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Flash: Shooting in South Berkeley

Wednesday June 11, 2014 - 05:33:00 PM

A caller text message reports that there has been a shooting this afternoon between 4:30 and 5 near the intersection of Russell and California in Berkeley. According to the Daily Cal, two people were injured, neither fatally. Police are on the scene, and have asked that no one enter the area at this time.

UPDATE, 7:45 pm Wednesday: Our text correspondent says that her workplace, the South Berkeley YMCA, located at that intersection, was locked down until after 7 p.m. The children in the Head Start program inside the center were cleared to go home about 5, but the adults were asked to stay. The Daily Planet has received no information from the Berkeley Police Department's public information officer about what happened.

UPDATE, 8:45 am Thursday, from BPD Officer Jennifer R. Coats: 

Sorry we didn't issue a press release just responded to inquiries. Here is the information we have released at this point. If there is an update later I will send it your way.

At 4:33 pm we received multiple 911 calls of gunshots in the area of Russell Street and California Street.

As officers responded to the area we got word of one victim. Once officers arrived on scene we located a second victim. Both victims are male, one male is 21 years old, I am not sure the age on the second yet, I will try and confirm, he is possibly 18. Both were transported to a local hospital by BFD with non-life threatening injuries.

The incident is still under investigation. BPD investigators are actively following up on leads and reviewing evidence.

No arrests have been made at this juncture.


The Minimum Wage Ordinance is Coming to Berkeley (News Analysis/Opinion)

Harry Brill
Wednesday June 11, 2014 - 10:53:00 AM

On Tuesday (June 10) the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to enact Berkeley's first minimum wage law that covers the vast majority of employees who work in Berkeley. There is a much narrower living wage ordinance enacted in the year 2000, but it benefits a very small number of employees -- no more than 200 -- who work for businesses contracting with the City or that are located on Berkeley City property. The current measure, to become law, requires a second vote by the City Council members, which will be on June 24.

Here is what working people gain. On October 1 of this year, the minimum wage will be $10 an hour. It will rise on October 1, 2015 to $11 an hour, and will peak on October 1, 2016 at $12.53. It is an immensely important victory because it establishes the principle that the City of Berkeley, and not just the State or federal government, has a responsibility to improve the standard of living of working people. It will certainly put more bread on the table for the City's low wage workers and their families. But although we are delighted about our victory, we are also mindful that the minimum wage measure is short of what we wanted. After a year of hard work the City's Labor Commission, whose members are all appointed by the City Council, submitted a proposal that would include an annual cost of living increase along with an annual wage increase that would eventually exceed $15 an hour. Moreover, a higher minimum wage would apply to large firms, which could afford to pay more. None of these recommendations were accepted by the majority of Council members. 

Although wages for many who work in Berkeley will climb substantially, certain provisions have been included that the minimum wage activists are not happy about. The Council added a one year exemption for non-profits, no matter how large they are or how much their executives are paid. Also, young people who are being trained will not receive minimum wages. Although this sounds innocent enough, it is worrisome. The record shows that in many instances there is no training at all. Often there is little or no enforcement.  

Also, although one Council member expressed his disappointment that a sick leave provision is absent in the proposed ordinance, this issue was not taken up. The minimum wage initiative in Oakland, which voters will vote on in November, includes paid sick leave. It is essential not only for those who become ill. Co-workers don't want to be exposed, and people who are dining out in restaurants do not want food prepared and served by sick employees who are contagious. Not providing paid sick leave is a hole that has to be filled. 

So what is next? Mayor Bates has proposed after the second, confirming vote on the minimum wage issue that a task force be established to consider amendments to the ordinance that was just voted on. In fact, he mentioned that the issue of paid sick leave should be considered. Our regret, though, is that a new task force will bypass the highly progressive Labor Commission. 

Among the important gains in the struggle to win higher wages for low wage workers is that we have been successfully building a broad based political infrastructure that includes a wide array of organizations and many devoted and skilled organizers who will remain active for the coming months and years. And this infrastructure makes it possible to reach the large numbers of progressive individuals who live in Berkeley. Not least, the struggle for higher wages by persuading legislative bodies or by developing ballot initiatives has become a national movement. This has made it much more difficult for political officials to ignore the minimum wage issue. So we are optimistic not only because that is the politically correct attitude. Far more important, a power base is being built both locally and nationally that has compelled many political leaders to take us seriously. The victory in Berkeley is one of many examples that they are already beginning to do so.

Berkeley Passes Minimum Wage Law

Harry Brill
Wednesday June 11, 2014 - 10:47:00 AM

It's official. Last night the Berkeley City Council passed, at first reading, a moderate minimum wage law, on the consent calendar, which means it passed unanimously without discussion or public comment. Minimum wage advocates wanted more, but this is a start.

New: Two Shot in Berkeley at La Quinta Inn on University

Dennis Culver (BCN)
Sunday June 08, 2014 - 12:11:00 PM

Berkeley police are investigating a Saturday night shooting that sent two teenagers to the hospital. 

Police responded around 10:49 p.m. to several reports of a shooting at the La Quinta Inn at 920 University Avenue and found two male teenagers had been shot. 

Police said the victims, who were suffering from non life-threatening injuries, were transported to the hospital. 

Police said the suspect's vehicle has been described as a white sedan. The car was last seen heading east on University Avenue. 

Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call Berkeley police at (510) 981-5900.

Environmental Group Sues Air District over Permitting on Chevron Project

Laura Dixon (BCN) and Planet
Friday June 06, 2014 - 05:21:00 PM

A California environmental group sued the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) in federal court today over the district's permitting of a $1 billion modernization project at Chevron's Richmond refinery. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates is a member of the BAAQMD board. 

The complaint, filed by Communities for a Better Environment, or CBE, seeks injunctive relief and alleges that the air district issued a permit for Chevron's planned expansion of its Richmond refinery without the proper public review or analysis of the project's effects on the environment. 

"The air district issued the permit for the Chevron modernization project before the environmental impact report had even been voted on by the city of Richmond," said CBE attorney Roger Lin. 

"Letting oil refineries expand without requiring -- or even looking for -- measures to prevent the resultant air pollution threatens our health," he said. 

A spokesperson for the air quality district today declined to comment, saying that the district does not comment on pending litigation. 

Instead of waiting for the environmental impact report on the project to be completed, the air district renewed a Chevron permit approved in 2008 for an earlier form of the modernization project called the Chevron Hydrogen and Energy Renewal Project, according to CBE.  

Courts rejected permits for the plan in 2009 and in 2010 after CBE and other environmental groups sued, alleging that the environmental impact report did not adequately explain the project's effects on the community.  

The lawsuit filed today alleges that the air district disregarded that decision when it renewed Chevron's permits for its revised modernization project in 2010 and most recently in 2012. 

The air district then declined CBE's call to revoke the project until the environmental impact report was completed, prompting the group to sue. The Environmental Protection Agency gave permitting authority to the air district in 2011 to uphold air quality standards. 

"It's kind of ironic because a modernization project should use the most modern technology that only the most modern regulations would require, not an illegal one from 2008," Lin said.  

Another concern of the group's is that Chevron's proposed modernization project would release close to 1 million additional tons per year of greenhouse gases into the air, according to the draft environmental impact report for the project. 

