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Press Release: Sit-in at Berkeley Redwood Gardens (Update)

From Eleanor Walden, Co-chair Redwood Gardens Residents’ Council
Tuesday October 14, 2014 - 07:21:00 PM

It is unusual to see octogenarians, wheelchair confined people, all extremely low income, stage a sit-in against the administrators of the only housing available to them.  

The senior and disabled residents at Redwood Gardens in Berkeley are being treated in a manner that borders on abuse but certainly falls into the category of violation of quality of life, disruption of the peace and quiet of living quarters, invasion of privacy, immanent danger to health and safety, as well as intimidation and disrespect. The residents understand the risks to their security but have been pushed to the point of taking the risk of fighting back against corporate power. 

This HUD housing facility is owned and managed by CSI Cooperative Corporation and their affiliate Redwood Gardens. Since the corporation assumed management of this facility they have set about making changes to completely remodel the facility, not only with negligible benefits to the residents, but with adverse effects upon us.  

We are mobilizing to protect ourselves against the continued assault against our persons, homes, peace of mind, and safety.  

  • While we have a functioning and adequate laundry room the corporate management has decided to install another one on the 3rd floor of this residential facility. A much disputed laundry room is planned for the 3rd floor of the building. The residents object to this on the grounds that previous experience with the existing laundry, which has the advantage of being built on concrete, thus more safe, but has experienced floods, fire, sleep disturbing after hours noise, and vibration from malfunctioning machines. A laundry on a higher floor adjacent to residents apartments, with heavy equipment, is a potential danger in the event of an earthquake; is inappropriate when washing machines are predictably subject to flooding and consequent inundation of apartments beneath, black mold (one of the most potent forms of neuro-toxins) would be the consequence; as well as continuous disturbance of noise and vibration, and chemical pollution in the living areas.
  • KTVU Channel 2 covered the story on the 8am news on Oct. 14.
  • Daily Cal covered the sit-in on Oct. 13: http://www.dailycal.org/2014/10/13/senior-citizens-gather-protest-management-housing-complex/.
There are several other issues that affect people in RG:Garden area was dug up and residents were commanded to move their plants or lose them; both of which already happened. Many plants and heritage roses were lost or damaged in the process. See coverage in Berkeleyside: 


Other issues and concerns: 

  • We were told that complete kitchen and bath remodeling will be made but no time frame for rebuilding has been given. We are being forced to move everything out of our kitchens. The apartments are very small and there is no space to store possessions out of the way. To ask residents to do this work, all of us are of advanced age or disability with limited income, amounts to inappropriate demands.
  • Notice of all of the so-called "improvements" of changes came down as fiat and, while CSI has received over $3,300,000 to renovate the building, some of which should go for labor to accomplish apartment renovation, the residents are commanded, upon danger of eviction, used as slave labor to accomplish the corporate purpose of CSI. Additionally, we are then insulted with patronizing letters telling us that "it is all for our good" and any deviation from the plan must be supported by a letter from the doctor. All their demands have been unreasonable.
  • Access to the door of the north parking lot has been blocked with a series of concrete posts. Several levels of danger are possible. Safety is at risk in any of these possible situations. First responders: fire trucks, para-transit vans, cars picking up or dropping off seniors will entangle. Recycling area in that area was rebuilt with a surrounding redwood fence which would be lovely except for the fact that it is so designed that fewer recycle bins than previously are situated in the space and cannot accommodate the material. The trash was spilling out the second day after it was installed. Rats do not respect "keep out" signs!
Our quality of life has been completely disrupted by unreasonable action. We ask to be consulted. Our sit-in is an effort to bring about a dialogue with the corporation in which we know our voices are being heard and our integrity respected. We invite the media to come to listen to our story on Wed. Oct. 15th, 9am, 3rd floor North lounge, next to the elevator, Redwood Gardens 2951 Derby St. Berkeley. 


Watch 15th Assembly District Candidates Debate in Berkeley

Tuesday October 14, 2014 - 02:43:00 PM

The race for the 15th Assembly District is now hot and heavy. Last week the Berkeley Daily Planet videoed a Berkeley debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters between the two remaining candidates, Tony Thurmond and Elizabeth Echols, both Democrats. They're running against each other in the General Election because of a new California law establishing an open spring primary, which eliminated all non-Democrats and even some of the other Democrats who ran for this office.

We'll be posting a series of excerpts from this lengthy debate over the next week.

Click here to see and hear the candidates' positions on the major issues in this race.

Student Robbed of Cell Phone at U.C. Berkeley Dorm

Jamey Padojino (BCN)
Tuesday October 14, 2014 - 12:55:00 PM

An 18-year-old man was robbed of his cellphone at a student housing complex in Berkeley early Sunday morning, University of California police said. 

Officers responded to a report of a robbery at the Clark Kerr Campus at the University of California at Berkeley around 12:30 a.m., UC police said. 

The man had been in his room where he heard a knock on his front door and opened it to find two males, according to UC police. 

One of the males asked the man to make a phone call for him and as the victim followed the order, the suspect stepped into the room and took his phone, UC police said. 

The male told the victim he had a gun and both males fled from the scene, according to UC police. 

The 18-year-old man was not injured in the robbery. 

Officers searched the area for the suspects without success, UC police said. 

Both suspects are described as Black men between 18 years old and 20 years old who were wearing baggy jeans, according to UC police. 

The first suspect has a medium complexion, curly hair and about 6 feet tall. He was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, UC police said. 

The second suspect has a dark complexion, unshaven face and around 5 feet 7 inches tall. He was wearing a gray long-sleeve shirt, according to UC police. 

Anyone with information on the robbery is asked to call University of California police at (510) 642-0472 or (510) 642-6760.

Elderly Man Missing in Berkeley

Jamey Padojino (BCN)
Saturday October 11, 2014 - 11:48:00 PM

An elderly Berkeley man suffering from Alzheimer's disease has been missing since this afternoon, police said. 

Wayne Rose, 81, was last seen in the area of Fourth Street and Channing Way around 4:30 p.m., police said. 

Rose is described as a white man who stands about 6 feet tall, weighs 195 pounds, is bald and has a gray beard, according to police. 

He was last seen wearing a baseball cap with an "OC Jones" logo on the front, a brown and blue plaid shirt, bolo-type tie and brown pants, police said. 

Anyone with information on Rose's whereabouts is asked to contact Berkeley police by calling (510) 981-5900.

Endorsement for This Election

Compiled by Rich Proulx
Friday October 17, 2014 - 07:45:00 PM

This table shows who's endorsed which candidates and/or ballot measures: 


Berkeley Democratic Club 

Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club 

Stonewall Democratic Club 

Alameda Cty. Democratic Party 

Alameda Cty. Green Party 

Berkeley Citizen’s Action 

Sierra Club 

Berkeley Grey Panthers 

League of Women Voters 

Ballot Measures 










D – Soda Tax 










F – Parks Tax 










O – Recall Provisions 










P – Corporate Personhood 










Q – Part-time worker advisory 










R – Downtown Zoning 










S – City Council Boundaries 











Berkeley Democratic Club 

Wellstone Democratic Renewal 


Stonewall Democratic Club 

Alameda Cty. Democratic Party 

Alameda Cty. Green Party 

Berkeley Citizen’s Action 

Sierra Club 

Alameda Labor Council (AFL-CIO) 

