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New: Housing Authority Asks Berkeley City Council for $400,000 to Privatize 75 Public Housing Units--Vote at Tuesday Meeting

By Lynda Carson
Sunday April 01, 2012 - 12:37:00 PM

The Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) is asking for $400,000 in what are being called "predevelopment costs," to privatize and sell Berkeley's 75 public housing town-homes, to billionaire's Jorge M. Perez and Stephen M. Ross, of the Related Companies of California, LLC, (a.k.a. Berkeley 75 Housing Partners, L.P.). 

Expenses include $97,000 for relocation consulting fees (scheme to displace public housing tenants), plus $100,000 for the relocation costs of the tenants, and $38,000 in HUD disposition consulting fees, plus $60,000 in legal consulting fees. 

Additionally, according to the BHA, $42,000 is needed for enhanced security costs of the public housing units after they become vacant, and to ensure the safety of the remaining residents and surrounding neighborhoods. The BHA also needs $10,000 for construction consultant fees, and $50,000 for a contingency plan, for a total of $400,000 in what are being called predevelopment costs to privatize and sell Berkeley's public housing units, to some out of state billionaires. 

On April 3, 2012, the BHA will ask for $300,000 in general funds from Berkeley's Housing Trust Fund (HTF), to cover the costs associated with the privatization, sale and rehabilitation of Berkeley's 75 public housing units, in an item scheduled to appear before the Berkeley City Council on the consent calendar, known as "Item 34c, the Predevelopment Loan to Berkeley Housing Authority." 

The BHA expects to receive an additional $100,000 in the deal to privatize Berkeley's public housing units from the Related Companies of California, LLC, after all the public housing residents have been forced to execute relocation agreements, and 75% of the residents who will permanently have to relocate have done so. 

According to public records, the BHA is willing to advance its own funds to start the relocation work (displacement of tenants), but needs a reimbursement from the City's loan funds to operate its Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, in the meantime. 

Berkeley's just cause or "good cause eviction protections" state that landlords are not allowed to evict or displace tenants in residential buildings when a residential building is being sold, but that has not deterred the BHA deal with Related from moving forward with the plans to force the low-income renters to relocate from their long-time public housing, prior to transfer of Berkeley's 75 public housing town-homes to billionaire's Jorge M. Perez, and Stephen M. Ross. 

On March 18, 2012, several public housing tenants expressed alarm at the prospect of being forced out of their long-time housing. Terry Pete is a long-time public housing tenant in Berkeley since 1988, and said, "It is not fair that they are selling Berkeley's public housing, and I am very concerned about what is going on. I have lived in Berkeley all of my life, and I do not fully understand what is happening to my housing at this time." 

Public housing tenant Rhonda Rodgers said, "We have received notices lately stating that the BHA wants us to move. There were 2 meetings last week to tell us about the plan to sell Berkeley's 75 public housing units and how they want us to move, but hardly anyone showed up at the meetings. It's really crazy what they are trying to do to us, and we cannot believe what they are telling us anymore. They want us to move out of our homes by next August. I have been a resident here for 13 years, and I do not want to move. I am a fighter and want to stay where I am at." 

James E. Vann, who was the architect for Berkeley's public housing units back in the early to mid 80s, is shocked by the plan to sell valuable public housing and said, "The city and BHA promised to keep its public housing permanent (in perpetuity) to receive a special "Title 1 Grant" of funding from HUD to build that housing for the poor, and now they are breaking their promise to current and future generations of the poor, who desperately need low-income housing to remain in their communities." 

During July of 2009, against the best interests of Berkeley's existing long-time public housing families, the BHA adopted the recommendation of its consultant, EJP Consultant Group, to embark on a project to privatize and sell Berkeley's 75 public housing units. 

In September, 2011, the BHA announced that it was planning to sell Berkeley's 75 public housing units to The Related Companies of California, LLC, and announced that the BHA has entered into an exclusive negotiating rights agreement with The Related Companies of California, LLC, that will last 90 days, with a possible 30 day extension to negotiate the full terms of the deal. 

On March 8, 2012, the board members of the BHA voted to authorize the executive director, Tia Ingram, to execute the Disposition Development and Loan Agreement (DDLA), as part of the on-going process to sell the BHA's 75 public housing units to billionaire's Jorge M. Perez and Stephen M. Ross, of The Related Companies (a.k.a. Berkeley 75 Housing Partners, L.P.). 

According to the DDLA, the BHA has agreed to pay for the permanent relocation of Berkeley's public housing families (28 families or more) prior to the transfer of the public housing units to Related. It has also been agreed that Related will not submit funding applications for the project until all residents have executed relocation agreements, and 75% of the residents who will permanently relocate have done so. Other public housing residents are being told that they only have to temporarily move from their long-time housing, provided that they can somehow manage to qualify to move back in, at an unannounced later date. As of February 1, 2012, the BHA had 63 occupied public housing units, out of 75 units. 

Item 34c, the Predevelopment Loan to Berkeley Housing Authority, is scheduled to be voted on by the Berkeley City Council, on the evening of April 3, 2012. 

No one could be reached for comment from the BHA for this story.

Third Homicide of the Year in Berkeley

By Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Friday March 30, 2012 - 04:00:00 PM

One person has been arrested in connection to a Thursday night shooting that left one man dead in South Berkeley, a Berkeley police lieutenant said. 

At 7:34 p.m. Berkeley police received multiple calls of gunshots heard in the 2800 block of Sacramento Street. Arriving officers found a victim lying on the street with gunshot wounds on Oregon Street, just south of Sacramento Street, Berkeley police Lt. Kevin Schofield said. 

The victim was taken to Highland Hospital in Oakland where he was pronounced dead, Schofield said. 

Investigators believe two men walked out of a corner store at Sacramento and Oregon streets when they were confronted by a small group of suspects. At least one person in the group was armed with a firearm, Schofield said. 

Bob's Liquors and Deli is listed at that intersection. 

The men started to run away west on Oregon Street when the suspect or suspects started firing at them. One of the two men avoided being hit while the other was struck multiple times, the lieutenant said. 

The suspects then fled before officers arrived at the scene. 

Schofield said the shooting appears to be targeted. 

One arrest has been made since the shooting, but details about the suspect have not been released, Schofield said. 

As of 2 a.m. this morning Schofield said officers were still on the scene. 

Thursday night's homicide is the city's third of 2012. 

Stakeholders Weigh in on UC Berkeley GMO Complex

By Richard Brenneman
Friday March 30, 2012 - 02:39:00 PM

A forum critical of UC Berkeley’s plans to ramp up genetic engineering research at a planned massive new second campus of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Richmond drew a capacity crowd to the David Brower Center Thursday night. 

One speaker after another ripped into the potential consequences of the university’s grandiose plans, including the human and environmental devastation certain to be wrought on Africa and Latin America. 

We will be posting several articles on the gathering, but we will begin with a focus on some of the ways the lab’s end products could impact other lands targeted by the lab’s emphasis on using genetic engineering to transform living plants into fuel. 

A resonant voice from Nigeria 

29 March 2012, Nikon D300, ISO 2500, 60mm, 1/250 sec, f3.5 

Nnimmo Bassey, holding a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey, executive director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and chair of Friends of the Earth International, ripped into comments made a day earlier by Jay Keasling, UC Berkeley professor, founder of three genetic engineering companies, and head of the Department of Energy-funded Joint BioEnergy Institute [JBEI], which is slated to relocate to the new Richmond campus. 

In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Keasling had dismissed criticisms by Bassey and others that any successful program to use genetically altered microbes to create fuel from plant matter would wreak ecological and human devastation in Africa, Latin America, and Asia: 

Nor would food croplands be sacrificed for new biofuels, Keesling [sic] said. The countless acres needed would be wastelands where only otherwise useless plants like switchgrasses would be grown for biofuel, he said. “There’s really no market for that kind of land,” he said. 

“Even with the hype,” Bassey said, it’s certain that the target is the tropics. “Even all the biomass in our forests can’t provide all the energy that is required,” he said. 

“Thast so-called ‘wasteland’ is somebody’s land, Bassey said. The world’s pastoralists thrive on lands marginal or unsuitable for farming. “People do live in the Sahara desert. People do live in the Kalahari Desert. People do live in the desert here in the United States.” 

The one sure result of a global land grab is conflict, he said. A second is the introduction of genetically modified organisms [GMOs] into more nations where they’ve been previously banned. 

Bassey, whose words flow in resonant, almost musical bass tones, is a winner of the 2010 Right Livelihood Award, often called the Alternate Nobel Prize because it is awarded by the Swedish legislature the day before the Nobels are handed out in the same city, Stockholm. The prize is given for “working on practical and exemplary solutions to the most urgent challenges facing the world today.” 

Much of Bassey’s work has centered on the devastation wrought on his country by oil companies like Chevron, which “has sunk its claws and talons into Richmond,” and, like Shell, BP, and other oil companies is moving into agrofuels. 

As Time magazine noted three years ago 

It wasn’t an oil spill that made Nnimmo Bassey an environmentalist. It was a massacre — the 1990 assault by Nigeria’s armed forces on the village of Umuechem, where residents of the oil-rich Niger Delta had accused the Shell Petroleum Development Company of environmental degradation and economic neglect. In two days of violence, 80 people died and nearly 500 houses were destroyed. “We woke up from a sleep and … everything was collapsing around us.” 

Read the rest

He also warned that, once unleashed, GMOs are bound to spread. 

With biotechnology posed to trigger massive lands and the human misery that follows, “Humanity must regain its memory of being human. . .and agree that greed and conflict will not get us anywhere.” 

“We are not just on this planet for ourselves.” 

The view from Brazil 

29 March 2012, Nikon D300, ISO 2500, 60mm, 1/800 sec, f3.5 

The green areas are cane plantations 

Maria José Guazzelli of Brazil’s Center for Ecological Agriculture focused on the impacts of the metastasis of sugar cane plantations to fuel her own nation’s massive ethanol industry. 

And it is sugar cane which is fueling the champagne dreams of investors in the Jay Keasling-launched Amyris which, with the financial backing of French oil giant Total and other corporateers, is using cane fibers left over from ethanol processing and genetically engineered microbes in a thus-far unsuccessful attempt to launch a new agrofuel industry in Brazil. 

Already “a huge monoculture which is linked to global warming and deforestation,” Guazzelli said, sugar cane has been embraced by the Brazilian government, which has estimated that cane plantations could cover as many as 160 million acres — an area equivalent to the state of Texas. 

And while the government initially declared the Amazon Basin off-limits to industry expansion, officials are now saying the basin’s west central region may be suitable for still more planting. “Now we have added rain forest.” 

Just as the Portugese introduction of cane during the colonial era depended on slave labor, so does it today. “Sugar cane in Brazil means slave labor.” 

The work is hard, dangerous, and poorly paid, and, as we noted before, reports of actual slavery — confined workers kept in miserable conditions and unable to leave — are common on the corporate-owned latifundia

Land grabs are seizing soil suitable for food crops and devastating both rain forest and savannah, Guazzelli said, but the nation’s Development Bank continues to pour money into the industry. 

A dissenting view from campus 

29 March 2012, Nikon D300, ISO 2500, 60mm, 1/250 sec, f3.5 

Ignacio Chapela knows what its like to feel the wrath of the genetic engineering corporateers. 

The UC Berkeley plant microbiologist has been targeted by companies in the GMO game, with attempts to destroy his reputation and ultimately cost him his job — finally winning tenure only thanks to a lawsuit. 

Chapela and David Quist found proof that genes from genetically engineered corn had jumped the border and grafted themselves into the genomes of native varieties in Chapela’s homeland, Mexico — whose indigenous people had nurtured the grass-like teosinte over the course of millennia into modern-day maize. 

Monsanto launched a black propaganda campaign, and university administrators denied tenure even though the faculty of his own college had voted overwhelmingly in his favor. 

“I am really privileged to be among the very few faculty members who would even set foot in this gathering,” Chapela began. 

DNA can’t be understood as an isolated molecule in a lab, he said. “It is really the living context of DNA that people use. 

While hundreds of billions have been sunk into commercialization of the fruits of genetic engineering and synthetic biology — the craft of piecing together chemical segments to create to-order strands of DNA — the industry has yet to turn a profit, Chapela said. 

But with the vast flood of corporate cash pouring into the nation’s universities, including BP’s $500 million agrofuel-focused grant to UC Berkeley, “it has had a very effective outcome” in the silence of potential scientific critics, “either because they’re afraid or hopeful they will be able” to capture some of that corporate cash. 

“I worry mostly about the takeover of the last line of defense the public has to confront technological craziness.” 

Chapela said the influx of corporate money puts scientific credibility at stake. 

In 2010, a New York Times headline declared the BP oil spill plume “is no more.” 

The newspaper cited a paper published in Science, Chapela said, that declared “a new microbe had appeared in the Gulf of Mexico, ate up all that oil, and just as miraculously disappeared.” 

The paper was authored by a host of scientists from UC Berkeley. 

Yet the newspaper didn’t note one critical fact: “Every single member of that team was compromised by deals with BP.” 

A passionate stakeholder from Richmond 

29 March 2012, Nikon D300, ISO 3200, 60mm, 1/50 sec, f3.5 

Henry Clark added fire to the heat that had come before. 

A Richmond environmentalist, Clark heads the West County Toxic Coalition, and he knows the university’s site very well from his service on the Community Advisory Group appointed by the California Department of Toxic Services to clean up chemical contamination at the university’s Richmond Field Station and adjoining Campus Bay property, part of which is included in the university’s plans. 

Both sites were massively contaminated by a century of chemical manufacturing, which included blasting and percussion caps made from toxic mercury, pesticides, herbicides, and countless other chemicals, and even experiments with splitting uranium bars with electron beams. 

Clark marched on picket lines at the site, walking with Gayle McLaughlin of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, who was elected mayor midway during the site cleanup campaign, and Jeff Ritterman, a heart surgeon and Physicians for Social Responsibility activist later elected to the city council, where he too endorsed to the project. 

“The City of Richmond has put itself out onto a limb, knowing there were many questions that had not been answered at the time,” Clark said. “They looked at it as a cash cow to bring in revenue and jobs.” 

After working for years for a cleanup at the site, “we’re still not sure what’s there. Are we going to bring in the lab to add more?” 

At the minimum, he said, Richmond residents need answers. “We need full disclosure” of what’s being done at the lab, along with penalties when disclosure isn’t provided. 

“We’re not going for the okey-doke this time. We need clear, definitive answers.” 

And if Richmond wants more jobs, he said, the city must invest in solar asnd wins technology.” 

Clark won perhaps the loudest applause of the night.