In addition, the proposed project calls for the refining of lower-quality oil, which would produce different types of emissions - another element that is not addressed in the environmental impact report, Lin said. 

Chevron Richmond spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie said she couldn't discuss the lawsuit but that the modernization project is "a good project that will result in a newer, safer, cleaner refinery by replacing some of the oldest processing equipment with modern technology that is inherently safer and meets the nation's toughest air quality standards."

Updated: Berkeley Homes Evacuated, Road Closed, HazMat Suspected

Jeff Shuttleworth/Drew Himmelstein (BCN)
Friday June 06, 2014 - 11:40:00 AM

Several homes were evacuated on Oregon Street in Berkeley and a block was closed for part of this morning due to suspected hazardous materials found by Alameda County sheriff's deputies while serving a search warrant. 

Sheriff's deputies came to a home on the 1600 block of Oregon Street at 7:30 a.m. to carry out a search warrant as part of an investigation involving psychedelic drugs, according to Sgt. Steve Lemthe with the sheriff's office. 

While searching the home, deputies found an unknown substance that they thought might be hazardous, Lemthe said. 

The sheriff's office requested support from the Berkeley Fire Department's Hazmat team, which came to the scene to investigate the substance, Lemthe said. 

The Hazmat team concluded the substance was not toxic, and residents were allowed back into their homes. The street was reopened to traffic, and the substance will be picked up and disposed of, Lemthe said.  

Sheriff's deputies did find psychedelic drugs in their search of the home, and they arrested three residents, two men and one woman, Lemthe said. 

The sheriff's office has not releasing the suspects' names. The investigation is ongoing, Lemthe said.

Officer Who Killed Woman Felt His Life Was in Danger

Joan Dentler (BCN)
Friday June 06, 2014 - 09:51:00 AM

An 18-year-old woman shot and killed by a San Mateo County sheriff's deputy near Half Moon Bay Tuesday night was wielding a kitchen knife and came at the deputy in a threatening manner, according to San Mateo County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Dep. Rebecca Rosenblatt.  

Rosenblatt said San Mateo County Sheriff's Dep. Mehn Trieu, felt his life was in danger and had a split second to make the decision to discharge his weapon, killing Yanira Serrano-Garcia.  

The incident took place at about 9:20 p.m. at the Moonridge housing complex on Miramontes Point Road. 

Trieu has been in law enforcement for nine years, and has been with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office for several years, Rosenblatt said. 

According to Rosenblatt, the last officer-involved shooting in the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office was in 2013, and in that case, the person shot was not killed. The last time an officer-involved shooting ended with the death of a suspect was in 2008, according to Rosenblatt. 

"Those statistics speak for themselves, but it's unfortunate that once in a while deputies are forced to use their weapons, and this was one of those cases," Rosenblatt said. 

The information received by emergency personnel who responded to the incident was that the woman was acting erratically and violently and had a knife. The woman's family asked her to put the knife down, and when she didn't comply, family members called the fire department for medical assistance, Rosenblatt said. 

Rosenblatt explained that in a situation where a person may be a danger to emergency personnel, sheriff's deputies are the first to respond to make sure the scene is safe for medical and fire crews. 

The fire department was staging nearby while deputies secured the scene. 

Rosenblatt said that within about 20 seconds of arriving on the scene, the shooting occurred. 

Trieu is on paid administrative leave while the incident is investigated, Rosenblatt said. 

No deputies were injured in the incident. 

A joint investigation by the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office and the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office is underway.

Press Release: Report outlines benefits of proposed minimum wage hike in Oakland

By Kathleen Maclay, UC Berkeley Media Relations
Friday June 13, 2014 - 10:26:00 AM

A boost in Oakland’s minimum wage to $12.25 an hour that voters will decide on in November would mean a pay raise for 25 to 30 percent of workers in the city and would boost their yearly earnings by about $2,700, according to a new study by the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. 

In research released today (Friday, June 13), the institute estimates the impact of the minimum-wage legislation proposed by the Lift Up Oakland Coalition, an alliance of community, labor, small business and faith organizations: 

  • 40,000 to 48,000 Oakland workers would receive pay increases
  • 96.5 percent of affected workers are in their twenties or older, and over half of the workers receiving raises are in their thirties or older
  • Workers of color make up between 62 percent of the city’s workforce, but comprise 79 percent of those who would benefit from the pay increase
  • 43 percent of the workers who would be affected are Latino
  • Half of all affected workers are in retail (17 percent), restaurants (18 percent), and education, health and social services (16 percent)
  • Operating costs for retail businesses would go up 0.3 percent
  • Restaurants would see operating costs increase by 2.8 percent
  • Restaurant prices would increase by 2.5 percent, meaning a $10 meal would cost another 25 cents
  • The increase would have no significant impact on jobs
The study is authored by Michael Reich, a UC Berkeley economist and director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment; Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center; Annette Bernhardt, visiting professor of sociology and visiting scholar at the Institute; and Ian Perry, a Labor Center researcher. 

They report that Oakland’s median rents increased by 20 percent between 2005 and 2012, while income inequality in the East Bay city has gone up by 2.56 percent since 2008, a faster spike than in neighboring San Francisco. 

The report says that along with better pay, employers can see improved productivity, better employee performance and less employee turnover. 

The Oakland proposal, if passed, would take effect in March 2015 and would provide additional increases tied to inflation. The increase would follow on the heels of other measures passed in cities across the country, including a national high of $15 an hour in the high-tech center of Seattle. Locally, the cities of Berkeley and Richmond also are considering minimum wage hikes that would exceed that in Oakland. San Francisco is expected to have a ballot measure in November increasing its minimum wage to $15. 

The Oakland increase would bump up the city’s minimum wage by 36.1 percent. The ten previous minimum wage laws passed around the country have increased hourly wages by an average of 43 percent. Research on these laws found no negative impact on employment or economic growth. 

New: Intersection: Ashby and Sacramento

Video by Zach Franklin
Sunday June 08, 2014 - 12:22:00 PM

Here's a lively corner of Berkeley you might not know about. The intersection of Ashby and Sacramento, in the most southwesternly part of Berkeley, is home to four interesting local institutions. Featured: former Councilmember Carole Kennerly and others, in a video created by Zach Franklin. 



Tasers for Berkeley Police? Not the Best Way to Deal with Most Crisis Situations

By Becky O'Malley
Friday June 06, 2014 - 11:02:00 AM

Another week, another mentally ill person killed by peace officers.

Berkeley readers might wonder why this week’s issue includes a Bay City News story about an 18-year-old woman who was shot to death in Half Moon Bay last week. I’ve reprinted it here because I think it’s pertinent to a question which was briefly addressed in an “Editor’s Back Fence” entry about the Isla Vista tragedy which appeared early last week, before the young woman was killed.

This is the gist of what I said there, which I think bears repeating since many readers only check in once a week:

On this site we’ve hosted an excellent pertinent discussion between regular columnists Ralph Stone and Jack Bragen about the advisability of laws requiring involuntary treatment, the “Laura’s Law” category. There are two points which I think were not fully addressed in their thoughtful essays, however. 

