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Berkeley City Council Will Vote on Soda Tax Ballot Measure Tonight

Drew Himmelstein (BCN)
Tuesday July 01, 2014 - 01:40:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council will vote tonight on whether to place a one-cent-per-ounce soda tax measure on the November ballot. 

The measure would place a general tax on sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks sold in Berkeley and use the proceeds to fund programs that promote good nutrition, according to the Ecology Center, a Berkeley-based health and environmental organization that is a proponent of the measure. 

"We're going to do everything we can do to try to improve the health of children in Berkeley," said Mansour Id-Deen, president of the Berkeley branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which also endorses the soda tax. 

The tax has gained support from organizations that advocate for children and health, including the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California and the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. 

Id-Deen said he is particularly concerned about diabetes rates for children and people of color in Berkeley. The city's 2013 Health Status Report showed that black Berkeley residents were four times as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and 14 times more likely to be hospitalized for diabetes than white residents. 

"It's an alarmingly disproportionately high level for African-American children in Berkeley in particular," Id-Deen said. 

Consumption of sugary beverages has been tied to diabetes, obesity and other chronic health problems. Sugar consumed in liquid form is thought to be particularly harmful, as the quick sugar spikes strain the body's systems to process it. 

"Now one in three kids are projected to get diabetes in their lifetimes," said Berkeley Councilmember Linda Maio, an advocate for the measure. "If you're African American or Latino, that's one in two kids." 

Among ninth-graders in Berkeley, 29 percent are overweight or obese overall, according to the 2013 report. Among black and Latino ninth-graders, 40 percent are overweight or obese. 

Advocates for the measure hope the tax will deter adults and children from purchasing as many sugary drinks. The tax would affect businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $100,000. 

"The advertising to our kids is very strong, particularly kids of color," Maio said. "The parents don't stand a chance." 

But representatives from the beverage industry say a soda tax won't be effective and that diabetes rates have increased even while consumption of sugary drinks has dropped. 

"A regressive tax on common grocery items, like sugar-sweetened beverages, won't make people in Berkeley healthier," Roger Salazar, spokesman for Californians for Food & Beverage Choice, said in a statement. "But it will have an impact on consumers and businesses already struggling to make ends meet." 

Polls have shown that the public supports the soda tax, Maio said. 

No U.S. city currently taxes sugary drinks, but San Francisco is considering putting a similar measure on the November ballot. 

Another East Bay city, Richmond, proposed a soda tax ballot measure in 2012 but it was rejected by voters. 


Press Release: Berkeley Suspect Turns Himself In

From Ofc. Jennifer Coats, Berkeley Police
Friday June 27, 2014 - 03:21:00 PM

On Friday, June 26, 2014, at approx. 3:15 AM, Anthony Durant, wanted in connection with the June 11 shooting on the 1600 block of Russell, turned himself in at the Berkeley Police Department. Durant is currently in custody at the Berkeley jail, on a warrant charging him with 245(a)(2), assault with a deadly weapon. The investigation into the shooting continues; no further information is available at this time.

Updated: Second Suspect Arrested in Berkeley Shooting

Dennis Culver (BCN)
Friday June 27, 2014 - 11:35:00 PM

Police arrested a second suspect this morning in connection with a shooting in Berkeley that sent two people to the hospital earlier this month, police said. 

Anthony Durant, 23, of Berkeley turned himself in to police around 3:15 a.m. and was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. 

Durant and Donzale Mejia, 22, of Oakland, are the prime suspects in the June 11 shooting, according to Berkeley Police Department spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats. 

Mejia was taken into custody Thursday morning in Oakland after officers served three search warrants in Berkeley and one in Oakland in connection with the shooting, Coats said. 

Police said the shooting occurred the area of Russell and California streets. 

Officers arrived at the scene around 4:33 p.m. to find two men, 18 and 21 years old, suffering from gunshot wounds. Both men were transported to the hospital with injuries that were not considered life threatening.

New: Juvenile Arrested in North Berkeley BART Robberies

Dennis Culver (BCN)
Friday June 27, 2014 - 11:33:00 PM

Police today arrested a juvenile believed to be involved in a series of armed robberies targeting BART passengers, BART police said.

The juvenile, who has not been identified, was arrested near the North Berkeley BART Station.

Police said the suspect is responsible for three robberies over the course of an eight-day period. 

Police said witnesses told investigators each robbery took place at about the same time and location. Witnesses each described a similar looking suspect. 

Police said the first robbery occurred June 18 at 6:45 a.m. in the west parking lot of the North Berkeley Station. 

The second robbery occurred five minutes later in the northwest parking lot of the same station. 

Police said a third robbery occurred Wednesday at 5:47 a.m. in the west parking lot. 

In each robbery, the suspect held up victims at gunpoint, demanded cash and fled the scene on foot. There were not reported injuries in any of the robberies. 

Police said a BART officer took the juvenile into custody this morning at the station.

Man Shot Last Night in Berkeley--Suspect Flees

Jamey Padojino (BCN)
Friday June 27, 2014 - 08:41:00 AM

A man was injured in a shooting in Berkeley on Thursday night, a police spokeswoman said. 

