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Flash: Water Main Break Shuts Down Mabel Street in South Berkeley

Dan McMenamin (BCN)
Wednesday June 18, 2014 - 10:52:00 AM

A water main break this morning has shut down a street in Berkeley and is affecting service for about 30 East Bay Municipal Utility District customers, a utility spokeswoman said. 

The break was reported between 3 and 3:30 a.m. in the 3000 block of Mabel Street near Ashby Avenue, EBMUD spokeswoman Abby Figueroa said. 

The 6-inch cast iron pipe that broke was installed in 1929, Figueroa said. 

She said crews have to dig into the road to determine the damage to the pipe and to make repairs. 

Customers were expected to remain without service in the area until the early afternoon, Figueroa said. 

She said she was not aware of any private property damage caused as a result of the main break.

New: Berkeley Police Seeking Sexual Battery Suspect

Hannah Albarazi (BCN)
Monday June 16, 2014 - 10:16:00 PM

A a man on a bicycle groped a 20-year-old woman while she was walking through a parking lot at the University of California at Berkeley on Sunday night, campus police said. 

At about 10:50 p.m. on Sunday, the victim, who campus police said is not affiliated with the university, was walking south on Oxford Street near Kittredge Street when she noticed a man on a bicycle near the Touchless Car Wash and gas station staring at her, campus police said. 

The victim continued walking south and crossed Bancroft Way toward the university's Tang Center parking lot, according to UC police.  

The suspect on the bicycle then approached the woman and grabbed her chest, campus police said.  

The victim yelled and the suspect fled from the parking lot on the bicycle, UC police said.  

The victim was not physically injured during the encounter. The victim reported the battery to campus police and officers searched the area, but were unable to locate the suspect.  

UC police said the suspect is described as a Hispanic man in his 20s standing 5 feet 7 inches tall with a medium build and a full beard. 

He was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and riding a new-looking black fixed gear bicycle with black spokes and straight "horned" handlebars with the ends going up.  

UC police are reminding the community to be alert and aware of their surroundings. Citizens who sense danger should call 911 or (510) 642-3333 or use a Blue Light emergency phone to get help.  

Citizens should move away from any perceived threat, cross the street and increase their pace or join a group of people. 

Anyone with information about this crime is asked to call the University of California Police Department at (510) 642-0472 or (510) 642-6760.  


New: Seven-year-old Boy Struck by SUV at Bancroft and Acton in Berkeley

Hannah Albarazi (BCN)
Monday June 16, 2014 - 08:11:00 PM

A 7-year-old boy riding his bicycle in Berkeley was struck and injured by an SUV this afternoon, a police spokeswoman said. 

Police received a report that a young boy had been struck by a vehicle shortly after 4 p.m. near the intersection of Bancroft Way and Acton Street, Berkeley police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said. 

The boy's injuries were described as serious, but the extent of his injuries has not been released, Coats said. 

Police said the SUV was on the roadway during the crash and the cause of the collision remains under investigation. 

The driver of the SUV stopped at the scene and cooperated with the police investigation, Coats said.

Press Release: Berkeley Environmental Commission Backs Warning Labels on Gas Pumps

From Jamie Brooks, 350 Bay Area
Monday June 16, 2014 - 08:13:00 PM

Proposed Ordinance Opposed by Petroleum Lobby as “Political Opinion”

The Berkeley Community Environmental Advisory Commission voted 6 to 1 to recommend to the City Council that they direct the City Manager to draft an enforceable ordinance to require a climate change information label on all fuel dispensing facilities (gas stations). 

Such gasoline pump warning labels are the goal of the “Beyond The Pump” campaign, part of the 350 Bay Area climate activism grassroots group. Modeled on warnings on cigarette packaging, the group’s purpose is to provide a gentle reminder at the point of purchase that pumping gas contributes to carbon emissions and therefore to global warming. The proposed warnings also refer to the City’s Climate Action Plan for alternatives to driving for commuting purposes. 

“We are glad that the Berkeley Community Environmental Advisory Commission saw the importance of warning labels on gas pumps,” said Beyond The Pump member, Jack Fleck. “It is simply a scientific fact that pumping gas does contribute to the global process that is devastating our climate, analogous to cancer caused by tobacco." 

A letter from the oil lobbying group, Western States Petroleum Association (“WSPA”), however, calls the proposed labels “statements advancing the political opinions of the City and State regarding the alleged impacts of greenhouse gases.” 

The WSPA letter states “the State of California’s policy position (evidently shared by the City) that “global warming caused by greenhouse gases poses a serious threat to the economic well-being, public health, natural resources, and the environment of California” … “the most contentious issues in existence today, and they do not convey “fact” but instead convey a policy determination by the State of California." 

Fleck continued, "This is part of an ongoing attempt by the oil industry to position global warming as "political opinion" rather than scientifically confirmed observations and facts of daily life. As President Obama said recently, climate change is a 'fact' and requires immediate action." 

The Commission proceeded to approve their recommendation, in spite of the WSPA letter, and requested to see proposed wording for the labels within three months. 

For More information, see http://www.350bayarea.org/beyond_the_pump

Man Arrested for Berkeley Shooting Wednesday that Injured Two

Scott Morris (BCN)
Friday June 13, 2014 - 10:15:00 AM

A 21-year-old man was arrested Wednesday in connection with a shooting that afternoon in a South Berkeley neighborhood that injured two men, a police spokeswoman said. 

The shooting was reported at about 4:30 p.m. near the corner of Russell and California streets, police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said.  

Officers arriving found a 21-year-old man and an 18-year-old man suffering from gunshot wounds. They were taken to a hospital and are expected to survive their injuries, Coats said. 

Police later arrested Charles Wood, 21, of Hayward. Coats said that investigators are still determining his exact involvement in the shooting. 

Police are actively looking for other suspects but Coats could not provide any descriptions. 

Woods was booked into jail early this morning and is being held on suspicion of assault with a firearm under $80,000 bail, according to jail records.  

He is scheduled to be arraigned at 2 p.m. in Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland.

Oakland: Study Says Minimum Wage Increase Would Help City's Economy

Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Friday June 13, 2014 - 11:49:00 PM

Raising Oakland's minimum wage to $12.25 an hour would help the city's economy in addition to boosting the income of more than one-fourth of its workers, economists at the University of California at Berkeley said today.

Speaking at a briefing at Oakland City Hall, Ken Jacobs, chair of the university's Center for Labor Research and Education, said 48,000 people would receive a wage increase either directly or indirectly if a minimum wage measure that's expected to appear on the ballot in November passes.

Jacobs, who helped write a report on the measure, also said 56,700 workers in Oakland who currently don't get paid sick days would start getting them if voters approve the measure. 

The minimum wage legislation is being proposed by the Lift Up Oakland Coalition, an alliance of community, labor, small business and faith organizations. 

Michael Reich, a UC Berkeley economist and director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, who also helped write the report, said, "A citywide minimum wage can help make the economy more equitable without harming economic growth. That's more money in low-wage workers' pockets for a healthier city and a healthier economy." 

The study says that the proposed wage increase would result in total increased worker earnings of between $115 million and $126 million a year and estimates that the hourly wages of workers affected by the change would increase by up to $1.76 and hour and up to $2,832 per year. 

Rosen said the measure would significantly impact what he described as Oakland's "workers of color," who are black Hispanic and Asian. 

He said they make up between 58 to 66.5 percent of Oakland's total workforce but represent between 75 percent and 83 percent of workers who would be impacted by a minimum wage increase. 

Rosen said the study concludes that such a wage hike would only have a minimal impact on local businesses, estimating that operating costs for retail businesses would go up by just 0.3 percent and restaurants would see operating costs increase by 2.8 percent. 

He said restaurant prices would increase by 2.5 percent, meaning a $10 meal would cost another 25 cents. 

The Oakland proposal, if passed, would take effect in March 2015 and would provide additional increases tied to inflation. 

John Jones, a security guard at the Burger King restaurant in downtown Oakland, said a wage increase would significantly improve his life because he currently doesn't have enough money to meet all of his expenses and his PG&E service was cut off today. 

Jones said he can't afford curtains so he uses a blanket to cover his windows. He said the result is, "I freeze during the winter." 

Rosen noted that Berkeley and Richmond also are considering minimum wage increases and San Francisco is expected to have a ballot measure in November that would boost its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Press Release: Report Outlines Benefits of Proposed Minimum Wage Hike in Oakland

By Kathleen Maclay, UC Berkeley Media Relations
Friday June 13, 2014 - 12:37:00 PM

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. 



Summertime--But Don't Take It Easy

Becky O'Malley
Friday June 13, 2014 - 03:17:00 PM

Now that the dust has settled from the June primaries, it’s possible to get a clear look at the political landscape. For those of us who still believe that participation in electing our representatives is a meaningful way to affect the future, there are some lessons we can learn. 

