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Berkeley High School Safety Officer Arrested for Identity Theft

From Sgt. Mary C. Kusmiss, Berkeley Police Department Public Information Officer
Monday February 27, 2012 - 04:26:00 PM

“City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) Property Crimes/Fraud detectives arrested William Arthur Keys Jr of Oakland on Thursday, February 23, 2012 for violation of 530.5 PC - Identity Theft. “Billy” Keys as he is widely known was arrested at the Public Safety Building. A BPD detective booked him into the BPD jail at about 11:30 a.m. for the crime, a felony, with a bail of $10,000. The arrest was the culmination of an investigation that was documented on a BPD police report January 24, 2012. Subsequent warrants were secured and probable cause existed to arrest Mr. Keys. There is a possibility that the investigation may be ongoing, thus this is all the information BPD is sharing currently.” 


Press Release: Berkeley Police Report that Young Man Injured in Fall From Building

From Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, Berkeley Policce
Monday February 27, 2012 - 02:39:00 PM

“At about 11:34 p.m. on Saturday, February 25, 2012, the City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) got a call for service regarding an individual who fell from a the backside of a fraternity at 2395 Piedmont Avenue (N/E corner of Piedmont at Channing Way). BPD patrol officers arrived within four (4) minutes and found a person down on a pathway between 2335 and 2395 Piedmont Avenue. Officers made an initial first aid assessment of the unconscious male, but there was obvious head trauma and a lot of bleeding. City of Berkeley Fire Department (BFD) paramedics responded, tended to immediate medical needs and transported the subject to a local trauma center where he was treated for several injuries including severe head trauma. BPD officers shared that the individual displayed objective symptoms of alcoholic beverage intoxication.” 

“According to a witness account and based on BPD officers’ examination of the scene, it appeared that the subject was trying to scale down the exterior of the building by climbing a drain pipe. The drain pipe runs vertically to the roof of the three story building. The individual, a young man in his twenties, a UC Berkeley student, made it part way down, when the pipe separated from the wall, causing him to fall backwards. He subsequently fell to the ground, along with broken pieces of the drain pipe.”  

“There was no evidence that the young man was a victim of a crime or other foul play. As is BPD protocol, Homicide detectives were notified due to the severity of the young man’s injuries. BPD is currently classifying this incident as an accident.” 

“Due to HIPPA, the specific nature of the young man’s injuries, what hospital he is currently in and his name is protected by confidentiality. Absent the opportunity to interview the young man, it is not known why he was climbing the pipe.”

Head of Security at Berkeley High School Accused of Identity Theft

Sunday February 26, 2012 - 02:17:00 PM

Berkeley High Principal Pasquale Scuderi sent the following letter on Friday to Berkeley High School staff and families:

In an attempt to head off speculation and to be out in front of any rumors, I want to inform the community of a very difficult development that has occurred within the Berkeley High School Community. On Thursday, following a law enforcement investigation, Berkeley High School safety officer William Keys was interviewed and arrested by the Berkeley Police Department on allegations of identity theft. 

Mr. Keys has been placed on administrative leave while a district investigation is being conducted. Obviously we respect the right to due process for all of our employees and students and we will provide whatever resources and support we can to district staff and law enforcement in order to help ensure that a thorough and fair process is conducted in response to this matter. 

BHS will continue to hold the highest expectations for its staff and students and place no one above consequences when inappropriate or illegal actions jeopardize the integrity, safety, or security of our school. 


No further information has been released, either by the Berkeley Unified School District or by the Berkeley police.

New: Judge Orders Competency Report for Berkeley Murder Suspect

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday February 24, 2012 - 11:44:00 PM

Criminal proceedings against an Alameda man who's accused of murdering a homeowner in the Berkeley hills have been suspended so that a report on his mental competency can be conducted, prosecutors said today. 

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Sandra Bean granted the delay on Thursday at the request of Assistant Public Defender Brian Bloom, the lawyer for 23-year-old Daniel Jordan Dewitt. Bloom wants Dewitt to be examined by two doctors. 

Dewitt is scheduled to return to court on March 22 for a review of the mental competency report, according to District Attorney spokeswoman Rebecca Richardson. 

Dewitt, who graduated from Alameda High School in 2007 and is the grandson of former Alameda City Councilman Al Dewitt, is accused of killing 67-year-old Peter Cukor outside Cukor's home at 2 Park Gate Road at about 9 p.m. Saturday. 

According to a probable cause statement filed in court by Berkeley police Detective David Marble, after Cukor told Dewitt to leave his property Dewitt "said he was a psychic and he was told to go through the front gate to find Zoey." 

Cukor, who owned a logistics consulting firm, walked across the street to a Berkeley fire station to see if firefighters could help him deal with Dewitt but no one was there because firefighters were out on a call. 

Marble said Dewitt then killed Cukor with a flower pot when Cukor returned to his home. 

Dewitt was arrested nearby and "admitted that he was looking for his fiancee Zoey," Marble wrote. 

But Dewitt's father, Al Dewitt Jr., said after Dewitt was arraigned on Wednesday that his son doesn't have a girlfriend named "Zoey" and that Zoey is only a figment of his imagination. 

"Zoey is a fictitious girlfriend that he's had for about a year now," Dewitt said. 

Al Dewitt Jr. and his wife, Candy Dewitt, have both said that they had been trying to get their son into a permanent treatment facility but court officials denied their requests. 

Daniel Dewitt has been charged in two other incidents. 

Richardson said Daniel Dewitt was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of making annoying phone calls in 2010 to a woman who was a former classmate and he has a pending misdemeanor battery case for allegedly punching and kicking a nurse at the John George Psychiatric Pavilion in San Leandro in 2010.

Berkeley High Student Shot in Oakland is Recovering

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Friday February 24, 2012 - 07:40:00 AM

A Berkeley High School student shot on the streets of Oakland this morning has had surgery and is resting and recovering this afternoon, a Berkeley schools spokesman said. 

The 18-year-old student was shot while riding a bicycle at 8:18 a.m. on the 6300 block of Market Street, just south of the Berkeley border, police said.  

"Apparently the wounds are not life-threatening, they were in the lower body," Berkeley Unified School District spokesman Mark Coplan said. 

Coplan said that students at Berkeley High School are still grappling with the news that one of their classmates has been shot, and that it has affected the atmosphere at the school. 

"They're pretty upset, anytime any of their peers are in an accident or in this case shot they have a certain amount of angst," Coplan said. 

He said that public safety officers, administrators and teachers are watching the students closely, and that counselors are available to all students who may need to talk. 

"We're watching them closely to make sure that if anyone needs counseling they're given access," he said. 

He said they are also watching for warning signs that students may need help but are hesitant to ask for it. 

"If you watch carefully you might see some signs of a kid that may need some help but isn't asking for it," Coplan said. "That's really the sense of watching the kids and making sure they're OK mentally." 

Initial police reports indicated that two people may have been shooting at each other this morning, but no further details have been made available. One victim was found at the scene. 

The shooting was one of a string of five shootings in 12 hours between Wednesday night and Thursday morning that left four people injured, one critically.

Immigrant Steel Workers March in Berkeley Against Unjust Firings

By David Bacon
Thursday February 23, 2012 - 05:45:00 PM

Two hundred immigrant workers, their wives, husbands, children, and hundreds of supporters marched through downtown Berkeley February 17, protesting their firing from Pacific Steel Castings. The company is one of the city's biggest employers, and the largest steel foundry west of the Mississippi River. Starting at City Hall, they walked for an hour past stores and homes, as bystanders often applauded. Teachers and students at a Montessori school along the route even came out to the sidewalk to urge them on. 

At a rally before the march started, fired worker Jesus Prado told the assembled crowd, "I worked for Pacific Steel for seven years. We've organized this March for Dignity because we want to stop the way they're stepping on us, and treating us like criminals. We came here to work, not to break any laws." 


Pacific Steel workers march through Berkeley. 

"Many of us are buying homes, or have lived in our homes for years," added another fired worker, Ana Castaño. "We have children in the schools. We pay taxes and contribute to our community. What is happening to us is not just, and hurts our families. All we did was work. That shouldn't be treated like it's a crime." Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin agreed. "We're here today to send a message to the Obama administration that the I-9 raids have to stop," he told the crowd. 

Two hundred fourteen workers were fired in December and January, as a result of a so-called silent raid, in which the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arm of the Department of Homeland Security inspected the company's records to find workers who don't have legal immigration status. ICE then demanded that the company fire them. 


Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin speaks to the marchers before they set out. 

For the past year these workers have held meetings in union halls and churches, distributed food to families hungry because they can no longer work, and spoken to elected officials. The march was the culmination of months of debate in which they weighed the consequences of making their firings public, and therefore their immigration status as well. "We know Berkeley is a sanctuary city," one worker explained. "This is about the safest place we can think of to have this march. What happened to us was unjust, and we feel we have to protest, if not for ourselves, then for others who face the same injustice." 

In fact, tens of thousands have been fired in recent years because of their immigration status. Thousands of janitors lost jobs in Minneapolis, San Francisco, and San Diego. Two thousand sewing machine operators were fired in Los Angeles. Many more workers across the country have been caught in this wave of terminations. 


Cinthya Muñoz, of Alameda County United to Defend Immigrant Rights, condemns the firings and tells workers the community supports them. 

Since the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, employers have been prohibited from hiring undocumented workers, and those workers themselves have been forbidden to hold jobs. To keep track, for a quarter century all workers in the U.S. have had to declare their immigration status on I-9 forms when they get hired. Now the Obama administration has made the inspection of those forms, and the firing of workers whose status it questions, a centerpiece of its immigration enforcement strategy. 

Throughout the march, chants and shouts condemned the administration. Activists in the crowd pointed out that President Obama is attacking the communities of immigrants and people of color who were his strongest supporters in his 2008 presidential election campaign. At the time, Obama promised he would adopt a more humane approach toward immigration enforcement than his predecessor, who became notorious for factory raids and mass deportations. Candidate Obama said he'd work to reform immigration law so that immigrants could enjoy greater rights. Once in office, however, the administration not only continued President Bush's policy of enforcing immigration law in the workplace, but it vastly expanded I-9 audits and firings. 


A worker holds a sign saying, "We're not criminals! We're workers!" 

ICE began its audit of the I-9 forms of workers at Pacific Steel last February. In March, the workers and their union, Molders Union Local 164B, struck the plant for a week, to turn back company demands in contract negotiations that would have had them pay more for their health coverage. According to legal charges filed later by the union, the ICE audit should have stopped at that point, since the agency's own internal rules call for it to avoid enforcement actions during labor disputes. 

The audit, however, continued. At the same time, throughout the following spring and summer, city councils in Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda passed resolutions calling on ICE to abandon it, to allow the workers to continue working and the company to function normally. Similar resolutions and letters poured into the office of DHS Secretary [and former Arizona Governor] Janet Napolitano from unions, labor councils, community and immigrant rights organizations, and local elected officials. 


Workers and supporters brought their children, to dramatize the impact the firings make on families. 

Nevertheless, in November ICE sent Pacific Steel a letter listing the names of the 214 individuals it insisted lacked visas, according to its database. If the workers could not provide other valid documents, ICE demanded that the company fire them. 

About half the workers live in nearby Richmond and San Pablo. Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin condemned the firings and accused ICE of undermining the city's already-devastated economy in the middle of a recession. "Their firing is a violation of their human rights," she said at a local food drive for the workers. "When they say that these raids are targeting criminals, it's not true. People who are just trying to make a living are being targeted big time." 


In front of a local Montessori school, staff and students came out to the sidewalk to applaud the marchers. 

Councilman Arreguin, one of the first elected officials to support the workers last year, added, "The company and the workers pay taxes that support local schools and services. We could lose money we desperately need in these challenging economic times. The workers' paychecks inject hundreds of thousands of dollars into our local economy every month that support other businesses and families. All this is placed in jeopardy by the audit. It is not necessary to enforce immigration law in a way that is so destructive to workers, their families, their employer, and our entire community." 

Some other public officials, however, attacked the idea that local communities should defend the workers, and said the workers were "stealing jobs," despite the fact that many of those fired had worked over a decade in the foundry. Arreguin responded, "An immigration audit leading to the firing of these workers will not create a single job. Instead, it will force them into the underground economy where illegal wages and conditions are prevalent. It will not improve wages and conditions in the foundry. There is already a union contract in place that guarantees healthcare, pensions, and wages that can support families." 


As the march reached the foundry, workers and supporters showed their anger and frustration over the firings. 

