of Rights specifies that the purpose of eminent domain is for public use: "Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." Redevelopment has redefined “public use” to include privately owned shopping centers, auto malls, movie theaters and big banks. The CRA bragged in an article in its monthly Redevelopment Journal titled "Eminent Domain Helps Citizens" that "Wells Fargo Bank was one of the existing tenants of the Los Altos Shopping Center (Long Beach) helped by eminent domain." 

In a letter of this length, it is only possible to skim the surface of the financial and ethical problems surrounding the redevelopment establishment. Interested readers are invited to search the web for the document: “Redevelopment – The Unknown Government”, from which many of the facts and figures cited above have been used.


By Richard Thompson
Tuesday January 10, 2012 - 11:20:00 PM

Laud Governor Brown's initiative in dissolving The Centre City Development Board, among others, which was but the San Diego City Council Writ Large. 

Attack board members who were in on the deal to build the bridge across Harbor Drive to Petco Park which took 10 years, and cost $30 million. That pedestrian meant so much graft to insiders for such a very long while. 

Consider the Broadway Pier which isn't used because 1) the so-called Mexico Riviera cruise ship business has fallen off because of violent crime, and 2) it costs twice as much— $100,000 per night — to rent the new bridge (while it still costs $50,000 to rent the old bridge overnight). 

San Diego City Council seeks to avoid controversy in the first place, and indictment by State of California AG Kamala Harris in the second place, as its members troll for campaign contributions. If parks are good for cities, why is planning so contentious? Westfield Group is making money at other malls in San Diego, but it is losing money at Horton Plaza Mall — there is no cheap nearby parking — so it wants out from under the lease. The way to do that is to present a design plan for a Horton Plaza Park. But why has the historic Horton fountain been a rat-infested ruin for several years already if the Council / Agency is so terrific? 

Governor Jerry Brown is right to want to abolish the city development districts throughout the state. Former Governor Pete Wilson — who always kept his word — now represents the fat cats' interests as shown by his support for the Mayor-headed San Diego City Council's over-hasty approval of such development projects as the Horton Plaza "Park." 

Conrad Prebys has joined a small cadre of San Diego philanthropists making substantial donations to local San Diego organizations. His largest gifts have supported the arts, San Diego Zoo, medical research and Scripps Health. I think he is a wonderful man. Prebys is truly to be compared with my distant relative Ellen Browning Scripps. Presbys is the least selfish person I know, and I thank him for the UC San Diego Concert Hall, plus the polar bear exhibit, and the proposed three big cat exhibits at the Zoo, with all my heart. 

A day doesn't dawn when California's Senior Senator Dianne Feinstein and her multi-billionnaire husband Dick Blum don't take additional millions of dollars from the public trough (Blum's investment company owns $700,000,000 in for-profit college shares — while he serves on the UC Regents). . Marty Block, even though he was chair of the House Higher Education Committe — he's now running for state senate — didn't mention skyrocketing tuition at the county Democratic convention which I attended — nor the trillion dollars in debt carried by college students nationwide. The reason was that Ashford University was a sponsor of the county Democratic convention (the CEO of Ashford took $9,000,000,000 in stock options in 2009). UC San Diego Chancellor Fox recently joined the board of Ashford's parent company. 

Many other people in the state are corrupt, too. 

The state convention of the Democratic Party will be held February 10 through 12, 2012 at the San Diego Convention Center. Development Boards are corrupt. Everyone attending the convention should echo that message. 

More and more independents will abandon both Republicans and Democratics by the time of the General Election. Governor Brown should abandon his attempt to put the excise tax on the ballot. Read Eugene Burdick's Ninth Wave, a novel about surfing and politics.

Press Release: ZOA Praises U.S. Cong. Brad Sherman For Call To UC Berkeley: Reconsider Award To Former UN Official And Israel-Basher [sic] Mary Robinson

From the Zionist Organization of America
Tuesday January 10, 2012 - 08:24:00 AM

NEW YORK, January 10, 2012-- The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) strongly praised U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) today for urging the University of California, Berkeley to reconsider its decision to give Mary Robinson, formerly the president of Ireland and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, its "2012 Public Health Hero" award. Congressman Sherman stated that his recommendation was based on Robinson's "record of bias and animus against Israel." 

In a letter to Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau on January 4, 2012, Congressman Sherman expressed many concerns about the way in which Ms. Robinson carried out her responsibilities as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, including the following: 

· "Under Robinson's leadership, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued wildly skewed reports on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, unfairly painting Israel as the aggressor and the Palestinian Arabs as innocent victims." 

· "Robinson blamed Israel for the outbreak of Palestinian violence during the Second Intifada." 

· "When Robinson allowed the Durban process to be hijacked by anti-Semites and those who deny Israel's right to exist, she betrayed her responsibilities as High Commissioner and enabled enormous undeserved damage to Israel's international image." 

· "Robinson's' stewardship of the infamous Durban Conference allowed hostility toward Israel to proliferate on the global arena. . . . A conference convened to combat the scourge of racism became an arena for some of the most anti-Israel, anti-Jewish voices in modern history." 

· "Rather than use her leadership in a constructive and objective way, Robinson adopted the narrative of Israel's most vitriolic enemies." 

Congressman Sherman informed the Chancellor: "As a Representative from California, I believe that the University of California, Berkeley, a public institution with a global reputation of excellence and quality, should be upholding that reputation by honoring someone untainted by such a record of bias and animus against Israel" (emphasis added). 

ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, "The ZOA applauds our great friend, U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), for urging UC Berkeley not to honor Mary Robinson because of her disgraceful and shameful record on Israel. Congressman Sherman has been a leader in ensuring that our colleges and universities respond effectively to campus anti-Semitism, including vicious Israel-bashing that demonizes and delegitimizes Israel. We are grateful to Congressman Sherman for speaking out against UC Berkeley's poor choice in deciding to honor Mary Robinson, and urge the university to act on the Congressman's advice and rescind the decision." 

About the ZOA 

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is the oldest and one of the largest pro-Israel organizations in the United States. With offices around the country and in Israel, the ZOA educates the public, elected officials, the media, and college/high school students about the truth of the ongoing Arab war against Israel. The ZOA works to strengthen U.S.-Israel relations through educational activities, public affairs programs and our work on Capitol Hill, and to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias in the media, in textbooks, in schools and on college campuses. Under the leadership of such presidents as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, Rabbis Abba Hillel Silver and Stephen Wise, and current President Morton A. Klein, the ZOA has been - and continues to be - on the front lines of Jewish activism. The ZOA is a 501(c) (3) non-partisan organization. www.zoa.org.