Police Transcripts, Police Review Raise New Questions about Berkeley Police Response to Victim's Call for Help

By Ted Friedman
Friday March 30, 2012 - 01:36:00 PM
University police ready to protect their headquarters Feb 18 from Occupys Oakland and Cal. They say they expected an invasion.
Ted Friedman
University police ready to protect their headquarters Feb 18 from Occupys Oakland and Cal. They say they expected an invasion.
All that stood between Occupy Oakland/Cal and UCPD Feb. 18, when Berkeley police changed its emergency call priorities fearing a takeover of UCPD by protesters
Ted Friedman
All that stood between Occupy Oakland/Cal and UCPD Feb. 18, when Berkeley police changed its emergency call priorities fearing a takeover of UCPD by protesters
After "threatening" university police with taunts ("Fuck the Police"), occupiers head for International House for a peaceful reminesense of successful protests. I-House can be seen, left. But Peter Cukor was killed that night.
Ted Friedman
After "threatening" university police with taunts ("Fuck the Police"), occupiers head for International House for a peaceful reminesense of successful protests. I-House can be seen, left. But Peter Cukor was killed that night.

Could Berkeley's Feb. 18 Park Hills murder have been prevented? 

Yes, no, possibly. 

Peter Cukor was attacked at 9:01 p.m., according to BPD timelines, while protestors were just leaving Oakland for Berkeley. Yet police priority changes in ranking calls—tied to Occupy—were in place before they were necessary, according to timelines. 

Recently released police transcripts (Planet, Tues). and questions posed by the Berkeley Police Review Commission on Wednesday raise questionss about Berkeley police response.  

The accused killer, Daniel Dewitt , has been declared unable to stand trial. 

We may never know how Dewitt, who reportedly was living in a downtown Oakland hotel after his latest release from a mental health treatment facility, wound up at Peter Cukor's home near Tilden Park . 

Chief Michael K. Meehan told me recently that Dewitt told police he had walked to Cukor's home from downtown Oakland. He had no bus ticket when he was arrested, according to the chief. 

"He didn't talk to us much," said Meehan. 

Dewitt, according to incomplete police transcripts of Cukor’s conversation with the BPD dispatcher, was "looking for someone named Zoey," according to the victim, who added, "he's pretty spacey." 

"He says that he lives here. He wants to come in which is very strange. I'd like an officer up here right away," the victim told the dispatcher, at 8:48 p.m. 

"Okay we'll try to get somebody out as soon as we can," the dispatcher promised. But "soon as we can" was not good enough—twenty-four minutes later. 

A BPD officer in a squad car downtown heard the call to dispatchers at 8:59, and reportedly offered to respond. But the dispatcher reportedly told the officer not to go. 

Cukor's call to BPD for help, at 8:48 p.m. could not have been more ill-timed, as cops, ill-advisedly or not, scrambled to cope with possible violence from an Occupy Oakland protest just leaving Oakland at around 9 p.m.  

According to a source knowledgeable about BPD procedures, "prowler calls may not have been a top priority on the computer" when Cukor called. 

The source, with whom I spoke Thursday, said that the decision to divert the downtown officer was a command decision, not a dispatcher decision. 

Sharon Adams, a temporary police review commissioner, wanted to know, at Wednesday's Berkeley Police Review Commission meeting, where BPD got the idea that Occupy Oakland/Cal was a threat. It was this threat that was reported to have led to the police department changing its priorities the night of the murder. 

The Chief told Commissioner Adams that the basis for BPD's decision to "monitor" Occupy came from UCPD. 

Recently a highly placed source at UCPD confirmed to me that UCPD took the threat from Occupy Oakland, teamed for the evening with Occupy Cal, very seriously. 

"Our intell indicated they intended to invade our headquarters," according to the UCPD source. 

Occupy Oakland has repeatedly clashed violently with Oakland police. 

I was covering the protest from its arrival at Derby and Telegraph, Feb,18. at 10:20 p.m. I followed it to the university police headquarters, where Occupy huffed and puffed, but failed to blow the house down. No sign of a threat or intention to enter the headquarters. (see accompanying photos) 

Chanting "fuck the police; fuck the police" incessantly seemed enough of a blow-off to obviate further action. 

At a North side public safety meeting, Mar. 8, Chief Meehan spoke with pride of the way BPD had handled that evening. "I am most proud" of that, he said. 

The pride may be deserved. No arrests, no assaults. It was a night of celebration for the two Occupy movements, who reminisced about past actions. 

This was also the night Peter Cukor was killed. 

Did Occupy kill Cukor? Chief Meehan went out of his way in a public meeting, Mar. 8 

to put that canard to rest. Twice he said BPD does not blame Occupy for the murder. 

A Berkeley police squad car with two officers staked out the protest march when it arrived in Berkeley from Oakland at 10:20 p.m., according to the chief. 

They did a good job of concealment. I looked everywhere, but could find no police. 

The Chief has said that at 9 p.m. he "held over" a 12 man squad to have in reserve if the Occupy protest erupted. Cukor was, at this time, about to be killed. 

Cukor's call to police complained about "a gentleman, a young man hanging around my property. I think he's transient. I'm not sure"—at 8:47 p.m., according to the transcript. 

At 8:59 an officer on Shattuck offered to go to the crime scene, but was, reportedly, diverted. The chief has said it takes ten minutes for a squad car to get to the hills. 

At 9:01 Cukor's wife reported her husband was being attacked. Squad cars were dispatched, according to the chief, at 9:02, and arrived at 9:12. 

It took them ten minutes to respond after Cukor's wife reported the attack. 

Let's say the downtown cop had set out at 8:59, when he offered to respond to the call, after reportedly hearing it on his car radio. With ten minutes as the driving time, the downtown cop would arrive at 9:09, eight minutes after the deadly assault began. The cop would have missed the murder in progress. 

But if he had set out at 8:47 (as he would have, had not priorities been changed that evening)—he would have arrived at 8:57; four minutes before Cukor's wife reported the attack. 

More than enough time to possibly have saved a life. 

At the North side public safety meeting organized by Councilmember Susan Wengraf, District 6 (Cukor's district), the chief addressed events the night of the murder. "We've asked ourselves what we are not doing that other departments are doing ….we're just men and women." 

I live here with my wife and kids, the chief said, "and I want Berkeley to be a safe place." 

I asked Wengraf yesterday if she was satisfied with the chief's reassurances. 

"The timeline explained exactly what happened," she said. 

Wengraf described Cukor as a scientist who had gone into high tech. "He was in very 

good shape," she noted, and a "very confident person." 

Wengraf says she's seen so many conflicting media accounts of the murder she often is unsure whether she's reading fiction or fact. 

"It's complicated," she observed. 


Planet reporter Ted Friedman writes from the South-side. Urban Strider contributed to this piece from Berkeley Police Review Commission.

Special Consideration for Senior Seniors?

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday March 30, 2012 - 01:56:00 PM

Strawberry Creek Lodge (SCL), referred to locally as The Lodge or Strawberry, was built in 1962 at 1320 Addison Street in Berkeley, California. Its purpose was affordable rental housing for lower to middle income senior citizens. Three adjoining buildings in a park-like setting provide 150 units-- some are one-bedroom apartments, most are studios, all with bathrooms and kitchenettes. An elective, not-free evening meal is served. There is no longer a supermarket within walking distance.

Recently, the Berkeley Daily Planet received a message that “while Strawberry Creek Lodge is being refurbished it's causing lots of problems for the residents.” There have been health and disruption problems at SCL. “We are on pins and needles,” according to a former hospice patient. 

The Lodge is a not-for-profit complex governed by a Board of Trustees whose meetings are attended by a Tenants Association representative. SCL is managed by Church Homes of Northern California (CCH). Income is derived from residents’ rents and HUD subsidies under Section 8. Numerous Internet SCL citations provide inaccurate or incomplete information, e.g. “a retirement home” “one bedroom only,” etc. 

n 1991, when activist Helen Corbin Lima (1917-2005) moved into a tiny SCL studio, her only income was Social Security. She applied for Section 8 housing, and a whole new realm of political activity opened up for her. From then until her death, she was active in the fight for affordable housing and to save Section 8. Until her deteriorating health made it no longer possible, she was also actively involved in the SCL Tenants Association. 

In 1997 Lima launched Save Section 8, a nonprofit self-help, grass-roots effort in behalf of American seniors who need rent-subsidized apartments. No admission or membership fees were charged. Income source was voluntary contributions. Activities included picketing , petitions, meetings, newspaper publicity, proposal of a Berkeley ordinance to protect then-current tenants, publications, presence at California’s annual senior rally, counseling individuals and providing speakers, and production of a video, Housing Is A Human Right: Seniors and Section 8. (It appears no longer to be in libraries; I have a copy.) 


In August 2009, SCL received a 66.69 inspection score, which is 23.2% worse than the average HUD inspection score (100=best) for all Section 8 . It was generally agreed that the buildings were in poor shape. Recently SCL received support for major rehabilitation. Senior citizens as well as disabled persons are Section 8 eligible. 

There are at least two funding sources involved in the work going on at SCL. The City Council granted money from the Housing Trust Fund and the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) allocated some Section 8 vouchers to be used as project-based vouchers. Usually when the BHA gives project-based vouchers, the owner takes that to the bank and gets a loan against the increased or guaranteed revenue. Presumably that is how SCL’s rehabitation is being financed. The BHA is allowed to take up to 20% of its portable vouchers and assign them to projects, so these are BHA vouchers rather than directly-from-HUD vouchers. Directly-from-HUD project-based Section 8 does not allow the tenant to retain their subsidy if they move. 


Frail elders are particularly sensitive to the effects of construction work and need a higher than usual level of protection during such a process. I met with 90 year old Albert “Al” Benson, a former art instructor, and his neighbor, 89 year old, legally blind Bonnie Davidson. (I well remember Bonnie from our Save Section 8 days.) 


They estimate that there may be a dozen or so old old tenants -- people who typically came to SCL when they were just plain ‘old’, then in their sixties perhaps. The tenancy is divided – the “others” are mostly boomers and in their sixties. It is the older group that has been most impacted by aspects of the rehab work that is underway: Inconsiderate construction managers. Toxicity from new carpeting and painting. Moving their belongings elsewhere without their knowledge. Indeed, this has happened in at least one other Berkeley Section 8 seniors’ project, wherein an elderly person who speaks no English returned to find her belongings piled up in the corridor, and then in her room while workers departed for the weekend. In the words of another person with a vantage point, “I have heard about the latest Strawberry Creek Lodge drama. I get the sense that the administration tends to use a lord-of-the-manor approach towards its tenants …” Seniors without power, they are further handicapped by not being computer literate. 

On Tuesday evening, March 27, a goodly crowd gathered in Strawberry’s meeting area, a long skinny room in which it’s not always possible for everyone to hear everything being said. Each Lodger had received a flier announcing the meeting. Approximately fifty persons attended; I’m told 33 is a typical SCL turnout. 

Former board member Bill Samsel fended questions and problems, reportedly talking over one gutsy woman tenant. Six-eight persons constituting what might and should have functioned as a resource panel were situated at the front of the room, while the SCL property manager “floated.” Questions and problems from the Lodgers focused mainly on (1) fears of eviction and (2) complaints about work that is underway (e.g., technical electronic equipment assembled over the years by one tenant removed from his apartment and, when returned, not functioning) as well as projected changes. 

I commenced an email trail when I started work on this report. A friend suggested I contact Be Tran in Housing, who referred me to Rachel in the Berkeley Housing Authority, who referred me to Mike Rogers, "...the consultant, hired by Strawberry Creek Lodge to oversee the property rehabilitation," who ultimately emailed “please feel free to give me a call on either line and I'd be happy to talk about Strawberry Creek." Rogers did not return my several phone calls to both lines. Why the runaround? 




New: Conference on LBNL Plans for Synthetic Biology Tonight at Berkeley's Brower Center

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday March 29, 2012 - 10:39:00 AM

A conference will take place tonight in Berkeley on the the billion-dollar-plus academic/industrial complex planned by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for the Richmond shoreline. 

The issues are vital, and the potential consequences are global. 

Here’s the announcement for the public session, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Tamalpais Room of the David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way at Oxford Street: 

The University of California, the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and the Department of Energy plan to build a high profile, billion-dollar-plus laboratory complex in the East Bay. While public pronouncements tell us the lab will focus on ‘green’ energy research, the truth is more complicated. 

A primary focus of the new lab will be synthetic biology: an extreme form of genetic engineering that creates self-replicating artificial life forms from synthesized DNA. The development of these high-risk genetic technologies is largely driven by the oil, chemical, agribusiness, and pharmaceutical industries, the military, and other federal agencies, in a rapid, high-profit commercial race. But the risks synthetic biology poses to worker safety, public health, social justice, and the environment are poorly understood, and lack adequate oversight, transparency or protections. 

Join us for presentations and public dialogue on the expansion of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, the dangers of synthetic biology, and the local and global implications of this controversial industry. 

Presenters include: 

• Nnimmo Bassey, Right Livelihood Award Winner (the Alternative Nobel Prize) (Nigeria) 

• Maria José Guazzelli, Center for Ecological Agriculture (Brazil) 

• Steve Zeltzer, California Coalition For Workers Memorial Day 

• Becky McClain, Injured Workers National Network 

• Jeremy Gruber, President, Council for Responsible Genetics 

• Jim Thomas, ETC Group 

• Jeff Conant, Global Justice Ecology Project 

• Dr. Henry Clark, West County Toxics Coalition 

• Eric Hoffman, Friends of the Earth 

Moderated by Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director, International Center for Technology Assessment. 

City of Berkeley Releases Working Draft of Dispatcher's Conversation with Victim of Hills Killing

Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 08:55:00 PM

The city of Berkeley has released a "working draft" of the conversation between Peter Cukor and the Berkeley police dispatcher which was recorded on February 18. The document notes that "this is NOT a verbatim transcript..."  

DISPATCHER: Berkeley Police and Fire 511.  

MR. CUKOR:Yes, there is a gentleman, a young man hanging around my property. I think he's transient. I'm not sure. 

DISPATCHER: What's the address sir?  

MR. CUKOR: 2 Park Gate in Berkeley.  

DISPATCHER: And he is just standing around there?  

MR. CUKOR: Yeah. He says that he lives here. He wants to come in which is very strange. I'd like an officer up right here away.  

DISPATCHER: Sure. What race is he?  

MR. CUKOR: African-American.  

DISPATCHER: He's a black male. How old does he look?  

MR. CUKOR: I'd say he's in his twenties.  

DISPATCHER: How tall is he about?  

MR. CUKOR: About 6'4.  

DISPATCHER: Is he small, medium or heavy build?  

MR. CUKOR: Medium.  

DISPATCHER: What's the color of his shirt or jacket?  

MR. CUKOR: He's wearing a dark color hoodie  

DISPATCHER: And the color of his pants?  