Officers responded to a report of a shooting in the 3000 block of San Pablo Avenue near Ashby Avenue shortly before 10 p.m., Officer Jennifer Coats said. 

Arriving officers found the man, a 38-year-old Berkeley resident, suffering from serious injuries and he was transported to a hospital, she said. 

Coats did not know the victim's condition. 

Police said they learned the suspect possibly fled to the area of the 1300 block of Ashby Avenue. Officers were unable to locate the suspect after an extensive search of the area, according to Coats.

Oakland Man Arrested in Berkeley Shooting

Dennis Culver (BCN)
Thursday June 26, 2014 - 09:35:00 PM

An Oakland man was arrested this morning in connection with a shooting in Berkeley that sent two people to the hospital earlier this month, but a second suspect remains at large, police said today. 

Donzale Mejia, 22, was taken into custody this morning in Oakland after officers served three search warrants in Berkeley and one in Oakland in connection with the June 11 shooting, according to Officer Jennifer Coats.  

Mejia and Anthony Durant, 23, of Berkeley are the prime suspects in the shooting, Coats said. 

Durant has not been arrested yet and is wanted on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. 

Police said the shooting occurred on June 11 at 4:33 p.m. in the area of Russell and California streets. 

Officers arrived at the scene to find two men, 18 and 21 years old, suffering from non life-threatening gunshot wounds. Both men were transported to the hospital. 

Police are asking anyone with knowledge of Durant's whereabouts to call (510) 981-5741 or (510) 981-5900. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous can call Bay Area Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.



The Berkeley City Council Passes--On Almost Everything

Becky O'Malley
Friday June 27, 2014 - 08:43:00 AM

Okay. This week we deserve the heroine medal for slogging through the better part of the video of Tuesday’s Berkeley City Council meeting so you didn’t have to do it.

Not only that, we’ve surfed the Internet to find for your amusement the best of (well maybe all of) the media accounts of the dreadful doings. What’s interesting is that the various reporters, at least as of this writing, enacted the Blind Men Describing the Elephant parable—that is to say they described just the small part of the whole that they were able to get ahold of. But all in all, it adds up to a sorry story. What the council didn't do far outweighs anything they accomplished. 

First, on the consent calendar, passed unanimously: 

37. Civic Center District Overlay Zone
From: Mayor Bates and Councilmember Arreguin
Request the City Manager to draft an ordinance establishing a Civic Center District Overlay Zone and to bring it to the Council for a first reading at the Sept. 9, 2014 meeting. The ordinance should be consistent with the Civic Center District Overlay section of the proposed initiative ordinance submitted to the City Clerk on April 8, 2014 and titled "Initiative Ordinance Amending Downtown Zoning Provisions and Creating Civic Center Historic District Overlay Zone."
Financial Implications: See report
Contact: Tom Bates, Mayor, 981-7100
This was predicted in the East Bay Express in a June 17 column entitled Can Bates Outsmart Anti-Growthers, Again? In his subhead, Robert Gammon (also the Express’s editor) explains it all: 

“Berkeley's mayor has put forward an ingenious proposal that could help derail a November ballot measure that seeks to stifle downtown development.” 

Gammon, an otherwise competent reporter, has never met a development he didn’t like, and in this instance he was happy to label Berkeley’s Green Downtown Initiative as anti-growth, facts to the contrary notwithstanding. But he called it correctly: Mayor Bates did orchestrate the enactment of the money language from the initiative on Tuesday, in an attempt to sink the rest of it in November. Councilmember Arreguin, the initiative’s main backer, even co-sponsored. We’ll see if Bates’ trick works in the fall election. 

Next, Berkeley council skips 'sexy' bond measure, puts parks maintenance on November ballot, by Judith Scherr, another generally competent reporter with a few blind spots. As I watched the item online, what was most notable is that those who opposed the bond measure were not present at the council meeting. Obviously, they’d made their point with Bates’ proprietary council majority in some back room somewhere, so they didn’t have to show up. Since it’s hard to get behind the Contra Costa Times pay wall to read the story, here’s the best quote from opponents in Scherr’s story: 

“Robert Collier, a leader in the community group that worked to formulate the bond measure, addressed the council during the mandatory public hearing on placing the bond on the ballot, which was held after the council approved placing the tax measure on the ballot. ‘For anyone to say that there is a factual reason to believe that one has a better chance over the other is simply not factual,’ Collier said, arguing that the campaign for the bond would ‘create much more excitement and would have many more foot soldiers than a parks tax campaign.’ Visibly angry, Collier added, ‘All these people here, whichever way we wind up voting on a parks tax in November, I think I can say without almost any exception, none of us will work for a parks tax. It's your campaign. Good luck.’
Moving right along, the Daily Cal featured this story: Berkeley City Council holds off on independent redistricting commission by Nico Correia. Students were the group stung worst by the council majority’s inexcusable gerrymandering of the district lines, which ended up locking co-ops out of voting in the so-called “student” district and engendering a referendum which will be on the November ballot, though too late to fix the problem for the next election. 