THE PUBLIC EYE: The Republicans' Mitt Romney Problem

By Bob Burnett
Friday January 13, 2012 - 09:06:00 AM

After Rick Santorum’s surprising showing in the January 3rd Iowa caucuses, many observers asked, “Why didn’t Mitt Romney win? What explains Santorum’s late surge?” The answer lies at the core of contemporary Republican politics: they don’t have one candidate that appeals to their fractured base. 

A recent Pew Research poll revealed the remarkable diversity in the US electorate. In 2012, Pew projects that 10 percent of potential voters, mostly young people, will not vote; Pew allocates the remaining 90 percent to three groups: “Mostly Republican,” 25 percent, “Mostly Independent,” 35 percent, and “Mostly Democratic,” 40 percent. (This reflects ideology not actual Party registration.) 

The “Mostly Republican” group includes “Staunch Conservatives” (11 percent) and “Main Street Republicans” (14 percent). Staunch Conservatives are older white voters who “take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues – on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns. Most agree with the Tea Party and… very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance. “ Main Street Republicans are similar but not as conservative; for example, they are more likely to house anti-corporation sentiment. Just outside the “Mostly Republican” group is a bloc of Independents, “Libertarians” (10 percent), that typically vote for the Republican presidential candidate. 

Romney is not well accepted by Staunch Conservatives because of his, supposedly, liberal record as Governor of Massachusetts. These Tea Party radicals accuse Romney of being “Republican in name only” (RINO). They point out his transgressions: Romney approved of the TARP bank bailout; he designed the Massachusetts healthcare system that became the model for “Obamacare;” and his positions on values issues like abortion and gay rights have flip-flopped over the years. 

Romney has an additional problem because he is a Mormon. In a June 2011 Gallup Poll,Twenty percent of Republicans and Independents indicate they would not support a Mormon for President. Romney’s religion was a factor in his poor showing in Iowa. A December < a href= http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2144/newt-gingrich-mitt-romney-2012-republican-presidential-nomination-race-gop-tea-party-barack-obama-gender-gap >Pew Research poll examining Republican voter attitudes about the candidates found “high negatives for Romney among white evangelicals.” One evangelical predicted, “Eighty percent of evangelicals will not vote for Romney in a contested primary, and 20 to 30 percent will stay home or go third party in the general election because of the Mormon issue and because they see him as an advocate of abortion and gay marriage.” 

The latest Gallup Tracking poll shows 34 percent of Republican respondents favor Romney, 14 percent want Newt Gingrich, 15 percent like Rick Santorum, and 13 percent prefer Ron Paul – with other candidates in single digits. (In the New Hampshire Primary, Romney garnered 39 percent, Paul 23 percent, and the others split the remaining 38 percent.) Romney’s ahead, as he has been all year, but he hasn’t sold the majority of Republicans. 

As the campaign has progressed, Romney has taken increasingly conservative positions. Romney proposes a six-step approach to job creation.. He would “reduce the corporate income tax rate to 25 percent.” He would accelerate free trade agreements. Romney would cut “non-discretionary Federal spending by 5 percent.” He would “cut red tape” by eliminating Federal regulations that “unduly burden the economy or job creation.” He would boost domestic oil production, “Direct the Department of the Interior to implement a process for rapid issuance of drilling permits.” Finally, Romney would “pave the way to end Obamacare.” 

Romney began his political career as pro-choice but switched positions in 2007 and adopted the conservative stance: life begins at conception, Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and there should be a “Human Life” constitutional amendment to ban abortion. At the beginning of his career Romney supported gay rights but in 2005 he stated his opposition to gay marriage and civil unions. Romney believes in man-made global warming but “is not certain to the extent that man is causing the change in the environment.” He advocates US energy independence that includes both reliance on renewables and energy sources such as “clean coal,” nuclear, and domestic oil – he supports construction of the Keystone pipeline. 

Romney’s biggest problem may not be his religion or his supposedly liberal record or his flip-flopping on major issues it but rather his record as a businessman. Romney’s foes have gone on the attack and posted a video describing him as “corporate raider.” Romney co-founded Bain Capital and over 25 years amassed a fortune estimated at $200 million. Bain Capital “is a classic ‘strip and flip’ shop – a private equity firm that made its money buying businesses and sucking profit out of them by any means possible.” 

In American politics it’s axiomatic that to win the Presidency you have to hold onto your base, breakeven with Independents, and slice off a few votes from your opposition. Mitt Romney’s problem is that it doesn’t appear he can hold onto his Republican base much less garner Independent and Democratic votes. 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Occupy Groups Move to End Corporate Personhood, Restore US Democracy

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday January 13, 2012 - 09:10:00 AM

January 21st marks the second anniversary of the infamous January 21, 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, where the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibits government from placing limits on independent spending for political purposes by corporations and unions. In other words, money equals speech. Move to Amend is planning occupations and rallies on January 20th to protest this Supreme Court decision. 

What underlies the Citizens United decision is the assumption that corporations are natural persons within the meaning of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution and therefore, have First Amendment rights. Corporate personhood dates back to the controversial 1886 Supreme Court decision in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. Although the Supreme Court supposedly did not make a direct ruling on the question of "corporate personhood," the misleading notes of a clerk finding corporate personhood were incorporated in the Court's decision. Whether this is myth or reality doesn't matter at this point. This result was a Supreme Court precedent finding that a corporation is a "natural person." 

Since then, the corporate personhood legal concept has been codified: "In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise-- the words "person" and "whoever" include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals." (1 U.S.C. §1) 

Not surprisingly, the influence of super political action committees (super PACs) was expected in the wake of Citizens United, presently in support of GOP primary candidates. Although super PACs cannot coordinate directly with campaigns, many of them are staffed by long-time supporters of the candidates. According to The Center for Public Integrity , through January 1, 2012, super PACs spent $12.9 million. The next reports for spending are not due until January 31st. 

Consider that super PACs often spend more money in television and radio advertisements than the candidates themselves. For example, "Winning Our Future," the pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC is expected to spend $3.4 million to launch an anti-Mitt Romney film before the South Carolina primary. While "Restore Our Future," the pro-Romney super PAC is expected to spend $2.3 million before the South Carolina primary. 