MR. CUKOR: Well they're dark I believe  

DISPATCHER: So he's just standing there stating he lives there? 

MR. CUKOR: He's looking for someone named Zoey. He's pretty spacey.  

DISPATCHER: Oh okay.  

MR. CUKOR: Now Park Gate it is just gate right at the fire station.  


MR. CUKOR: My driveway is just before you get to the fountains.  

DISPATCHER: Okay, may I have –¬ 

MR. CUKOR: It's not on Park Street it's on Shasta just before you get to the fountains (unintelligible) 

DISPATCHER: And may I have your name sir?  

MR. CUKOR: Peter last name spelled C U K 0 R  

DISPATCHER: And your phone number please?  

MR. CUKOR: 841-xxxx  

DISPATCHER: Okay we'll try to get somebody out as soon as we can.  

MR. CUKOR: Thank you.  

DISPATCHER: Thank you. Bye-bye.  

St. Paul AME Church in Berkeley Remembers Trayvon Martin

Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 02:37:00 PM

St. Paul AME Church, on Ashby Avenue in Berkeley near the corner of Shattuck, has posted this video of their "Hoodie Sunday" observance in memory of Trayvon Martin, featuring Pastor Leslie R. White and members of the congregation: 

St Paul AME Church Remembers Trayvon Martin from Ralph Watkins on Vimeo.

Press Release: Center for Investigative Reporting, The Bay Citizen Agree to Merge: Merger Will Create Nation’s Largest Nonprofit Organization Focused on Accountability Journalism

From Business Wire
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 04:32:00 PM

The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and The Bay Area News Project (BANP), which operates The Bay Citizen, today agreed to merge operations, pending a review by the California attorney general. 

“That’s why he started The Bay Citizen. Our family agrees with that point of view. We feel that the merger with CIR offers the opportunity to renew leadership, add strength to the reporting staff, and diversify revenue models and content distribution channels.” 

The merger of the two award-winning news forces will create the nation’s largest nonprofit organization focused on investigative and accountability reporting and one of the largest data and technology teams in journalism. 

“We are bringing together two Bay Area enterprises with very complementary strengths,” said Phil Bronstein, who will serve as executive board chairman of the unified operation. “They are both devoted to protecting justice and democracy through great, engaging journalism.” 

Jeff Ubben, current chairman of The Bay Citizen board of directors, and the family of The Bay Citizen founder Warren Hellman will together commit more than $4 million to the merged entity. 

The expanded Center for Investigative Reporting will be made up of three unique editorial brands: The Bay Citizen (local enterprise and investigative reporting focused on the San Francisco Bay Area), California Watch (investigative reporting on major issues and topics affecting the entire state) and CIR (targeted investigative and explanatory reporting on issues of national and international significance). 

The integrated, multi-platform newsroom will produce high-quality, unique stories that engage and connect communities from the local to the global. Content will be distributed through media partners around the Bay Area, California, nationwide and internationally. The Bay Citizen website, baycitizen.org, will remain a lively source of local daily content. 

“This is a special moment,” said Robert J. Rosenthal, executive director of CIR, who will continue to serve in that capacity. “We’re confident that the merged organization will create energy and innovation around unique storytelling, audience engagement and sustainability. Our goal is to evolve a successful model for ourselves and for journalism.” 

Over the past three years, CIR has undergone substantial growth and change, transforming from a small nonprofit into one of the largest investigative reporting teams in the country. With a staff of reporters, editors, data analysts, engineers, and video, radio and multimedia producers, it is playing an increasing role in filling the gap in in-depth reporting left by the decline of legacy media. CIR recently won the 2012 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, the 2011 George Polk Award and the 2011 Scripps Howard Award for public service. 

The Bay Citizen was founded in 2010 to serve the Bay Area with high-quality, independent civic and cultural journalism that informs and engages residents. It is nationally recognized as a new model for journalism. Recent awards for The Bay Citizen include the Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and the James Madison Freedom of Information Award. Its strong business infrastructure has enabled The Bay Citizen to raise $17.5 million from diverse sources, including major donors, members, corporations and foundations. The Bay Citizen's reporting can be found on its website and in print in The New York Times Bay Area report on Fridays and Sundays. 

“Warren Hellman founded The Bay Citizen because he believed that quality reporting could foster civic engagement. This merger will allow his vision to thrive, creating a more sustainable public service news organization in one of the most diverse and dynamic areas in the country,” said Ubben, who will join the merged board, along with other Bay Citizen directors. 

“Our dad felt strongly that democracy only works if there is a vibrant press, and that local journalism in particular needed strong community support in order to survive and fulfill its essential mission," said Mick Hellman, Warren's son. “That’s why he started The Bay Citizen. Our family agrees with that point of view. We feel that the merger with CIR offers the opportunity to renew leadership, add strength to the reporting staff, and diversify revenue models and content distribution channels." 

The organization will have a budget of $10.5 million in 2012 and a staff of about 70. Mark Katches will serve as editorial director, Sharon Tiller will lead the digital team, and Chase Davis will oversee the expanded news technology team. A chief strategy officer, in charge of new revenue streams, products and network strategy, will be named soon. Operations of the two organizations will remain independent until the merger is finalized. 

For more information, visit www.cironline.org and www.baycitizen.org. 

About the Center for Investigative Reporting 

Founded in 1977, the Center for Investigative Reporting is the nation's oldest nonprofit investigative news organization, producing unique, high-quality reporting that has impact and is relevant to people's lives. CIR’s newest venture, California Watch, is the largest investigative team in the state. The organization’s stories appear in hundreds of news outlets, including NPR News, PBS Frontline, PBS NewsHour, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Bee, The Daily Beast, MinnPost and American Public Media’s Marketplace. Its reports have sparked state and federal hearings and legislation, public interest lawsuits, changes in corporate policies and a United Nations resolution. For more information, visit www.cironline.org and www.californiawatch.org. 

About The Bay Citizen 

The Bay Citizen is a nonprofit, nonpartisan member-supported news organization that provides in-depth original reporting on Bay Area issues, including public policy, education, the arts and cultural affairs, health and science, the environment, and more. The Bay Citizen's news can be found online at www.baycitizen.org, as well as in print in The New York Times Bay Area report on Fridays and Sundays. For more information, please visit www.baycitizen.org.

A Vanishing Legacy of the Last Depression in Berkeley

By Gray Brechin
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 04:22:00 PM

An ancient cherry tree on Sacramento Street just north of the North Berkeley BART station this week is popping into its annual glorious bloom. I once thought it must have been planted by someone in the small Japanese community that left so many private Japanese gardens in the neighborhood, but a box of yellowed newspaper clippings I discovered at the Bancroft Library suggests it is yet another unmarked legacy of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. 

By April of 1939, City Manager Hollis R. Thompson reported that federal stimulus programs had given Berkeley 3,243,668 man hours of work in the previous decade to leverage it out of the Great Depression. Among the tasks undertaken by the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration was the planting of 15,000 flowering fruit trees. 

An article in the Berkeley Gazette from the previous year gives a different — but still impressive — number of tree plantings. On March 3, 1938, Charles W. Cresswell, the city’s assistant superintendant of recreation, reported that approximately 8000 trees planted in parking strips throughout the city were then reaching their peak. “Thousands of visitors from surrounding communities drive through Berkeley streets every spring to enjoy the display of blossoms. A list of streets where the trees are finest has been prepared by the park division. The red flowering peach may be seen at Curtis, Bonar, Woolsey, and Gilman Streets, and Channing Way. Parking strips on Jefferson, Acton, Derby, Browning, Edith and Edwards Streets have a fine show of pink flowering peach.” Cresswell went on to list the many streets on which white plum blossoms could be seen. Thousand Oaks was a good bet to see those trees. 

Berkeley’s Civic Center was then especially notable for its flowering cherry trees. WPA laborers had planted 600 cherry trees there as well as along Adeline Street and Ashby Avenue. The trees were the gift of nurseryman K. Fujii of Berkeley. 

Few of those original fruit trees remain. Perhaps a grove of flowering cherries could be planted in front of the soon-to-be shuttered old City Hall in memory of Mr. Fujii and the forgotten WPA workers who did so much to beautify the city during the last depression that tourists came to enjoy Berkeley’s famed florescence at this time of year. 

Gray Brechin is the project scholar of the Living New Deal based at the UC Berkeley Department of Geography: http://livingnewdeal.berkeley.edu 




Florida Killing Undermines the Rule of Law, and Truth is Another Victim

By Becky O'Malley
Friday March 30, 2012 - 10:47:00 AM

President Obama’s comment, just one among many such poignant statements, said it all: “If I had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon”. The news from Florida about a kid with a pack of Skittles in his hand being killed by a gun-toting vigilante was especially heartstopping for those of us who have children or grandchildren of African descent. I watched my granddaughter flick up the hood on her shocking pink rain slicker and flashed on all those dark-skinned boys pulling up their hoods against the rain as Trayvon did, and tempting fate in the form of fearful cowards with powerful weapons. 

It’s impossible to deny that race played a part, conscious or subconscious, in George Zimmerman’s impulse to finally pull the trigger as the culmination to what seems to have been a series of 40 or more quasi-confrontations with people he perceived as invaders of the “gated community” where he lived behind fences which were supposed to exclude threats from the outside world. At the same time, it’s possible to believe that his father was telling the truth when he said that the family had friends of various races and ethnicities, including some of African descent. 

Much has been made in some quarters of the Zimmerman family’s mixed ethnicity. But “Hispanic” is a linguistic label, not a specifically racial or ethnic one. There’s the full range of genetic origins—African, European, “native” American and Asian—in the Spanish-speaking world, including in Peru, the birthplace of George Zimmerman’s mother. Some reports idly speculated, with unclear motivation, on the possibility of the Zimmerman name connoting Jewish origins, but “Jewish” is primarily a religious category. This Zimmerman family is descended from people who came most recently from Germany, probably like most Jewish Zimmermans, but these Zimmermans were Catholics, if religion makes any difference. 

News reports this week have been loaded with conflicting accounts of what might have happened in the encounter. References are made in the media to “witnesses” supporting one scenario or another, but names are rarely attached to these stories. Bits and pieces of police records have seeped out, but without reliable attribution or physical evidence included. 

From the Zimmerman camp, we’ve heard tales of a scuffle, even of a broken nose. Yet yesterday a police surveillance video showing George Zimmerman in custody at the Sanford police station with no apparent injury of any kind surfaced on ABC News 

Unless and until charges are filed against the gunman, we might never know the truth about what happened that night. Trayvon Martin’s parents are to be commended for sticking to one and only one demand: that Zimmerman be arrested for shooting their son, so that the full power and authority of the judicial system can be brought to bear to seek the truth. 

But—what is truth? 

That happens to be the title of an old Johnny Cash song about a seventeen-year-old boy like Trayvon. A couple of verses: 

A young man of seventeen in Sunday school 

Being taught the Golden Rule 

And by the time another year has gone round 

It may be his turn to lay his life down 

Can you blame the voice of youth 

For asking 

"What is truth?" 

And although the young man solemnly swore 

No one seems to hear any more 

And it didn't really matter if the truth was there 

It was the cut of his clothes and the length of his hair 

And the lonely voice of youth cries 

"What is truth?" 

In the end, most Americans will agree that fear comes in all colors, but “black” is the one that most often terrifies those of European descent who are predisposed to see the world as a hostile place. Whether George Zimmerman admits or even realizes it, it’s obvious that his pathological fear of strangers like Trayvon Martin was amplified that night by the color of the boy’s skin and even the cut of his clothing, his hooded sweatshirt. And also, race and clothing played a role in the apparent indifference of the Florida authorities to determining what really happened. 

Regardless of who struck the first blow, or whether Trayvon was a model boy in all respects or George Zimmerman had previous brushes with the police, what’s rotten at the core of this story is the Florida law which has been interpreted as allowing anyone who feels threatened, for whatever cockamamie reason, to become, in a split second, judge, jury and executioner. 

These two statutes, sections 776.032 and 776.013 of the Florida Statutes, are nothing less than naked attempts to overturn centuries of Anglo-American jurisprudence. Common law has always said that the person who feels threatened for whatever reason has a duty to retreat if possible rather than to attack, though historically there have been a number of specific exceptions in statutory and case law. But the Florida formulation uses extreme language cooked up by the hard-right American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization backed by a number of corporations and advocacy groups which supplies state legislatures with standard statutory language to enact ultraconservative laws. Often the legislators who carry these bills don’t even understand them. 

Killers like Zimmerman have always been able assert self-defense at trial if they’re charged with some form of homicide, whether manslaughter or murder. But Florida’s ALEC-based “Stand Your Ground” law has given law enforcement personnel the idea that such claims must even prevent arrest, which is why Zimmerman has not been arrested. The controversy at the moment is whether this decision, which has variously been attributed to the Sanford police and the prosecuting attorney, was correct given the circumstances in this case. 

A statistical study done by CBS shows that “according to state crime stats, Florida averaged 12 “justifiable homicide” deaths a year from 2000-2004. After “Stand your Ground” was passed in 2005, the number of “justifiable” deaths has almost tripled to an average of 35 a year, an increase of 283% from 2005-2010.” The study doesn’t indicate how many of these instant executions were of Black men, but if the killer’s subjective opinion that he’s in danger is the end of the discussion, it seems that it will inevitably result in more African-American deaths, especially in Old South states like Florida. 

A court of law is the best place to determine which of the conflicting assertions about what happened when the killing took place is correct. When such judgments are left to the killer on the scene, or even to the police, miscarriage of justice is inevitable. All of the states which have been suckered into passing ALEC laws without due consideration should take a second look, in the interest of justice. In Trayvon Martin’s case, federal prosecutors should immediately determine whether there has also been a violation of his civil rights under U.S. law and the U.S. constitution. 

But there’s another factor at play which is even more outrageous: Florida law, like the law in many states, makes it very easy for fools like George Zimmerman to carry hidden lethal weapons. This country’s loose gun laws make any random know-nothing vigilante into a quick killer. 

Misjudging the seriousness of a perceived threat easily becomes an execution. That’s why the truth about what Trayvon Martin was really doing in one sense doesn’t even matter. Nothing that he’s ever been accused of, even punching Zimmerman in the nose, which he probably didn’t do anyhow, comes anywhere near being a capital crime. If Zimmerman hadn’t been packing a pistol with the blessing of the state of Florida, he might have gone into his house, locked the door and called the police like a sensible person. It’s possible Florida will take another look at the “Stand Your Ground” statutes, but unless someone figures out how to take the weapons away from the wackos, not just in Florida but throughout the U.S, we will have more unjustifiable homicides like this one. 





