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Flash: Berkeley Police Report Shooting in 3000 Block of San Pablo

Thursday June 26, 2014 - 11:06:00 PM

The Planet has received this report from Ofc. Jennifer R. Coats, Berkeley Police:

"I can confirm [that there] is a report of a shooting in the 3000 block of San Pablo Avenue. The call came in at 9:54 p.m. The victim was transported to a local hospital by the Berkeley Fire Department. I do not know their condition. I am on my way in and will head to the scene."

Press Release: Berkeley Police Seek Suspect in June 11th Shooting

From Ofc Jennifer Coats, BPD
Thursday June 26, 2014 - 06:46:00 PM

This morning members of the Berkeley Police Department’s (BPD) Special Response Team and Investigations Bureau served three search warrants in Berkeley and one in Oakland related to the June 11, 2014 shooting that occurred in the 1600 block of Russell Street. 

On June 11, 2014 at approximately 4:33 p.m., BPD received several 9-1-1 calls reporting gunshots in the area of Russell Street and California Street. As officers responded to the area, it was reported there was a victim, suffering from gunshot wounds. Once officers arrived on scene they located two gunshot victims. Both victims were transported to a local hospital by the Berkeley Fire Department with non-life threatening injuries. The victims are both males, ages 18 and 21 respectively. 

Today’s warrant services were a result of the on-going shooting investigation. BPD Homicide Detectives have been actively working this case since June 11th, which culminated with this morning’s actions. The investigators developed information implicating Anthony Durant, a 23 year old Berkeley resident, and Donzale Mejia, a 22 year old Oakland resident, as suspects in the shooting. 

Mejia was arrested this morning in Oakland during the execution of the search warrants. 

Durant is currently outstanding and wanted for assault with a deadly weapon and should be considered armed and dangerous. 

BPD is seeking the community’s help in apprehending Durant. Anyone with information regarding Durant’s whereabouts is urged to call the BPD Homicide Detail at 510-981-5741 or 510-981-5900. If callers wish to remain anonymous he/she may call the Bay Area Crime Stoppers (BACS) Tip Line at (800) 222-TIPS (8477) 

The Berkeley Police Department would like to thank The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and the Oakland Police Department for their assistance in this investigation.

Press Release: Tony Thurmond for Assembly Announces Endorsements from Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington and Former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport

From Kate Maeder, Tony Thurmond for Assembly
Tuesday June 24, 2014 - 03:20:00 PM

Tony Thurmond's campaign for State Assembly announced today the endorsements of Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport, former Berkeley City Councilmember Ying Lee, Berkeley School Boardmember Beatriz Levya-Cutler, former Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Michele Lawrence, former Berkeley School Board Member and Alameda County Board of Education Trustee Joaquin Rivera and environmental activist Van Jones. 

Tony Thurmond has coalesced a broad, diverse coalition uniting behind his campaign for Assembly, District 15. Worthington, Newport and other Berkeley leaders join leading Democrats like Congressman George Miller, Attorney General Kamala Harris, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, State Senators Mark DeSaulnier, Mark De Leon and Norma Torres, Assemblymembers Phil Ting, Lorena Gonzalez and Cheryl Brown, activist Dolores Huerta and California's teachers, nurses, firefighters and organized labor, including the Alameda Labor Council and the Contra Costa Labor Council, Clean Water Action, the East Bay Express and many others.  

Thurmond said, "I am thankful for the support from former Mayor Newport, Councilmember Worthington and other Berkeley leaders who have united behind my campaign for State Assembly. In addition to Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom and California's teachers and nurses, they know that I will be the progressive advocate our district needs in Sacramento." 

"As a former city council member and school board member, I will fight every day to ensure that our children get the best education, our families have access to health and mental health care and our streets are safer. I will work to ensure that every child has a greater opportunity to succeed." 

Thurmond continued, “I helped preserve 23 miles of coastline in Richmond, blocked additional heavy crude production and created job training programs and hundreds of green-collar jobs. I know that we can simultaneously grow our economy while also promoting our environment.”  

Thurmond continued, “I have two young daughters, and my own family is plagued by environmentally-caused diseases like asthma and cancer. It’s my personal mission to make sure all of our kids can grow up in healthy environments.” 

Tony Thurmond is running in Assembly District 15, which includes Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Emeryville, Hercules, Kensington, North Oakland, Piedmont, Pinole, Richmond and San Pablo. Current Assemblymember Nancy Skinner has held this seat since 2008 and will be termed out in November. 

Thurmond is a former elected member of the Richmond City Council and School Trustee for the West Contra Costa Unified School District. He has the most elected experience of any of the candidates in the 2014 Assembly primary for the 15th District, which includes all the areas Thurmond has represented. 

See the growing Democratic momentum for Tony Thurmond’s campaign and learn more about his effort to make children and families a priority in California at: www.TonyThurmond.com

Press Release: UC Berkeley Police Arrest Top-Hatted Grand Theft Suspect; Accused of Trying to Steal a Golf Cart from a Campus Construction Site

From UC Berkeley Police Department
Monday June 23, 2014 - 04:43:00 PM

On Sunday, June 22, 2014 at 10:05 p.m. a UCPD Community Services Officer (CSO) noticed a suspicious person entering a locked construction site. The CSO radioed UCPD Dispatch and UCPD officers responded. The officers made contact with the suspect, Gary WYRICK, who was attempting to steal a golf cart. The suspect entered the site by cutting a hole in the fencing with wire cutters. UCPD searched the suspect and found burglary tools and a knife on him. WYRICK was arrested by UCPD for grand theft, possession of a weapon on UC property and vandalism to the fence.

The suspect arrested is described as:

WYRICK, Gary, a White male, 53 years-of-age, 6’01” in height, 185 lbs., with a medium build, with brown eyes and black wavy hair, wearing a top hat, white coat and tan cargo pants.

Updated: Tunnel Road in Berkeley Open After Early Morning Crash

Drew Himmelstein (BCN)
Friday June 20, 2014 - 02:08:00 PM

Tunnel Road in Berkeley has reopened in both directions after an apparent DUI crash early this morning, according to Berkeley police. 

The road had been closed in both directions after the 2:22 a.m. crash that seriously injured a passenger, police said. 

At of 8 a.m., westbound Tunnel Road was open but eastbound Tunnel Road remained closed.  

Around 11:30 a.m., both directions were open, according to police. 