Finally, Downtown initiative put on ballot; city may lose millions in fees, written for Berkeleyside.com by Frances Dinkelspiel. As an editor and former card-carrying English Major, I may (or might) quibble with use of the hypothetical subjunctive to describe the finances in that headline. I would say "might", not "may". 

Nevertheless, her story adeptly catches the flavor of the unseemly display I saw on my screen in the council video: 

The majority of the Berkeley City Council exerted its political muscle Tuesday night by voting for a ballot description for the downtown initiative drawn up by Mayor Tom Bates that is less flattering than the ones offered by the city attorney and Councilman Jesse Arreguín, the main proponent of the initiative. Bates’ description of the initiative, which would require all buildings in the downtown area over 60 feet to meet high environmental standards that are now voluntary, uses terms like “impose significant new requirements,” and “restrict” and “reduce.” It also mentions a provision that would “reduce hours of operation for businesses selling or serving alcohol.” In contrast, Arreguín’s proposed ballot language used words like “modify,” “require additional fees and community benefits,” “affordable units” and “increase bicycle, handicapped car share and vehicle parking.” City Attorney Zach Cowan’s language included “eliminate streamlined permit procedures,” “reduce heights” and “require additional fees and concessions by developers.”  

“If the average person reads these they will not believe they are describing the same ballot measure,” said City Councilman Kriss Worthington. “One is describing it as evil incarnate and the other is describing it as the angel of mercy to save Berkeley.” 

Judith Scherr also noted the final passage on second reading of Berkeley’s truncated minimum wage ordinance. What she didn’t say is that it seems, if you believe what Carolyn Jones reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, that Mayor Tom Bates is continuing his attempt to do an end run around Berkeley’s ordinance, which could be repealed at any time, by advancing a proposal by the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce for a regional (and softer) version of the law: East Bay mayors looking to raise minimum wage together

Most of these stories allude to, without explicitly describing, the increasingly uncivil tone at Berkeley’s City Council meetings, largely created by Mayor Tom Bates. He often pretends not to notice the button-pushes of the three progressive councilmembers when they're trying to be recognized to speak. He almost shouts them down with his interruptions when they supposedly have the floor. Councilmember Linda Maio sits at his elbow and tries to mother-hen him into better behavior, but it’s getting harder and harder for her to intervene. 

Talking to advocates for some of the rejected proposals, I learned that several groups thought they had a deal with Councilmember (and rumored mayoral aspirant) Laurie Capitelli, only to have him renege at the last minute. Evidently he’s sweetness and light in negotiations, and then votes against what he’s supported (or even co-sponsored) on orders from….?? You can fill in the blank yourself. 

And if you have masochistic tendencies, you could always watch the council meeting yourself using the link below. But if you're sensitive—and here’s one of those currently popular trigger warnings—it ain’t purty. 

Get Microsoft Silverlight  

UPDATE: Berkeley council clashes over downtown development initiative

The Editor's Back Fence

Wellstone Endorses Thurmond

Friday June 27, 2014 - 02:20:00 PM

The Tony Thurmond for Assembly campaign reports that their candidate (previously endorsed by the Berkeley Daily Planet) was endorsed last night in a 106-60 landslide vote by the Wellstone Democratic Club--details to follow.


Odd Bodkins: Supply and Demand (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday June 27, 2014 - 03:16:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Odd Bodkins: Puppy Love (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday June 27, 2014 - 03:00:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

Minimum Wage, Maximum Challenge

Harry Brill
Friday June 27, 2014 - 01:59:00 PM

WE FINALLY WON! For the first time in Berkeley history, the vast majority of low wage workers, who are disproportionately women, racial and ethnic minorities, are now guaranteed a minimum wage. Although this achievement was an uphill struggle -- the climb seemed perpendicular at times -- a minimum wage proposal was just unanimously enacted by the Berkeley City Council. Unlike San Francisco's minimum wage ordinance, which was adopted in 2003, Berkeley has not until now entered modern times by agreeing that the City of Berkeley has a legal obligation to improve the standard of living for very low wage workers. Beginning on October 1 of this year the minimum wage will be $10 an hour. Next year wages will increase to $11.00 an hour. In 2016, wages will peak at $!2.53. Although it is certainly not a living wage, it will be among the highest in the nation!

Many activists have been disappointed, however, that the Berkeley City Council scuttled a more generous proposal submitted by its Labor Commission whose nine members were all appointed by members of the City Council! But being disappointed is not the same as being discouraged. An attempt will be made to persuade the City Council and to also craft a ballot initiative that will improve the current ordinance. Working people deserve a wage hike to at least $15 an hour, an annual cost of living adjustment, paid vacation and paid sick leave. And they deserve it soon. Seattle workers won a $15 an hour minimum wage, but for most workers it will not be achieved for seven years. 

Paid sick leave is tremendously important. The Oakland ballot includes a very good sick leave provision. In fact, an Oakland poll showed that over 80 percent of the public support paid sick leave for working people . Workers should not be compelled to come to work ill because they cannot afford to lose wages. Nor should their co-workers be subjected to health risks. And many of those who are dining out are unknowingly subjected to infectious diseases by sick workers who prepare and serve the meals Paid sick leave, then, does not only protect sick workers. It is a critical public health issue. 

