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New: Chevron Gets Almost $1 Million in State Fines for "Serious, Willful" Worker Safety Violations

By Laura Dixon (BCN)
Wednesday January 30, 2013 - 10:24:00 PM

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has fined Chevron nearly $1 million for worker safety violations related to a massive Aug. 6, 2012, fire at the company's Richmond refinery. 

The $963,200 in fines are in the form of 25 citations issued against the oil giant, which a Chevron spokesman said the company plans to appeal. 

"Ensuring worker safety is the employer's responsibility," said Christine Baker, director of the Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees Cal/OSHA.  

"Refineries must take the steps needed to prevent incidents like the August Chevron fire," she said. "Failure to do so can pose great dangers to workers, surrounding communities and the environment." 

The proposed fines are the maximum allowed under state law and the highest fines levied in Cal/OSHA's history, according to division representatives. 

Cal/OSHA officials said the hefty fines are for 25 safety violations that occurred before, during and after a pipe in the Richmond refinery's crude oil unit ruptured and began leaking. That leaked sparked an explosion and fire that endangered workers and caused 15,000 people to seek medical treatment after inhaling emissions from the fire. 

"The fines fit the violations," said Peter Melton, a Cal/OSHA spokesman. 

According to Cal/OSHA, "Chevron did not follow the recommendations of its own inspectors and metallurgical scientists to replace the corroded pipe that ultimately ruptured and caused the fire. Those recommendations dated back to 2002." 

In addition, Chevron failed to test pipe thickness in areas of the crude oil unit that were known to be vulnerable to corrosion due to the high temperature and high sulfur content of the crude oil sent through the pipes, according to division officials. 

Once the pipe leaked on Aug. 6, 2012, refinery managers didn't follow Chevron's own emergency shutdown procedures but instead kept the equipment running and told workers to remove the leaking pipe's insulation. 

Managers also ordered on-site contractors to erect scaffolding near the leaky pipe and let workers into the area without the proper protective gear, according to Cal/OSHA. 

The division's investigation found that this wasn't the first time Chevron had failed to properly address leaking pipes at the refinery. 

Cal/OSHA investigators found several pipe segments where someone had used a clamp to temporarily fix a leaky pipe. In some cases, refinery managers left the clamps in place for years, rather than replacing the pipes. 

Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said today, "Although we acknowledge that we failed to live up to our own expectations in this incident, we do not agree with several of the Cal/OSHA findings and its characterization of some of the alleged violations as 'willful'. Chevron intends to appeal," he said. 

The oil company has so far paid out $10 million to cover medical treatment and other costs incurred by hospitals and area residents due to the fire that spewed toxic smoke into the air for miles. Some 23,900 claims have been filed against Chevron in connection with the fire, according to company officials. 

Chevron announced Monday that it is focusing on tightening its safety procedures, from pipe inspection to employee training, to prevent another fire. 

Comey said today that the company is reviewing the citations issued by Cal/OSHA and is continuing to cooperate with additional local, state and federal investigations into the refinery fire.  

Obama’s Organizing for Action: A Boost for Progressives (News Analysis)

by Randy Shaw
Thursday January 24, 2013 - 03:26:00 PM

President Obama’s second inaugural address struck a populist tone, but the real news for progressives came last Friday when it was announced that Obama’s campaign organization would continue under a new name, Organizing for Action. Headed by Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina, the new organization will initially focus on three key progressive issues: gun control, immigration reform, and climate change. The decision to use the Obama campaign base to mobilize around issues reverses the mistake made after the 2008 victory, when the huge Obama for America grassroots base was cut adrift from mobilizing behind the President’s first term agenda. 

After Obama’s 2008 victory I wrote an article, “After the Victory, Engaging Obama Volunteers.” I saw the massive grassroots campaign that brought Obama the presidency as constituting the mobilizing base for his presidency. But in a decision Obama now admits was a mistake, the operation was cut off after the election. 

My enthusiasm for Organizing for Action (under the chairmanship of Messina but whose daily operations will be run by Executive Director Jon Carson) is based on two factors. 

First, Obama has been much more effective selling his proposals on the campaign trail than he has as President. Organizing for Action boosts the President’s campaign mindset, and its clear from Messina and Carson’s involvement that Organizing for Action will be far more ambitious than the limited Obama for America that emerged in 2009. 

Second, the Obama campaign has activist lists whose numbers dramatically exceed that of Move On, the AFL-CIO, and other external progressive mobilizing groups. In order to win on big issues like comprehensive immigration reform, it will take such an all hands on deck mobilization. 

Perfect Timing 

Obama’s support for Organizing for Action shows that he is serious about taking the momentum from November and immediately applying it now. And with the debt ceiling issue now pushed back until June and Republicans in disarray, the timing is perfect for passing gun control and immigration reform. 

The question on gun control is whether Organizing for Action will go into House Republican districts and publicly target representatives opposing or not adequately supporting key portions of the bill. As I urged when the President was trying to get his stimulus package through in early 2009, the best way to win these legislative fights is through the strategy pioneered by Neighbor to Neighbor in the Congressional fights over military aid to El Salvador in the 1980’s. 

This means high profile targeting of representatives who can be made to feel so uncomfortable about their pro-gun position that they will flip. Enough House Republicans’ can be won over to pass strong gun controls, but this will not happen absent strong public pressure in their home districts. 

There has been a lot of optimism about immigration reform since Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio expressed support for a plan not that far from the President’s likely bill. Yet enacting a strong immigration bill will also require resources beyond the coalitions of groups that have not been able to get a bill through in the past. 

Organizing for Action can dramatically increase the grassroots pressure on wavering legislators by bringing new resources and a broader base into the struggle. And for all of Rubio’s talk, there is a past pattern of Republicans who sound open to Obama measures being yanked back into opposition by the pressures of the right-wing media machine. 

Climate Change? 

While Messina announced that climate change would be among Organizing for Action’s early priorities, its not clear what this means. Obama highlighted climate change in his inaugural address, but left unstated what specific legislation he will propose. 

Obama stresses the importance of U.S. energy independence, but that’s consistent with his failure to reject fracking. It’s also consistent with supporting the Keystone XL pipeline, which makes a mockery of talk about combatting climate change. 

With the two key environmental positions both open (EPA and Secretary of Interior), it’s likely that green groups will be spending the next weeks working to get preferred candidates appointed. Both positions have vast administrative decision-making discretion, and Obama’s choice of appointees will speak volumes. 

Obama increasingly sounds like someone who feels he missed opportunities in his first term and does not want to repeat past mistakes. We will know by the spring if his efforts on gun control and immigration reform have moved beyond past attempts, and this will also tell us whether Organizing for Action has made a difference. 

Randy Shaw is the author of The Activist’s Handbook and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. 

Three Recent Violent Tales
from Berkeley's Notorious Caffe Mediterraneum

By Ted Friedman
Thursday January 24, 2013 - 11:38:00 AM
Officer peers into "almost stolen" cop car outside Cafe Med last week. The interior showed signs of a struggle.
Ted Friedman
Officer peers into "almost stolen" cop car outside Cafe Med last week. The interior showed signs of a struggle.
Berkeley Police inspect their "almost stolen" squad car for damages.
Ted Friedman
Berkeley Police inspect their "almost stolen" squad car for damages.
Craig Becker in his pit and pendulum at the Med recently.
Ted Friedman
Craig Becker in his pit and pendulum at the Med recently.
"Lost," X-Mass Eve near the Med.
Ted Friedman
"Lost," X-Mass Eve near the Med.

Tale One: Purloined Food at Med; How Secure is Your Food Order?

Coconut—a street kid, who hangs out on Telegraph near the Caffe Mediterraneum, 2475 Telegraph—grabbed off a plate of food from the Med's kitchen take-away counter, Dec, 27. 

