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Fire on UC Berkeley Campus Forces Evacuation

By Bay City News
Thursday March 01, 2012 - 05:35:00 PM

A small fire at the University of California at Berkeley this morning forced the evacuation of Etcheverry Hall, fire officials said. 

Occupants of the fifth and sixth floors of the hall at 2521 Hearst St. reported seeing smoke and flames at 10:06 a.m., Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong said. 

Berkeley firefighters responded, but there was minimal damage and any investigation was turned over to the campus fire marshal, Dong said.  

"It wasn't that big. We were just trying to find it and get an exact location. There were reports on two different floors so there was trouble finding it," Dong said. 

Campus officials said today that equipment being used for remodeling work sent sparks flying to ceiling tiles on the floor below, and one started smoldering. 

The building was expected to be cleared for re-occupancy by mid-day today.

Bay Area Campuses, Including U.C. Berkeley, Participate in National Day of Action for Public Education

By Scott Morris (BCN)
Wednesday February 29, 2012 - 03:33:00 PM

Bay Area students are gathering today to protest rising tuition costs and state budget cuts to public education in a wave of demonstrations at U.C. Berkeley and other campuses up and down California. 

The protests are part of a "National Day of Action to Defend the Right to Education" called by student organizations and members of the Occupy movement. 

In California, the protests are the latest in a series of demonstrations over the lack of funding for public education in the state, which has resulted in dramatic fee increases for public universities in recent years. 

Protesters intend to march on the state Capitol in Sacramento on Monday as well, and students are organizing to send busloads of protesters to the event. 

One of today's most ambitious actions began at 4:30 a.m., when students at the University of California at Santa Cruz gathered intending to shut down the campus for the day. 

They have effectively done so, causing class cancellations and scaled-back services as faculty and staff are unable to get to work.  

The actions in Santa Cruz are scheduled to go on all day, and will include a rally at noon followed by a "Tent University" in which students and faculty will hold teach-ins and workshops on topics ranging from foreclosures to gender issues to Marxism. 

There are musical performances scheduled throughout the afternoon and protesters will watch a screening of the movie "Brazil" in the evening. 

Protesters at the University of California at Berkeley are holding their own open university this morning, and began gathering outside California Hall at 8 a.m. 

A rally was planned in Sproul Plaza at noon, and then protesters were planning to march to Oakland's Frank Ogawa Plaza to join an evening rally there at the site of the former Occupy Oakland camp. 

At California State University Monterey Bay, protesters are holding an "Occupy Education" rally at noon followed by a march at 1:30 p.m. The rally will be held at Library Plaza at the corner of Divarty Street and Fifth Avenue. 

The march will head to the Student Center on Inter-Garrison Road, where a teach-in will be held starting at 2 p.m. 

At California State University East Bay in Hayward, protesters will hold a "People's University" starting at noon. There will be faculty and student speakers and educational workshops throughout the afternoon, organizers said. 

A "Reclaim SFSU" rally will be held at San Francisco State University starting at noon, followed by a march from Malcolm X Plaza.  

Organizers of the SFSU event said the action is being held to improve the quality of education at the school, and reclaim a student voice in education.  

Students at San Jose State University are planning a walkout at noon today, followed by a rally and march. 

The rally will begin near Clark Hall and students will hold a "speak out" to tell their stories of struggling with the rising costs of tuition.  

The protesters are then planning to march silently through the Student Services Center before gathering in front of Tower Hall in the afternoon. 

In the North Bay, students at Sonoma State University will hold a "Reclaim the People's University" event at noon today in Stevenson Quad. 

The event will last throughout the day, starting with teach-ins, discussion circles and performances discussing cuts to departments, campus programs and the availability of student jobs. 

Organizers said that university administration officials are intending to attend the events and discuss the students' concerns. 

There will also be a night event on the campus, with a concert featuring musical performances and speakers from 9 p.m. until midnight. 

Students at Santa Rosa Junior College are planning to rally at 2 p.m. for a march to the Rattigan State Building at 50 D St. 

There will be several Bay Area events held in solidarity with the campus events as well that have no direct association with a college or university. 

In San Francisco, protesters will hold a teach-in and occupation at the California State Office Building at 455 Golden Gate Ave. before holding a rally in Civic Center Plaza at 4 p.m. 

Occupy Oakland protesters are planning a rally in Frank Ogawa Plaza at 5 p.m. 