Berkeley Tenants Union 

City Council District 1 










Alejandro Soto-Vigil 





Linda Maio 







Merrilie Mitchell 










City Council District 7 










Sean Barry 









Kriss Worthington 



City Council District 8 










George Beier 








Mike Alvarez Cohen 










Jacquelyn McCormick 






Lori Droste 


















School Board Director 

Berkeley Democratic Club 

Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club 

Stonewall Democratic Club 

Alameda Cty. Democratic Party 

Alameda Cty. Green Party 

Berkeley Citizen’s Action 

Berkeley Federation of Teachers 

Berkeley Council of Classified Employees (AFL-CIO) 

Berkeley Tenants Union 

Norma JF Harrison 










Karen Hemphill 




Julie Sinai 






Ty Alper 



Josh Daniels 








Berkeley Democratic Club 

Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club 

Stonewall Democratic Club 

Alameda Cty. Democratic Party 

Alameda Cty. Green Party 

Berkeley Citizen’s Action 

Sierra Club 

Berkeley Federation of Teachers 

Alameda Labor Council 

League of Women Voters 

Berkeley Grey Panthers 

Berkeley Council of Classified Employees (no website, see email) 

Berkeley Tenants Union

Developers Aren't Going to Solve the Housing Crisis in San Francisco--or Berkeley (News Analysis)

Thursday October 09, 2014 - 09:38:00 PM

[Editor's note: Do you believe that giving developers free rein to build all and any skyscrapers they want downtown will end Berkeley's problems with the Bay Area's housing crisis? Do you plan to vote against Measure R2.0? You might change your mind after you read this piece on the Truthout web site which disproves common pro-building myths.]

It starts:

"Activists marauding Google buses, the hippie enclave turning into a playground for the rich, the threat of beautiful Victorians being plowed over for boxy condos. The housing crisis in San Francisco is capturing the world's attention, and it seems like every day there's someone putting forward the magic bullet to mow down the housing boogeyman. But many of these solutions are obsessively focused on saving the day with a build, build, build strategy.

"Affordability for working-class people in San Francisco isn't going to come from letting profit-driven developers have their way. After months of research and interviews by a journalist who has worked as a developer and on housing policy, this feature dismantles the arguments driving housing policy in the city and offers real solutions instead of "trickle-down" approaches.

"San Francisco is the epicenter of the changing US economy. The gap between rich and poor in the United States is growing as the middle class and manufacturing sector are being squeezed out. A recent study equated San Francisco's income gap with Rwanda's. City living is ideal for young professionals and, increasingly, the suburban elite. US cities need to look at smarter ways to thrive and not simply rely on the invisible hand to provide housing for working-class Americans.

See the whole piece here:

Deirdre Eberly Lashgari

Lauren Coodley
Thursday October 09, 2014 - 10:18:00 PM
 Deirdre Lashgari, left, Judy Wells, right, 1986.
Lauren Coodley
Deirdre Lashgari, left, Judy Wells, right, 1986.

Deirdre Eberly Lashgari, Professor Emerita of English at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, died August 16, 2014 in Los Angeles. A specialist in ethnic and world literatures, Lashgari translated both classical and modern Iranian poetry, and wrote, published, and lectured on Iranian fiction and film as well as on women writers of fiction and poetry in Iran, China, India, Ghana, and the United States. At UC Berkeley in the sixties, she studied Farsi, Arabic, and French, and worked to translate unknown women’s poetry into English.  

In 1969, she spent a year in Iran on a Fulbright Fellowship studying Western and folk influences on modern Iranian poetry, as well as women’s changing roles in urban and village life. Upon her return to Berkeley, she invited others to join in an ambitious translation project. Circles of foreign language students began to gather regularly, entertaining each other at ongoing poetry-potlucks, which Lashgari and her colleague Doris Earnshaw organized to locate, translate, and anthologize women’s poetry from diverse languages. With her collaborators (Bankier and Earnshaw, et.al.), Deirdre Lashgari edited two international anthologies of poetry, The Other Voice: Women’s Poetry in Translation (Norton, 1976) and Women Poets of The World (Macmillan, 1983). She also edited and contributed to a volume of essays on women writers with the University Press of Virginia (1995) Violence, Silence, and Anger Women’s Writing as Transgression. The story of Lashagari’s collectivist work is told in The Berkeley Literary Women’s Revolution: essays from Marsha’s salon (McFarland 2004). Lashgari also taught English at Sonoma State University, Mills College in Oakland, San Francisco State University. Always a galvanizing presence in innovative education, she taught at UC Berkeley in the Peace and Conflict Studies Program, and the experimental undergraduate seminar program Strawberry Creek College, as well as the first courses on women’s literature in Comparative Literature Department. Her pioneering research and collaborative work contributed to changing forever the literary curriculum at Berkeley and other American universities, and to normalize the presence of women’s writing as part of the syllabus. 



A Berkeley Treasure Needs You--
Help Bail Out Le Bateau Ivre !

Becky O'Malley
Friday October 10, 2014 - 08:05:00 AM
Two of the Dazzling Divas, Eliza O'Malley and Kathleen Moss Miller, plus accompanist Alexander Katsman.
Two of the Dazzling Divas, Eliza O'Malley and Kathleen Moss Miller, plus accompanist Alexander Katsman.

It’s a noisy world out there these days. Although we’ve lived on Ashby Avenue for more than 40 years, I’m still not used to it, and it’s getting worse. As neighboring streets have gradually barricaded themselves from traffic, parking restrictions have popped up almost everywhere except in front of our house, it seems. But where we live, U.C. commuters from over the hill can park all day long, and they do.

Since they’re basically exurbanites, leaving their oversized and ugly SUVs on a Berkeley street makes them nervous, so they invest in the loudest car alarms money can buy. And since we get a lot of very noisy truck traffic all day long, the street shakes, and that sets off the alarms, all day long. LOUD!

What can those of us who are trying to work at home do about it? Exactly nothing. Yesterday, I called the city of Berkeley’s vaunted 311 number, supposed to provide answers to all problems civic, to see if any law was being broken by having a hypersensitive car alarm blaring for a quarter of an hour.

Of course, quelle surprise, there was no one available to answer the phone. “Press 1 to leave a message and we’ll get right back” the nice recorded person said (or something like that). So I pressed, but the next not so nice recorded person said the office was closed (at 2 in the afternoon). I dutifully left a message anyway, but no one has called me back.

Of course, deep in my heart of hearts I know that Berkeley tolerates any amount of noise, including the illegal gasoline-powered two-stroke engine blower that the gardener down the block uses early on Sunday mornings, the power tools which are building a possibly-legal addition around the corner and the occasional loud parties at the big house across the street which seems to be rented to students. Mostly, I’ve gotten used to it, but the car alarms are slowly driving me even madder than I must already be to live on Ashby.

Which is why (after that long preamble) I value a quiet evening at Le Bateau Ivre. In a town where restaurants seem to be competing to see who can split the patrons’ eardrums first, “The Bat,” as its fans call it, is blessedly quiet, with just a faint undertone of well-selected classical music in the background to muffle any sound escaping from Telegraph Avenue. If you go with friends, you can converse. I used to go to Peets for the music chosen by founder Alfred Peet, but the last time I was in the Domingo branch the ambient loud sound reflected instead the taste of the teenagers behind the counter.

At The Bat (or The Drunken Boat, if you don’t have any French) you can even hear live music, increasingly rare or expensive in a corporate and digitized world. Real people play real instruments and sing with real voices from 7 to 9 every Wednesday night.

I’ve heard Mal Sharpe playing jazz, Irish music both traditional and modern, an old-timey fiddle band, and my personal fave, the Dazzling Divas, three lovely singers and their accompanist who fill the intimate space with opera’s top hits.

You can even indulge in a gourmet French dinner or tasty snacks with a glass of wine or beer while you listen. And it’s free, no cover charge, though the sign on the tables says “tips are the performers’ only compensation”, and you’d have to be pretty broke or pretty churlish not to drop something in the basket when it’s passed.