First, polls are less and less reliable. Heading the list of unreliable polls seems to be those used by Republicans. Someone in the polling profession told Eric Cantor that he was so far ahead in his Richmond district that he didn’t even need to come home from DC for election day. His Tea Party opponent, regardless of politics, was so poorly funded that he couldn’t even afford to hire his own pollsters, which turned out to work to his advantage. His people didn’t give up because no one told them they didn’t have a prayer.  

Mitt Romney had the same bad data. One conclusion: smart pollsters don’t work for Republicans. Sorry, folks, but, in the last 40 years at least, just about all the smart people, people who can count, have been Democrats. (This discrepancy is at the root of the periodic “exposés” that the majority of college professors are liberal Democrats. Yes, of course, and…?) 

If only dumb people will work for you, you’ll get dumb data. 

Second, money still counts, but only in some arenas. If the seat in question is in a small enough area with a paucity of places to reach a lot of voters with ads, shoe leather carries a lot of weight. As does the internet, where studies show that most people easily ignore ads (much to the chagrin of those poor souls who are still trying to “monetize” online content.) One-on-one contact, whether at the door, on the phone or online, reaches voters, especially in primaries with minimal turnout (which are most of them).  

This I know from personal experience, having worked in a congressional primary in 1970 for an anti-Vietnam-war Democrat who won against a don’t-stick-our-necks-out establishment Democrat. And this was still in the era when there was a functional daily print newspaper in our small city where ads could be placed. Our candidate couldn’t afford to do much more than shake a lot of hands, but that’s what won him the election.  

Another way of spending money, buying lots of glossy direct mail, doesn’t seem to count as much as it used to either. In the brief period between the demise of the dominant local press and the rise of the internet, mailers were the only way undecided voters could learn about the candidates. Now snail mail has become more and more marginal—even if a voter learns that there’s an election coming up by getting a lovely color photo postcard in the mail, a quick internet search produces more and better information from and about all the candidates.

Television ads in small areas, from congressional districts on down in size, don’t mean much in elections like these because their geographic reach is so unfocussed. Even the candidate with lots of cash to spend suffers the consequences of having only stations with too-wide catchment areas in which to advertise. 

Local appeal is everything. Another escapade from when I was young and reckless (one I’m not sure I’m as proud of now as I was then) involved moving the message around.  

In the early sixties our university town still had residential segregation, and the major issue in the city council election was whether a fair housing law forbidding discrimination should be enacted. The Republicans created special flyers strongly suggesting that they would oppose fair housing, and dropped them only on doorsteps in all-White neighborhoods. Those of us who were civil rights activists just followed after, picked up the flyers, and redistributed them on doorsteps in Black neighborhoods.  

Yes, on reflection, I still think it was a great trick! We won the election—our people turned out in record numbers. 

Is there any advice which could be extracted from these stories for today’s local candidates? Our congressional seat is locked up, largely because Barbara Lee continues to do exactly what the majority of her constituents want. Even an inept incumbent starts with a great advantage, and she does a whole lot better than most. 

This leaves state and city elections.  

The November State Assembly race has been narrowed down by the June Primary to the expected two candidates, both active Democrats. Tony Thurmond has served both on the Richmond City Council and on the West Contra Costa school board. He’s endorsed by an enormous list of elected officials, predominantly but by no means exclusively from Contra Costa County, as well as an impressive assortment of others. This is Elizabeth Echols’ first run for elective office. Her support is mainly from the Berkeley-based Bates/Hancock faction of the East Bay Democratic Party, which has effectively chosen the last four assemblymembers for the district in the era before today’s open primary system. 

Candidates need all the volunteers they can get, to start right now contacting potential supportive voters to make sure they’re registered. The easy availability of early voting is starting to make a big difference. The tactic is to find your folks, make sure they get early voting ballots, and then make sure they fill them out and mail them promptly. Persuasion of undecided voters counts for something, but turnout is everything. By election day, if you’ve done your homework, the election should be over. 

People running in city races should be following the same path, and many are already in motion. Oakland has something like 17 candidates for Mayor. In Berkeley, the hotly contested race will be District 8, where Gordon Wozniak is retiring. There are already four announced candidates (about whom more later) though the filing date is not until August. The other three seats are held by incumbents who will most likely be running again, though no one’s formally announced as yet. 

Anyone who cares about who runs local government should get involved with good candidates right away. Summer feels like the time to kick back, to take a vacation, lie in the hammock--but it’s time to get growing if you want a harvest of votes by the time November comes around. 


The Editor's Back Fence

New: Blue Shield Spokesperson Reportedly Running in Berkeley's District 7

Monday June 16, 2014 - 08:50:00 PM

The Daily Cal reports: UC Berkeley alumnus to run for City Council District 7 . The candidate in question, seeking the seat now held by Councilmember Kriss Worthington, seems to be 27-year-old Sean Barry, once an assistant editor at the Daily Cal and Mayor Tom Bates' appointee to the Waterfront Commission. He looks like the council majority's candidate, chosen to appeal to the younger voter while not actually being a student: "Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, an early endorser of Barry, said he also thought having a younger member on the council could bring a valuable perspective." Presumably Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who was 24 when he was elected, didn't bring the correct perspective, so the majority is trying again. The article doesn't mention Barry's current job, but googling him seems to indicate that he's now a PR guy for Blue Shield of California who acted as the company's spokesperson in response to a recent consumer lawsuit.

Intercepted Letter
from Un Petit Cochon
to the Berkeley City Council
on the Minimum Wage Law

From Todd Kniess,Chef Owner, Bistro Liaison, Le Petit Cochon
Saturday June 14, 2014 - 09:39:00 AM

Forwarded to the Planet by a reader:

From: Todd Kniess [mailto:ktkniess@gmail.com] Sent: Thursday, May 22, 2014 03:11 PM To: Wozniak, Gordon; Worthington, Kriss; Wengraf, Susan; Capitelli, Laurie; Arreguin, Jesse L.; Anderson, Maxwell; Moore, Darryl; Maio, Linda; mayor@ci.berkley.ca.us

Subject: Layoffs

Hello Everyone, I just wanted to let you know I just laid off 6 employees. Your recent decisions will eliminate many more jobs and put a great deal of small business out of business. Berkeley is not San Francisco. We do not have the convention business, the tourist dollars or the tech industry to sustain the approved increases. You are chasing business out of Berkeley and your actions will lead to a weaker economy.

I understand the unions get people to vote and that is what all of you need to stay in your positions. Maybe you should think more about the people than your self interests. These increases will ultimately hurt the people you are claiming to help.

None of you are welcome in our restaurants. I trust you will respect our decision not to serve you.

Kind Regards

Todd Kniess , Chef Owner, Bistro Liaison, Le Petit Cochon

Public Comment

Congresswoman Barbara Lee Responds to President Obama's Remarks on Iraq

Friday June 13, 2014 - 06:24:00 PM

(Washington, DC)- Today, Following President Obama's remarks concerning the crisis in Iraq, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) issued the following statement:

"After more than a decade of war, thousands of America lives and billions of dollars, the American people are looking to Congress to promote security and diplomacy," said Congresswoman Lee. "The ongoing crisis in Iraq is the tragic product of President George W. Bush's unnecessary and unjust 2003 invasion. The response must not be more military action, but a political process led by the Iraqis and representative of all Iraqis. 

"Earlier this week, during the Appropriations Committee committee consideration of the Fiscal year 2015 Department of Defense funding bill, Congresswoman Lee offered an amendment, based on her bipartisan legislation (HR 3852), to repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq. 

"As the House considers next week's defense bill, I will again work to repeal the 2002 Iraq war authorization, as well as the 2001 AUMF which has led to a perpetual state of endless war. I welcome the support of my colleagues who believe Congress should debate any and all use of military force. 

"In May, President Obama used his speech at West Point to remind the American people that not all problems have military solutions. The political crisis in Iraq is one such problem. 

"As the President has so eloquently stated, our military cannot solve all crises. The future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqi people," added Congresswoman Lee. "The U.S. must continue to pursue international and regional engagement, recognition of human rights and political reforms in order to promote the long term national stability and the reconciliation necessary to address this complex problem."

World Soccer Games

Jagjit Singh
Friday June 13, 2014 - 11:25:00 AM

The billions being spent on building gleaming stadiums and supporting infrastructure amidst grinding poverty in many countries like Brazil is insane and demonstrates the gross insensitivity of the corporate ruling elite such as the FIFA, more aptly called the FI$FA. The London Sunday Times recently blew the lid on the FIFA’s shading practices in its bidding process to nominate oil rich Qatar to host the 2022 World Soccer Cup - a most inappropriate location because of its sweltering heat.

FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, boasts of a “shared sporting culture” which rakes in billions in lucrative advertising deals leaving the host country a mountain of debt, unused stadiums and other facilities, following the games. The FIFA promised the Brazilian people they would not be asked to carry the financial burden but instead the tournament would be financed using private funds. In a stark betrayal, outraged Brazilians soon discovered they will be saddled with a staggering $11- 20 billion debt – funds critically needed to upgrade their education, transportation and crumbling health care system. Despite the rivalry of the countries participating in the world cup, they all share their intense distrust and hostility of the FIFA. The FIFA has been engulfed in scandals during its long history and have been awarded numerous yellow cards; it is now time to issue a red card and abolish this redundant corporate albatross.

Great Battalions of Jewish Doves Languishing in Voicelessness

Joanna Graham
Friday June 13, 2014 - 06:51:00 PM

On the weekend of June 7-8, J Street—“the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans”—held a “summit” in San Francisco, attended by about 600 people.

J Street, a lobbying organization dedicated to the two-state solution in order “to preserve the Jewish and democratic nature of the state of Israel,” was founded in 2008 by Jeremy Ben-Ami with start-up funds from George Soros. Ben-Ami’s biography includes both Israeli and American elements. His family goes back 130 years in Palestine; his grandparents helped found Tel Aviv; his father fought with the Irgun, a pre-state right-wing militia. Ben-Ami, who is in his early fifties, was educated in the U.S., served in the Clinton administration (domestic policy), and has since had a Democratic Party-aligned kind of inside-the-beltway career, mostly doing consulting for political campaigns and NGOs. In the late 1990s, he lived three years in Israel and started a consulting company there. No bio I have found makes clear whether he is Israeli- or American-born, how—since his family is so deeply rooted in Israel—they (or he) came to live in the U.S., and what citizenship(s) he currently holds.

One question about J Street that I and others have is this: since the West Bank settlement project began in 1967, the moment the territory was conquered, and since, if one definitive statement can be made about it, it’s that the more time passes the less likely it can be stopped, then why, if Ben-Ami cares so much to preserve “the Jewish and democratic nature of the State of Israel,” did he wait until 2008 to found his organization?

The answer provided by a suspicious and cynical left is that J Street is a response to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which was founded in 2005 and has been gaining ground ever since with rather astounding rapidity. In other words, the left sees J Street as the kinder gentler face of AIPAC, designed to keep liberal American Jews within the fold; to make them feel like they’re doing something without doing anything really; and to keep them from bolting into truly threatening organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace or, on college campuses, Students for Justice in Palestine, both of which support the BDS campaign. 

On the other hand, I will point out that J Street has been in some battles with the American Jewish establishment. In the most recent brouhaha, its application to join the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations was rejected this past April. This rejection, which was referred to often at the summit, can be seen, of course, from a number of angles. Let’s just say that in many ways, the application was a win-win for J Street: with this outcome, J Streeters got the precious gift of being officially outsiders. Now they know that even if they’re getting nowhere they must be on the right side of history. 

So is J Street left, as the J Streeters themselves believe, or is it right, as the left of the left dismissively claims? My tentative answer to this is that from the point of view of non-intimidated people, J Street is centrist, cautious, and under its own rules bound to be ineffectual. However, from within the American Jewish community, which at this moment in history is deeply intimidated, it probably feels like a brave spit in the eye to the status quo.As one woman remarked to me at the summit, the Conference of Presidents veto happened because J Street is providing a credible alternative to AIPAC. “Credible” is the operative word; if people in suits can sit in congressmembers’ offices and indicate to them that American Jews do not all speak with one voice, bless them for it. AIPAC did experience some stunning defeats in 2013. I have no idea if J Street had anything to do with these, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they did. 

So what was the sense of the summit on Sunday? My first fear—that I would find a group of people in total denial, chugging along with their two-state plans as if Kerry’s peace talks had not collapsed—turned out to be unfounded. Instead, the J Street panelists openly expressed discouragement and depression. They had come together not to celebrate any victories but to figure out what to do next—and pretty clearly they had at this time no great ideas. However, a possible future direction of the organization was implied by Ben-Ami’s offhand remark that the key lesson of Kerry’s failure is that American leadership is necessary but not sufficient. This implied, to my mind, an acknowledgement that Israeli intransigence is the obstacle but also raised the very interesting and problematic issue of what the hell American Jews are supposed to do about that. 

This question—essentially one of boundaries—provided the bass note of the entire conference. Furthermore, from what I’ve experienced, it permeates American-Jewish thought, not to mention world thought, for that matter. Example: I learned at the conference (and I always think I’m finished being shocked and infuriated but this is never true) that Israel has been long accredited at the U.N. on behalf of the Jews of Israel and all Jews everywhere. The first part was apparently recently changed to “citizens of Israel” (yay!) but “all Jews everywhere” remains. 

Excuse me, but would any other nation in the world be allowed to get away with this? It is irredentism raised to the level of holy writ and depends on a sleight of hand that Israel regularly employs to its great advantage. From one view, Israel is a country like the other 192 U.N. member countries—a constructed political entity inside of which ordinary people do as best they can to lead their ordinary lives. From another, it is a kind of shimmering spiritual utopia, eretz Israel, the Holy Land, the very place pledged to the great-great-grandfathers of God’s Chosen People, aka, Jews, by The Big Guy Himself. The tension between these two views underlay the day’s proceedings. 

American Jews were clearly taking the “holy land” approach. There was some hushed questioning as to whether non-Israeli Jews even have a right to form opinions, let alone take action, about Israeli policies. No one mentioned Israeli meddling in the U.S. nor the billions of dollars in aid that flows from us to them. Further, since J Street and kindred organizations forswear measures that might cause actual pain to Israel, such as BDS or withholding aid, they are limited to verbal persuasion. That persuasion can be gentle, such as Ben Ami’s suggestion that we talk to family and friends in Israel “out of love and concern” (and maybe mention BDS while we’re at it). Or it could be not so gentle, as Debra DeLee of Americans for Peace Now suggested when she said her organization was planning to use “harder language” and take a “tougher tone.” She drew applause when she said they were planning to “tell the truth about Israel.” 

I imagine this all sounds a bit inadequate to the issue but I would like to make clear the context in which these remarks were being made. To put it bluntly, there is enormous intimidation and fear within the Jewish community with respect to Israel. At the summit this came up over and over and over. Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel Fund (a quite mainstream organization, which, in Israel, was recently subjected to a vicious McCarthyite campaign) said bluntly that everyone is afraid of the big donors. He told a story about being in a room with forty rabbis when he was director of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco all of whom were terrified to mention Israel. At one point a panelist suggested that the words “occupation” and “settlement” are prohibited. And Rabbi Amy Eilberg, who gave a lunchtime talk on conflict resolution, referred to the “death by Israel sermon”—in which a rabbi says the wrong thing and gets fired, or loses his major donor(s) and presumably gets fired later. Eilberg uttered my favorite sentence from the entire summit—and possibly the saddest—when she said, “‘Peace’ has become a polarizing word, but as a rabbi I still use the word ‘peace.’” 

There are about 12 or 13 million Jews in the world today, about 45% in Israel and 45% in the U.S. I am going to posit that the goal of both communities, as communities, is to preserve (secular) Jewish identity (religious Jews, obviously, do not have a problem.) The by-word for this is “Jewish peoplehood,” and the slogan is something like “Jews are a people and Israel is the sovereign expression of their identity.” Here in the U.S, one runs into it everywhere, spoken in reverent tones, inscribed on walls, etc. Here are the first four lecture titles of the “Engaging Israel” class I took this past winter: (1) From Crisis to Covenant, (2) Religion and Peoplehood, (3) Sovereignty and Identity, (4) Power and Powerlessness. You get the idea. 

“Jewish peoplehood” —or, as I prefer to say, “peopleness”—is the Zionist hook that keeps “diaspora” Jews so internally hushed, reverent, tactful, and subservient, even were they not being externally cowed, intimidated, and threatened. 

But does Jewish peoplehood really exist? My actual experience is that American Jews and Israeli Jews are currently diverging from each other so rapidly that sometimes they seem unable even to communicate with each other across an ever-widening abyss. Here are a couple of stunning examples from the summit. 

Ask an American Jew what is the most pressing issue in Israel and, like most other Americans, he or she will almost certainly say the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But in Israel, as Israeli panelist Boaz Rakocz explained, nobody even thinks about it—any more than (most) Americans think about our ongoing militarism around the world. Like pretty much everyone everywhere, Israelis are focused on bread-and-butter issues, especially now that, like everyone else, they are being subjected to neoliberal austerity. 

Why do Americans Jews care so intensely about “the occupation” and they do not? Because “ending the occupation” is the only way to preserve, as J Street puts it, the “Jewish and democratic” character of the state of Israel, or to put it the other way around, it is the only way to prevent Israel from becoming, or more accurately, being perceived as what it already is, an apartheid state. Israelis do not care if they live in an apartheid state. Ben-Gurion’s great apothegm was, “It doesn’t matter what the goyim think but only what the Jews do.” One can indulge in such thoughts in a majority Jewish country but not in a Christian country where safety and comfort depend on constitutional protection of minority rights. 