Odd Bodkins: The Dulcet Tones (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 11:29:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Bounce: This Land (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 11:33:00 PM


Joseph Young


Public Comment

Trayvon Martin and the Media Depiction of African American Males

By Dori J. Maynard
Friday March 30, 2012 - 02:41:00 PM

“He’s got his hand in his waistband, and he’s a black male.”

— George Zimmerman to a 911 operator shortly before he fatally shot Trayvon Martin

When people ask why I do the work I do, sometimes I tell the truth — because I don’t want my brothers shot.

Until last month, my hesitation stemmed from fear that this answer sounded overly dramatic for someone who runs a nonprofit focused on helping the nation’s news media diversify its coverage.

Then Trayvon Martin was slain because a neighborhood watch volunteer thought he looked suspicious while walking back from a store after buying Skittles and an iced tea. 

I don’t know George Zimmerman. I don’t know whether he is racist, and I have no idea what was in his heart and mind when he shot and killed the 17-year-old. 

I do know that if Zimmerman consumes news, it’s likely that he’s being fed a steady diet of distorted and scary images of black men. 

A content audit released last October by The Opportunity Agenda (TOA) in New York examined coverage of black men and boys found that often missing from that coverage is mention of legions of boys and men of color who rise every morning and go to school or serve in the military, who are businessmen, schoolteachers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, stay-at-home dads, bloggers and more. 

That one-sided portrait of a multidimensional community has consequences for all of us. 

“These unbalanced and distorted media portrayals can lead to distorted perceptions and discriminatory treatment,” says Alan Jenkins, executive director and co-founder of TOA, which describes itself as “a communications, research, and policy organization dedicated to building the national will to expand opportunity for all.” 

According to a 2000 study, local news consumption and racial fear are directly linked. In “Prime Suspects: The Influence of Local Television News on the Viewing Public,” Franklin D. Gilliam Jr., dean of the School of Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Shanto Iyengar, professor of communication and political science at Stanford University, measured viewers’ racial attitudes after watching local crime news in Los Angeles. 

“Our central finding is that the exposure to the racial element of the crime script increases support for punitive approaches to crime and heightens negative attitudes about African-Americans among white, but not black, viewers,” they wrote in the study. 

According to Dominique Apollon, research director at the Applied Research Center, a nonprofit that has done research on racial framing in the media, “As far as local coverage is concerned, more often than not, the media portrays black and brown men as violent menaces to society [and] as repeat offenders who are beyond rehabilitation. 

“Reporters primarily rely upon law enforcement for quotes, and police often stoke or reinforce the public’s existing stereotypes and fears about black men. The effect is a public that is primed to be paranoid. And combine that paranoia with pro-vigilante public policy and a callous disregard for black life, and you have the tragedy and travesty of this incident and its aftermath.” 

Given the state of the news industry, a concerted effort is required if we want to see balanced coverage of boys and men of color that gives the audience a more accurate and less fraught view of them. 

In recent years, as traditional news media have suffered painful contractions, determination to diversify newsrooms has waned, decreasing the number of journalists of color who could help fellow journalists see communities of color through a different lens. 

Things are not much better on the digital side where an all-too-common complaint is that white men dominate conversations and panels about the future of journalism. 

The case of Trayvon Martin is a stark reminder of why it matters who is in the conversation about coverage. 

The weekend of March 16, black media commentators including Touré, Goldie Taylor and Roland Martin took to Twitter to discuss the shooting, and Charles M. Blow wrote about it in his New York Times column. Meanwhile, a check of Twitter feeds by prominent non-African American media commentators shows that many were talking about Mike Daisey’s misrepresentations in his searing piece on Apple’s Chinese manufacturing partner. 

Both are important conversations that deserve coverage. One is about who we are as journalists. The other is about who we are as a society. 

Both must take place if the media are to meet their responsibility to help all citizens make sense of the world. 

One helped to inform the conversation about journalism ethics during a transformational time in this industry. The other brought the nation’s attention, from Cher to John Legend to everyday people, to focus on the shootings of African American men. 

As we go forward, I hope these same people will rally around the cause of accurate and fair coverage for black and brown boys and men so they, too, no longer risk being mistaken for a dangerous predator. 

Perhaps then this older sister and legions of sisters, parents, grandparents and friends can stop worrying. 

Also see: http://mije.org/faces-black-men 

Dori J. Maynard is the President of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Prior to being named president in January 2001, she directed the History project which leads the way in preserving and protecting the contributions of those courageous journalists of color who broke into the mainstream media against the backdrop of the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. Dori also heads the Fault Lines project, a framework that helps journalists more accurately cover their communities. She is the co-author of "Letters to My Children," which is a compilation of nationally syndicated columns by her late father Bob Maynard, with introductory essays by Dori. As a reporter, she worked on both coasts -- The Bakersfield Californian, and The Patriot Ledger, in Quincy, Massachusetts -- as well as at the Detroit Free Press,. In 1993 she and her father became the first father-daughter duo ever to be appointed Nieman scholars at Harvard University. Bob Maynard won this prestigious fellowship in 1966. 

She currently serves on the board of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation. She received the prestigious "Fellow of Society" award from the Society of Professional Journalists at the national convention in Seattle, Wash. October 6, 2001 and was voted one of the "10 Most Influential African Americans in the Bay Area" in 2004. In 2008 she received the Asian American Journalists Association's Leadership in Diversity Award.  

Maynard graduated from Middlebury College, Vermont, with a BA in American History. 


Money vs. Democracy

By Steve Martinot
Friday March 30, 2012 - 05:53:00 PM

A neighborhood group in Oakland contacted us, the anti-Smartmeter movement, to invite us to debate PGE on Smartmeters. They wanted to learn about Smartmeters, and had already contacted PGE. But they on their own also decided that they should hear both sides. I volunteered to take it on, and contacted the group spokesperson, a man I'll call Jack. Jack then contacted PGE, and they assigned someone, who I'll call Stan, to hold up PGE's side of the debate. The group (I'll call ONA, for Oakland neighborhood association) then hired a room in a restaurant in which to hold the event. The rent was $300. Originally PGE said they would pay for it, but when ONA set up the debate, they properly took on the costs, with PGE's blessing. 


A conference call between Jack, Stan, and myself was set up. Preparatory to that call, I sent both a proposal, laying out a schema for equal time of participation, and suggesting that I speak first since Smartmeters were already an extant issue everyone had already heard about from the utilities. I included time for questions and issues raised by the audience. It was only a proposal, but its central principle was equal time, real debate. 


Stan showed the proposal to some colleagues at PGE, and based on that they nixed his participation in the event. Apparently, equal time, and real debate, scares the pants off them. They contacted ONA, and backed out of the event. I laughed when Jack told me of this, because it so aptly revealed the scam involved in these Smartmeters. 


But Jack then renegotiated with PGE, and phoned to inform me. The deal they came up with was that I would not be listed as a participant. It would be PGE's meeting, and I could attend, ask questions, make statements from the floor as permitted by the chair, but that was all. When I asked Jack why he went along with it, he gave me the bottom line. PGE was going to pay for the room and the event. In other words, for an evening's room rent, he was willing to forego some serious democratic discussion of an issue. 


Well, I blew up. I tend to do that when someone treats me with disrespect. And to renege on an agreement in order to accept a payoff is quite disrespectful. I'm not going to betray myself or accept second-class status because someone else is throwing a bunch of money around. So I accused Jack and ONA of cowardice and hypocrisy, and shot some choice phraseology about that from the hip. We hung up in cool simultaneity. Not only did PGE reveal the fact of a total scam underlying its technology project, but it demonstrated its unremitting hunger to acquire monopoly power over information and decision-making – not to mention electricity. On the other hand, for people like Jack to pretend they are interested in information, and then succomb to the corrupt demands of that monopoly, is truly contemptible. 


Apparently my phraseology wasn't strong enough. They called me the next day to talk. But I refused to have anything to do with a meeting that can throw out an agreement and reduce one party to second-class status because another party pays them money. That kind of corruption doesn't fly. 



All I can think of to say is, people get ready. This incident is only one of many that exemplify the loss of voice and the suppression of information by which we are already ruled. Get ready to first imagine, and then construct new forms of voice. 


Healthcare Jujitsu

By Robert Reich
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 03:29:00 PM

Not surprisingly, today’s debut Supreme Court argument over the so-called “individual mandate” requiring everyone to buy health insurance revolved around epistemological niceties such as the meaning of a “tax,” and the question of whether the issue is ripe for review. 

Behind this judicial foreplay is the brute political fact that if the Court decides the individual mandate is an unconstitutional extension of federal authority, the entire law starts unraveling. 

But with a bit of political jujitsu, the President could turn any such defeat into a victory for a single-payer healthcare system – Medicare for all. 

Here’s how. 

The dilemma at the heart of the new law is that it continues to depend on private health insurers, who have to make a profit or at least pay all their costs including marketing and advertising. 

Yet the only way private insurers can afford to cover everyone with pre-existing health problems, as the new law requires, is to have every American buy health insurance – including young and healthier people who are unlikely to rack up large healthcare costs. 

This dilemma is the product of political compromise. You’ll remember the Administration couldn’t get the votes for a single-payer system such as Medicare for all. It hardly tried. Not a single Republican would even agree to a bill giving Americans the option of buying into it. 

But don’t expect the Supreme Court to address this dilemma. It lies buried under an avalanche of constitutional argument. 

Those who are defending the law in Court say the federal government has authority to compel Americans to buy health insurance under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which gives Washington the power to regulate interstate commerce. They argue our sprawling health insurance system surely extends beyond an individual state. 

Those who are opposing the law say a requirement that individuals contract with private insurance companies isn’t regulation of interstate commerce. It’s coercion of individuals. 

Unhappily for Obama and the Democrats, most Americans don’t seem to like the individual mandate very much anyway. Many on the political right believe it a threat to individual liberty. Many on the left object to being required to buy something from a private company. 

The President and the Democrats could have avoided this dilemma in the first place if they’d insisted on Medicare for all, or at least a public option. 

After all, Social Security and Medicare require every working American to “buy” them. The purchase happens automatically in the form of a deduction from everyone’s paychecks. But because Social Security and Medicare are government programs financed by payroll taxes they don’t feel like mandatory purchases. 

Americans don’t mind mandates in the form of payroll taxes for Social Security or Medicare. In fact, both programs are so popular even conservative Republicans were heard to shout “don’t take away my Medicare!” at rallies opposed to the new health care law. 

There’s no question payroll taxes are constitutional, because there’s no doubt that the federal government can tax people in order to finance particular public benefits. But requiring citizens to buy something from a private company is different because private companies aren’t directly accountable to the public. They’re accountable to their owners and their purpose is to maximize profits. What if they monopolize the market and charge humongous premiums? (Some already seem to be doing this.) 

Even if private health insurers are organized as not-for-profits, there’s still a problem of public accountability. What’s to prevent top executives from being paid small fortunes? (In more than a few cases this is already happening.) 

Moreover, compared to private insurance, Medicare is a great deal. Its administrative costs are only around 3 percent, while the administrative costs of private insurers eat up 30 to 40 percent of premiums. Medicare’s costs are even below the 5 percent to 10 percent administrative costs borne by large companies that self-insure, and under the 11 percent costs of private plans under Medicare Advantage, the current private-insurance option under Medicare. 

So why not Medicare for all? 

Because Republicans have mastered the art of political jujitsu. Their strategy has been to demonize government and seek to privatize everything that might otherwise be a public program financed by tax dollars (see Paul Ryan’s plan for turning Medicare into vouchers). Then they go to court and argue that any mandatory purchase is unconstitutional because it exceeds the government’s authority. 

Obama and the Democrats should do the reverse. If the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate in the new health law, private insurers will swarm Capitol Hill demanding that the law be amended to remove the requirement that they cover people with pre-existing conditions. 

When this happens, Obama and the Democrats should say they’re willing to remove that requirement – but only if Medicare is available to all, financed by payroll taxes. 

If they did this the public will be behind them — as will the Supreme Court. 

Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and is a resident of Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including The Work of Nations, Locked in the Cabinet, Supercapitalism, and his latest book, "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future" is available in paperback. He blogs at robertreich.org.

Zoning Laws and Property Rights

By Steve Randy Waldman
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 04:17:00 PM

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down and read Matt Yglesias’ The Rent Is Too Damned High and Ryan Avent’s The Gated City back to back. Both were a pleasure to read, for their content, and for the opportunity to kick a couple of bucks to two of my fave bloggers behind an ennobling veil of commerce. As an avid reader of both authors’ online work, there were no huge surprises, but reading the ebooks took me deeper and inspired some more considered thought on their ideas. Ryan Avent and Matt Yglesias (and Ed Glaeser too!) are separate humans with their own identities and ideas. But these “econourbanists” share a core view, and I hope they will forgive me if I consider their work together. Although they arrive at a similar place, the two books take very different roads: Avent’s book is a bit wonkier and more economistic, focusing on the macro role of cities in enhancing productivity through economies of scale and agglomeration; Yglesias treats the same set of issues more polemically and with an emphasis on the personal, thinking about how individuals should expect to make a living in an increasingly service-oriented economy, the importance of accessible cities to the kind of prosperity he envisions, and the perils of any obstacle that makes urban life inaccessible (“the rent is too damned high!”). Read both! 

In a nutshell, the econourbanists’ case is pretty simple: Cities are really important, as engines of the broad economy via industrial clustering, as enablers of efficiency-enhancing specialization and trade, as sources of customers to whom each of us might sell services. Contrary to many predictions, technological change seems to be making human density more rather than less important to prosperity in the developed world. Commerce intermediated at a distance via material goods has become the province of cheap workers in distant lands, and will very soon be delegated to robots. The value of human work is increasingly in collaborative information production and direct personal services, all of which benefit from the proximity of diverse multitudes. Unfortunately, in the United States at least, actual patterns of demographic change have involved people moving away from high density, high productivity cities and towards the suburbanized sunbelt, where the weather is nice and the housing is cheap. This “moving to stagnation”, in Avent’s memorable phrase, constitutes a macroeconomic problem whose microeconomic cause can be found in regulatory barriers that keep dense and productive cities prohibitively expensive for most people to live in. It is not that people are “voting with their feet” because they dislike New York living. If people didn’t want to live in New York, housing would be cheap there. It isn’t cheap. Housing costs are stratospheric, despite the chilly winters. People are voting with their pocketbooks when they flee to the sun. (“The rent is too damned high!”) Exurban refugees would rush back, and our general prosperity would increase, if the clear demand for high-density urban living could be met with an inexpensive supply of housing and transportation. The technology to provide inexpensive, high quality urban housing is readily available. If “the market” were not frustrated by regulatory barriers and “NIMBY” politics, profit-seeking housing developers would build to sell into expensive markets, and this problem would solve itself. 