On the day of the march, the company and union released a joint statement, in which Pacific Steel declared, "These terminations were not only devastating to the workers and their families, but also to the workforce at PSC. The company is proud to have a workforce of extraordinary longevity and skill. Many PSC employees have worked here for decades, earning generous wages and benefits for their hard work and dedication to the company ... [We] implore the protestors to direct their attention to the Department of Homeland Security and federal policy makers." 

The union also criticized "the broken and unfair laws used by the government to disrupt and destroy the lives of many of our friends and colleagues." 


Metzli Blanco Castaño told marchers about her worries for her own future. 

The rallies that began and ended the march made the human cost of the firings plain. Metzli Blanco Castaño, the daughter of Ana Castaño and David Herrera, both fired Pacific Steel workers, told supporters of her concern for her own future. "I've lived in the Bay Area my entire life and now I might not be able to stay," she said. Like many others, her parents have exhausted their savings, and their home is now in foreclosure. 

One of the justifications made by Obama administration officials for the audits is that if undocumented immigrants cannot work or find other jobs, they'll be forced to leave the country in a process euphemistically called "self-deportation." Yet among the 214 workers and their families, hardly anyone plans to return to Mexico. "We came because there was no work for us in Mexico and we couldn't survive," said David Herrera, Metzli's father. "That hasn't changed. There's nothing to return to." 


The march passed the foundry buildings where the workers used to work. 

Bill Ong Hing, law professor at the University of San Francisco, says the lack of jobs in Mexico is a consequence of free trade and structural adjustment policies designed to benefit large corporations. He calls the administration's justification divorced from reality. "Employer sanctions [the section of immigration law that prohibits undocumented people from working] have not reduced undocumented migration at all. They've failed because NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and globalization create great migration pressure. Trying to discourage workers from coming by arresting them for working without authorization, or trying to prevent them from finding work, is doomed to fail in the face of such economic pressure. To reduce it, we need to change our trade and economic policies so that they don't produce poverty in countries like Mexico." 

Reverend Deborah Lee of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights called this kind of enforcement a violation of the workers' basic human rights, "These families have done nothing wrong," she said. "They're being punished for working, which is what people in our community are supposed to do. We will not let this happen in silence, nor allow these workers to be treated as though they are invisible." 

As hundreds of people filled Second Street, a block away from the foundry where they'd put in their years of labor, the fired workers were certainly not invisible any longer. 


Religious leaders and fired workers, like Jesus Prado, placed hearts in a basket to symbolize the idea that the workers are part of the heart of the East Bay community, and pledged to send the hearts in a letter to Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano. 

For more articles and images, see http://dbacon.igc.org 

See also Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press, 2008) Recipient: C.L.R. James Award, best book of 2007-2008 http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=2002 

See also the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to the US Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006) http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/cup_detail.taf?ti_id=4575 

See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004) http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/9989.html

One Victim in String of Oakland Shootings Was Berkeley High Student

By Scott Morris (BCN) and Planet
Thursday February 23, 2012 - 02:29:00 PM

Police in Oakland are investigating a string of overnight shootings and a possible homicide at a home in the Oakland Hills, police said. According to the Oakland Tribune, one victim was an 18-year-old Berkeley High student. 

Three people were injured in three separate shootings in North and West Oakland just this morning. 

At 4:07 a.m., police responded to a shooting in the 3400 block of Adeline Street. The victim was transported to a hospital. 

At 8:18 a.m., police responded to reports that two males on bikes were shooting at each other in the 6300 block of Market Street. 

One victim, identified by the Tribune as a Berkeley High Student, was located at the scene and transported to a hospital. 

Gabe Zatz-Gilman, a resident of the neighborhood, said that while he was driving to work this morning, he saw a victim lying in the street with a crowd of people around him. 

Also around 8 a.m., police found a shooting victim in a car in the 3100 block of Adeline Street. That victim was also transported to a hospital. 

Police are also investigating a case in which a person was found dead in his home in the 2300 block of Thackeray Drive, in the Oakland Hills, this morning. No further details were immediately available. 

On Wednesday night, a group of people outside a taco truck at the corner of 44th Avenue and International Boulevard shot at a passing vehicle at 9:15 p.m., police said. No injuries were reported. 

In a separate case, a person was critically injured while he was standing on a sidewalk in the 3400 block of Davis Street at about 11:20 p.m. 

That adds up to five shootings in the city within 12 hours, in addition to the body that was found.

Updated: Suspect Arraigned for Death of Berkeley Homeowner

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday February 22, 2012 - 09:54:00 AM

An Alameda man was arraigned today on a murder charge for allegedly killing a homeowner in the Berkeley hills on Saturday night.

Daniel Jordan Dewitt, 23, is scheduled to return to Alameda County Superior Court on Thursday to see if the Public Defender's Office will represent him on the charge that he killed 67-year-old Peter Cukor outside Cukor's home at 2 Park Gate Road at about 9 p.m. Saturday.

Dewitt is the grandson of the late former Alameda city councilman and interim Alameda Mayor Al Dewitt, who died in 2003. Daniel Dewitt's father, Al Dewitt Jr., said outside court today that Dewitt has suffered from mental illness since the age of 18. 

Al Dewitt Jr. said he and his wife, Candy Dewitt, have been trying to get their son into a permanent treatment program or have him held in custody but court officials always released him after he received brief periods of treatment. 

"We always had a fear of him hurting himself or someone else," Dewitt said. 

According to a probable cause statement filed in court by Berkeley police Detective David Marble, Cukor, who owned a logistics consulting firm, called police at 8:45 p.m. Saturday to report that there was a suspicious person in his garage. 

Marble said in the statement that the person, later identified as Dewitt, left the property after Cukor told him to, but that Cukor and his wife, Andrea Cukor, later saw Dewitt enter their front gate, which leads to their front door. 

Peter Cukor again told Dewitt to get off of his property and Dewitt "said he was a psychic and he was told to go through the front gate to find Zoey," Marble wrote. 

Dewitt then left the property again and Cukor walked across the street to a Berkeley fire station that's located there, "probably to ask for assistance from the firefighters to help deal with Dewitt," according to Marble. 

However, no one was there because firefighters were out on a call. 

Marble said that when Cukor returned to his property, Dewitt "confronted" him in his driveway and "viciously assaulted" Cukor, hitting him in the head. 

The charge filed against Dewitt alleges that he used a ceramic planter to kill Cukor. 

Andrea Cukor witnessed part of the assault and called 911, according to Marble. Peter Cukor was then taken to a hospital, where he died. 

Berkeley police officers who responded to the scene saw a person nearby who matched the suspect's description and arrested Dewitt, who had fresh blood on his hands, sweatshirt, pants and shoes, Marble said. 

In addition, the knuckles on Dewitt's right hand appeared to be swollen and Andrea Cukor identified him as the person who had assaulted her husband, according to Marble. 

After he was arrested, Dewitt admitted that he was on the Cukors' property and had looked through their windows, Marble said. 

Dewitt described the interior of the Cukors' house and "admitted that he was looking for his fiancee Zoey," Marble wrote. 

The detective said he believes that DNA testing will prove that the blood on Dewitt's clothing will match the blood of Peter Cukor. 

Al Dewitt Jr. said his son doesn't have a girlfriend named "Zoey" and that Zoey is only a figment of his imagination. 

"Zoey is a fictitious girlfriend that he's had for about a year now," Dewitt said. 

Dewitt said his son "has been in and out of the system many times" but he didn't specify if he meant his son has been in jail or in mental institutions. 

A spokeswoman for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office said Daniel Dewitt was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of making annoying phone calls in 2010 to a woman who was a former classmate and he has a pending misdemeanor battery case for allegedly punching and kicking a nurse at the John George Psychiatric Pavilion in San Leandro in 2010.

As Berkeley Questions BPD Over Hills "Murder," and Cops Blame Occupy, We Offer Some Answers (News Analysis)

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday February 22, 2012 - 09:54:00 AM

Berkeley police have reportedly said they were "monitoring" an Occupy Oakland-Occupy Cal protest, which arrived on Telegraph from Oakland at 10:25 p.m. Saturday, more than an hour after a "murder" in the hills.

Two of my Planet articles written on Sunday, cast doubt on that. One article covered the Saturday Oakland-Cal demo, and another covered an anti-Bank of America protest on Telegraph. I was at both protests.

Cop-count: on upper Telegraph at noon, Saturday, as the BA protest began: zero, 0, zip. Cop-count at 10:20 p.m., on lower Teley, when Occupy Oakland arrived to unite with Occupy Cal, blocking traffic and chanting "Fuck the police": zero, 0, zip. 

A massive police response to the hills murder—Berkeley's second of the year—apparently thinned police ranks Saturday, on what seemed a busy policing day. 

BPD Cop-count at International House, 11:30 p.m., as the protest was about to end peacefully: twelve officers who buzzed the event in three command vehicles. 

It's remarkable that BPD showed up at Cal, since UCPD had twelve of its own officers defending I-House, where a conference at which some Occupy members were speaking was underway. 

OC and OO had united that evening. Now BPD was uniting with UCPD. 

The twelve man BPD show-of-force squad did not return. 

A BPD robbery detail at San Pablo and University Saturday night, was described by a witness as possibly twenty cars, but more likely no more than six 

But BPD, perhaps recovering from staffing demands by 12:15 a.m., showed up outside Moe's Books, on Teley, to investigate a robbery. 

Berkeley police had their hands full with the murder in the hills, which undoubtedly caused them not to monitor the arrival of OO on Telegraph, although, they might have kept an eye out by watching "You Stream," a radical live stream of the event, or by using police dispatches from Oakland—or through a clandestine stakeout. 

District 6 Councilmember Susan Wengraf interrupted our telephone interview Tuesday afternoon to face the cameras at a hastily arranged press conference at her Northside Berkeley home. Berkeley's second murder of the year was the hook. 

Wengraf tells me it's "the murder in the hills angle" that has caused the media stampede. Meanwhile, Wengraf assures her district 6 constituents they can count on "24/7 police protection," even if some might say they reside in Berkeley hills mansions, where they are, admittedly, remote from hoi polloi below. 

Wengraf has requested 911 logs and other police records in an attempt to untangle the mysteries surrounding BPD's response to a brutal murder on Shasta Rd., in Berkeley's Park Hills neighborhood. 

"If necessary, I'll use the freedom of information act to get the information I need " to figure out what happened that night, the determined councilwoman said. 

A preliminary investigation suggests the crime was committed by a mentally ill man, off his medications. "Our whole system is broken," she lamented. 

She responded to a question on the mood of the neighborhood. "I don't think anyone's hysterical at this point," she said. People understand, "but they want answers." 

The 162-officer Berkeley police department reportedly has 11 vacant positions, since 2009 budget cuts forced the city to reduce its workforce by 210 employees—mostly through attrition. 

How many officers were available for duty Saturday will be difficult—perhaps impossible—to learn. 

Would eleven new hires have helped police improve on a day like Saturday, when they did a pretty darned good job with the men they deployed? 

Ted Friedman reports from Southside. 




Mother of Suspect in Berkeley Murder Says He is Mentally Ill

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 08:26:00 PM

The mother of a 23-year-old man who is accused of beating a Berkeley hills homeowner to death said today that he's been mentally ill for more than four years but was neglected by the mental health system. 

Candy Dewitt, the mother of Daniel Jordan Dewitt of Alameda, said her son became mentally ill after he turned 18 but she was never able to get him into a permanent treatment program. 

"He would be taken to the hospital and given treatment for a few days at a time and then be put back out on the streets again," Dewitt said. 

Berkeley police arrested Daniel Dewitt Saturday night for allegedly killing Peter Cukor, 67, who lived on Park Gate Road near the Shasta Road entrance to Tilden Park. 

Cukor owned a consulting company that provided logistics help for the transportation industry. 

According to the company's website, Cukor had an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. 

Berkeley police said they initially received a report on Saturday night of a suspicious person who possibly was trespassing on the homeowner's property. 

They said they later received a call of an attack in progress on Park Gate Road and immediately responded. 

The victim was treated at the scene by the first police officer who responded before being taken to a local trauma center by Berkeley Fire Department paramedics, police said. 

He was pronounced dead at the hospital. 

Dewitt is scheduled to be arraigned in Alameda County Superior Court on Wednesday. The District Attorney's Office is still reviewing the case and hasn't yet filed any charges. 

Candy Dewitt said her son graduated from Alameda High School in 2007 and played on the school's football team. She said, "He was a good kid and was very well-liked by his teachers and other students." 

Dewitt said that because the mental health system neglected her son, "They have now made victims of two more people," referring to the homicide victim and her son. 

Berkeley City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, whose district includes the area where the homicide occurred, said she's asked police for a detailed timeline of what happened Saturday night because "there has been a lot of innuendo." 