Protesters from throughout the state will hold a larger, unified demonstration on Monday in Sacramento. 

The "Occupy Education" rally will begin at 10 a.m. followed by a march to the state Capitol building. The daylong event will also feature nonviolent direct action training and another rally at the Capitol that evening.

Press Release: UC Berkeley Faculty Join “99 Mile March” to Sacramento

From Eric Hayes, U.C. Faculty Association Staff
Wednesday February 29, 2012 - 12:55:00 PM

Approximately two dozen UC Berkeley faculty will join the “99 Mile March for Education and Social Justice” on Friday, March 2nd. The march departs Oakland on Thursday, March 1st, and will arrive in Sacramento on Monday March 5th for a rally on behalf of public education at the State Capitol Building. 

UC Berkeley faculty will join the march on Friday afternoon to walk the stretch from Richmond to Vallejo. “We are marching to draw attention to the plight of public education in California and to implore Californians to re-invest in it,” said Berkeley Faculty Association Co-Chair and Professor of Political Science Wendy Brown. “For all its resources, innovation and wealth, California has sunk to nearly the bottom of the nation in per student spending, and our public higher education system, once the envy of the world, is in real peril.” 

On Monday, March 5th, UC faculty from several northern California campuses will join students, parents, workers, teachers and administrators from all sectors of California public education for a rally at the Capitol Building in Sacramento. According to Richard Walker, Professor of Geography and Co-Chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association, “we are going to the Capitol because re-funding public education is urgent, not only for reasons of equal opportunity and human development but because universal access to high quality education reduces the need for prisons, policing, welfare, and a range of other expensive social services.” 

Brown agreed, “first-rate and widely accessible public education was the engine of this state for half a century….cutting that engine now is pure folly.” 

The March 1st-5th “Days of Action on Behalf of Public Education” are endorsed by the Council of UC Faculty Associations (CUCFA), the umbrella body for Faculty Associations on individual UC campuses. 

For information about UC faculty participation in the 99 Mile March or the Rally at the Capitol, contact: 

Eric Hays (staff): 916-502-6804; info@cucfa.org 

Richard Walker (faculty): 510 295-3108; walker@berkeley.edu 

Wendy Brown (faculty): 510 703-6513; wlbrown@berkeley.edu 

Berkeley School Safety Officer Charged with Identity Theft

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday February 28, 2012 - 12:55:00 PM

A Berkeley High School safety officer has been charged with one count of felony identity theft for allegedly stealing bank account information from a special education teacher and using it to pay his utility bills.

William "Billy" Keys Jr., 41, was arraigned in Alameda County Superior Court on Friday and is scheduled to return to court Monday to enter a plea. He is free on $10,000 bail.

Keys, who graduated from Berkeley High and has worked for the school for about 20 years, was arrested Thursday after he allegedly admitted to Berkeley police Officer Darren Rafferty that the account numbers that he used to pay his bills were not his own. 

Rafferty said in a probable cause statement filed in court that Keys initially claimed that he hadn't done anything wrong but "eventually admitted that he needed to take responsibility for what had happened" and wanted to repay the special education teacher for the money that had been taken. 

Rafferty said that when he searched Keys' apartment in Oakland, he found marijuana and equipment for the indoor cultivation of marijuana, but that Keys told him that his roommate had a medical marijuana card. 

Berkeley Unified School District spokesman Mark Coplan said, "Everyone is in a state of shock because he is a highly respected individual in our community." 

Coplan said, "We care about him and are hoping for the best possible outcome for him in this difficult situation." 

Keys is on administrative leave, Coplan said. He said Keys and other school safety officers counsel and monitor troubled students in addition to providing security. 

"They talk to students to help them succeed," Coplan said. 

Berkeley police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said she could not provide further information on the case.

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



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. 




Odd Bodkins: The Skunk and The Loan (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Wednesday February 29, 2012 - 05:30:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

Is Progressive Zionism Possible?: a Response to Wendy Kenin

By Joanna Graham
Tuesday February 28, 2012 - 01:02:00 PM

In her article, “People with Potential” (Daily Planet and ACCESS blog of the American Jewish Committee, Friday, Feb 17), Wendy Kenin provides brief reports on the activities of four people, two Palestinians and two Israeli Jews, who, she avers, “speak sanely about how to move forward” with respect to what she describes as “Palestine-Israel peace.” I have been trying to think deeply and respectfully about Kenin’s piece, since I believe her underlying assumptions to be far more serious in their implications than her cheerful, bouncy tone suggests.