Which brings us to the uncomfortable but necessary subject of money.

Proprietor Arlene Giordano started Le Bateau Ivre 42 years ago with her husband, known to most only by one name, Cooper. They ran it together, with Cooper onsite most of the time and Arlene working by day at a demanding technical profession. In 2008 he died suddenly, and since then Arlene has been struggling to keep the boat afloat. She’s retired from her day job, and now works day and night to preserve what has become a valued community institution.

But inevitably after all this time stuff wears out, stuff needs to be fixed and even improvements are needed. So, prompted by customers who have now become friends, Arlene has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise capital for urgent fixes. And if you’ve never experienced the Bat’s warm European ambiance, this Wednesday, October 15, would be the perfect opportunity to see what you’ve been missing.

The Dazzling Divas will be back. (Full disclosure: I’m related to one of them.) If you get there about 6:30, you can choose your favorite table in the cozy room where the live shows take place and order dinner before the music starts at 7.

If you’ve never heard Puccini or Mozart up close and personal you have a real treat in store—they always rock the room. It’s the opposite of quiet, of course, but once in a while some glorious noise is welcome, isn’t it?

Le Bateau Ivre is located in a delightful old house a few blocks south of the U.C. Berkeley campus, in the quieter residential section of Telegraph in Berkeley at 2629 Telegraph Avenue.

Click below on the poster to learn more about that Indiegogo campaign. 


The Editor's Back Fence

Planet Endorsements; Mail Ballots Now

Friday October 10, 2014 - 11:59:00 AM

After the previous election some readers complained that they couldn't locate the Planet's endorsements when they went to vote. To make it as easy as possible, between now and the election we're going to maintain this corner of the front page where you can always find our endorsements along with links to editorial material with more detail about specific candidates and issues.

Measure D: no endorsement

Alameda County Measure BB: Yes

Yes on Berkeley Measure R.

Then, click here for the candidates: Which Berkeley City Council Candidates Should You Support?

Short Answers: District 1, Alejandro Soto-Vigil; District 4, Jesse Arreguin (unopposed); District 7, Kriss Worthington; District 8, Jacquelyn McCormick (rank her first, followed by George Beier, second, and Lori Droste, third. Skip fourth place. )

Finally , check out this May editorial with a self-explanatory title: Tony Thurmond is the Best Choice for California Assembly ...

We're pleased to see that Berkeley Councilmember Jesse Arreguin has added his endorsement to Tony's long list of fans.

In this video you can see Tony explain his campaign in person at a Berkeley house party: 



More to come on the ballot measures and propositions.


Odd Bodkins: That Cat is Dead. (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Thursday October 09, 2014 - 09:46:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Public Comment

New: Parker Place — Shame on Everyone (except the Neighbors)

Peter Schorer
Tuesday October 14, 2014 - 12:15:00 PM

Parker Place is the name of a monstrous residential/commercial development planned for the corner of Shattuck and Parker Street, extending to Carleton Street, in South Berkeley. From its birth some six years ago, it was almost universally opposed by neighbors because of the excessive traffic it would bring onto already overcrowded streets, the known toxic materials in the soil that would be spewed into the air by excavations, and many other reasons. 

Some neighbors sued over the lack of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for this shockingly impactful project. The legal proceedings were conducted by judges who behaved as though developers must be favored. Many locals who support the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) believe that the judge who was chosen to handle CEQA cases for Alameda County a couple years ago, was appointed expressly to rule against petitioners (those who exercise their right to pursue EIRs for projects with detrimental impacts.) 

The neighbors' lawsuits were eventually defeated. With the entitlements in place to build the monstrous project, the owners of the site then sold it to a big, wealthy company – the Lennar Corporation. But that wasn't sufficient corporate influence inflicted on South Berkeley. According to a July Wall Street Journal press release, a division of Deutsche Bank has acquired the site and formed a "venture partnership" (vulture partnership?) with Lennar to build the project. What's wrong with this picture? 

The Lennar/Deutsche Bank team wasn’t satisfied with building the already-awful project; they sought approvals from the City to make it worse. The new project they wish to build is six stories above ground and two stories below ground, with 286 parking spaces.  

Now you might think the neighbors would be happy that the project will have abundant parking for the residents, but that extra parking isn't for the residents. It's for the business Lennar/Deutsche is planning for the now two floors of commercial space, replacing the "neighborhood-serving retail" in the original approvals. They're not telling what kind of business they are seeking for the space (well, I bet the Mayor knows), but Lennar representative Peter Schellinger did mention technology and biotechnology companies as possibilities. Several business options were listed in their application — but they're not revealing which option they're pursuing. 

Oh, and they want to cheapen the windows from the high-quality ones that were previously approved to — painted vinyl! Schellinger stated in a recorded hearing that the reason for ditching quality windows was that "we just can't afford it." 

Approval of the more awful project was whisked through the Design Review and Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) process at record speed, aided by an obviously compliant Planning staff. The Planner assigned to assist the project was overheard saying to the Lennar honchos in the hall after one of the hearings, that he couldn't walk out with them and he couldn't be seen in a huddle with them. (Why not? We all know they're your buddies and that you're working for them.

Neighbors kept up their fight and appealed the ZAB approval to the City Council. On Tuesday, Oct. 7, the Council heard the appeal of the approval of the new, worse project. In the public comment period, one attorney and one retired attorney pointed out factual errors in the developers' report of anticipated carcinogen levels, and outright violations of zoning requirements for such a structure. Several neighbors spoke at the City Council meeting – all were opposed to the project, and most received vigorous applause from the audience. 

Only one citizen spoke on behalf of the project, a member of the developer advocacy group called, risibly, "Livable Berkeley" and spokesperson for the "no on Measure R" campaign, Tim Frank. He claimed that because he bicycles past the site frequently, he feels like a neighbor. I subsequently learned that his actual place of residence is a development-free area of North Berkeley near Solono Avenue. 

The efforts of citizens who care about their neighbors and who resist the corporate takeover of Berkeley were to no avail. The Council voted — for approval. 

Our City government's favoritism toward developers is by now well known. Mayor Tom Bates has been at the center of the drive for bigger, uglier buildings not only in the downtown, but in neighborhoods like mine where Parker Place will be built. But at the October 7 Council meeting, the city's decision sent a new message to developers: "Don't worry about revealing the plans for your commercial space. We'll pre-approve everything, and you can let us know what you choose later. We trust you!" 

Wake up, Berkeleyans! It's no longer just carpetbaggers from Piedmont inflicting injury on our town for profit; it's multi-billion dollar national and international corporations. We could send a loud and clear message to the City Council members: favor the developers and we will vote you out of office at the next election, but sadly, the electorate doesn't seem to be paying attention. Let the tragedy of Parker Place be the wake-up call, and it will be tragic for our South Berkeley neighborhood. 

P.S. During this sordid tale, there was one official who did speak up for the citizens. At the October 7 hearing, our District 3 Councilman, Max Anderson, said that when ownership changes on a project like this, "there are certain deals that are made and certain agreements reached that are outside the public view." He then moved to remand the project back to the ZAB for further consideration. Unfortunately no vote was taken on his motion because Laurie Capitelli made a substitute motion to approve the project, which promptly won. Max Anderson was the lone vote against the illegitimate approval of this corporate coup. 

P.P.S For a good laugh, plug "Deutsche Bank" and "scandal" into your favorite search engine and prepare to chuckle. My favorite quote from one of the thousands of hits that crop up: "is there any scandal that Deutsche bank is not involved in?" 