Let me restate this. The entire raison d’etre of J Street is to arrive at a two-state solution in order to end the occupation. And they intend to do this by persuasion. A very nice Israeli man sat on the stage at the J Street summit and said as plainly and clearly as he could, “Israelis don’t care.” 

Here’s an even deeper example of the divide between the two communities. The speaker I enjoyed the most was Merav Michaeli, an astute, outspoken, and funny Israeli woman who was a journalist in both print and broadcast media until last year when she was elected to the Knesset (Labor). 

All day long I had been listening to American Jews discussing how they can influence the government of Israel to change its ways and even agonizing over whether they have a right to try to do so. Over and over I heard them declaring their great love of Israel. I heard them fail to make the distinctions I believe they ought to have made between themselves as Americans and Israel and Israelis. Along comes Michaeli and says Israeli Jews don’t care about diasporic Jews. To the extent that they think about them at all, they don’t consider them to be real Jews. Only Israelis are real Jews because they are…Israelis. She said that to Israelis there are only two kinds of diasporic Jews: those who give them money and the rest. How much more clearly can one say that “Jewish peoplehood” is for propaganda purposes only? It is to keep the money flowing. 

A member of Michaeli’s panel, undeterred, UCLA history professor David Myers, professing his love of Israel, explained he meant not the government but the land, the people, the culture. Michaeli said, “I don’t want you to take this amiss but you’re reminding me of Moskowitz.” 

Irving Moskowitz is the Jewish-American real estate mogul (hospitals and gambling) who devotes himself to judaizing Arab East Jerusalem by buying up property and funding housing projects there. He is anathema to liberal American Jews! He is part of the problem! And yet an acute Israeli heard in Professor Myers’s declaration of love for “the land” an echo of Moskowitz’s right-wing Zionism. 

Of course Myers immediately backed off. When he said “the land” he meant a different “land” from Moskowitz, not “Judea and Samaria” but Israel within the Green Line. But what Michaeli heard, I think, is the romanticism that has characterized Zionism since the first travelers from Victorian Britain and America tramped around the Holy Land—a refusal to recognize Israel as a separate nation with its own history, government, and problems galore, not an eternal projection of our mythical imaginings. 

There is a much more important conference coming up June 14-21. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church will be considering three divestment motions. The Israel lobby, as you might imagine, is out in force. If this is an issue you care about, you might consider sending the Presbyterians a note of encouragement—or to use the Palestinian watchword, sumud. Steadfastness. 

World Cup for Whom?

Artur Salles Lisboa de Oliveira.
Friday June 13, 2014 - 10:32:00 AM

The World is likely to get surprised by the attitude of Brazilians toward the World Cup, especially when the games will be held in Brazilian soil. Given the fact that we have five world championships on our belt, soccer is perceived as a stronger driver of feelings such as pride and happiness. However, it is time to think over the importance of soccer in Brazil and no better time to do it than now. 

Brazilians are eager to rallying on the streets to claim better conditions of living throughout the World Cup. Therefore, for many people – I would say, most of them -, soccer comes in second. Strange as it may sound, the fact is that Brazilians are fed up with watching politicians charged with illegal actions in charge of the most important jobs in the current government. And what about public safety and infrastructure? Politics in Brazil is the art of promising everthing, not delivering anything and getting reelected four years later. 

Government supporters are making a huge effort to tell a different story: according to them, since Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was elected for the first time in 2003, Brazil became a promising country, whose government policies focus on the poorest by offering hand-outs without any prospect of deep changes in the educational system. In fact, opposition leaders argue that the maintenance of the Workers Party in power relies on the money offered to those who live in precarious conditions of living. Having said that, how are the streets of Brazil on the World Cup eve? 

Anyone who walks on the streets of the Brazilian cities a few days before the games will struggle to see any celebration which stands out. Few waving flags in front of cars and some people standing in line to purchase t-shirts. Anything beyond that is political propaganda of an event which has been criticized by a substantial share of the population. Perhaps, in case of the national team performs well on the pitch by defeating strong opponents, Brazilians are expected to get more excited about the World Cup, so that some issues might be overshadowed by the celebrations. At least for a while. 

As Brazil sets stage to choose the new incumbent in September, many journalists support that the final outcome of the World Cup might be decisive for the elections. If the national team fails to claim its sixth championship in Brazilian soil, people’s dissatisfaction regarding their lives are likely to increase in such a way that the government will be blamed for both – the underperformance on the pitch and issues regarding public safety, health system and infrastructure. What if the national team succeeds in its pursuit of the victory? 

The government will take advantage of the celebrations to gain political momentum, especially when the latest polls confirmed that Rousseff is losing ground as a result of growing inflation and sluggish growth in Brazil. Therefore, about the question “World Cup for whom?”, I came to the conclusion that both sides of the Brazilian politics – current government and the opposition parties – might exploit the outcome of the games for political purposes. However, they are unlikely to benefit together from the same outcome. 

So, the question is: which result would fulfill the demands of the society? 


New: ECLETIC RANT: More Mass Killings Can be Expected in Our Gun Crazy Nation

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday June 14, 2014 - 09:14:00 AM

As has been reported, Elliot Rodger killed six students, injured 13 others, and then killed himself at the University of Santa Barbara in Isla Vista, California. And how quickly the killings moved off the front pages. 

Rodger was diagnosed as being a highly functional Asperger Syndrome child -- a form of autism, which is considered a developmental disorder, not a mental illness. Asparger's syndrome is not associated with violence. However, Rodger's manifesto, "My Twisted World" and videos he posted online show a very troubled person. 

California has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Yet this did not prevent Rodger from purchasing two Sig Sauer P228 semiautomatic pistols and a Glock 34 pistol legally.  

Many thought the killing of 20 children and seven adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School would be a tipping point, providing the impetus for reasonable gun control legislation to be finally passed at the federal level. But unfortunately too many legislators are overly responsive to the National Rifle Association lobby, in tandem with gunmakers and importers, military sympathizers, and far-right organizations. As predicted, meaningful gun control measures failed to pass in Congress after Sandy Hook.  

Richard Martinez whose son Chris Martinez was one of the victims at Isla Vista, was quoted as saying, "Where is the friggin' politicians that will stand up and say, 'We need to do this. We're gonna do something,'" he told CNN. "Those gutless bastards did nothing. And my son died because of it. And it's outrageous. Absolutely outrageous." Mr. Martinez only said what many of us feel. 

Since the Sandy Hook killings on December 14, 2012, there have been at least 74 shootings and counting. Because of our long-held affection for firearms, with many citizens embracing and celebrating the association of guns and America's heritage, coupled with our many unresponsive politicians, we can expect mass killings to continue. 

Now that the sound and fury over the Isla Vista mass killings have died down, the cycle of killings, hand wringing, and mourning will probably continue ad infinitum

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Europe: The Sky’s Not Falling

Conn Hallinan
Friday June 13, 2014 - 11:23:00 PM

Now that the dust has settled from the recent elections for the European Parliament it is time to take a deep breath and see what really happened. No, Britain is not about to toss its immigrant population into the sea. No, France’s Marine Le Pen is not about to march on the Elysee Palace. And, as repulsive as the thugs of Hungary’s Jobbik Party and Greece’s New Dawn are, it was the continent’s left to whom the laurels went in last month’s poll. 

Parties that targeted unemployment, austerity and the growing wealth gap in Europe did well, and the dramatic breakthrough of right wing racist and xenophobic parties in France, Britain, and Denmark had less to do with a neo-Nazi surge than with the inability or unwillingness of the opposition in those countries to offer a viable alternative to a half decade of economic misery. Indeed, if there was a message in the May 25 EU elections, it was that those who trumpeted austerity as the panacea for economic crisis were punished.  

Hence Britain’s Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition took a drubbing, France’s ruling Socialists were blitzed, and German Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s lost eight seats, while her Social Democratic opponents picked up four. 

Among the 28 European Union (EU) member countries, 751 seats in the parliament were up for election. 

In contrast, where there was a clear choice between economic democracy, on one hand, and “let’s blame it on the immigrants and Roma,” on the other—as in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and most of Central and Eastern Europe—voters went left. As Srecko Horvat, Croatian philosopher and author of “What Does Europe Want?,” commented in the wake of the election, “The European left is back in the game.” 

“Earthquake” was the metaphor most used in describing the triumphs of Marine Le Pen’s National Front (NF) in France, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in Britain, and Denmark’s Danish People’s Party. But, if there was a result that shifted the foundations of Europe, it was the victory of Greece’s Syriza Party and the “out of nowhere” appearance of Podemos—“we can”—in Spain. 