Kenin is not careful with language. The “meaning” range of many of her words tends to be broad and blurry and thus open to multiple interpretations. Therefore, I will start by deconstructing the title of her piece, which, in full, on both websites (and, therefore, I will assume, provided by her) is “People with Potential: Providing Sanity to the US’ Struggle for Israel’s Peace” (note the parallel with “speak sanely,” above).

Just in passing, “sanity” is a word that rings bells for me; we all, I’m sure, remember John Gertz in the pages of the Daily Planet promising to restore “sanity” to the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission (a commission on which by what I am sure is total coincidence Kenin now serves.) “Sanity,” one comes to realize, is reserved to those who support Israel. Critics are medicalized as “insane” or sociopathologized as “anti-Semites” or, as the case may be, “self-hating Jews.” In either case, obviously, no considered response is required from any sane or nonsociopathic person.

Anyway, what exactly does Kenin mean by “the US’ [sic] struggle” or, for that matter, “Israel’s peace”? She is not addressing potential actions by the U.S. government or even by any organized nongovernmental bodies nor, with one partial exception to which I will return, is she addressing possibilities for peace in Israel—not, I might mention, that Israel really needs any help on the issue, let alone “struggle,” since the country is at peace and has been so (with the multiple exceptions of its many wars of choice) since 1973, the one and only time in its existence Israel has ever been attacked. As for internal terrorist attacks, for what are probably multiple reasons they stopped years ago; recent Israeli polls show security concerns to rank far below other issues, such as housing or the ultraorthodox, which are far more pressing for ordinary Israelis. 

Kenin’s real agenda is spelled out in her first sentence, although obliquely. She announces, “For Americans who are burnt out by the negative and aggressive public dynamic between opposing political factions on Palestine-Israel peace, hope lives!” Of course most “Americans,” far from being burnt out on the “dynamic,” are probably surprised to learn it exists. What Kenin is referencing is the ongoing war for the hearts and minds of American Jews, the war Peter Beinart described in his much-discussed article in the New York Review of Books thus: Jews can be liberals or Zionists but not both. Therefore, Beinart argued, if the Jewish establishment does not rethink its unquestioning support for Israel, young Jews, overwhelmingly liberal/progressive in their politics, will, as they are already doing, simply walk away, both from Israel and from the American-Jewish “community.” 

Enter Wendy Kenin, orthodox mother of four, überliberal (Green Party! Oakland Occupy!), and proud Zionist, to demonstrate that merging leftiness and Zionism is not only possible but actually easy and pleasant. Here are four lovely people to show us the way. 

But what exactly are we being shown? I will start with the second and third of Kenin’s models—two midwives, one Israeli Jew and one Palestinian, who work together on a project to promote more skin-to-skin contact between mothers and their newborns. The project is admirable although the impact on the difficult lives of Palestinians probably infinitesimal. I would never argue, however, that any worthwhile project should not be undertaken because “too small” nor make guesses as to what will prove to be important in the longer term. I wish here only to point out an assumption that I will address more fully later: that co-operation between Jews and Palestinians will bring “peace,” whatever “peace” is. But this, in turn, implies a still deeper assumption that the obstacle to “peace” is lack of mutual understanding and therefore co-operation. This belief is very deeply rooted in liberal Zionism. It underlies all the dialogue groups, peace camps, cooperative projects, etc. I will return to this belief when I argue that the actual problem is lack of justice

Kenin’s fourth “person with potential” is Israeli environmentalist Alon Tal. Kenin, an activist in Green Party politics, hopes that Tal, currently on tour in the United States, will convince the National Green Party to drop their “one-state” position and end their near-decade-long boycott of Israel. Kenin refers in particular to Tal’s “constructive” response to Amnesty International’s “biased” report on water access for Palestinians. In his article, available online, Tal objects to Amnesty’s lack of hard data and their “anti-Israel” language, he points out that the whole region must adjust to global climate change, and he suggests that the Palestinian Authority should bear some blame for bad water management (with which I have no reason to disagree)—but he does not deny the main charge: that Israelis have plenty of water while Palestinians have little, and that this situation is directly controlled by Israel. In fact, although he comes up with excuses and explanations, he specifically confirms it. 

