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Capital Crimes: Why the Latest Costa-Gavras Film, "Capital," Was Cut from Bay Area Screenings

An investigative movie review by Gar Smith
Friday February 07, 2014 - 10:25:00 AM

Costa-Gavras' latest film (about predatory hedge fund investors in Europe and the US) was listed as one of the top films of the year in a recent edition of the East Bay Express. Costa-Gavras has been called "the world's greatest political filmmaker" and critics hailed Capitol as "fast-paced, financial thriller," a "darkly comic, suspenseful drama." So why was the film "banned in Berkeley"? 

Reviewers received "screeners" — advance copies of the film on DVD disks — in mid-November along with Capital's press release, which promised the film would open on November 22 with screenings in San Francisco and East Bay. The locations for the film's commercial opening, however, were listed as "TBD" — To Be Determined.

I gave the film a positive review and I was looking forward to promoting it to the Berkeley/East Bay crowd -- a perfect demographic.

But the film mysteriously went from TBD to MIA.

Reviewers were informed by email that Capital, regretfully, would not be screened in the Bay Area after all. I was told (off the record) that the film's disappearance involved a question about the amount of money available to promote the film (with newspaper ads, etc) — specifically, the amount offered was deemed insufficient by the managers of a prominent Bay Area theater chain.

I'd never before paused to consider the dynamic between ad budgets and the decisions about which films make it onto theater screens. Ironically, in this case, it looks like Capital was sabotaged by capital -- or a lack thereof.

Even with multiplexes, there are only a limited number of screens to hire out in the Bay Area. In this regard, a movie screen is like a billboard. There are only so many. The space goes to the highest bidder.

In the case of Capital, the film company couldn't match the level of ad buys that Landmark Theatres demanded, so the screens went to other films from competitors with deeper pockets.

Seeking more information, the Planet placed a call to the distributor's West Coast rep in LA. The call was not returned. We soon learned that people in the industry who know how the game is played are not eager to talk about it — at least, not on the record.

"As I understand it," one anonymous source told the Planet, "Landmark was requesting an ad buy for Capital that they [Cohen Media Group, the film's producers] just could not afford. So they pulled the film."

On January 8, in the lobby of the Roxie Theater, members of the local film community (gathered for a press screening to kick off the 16th Annual SF Independent Film Festival) had more to say.

"It's not just Landmark," one widely read film critic explained. "Metreon and all of them do it."

"The movie companies all want to make their cash up front. A lot of these films are 'one-week wonders' so it's crucial to get the crowds in during that first week. It might be your only week."

"It's not just print ads. The filmmakers are also expected to pay fees if they want to place those stand-up displays in the theater lobby. And there are other special deals for publicity and promotions on the theater's websites."

Film buffs should be thankful that independent films like Alexander Payne's Nebraska and the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis make it to the big screen in a big way. But, even here, money plays a role.

"The Coen brothers paid for a three-page spread in the New York Times," another local critic told the Planet. "They even thanked – in print – more than 400 movie reviewers who gave the film a positive review. From the New York Times to the Georgia Strait [a Vancouver weekly]."

"Sometimes when a Times' critic writes a negative review, the film company will hit back with a full-page ad in the Times filled with positive reviews — all pulled from other newspapers."

How many worthy films are denied a theatrical screening on the basis of "red-tooth-and-claw, free-market" economics? Hard to say, but the numbers are certainly in the high double digits.

The irony is that, while some films can't "pay to play" on commercial screens, moviegoers often wind up in multiplexes where the same Big-Buck-backed film is showing on two or three different screens simultaneously.

With all this as background. Here is the Planet's review of Capital. You won't see it on the big screen but look for it on Netflix. 


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Capital: Costa-Gavras' New Film Skewers Capitalism 

Review by Gar Smith 

The celebrated French-Greek director Costa-Gavras, renowned for a series of powerful, politically charged films ("Z," "Missing," "State of Siege") is back in action. This time, his target is nothing less than "Capital" itself. Based on a French novel, Le Capital, Costa-Gavras' film pulls viewers into the murky world of hedge funds and international banking with the force of a rip-tide tugging beachcomers into a confusing cross-current of intrigue and hidden agendas. 

From the first moment, it's clear that Costa-Gavras has made a decision to create distance and sow confusion in this portrayal of Bankers Gone Wild. Capital appears to have been shot on HD video, which immediately gives the movie a disquieting "hyper-real" immediacy. Further undermining the visual comfort of traditional film, Costa-Gavras toys with the digital record, suddenly accelerating or slowing the motion as people cross a street or emerge from limosenes. 

The "surreal reality" of Capital is further hyped when the lead character – Marc Tourneuil (Gad Elmale), a coolly charismatic banker-on-the-make – breaks the "fourth wall." In the very first scene, he steps out of the action and addresses the audience directly from the screen. 

Another confusing element is Tourneuil's internal monologue, which erupts in unexpected and initially perplexing fantasies. We're used to "flash-backs" and "flash-forwards" in cinema but Capital presents us with "flash-ins" – or, perhaps, just "flashes" – that reveal the hidden inferno that seethes beneath Tourneuil's glacial exterior. 

Appropriately, for a film called Capital, the film's sets and props glow with the fevered reflections of great wealth – custom-tailored suits, expensive designer gowns, stretch limosenes, posh yachts, view apartments (with windows opening on the Eiffel Tower), and financial favors handed out like Halloween candy. One of the early scenes in Capital takes place in a luxurious French cabaret adorned with the motto: "Luxury Is a Right." 

It will help if you speak French. The film relies heavily on subtitles and, for much of the film, the subtitles are barely-to-not-at-all readable owning to highly contrasting background compositions. Sometimes, when the subtitles are readable, they carry the awkwardness of unedited mistranslation. Case in point: when the chief of France's Pheonix Bank is stricken with testicular cancer, the subtitle announces: "The cancer has offended his balls." 

Once he's selected to fill in for the ailing CEO of Phenix Band, he critical thing for Tourneuil is to determine "Who on the board is for me or against me." But Trouneuil's biggest threat lies across the Atlantic, not the Seine. 

A conniving American financial operator named Dittmar Rigule (an unctuous and flammable Gabriel Byrne), invites Tourneuil to Miami in an attempt to capture and colonize the new leader. There are profits to be made, he insists. "We can't be judged by 'French banking ethics.'" 

These French and American capital-mongers may be the "smartest guys in the room," but it's clear that Tourneuil (described as a former academic with a PhD in economics) is a lap ahead everyone else on the track. 

In one satirical conversation, two master manipulators have the following exchange:
What exactly are we selling?" "I thought you would be telling me." 

Costa-Gavras gives the modern financial world of derivatives and ? a polished shellacking. 

This is a film in which everyone seems to be flashing "the look" – a cold, clenched-eyebrow look to the side – signaling macho detachment and shark-like cunning. 

At stake: the future of Phenix Bank and whether it will be devoured by the Hedge Hogs based in Miami. Also at stake: the soul of Marc Tourneuil. Will he honor his wife's plea for a non-moniterized identity? Will he choose principal over power and write a "tell-all" book exposing the chicanery of global speculators? 

"Money never sleeps," Tourneuil proclaims (in an apparent nod to Oliver Stone).
"You have to watch it like milk on a stove or it will boil over and you have to fire people." 

"Money isn't a tool," Byrnes' character consuls, "it is a master." 

And one of the simpler tricks of mastering the trade, Capital demonstrates, is boosting a company's profits by staging mergers and hostile take-overs that allow you cut overhead and fire workers. Lay off 10,000 employees can boost annual earnings 18% earning a CEO a $2 billion bonus from the board of directors and stockholders who also get a nourishing cut of the proceeds. 

And it's not just the banksters that get a cinematic whupping from Coasta-Gavras. The world of supermodeldom also gets a tawdry turn in the person of Nassim (Liya Kebede) who initially appears as "recruitment bait" on Rigule's Miami yatch. Nassim transfixes Tourneuil and runs him ragged in a game of transcontinental tease. I may never be able to look at a supermodel again without thinking of Capital's phrase, "million-dollar hooker." 