The food was purchased by a customer named Larry, according to Becker. "Coconut stole my food," Larry told him. Coconut, 23, is a well known street kid who has been on the streets for seven years, according to Slumjack Homeless, a former reporter for Change.Org. 

Coconut put the plate of food on the sidewalk outside the Med. Becker, who was watching through the window, rushed out, snatched back the plate, and returned it to his cafe. When Coconut saw that Becker had reclaimed the food, he angrily overturned a plastic trash can, according to several witnesses. 

Becker re-emerged from the cafe to correct the trashing. As he approached Coconut, saying, "you can't do that," Coconut sucker-punched Becker, dropping him to the walk, on his back, according to several witnesses who added that Becker sprang back to his feet like "a pop-up toy." 

Back on his feet instantly," he quickly kicked Coconut in his scrotum and simultaneously face-punched him, flooring the kid. When Coconut got up, he had lost the urge to fight, witnesses said. 

"Clean it up," Becker commanded, and Coconut meekly complied, witnesses said. 

Becker has no formal fighting experience other than high school wrestling, he says. 

"i just respond instinctively," Becker explains, adding that "I have to feel that troublemakers are not cooperating, before I take action." 

Becker called the police, who arrested Coconut. Coconut spent four days in county jail, according to Coconut. 

"Whatever Craig says about this is his delusion," Coconut said recently. "I didn't steal no food. My brother bought it for me." 

Asked about the fight, Coconut said it wasn't a fight. Someone disagreed. 

"Okay, if you say it was a fight who do you think won?" Coconut asked. 

Becker won hands down," someone replied. 

He had been unwilling to talk, but this drew him out. "Craig is delusional," he repeated. "I won that fight." 

After also denying it was a fight, Becker said," he's [Coconut] delusional," Who was deluding whom? 

Tale Two: Shooting-Up in the Mediterraneum Stairwell

A few nights later, a Winona Ryder look-alike shot up on the Med stairwell by the restroom and defecated on the restroom floor. "I called the police to offer the girl help," Becker told me. "a young, good-looking girl like that," he added. 

Two Berkeley PD officers, with hard-nosed reputations, showed up. With Berkeley Mental Health outreach services decimated by budget cuts , police have filled in. The girl declined assistance. She was not cited, according to one of the soft-noses. 

Tale Three: A Tale of Attempted Cop Car Theft

Here's what one witness told police, who were taking information for their incident report. "Joe couldn't get into the Med restroom. There was a long restroom line, and Joe propelled himself into my table, almost falling over the mezzanine railing. At the foot of the mezzanine stairs, he pissed on the floor." 

Then he went to the front doors, where he announced to an astonished first-floor crowd, "anything you want. It's on me," according to Lost, who said Joe was tweaking (high on Meth). 

Joe bolted the cafe and hopped into an empty BPD cop car outside the Med, according to witnesses. Although the keys were not in the car, Joe seat-belted himself, as if he were about to peel out, witnesses reported. 

A BDP officer tried unsuccessfully to yank Joe from the car by his hair, but had to settle for pulling him out the hard way, witnesses said. 

By the time I got there police were gathered around the car. One officer was peering into the car, but avoiding entering it. Joe was gone--off to the pokey and facing serious charges. 

Next day, a Med employee told me that the Med was having much more violence under Becker than under the previous owner. 

Ted Friedman has contributed to the Berkeley Daily Planet, The Daily Cal, and Berkeley Reporter, where he is featured. His photojournalism is being noticed.

James (Jimmie) Labonski
November 28, 1990-January 23, 2013.

By Elsa Labonski
Thursday January 24, 2013 - 03:28:00 PM
Jimmie Labonski, in the center in the yellow shirt, surrounded by his cousins.
Elsa Labonski
Jimmie Labonski, in the center in the yellow shirt, surrounded by his cousins.

All his life Jimmie struggled with autism, cerebral palsy, and asthma. He learned to walk, and to communicate, in the face of a negative medical prognosis. He memorized all the States and their capitals, and 30 countries and their capitals. He associated every speck of his knowledge with people he knew, or things he read in books. He knew one of his beloved teachers came from Argentina, capital Buenos Aires, and another from New Zealand, capital Wellington. He knew that the Komodo dragon at the West Palm Zoo was from Indonesia, capital Jakarta. He had a doctor from Egypt and another from Peru. He loved McDonald’s, Spiderman and all of Tomie De Paola’s books. He loved Jerry Garcia’s Not For Kids Only album and Raffi‘s Singable Songs. His favorite music was Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, and he listened to them for hours. 

He loved Family Central Library, and the Broward County library system. He worked on his computer. He memorized opposite words. He enjoyed the Fern Forest. He treasured his memories of Coconut Creek Elementary School and of the wonderful Bright Horizons Center. A creative art teacher at Florinada Elementary School taught him collage. 

The hole he leaves in his family’s heart is enormous (the opposite of tiny). He served as a channel of grace to those who encountered him. He is survived by his parents, Elsa and Richard Labonski, his Granny, Mary Lu Schwarz, resident at VIP Care Pavilion, his siblings Rich and Debbie Labonski of Maryland, Peter Labonski and Maureen Fontana of Connecticut, Zuberu Kawah of Maryland, his beloved Uncle Tim Schwarz of Missouri, Ted and Joyce Schwarz of Boca Raton, Peter and Linda Schwarz of Tallahassee, Liz and Dan Stump of Illinois, and James Labonski of Pennsylvania. He loved Max, Zac, Cal, Bryce, Mackenzie, Brooke, Olivia, Griffin, and Wyatt. 

We are grateful to the wonderful doctors, therapists and nursing staff at Broward General Hospital and The Florida Medical Center. 

In lieu of flowers, please contribute in Jimmie’s name to your favorite organization that spreads peace and joy. 

Viewing Sunday January 27, 2013, 6-9 PM Savino-Weissman Funeral home, Margate, FL, with internment Monday, January 28, Queen of Heaven Cemetery, North Lauderdale, FL.

Nicholas Wolfrom Reznick

Friday January 25, 2013 - 09:13:00 AM

Nick Reznick lived an amazing life of love, laughter and adventure. While exploring the beauty of the canyon country that he enjoyed so much, Nick was lost in a small aircraft accident near the town of Escalante, UT. A resident of Escalante, and formerly of Flagstaff, AZ, he was a well known farmer, river runner, horseman and outdoor enthusiast. 

Nick’s parents were co-founders of Arizona River Runners, now the largest river-rafting company in Grand Canyon. He spent his younger years exploring the rivers and byways of the American West with his family, fostering a passion for river rafting that spanned his entire life. A thousand stories and a million laughs will be recounted of Nick’s exploits and antics. His sense of humor and his generosity and willingness to help others endeared him to countless friends. Nick could fix just about anything. As one local farmer said, “Losing Nick is like losing a third and fourth hand.” If it was stuck, he could unstick it. If it was broken, he could usually fix it.  

After being raised in Southern California by parents Barbara and Nick Sr., Nick moved to Flagstaff and teamed with his brother Peter in real estate development. In 1984 he pursued a degree in business management from the San Jose State University, and then returned to Flagstaff, joining with his brother in refurbishing an old dairy building, acquiring Mountain Dell Water, Inc., and building University Terrace Subdivision. Nick became a skilled backhoe operator and was handy with tools. He also worked as a commercial river guide and location scout for the film industry. 