The crash was reported at 2:22 a.m. at Tunnel Road and The Uplands, according to police. 

The passenger in the car, a 24-year-old man, was found with serious injuries. He was taken to a hospital and is in critical condition, police said. 

The driver, a 21-year-old man, had fled the scene, but was found nearby by officers, police said. 

He was arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run, DUI and other alleged violations, police said.  

The car was the only vehicle involved in the incident, police said. 


Driver Arrested, Passenger Seriously Injured in Berkeley DUI Crash

Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Friday June 20, 2014 - 10:44:00 AM

A driver was arrested after an apparent DUI crash on Berkeley's Tunnel Road early this morning, according to Berkeley police.  

The crash was reported at 2:22 a.m. at Tunnel Road and The Uplands, according to police.

The passenger in the car, a 24-year-old man, was found with serious injuries. He was taken to a hospital and is in critical condition, police said.

The driver, a 21-year-old man, had fled the scene, but was found nearby by officers, police said.

He was arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run, DUI and other alleged violations, police said.

Initially the crash was blocking Tunnel Road. As of 8 a.m., westbound Tunnel Road had opened, however eastbound Tunnel Road remained closed. The roadway is expected to reopen in several hours, police said.

The car was the only vehicle involved in the incident, police said.



Staying the Course

By Becky O'Malley
Friday June 20, 2014 - 10:33:00 AM

The only thing more boring than having someone say “I told you so” is wanting to say it yourself. The recent news from Iraq is excruciatingly predictable. I’d wager that there are not ten readers of today’s Berkeley Daily Planet who could not have predicted, before the first American soldier ever went into Iraq, that intervention would never work. Eleven years ago this spring I marched down Market Street in San Francisco with ten members of my extended family and about a hundred thousand other Northern Californians to tell the people in charge that they were making a big mistake—but did anyone listen? 

Even worse, it’s been 50 years—a half-century—since some of us in Ann Arbor started warning Americans that getting further involved in Vietnam was going to end badly. But did anyone listen? 

This week’s New York Times is full of the big machers like Nicholas Kristof (Harvard, Rhodes Scholar ….) falling all over themselves warning the U.S. not to get involved again. But where were they in the first place? Kristof, for one, backed the invasion, as did most of the Very Important People who had access to big media, and as their predecessors had backed U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s. 

When will they ever learn? Pete Seeger had it all figured out way back when, didn’t he? He told them and he told them, even turned it into a song, but they didn’t listen to him either. 

Another way of framing the question might be to ask how people with such lousy judgment continue to ascend to positions of power and influence in the United States. President Obama at the moment appears to have more sense than previous presidents, but he’s under a huge amount of pressure from the likes of Dianne Feinstein. However, he’s now announced that he’s sending in 300 “advisers”, an unfortunate choice of labels for those of us who remember the first advances into the Big Muddy which Vietnam turned out to be . The first Americans there were called advisers too. 

Yes, now we—whoever “we” are—can all be sure that Iraq is going to go to hell in a handbasket. There is no good alternative to recommend this time, is there? The current conflict is even more untenable than the previous ones. 

In Vietnam, the dispute was at least political, between two opposing groups with ideological rationales and Cold War allies to back up their positions. When the U.S. entered Iraq in 2003, the excuse then was that Saddam Hussein was a dictator, and the stated purpose of invading was to free the poor citizens from his undemocratic rule—dictatorship vs. democracy, an easy brand to sell. Oh sure, there was also the War on Terrorism, wasn’t there, never mind that the terrorists in question had nothing to do with Iraq. 

This time, however, it’s really an incomprehensible mixed bag. Much of the conflict in the Moslem world seems to be based in religion, and not just dogma, which would be bad enough, but different takes on historic events which happened hundreds of years in the past. 

(For a quick summary of the problem, click on Why Sunnis and Shiites are fighting, explained in two minutes

As I write this, I can’t stop compulsively checking my online news sources, trying to figure out if there’s any good way to support what appears to be the President’s intelligent impulse to steer clear of the internecine battles in the Middle East. Perusing the pundits, I’m forced to conclude that the remedy for the situation, if there is one, is for the regime of Nouri al-Maliki to extend an olive branch to the more reasonable Sunnis in Iraq, as well as to the ethnically different Kurds. But no one seems to think that’s likely to happen. 

And in the United States we have our own unreasonable or even irrational politicians, specifically members of Congress, primarily but not exclusively Republicans. Comfortably situated in Washington as they are, they cry out for military action, feeling no need to understand the facts on the ground in Iraq. 

My colleagues on this site, both regular columnists and Public Comment contributors, all seem to be as concerned as I am about the choices which face the administration in this crisis. The consensus seems to be that public support for President Obama’s apparent inclination to stay out of Iraq is needed, so I guess that’s what we’ll have to try to do. 







Public Comment

New: Israel & the growing BDS movement

Jagjit Singh
Monday June 23, 2014 - 03:12:00 PM

Throughout its short history Israel has adopted an extremely aggressive posture occupying more and more land displacing the indigenous population. The prospect for peace grows dimmer by the day. Many Jews and non-Jews are increasingly dismayed by Israel’s long standing intransigence to reach a peaceful accord with the Palestinians.

Recently, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted in its general convention to divest from three companies (Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions) that exports equipment to the occupied Palestinian territories. This is an effort to pressure Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to end the occupation; this comes on the heel of a much wider campaign known as B.D.S., for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

Jewish activists from Jewish Voice for Peace wore black T-shirts with the slogan “Another Jew Supporting Divestment” at the Presbyterian convention. Rabbi Alissa Wise, director of Jewish Voice for Peace, stated that divestment can serve a constructive purpose. “To me, this helps Palestinians build their power, so that Israel is convinced, not by force, but by global consensus that something has to change.”  

Other American churches have adopted similar strategies to protest Israeli policies: The Mennonite Central Committee, the Quakers and the United Methodist Church have sold stock in companies that conduct business with Israel. Religious groups were in the forefront to demolish the South Africa’s apartheid system. It must do no less to vigorously oppose current Israel policies.

Press Release: Is Zero Waste Working in Berkeley?

From Berkeley City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan
Friday June 20, 2014 - 09:21:00 PM

Is Berkeley meeting its goal of achieving Zero Waste by 2020? On July 1, our audit Underfunded Mandate: Resources, Strategic Plan, and Communication Needed to Continue Progress Toward the Year 2020 Zero Waste Goal answers that question. Click here to read the audit, which goes to Council on Tuesday, July 8 at 7 p.m..  