How Margot is Voting

Margot Smith
Thursday October 09, 2014 - 09:43:00 PM

[Editor's Note: If you're still confused about how to vote, now that mail ballots are out, you should pay attention to Margot Smith. She's been an activist throughout her long life, currently working with groups like the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Save the Post Office and the Gray Panthers. She knows from experience what she's talking about!]

Margot's recommendations: 


Berkeley Propositions
Measure D Soda Tax Yes
Measure F Parks Yes
Measure O Recall Provisions Yes
Measure P Corporations are Not People Yes
Measure Q Flex Work Time Yes
Measure R Green Downtown YES
Measure S Redistricting NO

County Measure BB Transportation Sales Tax Yes

California Propositions
Proposition 1 Water Bond No
Proposition 2 Rainy Day Fund Yes
Proposition 45 Health Care Insurance Rates Yes
Proposition 46 Raise Malpractice Awards Yes
Proposition 47 Criminal Sentences Yes
Proposition 48 Indian Gaming in Madera NO

Congress, CD 13: Barbara Lee
State Assembly, AD 15: Tony Thurmond
City Candidates Auditor: Ann Marie Hogan
City Council District 1: Alejandro Soto-Vigil
City Council District 4: Jesse Arreguín
City Council District 7: Kriss Worthington
City Council District 8: Jacquelyn McCormick
Rent Board: Jesse Townley, Kathy Harr, John
Selawsky, Paola Laverde-Levine, James Chang
School Board: Karen Hemphill, Ty Alper, Josh Daniels

Ala Berkeley Planet: District 8,
Jacquelyn McCormick
(rank her first, followed by George Beier, second, and Lori Droste, third. Skip fourth place. )

Governor: Jerry Brown
Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom
Secty of State Alex Padilla
Controller Betty Yee
Treasurer John Chiang
Atty General Kamala Harris
Insurance Comm Dave Jones
Bd of Equalization Fiona Ma
Judges ???
Education Tom Torlakson
School Sup Karen Monroe
AC Transit Joel Young

Wellstone Club Endorsements
September 18, 2014

Oakland Offices

Mayor Jean Quan
Auditor Brenda Roberts
Council District 2 Abel Guillen
Council District 4 Anne Campbell Washington
School District 2 Aimee Eng
School District 4 Karl Debro

Berkeley Offices
Auditor Ann Marie Hogan
Berkeley School Board Joshua Daniels, Karen Hemphill,
I like Ty Alper, NOT Julie Sinai
City Council District 1 Alejandro Soto - Vigil
City Council District 4 Jesse Arreguin
City Council District 7 Kriss Worthington
Berkeley Rent Board James Chang, Katherine Harr,
Paola Laverde-Lavine, John Selawsky, Jesse Townley

Richmond City Council
Gayle McLaughlin
Jovanka Beckles
Eduardo Martinez
Jael Myrick

Special Districts
EBMUD Board Ward 3 Marguerite Young
EBMUD Board Ward 4 Andy Katz
BART Board District 4 Lena Tam
Peralta Colleges Board District 7 Julina Bonilla

California Propositions
Proposition 1 Water Bond No
Proposition 45 Health Care Insurance Rates Yes
Proposition 47 Criminal Sentences Yes

Alameda County Propositions
Measure BB Transportation Sales Tax Yes

Oakland Propositions
Measure Z Public Safety Yes
Measure CC Public Ethics Yes
Measure DD Independent Redistricting Commission Yes
Measure FF Minimum Wage Increase Yes

Berkeley Propositions
Measure D Soda Tax Yes
Measure F Parks Yes
Measure P Corporations are Not People Yes
Measure Q Flex Work Time Yes

WELLSTONE did not take a position on Measure R,
but I say YES

New: Alameda County Green Voter Guide for November 4, 2014:
15th Assembly District:
Don’t Vote for Echols

Tuesday October 14, 2014 - 03:02:00 PM

Even though Greens and other third parties have been disenfranchised by “top two” in the other state races, Assembly 15 voters have a real choice in this race. Emerging from the pile of the eight-candidate primary are two Democrats, former Richmond City Councilmember and former West Contra Costa School Board member Tony Thurmond, and Elizabeth Echols, the local democratic party machine’s handpicked successor to Nancy Skinner, with no elected experience. 

Tony Thurmond is a hands-on type of public official, with a social worker background, and a long record of good work both in office and in the community. Thurmond had many good responses to our primary questionnaire, especially regarding health care (support for a single payer system) and on environmental issues, including his experience having taken on and beaten Chevron when he was on the City Council. He also supports taxing the wealthiest one-percent of Californians, reforming Proposition 13 and reforming the 2/3 vote requirement, and promoting an oil extraction fee. He has many progressive endorsements, including several of the left of center candidates from the primary. If elected, Tony would be the only African American in the legislature from Northern California.  

Elizabeth Echols declined to answer our questionnaire. Her public policy statements sound good but lack any specificity. She has never held elective office, is not known in activist circles, and it’s unclear why any of the jobs she lists as experience qualify her to be in the Assembly, including a long stint at Google. Her main qualification appears to be serving on the Democratic Party Central Committee and being endorsed by her predecessors. While Echols might adequately represent District 15, Thurmond has real experience making tough decisions in favor of people and the environment. Because we traditionally do not endorse Democrats (or Republicans) in partisan races, our position for this race is “Don't vote for Echols.”

New: Lori Droste & Jacquelyn McCormick for District 8 City Council!

Nancy Carleton & Susan Hunter, Halcyon neighborhood activists
Sunday October 12, 2014 - 11:26:00 PM

Neighbors have been asking which candidate(s) Susan Hunter and I are supporting in the District 8 election. As some of you know, despite a referendum and with little time remaining before ballots were to be printed, a judge ordered our Nov. 4 election to be held based on the mayor’s majority redistricting plan. That gerrymandered plan was designed to get rid of progressive Councilmember Kriss Worthington, our longtime District 7 representative, under the guise of creating a “student-majority district,” where a UC student would presumably run. This would rid the mayor’s majority of an inconvenient progressive with integrity (Kriss, who’s willing to say when the emperor has no clothes — i.e., when the Council is assuming the guise of being progressive while acting otherwise — watering down a much stronger new minimum wage ordinance, as just one recent example). 

You can be sure that Susan and I will be voting No on S (the gerrymander redistricting plan from the Council majority). We also continue to support Kriss’s reelection, although sadly we can’t vote for him this time. He combines devoted advocacy for neighborhood and constituent services with staunch leadership on the progressive issues we care about (the environment, women’s issues, lgbt issues, ending social inequality, transit-friendly policies, etc., etc.) 

All of this is necessary context to say that it’s difficult to find ourselves suddenly in one of the more conservative of Berkeley’s eight council districts (District 8) after being in one the more progressive districts (7) for decades. 

Yet here we find ourselves, at least for this election, voting in District 8, choosing among four candidates, all of whom seem to be decent people but running in a much more conservative district and taking more conservative stances. The two we’ve endorsed and who will get our first- and second-place votes, though we don’t agree with them on all issues, are Lori Droste and Jacquelyn McCormick. Lori would be the first out-lesbian elected to the City Council if she wins, and she’s earned the support of most of the progressive organizations that endorse (John George Democratic Club, National Women’s Political Caucus-Alameda North, East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club, Black Women Organized for Political Action, the National Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Equality California). Jacquelyn’s activism on city issues has won the support of longtime Berkeley progressives in Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) and Berkeley Tenants Union (BTU), and she has turned out time and again to advocate on behalf of South Berkeley neighbors and neighborhoods citywide. Both Lori and Jacqui are intelligent, articulate, and compassionate women who are good at working with others. 