Throughout the money chase, Tourneuil's real allegiance remains confused and unclear. In his first masterfully staged speech as the new head of Phenix Bank, he appears before a packed auditorium of stockholders and fellow executives. At his back is a huge screen filled with an incredible montage of Skype screens showing the faces of lower-ranking bank employees from all around the world. Tourneuil gives a speech that essentially promises to "green" the bank -- promoting renewable energy, workers rights and racial justice. The stunned shareholders can barely rouse themselves to offer a lack-luster patter of applause. Meanwhile, the Skypeiverse erupts with cheers. Tourneuil turns his back on the men in suits and his smiling face glows in the reflected light of the bank's minions. 

But we are still stuck with Tourneuil's evil twin. When his wife protests that she doesn't want to "dress like a CEO's wife" and is perfectly happy without a burgeoning bank account to draw on. "Why do you want the money?" she asks. "Because," he explains, "money means respect." And Tourneuil is in this game to win. 

Capital follows in the path of scores of adventure-conspiracy films. There is one "hero" who is smarter than everyone else. He casts a cold eye over the landscape and issues orders that leave his underlings (and competitors) stunned – but, at the same time, awed. You know he's going to outfox every other predator on the horizon. 

Throughout the film, Tourneil's moral arc records more dips and peaks than the rails of a roller-coaster. The film ends with a closing discontinuity. Is Tourneuil evil or is he merely pragmatic -- a man who has abandoned principles in the pursuit of compound interest?

Tim's Vermeer: A Tricky, Magical Film from Penn and Teller
Opens February 14 at the SF Embarcadero and February 21 at the Elmwood in Berkeley

Review by Gar Smith
Saturday February 15, 2014 - 11:22:00 AM

The new film from Penn and Teller (the multitasking Odd Couple behind the X-rated comic-doc, "The Aristocrats") is an irresistibly entertaining film about a self-effacing Texas inventor and his obsession with the 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.

There is a mystery that drives this film. But, in this case, it's not a question of "Whodunnit?" It's more a matter of "Howdunnit?"

There was always something special about Vemeer's masterpieces —a certain heightened clarity and illumination that give canvases like "Girl with a Pearl Earring" an eerie, almost photographic presence.

More than eight years ago, a Texas tinkerer named Tim Jenison became hooked on the idea that there was a special trick at work behind Vermeer's paintings. Jenison became fixated on trying to prove his suspicions. Bolstered by his experience as a pioneering designer of desktop video and CGI imagery, Jenison believed he knew Vermeer's secret: It was all done with mirrors—some 150 years before the invention of photography, Vermeer had found a way to capture living images by projecting them on canvas.

This theory clearly appealed to a pair of professional magicians like Penn and Teller. 

Although only 35 of Vermeer's work are known to exist, the collection was sufficient to provide Jenison with his first clues. On close inspection, it is revealed that many of the paintings were staged within the confines of a single room—Vermeer's studio apartment in Delft. And there was something about the light. The human retina does not perceive light in the way that Vermeer painted it. It was, instead, the way light is captured through the lens of a camera. 

That was the key. Vermeer, Jenison reasoned, had relied on a room-sized camera obscura—essentially a large, walk-in "pin-hole" camera that projects an image from the outside world upside down on the back wall of a darkened box. 

Teller's direction quickly establishes Jenison's quirky but easy-going, can-do nature. Jenison is shown skating around a parking lot with a large office fan strapped on his back to increase his speed. He's shown walking from his car and taking off for a hop in a small personal helicopter. He's shown tinkering with electronics and mirrors. He's shown meticulously recreating a 17th century table leg on a lathe. 

Jenison is a clever fellow but, as he admits upfront: "I am not a painter." Nonetheless, he assigns himself an unlikely task: "To paint a Vermeer" using the tools he believed the Dutch master might have employed. 

An inventor who is as good with his hands as he is with his brain, Jenison used a furnace to manufacture the glass that he ground by hand to fashion the lens of his own camera obscura—once again, using only the materials and technology available in the 17th century. 

Jenison visited Vermeer's dwelling in the town of Delft to study the light. Back home in Texas, he created a palette of pigments — made by hand using nothing but the minerals and oils that would have been available to Vermeer. 

The painting Jenison choses to replicate is Vermeer's "The Music Lesson." And, in order to fairly test his hypothesis, Jenison is compelled to recreate Vermeer's studio in a section of his vast Texas warehouse. He builds his replica studio in a spot where the windows face the sun at the same angle. The recreation of Vermeer's studio is a painstaking process involving fashioning wood into period furniture, recreating the iron-and-glass windows, searching for similar samples of cloth and clothing, commissioning the creation of matching ceramics, hiring costumed models to stand in position for hours at a time. 

In the course of the film, Jenison will discover how it is possible to achieve the camera obscura effect in normal light. He also encounters problems that threaten to torpedo his quest. Each time, his remarkably nimble mind comes up with flashes of insight that send him down new avenues of exploration, using new tools that Vermeer may —or may not—have used to "paint photographs." 

Jenison's quest was buoyed by the research (and controversial speculation) of Philip Steadman, the author of Vermeer's Camera and the British artist David Hockney who is initially intrigued by Jenison's discoveries and finds himself finally, and delightedly, convinced. Both Steadman and Hockey are featured in the film. 

Finally, with the stage set, the sleight-of-hand needs to be replaced by might-of-hand. 

Since Jenison is "not a painter," the work goes slowly. He must paint his canvas slowly, looking at a portion of the composition captured in the reflection of a small round mirror. The work proceeds as an application of millions of small strokes, matching color and design at a micro-level. 

The work takes months. At one point, Jenison has to replicate the elaborate design in a rug that lies draped over some furniture. The photographic detail evident in Vemeer's work forces Jenison to spend three excruciating days, painting each knot and tie in the surface of the rug. 

The camerawork is a wonder to behold. Did Teller spend the entire 130 days it took to paint the facsimile patiently filming over Jenison's shoulder? It's a marvel to watch Jenison's tiny brush doggedly at work. (Thanks to the editing, Jenison's brush is always daubed in just the right shade of paint—we don't see the times where the hue was off and a remix/retouch was needed). 

Even more marvelous are the time-lapse shots that record the progress as Tim's Vermeer slowly emerges across the canvas, gaining color and detail. At one point, the process is even depicted in motion—the camera panning slowly over the canvas as the incredibly detailed art unfurls like rich custard being poured over a white plate. 

With the viewer's mind primed to look for answers to mysteries, there is one nettlesome detail. Early in the painting process, we can see that the walls and furnishings of Vemeer's room all fully painted. The forms of the student and teacher are missing and still to be added. 

While this is the way an ordinary painter would likely proceed, it is inconsistent with Jenison's theory and his mechanical approach to recreating the masterpiece – by building it outward, millimeter by millimeter. 

Why paint parts of walls and furnishings that were not visible in the original painting? 

This is another mystery embedded in the film. 

ABC Quick Guide for Emergency Preparation in Berkeley

By Stevanne Auerbach in cooperation with BDPNN with assistance of Pam Grossman.
Friday February 07, 2014 - 10:43:00 AM


Recently our neighbors gathered to hear Disaster Preparedness Trainer, Pam Grossman, a member of the Berkeley Disaster Preparedness Neighborhood Network (BDPNN). She presented essential information about how we can become prepared for the inevitable earthquake. We learned a great deal and began to mobilize. 

“Disasters do happen. The more preparation you can do ahead of time, the easier it will be when the disaster happens. Start by collecting or purchasing basic supplies (food, water, medication and sources of light and warmth) and put them in a safe, dry place outside your dwelling. Get to know your neighbors, and form a neighborhood group. Come to BDPNN’s quarterly meetings for more information about disaster related subjects. Look on the websites listed at the end of this article for more detailed steps you can take in getting ready.” BDPNN “The Network” 

The ABC Quick Guide for Emergency Preparation covers the most important points in an easy format, and includes helpful resources for more detailed information. 