Increasing funding for education, outreach, compliance, and enforcement will help Berkeley resume its progress toward zero waste and create a path for other cities to follow 

Berkeley has the opportunity to once again take a leadership role in moving zero waste efforts to the next level. We have many best practices in place, helping us nearly double waste diversion rate since 1995. The City met Alameda County’s goal of 75 percent diversion in 2010, but has remained near that level since because the City lacks a written strategic plan to identify actions, who is responsible for them, and specific and measurable goals. Increased education, outreach, compliance and enforcement will help Berkeley resume its progress and create a path for other cities to follow. 

Potential future cost savings that we identified can only be implemented when the entire community makes significant reductions in waste generation.

What Caused the Iraq Situation

Jagjit Singh
Friday June 20, 2014 - 10:49:00 AM

The multiple conflicts in the Middle East are raging out of control largely driven by our ill-fated intervention in Iraq in 2003. It is a pity that the architects of this foreign policy blunder- Tony Blair, Dick Cheney, Paul Bremer. . . have been granted air time and print media space to level charges of incompetence at the Obama administration. This is a classic example of the ‘pot calling the kettle black”.  

VP Cheney who slithered away from active duty in Vietnam obtaining multiple deferments, made the false claim in 2002 that our former ally, Saddam Hussein, had weapons of mass destruction. He then boasted in 2005 that the Iraqi insurgency was in its “last throes”.

It’s hard to believe that while the Bush underlings wrap themselves in the mantle of the American flag, seemingly oblivious of the chaos they have caused in the Middle East – first favoring Hussein with chemical weapons which he used against the Kurds and Iranians – then launching our shock and awe bombing in Iraq, disbanding the Iraqi Baathist stabilizing army (made up of Sunnis and Shiites) and then hastily boasting “mission accomplished” leaving a dangerous power vacuum led by Shiite Prime Minister Maliki.

Prior to our departure from Iraq the US employed “death squads” to create ethnic strife using the El-Salvador model to create a US sponsored civil war. The political pundits, who should have been charged with war crimes, are now offering their ‘sage advice’ to a largely deaf audience.

Berkeley Street Proposal

Daniel Youngjoo Kim
Friday June 20, 2014 - 10:52:00 AM

I am a current student at the University of California, Berkeley and I have just completed my first year. After living in Berkeley for 10 months, I have made many observations about the town: it is dirty, it is run down, it smells like piss, there so many homeless people around, and the buildings look like there are about to collapse in the next earthquake. However, the one thing that stood out to me the most was the condition of the roads. It is not just the roads near campus. Downtown, Northside, Southside, and up near the Berkeley Hills have roads that are made 16th century wagons to travel on.  

Okay, I guess my expectations are high for a city that was established in 1878. I come from one of the cleanest cities in the United States: Irvine, California so I was not used to a flipped over garbage can greeting me as I stepped out of the car on my way to my new dorm room. Irvine was established almost 100 years after Berkeley and I could tell one hundreds years makes a lot of difference to the appearance to a city. Unlike Berkeley, Irvine is planned city by the Irvine Company. By the looks of it Berkeley is not very well planned or maintained. 

I find the main complaint I have with the city of Berkeley is the roads. How many 9 inch deep potholes are there on Durant between College and Telegraph? I feel about 50 as I take the 51B line AC Transit bus on my way home from class. This is on a large bus with a suspension that is supposed to absorb the majority of the imperfections of the road. Sometimes, all the passengers in the bus get tossed and turned as the driver is trying to avoid all the cracks in the road. Other times, the bus driver is too fed up with the current road conditions that he or she plummets over the potholes like a monster truck driver throwing the passengers out of their seats into the sides of others around them. We all have to hold on for dear life. It is not just the buses that are suffering from the cracked up roads. When I get in a car or taxi, I question to myself whether I got into a massage chair and cranked up the setting to maximum uncomfortness. My butt would be jiggling the whole ride! 

How would I get around the city if I can’t take the bus or drive a car? Would I bike? No, I would hit a massive hole and crush my skull. Would I walk? No, the sidewalks are so lumpy from the overgrown tree roots that I might stumble and sprain my ankle, like I already have done before. Then how am I going to get around town? The only way is to fix the roads and sidewalks. 

There is currently a 5 year street repair program that was proposed in late 2012. It is supposed to improve the conditions of the roads, improve traffic, and allow a bike and bus route. The plan sounds good, but the city of Berkeley does not have 5 years to wait around for construction to start. The project needs to start now. It will only get more and more expensive as the years go by and the roads get run down even more. 

Berkeley should look at Irvine as a model in world of street repair. Irvine repairs its streets every two years and they are streets that are in mint condition when compared to that of Berkeley. So instead of spending the cities tax money on other things, the priority should be repairing the roads.

New: To Daniel Youngjoo Kim

Constance Wiggins, 45 year resident
Monday June 23, 2014 - 03:01:00 PM

There is a UC Irvine, I believe. If you think Berkeley is old and run down you should see some of the eastern cities which are even older.

Maintenance of roads, buildings and the “homeless” all takes money and you may have noticed that no one wants taxes raised for any reason, not for infrastructure and certainly not programs for the poor. I don’t know what your major is but perhaps you should look into City Planning and make a positive contribution rather than coming to our city to point out what is wrong with it as if we haven’t noticed.

BTW, what is Irvine’s policy regarding the homeless?


THE PUBLIC EYE: The Return of Sixties Values

By Bob Burnett
Friday June 20, 2014 - 10:29:00 AM

The level of US political rancor has reached an intensity not seen since the sixties with its battles over civil rights and the Vietnam War. On the one hand we have Republicans advocating a new Iraq war and more tax breaks for the rich. On the other hand we have Democrats saying no to war and standing up for working families. For populists it’s the return of the sixties theme, “peace and justice.” 

On May 22nd, Senator Elizabeth Warren gave a stirring speech at the “New Populism Conference” with an emphatic statement of progressive populist values: 

This is a fight over values. Conservatives and their powerful friends will continue to be guided by their age-old principle: "I've got mine, the rest of you are on your own." But we’re guided by principle too… We all do better when we work together and invest in our future. …We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement… We believe no one should work full-time and live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage… We believe people should retire with dignity, and that means strengthening Social Security… We believe that a kid should have a chance to go to college without getting crushed by debt … We believe workers have a right to come together, to bargain together and to rebuild America's middle class… We believe in equal pay for equal work …. We believe equal means equal, and that's true in the workplace and in marriage, true for all our families… These are our shared values. And we are willing to fight for them.