Clearly, there needs to be more disclosure about super PAC spending. However, the Disclosure Act, which would have increased transparency for super PACs and other groups spending money on campaigns, failed in a Republican filibuster in the Senate. 

Some cities and states have defied Citizens United. In Montana, for example, the state Supreme Court upheld a longstanding law limiting corporate spending in politics. A lower court had held that Citizens United invalidated the state's Corrupt Practices Act, a law passed by citizens' ballot initiative in 1912, when it was common practice for the copper industry to bribe state politicians. On December 30th, the Montana Supreme Court allowed the law to stand in spite of Citizens United. 

In another case, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2006 New York City law that, among other things, bans lobbyists from giving gifts to City officials and requires them to disclose all fundraising and consulting activities. Again, in spite of Citizens United, the court upheld the City's right to put limits on political contributions and prevent "pay-to-play" schemes. 

If the Montana or New York cases are appealed, the Supreme Court is likely to reverse these rulings, citing its precedent in Citizens United. 

In other actions, on January 4, 2012, the New York City passed a resolution opposing the Citizens United decision and supporting a Constitutional amendment abolishing corporate personhood , joining Los Angeles, Boulder, Albany, Oakland, Madison and Dane Counties, Wisconsin, and Missoula, Montana. The resolution declares support for an amendment declaring "that corporations are not entitled to the entirety of protections or ‘rights' of natural persons, specifically so that the expenditure of corporate money to influence the electoral process is no longer a form of constitutionally protected speech." On January 4th, a similar resolution was introduced in the California legislature Hawaii passed a similar resolution last year. 

It won't be easy to stop big money from undermining our political process, but there is promising action at the state and local level to change the Citizens United decision either through a Constitutional amendment or through a new Supreme Court decision

SENIOR POWER… The crime of the 21st century

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday January 12, 2012 - 07:32:00 PM

Many of the nation's fast-growing, elderly population are prime targets for abuse — physical, financial, sexual or emotional. Concern among the elderly and their advocates mounts as the number of seniors soars and more of them live longer. The Cedar Village Retirement Community in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason has opened a long-term care facility to victims of abuse. It is the first elder abuse shelter in Ohio and one of only a half-dozen in the country. All are funded by non-profit groups. 

Elder abuse crimes usually fall into 4 main categories: 

  • Physical abuse, including assaults, batteries, sexual assaults, false imprisonment and endangerment;
  • Physical neglect by a caregiver, including withholding medical services or hygiene that exposes the elderly person to the risk of serious harm;
  • Psychological (mental) abuse, including making threats or the infliction of emotional harm; and
  • Financial (fiduciary) abuse, which includes theft of such personal items as cash, investments, real property and jewelry.
In slanguage, a fraudulent business scheme or swindle is a scam, often an example of elder abuse. Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they are considered "the crime of the 21st century." Financial scams often go unreported; they can be difficult to prosecute and are considered “low-risk” crime. 

Wealthy seniors and low-income older adults are at risk of financial abuse, not always by strangers. Seniors are assumed by many to have significant amounts of money sitting in their accounts. Over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by a person’s own family members, most often adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others. The National Council on Aging and the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement have identified the top scams targeting seniors and ways to protect yourself from them. 


Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud 

Every U.S. citizen or permanent resident age 65+ qualifies for Medicare. A scammer does not need to research what private health insurance (“HMO”) company an old person has in order to scam her/him out of money. Perpetrators may pose as a Medicare or other government representative to get older people’s personal information or signature. Or they may provide bogus services for elderly people. 

Use direct deposit for benefit checks. 

Funeral & Cemetery Scams 

The FBI warns about two types of funeral and cemetery fraud perpetrated on seniors. 

(1) Scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of the grieving widowed person. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them, scammers try to extort money from relatives to settle fake debts. 

(2) Disreputable funeral homes capitalize on family members’ unfamiliarity with the cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges to the bill. In one common scam of this type, funeral directors insist that a casket (typically, one of the most expensive parts of funeral services) is necessary even when performing a direct cremation, which can be accomplished with a cardboard casket rather than an expensive display or burial casket. 

Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products 

“60 is the new 40.” In an ageist society, some older people feel the need to conceal their age in order to participate in social circles and the workplace. Many older Americans seek new treatments, products and medications to maintain a youthful appearance, putting them at risk of scammers. Bogus homeopathic remedies do nothing. Botox -- botulism neurotoxin -- is one of the most toxic substances known to science. 


Scammers use of fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people, who, as a group, make twice as many purchases over the phone as the national average. With no face-to-face interaction and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly difficult to trace. Moreover, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is then shared with other schemers. 

Examples of telemarketing fraud include “The Pigeon Drop.” The con artist tells the individual that he/she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it if the person will make a “good faith” payment by withdrawing funds from his/her bank account. Often, a second con artist is involved, posing as a lawyer, banker, or some other supposedly trustworthy stranger. 

“The Fake Accident Ploy” con artist gets the victim to wire or send money on the pretext that the person’s child or another relative is in the hospital and needs money. “Charity Scams” money is solicited for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters. 

Sign up with the National Do Not Call Registry. donotcal.gov 1 888 382 1222 

Never give your credit card, banking, Social Security, Medicare, or other personal information over the phone. 

Take yourself off multiple mailing lists. 

Internet Fraud 

Using the Internet is a great skill to acquire at any age, but the slower speed of adoption among some older people makes them easier targets for automated Internet scams that are ubiquitous on the web and email programs. 

Examples: a senior receives an email that appears to be from a legitimate company or institution, asking to “update” or “verify” their personal information; a senior receives emails that appear to be from the IRS about a tax refund. 

Counterfeit drug scams often operate on the Internet, where seniors go to find better prices on their meds. The danger is that besides paying money for something that will not help a medical condition, the victim may purchase unsafe substances that can inflict harm. 

Do not open emails that have attachments unless you know the sender. 

Do not include any aspect of your name in your constructed email address. 

Investment Schemes 

Because many seniors find themselves planning for retirement and managing their savings once they finish working, a number of investment schemes have been targeted at seniors looking to safeguard their cash for their later years. From pyramid schemes to fables of African royalty looking for a partner to claim inheritance, investment schemes have long been a successful way to take advantage of older people. 