Get Ready! 

We need to know how to cope in case of a sudden disaster. Being prepared in all important ways is the best way to protect our homes, families, possessions, and ourselves and recover from such a disaster. We need to be able to manage for up to ten days following a disaster, or longer until utilities and services are restored. 

So please be responsible, and be prepared. It will take some time, effort, and resources to gather the suggested essentials, but any time and effort spent now will be very worthwhile in case of an emergency. 

Being prepared can save your life, reduce stress, help you and others to be more comfortable despite any issues, and you will be better able to help others. 

Get Set! 

ABC EMERGENCY Preparation Includes Three Stages:

  1. Prepare Residence/Office – Includes reminders about cabinets, furniture, car, home electricity, gas and water shut-offs.
  2. Prepare Emergency Supplies – includes fire extinguishers, first aid supplies, flashlights, extra batteries, food, water, and other supplies. Buy a storage container to hold your emergency supplies, and store it in a safe location outside your dwelling.
  3. Prepare Ourselves-Family/Friends/Neighbors – take free CERT classes given by the Berkeley Fire Department.
BlanketsStore extra blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, tarps, and Mylar blankets. B 

CabinetsBe sure doors are well secured with latches. A 

CarStore several day’s emergency supplies in car. A 

Clothing Store comfortable clothes, gloves, hat, pair of shoes, and other essentials in large Zip-Lock type bags. B 

DocumentsOrganize copies of all important documents, secured in watertight storage files or put on a zip drive and give to someone out of the area for safekeeping. C 

ElectricityKnow how to turn off circuit breakers and the main power supply. A C 

FireFire extinguishers must be ABC type only. B 

First Aid Have sufficient supplies available in water-proof container. Include bandages, band aids, gauze pads, antiseptic, scissors, ace bandages, gloves, etc. Attend a CERT Disaster First Aid Training Class to learn essentials. B C 

FlashlightsGather a variety of flashlights, lanterns, extra batteries, and headlamps. C 

Food Store canned foods that do not require preparation. Include canned foods, drinks, freeze-dried camping food, plates, cups, utensils, opener and cooking pot. BBQs and/or camp stoves are useful. C 

FurnitureSecure bookcases, cabinets, and other objects from toppling over. “Hold down” straps can be purchased at hardware stores. A 

GasKnow how to turn off gas at the meter. Keep necessary wrench nearby. A C 

HomeCheck for structural integrity (termites), and secure chimney, roof, walls and foundation. A 

MedicineMedications needed for you, and your pet, should be stored in clearly marked container inside your dwelling because some medications are temperature sensitive. B 

Meeting PlaceDecide what you, your family, roommate and/or friend’s emergency arrangement will be. C 

MoneyHave $200-$300 in small bills as bank or ATM probably will not be functioning. B 

Neighbors Know your neighbors and encourage everyone to get prepared. Check on each other. Share a garage. Include generator, stretcher, and other supplies. C 

Objects Be sure any items that could fall down, break or be a hazard are secured. A 

Pets Store food and essential supplies. B 

Plan Include evacuation, where to meet, and emergency telephone numbers. C 

RadioObtain portable radio, extra batteries. B 

SanitationItems needed for makeshift toilet include kitty litter, plastic bag, and five gallon plastic bucket with locking toilet seat, sanitizer wipes, toilet paper, and chlorine bleach. B 

SleepingGet a tarp, tent, sleeping bags, towels, rain gear, and hat. B 

SkillsOrganize neighbors to assist each other, and elderly, disabled, and children. C 

SuppliesCheck on supplies, maintain and replace as needed. Include paper, pens, plastic sheeting to cover broken windows, stapler, duct tape, crow bar, whistle, garbage bags. B 

TelephoneArrange for contact outside of state for follow-up. Have both a cell phone number for text messages and a land-line number in case cell phones do not work. C 

ToolsGather garden hose, rope, shovel, broom, screwdrivers, hammers, pliers, wrench, plastic sheets, and/or tarps. B 

Water Have a minimum of one gallon (two is best) per person per day (plus pets). Obtain food grade water storage container, and fill it. Must be refreshed once a year. B 

WaterKnow how to turn off the home's water valves in case of leaks. Keep necessary wrench nearby. C 

Water HeaterBe certain the heater is bolted to a stud in the wall. A 

Windows Secure windows; have plywood available as needed. A 


  1. More Preparation!
  • Contact Pam Grossman Pam@grossmanfamily.com to schedule a Free Neighborhood Preparedness Meeting.
  • Consider taking free CERT classes given by the City of Berkeley, such as Disaster First Aid, Fire Suppression, Light Search and Rescue. (See more resources below)
  1. ABC EMERGENCY Quick Guide Resources
  1. Berkeley Disaster Preparedness Neighborhood Network (BDPNN) www.bdpnnetwork.org and www.bdpnnetwork.org/yahoo
    The Network offers speakers, training, assistance, meetings to share information, resources, and discounts for vendors. BDPNN founders were Norine Smith, Lynn Zummo and Charlotte Nolan. Norine and Lynn are current Board members plus Sandy Miarecki, David Peattie. Pam Grossman (Disaster Preparedness Trainer). BDPNN’s mission is “to assist Berkeley households and neighborhoods to respond effectively to disasters by further developing organizational skills, human and material resources, and responsiveness by sharing experiences, seeking expert advice, enhanced training and information sharing.” Over 100 neighborhood groups are involved. Offers DVD presentation, CD Start-up Kit on organizing neighborhood and more.
  2. Community Emergency Response Training (CERT). Free Classes given by Berkeley Fire Department. Call 510 981 5605 or go online to www.cityofberkeley.info/CERT for more information.
  3. A Checklist: Making a Family Plan for Emergencies by Nancy Overton. Detailed guide available from author - ostudios@earthlink.net ($15.00).
  4. Berkeley Fire Departmenthttp://www.cityofberkeley.info/CERT
  5. PGE – Pacific Gas and Electric http://www.pge.com/en/myhome/edusafety/naturaldisaster/earthquake/index.page
  6. Bay Area Red Crosswww.preparebayrea.org; http://cip.plsinfo.org/PDF/DisasterPrepClasses0807.pdf
  7. FEMAhttp://www.ready.gov/
  8. Fire Extinguishers Best Equipment Company, 3101 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley (510-655-8882)
----ABC Quick Guide for Emergency Preparation in Berkeley was prepared by Stevanne Auerbach in cooperation with BDPNN with assistance of Pam Grossman. 




Not News: Homeless Man Dies on a Berkeley Street Corner

By Becky O'Malley
Friday February 07, 2014 - 01:30:00 PM

MONDAY UPDATE: The Alameda Coroner's office confirmed the death on Thursday, February 6, of David Simmons, described as a 66-year-old Caucasian male transient who was found unresponsive at 2295 Shattuck, on the corner of Bancroft, early that morning. The Planet has received reports of a second death of a homeless man, but the Coroner's office was not able to confirm this as of 4 p.m. on Monday afternoon.

This morning, possibly in response to last week’s plea for community help in tracking down rumors, I got an email from reader Mary Ann Uribe:

“Yesterday I was told a homeless man was found dead in front of Peet's Coffee on Shattuck and Kittredge that morning after he was made to sleep in the rain and exposed to the elements. He was trying to get into a shelter but the shelter did not open ‘til late in the evening and he was never told it was open. Also, when he tried to sleep under the eave where he had been sitting in front of Peet's Coffee, the Berkeley Police would not let him sleep there. As a result he most likely died of exposure. He was found dead yesterday morning by one of the Ambassadors. 

“It is my understanding that Peet's Coffee on Shattuck and Kittredge used to let J.C. [Orton of the Catholic Workers] post a sign to let people know if the shelter was opening but they now refuse to let him do that. 