Senator Warren reflects the sentiments of hard-working Americans – the 99 percent. A recent poll found that most of us have populist values; we want government to work for all the people not just the rich and powerful. 

Many of the values expressed by Senator Warren were elaborated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the March 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Journalist Ned Resnikoff observed that Dr. King’s program had four elements. 

1. Congress should ratify an economic bill of rights. “The right of every employable citizen to a decent job.” “The right of every citizen to a minimum income.” “The right of a decent house and a free choice of neighborhood.” “The right to an adequate education.” “The right to participate in the [political] decision-making process.” “The right to the full benefits of modern science in healthcare.” 

2. The right to a job. Dr. King believed the government should guarantee a job to anyone who could work. “I hope that a specific number of jobs is set forth, that a program will emerge to abolish unemployment, and that there will be another program to supplement the income of those whose earnings are below the poverty level.” 

3. The right to a minimum income. Dr. King went beyond the demand for a minimum wage. In his 1968 book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, he advocated for a guaranteed income for every American citizen. 

4. The right of workers to organize. Dr. King believed America needs a strong labor movement. In his famous I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speech he lauded the power of labor and collective action, in general, observing, “Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal.” 

This year, 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.

No doubt, Martin Luther King Jr. would have supported these principles. And he would have opposed a massive US military intervention in Iraq. 

There are a lot of trends in the 2014 midterm election but for populists the most encouraging is the return of the sixties theme, “peace and justice.” 

In terms of foreign policy this means reducing the Defense budget and limiting our engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

In terms of domestic policy, the new populism means changing policies that benefit the rich and powerful: reforming the tax code, ending corporate welfare, breaking up the big banks, and resurrecting the Glass-Steagall Act. And the new populism means instituting new policies that benefit working families: making the minimum wage a living wage, guaranteeing a minimum standard of living (in effect, enforcing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and protecting the right of workers to organize. 

Peace and Justice. As relevant now as it was in the sixties. 

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



ECLETIC RANT:Bush's Iraq War Spiraling into Civil War

By Ralph E. Stone
Thursday June 19, 2014 - 05:43:00 PM

Iraq is descending into civil war. The Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and the Levant are wreaking havoc in the north of Iraq and heading toward Baghdad. Majority Shiites are trying to fight back, but government troops have been seen fleeing their positions. The nation is close to a partition of the country into Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish zones, a predictable result of Bush’s ill-advised, unnecessary war. 

The Bush Administration’s reasons for bombing, invading and occupying Iraq were bogus: Iraq did not have any weapons of mass destruction or chemical or biological weapons. There was no link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda and there was no Iraqi operational acts against the United States. And, as Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, speaking on the invasion and war, said, “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.” 

The last U.S. troops left Iraq in December 2013. President Barack Obama did not leave a residual force of American troops in Iraq after this withdrawal because Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would not sign a Status of Forces Agreement protecting U.S. soldiers. However, numerous contractors and U.S. State Department and other government agency employees remain in the country. The U.S. has well over 5,000 contractors in Iraq in 2014, working as security guards, translators, and trainers of Iraqi troops? on how to use the U.S. weapons systems and equipment sold to the Iraqi government. 

The costs of the Iraq war were tremendous in terms of lives lost: 4,489 American lives and at least 134,000 Iraqi civilians were killed. The war may have contributed to the deaths of as many as four times that number, according to the Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. According to the Study, when security forces, insurgents, journalists and humanitarian workers are included, the war’s death toll rises to an estimated 176,000 to 189,000. 

The Bush administration had claimed at the very outset that the Iraq war would finance itself from Iraqi oil revenues, but the U.S. ended up borrowing about $2 trillion to finance the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, mostly from foreign lenders. According to the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government 2013 report, this accounted for about 20 percent of the total amount added to the U.S. national debt between 2001 and 2012. In 2013, the cost of the Iraq war was estimated at $6 trillion. However, these costs of the Iraq War are only an estimate as many hidden costs are often not represented in official estimates. 

By 2013, U.S. medical and disability claims for veterans after a decade of war totaled $135 billion. 

Additionally, the $212 billion reconstruction effort was largely a failure with most of that money spent on security or lost to waste and fraud. 

Considering the staggering costs of the Iraq war, what did the U.S. achieve? Very little it seems. True, the U.S. toppled a dictator – Saddam Hussein – replacing him with a despot, Nouri al-Maliki. Instead of bringing the Shiite Arabs and Sunni Arabs together, al-Maliki sought to marginalize the Sunnis. He has resisted integrating Sunnis into the army. He has accused senior Sunni politicians of being terrorists, hounded them from power and, thus, lost the cooperation of the Sunni community. 

Did the U.S. sow the seeds of democracy? True Iraq has had elections, but considering the present chaos in Iraq, there is little evidence that democracy would ever take root without a long-term U.S. presence. But realistically, how long could the U.S. support the tremendous cost of our presence in Iraq – ten, fifteen, twenty years? 

The U.S. public will not support sending troops back to Iraq. Thus, the U.S. may be left on the sidelines watching how events play out. 

Thanks, Mr. Bush! 

SENIOR POWER: Read my lips…

By Helen Rippier Wheeler, pen136@dslextreme.com
Thursday June 19, 2014 - 05:36:00 PM

Just across the pharmacy counter, inches away, a sales person is asking me for something. It’s likely “your address?” And I respond “February 19, 1926.” Sometimes vice versa. When one is merely “hard of hearing” (hearing impaired), one takes chances. And soon learns that asking her/him to speak slowly or to look right at you is usually a waste of time and energy! Ditto learning to lip-read late in life.  

For many deaf people, the main inadequacy of even the best or most costly hearing aids is the one-on-one. Lip-reading is a technical skill. A few tips for hearing impaired senior citizens would be nice though... I commended to a senior center director the idea of a free class or workshop on basic survival skills for the hearing-impaired. End of story. 

People with normal hearing generally process visual information from the moving mouth at a subconscious level. Lip-reading (also known as lipreading or speechreading) is a technique of understanding speech by visually interpreting the movements of the lips, face and tongue when normal sound is not available, relying also on information provided by the context, knowledge of the language, and any residual hearing.  