Before going on, I should confess that I am not neutral. I was on-board with the econourbanists’ project before I’d read a word they’d written. I have always loved cities, and the problem at the center of Yglesias’ book has been a pressing problem in my own life. (I enjoy very dense and cosmopolitan cities, but am too risk averse to accept the steady burden of a high rent given the uncertain and irregular clumps by which I’ve earned my living.) Ultimately, I think that Avent and Yglesias and Glaeser have the right vision of the world that we need to move towards. 

I’m skeptical, however, of the path that they’ve outlined to get us there. The econourbanists’ deregulatory ideas might win some victories at the margin, and might lead to important and useful reforms of regulatory “best practices”, for example regarding parking. But as a political matter, I don’t think it will be possible to diminish neighborly veto power over new development enough to put a dent in housing undersupply. As a matter of fairness, I think they underestimate the degree to which what they are after amounts to a “taking” from incumbent homeowners, not all of whom are unsympathetic rich bastards. And even if they could “win”, though it is clear that untrammeled developers would deliver housing supply, I don’t think they’ve made the case that a deregulated market would deliver high quality density. The econourbanists make a good case that density may be necessary to their vision of prosperity, but density is obviously not sufficient. The world has its Manhattans and San Franciscos, but it also has plenty of dense slums in poor cities. I’d like to see more attention to the circumstances that actually conjured the places we now recognize as dense, prosperous, and desirable. Was it the sort of libertarianism they prescribe? 

One should always be careful of claims that problems could be solved if only we “let the market do its work”. I don’t mean to go all PoMo, but to the degree that there exists an institution we might refer to as “the market”, it is doing its work and it is not doing the work Ygesias and Avent ask of it. There is the market as it is, and then there is an infinite range of markets that might exist if the institutional arrangements and property rights that govern market transactions were different. Given the political obeisance still compelled in the United States by “market outcomes”, it is a common trick to claim that outcomes one would prefer are the outcomes that would occur if only institutions and property rights were redefined “appropriately”. That may be useful rhetorically, but it is always a bit disingenuous. In reality, what Yglesias and Avent propose is a redefinition of the rights surrounding urban property. If you redefine the institution of property, you reshape market outcomes. But persuading people to liberalize zoning restrictions in the name of “free markets” will be hard. Because the reform that Avent and Yglesias want — along with the developers who would love to build in expensive cities, and the people like me who would love to live in expensive cities but can’t afford to — amounts to an expropriation, a confiscation of property rights, from one of the best organized and most politically enfranchised groups in the United States. 

A property right is first and foremost a right to exclude uses other than those desired by its owner. My car is mine because you can only do with it what I want, or else you can’t use it at all. When a person purchases “real estate”, they are buying a bundle of rights to exclude. You cannot trespass on my land without my permission, you can not be sheltered by my roof without my permission. But dirt and roofs are commodity items. If exclusive use of some dirt and a roof are all I am after, then, well, they are cheap in the sunbelt. If I purchase a home in an expensive city, in a “nice, stable neighborhood with good schools”, I’m paying for a lot more than dirt. Yes, I am paying for proximity to my prosperous city’s opportunities and amenities, but that is not all. I am also paying for the fact that not only my home, but my neighbor’s home, is being put to a use that pleases me and to which I would consent. I am paying for the fact that my neighbors themselves are the kind of people I would be pleased to live next door to. I’m paying for the fact that, as parents, the people whom I am moving in with send well-raised children to the local public school and devote some fraction of their attention to the management of that school. I’m paying for the fact that the streets, the architecture, the trees and public parks, are arranged in a way that pleases me. These are all reasons why, if I had the kind of money I do not have, I might pay up to live in a “nice neighborhood” located near the heart of a thriving city. 

You might say this is idiotic. Narrowly, my deed to a certain property doesn’t entitle me to exclude bad parents from moving in next door or to prevent a high rise from replacing charming brownstones across my street. If the weather is nice on the day I purchase my home, does that grant me a legal right to perpetual sunshine? 

But property rights arise in practice before they are written on paper. Even if they are never codified, the law, whether through courts or through legislatures, is loathe to disturb customary rights (unless the holders of evolved property belong to politically marginal classes). When people spend small fortunes on a “charming brownstone”, they do so with the understanding that the neighborhood is in fact “stable”. At some level, these affluent, educated buyers know that with their deed to the property comes an ability to exclude alternative uses of the neighborhood. That is part of what they are purchasing, a substantial part of the value for which they are laying out hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

The mechanism by which that right is enforced is the thicket of zoning laws and permitting requirements that allow activist property owners exclude uses of the neighborhood to which they do not consent. It is this mechanism that invites the framing adopted by Avent, Yglesias, and Glaeser. Since the right to exclude is enforced by the operation of regulatory bureaucracies rather than by the criminal law of theft and trespass, we can claim that it is “government” that is enforcing policies whose outcomes we dislike in opposition to the “rights” of individual sellers, potential new residents, and property developers, to do as they please. But in substance, the enforcement mechanism is secondary.  

Purchasers of properties in “nice, stable” neighborhoods paid up for a right to exclude uses of their neighbors’ property to which they would not consent, and potential sellers who might enjoy a windfall if they could sell out to a high-rise developer understood when they purchased their properties that neighbors would likely prevent them from exploiting this sort of opportunity. Ex ante, most property owners are glad to cede the right to sell to a developer in exchange for the right to prevent their neighbors from doing the same. Retaining that right would create a prisoner’s dilemma whereby the threat of a neighbor’s defection (she sells to a developer at an attractive price for a use that impairs my property’s value) would leave each owner in a poor bargaining position, and guarantee that the character of the neighborhood could not be preserved. The value of neighborhood properties could not be justified or sustained without protection from this dynamic. 

The private-property-like quality of zoning law is evident in the fact that where municipal regulations don’t enforce the right to exclude alternative uses of a neighborhood, property owners invent contractual means of doing the same. Developers, whether of high-rise condominiums or sprawled out “golf communities”, cobble together with a mix of contract and corporation law obligatory “community associations” that control and restrict the use of privately-owned properties (along with managing common spaces and other purposes). Developers don’t abridge the rights of their customers out of some inexplicable, cruel perversion. They form these associations, and grant them restrictive powers, because customers demand it, because doing so maximizes the market value of the properties they wish to sell. As buyers, developers hate zoning law, but as sellers they promulgate it. It is “the market” that demands some mechanism of overcoming potential coordination problems among neighbors, not the acommercial mix of identity politics, misplaced environmentalism, and “NIMBY”-ism that Yglesias and Avent emphasize. The only reason city neighborhoods don’t have restrictive covenants and powerful community associations is because they have city governments that serve the same function. 

The definition of and proper scope of property rights is always contestable. As a matter of sheer interest politics — both my interest in finding an affordable home in a great city, and my interest in a productive and vibrant macroeconomy — I want to be on-board with Avent and Yglesias, and simply argue that the historical ability of urban property owners to exclude undesired development should not be construed as a property right. There are lots of purported property rights that I consider illegitimate and am perfectly willing to contest. For example, I agree enthusiastically with Yglesias that we have overextended rights to exclude on a variety of issues: so-called “intellectual property”, immigration law, and occupational licensing. All of these controversies pit the short-to-medium term interests of organized incumbents against those of unseen and less organized new entrants, and arguably against the long-term interests of the polity as a whole. But I am a bit more hesitant on the zoning question. 

If we reform away urban zoning restrictions, are we going to invalidate the restrictive covenants of suburban developments? Affluent urban property owners would have almost certainly evolved institutions that perform the functions of community associations if they were not able to rely upon the good offices of municipal government for the same. If restrictions on higher-density development are illegitimate, then should the state refuse to enforce such restrictions when they are embedded in private contracts? 

Perhaps the answer is an enthuastic “Yes!” After all, over the last 60 years, the state intervened very nobly to eliminate a “property right” enshrined in restrictive covenants and designed to exclude people of certain races from their neighborhoods. Three-thousand cheers for that! But state refusal to enforce previously legal contracts sounds a lot less like “letting the market work” and a lot more like deliberate government action. It would be short-sighted to reform away municipal residents’ ability to exclude commercial and high-density development while leaving contractual restrictions negotiated between property owners enforceable. That would create a window for some high-density development against the wishes of affluent incumbents, but over time the result would be the privatization of affluent neighborhoods. Property owners would form restrictive community associations and purchase potential development sites as common property.  

There is already a de facto stratification of tacit property rights within cities. Very affluent communities have nearly automatic veto power over unwanted development while poorer homeowners sometime fight very hard to preserve the status quo. A regime that liberalized zoning restrictions without invalidating contractual restrictions would increase this block-level stratification, and perhaps move us from “gated cities” to a brave new world of gated neighborhoods. 

I feel like a sourpuss in all of this, or at best a devil’s advocate. I like Matt Yglesias and Ryan Avent very much. I’m an ardent fan of their work, and I’m likely to be on their side in most actual controversies. I’ll enthusiastically support public or private action that promotes dense urban growth and transit-oriented development. But I think that’s going to require deliberate action, public and private, not just “getting government out of the way” and letting markets work. Dense cities exist to generate economies of scale. But markets cannot be relied upon to discover and exploit economies of scale “on their own”.  

Capturing economies of scale requires a leap across a chasm, the allocation of resources away from uses that are plainly productive towards uses that seem at first to be less valuable. The eventual benefits start off uncertain and hypothetical, so capturing economies of scale requires that someone bear very large risks of failure. Usually this requires coordination among many actors to divide costs and benefits. The econourbanists’ deregulatory scheme amounts to funding the initial costs of densification with value expropriated from incumbent homeowners, who are asked to cede the status quo pleasantness and exclusivity of their neighborhoods in the service of a hypothetical long-term abundance. That doesn’t strike me as a particularly fair way to finance what I agree is a very worthy project. Given the disproportionate political power of incumbent homeowners, it doesn’t strike me as a tactic very likely to succeed.



By Bob Burnett
Friday March 30, 2012 - 03:31:00 PM

The Hunger Games movie had a multimillion-dollar weekend opening and seems destined to be the most successful film of the year. Which is remarkable because it’s a political movie set in a not-too-distant America and expresses themes that are familiar and disturbing. 

The Hunger Games was published in 2008, the first book of a trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. It imagines a post-apocalyptic America, “Panem,” with an authoritarian central government set in “The Capitol.” Inhabitants of the Capitol live a life of luxury while the rest of the citizens of Panem live in twelve slave colonies, “Districts,” scattered across North America. Once a year the Capitol televises a great spectacle where two teenagers are selected by lottery from each district, brought to the Capitol, trained and groomed, and then transported to an arena for a battle where only one teenager can survive – the games’ slogan is, “May the odds be ever in your favor.” 

“The Hunger Games” heroine is sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen who represents District 12. She supplements her family’s diet by (illegal) bow hunting. Her archery talents protect her when the games begin. 

“The Hunger Games” novel was targeted for young-adult readers – there’s violence but no sex – and then crossed over to a larger audience. The “Hunger Games” movie grossed more than $155 million in its first weekend: 61 percent of moviegoers were women and 56 percent of ticketholders were over 25. 

Unlike other recent blockbuster movies – “Harry Potter,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Spiderman” – “The Hunger Games” is set in a recognizable America and expresses themes from the contemporary zeitgeist. 

The first is that things aren’t going well. “The Hunger Games” is part of a wave of dystopian novels – other examples are “Pure” and “Divergent” – that are favorites with young-adult readers. The books assume an America that has been ravaged by nuclear war or an environmental calamity. This builds upon fear that the US is headed in the wrong direction – in the most recent Gallup Poll 72 percent of respondents felt this way. 

The second theme is that the central government cannot be trusted. In “The Hunger Games,” President Coriolanus Snow, an autocrat, governs the Capitol, which controls the twelve districts by means of a ruthless police force. In addition to forced-labor camps, Panem utilizes extensive electronic surveillance, and during the period of the games, compulsory television viewing. This reflects the belief the US government cannot be trusted. Those on the right believe the Federal government has been usurped by “socialists” and gotten too big. Those on the left believe the Federal government has been bought by plutocrats and isn’t doing anything to protect workers. Many Americans believe there is too much government intrusion into our private lives. 

The third “Hunger Games” theme is that government no longer works for all the people. There’s a small group that lives a life of privilege while most people struggle to fend off starvation. Collins doesn’t use the terms 1 percent and 99 percent, but it’s clear that those in the Capitol are members of the 1 percent and everyone in the Panem districts is part of the 99 percent. 

The fourth theme is ubiquitous surveillance. There are cameras and listening devices planted everywhere in Panem. Even before Katniss enters the games, she’s aware that most of the time her movements are being observed. After she enters the games she has no privacy; a tracking device is implanted in her arm and every move Katniss makes is broadcast on TV. 

The fifth theme is young adults dying as “entertainment.” This is the aspect of “the Hunger Games” that’s gotten the most negative attention – the notion that a battle to the death involving teenagers serves as a form of reality television for the citizens of Panem. (By the way, the movie is rated PG-13.) But the fact is the US has an unusually high rate of teenage violent deaths. Car crashes are the leading cause of death among all teenagers, but homicide is the leader for black male teens. If you couple these facts with the ubiquitous American culture of violence – the prevalence of handguns, violent imagery in books, films, games, and music – most contemporary teenagers accept the violence in “the Hunger Games” as near reality. Note that at the end of Harry Potter, Harry and the teenage students at Hogwarts School engaged in a battle to the death with Lord Voldemort and his allies. 

The sixth theme in “the Hunger Games” is revolution. This is only hinted at in the movie – there are scenes of fighting in District 11 after Rue is killed. But, in Mockingjay, the final book of the trilogy, Katniss leads a rebellion against the rulers of Panem. We’re beginning to hear muttering about revolution in the US: states seceding from the union, Americans withdrawing to survivalist enclaves in the deep woods, Tea-Party radicals eliminating of the federal government, and so forth. 

Sixty-three years ago, Orwell’s dystopian novel, “Nineteen Eighty-four,” turned out to be prophetic. Will that be true of “The Hunger Games?” Decide for yourself and “May the odds be ever in your favor.” 

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

ECLECTIC RANT: Puerto Rico: The GOP Primary, Latino Vote and Statehood

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday March 30, 2012 - 03:56:00 PM

My wife and I just returned from a visit to Puerto Rico. The temperatures were in the high 80s with very little humidity and no rain. We spent most of our time in old San Juan, but did take a 2-hour road trip across the island to Ponce, named after Juan Ponce de León y Loayza, the great-grandson of Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León.

During our visit, the GOP hopefuls, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum personally campaigned for Puerto Rico's 20 delegates. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich did not personally campaign there. The vote was held on Sunday -- with no alcohol sales during voting -- and as has been reported, Romney won all 20 delegates to the national convention at stake.