In 2005, Nick and his wife Melanie moved to Escalante after purchasing the Fire Rock Farm. At the farm he grew certified weed-free horse hay, fruits, berries, and vegetables…especially asparagus. Nick was an avid horseman roaming the countryside astride his beloved horse, Rooster. He was also a successful beekeeper and was the go-to man whenever a renegade swarm was on the loose. An accomplished heavy equipment operator, Nick could often be found helping his neighbors excavate a foundation or dig a ditch. As the secretary of the Pine Creek Irrigation Company he was well known to the farmers in the Escalante area.  

Nick is survived by his wife Melanie, brothers Peter (Zaira), Flagstaff, AZ, and Greg (Olga), Berkeley, CA; sister Neva, Seattle, WA; brother-in-law Blake, Dallas, TX, and 10 nieces and nephews. Nick will be remembered as everybody’s favorite uncle, even to the children of his many friends. A celebration of his life is planned in the spring and will be announced at a later date. 

In honor of Nick’s memory, please perform a random act of kindness, lend a hand to your neighbor and put a smile on someone’s face.



Celebrating the New America at the Inauguration

By Becky O'Malley
Thursday January 24, 2013 - 11:48:00 AM

I’m usually one of San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll’s most fervent admirers, but this time he’s gotten it really wrong. Last week he filed a column complaining about preparations for the Inauguration, telling us that “I was happy to see that the president's Inauguration committee is falling short of its $50 million fundraising goal. Not that I wish the president ill - he should live long and prosper - but because I don't much care for glitzy governmental parties when the country is in bad shape.”

He went on to opine that the $50 million which the Inauguration committee hoped to raise from donors could be better spent:

“$50 million is a lot of money, particularly when being raised from donors who just a few months ago gave generously, more than generously, to the Obama re-election campaign. Some of them feel they have already bought a place in the inaugural.

“But think what $50 million could do elsewhere. Think of it given to the city of Oakland to upgrade its police services. Wouldn't that be swell? The money could certainly help some of the victims of Superstorm Sandy. It might do all sorts of things, but it isn't doing any of them.”

Well, from an economic perspective, Jon ought to be reading our colleague Paul Krugman more closely before he decides that spending money on festivities in a recession is a bad idea.

After all, who gets most of the money spent on a big shindig like this? Waitresses and taxi drivers and garbage collectors and, yes, D.C. police officers and others near the bottom of the pay scale (now euphemistically called the middle class, but really the working class). It’s stimulus money, just what the economy needs, being put right into the stream of commerce where it will be spent by the recipients to buy basic goods and services and will thus aid economic recovery. 

And the loot is being squeezed out of fat cats who, he thinks, might be asked to cough up $100,000 for a photo op—but what’s wrong with that? Transfer of wealth from the very rich to the considerably less rich: all to the good. It’s money not languishing in Swiss banks. 

Yes, there are other needs in this country, many, but does Jon really think that the same amount could be wrung from major national donors to presidential campaigns if it were earmarked for the Oakland police? (Much as those of us who live in the East Bay might wish it could be…) 

And there’s the public value of civic ritual to be considered. 

As I remember, Jon Carroll is a lapsed son of one of the Calvinistic branches of one of the desert religions, a branch that prided itself in the old days on pulling down statues and simplifying worship. That’s an important thread in the civic tapestry, going all the way back to the New England Puritans, but over our more than two centuries in this country we’ve come to appreciate the glitter of the occasional gold strand as well. 

To my eye, nothing could have been more beautiful than the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir in all their multicolored glory (and their singing was pretty good too.) And speaking of eyes, no one with any sense of history could be dry-eyed seeing the iconic tableau of our Black-and-White president standing up to be sworn in with his African-American family at his side and civil rights hero John Lewis hovering in the background like some benevolent saint in a Renaissance painting. 

In all my days taking part in the civil rights movement, I never hoped to see this day before I died—I confess to shedding a few tears myself on Monday. Surprisingly, this second Inauguration seemed even moving than the first one, which felt like it might be a fluke, an aberration before America got back to business as usual. 

Washington, D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, another African American civil rights veteran, generously acknowledged in a radio interview what Barack Obama’s presidency means for some of us who have struggled most of our adult lives to see this picture:
“I think there's a pride white Americans feel in themselves that they did it. They know that African-Americans could not have done it by themselves. And they feel that they have shed some of the racism that was their legacy as white people.” 

Our own family tree has in it both abolitionists and slaveholders. My descendants will have ancestors not only from Europe but also Africa and Asia. It’s about time we shed our legacy of racism, and it looks we’re getting there. 

As I type this, I’m listening on KALW to sax player Joshua [Shedroff] Redman, son of an African-American musician, lucky to have been raised in Berkeley by a Jewish mother. Like President Obama, he’s part of the new generation of Americans who inherit the richness of many cultures. The inaugural ceremonies were a sacramental celebration of this unprecedented transformation of our society. 

Some of my comrades on the whiny left persist in dwelling on the cup half-empty instead of sipping a bit of the sweet wine of success. Yes, President Obama has not yet done everything he ought to, not accomplished everything we’d like him to, but with our support he’s now got four more years to try. He preached a mighty fine sermon from his bully pulpit on Monday, which should be a harbinger of accomplishments to come. 

Critics grumble that he simply pointed the way, without specifying exactly the steps he plans to take to get there. They might remember a cherished American legend, Lewis and Clark’s pathfinding exploration of the West, which tradition says could not have been accomplished without the help of Sacajawea, the Native woman taken as an exemplar by the women’s suffrage movement, whose image now decorates the dollar coin. 

The President has set our goals before us—now it’s time to give him some firm guidance about how he might reach them. 

P.S. Judging by his latest column, Jon seems to have approved of the Inauguration after all, though he doesn’t tell us if he liked Michelle’s outfits. 


Odd Bodkins: the Ultimate Punishment (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Thursday January 24, 2013 - 12:25:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

New: Berkeley's Marin Circle Needs Signs

By Jean-Luc Szpakowski
Monday January 28, 2013 - 10:51:00 PM

Marin Circle needs more signs, not fewer. This morning as I was doing a 180 degree turn in the circle, a white car came by from Arlington at high speed, not pausing or yielding, barely avoiding crashing into my right rear. What Arlington needs is a stop sign, like every other entrance into the circle except Marin west of circle.  

The fact that people around the world know how to drive into a traffic circle is irrelevant for drivers in America. That people are supposed to know for their license exam that drivers in a circle have the right of way says nothing about how they actually drive. From driving in the circle several times a day, it is obvious that many drivers, notably those coming down from the Arlington, ignore the yield sign at Arlington and plow onto the circle as if they have the right of way.  

Entry from the stop sign at Los Angeles is particularly dangerous as cars hurl down from the Arlington, honking at those brazen enough to enter the circle ahead of them. Maybe it's because there are so few traffic circles in America. Whatever. The facts stare you in the face if you monitor Marin Circle. The Circle would be a safer place if people from the Arlington were forced to stop.

Bait and Switch Works Again
at 740 Heinz in West Berkeley

By Tree Fitzpatrick
Friday January 25, 2013 - 08:39:00 AM

Thanks to Curtis Manning and the Daily Planet for publishing his well reasoned argument, with lots of specific detail, for all the reasons why what the city is trying to pull with 740 Heinz subverts the 'no' vote against the West Berkeley development measure on the November 2012 ballot. It seems clear that our public servants, including city staff and elected representatives do not pay actual attention to the laws and actual facts when they make zoning adjustments and approve developments that contravene the people's will. Mr. Manning's detailed analysis should have prevented the city council from blithely approving Wareham's new proposal which greatly alters the zoning of West Berkeley. Shame on them. 

It is so sickening to see Berkeley's putative leaders and civil servants repeatedly and, imho, with a disingenuous phoniness, repeatedly try to override the will of the commons, of the citizenry. The measure lost, yet the Zoning Adjustment board allowed Wareham's new design which aligns with the failed measure. Do votes mean anything to our elected leaders and city staff?!! It would seem not. It seems like all that matters is a mindless belief that more development is always better.  