First, it’s one thing to require treatment in certain circumstances, but this presupposes readily available and effective mental health services. In my own experience with trying to help people in emotional distress, even some quite willing to seek help, there’s a serious shortage of resources. A class action lawsuit was filed in October against Kaiser Health Foundation over mental health care wait times, and there are many similar complaints against other health care providers. So even if Laura’s Law or something similar were enacted, there’s no guarantee that persons detained would actually be treated. In this case, family members had been trying to find appropriate treatment for the disturbed young man, but hadn’t found anyone who could help. 

Second, the widespread practice of using law enforcement personnel to handle mental health crises doesn’t work much of the time, and it failed this time. The media is full of stories of disturbed people, both dangerous and harmless, who died during inept police attempts to deal with their problems. 

On NPR this week, I heard about a mentally ill veteran who was shot and killed by two police officers in Lodi. Berkeley’s Kayla Moore, who died as police struggled to subdue her, is the most obvious example, one of many who have died after presumably well-intended peace officers were called to the scene by family and friends. 

In the Isla Vista case, a family request for a welfare check produced seven armed sheriffs who incorrectly decided that the young man was no danger to himself or others, a tragic error in judgment. It’s one thing to have armed officers as a safety backup, but the principal analysis and handling of a suspected mental health crisis situation should be done by a qualified mental health professional. 

Today’s Chronicle has a very good op-ed, Better Outcomes With Voluntary Care, written by Eduardo Vega, executive director of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco and Catherine Blakemore, executive director of Disability Rights California. Their key contention: 

“If we adopt programs like AB1421 [Laura’s Law] , which are fraught with bureaucratic, ethical and legal challenges, we will waste time and money. If we demand effective, evidence-based supports and treatment that are grounded in human dignity, we will soon see a positive difference in our communities and on our streets.” 

Another element in this mix is currently under discussion in Berkeley: should our police force be equipped with tasers? The intuitive answer is “of course”, since tasers are not lethal like guns, 

A relative of the woman shot in Half Moon Bay was quoted as asking why the sheriff who shot her didn’t use a taser instead. But it’s not so simple. 

Tasers can be lethal too. Opponents of taser use in a letter to the Planet have said that tasers have been linked to over 500 deaths since 2001. Both the ACLU and Amnesty International have come out against taser use in most circumstances. 

The Berkeley death of Kayla Moore, who suffered from mental illness and used drugs, would not have been prevented if the police had used a taser to subdue her.  

The problem in this and similar situations is that using potentially deadly force, whether from bullets or tasers, is just not the best way to deal with a person who has mental problems. And it’s certainly not the best way to deal with someone who is passively resisting arrest. 

Time and again, police officers who either shoot or taser people say, as the sheriff did in Half Moon Bay, that they “feel” that their lives are in danger. That seems to be what motivated the BART policeman who killed Oscar Grant, even though Grant was lying down when he was shot. At his trial, Officer Mehserle's attorney argued that Mehserle shot Grant by mistake, intending to reach for his Taser. But with a sizeable percentage of victims, tasering an unarmed person who was lying down would still have resulted in serious injury if not death.  

In September the Berkeley City Council is scheduled to consider the question of whether the Berkeley Police Department should be allowed to issue tasers to its officers. Anyone who’s interested should take advantage of the summer break to assemble and refine their arguments. 

Various groups including Copwatch, the NAACP, the city’s Mental Health and Public Health Commissions and the Police Officers Association are expected to weigh in by then.  

As of this moment, I think that there’s no good reason to authorize the Berkeley Police to use tasers—there are better ways to address the kinds of problems they usually face. What’s certain is that mental health professionals should be taking the lead in dealing with people exhibiting signs of emotional crisis, not police officers. And that means that we in Berkeley need to ensure adequate funding for community resources to prevent such crises before they happen.  




The Editor's Back Fence

Jean Quan is Pilloried in Press Because??

Tuesday June 10, 2014 - 10:09:00 AM

Just in case you happen to be teaching a journalism class (as I'm sure many Planet readers are) you might just google stories about "Jean Quan" which have appeared this week. I don't have a favorite among the many (17+ ??) candidates for Oakland mayor, but the stories about Mayor Quan being rear-ended are so obviously biased that I might be tempted to give her a sympathy vote if I lived in that city. The wicked newsies are fully aware that since the Mayor is a public figure they can drop the customary "allegedly" for unproven charges without fearing a libel suit. The Chron is the worst, but today's story on KQED radio was also dreadful.

The Mayor was once spotted answering her cell phone while driving, and once cited for sliding through a red light, okay? No newsy ever did that, nosiree. And since she did it before, you can be sure she's done it again, right? QED! If and when she's cleared by the phone records she's offered to place in evidence, you can also be sure that the story will be small, on the back page,no photo.

Target Berkeley

Monday June 09, 2014 - 08:24:00 PM

In case you wonder what targets are currently being painted on downtown Berkeley by the development industry, take a look at this "refined" design which appears in an industry blog. This is the super high rise project which will demolish the Shattuck theater in the old Hink's building—the one fronted by former Berkeley City Planning Department honcho Mark Rhoades.


Odd Bodkins: The Squaw (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Thursday June 05, 2014 - 01:45:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

Berkeley Minimum Wage Vote On June 10

Harry Brill
Friday June 06, 2014 - 10:51:00 PM

To enact an ordinance in Berkeley requires the majority of the Berkeley City Council to approve the proposal at two different meetings. On this coming Tuesday, June 10, the first vote on the proposed minimum wage ordinance will take place. If passed, hourly wages will peak at $12.53 by October 2016. Although we had proposed a higher hourly wage that includes a annual cost of living increase, we did not succeed. Nevertheless, the current proposal is not only a step forward. It will be a tremendous achievement. For the first time in history, the City of Berkeley will mandate a minimum wage for the vast majority of Berkeley workers. 

We have been assured by several Council members that the proposal will be enacted. But of course, there is no guarantee since council members have reneged on previous promises. Nevertheless, we are very hopeful because a few weeks ago in a non-binding vote all the council members supported the bill. 

If you would like to come to this event, we would love you to join us.

Veterans' Care

Jagjit Singh
Thursday June 05, 2014 - 04:37:00 PM

General Shinseki’s departure is unlikely to solve the VA’s broader problems — a bloated bureaucracy that had been taught, over time, to hide its problems from Washington. The festering problem predates the Obama administration. No decisive action has been taken and President Obama continues to remains distant and aloof, periodically feigning outrage when the media reports frustrating delays encountered by veterans desperately seeking help. 

Even the high suicide rate of returning soldiers, haunted by the demons of war, failed to precipitate much action. Layers of management grew in proportion to the growing patient load – it currently stands at a staggering 12-levels chain of command all the way to the bottom where the schedulers are assigned the critical tasks of matching veterans with the medical help they are seeking.  

That’s where the books were cooked – many appointments were simply deleted. Bonuses were awarded if the numbers looked good. The few employees burdened with a moral conscience were threatened with dismissal. This follows President Obama’s war on whistleblowers including New York Times reporter, Risen.  

Senior officials at the VA had little interest in their subordinate’s failings and felt safe behind the shield of ‘plausible deniability’. Other government departments suffer from the same inertia problems, most notably the department of Homeland Security and the Defense Intelligence Agency. What is also largely ignored is the failure to hold accountable those high government officials who made hasty decisions to send these young men and women to suffer the horrors of war. 

June Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Thursday June 05, 2014 - 01:55:00 PM

Editor's Note: The latest issue of the Pepper Spray Times is now available.

You can view it absolutely free of charge by clicking here . You can print it out to give to your friends.

Grace Underpressure has been producing it for many years now, even before the Berkeley Daily Planet started distributing it, most of the time without being paid, and now we'd like you to show your appreciation by using the button below to send her money.  

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 

Press Release: Lawsuit Filed - Chevron Refinery Permit to Pollute Exposed

From Roger Lin, CBE
Thursday June 05, 2014 - 04:39:00 PM

Today Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) filed suit against the Bay Area Air Quality Management District for the District’s illegal permitting of the Chevron (“Modernization”) Expansion Project. CBE had previously requested the District to revoke the permit that allowed Chevron to build a Richmond refinery expansion that could increase air pollution from one of the state’s biggest industrial climate polluters without required emission prevention and environmental reviews. 

“Letting oil refineries expand without requiring—or even looking for—measures to prevent the resultant air pollution threatens our health” said CBE Attorney Roger Lin. 

CBE discovered that the Air District staff granted Chevron “Authority to Construct” the project without an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), public review or analysis of whether the emissions from the project will even meet EPA’s national standards for the protection of public health and welfare from harmful levels of pollutants. Chevron sought the approval despite court orders in 2009 and 2010 that invalidated its permits for a Richmond refinery project with many of the same elements. The courts found its EIR for that project failed to disclose impacts of refining lower quality oil and improperly deferred greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation. 

Chevron’s new project would switch to lower quality oil, and—if unmitigated—could increase refinery GHG emissions by 725,000–890,000 tonnes/year, increase toxic emissions, and worsen a cause of Chevron’s disastrous 2012 fire, according to a revised draft City of Richmond EIR that relies largely on the Air District to mitigate project air impacts. 

“First, we discovered the permit to allow the ticking time bomb of crude-by-rail with no public disclosure or environmental review. Then we discovered a permit that was stopped in the courts for a project that could be dirty, dangerous, and deadly. The Air District needs to respond with answers and act immediately to stop putting communities at risk,” demanded Vivian Yi Huang, Campaign & Organizing Director of Asian Pacific Environmental Network. 

“Issuing air district permits prematurely before CEQA review of the project has been completed makes no sense, especially to a corporation that has demonstrated criminal negligence leading up to the August 2012 explosion and fire. Experience has shown that monitoring alone is less effective than controlling the source of emissions from the outset. We expect BAAQMD to do a better job of protecting the health and well-being of our community” said Marilyn Langlois of the Richmond Progressive Alliance. 

“It’s high time the Air Board members stand up to their staff’s errors in judgment in rubber stamping Chevron’s illegal permit and revoke it immediately,” stated Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor, a resident of Richmond. Larson added: “The people of Richmond have suffered enough at the hands of Chevron and the Air District staff—it’s time for a change!” 

“The health impacts of this project cannot be understated. The project calls for substantial increases in local emissions, including many chemicals that are known carcinogens. This deeply concerns me as a nurse and as a community member. The public deserves full disclosure and an environmental review,” said Deborah Burger, RN, Co-President of the California Nurses Association. 

In 2011, EPA delegated permitting authority to maintain national air quality standards to the Air District. By repeatedly renewing Chevron’s permit since 2010, versus waiting for the revised and adequate EIR, and then asking Chevron to reapply for its permit under current, more protective requirements, the Air District dodged applying that delegated authority to the Project. This ignores the new review's findings of massive potential GHG and toxic particulate matter emission increases from the project that would otherwise trigger best available technology requirements to instead reduce emissions. 

Those protections are basic requirements of both CEQA and clean air laws--and desperately needed in the already-overburdened communities on Chevron's fence line. 

The Richmond refinery has been among the state’s three largest GHG-emitting facilities in each of the five years when the Air Resources Board reported those emissions (2008–2012), emitting more GHG than any other California facility three of those years. Its 2012 crude unit fire that nearly killed 20 workers and sent some 15,000 residents to the hospital was caused by Chevron’s failure to heed its own workers’ warnings about corrosion from higher sulfur crude, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has found. Particulate matter air pollution from its catalytic cracker has increased to more than 1,700 pounds per day, more than 1,200 lb/day above the permitted limit, as the cat-cracker runs more oil produced from the heaviest parts of the crude stream, CBE’s review of Air District records has found. All of these impacts could worsen if the project enables Chevron to refine even lower quality oil.


THE PUBLIC EYE: Class Warfare: The 2014 Election

Bob Burnett
Friday June 06, 2014 - 12:46:00 PM

As we head into the midterm national election, it’s clear that voters are unhappy. But it’s uncertain how their displeasure will affect the November 4th outcome. We’re seeing class warfare, where the interests of the 1 percent are competing with those of the 99 percent. 

Recently, pollster Celinda Lake discussed voter displeasure: “Three quarters of voters say their own economic situation has gotten worse or stagnated over the past four years.” “Fewer Americans now classify themselves as middle class, and more are using the lower class designation.” “[Respondents] do not agree that the next generation will be better off than they are.” 

The 2014 election should be about jobs. Voters should be asked to choose between competing visions of the economy. A recent CBS News Poll asked, “What do you think is the most important issue facing this country today?” 30 percent of respondents said, “Economy/Jobs;” healthcare was a distant second at 7 percent. The Celinda Lake poll found that 62 percent of respondents believed, “the government should focus on creating jobs even if that means increasing the deficit in the short term” and “two-thirds of voters believe the richest two percent should be paying more in taxes.” 

Not surprisingly, the wealthiest 1 percent do not agree. Academics Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels, and Jason Seawright found that on key priorities the attitudes of the 1 percent are dramatically different from those of the 99 percent. While 68 percent of the general public agreed, “The government in Washington ought to see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job,” but only 19 percent of the elite concurred. 

When Page, Bartels, and Seawright inquired whether, “Our government should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich,” only 17 percent of the wealthy agreed (compared with 52 percent of the general public). As the economic divide has widened, there’s been a divergence of opinion about what direction America should go in. Page, Bartels, and Seawright found the 1 percent were much more inclined to cut back Federal services such as healthcare and Social Security. 

Rather than focus on jobs, the 1 percent are attempting to turn the 2014 election into a referendum on President Obama. 

Some members of the power elite, such as the Koch brothers, are spending huge amounts of money to influence the election. In North Carolina, conservative Art Pope has already spent more than $7 million to defeat centrist Democratic Senator Kay Hagan; tagging her as Obama’s pawn. 

As a consequence of the conservative propaganda campaign, the President’s support has suffered. The Gallup Tracking Poll shows that President Obama’s approval ratings are negative; 44 percent approve of his performance while 51 percent disapprove. 

However, Congress is far more unpopular than the President. In the latest Gallup poll only 13 percent of respondents approve of the job Congress is doing. 

But, as a result of negative propaganda, the national dialogue is warped. In many close Congressional races the focus is not on employment but rather on President Obama. 

Five tossup Senate races illustrate these dynamics: Alaska, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, and New Hampshire. In each case it’s unlikely that President Obama will come to the state to campaign with the Democratic candidate. In each race the Koch brothers and their allies have already spent millions on ads attacking the Democratic candidate for supporting Obama. 