Tal’s institute, Arava, which Kenin references, is connected, by the way, with Ben Gurion University of the Negev, a university founded in 1969, according to Wikipedia, “with the aim to bring development to the Negev.” This actually means to bring Jewish development to the Negev, to “Judaize” this large desert southern section of Israel. In a process that should be not unfamiliar to U.S. citizens, the Negev’s non-Jewish inhabitants, the Bedouin, tent-dwelling nomadic herders, have been and are still being subjected to massive ethnic cleansing to make way for the Jewish settlers. (Some activists in Israel are attempting to address this disgraceful process.) Since my husband, for some reason, is now on the mailing list of the Jewish National Fund, month after month we receive their thick, big format, full-color newsletter extolling the building of housing, hospitals, businesses, etc. in the Negev, helping brave Jewish “pioneers” move into Israel’s last frontier. This makes clear that keeping American Jews on board is not just a matter of spiritual feel-good togetherness; it’s a cold hard matter of money—the American-Jewish money which since the beginning of the Zionist project has provided the primary funding for expansion and settlement.  

I wish to make clear that I have no reason to doubt that Alon Tal does important and admirable work in a region where sustainability has always been difficult and will become more so in the coming decades. My intention in pointing out that the very paper Kenin cites in support of her thesis actually contradicts it and that the institute she admires is, and is intended to be, part of a process of conquest and displacement is to state what may be thought of as a corollary of Beinart’s axiom: in a situation of overarching injustice everything, even the best, gets contaminated. 

And so I arrive at Kenin’s hardest case, her first “person with potential.” Since I know something of his history, and have already done some thinking about who he is, what he’s done, and what it means, I will focus my discussion on the “Gaza doctor,” Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. 

There are some strong commonalities between Kenin and Abuelaish. Both work in women’s health, with a focus on birthing. Kenin is a doula (birth helper) in the Bay Area and Abuelaish is an ob/gyn. Kenin describes herself as a feminist, and Abuelaish, who remembers his own mother as a “hero,” has established a foundation to support education for girls and women in the Middle East. He believes that “it’s time for women to take the lead and to practice their full potential and their role.” Kenin interprets orthodox Judaism, which she adopted after her marriage, as an ecological/feminist/ spiritual faith and practice, while Abuelaish, a Muslim, believes that spiritual and emotional health are as important as physical. Clearly, these two well-meaning people, who want to make the world a better, more supportive, more peaceful place, especially for women, have many shared interests, concerns, and beliefs. 

For those who do not remember who Dr. Abuelaish is, his fifteen minutes of world fame came to him suddenly on the afternoon of January 16, 2009, in the most dreadful way imaginable. He is a Gazan who, very unusually, worked in Israel. Thus he speaks Hebrew and has Israeli colleagues and friends. During Operation Cast Lead, the invasion of Gaza carried out by Israel with extraordinary ferocity during that most lame-duck of times, the last three weeks of George W. Bush’s second term, two Israeli shells fired in quick succession from a tank penetrated a room in Dr. Abuelaish’s home, blasting to pieces three of his teenage daughters and a niece. A fourth daughter’s eye “was on her cheek.” Hoping to save his wounded child, Dr. Abuelaish called an Israeli friend, a television reporter who happened to be in a TV studio at the time. Thus, the Israeli audience and ultimately the entire world got to hear the live voice of a man who was getting his first look at the gruesome remains of his children, body parts and pieces of splattered flesh which only a moment before had been living young women, “building,” as Dr. Abuelaish says, “their dreams and their hopes.” 

Despite this tragedy, Dr. Abuelaish stated his refusal to “hate,” and so he was brought almost immediately on a whirlwind tour through the United States, as a kind of hostage in a Roman triumph, speaking in many venues to liberal Zionist Jews (like Wendy Kenin) who want to believe that something called “peace” is possible if only there is “dialogue” and good will on “both sides.” 

When Dr. Abuelaish spoke in the Bay Area, I chose not to go. I felt that, as a stranger, I had no right, nor did I wish, to intrude on this man’s pain. But also, I didn’t understand—nor could I, under the circumstances, ask—why he was displaying his wounds in a show about “peace” and “reconciliation” staged by the very people whose primary identification was with those who had caused his suffering in the first place. It was as if in 1943, say, a Jew who’d helplessly watched while all his family was forced into a gas chamber was touring Germany to tell grateful Nazi audiences he didn’t hate them. And this was the crux for me. I could not understand Dr. Abuelaish’s point of view. I had and still have no doubt that my heart would be filled with absolute hatred and passionate desire for revenge against anyone who did to me what was done to him. So I put the puzzling “Gaza Doctor” out of my mind. 