I've been thinking lately, and, trust me, I am not a student of the Christian Bible, of the story in the Bible where Moses leads his people out of Egypt through the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. For one shining moment, his people trust him completely. Then the leader, seeking only to do what is right, goes into the desert for forty days and nights, to commune with his God. When he returns, allegedly with the ten commandments etched on two stone tablets, his people have put together all their gold, created a golden calf and are worshiping it. Is that what he led them through the Red Sea for, to worship gold? 

When is Berkeley going to start making public decisions with integrity, transparency and in alignment with the view of the voters? Real estate developers and business people seem to have more 'rights' with our city than we the people do. Our public servants and many of us seem to worship a golden calf, the illusion that all growth is good growth and all development is right. It's not just a quaint, old-fashioned thing, the idea of a democracy that respects the will of the people. The idea is that there is wisdom in democratic voting. Instead of trying to find ways around our vote against the West Berkeley Measurement (was it 'T"? -- I lose track of the alphabet when I think of voting measures), our city staff and council should be bending over backwards to honor the defeat of Measure T. 

I don't have it in me anymore to write cogent, detailed arguments like Mr. Manning's that deconstruct the chicanery passing as public process for 740 Heinz, so thanks to Mr. Manning and thanks to the Daily Planet for publishing his work.

A Note on Social Welfare Programs

By Thomas Lord
Thursday January 24, 2013 - 11:08:00 AM

The context for this note is the public policy debate that we'll be entering in a few scant weeks when the sequestration debate is taken up in connection to the slightly post-poned debt ceiling debate. Here are some progressive talking points you'll soon be meeting (for the good reason that they are sound): 

1) Raising the retirement age is terrible public policy while unemployment is so high for young adults. Asking people to stay on the job longer when there is a shortage of jobs is plainly crazy. (I believe that there are factions of the financial elite who will strongly endorse this argument just as their are factions that would be thrilled to dump employer-provided health insurance entirely. Corporations don't like being in the business of supplying individual pensions when that interferes with their flexibility to change who's on payroll.)

2) Similarly, the flexibility of the younger part of the workforce is obviously tied to the welfare of seniors. Further reducing and delaying benefits directly increases the financial and care giving burden on younger workers, harming their earning and saving potentials at a time when, to cope with the demographic bubble, we need to increase the earning and saving potentials of younger workers. (This part should have a lot of appeal to middle class and working poor younger workers who are currently fretting about what is to become of their baby boomer parents. At least I know that it's on my mind.)

3) This next bit is a little tricky. Put a progressive floor on payroll tax revenues as follows:

Implement generous means testing and a raise on the earnings cap for payroll taxes. If the private sector isn't producing enough employment to cover the programs' costs, but is producing plenty of income, the tax burden needs to go up on higher incomes. If employment improves, the extra burden on high earners can be reduced. In this way, as a matter of policy, we can fairly keep payroll tax revenues stably in proportion to anticipated need for benefits.

The law could actually be written that way: Variable payroll taxes on high incomes could be either or a mix of a variable ceiling on taxable income or progressive but variable rates. The level of the new progressive part of the payroll tax would be varied automatically to hold revenues to some constraint. So there would be an employment-related floor on payroll tax revenues.

(The money party objection to this would be that it implies raising taxes (on high income earners) during contractions in employment so "job creaters durpdy durp" and arguments along those lines. As we saw in the election, though, there is pretty strong popular rejection of that argument. It is in any event a huge retreat from "OMG, the gov't is going bankrupt!")

4) Reducing health care costs is the #1 biggest thing we can do to reduce projected benefits. This is fantastic news because other than the political barriers, it's very easy and painless to make huge progress. The government is paying far too much for prescription drugs, thanks to lobbyists, for example. These are the kinds of hard choices we need to make to bring down cost projections going forward: choices that some of the wealthiest individuals and corporations may not like because where we anticipate excessive governmtent spending, they see themselves as the likely recipients, who will get that spending as windfall revenues and profits. If the government starts paying a fair price for prescription drugs, their profits will be smaller. Well, they can still make a decent profit even if the government is allowed to negotiate on price and now it's very important to move in that direction.

5) The government spends a lot to provide a safety net with the likes of unemployment insurance, housing assistance, foodstamps and WICs support, ... And yet in the pockets of poverty in this country so much of that spending is inefficient because communities are under-served. Access is scarce, for many, to healthy, affordable food. Many of the nation's poorest live in areas from which it is economically hard to escape and where the environment, even the housing in which people live, is unhealthy. These conditions drive up the nation's health care costs and put huge obstacles in the way of kids who should be getting an education and preparing to join the workforce. We should create local citizen commissions to advise local housing authorities and authorize a process for administrating federal tax relief incentives to projects that improve the housing stock and food security in low-income neighborhoods in deep cooperation with the people living in these pockets of poverty, who have the greatest interest in the outcomes. (E.g.: Federal tax incentives to create cooperative groceries, urban farming, brownfield restoration projects, lead paint and other toxic substance removal from residences, installation of modern insulation in regions with cold winters, high-priority small business assistance, and community recreation facilities.)

My intent (failed or not) here is to suggest a positive program that is easy to grok on a naive, intuitive level and that also seems plausibly realistic to a policy implementation wonk. I haven't personally tried to quantify any of it, though (so that's a big weakness, I admit, but then again the alleged quantifications of money-party policy platforms aren't what carries them, I think.).

Thomas Lord blogs a bit on news and politics at berkeleynativesun.com and hopes to see some of you there. He'd like to see that website grow organically into something larger than his own tedious voice and so writers with some chops who might want to explore contributing from blogs of their own there are invited to get in touch (write to lord@basiscraft.com, for now.) Oh, and readers and commenters ... we'd like them too! A word of caution to commenters used to that other Berkeley side-show of a news site: don't be a jerk.

Marin Circle's Signs Not Needed

By Peter Smalley
Monday January 28, 2013 - 10:53:00 PM

I wish to join Larry Raines in objecting to this latest example of official grafitti. New signage in public places should only appear when there is a demonstrated need to address a real danger or threat to the community. WRONG WAY-DO NOT ENTER at freeway off ramps is appropriate, while BE NICE-FOLLOW THE RULES would be a clear waste of money, visual pollution and an insult to citizens' intelligence. The Marin Circle eyesores are perfect examples of the second category.

The Human Cost of California's "Fixed" Budget

By Russ Tilleman
Friday January 25, 2013 - 09:13:00 AM

Governor Jerry Brown recently congratulated himself for "fixing" the California budget, but he left out some of the details. One of the cuts involved in "fixing" the budget was the removal of essentially all dental care for poor and disabled people. Medicaid used to cover normal dental care like exams, cleanings and fillings, but now it mainly just covers pulling out a poor or disabled person's teeth after they go bad. And the reason they go bad is lack of the preventive care that Medicaid used to cover. 

To be fair to Governor Brown, the removal of dental care from California's Medicaid program was done in 2009, before he came into office. But he hasn't done anything to restore dental care, instead he is spending the money on the California High Speed Rail project. That is not something to be proud of, depriving disabled people of essential dental care. 

A friend of mine is disabled and needs $3000 of fillings soon or else she is going to lose many or most of her teeth. And she doesn't have the money to pay for it. So unless something is done about California's Medicaid, Jerry Brown and will have done the equivalent of punching my friend in the face and busting her teeth out. Basically robbing her of money on the way to her dentist so he can give it to the companies and unions that supported his campaign. 

A 30-year-old woman will spend the rest of her life without teeth that could easily have been fixed. 