Why would Romney and Santorum spend so much time for 20 delegates when the Illinois primary with 69 delegates at stake was just a few days away? Probably because to win the White House, the GOP candidate will have to win about 45 percent of the Hispanic vote. Obama won about 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008.  

There are about 21.5 million Hispanic voters now eligible to vote in the November 2012 presidential election, with about 60 percent registered to vote compared to 70 percent Black and 74 percent White. If registration drives are successful between now and the election, the number of eligible Hispanic voters will increase. Hispanic voters have a chance to influence the outcome for president in at least 24 states.  

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but are not eligible to vote in the presidential election. However, Puerto Ricans are the second largest Hispanic group in the U.S., including those who migrated from Puerto Rico and those born outside of Puerto Rico. That's why both Romney and Santorum felt it necessary to make appearances in the Puerto Rican primary to court the Hispanic vote for the general election. 

Statehood is a hot issue for Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico is a bilingual island, although Spanish is really the main language spoken with English a second language. When asked, Romney said he would support statehood for Puerto Rico as a bilingual state.  

Santorum on the other hand raised the ire of local voters by stating he would favor statehood only if English was universally spoken. Later he backtracked a bit saying he advocates English as a "language of opportunity," a position held by the Pro English, U.S. English, and Tea Party movements. 

At this point a very brief look at Puerto Rican history is useful to clarify the Puerto Rican statehood issue. On November 19, 1493, Christopher Columbus landed on what is now called Puerto Rico. The first settlement, Caparra, was founded on August 8, 1508 by Juan Ponce de León, a lieutenant under Columbus, who later became the first governor of the island. Spain fortified Puerto Rico because it was the first major island with water, shelter, and supplies that sailing ships came to en route to the Americas from Europe via Africa's west coast. Spain built a massive, complex system of fortifications to protect ships carrying gold, silver, gems, spices, and furs from Mexico and Central and South America. Castillo San Felipe del Morro (“El Morro”), built in 1539, was the major fortification. Spain built nine other fortifications in the Caribbean to provide safe harbors and protection to its ships. El Morro is now part of the National Park Service and well worth a visit. 

In 1898, the Spanish-American war commenced. A U.S. squadron of 12 ships under the command of Rear Admiral William T. Sampson took control of Puerto Rico. One of the U.S.' principal objectives was to take control of the Spanish possessions of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Philippines, and Guam. On December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed in which Spain renounced all claim to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico to the U.S., and transferred sovereignty over the Philippines to the U.S. for $20 million. 

On July 4, 1950, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Act 600, establishing the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, allowing Puerto Ricans to draft their own constitution. The residents of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens and they are represented in Congress by a Resident Commissioner with a voice but no vote. Residents of Puerto Rico generally do not pay federal income taxes but do pay Social Security, Medicare and Unemployment taxes, and use the U.S. dollar as their currency..  

There have been plebiscites on the issue of statehood in 1967, 1993, and 1998, all favoring keeping Puerto Rico a Commonwealth. Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño -- a Republican and Romney supporter -- favors statehood for Puerto Rico.  

A two-part status refernendums will be held on November 6, 2012. The first referendum will ask voters whether they want to maintain the current commonwealth status under the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution or whether they prefer a nonterritorial option. If more voters check the nonterritorial option, a second vote would be held giving people three status options: statehood, independence or free association. (Under international law, a freely associated state is a sovereign nation in a joint governing arrangement with another nation that either nation can unilaterally end.)  

Even with Governor Fortuño’s support, it is uncertain whether Puerto Ricans will vote this time for statehood. No matter what the voters decide, statehood would still have to be approved by Congress. Last year, President Barack Obama said he believes the island will remain a U.S. Commonwealth unless there is a “solid indication” of support for statehood. That probably means a simple majority would not be enough. 

Puerto Rico is known as the Land of Enchantment, which we can certainly attest to. But underneath, the elements of the U.S.-Puerto Rico relationship have been, and continue to be, matters of debate.

SENIOR POWER: getting online

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday March 30, 2012 - 05:45:00 PM

How many senior citizens does it take to fight their landlord in a light bulb?

A group of tenants is fighting their landlord’s online-only rent payment rule. Elderly renters in south Los Angeles’ Woodlake Manor apartment building are suing landlord Jones & Jones. They allege that its requirement could leave them vulnerable to eviction under the Woodland Hills company’s new requirement that they make all their payments online and that a "green" initiative introduced by the company is actually a pretense to evict low-income, elderly renters benefiting from rent-stabilization provisions. 

(Alejandro Lazo in March 7, 2012 Los Angeles Times.)  

State Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) has introduced a bill that would ban the practice of online-only rent payments in California. He shares the tenants' concerns that mandating online payments could be used as a way to find renters in violation of their contracts. "Not everyone has a computer nor do they have Internet access, and even if they have that there are certain people who don't want to pay online for privacy reasons," he said.  

How many senior citizens of your acquaintance have computers or even access to a PC? How many are able to walk to the nearest public library, senior center, or internet café? 


Jones & Jones Management Group, Inc. describes itself as "Family-owned and operated since 1971… Our professional on-site management will meet your needs in a friendly and efficient manner. … Woodlake Manor Apartments is ideally located within minutes of the 10 freeway, Crenshaw Plaza Shopping Center/Wal-Mart, restaurants, entertainment, and schools.” But not, apparently, within minutes of public libraries and senior centers. Public library branches located in the Woodland Hills area provide free computer access, but they are not “within minutes.” 

Woodlake Manor residents told reporters that the company would accept their rent checks only after they signed an agreement exempting them from the rule. The company did not accept the payments of residents until a group organized a demonstration in which residents presented their checks en masse to the rental office. Even so, waivers that residents signed might be revoked at any time.

"I am 86 years old and I am computer illiterate," said Margaret Beavers, a Woodlake Manor resident since 1963 and a plaintiff in the suit against the landlord. "I'd have to buy a computer and learn how to use it… ." Dedon Kamathi, a 12-year resident and an organizer with the Woodlake Manor Tenants Association, said the move by Jones & Jones was “an attempt to exploit a ‘digital divide’ between the lower-income, largely African American long-term residents in the building and the higher-income renters that the company is actively courting. The new rule requiring online payments was aimed at getting these residents — many of whom benefit from the city's rent-control policies — out of the building so that the management company could offer the units at market rate… They want more USC types — USC students, middle-class tenants… The bottom line is the more turnaround, the more you can make money."  

I know from experience the verity of this contention. While I was a tenant in a rent-controlled, Berkeley south campus apartment, I learned that there is little or nothing one person can do or expect of local government when new management decides to dump rent-paying old-timers. 

Larry Gross, executive director of the tenants rights group, Coalition for Economic Survival, which helped organize the Woodlake Manor tenants, said he was concerned that more Jones & Jones buildings may be subject to the online-only rent payment rule. Jones & Jones owns and operates 38 buildings with 2,900+ units throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties. 

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of four residents of Woodlake Manor, all over age 62, alleges that the new rule violates the city's Rent Stabilization Ordinance because it unilaterally changed the terms of rental agreements. Tenants were represented by Bet Tzedek Legal Services, founded in 1974 by a small group of lawyers, rabbis, and community activists who sought to act upon a central tenet of Jewish law and tradition, doctrine establishing an obligation to advocate the just causes of the poor and helpless.  

Jones & Jones has issued a statement through an attorney regretting that the online payments were being "negatively received." The old blaming-the-victim ploy. 


“Senior Power” readers may be aware of my advocacy for enabling senior citizens to become computer literate. It’s a good thing. Computer literacy is knowledge and ability to use computers efficiently and at a comfort level. A personal computer (PC) is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals.  

I contend that enabling senior citizens to use email and to access the Internet can be significant in their lives. There are, however, two considerations – attitude and equipment. Both might be dealt with at senior centers and senior housing, and are already shared by public libraries that routinely provide daytime and evening classes, workshops, tutorials, etc. as well as onsite access to computers. There are young and old volunteers who could serendipitously be further involved.  

Computers for seniors projects in California are located in Chula Vista, Costa Mesa, Fallbrook, La Mirada, Sacramento and San Jose. Jean Coppola, a Pace University gerontologist and information technology professor, began a program to bridge the generation gap created by the Computer Age. Seniors learn how to navigate PCs, iPads and smartphones, with university students as teachers. It has become a model for similar efforts. She now has more seniors clamoring for the 7-week course at senior facilities in Manhattan and Westchester County, New York than she has students to teach them. ("Seniors and their iPads, iPhones: Keeping up in the computer age." Michelle Maltias Chicago Tribune, March 21, 2012). 



Congress decided to hold Election Day on a Tuesday because it was the easiest day for farmers, in what was then a largely agrarian country, to get to the polls! Only 56% of eligible voters went to the polls in 2008. Reps. Larson (D-CT) and Israel (D-NY) introduced The Weekend Voting Act to move Election Day from a Tuesday to the weekend. Polls would be open from 10 A.M. ET on the first Saturday of the month through 6 P.M. ET on the first Sunday in the 48 contiguous states and held open overnight if local elections officials decide to do so. 

Other nations, e.g. France, the UK, New Zealand, have dramatically higher rates of turnout -- up to 70% and 80% -- when Election Day is a holiday, or held on the weekend, versus an average of 55% in the U.S. in presidential election years. Here in the U.S., we rank 138th out of 172 around the world in voter participation. 

Tell Congress: move Election Day to the weekend so America can get to the polls. 


MARK YOUR CALENDAR 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.  

Mondays, April 2 and 9. 2:30-3:30 P.M. North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. “Receive help with basic technology needs from UCB students…. Also: Wednesdays, April 4 and 11, 12:30-2 P.M.; and April 13, 10:30-11:30 P.M. 510-981-5190.  

Monday, April 2. 6:30 P.M. Castoffs knitting group. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. An evening of knitting, show and tell and yarn exchange. All levels are welcome and help will be provided. Free. 510-524-3043.  

Wednesday, April 4. 10 A.M. – Noon. North Berkeley Senior Center Advisory Council. 1901 Hearst. Be sure to confirm. 510-981-5190  

Wednesday, April 4. 12:15-1 P.M. Noon concert, UC,B Music Department. Hertz Concert Hall. Faculty Recital featuring new pieces by Berkeley composer and pianist Cindy Cox, with violinist Hrabba Atladottir, pianist Karen Rosenak, and the Alexander String Quartet. Free. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, April 4. 6-8 P.M. Lawyer in the Library. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney. Advance registration is required. Sign up in person at the Reference desk, Albany Branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. . Or call 510-526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours.  

Wednesday, April 4. 6:30-8 P.M. Albany Branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Poetry Writing Workshop with Christina Hutchins, Albany poet and author of The Stranger Dissolves, facilitates this writing workshop. Free. No registration required. Drop in and work on your poetry with a group of supportive writers. Contact: Dan Hess(510) 526-3720 x17 dhess@aclibrary.org 

Saturday, April 7. 1 – 5 P.M. Berkeley Public Library North Branch, 1170 The Alameda at Hopkins. Grand Reopening Event. A ribbon cutting ceremony is planned with local and state officials, music and refreshments. Everyone invited. Library services will begin at 2 p.m. (The final open day for BranchVan Service at Live Oak Park will be Saturday, March 24, 2012.) Details at www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org

Monday, April 9. 11:30 – 1:30 A.M. Older Adult Passover Seder. Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, Berkeley Branch 1414 Walnut Street. Kosher meal will include chicken and matzo ball soup, gefilte fish with horseradish sauce, fresh green salad w/ hard boiled eggs, roasted chicken, matzh kugel, and wine. The Seder will be led by Ron Feldman. $10 JCC East Bay Member. $13 Non-Member. RSVP by March 29. Contact: Front DeskPhone: 510-848-0237. Email: samy@jcceastbay.org 

Tuesday, April 10. 7-9 P.M. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Poetry Night. Featured Poet is Barry Goldensohn. Followed by Open Mic. Contact: Dan Hess dhess@aclibrary.org 

Wednesday, April 11. 12:15-1 P.M. Noon concert. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Concert Hall. New Music by UC Berkeley graduate student composers, featuring Eco Ensemble, our resident professional new music ensemble directed by David Milnes. Lily Chen: Soundscape for violin, percussion, and piano. Andrés Cremisini: (control) for violin, cello, and snare drum. Ilya Y. Rostovtsev: Understatements for stereo fixed media. Tickets not required. Event Contact 510-642-4864 

Thursday, April 12. 7:00 P.M. El Cerrito Library, 6510 Stockton Avenue. Folk singer Tim Holt performs and discusses our heritage of traditional songs and sea chanteys. Sponsored by the Friends of the El Cerrito Library. 510-526-7512. 

Friday, April 13. 12:15-1 P.M. UCB Music Dept. Noon concert. Department of Music students perform chamber music. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 510-642-4864 

Saturday, April 14. 2-3 P.M. Be an expert: Genealogy. Berkeley Public Library Central, 2090 Kittredge. Free introduction to online genealogy tools and Ancestry.com, a database that offers searchable census tracts, immigration records, photos and more. In the Electronic Classroom. 510-981-6100 

Monday, April 16. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker's Forum: Richard Schwartz discusses "The Amazing Volunteer Relief Effort in the East Bay After the 1906 Earthquake." Go to www.richardschwartz.info for more information. The forum is co-sponsored by the Albany YMCA and the Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av..
Contact: Ronnie Davis(510) 526-3720 x16. 

Monday, April 16. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Author Panel: So You Want to Write a Book? Four local authors discussing their writing journeys. Free. 510-524-3043 

Tuesday, April 17. 6:30 P.M. Oakland Public Library, Rockridge Branch, 5366 College Ave.. Vegan Outreach presents Jack Norris, author of Vegan for Life, speaking about the health benefits of a plant-based diet. This program is part of Oakland Veg Week, April 15-21. Linda Jolivet 510/597-5017  

Wednesday, April 18. 12:15-1 P.M. Noon concert: Highlights: Music Dept. event. Hertz Concert Hall. Songs of Persephone. Soprano Alana Mailes performs 17th-century Italian and French opera arias and cantatas by Caccini, Peri, Monteverdi, Rossi, Lully, Charpentier. Tickets not required. Event Contact 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, April 18. 1:30 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging. South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis Street. 510-981-5178 Be sure to confirm. 

Wednesday, April 18. 7-8 P.M. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Adult Evening Book Group: Nadifa Mohamed's Black Mamba Boy. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. Contact: Ronnie Davis(510) 526-3720 x16  

Saturday April 21. 1-5 P.M. Oakland Public Library Rockridge Branch, 5366 College Ave.. California Writers' Club, a workshop open to all writers. Contact: Anne Fox 510-420-8775. 