Wengraf said, "People who live in the area initially were very frightened and rightfully so because it was a horrendous crime and everyone was very shaken. 

But she said, "It's now looking like this was an isolated incident and a very unique incident and this is not an unsafe area so everyone is feeling a little better." 

Wengraf said police have told her that Dewitt wasn't armed with any weapons and "he seemed confused and was hiding in the bushes." 

Cukor and his wife, Andrea Cukor, filed a lawsuit to try to block the construction of a new Berkeley fire station at 3000 Shasta Road, which is across the street from their home. 

In November of 1992, a year after a major fire caused widespread damage in the Oakland and Berkeley hills, Berkeley voters overwhelmingly approved a $55 million bond measure to fund critical improvements for disaster preparedness, including a new fire station. 

Berkeley officials said the new station would replace another aging station nearby and provide quicker response times to fires. 

The Cukors' suit blocked the new station for many years but on Nov. 5, 2003, a judge ruled in favor of the city and in 2004 the new station was approved by the city's zoning board and the City Council. 

The fire station finally opened on Oct. 31, 2006.

Press Release: Berkeley Homicide; Updated Information Release

From Lt. Andrew Greenwood, BPD
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 05:19:00 PM

Today the Berkeley Police Department is releasing updated and additional information regarding the homicide from Saturday night, February 18, 2012.

Several published and on-line reports relied on a single account of an inaccurate chronology of this incident. Please note below the actual timelines of the initial stages of this case.

At approximately 8:45 PM, BPD received a report of a suspicious person possibly trespassing. The caller reported an encounter with an unknown person “hanging around” his property, and asked that an officer be sent to investigate. This call for service was queued for dispatch. 

At that time, available Patrol teams were being reconfigured in order to monitor a protest march which was to come into Berkeley from Oakland in the next hour. Only criminal, in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched, due to the reduction in officers available to handle calls for service. Concerns about the potential for violence associated with the march resulted in plans to allocate officers to monitor the march. 

At approximately 9:00 PM, an officer, seeing several pending calls for service, including two “suspicious circumstances”, offered to respond to either of the calls. The officer’s offer was declined, as only in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched. 

Two minutes later, at approximately 9:02 PM, BPD received a phone call reporting an attack in progress. The previous call information was updated and officers were dispatched within one minute. Officers were cleared to proceed using their emergency lights and sirens to the Park Gate location. 

The first officer broadcast arrival on scene in the northeastern hill neighborhood within five minutes of being dispatched. Numerous officers arrived over the next few minutes. 

An officer located the victim, called for paramedic assistance, and began providing first aid. Berkeley Fire Department paramedics had also been assigned to respond, and were en route. Paramedics arrived on scene and took over care of the victim. 

Within fifteen minutes, at approximately 9:22 PM, the suspect was located nearby, detained, and subsequently arrested. 

BPD is confirming the identity of the homicide victim as Peter Myron Cukor, 67 yrs old, of Berkeley. 

We are not releasing the booking photo at this time. We anticipate releasing the booking photo after our investigators are sure that all potential witness interviews have been completed, and no further witness identifications are necessary. Release of a booking photo in the early stages of an investigation can compromise identifications, the investigation, and subsequent prosecution. 

We are not releasing the recordings of the calls at this time. 

The investigation in this case continues and is on-going. The suspect, Daniel Jordan Dewitt, remains in custody. Mr. Dewitt is scheduled to be arraigned on February 22, 2012, at 2:00 PM, in Department 112 at the Alameda County Courthouse. 

We are urging anyone who may know anything about this crime to please call the BPD Homicide Detail at (510) 981-5741, or the non-emergency number at (510) 981-5900. Any additional information may be critical in the efforts towards the charging and prosecution of this case. 

Chief Michael Meehan said, “This case cannot help but deeply affect the members of our community and the men and women of our police department, who are devoting their working lives to protecting this community. We are carefully reviewing the circumstances of this case in depth to ensure everything possible was done to properly respond to this tragic event.” 

We have no further information available at this time.

New: Early Morning Fire Burns West Berkeley Cottage at Art Studio

By Bay City News
Wednesday February 22, 2012 - 10:19:00 AM

Firefighters are crediting a smoke alarm with alerting residents to an early morning fire that burned this morning at an artist's live and work space in West Berkeley. 

The blaze was reported at 3:25 a.m. in the 800 block of Page Street, at a building that contains residential and studio space, Berkeley Assistant Fire Chief Donna McCracken said.  

She described the structure as a "rambling, single-story property that has been tacked onto over the years." 

The owner rents out the original cottage portion of the property and lives in a rear area, she said.  

McCracken said it appears the fire started on the building's exterior and spread into the front rental cottage.  

Firefighters extinguished the blaze in about 15 minutes, she said. The cottage sustained moderate damage, she said.  

There were two people in the cottage and two others in the rear live and work space when the fire started. All four escaped safely, thanks to the smoke alarm, she said.  

"It's such a small cottage they could have been quickly overcome by smoke," McCracken said.  

Two firefighters were nipped by a frazzled Chihuaha named "Chuco," who "kind of wigged out" as they tried to help him, McCracken said. 

The dog's owner informed firefighters that Chuco's vaccinations were up to date, and the firefighters were not seriously injured. 

The studio space contains a number of sculptures and other pieces of art, but no artwork was damaged, she said.  

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Homeless Shelter and Classical Chorus Converge

By Lydia Gans
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 08:26:00 PM

"It was a dark and stormy night ...” some of us may remember those words from when we were kids sitting around a campfire shivering in anticipation of a scary story. On a recent dark and stormy Monday night two very different stories were taking place at First Congregational Church in Berkeley.

Inside the church assembly hall some 200 singers of the Berkeley Community chorus and Orchestra (BCCO) were rehearsing the dramatic Requiem Mass of Antonin Dvorak in preparation for their spring concert. At 10 o'clock director Ming Luke ended the rehearsal and everyone hustled to stack the chairs and move risers and piano into the far end of the room. The exhausted but inspired singers closed their music books and headed for their homes.

Outside on the dark street a large group of homeless people were gathered with their meager possessions waiting to to be sheltered inside. The music rehearsal venue was turned into an emergency storm shelter for the homeless. Word had been sent out that the shelter would be set up because cold and rainy weather was expected. It is not a regular homeless shelter. There is only enough money to operate it about 35 nights out of the year in extremely inclement weather. Funding comes almost entirely from the city of Berkeley with some additional support from Dorothy Day House which operates the shelter. 

J.C. Orton runs the shelter. Fifteen minutes before it opens he hands out tickets. The space can only accommodate 50 people. On this night 10 people had to be turned away. There is no place for those ten who were turned away from this shelter of last resort. 

By about 10:30 everyone is settled inside. The people sleep on foam covered mats on the floor. “Don't have to worry about bed bugs” J.C. explains. Everyone is provided with clean sheets. It is warm enough so that the sheet is sufficient. On the first four or five nights that the shelter operates Orton also gives out sleeping bags to anyone who might need one. “(T)hen if we're not open the next night they get to take the sleeping bag with them which allows them the effects of the shelter to extend beyond the shelter itself. They come to the shelter without a bag, they leave with a bag. It's like an added bonus.” For the next 8 hours these 50 homeless people could rest comfortably with a roof over their head. but by 6:15 in the morning everyone had to be out so the place could be cleaned and everything cleared away by 7 o'clock. First Congregational Church has been providing the shelter space for the 2 years free of charge. St. Marks Episcopal was home to the storm shelter for last 7 years prior to that, also without charge. 

Dorothy Day House employs J.C. to run the shelter. He is usually there when it opens, often with snacks or, on some nights, with soup left over from the Catholic Worker serving at People's Park. There are ten people who act as shelter operators, actually spending the nights on the premises. They are people who themselves are homeless or have experienced homelessness. 

J.C. keeps data on the characteristics of the shelter population. There generally are about four times as many men as women. There are eight or ten veterans who show up regularly. As for age distribution, 5% are 18 to 25, 65% are 25 to 55, and 28% are over 55. Over the years the aging of the baby boomer generation is showing up in an increasing proportion of older homeless people coming in. 

Expressing his feelings about the shelter, J.C. says, “I think it's a fantastic situation where we're able to take 50 people a night for somewhere up to 40 nights or 2000 people- nights and take these people not just a matter of giving them a cookie or a blanket or a hearty handshake or wishing them the best but taking the responsibility for 8 to 12 hours on all those nights - taking a personal responsibility for them. And the satisfaction of being able to give that depth of service to my mind's eye is overwhelming.”

FIRST PERSON: When to Say "Yes" and When to Say "No" to Panhandlers

By Jack Bragen
Wednesday February 22, 2012 - 09:50:00 AM

Panhandling has always been an important part of human existence, ever since people were put in poverty by a society that sometimes lacks mercy. It is not fair or accurate to say that you should never give money to a panhandler. There are people who would perish without the generosity of strangers. We can not presume to know that they created their own problems and should reap the results. There are plenty of people who became poor largely due to circumstances that weren't under their control. 

I have given coins out of my pocket to panhandlers under certain circumstances, and sometimes not, when I felt that it would jeopardize me or someone to do so. I have compiled a guide that works for me concerning when I give a few coins in my pocket or not. Since I rarely carry cash except for these few coins which serve as meter money or candy bar money, I am not in a situation of getting my wallet out. 

To begin with, since I am a smoker I get asked for cigarettes a lot. However, many of those who ask me for one look like they could possibly be underage. In these instances, I always refuse. (I do not have to give a reason.) On the other hand, if someone appears close to my age and also does not appear to be an undercover cop, I will often give someone a smoke when asked. For those who believe that smoking is a horrendous evil, just ignore this part of the manuscript. 

When someone is holding a sign at a freeway off ramp, I drive by without helping that person. I send that person good thoughts. However, I do not want to create a hazardous situation that could cause a car accident. You are not doing anyone a favor when you block traffic to give to a panhandler, especially when this causes a car accident that could entail someone getting injured. 

Is someone appears threatening to me, I do not give help. This is entirely by my perception and does not rely on an attempt at objectivity. If I feel threatened, it is bad for me to help the person who is associated with that feeling, even if it is only in my own mind. I will remain polite to that person and will speak respectfully, but will not give money in return for intimidation. (Of course this idea does not include the IRS.) How do you know if someone is truly threatening you? Often you don't know and must operate by what feels real from your own limited perspective. If someone is exchanging threat for cash, it is not a gift, it is extortion. This is a bully-ism and is a different idea than the threat of a crime being perpetrated, which I cover next. 

If it is late at night, if the situation seems scary, or if you think you could be a victim of robbery or violence, then you must do whatever works in that situation. Usually that entails getting some distance as quickly as possible, and doing so without increasing your vulnerability-which getting out your wallet or getting close to a person would do. I was in front of a Macy's at a mall when three gentlemen who appeared to be sporting a tough guy fashion, (you know, the goatees and scarves over the heads) approached me and one of them said, "Give it up." Rather than standing there waiting for them to get closer, I quickly stood from the bench (where I had been reading) and ran into the Macy's so that anything that would happen would be recorded by their security cameras. The three followed me in but then realized they were among Macy's shoppers, and they proceeded to look like idiots, and then they left. 

A few years ago, I was in front of a McDonald's and had just bought a couple of hamburgers, when a man begged for help and said that he was starving to death and had problems with his blood sugar. I handed my hamburger to that man. He was quite grateful. 

When I am on foot, and in public where everything feels safe, and someone asks for spare change in a respectful way (they do not need to humiliate themselves or beg, they just need to be polite) I will give that person whatever change is in my pocket, which might total less than a dollar, or which could be a couple dollars. If I had more income and if I carried cash more often, I would give more. In addition to the change I am offering, I am giving the message of unconditional love. This does something to better the human condition.



The Berkeley Hills Murder Could Have Been Predicted

By Becky O'Malley
Friday February 24, 2012 - 07:44:00 AM

Anyone who has ever tried to help a friend or a family member connect with appropriate mental health services must feel for the two East Bay families who have been caught up in the tragic death of Peter Cukor. Despite the best efforts of the modern media equivalent of yellow journalism, there are no villains to be found in this story, just a whole list of victims of circumstances unforeseen and unforeseeable.  

The most obvious one is the dead man, Peter Cukor, by all accounts a good neighbor and a sensible person. Some online commenters have suggested that he erred in not calling 911 immediately when he encountered a stranger on his property. Some have even used this occurrence as an example of why homeowners should always have guns available. But accounts suggest that the visitor seemed confused but not dangerous, and was in fact unarmed. How could the Cukors have anticipated that the stranger would seize a pot and use it as a bludgeon? Shooting someone simply on suspicion that he might turn violent would be the height of folly.  