This is a major social injustice. I don't believe Brown when he says things like "The ideology of the Republicans is different from the Democrats. They don’t mind the inequality." I think in this case, the ideology of the Republicans and the Democrats is exactly the same. Neither seem to mind the inequality of some people getting to keep their teeth and other people having to lose theirs, just because they are disabled. 

In my opinion, anyone who says the state budget is fixed is a lying hypocrite. 

If Governor Brown won't do anything about this problem, I would like him to at least talk to my friend and explain to her why she will have to lose her teeth, how it's more important to spend the money on high speed rail than on her.

“Who cares, really, if Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds used steroids...?”

By Carol Denney
Thursday January 24, 2013 - 11:08:00 PM

I care. Not just because using steroids is illegal, and not just because it has serious health effects, and not just because its use contributes to kids’ and sports fans warped views about what healthy, well-trained athletes’ bodies look like and can do. 

A corrosive, corrupt culture that harbors rules that only apply to some people, or some sports, cannot simultaneously encourage honesty and integrity. Try to imagine how difficult it is for both professional and student athletes to play clean and value their own and others’ health in such circumstances. 

It doesn’t take a sports fan to see the difficulty for Hall of Fame voters attempting to honor both the older, steroid-free feats of strength, skill, and endurance, and try to accommodate new statistics seriously jaundiced by artificial, illegal substances which put the very concept of athletic health and excellence at risk. 

It is not hypocritical to view steroid use seriously in the light of, for instance, football and boxing’s contribution to athletes’ brain damage; rather, it is part of a culture evolving an effort to honor honest excellence and protect public health in the light of evidence unavailable only a few years ago. 

Such an evolution is not hypocritical. I do recommend “Game of Shadows” as only one of several books offering more nuance on the subject. Sports may have a show business element, but the health issues are very real.

Bus Bench Blues

By Lydia Gans
Thursday January 24, 2013 - 11:32:00 AM
The bench at the bus stop in front of Peet's on Telegraph
Lydia Gans
The bench at the bus stop in front of Peet's on Telegraph

The bench at the bus stop in front of Peet's on Telegraph is back. Thank you to the city management for keeping your promise to return it “soon” - though a year and a half is rather stretching the definition of “soon”. Not to be ungrateful but that bench is about the shabbiest piece of furniture we've ever seen. It looks like it came directly out of a scrapyard. Mr. Becker and the TBID folks won't need to worry because nobody is going to sit on that bench any longer than necessary, that's until the next bus comes.

Signage on Berkeley's Marin Circle Is Unsightly and Unneeded

By Larry Raines
Friday January 25, 2013 - 10:07:00 AM
Larry Raines
Larry Raines
Larry Raines

This morning on my way to work I noticed the addition of unsightly signage at the Marin Circle. I would like to ask for your support in removing or relocating this unnecessary signage. 

Certainly these new signs are unnecessary as this information is included when you test to obtain a drivers license, it's not as if we need to remind people. There are many beautiful traffic circles all over the world with no signs telling people how to use them, why do we have to do that here in Berkeley? Are our citizens uneducated? 

This fountain is over 100 years old, after all these years why do we now need to add these signs that ruin the "naturalistic layout and park-like feeling"? 

Perhaps there is another way we could communicate this information, if circle users indeed need to have an ongoing re-education program.


THE PUBLIC EYE: Obama’s Legacy: Drone Wars

Friday January 25, 2013 - 08:35:00 AM

After Barack Obama’s stirring second inaugural address, Democrats anticipate action on vital domestic issues, such as immigration reform and gun control. Nonetheless, the national security budget will continue to dominate discretionary expenditures, as the President pursues the “war” on terror using aerial robots – drones. 

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked about Obama’s first-term accomplishments. “Bringing all the troops home from Iraq” and “killing Osama bin Laden” were ranked number one and two. While 22 percent of the NBC/WSJ poll respondents were pleased with the end of the war in Iraq and 21 percent looked favorably on the demise of bin Laden, 16 percent said Obama’s biggest failure was “keeping American troops in Afghanistan.” 

Obama’s aggressive use of drones is a tacit acknowledgement that Americans have grown tired of endless war and military casualties. As a consequence, rather than subvert George W. Bush’s war on terror, President Obama has expanded it; he has increased warrantless wiretapping, military tribunals, indefinite detentions, and killer-drone strikes. Estimates are that aerial robots have killed several thousand suspected Al Qaeda militants, including at least three American citizens. (14 to 19 percent of the drone strike victims have been civilians.) 

On February 4, 2002, the first killer-drone strike occurred in Afghanistan. Since then there have been approximately 423 similar attacks, 52 authorized by George W. Bush and the balance by Obama. Both Presidents used the same legal justification, Congress’ 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force as well as the international law regarding nations’ right to self-defense. The killer-drone strikes have occurred in six countries that we know of: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. The bulk of the strikes, and deaths, have occurred in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province or the adjacent area of Afghanistan, an area known to house both Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. There’s no evidence that the US has used killer drones in Iraq since the end of the war on December 15, 2011, although we continue to use surveillance drones there. On December 4, 2012, Iran claimed to have captured a US drone that flew over its airspace. 

Most of America’s 10,000+ drones are operated by the CIA and the elite military Joint Special Operations Command. The most commonly used killer drone is the Predator MQ-1 equipped with Hellfire missiles. Cruising at 85 miles per hour, the 360 Predators each have a range of 770 miles and can stay aloft for 24 hours at heights up to 25,000 feet. The Predator program has cost at least $2.38 billion; each drone costs $4 million to build and millions more to operate. Drone operations are conducted from an estimated sixty bases around the world. 

President Obama has made killer drones his weapon of choice in the war on terror. This strategy has benefitted Obama in two ways. 

First, it has worked politically. Obama is the first Democratic President in sixty years to have unassailable credentials on national security. During the 2012 presidential campaign, Obama was seen as stronger than Mitt Romney. Obama won the final debate, on foreign policy and national security, because Romney couldn’t differentiate himself from the President – Romney’s stance on most issues was, “Me, too.” Obama’s closing remarks summarized his perspective: “As Commander in Chief, I will maintain the strongest military in the world, keep faith with our troops, and go after those who would do us harm.” 

Second, the expansion of drone usage has given the Administration an inexpensive and popular way to fight the war on terror. A war weary public views killer drones as a preferable alternative to boots on the ground. 

After his victory in 2008, many Democrats expected Barack Obama’s national security policy to be guided by ethical considerations. Instead the White House borrowed from Henry Kissinger’s Realpolitik and adopted a strategy based upon pragmatics. Chief among these is pursuit of Al Qaeda operatives in a manner that minimizes loss of American lives. 

Obama is not the first Democratic President whose national security policy has been driven by pragmatics. Franklin Roosevelt approved the internment of Japanese Americans. Harry Truman authorized the atomic bombing of Japan. John Kennedy approved a CIA plan to invade Cuba. Lyndon Johnson launched the War in Vietnam. 

Many of us expected better of Barack Obama. We did not think he would steal a page from the Bush/Cheney playbook. As journalist Mark Danner observed, “If President Obama has made himself largely invulnerable to the politics of fear it is because he has to a great extent taken it over in advance by his cool and ruthless methods, and left little political space for discussion.” 

During his second term, Obama may take action on vital domestic issues but he will also continue the war on terror with a bloated national security establishment and ferocious use of killer drones. The President’s legacy will be drone warfare. 