“The majority of homeless people in Berkeley do not have cell phones and they cannot keep calling to find out if a shelter will open. Also, like this individual, they are extremely cold and are not adequately prepared for the cold weather we are having particularly at night where it has hit 30 degrees. Nor can they walk all over town trying to find a shelter that is open. 

“There is a California Supreme Court case called "Sundance" where the court said the police are to "protect and serve" so that people who are drunk, particularly vulnerable, should be taken to a shelter rather than to jail. The police should have given this man a ride to a shelter where he could have gotten out of the rain.” 

I tried to fact-check what sounded like a plausible story as best I could over the telephone before publishing it. This is what I learned: 

The Berkeley Police Department public information officer doesn't work on Fridays, but Officer Jennifer Louis confirmed that a man had been found dead yesterday in the 2200 block of Shattuck. That’s all she could say—she couldn’t tell me his name or the cause of death. 

I called Peet’s on Shattuck, where I talked to a sympathetic young-sounding woman named Elizabeth, who said she’d often seen the guy who died, that he was always there sleeping in front of the door when she opened up in the morning. She and her co-workers had tried to talk to him, she said, but he’d never responded. 

Then I reached J.C. Orton of Night on the Streets Catholic Worker, a volunteer organization which serves meals to homeless people and coordinates information about shelters. He told me that he’d been acquainted with the deceased man, but that he didn’t know his name. He said that he’d seen the police and emergency crews at 7:30 yesterday morning, and told me that he thought the body was actually found on the corner of Shattuck and Bancroft, not Kittredge, in front of the old Crocker Bank building. He said that shelter spaces are generally available, but it’s hard to contact everyone who might want to get into them, though his organization maintains a phone line and posts many signs about shelter availability. 

I checked online to see if this death on the streets of Berkeley had been reported anywhere. I typed “homeless man dies in ...” and Google produced a long list of places, including Berkeley, where people had succumbed on the streets in the recent past. Clearly, it happens all the time, and most of the time it doesn’t even make the news. 

I found no news report anywhere of anyone dying on the street in downtown Berkeley yesterday morning. 

Today it’s cold and raining. On the streets of Berkeley and San Francisco and Hayward and Richmond and Oakland and Santa Cruz and everywhere else homeless people are edging toward death, as are we all. For some of us, death will be an important event, noted in the community, perhaps even reported in the papers. For many living on the street today, death is just the final stop on a downward road to oblivion. 

J.C. Orton summed it up for me: “He will be easily forgotten.” 

If that seems harsh to you, the best way to remember the nameless souls who have died on the street is to care more about the living. Some ideas for what you might do can be found on the Night on the Streets Catholic Worker website. For more information about what the group does in Berkeley, check the articles on their “Press” page, many of which were originally published in the Berkeley Daily Planet. 


The Editor's Back Fence

From the Vatican

Sunday February 09, 2014 - 05:49:00 PM

Forwarded by a reader: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" —Pope Francis 

Death in the News

Sunday February 09, 2014 - 09:33:00 AM

Frances Dinkelspiel has pointed out this posting on Thursday's Berkeleyside Facebook page


Odd Bodkins: Tennis (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday February 07, 2014 - 01:18:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

Berkeley Copwatch to Protest Berkeley Police Review Commission

By Members of Berkeley Copwatch
Friday February 07, 2014 - 09:36:00 AM

On the night of February 12th of last year, Kayla (Xavier) Moore, a transgendered woman of color living with schizophrenia, experienced a mental health episode at her Gaia Building apartment. Berkeley Police officers went to her apartment. There was a struggle and Moore stopped breathing. Although the police did call for an ambulance, none of them attempted to restore her breathing. The 41-year old Kayla Moore was taken to Alta Bates Hospital and pronounced dead at 1:34am. This case represents a crystallization of things wrong with the way the Berkeley Police Department is currently operating, as well as the way oversight mechanisms are functioning.

Berkeley Copwatch has conducted a People’s Investigation into this in-custody death. Our report can be read here.

To protest the Police Review Commission’s inability, or unwillingness, to take any action that would make people safer from police in the year since Moore’s death, Berkeley Copwatch will be holding a rally and vigil at 6pm on Wednesday, February 12th at the Gaia Building, 2116 Allston Way, between Shattuck and Oxford. We will march to the Police Review Commission’s meeting at the South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis Street, at the corner of Ashby and Ellis. The PRC meeting is at 7pm, and we will be holding a speak-out there. 

We embarked upon our investigation immediately after we became aware of Kayla’s death, motivated by the BPD’s release of virtually no information, and the seriousness of what occurred. With the indispensible involvement of Kayla’s grieving family, who have been deeply involved throughout this entire process, and support of many community members, we conducted an investigation into this in-custody death. Numerous requests were made under the Public Records Act for dispatch records, various policies, radio transmissions, call for service logs, and officer’s reports. All but the policy requests were denied. The police repeatedly refused to release basic information under the guise of their “investigating” Kayla’s death. The BPD kept the public in a state of information blackout. 

It would have stayed this way, except for public pressure. The BPD investigation report into Moore’s death was only released after demonstrations, and Kayla’s family and a number of community members going before the City Council to demand its release. You can read the BPD’s report here: www.scribd.com/bcopwatch. 

There were two other people in Moore’s apartment that night: a friend of hers, and another individual acting as her caregiver. Her friend called the police believing that Kayla was in need of assistance and an evaluation, as she was undergoing a mental health crisis. 

After running an ID check on her, the officers found a warrant for a “Xavier Moore,” but with a birthdate that would have put her 20 years older than she was. This warrant was not confirmed by the officers on the scene, a procedure that is usually performed to ensure the warrant is for the right individual. 

The police had done previous welfare checks on Moore, and had in fact convinced her in the past to voluntarily seek assistance. The police knew of her issues, and she had no history of violence. The police spoke to Moore, and she was clearly in crisis. According to the police, she was not violent and made no threats. 

Despite the unconfirmed warrant, the lead officer decided that since they were arresting Moore’s friend on a warrant, “we might as well take him,” referring to Moore. The officers were unconcerned with the fact that she in mental distress. They did not deescalate the situation in a way that could easily have led to a very different outcome that night. 

Having decided to arrest Kayla, two officers went “hands on,” and grabbed her. According to them, Kayla attempted to pull away and a struggle occurred. More officers arrived to help restrain the 347-pound Moore, and she ended up with several officers on top of her. After wrangling her so she was facedown, she stopped breathing. 

Witnesses reported to Berkeley Copwatch that after the police arrived, they heard a struggle with much noise, banging, and screaming – then abrupt silence. Although the police said there was a disturbance that night, witnesses did not confirm a disturbance before the police arrived. 

The importance of this investigation is that we have a genuinely independent report to move forward with. This is a report with interviews, analysis, and recommendations. 

We have identified multiple issues that need to be addressed. The unnecessary escalation of the situation by the BPD, and the inability or unwillingness to understand that this was a mental health situation, not a violent encounter, was a critical aspect of Kayla’s death. The excessive use of force and the failure to disengage when it may have been clear that Kayla was in respiratory distress raise serious questions about the BPD’s procedures. The lack of a legal basis to arrest Kayla; the failure of the officers on the scene to gather information about Moore’s state; the lack of medical response when she stopped breathing; these are all significant problems with the way the BPD interacted with Moore. 

There has been a total failure of the city’s Police Review Commission to adequately investigate this incident. The PRC is mired in restrictive legal processes and faces endless threats of litigation on the part of the Berkeley Police Association, the “union” representing BPD officers. Having a former police attorney as their administrative secretary doesn’t help. The PRC is unable to honestly examine police officer misconduct or support community efforts for justice. 

Additionally, the lack of an adequate police investigation into her death makes us wonder about the seriousness of their investigation. This aggravates every problem that occurred, and makes it easier for them to occur in the future. 

These are a few of the issues we identified. There are others and we invite you to read about them. 