Syriza emerged from the wreckage inflicted on the Greek economy by the so-called “Troika”—the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission. For the price of a bailout—most of it siphoned off by big European banks—the Greek government instituted massive layoffs, huge cuts in pensions, health care, and education, and privatized government-owned property. The jobless rate rocketed to 28 percent—over 50% for young people—and millions of Greeks were impoverished. While Greece’s creditors did well, the austerity did nothing to turn the depressed economy around. 

Syriza took 26.5 percent of the vote May 25 to become the biggest party in Greece. That figure translated into a general election would net the party 130 seats in the 300 seat Greek parliament. In contrast, the two governing parties that oversaw the austerity program lost over 10 percentage points between them. 

Much of the media focused on the neo-Nazi New Dawn Party, which won 9.4 percent of the vote—a 2.4 percent jump over their 2012 showing. New Dawn will send three representatives to the European Parliament, where the Greek left will swamp their representatives. 

Another rightwing Greek party, the Popular Orthodox Rally lost voters. 

While Syriza focused on the Greek domestic crisis, it also consciously attached itself to other left anti-austerity movements throughout the continent. “What happened in Greece is not a success story but a social tragedy that shouldn’t be repeated anywhere in Europe,” Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras said during a debate among candidates for the post of European Commission president. 

That “anywhere in Europe” resonated in other countries entrapped in the Troika austerity formula or struggling to emerge from stagnant economies and long-tern unemployment. Beside Greece, the most conspicuous example was Podemos in Spain. 

Podemos came out of the massive anti-austerity rallies that paralyzed Madrid and other Spanish cities in 2011, and which impelled similar demonstrations in Europe and the U.S., including the Occupy Wall Street movement. Podemos, says its leader Pablo Iglesias, is “citizens doing politics. If the citizens don’t get involved in politics others will. And that opens the door to their robbing you of democracy, your rights, and your wallet.” 

The Spanish party consciously modeled itself on Syriza, not only in program, but also in its grassroots, bottoms-up organizing tactics. While Podemos has only been in existence four months, it took 8 percent of the vote nationwide and 11 percent in Madrid. Added to the success of left parties in Catalonia, Valencia, and the Basque Region, plus the votes for the Spanish Green Party and the Socialist Party, Spain’s ruling rightwing Popular Party is suddenly a decidedly minority organization. 

That pattern was repeated in several other countries. 

In Ireland the two parties that oversaw the austerity program—Fine Gael and Labour—dropped 16.5% and 12.5% respectively from the 2011 general election, while left and independent parties, like Sinn Fein, the Socialist Party and People Before Profits cornered 45% percent of the vote. The anti-austerity Portuguese Socialist Party defeated the center-right coalition that has overseen the Troika’s recipe for Lisbon, and the Portuguese Communist Party took 12.7 percent of the vote. 

Italy saw the leftist Democratic Party emerge as the number one political force in the country with 40 percent of the vote, while Beppo Grillo’s angry and iconoclastic, but program-light, Five Star Movement took a beating, coming in at 21.2 percent. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s rightwing Forza Italia took third at 16.8 percent. A Syriza look alike, “L’Aitra Europa” (the “Other Europe”), garnered a respectable 4 percent and three seats in the European Parliament after only a few months campaigning. In contrast, the much older and established racist Northern League lost four seats and took an anemic 6.2 percent of the vote. 

In Slovenia the United Left won 5.9 percent of the vote, which in a general election would have given the party six seats in parliament. 

The extreme right Party for Freedom in the Netherlands lost two seats, and the rightwing Finns Party dropped from the 19 percent it scored in 2011 to 13 percent. 

Not that it was all sweetness and light. 

Hungary’s neo-Nazi Jobbik took 14.7 percent of the vote, but that was an almost 6 percent drop from what the Party received in last month’s general elections. Poland’s reactionary Congress of the New Right jumped from 1 percent in the 2011 general elections to 7 percent, and Lithuania’s conservative Order and Justice Party scored 14.3%. The anti-immigrant New Flemish Alliance won in Belgium, and Austria’s Freedom Party came in third, with 19.7 percent of the vote. However, right wing parties like Ataka in Bulgaria, the Greater Romanian Party, and the Slovak National Party all lost voters. 

The right won parliamentary seats in 10 out of the 28 EU countries, and increased their representation in six of those countries, but also lost seats in seven other countries. 

The triumphs of the NF in France and the UKID are certainly worrisome. Both ran virulent, anti-immigrant campaigns, and the NF has long been associated with anti-Semitism and anti-Roma ideology. It would be a mistake, however, to assume everyone who voted for both parties share their penchant for ethnic hatred. Some of that support was indeed racist, but the parties also tapped into voter anger over the economic policies of the EU that have kept both countries locked into near recession conditions. 

The “traditional” left—the Socialist Party in France and the Labour Party in the UK—have gone along with some of the troika’s austerity measures, and have also been sotto voce about immigrant bashing. The absence of a serious left critique of EU policies in both countries let many people surrender to their dark side and buy the fable that immigrants have swamped the job market and plundered social services. Especially since many of the rightist parties opportunistically adopted anti-austerity planks. 

In Denmark, for instance, the center-right Venstre Party campaigned on denying welfare benefits to immigrants, hardly a platform to contrast itself with the far-right Danish People’s Party. 

Politically the continent has rejected the troika’s strategy, much as Latin America did in 2000. “We are opposed to everlasting austerity as a means for fiscal rebalancing on both pragmatic and ideological grounds,” says Syriza’s Tsipras. “The subjugation of democratic process to the markets was the reason why we have the crisis today…we predicted from the onset…that austerity-based policies would backfire.” 

The trick now will be to pull the various left forces together to hammer out an alternative. Podemos’ Iglesias has declared that the Spanish party intended to work “with other parties from Southern Europe to say that we don’t want to be a colony of Germany and the troika.” 

Syriza has already proposed a European summit modeled on the 1953 London Debt Agreement that canceled 50 percent of Germany’s World War II debt and spread out payments on the rest over 30 years. 

As for the so-called “earthquake” on the right: the neo-Nazis and immigrant bashers will make a lot of noise, but they offer nothing but hate as an economic solution. The left has a better one, and they are back. 


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

THE PUBLIC EYE: Clinton vs. Warren: Problem or Opportunity?

Bob Burnett
Friday June 13, 2014 - 10:57:00 AM

Many who saw the remarkable conversation between Senator Elizabeth Warren and economist Thomas Piketty on economic inequality, got the impression that Warren was preparing to run for President. Warren’s candidacy alarms some Democrats because it raises the specter of a battle for the Democratic nomination that might divide the Party. But there’s a substantial upside. 

At this point Warren’s candidacy seems unlikely. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination: 69 percent of respondents favored her versus 12 percent for Vice President Biden and 7 percent for Senator Warren. However, many of us remember 2006 when Hillary Clinton was also the overwhelming favorite before Barack Obama snatched the nomination from her. 

Recently, political activist Guy Saperstein questioned whether Secretary Clinton is the inevitable or best Democratic presidential candidate. He noted she “has maintained consistently high ‘unfavorable’ ratings since at least 2007…” 

Secretary Clinton is more conservative than most Democrats. Saperstein observed, “On nearly every important issue, except women’s issues, Clinton stands to the right of her Democratic base.” 

Recently, University of California Economics Professor Robert Reich identified six principles of the new populism

1. Cut the biggest Wall Street banks down to a size where they’re no longer too big to fail.
2. Resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act, the law separating investment from commercial banking thereby preventing companies from gambling with their depositors’ money.
3. End corporate welfare including subsidies to big oil, agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, and Wall Street.
4. Stop the National Security Agency from spying on Americans.
5. Scale back American interventions overseas.
6. Oppose trade agreements crafted by big corporations.
Secretary Clinton opposes these principles, while Senator Warren supports them. 

Many Democratic women believe Clinton deserves the 2016 nomination because she was a graceful loser in 2008 and a good soldier thereafter. Nonetheless, having Clinton and Warren debate Democratic principles would be good for the Party. 

However, the most serious problem with a Clinton-Warren battle is not gender or ideology. It’s money. Many Democrats believe that having Clinton as their presidential candidate would ensure that Dems would receive millions in Wall Street donations, and enough campaign funds in general, to triumph over any likely Republican candidate. 

The Clinton wing of the Democratic Party has championed Third Way politics that mixes social liberalism with economic conservatism. Sponsored by Wall Street, Third Way embraces the status quo. This is the cornerstone of Clinton strategy to attract Independent voters. 

In an important Pew Research study of contemporary American politics, the authors distinguished between Democrats, Independents, and Republicans by breaking voters into eight groups. Republicans decomposed into “Staunch conservatives: Highly engaged Tea Party supporters” (11 percent) and “Main Street Republicans: Conservative on most issues” (14 percent. These are the Republican foot soldiers and their financial backers, such as the Koch brothers. 