Be skeptical of all unsolicited offers. 

Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams 

Scammers like to take advantage of the fact that many people above a certain age own their homes, a valuable asset that increases the potential dollar value. The reverse mortgage scam has mushroomed in recent years. With legitimate reverse mortgages increasing in frequency, scammers are taking advantage of this new popularity. As opposed to official refinancing schemes, however, unsecured reverse mortgages can lead property owners to lose their homes when the perpetrators offer money or a free house somewhere else in exchange for the title to the property. 

Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams 

Scammers inform their mark that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind and need to make some sort of payment to unlock the supposed prize. Often, seniors will be sent a check that they can deposit in their bank account, knowing that while it shows up in their account immediately, it will take several days before the (fake) check is rejected. During that time, the criminals will quickly collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize, which they pocket while the victim has the “prize money” removed from his or her account as soon as the check bounces. 

The Grandparent Scam 

Grandparent Scammers will call an older person, and when the mark picks up, say something like “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without even making a background research. Once “in,” the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which do not always require identification to collect. Alas, many older ladies are still reluctant to “hang up” on callers who are unknown to them personally and to demand in person “ID” 

Be aware that you are at risk from strangers—and from those closest to you. 



This week I learned that California Governor Jerry Brown has released his 2012/2013 budget proposal. It eliminates the California Commission on the Status of Women. The budget also proposes steep cuts to health and human services, including Medi-Cal. If you don’t see the “senior” connection, review these facts: 

Most aged persons are women. 

Most low-income aged persons are women. California has twice as many women as men over the age of 85. 

Nationwide, as many as 75% of long-term caregivers are women. California leads the way with an estimated 4 million caregivers – a value to the state of more than $48 billion annually. 

Email. Call Governor Brown: 916-445-2841. Fax (916) 558-3160. Urge him to fund the Commission on the Status of Women. 


MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Be sure to confirm. Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events and deadlines that may interest boomers, seniors and elders. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred. pen136@dslextreme.com.  

Fridays, Jan. 13 and Feb. 17. 9:30 A.M. – 11:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Creating Your Personal Learning Network 

Join Mike McMahon, Volunteer, to learn to use the Internet and tools like Twitter and YouTube. 510-747-7510. 

Tuesday, Jan. 17. 9:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Mastick Non-Fiction Book Club. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson and/or Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich by Eric Metaxas. 510-747-7510. See also Feb. 21. 

Wednesday, Jan. 18. 1 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging. South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis. 510-981-5170. 

Wednesday, Jan. 18. 7 P.M. Adult Evening Book Group. Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720. 

Thursday, Jan. 19. 12 Noon. Learn what identity theft is, how to prevent it, and what you can do if you become a victim. This is one in a series of free financial education seminars taught by USE Credit Union. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 

Thursday, Jan. 19. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. Berkeley Public Library west branch. 1125 University 510-981-6270. See also Jan. 26. 

Fridays, Jan. 20, 27, Feb. 3 and 10. 10 A.M. – 11 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Folk Dancing with Maureen Atkins, Instructor. No experience or partner necessary. $16 per person for four sessions. 510-747-7510. 

Saturday, Jan. 21. 10 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Monoprint Processes. Join Heidi Guibord, volunteer instructor. A beginner’s look at Monoprint with the opportunity to make cards and decorations. Bring items with interesting textures (e.g., leaves, ribbons) to class. $10 supplies fee. 510-747-7510. 

Sunday, Jan. 22. 1:30 P.M. Book Into Film: Romeo and Juliet. Discussion group participants read the play at home and then gather at Berkeley’s Central Library, 2090 Kittredge Street to view the film adaptation. Following the film, participants discuss the play, the film and the adaptation process. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library. Free. Participation is limited and registration is required. 510-981-6236. 

Monday, Jan. 23. 10:30 A.M. – 11:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Learn to Create a YouTube Video Jeff Cambra, Alameda Currents producer, will share the basics of shooting a good video and how to get it uploaded to YouTube. No equipment or experience is needed. 510-747-7510. 

Monday, Jan. 23. 12:30 P.M. YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch. Speaker’s Forum: Fariba Nawa’s Opium Nation. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720 

Monday, Jan. 23. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club. The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee. 61 Arlington Av. Free. Book group meetings are usually held on the fourth Monday of every month in the library at 7:00 p.m. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. 510-524-3043. 

Tuesday, Jan. 24. 1 P.M. Doggie Communication 101. Does your dog pull you down the street? Growl or snap? Bark too much? Other annoying or worrisome behaviors? Bring your questions and join dog trainer Ruth Smiler. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7510. 

Wednesdays, beginning January 25. 9:30 A.M. – 11 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. San Francisco History and Highlights. Join Eric Hill, Volunteer Instructor for San Francisco History and Highlights. Free. 510-747-7510. 


Wednesday, Jan. 25. 12:15-1 P.M. Michael Goldberg, guitar: Noon Concert Series. 

UCB Hertz Concert Hall. Sponsor: Department of Music Faculty recital.
Luis de Narvaez: Three Fantasias. Turina: Sevillana Bach: Suite in E Major (BWV 1006a). Ponce: Sonatina Meridional. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864 


Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1-2 P.M. Israeli Chamber Project Concert. Jewish Community Center. Berkeley Branch, 1414 Walnut St. Free. RSVP online. 510-848-0237 


Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group. Gogol's The Overcoat. Albany branch, Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Free. 510-526-3720. 



Wednesday, Jan. 25. 1:30 P.M. Gray Panthers. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. 510-981-5190. 


Thursday, Jan. 26. 1:30 P.M. Music Appreciation Class. Join William Sturm, Volunteer Instructor. Piano recital and discussion about “The Classical Romantic: Johannes Brahms.” Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. 510-747-7510. 


Monday, Jan. 30. 6 P.M. Evening Computer Class at Central Berkeley Public Library. . Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 



Monday, Jan. 30. 7 P.M. Ellis Island Old World Folk Band Performance. 

Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Ave. Old World and New World repertoire emphasizing the transition that took place when Jews came to America at the beginning of the last century. Tunes from the Yiddish theater and radio featuring vocals made popular by the Barry Sisters, queens of 1940s Yiddish Swing. This award-winning band has pioneered the revival of klezmer, lively and soulful Eastern European Jewish music. Free. 510-524-3043 


Tuesday, Jan. 31. 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. 