Throughout this process, there has been a consistent dehumanization of Kayla – such as refusing to release even her name, Moore being called “it” by a police officer – as well as disrespect and hostility towards her family. One example of this was when one of Moore’s family members was prevented from speaking at a City Council meeting and removed by police, some of whom were the same officers who were involved in Moore’s death. 

We have made a number of recommendations regarding policy and procedure, for the City of Berkeley and the BPD; as well as findings regarding the individual officers present that night. 

The City’s Peace and Justice Commission has recommended to the City Council that they accept the report, and that they direct the City Manager and BPD to consider the policy and procedure recommendations we have made. 

One of these is having the City identify a civilian point of contact for mental health emergencies, and keeping the police out of these situations except where a dangerous weapon or imminent danger is present. The City’s Commission on Disability has also endorsed this recommendation. 

Alternatives to the police when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis need to be explored. In our report we have resources for people interested in learning safe and effective ways of communicating and responding to people undergoing mental health crises that don’t involved violence or the police. 

City resources need to be directed away from hardware for police, and for the establishment of an emergency mental health system that doesn’t use police as first responders. The Berkeley Police Association wants TASERs for the BPD, and has pushed them using this and other mental-health related situations as good reasons to have them. This is highly disingenuous. TASERs do not reduce police violence. The problem here is police aggression, not a lack of equipment. 

Serious training protocols for de-escalation techniques, working with those with mental health issues, and transgender sensitivity are direly needed in the BPD. A clear distinction needs to be made between violent situations, and medical evaluations.

Valentina’s Dream

By Elena (Petrova) Gold
Saturday February 15, 2014 - 11:17:00 AM

On the chilly morning of St. Valentine’s Day, when their western sisters dig their pretty noses into outrageously expensive bouquets of red roses, dutifully delivered to their city offices by stressed couriers, most Russian women will be lucky to get a card and a chocolate rose from a supermarket.

Valentine’s Day in Russia is a reason to party and celebrate (read: drink and dance till early hours of the morning) but flowers will have to wait until March 8, International Women’s Day, an official public holiday in Russia when men try to be gentlemen and let women relax from home chores.

Probably, the only Russian ladies enjoying courier-delivered roses will be members of online dating services and the flowers will be sent by their overseas boyfriends. I am using the term “boyfriends” loosely here, as most online romances only flourish in cyberspace, with splashes of courier-delivered roses and chocolates being the only real things women might get.

Russia, fresh from Perestroika, opened its borders in the early ’90’s. It meant Russians no longer needed exit visas from the government to leave the country. Straight away, a whole universe of dating services started to offer introductions to beautiful Russian women who wanted to marry western men.

To an outsider, this might have looked like a way for women from a poor country to find a better life, but in truth what these women really wanted was to find a husband and start a family. Surprisingly enough, given Russia’s history of equal rights for men and women since the Revolution of 1917, Russian family paradigms remained rigidly centered around a man’s role as provider, and a woman’s role as wife and mother, so much so that successful career women feel inadequate if they do not have a husband and kids, and no amount of career success can make them feel good about themselves. 

Fast-forward twenty years. Russia lost its “superpower” status but managed to shrug its dread of Perestroika and rebuild itself into an open and modern society. Moscow consistently tops the lists for the number of billionaires and cost of living, and Russian President Vladimir Putin scored the #1 spot on the 2013 list of Forbes’ Most Powerful People. We may laugh at the travails of the Olympic Torch but no one argues that the facilities in Sochi are world-class. 

But what about family values? They are still the same as they were 20 years ago. Russian women are still desperate for marriage and kids. The infamous Russian laws against “gay propaganda” are coming from the same center: trying to maintain the traditional nuclear family and reverse the demographic crisis: there are 92 males to every 100 females between the ages of 15 and 64, and 46 for every 100 women 65 years and over. 

Russian men are well aware of these demographics. A Russian woman in her early 30’s told me about her first date with a young Russian man: when she refused his request for late-night drinks at her place, he blatantly scolded her: “You shouldn’t be that stiff; there are not enough men in Russia.” 

The desperation of Russian women in their pursuit of family is what Tina Fey lambasted in the 2008 movie Baby Mama, the only difference being that Russian women want to have both a husband and a child─and one without the other isn’t considered an option. 

Thus, online dating services offering Russian women introductions to western men never run out of pretty female candidates, most of whom are educated professionals with degrees: those women have an even harder time finding a partner in Russia, as they dream to meet someone who is on their level, or preferably higher. 

The problem these women face is that most men they meet are virtual dreamers using dating sites as a cost-effective substitute for porn or phone sex. Most men on dating sites are happy to exchange emails and photos and maybe chat on Skype, but moving a relationship to the real world is something only 1% of them will ever do. The rare happy couples are exceptions to the rule, and, if you asked the women, they probably were diligently dating online for years before meeting a man brave enough to buy a plane ticket to meet her. 

So, here she is, the beautiful Russian Valentina: looking into the monitor and dreaming about a man, who will become her everything: a husband, a partner, a lover, a protector and the father of her kids... 

Let’s hope she’ll get some flowers on St. Valentine’s Day. At least, it’s something real. 


Elena (Petrova) Gold is the founder of ElenasModels.com. 





Empathy for All

By Romila Khanna
Sunday February 09, 2014 - 09:44:00 AM

Some special interest groups are trying their best to stop funding for Obama Care. They are misinforming the public in order to create problems for the needy and the poor. Why don't ask those who have purchased Affordable Care and who can now visit their doctor without fear of huge bills? I know many people who have saved money and learned preventive self care thanks to the affordable health care law.  

Those who are against this law enjoy all amenities: many of them have federal health insurance and other perks. They are very shy to extend these benefits to those who need these most. True service to humanity demands empathy for all. Our representatives in the Senate and the House should think to serve others before improving their own safety net.  

Democracy does not stand for self-empowerment; every effort should be made to help all citizens. The national debt should not be reduced by reducing food stamps for the poorest of the poor. The times have changed. People understand the obstructionism of our lawmakers now. I am appealing to all three branches of the government to fix their broken systems. All in America deserve to live and thrive. Let us elect lawmakers whose ears can hear poor America’s lamentations.

How Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Will Affect Israel

By Tejinder Uberoi
Friday February 07, 2014 - 10:38:00 AM

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) program targeted against Israel is growing exponentially. For example, the $200 billion Dutch pension fund PGGM plans to divest from the five largest Israeli banks. Israeli finance minister, Yair Lapid, stressed the urgent need to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians to avoid further isolation. He warned that failure to do so could lead to a European boycott of the Jewish state seriously impacting exports, the loss of thousands of jobs, soaring inflation and internal unrest.  

US Secretary of State, John Kerry, warned Israel that it “is likely to face an international boycott “on steroids,” if it continued construction of illegal settlements. An increasing number of American Jews oppose Israel policies and are joining the BDS campaigns (NYT Feb 2 2014). The Institute of National Security, a Tel Aviv think tank, warned that “Israel’s economy is much more vulnerable than its national security.” EU foreign ministers pledged “an unprecedented European political, economic and security support package” to both Israelis and Palestinians “in the context of a final status agreement.” The EU cautioned Israel that further settlement construction could jeopardize the EU offer. Israel would be wise to seize the moment and accept the generous EU offer and embrace John Kerry’s brokered efforts in bringing about a final peaceful settlement to this festering Middle East conflict. 

New: The Homeless Man Who Died

By Mary Ann Uribe
Sunday February 09, 2014 - 09:45:00 AM

His friends described him as a senior, approximately in his early 60’s in age, Caucasian, very quiet, kept to himself most of the time, did not speak very often, unassuming….a man who had been homeless for about a year. He was particularly vulnerable because of his age and, after being homeless for a year, his health had deteriorated. He should have been rescued, not persecuted. He should have been saved, not forgotten. He should have been driven to a shelter, not allowed to sleep in the rain. Instead he was found dead in front of Peet's Coffee on Shattuck and Kittredge on Thursday morning at about 7:30 a.m. on February 6, 2014 having died of exposure to the rain and cold during the night.  