Though we’d never endorse anyone solely because of sexual orientation or gender unless they were also more progressive than the alternatives, we’re pleased to be endorsing the two women in this race. Not everyone realizes that the current City Council has only two women out of nine positions, and one of those women (in District 1) faces stiff competition in this election. The only chance of redressing the balance is in District 8 (District 7’s two candidates are male, and the male in District 4 is running unopposed). Given ranked-choice voting, which allows us three choices, we have one more vote to cast. We’re not going to endorse either of the two men running in District 8; the positions they’ve taken over the years are simply too conservative for us. But ranked-choice voting amounts to an instant runoff, and we’d turn out to vote if there were such an election, so we’ll be sure to mark our third vote. Although we aren’t formally making an endorsement, we’ll just say that the candidate who received the endorsement of the Sierra Club (an endorsement he has plenty of room to grow into!), and who has been a leader in efforts to restore Willard Pool, is more likely to get our third-choice vote than the anointed heir to the retiring District 8 councilmember, who’s consistently been one of the most conservative voices on City Council. 

Thank you for taking our comments into consideration! 

New: Message from The Rent Board Campaign

Katherine Harr and Jesse Townley
Tuesday October 14, 2014 - 03:19:00 PM

We call our Slate for the November 4 election the Pro-Rent Control Slate for a reason: voting for James Chang, Paola Laverde-Levine, John Selawsky, Katherine Harr and Jesse Townley is voting to keep active enforcement of Berkeley’s strong rent ordinance. 

Waves of displacement are crashing on Bay Area shores, eroding our middle and lower classes. San Francisco and Oakland are responding by tighten tenant protections. In Berkeley, so-called progressives are openly discussing means testing (taking away rent control from all but the very-poor) and ending election of our Rent Board. Our City’s relocation benefits for owner move-in evictions are now the lowest in the state, so the Measure Y evictions in Berkeley this year are already double the total for all of 2013. Our demolition ordinance prohibits tearing down rent-controlled units but the pressure from developers is such that each month the Zoning Board is asked to find that units that have been empty for a year or two are no longer protected. Plus the City Council voted this week to extend a “discount” for developers that could cut as much as $11 Million for affordable housing. 

The Pro-Rent Control Slate are running a full campaign this year even though we are unopposed, because we think it’s very important that a low number of votes for the Board is not taken as a lack of support for rent control. We are also running a campaign to highlight tenant issues and build alliances. 

The key points of our campaign are: 

Improve Disaster Preparedness and Seismic Safety 

Promote Housing Safety Through Cyclical Inspections 

Expand Recycling, Opportunities for Sustainability and Energy Efficiency 

Advocate for Multi-Generational Housing Options 

Represent Tenants at Council and Commissions 

Defend Our Rent Controlled Housing Stock from Demolitions 

Now is the time for true progressives to move to the offensive. If we want to keep Berkeley a place that we can all call home, we need to change the balance of power on the City Council. That is why the Pro-Rent Control Slate chosen at the bi-annual Tenant Convention is focusing our campaign on the contested council districts, and asking renters to walk and call with us as we support the candidates endorsed by our slate and the Berkeley Tenants Union: Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Jesse Arreguin, Kriss Worthington and Jacquelyn McCormick. 

Tenants & landlords will mobilize for the Slate and Kriss Worthington at Noon on Saturday October 18 and Sunday October 19 at our shared campaign office at 2195 Bancroft. 

To Learn More Check Out http://berkeleyrentboard.org/

Soda Tax

Carol Denney
Thursday October 09, 2014 - 10:21:00 PM

"No one is quite willing to claim that adding some cents to the wholesale price of a can of soda pop will guarantee to reduce consumption enough to cause a statistically significant reduction in the incidence of diabetes, or even in the incidence of obesity. " - Editorial, Berkeley Daily Planet

With all due respect to your Coke-drinking ancestors, it was no accident that schools which used to have working drinking fountains to satisfy children's thirst began to sprout vending machines full of sugary drinks. And there is no question, as the tobacco industry and the sugary beverage industry (which are sometimes the same corporation) know, that young people's willingness to spend money on items like tobacco and sugary drinks takes a precipitous nosedive when such products get more expensive. 

Give our kids a chance, especially while their growing bodies are rapidly changing and they're doing their best to develop good habits. Vote to tax, and tax highly, products which ruin our health and increase the collective billions we're currently forced to spend on preventable health costs.


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Self-Encouragement But Not Self-Punishment

Jack Bragen
Thursday October 09, 2014 - 10:09:00 PM

Most people in general and not just those with mental illness are hard on ourselves, and often think we should be doing better or doing more—especially in relation to work, but also concerning other obligations. This is a form of guilt which can make us work harder or, surprisingly, can cause people to avoid tasks altogether. 

Any time we have the thought that we "should," "need to" or "ought to" do something, it immediately brings up the assumption that such a task is unpleasant. Thus, it can create procrastination even though the internal guilt message is saying that this thing must be done now. If the task were something we believed we didn't have to do, and thus if we didn't mentally categorize as drudgery, the very same task could be fun instead of unpleasant. In short, the pleasantness or unpleasantness of a particular thing depends largely on attitude. 

However, it is not accurate to blame oneself or be blamed because something is hard. Yes, attitude matters, but we can not always control our attitude. 

And besides that, some things are just hard. Even though things may be easy for some people with or without an impairment, that does not take away from the reality that some things are hard for some people. A secretary may be able to type ninety words a minute, while I could never do that because of the way my brain is designed. Attitude doesn't account for everything. At some point, physical reality enters the picture. 

It is my opinion that the side effects of some medications make it harder to perform gainful employment. Since we haven't invented a medication which is site specific, anti-psychotic medications slow one's entire nervous system, making it nearly impossible to work competitively in some positions. Psychiatric illnesses and their symptoms make it harder to perform, as do sedating or other effects of medications. 

In my twenties I tried to defy these impairments and was equipped with the attitude to do so. At times I succeeded in jobs. It took a lot of effort, and there were events in my life that repeatedly knocked me down. However, I kept getting back up to try again. At some point, after enough negative experiences happened, I reached employment burnout. 

If you are mentally ill, this disease isn't your fault. You didn't bring this upon yourself, it is not a sign of turpitude, and it does not mean you are a weak person. It is just something that happened. No one is to blame. 

You don't have to apologize for being ill. You don't have to agree with the condemnation that intolerant people may have directed at you. You do not need to feel ashamed. You do not need to hide your illness. 

It is probably unfair to expect a person with a major psychiatric illness to be able to perform at various tasks and endeavors at the same level as someone with no disability. It may not be something you should expect from yourself. Let yourself off the hook. 

The above paragraph is not intended to be a discouragement. A person with a mental illness deserves a chance to live as normally as possible and deserves a chance to compete in the world, if they feel ready to do so. If a mentally ill person chooses to compete in the world, they should still at least take allowances, one of which is some "down time" on occasion or when it is needed. 

Then there is a dichotomy concerning how mentally ill people should treat ourselves, how we should be treated, and how much should be expected of us. Certainly it would be nice to act and be treated "as if" there were no disability. However, this is not always practicable. A person with mental illness should not feel pressure coming from oneself or from others that says we must work harder. 

But it would be a waste of human potential not to expect anything.

THE PUBLIC EYE: It’s Still the Economy, Stupid!

Bob Burnett
Friday October 10, 2014 - 09:57:00 AM

A month before the November 4th mid-term elections, the competition for control of the Senate is neck-and-neck. The improving US economy hasn’t increased Democratic prospects. What explains this? 