Another victim is the accused killer, Daniel Jordan Dewitt. He was arraigned on Wednesday on a murder charge, but did not enter a plea because he did not yet have an attorney, but was waiting to see if the Public Defender would represent him. It would be very surprising if he did not eventually plead not guilty by reason of insanity, since he had been treated from the age of 18 for paranoid schizophrenia. Many people with this diagnosis have been helped to lead relatively normal, uneventful and even happy lives, but helping them to find treatment that works and stick to it is a very difficult task. 

That’s why his family must also be considered victims in this tragedy. By their own account they’ve made sustained effort to connect their son with the help he needs, but it hasn’t worked for them. The families I know who have succeeded in getting their loved ones properly treated have had enormous resources backing them up. One was a strong military family headed by a high-ranking general, with several siblings successful in their own right in demanding professions, with free medical care supplied by the federal government. With all this assistance available, getting their schizophrenic sister successfully situated where she could be well cared for and keeping up with her welfare still required a huge effort on everyone’s part.  

Not every family can do this. Most can’t, in fact. Now the Dewitts, like the Cukors, will have to live for the rest of their lives with the results. 

It’s often popular to blame the police when things go wrong, and sometimes that blame is deserved. But in all honesty, it seems that the Berkeley police did all that could have been expected of them in this situation. Officers were dispatched within a minute after the 911 call came in, and an officer arrived on the scene within five minutes of being dispatched. Given the location, at the top of the Berkeley hills adjacent to Tilden Park, it’s hard to imagine a faster response than that.  

It’s true that no officer went to the scene when the first non-emergency call came in. But that’s because no one, not the police, not the Cukors, believed that it was an emergency situation at the time that call was placed. 

Berkeley police, perhaps unwisely, have offered the explanation that they were distracted by anticipation of possible disturbances stemming from the Occupy Oakland march into Berkeley. No such problems materialized, so few of the many Berkeley police who seem to have been held in reserve were visible at the two protests which took place that day, according to Planet reporter Ted Friedman, one of the few media people who went to the demonstrations. BPD’s estimate of the probability of serious problems turned out to be wrong, but they’re not clairvoyant, and it wasn’t unreasonable for them to fear that something might happen which would need police presence. 

The only quibble one might make about BPD is with the recent practice of sending several cars and many officers almost any time an incident occurs. We’ve all seen four or five police cars lined up in front of a neighbor’s house—people call and email the Planet all the time to find out what’s going on, but despite our best efforts we can seldom discover the cause of the excitement. If “responding” now means that many officers and vehicles must be involved, by definition the number of incidents Berkeley police can handle simultaneously must be reduced. Hindsight is 20-20, but even if many cars and officers were assembled to wait for Occupy Oakland to get out of line, one car and two officers might have been spared to respond to the first call from the Cukors.  

If there’s any real villain in this picture, it might be what is commonly called “the system”, or more precisely in this case the lack of a viable mental health system easily available to people with problems. We’ve documented this lack before and the Dewitt family in their statements to the media about what they’ve gone through with their son bear witness to how difficult it is to get help.  

This problem started when Ronald Reagan decreed that patients were to be released from state hospitals in order that they could be treated in the community, but then neglected to fund the community facilities. And now mental health services of all kinds, including the well-regarded Berkeley Mental Health, have suffered severe cuts to already insufficient budgets.  

It’s not just a matter of money, either.  

Even if there were enough trained mental health professionals to treat all who needed their help, the ongoing debate about who should authorize treatment is difficult to deal with. Many advocates for the mentally ill believe that the patient’s right to refuse treatment is a central civil right and have fought for that principle in the courts. On the other hand, when a person’s grip on reality is as tenuous as this young man’s seems to be, common sense suggests that someone must make the decision for him, if he’s “a danger to himself or others” in the words of the law. But judging when that point is reached would be difficult in the best of circumstances, and it’s nigh impossible for overburdened staffers to do. 

Mental health care, of course, is only one of the many public responsibilities which Americans in general and Californians in particular have chosen to evade. If we’re looking for opportunities to point fingers, we might just point them at ourselves. While the particular circumstances of this tragic event could not have been predicted by those involved, we can be sure that at any given moment there are people on the street in desperate need of help, and that sooner or later one of them is going to harm someone else. It’s a big problem, and we need to deal with it with big solutions. 



The Editor's Back Fence

The Planet Website is Back

Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 05:22:00 PM

Thanks to all the readers who called and wrote to tell us that they missed the Berkeley Daily Planet today. There was a surprise glitch with the ownership of the berkeleydailyplanet.com domain name which was corrected about 10 this morning, but the correction takes from one to 24 hours to propagate throughout the Internet. Your renewed access will depend on your email/browser configuration, but if you're reading this you're back in touch. Our right to the name is now secured for nine more years!

We have also been experiencing intermittent server problems from our third party provider, not at the moment to be named here. We really hope they get their problems under control soon. If you can't get online at any point, please try try again.

And last but not least, email sent though some (sbcglobal.net for one) but not all email systems doesn't seem to be going through. Aargh! Computers! Please just keep trying.


Odd Bodkins: Breakfast (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Thursday February 23, 2012 - 01:52:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Bounce: Friends (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Thursday February 23, 2012 - 01:57:00 PM


Joseph Young


Public Comment

UC Berkeley’s Black Bloc Tactics

By Carol Denney
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 06:52:00 PM

The university hired a non-union crew to bulldoze the community garden and remove trees and plants in the west end of People’s Park for “maintenance” over the 2011 holidays without notice to merchants, students, residents, the People’s Park Community Advisory Board, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Parks and Recreation Commission, Kriss Worthington of District 7, or the City of Berkeley.

This was only Phase I of a $220,000 three-phase project, which continues to be conducted in complete secrecy. 

People’s Park is a city landmark. The People’s Park Community Advisory Board (PPCAB) was instituted on the advise of expensive, publicly funded consultants so that controversial issues could have a forum. 

The alterations in the park may seem beneficial to some. But the deliberate exclusion of the community from any of the planning, the deliberate effort to silence and sidestep an advisory board tasked with People’s Park as its arena, needs a response from any member of the community who cares about the potential downside of having the university treat our city as something that just in its way. 

The PPCAB has repeated inquired about a meeting and has been ignored by the university’s new employee on park issues. It remains ready to meet and host an opportunity to discuss the park project under city auspices, and would be happy to join with any commission wishing to assist. 

If the relevant commissions in the city are silent on this point, it is an invitation to the university to ignore community input and involvement on many other issues affecting us as citizens. Should the university be allowed to use Black Bloc tactics to make unilateral decisions about our parks and neighborhoods? It’s up to you.


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Iran, Israel & the U.S.: The Slide To War

By Conn Hallinan
Friday February 24, 2012 - 08:24:00 AM

Wars are fought because some people decide it is in their interests to fight them. World War I was not started over the Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, nor was it triggered by the alliance system. An “incident” may set the stage for war, but no one keeps shooting unless they think it’s a good idea. The Great War started because the countries involved decided they would profit by it, delusional as that conclusion was. 

It is useful to keep this idea in mind when trying to figure out if there will be a war with Iran. In short, what are the interests of the protagonists, and are they important enough for those nations to take the fateful step into the chaos of battle? 

First off, because oil and gas are involved, a war would have global ramifications. Iran supplies China with about 15 percent of its oil, and India with 10 percent. It is a major supplier to Europe, Turkey, Japan and South Korea, and it has the third largest oil reserves and the second largest natural gas reserves in the world. Some 17 million barrels per day pass through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, a significant part of the globe’s energy supply. 

In short, the actors in this drama are widespread and their interests as diverse as their nationalities. 

According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran is building nuclear weapons that pose an “existential” threat to Israel. But virtually no one believes this, including the bulk of Tel Aviv’s military and intelligence communities. As former Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said recently, Iran “is not an existential” threat to Israel. There is no evidence that Iran is building a bomb and all its facilities are currently under a 24-hour United Nations inspection regime. 

But Israel does have an interest in keeping the Middle East a fragmented place, riven by sectarian divisions and dominated by authoritarian governments and feudal monarchies. If there is one lesson Israel has learned from its former British overlords, it is “divide and conquer.” Among its closest allies were the former dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia, and it now finds itself on the same page as the reactionary monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman. 

Iran is not a military threat to Israel, but it is a political problem, because Tel Aviv sees Teheran’s fierce nationalism and independence from the U.S. and Europe as a wildcard. Iran is also allied to Israel’s major regional enemy, Syria—with which it is still officially at war— and the Shiite-based Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq. 

In the Netanyahu government’s analysis, beating up on Iran would weaken Israel’s local enemies and at little cost. Tel Aviv’s scenario features a shock and awe attack, followed by a United Nations mandated ceasefire, with a maximum of 500 Israeli casualties. The Iranians have little capacity to strike back, and, if they did attack Israeli civilian centers or tried to close the Hormutz Strait, it would bring in the Americans. 

Of course that rose-colored scenario is little more than wishful thinking. Iran is not likely to agree to a ceasefire—it fought for eight long years against Iraq—and war has a habit of derailing the best-laid plans. In real life it will be long and bloody and might well spread to the entire region. 

Iran’s leaders use a lot of bombast about punishing Israel if it attacks, but in the short run, there is not a lot they could do, particularly given the red lines Washington has drawn. The Iranian air force is obsolete, and the Israelis have the technology to blank out most of Teheran’s radar and anti-aircraft sites. Iran could do little to stop Tel Aviv’s mixture of air attacks, submarine-fired cruise missiles, and Jericho ballistic missiles. 

For all its talk about “everything being on the table.” The Obama administration appears to be trying to avoid a war, but with the 2012 elections looming, would Washington remain on the sidelines? On the “yes” side are polls indicating that Americans would not look with favor on a new Middle East war. But on the “no” side are a united front of Republicans, neo-conservatives, and the American Israeli Political Action Committee pressing for a confrontation with Iran. 

Israeli sources suggest that Netanyahu may calculate that in the run-up to the 2012 American elections, an Israeli attack might force the Obama Administration to back a war and/or damage Obama’s re-election chances. It is no secret that there is no love lost between the two leaders. 

But the U.S. also has a dog in this fight, and one not all that different than Israel’s. American hostility to Iran dates back to Teheran’s seizure of its oil assets from Britain in 1951. The CIA helped overthrow the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953 and install the dictatorial Shah. The U.S. also backed Saddam Hussein’s war on Iran, has had a longstanding antagonistic relationship with Syria, and will not talk with Hezbollah or Hamas. Tel Aviv’s local enemies are Washington’s local enemies. 

When the Gulf monarchs formed the GCC in 1981, its primary purpose was to oppose Iranian influence in the Middle East. Using religious division as a wedge, the GCC has encouraged Sunni fundamentalists to fight Shiites in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, and blocked the spread of the “Arab Spring” to its own turf. When Shiites in Bahrain began protesting over a lack of democracy and low wages, the GCC invaded and crushed the demonstrations. The GCC does not see eye-to-eye with the U.S. and Israel on the Palestinians—although it is careful not to annoy Washington and Tel Aviv—but the GCC is on the same page as both capitals concerning Syria, Lebanon and Iran. 

The European Union (EU) has joined the sanctions, although France and Germany have explicitly rejected the use of force. Motivations in the EU range from France’s desire to reclaim its former influence in Lebanon to Europe’s need to keep its finger on the energy jugular vein. In brief, it isn’t all about oil and gas but a whole lot of it is, and, as CounterPunch’s Alexander Cockburn points out, oil companies would like to see production cut and prices rise. A war would accomplish both. 

Iran will be the victim here, but there will be some who would take advantage of a war. An attack would unify the country around what is now a rather unpopular government, allow the Revolutionary Guard to crush its opposition, and give cover to the current drive by the Ahmadinejad government to cut subsidies for transportation, housing and food. A war would cement the power of the most reactionary elements of the current regime. 

There are other actors in this drama—China, Russia, India, Turkey, and Pakistan for starters, none of whom support a war—but whether they can influence events is an open question. In the end, Israel may just decide that its interests are served by starting a war, and that the U.S. will go along because it is much of the same mind. 

Or maybe this is all sound and fury signifying nothing? 

The sobering thought is that the three most powerful actors in this drama—Israel, the U.S. and its European allies, and the Gulf Cooperation Council—have many of the same interests, and share the belief that force is an effective way to achieve one’s goals. 

On such illusions are tragedies built. 

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries@wordpress.com 

THE PUBLIC EYE: The Republicans’ Rick Santorum Problem

By Bob Burnett
Friday February 24, 2012 - 08:18:00 AM

After Rick Santorum’s surprising victories in the Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri primaries, many observers wonder if he has a chance to wrench the Republican presidential nomination away from Mitt Romney. Santorum does have a chance, but he’s not a winning candidate, someone who can unite the fractured GOP 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 – although they currently have their own favorite, Congressman Ron Paul. 