Are you old enough to recall the 1932 George Arliss motion picture, The Man Who Played God? Tagged “a modern drama from real life.” In the United Kingdom, it was released as The Silent Voice. The cast included Bette Davis. Even as a child, I recognized the improbability of a person suddenly discovering a “lip-reading talent” when deafened by an explosion.  

Whether how to or simply about, there aren’t a lot of new books and classes about lip reading. There’s a little gem titled The Listening Eye; A Simple Introduction to the Art of Lip-reading, by Dorothy G. Clegg, published in 1953 in London by England by Methuen & Co., Ltd. Sixty years or so ago the 72 fragile pages of the copy I recently borrowed had been sheltered into a cardboard binder by the holding library, today’s California State University, Stanislaus. It was apparently last borrowed 30 years ago. 

Clegg begins with “some pre-class help, introducing you to an interesting, fascinating, and helpful art, and perhaps tiding over the time when you are prevented, for one reason or another, from attending a class. …a word about the Government hearing aid – the Medresco. One of the biggest blessings issuing from the [British] National Health Scheme is the free issue of this aid together with a free supply of batteries and free maintenance of the aid itself. Say these sentences, one at a time, quite naturally (not a word at a time!) and do not merely LOOK at your mirrored lips. …you are looking only to see the lips meet and part… 

  1. What a pretty baby.
  2. Will you pass the marmalade, please?
  3. Has the baker been?
  4. Get some brown bread.”
The Medresco was the National Health Service's first hearing aid. 

Edward F. Walther’s Lipreading (c1982, Nelson-Hall) is an instruction manual “written to help teach the art of lip reading to persons who cannot attend lipreading classes… a self-help book. He mentions the problems of homophonous words, words that have the same lip movement but are spelled differently and have entirely different meanings, e.g. jade/shade, pail/mail. And the obstacle of some letters of the alphabet are pronounced without any lip movement (throat sounds unseen) e.g. eth, l, d, n, nt, nd involve a tongue movement to the palate or upper teeth.” 



While weeding my files recently, I came across something from 1981, when I “covered” a community college faculty member’s sabbatical. It was a transferrable, social science, “Women’s Studies” course that received neither publicity nor interest (5 women enrolled).  

For the obligatory exam, I created a fun question that went like this: “Suppose you’re chatting with someone who says, ‘My granddaughter wants the library to replace this book. She’s one of those crazy radicals, isn’t she? What’s wrong with it… you’d think she’d know better, wouldn’t you? You’re a college girl… Do you feel there’s anything wrong with it?’ Respond to her/him.” 

Old Ladies Thrive on High Blood Pressure, an excerpt from the book followed. Two hundred forty words about heart disease and high blood pressure by a physician: 

Statistics show that high blood pressure is less dangerous to elderly women than to men of the same age. Many old ladies have very high blood pressures and they live for years and feel much better than those who have low ones.  

Old ladies lead much gentler lives than old gentlemen. They do not usually have to travel to business. As a rule they smoke less and drink less and often eat considerably less. 

Of course, many women worry far more than men but by the time old age is reached most of their worries have grown up and got married. These women who worry in old age worry about small and less pressing problems than the things men concern themselves with. A man’s worries, like his responsibilities, tend to increase with age. It is rare to find a man with the valuable gift of detachment which enables him to carry responsibility without worry. 

Generally elderly women lead more leisurely and quieter lives than men of the same age. If they have had to go out to work in life they retire at a younger age than men. After retirement they are more able to fill their lives in a quiet and peaceful way in their own homes. All through life women are less restless and ambitious than men. If only men were given to such restful occupations as knitting and sewing, they too might thrive on high blood pressure.  

That was more than 33 years ago. The college no longer has Women’s Studies. 





"New State Program Enrolling 200,000 Medicare-MediCal Patients in L.A.," by Paul Kleyman (New America Media, June 13, 2014). 

"Obamacare wrinkle: California bill seeks to reduce state's seizure of Medi-Cal recipients' assets," by Tracy Seipel (Contra Costa Times, June 11, 2014). 

“AP-NORC (Associated Press-National Opinion Research Center) releases new analysis on Californians' experiences with long-term care" (Eurekalert [American Association for the Advancement of Science], June 10, 2014). 

SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) predicts that 50% of people with HIV in the U.S. will be age 50+ by 2015, and by 2020, more than 70% of Americans with HIV are expected to be 50+. With that in mind, SAGE, the Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC) and ACRIA (AIDS Community Research Initiative of America) have created a New Report on HIV & Aging, outlining 8 recommendations to address the needs of a growing demographic of older adults with HIV, many of whom are LGBT and people of color. The full report, Eight Policy Recommendations for Improving the Health & Wellness of Older Adults with HIV, can be found online. info@sageusa.org  

"Same-sex couples encounter more barriers when seeking senior housing, study finds," by Tara Bahrampour (Washington Post, Feb. 26, 2014). Gay, lesbian and bisexual couples seeking senior housing receive less favorable quotes on pricing, availability, and amenities than heterosexual couples, according to a report released in February by the Equal Rights Center in Washington. 



ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Surviving as an Aging Man with Mental Illness

Jack Bragen
Friday June 20, 2014 - 09:28:00 PM

I have reached the latter part of middle age, and my life is more than half over. 

As an aging mentally ill person with no real employment prospects, and dependent on the generosity of government for my livelihood, I have limited options in how I am able to live. 

When you are approaching fifty, it no longer works for you to get a job flipping burgers or emptying trash. While there are a few people who do this type of work at this age, it is a humiliating situation. This is especially so if one compares oneself to one's peers who might be earning a six figure income as executives, attorneys, or engineers. 

With no career prospects, no offspring and no network of lifelong friends, it feels like I have missed the boat. 

In my past I had some opportunities to do well for myself. However, the mental clarity that was required to succeed--was missing. I was unaware until recent years that I had been living with a cognitive deficit. 

Some theorists in psychiatry believe that schizophrenic illness essentially becomes less severe later in life. This rule only applies to those who physically survive dangers created by the illness--and who survive the biological hazards of being medicated long-term. While that is still not a ticket to stopping treatment, it does mean that a lot of my cognitive impairment has been resolved. 

To an extent, after the events that took place when I was reaching early adulthood, I was predestined for this situation, or worse. I was "pre-schizophrenic." I wasn't connecting with people, and my ideas about the world were unrealistic. I lacked manners, and people became alienated from me. And I had a genetic predisposition for schizophrenia. 