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

AGAINST FORGETTING: Gender wars: women redefining customs as crimes

By Ruth Rosen
Thursday January 24, 2013 - 04:56:00 PM

The social movements of the 60s gave American women the skills to name and address the injuries they faced in their own lives, and led to a global women’s movement that is now facing a violent backlash. We need to know this history in order to fight for women’s rights today

The idea of gender equality has almost always had its origins in a civil war, a revolution or a social movement. In the United States, the women’s movement had its origins in the American civil rights and anti-war social movements of the sixties. What was called “The Movement” gave birth, after a long and hard labour, to a movement that eventually flourished in the United States and spread around the globe.

The conventional wisdom is that the men in the New Left in the United States treated women so badly, that they gradually began leaving to start a movement that addressed their own lives. This is true, but does not capture a more complicated picture of the past. The “Movement" was also a tremendous gift to young women in which they learned how to name injustices, question the supremacy of one group over another in the civil rights movement, and to challenge the authority of the government in the anti-war movement. 

For the first time, these young activists organized a movement around their own lives and that of other women. Once they saw inequality, they saw it everywhere. And, it was everywhere. But like fish in water, it had just seemed normal. 

On August 27, 1970, 50,000 women marched down Fifth Avenue, announcing the birth of a new movement. Their three demands included legal abortion, universal child care, and equal pay for women and men—preconditions for women’s equality with men at home and at the workplace. These are not what the mostly male founders of the New Left would have demanded, but they reflected the values and vision of that movement which asked its members to identify and redress the injustices they witnessed. 

Turns out, there were plenty of hidden injuries, which women activists discovered and publicized in consciousness-raising groups, pamphlets and books. Rape, once a subject of great shame, became redefined [11] as a physical assault that had little to do with lust. Date rape [12], for which there was plenty of experience, but no name, opened up a national conversation [13] about what constituted consensual sex. Few people had ever heard the words marital rape. “If you can’t rape your wife,” said one California politician (Senator Bob Wilson) “then who [14] can you rape?” Thus began a new conversation about the right of wives to have consensual sex and the power relations within marriage. 

Sexual freedom without legal abortion inspired women’s liberationists to join the abortion rights campaign of the sixties. Determined to repeal laws [15] against abortion, New York feminists and others testified [16] before the legislature and passed out copies of their model abortion bill - a blank piece of paper. Through “public speak outs [17]” they admitted to illegal abortions and explained why they had made this choice. In Chicago and San Francisco, activists created their own clandestine organizations to help women seek qualified doctors. Some learned how to do it for their sisters. The Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion in 1973 ignited the abortion wars which are still raging. 

You could say this is when the cultural wars began and you wouldn’t be wrong. 

Activists also began to share their sexual ignorance and disappointments. Embarrassed to discuss sexual matters, many young women had faked orgasm for fear of being labelled frigid, to placate men’s egos, and because they wanted to be viewed as “good in bed.” It was no surprise, then, that the faked orgasm became a metaphor for the many ways women hid their private anxiety and anguish from others, especially men. 

Arguably, the women’s health movement was and still is the greatest accomplishment of what was increasingly called “the women’s movement.” Women knew too little about their own bodies and passively allowed physicians to treat them as ignorant children. In 1971, the Boston Health Collective [18] published a booklet that would become “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” now translated all over the world. Inspired by the barefoot doctors of the Maoist Cultural Revolution, the book not only disseminated biological knowledge, but also questioned why doctors controlled women’s reproductive decisions and why medical researchers only used male subjects when they tested new medicines. In the next years, feminists, as some now called themselves, questioned [19]the safety of the Pill, and the drugs that prevented miscarriages [20]. They also created women’s health centres that sprang up across the nation. When activists in Los Angeles decided to teach each other to do gynaecological exams with mirrors, they were arrested. As one activist famously wrote, “What man would be put under police surveillance for six months for looking at his penis?” 

Given the homophobia of the time, it was inevitable that much of the mainstream media and public would label all feminists as lesbians [21]. Why else would women complain about men’s behaviour? To counter this constant accusation, activists began to discuss and then write about compulsory heterosexuality [22]. Together, with the burgeoning men’s gay movement, feminist lesbians and gay men began to form the gay liberation front.  

What feminists had begun to do was to redefine a custom as a crime. One of the greatest hidden injuries, of course, was the sexual predatory behaviour of those who abused their power as bosses. Some called it sexual blackmail. But when legal scholar Catherine Mackinnon renamed it as sexual harassment[23] in a 1979 book, it soon became illegal because it violated women’s civil right to earn a livelihood and to work in a non-sexist atmosphere. 

If sexual harassment changed the workplace, the reframing of wife beating as domestic violence now turned a custom into a felonious crime. And battered women’s shelters, gave women a place to escape violence and possible death. 

This is such a short list of the achievements of the early women’s movement. It doesn’t even include creating the word “Ms”, [24] to replace Miss or Mrs. Nor does it reflect the struggle to ordain ministers and rabbis or to challenge the curriculum of academic disciplines, or to change socially accepted behaviour. 

Sometimes these successes came from legal suits to improve the working conditions of women in the textile, telephone and airplane industries. Quite often they came from national debates and media circuses, as when Anita Hill accused [25] Clarence Thomas, who had been nominated to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court, of sexual harassment. 

Naming injuries was important, but we shouldn’t underestimate how well the countercultural New Left had taught them to publicize their grievances. In the streets, activists used guerrilla theatre to satirize a male-dominated society. They whistled at men’s tight buns, and heckled construction workers with shouts and whistles. They invaded bars that would not serve them; and sat in at magazines, newspapers and libraries that still quarantined them in special women’s sections. Many feminists carried a pad of posted stickers that said l “This ad insults women” and plastered them all over American cities. One group, decided to deploy their magical powers by hexing Wall Street. The stock market inexplicably declined. 

In 1968 they satirized [26] the Miss America Contest in Atlantic City that exclusively valued women’s appearance. These activists, by the way, were rather good looking - check out the pictures - throwing‑bra‑in‑the‑trash.jpg [27] but they didn’t want to be valued exclusively for their appearance. To make their point, they decided to burn “instruments of oppression,” including bras, girdles and hair curlers in a garbage can. But when the fire chief warned them that they might start a fire on the wooden boardwalk, they complied with his request. Nevertheless, by the next morning, the national media [28] had spawned the myth that women’s liberationists had burned their bras at the Miss American contest.  

In the Port Huron Statement [29] that founded the Students for a Democratic Society in1962, Tom Hayden, the principal writer of this famous manifesto had condemned materialism. Now, women activists targeted the marriage industry for seeking profits by trying to turn young women into consumers of all kinds of domestic products. On February 15, 1969, on both coasts, feminists invaded two gigantic bridal fairs that featured gowns, furniture, appliances and honeymoon trips. They handed out leaflets that denounced the “sale” of marriage. 

The inspired and disillusioned women who began the women’s movement had come a long way in less than a decade. And their excavation of the injuries of sex spread quickly to women in all occupations, professions and unions - partly through organizing, and partly through the media’s endless fascination with what they still viewed as a fad.  

In the late 60s, lesbians began to come out and critique compulsory heterosexuality. Minority women in other liberation movements also began to publicize the sexism they encountered in their own organizations. Black women wrote about the “double jeopardy” [30] from they suffered. Women in the Chicano movement [31] challenged the sexism in their organizations. Puerto Rican women [32], who fought for the independence of Puerto Rico and indigenous women, sought to preserve the survival of their cultures did the same. They did not have a private fear of the Feminine Mystique, which seemed like quite a luxury. Their struggle was against poverty, violence, wife beating, alcoholism, racism, and the obstacles that kept their men from supporting their families. 

Some women of colour felt divided loyalties. Their larger political goals often conflicted with their growing awareness of their subordinate position in their communities. To preserve cultural tradition, after all, resisted appropriation by the dominant culture. But tradition also limited women’s opportunities to live more independent lives. In 1975, Elaine Brown of the Black Panthers wrote [33] , “I had joined the majority of black women in American in denouncing feminism. Now I trembled with fury long buried. The feminists were right. The value of my life had been obliterated as much by being female as black and poor.” Gradually, over the 70s, women of colour formed their own feminist organizations dedicated to helping the most vulnerable women in their communities. 