In Alaska, Democratic Senator Mark Begich has responded by positioning himself as independent from President Obama. He barely mentions Obamacare in his campaign literature and, instead, focuses on job creation

In Colorado, Democratic Senator Mark Udall is following a similar strategy. 

However in Kentucky, Democratic candidate Allison Grimes is in a tough race against Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. They’re having a strange dialogue about jobs. There are only twelve thousand coal-mining jobs left in Kentucky (versus 242,000 in healthcare) but President Obama’s decision to propose tougher limits on power-plant emissions has made coal a big issue and hurt Grimes. 

In Louisiana, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is also on the defensive. Again, there’s a warped discussion of jobs. Landrieu has been attacked for her inability to gain approval for the Keystone XL pipeline. 

In New Hampshire, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, like Senators Begich and Udall, is running as someone who is independent of President Obama. She’s touting her record bringing jobs to New Hampshire. 

There are three common themes in these races. The Democratic candidates are on their own, President Obama won’t be campaigning in their state. The Democrats are under attack; the Koch brothers and their allies have already spent millions in negative ads and will continue to attack the President’s record. As a consequence, the Republican candidates don’t have a positive agenda; they’re promising to oppose President Obama across the board. 

It’s class warfare. The 2014 midterm election pits the interests of the 1 percent against those of the 99 percent. 

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


Conn Hallinan
Thursday June 05, 2014 - 04:26:00 PM

British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery had three laws of war:

One, never march on Moscow;

Two, never get in a land war in Asia;

Three, never march on Moscow.

So why are the U.S., the European Union (EU), and NATO on the road to the Russian capital? And exactly what are they hoping to accomplish?

Like all battlefields on the Eastern front, this one is complicated. 

For beginners, there are multiple armies marching eastward, and they are not exactly on the same page. In military parlance that is called divided command, and it generally ends in debacle. In addition, a lot of their weapons are of doubtful quality and might even end up backfiring. And lastly, like all great crisis, there is a sticker price on this one that is liable to give even fire breathers pause. 

There are actual armies involved. NATO has deployed troops, aircraft and naval forces in the region, and the Russians have parked 40,000 troops on Ukraine’s eastern border. But with the exception of the horrendous deaths of over 40 demonstrators in Odessa, the crisis has been a remarkably calm affair. The Russians took over the Crimea virtually without a shot, and while there is a worrisome increase of violent incidents in the south and east, they are hardly up to the French and German invasions in 1812 and 1941, respectively. 

Which doesn’t mean things couldn’t turn dangerous, a reason why it is important to know the agendas of the players involved. 

For the Russians this is about national interest and security, and the broken promises and missed opportunities when Germany was reunified in 1990. At the time, the Western powers promised they would not drive NATO eastward. Instead, they vacuumed up members of the old Soviet Warsaw Pact and recruited former Soviet republics into a military alliance that was specifically created to confront Russia. 

All talk of Putin recreating the old Soviet Empire is just silliness, which there is a lot of out there these days. A perfect example was the New York Times’ embarrassingly thin story about Putin’s personal wealth that rested on the fact he wore expensive watches. 

There is some silliness on the Russian side as well. Yes, the overthrow of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych was a coup—what else do you call an armed uprising that causes an elected president to flee? —but it wasn’t just ex-Nazis and fascists. There was genuine mass anger at the corruption of the Yanukovych government. 

At the same time, two of the groups that spearheaded the coup—and who currently control seven ministries in the Western Ukraine government—celebrate those who fought with Waffen SS divisions during World War II. The Germans killed some 25 million Russians during that war, so if they are a bit cranky about people who hold celebrations honoring the vilest divisions of an evil army, one can hardly fault them. 

The Americans and the Europeans have long had their eye on Ukraine, though their interests are not identical because their economic relations are different. 

Russia supplies the EU with 30 percent of its energy needs; for countries like Finland and Slovakia, that reaches 100 percent. U.S. trade with Russia was a modest $26 billion in 2012, while for the EU that figure reached $370 billion. More than that, several large European energy giants, including BP, Austria’s OMV, ENI, Royal Dutch Shell, and Norway’s Statoil, are heavily invested in Russian gas and oil. If oil and gas are combined, Russia is the largest energy exporter in the world. 

For Europe, Russia is also a growing consumer market of 144 million people, where retail spending has grown 20 percent a year between 2000 and 2012. . Any attempt to ratchet up sanctions will have to confront the fact that isolating Russia is not in the interests of some very powerful business interests in Europe—and even a few in the U.S., like Chevron, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil. 

Russia is the world’s eighth largest economy, and one that is well integrated into the world’s economy, particularly in Asia through the Shanghai Cooperation Council. The Council includes not only Russia and China, but also most of Central Asia’s countries, with observer status from Iran, Pakistan and India 

The emerging BRICS countries—Brazil, India, China and South Africa (Russia makes up the “R”)—did not support the recent UN resolution condemning Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea and would certainly not join any sanctions regime. The Russians and Chinese inked a 30-year, $400 billion gas deal, and bilateral trade between the two countries is set to reach $100 billion by 2015 and $200 billion by 2020. Russia and Iran are reportedly negotiating a $10 billion energy deal as well. 

So far, sanctions have targeted individuals, although Washington and the EU have threatened to up the ante and ban Russia from using the Swift system of international banking. That would make transferring money very difficult. It has certainly crippled Iran’s finances. But Swift, as Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times points out, is a double-edged sword. “Cutting Russia out of Swift would cause chaos in Moscow in the short term,” but in the long term “it might hasten the day when Russia, and more significantly, China, establish alternative systems for moving money between international banks.” According to Rachman, China and Russia have already discussed such a system. 

The EU’s army is all for rhetorical condemnation of Russia, but when it comes to increasing sanctions, its command is divided. Those countries with significant investments in Russia—Italy, Germany, Spain, Austria and Greece— oppose cranking up the sanctions. German Chancellor Andrea Merkel must juggle her desire to support the U.S. with polls showing that the average German really doesn’t want to march east: been there, done that. The Swedes and the Poles are fire-breathers, but their stance is as much about trying to offset German power in the EU as for any concern over Ukrainians. 

In short the EU looks like one of those combined armies of Austrian-Hungarians, Russians, and Prussians that Napoleon made his reputation beating up on. 

For the Americans this is about expanding NATO and opening up a market of 46 million people in the heart of Eastern Europe. The key to that is getting the 28 members of the alliance to finally pull their own. The U.S. currently foots 75 percent of NATO’s bills, and is caught between a shrinking military budget at home and a strategy of expanding the U.S.’s military presence in Asia, the so-called “pivot.” 

NATO members are supposed to spend 2 percent of their GDP on the military, but very few countries—Britain, Estonia and Greece—actually clear that bar. Nor is there any groundswell to do so in European economies still plagued with low growth and high unemployment. Yes, yes, get the Russkies, but not at our expense. 

“Sanctions will not help anybody, they would not just hurt Russia, but also Germany and Europe as a whole,” says Rainer Seele, chair of Wintershell, and energy company owned by the German chemical giant BASF. 

However, NATO is pushing hard. U.S. General and NATO commander Gen. Phillip Breedlove recently called for beefing up NATO forces on the Russian border. But for all the talk about a new Russian threat, NATO is not going to war over Ukraine, anymore than it did over Georgia in 2008. A few neo-conservatives and hawks, like U.S. Senator John McCain, might make noises about intervention, but it will be a very lonely venture if they try. 