Until I read Kenin’s article. Then, this evening, wishing to respond to what I know to be wrongheaded, I trolled the Internet in search of some comprehension and I think I’m closer than I was. The best source, which I commend to Kenin if she is not familiar with it, is the hour-long interview Amy Goodman conducted with Dr. Abuelaish in January of last year on “Democracy Now.” It was the two-year anniversary of his catastrophic loss (which occurred just four months after his wife died of leukemia); also his book, I Shall Not Hate, had just been published. 

What I think I hear Dr. Abuelaish saying is that, since everything that can be taken away from him has been taken except one, he must at all costs protect what remains: his soul. And the only way he can do that is by abjuring hatred. If he chooses hate, the victimizer makes his final conquest—the conquest of the rest of Dr. Abuelaish’s life. Of course, all people who have suffered the injustice of deliberate injury, whether to themselves or to their loved ones, must struggle with this terrible paradox and make their choice. In the Goodman interview Dr. Abuelaish says, “Those daughters, when I want to bring them justice, I must be healthy. And hate, as every one of us knows, it’s a poison. We don’t want to be injected with it. If you want to achieve a noble goal and cause, you must be healthy mentally, spiritually and physically, to defend your goals.” 

Kenin should note that there is nothing about “peace” or, for that matter, forgiveness, in Dr. Abuelaish’s words. Rather, this is the statement of someone girding himself for a certain kind of warfare or struggle—one who prepares himself to “achieve the noble goal” of “bringing justice.” 

What would that justice consist of? At the end of the “Democracy Now” interview, Amy Goodman asked, “What needs to happen now?” Dr. Abuelaish replied, “To admit the rights of the Palestinians and to take active steps, and that there will never be a just and good peace just for one. Must be good and just for all, for Palestinians and Israelis. And I think it’s time for the Israeli government and the Israeli people to stand up. We need to translate the resolutions into actions. There is a Palestinian nation and an Israeli nation, and they have to live sharing the land with respect, and that the dignity of the Palestinians equals the dignity of the Israelis. And the freedom of the Palestinians is linked to the freedom of the Israelis from their fears. The security of the Israelis and safety is linked to the safety and the security of the Palestinians, not dependent on the suffering of the Palestinians.” 

People who have been damaged, wounded, and traumatized by the actions of others are compelled to deal with what has happened to them in one way or another. Dr. Abuelaish, whose life began in a crowded refugee camp in Gaza after his parents were forced from their family home by the victorious Jews in 1948, after a long struggle out of poverty through education, made the unusual choice to work in Israel, based, I am only guessing, on a conviction that his oppressors were rational persons who could be convinced by his competence, his friendliness, and his compassion—by, in other words, his simple being as himself—that he, a Palestinian, and with him all other Palestinians are human beings entitled to freedom and dignity. This is a man who bent over backwards to understand the concerns of his oppressors. And the oppression was ordinary and constant: hours every day getting to work in Tel Aviv from Gaza through the twenty gates of the Eretz checkpoint; fourteen hours to cross the Allenby Bridge from Jordan to get to his dying wife. And Dr. Abuelaish endured it and forgave it, I believe, in the hopes that eventually Jews would understand how much he had given up for them and would, in turn, be willing to give up something of what they had for him. The upshot of his efforts? His children were brutally and carelessly murdered in a massacre perpetrated by the very people with whom he had tried so hard to find—literally—common ground. 

I still don’t know what caused Dr. Abuelaish to lend himself to the tour of 2009, especially at a time when he must have been still deeply in shock. I have learned that he spent two years trying to convince the government of Israel to admit responsibility for its action and to pay reparations into the foundation he’s created in his daughters’ memory. In vain. No admission, no apology, no compensation. Finally, just before the statute of limitations ran out in January 2011, he brought suit in the Israeli courts. I have been unable to find online what the current status of his lawsuit is, but I do know that at present Dr. Abuelaish and the remaining members of his family live in Canada where he teaches public health at the University of Toronto. 

How does anyone extract “hope lives!” from this horrifying story? Where is the hope? What is the hope? 