John Jacobs, Vice President of Bank of Alameda, will provide an Insurance Primer. Learn what the current FDIC Insurance limits are and whether you are investing your money properly. Free. 510-747-7510. 





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


Wednesday, Feb. 1. 12 Noon. Playreaders at Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 8, 15 , 22 and 29. 


Wednesday, Feb. 1. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Nathan Noh, solo piano: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. Beethoven: Sonata in A-flat major, op. 110
Ravel: two movements from Miroirs Balakirev: Islamey. 510-642-4864 


Thursday, Feb. 2. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 9, 16 and 23, and March 1. 


Thursday, Feb. 2. 1:30-2:30 P.M. Fred Setterberg will discuss his book, Lunch Bucket Paradise, a true-life novel about growing up in blue-collar suburbia in 1950s and 60s East Bay. Albany Library, 1247 Martin Avenue. Free. 510-526-3720. This is a program in the Alameda County Library’s Older Adults Services series; for dates and branches throughout the county, call 510-745-1491. 


Monday, Feb. 6. 6 P.M. Evening Computer Class. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. Also Feb. 13 and 27. 


Wednesday, Feb. 8. 12:15-1 P.M. Michael Tan, cello; Miles Graber, piano. Andrea Wu, solo piano. Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. 

Rachmaninoff: Vocalise Faure: Après un rêve Shostakovich: Cello Sonata, mvts. 2 and 4 Schumann: Sonata, op. 22 Prokofiev: Toccata, op. 11. 510-642-4864 


Thursday, Feb. 9. 6 PM. Lawyers in the Library. South branch, Berkeley Public Library, 1901 Russell. 981-6100. 


Monday, Feb. 13. 7 P.M. Author talk. Songwriter poet Marisa Handler will speak about her writing, songs and poetry. Her memoir, Loyal to the Sky: Notes from an Activist won a 2008 Nautilus Gold Award for world-changing books. Born in apartheid South Africa, Handler emigrated to Southern California when she was twelve. Her gradual realization that injustice existed even in this more open, democratic society spurred a commitment to activism that would take her to Israel, India, Nepal, Ecuador, Peru, and throughout the United States. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Free. 510-524-3043. 


Wednesday, Feb. 15. 12:15-1 P.M. Free Noon Concert Series. Hertz Concert Hall. Recital: Jeffrey Syles, piano, with Axel Strauss, violin, and Jean-Michel Fontenau, cello. Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in C Minor Piazzola: two movements from Grand Tango. 510-642-4864 


Wednesday, Feb. 15. 7-8 P.M. Adult evening book group: E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 


Thursday, Feb. 16. 6 P.M. Lawyers in the Library. West branch, Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University. 510-981-6270. 


Tuesday, February 21. 9:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Mastick Non-Fiction Book Club. members will review Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James Gavin and/or Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn 

Levy. 510-747-7510. 


Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Jazz x 2: Free Noon Concert Series. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Jazz Allstars, Ted Moore, Director. Berkeley Nu Jazz Collective, Myra Melford, Director. 510-642-4864 



Wednesday, Feb. 22. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker’s Forum. Albany Branch, Alameda Country Library, 1247 Marin Ave. Free. 510-526-3720 x 16. 


Friday, Feb. 24. 9 A.M.-4 P.M. Annual convention. United Seniors of Oakland and Alameda County. 510-729-0852. www.usoac.org 


Wednesday, Feb. 29. 12:15-1 P.M. Gospel Chorus, Old Made New: Free Noon Concert Series. UC, B Music Dept. Highlights - University Gospel Chorus, D. Mark Wilson, director. Old Songs in New Clothes: Old hymns given new life and meaning in contemporary compositions by African American composers. 510-642-4864 


Wednesday, Feb. 29. 7:00 PM. Kensington Library Book Club. 61 Arlington Av. 

February's book is The Trial by Franz Kafka. The book group alternates classic and contemporary literature on a monthly basis. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member. 510-524-3043. 



Thursday, March 1. 10 A.M. Computers for Beginners. Central Berkeley Library, 2090 Kittredge. 510-981-6100. 






DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Cyber War: Reality or Hype?

By Conn Hallinan
Tuesday January 10, 2012 - 09:51:00 AM

During his confirmation hearings this past June, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned the Senate, “The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems.” It was powerful imagery: a mighty fleet reduced to smoking ruin, an expansionist Asian power at the nation’s doorstep. 

But is “cyber war” really a threat? Can cyber war actually “cripple” the U.S., and who might these computer terrorists be? Or is the language just sturm und drang spun up by a coalition of major arms manufacturers, the Pentagon, and Internet security firms, allied with China bashers aimed at launching a new Cold War in Asia? 

The language is sobering. Former White House Security Aide Richard Clarke, author of “Cyberwar”, conjures up an apocalyptic future of paralyzed U.S. cities, subways crashing, planes “literally falling out of the sky,” and thousands dead. Retired Admiral and Bush administration National Intelligence Director, Mike McConnell grimly warns “The United States is fighting a cyber war today and we are losing.” 

Much of this rhetoric is aimed at China. According to U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, the Chinese government has launched a “predatory” campaign of “cyber theft” that has reached an “intolerable level.” U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) charges that a “significant portion” of “cyber attacks” on U.S. companies “emanate from China.” Former CIA and National Security Agency director Michael Hayden told Congress, “I stand back in awe of the breadth, depth, sophistication, and persistence of the Chinese espionage effort against the United States of America.” 

China has been accused of hacking into the Pentagon, the International Monetary Fund, the French government, the CIA, and stealing information from major U.S. arms maker Boeing, and the Japanese firm Mitsubishi. The latter builds the American high performance fighter, the F-15. 

The Pentagon has even developed a policy strategy that considers major cyber attacks to be acts of war, triggering what could be a military response. “If you shut down our power grid,” one Defense official told the Wall Street Journal, “maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks.” 

But consider the sources for all this scare talk: Clarke is the chair of a firm that consults on cyber security, and McConnell is the executive vice-president of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Both are currently doing business with the Pentagon. 

Arms giants like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and other munitions manufactures are moving heavily into the cyber security market. In 2010, Boeing snapped up Argon ST and Narus, two cyber security firms with an estimated value of $2.4 billion. Raytheon bought Applied Signal Technology, General Dynamics absorbed Network Connectivity Solutions, and Britain’s major arms firm, BAE, purchased Norkom and ETI. 