The Enforcement Issue: 

How nice it would be if passing progressive legislation would complete our obligations. But unfortunately, packing our bags and walking away from our victory would be a serious mistake. The record on labor violations by businesses is very high, and rigorous enforcement is often weak and even absent. In a national survey of minimum wage violations, fully 26 percent were paid less than the legally required minimum wage. Incredibly, 60 percent were underpaid by more than a dollar per hour. 

As elsewhere, Berkeley workers have not been adequately protected from workplace violations. Since the enforcement procedure is mainly complaint driven, workers who do complain have little protection against retaliation. Moreover, their complaints are often ignored. So our task is to determine how best to combat the widespread problem of wage theft. 

What Berkeley needs is a public agency that is responsible for enforcing compliance. San Francisco's Office of Labor Standards Enforcement serves as an ideal model for Berkeley. According to its annual report, it recovered in the fiscal year 2012-2013 $1,483,048 in back wages and interest for employees who were victims of wage theft.  

Workers in Berkeley are also entitled to an agency that protects them against wage theft. But only concerted action will make such a dream a reality. Fortunately, we are on the way to building an alliance between labor and the community. In fact, Along with low wage workers, the coalition of labor, religious institutions, progressive organizations, and unaffiliated progressive individuals explains why we have achieved a minimum wage in Berkeley. Continuing to work together will also give us a good shot at assuring that the minimum wage ordinance is fully implemented. Public officials must protect the legal rights of working people who are honestly doing their job on behalf of their employers and the public they serve.

July Pepper Spray Times

By Grace Underpressure
Friday June 27, 2014 - 03:42:00 PM

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

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

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

This is a Very Good Deal. Go for it! 


Romila Khanna
Friday June 27, 2014 - 03:26:00 PM

When we will think twice about curbing our desire to intervene in other country’s domestic affairs? We have experienced the results of past invasions which have weakened economy and introduced war culture to the minds of young and old Americans.  

We are fearful of others when their language, culture and religion do not tally with our own. I don’t think it is right to destroy a foreign land just because we imagine that citizens of that land will attack us.  

We attack to satisfy our ego that we have supreme power. We also create a war mentality in own land. We are sending out the message that we are afraid of attacks and will take preemptive action right away. 

Our motto should not be: Let’s go to war. It should be: Let's find a diplomatic solution. 

We need Diplomacy. We need to make friends with other cultures and respect their ways without interfering in their domestic affairs. Respect and friendliness can win the hearts of our enemies. But war will never end war. The end result will be great sadness, and the loss of lives and resources. 

I am worried that our Congress has decided to send more troops to the war zone in Iraq. I urge our policy makers to stop funding this 'new' old war.


THE PUBLIC EYE:Campaign 2014: Hate Politics

Bob Burnett
Friday June 27, 2014 - 01:50:00 PM

Four months before the midterm election, it’s become apparent the Republican strategy is based upon firing up their base with a barrage of anti-Obama messages. This has driven down the President’s approval ratings. And it’s made Republican partisans angry and likely to vote. It’s reminiscent of the hate campaign that caused California Proposition 8 to pass in 2008. 

Writing in Cook Political Report Amy Walter reflected on the bitter partisanship that characterizes the current electorate. 

Among those who are most politically active, 44 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans believe the other party is a “threat.” These are the voters that show-up in low turnout elections and who donate money to congressional candidates. Keeping these voters engaged means keeping their hostility to the other side well fed.
Walter noted the Republicans have an “anger” advantage that they continue to stoke by focusing on issues like Benghazi, alleged IRS scandals, and now the Iraq civil war. 

Much of the Republican animosity is focused on President Obama. As a result his approval rating is near a record low, 41 percent. More tellingly, only 9 percent of Republicans approve of the job Obama is doing, versus 76 percent of Democrats. 

Each week the Republican anger machine lambasts the President on a particular topic. Recently, this has been Iraq. On June 17th, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and his daughter Liz Cheney, blasted Obama’s foreign policy in a Wall Street Journal editorial. Dick Cheney followed with an appearance on ABC’s This Week and, in effect, accused the President of treason. Not only was Cheney’s conduct unseemly it was also deceitful. In his Wall Street Journal editorial, Cheney said 

When Mr. Obama and his team came into office in 2009, al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated… Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace. Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
What Cheney said wasn’t true. On Dec. 14, 2008, President George Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki signed a “Status of Forces Agreement” calling for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011. That action led to this crisis. 

Cheney distorted the truth in order to feed Republican animosity towards President Obama and increase the likelihood that Republicans will triumph in the midterm elections. If this strategy seems familiar that’s because it was used in the conservative 2008 campaign to pass California Proposition 8 that temporarily eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry. 

The California Proposition 8 initiative sought to insert language, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” into the California Constitution. At the onset this contest pitted conservative Christians and Mormons, who opposed same-sex marriage because of their interpretation of the Bible, versus liberal Californians who believed same-sex marriage was a human right. The battle was well matched until conservatives escalated the contest by first claiming that same-sex marriages would harm the children involved – even though there’s no reputable psychological evidence to support this statement. Then they made the more salacious claim that same-sex marriage was an important step in an alleged “homosexual agenda” seeking to lure innocent children “into the homosexual lifestyle.” The conservative backers of Proposition 8 used hate to fuel the anger of their base and thereby increase the likelihood they’d turnout. This strategy worked as Proposition 8 passed with 52 percent of the vote. 