I said I would return to all those liberal Zionist exercises in “reaching out,” to building “cooperation” and “understanding.” In her excellent and revelatory book, The Other Side of Israel, Susan Nathan argues that the purpose of Jewish-Palestinian dialogue groups is to give Jews an opportunity to explain themselves and the Palestinians to understand them—and to forgive. The Zionist right does not bother with this exercise; from their point of view, God gave the Land of Israel to the Jews and since Arabs are cockroaches, how they feel about their loss is immaterial. But the Zionist left, even the best of the left, wants not only conquest but a clear conscience with respect to it. From their point of view, to provide this clear conscience was the function that Dr. Abuelaish served, both before the murder, when he was worked in a Tel Aviv hospital as a “model” Palestinian, and after it, when he went on his tour. As Kenin writes (rather insanely in my view), “In Greenwich, Connecticut last year, two Zionist Jews wrote heartfelt appreciation and praises for Dr. Abuelaish.” What does this mean? I wonder if those Zionist Jews would consider, if even for a moment, Dr. Abuelaish’s demand to “share the land.”  

One more comment in this very long essay. Without knowing Kenin at all, I know a great deal about her, including activities, memberships, day job, religious and spiritual beliefs, marital status, number of children, e-mail and twitter addresses. I even found a picture of her, watching three of her beautiful children splashing in the Dead Sea. This did not take a great deal of searching. Kenin made this information available to all because, obviously, she is a person who feels safe and secure. As all people should feel. I suggest to her, therefore, that she imagine for one minute what her world might be like if she didn’t feel safe. Here is a thought experiment. Wendy Kenin, look at that wonderful picture, and, while looking, really looking, imagine that—God forbid!—what happened to Dr. Abuelaish’s children has happened to yours. That you were there. That you saw it. That you were helpless to prevent it. And then put out of your mind all thoughts about Israel, Jews, Judaism, Zionism, Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims—all political questions. Forget even peace. And just ask yourself this: after such an evil deed, who must show remorse? Who must make an act of contrition? Who must beg forgiveness? Who must take the first step towards repairing the broken world? The victim or the perpetrator? 

A Step on the Road to Protect Civil Rights

By George Lippman, Coalition for a Safe Berkeley and Chair, Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission (for purposes of identification only)
Tuesday February 28, 2012 - 01:47:00 PM

Last week, Berkeley moved forward a small step forward towards new civil rights and civil liberties protections. In this note I will share some of my personal reflections on this accomplishment. This is not a statement of the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley or the Peace and Justice Commission. 

I'll begin with the current update, and explain the background events of 2011 below. 

At their last meeting the Berkeley City Council returned to the five Berkeley Police Department (BPD) documents it had tabled last fall: three external agreements (the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, or NCRIC; Urban Areas Security Initiative, or UASI; and operational agreements with the UCB PD), and two internal policies (criminal intelligence and jails).  

A major concern with NCRIC and UASI is their reliance on Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR). The concern is that suspicious activity is such a subjective concept that it encompasses non-criminal behavior, and has led to racial, political, and religious profiling. 

Some 25-30 speakers shared their stories with the Council. They made personal their reasons for opposing government spying and profiling, the co-optation of local cops into Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) mass deportation scheme, and mutual aid being used to crack down on free expression. With the support of the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, Councilmember Jesse Arreguin proposed moderate changes to the agreements and policies. 

I was disappointed that the Council majority (6-3) extended the relationship with NCRIC, UASI, and UCPD unconditionally through the end of the current mandate in April. Only one of Mr. Arreguin’s provisions was passed: a request that the police chief ask UC to adopt the City's practice of allowing drivers stopped without documents to contact a relative to have the automobile picked up. 

But my interpretation is that the community gained more than we lost. While the Council essentially returned to status quo, we fielded dozens of strong and very diverse speakers, without exception supporting changes to a wide range of police practices. The Council and the City Manager promised to engage the Police Review Commission (PRC) immediately in a full review of community concerns and Arreguin’s proposals. The PRC and the BPD are to report back to Council by May 15, with their recommendations for changes to the 2012 round of agreements. 

On the Council there were three strong proponents for Arreguin’s package of changes, out of five votes needed to pass them. It's also clear that we got our message through to the entire Council that change is needed. Here’s a summary of supportive comments made by members of Council members who wanted more time to consider the changes: 

Mr. Capitelli: I support the towing policy change; support protecting people from ICE, we are a Sanctuary City, do not cooperate with ICE. 

Mr. Wozniak: Let’s make as many of these changes as we can. Council is united that we want to allow people to engage in peaceful political protest. We should negotiate with other departments on improving their rules in this regard. 