Independents broke into three groups: “Libertarians: free market, small government seculars,” (10 percent) “Disaffecteds: downscale and cynical,” (11 percent) and “Post Moderns: moderate but liberal on social issues” (14 percent). Disaffected voters are unlikely to vote and when they do, it’s primarily on the basis of personality, for the candidate they like the best. However, Post Moderns include many of the denizens of Wall Street; they’re likely to vote for the Presidential candidate that will best represent their interests. 

The Pew study assigned Democrats to three groups: “New Coalition Democrats: upbeat, majority-minority” (9 percent), “Hard-pressed Democrats: religious, financially struggling” (15 percent), and “Solid Liberals: across-the-board liberal positions” (16 percent). The Solid Liberals are Warren’s base, they’re likely to accept all of the principles of the new populism and, therefore, to be skeptical of Secretary Clinton. “New Coalition Democrats” and “Hard Pressed Democrats” are not as engaged as Solid Liberals and, therefore, more sympathetic to Clinton. 

Including libertarians, Republicans have about 35 percent of the vote. Democrats have about 40 percent. Therefore each party needs to appeal to Independent voters. 

Writing in Politico journalists Ben White and Maggie Haberman reported on political conversations with two dozen unaligned GOP donors, Wall Street executives, and corporate lobbyists. When asked about the 2016 presidential election, these Post Modern voters viewed potential Republican Candidate Jeb Bush and Secretary Clinton as interchangeable and observed: 

The darkest secret in the big money world of the Republican coastal elite is that the most palatable alternative to a nominee such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas or Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky would be Clinton, a familiar face on Wall Street following her tenure as a New York senator with relatively moderate views on taxation and financial regulation.
There are two likely consequences if Secretary Clinton battles Senator Warren for the 2016 Democratic nomination. Democrats would have to decide between Clinton’s centrist “Third Way” policies and the populist policies defended by Warren. And, if Warren prevailed, Democrats would have to compensate for the Wall Street millions that would go to the Republican presidential candidate. 

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





ECLECTIC RANT:Prisoner Swap is an Opportunity to Again Debate the Closing of Guantánamo

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday June 13, 2014 - 10:29:00 AM

It is unfortunate that the debate about the prisoner swap -- U.S. Army Sgt. Bergdahl for 5 Taliban officials -- disregards or at least minimizes the fact that prior to the swap, there were 149 still imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp, of which 78 are still imprisoned after being cleared for release and 38 the U.S. has said it lacks evidence to prosecute but claims they are too dangerous to release. Guantánamo has a reputation as a place of torture and indefinite detention, and is a continued international embarrassment. It is time for President Obama and Congress to agree on a plan to quickly release these prisoners or bring them to a speedy trial, and then close Guantánamo. 

The U.S. occupation of Guantánamo dates back to the passage of the Platt amendment to a U.S. Army Appropriations Bill of 1901, which gave the U.S. the right to intervene militarily in Cuban affairs whenever the U.S. decided such intervention was warranted. Cubans were given the choice of accepting the Platt Amendment or remaining under U.S. military occupation indefinitely. The U.S. has intervened militarily in Cuban affairs at least three times. U.S. intervention endowed Cuba with a series of weak, corrupt, dependent governments until the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959. In 1903, the U.S. used it to obtain a perpetual lease of Guantánamo Bay, a blatant example of U.S. gunboat diplomacy. The current Cuban government, as do I, consider the U.S. presence in Guantánamo to be illegal and the Cuban-American Treaty to have been procured by the threat of force in violation of international law.  

January 11, 2014 marked the twelfth anniversary of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp, a U.S. extrajudicial detainment and interrogation facility of the U.S.located within Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. After the Justice Department advised that the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp could be considered outside U.S. legal jurisdiction, the first twenty captives arrived at Guantánamo on January 11, 2002.  

In 2013, President Obama promised to recommit himself to his failed promise to close the Guantánamo Bay prison although such action still faces opposition by both parties. However, the Obama administration has never exercised the power it has had since 2012 to waive, on a case-by-case basis, most of the restrictions lawmakers have imposed on transferring detainees. There is still opposition, however, to transferring them to U.S. soil. But there are some prisoners deemed to risky to release but not feasible to prosecute because torture was used. These prisoners are essentially being held as prisoners of war.  

Considering our pullout from Iraq and Afghanistan and the weakening of al-Qaeda, it time to release all prisoners held at Guantánamo and return Guantánamo back to Cuba.

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: My Thoughts on the Violence

Jack Bragen
Friday June 13, 2014 - 10:28:00 AM

To begin with, the Isla Vista shooting seemingly was premeditated and was done out of malicious motives as much as it arose from mental illness. The perpetrator of that shooting suffered from sociopathy, a different and sinister form of mental illness. Apparently, he wasn't out of touch with reality and instead wanted to get even. 

The incident of a few years back in which Peter Cuckor was killed with a flower pot resembled more a situation of a mentally ill person who was disoriented and didn't know what he was doing. 

Police are apparently trained to protect themselves when they believe their lives are threatened, and unfortunately this is sometimes lethal for someone who appears to be a threat. That might be what happened in Half Moon Bay, although I do not know much about that incident. 

How can more of these killings be prevented? I don't know. I don't think we should undo the decades of progress that have been made to at least somewhat safeguard the human rights of persons with mental illness. Maybe part of the answer is to make conditions better for people. 

Concerning heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, there are specific risk factors that can sometimes predict someone getting these illnesses. Could people study mental illness in a more scientific manner to discover the environmental variables that might lead to getting a mental illness? 

A difficult childhood isn't necessarily a predictor of mental illness. Many people have had rough childhoods and have gone on to become great people, or at least normal. 

The fact is we don't know enough about the development of the human brain. We don't know exactly why some people's minds split off from reality and make someone psychotic. We don't have a scientific method for predicting this kind of violence. Why are some people with mental illness nonviolent while others are violent? Are videogames making people ill? I don't know. 

In fact, I am quite ambivalent about mental health law. People need help, and some may need to be forced into treatment. But I think this must be done in a way that assures humane and competent treatment. 

We should get treatment for those who need help, but we should not undo the progress that was made by people who suffered the abuses that existed in the 1950's, 60's and 70's. And, we should not ignore the fact that there is a lot of room for improvement in current medications, most of which pose significant health risks. People are dying young due to the metabolic side effects of medications. 

When someone can voluntarily undergo available mental health services, it is a far more valuable thing than just forcing people. I believe people can be trained to have more insight concerning their condition. 

And finally, hope must be offered--the hope of some sort of better life than just looking forward to your next cigarette.

Arts & Events

AROUND AND ABOUT THE PERFORMING ARTS: Ethnic Dance Festival to Honor the Kunhiramans of Berkeley's Kalanjali, Dances of India; Notes on Theatre of Yugen's 'This Lingering Life;' Opera Updates

Ken Bullock
Friday June 13, 2014 - 06:56:00 PM

—The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival announced at the end of February a unique series of performances for Saturday June 14 at 7 p. m. at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to mark the occasion of a rare and well-deserved celebration of artistic purpose—and endurance—in both performance and education: all eight Indian classical dance styles (Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Manipuri, Mohiniyattam, Kathakali, Sattiriya) performed for the first time together on an American stage, celebrating the award of the Malonga Casquelourd Award to K. P. and Katherine Kunhiraman, who since 1975 have performed and taught Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, as well as other dances, through their Kalanjali, Dances of India troupe and school in Berkeley. 

And it was announced that Kunhiraman, who had retired to India a couple years ago, while Katherine continued running Kalanjali here, would return for the award and perform Kathakali for the first time in years on the Festival stage as part of the celebration. 

Kunhiraman himself has been a rare figure for these days: a second-generation Kathakali actor, master of a classical dance theater tradition of South India that goes back centuries, characterized by all-night performances of stories from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana mythic cycles, by the make-up (often taking hours to apply backstage), familiar to many from photographs and travel posters of green-hued dancers with tall gold crowns making great leaps ... 

Kunhiraman was said to be excited by the award and the opportunity to perform again—the only previous time Kathakali was performed at the Festival was at the first one in 1978, by the Kunhiramans. 

But this week's news was somber: Kunhiraman, 84, was suddenly taken ill—and died in a hospital at Chennai, where Katherine had flown to be with him. 

The show will go on, and the award, presented by Indian Consul General Nagesh Pathasarathi, will be accepted by the Kunhiramans' longtime student, fellow performer and friend Barbara Framm, herself a teacher of Bharatanatyam, maybe best-known in Berkeley for her ongoing involvement with the Himalayan Fair. She will convey Katherine Kunhiraman's greetings and reminiscences—and the Kunhiramans' niece and collaborator, Yeshoda, will display the ancient crown Kunhiraman inherited from his father and wore in performance. 