Many persons with mental illness, including me, have developed chronic physical health problems at an earlier than typical age. Some persons with mental illness who have not taken care of themselves adequately have not outlived their parents. 

People with mental illness do not have storybook lives. Yet, in the U.S., many of us are fortunate to have the admittedly minimal income of Social Security and to have health benefits through Medicare. Some have fallen through the holes in this safety net, and are not as fortunate. They may have ended up incarcerated, on the streets, or deceased. 

While most persons with chronic mental illness do not live enviable lives, many of us have the opportunity to enjoy a few of the little, happy moments in life, such as watching television alongside a companion, reading a good novel, or getting lost in a pile of dishes that need washing. 

Arts & Events

New: Citizen Koch:
Voters, Workers, Filmmakers All Get Screwed by the Kochs --
Opens June 27 at the Landmark Shattuck

Review by Gar Smith
Monday June 23, 2014 - 02:48:00 PM

It's not for nothing that the "MPAA Rating" on the Citizen Koch press packet warns the 86-minute documentary contains some coarse language "and terrifying political maneuvering." Case in point: The reason we will be watching Citizen Koch on the Big Screen is because we weren't allowed to see it on PBS.

The film was originally set for broadcast on PBS—until the Independent Television Service (ITVS) pulled its promised $150,000 in completion funds. Why? Out of concern the film might rile the bile of a particular donor named Koch (who also sits on the boards of two of the largest PBS stations). ITVS had earlier aired Alex Gibney's exposé, Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream, which included a scathing critique of David Koch and his brother Charles. Citizen Koch arrived just as WNET (the flagship PBS station in Manhattan) was anticipating a seven-figure gift from Koch. Aware of Mr. Koch's displeasure over the Ginbey film, WNET's president refused to schedule the film for broadcast. As one senior ITVS exec subsequently explained: "We live in a world where we have to be aware that people with power have power."

Ironically, this was the very message the filmmakers were trying to make.

Directors Carl Deal and Tia Lessin were forced to "go grassroots" to finished their film. A Kickstarter campaign drew more than 3,000 supporters who contributed nearly $170,000 in 30 days.

The film is arriving in Bay Area movie theaters on June 27. The Kochs will not be pleased.

Co-director Tia Lessin will be at the Landmark Shattuck on Saturday to discuss the film. There will be a Q&A after the 5, 7 and 9:30 screenings. Common Cause CA will host the second Q&A and Tia Lesin will introduce the final screening. 


Official Theatrical Trailer www.citizenkoch.com from Elsewhere Films on Vimeo

The film begins with some essential background on the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. While this discussion was essential, it proved cinematically challenging since filming (or even photographing) Supreme Court deliberations is forbidden. The best the filmmakers could manage was to gain admission to film the courtroom when the court was not in session. And so we get to hear the audiotapes of the justices debating the case while the screen displays an almost laughingly dull "conversation" that shifts back and forth between shots of empty chairs. 

The impact of the court's ruling was profound. Until the contentious ruling, 24 of our 50 states had long-established laws that prohibited corporations from spending money on public elections. That protection was swept away by the court's decision. Buying elections was declared a form of "free speech" and corporations were granted the same First Amendment rights as a part-time Wal-Mart clerk to spend $1 million or more on a political campaign. 

To accomplish their dream of state-and-national political re-engineering, the billionaire Kochs turned on the spigots of their oil wealth and channeled millions into front groups like Americans for Prosperity, the Republican Governors Association, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy and, most notably, the Tea Party Movement. 

During the 2012 elections, the Koch/Karl Rove attack-ad strategy paid off handsomely at the state level, with the billionaire-minions-of-the-1% seizing control of 26 state legislators, installing 29 anti-union governors and sweeping the presidential swing states of North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

As soon as he stepped into the statehouse in Madison, Koch-backed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declared the state was "open for business." Under Walker's reign, Wisconsin instantly became a proving ground for the Koch's über-libertarian philosophy. Or as filmmakers Deal and Lessin put it, Wisconsin was about to become a key "part of a concerted and nationwide strategy… to super-enfranchise the wealthiest people and corporations by allowing unlimited and undisclosed political spending and to undermine the power of working and poor Americans." 

Citizen Koch is brim-full with passionate interviews ranging from the rabble-rousing of working-class campaigners and the cold analysis of political celebrities to the ruminations of David and Charles Koch themselves. (Intercepted in a parking lot en route to a private meeting, the two Koch brothers are surprisingly relaxed and chatty as they are grilled by the movie's camera crew.) Former US Senator and campaign-spending reformer Russ Feingold is on hand to offer candid and thoughtful analysis. Former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin pops in to offer a few "You betchas" and a pep talk salted with ad hominem attacks. But the film really comes to life with the appearance of Buddy Roemer, a short, feisty and personable Ross-Perot-surrogate. 

Roemer, a former Louisiana governor and US Representative is a true "maverick." Originally a "Reagan Democrat," Roemer morphed into a Republican when he became governor only to abandon the GOP. In 2012, he ran an independent campaign for the Republican presidency but (like Perot and Ralph Nader before him) found himself shut out of the debates. (Roemer comes off as such an energetic and straight-forward delight that he probably deserves a film of his own.) 

Happily, Citizen Koch includes the famous prank call to Gov. Walker in 2011. Pretending to be David Koch, Daily Beast contributor Ian Murphy asks the newly minted governor, "What else can we do for you down there?" and Walker gushes his appreciation for the $1 million in campaign cash that helped Koch-start his campaign. 

But overall, the strongest and most hopeful messages in the film comes from the disillusioned supporters who voted Walker into office. Many of these life-long Republicans (many of them state employees) suddenly found their jobs and earnings at risk. For, instead of blaming Wall Street and the banks for the 2008 economic collapse, Walker and his ilk drew a bead on the unions and, by implication, on the health workers, school teachers, and sanitation works that made up their memberships. 

"Why are they so mad at the unions?" asks Dee Ives, a registered nurse and lifelong Republican. "The unions gave us 40-hour work weeks." 

Republican Scott Fitzgerald provides an answer in an interview on FOX News. "This is about the presidential election in 2012," he said. If we can destroy the unions and institute voter-ID laws and other impediments to working-class voters, he explained, "President Obama is going to have … a much more difficult time getting elected." 

A good part of Citizen Koch is dedicated to documenting the post-election blowback against Walker and his pro-business, anti-union antics. This comes in the form of a spirited recall movement that involves many of the same disillusioned Republicans who voted for the Koch-backed candidate. 