(The subsequent history of California proposition 8 is brilliantly described in the new HBO documentary, The Case Against 8.

Heading into the November 4th midterm elections, Republicans have once again amped up their voters with hate messages. There are three actions that progressives, Democrats, and anyone who opposes the politics of hate can take between now and November 4th: 

1. Get involved: California Proposition 8 passed because too many progressives and Democrats, who opposed it, thought it was someone else’s fight and didn’t get involved. In the next four months we have to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to push back the Republican hate machine. 

2. Tell the truth: California Proposition 8 passed because of the numerous lies associated with it. Now Republicans, such as former Vice President Cheney, are using lies and distortions to bring down the President and his Democratic colleagues. Progressives and Democrats have to tell the truth: The President was right to end the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq and to temper our response to the Iraq civil war. Since 2009, the President’s policies have stabilized and strengthened the economy; they haven’t produced the jobs he hoped for because of steadfast Republican opposition that favors the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent. 

3. Be positive: It never works to respond to hate with hate. There’s an important difference between anger and determination. In the next four months, progressives and Democrats need to reach out to voters with a message fueled by our desire to build a stronger Democracy. 

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

ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Mentally Ill People Dealing With "Sane" People's Violence

Jack Bragen
Friday June 27, 2014 - 02:19:00 PM

Persons with mental illness are more affected by news reports of war, compared to a non-afflicted person. 

War seems like the ultimate of abuse. Most persons with mental illness have received some abuse in their lives, including but not limited to abuse perpetrated by the treatment system supposedly intended to help us. 

(This is not intended to be a put down of mental health professionals; most are in the business because they would like to help desperate people. This is also not intended to denigrate persons who serve in our military who have signed up with the intent of protecting the American people. When politicians want to go to war, or when another country poses a real threat, the soldiers are the ones who risk and sometimes lose their lives on our behalf.) 

Someone I know was having a manic episode during "Operation Desert Storm." This war was being shown on all of the televisions including the ones in the inpatient psychiatric ward. When my friend was admitted, she had the delusion that she was a participant in the war. 

It seems like a no-brainer that whoever was in charge should have changed the channel. Needless to say, depictions of war will exacerbate symptoms of someone with mental illness. 

Someone else I knew met his demise shortly after the beginning of W's Iraq war. The US had been at peace for the entire Clinton Administration. When W came into office and invaded Iraq, it was part of the disturbance that led to this person's manic episode and ensuing demise. 

Thus, for those of us with mental illness who are keeping up with the news, it can be traumatizing to learn of the violence now taking place in Iraq. 

(The US had to get out of Iraq at some point, and it was probably inevitable that chaos would ensue and that the artificial government "installed" by the US would topple.) 

But that is not the only insane violence wreaked by supposedly sane people, which affects us mentally ill people. 

Today, with horror, I viewed a video of Albuquerque Police shooting and killing an innocent mentally ill man. His name was James Boyd, and he was 38 years old. He was highly confused and had been arguing with police for several hours. The officers apparently lost their patience with the man, and they opened fire. This man was killed in cold blood as though shooting a wild boar for a cookout. 

Except that the boar would get better treatment. In the video, police went out of their way to inflict more pain on this man; he was down from the gunshots and dying when police shot him with bean bags and sent a police dog to bite him. 

Apparently the officers weren't punished for this, and are still on the Albuquerque police force. Why weren't police officers prosecuted for a crime that should have brought about capital punishment, had a civilian done the same thing, and had the victim not been mentally ill? 

If the mentally ill subculture could organize and if we weren't medicated into submission, you could bet this incident would have sparked nationwide protests. 

As a man who has lived with mental illness for more than thirty years, I have been on the receiving end of mistreatment from both cops and criminals. I am sure many people who have been living with mental illness could say the same thing. 

As persons who suffer from mental illness, we have been called crazy. We have been stereotyped as violent, sick and unconscious people. In fact, the people who are really sick are those who have all of their faculties, who are conscious of what they are doing, and who, at the same time, gun down a harmless man or woman in cold blood. And our society is culpable for allowing this to happen with no retribution.

Arts & Events

Madama Butterfly: Two Views + One Comment

Reviews by James Roy MacBean and John A McMullen II
Friday June 27, 2014 - 12:55:00 PM
Patricia Racette (Cio-Cio-San). ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

EDITOR'S NOTE: This week we are fortunate that two critics with different perspectives submitted reviews of the same production, and we're pleased to offer both. For the record, we also saw Butterfly. Let's just say that the sets and costumes were gorgeous but distracting and even confusing, the music was gorgeous as anticipated, and if you sit in the nosebleed seats and don't watch the awful video screens the visual age of the singers matters not a whit. The plot? I always swear I'll never go to Butterfly again unless they change the ending, but I always relent. 