On October 3rd President Obama touted a milestone, the US 5.9 percent unemployment rate. Under the Obama Administration, the economy has experienced 55 months of job growth and added 10.3 million private sector jobs. Some experts predict that the US will reach full employment by late 2016

Nonetheless, US voters aren’t convinced. The October 1st AP-GfK poll found that 92 percent of likely voters called the economy, “an extremely or very important issue.” Only 38 percent of likely voters described the economy as good. When asked which Party would do the best job handling the economy, 36 percent said Republicans versus 31 percent supporting Democrats. 

In 2012 the Republican economic message was: “Where are the jobs?” In 2014 they’ve struggled to find a message other than: “Blame Obama.” When asked about what seemed good to be economic good news, the 5.9 percent unemployment rate, House Speaker John Boehner quipped, “Instead of trying to convince Americans that things are great, Washington Democrats ought to show they’re serious about helping middle-class families get ahead, not just get by.” On October 2nd Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus unveiled 11 principles “for American renewal.” The GOP economic principle was: “Start growing America’s economy instead of Washington’s economy so that working Americans see better wages and more opportunity.” 

Three reasons explain why Democrats have had difficulty gaining traction with a positive economic message. 

1. Republicans and Democrats listen to different news sources. A recent Public Policy poll found that 69 percent of Republicans trusted Fox News. Democrats get their news from many other sources with PBS the favorite. 

As a result, Democrats and Republicans interpret economic news differently. A recent Pew Research Poll showed that 46 percent of Republicans thought the “job news” was “mostly bad” compared with 26 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of Independents. 

2. The US economy is complex. While there has been an overall improvement, problems persist. On October 3d, President Obama said, “Our broader economy in the aggregate has come a long way, but the gains of the recovery aren’t yet broadly shared.” 

During this recovery there’s been a hollowing out of the middle class; the erosion of decent middle-class jobs. Most of the recovery proceeds went to the top one percent. This chart shows that during the Obama recovery (2009-present) average income growth was 6 percent. But the top 1 percent experienced income growth of 31.4 percent and the bottom 99 percent had a pitiful .4 percent. A recent study by the Center For American Progress found that 

for a typical median income married couple with two children, the collective cost of basic pillars of middle class security — including child care, higher education, health care, housing, and retirement –rose by an estimated $10,600 between 2000 and 2012… but [the family] earned less than one percent more.
The hollowing out of the middle class has muddied the 2014 Democratic message. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne observed 

The unemployment rate is way down, but it’s still not low enough to create rapid and widespread wage growth… This tension is far more difficult for Democrats to deal with than it would be for Republicans, were they presiding over exactly the same recovery. Democrats… have made their living as the party that lifts up the many and not just the privileged few.
3. The continuing economic problems impact a critical block of voters. The 2014 Pew Research Center political typology poll breaks the American political electorate into eight groups, four on the right and four on the left. The midterm problem for Democrats is that they first have to get their base out to vote: Solid Liberals (21 percent), Next Generation Left (11 percent), and Faith and Family Left (12 percent). But this is only 44 percent of the probable electorate. To prevail in November, Democrats have to win back the Hard-Pressed Skeptics (9 percent) who voted for Obama in 2012 but are disillusioned in 2014. 

The lingering economic problems bedevil Hard-Pressed Skeptics: “Only about a third of Hard-Pressed Skeptics (32 percent) say they work-full-time.” More than any other group, 67 percent of Hard-Pressed Skeptics say, “I often don’t have enough enough to make ends meet.” 

As a result, Hard-Pressed Skeptics have mixed political allegiance, “51% plan to vote for the Democrat in their congressional district, while 37% plan to vote Republican.” 

In an October 2nd speech President Obama touted his plans for job training, a minimum wage increase, infrastructure investment, and other measures to promote wage increases. There’s still time for Democrats to make the case that they’re the Party that cares about all the people while Republicans care only about the one percent. Focus on the economy, stupid! 

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

New: DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE:Shanghai Cooperation Organization:
“Let A Thousand Poles Bloom”

Conn Hallinan
Monday September 29, 2014 - 09:21:00 AM

At the very moment that the Americans and their allies are trying to squeeze Russia and Iran with a combination of economic sanctions and political isolation, alternative poles of power are emerging that soon may present a serious challenge to the U.S. dominated world that emerged from the end of the Cold War. 

This past summer, the BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—created an alternative to the largely U.S. controlled World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) added 1.6 billion people to its rolls. 

The BRICS construction of a Contingent Reserve Arrangement will give its member’s emergency access to foreign currency, which might eventually dethrone the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The creation of a development bank will make it possible to by-pass the IMF for loans, thus avoiding the organization’s onerous austerity requirements. 

Less than a month after the BRICS’ declaration of independence from the current strictures of world finance, the SCO—China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan—approved India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia for membership in the organization. It was the single largest expansion of the economic cooperation and security-minded group in its history, and it could end up diluting the impact of sanctions currently plaguing Moscow over the Ukraine crisis and Teheran over its nuclear program. 

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization began as the Shanghai Five in 1996, and five years later became the SCO. Even before the recent additions, SCO represented three-fifths of Eurasia and 25 percent of the world’s population. 

A major focus of the SCO is security, although the countries involved have different agendas about what that exactly means. 

Russia and China are determined to reduce U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) presence in Central Asia to what it was before the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. The SCO has consistently rebuffed U.S. requests for observer status, and has pressured countries in the region to end U.S. basing rights. The U.S. was forced out of Karshi-Khanabad in Uzbekistan in 2006, and from Manas in Kyrgyzstan in 2014. 

“At present, the SCO has started to counterbalance NATO’s role in Asia,” says Alexei Maslov, chair of the Department of Oriental Studies of the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and the new members, he says, want in to safeguard their interests. 

Given the current confrontation between NATO and Russia over the Ukraine, and tensions in the East China Sea between the U.S., Japan, and China, Moscow and Beijing may not agree on a number of issues—in 1969 they came to blows over a border dispute—but they are on the same page when it comes to limiting Washington’s influence in their respective backyards. 

Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Chang Wanquan said last year “China is ready to work with Russia to…expand the scope of bilateral defense cooperation.” Last month Russia’s Chief of Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov declared that, “Russia is ready to make joint efforts with China to lift the relationship to a new high.” China has been supportive of Russia in the Ukraine crisis. 

For Iran, SCO membership may serve as a way to bypass sanctions currently pounding the Iranian economy. Russia and Iran signed a memorandum in August to exchange Russian energy technology and food for Iranian oil, a move that would violate U.S. sanctions. But Moscow—already weathering sanctions that have weakened its economy—may be figuring that there is little more the U.S. can do and still keep its European allies on board. Russian counter sanctions on the European Union (EU) have shoved a number of European countries back into recession, and the EU is worried that Russia will turn east and Europe will lose much of its Russian market share. 

To a certain extent, that is already happening. When the 2,500-mile “Power of Siberia” pipeline is completed in 2018, it will supply China with about 15 percent of its natural gas, Russia’s Rosneft and China’s National Petroleum Corporation are jointly exploring oil and gas reserves in the arctic, and the Russians have also offered China a stake in the huge Vankor oil field in East Siberia. Since January 2014, some 30 percent of Russian oil exports have gone to Asia. 

Teheran is reaching out to Beijing as well. Iran and China have negotiated a deal to trade Iran’s oil for China’s manufactured goods. Beijing is currently Iran’s number one customer for oil. In late September, two Chinese warships paid a first ever visit to Iran, and the two countries navies carried out joint anti-piracy and rescue maneuvers. 