The recall would have succeeded but for the Koch's continued support. The brothers came to bat for Walker once again and used their out-of-state wealth to help defeat the hard-fought grassroots recall campaign. According to the Washington Post, the Kochs invested at least $407 million on political campaigns in the 2012 election year. The exact amount was likely much larger but, owing to the Citizens United decision, the source and size of much of the spending was protected from disclosure. 


For more Koch lore, see the July-August issue of Mother Jones magazine (with the cover designed to look like the front-page of the National Enquirer). Here we learn there are actually four Koch brothers—oldest brother Frederick ("I am not homosexual"), twins Bill ("Mother didn't love me") and David ("You're no brother of mine!") and, finally, the alpha male of the quarrelsome quartet, Charles ("Money is a weapon!") 

It's a long article, filled with scores of sensational, tabloid-quality quotes from the Kochs and those who know them. It's a fascinating read. Highly recommended. 






Breaking News 

Gov. Scott Walker at Center of Extensive  

'Criminal Scheme' Investigation 

http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/john-doe-prosecutors-allege-scott-walker-at-center-of-criminal-scheme-263839791.html>Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 


WISCONSIN (June 19, 2014) According to court documents unsealed Thursday, Gov. Scott Walker is alleged to have been at the center of an effort to illegally coordinate fundraising among conservative groups to help his campaign and those of Republican state senators fend off recall elections. The prosecutors' documents reportedly reveal an extensive "criminal scheme" to bypass state election laws by Walker, his campaign and two top Republican political operatives—R.J. Johnson and Deborah Jordahl. 

New: Arianne MacBean & The Big Show Company at ODC in San Francisco June 26-8

Previewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday June 22, 2014 - 08:52:00 AM

Although Becky O’Malley, editor of the Planet and mother of an opera singer, shares with me the perils of writing about one’s own offspring, she has encouraged me to write, if not a review, at least a preview to alert readers to the forthcoming modern dance events Thursday, June 26 through Saturday, June 28, at ODC, 351 Shotwell Street (between 17th & 18th) in San Francisco’s Mission District.

My daughter Arianne MacBean brings her modern dance troupe, The Big Show Co., from Los Angeles for three performances, including a world première of a new piece entitled “Present Tense.” As a choreographer much praised by the Los Angeles Times, Arianne MacBean combines dance, music, movement, gesture, and text—sometimes spoken by the dancers, sometimes in a dialogue between an off-stage voice and the dancers, and sometimes written on the bodies of the dancers. Her work is full of humor and whimsy, and it usually deals with issues of communication across gender lines. I heartily recommend her shows; but then she’s my daughter. Come and see for yourself.

MUSIC REVIEWS: Mendelssohn’s ELIJAH in Hertz Hall and
Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA at San Francisco Opera

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Thursday June 19, 2014 - 10:18:00 AM

On Friday, June 13, 2014, the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra gave the first of three performances of Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah at Hertz Hall on the UC Berk-eley campus. Elijah was composed by Mendelssohn on a commission from the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival in England, where it was first performed in 1846. It is the second oratorio composed by Mendelssohn, the first being St. Paul, which also received an English première, though ten years earlier. These two oratorios, set to religious texts, and following in the tradition of Bach and Handel, firmly established Mendelssohn in the English musical scene. In the course of Mendelssohn’s brief life, he made nine different trips to England, even becoming friends with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who championed his music. 

Elijah is a monumental work: For its première in Birmingham, Mendelssohn, who conducted, reportedly massed over 400 performers. Here, Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra Music Director Ming Luke conducted a chorus of 170 singers, four principal singers, and a large orchestra. This enormous battalion of musicians literally filled the entire stage of Hertz Hall; and the resulting sound was often thunderous. 

Mendelssohn grew up in a wealthy, cultured Jewish family, first in Hamburg, then in Berlin. Young Felix Mendelssohn’s musical talents were evident early on; and at age 10 he joined the Singakaemie in Berlin. In his Encyclopedia of the Great Composers and Their Music, Milton Cross recounts the following incident. “One day Felix came home from the Singakademie in tears. He had been singing with the chorus a passage from Bach’s Passion 

According to St. Matthew when a fellow chorister remarked derisively, ‘The Jew-boy raises his voice to Christ’!” The father of Felix reacted quickly: The very next day he took Felix and his sister Fanny to the Protestant church for conversion; and he and his wife quickly did the same, attaching the name Bartholdy to distinguish their family from the Mendelssohns who remained in the Jewish faith. 

In spite – or because – of his childhood conversion to Christianity, Felix Mendelssohn was often subjected to anti-semitic prejudice. Critics wondered whether his conversion was sincere or merely a pretext for advancement. Further, Mendelssohn’s music was often criticized for lacking in profundity. Though superbly gifted, Mendelssohn wrote music that was technically sound, wonderfully lyrical, yet somehow lacking the power to move the audience deeply. However, with Elijah Mendelssohn at least manages to impress audiences with the monumental sonority of the musical forces he gathered and the fluency of his polyphony. If Elijah ultimately fails to scale the musical heights, it is no doubt due to this oratorio’s text, adapted from the Old Testament’s Kings I & 2, which belabors us with Judeo-Christian huckstering of alleged miracles performed by Elijah. Some critics even derided it as “religious kitsch.” George Bernard Shaw lambasted Mendelssohn for “his kid-glove gentility, his conventional sentimentality, and his despicable oratorio-mongering.”  

In Berkeley, conductor Ming Luke had four excellent soloists singing the lead parts. Baritone James R. Demler beautifully sang the role of Elijah, vocally projecting the varying moods as this Hebrew prophet swung from bolstering the resolve of his people, scorning and taunting those who had departed from their faith in worshiping Baal, vengeful and blood-curdling in his resolve to kill all the prophets of Baal, then turning to despair in forced exile, and, finally, ascending to heaven in a flaming chariot. Mezzo-soprano Megan Berti was excellent as she sang, alternately, the role of an angel and Israel’s Queen Jezebel. Tenor Brian Thorsett sang sweetly in Obadiah’s aria, “If with all your hearts,” as well in the tenor aria, “Then shall the righteous shine forth.” Last but not least, soprano Carrie Hennessey sang with purity of tone and luscious lyricism throughout, but especially in the soprano aria, “Hear ye, Israel!,” which opens Part II of Elijah.  