The Kunhiramans first met during the 60s at Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai, Rukmini Devi Arundale's performing arts institute, where Kunhiraman taught and performed and Katherine—from an American family living in India—was a student. When they came to Berkeley to found Kalanjali, South Indian classical music and dance were little known in comparison to different North Indian styles. For years the Kunhiramans persevered, their reputation spreading as their students became performers and teachers, and with the immigration of more South Indians to the Bay Area, finally realizing recognition and success regionally—and beyond. Bharatanatyam, like ballet in the West or Nihon Buyo (Kabuki dance) in Japan, is commonly taught to girls and young women of South India as part of their education. The Kunhiramans presided over countless aurangetrams, the debut performance marking the completion of dance courses, for students of many nationalities. 

An account of the Kunhiramans by an old friend, with Katherine Kunhiraman's remarks, from an Indian journal in English this week: 


The Ethnic Dance Festival, featuring 31 dance companies with over 300 dancers and musicians, weekends through June 29, Yerba Buena center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street (between 4th & 3rd Streets), San Francisco. $18-$58. (415) 978-2787; sfethnicdancefestival.org 

—"I must be the narrator!" So the Woman With Tragic Hair (Jubilith Moore) realizes her real—that is, theatrical—karma, in a play about karma that appropriates the stories of nine Noh plays from the classical Japanese repertory, turning them over as more-or-less modern, vignettes from life: two men, standing at a bus stop, listening to a beggar woman raving; a gardener, raking a sand garden, overtaken by a vision of beauty that turns out to be a spoiled, cruel rich girl; a young warrior from the past who won't believe he's been dead for centuries, repeating over and over the circumstances of his demise ... 

Theatre of Yugen's production of Chiori Miyagawa's play, 'This Lingering Life,' also directed by Moore and featuring an excellent cast of eight other Yugen company members, as well as collaborators who have trained with them in the rigorous physical style of Noh (Sheila Berotti, Sheila Devitt, Nick Ishimuru, Hannah Lennett, Alexander Lydon, Ryan Marchand, Norman Muñoz, Lluis Valls), is precisely a triumph of theatrical collaboration and ensemble performance, what the performers, director and designers have brought to Miyagawa's script, from Mikiko Uesugi's enormous but ethereal cube of a set, drawn in the air by hanging lines held in place by gently swaying pendulums, backed by an actual tree in leaf (inspired by the pine tree painted on the back wall of Noh stages)llen Willner, with a wide array of costumes by Callie Floor for the 28 characters and props by Sheila Berotti and Sheila Devitt—and Michael Gardiner seated onstage, working a computer to produce his very apt scoring and sound design for the action. 

It's particularly a triumph for Theatre of Yugen, celebrating 35 years of performing and training in the traditional forms of Noh and Kyogen, demanding an ensemble style of performance, whether for traditional plays or adapted modern and contemporary ones, especially after the very short run of 'Emmett Till, a river,' also directed by Moore, which premiered a few months ago and showed the same fine directorial style emerging, synthesizing "fusion" material and realization into a single vision onstage. 

Miyagawa's script of synthesizing contiguous, sometimes intersecting or echoing stories, taps into a tradition in the West that begins with works like C. D. Grabbe's 'Don Juan and Faust' (1828), a favorite of Kierkegaard''s, and better-known masterworks like Ibsen's 'Peer Gynt' and Strindberg's 'A Dream Play' and 'The Gost Sonata,' with touches of humor and anachronism out of the old burlesque or farce melodrama and screwball comedy traditions that influenced film and television, from Tod Browning's 'Dracula' and Howard Hawks' films to those of Quentin Tarantino, as well as the Fractured Fairy Tales cartoons from Rocky & His Friends—and maybe a dash of Sam Shepard, including his taste for the false naive and a touch of banality. 

The last performance of, unfortunately, a two-week run is at 8, Saturday, June 14, at Z Space (formerly Theatre Artaud), 450 Florida Street (near Harrison & 17th), in San Francisco's Mission District. $15-$50. theatreofyugen.org 

—There are still tickets for Cinnabar Theater's production of the great Mozart/Da Ponte opera 'The Marriage of Figaro,' staged in Cinnabar's intimate hilltop theater in Petaluma—a rarity; they usually sell out. But it closes this weekend. Friday and Saturday, 8; Sunday at 2.3333 Petaluma Boulevard North, Petaluma. $25-$40.
cinnabartheater.org or (707) 763-8920 

... and a studio production of Lisa Schola Prosek's opera from Berkeley (and Big Sur) author Jaime De Angulo's novella of the encounter of a Spanish priest with Indian magic in Carmel and in the Sur highlands, featuring collaboration with Esselen Indians on the libretto and an Essalen soprano, will be for one night only, next Saturday the 21st, 7 p. m., at the Unscripted Theater, 533 Sutter (between Powell & Mason), downtown San Francisco. $15. sfiaf.org

Berkeley Early Music Festival:
Part Two

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday June 13, 2014 - 10:13:00 AM

The second half of Berkeley’s Early Music Festival got off to a glorious start with the West Coast debut of internationally renowned keyboard artist Kristian Bezuidenhout. In the first of his two scheduled appearances here, the 35 year-old Bezuidenhout, a native of South Africa, played a recital at 5:00 pm on Thursday, June 5, at St. Mark’s Church. For this performance, Bezuidenhout played on a pianoforte built by Thomas and Barbara Wolf in 1990 on designs from around 1800 by Johann Schantz of Vienna. Opening the program was a Rondo in C minor by Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach. featuring dynamic contrasts. 

The rest of this recital was devoted to Mozart, beginning with the Suite in C minor, K. 399, composed in 1782 when Mozart was 26 years old. This suite, “in Handelian style,” opens with a C major overture, then transitions via a fugue in A minor, marked Allegro, to an Allemande in C minor, followed here by a Sarabande left unfinished by Mozart but completed by Robert D. Levin. In Bezuidenhout’s capable hands, the rhythmic and dynamic alternations of this work stood out in clear detail. 

Next, Bezuidenhout performed two relatively minor pieces of Mozart, the Menuett in D major, K. 355, and the Gigue in G major, K. 574. The former may have belonged initially to another composition. The latter, composed in Leipzig in 1789, bears traces of Mozart’s late rediscovery of Bach’s greatness. However, the real meat of this recital came, first, with Bezuidenhout playing Mozart’s Rondo in 

A minor, K. 511, by turns dramatically urgent and plaintively elegant, yet solidly wrought on chromatic building-blocks. Next came Mozart’s remarkable Fantasie in C minor, K. 475, a work of which it has rightly been said that it contains a “Beethovenisme d’avant la lettre.” Here Mozart demonstrates his boldness of imagination and his mastery of extreme contrasts; and Kristian Bezuidenhout’s playing brought out the unique strengths of the pianoforte, its combination of surprising power and refined elegance, as well as the shorter decay time a note takes to fade away, which enables a somewhat faster overall tempo than obtainable by a modern piano in passages marked Adagio 

Last but by no means least on this recital’s program was Mozart’s famed Sonata in A major, a work that begins with a stark bass note, then proceeds with delicate right-hand themes alternating with more left-hand bass notes and chords, then requires crossed hands in certain melodic variations, only to move on to a Menuetto (with more hand-crossing), and, finally, culminating in the renowned “Rondo alla Turca.” Bezuidenhout played this Sonata in A major brilliantly, bringing out all its expressive powers. Then, as an encore, he played the elegantly intro-spective Andante movement from Mozart’s C-major Sonata, K. 331, capping off a superb fortepiano recital from this internationally acclaimed keyboard artist. 

On Thursday evening, June 5, the Belgian choral group Vox Luminis returned to the First Congregational Church for a concert dedicated to the Virgin Mary as represented in music from 17th century Italy. However, their opening number, an anonymous lai, sung in Old French on a 13th century text , nearly stole the show from all that came later. This a capella work, Lamentation de la Vierge au pied de la Croix, was sung in the wings by a soprano invisible to the audience; and this only heightened the majesty and mystery of this noble lamentation. Following this stunning opener, Vox Luminis performed the short but famous Crucifixus by Antonio Lotti, a work notable for its dissonances. Next came Claudio Monteverdi’s sublime motet Adoramus te Christe, written in 1620 for six voices on a text by Giulio Cesare Bianchi, a pupil of Monteverdi’s. The following work, a Salve Regina by Domenico Scarlatti, featured vocals by a female soprano and a male alto, with continuo by organ and viola da gamba.  

The last work performed prior to intermission was Lamentation Virginis in depositione Filii de Cruce, attributed to a learned amateur musician, Alessandro Della Ciaia (ca. 1605-1670). This astonishing work demonstrates great skill in polyphony as well as solo parts, creating a dialogue between a chorus of angels and a soprano representing the Virgin. Della Ciaia, (or whover wrote this piece), brings all nine voices together only in the finale. 