“There is a feeding frenzy right now to provide products and services to meet the demands of governments, law enforcement and the military,” says Ron Deibert, director of the Canada Center for Global Security Studies. 

There are big bucks at stake. Between the Defense Department and Homeland Security, the U.S. will spend some $10.5 billion for cyber security by 2015. The Pentagon’s new Cyber Command is slated to have a staff of 10,000, and according to Northrop executive Kent Schneider, the market for cyber arms and security in the U.S. is $100 billion. 

But is cyber war everything it is cracked up to be, and is the U.S. really way behind the curve in the scramble to develop cyber weapons? 

According to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, in his New Yorker article “The Online Threat,” the potential for cyber mayhem has “been exaggerated” and the Defense Department and cyber security firms have blurred the line between cyber espionage and cyber war. The former is the kind of thing that goes on, day in and day out, between governments and industry, except its medium is the Internet. The latter is an attack on another country’s ability to wage war, defend itself, or run its basic infrastructure. 

Most experts say the end-of-the-world scenarios drawn up by people like Clarke are largely fiction. How could an enemy shut down the U.S. national power grid when there is no such thing? A cyber attack would have to disrupt more than 100 separate power systems throughout the nation to crash the U.S. grid. 

Most financial institutions are also protected. The one example of a successful cyber attack in that area was an apparent North Korean cyber assault this past march on the South Korean bank Nonghyup that crashed the institution’s computers. But an investigation found that the bank had been extremely remiss in changing passwords or controlling access to its computers. According to Peter Sommer, author of “Reducing Systems Cybersecurity Risk,” the cyber threat to banks “is a bit of nonsense.” 

However, given that many Americans rely on computers, cell phones, I-Pads, smart phones and the like, any hint that an “enemy” could disrupt access to those devices is likely to get attention. Throw in some scary scenarios and a cunning enemy—China—and it’s pretty easy to make people nervous. 

But contrary to McConnell’s statement, the U.S. is more advanced in computers than other countries in the world, and the charge that the U.S. is behind the curve sounds suspiciously like the “bomber gap” with the Russians in the ‘50s and the “missile gap” in the 1960s. Both were illusions that had more to do with U.S. presidential elections and arms industry lobbying than anything in the real world. 

The focus on the China threat certainly fits the Obama administration’s recent “strategic pivot” toward Africa and Asia. China draws significant resources from Africa, including oil, gas, copper, and iron ore, and Beijing is beginning to reassert itself in south and east Asia. The U.S. now has a separate military command for Africa—Africom—and the White House recently excluded U.S. military forces in the Asia theatre from any cutbacks. Washington is also deploying U.S. Marines in Australia. As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the National Defense University this past August, “We know we face some long-term challenges about how we are going to cope with what the rise of China means.” 

But James Lewis, an expert on Chinese cyber espionage, told Hersh that the Chinese have no intention of attacking U.S. financial services since they own a considerable portion of them. According to Lewis, “current Chinese officials” told him “a cyber-war attack would do as much economic harm to us as to you.” The U.S. is China’s largest trading partner and Beijing holds over a trillion dollars in U.S. securities. 

There is also a certain irony to the accusations aimed at China. According to the New York Times, the U.S.—and Israel—designed the “Stuxnet” virus that has infected some 30,000 computers in Iran and set back Teheran’s nuclear program. The virus has also turned up in China, Pakistan, and Indonesia. In terms of cyber war, the U.S. is ahead of the curve, not behind. 

What all this scare talk has done is allow the U.S. military to muscle its way into cyber security in a way that could potentially allow it to monitor virtually everything on the Internet, including personal computers and email. In fact, the military has resisted a push to insure cyber security through the use of encryption because that would prevent the Pentagon from tapping into Internet traffic. 

Does China really pose a threat to the U.S.? There is no question that China-based computers have hacked into a variety of governmental agencies and private companies (as have Russians, Israelis, Americans, French, Taiwanese, South Koreans, etc.—in short everyone spies on everyone), but few observers think that China has any intention of going to war with the much more powerful U.S. 

However, Beijing makes a handy bug-a-boo. One four-star admiral told Hersh that in arguing against budget cuts, the military “needs an enemy and it’s settled on China.” It would not be the first time that ploy was used. 

If the Pentagon’s push is successful, it could result in an almost total loss of privacy for most Americans, as well as the creation of a vast and expensive new security bureaucracy. Give a government the power to monitor the Internet, says Sommers, and it will do it. In this electronic field of dreams, if we build it, they will use it. 

You can read Conn Hallinan at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com

New: Wild Neighbors: Another Round of the Name Game

By Joe Eaton
Tuesday January 10, 2012 - 11:15:00 PM
Common California aster: now it's a Symphyotrichum.
Gordon Leppig and Andrea Pickart, via Wikimedia Commons.
Common California aster: now it's a Symphyotrichum.

The taxonomists are at it again, reshuffling the natural order. This is not in itself a bad thing. Science keeps clarifying the evolutionary relationships among plants and animals, and their scientific names—the classic Latin or Latinoid binomials—are altered accordingly. For amateurs, though, it can be annoying. 

Case in point: last year the American Ornithologists’ Union, the College of Cardinals of serious bird study, reclassified a bunch of wood warblers. Wood warblers make up a New World songbird family known as the Parulidae, after the genus Parula, which includes two species, the northern parula and tropical parula. Dendroica, another genus in the family, included a number of species in North America and the Caribbean, including such familiars as the yellow-rumped and Townsend’s warblers. 

However, genetic studies indicated that neither Parula nor Dendroica deserved separate rank as a genus. Both were closely related to the genus Setophaga, which used to contain only one species, the American redstart. Presto! All the Dendroicas and Parulas are now Setophagas. Parula ceases to exist as a genus. So is the family now Setophagidae? No, that would be too logical. It’s still Parulidae. 

This makes more of a difference than non-birders might think. “Dendroica” was a meaningful term, in a loose way; it’s not unusual to refer to a yellow, green, and/or streaky warbler as “some kind of dendroica,” especially in the fall when there are a lot of migrants in cryptic subadult plumage. It may be a small loss, but it’s a loss nonetheless. 