In the end the solution is diplomatic. It has to take into account Russia’s legitimate security interests and recognize that Ukraine is neither Russian nor Western European, but a country divided, dependent on both. The simplest way to deal with that is through a system of federal states. It is the height of hypocrisy for the U.S. to oppose such a power arrangement when its own system is based on the same formula (as are many other countries in Europe, including Germany). 

Polls show that Ukrainians in the East and South do not trust the Kiev government, but they also show that a solid majority wants a united country. That could shift if the Kiev government decides to use force. Once bodies start piling up, negotiations and compromise tend to vanish, and the possibility of civil war becomes real. 

Moscow made a proposal last summer that the EU, Russia, and the U.S. should jointly develop a plan to save the Ukrainian economy. The EU and the U.S. dismissed that proposal, and the current crisis is a direct result of that rejection. The parties need to return to that plan, 

In spite of the tensions, events in Ukraine are trending toward a political resolution and the May 25 presidential elections may produce a candidate willing to compromise. The Russians are re-deploying those 40,000 troops, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made it clear that “We want Ukraine to be whole within its current borders, but whole with full respect for the regions.” Translation: no NATO. 

The dangers are many here: that the Kiev government tries to settle the conflict by force of arms; that NATO does something seriously provocative; that the Russians lose their cool. As Carl von Clausewitz once noted: “Against stupidity, no amount of planning will prevail.” 

But the ducks are lining up. The sanctions will not force Russia to compromise its security and may end up harming the EU and the U.S. The commanders of the armies facing Moscow are divided on measures and means. Neither side in the Ukraine is capable of defeating the other. It is time to stop the bombast and cut a deal, particularly since Washington will need Moscow’s help in Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan. 

Oh, and marching on Moscow? Really? Monty wasn’t the quickest calf in the pasture but he had that one figured out as a bad idea. 

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



ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Dealing with Low-Level Paranoia

Jack Bragen
Thursday June 05, 2014 - 05:38:00 PM

Medication to treat schizophrenia and other mental illnesses does not completely alleviate all symptoms. Thus, people on medication to treat paranoid psychosis still live with low-level symptoms. Someone with paranoid illness or other illnesses may need to receive psychotherapy and perhaps cognitive therapy to deal with residual problems. 

In this insane decade, some amount of paranoia is merely accurate. We are living in times of massive surveillance, of overzealous law enforcement, and of life imitating bizarre fiction. 

However, the expectation is foisted upon persons with mental illness that we should be naïve, docile, and cooperative. In fact, maybe a certain amount of naiveté is better than having paranoid tendencies. When we act paranoid, it can frighten people and it can get us locked up. 

The dangers created by inaccurate paranoia are usually worse than those of not being vigilant. While certain areas of life require caution, we must be careful not to overreact, and sabotage our life situation or our status of having liberty. 

It usually helps to talk about the things that we perceive as threatening. The listener could provide reassurance, or might agree with you that a real danger exists. While fear is usually an unnecessary and uncomfortable sensation, certain things in life must be addressed. 

If you are in your car and the gas gauge is on "E," you need to stop at a gas station rather than shrugging off the anxiety. If you get a letter from the IRS that is marked, "official business," you need to read the contents of such a letter and heed what it says. 

When frightened or feeling threatened by something, it is important to distinguish between a real threat versus an illusory one created by a brain malfunction. 

If you are frightened because you perceive that there is a conspiracy to do something to you, it is important to realize this is probably your psychotic mind playing tricks on you. 

I have gone through much of my life oblivious to authentic concerns while feeling alarmed by imagined threats. 

The content of delusions doesn't always have to be impossibilities. You could get a delusion concerning something rare or even common--it is only a delusion if the thought is false. 

One difference between having psychotic delusions versus acknowledging an instance of genuine oddness is that there is a difference in the usage of the brain. I am making an educated guess that delusions are produced by a different part of the brain compared to perception of realities. 

Beliefs that make you special in some way are suspect as being possibly delusional. Beliefs of an elaborate conspiracy to do something to you are likely to be delusions. Beliefs that you are being experimented upon, or unusual beliefs about the content of your medication, are also questionable thoughts--that are likely to be delusions. 

Sometimes delusions are on the borderline, and are an exaggeration of something that has a grain of truth. Someone could be overly panicked about something essentially real, when in fact, it is far more worry than necessary. Sometimes it is helpful when our fears become mentally downplayed. This can happen through someone giving us reassurance or from us reassuring ourselves. 

Sometimes, we may have a persistent irrational thought, which, although we know it is inaccurate, it keeps reoccurring in our thoughts. Our minds don't follow our expectations of how we think our minds ought to be. 

A delusion that occurs in spite of being medicated may cause unclear thought processes that can lead to noncompliance. If more than one psychiatrist believes someone ought to be treated for a mental illness, there is a good chance of this assessment being accurate. It is always good to at least get a second or third professional opinion rather than deciding on your own that your mental illness doesn't exist. 



It has taken me literally decades to arrive at this level of understanding. I hope you will go to Amazon and purchase one of my books so that you can help support this column, and the good it does for numerous readers.

SENIOR POWER : On questionnaires and surveys

Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Thursday June 05, 2014 - 05:25:00 PM

There are too many questionnaires and surveys. Furthermore, I question the validity and reliability of most of them. I try to keep off of mailing lists. A questionnaire is a form containing a set of questions, especially one addressed to a statistically significant number of subjects as a way of gathering information for a survey. A survey is a gathering of a sample of data or opinions considered to be representative of a whole.

In April 2014 I received an undated Dear Medicare Beneficiary letter informing me that “In a few days, you will receive a questionnaire in the mail called the “Medicare Provider Satisfaction Survey. …The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is the federal agency that administers the Medicare program … The questionnaire…asks about your experiences with health care in the last 6 months. … thinking about your experiences with a named doctor or other health care provider. Your name was selected at random by CMS from among Medicare enrollees. …You help is voluntary…” Sounds OK, if not great.

The questionnaire has arrived. Clearly, its creation and interpretation have been generated by a vendor, the Center for the Study of Services, with whom Medicare has contracted. According to its website, the Center was founded in 1974 as a nonprofit corporation. Its location is a PO Box in Manchester, Connecticut. It appears to [sell?] “offer economical ‘off-the-shelf’ reports as well as customized reporting tools developed in collaboration with you to meet the needs of your target audience.”  

In the interim, I had accumulated a few notes about my experiences with health care in the last 6 months that I considered worth mentioning in my response. But, the 2014 Medicare questionnaire is not designed to provide such an opportunity, let alone encourage response based on senior citizens’ experiences.  

I would have questioned (a few examples) exorbitant amounts charged for post-surgery rehabilitation and ambulance services; physicians who refuse Medi-Medi patients, i.e. patients with Medicare and Medicaid (Med-I-Cal), including those seen in the past; and the failure of Medicare to acknowledge hearing aids as health-related.  


Research has found a Medicare major payment “gender gap.” Male physicians on average were paid $118,782 in Medicare reimbursements by the federal government in 2012, compared with $63,346 for women doctors.  