The women who had felt like refugees from the fifties created the most transformative movement of the late 20th century. Why? Because they eventually reached and affected half the world’s population. Like minority women in the U.S., female activists around the globe gradually began to redefine women’s issues. In some regions, women identified sufficient water and wood as their women’s most profound problems. In other countries, women targeted the hidden injuries of dowry deaths, genital mutilation, 'honour' killings, arranged marriages and rape when used as an instrument of war. By the 21st century, the UN had passed resolutions against any kind of violence against women and girls and had criminalized the use of rape as an instrument of war as a war crime. 

Feminism had gone global. 

It was movement culture that had taught young women to see their lives through their own eyes. In turn, they transformed mainstream political culture, as evidenced by a nation still polarized over women’s reproductive rights, equal pay, same sex marriage and the emergence of a gender gap that now depends mostly on the votes of African American and Hispanic women. 

As the New Left had urged, they had found language for the world in which they lived and loved. In the spirit of the sixties’ movements, they had sought independence and self-determination within a movement. Rage replaced shame. Entitlement supplanted despair. Activism led to pride.  

Nothing would ever be the same again.  

Now, in 2013, women around the world have “named” the injuries and injustices they experience, but that has not resulted in institutional or cultural changes in most of the world. The backlash against women’s demands, moreover, is fierce. As more women enter the labour force, they - like American women - will need child care, as well as protection against sexual harassment at work and violence at home and in their communities. It is there that the battle for human rights will be fought. 

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Effects of Quitting Medication Against Medical Advice

By Jack Bragen
Thursday January 24, 2013 - 11:29:00 AM

When a person with schizophrenia takes antipsychotic medication over time, it is possible that he or she may develop a tolerance to these drugs. A well-known doctor (whose name I will not mention) claims that certain prescription drugs produce the very diseases they are intended to treat. (I'm assuming he meant that this is because they create a tolerance.) This doesn't mean that someone with severe psychosis shouldn't be medicated-such a person is in trouble and needs the help of the medicine. 

Don't get me wrong, I advocate taking medication when it is needed; failing to take needed medication can cause dire results. The disease could progress unchecked, and the sufferer's behavior can entail danger to them and to innocent bystanders. Readers should not infer from this article that I am adopting an anti-medication position. 

Having a schizophrenic illness means that I need medication. If my innate psychosis is combined with the backlash of going off the medication, (if I were to quit taking it against medical advice) the double whammy of that is like being hit by a tsunami. It is not a pleasant experience. The relapse in my case comes quickly (but for many people happens gradually, over months). The relapse can bring a massive flood of symptoms that include extreme distress, delusional thoughts, voices, images, tactile hallucinations and a disconnection from my external environment. When it happens, it is clear that something is wrong. 

For someone in my situation, it is pure folly to try to quit medication against medical advice. 

Every time I try to quit medications, the ensuing rebound and psychotic episode will cause me to lose more brain power. This successive loss of brain which is caused by psychotic relapses eventually takes its toll on a person's mind. This could be one reason for the stereotype that persons with mental illness are dull-witted, or are a child in the body of an adult. (Yet it is upsetting to me and other "sharp" persons with mental illness when we are prejudged as lacking mental development when often this is not accurate.) 

Many persons who suffer from schizophrenia have difficulty learning from their mistakes. Schizophrenia robs a person of their judgment and of normal brain function. Thus, when the brain is (one hopes, temporarily) out of commission, the sufferer can not be counted upon to understand what is needed. That's one reason why schizophrenia is such an awful disease. 

Once a person has been on antipsychotic medication for a while, it will probably become impracticable to go off med's. This is one reason why, very importantly, an assessment by a doctor must be accurate. You don't want to medicate someone unnecessarily, yet, you don't want to deprive a person of medication when it is needed. 

When someone has been taking antipsychotic medication a while, then discontinues it against medical advice, and then relapses, it is hard to know how much of the relapse is due to withdrawing from medication, and how much of the relapse is merely the illness. I have seen numerous people try to quit medication, and it seems to be almost universal that as a result, they have a severe relapse. 

A gradual weaning off of antipsychotic medication seems to have no advantage over going cold turkey-the relapse will still probably happen and can be just as bad (or can be worse due to the longer time span of being borderline symptomatic.) 

Acceptance, in the Buddhist sense, has a role for people who need to deal with this. If, by meditative techniques, a person with mental illness can accept their situation on an emotional level, then they can proceed in their life without being stuck on the same issue. Meditative practices don't cure mental illness but they can help a person cope with their situation. 

The tsunami of symptoms caused by stoppage of medication is to be avoided. When uncertain as to how to proceed, a psychiatrist is a good person to talk to. Also, if unhappy with what a psychiatrists says, one can always get a second or third opinion.


By Harry Brill
Friday January 25, 2013 - 08:37:00 AM

Last night a friend of mine passed away a month before he reached his 74th year birthday. Thanks to good hospice care, he was taken good care of in his final days.. But I am feeling now the pain of depression, and not only because of the death of this friend. Over the years I have buried lots of friends, relatives, and acquaintances younger than I am. In most of these instances, cancer was the culprit. Why? Because we live in a diseased environment that is killing people. The private sector is not only mainly to blame. Government agencies, whose purpose is to protect the public more often than not look the other way. To add insult to injury, it is our tax money that funds these agencies that in practice serve the major corporations. This is morally unjust and insane. 

Perhaps you have seen last week the article in the Wall Street Journal on how badly we compare on the longevity issue with other developed countries. Men in the United States live the shortest. In Switzerland,where longevity is highest, its citizens live on the average four more years than in the U.S. Longevity is higher in our northern neighbor --Canada. 

Obviously, we need to carefully think this issue through, including how we can address it. Too many people's lives are being cut short. That shouldn't be.

Arts & Events

Around & About Music: Berkeley Symphony; Strata at Berkeley Chamber Performances

By Ken Bullock
Thursday January 24, 2013 - 05:14:00 PM

—Joana Carneiro will conduct Berkeley Symphony in The Illuminators, including the world premiere of Portuguese composer Andreia Pinto-Correia's Alfama, with Lutoslowki's Cello Concerto (performed by Lynn Harrell) and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, Opus 45, 8 p.m. Thursday, February 7, at Zellerbach Hall, UC campus. 

Pinto-Correia's music is inspired by Lusitanian folk and literary traditions. The Lutoslawski Concerto was composed for Mstislav Rostropovich in 1970. It's in pre-modernist concerto form, but has John Cage-inspired passages that can be played ad-lib, though in a specified time frame, as well as folk music motifs. Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances (1940) is his last work, a nostalgic glimpse of pre-Revolutionary Russia, with themes from Russian sacred chant and quotations from the composer's earlier work. 

Zellerbach Hall, UC campus, near Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue. $15-$68. 841-2800; berkeleysymphony.org 

—Strata, the trio of Audrey Andrist (piano), James Stern (violin/viola) and Nathan Williams (clarinet), will play for Berkeley Chamber Concerts this Tuesday, January 29, at 8 p.m. at the Berkeley City Club. 

The trio will play.selections from William Bolcom's Afternoon Cakewalk (including his arrangement of Scott Joplin's The Easy Winners); selections from Max Bruch's Eight Pieces, Opus 83, for clarinet, viola and piano; and Mozart's Trio in E flat, K. 498, for the same complement (supposedly composed while Mozart was playing skittles—so, the Kegelstatt or Bowling Trio)—and Contrasts, by Bela Bartok, originally commissioned by Benny Goodman, rooted in Hungarian gypsy music. 