Puccini’s MADAMA BUTTERFLY: A Spectacular Success at San Francisco Opera

Review by James Roy Macbean 


In a stunning new production designed by Japanese artist Jun Kaneko, San Francisco Opera has mounted the finest Madama Butterfly I have ever attended. And that’s saying something, for in 1974 I heard the great Renata Scotto sing Butterfly here in what many consider Scotto’s greatest role ever. Nonetheless, this season’s Butterfly is gorgeously sung by Patricia Racette in what may someday come to be seen as her finest role ever. (Actually, Racette has sung this role twice before in San Francisco, in 2006 and 2007. But somehow I missed both of those prior appearances. In 2007 I was in Lucca, Italy, for the 150th an-niversary of Puccini’s birth in that city, where I heard all three of Puccini’s Il Trittico performed in one evening -- a feat Patricia Racette more than equaled by performing all three soprano roles of Il Trittico in one evening in San Francisco while I was in Lucca.) 

Although I have always appreciated Patricia Racette’s singing in other roles she has sung here, especially the title role in Luisa Miller and Violetta in La Traviata, I must say that I was bowled over by the vocal artistry and dramatic ardor Racette brought to her inter-pretation of the Japanese geisha Cio-Cio-San, aka Madama Butterfly. The plot, of course, revolves around Cio-Cio-San’s betrothal to an American naval lieutenant, one Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, an Ugly American if ever there was one! Make no mistake about it: This opera portrays Americans – or at least Americans abroad – in a very poor light. It may be one of the very first anti-American imperialism dramas produced anywhere. Actually, Puccini discovered this story by attending in London David Belasco’s play. Puccini was so moved by the story he rushed to Belasco’s dressing room when the play was over, and, with tears in his eyes, begged Belasco to grant him the rights to make an opera from this play. Belasco famously said later, “How could I say no to a great Italian opera composer who is crying and hugging me?” 

As Madama Butterfly begins, marriage-broker Goro, sung here by tenor Julius Ahn, shows Pinkerton the house he has rented for the American and his bride-to-be. Pinkerton, sung by the youthful-looking tenor Brian Jagde, contemptuously remarks that this flimsy house would be blown away by a strong wind. It is indeed a flimsy house with sliding walls of shoji screens, but it is situated on a hill high with a wonderful view of Nagasaki’s harbor. The lease on the house, like the marriage contract, is good for 999 years, with an option toterminate either the lease or the marriage on a monthly basis. 

Up the hill comes the American Consul, Sharpless, who, invited to the wedding, cautions Pinkerton to consider carefully what he is doing. Sung by baritone Brian Mulligan, Sharpless seems seriously concerned about Pinkerton’s intentions. Pinkerton, with char-acteristic bravado, sings the aria, “dovunque al mondo, lo Yankee vagabondo,” in which he boasts of touring the world and having a girl in every port. Sharpless repeats his words of caution. Pinkerton blithely disregards Sharpless’s reservations and proposes a toast of whiskey. Over the opening bars of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Pinkerton and Sharpless toast “America forever,” sung in English. Pinkerton follows up this toast with a second to that glorious day in the future when he will marry “una vera sposa Americana”/ “a true American wife.”  

Brian Jagde portrays Pinkerton in this opening scene as a typically brash young American serviceman insensitive to the foreign culture in which he finds himself. Think of GIs in Vietnam or US sailors carousing with teenage bar girls in the prostitution dens surrounding the US Naval base at Subic Bay in the Philippines. But Jagde’s boyish good looks and his robust, ringing tenor have great appeal. When he sings of Butterfly’s beauty and grace, he seems genuinely captivated by his delicate wisp of a geisha girl. 

Soon Butterfly and her wedding party come up the hill, her bridesmaids dressed in brightly colored Japanese robes of Jun Kaneko’s design, carrying lovely parasols. Coming last in this procession is Cio-Cio-San, dressed in white. Though made up to look vaguely Japanese and sporting a black wig with long braids, Patricia Racette doesn’t exactly look like the 15 year-old girl Butterfly declares herself to be. But Racette has all the Japanese mannerisms down pat, employing frequent bows to show respect, and shyly avoiding any physical approaches by her husband-to-be. She sings that she is the happiest girl in all Japan and comes to answer the call of love. Moreover, she tells Pinkerton she has renounced her own gods and gone to the local Christian mission to adopt his religion. 

I have only two quibbles with the staging of this Madama Butterfly; and they both crop up in the wedding scene. One involves casting. Cio-Cio-San’s mother, in a minimal singing role performed by Laurel Cameron Porter, looks like she, not Patricia Racette, could be a 15 year-old girl. Thus we have a mother looking like she should be the daughter, and a daughter looking like she should be the mother. However, we don’t go to operas for realism. My second quibble, however, is a bit more serious. Who in the world are the figures dressed all in black with black boxes on their heads? Here, in the wedding scene, they act as supernumeraries or stagehands, and they do so later as well. But why do they wear black boxes on their heads? I have an idea about this, but I’ll expound it later. 