With the demise of Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry, Rick Santorum has become the favored candidate among Staunch Conservatives. Mitt Romney has not been 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 indicated they would not support Romney because of the Mormon issue and because they see the former Governor as an advocate of abortion and gay marriage. 

When the primary contests began, many Republicans saw Mitt Romney as having the best chance to defeat President Obama in the general election. But, as a result of Romney’s inconsistent performances in the Republican primaries and the slow improvement of the economy, this perception has changed. The latest polls show Obama ahead of Romney by 5.7 percent and ahead of Santorum by 7.5 percent, a negligible difference. As a consequence, staunch conservatives are pulling away from Romney and going with Santorum, whom they see has a chance to win. That’s what happening in Michigan where the latest polls indicate a Santorum surge that has him leading Romney by a narrow margin. 

The problem for Republicans is that Santorum’s strengths are cultural issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. These resonate with Staunch Conservatives but not with voters, in general. (A recent poll asked, “What is the single most important issue in your choice for President?” 51 percent of respondents said “Economy/Jobs”; only 3 percent answered “Morals/Family Values.”) Republicans thought that the recent kerfuffle about mandatory coverage for birth control was going to help them, but it hasn’t – a recent poll found that 61 percent of respondents support the Obama Administration’s ruling with only 31 percent opposed (the results were similar when only Catholics were polled). 

Santorum was educated as a lawyer but entered politics in 1990. He served first as a Pennsylvania Congressman and then Senator. In 2006, he lost his bid for re-election 41 percent to 59 percent, “the largest losing margin for an incumbent Republican Senator ever.” Since that time he was worked as a lawyer and lobbyist. 

Given Santorum’s background, it comes as no surprise that he has a simplistic economic agenda

“My plan will cut spending and ensure future fiscal responsibility through a balanced budget amendment; lower and simplify taxes for families and businesses to promote growth; return federal programs to the states to promote freedom; and promote sustainable health-care and retirement solutions for young people and seniors. First, I will cut spending by $5 trillion over 5 years, repeal ObamaCare and other onerous regulations and cut non-defense spending to 2008 levels.”
In his campaign, Santorum emphasizes cultural issues. Many Republicans believe that’s a mistake. Conservative columnist Steve Huntley observed, “Rick Santorum, the current front-running not-Romney candidate, fell into the trap of appearing to question Obama’s commitment to Christianity... That only demonstrates why he would be weaker than Mitt Romney as the GOP challenger to Obama in the general election.” 


But the reality is that Santorum isn’t running to lead the Republican Party, he’s running to represent Staunch Conservatives. And Romney is running to represent Main Street Republicans. And Paul is running to represent Libertarians. 

Some Republicans are whispering that their Party needs better options. But it’s too late for that. The GOP is in this political mess because they are mired in a deeper ideological mess. That’s bad for them but good for America. 

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


By Joe Eaton
Thursday February 23, 2012 - 05:28:00 PM
Cynipid wasp gall on blue oak.
Franco Folini (via Wikimedia Commons)
Cynipid wasp gall on blue oak.

Ron has begun noticing plant galls. This is fine, since we have a field guide: Ron Russo’s Plant Galls of California and Other Western States, in the estimable UC Press California Natural History Guide series. Galls are the kinds of things you pay attention to when nature is not otherwise cooperative. 

We stopped at the Leo Cronin Salmon Viewing Area off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard last week, on the way back from Tomales Bay. Lagunitas Creek was clear, and devoid of salmon (for which it was a little late in the season anyway.) The birds were quiet, except for the barely audible squeaky calls of something high in the redwoods, maybe a brown creeper or golden-crowned kinglet. It wasn’t a complete waste: the fetid adder’s-tongues, AKA slinkpods, were blooming along the creekside trail, and were duly admired. I crouched down to sniff one; it wasn’t all that fetid, although I’m told they can be noticeable en masse. Then we found the galls. 

They were on the brown, brittle stems of a chest-high plant along the creek. Ron identified it as thimbleberry from one remnant leaf. Most of the stems were surrounded at some point by potato-shaped lumps, often at a bend in the stem. A couple had tiny holes where something had exited. 

Later, with Russo’s book in hand, we were able to identify the galls as the erstwhile homes of thimbleberry stem gall wasps (Diastrophus kincaidii.) It wasn’t a difficult call: the guide is organized by host plant, and thimbleberries have only one gall-making associate species. The wasp larvae spend the winter in the galls. In spring, adult males emerge first and hang around waiting for the females to show up. Then, in typical insect fashion, they mate and die. 

A few weeks before, at the Consumnes River Preserve, we found spindle-shaped galls on the twigs of willows, the work of sawflies of the genus Euura. Since all leafless willows look alike, it might be possible to identify the species by the shape of the galls. 

Galls, to back up a bit, are growths on plant tissue—leaves, flowers, and fruit as well as stems—produced in response to invading fungi, mites, and insects as the host’s growth hormones go into overdrive. Russo calls them “tumorlike.” They come in a myriad of shapes, sizes, and colors.  

Some harbor complex natural communities: in addition to the original gall-inducing species for which the growth is a nursery, there may be inquiline insects that feed on the gall tissues, parasites that attack the gall-inducer’s larvae, and hyperparasites that parasitize the parasites. The thimbleberry stem galls, for instance, may house nine species of wasps that parasitize the cynipid larvae and an inquiline weevil.  

Some of the most spectacular galls occur on native oaks. The wasp Antron quercusechinus induces galls that resemble tiny purple sea urchins. Other oak galls are pearshaped, discshaped, or globose (“oak apples.”) Over 110 species of gallmaking cynipid wasps have been found on Pacific Coast oaks, plus a handful of midges and mites and a fungus. Like the willow sawflies, all oak gall wasps are specialists, using only trees from one of the three categories of oaks: black, white, or intermediate. 

The variety of shapes is a clue that galls are something different from what tree people call “reaction wood,” the growth of new tissue around a cut. “Something in the chemicals provided by gall organisms directs the expression of normal plant genes in the development and expansion of the host plant’s tissues,” writes Russo. “Scientists have been looking for a long time for this ‘blueprint’ that seems to control gall characteristics.” It’s tempting to see galls as an example of the “extended phenotype,” as Richard Dawkins defines it: part of the external environment that evolves along with an organism. Are galls subject to the pressures of natural selection? How does a gallmaker’s reproductive fitness benefit from growing up in something that looks like a sea urchin, as opposed to a Frisbee or a spindle? I hope the scientists are working on this angle as well. 

Russo says gall larvae provide food for a variety of birds, including jays, sapsuckers, evening grosbeaks, chickadees, and goldfinches. Chipmunks, ground squirrels, and western gray squirrels also take their toll.  

Do galls harm the host plant? That depends on the species involved. Some wasp-induced galls can kill oak leaves, and a psyllid—an aphid relative—causes unsightly galls on the Australian brush-cherry. Otherwise, gallmakers and their hosts seem to have reached an evolutionary truce.  

SENIOR POWER: Conferences on Aging

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Thursday February 23, 2012 - 05:16:00 PM

A White House Conference is a national meeting sponsored by the Executive Office of the President of the United States with the purpose of discussing a topic of importance to the American public, and they are typically created by specific legislation. Some conferences last for a day, others for several. Typical attendees include experts in the particular field, community leaders, advocates and citizens with an interest in the issue. The President usually speaks to a conference general session. The conference concludes by issuing a report to the President summarizing and making recommendations for executive or legislative action. The First Lady has sometimes hosted White House conferences. The first White House conference was the Conference on the Care of Dependent Children held in 1909 under President Theodore Roosevelt

The most well-known is the White House Conference on Aging, which has occurred once a decade since the 1950s. The 2005 White House Conference on Aging -- held December 11-14 in Washington, D. C. -- was authorized by the Older Americans Act Amendments of 2000 (P.L. 106-501). Like its predecessors, its purpose was to make recommendations to the President and Congress to help guide national aging policies for the next ten years and beyond. Its theme was “The Booming Dynamics of Aging: From Awareness to Action. ” It focused on the aging of today and tomorrow, including 78 million baby boomers who began to turn 60 in January 2006. 

Approximately 1,200 delegates were selected by Governors, members of Congress, the National Congress of Americans Indians and the Conference’s Policy Committee. Delegates voted on 50 resolutions they considered as priorities and worked to recommend innovative solutions reflecting actions that might be taken by federal, state and local governments, tribal organizations, business and industry, communities, and individuals to prepare for the challenges and opportunities of an aging nation.  

The top two resolutions adopted by the delegates were the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act and the development of a coordinated and comprehensive long term care strategy. The reauthorization of the Older Americans Act occurred in 2006 and included provisions that support the development of a national long term care strategy for our nation. 

Three of the major issues that were not dealt with by delegates to the 2005 White House Conference on Aging are end-of-life decisions, lifelong learning, and drawing on the wisdom of elders.  

Will the next White House Conference on Aging be held in 2015? I wonder… 

It was Congressional Representative Bella Savitsky Abzug (1920-1998) (D-NY), who said, “The inside operation of Congress—the deals, the compromises, the selling out, the co-opting, the unprincipled manipulating, the self-serving career-building—is a story of such monumental decadence that I believe if people find out about it they will demand an end to it.”  



Shingles! There’s news that the UK’s senior citizens are unable to get the vaccine. “Shortage of shingles vaccine delays jabs for elderly." The only doses available are by private prescription. Government advisers said in 2010 that all people aged 70 to 79 should be offered the jab against the painful condition, writes Rebecca Smith. (Daily Telegraph [London], Feb. 18, 2012).  

One of the horrible things about chicken pox/shingles/herpes zoster is that one may also get post-herpetic neuralgia. Having had this affliction, I spent several years trying to get “a shot” (the Brits’ “jab”), and finally managed to get my primary care M.D. do the deed!  

Older adults who receive the herpes zoster vaccine are less likely to have complications from shingles. Adults age 60+ should receive the herpes zoster vaccine as part of routine medical care. it is possible to get shingles after the vaccine but the vaccine has been shown to lessen the intensity, duration and pain related to the outbreak.  

Herpes zoster vaccine is available; it differs from chickenpox vaccine. 


SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) is the country's largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults. SAGEWorks is now open in 2 new locations: SAGE of the Desert in Palm Springs, California and SAGE Philadelphia. SAGEWorks provides essential skills training and job search support that helps LGBT older people ages 40+ remain competitive in the modern workplace. Visit sageusa.org/sageworks. 

SAGE also offers national telephone support groups for LGBT older adults and their caregivers. Facilitated by social workers, the LGBT older adult group and the caregiver group are safe, confidential and nurturing spaces to gain support and advice. For more info, and to join either group, contact Amanda Umhoefer. Mail to : aumhoefer@sageusa.org. Subject=National%20LGBT%20Support%20Group


"Stanford (University) study: Valley pension costs outpace spending for schools, public safety," by Kurtis Alexander (Fresno Bee, Feb. 22, 2012). 

"Bid to Halt SD (San Diego) Pension Measure Fails," by Gene Cubbison (NBC Channel 7 TV [San Diego] News, Feb. 21, 2012). 

"Even after (San Francisco) pension reform, costs will surge in coming years," by Joshua Sabatini (San Francisco Examiner, Feb. 22, 2012). 

"Pension plans underfunded in Kern County" (KGET Channel 17 TV News [Bakersfield], Feb. 21, 2012). 


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.  

Current-March 4, 2012. STAGEBRIDGE presents the World Premiere of Counter Attack!, a new play by Joan Holden, starring Joan Mankin as an aging waitress who discovers that her lifelong position is suddenly under attack. Inspired by Candacy Taylor¹s 2009 book, Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress. The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. For show times and to reserve tickets: www.stagebridge.org or 510-444-4755 x114. 

Current-March 30. “Berkeley Women Vote: Celebrating California Suffrage 1911-2011.” An Exhibit at the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street. 510-848-0181. 

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

Friday, Feb. 24. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Chamber Music in C Major. Noon concert. Music Dept. event. Hertz Concert Hall: Mozart: String Quintet No. 3 in C major, K.515. Michael Hwang, Michaela Nachtigall, violins. Sally Jang, Melissa Panlasigui, violas. Cindy Hickox, cello. Beethoven: String Quartet in C major, op. 59 no. 3. Vivian Hou, Jason Wu, violins. Marissa Sakoda, viola. Michael Tan, cello. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Sunday, February 26. Global Call to Participate in 5 Minutes of Prayerful Silence On the eve of the opening of the 56th Session of the UN-Commission on the Status of Women, Women of all spiritual traditions are invited to join in prayer and silence, to hold in their hearts the hopes of those who come to the CSW: for homes and a world without violence and fear, where there will be good food, air and water, education and medical care, for women's empowerment and gender equality, for consciousness, voice and choice, for circles with a sacred center to support the wisdom and courage of women in them, and for there to be a UN 5th World Conference on Women. 