A complimentary wine and cheese reception will follow with the artists present. 

3215 Durant Avenue, between Dana & Ellsworth. $25 general, students through high school free, post-secondary school students $12.50. 848-7800; berkeleychamberperform.org

Around & About Jazz & Improvisational Music: Tony Passarell Trio at Light A Fire Music Series

Thursday January 24, 2013 - 05:11:00 PM

Tony Passarell, originally from Santa Rosa, has been a mainstay of the diverse music scene in Sacramento for decades now. His Trio (Keith Cary, bass; Bart van Zeeuw, drums) will play with Thollem McDonal (solo piano) and Opera Wolf (Crystal Pascucci, cello; Joshua Marshall, sax; Robert Lopez, percussion) at Freelove Music School, 4390 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland (near Pleasant valley Road), this Sunday at 8., for Outsounds productions. $5-$10, sliding scale.

Around & About Theater: A Mini-Review of 'God of Carnage' at Altarena Playhouse

By Ken Bullock
Thursday January 24, 2013 - 05:10:00 PM

Altarena Playhouse is celebrating its 75th season, opening it with a hilarious production of Yasmina Reza's 'God of Carnage,' directed by Sue Trigg, through February 19, and their new company library-history exhibit, including programs, posters, reviews and photos for nearly 400 productions since its founding. 

'God of Carnage,' by the author of 'Art' (which Altarena produced a few years back and the Planet reviewed, begins with two couples speaking civilly, if tentatively, about their kids rough-housing and its consequences, but devolves into kind of a mutual war dance, an adult (and marital) melt-down, with unusual pairings as to who takes whose side about what. 

Staged as a gradually knock-down farce, choreographed exquisitely by Trigg (whose 'Death of a Salesman' at Altarena was one of the theatrical highlights of the last decade hereabouts), the ridiculously funny, gamey dialogue and body English is buoyed up by the fine ensemble performance by Paul Araquistain and JanLee Marshall as the Raleighs, Ben Ortega and Sharon Huff Robinson as the Novaks. 

The cast jumps through the hoops, including moments of slapstick, and comes out with lines like: "We tried to be nice. We brought tulips. My wife tried to pass me off as a liberal."  

The translation from Reza's French for london and New York satge by Christopher hampton ('dangerous Liaisons') can't quite capture the very French rapid denouement and evaporating ending. But the production triumphs, with admirable players and Trigg's moment by moment steady hand at keeping the comedy in focus--and all of it played in the round! 

Fridays and Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 3 (and Thursday evening, February 14) at Altarena playhouse, 1409 High Street, Alameda. $21-$24. 523-1553; altarena.org

Great Characters and Staging Win in Masquers' “Expecting Isabel”

By John A. McMullen II
Thursday January 24, 2013 - 11:17:00 AM
Katina Letheule, Abhi Katyal, Shay Oglesby-Smith, Loralee Windsor, David Irving, Vicki Zabarte, Richard Friedlander
Jerry Telfer
Katina Letheule, Abhi Katyal, Shay Oglesby-Smith, Loralee Windsor, David Irving, Vicki Zabarte, Richard Friedlander

“Expecting Isabel” by Lisa Loomer at the Point Richmond Masquers Playhouse has a talented and well-rehearsed cast of actors that keeps the action fluid and energetic. Playing several characters with well-defined dialects and different embodiments, there is a surprise every few minutes. 

It’s a comedy about a couple who wants a child, with all the twists and misgivings they go through to try to either conceive or adopt. Playwright Lisa Loomer is best known for her play “The Waiting Room,” and for screenwriting “Girl Interrupted.” 

Director Michael Sally cast well and made sure there was no lag time or missed cues.  

It is played on a bare stage with a blue diorama. Furniture appears and disappears without a hitch or calling attention to the movement. 

Abhi Katyal as the husband Nick, is a talented young actor with the ability to be natural and interesting. He plays an Italian-American fellow, and once you get past the ethnic incongruity, he does it well with just enough gesticulation and trace of an accent to be believable. 

Shay Oglesby-Smith, who plays the wife Miranda, has been the Masquers “go-to” leading lady with a record of outstanding musical theatre and character performances. She looks a bit senior to her partner, and in this role does not draw our sympathy as she might. She is angular and easily irritated, and shies away from showing us the depth of heartbreak and confusion that her journey toward motherhood must stir up internally. Though playing a WASP with a hereditary emotional shield, she never lets the mask drop. 

The couple seems to lack an emotional connection. The trap in these plays with many asides to the audience is that the presentational style carries over into the dyad acting and interferes with true communication and intimacy. 

Wide-ranging characterizations of an Italian-American Catholic family, adopting parents support group, and sundry roles are done with pitch-perfect dialect and differentiation by Richard Friedlander, David Irving, Rachel Kaplan, Katina Letheule, Loralee Windsor and Vicki Zabarte. Roles of potential baby-mothers looking to give up their infants are portrayed with humor and pathos by Rachel Stella Kaplan and Vicki Zabarte. Nick’s Italian mother-- played by Ms. Letheule with her novenas and superstitions--and Miranda’s WASP mother--played by Ms. Windsor with her martinis and tidbits from entertainment magazines – are especially buoying and memorable. 

The play is a little formulaic, but the characterizations save it. More connection between the principals would have taken it from enjoyable to moving. 

It’s out by 10 pm, and gets a recommend for non-controversial comedy from this reviewer. 

Masquers Playhouse, 105 Park Place, Point Richmond, CA 

Fridays and Saturdays through Feb 23 with Sun Mats Jan 27, Feb 3 & Feb 17 

http://www.masquers.org / (510) 232-4031

Press Release: The Chamber of Commerce Has Plans
for Downtown Berkeley

From the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce
Friday January 25, 2013 - 10:10:00 AM

When: Monday, February 4, 2013 ~ 12:00 PM to 1:30 PM

Where: Berkeley Chamber of Commerce ~ 1834 University Avenue, Second Floor

Please bring your Brown Bag Lunch - Space is Limited

Please join Government Affairs Chairperson Mark Rhoades, AICP, John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, and Michael Caplan, Manager of the City of Berkeley's Office of Economic Development, at the Chamber of Commerce's Government Affairs Committee on Monday, February 4th, 2013, for a discussion and update on Downtown Berkeley. 

Our first discussion of the year will be held in the Chamber's brand new Board room and will provide an overview of the tremendous positive change that is occurring in the Downtown as well as the continuing challenges from a business and development perspective. 

Three major changes in circumstances are converging that have the potential to reshape the downtown and to create a more vibrant, welcoming, and prosperous community "living room." 

First, after nearly eight years of public process for the Downtown Area Plan, new zoning has been implemented. Second, is the tremendous work that has been done by the Downtown Berkeley Association to establish the Downtown's Property-Based Business Improvement District (PBID). Third, is the recovering economy. The Urban Land Institute's projections for 2013 show the San Francisco Bay Area as the number one real estate investment economy in the United States for the next year or more. 

What this means for Downtown Berkeley is investment in new projects, both large and small. A number of new businesses have opened in the last few months with more on the way. There are also currently six major development projects in the pipeline that will create nearly 800 new dwelling units and approximately 35,000 square feet of new retail space. The new housing will generate approximately 1,600 or more new Downtown residents. As a start, the Zoning Adjustments Board approved the 205-unit Acheson Commons project and the 99-unit project at Dwight and Shattuck on December 20, 2012. Keeping this momentum going will take a concerted effort on the part of the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Berkeley Association and groups such as Berkeley Design Advocates, Livable Berkeley and others. We look forward to seeing you!