Under conductor Nicola Luisotti’s baton, the Opera orchestra unerringly navigates between Puccini’s lyrical passages of western music and the frequent motifs derived fromtraditional Japanese folk-songs in the pentatonic scale. It must also be noted that this excellent Madama Butterfly production is sensitively lit by lighting designer Gary Marder. 

The wedding contract is quickly signed. However, two foreboding hints of the coming tragedy ensue in the wedding scene. When Butterfly shyly shows Pinkerton her collection of precious little objects, a sudden danger signal sounds in the orchestra with two plunging descents across an augmented fourth, as Butterfly holds a long, narrow sword in its sheath. It is, she says, a present from the Mikado to her father. Goro whispers to Pinkerton that Butterfly’s father obeyed the implicit order to use it on himself. The second ominous incident occurs when a member of Butterfly’s family, a Buddhist priest, or Bonze, comes rushing in to accuse Butterfly, justly, of abandoning her ancestral religion. The Bonze, sung here by bass Morris Robinson, brings down a curse on Butterfly and furiously orders her relatives to renounce her, which they do, exiting the scene in all haste. Butterfly weeps, but in the fading daylight she declares herself alone yet happy in her love for Mr. B.F. Pinkerton. As scholar Julian Budden notes, “Madama Butterfly … is never more Japanese than when she imagines herself American.” 

There ensues Puccini’s famous love duet, sung beautifully here by Patricia Racette and Brian Jagde. The duet’s opening main section, “Viene la sera,” is followed by Pinkerton crooning his praise of Butterfly’s beautiful eyes. After some recitative about butterflies being impaled by a pin, Pinkerton, his ardor mounting, approaches Butterfly and re-peatedly entreats her with the word “Vieni” to come inside the house. She stares raptly at the night sky with its myriad of stars, until she and Pinkerton join in ecstatic unison as they go into the house. Thus ends Act I of Madama Butterfly.  

Act II in this production utilizes the same set as Act I. But we soon learn that an interval of three years has occurred, during which time Pinkerton has shipped out, though promising to return, “when the robins build their nests,” as Butterfly reminds her maid, Suzuki. Sung here by the excellent mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, Suzuki expresses her doubts and bursts into tears. This elicits from Butterfly her famous aria, “Un bel di vedremo,” in which she pictures in vivid detail Pinkerton’s return. Sung gorgeously by Patricia Racette, this aria received tumultuous applause. 

Consul Sharpless arrives bearing a letter from Pinkerton, which he begins reading to Butterfly. However, with frequent interruptions, first by Butterfly, then by the arrival of Goro and Prince Yamadori, Sharpless never gets very far in his reading. Butterfly explains to Sharpless that Goro has been trying to persuade her to divorce Pinkerton and marry the wealthy Prince Yamadori. Butterfly is adamant that she will not do so. Yamadori, sung here by Mexican-American tenor Efrain Solis, entreats Butterfly with declarations of love; but she remains steadfast in her refusal. Goro and Yamadori depart. 

Sharpless suggests that Butterfly reconsider Yamadori’s proposal, but this only moves Butterfly to bring out her three year-old son by Pinkerton, born after his father’s departure. She begs Sharpless to write Pinkerton and inform him of the existence of his beautiful child. Sharpless agrees to do so, and departs. Hearing a cannon shot, Butterfly picks up her telescope and spots Pinkerton’s ship arriving in the port below, as the orchestra repeats the melody of “un bel di” in pianissimo on flute, violins and violas. Now euphoric, Butterfly orders Suzuki to spread flowers throughout the house to welcome home her husband. As Suzuki and Butterfly deck the house with flowers, they sing the famous “flower duet,” linking two female voices in lilting thirds. 

There ensues the long orchestral intermezzo known as the “night vigil,” in which the two women and child await Pinkerton’s return. This music reveals Puccini’s indebtedness to Wagner; and in this production the music is accompanied by images of ever-changing brightly colored abstract patterns of Jun Kaneko’s design projected onto three screens, culminating in a tribute to Japanese animation with three human figures – Butterfly, Suzuki, and the child -- gradually taking shape in line drawings. Meanwhile, the afore-mentioned box-headed figures crawl insidiously around the outside of Butterfly’s darkened house, suggesting a menacing fate that awaits Butterfly. Indeed, Director Leslie Swack-hamer writes in a program note that she and designer Jun Kaneko strove to achieve something of the atmosphere of Greek tragedy, so my hunch is that the box-headed figures represent something like the Fates or Furies in Greek tragedy. (But this still doesn’t explain why they wear black boxes on their heads!) 

When morning comes, Sharpless and Pinkerton arrive on tip-toe, accompanied by Pinkerton’s American wife, Kate. Finding Suzuki alone outside the house, they seek to enlist her help in persuading Butterfly to relinquish her son to Kate Pinkerton’s care. Though devastated for Butterfly’s sake, Suzuki agrees to help, and goes inside to prepare Butterfly for the shock that awaits her. Now, belatedly realizing the pain he has caused, Pinkerton bids a poignant farewell to his past happiness here in the aria, “Addio fiorito asil,” robustly sung by Brian Jagde. Then, overcome with remorse, Pinkerton flees the scene, unable to face Butterfly. 