After intermission, Vox Luminis performed Domenico Scarlatti’s most famous sacred work, the Stabat Mater. In this work, probably written in Rome for the Cappella Giulia, Scarlatti not only splits the chorus in halves, he also recombines them in various permutations throughout. Set to a moving, almost harrowing, text, this Stabat Mater captures the extreme pathos of the Virgin Mother of Christ, who voices her grief at the foot of the Cross and is lamented by onlookers who are witness to her tragic drama. As performed by Vox Luminis, this work was indeed luminous. 

On Thursday night, June 5, there was yet another concert – this one at 10:00 pm at First Congregational Church by The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Trinity Baroque Orchestra. On the program were four Motets for Double Choir by Johann Sebastian Bach. However, super-saturated as I was after taking in so many events in such a short time, I confess that I passed on this one, preferring instead to listen at home to a CD of these same Bach motets performed by Bach Collegium San Diego given to me on Thursday afternoon at the Festival Exhibition, where various instrument builders, publishers, and Early Music groups display their wares. 

Day six of the Berkeley Early Music Festival began with an 11:00 am fully staged production of Adriano Banchieri’s 1598 madrigal comedy La pazzia senile/Senile Madness performed by the University of Southern California’s Thornton Baroque Sinfonia. This presentation was under the aegis of Early Music America’s Young Performers Festival, as part of the Berkeley Early Music Festival. La pazzia senile utilizes some of the stock characters of Commedia Dell’ Arte; and the youthful troupe, under the direction of Adam Gilbert, performed various popular dances of the Italian Baroque. The music of this madrigal comedy is in three-part polyphony. Among the many excellent performers, one stood out – Vincente Chavarria, who had all the comic moves down pat, sang beautifully, and even wrote the informative program notes. 

On Thursday evening, June 6, The Choir of Trinity Wall Street & Trinity Baroque Orchestra performed a program of sacred music dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. The program, spanning the transition from the late Middle Ages to the early Renaissance, was dominated by works of the Franco-Flemish composers – Gilles Binchois, Josquin des Prez, Jacob Obrecht, Nicolas Gombert, Johannes Ockeghem, and Guillaume Dufay -- who spread the art of polyphony throughout Europe.  

To my taste, there was too little diversity in the music chosen for this program. Moreover, the flamboyant but ungainly conducting style of Trinity Wall Street’s artistic director, Julian Wachner, was downright obtrusive, calling too much attention to the conductor and away from the singers and their music. There could be no greater contrast than that between this New York-based choral group and the Brussels-based choral ensemble Vox Luminis. Julian Wachner positions his Trinity Wall Street singers in a semi-circle around him, as he conducts downstage front and center. In contrast to this hierarchical grouping, the Vox Luminis singers are placed in an egalitarian straight-line horizontally across the stage; and they perform without a conductor. Only at the end of a Vox Luminis concert, when Lionel Meunier steps forward to thank the organizers for inviting them, and thank the audience for coming, do we know which singer is this group’s Artistic Director. Whereas the New York group under Julian Wachner is brashly self-assertive, the Brussels ensemble is humbly self-effacing, making the music itself, not any individual, the focus of our attention. 

Lest you dismiss these remarks as random extra-musical observations, let me hasten to say that in performance of the music itself, Vox Luminis achieved a vocal clarity of focus and emotional intensity I found lacking in Trinity Wall Street. Could it be that the Trinity Wall Street singers, like the audience, found themselves somewhat distracted at times by the looming presence and extravagant gestures of their conductor? Or were they too, again like the audience, simply bored by this all too homogenous program of polyphonic music? 

As for the music performed in this concert by Trinity Wall Street, only Guillaume Dufay’s Nuper rosarum flores, composed for the consecration in 1436 of the cathedral of Florence, with its marvelous, just-completed dome by the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, stood out in this all too homogeneous program. The lengths of Dufay’s four sections stand in an exact proportion of 6:4:2:3 to one another; and many scholars have surmised that this is a tribute to Brunelleschi’s classical emphasis on proportion. Recently, others maintain that while it may be an indirect tribute to Brunelleschi, it also represents the Old Testament’s testimony regarding the proportions of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. 

On Saturday evening, June 7, Nicholas McGegan, director of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra led the select group of Philharmonia Chamber Players with the addition of Kristian Bezuidenhout, who performed this time on harpsichord. The program for this concert at First Congregational Church included one piece by Johann Sebastian Bach, one by his distant cousin Johann Ludwig Bach, and one each by two of his sons, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach.  

First on this program came Johann Ludwig Bach’s Suite in G major, a sprightly piece which Nicholas McGegan conducted from the keyboard of his modern harpsichord. Next came Johann Sebastian Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto No. 1 in D minor, with Kristian Bezuidenhout playing a harpsichord built by John Phillips in 2014 after designs by J.H. Gräbner Jr., ca. 1750. In this piece, as in the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, J.S. Bach effectively liberates the harpsichord from being merely an accompaniment. The opening Allegro, as well as the closing movement, also marked Allegro, offer vigorous passage-work, while the middle movement, an Adagio, features florid ornamentation. Kristian Bezuidenhout brought his awesome technique and unerring sensitivity to the harpsichord, just as he had brought these qualities earlier in the Festival to the fortepiano.  

However, from where I sat in the fifth row, the harpsichord sonority lacked the expected treble quality, sounding a somewhat muffled bass timbre. Puzzled by this, at intermission I asked the harpsichord’s builder, John Phillips, why the treble seemed diminished. His answer was simple. “If you move to the back of the hall, you’ll hear the treble.” When I discussed this same issue with Kristian Bezuidenhout himself at intermission, the keyboard artist replied that, “Bach composed this piece for Zimmermann coffee house in Leipzig, a room perhaps one-fifth the size of this hall. The size of the hall always constitutes a problem.” In any case, I took the advice of John Phillips, (who, in addition to building harpsichords, doubles as President of San Francisco Early Music Society), and seated myself much farther back for the second half of the program; and, voilà, the treble quality was miraculously present. 

After intermission, Nicholas McGegan conducted from his modern harp-sichord in Wilhelm Friedemann Bach’s Sinfonia in F major, “Dissonant.” Friedemann was in some ways the “black sheep” of J.S. Bach’s sons. Though a gifted musician, he had a difficult, quarrelsome personality, especially when drunk. In any case, Friedemann’s Sinfonia in F major is full of musical surprises, setting up expectations in a conventional galant style, then dashing them with an abrupt plunge to a remote key, sudden changes of dynamics, or even silence when it’s least expected!  

Only the two Menuettos at the end of this work adhere to the conventions set forth by Friedemann’s father, J.S. Bach. 

For the final work on this program, Kristian Bezuidenhout returned to play harpsichord in Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in C major. This work, in three movements, begins with an Allegretto in which the harpsichord plays in the galant style while the orchestra indulges in tempestuous outbursts. This collision is soon pacified, however, in the work’s second movement, a dreamy Adagio ma non troppo, beautifully rendered by Kristian Bezuidenhout and the Philharmonia Chamber Players. The work concludes with an Allegro assai that banishes all conflict in what seems a “happy ending” reconciliation. Once again, Kristian Bezuidenhout’s exquisite keyboard mastery proved the highlight of this Early Music Festival. 

Coming in the wake of such a momentous concert, I feared that the Festival’s final program at 4:00 pm on Sunday, June 9, might be anti-climactic. Though it featured music by one of my favorite composers, Claudio Monteverdi, the program put together by Warren Stewart, conductor of the group Magnificat, was made up of sacred music published in 1641 in Monteverdi’s collection, Selva morale e spirituale /Sacred and spiritual forest. Though this collection contains secular as well as sacred pieces, and includes two secular works set to texts by Petrarch and a sacred transcription of Monteverdi’s famous opera arietta Lamento d’Arianna; for this program Warren Stewart omitted all secular works and cobbled together various sacred works by Monteverdi, interspersed with instrumental sonatas by Monteverdi’s colleague in Venice, Pier Francesco Cavalli.  

The resulting concert, much to my pleasant surprise, was anything but anti-climactic. Conducted by Warren Stewart, Magnificat, augmented by the instrumental group The Whole Noyse, majestically performed a set of vespers for the feast of the Evangelist Mark, patron saint of Venice. Monteverdi’s music is here distinguished by ever-inventive contrasts, as different vocal pairings are set with-and-against different instrumental groupings. The variety of vocal and instrumental textures is incredibly rich, especially in the large-scale sections written in Monteverdi’s concertato style, which emphasizes dramatic contrasts. Performed without an intermission, this program of sacred music by Monteverdi (and his colleague Cavalli) brought the 2014 Berkeley Early Music Festival to a fittingly splendid climax.