According to NerdWallet Health, reasons for this wide gap in total reimbursements included the fact that male doctors on average saw 60% more Medicare patients than their female counterparts. Male doctors on average make 88% percent more in Medicare reimbursements than female physicians. According to an analysis of recently released government data, which suggests that the gender of a medical provider could play a role in the number of services they provide patients.  

The difference is particularly striking because Medicare —the government's health insurance program for people age 65 and older and the single largest payer of health insurance coverage in the US — pays men and women doctors the same amount for the individual services they perform on patients in the same geographic area. The discrepancy was across specialties. (The only specialty where there was no disparity between the number of services provided was among pathologists.)  

NerdWallet points out that factors other than gender could be playing a role in the disparity of payments. A possibility is that male doctors on average may be performing procedures with higher reimbursement rates than their female counterparts. And yet another possibility is the fact that the government, because of privacy concerns, has not released data in cases where fewer than 11 patients were treated by an individual doctor for a certain procedure. If women doctors are more likely than male physicians to have procedures or patient totals in that low-end range, their reimbursement average could be skewed as well. Skew you

The analysis was based on a massive set of data, released on April 9, 2014 by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which contained information about $77 billion in Medicare reimbursements for information for 880,000 medical providers in 2012. It was the first time in 35 years that CMS had released such data about reimbursements to individual providers. 

  • "Rx Gender gap! Male MDs earn way more than females in Medicare," by Dan Morgan (CNBC, April 22, 2014).
  • "Male Doctors Earn 88 Percent More Through Medicare, New Study Shows," by Napala Pratini (Huffington Post, blog, May 6, 2014).

Compassion & Choices continues to expand its outreach and mobilize supporters toward the goal of establishing death with dignity in 5 years. C&C opened a Los Angeles office in February 2014 to serve as a base for its Southern California team.  

This is about end-of-life choice in California, hospice, justice, “DNR” orders, fear tactics, and elder abuse. I have adapted it from a communication that contends that, if it's legal to arrest a grieving octogenarian at his wife's deathbed, then the law must be changed.  

Bill Bentinck's wife died as she wished: at home, in peace, with her husband by her side. But what happened after her death is a travesty -- and a painful illustration of why end-of-life choice must be brought to California. Lynda Bentinck was 77 years old and dying from emphysema. In chronic pain, she asked her husband to tape her DNR order to their bedroom mirror for all to see, including her hospice team. On July 2, 2012, she decided it was time to let go. She removed her breathing tube, held Bill's hand and waited. "It was a peaceful death…She just went to sleep."  

A few hours later, the police arrived after Bill called Lynda's hospice service. They were unsympathetic to his loss, and treated the couple's home like a crime scene. He was taken away in handcuffs, and for 3 days and nights, locked up like a common criminal ... isolated from his family, given no explanation for his confinement. At one point, the grieving elderly widower was shackled in leg irons. In the second of the 3 jails in which he was held, Bill asked a guard, "What am I in here for?" "Murder."  

Nightmares like this will happen until end-of-life liberty is legal across our country. Bill and Lynda Bentinck knew their rights. They followed California law to the letter. "We talked about it…We both had DNRs.” Imagine the police ransacking your home in their zeal to declare that choice a crime. The local D.A. declined to prosecute, but the kind of inhumanity displayed by the police should be against the law.  

A victory in California would catapult end-of-life issues into the national spotlight. Secure death with dignity in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico. Highly organized opponents with deep pockets think nothing of spreading lies to poison public debate.  

For further information: Barbara Coombs Lee, PA, FNP, JD/ President, Compassion & Choices; Toni Broaddus, California Campaign Manager 



"Doctor Shares Tips for Preventing Falls Among Seniors," by Robert Preidt (HealthDay News, May 27, 2014). 

"A Walk a Day Keeps Disability at Bay," by Robert Preidt (HealthDay News, May 27, 2014). 


Arts & Events

Berkeley Early Music Festival Offers Myriad Delights

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday June 06, 2014 - 06:58:00 PM

The twelfth Berkeley Festival and Exhibition of Early Music got under way Sunday, June 1, 2014, with a 4:00 pm concert in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church by the group CIARAMELLA. Praised for performing intricate 15th century counter- point “with the ease of jazz musicians improvising on a theme,” CIARAMELLA specializes in extemporized polyphony over monophonic melodies and songs. As the concert began, three bagpipe players entered from the rear of the hall and marched solemnly through the audience, just as 15th century strolling players would have paraded through a village, gathering an audience along the way.  

Instrumentally, CIARAMELLA features bagpipes, sackbuts, double- reed shawms (precursors of the modern oboe), recorders, lute, guitar, and percussion. Set to anonymous 15th century texts, the instrumental songs “depuis le doloreux parti/since our sad parting” and “Se mon flageolet joli/ If my pretty flute” illustrated, first, a melancholy longing, and, second, a playful double entendre inviting a lass to ‘play’ the swain’s attractive ‘flute’.” CIARA- MELLA co-director Adam Gilbert then led four recorder-players in the Kyrie and Gloria sections of Heinrich Isaac’s 15th century Missa Je ne fay plus. CIARAMELLA next featured dance music by 16th century composer Tielman Susato, with shawms, sackbuts, bagpipes, and lute bringing the first part of the concert to a rousing close. 

After intermission, CIARAMELLA’s shawms and sackbuts performed Ludwig Senfl’s florid 16th century polyphonic interpretations of German folk- songs. Then the group launched into the Spanish repertoire, first with pieces from the Canary Islands, then with works by the 17th century Spanish composer Gaspar Sanz. Especially lively was the Sanz piece Jácaras, whose syncopated rhythms associated with flamenco-like bulieras brought to mind an Arab musical influence. Finally, the whole group of shawms, sackbuts, bagpipes, guitar and percussion played a rousing Sardanas to close the program. 

The second evening of the Early Music Festival, again at St. Mark’s Church, was, alas, a flat-out disappointment. The local group CANTAINBANCHI, which means ‘those who sing on benches’, or street-musicians, was short one string- player due to illness. Consequently, with only a harp, a vielle, a psaltery, a recorder, and percussion, plus two voices, CANTAINBANCHI, an outgrowth of Ensemble Alcatraz, offered a surprisingly lightweight sonority. Further, their t wo female vocalists, Susan Rode Morris and Allison Zelles Lloyd, failed to project the texts of the 14th century French and Italian pieces they sang. Thus, not even a virelai ballad by Early Music superstar composer Guillaume de Machaut managed to light a spark in this ill-fated concert. 

Day three of the Berkeley Early Music Festival began with a glorious triumph, overcoming what could have been a disaster when soprano Julianne Baird, who was scheduled to perform with Sex Chordae Consort of Viols, had to cancel due to illness. However, noted soprano Christine Brandes stepped into the breach, learned the music in two days, and gave a stunning performance in songs by late 16th-early 17th century English composer William Byrd. In a pro- gram dedicated to Elizabethan consort songs, Sex Chordae featured vocal pieces by Byrd and Tobias Hume, interspersed with instrumental works by John Dowland. 