We walked by him dozens of times choosing to ignore him rather than see the silent plea in his eyes. He could have been a former electrical engineer who had been laid off, a construction worker who lost his job during the housing market downturn, a factory worker whose job was shipped over seas when his employer decided to downsize and save money by hiring foreign workers to do his job. A victim of the economic downturn he lost his home, his car and his family. We became his family and we failed him. 

As a member of our family he was our father, our grandfather, our uncle, our neighbor and our friend. In the Sundance case, the California Supreme Court said we are all part of a society…in a sense, a family. As such we need to take care of our most vulnerable such as our senior citizens neglected, hungry and dying in the rain.  

We are in the midst of a national disaster where millions of people are out of work, have lost their homes and are hungry. As in any national disaster law enforcement should be protecting us, not persecuting us. This man was not allowed to sleep under the eve at Peet’s Coffee and was forced to sleep in the rain where he eventually died. Our police officers should have taken him to a shelter, not run him off or threatened to arrest him for trying to get out of the rain. Even the California Supreme Court recognized that this is not only good law but good policy…the humane thing to do.


THE PUBLIC EYE: Questioning Authority: Edward Snowden

By Bob Burnett
Friday February 07, 2014 - 09:03:00 AM

If you weren’t alive on the evening of March 8, 1971, you probably don’t understand what a big deal it was when 8 anti-war activists burglarized the Media, Pennsylvania, FBI office. As detailed in Betty Medsger’s book, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, the fallout from the break-in changed the way Americans view the FBI. Moreover, the Media burglars set the stage for Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency. 

The Media burglary came at the end of a tumultuous decade that included the freedom rides in the South, assassination of President Kennedy, escalation of the war in Vietnam, assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, Chicago Democratic convention riots, Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia, and Vietnam massacre at My Lai. By the end of 1970, most anti-war activists felt President Nixon and Congress weren’t listening to them. Many activists believed government agents were spying on them and interfering in their lives. 

Physics professor Bill Davidon, and 7 other anti-war activists, burglarized the FBI office in order to determine whether their suspicions were justified. They removed all the FBI files and confirmed agents had infiltrated the civil rights and anti-war movements with the intent to “enhance the paranoia.” In addition, the burglars uncovered two top-secret FBI programs. The first was a “security index” that named “more than 26,000… Americans considered potentially dangerous as spies or saboteurs if war or national insurrection developed.” 

The second was COINTELPRO, a secret program that spied on civil-rights leaders, anti-war activists, and public critics of the F.B.I. 

[These] FBI operations aimed at dissenters went far beyond spying. Some were designed to hurt people physically and to destroy reputations by planting derogatory information that had been fabricated by the bureau.

These revelations produced public outrage and strict Congressional oversight of the FBI and the security establishment. After the Media burglary, Americans became more suspicious of the FBI and the intelligence community. Nonetheless, today most of us find it hard to believe the government would collect all of our phone, text, and email data. But that’s what happened after Congress passed the Patriot Act. 

Edward Snowden revealed this surveillance. Like the Media burglars, Snowden broke the law in order to reveal massive US government transgressions. 

Writing in the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza observed 

It is evident from the Snowden leaks that Obama inherited [from George Bush] a regime of dragnet surveillance that often operated outside the law and raised serious constitutional questions. Instead of shutting down or scaling back the programs, Obama has worked to bring them into narrow compliance with rules—set forth by a court that operates in secret.

A recent New York Times editorial noted: 

■ The N.S.A. broke federal privacy laws, or exceeded its authority, thousands of times per year, according to the agency’s own internal auditor. ■ The agency broke into the communications links of major data centers around the world, allowing it to spy on hundreds of millions of user accounts and infuriating the Internet companies that own the centers. ■ The N.S.A. systematically undermined the basic encryption systems of the Internet, making it impossible to know if sensitive banking or medical data is truly private, damaging businesses that depended on this trust.

Before March 8, 1971, the FBI and CIA vigorously denied they gathering surveillance data on thousands of Americans. Subsequent disclosures revealed they lied. On March 12, 2013, James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence who oversees NSA, lied to Congress when he denied that the NSA is collecting data on millions of Americans. 

J. Edgar Hoover justified FBI political spying, the Security Index, and COINTELPRO, claiming he was saving the US from communism. But history has shown that it had nothing to do with threats from Russia or China but instead Hoover’s prejudices. 

This past June Obama defended NSA surveillance, saying, “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information.” Pro Publica reports that the NSA has provided specifics on only four of these cases and there is little support for the President’s contention that NSA surveillance actually “averted” these threats. In December Federal District Judge Richard J. Leon studied NSA surveillance and observed, “the Government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature.” 

On March 8, 1971, the Media 8 served the public interest when they burglarized the FBI office and revealed the contents to the press. Amazingly, they were never arrested. On June 5, 2013, Edward Snowden revealed the NSA surveillance process to the press. On June 23 he sought asylum in Russia. 

What we learned in 1971 is essentially the same thing we learned from the Snowden documents. The federal government is conducting illegal surveillance on Americans. 

Edward Snowden is a whistleblower. He is a patriot. 

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


DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Sudan: Colonialism’s Dead hand

By Conn Hallinan
Friday February 07, 2014 - 09:22:00 AM

Hopefully the recent ceasefire agreement between the warring parties in South Sudan will halt that country’s downward spiral into civil war. But if it does it will have to buck the convergence of two powerful historical streams: a legacy of colonial manipulation dating back more than a hundred years, and the current policies of the U.S. vis-à-vis the African continent. 

South Sudan became a country in 2011 when its residents voted overwhelmingly to separate from the Sudan, at the time the largest country in Africa. But a falling out late last year between South Sudan President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, and Vice President Riek Machar, a member of the Nuer tribe, has plunged the country into war. Cities have been sacked, thousands killed, and almost 200,000 people turned into refugees. 

The birth of continent’s newest nation was largely an American endeavor, brought about by a polyglot coalition of Christian evangelicals, U.S. corporations, the Bush and Obama administrations, the Congressional Black Caucus, and human rights supporters. 

But in many ways the current crisis goes back to November 1884, when some 14 countries came together in Berlin and sliced up a continent. The players represented virtually the entire Western industrial world, although the key participants were Great Britain, France, Germany and Portugal. As South African geographer Matt Rosenberg notes, “At the time of the conference, 80 percent of Africa remained under traditional and local control.” When the meeting ended a year later, the colonial powers had created 50 countries “superimposed over the 1,000 indigenous cultures and regions of Africa,” thus setting the fuse for future wars and countless ethnic conflicts. 

Rich in resources and people, Africa’s encounter with the slave trade and colonialism strangled emerging economies, stripped the continent of a huge part of its labor force, and pitted religions and ethnicities against one another in a continent-wide strategy of divide and conquer. 

That history laid the foundations for the current spasm of violence in South Sudan that threatens to spill over into several bordering countries. 

In 1886 the British divided Sudan between the largely Arab north and the mostly black south. There had long been tension between the two areas because the southern pastoral tribes—mainly the Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk peoples—had historically resisted slave traders from the North. There was intermittent warfare between the tribes over cattle and land, but they also intermarried and traded with each other. 

Since the British did not have the forces to occupy the vast southern Sudan, they created a “Southern Policy” that pitted the tribes against one another in a classic divide and rule strategy. They also blocked economic development in order to “preserve [the] purely African way of life of the southern people.” 

In fact, preserving an “African way of life” meant deliberately suppressing the development of regional governmental institutions or creating an educated population. Instead, authority was vested in “tribal leaders,” who had never welded such power in the past. Colonial authorities deliberately banned contact with the more developed north, suppressed Islam and Arabic in the south, and fragmented the region into a bewildering tapestry of tribes and villages. The ultimate scheme was to integrate southern Sudan into British East Africa, but after World War II that was impossible. 

So instead London double-crossed the southern Sudanese. 