Tuesday, Feb. 28. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda. Low Income Assistance. A representative from the Health Insurance Counseling Advocacy Program (HICAP) will provide an overview on getting help with health care costs including the Medicare program, Medi-Cal, SSI, Medicare Savings Programs, and Low Income Subsidy (extra help) for prescription drugs. The eligibility and application process will be reviewed. Sign up in the office or 510-747-7506. 

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. 

Friday, March 2. 12:15-1 P.M. UC,B Dept. of Music students perform chamber music. Free. Hertz Concert Hall. 510-642-4864. 

Tuesday, March 6. 1 P.M. Mastick Book Club. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave. , Alameda. Book Club members will review House Rules by Jodi Picoult. 510-747-7506. 

Wednesday, March 7. 12:15-1 P.M. University Wind Ensemble: Robert Calonico, drector Ron Nelson: Savannah River Holiday, Vaughan Williams: English Folk Song Suite 1. March: Seventeen Come Sunday 2. Intermezzo: My Bonny Boy 3. March: Folk Songs from Somerset Morten Lauridsen/arr. H. Robert Reynolds: O Magnum Mysterium Steven Bryant: Stampede Henry Fillmore/arr. Loras Schissel: Lassus Trombone. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesdays, March 7 and 14. 9 A.M. – 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave. , Alameda. AARP Driver Safety Program. Designed for individuals 50+, this 8 hour course is taught in 2, 4-hour sessions over a 2-day period. Preregistration required; cost is $12 per person for AARP members, $14 non-AARP members. Registration payable by check ONLY, made payable to AARP. Sign up in the Mastick Office. 510-747-7506. 

Thursday, March 8. 4:30 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. eReader Workshop. Please bring your own device and library card to the workshop. Free. No reservations needed. 510-524-3043. See also March 15. 

Thursday, March 8. 6:30 P.M. El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Avenue. Join board certified psychologist Dr. Marshall Zaslove for an evening meditation workshop and interaction. He will base his presentation on the book, Inner and Outer Peace through Meditation, by Rajinder Singh. 510-526-7512. 

Monday, March 12. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. Berkeley Repertory Theatre discussion. A docent from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre will discuss the current production, Moliere’s A Doctor in Spite of Himself, the traditional story of a girl, who feigns illness to avoid an unwanted wedding. Free. 510-524-3043 

Tuesday, March 13. 1:30 P.M. . Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. Douglas Borchert, J.D., SBC, underwriting counsel, columnist, will present “The America’s Cup: Racing the Wind.” Sign up in the Mastick Office or call 510-747-7506. This program is sponsored by the Mastick Senior Center Advisory Board. 

Wednesday, March 14. 12:15-1 P.M. University Baroque Ensemble: 59th Annual Free Noon Concert Series. Hertz Concert Hall. 510-642-4864. 

Thursday, March 15. 4:30 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. eReader Workshop. Please bring your own device and library card to the workshop. Free. No reservations needed. 510-524-3043. 

Wednesday, March 21. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Noon concert, UC, B. Music Department. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, David Milnes, director. Weber: Bassoon Concerto, Drew Gascon, soloist. Debussy: Nocturnes. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Friday, March 23. 12:15-1 P.M. Bustan Quartet. Free Noon Concert Series. Lecture/demonstration: Co-sponsored event: Highlights: Hertz Concert Hall. Visiting Israeli group demonstrates their work in crafting new means of musical expression from diverse resources. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864.  

Monday, March 26. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Book Club.  

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Current-March 30. “Berkeley Women Vote: Celebrating California Suffrage 1911-2011.” An Exhibit at the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street. 510-848-0181. 




















ECLECTIC RANT: SWIFT Pressured to Ban Iran Over Nuclear Ambitions

By Ralph E. Stone
Thursday February 23, 2012 - 05:25:00 PM

Under pressure from the United States and the European Union, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), based in Belgium, is expected to ban Iran's forty banks and institutions from using SWIFT to process its financial transactions, which would effect Iran's foreign trade and access to international payments. United Against Nuclear Iran, a powerful U.S.-based group, had been lobbying for the past month for SWIFT to end its relationship with Iran. 

More than 40 Iranian banks and institutions use SWIFT to process financial transactions. Iran could try to skirt the expected cutoff, but it would be difficult, costly, and time-consuming.  

The average Iranian would also be affected as prices for household goods would soar while the value of Iranian currency drops.  

The ban from SWIFT's respected network will also escalate global economic pressure on Iran to halt its suspected development of nuclear weapons. It may also be an attempt to forestall threatened military action by Israel. 

SWIFT is the financial equivalent of the United Nations. It facilitates the bulk of the world’s cross-border payments. The member-owned cooperative has been described as the ‘glue’ of the global banking system with the value of daily payments using SWIFT estimated at more than $6 trillion. SWIFT is vital to international money flows, exchanging an average 18 million payment messages per day between banks and other financial institutions in 210 countries.  

SWIFT is not a bank and does not hold funds. SWIFT member-banks are responsible for the content of these messages and complying with applicable financial sanctions; they are not monitored or controlled by SWIFT. It is involved in 80 to 90 percent of all global payments. SWIFT does not carry out transactions; it is only a messaging system more akin to a telephone service. SWIFT does not hold accounts for members and does not perform clearing or settlement.  

A ban would be the first country in SWIFT's history to be expelled. If SWIFT gives in over Iran, it may well face calls to shut out other countries. By banning Iran, SWIFT will lose its independence and set a dangerous precedent.  

In related news, the U.S. enacted sanctions that would punish countries and institutions if they do not reduce their purchases of Iranian oil by mid-year.  

Last month, the EU also imposed tough sanctions against Iran, which includes a freeze of the country's central bank assets and an oil embargo set to begin in July. In retaliation, Iran has halted oil shipments to Britain and France. In addition, the National Iranian Oil Company has sent letters to some European refineries with an ultimatum to either sign long-term contracts of two to five years or be cut off. It is not clear which countries were sent the ultimatum, but Spain, Italy and Greece are among Europe's biggest buyers of Iranian oil.  

Iran produces just over 5 percent of the world’s crude, which doesn’t seem like a lot. Yet, the expected bans will likely cause higher oil prices resulting in higher energy bills for consumers and possibly exacerbate the economic problems in the Euro Zone and globally, thus slowing economic recovery. 

There is the possibility that Saudi Arabia could make up for some, but not all, of the banned Iranian oil.  

Iran has warned several times it may seal off the Strait of Hormuz, choking off the supply of Gulf crude and gas from other producers. Or short of a blockade, it could harass ships coming through the Strait. Reportedly, a U.S. battleship and other military ships are lurking near the Strait of Hormuz, supposedly ready to enforce an Iran oil embargo and to keep the Strait open to other ships. This, of course, might precipitate a full-blown conflict. 

On February 20, 2012, the International Atomic Energy Agency team paid yet another visit to Iran, the second in less than a month. Again, questions were raised about how much access the visiting inspectors would have to the country’s nuclear facilities. And last week, in a letter to the EU, Iran called for new talks with the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany. As Yogi Berra once said, "It's déjà vu all over again" 

Will the ban on Iranian use of SWIFT to process its financial transactions coupled with other economic sanctions, force Iran to cave in to UN Security Council pressure to cease its uranium enrichment program? Or will this ongoing financial war and on-again-off-again inspections and "talks" turn into a military conflict?  






EATS, SHOOTS 'N' LEAVES: Fast Company Makes a Major Amyris Fail

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 08:37:00 PM

Back in 1995, two former Harvard Business Review editors created Fast Company, which soon became the rock star of the publishing world, selling in 2000 to a branch of German publishing giant Bertelsmann for the biggest sum ever paid for a magazine, $350 million.

It’s now owned by the founder and chief executive of Morningstar, the leasing rating agency in the world of bonds.

Every year they come up with a list of Most Innovative Companies, described thusly by Wikipedia

For their Most Innovative Companies feature, Fast Company assesses thousands of businesses based on creativity, real-world impact, risk taking, and execution to create a list of just 50 companies. 

Well, they’ve just come out with this year's list, and guess what Berkeley-created company landed amongst the elite? 

That would be Amyris, the outfit started by a UC Berkeley “bioengineer” and initially bankrolled by Bill Gates to use genetically altered microbes to create a cheap antimalarial drug, which didn’t turn out to be cheap, the switched over to using gene-tweaked bugs to produce fuel. [Our previous stories on the company are here.] 

Here are the reasons Fast Company picked Amyris for this year’s top 50 list, reported by Rachel Z. Arndt: 

Last year, the California-based biotech firm opened its first commercial renewable-chemicals plant outside São Paulo. In 2012, that facility should pump out 50 million liters of sugarcane-derived farnesene. That’s enough to power many of the city’s 15,000 buses, replacing the standard high-in-sulfur fuel, which spews noxious fumes. “Carbon emissions are reduced at least 50%,” says Amyris cofounder and CTO Neil Renninger. The company also announced a deal last fall to make sugar-based rubber for Michelin tires (set to roll out in 2015). Sweet. 

There’s only one problem, which we’ve reported in detail: The company’s predicted fuel output was a pipe dream, and real 2012 production figures will be far, far smaller, with none of it devoted to fuel. Rather, Amyris will peddle the fruit of genetically bacteria as a chemical for the manufacture of perfumes, cosmetics, and such. 


http://richardbrenneman.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/blog-hindenburg.jpg Let us quote from MIT Technology Review

Amyris said it’s giving up making fuels too. Instead, it will to focus on higher value products, such as moisturizers for cosmetics. 

The company learned firsthand just how difficult it is to achieve the kind of yields seen in lab tests in large-scale production. In an update call for investors, CEO John Melo said he is “humbled by the lessons we have learned.” 

The company’s dismal performance is reflected in the price of its shares, which were matching its all-time low of $6.06 this morning, rebounding to $6.14. That’s down from a record high of $33.85 little over a year ago. 

So it looks like Fast Company is slow on the uptake. We trust any potential Amyris investors will do a little further digging before they take the plunge. 

Now we can understand that magazine deadlines might have made it difficult to change what came out in print, but really, there’s no excuse for post bad information on the magazine’s website. 

Hope the company’s owner is more exacting when it comes to rating bonds. 

Arts & Events

Theater Review: Central Works' 'Mesmeric Revelation' at the City Club

By Ken Bullock
Friday February 24, 2012 - 08:30:00 AM

Beneath a portrait of Marie Antoinette, patroness of the Royal French Academy of Sciences, sits an upright periwigged figure, long coat, embroidered vest, cravat ... The door of the salon opens—and another wigged figure, similarly dressed, steps in the room, as the first's head swivels to fix the second's eye with his gaze—and a tight smile blossoms on both faces ... 

This look of recognition, a perfect tableau, opens, almost summarizes Aaron Henne's 'Mesmeric Revelation,' playing at the Berkeley City Club, in the way G. E. Lessing, the first dramaturge, defined a tableau: "The pregnant moment." 

Henne, whose 'A Man's Home ... ,' a tribute to Kafka's 'The Castle,' was an unusual and welcome addition last year to Central Works' season, has written and directed another play realized onstage through Central Works' collaborative process. It's something different again: a two-hander about the meeting of Franz Anton Mesmer, proponent of "Animal Magnetism" (and for some, the father of hypnosis), and Antoine Lavoisier, "father of chemistry," at a meeting of the Academy, where the members—the audience, seated in three-quarters round—witness Lavoisier examining Mesmer on his theories of the universal fluid which binds animate beings together, like a forecast of Wilhelm Reich's "Orgones." 

Maybe a two-hander, but the actors playing Mesmer (Joe Jordan) and Lavoisier (Theo Black)—both excellent in 'A Man's Home ...' last year— become a veritable ensemble, once Mesmer—intellectually spurned by Lavoisier—asks to demonstrate his medicine ... with Lavoisier as patient. 

Once the demonstration begins, Mesmer brings out Lavoisier's internal world, showing his foibles, his prejudices—and a kind of inner infinity carried out like scenes in a play—or play-within-a-play. 