Ms. Maio: In Berkeley, "we are who we are," that’s why we are a Sanctuary City, respect people, have a PRC, etc. We want the best possible provisions in our MOU’s to safeguard civil liberties, not cooperate with ICE, ensure that police force is not militarized through training—we have always stood for that. Do it thoughtfully, carefully. Thanks to Jesse Arreguin, we will make it better than it’s ever been. 

For a good press report on the Council action, refer to the ABC Channel 7 news piece, at: 


We should have no illusions that this campaign is over. Pressure from national security, surrounding communities’ police forces, and vested interests in the City will fight back against these reforms. We can't take supportive words from the authorities for granted. We need to organize widely, give input into the PRC's review process, and come back to Council in May with a strong showing for human rights. 

If you live, study, or work in Berkeley, let the Coalition know if you want to get involved with the next phase of the campaign. Otherwise, talk to us if you are interested in starting a similar campaign in your community.  

If we can pass the full platform of changes especially with regard to the fusion center agreement, we will take a stand that no other community in the country has ever taken. 


The Coalition for a Safe Berkeley formed last spring to draft and lobby for a new municipal ordinance. The Berkeley Civil Rights Ordinance would restrain Berkeley from collaborating with federal law enforcement agencies in their pursuit of unconstitutional, repressive activities. Specifically, it would ban local involvement in political, ethnic, and religious-based surveillance and intelligence-sharing as practiced by agencies like the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and the regional fusion centers, such as the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC). The Ordinance would also ban collaboration with ICE's infamous S-Comm program (misleadingly named “Secure Communities”), responsible for deportations of hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers and their families. Finally, it would attempt to restrain the stubborn practice of racial profiling, by mandating collection of demographic data on police interactions with civilians and the publication of the aggregated data. 

Through the Coalition's work on the Ordinance, we became aware of an opportunity to address the same issues using concrete, immediate examples. Here's what happened: 

1) The annual Council review of all BPD external agreements came due. This packet of 1,100 pages of agreements and internal policies provided great insight into the department’s collaboration with other law enforcement agencies. It includes agreements with NCRIC, ICE, and JTTF, local policies on jail procedures including the handling of detainer requests (such as those from ICE), and the management of criminal intelligence, which includes non-violent civil disobedience as a criminal predicate. Law Enforcement Mutual Aid, not addressed by the Ordinance draft, is another major subject of these agreements. 

2) In October and November, Occupy Oakland, Berkeley, Cal, and Davis, along with almost every other encampment nationally, became targets of militarized and coordinated police attacks. BPD officers participated through mutual aid in the eviction of Occupy Oakland, which was characterized by inexcusable violence including the disabling of Marine vet Scott Olsen, his skull fractured by a police tear gas canister. These events raised many questions for the thoughtful:  

  • Why were Berkeley police there? Even if they only played supportive roles like traffic duty, weren't they abetting a human rights violation?
  • What is the duty of Berkeley police when other police break the law by violently suppressing demonstrations, failing to wear identification, and other crimes against the Constitution? Should not the BPD try to stop the official law-breaking?
  • In a democratic society, who makes the decisions about where our police are dispatched? How can the civilian leadership of the city assert our city's values, and control over its "military" forces?
3) One protestor's story brought together many of the threads of concern, including suppression of freedom of expression, mutual aid, and collaboration with ICE. Pancho Ramos, an immigrant of a spiritual bent whose student visa had lapsed, was arrested at Occupy Oakland while quietly praying. When all the arrestees were released, Pancho was turned over by Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern to ICE due to a detainer request. Sheriff Ahern is known to be a supporter of S-Comm and a leader of the militaristic “Urban Shield” police training program. Testimony by Pancho's supporters helped persuade Berkeley's City Council to ask the County not to comply with civil immigration detainers, which even ICE admits are voluntary requests. 

On November 8, in light of all this tumult, Berkeley City Council member Jesse Arreguin persuaded a unanimous Council to defer approval of three agreements (NCRIC, Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), and operational agreements with the UCB PD) and two internal policies (criminal intelligence and jails). These five were re-scheduled to February 14 for further discussion.  