Tuesday, April 24. 3-4 P.M. Berkeley Public Library Central, 2090 Kittredge. Tea and Cookies at the Library. A free monthly book club for people who want to share the books they have read. 510-981-6100 See also May 22. 

Wednesday, April 25. 12:15-1 P.M. UC,B Music Dept. Gamelan Music of Java and Bali is performed by classes directed by Midiyanto and I Dewa Putu Berata with Ben Brinner and Lisa Gold. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 510-642-4864 

Wednesday, April 25. 1:30-2:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group: William Butler Yeats’ poem, Lapis Luzuli. Albany branch of the Alameda County Library, 1247 Marin Av. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. Contact: Ronnie Davis(510) 526-3720 x16 

Wednesday, April 25. 1:30 P.M. Berkeley Gray Panthers. Monthly meeting at North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst. 510-981-5190, 548-9696, 486-8010 

Wednesday, May 2. 12:15-1 P.M. UC,B Music Dept.: Renaissance Music, A Cappella. Perfect Fifth, Mark Sumner, director, is an a cappella choir in UC Choral Ensembles specializing in medieval and Renaissance music—sacred and secular, as well as contemporary art music. Hertz Concert Hall. Free. 510-642-4864 

Monday, May 7. 6:30 P.M. Castoffs knitting group. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. An evening of knitting, show and tell and yarn exchange. All levels are welcome and help will be provided. Free. 510-524-3043.  

Thursday, May 10. 7-8:45 P.M. Cafe Literario at West Berkeley Public Library, 1125 University Ave. Facilitated Spanish language book discussion. May title: La Casa de Dostoievsky by Jorge Edwards. Free. 510-981-6270 

Sunday, May 13. 12-4:30 P.M., 1:30 - 2:45pm. Hertz Concert Hall. Concert and Commencement Ceremony. Sponsor: Department of Music. Concert featuring award winners in the performing arts. Open to all audiences. Event Contact: concerts@berkeley.edu, 510-642-4864 

Monday, May 14. 7:00 P.M. Identity Theft Program. Barbara Jue, a Legal Shield associate, will offer information and advice on how to prevent identity theft and how to cope should it should happen. She will also talk about children and computer use and cyber bullying. Q&A follows. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Monday May 21. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club: Color of the Sea by John Hamamura. 61 Arlington Av. 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. 

Tuesday, May 22. 3 – 4 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. Tea and Cookies at the Library. A free monthly book club for people who want to share the books they have read. 510-981-6100. 

Monday, June 4. 6:30 P.M. "Castoffs" - Knitting Group. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. An evening of knitting, show and tell and yarn exchange. All levels are welcome and help will be provided. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Monday, June 18. 7 P.M. Art historian Michael Stehr will discuss Gian Lorenz Bernini, who was the Michelangelo of the Baroque. He will also present a slide show. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Monday June 25. 7 P.M. Kensington Library Book Club: The Chosen by Chaim Potok. 1 Arlington Av. Free. 510-524-3043. 

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Post-Traumatic Stress

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 02:41:00 PM

Post traumatic stress seems to exist when someone is trying to incorporate, assimilate or digest the memory of a horrible incident into their system. 

When we live our daily lives, we process what happens to us with knowledge that we have gained from our past up to the present point. We are able to assess, understand and respond to a given situation based on the wisdom gained from our past experiences. When something noteworthy happens to us, we will probably incorporate some interpretation of this into our system for future use. People seem to receive lasting psychological damage when something occurs that is horrible and that we can't understand. One question that can come up is, "What does this mean?" Another is, "Why did this happen to me?" And we may ask, "Will this happen again? ...Will I be ready for it?" 

PTSD can happen when a good person has an outrageously bad experience. It is probably an experience that the individual was not prepared for in his or her upbringing. 

In my past I have experienced a few incidents that left me traumatized, but that were less difficult than serving a tour of duty in which there is combat. I was locked in a supermarket overnight with armed robbers. I had been employed as a janitor, cleaning and polishing floors at the Flair supermarkets that once existed. The robbers had hidden in the back of the store on the same night that I was working, and came out of hiding too late; the management had already left. Had I been able to open the safe for the robbers, I might very well not be alive today. Instead, the store was robbed the next morning upon arrival of the morning crew, with me assisting at gunpoint. 

Whenever my wife and I go grocery shopping at night, the memory comes back, and I become frightened that the store will be robbed. 

Post traumatic stress is an emotional and spiritual scar that doesn't go away. I am skeptical of the claims of military officials who say PTSD can be treated to the extent that a soldier who suffers from it can be returned to active duty. If one night of terror left me permanently scarred on an emotional level, imagine exchanging gunfire over a period of months or years, being treated with medication and therapy for the trauma, and then being forcibly returned to the same horrible situation. That sounds like the epitome of abuse. 

I haven't studied the recent shooting in Afghanistan. However, keep in mind that the military teaches people to fight using firearms. This fact along with PTSD is enough to create a shooting. If we were dealing with a nonviolent individual, you could claim that PTSD alone is not enough to make someone shoot innocent people. However, in order to make a soldier, this person has been taught to kill in the name of protecting his country. Since he has been given training to kill by the military, his self protection reflexes will probably not be nonviolent. This is different than someone who has never touched a gun and who never had to shoot to defend their life. Someone like that would likely not shoot people from PTSD, because it is not taught to that person as a reflex. 

If someone has gone on multiple tours of duty and has been made to kill people day in and day out, then an "improper" shooting is not that much of a stretch. The government is saying to that soldier that killing some people is ok and is required, while killing against instructions is murder. Do you see the hypocrisy in our system? 

I believe the system we have created is the true perpetrator, not the soldier who pulled the trigger. That soldier is an additional victim whose life has been ruined by his decision to join the military and serve his country.

Arts & Events

Confessions of an English Soap Opera Addict

By Stuart Dodds
Friday March 30, 2012 - 02:34:00 PM

In 1999, at the height of his success, a silver-tongued Prime Minister Tony Blair greeted the Labor Party Conference in Bournemouth with: “My friends! The class war is over!” For me—speaking as one who had viewed the upper echelon with a mixture of caution and envy—the class war ended while watching “Downton Abbey” on television. Something in me snapped. 

I was happy and relieved when Lady Mary hugged her forgiving father, Richard Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, after he told her he had learned all about her night-time escapade with Mr. Pamuk. I was thrilled to hear him say to her: “Get rid of Carlisle. I don't want my daughter to marry a man who is threatening to ruin her.” Robert Crawley is a good man and Richard Carlisle, the newspaper publisher, is intimidating and spiteful, an upstart with a huge chip on his shoulder. Talk about class warfare! I loved it when Matthew clocked him finally although it became an unseemly scuffle and I worried that Matthew might hurt himself or reopen wounds he had received at the front. 

I fought back tears when Matthew’s short-lived fiancée, Lavinia, after seeing he and Lady Mary dancing together said they were just right for each other, that she felt so ordinary by comparison and didn't want to stand in their way. Soon after, almost obligingly, she died of the Spanish flue. 

I was touched when Matthew awkwardly, and I suspect painfully, got down on one knee and proposed to Mary (she had insisted he propose “properly”). They had been through a lot and this was the end of their vacillations. Dan Stevens is a clever actor, in the way he registers the change in Matthew, the psychological scars of war, the bitterness and self-reproach. Miraculously recovered from a crippling injury, he still wears a haunted look that is quite appealing, enhanced by eye make-up, and I fancy that his pupils occasionally would sink into the lower part of the iris. Lord Byron had a similar peculiarity in which his pupils would momentarily disappear. It was known as Byron's “underlook" and it had a devastating effect on women. 

O'Brien has a lot to answer for—possibly murder— but I am glad she never had the opportunity to confess her sins to Cora who was sick and in no position to deal with them. No doubt, there will be more about that in the next series. The confession she seems eager to make belongs in the confessional, if not at the police station. 

* * * 

Cora, the Countess of Grantham, I think, protests too much. She is rather whiney but she has much to put up with and being an American and the mistress of this weird and wonderfully complex English household may have been difficult for her. She’s a worrier. Robert is a recognizable character of his time—a patriot with one foot in the previous century, not to mention the previous war. He is crestfallen at being turned down for active service on the grounds of age while every day of the Great War (one of the most savage in human history) he puts on a uniform in which he looks less than debonair, even a little pudgy, and frets over his family, his castle and an army of servants. Keeping him especially busy are three very modern, highly-strung daughters of marriageable age. 

Emily Nussbaum in a New Yorker magazine review had some astringent words to describe the daughters—"reared like veal, though sharp as vipers." What Edith did was viperous, or vengeful, but there is another side to her. She is not heartless. Sybil is the more rebellious of the three—to her parent’s horror, marrying a chauffeur (their chauffeur), an Irishman and a “Fenian” no less! 

Lady Mary I find to be the most poignant figure in the series, a Venetian beauty like those in the paintings that were on view at the de Young museum this year. Thanks to her sister Edith, she is in a terrible predicament. It takes all of her breeding and all of the social skills in her possession to conceal her suffering and her boredom---from time to time, there is a split-second when the art of concealment seems to desert her. The mask slips. That these times are rare is a tribute to her coolness and to her beauty which is so distracting. That they happen at all must have inspired in Matthew a great sense of protectiveness. Mary, for all of her intelligence, unlike her sister Sybil, doesn't see a way out of the social trap and but for her father would have been blackmailed into a hellish marriage to avoid a scandal. Thank God for the Earl of Grantham! 

The story of John Bates with his marital difficulties and his relationship with Anna, the maid, was real enough but it was monotonous. When he first arrived at Downton, he was fascinating. An incongruous presence in the servants’ quarters, he had the air of a gentleman adjusting to reduced circumstances with the utmost grace and good humor. I didn’t believe in the back-story concerning Robert and “the African War.” (i.e. the Boer War). The Earl of Grantham could have been his batman. Nevertheless, he is now in serious trouble, being convicted (wrongly, it is supposed by everyone at Downton) of murdering his wife. It is likely that the Crawleys with their connections at the Home Office and their friends in Parliament will bring about a retrial or have his sentence overturned. (I must admit to having some doubts of my own about John Bates: There is a hint of violence in him, of physical power held in check. Maybe he really did murder his wife.) 

* * * 

I was glad that Nigel Havers showed up in the second series, as Lord Hepworth. He plays these rogues well—white-collar criminals, cads and criminals of the officer class, so pleasant and plausible and very English. He had been at Downton no more than a few hours when a door on one of the guest floors is opened and—low and behold!—Lord Hepworth is caught in flagrante delicto with the maid of his fiancée. His fiancée! 

Of the Maggie Smith character—-for many, a favorite and a scene-stealer—-I have no pleasant memories. In repose, the elderly Dame Maggie Smith is lovely but in this character, as she relishes her bon mots, I can barely look at her. She is much too like men and women I have known who believe themselves to be witty when they are simply mean and tiresome. Her literary ancestor is Lady Bracknell but her lines cannot hold a candle to those of Oscar Wilde. I am thankful--since she is such a star turn—that she doesn't play a larger role than she does in this grand affair. 

But there is more to come. A third series is in the works with Shirley MacLaine adding to the drama as Cora’s mother. Let’s hope she will give the Dowager Countess a run for her money! 

Stuart Dodds was born and educated in London, England. He served two years of National Service in the Royal Air Force and emigrated to the United States in 1958. He lives in Berkeley, California. Prior to his recent retirement, he was editor/general manager of Chronicle Features, the syndication division of the San Francisco Chronicle.

AROUND AND ABOUT FILM: 'Time Regained' in the Raul Ruiz 'Library Lover' Retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive

By Ken Bullock
Friday March 30, 2012 - 02:22:00 PM

Watching 'Time Regained,' Raul Ruiz's 1999 adaptation of Proust's last book, onscreen at the PFA, over a decade after seeing it projected three times in a two year period, revealed again the density of the film in its engagement with Proust's vision—and with a contemporary audience. 

The collective title of Proust's series of volumes translates as "searching for lost time," and Ruiz—himself the author of well over a hundred films, over a hundred plays and scores of books—seems to have been engaged in a search for the cinematic means to more than represent, but trigger the same experiences Proust found "involuntarily," freeing deep-seated memories and the recognition that doing so can create a poetic awareness and freedom in any individual's coming to grips with their own existence and the consciousness required to do so. 

This's particularly apropos to Ruiz's declarations, in other contexts, of his work being "not fiction ... but about fiction" and that every shot in a film is, in a way, a separate film and the link to other films, both existent and potential. (The second assertion has political implications, as does much in Ruiz's work: he positioned his films in opposition to—and in dialogue with—the Hollywood narrative film and others of its type, which rely on what John Howard Lawson, the blacklisted screenwriter, characterized as "Central Conflict Theory," the plotting of a story "providentially," with a development (conflict) and ending that, in retrospect, seem preordained. 

A few years before 'Time Regained' was scheduled for production, Ruiz talked about his adaptation. Instead of making a film of 'Swann's Way' (as did Volker Schlondorff with 'Swann in Love') or one or more of the other opening books of Proust's series, Ruiz had hit on starting with the end and flashing back to the earlier parts of Marcel's story: "Narrative films are about flashing back, not forward!" 

(He also "included" what other filmmakers had made—or intended to make—of Proust; the sequence near the end of the older Marcel wandering with his childhood self in a chthonic maze of sculted stone, with canals and gondolas, recalls Visconti's 'Death in Venice' ... Visconti had written script based on Proust, but never realized his project.) 

There are many "games," as Ruiz would refer to them—in the sense of Nicholas of Cusa, the early Renaissance thinker who made up games and puzzles to assist mortal minds and perception to grasp the sense of the infinite and eternal—that occur and recur during the film. John Malkovich is dubbed with a feline, aristocratic accent in his role as the elegant and very louche eccentric, Baron Charlus ... but in his final scene, he appears before Marcel after the Armistice, outdoors (Charlus, the creature of the night), obviously recovering from illness, speaking in his (Malkovich's) own voice, so his French sounds halting, childish even, relishing his survival as he names family and friends—each name puntuated by "Mort!" 

Like a counterpoint to Malkovich's dubbed, then natural voice, in regard to accent, Arielle Dombasle, very much a French actress, is cast as the social-climbing bride of Bloch, who has changed his name, hoping to doff his Jewishness ... (Proust, the old Dreyfusard, sharpens his satire on this accomodation to the nouveau riche world after the War, which seeks money and accomodation.) Almost exquisite—or counter-exquisite—to hear Dombasle's impression of a "cultured" American, stumbling over French pronunciation and apologizing in her native tongue, then declaring she's American! ... when her finishing school intonation's mistaken for Public School English ... at an elegant matinee packed with snobs and moribund aristocrats. 