When Butterfly comes out of the house and sees Sharpless, she searches eagerly but in vain for Pinkerton. But she stops short when she spies Kate. Quickly comprehending the situation, she falls to her knees. Kate, sung here by Jacqueline Piccolino, steps forth and promises to love Butterfly’s son as if he were her own child. Sharpless adds that Butterfly must think of what’s best for her child. 

Patricia Racette is riveting as Butterfly in this harrowing moment. Weeping, Butterfly mutters that “they’ll take everything from me, even my child.” Pulling herself together, she consents on condition that Pinkerton come himself to take the child. Satisfied, Sharpless and Kate depart. Butterfly retreats to the house and starts to prepare herself for ritual hara kiri; but Suzuki hurriedly sends the child to Butterfly. Taking her son in her arms, Butterfly tells him to look long and carefully at his mother’s face, saying he must always remember her. Then, placing on her son’s head the US Navy Lieutenant’s cap Pinkerton has left behind, she sends her son back to Suzuki. Now a long, slow chromatic descent occurs in the orchestra as Butterfly unsheathes her father’s sword and cuts her own throat. As she slumps forward, a rush of semiquavers is heard in the violins and violas. In the distance, Brian Jagde’s voice is heard as Pinkerton cries out, “Butterfly. Butterfly. Butterfly.” Thus ended as beautiful and dramatically intense a production of Madama Butterfly as I have ever experienced. 


The Pedestrian Opera Review: “Madama Butterfly” at SF Opera

Reviewed by John A McMullen II 


I had never seen Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” before last Tuesday. 

For those who had, I imagine the San Francisco Opera production was superlative. It integrated the exceptional voice of Patricia Racette who is well-known for this role with the unrestrained and colorful design imagination of Jun Kaneko. 

The set rivaled the singing. A spiraling ramp down onto concentric circles leading to a round raised platform stage left with a large diorama behind comprise the spare set provides a canvas for Gary Marder’s extraordinary lighting design in ever-changing lush and saturated colors. 

Kaneko’s costume and projection designs are overdone and tires the eye with its “busy-ness.” 

(Kaneko designed “The Magic Flute” at SF Opera in 2012). 

A vertically hung display of polka-dotted and striped kimonos greet the audience at the pre-set, and that same eye-boggling pattern and color scheme are used throughout. The American Consul and Naval Officer have red-striped labels on parti-colored suits, and it is truly a variegated world. 

For those aficionados who have seen this opera perhaps multiple times and who mainly attend to appreciate the exceptional voices, this production was perhaps unique and appealing in its quirky design and remarkable singing. 

For neophytes like myself, I found it distracting and difficult to believe, 

If you don’t know the story: The US demanded entry to Japan in the later 19-century. A sailor—well, an officer—could “rent-a-bride” for his stay. Lt. Pinkerton “marries” 15 year old Cio-Cio-San whose noble family has been impoverished since the Emperor directed her father to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). She takes the initiative to convert to Christianity for which she is ostracized by the community. Pinkerton ships out; Cio-Cio-San (pronounced “cho-cho-san”) discovers she is with child. Instead of moving on to the next bidder, she waits for Pinkerton’s return, hopefully scouting every ship that comes to port with a spy-glass—for three years! When the lieutenant finally returns to claim his son, he is accompanied by his American wife. Our geisha is devastated. She gives him his three-year-old son, and kills herself. 

Patricia Racette made her opera debut with this role in 1988 at 22 with the now-defunct, traveling San Francisco Western Opera whose mission was to bring opera to the hinterland. The idea of using such a young voice was criticized (though Maria Callas sang the lead in Cavalleria Rusticana at 15). 

Critic Bernard Holland said of Ms. Racette’s 1988 performance, "Patricia Racette was an especially compelling actress as Cio-Cio San, and it was acting achieved through music – just as opera performance should be. Yet Miss Racette has a soprano voice that, while musically and technically reliable, is never terribly luxurious in sound." 

In the 26 intervening years, Ms. Racette’s voice has bloomed into a powerful and emotionally moving instrument. However, my suspension of disbelief was challenged with a 49 year-old woman playing a girl from ages 15 to 18. 

The non-Asian cast does not endeavor to don makeup that would make them believably Japanese; they wear wigs and kimonos, but that is the extent of their change of persona. 

Lt. Pinkerton is played by Brian Jagde with “Ken Doll” looks and a cookie-cutter operatic tenor. His highlight is in his climactic act of shamefully fleeing from confronting Cio-Cio-San. Baritone Brian Mulligan, playing a sympathetic American Consul, gives a moving performance. 

It is the performance of diminutive mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong as Suzuki, handmaid to Madame Butterfly, that is most impressive both vocally and dramatically. 

Music Director Nicola Luisotti’s directing brings the SF Opera Orchestra to more than its usual excellence 

If you are a designer, or if you know the opera well, you may truly enjoy this. 

I look forward to revisiting this work when a younger lead plays the role with a more traditionally stage design. 



“Madama Butterfly”

Music by Giacomo Puccini, Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa 

Performances remaining: June 27, July 3, July 6, July 9, 

San Francisco Opera 

War Memorial Opera House 

301 Van Ness Avenue 

San Francisco, CA