I'll leave off with a quote from the always-eloquent Council member Max Anderson: 

"There is a sense in this country that we should be willing to sacrifice civil liberties for safety. That hasn't worked out so well for any country that I know, when these trade-offs are made. And when state and local governments are starving for resources, and the federal government comes along and says, 'Hey, I'll buy you a SWAT team, I'll buy you an armored vehicle, I'll buy you assault rifles and I'll give you body armor'--it's very hard to resist the temptation. But those kinds of offers and those kinds of acceptances come with strong political strings. They require of us that we sacrifice, if we are willing to, our local values, for something called the greater good, that's defined by someone else. We end up in a society where there are conflicts that play themselves out on the stage of maximum armament on the side of the police....  

"When we have issues that arise as a result of political conflicts in the country, such as decisions to go to war, or not to go to war, or the imbalance in resources, and life chances and prospects for success in this country break down into 99% vs. 1%...then the police are asked to play a decisive role in trying to mediate these disputes on the streets. And the police departments by and large are ill-equipped to do that. They have weaponry, they have resources, and they have mutual aid agreements, but at the end of the day nobody wants to see a country firing on its own citizens. 

"My voice remains strong about the necessity for having civilian control over military, quasi-military, and paramilitary forces in the country....Jesse and a number of groups in the Coalition see the danger of mutual aid agreements that are blind and reflexive in their nature." 

See: http://berkeley.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?publish_id=856 

Max begins speaking in this video at around 2:21:45.  










My Thoughts on the Berkeley Hills Murder

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday February 28, 2012 - 12:57:00 PM

When someone with mental illness is presumed guilty of a crime, it's all over the news, and this promotes the misconception that mentally ill people are automatically criminals and that criminals are automatically mentally ill. Persons with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators of them. 

Doing away with rights of persons with mental illness, to me doesn't appear to be a solution. A large part of the problem is the perception of the public that persons with mental illness are across the board dangerous. Most persons who have a mental illness pose no threat to society. Forced treatment may not prevent these occasional violent incidents from happening. You could create more anger among people with mental illness when you try to suppress the basic rights of that population, and thus, the restrictive laws could backfire. 

Noncompliance is a real problem for persons with mental illness. Family members are upset that they can't get their loved one into treatment when they are ill and are not accepting treatment. While I might agree with some type of change to the laws, I don't believe the current proposals are quite right. You should not increase the legal restrictions on persons with mental illness without also making conditions better for us. I'm seeing the whip, or the shackles, but I'm not seeing the carrot. If the problems that persons with mental illness face are addressed, it might do a lot more to increase voluntary compliance with treatment. As it is, you have a population which has little hope of having a "good" or pleasurable existence. Most people with mental illness don't have much to look forward to except maybe their next cigarette or a piece of chocolate cake with their meal. Getting persons with mental illness into employment in work situations that we can handle would do a lot toward increasing hope. When you force treatment on people without providing anything to look forward to, you are killing hope. This could create a great number of suicides, or even homicides among those with mental illness. Don't kill our hope. 

Other than that, the public perception is warped because we don't see the same public outcry when someone is murdered in Oakland, say, in an armed robbery, compared to the much more rare incidents of mentally ill persons perpetrating violence. 

I have heard of about three suicides among persons with mental illness (who attend a support group that I go to) in the past two years. Where is the public outcry over that?


EATS, SHOOTS 'N" Leaves: Occupy Education Rally at UC Berkeley on Thursday

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday February 29, 2012 - 12:55:00 PM

Forwarded by a friend:

Thursday, March 1 begins a series of nationwide actions around public education coordinated by Occupy Education. At UC Berkeley, March 1 will include a daylong student strike, an Open University, a noon rally on Sproul Plaza, and a march to Oakland where we will converge with other East Bay schools at Oscar Grant Plaza. While the massive cuts to public education in California have clear roots in the systemic failures of our state government and financial system, we cannot ignore the active role upper administrators at the UC continue to play in the privatization of our university. Nor can we afford to forget that administrators like Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Provost George Breslauer have repeatedly ordered the brutal criminalization of Cal students, faculty, workers, and community members. We will kick off March 1 at UC Berkeley with a protest against the UC administration for its mishandling of university resources and repression of campus activism. Please join us at 7:30am to begin this protest outside of California Hall—where much of the upper administration works (including Chancellor Birgeneau). 

To make visible the thievery and brutality regularly administered from inside California Hall, we will be encircling the entire building with crime scene tape. 

Please join us, and feel free to bring your own signs, banners, etc. Also, please forward this friends, departments, and other interested parties. 

We really like that crime scene tape.

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?  






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.