For India and Pakistan, energy is a major concern, and membership in the oil and gas rich SCO is a major plus. Whether that will lead to a reduction of tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad over Kashmir is less certain, but at least the two traditional enemies will be sitting down to talk about economic cooperation and regional security on a regular basis. 

There are similar tensions between SCO members Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan over borders, and both countries, plus Tajikistan, have squabbled over water rights. 

Most SCO members are concerned about security, particularly given the imminent departure of the U.S. and NATO from Afghanistan. That country might well descend into civil war, one that could have a destabilizing effect on its neighbors. Added to that is the U.S.-NATO-Gulf monarchy jihad against the Assad regime in Syria, a conflict that is raising yet another generation of mujahedeen that will some day reappear in their home countries—some of them SCO members—trained and primed for war. 

From Aug. 24 -29, SCO members China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan took part in “Peace Mission 2014,” an anti-terrorist exercise to “subdue” a hypothetical Central Asia city that had become a center for terrorist activity. The drill involved aircraft, 7.000 troops, armored vehicles, and drones, and according to China’s Chief of Staff, Fang Fenghui, was aimed at the “three evil forces of terrorism, separatism, and extremism.” 

The problem with General Fang’s definition of “terrorism” is that it can easily be applied to minorities or local groups with legitimate complaints about their treatment by SCO member governments. 

China has come down hard on Turkic speaking Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province, who have been resisting marginalization by China’s dominant ethnic group, the Han. Uyghur scholar IIham Tohti was recently sentenced to life imprisonment for “separatist activity.” 

Beijing has also suppressed demands for independence or more autonomy by Tibetans—who it also labels “separatists”–even though China has no more a claim over Tibet than Britain did to India or Ireland. All of them were swept up by empires at the point of a sword. 

The BRICS and the SCO are the two largest independent international organizations to develop over the past decade, but there are others as well. In Latin America, Mercusur—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela—is the third largest trade grouping in the world. Associate members include Chile, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. Mexico and New Zealand have observer status. The newly minted Union of South American Nations (USAN) includes every country in South America, including Cuba, and has largely replaced the Cold War relic, the Organization of American States (OAS) that excluded Havana. While the U.S. and Canada are part of the OAS, they were not invited to join USAN. 

What role these new organizations will play internationally is not clear. Certainly sanction regimens will be harder to maintain because the SCO and the BRICS create alternatives. South Africa, for instance, announced that it would begin buying Iran oil in the next few months, an important breach in the sanctions against Iran. But being in the same organization does not automatically translate into having the same politics on international questions. 

The BRICS and the recent Israeli invasion of Gaza are a case in point. China called for negotiations. Russia was generally neutral (but friendly toward the Netanyahu government, in part because there are lots of Russians in Israel). India was silent—Israel is New Delhi’s number one source of arms. South Africa was critical of Israel, and Brazil withdrew its ambassador 

In comparison, NATO was generally supportive of the Israeli actions, Turkey being the odd man out. There is more political uniformity among NATO countries than there is among SCO and BRICS nations, although there is growing opposition in the ranks of the European Union (EU) over Washington’s hard line approach on the Ukraine. The U.S. does $26 billion in trade with Russia, the EU $370 billion. Russia also supplies Europe with 30 percent of its natural gas, although that reaches 100 percent for countries like Finland. Most EU countries—the Baltic nations and Poland being the exceptions—see little percentage in a long, drawn out confrontation with Russia. 

These independent poles are only starting to develop and it is hardly clear what their ultimate impact on international politics will be. But the days when the IMF, World Bank, and U.S. Treasury could essentially dictate international finances and intimidate or crush opponents with an avalanche of sanctions are drawing to a close. 

The BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are two nails in that coffin. 

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



ECLECTIC RANT: Time to End the Abuse and Exploitation of Animals

Ralph E. Stone
Thursday October 09, 2014 - 10:16:00 PM
Tommy is the subject of a NonHuman Rights Project lawsuit.
Tommy is the subject of a NonHuman Rights Project lawsuit.

An article in The New York Times Magazine (July 6) "Zoo Animals And Their Discontents" by Alex Halberstadt, raised this question: do animals think and feel? A number of scientific studies has shown that animals are far closer to us than recently believed. In fact, the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness in Human and Nonhuman Animals, signed by a group of leading animal researchers, asserts that mammals, birds and other creatures posses consciousness and, in all likelihood, emotions and self-awareness.  

If we accept that animals are self-aware beings and have emotions, then this raises the question of whether we should keep animals in captivity (zoos), whether we should allow the cruel confinement and treatment of farm animals, and whether we should use animals for experimentation and research. 

What's wrong with zoos? Zoos evolved at a time when travel for most people was impractical and few people had a chance to see wild animals up close. Today, we can take a plane to Africa, Australia, or Costa Rica for photo safaris or even watch nature documentaries on television or view live Internet videos, which can show animals’ natural behavior that in many cases cannot even be seen in zoos. There is no excuse for keeping intelligent social animals in cages for our amusement. In short, we shouldn't be confining animals to cramped conditions thereby depriving them of everything that is natural and important to them. 

Farm animals are often the victim of cruelty. For example, ten or more egg-laying hens housed in a wire cage the size of a file drawer stacked several levels high. Or branding cattle with an extremely hot or extremely cold iron stamp without anesthesia or castrating pigs and cows -- a painful procedure -- or debeaking, the process of cutting with a hot blade, the beaks of chickens, turkeys, and ducks without anesthesia to reduce pecking among, fighting, and cannibalism of overstressed, overcrowded birds in factory farms or using cattle prods that deliver an electric shock to get cattle moving. 

Animal experiments are widely used to develop new drugs and to test the safety of cosmetics and other personal care products. But many of these experiments may cause pain to the animals involved or reduce their quality of life in other ways. Typically, a new drug or cosmetic is used on an animal to test its effectiveness. If it is found to be effective, it is then tested on humans. However, the research may show that the tested drug or cosmetic may be harmful or ineffective and never tested on humans.  

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the only federal law that covers animals in NIH-funded research but is recommended policy only, not a mandatory requirement. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is charged with enforcing the AWA. Under the AWA, research institutions are required to establish an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) “to oversee and evaluate all aspects of the institution’s animal care and use program.” While the USDA and the AWA and IACUC systems supposedly ensure “humane” treatment of animals in labs, the system is plagued with loopholes that leave animals with little or no protection.  

Each state has enacted laws to punish those who engage in cruelty to animals. And cruelty does not only mean physical abuse but also neglect. Although in some states animal cruelty is only a misdemeanor, not a felony.  


But this begs the question as to why sentient beings are used for experimentation at all. 


Many studies show that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty.  


In addition, many states have farm animal confinement laws, animal slaughter laws, laws covering euthanasia, and laws concerning the sale of pets at retail pet stores. 


The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is using an interesting approach to freeing sentient beings by seeking writs of habeas corpus (literally to produce the body) on behalf of members of the great ape family (chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas). But in order to do so, the NhRP must convince a court to recognize their right to bodily liberty or personhood.  

The first case brought by NhRP was on behalf of Tommy, a chimpanzee, a former member of performing circus chimps, now confined to "a small dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed." The NhRP produced numerous affidavits showing the cognitive capabilities of Tommy and how such confinement adversely effected his physical and psychological well being. The lower court refused to grant the writ of habeas corpus, but later the appellate court did grant a preliminary injunction barring Tommy's owner from removing him from the state. This indicates the appellate court may be open to hearing the case on the merits. 


In addition to the lawsuit on behalf of Tommy, the NhRP brought similar lawsuits on behalf of Kiko, Hercules, and Leo, male chimps held in captivity in various parts of New York. The NhRP were seeking to move the chimps to a sanctuary with an environment as close as possible to the wild. Three New York courts refused to grant these captive chimpanzees the same rights as a legal person.  