But this is small potatoes compared with the renaming of the vascular plants in the new edition of the Jepson Manual, the definitive botanical reference for California. Plant people use a lot of Latin. I once heard a landscape architect and his mostly Spanish-speaking crew communicating in a mix of broken English, pidgin Spanish, and botanical Latin. Well, the vocabulary is going to have to expand. 

The changes in the new Jepson are too numerous to cover exhaustively here. Many of them are at the genus level, and replace old familiar names with polysyllabic neologisms. Take Aster. According to Jepson, there are no true Asters in California. What we’re accustomed to calling Asters are now Oreostemma, Symphyotrichum, Eucephalus, Eurybia, Seriocarpus, Almutaster, or Ionactis. There may still be Asters somewhere in the world, but I wouldn’t count on it. Aster eatonii, named after one of the New England Eatons to whom I am apparently not related, is rechristened Symphyotrichum bracteolatum

The gilias get similar treatment: some of them are now in Linanthus or Navarretia, while others have become Saltugilia, Aliciella, or Lathrocasis. Most of the previous linanthuses—attractive white-to-pink flowers in the phlox family—were moved to Leptosiphon. The pea relatives formerly known as Lotus wind up in Acmispon, with a few in Hosackia. Lithocarpus, the tanoak, becomes Notholithocarpus. Madia, the tarweed genus, is split into Anisocarpus, Hemizonella, Harmonia, Jensia, and Kyhosia

Notice how few of the new times trip lightly off the tongue. Notholithocarpus?! 

A personal favorite: Trillium rivale, the brook wakerobin, becomes Pseudotrillium rivale. Why the suggestion of spuriousness here? It still looks like a perfectly good trillium. 

If the Jepson people made any higher-level changes (family and up), I don’t want to know about it. Having finally taken a plant taxonomy course a couple of years ago, I’d rather not have to ask Merritt College for my money back.

Arts & Events

EYE FROM THE AISLE: Theater Review: GHOST LIGHT at Berkeley Rep

By John A. McMullen II
Sunday January 15, 2012 - 09:45:00 AM
Rep, Danforth Comins and Christopher Liam Moore (right)
Rep, Danforth Comins and Christopher Liam Moore (right)

When I first heard that Jon Moscone was the new artistic director of Cal Shakes, my brain went “Moscone? Any relation?” When I found that he was, it always set me to wondering in the way we wonder about John-John and Caroline and other scions of assassinated good-guys. 

When I heard about GHOST LIGHT, I thought Mr. Moscone had written it. When I read the program in my seat at the Berkeley Rep Thrust Stage last Friday, I found that Jon had directed it but Tony Taccone, artistic director of the Rep, had written it. I didn’t know Tony wrote. I did appreciate the play on words of the title: the “ghost light” is the stand with a bare bulb that is traditionally left to illuminate the way in a darkened theatre.  

After 35 years apprenticing by directing and consulting on new plays including Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” and sending many plays to Broadway, Mr. Taccone turns out to be a very professional and deep playwright. 

The story is an excruciatingly personal one that puts Mr. Moscone’s psyche and sexuality in the spotlight as well as his Hamlet-handed fixation on his father’s death. Directing a play which lays bare one’s soul and personal life, a play written by another, must be an emotional travail. 

Many plays have used Hamlet as the metaphor, but this one seems ultimately apt given Mr. Moscone’s position and profession. The story of the play is that he is directing Hamlet and can’t get past the ghost scene. His costumer/confidant Louise confronts him with this apparent blockage since they are behind schedule. Half of the play happens in Jon’s head, or rather his dreams, in a finely tuned Freudian entourage of sires and grandsires and imagined lovers ironically appearing from the depths of his bed, right beside the Zoloft bottles with the Stoli chaser. Jon loses himself in the electronic play-land of cable TV reruns of “Golden Girls” and “Mary Tyler Moore.” He has extended email courtships to avoid the reality which always disappoints as opposed to the imaginary world one can create in one’s head or onstage.  

The influence of Kushner and “Angels” on Taccone’s writing is evident, but well used. The dialogue is witty and credible; Jon is gay, the bon mots and witty insults, while not exactly Wildean, are appropriate and very funny. His dramatic plotting of the dream world and anagnorisis—that critical discovery by a character—is masterful. We learn much about the former Mayor, particularly his political machinations to repeal laws against homosexuality.  

Casting Christopher Liam Moore in the lead was an excellent choice; he has won LA’s Ovation Award and Garland Awards, and you might recognize him from TV appearances on Friends, Third Rock from the Sun a series regular on Murder in Small Town X (Fox) and Ten Items or Less (TNT). 

It is a dense plot to which you must attend carefully, since many initial scenes are as enigmatic as dreams, but which coalesce later as dreams are interpreted and resolved.  

There are downsides: it needs a more substantial talent as the teenage Jon, and it needs an outside eye with the pair of shears since it is 2:40 with intermission. Puzzlingly, it bogs down in an all-important second act confrontation with the specter of his homophobic rounder of a grandfather who recounts the assassination. The penultimate scene at the grave is hung on to by the playwright like a love object you don’t want to let go of. But the final moments will break your heart. 

I admit to a raised eyebrow when I first heard of the play, but my prejudice was relieved half-way into the second scene. At intermission, I asked an acquaintance who attends a lot of plays what he thought, to which he replies, “Too self-referential and too self-indulgent.” Surely he is correct about the characterizations given that it is about Jon and his prolonged fixation, but —except for the over-writing--not “too” but just “self-“ enough.  



Conceived and Developed by Jonathan Moscone And Tony Taccone 

Written By Tony Taccone 

Directed By Jonathan Moscone 

A Co-Production With Oregon Shakespeare Festival 

Main Season | Thrust Stage 

January 6–February 19, 2012  


Tony Taccone, Playwright; Jonathan Moscone, Director; Todd Rosenthal, Scenic Design; Meg Neville, Costume Design; Christopher Akerlind, Lighting Design; Andre Pluess, Sound Design; Maya Ciarrocchi, Video / Projection Design; Nicole Arbusto / Joy Dickson, Casting; Amy Potozkin, Casting 

WITH: Danforth Comins, Ted Deasy, Peter Frechette, Bill Geisslinger, Isaac Kosydar, Peter Macon, Christopher Liam Moore, Tyler James Myers, Sarita Ocón, Robynn Rodriguez,

Carnage: Welcome to Our Humble Home; Grab Your Forks!