A highlight of this 5:00 pm concert at St. Mark’s was Christine Brandes in a stark vocal rendering of the Catholic William Byrd’s elegy “In angel’s weeds” upon the death of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, a Catholic persecuted by Queen Elizabeth, who sought to stamp out Catholicism and establish England as a Protestant nation. Equally moving was Brandes singing Byrd’s elegy “Ye sacred Muses” for his teacher, Thomas Tallis, which closes with the moving refrain “Tallis is dead and Music dies.” Then, in a different mood, Brandes gave a spirited performance of Byrd’s “Susanna fair,” a song relating the Biblical tale of Susanna and the Elders. As sung by Christine Brandes, this Susanna defiantly refused to allow herself to be compromised by the lecherous elders. In three songs by Tobias Hume, Brandes was, in turn, pleading in the lovelorn “Fain would I change this note,” mournful in “What greater griefe,” and playful in the homage to “Tobacco.”  

Led by director John Dornenburg, Sex Chordae consort presented a rich texture of viols in their instrumental pieces by John Dowland. For contrast, in the Hume songs, the bowed chords produced a gruff, masculine sonority. In the program’s final set, Christine Brandes was sprightly, then mournful, in “My mistress had a little dog” by William Byrd, and bitterly lamenting in Byrd’s “Though Amarillis dance in green.” All told, this entire program was a tour de force for Sex Chordae and, above all, for the brilliant Christine Brandes. 

On Tuesday evening, June 3, the Early Music Festival moved to First Congregational Church for a concert by Ars Lyrica Houston with soprano Céline Ricci. In a program loosely organized around the notion of “taking flight,” director Matthew Dirst led Ars Lyrica Houston in a delightful mixed-bag of works by composers Jean-Baptiste-Féry Rebel, J-J Cassanéa de Mondonville, Alessandro Scarlatti, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and George Frederic Handel. Opening the program was a bumptious set of “Plaisirs Champètres” by Rebel, a composer who languished in the shadow of the great Jean-Baptiste Lully at the court of Louis XIV at Versailles. Next came a work by Mondonville, “Pièces de clavecin avec voix ou violon,” in which soprano Céline Ricci artfully navigated this work’s demanding vocal roulades. Alessandro Scarlatti’s “Sonata in C minor” featured excellent playing by cellist Barrett Sills; and the following piece, an anonymous work entitled “La Folia,” featured the bright, clear, and assertive timbre of Adam LaMotte’s violin along with the plangent chords of Richard Savino’s guitar. 

After a brief intermission, Ars Lyrica Houston played Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s “Sonate à huit instruments,” which featured exquisite work by Mary Springfels on viola da gamba. Finally, topping off the program was the cantata “Tra le fiamme” by the young George Frederich Handel. Com- posed in Rome in 1707 to a libretto by Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, “Tra le fiamme” takes up imagery of butterflies drawn to a candle’s flame and Icarus flying too close to the sun. There seems to be an implicit warning here, as evidenced also by the repeated phrase “e t’inganna una vaga beltà/deceived by an indistinct beauty.” Scholars wonder whether Pamphili was warning Handel to keep his distance from soprano Vittoria Tarquini, who was someone else’s mistress. Or did Pamphili want the young Saxon composer all to himself? Whatever the message, it was beautifully sung Tuesday evening by soprano Céline Ricci, who has performed all over the world, from the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and Vienna’s Musikverein to Disney Hall in Los Angeles, and now, to our great pleasure, in Berkeley. 

Day four of the Berkeley Early Music Festival was highlighted by the visit of Belgian group Vox Luminis. Led by Artisitc Director Lionel Meunier, Vox Luminis is a choral group of twelve voices backed by a continuo of Masato Suzuki on organ and Ricardo Rodriguez Miranda on viola da gamba. In their Wednesday evening concert in First Congregational Church, Vox Luminis performed works by 17th century German composer Heinrich Schütz, followed by works from the forebears of Johann Sebastian Bach.  

In excerpts from Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien, Vox Luminis brought vocal clarity and passion to their performance of sacred music based on the Kyrie and Gloria movements of a mass commissioned for his own funeral by the prince Heinrich Posthumus von Reuss. In the second part, Schütz, who spent consider- able time in Venice, where he was influenced by the music of Monteverdi, musters a double choir of eight voices in an essentially homophonic style. Finally, the third extract, specifically composed as funeral music, represents the soul of von Reuss ascending to heaven accompanied by seraphim.  

After intermission, Vox Luminis turned to motets composed by various members of the Bach family. Johann Sebastian Bach himself was featured in the final work, “Ich lasse dich,” performed on Wednesday evening by Vox Luminis. Thus came to a close the first half of Berkeley’s eight-day Festival of Early Music. (Part 2 to follow)

AROUND AND ABOUT THEATER: Theatre of Yugen Stages ‘This Lingering Life’

Ken Bullock
Thursday June 05, 2014 - 05:20:00 PM

Theatre of Yugen has produced plays for 35 years based on the techniques of traditional Japanese theater, especially Kyogen comedy and Noh lyrical tragedy (to us, a contradiction in terms) and plays celebrating legend and myth. The actors employ rigorous physical techniques based in Japanese dance, patterns and movement often reminiscent of the martial arts. This San Francisco company is in many ways unique in its pursuit of both the practice of an ancient art—Nohgaku, as Noh and Kyogen are jointly referred to, is the oldest continuously staged theater form in the world—and experimenting at marrying these techniques to what’s written today.

In the past, great European playwrights like W. B. Yeats and Bertolt Brecht have turned to Noh, in particular, for inspiration when writing plays; Yukio Mishima also produced a series of plays based on Noh, but re-set in the contemporary world. New York-based playwright Chiori Miyagawa has written ’This Lingering Life,’ premiered by Yugen this Friday in a two-week run, with 28 characters in 24 scenes, the intersecting, overlapping stories based on nine classic Noh plays re-imagined as contemporary, or in a timeless world, today and the past blended together. 

The production will also be the last for outgoing artistic director Jubilith Moore, a veteran of over two decades with the company, 12 years as either joint or sole artistic director after the retirement of founding artistic director Yuriko Doi. Besides directing ‘This Lingering Life, Jubilith plays the role of the Woman With Tragic Hair, a kind of go-between for the audience with the cock-eyed world unfolding out of Miyagawa’s reading of the stories from Noh, which features very contemporary, often humorous interpretations of traditional motifs and techniques—like women’s roles played by men, as on the classical Japanese stage—acted out in a modern setting, using old forms of performance ... Joining forces with Jubilith will be longtime comrade in Yugen, Lluis Valls, another seasoned student of the form and a splendid performer, plus seven other actors, some longtime collaborators, some new to the Yugen stage.

Jubilith Moore’s direction of ‘Emmett Till—A River’ last year, an ambitious chamber play combining the tragic murder of a teenaged black man from Chicago while visiting relatives in the South—which shocked the nation and supplied further motivation to the Civil Rights Movement—was a kind of watershed for Yugen, at the beginning of its anniversary, combining a modern news story with the form of an ancient Noh play, maybe more successfully than in previous adaptations. ‘This Lingering Life,’ also with a short run, is ambitious, but in some ways puts the troupe back on more familiar territory. The production values alone—costumes, set design and the quality of staging—should make it an absorbing experience, something unique in contemporary American theater, but right here for us at home.

Wednesdays-Thursdays at 7, Fridays-Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 2 through June 14. Z Space, 450 Florida (at 17th Street), formerly Theatre Artaud, Mission District, San Francisco. $15-$50. (415) 626-0453; theatreofyugen.org