The NhRP plans to file similar suits for beings with higher cognitive abilities such as dolphins, orcas, belugas, elephants and African gray parrots. The progress of these NhRP lawsuits is worth watching. 


As a long-time member of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) with two indoor and three outdoor cats in our family, I invite everyone to read ASPCA's "Top 10 Ways to Prevent Animal Cruelty." The goal is to crack down on animal cruelty by enacting and enforcing laws for their protection, thus making our communities safer places for our nonhuman friends.

Arts & Events

San Francisco Opera Unveils A New Star in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Thursday October 09, 2014 - 11:08:00 PM

In Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, soprano Julianna Di Giacomo made her San Francisco Opera debut on Saturday, October 4, 2014; and a sensational debut it was! Sounding like a young Beverly Sills, Di Giacomo, a Santa Monica native and Merola alumna, has a very bright and focused soprano, which was heard to wonderful effect in the role of Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera. From the moment she came on stage, in Act I’s scene in Ulrica the soothsayer’s den, Di Giacomo thoroughly dominated every scene in which she appeared. Only veteran baritone Thomas Hampson, who sang the role of Count Anckarström, Amelia’s husband and friend of King Gustavus, managed to hold his own vocally with Julianna Di Giacomo. Unfortunately, as King Gustavus, tenor Ramón Vargas sounded thin and lacking in power in a role I heard him perform here in far better voice back in 1999.  

With a libretto by Antonio Somma based on a text by Eugène Scribe, Verdi’s Ballo, which premiered in Rome in 1859, is set in the 18th century court of King Gustavus of Sweden. The plot involves a conspiracy to assassinate the king and is complicated by the fact that King Gustavus has a secret crush on Amelia, the wife of Count Anckarström, his best friend and advisor. When Amelia, who secretly requites the king’s love, albeit chastely, seeks to ease her torment, she goes to Ulrica the sooth-sayer for advice. Ulrica, sung here by mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajic, tells her to go at midnight to a deserted spot outside the city gates where stands a gallows. There she must pick a potent herb to cure her of her secret passion for the king. Gustavus, hidden in disguise, overhears this advice and plans to meet Amelia there and declare his love. Act II in this production (Act III when Ballo is done in five acts instead of three) is in many ways the highlight of the opera. Amelia is first seen alone by the gallows, nervously fretting over her plight as she sings the glorious aria, “Ma dall’ arido stela divulsa,” in which she laments that an evil herb is about to destroy the secret love in her heart. As Amelia, Julianna Di Giacomo sang this aria beautifully, with gorgeous legato. When Gustavus unexpectedly arrives and declares his love, Amelia initially pleads with him to honor her marriage to his loyal friend and advisor Anckarström. Little by little, however, Amelia gives way to her own feelings for Gustavus; and in a long passionate duet, “O qual soave bivido,” they pour out their love for each other. In this duet, Ramón Vargas as Gustavus was simply unable to hold up his end of the singing; and Julianna Di Giacomo’s soprano easily soared over Vargas’s thin tenor.  

Suddenly, a third party arrives on the scene. It is Anckarström, who comes to warn the king of assassins on their way to kill him. There ensues a remarkable trio as Gustavus is torn between saving his own life by fleeing and saving the dignity of Amelia. As Anckarström, richly sung by Thomas Hampson, urges Gustavus to flee, seconded by Amelia, the king hesitates, then agrees to make his escape if Anckarström will swear to escort the veiled lady back to town without asking her identity. The loyal Count agrees, and Gustavus escapes. But the would-be assassins rush in and discover Anckarström with a veiled woman by his side. When the conspirators remove the woman’s veil, they – and Anckarström – discover to their amusement – and his horror – that the woman is Amelia, Anckarström’s own wife.  

In the final act, Anckarström rages against his wife, accusing her of adultery and threatening to kill her. Amelia pleads her innocence of adultery, though she admits her love for Gustavus. Accepting to die, Amelia asks only one thing. In a noble aria, “Morro, ma prima in grazia,” introduced by one of Verdi’s memorable cello solos, Amelia asks only to be allowed to embrace her son and bid him farewell. As Amelia, Julianna Di Giacomo sang this aria with deeply moving emotion, her limpid phrasing conveying Amelia’s heartfelt clarity of moral conviction. Amelia’s request persuades Anckarström to spare his wife. Alone, Anckarström, fervently sung by Thomas Hampson, pours out his rage in the aria “Eri tu,” in which he declares that Gustavus is his true enemy, and he vows to take revenge on the king rather than his wife. He calls in two conspirators, sung by Christian Van Horn and Scott Connor, and together they plot to kill the king. Oscar, the king’s page, delightfully sung by soprano Heidi Stober in a trousers role, arrives with an invitation from the king to a masked ball. The conspirators agree to use this occasion to kill the king.  

At the masked ball, the effervescent page Oscar teases Anckarström by refusing to divulge the king’s costume. Here, as earlier in the opera, Heidi Stober as Oscar nearly stole the show. Vocally, Stober was superb; and her vivacious acting was irresistible. Ultimately, however, Anckarström tricks Oscar into revealing the king’s disguise. Anckarström then shoots the king at point blank range. Gustavus falls, mortally wounded. But he forgives his killer and proclaims the innocence of his beloved Amelia as the opera ends. In this production, discreetly staged by Director Jose Maria Condemi and admirably conducted by Nicola Luisotti, one thing remains abundantly clear: In soprano Julianna Di Giacomo, who has already made a name for herself at the Met and in Vienna and Naples, we have a brilliant homegrown Merola graduate on the brink of international stardom.

AROUND AND ABOUT MUSIC: Steven Isserlis, Cello, with Philharmonia Baroque at First Congregational Church, Saturday & Sunday

Ken Bullock
Thursday October 09, 2014 - 10:05:00 PM

"He must have been the gentlest composer. The most gorgeous texture ... for me the music of angels," said virtuoso cellist Steven Isserlis before playing Boccherini's Concerto for Violincello No. 7 in G major (probably from the 1760s) with Philharmonia Baroque under Nicholas McGegan's direction on Wednesday night at SFJAZZ in San Francisco--the second of two concerti he played with brilliance and great feeling. The same program will be performed this Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 7:30, First Congregational Church in Berkeley. 

The first of the two, C. P. E. Bach's Concerto for Violincello in A major (1753?), was a triumph in particular for Isserlis, not only a vehicle for the elasticity of his playing and unusual sense of dynamics, contrast, color and modulation, but also for his seeming ability to almost effortlessly bring out the profundity of a piece. Afterwards he spoke of C. P. E. Bach's modernity of style, and sandwiched between two familiar Haydn Symphonies, No. 57 in D major and No. 67 in F major, the Bach concerto was all but a startling tour-de-force, except for Isserlis' extreme concentration on the heart of it, achieving a sense of pure song on his instrument. 

Philharmonia played the Haydn symphonies delightfully, with freshness of approach, their hallmark. With Isserlis in the concerti between, they achieved even more. This program is something that should be heard, a concert that stands out, even from Philharmonia's usual brilliance. 

And on Saturday at 4, Isserlis and Philharmonia will appear in a family concert, free, at 4 p. m. at First Congregational, "Steven isserlis & the Three C's: Classical Cello Concertos." Isserlis has played much for and with children, as well as authoring books for young readers like 'Why Beethoven Threw the Stew' and 'Why Handel Waggled His Wig,' both from Faber & Faber. 

First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way at Dana, $25-$100. philharmonia.org