The huge chorus effectively handled the shifting moods of the people of Israel, as they initially pleaded with God to end a drought, then expressed their anger and dismay when God seemed unwilling or unable to hear their plea; then became bloodthirsty in a frenzied response to Elijah’s orders to kill all the prophets of Baal; then rejoiced when rains came; later were easily swayed by Jezebel’s exhortation to kill Elijah as a false prophet; then became awestruck when God sent earthquakes, thunder-storms, and fire to show his displeasure at Elijah’s forced exile and, finally, rejoiced at Elijah’s apotheosis in the oratorio’s culminating fugue, And then shall your light break forth.” 



Giuseppe Verdi’s long and illustrious career as a composer of operas is often said to be divided into two main periods – an early stint, the so-called “galley years,” of churning out one effectively dramatic but musically conventional opera after another, and a second, immeasurably greater period wherein Verdi deepened and transformed the Italian conventions in which he had formerly worked. The turning-point in his career, it is often said, comes between Il Trovatore, which premièred in Rome on January 19, 1853, and La Traviata, which had its première in Venice on March 6, 1853. That Verdi could compose in such a short span of time two operas of such strikingly different styles and structures, each of them brilliantly realized, is utterly remarkable; and it is testimony to Verdi’s unquench-able search for new and better means of musical and dramatic expression. Whereas Il Trovatore proceeds by the usual formulaic structure of arias – but what gorgeous arias! --separated by sung recitatives, in La Traviata it is often difficult to say where the recitative ends and the aria begins. There are other innovations, which we will note later, in Verdi’s score for La Traviata.  

Based on the play, La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas the Younger, Verdi’s La Traviata tells the story of Violetta Valéry, a Parisian courtesan who unexpectedly finds true love in the person of young Alfredo Germont, gives up her frivolous pursuits of pleasure for Alfredo’s love, then sacrifices herself and her love for Alfredo at the instigation of Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, only to be reconciled with both Germonts on her tragic deathbed at the close of the opera. In San Francisco, Violetta was sung by soprano Nicole Cabell, who in 2012 made an auspicious debut here in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. 

Ms. Cabell’s voice is perhaps not ideal for the role of Violetta, for it is a darker soprano than most who have sung this role. Nonetheless, she has admirable technique; and in the second performance of La Traviata, which I attended, she sang most convincingly. Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu, who also debuted here in the 2012 I Capuleti e i Montecchi, gave an uneven performance as Alfredo, showing nerves and pitch problems in his Act I « Brindisi, » but settling down as the opera progressed, ultimately offering an acceptable but unexceptional interpretation of this great tenor role. As Giorgio Germont, Bulgarian baritone Vladimir Stoyanov was somewhat mannered, both vocally and dramatically; and this tended to detract from the complexity of his character, who does evil while trying to do good. 

For the Spring season, 2014, San Francisco Opera revived, yet again, the somewhat stodgy production of La Traviata by John Copley, staged by director Laurie Feldman. While this production situates the opera, as Verdi wanted, in the 1840s in Paris, this setting, so scandalously contemporary at its première in 1853, seems now merely dated and, in the party scenes in Flora’s Parisian townhouse, unduly garish. In any case, though there is nothing exciting or insightful about this staging, it at least has the merit of not distracting from the music and its remarkable expression of interior emotional states. 

San Francisco Opera’s Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducted; and at the second performance of La Traviata, Maestro Luisotti wrought a sensitive interpretation of this opera’s excellent score. Particularly nuanced was Luisotti’s attention to changes of tempo and dynamics. Passages intended to be played slowly and quietly – as, for example, the Prelude’s famed opening notes of divided violins – were played slowly and quietly. Conversely, both the tempo and the volume increased markedly in passages where a quicker tempo and greater volume were appropriate.  

One of Verdi’s innovations occurs In the Act I double-aria for Violetta, “Ah, fors’è lui”/”Sempre libera.” In the cantabile aria, “Ah, fors’è lui,” when Violetta reflects on Alfredo’s declaration of love and muses that “perhaps he’s the one,” this is not in Italian opera’s conventionally formal, pseudo-aristocratic non-strophic structure, but rather is unex-pectedly strophic. Here, when Violetta is alone, she momentarily drops her social mask and speaks (or sings) in a less formal, more natural style. Her “natural” self is thus contrasted to the more formal, pseudo-aristocratic self she plays in society. In short, the humble, and natural, strophic song invades what usually is formulaic and stilted, thereby providing a clear musical cue to the conflict roiling in the character of Verdi’s heroine, Violetta. Then, only by repudiating this natural self with the outburst, “Folie!,” does Violetta re-don the social mask and sing a cabaletta, “Sempre libera,” in which she reaffirms, a little too feverishly to be convincing, her prior commitment to endless pleasure as a courtesan ‘free’ to go with any man wealthy enough to bankroll her lavish lifestyle. 

Returning to the issue of Nicola Luisotti’s conducting, a wonderful example of his sensitivity to questions of tempo and dynamics came in Act IV’s moving duet, “Parigi o cara.” Here Luisotti takes Alfredo’s opening lines a bit faster and more full-voiced than most conductors, presumably because Luisotti understands that Alfredo, excited to be reunited with Violetta, wants to perk up her spirits by enthusiastically suggesting the two of them leave her decadent Paris milieu so she can regain her health in peace and quiet. Then, when the terminally ill Violetta takes up Alfredo’s words and melody, under Luisotti’s baton the tempo slows down, the rhythm becomes hesitant, and she sings softly --and this is simply because Violetta is weak and dying, and she knows it! Maestro Luisotti brought out these important emotional shifts most sensitively.  

Anyone who complains, as did San Francisco Chronicle music critic Joshua Kosman, that Luisotti’s conducting was “lethargic” and marked by “laggardly rhythms” and “odd interpretive quirks,” simply wasn’t listening attentively to any but a small portion of the music. Unless this opera’s opening night performance reviewed by Kosman was drastically different than the one I heard on Saturday, June 14, I couldn’t disagree more emphatically with Kosman’s biting dismissal of this La Traviata, for, on the whole, I found this anything but a “listless” revival of Verdi’s great opera. It may not be an ideal production of La Traviata, but it is eminently enjoyable; and I urge anyone who loves this opera to go see this production and judge for yourself. (Note: There will be numerous cast changes, starting on June 17, so readers interested in hearing the first cast should check for when they will sing again.)