Review by Gar Smith
Tuesday January 10, 2012 - 10:51:00 AM

Carnage opens at Berkeley's Shattuck Cinema on January 13.

Roman Polanski's latest film could best be described as a comedy of manners — really bad manners.

If you liked "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?" (another film-to-play translation featuring a quartet of quarreling couples), this Big Screen sparring match may be just your cup of tease. 

Carnage offers a rich serving of class warfare with clashing egos and gender battles thrown in as side dishes. Meet the contenders: Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster) is a liberal human rights campaigner with one co-authored book to her credit and another "in the works." Her husband, Michael (John C. Reilly), is an under-achieving wholesaler. Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) is a smug, high-powered businessman and his wife Nancy (Kate Winslet) is his match as a strong-willed woman who has just about had it with his self-important nattering on an ever-present cell phone. 

Except for the panoramic playground scene that begins and ends the film, all of the action takes place inside the Longstreet's New York apartment where Michael and Penelope have agreed to meet Alan and Nancy Cowan to discuss a playground dust-up between their two boys. 

The initial "meet-nice" façade of civility between the two wildly dissimilar couples soon reaches a critical mass as a cyclotronic collision of egos and parental defenses spirals totally beyond control, triggering a hilarious, flaring meltdown. This is a game of double-team emotional racquet-ball where the living room becomes a court. 

Part of the pleasure in watching Carnage is that, while it begins quietly, in even tones and polite (if distracted and brittle) conversation, you know there's a social train wreck waiting around the next bend. And every time someone has had enough and tries to make a dash for the door, you know they aren't going to make that escape — no way, no how. 

The script (based on Yasmina Reza's London hit, "God of Carnage") relishes in chronicling the ongoing war of words. It begins as a convert war in which a single, telling choice of words — or the timing, tone or inflection in which a phrase is wrapped — can become a conversational casus belli

Initially, the battle rages between individuals, then it escalates to a battle between "nations" (the two sparing couples), followed by surprising alliances between the two men against the women, then a confederacy of the women against the men and, finally, Total War where everyone is fair game. 

A film of a play is a special kind of cinema. Because the action does not take place in movie space or in movie time, it becomes impossible to suspend disbelief. These characters exist within the walled parameters of a stage play — confined, in this case, to the Longstreet's cramped and meticulously art-filled living room with only occasional forays into the bathroom or the hallway. And the story is told in real time. 

It is understood going in that we are not expected to believe that we are seeing "real people" engaged in a "spontaneous" story. We know these are famous, award-winning actors. We know they are "playing roles." So the pleasure in viewing Carnage comes, not so much from the skill of the playwright (which is outstanding) as much as from the performances of the actors chosen to play the four iconic characters. 

Watching Carnage is more akin to listening to a jazz quartet of brilliant musicians "playing the playwright's score" and reaching heights of collective harmony. Polanski spent several weeks with his actors working together in rehearsal (a rare occurrence in contemporary filmmaking). The result was worth the effort. The ensemble of Winslet, Foster, Waltz and Foster jams and rocks. And, as you would have with a jazz performance, each actor is given opportunities to "solo" that make you want to jump to your feet and applaud. But you won't be able to, because you're most likely to be doubled over with laughter or jammed into your seat-cushions cringing in tense horror at some protagonist's raw emotional anguish. 

In Carnage, nothing is left standing in the carpeted battlefield of the Longstreet's living room. Tea is spilled; leftovers and handbags are flung; Nancy will upchuck; and even the cell phone will meet its own deserved fate. 

Special Note: Don't leave the theater before the very last frame of the credit scroll. The film ends, as it begins, with the camera trained on the public playground. But this time, the slow, wordless tableau that Polanski allows to unfold puts the squabbles of the parents into an amusing and humbling perspective. One more thing: keep your eye on the dog in the park. With exquisite timing, he gets to make the final point.

Eye from the Aisle: Don Reed “Kipling Hotel” Luke-Warm-Up @ Berkeley Marsh

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday January 10, 2012 - 10:18:00 AM
Don Reed “Kipling Hotel"
Ric Omphroy
Don Reed “Kipling Hotel"

Don Reed’s solo East 14th comedy/storytelling played to raves last year, and garnered award nominations. I didn’t see it. I did see the opening of KIPLING HOTEL at The Marsh in Berkeley last Saturday night, and there are no raves or nominations in the offing for this outing. It was the sort of jokey storytelling that the sort-of-funny guy tells when holding forth in the kitchen at the party where everyone laughs for his effort and because they are a little tipsy. There were polite chuckles and occasional hearty laughs. But I noted three people in adjacent rows close to the stage were falling asleep. 

Mr. Reed is agile, expressive, an accomplished mimic of the characters he has encountered, as well as an impressive dancer and entertaining singer, all of which add to his stories about LA in the 80’s. However, his stories are only mildly humorous. While this was opening night, Mr. Reed stumbled over many of his lines and cut off the end of many punch lines. The spin and inflection of the words is an important part of comedy, and having a mastery of every sentence and moment is essential. It was more akin to attending a rehearsal with a week to go.  

His stories are about working in an elder hotel for his room and board while attending UCLA while having a second job as a male stripper. Perhaps his previous long-running success in East 14th had more funny-juice—it was about fleeing from his Jehovah’s Witness stepdad to live with his real dad on East 14th in Oakland—and his dad turns out to be a pimp. 

Only the most ingenious of storytellers can hold forth effectively for longer than one act, and Mr. Reed’s material lasts fully for two acts with an intermission; this reviewer could only abide the first act. 

There was an announcement in the promo that Don Reed is scheduled for an upcoming Fox TV special. 

In the preshow intro the artistic director pointedly encouraged the audience to visit the newly opened bar at the Marsh; perhaps that would have helped, but this reviewer is lately a teetotaler. The bar is a nice convenience though, and there is a forthcoming menu promised, so the Marsh may be a place to spend the entire evening in the future. But if you plan on seeing Mr. Reed’s KIPLING HOTEL, I’d give it week or so to improve. 

John A. McMullen II is a member of SFBATCC, ATCA, and SDC. E J Dunne edits. 

PS Don’t look here for stars, thumbs up/down, or Like/Don’t Like. Eye from the Aisle feels that snapshot opinions without explicit and articulated reasons are unfair to the artist.