Ruiz, who was Salvador Allende's film advisor, forced to leave Chile for exile in France at Pinochet's coup, holds this class situation in low-key tension, in the background and at the edges of the frame, in offhanded remarks by the characters, as the situation shifts with the social impact of the War. The crucial role of servants and facilitators of all kinds for the upper classes is constantly shown; the sexual habits of the aristocrats often involve their self-consciousness—or desire to escape it—as "the chosen ones." During shooting, Ruiz kept a set of Edward Curtis' photographs of Native American Indians in their regalia (some of whom hadn't worn it for years) with him. "Another dying tribe, aware of their coming extinction," he said, reflecting on Proust's aristocratic dinosaurs, the allegory of a world vanishing, along with survivors it harbored from earlier epochs. 

"Allegory," an important word for Ruiz, the aficionado of Walter Benjamin's writings about art, storytelling, melancholy, politics—as well as Baroque traditions of his native Chile. 

I remember Mick LaSalle's acerbic response to 'Time Regained' in the Chronicle on its commercial release, a year after it was screened (and critically acclaimed, in the Chron and elsewhere) at the San Francisco Film Festival. The chair for the Pink Section's "Little Man" stood empty. LaSalle wrote that he was less offended by the movie being a procession of "impossible to follow" shots and scenes that play with chronology than by his "realization" that it's what the filmmaker intended!—though he does, half-heartedly, come up with some leading phrases: "dream logic," "fever dream" ... It's all in Proust's head, LaSalle realizes, but it must've been on his worst day! (No telling what kind of day it was for LaSalle ... ) 

To make a plotted narrative out of Proust's grand experiment would've betrayed the purpose of the original. But how to compress, however radically, the experience of reading many hundreds of pages, the set-up for the many, many realizations by both narrator and reader in a film of a couple hours? 

Ruiz's answer was to dig deep in the trove of innovations he'd come up with in his almost countless super low-budget films from the previous 30 years, showing his remarkable cast (Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Beart, Vincent Perez, Pascal Greggory, among many others) posed in full antediluvian regalia, often quibbling over some nicety, or a not-so-nice rumor ... Tableaus, sometimes Tableaux Vivants, as when Marcel recalls stumbling on a paving stone in Venice—one of John Ruskin's stones, a favorite of Proust—and stands awkwardly posed, frozen in mid-fall, as present and past swirl around him. Allegories of consciousness in its ebb and flow, its darkness and bursts of light—as in the light that blanks the screen when Proust's servant Celeste opens the curtain in the almost hermetically sealed room in which he dictates his book on his deathbed ... 

Some images stand out by themselves, like the figure of the great Edith Scob as the Princess de Guermantes, standing dazed yet regal, surrounded by monuments in a churchyard as mourners swarm past her at the burial of her son, killed in the War. 

(Later, this tall, elegant figure buttonholes Marcel at a postwar function to fill his ear with venom about the more guiltless characters.) 

Truly a great film, capable of many viewings, many moods. Ruiz's collaborators—including cinematographer Ricardo Aronovich, who shot 'Providence' (a pun Ruiz would've enjoyed, maybe thought of) for Alain Resnais (about an old writer, played by John Gielgud, near his end, remembering—and tinkering authorially with—his life on a sleepless, drunken spree in his lonely mansion), one of the filmmakers Ruiz references, for 'Last Year At Marienbad' (Alain Robbe-Grillet, the novelist who wrote the 'Marienbad' screenplay, has a cameo as diarist Goncourt in one flashback); brilliant Chilean composer Jorge Arriagada (who scored more than 50 films for his fellow countryman), editor Denise de Casabianca (best-known here for 'Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge' from Ambrose Bierce, 'The Mother & the Whore' and 'the Return of Martin Guerre'), and many more—often worked with him on multiple films; some (like actor Jean Badin) were both collaborators and personal friends-and Melville Poupaud, who plays the Prince of Foix, started out as a juvenile in Ruiz's films of the early 80s. 

Following 'Time Regained' on the PFA bill for the Ruiz retrospective was 'Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting' (1979), his most famous film before 'Time Regained,' a free (and wild, but deliciously controlled) adaptation of Pierre Klossowski's novel 'The Baphomet,' featuring literal Tableaux Vivants of scenes from a series of paintings of the 19th century, displayed by an art critic to the filmmaker (who we hear but don't see) as he tries to demonstrate more and more elaborate conspiracy theories just under the surface, or in a stray gesture or glance of the reenacted peintings—all of which lead back to "the hypothesis of the stolen painting," a kind of spoof in advance of 'The Da Vinci Code,' possibly filmed in the same chateau ... Exquisite, enigmatically ironic ... along with the short, "Dog's Dialogue" (1977), a stream of mostly stills with montage of sound and narration, a kind of surreal puzzle of a soap opera-style photo-novela, a puzzle in which all the pieces keep getting swapped around—and all fit together. 

Next is 'The Penal Colony,' from Kafka, relocated to South America, an unnamed country whose only product is torture for view by foreign media—along with Ruiz's segment of Peter Greenaway-produced BBC program, 'A TV Dante,' Inferno cantos 9-14 (so including the great Farinata canto), set during the coup in Chile (another September 11—"our little September 11," as some Chilenos ironically refer to it), with Danteand Virgil's voices by Bob Peck and John Gielgud (April 4 at 7), as well as his first film, 'Tres Tristes Tigres' (1968) on April 14—then 'Suspended Vocation' (1977), also from a Klossowski novel, one of his most outrageously funny movies, loaded with ambiguous gestures, as a filmmaker's hired by the Church to make sense of two films shot by two opposing ecclessiastic factions in different filmic style of the same story, over a decade of social change, finally edited into one unwieldy, incomplete shaggy dog story with an oblique, curiously flexible meaning ... Both Klossowski films shot by Sasha Vierny of 'Marienbad' fame. (April 15). Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way (just east of Telegraph, up flight of stairs on UC campus). $5.50-$9.50. 642-1412; bampfa.berkeley.edu

EYE FROM THE AISLE: RED at the Rep—weighed in the balance and found outstanding!

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 05:08:00 PM
David Chandler at Mark Rothko
David Chandler at Mark Rothko

An argument between two actors in poetic dialogue was the original basis of theatre. Whether Aeschlyus or Plato’s Dialogues, we revel in the deep ideas while we rejoice in the crafting of the argument and the fervor and wit with which it is delivered. 

RED at Berkeley Rep—about artist Mark Rothko, and more, much more—is that kind of fulfilling theatre chock full of ideas that resonate late in the night, about fighting despair and demise with creativity, about loving your art perhaps more than people, about the danger of descending into a solipsistic state in which reality is composed predominantly of one’s creations. 

Two men, one old, one young, the master and the servant, the maestro and the upstart: Marcus Rothkowitz a/k/a Mark Rothko, the pedantic Jewish curmudgeon and legendary abstract painter, with roots in the old world and the New Deal vs. the aspiring artist WASP kid of the late 1950’s named, ironically, Ken. 

Two arcs are beautifully developed with these two characters. Clashing, then in harmony, showing us that conflict is a way to synthesis and revelation, sometimes in the Rabbinical tradition of questioning and arguing intensely, then having a drink together afterwards. David Chandler as Rothko looks enough like the real Rothko and overwhelms us with his portrayal of this self-centered lion of an artist. John Brummer plays Ken, whose subtle progress from willing lackey to articulate combatant is a joy to watch. 

The dialogue is transcendent and poetic—though in simple prose—but never pompous.  

Playwright John Logan has the characters take us through a fugue of color words, a litany of reds, from Satan to Santa, from blood-in-the-sink to persimmon.  

In the midst of this tidal wave of words and ideas, there is an extended pause. To the music of Mozart, the artist and the assistant prepare a canvas by painting its basecoat red. It is a competition and a furious pas de deux to keep up with the tempo, and to keep up with and perhaps outdo the other. It is a perfect interlude to the tidal wave of words, and an apt metaphor for the play.  

Logan is also perhaps the preeminent screenwriter of the day with an amazing range. He wrote the screenplays for “Hugo,” “Gladiator,” “The Last Samurai,” “Star Trek Nemesis,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Rango,” “Any Given Sunday” and more films that you would readily recognize. 

RED won all the Tony awards for drama in 2011 except for best actor (Alfred Molina lost out to Denzel Washington). 

Les Waters’ flawless direction is his Berkeley Rep swan-song—he departs to head the Actors Theatre of Louisville. Louisa Thompson’s scenic design is functional and artistic; the upstage is filled with a battery of lights which gives a soft illumination and is a visual metaphor for Rothko’s need to show his works in just the right light. 

The Given Circumstance is the pending creation of the four murals that Rothko has been commissioned to create for the Four Seasons restaurant of the Seagram’s Building for a record payment of $35,000. His “children” would be displayed amid the clatter of dishes and the chatter of the ultra rich. There has always been tension between the artist and the patron. Michelangelo had little choice in acceding to the Pope’s commission to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Diego Rivera’s mural for Rockefeller Center was removed when he portrayed Lenin favorably in that Capitalist Shrine.  

Will Rothko be “weighed in the balance and found wanting” like the handwriting on the wall that he invokes from Rembrandt ‘s “Belshazzar's Feast”? He alludes to many paintings that bring quick images to those who know the visual artistic canon: Matisse’s “Red Studio” is recalled as his inspiration (thanks here to the astute young woman sitting next to me who recounted the name of painting for me when I misheard the reference).  

After all this existential angst, there is resolution and hope. We live and learn through watching the kind of sacrifice and servitude and ethical gestures that puts an artist in the art history books. 

RED by John Logan 

Directed by Les Waters 

BERKELEY REP thrust stage 

2025 Addison St, Berkeley 

Through April 29, 2012  

More info, tickets: 510 647–2949 


Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission 

Louisa Thompson, Scenic Design; Anna Oliver, Costume Design; Alexander V. Nichols, Lighting Design; Bray Poor, Sound Design; Julie McCormick, Dramaturg; Michael Suenkel, Stage Manager; Amy Potozkin and Stephanie Klapper,, Casting. 

WITH: John Brummer and David Chandler 

John A. McMullen II is a member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, and American Theatre Critics Association. E J Dunne edits.

AROUND & ABOUT OPERA: Erling Wold's new 'Certitude & Joy' at Bindlestiff Studio

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 05:08:00 PM

Erling Wold's new opera, 'Certitude & Joy' (title from Pascal), blends the stories from Chapter 22 of Genesis, Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac, with Lashaun Harris' s (of Oakland) 2005 drowning of her young sons at the Embarcadero in San Francisco from what she thought to be God's command. Staged by the ubiquitous Jim Cave (who also teaches at Laney), with six performers—singers, actors, dancers—'Certitude & Joy' plays with identity ... Lashaun, Abarham, God, Jesus—and Wold himself—all speak from various lips onstage.  

Laura Bohn and Jo Vincent Parks are the major singers, Talya Patrick portrays Lashaun, Kerry Mehling choreographed and dances, Blake Street Hawkeyes founder Bob Ernst and Travis Santell Rowland also perform—and Wold appears ... on the pier, Mikiko Usugi's set. The Zofo Duet, Keisuke Nakagoshi and Eva-Maria Zimmermann, render the score on two pianos. Wold wrote both score and libretto and has remarked it's like a contemporary Passion Play, the original which featured a divine parent sacrificing his child. Thursday through Sunday, April 1, at Bindlestiff Studio, 185 Sixth Street (near Mission), San Francisco. $25-$35. (800) 838-3006; brownpapertickets.com/event/224679 or certitudeandjoy.org

Don't Miss This on April Fool's Day

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Tuesday March 27, 2012 - 09:13:00 PM

So you're of the belief that April Fools Day is a modern, 20th Century celebration? Think again. April Fools Day can be traced back to the 1500's under the reign of Charles IX and the change in the Gregorian Calendar. On this day in 1700 English pranksters began popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools Day by playing practical jokes on each other. April Fools Day of this year offers embarrassment of riches -- art, drama, music, etc. You'll be hard pressed to make choices given the attractive events out there. 

Let's start with the Walt Disney Galleries, featuring early drawings and animation, movies, music, spectacular model of Disneyland and much more -- such as the special program, "Cinderella Style: The Evolution of Disney Animation." Sunday, April 15, 3 p.m., Scienic Presidio, S.F. (415) 345-6800. 

"Sunset Boulevard" by Andrew Lloyd Weber, Lesher Center for the Arts, Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, through April 15 (925-943-7469). 

"Faure: Requiem, Poulenc: Quartre motets pour un temps de penitence", Palm Sunday, April 1, 4 p.m., St. John's Episcopal Church, 1707 Gouldin Road, off Thornhill, Oakland, (510-339-2200). 

Voci Women's Vocal Ensemble, with two performances of a concert titled "The River Has Many Voices", next Saturday at Lake Merritt Methodist Church, 1330 Lakeshore Avenue, Oakland, and next Sunday at All Soul's Episcopal Parish, 3330 Cedar St., Berkeley, (510) 531-8714. 

"The Caretaker", by Harold Pinter, starring Jonathan Pryce, Curran Theatre, S.F., Wednesday through April 22. (888) 746-1799. 

"The 1968 Exhibit" , Helicopter veterans of the Vietnam War assemble a Huey helicopter; also, Michael Rossman's social justice posters about the Free Speech Movement (all 23,500 of them!) Saturday through August 19, Oakland Museum of California, (510) 318-8400. 

"Maple and Vine", ACT's West Coast Premiere of Jordan Harrison's provocative New York hit about an interracial couple trading their stressful, successful urban lives for the retro world reenacting American Life in the 1950's. April 4-22, ACT Theatre, S.F. (415) 749-2228. 

"Any Given Day," U.S. premiere of Linda McLean's drama about two couples in Glasgow. Opens April 11, Fort Mason Center, (415) 441-8822. 

S.F. Silent Film Festival presents "Napoleon", a special screening of the restored silent film. Paramount Theatre, 1:30 p.m. next Saturday and Sunday. (510) 465-6400. 

"Selected Shorts: Delicious Fictions,", with Jill Eikenberry, Sunday, April 1, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., Berkeley Repertory Theatre, (510) 647-2949. 

S.F. Library Spring Book Sale, 400,000 books, DVD's, CD's and more. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. next Sunday, Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason, (415-626-7500.) 

Chanticleer's First Film Score, contemporary personal musical reflections, First Congregational Church, Berkeley, April 3, 8 p.m. (415) 392-4400. 

San Francisco Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Weiser-Most, Mendelssohn Symphony No. 3 and Shostakovich, Symphony No. 6, Sun. April 15, 7 p.m. (415)-864-6000. 

"Othello, the Moor of Venice," Shakespeare's tale of jealousy and villainy, opens April 3 - 22. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley . (415) 388-5208. 

Hopefully you'll find one or more of the above offerings a great way to observe your own personal April Fools Day.