After essentially creating two countries, the British reversed their “Southern Policy” in 1946 and declared the south “inextricably bound, both geographically and economically, to the Arab north as far as future development was concerned.” In practice this meant that when Sudan became independent in 1956, the north would dominate the south. “The post independence conflict in Sudan was largely caused by the ethnic division created by the British colonial administration between 1899 and 1956,” argues historian Savo Heleta. 

The artificially of Sudan’s initial creation, coupled with the colonial policies of the British, was a built-in disaster and ignited two civil wars—from 1955 to 1972 and from 1983 to 2005—that killed some 1.5 million people. The last one led to an eventual separation of the two regions, and the 2011 referendum created South Sudan. 

Once again Sudan is at war, and current U.S. policies in Africa have not helped. For the past decade and a half, Washington has seemed more concerned with cornering resources than resolving problems and has been quick to choose military solutions over diplomatic ones. 

Oil plays no small role in this. Sudan has one of the largest petroleum reserves on the continent, 75 percent of which are in the south. South Sudan pumps some 245,000 barrels a day, but both Sudans profit because it is shipped through northern pipelines to northern refineries on the Red Sea, mostly ending up in China. 

The U.S. is in competition with China over oil and resources—China is Africa’s number one trading partner—and by 2015 the continent will supply 25 percent of the U.S.’s energy needs. A number of U.S. firms are interested in elbowing their way into South Sudan, and Washington is always looking for ways to hem in China’s growth. 

The current fighting is not just about oil, however. Christian churches have long been interested in the region, and some of the more evangelical ones see South Sudan as a bulwark against Islam. Most South Sudanese follow traditional religions, but there is a sizable Christian minority. 

The Congressional Black Caucus is involved because black southerners have been much oppressed by the Arab-dominated north. And the terrible civilian toll in the two civil wars has drawn support from human rights advocates. 

Starting with the Trans Sahel Initiative in 2002, the U.S. has steady built up its military forces on the continent. 

The U.S. now has troops in some 35 countries in Africa. Washington has deployed somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 troops in Djibouti on the horn of Africa and at least 100 Special Forces in Uganda and Niger. It is training Kenyans to fight the Shabab in Somalia, Ugandans to track the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and it is building a drone base in Niger. 

In 2006, the Bush administration created Africom, the first U.S. military command organization for the continent, whose coming out party was the overthrow of Libya’s Mummer Khadafy in 2011. As the African Union predicted, Khadafy’s fall spread a tidal wave of arms into the region that fueled civil wars in Mali, Niger and Central Africa. 

Indeed, U.S. military adventures in Africa have generally ended badly. Washington aided Ethiopia’s 2007 invasion of Somalia, which led to the rise of the extremist Shabab. The Shabab has not only devastated Somalia, but was behind last year’s massacre at a Nairobi mall that killed 62 people and wounded more than 200. 

While the U.S. has put only a modest number of troops into South Sudan, it has encouraged its regional allies to pitch in. Ethiopia is considering joining the fray, and the Ugandan army, was instrumental in retaking the city of Bor from the rebels. But, as a result, Uganda is now aligned with the mostly Dinka-led government against the mainly Nuer-led insurrection. That is hardly a formula for a peaceful resolution to the current fighting, particularly since the Kiir government is demanding that everyone but its own army disarm. 

In the long run disarmament is a good idea, but right now the demand will almost certainly be resisted. While American Ambassador Susan Page says the disarmament demand is “voluntary,” those enforcing the government’s policy don’t see it that way. “If they refuse to give up their guns, we will take [them] by any means. Yes, of course by force” one government military commander told McClatchy Press

The U.S. played a key role in the creation of South Sudan and poured billions of aid dollars into the country. But little of that aid went toward creating a governmental infrastructure or addressing ethnic unrest. Edmund Yakani, director of the Independent Community for Progress Organization in Juba, South Sudan’s capitol, told the Guardian, “We travelled to New York and talked to UN ambassadors, including the US’s Susan Rice. We told them, please don’t ignore the frictions that were hidden due to the war for independence. But they thought about development and said, ‘Let’s just throw money at it.’ The voices urging governance were in the minority and neglected and not heard.” 

A studied refusal to pay attention to the colonial history of the region helped ignite the current crisis. And encouraging Washington’s allies to settle political and ethnic divisions with guns and armored personnel carriers is likely to not only fail, but make things worse. 

Instead of using military proxies like Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda to enforce its policies on the continent, Washington should be working through the key regional group, the African Union. Had Washington done so in Libya, there would probably not have been a war in Mali and Central Africa. 

What the Obama administration ought to do is shelve the guns and armed allies, and fulfill the UN’s Millennium Development goals to reduce poverty. South Sudan would benefit from fewer guns, more economic engagement—without “free trade” strings attached—and a far greater sensitivity to history. 

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



SENIOR POWER: Staying connected

By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Friday February 07, 2014 - 10:20:00 AM

“PC” refers to “personal computer.” Most PC users have access to 3 things: the Internet; a word processor (e.g. “WORD”;) and email capability (e.g."Becky”). About half of Americans age 65+ use the Internet, but societal dependence on digital technology threatens to leave behind those who do not, cannot, or will not go online. 

"For Some, Retirement Is Out of Reach. For Others, Boring," reports Abby Ellin (New York Times, Feb. 2, 2014). But at a Los Angeles senior center, efforts to teach elders how to stay connected through computers are important. They have been reported by PBS NewsHour correspondent Mary Jo Brooks. ("Closing the digital divide by helping seniors get online." January 13, 2014.) 

Once exposed to the Internet, seniors do use it. Seventy percent of seniors who have Internet access use it on a daily basis. Forty-five percent of senior Internet users say they use Facebook. The Pew Center for Internet and American Life reported in October 2013 that, while 35% of Americans have tablet computers, only 16% of those age 65+ own that kind of technology. 

"Nintendo (Corporation, Limited--consumer electronics) wants elderly to play its video games," says Hayley Tsukayama (Washington Post blog, Feb. 1, 2014). 

With names like ourtime.com, seniorfriendfinder.com, youngatheart.com, and silversingles.com, many companies are targeting mature adults. About half of the senior population studied by Dr. Pepper Schwartz has tried online dating, an increase from about 10% 10 years ago. American sociologist and sexologist Schwartz is AARP's "love and relationship ambassador."  


Last spring, Vermont became the fourth state in the nation to support aid in dying-- the first to do so through the state legislature, and the first state east of the Mississippi River. 

Final Congressional action on the fiscal year 2014 omnibus spending bill took place on January 16, 2014, with the Senate's passage of the bill in a 72-26 vote. This bill will fund the government through the rest of fiscal year 2014, or September 30. For the third year in a row, the President's budget request for funding of the Elder Justice Act was not supported by Congress. And the Elder Justice Coalition reported on January 16, 2014 that the Adult Protective Services Demonstration request of $8 million was not included in the final omnibus. 

Medicare can be confusing — doughnut holes, Special Needs Plans, PDP coverage, late enrollment penalties and Medigap A through N… A recent study by the Medicare Rights Center nationwide advocacy group focused on the 3 most common issues (problems) with which consumers have trouble. Questions about covering out-of-pocket expenses represent 21% of the calls. And, according to a new analysis by Social Security Works of data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, out-of-pocket health care costs for seniors consumed over a third of the average Social Security check in 2010. 


"What Can Physicians Do To Help Elderly Patients Who Can't Care For Themselves?," by Howard Gleckman (Forbes, January 10, 2014). 

"Should You Move To Live Near Your Grandchildren?" by Donnie Davis (Huffington Post, Blog, January 10, 2014). 




ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Using Diet to Compensate for Metabolic Medication Side Effects

By Jack Bragen
Friday February 07, 2014 - 10:17:00 AM

Bulimia and anorexia are awful diseases that are not the fault of the person who suffers with them. The suggestions in this week's column do not apply to people with any eating disorder, and these suggestions should not be considered medical advice. If you are having a problem, please seek professional help.  