The dialogic form of 'mesmeric Revelation,' while witty and erudite, touching on Kant, perhaps Leibniz, condensing much of Mesmer's natural philosophy—and that of his sometimes fractious followers—and Lavoisier's rationalism into a continuous single act play, nonetheless presents a stacked deck in favor of the Austrian Animal Magetism magnate. This sometimes renders what's said arch, even cloying, as a kind of reduction of the very rich intellectual and ideological situations of the time for contemporary consumption, coming close some moments to reducing Lavoisier to merely a cold rationalist and elitist, Mesmer to a populist forerunner of psychology and ecology. 

I'm reminded of another couple of dialogues, arguments of 18th century thinking, one from the times, the other a half century old: 

Diderot's 'D'Alembert's Dream' (1769), in which Diderot—along with Lessing, arguably the forerunner of modern theater—discusses consciousness and materialism with his co-editor of the Encyclopedia, the scientist D'Alembert ... who in the next scene is raving on these topics in his sleep, while his mistress and a doctor at his bedside discuss what he's talking about. Later, he and Diderot resume their discussion. Written after Diderot and D'Alembert fell out—and D'Alembert was furious with his depiction in the dialogue—it was Diderot's favorite of his own pieces, not quite a play, but somehow more than a Socratic dialogue. 

And in 'Marat/Sade' (1963), Peter Weiss' play, made famous here by Peter Brook's film of his stage version, the Marquis De Sade deliberately stacks the deck of the political-philosophic argument he has with the late revolutionary—and ex-doctor and scientist—Jean-Paul Marat, played by a paranoiac patient in the Charenton asylum ... In "Marat's Dream," a crucial scene missing from Brook's film, Marat hallucinates being berated intellectually by Voltaire and Lavoisier (who, like Lavoisier and Mesmer, clashed over ideas), as well as his own parents, finally pushing hallucination aside and returning to his revolutionary writings. Weiss himself said that, though Sade was deliberately given more of the cards in his hand to win the argument, the longer he, the author, lived with the play, the more Marat came out on top. 

(The title of the play's taken from a Poe story, mostly dialogue, in which a mesmerized patient discusses metaphysics with the narrator, something akin to his "Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," and to themes in Poe's "prose poem" of cosmic science and consciousness, 'Eureka.' Raul Ruiz, the late filmmaker the Pacific Film Archive will memorialize with a retrospective starting next month, once told me he had thought of making a new translation of Poe in French, in the style of Diderot.) 

Though I can't entirely buy the argument—or at least the form it's presented in—of 'Mesmeric Revelation,' the play presents an unusual and engaging evening of theater—of chamber theater, which takes the audience beyond the bounds of the room, just as Mesmer transports Lavoisier by trance—and applaud Aaron Henne, his fine cast, and Central Works for producing his work. (Gary Graves designed the lights, Gregory Scharpen the sound, Tammy Berlin the costumes; Jan Zvaifler produced the show—all of Central Works.) I hope we see more, soon.

"If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front" Can a Film about the ELF Win an Oscar?

By Gar Smith
Wednesday February 22, 2012 - 12:57:00 PM

This coming Sunday, the Motion Picture Academy will select its winner for Best Documentary. One of the selections, Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman's If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, offers a surprising take on the nature of "terrorism" and unearths the early roots of today's Occupy Movement. The documentary takes viewers inside the world of Daniel McGowan, an environmental activist whose zeal and frustration led him to commit acts that the media came to brand as "eco-terrorism." 

If a Tree Falls catches up with McGowan years after he traded in his black mask, ninja duds and gasoline bombs for a sedentary life with a straight job and a supportive family. But when his past catches up with him, McGowan is forced to reflect on the surreal injustice of it all: "No one got hurt and no one was injured but I'm facing life plus 335 years." 

If a Tree Falls is a vivid and visceral film that chronicles the birth and fiery path of the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF), a shadowy group of radical activists that predated and prefigured the current generation of Occupiers. 

The film's historic footage includes many "where-have-I-seen-that-before" images of people smashing windows and suffering punishing body blows from police truncheons. There is even a scene of a police officer pepper-spraying ranks of peaceful protestors sitting on the ground with their arms linked. (But this was the 1990s and they were "environmental activists," not students, so no paid much heed. If you were an environmental activist, cops were expected to come down on you. It was part of the job description.) 

Watching a slightly chubby, stubble-bearded and soft-spoken Daniel McGowan puttering around the house with his family and friends in New York, you would never peg him as the target of "the largest domestic terrorism investigation in the history of the United States." How was it that someone who graduated college to take a job at Burston-Marsteller, wound up on the governments "terrorist" list? 

The Radicalization of Daniel McGowan
McGowan's sister Lisa tries to explain how her brother became such a tunnel-vision radical. She recalls coming home one day to find that Danny had stripped all the labels off all her food cans to recycle the paper. When she pointed out that she could no longer tell a soup can from a can of beans, he replied: "Gee, I never thought of that." 

For McGowan, it was at the Wetlands, a famous New York City eco-bar, "where it all changed." That's where he saw an environmental film that revealed the brutal reality of logging, mining, and whaling. "Holy crap! What are we doing?" McGowan thought. And, from that point on, he describes himself as living in "a state of perpetual mourning." 

He started protesting, wrote hundreds of protest letters and became further radicalized at a Wisconsin Rendezvous. It was the first time McGowan really spent time outdoors. After bonding by skinny-dipping in a lake, everyone went down to the local mining office to protest and got arrested. 

McGowan migrated to Oregon and the site of a proposed US Forest Service timber sale. When the locals heard the pristine Warner Creek was to be opened to logging they responded to the news by Occupying the forest. They dug trenches in logging roads and blocked trucks and bulldozers. They built a protest encampment smack in the middle of a road — complete with a walled perimeter and a drawbridge. The Occupation lasted for a year, right through the winter snows. Eventually the USFS bulldozed the encampment and arrested the protesters. 

"Soon after," one activist recalls, "things began to escalate." It was becoming increasingly clear that the Forest Service does not exist to "protect forests." It sees forests as crops. A 1,000-year-old old-growth redwood is just a resource to be fed to the logging industry. 

The Rising Tide of Green Anger 

The ELF decided to underscore this revelation by torchlight. The USFS's Oakridge Ranger Station was the first to go up in flames. This act marked the arrival of an enviro version of the "black bloc" — and it signaled a split in the movement. 

Another galvanizing event occurred on June 1, 1997 when the Eugene, Oregon, city council announced plans to cut down a historic "heritage tree" to build a parking lot for Semantec. Eleven activists climbed into the top branches the night before the tree was to be logged. A hearing on the fate of the tree was scheduled the next day but city officials were in no mood to wait. They sent in police equipped with masks, guns and truncheons. The enterprising cops employed cherry pickers that allowed them to assault the activists clinging to the branches 40 feet above the ground. 

During the ensuing scuffle, the camera zooms in on Jim Flynn, one of the tree-sitters and a former editor of Earth First! Journal, as an officer in a cherry-picker cuts off one leg of Flynn's pants in order to aim a blast of pepper-spray at his genitals. His legs flailing in obvious pain, Flynn tries desperately to escape the sting of the chemicals without losing his grip on the tree. 

Despite the protests, the tree was cut down. This arrogant show of force — in support of a corporation over the wishes of the community — gave rise to an anger that was vast and incrementally radicalizing. 

Bob Barton, a logger who also is an environmental activist, offers this observation: "The industry tends to call the environmentalists 'radical' but the reality is that 95% of the standing native forests in the United States have been cut down. It's not 'radical' to try and save the last five percent. What's 'radical' is logging 99 percent." 

McGowan, a disgruntled city kid from the East, found himself immersed in the Ancient Forests of the Pacific Coast where the sight of logging trucks and clear cuts was just too painful to ignore. "This is butchery!" McGowan thought. "Why are we being so gentle in our activism when this is what's happening?" 

The ELF soon took on another form of butchery: the slaughter of wild horses at the Cavel West meat packing plant in Redmond, Oregon. Local protesters had spent 10 years in a fruitless effort to shut the plant but on July 1, 1997, a squad of ELFers torched the plant and destroyed it. The effectiveness of the action was undeniable. In a single night, ELF had done what a decade of petitions, vigils and letter writing had failed to accomplish. 

The same flamboyant tactic was soon being applied to timber companies, Bureau of Land Management buildings, and a nearly finished $12 million ski resort at Vail, Colorado. 

Inspired by this new and demonstrably effective form of action, other independent, autonomous and anonymous ELF cells soon began to proliferate across the US setting ablaze corporate assets linked to resource exploitation and biotechnology research. 

A spirit of revolution was in the air. An Age of Green Anarchy had dawned. People occupied the forests, threw their bodies in front of roaring logging trucks, climbed onto trucks layered with the lifeless trunks of 500-year-old trees. And banner of Earth First! Rose above the fray: "No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth." 

Police responded to protests with increasing aggression and violence, at one point peeling back the eyelids of nonviolent protestors sitting with their arms locked and using Q-tips to swab pepper-spray directly to their eyes. One screaming girl can be heard howling: "What are you going? I'm just trying to protect the trees! 

The growing public anger helped fuel protests at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. Once again, the police over-reacted and triggered riots that shut down the meeting. The WTO demos also saw the arrival of the "black bloc" — roving bands of black-clad anarchists who specialized in causing property damage. 

Looking back at these scenes of civil war in the streets of Seattle looks a lot like the more recent battles in the streets of Bahrain, Egypt, and Syria. Members of the NGOs who organized the nonviolent protests against the WTO can be heard railing against the black bloc. "This is not what the demonstration is about. These shopkeepers worked hard for their property!" But the ambivalence of extreme activism is revealed in an exchange with one woman who angrily condemns the anarchist's violence but, when a reporter asks what she thinks of the Boston Tea Party, responds: "I thought it was great!" 

Suzanne Savoie, another member of McGowan's ELF cell, succinctly summarizes her firebrand role: "The goal was to send a message that Consumer America is destroying the world." 

As McGowan reflects as one point: "I'm not suggesting the path of destruction is the right path," but "when you're screaming at the top of your lungs and no one hears you, what are you supposed to do?" 

ELF Illuminates the Conflict 

One target of the cell's wrath was a company called Superior Lumber. The film lets us listen to members of the "terrorist" team as they recall how they prepared for the attack, logistically and psychologically. 

This is one of the most extraordinary moments of the film — a rare opportunity to hear people that the government prosecuted as "terrorists" calmly reflecting on what they did and how they justified it. And they go into great detail about how they learned to, essentially, begin living like undercover secret agents. Even today, the government remains impressed by the expertise these ELF activists developed in organizing assaults and avoiding detection. As one police officer confides, with an appreciative laugh: "The were really good at what they did!" 

When the film catches up with McGowan, he is free on bail and living with family in Manhattan. With New York's memories of the 9/11 attacks, McGowan draws an important distinction about the term "terrorism." "We aren't accused of flying planes, trying to hurt people, " he says. "It's property destruction. Call it what it is." 

But sometimes even property destruction proved unacceptable. In May 2001, ELF staged a twin attack on a tree farm and a university research station. It proved a disaster. The university fire raged out of control and destroyed a valuable horticultural library; it turned out that the tree farm, targeted for doing research in genetic modification, was actually using traditional breeding techniques. 

McGowan began to question his justifications for property destruction. Another split developed when other members of the ELF cell proposed kicking the violence up a notch by targeting the owners of timber companies — a suggestion that McGowan found "repulsive." 

The ELF cell began to collapse and McGowan decided property destruction was a dead end. Renouncing his life as an extreme monkeywrencher, McGowan returned to New York, got a job with an environmental foundation and, later, with an organization devoted to stemming domestic violence. 

After more than three years of fruitless investigations, the FBI finally got a break that lead to the arrest and conviction of McGowan and 13 compatriots. 

'One Man's Terrorist Is Another Man's Freedom Fighter' 

Ignored in most of the media hoo-hah over the indictment of the "homegrown eco-terrorists" was the question as to whether their acts legally qualified as terrorism. As one of McGowan's lawyers points out: ""Concern for life" was fundamental to the ELF's missions. There were at least 1,200 actions linked to the ELF and the Animal Liberation Front over the years without "a single injury or death. Those statistics don't happen by accident." 

There is more than one definition of "eco-terrorism." Many environmentalists argue that some of the world's greatest eco-terrorists are multinational corporations. Massive property damage — and loss of life — happens on a daily basis because of the predations of resource-exploiting corporations. Yet, despite the deaths of people killed in landslides triggered by clear-cutting, the deaths and damage from industrial explosions, and the loss of wildlife and livelihoods from oil spills, the FBI is not tapping the phones of CEOs or throwing law-breaking industry leaders into prison. 

While If a Tree Falls was being filmed, McGowan was sentenced to seven years in prison and branded a "terrorist." In a poignant denouement, the camera follows him as he returns to Oregon's ancient forests for a final visit among the towering trees and free-flowing rivers. 