Hunger is one of the most basic of human instincts. It is a sensation that is hard to ignore. Hunger disappears when a person perceives imminent threat. It can also be lessened through heavy physical exercise.  

Atypical antipsychotic medications, which are the newer class of medications used to treat psychosis, appear to be more effective at treating psychotic symptoms; however they have problems. Atypical antipsychotic medications, such as Olanzapine, accentuate hunger. They also directly affect metabolism, making a person more prone to weight gain.  

Another side effect of Olanzapine and other atypical antipsychotic medications is that they raise blood sugar, causing Type II Diabetes. Also, these meds make it a lot harder to exercise due to their sedating effects. Thus, many who have taken Olanzapine or similar medications have had their weight double in a relatively short time period.  

Mental health caregivers, when in a position of providing food for indigent persons with mental illness, usually opt for sugar and fat laden rich foods which are inexpensive and easy to prepare, and which have a calming effect.  

Mental health consumers are also more likely to smoke tobacco compared to people in the general public. Thus, we see a deadly combination of medications which create obesity and diabetes, smoking, lack of exercise, and bad diet choices being foisted on us.  

I take Olanzapine and it has caused me to become overweight and borderline diabetic. If there existed another medication that would do the job of keeping me stable, one without metabolic side-effects, I would be taking that.  

I have made an effort to compensate with diet, and have lost thirty pounds. My hemoglobin A1C, an indicator for the severity of diabetes, has also gone down considerably.  

For psychiatric consumers who play an active role in their dietary choices, I have some suggestions.  

First of all, do not try to go hungry. Lack of food for someone with a mental health diagnosis is a risk factor for a relapse of symptoms of mental illness. Some amount of hunger, however, can and should be tolerated. If you can become accustomed to a mild level of hunger and can learn to tune it out, this will allow you to generally consume less food. Yet, when this is taken to extremes, it leads to destabilization and also can lead to binging.  

Secondly, avoid desserts, candy, cookies and ice cream. When mental health caregivers would like to give you cake and ice cream, refuse it. Also avoid pizza and food from the drive thru. If you must eat junk food, fast food or desserts, do so only on occasion.  

Increase intake of fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and cooked frozen vegetables. Use them to displace higher calorie, high fat or high carbohydrate foods. If you fill up on vegetables, it can reduce hunger for higher calorie foods. Avoid excessive fruit juice, since it is high in calories, and since drinking it is equivalent to eating five or ten pieces of fruit all at once.  

Make it a gradual change, and make changes that are sustainable. Attempting changes that are abrupt and extreme will almost certainly backfire. It is important that you know yourself and gauge changes that are realistic and that can be ongoing. In order to be metabolically healthy, permanent changes in eating habits are necessary.  

It starts with just eating one vegetable, and goes from there.

Arts & Events

IndieFest Blasts Off with A Wild Winner Called "The Congress"

Review by Gar Smith
Friday February 07, 2014 - 09:26:00 AM

IndieFest — "the Bay Area’s premier showcase for some of the finest independent films and digital programs" — kicked off two weeks of films (and good-time parties) yesterday at San Francisco's Roxie Theater, with other screenings to be at the Brava Theater (2781 24th Street) and — for the first time — in Oakland, at the New Parkway. 

IndieFest's opening night film was director's Ari Foleman’s visually and viscerally stunning The Congress — an wild amalgam of animation and live action based on Stanislaw Lem’s 1971 sci-fi novel, The Futurological Congress

A big hit at the Cannes Film Festival last year, The Congress is both an actor's film and a director's showcase. It's like nothing you've ever seen before. 

The premise of The Congress provides vindication for an argument I circulated about 15 years ago. I had predicted that actors would eventually be replaced by computerized avatars which would allow dead-and-gone screen stars like James Cagney, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Fred & Ginger to be "brought back to life" and pasted into modern movie story lines in a new CGI world of movie magic. 

The Congress was a big hit at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Understandably. It's both an actor's film and a director's showcase. It's like nothing you've ever seen before. 

Pocket review: "The Congress: Poor title but a great films." No, that's not a typo. Films. The Congress is not just one film; it's two films in one. 

The first 30-plus minutes is a great, dark, send-up of the Hollywood film business, complete with Danny Houston's supercilious turn as a smarmy Hollywood mogul who is sweet-tongued and acid-spitting by turns. Harvey Keitel and Paul Giamatti even pop up to make the movie merrier. But the film belongs to Robin Wright. 

Here's the sci-fi premise: 

With Hollywood ticket sales in decline in an Post-NetFlix Age of Streaming Content, industry bigwigs realize they don't really need actors anymore. They can save a bundle by electronically "scanning" their top celebrities. The electronic avatars can then be plugged into CGI movies with storylines crafted by robot writers working-the-demographics. (Who needs a set and a sound stage when you've got algorithms terabytes?) 

In exchange for an offer of never-aging "immortality," the actor must sign a 20-year contract promising never to perform again in any medium. 

In the film, Wright is a proud but struggling aging artist. Initially appalled, she eventually succumbs after being badgered into compliance by a studio boss who reminds her of a recent string of bad decisions that has stymied her career. And she needs the money to take care of two children, one of whom has an irreversible, debilitating disease. 

One of the film's cinematic high points memorably depicts Wright being scanned (physically and emotionally) inside a huge flashing dome. As Wright deftly executes a jaw-dropping itinerary of screen poses (from glamorous to joyous to confused to heartbroken to horrified), Harvey Keitel unfurls the most twisted/amazing story about "How I became a talent agent." It's one of the screen's great seriocomic monolgues. (Eat your heart out, Christopher Walken.) 

And then, out of nowhere, the screen flashes the message: "20 Years Later." 

A much older Wright is speeding through a vast landscape, heading for the studio's HQ in some future desert. She's stopped by security and ordered to inhale the contents of a mysterious ampule. She dutifully stuffs the tube up her nose and sniffs. And then things get reaaally weird -- as in Disney-on-acid strange. 

This film is a stoner's delight. And, when this comes out on DVD, believe me, people are going to be spending hours hitting the pause button on the remote so they can look deeply into the background of amazing details inside the animated world that Ari Forman (the Israeli director of Waltz with Bashir) has called into being. 


A Two-Week Romp of Films from 17 Countries 

After packing 78 films into three screens over a span of 16 days, SF IndieFest will conclude its "Sweet 16" event on Sunday, February 16, with a screening of the revenge-comedy, Blue Ruina Cannes Film Festival award-winner. Director Jeremy Saulnier is slated to be one of the 28 directors in attendance at IndieFest.  

In addition to the eclectic grab bag of feature films, shorts, documentaries and animated features from Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, Estonia, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico, The Netherlands, Poland, Serbia/Montenegro, Thailand and the UK, IndieFest also pays tribute to a pair of local filmmakers. Remember You're Special, the tale of the travails of a would-be Oakland rapper and his best bud, features a cast and crew of local filmmakers. Another local entry is Deluth Is Horrible, a short film from San Francisco filmmaker Vincent Gargiulo. Both films are getting their World Premiers at IndieFest.  

Finally, no mention of IndieFest is complete without mention of the fest's famous line-up of parties. An "Opening Night Party"followed the screening of The Congress. The annual "Roller Disco Party" will convene at the Women's Building at 7PM on Freiday, February 7. The "Bad Art Gallery" event on February 8 (at 518 Valencia) will include a "film-themed pub quiz." The notorious "Valentine's Day 80s Power Ballad Sing-a-Long" will rock the Roxie on February 14. And the "11th Annual Big Lebowski Party" is set to set your pins spinning on February 15, with a special screening to the Coen Brother's The Big Lebowski. Dress (and imbibe) accordingly. 

See full listing of festival films at http://sfindie.com 

Regular ticket and party prices are $12. Multi-film discount tickets are available and, for those with the stamina, an "IndiePass" good for all the screenings and parties can be had for $180 (only $25 for folks under 21). Tickets and info are available online at sfindie.com and by phone at (415) 552-5580. Please arrive at least 15 minutes before show time to assure seating.