McGowan started serving his seven-year sentence on July 2, 2007, locked inside a special "terrorist management unit" in Marion, Illinois. He will be eligible for release on June 5, 2013. 

Toward the end of the film, Kirk Engdall, the Assistant US Attorney who pursued and indicted McGowan, offers a surprising assessment. "As I get older, the more circumspect I become," he tells the filmmakers. "I know now that the world is not black and white. When I first read about these arsons and got involved… they're not very likeable people at all. Once you get to know them, as a human being, you start looking at their motivations" and discover that, "instead of being just a cold mug shot or a piece of paper, they become human beings." 

The film's Oscar odds may be slim, given the competition — an injured war vet adjusting to civilian life, three boys unjustly imprisoned for murder, a hangdog high school football team that becomes a winner, and a tribute to a dancer, her career, and her untimely death — but, for revealing an important true-crime story through the eyes of the participants, the film remains a winner. 

If a Tree Falls beams an important message that should never be lost in the raging debate over the use of "violence from below." The lesson is this: Once you take the time to know and understand their personal experiences, in many cases these "terrorists" turn out to be fairly ordinary people whose altruism may have gone awry but whose fundamental motives merit understanding and, perhaps, sympathy.

EYE FROM THE AISLE: Berkeley Rep’s Laugh Riot Doctor in Spite of His Hellzapoppin’ Self

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 05:25:00 PM
Steven Epp and Julie Briskman (left) in A Doctor in Spite of Himself
Steven Epp and Julie Briskman (left) in A Doctor in Spite of Himself

I hate it when critics resort to telling the story, so let me just tease you with the opening premise:

so…there is this lowlife woodcutter who lives—well, in the woods—with his wife. The woodcutter spends his day whacking his wood in between taking a whack on Old Single Malt. Now, he and his wife are French Trailer Trash who go at each other like Punch and Judy. Actually, the characters spring to life from a most ingenious potty joke of a P & J show. Hell hath no fury, etc., so when a couple of strong-arm goons for the local rich guy comes by looking for the Renowned Healer who reputedly lives in the woods, Wifey sets up Woody by telling them he’s a doctor--and, beaten into it by the goons, he turns out be one in spite of himself. Of course, being French, it’s about amour, and how he brings the lovers together over the objections of the father, etc., etc.

It’s a 90-minute laugh riot, throwing in every modern reference they could muster, with lots of F-bombs, and a true hellzapoppin’ hoot-and-a-holler. “Vaudeville” (a French word) was originally a comedy that had new funny lyrics put to popular songs, and the singing here is phenomenal. Greg C. Powers and Robertson Witmer on accordion and tuba (a couple of laugh-provoking instruments in their own right) provide accompaniment. 

You can see the plot coming, it’s a good time and they fill it up, but an hour and half of unremitting farce, no matter how dressed up and witty, wears a little thin for my sensibilities. However, this is undoubtedly the best Moliere I’ve ever seen, and you won’t be sorry you went. 

­­­­­­­­­­Matt Saunders has designed an awe-inspiring proscenium arch that looks like it was imported from an old theatre in Paris, with a big cartouche and water stains. There are holiday lights draped over the audience. The pre-show music is all pop and about doctors: “Doctor My Eyes,” “Put the Lime in the Coconut,” etc., and the ushers are dancing in the aisles with the bolder audience members. Thus the stage, though bare, is set for comedy. From a bare stage, with a painted backdrop full of the clouds like that Magritte painting (the goons appropriately wear bowler hats), the great hall of a mansion appears with hearth, chandelier, three transparent French doors (the magic number of doors for any farce), which all make one smile at the joy of their artistry. 

Steven Epps may indeed be Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (stage name “Moliere”) reincarnate. Epps and collaborator Christopher Bayes worked on this script for a long time and it changed with the cast; what seemed funny one week got tossed the next. Knowing this while witnessing the final (for now) product, which is polished to a high comic sheen with what seem the highest of choices, really makes one appreciate the process.  

Moliere the playwright wrote these plays for Moliere the actor and he always played Sganarelle, who is the lecherous, cowardly, ludicrous hero; so, while playing the cuckold or the screw-up sidekick, it gave him license to send up others, too, and Moliere took no prisoners.  


It is de rigueur if you’ve got a M.D. after your name, since it is essentially a send-up of the medical profession, which wasn’t exactly a scientifically based undertaking in the 17th C.  

"It is the best trade out," Sganarelle tells us. "Payment comes whether we kill or cure. No responsibility rests upon us; we may hack about as we please the stuff given us to work upon. If a patient dies, it is his own fault, never ours. Lastly, dead men, of all people the most discreet, tell no tales of the doctor who has sent them to their long account." 


Adapted by Steven Epp and Christopher Bayes 

Directed by Christopher Bayes 

Berkeley Repertory Theatre (a co-production with Yale Rep)  

Through March 25 

Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley 

www.berkeleyrep.org (510) 647–2949 

Featuring Julie Briskman, Liam Craig, Steven Epp, Renata Friedman, Allen Gilmore, 

Chivas Michael, Greg C. Powers, Jacob Ming-Trent, Justine Williams, and Robertson 


Designed by Aaron Halva (music), Matt Saunders (scenic), Kristin Fiebig (costumes), 

Yi Zhao (lighting), and Ken Goodwin (sound) 

Eye from the Aisle: CCCT “Barefoot” in El Cerrito—dated fare

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday February 21, 2012 - 08:08:00 PM
Ginny Wehrmeister and Joel Roster
Ben Krantz
Ginny Wehrmeister and Joel Roster

CONTRA COSTA COMMUNITY THEATRE (CCCT) is a neat little theater with a very wide stage tucked back in the residential section of El Cerrito several blocks off San Pablo. I’ve not reviewed there before, but a theatre colleague suggested the current play, Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park. There is a small outbreak of Neil Simon going around the community theatres, and I am trying to build up an immunity by sampling them all. 

Barefoot at CCCT is directed by Dennis Markham and stars a couple of good actors Joel Roster and Ginny Wehrmeister. 

Ms. Wehrmeister is the kind of pretty that makes one smile, turn one’s head at an angle and sigh. She is naturally and believably animated and bubbly in the demeanor of many pre-feminist women. The truth of her movements convey a bursting enthusiasm for life as newlywed Corie with a new apartment in Manhattan—though is it a five-floor, elevator-less walk-up. She is the very embodiment of the joy of a new life, with wedding presents still arriving, awaiting the new furniture, with a flood of hormones thrown in from her 6-day honeymoon and her presumable introduction to the joys of the marriage bed. She is attired in a low-cut top, and her ample décolletage, while I don’t remember it as a 60’s fashion, certainly does support her conveyed hopes for continued “physical, spiritual, sexual” joy on the first night in their new apartment, and puts the audience in the right frame of mind. 

Joel Roster plays the new groom Paul, a hopeful young lawyer, whose mind is on work like men in the 1960’s. Mr. Roster has natural abilities with a penchant for irony, dark masculine good looks, and the two touch one another with the ease of people who have just spent six days in bed together.  

It starts with great good energy and a couple of winning cameos. They do seem to capture the Zeitgeist of NYC in the early ‘60’s (which I remember well). 

The first conflicting obstacle in the play is the five flights of stairs. Corie is the only one who seems to be able to bound up the stairs without getting winded. But then nearly every man smoked in the ‘60’s. Thus, entrances are made in varying degrees of panting exhaustion. 

Danny Cozart plays the telephone installation guy. He is just New York enough, with enough wryness and good humor, dispensing a little advice to the bride and groom. Our Bell Telephone (remember them?) man’s name is Harry Pepper: funny names and words with k’s and p’s are a touchstone of “Doc” Simon plays, an inheritance from Borscht belt humor.  

The funniest moment in the play is a cameo without words by the much-admired Henry Perkins as the gift-delivery guy. He throws himself—and the packages--into the comic asthmatic exhaustion from the climb, to one of the few big laughs of the evening.  

A few laughs however are not enough for an evening of comedy. Director Dennis Markham chose the play because, “It's a really fun show…that is difficult to put on…they really are people not just characters -- or caricatures.“ But there is nothing new brought to it, no abiding truth or revelation, no memorable character portrayals. It is half-century old humor, played with the gusto and cheerfulness of musical theater without anything really at stake. While truth in acting Shakespeare has evolved, playing Simon hasn’t, at least not here. 

Under Markham’s direction, it becomes a “style” of witty repartee with repetition of beats and intentions down to the inflection of each line. Mr. Roster’s good-natured skepticism ends most lines with a down-turn in pitch to punctuate the irony; Ms. Wehrmeister repeats a rising inflection ending with a charming squeal. The actors keep it coming fast and furious without a moment taken for decision or recognition. It’s played like farce; however without an illicit lover lurking behind door number three which is the suspense and conflict in farce. Here there doesn’t seem to be anything really at risk. Though the couple’s first quarrel devolves into childish threats of divorce--which does set up one of the best drunk acts ever by Roster—we never really fear that things might actually go South. The tempos and rhythms remain frenetic, thus true conflict or real pain is not given a chance to register to refresh our mood so that we can laugh again.  

Director Markham is adept at moving actors around the center and left parts of this ungainly wide stage. Stage right is limited to warming oneself quickly by the fireplace against the bone-chilling February. There is no expected armchair in front of the fireplace which seemed odd, and certainly does not invite any staging in that deserted portion. The set decoration has garishly painted orange walls with jarringly grotesque flat Kelly-green tables and secondhand-store furniture, more appropriate to a college student’s digs than middle-class newlyweds. The set design by Henry Perkins provides different levels which vary the stage picture and some built-in laughs in the reveal through the skylight. In the lighting by Joe D’Emilio everyone is brightly lit, which is good for a comedy, but it does not change much according to mood.  

Shay Oglesby-Smith plays mother of the bride, Ethel. She is true in her acting, and can deliver one of the few viable laugh lines deadpan enough to get a real laugh in a house of snickers, like “Make him feel important. If you do that, you'll have a happy and wonderful marriage - like two out of every ten couples.” She plays the character as self-effacing and supportive, which does not seem to add much conflict, though the character seems to be written that way.  

Marcus Klinger who played Mother Edna in “Hairspray” in which he was outstanding, brings a boisterous bonhomie to the role of the bon vivant Mr. Velasco, which belies his characterization as a ladies’ man. There is no seductive charm about him, and his age makeup is ill-applied and resembles the slap-dash nature of his character work.  

Some thoughts on the chronic nature of community theatre Neil Simon-itis  

BAREFOOT opened on Broadway one month before America lost her innocence in Dallas.  

It was one week after the British press coined the term “Beatlemania” and a half year before they invaded the US. We were on the cusp of change with the March on Washington, and Bob Dylan’s hit “Blowin’ in the Wind,” two million women had discovered The Pill, but Doc was writing comedy for the middle class even back then. 

Simon wrote plays that spoke to his time before the Worldwide Cultural and Sexual Revolution to come in the next decade, when America was at its ascendancy, when everybody seemed to have a job, and when there was new hope for justice and equality. Perhaps it is a longing for those good old days that still draws the older set to see it one more time. 

To give you an inkling of the difference in humor then and now, you can sample the dated laugh lines from BAREFOOT plays by clicking on http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061385/quotes 

A fellow critic recently referred to Neil Simon as essentially a television writer, and, it can seem like watching a rerun of “The Odd Couple.” (Indeed, “Barefoot in the Park” was the other Simon TV series aired in 1970.) You may remember this play via the 1967 film with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.  

The ticket-buying public has weighed in: 

  • Forty nine years ago, a young Mike Nichols won the Tony for directing a very young Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley in the premier of this play which ran for six years.
  • Six years ago, there was a revival run for a short three months on Broadway with Amanda Peet in the lead.
  • Three years ago, “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” despite positive critical reviews, closed six days after opening, and “Broadway Bound” was cancelled before it opened.
CCCT’s next offering is an edgy new play “Rabbit Hole” by David Lindsay-Abaire; perhaps this was an effort in balance. 

But if I were king, new truths to the playing of Simon’s art would be found, else he would be shelved for a decade. 

Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon 

Directed by Dennis Markham 

Through March 4th 

Contra Costa Civic Theatre (CCCT) 

951 Pomona Avenue (at Moeser), El Cerrito 

www.ccct.org / 510-524-9132 

With: Danny Cozart, Marcus Klinger, Shay Oglesby-Smith, Henry Perkins, Joel Roster, and Ginny Wehrmeister. 

Set designed and built by Henry Perkins, lighting design by Joe D’Emilio, sound by Jeremy Katz, costumes Lisa Danz, props by Derrick Silva. Producer Maureen Ray, stage manager Henry Perkins.